Tag: United States

Fossil of the Day Awards, 14 December 2009

First Place – United States

The US won its first fossil of the COP yesterday for two reasons: first, for making absolutely no commitment on long-term financing for developing countries to cope with the impacts of climate change and toreduce their own emissions even further. Second, because the US – far and away the biggest cumulative emitter of global warming pollution in world history – has among the weakest mid-term emission targets of any major developed country, a laughable 4% below 1990 levels by 2020. Will US negotiators ignore the interests of their own children and the poorest nations on the planet? Or will they bring the US into the community of nations, rich and poor alike, rising to the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced? US, all eyes on you: is it Hopenhagen or Brokenhagen?

Second Place – The EU

The EU won second-place fossil dishonours for failing to address a gaping loophole that undermines its targets: hot air and forest management. Allowing full carry-over past 2012 of Europe’s hot air, that is, targets based on 1990 levels that in fact allow huge increases in emissions could allow 11 gigatonnes of carbon emissions. Europe’s flagging credibility as a climate leader could crumble completely if this hot air loophole is not closed — and all of the EU member states are responsible.

Third Place – Canada and Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and Canada received the third place fossil for their respective last and second-last place finish in the Climate Change Performance Index released yesterday by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe. The Index evaluates 57 industrial and developing countries which release 90% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Saudi Arabia’s record speaks for itself. Canada only finished second-last because Saudi Arabia received a zero rating for its climate policy! Canada is in the world’s top ten emitters, has one of the world’s highest per capita rates of emissions at 23 tonnes per person, and is 34% above its Kyoto target (which is just a modest 6% cut from 1990). Simply put: on climate change, Canada has performance issues.

City preps and countries posture ahead of Copenhagen talks

As Copenhagen prepares for December, a strange combination of Christmas lights, clean energy expos, evergreen wreaths, and security barriers have begun to crop up around the city.  It's an exciting time to be in Copenhagen reflecting on a year of intense pressure, activity, and engagement around the world.

Over the past several months (and years), a growing movement has coalesced around the conference here next month and it's hard to believe it's finally almost here.  In June, the sleepy German town of Bonn saw hundreds of activists descend in the rain upon the normally quiet Subsidiary Bodies negotiations at the UNFCCC's home.  Thousands around the world participated in the September 21 Global Wakeup Call.  Then in Bangkok in October thousands marched outside the UNESCAP building calling for climate action.  October 24th saw the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet's history, spearheaded by 350.org, with over 5000 even in 181 countries around the world.

And now, rumors of tens of thousands are looming on Copenhagen, including, by my count so far, at least 15 Heads of State who have committed to attending the talks (although Yvo de Boer said in Barcelona that he expects at least 40).

The last time I wrote, it was a dark and gloomy day in Copenhagen.  But today was beautiful - the sun was out, the weather warm, and the bustle on the street was electric.

The last time I wrote, I was convincing myself, and others, that all was not lost for December.  Now, on this bright and sunny day, I'm as convinced as ever that world leaders can achieve an ambitious outcome in Copenhagen if they try.

Even in the past week, we've seen movement around the world.  The Alliance of Small Island states continue to raise its collective voice of conscience against a weak outcome in Copenhagen.  We've heard that the Chinese would be willing to bring a number to the table in Copenhagen.  We've seen South Korea confirm a voluntary emissions reduction target of 30 percent below business as usual by 2020.  The European Union has said that it would like a binding agreement in Copenhagen.  France and Brazil came out with a "climate bible" - an agreement between two nations to work together on climate change.  This follows Brazil's previous announcement of voluntary emissions cuts of 36-39% by 2020 below business as usual in a "political gesture" some weeks ago.

Even the Danish government, which had caused so many hearts to sink with its proposal of a "politically binding" outcome in Copenhagen, seemed to change its tune...if only just a bit.  The Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, Connie Hedegaard (who will chair the negotiations in December), spoke in a press briefing at the close of the preparatory meeting last week, assuring the world that her aim is a legally binding outcome from the negotiations.

