Climate Change

D

The Global Governance Report Card grades international performance in addressing today's most daunting challenges. It seeks to inspire innovative and effective responses from global and U.S. policymakers to address them.

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Subject

  • Good

    Understanding Climate Change Threats

    Between 2008 and 2012, awareness of climate change grew as intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and certain states publicized the current and long-term detrimental effects of climate change. Even in the United States, where climate change skeptics have been exceptionally vocal, the percentage of Americans who believe in global warming climbed to 70 percent by September 2012—an increase of 13 percentage points from two years earlier. After Hurricane Sandy struck the eastern seaboard in October 2012, climate change was broadly cited as intensifying the storm's effects.

    Scientific understanding of climate change science was already strong in 2008, but a growing number of governments over the past several years prioritized the threats posed by global warming, suggesting a broadening recognition of its potentially devastating consequences. Indeed, international negotiations picked up momentum [PDF] following a 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that recognized the anthropogenic contribution to climate change. To be sure, climate change science earned widespread negative press after a hacker retrieved and published emails discrediting scientists at the British University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU), some of whom held important positions at the IPCC—the preeminent intergovernmental body for climate science research. However, examination of the emails revealed that political opponents of climate change science exaggerated its magnitude and smeared climate scientists to advance their own nonscientific agenda. Ultimately, the scientific evidence for global warming, from a number of sources outside the CRU, was overwhelming. At the same time, the IPCC undertook a number of reforms to increase transparency and improve the quality of its assessments underpinning international climate change policy. The institution moved to bolster the review process for its reports in order to prevent errors, such as an unsupported claim that the Himalayan glaciers would be entirely melted by 2035 under current warming trends.

  • Poor

    Curbing Emissions and Promoting Low Carbon Development

    In the last four years, multilateral efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced poor results. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) did not catalyze significant action. Many of the thirty-seven states tasked with curbing greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol will meet their respective targets—including the European Union (EU), Australia, and New Zealand. Indeed, collectively, the group of Annex 1 states will meet [PDF] the Kyoto targets for the 2008-2012 period by a significant margin. However, UNFCCC parties still failed to produce a permanent successor to the expiring Kyoto Protocol. At the same time, member states took relatively little action to bolster the Kyoto Protocol's main implementation frameworks: the Clean Development Mechanism, Joint Implementation, and Emissions Trading, which all remain underutilized [PDF]. The EU operates a regional cap-and-trade system under the protocol that overallocates carbon credits and consequently depresses carbon prices and reduces incentives to cut emissions. Though the seventeenth conference of parties (COP-17) offered a compromise to extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol and negotiate new commitments that would ostensibly apply to China and India (as well as other developing states), demands for a universal, legally-binding treaty may distract from more practical steps. Experience suggests that the quest for such a treaty can prioritize process over results, serving as a recipe for gridlock.

    On the positive side, the UNFCCC produced a new pledge-and-review process in 2009, which for the first time tasks states to publish nationally appropriate emissions reductions goals and submit to international monitoring under the Copenhagen Accord. Though many states submitted pledges to reduce emissions, even if they do achieve those emissions targets, scientists calculated [PDF] that the world was still likely to warm by 4.5 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100—despite the Copenhagen Accord's acknowledgement that nations must prevent the global temperatures from rising by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Outside of the UNFCCC framework, some innovative approaches to curbing emissions emerged. In February 2012, the United States, along with Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Ghana, and Bangladesh, announced a joint effort to combat short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons, and methane. Although such pollutants only remain in the atmosphere briefly, they account for upward of 30 percent of global warming. A $15 million fund was established to support the group's efforts—a limited sum in proportion to the problem, and major emitters like China and India did not sign up. The World Bank, too, helped fund low carbon development with its Clean Technology Fund and Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Program for Low Income Countries. Finally, in December 2012, Australia launched the most comprehensive cap-and-trade system to date. Yet despite these important initiatives, a recent report [PDF] by the World Bank stated that without further concerted action, global temperatures will likely increase by "3 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial climate," with a 20 percent likelihood that it could exceed 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

  • Average

    Monitoring and Enforcing Emissions Cuts

    In 2009, at the fifteenth conference of the parties (COP-15) in Copenhagen, states agreed to report national pledges on reducing emissions and provide greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories and progress reports every two years. These reports would then be analyzed internationally according to guidelines to be determined by UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) parties. The new pledge-and-review system was formally endorsed by the UN in the 2010 Cancun Agreements. By February 2010, fifty-five developed and developing states had submitted emissions reduction plans to the UNFCCC.

    Although many states have since monitored and reported their GHG emissions, compiling reliable [PDF] and standardized data presented an ongoing challenge for numerous UNFCCC parties. COP-17 in 2011 addressed the crucial issue of monitoring, reporting, and verification for GHG emissions and clarified a system for developing states to report their emissions on a biennial basis, but donor pledges for capacity-building assistance to build monitoring institutions and mechanisms remained vague.

