After a controversial draft of a climate treaty was leaked from the host Danish government earlier this week, questions were raised about Danish leadership (host nations usually play a crucial role in the talks, i.e., Japan in 1997 at COP3 Kyoto) and the strength of a final Copenhagen treaty. Because the Danish draft allows much higher per capita emissions up to 2050 than previous drafts, and because it gives the UN a lesser role in climate financing for poorer nations, developing nations reacted harshly to the leaked draft, including staging impromptu protests in Copenhagen.

Today, though, the Los Angeles Times reports that major developing nations actually helped craft the same draft they're protesting:

Developing countries including China, India, Brazil, Algeria, Ethiopia and Bangladesh had "input into the process and product" of the proposed agreement, the source [with "deep knowledge of the negotiations"] said.

Representatives of those nations knew about the agreement's most controversial provisions, including commitments for greenhouse gas reductions by developing countries and a reduced role for the United Nations in climate policy, well before the summit began. It was unclear if everyone in the room agreed to every provision.

As many have pointed out, the Danish draft was largely perceived as developed countries applying some pressure on their poorer counterparts as part of the negotiation process. "The rich countries are demanding something in return for the dollars they are promising to spend," the Financial Times' Fiona Harvey recently wrote, "rather than doing what some developing countries and many NGOs demand, which is to give that money for free as 'reparations' for the damage they have already done to the climate." But if several major developing countries had a hand in the Danish text, then perhaps that's evidence of some early agreement bridging the developed-developing chasm—which, if you remember, pretty much sunk the Kyoto Protocol from a US perspective—on what language could make it into a final, necessary treaty.

Senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham are holding a press call right now to discuss their tri-partisan effort to build support for a Senate climate bill. During the call, which AP_ClimatePool is live tweeting, the senators said that the bill will include incentives for building nuclear power plants. As Mariah Blake reports for the upcoming issue of Mother Jones, what the nuclear industry really wants is for the federal government to underwrite new construction of new reactors that Wall Street has deemed too financially risky. (And when Wall Street thinks an investment is too risky, that should make you very nervous.) Now, it looks like the industry may just get its wish: According to AP's feed, one of the senators just said that a bill must include generous government loan guarantees for nuclear plants in order to secure GOP backing. In other words: the price of getting 60 votes for a climate bill could be a major taxpayer bailout of the nuclear industry. Follow the call here and stay tuned for more updates on Senate climate bill. 

If work goes according to plan, 338 new wind turbines will be producing 845 MW of electricity in north-central Oregon by 2012 -- making the "Shepherds Flat” wind farm the largest such power plant in the United States.

This is the first time General Electric's 2.5xl turbines will be used in the US, but 100 of the large turbines (each of the three rotor blades are 100 meters long — about 330 feet) have already logged over a million hours of energy production in Europe and Asia. The wind farm will be owned by New York-based Caithness Energy with the power generated supplying electricity to Southern California Energy customers.

 

 

The last major El Niño event occurred in 1997-98 and it produced a big temporary spike in global temperatures.  This has given climate deniers like George Will a field day: if 1998 was hotter than 2008, global warming must be a hoax!  This is ridiculous, of course: El Niño events happen every five years or so (the 2004 El Niño was a smallish one) and choosing one of those years as your baseline for temperature activity is like choosing 2000 as a baseline for dotcom activity.

Well, El Niño is back, and this year's version looks like it's going to be at least a moderate strength occurrence lasting through next summer.  This means that temperatures are likely to spike over the next 12-18 months, and that in turn means that even with the sun in a deep solar minimum, next year might set a new warming record:

The current El Nino is forecast to get stronger, probably pushing global temperatures even higher next year, scientists say. NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt predicts 2010 may break a record, so a cooling trend "will be never talked about again."

Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking.  If 2010 really is hotter than 1998, I suspect that deniers will suddenly discover the virtue of not relying on a single year that's strongly affected by decadal oscillations.  They're clever that way.