Finally, eyes continue to focus on the US.  In the joint announcement between the US and China, President Obama indicated his team could bring further commitments to the table in Copenhagen.  As Copenhagen creeps towards December, the question remains, will Obama come to Copenhagen?...and if so, will he come bearing gifts or a lump of coal?

Rumors of Copenhagen's demise have been greatly exaggerated

Originally posted on Grist.org on 16 November

Waking up on a dreary Sunday morning this weekend in Copenhagen (where I've recently moved to prepare for the upcoming climate talks in December), I was met with a barrage of headlines, mostly from U.S. media, telling me that Copenhagen is doomed to total failure and I might as well head off to Mexico City where next year's summit will be held. The New York Times cried out: World Leaders Agree to Delay a Deal on Climate Change. The Washington Post bellowed: Copenhagen talks unlikely to yield climate accord, leaders told. Not the best way to start a Sunday morning.

Is Copenhagen really over before it begins? Had I moved to this dark, rainy (but beautiful!) city for no reason? Should we all just pack it up and hope that political declarations will solve it all?

The answer, thankfully, quickly became a resounding "no." As Grist's own David Roberts is often the first to point out, the mainstream media clearly got it wrong. There's still hope -- a lot of it, at that.

Let's start with those headlines. Who are these "world leaders" who agreed to delay? Well, the plural may be accurate, but just barely.

In the 48 hours since initial reports, as Ministers and other government representatives have trickled into Copenhagen for the "pre-COP" preparatory meeting, it's become clear that while the media reported that all 19 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) leaders were in agreement on the so-called "one agreement, two steps" approach, that's not at all the case.

The real story occurred at a hastily arranged APEC breakfast. Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen made a last-minute visit and surprised the room with a speech that was only vetted by a few of the so-called "leaders." One can only imagine a room full of bleary-eyed Heads of State sitting around a big table sipping their coffee and politely nodding at Rasmussen's climate change speech without really understanding how their nods would be translated by the media.

Rasmussen began his speech by saying:

...I would like to share with you how I believe a Copenhagen Agreement could be constructed to serve the dual purpose of providing for continued negotiations on a legal agreement and for immediate action...

And later towards the end of the speech he says:

Some of you might have wished for a different format or for a different legal structure. Still, I believe you will agree with me on one fundamental point: What matters at the end of the day is the ability of the Copenhagen Agreement to capture and reinforce global commitment to real actions.

Doesn't sound like consensus to me; it sounds like a man trying to convince an audience to go along with him. It's not entirely clear who actually did agree with the Prime Minister, but what is clear is that there is nowhere near consensus on such a delay approach; in fact, dozens of countries oppose it and are still wishing--and fighting--for more.

Now, what about the actual plan itself -- the "one agreement, two steps" plan? Two steps to an agreement doesn't sounds so bad, right?

As NRDC's Jake Schmidt wrote, the strategy might not be so bad if you actually thought that the second step would ever be taken. Unfortunately, what Rasmussen has put forward is a cynical approach. It's becoming clear that all he cares about is getting a "positive" result in Copenhagen, and that the second step could just be for show.

If you look closely at Rasmussen's APEC breakfast speech, there's very little incentive to actually finish the job in 2010 (as in, to take the "second step"). Rasmussen explains his vision thusly:

The Copenhagen Agreement should capture progress already achieved in the negotiations and at the same time provide for immediate action already from next year.

The Copenhagen Agreement should be political by nature, yet precise on specific commitments and binding on countries committing to reach certain targets and to undertake certain actions or provide agreed finance.

The Copenhagen Agreement should be global, comprehensive and substantial, yet flexible enough to accommodate countries with very different national circumstances.

The Copenhagen Agreement should finally mandate continued legal negotiations and set a deadline for their conclusion.

