SDGs? Whazit? And what’s climate got to do with it?

In a land far far away, a bunch of busy bees are currently negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This brainchild of the Rio+20 Summit should provide for a successor to the MDGs, and is supposed to end poverty and bring on sustainable development. Since March last year, the members of the Open Working Group on SDGs have been working on an inspirational, aspirational and otherwise brilliant ‘To Do List’ (the goals) for international development over the next 15 years. Their recommendations are due to be delivered to the UN General Assembly by September 2014. The next round of negotiations starts on 16 June.

What will end up on the goals list, depends on a battle that is yet to come. There are already some things in place like gender, health, education, food and agriculture, energy and water. There’s also some new kids on the block too, like climate change, ecosystems, forests and cities. Amongst all of these, the climate change goal is having the hardest time staying alive. At the moment the working group’s report’s zero draft has it on life support but a number of powerful countries are trying hard to pull the plug. These murderous intentions are only being kept at bay by a handful of brave countries and groups, like the LDCs, some island states, Bangladesh and Guatemala. Far too many others are just watching the battle from the sidelines.

It’s time to do some soul searching on why a climate goal is worth having.

Is it because addressing climate change is a pre-requisite to ending poverty and achieving sustainable development? Or because the IPCC has hammered it home, time and time again, that climate change disproportionately affects the poorest and that action cannot wait another minute? Or because some leaders agree that climate change is the greatest threat to development? Heads of States will find it hard to credibly justify the SDGs in September 2015 without climate change goals while academia, civil society and even the private sector (and of course, ECO too!) realise that this is the most pressing challenge of our generation .

Now that we get that, what’s that got that to do with the UNFCCC?

A set of climate-blind SDGs agreed in September 2015 wouldn’t set a nice stage for an ambitious climate agreement a few weeks later in Paris would it? Since the SDGs cover areas like energy, agriculture, water, forests, oceans, cities and economic growth, they can, and will, massively contribute to both mitigation and adaptation action. If you strive for low-carbon and climate-resilient DEVELOPMENT, you might throw the occasional side glance at those DEVELOPMENT goals.

Both processes are currently looking at the same pots for money and they intersect during implementation where (hopefully!) the same national strategies will guide climate and development action.

For ECO, it seems pretty straightforward that climate change must be strongly and credibly reflected in the SDGs and we want to encourage the Bonn clique to connect with their mates in New York - go!

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Fresh air for fresh brains

ECO hopes that a fresh breeze of air in Bonn will give the Chinese delegation a break from Beijing’s filthy air, and perhaps a fresh perspective on the negotiations.

Last year, 92% of China’s cities failed to meet national air quality standards. The government has since mandated provinces to curb coal consumption, the biggest source of air pollution, in particular of PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5 mm in diameter). A number of provinces have put forward specific coal control measures and some have even pledged to reduce absolute consumption by 2017. The aggregate of these provincial measures will reduce the country’s coal consumption by 655 million tonnes from a business as usual scenario by 2020.

ECO knows that there are significant co-benefits between addressing air pollution and mitigating greenhouse gases emissions. Over the past decade, China’s coal burning has accounted for half of the world’s CO2 emission growth. Slashing coal power generation will not only be good for the Chinese people, but also for the global community.

Provincial cuts to coal-based power generation will translate to roughly 1,300 million tonnes of emissions reductions, equivalent to the combined total annual emissions of Australia and Canada. If China delivers on these plans with a full implementation and by expanding its coal caps to broader regions, then its emissions pathway will be almost in line with the IEA’s 2°C scenario. Other countries must do their fair share to if China is to have confidence moving forward.

ECO thinks that the Minister’s further clarification on China’s proposed submission by March 2015 is a timely step in the right direction that needs to be built upon. China should also communicate its domestic successes here in Bonn to help build momentum in the international climate negotiations. More transparency will help build trust, enhance collective ambition, and might just allow everyone to breathe more easily.

