Aboard the Roller Coaster in Copenhagen

88363083Louis Blumberg directs the California climate program for The Nature Conservancy. He’s also been keeping us posted as an official observer to the UN climate conference.

Copenhagen, December 16

Amidst the protests, the deliberations, the 24/7 schedule and battling what has been dubbed the “COP 15 flu,” the collective energy and sense of import in Copenhagen is still motivating us all to keep at it.

The atmosphere at the Bella Center has been a roller coaster this week. One thing I’ve realized is that it’s tricky to keep up with the constant changes that are happening so rapidly. At one point, we heard that negotiators had included in the draft text a global goal to reduce emissions from deforestation by 50 percent by 2020 and to achieve zero emissions by 2030. This would have been unprecedented. Unfortunately, we later learned that this text was only a placeholder but still could come through in a final agreement.

Adopting a global goal to stop deforestation would certainly be one important measure of success for this conference. It is alarming that the destruction of the world’s forests is the second highest source of greenhouse gas emissions — more than the emissions from all planes, trains and automobiles combined — yet a role for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (known as REDD) was not included in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This left countries with few economic incentives for preserving their forests, while they stood to make a fortune selling the timber, clearing forests for development or converting them to agriculture.

Enter the forest carbon market. Meeting an ambitious global goal on deforestation will take a lot of resources. A global market that gives value to forest carbon can generate the funding required each year to reduce deforestation at the scale needed to address climate change, while providing cash-poor, forest-rich countries the financial incentives they need to protect their forests rather than destroy them. While it is not the only tool to reduce emissions, it is a crucial one.

California has been a leader in this arena by both establishing a credible, prescriptive method for certifying forest carbon projects and including a role for forest offsets [PDF download from Stanford] in the state’s cap-and-trade program. This is a model that COP 15 negotiators can point to while framing the global solution to reducing deforestation. Let’s hope they come to an agreement soon.


UN Climate Chief: 2014 "Will Alarm the World"

As Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wrapped up his three-day Global Climate Summit today, with signatures and ceremony, the U.N.’s top climate official set a sobering tone with his own parting shot.

In a final panel this afternoon, the Governor was joined by former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Pachauri said the worst-case scenarios from previous climate modeling appear to be coming true, and warned that the next climate change assessment from the IPCC, due out in 2014, “will alarm the world.”

Then he went on to reiterate a prediction he made before the U.N. earlier this month; that based on the science he’s seen, 12 countries are in danger of becoming failed states due to the impacts of climate change. And while he stopped short of listing the nations, previous statements appear to imply that several of the states on his list are in Africa.

Elsewhere at the summit, 30 delegates from state and local governments around the world signed a final agreement to collaborate on climate change. If they follow through with some muscle on the partnership, they’ll be collaborating on clean transportation and on climate adaptation strategies.

Governors from Brazil, Indonesia and U.S.also called on their national governments to address deforestation at the UN climate treaty talks in Copenhagen. Forest loss accounts for 20% of climate emissions globally. California also signed its agreement with the Jiangsu Province of China.

The three-day summit’s title was “On the Road to Copenhagen” and the international talks have been front and center in the discussions here. The governors attending would like their role in combating climate change formally recognized there. They see themselves on the front lines of climate change, as evidenced by this much cited statistic: 50-80% of the emissions cuts needed to reach the UN’s goals will be implemented by states and cities.

But despite the Copenhagen-mania, Schwarzenegger stuck with his subnational message, saying: “Climate change isn’t all about this one treaty.” Even if the talks at Copenhagen fail, he says states and provinces should keep forging ahead.

Photo: Office of the Governor.