Archive for December, 2014

From Bad to Worse: A Roadmap to Global Burning


Focus on the Global South

From Bad to Worse: A Roadmap to Global Burning

Notes for Understanding the Lima Outcome


Demonstrators at the COP20 climate conference in Lima, Peru call on world leaders to “stop funding dirty energy.” (Photo: Climate Action Network/cc/flickr)

The “Lima call for climate action” which came out of the recent UN climate talks, establishes a roadmap to a post-2020 agreement that will be weaker than the ongoing Cancun Agreement (for 2012-2020), and it lays a foundation for an even worse agreement in Paris in 2015.

The Cancun Agreement opened the door to dismantling the Kyoto Protocol, pushing for voluntary “pledges” instead of increased mandatory “commitments” for emission cuts.

The bottom-up approach of the Cancun Agreement has failed. Four years since its adoption in 2010, there is a big gap in emission cuts of around 12 gigatons of CO2e by 2020. The “business as usual” scenario for global greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 is 57 gigatons of CO2e. The Cancun Agreement has reduced that figure only by one or two gigatons, and we need to be below 44 gigatons by 2020 in order to be on a pathway that limits the increase in global temperature to 2º C.

The emissions gap for this decade was not reduced at all during COP20 (the 20th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC) in Lima, Peru. This makes it impossible to catch up with a 2º C pathway in the next decade, since, according to reports from sources like  UNEP’s Gap Report and the Stockholm Environment Institute, the global peak year should happen before 2020. This situation is even worse because China announced in its agreement with the United States that it will only reach peak emissions by 2030.

The Lima text prefigures the outcome of the Paris agreement on the basis of the same laissez-faire logic of “do what you want” when it comes to emission cuts established by the Cancun Agreement. The Paris agreement will replace the term “pledges” with “contributions” for emission cuts in the post-2020 period and continue with the same logic.

The Lima text invites “all Parties to communicate their contributions “by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so.” How those Parties that are “ready to do so” will communicate their “contributions” is left to their own criteria: “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) “may include, as appropriate, inter alia, quantifiable information on the reference point (including, as appropriate, a base year), time frames and/or periods for implementation, scope and coverage, planning processes, assumptions and methodological approaches including those for estimating and accounting for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions…”

The annex on how to report INDCs is dropped from the final decision. It blatantly deletes the proposals of developing countries to have two different tracks for reporting INDCs (one for developed and another for developing countries), plus a clear scope that should include mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, finance, technology transfer, and capacity building. The scope of INDCs is now mainly around mitigation, with no explicit difference between developed and developing countries.

The last-minute addition of “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances” is a copy-paste from the US-China agreement and has no concrete implications in the different articles of the Lima text. This general mention of common but differentiated responsibilities is like putting on your left blinker when you are really turning to the right. The Paris agreement will dilute more and more the historical responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions of developed and emerging economies. The United States and China have an agreement to erase their responsibility in the climate chaos they created.

The final Lima text “urges developed country Parties to provide and mobilize enhanced financial support to developing country Parties.” In previous versions, it called on all Parties to mobilize financial support. “All Parties” denotes that even developing countries will “mobilize” financial support for other developing countries, losing the principle of developed countries’ “historical responsibility.” This text was so bad that it clearly had to be unacceptable and therefore changed to “developed country Parties” instead of “all parties.” It is important to note though that for developed Parties, the term “mobilize” means that financial support can come not just from the public sector, but also from the private sector, carbon markets, and development bank loans.

And in the end, despite all the nice speeches, there are no references to loss and damage or to human rights in the final decision, and the references to adaptation, finance, transfer of technology and capacity building are very general.

The Lima text “acknowledges the progress made in Lima in elaborating the elements for a draft negotiating text,” and attached this text as the only annex of the decision. It states that “These elements for a draft negotiating text reflect work in progress” and includes different proposals for the Paris agreement. Some delegations consider that their proposals have not been fully captured as “options” in the 39 pages and 103 paragraphs of this text. Nonetheless, the text reflects the key scenarios that will be considered for the Paris agreement.

