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U.S. Tells China It Has 'No Plan Yet' to Meet Its 2020 Climate Target

By Simon Evans

The U.S. has no plan yet for how to meet its 2020 climate target and has made no analysis of the impact of recent policy changes, according to an official submission to the UN.


The details emerged in a series of terse, repetitive answers to an international climate action peer-review process, known as the Multilateral Assessment. The U.S. submission, which was published this week, says "jobs, economic growth and energy independence" are its priority.

The assessment process sees countries ask each other questions about progress towards their climate pledges. The process works on a rolling basis, with the U.S. one of 18 nations currently undergoing review along with other major emitters Russia and Japan.

The assessment process works in stages, with written questions and answers followed by live public exchanges held on May 12 and 13, during two weeks of climate talks in Bonn, Germany. This will be the first time the UN climate convention has convened since the election of Trump overshadowed the annual UN climate talks last November, held in Morocco.

Carbon Brief has a summary of the written answers submitted by the U.S., Russia and Japan.

U.S. Review

The U.S. position on the Paris climate accord is under intense scrutiny. Speculation is swirling over whether it will remain in the agreement while weakening its climate pledge or if it will pull out of the deal altogether.

A series of executive orders signed by President Trump aim to roll back Obama-era climate policies, such as the Clean Power Plan that hoped to reduce emissions from electricity generation. In the wake of those moves, China and others have used the multilateral assessment process to ask how or whether the U.S. now intends to meet its previously pledged climate goals.

(Various third-party assessments have attempted to measure the emissions impact of Trump's policy moves. One recent analysis suggests his changes could add half a billion tonnes to U.S. emissions over the next decade).

In one question, China points out that official U.S. projections, made before Trump came to power, already suggested it would miss its 2020 target, a 17 percent reduction below 2005 levels. "Given that President Trump is not supportive of President Obama's Climate Actions plan, it is even more challenging to achieve [this goal]," China notes.

It asks: "Does the U.S. have any plan or preliminary thoughts on using international market mechanism to accommodate recent changes? If still not, what additional measure will the U.S. consider to take to achieve the 2020 target?"

In its official response, the U.S. administration says it has no plan to meet its 2020 climate target using carbon offsets. It adds:

"The administration is reviewing existing policies and regulations in the context of a focus on strengthening U.S. economic growth and promoting jobs for American workers, and will not support policies or regulations that have adverse effects on energy independence and U.S. competitiveness."

This pro-forma response is repeated six times. Elsewhere, the U.S. said it "do[es] not have updated information" about the impact of recent policy announcements on emissions. It adds that a question about its 2025 target is "outside the scope" of the assessment process.

Russia Reveals

In a series of relatively detailed responses, Russia puts a little more flesh on the bone of its highly ambiguous Paris climate pledge, which left many mystified when it was published in 2015.

Russia's overall pledge was to limit emissions increases so that they remained at least 25 percent below 1990 levels in 2030. This exactly replicated and carried forward an earlier target, set for 2020.

Responding to a question from Turkey, however, Russia says enhancing its overall emissions goal for 2020 is "at the present moment … not under consideration." Turkey's question points out that Russia had, by 2014, already overachieved against its 2020 target.

Still, Russia's answers do offer more detail on how its goals will be met. For example, it backs rapid growth in the use of non-hydro renewables, such as wind and solar. Power output from these sources should increase from 2 terawatt hours (TWh) today to 29TWh in 2035, the answers say.

This is much more specific than Russia's Paris pledge, which only said that policies would back an "increasing share of renewables in the Russian energy balance." For comparison, Russia generated 170TWh from hydro power in 2015, out of a total demand of 1,063TWh. This means, if demand remains steady, that wind and solar would supply 3 percent and hydro 16 percent of power in 2035.

This increase in renewable electricity generation will contribute to Russia's aim of cutting the energy intensity of its power sector: from 330 grams of coal equivalent per kilowatt hour (gce/kWh) in 2012 to 299gce/kWh in 2020, an 11 percent cut.

The document also sets out targets to cut the carbon intensity of key industrial sectors. Between 2015 and 2020, Russia says it will cut CO2 emissions per ton of iron or steel by 16.5 percent. Over the same period, the carbon intensity of cement and chemicals will be cut by 30.8 percent and 11.2 percent.

Elsewhere, Russia's submission claims the country has achieved dramatic reductions in emissions due to flaring at oil and gas production sites. It says:

"Implementing policies to improve the use of associated petroleum gas (instead of its flaring) provided a reduction in flaring from 26% in 2005 to 23% in 2012, 12% in 2015 and 10% in 2016."

Like much of Russia's climate documentation, this statement is ambiguous (10 percent of what?). A World Bank article suggests this means that Russia flared 10 percent of the gas it produced in 2016. Either way, this is a key area for Russia. The greenhouse gas inventory it filed with the UN suggests fugitive emissions from the oil and gas sector made up a third of its total footprint in 2014.

Another Russian answer says it is trying to encourage a shift from petrol and diesel-fueled vehicles to those that run on natural gas. It says it gave subsidies to support this switch, worth 3bn roubles (around £40m) in 2015.

Japan Strategy

The official Japanese response says the country is in the process of drawing up its long-term low greenhouse gas strategy. Under the Paris deal, countries are required to develop these strategies before 2020, in addition to submitting a shorter-term climate pledge. So far, six countries have done so, including France, Germany and the (pre-Trump) U.S.

In drawing up its long-term strategy, Japan says it: "Will put best of its efforts to work on global warming countermeasures and make maximum contribution to the global emission reductions."

