The folks at RealClimate.org have posted a very good analysis of the recent revelations of IPCC AR4 errors, including sections on Himalayan glacier melting and sea level rise in the Netherlands. The posting could also provide the students with a nice brief overview of the IPCC process.
An excellent new potential student reading on COP15 is Dan Bodaansky, The Copenhagen Conference: A Post-Mortem (2010).
Among the key points of the analysis:
- “The primary axis of the negotiations” was split between the European Union, which pushed for aggressive emission reduction targets, and the United States and “Umbrella Group” allies including Australia and Japan, who advocated unrestricted use of market-based mechanisms, e.g. the Clean Development Mechanism;
- The focal point of negotiations has now shifted to developed/developing countries, with continued resistance by developing countries to taking on mandatory emissions reduction commitments, on the grounds of historical responsibility and capacity;
- The two-track structure of the negotiations (AWG-KP and AWG-LCA) reflects a clash of ideologies, with developed countries resisting assumption of a new round of emissions reduction commitments under Kyoto unless major developing countries also accept legal commitments, whereas developing countries are united in opposing a one-track approach under the AWG-LCA, emphasizing the need for progress to be made under the AWG-KP track also. This means that developing countries are also unwilling to give up this track now in favor of a new post-Kyoto instrument. However, their are also fissures within the developing country bloc, with some smaller nations, including small island States, supporting the developing of a more comprehensive agreement in parallel to the Kyoto negotiations;
- Another major fissure is how developed and developing countries view commitments of additional funding by developed countries to assist developing countries with mitigation and adaptation efforts, with the former viewing this as a quid quo pro for developing country mitigation commitments, whereas developing countries view financing as a form of payment of the “carbon debt” for historical emissions;
- More than 90 countries have tendered submissions to the UNFCCC Secretariat either pledging reductions in emissions and/or indicating their desire to be associated with the Copenhagen Accord, though notably, major developing country emitters, China, India, South Africa, and Brazil have not expressly associated themselves with the Accord;
- While it’s contemplated that the Parties will operationalize major provisions of the Accord through resolutions, including funding mechanisms and the new Technology Mechanism), given the failure to adopt the Copenhagen Accord as a resolution, it’s more likely that those who have associated themselves with the Accord will have to develop an independent agreement;
- While the AWG-LCA’s mandate was extended at Copenhagen, ensuring that its negotiations will proceed in parallel to AWG-KP in the lead-up to COP16 in Mexico City, India and Saudi Arabia scuppered the passage of a resolution that would have mandated that the outcome of the negotiations of the AWG’s should be legally binding, so we will head into Mexico City with a large cloud of uncertainty hanging over the negotiations;
- The Copenhagen Accord represents a major breakthrough, even if the associated pledges to reduce emissions are inadequate, because States agreed to list their commitments internationally and agreed to some measure of international monitoring. It also represents a breach of the “firewall” between developed and developing countries, with major developing countries for the first time agreeing to list their national commitments in an international instrument and subject their plans to international scrutiny;
- On the negative side of the equation, the ability of a small group of countries that previously played virtually no role in climate negotiations to scupper a deal demonstrates the “absurdity” of the consensus decision-making rule. It’s also difficult to see how mid-level negotiators are going to effectuate dramatic results in Mexico City given the failure of world leaders to make more substantive progress at Copenhagen.
Bodansky’s piece also provides a very good synopsis of the specific provisions of the Copenhagen Accord, as well as history of the negotiations leading up to Copenhagen. Thus, it would be a particularly good reading in an international or environmental law course with only one or a couple of days devoted to climate change issues.
A few days ago, the Obama administration announced plans to create a new Climate Service within NOAA. The new Climate Service will initially concentrate on making climate science information more accessible and usable. This strikes me as an eminently sensible plan that will both increase efficiency of governmental study of climate change and, hopefully, help to increase the public’s understanding and acceptance of climate change science.
Given the growing evidence that temperatures are likely to increase 3-4C during this century, the exigency for aggressive and effective adapation responses continus to grow. For those of you teaching climate policy courses, especially at the graduate level, an excellent new piece has been published on how to assess the vulnerability of least-developed countries to climate-related extreme events, and the optimal timing of adaptation funding over the next five decades, Patt, et al., Estimating Least-Developed Countries’ Vulnerability to Climate-Related Extreme Events Over the Next 50 Years, 107 PNAS 1333-1337 (2010) (0pen access). The study employed an empirically derived model of human losses to climate-related extreme events, as an indicator of vulnerability, and sought to assess optimal allocation of adapatation funding on a 50-year timescale. The study developed a set of scanrios for losses in Mozambique and then extrapolated the results to 23 other developing countries.
