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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.)

Feb 182010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

When the Copenhagen Climate Conference ended in mid-December, it was widely decried by climate activists as embarrassingly inconclusive, at best, and a failure at worst (you can’t get much worse than that).

And yet, there were plenty of voices, including that of President Obama, urging everyone to hold tight and pointing out that alliances had been formed and the world’s major polluters had stepped up, however tentatively. They had issued hard numbers, a percentages by which they would try to rollback greenhouse gas emissions.

And that’s what it’s all about, reeling in those emissions. So despite the chaos, the under-achieving, the low-ball aspirations, the feinting and ducking, the world’s leading nations, including previously absent U.S., stepped up to the plate. You could say they hit a series of ground balls, but at least they took the bat.

These nations were asked to officially record their promises by signing the Copenhagen Accord by the end of January. This follow-up event was anti-climatic and received less media attention.

But the end result was that the emissions targets were documented and recorded for posterity — and hopefully for prosperity. (That’s what everyone seems to forget, that we need to forgo the pollution so we and future generations can live long and prosper, not so we can have higher electric bills.)


NRDC International Climate Policy Director, Jake Schmidt

Anyway. This week, in his blog, Jake Schmidt, director of the NRDC’s International Climate Policy, writes that 60 countries have firmed up their pledges in the final document; including the top 12 carbon-emitting nations.

Schmidt and the NRDC have put together a table of these commitments to emphasize that world leaders are somewhat  (actually literally) on a page.

“These countries are the “big players” which almost single-handedly hold the key to solving global warming.  The steps they take are critical.  So let me repeat: countries representing over 80% of the world’s emissions have just committed to steps to reduce their global warming pollution. As I’ve discussed here, this is a huge shift from where we were just 2 years ago (and even 6 months ago).  That is something to build upon since the key to solving global warming is whether or not key countries are committing to take action.”

But Schmidt knows that “commitments” and “action” can wave at each other over a large chasm. He says environmentalists must just get out there and start proving that reducing GHGs can create jobs and won’t wreck the economy.

Then we’ll see our government follow along.

(Stay tuned for more hopeful musings by another blogger, who says that this leadership by the public is already happening — especially in the business sector.)

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