On the Environment
Energy & Climate
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
According to a recent estimate, CO2 emissions in the RGGI region experienced a significant decrease from 2005 to 2009 -- approximately 33%. What's been overlooked is the key role natural gas played in that drop. Here's the relevant chart:
No doubt there are several important factors driving the emissions drop -- the recession, the weather, increased energy efficiency, and increased renewables capacity, among them. But what's worth underscoring is the 31.2% coming from fuel switching. That's all from natural gas -- specifically, generally decreasing natural gas prices that were lower than petroleum prices after 2006 and much closer to coal prices by 2009. Per another excellent chart:
This trend could be very important for our climate future. It suggests natural gas might actually be the viable transition fuel that's been heavily promised. Though of course much more research and analysis needs to be done on that front before a firm conclusion can be drawn. Nevertheless, natural gas prices are now something very much worth watching in the coming years.
The Cleantech Group released preliminary results yesterday from their 2011 first quarter report. The major finding: a total of $2.57 billion in clean technology venture investment across 159 companies. While the total number of deals were down, actual dollar investments increased by 52% compared to the previous quarter. The top investment areas were:
SOLAR - $641 million in 26 deals
TRANSPORTATION - $311 million in 8 deals
MATERIALS - $296 million in 9 deals
BIOFUELS - $148 million in 13 deals
The report also found a huge increase in investment in North America, while the UK saw a sharp drop from the previous quarter. After the US, Canada raised the most clean tech investment dollars, followed by India.
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
Sobering look at sea level rise in the Northeast and the hard choices it puts before us. Do taxpayers pay to defend coastline with expensive sea walls in what looks to be a losing battle? Do emotionally-invested homeowners on the coast retreat now while their property may be at its optimal value? What can we save from the sea's rise, if anything? How will we as a society triage the many victims of this climate change harm?
I detect no real sense that policy makers have a good handle on how to resolve, or even approach, these kinds of terrible choices. Unfortunately, going forward blindly is also a choice, and one that usually doesn't end too well.
Friday, April 01, 2011
By Susanne Stahl
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is investing $20 million dollars into each of three major studies looking at the effects of climate change on agriculture and forest production.
1. Dr. Lois Wright Morton of Iowa State University will lead a research team estimating the carbon, nitrogen and water footprints of corn production in the Midwest. The team will evaluate the effects of various crop management practices when various climate models are applied. The Iowa State project, which includes researchers from 11 institutions in nine states, will integrate education and outreach components across all aspects of the project, specifically focusing on a place-based education and outreach program called “I-FARM.” This interactive tool will help the team analyze the economic, agronomic and social acceptability of using various crop management practices to adapt and mitigate to the effects of climate change.
2. Dr. Tim Martin, of the University of Florida, will lead a team looking at climate change mitigation and adaptation as it relates to southern pines, particularly loblolly pine, which comprises 80 percent of the planted forestland in the Southeast. The team of 12 institutions will establish a regional network to monitor the effects of climate and management on forest carbon sequestration. Research in the project will provide information that can be used to guide planting of pine in future climates, and to develop management systems that enable forests to sequester more carbon and to remain robust in the face of changing climate.
3. Dr. Sanford Eigenbrode, of the University of Idaho, willlead a team monitoring changes in soil carbon and nitrogen levels and greenhouse gas emissions related to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change in the region’s agriculture, which produces 13 percent of the nation’s wheat supply and 80 percent of its specialty soft white wheat for export. The research team will look at the effects of current and potential alternative cropping systems on greenhouse gas emissions, carbon, nitrogen and water-levels and how that, in turn, affects the local and regional farm economy.
“Climate change has already had an impact on agriculture production," said NIFA Director Roger Beachy. “These projects ensure we have the best available tools to accurately measure the effects of climate change on agriculture, develop effective methods to sustain productivity in a changing environment and pass these resources on to the farmers and industry professionals who can put the research into practice.”
For further details, see the full press release here.
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
There are many valuable lessons to be drawn from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation's only operational, and mandatory, cap-and-trade program. One worth dwelling on is the effectiveness of RGGI's CO2 emissions cap. Recent analysis suggests this cap is much too forgiving -- not just now, but, more importantly, also over the next two decades.
