Category: Government

UK will miss climate goals despite new strategy, says official watchdog

UK will miss climate goals despite new strategy, says official watchdog

By Simon Evans

The UK will miss its legally binding climate goals without more ambitious policies, says the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

The UK’s official climate watchdog says the government’s Clean Growth Strategy falls short, even when taking a “generous” view of the plans and policies it sets out. The strategy was published in October 2017 and is supposed to meet the UK’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets for 2023-2032.

There are gaps in policy for cutting emissions across the economy, from the power sector to industry, transport and farming. Even the policies in place risk not delivering, the CCC says.

In a statement, CCC chair Lord Deben praises the tone of the government’s plans, but adds: “Ambitions alone are not enough. As it stands, the strategy does not deliver.”

This verdict leaves the government at risk of legal challenge under the Climate Change Act 2008, which says ministers must plan to meet UK carbon budgets.

Meeting carbon budgets

The 2008 Climate Change Act (pdf) sets a legally binding framework for UK climate policy. Under the act, the government must set five-yearly carbon budgets towards a long-term goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by “at least” 80% below 1990 levels in 2050.

Most recently, parliament legislated for a 57% cut in emissions across the fifth carbon budget, covering 2028-2032. The act also obliges ministers to set out how the UK will meet its goals.

Section 13, below, says the government: “Must prepare such proposals and policies as [it] considers will enable the carbon budgets…to be met.”

Section 13 of the Climate Change Act 2008.

Under section 14, ministers must set out their plans “as soon as is reasonably practicable” after each carbon budget is set. This is why the government published its Clean Growth Strategy in October 2017, after repeated delays.

Today, the CCC issues its verdict – saying the strategy falls short of meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets – with a press release that quotes section 13 of the Act.

At a briefing for journalists, Carbon Brief asked Lord Deben if, in the committee’s view, the strategy was in breach of this provision. He said:

“These requirements have got to be met…[ministers are] going to have to fill [the strategy] out and they’re going to have to fill it out in time for us to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budget.”

The CCC’s verdict is also at odds with recent statements to parliament, in which climate minister Claire Perry said the policies in the strategy “keep us on track to meet our carbon budgets”.

Banking on flexibility

One point of particular contention is the use of flexibility rules. Under section 17 of the act, below, ministers can “bank” overachievement in one carbon budget to help meet subsequent goals.

These powers are relatively unrestricted, save for a requirement to obtain advice from the CCC and to take account of that advice (see paragraph 4, below).

Section 17 of the Climate Change Act 2008.

In its Clean Growth Strategy (pdf), the government highlighted this flexibility, noting: “There is currently sufficient projected surplus available [from the first three carbon budgets] to carry forward to meet the fourth carbon budget and some of the fifth carbon budget.”

However, the CCC pushes back strongly against any plan that relies on this banked surplus to meet a shortfall in future carbon budgets.

It says that the current UK surplus stems largely from changes to the UK’s share of the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) and the 2008 financial crisis, not from early climate action. If the UK relies on this surplus to meet targets in the short term, it would delay the low-carbon transition and store up greater costs later on.

The CCC report says:

“These [flexibilities] should only be employed in the case of unexpected conditions that, despite strong policy action, would otherwise cause the carbon budgets to be missed. They should not be used to enable ambition to be weakened…Use of these mechanisms would risk failing to develop leading low-carbon industries in the UK and storing up larger costs for future generations. Their use would also undermine the UK’s position of leadership and be counter to the commitments made under the Paris Agreement.”

Adrian Gault, acting CCC chief executive, tells Carbon Brief: “We shouldn’t be planning now to be using the flexibilities.” He gives the example of a series of very cold winters as a possible reason to use them. It ought to be something “really exceptional, late in the day”, he says.

In the briefing with journalists, Deben said:

“There is no question of using the banking, let’s be absolutely clear…We neither expect [government] to do it, nor would we accept that [government] should do it, because the budgets are not written on that basis. The budgets are written on the basis that there isn’t a carry-forward of that kind. If we were thinking of carry-forward we would have written the budgets differently and parliament would have voted on them differently.”

It is worth repeating that while the government must take the CCC’s advice into account on this matter, it is not obliged to follow that advice. However, the government did follow similar advice in agreeing (pdf) not to carry forward a surplus from the first carbon budget.

It is also worth noting that the first three UK carbon budgets were set on an “interim” basis, with the intention that the third budget for 2018-2022 be raised to a tighter “intended” level if a global climate deal were to be reached. This tightening never happened. It would have cut, though not eliminated the surplus savings, David Joffe, acting head of carbon budgets tells Carbon Brief.

