Tag Archives: climate change law

The Bonn Climate Conference 2017: Progress on the implementation of the Paris Agreement and higher ambition?

 

 

 

Kati Kulovesi

Professor of International Law & Co-Director of the Centre for Climate, Energy and Environmental Law

THE LATEST round of United Nations climate negotiations concluded on 18 November 2017 in Bonn, Germany. What is the state of international climate policy after the meeting and what lies ahead for 2018 and beyond?

THE NEGOTIATIONS in Bonn were intended to have a mainly technical focus. Major outcomes were neither expected nor achieved. Still, the negotiating agenda was packed with issues ranging from agriculture and gender to indigenous peoples and loss and damage caused by climate change. Also high on the agenda were the main building blocks of the UN climate regime, namely mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity building.

Photo by IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin (http://enb.iisd.org/climate/cop23/enb/images/17nov/3K1A6733.jpg)

 

ONE OF the main issues in Bonn related to the development of detailed rules for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement. The deadline for concluding these important negotiations is in December 2018. While progress was achieved on some issues, long-standing controversies also surfaced and largely stalled negotiations on the crucial issue of mitigation.

THE PARIS Agreement’s key achievements include that its basic mitigation regime applies to all Parties; the Agreement does not refer to the outdated categories of developed and developing countries in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and gives more consideration to countries’ national circumstances.  However, during negotiations on guidance on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), China, India and their allies in the Like-minded Developing Countries group called for returning to a bifurcated system where different rules apply to developed and developing countries respectively. For many, such a system would constitute a major step backwards and the proposal met strong opposition especially from developed countries. Ultimately, countries forwarded 180 pages of text on mitigation to the next negotiating session in May. The text leaves all the highly divergent options on the table, including by reproducing word-by-word submissions from several countries and coalitions.

HOPEFULLY THE question of bifurcation will not distract the negotiators too much next year. For the question that urgently should take the centre stage in 2018 and beyond is that of ambition. The UN Environment’s 2017 Emissions Gap report indicates that the gap between the emission reductions needed to meet the Paris Agreement’s objectives, including the 2°C 1.5°C targets, and the existing NDCs is “alarmingly high” and “more ambitious NDCs will be necessary by 2020.”

THE PARIS Agreement relies on global stocktakes at five-year intervals from 2023 onwards to increase collective ambition. A similar exercise, a facilitative dialogue, was agreed in Paris for 2018. Now known as the Talanoa Dialogue -inspired by traditions of COP 23 President Fiji – this exercise will be an important opportunity to test the Paris Agreement’s largely procedural approach to mitigation.

THE TALANOA Dialogue will be informed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on the 1.5°C target, scheduled for October 2018. Given that countries should submit new or updated NDCs in 2020, the hope is that the IPCC report along with the Talanoa Dialogue will lead to a stronger response to climate science and to more ambitious NDCs.

DIVIDED INTO preparatory and political phases, the Talanoa Dialogue will take place from January to December 2018. It will focus on three main questions: where are we; where do we want to go; and how do we get there. Positive elements in the Dialogue’s design include its comprehensive and participatory nature. Parties, stakeholders and expert institutions are invited to provide analytical and policy-relevant input. They are also invited to organize local, national, regional and global events in support of the Dialogue.

A PROBLEMATIC feature of the Talanoa Dialogue’s design is that there is no clear path forward from the Dialogue towards more ambitious NDCs. The Dialogue’s outputs will include summaries and reports of the discussions. The outcome is also “expected to capture the political momentum, and help Parties to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions.” However, there seems to be nothing in the design to ensure that ambition will indeed be increased following the Dialogue.

Photo by IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin. (http://enb.iisd.org/climate/cop23/enb/images/9nov/3K1A2815.jpg)

HOW, THEN, to start building the momentum for more ambitious climate action?  An obvious challenge for the political climate is that President Trump has announced intentions to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in 2020 and the US federal government is no longer providing global climate leadership like it did during the negotiations for the Paris Agreement, especially through bilateral cooperation with China.

SEVERAL PROCEDURAL steps have already been identified both within inside and outside the UN climate negotiations for the next couple of years. These include:

WHILE IMPORTANT, these steps are not by themselves enough to guarantee that ambition will be increased in 2020. Stakeholders within EU countries and elsewhere should therefore take advantage of the participatory nature of the Talanoa Dialogue and build pressure on politicians to take stronger action both nationally and internationally. An encouraging example of going beyond the official government position is the ‘alternative’ US represented through individual states, cities and other stakeholders. The ‘alternative’ US was highly visible in Bonn and plans to remain active in global climate policy despite the backward position on climate change by the Trump Administration.

