Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Grist, and is posted with permission.
By Jonathan Hiskes
There is numbingly little news coming out of most of the 20 or so daily press briefings at the Copenhagen climate talks. Officials from national delegations and research, policy, and trade groups seem to use them to restate their already-known positions, wrapping them in as much jargon as possible just to be safe.
That held true for Thursday’s briefing by the International Chamber of Commerce, where several American reporters came to learn how the ICC felt about the U.S. Chamber’s antics this year. The U.S. Chamber, for a refresher, fought the clean energy bill that passed the U.S. House this summer, called for a 21st Century Scopes Monkey Trial to question the science of climate change, and was deserted by several prominent members—Apple, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Exelon, and PNM Resources—who trashed the Chamber’s climate policy on their way out.
A new poll released today (PDF) demonstrates that over 60 percent of Americans recognize that the earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels. The poll, conducted by The McClatchy Company, the third-largest newspaper company in the United States, and Ipsos Public Affairs, found that a slight majority of the U.S. population also supports cap-and-trade legislation.
A substantial majority of American adults would be willing to pay a surprising additional $25 per month on their electrical bill to support limiting the amount of greenhouse gases companies can put out – as long as the programs created a significant number of green jobs in the United States.
The budget Obama submitted to Congress earlier this year included revenue from a national cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions, which would come from auctioning off emissions permits to industries. The climate program is expected to generate $645 billion between 2012 and 2019. Initial funds would be invested in clean energy. According to the Center for American Progress, a think-tank that has done considerable research on the economic effects of such legislation, this would create 16.7 jobs for every $1 million invested. A $100 billion green investment program would create 2 million new jobs nationwide over two years, most of which would be non-exportable, clean, well-paying jobs.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said climate change legislation would cost the average household $175 a year by 2020, far below what Americans are apparently ready to pay.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Grist, and is posted with permission.
By Jonathan Hiskes
I tracked down Brian Flannery today. He’s the top climate advisor for ExxonMobil, a veteran of international climate talks, and a bona fide villain in the eyes of environmental groups. That’s largely due to Exxon’s funding of front groups that sow misinformation about the urgency of climate change.
Today Flannery was wearing another hat: he led a panel on behalf of the International Chamber of Commerce‘s Environment and Energy Commission, of which he’s vice chair. He would seem to be something of an odd choice for leadership at the International Chamber, which has embraced the opportunities of a low-carbon economy far more than the step-boldly-into-the-past U.S. Chamber.
In concert with the opening of the COP15 climate talks here in Copenhagen, the EPA finalized their endangerment finding on Monday that specifies carbon emissions as a threat to human health and well being (see Bill DiBenedetto’s detailed post from yesterday).
At yesterday’s press briefing UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer was asked what influence the decision would have on the outcome of the conference:
“If I were a businessman,” de Boer replied, “I would say please, please, please do a deal in Copenhagen – and please, please, make it market-based. Because if we fail to get a market-based agreement here, and if the US Senate fails to agree cap-and-trade, then the regulatory agency will be obliged to regulate. Every business knows that taxes and regulation will be a lot less efficient and a lot more expensive than a market-based approach.”
More than 20 years ago, David Wirth, at the time a senior attorney at the NRDC, wrote about the imperative of climate protection in global politics. “The international community cannot afford to delay elevating the greenhouse effect to the top of the foreign-policy agenda,” Wirth wrote in Foreign Policy.
The editor’s note of Endgame, the latest installment of Dispatches, a quarterly focused on issues ranging from the environment to the economy to the war in Iraq, opens with this historical claim of the importance of environment in the world’s socio-economic discourse. Two decades ago, people were saying practically the exact same thing as we are now. Though the lexicon of Wirth and James Hansen and several other notable environmental commentators from the time has slightly shifted—now the lingo is climate change or global warming—the underlying notion is still very much intact: The way we live our lives is unsustainable.
Today marks the start of UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, or COP15 as it’s widely known. A culmination of years of planning, months of lobbying by pressure groups such as those coordinated by TckTckTck. There’s a lot of anticipation and speculation as to what’s going to happen. Not all of it optimistic.
