A shift in focus from diplomatic discussion over pledges to implementation is one positive outcome of the Cancun Conference. The IPCC has called for a reduction in emissions to limit the increase in global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius 3. Although leaders at Copenhagen and Cancun used the same number to determine their mitigation pledges, the current growth in emissions, absent significant action on climate change, will cause an average global temperatures of 5 degrees Celsius 9 degrees Fahrenheit , according to the most recent analysis produced by the Climate Interactive Scoreboard.
The core policy and regulatory instruments to curb greenhouse gas emissions exist at the national level, and performance therefore varies from country to country. At the international level, the Kyoto Protocol provides three mechanisms that can help countries control their emissions through flexible arrangements. The Clean Development Mechanism CDM allows industrialized countries to invest in climate-friendly projects in poor countries and earn carbon credits in exchange. The Joint Implementation JI mechanism enables industrialized countries to invest in climate-friendly projects in other industrialized countries and earn carbon credits in exchange.
Lastly, emissions trading creates a market for trading carbon credits with countries that are over their target. From the beginning, the most promising of the three was the CDM, which provides twin benefits of curbing emissions and facilitating economic development for non-Annex I countries. However, experts have pointed to inadequacies regarding its operations and its inability to deliver lower emissions at acceptable costs. In particular, the CDM is burdened with extensive bureaucratic entanglements that have delayed the actual registry of many preapproved projects.
More seriously, critics blame the CDM for earning some companies heaps of carbon credits for low-cost changes, noting that national regulation or other means of financing emissions reductions might have been better alternatives. Additionally, some experts complain about China capturing a significant number of the carbon credits, known as Certified Emission Reductions CERs , at the expense of other developing countries. However, China's extensive participation may also help jump-start its renewable sector, which could have ancillary long-term benefits.
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Although the COP did not resolve all of these concerns, it did extend the CDM to include carbon capture storage projects—a move that enjoys significant private sector support. Emissions trading, most developed within the EU framework, has also faced a barrage of criticism. At this stage, some businesses argue that the price of carbon is too low to support profitable opportunities. Similarly, environmental activists [PDF] argue that capital markets are too unregulated and unstable to serve as a foundation for global efforts against climate change.
The G20 has stressed the importance of market mechanisms to fight global warming, and some have argued that carbon markets can be seen as a cheap and simple way to ensure emissions reductions. When reinforced by regulation, such as the mandatory cap-and-trade system in Europe, emissions trading can be a beneficial mechanism [PDF] that contributes to overall emissions reductions.
To date, this is one of the most promising initiatives for emissions reduction in the United States. The program provides financial incentives for poor countries to protect their national forests and thereby assigns them with some responsibility for global emissions reduction. By some estimates, tropical deforestation accounts for 15 percent [PDF] of annual global carbon dioxide emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, however, did not have any mechanism for conservation or prevention of deforestation as a means for mitigating climate change. Under the protocol, countries could seek credits and financial support after forests were cut down but no support was available to prevent them from cutting forests down in the first place.
Similarly, the COP established a technical framework for facilitating deforestation products. Furthermore, in February , the United States, along with Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Ghana, and Bangladesh, launched a joint effort to mitigate short-lived climate pollutants—such pollutants stay in the atmosphere only briefly, but they account for approximately of 30 percent of global warming—such as black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons, and methane.
Monitoring and enforcing emissions curbs: Monitoring patchy but improving, enforcement nonexistent. Transparency in emissions cuts has become a relatively new focus of the climate change regime. The Bali Action Plan adopted new monitoring parameters that required both developed and developing countries to commit to mitigation actions that could be measured, reported, and verified MRV.
Strengthened somewhat at Copenhagen, this agenda was furthered in Cancun, where the final document called for "international assessment of emissions and removals related to quantified economy-wide emission reductions targets" for developed countries in a transparent manner. However, this language on enforcement has yet to be matched by a plan of implementation, likely making it a contentious issue for future international climate agreements.
The Durban Platform may have created additional confusion regarding the enforcement of climate accords. Particularly ambiguous was its call for a new agreement with "legal force" to replace the Kyoto Protocol rather than one that is expressly "legally binding. Under the current UNFCCC framework, developed countries report their emissions annually and developing countries are supposed to report theirs every six years. Emissions inventories in developed countries are generally agreed to be strong, and are accepted as the basis for international emissions trading in which errors in emissions accounting would result in large financial transfers.
