An update on climate legislation

This week the organisation known as GLOBE (The Global Legislators’ Organisation supports national parliamentarians to develop and agree common legislative responses to the major challenges posed by sustainable development) met in London and launched its biannual review of national climate legislation. The GLOBE Climate Legislation Study is up to its third edition and covers the ongoing efforts in 33 countries. Of these, GLOBE claims that 18 countries have made substantial progress, 14 have made limited progress and one country has been singled out for taking a backwards step, Canada, but more on that later.

In their press release, GLOBE state that:

“The tide is beginning to turn decisively on tackling climate change, the defining material challenge of this century. In the past year alone, as described in this latest study by GLOBE International and the Grantham Research Institute, 32 out of 33 surveyed countries have introduced or are progressing significant climate-related legislation. In 2012 alone, 18 of the 33 countries made significant progress. This is a game-changing development, driven by emerging economies, but taking place across each and every continent. Most importantly it challenges how governments look at the international negotiations up to 2015 requiring much greater focus by governments to support national legislation.”

The report is a substantial piece of work and it steps through the programmes in each country in considerable detail, although the pages of tables raise the question as to what exactly is “climate legislation”. Legislation is categorised under the headings “Pricing carbon”, “Energy Demand”, “Energy Supply”, “Forests/Land Use”, “Adaptation” and so on. Of these, “Energy Demand” is largely energy efficiency measures and “Energy Supply” focuses principally on renewables (and nuclear in some countries). These two categories alone cover all but one of the countries (Nepal) surveyed, yet for the most part none of this is “climate legislation”. Rather, this is legislation that impacts the energy mix, but this does not necessarily translate into a reduction in emissions on a global basis and in many instances does not even lower national emissions. It simply augments the energy mix or lowers the energy and CO2 intensity of certain processes, which in turn can lead to greater overall use of energy and therefore increased emissions over the longer term. I have explored both these issues in previous postings, here and here.

This is not the case for the carbon pricing category, which GLOBE link to 11 of the 33 countries covered. But 4 of these are part of the EU and of the remaining countries only Australia has actually implemented the carbon price (arguably so has Japan, but the level is close to insignificant at about $1.50 per tonne). GLOBE also claim India has carbon pricing, but there is no such mechanism within the economy (there is a heavy focus on efficiency and a certificate trading system to drive it). Others include Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and China, all of which are in various stages of developing carbon pricing but none actually have.

Finally, there is the story around Canada. They are singled out as the only country to take a step backwards because of their decision to abandon the Kyoto Protocol (the same treatment is not given to Japan and Russia though) and the absence of a nationally implemented policy framework. Perversely, Canada is one country that made real and tangible advances last year, although emissions continue to rise in this resource rich economy. Quebec implemented its cap-and-trade system, carbon pricing continued in British Columbia and Alberta and the Federal Government did introduce its carbon standards for power stations, which will mean no new coal plants (without CCS) –  even the EU cannot claim such an achievement. Most importantly, Canada managed to get a large scale CCS project approved and construction started – similar attempts in the EU failed disastrously in 2012. This point is worthy of note, although GLOBE don’t mention it, given the critical role that CCS needs to play in mitigating emissions throughout this century.

The steps being taken in many countries to better manage energy supply, demand and mix are welcome, but to argue that this marks a “decisive turn” on tackling climate change and is “game changing” seems to be overly optimistic. BP released their latest Energy Outlook 2030 this week as well, which sees CO2 emissions rising sharply to 42 billion tonnes per annum by 2030, this despite non-hydro renewable energy nearly quadrupling over that time period. In total, nuclear/hydro/renewables/bio moves from 16% to 23% of the energy mix.

Finally, a P.S. to my previous post on the observation by many that “global warming has stopped”. James Hansen has just published a good analysis of this  and finds that a number of factors are contributing to the lack of change in overall global average temperature. This includes the behaviour of the El Nino/La Nina system (ENSO) and aerosol loading in the atmosphere. But he also concludes that natural variability must be playing a role. Worth a read.