Category Archives: Climate action

The Climate Overshoot Commission Releases Its Report, Pts. 2 & 3

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: This is a long read, but a good one. After the first installment of Ted Parson’s three-part series introduced climate overshoot as a concept and offered a quick history of the Climate Overshoot Commission, these two follow-up parts explain just what is so interesting – and potentially so radical– in the Commission’s recently released report. As someone who studied the Montreal Protocol (briefly), I always wondered what was so different about the rules, systems, and concepts our global society deployed to reduce ozone-destroying CFCs (et al.) and the rules, systems, and concepts we are using now in our fight against the fossil fuels–induced climate crisis. “Money! Dump-trucks of money!” is of course the most obvious answer to any and all questions, but there’s more potential overlap for success that awaits you in this fascinating two-part finish to Parson’s analysis. I have emphasized key lines through this post to assist fellow skimmers, and marked when I have done so, but I hope many of you read the whole thing.]

Pt. 2, A Radical Proposal Hidden in Plain Sight in the Overshoot Commission Report

Click the image to read the full report on the Climate Overshoot website.

The Commission’s recommendations on emissions include a fossil phaseout much stronger than anything now proposed, which could materially advance climate action.

Legal Planet, by Ted Parson, September 21, 2023

Edward A. (Ted) Parson is Dan and Rae Emmett Professor of Environmental Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Continuing my discussion of the report of the Climate Overshoot Commission released last week, today I dig into their recommendations on mitigation. As you may recall, the Commission’s informal (but serious) job description was to speak of elephants in the room and unclothed emperors: to say things that are true and important about climate risks and responses that other, more political constrained bodies cannot. If you take this job description for statements and apply it to recommendations, it would suggest recommending things that are not politically feasible – at least not now – or that even lie outside the range of current debate. This does not mean making recommendations so outlandish or implausible that they can readily be ignored or arbitrarily rejected, of course. But if the job is to move the range of acceptable arguments and proposals – moving the Overton window, as the political scientists say – the most effective recommendations may well lie beyond the boundary of what could be adopted now. This perspective is especially relevant to the Commission’s recommendations on mitigation.

Mitigation – deep rapid cuts to worldwide emissions – is the first, essential element of effective climate response. I don’t think there’s anyone thinking seriously about climate change who disagrees with this. In the Commission’s words, mitigation is the “foundational strategy.” Yet when the Commission began its work, it first planned not to speak about mitigation – not because they didn’t recognize its primary importance, but because they thought there wasn’t much for them to add to what’s already being said, particularly given the tight time limit on their work. But partway through, the Commissioners realized that not speaking on mitigation would risk them being mistakenly seen to not accord it the needed priority, so they changed course – correctly, even necessarily, in my view. But in making this decision, they also resolved that their messages on mitigation had to cut through the noise and move the debate, and thus sought to make their recommendations radical. I think they succeeded at this, although it’s not clear from the initial reactions to their report that their radicalism has been noticed – yet.

Their mitigation recommendations include calls to adopt stronger national and international accountability mechanisms for emissions cuts; policy and financing innovations to promote faster deployment of zero-emissions technologies; and for countries to recognize each other’s climate policies and reflect them in trade measures. They also call for cutting short-lived climate forcers even faster than now being pursued. These are strong recommendations, persuasive and well conceived. But they also could plausibly be adopted within a few years if governments are serious about ramping up their ambition, so do not necessarily meet the aim of proposing something radical enough to move the debate.

So, where’s the radicalism?

It’s in their very first mitigation recommendation, for a “graduated, differentiated phaseout” in production and consumption of fossil fuels. Wait a second, you might say, what’s so radical about that? Isn’t it obvious that the world needs to get rid of fossil fuels, and haven’t a bunch of people called for it? Well, yes. But the Commission’s proposal is vastly stronger than either the weak language adopted at Glasgow – which calls on parties to “… accelerat(e) efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies …” or the language now being discussed for the coming COP28, which speaks of phasing out unabated fossil fuels. The word “unabated” has been used frequently in recent months by Sultan al-Jaber of the United Arab Emirates who is overseeing this year’s COP; it was included in a draft document by EU countries; and it appears in the mitigation findings of the global stocktake released earlier this month. The Commission’s proposal is also substantially stronger, and at the same time more practical, than the most ambitious fossil-fuel proposals being promoted by activist nations: the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance.