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Equity: Building With Brazil

No one will be surprised to hear that the Brazilian Proposal – which is to say Brazil’s move to reintroduce its classic 1997 analysis of historical responsibility – has been a bit controversial. But as a proposal to kick off a formal work program on Equity Indicators, Brazil’s move should be welcomed.

Historical Responsibility, after all, is a keystone Equity Indicator. In fact, it is one of five – Ambition, Responsibility, Capability, Development Need and Adaptation Need. Any serious attempt to operationalize equity must take them all into due and proper consideration.

Not that this will be easy. While it’s clear that there can be no acceptable road to climate stabilization that doesn't take into account both responsibility and capacity, and both development and adaptation needs, it’s equally clear that there’s no precise agreement on the meaning of these terms.

Reasonable people can disagree about the proper definitions of responsibility and capability, and the relationship between the two. Which is exactly why we need an expert process to study the proper formulation of equity indicators, and why that debate must be mainstreamed into the ADP.

We’re long past the point where historical responsibility, taken alone, can usefully stand for the overarching problem of climate equity. And this is why Brazil’s reintroduction of its old proposal – though helpful – is also a bit limited.

The real challenge before us is to find a new approach to equity, one that’s actually robust enough to be helpful when evaluating pledges. And this requires an entire set of core equity indicators, not just historical responsibility.

And there is really no choice but to take this challenge head on. We finally have reached an important moment: all agree that equity cannot be ignored. Ambition cannot be achieved without equity, and equity is beyond our grasp without ambition.

The way forward must include an open exchange on equity indicators, one that clarifies the trade-offs, builds consensus and prepares the ground upon which Parties will soon make pledges of action that are both strong and fair.

So we welcome Brazil’s proposal on historical responsibility. Responsibility alone is not a sufficient basis for meaningful equity review, but Brazil’s proposal provides a well-considered starting point and responsibility is a necessary pillar of any such review.

The challenge now is to build upon Brazil’s proposal, expand it into a larger process designed to clarify the core, measurable characteristics of pledges, assessing the extent to which they are fair enough to pass muster in the challenging years ahead.



Adaptation Fund: The Litmus Test

As delegates are reorganizing their first week notes for ministers back home, ECO offers the chart below for inclusion in their briefings. It shows the gap that developed countries should fill next week to meet the US $100 million fundraising goal for the Adaptation Fund.

We are confident that the goal can be met – how can we believe the claims that the long-term goal of mobilising $100 billion a year is within reach if they can’t provide even this much.
We will keep track of forthcoming announcements and update the chart as needed. Developed countries eager to be included in the chart with their contributions are invited to contact the ECO email.


Bunkers: No More Evasive Maneuvers

The way things are going, ships and airplanes will be able to cruise the seas and skies without serious emissions control measures for some years to come. Earlier this year the International Maritime Organization (IMO) indefinitely suspended its consideration of market based measures (MBMs) that can put a cap and a price on emissions in line with the polluter-pays principle.

In early October, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) decided to ‘develop’ (the text neglected to commit to actually ‘adopt’ or ‘implement’) an MBM by 2016 – not a particularly noteworthy achievement after well over a decade discussing these very measures. And the only emissions target mentioned in the agreement (but still in essence bracketed by party reservations) is carbon neutral growth after 2020. Meanwhile, under intense pressure from airlines and many governments, the EU is severely scaling back its ETS coverage of international air traffic, the only measure in the world that regulates aviation emissions.

The shipping and aviation industries must be very pleased with themselves. Thanks to their intensive lobbying of transport ministries and the tendency by governments to treat these sectors as a proxy for the broader negotiations, countries seeking action on emissions from these sectors have practically thrown in the towel.

Giving the IMO and ICAO free rein to pursue emissions from these sectors with no real accountability is not likely to turn out well for people or the planet. The owners of ships and airlines have much more direct influence over transport ministries that represent parties in these bodies. These sectors have benefitted from their unique access to tax-free fuels for too long to be willing to start paying their way now. Ambitious emissions reduction targets and anything resembling carbon pricing for these sectors is highly unlikely.

