Will Last Month’s Climate Summit Stir Real Action on Climate Change?


The United Nations Climate Summit walks the walk, California and Quebec go courting and scientists start pointing the climate change finger

10 October 2014 | United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon raised eyebrows last year when he announced that the UN would host a Climate Summit in New York City in September 2014. Some observers questioned what could be accomplished at the Summit that had not been achieved during years of international climate negotiations. A lot, as it turns out.

The People’s Climate March brought more than 400,000 people to the streets ahead of the Summit to demand leaders of countries and corporations alike take ambitious action to address the climate change threat. The gathering was the largest civil demonstration in history on climate change and world leaders still had those voices echoing in their ears when Ki-moon called the Summit to order two days later.

Countries and corporations participating in the Summit responded to Ki-moon’s call for bold pledges with a wide range of commitments on agriculture, cities, energy, financing, industry, resilience and transportation. Perhaps the most ambitious in terms of emissions reductions was the New York Declaration on Forests through which government, business, civil society and indigenous leaders pledged $1 billion to end deforestation by 2030. Norway and the United Kingdom made particularly rich promises for climate finance (see Climate Finance section). If successful, the pledge would prevent the emission of between 4.5 billion and 8.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO2e) annually.

“I think the Summit was a success,” said Paul Bodner, Director for Environment and Climate Change for the White House’s National Security Council. “We talk about tipping points on climate change. I think it’s possible we’ll look back on this Summit as a different type of tipping point where countries really got serious about action.”

Carbon pricing was also at the top of leaders’ minds in New York. The World Bank counted 74 countries, 23 subnational jurisdictions and more than 1,000 businesses and investors as signatories on its petition supporting carbon pricing. Noticeably absent was the United States, which Bodner attributed to the lack of political consensus at the federal level.

On the opposite side of the world, New Zealand’s National Party maintained control of the parliament after a general election seen aspivotal for the country’s emissions trading system (ETS). In June, the Green Party pledged to abandon the “failed” ETS in favor of a tax of $25 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent on emissions for all sectors, except agriculture, if it prevailed in the election.

The opposing Labor Party promised to strengthen demand for domestic offsets through rule changes during a review of the ETS in 2015, but he National Party has no plans to make changes to the system. However, New Zealand Unit prices are still expected to rise since compliance entities will lose access to inexpensive international Emission Reduction Units next year.

More news from the voluntary carbon marketplace is summarized below, so keep reading!

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V-Carbon News


Walking the Walk
In what Ki-moon called “walking the walk,” the UN maintained its commitment to keeping its system carbon neutral by minimizing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the Summit. The UN purchased over 18,000 tonnes of Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) to offset the emissions of participants’ air travel and make the event carbon neutral. Read more here
Mickey Mouse to the rescue
The Walt Disney Company is one of the largest purchasers of offsets in the voluntary carbon markets, retiring 457,882 tCO2e in 2013 and 433,677 tCO2e in 2012, according to company data. Its latest project supported the replanting of 234,000 spruces along the Missionary Ridge in Colorado’s San Juan National Forest through the National Forest Foundation. Intervention was necessary since the area showed no signs of regrowth after a 2002 fire. The 250-acre project area is expected to sequester about 54,000 tCO2e over the next 100 years, according to project documents filed with the American Carbon Registry. Read more here
Riding the rails
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is making a profit by selling CERs under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism. However, income from international offset sales has waned as prices dropped from 20 euros per tonne to under a euro per tonne, said K K Saberwal, DMRC Director of Finance. “The West’s own attempts to reduce carbon footprints has impacted the cost of CERs.” The DMRC generates offsets through a regenerative braking system and its Modal Shift project, which accounts for the difference between train travel and more polluting transportation options. The Metro system handles 250,000 riders daily and generates more than 630,000 tCO2e offsets annually, according to DMRC’s blog. Read more here
More on Modal Shift methodology
Trees for you and me
A new initiative from Code REDD, Stand for Trees, is attempting to channel the public’s enthusiasm from the UN Climate Summit into real GHG reductions utilizing avoided deforestation offsets. The campaign will facilitate sales of forest offsets to the general public in half tonne increments through a new mobile web platform. “People are what motivate the private sector and the public sector decision making, so we feel it’s essential to engage the general population in forest conservation and helping them to understand the role of forests in climate regulation, said Kate Dillon, Director of Membership Development at Code REDD. Individuals represented less than 1% of demand for forest-based offsets in 2012, according to Ecosystem Marketplace’s State of the Forest Carbon Markets 2013. Read more here


