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Half time in Doha (a.k.a. one hundred days to change the world)

After a week of talks in Doha at COP18, it is difficult to draw a clear conclusion about how the conference might conclude. Certainly there is discussion along the lines I discussed last week, but progress is slow and many of the historical divisions have resurfaced, despite the apparent progress made in Durban last year with the agreement for dialogue on the basis of all nations making commitments to act. I suspect that like many of these conferences, the last moments of the second week will see a rapid push for concluding text. Time will tell.

A key agenda item for this COP is the real start of discussions within the ADP, where the bulk of the negotiations towards a 2015 agreement should take place. There really isn’t a great deal of time for this to transpire, with perhaps as few as 100 negotiating days available between now and the end of COP21 in 2015. One hundred days to change the world and the process remains in the earliest of stages of thinking about what it needs to think about. To this end a roundtable was convened on Saturday such that the ADP Chair could seek input from the NGO community. Some industry colleagues approached me and said that the business community had a dozen seats in a lunchtime session with the ADP and as Chair of IETA, I was offered one. Initially this sounded like quite an opportunity, until we got into the room and realized that this was a single two hour session with all of the NGO community, not just those from business (otherwise known as BINGOs). Seated in a huge square in an enormous room in the cavernous QNCC (Qatar National Convention Centre) were the YOUNGOs, BINGOs, TUNGOS, INGOs, RENGOs, ENGOs, CINGOs, WGNGOs, FANGOs and RINGOs (young people, businesses, indigenous people, religions, environmentalists, cities, women & gender, farmers and researchers). Still, everybody was succinct and to the point and the business representatives were able to make three key points;

  1. It’s about putting a robust price on carbon. Don’t expect voluntary action to be effective (in response to a presentation by Ecofys, see below). Many businesses support putting a price on carbon, just look at the recently released Carbon Price Communiqué.
  2. A carbon price can deliver scale – just look at the large impact from the relatively small CDM. One billion CERs, ~$10-15 billion in carbon finance, about $100 billion in project investment.
  3. The interaction of business with the ADP is critical to a successful outcome and needs to continue.

I delivered the first point – see below (thanks to ENB for the photo), between colleagues Jonathan Grant of PWC and Thierry Berthoud of WBCSD.

The session had started with a series of presentations from invited external presenters. Abyd Karmali of Bank of America / Merrill Lynch delivered a powerful presentation showing how tailored carbon price based financial mechanisms could deliver further project activity and therefore real reductions in the run-up to 2020. This was in stark contrast to a presentation prepared by Ecofys, which argued for a series of specific activities (wedges) to bridge the gap from where we might be in 2020 in terms of emissions to where we needed to be. This included activities such as company voluntary reductions, the voluntary “greening” of the assets of the 20 largest banks, the expanded use of voluntary offsets by companies and consumers and a global ban of incandescent lamps. These alone are supposed to deliver 5 GT of reductions by 2020.

While I won’t challenge the calculations themselves, the reality of implementing these measures is highly questionable, particularly the voluntary ones. This was the modus operandi of the late 1990s and it simply wasn’t a sustainable path forward. It certainly isn’t today. Even back then, company voluntary reductions were never meant to deliver a globally coherent pathway forward, rather they were to demonstrate to policy makers the types of actions that could be initiated given the right policy signals. In the case of Shell, we even established a modest internal carbon price through a small trading system to do this, again not to deliver major change but to demonstrate the possible. It concerned me that the ADP might take this proposal seriously, enough to overlook the real work that needs to be done to deliver the types of mechanisms discussed by Karmali. Such mechanisms are already being used, albeit on a modest scale, to drive real reductions using CCS in places like Alberta, the UK and the EU.

One of the features of a COP is the side event schedule. These are presentations put on by observer organizations which run in parallel with the main negotiations. They are attended by anyone interested in the subject, including national delegates, other observers and UNFCCC staff.  Today IETA, the Enel Foundation and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs) joined forces to put on an afternoon session to discuss “New Market Mechanisms”. So far the attendance at COP18 side events has been a bit desperate, but this one attracted a huge crowd. The room was completely full with attendees standing 5+ deep at the rear.

Rob Stavins from Harvard led off and gave a broad introduction to the work the Center was doing on international market mechanisms and made a number of observations about market design and linkage. This was further supported by a second Harvard presentation by his colleague. Two business presentations followed, one by me on a possible framework which would foster an eventual global carbon market (Establishing a Global Carbon Market) and similarly by a representative from the Italian energy company Enel. The Environment Minister from Costa Rica offered concluding remarks.

The content was solid and interesting, but the highlight was the crowd. Clearly there remains a real and vibrant interest in the use of carbon markets and carbon pricing to drive emission reductions.

So that is a bit about the week that was. The gigantic QNCC felt a bit on the empty side last week, but that is being corrected as Ministers, their support staff and more observers arrive today and tomorrow. We shouldn’t forget that this is still a complex multilateral negotiation, sometimes bedeviled by bureaucracy, mystery and intrigue. This was summed up for me when a colleague commented that he had been in one of the contact group meetings, where “they square-bracketed a semi-colon” (which means that the use of the semi-colon was still being negotiated)!!!

On to week two.

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