Nations Stake Positions in Advance of Warsaw Climate Conference

One of the outcomes of last year’s UN climate conference in Doha was to ramp up negotiations this year in anticipation of a new legal climate agreement to be signed in 2015.

In an effort to avoid the debacle of Copenhagen, when the proposed treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol  failed to materialize and the international climate negotiations nearly ground to a halt, the parties developed a new negotiation track in 2011 dubbed the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action [ADP].  The group has been conducting workshops this year designed to be a more informal and transparent vehicle for fostering conversation between parties.

National Stadium, Warsaw – Site of COP 19 – photo: PolandMFA

In advance of this year’s major meeting in Warsaw, parties have been submitting documents stating their visions for a 2015 agreement.  Although the negotiations over an actual text won’t commence until next year, the stands being taken now are illustrative of the potential viability of any treaty that may emerge in 2015.

A couple of points are interesting.  From the United States, we see a rather tepid statement which envisions “a mix of provisions that are legally binding and non-legally binding” and continues to rely on voluntary emissions targets from countries.  Glaringly omitted is any mention of the need to keep global temperature rise to 2 degrees by 2050–which was a key feature of the Copenhagen Accord.

Given the fact that there have been several analyses written since Copenhagen analyzing the gap between voluntary pledges and what the science tells us is necessary to address the 2 degree target, the US position is a bit troubling.  Essentially the US is sticking to its position in Copenhagen and ignoring the reality of science-based risk assessments agreed upon in subsequent negotiating sessions.

On the other hand, the European Union’s latest series of statements puts the 2 degree target at the forefront.  They offer a timetable to get us to a legally-binding agreement by 2015.  One of the features of this timetable is that all countries present specific reduction targets in 2014 that they will be legally bound to in a final agreement.

From the large developing country perspective, India emphasizes the need to maintain the distinction between developing and developed countries that was enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol and situates finance coming from the developed countries as a requirement for developing country emissions reduction targets.

None of these positions are really new.  Aside from the EU–which has the clearest articulation for a scientifically-oriented agreement–the others seem to be treading water making it unclear if 2015 will be a breakthrough or simply Copenhagen redux.

Does Obama Still Support Cap and Trade?

An article in today’s New York Times discusses how the issue of climate change has been conspicuously absent from the recent US presidential debates and the candidates’ stump speeches.

Speaking of the president’s position, the article indicates that “after a bill died in the Senate in 2010, Mr. Obama abandoned his support for cap and trade, a market-based method to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

It is clear that Obama supported cap-and-trade during his 2008 campaign and pushed for Congress to pass such legislation early in his term.  But it is also true that the issue also took back seat to other policy initiatives like health care and that key advisers like former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel actively discouraged elevating climate policy to the top of the president’s agenda.

But has he really “abandoned support” for cap and trade?

The idea is not mentioned on the White House energy website and does not appear in the 2011 “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future.”  A search for “cap and trade” on his campaign website reveals “No Results.”

However, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is still touting cap and trade as a goal of the administration and earlier this year Obama acknowledged “cap and trade” as a position he supported.  Even without cap and trade the administration has still moved forward with increased fuel economy standards for cars and regulations on coal power plants and carbon emissions have, indeed, decreased during the course of his first term.

Nevertheless, the issue of climate change isn’t going away and how the candidates propose to address it need to be more clearly articulated.


Daniel Hernandez to Speak at DePaul: Nov. 5 2012 6:30pm

The Public Policy Studies Program, College of Communication, Latin American and Latino Studies Program, and the Department of the History of Art and Architecture invite the DePaul and Greater Chicago community to a lecture by Daniel Hernandez on the topic of: “‘Me Encanta La Ciudad! Confronting the User-Friendly Mexico City” on Monday November 5, 2012 at 6:30pm in McGowan South 108.

Hernandez is a contributing writer for the Los Angeles Times and the author of Down and Delirious in Mexico City (Simon and Schuster, 2011) which looks at the cultural, economic, and political transformations under way in our continent’s largest city.

Check out more of his writing at his blog, Intersections, and be sure to follow him on Twitter.

Opening Salvos as UN Climate Negotiations Slog On

Oxfam International activists stage an action in Durban

The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change begins tomorrow in Durban, South Africa.

For several years now the world’s governments have been trying to develop a comprehensive treaty to address the climate problem and the shortcomings of the Kyoto Protocol.   Very little progress has been made.

There are many obstacles to be cleared.  One of the most intractable is the desire on the part of the United States to insure that developing countries take actions to reduce the growth of their emissions in such a way that they can be objectively verified.