The whole point of the RGGI emissions cap is to create a market for CO2 emissions from power plants that will ultimately drive down those emissions over time in the most economically efficient way possible. A relatively harder cap - one set below actual CO2 emissions, for example - should make RGGI's tradeable CO2 pollution allowances more scarce and thus more valuable to polluters, resulting in higher prices per allowance than a cap set above actual emissions would. The key idea here is that RGGI's cap on CO2 emissions from its regulated entities - electric utilities basically - creates a new market that has the potential to push those utilities towards low- or no-carbon generation. Where policy makers set the cap can therefore matter a great deal; a relatively tough one pushes harder than a relatively lenient one. This chart, produced on behalf of RGGI, strongly suggests the RGGI cap is not hard enough now, nor will it be hard enough in the future:
The important lines to look at for our purposes are the dashed one - that's the RGGI cap as set by agreement of the RGGI members - and the solid black line - that's both historical and projected total CO2 emissions from RGGI's regulated entities. You can see that presently, the cap is simply way too high (and to be fair, some of that is on purpose). The factors behind the recent massive drop in actual CO2 emissions are several (more on that later). The recession undoubtedly plays a huge part. Nevertheless, the cap just does not appear to be exerting real pressure on utilities right now. Maybe that's not a problem. There's an argument that a soft cap is just fine early on, as we refine and tweak RGGI. That argument might be even stronger in the current economic climate. No need to clamp down on utilities in the midst of the recession.
So perhaps the short-term performance issues of the cap are okay to put aside for the moment. That's not at all true for the long-term performance issues. Here's the major problem, and one policy makers should make an urgent focus of their thinking: According to these projections, the cap doesn't appear to really bite until maybe 2030 or later, and that's just too late in the scheme of things. Climate science tells us we need meaningful CO2 reductions much much sooner than that to avoid catastrophic harms. So what's the point of an emissions cap if it doesn't drive change when we need it? It's time to give serious thought to how best to tighten the RGGI cap to make it better correspond with the scientific reality we find ourselves in.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
As oil prices increase and energy security becomes a concern in the US, more is being done to explore cleaner burning fuels such as natural gas. Natural gas has seen big increases in the number of wells and total production as shale gas extraction, in particular, intensifies. The EPA projects that 20% of US gas supply will come from shale gas by 2020.
An EPA report in 2004 found that "there was little to no risk of fracturing fluid contaminating underground sources of drinking water during hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane production wells." But public concern over the process by which shale gas is extracted known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has escalated with the growing number of wells. Each well requires the pumping of tremendous amounts of fracking fluid into the earth and, according to the EPA's 2004 report, "[t]here is very little documented research on the environmental impacts that result from the injection and migration of these fluids into subsurface formations, soils, and USDWs." Until last year (when the EPA called for the voluntary reporting of chemicals used in fracking fluids), many of the chemicals used in fracking were unknown. Chemicals now known to sometimes be involved in the process include: diesel fuel (which contains benzene and other toxic chemicals), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, methanol, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, and sodium hydroxide. Given this situation, the EPA has announced another study to examine the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and groundwater. The EPA aims to issue preliminary findings in 2012 and a full report in 2014. The draft study plan is available at here.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The disaster in Japan has focused new attention on nuclear power in the United States. Here are the basic contours: At present, the U.S. has 104 nuclear plants in 31 states - producing 20% of the nation's electricity. Of the pending proposals to build 30 new units, it is likely that fewer than seven will be built before 2020. No new power plants have been built in the U.S. since the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979. The Obama Administration wants to ramp up nuclear power in the U.S. as part of a plan to increase domestic energy security and meet clean energy targets. In practical terms, that means an investment of $54 billion in U.S. loan guarantees for nuclear energy - loan guarantees are often used to help investors since nuclear power plants are extremely costly to set up, have uncertainty around permit approvals, and often take many years to realize a profit. Read more here.
Monday, March 14, 2011
The House Energy and Power Subcommittee approved a bill on Thursday by Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, to halt the EPA’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Upton claims that the cap-and-trade legislation and other “needless EPA regulations stifle growth, kill jobs, and raise energy costs.” In December 2010, the EPA announced that it would regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and oil refineries, the nation's two biggest sources of carbon dioxide (accounting for almost 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions), beginning in 2011. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 called for the voluntary reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration activities, but the EPA is now looking to take the next step by actively regulating these emissions. Read more here
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
By Susanne Stahl
By Angel Hsu and Yupu Zhao
In the politics of climate negotiations, which are often steeped in nuance and careful posturing, it’s easy to get lost in translation. On the ground in Cancun, reports have been flying about China’s so-called “game-changing” concessions, which could possibly “buoy” the climate Talks, which are quickly nearing an end. As we’re both on the ground in Cancun, we’re going to try to clear the air and get to the bottom of what exactly the Chinese have and haven’t said in the climate negotiations.
