Expert views: Countries meet in Bonn to restart negotiations on UN climate deal

  • 01 Jun 2015, 16:20
  • Sophie Yeo

Diplomats are gathering in Bonn, Germany, to negotiate the UN's 2015 climate deal - the package that will determine what chance the world has of limiting global warming to below 2C over the coming decades.

Negotiations opened today with a 90-page text on the table. Countries have to slim this down into something that they will be able to handle during the two-week conference that will take place in Paris in December, where the agreement is expected to be signed.

The text under discussion is a melting pot of different views proposed by countries during the UN's recent previous conferences in Lima and Geneva. Chopping it down to size will be a politically fraught task, as it will mean deciding whose views will bind the world in the years to come.

Carbon Brief has spoken to diplomats, analysts and campaigners about what the next two weeks are about, and what stumbling blocks could lie ahead.


Aslak Brun, chief climate negotiator for Norway, tells Carbon Brief that whittling down the negotiating text in Bonn will help determine the ultimate shape of the deal that emerges in Paris. He says:

"It is important to do away with repetitions and overlaps, but we need to move beyond mere streamlining. We should also make progress in developing the structure for the Paris agreement. In addition, we need to advance in our deliberations on what elements belong in the core agreement and what elements could be better captured in accompanying COP [Conference of Parties] decisions."

(For the benefit of confused journalists in a press conference today, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres described the difference between the "Paris agreement" and the "Paris decision". The agreement should be considered as a formal, structured text, she said, while the decision is the "instruction manual" that explains how to use it.)

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Cutting soot and methane distracts from 2C goal, says Oxford scientist

  • 28 May 2015, 14:00
  • Sophie Yeo
A sample of black carbon (soot)

Black carbon (soot) | Wikipedia

Politicians have agreed that global temperatures need to be limited to below 2C, and scientists say that this will mean drastically reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. But which one should be cut first?

Humans emitted  35.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2013 - a volume that is increasing every year, putting the world on course to exceed its goal to keep temperature increase since the start of the Industrial Age below 2C.

But this is not the only pollutant that causes the planet to warm. Methane, ozone, black carbon (soot) and hydrofluorocarbons have an even more powerful warming effect, per tonne, than CO2.

Yet unlike CO2, which can last in the atmosphere for up to millennia, these stick around in the atmosphere for a matter of years or even days. As a result, they are known as short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs).

Most countries are focusing on reducing CO2 and SLCPs at the same time.

But a  new policy paper by Myles Allen, professor of geosystem science at the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford, says that reducing SLCPs while CO2 emissions are still rising could make it more difficult to hit the 2C goal.

He argues that, while there are good reasons to cut SLCPs, they should not be used as an excuse to put off cutting CO2 emissions.

The problem

Governments are currently submitting pledges to the UN about how much they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU, for instance, has said it will cut its emissions by at least  40% by 2030 on 1990 levels. There is no obligation for countries to say how much of their reductions will come from CO2 cuts, and how much from SLCPs.

Instead, countries group them together, meaning that their emissions reductions targets can be hit by cutting any combination of any gases.

To create a level playing field between the different pollutants, they are measured according to how much global warming they will cause over a 100-year period.

For instance, over a 100-year period, one tonne of methane traps 28 times as much heat as one tonne of CO2. Black carbon traps 924 times as much.

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Carbon pricing schemes climb to $50bn, despite Australian backtracking

  • 27 May 2015, 07:30
  • Sophie Yeo
Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott | Shutterstock

The value of carbon pricing schemes rose to $50 billion in 2015, according to a new assessment by the World Bank.

It outlines its findings in the latest edition of  Carbon Pricing Watch, which examines the state of the world's carbon markets in advance of its more detailed report due later this year.

As of 1 April 2015, emissions trading schemes were valued at $34 billion, up from $32 billion the previous year. This was despite the repeal of Australia's carbon pricing mechanism in July 2014 at the hands of prime minister  Tony Abbott.

Emissions trading schemes are not the only way to put a price on carbon. For the first time, the World Bank has also valued carbon taxes across the world, which it finds amount to $14 billion.

The World Bank calculated the value of emissions trading schemes by multiplying the allowances issued for each scheme, multiplied by the price. Estimates of the price of carbon taxes were based on government budgets for 2015, or by the greenhouse gas emissions covered by the carbon price on 1 April 2015.

