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February 28 2013

18:53

European Climate Official Urges Keystone XL Veto

Killing a 1,700-mile pipeline intensely opposed by the environmentally minded would send "a very, very interesting global signal,” Connie Hedegaard says.

December 13 2011

18:32

Last Minute Save at COP17: Durban Delegates Set Path to 2020 Emissions Reduction Treaty, Green Climate Fund


The last minute climate change action agreements that came out of the UNFCCC’S COP 17 in Durban this weekend appear to have something for everyone to object to; a sign, as they say, of a healthy compromise. China and India don’t really like the fact that as two of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, they’ll be bound by definitive, legally binding emissions reductions targets. Japan, Russia and China withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the second phase of which is nonetheless now on track to begin in 2013. Climate scientists and environmental groups were quick to criticize negotiators’ inability to agree on adopting stronger emissions reductions targets, and to agree on making them legally binding sooner rather than later.

Yet the international movement to address climate change and global warming, which began in Rio in 1992, held together and moved forward in the end. It took a a herculean effort, however, with the European Union delegation, led by Connie Hedegaard, and host South Africa, represented by Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the central players. A final agreement, dubbed the “Durban Platform,” was reached at 3 a.m. Sunday, when “US envoy Todd Stern helped broker a deal” that hinged on three critical words that had Hedegaard and Indian environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan battling back and forth since midnight, according to an Energy & Environment report.

Three-day negotiating marathon

In a non-stop, three-day negotiating marathon, UNFCCC delegations did manage to set aside their differences, at least for the time being, and established a framework for negotiating a legally binding treaty on emissions reductions that’s slated to begin in 2015 and go into effect in 2020, the year the Kyoto Protocol expires. They also managed to reach agreement on the two other headline goals of the conference: committing to the Kyoto Protocol’s second phase,and setting up the foundations of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, through which $100 billion a year from developed countries will flow to developing countries in order for them carry out climate change mitigation and adaptation projects.

Missing from the text of the Durban Platform is the phrase that India’s environment minister fought so hard to preserve: “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities,” E&E’s Lisa Friedman and Jean Chemnick reported. The conceptual basis for establishing the mandatory emissions reductions targets for developed nations and voluntary ones for developing nations regardless of the size of their economies or emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, it exempted the latter from definite reductions targets based on the fact that developed nations have been primarily responsible for man-made CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions until recently.

China and India agreeing to accept hard emissions reductions targets removed the key obstacle to reaching accord. “We’re pleased with that. Fundamentally, we got the kind of symmetry we have been focused on since the beginning of the Obama administration,” the E&E reporters quoted Stern as saying.

“This agreement moves us away from an unhelpful paradigm,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “It sets up a transparent process that forces China and the major emerging economies to keep their word on climate change. Now all major greenhouse gas emitting countries will be on-record contributors to a solution.”

Environmental and social justice organizations decried the omission of the phrase and the stance taken by the US and other developed nations. Climate Justice Now deemed it “climate apartheid…whereby the richest 1 percent of the world have decided that it is acceptable to sacrifice the 99 percent,” E&E reported.

Establishing the foundation for funding, managing and administering the Green Climate Fund was a significant achievement. The final text includes establishment of an adaptation committee and a process that will lead to the creation of a climate technology center. It also specifies measures to assure transparency that will require countries to report progress on their emissions reduction efforts.

Though its future seemed in doubt earlier in the week, COP 17 delegations also managed to agree on efforts related to the “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” (REDD+) program, which is seen as the potential driving force in efforts to protect and conserve forests worldwide. Delegates sorted out disagreements that arose earlier in the week regarding how to finance REDD+, as well as whether or not market-based mechanisms and carbon trading system offsets should be tapped as possible sources of funding.

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March 31 2011

11:45

European Union Pushing Back on Canada's Taxpayer Funded Tar Sands Lobbying

Canada does not - as yet - export much tar sands oil to Europe. So why, you might ask, have the Canadian and Alberta governments been working overtime using tax dollars to fund a massive misinformation and lobbying campaign on the other side of the Atlantic?

