Marrakech Reflections: the University of Minnesota at COP22
We are winding up the final day of COP22, the international gathering of 190+ nations of the world in Marrakech, Morocco, with the goal of carrying forward the Paris Agreement on climate change. This COP, or Conference of the Parties, marks the 22nd year of efforts to build international cooperation under the umbrella of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (UNFCCC). It is the first COP meeting since the historic Paris Agreement came into effect on November 4, following the approval of at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions—including the U.S. Marrakech has built a conference center resembling a sprawling, modern conference center tent city. Like previous COPs, the “Blue Zone” tents hold the official negotiating sessions, dozens of country pavilions, and high-level representatives from many nations including the U.S. The Green Zone is open to all participants and includes a cacophony of languages, speeches, songs, art, and orderly demonstrations by civil society, innovative businesses, and others. The University of Minnesota’s official U.N delegation for week two of the COP includes 3 professors (myself, Gabe Chan, and Melissa Hortman) and 7 graduate students (please see other blogs here.) Our study abroad program has been supported by the Humphrey School, the Institute on the Environment, as well as the Learning Abroad Center.
I arrived in the beautiful city of Marrakech with trepidation, wondering how the U.S. election and President-elect Trump’s stated intentions to walk away from the Paris Agreement would be received. The Paris Agreement was possible in large part due to the active participation of the United States, in particular the bilateral agreements President Obama forged with China and India, for the first time committing the largest emitting countries to significant CO2 reductions. These agreements and the structure of the Paris Agreement, with each country bringing its own self-determined climate action plan or Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the table, created the foundation for a global agreement with virtually every nation participating. How would the world react if the U.S. were to back out of its commitments, would it threaten to unravel the global consensus?
The answer I heard repeatedly in Marrakech was mostly positive but tempered with realism. At COP22 nations, civil society, business leaders and others are more determined than ever to move forward. The most commonly heard words: momentum, urgency, and action.
While the U.S. election was mentioned as a possible obstacle by almost everyone at the COP, many inspiring speakers insisted that global action on climate change is both necessary and inevitable. My highlights start with Bertrand Piccard, about whom the great grandson of Jules Verne has said: “Everything great that has ever been achieved in the world is the result of exaggerated ambitions.”
Piccard conceived and flew the Solar Impulse solar-powered plane around the world, although the aviation industry thought it was impossible to fly that distance without carrying fuel. Piccard said that innovation requires breaking old paradigms. He compared internal combustion engines, leaky homes, and incandescent lightbulbs—which waste roughly half their energy—with our new smart phones. Our energy systems rely on 100 year old technology, and if we break through to new energy innovations, “imagine the market growth, jobs, and wealth creation.” Thus, Piccard suggested, the new President must promote renewable energy in order to “make America great again.” Significantly, Piccard’s innovation for economic growth argument does not even mention climate change. When asked how he flew virtually without sleep for 3 days, Piccard closed with these comments:
“We are prisoners of our habits, our beliefs, our certitudes. As soon as we jump out of our comfort zone, through the magic of adventure, you can learn what you are capable of….When you fly Solar Impulse it’s like science fiction—no fuel, no sound—you are in the future—then you land and you are still in the world that burns millions of barrels of oil a day and that is the hardest part.”
Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) spoke to the need to keep “fundamental optimism” that we will move forward. Regarding the U.S. election he said “If US decides not to lead, then China will step up and lead the world” on tackling climate change.
Jonathan Pershing, the lead U.S. negotiator, speaking in Marrakech, stressed his belief that the US economic community, business community, state and local government communities, and civil society will continue to move in the direction set by the Paris Agreement. “Heads of state can and will change, but I am confident that we can and we will sustain the durable international effort to counter climate change…Markets are moving and countries are following. Prices for renewable energy are continuing their dramatic fall.”
Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry made an emotional pitch to COP22 attendees: “Climate change shouldn’t be a partisan issue in the first place. No one has a right to make decisions that affect billions of people based on solely ideology or without proper input….climate change is bigger than one person, bigger than one president.” Kerry asserted that an overwhelming majority of US citizens know climate change is happening and are determined to keep the Paris commitments.
Matt Rodriguez, California Secretary for Environmental Protection, said the federal election is unlikely to affect the trajectory of clean energy and carbon reduction in California, because it has momentum, it is “working,” and it has partners from around the world.
Finally, a welcome boost to momentum came from 300 businesses who signed an open letter to the president-elect this week in support of the Paris Agreement. The business and investor community, including Minnesota companies General Mills, Aveda, and Sheerwind, reaffirmed their “deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.” The companies said they “want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy….Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness.”
While the speeches have been inspiring and focused on the positive, participants are not naïve about the repercussions of the U.S. election. Around the COP numerous discussions with informed experts analyzed the different scenarios for U.S. actions on climate—all very uncertain. As the President-elect’s transition team begins its work, it shows a bifurcated approach that is characteristic of the uneasy alliance in the campaign itself. The split is between Trump’s media allies who provided an echo chamber for many of his personal and campaign statements, and the Republican Party leadership “establishment.” It is unclear which camp will be his ultimate influencers.
The new administration has stated its intent to reverse the centerpiece of the U.S. climate plan, the Clean Power Plan. This could come in the form of repealing rules promulgated under the Clean Air Act, defunding the EPA’s clean air program, or an unfavorable Supreme Court decision. In the short term, research shows we are already on track to achieve significant reductions in coal power emissions, and many planned coal plant retirements will likely continue for economic reasons regardless of the rule.
Commentators and participants at the COP2 have a broad range of opinions about how the Trump presidency will affect the Paris Agreement. Some suggest that he is unlikely to follow up on this campaign pledge, and are hopeful that, like many comments he made during the campaign, he may not plan to act on those statements and his position on climate change and the Paris Agreement could “evolve.”
Others think it is likely a “first day issue.” If the new administrative wants to back out of the Paris Agreement, there are several possible pathways, all facing different legal, political, and diplomatic barriers. Perhaps the most straightforward approach is to sign an Executive Order that cancels out President Obama’s ratification of the Paris Agreement. The exit could not take effect until 2020, because it requires three years from entry into force of the Agreement, followed by a one year waiting period.
Another more complex but potentially more permanent approach would be rescind US participation in the UNFCCC which was signed by President HW Bush in 1992 and ratified by the US Senate. If the US were to withdraw, it would require a Senate vote to reinstate.
A third approach would be to simply ignore the Paris Agreement, by not participating in UN COP meetings or negotiations. This would be likely accompanied by defunding or reducing the authority of the key government agencies charged with leading the negotiations and implementation (State Department, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Energy (DOE)).
Another option would be to ask the U.S. Senate to take a vote on the agreement with the intent to defeat it. However, this could be very unpopular with conservative U.S. Senators who could find it a lose-lose political proposition. If they voted against the global climate agreement, they risk criticism from many of their constituents and targeting by environmental advocates. If they vote for it, they face the threat of a primary challenge from the Tea Party or others in the Republican Party who oppose it.
Trump has sent some signals that this will be an area for early action. However, there seems to be a possible middle path forward. His background and history are focused on negotiating “deals” to achieve his goals. He could give 1-year notice as a negotiating strategy, and then use his leverage to accomplish trade goals, which were a top priority in the campaign. “He seems to be an opportunist, not an ideologue. He takes positions that are expedient to take in any one political moment,” said a Sierra Club top attorney in an interview in Marrakech with E & E (Environment & Energy) news.
Other Republicans have suggested he use the agreement for positive diplomatic ends, to help build stronger alliances with other countries. While the outcome is uncertain, two things seem likely: first, the Trump administration will attempt to weaken or slow efforts to reduce coal plant emissions, which may not overcome the market forces driving more renewable energy, more natural gas, and less coal generation; second, Trump will likely target climate finance obligations and reduce U.S. contributions to less developing countries.