Why would any developed country with high emissions want to go back to the table and flesh out a legally binding deal after the pressure of Copenhagen has passed and there is no real obligation to do so? Despite his lip service to "continued legal negotiations", there's no clarity nor firm deadline. Rasmussen's invention of "politically binding"--a term no one seems willing or able to define--is also repeated here.

Furthermore, there is only a passing mention of the Kyoto Protocol later in the speech. Despite what some would have you think, however, the Kyoto Protocol does not expire in 2012. In fact, in 2005, the parties to the Kyoto Protocol agreed to negotiate a second commitment period (2013-2017) and further committed in Bali in 2007 to reaching a conclusion on what that second commitment period would look like. In Rasmussen's vision, this goal seems to disappear in favor of a "politically binding" outcome.

Indeed, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper--one of the leading climate negotiation blockers now that George W. Bush is out of the picture--has been positively beaming in the press about this announcement. Not a sign of a positive development.

Luckily, there's still time to push for more. The Alliance of Small Island States, the African Group of nations, and other vulnerable and least developed countries will surely be pushing back on this plan during the prep meetings in Copenhagen this week. In fact, 11 Pacific Island States already have. Some European nations are also likely to stand up to this plan.

The planet and its people need a fair, ambitious, and binding outcome from this process. Countries should be working on such a document in Copenhagen and they can and should finish it there. After all, it's what they committed to in Bali just two years ago.

Baby Steps on Finance

The US proposal on financial architecture has received considerable interest over the last few days, and with good reason. It is an interesting mix of new and old, good and bad, promising and perverse.

ECO can see movement in two respects.

First, after consistently resisting calls for a new institution, the US has now endorsed the creation of a new fund.

Second, as Article 11 requires, the US has agreed that the fund should be under the guidance of and accountable to the COP; that the COP should determine its policies and priorities; and that it should have balanced and equitable representation of all Parties.

The more cynical among ECO readers may wonder whether restating the provisions of the Convention really counts as progress. But we will take movement wherever we can find it. After all, in the quest for a useful negotiating text, we could do a lot worse than the Convention itself.

It now appears that we have a broader basis for agreement on parts of some critical issues of financial architecture and
governance (we are assuming, of course, that the silence of some other umbrella Parties and the EU can be taken as assent). And it would appear that the US has heard the concerns of developing countries regarding simpler administrative procedures and, perhaps, on direct access to financing.

The proposal may also provide a basis for a deal on another contentious issue – the use of existing institutions. Many Parties have expressed their bitter experience and deep frustration with the procedures and governance of multilateral development banks. And while ECO is not a Party, we cannot see giving a policy-making role to an institution like the World Bank. Its own senior sustainable development economist recently called the Bank’s continued support for coal a moral imperative. Another contentious issue is a reaffirmation and expansion of the role of the GEF, which may provide additional fodder for developing countries to resist this proposal.

But we understand that the US may wish to use existing institutions only for fiduciary oversight and auditing functions, leaving the substantive work to the new mechanism and its technical panels. If this is indeed the US position, they should say so clearly. Nobody wants to see this money squandered, so the need for strong fiduciary oversight should attract broad support.

Unfortunately, the US proposal brings us no closer to agreement on a number of other key issues. All countries except LDCs will be expected to contribute, and there are no guarantees that the funds that are made available will be new and additional to existing ODA.  And assessed contributions are off the table. Instead, the fund is to be replenished on a voluntary basis. Periodic pledge parties, rather than a common understanding of historic responsibility and capacity, will determine contributions. This ECO is told will maximise contributions and provide predictability.

Other issues remain to be resolved. Key among these are the specific makeup of the board, how it will be appointed, and whether there will be separate thematic windows.  But for the US, these issues can be negotiated. The key point is that it provides sufficient fiduciary assurances that donors will put money into it.

Of course, fiduciary oversight is only an issue if there is actually money to safeguard. Now let us see some movement on scale. ECO has previously stated that US$150 billion of public financing is required to deal with climate change in developing countries.

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