There's a clue in this press release from January announcing Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert's $40,000 lobbying jaunts to the US and Europe: "The European Union is not currently a major market for Alberta’s oil sands products, but any legislation or tariffs adopted by the union’s government can serve as a model for individual nations around the world. We want to continue to share our story with the legislators so they have the facts about our clean energy strategies"

(I'll let the "clean energy strategies" rubbish slide for now.)

It's not about protecting existing markets. At the moment the vast majority of exported tar sands oil goes to the US. For the most part, it's not even about securing a regulatory environment in Europe that protects future potential markets (although that is no doubt a contributing factor). I'll tell you why the Canadian and Albertan governments are so worried that they've been applying pressure on European legislators to a degree at least one EU parliamentarian has declared "unacceptable".

It's about precedent. And they're scared.

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The EU is on the verge of what will effectively amount to a ban on tar sands oil. This will have very little impact on Europe's oil supplies, but will set a global precedent, sending a huge message to the rest of the world that Canada's tar sands are producing a product that is too dirty, unethical, unwanted, and unneeded. This is what Suncor, BP, TransCanada, and their extremely close friends in the Canadian government are most concerned about.

Here's what Liepert had to say when asked by the Globe and Mail to comment on the EU developments:

"We think it’s important to look at these things scientifically and comprehensively"

Actually I couldn't agree more.

Scientific research published last month backs up the EU's proposal that tar sands oil be assigned an emissions value of 107 grams per megajoule, a measure of how much global warming gas is produced for each unit of energy you get when the fuel is burned. That's far greater than conventional crude oil's 87 grams per megajoule.

The reason for this difference is no secret. Huge amounts of heat are needed to extract bitumen from the sand, increasing the total emissions from tar sands oil far beyond just what's released when the refined fuel is eventually burned. At issue is whether or not the EU's Fuel Quality Directive will recognise this, and specify appropriately higher emissions figures for tar sands oil than conventional crude.

The EU is trying to base their decision on science. Canada is trying to arm-twist them into basing it on what's most politically expedient for the billion dollar companies strip-mining Alberta.

It was looking like Canada's bullying and misinformation campaign on behalf of the tar sands mega-corporations might be working until last week when the EU's Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard announced her intention to push ahead with targeting tar sands and shale oil as high-carbon fuels.

The directive wouldn't actually prohibit countries from importing tar sands oil, but by simply labeling it accurately as a high-carbon fuel, EU commitments to reduce emissions would effectively make it economically unviable to import, shutting the tar sands out of European markets.

But remember this was never primarily about European markets. The real reason for Canada's desperate lobbying efforts is much closer to home.

Pressure is mounting on US legislators to put in place similar low-carbon fuel regulations, and opposition to TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would pump tar sands oil to Texas refineries and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that would take tar sands crude west to Asian markets continues to grow.

A precendent set now by the European Union would make it far more politically feasible for the United States to follow suit, and might just be enough to tip the balance permanently against Canada's dirty tar sands oil.

Image: UK Tar Sands Network

February 21 2011

21:56

Canada Bullying The European Union Over Tar Sands, Threatening To Scuttle Trade Agreement

Canada is using Alberta’s dirty tar sands as an excuse to bully the European Union (EU) into watering down its climate change policies, leaving the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) in serious doubt.

This brewing transatlantic dispute over the tar sands stems from the likelihood that the EU could officially block the sale of Alberta oil in Europe given its high carbon content. 

The European Commission is reportedly “readying its defenses for a legal fight with Canada.”
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According to Reuters:

Last year, the EU appeared to be backing down on tar sands, but sources say negotiators for the 27-member bloc are becoming bolder as their scientific evidence becomes more robust.

“We are saying 'be careful', because Canada will not hesitate to take us to the WTO, so we have to have something rock-solid,” said an EU official.


Briefing notes prepared for EU Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard discussing European climate change goals and the CETA attest to Canada’s firm opposition to any European tar sands definition which negatively characterizes Alberta’s so-called ‘ethical oil’:

“Canada has been lobbying the Commission and member states intensively to avoid a separate default value for fuel derived from tar sands.”


Although Europe receives very little of Alberta’s dirty oil at present, Greenpeace reports that exports are on the rise [pdf] (and particularly via US ports which may soon receive much more dirty oil from the Keystone XL project).

What worries European leaders is the mounting body of evidence which shows that tar sands oil has a carbon footprint somewhere between 23% [pdf] and 82% [pdf] higher than regular dirty European and US oil.