The first “game-changing” issue regards the legal nature or “bindingness” of the commitments China made at Copenhagen last year, in particular to reduce carbon intensity 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. A Reuters article suggested that China was offering “for the first time to submit its voluntary carbon emissions target to a binding U.N. resolution.”
This announcement immediately made a big splash here in Cancun, with buzz in the corridors of China potentially “buoying” the negotiations. However, various media reports and press statements by Chinese officials themselves have muddled where China stands on this particular issue. Last year in Copenhagen, China committed to make its pledges domestically binding through national law. This move to make their carbon intensity reduction target as part of legally-binding, domestic law has been further confirmed through announcements by senior officials that the goals will be incorporated in the next two Five-Year Plans.
Therefore, from this angle, these statements are what Stern called “nothing new” and “business as usual” in Tuesday’s press conference. But what some here have suggested would be “game changing” would be if China were to submit their pledges to an official Conference of the Parties (COP) decision.
In this view, China formalizing its Copenhagen pledges in a UN agreement under the UNFCCC (such as the Kyoto Protocol) would be a move that developed countries have signaled readiness for but developing countries have not. This is mainly because under the Kyoto Protocol, which is legally binding, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities exempts non-Annex I countries (i.e. developing nations) from requirements to mitigate their climate impacts.
“Earlier, some Chinese officials were reluctant to do so because they thought this commitment would mean a detraction from the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities,” says Roy Lee, a professor of law at Pace University, who has been advocating such an action by China for some time.
However, according to our analysis and conversations with members of the Chinese delegation, these suppositions are based on misunderstandings of what the Chinese were trying to say about their commitments to make their carbon intensity targets part of domestic law.
Liu Zhenmin, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Director of the Chinese negotiating team, said in an interview with Chinese journalists that foreign news outlets sometimes falsely report on China’s position due to language barriers and translation problems, hinting that China still hasn’t made any commitment to the idea of “legally-binding,” as reported by Reuters.
Opening up to MRV?
The second major concession media reported was on the measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of Chinese emissions data and climate mitigation actions. Early last week, before U.S. and Chinese negotiators had officially met, the Associated Press announced that the two countries were close to agreeing on MRV, an issue that proved to be hotly divisive at last year’s Copenhagen climate summit and even in preliminary talks in Tianjin, less than two months before the talks in Cancun began.
However, it appeared that the AP based their premature analysis on softer language by both the U.S. and particularly from China, which was perhaps a strategic move on the part of the Chinese to revamp their image from Copenhagen. Then on Monday, the Associated Press reported again that China had “said all their operations, including fully domestic actions, would be open to international scrutiny.”
This statement, while not entirely inaccurate, is largely misleading. At a press conference on Monday, Xie Zhenhua- the head of the Chinese delegation and Vice Minister of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)- reaffirmed pledges of transparency made in Copenhagen and Tianjin. These included willingness to submit actions receiving support, technology transfer, or capacity building through the UNFCCC process to international MRV mechanisms. In addition, China’s voluntary, domestically-funded actions - which are the main concern of developed countries like the United States - would be subject to review by “international consultation and analysis” (ICA), the official language included in the Copenhagen Accord. ICA has been proposed as a MRV-type transparency mechanism applicable to developing countries that undertake unsupported and voluntary mitigation actions, yet in the view of some countries it is distinct from the more stringent MRV mechanisms proposed for developed nations. The specifics of both MRV and ICA are still vague and options are currently being debated in Cancun without much progress. Therefore, the statements regarding transparency here in Cancun are nothing new.
Some of this media confusion also centers on a proposal attempting to clarify these transparency measures, which was made by India’s Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh. Ramesh suggested at the Major Economies Forum meeting Nov. 17-18 that countries with a share of global emissions greater than 1 percent (around 16 countries) should submit actions to ICA once every two to three years. When the talks began last Monday, Nov. 29, the Chinese delegation was mum on whether China supported Ramesh’s proposals; while Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, said that the proposal was “light” and lacked enough specifics. In fact in the same press conference, Stern mentioned deliberations regarding MRV represented the least progress to date in Cancun - far from news reports of U.S. and China being close to reaching agreement.
