The world gained momentum on a climate agreement going into Lima. A historic agreement was reached between the US and China going into COP 20. Pledges to the Green Climate Fund were on the rise and narrowing in on the goal on $10 Billion. Everyone knew going in that Lima needed to hole the proverbial climate agreement ship steady, and it did that. Nothing glamorous or jaw dropping came out of Lima, but the parties are in a position to meet the deadline for the 2015 Paris Agreement. That is much easier said than done, it is no easy task to get just under 200 countries to agree to a climate deal to limit warming to 2°C.
Some good things did come out of Lima. The President of the COP, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, highlighted three important outcomes: (1) $10 billion goal for the Green Climate Fund was met, (2) the Multilateral Assessment work as countries exposed themselves to questioning about their emission reduction plans, and (3) the Lima Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness was put forward as a means to increase education efforts on climate change in schools around the world.
The biggest piece of the 2015 Paris Agreement is going to be country emissions targets. Each country will set their own target in an Intended National Determined Contribution (INDC). Major economies are expected to submit these targets soon, which will put forth their contribution to global emissions reductions. This is the corner stone for the 2015 Paris Agreement. This bottom up style agreement has the potential to involve every country on the planet. However, the question then becomes how to ratchet up ambition. That part will be worked out using the Multilateral Assessment (MA). The MA will hopefully be the mechanism to allow pressure on parties to raise ambition towards reducing carbon emissions. AILAC and European Union (EU) parties advocate for a full on review of every countries’ INDC, while China, India and the Like Minded Developing Countries do not favor any public review of the contributions. This will be an important piece of the negotiations to follow through Paris, 2015.
Finally, the 2013-2015 Review met during COP 20 in Lima. This group is in charge of evaluating the adequacy of the 2°C goal as well as of party commitments. Part of this Review is the Structured Expert Dialogue (See my blog post from December 9th, 2014). They met twice with IPCC and other experts to discuss the adequacy of the goal, that is, if they ought to increase ambition to stay below 1.5°C warming. The dialogue will conclude in February, with a report coming out a few months after. It will be interesting to follow the conclusion of this process to see what inputs will be provided for the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Here is a link to the Elements for a Draft Negotiating Text. This draft text must be finalized in June, 6 months before the meeting in Paris, to give parties sufficient time to review the text and make edits.
Andreas Fischlin, a Swiss native, is the co-chair of the SED. He has been conducting the conversations and deliberations of the SED and the corresponding contact group. He has been able to keep the Review on track and moving forward effectively.
He will ultimately be tasked with compiling the information gathered in the Review into a synthesis report, which will be approved by parties for an input to the Paris Agreement. This Review and synthesis report has major repercussions for ambition. If Fischlin is able to close out the report in such a way that parties agree to lower the temperature limit to 1.5˚C, this would be a call for immediate and strong ambition in a Paris Agreement. We know that we are already committed to 1.4˚C warming, but the question remains, how much more than that will occur? Can Fischlin get parties to agree to raise ambition? We will find out by June when the Review submits the final conclusions to the SBI and SBSTA.
The two most vocal and polarized actors thus far during the 2013-2015 Review have been the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Saudi Arabia. They sit on opposite ends of a spectrum from 1.5˚C to obstructing the Review process. For AOSIS, the Review is a priority on their agenda. They advocate for immediate action to meet the 1.5˚C goal with a focus on vulnerable countries such as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDC). They argue that their homeland will be completely destroyed after a 2˚C temperature rise. They see 1.5˚C as a tolerable level in which they can still survive. AOSIS has frequently been the first to comment on any discussion. They are aggressive in advocating for climate action and the reduction of the goal to 1.5˚C. The Saudi Arabians are on the opposite end of the spectrum. This oil soaked nation has been obstructive to the Review process at every opportunity. In a join contact group session with the chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) the Saudis were able to stifle conversations on a draft text. The text focused around applauding the work of the IPCC in creating AR5.
As an example, the Saudis proposed replacing “the Fifth Assessment Report represents the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment of climate change to date” with “the Fifth Assessment Report represents a comprehensive assessment of climate change to date.” The US, Norway, the EU, and Japan argued back to the Saudis, that the original statement is factually correct. There is no more comprehensive and authoritative assessment of climate change than the IPCC. The delegates from Saudi Arabia are seemingly intervening to slow down the approval of the text and dilute the conclusions drawn by the SBSTA. Every sovereign nation has power in these negotiations, which forces compromise amongst the groups. Compromise leads to dilution of the ultimate text because it approves the least common denominator.