While the outcome of these meetings isn’t clear, one group is doing its best to offer hope, knowledge, and actions for us mere mortals. Ode Magazine has created The Solutions We Need Now, a publication it will be distributing 50,000 copies of to delegates and participants in Copenhagen. A free digital version of it is available to everybody else for a limited time here.
It pragmatically addresses these solutions in three sections: What needs to be done; how to do it; and what you can do.
Sustainability heavyweights such as Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, Al Gore and Lester Brown weigh in here with encouraging words and big ideas, but it’s the real world examples happening globally that are intriguing:
In case you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt been aware of a fiasco which emerged in the last few weeks from the University of East Anglia in the UK concerning unprofessional bickering between climate scientists exposed by an apparent email hacker. The FOXNews crowd is calling it proof that climate change (at least the human induced kind) is a hoax perpetrated by a grand conspiracy among corrupt scientists bent on installing a global uber-government and so on and so forth… It’s therefore not the least bit coincidental that the conspiracy has emerged immediately before the COP15 talks in Copenhagen.
First things first, some of this is a really big screw up, and some of these scientists should be disciplined or fired (as well as whoever was behind the illegal hacking). But at the end of the day, the controversy only proves that some scientists, like some people, can be petty chumps who bicker and cheat. Not cool, but hardly proof that global warming is a hoax. And more importantly, hardly an argument against reducing our burning of fossil fuels and many of the other sustainability efforts 3p argues for. “ClimateGate” is 95% engineered distraction by an unfortunate part of the business community who prefer kicking and screaming to evolution.
So let me get to the point…
If the Copenhagen climate conference has managed to do anything (even before it begins), it has managed to divide. It has facilitated the formation of two neatly antithetical groups of people: those who think nothing will result, and those who are hopeful as to what could happen.
“See You in Copenhagen” is a campaign of short films and ads produced by Found Object Films, in cooperation with the UN Foundation and TckTckTck, to raise public awareness leading up to COP15. It would fit firmly in the latter camp, featuring a certain cautious optimism. We may be sliding down a slippery slope, and Copenhagen may be just a time for political power plays, meaningless gesturing, and the biggest green networking event ever to take place. But it could also be a turning point.
In this video, Better Place innovator, Shai Agassi, talks about cleantech’s role in building the new clean economy, and those implications at COP15.
If it’s all about the money, and it usually is, then the future financial landscape for cleantech development hinges on the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change conference as essentially as the meeting’s long-term impacts on environmental policy.
There will be impacts whether or not binding and comprehensive agreements on emission reductions are cobbled in Copenhagen, and that’s especially true for green investors.
According to Frost & Sullivan, the United Kingdom research and consulting firm, future investments in clean technology are heavily dependent on the outcome of the 15th Conference of Parties (COP 15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Private sector money interests are waiting to see what targets world leaders will commit to, along with what mitigation actions developing countries will take.
With little more than a week to go before the start of the COP15 climate change conference in Copenhagen, the “Road to Copenhagen” starts to sound a little tired, even as participants prepare for actually heading to Copenhagen.
With the roller-coaster-like ride of pre-COP15 news, reeling from despair to faint glimmers of hope* that something positive and substantial will emerge from Copenhagen in mid-December, the question for many concerned about climate change, or who are considering going to COP15, is:
If Copenhagen is just another step in the long process from Kyoto to Bali to Copenhagen to… why bother?
The White House officially announced today that President Barack Obama will go to Copenhagen to attend the COP15 climate conference, a commitment Obama has thus far been reticent to make, saying that he would attend only if his presence would help secure a successful outcome in the climate negotiations.
It now appears as if he feels his attendance will do just that. President Obama plans on giving a speech at the conference on December 9th as he makes his way to Sweden to pick up his Noble Peace Prize on the 10th.
The White House also confirmed that the US will finally agree to put “numbers on the table” in negotiations, with a proposal to cut emissions “in the range” of 17 percent below 2005 levels, in line with the targets mandated in the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill passed in the House of Representative this summer.
