Post-Paris Agreement: FREE’S Focus on Subnational Climate Action

By Job Taminiau and Joseph Nyangon
Accelerating climate action and finance at subnational level based on the Paris Agreement.

The 21st Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP 21 (also known as the Paris climate summit) closed in Le Bourget, France after two weeks of intense negotiations, with negotiators agreeing on a landmark “Paris Agreement.” The conference took place from November 30 – December 12, 2015 and was attended by a delegation from the Foundation for Renewable Energy and Environment (FREE). The FREE delegation included Dr. John Byrne, Chairman and President, and Dr. Job Taminiau, Research Principal of FREE. This blog post briefly discusses the outcome document of the negotiations and highlights the experience of attending COP-21.

FREE’s Participation in the COP process
The FREE delegation participated in official side events, interviews, discussions, and meetings throughout the second week of the negotiations. Overall, the FREE delegation was very impressed by the ‘can do’ attitude of, particularly, the subnational actors that were present at the COP. In fact, these subnational actors, on more than one occasion, highlighted their willingness to not only follow-up on negotiators’ progress to seal a deal but to champion and “ratchet-up” local climate action as a viable pathway for future climate change mitigation and adaptation.

FREE co-sponsored and co-organized two side events at the conference. In a side event on the potential contribution of cities to address climate change, co-sponsored and co-organized by FREE in collaboration with the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP, University of Delaware) and the Climate Alliance of European Cities with Indigenous Rainforest Peoples (or simply “Climate Alliance”), the Global Covenant of Mayors, and others, Dr. Taminiau offered a perspective on subnational climate change innovation, leadership, and governance by drawing from examples of ‘solar city’ strategies. Such a project could offer a substantial improvement in a city’s energy profile: for example, a high density, vertical city like Seoul could supply 66% of daylight electricity needs for the year and 35% of all-hours annual electricity needs from the use of 30% of the rooftop real estate available in the city. The Europe-based Climate Alliance was a very suitable partner for this message: the organization works with more than 1,700 cities and municipalities spread across 26 European countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

COP21_Paris Agreement_FREE_John_Byrne_Job_Taminiau_Paris_AgreementL-R: Dr. Taminiau and Dr. Byrne at the Paris climate change conference

Flanked by among others, Camille Gira of Luxembourg European Union Council Presidency; Magda Aelvoet, Minister of State, President, Federal Council for Sustainable Development, Belgium; Tine Heyse, Deputy Mayor of Ghent, Belgium; Josefa Errazuriz, Mayor of Providencia, Chile; Julie Laernoes, Vice-President of Nantes Metropole, France; Marie-Christine Marghem, Belgian Federal Minister of Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development; and Ellý Katrin Gudmundsdottir, Chief Executive Officer and Deputy Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland, Dr. Taminiau argued that cities are well positioned to help bend the carbon curve. “Cities could be the power plant of the future,” he added.

The second side event organized by the Climate Change Center Korea was titled “Preparing Action Plans for a Post-2020 Climate Change Regime in Asia.” Former prime ministers and senior government officers from Asia were among the participants in this well-attended event, highlighting the need for a new finance, markets and policy regime as well as stronger cooperation and partnerships in Asia to combat climate change. Dr. Duck-Soo Han, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Climate Change Center and Former Prime Minister of Republic of Korea called for enhanced financial and technological resources in Asia to combat climate change. Professor Haibin Zhang of Peking University and a Member of the Global Advisory Board of the Center for Climate and Sustainable Development Law and Policy (CSDLAP) offered a Chinese perspective on climate policy governance. Dr. Oliver Lah of Wuppertal Institute for Climate (Germany) examined EU-Asia climate partnerships. And Richie Ahuja, Regional Director for Asia of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) summarized work in Asian region on clean energy and clean cooking systems as low-carbon solutions.

COP21_Paris Agreement_FREE_John_Byrne_Climate_Action
Dr. Byrne presenting findings from a study on the financeability of large urban solar plants in Amsterdam, London, Munich, New York, Seoul, and Tokyo. Photo by IISD/ENB

Dr. Byrne presented findings from a six-city study on the financeability of large urban solar plants. He described results from Amsterdam, London, Munich, New York, Seoul, and Tokyo, noting financing and policy needs on the cost of installations in these cities to enable infrastructure-scale investment. Particularly, New York City, London, Munich, and Amsterdam could be successful in implementing a solar city strategy without many changes to existing policy structures. Seoul and Tokyo, meanwhile, require more modification to existing conditions in order to produce a viable project that could attract financial resources from investors. For instance, FREE’s researchers find that such infrastructure-scale solar development is financeable in 13 years for Seoul, 10 years for New York City, and 11-12 years for London, Munich and Amsterdam (Figure 1).

Solar city implementation options for the six municipalities under a 10-year financing maturity.
Figure 1. Solar city implementation options for the six municipalities under a 12-year financing maturity. [1]

The Paris Agreement: A New Direction for Climate Change Governance?
Forged by nearly 200 countries to ramp-up climate mitigation and adaptation measures to reel in planet-warming carbon emissions, the Paris Agreement marks a historic shift in climate diplomacy. Indeed, the agreement has been hailed as a monumental step in the climate change negotiation process: “For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take common climate action,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the conference’s closing session. “This is a resounding success for multilateralism,” he declared. Key elements of the new agreement include:

  1. A goal to hold the increase in global average temperature to “well below 2°C and endeavour to reach 1.5°C” relative to pre-industrial temperatures;
  2. Successive nationally determined contributions outlining Parties’ commitments to reduce climate change emissions, to be updated every five years. Each round of commitments needs to represent a progression from previous commitments; and
  3. A regular process of review of the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This “global stocktake” which informs collective efforts on mitigation, adaptation and support on technology development and transfer for developing country parties will take place in 2023 and every five years thereafter.