What makes the Commission’s proposal so radical is the combination of its ambition; its inclusion of key design elements that make it plausibly operationalizable; and the stature of the Commission. No mitigation proposal remotely this strong has been advanced in policy debate, certainly not by any body with stature similar to the Commission’s.

It is these elements taken together that make the Commission’s proposal radical.

Continue reading The Climate Overshoot Commission Releases Its Report, Pts. 2 & 3

The Climate Overshoot Commission Releases Its Report

[Note from BenIndy: This first installment of an analysis of The Climate Overshoot Commission’s report is a bit weedy but worth your time. The report itself kicks off by stating that the likelihood of global warming exceeding the Paris Agreement’s goal of 1.5°C is “alarmingly high and continues to rise” before charging policymakers to reduce emissions, such as by an “ambitious and orderly phasing out of fossil fuels […] . ” Here, Dr. Parson of UCLA’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment offers a brief history of the commission and what the high risk of exceeding the Paris Agreement’s goal – and “climate overshoot” – may mean for climate response.]

A dozen global leaders weigh in on the risk of exceeding the Paris temperature targets and what it means for climate response.

Click the image to read the full report on the Climate Overshoot website.

Legal Planet, by Ted Parson, September 18, 2023

Edward A. (Ted) Parson is Dan and Rae Emmett Professor of Environmental Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Climate Overshoot Commission recently completed its work, releasing its report at the United Nations last Thursday, September 14. This report comes in conjunction with the U.N. General Assembly and a collection of high-level climate and environment events, including the Sustainable Development Goals Summit, 18-19 Sept, and the Climate Ambition Summit, 20 Sept.

The Climate Overshoot Commission is a senior independent international body, consisting of twelve distinguished individuals from around the world, including former heads of government, national ministers, and leaders of major environment, development, and civil society organizations. Chaired by Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the World Trade Organization, it was convened by the Paris Peace Forum. The UCLA Emmett Institute contributed to the establishment and work of the Commission in several ways. Two former Emmett Institute law fellows served on the Secretariat. UCLA law students provided research and analytic support to the Secretariat in the International Climate Law and Policy Clinic. I served as a senior advisor to the Secretariat. In this and a few subsequent posts, I’ll present highlights of the Commission’s contributions, with some commentary — my own views, of course, not those of the Commission, which has very cogently spoken for itself.

There have been dozens of international commissions. Some of you may recall the 1986 World Commission on Environment and Development, or Brundtland Commission, which first popularized the idea of “sustainable development.” Commissions generally aim to advance international debate on hard issues, typically when other bodies are constrained in their ability to do so. Commissioners bring experience, stature, broad global representation—but crucially, are not presently in political office, so they are not required to advance national positions. They can speak and discuss freely. Like its predecessors, the job of the Overshoot Commission was to say things that are true and important, but that other more politically constrained bodies are unable to say: to talk loudly about elephants in the room and naked emperors.

This boiled down to two jobs. The first was to sound the alarm about the imminent likelihood of global heating exceeding the Paris temperature targets. The second was to say what this high risk of exceeding the targets— “overshoot”— means for climate response.

For the first, the Commission did its job pretty well, albeit with some reservations. Its forceful opening message is that the likelihood of global-average heating exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels—the more ambitious of the Paris targets—is “alarmingly high and continues to rise.” This is a stronger statement of this risk than has been made by any similarly high-level climate body, although not nearly as strong as is justified. Exceeding 1.5°C is virtually certain: indeed, it’s quite likely to happen within the next decade. More seriously, the Commission was silent on the risk of exceeding the higher Paris target, 2.0°C—with much more severe impacts than 1.5°C— which is also high and mounting. The Commission did report recent assessments from three bodies—the IPCC, UNEP, and IEA —which have synthesized projections of end-of-century heating. These are pretty alarming. Just maintaining present emissions-cutting actions—i.e., no further strengthening, but also no backsliding—give end-of-century heating of 3.2°C (IPCC), 2.6°C (UNEP), and 2.5°C (IEA); adding commitments in NDCs on top of current actions gets these down to 2.8°C (IPCC) or 2.4°C (UNEP); and adding conditional commitments and long-term net-zero targets reduces these to 1.7°C (UNEP and IEA). Getting better, but not very comforting.

