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Hey there enernerds, as you know Student Energy is onsite at COP21 and we are answering youth’s questions about the climate negotiations and meetings.  Below you will find a running list of answers, feel free to tweet along!


How are legally binding international agreements enforced?

From @KeiverTremblay

An international environmental agreement is referred to as an MEA – a multilateral environmental agreement.  Enforcement is one of the trickiest parts of legally binding agreements because it ultimately determines how effective the terms and commitments embedded within the agreement will be in practice.  You may recall that the Kyoto Protocol was considered quite ineffective despite being legally binding, becauses a few key nations did not ratify it and there were inadequate enforcement mechanisms. According to the UN Environment Programme’s Department of Environmental Laws and Conventions (DELC) there are a number of considerations that determine compliance with MEAs and they start right in the negotiation room.  Preparatory work, active participation, and proper assessment of domestic capabilities all impact the terms of the MEA and how likely nations will be in complying with them.  Monitoring, reporting and verification of progress are also important considerations when it comes to enforcement – if you don’t know where nations stand how can you determine if they aren’t complying?  Now back to the true heart of your question. Enforcement is done through both Positive and Negative means.  Positive measures are meant to incent or encourage compliance and include things like aid packages.  Negative measures penalize non-compliance and are usually associated with monetary penalties like trade sanctions or fines.  In addition, certain MEAs have additional penalties for non-compliance.  For example, if a country fails to reduce emissions they may be forced to make additional emissions reductions on top of their pre-existing commitments.  This blog post from Columbia University explains compliance at a deeper level for those of you who would like more information.

Should Apple and Samsung, among other large global companies, reduce their GHG emissions from transportation, immediately?

From @anandezhdz

Questions of “should” are difficult, at Student Energy we focus on sharing information and encouraging our students to think about what they believe companies and governments should and shouldn’t do. Here are some things to think about when it comes to transportation from a really interesting campaign called Elephants in the Room.  Emissions from international shipping and aviation fall outside of national emission targets (i.e. they are not included in the INDCs submitted to the climate negotiations). If these sectors were a country, they would be a top ten emitter, with their emissions expected to grow a whopping 270% by 2050. These sectors also pay zero tax on their fuel, which is essentially a fossil fuel subsidy partly responsible for driving the sector’s emissions growth.

Two UN agencies are responsible for regulating emissions from these sectors–the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for shipping and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for aviation. Since Kyoto tasked them with limiting from these sectors, their emissions grew 80% between 1990 and 2010, compared to 40% for the rest of the global economy.

So as you can see, it is clear that transportation of goods is a major contributor to GHGs and needs to be addressed in the negotiations.  The question then comes down to who should make reductions happen.  Will it be the regulating bodies of these transportation sectors? Will the sector itself come up with alternatives? (see some of the great work that Carbon War Room is doing on this front)  Or will it be up to the individual companies who demand these services?  Our thinking is that the solution will probably come from many places and be a mixed solution. 

What is the future landscape of the low-carbon supply chain?

From @anandezhdz

This is a tough one because of how much is embedded in the term "low-carbon supply chain".  We are going to walk you through the major pieces of a supply chain and give you a few things to think about for each one but keep in mind that there are whole bodies of research and schools of thought on how to address each one.

  • Inputs (resources and energy) - for any good and service there are inputs that must be expended to make it whether they be human resources like time and ideas when it comes to services or physical materials for goods.  The way we acquire these resources can have big impacts on the planet (for example, mining or fossil fuel combustion for electricity production).  Lessening impacts of the supply chain at this stage is often referred to as "resource efficiency."
  • Production - producing goods through manufacturing is another important consideration.  Manufacturing processes can be greened through a range of solutions starting from how products are designed (i.e. minimizing input materials, packaging) through to minimizing use of water, resources and energy and production of waste in the processes.  
  • Reaching Markets - as was discussed in the last question, transportation and trade of goods and services can have huge impacts on global climate emissions.  Solutions for more sustainable transport as well as full systems change (for example, localization) can affect this lever of the global supply chain.
  • Consumption and Use - the way consumers use products is also an important consideration in the system.  Lessening consumption through sharing, moving to more service-focused economies, etc. can reduce the need for production in the first place. Check out the collaborative consumption for more information on how we can transform and change these systems. 
  • End of Life - finally when products have reached their end of life the way we handle them is crucial to sustainable systems. We have heard the traditional reduce, reuse, recycle slogan but this now has a whole new exciting school of thought and technologies around material upgrading or refabrication, waste-to-energy systems, etc. 

We recommend checking out some of the literature on the Circular Economy which addresses all these parts of the supply chain.  

How Indian solar market will be helpful to Asia after COP21 negotiations? 

From @SarahBhurgari1

India has made great strides in growing its solar market in 2015, and this culminated with India’s Prime Minister Nardendra Modhi announcing a 120-country solar alliance at COP21 on Monday.

India’s solar market has always proved attractive from the perspective of scale, however questions remain regarding interconnection, ability to secure land for large-scale projects, reliability of subsidies, enforcabiity of power contracts and overall profitability.

