Polimp: Resources on European and International Climate Policy

For inPolimpstructors who include a discussion of European responses to climate change, including the EU-ETS, I would suggest checking out the resources on the Polimp site.  The site is funded by the European Commission under its 7th Framework Program.

Among the resources on the site pertinent to those teaching climate and energy courses are the following:

  • The Climate Policy Information Hub, a portal which provides concise summaries and links to additional resources on an array of climate policy and science issues, including European Union climate policy, international climate policy institutions, renewable energy policies, and detailed information about climate and energy issues in several key sectors, including residential, transportation and agriculture;
  • An archived webinar series, which includes an excellent recent discussion of the future of the EU-ETS, lessons learned from the 15th UNFCCC COP in Copenhagen for the upcoming 21st COP in Paris, and the contours of European climate policy for 2030;
  • A Policy Brief Series, which includes briefings on stakeholder perspectives on the EU-ETS, and financing renewable energy in the European Union,

The site also includes a (free) newsletter for apprising subscribers of new resources on the site and upcoming events.

New WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin

In its most recent GWMO Bullreenhouse Gas Bulletin, the World Meteorological Organization provides some of the most contemporaneous data on the status of long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as well as providing some excellent charts for lectures and presentations on climate science.

Among the key findings in the publication:

  1. Radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases increased by 36% between 1990 and 2014, with carbon dioxide accounting for approximately 80% of this increase;
  2. Carbon dioxide levels reached 143% of pre-industrial levels in 2014 and is responsible for 83% of the the increase in radiative forcing over the past decade. Global atmospheric concentrations reached 397.7ppm in 2014, with an average annual growth rate of 2.06ppm over the past decade, with last year’s growth rate over 2013 of 1.9ppm
    1. Approximately 44% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions reached the atmosphere in the past decade, with the remaining 56% removed by oceans and the terrestrial biosphere
  3. Methane concentrations in the atmosphere reached 254% of pre-industrial levels in 2014, contributing 17% of the radiative forcing of long-lived greenhouse gases. Atmospheric concentrations were 1833 ppb in 2014;
  4. Nitrous oxide levels reached 327 ppb in 2014, up 21% above pre-industrial levels. Nitrous oxide accounts for 6% of radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases;
  5. Chlorofluorocarbons and minor halogenated gases account for 12% of radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases, though their production is declining due to international treaty regulation. While potent greenhouse gases hydrochlorofluorocarbons and hydrofluorcarbons are increasing in production at a substantial clip, their atmospheric concentrations remain low, in the parts per trillion currently.

The Bulletin also provides a concise explanation of the anthropogenic greenhouse effect, including an excellent chart explaining radiative forcing.




Mind the (Emissions) Gap

For instructors discussing the likely impacts of the emissions reductions commitments agreed to by the Parties to the UNFCCC under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (denominated “Intended National Determined Contributions” or “INDCs”), the just-released eight-page Executive Summary of UNEP’s Annual “Emissions Gap Report” would be an excellent reading. Other recent assessments of INDCs include the UNFCCC’s Synthesis Report on the Aggregate Effect of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, and studies by Climate Action Tracker and Climate InteractiveUntitled-1. The 2015 Report compares projected emission levels in 2030 (based on the INDCs of 114 States by October 1, 2015) with scientific assessments of emissions pathways consistent with keeping temperature increases below 2C from pre-industrial levels.