Regarding its 2030 climate pledge—a 26 percent reduction below 2013 levels—Japan repeatedly said it will "revise its [action plan] in a flexible manner" in order to ensure compliance. It reiterates its view that the target is "feasible." This is in response to a question from China, which points out that the 2030 goal will entail "significantly higher" rates of decarbonization than planned during 1990-2020.

Japan said its focus will be promotion of energy efficiency "at the same level as the significant energy efficiency improvement after the oil crisis," as well as "maximum introduction of renewable energy, promotion of high efficiency in thermal power generation, and utilization of nuclear power generations whose safety is approved."

The reference to "high efficiency in thermal power" relates to Japan's preference for high efficiency coal. Indeed, its 2030 pledge allows for an expansion in coal use. Japan's submission says that state-of-the-art coal plants can cut emissions by "more than 10 percent," relative to "old type" plant.

The World Coal Association makes much larger claims for the benefits of efficient coal plant. In an interview with Carbon Brief earlier this year, World Coal Association Chief Executive Benjamin Sporton said:

"If you're building a coal plant today, wouldn't it be better that you're building the best technology that does reduce emissions by 25 to 30%, rather than using the older, less efficient technology?"

Elsewhere, Japan says it will also target industrial mitigation measures and nationwide campaigns for the residential and transport sectors, though it fails to spell out what these might include. It estimates power sector measures will save 188 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) in 2030, with transport measures saving 24MtCO2.

It said it will also use international offsets, developed under its Joint Crediting Mechanism, to help meet its 2020 climate goal, though it has yet to work out how many will be needed. Similarly, it plans to count the Joint Crediting Mechanism credits towards its 2030 goal.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.

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Kevin Vallely

'Rowing the Northwest Passage' Chronicles An Expedition Through the Changing North

By Kevin Vallely

In 2013 four adventurers set out on an 80-day rowboat mission through the Arctic's rapidly melting Northwest Passage. Their journey brought them face to face with the changing seas in a world of climate change. In this excerpt from adventurer Kevin Vallely's new book about the expedition, Rowing the Northwest Passage (Greystone Books), we also see how climate change has affected some of the people the team met along their journey:

An elderly woman walks toward us from the road. Tuktoyaktuk, in the Northwest Territories, is a sizable town by Arctic standards, with a full-time population of 954, but it's small enough that the bulk of the town likely knows we're here. The woman is smiling when she reaches us.

"I saw you coming in," she says. "Where you guys come from?" "We're from Vancouver," I say, my mouth still half full of food. "We started our trip in Inuvik nine days ago." Her name is Eileen Jacobsen and she's an Elder in town. She and her husband, Billy, run a sightseeing business. "You should come up to the house in the morning and have some coffee," she tells us.

Our night's sleep in the Arctic Joule is fitful; our overindulgence runs through all of us like a thunderstorm. By seven in the morning, even with both hatches open, lighting a match in the cabin would blow us out like dirt from that Siberian crater. The roar of the Jetboil pulls me out. Frank's already up, down jacket on, preparing coffee. "You like a cup?"

It's still too early to drop by Eileen Jacobsen's house, so we walk into town on the dusty main road, our ears assaulted by a cacophony of barking dogs. Dirt is the surface of choice for roads and runways in Arctic communities, as any inflexible surface like concrete would be shredded by the annual freeze–thaw cycle. Most of the town runs the length of a thin finger of land, with the ocean on one side and a protected bay on the other. About halfway down the peninsula, a cluster of wooden crosses rests in a high grass clearing, facing west. We heard about this graveyard in Inuvik. Because of melting permafrost and wave action, it's eroding into the sea, and community members have lined the shore with large rocks to forestall its demise. This entire peninsula will face this threat in the coming years. There's not much land here to hold back a hungry ocean.

We notice an elderly man in a blue winter jacket staring at us a short distance away. He's sitting outside a small wooden house and smiles as we approach. "You guys must be the rowers," he says. "Too windy to be out rowing." His jacket hood is pulled tight over his ball cap and he dons a pair of wraparound shades with yellow lenses that would better suit a racing cyclist than a village Elder. His name is Fred Wolki, and he's lived in Tuk for the last fifty years. "I grew up on my father's boat until they sent me to school in 1944, then I came here."

His father, Jim Wolki, is a well-known fox trapper who transported his pelts from Banks Island to Herschel Island aboard his ship the North Star of Herschel Island. Interestingly, we had the Arctic Joule moored right beside the North Star at the Vancouver Maritime Museum before we left. Built in San Francisco in 1935, the North Star plied the waters of the Beaufort Sea for over thirty years, her presence in Arctic waters playing an important role in bolstering Canadian Arctic sovereignty through the Cold War.

"We're curious if things have changed much here since you were a boy," Frank says.

"Well … it's getting warmer now," Fred says, shaking his head. He gestures out to the water speaking slowly and pausing for long moments between thoughts. "Right up to the 1960s … there was old ice along the coast … The ice barely moved … It was grounded along the coastline." He looks out over the shoreline, moving his arm back and forth. "They started to fade away slowly in the 1960s … icebergs … They were huge, like big islands … They were so high, like the land at the dew Line station … over there." He points to the radar dome of the long decommissioned Distant Early Warning Line station that sits on a rise of land just east of us. "It's been twenty years since we've seen one in Tuk." There's no sentimentality or anger in Fred's voice; he's just telling us his story. "It's getting warmer now … Global warming is starting to take its toll … All the permafrost is starting to melt … Water is starting to eat away our land."

I listen to his words, amazed. There's no agenda here, no vested interest, no job creation or moneymaking—just an elderly man bearing witness to his changing world.

Excerpted from Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear, and Awe in a Rising Sea by Kevin Vallely, published September 2017 by Greystone Books. Condensed and reproduced with permission from the publisher.

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