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November 12 2013


Is Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Even on the Agenda in Warsaw?

A sunny day in Beijing

A sunny day in Beijing

For all their potential promise, apparent earnestness and gravity – not to mention their possible effects and potential ramifications – it’s hard at times not to be cynical about high-level political negotiations. Such might be felt of the United Nations (UN) climate treaty negotiations which got under way this week in Warsaw, Poland.

People have good reason to be skeptical of the climate treaty process, not because global warming and climate change are based on faulty science or because viable options aren’t in hand, but because governments and societies around the world are so invested in fossil fuels that the thought that political leaders would collectively take aggressive action to phase out carbon and greenhouse gas emissions is nigh unthinkable.

Take, for example, that even as representatives from the 195 UN member nations party to the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet to establish the framework of an agreement to reduce global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimated that G20 governments doled out $523 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel producers in 2011, the latest year such figures are available. What’s more, fossil fuel subsidies are rising, even as the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) just last week reported that global greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high in 2012.

To say such subsidies are counterproductive would be gross understatement. Perverse would be a better modifier. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would remove a perverse incentive that stands in the way of leveling the energy markets “playing field,” putting a true cost on carbon in an attempt to address global warming and climate change.

Releasing a report entitled Time to change the game: Fossil fuel subsidies and climate, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) documents “the scale of fossil fuel subsidies and sets out a practical agenda for their elimination in the context of the global goal of tackling climate change.”

Climate treaty negotiators convene in Warsaw

Against the backdrop of devastation in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan – reportedly one of, if not the largest and strongest, typhoon ever recorded – the 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19) to the UNFCCC is convening November 11-22 in (ironically enough) Warsaw, Poland, a nation with a government that has steadfastly resisted efforts to shift off coal and fossil fuels toward a more diversified energy mix centered on cleaner, renewable alternatives.

Convening at COP 19 in Warsaw over the next 11 days, representatives from the 195 UN member nations that are parties to the international climate treaty (the U.S. included) and the 192 that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol (the U.S. excluded) will attempt to hammer out the framework of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Full details of a new accord to reduce global carbon and greenhouse gas emissions are to be ready for signing by 2015 to go into effect in 2020.

Trying to make the negotiations as inclusive as possible, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) has become a major public event. At COP 19 in Warsaw, representatives of 195 UN member nations will be joined by a host of NGOs, civic groups, other public and private sector organizations, the press, and, more than likely, large numbers of demonstrators.

Enhancing the efficacy and credibility of global climate change action

The UNFCCC’s public credibility – not to mention its efficacy – would be greatly enhanced if the national governments party to the international treaty were to take one expedient, cost-effective step: eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, ODI asserts, and they are by no means the first to advocate taking such a step.


Source: “Time to change the game,” ODI, 11/2013

Straight from the executive summary of “Time to change the game: Fossil fuel subsidies and climate,” here are ODI’s key points:

  • Fossil fuel subsidies are expensive. They were at over $500 billion globally in 2011, and up to $90 billion in the OECD alone.
  • These subsidies are increasing and are a major obstacle to green investment, and seriously undermine attempts to put a price on carbon.
  • In developing countries the majority of benefits from fossil fuel subsidies go to the richest 20 percent of households.
  • Domestic and international support for fossil fuels dwarfs spending on health and education in a number of countries, and outstrips climate finance and aid.
  • Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies in G20 countries by 2020 (and globally by 2025), with proper safeguards for the poor, would enable the triple win of inclusive green growth.

Perverse incentives indeed, and the above is only a short list. According to ODI’s study, “international financial institutions (IFIs) also support carbon-intensive energy systems.

“Over 75 percent of energy-project support from IFIs to 12 of the top developing-country emitters went to fossil fuel projects. There has been no significant shift in this trend: in the last financial year alone (2012-13), the World Bank Group increased its lending for fossil fuel projects to $2.7 billion, including continued lending for oil and gas exploration (Oil Change International, 2013).”

As ODI goes on to state:

“If their aim is to avoid dangerous climate change, governments are shooting themselves in both feet. They are subsidizing the very activities that are pushing the world towards dangerous climate change, and creating barriers to investment in low-carbon development and subsidy incentives that encourage investment in carbon-intensive energy.

“Coal, the most carbon-intensive fuel of all, is taxed less than any other source of energy and is, in some countries, actively subsidized (OECD, 2013a). For every $1 spent to support renewable energy, another $6 are spent on fossil fuel subsidies (IEA, 2013).”

Following, in summary form, are the key actions ODI is urging G20 UNFCCC climate treaty delegates take in Warsaw:

  •  G20 countries use the Warsaw CoP meeting to agree a broad timeline for action
  • G20 governments call on technical agencies to agree a common definition of fossil fuel subsidies
  • G20 governments commit to phasing out all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020, with early action by rich-country members on subsidies to coal and to oil and gas exploration by 2015
  • that governments and donors work together to ensure that measures are put in place to protect vulnerable groups from the impact of subsidy removal.

Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would be one of the most straightforward, cost-effective and effective steps world governments could take to address the profound threats and rising costs of addressing global warming and climate change. Will they muster the will and toughness to do so? Not likely, but one can at least hope for the best.

The post Is Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Even on the Agenda in Warsaw? appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

November 11 2013


COP 19 Opens in Warsaw With Modest Expectatations

Modest expectations set the tone for negotiations at the COP19 climate conference in WarsawToday marks the beginning of the COP19 climate talks, this year hosted in Warsaw, Poland. Expectations for ambitious progress in the coming two weeks are dampened by economic concerns, despite expression of increasing urgency from the scientific community for effective action. The the next big target for international negotiations is 2015, when the deadline for a legally-binding international climate treaty comes due for the COP21 talks in Paris, a goal set at last year’s COP18 meeting in Doha, Qatar. The terms negotiated in Paris would not begin implementation until 2020, by which time many see the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius as likely out of reach.

Given the disappointing results thus far in the United Nations climate negotiating process, especially at COP15 in Copenhagen, a more flexible approach has been advocated by climate leaders for reaching an agreement. Nonetheless, many of the same obstacles remain between industrialized and developing nations that have hobbled negotiations thus far. Given the current economic environment and the reality of the negotiating process to date, hopes are fading in some quarters that a strong deal will emerge 2015, flexible or not.

We’ll keep an eye on the progress of negotiations at COP19 over the coming two weeks. Stay tuned.

Untied Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) press release:
COP19 Opens in Warsaw

The UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw began today with calls for governments to harness the strong groundswell of action on climate change across all levels of government, business and society and make real progress here towards a successful, global climate change agreement in 2015.

The newly elected President of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19/CMP9), H. E. Mr. Marcin Korolec, Poland’s Environment Minister, said in his opening address that climate change is a global problem that must be turned
further into a global opportunity. ”It’s a problem if we can’t coordinate our actions. It becomes opportunity where we can act together. One country or even a group cannot make a difference. But acting together, united as we are here, we can do it,” he said.

