Setting up a new global fund to help developing countries deal with climate change is among the key issues on the table in Cancun this week. In Copenhagen last year, developed countries agreed to provide $10 billion a year for three years to help developing countries cut their emissions and begin adapting to the changes that are already taking place in many parts of the world. The countries also pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 for a new global climate fund.

The Copenhagen deal called for those funds to be balanced between mitigation (seeking to limit the scope of climate change, for example by reducing emissions) and adaptation (finding ways to adjust to the effects). But the vast majority—80 percent—of the early funds are currently going to the former. Meanwhile, the potential costs of failure to address climate change are already adding up, with extreme storms, flooding, heat waves, and wildfires at record levels in 2010.

The Kyoto Protocol established an adaptation fund for projects to help countries adapt, though it has been relatively small (earlier this year it reported $53 million on hand). The new fund is expected to be much larger—$100 billion—though likely still nowhere commensurate to the need. The United Nations Development Program has estimated that the cost of adaptation alone could be between $86 and $109 billion annually as soon as 2015.

Farrukh Iqbal Khan currently chairs the adaptation fund, and is the lead negotiator for Pakistan in the Cancun talks. The plight of countries like Pakistan has become a vital topic in the talks, too—while not typically defined as among the most vulnerable, it has seen a number of climate impacts in the past year, setting a record for the highest temperature on record in Asia at 53.7 degrees Celsius (129 degrees Fahrenheit). Floods in July and August affected 20 percent of Pakistanis, killing 2,000 and causing an estimated $9.7 billion in damage. I caught up with Khan between negotiation sessions in Cancun.

Mother Jones: What's your read on the state of the talks?

Khan: The situation as of now is a bit precarious. We have still not been able to flesh out the key issues, which is mitigation and finance. There is still a lot of ground we need to cover. But still there is time. I think that's the sense that we're still willing to work, and we still find hope in the process.

CANCUN—Figuring out what to make of China is always a touchy subject in the context of a global climate negotiations. The standoff between the United States and China was the flash point in Copenhagen last year, with the final late night haggling session consumed by disagreement over the wording of the brief political agreement. Maybe it's the sunnier climes, or the significantly dialed-back expectations, but there seems to be some softening of relations between the two countries here this year.

On Monday, China seemed to indicate that it might be taking a different tack on crucial questions about how to formalize emission reduction commitments made in the Copenhagen Accord and set up an international system for reviewing whether countries are meeting those goals. But what the Chinese actually said is somewhat ambiguous. Here's what China's climate envoy told Reuters:

"We can create a resolution and that resolution can be binding on China," said Huang Huikang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's envoy for climate change talks.

"Under the (U.N. Climate) Convention, we can even have a legally binding decision. We can discuss the specific form. We can make our efforts a part of international efforts."

Some here hailed the remark as a "game-changer." But China's chief negotiator Xie Zenhua was somewhat more circumspect, repeating the country's previous statements that the developing countries still intends to make its emission reductions "voluntarily."

What exactly Xie means by "voluntarily" is unclear—as is whether China is willing to formalize the emissions-reduction commitment it made in last year's accord. Making the same commitment under the UN's Conference of the Parties (COP) protocol would represent a much more formal pledge than last year's political agreement.

"If they were wiling to put it in a COP decision, that would be a game-changer," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program athe World Resources Institute. "Up until this point they've been opposed."

"We are seeing much more flexibility in China's position," said Ailun Yang, a spokesperson for Greenpeace China. "This is probably the most flexibility we have seen from China coming out of Copenhagen. It is focusing more on what it can do instead of just busy responding from provocation from other countries."

US climate envoy Todd Stern was less charitable about what he interpreted from China's remarks, while expressing his "enormous respect and fondness" for Xie. "I don't see anything new in it," said Stern, arguing that a pledge on an "autonomous or voluntary basis … is exactly what happened last year. That's the Copenhagen Accord as far as I'm concerned."

The issue of transparency is still a key sticking point. Stern was somewhat more enthusiastic about new language on the subject released Tuesday (updated from text released over the weekend). "It's a step in the right direction," Stern said. "If we can keep moving a few steps, we might get there." The US envoy also had positive things to say about a proposal on the subject from the Indian delegation—which China has also said it is willing to work from.

One thing the US may have displayed some new flexibility on is the question of moving forward on other elements of a deal. The US positioning throughout the conference has been that America believes a "balanced package" requires equitable progress on all issues—which also includes the creation of a global climate fund, formalizing emission reduction pledges, and the discussion of deforestation and technology transfer programs. Stern repeated that call on Monday. But on Tuesday, he appeared to dial back the US demand for "equitable progress," and mentioned "roughly comparable progress on all of them" instead.

