Where Are We After Durban? Climate Tracker

From where I sit, Climate Action Tracker, a project of several organizations including Ecofys, PIK and Climate Analytics,  is a “must see” site for climate change instructors, providing a regular updated snapshot of the climatic implications of commitments made by the parties to the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol and potential successor instruments. The Tracker’s latest report assesses the implications of State GHG reduction pledge after the Durban (17th COP). Among the conclusions of the report:

  1. While the agreements reached at Durban include a work plan to enhance mitigation ambitions to close the “ambition gap” between current pledges by the Parties and what’s necessary to avoid passing the 2C threshold, there’s no assurances these ambitions will be raised; indeed, developed countries have not increased the ambition of their pledges despite such a call in the Cancun Agreement of 16COP;
  2. Current international reduction targets and national pledges put global emissions on track for a total of 66 GtCO2e/yr. in 2020, assuming confirmed unconditional pledges and lenient accounting rules. There is a substantial gap from the 44GtGtCO2e/yr. that would put us on track to keep temperature increases to below 2C vis-a-vis pre-industrial levels;
    • Should governments implement the most stringent reductions proposed to date, coupled with the most stringent accounting measures for developed States, the gap would drop, but only to 9 GtCO2e/yr.
  3. If we are to achieve emissions at a level consistent with the below 2C pathway, assuming we can achieve an emissions rate of  44GtGtCO2e/yr.  by 2020, emissions will have to decline by 2% annually to 2050. However, if 2020 emissions are in line with current pledges, then the reduction rate will have to be 3.8% per year, with huge implications in terms of societal costs and technological feasibility;
  4. Current pledges put us on track for warming of 3.5C, with a range of 2.9-4.4C, and an atmospheric concentration of 690 ppmv.

The report also provides a good analysis of the implications of temperature increases of 2C, 3C and 4C. Moreover, it outlines several options to close the “ambition gap,” including improved accounting procedures, moving to the top of their conditional pledges and reducing fossil fuel subsidies. This section could provide a good jumping off point to discuss  issues e.g. the political viability of such proposals and the assumptions that underlie them.

Taking Stock of the Global Climate Consensus Reached in Durban

The Durban agreements provide a mandate with which all greenhouse-gas emitting countries will commit to a common UN legal regime as early as possible but no later than 2015. Country parties also agreed that the new deal will take effect no later than 2020. For the first time, major emerging economies have agreed to negotiate a legal arrangement to reduce their national greenhouse gas emissions.
EU’s Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard notes that “outcome with legal force” is unclear consensus language but at least uses the term legal, an improvement over the Bali Roadmap.
The new Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been established and can facilitate the dispersal of funds to poor countries. One of the areas still in need of work involves making substantial sums of money available now that the Green Climate Fund has been operationalized. The recommendation to raise funding via international shipping fees on carbon emissions was not retained in the final text. Yet, work done at COP 17 in Durban may result in a global deal on maritime emissions at the IMO Assembly in 2013.
The new Climate Technology Centre and Network is well positioned to greatly enhance the diffusion of pro-poor, ecosystem based, environmentally sound technologies. The Climate Technology Centre and Network can help coordinate Green Climate Fund financing to share R&D as well as existing mitigation and adaptation technologies. The annual Durban Forum is tasked with tracking capacity-building progress. The new Adaptation Committee is tasked with coordinating distribution of Green Climate Fund financing to low-income country adaptation measures, many of which will depend upon environmentally sound technology. Now that the Technology Mechanism is being established, low-income parties can develop and submit project proposals. These developments increase the ability of countries to cooperate to reach Cancun commitments agreed to last year, building upon innovative funding through the Green Climate Fund and adaptation coordination through the Adaptation Committee. Energy and ingenuity are core to bringing the Durban agreements to life. While we still struggle to agree on what constitutes a timely and robust response to climate destabilization, innovation is fueling common ground upon which to build multilateral trust.
Discussing the TRIPS / UNFCCC nexus on technology transfer can help close the 6-11 gigaton(ne) greenhouse gas gap. Retaining trust needs to go beyond postponing controversy. Addressing Intellectual property rights is within political reach and should be addressed in an open and inclusive manner. It appears that the Global Environment Facility (GEF) will support the operationalization and activities of the technology mechanism. It remains important to provide a framework for innovation hubs that ensure “environmentally sound” technology transfer. Life cycle analysis, capacity building, and cultural sensitivity can become central discussions. Knowledge portals can share best practices may through on-line uploading/downloading of innovations. This can help spread environmentally sound distributed power, battery innovation, rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation, culturally sound solar cookers and a wide array of other environmentally sound technologies. In addition to online clearinghouse capacity building, a network of innovation centers to facilitate diffusion of climate friendly innovations can now become a reality through the new Technology Mechanism.
Taking Stock – we are still on track for an unacceptable 3 to 4 °C rise in average world temperatures. Much remains to be done to get on track to limit average global temperatures to the political target of 2 or the scientific target of 1.5°C.
To address the urgency chasm, actions need to occur at every level and at a much greater pace. Among these actions, countries can strengthen pledges, implement strict emission accounting procedures that address carry-over and double counting.