Some experts at the COP have suggested that the Paris Agreement will continue through its implementation phase over the next four years, and the remaining parties could ramp up ambition beyond what the U.S. would have accepted. Then after the next presidential election, a new administration could join again, but with more stringent carbon reduction, finance, and other obligations than the US would have otherwise faced. This could put the U.S. at a disadvantage, as its emissions may rise during the Trump administration, forcing more costly mitigation later. But it could have the additional salutary effect of strengthening the Paris Agreement so it is more likely to meet the ambitious targets limiting warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees.
In the final days of the COP, the draft Marrakech Action Proclamation is taking shape with negotiators. This was intended to be the “COP of Action” but may end up as more of a statement of intent to continue taking action. A recent draft welcomes the rapid entry into force of the Paris Agreement, reiterates the urgency to act on a warming climate, and recognizes the extraordinary momentum this year has seen. The draft recognizes specific needs and special circumstances of least developed countries and those particularly vulnerable to climate change, and calls for the “highest political commitment’ to combat climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve adaptation; additionally it pushes for urgently raising ambition, strengthening cooperation, and increasing the flow of finance.
A final theme of the Morocco draft is a positive call for action and implementation, which will bring opportunities for prosperity. In a nod to the election, it specifically calls on all non-state actors, like U.S. states and cities, to “join us.” As we return to the U.S., at the top of my mind will be two final points: that the U.S risks losing its global influence by standing on the sidelines, and that progress on climate action will be up to states, cities, businesses, universities, and local communities in this power vacuum. As I return home, I will focus on how we can help enable those local, state, and regional efforts to fill that leadership gap.
Energy Transition Lab executive director Ellen Anderson and two seniors from Macalaster College explored connections between global climate change and peace at in this editorial which originally appeared as an article on the MINNPOST
Written by: Ellen Anderson, Laura Humes and Kayla Walsh Read more →
Success in the Paris Climate Negotiations in Broader Context
By: Hari Osofsky
This blog post written by Energy Transition Lab Faculty Director Hari Osofsky was published on December 8th in Opinio Juris Blog Archive
I appreciate the opportunity to guest blog with Opinio Juris while at the Paris climate change negotiations this week. I will aim in my blogs to complement Dan Bodansky’s excellent assessment of the negotiations among state parties by examining the broader context of what would be required to address climate change adequately and the activities by other key stakeholders.
From my observation of the first Comité de Paris and hallway conversations on Monday, December 7, the parties still seem on track to reach some sort of agreement in Paris, though perhaps not by the Friday deadline. While there are certainly some differences yet to be resolved, the tone appears to be unusually cooperative at this stage according to those who have attended many of these negotiations.
However, even if the agreement contains reference to the need to keep warming less than 1.5 degrees, which appears increasingly likely, the state parties are highly unlikely to actually achieve that with their current commitments. As one civil society participant from Latin America remarked to me yesterday, the key question is whether we hold warming at 3 or 4 degrees. While I certainly hope he is wrong, we are not on track, even is these negotiations successfully conclude, to mitigate at the levels that scientists say are needed. And as I have analyzed in forthcoming articles with Jackie Peel and Hannah Wiseman, even if we can find ways to more constructively address energy partisanship in the United States, the Clean Power Plan will involve a complex integration of an environmental cooperative federalist law with a largely state- and regionally-based energy system.
So how do we bridge the gap between what negotiations among nation-states can achieve and what is needed? Two key pieces of that puzzle are subnational governments and the private sector (particularly corporations and investors), and my blogs this week will focus on some of their activities here.