A deepening reliance on dirty energy sources also contradicts progressive EU policies, mainly: efforts to reduce carbon emissions by 20-30% below 1990 levels by 2020; and a new Fuel Quality Directive [pdf] which is being updated to require a reduction in the carbon content of transport fuels by 6% below 2010 levels by 2020. Additionally, recently released European Commission data shows that aggressive climate change objectives are achievable, ‘cost effective’ and will promote economic growth across Europe.

EU leaders like Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Britain’s Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne are speaking out for immediate and significant action to reduce global warming pollution.

There are many groups that oppose the CETA, and probably even more groups that oppose the tar sands. The fact that Canadian negotiators are prepared to cancel negotiations over the Alberta tar sands shows that dirty energy lobbying efforts are not effective and that strong climate change policies are winning out in Europe. With mounting evidence showing that the tar sands are not an ethical project and that drilling for this oil is extremely destructive to the environment and climate, European leaders should both feel emboldened to stand up to fossil fuel lobby threats and to increase their commitments towards stronger carbon reduction goals.

February 14 2011

16:38

Portrait of a Climate Chief

Challenges have included projecting influence at a time when economic and political power has ebbed away from Europe, and managing an unwieldy system for trading emissions.

October 01 2010

14:03

On Our Radar: Politics and the Drilling Ban

The head of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Management warns that the moratorium will not be lifted as a result of pressure, but there are signs that it will end before a Nov. 30 deadline.

July 20 2010

14:57

Europe Proposes to End Coal Mining Subsidies by 2014

In a preliminary victory for environmental groups and for green-minded regulators, the European Commission said that cash handouts for loss-making coal mines should end within four years -- by Oct. 15, 2014 -- rather than being allowed to continue for more than a decade as originally planned.

June 28 2010

19:32

May 26 2010

19:54

Climate Watchdog Denies 'Hippie Agenda'

The precarious state of the economy means tougher times - and a good deal of frustration - for policymakers whose job is to advocate potentially costly action aimed at tacking climate change.

December 13 2009

19:22

Good Intentions Plus 20 Kroner Gets a Cup of Coffee in Copenhagen – But No Climate Deal


COP15 Copenhagen - the whole world is watchingUNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer's 6:30PM press briefing was postponed nearly forty minutes last night due to his meeting with demonstrators and activists standing vigil in the cold outside the Bella Center. When later asked what took place to cause the postponement, de Boer only said he had "met with representatives outside."

UN Minister to the Convention Connie Hedegaard joined de Boer at the briefing. Both said that "significant progress" has been reached today in Copenhagen as ministers arrived to wade into the fracas, but tempered the remark with the usual "much remains to be done". Hedegaard and de Boer acknowledged the general "good intentions" of all parties involved, with de Boer adding "some say the road to hell is paved with good intentions" and that action as well as intentions are what is needed in the coming days at COP15.

With the general (if begrudging for many – most – all) acceptance of the draft texts released from both working groups yesterday (available here and here), Hedegaard has also cautioned that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

Moving on that line, a reporter asked what issues show the most progress. De Boer said the that adaption, technology, forestry, and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) have shown "significant progress," with mitigation targets and financing continuing as the bone of contention amongst delegations.

Many see a fight brewing between China and the US (and no doubt it is), but Hedegaard said that in all of the six COP conventions in which she has participated, there has never been "more constructive talks between the two nations," adding that "both nations need to do more."

When asked if the outpouring of emotion in demonstrations, vigils, and marches in the streets of Copenhagen and throughout the world would have any impact on the outcome of the negotiations, Hedegaard answered that civil grievance expressed throughout the world reflects the release of "years of pressure" that "contributes to the political price of failure," adding that the price might be more than most leaders will be willing to accept.

December 07 2009

10:53

November 30 2009

20:29

November 18 2009

22:11

Connie Hedegaard Gives Pre-COP15 Press Conference: "Half a Deal is No Deal"


Danish Minister for Climate and Energy Connie Hedegaard speaks at Pre-COP15 press conference yesterday after a meeting with 40 ministers and delegates from participating nations in the climate summit in Copenhagen. Hedegaard will serve as president of the COP15 conference.

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