Tuck Team Meets US Special Envoy, Todd Stern

Todd Stern 2

The Tuck team had a private meeting at the COP 18 US delegation offices with Todd Stern, US Special Envoy. We gained insights into his experiences and views of the US on the climate change negotiations.

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How much is that carbon out the window?

In addition to CCS, pricing carbon has been a hot topic at this year’s COP. For those of you new to the climate change world, putting a price on carbon – whether through a tax or cap and trade system – aims to internalize the externality of emitting the greenhouse gas CO2 by making emitting organizations literally pay for their impact on the atmosphere and environment. Europe, which instituted a cap and trade program – the EU ETS – has seen the price of carbon drop significantly below anticipated levels as the economy has slowed and government mandated use of renewable energy has grown. Although it is great that emissions have been curbed, without a higher price on carbon, the incentive to invest in lower carbon technologies (or as Vijai mentioned, CCS) is dramatically reduced.

At the IETA side events, I had the opportunity to sit in on two panels related to the REDD+ program. The United Nation’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation program seeks to reduce emissions in the developing world that result from impact to forests. This may occur in Brazil, as the rainforest is chopped down to make room for cattle farms, or in Indonesia as ancient hardwoods are harvested for luxury furniture in the developed world. Through establishing a REDD+ program, the goal is that public or private sector players in the developed world will buy up the carbon rights to these forests – in this way developed world carbon emissions are “offset” by preventing emissions from forest impact elsewhere; in turn, it provides a competing economic incentive to *not* degrade the forest in the developing world.

The first panel I attended focused on how the private sector has been involved in REDD+. The private sector is critical to the success of the program, and some of the major players’ motivations and some corresponding challenges were discussed:
– One hope coming out of REDD+ would be that these offset carbon credits would be seen as investment vehicles that would be traded in markets, but with the price of carbon currently so volatile, and the true enforceability of “carbon rights” so unclear, there is seen to be too much risk associated with these assets. As such, major financial institutions that initially showed much enthusiasm around the program, such as JP Morgan, have begun to drop off.
– Private companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and voluntary offsetting programs have become a major sources of REDD+ carbon offset purchases. In order to prevent a Greenwashing image, companies will often choose the lowest risk region to invest in deforestation credits. Hoowever, it is the author’s view that this also leads to a potentially lower real impact, as those regions with the lowest risk of deforestation are also probably the least likely to deforest regardless – whether because forests are protected or economically less viable – thereby lessening the actual amount of carbon emissions that has truly been offset.

Considering the ongoing questions around international climate agreements, combined with uncertain land tenure in the developing regions, I have a hard time believing that REDD+ credits are going to find much of a place outside of CSR and personal offsetting. Given that, I doubt that a high enough price to actually have a real impact on forest preservation will be achieved, at least in the short term. 

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So What Can I Do to Save the Planet? Climate Change and Animal Agriculture

At COP 18 there has been much talk about combating climate change with energy conservation, carbon capture and storage, clean energy and placing a price on carbon.  However, these (necessary) strategies are designed to effect change on a massive scale and will require years before they can be fully implemented.  A lot of young people are worried about the future of our planet and want to act now – but what can we do?

In addition to the better known steps you can take to lessen your impact on the environment such as walking more, turning off the lights, and recycling I would like to discuss another way to help the planet – eat more plants (and less meat)! 

Several of the side events at COP 18 have focused on animal agriculture – an industry with an enormous carbon footprint. Many people don’t realize that the animal agriculture sector is responsible for about 18% of human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  According to the FAO, “the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”  This includes the impact of clearing land for animal grazing, growing grain to feed livestock and transporting feed, animals, and animal products.

I spent a lot of time learning about the missions of organizations such as Brighter Green, The Humane Society International, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  Here are some facts I learned:

  • Farm animals are responsible for 35-40% of methane emissions worldwide.  Methane gas has 25 times the global warming potential of CO2.
  • We use 8 times as much arable land for feeding our animals than feeding ourselves.
  • It requires approximately 1,800 gallons to produce one pound of grain-fed beef.
  • Since 1980, meat consumption in China has quadrupled.  China is now importing record amounts of both corn and soybean to feed their animals.
  • Worldwide, more than 97% of soymeal and over 60% of barley and corn go to feed farm animals.
  • Farm animals and meat, egg, and dairy facilities cover one-third of the Earth’s total surface area and use more than two-thirds of its arable land.
  • Cattle ranching is one of the main causes of deforestation in Latin America.