In her opening speech at the Warsaw National Stadium, the venue of COP 19, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, called on delegates to “win the Warsaw opportunity” in order to safeguard present and future generations.

“We must stay focused, exert maximum effort for the full time and produce a positive result, because what happens in this stadium is not a game. There are not two sides, but the whole of humanity. There are no winners and losers, we all either win or lose in the future we make for ourselves.”

Ms. Figueres pointed to the sobering realities of climate change and the rise in extreme events that climate science has long predicted, including the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that just hit the Philippines, one of the most powerful typhoons ever to make landfall.

Ms. Figueres highlighted the key areas in which COP 19 can make progress:

“We must clarify finance that enables the entire world to move towards low-carbon development. We must launch the construction of a mechanism that helps vulnerable populations to respond to the unanticipated effects of climate change. We must deliver an effective path to pre-2020 ambition, and develop further clarity for elements of the new agreement that will shape the post-2020 global climate, economic and development agendas”.

In addition, the meeting in Warsaw will focus on decisions that will make fully operational the new institutional support under the UNFCCC for developing nations in finance, adaptation and technology. These are the Green Climate Fund, the Technology Mechanism and the Adaptation Committee, all agreed in Cancun in 2010.

Ms. Figueres stressed the fact that the meeting in Warsaw is taking place against the background of growing awareness that climate change is real and accelerating, and the growing willingness of people, businesses and governments to take climate action, at all levels of society and policy.

“There is a groundswell of climate action. Not only for environmental reasons, but also for security, energy, economic and governance reasons. Political will and public support favour action now. A new universal climate agreement is within our reach. Agencies, development banks, investors and subnational governments are on board. The science from the IPCC is clear. Parties can lead the momentum for change and move together towards success in 2015.”

In order to showcase the growing climate leadership and contributions to the climate challenge from all sides, a Business Forum organized by the UN and the Polish host government will take place next week alongside the meeting. Cities and regions will gather for the first ever “Cities Day” that highlights their actions. And a Gender Day will showcase women’s role in meeting the climate challenge.

Also next week, the UNFCCC secretariat will showcase Momentum for Change lighthouse activities, climate action that demonstrates positive results for innovative finance, women and the urban poor.  In addition, the initiative will launch a new area that focuses on contributions by the information and technology sector to curb emissions and increase adaptive capacity to respond.

The UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw (11 to 22 November) is currently being attended by government delegates, representatives from business and industry, environmental organizations, research institutions and the media.
More than 100 Heads of State and Government and Ministers are scheduled to attend the high-level segment of the meeting, which begins on 19 November and ends with a decision-making plenary on 22 November.



The post COP 19 Opens in Warsaw With Modest Expectatations appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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October 29 2013


Phase-Out of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 Technically, Economically Feasible

rosietheriveterCompletely phasing out net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 is not only technically feasible, but could be done at very manageable cost, according to a comprehensive study by Ecofys for the Global Call for Climate Action.

“It is technically and economically feasible to reduce emissions to zero for roughly 90% of current sources of GHG emissions with technological options that are available today and in the near future.” The remaining 10% of GHG emissions could be offset by enhancing carbon sinks, the Ecofys’ report authors conclude. The cost of doing so: around 5% of GDP per year.

Realizing this goal would effectively assure that mean global temperature would not exceed the 2ºC climate change tipping point theorized by the world’s leading climate scientists and agreed to by world leaders in the Copenhagen Accord of 2009. It would also improve the odds of keeping global mean temperature increase to 1.5ºC by the end of the century to 50%.

Phasing out GHG emissions by mid-century

Affecting the changes required to phase out net GHG emissions by 2050 would require globally coordinated action of unprecedented speed, scope and scale, the report authors rightly point out:

“Reducing net emissions close to zero by mid-century means fundamentally restructuring all of our economic sectors in the coming decades.”

“The energy system presents the greatest potential for emission reductions through efficiency savings and fuel shift,” the Ecofys report authors found. Use of fossil fuels for energy, transport, buildings and industry accounts for some 2/3 of global GHG emissions. The other 1/3 results from land use, raising livestock and industrial processes, they explain.


In their study, “Feasibility of GHG emissions phase-out by mid-century,” Ecofys modelled “several low emissions scenarios that result in (nearly) zero net GHG emissions by 2050…Thse are categorized as one of two types, reflecting two slightly different modelling approaches and resulting strategies:

  • Scenarios with (near) 100% renewable energy by 2050: These scenarios aim, at the outset, at a certain emissions target as well as a certain contribution of renewables. They find that 100% renewable energy by 2050 is possible. Saving energy is a key strategy in these scenarios because high efficiency facilitates an energy supply based almost entirely on renewable sources.
  • Scenarios with less than 100% renewable energy but carbon capture and storage (CCS): So-called integrated assessment models are commonly used to choose from different technological options to achieve a cost optimal global energy system within certain economic boundary conditions, e.g. very low emissions. Energy efficiency is modelled on a more generic level. Consequently, these scenarios result in a higher use of energy and a lower share of renewables. To still meet certain emissions targets, the models assume that carbon capture and storage (CCS), and possibly also nuclear power, are deployed on a large scale. The use of biomass with CCS enables these scenarios to sometimes reach net negative emissions in the second half of the century.”

The possible and the probable

While technically and economically feasible, the likelihood of such fundamental, globally coordinated change occurring is remote given current political, economic and social conditions and trends. While GHG emissions are on the wane in the world’s largest industrialized countries, including the EU and US, responsible for the bulk of anthropogenic GHG emissions in the atmosphere, they’re increasing by greater amounts in rapidly industrializing countries such as China and India.

Barring a series of climate-linked disasters, it seems clear that enacting anything remotely akin to a national strategic plan to phase out GHG emissions in the US would continue to be stymied in a Congressional quagmire of opposition and debate. For their parts, China, India and other large, emerging market economies are clearly unwilling to accept the uncertainty and take the risks of seeking to develop their economies and societies in ways that don’t require locking in their own dependence on fossil fuels.

In their report, Ecofys’ authors echo calls by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the conclusions reached in groundbreaking, comprehensive studies such as the “2010 Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.” As the Ecofys report authors state,

“Initial steps taken to decarbonise need to be amplified drastically. The longer we wait to act, the more expensive change becomes. Whether a phase-out is politically feasible will be determined in the coming years.”

The post Phase-Out of Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050 Technically, Economically Feasible appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

August 20 2013


Carbon War Room Looks to Crowdfund $1MM to Move Caribbean Islands Off Fossil Fuels

The Ten Island Challenge seeks to get the Caribbean off fossil fuels

Ten Island Renewable Challenge

Small island states’ economies, societies and ecosystems have been burdened by the need to import oil, natural gas and coal since around the time the fossil fuel era began. Now threatened by the effects of climate change – rising sea levels and ocean acidification prominent among them – island states find themselves raising the risks that threaten the sustainability of their societies.