Mock trials for carbon
South Korea is set to launch its ETS on January 1, so the Korean Exchange (KRX) began testing the system last month. During the first phase, KRX will coordinate infrastructure between itself, the country’s GHG management system and settlement banks as well as educate corporations on the trading process. The second phase will begin October 27 with mock trading for compliance entities. South Korea has voluntarily committed to reduce its GHG emissions 30% below business-as-usual levels by 2020. Officials expect allowances in South Korea’s program to trade around $20/tCO2e, but some analysts say the price could reach nearly $100/tCO2e. Read more here
Chile reception for CO2
Chile has officially adopted a carbon tax, making it the first South American country to price CO2 emissions. The $5 per tCO2e tax will focus on electricity generators larger than 50 megawatts (MW). Chile has a voluntary target of cutting GHG emissions 20% from 2007 levels by 2020. The carbon tax is scheduled to begin in 2018 and is expected to raise $160 million in revenue as part of a broader tax reform bill. Chile’s program does not include provisions for the use of offsets, unlike similar taxes in Mexico and South Africa. Read more here
Filling their dance card
California and Quebec are courting others to join their cap-and-trade program. Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said his staff has been in discussions with regulators in Ontario and New England states while California officials continue talks with fellowPacific Coast Collaborative members Washington and Oregon. Couillard singled out Vermont as particularly interested in partnership, but the state is currently a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) with eight other Northeastern states. “Vermont is not considering leaving RGGI – rather we are looking to strengthen RGGI even further by exploring the possibilities to integrate our market with others, said Justin Johnson, Deputy Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources. Read more here
Double, but still trouble
The Climate Action Reserve (CAR) expects offset issuance will more than double from 40 million tCO2e in 2014 to over 80 million tCO2e in 2017 over half of which will come from project types eligible for California’s compliance program. However, CAR issuances would still fall short of fulfilling demand for offsets for California’s program if covered entities maximized the 8% limit they can use toward their compliance obligations because not all protocols are allowed into the program. Currently, only offsets generated under five protocols forest, urban forestry, livestock, U.S. Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) and mine methane are eligible, with rice cultivation possibly added to the mix later this year. Read more here
Always be prepared
Chinese companies are preparing for a domestic carbon market scheduled to begin in 2016. Foxconn, an electronics manufacturer headquartered in Taiwan, has established its own carbon trading business, Shenzhen Fox-Energy Technology. The company has already benefited from investments in CO2 reduction technologies that allowed it to sell part of its allowance allocation in the Shenzhen pilot carbon market in addition to saving on electricity expenses. Once China establishes a national price on carbon, other markets will follow, according to leaders at the recent Summit. China could regulate 3-4 billion tCO2e by 2020 under its planned ETS, which would make it the largest carbon market in the world, according to officials. Read more on Foxconn’s activities
Read more about China’s influence
Gas in the power grid
Genalta Power has become the first company in Alberta to earn carbon offsets for converting waste gas that would otherwise be flared into electricity. The 4-MW Cadotte Peace River project generated more than 8,000 tCO2e in 2013 and will result in 240,000 tCO2e of reductions over its lifetime to be sold to the gas provider Baytex Energy. The project was developed under Alberta Environment’s waste heat recovery protocol in partnership with Blue Source Canada, with verification by Alberta-based Stantec. Read more here


No empty promise
The New York Declaration on Forest commits governments, multinational corporations, civil society and indigenous peoples to cut forest loss in half by 2020 and completely end it by 2030. The commitment comes backed with a promised down payment of $1 billion in economic incentives for countries to reduce forest loss. Norway has pledged up to $300 million to Peru and $150 million to Liberia to support their forest preservation efforts, bringing Norway’s total support for climate and forests initiatives to about $3 billion through 2020. The United Kingdom pledged $235 million split between two programs designed to jump start sustainable land-use programs across the developing world. Read more here
The perils of peace
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has the second largest forested area in the world, and the usual threats to forests logging and agricultural expansion have historically been muted by the civil war that has plagued the country since the mid-1990s. However, the DRC’s increasing political stability could result in the forests falling under threat from development, so a new effort to protect the home of endangered species such as the bonobo  the great ape that is the closest living relative to humans is now underway. The government is launching a pay-for-performance avoided deforestation program seeking $50 million a year from the private sector, but the program will first need a $20 million boost from philanthropic donors. Read more here


Just a little tweak
The CAR will adapt its ODS protocol for use with ODSs sourced in Mexico and destroyed in Mexican facilities. The organization has invited stakeholders to form a working group this month to develop the modified protocol, which is expected to be complete by April 2015. ODSs have a high global warming potential and offsets are generated from their destruction in cases where they would have otherwise been vented to the atmosphere. Read more here


On different latitudes
A New York Times op-ed by Yale atmospheric chemistry professor Nadine Unger caused a stir last month when it argued that “large-scale increases in forest cover can actually make global warming worse” and warned against UN funding for forestry. Unger’s research found that increasing forest cover at high latitudes darkens the color of the Earth’s surface and absorbs more sunlight. But scientists responding to the op-ed pointed out that REDD funding is directed specifically to tropical (low-latitude) forests, where the clouds that trees create lighten Earth’s surface color. Unger also stated that the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released naturally by trees mix with fossil fuel emissions to produce GHGs. Critics responded that Unger’s own research shows that VOCs have anywhere from a cooling to a warming effect, while deforestation is clearly connected to an increase in GHGs. New York Times op-ed
Scientists response
Actions have consequences
Scientists have made an uncharacteristically strong connection between Australia’s 2013 heat wave and human-related GHG emissions. Five independent researchers using different methods concluded that last year’s temperatures could not have occurred without human intervention.“When we look at the heat across the whole of Australia and the whole 12 months of 2013, we can say that this was virtually impossible without climate change, said David Karoly, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne. The ground-breaking finding came too late to preserve Australia’s carbon pricing program designed to reduce the country’s GHG emissions which federal legislators voted to repeal in July. Read more on the heat wave
Read more about the carbon tax repeal

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