Eco Digital Blog

Submitted by ECO Editor on Saturday, November 21, 2009 - 20:52

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, 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.

Submitted by ECO Editor on Saturday, November 21, 2009 - 15:23

Originally posted on 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.

Submitted by ECO Editor on Friday, November 6, 2009 - 08:14

Commenting on the shared vision the other day, a negotiator who also happens to be a university professor noted that he tells his students to not write their conclusions before finishing the content

Submitted by ECO Editor on Friday, November 6, 2009 - 08:09

ECO learned of a new type of urgent mail delivery system in the UNFCCC today.

The recipient? A negotiator who, while not expecting a visit from the post office certainly should have anticipated some kind of message as a result of his country’s positions.  And where was this  message service are we speaking of?  It was easily to identify thanks to a walking banner at the entrance of the FIRA centre.

This specialty message delivery was inaugurated Thursday with the first lucky recipient being the Saudi head of delegation. The authors of the inaugural message were many: NGOs from 18 different developing countries, as well as the international youth present in Barcelona.


The youth delivered their letter along with pictures of their co-authors in the 18 developing countries gathering in front of Saudi embassies yesterday. These peaceful protests urged Saudi Arabia to stop playing an obstructionist role in the current climate negotiations, and to support the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

ECO notifies heads of delegations that “banner mail” might welcome them on their way into the UNFCCC venue.  Keep your eyes open, and your positions ambitious, or else you will be the next lucky winner!

Submitted by ECO Editor on Friday, November 6, 2009 - 07:55

A spooky story for the last day of negotiations: Once upon a time, ECO recalls, a list of LULUCF principles was determined and included the following: "That the implementation of land use, land-use change and forestry activities contributes to the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of natural resources."

Yet today, under the rules for forests in developed countries, conversion of natural forests to plantations is not accounted.  Indeed, native forests and plantations are not even distinguished, making it impossible to directly track this important indicator of the impacts of LULUCF on biodiversity. The LULUCF principles have become wispy spirits haunting the forests of the North.

Today, forest conversion has become a bone of contention in the REDD discussions. ECO is glad to see that the safeguard against conversion of natural forests is back in the REDD text, although it is bracketed and vague. Inclusion of an improved version of this provision in the final Copenhagen agreement will be an important step towards banishing LULUCF spectres from REDD.

Submitted by ECO Editor on Friday, November 6, 2009 - 07:21

Thursday marked another unedifying exchange in the KP “numbers group.” Annex I parties were questioning their abilities to increase their targets. Also on the table were two very important architectural elements: the 1990 base year and the system of 5-year commitment periods.

Despite arguing rightly in the past that the cost of inaction is far higher than the cost of action, the EU’s first consideration in possibly moving beyond its strikingly inadequate -30% conditional target is the economy!

Rather than embracing rapid reductions as a means of avoiding climate impacts and its heavy economic consequences, the EU whinged that -30% was about all it could do, despite the reduction of emissions during the current recession easing the task.

The cost of achieving the -30% target is now estimated to be EURO 203 billion cheaper than the original 20% reduction was expected to be when first adopted, according to a Sandbag analysis, and there’s every reason to believe other countries can similarly increase the scale of effort for the same reason.

Submitted by ECO Editor on Friday, November 6, 2009 - 06:54

The Christmas season has come early for developed countries who have been invited to present their Christmas wish lists for forest management at Copenhagen.  It has been two years since LULUCF negotiators started debating how to account for forest management in the next commitment period, in particular what baseline to use.

The result is a total failure of leadership from developed countries.  They will be coming to Copenhagen with a baseline of their choosing using their favorite loopholes to make absolutely sure that the forest management sector is subject to no pressure to reduce emissions.

This is terrible news for the climate. For example, Parties can set their baseline to include increased emissions from this sector, or they could disappear into a Bermuda Triangle for emissions called the “band to zero.”   Under this approach countries can earn credits but would only earn debits after their entire forest sink was reduced to zero.  This would not at all reflect what the atmosphere sees and could allow countries to degrade their natural forests without incurring any penalty.

Submitted by ECO Editor on Friday, November 6, 2009 - 06:49

Two organizations highlighted at a mid-week press conference that focusing on the health effects of climate change puts a human face on the negotiations.

Josh Karliner (Health Care Without Harm) and Genon Jensen (Health and Environment Alliance) presented Dr. Roberto Bertollini of the World Health Organization with a larger than life "Prescription for a Healthy Planet" endorsed by dozens of major international health organizations.  Among those supporting the diagnosis of a planet increasingly presenting the symptoms of a sick climate are the International Council of Nurses, representing nursing associations in 128 countries, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, and the Standing Committee of European Doctors, which brings together 27 national medical associations in countries.  When filled, the prescription will help negotiators strike a deal for a strong and legally binding agreement in Copenhagen.

Public health professionals are focusing on how extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods affect their patients and their work in poor and rich countries alike. Earlier this year, the Global Humanitarian Forum noted that increasingly severe heat waves, floods, storms and forest fires could push the annual death toll to 500,000 by 2030.  Research in Europe shows that heat waves increase death rates, especially among older people and those with breathing problems.

Submitted by ECO Editor on Friday, November 6, 2009 - 05:15

So let us make sure we understand this correctly: the African Group, AOSIS, the G77, the EU, the UN and even the Umbrella Group want a legally binding instrument.

So where’s the problem?

It's true the acoustics are bad in the FIRA conference center, but ECO is quite sure it heard everybody saying that they want a legally binding instrument to be adopted in Copenhagen.  And yet, most of them are saying it can’t be done because “there isn’t enough time.”

Whatever happened to “where there’s a will, there a way”?

It is true that the delay in the US Senate provides the perfect excuse for those who say they want a deal but are really only stalling for more time. But more time do to what exactly? More time to allow emissions in both Annex I and  non-Annex I to grow even higher; more time to continue building inefficient cars and buildings; more coal plants; more deforestation.
So many climate disruptive activities, so little time (or is it too much time) . . . one has to admit this “time factor” has gotten us all confused.

Submitted by ECO Editor on Friday, November 6, 2009 - 05:11

Never waste a good crisis, runs the adage. On Wednesday, the (IIASA) presented a new report outlining Annex I mitigation costs and potentials based on the effects of the economic crisis. The report uses post-crisis GDP projections based on the IEA’s 2009 world energy outlook.

Here are the headlines
•    In 2020 Annex I emissions are 6% below 1990 levels in the reference scenario.
•    The cost of implementing the most ambitious Annex 1 pledges would be  -0.03% to 0.01% of GDP.
•    The carbon price settles at EURO 3 per tonne.
•    An extra 10% reduction could be achieved at the same equilibrium carbon price (-27% instead of -17% from 1990).
•    Some country targets are well above their emissions in the reference scenario, which could create a new surplus of emissions rights.

In other words, it is now much easier to achieve the emission targets we need. The world is demand investments in the infrastructure of the 21st century – renewable energy, smart grids and mass transport. The economic transformation we need could become a job-generator for economies blacking out with systemic unemployment. And we can save our climate, which is set on a course to disaster.  So the economic crisis also turns out to be an opportunity, but this means making a choice.