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Dec 022011

(This is a Part 1 of Jake Schmidt’s three part series on the global warming negotiations in Durban, South Africa. Parts 2 and 3, as well as continuing coverage from the climate talks can be found at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Switchboard website. Schmidt is international climate policy director for the NRDC.)

Jake Schmidt

Nelson Mandela famously said: “I am fundamentally an optimist…Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.  That way lays defeat and death.”

With around 200 nations set to meet in Durban South, Africa November 28 – December 9 to agree on further efforts to address global warming, those words seemed extremely fitting.  There is emerging good news of action on-the-ground.  At the same time there are troubling signs which confirm that we must act now.

In Durban, countries must turn standing ovations into guidelines and institutions to help all countries take serious action to reduce global warming pollution and improve their resilience to the impacts of global warming.


We’ve seen two critically important dynamics this year that give some hope.  First, a number of countries have made important progress in implementing laws and policies to reduce their global warming pollution.  While not at the pace and the scale that we need, important follow through has occurred that is changing the dynamics on the ground.  For example, Australia finally passed their climate law to require mandatory carbon pollution reductions for major polluters, the US has adopted aggressive vehicle standards and put on hold the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and China has started to outline the detailed rules and regulations for meeting its binding energy and climate commitments in its 12th 5-year plan. [For more on each of these and additional countries, as well as further steps pending in key countries, see my quick summary.]

Second, clean energy continues to grow at an extraordinary pace.  Last year new clean energy investments skyrocketed by 30% to $243 billion. No longer can people say: “renewable energy is a nice thing but it isn’t a mainstream energy source”.  In fact, renewable energy exists in a large chunk of the world. Commercial wind power is in operation in 83 countries and solar PV capacity was added in 100 countries last year.  As a result non-fossil fuel energy accounted for about 50% of the world’s new electricity capacity added last year.  That is a huge shift from a fossil dominated world to one with growing amounts of new energy coming from renewable sources.


The International Energy Agency (IEA) released their new projections of where energy and pollution is likely to head if we don’t take additional actions.  And a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on climate change and extreme weather shows what we are baking into the system if we don’t act.  Four troubling signs emerged from these reports which should be a wake-up call to government’s meeting in Durban:

These new reports should ring alarm bells for countries meeting in Durban, South Africa.


When an actor receives a standing ovation for a performance they don’t go home and say: “I never have to act again”.  The best actors take their bow and go on stage the next night trying to perform even better.  So will negotiators translate the standing ovations from Cancun into detailed guidelines and operations (the Second Act)?  And will they turn those ovations into continued actions at home to meet their commitments and even deeper action to put the world on a safer path to avoid the damages of global warming (the Third Act)?  Or will applause turn to boos?

This past year we’ve seen promising movement to define the guidelines and institutions to support efforts to improve transparency, develop a new fund to support developing country efforts to take action to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts, and build stronger mechanisms to help deploy low-carbon technologies.  Of course there are technical differences at this stage before Durban, but the differences are much smaller than could be expected.  Countries can find the path to get agreement on these pieces in Durban.  But the “fate of the Kyoto Protocol” and decisions about “where we are headed” are shaping up to derail the whole effort if we don’t get resolution on these in Durban.  Failure to resolve these issues would make getting agreement on the institutions and guidelines to implement the Cancun Agreements extremely difficult.  [More on each of these in Part 2 and Part 3.]


In Durban, countries must be able to “walk and chew gum”, while starting to sprint towards solutions that deliver low-carbon energy and reduced deforestation.  Countries need to be able to ensure that they can follow through with previous commitments and agreements by implementing actions at home, while making the institutions and guidelines from the Cancun Agreements operational in Durban.  And they must be able to start moving much more quickly to low-carbon energy and reduced deforestation.

Durban must be a clear path on the road to addressing global warming.  We can’t afford a detour.

(This blog first appeared in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Switchboard website.)

Dec 172009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Personally, I’ve taken a low carbon emissions position on Copenhagen, watching the action from my desk here in the U.S.

You may be too. If so, I wanted to offer cool Internet tool you can use to assess how policy and science intersect. (Earlier I mentioned a Copenhagen Target Converter by SandbagClimateGame.org — where you can adjust emissions targets against various years so they can be better compared.)

This one, and apologies I’m a little late with this, is a scoreboard at Climate Interactive.

This calculator projects ahead to estimate how much hotter the planet would be, and how thick atmospheric carbon would be, under these scenarios: business-as-usual; if proposals on the table at Copenhagen are passed, and what the tool calls “goals” or the  “low emissions path.” The latter would involve rolling back emissions big time and spending enough on green technology and in developing nations to hold the planet to an increase of just 1.5 degrees Celsius, which theoretically should keep the carbon at 450 ppm (which isn’t really even enough according to a growing chorus of groups).

At that last level, scientists say we might avert climate disaster. Even better if emissions were held to 350 ppm. Some say we MUST hold to 350 ppm. Others point out that new technologies could help us pull down emissions further as the world focuses its brainpower on climate change.

(Notice the really high carbon levels at the “business as usual” projection; frightening what this would mean for ice, oceans, agriculture, aquifers, asthmatics etc. In fact, by anyone’s estimation this is meltdown territory.)

But you need to look at this graphic and fiddle with it to really understand. After you do, you’ll know why some climate activists just aren’t satisfied with the level of commitment from world leaders on this very critical issue at this turning point in time.

Climate Scoreboard

Climate Interactive, by the way, is not an advocacy group, but a collaboration of businesses, philanthropies and scientists focused on creating models that we can use to assess how to create a sustainable future.