THE PARIS Agreement’s legal structure is interesting and innovative in that it includes opportunities to bring various actors at various levels of global governance closer together, including when preparing NDCs and evaluating collective progress through global stocktakes. The Talanoa Dialogue will provide the first important opportunity to test this design and hopefully show that it can actually work in increasing collective mitigation ambition.

More Time for an Energy Revolution? Seizing the Opportunity to Slow Down Climate Change by Cutting Emissions of Short-lived Climate Pollutants

 

 

 

Kati Kulovesi, Yulia Yamineva and Veera Jerkku

View of the South of Delhi by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier (Under Creative Commons License)

THERE IS an important ‘ambition gap’ between the climate change mitigation policies pledged by countries in context of the Paris Agreement and those needed to avoid dangerous climate change. Discussions on ways to step up climate change mitigation efforts commonly focus on ways to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. These indeed play a crucial role in long-term climate change mitigation. However, achieving radical cuts in CO2 emissions also requires a fundamental economic and energy transformation that is proving time-consuming to achieve.

OUR ARGUMENT is that short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) provide an attractive option that could ‘buy’ more time to cut CO2 emissions. The United Nations Environment Programme has estimated that reducing SLCP emissions, especially methane and black carbon, could slow the rate of global warming by 0.4-0.5°C by 2040 (UNEP, 2011). This is an important contribution given that the existing climate policies have been estimated to limit the global average temperature increase only between 2.9°C and 3.4°C by the end of the century (UNEP, 2016)., thus falling short of the 2°C target in the Paris Agreement.

SLCPS INCLUDE methane, some hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), tropospheric ozone and black carbon. What unites them is a significant short-term warming effect on the climate. Methane, tropospheric ozone and black carbon cause local air pollution, thereby adversely affecting human health and ecosystems, including by reducing crop yields.

AT THE CCEEL, we have recently launched a new five-year research project known as ClimaSlow (Slowing Down Climate Change: Combining Climate Law and Climate Science to Identify the Best Options to Reduce Emissions of Short-Lived Climate Forcers in Developing Countries). The project is led by Professor Kati Kulovesi and funded through an European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant for 2017-2021. Other CCEEL members involved in the project are Dr Yulia Yamineva  (Senior Researcher) and Veera Jerkku (PhD candidate).  The project also involves participation by the UEF Aerosol Physics group.

ONE OF the factors driving our interest in SLCPs is that we see them as an interesting opportunity to merge the global climate change agenda with the local health and environmental agendas. Air pollution poses a considerable risk to human health worldwide. It leads to heart and lung failures and cancer, causing approximately 6.5 million deaths each year (WHO, 2016). Through aggressive reductions in black carbon emissions, it would be possible to avoid 2.4 million premature deaths annually by 2030 as a result of reduced exposure to fine particulate matter (UNEP, 2011).

THE GROWTH in SLCP emissions over the next decades is expected to be driven by developing countries. Therefore, in addition to the focus on international and transnational cooperation, the ClimaSlow project looks at three national case studies: China, India and Nepal.

CHINA AND India are among the world’s key sources of black carbon and methane emissions and their emissions of HFCs are also set to rise. Air pollution is also an acute problem in all three countries damaging both public health and the economy. In China, for instance, air pollution is implicated as a leading cause of mortality (UNEP, 2015).  The project will look at the policies and regulations in place in the case study countries, and seek to identify ways to strengthen them through both national and global action. It will also try to identify opportunities for others to learn from the experiences of the three case study countries.

ONE OF the project’s motivations is that the legal and regulatory options to strengthen global action on SLCPs have not been studied comprehensively, and the climate impacts of such options are not yet adequately understood. The ClimaSlow project seeks to fill the vacuum by undertaking an analysis of the fragmented and multi-layered global legal and regulatory framework for SLCPs.

FURTHERMORE, THE ClimaSlow project breaks disciplinary boundaries through combining climate law and climate science. An analysis of legal and regulatory options is complemented by climate modelling work to determine their climate impacts and hence identify the most effective ways to achieve deep reductions in the emissions of SLCPs.

THE PROJECT will seek to maintain an iterative dialogue and share its interim and final findings with a variety of stakeholders including scientists, NGOs and policy-makers both internationally and in the case study countries. This will for instance be done through organising workshops, developing policy briefs and participating in relevant events. The project will also culminate in an interdisciplinary scientific conference in 2022.