    In addition to the pledge-and-review system negotiated at COP-15, the Clean Development Mechanism—an emissions reduction scheme of the Kyoto Protocol— helps address the problem of emissions monitoring in developing states and measures the volume of emissions reductions that can be attributed to specific projects.

    Nonetheless, enforcement remained weak. Under the enforcement branch of the Kyoto Protocol, there are consequences exacted for those who fail to reach their emissions reductions. The enforcement branch is made up of ten members (including "one representative from each of the five official UN regions… one from the small island developing states, and two each from Annex I and non-Annex I states"), who require a noncompliant party to "make up the difference between its emissions and its assigned amount during the second commitment period, plus an additional deduction of 30 percent." Even so, emissions caps for the future are not yet in place, and parties can circumvent this enforcement provision by simply negotiating lower future targets.

  • Poor

    Financing Emissions Cuts and Adaptation

    Financing for climate change remained complicated and inadequate, despite repeated pledges of billions of dollars from developed states to support global mitigation and adaptation efforts. One of the major accomplishments of the past four years was the decision to establish the Green Climate Fund (GCF) at the fifteenth conference of parties (COP-15) in 2009. Though not yet operational, the GCF received a headquarters in Sangdo, South Korea, and it is expected to commence operations by 2014. This funding vehicle will serve as the clearinghouse for financing to help developing states adapt to the effects of climate change and regulate their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, the GCF suffered from lackluster funding commitments beyond the fast-start financing initiative, which sought and received $30 billion in financing from Annex II states from 2010 to 2012. The initiative, combining both public and private financing [PDF], did not appropriate new and additional funds but instead disproportionately allocated [PDF] funds—primarily from Japan ($15 billion), the United Kingdom ($1.7 billion), the United States ($5.1 billion), and the European Union (EU) ($7.3 billion)—toward mitigation rather than adaptation efforts. At COP-18, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) members reconfirmed their eventual goal of providing $100 billion per year by 2020 but created no consensual framework for financing beyond agreeing to revisit the topic within the next two years. Instead, the UNFCCC requested that the United States, EU member states, and Japan maintain their existing levels of funding for the next three years. Meanwhile, some critics of the existing framework argued that the $100 billion ought to be a base rather than a ceiling for funding, since needs are projected to increase [PDF] to $300 billion per year by 2020 and $1.5 trillion per year by 2030 for adaptation alone.

    The World Bank is also an important player in climate financing. It managed two Climate Investment Funds (CIFs)—the Green Technology Fund and the Strategic Climate Fund—and three programs in forest investment, climate resilience, and renewable energy. Like other World Bank initiatives, the CIFs match multilateral development banks with national projects. Despite their limited monies, the CIFs successfully shared renewable energy technology between states and partnering with the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) initiative to finance projects to protect forests. However, the CIFs are due to expire and their resources folded into the GCF, raising the likelihood that climate aid will be streamlined and some programs cut [PDF]. The Adaptation Fund also maintains a relatively modest budget (of approximately $82 million per annum from 2010 to 2012) that can be used to finance projects focused on climate resilience in twenty-five states. It may be folded into the GCF as well, but the Adaptation Fund is unique, both in its drawing of funds from the Clean Development Mechanism's levies on emissions reduction targets and in its direct grant-making disbursement strategy.

    In addition to these existing and planned mechanisms for financing mitigation and adaptation, other innovative forms of financing were discussed by the High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing in 2010. This body's final report suggested eight discrete funding methods, including a global financial transaction tax [PDF], transportation taxes [PDF] (fuel levy, aviation ticket tax, and emissions trading scheme), and a redistribution of fossil fuel subsidies, taxes, and levies. Climate discussions lost momentum, however, including at the eighteenth conference of parties (COP-18), as they failed to reach agreement on these alternative methods.

  • Poor

    Adapting to Climate Change

    Nascent efforts to adapt to or prepare for climate change gained momentum since 2008, with new initiatives emerging to combat deforestation, foster biodiversity, and include climate resilience in development programming. In an attempt to further an international regime for adaptation, the sixteenth conference of parties (COP-16) established the Cancun Adaptation Framework, which provides guidelines for capacity building but lacks financing instruments. Prior to this framework, the only means to raise adaptation funds was the Clean Development Mechanism created by the Kyoto Protocol, which raised approximately $300 million for an Adaptation Fund to "finance concrete adaptation projects" from 2008 to 2012. To date, the Clean Development Mechanism has funded a variety of conservation, food security, flood management, and biodiversity programs in twenty-five states. However, the demand for adaptation measures for vulnerable states to adequately address climate change-related disasters exceeded available funds. For this reason, both fast-start financing and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) will include funding for adaptation-related projects. As a step forward, the COP-18 finally created regional centers [PDF] to focus on developing technologies and capacity-building techniques for adaptation.

    Promisingly, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released an influential report in 2011, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaption [PDF], which details the extent of the challenge facing policymakers. In addition, the reports of the UN Office of Disaster Risk Reduction now include adaptation to climate change as a measure that requires urgent action.