The CCC report says that the UK will need to tighten its targets to align with the 1.5C ambition of the Paris Agreement. It suggests that any extra carbon budget savings should be put towards this. It also says the government should seek its advice on the UK’s long-term targets, once the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its report on 1.5C in September.

Generous interpretation

The CCC starts its assessment of the Clean Growth Strategy with praise for the tone of the document. At the briefing for journalists, Deben said: “What the Clean Growth Strategy says, fundamentally, is this a central part of government’s economic policy. In that sense, it’s very welcome…There has been a very fundamental change in stance.”

In a foreword to the CCC report, Deben says these “very positive signals” are not matched in the details of the strategy: “Whilst some new policies are announced in the strategy, the detailed policies and measures to meet the targets are not, in general, set out.”

The report breaks down its assessment into three levels of certainty and detail.

First, it looks at firm policies that are likely to deliver lower emissions. These include £557m in funding to support low-carbon sources of electricity through more auctions, starting in spring 2019.

Second, the CCC lists policies which are already in place, but which risk failing to deliver as expected, potentially leaving gaps in the government’s climate plans. These include the Hinkley C and subsequent new nuclear plants.

The UK’s reliance on EU policies, from product energy efficiency to the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), are also at risk as they may change or cease to apply after the UK leaves the EU.

Third, the CCC looks at broad proposals or intentions in the strategy, where detailed policy is lacking. Examples include a 2040 phaseout of combustion-engine vehicle sales and the aspiration for “as many homes as possible” to reach band C efficiency by 2035.

The CCC adds all of these policies together and assumes each of them delivers in full. It uses a “generous” interpretation of the looser aspirations. Yet it still finds that the UK will miss its climate goals. You can see this “policy gap” between current policies and legal targets in the chart, below.

UK greenhouse gas emissions (blue line) and legally binding carbon budgets (black lines). The path of future emissions (dashed blue line) depends on climate policies already in place but at risk of not delivering (yellow area), as well as proposals and intentions without firm policy (pink). If all these policies deliver in full, the UK will still miss its legislated budgets, with a policy gap remaining (red). Note that the chart only covers sectors outside the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). Source: Committee on Climate Change.

Updated government emissions projections, published earlier this year, cut the policy gap slightly for reasons unrelated to changes in government policy, the CCC notes. More importantly, “there remains a gap”, even with these lower projections. It adds:

“We would not expect a reduction in policy ambition in response…given the risk that this is reversed in later years and given the commitment in the Paris Agreement to increase effort and deliver beyond existing targets.”

On the contrary, the committee says the government should aim to outperform the carbon budgets as currently legislated. This would offer wiggle room in case some policies fail to deliver or allow for higher ambition, in line with Paris.

The CCC says the government should raise its ambition according to a strict timetable. This should eliminate the policy gap for the fourth carbon budget by the end of 2018 and firm up existing plans, so as to largely remove delivery risks, by the end of 2020. Similar assurance is needed on the fifth carbon budget, by the end of 2025.

It says: “If policies are not in place on this timeline, the carbon budgets are liable to be missed.”

Sectoral gaps

The report sets out the key outcomes needed in each sector, to fill in the policy gaps it identifies. In the power sector, for example, the CCC says the government needs to contract an additional 50-70 terawatt hours of low-carbon supplies for delivery during 2025-2030.

For transport, emissions should fall to 44% below 2016 levels by 2030. The government should go beyond its aspirational 2040 goal on combustion engine vehicles, with policies to ensure around 60% of vehicle sales by 2030 are “ultra low emissions”, including electric vehicles.

Emissions from buildings and industry need to fall to 20% below 2016 levels by 2030, with incentives – or potentially regulations – to drive progress. You can see the outcomes needed from each sector in the table, below.

Source: Committee on Climate Change – Independent Assessment of Clean Growth Strategy (p. 24)

Legal risk

The CCC’s official verdict is that the UK will miss its carbon targets for 2023-2032, without new policies. In the context of the legally binding provisions of the Climate Change Act, this verdict further opens the government to the risk of legal action.

The CCC says the government’s Clean Growth Strategy will fall short, even taking a “generous” interpretation of the plans and policies it contains, many of which remain undeveloped.

The committee also pushes back firmly against any idea that this policy gap could be bridged using flexibilities in the act. Instead, it lists the areas where more detail or ambition will be needed and sets a timetable for government to deliver.

Speaking to Carbon Brief, acting committee chief executive Gault says: “There is still time to put in place necessary policies and measures…we’re not saying the carbon budgets can’t be met.”

When the Clean Growth Strategy was published, legal NGO ClientEarth said: “[This] fails to put us on track to meet legally binding emissions targets. We are considering our legal options.”