It's a small nuance. But then again, so is much of what happens in these negotiations. What will matter ultimately is how much flexibility key parties (especially the US and China) show in the final days of the conference.

"The challenge is for everyone to be equally unhappy at the end of the day," said WRI's Morgan. "This is a pressing time in the negotiations. At some point they have to start moving and not just repeating the same position they've had for three years."

On Friday, Don Blankenship, the most hated coal baron in America, resigned as CEO and chairman of Massey Energy. The union-busting, Bentley-driving, mountaintop-blasting corporate crusader, best known for overseeing a deadly mining disaster in April that was the industry's worst in 40 years, will be hard to replace. But should anyone wish to try, a want ad popped up yesterday on the jobs section of West Virginia Craigslist:

Massey Energy Seeks CEO

Date: 2010-12-06, 5:37PM EST
Reply to:

Massey Energy seeks a new Chief Executive Officer to carry on its important work destroying the environment and jeopardizing the health and safety of its employees. This position will oversee all Massey Energy operations (but don't worry - stringent or really any oversight is not a corporate priority). 

Key responsibilities: 
-Ducking responsibility for grave accidents and enthusiastically (and with a straight face) shifting the blame to government agencies created to prevent such incidents. 
-Denying climate change, hating the environment and hating anyone who might enjoy the environment. 
-Trading campaign cash for congressional favor. 
-Threatening members of the media. 
-Personally persuading workers to abandon union organizing. 

Other qualities of a successful candidate: 
-Inattention to detail. 
-A really, really, really short fuse. 
-Love of vacationing with judicial and political figures responsible for decisions/rulings regarding Massey. 
-Ability to whine in high stress work environments, despite media criticism. 
-General flagrant disregard for miner safety a plus. 

Outside of the purview of the position: 
-Addressing safety violations (The Upper Big Branch mine has been cited for 1,342 safety violations since 2005 – whatevs.) 
-Reporting accidents (Massey Energy did not report more than 20 accidents at the explosive mine for two years before the explosion.) 

Must be comfortable in office dress code, camouflage. 

Salary is $17.8 million, the highest in the coal industry, and can be expected to double from one calendar year to the next. Bonuses frequently awarded for absolutely no reason at all. 

This is a full time permanent position and will not be eliminated like other Massey Energy jobs as the company increases reliance on mountaintop removal coal mining, which in addition to destroying West Virginian’s livelihoods and communities, has the added benefit of destroying mountains, valleys and waterways. 

(For more information about the coal industry visit 

Compensation: $17.8 million + bonuses
Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.
Please, no phone calls about this job!
Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

From the department of #butilovetunamelts comes this depressing news: The Consumers Union recently analyzed 42 samples of packaged tuna, and found that about half a can of white (albacore) tuna (which tends to have more mercury than light tuna) contains more mercury than the EPA's recommended daily limit for women of childbearing age. A few other nuggets from the study:

  • Every sample contained measurable levels of mercury, ranging from 0.018 to 0.774 parts per million. The FDA can take legal action to pull products containing 1 ppm or more from the market.  (It never has, according to an FDA spokesman.)
  • Samples of light tuna had 0.018 to 0.176 ppm and averaged 0.071 ppm. At that average, a woman of childbearing age eating 2.5 ounces would get less than the EPA’s limit, but for about half the tested samples, eating 5 ounces (about one can) would exceed the limit.

Given the fact that mercury content varies dramatically from can to can, Consumers Union recommended in 2006 that the FDA issue a warning that some cans of white tuna may contain levels that exceed those on which the daily consumption recommendations are based. The agency hasn't issued any such warning yet.

In light of its recent tests, Consumers Union recommends that tuna-eaters adopt a more cautious approach than the FDA recommends:

Children less than 45 pounds: 0-4 ounces of light tuna or 0-1.5 ounces of white (albacore) tuna per week, depending on the child's  weight.
Children 45 pounds or more: About 4 to 12.5 ounces of light tuna or 1.5 to 4 ounces of white tuna per week, depending on the child’s weight.
Pregnant women: To be careful, avoid canned tuna. Choose a low-mercury fish instead.
Women of childbearing age: About 12.5 ounces of light tuna or 4 ounces of white tuna per week.
Men and older women: About 14.5 ounces of light tuna or about 5 ounces of white tuna per week should be OK, but people who eat fish more often would be prudent to stick to low-mercury types.