All in all, emissions are currently being priced in 39 nations and 23 subnational jurisdictions, as the World Bank map shows below.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 At 13.11.18

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Analysis: Regional attitudes to climate change across the UK

  • 22 May 2015, 11:00
  • Rosamund Pearce
UK flooding

UK flooding | Shutterstock

Do people across Britain think differently about climate change? Or does the UK speak as one voice? Data on regional attitudes to climate change is pretty thin on the ground, but the information that exists from the UK and further afield seems to tell an intriguing story.

A study published earlier this year in  Nature Climate Change found differences in Americans' views on climate change, depending on where they lived.

Based on survey data gathered between 2008 and 2014, people living in the central US tended to be less worried about global warming than the national average, while residents of drought-stricken California showed noticeably more concern.

UK opinion on causes of climate change

Crossing the Atlantic to the UK, YouGov recently  arried out a poll for the Sunday Times, showing how public perception of climate change varies across five regions: London, the South, Wales and the Midlands, the North and Scotland.

Participants were asked which of the following statements they agreed with: the climate is changing as a result of human activity, it's changing but not because of human activity, it's not changing, or they're unsure.

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Limiting global warming to 1.5C is still possible, say scientists

  • 21 May 2015, 14:30
  • Simon Evans
Aerial of Forestry Plantations

Forestry plantation | Shutterstock

It's still technically possible to limit global warming to below 1.5C this century, according to new research published in Nature Climate Change.

Only a small window of opportunity remains open, the study says - and it is closing rapidly. Global carbon pricing or its equivalent should have been implemented already and must certainly be in place by 2020. The world would then need to become carbon neutral by mid-century.

The new study pitches into a live and vociferous debate over whether the world should be aiming to limit warming to 1.5C or 2C, and whether either target remains achievable. Carbon Brief puts the new study's findings in context.

Limiting warming to 1.5C

So far, the globally agreed target for avoiding dangerous climate change is to limit warming to  no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels. But more than half of the world's nations represented under the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are in favour of a tougher 1.5C target. These include the least developed and most vulnerable countries, such as the small island states that are already losing farmland to rising sea levels.

UNFCCC review process is underway to try to decide if a 1.5C goal would be more appropriate. Its initial findings include that the impacts of even 1.5C of warming would be "significant" and that a 1.5C limit would be "preferable" to 2C. However, it warns that the science on the impacts of 1.5C compared to 2C is "less robust" and that until new results become available, any decision on strengthening the current 2C goal may need to wait.

Today's new research aims directly into this relative scientific void. It says: "So far, only a few studies have reported scenarios consistent with a 1.5C limit… Here we fill this gap".

To find out if 1.5C remains possible it uses two " integrated assessment models" that represent the world's energy system and economy under different assumptions about the future of global policy, development and growth.

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Mismatched graph creates confusion in Canada's UN climate pledge

  • 20 May 2015, 08:00
  • Sophie Yeo
Alberta oilsands

Chris Kolaczan | Shutterstock

21.05.15 - Updated with response from Environment Canada, and details of new assessments of Canada's INDC by other organisations.

Canada has submitted its  intended contribution to the UN's forthcoming climate deal, but its new target has done little to remedy its reputation as a climate laggard.

On Friday, prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government pledged to cut emissions 30% on 2005 levels by 2030, as part of its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) ahead of the 2015 agreement, which will be signed in Paris. 

The document states:

"This target is ambitious but achievable. It represents a substantial reduction from Canada's business-as-usual emissions."

But the target prompted an outpouring of disappointment from NGOs, who say that the target compared unfavourably with other developed countries that have also submitted their contributions. 

While the EU has pledged to reduce emissions 40% below 1990 levels, Canada's target actually represents a 6% increase if this is taken as the baseline.

Meanwhile the  US has pledged a 26-28% reduction by 2025 on 2030 levels. Analysts from the World Resources Institute  wrote:

"Unfortunately, Canada's level of mitigation would put it - the world's ninth largest emitter - noticeably behind its peers in terms of how fast it aims to decarbonize in the post-2020 period."

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Opposition to fracking increases again, finds Sunday Times poll

  • 18 May 2015, 17:00
  • Simon Evans

The British public is becoming increasingly opposed to fracking for shale gas, a series of polls for the Sunday Times show. However, as with some  previous polling on energy and climate issues commissioned by the paper, it has not reported the findings.

