Post-Paris: Our INDC and the Clean Power Plan

The Paris Agreement is a huge deal, and we should all take a moment to celebrate.

Ok. Was that fun? Good, because now begins the hard work of following through on the US’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, or INDC. An INDC is a country’s own roadmap for cutting emissions. Instead of dictating terms to countries, the UNFCCC invited countries to submit their own plans. To date, the UNFCCC has received 158 submissions reflecting 185 countries (including the European Union member states).

US emissions INDC

Climate Action Tracker reviewed INDCs from the world’s heaviest emitters and rated most plans ‘medium’ or ‘inadequate.’ The US scored ‘medium.’ Climate Action Tracker judged the US’s plan to be “at the least ambitious end of what would be a fair contribution,” adding that if every other country were only as ambitious as the United States, “global temperature increase would be well above 2°C.”

But INDCs are meant to be revisited and, ideally, tweaked to be more ambitious. Like an orthodontist tightening braces, the plans can be adjusted.

The US pledged a 26-28% emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2025, and a key part of reaching that goal is the Clean Power Plan. When the Senate scuttled cap-and-trade in 2009, Obama needed a new environmental strategy. The Clean Power Plan uses the EPA’s authority to limit smokestack emissions. States have until 2018 to devise plans to cut emissions any way they’d like, but if states don’t comply, the EPA will draw plans for them.

Twenty-six states, including North Carolina, joined in a lawsuit to contend the EPA overstepped its authority. The D.C. circuit may not rule on the case until late next year or 2017, and if the case ends up in the Supreme Court, as some watchers predict, we may not have a final ruling until 2018. In the meantime, several states are pursuing a policy of simultaneously challenging the plan and preparing for it.

All of which brings us back to post-Paris and that INDC. The US’s plans are ambitious but need to go further. State-level policymakers, meanwhile, need to see that the public, including industry, is behind meaningful emissions cuts. NC officials will host three public hearings this week on the Clean Power Plan, and I encourage locals to read more about the plan and to lend their support this week:

  • 6 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center Chamber, 600 East Fourth St., Charlotte.
  • 6 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Archdale Building, Ground Floor Hearing Room, 512 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.
  • 6 p.m. Jan. 5, 2016 at the Roland Grise Middle School Auditorium, 4412 Lake Avenue, Wilmington.

Technology Transfer and the Paris Agreement

As a teacher, I loved asking students what they thought this picture showed. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but blown up on a projector screen at the front of a classroom, I think this image is worth way more than that. If you look closely, you can see the border between North and South Korea, a string of light clinging to the Nile, and even the outline of the E105 linking Moscow to St. Petersburg.
World at Night Light

Most people say this picture shows population, and they’re half-right. In the West,  electrical output is a handy stand-in for population, so we see bright lights covering the eastern United States and most of Europe. Population only tells part of the story, though. My students were surprised to see that Nigeria (outlined in green on the left) has 55 million more people than Japan (outlined in green on the right). Ethiopia (bottom red) has 9 million more people than Germany (top red).

The picture doesn’t just show population, then. It really shows uneven access to power. Seven out of ten people in Sub-Sahara Africa lack access to electricity. Many of the least bright portions of the map are also the quickest growing and quickest developing, so the methods developing countries use to generate electricity will have huge implications for future emissions.

That’s where technology transfer comes in. Technology transfer is an umbrella term for moving know-how, experience, and equipment aimed at adaptation or mitigation across countries, usually from developed countries to developing ones. Technology transfer was one of the most contentious issues negotiators hashed out in Paris, as the shifting language in the drafts showed.

Before Bonn Intersession:

In the shortened 20-page non-paper released by the ADP October 5, technology transfer merited a brief mention in Article 6 (Finance) and a short section that encouraged parties to strengthen policy frameworks to foster innovation, attract private sector investments, and develop their own capacities and technologies.

After Bonn Intersession:

The draft agreement released after the Bonn intersessional meeting on October 23 saw a renewed interest in technology transfer. An article 3 bracket explicitly called for developed countries to “provide new and additional financial resources, technology transfer and capacity building to meet the full costs incurred by developing country Parties in complying with their obligations under this Article.” Remarkably, the text also featured an option calling for developed countries “to meet the full costs of IPRs of environmentally sound technologies and know-how, and such technologies will be provided to developing country Parties free of cost in order to enhance their actions to address climate change.” No one thought either of these options would wind up in the final text, but they represent one end of the bargaining spectrum going into Paris.

In the final Paris Agreement:

The final text is predictably light on specifics, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Parties will reconvene in May 2016 to discuss technology transfer, and there’ll be periodic updates to reassess progress and needs. In the meantime, the agreement establishes a technology framework to sort out needs, capabilities, and obstacles. The agreement calls on developed and developing countries to share information about technology, but the crucial word here is ‘should,’ not ‘shall.’


