The Paris climate agreement: the real work starts now


Pep Canadell, CSIRO and Rob Jackson, Stanford University

The Paris climate agreement is an extraordinary achievement. It codifies the long-term goal of keeping global temperature increases below 2°C. It also sets a more ambitious aspirational target of capping global warming at 1.5°C degrees.

But this more ambitious target will be beyond our reach within a decade or two at current rates of fossil fuel use around the world.

Beyond how achievable the goals are, and at what cost they can be achieved, they are aggressive and consistent with minimising the dangerous interference of human activities on the climate system.

The Paris agreement also recognises the significant gap between the actions needed to stabilise global temperatures and the current national mitigation pledges through 2030. As written now, those pledges won’t keep average temperatures below 2°C, let alone 1.5°C. That’s why the document encourages nations to strengthen their targets in the near future.

The agreement focuses not just on mitigation activities, but on adaptation, too. Adaptation includes the many activities that reduce the costs and consequences of climate change that will occur even after mitigation.

The Paris agreement calls for substantial efforts to develop new capabilities for adaptation and the funding needed to support them. Even climate stabilisation below 2°C will, and has already begun to, bring climate impacts, particularly to the most vulnerable nations and communities.

And, as always, under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the document acknowledges the dangers of looking at the world through the single lens of climate change. We need to safeguard other critical services such as food production, water resources, and biodiversity.

Some shortfalls

The agreement missed the opportunity to establish some mid-term goals, sharpening the milestones required after 2030. We know that the current mitigation pledges to 2030 are not enough to keep global temperatures below 2°C. The hard work of mid-term goals lies ahead of us.

A specific emissions mitigation target for 2050, for instance, would have benchmarked where emissions need to be to keep temperatures below 2°C by end of this century. Intermediate goals are critical for keeping us on track with compatible pathways.

Instead, the agreement settled on the goal of achieving a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases during the second half of this century. This goal is based on the results of the last assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The “balance” acknowledges that we could still have some greenhouse gas emissions in the future but these emissions would need to be offset by the removal of an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. We interpret this language as being the same as the better known requirement of “zero net emissions”.

An important shortcoming of calling for achieving a greenhouse gas balance “in the second half of the century” is that it leaves open the possibility that the balance might not be achieved until 2100. This more lenient approach would almost certainly fail to keep global temperatures under 2°C.

An additional shortcoming concerns the contentious issue of financial payments and incentives. The agreement recognises the fact that nations, mostly developing, representing almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions don’t yet have a plan to peak (initially) and then reduce their emissions unless climate financing is available. The text of the agreement is vague and does not clarify how such funds will be obtained, distributed, and monitored.

Let’s get to work

To enter into force, the Agreement will need to be ratified by at least 55 nations under the UN climate convention. These parties must also be responsible for at least 55% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

It took years for the Kyoto Protocol to be ratified, so it is important this agreement be ratified quickly. The longer this is delayed, the faster countries will have to reduce emissions.

The “55% of emissions” number is an interesting one. Two countries, China and the United States, are responsible for 44.5% of global carbon dioxide emissions. It is technically possible therefore for the agreement to enter into force if all countries except the US and China ratify the deal, but that outcome seems unlikely.

Ratification in China will hinge on its perceived effects on economic development.

Approval in the US will largely depend on a legal determination of whether the agreement must be ratified by the senate. This was a major reason the US has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol.

Even if 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions ratify the agreement, it will do little to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 2°C. Unless countries covering more than 90% of global emissions ratify the agreement, there is little chance of success in reaching the ambitious climate goals.

The need for immediate action includes raising at least US$100 billion per year by 2020. This challenge is enormous, but necessary, if developing countries are to forego the fossil-fuel-intensive development that characterised wealthier nations in the past.

And finally, we need to build new capacity for climate adaption, particularly in poorer, more vulnerable nations. Climate change is already here, and its fingerprint in many recent climate extremes is clear. All countries and communities need new capacity and knowledge to strengthen their resilience and sustainable development pathways.

The Conversation

Pep Canadell, CSIRO Scientist, and Executive Director of Global Carbon Project, CSIRO and Rob Jackson, Professor, Earth System Science, Stanford University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate justice and an end to fossil fuels: the Paris agreement won’t satisfy activists


Rebecca Pearse, University of Sydney

A global climate agreement was adopted in Paris on Saturday evening, but it will leave activists demanding direct action on fossil fuels and energy market reform.

Before the Paris talks even began there were activists arguing that the negotiations would not deliver what they want. The Climate Justice Action network said that the COP21 will continue a 20 years of ineffective climate policy, demonstrated by a 65% rise in fossil fuel emissions since 1990.