The reference year for the target is 2005, instead of the more internationally accepted 1990. The targets are below other developed nations target and are significantly off the 40 percent cut below 1990 levels that developing nations say is necessary to begin effectively dealing with climate change.
Nonetheless, Obama’s commitment to lend his presence to the process, and the firm targets proposed by the US, represent progress and leadership that has heretofore been absent in the negotiating process. It isn’t enough, but it is a start.
Thus was billed a recent conference I attended last week at the Aspen Wye River Conference center located in rural Maryland along the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. The two-day conference was yet another step in the Transatlantic Climate Bridge began earlier this year between Germany and the U.S. in hopes of fostering greater understanding and cooperation on energy and climate issues, especially now in the final days before the Copenhagen summit.
The conference brought together journalists from both sides of the pond, along with a select group of advisors, consultants, negotiators, and policy experts on the front line of the issues facing the world next month in Copenhagen. Since the journalists (and blogger) at the conference are subject to the Chatham House rules, I am not able to attribute specific positions to any particular speaker, but the ideas discussed and the perceptions explored in the dialog are worth summarizing – kicking it off with the burning question in the wake of news over the weekend that world leaders have “agreed not to agree” to a fully binding treaty at COP15: Is there any real hope left for “success” in Copenhagen?
In a word, yes. There is not only hope, but a realistic chance for success at Copenhagen. That is, if we can engage in “expectation management” and tailor a definition of success within those expectations – let the qualifications begin.
The final week of climate negotiations in Barcelona have now ended. The last meeting before the main event in Copenhagen next month served to emphasize the lingering stalemate between rich and poor nations, and the equally unmoving impasse between political factions in the United States.
On Tuesday, delegations from 50 African nations boycotted the climate talks in Barcelona, insisting that developed nations must make stronger commitments for short-term emissions reduction targets – specifically in the neighborhood of 40% of 1990 levels by 2020 (in contrast, the Waxman-Markey bill that passed the House last summer, when referenced to 1990 levels, targets only about a 7% reduction in emissions). In Washington, Republicans in the Energy and Public Works Committee (EPW) staged their own boycott, failing to show for a markup session of the Kerry-Boxer climate and energy bill. The reason, they claimed, was because the bill needs more cost analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Democrats countered, saying it was simply a stalling tactic, and that there is already extensive analysis in place. The ranking Republican on the EPW committee is Senator James Inhofe, who is nothing if not a vociferous climate change denier. The ability for the United States to break through their political logjam will directly influence how negotiations play out at the COP15 climate conference next month.
Talks resumed in Barcelona onWednesday, but key issues of mitigation targets and financing remain largely unchanged on Friday from where they started on Monday; the Democrats in the EPW Committee passed the Kerry-Boxer climate bill out of committee on an 11-1 without the Republicans present. Thus the stage is set, for better or worse, and there is but one stop left on the Road to Copenhagen. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer delivers his closing press briefing in the following video (see also Ben Jervey’s analysis from earlier this week.)
The days grow short and with it the time left to lay a foundation that leads to an international climate treaty to which all nations – rich and poor, north and south – can agree.
As Copenhagen braces for an influx of delegates, press, policy experts, and leaders from all corners of the globe this December, many begin to brace for a new definition of what will constitute success at the COP15 climate talks. A definition based less on the “do-or-die” high expectations of a signed treaty by the end of the year and more on the reality of the work left to accomplish a deal and the time available to accomplish it.
It may be too much to hope that delegates negotiate a final resolution to the issues that carve a persistently wide gulf between developed and developing nations. Momentum for real progress has been slow going (though it’s building as a sense of urgency mounts).
Rich nations still squabble amongst themselves and developing nations aren’t too keen on forsaking their expanding fossil-fueled wealth, just when it really gets going–especially when nations already fat and happy on coal and oil seem unwilling to pull their own weight.
The situation isn’t likely to change much, at least not by December. Is COP15 therefore destined to fail? Not necessarily – even with the intractable issues before it.