Six years after the 2009 diplomatic disaster of Copenhagen, the path to Paris had been well-prepared. The COP talks in Copenhagen, in no small part, collapsed due to the continued focus on a top-down, legally binding agreement with strong emission reduction commitments for which, ultimately, willingness to sign on by nation-states was low. The Copenhagen Accord (2009) and subsequent Cancun Agreements (2010) formulated a new approach revolving around a new way of target-setting of more bottom-up, self-determined, national targets. This ‘pledge-and-review’ approach yielded approval from a much larger set of nation-states, including the United States and China. A “fresh” architecture for climate action was set out to be the goal in the follow-up Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (2011).[2] The bilateral talks and agreements between China, the U.S., and India can also be seen as critical preparatory work that allowed for the outcome in Paris. For example, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping met in September 2015 in Washington D.C. announcing new and strengthened bilateral and multilateral climate cooperation, including the establishment of a national cap-and-trade program in China by 2017, providing momentum for success in Paris.

The Paris Agreement marks a break from the past, representing an unprecedented inflection point in the global response to climate change. Over twenty years of negotiations have brought the international community to a point where self-determination, rather than top-down treaty pursuits, has become the new approach moving forward. In this, there appear to be at least two main elements that will shape climate change governance for the years to come.

First, the agreement provides a process for governments to ratchet-up efforts to limit global temperature rise and, for the first time, includes commitments from all key Parties to the convention. The agreement puts emphasis on registering commitments at global, national, provincial/state, local, and corporate scales, and tracks national performance over time. Every five years, beginning in 2020, each country will be required to communicate a new nationally determined contribution for reducing emissions. Potentially, this implies that the Paris Agreement could be the main platform within which climate change action at the global level is articulated for years, only to be routinely updated rather than fully redrafted.

Second, as the focus shifts to implementation, the success of the agreement lies in the Convention’s ability to engage the private sector, financial institutions, cities, and transnational and subnational authorities. Indeed, as Christiana Figueres highlighted during the 2016 Investor Summit on Climate Risk, the Paris Agreement was “clearly the easiest of the components”. [3] Noting the Paris Agreement as the “starting line”, Christiana Figueres continued that the real challenge is to take all the “fantastic intentions” and move them to actual implementation. Similarly, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon emphasized the gravity of the challenge that lies ahead: “We have an agreement. It is a good agreement. You should all be proud. Now we must stay united – and bring the same spirit to the crucial test of implementation. That work starts tomorrow”.[4]

COP_21_Paris_Agreement Celebration_Christiana Figueres_Laurence Tubiana_Ban_Ki_moon_François_Hollande
L-R: Laurence Tubiana, COP 21 Presidency; UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; COP 21/CMP 11 President Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister, France; and President François Hollande, France, celebrating the conclusion of the event. Photo by IISD/ENB

The Bottom Line: Paris Agreement Implementation Requires Subnational Creativity, Innovation, and Leadership
The FREE delegation proposed ‘polycentric’ strategies to COP-21 as a viable way forward for the international community. The proposal is based on ideas and models developed and implemented by FREE, such as the promising contribution of the Pennsylvania Sustainable Energy Finance Program (PennSEF), the innovative character of the Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) model, or the transformative potential of ‘solar cities’. The proposal titled “A Polycentric Response to the Climate Change Challenge Relying on Creativity, Innovation, and Leadership” highlights the critical importance of subnational actors, particularly cities and other municipal agents. [5] Relying on a wide and diverse landscape of actors to address climate change, the proposed focus on ‘polycentric’ strategies could capture and scale-up the innovation, leadership, and creativity taking place.

FREE has well-established experience with sustainable energy financing programs and, through research such as on solar cities, is actively developing options for transformative change. The SEU model, for instance, has been implemented in the U.S. state of Delaware (with a second bond issuance planned for the near-term) and in Washington, DC and is being actively explored in India and Korea. The U.S. White House in an announcement made by President Obama recognized the SEU model for its promise of transformative change and capability to lower energy use and carbon emissions while improving state economic development. Other programs, like PennSEF and planned future projects, combine innovations in finance, policy and market approaches and are needed to mobilize necessary levels of climate finance and fulfilment of existing commitments of the Paris Agreement.

Concerns linger as to, for instance, the observation that much more needs to be done than is currently pledged by the nation-states in order to meet the two degree target (the so-called ‘ambition gap’). The bottom line of the Paris Agreement therefore is that implementation will require the mobilization of state and non-state actors to perform substantial technical, methodological, and policy efforts to support the accord when it enters into force. A critical factor in this is the leveraging of financial resources to drive transformative change. FREE plans to assist state and non-state actors in developing these capacities. Recombination and careful consideration of the policy-market-finance interaction is at the foundation of FREE’s project portfolio and can deliver a critical contribution towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

[1] Byrne, J., Taminiau, J., Kim, K.N., Seo J., and Lee, J. (2015). “A solar city strategy applied to six municipalities: integrating market, finance, and policy factors for infrastructure-scale photovoltaic development in Amsterdam, London, Munich, New York, Seoul, and Tokyo.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment.
[2] As mentioned on the UNFCCC website:
[3] As discussed at the 2016 Investor Summit on Climate Risk. The Summit seeks to sustain the momentum from Paris and was organized by Ceres, the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations Office for Partnerships.
[5] This position paper was authored by Dr. Job Taminiau and Dr. John Byrne in their respective capacity at the Center for Energy & Environmental Policy (CEEP, University of Delaware).

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