Carbon Trading and Offset Schemes

COP24 talks surrounding the energy demand problem seemed to be dismal. Rather than talking about the sources of energy demand and how to provide sustainable energy, most of the talks surrounding energy focused on the aspect of emissions, emissions reductions, and emission offsetting. While the two topics are closely linked, and ultimately emissions are a direct product of unsustainable energy production, the talks focused around simply fixing the symptoms rather than the direct cause of the problem.

At COP24, many of the energy talks were clustered around the statutes of Article 6. Article 6 was intended to establish market mechanisms for emissions reductions as well as attempting to replace the Clean Development Mechanisms that were outlined at Kyoto (Evans and Timperly.) Market mechanisms are designed so that countries can trade the amount of emission they release in order to keep the global level of emissions low while still being able to work within their reduction capacity. Part of these voluntary carbon trading mechanisms include the ability for countries to purchase carbon offset credits in order to be able to bring down emission reduction costs (Evans and Timperly.) This, however, is a bit problematic. When a country purchases carbon offsets, they invest in emissions reduction somewhere else in the world instead of investing in their own reduction technology (Hartmann.) While this seems like a good idea in principle, it does nothing to reduce overall global emissions, and instead focuses on the idea of going ‘carbon neutral.’

Carbon neutrality is not helping address the root of the issue, but rather attempts to put a band aid on the issue. The fact that this was something that was so strongly contested and discussed at COP24, brings forth a gap in the energy and climate discussion. Renewable energy is only one of the suggested or possible projects for countries, rather than a more concrete solution or requirement. Focusing on keeping the scale of carbon emissions even is not what we should be working towards.

Renewable Energy and Social Justice

One of the most revolutionary and important discussions that came out of COP24 was to bring to the forefront of the discussion how to deal with the energy transition. As we discuss moving towards greener energy production, it can leave a lot of people out of jobs and plunge them into hardship. This is especially true about countries who currently are heavily dependent on coal and fossil fuels for their economy. However, a greener and sustainable future should not mean economic downfall for communities and countries. Poland really emphasized this at the COP24, as they led the discussion on ‘just transition.’ The government of Poland chose to purposefully hold the COP in Katowice, which is in the Polish coal region of Silesia (Evans and Timperly.) Additionally, the president of Poland launched the “Silesia Declaration” which aimed to bring attention to the need for policies that protected and aided the transition of the fossil fuel workforce (Evans and Timperly.) While it was only signed by 50 of the almost 200 countries in attendance, the declaration brings forward awareness to the issue and allowed for policy makers to begin to think about possible ways to help bring forth this just transition.

            Whether fueled by the COP24 or not, countries are starting to incorporate this social issue into their long-term plans and policies. Germany has been trying to deliberate with both environmental groups and German labor unions as they draft up their plan to phase out coal by 2038. Similarly, Canada has set up a Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Power Workers and Communities to explore possible ways that communities will be affected by a decreasing dependency on coal for energy (Elliot.)

Sources

  1. Elliot, C. “Planning for a ‘Just Transition’: Leaving No Worker Behind in Shifting to a Low Carbon Future.” World Resources Institute. March 25 2019. https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/03/planning-just-transition-leaving-no-worker-behind-shifting-low-carbon-future

Midterm Project: Sea Level Rise- A Daunting Challenge

Background:

Since 1900, sea level height has risen consistently over time. In the past 100 years, the sea has risen an average of 5-8 inches (Ocean Portal Team.)  In addition to the change in trend, the rate of rise increased from around 1.7 millimeters/year in 1990 to around 3.2 millimeters/year by 2000 (Ocean Portal Team.) While this may not seem like a huge increase, it is. Currently in the United States, about 40% of the population lives in highly densely populated coastal areas (Lindsey, 2019.) These coastal communities face issues regarding flooding and land erosion. Not only does this cause displacement of populations, but it also poses a heavy impact on the economy. The threat of sea-level rise puts infrastructure and industries at high risk (Lindsey, 2019.)

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Figure 1: Population density and coastal elevation in the San Francisco Bay Area. High population density in areas of 0-3 meters of elevation.

Source: NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) https://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/data/collection/lecz/maps/gallery/search#

So what is causing this rise that is threatening our coastal communities? Climate change and global warming are the primary cause of the rising sea levels. Through the burning of fossil fuels, we have increased the concentration greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has caused a rise in global temperatures. This rise in global temperatures has caused land ice to melt at a fast rate, thus causing sea level to rise. Additionally, as land ice melts, the albedo of the earth (the amount of solar energy reflected by the earth to space) decreases. This acts as a positive feedback loop that exacerbates land ice melting (Union of Concerned Scientists.)

As global sea levels begin to rise, many communities are beginning to be impacted by the rising levels. As a result, communities in these low-lying areas must adapt to the changing environment to ensure survival. This includes introducing climate adaptation policies that attempt to at least decrease the impact that sea level rise has on communities. Here, I outline different sea-level rise related complications and propose policies to help decrease the effects of rising sea-level on low lying coastal populations in the United States.

Case Study: Boston

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Figure 2: Population Density and land elevation surrounding the Greater Boston area in the Northeastern United States.

