COP 15

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Delegate’s Dispatch No. 2

Louis Blumberg directs the California climate programs for The Nature Conservancy. He’s also been keeping us posted as an official observer to the UN climate conference. And yes, views expressed in his guest posts are his and not necessarily those of KQED or the Climate Watch staff.

Things Heat Up Copenhagen
By Louis Blumberg

Emotions erupted at the Bella Center today during the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Demonstrations, street theater, leaked documents, heated words, threats of walkouts and huge crowds all collided to increase the energy level throughout the massive hall. Frustration was driven in part, according to one of the key treaty negotiators, by the fact that little progress has been made.

At this point in the process, the open meetings have stopped and negotiators are meeting in private to work out their differences. This loss of transparency was exacerbated when demonstrators disrupted one of the last public plenary sessions of the week and the organizers threw out representatives from all non-governmental organizations–including me.*

As discouraging as this emerging gridlock is, my optimism remains because I see that three key pieces, which are falling into place, can produce a real deal:

- First, for the first time ever, key countries, including the U.S., China, India, Brazil and Korea, have all put numerical proposals on the table to reduce emissions.

- Second, as I reported before, the U.S. is providing real leadership, in part by proposing a $10 billion annual fund to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change while continuing to grow their economies.

- Third, President Obama and 110 other heads of state will arrive next week for the final negotiation.

In the meantime, the process of creating a new international treaty amps up…

Yesterday I joined 200 activists in a standing ovation for EPA Director Lisa Jackson as she confirmed U.S. leadership by listing the administration’s actions to fight climate change, including this week’s official finding that greenhouse gas endangers human health. [Ed. Note: This creates authority for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases on its own, with or without enabling legislation].

African countries called for more forest protection. Delegates from one island nation faced with imminent destruction by flooding due to sea-level rise, threatened to walk out on the talks unless the developed countries exhort to cut emissions by 95 percent.

I, alongside a coalition of forest activists, struggled (in what may be a futile attempt) to close a new loophole in emissions reporting rules proposed by some European countries.

And finally, the energy, passion and idealism of demonstrators in costume–walking trees, polluters dressed in red, vegans for climate, and Mr. Green (you can figure that one out on your own)–were both captivating and inspiring.

The frenetic pace is both tiring and energizing and will only increase as we move toward the conference closing on December 18. But there is much more to come before then. Stay tuned.

*Ed. Note: We’re using the term “delegate” somewhat loosely here. Blumberg is a member of The Nature Conservancy “delegation” in Copenhagen but technically he’s an official observer, as are all NGO reps. That’s why he can be tossed out of sessions.

Hopenhagen II: A Delegate’s View

Louis Blumberg is a COP 15 delegate and Director of Climate and Forest Policy for the Nature
Conservancy in California.

Update from Hopenhagen

By Louis Blumberg

The sense of possibility pervaded the halls Monday, infusing energy and 
optimism into the delegates at the UN climate change conference in
 Copenhagen, Denmark. As in prior years, the sheer magnitude of the event 
was inspiring. More than 10,000 participants attended today, thousands 
of whom (including this participant) waited patiently in line for hours
 to get inside.

In one room, representatives from 192 nations sat shoulder-to-shoulder
 in the discussions, and each country was given an equal voice. Two seats
 were allocated to Gabon and two for the U.S., two for China and two for
 Monaco, and so on.

At home in San Francisco, much of my work is focused on addressing
 climate change in California, and we have made great progress as a
 state. Now, seeing the whole world gathered in one room (figuratively
 speaking), it is a powerful reminder that the work we are doing in 
California can be applied anywhere, whether in Australia, Peru or China.
 We are all in this together and can learn so much from one another.

This is the 15th meeting for the “Conference of Parties” (hence “COP 15″), a follow-up to 
the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which resulted in the first global climate agreement ratified by 192 nations, including the U.S. Each year preceding that conference, global delegations have 
met to discuss how to address climate change. The most notable agreement
 happened in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan. Dubbed the Kyoto Protocol, it 
ordered 37 industrialized nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The
 U.S. rejected that pact, and since then our federal government has shown little-to-no leadership on the issue.

But what a difference a year makes. In its first public statement at the 
conference, the United States addressed two key issues head-on with commitments for action: First, a pledge to reduce emissions of
 greenhouse gases by 17% by 2020; and second, a $10 billion pledge with
 other nations intended to help developing countries grow their economies
 while cutting emissions. U.S. envoy Jonathan Pershing spoke forcefully,
 signaling that a new regime in Washington meant real leadership on
 climate change for the world.

Despite public skepticism, it has become clear that something is going
 to happen here. People from all over the world have come together to solve the most serious problem of our lifetime. Nothing less than the 
future of nature and humanity is at stake. I just hope the agreement is
 sufficiently strong and that action happens quickly.