The UNFCCC must ensure that the international shipping and aviation sectors contribute their fair share to global efforts. They should be included in any considerations of equity, such as calculation of historical responsibility and other applicable indicators. The ADP and the COP must adopt decisions that either set emissions limits directly, or provide guidance to ensure a sufficient level of ambition in emissions reduction efforts, particularly in emissions limits set as part of global Market Based Measures. The new legal agreement to be finalized in 2015 must contain provisions that ensure these sectors contribute their fair share to global efforts.

To ensure accountability and adequate consideration of these sectors, the ADP must receive regular reports from ICAO and IMO on efforts to control GHG emissions from these sectors, including progress towards implementation of market based measures that can put a cap on emissions, put a price on emissions, and generate finance for climate action.


Brazil Goes in Reverse

There was rather astonishing news from Brazil this week. A report by the National Institute for Spatial Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais - INPE) reveals that deforestation in the Amazon region has increased by 28% from August 2012 to July 2013. This is the third largest rate of deforestation ever registered.

The real number is surely larger if you take into consideration cloud cover -- and that the bad guys on the ground are getting smarter and cutting the forest in a greater number of ever smaller areas.
Although the Minister for the Environment is trying to put the blame on the States that make up the Amazon region, we are hearing that it’s really the Federal government that  bears the major responsibility.

For years, Brazil has showcased deforestation in these meetings as the main component of its voluntary mitigation commitment/promise. But the new forest law the government pushed through Congress last year included major concessions to the agro-business lobby.

And to be clear, no other sector of the Brazilian economy has contributed to emissions reductions – ever. So greenhouse emissions are on the rise everywhere. The momentum from the very substantial reductions of forest emissions in recent years is being reversed by Brazil’s accelerated economic growth plan and the return of increased deforestation.

Although the Environment Minister emphatically denies that the government has reduced the budget to combat deforestation, the former President of INPE resigned last year out of frustration with the lack of resources and ever-increasing restrictions on investments. Monitoring of the Amazon region will continue, he said, but it will not improve: “The system is full of holes.”

The head of the Brazilian delegation made two important points in a press briefing the other day. First, he said that Brazil would honor its commitment to reduce deforestation because that commitment has now become law. Second, Brazil insists that those developed countries historically responsible for creating the climate problem must take the lead.

So considering all this, here are some questions for Brazil:
• If reduced emissions from deforestation is now a law, who is to be accountable?
• What does Brazil intend to do to reverse this dangerous trend?• Given these developments, what leverage does Brazil have to bargain for more ambition in reducing the mitigation gap in the 2015 agreement and post 2020 implementation?

The world needs Brazil to be a protagonist in the battle against Climate Change.

But it seems that Brazil is stepping back further and further from the front lines and into the muddy post-logging trenches.


EU: When 40 Is Only 33

Coming to Warsaw, ECO was feeling somewhat optimistic. Fresh statistics suggested that global CO2 emissions growth has slowed a bit, which could be the first sign of an approaching emissions peak. In September, China announced took a major positive step -- a direction change in its coal policy. Three key industrial provinces must peak and decline coal consumption by 2017 and ban new dirty coal plants.

But then came the damaging announcements by Australia and Japan, whose shifts are in the negative direction.
After a week like this, we certainly don’t need more bad news.  But according to rumours, the European Commission is preparing a proposal for a 2030 climate target of a meagre 40% reduction against 1990 levels.

The EU has long been seen as setting a global high water mark on ambition.  Yet now it is undermining its own objective to keep global temperature below 2°C.

Yes, 40% seems like a lot – so let’s explain what this means.  A 40% target for 2030 would in practice bring the EU on a pathway towards real emission cuts of merely 33% by 2030 due to the amount of surplus emission allowances in the system.  Indeed, in order to accommodate the huge oversupply of surplus pollution permits in the EU’s carbon market, any 2030 target would need to be 7% stricter.

Instead, the proposed level would be inadequate to steer the EU’s energy system away from coal, or to drive transformational investments into renewables and energy savings. Instead of investing in clean technologies, EU industries can largely escape meaningful pollution pricing and rely on the overhang of surplus emission allowances on the EU’s carbon market well into the next decade. Fortunately, 40% is not the only number in the mix. The UK has called for an EU target of 50% by 2030, while Finland’s environment minister stated the EU’s fair share is between 40% and 60% emissions cuts by 2030.