An analysis of the different options shows that the best proposals in the text are far behind from what is really needed to address climate change. Here are some examples:

1) Mitigation contributions will be voluntary, and the new emissions gap for the post-2020 period will be known after the first quarter of 2015 if the big emitters communicate their contributions. There will be no real negotiation in Paris about the heart of the climate agreement, which should be the magnitude of emission cuts and how consistent they are with limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5º C or 2 ºC. One month before COP21 in Paris, the secretariat of the UNFCCC will prepare a “synthesis report on the aggregate effect” of the INDCs. In the “elements” text, there are no proposals that say that commitments from all Parties – taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities – should assure global emissions of less than 40 gigatons of CO2e by 2025 to limit the average global temperature increase to below 2 °C[1]. The most advanced proposal speaks in general about “a global emission budget to be divided among all Parties, in accordance with the principles and provisions of the Convention,” however without specifying an amount or a timeline. There are also regressive proposals that move negotiations backwards by moving the base year for emission cuts from 1990 up to 2010, which will in reality hide the weak percentages on emission cuts.

2) In the entire text, there is no proposal from any country to leave 75% or 80% of known fossil fuel reserves under the ground, something that must be done if we want to limit CO2 emissions to a pathway of less than 1.5 or 2º C. In the 1,892 lines of the text, there is only one mention of “fossil fuels” – regarding a proposal to phase out “fossil fuel subsidies” – and there are only general mentions of “reductions in high-carbon investments.” No mention at all is made of the need to limit extractive industries.

3) There is no reference at all in the text to the need to change our current patterns of production and consumption. The different proposals focus on reductions of emissions produced in a country, and not the emissions consumed in a country. Actually, one-third of CO2e emissions associated with the goods and services consumed in developed countries are being emitted outside the borders of those nations, mostly in the developing world. It is not enough to reduce emissions in developed countries if they do not also reduce their consumption of products that generate CO2e emissions in other parts of the world.

4) There is no proposal for a strong compliance mechanism for climate change mitigation commitments. What happens if a big polluter fails to cut emissions on time and damages a vulnerable country is not considered in the text. No mention is made of a mechanism to demand and sanction governments and corporations for their inaction. All the options in the text consider only processes of review or assessment. A climate agreement without a strong compliance mechanism is just a political declaration.

5) In the negotiating text for the Cancun Agreement, there were proposals to recognize and guarantee the rights of Mother Earth as a clear expression that, in order to deal with climate change, humans must change our relationship with nature: stop treating it as an object and preserve its vital cycles. Now, in this negotiating text, the proposal of rights of Mother Earth is not even being considered. A single mention is made of “the protection of the integrity of Mother Earth,” and only once does the need to “respect human rights” come up – on the same level as “the right to development.”

6) No proposal is included from any country that suggests carbon market mechanisms should be avoided in the Paris Agreement to ensure that a country really fulfills its commitment to make emission cuts without buying offsets. The text instead mentions several different kinds of carbon markets and carbon pricing:

a) “Flexibility mechanisms established by Articles 6 and 12 of the Kyoto Protocol,” which means that this protocol will no longer exist after 2020, but its carbon mechanism will continue

b) “New market-based mechanism defined in decision 2/CP.17, paragraph 83”

c) “Subnational, national and regional emissions trading schemes”

d) “A REDD-plus mechanism”

e) “In meeting their commitments/contributions/actions, Parties may make use of market mechanisms and actions in the land-use sector” which opens the door to Climate Smart Agriculture

7) On the other hand, when it comes to “loss and damage,” there are proposals to exclude any reference on this issue affecting vulnerable countries that are already suffering from climate change.

8) In relation to finance, the most radical proposal appears only once: “Annex I Parties / Developed country Parties to provide 1 per cent of gross domestic product per year from 2020,” which represents around $450 billion per year. The rest of the proposals speak about $50-100 billion per year, and some say there should not be a specific figure. There is no proposal from any country to reduce global military expenditures – which reached $1,747 billion dollars in 2013 – in order to attend to the climate emergency. At this stage, it is clear that by 2020, developed countries will not provide anywhere near $100 billion dollars per year to developing countries. When it comes to the source of finance, there is a clear trend toward favoring the approach of “mobilizing” (instead of providing) money from public, private and “alternative sources” like carbon markets.

9) The “elements” text has a real push for private investment: “A mechanism to attract the private sector to invest in projects,” “public-sector finance to catalyze and avoid crowding out private-sector investments, ensuring that private-sector investment is not displaced,” “the governing body (of the agreement) shall develop modalities for leveraging and freeing up private finance to support the implementation of this agreement,” etc. And there is no option that says that private investment should be controlled and restricted in order to avoid profiting and grabbing from climate disasters.