For developing countries such as China and India, they respond that the United States is a large historic emitter and that they expect action from the developed world before they will consider any legal instrument inhibiting their own emission growth.

Over the past several weeks countries have been presenting draft papers of language that they would like to see in any agreement coming out of Durban.

Today some of these texts were released to the public.  The offerings from China, India, and Brazil on the one hand, and the United States, on the other, don’t give much hope in terms of bridging the political gaps between the developed world and the major emerging economies.

The United States offered a text on “long-term finance”–which refers to the ways in which rich countries will help developing countries advance their economies in a low-carbon manner.  Instead of focusing on how specific financing commitments will be raised and delivered, the text is much more concerned with the “transparency” issue.

The text offered by China, India and Brazil is short and to the point:

Acknowledging that the largest share of historical global emissions of greenhouse gases originated in Annex I Parties and that, owing to this historical responsibility in terms of their contribution to the average global temperature increase, Annex I Parties must take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.

Also acknowledging that, according to the preamble of the Convention, social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries.

The work towards identifying a global goal for substantially reducing global greenhouse gas emissions as well as a timeframe for global peaking of emissions must be based on historical responsibility as referred above, bearing in mind the context of enhancing and achieving the full, effective and sustained
implementation of the Convention.

In essence, these three large and growing economies are saying that the developed countries are largely responsible for creating the problem and, hence, should be the first to exhibit behaviors that will help alleviate rising emissions levels.

Neither of these positions are surprising.  However, after four years of negotiations the fact that there is no evidence of spaces for agreement is troubling.

Who are the Copenhagen 40?

UN climate head, Yvo de Boer, said that 40 world leaders are going to attend the climate talks next month in Copenhagen.

In September, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown implored his fellow heads of state and government to make the trip to Copenhagen in order to emphasize the importance of the talks and to increase the pressure to come up with a strong deal.

Al Gore has said he thinks President Obama will go, but the White House has been non-committal.

Yvo apparently didn’t release a list, but said the Danish government had told him that 40 world leaders have already said they will be attending the talks.  So that begs the question?  Who are the Copenhagen 40?

We have 1) Brown, 2) Sarkozy…Who else…?

US Squash Open Final Tonight in Downtown Chicago

The US Squash Open in Chicago is taking place tonight at 7pm in Chicago in the picturesque setting on North Michigan Avenue.

The final features the number one seed Ramy Ashour vs. number two seed Amr Shabana.  Both of the Egyptians had little problem advancing through the semifinals.

Shabana dispatched the Englishman James Willstrop with relative ease as he came out strong in the first game soring six points in a row.  Willstrop made a game of it, scoring 8 points but he was unable to solve Shabana’s power and stamina.  The previous night, Willstrop beat Peter Barker in an 81-minute marathon and his fatigue showed as Shabana dominated him in three straight games to win the match.

Ashour faced the Australian David Palmer.  The 33 year-old Palmer played Ashour tight, focusing on a battle of endurance with the Egyptian Ashour, ten years his junior.

Palmer kept it close, but the savvy Ashour wasn’t put off by the hard-hitting Palmer.  Ashour covered the court and deployed his devastating drop shot at key moments to exhaust Palmer.

Tonight’s match should be a good one.  Ashour hasn’t lost a game the entire tournament, while Shabana lost one game to Adrian Martin in the quarterfinals.  It is hard to bet against Ashour–his confidence and youth have been unstoppable.  He has also beat Shabana in recent head-to-head match-ups.

Indian Environment Minister–Climate Denier or Savvy Negotiator?

The Financial Times reports today on remarks by Indian Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh whereby he critiqued scientific assessments about the role of climate change in shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas.

According to a press release from the Indian government Ramesh “said we have to get out of the preconceived notion which is based on western media” that retreating glaciers are due to climate change. He also stressed the scientific uncertainty about the causes of glacial decline in the Himalayas.

Of course there is “scientific uncertainty”–the whole project of science is based on uncertainty. The real issue is how we use the knowledge gained from science to assess risk and develop policy accordingly.

This is why Ramesh’s remarks may be more accurately interpreted as a political move to deflect pressure from Western countries (and the US in particular) that India agree to greenhouse gas emissions cuts at this year’s UN negotiations in Copenhagen.

A look at the Indian press shows that Ramesh’s understanding of glacial science may be more complicated. The Hindu reports on Ramesh acknowledging a .5 degree rise in India’s temperatures over the past century and the Times of India indicates that the government is supporting long-term research on glacial change in the Himalayas.

