New Reading on Geoengineering Governance

A couple of days ago, I suggested some potential readings for students on geoengineering, and I just ran across another excellent piece today by Professor Albert Lin at UC-Davis’s School of Law, Geogineering Governance, 8(3) Issues In Legal Scholarship (2009).  Lin initially does a nice job of introducing the recognized suite of potential geoengineering options, and ultimately chooses to focus on proposals to release sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to modify albedo, which he cites as the cheapest and easiest of geoengineering schemes.

However, Lin correctly notes that there are a number of risks associated with aerosol release proposals, including the spectre of drastic changes in climate should such projects be suddenly halted, and potential adverse impacts on clouds, some of which help to ameliorate radiative forcing. Moreover, albedo modification projects of this nature would do nothing to address the frightening implications of ocean acidification, and might detract from a focus on developing pemanent mitigation solutions.

Despite these concerns, Lin contends that we  should not wholly abandon research on geoengineering solutions since it broadens the tools available to us to address climate change and provides a potential stop gap as we work to develop long-term mitigation responses. However, he also maintains that we need to develop a mechanism to effectuate collective decisions on deployment of geoengineering technologies since the possibility exists that a State could unilaterally choose to deploy such technologies, which could have substantial implications for other States and the global commons. Thus, he advocates the establishment of  “Geoengineering Governance” regime.

While the UNFCCC is an obvious choice for governing geoengineering schemes, Lin argues that the agreement doesn’t directly address the issue (and arguably passes over geoengineering as a viable response) and the UNFCCC establishes only general commitments that may not ensure adequate multi-lateral regulation of geoengineering schemes. Ultimately, however, Lin contends that the UNFCCC is the most viable fora for addressing this issues given its focus and the expertise it would bring to the table. To ensure adequate governance by the UNFCCC, Lin suggests that following steps:

  • The COP should explicitly address geoengineering quickly, including by initiating a research program;
  • The COP should confront the risk that geoengineering or similar climate modification techniques might be used as weapons by States, drawing upon the Convention for the Prihibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques (ENMOD) as a template;
  • The COP should consider developing nonconsensus procedures to make decisions in this context; the development of a protocol that focuses on geoengineering solutiosn as a series of adaptive management decisions might help foster support for this radical departure in decisionmaking for the UNFCCC’s parties.

This could be a very good reading for a climate course because it fulfills a number of purposes: it provides a good overview of geoengineering solutions (though I would suggest supplementing it with at least one other piece that discusses potential ramifications in a bit more detail); it emphasizes the fact that all potential responses to climate change involve tradeoffs and opportunity costs; and finally, it provides a good case study of how governance issues are an important component of implementing the UNFCCC, as well as other MEAs.

New Blog by Professor Victor Flatt

Professor Victor Flatt of the University of North Carolina School of Law has launched a new blog on climate change and the law, on the website of the Houston Chronicle.

Good Student Reading on Effectuating Objectives of Developing Countries in Climate Regimes

The inaugural issue of Earthscan’s new climate journal, Climate and Development, contains a number of interesting articles, all of which are free access. One of the articles, Okereke & Schroeder, How Can Justice, Development and Climate Change Mitigation Be Reconciled for Developing Countries in a Post-Kyoto Settlement, 1 Climate & Development 10-15 (2009), presents a concise summary of some of some of the primary concerns of developing countries in negotiations for a post Kyoto climate regime. Among the primary arguments advanced by the authors:

