All posts tagged 'Kyoto Protocol'

Top 6 at 12: Highlights of the Top Climate Change Stories in the Second Half of 2012

December 31, 2012 11:59
by J. Wylie Donald

2012 has drawn to a close.  We chronicle here six of the most significant stories on the climate change front in the last six months.  For those looking for hope that government is taking action to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, the focus is on California, where cap-and-trade stepped into reality with California's first emissions auction.  Nationally and internationally regulation is at a standstill or going backward.  In the courts, the climate change liability plaintiffs were pounded again as the Ninth Circuit confirmed the dismissal of Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp.  Responding to climate change, however, is a different story.  Superstorm Sandy was a wakeup call on adaptation and the impacts of extreme weather; the National Flood Insurance Program managed to obtain statutory authority to include climate change in its considerations.

1.  Superstorm Sandy –  Climatologists are confident that the changing climate will lead to more frequent and more severe storms.  Sandy, following Hurricane Irene the previous year, delivered on both predictions.   A nine-foot storm surge at Battery Park.  Transformers exploding and putting Manhattan into darkness.  The Hoboken PATH station  submerged.  $50 billion in damage.  Superstorm Sandy set records and was completely consistent with the concerns of proponents of climate change mitigation and adaptation.  Did it have anything to do with climate change or was it simply a chance confluence of events?  The weather pattern was unusual.  There was a hurricane (albeit fading), coupled with a nor’easter, intersecting with an arctic high pressure front, under a full moon.  Individually, those are independent of climate change.  But there was also a record lack of sea ice, which has a measured and observed effect on global atmospheric circulation, which could result in severe weather coming together more severely.  So quite possibly Sandy is a result of climate change.  More important than the academic debate, however, is the impact on adaptation.  Regardless of one’s views on climate change, Sandy demonstrated that a major metropolitan area is vulnerable to extreme weather.  Steps will be taken to flood-proof subways, bury electric lines, raise seawalls, improve evacuation plans  and emergency response,  etc.  All of these are part of the steps needed to adapt to climate change.   Whether it is acknowledged as linked to climate change or not (but see Bloomberg Business Week cover following Sandy:   “It’s Global Warming, Stupid!”), adaptation is going to happen. 

2.  Presidential Election - Climate change was an important part of the campaign:  "The Obama-Biden cap-and-trade policy will require all pollution credits to be auctioned, and proceeds will go to investments in a clean energy future, habitat protections, and rebates and other transition relief for families."  The 2008 election campaign that is. It was a completely different position in 2012. Or maybe not different at all.  No one could tell because nobody was talking about it.  Even Sandy wasn't enough to propel climate change into the debate in the last week of campaigning.

3.  Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil - The last filed of the original quartet (American Electric Power, General Motors, Comer, and Kivalina) of climate change nuisance cases, Kivalina finally made it to a federal appellate court, where in September it met the same fate as its brethren:  dismissal affirmed.  Plaintiffs asked for rehearing.  The Ninth Circuit wasn't interested.  As of this writing, the only case left is Comer v. Murphy Oil USA, which is on appeal following its dismissal last March (for the second time) by the Southern District of Mississippi.  According to that court, plaintiffs lose for a wide variety of reasons:  standing, political question doctrine, res judicata, collateral estoppel, displacement, statute of limitations and proximate cause.   

4.  Cap-and-trade - California, alone among the fifty states, instituted its multi-industry full-fledged cap-and-trade program auctions in November.  All of its allowances for 2013 were sold at a price slightly above the mandated floor price of $10/ton.  Regulators and environmental groups hailed the auction as a success; some business groups were less enthusiastic.  The California Chamber of Commerce sued the California Air Resources Board to invalidate the auctions.  Meanwhile, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeast continues with its allowances trading at the floor price, and with less than 2/3 of its allowances selling in its August and December auctions.  Some commentary concludes that it is time for RGGI to shut down as its CO2 emission goals have been met.    From where we sit, RGGI's success or failure can't be judged until its carbon trading is done in connection with  a robust economy.  The world economic malaise suppresses business, and with it, carbon dioxide emissions.  California may face the same issue.  

