Brief Rundown of UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit

It is climate week in New York!  Before tomorrow’s opening of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon held a summit on climate change.

Given the slow progress thus far to meet the December deadline of putting together a global climate deal,  it was hoped that today’s meeting of leaders might breathe some life into the negotiations.

The entire proceedings are available via webcast from the UN.  I haven’t had a chance to watch them, but I did skim the prepared remarks from some of the global leaders.

For a nice pithy assessment of what is at stake, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,  Rajendra Pachauri’s remarks are useful.  He reminded leaders that the science tells us that doing nothing will result in a planetary temperature increase of somewhere between 1.1 & 6 degrees C, with a likely range between 1.8 & 4.   The G8 leaders agreed that warming should be limited to 2° C.  Because of the lagging nature of warming and emissions, this would require a peak level of emissions by 2015.

After Pachauri’s comments, various leaders took the podium, beginning with US President Barack Obama.  His speech was vague and not revelatory in terms of stating what sort of action the US was going to take to limit greenhouse gas emissions and how (and how much) rich countries will finance adaptation aid to poor countries bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.  It was pretty disappointing.  Being the largest per-capita emitter, the US needs to show some leadership in agreeing to binding emissions cuts and in financing its fair share of any adaptation fund.  Obama danced around the issues, offering no specifics about reductions targets.

Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed followed and didn’t mince his words.  He called for developed countries to reduce their emissions enough to quell warming at 1.5°C by accepting legally binding targets.  He also said that if developed countries accepted these ambitious targets, then developing countries would also be prepared to accept their own more modest targets if rich countries helped out with the financing.

Nasheed’s deal is sound–requiring appropriate binding emissions on the part of all countries.  Rich countries, however, have to show leadership and help poorer nations reach their own goals.

Rawandan President Paul Kagame had an interesting proposal: develop a global carbon emissions trading scheme based on per capita emissions.  Pick a safe cap–he suggested 2 metric tones of CO2E per year–and allow global trading.  Countries with low per-capita levels would receive flows of financing from high per capita countries that would allow the former to sustain forests and invest in renewable energy.  Kagame’s plan also seems more equitable since it uses per-capita numbers to evaluate which countries should reduce their emissions.

The new Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, reflected the seriousness with which his government is embarking on negotiations by getting precise about emissions targets–a reduction by 25% from 1990 levels.  Hatoyama also gave some detail on how he would like to see aid distributed–a major issue for developing countries skeptical of the demands of multilateral institutions.  He specifically called for financing to go through the “UN climate change regime”–as opposed to the World Bank, which may not have the same environmental goals.

Rounding out the session were speeches by Nicholas Sarkozy, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, and Hu Jintao of China.

In sum, it is not clear how this event will impact the negotiations.  There obviously will be back-door maneuvering this week in New York which may move things along.

Obama’s speech was a bit of a disappointment given the expectations that the US would change radically under the new administration.   Although these expectations have always been a bit overblown, it is surprising that US has maintained such a noncommittal position.  Obviously this may not bode well for real action in Copenhagen.

World Leaders to Copenhagen?

With the first meeting of global heads of state to discuss climate change being convened this week at the United Nations headquarters in New York, it is becoming imperative that aggressive high level leadership will be needed to get a global deal negotiated by the end of the year.

One way of moving forward in this regard is for world leaders to get personally involved in the negotiating process instead of deferring the job to underlings.  Thus, it is promising to note that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced that he will personally attend the UN Climate Change negotiations in Copenhagen.

It was also reported today that US President Barack Obama may go to Copenhagen as well.  His potential visit, however, will be in October to meet with the International Olympic Committee to support Chicago’s Olympic bid.

If Obama is more willing to engage personally for a sporting event instead of one of the most important global policy discussions of the twentieth century, itis not likely to be perceived as a positive step by climate delegates in Copenhagen.

