Congress, Carbon, And Compromise
Dec16

Congress, Carbon, And Compromise

Posted on behalf of Abbie Gruwell, a political science major at the University of Iowa: Time is running out for substantive negotiations at Copenhagen. My second day here saw virtually no movement on the U.S. position and continuing frustration on all fronts. The G-77 walk-out yesterday sent a strong message that a clear binding commitment is extremely unlikely by the end of the week. China, India, and South Korea's inclusion in the walk-out made the issue even more complicated. Because of their demand for adaptation assistance, the financing debate is deadlocked. The African nations and small island countries have a viable argument for climate financing from the developed world, but there is no way the U.S. Congress would support sending money to China, India, and South Korea for climate change adaptation. These countries are still supporting the continuation of Kyoto, and the U.S. is not budging on their emissions targets. It seems that everyone has their scapegoat - the E.U. says they will commit to 30% reductions if the U.S. does, and the U.S. won't commit to anything unless China is subject to a verification system. Hopefully the word of the week will be compromise, not disappointment. I spent today outside of the Bella Centre quagmire and had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion hosted by the PEW Center and the Environmental Defense Fund with several policy and legislative aides to four U.S. congressmen. Michael Goo with Chairman Markey, Mark Helmke, Joe Shultz with Senator Brown, and Trent Bauserman with Senator Shaheen all gave their opinions on the effect of Copenhagen on the current Senate bill. One of the most potent discussion points was on the debilitating public opinion situation at home - Helmke and Shultz noted that the acceptance of climate change has gone down 42 points in the last year because of the domestic economic situation and argued that political messaging was the problem. Communication has been the biggest problem in convincing the American public to get on board, and the Senate aides recognized that the lack of clarity would need to be addressed before Congress would have the constituent support to pass the climate bill. The panel also discussed the provisions for the moderate Dems to get on board, including assurance that jobs would come from the clean energy push, an amendment that addressed carbon leakage, and a long-term commitment to ensure competitiveness for U.S. companies. We also had a brief Presidential-address moment - an Australian audience member called out "bulls***" during a comment about the U.S.'s response to the tsunami. Apparently inappropriate outbursts aren't just an American epidemic. Finally, the carbon and energy discussions...

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Crowded Midway: Or Why It's a Zoo
Dec15

Crowded Midway: Or Why It's a Zoo

Fellow C&EN blogger Jerry Schnoor described the lines to get accreditation to Bella Center, where the Copenhagen climate meeting. I found out what the underlying problem is from Axel Wuestenhagen, media coordinator for the conference. "We had not expected this avalanche" as people sought entry to the Bella Center when the second week of the conference began, Wuestenhagen said. The staff processing the paperwork for all of the folks who have arrived in Copenhagen are overwhelmed. High-ranking politicians, journalists, and students are stuck in line. There's another problem too. The Bella Center has a capacity of 15,000. But the U.N. registered 45,215 people to get in -- although only about 22,000 badges were distributed as of yesterday. "Who's to blame? Me," Yvo de Boer, the U.N.'s top climate official, told reporters today. "I suppose we could have stopped the registration when we reached the 15,000 mark. But our thinking was people come in, people come out, people go out, people come for the first week, people come for the second week, so let's make sure that we register as many as possible. "We can't guarantee that everyone will be able to get into the building when they want to get in the building because that would be unsafe," de Boer said. He said people are spending too much time in line outside the Bella Center. "I think that is very bad and I am responsible for that." It may be cold comfort to those shivering outside, but de Boer said he is working with the Danish police, who control access into the Bella Center, and U.N. security forces, who are responsible for what happens inside, to get people into complex as quickly as possible. He adds that his priority is getting government representatives inside since they are the ones who have to make the official decisions at this U.N. meeting. Of the 45,000 registrants, almost half -- 22,774 -- are observers, according to Wuestenhagen. They are primarily from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that run the gamut from industry groups to indigenous people to environmental activists to farmers to those who provide disaster relief and help to the poor of the world. Only 1,000 NGO representatives will be allowed in the building when heads of state arrive on Thursday and Friday. The next largest chunk of those registered are from governments -- 11,500. Then there are the 7,400 technical staff who are working in the background, seeing that the rest rooms are stocked with toilet paper, making copies of U.N. documents, handling the enormous coat check operation. Journalists make up the last chunk, a little less than 3,500. Check out the...

