US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu was in China yesterday to discuss climate change with governmental officials. The New York Times reports that he raised the rhetoric somewhat in the persistent disagreement between the two countries on how the world should respond to climate change.
According to the Times, Chu emphasized that China and other developing nations could make the problem of climate change “much worse” with their emissions while acknowledging the West’s historical role. He also presented a set of powerpoint slides [.pdf] emphasizing all the problems that can befall China in the absence of any action on climate change
Chu was accompanied by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke who took a similar theme. In a speech to business leaders, Locke said: “Fifty years from now, we do not want the world to lay the blame for environmental catastrophe at the feet of China.”
China’s position is that their per-capita emissions are quite small, they have not emitted nearly as much historically as the West and that the persistence of “old” greenhouse gases is part of the current problem, and that the West is better equipped financially to make large reductions.
Thus, having Chu and Locke lecture the Chinese on their own emissions is unlikely going to be received well.
The two countries did agree on some partnership programs to increase efficiency and develop clean energy technology.
It’s difficult to speculate on the effect that these types of speeches will have on international negotiations, but more positive dialogue coming from US and China officials would make for a more optimistic outcome in Copenhagen later this year.
It should be noted that Chu told a group of reporters after meeting with Chinese officials that he feels optimistic about Copenhagen.
UK climate minister, Ed Miliband, released the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan today.
I haven’t had a chance to read it in its entirety, but the Guardian has a good rundown of its proposals.
The main goal is to reach a midterm (2020) target of a 34% reduction below 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Half of the reductions are to take place in the electricity sector, which will mean that 40% of power will be generated in a low-carbon fashion (which includes nuclear).
Other tools used to reach the goal will be to increase energy efficiency in buildings and strive to have at least 1.5 million households produce energy.
Also given significant focus is the transportation sector, which is scheduled to cut its emissions by 14% through various policies. One component that stuck me as interesting is a proposed $47 million competition for a “Sustainable Travel City” which would fund improvements in a British metropolitan area to serve as a national showpiece. Putting significant money behind a best-practices model could spur other cities to emulate successful low-carbon transport policies.
This type of mid-term commitment will give the UK influence at the Copenhagen talks later this year–particularly given the slow and relatively unambitious efforts going on in Washington. There is a lot that leaders in other developed countries can learn from this plan–particularly the US Senate as it deliberates over the American Clean Energy and Security Act.
Platts and Cleanskies are reporting that lead US climate change negotiator, Jonathan Pershing told a National Academy of Sciences panel yesterday that this year’s UN-sponsored climate talks are likely to be “inadequate.”
He said that they will not “fail,” but that more legwork will need to be done at next year’s UN meeting.
The context of Pershing’s remarks is not clear from the news reports, but any delay in forging a comprehensive global climate agreement will be not only expensive, but hazardous.
The Platts report did quote Pershing as saying a Congressional passage of the cap-and-trade bill will improve Copenhagen’s prospects, so perhaps he is trying to push Senate action. The Senate is scheduled to vote on their version of the House bill in September.
On a more positive note, Brazilian president Lula da Silva, expressed confidence yesterday that Copenhagen will produce an agreement.
A day after G-8 leaders signed a declaration saying that the developed countries of the world had an obligation to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050, the Canadian Environment Minister said that an 80% reduction would not be “practical” for his country.
Their 2050 commitment is a reduction between 60%-70% of 1990 levels.
With Bush off the scene, it appears that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is assuming the position of most recalcitrant world leader on climate change. This comes on the heels of his refusal to join a new international organization designed to promote renewable energy strateiges and cooperation worldwide.
A couple of years ago I published some research on a massive planned, retirement community located about 80 miles west of Orlando called “The Villages.”
I was interested in the question of suburban planning by private entities and the somewhat tenuous relationships between private developers, governmental officials, and residents.
One part of this nexus in Florida is a state-sanctioned giveaway to developers through the establishment of “Community Development Districts.” Technically, these CDDs are public governments–like a city–which can perform certain municipal services and raise financing through tax-free bonds. Developers seek to establish CDDs at the early stages of a community’s construction and use their municipal authority to raise money through bonds for infrastructure.
The bonds are serviceable over the long-term, making future homeowners liable for the debt. CDDs are liked by developers since they don’t have to outlay all of the initial infrastructure costs. Homeowners pay the costs through assessments after they buy the property from the developer.
One of the problems with the system is that it can be easily abused. During the early years debt obligations can be racked up while the CDD is controlled by the developer. In the case of The Villages, one of the things I pointed out was that the CDD paid significant sums of money for “improved properties” that were owned by the developer and that there was some criticism that the CDD paid well over the market rate.
The New York Times today has an article discussing an IRS investigation into this very issue. It is hard to get the actual legal angle from the article, but it appears that the IRS is saying that the CDD should have paid taxes on some bonds issued by a Villages CDD since the transaction was essentially benefiting the private developer.
I haven’t seen large studies of CDD financing, but I would guess that what was going on in The Villages is not unusual in other large developments in Florida. If the IRS wins this battle, it could have a significant impact on how developers use this fiancing scheme. Ironic, however, is the fact that any CDD found liable for back taxes is likely no longer controlled by the developer, but by the residents. Thus, the CDD would have to increase its assessments on current property owners to satisfy their liability!