In the process, I will also try to convey, for those who have not attended international negotiations like these, the concentric circles of activity taking place here, with access limitations between each ring. At the core are the nation-states negotiating, and even some of those meetings are only open to subsets of those negotiators. A key concern raised in the Comité de Paris by several state parties on Monday night was the need for more transparency and inclusion in the informal facilitated streams taking place this week to try to bridge differences. Outside of that are official observers, who can gain access to only a very limited set of the negotiations but are able to enter the “Blue Zone,” which contains the negotiating spaces and many of the high-level side events. Outside of the restricted space, a hall in Le Bourget and venues around Paris contain events open to the many people who are here without access passes.
As I move between sessions in the “Blue Zone” space, the people around me exude a sense of being rushed and busy with important tasks as they race among meetings and cluster in small groups in hallways. I am continually reminded of an observation by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the-chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, when she presented at the climate change negotiations in 2005, the year that the Inuit submitted their petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights claiming that U.S climate change policy violated their rights:
I have attended three COPs. People rush from meeting to meeting arguing about all sorts of narrow technical points. The bigger picture, the cultural picture, the human picture is being lost. Climate change is not about bureaucrats scurrying around. It is about families, parents, children, and the lives we lead in our communities in the broader environment. We have to regain this perspective if climate change is to be stopped.
While many at these negotiations clearly have that bigger-picture focus, I think that continually reminding ourselves of what all these legal conversations are really about is critical. Achieving an agreement that goes farther than anything that preceded it at Paris would certainly be a form of success, but ultimately we only succeed if we limit human suffering and ecosystem damage—and develop new opportunities—through mitigating and adapting adequately.
Featured Photo Credit: Mark Dixon (CC BY 2.0)
COP21 Climate Talks: Paris Impressions
By Energy Transition Lab Executive Director Ellen Anderson
The U.N. climate talks, or COP21 (Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change) is the 21st such meeting since 1995, being held at a convention center in the Paris suburb of Bourget. It’s not a typical-looking convention, given the green walls, tent-like cover, and wind turbine trees, all protected by armed police.
It’s an incredible experience to be in a place with people from over 190 countries—almost the entire world– gathering with a common transformative idea in mind, but with very different perspectives and specific concerns. My first three encounters:
First, a business person from Cameroon (Cameroun in French) who works in waste management. When I told him I was American, he scoffed at the U.S. commitment to climate change commitments, and said “then why won’t they sign an agreement?” I said Obama will likely sign the Paris agreement, but Congress still won’t support it. Cameroun’s climate commitment to the U.N. (its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution in U.N. parlance or INDC) calls for a 32% reduction in CO2 equivalents by 2032; read more detail if your French is good.From Scotland, I had the pleasure of meeting a young woman from Birnam, a town in Scotland made famous for its woods in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The town held Birnam Live Earth, an arts and climate change event where they created flags (“bunting”) representing the things they love about the place they call home.Next, I was shown a 3D video telling the story of the “Great Green Wall” project, an 8000 kilometer band of forest planned across the continent of Africa to hold back the desertification, increase climate resilience, food security, green jobs, a sustainable alternative to forced migration, and a symbol of peace amidst conflict. See the video: http://www.greatgreenwall.org/#growing-a-world-wonder
Besides the official work of the COP21, the tens of thousands of visitors here from around the world are all here to learn from each other and to share their opinions about climate solutions. See the tweet from Christiana Figueres, the ever-optimistic Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.
The official real work of the COP21 is negotiating a global agreement that builds upon all 157 climate plan pledges (INDCs) made by nations. Meeting rooms across the sprawling convention center are filled with parties representing nations, haggling over specific word choices, additions, and omissions. Some of these are open to observers like us, and some not.
As one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in history, many speeches called the COP21 process an important first step. But President Obama was right in characterizing it instead as a critical turning point. “There is such a thing as being too late,” said Obama, quoting Martin Luther King Jr. “That hour is almost upon us.”