    The United States also devoted increased attention to global adaptation, including it as one of three main pillars of its Global Climate Change Initiative [PDF] for 2010 to 2012, calling for interagency cooperation to support international adaptation efforts. The initiative complements the global Adaptation Partnership, led by the United States (along with Spain and Costa Rica), designed to help development practitioners share common adaptation priorities and to scale financing for adaption measures. The European Union (EU), too, is crafting its own projects focused on building resiliency in communities most likely to be affected by climate change, part of its proposed strategy to "step up international cooperation on adaptation" in 2013.

    Overall, however, adaptation aid and climate-related aid remained mixed in with existing development assistance budgets, and no "new and additional" funding had been extended.

  • Incomplete

    Utilizing Carbon Sinks

    As human activity increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, natural carbon sinks—including oceans, soil, and trees—became essential tools in mitigating climate change. With up to 40 percent of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions being absorbed by natural sources (although recent evidence suggests that the oceans are absorbing less carbon dioxide largely due to rising global temperatures), support increased for promising initiatives like the UN Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD), REDD-plus, and the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). Launched in 2008, the UN-REDD program supports actions to reduce emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation, and REDD-plus expanded UN-REDD to include "conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks." The FCPF, also established in 2008, offered developing states capacity-building and implementation guidance to participate in REDD-plus funded by two separate, complementary mechanisms: the Readiness Fund and the Carbon Fund. Over the past four years, these funds collectively raised [PDF] $457 million, and the FCPF expanded [PDF] to thirty-six developing states, supported by eighteen donor states. UN-REDD supported both national and global programs, growing in the past three years from nine initial pilot states to forty-six states. By the end of 2012, support from UN-REDD's multi-donor trust fund for sixteen national programs totaled over $120 million. However, the UN-REDD program received some criticism for a lack of focus on the socioeconomic pressures that exacerbate deforestation. It also faces the challenge of sustaining funding levels beyond the initial pledges. A major test of its continued success will be whether developed states sustain financial incentives and assistance to developing states seeking to protect and conserve their forests, and also whether developed states will support developing states' efforts with policies and practices that address the unsustainable demand for forest products.

Leader

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World Bank

United Nations

European Union

Gold Star

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International Panel on Climate Change

Most Improved

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Australia

Laggard

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China

United States

Truant

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Russia

Detention

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Canada

Class Evaluation

International institutions, such as the European Union, UN, and World Bank, played an important role in building awareness about climate change, facilitating climate change-related negotiations, building national capacities, and providing other forms of assistance.

Throughout the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, the UN tried to steer a global consensus on climate change. Though it focused disproportionate attention on process, it achieved some concrete results, including the decision to establish the Green Climate Fund to support emissions reduction and climate change adaptation, and to extend the Kyoto Protocol to 2020. The World Bank expanded its portfolio on climate change through the creation of new funds. In 2008, the World Bank launched the Strategic Framework for Development and Climate Change, and it established the Clean Technology Fund and the Strategic Climate Fund to provide developing nations with financing to mitigate climate change. In addition, the bank continued to manage two market-based mechanisms, the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation, helping nations meet Kyoto targets, if only marginally. As part of its ambitious Europe 2020 plan, the EU also took tangible steps since 2009 to reach its "20-20-20" targets, which aim to reduce emissions by EU member states to 20 percent below 1990 levels, increase the share of energy produced from renewable sources by 20 percent, and enhance EU energy efficiency by 20 percent. To reinforce these targets, EU states accepted legislation and annual monitoring to achieve emissions reduction standards.

Among multilateral organizations, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deserves a gold star for its continued contributions to the dissemination of critical climate change information and analysis. The IPCC provided reliable, levelheaded reports—including its 2012 study [PDF] on mitigating the effects of extreme weather increases caused by rising global temperatures—and scientifically robust advice to policymakers on potential responses to climate change. Furthermore, in the wake of scandals caused by errors in climate change science, the IPCC undertook a reform agenda that improved the transparency of its policy assessments.

Australia receives recognition as most improved for its ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2007 and for implementing an ambitious Clean Energy Future Package that came into effect in July 2012. The package aimed to reduce national emissions by 80 percent of 2000 levels by 2050 by promoting clean energy through carbon markets, endorsing renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency, and encouraging land preservation through schemes like the Carbon Farming Initiative. Australia now aims to transition by 2015 to a "fully flexible" cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme that will be linked to that of the EU.

On the other hand, the performances of the United States, China, Canada, and Russia leave much to be desired. As the world's top carbon dioxide emitters, the United States and China are laggards for their uneven progress to ensure domestic action to combat climate change, as well as their continued resistance toward a legally-binding effort to mitigate it. For instance, at the December 2011 seventeenth conference of parties (COP-17) of the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa, the United States proposed a legally-binding treaty that was unlikely to pass. At the same time, prospects for domestic legislation to advance climate change regulation remained weak.

