Tag Archive: Environment



The Copenhagen opening ceremony on Monday as the climate change summit began

By Reuters

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – China led calls by developing nations for deeper emissions cuts from the United States, Japan and Europe at U.N. climate talks on Tuesday, as a study showed that this decade will be the warmest on record.

The first decade of this century was the hottest since records began, the World Meteorological Organisation said, underscoring the threat scientists say the planet faces from rising temperatures.

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries are trying to seal the outlines of a climate pact to combat rising seas, desertification, floods and cyclones that could devastate economies and ruin the livelihoods of millions of people.

Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said the Dec 7-18 talks in Copenhagen were “off to a good start.” The EU said it was positive that no one had walked out of negotiation sessions.

But a rich-poor rift continued to cloud negotiations on finance and emissions cuts. Recession-hit rich countries have not yet made concrete offers to aid developing nations who also want the industrialised world to act faster to curb emissions.

China and many other developing nations urged the rich to make deeper cuts in emissions and Beijing scoffed at a fast-start fund of $10 billion (£6.1 billion) a year meant to help developing countries from 2010 that rich countries are expected to approve.

China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, criticised goals set by the United States, the European Union and Japan for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Su Wei, a senior Chinese climate official at U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen, said the targets broadly fell short of the emissions cuts recommended by a U.N. panel of scientists. The panel has said cuts of 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 were needed to avoid the worst of global warming.

He said a U.S. offer, equal to 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, “cannot be regarded as remarkable or notable.” An EU cut of 20 percent was also not enough and Japan was setting impossible conditions on its offer of a 25 percent cut by 2020.

“LIFE AND DEATH”

“This $10 billion if divided by the world population, it is less than $2 per person,” he said, adding it was not even enough to buy a cup of coffee in Copenhagen or a coffin in poorer parts of the world.

“Climate change is a matter of life and death,” he said.

Brazil’s climate change ambassador said his country did not want to sign up for a long-term goal of halving global emissions by 2050 unless rich nations took on firm shorter-term targets — which the Danish hosts view as a core outcome for the talks.

Copenhagen was meant to seal a legally binding climate deal to broaden the fight against climate change by expanding or replacing the Kyoto Protocol from 2013.

While that now looks out of reach, host Denmark wants leaders to at least agree on a “politically binding” deal. The Danish government has said this would be 5 to 8 pages with annexes from all countries describing pledged actions.

Negotiators are also trying to whittle down almost 200 pages of draft text that is expected to form the basis of an eventual post-2012 climate treaty. While negotiators have made progress refining the text, it is still full of blanks and options.

African civil groups led a protest inside the main conference centre in Copenhagen, urging more aid to prepare for global warming. “Africans are suffering. We will not die in silence,” said Augustine Njamnshi of Christian Aid.

“PLEASING THE RICH”

A draft 9-page Danish text with annexes seen by Reuters last week drew criticism by environmental activists, who said it undermined the negotiations.

“Focus on the Danish text right now is a distraction from the negotiations,” said Kim Carstensen, head of conservation group WWF’s global climate initiative, adding the text did not lay out what would happen to the Kyoto Protocol.

He called the Danish text a weak attempt to accommodate the United States. De Boer described the text as an informal paper for the purposes of consultation and not an official part of the negotiations.

Much is riding on what U.S. President Barack Obama can bring to the table in Copenhagen when he joins more than 100 other world leaders during a high-level summit on Dec 17-18.

Washington’s provisional offer is to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, or 3 percent below the U.N.’s 1990 baseline.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled on Monday that greenhouse gases endanger human health, allowing it to regulate them without legislation from the Senate, where a bill to cut U.S. emissions by 2020 is stalled.

Delegates cautiously welcomed the step as a boost for Obama.

(Additional reporting by Gerard Wynn, Alister Doyle, Richard Cowan and John Acher in Copenhagen; Writing by David Fogarty; Editing by Noah Barkin)

By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer

By offering concrete emission targets last week, the United States and China have resuscitated global climate talks that were headed toward an impasse. But the details that have yet to be resolved — including the money that industrialized countries would offer poorer ones as part of an agreement — suggest a political deal remains a heavy lift for the 192 countries set to convene in Copenhagen in little more than a week.