About a week before President Obama is scheduled to attend the climate conference in Copenhagen, he's already making some discouraging statements about climate change mitigation strategies. The Guardian reports that after receiving his Nobel Peace Price this morning, Obama said that avoided deforestation projects, like the ones proposed in Brazil and Norway, are "probably the most cost-effective way for us to address the issue of climate change—having an effective set of mechanisms in place to avoid further deforestation and hopefully to plant new trees."

He's right that avoided deforestation is cost-effective. It allows developed countries to opt out of emissions restrictions and developing nations to collect subsidies while protecting their abundant natural resources. But Obama needs to read more Mother Jones. In our current issue, Mark Schapiro reports from a 50,000-acre reserve in Brazil's Atlantic rainforest that has been protected on behalf of three of America's largest carbon emitters: General Motors, Chevron and American Electric Power. This preservation project comes with an unintended cost, displacing the indigenous population that has lived off the land for generations. In many cases, small farmers are being arrested for cutting down a tree for construction or firewood so that American companies can dodge emissions restrictions. 

The Guardian says that the carbon sink plan, dubbed Reduced Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), is critical for Brazil because its deforestation is responsible for a large portion of the world's forest emissions and "it has the largest swath of trees in the world and therefore stands to make more money than anyone else by protecting them." That's true, Brazil and American corporations have a lot to gain from avoided deforestation; they can essentially say they will cut down the rainforests unless they're paid not to. So let's hope they don't take the world hostage just to make a buck. 

Getting to Yes

David Frum, who has been estranged from the hard-right wing of the Republican Party for a while, explains what their "Party of No" strategy has produced:

1) Instead of a healthcare reform to slow cost increases, Democrats in the Senate seem to be converging upon an expansion of Medicare to include age 55-64 year-olds....Republicans could have been architects of improvement, instead we made ourselves impotent spectators as things get radically worse. Plus — the bad new Democratic proposal will likely be less unpopular with voters than their more promising earlier proposal. Nice work everybody.

2) House and Senate conferees last night rejected a proposal to deny EPA funds to enforce its new powers over greenhouse gasses. So instead of an economically rational approach to carbon abatement — a carbon tax or even a cap-and-trade system stripped of the abuses and boondoggles attached to it by House Democrats — we’re going to have the least rational approach: bureaucratic enforcement.

The furious rejectionist frenzy of the past 12 months is exacting a terrible price upon Republicans. We’re getting worse and less conservative results out of Washington than we could have negotiated, if we had negotiated.

Roughly speaking, I think Frum is right.  The Republican strategy is high-risk/high-reward.  If it works, then no legislation is passed and they get everything they wanted.  But if it doesn't, they get a far worse deal than they could have gotten if they'd bargained.

But I'd a few caveats to Frum's specifics.  First, the healthcare bill could have been improved only if Republicans had proposed serious cost-control ideas within the basic Democratic framework.  After all, Democrats won the election, and the very least they expect is to be able to dictate the basic framework.  But it's not clear to me that Republicans even have any ideas along those lines.  It's possible that they could have bargained for, say, some tort reform concessions, but how else would they have cut costs?  There's no one in the GOP seriously in favor of sticking it even harder to doctors, insurance companies, Big Pharma, or the elderly.  So what would they have proposed?  Their pet ideas (HSAs, gutting state regulations, etc.) don't really fit within the Democratic framework, and to be honest, their support for these ideas has always been so ephemeral and opportunistic that I'm not sure they care about them very much anyway.  It's hard to believe that they genuinely believe in any of this stuff enough to bargain their votes away for it.

The EPA endangerment ruling is a different kettle of fish.  My sense is that the Obama administration has no real desire to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases.  The reason they've moved ahead quickly on the endangerment finding isn't because they really want to implement it, but precisely because they think it's a good stick to get some Republican support.  The message is: you might not like cap-and-trade, but if you scuttle it you're going to get something worse.  So why not work with us?

