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Posts Tagged ‘Climate Change’

Guilty by voluntary association

Posted by Andrew Stevenson on January 28, 2010

Cross-posted from RFF’s incredibly awesome climate policy blog Weathervane.

The first deliverable in the Copenhagen Accord was a pledge by all nations to submit their planned mitigation actions or targets to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat by January 31, 2010. Since nations “took note” of the Accord instead of adopting it, in the weeks after Copenhagen there was uncertainty about whether some countries would ignore this quasi-commitment. Even UNFCCC head honcho Yvo de Boer was concerned, calling the deadline “soft” while imploring nations to “associate” themselves with the Accord. “Association” was likely understood to mean acknowledgement of some formal status for the Accord within the UNFCCC, giving the secretariat greater authority to convene official negotiating sessions around the document.

In any case, from the perspective of developed nations the central task for 2010 was to merge any new discussions around the Copenhagen Accord with the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and long-term cooperative action (LCA) negotiating tracks that were created by the Bali Action Plan in 2007 and intended to be the fundamental basis for negotiating an agreement in Copenhagen. While countries made progress on these tracks in Copenhagen—including things like forestry and adaptation—when they “took note” of the Accord on the last night of COP-15 they essentially left all that progress on the table to be taken up in 2010. Many developing countries wanted, and still want, to just pick up where they left off on these texts and pretend the Accord never happened.

If all key countries “associated” themselves with the Accord, one theory was that this would streamline the process of merging the Accord with KP and LCA by giving it at least some level of official status. For many developed countries, it was hoped that this would lead to the dissolution of these tracks and the use of the Accord as the new basis for negotiating a comprehensive global agreement. The fundamental developed-developing distinction of Kyoto would fall by the wayside, and the new starting point could eventually lead to the only kind of agreement the United States might be able to ratify. This is why some international policy wonks in the United States were so excited about Copenhagen.

However, one assumption implicit in this was that submission of targets or actions would necessarily go hand-in-hand with association, and vice versa. If a country wanted to “associate” itself with the Accord, it would entail accepting the Accord’s obligations, including the submission of a target. If a country submitted a target that would also imply acceptance of the Accord’s obligations and indicate that a country wished to be “associated” with the Accord going forward. In turn, it was thought that a country could not “associate” itself with the Accord without acknowledging it had some kind of official status.

As expected, by Monday nearly all developed countries, including the United States, will have both submitted their target and expressed their willingness to be associated with the Accord. Many of these targets are on the lower end of what was conditionally proposed (Europe 20 percent instead of 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, Australia 5 percent below 2000 levels by 2020) and come with numerous strings attached (Japan 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 with a global agreement), but they are on the table and show a commitment both to the Accord’s obligations and using it as a primary focus of negotiations in 2010.

However, a recent joint statement from the BASIC countries (Brazil, China, India and South Africa) presents a more complicated situation, and reveals that the association-with-action-implies-acceptance-of-some-official-status assumption is highly suspect, if not outright false. It appears that these countries are willing to submit their actions, as pledged in the Accord, but do not view this submission as implying any “association”—at least in the sense likely envisioned by the UN secretariat and most developed countries. Even if China, India, Brazil and South Africa technically “associate”, they do not see this as creating any obligations under the UNFCCC (such as the submission of targets, which they claim to do voluntarily), and certainly not as giving the Accord legitimacy as a negotiating text. It seems that in their view, they made a political pledge in Copenhagen to submit their actions—which just happened to be included in the Accord—and they will do so in order to uphold that pledge, but they will not do so because it is an obligation created by the Accord.

While this does not mean the Accord is “dead”, it does have implications for the negotiating process in 2010. For starters, it would be a heck of a lot easier to negotiate a binding agreement in Cancun, at least one that would be preferable to the United States, if all countries formally “associated” themselves and understood that “association” to create legitimacy and obligations. The reality of the BASIC position makes Mexico’s already delicate task—massaging the two-track UNFCCC process and Copenhagen Accord process together in a way that satisfies 190+ countries—that much more difficult. As a positive sign, they appear to understand the difficulty of this task and be up to taking it on. It will require delicate diplomacy that escaped the Danes, but the fact that Mexico is a “developing” country and OECD member could give it the needed climate cred to make it happen.

Observing this dance will require tracking both any “friends of the Accord” processes that occur outside or on the sidelines of the UNFCCC (and seeing who shows up, what they say and how), and tracking how key elements of the Accord are discreetly worked into the two official tracks. If anything, it will be fascinating to watch.