The biggest outcome from this meeting is that 2˚C is too much. With 0.8˚C warming already having occurred since pre-industrial times and 0.6˚C being baked into the current climate regime, there seems little hope that warming could stay under 1.5˚C. That is to say that we are already committed to approximately 1.4˚C warming and there seems to be little action to stop fossil fuels use immediately. In talking with various IPCC experts, they agreed that it is highly likely that we will blow past the 2˚C limit and warm the planet by several degrees by the end of the century. This means severe impacts.
The Reasons for Concern or the Burning Embers Diagram came out with the most recent IPCC synthesis report.This is the most important figure to the 2013-2015 Review because it shows impacts of warming levels as well as corresponding CO2 concentrations and needed emission reductions. This figure represents an enormous effort from IPCC authors and is one of the more important inputs from the IPCC to the COP. This figure now theoretically constrains global emissions seeing that the 2˚C goal was set in Copenhagen. Carbon dioxide emissions must be limited to between 2,500 and 5,000 GtCO2 since 1870. 1,800 GtCO2 has already been emitted leaving between 700 and 3,200 GtCO2 left to burn. This range will be dependent upon climate sensitivity and response. The lower scenario represents highly sensitive climate response, while the high emissions scenario represents a much less sensitive response. The SED will be concluding in February in Geneva in time for a report by June on the long-term temperature goal. The SED is important in the COP because the Review theoretically sets the level of ambition for the Paris Agreement. While a bottom-up agreement will come out of Paris in 2015, this review sets the groundwork to help ratchet up ambition in succeeding COPs under a pledge and review strategy. With the 1.5˚C target being virtually unreachable, the Review becomes political. Can the countries most impacted by climate change represented in the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS) and the Africa Group get parties to agree to the 1.5˚C target? If so, this could have major ramifications for loss and damage as well as compensation. This is an important piece of the COP to watch and many people are not paying attention to it. Another Review is expected to coincide with the next assessment report of the IPCC.
This past weekend I went to Lehigh University for a short course with ExxonMobil on basin analysis. I went to learn about ExxonMobil and how they go about finding hydrocarbons. While I barley scratched the surface of how our species has gone about extracting fuels from the ground, I learned a great deal about what geologic conditions are needed to produce oil and gas. It was fascinating to hear them talk about extracting resources to sell on the market.
While ExxonMobil is based in Texas, they talked about several markets they are currently pushing into; Russia, Kirgizstan, Brazil, Africa, and Mexico. They truly are a global energy exploration company when it comes to gas and oil. They seek business opportunities all over the world and employ the best geoscientists to find fossil fuels.
When asked about how they are going to be adapting as an industry to climate regulations, they strive for making their emissions less per BTU, that is to say they want to be more efficient with their fuels. In the 1970s ExxonMobil explored using renewable energies as a branch of operations, but they came to the quick conclusion that it was not what they are best at. They were not able to make renewable as economically successful, so they gave it up to do what they are best known for, oil and gas explorations and extraction.
When asked about how they would adapt to the world with carbon emissions limits, they spoke about carbon sequestration. They are currently working on a project in the Moxa Arch in Wyoming, read more about it here. This project would allow them to reduce the corporations overall emissions if they needed to under a scenario with carbon limiting legislation. While they are not currently injecting anthropogenic carbon dioxide, they are proving the concepts by injecting hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. If they are able to successful sequester the carbon, this could lead to the continuation of ExxonMobil as a fossil fuel exploration company under carbon restrictive legislation.
Here is an article about their policy stances towards climate change
Here is an article about how they are mitigating GHG emissions
In the Copenhagen Accord (UNFCCC, 2010), during COP15, 114 countries agreed that “the increase in global temperature should be below 2°C, on the basis of equity”. This has been interpreted as the “dangerous” level agreed to by the parties in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992). To have a more likely than not chance at staying below 2°C, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cannot exceed 500ppm (IPCC, 2014). Every 2.13 GtCO2 emitted will raise the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 1ppm (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, 2012). As of September 2014, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 395 ppm (NOAA, 2014). Thus, there is approximately 224 more GtCO2 that can be emitted until there is a less likely than not chance of having warming greater than 2°C. To reach this level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, global emissions must be reduced by 40-70% by 2050 and be at zero or negative emissions by the end of the century (IPCC, 2014). A carbon tax is the most effective way to make the transformative change needed to keep emissions below the agreed upon dangerous level of atmospheric GHGs. An aggressive carbon tax will allow dangerous climate change to be avoided because it is proven to work, it can be implemented quickly, and it has the potentially to drastically reduce emissions.
