Report from First Global Working Session

p2p-dish.pngOn February 4, 2015, we held the first Pathway to Paris Online Working Session, open to people all over the world. The event reviewed the structure and work of Citizens' Climate Lobby and the Pathway to Paris project, and explored results from the in-person Working Sessions held in New York and Washington, on January 15 and 28, respectively. The Working Session then turned to discussion of affinities, and comment on ideas and outcomes from 9 distinct issue areas, arising out of previous discussions: Carbon Pricing, Climate Finance, an Institution Outside the UNFCCC, Intergenerational Equity, International Cooperation (to secure a carbon price without leakage), Knowledge/Leverage to Empower Citizens & Consumers, The Public Trust, Redefining Targets to Motivate Action, and Water & Food Resources. 

At the end, the event turned to feedback from participants, to directly shape future meetings on those topics. Participants also were asked to make volunteer commitments, according to their abilities or inclinations, in support of the Pathway to Paris coordinating effort. 

Carbon Pricing

One of the origins of the Pathway to Paris project is the commitment of Citizens’ Climate Lobby to streamlined, transparent, upstream, economy-building carbon pricing, namely in the form of a Carbon Fee and Dividend plan. The Pathway to Paris whitepaper laid out five Core Principles, derived from that plan, but which could apply to any effort to eliminate fossil fuel externalities and build a more efficient energy economy.

In each of our Working Sessions so far, there has been interest in both the subject of Fee and Dividend and in the question of how language in the Paris agreement might motivate country-level mitigation action in the form of carbon pricing. On the question of integrating various national plans, the focus has been less on creating a joint market for trading emissions permits or carbon credits, and instead on exploring how to avoid the problems that arise from such a strategy, while still achieving collaboration on a reliable pricing strategy. 

In this session, carbon pricing was treated as a supporting or motivating policy, making other policies more efficient and affordable. The idea–which flows directly from conversations at the UN Summit in September 2014, the World Bank and IMF Annual Meetings in October, and the Lima COP20 negotiations--that carbon pricing might be a condition for climate finance, was put forward. No working session has taken a firm position on conditionality, but each has supported the idea that transparent, effective carbon pricing should be part of the solution.

In need of further exploration is what kind of language in the Paris agreement might do the most to catalyze carbon pricing, in nationally determined plans for climate action.

Climate Finance

Climate finance is one of the favored topics in the UNFCCC negotiations: many see it as the most pragmatic, and attractive, way to motivate serious mitigation activity. Some describe it as having the potential for a “race to the top” effect, where nations will compete for valuable new investment, which will only come if it can be committed to serious mitigation activity. Two obvious problems have consistently arisen in discussions thus far:

  1. How to motivate enough volume of new investment to really drive global climate action, and
  2. How to ensure transparency in the process, fairness in adjudication and delivery, and prevent corruption.

So far, we have heard recommendations that:

  • a watchdog be established to ensure climate finance flows to effective climate change mitigation;
  • standards be adopted to ensure fairness in allocation of climate finance;
  • a mechanism be designed to direct climate finance to community-level projects and/or non-state actors;
  • the Green Climate Fund include ONLY public funding;
  • the Green Climate Fund include a diverse mix of public AND private funding;
  • outside organizations (NGOs, community groups) be given monitoring, reporting and enhancement capabilities;
  • and… that climate finance be conditioned upon leadership in climate action and/or democratic engagement.

An Institution Outside the UNFCCC

At Impact Hub, in New York City, on January 15, during our first Direct Engagement Working Session, in connection with the launch of Action 2015, we began a process of coordination, mutual education, community outreach and volunteer support, designed to add capacity to a wide range of groups, with a diverse range of focus areas. At NCSE, during our next Working Session, the topic of “architecture” arose from three different perspectives, and resulted in a Working Group focused on establishing an institution external to, but supportive of the UNFCCC process.