In computer speak, they specialize in “sims” or simulations, and they’re not dabblers. Groups signed on and actively working to make sense of the science include MIT, Sustainability Institute, Ventana Systems.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Dec 172009

Green Right Now Reports

Greenpeace doesn’t want American citizens to forget who’s stalling progress on climate action, namely, entrenched industrial polluters.

Greenpeace at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Building (Photo: Robert Meyers)

Greenpeace at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Building (Photo: Robert Meyers)

To drive home the point, a group of activists rushed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Washington D.C. in four squad cars to declare the area a “climate crime scene.” They quickly taped off the area with bright yellow crime scene tape and called on their “climate policy hostage negotiator” to “negotiate the safe release of President Obama’s climate policy from the hands of industry lobbyists”.

The mock disaster acted out may have been a little high concept for some, but it likely made sense to those following the Copenhagen Climate Talks, where activists are concerned that President Obama will fail to deliver a strong carbon emissions commitment tomorrow, mainly because U.S. fossil fuel industries have a stronghold on elected leaders. The street theater was timed to precede Obama’s imminent arrival in Copenhagen for the final two days of talks.

The theatrics spoofed how Washington/business politics have gummed up U.S. climate policy.  But it highlighted the serious,  real-life role that the U.S. Chamber has played in denying climate change and/or claiming that is is not the fault of humans and does not require serious attention.

In recent weeks, several corporate members of the chamber have resigned, citing the organization’s refusal to see climate change as a real and serious threat.

Said Greenpeace in a news release: “The US Chamber of Commerce has committed a series of climate crimes including: misinformation of the public on the issue of climate change, stalling action on global warming legislation, and holding the international climate talks hostage. Activists are calling on President Obama to show leadership and shed the influence of lobbyists.”

Dec 072009

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

In what might seem a no-brainer, the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday pronounced greenhouse gases to be  a verifiable public health threat to all Americans.

The announcement came on the first day of the Copenhagen Climate Conference and after what the EPA describes as a “thorough examination of the scientific evidence” required by government rules as the agency prepares to set standards for “light-duty vehicles.”

Though largely a formality given the EPA’s view of greenhouse gases has been fairly clear, the timing of the announcement sends a signal to negotiators that the EPA is prepared to enforce its clean air mandate, with or without a Congressional climate bill.

Some environmental groups, in fact, seemed to view the announcement as a lob over the net to Congress.

“The danger of global warming pollution is clear and present, the solutions are at hand, and the time for action is now,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s time for Congress to finish its work on U.S. legislation to cap and reduce the 19 million tons of heat-trapping pollution we emit every day.”

It’s also clearly intended as a message to climate negotiators in Denmark.

“Today’s action also makes clear that the Obama administration is doing its part to combat climate change. That amplifies our voice and strengthens our hand going into Copenhagen,”   said Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke.

“This announcement couldn’t come at a more important time,” said Sierra Club president Carl Pope. “The Obama administration has followed through on its pledge to act …President Obama sees the Big Picture—by shifting to clean energy, and cracking down on the corporations that pollute the water we drink and the air we breathe, we can restore our economy to prosperity and reduce our dependence on oil and coal, all while tackling global warming.”

Krupp also noted that a plan to cut greenhouse gases can be good for business, a majority point of contention in political circles, be it Washington or Copenhagen.

“American leadership on climate change will strengthen our security, wean us off of foreign oil, and ensure that America wins the race to clean energy innovation in the global market place,” he said.

At the conference, EPA Adminstrator Lisa P. Jackson said, “These long-overdue findings cement 2009’s place in history as the year when the United States Government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform. Business leaders, security experts, government officials, concerned citizens and the United States Supreme Court have called for enduring, pragmatic solutions to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing climate change.”

As scientists around the world have documented, rising GHGs are causing rapid climate change by trapping gases in the atmosphere, leading to warmer and longer heat waves that are melting the ice caps, causing seas to rise and jeopardizing the world’s inhabitants. The gases also increase ground-level ozone pollution that is linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

EPA’s report covers emissions of the six major greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride, all of which have been the focus of studies by scientists in the US and around the globe.

These studies invariably point out that global warming is the result of human activities, such as carbon emissions from coal-fired plants and cars and trucks.

Aside from recording increases in average global temperatures, scientists have been charting sharp increases in melting ice in the Arctic, the loss of glaciers around the world, rising ocean temperatures and sea levels, changes in precipitation patterns and acidification of oceans — all linked to carbon dioxide pollution.

The EPA said its declaration on Monday is part of its obligation imposed by a 2007 US Supreme Court decision determining that  GHGs fit the definition of air pollution governable by the Clean Air Act.

The ’07 ruling rejected the Bush Administration contention that the EPA did not need to address greenhouse gases under the nation’s clean air laws.

However, the new EPA report does not force the issue of emission reduction,

Instead, the findings allow the EPA to finalize GHG standards that were proposed earlier this year for new light-duty vehicles in conjunction with the Department of Transportation.

The EPA report states that on-road vehicles are responsible for more than 23 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. EPA’s proposed GHG standards would lessen GHG emissions by almost 950 million metric tons and conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of model year 2012-2016 vehicles.

EDF’s Krupp says the EPA announcement is a wakeup call for new policies by the U.S. Senate that enforce carbon emission reductions and expand America’s clean energy economy.

Unfortunately, he says, some climate change deniers are hoping to slow progress by using scare tactics, claiming that the EPA pronouncement will result in a “cow tax,” a reference to the fact that cows are big methane emitters.

EPA’s action is long overdue, says Krupp. Citizens have petitioned EPA since 1999 to deal with global warming pollution. Since that time, the country has emitted nearly 70 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and heat-trapping carbon dioxide concentrations have risen to 387 parts per million. Scientists say that 350 parts per million should be our goal if the planet is to survive as we know it.

Here’s an audio clip on the  EPA on greenhouse gas announcement.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media