The EU “Green Growth” group, consisting of the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Estonia, have called for an ambitious EU emissions reduction offer to be put on the table before Ban Ki-moon’s leaders summit in 2014.

So when the European Commission publishes its policy proposal in January and EU leaders discuss it during the EU summit in March 2014, they must insure that the rumour of 40% (remember, that's effectively 33%) doesn’t turn into any kind of reality.

The spotlight is really on Germany, where coalition talks are also rumoured to be considering a minimum 40% climate target by 2030. Germany, of all countries, should know how important it is to get the incentives and infrastructure correct across Europe in order to deliver its own Energiewende – and a 40% target wouldn’t do that. Climate Action Network Europe is calling on the EU to commit to at least 55% domestic emission cuts by 2030, on top of which would come the EU’s international effort. Moreover, a binding EU renewable target of at least 45% and an energy savings target of 40% are needed to provide certainty for investors and drive  true transformation of the energy system.

Does the Commission have in mind any kind of equity indicators whatsoever when planning for a 40% target?  And how big a global emissions budget is assumed? It doesn’t sound like the EU is assuming anything that would give a reasonable chance of staying below 1.5/2°C.  

To be sure, the EU has a long-term emission reduction goal of 80 to 95% reductions from 1990 levels by 2050. Achieving this would be in the EU’s own economic interests as well as inspiring others to follow suit – a real ‘ambition driver’. But 40% by 2030, with all the loopholes in the system, would take the EU off track. We will hear reassuring voices next week as ministers arrive, but what will they be assuring us?  We need to see the EU we have until recently known – all about ambition, action and the clean energy future.



A Tale of Two Transparencies

There is much on the Warsaw agenda for enhancing the current MRV system from Cancun as well as enabling the ex ante equity and adequacy review of post-2020 targets.
But the lack of progress regarding the review guidelines for developed country biennial reports and developing country International Consultation and Analysis (ICA) reports is disheartening. In both cases, the importance of a strong technical assessment is crucial, though the purposes are different.

For developed countries, expert review should be able to assess progress on fulfilling commitments as well as identifying potential problems.

At the same time, for many developing countries, the new biennial update reports and the process to analyse them were significant improvements on previous reporting efforts, especially since it was the first time they agreed to be subject to some sort of scrutiny.

However no one expects these reports will be perfect from the beginning. It would be very beneficial for the technical expert teams to recommend further improvement in these reports – after all, they are called ‘experts’.

Looking forward to the post-2020 tabling and assessment of commitments, Warsaw needs to set up a clear process to generate the most ambitious and fair offers by the time we reach our final destination in Paris. This needs to be underpinned by guidance that will: (a) help countries to prepare and submit their offers; (b) assess how equitable these offers are and how close those offers get to emissions levels needed to stay below 1.5/2°C; and (c) explore how a basket of equity indicators could facilitate the evaluation of the offers.

The procedures and outcomes for both the preparation and assessment processes must be equitable. This means including credible elements to assess whether countries are doing their fair share, in line with science and a set of equity indicators.

In the next 10 days, Parties face the challenge of agreeing on a template for recording their proposed commitments, including enough information – on gases, sectors, GWPs, base year, etc. – to enable comparability of efforts and assess whether they add up to a 1.5/2°C goal, whilst still acknowledging different national circumstances and capability. This must be agreed in Warsaw in order to generate offers in 2014.

For developed countries, this should be a relatively straightforward task as their commitments must be in the form of economy-wide, absolute, 5-year, emission reduction targets.

The window for adopting the guidelines for the assessment of offers is also narrow. We urge Parties to consider building upon existing institutions and procedures, whilst paving the way for designing a more systematic, robust assessment over time.

We cannot repeat the mistakes of Copenhagen with late and vague ‘commitments’ – the history is fresh enough that we should not have to repeat it.


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