Now proven in the field and more affordable than ever, developing a diversified mix of renewable energy resources affords island nations a way out of the fossil fuel trap, as well as the means to do their part in mitigating global climate change.

Joining with ten Caribbean island nations, the Carbon War Room, in partnership with The Make Yourself Foundation, last week announced the launch of an Urgency Network Campaign crowdfunding drive to raise $1 million for the Ten Island Renewable Challenge, an initiative that aims to transition these 10 Caribbean island nations to 100 percent renewable energy, and then move on to do the same for island nations in the Pacific.

“There is no Planet B!”

“Friends, I often say ‘there is no Planet B!’ Let’s take good care of our planet by bringing environment and economics together. We’ll start by implementing renewable energy on islands, and then expand to the rest of the world,” Carbon War Room president Jose Maria Figueres Olsen states on the Urgency Campaign website.

The Carbon War Room joined with Sir Richard Branson – himself the owner of a Caribbean island – and Christina Figueres, executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in launching the Ten Island Renewable Challenge at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June 2012.

As the Carbon War Room states on the Ten Island Renewable Challenge Urgency Network Campaign website,

“Islands across the globe face huge risks to their futures as they are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and they also face huge financial challenges in the way they live today. The dependence on imported fossil fuel to produce energy is hugely expensive, and people living on islands are paying the some of the highest prices in the world just for food, water and energy.

“The additional demand we make, as tourists doesn’t help the situation either. The use of air-conditioned hotel rooms, cars, and the huge amounts of waste left behind are all putting an even bigger strain on its resources.

Carbon War Room project teams are now in place and working in Aruba and St. Lucia while working to start up activities in eight other Caribbean island nations, including Grenada and the British Virgin Islands.

The solution is straightforward and practical today, Carbon War Room continues: move away from fossil fuels and develop a diversified mix of renewable energy resources, including solar, wind, marine and waste-to-enegy, that “are all in abundance and don’t place a burden on the environment. And like the best things in life, they are free!”

An honest broker for a renewable energy transition in the Caribbean

A lack of institutional capacity hinders the realization of such fundamental change, however. On their own, Caribbean island nations typically lack all the resources and expertise needed to assess their renewable energy resource bases, develop strategic plans and then implement them. The Carbon War Room is trying to address this by working as “an ‘honest broker’ for islands, helping the best available technologies, attracting the right experts and the investment, because we want to help them choose the best technology options for their islands, their economy and the people.”

Care to make a small contribution to the effort? Head over to the Urgency Campaign’s Ten Island Renewable Challenge website. As the Carbon War Room states: “Your donations will help islands identify and develop the solutions they need, building on their own expertise and skills so that technologies can be installed – and islands can become energy independent.”

Branson has offered Necker Island, which he owns, as a demonstration site for the project. Multiple bidders have responded to a request for proposals (RFP) issued in February for the installation of renewable energy solutions. Wind and solar installations are expected to begin later this year.

Main image credit: The Urgency Network
Featured image credit: Angelo Domini, courtesy flickr

The post Carbon War Room Looks to Crowdfund $1MM to Move Caribbean Islands Off Fossil Fuels appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

March 14 2012


Heartland Double Standard: Institute Tried to Scam Greenpeace for Internal Documents

A Heartland Institute front man* phoned a Greenpeace activist and lied about his identity in an effort to get her to turn over UN climate conference documents to which he had no legitimate access. Heartland senior fellow James Taylor then boasted about the scam in a press release decrying what he described as Greenpeace's preferential access to UN information.

Now, in a belated act of optimism, Greenpeace's Cindy Baxter has written a letter to Heartland (attached below) requesting an explanation for the double standard. Baxter is asking, in effect, why Heartland thinks it's completely okay for them to misrepresent themselves, repeatedly, and to celebrate the misrepresentations of others who are attacking climate scientists, but then gets all righteous when someone suckers them into handing over their entire budget and fundraising policy for 2012.

The Heartland misrepresentation about which Baxter is now complaining occurred in 2007 at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Bali. The Heartland caller phoned Baxter at four in the morning (Bali time), claiming to represent a U.S. environmental organization and asking if she would hand over the UNFCCC media list - which Heartland clearly had failed to secure through legitimate means.

Baxter demurred, after which Taylor sent out a press release, recounting the conversation, linking to a (possibly illegal) recording that Heartland had made of the phonecall, and "exposing" the fact that Greenpeace has a better working relationship than Heartland with just about everyone in the climate, diplomatic and scientific communities.

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December 13 2011


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.

December 06 2011


News from Durban: Humans Primarily Responsible for Global Warming; Good News on Forest Conservation

Activity at the UNFCCC COP 17 climate talks in Durban is heating up this week as high-level government delegations, including government leaders, are scheduled to arrive in the South African coastal Indian Ocean city. Sustaining agriculture, fisheries, forests and the world’s oceans in the face of global warming and climate change, along with how to finance conservation efforts, figure prominently in discussions, in parallel with the headline issue of negotiating an extension of or successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

On the scientific research front, at least 74% of the observed rise in global temperature over the past 60 years is almost certainly due to human activity, according to a research paper published online on December 4 by two Swiss climate scientists in Nature Geoscience. Natural climate variability “is extremely unlikely to have contributed more than about one-quarter of the temperature rise observed in the past 60 years,” Scientific American quotes the research paper.

The Swiss research team employed an alternative to the method usually employed by climate modelers. Rather than detecting evidence distinguishing the origins of climate warming through differences in temperature/heat distribution over time, they based their approach on the more fundamental thermodynamic law of conservation of energy, which states that in a closed or isolated system, matter and energy can neither be created or destroyed, it can just change form. This enabled them to avoid making assumptions about changing temperature and heat distributions over time.

The climate research duo of Markus Huber and Reto Knutti with 95% statistical certainty found that given known changes in radiative forcing – the net amount of energy coming into and out of the earth’s atmosphere – greenhouse gases contributed 0.61-1.1 degrees Celsius of global warming. About half of that was offset by the cooling effects of aerosols, accounting for the observed global temperature increase of 0.56 degrees C. There’s less than a 5% chance that these trends were not caused by human activity, they found.

Good News for World’s Forests

Good news came out of Durban on the forest conservation front December 4, as Sierra Leone announced that it is establishing a 10-year forest conservation program that will protect and conserve one of the world’s largest remaining, but shrinking, tropical rain forests. With the help of international conservation organizations, Sierra Leone – the world’s seventh poorest country – will establish the Gola Rainforest National Park.