Source: NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) https://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/data/collection/lecz/maps/gallery/search#

Background: Boston is a pretty low-lying city, with its average elevation being 14 meters above sea level, but its lowest area sitting directly at sea level (Morton, 2019.) In addition to having some really low-lying areas, the geographic location of the city makes it susceptible to inland high-tide flooding. Due to its proximity to the gulf stream and the city’s sea floor topography, high tides can lead to large amounts of inland flooding. (Morton, 2019.) As sea levels begin to rise, the city is facing these high tides edging further and further inland, causing flooding in places that have never seen it before. Moreover, if a storm hits, high-tide storm surges could cause catastrophic flooding for the city (Morton, 2019.) Currently, Boston has invested over $1 billion dollars in programs to help battle sea-level rise. However, it is predicted that as sea-levels keep rising, Boston will have to continue to invest money and develop policies to maintain the city (SeaLevelRise.org)

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Figure 3: Flooding in Boston’s Seaport District.

Source: https://www.masslive.com/news/erry-2018/06/b4cac6d9df3737/is_it_smart_to_invest_in_bosto.html

Policy Proposals:

A 2018 study found that due to Boston’s topography and a cost-benefit analysis, a sea-wall barrier is not a feasible approach to battling sea-level rise in the city (Swasey, 2018.)  Instead, I am proposing road elevation and an increase in storm water pumps in vulnerable areas as a way to help combat sea-level rise.

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Figure 4: Areas in Boston to be affected by long-term stormwater flooding

Source: City of Boston Climate Ready Map Explorer http://boston.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=7a599ab2ebad43d68adabc9a9ebea0e6&extent=-71.1583,42.2897,-70.9309,42.4060

As sea levels continue to rise, more and more inland areas of Boston will be affected by long-term inland flooding rather than short term coastal flooding. Therefore, it is key to have a strong and extensive stormwater pump and drainage system that will allow this water to be released back into the sea. Rising sea levels increase the amount of water that runs through the current storm drainage system, which is not currently equipped to handle that much water. Increased water flow and pressure can exacerbate flooding and even push back into the sewer system (First Street Foundation, 2018.) Additionally, saltwater is corrosive, which can cause pipes to degrade quickly and also burst. Due to the new large influx of water, the city’s pipes infrastructure must also be updated (First Street Foundation, 2018.) While upgrading the infrastructure of the city’s stormwater and pipe infrastructure will be costly and time consuming the highlighted areas such as Roxbury and Fenway Park will be constantly under water.

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Figure 5: Areas of Boston with 10% annual coastal flood risk by 2030s.

Source:http://boston.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=7a599ab2ebad43d68adabc9a9ebea0e6&extent=-71.1583,42.2897,-70.9309,42.4060

The direct shoreline of Boston faces a high risk of annual coastal flood risk, as it is the part of the city with the lowest elevation. Therefore, these areas should be raised. Raising roads provides long-term preventative planning for sea-level rise. This was done for areas of Miami Beach that faced extreme flooding risk similar to these of Boston. The increased elevation of the roads prevented long-term ponding of water as well as protection of road bases that were previously being eroded by water (Miami Beach Rising Above.) Rising the roads also protect from high tidal flooding, which is a prominent issue in the area (Miami Beach Rising Above.)

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Sources:

  1. “Causes of Sea Level Rise: What the Science Tells Us,” Union of Concerned Scientists. April 16 2013. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/causes-sea-level-rise-what-science-tells-us

Mock U.N Climate Negotiation: A Reflection

Last week, I participated in a class-wide mock United Nations climate negotiation, where I represented the United States. Each student represented a country, interest group or city and we were divided into groups accordingly. Developing countries were split into two groups, and the developed countries were put together in a group as well. Cities and states were allowed to float around accordingly to discuss state-level issues, and interest groups did the same. Together, we aimed to come up with specific numerical targets for emissions reduction, afforestation goals as well as discuss the financial aspects of climate mitigation. Each group discussed within themselves, and then each group presented their findings and their reasonings. The agreed numerical values were then input into simulators to predict whether or not we were on track to reach our targets.

As a United States representative, I found it really hard to take on the stance of the current administration, as it diverges from previous climate talks. It was really hard to argue from a point of view in which I do not agree with. Moreover, seeing the numbers increase due to the United States’ pledges was disheartening. As a U.S representative, I had to constantly fight to reduce efforts to mitigate climate change. When it came to discussing climate finance, myself along with my fellow U.S representatives had to constantly disagree and as a result ended up blocking many proposed monetary contributions, ultimately settling for a dismal number. The stance of the United States currently that we should not contribute as much to global climate funds because despite having the physical capital, we don’t pollute as much as some developing countries. While this is the current stance, it was really hard to argue this, as all other developed countries have opposing stances. It really drove home that one country can really hinder collective efforts. Solely because of the United States and Russia, pledges were not higher within the developing block despite having multiple other countries in our group.

One of the most intriguing things that occurred during the mock negotiations was the discussion of states vs. federal rights in negotiating climate pledges and scenarios. I think that that discussion highlighted some fundamental issues and obstacles when it comes to the United State’s ability to negotiate at global climate summits. The United States must act as a unified government, yet domestically, the states have the ability to create their own climate policies on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, under our current form of government, states deal with different climate issues (for example forest fires in California) that require the use of federal funds but are deemed a state-level issue. The discussion surrounding whether states should have a voice at the climate summit was an interesting one.

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