The U.S.’s position aside, where exactly China stands on Ramesh’s proposal, which has been gaining support amongst developing countries since negotiations began in Cancun, is unclear. Shortly after arriving in Cancun over the weekend, Xie met with Ramesh and discussed the proposal for four hours. Despite BASIC countries, which include China and India, deliberating the ICA proposal, it is still unclear as to what extent it receives China’s endorsement. Nevertheless, Minister Xie did suggest that the next step is to discuss the details of the proposal, particularly on the frequency of assessment for qualified developing countries. Xie reiterated the country’s support of the principle of ICA- that it should be non-intrusive, non-punitive, and should respect national sovereignty.
So - are the Chinese changing the game here in Cancun or simply reiterating the status quo? Our assessment is that the most significant factor for the Chinese has been its shift in communication and messaging, which has “softened” their image and subsequently led to the dramatic headlines we’ve seen so far in Cancun. But more on that piece later.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Guest post by Angel Hsu Original post can be found in The Atlantic. Coming away from this past week of negotiations at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Tianjin, the sense is certainly that time is not on our side. While delegates from more than 150 countries were charged the task of whittling down options on the table to prepare for heads of state and ministers in Cancun, the talks concluded with dishearteningly little progress, a widening divide between developed and developing countries, and resurfacing tensions between the U.S. and China on climate change. From my observations in Copenhagen to most recently in Tianjin, the acrimony between the US and China appears to still rest on three of the most hotly-contested letters in the climate debate - M, R, and V, which refer to the measurement, reporting, and verification of mitigation actions and financial support. In Copenhagen, China agreed to international verification of actions receiving financing, technology transfer, or capacity building; while also consenting to "international consultation and analysis" (ICA) for its domestic actions, which include a pledge to reduce carbon intensity 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. At a press conference early in the week, I heard the head of the Chinese delegation Vice Minister Xie Zhenhua say that China was trying to increase transparency and did not have any major problems with MRV - as long as national sovereignty was respected. The differences in viewpoints between the US and China at the talks in Tianjin caused major rifts in the discussions and culminated with the Chinese lead negotiator Su Wei calling the US a "pig preening itself in a mirror." In the classical Chinese idiom where Su derived the comparison, Zhubajie zhao jinzi, li wai bu shi ren - meaning "pig in mirror, not human inside or outside" - the half-man, half-pig character Zhubajie is portrayed as lazy, gluttonous, and idiotic. [my note: anyone who is familiar with China's Journey to the West will know the Monkey King and Man-Pig characters] Needless to say, in Chinese culture, this less-than-desirable comparison is considered an undiplomatic slight. Su's comments in the corridors of the Tianjin Meijiang Convention Center reflect his obvious frustration with what he feels is hypocrisy on the part of the U.S. in the climate negotiations. During a press conference, Su criticized the United States for failing to meet its UNFCCC commitments, particularly in terms of pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to provide financial assistance to developing countries. He said it was unfair for the United States to criticize China and make them the scapegoat in the climate debates when the United States itself "isn't doing anything," Su said. His remarks were counter to a speech Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change in the United States, gave at the University of Michigan Law School in which he said that China was "spurning" commitments made in Copenhagen, acting as if the agreement "never happened." And there's evidence that the Chinese are working to improve capacity as well as transparency of its measurement and reporting systems. Sun Cuihua, the Deputy General-Director of the Climate Change Coordination Office in China's National Development and Reform Commission announced at a side event that China is currently working on a centralized database of GHG emissions, which would include emissions data from Chinese municipalities and provinces and would eventually become open for the public. Although no specific timeline was given for completion, this is a major announcement, considering the most recent publicly-available data for GHG emission levels of Chinese provinces dates back to 1994. Despite these efforts, the US still pushed China on the MRV issue in Tianjin, which I think could have been a negotiating tactic on the part of the US to deflect attention away from the fact that the Washington still has been unable to pass national legislation on energy and climate change. What perhaps bothers the US most on the MRV issue is the fear that if China indeed backs away from the Copenhagen Accord in the negotiations, its promises of MRV and ICA go along with it. This fear was expressed by lead US negotiator and Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing. Discussion on measurement, reporting, and verification of GHG emissions even amongst non-government actors has also become particularly sensitive following the Tianjin talks, as I've heard from colleagues here in China that several US-China bilateral workshops planned to discuss MRV have been canceled. So without the two largest climate behemoths talking constructively - and not bickering - what does this mean moving forward to Cancun? First, geographical differences aside, Cancun is not going to be any Copenhagen. The expectations are already much lower -BBC news is contemplating only sending one correspondent to cover the talks, as opposed to around 30 last year. Hopes