  • There are good opportunities to unite the objectives of justice, development and climate stabilization through innovative “bundling-up” initiatives; however, givne the complexity of climate negotiations, such initiatives could delay efforts to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, with disproportionate impacts on the most vulnerable sectors of global society;
  • Options for bundling equity, development and climate mitigation include the following:
    • Further differentiation among developing countries given the fact that they are both no means a monolithic bloc in terms of emissions, resources to address climate change, etc. Suggestions for criteria to effectuate such differentiation include assessments of vulnerability to climate change, the Human Development Index, GDP;
    • Reformation of the CDM towards a sectoral approach, coupled with establishment of a trust fund for climate justice and development, including potentially structuring this fund to function along the lines of an insurance mechanism;
    • Link climate change arrangements more tightly with other global regimes, e.g. trade, agriculture and biodiversity, with the treatment of the objectives of equity and development within these regimes as a single package
    • Scrapping of the current climate regime in favor of a number of issue-specific agreements, e.g. a global emissions trading scheme with facilities to benefit developing countries, or global technology agreement to address issue of intellectual property rights, a critical consideration for technology transfer to developing countries.

Resources on Geoengineering

With it  becoming increasingly apparent that temperatures during this century will increase above the 2C “guardrail” that most climatologists now agree will visit extremely serious impacts upon human institutions and ecosystems, and indeed may rise 3-4C above pre-industrial levels or beyond, the drumbeat for “geoengineering” solutions to address climate change becomes louder and louder. The term “geoengineering” encompasses a wide range of potential responses, including seeding the oceans with iron filings to stimulate algae growth (theoretically resulting in increased sequestration of carbon dioxide), various terrestrial and ocean sequestration schemes, and mechanisms to reduce solar luminosity or radiative forcing, e.g. by seeding the atmosphere with aerosols or satellite-based reflectors.

In my mind, it’s an important issue to discuss with students for several reasons: 1. Such proposals are receiving increasing credence, both in the scientific and policy community; 2. it provides another good opportunity to engage social science and law students in climate science issues in a way that many find interesting; 3. it helps to reinforce the important point that there’s no free lunch in confronting climate change, at least at this point of the game; 4. it can stimulate some interesting discussions about whether there are substantial opportunity costs to pursuing geoengineering schemes that might detract from mitigation efforts, and if there is, how we make policy decisions, especially given the massive uncertainties about the effectiveness of both geoengineering and mitigation approaches.

In the past week, a number of excellent pieces have been published that would make good readings:

1. A good “point-counterpoint” set of editorials by Skeptical Environmentalist author Bjorn Lomborg, Climate Engineering: It’s Cheap and Effective,  published in the UK’s Globe and Mail, and a response by James Fleming on The New Security Blog, Climate Engineering is Untested and Dangerous;

2. A 66-page report by a number of group of climate scientists, Climate Engineering Responses to Climate Emergencies (2009). The study is a technical review of proposed geoengineering schemes, with a focus on shortwave radiation engineering, especially stratospheric aerosol injection. The study emphasizes a number of important points, including 1. the complexity of geoengineering solutions and spatial delays and feedbacks necessitates long-term research and monitoring; 2. the fact that some issues associated with rising levels of greenhouse gases including ocean acidification, would not be addressed by such schemes; and 3. potential ecosystem impacts of such schemes make them “extraordinarily risky.”  Nonetheless, the authors argue that possibility of “climate emergencies,” defined as severe climatic consequences that might occur to rapidly to be averted by even dramatic mitigation efforts (e.g. rapidly disintegrating ice sheets that could potentially raise sea levels tens of meters), necessitates the need for an active research agenda in this context;

3. Finally, Gabriel C. Hegerl & Susan Solomon in an article in this week’s edition of Science (Risks of Climate Engineering)  (subscription required) assesses the potential negative impacts of schemes to reduce inc0ming shortwave radiation. Hegerl & Solomon conclude that such schemes could result in substantial reductions in precipitation (through reductions in evaporation) that “could rival those of major droughts,” potentially leading to conflicts over water resources and potential large migrations and political instability.

New Bio-carbon publications

UNDP is pleased to announce the release of three publications arising from the UNDP-UNEP CDM capacity development project in Eastern & Southern Africa.

All three publications cover aspects of the bio-carbon sector, a sector that holds much promise in sub-Saharan Africa (and elsewhere) but one that also faces a unique set of challenges and barriers. A broad overview of the bio-carbon sector (forestry and bioenergy) is accompanied by more detailed analyses of forest carbon accounting principles and the use of biomass energy in cement production. Synopses are provided below.

