Tag Archives: UNFCCC

Time for a holistic approach to climate change and air pollution in international law

 

 

 

Dr Yulia Yamineva

Yamineva works as a senior researcher at CCEEL.

The urgent challenges of climate change and air pollution could benefit from more integrated consideration under international law. As this blog post explains, climate change and air pollution are currently mostly addressed through separate international legal instruments and regimes. The blog post therefore identifies ways to build stronger links and synergies between policy measures to address these issues through international law.[1]

A view from the venue of the Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law in Seoul, August 2017

A view from the venue of the Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law in Seoul, August 2017

WHY INTEGRATE CLIMATE AND AIR QUALITY GOALS?

Policies to address climate change and air pollution include potential for win-win solutions. Some pollutants, especially black carbon, have both a detrimental effect on air quality and a warming impact on the climate. However, other air pollutants have a cooling effect and reducing their emissions could lead to an overall warming result. Furthermore, policy choices in one domain can have harmful effects on the other: for instance, the EU policies, aimed at developing diesel technology in the car industry in order to meet carbon dioxide reduction targets led to an increase in nitrogen oxides and particulate matter pollution in urban areas.[2]

There are clear benefits from a harmonised approach to tackling air pollution and climate change where mitigation measures are assessed for their potential impact on climate, air quality, human health and ecosystems. The key example relates to reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs).  Due to their short lifetime in the atmosphere, SLCP emission reductions, especially those of methane and black carbon, could slow the rate of global warming by 0.5°C by 2040. In addition to their warming effect, black carbon and methane have a negative effect on air quality and the environment: reducing these emissions could avoid 2.4 million premature deaths globally by 2030 and have positive impacts on agriculture and ecosystems. Focusing on mitigating SLCP emissions is therefore an attractive option to slow down global and regional warming in the short term, while at the same time improving local air quality.

TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS OF INTERNATIONAL LAW

International law largely treats the two policy goals – slowing down climate change and improving air quality – through separate instruments. This is unsurprising as climate change has traditionally been framed as a global problem, while air pollution has been understood by policy makers as a local or at best a transboundary issue. These different framings have implied that climate change should be addressed through legal instruments of global coverage, whereas air pollution can be effectively mitigated through regional and national/local measures. More recently, however, it has become apparent that the impact of air pollution goes beyond local or regional areas: this includes not only the impact on the climate referred to above but also worsening air quality due to atmospheric transport of air pollution from distant sources. Therefore, the problem of air pollution also requires global approaches.

Looking at international climate law, the 2015 Paris Agreement does not define what specific greenhouse gases or other warming substances it covers and in this sense does not address specifically methane or black carbon. One caveat to this is that the rulebook for the implementation of the Agreement is still under negotiation. The Agreement also contains no references to air pollution, although the connection may be implied from multiple mentions of sustainable development.

At the same time, methane has traditionally been within the scope of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) regime: it is part of national reporting and covered by the Kyoto Protocol’s emissions reduction targets. It has received somewhat less attention though as the main discussion thus far has been on a long-term response to climate change and therefore on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Black carbon, which is an aerosol and not a greenhouse gas, has not been covered by the UNFCCC regime.

Unlike international climate law, which centres on the UNFCCC regime, international law on air pollution is heavily fragmented. This issue is regulated in an ad hoc fashion through a patchwork of legal instruments covering specific regions, activities and substances. There is no single legal framework with a global reach and prospects for developing one are at present low. Lack of comprehensive and holistic treatment of air pollution in international law results in gaps in geographic, pollutant and pollution source coverage.

Looking across international air pollution frameworks, it can be concluded that these are rarely sensitised against climate impacts of air pollution measures. Air pollution treaties typically refer to transboundary effects of pollution but not to global effects, including climate change. There is for example no comprehensive global coverage of black carbon emissions. A regional exception is the Gothenburg Protocol to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution which was amended in 2012 to include emissions reduction targets for fine particulate matter. Although the black carbon component of these targets is not specified, the parties are encouraged to focus their mitigation action on black carbon rich sectors. The Gothenburg Protocol is thus the only multilateral environmental agreement to include black carbon in its scope. However, the amendment has not entered into force pending ratification by two-thirds of its parties and the geographic scope of the Protocol is in any case limited to Europe and North America.

OPPORTUNITIES TO BRIDGE THE GAP

There are multiple synergies between these two domains of international law which can be advanced for a more coherent approach to climate change and air pollution.

Scientific cooperation and collaboration in inventory development and reporting is one of the key areas. Data and scientific analyses are a fundamental step in developing sound environmental policies, and emission inventories are particularly important for developing national mitigation measures. For instance, scientists say that the best way to maximise climate and air quality benefits is to focus on sources with a high black carbon component rather than on those with a high component of cooling substances.

There are clear synergies between international climate change law and air pollution instruments in terms of inventories. The UNFCCC already has in place a well-developed global reporting framework for methane which air pollution frameworks could capitalise on. For black carbon, current reporting frameworks are fragmented, incomplete and mostly confined to the Northern hemisphere. More generally, global data on air quality as well as particulate matter and black carbon emissions are scarce or unavailable. The problem is especially acute in many developing countries which have poor capacity and systems to monitor air quality. This makes capacity-building activities at the global level crucial.

Another important direction is raising awareness about linkages, co-benefits and trade-offs between climate change and air pollution policies, including with respect to black carbon and methane. In this context, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), which is a public-private partnership led by governments, has already played an important role through scientific assessments and communication of SLCP impacts and potential mitigation actions.

Although the Paris Agreement does not per se integrate air quality concerns, the country-driven approach to mitigation action implies that diverse mitigation efforts can be accommodated under its framework. Potentially any substances, including methane and black carbon, can be incorporated into nationally determined contributions. In fact, many countries have already included methane, several have mentioned SLCPs, and some, such as Mexico and Chile, have specifically mentioned black carbon in their intended nationally determined contributions.

The situation is more complex regarding integrating climate change concerns into air pollution frameworks due to the number of related instruments and their incomprehensive coverage. This for instance means that there is no one single interface on air pollution at the global level which makes institutional cooperation between the policy worlds on climate change and air pollution more difficult. However, several fora have the potential to advance such cooperation, including the abovementioned CCAC as well as international organisations such as the UN Environment, the World Health Organisation and the World Meteorological Organisation.

In conclusion, there are many interlinkages between international law on climate change and on air pollution which should be explored.  Greater coherence between climate change and air pollution policies provides an attractive opportunity to link global, regional and local environmental agendas in a mutually beneficial way.


[1] The blog post is based on the author’s conference paper ‘Climate Change and Air Pollution in International Law: Apart or Together? Short-lived Climate Pollutants in Asia’, which was presented at the Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law in Seoul, August 2017, as well as: Yulia Yamineva and Seita Romppanen, ‘Is Law Failing to Address Air Pollution? Reflections on International and EU Developments’ [Forthcoming in 2017] Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law, 26 (3); Yulia Yamineva and Kati Kulovesi, ‘Keeping the Arctic White: The Legal and Governance Landscape for Reducing Short-lived Climate Pollutants in the Arctic Region and Opportunities for Its Future Development’, in review.

[2] See Aleksandra Cavoski, ‘The Unintended Consequences of EU Law and Policy on Air Pollution’, [Forthcoming in 2017] Review of European, Comparative & International Environmental Law, 26 (3).

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.