Among the key findings of the study:
- Vulnerability in the countries studied may rise faster in the next two decades than in the three decades thereafter, indicating that substantial frontloading of adaptation interventions would be judicious;
- While the overall need for adaptation measures will continue to rise thereafter, LDCs will likely be capable of engaging in a larger share of autonomous adaptation by the second quarter of the century, reducing both their losses associated with climate change and need for external financial assistance;
- The two conclusions above put into question a primary rationale for slowing ramping up assistance, ie. that adaptation needs will increase as climate change continues;
- As we cross temperature thresholds of 2C, steadily rising climate impacts or the effects of cumulative changes on ecosystems may overwhelm the ability of either rich or poor countries to adapt.
The conclusions of this study, if validated in other research, could be extremely important, in that it emphasizes the urgency of accelerating adaptation commitments under the successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Among the questions that might be interesting to discuss in class are the following:
1. Does the study make a compelling argument that extreme weather events is a reliable proxy for projected climate change impacts, including cumulative impacts, e.g. sea level rise and increasingly negative impacts of temperature and precipitation declines on agricultural production? If not, how might that impact its conclusions?
2. Does the study do a good job of assessing potential ecosystem impacts, and is it conclusions about capabilities to respond valid in this context?
3. If its conclusions that temperature increases of 2C and above might overwhelm adaptation efforts, and this could occur by mid-century, is it conclusions that income in developing countries, and their ability to autonomously adapt, valid? If not, what would be the implications for adaptation interventions?
The Pacific Legal Foundation of Sacramento, a conservative public interest legal organization has recently filed a petition with the EPA, contending that “the process that yielded the endangerment finding (under the Clean Air Act) has been called into question by what is popularly known as “Climategate.” Thus, PLF has called for a reassessment by the agency’s Scientific Advisory Board. The petition, a summary of the case, and a PF attorney video is available on the PLF site.
This could be an interesting addition to a classroom discussion of EPA’s efforts to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act as it would afford instructors the opportunity to discuss the implications of “Climategate” for climate change science, and the role of pressure groups e.g. PLF in domestic U.S. climate politics.
I personally welcome this challenge by PLF. As I’ve indicated in previous blogs, I think that “Climategate” is a tempest in a teapot, and that both the University of East Anglia’s underlying findings are sound, and a focus on the foibles of scientists at this institution ignores an overwhelming number of independent assessments making similar findings. When the Bush administration asked the National Academies of Science to reevaluate the 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC, it returned findings that vindicated AR4, and helped to illuminate the science of climate change and accentuate the need to act, engendering substantial publicity in the process. A similar effort to put climate change science in the dock here will presumably produce similar results, so bring it on!
The reports of the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP from COP15 have been posted on the UNFCCC site. Links to both reports are available here.
The Teaching Climate Change Project at Carleton College has compiled links to a number of excellent sites for carbon and environmental footprint calculators. I’ve often used calcuators in exercises in undergraduate climate and sustainable development courses. These calculators are also helpful for class projects where students seek to reduce their emissions.
An excellent piece supporting a research program on solar radiation management geoengineering was published this week by the journal Nature, David W. Keith, Edward Parson & M. Granger Morgan, Research on Global Sun Block Needed Now, 463 Nature 426-27 (2010) (accessible without subscription).
Among the takeaways from the article:
- Solar radiation management (SRM) geoengineering (defined as adding light-scattering aerosols to the upper atmosphere or increasing the lifetime and reflectivity of low-altitude clouds to exert a cooling effect) could offset projected temperature increases this century at a cost 100x less than through emissions cuts, or merely a few billions annually;
- Research on SRM has been extremely limited to date, largely restricted to a handful of climate-model studies using very simple parameterizations of aerosol microphysics; the potential hazards of SRM (which the article indicates includes potentially less precipitation and less evaporation, potentially creating regional “winners” and “losers” can only be assessed through in-situ testing, which will cost millions of dollars;
- It would be “reckless” to conduct the first large-scale SRM tests under an emergency scenario; we shoudl expand experiments gradually to scales big enough to produce barely detectable climate effects, and to reveal unexpected problems, but small enough to limit risks;
- Research should be conducted using a “blue team/red team” approach, in which one team proposes an approach and the other works to identify risks and why proposals might not prove effective;
- A better alternative to hasty pursuit of international regulation would be seeking to engender international cooperation and norms from the bottom up, as occurred with the landmine convention; this should include an international program of research and risk assessment by multiple independent teams;
- While some fear that geoengineering research and potential deployment could lead to a “moral hazard,” i.e. weaken a commitment to mitigation, there’s a great threat to mitigation effort by allowing for the possibility of SRM without scrutiny of actual requirements, limitations and risks; moreover, if SRM proves unworkable or poses unacceptable risks, the sooner we discover this, the less of a moral hazard geoengineering will pose.
