Major Economies Meeting Ends With No Agreement

The latest in the US-sponsored meeting of “major economies” to discuss ways of addressing climate change ended on Friday with no major agreements.

US President Bush’s Wednesday speech reasserting his reluctance to commit the US to any emission reductions cast a shadow on the proceedings.  With the US delegation not wanting to start emission reductions until 2025 and the EU wanting to reduce emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by the same year, the gulf between the two positions is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean.

One issue that often is obscured in discussions about the US-EU rift on the topic, is the real immediate need pushed by developing countries for adaptation funding.  The countries that are least financially equipped to deal with the effects of climate change are those that are feeling its most immediate consequences.  Both South Africa and Mexico tried to push the issue of establishing financing mechanisms for climate adaptation.

These latter appeals may gain some traction as the major economies meetings continue until their culmination in the summer’s G-8 summit in Japan.  I could see all of the major parties wanting to show some accomplishment on the issue by agreeing to boost adaptation funds (whether the money is ever allocated is another story).

In fact, we see gestures on this front, such as French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s remarks at the meeting arguing for more money to be spent on a low-carbon economy and his linkage of the drought in Sudan, climate change, and violence in Darfur.

Bush Vows to Increase Greenhouse Gas Emissions

US President George W. Bush gave a speech on Wednesday laying out his position on climate change in advance of the third  “major economies” meeting on the issue in taking place today in Paris.

The speeh was underwhelming and no significant proposals were announced.  The main highlight was a stated “goal” (not a mandate) to wait until 2025 to stop the growth in greenhouse gas emissions.  The strategy for achieving this goal is limited to a series of incentives that are “carbon-weighted to make lower emissions power sources less expensive relative to higher emissions sources.”  No specific proposal was given that might describe such an incentive structure, although Bush did mention a need to reduce the regulatory barriers facing the development of nucelar power plants.

Essentially the speech will likely further isolate the US from the international community and reinforce notions that the administration is not really serious about addressing climate change.

While the signatories to Kyoto are reducing their emissions from 1990 levels by 2012, Bush is delaring that the US should not even begin emissions reductions until 2025.  The top White House official responsible for climate change policy, former utilities lobbyist Jim Connaughton, stated the effects quite clearly in his press conference preceding Bush’s speech:  “our goal is to have the economy rise and have greenhouse gases rise.”

The response to Bush’s speech was predicatbly critical.  The German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel described Bush as exhibiting “losership” rather than leadership and described his speech as “neanderthal.”  The Wall Street Journal reports that many developing nations taking part in the Paris conference were also disappointed in Bush’s speech.

In the US, the Baltimore Sun contends that Bush “just doesn’t get it” with regard to the problem of climate change and the San Francisco Chronicle juxtaposes Bush’s hollow rhetoric with the action taken by fellow Republican Governor Schwarzenegger on the issue.

Given the vociferous reaction to Bush’s speech, it is probably wishful thinking to expect anything significant to come out of the Paris meetings.  While Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered a moral argument for serious movement at the Paris talks,  UN climate change chief, Yvo de Boer was more diplomatic saying that it was “good” the US has a proposal on the table.

Biofuels Production Threatens Food Access

The Financial Times reports on a policy paper [.pdf] produced by the World Bank that indicates the crisis of rising global food prices is related to an increase in both demand for food and biofuels.

The table above–gleaned from the report–shows the projected rise in prices of basic grains over the next several years. While there is variation in the projections, the report indicates that higher fertilizer prices (which are petroleum-based) and the conversion of land to produce biofuels are main factors in the global market’s inability to meet demand. This report should provide another note of caution to those folks who argue that biofuels can seamlessly replace fossil fuels at current rates of consumption.
The Guardian reports that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is pushing G8 leaders to address the issue at this summer’s G8 summit in Japan.

Seattle Proposes Bag Tax

In an effort to reduce litter and perhaps raise revenue for for green initiatives, Seattle’s mayor, Greg Nickles, is proposing that retail stores charge $0.20 fee for each bag given to consumers after they make their purchase.

This marks the first time in the US that a municipality is proposing to tax all bags–the Palo Alto Daily News recently reported that a handful of Western cities have banned plastic bags, but never has there been a tax on ALL bags.

There have been some privately-run experiments.  In Northern Ireland, the UK chain Marks and Spencer piloted a 5 pence bag fee project and found that there was a 70% reduction in usage as more consumers brought their own reuseable bags.

Carbon Offsets–Scam?

The Independent has a good story questioning the efficacy of carbon offsets and the entrepreneurs offering them.  

Many independent companies have popped up to provide guilt-ridden western consumers the ability to offset the carbon produced by their automobiles, plane trips, etc… by financing afforestation programs.  The problem, of course, is that it does little to decrease actual emissions in the short term while offering people a false sense of security that problems associated with climate change can be easily addressed. 

Gentrification Taken to Another Level

The Onion has detected the new threat to Chicago’s gentrifying neighborhoods: yuppies being displaced by aristocrats!

A choice quotation:

“A three-block section of [Chicago neighborhood] Wicker Park that once accommodated eight families, two vintage clothing stores, a French cleaners, and a gourmet bakery has been completely razed to make way for a private livery stable and carriage house,” Kennedy said. “The space is now entirely unusable for affordable upper-income condominium housing. No one can live there except for the odd stable boy or footman who gets permission to sleep in the hayloft.”

(via RBC)