So far, then, conservatives haven't really lost anything on this front.  They're just being confronted with some hardball politics.  As with healthcare reform, though, I wonder what Republicans have to offer.  It's true that cap-and-trade was originally a conservative idea that was largely adopted by liberals after it proved itself in the case of acid rain, which means that theoretically Republicans ought to be able to support it.  But the "boondoggles" that have been attached to it haven't really been ideological.  They've been cave-ins to corporate and regional interest groups.  What are the odds that Republicans would help resist that kind of pressure?

Still, Frum does have a point: Democrats are genuinely anxious to have a few more votes for both the healthcare bill and the climate bill, and I'm pretty sure they'd be willing to bargain away a fair amount in exchange for a vote.  So I'm curious: within the basic Democratic framework of these two bills, what kind of deals does Frum think Republicans could plausibly make that would be worth trading their vote for?  This is a real, not a rhetorical or snarky, question.  Given the current state of the conservatism,1 it's hard to see what they'd be.

1Which, admittedly, is Frum's whole point.  There are no deals to be made until conservatives start getting serious about governance again.

Capitalism, corporate lobbying, and consumptive culture are killing the planet—and the only acceptable solution is a radical overhaul of the global political and economic system, say delegates at a climate summit in Copenhagen this week. Not the climate summit, where negotiators are painstakingly haggling over a modest deal that may or may not slow the pace of global warming. This clarion call is what a climate agreement might sound like if matters were decided by Klimaforum, otherwise known as the "people's climate summit."

Headquartered in an old slaughterhouse in Copenhagen's red light district, near shops named "Sex Porn" and "Non-stop Sex Show," this shadow conference takes a very different approach to solving the problem of global warming than the one being pursued by the official United Nations meeting. Participants hail from the leftward end of the activist spectrum (although they shouldn't be confused with the even leftier group planning to disrupt the UN summit on December 11, whose equipment was confiscated by the police yesterday, or yet another group of protesters planning an action on the 16th). When I arrived for the afternoon plenary on Wednesday, a guy was on stage strumming a guitar. Hemp-fiber clothing appeared to be the negotiating attire of choice. "All the signs are that the governments, the leaders of the world, are going to betray the people of the world and every living thing," said British climate activist Jonathan Neale of the Campaign Against Climate Change. "We have to mobilize a mass movement that is going to make the governments of the world act."

While it's a much lower-profile enterprise than the COP15 summit, Klimaforum received $1.6 million in funding from the Danish government, and expects 7,000 attendees representing 95 countries, according to Safania Eriksen, head of activities and logistics for the event. One of its goals is to draft a "people's declaration" which will be sent over to the official negotiations next week. "There is so much lobbying from the transnational corporations. Many, many different economic interests are involved in the negotiations at the Bella Center. The decision making is really not democratic," said Kirsten Gamst-Nielsen, a member of the Klimaforum board. " We represent the grassroots."

I sat in on the consensus process for drafting this declaration. There were some welcome improvements over the official summit. Negotiations at the UN meeting occurs behind closed doors—hence the controversy over the leaked Danish text earlier this week—but at the alternative forum it takes place in the open. Participants lined up to suggest changes to a draft statement—their suggestions included requests to endorse a world-wide carbon tax and to acknowledge the specific impact of climate change on women, people of color, and indigenous communities.

But in one very striking way, the people's forum was a lot like the official forum—which is to say there was plenty of disagreement. In the same way that industrialized nations and emerging economies are duking it out at the United Nations talks, at Klimaforum there's a visible divide between what you might call the hippies and the hard-liners. 

After following the sausage-tastic construction of healthcare reform over the past year, no one should be surprised to learn that financial regulatory reform is likely to be even harder to get right.  After all, the finance lobby is bigger and more pervasive than the medical lobby.  What's more, they benefit from the fact that they frequently lobby for things so arcane that no one really understands them.

Take derivatives.  (Please.)  One of the key changes that reformers want to see is a regulation that requires credit derivatives to be traded on an exchange, just like stocks and pork belly futures.  It wouldn't solve all the world's problems, but it would add a layer of transparency to the derivatives market that would help regulators keep a better handle on brewing problems.