for a legally-binding deal have long been off the table - I could even sense the difference in Pershing's more relaxed demeanor in Tianjin compared to Copenhagen. Second, the inability of countries in Tianjin to make enough progress on the negotiation text means that some important issues identified in the Copenhagen Accord may not be discussed in Cancun. Bright points at Copenhagen, such discussion on credits from avoided deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), were barely even touched at the talks at Tianjin, which do not bode well for hopes of a decision in Cancun. There is an urgent feeling that Cancun is the last shot for all parties to come up with enough concrete action to maintain the credibility of the process moving forward into the next year. If countries are unsuccessful in agreeing upon enough concrete actions in Cancun, there are rumblings, particularly from the European Union, that some parties might jump ship and try bilateral talks or negotiations through the G-20 or Major Economies forum instead. Unfortunately, if multilateral negotiations do start to disperse centrifugally, the one bilateral relationship that stands to make the most difference on the global climate - the one between the US and China - could be damaged in the UNFCCC process.
Friday, October 08, 2010
Posted by Angel Hsu (Original posting can be found at chinafaqs.org) Having the intercessional UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in China this week – the last stop before ministers and heads of state meet in Cancun for the sixteenth Conference of Parties (COP-16) – provides a timely opportunity for participants to witness firsthand elements of China’s clean energy and climate policies in action. As China has become a world leader in developing and deploying key technologies needed to capture and sequester carbon, the U.S. Climate Action Network (USCAN) and the Clean Air Task Force organized a site visit to GreenGen – China’s first commercial-scale Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plant located in Tianjin, approximately an hour’s drive from the Meijiang Convention Center, where negotiations have been underway. GreenGen – a $1 billion project led by China Huaneng – represents a joint venture between seven other Chinese enterprises and has the support of the Chinese government, including the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Science and Technology. U.S.-based Peabody Energy also joined the project in 2007 as the only foreign investor. While the Chinese refer to GreenGen as a “research demonstration project,” visiting the site a mere year away from completion of the project’s first phase, left our group with little doubt that this project means business. The first phase of the IGCC plant will produce a full-sized plant’s 250 MW of power, heat, and synthetic gas (syngas). Li Liangshi, the Deputy Chief Engineer of China Huaneng in Tianjin, said construction of the plant began in 2009 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2011. GreenGen demonstrates multiple IGCC technologies that can hopefully be scaled to simultaneously address several environmental challenges – and not just climate change and energy security. To address criteria air pollutant abatement, GreenGen features pre-combustion technology that will strip pollutants such as SO2 and particulates from the coal syngas, according to Deborah Seligsohn, Principal Advisor to WRI’s Climate and Energy Program. GreenGen’s second phase will implement fuel cell power generation and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology for nearly zero-emission power generation. The third phase of the project is planned for completion by 2016, when the plant would produce a total of 650 MW and 3,500 tons of syngas per day. The presentations by Chinese climate and energy experts here in Tianjin have emphasized the critical nature of technologies like IGCC and CCS for China to achieve its energy and carbon intensity reduction targets, particularly as China will continue to rely on coal for a large portion of energy production. In a presentation on Oct. 5, Professor Jiang Kejun of China’s Energy Research Institute emphasized how crucial CCS is for China to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The emission models for China Prof. Jiang and ERI have been working on assume wide-scale deployment of CCS post 2030. Returning to the context of the negotiations in Tianjin, a big piece of the discussion has surrounded technology transfer from industrialized countries to developing countries, to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. However, China shows the capacity to promote two-way exchange in areas like IGCC and CCS. Huaneng’s Mr. Li said that all of the technologies used for the first-phase GreenGen IGCC are manufactured domestically by Chinese companies, with the exception of the Siemens gas turbine . While China has growing capture experience, it is just beginning to try to actually inject CO2, with the first such injection likely to begin at a Shenhua Coal Liquefaction Company project in Inner Mongolia in the next few months. This latter project has received technical support from a number of US technical organizations, many of which are in the newly announced US-China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC). Against the smoggy skyline, I could not help but be impressed by the sheer scale and speed with which GreenGen has emerged within the past year. Seligsohn, who had first visited the site a year ago on a study tour of Chinese CCS sites for American experts, remarked that last year on their visit, the site was nothing more than foundation. Although Mr. Li admitted GreenGen’s price tag was not cheap, he said that if successful, Huaneng plans to roll out many more similar IGCC-CCS plants. And with China continuing to build about 30 power plants a year, according to Jiang, these technologies could have a significant impact on China’s air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. ChinaFAQs Expert Angel Hsu is a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her research focuses on Chinese environmental performance measurement, governance, and policy.