Negotiators aim to produce a blueprint for a legally binding international treaty that would replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012 and govern individual countries’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the proposals from the world’s two biggest greenhouse-gas emitters have boosted the prospects for a deal, they demonstrate something else as well: No one wants to shoulder the blame for failure at Copenhagen, even if it means the final outcome falls short of what many had envisioned a year or two ago. The U.S. pledge to cut its emissions by 2020 and China’s offer to lower its carbon dioxide output relative to the size of its economy by the same date are more modest than what their negotiating partners had demanded.

The fact that countries are defining their climate goals in varied ways — including different baseline years and efficiency targets rather than absolute cuts — makes it hard to assess their commitments. The United States has pledged cuts that are modest in the first decade but ambitious 15 and 20 years from now, while China has set a target that could amount to a meaningful reduction if the country’s growth rate slows somewhat.

Keya Chatterjee, the U.S. director for the World Wildlife Fund climate change program, likened the developments to “a phoenix . . . rising from the ashes.” She added that, under a best-case scenario, “It’s not a deal that’s going to solve the problem of climate change a hundred percent. . . . But it is a deal that’s going to create a foundation and an international architecture for resolving this issue over time.”
A senior Obama administration official offered a more cautious assessment: “There’s a very real chance of getting this done, but hurdles remain.”

The biggest remaining obstacle is money, including how much the developed world will give developing nations to cope with the impact of global warming and to acquire technology to curb their emissions. The United States has not said how much it would pay into any global fund, which the Europeans have estimated would require at least $10 billion annually beginning next year.

And on Thursday, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said at a meeting of Amazon nations that wealthier countries must “pay the price” for protecting rain forests that are vulnerable to clear-cutting and burning by farmers and ranchers, activities that help fuel global warming.

Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for the climate conference, said “the decision on finance” was the most pressing issue developed countries face.

The Obama administration has allocated about $1.2 billion toward international climate programs as part of its proposed fiscal 2010 budget. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview that it would take at least twice as much to help seal a deal in Copenhagen.

China’s announcement Thursday that it would send Premier Wen Jiabao to the talks and improve its economy’s energy efficiency — by as much as 45 percent by 2020, compared with 2005 levels — makes it easier for other countries to commit to a treaty, but it remains unclear how the outside world would verify these cuts.

“It’s great the Chinese have come forward with a plan, but are they willing to have that part of a binding agreement?” said Stephen Eule, vice president for climate and technology at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Institute.

South Korea’s climate change ambassador, Chung Rae-kwon, whose country just pledged to cut its emissions 4 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post that China’s proposal was “a great step forward” but added, “The issue now is how this Chinese target can be captured in the agreement to be achieved in Copenhagen.”

Several U.S. senators have said they cannot endorse domestic climate legislation or an international treaty unless it ensures that such economic competitors as China and India will take steps to curb their carbon dioxide output.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said in an interview that it was hard to determine whether the Chinese announcement addresses that concern. He added that he would rather have Obama focus on building more nuclear power plants and electrifying the U.S. auto fleet than “making trips to Copenhagen, trying to convince China to make itself poorer when so many people there live on less than a dollar a day.”

Daniel Price, an international economics adviser on the climate talks under former president George W. Bush, said negotiators still must resolve a range of issues, such as protecting the intellectual property rights of technological innovators and ensuring the integrity of any carbon trading scheme created under the pact.

The need for consensus under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which governs the talks, offers further complications. A bloc of African nations agreed this month on their bottom line for any deal but have not disclosed it. Major developing countries such as China, India and Brazil say they, too, will offer a unified position at the negotiations, but they have yet to determine it.
India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, told the Hindustan Times newspaper that China’s announcement was “a wake-up call. . . . We have to think hard about our climate strategy now and look for flexibility.”

Dominick DellaSala, president of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, said the emerging compromise could prompt negotiators to “lock in” less ambitious emission targets in the short term.

Even Hedegaard, the Danish minister, noted that the current climate pledges by developing countries amount to an 18 percent reduction below 1990 emission levels by 2020, but the United States is pledging to cut emissions by about 4 percent by then. Europeans and many scientists have called for a 25 to 40 percent cut.
Cutting a political deal now, argued Hedegaard and environmental advocates such as Chatterjee, makes more sense than holding out for a perfect agreement.

“If we don’t resolve it now, it’s not going to get any easier,” Chatterjee said. “Time doesn’t really help resolve issues of equity.”