There have been two main reasons suggested so far for this outside organization: 1) an adivsory body, attuned to community-level needs and country-specific administrative and economic priorities, relating to how to price carbon effectively, and 2) an independent structure within which civil society organizations can open up the process of negotiation and of information sharing, allowing citizens to have a way to lobby the UN negotiation process, without lengthy accreditation or having to depend on the political focus of their own national governments.

The reasoning for both of these was fairly consistent: to avoid the problem whereby good ideas or local insights are left out, due to the structural peculiarities of the process or of national political systems.

Intergenerational Equity

Intergenerational Equity, or “Inteq”, refers to the question of whether we in the present should “discount” costs to future generations, for various reasons. The reasons for doing so are usually the expected devaluation of currency over time, the rate of acceleration of technological advancement, and the fact that total scientific understanding and prowess accumulate over time, making a heavy lift now an easier lift in the future.

While from the standpoint of avoiding costs in the present, each of these might seem reasonable, none of them really holds up to scrutiny if one works from the simple moral principle that it is wrong to put harm on others one would not take on oneself. Young leaders have identified this issue as indicative of the degree to which our climate response is truly ethical, i.e. following “the Golden Rule”: Do unto others as you have done to yourself.

In this Working Session, the Inteq issue was treated no only as one of moral clarity–do no harm–but also as one of education. To empower young people with information about what is unfolding, and to help them to be capable of advocating for the policies that will secure them the best future, could, it was argued, be treated as a basic requirement for any credible system of education. Failure to provide adequate resources, including informational resources, could be seen as a shirking of moral duty.

One of the key questions that has come up repeatedly in our Working Sessions to date has been: would it really make our own immediate climate action “unaffordable” if we reduced the “discount rate” to zero? If not, it has been proposed, maybe we should aim for the policy that flows from that knowledge.

International Cooperation (to secure a carbon price without leakage)

The UNFCCC process, under the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, requires each nation to propose and to implement its own Nationally Determined Contribution to the global climate response. Where carbon pricing is an element of that response, the problem of “leakage” arises: essentially, the outsourcing of carbon pollution to markets with lower carbon prices.

To date, three major concepts for dealing with this problem have been suggested:

  1. a global market for trading of emissions permits;
  2. a global carbon price;
  3. harmonizing national pricing strategies, to eliminate leakage.

The third has been the main topic of consideration in Working Sessions to date, for a number of reasons. First of all, the global market concept is well explored in international policy, and under consideration in many other fora. The CDM of the Kyoto Protocol, and various projects involving the World Bank Group and other partners, are potential mechanisms for facilitating this kind of solution. A global price would be an unprecedented global mandate, for a numerical adjustment to economic behaviors, and falls outside the country-driven strategy currently in process.

The subject of international cooperation to establish a globally effective, “locally retained” carbon pricing solution relates to both the jurisdiction (national government) and the model for revenue recycling (where, and how).

Border adjustments have been identified as a key motivator for international harmonization: because no nation wants to send large sums of carbon revenue abroad, the establishment of border adjustments in jurisdictions that are pricing carbon effectively can motivate others to do so as well, greatly reducing the complexity of the solution to this problem of harmonization and eliminating leakage.

Knowledge/Leverage to Empower Citizens & Consumers

In our first Working Session, this topic emerged as a way of addressing “access to information”, “free flow of information”, “empowerment of citizens”, and “monitoring” of the performance of governments in carrying out pledged climate policies. The creation of a mechanism for an open flow of climate-related information was one idea; international legal standards for transparency and accountability was another.

And an entirely different area of policy focus was also proposed, relating to the requirement that both the public and private sectors facilitate access by the general public to detailed climate science findings. As the IPCC provides this resource, and more “granular” projects like the National Climate Assessment from the US Global Change Research Program, can provide detailed local climate-impact and long-run trend data, it was proposed that a mechanism be developed by which governments and private sector interests could provide access to expanded data, and ensure the up-time of direct digital-access fora, interactive web portals, and the like, relating to the public’s ability to interact with this data.