This week, in a statement to Carbon Brief, the NGO says:

“Though the Clean Growth Strategy moved things in the right direction, we agree with the CCC that further policy development is urgently needed…The ball remains very firmly in the government’s court to go much further than it has done so far.”

This article was first published on Carbon Brief and is shared under a Creative Commons license. Click here to see the original article.
Cover photo by veeterzy on Unsplash.
Caribbean Community to create world’s first climate resilient region

Caribbean Community to create world’s first climate resilient region

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Just before the end of 2017, chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse announced that in 2018 the group is moving towards the creation of the world’s first climate resilient region.

After hurricanes Irma and Maria left widespread devastation in the region, the Caribbean is now in the process of rebuilding and they want to do so in a resilient way. Moïse said “the absolute necessity to create a climate smart region is clear given the effects of climate change, which have brought us droughts, mega hurricanes, heavy floods and unusual weather patterns, all of which adversely affect our development.”

CARICOM’s resilience building efforts will be implemented against the backdrop of its Caribbean Community’s Strategic Plan for 2015-19 period, which also includes making the most out of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). CSME, Moïse explained, remains the “best vehicle for creating the economic resilience [the region needs].”

The chairman emphasised “The solidity and efficiency of that partnership will be tested as never before given the magnitude of the rebuilding task ahead of us. We have to rebuild with resilience now to forestall damage in the future, in other words, to build back better.”

Watch Jovenel Moïse’s message below:

Cover photo by Augustin de Montesquiou on Unsplash: Streetscaep of Havana, Cuba.
Climate change adaptation from a water-land-energy-food-climate nexus perspective

Climate change adaptation from a water-land-energy-food-climate nexus perspective

The first policy brief of the EU funded SIM4NEXUS project on ‘Coherence in EU policy on water, land, energy, food and climate’ is now launched to shed light on synergies and trade-offs between policy objectives in the water-land-energy-food-climate (WLEFC) nexus. It also discusses the implications for the EU strategy on climate change adaptation as well as national adaption efforts.

Being comprised of water, land, energy, food and climate, the ‘WLEFC nexus’ constitutes a complex system influenced by numerous policies, including those that address sectors outside the nexus. The good news, though, is that European policy objectives along the WLEFC nexus are largely coherent.

The policy brief indicates that adaptation to climate change is indivisible from the achievement of numerous EU policy objectives in the nexus. For example, adaptation is inextricably linked to energy security, by ensuring sufficient water for cooling and hydropower generation, and protection of infrastructure against flooding. Similarly, indivisible mutual interrelations exist between adaptation and water policy aims on flood risk and water scarcity management. Furthermore, adaptation reinforces the achievement of objectives in the agricultural sector on farms’ competitiveness and income, as well as maintenance of forest cover as part of land-use management, which in turn supports climate adaptation.

However, climate change adaptation measures may also have a rebound effect. For instance, when implementing measures against droughts, more water becomes available during dry periods which could be used for irrigation or hydropower generation. But increased water availability could also discourage water efficiency improvements and lead to mismanagement of water resources. It may also increase energy use in water exploitation and management. Understanding such consequences is important for the effectiveness of policies and improving the synergies between them.

To read the full policy brief, please click here.

To learn more about SIM4NEXUS project, please visit its website.

COP23 roundup: The outcomes and implications for climate adaptation

COP23 roundup: The outcomes and implications for climate adaptation

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the official UN climate talks came to an end. Proceedings closed with a traditional Fijian song, Isa Lei, marking the end of the small island nation’s COP presidency. The negotiations did not close on a spectacular note, as was the case in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was signed, but that does not mean that nothing was achieved in Bonn. What many thought would be an event defined by the current US government’s announcement to step away from the Paris Agreement, turned out a little more positive.

New platforms for gender action, indigenous peoples, and oceans

This was the first COP chaired by a small-island state, which provided such nations a platform to highlight their challenges and inform discussions. With a strong focus on social issues, COP23 saw the establishment of the Gender Action Plan, highlighting role of women in climate action and promoting gender equality in the process, and the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, which will support the exchange of experience and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation. Fiji also launched the Ocean Pathway Partnership to integrate oceans more into the UNFCCC process.

Progress outside of the formal process

This year, significant progress was made outside of the official COP negotiations. This is important as it clearly signals that climate action is accelerating outside of governmental processes.

COP23 saw the establishment of the US Climate Action Center, an initiative by US American states, cities, a handful of US senators, businesses, colleges and universities, and non-profits who are committed to climate action regardless of the current White House position on climate change. ECO, the COP newsletter by Climate Action Network International said “the delegation represents a country whose people are deeply committed to climate action.