The publications can be downloaded from:

Best regards,

Rob Kelly.

Robert Kelly

Regional Coordinator

CDM Capacity Development, Eastern & Southern Africa.

ECA Old Building, 7th Floor, P.O. Box 5580, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

+251 11 544 4133

Bio-Carbon in Africa: Harnessing Carbon Finance for Forestry & Bioenergy

A review of bio-carbon opportunities and challenges in Africa. The chapters are organised in terms of the production cycle, beginning with two chapters on forest bio-carbon: one on policy options and the second on forest bio-carbon methodologies. The review then moves into coverage of domestic bio-energy and charcoal production—technologies very much linked to the forest sector through their use of wood as a fuel source. The following chapters address bio-energy proper, first with a broad review of policy options and instruments before delving into specific bio-energy options, each with an increasing level of technological sophistication. The section begins with anaerobic digestion and then proceeds to chapters on bagasse cogeneration, biomass use in cement production, and biomass gasification and pyrolysis. The final chapter considers landfill bio-energy, at the end of the production cycle. The review should be useful for policy-makers seeking an overview of forestry / bio-energy regulation and promotion, and project proponents seeking to develop CDM or voluntary market carbon projects.

Forest Carbon Accounting: Overview & Principles

Forests play an important role in the global carbon balance. As both carbon sources and sinks, they have the potential to form an important component in efforts to combat global climate change. Accounting for the carbon within forest ecosystems and changes in carbon stocks resulting from human activities is a necessary first step towards better representation of forests in climate change policy at project, regional, national and global scales. This paper provides an overview of the principles and techniques used in measuring carbon stores and fluxes associated with forests.

Use of Biomass Energy in Cement Production

Biomass and biomass residues, if sourced in an environmentally and socially sustainable fashion, represent a vast – and largely untapped – renewable energy source for the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. This guide seeks to outline the potential, taking the Ethiopian cement sector as a specific example of how biomass energy might be deployed in practice. Many of the issues covered, such as the need for biomass pre-treatment and densification, the problems of biomass availability in space and time, and the importance of appropriate on-site storage and handling facilities, are equally applicable to other countries and, indeed, other manufacturing sectors. It is hoped that the guide will assist policy makers, industrial operators and the technical community to engage with the opportunities and challenges presented by the use of biomass energy, particularly in the context of the financing opportunities provided by the Clean Development Mechanism.

Good article on the political terrain leading up to Copenhagen

Here’s a good new potential reading for a climate change course or module on climate change: Sikina Jinnah, et al.,  Tripping points: barriers and bargaining chips on the road to Copenhagen, 4 Environmental Research Letters 1-6 (2009). In the article, the authors outline the most important “tripping points,” i.e. political barriers and bargaining chips that must fit together if efforts to develop an effective mid-term strategy to address climate change are to be successful at 15COP in Copenhagen. Among the authors’ conclusions:

  1. The parallel negotiations taking place in the Ad-hocWorking Group on Further Commitments by Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and the  Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the UNFCCC (AWG-LCA) has created institutional complexity, with many members of each group waiting for signals from the other group before they move forward. Some States have plumped for drawing the groups together, but many developing States in particular are resisting this, arguing that Annex I Parties to the Kyoto Protocol must show leadership before any discussion of potential mitigation actions by developing States can take place;
  2. Among the barriers to achieving an agreement at Copenhagen are following:
    1. Different philosophies on how to structure mitigation commitments have developed, largely along developed/developing State lines, with most developed countries arguing for a “bottom-up” approach, whereby countries establish individual pledges based on perceived capability to reduce emissions, while developing States have predominantly argued for a “top-down” approach, whereby an aggregate target for emissions reductions, based on the best available science, would be established, and States would then be allocated pieces of the smaller pie. At this point, many developed States are chary to make substantive commitments before details are worked out on issues e.g. LULUCF and the configuration of the flexible mechanisms in a potential successor agreement to Kyoto; developing countries are extremely skeptical about the level of commitments that developed countries have been discussing to date;
    2. Differences between States as to whether commitments on the part of developed States should be legally binding or soft, and the relevant baseline year for calculating reductions
    3. Effectuating the delicate balance between developing States taking “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” (NAMAs), as contemplated under the Bali Roadmap, and the reciprocal obligation of developed States providing appropriate financial and technological support for such measures remains extremely difficult, and is likely to be one of the most important “tripping points” heading into Copenhagen. Another important issue in the context of potential commitments by developing States is whether differentiated commitments would be appropriate among developing countries, given substantial differences in technological and economic resources in this bloc;
    4. Adaptation is now acknowledged as a critical consideration, but serious divides remain in terms of developing adequate funding sources and which activities should be eligible for adaptation funding.
  3. In terms of “bargaining chips” that States may bring to the table, the following are identified as most important by the authors:
    1. Developing a viable REDD mechanism into any future regime could be both important for reducing emissions, as 17% of global GHG emissions in 2004 were related to deforestation and decays of biomass, as well as engendering developing country support for an agreement at Copenhagen. However, many issues remain to be resolved, including financial support for such initiatives and protocols to ensure environmental integrity;
    2. Technology transfer. While effective technology transfer could help engender support by developing countries for an agreement in Copenhagen, several sticking points remain, including how to finance such transfers and intellectual property rights concerns, with developed States predominantly arguing for maintaining current IPR protections, and developing countries arguing for IPR relaxation, compulsory licensing, patent pooling, etc.;

The authors conclude that reaching an agreement at Copenhagen is by no means assured, and it is possible that an agreement might develop in another fora, e.g. the G20, and potentially be brought to the UNFCCC for approval. Another important point is that what some countries see as barriers to agreement others see as bargaining chips for getting there. For example, some developing countries may view their amenability to taking on mitigation commitments as a bargaining chip for adaptation funding. In the end, the question is whether this delicate dance gets us to where the science says we need to be, and within what kind of time frame.

Dispatch from the Bonn meeting

The following dispatch is from Radoslav Dimitrov, a professor at the University of Western Ontario.

Dear friends and colleagues,

Regards from Bonn, Germany. This is a brief update on this week’s informal round of climate negotiations ending today. Attached is the electronic copy of a presentation the EU made yesterday.

This meeting is part of a long series of intense international talks on the next climate agreement. The successor to the Kyoto Protocol is supposed to be completed at a major conference in Copenhagen this December. Only two more rounds remain before that: Bangkok in October and Barcelona in November.

Progress is very slow and the talks are far behind schedule. None of the delegates I talk to here thinks that they will manage to produce a package in Copenhagen. One telling fact: the meeting this week did not produce an official report. Some developments this week:

* They started the week with a new negotiating text on long-term cooperative action (LCA). We call it here “The Brick” due to its size: about 120 single-spaced pages with 2100+ brackets. The text does not identify which country is behind which proposal, and they spent time arguing on whether it should, for the sake of transparency.

* New Zealand revealed its position on emissions cuts and announced readiness to achieve 10 to 20 percent emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2020 – only provided there is an international agreement with strong commitments from other industrialized countries and effective rules on LULUCF (read, forestry and agriculture).

* On the legal form: Brazil, China and other developing countries are against a new legally binding treaty and say the Copenhagen conference should produce only a  ‘decision’ by the Conference of Parties. Most likely, this is just a temporary negotiating tactic

* Signs of growing acceptance of sectoral approaches to emission cuts, including cross-national sectoral trading of emissions. Japan, Europe and the US push for these, and while developing countries used to be adamant against it, this week India asked specific questions about how these would work (a clear sign they are ready to consider accepting the idea).