Reporting from developing countries is widely considered to be much weaker, and the six-year reporting requirement is often violated. The exceptions are CDM projects, which are carefully monitored to determine whether promised emissions reductions are actually being achieved; here, monitoring is widely agreed to be strong. This process tasks countries to publish emissions reductions goals in line with their national capabilities and then submit to international monitoring under the Copenhagen Accord.
The barriers to improving emissions monitoring in developing countries are threefold. First, many such countries lack the domestic capacity to monitor their own emissions, which makes international monitoring even more difficult. Existing emissions estimates are generally extrapolations based on energy use, and even large developing countries such as China and India, for example, do not know their total emissions output. This uncertainty is exacerbated in countries with significant emissions from deforestation because the technical means to precisely measure such emissions do not yet exist.
Second, even if developing countries are able to monitor their emissions, many are wary that reporting emissions would open them to pressure to cap those emissions—something they have strongly resisted. Third, countries such as China publically state that concessions for an internationally verifiable monitoring system are a direct infringement on their national sovereignty.
Despite these barriers, an agreement that focuses on emissions monitoring might be easier to implement than an arrangement based on binding emissions reductions. Enforcement, meanwhile, is essentially nonexistent. Countries that fail to meet their Kyoto targets are legally required to subtract that shortfall plus a 30 percent penalty from their total allowed emissions in the next phase of the protocol. In practice, though, this is meaningless, given that future allowed emissions have not yet been negotiated.
If the Kyoto Protocol penalty rules are observed—something still in question—countries could simply negotiate new caps that are inflated by an amount that offsets the penalty or just formally withdraw from the accord as Canada did in Channeling funds to curb emissions and adapt to global warming is one of the thorniest challenges in the fight against climate change.
The Green Climate Fund, set forth in Cancun to be a centralized hub for climate financing, only recently agreed in October on a draft plan for dispersing funds. Despite this recommitment, however, no framework was agreed upon for financing in the final outcome document. The group's final report was released in November and calls for taxes on emissions, trading, and international travel. The situation becomes particularly vexing when the transfer of money from industrialized countries to developing countries comes into play.
At the September G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, leaders proposed significant increases in funding to poor countries, but differences in how to achieve this goal led to a weak statement [PDF] that merely recognized the need for climate change financing for which there was no follow-through at the Toronto G20 summit in June More recent pledges made at the UN climate conference in Cancun are short of the aspirations of some world leaders and lack details regarding their source and disbursement.
Several multilateral funds have been established under the UNFCCC , the World Bank , and the GEF to provide grants and loans targeting specific aspects of climate change, ranging from adaptation to development of clean technology. However, by and large these funds are voluntary and have limited differences. Many experts have pointed to private investments as a way forward. Private investment has been critical in industrialized countries but much harder to come by in developing countries.
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The clean development mechanism CDM , initially set up by the Kyoto Protocol, has been applauded for injecting private-sector funding for clean energy projects into developing countries and helping industrialized countries meet their emissions-cutting targets.
However, the CDM has brought little benefit to areas most in need of clean energy, notably sub-Saharan Africa. Some economists and policymakers have proposed innovative solutions to the financing deficit such as a Tobin tax on financial transactions or a carbon tax on air transportation the EU instituted the latter in The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD has reported [PDF] that if all industrialized countries used carbon taxes or auctioned emissions-trading permits to reduce their emissions by 20 percent in relative to levels, fiscal revenues could reach 2.
Approximately one-fifth of global emissions come from land use, including deforestation. Mitigating the effects of climate change will require looking at a broad set of alternatives, including leveraging tools inherent to our natural ecosystem. Forests provide natural carbon sinks that help mitigate the effects of carbon dioxide emissions.
There are currently few initiatives that compensate countries that promote this natural process. Although this is a positive step, critically missing are incentives for forest conservation activities that would help reduce emissions from existing carbon stocks. In an effort to bridge this gap, numerous [PDF] bilateral and multilateral arrangements outside the UNFCCC framework have been created to provide assistance to developing countries in harnessing their carbon sinks. At the national level, some governments have established funds, such as Brazil's Amazon Fund , and Burkina Faso's cash bonus tree-planting program, which leverage private donations and government resources to provide incentives for the preservation of forests.
Additionally, there has been some attention on promoting oceans as a natural carbon sink. However, scientific skepticism on the ocean's ability to absorb carbon dioxide emissions remains. Promoting low-carbon development: Needs coherence, financial support, and developing-country buy-in. Low-carbon development must be at the heart of any successful climate change mitigation effort. Yet it faces two distinct challenges. The world is not particularly good at development assistance beyond climate change, and it has no large-scale experience with low-carbon development.