Two further ideas have been suggested to date: 1) a requirement that governments give time to citizens and community stakeholder groups, and 2) the establishment of a town hall meeting process for review of climate policy proposals and to advance improvements to such policies, as flow from the local perspective.

The Public Trust

The public trust doctrine is an ancient principle of law, that governments have a responsibility, in representing the interests of constituents, to protect and preserve natural commons that are logically shared by all people within a society. The rule of law is one of these values to be preserved, but so is clean air and clean water. In climate policy, the public trust doctrine has become a focal point of legal action in the US and elsewhere, as citizens seek to hold governments accountable for inaction to preserve ecological systems or the climate system itself.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change operates, in part, on this principle, in requiring Party governments to take action to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with the climate system.

So far, this subject has been discussed as part of, and on the periphery of, many of our Working Groups. Some have argued explicit endorsement of this principle in a binding climate agreement could be the sought-after means of providing legal force to a document that may not be ratified as a new global treaty, but would be treated, rather, as a binding agreement flowing from the original UNFCCC.

Redefining Targets to Motivate Action

During our Working Session at the NCSE Conference, on January 28, this subject emerged as a key tool for securing climate-stabilizing policy action on a global scale. There was a concern that temperature targets leave too much room for variation in action, with few means of faulting policy-makers whose policy choices are inadequate… the “we misunderstood the science” defense, essentially.

In conversations that involved economists, environmental advocates, scientists, and others, this suggested focus came to the view that while the 2 degrees Celsius target expresses long-tested science, and the new 1.5 degrees Celsius target, agreed as an alternative (not a replacement) in Lima, adds motivation for immediate action, there needs to be a clear end target, agreed to by all 195 countries, which is “material” and “actionable”.

Two central ideas were floated: an atmsopheric ppm target or a target for elimination of emissions.

Full decarbonization by 2050, which can be found in the Lima Elements Annex, and in the Geneva ADP 2.8 text, has been talked about as perhaps the most catalytic target for motivating serious climate policy action sooner rather than later.

Water & Food Resources

Water and food resources constitute a tangible way to talk about direct climate impacts on human health and wellbeing: if either is depleted beyond safe limits, society as we know it tends to break down, and most of our other ambitions, as a species, whatever our culture or political system, become much harder to achieve. This fact was discussed as part of the issue of climate justice, both for local (marginal) communities, and for entire nations.

During our February 4 online Working Session, California came forward as an example. Agriculture accounts for 12% of California’s economy, but consumes 80% of its fresh water, and water is scarce. The ongoing drought creates real problems, where economic fallout most directly impacts those least able to cope with it. Water and food are essentials for any organized society, and they are also clear indicators of our progress, or backsliding, on climate action.

In future working sessions, one or both will likely be topics of concern, and have been identified as either one or two crucial issue areas which will have the most leverage for bringing a wider population into the policy planning process.

Focus for next time: Access and Transparency

The UN climate policy process is both globally inclusive and also highly exclusive, in a number of ways. Legitimacy depends on bringing all UNFCCC Party nations to consensus. Each nation must agree to the outcome that will affect all. It is hard to imagine a more inclusive process, admitting more diverse views. But the process is also closed, in that there is no easy way for direct citizen engagement. Observer organizations must be accredited, which takes time, and individuals cannot simply share valuable ideas, without going through protocols of inclusion that tend to favor the already included.

The process that has developed, to allow civil society observers to play a real role in the process, monitoring and contributing to discussions among the Parties, is open, and tends to focus on good ideas that are viable and will achieve the best results on climate action. But there is often a call for more access, more transparency, and more leverage.

To the above list, we are adding Access and Transparency, as a focus of discussion on February 26, and as part of an open discussion on how to build a new institution, one which will prize openness and engagement as the foundation of its legitimacy, which will be independent of direct UN or governmental control, and which will assist in building stronger climate policy, both country by country and through the UNFCCC process. We invite all civil society partners, experienced negotiators, and newcomers, to join this discussion.

Join our Online Working Session, on Feb. 26

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