Archive for December, 2009

Hope everyone had a merry Christmas.  Don’t forget that wrapping paper, gift boxes, and other things from the holidays are recyclable (Providence Journal).  And carbon reduction certificates were a trend gift idea among the environmentally-minded (NY Times).  Here are some stories you might have missed in the holiday madness.

Fearful of the Asian carp spreading to the Great Lakes, Michigan has sued Illinois (Washington Post).  And New York City doesn’t want natural gas drilling in its watershed (MSNBC, also see this NY Times article).

The EPA has finalized new pollution standards for U.S.-flagged oil tankers and cargo vessels (LA Times).

The BBC wonders why Copenhagen didn’t work.

Moscow wants to use cloud-seeding to keep away the snow (Washington Post).  Brazil wants to curb land grabs in the Amazon (NY Times).

Pay-as-you-throw trash disposal may be coming to Pawtucket, RI (Providence Journal).

A little vodka can be an eco-friendly way to make your fixtures shine.

You didn’t think Copenhagen was going to be over once the world leaders jetted away last weekend did you? It’s not. Well, at least the war of words over the agreement reached is not.

The story in the Guardian about how China always kept undercutting the U.S. in negotiations launched millions of words of rebuttal.

To those who would blame Obama and rich countries in general, know this: it was China’s representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. “Why can’t we even mention our own targets?” demanded a furious Angela Merkel. Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was annoyed enough to bang his microphone. Brazil’s representative too pointed out the illogicality of China’s position. Why should rich countries not announce even this unilateral cut? The Chinese delegate said no, and I watched, aghast, as Merkel threw up her hands in despair and conceded the point. Now we know why – because China bet, correctly, that Obama would get the blame for the Copenhagen accord’s lack of ambition.

In retrospect, that view makes sense. Nevertheless, the U.N.’s climate change envoy had to come out and tell all sides to cool it.

Some papers, such as the New York Times, saw the accord that was reached as a step forward on accountability and on the fact that all sides agreed that temperatures should rise no more than 2 degrees celsius. It also proclaims that the accord got rid of the “developing” and developed” countries moniker. But, do you think the countries such as India and China will start acting like developed countries? I do not.

In the end, carbon markets plummeted in the EU, although others felt that we should still commit to high energy taxes.

I see a different way forward. One that involves the World Bank taking over reign on this from the gutless U.N., which has rules in place calling for all 193 countries to agree on something for it to be passed. Let the World Bank take steps forward in developing countries, using their money as the bait for why they need to cut emissions. It would be a lot less messy.

Copenhagen dominated the environmental news again this past week, so here are some stories you may have missed.

One lawmaker wants the Postal Service to go green (Washington Post).  A new energy plan in New York seeks to make the state more energy-efficient (New York Times).

The L.A. Times has a Q&A with the author of After the Ice and reports that Sweden has shifted course on nuclear power. seeing it as necessary in the face of climate change.

Dedham, Mass has doubled its recycling volume by switching to single stream (Boston Globe).  The Globe also notes that the two candidates for the state’s vacant U.S. Senate seat differ sharply on climate change.

An MSNBC article wonders when plug-in cars will pay off, while this one notes that the debate over mountaintop mining has turned ugly.

A bowl of vinegar can absorb a room’s bad smells as well as commercial air fresheners.

Hours after a treaty seemed to fall through, world leaders culled together a watered-down agreement on the final day of the Copenhagen Conference, but the deal came up short of what most observers hoped would be a bold step forward in the fight against climate change.

The conference resumed after all-night talks broke down sometime around 5 a.m. in Copenhagen. Most felt that President Obama’s arrival would boost the talks (some even thought he might pledge further emission cuts, but instead his speech upset the Chinese delegation (who felt he was making an example of them when he preached about accountability on emissions pledges. And so, the Chinese pulled back on their commitment to allow monitoring of emissions. That meant the rest of the day was spent trying to lure them back on that issue, instead of on negotiating emissions.

Here are the main points of the deal, per the Guardian, which breaks down what was left in and left out of the agreement:

  • The so-called Copenhagen accord “recognises” the scientific case for keeping temperature rises to no more than 2C but did not contain commitments to emissions reductions to achieve that goal. As widely expected, all references to 1.5C in previous drafts were removed at the last minute, but more surprisingly, the earlier 2050 goal of reducing global CO2 emissions by 80% was also dropped.
  • The agreement aims to provide $30bn in funding for poor countries to adapt to climate change from next year to 2012, and $100bn a year after 2020.
  • The agreement also set up a forestry deal which is hoped would significantly reduce deforestation in return for cash.

The outrage from environmental groups was frank and harsh:

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport. Ed Miliband [UK climate change secretary] is among the very few that come out of this summit with any credit. It is now evident that beating global warming will require a radically different model of politics than the one on display here in Copenhagen.”

Lydia Baker, Save the Children’s policy adviser said: “By signing a sub-standard deal, world leaders have effectively signed a death warrant for many of the world’s poorest children. Up to 250,000 children from poor communities could die before the next major meeting in Mexico at the end of next year.”