Deciding how to speak effectively about such projections is surprisingly hard, for a couple of reasons. First, such statements aren’t just scientific but are also political—intended to report what is known or knowable about a risk, in such a way as to elicit a certain kind of response. All public-facing bodies like the Commission fret over how to sound the alarm that bad things are coming, to convey an appropriate level of action-motivating alarm without inducing despair and passivity. Second, there is real uncertainty in such statements, which gets larger and is more dependent on human choice the further ahead you look. While exceeding 1.5°C is pretty much locked in, there is so much range for human action in longer-term projections like 2.0°C, that most bodies —like the three the Commission quoted—speak not in terms of likelihood, but in terms of if-then, conditional statements. If control measures are this strong, then we project this degree of heating. The Commission chose to focus on the 1.5°C target, to speak very forcefully about the likelihood of exceeding it, but not to suggest certainty or unavoidability.

To give the Commission credit where due—and it is due in many places—on one point closely related to these projections, they were uncommonly and admirably frank: Noting the risks and the stark tradeoffs posed by aerosol pollution in the lower atmosphere. This pollution, mostly from burning fossil fuels that contain sulfur, has severe current environmental and health effects, estimated to kill more than 5 million people per year due to respiratory illness. It is also exerting an inadvertent cooling effect that masks a large fraction—perhaps a third to a half—of the climate forcing from previously emitted greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere. This pollution has to be cleaned up—and is being cleaned up—notably via the recently enacted tightening of restrictions on the sulfur content of marine bunker fuels adopted by the IMO. But cleaning this up will remove its cooling effect, which the IPCC recently estimated as 0.7°C.

Another related contribution the Commission made to climate clarity and realism (although less than it perhaps might have) concerns the use of the term for which it was named, “Climate Overshoot.”

Overshoot scenarios initially appeared in integrated assessment models (IAMs). They are projections in which some measure of environmental disruption initially exceeds a target, e.g., one of the Paris global temperature targets, but then stops growing, reverses, and eventually returns to the target level after this temporary period of exceedance. Calling these “overshoot scenarios” makes sense in describing model results, but is somewhat misleading in the real world, because it implies that once you exceed a target you are on an overshoot trajectory, which will in due course reverse and return to the target. In other words, the term suggests that such reversal and return is somehow automatic or easy, perhaps even built into the definition of “overshoot.” But what is actually highly likely is not the complete overshoot trajectory, but the initial exceedance of the target. How large and long-lasting the exceedance is, indeed, whether temperature actually returns to the target at all rather than just staying higher, depends on what happens to net emissions afterwards. Returning to or below the target, let alone doing so after just a small and brief exceedance, will take the same extreme reductions in emissions that have been so challenging to achieve thus far, now with the additional requirement that any continuing emissions be more than offset by extreme scale-up of stable atmospheric removals. Current and coming advances in carbon-free technology will help, of course. But given decades of shortfall in reducing global emissions, and continuing structural factors hindering needed sharp reductions, there is no justification to assume this vast transformation will somehow get easy, let alone automatic, by the mere fact of exceeding the targets and suffering the resultant worse climate impacts. Fossil interests will keep fighting, even if it’s to stretch their demise out longer rather than to live forever. Perhaps increasingly severe climate change and impacts will make transformative socio-technical change easier, but this depends on political assumptions – theories of social change – that are not clear.

