The IEA and Fatih Birol

Production and use of energy is responsible for about two thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions (1).  Without low carbon energy solutions we cannot hope to address the issue of climate change successfully.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) has been working tirelessly to produce analyses and promote awareness of energy issues that are vital to both the Paris agreement and to the post Paris world.


The agency has been busy at COP21 meeting with parties and hosting numerous side events; last Thursday (12/3/15) in the blue zone at Le Bourget was IEA Day, where energy experts were involved in panel discussions on a range of topics from energy efficiency to the resilience of the energy system. Today (12/10/15) the IEA hosted “The Big Energy Debate” in the civil society area of the venue. The first topic of debate was “Development with much lower emissions: what would it look like?”  The discussion moved through many topics, but the most interesting part concerned Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).  CCS is a topic that I haven’t yet decided my views on, so it was thought provoking to hear those of experts in the field.  Perhaps the most memorable moment of the debate was from Stephan Singer, the director of Global Energy Policy at WWF International, who referred to CCS as putting lipstick on a zombie.  Singer was alone in his complete opposition to CCS though, many of the panelists were either uncertain about the technology or see it as necessary to achieving our temperature goals (but know it will still be some time before the technology is feasible at a larger scale and at a lower cost).

Panelists at The Big Energy Debate

The Executive Director of the IEA, Fatih Birol, opened the Big Energy debate and I was lucky enough to be able to speak with him for a few minutes afterwords.  The following answers are not direct quotes from Dr. Birol.

KS: What do you see the role of young researchers and the young generation being in the global collaborative effort towards clean energy solutions after Paris?

FB: The only way to make things move is through public pressure.  We need to make the governments move in the right direction.  The role of youth is to be involved in the debate and push the government in that right direction.

KS: What is your perspective on how the Paris agreement will bring developed and developing countries together to address the challenges of sustainable development?

FB: In the past few years I have seen the agreement becoming narrower.  For the first time developed and developing countries are contributing (both are submitting mitigation contributions in the form of INDCs) and the gap between them is becoming narrower.

KS: How will the energy transformation impact our everyday lives?

FB: There are 3 ways.  The first is it will make use feel better because we are no longer dirtying our world.  The second is it will be good for our health because there will be less air pollution.  The third is that there will be less extreme weather events.

Fatih Birol, Siqi, and me

If you’re interested in the IEA and what they have been doing at COP21 visit their website where you can find lots of information and download some great publications.



  1. “Energy Matters. How COP21 Can Shift the Energy Sector onto a Low-Carbon Path That Supports Economic Growth and Energy Access” (OECD/IEA, 2015),

Ever wanted to know what the inside of a COP looks like?

When we see pictures of a COP online its often a shot of the large plenary room where negotiations are taking place, but trust me the venues are so much bigger with so much more going on! So instead of writing about the inspiring speeches from world leaders yesterday, or the side events I attended today I figured I would give you all a brief tour of the venue.

Welcome to #COP21 !!



As you walk into le bourget (the venue) you are greeted by the flags of all the parties to the convention.



The main walkway of le bourget is know as “Champs Elysees.” It can be a little confusing to find your way around at first, but luckily there are directions and maps all over.

Read more

The UNFCCC and Climate Change Mitigation

Article 2 of the UNFCCC Framework text lays out the ultimate objective of the Convention as achieving a “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system (1).”  In other words the ultimate objection of the UNFCCC is to mitigate climate change! Mitigation is generally defined as a reduction in the emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) by sources or a removal by sinks (2).  Knowing this you might be asking yourself, if we’ve been working on climate change mitigation since the Convention was adopted in 1992, what have we achieved so far?

The actual text of the Framework Convention is a little vague and does not specify exactly what our mitigation goals were in the early 90s. To find that we must look to the Kyoto Protocol.  Article 3 of the Protocol states that Annex 1 parties shall reduce their overall emissions by at least 5% below 1990 levels during the commitment period 2008 to 2012 (3).  Most people know that the Kyoto Protocol had some problems, namely the USA refusing to ratify it and Canada withdrawing, so you would be right to wonder if we actually met those goals.

