Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why would Canada withdraw from Kyoto before the end of the year?

Timing is everything, they say.

If the timing of this rumoured decision by the Canadian government to officially withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol near the end of December - rather than to remain a part of Kyoto and just continue ignoring the provisions - strikes you as curious, I strongly recommend reading Andrew Leach's post on the subject. He points out Article 27 of the Kyoto Protocol (bold is mine).

1. At any time after three years from the date on which this Protocol has entered into force for a Party, that Party may withdraw from this Protocol by giving written notification to the Depositary.
2. Any such withdrawal shall take effect upon expiry of one year from the date of receipt by the Depositary of the notification of withdrawal, or on such later date as may be specified in the notification of withdrawal.

It's been suggested that Canada will withdraw to avoid "non-compliance". The 2008 - 2012 Kyoto compliance period officially ends on December 31, 2012. After that, the math will be done to determine whether each country met their emissions targets.

If Canada withdraws before December 31, 2011 then Canada's withdrawal will be official before the compliance period ends, and Canada will, to be a scientist and use a double negative, not be considered in non-compliance. In other words, the Canadian government just a few weeks to play its get out of jail free card.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Climate change aid and the upcoming Durban summit

The next UN Climate summit - technically the 17th "Conference of the Parties" to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change - starts in less than a week in Durban, South Africa. The issues on the agenda, including the debate over continuation of the Kyoto architecture for emissions targets which did not include targets for developing nations, are contentious. The debate about the emissions targets, summarized briefly in a Nature News piece,  will likely dominate the coverage of the summit here in North America.

But the other, equally complicated and arguably as important, issue is the management and operation of the proposed $100 billion per year in climate change financing, which we discuss in our new article in Science (also see good recent coverage in Climate Wire and the Vancouver Sun, as well as the Canadian Press and Agence France Press; you may also contact me for a copy of the paper).

Success in planning the Green Climate Fund, the proposed body that will manage a significant proportion of the $100 billion per year, is critical to building the public and political will to provide the funds and to ensuring there are real results on the ground. It is also could be critical to creating the unity necessary to tackle the other contentious issues; as Timmons Roberts argued in the Nature News piece, the promise of funding to respond to climate change is one of the things that kept the developing countries at the negotiating table.


Friday, November 18, 2011

More on managing climate change aid

A primary goal of our work, published in Science, about managing climate change financing is to encourage the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to learn from the failures and successes of international aid in the design of the "Green Climate Fund". We argue that the initial $30 billion in "fast-track" financing to the Green Climate Fund represents an opportunity to demonstrate that funding pledges will be met, waste and misappropriation will be minimized, and the money will support the most effective climate change projects. This is critical in building the public and political will to meet the long-term pledge of mobilizing $100 billion per year by the year 2020.

Stories about this work are beginning to appear in the Canadian and international media, including Agence France Press, the Canadian Press (here via the CBC), the Vancouver Sun and elsewhere. For the most part, the articles I have seen capture some of the key points in our research paper, but as is always the case, there are important nuances to the research that can be missed from only seeing the short media articles.

There's one point in particular that I'd like to clarify: The lede of CP wire story, which appears in some publications, says "The UN's past record of suddenly injecting vast sums of money into countries to solve a problem doesn't bode well for the future of the massive Green Climate Fund say three University of British Columbia professors."

On this point, I must be clear: our work does not specifically mention or target the past practices of the United Nations or its agencies (nor, for that matter, does it state that the GCF is already being mismanaged). In the article, we look at evidence from across the whole international aid world, and provide advice for managing the GCF based on that evidence.

Raising, managing and disbursing international aid is inherently challenging, regardless of the organization or agency involved. Learning from the recent history of international aid can help ensure that the funding pledges are met and that the money provides real results in the developing world.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Science: Managing climate change aid

My colleagues Milind Kandlikar, Hisham Zerriffi and I have an article in Science about managing the funding that has been pledged to help the developing world respond to climate change.

Here's the UBC press release:

In advance of a major United Nations climate conference, University of British Columbia researchers are recommending how to manage a $100 billion annual commitment made by the international community last year to help the developing world respond to climate change – a funding promise almost equal to all existing official development aid from major donor countries today.

In today’s issue of Science, three UBC professors – Simon Donner, Milind Kandlikar and Hisham Zerriffi – argue that the aid commitment made by developed nations at last year’s United Nations climate conference is unprecedented and that the world must learn from the troubled history of international development to ensure that countries meet the commitment and provide real actions on the ground.

“Climate change is expected to have a much greater impact on people in the developing world, even though they are least responsible for the problem,” says Donner, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and faculty associate in the Liu Institute for Global Issues at UBC. “This funding is critically important. We need to make sure the money is provided and supports real action.”

The international community’s pledge to mobilize $100 billion in “new” and “additional” funding annually by 2020 was an agreement made at last year’s United Nations climate meeting, the 2010 Cancun Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The international community will review proposals for the management and operation of this program at a meeting in Durban, South Africa, beginning on November 28.