COP21 is a remarkable turning point, where for the first time since the UN has endeavored to address climate change, nearly every country of the world is making some sort of self-determined commitment. In 1997 Senator Byrd (D-W. VA) and Senator Hagel (R-NE) unanimously passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which said that the U.S. should not ratify the Kyoto protocol which required wealthy countries (Annex I in UN parlance) to reduce emissions but did not require such commitments from developing countries like China and India. A COP21 Paris agreement will meet those requirements for the first time because China, India, and other developing countries who are large carbon emitters have made major pledges.
There are still many issues left to be resolved, especially to ensure national commitments are strong enough and will ramp up over time, and to ensure equity so less developed countries can adapt to climate change and adopt clean energy. Here in Paris, the momentum for change is strong and growing. While our American media may not highlight this important effort, it is clear from recent polling that a strong majority of Americans want to see progress.
Cover Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Takver (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Connecting the Dots: How Does Minnesota’s Energy Future Relate to the Clean Power Plan and the UN Climate Talks in Paris?
Minnesota has a clean energy policy framework in place that has gradually and cost-effectively moved our state to increase renewable energy and energy efficiency and to reduce carbon emissions. Our energy efficiency requirements for utilities have been in law since the 1980’s and have resulted in enough energy savings to avoid the need for building eight power plants. [i] Our Renewable Energy Standard has helped to bring wind energy to scale in the Midwest, driving down prices so that wind is now one of the most cost-effective electricity supply options available in Minnesota. Between 2005 and 2012, Minnesota reduced greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector 17%. [ii]
All of this means that Minnesota is well positioned to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Power Plan.[iii] In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited Minnesota’s past energy progress as a model for the nation under the Plan.[iv] News this month from Xcel Energy further cements our progress. Xcel’s announcement to retire two coal units at Sherco[v] by 2026 means that Xcel will help Minnesota exceed the Clean Power Plan’s goals, with the utility on track to reduce CO2 emissions 60% by 2030. Xcel is already the number one wind utility in the nation, and this will make them a national leader in carbon reduction in the electricity sector.
U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz’s Climate Change Advisor and U. S. leading climate negotiator Dr. Jonathan Pershing visited Minnesota in early October. A UMN graduate, Pershing said that states play a critical role in energy innovation, and that the world would be much better off “if only there were more Minnesotas.”
The Clean Power Plan is based upon federal law under the Clean Air Act. Section 111(d) of the federal rule requires the U.S. power sector to reduce power plant greenhouse gas emissions by 32% by 2030. This is implemented through “cooperative federalism” where states comply by creating their own State Implementation Plans (SIP) to meet the rule’s targets.[vi]
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source, roughly one third, of CO2 emissions in the U.S. The EPA estimates the plan will bring public health and climate benefits worth an estimated $55-93 billion per year in 2030, far outweighing the costs of $7.3-$8.8 billion.[vii] Already over 150 of the most inefficient and polluting coal plants in the U.S. have been retired or repowered in recent years to lower emitting fuels, driven by a number of factors including industry anticipation of the Clean Power Plan.
Regarding the global climate talks (UNFCCC[viii] Conference of the Parties, or COP21) scheduled for late November-December in Paris, Dr. Pershing said that the months before the COP21 are actually more important than the meeting itself. Some say that the Paris summit has already been successful.[ix] That’s because in advance of the COP21, over 140 nations have so far made significant pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That covers nearly 87% of global greenhouse gases and includes major carbon polluters. [x] These country commitments are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). At the COP21, nations will bring their INDC commitments to the table, and attempt to hammer out a global agreement on monitoring, verification, financing, equity among nations, and ramping up reductions over time. This is different from previous UN treaty-based approaches.
The U.S. commitment for our INDC calls for a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 2025. U.S. commitments will be met by existing rules and policies, most significantly by the Clean Power Plan, but also by other economy-wide measures like vehicle fuel economy and appliance standards. Thus, state actions to reduce their power plant emissions under the Clean Power Plan are the foundation of climate goals U.S. leaders will bring to the COP21 in Paris.