 Eating fewer animals is not just an issue of pragmatism.  It is an issue of personal health.  I also believe it is an ethical issue.  With about 12% of the world’s population considered “food insecure”, feeding so much to our animals is unethical.  The first people to be affected by the consequences of global warming, desertification of arable land will be those already in poverty.  On the ethics of global warming, Henry Miller of Stanford University said “like the sinking of the Titanic, catastrophes are not democratic…A much higher fraction of passengers from the cheapest decks were lost.  We’ll see the same phenomenon with global warming.”

At Tuck, we talk a lot about how cap and trade works by encouraging companies to go after the “low hanging fruit” – the parts of their supply chain that are the easiest to remove emissions from.  If you’ve thought about improving the health of yourself or the planet recently, please consider if cutting back on meat consumption might be the “low hanging fruit” for you. 

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It’s only 4 degrees… what’s there to be alarmed about?

On my last day in Qatar, I attended the World Climate Summit at the Ritz Carlton in Doha. The opening speaker was Dr. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a climate scientist and the Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Dr. van Ypersele only spoke for about 15 minutes, but shared a couple of slides that opened my eyes to a remarkable fact –

The first slide (picture below) shows the world as it was at the time of the last glacial maximum – this was the period when ice sheets were at their maximum extension, over 20,000 years ago – the ice was 3 KM thick and extended pretty far south.

Glacial Maximum

The next slide (below) shows what the world looks like today, with ice sheets just around the poles.

4-5 degrees warmer

Here’s the kicker – the average temperature difference between our world today and the last glacial maximum? Just 4-5 degrees!! The above change took 3000 years to occur. We are talking about the same magnitude of change in just 100 years!!!

This is why everybody is worked up about a 4-degree warmer world, as this represents a HUGE change in the habitability of the planet.  For more information on the consequences on what to expect if/when we breach the 4-degree point, here is a link to a very recent and alarming World Bank report (which also features somebody well known to us at Tuck/Dartmouth) – this report got a lot of attention at the conference.

One a side note, I couldn’t help but notice four large chandeliers in the plenary chamber (two visible in the picture below and a close-up right afterwards) – each chandelier comprised of dozens of incandescent light bulbs – not the greenest of venues to play host to a climate summit!



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Tuck Side Event in Doha examines the role of global corporations in moving the climate needle

Tuck Panel

A highlight for the Tuck COP18 team was the opportunity to host a Side Event at the conference. Hosts of other side events include various UN organizations such as FAO, UNFCCC and UNEP, NGOs such as Greenpeace, and various countries (Switzerland, Vietnam etc.), so Tuck is in elite company. As Prof. Sundaram noted, Tuck was the only B-School to send a delegation, let alone host a Side Event. The topic of our Side Event was “The role of global corporations in moving the climate needle”

The Tuck panel was moderated by Prof. Anant Sundaram and comprised:

  1. Giles Dickson – VP Environmental Policies & Global Advocacy at Alstom (a large conglomerate based in France),
  2. David Hone – Senior Climate Adviser for Shell,
  3. Tim Juliani – Director of Corporate Engagement for C2ES (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change – a Washington DC based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to advance strong policy and action to address climate change)

Prof. Sundaram started the panel off by giving an overview of the Tuck School (with a beautiful picture of Tuck on a serene winter evening – quite different from Doha at any time of the year!). He reiterated Tuck’s deep commitment to sustainability – from teaching the first elective course on the links between business and climate change, to the work done by the Center for Business and Society, to bringing together Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) of companies with a view to creating links between students, NGOs, and companies.

Next, Prof. Sundaram outlined the basic problem – who burns much of this Carbon that is entering the atmosphere? To a great extent, corporations do. Does that make them evil? Not really – they do this because they offer goods and services that consumers want. So, corporations are clearly the cause of the issue, but they are also going to be the solution. As we learnt in the Tuck elective course “Business and Climate Change”, corporations have a huge contingent liability if a price on carbon is established – at $30/tonne, the largest 500 companies would have to fork over to $100B to society – so, they want to get ahead of that problem.