Although the CDM has undoubtedly resulted in some low-carbon investment that would not have otherwise occurred, it has not prompted fundamental shifts in development patterns.
Alongside it, traditional development organizations have begun to invest in low-carbon development. The World Bank , for example, has ramped up climate-related spending, and the UNEP has set climate change as a priority in its capacity-building efforts. These efforts are constrained, however, by funding that is not commensurate with the scale of the challenge, as well as by deeper challenges in the development aid model. These international institutions are also not well coordinated, with occasionally weak mechanisms that can fail to complement each other. Another important path to low-carbon development is new technology, such as carbon capture and storage CCS , which focuses on securing and storing carbon dioxide emissions before they are released into the atmosphere.
Although this technology is still in its early stages, successful pilot projects offer hope of developing and implementing it for large-scale projects.
The young minds solving climate change
Some countries are committed to implementing variations of it, and both bilateral and multilateral cooperation is under way. This cooperation is particularly important because implementing CCS on a large scale can be expensive and offers few obvious economic benefits. One of the major multilateral efforts in this area is the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum CSLF , which supports joint efforts to develop cost-effective carbon sequestration technology. Additionally, an international initiative, Futuregen , led by the U. Department of Energy, harnesses public and private-sector funds and expertise to help build near-zero emissions plants around the world.
Renewable and nuclear energy will be critical in diminishing reliance on fossil fuels and developing low-carbon communities. Expectations for nuclear power as an alternative source of energy are especially high among big emitters such as India, China, and the United States, as well as in a number of developing countries that lack the necessary infrastructure to meet their growing energy needs. Since the nuclear incident in the wake of Japan's March earthquake and tsunami, some of the support for nuclear power has declined.
When nuclear energy is optimal, the agency assists with energy planning and developing relevant infrastructure, such as drafting nuclear legislation and establishing independent and effective safety regulators. However, given its limited resources, the IAEA will find it increasingly difficult to meet the growing demands for its services as more developing countries seek help in establishing nuclear facilities.
There has also been significant international action on renewable energy. Despite these promising international efforts, only about 25 percent [PDF] of the world's energy is produced through renewable and alternative sources including hydroelectric, biomass, and nuclear. Another dimension of the solution is often ignored but is likely, in the long term, to be the most prominent: domestic policy reform in developing countries that encourages low-carbon investment. This might include steps like energy market reform or reduction of tariff barriers to low-carbon technology transfer.
International institutions have begun to promote domestic policy shifts through measures like technical assistance provided by organizations like the UNEP and UNDP , discussions [PDF] on tariff reductions for environmentally friendly technologies through the WTO, and processes aimed at phasing out fossil fuel subsidies spurred through the G Some existing institutions, though, may incidentally work against positive developments in this area.
The Kyoto Protocol's CDM, for example, may discourage countries from making climate-friendly policy changes by rewarding countries only for activities that go beyond existing national policy. Complicating matters, efforts to promote policy shifts and efforts aimed at providing assistance with clean development are rarely coordinated with each other. Adapting to climate change is currently being addressed incidentally through traditional development aid.
Moreover, most traditional development aid often aimed at areas like health and agriculture will help countries become more resilient in a changing climate. Yet the perennial shortfalls in development assistance—both financially and in having the desired policy impact—mean that adaptation assistance invariably falls short as well. There have been targeted efforts to address adaptation in particular. The Kyoto Protocol's Adaptation Fund , supported by a small tax on CDM credit sales, currently yields funds that are supposed to be spent on adaptation.
The fund, however, is severely underfinanced and hobbled by its own bureaucratic governance. The GEF also administers several funds that target adaptation efforts. While the World Bank facilitates this and other Climate Investment Funds, it has also provided loans for coal power plants and other projects not friendly to the climate change agenda. Most of these efforts are not distinguishable from other development support, however, making it difficult for a separate adaptation fund to make a big difference in any case. The CAF also represented the first formal agreement to establish guidelines concerning capacity building in communities vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Adaptation financing, even after the COP in Durban remains an ad hoc enterprise. Adaptation efforts are also hurt by the failure of the international community to generate precise predictions on the effects of climate change. The IPCC focuses on long-term projections and on regional or global analyses. Organizations like the UNDP help countries use broader projections in national adaptation planning, and national governments sometimes assist others in such efforts.
Whether having governments and international institutions handle these projections offers any benefits is, however, still unclear. The United States and the international community face a host of challenges on the domestic and international fronts in the attempt to build a more robust international climate regime. At home, progress has come to a virtual standstill after the failure of national cap-and-trade legislation. Abroad, the ultimate fate of the Kyoto Protocol looms large.