China also drew fire for its rising emissions, which in 2010 represented 130 percent of its 2000 level emissions, despite plans to reduce its energy intensity. China's struggle stemmed in large part from its reliance on coal to maintain its economic growth and its inability to enforce environmental regulation. That said, efforts to effectively regulate emissions were increasingly prevalent alongside nascent efforts to develop a carbon trading scheme. These recent achievements, however, did little to counteract the ire drawn from many developing states that viewed China's position defending common but differentiated responsibilities while continuing to emit more greenhouse gases and failing to provide a target peak year from which it might begin to lower emissions. These failures were exacerbated by China's unwillingness to prescribe binding targets and benchmarks for its carbon-related activities at the UNFCCC. This inaction effectively arrested progress towards a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement. India, too, continued its involvement in post-Kyoto climate change negotiations. The major problem India and other developing states faced, however, was high emissions combined with uses of energy that are orders of magnitude less efficient than systems in Annex I states. Thankfully, globally there was a renewed focus on technology transfer to foster a renewable energy market and to develop technologies that can sustainably draw significant numbers of the population out of poverty.

Russia is the class truant for its minimal engagement in the international climate change regime over the past four years. Party to the first round of the Kyoto Protocol, Russia reduced emissions by 30 percent of 1990 levels; however, these numbers were not attributable to emissions reduction programs but rather to the slowed growth following the collapse of its smokestack industry-based economy. Furthermore, despite being one of the most energy-intensive states, with per capita emissions three times the world average [PDF], Russia opted out of the second round of the Kyoto Protocol. Canada is in detention for retreating from global climate efforts, as it continued to increase carbon dioxide emissions. Canada was also the first state to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, just one day after the COP-17 adopted the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action agreement, reneging on its 6 percent emissions reduction commitment, which it was expected to exceed for the 2008-2012 period.

Table of Contents

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Introduction

Tackling climate change remains a daunting global governance challenge. The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol ended in 2012, and at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) eighteenth conference of parties (COP-18) in Doha, Qatar, member states agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020. However, as major emitters like Japan, Canada, and Russia opted out of the second round of commitments, the long-term future of international climate change negotiations remained uncertain. In the United States, meanwhile, a binding successor agreement to Kyoto faced daunting legislative obstacles, despite the fact that a sizable majority [PDF] of U.S. citizens believe that addressing climate change should be a priority.

Given the difficulties of negotiating another legally-binding treaty—and disagreements over whether a treaty would be the most effective instrument for emissions reduction—UNFCCC parties increasingly adopted other approaches. Perhaps the most significant was an innovative pledge-and-review system that obligates states, including major emitters, to publish emissions limitation and reduction goals, which are then subject to international monitoring.

In addition, mounting evidence indicated that carbon sinks might provide opportunities for large-scale mitigation. Accordingly, both the UN and World Bank undertook significant efforts to promote forest conservation. Overall, however, efforts to finance both climate mitigation and adaptation efforts remained insufficient to adequately tackle growing threats to biodiversity, food security, access to drinking water, and arable land. Despite creating a Green Climate Fund (GCF), UNFCCC parties failed to agree on a road map for meeting the target goal of $100 billion a year by 2020. Instead, they adopted the fast-start financing initiative, which provided $30 billion over three years from 2010 to 2012 as a stopgap measure. Furthermore, the inability to translate "common but differentiated responsibility" for developing and developed states into specific measures was a sustained source of frustration for all states and organizations with a stake in addressing climate change.

Domestically, large emitters like the United States, Australia, Europe, and China all made progress on reducing the energy intensity of their economies and promoting both local and international markets for green technology. However, U.S. leadership remained underwhelming given legislative resistance to a binding international climate agreement and reluctance to contemplate either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme.

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Background

Though the science of climate dates back to the late-nineteenth century, the global warming debate sparked in the mid-twentieth century when researchers discovered [PDF] that the oceans could not absorb an unlimited amount of carbon dioxide. By 1972, both the United States and the UN founded environmental agencies to monitor and analyze the impact of human activity on the environment. The year 1985 proved to be a turning point when a conference of experts from the UN Environment Program (UNEP), World Meteorological Organization, and International Council for Science concluded that greenhouse gases could increase average temperatures to the highest levels in human history, and called for a global convention to address climate change. At a landmark 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, states negotiated the UNFCCC, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and Agenda 21. Together, these steps aimed to mitigate and reverse the negative impact of human activity on the earth's climate and environment.

In the two decades since the Earth Summit, the scientific consensus about the deleterious effects of climate change strengthened. However, global efforts to cobble together an agreement to arrest climate change floundered. Most of the significant environmental goals put forth at the summit were not achieved [PDF]. In 1997, recognizing the need for more meaningful action to combat climate change, states party to the UNFCCC adopted the Kyoto Protocol, which included obligations for Annnex 1 industrialized states to collectively reduce their emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels. Yet this agreement struggled from the outset due to a U.S. Senate resolution opposing ratification of any international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions that did not require developing states to make commitments, or whose commitments might hurt the U.S. economy. Despite regional breakthroughs like a European Union (EU) Emissions Trading System, broad international agreement proved elusive, and the protocol failed to chart a course for climate governance to slow global warming. Indeed, an enduring stumbling block of the Kyoto Protocol has been international disagreement over whether and when non-Annex I parties, including rising powers like China—which in 2007 surpassed the United States as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide—should be required to assume legally-binding obligations for emissions reductions, as do Annex I advanced economies. Despite heightened awareness of the deleterious effects of climate change and repeated commitments by all major parties to cooperate in mitigation and adaptation efforts, disagreement among states continued to thwart progress.

