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.

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: [email protected].

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?

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?

“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?

IISD Paris Knowledge Bridge Videos

leadThe International Institute for Sustainable Development, a policy NGO that is perhaps best known for its excellent reporting on the review conferences of major international environmental and development regimes, has produced a new set of videos that seeks to explain the climate governance process in the lead-up to COP21 in Paris. The Paris Knowledge Bridge includes four videos, comprised primarily of interviews of key policy makers at both the international and national level, delegates involved in the climate governance process, as well as many representatives of NGOs. The topics covered include a history of climate governance; the key pillars of climate governance (mitigation, adaptation and implementation); the science and economics of climate change, and the current status of climate negotiations leading up to COP21.

The videos are expressly designed for use in the classroom, as each one includes pertinent learning objectives and a raft of additional resources.

New Potential Teaching Resource: “Climate Feedback” Tool

Climate_Feedback_logo_sDr. Emmanuel Vincent, a tropical cyclone expert at the University of California, has established a resource to facilitate assessment by climate scientists of the scientific soundness of online content focused on climate science, and to communicate the results to more general audiences. The Climate Feedback tool affords climate scientists the opportunity to use an online resource called Hypothesis to conduct detailed annotations of articles and other online resources on climate change, which can then be shared online. To date, a group of 40 scientists from institutions such as MIT, the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre, Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Harvard, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have joined together to critique pieces from an array of sources, including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Guardian, The Hill, and even the Pope’s recent environmental encyclical.

This could be an excellent teaching tool for climate change courses. One possible approach would be to assign some of the pieces analyzed by the Climate Feedback team in their un-annotated form, and then ask the students to read the annotations for the articles and query whether these perspectives influenced their thinking about the articles. I think this would help to both impart additional knowledge and encourage them to think more critically. In some cases, e.g. a recent Rolling Stone piece  by Eric Holthaus on the potential current impacts of climate change, there is a wide scope of opinion by seven scientists on the scientific validity of the arguments advanced in the article. This would also help demonstrate the contested nature of science under many circumstances; it could also lead to some interesting class discussion of the different methods of assessment used by scientists and students could be encouraged to tease out the assumptions that lead to different conclusions.

Incidentally, the site is extremely well balanced in terms of its assessment of the constructs of both proponents of the theory of anthropogenic global warming, as well as skeptics. As a teaching tool, it affords students access to the insights of some very good thinkers in the field, and it’s a resource that is likely to grow in popularity.

“Deep Decarbonization” The Way Forward?

DDPP_Digit-1_cover1The “Deep Decarbonization Project” (DDP) is convened under the auspices of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations. The Project seeks to develop scenarios for individual countries and the globe to transition to a low-carbon economy that limits increases in global mean surface temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The DDP’s latest report’s Executive Summary would be an excellent reading for a module on long-term responses to climate change. The full 232-page report would be worth checking out also; among other things, it includes chapters on decarbonization scenarios for 15 selected countries, both Annex I and non-Annex I. These materials would be particularly valuable in classes that engage in climate negotiations exercises where students are assigned to represent individual countries.

Among the key findings in the Executive Summary:

  1.  Decarbonization initiatives in developing countries will ultimately need to achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication;
  2. To attain a likely (higher than two-thirds) chance of avoiding passing the 2C threshold will require limiting global cumulative emissions in the range of 550-1300 gigatons by 2050; if we exclude potential “negative emissions,” such as from bioenergy and carbon capture and storage (BECCS) or direct air capture, the projected CO2 budget in 2050 is 825 gigatons;
  3. The world is currently on a trajectory for temperature increases of 3.7-4.8C, with the range extending from 2.5-7.8 by the end of the century if one takes into account climate uncertainties.  This is based on emissions growth of 35 gigatons annually currently;
  4. Currently, the quantified targets (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs) outlined by the Parties to the UNFCCC “are not derived from an assessment of what will be needed to stay within the 2C limit;”
  5. The “three pillars” of decarbonization of energy systems include energy efficiency and conservation, decarbonization of electricity generation through replacement of fossi fuel systems with renewable energy, nuclear energy, and carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) systems;
  6. The most challenging sector in terms of decarbonization efforts is freight and industry; some potential solutions include improved boiler efficiency, CCS, and improved propulsion technologies;
  7. Many of the technologies that will likely prove critical for achieving decarbonization goals will are not technologically mature and will require sustained funding and active collaboration between the government, academic and business sectors/

“2 Degrees” Series of CNN

I wanted to make sure that I sent through some reporting that CNN Digital reporter John Sutter did on his climate change project called “2 Degrees,” a number that Scientists and economists say that if the climate warms more than 2 degrees Celsius, will greatly up the odds of climate catastrophe.
When he launched this project in April, he asked what readers were most interested in reading about — and they chose how 2 Degrees could affect climate refugees. After searching for a country that met the criteria, Sutter traveled to the Marshall Islands and spent 9 days there learning about how the Marshallese were affected by the rising sea and their disappearing coast. He’s laid out a multi-part narrative with photos and videos that tells the heartbreaking story of the inhabitants of this Island and the 15% of the population – 10,000 – who have relocated to northwest Arkansas.

I hope you have a minute to take a look at this reporting. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Thanks so much!

Erica Puntel
office: 404-827-1657
mobile: 404-395-6335