10) The legal status of the expected Paris agreement is still under debate. It could be a “protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome.” This “agreement” will be open “for signature and subject to ratification, acceptance or approval,” which gives the United States the possibility to not have Congress ratification for this “agreement”.

11) Finally, no proposal is included from any country proposing to ban or avoid forms of geo-engineering, in particular Carbon Capture and Storage, which has been considered as an option in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change. This is extremely dangerous, because proposals like achieving “net zero emissions or full decarbonization by 2050” with no mention of leaving 80% of fossil fuel reserves under the soil can open the door to the use of these technologies in the Paris “agreement.”

In synthesis, an “agreement” that does not close the emissions gap for this decade, that continues with voluntary contributions with no clear targets for the next decade, has no strong compliance mechanisms and more cheating carbon market mechanisms, puts the future of humanity and life as we know it on our planet Earth in serious jeopardy.

[1] The executive summary of the UNEP The Emissions Gap Report 2013 states: “In the scenarios assessed in this report, global emission levels in 2025 and 2030 consistent with the 2° C target amount to approximately 40 GtCO2e (range: 35–45 GtCO2e) and 35 GtCO2e (range: 32–42 GtCO2e), respectively. In these scenarios, global emissions in 2050 amount to 22 GtCO2e (range: 18–25 GtCO2e). These levels are all based on the assumption that the 2020 least-cost level of 44 GtCO2e per year will be achieved.”

Pablo Solón is the Executive Director of Focus on the Global South. He was the former Bolivian ambassador, under the Evo Morales government, to the United Nations. As ambassador to the UN, he became known as a tireless advocate for the rights of nature; he delivered the now famous speech explaining why Bolivia chose to “stand alone” by not signing the Cancun climate agreement in 2010. Before holding this post, he had been a social activist involved in indigenous movements, workers’ unions, student associations, human rights and cultural organizations in his native Bolivia. He is also extensively involved in the global justice movement.

Global Consumption of ‘World’s Dirtiest Energy’ Continues to Rise

Global Consumption of ‘World’s Dirtiest Energy’ Continues to Rise

‘Attempts to combat global climate change will likely fail’ in face of ever-increasing coal use, warn researchers

Lauren McCauley

The mountaintop Kayford coal mine outside of Charleston, West Virginia. (Photo: Dennis Dimick/cc/flickr)

As worldwide coal consumption continues to rise, efforts to keep global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius warming threshold will very likely fail, warns environmental research group Worldwatch Institute in a new analysis of coal data.

Global coal consumption rose 3 percent from 2012 to 2013, reaching over 3,800 million tons of oil equivalent (mtoe) in 2013, according to numbers provided to Worldwatch by BP. 

Further troubling, according to the analysis, is that the world’s coal supply is getting “dirtier” as continued demand and lower prices create markets for coal with lower energy content. For example, in 2012, “the average heat content of coal produced in the United States was about 23.4 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg), down from 29.17 MJ/kg in 2005,” the group notes.

“This means that more and more coal needs to be burned to generate the same amount of heat for a desired electricity output.”

And according to the Worldwatch analysis, emerging economies, such as China and India, are the primary drivers of increasing coal consumption. Coal demand in China has almost tripled since 2000, notes the group, rising from 683.5 mtoe at the turn of the century to 1,933.1 mtoe in 2013—more than half of the global figure.

In contrast, the United States has decreased its coal use while becoming increasingly reliant on domestic oil and natural gas production. In 2013, the U.S. consumed 455.7 mtoe of coal. However, despite efforts to reduce its own carbon emissions, recent studies have shown that the U.S. continues to export coal and its related pollution to other countries. According to an Associated Press analysis published this summer, in 2012, about 9 percent of worldwide coal exports originated in the U.S.

Coal consumption in the European Union has also followed a downward trend in recent years, which the analysis attributes to “the EU’s flat overall energy consumption since 1990” and an increasing shift towards renewables driven largely by policy and financial incentives.

Although the report acknowledges that the pace of growth for coal use is slowing, researchers warn that the trend will likely come too late in the face of international climate inaction.

“If coal consumption continues to increase and no meaningful binding multilateral agreements on climate change are made, attempts to combat global climate change will likely fail,” writes Christoph von Friedeburg, a research fellow at the Worldwatch Institute. “One source of hope is that the combination of decreasing energy intensity and declining costs of renewables will cause coal’s share to keep shrinking and stop the global rise in the use of the dirtiest energy source.”

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