* Major disagreements on the baseline year for emission cuts (what year’s emission levels should emission cuts be measured by). This is very important  and failure to agree would undermine the entire agreement. The IPCC report stresses 25-40 percent cuts by 2020 – compared to 1990 levels. Most developing countries want to stay with the 1990 baseline (used in the Kyoto Protocol). Canada and Japan want “multiple baseline years” That is, every country decides for themselves. This poses considerable problems for the ‘comparability of efforts’  by developed countries and may prevent overall agreement on emission cuts.

The EU supports 25-40 cuts – but they want 2005, 2007, or something current as the baseline. (The EU already adopted 2005 in their new energy and climate policy package this summer. An internal source tells me there were major disagreements about this within the EU, too).

* Some progress on technology: they reduced the draft text, although little substantive change in positions.

* The forests-climate connection and REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation): Developing countries see REDD as a potential source of considerable income (Western money for preserving forests and helping the climate). But – they want REDD projects to be separate and additional to developed country mitigation.

Papua New Guinea who is very active on REDD wants a three-phased approach to REDD including a REDD Fund to be created by rich countries, and market access to carbon markets. This morning they again called for a distinct REDD financial architecture in a Copenhagen agreement. Norway supports them; Norway is active on forestry and gave 1 billion US dollars to Brazil alone for forest protection over five years.

Expect further updates from Bangkok,  Barcelona and Copenhagen later this year. I hope everyone is having a good summer!

Good Webcasts for Students

I’ve found that Webcasta and Podcasts can be a valuable source of materials to assign to students. The folks at Point Carbon have posted a series of excellent webcasts in what they have denominated a “Summit.” Topics covered in the “Summit” include:

  • Leveraging Offsets;
  • Adapting Private Business to Climate Change;
  • Cap and Trade: All Costs and No Benefits;
  • Climate Change Policies Emerging from California and the West;
  • Climate Change Legislation’s Impacts on the Physical Landscape

New Study on Post-Copenhagen Strategies

In a new report published by the The Forum for Atlantic Climate and Energy Talks (FACET), How to Recover from a Likely Climate Disaster in Copenhagen, Stephan Slingerland argues that the current negotiating position of UNFCCC parties renders it virtually “impossible” to achieve the level of reductions in emissions at Copenhagen that the IPCC has recommended, i.e.  a 25 to 40% emission reduction for developed countries and a deviation of 15 to 30% for developing countries from 1990 levels by 2020. Slingerland notes that only the EU is aiming for emissions reductions that are commensurate with those recommended by the IPCC, with the U.S. target only 4% below 1990 levels, and Japan 8% below the 1990 baseline.

Slingerland provides an excellent analysis of the current state of domestic climate policy in several key emitting States, including:

  • The United States, which Slingerland argues is more focused on security of energy supply than GHG emissions;
  • Japan, which Slingerland indicates is also more focused on energy security, but because of likely future constraints in increase energy efficiency is probably unable to go beyond its modest post-Kyoto target described above;
  • China and India. Slingerland notes that China in particular is pursuing an ambitious energy efficiency programs, but prospects for further reductions are probably tied to financial transfers by developed countries, an extremely contentious issue heading into Copenhagen;
  • While Russia’s GHG emissions remain more than 30% below 1990 levels due to the economic meltdown in the 1990s, its interest in securing markets for its fossil fuel exports make it likely that it will work to undermine efforts at Copenhagen to substantially reduce emissions.

Given the importance of exogenous policy considerations, including energy security and development, Slingerland suggests that we should attempt to integrate the drivers of emissions into climate change negotiations.  This might, include, he suggests, a quid pro quo with major fossil fuel exporting countries, consistting “of a certain degree of security of demand for fossil fuel exporting countries in exchange for a controlled phase-out of fossils in the long term.”

This is an interesting reading for a climate change law course in the fall, and most likely beyond Copenhagen, in that it assesses potential options should negotiations crash and burn at Copenhagen, or more likely, the Parties formulate another tepid response to the looming climate crisis.