Climate News of the Week Roundup: Countries Try to Find their Feet on a Spectrum of Commitments

This week’s roundup features the latest round of UN climate negotiations, GLOBE’s climate legislation study, the question of whether China is a climate leader, new data suggesting that the impact of shale gas on US emissions may be exaggerated, Spain getting half of its electricity from renewables right now, a study claiming that development assistance figures have been overstated, new reports on “unburnable carbon”, and challenges to Germany’s Energiewende.

This week, there was a another round of climate negotiations in Bonn. They for the first time took place in the World Conference Centre Bonn, the old and repurposed German parliament complex. And I have to say, the ambiance there is A LOT nicer than in the Maritim, where the negotiations usually take place. Unfortunately, we’ll be back in the Maritim in June since the WCCB isn’t finished yet and can currently accommodate only 1,200 people.

Old Bundestag Plenary

Old Bundestag Plenary

Which was enough for this week since only the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform (ADP) met. The ADP is tasked with hammering out the new climate agreement that is supposed to be agreed in 2015 and become operational in 2020. In addition, the ADP is to ramp the totally inadequate level of ambition of the emission reductions that have so far been pledged for the time until 2020.

In contrast to the intersessional last year which was mostly consumed with agenda fights, negotiators this time actually got down to business. The main issue on the 2015 agreement continues to be who should contribute how much to the global effort – the very issue countries haven’t been able to agree on ever since the climate negotiations started. However, the discussion is nowadays much different from what it was just a few years ago. More and more countries agree that the binary division into developed and developing countries no longer suffices and that there needs to be a more nuanced approach. The big buzzword now is “spectrum of commitments”.

The question is how to develop such a spectrum. The US has been proposing that each country should design its contribution by itself, with only a minimal international review. The US argue that countries are more likely to participate if they can design their contributions themselves and are also more likely to actually implement their commitments if they have designed them themselves. However, this is exactly the approach taken in Copenhagen/Cancún, and it has clearly failed to deliver reduction pledges that are in line with the 2°C target. The Climate Action Network (CAN) of NGOs thinks a rigorous review of draft contributions would help. They have proposed that all countries should submit their draft contributions by the end of 2014 and that in 2015 these submissions should be reviewed against the science and against a set of equity criteria.

In addition, they urge that strong engagement by heads of states and government will be critical. CAN argued in one intervention that, “The main barrier to confronting the climate crisis isn’t lack of knowledge about the problem, nor is it the lack of cost-effective solutions. It’s the lack of political will by most world leaders to confront the special interests that have worked long and hard to block the path to a sustainable low-carbon future. Until this changes, we’re not going to see the action we need.” Chimes with the opinion of the UK’s former lead negotiator John Ashton I noted in last week’s roundup and with what Wuppertal has been saying in its assessments of the climate conferences.

There is also talk of a “ratchet mechanism” that would allow to ramp up the level of ambition without going through another full round of negotiations.

Jennifer Morgan from the World Resources Institute has a more lengthy summary of the Bonn discussions here, Reuters has one here.

Not a new publication but presented at a workshop in Bonn, the Global Legislators’ Organisation (GLOBE) earlier this year published the third iteration of its annual Climate Legislation Study. This year’s study covered 33 countries and identified that 2012 had seen considerable progress in 18 of them, especially in developing countries. 31 countries have “flagship climate legislation”. China has announced that it will adopt comprehensive legislation within 1-2 years. According to GLOBE, while the FCCC process has so far failed to deliver the hoped-for ambitious agreement, it has nevertheless been a key catalyst for the adoption of national legislation.

The Australian government’s climate commission published a report this week taking stock of where the world is at in combating climate change. The report opines that China is set to become a “global leader” on climate change, having halved its growth in electricity demand, rapidly scaled up renewables and being about to put in place large-scale emission trading systems. One may wonder how one may call a country where emissions are still growing a climate leader. But one may also note that US emissions (hopefully) peaked at a per capita GDP of well above $40,000 while China’s per capita GDP is less than a quarter of that (figures here). If China manages to peak its emissions anywhere in the near future while still industrialising and urbanising rapidly, it will be an unprecedented achievement. And according to some reports they do seem to be rather serious about the peaking business.

Speaking of the US, positive news from across the pond for a change. US CO2 emissions fell by 205 Mt in 2012. And contrary to received wisdom, only 1/4 of that was due to shale gas. Another 1/4 was due to the weather but no less than 1/2 was due to improved energy efficiency. And that despite having only fragmented policy.

Spain also posted a nice record, renewables supplied 54% of electricity in April, the figure for the first four months of the year is 48.6%. Coal was down to 4.3%. If only they hadn’t gutted their renewables support policy, reducing rates retroactively is not a way to boost investor confidence.

While only few industrialised countries have delivered on the four-decades old pledge to provide 0.7% of their GDP in development assistance, a report says that even the figures we’ve had have been overstated substantially since they did not take into account interest payments on loans. Rather interesting in relation to how to measure, report and verify climate finance.

The Economist has an article on “unburnable carbon”. It concludes that, “At the moment neither public policies nor markets reflect the risks of a warmer world.” They just got the carbon budget wrong, if the 2°C target is to be met, the constraint is even more severe than they put it.

In addition to their global report, the Carbon Tracker Initiative also just did a report Australia’s fossil fuel reserves, together with The Climate Institute. They find that Australian coal alone could use up 75% of a global carbon budget that would be compatible with 2°C. No wonder Australia’s fossil fuel industry is fighting the country’s carbon pricing scheme tooth and nail. The report also notes that China has announced that its coal use will peak in the next years (see above), but so far the market acts as if that was not going to happen.

Craig Morris recently wondered why people complain about wind mills killing birds while apparently no one ever wonders how many birds die from coal plant emissions. Not to mention humans, a recent report put the toll of premature deaths from coal pollution at 100,000 in India alone.

He also investigated the claim that Germany has been building more coal power plants in reaction to the nuclear phaseout decision. First off, he notes that it takes around five years to build one, so claims that the recent uptick in coal use comes from new plants built in reaction to the phaseout decision is rather absurd. Two new plants have come online and eight are under construction, but those were commissioned way before the phaseout decision. But no new projects have been started and six have been abandoned since. Therefore, “Germany builds minus six coal plants after nuclear phaseout”.

Auf deutsch:

WI-Kollege Manfred Fischedick diskutiert die Herausforderungen der Energiewende auf WiWo Green. Und Martin Unfried hat eine Kolumne über Claudia Kemfert und ihr Buch “Kampf um Strom”. Darin hat sie u.a. die These, Norbert Röttgen sei u.a. deswegen gegangen worden, weil er die Energiewende ernsthaft umsetzen wollte, nicht nur so tun. Die “Strompreisbremse” sei pure PR, um die Energiewende zu diskreditieren, die Einsparung für eine Familie betrüge lediglich 1 Euro im Monat. Energiewende-Blockierer gebe es aber in nahezu allen Parteien.

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