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Class Evaluation

International institutions, such as the EU, UN, and World Bank, played an important role in building awareness about climate change, facilitating climate change-related negotiations, building national capacities, and providing other forms of assistance. Throughout the UNFCCC process, the UN tried to steer a global consensus on climate change. Though it focused disproportionate attention on process, it achieved some concrete results, including the decision to establish the Green Climate Fund to support emissions reduction and climate change adaptation, and to extend the Kyoto Protocol to 2020. The World Bank expanded its portfolio on climate change through the creation of new funds. In 2008, the World Bank launched the Strategic Framework for Development and Climate Change, and it established the Clean Technology Fund and the Strategic Climate Fund to provide developing nations with financing to mitigate climate change. In addition, the bank continued to manage two market-based mechanisms, the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation, helping nations meet Kyoto targets, if only marginally. As part of its ambitious Europe 2020 plan, the EU also took tangible steps since 2009 to reach its "20-20-20" targets, which aim to reduce emissions by EU member states to 20 percent below 1990 levels, increase the share of energy produced from renewable sources by 20 percent, and enhance EU energy efficiency by 20 percent. To reinforce these targets, EU states accepted legislation and annual monitoring to achieve emissions reduction standards.

Among multilateral organizations, the IPCC deserves a gold star for its continued contributions to the dissemination of critical climate change information and analysis. The IPCC provided reliable, levelheaded reports—including its 2012 study [PDF] on mitigating the effects of extreme weather increases caused by rising global temperatures—and scientifically robust advice to policymakers on potential responses to climate change. Furthermore, in the wake of scandals caused by errors in climate change science, the IPCC undertook a reform agenda that improved the transparency of its policy assessments.

Australia receives recognition as most improved for its ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in 2007 and for implementing an ambitious Clean Energy Future package that came into effect in July 2012. The package aimed to reduce national emissions by 80 percent of 2000 levels by 2050 by promoting clean energy through carbon markets, endorsing renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency, and encouraging land preservation through schemes like the Carbon Farming Initiative. Australia now aims to transition by 2015 to a "fully flexible" cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme that will be linked to that of the EU.

On the other hand, the performances of the United States, China, Canada, and Russia leave much to be desired. As the world's top carbon dioxide emitters, the United States and China are laggards for their uneven progress to ensure domestic action to combat climate change, as well as their continued resistance toward a legally-binding effort to mitigate it. For instance, at the December 2011 COP-17 of the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa, the United States proposed a legally-binding treaty that was unlikely to pass. At the same time, prospects for domestic legislation to advance climate change regulation remained weak.

China also drew fire for its rising emissions, which in 2010 represented 130 percent of its 2000 level emissions, despite plans to reduce its energy intensity. China's struggle stemmed in large part from its reliance on coal to maintain its economic growth and its inability to enforce environmental regulation. That said, efforts to effectively regulate emissions were increasingly prevalent alongside nascent efforts to develop a carbon trading scheme. These recent achievements, however, did little to counteract the ire drawn from many developing states that viewed China's position defending common but differentiated responsibilities while continuing to emit more greenhouse gases and failing to provide a target peak year from which it might begin to lower emissions. These failures were exacerbated by China's unwillingness to prescribe binding targets and benchmarks for its carbon-related activities at the UNFCCC. This inaction effectively arrested progress towards a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement. India, too, continued its involvement in post-Kyoto climate change negotiations. The major problem India and other developing states faced, however, was high emissions combined with uses of energy that are orders of magnitude less efficient than systems in Annex I states. Thankfully, globally there was a renewed focus on technology transfer to foster a renewable energy market and to develop technologies that can sustainably draw significant numbers of the population out of poverty.

Russia is the class truant for its minimal engagement in the international climate change regime over the past four years. Party to the first round of the Kyoto Protocol, Russia reduced emissions by 30 percent of 1990 levels; however, these numbers are not attributable to emissions reduction programs but rather to the slowed growth following the collapse of its smokestack industry-based economy. Furthermore, despite being one of the most energy-intensive states, with per capita emissions three times the world average [PDF], Russia opted out of the second round of the Kyoto Protocol. Canada is in detention for retreating from global climate efforts, as it continued to increase carbon dioxide emissions. Canada was also the first state to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, just one day after the COP-17 adopted the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action agreement, reneging on its 6 percent emissions reduction commitment, which it was expected to exceed for the 2008-2012 period.