Naomi Klein said she “refused to put our future in the hands of [negotiators] cloistered in the Bourget”. Klein places more hope in bottom-up energy democracy.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s protests were about saying campaigns for climate justice will continue.

Has activist pessimism about the agreement been justified?

The Paris Agreement doesn’t stack up

Klein argues that there is some “good language” in the agreemnt. The Paris text recognises the need to cap temperature rises at 1.5℃. However, the language doesn’t match national pledges for action. These pledges are so weak that a dangerous 3 or 4 degrees warming is likely.

The agreement also notes “the importance for some of the concept of “climate justice”, when taking action to address climate change.” But the substance of agreement falls far short of what movements mean by the term.

One of the main issues activists have raised is the absence of reference to fossil fuels in the Paris Agreement. The agreement aims for “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks” after 2050.

Reference to reducing fossil fuels, or even “decarbonisation” would have been better. The vague language of “balance” between (fossil fuel) “sources” and “sinks” opens up the possibility for loopholes, such as “forest carbon offsets” and technologies activists oppose such as “clean coal” and nuclear energy.

Loopholes are familiar terrain for Australian negotiators, who have secured the continuation of a 1997 land carbon accounting loophole to meet Australia’s 2020 target. It is an accounting rule that will allow further emissions increases in energy and industrial sectors with no penalty.

Opaque carbon terminology typical in climate agreements turns the climate issue into an unhelpful abstraction. The concrete problems climate movements want addressed are about energy and inequalities, which are systemic and difficult to change.

Movements want ‘system change’

Activist pessimism about the Paris Agreement reflects the fact climate movements want to change society and transform energy systems more rapidly and fundamentally than the UN system allows for. They do this by bringing people together, online and in public spaces, to put pressure on governments and corporations to change.

The climate movement is a contemporary version of what Immanuel Wallerstein called “anti-systemic movements”. Anti-systemic movements want to transform societies, and in this case, humanity’s relationship with ‘nature’.

Movements calling for “climate justice”, carry on traditions of the alter-globalisation movement, other forms of environmentalism, feminism, anti-colonial and socialist movements.

Climate justice movements are diverse, but there is a fundamental principle informing activist practice: climate change is a consequence of unequal, colonial, economic and social power relations.

Protests during the Paris negotiations illustrate the diverse strands of this anti-systemic agenda. The slogans were “Flood the system” and “Connect the dots”. Flood the system is a reference to anti-capitalist protests during the peak of the financial crisis. Connecting the dots means recognising the links between climate change and systemic inequalities.

Activists consistently point out that the impacts of climate change are greatest for marginal social groups, and that historical responsibility for climate change is concentrated in a small number of corporate and government hands.

Their analysis was symbolised in protests in the past weeks. The People’s Climate March and the People’s Parliament protest were both represented by Pacific Islanders, indigenous people, and mining-affected community members. They targeted Parliament, as well as a bank and fossil fuel company and coal infrastructure.

Given that climate justice movements want systemic change, it’s unsurprising that the Paris Agreement is not enough for activists. However, this is not to say that anti-systemic movements simplistically oppose all reform, or that movements don’t create new policy agendas.

Movements want reform too

There are two strong messages from activists about energy policy.

  • 1) There needs to be a limit placed on fossil fuels

  • 2) There needs to be regulation and public investment to facilitate affordable renewable energies.

As time as gone on, the political focus on abstract carbon targets and carbon pricing has diminished. Climate organisations like 350.org have translated their focus on global carbon target of 350ppm (a technical term for concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) into connected local campaigns to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

There are new research organisations documenting the fossil fuel assets that need to be retrenched in order to stay within a 1.5-2-degree limit. This year’s Australia Institute campaign for “no new coal mines” is concrete policy that would help keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Whether or not direct regulation of energy markets is politically feasible is an unanswered question. However, seeking change through complex and ineffective emissions policy like carbon trading has also been difficult for activists.

The road from Copenhagen goes beyond Paris

The last major climate talks held in Copenhagen in 2009 saw public protests like those last week. There was a broad sense that it was the last chance for a global agreement that could avoid dangerous climate change.

When the Copenhagen Accord was deemed a flop, a sense of failure was keenly felt by climate movements. The numbers of people engaged in climate activism dropped considerably from 2010.

But activists did continue to mobilise. After Copenhagen the social and environmental effects of Australia’s export mining boom in coal and gas were intensifying. New campaign organisations such as Lock the Gate and Land Water Future changed Australian climate politics. These groups are resisting fossil fuels, but climate mitigation is not the only, or central, motivation.

Food and water security, indigenous land rights, and farmer’s property rights have become much more salient than ever before. These campaigns have led to temporary moratoriums on coal seam gas, numerous inquiries, new water protections, and a debate about whether land owners should be able to say no to fossil fuel companies.