Providing habitat and ecosystem services essential to life, the Gola Rainforest is home to a rich and diverse range of increasingly threatened plant and animal species, including rare tropical birds, chimpanzees and the world’s largest population of pygmy hippos. It’s also one of the world’s largest carbon sinks, storing an estimated 13.6 million metric tons of carbon.

Increasingly threatened by deforestation, a 10-year Gola Rainforest research program with an initial, three-year budget of $233 million is also being established. The Consultative Group on international Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has set aside $90 million for the program.

In addition to protecting forest carbon stocks, the research program aims to focus on agroforestry, an effort that if successful could reduce risks for millions of farmers and others whose livelihoods depend on the health of the rainforest.

Adding to the good news on forest conservation, the UK’s environment secretary, Caroline Spelman announced that Great Britain will spend 10 million pounds (~$16 million) to help stop illegal logging in central Brazil’s Cerrado scrub forest, which is rapidly being cleared to make way for agriculture, the Telegraph’s Louise Gray reports. The money is part of a 2.9 billion pound (~$4.6 billion) climate change fund the UK has established to assist poorer countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to global warming.

December 05 2011


Midway at COP17

Midway at COP17 - will progress continue through the high-level portion of negotiations?Following is a brief summary of the pace and process of negotiations as the COP17 climate talks enter their “high level” stage for the final week of negotiations.

November 29 2011


Escalating Costs of Global Warming All Too Evident as UN Climate Treaty Talks Open

Evidence is all too clear of the mounting cost of climate changeAll eyes are on Durban, South Africa this week as representatives from 194 nations meet to try to negotiate a global climate change treaty and supporting plans to mitigate and adapt to a warming, more volatile climate.

As if weighing in on the debate, Nature sent an unusual, torrential storm Durban’s way on the eve of the conference opening. Eight people had been reported killed as some 15,000 UNFCCC delegates crowded into the COP 17 conference center to hear South African President Jacob Zuma’s opening address.

“Although the unseasonable storm cannot be directly linked to climate change, it is the kind of extreme weather that scientists say is happening more often,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, according to a Zee News report.

The effects of global warming are increasingly apparent, as are its costs – drought and famine in the Horn of Africa; historic droughts and agricultural losses in the American southwest; the flooding of Bangkok, large parts of Pakistan and other major Asian population centers; rising tides and seawater creeping higher along Florida’s Atlantic coast; the lowest levels of Arctic sea ice in the past 1,450 years- the indicators are too numerous to list in a blog post, and it keeps on growing.

More Troubling Signs, and Escalating Costs

Yet we humans continue to spew ever-increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions “have increased beyond the worst predictions of the UN’s climate experts – exceeding the worst of seven emissions predictions laid down by the UN’s World Meteorological Organisations,” Rob Waugh writes in a Daily Mail report.

“The World Meteorological Organisation said heat-trapping carbon dioxide concentrations in the air have increased by 39 per cent to 389 parts per million – the highest concentrations since the start of the industrial era in 1750.” That humans are primarily responsible for this increase should be unquestionable, and should be cause for concerted global action on the part of world leaders.

Oddly enough, global temperature has been rising as well: 2010 ranked as the warmest year on record, making it a three-way tie for the warmest year ever recorded. And guess what? The other two years – 1998 and 2005 – both just happened to have occurred in the last 12, according to the WMO.

Global warming’s effects on agriculture are particularly disturbing given a 7-billion and rising world population. Adequately feeding all of us – a projected 9 billion by 2050 – will require a 70% increase in global food production, according to the latest research from the UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) released Monday in Rome. The challenge is nothing if not daunting.

“Russia lost 13.3 million acres of crops, or about 17 percent of its production, due to a months-long heat wave. Drought in the Horn of Africa has killed 60 percent of Ethiopia’s cattle and 40 percent of its sheep. Floods in September have raised the price of rice by 25 percent in Thailand and 30 percent in Vietnam,” according to the FAO as cited in Zee News’ report.

High Time to Move Past Denial

Climate change skeptics and deniers would have us believe that this is merely coincidence. The data and/or models are faulty, they would have people believe. They claim that climate change and global warming are hoaxes. That a conspiracy is afoot between liberal politicians, environmentalists, the large and growing number of chief executives of the world’s largest corporations, financial institutions and investment groups, the majority of the world’s best scientists who are actually actively researching climate change, and whoever else of significance happens to agree that concerted global action to mitigate and adapt to global warming and climate change is needed, and needed now.

We will never scientifically prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that a causal link between global warming, climate change and anthropogenic CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions exists. But what has been amassed and proven in terms of scientific theory over 100 years of climate science is more than enough cause for concerted global action now.

If that’s just all too scientific and theoretical, the ever-growing body of empirical evidence should be more than sufficient to drive home the point that the climate is warming. The costs are already substantial, and the probability that they will escalate further in decades to come is increasing.

While expectations that UNFCCC negotiators will reach an accord are low, some optimism remains.
Emphasizing the importance of developed and developing world countries compromising and reaching an agreement on hard, equitable and enforceable targets to reduce CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, the UN’s Figueres stated that “future commitments by industrial countries to slash greenhouse gas emissions is ‘the defining issue of this conference,’” according to Zee News.

While acknowledging the enormity of the task, she then quoted anti-apartheid legend and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who said, “It always seems impossible until it is done,” Zee News reported.


Image credit: Sailing Yacht WingsSail

November 22 2011


Climate Negotiators Stake Out Initial Positions in Run-Up to COP17 UN Treaty Talks in Durban, South Africa

The US team participating in UN climate change talks in Durban, South Africa is resisting calls from its European counterpart and others to begin discussing a legally binding climate change-greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty that would come into effect in 2020 and succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which has been in effect since February 16, 2005.

The US negotiating team, which is led by US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, said that participants need a “better sense what the content would be” before deciding what the legal form of an agreement might be. The US team also wants assurances in advance that China, India and other major developing countries would be bound by the same commitments as industrialized countries, according to a ClimateWire report.

Negotiating a legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is only one topic on the agenda at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 17th Conference of Parties (COP 17), which will take place between November 28 and December 9, but it’s the central issue and no doubt the highest profile one.

High Stakes and a High Bar

Making legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gases – including carbon dioxide, methane, hydro-fluorocarbons (HFC), nitrous and sulfur oxides – is seen as the critical first step and linchpin for global efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Reaching an agreement on reducing man-made greenhouse gas emissions would set the broad, overarching objective and commitment for negotiations regarding financial mechanisms, international trade, technology and accelerated access to critical mitigation and adaptation technologies and intellectual property rights that are on the provisional agenda in Durban.

Analysts say the US team “is setting a high bar for even starting to talk about such a deal,” according to ClimateWire’s report. That’s dampening already low expectations that the terms of a legally binding agreement will be reached in Durban, especially given the differences and difficulties experienced at COP meetings in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun last year.