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Melting Ice And Snow At COP15
Dec15

Melting Ice And Snow At COP15

To me, the biggest story on Monday December 14 at the COP15 Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen was all about ice. Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore teamed with the Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Stoere, and Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller to call for global action to stem the causes of melting snow and ice. There's been a significant increase in reported and projected melt rates since the 2007 IPCC 4th Assessment which drew on data collected through May 2005. In only four years, estimates of ice sheet thinning and melting in Antartica have increased markedly. Observed sea level rise has doubled from the 1.7 mm/yr average rate in the 20th century to 3-4 mm/yr today. In 2007, IPCC projected a sea level rise of about 0.2-0.6 meters in 2099 through modeling of six different scenarios, whereas model forecasts today are in the range of 0.8-1.9 meters rise during the the 21st century. Quite a change in only four years! Much of the difference is due to the recently recognized (accelerating) melt rates on Greenland and Antarctica which adds to a thermally expanding ocean. Millions of people in low-lying island nations and areas such as Bangladesh, the Netherlands, and the Mekong Delta will be affected by sea level rise during this century if the new projections hold. Gore and his colleagues stressed that snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere is decreasing at a rate of about 1.5% per decade; Arctic sea ice (summer minimum) is decreasing by 11.2% per decade; while the area experiencing surface melting on Greenland has increased by 30% between 1979 and 2008. Continental glaciers in Europe, Patagonia, and northwestern America are melting particularly rapidly and severe impacts on water resources are expected, especially in the Andes and Himalayas regions. The report was issued at the COP15 Climate meeting in Copenhagen by the Centre for Ice, Climate and Ecosystems at the Norwegian Polar Institute, Polar Environmental Centre in Tromsoe, Norway. One of its authors, Dr. Dorthe Dahl Jensen, commented at a press conference, "The changes are simply so rapid that we must revise the reports very often." She was asked whether humans can respond in a meaningful way to mitigate such rapidly melting ice and snow, and she said that was a political question that she could not answer. On their part, Gore and Stoere urged deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, early reductions in black carbon emissions from diesel, biomass burning, and soot, which coat snow and ice and accelerate melting; adaptation by the most affected countries; and vigilance to continue funding of scientific...

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The Climate Zoo in Copenhagen
Dec15

The Climate Zoo in Copenhagen

It's not all happening at the zoo. At least not for thousands of NGO delegates who came here on hard-earned currency or scholarships. In my own case, I'm here with 12 students from Iowa and 7 students from Rice University accompanied by my colleague, Pedro Alvarez. But, the Rice students waited in line yesterday for 6 hours before finally gaining admission to the Bella Center and receiving badges and credentials to the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen. Worse still, three of the Iowa students waited the entire day in freezing cold and never gained admission to the meeting at all. It's not clear whether they will ever get in. COP15 has implemented a last minute triage strategy to stem the flow of thosands of people beyond the limit of 15,000 for the Bella Center facility. NGO organizations are only able to obtain required "secondary passes" for a fraction of their delegates, about one-quarter to one-half from what I can tell. It's necessary to present the secondary passes in addition to the primary credentials and badge. So the ones who were lucky enough to get badges must now share passes and alternate days with their fellow NGO delegates. I met one poor student from Tufts University who came to COP15 as a NGO delegate through the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI). SEI comprises one of the larger delegations with 84 members, but only 20 will be allowed into the conference on any given day with secondary passes. The Tufts fellow stood for nine hours in the cold and never gained admission, so now he couldn't even use the secondary pass if he had one. All is not well in the meeting rooms either. Yesterday, Al Gore and Steven Chu, two Nobel Prize winners were speaking at the same time. Both spoke to overflowing crowds. Chu presented his Climate REDI initiative in a small room at the official U.S. Center exhibit to a full crowd of about 50 people, and perhaps 50 additional people watched from outside on TV monitors. Gore spoke in a larger room with perhaps 200 chairs, but hundreds of Gore Groupies were outside in the hall (without monitors) just waiting to get a photo of him. George W. Bush would have enjoyed such adulation. It's getting worse at COP15 as the week progresses. It's now Tuesday of the second and final week, when ministers are giving way to heads-of state. One hundred and thirty heads-of-state have accepted invitations from the Danish Prime Minister to attend. I'm told that Obama will bring a total of 700 people with him on December 18, counting security. Chavez's entourage from Venezuela numbers...