Current California Governor Jerry Brown and United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Mike Bloomberg presented the first report of their initiative ‘America’s Pledge’, which was launched this year in July. The report communicates to the international community the scope and scale of non-federal climate action in the United States following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. It clearly shows the amount of public support for climate action in the USA.

More specific to adaptation and climate risk was the launch of the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation (GCECA). The centre, which Acclimatise is a founding member of, wants to accelerate climate adaptation by mobilising and convening the global adaptation community to recognize, build and promote excellence among all relevant stakeholder groups around the world.

Furthermore, the European Investment Bank announced it would start screening all of its investments for climate risks using Acclimatise’s Aware tool.

Tensions over pre-2020 action and finance

One area of conflict that emerged in the first week of the talks was the issue of pre-2020 climate action. Developing countries were concerned that rich countries would not meet their commitments they made under the Paris Agreement, for the period to 2020. One of the main issues was the agreed $100 billion per year in climate finance up to 2020, which developed countries have not delivered. While little substantive progress was made on this issue, developing countries succeeded in getting pre-2020 ambitions and implementation included in the COP23 decision text, which states that they are “of utmost importance”. These discussions will also be included in the so-called ‘Talanoa Dialogue’, a one-off process in 2018 to take stock of climate action.

Another issue on climate adaptation finance concerned the Adaptation Fund. There was disagreement over whether the fund, serves the Paris Agreement or not. The fund, was established in 2001 to finance adaptation projects in the developing country Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (the deal struck in 1997 committing developed nations to cut emissions up to 2020). Many argue that for the fund to keep political importance it should serve the newer Paris Agreement. Finally, it was decided that the fund ‘shall’ serve the Paris Agreement, expressing a strong intention but not fully committing to it.

Finally, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) put a strong focus on adaptation during COP23. Following a surge in requests for GCF support, they want to make access to climate adaptation finance easier with a suite of tools including Acclimatise’s GCF proposal toolkit.

Loss and damage – where will the finance come from?

Loss and damage is a historically thorny subject at the UN climate talks, but it was acknowledged in the Paris Agreement and is emerging as “the third pillar of international climate policy”. However, it currently has no sources of finance; an issue that was raised again this year and got postponed to 2019. Within the UNFCCC, loss and damage is dealt with through the Warsaw International Mechanism, which has its next review coming up in 2019. Shifting the discussion to 2019 has been described as “wholly inappropriate” by some experts. Countries agreed to hold further talks, known as the Suva Expert Dialogue, in 2018. The hope is that this will lay the foundations for delivering finance to climate-vulnerable countries where climate-related loss and damage will be most severe.

On a more positive note, the InsuResilience Global Partnership for Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance Solutions was launched during the second week of COP23. The initiative aims to provide insurance to 400 million poor and vulnerable people by 2020. “The Global Partnership is a practical response to the needs of those who suffer loss because of climate change, and I am very proud that it has happened under Fiji’s Presidency of COP. At the same time, it is a means of preparing for a more resilient form of development for those who will have to adapt to the great challenge of climate change,” said COP23 President and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

The year ahead

2018 will be an important test for the Paris Agreement, as Parties will have to complete the work on the agreed rulebook and complete the global stocktaking under the Talanoa dialogue. Finally, in October, the IPCC will issue its special 1.5 °C report with the aim of strengthening the global response to climate change. COP24 is set to take place in Katowice, Poland from 3-14 December 2018.

Cover photo by UNFCCC (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): President of COP 23, CMP 13, CMA 1-2 hosts a meeting with Heads of State and Government, the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Executive Secretary UNFCCC
COP23 first week roundup: Push towards loss and damage action but stagnation on pre-2020 climate issues

COP23 first week roundup: Push towards loss and damage action but stagnation on pre-2020 climate issues

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

The first week at COP23 in Bonn is already behind us. What was supposed to be a boring, technocratic COP, got going with a surprising sense of urgency with negotiators seemingly spurred on by UN warnings that national pledges in made so far would only deliver one third of the emissions cuts to reach the Paris target. But beyond the carbon targets, discussions continued on a host of adaptation and resilience issues. As delegates get ready for the second week of negotiations (and the inevitable late nights that it brings), we take a look at what has happened so far:

Non-state climate action

Last week saw the establishment of the US Climate Action Center, an initiative by US American states, cities, a handful of US senators, businesses, colleges and universities, and non-profits who are committed to climate action regardless of the current White House position on climate change. ECO, the COP newsletter by Climate Action Network International said “the delegation represents a country whose people are deeply committed to climate action.