The Kyoto Protocol’s survival “hangs by a thread,” the ClimateWire report notes. Japan, Russia and Canada have come out and publicly stated that they will not submit new carbon reduction targets when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol ends next year unless the US and major emerging economies sign on.

The EU is proposing a compromise that entails its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol’s second phase as long “as countries build a clear road map for a legally binding treaty that covers all major emitters.” Some see that being a “legal mandate signed in Durban to negotiate a deal by 2015 that could take effect by or before 2020.” Others say that a less formal agreement on a “road map” would suffice.

COP 17 will open with reports on greenhouse gas emissions in the 37 industrialized countries and the European Union that agreed to binding target emission reductions an average 5% against 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012 as laid out in the Kyoto Protocol. Participants will review these results, as well as those to do with carrying out commitments on financial mechanisms, those of the Global Environment Facility, development and transfer of technologies, capacity building and other provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.

Results so far regarding greenhouse gas emissions are discouraging. The warming effect of greenhouse gases on climate, known as radiative forcing, increased 29% from 1990 to 2010, according to the UN World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) latest report. Last week, a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report written by more than 100 of the world’s top scientists stated that we can expect more frequent floods, droughts, heat waves, snow storms and extreme weather.

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June 03 2011


UNFCCC Chief Says Two Degrees is Not Enough

UNFCCC chief warns that 2 degree target is not enough, especially for the most vulnerable nations and regions of the worldUNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres said yesterday that the generally accepted 2 degree Celsius target for limiting global warming is not enough.

“Two degrees is not enough – we should be thinking of 1.5C. If we are not headed to 1.5C we are in big, big trouble,” Figueres said at the International Trading Association’s annual Carbon Expo conference.

The statement comes on the heels of recent estimates from the International Energy Agency’s announcement that carbon emissions spiked to historic levels in 2010, casting even the 2 degree C target into serious doubt.

Figueres’ call for a tougher target comes as a surprise to some officials, fearing such a move will threaten the already fragile state of negotiations since the controversial end to the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009. The conference ended with the Copenhagen Accord, generally considered a disappointment and leaving much to be accomplished for the international community in grappling with emissions targets among nations.

Negotiations at COP15 came to a standstill on several occasions throughout the two-week conference when the Alliance of Small Island Nations forced debate on the target, insisting that a 1.5 degree C target was essential to prevent the disappearance of their island nations in the face of rising seas. The experience at COP15 widened the rift between developed and developing nations.

“I’m not saying this is going to be easy,” Figueres said. “The argument I am making is not about feasibility but an argument of social justice. We can’t have as our goal something that we already know does not guarantee the survival of low-lying states and sub-Saharan Africa.

If we already know that, in my book there is no way we can stick to the goal we know is completely unacceptable to the most exposed [countries].”

Source and further reading:

Image credit: article.wn.com

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May 30 2011


Canada Hides 20 Percent Tar Sands Annual Pollution Increase from UN

The Canadian federal government deliberately excluded data documenting a 20 percent increase in annual pollution from Alberta's tar sands industry in 2009. That detail was missing from a recent 567-page report on climate change that Canada was required to submit to the United Nations.

According to Postmedia News, Canada left the most recent numbers out of the report, a national inventory on Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution. The numbers are used to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions and prevent catastropic climate change. It is certainly not the first time that Canada has dragged its feet on its international climate obligations, but omission of vital information is a new low, even for them.<!--break-->

While Canada's report reveals a six percent drop in annual emissions for the entire economy from 2008 to 2009, it fails to account for the extent of pollution from tar sands production, which is greater than the greenhouse gas emissions of all the cars driven on Canadian roads.

Canada's attempts to greenwash Alberta's tar sands are increasingly brazen. Last week we reported that the Canadian government was complicit with industry in the creation of an "Oil Sands Team" to lobby abroad to aggressively undermine European environmental standards.

Emissions per barrel of oil produced by tar sands developers are increasing, despite claims to the contrary made by industry in an advertising campaign.

Overall, Environment Canada said that the tar sands industry accounts for about 6.5 percent of Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2009, up from five percent in 2008. Pollution from the tar sands has skyrocketed 300 percent since 1990, cancelling out many pollution reduction efforts in other sectors of the Canadian economy.

Industry claims that its figures do not show any significant growth in emissions per barrel of oil produced, yet the full report noted an intensity increase of 14.5 per cent from 2008 to 2009.

In the report, emissions from a mining category, which includes tar sands extraction, saw a whopping 371 per cent increase in greenhouse gas pollution.

To make matters worse, Canada was the last country to file its report to the UNFCCC. It submitted its report even after earthquake-struck Japan, and was unable to explain in detail why its report was late.

Evidence is mounting that the Harper government is deliberately trying to scuttle international action to fight climate change.

Head over to the Montreal Gazette to read more.

February 28 2011


Why The U.S. Department of Defense Should Fight A War Against Global Warming Instead Of People

U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres warned militaries this month that they should be spending more money to reduce carbon emissions. According to her, one of the biggest threats to nations right now is global warming. 

President Obama recently asked Congress for $671 billion for the Department of Defense’s budget for fiscal 2012. The proposed budget (although currently facing cuts) allotted billions of dollars to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and billions more were requested for procurement; research, development, test and evaluation; operations and maintenance; military construction; personnel; family housing; and revolving management funds. While the Department of Defense has recently focused some attention on global warming, it’s time they start focusing a lot more.

Christiana Figueres’s biggest concern is that a growing food crisis, water stress, and weather damage will result in an international migration, regional conflicts, and ultimately a “climate chaos that would demand a defense response that makes even today's spending burden look light.” Instead of investing in more weaponry, Figueres urges generals to invest in reducing carbon emissions. <!--break-->

The warning by Figueres matches recent reports of disturbing proportions. Just last week, UN projections revealed that in under ten years, the world will host 50 million environmental refugees. These are refugees that, true to Figueres’s predictions, are fleeing their homes due to drought, famine, and weather-related disasters. 

Here’s a little connect-the-dots between climate change-related events and civil unrest. First, drought, famine, and weather-related disasters are all linked to climate change. Warmer winters allow pests to carry plant diseases, heavy rainfall washes animal waste into human food, greenhouse gases ruin the structure of a plant… these are just a few of many reasons that global warming will increasingly lead to food crises. There are now threats that “megadroughts” will also return due to man-made global warming. And weather-related disasters, such as storms and floods forcing villagers in regions like Bangladesh to migrate, are connected to global warming’s rising sea levels.

These climate change-related disasters will in turn lead to civil unrest. It is well-proven that famine, drought, and severe weather worsen or even create conflicts. One needs only look to recent events for evidence of this. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization suggest that food price hikes have recently contributed to political instability in Mozambique, Algeria, Tunisua, Egypt, and Yemen. 