Renewable energy campaigns have matured since 2009, with new citizens campaigns developing the case for community renewable energy projects and fair access to the electricity grid for Australia’s 1.4 million rooftop solar owners. While these campaigns have struggled to get new policies, the resilience of the Renewable Energy Target is evidence that governments cannot risk losing voters who support renewables.

This week’s climate negotiations were one moment in a long battle. Activists are moving “through” and “beyond” Paris and will continue campaigns against fossil fuel dependence and for a “just energy transition”.

In doing so, movements will go on highlighting the failures of climate policy. They are changing what is politically feasible for Australian governments.

The Conversation

Rebecca Pearse, Research Associate, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How will carbon markets help the Paris climate agreement?


Katherine Lake, University of Melbourne

The Paris Agreement marks a historic turning point for global co-operation to address climate change.

For the first time, 195 countries committed to take action to limit the global temperature rise to “well below 2C”. Through the final tense hours of the negotiations, it was doubtful whether the provisions on carbon markets would survive, given the staunch opposition to them by certain Latin American countries.

To the contrary, the agreement clearly establishes a new international carbon market mechanism, despite there being no reference to the words “market mechanism” or “carbon market” in the agreement.

So what does the Paris agreement say on carbon markets?

A new market mechanism

While the agreement doesn’t mention “carbon markets”, it allows parties to pursue “co-operative approaches” and voluntarily use “international transferred mitigation outcomes” to help meet their reduction targets, while ensuring that transparency and the environmental integrity of the regime is maintained.

Article 6 of the agreement establishes a new mechanism to “contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development”. The mechanism allows for the participation of both the public and private sectors, and, significantly, it aims to deliver an overall reduction in global emissions.

It will operate under the “authority and guidance” of a body to be designated by countries who have signed the agreement, and the rules governing its operation will be developed by the technical group under the UN climate body (the UNFCCC), with the view to being adopted in the first meeting of the Parties, after the agreement enters into force.

Countries must agree to robust accounting rules and must not double count emissions reductions. This means emissions reductions achieved in a country through the mechanism cannot be counted by that country towards their own emission reduction target if another country has bought those emissions reductions.

Learning from the past

This is not the first time a climate agreement has created a new mechanism. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol established the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

There are key differences between the CDM and the new mechanism. Notably, the new mechanism doesn’t contain any geographic restrictions. Emissions can be reduced in a developed or developing country and be bought by any other country.

This reflects the new dynamic in the Paris Agreement. There is no longer a formal distinction between the responsibility of developed and developing countries to cut. Indeed many developing countries have now made emissions reductions commitments.

The new mechanism is intended to go beyond a purely individual project-based offset mechanism like the CDM, and instead support new policies, activities and programs such as financial support to improve energy efficiency in the building sector of a country or to introduce and implement a renewable energy policy. It is also broad enough to support the linking of emissions trading schemes between parties.

Significantly, the new mechanism requires that it must result in an overall reduction in global emissions, rather than simply offsetting emissions. This was a contentious issue in the negotiations. There is no such requirement in the CDM. Time will tell how countries will implement the mechanism to ensure that this requirement is met.

What now for international carbon markets?

The call for a global carbon price was a central theme in the sidelines of the meeting, with business making loud calls for countries to introduce a carbon price and World Bank group president Jim Yong Kim declaring it was important to get momentum behind carbon pricing.

While much of the detail of the new mechanism is yet to be fleshed out, the framework sends a long-term signal to investors that all countries support the emergence of a global carbon market. It is inevitable that post 2020, we will see a range of inter-linked carbon markets develop.

International units or offsets are an increasingly controversial issue in the global fight against climate change. There is a risk that by using foreign emissions reductions countries could delay the task of decarbonising their own economies.

It is clear that to meet the 2℃ or better goal, all major economies will need to make serious domestic emissions reduction cuts by implementing strong domestic policies that will transition away from reliance on fossil fuels. Offsets can play an important role in scaling up ambition and allowing businesses to meet their commitments at the least cost. But the country using them must simultaneously bring down their own domestic emissions.

Public finance alone cannot transition developing countries away from fossil fuels. The mobilisation of private sector finance through carbon markets could play an essential role in scaling up low emissions development, provided that clear accounting and monitoring, reporting and verification rules are established.

This is particularly the case if the new mechanism goes beyond single projects and supports the implementation of new policies and programs.

One of the key risks is that that supply of credits might initially outstrip demand, as only a handful of the countries that support using markets to meet their climate pledges are likely to be buyers, such as Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland, Norway. Australia has until now ruled out using international credits, but after the conference environment minister Greg Hunt stated that Australia “probably will” use international credits to meet emissions reduction targets.

Carbon markets in Australia

As the Paris summit progressed, Australia softened its position on carbon markets.