ECO and others report that the decision over the inclusion of pre-2020 climate action in the COP23 agenda is stagnating as developed countries claim the matter could be discussed elsewhere. A 2012 agreement of developed nations stated that they would cut emissions at least 18% compared to 1990 levels. To this day, however, most have not even ratified the agreement.

Loss and damage

With Fiji holding the presidency, it comes as no surprise that loss and damage is an especially important item on the agenda. The devastating climate disasters around the world in 2017 are serving as evidence of how important the permanent inclusion of loss and damage is at the UN climate talks. There are calls for the Warsaw Mechanism (WIM) to start moving beyond building “knowledge and collaboration” on the issue and toward mobilising finance and action to address climate-related loss and damage.

There has been considerable progress on loss and damage over the last decade, and although there are some reports that delegates from developed countries are trying to keep the finance issue out of discussions on the WIM, it does have a clear mandate to enhance, facilitate, mobilise and secure finance for loss and damage. It certainly seems that the hard yards on this issue are still ahead of us.

Adaptation funding

During last week’s opening sessions, Germany announced they were committing €50 million (US$58 m) in new funding to the UN Adaptation Fund, which distributes finance to climate change adaptation and resilience building projects in developing nations. The commitment gets the fund nearly 75% of its US$80 million goal for 2017.

It will be interesting to see this week if the climate talks will do anything to address the current imbalance on adaptation finance, and if improvements will be made to the way commitments are tracked. This will also be important for the 2020 climate finance goal of US$100 billion per year (for both adaptation and mitigation), the fulfilment of which is seen as a vital to enhance trust and cooperation between the developed and developing nations.

The importance of adaptation finance and support from developed nations was further underlined by a report completed by the Fijian government and the World Bank which concluded the island nation needed US$4.5 billion to reach its development objectives in the face of climate change. This amount is equivalent to Fiji’s entire gross domestic product over the next 10 years.

A focus on health

The World Health Organisation and the UN Climate Change secretariat drafted an initiative together with Fiji to protect people from small island nations from the health impacts of climate change. The plan wants to build capacity in such nations through enhancing knowledge, resources and technology to increase their healthcare resilience. Health projects currently only receive about 1.5% of adaptation finance, but people living in small island developing states are faced with severe health risks due to extreme weather events, rising sea levels and increasing risk of infectious diseases.

It will be interesting to see what the negotiations bring over the next few days as COP23 comes to its end. Will there be progress on the fine print of the Paris Agreement? Will loss and damage make another leap? Will parties agree on pre-2020 action? This and more in our final COP23 round up next week!

Cover photo by Wolkenkratzer/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0): ‘Bonn-Zone’ in landscape park Rheinaue near river Rhine in Bonn, a few days before the begin of United Nations Climate Change Conference, November 2017 in Germany. White tents and temporary structures within green trees at a little lake, near one of water recycling and wastewater treatment plants in Bonn.
Climate Change poses risks to Maryland’s Retirement and Pension System

Climate Change poses risks to Maryland’s Retirement and Pension System

By Nathan Hultman and Alan Miller

Pension funds, unlike commercial banks, have to manage returns for the long term so as to ensure they fulfill the promises made to employees who may be decades from retirement.  Thinking about the future – and new financial risks – is therefore one of their most important responsibilities. Recent hurricanes and wildfires in the United States have underscored that climate change has become a new source of major financial risk—which will almost certainly grow in coming decades.  To date, however, the Maryland pension fund has been slow to respond comprehensively to this challenge, even as tidal flooding has become a regular feature in parts of Annapolis just blocks away from government offices.

The Maryland State Retirement and Pension System (SRPS) currently manages over $47 billion in assets on behalf of 380,000 members across numerous state and local government agencies. State pension funds such as Maryland’s invest funds in a broad swath of the global economy. Climate change poses real risks to those investments in a number of ways, including direct impacts from weather events, loss of competitiveness for companies in affected industries, and legal liability for the mismanagement of such risks. These risks create a vulnerability for Maryland and all other states with long term obligations to their residents and employees.

Pension funds in other jurisdictions have begun addressing both these risks resulting from climate change impacts and policies. In June of this year, a task force of international financiers under the auspices led by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg also issued a report highlighting these risks and the need for greater disclosures. Maryland’s SRPS did contribute to some early thinking with other pension funds about how to deal with climate change in investment decisions, and has taken some initial steps to engage in proxy voting. However, more can and should be done – starting now – both individually and in concert with other pension funds and long-term asset holders, institutions collectively managing about $100 trillion.