Posted in Climate Change, COP | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Being for Energy Independence v. Being Against Progress

Posted by Andrew Stevenson on July 14, 2009

Plenty of criticism and analysis has already been directed at Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s cap-and-trade editorial in the WaPo today (see here, here, and here). Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, I’d like to juxtapose it against an alternative analysis of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) by my former Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), who voted in favor of the bill. I’m not trying to pretend that Sarah Palin and Mark Kirk fall at the exact same point on the political spectrum (nor am I trying to set up some sort of artificial debate between the two of them). Indeed, Kirk represents a moderate suburban Chicago district (although one that would be hard hit by increased taxes on the wealthy), has always been fairly green, and had further political incentives for the “Yes” vote given his upcoming run for statewide office.

However, it’s worth illustrating that while both share the same overarching policy objective—“an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy”—Kirk’s reasoned, experienced, fact-based, forward-looking and still very much conservative analysis led him to a very different place than Palin. My overall message to the Republican Party: please, please listen to the Mark Kirks in Congress when designing your strategy on climate and energy legislation, and not the Sarah Palins.

The Starting Point

Kirk: “For 2009, our top goal should be energy independence. I support exploring for energy off our coasts, expanding nuclear power and building a natural gas pipeline across Canada to lower heating costs in the Midwest…”

Palin: “We must move in a new direction. We are ripe for economic growth and energy independence if we responsibly tap the resources that God created right underfoot on American soil…Our 3,000-mile natural gas pipeline will transport hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of our clean natural gas to hungry markets across America. We can safely drill for U.S. oil offshore…”

Kirk and Palin seem to be agreed to the standard Republican “all of the above” energy strategy, focused on promoting domestic sources of energy and reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil.

The Experience

Kirk: “…the underlying ACES bill would still lower our dependence on foreign oil by diversifying American energy production. It is time to break the boom and bust cycle of high gas prices and the need to deploy three separate armies to the Middle East (Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom). As you may know, I am a veteran of the Desert Storm and Enduring Freedom missions.”In 1998 and 1999, I served as part of the U.S. delegation to both the Kyoto and Buenos Aires UN Climate Change conferences. In those years, there was a significant debate about the amount and effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide. I was a skeptic and spent hundreds of hours on the subject of 1990s climate science. In the Congress, our job is to learn as much as possible from the latest peer-reviewed non-partisan scientists and then plot the best course for our nation.”

Palin: Governor of a large, oil producing state (surely there are no perverse incentives there). Well, until she resigned.

You can’t fault Palin for looking out for her constituents, and supporting increased domestic oil and gas production. However, Kirk has seen firsthand the impacts of U.S. dependence on foreign oil when fighting for his country, and extensively studied climate science. Whose experience is more valuable when judging U.S. climate and energy policy options?

The Analysis

Kirk: “The National Academy of Sciences reports that the earth’s average temperature already increased by 1.4°F, from 56.8°F in 1920 to 58.2°F in 2007. NOAA also reports that due to a 30% drop in winter ice covering the Great Lakes since 1972, evaporation may be the cause of Lake Michigan’s declining water level…I am a strong supporter of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. When they reported the Democratic health care bill cost $1.6 Trillion, we should take notice and rewrite that bill. That is why I have become one of the leading Republican authors of an alternative health care bill that will be the Congress’s least expensive bill, costing our Treasury very little. I read their report on ACES carefully too. CBO reports that peer-reviewed scientists expect the world’s average temperature to increase by 9 degrees by 2100, lowering U.S. economic output by 3% annually. In sum, they estimated the costs of the bill per household at $140 annually.”

Palin: “The Americans hit hardest will be those already struggling to make ends meet. As the president eloquently puts it, their electricity bills will ‘necessarily skyrocket.’ So much for not raising taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 a year. Even Warren Buffett, an ardent Obama supporter, admitted that under the cap-and-tax scheme, ‘poor people are going to pay a lot more for electricity.’ ”

It’s perfectly reasonable for two intelligent, reasonable people to look at the same study and draw two different conclusions, based on their judgment of the underlying assumptions or methodologies. However, this was not the case here. Here we have a careful review of available non-partisan scientific and economic data specific to this exact piece of legislation versus unsubstantiated statements and generalized quotes. Once again, whose argument is more compelling?

The Conclusion:

Kirk: “In sum, I would have preferred a bill that focused more on energy independence and less on some of the complications in this bill. Nevertheless, the 1990 Clean Air Act signed by President Bush established a cap and trade system to reduce acid rain that proved to be a great low-cost success…In the coming Senate debate, I hope we can repeat this environmental success and aggressively back a national program to defund Iran and Venezuela by reducing America’s need for foreign oil.

