On the Environment
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.
Not all the news is bad, of course. After years of failing to
participate seriously in the climate change negotiations, the United
States is finally back in the game. The principle of “common but
differentiated responsibilities” was, moreover, reestablished as the
foundation for any new treaty. China and India signaled that they are
prepared to take action. And progress was made on the important issues
of forest protection, adaptation, and funding for the least developed
Yet Copenhagen has left us with a number of important
lessons that must shape the climate negotiations process going forward.
First, the participation of too many parties is bound to make the
negotiations unwieldy and unproductive. The best path to reaching an
effective climate deal would accordingly involve a set of “pivotal”
states. A group of about 15 nations, selected based on demographic
logic (i.e., the scale of their emissions), bolstered by 5-8 other
countries that serve as representatives of key groups, such as the
island nations, would make sense. Such a core negotiating group should
produce an agreement to present to the rest of the world that provides
incentives for all to participate in the form of funding for mitigation
Second, the science-driven agenda promoted at
Copenhagen by the EU proved not to be sufficient. Reaching an effective
climate deal has clearly become an issue of power politics. Although
good climate policy requires a foundation in good science, climate
change cannot be solved based on science alone. What is needed is
commitment by key countries, including the U.S., China, and India. Such
an agreement, however, will be difficult as long as China remains
hesitant about revealing emissions data—and the U.S. cannot mobilize
for action. In the modern world, transparency is essential, and sound
data, metrics, and indicators are fundamentally good policy. And part
of the challenge in getting the U.S. Congress to vote for a climate
change action plan stems from a fear that major trade competitors, most
notably China, will not take real action. So reporting and verification
mechanisms are critical to having climate change legislation move in
the United States.
Given the challenges that are present both
domestically for the United States and globally in terms of forming a
“beyond Kyoto” agreement, even if the focus is narrowed to a pivotal
group of states, it may now be time to think about a new approach.
While national governments must ultimately work together in forming a
comprehensive solution to climate change, an alternative parallel plan
should involve a more disaggregated set of incentives, implemented on a
country-by-country or subnational basis, directed toward promoting a
post-carbon future. National and local jurisdictions moving forward
after Copenhagen should accordingly work to engage the private sector
in pursuing green energy innovation.
Monday, February 01, 2010
A guest post by Jacob Meyer, Research Assistant, Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy
In the 2010 EPI, the relationship between Environmental Health and log GDP per capita typifies a logistic function, colloquially known as an S-curve. The S-curve is a well-known relationship that can be found across disciplines. Chemistry, physics, biology, linguistics, statistics, and economics all find evidence of behaviors that follow the S-curve model. In economics, it is typically employed to describe the pace of technology adoption or innovation. There is often a slow start, followed by a period of rapid advancement, which tapers to slower ending. That the Environmental Health scores follow this pattern is not surprising; public health has always been a major concern of policymakers.
What is perhaps more surprising is that the scores for Ecosystem Vitality do not follow the same pattern. Part of this can be explained by the fact that industrialization has historically required enormous consumption of fossil fuels. However, the data are widely dispersed, and the regressed relationship does not appear to be very strong. This implies that the measures that make up the Ecosystem Vitality score have not received the attention that policymakers have given Environmental Health indicators in the developed world. The data calls for more research – better understanding the relationship between ecosystem protection and economic development could help rapidly developing countries avoid the past environmental errors of the developed world.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
By Dan Esty
The latest Environmental
Performance Index (EPI), produced by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and
Policy and by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at
Columbia University, was released this week, identifying Iceland as the world
leader in addressing pollution control and natural resource management
challenges. The rankings cover 25 metrics aggregated into ten categories
including: air pollution, water resource management, forestry, biodiversity and
habitat, and climate change. Iceland is followed in the rankings by
Switzerland, Costa Rica, Sweden, and Norway, each having a broad-based
commitment to environmental protection. The countries found at the bottom of
the rankings are mainly from the African continent. Their low ranks are based
on very weak results in terms of environmental health measures, as they lack
basic amenities such as clean water and sanitation.
The latest rankings, made public
in a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, again show a
number of European countries at the higher end of the spectrum, though there
were a number of surprises. For one, Costa Rica is ranked third, reflecting its
substantial efforts towards environmental protection, while building its
economy and strengthening its national identity. Meanwhile, the U.S. ranks 61st
globally, which is a reflection of weak performance on greenhouse gas emissions
and air pollution. However, since the data is mainly from 2007 and 2008, the
results do not reflect the Obama Administration’s environmental efforts, but
rather represent the years of environmental neglect that preceded his
The 2010 EPI provides a pilot experiment of looking at trend
data. The rankings provide an interesting way to see, on an issue-by-issue
basis, who has succeeded and who has fallen short in terms of policy
performance. Collecting such information makes it easier to both identify best
policy practices, and to disseminate such information. However, efforts to
collate “Change EPI index” – that is data that helps us to understand
who is making progress, and who is stagnant or declining – has proven to be
The 2010 EPI also enables one to identify drivers of policy success, using a variety of tools. The EPI shows
that the most important determinants for success are the level of GDP and the
scale of investments directed toward environmental protection. Yet at every
level of development some countries perform better than anticipated, while
others lag behind.