While there is no doubt Obama played into China’s hands by scolding them, the world’s largest polluter takes alot of the blame for this breakdown:

Obama hinted that China was to blame for the lack of a substantial deal. In a press conference he condemned the insistence of some countries to look backwards to previous environmental agreements. He said developing countries should be “getting out of that mindset, and moving towards the position where everybody recognises that we all need to move together”.

This was a not-so-veiled reference to the epic row over whether to ditch the Kyoto protocol and its legal distinction between developed and developing nations.

It is safe to say that while Obama and others will try to spin this deal, it can’t be done. Not much was accomplished in Copenhagen – and not only does it seem to have been a waste of time, but it was a waste of greenhouse gases as well.

As time is running out, sides are inching forward across a large gap to agree on treaty to stem the effects of climate change. Day 11 turned to Day 12′s morning in Copenhagen and while some issues had been all but resolved, others remained far apart.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton eased the tension with a pledge to help create $100 billion annual fund for developing countries to fight climate change. This is better than the $10 billion that some feared would be in the fund, but falls well short of the $200-$400 billion annual fund the countries were asking for a week ago. There is also no word on whether China would get money from such a fund, but the fund is expected to include about $20 billion from the U.S. and will be a mix of private and public money.

All the political leaders from developing countries hailed the deal and then pushed China and India to give a little on allowing regulators to monitor the emission cuts in each country. The China came forward and said it was willing to work on a deal to allow for some regulation. In this case, it seems like they don’t want a group of U.S. regulators “checking up” on China, but might be willing to have a less divisive force do the monitoring. It’s an honor thing. Not everyone took a positive view on the fund:

“Climate change is already killing people in Africa, and this commitment is simply insufficient to tackle the climate crisis,” Mithika Mwenda, coordinator of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said in a news release.

In a way, what the U.S. did is buy the developing countries’ agreement, which then forced China to make a move. A savvy move, but one that didn’t account for the meat and potatoes of any agreement – actual emissions cuts. Remember when the small countries didn’t want a 1.5 degree (Celsius) hike by 2050 and the developed countries were pushing for a 2.0 hike. Eventually the developing countries caved. Well, the only problem is the current amount of emission cuts pledged allow for a 4.0 degree hike. This is unacceptable and will ultimately be what the final day is about.

“The stark message for world leaders at Copenhagen is that the proposals on the table – especially from industrialised countries – fall far short of what the world needs,” said Keith Allott, head of climate change for WWF in Britain.

Negotiators are not getting any sleep right now and are likely going over different scenarios of emission cuts.

But the U.S.-China moves could prompt the European Union to raise its emissions commitment to a 30 percent reduction by 2020 from 1990 levels, and similarly inspire Japan and Australia to lock into the upper end of their previously announced targets — 25 percent each.

There is a chance President Obama arrives on the Day 12 and announces a new emission cut pledge, but it seems unlikely, especially since the White House already has a fallback plan for if no agreement is reached. They’re going to sign a nonproliferation, nuclear reduction deal with Russia. This will appease liberals back home one way or the other, and ensure that if no climate change deal is made (or a toothless deal is made) that Obama doesn’t go home with just a T-shirt that says “I went to Copenhagen for Christmas and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.” It’s a political ploy – and a shrewd one at that.

I’ll leave you with this thought from an Associated Press article:

The U.S. does not want its emissions targets to be binding in an international treaty.

Let’s hope the U.S. loses on this maneuver, which basically says we’re all talk, but you can’t actually take our word for it. If the treaty signed wouldn’t be binding, why are we even in Copenhagen.

Fewer than 48 hours remain in the Copenhagen climate change conference and although sides remained far apart from any treaty there was some minor movement in a deal during Day 10 of the talks.

Although talks were delayed over another draft text, Japan pledged $5B per year for the next 3 years to a fund to help developing countries deal with climate change. This adds to the EU’s $4B per year commitment and the $8B or so the U.S. has allocated but has yet to formally declare for a fund. That’s $15B before anything from Australia or any other developed country such as Canada.

Also, China came out and said they’re OK with not being the highest priority for money from this fund. I think this is them giving in a little now so it doesn’t look as bad back home when they get nothing. They are, however, sticking to demands on how much is in the fund – demands that other countries have rejected.

But Zhu Guangyao told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview that China is sticking to its demand that rich nations provide 0.5-1% of their annual gross domestic product as funding to help developing nations for the period to 2020 and beyond.

On the emissions reduction front, the African Union agreed to a 2-degree rise in temperatures (Celsius) thereby likely putting an end to the developing countries’ wish for a 1.5-degree cap.

There’s also still a great deal to go on the accountability issue between the U.S. and China.

Plenty to get down – will it be a failure? Or will the heavyweights come up with a solution? Stay tuned.

The climate changed more than negotiations did in Day 9 of the Copenhagen climate change conference.