In a study[1] we recently co-authored, we identified some of the areas for potential improvement. The Maryland SRPS could, for example, learn from other states’ pension management practices and incorporate these into the System’s framework. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) have commissioned reports to analyze their portfolio’s climate risks and approved climate change resolutions for five major energy companies this year along with other shareholders. Other tools they have used include proxy voting to place climate change risk management experts on corporate boards and shifting capital to companies with lower emissions or investing in green bonds.  They are also looking at the opportunities for good returns from green energy technologies and products that enhance resilience to climate impacts.

There are also known industry best practices for managing climate risk through clarifying investment guidelines and philosophy with respect to climate change, risk assessment, active ownership, asset reallocation, and transparency. The Maryland SRPS has initiated some of these best practices but has considerable room to do more. On transparency, for example, the Asset Owners Disclosure Project gave SRPS a “D” ranking for 2017 meaning “Bystander,” tying for 218th out of 500 asset owners indexed. We also recommend that the Maryland SRPS clarify its investment principles, undertaking a comprehensive climate risk assessment, and increasing corporate engagement and transparency. But the first and most critical step is to openly acknowledge the significance of the risks and an intent to address them seriously.

At a time when the national government has abandoned climate change leadership, the actions of states and financial institutions matters more than ever.  Maryland should be leading on this issue, because of the risks to our investments as well as our own vulnerability to climate change. These few basic steps can further advance our state as a national leader, and reflect the best scientific understanding of the risks that climate change presents to Maryland’s investments.

Nathan Hultman is the director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland. Alan Miller retired as a Specialist in the Climate Business Department at the International Finance Corporation in December 2013 and is now an independent consultant and Acclimatise Associate.

[1] “Climate Change Risk and the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System.” Center for Global Sustainability, University of Maryland, October 2017. Available at

Cover photo in public domain. Article published with authors’ permission.
UN talks in Bonn: What’s on the agenda for adaptation?

UN talks in Bonn: What’s on the agenda for adaptation?

By Will Bugler

In Bonn, Germany this week the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) is underway. This year, under the presidency of the Government of Fiji, special attention will be drawn to the plight of small island states, and the risks that they face. So, what is on the agenda for COP23 in terms of climate change adaptation and resilience?

Ultimately this round of climate talks will be judged on how much progress can be made on delivering the roadmap to implement the global climate deal that was agreed in Paris in 2016. The deadline for making this Paris Agreement operational is 2018 and substantial challenges lie in store for the negotiating teams. Far from the headline-generating Paris COP, this conference will focus on the nuts-and-bolts. Expect, technical negotiations on the tools and procedures to achieve the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement.

Loss & damage and 1.5˚C

The tone has been set by the COP President, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who will use the presidency to draw attention the some of the most vulnerable countries to climate impacts: small island developing states. Highlighting the plight of Caribbean island nations during this years’ series of violent hurricanes, Bainimarama said “as incoming COP President, I am deeply conscious of the need to lead a global response to the underlying causes of these events… the appalling suffering in the Caribbean and the US reminds us all that there is no time to waste”.

By raising the attention of the disproportionate effects climate change has on the most vulnerable countries the “Pacific COP” will put centre stage, two of the most challenging issues of the negotiations in recent years: loss and damage and the 1.5˚C temperature goal. Although both topics made it into the Paris Agreement they remain highly tense topics. Concerning loss and damage wealthy nations have so far been unwilling to accept liability for potential future damage to vulnerable nations. The 1.5˚C temperature target is particularly important for small island states as many low-lying countries such as the Maldives, will likely be submerged at the less ambitious target of 2˚C above pre-industrial levels.

Action by the private sector and other non-state entities

The role of non-state entities like regional and city governments, and the private sector is in the spotlight in Bonn, especially given the United States’ new-found lack of enthusiasm for the Paris Agreement. The role of non-state entities was formally brought into the process in 2014 with the launch of the UNFCCC NAZCA platform.

Expect ambitious action from private sector organisations especially in the financial services industry, as well as strong commitments from cities and local government. A collection of local administrations in the US, for instance, have joined forces to promise to counteract the federal government’s disengagement. Their action has been nicknamed “America’s pledge”.

Climate finance, technology and capacity building

Under the Paris agreement, the issues of finance, technology and capacity building are mentioned as the essential means of implementation for countries to meet their targets. Climate finance will yet again be at the heart of the climate talks. Regarding climate change adaptation, most pressing discussion remains how to increase the overall levels of adaptation finance, which still lags far behind mitigation funding. Other issues such as finance tracking, and accounting methods are also up for discussion.

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) will lead discussion on technology transfer and will convene the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). Capacity building discussions will take place in Bonn under the Paris Committee on Capacity-building (PCCB) and the Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency.