Clean Water Act Ignored by Feds, States, and Polluters

The New York Times published a devastating article today on the erosion of enforcement of the Clean Water Act over the past few years.  The article discusses how pollution of water sources nationwide has increased while the federal EPA and many state agencies have done nothing to penalize violators.

Much of this has to do with the hostility to regulation that marked the Bush Administration’s ideology and the fact that state and federal administrators do not have the budgets needed to adequately insure compliance with water safety legislation.

The phenomena is prevalent throughout the country, but the article discusses an interesting example in West Virginia where coal mining operations essentially pump sludge and other byproducts of mining into aquifers, thus polluting the groundwater.

Another problematic source for polluting stems from pesticide and fertilizer runoff in the big agricultural states of the Midwest.

Problems with water safety are scandalously under-reported, so it is good to see the Times spending resources to compile information (they have also compiled a database of violations available on their website).

It also helps to show the integrated nature of environmental problems which needs to inform policy debates.  Coal not only is problematic from the standpoint of greenhouse gas emissions, but also can literally kill people through pollution of groundwater.   Assuming you can sequester CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants, the public health issues related to its mining still persist.   Furthermore, the fact that poor water quality stemming from industry’s indiscretions hurt people’s health should also be brought into current debates pertaining to health care and health insurance.  If water sources polluted by industry in particular locales results in higher negative health outcomes, don’t the polluters bear some responsibility for bearing the costs of health care for its victims?

Similarly, the article discusses agriculture as a problematic source of water pollution.  This stems from monoculture production of commodity crops such as corn, soybeans, etc…These crops need toxic enhancements to grow which, in turn, contaminate groundwater.

The irony here is that polluting monocrop agriculture is highly subsidized.  The products–such as corn–are converted into such products as animal feed or high fructose corn syrup which contribute to the high carbon footprint of agriculture and health problems such as obesity.

Thus, the system that produces dirty water also produces dirty air and bad public health in a myriad of ways.

It is good to see the current EPA administrator express concern about the current situation.  Remedying these systemic problems will likely take a lot of time and resources.

US Climate Envoy Briefs Congress

Yesterday Todd Stern, the US State Department’s Special Envoy on Climate Change addressed the House select committee on climate change.  I didn’t get a chance to watch the hearing, but a couple of interesting things came out according to media reports.

First, he reiterated the importance of having Congress pass a climate bill by the time that the UN convenes climate negotiations in December, saying that having a climate law immanent would give the US “credibility and leverage” in negotiations.

Of course, he was speaking to the wrong audience.  The House passed its version of a climate and energy bill in June and is now waiting on the Senate.  The Senate has delayed consideration of climate legislation with the battle over health care reform taking center stage in Congressional deliberations.  This has make Senators from a wide variety of backgrounds less than optimistic about passage of legislation.  Some key Senators–namely Kerry and Boxer–are not giving up the fight and expect initial legislation to be introduced this month.

Stern also made mention of the difficulties ahead of Copenhagen with regard to aid to developing countries to shift to low carbon economic growth.  This is a major issue in negotiations with large emitters like China insistent that significaant financial flows from North to South be included in any agreement.  For countries poorer than China, guaranteed aid to deal with adaptation as well as mitigation is essential.

Before Stern’s remarks the European Commission released a plan that assumed developing countries would need $145 billion annually  by 2020 in climate-related aid.  Stern made no definitive response to the European proposal and a document released today by the US Treasury Department in advance of a meeting of G-20 finance ministers calls for increased money but doesn’t provide specific committments.

The European proposal has been seen as a way to jump-start negotiations, but the US silence suggests the move may not have been entirely successful.

Obama is scheduled to give a major speech on climate at the UN meeting in New York later this month.  Perhaps at that juncture he will be  bit more forthcoming with the US position.

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.

Pro Squash in Chicago

Chicago is lucky enough this year to be the host of the US Open Squash Championship. It is one of the top pro tournaments in the country and is being held in a dramatic setting:  a glass court temporarily erected at Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River.