“The Cancun aid commitment represents a large influx of money into an international aid system already fraught with problems,” says Zerriffi, an assistant professor and the Ivan Head South/North Research Chair at Liu Institute for Global Issues. “To be effective, mechanisms must be established to ensure that the funding is administered wisely so that it can be sustained through political changes and economic constraints.”

Donner, Kandlikar and Zerriffi provide specific recommendations for ensuring that countries meet the funding commitment, that waste and misappropriation are minimized and that money is directed to the most effective programs. These guidelines include instituting an “adaptive” regulatory system to close funding loopholes, employing a decentralized network of third-party auditors and adopting a scientific approach to evaluating program effectiveness.

“Randomized control trials – a form of scientific experiment – are being increasingly used to improve outcomes in a wide range of development initiatives, from local governance to child education and infectious disease prevention,” says Kandlikar, an associate professor at the Liu Institute for Global Issues and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at UBC. “The use of such trials could be very beneficial in improving climate change outcomes.”

The climate change funding, which amounts to more than twice the annual lending by the World Bank, is expected to flow through various channels, including a new Green Climate Fund (GCF) being discussed at the upcoming Durban climate summit. The UBC researchers say that careful stewardship of the initial “fast-track” funding to the GCF is critical.

“We can’t afford to make mistakes in the next few years,” says Donner. “That will sap the public and political will to support this incredibly important long-term initiative.”


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

New paper: Making the climate a part of the human world

The full version of the promised paper on climate change and belief is out in the latest issues of BAMS (pdf).


Monday, November 07, 2011

New data on carbon emissions per capita

To follow up Friday's post, I put together a chart of per capita emissions, based on the CDIAC's preliminary 2010 fossil fuel CO2 data and the estimated population. The per capita emissions were calculated using the most up-to-date source of population data I know (Wikipedia!).

The chart includes roughly the top twenty fossil fuel CO2 emitters in the preliminary 2010 data, shown in order from top (China) to bottom. Once again, keep in mind this is preliminary data and does not include other emissions from land use change or emissions of other greenhouse gas emissions.

The chart serves as a reminder that despite large increases in total emissions from fossil fuels over the past several years, countries like India, Indonesia and Brazil still have very low per capita emissions compared to North America. China has become an interesting in between, with per capita emissions still far below that of North America, but rivalling some European countries.

The simple calculation of per capita emissions is potentially misleadings, and raises a number of questions about attribution. If China is manufacturing goods for the North American market, should some of China's CO2 emissions be attributed to North America? Also, how is energy use and emissions distributed within each country? Is the per capita emissions value skewed by a very unequal distribution of wealth? [I'll let the Occupy movement tackle that one]


Friday, November 04, 2011

Stunning new carbon emissions data

The headline from the Associated Press "Biggest Jump Ever in Global Warming Gases" tells part of the story. The preliminary estimates of fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions for 2010 from Oak Ridge National Laboratory reveal what appears to be a quick rebound from the global financial crisis. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production increased 6% from 2009 to 2010, driven in large by by China. This was the largest one-year (and total) increase in carbion dioxide emissions in the Oak Ridge data. 

If you drill into the numbers, which can be found here, you discover how economic turmoil, international development and, yes, maybe even a push to low-carbon economy in some countries, is changing the world. In the 2010 data (top right), China is by far the top emitter, ahead of the U.S., and India is now in the third spot. Of course, this ranking does not take population into account; the per capita emissions in China, and especially India, are far lower that that in the U.S. and Canada.

What is even more striking is the change over the past three years. I've plotted the percent change from 2008 to 2010 for the same "top twenty" countries (bottomr right). Here you can see that fossil carbon emissions increased rapdily in the major developing economies - China, India, Indonesia, etc, emissions from all of the major emitting countries in the developed world decreased. The industrialized nations that ratified the Kyoto might actually come close to reaching the emissions reductions targets set back in 1997 (we need to wait a couple more years to know for sure). Emissions growth in the developing world, however, is outpacing predictions, so total global emissions continue to increase. This will undoubtedly trigger further arguments about the value of the developed world actions without commitments from the developing world, and counterarguments about equity and sustainable development.

A final note: There are two very important things to keep in mind when looking at these charts. First, this is only carbon dioxide. Despite the use of the plural gases in AP headline, the data is just carbon dioxide. The country-by-country breakdown might be a bit different if the metric were carbon dioxide "equivalent", the catch-all term in which the radiative effect of methane, nitrous oxide and the other greenhouse gases is convered into units of carbon dioxide. Second, this is only from fossil fuel and cement. Again, the numbers would be different if greenhouse gas emissions from land use change were included. For one, Indonesia, might vault up the list, at least to sixth spot, probably even higher.


Thursday, November 03, 2011

My "outtakes" from 24 Hours of Reality

Check out the latest issue of UBC Reports for my brief "outtakes" story about participating in the Climate Reality Project with Al Gore. A snippet:

Once the make-up was done and the microphones were attached, the segment producer led us out to the stage and assigned us seats on the couch. I was last. “Simon, take the end there, and Mr. Gore will sit beside you before we go live.”

Wonderful, I thought. Thanks for the warning.

Once you are there, click over to the story about the brand new Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, the "greenest" building in North America. It is a really amazing place.