10 June 2011, 10:15

Kyoto international agreement for emissions expires in 2012. What next?

Kyoto international agreement for emissions expires in 2012. What next?
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Jessica Jordan: Over the next few weeks the national negotiating teams are meeting in Bonn, Germany, to talk about the future of climate and climate change and what restrictions might be emplaced when the Kyoto international agreement for emissions expires.

Jessica Jordan: Over the next few weeks the national negotiating teams are meeting in Bonn, Germany, to talk about the future of climate and climate change and what restrictions might be emplaced when the Kyoto international agreement for emissions expires. Here to talk about the future of the climate change policy is James Warner, Director of Policy for the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association and a former climate and energy adviser to Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania; also joining the conversation is Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director for the National Resources Defence Council and a blogger for the Energy Collective.

Jake, can you give us an overview on what is going to be debated this week in Bonn?

Jake Schmidt: Negotiators from all around the world are meeting in Bonn for the next two weeks to try to hash out some of the technical details in the leading to the next high-level session, which is held in Durban, South Africa, this December. So, negotiators are trying to lay the groundwork for that eventual agreement in Durban.

Rob Sachs: James, I remember President Obama was going to Copenhagen and he as going to have these broad, sweeping changes, and everything as going to be great, and we were all going to be on track to have clean air in 2050 or whatever. What happened in Copenhagen and what is going on currently with the US’s policy toward climate change?

James Warner: Surely, it’s going to be on the line with what Jake and I put together for a number of years, and a few people that we’ve talked to in this area. President Obama didn’t fail in Copenhagen. Actually, he salvaged Copenhagen. It was a very acrimonious and difficult negotiation with seemingly incompatible demands from the developing world and more prosperous nations. And what we got out of it – the Copenhagen Accord, at which many developing countries agreed to take some action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including the major developing economies – Brazil, India, South Africa and China. To get them even to say they would do anything at all was a major step forward. President Obama at that negotiation had a virtuoso performance of personal diplomacy. And if you read the press accounts, there were some very exciting moments of pulling the Indians off their plane and bringing them back to the negotiating table. In terms of what happened – Congress happened. The House representatives passed last Congress an economy-wide cap and trade bill to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 17% below 2005 level by 2020 and going out to 2050. But that measure died in the Senate for a variety of reasons and never came to the floor. Every country has their special set of circumstances and international negotiations, and for the US it’s Congress. Unlike many other countries, our president can’t just go and sign a treaty and have a bid affected. It has to be ratified by the Senate and it’s a very difficult thing to do.

Jessica Jordan: Can you delve into some of those reasons why that bill did not pass?

James Warner: First of all, energy in the US is not necessarily a political issue in terms of dividing evenly by parties. It’s also regional. Some states, like Indiana, West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where I was helping to represent, are heavily dependent on coal and energy intensive manufacturing. And in the House they only get a certain amount of votes, but in the Senate everyone gets two votes. In addition, an international treaty above and beyond domestic legislation needs 67 votes out of 100, which is quite a lot. And there are a number of reasons. All the time was spent on healthcare legislation, on which we wasted a lot of time on the Senate floor. I think there was a lack of clear direction from the administration. There was the inability of people who really wanted the legislation to unify around one set of policies or another. And it’s very hard to do big legislation that is going to result in changes to some very powerful interests in the US – the petroleum business, the coal business, the steel and heavy manufacturing business. It would have been ultimately a very good scene for the American economy, and we desperately need a price on carbon. But it was a lot of stakeholders, a lot of interest groups who were going to have to abide by a lot of changes – and it’s hard to bring that big compromise altogether.

Rob Sachs: They are talking about this being kind of a post-Kyoto era now in terms of what countries they mean to get tied into. Can you tell us about what we might see in the future in terms of international agreements on climate change?

Jake Schmidt: Yes, there has been since Copenhagen and even in the lead of Copenhagen 2-3 really important changes that have occurred. First is that, coming out of Copenhagen, we had countries accounting for over 80% of the world’s carbon pollution making specific commitments to reduce their emissions. That includes China, Indonesia, as well as the US and Europe, which is a very different picture than what we had coming into Copenhagen, where at best 40% of the world’s emissions were under specific commitments to reduce that pollution. That means that a main focus of negotiation and of the action going forward is how countries are living up to those commitments, what kinds of policies, programmes, laws they are putting in place to create a clean energy economy, to reduce deforestation, emissions and subsequently to meet their commitments.

Jessica Jordan: So, you are saying that other countries were able to reduce their emissions more so than we were here in the US then? And why so?