An illustration of the deep difficulty thinking coherently about exceedance and overshoot can be found right in the recent IPCC AR6 report—a point the Commission discovered in the course of its work but did not include in its report. The overshoot scenarios reported in the IPCC all fall into two buckets: “low overshoot,” in which 1.5°C is exceeded by at most 0.1°C (this bucket also includes a tiny number of scenarios with no overshoot at all, but to be a little glib, nobody believes those); and “medium to high” overshoot, in which 1.5°C exceeded by 0.1 to 0.3°C.  A casual read could be forgiven for inferring that these numbers reflect a reasoned conclusion by the IPCC that these are the biggest overshoots the world will likely have to deal with. But unfortunately that’s not what it means at all. These buckets with their low overshoot numbers are a definitional artifact, arising from the year-2100 endpoint of the analyses. For a scenario to be called “overshoot,” it had to get back to its target by the year-2100 end of the analytic time horizon. Scenarios that peaked above 1.8°C—i.e., that exceeded 1.5°C by more than 0.3°C this century– did not have time to get back below 1.5°C by the end of the century, so were not labeled or analyzed as overshoot.  Even more so, no scenario that exceeded 2.0°C could be called overshoot, because there is not enough time on any trajectory to exceed 2.0°C, reverse, and return to 2.0°C by the end of the century. So, the overshoot scenarios identified and analyzed as such are in fact the best possible trajectories in which 1.5°C is exceeded, which manage to get back to 1.5°C by 2100. The IPCC in no way ruled out or judged unlikely future trajectories with higher and longer-lasting exceedances. These are there—in fact, they are clustered into buckets by their end-of-century heating.  These include, for example, the scenarios I reported above, in which continuance of present policies or NDC commitments without increasing ambition (granted, a scenario that may be unlikely on the pessimistic, no-action side) give end-of-century heating of 3.2°C and 2.8°C, respectively (with the lower figures subsequently estimated by UNEP and the IEA, as noted above). 

Having sounded the alarm about the likelihood of overshoot—albeit pulling their punches a little in concession to the perceived need to give a positive message—the Commission’s second job was to say what this high risk of overshoot means for climate response.

At first cut, this is a simple story: do more of everything and do it faster. But given the widespread desire not to face the stark likelihood of potentially severe exceedance, there actually is more to say—in particular, that the gravity of risks requires consideration of more extreme or radical approaches to limiting climate change than have gained serious attention thus far. It is no longer acceptable to deem plausible solutions that might help inadmissible a priori.

The Commission did this and did it pretty well—to varying degrees across the four major response types, of which they addressed all – mitigation, adaptation, removals, and solar geoengineering or SRM. Indeed, given the current state of climate debate, merely including all four response types with similar levels of scrutiny and detail represents a significant contribution. They also presented a useful and original conceptual framework for thinking about climate responses in presence of overshoot, dividing the four response types into two pairs according to which of two large-scale aims they pursue: Reducing the magnitude and duration of overshoot; and reducing the harms that follow from any given magnitude and duration of overshoot. The two responses that limit the magnitude and duration of overshoot are mitigation and removal: deep cuts in present and future emissions; and removing past emissions from the atmosphere and putting them somewhere long-term secure. The two ways to limit the harms resultant from any specific magnitude and duration of overshoot are adaptation and solar geoengineering (Sort-of, on the last one: the Commission doesn’t recommend solar geoengineering—in fact, its immediate recommendation is to enact a moratorium on it—but it also recommends researching it and starting to talk about how to resolve the governance problems it would raise). They also separately addressed climate finance; a cross-cutting response relevant to all responses.

From left to right: Kim Campbell (Canada’s 19th Prime Minister, Founding Member of Club de Madrid; Chair Pascal Lamy (Vice President of the Paris Peace Forum; former Director-General of the World Trade Organization, France); Hina Rabbani Khan (Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan); Unknown; Xue Lan (Cheung Kong Chair Distinguished Professor and Dean of Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University, China); & Muhamad Chatib Basri (Former Minister of Finance of Indonesia).

I’m going to address how the Commission dealt with each response type in subsequent posts, which I’ll put up at intervals of one or two days. The next two will separately consider the two response types where the Commission’s recommendations are most radical, most original, and most likely to attract controversy: mitigation and solar geoengineering. I’ll then review their analysis and recommendations on adaptation, removals, and climate finance, and close with a review of reactions to the Commission (which should start to be clear by that point) and speculation on its impact.

