U.S. GHG Leadership in Paris

On June 17th the Environmental Law Institute held a seminar about the shape and size that U.S. action on climate change could take at the upcoming Congress of the Parties in Paris 2015.

Invited panelists constituted a mix of government, NGO, and private sectors. Present were:

Ross Eisenberg, Vice President, National Association of Manufacturers

Hilary French, Program Officer, Regional Office for North America, United Nations Environment Programme

Ned Helme, President, Center for Clean Air Policy

David Waskow, Director, International Climate Initiative, World Resources Institute

Serving as moderator was  Robert M. Sussman, Principal, Sussman & Associates, former Senior Policy Counsel, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and former Co-Chair of the EPA Transition Team

David with WRI started us off, reiterating the importance of the new Clean Power Plan for increasing U.S. credibility on the international arena. Of course, with promises come expectations – and the main focus now is how the U.S. will use this newly acquired responsible role on climate change to encourage serious reductions from other major emitters. David Waskow also talked about the context for the 2015 meeting. Generally speaking, the international community has been moving away from international targets to nationally focused commitments, with a hybrid blend of top down and bottom up approaches. Hilary French reminded us how committed the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to climate change. He is using the Secretary-General’s Climate Summit in NYC on September 23rd to generate political will for an ambitious global legal climate agreement that will limit the world to a less than 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures. Catalyzing action on the ground is crucial to motivate partnerships outside the formal negotiating process. Multi-stakeholder, international action initiatives between heads of state, government, finance, business, and civil society are crucial to producing results with any weight. Aside from negotiating an internationally binding treaty, work is underway on: energy efficiency, renewables, short-lived climate pollutants, transport, cities, forests, agriculture, adaptation, disaster risk reduction, climate finance, and economic drivers. The climate and clean air coalition, launched in 2012 by UNEP, is a voluntary international framework to address short lived climate pollutants (methane, black carbon, and HFCs). The Climate Technology Center and Network is building the capacity of developing countries to identify technical needs and facilitate preparation and implementation of technology projects and strategies.

Ned Helme talked about the progress on the Green Climate Fund, an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the UNFCCC, and the real carrot to incentivize international action on climate change. A 24 member board with equal distribution between developing and developed countries offers support to developing countries to limit or reduce their emissions and take measures to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. The international community has committed to providing $100 billion of finance in 2020, drawing on contributions from the public and private sectors. A competitive process is employed to select the recipients of the money – it’s not as if an equal amount of funds for adaptation go to every country. A premium is put on projects with high potential to generate long-lasting impact in their home countries; catalyze private sector engagement; deliver multiple benefits (health and poverty alleviation, for example); achieve these goals in the most efficient and effective way possible; and be scalable and replicable. The goal is to invest in programs that will sustain themselves. Projects that can deliver a “paradigm shift,” or a change in the way the home country engages across multiple sectors to address adaptation needs, will be winners. The next board meeting for the GCF is in October 2014, and the U.S. pledge is still TBD. The goal is to mobilize at least $10 billion by end of the year.

Lastly, Ross Eisenberg spoke about the goals of American manufacturers in influencing the international climate negotiations. As the industry consumes 1/3 of U.S. energy, it is keen on urging policy makers to craft an agreement that allows the U.S. to remain competitive for manufacturing and attract foreign direct investment. Their thought process is that since the U.S. can’t solve global warming alone, in order for change to take place, all major emitting nations need to be equally engaged, across all GHG sources and sinks. The costs born by an industry or country are only justified if everyone is on board. Eisenberg was particularly interested in the ability of the U.S. to induce action on the part of China and India; the viability of the Green Climate Fund; liability and damage issues; intellectual property protection; the enforceability of agreements; and the future of EPA regulations on the power sector.

Most of us in the environmental community working on climate change agree wholeheartedly with Eisenberg. We want all of those things as well: a commitment from every major emitter to deliver absolute reductions; a financing mechanism that rewards projects that find a way to nimbly fund the most important adaptation measures and engage local participation; and a sense of where the EPA will go in the future.

For right now, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m coming to learn that the same rules that apply to the preschool sandbox govern international climate negotiations as well – and not all of them are of the savory variety. Peer pressure works pretty well. If the U.S. can deliver reductions, it can galvanize India and China to do so as well. This is uplifting, and encourages us to make our voices heard. Our government and private sector are more likely to support action on climate change if they think we’re listening and acting. Educated and boisterous citizens really do make a difference.