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Be At The COP15 Table Or Be Part Of The Menu
Dec14

Be At The COP15 Table Or Be Part Of The Menu

Copenhagen is a very exciting place right now, with many contrasts. One of the jewels of this beautiful city is Tivoli, a sort of “Disneyland in Las Vegas,” with lots of bright and colorful lights. I wonder what its carbon footprint is. Probably a lot less than it appears, due to the prevalence of wind energy here. The Bella Center, the main site for COP15, is densely packed with people of unparalleled cultural and philosophical diversity and competing interests. A friend once told me that political negotiations get more vicious when the stakes are lower. Here, it is quite the opposite. The stakes are huge and there seems to be a lot of civility, even amongst demonstrators that abound in the streets (though they seem often outnumbered by a very polite and firm police force). Every stakeholder wants to be at this table, but meaningful agreements seem distant right now, due to a tendency for individual national interests to prevail over common global interests. For example, Saudi Arabia is worried about loss of revenue in oil sales due to renewable energy initiatives, while Singapore worries about losing ship traffic if the North Pole becomes navigable as Arctic ice melts. The small Island Sate of Tuvalu has a more compelling case. Their highest elevation is 4m above sea level and they worry about being swallowed by the ocean. Tensions between China and the US (respectively ranked #1 and #2 in CO2 emissions) flared up last Friday, after China (who joined the G77 position to seek financial assistance to mitigate and adapt to climate change) was irritated by an American official who stated that the US is unlikely to provide financial assistance to them. Incidentally, the G77 is a group of predominantly Southern developing nations who at times seem to be headquartered at the tower of Babel. It is Monday afternoon, and I am attending a plenary session for parties, where press and NGOs cannot get in. After one hour of relatively repetitive speeches by governmental bureaucrats, the president of the Maldives asked the chair woman to stop requesting for such long-winded statements as is customary in COP meetings, and break into smaller groups to get to work and reach an agreement within the next two days. This was a wakeup call since heads of state are coming in two days, and negotiations must be over before they arrive to bless or curse whatever is agreed upon. The strategy by key players seems to favor picking up the low hanging fruit to gain momentum. As US Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu said this morning, the North will insist on taking care...

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From Rio to Copenhagen
Dec14

From Rio to Copenhagen

I'm on my way to Copenhagen, 17 and a half years since attending my first meeting on climate change in Rio de Janeiro (June, 1992).  President George H. W. Bush came (briefly) to that meeting, although the U.S. was certainly not a leader in pushing for hard limits on greenhouse gas emissions.  But we did sign the agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Senate ratified our intention to limit emissions (sometime) in the future.   It's the future now and, unfortunately, prospects have not improved. To me, the evidence is massive that climate is changing rapidly and that humans are to blame.  Considering the disappearance of Arctic ice and continental glaciers, the warming of earth and sea surface temperatures, the increasing frequency of floods and droughts, and the migration patterns of birds and animals -- there can be little doubt that the earth is warming fast.  That this warming coincides with man-made emissions into the atmosphere at ever-increasing rates places humans as the cause.  Besides, we can calculate the warming effect of the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and it explains the warming observed. These multiple lines of evidence point convincingly that our changing climate is a serious problem.  But, still, it's not possible to see the "smoking gun" in man's hand directly causing the effects.  Many people, even on my own faculty, insist that the changes are small, probably naturally occurring, and not a priority for action.  For the first time, I'm resigned to respecting their dissenting opinion and to strategizing how to move on and make progress anyway.  It's time to show some resolve and to decrease our emissions. Of course, the rebuttal to the skeptics' argument is that human-caused emissions will exacerbate and accelerate any natural warming that is occurring.  It makes the case even more compelling to take action now.  It's a fact (not a theory) that greenhouse gases absorb back-radiation from the earth and trap heat in the earth's atmosphere.  It's a fact (not a theory) that our fossil fuel emissions are responsible for the incremental greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So after seventeen and a half years, I've come to the conclusion that (no matter what) we cannot convince everyone that climate change is a problem.  To them, it's not a high priority for which we should invest precious resources.  But at Copenhagen (and later in the U.S. Senate), we can move forward through leadership of the Obama administration.  We've waited long enough. We can gather a consensus on energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy -- actions which save money, create jobs, provide for energy security, and improve public health.  Proof of the wisdom of such actions is everywhere evident in prosperous, sustainable Denmark.  In addition, we must reach out now to poor countries who are disproportionately affected by climate change.  And within the...

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