Support for shale gas extraction has fallen to its lowest level since the series began, falling below one third of respondents for the first time. Opposition has reached its highest level.

The latest survey also finds majority support for allowing or encouraging onshore windfarms and a strong majority in favour of the government either maintaining or scaling up its action on climate change.

Carbon Brief has the numbers, which should provide interesting reading for the  new Conservative government, given its  support for fracking and opposition to subsidised onshore wind.


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The Carbon Brief Interview: Tony de Brum

  • 15 May 2015, 15:00
  • Sophie Yeo
Tony de Brum

Tony de Brum | Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief's Sophie Yeo asks Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, about fighting for action on climate change at the IMO meeting this week and the future of the Pacific islands.

Tony de Brum is the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, a small nation of coral atolls in the Pacific Ocean and one of the most vulnerable countries to sea level rise. He previously served as Minister-in-Assistance to the President, and has led calls at the UN for stronger action on climate change.

On reluctance to act on climate change: "Some of these nations are confused as to whether they're developing countries or developed countries, or some that want to be both, to take advantage of the benefits of being one or the other in one package."

On the small island states negotiating bloc: "It is a platform that allows for the smallest of the vulnerable states to have as loud a voice as anybody else."

On the small island states' negotiating strategy: "In terms of keeping the islands together and promoting their interests as a unit, it has worked. But have the outcomes of that effort been as encouraging? No. But neither has any other sector in the climate change debate and effort."

On Paris: "What we really need to do is focus on what we want to come out of Paris and make sure that it is not a suicide note."

On migration: "The polluting states must not see the availability of destinations for displaced people as an excuse to continue their behaviour as usual."

On the unstoppable collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet: "It is something that concerns the Marshall Islands now."

On US politics: "The Republicans might have different reasons for loving the Marshalls than the Democrats do, but the relationship is still very strong."

On loss and damage: "I think it's going to be one of the most difficult things to come away with come Paris."

On the Green Climate Fund: "I don't want to see bureaucratic layers of NGOs and other organisations establish themselves between the source of the fund and the need."

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Countries fail to set shipping climate target

  • 14 May 2015, 15:20
  • Sophie Yeo
NYK Cargo Ship NYK ATHENA entering the Port of Los Angeles with tugboat assistance

Sheila Fitzgerald | Shutterstock

Countries rejected the opportunity to place a global emissions reduction target on the shipping industry at a meeting of the International Maritime Organisation in London this week.

Proposed by the Marshall Islands, this would have been the first time that a cap was placed on the sector, which is projected to grow in the decades ahead as trade and the world economy expands.

But the lack of consensus over how to collect data on shipping emissions put a stranglehold on the discussions, with many nations unwilling to sign up to an emissions reduction goal without a sure way to measure progress.

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Analysis: How DECC spends its annual budget

  • 13 May 2015, 17:00
  • Simon Evans
Department for Energy and Climate Change

Carbon Brief

Update 4/6 - We have published further analysis of DECC's budget based on a breakdown released to Carbon Brief under Freedom of Information rules. You can read it here.

Update 16/5 - Chancellor George Osborne will announce his budget on 8 July. Departments are expected to submit spending proposals to the Treasury by early July, according to the Financial Times, giving time to negotiate details of any cuts before an autumn spending review.

Update 14/5 - A few clarifications are worth making. First, the £8 billion DECC budget in 2013/14 includes large accounting adjustments ("provisions") which do not reflect actual expenditure. This is better reflected by the £3.4 billion "departmental expenditure limits" budget shown further down.  We have amended text below to reflect this.

Second, nuclear clean-up spending relates to managing the legacy of the UK's historic civil and military nuclear programmes, including managing its plutonium stockpile. Finally the cost of supporting low-carbon power sources, including renewables, does not appear in DECC accounts as it is paid via energy bills.

The Conservatives have pledged to shave a further £13 billion from government spending over the next two years.

With the likes of health and overseas aid likely to be protected and welfare subject to a separate savings target, spending at other departments will be put under the microscope in search of potential cuts.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) "will be among the biggest casualties in terms of spending reductions", according to an  Independent article.

Carbon Brief runs through how DECC allocates its budget of around £8 billion a year, or just over one per cent of the total government budget.

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