Tech, Trade, and COP21

Right now, delegates from around the world are in Europe hashing out an agreement that will have far-reaching consequences. Representatives from China, the United States, the EU, and many other places are here to discuss energy efficiency, clean energy, pollution control, and dozens of other topics. I’m not talking about Paris, although COP21 is a huge deal. I’m actually talking about the Environmental Goods Agreement meeting taking place this week in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA) focuses on international trade and equipment like solar panels and other gear designed to help the environment. Solar panels especially have been the topic of intense international disagreement, with many countries complaining that certain trade policies unfairly hurt their own solar producers. The EGA aims to settle those disagreements and make it easier for countries to import and export environmental products.

So what does any of this have to do with COP? The outcomes of the two conferences are so intertwined that I like to imagine the EGA as a perfect reflection of the COP, with a giant mirror winding across the vineyards of southern Burgundy. Trade and technology transfer are two of the most contentious topics in Paris this week, so to get a sense of what business leaders and negotiators saw in the ongoing sessions, I hit up the US Center’s session entitled, “Deploying Innovative Technology for Climate Change: Trade to Jumpstart Paris Action.”

Tech Transfer Panel

Henry Derwent, a senior advisor with Climate Strategies, put it best when he described this week’s negotiations as a huge prisoner’s dilemma. Given countries’ diverging agendas, unique circumstances, and conflicting long-term goals, negotiators already face plenty of obstacles in shepherding the world toward a low-carbon future. As if that weren’t already enough, Brian Flannery of Resources for the Future pointed out that these issues multiply as the agreement becomes more ambitious.

The key takeaway, then, is that since businesses will serve a crucial role in financing and implementing the Paris agreement, they should be part of the conversation crafting these policies, and many business leaders already have great ideas about how to deploy cleantech while boosting the global economy.

Climate Negotiation Rehearsal

ICCN Group Photo (source:
ICCN Group Photo (source:

Reading an unfinished UN climate agreement for the first time, the first thing you notice is all the brackets. Negotiators bracket off huge swaths of text to show parts of the agreement that still have, well, disagreement. Brackets might contain two countries’ different views of how a policy should be enacted or differing thoughts on the policy’s ambition; oftentimes brackets reflect arguments over whether a policy should or shall be enacted.

photo (3)

This October in D.C. I had the [paramount pleasure][eye-opening responsibility][unholy burden] of representing the Russian Federation at a simulated UN climate negotiation (ICCN). Russia presents an interesting challenge. Many Russians believe a warmer planet wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. Arctic oil exploration, ice-free shipping lanes, warmer Moscow winters, and a more arable Siberia don’t strike most Russians as exactly calamitous. Coupled with the fact that some prominent Russian scientists are skeptical of anthropogenic climate change, you’ve got a recipe for an unhelpful negotiating partner.

On the other hand, Russian agriculture is uniquely vulnerable to drought and fire (both made more likely by climate change), and the defiance Russian negotiators showed at COP18 in Doha has gradually given way to a cautious cooperation.

At the October intersession meeting in Bonn, Russia opened the negotiations by stressing the need for transitioning economies like Russia’s to be allowed to grow without intrusive regulation. However, Russia also made special mention of its forests. With 20% of the world’s forests, Russia’s wilderness acts as a huge carbon sink, capturing CO2 that would otherwise contribute to the greenhouse effect.

The [back-and-forth][jockeying][posturing][evolution of Russian strategy] in climate negotiations makes for interesting sessions, so that’s exactly what I delivered in D.C. I bickered with Country A when they struck me as too pliable on financial commitments to developing countries, and I chastised Country B for demanding too much of developed countries. I berated friends and opponents alike; the negotiation was a day-long method acting course, and I went full-on De Niro.

Toward the end of the conference, the especially contentious matter of loss and damage came up (proving once again that life imitates art, loss and damage drove a wedge in last week’s intersession meeting in Bonn, too). Loss and damage refers to the effects of climate change that adaptation cannot prevent. Low-lying and small island countries would like to see financial commitments in place to help protect them from loss and damage, but developed countries are hesitant to assume responsibility. As Russia, I dutifully blocked any firm commitments to loss and damage. My colleagues were furious – not at Russia, but at me. In a turn of events obliterating the fourth wall, fellow negotiators became incensed that I would effectively damn millions of people to an uncertain, less safe future.

I decided then that the kids are alright and that their deep emotional investment in a simulation of a conference that hadn’t even begun yet actually bodes pretty well for the rest of us. They were right to be angry. Anger is an appropriate feeling when dealing with inevitable sea level rise. In Bonn, we saw a little of that anger on display. My hope moving forward is that negotiators can channel that anger into something constructive.