Monday, October 04, 2010
Guest post by Angel Hsu, doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. I’m blogging live from the Tianjin intersessional meetings of the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the last stop on the way to the big Conference of Parties (COP-16) meeting in Cancun, Mexico this November. The mere fact that China is hosting this meeting is significant for several reasons. This is the first time China is playing host to the UNFCCC climate negotiations, signaling its commitment to the UNFCCC process and the issue of climate change itself. As the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, China continues to demonstrate recognition of its role in the global problem of climate change, hosting the intercessional meetings during its national day holiday – a fitting time for China to demonstrate its nationalism and rising leadership in the climate debates. For many, as NRDC’s Jake Schmidt argues, attending the talks in Tianjin will allow first-hand experience of China’s clean-energy revolution and actions on climate change. The main charge of delegates here in Tianjin is to narrow down the set of options available on the table. As Jennifer Morgan, who heads the Climate Change and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute, said in a recent press conference, a key aim of this task is for delegates to “[reconnect] what leaders did and said in Copenhagen and to formalise that in the UNFCCC into a set of decisions, combined with a clear pathway in the form of a legal document.” Parties will produce “draft decisions” on issues such as adaptation, financing, REDD plus, accounting and verification, mitigation pledges, and technology transfer so that when heads of state meet in Cancun, they’ll be able to quickly move to identify points of common ground on these issues to carry enough momentum into South Africa for COP-17. What can’t be ignored this week in Tianjin is the current state of China-US relations. Recent headlines such as the complaint filed by the US steelworkers union against Chinese clean-energy subsidies and a bill currently being discussed in Congress that would penalise China for keeping its currency artificially low are evidence of the current tenuousness of Sino-American relations. It remains to be seen this week whether such a political backdrop will cloud the climate discussions in Tianjin between the two countries, particularly on issues such as financing, technology transfer and the Measurable, Reportable, and Verifiable (MRV) aspects of actions from developing countries and of commitments and support from developed countries. As you’ll remember from the COP-15 discussions in Copenhagen the United States came in demanding international verification of China’s domestic climate actions, a move that riled and split the Chinese delegation, although China in the end agreed to “international consultation and analysis”. However, according to Kenneth Lieberthal, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, this agreement to “international consultation and analysis” was only made reluctantly and caused considerable dissension within the Chinese delegation, as it went beyond what the Chinese representatives had in their talking points coming into Copenhagen. Lieberthal contends that the Chinese were unhappy in particular about bringing in the MRV piece into a formal COP-approved process; instead, the Chinese are looking only to bring in elements from Copenhagen that prove useful and basing negotiations in the two-track process of the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Action Plan. I’ll be following the MRV issue closely over the next few days, as part of my dissertation research and the reason why I’m in Tianjin as an observer. To make matters worse, the United States also missed an opportunity to engage in high-level climate and energy discussions with the high-level Chinese officials, including NDRC Vice Minister Xie Zhenhua, who – as host of the negotiations – is undoubtedly present and available. While the US delegation is in the perfectly capable hands of Jonathan Pershing, deputy special envoy for climate change, the presence of his boss, Todd Stern, would have given tremendous mian zi (literally, “face;” or figuratively, “dignity or respect”) to the Chinese hosts. The talks would have been prime opportunity for the two climate behemoths to repair some of the ground lost over the last year. Despite the daunting challenges always on the plate at these UNFCCC meetings, I hope that delegates here heed the charge of executive secretary Cristiana Figueres during this morning’s welcome plenary session – “Now is the time to act”, else we threaten to forfeit the credibility of multilateralism in solving the global climate change challenge. More to come … follow me on Twitter at @ecoangelhsu for real-time updates from the Tianjin Meijiang Convention Center.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
This video looks back at Earth Day April 22, 1970 and the environmental successes and challenges that Connecticut faces. Over the past 40 years, Connecticut has made great progress in cleaning up our air, waters and lands, preserving open space, protecting fish and wildlife, and protecting the public health. Watch here.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
By Dan Esty
In the run-up to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Maurice Strong, the Conference’s Secretary General, noted that there are only two possibilities when the world’s leaders come together: success or real success. In defiance of this characterization, the Copenhagen Summit in December turned out to be neither. Although there had been no possibility of a “beyond Kyoto” treaty for many months, the extent of the chaos surrounding the negotiations was unpredicted and unfortunate. Poor management on the part of the Danish authorities coupled with the undisciplined behavior on the part of various other parties led to negotiations that spun badly out of control.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
1) Which comes first - the chicken or the egg? U.S. climate bill or China MRV?