(For comparison, the FDA's recommended limit for low-mercury seafood, including light tuna, is 12 ounces a week. For white tuna, it's six ounces a week.)

Also worth noting: Bluefin tuna is not only one of the most mercury-laden kinds of tuna, it's also one of the world's most overfished sea creatures. A recent bad decision on 2011's bluefin tuna quotas means this struggling fish is now even worse off.

Wondering which fish are healthy for you and the planet? I like Food and Water Watch's Smart Seafood Guide.

Got a burning eco-quandary? Submit it to Get all your green questions answered by visiting Econundrums on Facebook here.

There's draft text on the table here in Cancun, but will there be a meaningful outcome? It remains far from clear. On Monday, US climate envoy Todd Stern didn't exactly express confidence on that front. "I think there is an agreement to be had," he said. "I'm not sure we will actually get it."

Stern emphasized that the US is still focused on "genuine balance"—they have stated repeatedly here that they will not endorse a final text that moves some portions forward but not others. Specifically, the US is intent on hashing out details for transparency on emissions reductions, which has been a key sticking point with China, and has argued that it doesn't believe components like a global fund to help poor countries cut emissions and adapt to climate change can move forward without that. "A balanced package," said Stern, "doesn't mean a great deal of detail on some issues and a 50,000-foot level of detail on others."

Transparency measures would be designed to ensure that countries are following through on their emission pledges—but exactly what it would look like is a hot topic here. The draft text has several options for language, but Stern said the text is "very spare" and "completely inadequate" at this point in time, while expressing hope that those details would be worked out in the coming days.

China's chief negotiator Xie Zenhua also made some encouraging statements Monday as well, noting that developing countries should also formalize their voluntary commitments in an agreement. On the transparency question, he said, "We think that the principles should respect nation sovereignty, they should be non-intrusive and non-punitive, and they need to build trust." He was also bullish on meeting his own country's goals, with or without a formal deal. "Our voluntarily reduction commitments will be honored and implemented," he said.

Whether there's a deal on the new agreement—one that involves the US and China—is also significant to the ongoing debate here about the fate of the Kyoto Protocol. Japan has said it will not endorse a second commitment period for the 13-year-old treaty, and Russia and Canada have expressed similar positions. The countries argue that they don’t want to make new commitments without the assurance that a new, legally binding global agreement will happen. But developing countries say that the second commitment period should not be a bargaining chip. "It is very clear that they are currently diametrically opposed there," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, but noted confidence that parties "realize that the only way they can come to agreement is to explore the middle ground."

One of the few parties here who can push the issue forward may be the European Union, which has largely backed the US position on a "balanced package." The EU's most significant role, however, could be in forging an agreement on Kyoto. "The EU is willing to consider a second commitment period, in the context of global agreement including all major economies," said Joke Schauvliege, the Flemish Minister of Environment said Monday.

The EU has already committed to an emission cut of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, though it has said it would commit to a 30 percent cut if there are assurances that the US and others will follow through on their pledges. Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, noted that it "Goes without saying that others should have to take their fair share as well" when it comes to cutting emissions. But Hedegaard cautioned against "throwing away what it has taken years to construct" on the Kyoto Protocol.

European NGOs note some division among members states about the protocol. "A number of governments in the EU do want to give a clear signal in Cancun that the EU wants to engage in a second commitment period," said Wendel Trio, climate policy director for Greenpeace International. They're hopeful that the delegation here will be more firm about supporting it. "It's clearly needed for EU to be much more explicit and to really guarantee to the developing world that they really want a second commitment period."

And they're hoping the EU could push for a higher level of ambition in the overall talks. "What we're looking for is that the EU doesn’t go compromising and lowering our ambition in order to get a deal from here," said Ulriikka Aarnio, senior policy officer with the Climate Action Network Europe. "An empty package is of course not useful for climate."

An idiosyncratic sampling of the latest science papers: Testing seafood labels; Training SCUBA divers to be scientists; Making the world safer for fur seals. Plus the Geminid meteors are coming!

Here, we show that 39 out of 156 (25%) cod and haddock products, randomly sampled from supermarkets, fishmongers' shops, and take-away restaurants throughout Dublin, Ireland, were genetically identified as entirely different species from that indicated on the product labels, and therefore were considered mislabeled under European Union (EU) regulations. More significantly, 28 out of 34 (82.4%) smoked fish samples were found to be mislabeled. These results indicate that the strict EU policies currently in place to regulate seafood labeling have not been adequately implemented and enforced.


