This video explores the history and institutional basis of international governance.
Featuring Arun Singh - Master's student, Technology and Policy Program (TPP)
This video is from the January 2017 seminar series “Climate Science and Policy: Now More Than Ever!” by graduate students in the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.
1273.4part1.International Climate Governance and the US Role - Arun Singh
[00:00:00:18] So, welcome to the second session of today and the fourth session in our talks on climate change-- in our course on climate change. I am Arun Singh. I'm a second-year master's student in the Technology and Policy program. And my work is on looking at energy policies of India through an energy economic modeling table.
[00:00:20:01] So, this session is a two-part session. In the first half an hour or 25 minutes, I talk about international climate governance, where I will discuss how countries across the world have decided to come together and collaborate and coordinate on addressing climate change. And in the second part Michael Davidson, a colleague at the Joint Program and a PhD student at IDSS-- Institute for Data, Systems, and Society-- will talk about the role of United States historically in the processes that have happened so far and what can we possibly expect, going ahead. Great.
[00:01:02:29] So, a disclaimer-- studying international climate governance, I do it as a part of-- partly as part of my research and partly out of interest. But I'm not an expert in this field, so pardon me if I stumble in places. And feel free to stop me, to ask questions.
[00:01:22:25] So, moving on, a quick recap from previous sessions. So, Justin has covered the fundamentals of climate science and climate modeling. And [? Minghao ?] has already talked about the economics and policy of climate change. In the session today, I will try to combine these two and discuss how, based on the scientific knowledge that we have, and, based on what instruments can be implemented across countries, what are the processes that countries have developed to mitigate and adapt to climate change. So--
[00:02:00:23] Um-- could you quickly distinguish between mitigation and adaption?
[00:02:06:06] Sure. Sure.
[00:02:08:18] Sure. So mitigation is trying to come up with processes that try to address the root of the problem, which is greenhouse-gas emissions. So what policies can countries come up with that decrease the amount of greenhouse-gas emissions and move towards cleaner and local [INAUDIBLE]? Whereas adaptation is [INAUDIBLE] recognizing the fact that we have already reached a point where impacts of climate change are going to happen across the world, and we need to think about how are we going to adapt to those impacts.
[00:02:44:10] In terms of-- for example, sea-level rise is going to affect certain places in the world. They already are affecting, for example, [INAUDIBLE] [? Banda Aceh, ?] for example, where it's already happening. So how do we go about thinking to adapt to these events that are inevitable, given where we are now, and given where we would also be going, ahead? Because the commitments that we have from countries right now, they still fall short of what is expected to mitigate [INAUDIBLE], which is something I'll talk about as I go forward.
[00:03:20:11] So, the learning objectives for this talk. I hope that, by the end of this session, you will be able to answer these questions. Why do we need an internationally agreeable process to address climate change? Which are the main bodies, international bodies, responsible for international climate governance?
[00:03:41:00] What is the history of international climate negotiations? These things have been going on for more than two decades, now. So what is that history? What have been some of the important events in that history?
[00:03:53:00] What are the important, underlying principles that dictate international climate governance and negotiations? What is the current state of these negotiations? We have the Paris Agreement. Some of you might have heard about it. So what is important about the Paris Agreement, and where we stand now, in that respect? And what are the challenges in implementing the Paris Agreement, which is what the countries have agreed to as of now?
[00:04:22:02] So, going ahead, why do we want an international agreement? So, from the talks that Justin gave, I hope it's clear by now that there is a strong scientific consensus on climate change and the fact that CO2 is a stock pollutant-- which means that it doesn't matter where is it emitted from. The effects are spread across the world. That necessitates that it's important for the whole world to come together, to address the challenge.
[00:04:51:12] The other argument is, the nature of the problem is tragedy of the commons, which means that there are high costs for a small group of individuals or entities or stakeholders to act, but the benefits are spread out. So individual benefits are very small. And that leads to small incentives for individuals to have. So that--
[00:05:19:07] But, if we talk about overall benefits, that-- so, the overall benefits are spread out across the world. So, as a problem, we should not look at it as individual benefits but what are the overall benefit for the globe? So--
[00:05:39:03] Is there any-- are there any countries in the world that haven't signed the Paris Agreement?
[00:05:44:27] Yeah. Not all countries have signed the Paris Agreement. [INAUDIBLE]
[00:05:47:23] What are the ones that have not?
[00:05:49:17] I'm sorry?
[00:05:50:20] What countries have not?
[00:05:53:20] I'm not familiar with the countries that have not signed, exactly. I [INAUDIBLE] those names. But there is a slide up ahead which shows how many countries, out of the principal countries have signed and have not signed. So I can get back to you.
[00:06:09:26] There's a slide ahead, OK.
[00:06:11:07] There is a slide ahead [INAUDIBLE]. So, when we think about an international governing body on environment, how do we frame what makes them work? So, there is a worldwide [INAUDIBLE] scientists initially identified the effective international environment-governing bodies specified on three things. They are able to increase government concern for the issue. They enhance the contractual environment, which means putting in place policies that enhance transparency of involved bodies. And they also build national capacity, because not all countries would be able to act in an equal manner.
[00:06:55:21] So these are the important features of international environment organizations. So, which organizations are responsible, when it comes to climate change? So I'll talk about the history of UNFCCC, which is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, through this timeline. In this timeline, there are some important milestones-- sorry--
[00:07:23:27] What if-- can we go back? I thought there were three-- yeah, there are three Cs, which you did-- no, the one after that. So, those six letters in that anagram mean United Nations Framework on Climate Change--
[00:07:39:23] Convention on Climate Change.
[00:07:41:05] Oh. Convention on Climate Change, [INAUDIBLE] Right. OK, thanks.
[00:07:45:01] So, I'll talk about the history of [INAUDIBLE] through this timeline, starting with 1988. That's when IPCC, which is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this was established, a major milestone. And what exactly is IPCC?
[00:08:03:20] So IPCC is the scientific assessment body which provides information on the current state of scientific research on climate change. It's important to note that IPCC does not prescribe policies but only talks about what is the consensus among scientists, in terms of what is the state of climate change now and what can we expect in the future.
[00:08:26:24] Just like this lecture series.
[00:08:29:15] [LAUGH] Yep. The second important milestone, 1992, the Rio Earth Conference, where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, was adopted. And I will take us away from the timeline, because it's important to talk about what UNFCCC stands for, what are the underlying principles, and so on.
[00:08:56:09] So what does this mean? What does UNFCCC mean? It's basically a group of 196 member countries which have come together to negotiate and to decide how they want to address climate change. It's important to-- the purpose of UNFCCC is also to lay down the ground rules on how the treaties and how the agreements for climate change will be decided. Because it's very hard, if you think about it, to bring together close to 200 countries to agree upon something.
[00:09:27:28] So, first, the ground rules need to be laid out about how they are going to discuss this process of agreeing upon something. The member countries of UNFCCC can be divided into some major categories-- developed countries, rapidly developing countries such as India and China, [INAUDIBLE] developing countries, and small island developing countries, the countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. There is also differing classification of how some of these countries have grouped together, when it comes to negotiating under UNFCCC.
[00:09:57:16] So there is the umbrella group, which is non-EU, non-European Union, developed countries. There is the European Union, the G77+China, which is mainly developing plus rapidly developing countries, Small Island Developing States, and Least Developed Countries. So these are some broad groups under which countries have come together to negotiate.
[00:10:18:12] What is the goal of UNFCCC? So, their main objective is to adopt [INAUDIBLE] "any related legal instruments" under UNFCCC is that the Conference of the Parties may adopt a level of temperature that will prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference to the climate system. So, disregard the bit about the [INAUDIBLE] phrases here.
[00:10:46:01] So UNFCCC is an umbrella treaty under which agreements need to be decided. So that's what the "any related legal instrument" refers to. Conference of the Parties are the parties that have agreed to UNFCCC and that have agreed to negotiate under the umbrella of UNFCCC. "Level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference" is the temperature rise that these countries agree upon to stay below, to avoid dangerous interference. So, some of you might have heard 2 degrees C as a target, which is generally what the countries agree upon, but the more ambitious target is 1 and 1/2 degrees Celsius.
[00:11:28:27] Moving on, what principles guide the UNFCCC? And this is something which is very important, because-- so the parties should protect the climate system based on what's called the "principle common but differentiated responsibilities." And two more words have been added to it, recently, which is "respective capabilities." This--
[00:11:53:05] And this is an important principle, so I will spend some time talking about this. What does it signify? What does it mean? We discussed the presence of CO2 as a stock pollutant. Once it's emitted, it stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years.
[00:12:11:10] So, what has been the status of emissions of CO2 across the world? So, if you look at annual emissions in 2013, this infographic represents-- the size of countries represents their emissions of CO2. So US has been the largest emitter in 2013, followed by China and India. But, since this is a stock pollutant, the CO2 that's present in the atmosphere today has been emitted over previous centuries.
[00:12:38:29] So, it's important to look at historical emissions, which is where this picture comes into play. And we see that the US and the European Union have been historically the largest contributors of CO2. What's also worrying to see here is having a strong fossil-based economy has been responsible for the growth of the developed world. So we also need to look at the GDP per person and see where countries stand in terms of their growth status right now.
[00:13:08:23] And there we see that most of the developed world-- most of the-- the European Union and the United States have a high GDP per capita, so these are the countries that have also historically been responsible for emitting [INAUDIBLE].
[00:13:23:06] Another component of this is the vulnerability of countries climate change, which is where we see a disproportionate impact on the developing countries. This graph is a bit inflated, because China and India are also the most populous countries, so that also adds to the impact on these countries.
[00:13:40:17] And Russia is-- Russia's in the red. [INAUDIBLE]
[00:13:45:17] [INTERPOSING VOICES]
[00:13:45:25] I think so, yeah.
[00:13:46:17] Pretty small. Huh!
[00:13:47:24] Yeah. So I think, primarily, this is because the population of China and India that their [INAUDIBLE] impact is highly inflated. So, given this perspective, there is-- countries talk about carbon budget, that there is-- every country has a historical responsibility to what they have emitted, and we should talk about their emissions in terms of budget for the countries. So, it seems that the developed countries have already consumed a lot of what their budget should be, whereas the developing countries are falling behind, and they have the argument that, to grow, they need to-- they still need to be based on a fossil-fuel-based economy, so they should have more leeway in using carbon-- in using coal and other fossil fuels.
[00:14:42:09] So this leads to two or more emissions. Given that climate change is a problem we have realized very strongly now, who should mitigate their emissions? And who should pay for the implementation of mitigation and adaptation actions? And these two questions have been guiding the negotiation processes for throughout.
[00:15:03:27] So, moving on to the next step, in 1994 UNFCCC entered into force, which led to beginning of the Conference of the Parties that were a part of UNFCCC. Guided by the two questions that I discussed, it was realized-- it was agreed upon in the Kyoto Protocol that it would only be the developed countries who would have binding emission-reduction targets, whereas the developing countries would not have any binding targets.
[00:15:40:05] It's important that, while decided in the Kyoto Protocol, the countries had a choice between encouraging specific policies decided by individual countries or going for negotiating top-down specific deadlines for national emissions. The countries opted for the latter one, and we would see why that became a problem and why that has been a problem. Also, as I mentioned, the other thing that the countries agreed upon was that only developed countries would [INAUDIBLE] emission-reduction targets.
[00:16:09:07] So, from 1997, 2002, 2005, the Kyoto Protocol was under the process of ratification. So ratification was basically at least 55 countries, which account for at least 55% of the total CO2 emissions, should ratify the treaty. So it took them a long time, and eventually in 2004 the treaty was ratified and entered into force in 2005.
[00:16:34:28] The first commitment period, which is basically the period during which these countries comply with their emission-reduction targets, was 2008 to 2012. However, there were a few major setbacks. Canada withdrew from the Protocol in 2011. And the United States never ratified the Protocol, primarily because of these two problems-- that there was not a consensus within the US, and Michael will hopefully talk more about this-- but, because of the lack of consensus on these two components that I discussed earlier.
[00:17:08:05] So this led to a discussion on moving on to a different way of looking at this problem. And that's where the Copenhagen Accord came into picture, where the objective was to establish agreement, from 2012 onwards, which was-- so 2012, as I discussed, was the end of the first commitment period of Kyoto Protocol. The backdrop was, of course, dissatisfaction with no commitments from developing countries. Because, by this time, China, India, and some of the major countries had seen tremendous growth, and developed countries could not agree to the fact that these countries should not have any targets anymore.
[00:17:45:24] So the whole process of deciding these targets shifted from a top-down commitment for countries to a bottom-up approach where each country were supposed to pledge to-- to commit to a pledge-and-review process where each country would come up with their own admission targets, and there would be a review mechanism which would ensure-- or which would look at whether the countries are complying with their targets or not. Then there was the Doha Accord, in 2012, which formalized that this is the way we would look at these negotiations now and, in the next three years, we should come up with a formal agreement, based on this principle, for the international climate negotiations.
[00:18:32:07] Some of you might remember COP was called a huge failure, because it was expected that, in the COP, countries would come up with a binding agreement, post-2012 period, but there was no binding agreement in Copenhagen. Rather, what the countries came up with were-- it was not even the whole group of countries, but a bunch of countries came up with this agreement that had this pledge-and-review process in place. However, Copenhagen is also called a success, because that led to moving on to this new process, this bottom-up approach of every country coming up with their targets, which, in turn-- which is a more universally acceptable process, as compared to top-down targets given to each country.