You may not expect it (I know I didn’t), but the answer is yes.  By 2012 Annex 1 countries had reduced emissions 24% below 1990 levels!  However, 18.5% of those emissions were “hot air” or reductions that had occurred in the EITs (economies in transition) before 1997 (4).  In the figure below you can see country by country reduction targets and end results in relation to those targets.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 2.59.05 PM

After Kyoto commitment period 1 ended in 2012, 52 parties decided to undertake a second Kyoto commitment period by ratifying the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol.  Annex 1 parties agreed to reduce their emissions by 18% below 1990 levels between 2013 and 2020.  While this goal may seem great, very few Annex 1 countries signed on for this second commitment period so the impact of their reductions will likely be small.

After the Kyoto Protocol, one of the most important events to happen in terms of climate change mitigation was the development of the long term temperature goal as a result of the Copenhagen Accord in 2009.  Paragraph 1 states that parties recognize “the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees celsius,” but the final paragraph of the accord includes a consideration to strengthen this goal to 1.5°C(5).  There are reasons why each goal is important.  1.5 degrees celsius is critical for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), as they are and will continue to feel the effects of climate change before other nations.  However, the IPCC tells us that in order to stay below 1.5°C of temperature increase immediate mitigation action needs to occur with a “rapid upscaling of the full portfolio of mitigation techniques” (6).  Recent INDC publications as well as IPCC analysis casts serious doubt on whether this goal is feasible.  

Parties that submitted INDCs before October 1, 2015 were included in a synthesis report that was published by the UNFCCC in the beginning of November. According to the report, INDCs will result in aggregate global emission levels of 55.2 GT CO2 eq in 2025 and 56.7 GT CO2 eq in 2030.  These values are 2.8 and 3.6 GT CO2 eq lower than pre-INDC trajectories, illustrating that INDCs have prompted parties to partake in further emission reductions.  However, the aggregate effect of the INDCs does not result in enough emission reductions compared with the least cost 2°C scenarios; emissions are still 8.7 GT CO2 eq higher in 2025 and 15.1 GT CO2 eq higher in 2030 (7).

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 6.10.26 PM

Parties will need to decide in Paris what their goals are and further actions they need to take in order to reach those goals.  Mitigation actions are diverse and can be simple such as improving insulation in buildings, but can also be extremely difficult such as developing and using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.  All of these steps come with different costs and other associated challenges.  One thing that is certain though: the longer we delay taking major steps to reduce our GHG emissions the more expensive and more difficult it will become.


1) “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” (United Nations, 1992).

2)“Fact Sheet: The Need for Mitigation” (UNFCCC, November 2009).

3)“Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” (United Nations, 1998).

4)Romain Morel and Igor Shishlov, “Ex-Post Evaluation of the Kyoto Protocol: Four Key LEssons for the 2015 Paris Agreement” (CDC Climat Research, May 2014).

5) UNFCCC, “Report of the Conference of the Parties on Its Fifteeth Session, Held in Copenhagen from 7 to 19 December 2009,” March 30, 2010.

6) “IPCC, 2014: Summary for Policymakers. In Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pcihs-Maduga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A.Adler I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlomer, C. von Stechow, T. Zxickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)].” (Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, n.d.)

7)“Synthesis Report on the Aggregate Effect of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (UNFCCC, October 30, 2015).









What’s an INDC anyway?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the negotiating process can be difficult to wrap your head around, especially if you are a new-comer to international negotiations like I am.  To make things even more confusing there are acronyms for anything and everything! The UNFCCC, the ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action), the COP (Conference of the Parties), the acronyms for negotiating blocs and non nation state actors (NNSA), just to name a few.

One important acronym that you might hear thrown around is INDC.  INDC stands for Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, and is a countries’ post 2020 commitment for climate action and GHG reductions.  INDCs were first discussed at COP19 in Warsaw, and both developed and developing countries have been invited to produce and submit them;  this is a first for the UNFCCC as it normally abides by the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) for developed and developing nations.

The first country to submit its INDC was Switzerland in February of 2015, and the submissions have been trickling in ever since.  This past week saw a huge jump in submissions, as the secretariat will be preparing a synthesis report of INDCs that were communicated by October 1, 2015; 73 new and revised submissions were seen this week alone on the INDC Portal!  The synthesis report will hopefully show parties the overall state of global emission reduction commitments before negotiations start in Paris this December. Read more