Among the study’s findings are:

  1. Based on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report’s estimate of a remaining cumulative carbon dioxide emissions budget of 1000 GtCO2 (to avoid passing the 2C threshold), net global carbon emissions will have to be reduced to zero between 2060 and 2075;
  2. To have a greater than 66% chance of avoiding temperature increases above 2C by the end of century the median level of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in 2030 should be 42 GtCO2e (range of 31-44), 39 GtCO2e to keep temperature increases to 1.5C.
    1. While the INDCs made by the Parties to the UNFCCC to date constitute “a real increase in the ambition level compared to a projection of current policies, the emissions gap between full implementation of unconditional INDCs and the least-cost emission level for a pathway to remain below 2C are estimated at 14 GtCO2e in 2030 and 7 GtCO2e in 2025. Conditional INDCs could reduce the gap to 5 GtCO2e in 2025 and 12 GtCO2e in 2030. This translates into a temperature increase of 3.5C by 2100 (66% chance)
    2. The global emissions levels in 2030 consistent with avoiding passing the 2C threshold is 42 GtCO2e in 2030, while project emissions from unconditional INDCs are projected to be 56 GtCO2e in 2030, or 45 GtCO2e when conditional INDCs are taken into account.
  3. Global greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by an additional 5-12 GtCO2e below unconditional INDCs through measures such as enhanced energy efficiency, and International Cooperative Initiatives, such as efforts by cities and regions, sector specific initiatives (such as reducing cement-related initiatives), and forest-related initiatives, e.g. REDD+

The electronic version of the report also includes a number of charts and diagrams that would could be used in class lectures, including portrayals of historical GHG emissions and projections until 2050, the emissions gap of INDCs and requisite reductions in emissions to avoid passing critical temperature thresholds, and a map outlining the INDCs of UNFCCC Parties.



Special Issue on Climate Geoengineering Law

earthwrenchFor instructors interested in covering the topic of climate geoengineering in their courses, there is a new special issue on the topic of climate geoengineering law in the journal Climate Law. The special issue’s editors are Wil Burns & Simon Nicholson of the Forum on Climate Engineering Assessment.

Electronic reprints can be obtained of any of the pieces by contacting Wil Burns at: wil@feronia.org.

The Promise of Sustainable Biochar

Instructors who include a module on climate geoengineering may wish to include a section on a carbon dioxide removal scheme called “biochar.” Biochar is charcoal Biocharproduced by medium- or high- temperature heating of biomass with little or no oxygen to drive off volatile gasses (a process called pyrolysis), leaving a more stable carbon, called char, behind. Biochar is touted as a potential “negative carbon” process, because it can sequester up to 40% of the total carbon from the biomass for centuries. Moreover, biochar is an excellent soil amendment, because it’s very effective at retaining both water and water-soluble nutrients, can reduce fertilizer requirements. Moreover, the pyrolysis process produces bio-oils with fuel value that is generally 50 – 70% that of petroleum bases fuels and can be used as boiler fuel or upgraded to renewable transportation fuels. However, some commentators have expressed serious concern that a large-scale biochar program would result in “land grabs” for biochar feedstocks that could threaten the interests of vulnerable populations, as well as adverse environmental impacts associated with land clearance under some scenarios.

A study from a few years ago by Woolf et al. in the journal Nature Communications would be an excellent reading for students because it focuses on the trade-offs between biochar production and other environmental considerations that can stimulate student discussion about broader considerations of the balancing of interests in the climate policy making realm. Through a series of scenarios, the study seeks to the maximum amount of biochar that can be produced sustainably or “maximum sustainable technical potential” (MSTP). The MTSP is defined as “the portion of the global biomass resource that can be harvested … without endangering food security, habitat, or soil conservation” when converted to biochar.

Among the conclusions of the study:

  1. Sustainable global implementation of biochar could offset a maximum of 12% of current carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, with a total estimate of 130 Pg CO2-Ce over the course of a century
    1. By contrast, conversion of all sustainably obtained biomass to bioenergy could only offset 10% of current anthropogenic emissions. The advantage of biochar over bioenergy is greatest in areas where biomass crops would be grow in poor soils, while biomass combustion is a superior strategy for climate mitigation in areas with fertile soils, where biomass energy production is optional to offset coal combustion.
  2. Use of land clearance strategies to produce biomass feedstock can result in “unacceptably high” carbon-payback times, e.g. 10 years for conversion of temperate grasslands, 50 years for clearance of rainforests, and an astounding 325 years for clearance of rainforest on peatlands;
  3. Half of avoided emissions associated with biochar production would constitute sequestration of carbon dioxide, 30% from energy production that could displace fossil fuels, and 30 from avoided methane and nitrous oxide emissions;
  4. Simultaneous large-scale production of bioenergy and biochar are not feasible.