Photo by Lotus Head, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Photo by Lotus Head, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

  • Research presented in a new paper in Ecological Applications tested the idea that recreational SCUBA divers could be trained to assess the health and status of marine life—a job notably bereft of funding. The authors note that implementation of citizen-based monitoring programs offers real  advantages—growing vaulable data sets and aiding in environmental education—though they also require "open-mindedness in the academic community:"

 In the majority of trials (76%) volunteers performed with an accuracy and consistency of 50–80%, comparable to the performance of conservation volunteer divers on precise transects in other projects. The recruitment of recreational divers involved the main diving and tour operators in Italy, a popular scientific magazine, and mass media. During the four-year study, 3825 divers completed 18757 questionnaires, corresponding to 13539 diving hours.

 Photo by Soljaguar, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Photo by Soljaguar, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

  • A new paper in PNAS describes how "official-looking volunteers" help spare wildlife from harassment—intentional or otherwise—by tourists. The study was conducted at a popular fur seal colony in New Zealand:

We observed tourists interacting with 5- to 12-month-old New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) at the popular Ohau Stream waterfall while in the absence or presence of a young woman in plain sight wearing a neon vest (i.e., observer) and when an observer was not present... The percentage of groups in which at least one person harassed (approached, touched, or threw objects) a young seal was two-thirds lower when the official-looking observer was present... Our results show that a relatively inexpensive and effective tourism-management strategy may be to post such volunteers as observers at sites where tourists view wildlife.

 Photo by Avenue, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Photo by Avenue, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

  • Next week offers some of 2010's finest chances for viewing meteor showers. The Winter Fireworks, aka the Geminids, should peak the night of 13-14 December. Viewing times and other logistics at EarthSky:

Look for the Geminids to be at their best after moonset. Geminid meteor maximums commonly rearch 50 or more meteors per hour. And December is a glorious time of year to sprawl out on your reclining lawn chair and to take in the twinkling stars. Just be sure to bring along warm clothing, blankets or sleeping bags, and a thermos with a warm beverage. With the moon setting around midnight, the stage is set for a dark sky and a grand Geminid display between midnight and dawn December 14.


Comet 17P/Holmes and Geminid :meteor. Photo by Mila Zinkova, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.Comet 17P/Holmes and Geminid :meteor. Photo by Mila Zinkova, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The papers:

  • Dana D Miller, and Stefano Mariani. 2010. Smoke, mirrors, and mislabeled cod: poor transparency in the European seafood industry. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 8: 517–521. DOI 10.1890/090212.
  • Goffredo, Stefano, et al. Unite research with what citizens do for fun: "recreational monitoring" of marine biodiversity. Ecological Applications 20:2170–2187. DOI:10.1890/09-1546.1.
  • Alejandro Acevedo-Gutierrezi, et al. Effects of the Presence of Official-Looking Volunteers on Harassment of New Zealand Fur Seals. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01611.x.


Observers are cautiously optimistic that countries could move forward on the draft text of a potential agreement at the Cancun summit in the next week. The draft, released on Saturday, includes a number of options for negotiators to consider in detail in the next five days, but there are still some big holes.

The 33-page draft for a new agreement—one that would include the US and China, most notably—comes from the chair of the conference and reflects what working groups pulled together in the first week. In many ways, it hews to the Copenhagen Accord from last year's summit—without mentioning it by name—and expands on the portions of that text. The text proposes that countries agree to "hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and states that countries "should take urgent action to meet this objective consistent with science and on the basis of equity."

Notably, the draft text also states that there should be a review of the goals between 2013 and 2015, both to determine whether the proposed cuts are adequate, and whether parties should strengthen the temperature goal to 1.5 degrees Celsius instead, based on updated science. It doesn't note, however, that it's already clear that the pledges countries offered last year fall well short of meeting that goal. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, noted earlier this week that anything they do achieve here will still be "pathetically insufficient." "The need is so much more than what we're doing," said Figueres.

In many key areas, the draft offers multiple options for final text—some of which demonstrate how big the gap between what countries would like to see really is. On the question of reducing emissions, it includes two options for what countries will put forward: "targets" or "commitments." It's also open-ended as to whether those goals will be formalized, offering options to include them as an "annex to this decision" or simply an "information paper." There are three options for how emission pledges would even be handled that are quite different:

  • Option 1: Developed countries urged to increase the level of ambition
    Launch process, for example through submissions and workshops, to clarify assumptions and conditions in pledges, without prejudice to the final form of the outcome or the relationship to the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Option 2: Developed country Parties will reduce aggregate emissions by a specified percentage.
    For Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, the quantified economy-wide emission limitation and reduction commitments will be those adopted under an amended Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol.
    Developed countries that are not Party to the Kyoto Protocol will adopt commitments that are comparable with those of the Kyoto Protocol Parties with respect to the level of effort, legal form, technical aspects, MRV and compliance regime.
    Launch process to negotiate an overall level of ambition for aggregate emission reductions and individual targets, with a view to strengthen commitments and to finalize them as part of a future legally binding agreement.
  • Option 3: Developed countries to implement the listed economy-wide emission targets.