The United States will need to decide whether to rely on state-by-state targets, participate in minilateral forums, or engage in multilateral negotiations for reducing emissions, among other questions. It must also decide whether it intends to pursue a legally binding climate agreement. Other policy issues straddle the domestic-international divide. Should the international community pursue a legally binding treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol? Yes : Proponents of legally binding commitments, like the Kyoto Protocol, argue that they are the only way to guarantee that countries will cut their emissions.
Proponents also argue that by ensuring that others meet their obligations, legally binding commitments help promote stronger action by all parties. Moreover, they note that in some cases, legal commitments are needed to serve as the basis for schemes involving large financial flows, such as carbon trading. They also point to the heritage of the Kyoto Protocol, which included legally binding commitments for developed countries, and argue that it would be a step backward to take a different route in the future.
Moreover, withdrawing from efforts toward a binding accord would likely signal a retreat from the Durban Platform agreed to by state parties in December Specifically, the COP outcome document calls on states to develop a successor to the Kyoto Protocol with "legal force" by No : On the other hand, detractors of the Kyoto Protocol claim the emissions reduction model inherent to the accord is not tenable, and the outcome of the COP meeting in Durban may prove the international community is trying to move away from using legally binding emissions targets.
Objections to including legally binding commitments at the center of an international climate deal take at least four forms. Some argue that enforcing climate commitments is extremely difficult and that, as a result, the legal nature of commitments may not be meaningful.
Thus, they counsel against investing the extra effort normally required to devise a legally binding arrangement. Others argue that because climate commitments may turn out to be difficult or impossible, they should not be made legally binding, thus avoiding the risk of noncompliance. A frequent counterpart to this argument is the claim that because countries are concerned about noncompliance, they will tend to focus on making weak commitments in the first place; freeing them from concerns about being legally bound might also free them to do more.
While some accept the prospect of legally binding commitments for Annex-I countries like the United States in principle, they argue that all major economies or all countries should make similar commitments. If those same analysts also believe that major developing countries will not make legally binding commitments—a widely shared view—then they conclude that major greenhouse gas emitters like the United States should not make such commitments either.
Canada's December decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol reflects this line of thinking. Should the United States focus its resources on minilateral forums rather than the UN climate framework? Yes : Some say that progress on global climate change requires a joint strategy among the small number of actors responsible for the lion's share of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, including China These arenas allow large emitters to confront tricky issues and hammer out viable strategies without having to engage all members of the United Nations.
If the United States focuses its attention on minilateral forums with important players, it may achieve meaningful emissions control targets, as well as financial commitments for mitigation and technological development. No : Others argue that the breadth of its membership and depth of its history makes the UN climate framework the bedrock of the international climate regime.
Climate change is a global threat that requires input from the world's most vulnerable nations—not just the world's largest emitters. Experience suggests that major emitting nations may use minilateral forums not to drive concrete action but to avoid binding emissions reductions and other sacrifices to address climate change.
By focusing on minilateral forums , the United States diverts its limited resources from the UN climate negotiations, which are the most legitimate basis for global action. Any climate negotiations that exclude the majority of the world's countries would be difficult to implement and inherently flawed. Should the United States focus on state-by-state targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Yes : Proponents of this idea note that climate change action at the federal level is no longer a politically feasible goal within the United States.
Efforts to enact cap-and-trade systems in the United States, such as the McCain-Lieberman and Lieberman-Warner legislation, have failed. The House ultimately passed the Waxman-Markey bill in June , which would have capped greenhouse emissions at 17 percent of levels and provided increased investment for clean energy technology, but the U. Senate failed to agree on a matching cap-and-trade bill. Furthermore, even relatively minor climate change mitigation regulations have faced bipartisan resistance, with issues like cap-and-trade and a carbon tax basically disappearing from political debate.
The nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative RGGI and the Western Climate Initiative WCI also provide evidence that the fifty states are capable of crafting their own climate change plans moulded to the particularities of their geography, resources, and region. The WCI, launched in by six U. According to its design, the WCI forms working committees, which recommend policies aimed at collectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions among member states and provinces.
Relying on a cap-and-trade system, WCI members aim to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from levels by No : Opponents argue that the rest of the world is looking to the United States to act on climate change, and that pursuing national level reform—even if during the global financial crisis—could give the United States credibility and leverage in this area.