There are other indications that India is taking measures to deal with the problems with a carbon-dominated economy. In Calcutta, a transport strike is underway after West Bengal proposed to ban commercial vehicles older than 15 years from operating on the city’s streets. The main reason for the ban is to try and solve the horrible air pollution problem.

Although the ban in Calcutta is unrelated to Ramesh’s position, there is a demonstrated concern–however contentious–that environmental problems need to be solved in this rapidly growing industrial economy. Perhaps using emissions reductions strategies as a justification for helping to deal with public health could change the dynamic of India’s position in international negotiations.

Problems With European Emissions Trading Scheme

The British climate change campaigners, Sandbag, released a report yesterday critical of the European cap-and-trade scheme.

The problem is relatively straightforward: too many emissions permits were allocated during the early phase of the scheme.  A surplus of permits, coupled with the global recession, the ability to hoard permits for future years, and the ability for European polluters to fulfill obligations by purchasing cheap offsets in the developing world, has Sandbag speculating that many big emitters won’t actually be forced to reduce their own emissions until 2015.

The Sandbag report hasn’t dissuaded the British government from continuing to support cap-and-trade.  Just yesterday, Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz released a report calling for expanding the cap-and-trade model globally.

In the US, I won’t be surprised to see climate skeptics reference the Sandbag report as the US Senate starts to debate its own cap-and-trade bill in the next few weeks.  The problem, however, isn’t so much that there is an inherent problem with a cap-and-trade–rather, as the Sandbag report discloses, the problem is in not having a serious emissions cap and relying upon too many loopholes that can militate against significant reductions.

Unfortunately the House version of the cap-and-trade bill is chock full of these loopholes–the most egregious being that most of the permits will be given away to polluters, thus reducing the incentives for action.  Given the fact that the Senate requires 60 votes to defeat a filibuster, it is likely that any legislation they pass will be even MORE watered-down than Waxman-Markey.  Such a scenario does not bode well for the effectiveness of cap-and-trade.

Clinton Gets an Earful on Emissions Reduction in India

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Indian officials over the weekend to discuss a number of issues, including climate change. India–along with China–is one of the main developing countries insisting that the United States and the developed world get its low-carbon economy in order before asking developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

While it was not likely that Clinton would announce a breakthrough agreement with India during her trip, the US press is reporting that the US delegation was struck by the forcefulness of India’s position. Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh said that there is “no case” for requiring emissions reductions from India.

India believes that it has a strong moral argument given the fact that its per-capita emissions are extremely low and that the West is historically responsible for the problem. After this month’s Major Economies Forum in Italy where Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh endorsed a document stating that global temperatures should be capped at 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, one of his own negotiators blasted Singh, arguing that the international community will inevitably point to the agreement to demand emissions reductions.

Given the internal strife in India over the issue, Ramesh’s comments could be seen as an effort to placate domestic dissenters. Clinton herself tried to put a positive spin on the meetings, indicating that the discussions in general were “fruitful.”

These types of internal disputes should not be discounted–especially in the case of India where the argument that any binding emissions reductions on their part are inequitable runs deep.

Obama clearly sees India as a major player on a number of issues, including climate. One positive that came out of Clinton’s trip was the scheduling of a visit to the US by Prime Minister Singh on November 22–two weeks before the international climate change negotiations get under way in Copenhagen. It will be the first state visit of the Obama Administration.

Forbes Writer Contemplates $20 Gallon Petrol

Forbes has posted an excerpt of a new book by one of its writers, Christopher Steiner.  The excerpt from $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives For the Better, seems to retread ground covered by the peak oil crowd a couple of years back.

Nevertheless, it is always interesting to remember the likely impact that will accompany the inevitable rise in petrol prices.  Steiner’s excerpt takes aim at the Big Box retailers and–not surprisingly–thinks the prospects for such retailers as Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, etc… are dim.

The reasons he highlights are important. First, there is the problem of where the big boxes are located–low density suburban areas that are only accessible  by automobile.  With petrol at $20 gallon, the volume of traffic that these places count on for customers will diminish.

The second reason he cites is the vast global transport network that undergirds the products that are stocked in the stores.  Raw materials from the other side of the planet are moved to factories in other countries similarly far away.  Commodities are assembled in places like China and then shipped to massive distribution centers in the US where the “just-in-time” stocking system insures that goods move in and out of the store quickly.

This whole system of distribution, manufacture and consumption is fossil-fuel intensive making its sustainability, according to Steiner, questionable.