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U.S. Performance & Leadership

C minus

Notwithstanding some promising initiatives, U.S. leadership on climate change was disappointing. On the domestic front, the United States has taken a number of steps to slow down the effects of climate change. For instance, to reduce vehicle emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation mandated that the fuel economy of U.S.-manufactured cars and light trucks reach 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025, nearly doubling the earlier goal of 30 mpg. In addition, the Obama administration enacted the first-ever greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards for cars, requiring a 21-percent reduction by 2030. As a result of such progress, the United States was on track to reduce GHG emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels, as it had pledged to do at COP-15 in Copenhagen. Despite criticism that the target should have been pegged to 1990 levels, the United States promised to cut emissions by only one to three parts per million of carbon dioxide—less than a target with a baseline year of 1990 would have done.

At the same time, however, a comprehensive U.S. strategy to combat climate change failed to gain traction. Congress did not pass legislation to provide for significant investment in green technology or enact comprehensive climate regulations (for instance, the cap-and-trade bill died, and there was no movement on regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act). And although the low cost of natural gas reduced U.S. emissions to a twenty-year low in 2012, and the percentage of energy derived from carbon-intensive coal fell to a forty-year low, other contributing factors (such as an unusually warm winter) and the negative environmental consequences of natural gas extraction tempered such successes.

Similarly, U.S. international leadership continued to be uneven. On the one hand, the United States embraced a number of new, innovative arrangements. The United States joined with Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, and the UNEP to provide funds for developing states to reduce short-lived pollutants [PDF] that are responsible for roughly one-third [PDF] of global warming. The United States also met a developed-state commitment made at COP-15 to provide $30 billion to developing states over the two-year "fast start" period between 2010 and 2012; U.S. contributions totaled $7.5 billion in direct assistance and concessional loans, loan guarantees, and insurance instruments.

On the other hand, the United States repeatedly diluted agreements or scuttled negotiations on an international climate change treaty. For instance, at the COP-15 in 2009, the United States sided with China, India, South Africa, and Brazil to remove binding commitments from the outcome document of the Copenhagen Accord. This step undercut a European proposal for binding emissions reduction targets. In addition, the U.S. Senate is unlikely to consent to an international climate change agreement—if one is eventually negotiated—given the ongoing political divisions over the impact of human activity on climate. Furthermore, despite tepid U.S. support, troubling questions remained over a promising UNFCCC pledge-and-review system on emissions reduction tailored to national circumstances.

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Understanding Climate Change Threats

Good

Between 2008 and 2012, awareness of climate change grew as intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and certain states publicized the current and long-term detrimental effects of climate change. Even in the United States, where climate change skeptics have been exceptionally vocal, the percentage of Americans who believe in global warming climbed to 70 percent by September 2012—an increase of 13 percentage points from two years earlier. After Hurricane Sandy struck the eastern seaboard in October 2012, climate change was broadly cited as intensifying the storm's effects.

Scientific understanding of climate change science was already strong in 2008, but a growing number of governments over the past several years prioritized the threats posed by global warming, suggesting a broadening recognition of its potentially devastating consequences. Indeed, international negotiations picked up momentum [PDF] following a 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that recognized the anthropogenic contribution to climate change. To be sure, climate change science earned widespread negative press after a hacker retrieved and published emails discrediting scientists at the British University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU), some of whom held important positions at the IPCC—the preeminent intergovernmental body for climate science research. However, examination of the emails revealed that political opponents of climate change science exaggerated its magnitude and smeared climate scientists to advance their own, nonscientific agenda. Ultimately, the scientific evidence for global warming, from a number of sources outside the CRU, was overwhelming. At the same time, the IPCC undertook a number of reforms to increase transparency and improve the quality of its assessments underpinning international climate change policy. The institution moved to bolster the review process for its reports in order to prevent errors, such as an unsupported claim that the Himalayan glaciers would be entirely melted by 2035 under current warming trends.

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Curbing Emissions and Promoting Low Carbon Development

Poor

In the last four years, multilateral efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced poor results. The UNFCCC did not catalyze significant action. Many of the thirty-seven states tasked with curbing greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol will meet their respective targets—including the European Union (EU), Australia, and New Zealand. Indeed, collectively, the group of Annex 1 states will meet [PDF] the Kyoto targets for the 2008-2012 period by a significant margin. However, UNFCCC parties still failed to produce a permanent successor to the expiring Kyoto Protocol. At the same time, member states took relatively little action to bolster the Kyoto Protocol's main implementation frameworks: the Clean Development Mechanism, Joint Implementation, and Emissions Trading, which all remain underutilized [PDF]. The EU operates a regional cap-and-trade system under the protocol that overallocates carbon credits and consequently depresses carbon prices and reduces incentives to cut emissions. Though the COP-17 offered a compromise to extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol and negotiate new commitments that would ostensibly apply to China and India (as well as other developing states), demands for a universal, legally-binding treaty may distract from more practical steps. Experience suggests that the quest for such a treaty can prioritize process over results, serving as a recipe for gridlock.