Since there’s nothing new – and you likely don’t want to read more regurgitation of the sides, I present you an 11-1 links style format in honor of the 11-1 Lights Out, Green In pledge to turn off your lights from 11-1 every day in order to save money and conserve energy.

11. If a deal were signed this year, countries would have 11 years to meet 2020 emission cuts, but how would these cuts be measured? That’s a huge point of contention.

10. As in 2010 – or the year the U.N. leader says he hopes binding climate change treaty will be ratified. In order to do that, however, the sides must reach a deal in principle this week.

8. Only 8 GOP members in the U.S. House voted in favor of a climate change bill earlier this year. A Senate group, however, is aiming to get a more bipartisan response in passing any possible treaty in the U.S.

7. Or should we say G-77: This is the group of developing countries, which has staged a few protests to gain the attention of the EU and the U.S. They just might hold the key to a deal.

6. Right in the middle of an 11-1 countdown. That’s exactly where countries such as India feel because China and the U.S. have bickered for almost 10 days, stalling all other negotiations. Hopefully a deal doesn’t get stuck in the middle.

5. The big 5 parties in any deal are the E.U., U.S., Australia, China and India. So, what are the chances of an accord?

4. It looks like the U.S, is not anticipating moving from its pledge to cut emissions to 4 percent of 1990 levels by 2020.

3. The three main stumbling blocks to a deal remain: the amount of emissions cuts, how to monitor compliance and all the details about a fund to help deal with climate change.

2. The U.N. leader came under fire for reportedly saying the world needs to stay within a 2-degree jump (Celsius) in temperature. Developing countries think anything more than 1.5 degrees could lead to catastrophe.

“It is simply a true fact – if temperatures get to 2C, that spells disaster and almost doom to our countries,” said Bruno Sekoli of the Lesotho delegation, which chairs the bloc of Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

1. Air Force One – with President Obama aboard – arrives in Copenhagen on Friday, but will he be too late to make a deal?

A dramatic walkout by developing countries and a debatable warning from Al Gore helped add something new to the eighth day of the Copenhagen climate change conference, but it was the same old China-U.S. rift that carried the day.

A walkout by developing countries caused the delegates to lose 5 hours of negotiating. The developing countries just want to sign off on an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, which didn’t ask for the developing countries to make any emissions cuts. China was among the group that walked out:

China, the world’s biggest greenhouse-gas emitter, is casting the talks as a referendum on what it calls the developed world’s failure to clean up its act. Rich countries should “honor the commitments they have made” in the past, said Li Ganjie, China’s vice minister of environmental protection. …
China argues that any new international agreement should continue to make more demands on developed countries than on developing ones. But most studies project that essentially all of the increase in global greenhouse-gas emissions in the next few decades will come from developing countries, with China topping the list, and so the fight is over how to ensure environmental action there.

The Bolivian ambassador further explained the reasons behind the walkout:

Pablo Solon, Bolivian ambassador to UN, said the process is being driven by backroom deals to agree a new weaker deal, that were ignoring the poor countries as well as continuing protests on the streets.
“We are asking for a transparent democratic and inclusive process. It seems negotiators are living in the Matrix, while the real negotiation is taking place in the ‘Green room,’ in small stealth dinners with selective guests,” he said.

The feeling from the U.N.’s top negotiator is that time is running out:

Clearly frustrated by the delay, Mr Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said the world now only has “four minutes to midnight” to agree a deal that will stop global warming.
“Ministers and negotiators have not got their act together,” he said. “We have not covered themselves in glory today.”

Once the walkout ended, some countries split up in small groups to talk about emission standards, a climate change fund and penalties for not cutting emissions. The U.S. and China, however, remain at an impasse over what must be the most basic part of any deal. Allowing others to verify that emissions have actually been cut. I understand China has pride issues and that culturally they want everyone to just take their word for it, but things can’t work that way. There is hope, however, as one observer thinks this is all just China still posturing until Friday.

Barbara Finamore director of the China program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the top Chinese leadership was pursuing a cautious and calculated strategy as the talks near a decisive phase this week.
“They’re going to wait until the last hour of the last day and just as the other side is walking out they’ll say, ‘Hey, come back.’ Just as they do every day in every market in China,” Ms. Finamore said. “That’s why they’re the best negotiators in the world.”

This article from a Chinese media source gives a look at what China believes are the four main issues. And while Obama won’t arrive until Friday, he will be personally involved all week, according to his spokesman.

In other news from the conference, Al Gore spoke today and said the arctic ice caps could be all melted in 5 years, but of course his claims are being debunked by the scientist whose data Gore used. Listen Al, you’re a divisive figure who has done great things advancing the cause, but your time might be up here. The last thing we need is people stretching the truth when the unstretched truth is really scary on its own. A completely melted polar ice caps by 2030 is close enough – and you can just say that it might happen quicker as the caps lose ice protection become more vulnerable. There’s no need for an exact figure.

And a sliver of good news comes from an apparent agreement in Copenhagen to save the tropical forests. So, at least the delegates did one good thing.