The rulebook

Now on to the fun stuff. To make the Paris Agreement fully operational by 2018 countries have been working to develop a rulebook that details all the procedures and guidelines that will govern a wide range of issues. Hardly a hot ticket for spectators, it is nevertheless one of the most important areas of the Bonn talks laying down how countries will report their adaptation pledges, transfers of climate finance and technology, and how to ensure that the collective efforts of all countries are sufficient to meet the agreed temperature target.

One area that is especially relevant to climate adaptation is the area under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) which is responsible for defining procedures related to countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and the global stocktake.  Summaries of views on two key APA issues – NDCs and adaptation communications – have been made already available.

The ‘facilitative dialogue’

The ‘facilitative dialogue’ is one of the processes for assessing how well countries are doing in meeting their commitments under the Paris Agreement. The full facilitative dialogue is planned for 2018 and will look at performance against countries’ pledges relating to mitigation, adaptation and finance targets. In Bonn, the preparation phase for the facilitative dialogue will be officially launched. Discussions will then continue throughout 2018.

Stay tuned to the Acclimatise Network as we follow the developments over the course of the COP23 climate talks.

Cover photo by UN (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): COP23 opened in Bonn, Germany, on 6 November 2017.
US government report on climate change at odds with White House position

US government report on climate change at odds with White House position

By John Queally

With the release of its National Climate Assessment on Friday, the U.S. government has released a report—which states the current period is “now the warmest in the history of modern civilization”—that critics say directly and irrefutably undermines the climate denialism and inaction of President Donald Trump and his administration.

Mandated by law and released every four years, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (or NCA4)—which states that recent years have seen “record-breaking, climate-related weather extremes, and the last three years have been the warmest years on record for the globe”— concludes (with emphasis in the original) that “based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

Despite that being the declared consensus from the global scientific community for years, the Trump administration has done nearly everything in its power to cast doubt by embracing the denialism pushed by the fossil fuel industry. Instead of offering solutions to the crisis, the administration has been hard at work doing the bidding of the oil and gas industries while rolling back efforts—both domestically and internationally—meant to combat the threat of human-caused global warming.

As Friends of the Earth declared in a tweet, the assessment “sharply contradicts” the Trump administrations own policies by “affirming humans are climate change driver.”

Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biologicial Diversity, made a similar point.

“The contrast between this stark scientific warning and Trump’s reckless support for dirty fossil fuels is simply terrifying,” Wolf said. “Even as this report sounds the alarm, Trump’s team of climate deniers are twisting themselves into pretzels to justify blocking national and international climate action. If America’s leaders don’t start listening to scientists, the whole world is going to pay a truly terrible price.”

As the Washington Post reports, the Trump administration did not try to block the publication of the report even though “its findings sharply contradict the administration’s policies.” According to the Post:

The report’s release underscores the extent to which the machinery of the federal scientific establishment, operating in multiple agencies across the government, continues to grind on even as top administration officials have minimized or disparaged its findings. Federal scientists have continued to author papers and issue reports on climate change, for example, even as political appointees have altered the wording of news releases or blocked civil servants from speaking about their conclusions in public forums. The climate assessment process is dictated by a 1990 law that Democratic and Republican administrations have followed.

The good news about the new assessment, according to Wolf, is that it shows “scientists can beat Trump’s climate censorship if they speak out bravely.”

Read the Fourth National Climate Assessment here.

Cover photo: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, joined by Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, listen as Texas Governor Greg Abbott gives briefing on Hurricane Harvey relief and rescue efforts, Tuesday, August 29, 2017, in Corpus Christi, Texas. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks).
South East Asia floods have increased geo-political tensions in the region

South East Asia floods have increased geo-political tensions in the region

By Will Bugler

The full extent of the impact of the floods that hit Nepal, India, Bangladesh and China in the past months is yet to become fully apparent. However, it is clear that the intensity of the monsoon rainfall caused widespread devastation, costing over 1,200 lives and affecting an estimated 20 million people. As the floodwaters recede, they leave behind not just physical devastation, but also tangible damage to relationships between countries in the region.

In the wake of the floods, Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs, suggested that a number of Indian infrastructure projects including dams on the Kosi and Gandaki rivers, had made the flooding worse for Nepal. Whilst India has pointed to deforestation in Nepal, as a reason for the increased incidence of flooding to its northern territories. India has also been vocal in its criticism of China and Nepal, about the amount and speed of the data sharing between the nations, accusing the countries of being slow to share vital information about heavy rainfall in the Himalayas.