Previous global climate agreements have hit roadblocks, in part because the world’s biggest carbon emitters weren’t part of the solution. In the past year, besides making their own commitment, U.S. leaders were instrumental in negotiating agreements with some of the world’s largest countries and emitters: China, Brazil, and India. Together U.S. and China produce about 40% of global CO2 emissions.
The China plan includes peaking emissions by 2030, carbon intensity reduction goals, and a commitment to 20% renewable energy by 2030. Twenty percent may not sound like a lot, but according to Dr. Pershing, it is equivalent to building an entire U.S. electricity grid. Manufacturing and installing that amount of renewable energy capacity will achieve new economies of scale, further reducing global costs of wind and solar energy. China recently announced a national cap and trade program in 2017, continuing in their “war on pollution in their cities.[xi]
For more information on country commitments, their projected impact on climate change, and the United Nations process, check the UNFCCC website newsroom www.newsroom.unfccc.int/about/ and Climate Central, www.climatecentral.org.
In September the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, said that the prosperity of wealthy nations has been built upon readily available, low cost fossil fuels. Now, she added, “we must decarbonize–and the world urgently needs models” of successful low-carbon economies[xii]. This circles us back to Minnesota. Increasingly, states, regions, cities and many businesses are the leaders in climate action. As a bellwether heartland industrial state, with more per capita Fortune 500 companies than 48 others[xiii], and a trajectory to increasingly power our state without carbon emissions, Minnesota is well positioned to be a low carbon model. Minnesota’s clean energy efforts have already created some 15,000 high-paying jobs with over $1 billion in annual wages; our electricity prices remain reasonably competitive, and all of our fossil fuels–$18 billion worth every year—are imported. Given that Minnesotans are all “above average” this blog will continue to “connect the dots” and explore Minnesota’s role in the grand global challenge of energy transition and climate change.
[i] Minnesota Center for Energy and Environment, http://www.mncee.org/getattachment/9c568ce2-a6cf-4619-84ce-163476ac3c25/ accessed 10/5/15.
[ii] Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Biennial Report to the Minnesota Legislature 2015, MPCA.
[iii] Our state target is a 41.7% emissions rate reduction.
[iv] Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Comments to EPA, 12/1/14; http://www.pca.state.mn.us/index.php/view-document.html?gid=22000; accessed 10/5/15.
[v] Sherco is the commonly used name for the Sherburne County Generating Station
[vi] If states don’t submit their SIP, the EPA will impose a Federal Implementation Plan, or FIP, on them.
[vii] EPA Fact Sheet, http://www2.epa.gov/cleanpowerplan/fact-sheet-clean-power-plan; accessed EPA website 10/5/15.
[viii] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
[ix] NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Climate Week in NYC: “In several important ways the Paris summit has already been successful. It has pushed national governments around the world to set higher goals to reduce carbon. It shows international action on climate change really is possible – and it has focused the world’s attention on how much work remains to be done. http://www.theclimategroup.org/what-we-do/news-and-blogs/10-weeks-before-paris-leaders-in-new-york-share-collective-confidence-in-global-climate-deal/
[x] United Nations UNFCCC website, http://newsroom.unfccc.int/unfccc-newsroom/indcs-unprecedented-global-breadth-of-climate-action-plans-ahead-of-paris/
[xi] Professor Elizabeth Wilson, interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio on 9/29/15, available at http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/09/29/bcst-three-views-on-china.
[xii] In June 2015, the leaders of the G-7, the world’s largest industrial countries, announced an ambitious plan to phase out all fossil fuels worldwide by 2100. The Guardian, accessed 10/5/15; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/08/g7-leaders-agree-phase-out-fossil-fuel-use-end-of-century. Christiana Figueres’ quotes are from a national webinar conversation, sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists, in which Ellen Anderson participated.
[xiii] Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, accessed at https://apps.deed.state.mn.us/mwa/deed/compareminnesota.aspx. In 2014, only Connecticut had more than Minnesota.