[00:19:22:13] So, that paved way to the Paris Agreement, which formalized, what do you mean by the pledge-and-review [INAUDIBLE]? So it was decided in Paris Agreement that there would be five-year cycles where each country would declare their nationally determined contributions, and the nationally determined contributions are decided differently for developed and developing countries.
[00:19:47:27] So the developed countries are supposed to promise absolute emission- cuts, whereas the developing countries are given freedom to declare their policies in various manners. So, one approach could be saying that we would reduce the emissions intensity of our GDP by a certain amount. Which--
[00:20:06:11] Are these five-year targets?
[00:20:08:00] These are five-year pledge cycles, yes. So the principle of CBDR, Common But Differentiated Responsibilities, is still in place, although in a different manner. Earlier, developing countries were not even required to come with any targets. Now they're supposed to come up with targets. It's just different-- it's just a different way of looking at those targets and promising those targets.
[00:20:36:06] There is also the principle of global stocktake, starting in 2023, which is looking globally at where we are in terms of moving towards the target of 2-degree-C rise or 1 and 1/2 degree C rise. Some other important components are the transparency is-- one is the transparency component, which talks about biennial review of progress of countries on their NDCs and to--
[00:21:02:29] On their "NDCs"?
[00:21:04:14] Their Nationally Determined Contributions. Then there are also components on loss and damage, which essentially talks about financial mechanisms for countries that are going to be impacted heavily by climate change-- so, countries such as the low-lying island states. And, coming out from the principle of CBDR is also the issue of finance, where developed countries are supposed to provide financial assistance to developing countries, to help them comply with their targets.
[00:21:39:23] So, the Paris Agreement has been ratified much quicker than the expectation. So, as of today, 137 out of 197 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement. So it has been put in force. I'm short on time, so I'll quickly talk about the components.
[00:21:58:15] So, as I discussed, nationally contributions are what the countries promised they would do. This is from a working paper, so this is a work in progress. But, if you look at this very quickly, you see that, if there were no NDCs, the red line would be the part of CO2 emissions. The first set of NDCs promised a reduction, but the part to the 2-degree-C target still requires very strong actions.
[00:22:24:24] Another important point to note here is, the first global stocktake-- so the first NDC pledge period is from 2020 to 2025. The first global stocktake takes place in 2023. However, countries have to declare their second set of NDCs back in 2020. So, if in the [INAUDIBLE] in the first stocktake, it turns out that we are falling way behind the target, there is no possibility, here, at least, to revise the second set of NDCs.
[00:22:55:09] So, deciding these processes is a complication that-- is a challenge of implementing the Paris Agreement.
[00:23:07:06] Talking about the global stocktake cycles, this is a work from the Climate Interactive. And we see that business as usual would take us to 4 and 1/2-degree-C temperature rise. The promised NDC proposals would lead to 3 and 1/2 against the goal of 2 degrees C. So this, again, emphasizes a point that the current NDCs the countries have promised are not ambitious enough to achieve the stated objective.
[00:23:33:13] Talking about the transparency framework, this is supposedly the legally binding part of the agreement. But even if it's legally binding, it's not really [? aggressive. ?] So--
[00:23:46:13] It's not really a what?
[00:23:48:11] It's not-- I mean, it is a legally binding component, but if you look at what exactly is the legally binding part, it does not really-- um--
[00:23:58:06] They were required to report but not necessarily--
[00:24:00:22] [INTERPOSING VOICES]
[00:24:01:02] Exactly. No, they are required to report. They are required-- they're supposed to become more ambitious with each new set of NDCs, [INAUDIBLE] within successive NDCs, but they are not legally bound to be more ambitious. So the legal requirement is only to report NDCs and to undergo expert review, technical analysis, and peer review on what's the progress on those NDCs. But there's no legal requirement on what the actually NDCs should be. So that's also a challenge in actually achieving the objective.
[00:24:34:06] Finance is another [INAUDIBLE] component where developed countries are required to provide assistance to developing countries. And I'm running a bit short on time. So, where do we stand now?
[00:24:47:11] So, in 2016 we had the COP 22 in Marrakesh. This one and the next two COPs are supposed to formalize the Paris Agreement, in terms of what exactly will be the world plan on implementing the issues that have been discussed. So, if we are talking about transparency, if we are talking about a review process, what exactly is the formal review process going to be like? How would countries be required to report their progress? And so on.
[00:25:14:09] So, Marrakesh had several names. It was supposed to be the COP of Action, the COP of Implementation, Adaptation, Finance, the African COP, and so on. The discussion issues revolved around what I talked about, in the Paris Agreement. So, transparency in global stocktake, finance, adaptation, capacity-building, how are developed countries going to help developing countries meet their targets, technology transfer, and loss and damage.
[00:25:43:22] These are the topics that continue to be discussed. They were discussed in Marrakesh and are also supposed to be discussed in the next two COPs and hopefully formalize the process of implementing Paris Agreement.
[00:25:56:28] When are the next two COPs? In 2018 and 2020, maybe?
[00:26:02:10] It's every year.
[00:26:03:24] These are annual conferences.
[00:26:05:20] Oh, annual.
[00:26:06:10] OK. So, the next two are in 2017 and 2018.
[00:26:10:07] '17 and '18, yeah. '18 is supposed to be, um--
[00:26:14:03] Where is the one in 2017?
[00:26:15:28] I think it's in Bonn, Germany.
[00:26:21:12] October-- usually they're around October, November. Yeah.
[00:26:25:13] Can you remind us again how often we get to set our commitments?
[00:26:30:26] So, the first set of NDCs have already been declared. And that applies from 2020 to 2025.
[00:26:38:12] Oh, OK.
[00:26:38:28] Although some countries have declared their targets until 2030. But in 2020 countries are supposed to pledge their second NDCs, which would apply until 2030. And this is supposed to be repeated.
[00:26:52:12] So, this is where I wrap up. So this was from the [? day 1 of the ?] COP, rolling on a huge [INAUDIBLE] smiling face. This was day 2.
[00:27:05:01] Hopefully that's not what we see actually. So, any questions?
[00:27:10:27] Could you switch the last one back on? Yeah. I want to copy down the list of discussion issues.
[00:27:21:07] There's more questions?
[00:27:25:14] Aren't there a couple of big components that are still not part of the Paris Agreement, like agriculture? There are a couple of big-- big aspects that have not been woven into the framework yet.
[00:27:42:17] Uh-- I'm not sure. So--
[00:27:44:29] Are you aware of them?
[00:27:46:12] I'm just trying to go through my memory of things that I've heard, but without much detail behind it.
[00:27:53:09] So there is a discussion of forestation and deforestation in the Paris Agreement, but I'm not sure-- Michael, are you aware of agriculture--
[00:28:02:24] Start-- there are ongoing agricultural discussion. But the large focus of what these pledge and review cycle has to do with energy-related CO2 emission. So you can include those in NDCs about agriculture. But, as Arun was saying, most of the details around what specifically can be included in NDCs hasn't been ironed out. And that's going to be agreed upon in the next two years.
[00:28:28:00] Yeah, [INAUDIBLE]?
[00:28:29:15] That actually answered my question.
[00:28:31:15] OK. Yeah.
[00:28:34:15] Since you've added the word "stocktake" to my vocabulary, [LAUGH] or "global stocktake," I'd appreciate some-- a few sentences explaining it. And it sounds so simple, I hope this will not be, as so much of this is, over my head.
[00:28:59:27] The idea behind stocktake is to look at whether what the countries are doing, with respect to climate change, with respect to their NDCs, how far is it taking us towards the ultimate objective, which is reaching the 2-degree Celsius or the 1 and 1/2-degree-Celsius targets.
[00:29:20:05] [INAUDIBLE] which is, the ultimate objective is-- is which, of those two?
[00:29:26:21] So that, if you look at the Paris Agreement, that has been said [INAUDIBLE] 2 degree Celsius is what we should aim for, but we should also aspire for a more ambitious target of 1 and 1/2 degree Celsius. So it has not--
[00:29:40:07] No, no, the more ambitious would be a 2% reduc--
[00:29:42:23] No, this is the temperature rise, the maximum temperature rise that we can-- we can-- that the-- uh--
[00:29:48:26] Oh, all right, 1.5 would be the more ambitious. Sorry. Yeah.
[00:29:51:27] So, 1 and 1/2 is the more ambitious target, but the agreement talks about both of these.
[00:29:58:27] Right. But, this global stocktake, each country does its own? Who does it?
[00:30:09:03] No, each country is supposed to go through a biennial review process. Every two years, what are they doing on their NDCs? The global stocktake is-- if I'm not wrong, it's in the national process of combining all of these targets and where has that led-- led the world, in terms of reaching the 2-degree-C target. Because the 2-degree-C target, it's not a country-level target. It's the global target.
[00:30:33:05] Just to differentiate through those two again, countries have to go through a biennial process, biennial review process, on what they have promised to do.
[00:30:40:07] So the stocktake is really an international process.
[00:30:43:01] It is an international process.
[00:30:44:02] It isn't just left up to the individual countries.