by Jack Rosebro
|Historical and projected energy-related CO2 emissions, by fuel, assuming no significant availability of renewable energies. Source: IEA World Energy Outlook 2008. Click to enlarge.|
The 14th Conference of Parties (COP-14) of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC), which was attended by almost two hundred environmental ministers and secretaries, concluded last week in Poznań, Poland without significant action toward the establishment of concrete reductions in greenhouse gases, but with “a clear commitment from governments to shift into full negotiating mode next year, in order to shape an ambitious and effective international response to climate change” at COP-15, scheduled to be held in December 2009 in Copenhagen, according to the UNFCCC.
COP-15 is widely regarded as the last opportunity for world governments to agree on a common strategy to both reduce and adapt to climate change, and then ratify that strategy prior to the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.
Such negotiations are likely to be complicated by increasing concerns expressed from within the scientific community that last year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, which provides an overview of current climate change science as well as potential mitigation and adaptation measures, does not reflect the full magnitude of change in key climate indicators, the rate of acceleration of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) production, or the mitigation and adaptation measures now required to counter climate change. The emissions scenarios used by the IPCC as baselines for calculating emissions reductions necessary to achieve a given target have also been criticized as inaccurate (earlier post).
While proposed GHG reductions have in the past reflected targets for 2050, much of the discussion had already shifted to interim 2020 or 2030 targets by the time the Poznań conference opened. However, significant gaps remain between the UNFCCC’s own assessment of necessary responses to climate change, as compared to the level of response agreed upon by the world’s governments to date:
Mitigation. Although the UNFCCC estimated in 2007 that it would take as much as US$210 billion to reduce carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 25% below 2000 levels in 2030, and is of the opinion that as of 2008, requisite emissions reductions “are virtually the same as those presented in the 2007 report”, a 2008 UNFCCC review of capital costs, particularly in the energy sector, have increased that estimate by 70%.
However, an analysis by Peter Sheehan of the Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University, Melbourne, published earlier this year in Climactic Change, argues that no emissions scenario in use today accurately reflects the current and likely worldwide increase in coal use, particularly in developing countries, and that a realistic estimate of the costs of mitigation is therefore not yet available. The analysis, which was published prior to this year’s financial crisis and subsequent economic contraction, estimates that global coal use in 2010 may be as high as 60% higher than in 2000, and that greenhouse gas emissions from combustion of fossil fuels could as much as double from 2000 levels by 2020.
Although Sheehan’s analysis was published online in April, it was submitted for peer review in 2006.
By comparison, the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2008 report projects an almost 60% increase in worldwide coal production and consumption from 2006 to 2030, and estimates that China and India will respectively consume coal at more than seven and ten times their 1980 coal consumption rates by 2030.
Adaptation. One of the key goals achieved at COP-14 was the establishment of a climate adaptation fund for developing countries as well as countries hardest-hit by climate change, to be financed by industrialized countries. The UNFCCC Secretariat estimates that the amount of annual expenditures and investments required to implement adaptation to climate change is already “tens of billions, possibly hundreds of billions, of USD per year.” Approximately US$80 million was committed to the fund at COP-14, an amount immediately criticized as inadequate by representatives of developing countries and indigenous peoples affected by climate change. The government of Poland has estimated the cost of hosting the two-week COP-14 conference at US$35 million.
Deforestation and Afforestation. Agreement was reached to count future afforestation of depleted lands in China and India as a clean development mechanism, and to recognize “the full and effective participation” of local communities, although a proposed reference to the rights of indigenous peoples in forests was deleted at the request of New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States. Although the UNFCCC is trying to reach a deal on Reducing Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD), agreement has not been reached on the calculation or pricing of emissions arising from the clearing of indigenous forests for agricultural use.
A recent economic analysis of tropical deforestation by Christian Azar and Martin Persson of Chalmers University in Gothenburg, Sweden questions the effectiveness of carbon pricing in reducing deforestation, concluding that forest clearing for palm oil bioenergy plantations could absorb the direct financial costs of future carbon emission schemes, yet still expand beyond Southeast Asian hotspots to the Amazonian and Congo basins. “A carbon price will also increase the demand for bioenergy, and make forest clearance for agricultural land more profitable” in the future, Persson said.