[Note from BenIndy: All bolded elements above represent added emphasis by BenIndy. You can subscribe to Legal-Planet.org in order to receive notifications for Dr. Parson’s follow-up posts.]

Shots fired: California sues oil companies

California goes on offense against Big Oil

The lawsuit makes California the largest economy to join the campaign against oil companies. | Ben Margot / AP Photo.

California is one of the country’s top oil and gas producers, and Chevron, one of the defendants, is headquartered in the state.

Politico, by Blanca Begert and Debra Kahn, September 16, 2023

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a lawsuit Saturday against five major oil companies and their subsidiaries, seeking compensation for damages caused by climate change.

The suit, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court by Democratic Attorney General Rob Bonta, accuses the companies of knowing about the link between fossil fuels and catastrophic climate change for decades but suppressing and spreading disinformation on the topic to delay climate action. The New York Times first reported the case Friday.

The suit also claims that Exxon, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP — as well as the American Petroleum Institute industry trade group — have continued their deception to today, promoting themselves as “green” with small investments in alternative fuels, while primarily investing in fossil fuel products.

It seeks to create a fund that oil companies would pay into to help the state recover from extreme weather events and prepare for further effects of climate change. It argues that California has already spent tens of billions of dollars on responding to climate change, with costs expected to rise significantly.

“The companies that have polluted our air, choked our skies with smoke, wreaked havoc on our water cycle, and contaminated our lands must be made to mitigate the harms they have brought upon the State,” the suit says.

Shell and API said the question of how to address climate change should be dealt with in the policy arena.

“We do not believe the courtroom is the right venue to address climate change, but that smart policy from government and action from all sectors is the appropriate way to reach solutions and drive progress,” Shell spokesperson Anna Arata said in an email.

“This ongoing, coordinated campaign to wage meritless, politicized lawsuits against a foundational American industry and its workers is nothing more than a distraction from important national conversations and an enormous waste of California taxpayer resources,” API Senior Vice President and General Counsel Ryan Meyers said in a statement. “Climate policy is for Congress to debate and decide, not the court system.”

California’s legal action joins dozens of similar lawsuits brought by seven other states and many municipalities seeking to hold major polluters accountable for allegedly lying about their role in causing climate change.

Eight California local governments filed some of the country’s first climate lawsuits in 2017 and 2018 that are now in state courts. At’s filing makes California the largest economy to join the campaign against oil companies. California is also one of the country’s top oil and gas producers, and Chevron, one of the defendants, is headquartered in the state.

A spokesperson for Newsom said the timing was motivated in part by the Supreme Court’s decision in April to allow existing suits from local governments to proceed in state court, rather than be moved to federal courts as oil companies wanted. State courts are seen as friendlier venues for plaintiffs seeking climate damages because they’re generally more receptive to considering state laws that deal with climate change.

“All these cases got tied up in years of procedural wrangling; oil companies doing everything they could to drag their feet,” said spokesperson Alex Stack. The “Supreme Court finally let these cases go forward this spring — the state as a whole is joining cities and counties.”

California officials have been contemplating legal action against oil companies for years, since at least the early 2010s, when former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown was serving as California attorney general. The state did sue coal companies and automakers before that, alleging public nuisance harms stemming from climate change, but the Supreme Court rejected the arguments.

The links between oil companies and efforts to downplay the effects of climate change have become clearer since then, a former top California legal official said.

“At that time there was less information about the ongoing and continuing efforts by oil companies to mislead and misrepresent on the record,” said Ken Alex, a former senior assistant attorney general under Brown who led the office’s environmental section. “I don’t think we had the same level of information that they have now about that conduct.”

The evidence has continued to pile up. A study published this year from Harvard University and the University of Potsdam in Germany found that Exxon’s climate models from 40 years ago were spot on.

California joining the legal parade against oil companies could prove significant.