It is important to realize that the journey is still a long one but to celebrate the significant international legal accomplishment set forth in Durban. The alliance among the EU, small island states, and least developed countries began to melt China, India, US frozen stances. Key emitting countries are now working together to flesh out a single legal arrangement to bring down greenhouse gasses. Innovation development, demonstration, and diffusion can help further enhance trust and close the emissions gap. While a political breakthrough, the success of the Durban agreement rests upon the ability of the international community to ramp up funding in order to accomplish both form and content – pledges and action.
Poor countries within the G77 reached out beyond larger emerging economies, encouraging major emerging economies to take on mitigation commitments. Collectively developing countries insisted Kyoto not end at an African gathering. The Kyoto Protocol has been extended, without Canada, Japan and Russia but including the newly listed greenhouse gas called nitrogen trifluoride that is used in semiconductor manufacturing. The EU conditioned extending the Kyoto Protocol upon launching new negotiations toward a comprehensive legal arrangement. Japan, Australia, Canada, Russia and the US insisted that a new agreement include major developing countries commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Durban Platform encompasses this diplomatic agreement. It is officially known as the “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” and has begun to be referred to as AG-DP.
Another highly debated issue was included, namely to allow carbon capture and storage projects in the Clean Development Mechanism program under the Kyoto Protocol. A portion of these credits would be set-aside in a reserve given the uncertainty regarding carbon capture.
The details of project reporting as well as national appropriate mitigation action reporting continue to be worked out. Forestry discussions are also still underway. Countries agreed to increased transparency and accountability via detailed guidelines for biennial emissions reporting, subject to expert review and formal consultation among countries. Developed countries and funding institutions are to submit assistance strategies. Countries are also continuing efforts to enhance shared understanding of the water / climate nexus. Doing so can help achieve effective, reasonable, and equitable (1) mitigation, (2) adaptation, (3) environmentally sound technology diffusion, and (4) funding.
Climate adaptation and mitigation measures are to be coordinated with nationally defined development to achieve genuine sustainable development. The international community is now tasked with meaningful follow through on commitments agreed to in the Durban agreements.

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Great research resource on climate impacts on biodiversity

Bioclimate is a web-based reference tool that aggregates biodiversity and climate change related information from an array of peer-reviewed sources and gray literature. It currently has over 3000 citations, categorized and searchable. It is in its beta version currently and the developers are still seeking collaborators. The site would benefit from substantial updates in many categories.

Global Carbon Project: 2010

The Global Carbon Project has released its Carbon Budget 2010, an annual update of the global carbon budget and trends. The site is a treasure trove of information and resources for climate change instructors, including contemporaneous data on carbon dioxide emissions, sources, and breakdowns by region. Moreover, the site includes a Power Point presentation with a number of excellent slides for climate science lectures, as well as some informative videos and key data sets. Among the take-aways from the site’s Carbon Budget Highlights section:

  1. The annual growth of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations was 2.36ppm in 2010, with an average rate for the decade of 2000-2009 of 1.9ppm;
  2. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are now 389.6ppm, 39% above the concentration at the outset of the Industrial Revolution; this is also the highest concentration in the last 800,000 years;
  3. Carbon dioxide emissions attributable to deforestation and other land use changes were 0.9 PgC in 2010 (1 Pg = 1 billion tons); in one hopeful note, overall land use change related emissions are projected to have declined by 25% during the 1990, though this figure is highly speculative;
  4. Fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions increased by 5.9% in 2010, the highest annual rate in human history, and 49% above 1990 levels;
    • Coal was responsible for 52% of fossil fuel emissions, gas 23%, liquid 18%)
  5. China continued to have the highest emissions of any State, as well as the largest emissions increase in 2010, jumping 10% above 2009 levels; the USA saw its emissions increase 4.1%, India, 9.4%, the Russian Federation 5.8%, and even the EU registered an uptick of 2.2%;
  6. Emissions associated with consumption of goods and services increased 4.9%, with the share of such emissions produced in emerging economies and developing countries that are consumed in developed countries increasing from 2.5% of the share of developed countries in 1990 to 16% in 2010;
  7. Natural land and ocean carbon dioxide sinks removed 56% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions during the period of 1958-2010, in closely equal measures.

Formulating a Sustainable Energy Policy for the United States

A new study prepared for the Civil Society Institute by staff at Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. provide a hopeful scenario for U.S. energy policy which moves away from a future commitment to coal with coal with pollution control technologies and nuclear power to a robust commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Among the take-aways from the study:

  1. It is possible to move from a Business as Usual (BAU) scenario, in which electricity demand grows by 0.9% annually, to a “Transition Scenario” in which demand falls by 0.1% per year, falling to 3,960 TWH in 2050, instead of growing to 5,930 TWh;
  2. Among the assumptions made in the Transition Scenario:
    • Coal-fired generation is eliminated by 2050, whereas it grows from 1,860 to 2,340 TWh – a 26% increase, in the BAU scenario. Oil- and gas-fired steam plants and oil-fired combustion turbines are also retired under this scenario
    • Natural gas-fired generation grows from 1,010 to 1,840 TWh under BAU, while it rises to only 1,230 TWh in the Transition Scenario;
    • Nuclear generation falls 23% below the BAU scenario, whereas it grows under the BAU;
    • In terms of renewable energy generation: wind energy grows from 92 to 189 TWh under BAU, while it grows to 611 TWh in the Transition Scenario; PV generation grows from 4 to 24 TWh under BAU, and it grows to 842 TWh in the Transition Scenario; biomass grows under both scenarios, but more under BAU because of increases in co-firing from coal-fired power plants;
  3. Under the Transition Scenario, power-related carbon dioxide emissions fall by 81% from 2010 levels by 2050, whereas they grow by 28% under BAU;
  4. While sulfur dioxide emissions fall by 40% under BAU initially, but then begin to rise again due to increased use of coal, under the Transition Scenario, sulfur dioxide emissions are virtually eliminated by 2050;
  5. Water consumption drops steadily under the Transition Scenario, while rising under BAU;
  6. 51,000 lives  are saved under a Transition Scenario due to the phase out of coal-fired power plants;
  7. Net costs in the Transition Scenario are $83 billion over the course of the next 40 years; however, additional research is required to ascertain the full economic impacts, including effects on employment. However, the study projected a increase of 3.1 million jobs during the next 40 years;
  8. One challenge under the Transition scenario is to determine how the projected resource mix would operate under different load and generation conditions.

This is a great study for both discussing potential alternative energy futures in the United States, as well as the assumptions that are made in formulating these scenarios. The study contains a very extensively methodological section that could provide fertile ground for discussing the validity of assumptions made by the authors, and how uncertainty should be  factored into policy making. One might also discuss the implications of politics in  effectuating a “transition” to the Transition Scenario. Is there a way to make the transition politically palatable in the face of, for example, likely regional losers?

Global Carbon Data, hot off the press

The Global Carbon Project has just published the new global carbon budget and carbon trend analyses including 2010.

Key findings and analyses include:

* CO2 emissions grew 5.9% in 2010 to reach 9.1 GtC (33.5Gt CO2), overcoming a 1.4% decrease in CO2 emissions in 2009

* Including land-use change and deforestation, in 2010 emissions reached 10.0 GtC (36.8 Gt CO2)

* A comparison of the 2008-2009 Global Financial Crisis with other major economic crises

* Update of CO2 emissions from both production and consumption in individual countries to 2010

* As of 2009 developing countries now emit more than developed countries in terms of consumption, and China now emits more than the US in terms of consumption

* Analysis of recent trends in emissions and the fossil fuel intensity of the global economy

* An update of the key components in the global carbon budget to 2010


A commentary/correspondence with the major findings has just been published online at Nature Climate Change



The highlights, complete ppt with figures, datasets for download, and other related information is available at