Photo: Elza Fiúza – Agência Brasil

By Juliet Eilperin, from The Washington Post

When international climate negotiators convene next month in Copenhagen, Brazilian politician Marina Silva will serve as the conference’s unofficial philosopher-activist. A native Amazonian who grew up in a community of rubber-tappers, Silva worked with murdered Amazonian activist Chico Mendes, won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996 and served as Brazil’s minister of the environment under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from 2002 to 2008. She spoke with Washington Post environment reporter Juliet Eilperin during a recent visit to Washington; Stephan Schwartzman of the Environmental Defense Fund translated from the Portuguese. Excerpts:

What inspired you to do environmental work?

It was a combination of things. First, the sensibility I gained from living with the forest, from being born there and taking my sustenance from it until I was 16 years old. Second was my contact with liberation theology, with people like Chico Mendes, a connection that raised social and political consciousness about the actions of the Amazonian rubber-tappers and Indians who were being driven out of their lands because the old rubber estates were being sold into cattle ranches. These encounters made me become engaged with the struggle in defense of the forest. Later, I discovered that this was about “the environment” and the protection of ecosystems. It was an ethical commitment that these natural resources could not be simply destroyed.

How does your Amazon upbringing affect the way you see the issues at stake?

Without doubt, the experience of living in one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions of the world has affected how I see the world. I see two time frames: forest time and city time. Forest time is slower; things have to be more fully processed; information takes a long time to get there, so people didn’t have access to new information. When a new idea arrived, you thought about it, elaborated on it, talked about it for a long time. So this way of thinking, reflecting on and developing ideas, helps me have a sense of the preservation of things, to not make rushed decisions.

In your view, how is the international community responding to climate change?

We are already extremely close, in terms of the maximum of what is permissible in emissions. It’s an effort that both developing and developed countries have to make. What has been agreed to so far in the meetings leading up to Copenhagen is not terribly promising. Society has to reflect this kind of urgency to leaders, and leaders need to assume responsibility for taking on the issue, not only in terms of present interests but in terms of future interests.

What they would like to do, or what they would feel comfortable to do with the short-term time horizons of their mandates, is not enough.

To what extent do you think avoided deforestation in places like the Amazon can succeed at curbing global warming, given that deforestation accounts for 15 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions?

For this process to last, to be sustainable over time, we need to change the process of development. It’s not enough to say what people can’t do. You have to tell them what they can do, how they can do it and provide them with the means to do it. In the case of the Amazon, there are 25 million people living there, and they need alternatives. If there are not alternatives, there will once again be tremendous pressure on the forest. What’s needed is a change in the fundamental economics of the Amazon to create sustainable expectations to meet the needs of the people.

How do you view the United States’ current work on climate change?

We’re enthusiastic about what’s going on in the United States, the fact that there’s been a law passed by the House of Representatives. The fact that climate-change legislation is on the agenda of the United States is tremendously important. It’s a huge change, after being absent from the international negotiations for nearly 10 years, that the United States has returned.

For this process to last, to be sustainable over time, we need to change the process of development. It’s not enough to say what people can’t do. You have to tell them what they can do, how they can do it and provide them with the means to do it. In the case of the Amazon, there are 25 million people living there, and they need alternatives. If there are not alternatives, there will once again be tremendous pressure on the forest. What’s needed is a change in the fundamental economics of the Amazon to create sustainable expectations to meet the needs of the people.

How do you view the United States’ current work on climate change?

We’re enthusiastic about what’s going on in the United States, the fact that there’s been a law passed by the House of Representatives. The fact that climate-change legislation is on the agenda of the United States is tremendously important. It’s a huge change, after being absent from the international negotiations for nearly 10 years, that the United States has returned.

I recognize that the United States not having legislation [passed] in the Senate creates a problem. At the same time, the sentiment of the international community is going to demand that these [industrialized] countries take on a long-term target, an 80 percent reduction in emissions by midcentury. It’s important that there’s agreement around a long-term target. President Obama and the Congress are beginning a discussion that should have happened 10 years ago. But the fact that it has begun is very promising.

How optimistic are you that the world’s nations will take on binding commitments to curb greenhouse gas emissions?

We already have the greater part of the technical responses that we need to address these problems. What we need to do is to put these technical responses and methods at the service of ethics, and take into consideration the fate of future generations.

Do you still live in the Amazon part of the time?

In my mind, I’m always in the Amazon. I just have a job that requires me to work in Brasilia for a certain time. I’m increasingly called upon to travel to other states in Brazil and outside of Brazil, but my reference point is Amazonia; it’s the locus from which I enter into dialogue with other regions of Brazil and the outside world. I make a point of returning to the Amazon at least once a month.