“Having California participate is a big deal,” Alex said. “These are difficult cases. They have five defendants who have endless resources; it’s not simple to prove what they need to prove in terms of misrepresentation.”

Gulf Youth Activists say ‘To fight climate change, stop offshore drilling. Now.’

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Kathy Kerridge: We’ve just gone through the hottest summer ever and are seeing severe weather disasters almost daily.  Biden canceled drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Now he must stop more drilling in the Gulf.  Please read this excellent op-ed by Gulf Youth Activists.]

Photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash.

Houston Chronicle, by Armon Alex and Maggie Peacock, September 9, 2023

This summer set all kinds of records, but they aren’t the kind of records we should be proud of.

First, we had the hottest June ever recorded on Earth. July 4 became the globe’s hottest day in history — until that record was shattered in the following days. And here in Texas, we’ve just finished the most extreme summer yet, with weeks straight of unusually high temperatures.

The reality is, we know exactly what’s making these life-threatening heat waves worse and more common: fossil fuel-driven climate change. And despite the widespread data, reports and studies that all confirm the root of the issue, we have leaders in the United States and across the world ignoring the solutions and continuing to push us to the point of no return.

We’ve been given a dire warning — the continued reliance on fossil fuels is incompatible with a liveable future. But despite this clear instruction from the world’s leading scientists, the Biden administration has issued numerous oil and gas permit approvals, including liquefied natural gas projects, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Willow project and multiple leases for offshore drilling.

Despite receiving the necessary approvals to begin construction, these projects will cause irreparable damage to the public’s health and the climate. The estimated emissions of the Willow project alone — the equivalent of about 4 percent of U.S. annual emissions — should be enough of a concern to stop all other oil and gas permit approvals. Unfortunately, there’s another looming carbon bomb on the Biden administration’s list.

This month, the Biden administration will release its Five Year Plan for offshore oil and gas drilling in Alaskan and Gulf waters. The draft plan proposed anywhere from zero to 11 potential leases — 10 here in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Cook Inlet of Alaska — which is in direct opposition to President Joe Biden’s campaign commitments to end new drilling on our public lands and waters.  If Biden and his administration decide to move forward with all 11 leases, the result could be anywhere from the same amount of carbon emissions as the Willow project to 10 times as much.

Even though Biden has the authority to include no new leases in the final plan, many — including us  — are worried that this won’t be the case, especially given recent remarks by the plan’s head. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said that when it comes to drilling for oil and gas, “I’m not running this department for the progressives who want to keep it (oil) in the ground. This is for the whole country.”

In response to Haaland, we respectfully say that this country cannot afford more oil and gas drilling while we face this urgent moment in the climate crisis. The oil and gas industry doesn’t need access to any more of our public lands and waters; they already hold nearly 12 million acres of non-producing federal land with 9,000 approved but unused production permits. Any new leases for offshore drilling could lock in additional oil and gas production for decades to come — going way beyond Biden’s goal to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The vast majority of us will not experience any benefits from new leasing in the Five Year Plan. Instead, the oil and gas companies that are driving our planet to destruction and making record-breaking profits while doing so will win from the continued use of fossil fuels. Coastal communities such as ours in the Gulf will still be forced to live with the consequences. We will face the brunt of the pollution — swimming in oil-slicked water, eating contaminated fish, and suffering from devastating consequences to our health and environment.

We cannot continue to accept the status quo of drilling for oil and gas, especially when our communities here in Texas and nationwide face record heat, extreme weather disasters and deadly air conditions exacerbated by the continued use of fossil fuels. Biden must listen to the United Nations secretary-general, who has called for “ceasing licensing or funding of new oil and gas” to avert the most catastrophic climate change impacts. He must heed the call of the majority of Americans who oppose new offshore drilling off of our coasts.

We urge Biden, Haaland and the rest of the administration to choose to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels and finalize a plan with no wiggle room for new leases for offshore drilling. Our oceans, climate, communities and future depend on it.

 Armon Alex and Maggie Peacock are co-founders of the Gulf of Mexico Youth Climate Summit and Youth Leadership Council, and are members of EarthEcho International. They live in Corpus Christi.