On the question of financing a global climate fund, here are the two options:

  • Option 1: Developed country Parties commit, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries;
  • Option 2: Developed country Parties and other parties included in Annex II to the Convention commit to provide 1.5% of their GDP per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries;

So while there's some optimism that countries can reach agreement on the text, there are clearly still many decisions negotiators will have to make—and key issues that might not be included. Patricia Espinosa, president of the conference and Secretary for Foreign Affairs for Mexico said Sunday that the text is an "important part of the groundwork for strengthened global climate change action," and "show the world that the multilateral process can deliver as long as a spirit of compromise, cooperation and transparency prevails."

Below the fold I have included some responses to the draft from non-governmental groups observing the process.

The first week of negotiations in Cancun are drawing to a close, with little movement on what has emerged as the two most contentious issues: the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, and whether there will be progress on the components of a new deal.

Japan said this week that it would not commit to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, the original climate treaty whose first round of pledges end in 2012. Canada and Russia have also signaled that they are not very interested in a new commitment period, though work toward a second period has been an integral part of climate talks and was included when the original treaty was crafted in 1997. The countries have argued that they don't want a new commitment period that does not include countries like the US and China.

Ending Kyoto is a deal-breaker for most developing nations, as the accord is the only legally binding global treaty on climate and because it includes mechanisms to help fund mitigation and adaptation efforts. The first commitment period ends in 2012—and if there's no resolution here about whether to follow through on a second period, it would leave a decision to next year's COP in Durban, South Africa. Bolivia, Venezuela, and other developing countries say that talks will break down if there's not a renewed commitment to Kyoto. "We reject an outcome that does not respect the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol with deep emission targets," said Meena Raman of the Third World Network, an civil society group representing developing counties.

Its fate is certainly haunting the meetings here so far. "The biggest battleground issue is whether whatever comes out of here sustains or kills the Kyoto Protocol—or at least delivers a mortal death blow, then it staggers forward and dies in Durban," said Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute in Boston.

How to resolve it isn't really clear. "How do you fudge this and come out with an outcome?" said Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director Natural Resources Defense Council. "If developing countries are saying no Cancun outcome without clarity on Kyoto Protocol, how do you get out of that one?"

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, argued Thursday that countries could reach some sort of middle territory on the issue—though no one really seems to be sure what that would look like. "It's clear that Cancun will neither confirm nor kill a second commitment period [of Kyoto]," said Figueres. "Rather it's a goal of reaching a middle area where all groups will at least be able to live with."

And that's just the Kyoto track of negotiations. There's a separate track, called the "longterm cooperative agreement" track, that is working on formalizing a new deal on climate that includes the US and major emerging economies, neither of which are part of Kyoto. Conversations over there have also been slow-going so far, and whether there will be significant resolution here is equally unclear. The US has maintained that it wants a "balanced package" that moves all the parts of last year's accord forward—and that without the full package, it won't endorse movement on specific components. The US has so-far held firm on that, though other countries—particularly developing countries keen on seeing a climate fund advanced in Cancun—have balked at this argument.

"The way forward is not simply to work on those issues that are important to some countries but not important to others," US climate envoy Todd Stern said in a press briefing Friday afternoon (via the New York Times). "That doesn’t make sense."

Saturday starts the second stage of negotiations, with top envoys like Stern arriving to pick up the talks. The working groups are expected to release negotiating texts for both tracks today, which will then be considered over the next days.

This story first appeared on the Guardian website.

Hidden behind the save-the-world rhetoric of the global climate change negotiations lies the mucky realpolitik: money and threats buy political support; spying and cyberwarfare are used to seek out leverage.

The US diplomatic cables reveal how the US seeks dirt on nations opposed to its approach to tackling global warming; how financial and other aid is used by countries to gain political backing; how distrust, broken promises and creative accounting dog negotiations; and how the US mounted a secret global diplomatic offensive to overwhelm opposition to the controversial "Copenhagen accord", the unofficial document that emerged from the ruins of the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009.

Negotiating a climate treaty is a high-stakes game, not just because of the danger warming poses to civilisation but also because re-engineering the global economy to a low-carbon model will see the flow of billions of dollars redirected.

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