Some of the class discussion questions that might be pertinent to this reading:

  • Is it realistic to assume that a ramped-up biochar program would avoid unsustainable practices in the manner contemplated in this study?
  • Is it appropriate to classify biochar as a “climate geoengineering” approach. Why or why not?;
  • What would be the appropriate level of funding for biochar research programs given its mitigation potential?

The Distribution of “Unused” Fossil Fuels in a 2C World

Recent research indicates that the world needs to limit cumulative carbon dioxide emissions to approximately 1100 gigatons (with the IPCC suggesting a range of 870-1,240 Gt CO2) of carbon between 2011-2050 to have a 50% chance of keeping warming below 2°C from Pre-Industrial levels. However, as the authors of a new study in the journal Nature concluded, “the unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves is Coalincompatible with a warming limit of 2°C.” Indeed, the carbon dioxide that could be emitted by the current estimate of global fossil fuel reserves would exceed this critical threshold by three times (approximately 2900 Gt CO2). The study utilized a single integrated assessment model to assess the ramifications of the use of various fossil fuel resources in terms of their respective locations, type, and quantities. Its overall finding was that a third of global oil reserves, 50% of gas reserves, and over 80% of coal reserves need to stay in the ground to have a reasonable chance of avoiding passing the 2°C threshold.

Among the study’s other findings:

  1. 82% of coal reserves would have to remain unburned under the study’s scenarios, with the United States and Former Soviet countries each pulling out less than 10% of their current reserves from the ground, leaving 200 billion tons unburned;
    1. Without CCS, bitumen production in Canada must cease by 2040;
    2. Even deployment of CCS within projected time frames and level of utilization does very little to change this number, permitting only 6% more to be utilized, and increasing oil and gas utilization by approximately 2%.
  2. Gas plays an important role in displacing coal, including over 50 trillion cubic meters of unconventional gas production globally, half of which comes from North America. However, China, India, Africa and the Middle East would not fair so well, with over 80% unburnable by 2050;
  3. None of the 100 billion barrels of oil and 35 trillion cubic meters of gas in fields within the Arctic Circle not being produced in 2010 can be produced in the 2°C scenario before 2050.

This would be an excellent student reading for any lecture that discusses solutions or efforts to establish priorities in terms of the future global energy mix. Its extensive coverage of the implications of CCS deployment would be helpful for coverage of that topic.

Among the possible questions for classroom discussion would be the following:

  1. Would considerations of equity, including the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities suggest that the future mix should be re-jiggered some way?
  2. What policy measures might be (practically) put in place to effectuate the prioritization of fossil fuel utilization outlined in the article?

Call for Power Point Slides and Presentations: Climate Geoengineering

earthwrenchOne of the missions of The Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment (www.ceassessment.org) is to provide pertinent resources to educators and who do, or wish to, introduce the concept of climate engineering into their classrooms. We are also interested in how our colleagues who give presentations on climate engineering are packaging and presenting material. Pursuant to this, we are currently developing a collection of Power Point slides, fully categorized and ready for download from our site. If you have slides that you are willing to share, please send them to me (wil@feronia.org) and we will incorporate them into our collection. We are hoping to post both full presentations and discrete slides on the site.

We will give appropriate attribution on each slide of any slideshow that you send to us. Our hope is to create a valuable resource for those seeking to explain climate engineering to an expanding array of audiences, as well as a revealing snapshot of how major concepts and questions in this field are currently being treated.