Tensions were running high between India, Nepal and China, despite the best efforts of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his Nepali counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba to present a united front by releasing a joint statement pledging to co-operate to tackle future climate disasters.

Floods like these are making new dams and large infrastructure projects that impact river flow increasingly controversial in the region. In 2016, security forces had to intervene to quell violent clashes in the Saptari district on the Nepal-India border. Twelve Nepalese were wounded as they protested India’s construction of a new dam on the Khado river.

Close co-operations between countries will be essential to prepare for climate threats on the scale of the recent monsoon floods. This is especially important as the latest evidence suggests that the region is likely to face more heavy monsoon rainfall in the future. A recent study by researchers from MIT, found that a 50-year trend towards drier conditions for the Indian summer monsoon season had been dramatically reversed in the last 15 years. The paper, published in Nature Climate Change suggests that this may be due very strong warming that has affected the Indian subcontinent.

Formal agreements for cross-border co-operation on environmental issues are not new. But climate change will mean that new agreements will be needed on a more regular basis, and relations between countries will be tested more frequently. In areas where tensions are already running high, climate change has the potential to add to the stress and spark conflict.

Cover photo by Kiranmadhu.e/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0): Front view of the Kedarnath Temple in the aftermath of a flash flood in 2013.
Climate change will worsen US poverty

Climate change will worsen US poverty

By Tim Radford

Yet another study has exposed the cruel cost of climate change as it increases US poverty. It could be worse than the Great Recession. US researchers have calculated the detailed cost of climate change for all of the 3,143 counties in the country. The outlook is bleak, and US poverty is set to grow .

If global warming continues unabated, then near the end of this century the poorest third of the counties in the US could suffer economic damage that could cost up to 20% of their income.

Those counties in the south and southern midwest, already poor and hot, will lose the most. Rising temperatures will also have an impact on property crime, violent crime, agriculture, energy, coastal storms and human mortality.

Every 1°C rise in average temperatures could lift death rates by 5.4 per 100,000 and could cost 1.2% of gross domestic product, according to a new study in the journal Science.

“Unmitigated climate change will be very expensive for huge regions of the United States,” said Solomon Hsiang, professor of public policy at the University of California Berkeley. “If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history.”

And his co-author Robert Kopp, an earth and planetary scientist at Rutgers University, said: “In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit.

“Its exposure to sea-level rise – made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes – poses a major risk to its communities. Increasingly extreme heat will drive up violent crime, slow down workers, amp up air conditioning costs, and threaten people’s lives.”

The researchers have made their estimates of detailed impact available on an interactive map. Both Professors Kopp and Hsiang have been issuing increasingly detailed warnings of the costs of climate change for years.

More frequent floods

In 2016 Professor Kopp took a long look at sea level change over the last 3,000 years to confirm the unprecedented nature of sea level rises in the 20th century, and the link with human-driven climate change. 

Earlier this year he looked at coastal flood risks around the US to predict that the kind of once-in-a-decade flood observed in cities like Charleston could be 173 times more frequent if fossil fuel emissions continued under the notorious “business as usual” scenario.

Professor Hsiang has repeatedly emphasised the economic and social costs of climate change, and used statistical methods to make the connection between violence and rising temperatures.

This time the 12 researchers from seven institutions took the big data approach. They matched state-of-the-art statistical analysis with 116 climate projections for 15 different kinds of impact and ran 29,000 simulations of the US national economy to measure the real world benefits and costs of climate change at the county level, in terms of farming, crime, health, energy demand, labour and the impact on coastal communities from higher temperature, changing rainfall, rising seas and intensifying hurricanes.

Poorest hit hardest

And they concluded that, although some counties in the Pacific Northwest and New England might benefit, unless greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use are slowed, then the projected 3°C to 5°C warming in the last two decades of this century could have costs comparable to the Great Recession of 2008, with the cruellest impact upon the poorest.

President Donald Trump has withdrawn the US from the international pact agreed in Paris in 2015 to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and has separately dismissed global warming driven by human action as a hoax. But the team behind the Science study do not see it that way.

“The ‘hidden costs’ of carbon dioxide emissions are no longer hidden, since now we can see them clearly in the data,” said Amir Jina, an economist at the University of Chicago.

“The emissions coming out of our cars and power plants are reshaping the American economy. Here in the Midwest, we may see agricultural losses similar to the Dustbowl of the 1930s.”

This article was originally published on Climate News Network and is shared under a Creative Commons license.
Cover photo by United States Department of Agriculture (public domain): Buried machinery in barn lot in Dallas, South Dakota, United States during the Dust Bowl, an agricultural, ecological, and economic disaster in the Great Plains region of North America in 1936.