March 23rd, 2015 – This event is part of the China Low Carbon Leadership Network (LCLN) event series, jointly organised by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) and China Carbon Forum (CCF).
The event featured a range of high-level speakers, including the Netherlands Minister for the Environment, the Head of the International Climate Policy Division at the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, and the Director of the International Cooperation Department at NCSC, the Chinese government’s climate change policy think tank. Following a keynote speech by the Minister, the distinguished panel discussed the progress so far on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for post-2020 climate action, which will be the subject of negotiation at the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) in Paris later this year.
The panel also featured a representative from the Embassy of Switzerland, which was the first country to submit its INDC to the UNFCCC, as well as from the World Resources Institute (WRI), a prominent climate change policy thinktank.
The speakers on the panel discussions presented a good balance of perspectives, approaching the topic from governmental, academic and think-tank viewpoints. This range of views made for a stimulating Q&A session with the audience. Many stayed on afterward to network and discuss the topic of the evening, providing a valuable forum for interaction and networking between counterparts, especially business, foundations, policy experts and government representatives.
– Welcoming Speech by Wilma MANSVELD, Netherlands Minister for the Environment
– Silke KARCHER, Head of European and International Climate Policy Division, German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety
– Philippe ZAHNER, Counsellor for Climate Change, Embassy of Switzerland
– ZHANG Xiaohua, International Cooperation Department Director, National Centre for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation (NCSC)
– Moderated by Ms. HUANG Chaoni, Trucost/China Carbon Forum (CCF)
The following is an edited synthesis of the discussion. As per convention, individual’s comments are not attributed.
Summary of the Evening’s Discussion:
In the coming months, prior to the COP in Paris later this year, governments will be releasing their intended commitments (INDCs) for post-2020 climate action in order to facilitate negotiation at the meeting. INDCs generally are a great improvement to the UNFCCC process, allowing for assessment of commitments prior to negotiations. Switzerland was the first country to submit their commitments, followed by the EU. China plans to release their commitments in the first half of 2015.
It is important to keep in mind the spirit of the Paris negotiations, however it is also important to keep the focus on: how much we should reduce emissions, how do we reduce emissions, and what instruments should we use? The panel noted that the EU’s INDC aims for “at least” 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030. This made the EU the “first major emitter” to put their commitment on the table, and it is hoped that other major emitters will follow soon. The EU’s commitment for “at least” a 40% reduction means that the bloc may go further at Paris. German Chancellor Merkel has since emphasised that this means that the EU’s commitments are open to negotiation at Paris, if ambition on the part of other countries is evident.This commitment relates entirely to domestic emissions, without use of external credits. This may change if the EU’s commitment is raised. Germany, in particular, has introduced its own domestic climate action programme which goes further than the EU commitment. This has involved a coordinated and transparent cross-government approach.
Switzerland was the first country to formally submit an INDC. It aims at halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, reduction by 2030 domestically. This could be viewed as quite a strong commitment, although some have questioned the extent of “emissions reduction measures abroad”. The political will of the Swiss government is strong, sending a message to domestic actors. Switzerland is already at 6.2 tons of CO2-e per person, lower than the EU average, and much lower than the US. Switzerland’s population is on board with the challenge, as well as insurance companies and other key stakeholders. The country has been a leader in decoupling energy use from economic growth, and the development of low-carbon technologies. Still, Switzerland’s commitment represents a challenge.
The panel described the EU’s commitment as a “bold” step. In addition, the EU’s commitment is in line with the spirit of INDC’s by providing an “at least” commitment. However, even with the EU’s commitment, and “guestimating” what other major emitters may submit, the panel suggested that the world would “probably not” reach an outcome that limited global warming to 2 degrees. Therefore it is important that there be some key next steps that can allow the world to increase ambition for post-2020 and post-2030 action. While it has been suggested that the EU could enhance their commitment with a 2025 commitment, the EU’s target for 2030 is intended to be reached on a fairly linear path, implying a rough target for 2025 already.
On land use change (LULUCF), it is important that the methodology be made clear in order to provide confidence that there will not be overestimation of emission reductions that can be achieved. EU leaders are still to discuss exactly how LULCF will be incorporated in to the target, however there has been conscious expression to avoid any loopholes compromising environmental integrity, which will be backed up by legal measures.
China is now working hard to develop its INDCs, which should be released by the end of June 2015 (although sooner would be better). China’s commitment to peak its emissions by 2030 is important, however the level of the peak is probably more important. It is also important to acknowledge that China’s commitments weigh commitments in terms of both mitigation and adaptation. China’s standing has increased, given its increasing willingness to take on commitments. The emissions peak commitment builds on its carbon intensity target presented at the Copenhagen COP. This commitment is also in the context of China’s economic transition and the “new normal” of lower average growth rates. In terms of China’s commitment in Paris, the panel suggested that it should reflect new trends, including reduced coal consumption in 2014 and the slowdown in the steel sector. How this manifests in the INDC, it is up to the government to explain clearly how they have incorporated these factors in a convincing way.
While China’s climate change white papers are sometimes overwhelming for the long list of actions that are taking place across government that it can be hard to know which is most important, this underlines that the effort is associated with comprehensive economic reform and not just narrow targets. The 13th Five Year Plan will also play a major role in China achieiving its peaking ghttp://china-lcln.org/activities/first-indcs-and-implications-for-further-actions-paving-the-way-to-paris/oal.
Enhancing transparency, the EU did a good job of explaining what the INDC means. China’s explanation of its peaking year is more difficult, scientifically or academically, so it is important that the INDC explains clearly the thinking behind it. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that it will not be precisely accurate, given that it is describing a trend, rather than a specific goal. The panel hopes that China will be able to act timely, transparently and ambitiously in submitting its INDC.
In terms of China’s INDC commitments, the panel suggested that possibly more important than a precise peak year or peak level, is the supporting policies that will be put in place. Predicting a peak is inherently uncertain, but if amitious policies are implemented as part of China’s economic transition, this will provide the best opportunity for an earlier, and lower peak. For this reason, China’s 13th Five Year Plan will have significant implications for China’s emissions path.
The lead-up to the Paris COP is very different from the lead-up to the Copenhagen meeting. The climate policy community learned from the Copenhagen experience, meaning that all stakeholders are much better prepared this time around. Climate change is now also back in the headlines, including in China. This should help politicians to be amitious leading up to the Paris COP. While the problem is worse than it was six years ago during the Copenhagen conference, there are other changes that are positive for the negotiation process. Perhaps most importantly, China and the US are deeply engaged on the issue and working together. In addition, important new analysis has become available that demonstrates viable and economicially affordable pathways, especially the New Climate Economy report. All panellists agreed that climate change can no longer be considered a problem that is discussed and dealt with through a single conference. It must be an ongoing and iterative process.
The replacement of Xie Zhenhua as China’s representative at the UNFCCC meeting in the sense that Xie has been a strong and positive force to progress climate change action in China. On the other hand, this will not hold China back from further progress. The panel suggested that given his background, the new “climate change minister” may have even more scope to impact the direction of investment and finance which would be an important practical asset to help achieve China’s goals.
While some suggest that INDCs should not include adaptation measures, the panel suggested that this is important for developing countries, given the need for them to consider adaptation as part of a comprehensive approach to climate change.