What was it like working with Chico Mendes? What might he make of Brazil’s and the world’s efforts on the environment today?

I worked and lived with Chico Mendes. It was sharing friendship and apprenticeship. It was principally a political apprenticeship, not in the sense of party politics, but the politics of how to relate to different parts of society, in this case the rubber-tappers. Chico Mendes had an enormous capacity for dialogue — even with those who were against him, who opposed him in the extreme — and to not let himself be intimidated by the seeming impossibility of dialogue. He didn’t allow other people’s indifference to influence him. Even if someone was indifferent to his cause, this didn’t mean he had to be indifferent to them. I learned that first we should count on relationships, on persuasion rather than conflict, on processes of co-authorship.

With regard to the efforts Brazil and the world have made on environmental issues, if Chico were alive he would agree that they are far beyond the times he experienced, when he had to confront the fury of those who wanted to do the same thing in the Amazon as was done in Brazil’s Atlantic forest and other Brazilian biomes. But he would also certainly conclude that these efforts are much less than the planet needs.

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By ROBERT P. WALZER from The New York Times

PhotoEPA Brazil will hold its first wind-only energy auction next month in a move to diversify its energy portfolio. Foreign companies are scrambling to take part.

 

Early this decade, a drought in Brazil that cut water to the country’s hydroelectric dams prompted severe energy shortages. The crisis, which ravaged the country’s economy and led to electricity rationing, underscored Brazil’s pressing need to diversify away from water power.

One result of that introspection will climax on Dec. 14, when the Brazilian government conducts its first wind-only energy auction. The bidding is expected to lead to the construction of two gigawatts of wind production with an investment of about $6 billion over the next two years.

The auction has attracted a number of international players, including the local units of Energias de Portugal, Electricité de France, Spain’s Iberdrola, EnerFin of the United States and several Brazilian companies, among others.

Interest has been so great, in fact, that the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which is conducting the auction, postponed it by three weeks to allow extra time to evaluate the preliminary bids.

“The number of projects proposed were much greater than expected by everyone,’’ said Pedro Perrelli, the executive director of ABEEólica, the Brazilian Wind Energy Association.

Industry and the government had anticipated proposals for 4.5 gigawatts to 6 gigawatts of projects, but “we came to the astonishing number of 13.3 gigawatts’’ from 441 proposals, Mr. Perrelli said. 

Within days, the government plans to release the auction’s technical manual, allowing participants to refine their bids. The winners will get a 20-year power-purchase agreement from the state.

Brazil counts on hydroelectricity for more than three-quarters of its electricity, but authorities are pushing biomass and wind as primary alternatives. Wind energy’s greatest potential in Brazil is during the dry season, so it is considered a hedge against low rainfall and the geographical spread of existing hydro resources.

“In Brazil, wind is very complimentary to hydro,” said João Carlos Mello, the chief executive of Andrade & Canellas, an energy consulting firm advising some bidders in the wind-power auction. “It’s clear that we need to open up our minds beyond hydro.”

Mr. Mello said Brazil’s technical potential for wind energy is 143 gigawatts due to the country’s blustery 4,600-mile coastline, where most projects are based. The Brazilian Wind Energy Association and the government have set a goal of achieving 10 gigawatts of wind energy capacity by 2020 from the current 605 megawatts, with another 450 megawatts under construction, said Mr. Perrelli.

The industry hopes the auction will help kick-start the wind-energy sector, which already accounts for 70 percent of the total in all of Latin America.

Brazil is already a renewable energy leader in the field of ethanol. Hydropower’s growth is increasingly held up over environmental concerns. And growing concerns about Brazil’s deforestation, the effects of climate change and pressure to reduce the country’s carbon emissions also work in wind’s favor.

But Keith Hays, the research director for wind energy at the Cambridge, Mass.-based Emerging Energy Research, a consultant firm to companies on renewable energy, said that uncertainty surrounding the financing and profitability of wind projects in Brazil raises doubts over whether the country can reach its goals.

He attributed the widespread interest in the wind auction to a desire among foreign companies to gain a foothold in Brazil, which is Latin America’s biggest market.

But Mr. Hays said that the lack of a floor on the price the government will pay for energy — as is customary in European countries that are leaders in wind energy, like Germany and Spain — could limit the industry’s growth because the winning projects may prove to be unprofitable.

“Their track record doesn’t speak to a huge success,’’ Mr. Hays said.