Drought in Somalia is believed to have exacerbated problems in an already unstable nation -- even on a personal level, marriages were ruined by the drought. Nura Farah, a mother of seven children, blames the drought for her divorce, explaining to The Independent, "When the drought hit us we quarreled… I told my husband, 'Look, you are a man. So go to town and look for ways to support your family'. But he rejected my request and divorced me and left."

Lastly, severe weather has caused instability in regions like Pakistan, where, according to The New York Times, flooding displaced more than 20 million people this past summer. Denmark’s Defense Minister Gitte Lillelund reports that, "Because you have the flooding, the Pakistani government or society will use all their resources to deal with that -- which could create room for extremists.” 

In other words, climate change will lead to severe weather, droughts, floods, and increased famine, which in turn will result in greater civil unrest.

Figueres makes this threat most clear in the following statement: “It is alarming to admit that if the community of nations is unable to fully stabilize climate change, it will threaten where we can live, where and how we grow food and where we can find water. In other words, it will threaten the basic foundation - the very stability on which humanity has built its existence.”  

The Department of Defense needs to focus their budget on fighting this preventable civil unrest and threat to global stability. As a citizen of any country, it is time to reconsider the definition of patriotism. It is not just tying a yellow ribbon around a tree -- people who care about their national (and global) security should deem it equally patriotic to reduce their carbon footprint.

December 03 2010


If Cancun Climate Talks Falter, Blame the U.S.

If the talks in Cancun falter, do we blame the US? Is it time to abandon the UN process of climate negotiations?The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger
(reposted with permission)

The most recent round of United Nations-led climate change negotiations began this week in Cancun, and although international expectations are muted this year, the stakes are still high. As Mother JonesKate Sheppard explains,”The 2010 meeting could make or break the future of global negotiations.”

This is the sixteenth Conference of the Parties, convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). After the tepid results of last year’s conference in Copenhagen, when a last-minute, backroom deal produced a non-binding accord, participants and observers of the negotiations are beginning to question whether it is the best forum for these sorts of conversations. Central to the progress, or lack thereof, on international climate change policy is the United States’ intransigence. As one of the world most proliferate carbon spewers, it’s essential for the United States to commit to dramatic reductions in its carbon emissions.

But if American negotiators have always been reluctant to make those promises, even if they did this year, their promises would ring empty. The results of the 2010 midterms mean there’s little chance Congress would ratify a treaty. Republicans just eliminated a special House committee on global warming. They certainly aren’t interested in making the sorts of concessions that international negotiators want and need to convince their own governments to move forward.

Signing off

It’s unclear, at this point, if the UNFCCC framework will ever produce a worthwhile results. Inter Press Service’s Kanya D’Almeida reports that “the meeting in Cancún is foreshadowed by a deep pessimism.” D’Almedia offers, for instance, this take from Nigel Purvis, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States:

“Global climate talks have begun to resemble a bad soap opera,” Purvis wrote in an essay entitled ‘Cancún and the End of Climate Diplomacy. “They seem to never end, yet seldom change and at times bear little resemblance to reality. This is why climate diplomacy as we know it has lost its relevance.”

The last landmark climate treaty—the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States never signed onto—will expire in 2012. The Copenhagen Accord, the agreement that came out of last year’s negotiations, does not bind countries to their commitments, as Kyoto did.

The next major step in tackling climate change could be for countries across the world to re-up their commitments to reducing carbon emissions through a Kyoto-like (i.e. legally enforceable) pact. The alternative is to base global action on an agreement along the lines of the one produced at Copenhagen, with less stringent standards for accountability.

Kyoto v. Copenhagen

Tina Gephardt writes at The Nation that “Serious tensions threaten to derail the UNFCCC process entirely. At the heart of these skirmishes are two camps: those nations who want to extend the Kyoto Protocol and those nations, including the United States, who want to ram through the Copenhagen Accord.”

The Accord’s mechanism for oversight and enforcement relies on countries monitoring each others’ progress on carbon reductions, but as Mother Jones’ Sheppard reports, an early point of disagreement in this year’s session centers on how important it is to agree how that monitoring will happen.

Stubborn Americans

What does seem certain is that if, at the end of this session, international climate negotiations have become so messy and tangled the world abandons them, and starts over, much of the blame will lie with the United States. Tom Athanasiou lays out the case in Earth Island Journal:

It’s the US, after all, that reduced the Kyoto Protocol to a non-starter, and the US that led the Copenhagen charge to abandon top-down emissions targets in favor of bottom-up “pledge and review.” It’s the US that, in the words of chief negotiator Todd Stern, is looking for a “new paradigm for climate diplomacy” that asserts a world in which the developed countries are no longer presumed to bear the overarching, if inconvenient, obligations of the rich and the responsible.

It’s not that American leaders aren’t aware of the problems the world could face (although some on the right continue to deny they exist). As Nancy Roberts points out at Care2, “Up to one billion people could be displaced by rising sea levels this century.” To a certain extent, the United States is insulated from the impact of climate change. As this map, which ColorLines highlighted a few weeks ago, illustrates, America is not particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But it’d be foolish for American leaders to ignore the security and economic implications wrought by the migration of one-sixth of the world’s population.


But Washington has shown time after time that it is willing to look past problems until they become unavoidable. The consequences of that attitude have been devastating in recent years. The BP oil spill is only the most recent example. This week the Obama administration announced it would not open up new coastline areas in the southeastern U.S. for offshore oil drilling—a decision that came only after it became clear just how much havoc a drilling disaster could cause (and would likely cause again).

With climate change, however, the tons of carbon already in the atmosphere can’t be mopped up or “dispersed,” or forgotten, within months. The consequences will linger on, and by the time they become clear, it will be too late to act, and international negotiators won’t be talking about emission levels, but food, water, and refugee crises.


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

November 30 2010


Cancun Showdown: Results at the UN Climate Talks More Important Than Ever


The United Nations Climate Change talks kicked off yesterday in Cancun.  For many, the mood began much more sombrely than last year.  Copenhagen attracted celebrity clout, world leader buzz, and a sense of optimism for a binding agreement.  For all Copenhagen promised, however, those who hoped for a fair and binding global deal left empty handed.  

Along with analysts, pundits and the blogosphere, the U.S., UK and EU are already downplaying the chances of a deal being reached in the next fortnight.  And as Desmogblog reported today, those fears may not be in vain with threats that the U.S. may pull out of the talks early

The talks during the next two weeks are going to focus largely on forests and finance, but also on questions about the legal status of a future agreement and emissions targets, which are expected to be tackled beginning next week when ministers arrive.