Since the failure of cap-and-trade, no significant climate change legislation has passed the House or Senate, calling U. Many climate change analysts also point to criticism regarding the inaction of the United States during the COP as evidence that the climate change issue may be negatively affecting perceptions of U. Furthermore, some would also suggest that the December decision by Canada to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol has placed the entire global climate change regime in jeopardy. Opponents of a state-by-state strategy also point to New Jersey's decision in to unilaterally pull out of the RGGI and Arizona's move in to leave the Western Climate Initiative as evidence that a state-by-state approach to reducing emissions in the United States is too risky of a strategy to rely on.
In short, a top-down approach, rather than bottom-up alternatives, is likely to be more effective, and more enforceable. Finally, those calling for a national level reprioritization of the issue of climate change in the United States point to the recent passage of carbon tax legislation in another Annex 1 country, Australia, as evidence to support their position. Should international carbon trading be a central part of U. In addition, trading based on either project-based offsets or broader schemes with relatively high baselines could also channel large amounts of money to developing countries.
Many believe that such transfers are the only way to induce deep cuts in developing countries' emissions. Some also make a political argument for trading: integrating countries' emissions-cutting programs into a global market would make it more difficult for any country to back away from its obligations.
Supporters of international carbon trading differ on the forms of trading they support. Some support all options— project-based offsets , program-based offsets , sectoral trading , and economy-wide trading. Others support only certain variations, most commonly ones with wider scope such as sectoral or economy-wide options. No : Opponents of international carbon trading make a variety of arguments. Some object to any efforts to transfer significant sums of money to developing countries, and hence oppose carbon trading. Others support such efforts but argue that they could often be done more effectively through large public funds rather than through carbon markets.
Some support carbon trading in principle, but object on the basis that many such systems are unworkable in practice. They point to the experience of the CDM, a part of the Kyoto Protocol that allows developed countries to pay for emissions-cutting projects in developing countries in lieu of reducing their emissions. The CDM has been widely criticized as inefficient and as including many projects that would have occurred anyhow. Some who criticize it believe that its problems can be fixed by moving to other schemes for carbon trading; others disagree.
A final group opposes international carbon trading on ethical grounds, arguing that developed countries have a moral obligation to reduce their emissions and that avoiding that obligation by paying others is wrong. Should the world agree to country-by-country targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions? Yes : Agreeing on country-by-country targets has become the primary goal of recent climate change negotiations.
Proponents of assigning greenhouse gas emissions targets to all countries maintain that they are needed to ensure that aggregate global emissions do not exceed dangerous thresholds. They take their cue from the Kyoto Protocol and its recent extension until or , which focuses on a "targets and timetables" approach for developed countries. Some experts argue that it would be helpful to develop emissions-reduction goals for major emitters by setting short-term timetables and by targeting specific sectors. Limiting emissions intensity based on the production process instead of setting absolute targets could also prove beneficial.
Beyond these points, many note that country-by-country targets are essential to enabling full-blown global carbon trading schemes which could reduce the cost of cutting global emissions and argue that it is only fair for all countries to adopt targets if some do so.
No : Following the failure of the Copenhagen Accord, as well as a lack of agreement on a new legally binding emisssions treaty at the COP, some argue that it may be impossible to garner international consensus on country-specific emissions cuts.
The Global Climate Change Regime | Council on Foreign Relations
Capacity and verification also remain issues in developing countries, making it difficult to implement policies that control ultimate emissions such as cap-and-trade systems. Others support global emissions cuts—often strongly—but argue that adopting targets is not necessary to achieving that end. They contend that international discussions should be focused on suites of emissions-cutting policies and measures policy inputs rather than on emissions policy outcomes. Yes : Climate change agreements are notoriously weak on enforcement. The Kyoto Protocol technically included penalties for noncompliance; in practice, though, those penalties have not been enforced.
Humans have the solutions to address climate change. The question is: Do we have the will?
Some have turned to trade sanctions as an enforcement tool, arguing that border adjustment tariffs are the appropriate sanction for noncompliance. These would, ostensibly, impose costs on imports from countries with weak climate regulation equal to the costs those countries avoid through lax regulation. The most well-studied proposition is injecting fine sulfur particles into the stratosphere, a region of the atmosphere starting at about 15km 9 miles above the surface of the Earth. But we have a very poor understanding of the local effects of dialing down solar radiation.
Even the strongest advocates for the sulfur particle-based technology say a lot more research is needed. Rain patterns could change drastically. Agricultural productivity could dip. The chemical reactions between ozone and sulfur might cause the ozone layer to start rapidly depleting, which could be a serious threat to life on the planet. Which leaves us with carbon management. The difficulty is finding ways to cut greenhouse-gas emissions quickly without sinking the global economy. But the impact of all that has so far been miniscule.