Blue Marble - 2009

China-US Climate Smackdown—Round Two

| Fri Dec. 11, 2009 3:01 PM EST

Earlier today I posted about a war of words between US climate envoy Todd Stern and Chinese vice foreign minister, He Yafei, over climate change funding. Stern has previously said that the US will provide money to help developing countries cope with climate change, but doesn't see public money going to China. At a press briefing on Friday, He Yafei retorted that these remarks suggested Stern "lacks common sense" or is "extremely irresponsible." Ninety minutes later Stern took the same chair in the briefing room and was quickly asked about He's comments. Stern played it cool: "I think that the coments were a bit unfortunate. I know He Yafei and have enormous respect for him." Stern added, "I don't have any particular comment." But he held his ground: "I don't have any different view than the one I expressed" on international funding and the Kyoto Protocol. As for bridging the significant differences at the summit over how to assign emissions-reducing commitments to the developed nations (the historic emitters) and the major developing countries (the big emitters of the near-future), Stern said, "I think we can get there with China."

 

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Watch: Indigenous People Protest in Copenhagen

Fri Dec. 11, 2009 2:56 PM EST

The Indigenous Environmental Network protested outside the US Embassy in Copenhagen to shame the US government for approving contracts that use tribal lands, such as tar sands, coal, and gas leases.

This video was produced by The Uptake as part of the Copenhagen News Collaborative, a cooperative project of several independent news organizations. Check out the constantly updated feed here. Mother Jones’ comprehensive Copenhagen coverage is here, and our special climate change package is here.

Climate Deal: Only A Little Warmer

| Fri Dec. 11, 2009 2:01 PM EST

A new draft proposal for a climate agreement was released on Friday, but negotiators don't seem to have made much progress in reaching consensus. US negotiators criticized the draft for not imposing emissions requirements on developing powerhouses like China and India, while delegations from nations most threatened by global warming rejected it as too weak.

This text calls for more significant cuts from industrialized nations, but lacks concrete goals for developing nations. US climate envoy Todd Stern called it "a constructive step." But, he continued, the draft "does not in any sense call on major developing countries to set forth their own steps." Without goals for rapidly developing countries, he said, "We do not believe that as it stands it can serve as the basis for real environmental results."

And though the draft lacks specific direction on emission targets for China, the Chinese delegates were still apprehensive about it. "I doubt the sincerity of developed countries in their commitment," said He Yafei, China's vice foreign minister, at a press conference on Friday.

The draft proposes that developed nations cut emissions by 25 to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. This target has received positive reviews from NGOs. But it is a far more ambitious goal than what the United States is expected to accept. The cap-and-trade bill passed by the House included a 17 percent cut below 2005 levels—which is only about 4 percent below 1990 levels. The Senate proposal and the Obama administration's offer at the summit are also in that range. The draft also calls for limiting warming to either 1.5 or 2.0 degrees Celsius (2.7 or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

While the new text eases tensions after an earlier, weaker draft provoked outrage from poorer nations, it's a long way from what the most vulnerable countries want.

But this latest draft is still just a road mark in the marathon process of writing a new climate agreement. Actually, it's probably better to think of it as a relay race. This week's talks have been conducted by negotiators; over the weekend, ministers will arrive and begin the next level of discussions. The real action won't take place until the end of next week, when the heads of state arrive.

A China-US Smackdown at Copenhagen?

| Fri Dec. 11, 2009 11:47 AM EST

Much of the conversation at the Copenhagen climate summit this week has focused on the two big gorillas of climate change: the United States and China. As I've noted, each country has been pressing the other to do more than they've been willing to do to address climate change, and each has been angling to be in a position to blame the other in case the talks fail. And on Friday, it got a little personal.
Two days earlier, US climate envoy Todd Stern, referring to the development of an international fund to help poor countries cope with climate change, said at a press conference, "I don't envision public funds—certainly not from the United States—going to China." Stern also dismissed the effort of some developing nations to push the United States to join the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set specific emissions reductions for industrialized nations—but not for major developing nations, such as China and India.
So when Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei held a press conference this afternoon, I asked for his response to Stern's remarks. He went ballistic—in diplomatic terms. He said of Stern, "I don't want to say that the gentleman is ignorant," but he added that Stern "lacks common sense" or is "extremely irresponsible." He noted that industrialized nations have a legal obligation to provide climate change funding to developing nations. But he did not say whether China, a major economic power, expects to receive any of this money for its own efforts. Pressed by another reporter, He remarked that small island nations should be the priority for such assistance. But he was dodgy on the issue of China receiving assistance: "It doesn't mean China is asking for money." He also said that the $10 billion proposed by the United States for the next three years is not nearly enough. He suggested that developed countries should devote 0.5 to 1 percent of their GDP to this program. "I doubt the sincerity of developed countries in their commitment," he added.
After the press conference, I asked He if China would just come out and say that it didn't expect to get any money from the United States for climate change programs—especially given that China's position is that other developing nations are in greater need. And I added, a Chinese statement of that sort would help President Barack Obama at home, as he tries to sell both any agreement reached at Copenhagen and the pending climate change legislation in the Senate. He said China could not make such a declaration. "Funds should go from the developed nations to developing nations," he said. He smiled and continued: "I cannot renounce that principle." In other words, China is holding on to this bargaining chip.
With other reporters clamoring for He to expand or explain his comment about Stern, the Chinese official paused as he left the briefing room and said, "Mr. Stern is a friend of mine. What he said about the Kyoto Protocol and China not getting any funding from the United States is shocking. It goes against the principles we are talking about." And he would say no more. Surrounded by Chinese officials, he walked off, looking like a diplomat who believed he had just landed a blow.

Copenhagen's Split Personality

| Fri Dec. 11, 2009 10:21 AM EST

At the Copenhagen summit, there isn't a negotiating process to reach a climate pact. There are two. And that's a problem—perhaps big enough to pose a threat to the entire effort to reach an international deal. Here's why.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday December 11

| Fri Dec. 11, 2009 8:00 AM EST

El Nino: El Nino means 2010 will be hot, regardless of what climate deniers will tell you.

Moot Point: Climate deniers continue to insist warming's a hoax. Also, moon landing.

Ships Ahoy: Rising sea levels (16" by 2050) are threatening California ports. [Los Angeles Times]

Shifting Blame: Lieberman's partially right on public option cost-shifting, but still mostly wrong.

Unfit to Be Tied: New bill would outlaw physically restraining special needs students.

Waste of Space: With no national repository, more nuclear waste is stored stateside. [Star Tribune]

Climate Options: A treaty at Copenhagen might be less effective than direct political action.

Closing the Deal: Likely outcome for healthcare is weak public option, but it's better than none.

Backing Off: Dems aren't standing their ground on the public option.

Costly Credits: Carbon offset credit fraud has cost 5 million euros in lost tax revenue. [Planet Ark]

 

 

 

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India, China Helped Craft Leaked Draft

| Thu Dec. 10, 2009 6:44 PM EST

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.

Largest Wind Farm in the United States to be Built in Oregon

| Thu Dec. 10, 2009 4:57 PM EST

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.

 

 

Obama Endorses Problematic Avoided Deforestation

| Thu Dec. 10, 2009 3:40 PM EST

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. 

Meanwhile, At the Other Climate Summit...

| Thu Dec. 10, 2009 1:57 PM EST

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.