The sense of general pessimism around the talks has led some to question the viability of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to deliver, and has led others to manufacture doubt over the scientific basis for action.  A new report released by Oxfam argues that despite the disconsolate atmosphere, a binding climate agreement under the UN auspices is imperative.  The report, More than ever: climate talks that work for those that need them most, presents the harrowing statistics on the costs of climate inaction.  

According to the report, at least 21,000 people died due to weather-related disasters in the first nine months of this year – more than twice the number for the whole of 2009.  "This year is on course to experience more extreme-weather events than the 10-year average of 770. It is one of the hottest years ever recorded," wrote Tim Gore, Oxfam's EU climate change policy adviser and report's author.


"This year has seen massive suffering and loss due to extreme weather disasters. This is likely to get worse as climate change tightens its grip. The human impacts of climate change in 2010 send a powerful reminder why progress in Cancún is more urgent than ever."

While many continue to ride a feeling of foreboding about the chances of a binding agreement this year in Cancun, the report notes (and aptly so) that now is not the time to walk away from the UN process. For millions of poor people around the world – those hit first and hardest by a crisis they did least to cause – a fair and safe deal to tackle climate change is not only urgent, but a matter of life and death. 

Oxfam's report notes some harrowing stats on the cost of inaction. Between 2010 and 2050, the World Bank estimates that developing countries will need between $70 billion and $100 billion per year to adapt to climate change. Yet every dollar that is spent on adaptation could save $60 in avoided losses.  And with a sense of foreboding already in the air in Cancun, it is important to remember that the cost of inertia will bear disproportionately on developing countries.  According to the World Bank, developing countries will bear 75-80% of costs of harmful climate change.  

The report also examines some of the countries to watch this next fortnight.  From Pakistan to China to Malawi, these countries have different strengths, experience, and perspectives that they will bring to the talks. 

To read on, download a copy of Oxfam's report below.


AttachmentSize Oxfam Media Briefing- Now More Than Ever- Climate talks that work for those who need them most.pdf977.57 KB

November 29 2010


Message from UNFCCC Executive Secretary at Start of Cancun Climate Conference

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres give a short statement calling for positive progress in climate negotiations as the COP16 climate conference in Cancun is set to get underway.

November 26 2010


Chief U.S. Climate Negotiator Sets Expectations for COP16

On Monday, Todd Stern gave his take for expectations and goals for the COP16 climate conference starting next week in Cancun, Mexico. Stern spoke at a press conference at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, DC. Stern is the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change.

According to recent statements, despite setbacks in climate and energy policy in Congress since last year’s Copenhagen conference, the U.S. will maintain its essential goal of roughly a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 2005 levels by 2020. Read on-the-ground reporting we did last year of a briefing Stern gave in Copenhagen explaining the U.S. position in international climate negotiations.

October 08 2010


Climate Change Negotiations Part Way through the Week in Tianjin

Visit NRDCs Switchboard BlogCountries meeting here in Tianjin, China are trying to make final progress before the world comes together in Cancun.  As I outlined there are some essential elements that need to be agreed in Cancun to prove to the world that this process can deliver real action, to begin to implement key elements of the international response to climate change, and to lay the foundation for further commitments beyond Cancun.  The meeting in Tianjin needs to accomplish a couple of things in order for Cancun to be a success.  So how are we doing a little over one week into the Tianjin session?  We have mixed results.

So let me start with the bad news…

Countries are talking process, not areas of agreement.  Every time we have a debate about the process in these negotiations it is a bad sign.  It means that countries are trying to find excuses not to agree to some particular item.  While many of these discussions aren’t occurring in the open, I’ve been hearing from a variety of countries that there is a lot of discussion about how to structure the discussions.  So instead of trying to unlock the key stumbling blocks, some countries are stacking more blocks on top of each other.

I’ve been in this process long enough to know that such a dynamic doesn’t necessarily last as we get into the final days.  Climate negotiators like to try to get the best deal, so this tends to mean that they hold out to the last minute.  Unfortunately, if countries don’t blink here in Tianjin then the chances of agreement in Cancun are very limited.

But there is some good news which gives me hope…

Countries aren’t backing away from their commitments to reduce emissions and mobilize financial resources to assist developing countries.  The international negotiation dynamic here in Tianjin is in stark contrast to what is happening on the ground in the key countries.  It is almost like living in an alternative universe. 

In Copenhagen, countries accounting for over 80% of the world’s emissions made specific commitments to reduce their emissions.  So given the state of play in the negotiations are countries walking away from their commitments and taking no action at home?  No.  Key countries are getting to work at home by implementing policies and programs to reduce their emissions.  We did a side-event presenting on what China is doing (where we released three new reports and a new fact sheet), discussing what India is doing, and outlining the prospects for Mexico to come to Cancun with additional actions.  NRDC joined a trip to see a pilot power plant in Tianjin—GreenGen—that will capture CO2 emissions and store these emissions underground.  And next week I’ll visit an industrial complex which we are helping to transform into a low carbon economic zone.  So things are happening on the ground.

Countries also agreed in Copenhagen that they would mobilize $30 billion from 2010-2012 to assist developing countries.  An independent assessment by the World Resources Institute shows that if countries generate the resources that they have pledged then we’ll reach this goal.  For example, the US Congressional committees have continued to support US contributions to this effort which we hope they will soon finalize in order to further unleash these resources.

Negotiators have made progress on the agreements to aid developing countries in reducing deforestation emissions, deploying clean energy, and adapting to the impacts of climate change.  While there are still some differences between key countries on these issues, the disagreements are minor in the broader dynamic of what we are trying to achieve in Cancun.  They are white noise, not ear shattering noise. 

If the transparency and finance pieces fall into place in Cancun then agreement on these issues is within reach.  Unfortunatelyin Tianjin there is still division on the transparency and finance pieces, but I continue to believe that countries can find agreement on these issues (as my colleague Barbara Finamore discusses).  After all, they need to agree on these issues in Cancun and resolving these issues is in everyone’s interest.

Still time to turn it around.  There are two days left for countries to turn around this week and therefore prospects in Cancun.  I’ve followed this long enough to know that the end game can often surprise you.  Let’s hope that countries surprise us with clear signals that they really want a positive agreement in Cancun.

September 14 2010


Key steps on global warming need to be agreed in Mexico later this year

This December, 194 countries will be in Cancun, Mexico to continue negotiations on international efforts to address climate change.  My colleagues and I are in Mexico City this week for a series of discussions with key government officials, NGOs, businesses, and members of the media so we’ve been reflecting on Cancun. The Cancun climate negotiation session (COP16) must serve three critical functions to ensure the continued progress on international climate change efforts and to rebuild some of the trust lost during and after Copenhagen.    

First, at Cancun, the international community needs to prove to countries and the world public that it can work together to address climate change.  It is essential that countries make some progress in Cancun and show that the international system can work.  This is paramount, as a perceived failure will make it even more difficult to build political momentum within the UN system and may lead the public and countries to disengage.

