Sunday, May 17, 2015

The weak in Climate Change policy: part 1

With the Canadian government releasing new targets for emissions I feel compelled to write on emissions reductions - or at least on the politics of pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Government of Canada announces 2030 emissions target:
Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced today that Canada plans to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
This is a fair and ambitious target that is in line with other major industrialized countries and reflects our national circumstances, including Canada's position as a world leader in clean electricity generation.   - continue reading
It's an announcement that targets (but doesn't commit to) a level of reduction other countries target (but don't commit to). To put the Canadian target in perspective:
Graphic from Canada's GHG Inventory 1990-2002 Report - the year KP ratified by Parliament
  • Kyoto commitment was 6% below 1990 levels (now reported as 613 mega-tonnes CO2 equivalent - MtCO2e), or ~576 MtCO2e during the period 2008 to 2012.
  • Canada didn't do that, but did withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol (KP) before the end of 2012 - avoiding penalties.
  • Canada's sort-of Copenhagen Accord target (not commitment) in 2009 was 17% below 2005 levels (749 MtCO2e) by 2020 - which would now be about 622 MTCO2e but at the time would have been 607 MTCO2e, the difference being a rise of 2005 emissions between reporting in 2009 and reporting in 2015.
  • 30% below the currently reported 2005 level (the new target for 2030) is 524 MtCO2e.
Seems silly to believe the targets - or the measurements.

But it's not silly to search for the political messaging in targets - and measurements.

Canada's Copenhagen commitment was very simply:
17%, to be aligned with the final economy-wide emissions target of the United States in enacted legislation.
No U.S. legislation passed, but the nuance was ignored by pretty much all (I wrote on this in April 2014); if you could set targets to force reductions in countries 10 times your size, that would be more meaningful. I suspect it's a global truth that smaller parties never take bigger parties at their word - it's definitely true for most of Canada and the United States.

Canada's Copenhagen non-commitment was inspired by the U.S. Senate's unanimous passing of the Byrd-Hagel resolution as the KP was being negotiated:
the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol to, or other agreement...which would--
(A) mandate new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the Annex I Parties, unless the protocol or other agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period
Canada's latest targets may hide a message on trade in oil (Keystone), and there's an interesting implication in promising "Regulations for natural gas-fired electricity" - which might be intended to not the Canadian government has established regulations on CO2 emissions from power plants (see this from 2012).

The chatter about emissions will grow all year towards a summit. I don't have a great regard for these global things regardless, but this one is being set-up to be more of a farce than most.
The United States has no ability to legally commit to anything in climate negotiations.

Barack Obama is committed to trying, so he has made non-binding agreements with China and India, The agreement with China states, "China intends to achieve the peaking of CO2 emissions around 2030." This is a position rejected by the Senate 18 years ago. Barack Obama is acting, but only as a man; there will be no treaty ratified by the coutnry of the United States.

Coral Davenport's Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty (August 2014):
...President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a “politically binding” deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting their emissions.
...Countries would be legally required to enact domestic climate change policies — but would voluntarily pledge to specific levels of emissions cuts and to channel money to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change. Countries might then be legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges at meetings held to identify those nations that did not meet their cuts.
“There’s some legal and political magic to this,” said Jake Schmidt, an expert in global climate negotiations with the Natural Resources Defense Council [NRDC], an advocacy group.
Coral Davenport's Obama’s Strategy on Climate Change, Part of Global Deal, Is Revealed (March 31, 2015):
WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday introduced President Obama’s blueprint for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by nearly a third over the next decade.
Mr. Obama’s plan, part of a formal written submission to the United Nations ahead of efforts to forge a global climate change accord in Paris in December...
Mr. Obama’s new blueprint brings together several domestic initiatives that were already in the works, including freezing construction of new coal-fired power plants, increasing the fuel economy of vehicles and plugging methane leaks from oil and gas production. It is meant to describe how the United States will lead by example and meet its pledge for cutting emissions.
But the plan’s reliance on executive authority is an acknowledgment that any proposal to pass climate change legislation would be blocked by the Republican-controlled Congress.
At the heart of the plan are ambitious but politically contentious Environmental Protection Agency regulations meant to drastically cut planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s cars and coal-fired power plants.
Well, maybe, though some argue EPA introduced, NRDC written, regulations don't guarantee drastic CO2 emission reductions because they don't support nuclear power.

Regardless, while the U.S. may think it has some meaningful capacity to shame other countries while being incapable of entering treaties, the world's #1 and #3 emitters recall past treaty negotiations, and past promises.

Joint Statement on Climate Change between India and China during PM’s visit to China (May 15, 2015):
Image from Reuters via The Guardian
1. The Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Two Sides’) recognize that climate change and its adverse effects are the common concern of mankind and one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st century, which needs to be addressed through international cooperation in the context of sustainable development. 
3. The Two Sides emphasize that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol are the most appropriate framework for international cooperation for addressing climate change. They reaffirm the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and call for the leadership of developed countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and providing finance, technology and capacity building support to developing countries.
5. The Two Sides reaffirm that the 2015 agreement shall be in full accordance with the principles, provisions and structure of the UNFCCC, in particular the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, reflecting different historical responsibilities, development stages and national circumstances between developed and developing countries.

6. The Two Sides stress the equal importance and urgency of implementing the outcomes of the Bali Road Map in order to increase the pre-2020 ambition and build mutual trust amongst countries. The Two Sides urged the developed countries to raise their pre-2020 emission reduction targets and honour their commitment to provide 100bn US dollars per year by 2020 to developing countries.

"Name and shame" indeed.

I suspect the inclusion of the $100 billion in their statement is a warning to the Secretary of State that introduced it into the Copenhagen negotiations, Hillary Clinton.

Germany won a short-term victory in 1997's Kyoto negotiations by gaining 1990 as a base year - which recognized huge emissions reductions realized in integrating East Germany into a unified country... but differentiation or state responsibilities was established.

The U.S. won a shorter term victory in Copenhagen in a temporary reset to a base year of 2005 (I think that was their peak emissions) - but there was no substance; mainly the purchase of the agreement with the $100 billion pledge.

China has been playing the long game, and if there is any agreement to be won this year, I'm betting on a decisive victory for China.

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