Hopenhagen: A Reporter’s View

Hope for an international deal on climate change abounds on the streets and metro stations throughout Copenhagen. But does it among U.N. delegates?

Hope for an international deal on climate change abounds on the streets and metro stations throughout Copenhagen. But behind closed doors at the conference, the hope tank may be running on empty.

The capital city of this bone-chilling European country is dressed to the nines in global warming, from Coca-Cola ‘Hopenhagen‘ ads overlooking its quaint canals, to huge globes pasted with polar bears and receding glaciers. All this advertising makes all the lovely Scandinavian Christmas decorations look dim in comparison. This is, of course, COP 15– the most anticipated UN climate change convention since Kyoto twelve years ago. Despite the pessimism that pervaded the run-up to this conference, hope was the buzzword on the first day of the conference. In an afternoon news briefing, Yvo de Boer, ever the optimist about these meetings, stayed on message, telling reporters that it wasn’t for nothing that major heads of state like President Obama were changing their schedules to arrive at the end of the conference. They want to see a deal, de Boer said, and news from across the Atlantic that was first reported during the midday hours here in Copenhagen, may very well increase the odds.

As news started to trickle in that the US Environmental Protection Agency had determined that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and the environment (thus opening carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gases to government regulation with or without the blessing of Congress),* the excitement in the halls of the Bella Center rose. High fives were exchanged among American observers, and Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change told my office mate, Sam Eaton of Marketplace, that it was high time that Obama flexed his muscle on climate change. EPA’s move had been in the works for a while.

An ice replica of Copenhagen's famous mermaid, melting in the dead of winter, conveniently placed in front of the Bella Center.

An ice replica of Copenhagen's famous mermaid, melting in the dead of winter, conveniently placed in front of the Bella Center.

Back in September when I attended a climate change conference in Tokyo, UNFCCC head Yvo de Boer hinted it would happen. But it’ll take a lot more than an EPA announcement to move delegates toward a final deal at this conference. One of the biggest issues they face is how to finance emissions reductions throughout the developing world. Poor countries say they need rich countries to help them build a clean energy infrastructure if they are to agree to any binding deal. Rich countries are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to finance this (de Boer says it’ll cost around $10 billion a year) and, more importantly, how to divvy up the cost, especially in the throes of a global recession.

What does this mean for California? It’s one of the few states that have passed carbon dioxide reducing legislation. It behooves us to have neighbors, both domestically and internationally, who have similar laws, so that employers don’t flee the state to escape environmental regulations–a very real scenario in this economy. Whether or not Hopenhagen lives up its nickname, it’s already turning into an interesting event.

*Ed. Note: Back in Washington, at an afternoon news conference, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson explained that today’s “finalizing” of the previously announced endangerment finding now “obligates” the agency to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. But she hastily added that it’s not a replacement for Congressional action. “Legislation is still the best way,” said Jackson. “It’s not an either-or proposition.”

Climate Watch in Copenhagen

Earthshine_NASAClimate Watch begins it’s coverage of the UN’s COP 15 climate talks in Copenhagen this evening, when KQED’s This Week in Northern California airs my recently taped interview with former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore. The original 20-minute interview has been “edited for TV,” down to about nine minutes. The full interview is to be posted on This Week’s website.

The interview begins with Gore’s assessment of the upcoming climate conference and then moves on to California’s role, the hype surrounding “green jobs,” controversy over climate science, his new book, and other topics. Regrettably, the interview was recorded before the eruption of the email scandal now known as “Climategate,” so I wasn’t able to get his take on that.

It’s pretty hard to spring anything on Gore. He’s heard every question there is to be asked about a thousand times and has carefully crafted, well-rehearsed answers to all of them. He did seem slightly off-balance when I asked him about FactCheck.org’s conclusions about some of the green job creation hype.

On Monday, our radio and online coverage begins in earnest when the first of Rob Schmitz’ reports from Copenhagen airs on The California Report. Schmitz, KQED’s Los Angeles Bureau Chief, arrives there on Saturday and will be there for the entire two weeks of events and negotiations. He’ll provide radio reports and frequent blog posts, covering–among other things–the appearance of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on “Subnational Day.” In a climate-related media event on Treasure Island this week, Schwarzenegger said his mission in Copenhagen would be to rally governors, mayors, provincial leaders and other subnational players, to continue their own progress toward greenhouse gas emissions and not wait for national governments and international bodies to take action.

Also on Monday, Rob and I will join host Michael Krasny and NASA climatologist James Hansen on KQED’s Forum program. Hansen was the original climate whistle-blower, complaining that the Bush administration was muzzling climate scientists. Hansen has since taken a hard line against the upcoming efforts in Copenhagen, saying that cap & trade is the wrong path to climate intervention (both Gore and Hansen are promoting new books of theirs).