Second, Cancun needs to produce agreement on aspects of the key implementing activities to be delivered by the international agreement –e.g., clean energy technology deployment, deforestation reductions, improving the resilience of countries to the impacts of climate change, etc.  While it is unlikely that every aspect of these issues will be resolved in Cancun, it is possible to make significant progress on each of these issues at Cancun.  The notion of “nothing is agreed, until everything is agreed” must be set aside in favor of re-establishing confidence by progressively building the agreement component by component.

Third, COP16 needs to produce momentum and enough progress that COP17 (in South Africa) and the Rio 2012 Earth Summit can finalize additional commitments and implementation steps.

So what are a couple of tangible steps that countries can agree in Cancun to achieve these three aims?

1. Commitments for “Actions” and “Support”.  The meeting in Cancun needs to create the expectation that this and future meetings will focus strong political and public attention on what actions countries are taking to reduce their emissions and on what support they are offering to help deploy clean energy, reduce deforestation emissions, and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Action, Action, Action.  Countries accounting for over 80% of the world’s emissions have now committed to specific actions that undertake at home to reduce their global warming pollution.  Much of the political posturing, focus of the general public and the media, and dynamics of the international negotiations is focused on what “the agreement” (or the negotiating text) has to say.  Much less attention is focused on what actions countries commit to take, what concrete steps they are taking at home to reduce their emissions, and how they could be assisted in the move to a low carbon economy.    The meeting in Cancun needs to reaffirm the expectation that countries are to implement specific actions at home and report those efforts with the international community at every subsequent meeting.  Over time this reporting should become more formal, but countries should be expected to informally report on their actions at Cancun.  Countries should have to say: “we have done nothing” or “we have taken such and such step, but need to go further”.  It is critical that we immediately create the expectation that the world is paying attention to the actions of countries, not just their words.

Focus on “Prompt Start Funding”.  In Copenhagen, developed countries committed to provide $30 billion in financing from 2010-2012 to aid developing countries in deploying clean energy, reducing deforestation emissions, and adapting to the impacts of climate change.  To build trust it is critical that developed countries show in tangible ways how their pledges to “prompt start” funding are turning into real money.  But it is also important to focus on tangible actions that are occurring on-the-ground with the money.  This dual focus will establish the expectations both that real money is generated and that tangible actions are being delivered with the money.  The recent Dutch initiative to create a website where countries report on their contribution is a good step in this direction, as is the REDD+ Partnership’s efforts to create a database where deforestation efforts are transparently reported.

2. Decisions to Show Progress on Key Issues.  It is important that countries agree in Cancun to make tangible progress by reaching agreement on some of the key aspects of the international response to climate change.  Without some tangible outcomes, countries, the general public, and key policymakers will disengage from the international negotiations.  These include the following (as I discussed here).  

MRV and Finance are Linchpins.  Resolving some aspects of monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) and finance are critical to a successful outcome in Cancun.  Without forward progress on developing country MRV, developed countries are unlikely to agree to let other issues move forward–such as REDD, adaptation, and technology.  At the same time, without progress on finance, developing countries are unlikely to allow progress on MRV.  These two issues are intertwined in the negotiations. 

Critical Implementing Actions Can be Agreed – Making progress on REDD, Technology, and Adaptation.  In Copenhagen, countries were very close to agreeing on elements of the international approach to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), clean energy deployment, and adaptation.  While there are aspects of these that are still controversial, it is possible to agree in Cancun on key elements that enable tangible action to materialize on these three critical issues.  Progress on these fronts is essential to prove to countries and the general public that the UNFCCC can move forward on tangible actions which make a real difference in the efforts to address global warming.


Countries will come to Tianjin, China next month for the next climate negotiations.  At this meeting, countries will have a choice: do they want to see progress in Cancun that moves the world forward or do they want to throw up roadblocks to progress. 

Officials in Mexico seemed cautiously optimistic, but they clearly see the uncertain path to Cancun.  The Mexican team is extremely capable as it combines Ministries and individuals with strong diplomatic skills and extensive knowledge of the key issues.  That gives me hope that they can help move the 194 countries towards some specific outcomes which move the world forward.  I’m leaving Mexico with the same cautious optimism that we sensed from the Mexican officials.


Follow me on twitter and help track countries actions to reduce their global warming pollution.

June 15 2010


The Choice to Move Forward on International Efforts to Address Global Warming

Every day a huge amount of oil is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico in the US.  This is symbolic of the energy choices that we have made to date.  And it shows the dramatic implications of that energy choice.  But those energy choices are also having devastating impacts which are less visual but more damaging.  Rampant global warming is impacting countries around the world as a result of our energy and development choices.  The oil catastrophe is a wake-up call for the United States and should be a wake-up call for the world. 

We have a choice between a clean energy future or a dirty energy past.  As countries end the most recent round of negotiations on an international effort to address global warming, they face the same choice.  Do they choose to agree to implement a clean energy future or do they choose to have the same old stale debates hold us back.  I hope that they choose the clean energy choice.

A Spirit of Cooperation.  Here in Bonn, Germany countries signaled a clear willingness to work together in a spirit of cooperation to address this critical challenge.  While the key stumbling blocks for a strong outcome in Cancun, Mexico weren’t resolved, there were constructive movements on a number of the key elements of international efforts.  For example, countries narrowed the differences around how best to guide the needed global finance to help developing countries deploy clean energy, reduce deforestation, and adapt to the impacts of climate change.  A number of countries both recognized the critical need for strong transparency and accountability provisions in the international agreement, and showed a willingness to find a reasonable path forward. 

Much work remains to be done on these and other issues, but countries showed a willingness to roll-up their sleeves and find a path forward.  I hope that spirit continues as we go into Cancun, Mexico.  The Chair of the session released a text which can help countries focus on those choices and create the conditions for them to cooperate on a path forward.

The Path Ahead is Clear.  Now countries need to go home and create the political conditions for action both at home and internationally.  All countries need to move forward on actions to reduce their emissions, mobilize the necessary resources to aid developing countries in moving to a low carbon economy and adapt to the impacts of climate change.  Both need to be done in a transparent and accountable manner so that we can ensure that we are really moving on the path that countries committed to undertake.   These are elements that they committed to in Copenhagen and they must deliver upon them.

The US must pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill this year. 

They need to come back to Bonn, Germany in August ready to tackle the key outstanding issues and begin to agree on the elements of a strong path forward in Cancun, Mexico later this year.

Much work remains and time is unfortunately not on our side, but it can and must be done.  We have no choice.

Cross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council Switchboard.


Jake Schmidt is the International Climate Policy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council where he helps to develop the post-2012 international response to climate change (for more information see his blog or follow him on twitter). And help track countries actions to reduce their global warming pollution.

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