The United States-led “Major Economies Forum” met today on the sidelines of the G-8 summit to discuss progress towards a global climate change deal scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. The Guardian has published a draft declaration from the meeting.
The major accomplishment was a recognition that average global temperature needs to be stabilized at 2 degrees centigrade by 2050. How the world is going to get there is still unresolved.
Particularly disappointing was the absence of an agreement on specific reduction targets to be met in the mid-term (by 2020). Major developed country emitters, the US, Canada and Japan have been unwilling to make any mid-term commitments, preferring to shift focus to 2050.
Developing countries–whose emissions levels are rising significantly–argue that the historic big emitters need to take steps immediately before they will agree to any of their own reduction targets.
This is one of the key issues to be worked out before a global deal can be reached. Unfortunately, there is little time. A more vigorous agreement would have pushed the UN negotiations forward. As it stands now, low-level negotiators will meet next month in Bonn to continue talks. In the autumn, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon is convening a meeting of world leaders prior to the opening of the General Assembly. If the stalemate between the US bloc and developing countries is not broken by then, the prospects for an effective agreement to come out of Copenhagen will begin to recede.
Via Jake Schmidt at NRDC, the declaration [.pdf] from the G-8 meeting has been released.
Significantly, the G-8 leaders (US, Canada, UK, France, Italy, Russia, Germany, Japan) agree that the global average temperature should not exceed 2° from pre-industrial levels and that there should be a 50% global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Furthermore, developed countries should reduce their emissions “in aggregate by 80% or more by 2050 compared to 1990 or more recent years.” The G8 countries also pledge to “undertake robust aggregate and individual mid-term reductions, taking into account that baselines may vary.”
On the one hand, it is good to see that a 2° warming limit should be achieved. However, without explicit mid-term (2020) reduction targets, it is unclear how exactly the world will get to that level. The science tells us that immediate action needs to be taken on reductions to stabilize the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and the economics tells us that it will be cheaper to take these actions in the near term.
The fact that there was such wiggle room in the base year for measuring reductions is troubling. The US and Japan have been obfuscating the extent of their commitment by using more recent years as their base–as opposed to the 1990 levels that are the base years for the Kyoto Protocol. Thus, the Waxman-Markey Bill promises a “17% reduction” in emissions by 2020 using 2005 as the base year. In reality, the reduction only gets the US to 4% of the 1990 levels–lower than our negotiated obligations under Kyoto.
Tomorrow the G-8 leaders will be joined by representatives of the “Major Economies”–most notably developing countries such as China, Mexico, India, and South Africa. As I posted earlier, these countries are not likely to embrace the current G-8 language without developed country mid-term targets.
The New York Times is reporting that the Major Economies leaders will not endorse a proposal that would commit developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels (presumably) by 2050 in an effort to have a global reduction of 50%.
It appears the sticking point is that developing countries–in particular, China–are pushing for strong mid-term (2020) targets, something that Japan, Canada, Russia and the US don’t appear able to embrace.
A final declaration on climate coming from the leaders should be issued tomorrow.
Last week the New York Times had an article on a relatively new trend in suburban housing. Instead of a housing subdivision displacing agricultural land, there are efforts throughout the United States to integrate small-scale agriculture into the planned residential environment.
These small farms are thought of by developers as a marketable amenity–much like the traditional golf courses or recreational areas used to provide added value to residential development. They tend to be organic farms and speak to the growing consumer interest in healthy food choices.
Here in the Chicago area, Prairie Crossing, is an early example of the genre. Calling itself a “conservation community,” the subdivision is about 10 years old and contains 350 single family homes and a smattering of condos. The neighborhoods are surrounded by a restored prairie ecosystem and the community has an organic farm on its outskirts which hosts a weekly farmer’s market and a CSA.
For me, the trend is interesting since it speaks to the emergence of a popular sensibility that embraces an environmental ethic. How these places integrate into larger economic and regional planning systems is another story. The New York Times article is not clear about the actual siting of these new farming subdivisions, but they are likely built on undeveloped land with little integration into regional networks of commuting and commerce.
Prairie Crossing is one of the few communities of this sort that has public transportation access–although the stations are not wholly integrated into the subdivision’s residential districts. Others likely contribute to exurban sprawl since the new residents will likely have to drive significant distances for work and shopping opportunities.
An organic farm as an amenity may be a better alternative than a golf course, but it won’t necessarily support sustainable metropolitan development in the absence of regional planning.
For more information on Prairie Crossing, take a look at the illustrated google maps mashup I put together last year:
The head of the UN climate change secretariat, Yvo de Boer, held a press conference yesterday to mark the halfway point of the Bonn talks. The meetings in Bonn are meant to make progress on a final global climate change agreement due to be signed in Copenhagen in December.
de Boer summed up the four points of “clarity” that he thinks are prerequisites for a final agreement:
Clarity on individual greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for industrialized countries
Clarity on what large developing countries (like China and India) will do to minimize the growth of their emissions
Clarity on financial support for developing countries on adaptation and mitigation
A governance structure for adaptation and mitigation aid that gives developing countries a voice in how money is spent.
It’s hard to disagree with de Boer’s analysis. At this point there is little clarity on any of these points, but perhaps as the week progresses some broad contours will be revealed.