In the second week, it signed a declaration developed by New Zealand to bolster support for carbon markets and commit to develop rules to govern a post-2020 carbon market.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop recognised the importance of carbon markets. And at the conference, Greg Hunt reportedly referred to the Safeguard Mechanism as a “baseline and credit” scheme.

Under the agreement national emissions reductions targets will be reviewed and ramped up, beginning in 2018. Australia should now consider how carbon markets could assist it to increase its existing 2030 target, in order to make a responsible contribution to stabilising temperatures at 2℃ or below.

The Conversation

Katherine Lake, Research Associate at the Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Paris Agreement won’t stop coal, but future climate talks might


Luke Kemp, Australian National University

The global climate deal reached at the Paris climate talks has left a big question unanswered: what do to about coal? It isn’t even mentioned in the agreement text.

There is growing recognition that continued expansion of fossil fuels is incompatible with stopping dangerous climate change. If the international community wishes to limit global warming to a maximum of 2℃, only 886 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂) can be emitted between 2000 and 2050. Locked in the ground is 2,795 billion tonnes, 65% of which is coal.

Given this simple maths, only one-fifth of these fossil fuels can be dug up. Most fossil fuel reserves cannot be used. Creating new coal mines or searching for new sources is not compatible with avoiding dangerous climate change. It is simply wasted investment.

This has provided the basis for the “no new coalmines” campaign. It is an idea that has gained traction around the world. So is it legally possible to undertake such a drastic international action?

Growing support

A global moratorium on new coal mines is rapidly gaining international support. The idea has even passed the lips of world leaders. On the summit’s opening day, Kiribati’s president Anote Tong told the assembled heads of state:

I have issued a call for a global moratorium on new investments on coal mines as endorsed by my fellow Pacific Leaders and I invite you all to join this call.

The climate talks have traditionally focused on tackling fossil fuel demand by attempting to limit countries’ overall greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond the negotiations, restricting the supply of fossil fuels is becoming the centre of attention.

The divestment movement has experienced considerable success in persuading concerned citizens and institutions to pull their money out of fossil fuel companies. The Obama administration recently rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, partly on the rationale that it undercuts US climate leadership.

Political support is increasing rapidly and could soon reach a tipping point that leads to international legal action either through, or outside of, the UN climate negotiations.

Through the climate convention

While Paris will not deliver a global moratorium on new coal mines, or even a dialogue about it, it could still happen in the near future. There are climate conferences every year and each one adopts a set of new decisions.
Countries could decide in the future to develop further rules for the pledging process, including putting forward what national actions are being taken to limit fossil fuel extraction.

Another option would be simply to amend the text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or the Paris agreement at a later date. For the UNFCCC this could be done by a three-quarter majority vote (although the changes would only apply to countries who vote for and ratify the amendment).

The UNFCCC’s subsidiary body for science and technology could also be empowered to make recommendations on fossil fuel extraction, given a 2℃ carbon budget. This body has looked at carbon budget issues previously and has reviewed the temperature target.

Looking at the implications of fossil fuel extraction would be a logical step forward, and well within the body’s abilities. This could provide the basis for recommendations to the wider negotiations on what reaching 2℃ means for coal. Spoiler: new coal reserves are not compatible with the 2℃ threshold.

A political problem

The UN is not the only game in town. Some of the most powerful international institutions, such as the World Bank and World Trade Organisation (WTO), operate outside of the UN.

It’s feasible that a small group of countries could forge ahead to create their own semi-global agreement outside of the UN. This is not without precedence. The WTO was originally the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT) with only 34 members.

Such an agreement could involve a group of countries pledging to ban the creation or expansion of coal infrastructure within their own sovereign borders, and to encouraging others to do so. They could even create regulations to forbid the purchase of coal from specific sources (new coal mines), although this would probably face technical issues and be challenged as arbitrary discrimination under the WTO, as has previously happened for Venezuelan gas exports.

At the very least, an agreement could establish a ruling for governments to divest from projects or companies involved in the expansion and creation of coal mines, or of fossil fuels in general.

Such a move may seem fruitless given that it would be taken by a coalition of the willing and would probably not involve major coal exporters. But as pointed out above, agreements rarely stay frozen in time. If designed correctly they can grow in membership and influence.

A multi-country agreement on no new coal mines could help to create a powerful new international norm, and help to signal a market push away from new coal mines and coal in general.

Stopping the creation and expansion of coal mines is not a legal problem. Numerous legal avenues to implement a moratorium on new coal exist. It is a purely political problem.

The world appears to be awakening to the simple fact that limiting warming to 2℃ means we cannot use existing coal reserves, let alone seek out new ones. The question is who will act first: the UN climate talks, or a critical mass of willing countries?

The Conversation

Luke Kemp, Lecturer and PhD Candidate in International Relations and Environmental Policy, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.