Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Low Carbon Land Use: Paris, Pittsburgh, and the IPCC: Post 2: Post-Paris Contagion: A Series by John R. Nolon

[This post is the second in a series that will appear over the coming months.] 

Low Carbon Land Use: Paris, Pittsburgh, and the IPCC  

Post-Paris Contagion

by John R. Nolon Distinguished Professor of Law

 Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University

 Low carbon land use is a logical subject to be included in the periodic assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  The IPCC was formed by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988. It began issuing climate change assessment reports in 1990 warning, from the outset, that business as usual will result in unprecedented warming of the planet. The first three assessment reports ignored the potential of shaping human settlements to mitigate climate change.

There was a tip of the hat to that strategy in the Fourth Assessment report, issued in 2007. While the report noted that climate change can be managed by controlling sprawl, promoting compact, mixed-use development, and modern land use planning, the IPCC was reluctant to go further and include a full chapter on the details because there was insufficient evidence in the literature documenting that strategy. 

I attended an Expert Meeting on Human Settlement and Infrastructure organized by the IPCC in Calcutta in 2011.  The correspondence that I received stated that “[o]ne motivation for this meeting is the significant percentage of global greenhouse gases attributable to human settlements and their infrastructure.”  We knew then that land use patterns can be shaped by land use law to mitigate climate change. Our task was to demonstrate that there was ample research to support a chapter on human settlement in the next assessment report.

We prepared for this Expert Meeting with a report on the literature that was published in 2011. A Report to the IPCC on Research Connecting Human Settlements, Infrastructure, and Climate Change Our report demonstrated what many of the assembled experts knew: that the techniques mentioned in the Fourth Assessment Report, and many more like them, can be employed to reduce carbon emissions at the local level. The input of this group of experts was instrumental in convincing the IPCC to add a full chapter on the subject in the Fifth Assessment Report, which was published in 2014. Chapter 12: Human Settlements, Infrastructure and Spatial Planning ...

Chapter 12 addresses the effects of urban growth on climate change. It focusses heavily on urban form, infrastructure, and land use mix. The chapter notes that “areas with a high mix of land uses encourage a mix of residential and retail activity and that mixed land uses reduce the amount of GHGs by creating efficient use of energy and reducing vehicle miles travelled and auto emissions.  Strategies that cities can use to mitigate climate change are noted including use restrictions, density regulations, urban containment instruments, building codes, parking regulations, design regulations, and affordable housing mandates. The chapter discusses land acquisition and management through transfer of development rights and increasing green space and urban carbon sinks.

This Assessment Report was published before the gathering of the Conference of the Parties in Paris. The keen interest of local governments in managing climate change was evident in their response to the agreement of the parties in Paris, which invited their participation in mitigating global climate change. Bottom-up mitigation strategies were memorialized as NDCs: Nationally Determined Contributions. This approach broadened international climate policy by including state and local government actors and inviting them to demonstrate how they can contribute to climate change mitigation.

The outpouring of support for state and local actions to manage climate change following adoption of the Paris Climate Accord demonstrates that commitment. ­1,300 non-party stakeholders, for example, signed the “Paris Pledge for Action” to demonstrate their commitment to the Accord’s goals.  It was not intended to replicate the “good work being done by local governments” but to demonstrate “the breadth of support and scale of momentum for a transition to a low-emission and climate resilient economy.

“The Under2 MOU” was created in 2015 and signed by 205 jurisdictions representing 43 countries on six continents, 17% of the global population, and nearly 40 percent of the global economy. Among the signatories were numerous large cities in the U.S. including Pittsburgh, Portland, New York City, Sacramento, and San Francisco.

Earlier this year, 385 “US Climate Mayors” committed to “adopt, honor, and uphold Paris Climate Agreement goals. This commitment followed President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Accord.  Their statement was clear: “We will increase our efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a clean energy economy, and stand for environmental justice. In withdrawing, the President noted “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Shortly thereafter Pittsburgh city leaders pledged to implement their own climate action plans.

These mayors know what the IPCC learned: that the legal system we use to control development touches on approximately two-thirds of the sources of carbon emission.  This connection between land use law and carbon emissions is the topic of the next blog in this series.

Material from this series will appear in Low Carbon Land Use: Paris, Pittsburgh, and the IPCC, Arkansas Law Review.

Below are links to the previous posts in this series:

Post 1:  Grassroots Mitigation of Climate Change

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