5.  National Flood Insurance Program Reform - Could a poisonously partisan Congress vote for this: 

(1) IN GENERAL- The Council shall consult with scientists and technical experts, other Federal agencies, States, and local communities to--(A) develop recommendations on how to--(i) ensure that flood insurance rate maps incorporate the best available climate science to assess flood risks; and (ii) ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses the best available methodology to consider the impact of--
(I) the rise in the sea level; ..."?  

Not the Congress we know.  Or so we thought.  Somehow, somewhere, someone put this into a draft, which made it into and out of a committee, ended up on the floor of both houses, survived two votes and came out as an enrolled bill for the president's signature.  The president signed it into law in July.  This was part of the miscellaneous section of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act  (aka the Transportation and Student Loan Bill), which may explain how this occurred.  In any event, climate change considerations are statutorily mandated as part of the NFIP.  42 USC § 4101a(d)(1).  We can expect a report by July 6, 2013.  Id. § 4101a(d)(1)(B).  Who'd have thunk? 

6.  Global GHG Regulation - COP-18, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, wrapped up in Doha, Qatar in the middle of December widely panned as ineffective.   While it extended to 2020 the Kyoto Protocol addressing global greenhouse gas emissions, major nations (Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand) dropped out, and the United States continued to refuse to participate.  Thus, only about fifteen percent of global emissions are now covered by the protocol (the EU and other European nations, as well as Australia, continue to support the protocol).   Developing nations (whose emissions are not restricted by Kyoto) had hoped to obtain commitments for funding "climate finance" of $100 billion, but that did not occur either.  One can see parallels between the Kyoto Protocol and the Western Climate Initiative and RGGI.  In all three members have dropped out and the commitment to address greenhouse gas emissions waivers. 
 
The fiscal cliff was the focus at the end of 2012; climate change got short shrift.  2013 may establish that that was short-sighted.

Good COP, Bad COP - Durban and the Future of a Climate Change Treaty

November 26, 2011 08:39
by J. Wylie Donald

Durban, South Africa.  Home to the Shark Tank (where Kwazulu-Natal's rugby team, the Sharks, plays), extensive beaches and South Africa's busiest port.  But not home to a new treaty to address climate change.  COP-17 gets underway on Monday and the delegates haven't even met yet; some might think we are being somewhat premature.  We think not.  There is an election here next year.  Europe is mired in a sovereign debt crisis.  China and India will not derail their economic growth just to appease the industrialized West. 

Notwithstanding that there will not be any legally binding agreement, the discussions in Durban are of some moment.  Before we get to that, let's make sure we are all on the same page.  COP-17 is the annual "Conference of the Parties", the yearly meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In diplomat-ese, it is also 7th Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP7) to the Kyoto Protocol. The ultimate objective of the Framework Convention is “to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system”.  Nearly all nations (including the United States) are members.

There are three primary subjects that will be considered in Durban:

1.  Kyoto Protocol - This treaty entered into force in 2005 and established a regime to address greenhouse gas emissions around the world.  There were two tiers:  developed nations and developing nations.  The standards for the first group were stricter than those for the second.  While most nations signed on to the treaty, the United States (and Andorra, Afghanistan and South Sudan) did not.  The United States' primary criticism is that the Protocol did not appropriately take into account the massive greenhouse gas contributions that are now coming from developing nations like China and India.  Now Kyoto is set to expire.  COP-17 is to set up the next stage.  However, the United States, Russia and Japan have stated that they will not sign on for a second stage.  The consensus of observers is that Kyoto will not be extended.

2.  Green Climate Fund - At COP-15 (Copenhagen in 2009), developed nations promised to provide by 2020 $100 billion per year or more to help developing nations address climate change.  As noted by the Overseas Development Institute in the United Kingdom, how to do this is not simple, even apart from finding the funds.  The payors (wealthy nations) favor funds to reduce emissions and running funds through the World Bank (where large donors have more control). The payees (poorer nations) have a much more pragmatic approach.  They favor direct access to funds and more adaptation than mitigation.  To quote Greenpeace Africa:  “The argument is that the developed countries, especially the United States and Western Europe, built their economies on dirty energy – principally coal. So they’re chiefly responsible for the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, that are causing climate change. Yet the worst of the climate change impacts are being felt in least developed countries. So there is definitely a strong argument for the developed countries to greatly help poorer countries to switch to renewable energies.”  In October the UN Transitional Committee submitted a draft instrument on the structure of the Fund.  News reports state that the United States does not support the draft.