European Union Goals for 2020
As COP-14 was adjourning in Poznań, European leaders capped off a contentious climate and energy summit with a “20-20-20” agreement to cut EU energy consumption by 20%, increase its renewable energy consumption to 20% of total consumption, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, with the proviso that the GHG reduction increase to 30% if a similar reduction is agreed upon next year in Copenhagen.
The EU summit also produced an agreement to revise the European union’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) to include the “full auctioning of permits for energy generators and a progressive shift to full auctioning for all other industries” as soon as 2013. The new carbon trading scheme was met with skepticism from many NGOs and environmental groups, who argued that the revised ETS proposal will give away too many permits to pollute, allow too many exceptions for high-polluting industries that competed with unregulated industry in the developing world, and be too dependent on questionable offsets in developing countries, rather than real reductions at home.
The original scope of the 20-20-20 agreement was bitterly opposed by Poland well before the summit began. More than nine-tenths of Poland’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants that are often fed with emissions-intensive “brown coal”. In support of its position, the Polish government cited the Poland 2030 report, produced earlier this year in cooperation with the Polish Electricity Association, which concluded that the proposed emissions reductions constitute a “serious threat to the country”s energy security, its fast economic growth and improvement of living conditions for its citizens.”
An analysis of that report by the Gdańsk Institute for Market Economics (V), however, found “substantive mistakes” in key assumptions that supported the Poland 2030 report, and argued that Poland would have ample time to develop strategies that could offset potential negative impacts of the proposed EU climate package. The Polish government has discounted the Gdańsk report, and has announced that it will release its own analysis of the previous two reports.
In the end, Poland won significant concessions: a two-tiered system will require it and other Eastern European member states to secure emissions permits covering just 30% of GHG emissions arising from its utilities in 2013, the earliest year in which Western European member states may be required to secure emission permits for 100% of their utility-related emissions. The so-called “final compromise” expresses “a view toward reaching 100%” auctioning of the EU’s industrial emissions in 2027.
Poland’s position was bolstered by Italy and Germany, both of which had voiced concern about “carbon leakage”: the relatively weakened competitiveness of their own emissions-intensive industries as compared to those countries such as China, India, and the United States, should those countries not require emissions permits for such industries in the future.
The EU climate and energy package must be approved by the European Parliament before it is signed into law. Although European Commission President José Manuel Barroso expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the summit, stating that “Europe has passed its credibility test”, Nicholas Sarkozy, who currently holds the rotating European Union presidency in addition to the presidency of France, has raised the possibility of holding a second summit on 27 December, should the European Parliament reject the package. Sarkozy has been credited with engineering many of the concessions necessary to bring Poland, Germany, and Italy to the summit table as signatories. The World Wildlife Fund termed the agreement a “weak and ambiguous commitment to the 30% reduction in EU emissions by 2020 they had trumpeted just last year.”
The University of Copenhagen will host a special conference in March to address scientific knowledge about climate change subsequent to the publication of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. Although the event is being organized by research universities in Europe, Asia, and the United States, and is not a UNFCCC or IPCC event, it will be attended by IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri as well as many IPCC authors.
The UNFCCC will convene COP-15 from 30 November to 11 December 2009, in Copenhagen.
 UNFCCC, United Nations Climate Change Conference Lays Foundation For Copenhagen Deal. (12 December 2008)
 International Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report (2007)
 UNFCCC, Investment and financial flows to address climate change: an update. (26 November 2008)
 Peter Sheehan, The new global growth path: implications for climate change analysis and policy.
 International Energy Agency, IEA World Energy Outlook 2008. (November 2008)
 UNFCCC, Fact sheet: Financing responses to climate change. (28 November 2008)
 UNFCCC, Fact sheet: Poznań-COP 14/CMP 4. (October 2008)
 U. Martin Persson and Christian Azar, Making trade-offs in the greenhouse; relative price changes, non-CO2 greenhouse gases and tropical deforestation in climate policy. Chalmers University of Technology (21 October 2008)
 Council of the European Union, Energy and climate change: elements of the final compromise. (12 December 2008)
 Report 2030 . EnergSys, Ltd., and the Polish Electricity Association
 Gdańsk Institute for Market Economics (GIME), Evaluation of the 2030 Report. (1 November 2008)
 International Alliance of Research Scientists: International Scientific Conference on Climate Change