Jake Schmidt: The story is still being told on that front. A number of countries have made very sizeable shifts from their emissions portfolio over the last couple of years. You have Brazil, which except for a recent couple of months had made dramatic cuts in their deforestation rates to the extent that they hadn’t seen. China embarked on a massive effort to improve the efficiency of their overall economy. And even in the US, where we are seeing mixed signals at best from Congress, the trend in terms of energy investment is shifting away from high carbon sources of energy into much lower sources. Are any of those happening fast enough? No. And that leads to the second sort of trend that we’ve seen. The International Energy Agency just raised a major red flag that emissions across the world had reached the highest level that they had ever reached, this despite last year taking a downturn because of the global recession. And in some sense this was an unprecedented uptake on the mission that raises major alarm bells that the commitments the countries are making are not deep enough and are not happening fast enough. But, of course, the story isn’t completely told on that. So, we need countries to move forward with their commitments and ultimately move forward with policies and measures at home to reduce these emissions.

Jessica Jordan: You mentioned their commitments to reduce emissions weren’t deep enough. Can you expand on that? What should these countries be looking to do in reducing their emissions?

Jake Schmidt: What we are seeing is the beginning of countries’ actions. Just last year, global clean energy deployment reached another record level of 243 billion dollars. If you were to think of clean energy as a country, it would be the 30th largest country in the world, and it just grew 30% last year and similar amounts before – and this in the time when general economy is not doing fantastic across the world. Those are pretty astounding numbers. And so what I think we’re seeing is countries ‘building in’ the recognition that moving to low carbon energy is in heir own self-interest. It provides them with job creation opportunities – they can tap into these new industries in the future; they can reduce their health pollution.  But, obviously, that takes some time to manifest itself in the way that countries develop their policies. So, I think we’re seeing the beginning of countries’ taking action, but, clearly, they need to make the transition to lower forms of energy and reducing deforestation at a much quicker scale than what we’re seeing today.

Rob Sachs: Where does carbon trading stand right now in terms of these talks that are going on in Bonn?

James Warner: In the US carbon trading is taking place at the regional level. There’s the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which unfortunately New Jersey has just pulled out of – but that’s a regional carbon trading scheme. As to the international carbon emissions trading – that’s part of what the conversations in Bonn are all about, because the Kyoto Protocol created a need and a mechanism for emissions trading, as the developed countries took on binding emissions targets, and one of the ways they could met them was by funding carbon reducing projects in developing countries, which didn’t have any targets or goals of their own. That’s changing. Almost all the countries in the world are in the process of developing their own emissions reduction plans. And some countries, like Brazil, which were seen as a potential large source of crediting for avoided deforestation, are starting to look at their own potential carbon reductions and want that credits for themselves, not sell those credits, so that other countries can get the benefit of those reductions. So, this is all part of the conversation as to what the next framework is going to look like. But the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) remained intact and is going straight ahead, and there’s going to be continued demand for emissions trading there, and also for offsetting projects.

Jessica Jordan: We mentioned after Copenhagen that all these countries started reducing their emissions and that the emissions reductions need to be deeper, there needs to be more cuts. What should be the end-goal for these countries, when it comes to emissions reductions?

James Warner: At the UN framework convention on climate change they talked about common, shared, but differentiated responsibilities. Each country is going to be able to do things in different ways. The key for developing countries is choosing lower carbon pathways of economic development. We want economies to grow – and to grow robustly, but in this century we have to decouple economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions. So, for some countries it’s going to be access to funding and to capital so that they can leapfrog some of inefficient, energy intensive ways of manufacturing and growing economically along low carbon pathways.  From others, more developed countries, it’s going to take increased adoption of renewable energy, take a lot of avoided deforestation all over the world, reforming building codes, standards, reducing transportation emissions, increasing zero emission forms of transportation. There are many ways of going about it. The problem is that one of the biggest energy consumers and the biggest greenhouse gas producers in the world is the US. The likelihood of national carbon reduction policy is very unlikely in the near future.

Jessica Jordan: So, what specific examples, as far as low carbon energy or efforts to move towards low carbon energy, are we seeing here, as opposed to countries like Brazil, where the needs are different?

James Warner: We have a national combined mileage and emissions standard for motor vehicles. EPA has developed series of labels that well be seeing soon, so that when you buy your car you can see not only miles per gallon, but its greenhouse gas emission – it’s a unified standard. The administration is increasing is investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency from the point of the fuel cell and hydrogen community, not in the way that we would like – but it’s another conversation. A number of states – California is leading the way, but there are others - are increasing incentives for distributed generation and for more efficient buildings, and the federal government is doing that as well.

Rob Sachs: Jake, you’ve listed on your blog some things that individuals can think about doing, things like energy efficient light bulbs. What can people do on the individual level in terms of being more conscious about their carbon emissions?

Jake Schmidt: Every time we go to a store and purchase any kind of commodity we need to think about the amount of energy that’s going to use over its lifetime as well as how that product was produced, about tangible things like buying compact fluorescent light bulbs, or any other energy efficient light bulbs, the appliances that you buy, your refrigerators, your air conditioners, your televisions – major consumers of your energy. It’s critical to looking for things that use the least amount of energy, how products are sources. When you buy a product, it’s important to check whether it is sourced from something that comes from Brazilian Amazon, which is causing deforestation.

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