One of the biggest headlines today involved Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s presence at the Bella Center. Senator Kerry (pictured right), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and co-sponsor of the Senate climate bill, urged cooperation and binding action from every country (including China) in a speech early this afternoon that was standing room only. He emphasized the importance of a 2 degree C limit, saying anything beyond would be catastrophic. He also focused pressure on U.S. negotiators, reiterating that “[without] action from the U.S., the world can’t respond the way science says we must.” [UPDATE: China's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs just announced on Thursday (Day 11) at a press conference that China agrees to the 2 degree C limit]
As we’re continually reminded, the negotiations are a frustrating Catch-22: prior to COP-15, negotiations were hinged on U.S. legislation and now U.S. legislators are focused on Copenhagen to provide directive as to what kind of legislation should be passed. Senator Kerry’s speech made clear the importance of the Copenhagen talks on domestic efforts to pass a climate bill. Kerry sees the importance of COP15 decisions (i.e. firm commitments from India and China) in helping the Senate pass a strong and worthy climate bill this spring. He was clear that China and India must commit to MRV, suggesting that the fate of U.S. climate legislation may rest on China’s Copenhagen concessions.
This is an interesting carrot the U.S. is dangling in front of China. As we’ve heard repeatedly throughout the Copenhagen talks, the China wants U.S. action and it seems as if Senator Kerry was suggesting Congress is looking to see what China commits to here before it is willing to enact climate legislation in the U.S. However, in a press briefing this afternoon that was delayed by 90 minutes due to consultations between China and the G-77, lead Chinese negotiator Su Wei revealed that China is ready to wait. Mr. Su said, “In China we have a saying, it’s worth waiting for a feast and we are well prepared to wait for this banquet,” suggesting that China is hungry but not desperate. Chinese climate action is, in yet another Catch-22, contingent on American legislation. S
Our heads are already collectively spinning trying to keep these Catch-22s, chickens, eggs, and legislation straight. But what it all comes down to again, is the big MRV elephant in the room. Senator Kerry again today emphasized that China’s willingness to agree to international MRV is the principle issue for the negotiation’s final days. If China doesn’t agree, Senator Kerry said the U.S. is also considering trade sanctions in the form of carbon tariffs to try to bully China at the negotiating table. Already yesterday (Day 9), we heard Ambassador Yu Qingtai say that China would not stand for any climate-related trade barriers. Mr. Zhu Guangyao, Assistant Minister of Finance of the People’s Republic of China, reiterated this point today (Day 10) but also mentioned that China is considering domestic carbon taxes.
2) Unlocking the deadlock
(Pictured below, Chinese climate negotiators huddle to conference after Senator Kerry’s remarks.)
With the clock ticking and negotiations coming down to the wire, what moves by the U.S. and China can help unlock the deadlock that has been slowing down an agreement? David Doniger and Barbara Finamore of the Natural Resources Defense Council suggest that the U.S. and China involve increased finance commitments on the part of the U.S. and greater transparency and international verification on the part of China. Taking cue from Doniger and Finamore, these are two points we’d also like to analyze from our observations at COP-15.