Betting on Negative Emissions? Carbon Dioxide Removal Geoengineering

BECCSFor instructors who include a module on climate geoengineering, an excellent short reading on carbon dioxide removal approaches, and the challenges of effectively implementing them, is an article (subscription required) from last year by Sabine Fuss, et al., in the journal Nature Climate Change. As Fuss, et al. note, most emissions pathway scenarios that lead to atmospheric CO2 concentrations consistent with avoidance of temperatures above 2°C from pre-industrial levels contemplate some use of global net negative approaches in the second half of this century. In this study, the authors assess the prospects for the so-called “negative emissions” option most highly touted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its Fifth Assessment Report, Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS).
Among the findings of the authors are the following:

  1. Many integrated assessment models (IAMs) contemplate carbon dioxide absorption by BECCS of 1,000 GtCO2 or more; this could effectively double the globe’s carbon “budget;”
  2. Global net negative emissions strategies would have to be in place by 2070 for the most aggressive emissions scenarios. If deployment is delayed until substantial climate change has occurred, the response of the global carbon cycle will necessitate a larger program. Thus “the future option space depends strongly on today’s decisions;”
  3. Challenges for deployment of BECCS include physical constraints associated with alternative land biomass and biomass needs (including agricultural demands and biodiversity conservation), response of terrestrial and ocean sinks to negative emissions, costs of speculative technologies and socio-institutional barriers, including public acceptance of new technologies;
  4. In IAM scenarios consistent with keeping temperatures below 2°C from pre-industrial levels, BECCS approaches would have to sequester between 2-10 GtCO2 by 2050 (about 5-25% of 2010 CO2 emissions), and 4-22% of 2050 baseline emissions, which would entail “huge upscaling efforts,” especially in light of the currently challenging environment to develop large-scale CCS projects. This challenge is particularly imposing given the high costs of such projects and the low cost of emissions that are likely to be perpetuated absent the imposition of a meaningful price on carbon through climate policies;
  5. While negative emissions options are, ostensibly, more expensive than other mitigation options, in the longer term, alternative mitigation pathways to 2100 are all substantially more costly without use of such technologies;
  6. BECCS could serve as an alternative in the absence of a global accord to substantially reduce emissions for those countries lacking either capacity or the will to participate in international regimes.

Among the discussion questions that this piece might suggest:

  1. How would we (can we?) reconcile the trade-offs between food production and energy production that, as the article suggests, BECCS might pose?;
  2. While the article focuses on the viability of CO2 sequestration, what are the challenges, if any, of transport and storage of 2-10 GtCO2 annually?;
  3. Are there tradeooffs associated with devoting substantial amounts of research and development funding to carbon dioxide programs? If yes, how does society, assess such trade-offs?

Climate Litigation: From the Netherlands to Pakistan

LitigationFor instructors who include a module on climate litigation, it’s been a watershed summer, with two cases presenting excellent opportunities to discuss the potential role of such actions in inducing more substantive actions by government. In July, in a suit brought by a Dutch NGO, (Urgenda v. Netherlands) a District court in the Hague held in that the State was in breach of its duty of care to Dutch society by failing to take sufficient mitigation measures to prevent dangerous climate change. The court ordered the Dutch government to “limit or have limited” national greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020 vs. the government’s current mitigation path of 17%.

Following closely on the heels of this case is a September decision by the Lahore High Court Green Bench (Ashgar Leghari v. Federation of Pakistan). The petitioner in this case was a farmer who challenged the government of Pakistan’s implementation of the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) and Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy on human rights grounds. More specifically, petitioner alleged that the failure of the federal government to implement climate measures “offends the fundamental right to life under article 9 of the Constitution” by threatening posing a serious threat to water, food and energy security of Pakistan. Moreover, petitioner contended that government inaction, and consequent climatic threats, undermined protection of his right to a healthy and clean environment and human dignity under article 14 of the Pakistani constitution, as well as constitutional principles of social and economic justice. He also alleged that certain international environmental principles, which constituted “fundamental rights” were apposite, including the doctrine of public trust, sustainable development, the precautionary principle and intergenerational equity.