Barney Frank agrees, and so the House bill includes a section that requires credit derivatives to be traded on an exchange.  Except there's an exception for "end users" who want to buy things like currency hedges as part of their day-to-day business, not as a financial speculation.  That's basically fine.  But the exception was worded in a way that would allow pretty much anyone to claim they were an end user doing real hedges, not speculation.  So after a big fight the wording was changed.  Hooray!

But as Nick Baumann reported the other day, the Project on Government Oversight says that a subsequent amendment may gut the rule yet again.  It allows derivatives to be traded on either an exchange or a "swap execution facility."  Mike Konczal explains further:

First the definition of a swap execution facility has been expanded to include “a person” (different from the “or entity”). It’s also expanded to an “or trading” definition, and includes voice brokerage firms....This could, quite simply, be a telephone over which two people trade a derivative (with one person declaring himself to be the exchange?).

....[Another sentence] allows an intermediary to execute a swap, ignoring the section 2(k) which is the meat of the reform, as long as the swap is recorded somewhere. Now we already have, from above, that a swap execution facility can be something other than the exchange. This is a rule that guts the regulation right out the door, and for no apparent benefit to reform. Many of these alternative swap facilities will be owned by the banks, so it won’t necessarily force the price transparency that has been promised. To trust regulators to simply do the right thing is naive at best when the ability to follow fixed rules is available.

Obama in Oslo

Ross Douthat thinks that Barack Obama threaded the needle pretty decently in his Nobel acceptance speech today:

He didn’t give the address that American neoconservatives would have written for him, obviously, but pieces of that speech showed up — the defense of the war in Afghanistan and the idea of just war in general; the Bush-ian, “make no mistake, evil does exist in the world” line; the insistence that “the United States has helped to underwrite global security for sixty years, with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.” He didn’t give a Gandhian ode to nonviolence, or an activist’s paean to human rights, but those threads were woven in as well.

He talked up international institutions, promised action against climate change, and took credit for ordering the closing of Guantanamo (one of the few applause lines, inevitably), but at the same time he praised the use of force for humanitarian purposes, and reserved the right to act unilaterally in America’s interests. He defended diplomatic outreach to Iran, called on the world to put pressure on Iran’s nuclear program, and promised that the world would stand behind Iran’s protestors — and he made it all run smoothly together, in rhetoric if not in reality. And he managed to co-opt everyone from M.L.K. to J.F.K. to Nixon to John Paul II and Reagan along the way.

I didn't listen to the speech, but I've read it and I mostly agree.  (Here's a transcript.)  Frankly, though, I really don't think neocons have much to complain about even if Obama didn't use the opportunity to announce construction of a new generation of nuclear missiles or something.  Given that he was, after all, accepting a peace prize, it was a surprisingly robust defense of war and America's military role in the world.  Surprisingly Bushian, really, with one obvious caveat: among the many wars he mentioned as necessary and justified, there was one that was deliberately conspicuous by its absence: Iraq.  So neocons have that to gripe about if they're in a griping mood.  (And when are they not?)

One additional thing that struck me, though, was that the speech seemed pretty mechanical.  Like his West Point address.  It's possible that this is more an artifact of reading the transcript vs. hearing the speech, but it sounded to me a little too obviously like he was trying to thread a needle.  There wasn't any single place where I felt like he laid down a marker and really spoke about something he believed deeply in.  Dan Drezner made (I think) a related point: "Pick a paradigm, and you can find a sliver of the speech dedicated to its theoretical propositions."  But he also explained it: "Doesn't this imply that the speech was logically contradictory?--ed.  No, it implies that the world is a hell of a lot more complex than any of these theoretical approaches.  Alas, knowing when to apply each of these worldviews is more art than science."

And there's another parallel between Obama's West Point speech and this one: both times he told his audience (i.e., the one actually in the room with him) something they didn't want to hear.  At West Point he stressed that we have limited resources for war when those resources are desperately needed at home.  In Oslo he stressed that wars aren't going away and the United States is going to keep fighting them.  Is this a demonstration of bravery?  Or an indication that his real audience is always the one on TV?  Either way, I'd say it worked better this time than it did last week.