A carbon tax is an effective tool to mitigate emissions in a least cost manner. Every use of fossil fuels that is worth less than the price of the emissions will not occur and thus reduce emissions. As the fee rises, more carbon intensive activities will become economically infeasible, driving down GHG emissions. Depending on the original fee and rate of increase this would be an effective tool to rapidly decrease emissions at the least cost because market forces will drive carbon reductions. By setting a tax floor, emission reductions are ensured (as opposed to a price cap in cap-and-trade systems) and increase over time with price increases (Sawin and Moomaw, 2009). A cap-and-trade system will be associated with less certain emissions reductions because an emissions cap is also an emissions floor (Burtraw and Woerman, 2012). This means that maximum emissions reductions cannot always be achieved because the number of permits issued sets the reduction amount as opposed to market forces pushing emissions with economic forces. This tax scheme allows for efficient carbon reductions.
Several European countries have already put a tax on carbon. Denmark was able to do this successfully by taxing industry emissions to fund renewable energy projects (Sawin and Moomaw, 2009). Denmark proved that the carbon tax works when you tax the polluters and subsidize renewable energy (Prasad, 2008). A recent study even found that a majority of republicans, democrats and independents in the United States would support a carbon tax similar to Denmark’s in which all revenues would be returned to research and development of renewable energies (Amdur, 2014). This could make a carbon tax feasible in the US and allow for economically efficient emissions reductions.
During the last week of October 2014, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse announced his intentions to introduce a carbon fee bill to the US Senate (Pantsios, 2014). This bill would put a price on the carbon to fund social programs including helping workers transition out of carbon intensive jobs (Pantsios, 2014). Two MIT economists hypothesize that it is better for the economy to have carbon taxes than high federal taxes (specifically looking at the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts) even if those funds go towards social programs or tax cuts (Rausch and Reilly, 2012). For all these reasons, it seems like a carbon fee bill would do well in US congress; it makes logical sense, but the politics can get messy.
Australia passed a carbon tax in 2012 (Meng and others, 2013) under a pro-labor government attempting to reach across party lines to gain votes (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). The politics around this legislation have been messy for a number of years and in 2014 the law was repealed under the notion that it hurts business and is preventing Australia from exporting its rich energy resources to countries across the world (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). AGL Energy was cited as saying that this would cause a loss in revenue in the near term due to loss in assistance from the government/carbon tax; however, long-term profits are now looking up (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). This could lead to backlash from citizens as the government takes away a A$500+ check, which was promised to households in the form of yearly savings (Taylor and Hoyle, 2014). Australia is the first example of a nation to pass a carbon fee and then later repeal it. A program, which gives money to the citizens, would seem to have broad voter appeal, like British Columbia’s program (2014). It appears that the politics were not set up properly for Australia to have a carbon fee that sticks. This does not mean that a carbon fee is impossible, but rather that care must be taken to set up a program that is politically feasible.
Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) are a good first step and should not be discourage amongst UNFCCC parties. To be effective, an agreement with a great deal of stringency, participation and compliance must be reached in Paris. It does not appear to be politically feasible, but if a global price on carbon could be agreed upon, this would allow for the best system to tie everyone together ensuring participation and compliance. The tax could provide increasing stringency over time to ensure effectiveness. This would allow certainty around carbon leakage out of countries with strict carbon rules and into low regulation nations. The carbon tax is a clear transformation change that would work to drive emissions down. Incremental changes and small policy reforms are unlikely to put the world in a position to mitigate warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Effective and decisive action is needed immediately to instill transformative change.
Amdur, D., Rabe, B., Borick, C. Public Views on a Carbon Tax Depend on the Proposed Use of Revenue. Issues in Energy and Environmental Policy. Number 13. July, 2014.
British Columbia. Carbon Tax. Ministry of Finance. 2014.
Burtraw, Dallas, and Matt Woerman. “US status on climate change mitigation.” Resources for the Future (RFF) Discussion Paper (2012): 12-48.
Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center – Conversion Tables. September, 2012.