Next, Tim Juliani gave an overview of his organization, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions or C2ES. Interestingly, C2ES has a business/advisory council that comprises companies that have a combined $2T in revenues (yes, that’s Trillion with  a T!!) and 3.5M employees. One of the big problems that Tim sees is that 66% of companies talk about Climate Change risks in general risk management terms, even though the scope of the problem exceeds the capabilities of those frameworks to address. Given the lack of legislative action, we resort to voluntary actions such as climate leadership awards, Green House Gas (GHG) management, supply chain reorganization etc. as ways to incentivize corporate action.

Shell needed no introduction, so David Hone jumped right into what businesses can do – he outlined four areas – providing political room for government to act, taking a seat at the table, engaging in constructive dialogue, and finally, presenting the issues openly and transparently. He outlined specific examples of each of these – for instance, in the area of providing political room for governments, he called out the Carbon Price Communique (read more here), which Shell has signed, which makes the case for setting a price on carbon emissions as one of the main building blocks of an effective and ambitious climate change policy framework.


Giles Dickson from Alstom felt that what Alstom sells today is not necessarily going to deliver tomorrow’s low carbon economy. Instead, what we really need are new advances such as offshore wind turbines, offshore substations, wave energy converters (he showed a picture – here – of a doughnut in the ocean – very cool!) etc., and these are in the works at Alstom. As he rightly noted, this problem is not just about making clean technology more affordable; this is also about making dirty technologies cleaner. Back in 1960, the average efficiency of a coal plant was 30% – in 2020, it will be well over 50%. A few years ago, gas fired plant efficiency was 50% – now, it is over 60%. So, how much CO2 was not emitted by Alstom customers as a result of adopting newer Alstom technology? Between 2002 and 2009, 175 M tonnes of CO2 was not emitted – so, this is a real contribution that a corporation is making to solve the problem.

The panelists remarks was followed by a lively Q&A that covered topics as wide ranging as how public-private partnerships can do more, individual carbon budgets, and the business cases for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

As I sat on the bus heading back to the hotel, I reflected back on a great panel that provided a variety of perspectives on how future business leaders coming out of schools such as Tuck can play an active role in addressing what could well be the defining issue of our time – climate change.

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Soft on the People; Hard on the Facts!

Having recently completed Jeff Weiss’ Negotiations course at Tuck (with multiple exercises on multi-party negotiation, as well as side negotiations), I find myself paying extra attention to how the COP18 delegates discuss their interests and try to create options.

The goal is to align all the various countries’ diverse incentives, and unravel the economic challenges, while saving the planet in the process.

One example of this showed itself today at a special event hosted by the co-chairs of ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action). The goal of this session was focused on the co-chairs sharing of ideas and engaging in a round table discussion on a) “the contours of the 2015 agreement (Workstream 1)” and b) “ways to bridge the ambition gap in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C (Workstream 2).” See here for more information.

At the end of the presentations, there was a unique opportunity where the NGOs that were attending the session as “Observers” received priority over the official delegates to ask questions. Some also shared information on their organization’s stance regarding the presented materials. This resembles an exercise we had done in our negotiation class where by sharing interests (at the right time and in the right way), resulted in better solutions being reached.

One of the main discussions was around the “Top-Down” versus “Bottom-Up” approaches. The “Bottom –Up” approach suggests not having a cookie cutter model for all governments to abide by and instead having each country come up with their own pledges to cut emissions. Conversely, the “Top-Down” approach suggests a specific set of rules to be places and all countries to abide by them (this has proven to be difficult due to the vast diversity in economies, culture, GDP, basic needs, etc amongst the negotiating countries).

On this topic, the representative from CAN (Climate Action Network) after noting that “nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon” very clearly shared her organization’s stance on the “Top-Down” vs. “Bottom Up” approach and their underlying reasons. CAN “is a worldwide network of over 700 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in over 90 countries working to promote government and individual action to limit human-induced climate change to ecologically sustainable levels.”

Many other observers also shared their opinions and stances quite clearly and eloquently, to which the moderator commented that if all negotiators could be this clear and quick on sharing their interests, resolution would not be far off!

Below is a picture of the main banner in various meeting rooms. It notes “Count Me In” both in English and Arabic.


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Lots to see, lots to learn, lots to think about!

A quick post:

1) Here at COP18, there has been lots going on and when I read this article today, it reminded me of the quick naps on shuttle bus rides between the hotel and the conference center. http://www.cop18.qa/news/singlestory.aspx?id=190

2) The first slide from Tuck’s Panel on Wednesday.


3) Tomorrow (well today as it is 5am Doha time) we are meeting with a Distinguished Dartmouth Alum … more on this soon!

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