First, with regards to MRV. While we won’t go too much into detail, as we discussed the MRV issue at length in our last post, it seems that much of the discrepancy on MRV positions between the U.S. and China may in fact be due to lack of clarity or something that’s been lost in translation. As we noted, China is not opposed to MRV for actions that are requesting or receive international finance, technology, or capacity building. We’ve heard many top Chinese leaders on the negotiating team, including Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei and Ambassador Yu, stress that China has robust systems of measurement and will work to make their reports “transparent” and “publicly available.” Sound familiar? Could these reports be similar to the national communications required for Annex-I (e.g. developed countries) by the UNFCCC, which include information about all greenhouse gas sources, calculation methodology, and sectors?
As we already explained previously, China (along with South Africa, India and Brazil) have been thinking of transparency measures along the lines of national communications. Mr. Su reitered during this afternoon’s press conference that perhaps the U.S.’s demands for greater transparency regarding China’s mitigation actions could be partly addressed through such national communications, of which China has already submitted its first in 2004 along with other non-Annex I (e.g. developing countries). This communication already includes information regarding China’s greenhouse gas inventory, albeit in much less detail and than is required for Annex I countries. As was decided during their Nov. 14-15 Meeting, Presidents Obama and Hu agreed that the U.S. EPA will assist China in developing its national greenhouse gas inventory, providing a greater level of assurance that the Chinese are accurately accounting for emissions using best-practices and sound methodologies. While it’s been clear in our conversations with U.S. government officials here that this does not mean “supervision” or over the shoulder-looking of China by the U.S. (and thus allaying China’s fears of intrusiveness), this move should provide major headway for the U.S. in terms of the transparency issue.
It is still unclear whether this will be enough for U.S. policymakers. Part of the impasse between the U.S. and China on the MRV question may also be due to a miscommunication issue as well, according to an article by Lisa Friedman of E&E news (subscription needed):
Chinese officials have been under the impression that the United States wants factory-level inspections of their domestic efforts to cut carbon — rather than the macro-level data and clearly spelled-out methodology officials now apparently are making clear they need.
Indeed, facility-level information and verification of emissions data coming out of every smokestack and tailpipe in China would create undue burden on all sides. However, grassroots and NGO efforts to establish voluntary greenhouse gas registries for Chinese businesses and organizations (similar to the Climate Registry in the U.S.) could pave the way for eventual regional or national registries that could ground-truth information the Chinese government provides in its national communications. But the U.S. is still one to talk - even the Climate Registry in the U.S. is not all-encompassing and the fact remains, no climate legislation has passed. China still wins on this point.
Second, with regards to the financing question. As we’ve also heard and witnessed the intricate dancing of Chinese leaders, financing is also a large bone of contention still at hand. In a press briefing, Ding Zhongli, Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, responded, “I think the U.S. side could increase its intensity for mid-term emission cuts. At least that level could be consistent with the cuts of the European Union. Second, I hope the U.S. Government could be more generous with finance to developing countries.” Well, sorry Mr. Ding, but the U.S. probably won’t be able to budge on the emissions front, but finance could increase with passage of the Kerry-Boxer Senate bill. In his speech today, Senator Kerry also committed his Senate bill to financial assistance for developing countries.
The developing world is waiting for the U.S. to deliver on its promises of finance, which so far developing countries say developed countries have yet to translate their words into action. Such a move, which Doniger and Finamore say also need to be verified, could also help to grease the negotiation wheels as we speed into the end of Copenhagen.
[UPDATE: Today on Day 11, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced $100 billion in aid for developing countries, however contingent upon international MRV. In emphasizing the U.S. commitment to work towards a common goal, she cited a Chinese proverb:
I have often quoted a Chinese proverb which says that when you are in a common boat, you have to cross the river peacefully together. Well, we are in a common boat. All of the major economies have an obligation to commit to meaningful mitigation actions and stand behind them in a transparent way. And all of us have an obligation to engage constructively and creatively toward a workable solution. We need to avoid negotiating approaches that undermine rather than advance progress toward our objective.
But see this fun explanation of the other historical and cultural dimensions of this Chinese saying.]
With heads of state now arriving, significant work remains while the clock ticks. While parties acknowledge the long term nature of this process, nobody wants to leave Copenhagen empty-handed. Will heads of state be able to hatch a plan to leave with an operational accord in hand, or offer platitudes for a process that failed to deliver?
Team China will most likely not be allowed access into the Bella Center for the final two days. Therefore, we’ll be watching the news and web-streams of events like hawks and provide a final wrap-up at the end.
Team China member and Yale graduate student Alyssa Go contributed to this post. Additionally, Julian Wong provided updates above]