On the positive side, the UNFCCC produced a new pledge-and-review process in 2009, which for the first time tasks states to publish nationally appropriate emissions reductions goals and submit to international monitoring under the Copenhagen Accord. Though many states submitted pledges to reduce emissions, even if they do achieve those emissions targets, scientists calculated [PDF] that the world was still likely to warm by 4.5 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100—despite the Copenhagen Accord's acknowledgement that nations must prevent the global temperatures from rising by more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Outside of the UNFCCC framework, some innovative approaches to curbing emissions have emerged. In February 2012, the United States, along with Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Ghana, and Bangladesh, announced a joint effort to combat short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons, and methane. Although such pollutants only remain in the atmosphere briefly, they account for upward of 30 percent of global warming. A $15 million fund was established to support the group's efforts—a limited sum in proportion to the problem, and major emitters like China and India did not sign up. The World Bank, too, helped fund low carbon development with its Clean Technology Fund and Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Program for Low Income Countries. Finally, in December 2012, Australia launched the most comprehensive cap-and-trade system to date. Yet despite these important initiatives, a recent report [PDF] by the World Bank stated that without further concerted action, global temperatures will likely increase by "3 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial climate," with a 20 percent likelihood that it could exceed 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

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Monitoring and Enforcing Emissions Curbs

Average

In 2009, at the COP-15 in Copenhagen, states agreed to report national pledges on reducing emissions and provide greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories and progress reports every two years. These reports would then be analyzed internationally according to guidelines to be determined by UNFCCC parties. The new pledge-and-review system was formally endorsed by the UN in the 2010 Cancun Agreements. By February 2010, fifty-five developed and developing states had submitted emissions reduction plans to the UNFCCC.

Although many states have since monitored and reported their GHG emissions, compiling reliable [PDF] and standardized data presents an ongoing challenge [PDF] for numerous UNFCCC parties. COP-17 in 2011 addressed the crucial issue of monitoring, reporting, and verification for GHG emissions and clarified a system for developing states to report their emissions on a biennial basis, but donor pledges for capacity-building assistance to build monitoring institutions and mechanisms remain vague.

In addition to the pledge-and-review system negotiated at COP-15, the Clean Development Mechanism—an emissions reduction scheme of the Kyoto Protocol— helps address the problem of emissions monitoring in developing states and measures the volume of emissions reductions that can be attributed to specific projects.

Nonetheless, enforcement remained weak. Under the enforcement branch of the Kyoto Protocol, there are consequences exacted for those who fail to reach their emissions reductions. The enforcement branch is made up of ten members (including "one representative from each of the five official UN regions… one from the small island developing states, and two each from Annex I and non-Annex I states"), who require a noncompliant party to "make up the difference between its emissions and its assigned amount during the second commitment period, plus an additional deduction of 30 percent." Even so, emissions caps for the future are not yet in place, and parties can circumvent this enforcement provision by simply negotiating lower future targets.

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Financing Emissions Cuts and Adaptation

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Financing for climate change continued to be complicated and inadequate, despite repeated pledges of billions of dollars by developed states to support global mitigation and adaptation efforts. One of the major accomplishments of the past four years was the decision to establish the Green Climate Fund (GCF) at the COP-15 in 2009. Though not yet operational, the GCF received a headquarters in Sangdo, South Korea, and it is expected to commence operations by 2014. This funding vehicle will serve as the clearinghouse for financing to help developing states adapt to the effects of climate change and regulate their GHG emissions. However, the GCF suffered from lackluster funding commitments beyond the fast-start financing initiative, which sought and received $30 billion in financing from Annex II states from 2010 to 2012. The initiative, combining both public and private financing [PDF], did not appropriate new and additional funds but instead disproportionately allocated [PDF] funds—primarily from Japan ($15 billion), the United Kingdom ($1.7 billion), the United States ($5.1 billion), and the EU ($7.3 billion)—toward mitigation rather than adaptation efforts. At COP-18, UNFCCC members reconfirmed their eventual goal of providing $100 billion per year by 2020 but created no consensual framework for financing beyond agreeing to revisit the topic within the next two years. Instead, the UNFCCC requested that the United States, EU member states, and Japan maintain their existing levels of funding for the next three years. Meanwhile, some critics of the existing framework argued that the $100 billion ought to be a base rather than a ceiling for funding, since needs are projected to increase [PDF] to $300 billion per year by 2020 and $1.5 trillion per year by 2030 for adaptation alone.

The World Bank is also an important player in climate financing. It managed two Climate Investment Funds (CIFs)—the Green Technology Fund and the Strategic Climate Fund—and three programs in forest investment, climate resilience, and renewable energy. Like other World Bank initiatives, the CIFs match multilateral development banks with national projects. Despite their limited monies, the CIFs were successful in sharing renewable energy technology between states and partnering with the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) initiative to finance projects to protect forests. However, the CIFs are due to expire and their resources folded into the GCF, raising the likelihood that climate aid will be streamlined and some programs cut [PDF]. The Adaptation Fund also maintains a relatively modest budget (of approximately $82 million per annum from 2010 to 2012) that can be used to finance projects focused on climate resilience in twenty-five states. It may be folded into the GCF as well, but the Adaptation Fund is unique, both in its drawing of funds from the Clean Development Mechanism's levies on emissions reduction targets and in its direct grant-making disbursement strategy.