YOU CAN stay up to date with project developments through the CCEEL website and Twitter account (@uefcceel), as well as the project’s own Twitter account @ClimaSlowERC.

Rainforests in the Paris Agreement: Old Wine, New Bottles?

eugenia2Maria Eugenia Recio

Researcher, MPhil, Environmental and Climate Change Law

 

MERELY A year after its adoption, the landmark Paris climate change treaty came into effect on 4 November 2016. Its Parties are currently convening for the first time in Marrakesh, Morocco. These are clearly important steps for the United Nations climate change regime. At the same time, in light of countries’ nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, it is clear that more ambitious mitigation efforts are needed to achieve the 1.5°C and 2°C temperature goals included in the Agreement.

LARGE FORESTS located in developing countries can play an important role in global climate change mitigation efforts by taking up carbon from the atmosphere and storing it. The Paris Agreement taps into this potential by encouraging countries to implement measures to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, commonly known as “REDD+”. The basic idea behind REDD+ is that developing countries can apply for compensation for the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by protecting and not cutting their standing forests.

BUT DOES the inclusion of REDD+ in the Paris Agreement actually strengthen international efforts with respect to forests? The protection of natural forests through a multilateral, legally binding agreement has been on the international agenda for over two decades. Sovereignty concerns of developing countries were one of the main reasons why such agreement has not materialized. Nevertheless, during ten years of negotiations on REDD+ under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries have agreed on a variety of detailed rules in the form a dozen decisions by the Convention’s governing body known as the Conference of the Parties (COP).

DECICIONS BY the UNFCCC COP have gradually helped to build trust, allowing developing countries to engage in negotiations that could be considered to be “safer” than negotiations on a legally binding agreement. Following the mention of REDD+ and the existing framework in the Paris Agreement, the collection of decisions taken to protect forests in developing countries is now for the first time anchored in a legally binding agreement.

A LEGALLY binding agreement implies a stronger commitment by countries to comply with its provisions, as it usually requires ratification by national parliaments. However, the legal force of each particular provision in the agreement depends on the language used. Thus, while the Paris Agreement is clearly a legally binding international agreement, it contains both mandatory and non-mandatory language. Notably for forests, countries are merely “encouraged” to take and support REDD+ action; this does not create a legal obligation to implement REDD+.

ALSO THE existing rules for REDD+ adopted by the COP make its implementation completely voluntary. Furthermore, they favour results-based payments, meaning that countries first need to take action on REDD+ before being compensated based on emission reductions. Such an approach excludes the possibility that REDD+ countries take on obligations to reduce forest emissions beforehand.

REGARDLESS OF the largely voluntary nature of the legal framework for REDD+, Parties to the Paris Agreement have taken on a political commitment to support REDD+. This political recognition can arguably give REDD+ a higher profile and boost its implementation, which could result in more funding to address deforestation in developing countries and broader international support.

ANOTHER POSITIVE step is that REDD+ rules relating to transparency require countries to report on emission reductions and on the impacts that activities have on forest communities and the environment (e.g. biological diversity). However, international oversight over such reporting is limited, and the process remains largely in the hands of national governments.

IT IS useful to note here that while the Paris Agreement also establishes a broader framework for transparency and review, it does not change the transparency rules for REDD+ and recognizes that the REDD+ framework is “already developed”. This does not mean, however, that the existing REDD+ rules are cast in stone. On the contrary, the inclusion of REDD+ in the Paris Agreement creates, in my view, a stronger mandate for Parties to make changes to REDD+ rules in the future. This could mean, for example, aligning REDD+ rules with the new transparency framework applicable to the post-2020 climate regime.

FINALLY, THE Paris Agreement also contains elements that can attract participation in REDD+. First, it effectively reassures that REDD+ will continue to be a part of the long-term international climate regime. This offers a positive assurance for those considering to invest in REDD+ in the medium- to long-term.

SECOND, WHILE the relationship between countries’ nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement and REDD+ remains subject to clarification, REDD+ could be part of the toolbox available for countries to achieve their NDCs.

THIRD, FOR countries willing to use markets to finance REDD+, the agreement creates the legal basis for a market mechanism for countries to ostensibly trade emission reductions, although whether and how it will be used for REDD+ implementation remains to be seen.

IN SHORT, the Paris Agreement does make a difference for REDD+ by enhancing political support for REDD+, strengthening the mandate to continue addressing REDD+ through the climate regime, and offering elements that can broaden country participation in the future.

 

This post has also been published at CCEEL Blog at CCEEL website.