3.  REDD+ - Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation is an additional path to addressing greenhouse gas emissions, separate and apart from combustion sources.  Forest degradation is responsible for up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  The UN organized a program in 2008 to address this problem.  "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.“REDD+” goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks."  Some have claimed that REDD is "the fastest-moving portion of the whole climate negotiations."   Some environmental groups want a portion of the Green Climate Fund earmarked for REDD.

So why does this have any significance for businesspeople in the United States?  We start from the premise that climate change is occurring. No dispute about that. There will be significant changes as a result. No dispute about that either. And humans, as is their nature, will respond to the change in their habitat.  Likewise, no dispute.  In the jargon, there will be adaptation - armoring the shore against rising sea levels, further restrictions on water usage for drought areas, more hurricane-proof building codes, enhanced floodplain analysis - and there will be mitigation - efforts at reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases.  For better or worse, the COP meetings set the rules of the mitigation game, and influence responses to adaptation.  Although the Kyoto Protocol was not adopted in the United States, it led to the establishment of a billion dollar trading system in Europe on carbon credits.  It influenced RGGI and the Western Climate Initiative here.  We have written about how the European system is set to impact American air carriers at the first of the year.  Down the road, we believe the nations of the world, including the United States, will come together to address climate change.  The frameworks that are in place - built by the COP meetings - will inevitably be important in cementing and implementing the mutuality of purpose.

Carbon Emissions | Climate Change | Regulation

CANCUN AND COP 16 - TIME FOR A NEW APPROACH?

November 30, 2010 10:34
by J. Wylie Donald

There are a variety of metrics one could use to test the world's interest in the discussions being held by climate change policymakers gathering in Cancun this week. I will use a very personal one. As the Conference of the Parties came together in Copenhagen last year (COP 15), I was often on the phone with news organizations seeking perspective on the Kyoto Protocol, clean development mechanisms, carbon taxes, cap-and-trade and anything else that might be relevant to discussions of climate change and the world's response to it. This year in the run up to COP 16 not a single journalist has called, or even emailed. Taking a less parochial view, if you go to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change "Essential Background" webpage, you will learn right in the middle of the page that Somalia is the 193rd party to the Kyoto Protocol, a fact that I feel confident in concluding will have absolutely no impact on any climate change response anywhere (even in Somalia), but which the UNFCCC functionaries conclude is essential background.

So I join in the cynics that conclude little will come out of Cancun. Some are calling for a completely new attitude to climate talks. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal for example stakes out four new positions in an article styled: How to Change the Global Energy Conversation. Briefly, the authors posit that the approach that has been tried for two decades, and failed for two decades, has it all wrong. Rather than trying to raise the cost of fossil fuels, governments would be focusing on lowering the cost of renewable energy by spurring innovation. They point out that the U.S. military's support of chip technology innovation in the 50s drove those prices down 50-fold over the course of a decade. While those clean technologies are developing, greenhouse gases should be reined in through the easy fixes, such as replacing old inefficient diesel generators throughout the less developed world and focusing on capturing methane emissions from landfills. And while we are involved in less-developed countries, we should jettison the idea that there needs to be a massive transfer of wealth from rich states to poor states to help stave off the negative effects of climate change. Instead, let's recognize that a flood or earthquake or hurricane is devastating regardless of the cause and focus on building more disaster resilient infrastructure. More importantly, wealthier societies are better able to handle disasters and thus the ultimate goal must be to increase the wealth of poorer countries and to do that poorer countries need cheap energy, which brings us back to the innovation goal. Last, the authors reject universal consensus and point out that 80% of all emissions, 85% of GDP, 80% of world trade and 2/3 of the world's population are in the G-20 nations. Those nations should get together and pick their strategy.

I have written before (and no doubt will write again) that what business needs is guidance. Whether it is a conference of 193 parties, or a group of 20, there needs to be a roadmap on where climate change policy is going, so business can plan. I have not seen the analysis that calculates the economic loss caused by climate change policy paralysis. Undoubtedly it is huge. What national policymakers need to figure out at and after Cancun is whether the Kyoto process can work. If not, it is time to do something else.

Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Climate Change


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