India can help other Asian countries develop the vast potential of its solar market by providing a clear development roadmap. It can set goals and targets (such as China has within its 12th and 13th Five-Year Plans), and more importantly form a coalition of experts from member countries to crowdsource solutions to the current challenges mentioned above. It has taken the first step by investing $30M USD to house the alliance in India, however it can take next steps by providing a friendly investment environment to developers and investors. This starts from clear policies and enforceable laws.

Two blog posts from CleanTechnia (I and II) written by Bridge to India lay out both the opportunities and challenges of the Indian market. 

What are the most important topics about global climate change that are being discussed at COP21?

From @VoxsRelativity

Good question, while this is a bit subjective here are what we think some of the big issues are in the negotiation based on the conversations we have had around the Blue Zone. You can also check out the UNFCCC’s schedule of the negotiations to see what is being discussed.

  • Closing the emissions gap – as you know from our intro to COP blog post, countries submitted their commitments (called INDCs) prior to the negotiations. While this is represented huge progress it still left an emissions gap of 12-14Gt per year required for staying below a 2-degree scenario (climate mitigation).  A huge topic of the negotiations is how to close this gap.
  • 1.5 or 2 degrees - parties are currently discussing which temperature rise to include in the text.  Small island states in particular are pushing for 1.5 degrees as 2 degrees has devastating consequences for their nations.
  • Adaptation – see next question for a full run down on adaptation.
  • The Green Climate Fund – this fund was established to fund low-emission and climate-resilient development (more info here). The big questions around the fund are how it will be funded (so far only $10.2B of a targeted $100B have been raised), how it will be deployed (where, what kinds of projects, how are those decisions made?) how the funds will be leveraged for maximum impact (working with development banks and national governments, for example) and how investments will be monitored and tracked?
  • Loss and damage- This term refers to the loss and damage to property, ecosystems, and livelihoods as a result of failures in mitigation and adaptation.  Climate change is already happening and is affecting people in big ways, the negotiators are trying to determine how these people will be compensated and aided.
  • CBDR (common but differentiated responsibility) – CBDR is the principle that we have common responsibility to act but that there is an acknowledgement that this must be differentiated based on socio-economic context, historic contributions to the problems, and financial, technological and structure capacity to act this principle is embedded within the negotiations and it is almost certain the agreement will reflect it.
  • Technology Mechanism - Promoting and enhancing action on the development and transfer of environmentally sound technologies to developing country Parties  is critical to supporting action on mitigation of greenhouse gases and adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change. A mechanism for this was established at COP16 in Cancun and its details and operations are still being discussed at the negotiation table. (see more here)
  • Gender and Climate - Impacts of climate change, such as drought, floods, extreme weather events and reduced food and water security, affect women and men differently with the poorest being the most vulnerable. 70 per cent of the world’s poor are women. Even though women are therefore disproportionately affected, at the same time they play a crucial role in climate change adaptation and mitigation actions. It is increasingly evident that involving women and men in all decision-making processes on climate action is a significant factor in meeting the climate challenge and achieving the long-term objectives of the agreement. (see more here)

If climate change is inevitable, could we not adapt to it? 

From @VoxsRelativity

To combat the negative effects of climate change, the world needs to approach it through both mitigation and adaptation; focusing on only adaptation will not be enough.

Before we answer the question, it is important to distinguish between climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation. Climate change mitigation refers to actions taken that attempt to eliminate or reduce the risk of climate change to people and the ecosystem; in other words proactive measures.  The IPCC defines mitigation as “anthropogenic (i.e. done by humans) intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.” That basically means measures that can reduce atmospheric emissions (like driving less cars or switching to renewable energy) as well as removing CO2 from the atmosphere through carbon sinks (think reforestation). Adaptation on the other hand is how we as a society react and adapt to changes in our climate from a systems perspective; in other words reactive measures. Adaptation measures help us adjust to these changes and our new environments (think anything from flood walls to new farming processes).

However, your question is whether we should only focus on adaptation. Here are the challenges to only focusing on one side of the solution.

It is estimated that the world will require between $140-$300 billion a year to adapt to climate change. However in 2013, only $26 billion was committed to climate adaptation. So this means that a 438% increase will be needed by 2050. There are also many problems with these figures. Scientists and economists cannot accurately estimate how much climate change will cost. As climate science improves, these figures only grow.   So the first problem with only focusing on adaptation is, where will this gap in financing come from?

The second challenge is the technology and infrastructure needed to adapt to climate change.  Climate resiliency has gotten a lot of attention in the past several years due to significant weather events in high profile regions, like Hurricane Sandy in New York. However, climate adaptation is more than just safeguarding against extreme weather events. For example, questions remain on scaling agriculture in regions where droughts have destroyed once arable farm land.

A third challenge is the social effects considered for adaptation. Millions of climate refugees will be forced to migrate because of a lack of resources. Entire livelihoods will be changed, and these people tend to be the most poor and vulnerable of every society. By focusing on just climate adaptation, how we do we ensure that the most vulnerable not only get the financial support they need, but also the social support when adopting to a new way of life?

In short, yes we can look exclusively at climate adaptation, but is it best to do so when we still have time to prevent, or at least lessen the impact of these consequences? By considering mitigation efforts alongside adaptation, the world still has the change to prevent these challenges, but time is running out.