The US Squash Federation was probably hoping that having Chicago host this year’s tournament would both help squash get selected for the 2016 Olympics as well as provide evidence of the city’s ability to host top international sporting events in advance of its bid to host the 2016 games.

Unfortunately, the IOC decided not to include squash for 2016.  The decision on the host city will be made next month.

I’ll be attending the matches this weekend and will provide some posts on the matches.

Yesterday’s first round didn’t have any surprises.  Number two seed Amr Shabana handily defeated Canadian #1, Shahier Razik, while fifth seed, Englishman Adrian Grant, swept Saurav Ghosal in 3 games.  In the other bracket, last year’s Windy City Squash champion, Peter Barker, held off a spirited Gilly Lane.  In the most contentious match of the evening, British phenom James Willstrop gave up one game in his ultimate victory over Julian Illingsworth.

Today’s quarterfinals start at 5pm and include the following matchups:

Ramy Ashour (Egypt) vs Wael El Hindi (Egypt)
David Palmer (Aus) vs  Olli Tuominen (Finland)
Peter Barker (Eng) vs  James Willstrop (UK)
Amr Shabana (Egypt) vs Adrian Grant (UK)

India Projects Low Per-Capita Emissions Growth

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh released a report [.pdf] today that looks at five different projections for greenhouse gas emission growth in the country over the course of the next 23 years.  The report contends that India’s emissions are set to rise, but they will remain lower than the global per-capita emissions level.

The average from the five studies estimates that per-capita emissions in India will grow to 2.1 tons of CO2e by 2020 and 3.5 tons of CO2e by 2030.  This would put them well under the current global average of about 8 tons per-capita, but above the 2 ton number that economists such as Nicholas Stern have argued are necessary to ward off extensive climate damage.

The release of the report seems intended to fortify India’s position that it should not have to abide by binding emissions reduction targets in any global deal.   Its release came on the day that UK climate minister, Ed Miliband, was in India.  In an interview with the Guardian, Miliband embraced the idea that India should not be required to reduce emissions by 2020, although he apparently was less certain about longer term restrictions.

The specifics on timetables and binding reductions seem to be getting more difficult as the clock ticks down to the December negotiations in Copenhagen.


Historic Japanese Election Significant for Climate Agreement

The Democratic Party of Japan’s rout of the long-dominant Liberal Democrats in this weekend’s election could likely have significance for December’s UN-sponsored climate change talks in Copenhagen.

There are many fissures amongst the negotiating positions of the 190-odd countries involved in hashing out a post-Kyoto treaty to decrease global carbon emissions.  But one of the more significant has been the differences amongst developed countries.  The European Union has advocated for strong emissions reductions while the US has been less enthusiastic.  Countries such as Japan, Australia, and Canada have been in the middle, depending on which party was in party at a particular time.

After the 2007 Australian election, one of the first international gestures of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s new government was to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol at the COP-13 meeting in Bali, helping to pave the way for the Bali Road Map.

Could something similar happen with the new Japanese government of Yukio Hatoyama?  The DPJ campaigned on a climate platform that calls for a 25% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, placing them squarely in line with European targets.

Although in the past, the DPJ had called for instituting a carbon tax, during this election they dropped the demand and said that they would “consider” the idea.

It will be interesting to see how Hatoyama acts in the next few weeks on the climate issue.  He will be attending a UN summit on climate change in New York sponsored by Ban Ki Moon next month which will be his first appearance on the major global stage.   Many will expect him to be bold–particularly on emissions targets–since last month he met with Ban Ki Moon and unequivocally endorsed the 25% reduction.

On the other hand, the DJP election was less of an endorsement of the party’s policies as much as it was a rejection of the Liberal Party and their perceived mishandling of the economy.  Because of this, it is probably not realistic to expect radical domestic policy shifts on climate.  The DJP coalition has a variety of viewpoints and Japanese industry is already expressing concern about the 25% target.

Nevertheless, having Japan step away from the US position on climate is more promising for a Copenhagen agreement than would have otherwise been the case.