End of year updates

As 2014, on track to be the hottest year on record, wraps up and Lima fades from the headlines, let’s take a look at a few key developments expected in 2015 on the energy front in India and the US, and a brief look at what Lima left us in terms of Paris preparations.

India

President Obama will visit India in January, and it is expected that the visit will “unveil a number of modest initiatives to expand research and access to clean energy technologies”, but will not be near the scale of the US-China declaration of November 2013. Meanwhile, President Putin visited India in December 2014, and this visit yielded energy announcements that could not be described as modest: among them, 10 nuclear reactors to be built in India with the support of Russia, a 1 billion USD venture for hydroelectric power in India, and 10 million tons of oil to be supplied to India by Russian oil producer Rosneft. Unrelated to the Russian announcements, India will continue to pursue its 20 GW goal for solar energy by 2020, and 200 GW by 2050, the “most ambitious solar plan in the world”. The need for power in India is immense; between 400 and 500 million Indians still lack access to modern energy, and carbon emissions are less than two tons per capita. Nonetheless, cleaner sources of energy will benefit those who most suffer from localized air pollution: Indians themselves who live in 13 of the 20 dirtiest cities in the world. For these people, and for those who live in mining towns, the aggressive expansion of coal mining set to include 118 new mines in the next three years, is bad news.

USA

In the US, both houses of Congress will now be dominated by Republicans, which will likely result in attempts at reversing or deterring any executive or regulatory action on climate change. One body aiming to do this is a new oversight panel that will examine the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the departments of energy, agriculture, and the interior. Meanwhile, barring any successful attempt to block the regulation, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan is set to enter into force in summer 2015. This regulation would limit carbon dioxide emissions in existing power plants. As electric power generation accounts for nearly 40 percent of US CO2 emissions, the plan could have a significant impact on achieving the existing US climate change goal of 17 percent CO2 emissions reductions from 2005 levels by 2020.

Another domestic decision with a global climate impact is that to be taken on the Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed pipeline would carry oil extracted from Canadian tar sands across the United States for export through Louisiana ports. The NRDC estimates the additional carbon emissions impact of the pipeline to be 24.3 million metric tons of CO2 per year. The debate around Keystone XL has been long and winding in the US, and it is still not at all clear what will happen. President Obama now seems to be leaning against the pipeline, as he stated in remarks in December 2014 that the pipeline has “no nominal benefit for Americans”. At the same time, some Democratic senators (notably Mary Landrieu of Lousiana), who were on the side of the pipeline and would have been threatened if Obama vetoed a Senate bill allowing the pipeline, will be gone. 2015 will show if this is enough for President Obama to take a stand on the matter – assuming, of course, that the number of Senators voting for an eventual bill on the pipeline remains lower than 67, the threshold that precludes a presidential veto.

The UNFCCC Process

The Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet for the 21st time in Paris in December 2015. As outlined on this blog and others before, Paris is where the plan for successor regime to the Kyoto Protocol is to be cemented. COP-20 produced the Lima Call for Climate Action, which sets the stage for further negotiations in 2015 in the lead-up to Paris. Several summary reports of Lima are available, among them

All of the reviews make clear that there is still a lot to do before Paris: decisions are needed on the legal status of the text, on the structure and quantity of financing available for developing countries, and on the appropriate division of labor on emissions reductions. Developing countries are also likely to push for a stronger incorporation of adaptation, long the stepsister of mitigation, into the deal. Loss and damage are also still on the wish list of many, particularly small island states who have the most to lose. The cornerstone of next year’s work is the development of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Countries have until March to submit their INDCs, although they can make changes until October. The UNFCCC will then aggregate the total estimated impact of the INDCs by November 1st to see if we are anywhere near achieving the 2 degree increase, or if revisions need to be made. To the disappointment of advocacy groups, the INDCs will not be reviewed or vetted in a public forum, fearing that the INDCs will be a race to the bottom in terms of ambition.

With all of this said, negotiation veterans like Connie Hedegaard argue that the very credibility of the multilateral climate negotiation process is at stake in Paris. Meanwhile, others seem to have already given up on this process as a real, robust vehicle for change. However, at this stage, when irreversible changes in our climate system are already becoming visible (particularly in the poles), we will need to engage at all levels: through governments, through the private sector, through civil society, through international financial flows. Even the churches are getting involved: Pope Francis is taking an activist stance on climate change, and in 2015 he will ramp up his efforts by publishing an encyclical on human ecology and climate change, exhorting all Catholics to take action on climate change. In the US, Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist and evangelical Christian, is reaching new audiences with a message focused on how conserving our earth is in line with Christian values. We will all need to put pressure on our decision-makers, and make smarter choices ourselves, throughout 2015 if we are to make the most of the coming year – in Paris and beyond.

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