The EPI continues to be limited
by available data. In many cases, there is not comprehensively collected or
methodologically consistent data on important issues. A significant number of
countries failed to report data in some key areas. The importance of sound data
emerged as a major theme at Copenhagen, and it is of upmost importance that we
invest in better environmental metrics and in the external verification of the
The EPI shows the importance of
using quantitative tools in the decisionmaking progress, as it enables
policymakers to benchmark progress. It demonstrates the value of being able to
understand the strengths and weaknesses of existing policy and strengthen those
that work. The full results and accompanying analysis are available at
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]
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
1. MRV - Three Little Letters with Big Implications
We noted from the get-go that whether mitigation actions from developing countries would be subject to international verification (e.g. “measurable, reportable, and verifiable”), would be a critical issue for the Copenhagen talks, particularly in light of demands from Capitol Hill that China must allow for international verification in order for the United States to sign on. China argues, on the other hand, that it has no obligation under the UNFCCC and Bali Action Plan to do so. One of the top headlines on the NY Times today “China and U.S. Hit Strident Impasse at Climate Talks” spoke about the U.S.-China disagreement with regards to the MRV question. This is an issue we’ve heard both the U.S. and China butt heads about this past week.
To set the record straight, we’ve heard various Chinese leaders say that they are not opposed to MRV for mitigation actions that receive international financing, technology, or capacity building support. This includes Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei who stressed that China has its own internal systems for MRV comparable to those of “developed countries” and will make reports coming out of China “transparent” and “publicly available” (see our post “No Country is an Island” for more details on what Vice Minister He said). For actions that receive international support, technology, or capacity building, China says those actions can be subject to international MRV. During a press briefing today, Ambassador Yu Qingtai, China’s Special Representative on Climate Change Negotiations from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reiterated China’s stance on the MRV issue, pointing back to the Bali Action Plan and stressing that China will not agree to anything beyond the Bali Action Plan.
“If we are in last stage of negotiations, and there are requirements that go beyond UNFCCC and go beyond BAP, China will not agree,” Yu stated emphatically.
The U.S.’s disagreement with China’s view of MRV probably rests largely on the fact that this language and the most recent revised text for the Long-term Cooperative Agreement (AWG-LCA) provide a loophole of uncertainty for China. The new AWG-LCA 8, item 3 on nationally-appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) by developing country parties released this morning creates either a registry as part of the financial mechanism or some other mechanism to record NAMAs from developing countries, specifying only NAMAs seeking or receiving support would be required for verification through an international mechanism or registry. Here’s where this “loophole of uncertainty” comes into play-because China has implemented actions that address climate change through its Eleventh Five-Year Plan since 2005 and has internally funding all of its energy efficiency measures and mitigation actions (and furthermore hasn’t asked for any funding with regards to their 40-45% reduction in carbon intensity by 2020 from 2005 levels), China would therefore be exempt from international MRV if this text is eventually agreed upon.
We can imagine that this makes U.S. politicians uneasy, as Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey, who co-sponsored the climate and energy bill that passed in June, told the NY Times:
If China or any other country wants to be a full partner in global climate efforts, that country must commit to transparency and review of their emissions-cutting regime. [...] Without that commitment, other governments and industries, including those in America, will be hesitant to engage with those countries when they try to partner on global warming.
As this is the current sticking point in the U.S.-China impasse (reporters asked about verification during every press event we attended today), we would like to pose the question - what options does the United States have if China doesn’t agree to international MRV? As China has said they won’t budge, will the United States? Deputy climate change envoy for the U.S., Jonathan Pershing said during an NGO briefing this afternoon that the U.S. will stand by the request for all parties to MRV, despite China’s concerns of “intrusiveness.” There has been talk of trade sanctions, but Ambassador Yu said today that China will be opposed to any actions by countries to set up new trade barriers under “an excuse of protection the climate.”
2) Message from developing countries: We mitigate, and so can U(SA)!
In a press conference this afternoon ministers from the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) demanded developed countries to match their efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions [pictured right; Vice Minsiter Xie Zhenhua is the right most of the panel up front]. Describing their collective actions–a buffet of technologies, land use policy reforms, and deforestation regulations, the ministers positioned their countries as leaders among both developed and developing nations. The Brazilian minister mentioned that World Wildlife Fund has done the math on the emissions reductions and shown that the policies of the BASIC group achieve significant reductions compared with the developed world. Reflecting on their countries’ reduction plans, the ministers assembled not only saw themselves as good actors in the climate negotiations but also as representatives of all developing countries which have chosen to take deep cuts in the face of projected climate impacts and the high costs of implementing new technologies and policies.
Referring to the current proposals as a “derailment” from the Bali Action Plan, the South African minister noted the absence of deep emissions cuts or significant technology transfer from the developed world. The Indian minister forcefully (and punnily) stated that “the BASIC group is a basic reality” and went on to describe their united front against any manipulation of the process or weakening of the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, or Bali Action Plan.
Between the strong words of these ministers, one can see issues worth investigating, especially in light of the MRV debate discussed above. Although focusing his remarks primarily on the two-track approach, the Indian minister also addressed the MRV elephant in the room, saying that the Indian Parliament itself is a “ruthless” method of ensuring appropriate MRV standards and follow-through in their country. That may suffice in India, but the question holds for China, the other BASIC members, and truly every country.
In the halls, Luke ran into Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Chair of the WBGU, and asked him his thoughts on the Chinese position and the negotiations in general. Professor Schellnhuber replied that we could expect China’s actions to be measured and rational while India presented more uncertainty. In his words, “India is the black horse.” His striking response offered even more insight into the BASIC posture: if the MRV position has created an impasse, what more can we expect given the negotiating timeline and the gaps between various positions.
It is clear that developing countries are asking for developed countries to deliver. To make his disappointment clear, Ambassador Yu said in English to the press, “It’s almost word for word, [developed countries are saying] we didn’t meet our targets, but you better accept that as a fact of life. There are no regrets, they didn’t even come up with something like, ‘Sorry, we failed.’”
Team China members and Yale graduate students, Andrew Barnett and Bidisha Banerjee, contributed to this post.