IPCC, 2014: 5th Assessment Synthesis Report, Summer for Policy Makers. [Myles R. Allen (United Kingdom), Vicente Ricardo Barros (Argentina), John Broome (United Kingdom), Wolfgang Cramer (Germany/France), Renate Christ (Austria/WMO), John A. Church (Australia), Leon Clarke (USA), Qin Dahe (China), Purnamita Dasgupta (India), Navroz K. Dubash (India), Ottmar Edenhofer (Germany), Ismail Elgizouli (Sudan), Christopher B. Field (USA), Piers Forster (United Kingdom), Pierre Friedlingstein (United Kingdom), Jan Fuglestvedt (Norway), Luis Gomez-Echeverri (Colombia), Stephane Hallegatte (France/World Bank), Gabriele Hegerl (United Kingdom), Mark Howden (Australia), Kejun Jiang (China), Blanca Jimenez Cisneros (Mexico/UNESCO), Vladimir Kattsov (Russian Federation), Hoesung Lee (Republic of Korea), Katharine J. Mach (USA), Jochem Marotzke (Germany), Michael D. Mastrandrea (USA), Leo Meyer (The Netherlands), Jan Minx (Germany), Yacob Mulugetta (Ethiopia), Karen O’Brien (Norway), Michael Oppenheimer (USA), R.K. Pachauri (India), Joy J. Pereira (Malaysia), Ramón Pichs- Madruga (Cuba), Gian-Kasper Plattner (Switzerland), Hans-Otto Pörtner (Germany), Scott B. Power (Australia), Benjamin Preston (USA), N.H. Ravindranath (India), Andy Reisinger (New Zealand), Keywan Riahi (Austria), Matilde Rusticucci (Argentina), Robert Scholes (South Africa), Kristin Seyboth (USA), Youba Sokona (Mali), Robert Stavins (USA), Thomas F. Stocker (Switzerland), Petra Tschakert (USA), Detlef van Vuuren (The Netherlands), Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (Belgium)]. November 1, 2014.
Meng, S, Siriwardana, M., and McNeill, J. “The environmental and economic impact of the carbon tax in Australia.” Environmental and Resource Economics 54.3 (2013): 313-332.
Monica Prasad, “On Carbon, Tax and Don’t Spend,” New York Times, 25 March 2008.
NOAA. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth Systems Research Laboratory Global Monitoring Division. Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. October, 2014.
Patsios, Anastasia. Sen. Whitehouse Proposes Carbon Tax to Repay Citizens for Pollution Costs. Eco-watch. October, 2014.
Rausch, S., and Reilly, J. Carbon tax revenue and the budget deficit: A win-win-win solution?. MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, 2012.
Sawin, J., and Moomaw, W.. Renewable revolution: low carbon energy by 2030. Worldwatch Institute, 2009.
Taylor R. and Hoyle R. Australia Becomes First Developed Nation to Repeal Carbon Tax. The Wall Street Journal. July, 2014.
UNFCCC. Copenhagen Accord. “Report of the Conference of the Parties on its fifteenth session, held in Copenhagen from 7 to 19 December 2009.” UNFCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1. March 30, 2010.
UNFCCC. United National Framework Convention on Climate Change. UNFCCC/INFORMAL/84. 1992.
Earlier this week Oreskes appeared in an interview in the New York Times. She spoke about her new book about the future in a world that has warmed. It would be an interesting read and builds on what she wrote about in Merchants of Doubt. If you are interested, you can check out her interview here.
After this weeks discussions in Germany, negotiations has stalled leading up to Lima. Developed countries were not able to agree to a deal on financing the developing nations in exchange for their commitment to reduce emissions. This will continue to play out all the way through Lime. How are developed nations going to meet their $100 Billion pledge by 2020? With financing pieces from the US falling through, it looks challenging, but to get developing nations on board to reduce GHG emissions, it must be done. Read more here about the developments.
The City Commission and Mayor of South Miami recently passed a resolution calling for South Florida to split away from North Florida over climate change. They cite inaction from a more conservative North Florida as a key reason for splitting. Sea level rise will have drastic effects on Southern Florida as much of the coast line is very close to sea level with much topographic change over great distances. A good calculator for sea level rise can be found here.
It will be interesting to see how this develops and if South Florida is actually able to split or if the politics will be sorted out and they can do more on climate change adaptation.
This week the EU agreed to cut carbon emissions by 40% no later than 2030.
The EU is already well towards their goal of 20% reductions by 2020. This represents a good step forward for the EU. It will be interesting to see how this plays out going into Lima and then Paris. We can imagine that the EU will be pushing the rest of the world to follow suit. The EU is doing their part, what about the US and China?