Few people appear better positioned for Blog Action Day 2009 than Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed – and it’s been a busy year since he took office. Faced with growing threats of sea level rise, President Nasheed has made some bold claims since his election last November.
From his statement earlier this year that his government would set aside some of the $1 billion a year it earns from the travel and tourism industry to buy land to relocate his people, to his announcment last week that he will hold the first ever cabinet meeting underwater, President Nasheed is proving to be both bold and media savvy.
Obviously the Maldives and other small-island countries have a lot at stake in terms of climate change, and gimmick or not, the underwater meeting has garnered global media attention and it has put this country of less than 400,000 people front and center of the climate change conversation.
There are rising CO2 ppm numbers, warming and increasingly acidic oceans, shifting species populations, shrinking arctic sea-ice cover and volume… all manner of facts, figures, and data-crunching computer models to aid scientists in understanding the nature and consequences of climate disruption.
But there’s a more visceral aspect to global warming.
A feeling summoned even in the most cynical soul by a world still full of beauty and wonder, it is a strained thread that connects each human to the Earth and belies the competing economic models, political affiliations, and tribal xenophobias that have plagued humanity throughout time. But our time is different, and the consequences of our actions so enormous that we must be reminded what binds us together in a common global fate.
It is for that connection to the Earth we each share, for better or worse, that inspired Søren Rud to organize 100 Places to Remember Before They Disappear, a photo exhibition recently opened in Copenhagen. Meant as an inspiration for “the common person,” 100 Places is also a call to action for world leaders as they soon converge on the city to negotiate a climate treaty at the COP15 Climate Conference this December (and what inspires this post on Blog Action Day).
Climate change isn’t only about carbon dioxide. So that’s why, in a world that is stepping close to a steep precipice, doing more to reduce non-CO2 climate change contributors such as black carbon, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), as well as expanding bio-sequestration through biochar production, might head global warming off at the pass, according to Nobel Laureate Dr. Mario Molina and co-authors in a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The authors argue that this novel perspective could transform the debate at United Nations climate change conference slated for Copenhagen in December.
About 53 days until COP15, and the word compromise is surfacing more and more in discussions around reaching an agreement in December. There is also worry that the U.S. will not have passed any sort of significant climate bill by then, thus hampering their ability to make any real CO2 emissions pledge.
In a joint report written by the Center for American Progress and the United Nations Foundation, a more manageable set of expectations is recommended to make important strides for talks to move forward – and this includes shelving the idea that developed nations will commit to binding emission target reductions.
Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize score could have numerous implications – including potential benefits for the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen (scheduled for December 7th through 18th). According to a Reuters report, some analysts believe the award could push Obama to attend the Conference, in part because officials will hand over the prize in nearby Oslo on December 10th. Will Obama respond as such, and would his doing so impact the Conference’s success?
Despite the Obama administration’s sluggishness in passing climate legislation in time for the Copenhagen conference, the administration has, at least in intention, improved on the previous administration’s climate actions. Former President George W. Bush dropped efforts to get the Senate to ratify the Kyoto Protocol for 2020 (which all other industrialized nations adopted), while Obama is encouraging the US to assume a bigger role in a new global climate treaty. It’s this attitude that (at least in part) likely qualified him for the Prize and makes his attending the UN Conference a pressure point for many world leaders.
In a statement released at the conclusion of the two-week session of climate talks in Bangkok, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer talked of more clarity on the “bricks and mortar” of the agreed outcome in Copenhagen, but that “long-held differences” persist on coming to terms on mid-term targets and finance.
“A will has emerged in Bangkok to build the architecture to rapidly implement climate action,” said de Boer at a press briefing, “but significant differences remain. In December, citizens everywhere in the world have a right to know exactly what their governments will do to prevent dangerous climate change. What we must do now is step back from self interest and let common interest prevail.”
Using another metaphor, Jake Schmidt, International Policy Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, spoke of the five principal negotiating elements of a Copenhagen agreement as the main parts of a well-tuned car – and how the “car” is leaving Bangkok with some “dents and rattles.”
What do these metaphors really mean as (to add my own metaphor) the clock ticks down on the road to Copenhagen?