Palin: “Can America produce more of its own energy through strategic investments that protect the environment, revive our economy and secure our nation? Yes, we can. Just not with Barack Obama’s energy cap-and-tax plan.”

Hmmm…somehow there seems to still be a disagreement between Kirk and Palin about the merits of ACES and the direction of America’s climate and energy policy. Based on their experience, evidence and analysis, I wonder whom to believe?

Posted in Cap and Trade, Energy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Tropical Forest Conservation in Waxman-Markey

Posted by Andrew Stevenson on June 9, 2009

Originally posted on RFF’s climate policy blog Weathervane.

For many environmental advocates, the generous forest conservation provisions in the Waxman-Markey energy bill (summary here) are a no-brainer. They target one of the world’s largest—20 percent of the global total—and most cost-effective—about half the world’s deforestation at under $10 per-ton—sources of greenhouse gas emissions reductions while protecting some of the world’s most treasured natural places.

It seems these provisions provide something for everyone, as they have found support from a broad coalition of stakeholders. U.S.-regulated entities like the potential cost-containment benefits from offsetting up to 1.5 billion tons of their emissions by paying for cheaper reductions in developing nations, and that forest conservation does not create competitiveness concerns. The global development community likes the possible poverty reduction benefits of channeling an additional $10 billion per year by 2015 in what could be seen as U.S. foreign aid to tropical forest nations. Climate policy wonks like that this forest financing will strengthen U.S. participation in ongoing global negotiations.

Is it possible, therefore, that these provisions could survive attacks from equally-strong skeptics of offsets, foreign aid, and climate action during House and Senate debates?
As the debate unfolds, expect three key issues to come into play:
1) Whether the uncertainties in Waxman-Markey’s forest “set-aside” provisions can be clarified.

Currently the bill allocates 5 percent of allowance values (Section 753(b)(1)) for the purchase of “supplemental emissions reductions”—not offsets—solely from international forest conservation. This “set-aside” must be used to purchase 720 million tons of emissions reductions per year from 2020 to 2025 and 6 billion tons overall from 2012 to 2025, and the EPA administrator is required to increase the allowance allocation if necessary to meet this target.

Based on reasonable assumptions about the size of the cap-and-trade program and cost of forest tons, including analysis done by EPA, the U.S. will be lucky to purchase half that amount (about 300 million) with the current 5 percent set-aside. Meeting the required amount may require saving up money in the initial years to spend later, but even this approach cuts it close, and will take away funds from needed capacity building in early years. Does the EPA have the authority or the will to actually follow-through with this requirement? Where will these allowances come from (they’re certainly not going to come without a fight)? 
2) Whether the U.S. can demonstrate a plausible pathway to delivering offset tons from forests when cap-and-trade kicks off in 2012.
Forest carbon transactions in voluntary carbon markets accounted for about 7.5 million tons in 2007. With the relatively stringent requirements in the bill for developing countries’ participation in U.S. carbon markets—and the current low levels of market-readiness in many of these countries—how will they be ready to potentially deliver 1 billion or even 100 million tons in 2012? One answer is that they need funding for policy-planning and capacity building, on the order of several billion dollars per year between 2010 and 2012.

The good news is that these needs are being addressed by international negotiators in Bonn as we speak—including a strong U.S. forest team—and through other initiatives. The question is, will it be enough? Should the U.S. allocate substantial additional funds in its FY10, FY11 and FY12 foreign aid budgets to specifically target this issue? Or is there another innovative solution out there?
3) Whether the institutional structure that manages these forest programs can be strengthened.
Currently, the bill places authority to manage the forest set-aside and offsets programs with the EPA, in consultation with the State Department and several other departments. This is not ideal for several reasons. First, although the EPA has expertise in environmental markets, these forest programs will require much greater on-the-ground international development and conservation experience, and international environmental negotiation experience than it possesses. With the amount of funding on the table—about $10 billion per year, as stated before—and the need to get the most bang for the buck, it may make sense to create a specialized agency with expertise in all of these key areas. What should this agency look like? How should it be structured to most effectively manage these new funds and programs?
These are some of the key questions that academics and environmental organizations—including RFF’s climate and forest carbon policy teams—will be seeking to answer over the next several months. If policymakers are going to continue to support strong forest conservation provisions in U.S. climate policy, which many stakeholders would argue are absolutely essential from a scientific and economic perspective, these salient questions will need good, robust answers.

Posted in Climate Change, Deforestation, Legislation, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »