by Michael Burger & Justin Gundlach

Deliberately attempting to alter the climate, either by removing greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the atmosphere or by reducing the amount of sunlight that hits the earth’s surface, would take humanity into uncharted territory, both in scientific and political terms. Given the precarious state of the climate and the world’s current rate of GHG emissions, many argue that research into climate engineering must begin now, lest we encounter a climate emergency and lack the tools to address it. Others, however, argue that investing in research on how to (re)engineer the climate puts humanity at a different type of risk – namely, trying to figure out how to govern climate engineering without first answering the question of whether climate engineering should be pursued at all.

Research Governance” is a chapter in the forthcoming volume from Cambridge University Press, edited by Michael B. Gerrard and Tracy Hester, Climate Engineering and the Law: Regulation and Liability for Solar Radiation Management and Carbon Dioxide Removal. The chapter describes the nascent and inchoate current state of climate engineering research governance, as well as the key issues that any effort to govern climate engineering must address. After surveying research efforts, issues, and institutions – or institutional gaps – the authors conclude as follows: “there is a very real and increasingly urgent need to answer the key questions surrounding governance: what qualifies as climate engineering research subject to governance, at what point do governance requirements kick in, what substantive rules should apply, and who should do the governing.”

Report from COP22: Conclusion of Talks in Marrakech


Posted on November 20th, 2016 by Romany Webb
 1 comment  
Flags of the 197 parties to the UNFCCC outside COP22

Flags of the 197 parties to the UNFCCC outside the blue zone at COP22

For the last two weeks, representatives of almost 200 countries have been in Marrakech for the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP22. Coming into the conference, there were high hopes that it would be the “COP of Action,” with countries working to implement the Paris Agreement, reached at COP21 last year. Aimed at limit global warming to “well below” 2oC above pre-industrial levels, the Paris Agreement establishes an overarching framework for action to address climate change, but leaves much of the detail to be worked out through future negotiations. These negotiations began in May in Germany and continued in Morocco at COP22.

There was broad agreement, among country representatives at COP22, on the need to advance implementation of the Paris Agreement. Reaching consensus on how to do proved difficult, however. Discussions continued into the early hours of the morning for several days, finally wrapping up around 4am on Saturday, with the adoption of thirty-five decisions, establishing a detailed plan for moving forward to implement the Agreement. Most significantly, it was decided that all preparatory work for implementation should be completed by 2018, with a progress review in 2017. While that is longer than many had hoped, it bears remembering that completion of work to implement the Kyoto Protocol took four years. Whereas the Kyoto Protocol required only developed countries to take action to address climate change, the Paris Agreement requires action by developing countries as well.

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Government agencies are often required to conduct some form of environmental impact assessment (EIA) before approving a major project or proposal. The documents generated during these assessments contain a wealth of information about baseline environmental conditions, impact assessment methodologies, predicted impacts, and environmental mitigation measures. But these documents are often filed away and forgotten after the proposal is approved, and as a result, the valuable information contained therein is rarely utilized in future applications.

The Sabin Center has published a paper describing how public access to and utilization of EIA data could be improved through the development of a centralized and fully searchable online database. The paper first outlines the rationale for undertaking such an endeavor: it describes the type of information contained in EIA documents, potential applications of this information, and the limitations of existing EIA databases (which only cover a subset of the total universe of EIA documents). The paper then describes four steps that could be taken to create a more comprehensive and user-friendly EIA database:

  1. Connect existing databases, preferably through the creation of a centralized database.
  2. Expand the scope of the documents that are accessible through the centralized database to include older documents, documents from other jurisdictions, and different types of EIA documents (e.g., to include Environmental Assessments as well as Environmental Impact Statements).
  3. Add searching, sorting, and filtering features that make it easier for users to find specific documents as well as specific types of data contained in those documents.
  4. Prepare new EIA documents in a manner that will streamline the process of adding these to the database and make it easier for users to find relevant information within the document.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at COP22

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at COP22

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Marrakech for the 22nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP22. Hundreds queued for hours in the hot Marrakechi sun for an opportunity to hear Secretary Kerry speak at what will likely be his last COP in public office. I was one of the lucky ones allowed into the packed room, where he gave a rousing addressing, calling for urgent action by governments, businesses, and individuals to combat climate change.

Secretary Kerry began his address by declaring: “climate change is deeply personal to me, but its personal to everyone in this room. I know that. And we obviously want it to be just as personal for everyone in every room: men, women, children, businesspeople, consumers, parents, teachers, students, grandparents. Wherever we live, whatever our calling, whatever our background may be, this is an imperative.” Unfortunately, however, that is not yet the case.

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Report from COP22: High Level Talks Begin


Posted on November 15th, 2016 by Romany Webb
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, with the King of Morocco, at the High Level Segment on Tuesday

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, with the King of Morocco and President of the COP, at the High Level Segment on Tuesday

The second week of COP22 – the 22nd Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – got underway yesterday in Marrakech. The mood at the conference center is notably different from last week. The number of attendees seems to have doubled, as does the security presence, with hundreds of armed police stationed around the center. On arriving this morning, I was stopped by United Nations security forces, who held me back as Secretary General Ban Ki-moon passed by, almost entirely hidden by photographers. This has become a familiar sight in recent days, with many government ministers arriving to take part in high level discussions.

A key focus of the discussions will likely be on financing climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. It is widely accepted that developing countries require additional financial assistance, particularly for adaptation activities, which have historically been funded at significantly lower levels than mitigation. Reports filed with the United Nations indicate that, of the bilateral funding developed countries provided to developing countries in 2014, sixty-six percent went to mitigation activities and just fourteen percent to adaptation, with an additional seventeen percent going to joint projects.

In the Paris Agreement, reached last year at COP21, “parties recognize[d] the importance of support for and international cooperation on adaptation.” Many hoped that COP22 would result in an agreement to increase funding for adaptation, perhaps through an extension of the Adaptation Fund established under the Kyoto Protocol. The Adaptation Fund, which supports projects to help developing countries adapt to climate change, was created in 2001 at the last COP held in Marrakech (i.e., COP7). It would, therefore, be fitting if Marrakech were the site of a new agreement to continue the Adaptation Fund under the Paris Agreement. That seems unlikely, however. Read more »

Report from COP22: The COP of Action


Posted on November 12th, 2016 by Romany Webb
 1 comment  
A Nissan LEAF electric car on display in the green zone

A Nissan LEAF electric car on display in the green zone

The first week of COP22 – the 22nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech – is drawing to a close. Most days this week have begun with a plenary session, at which country representatives can make statements, outlining their position on key issues. Almost invariably, the statements are general in nature and typically consist of broad pronouncements on uncontroversial issues. To truly understand a country’s position, then, it is necessary to attend the smaller negotiating sessions taking place throughout the day.

Known as “informal consultations,” the negotiating sessions have been proceeding along multiple tracks, covering myriad issues, from planning to finance to technology transfer and more. As the week has progressed, the negotiations have become increasingly intense, with country representatives often engaging in heated debate. For the last few days, most have been closed to observers, presumably to allow country representatives to speak more freely. The hope is that they can reach consensus on draft text, which will be presented for approval at the plenary sessions next week. Even before that occurs, however, COP22 is already living up to expectations that it will be the “COP of Action.”

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image-forest-beetle-damageClimate change has important implications for the management and conservation of natural resources. The government agencies responsible for managing these resources have generally recognized that climate change adaptation should be mainstreamed into their planning processes, and yet this topic is still treated as an afterthought in many planning documents. One problem is a lack of guidance: most agencies have not adopted detailed guidelines on how to account for climate change in resource assessments, management plans, and environmental review documents.

To help fill this gap, the Sabin Center has published a model protocol and accompanying report: Considering the Effects of Climate Change on Natural Resources in Environmental Review and Planning Documents. This project complements a similar report and protocol that we published last year on assessing effects of climate change on built infrastructure in environmental reviews. Information about both projects and supporting materials are available on our new website.

The natural resources protocol was developed in consultation with federal agencies, environmental consulting firms, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions. It identifies critical decision points where managers should account for climate change impacts (e.g., sustainable yield and multiple use determinations) and contains recommendations about how to go about conducting climate impact analyses in the context of different types of planning documents. A standalone version of the protocol is available here.

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The Marrakech Pavilion where plenary sessions of COP22 and CMA1 are held

The Marrakech Pavilion where COP22 and CMA1 plenary sessions are held

As regular readers of this blog know, I am currently attending COP22 – the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – in Marrakech. Joining me are thousands of government officials and third-party observers, mostly from the United Nations, other international organizations, and non-governmental bodies, who have converged on the city for two weeks of talks. Much of the focus is on implementing the Paris Agreement, the landmark climate deal reached last year at COP21. The Paris Agreement entered into force last Friday November 4, surprising many, who feared that it would take as long as the Kyoto Protocol. Whereas the Kyoto Protocol took seven years to enter into force, the Paris Agreement took just eleven months.

During the first plenary session of COP22 on Monday, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Ms. Patricia Espinosa, declared that “[e]arly entry into force of the Paris Agreement is a clear cause for celebration.” It is also, she noted, “a timely reminder of the high expectations that are now placed upon us.” The first meeting of the parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA1) – made up of the European Union (EU) and the 102 individual countries that have ratified it – is being held in conjunction with COP22. This historic event has generated much excitement, with many hoping that the parties will make key decisions, necessary to implement the Paris Agreement. This is unlikely, however.

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Report from COP22: Day 1 in Marrakech


Posted on November 8th, 2016 by Romany Webb
The ‘Little Sun’ solar lamp distributed to participants at COP22

The ‘Little Sun’ solar lamp distributed to participants at COP22

Morocco isn’t often thought of as an environmental leader. But, having spent the last few days in Marrakech, I now realize that it should be. On checking into my hotel, I was told that all lights are on a timer, “so we save electricity.” Riding on one of the city’s “100% electric zero emission” buses, I noticed that much of the public lighting is solar powered. I was told that large-scale solar and wind power facilities are being installed throughout the country, as part of an ambitious program, aimed at supplying at least fifty percent of Morocco’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050. This is vital to meet rising demand for electricity among Moroccans, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change.

Like much of Africa, Morocco has a lot to lose from climate change. Over three-quarters of the country’s land area is desert, receiving less than 250 millimeters (10 inches) of rain annually. In these and other areas, climate change will lead to higher temperatures and more variable rainfall, with longer dry periods. This will have devastating effects on Morocco’s agricultural sector, a key driver of economic growth, and threaten the livelihoods – and lives – of millions. It’s fitting then that Morocco is hosting the 22nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22).

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Sabin Center Launches New Website


Posted on November 3rd, 2016 by Jessica Wentz

The Sabin Center is pleased to announce the launch of our new website at columbiaclimatelaw.com. The site contains many features that will make it easier to navigate our large collection of resources and learn about all aspects of the Center’s work. Some of the key features include:

Program areas: We have created landing pages for each of our program areas, which include links to relevant projects, publications, and resources.

 

Searchable publications: Visitors can now search our publications library by keyword in the title, author, or description, or browse publications by category.

New litigation databases: We recently upgraded our Non-U.S. Litigation Database to a new, interactive format that makes it much easier to find cases that deal with a particular topic.  We are in the process of upgrading our U.S. Litigation Database to the same format.

Event videos: We now have a video archive on youtube and a permanent link for all event livestreams.

Search bar: We added a search bar to the top right-hand corner of the website, which can be used to search for terms or phrases within the website.

Please note that if you have visited our old website (which was also accessible through columbiaclimatelaw.com), you may need to clear your cookies and cache in order to view the new website.

The Sabin Center would like to thank the Earth Institute Web Admin team, and in particular Arif Noori, for assisting us with the development of this new website.

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