This piece would provide an excellent foundation for discussing geoengineering options. Among the potential questions for students that could flow from it include the following:
- Is it realistic to believe that an SRM program could be shut down once substantial research programs ensued, i.e. isn’t their a danger of a “political lock in” that would make deployment inevitable at some point, exacerbating the potential threat of moral hazard?;
- What is the potential moral hazard threat the geoengineering might pose for adaptation efforts?;
- Even if a bottom-up research approach is optimal, would we ultimately need international governance should we proceed with full-scale deployment, and if yes, what would be the appropriate regime(s) to do so?;
- Should any proposals for full-scale deployment of geoengineering include a liability mechanism for potential damages to the interests of some States?
The LSE’s climate centre has just published details of its annual PhD scholarship competition in the field of climate economic and politics. Please distribute widely to students and colleagues. Deadline for applications is 26 March 2010. Thanks, Robert
The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at LSE, incorporating the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, is offering two fully funded MPhil/PhD studentships for entry in October 2010.
We are looking for graduates in the social sciences, or related disciplines, holding top-quality degrees from internationally recognised universities.
The studentships will cover full fees (for home/EU or overseas students) and annual living expenses, currently set at £15,290.
The Grantham Research Institute is the new home to climate change and environment research at LSE, bringing together international expertise from development studies, economics, environmental studies, finance, geography, international relations, law, management science, philosophy, political science, and statistics.
We will consider applications on any topics aligned with the research programmes of the institute. More information about these research programmes can be found at http://www2.lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/research/ResearchProgrammes.aspx
In addition, we welcome applications on the following topic specifically:
The international politics/political economy of climate change
The proposed research project should be on the international politics or international political economy of climate change, preferably with a focus on climate diplomacy and international negotiations, multi-level climate governance, or the role of corporations and other non-state actors. Candidates should have a strong background in international relations, international political economy, or another related social science discipline.
To apply please send a 1-page proposal together with your CV to
Closing date for applications: 1200 on 26th March 2010
Decisions will be made by a panel representing our interdisciplinary interests. The award will be made solely on outstanding academic merit and research potential. This relates not only to your past academic record, but also to an assessment of your chosen topic and to your likely aptitude to complete a PhD in the time allocated.
Short-listed candidates may be invited to attend an informal interview and if successful advised about making a formal application to LSE.
Awards will be available for a period of 3 or 4 years depending on experience, but annual renewal will be subject to satisfactory academic performance at the School.
Dr Robert Falkner
Department of International Relations
London School of Economics
London WC2A 2AE
Phone: (+44) (0)20 7955 6347
Fax: (+44) (0)20 7955 7446
A new document regarding the Yasuni-ITT Initiative (the innovative initiative of Ecuador to keep petroleum underground, protect biodiversity and indigenous peoples, and develop sustainably) is now available online: The Yasuni-ITT Initiative: an international equity mechanism? Master thesis.
The thesis aimed at analysing and assessing whether the Yasuni-ITT Initiative can be considered as an alternative pilot project to address not only environmental and climate justice, but also power imbalances. Current and proposed climate change mechanisms such as the CDM and REDD, as well as the history of Ecuador are being examined as motivations of the initiative. Such motivations include injustice aspects as well as how the petroleum industry has affected the country severely in terms of environment, society, economy and politics. These motivations and the Yasuni-ITT Initiative are therefore carefully examined in relation to environmental and climate justice as well as power imbalances.
The thesis is available through the link below. For any questions, be welcome to write me (also if you cannot access the file, please contact me so I can send it in an attachement).
Researcher for the Yasuní-ITT Initiative
tel nl: +31650887172