In addition to these existing and planned mechanisms for financing mitigation and adaptation, other innovative forms of financing were discussed by the High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing in 2010. This body's final report suggested eight discrete funding methods, including a global financial transaction tax [PDF], transportation taxes [PDF] (fuel levy, aviation ticket tax, and emissions trading scheme), and a redistribution of fossil fuel subsidies, taxes, and levies. Climate discussions lost momentum, however, including at the COP-18, as they failed to reach agreement on these alternative methods.

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Adapting to Climate Change

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Nascent efforts to adapt to or prepare for climate change gained momentum since 2008, with new initiatives emerging to combat deforestation, foster biodiversity, and include climate resilience in development programming. In an attempt to further an international regime for adaptation, the COP-16 established the Cancun Adaptation Framework, which provides guidelines for capacity building but lacks financing instruments. Prior to this framework, the only means to raise adaptation funds was the Clean Development Mechanism created by the Kyoto Protocol, which raised approximately $300 million for an Adaptation Fund "to finance concrete adaptation projects" from 2008 to 2012. To date, the Clean Development Mechanism has funded a variety of conservation, food security, flood management, and biodiversity programs in twenty-five states. However, the demand for adaptation measures for vulnerable states to adequately address climate change-related disasters exceeded available funds. For this reason, both fast-start financing and the GCF will include funding for adaptation-related projects. As a step forward, the COP-18 finally created regional centers [PDF] to focus on developing technologies and capacity-building techniques for adaptation.

Promisingly, the IPCC released an influential report in 2011, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaption [PDF], which details the extent of the challenge facing policymakers. In addition, the reports of the UN Office of Disaster Risk Reduction now include adaptation to climate change as a measure that requires urgent action.

The United States also devoted increased attention to global adaptation, including it as one of three main pillars of its Global Climate Change Initiative [PDF] for 2010 to 2012, which calls for interagency cooperation to support international adaptation efforts. The initiative complements the global Adaptation Partnership, led by the United States (along with Spain and Costa Rica), designed to help development practitioners share common adaptation priorities and to scale financing for adaption measures. The European Union (EU), too, is crafting its own projects focused on building resiliency in communities most likely to be affected by climate change, part of its proposed strategy to "step up international cooperation on adaptation" in 2013.

Overall, however, adaptation aid and climate-related aid remained mixed in with existing development assistance budgets, and no "new and additional" funding had been extended.

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Utilizing Carbon Sinks

Incomplete

As human activity increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, natural carbon sinks—including oceans, soil, and trees—became essential tools in mitigating climate change. With up to 40 percent of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions being absorbed by natural sources (although recent evidence suggests that the oceans are absorbing less carbon dioxide largely due to rising global temperatures), support increased for promising initiatives like the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD), REDD-plus, and the World Bank's Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). Launched in 2008, the UN-REDD program supports actions to reduce emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation, and REDD-plus expanded UN-REDD to include "conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks." The FCPF, also established in 2008, offered developing states capacity-building and implementation guidance to participate in REDD-plus funded by two separate, complementary mechanisms: the Readiness Fund and the Carbon Fund. Over the past four years, these funds collectively raised [PDF] $457 million, and the FCPF expanded [PDF] to thirty-six developing states, supported by eighteen donor states. UN-REDD supported both national and global programs, growing in the past three years from nine initial pilot states to forty-six states. By the end of 2012, support from UN-REDD's multi-donor trust fund for sixteen national programs totaled over $120 million. However, the UN-REDD program received some criticism for a lack of focus on the socioeconomic pressures that exacerbate deforestation. It also faces the challenge of sustaining funding levels beyond the initial pledges. A major test of its continued success will be whether developed states sustain financial incentives and assistance to developing states seeking to protect and conserve their forests, and also whether developed states will support developing states' efforts with policies and practices that address the unsustainable demand for forest products.

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Areas for Improvement

Moving forward, states should take the following actions to address climate change:

  • Implement concrete, national-level measures to cut emissions rather than negotiating "perfect" treaties. In particular, more attention should be devoted to devising strategies and regulations to promote change in China and the United States. Specifically, both states should enforce the clean air and other environmental regulations already on their books while reducing their dependence on coal and investing in their respective nascent green economies.

  • Developed states should pressure emerging states to combat future growth in their emissions by planning strategies to reduce emissions largely through the use of more efficient energy technology.

  • Develop institutions like the GCF, which can streamline and efficiently coordinate the various funds that are slated to support climate adaptation and mitigation activities. At the same time, the developed world should avoid reneging on its financing commitments and ensure that climate change-related projects are funded sooner rather than later. Given the ongoing fiscal crisis in the eurozone and sluggish economic growth in the United States, this will likely be easier said than done.

  • Build upon successful efforts to maintain healthy, intact forests as carbon sinks. While substantial progress has been made in this area, it is vital to maintain momentum rather than risk complacency.

Credits

Produced by the Council on Foreign Relations and Threespot

  • Executive Producer: Stewart Patrick
  • Web Producer: Andrei Henry
  • Producer / Writer: Farah Faisal Thaler
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