Somewhere between climate change denialism, political inertia and rising climate-related catastrophes lies the technical consultations to implement the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). When President George H. W. Bush signed the UNFCCC in 1992, the United States insisted, according to Elizabeth Colbert, that the convention include “no timetable or specific targets for action.” Adding to this stockpile of inertia was President George W. Bush’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol and President Donald J. Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. President Joe Biden began to reverse the political inertia by signing an Executive Order to rejoin the Paris Agreement on his first day in office.
Article 14 of the Paris Agreement calls for a Global Stocktake (GST) of contributions made by Parties (participating governments) and non-Parties (everybody else) every five years towards achieving the Paris Agreement goals. On March 6, IATP submitted its contribution to the third “technical dialogue,” which will result in a policy input for a GST report to the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties 28 (COP28), scheduled to convene in November in the United Arab Emirates.
In addition to Party submissions, the GST website contains accredited Observer organization and non-Observer submissions. Among the largest Observer contributions was “CO₂ emissions in 2022,” a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Global energy-related CO₂ emissions reached a record high in 2022. However, stated IEA, absent the increase in renewable energy, electric vehicles and heat pumps, the record high could have been higher. Other Observers likewise submitted single reports to the GST. IATP responded to three of 21 multipart GST guiding questions by referencing our publications and a few of those of colleague organizations. Like the IEA report, we tried to find some good news to report to the GST technical dialogue in what have otherwise been five years of momentum toward climate catastrophes.
IATP thematized our comments under messages in response to the GST’s “guiding questions.” For example, under the headline message “Need to end the overreliance of climate action on carbon offsets and carbon removals” we referenced the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) evidence of a “carbon budget,” a level of emissions that must not be exceeded and that cannot be offset by temporary nature-based emissions avoidance or reduction projects.
In response to the GST question on “barriers and challenges” to achieving the Paris Agreement objectives, we noted that there is little evidence to support the claim that a share of proceeds from trades in Voluntary Carbon Markets are a significant and reliable source of finance for reduction of greenhouse gases and adaptation to climate change. Indeed, IATP first questioned in 2010 whether carbon markets sales could become a significant and reliable source of climate finance.
We urged government delegates to COP28 to “incorporate into negotiating ambition and climate finance scale the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) clear reporting on the climate crisis, and not take action based on the diplomatically massaged versions of climate science in the [IPCC] ‘Summary for Policymakers.’” Particularly noteworthy was the IPCC “medium confidence” consensus that “positive” fossil fuel generated emissions could not be compensated for on a one-to-one ratio by “negative emissions” from nature-based carbon sequestration in forestry and agriculture projects. (Chapter 18.104.22.168; Figure 5.35) Furthermore, as fossil fuel emissions increase, the gap over time between “positive emissions” and “negative emissions” increases. This IPCC finding should strongly influence the COP28 Article 6.4 negotiations on the accounting and crediting of emissions reductions and avoidance projects that claim to offset or compensate for fossil fuel emissions.
Another challenge to achieving the Paris Agreement goals is that Party reporting of Nationally Determined Contributions to Mitigation (NDCs) of greenhouse gases does not require non-Parties, mostly corporations, to report their emissions to governments. As a result, NDCs are likely to underreport the amount of greenhouse gas mitigation activities to achieve the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5⁰C above the mid-19th century level. IATP has illustrated how emissions reporting from about 20 major meat and dairy processing companies can be estimated in four reports we authored or co-authored in our “Emissions Impossible” series. In a March 23 briefing for U.S. Senate banking committee staff, we explained that these reports exemplified the feasibility of corporate compliance with a proposed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) climate financial disclosure rule that mandates reporting of Scope 3 (supply chain) emissions as one indicator of the scale of a climate financial risk to be managed by a SEC registered company.
“Starving adaptation finance now will make it more expensive to adapt later”: That was one of our GST messages to the COP28 negotiators. Public finance to enable adaptation to climate change impacts, particularly in the most vulnerable countries, continues to be paltry, relative to the demonstrated needs. We referenced the U.N. Environmental Programs annual “Adaptation Gap” report to document financial gaps that must be filled by both public and private sector entities, particularly from rich countries. History is supposed to be instructive. But re-reading IATP’s reporting from COP18 on the bleak prospects for adequate climate finance then, it is very difficult to see that any climate finance lesson has been learned.
Agroecology provides a pathway to climate resilience and food security
IATP has been involved with the UNFCCC debate over the role of agriculture in climate change at least a decade prior to our engagement with the UNFCCC Koronivia Joint Work Programme on Agriculture (KJWA). We reported to the GST on our advocacy for agroecological practices in our KJWA work with the Climate Action Network and as an IATP submission to the KJWA. The advance of agroecology around the world, as documented in case studies on IATP’s website, is probably the best news that we reported to the GST technical dialogue team.
Trade policy continues to struggle with climate change. The imperative that all domestic policy must be documented to be least trade restrictive and be “necessary” and “proportional” to achieve a domestic policy objective has allowed trade policy to continue largely as Business As Usual, albeit with demands for an Environmental Goods Agreement to eliminate tariffs on such goods. IATP’s contributions to the trade and climate debate begin with the recognition that governments concurred on Paris Agreement measures to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to climate change only if they were voluntary. Trade in goods and services is enabled by mandatory measures with some degree of enforcement through trade dispute settlement panels. Although the UNFCCC has advanced in the scientific and technological advice it receives and although the Paris Agreement provides targets and timetables, these too are voluntary and without enforcement.
IATP closed our GST response on a hopeful note, with six short summaries of other admirable NGO contributions to the realization of the Paris Agreement objectives. We hope that some part of our contributions will be represented in the GST report to COP28.
Photo credit: UNFCCC