In finding for the petitioner, the court held that:

  1. The primary cause of climate change is anthropogenic and its manifestations, including flooding, have already begun affecting Pakistan “with far reaching consequences and real economic cost;”
  2. The focal point of the Framework for Implementation of Climate Change Policy are adaptation efforts; however, to date “no material exercise has been done on the ground to implement the Framework” by relevant Ministries and Provincial Departments;”

In order to “expedite” protection of “the fundamental rights of the people of Punjab,” the court established a Climate Change Commission, comprised of pertinent government officials, with the powers to effectuate effective implementation of the NCCP and Framework and to compel cooperation by Ministries and Departments. Moreover, the court directed responsible ministries and departments to appoint a focal person on climate change to prepare a list of adaption measures to be completed by the end of 2015. The Green Bench also retained jurisdiction (continuing mandamus) to hear reports from the Commission concerning their progress in carrying out these orders.

It’s been my experience that both law and non-law students are very interested in climate litigation. Some of the questions that might grow out of discussion of these cases are the following:

  1. Should non-elected judiciaries be permitted to impose mandates with substantial fiscal and social implications on society?
  2. Are decisions of this nature likely to have substantive impacts in terms of climate change policy? Is there any empirical evidence to date?
  3. What are the implications of decisions of this nature for international climate policymaking?

“Winning Coalitions” For Climate Policy?

What is the optimal political strategy to effectuate decarbonization of the world’s economy? Professor Jonas Meckling of the University of California-Berkeley, along with several other colleagues at the university, have just published a new article in Science that contends that the key is formulation of green industrial policies that foster “winning coalitions for climate policy.” The two-page piece would be an excellent reading in any energy or climate course’s policy solutions modules.

Among the conclusions of the authors are the following:

1. While climate change agreements increasingly reflect bottom-up, domestically-centered policies, there’s sparse research on the optimal approaches to drive bottom-up processes to effectuate emissions reductions;
2. Even if all carbon pricing mechanisms are implemented globally, they will only encompass 12% of GHG emissions; moreover, because they are subject to the political influence of major polluters, who resist their attendant substantial costs, they are “only marginally effective;”
3. While green industrial policies, e.g. feed-in tariffs and renewable portfolio standards, are viewed by economists as inferior carbon pricing policies from an efficiency perspective, they have the compelling advantage of helping to develop “a political landscape of interests and coalitions” that benefit from such policies. Such “winning coalitions” can also generate positive feedbacks: as such coalitions grow stronger, they can exert more polScienceCoveritical influence, driving additional pro-climate policies, including carbon pricing policies;
a. Empirical evidence for this thesis comes from Germany, where subsidies for low-carbon demonstration projects and feed-in tariffs ultimately led to expansion of renewable energy projects and other measures; California’s experience also supports this contention
4. Among the policy implications of the study’s findings are:
a. Multiple targeted green industrial policies are beneficial in pursuit of de-carbonization because it provides benefits to firms and households that are “politically bounded and relatively easy to understand — unlike broader more systematic strategies,” such as carbon pricing or urban planning initiatives;
b. Policy signals should maximize political leverage by focusing on specific measures for industrial investment which can drive the development of green industry groups;
c. “Strategic sequencing” of policies is important. High leverage measures of the sort described above help mobilize support and strengthen broader policy signals, such as carbon pricing strategies.

The article could generate some excellent classroom discussion. Among the questions that might be pertinent are the following:
1. In many countries, including Spain, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, feed-in tariff rates have been slashed; does this undercut the authors’ contention that green industrial policies help to develop powerful constituencies that ensure that such measures thrive and expand?;
2. Given the fact that many carbon trading regimes, including the EU-ETS have been criticized for not sending sufficiently strong price signals to drive de-carbonization of economies, are the authors correct when they argue that green industrial policies can help foster strong carbon pricing regimes?;
3. What are the implications of “mixed” climate policymaking regimes, i.e. those that incorporate both green industrial and carbon pricing mechanisms? Would you agree with some commentators that the former can undermine the effectiveness of the latter?