After All That, Disappointment in “Hopenhagen”

Delegates to the UN climate conference in Copenhagen have officially “taken note” of the deal squeezed out on Friday by major carbon-emitting nations, an action that seems to fall short of a ringing endorsement.

President Obama’s own summary of the climate deal reached at–almost literally–the eleventh hour in Copenhagen, was laden with the language of muted disappointment. While describing the arrangement hammered out by the US, China, India and Brazil as “meaningful and unprecedented” and stressing that for the first time, “All major economies have come together,” he also used terms like “first step” and “not enough.”

Some bullet points from the President’s news conference, right before be bolted for the airport:

– Accord contains the three key elements: transparency, mitigation and finance

– Mitigation goal to stop warming at 2 degrees (C) “…by action consistent with science.”

– Nations have “much farther to go.”

– Accord is “not legally binding” and sets no deadline to achieve one that is*

– A legally binding pact was “not achievable at this conference.”

– Getting to a legally binding agreement will be “very hard and is going to take some time.”

– “This is hard within countries. It’s going to be even harder between countries.”

And here’s one to set a cheery tone for the coming year:

– “Kyoto was legally binding but everybody fell short, anyway.”

*Earlier drafts of the agreement reportedly set the end of 2010 as a deadline for signing something binding.

The US President and other heads of state left the Bella conference center before the agreement was actually signed. He said negotiators will remain in Copenhagen and attach many of the details to the deal in an “appendix,” before signing. President Obama said he was confident that as he departed, delegates were “moving in the direction of a significant accord.”

Here’s an early reaction from a major environmental group, in this case Friends of the Earth:

– “Sham Deal Requires Nothing, Accomplishes Nothing.”

Prepare for more of that.

The outcome of the fifteenth “Conference of Parties” in Copenhagen would seem to lend prescience to the speech given there by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday, the theme of which was: Don’t wait for national and international bodies to solve this problem. They haven’t–and may not.

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.

Copenhagen Sans Congress

KQED’s Los Angeles Bureau Chief and frequent Climate Watch contributor Rob Schmitz is spending six weeks in Japan, as part of  the Abe Fellowship Program. He’s filing a series of blog posts and radio reports on Japan’s extraordinary strides in energy efficiency–and what we might learn from them.

...And a message for the US from Yvo de Boer--An official program from last week's Asahi World Environment Forum in Tokyo.

...and a message for the U.S. from Yvo de Boer: An official program from last week's Asahi World Environment Forum in Tokyo.

With the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen two and a half months away, it’s becoming increasingly likely that lawmakers on Capitol Hill will not pass legislation on greenhouse gas reductions in time. A commonly accepted premise seems to be that without domestic climate legislation enacted at home, the U.S. won’t be able to sign a global deal on climate change in Copenhagen, either.

Not true, said UN Climate chief Yvo de Boer last week at the Asahi World Environment Forum here in Tokyo. de Boer told a packed house that in recent conversations he’s had with Senator John Kerry (chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) and senior advisors to President Obama, it was clear to him that the United States doesn’t need Congress to act in order to sign a deal in Copenhagen. (Listen to an audio clip of his remarks using the player below.)

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This isn’t the first time de Boer has said this, nor is it the first time this notion has been floated. Last year, Marc Ambiner, political editor for The Atlantic, wrote in his blog about how the administration could bypass Congress for comprehensive energy reform by using the Clean Air Act as a platform. It seems that some of Obama’s environmental advisors believe that the act not only gives the Environmental Protection Agency the power to regulate greenhouse gases but also to institute a cap-and-trade regime on its own. Going around Congress for such an important policy shift would no doubt be a controversial step, but if such powerful and influential figures are hinting at it to de Boer, maybe we’ll see a little Copenhagen surprise on the part of the American delegation.

Global Call for Climate Change Stories

Want a trip to Copenhagen to cover this year’s UN climate talks, but not sure how to pay for it?


Photo: NASA

Internews, an international media development organization, today launched The Earth Journalism Awards, a competition for the world’s best climate change reporting.  Applicants can register and submit stories on the EJA website until September 7, 2009, when 14 winners will be selected to be flown to Copenhagen in December to cover the UN talks for their home countries and local media outlets.

“The media has a hugely important role to play in helping to raise awareness about climate change, and environmental issues,” said James Fahn, the director of Internews’  Earth Journalism Network.

Winners will be selected for seven regions: Eurasia, South Asia, East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and Australia. EJA will make awards for reporting in categories such as Human Voices, Energy, Forests, Nature and Climate Change. Then the non-profit will invite the public to vote online for the best story out of 14 finalists, which will be awarded the Global Public Award.

The competition is open to both professional “citizen” journalists from all over the world, and Fahn says there’s a special emphasis on engaging reporters from developing nations.

“The people and communities most vulnerable to climate change often have the least information about it.  It’s the marginalized, poor communities that have the most exposure to the impacts of climate change.  They can generally see that climate change is happening but they don’t always know why, or what’s in store for the future.  It’s important for us to fill this information gap,” said Fahn.

Fahn says more than 300 journalists from eleven countries have already entered. EJA will fly the winners to Denmark for the next major round of UN climate talks in December.

Climate Watch will feature EJA selected entries on this website.

Postcard to Poznan

3088850070_5a89257718_m.jpgThe United States might not have an international reputation as a leader in the fight against climate change, but on Saturday a few hundred San Franciscans came out to Crissy Field to tell the world that times are changing.

Environmental groups declared December 6th the Global Day of Action, selected, as it has been for the last three years, to coincide with the United Nations climate talks. This year’s talks are currently taking place in Poznan, Poland.

Organized by Greenpeace, the crowd in San Francisco held up a 50 x 30 ft “postcard” that read: “Dear World Leaders, We are ready to save the climate! Yes we can!” against the backdrop of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

A helicopter flew overhead at 1 p.m., taking photos of the banner and the crowd. Ben Smith, Greenpeace’s National Organizer for Global Warming, said that the group plans to send the photos to delegates at the talks in Poznan (it’s gotta be cheaper than sending the postcard) as a symbol that despite the last eight years of inaction, Americans are serious about finding solutions for climate change.

“We are at a really significant point in history now, after eight years of the Bush Administration denying global warming and dismantling the UN process for stopping it,” said Smith. “The door has swung wide open, and we have the opportunity to solve the problem.”

Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Palm Beach, and several other cities across the country held similar demonstrations, said Anna Wagner, Greenpeace Global Warming Senior Organizer.

“We are trying to put pressure on our leaders to pass strong science-based solutions to global warming,” said Wagner. “The United States is key to stopping global warming, and we are sending a message to the Obama Administration that this is a number one priority for Americans.”

Many environmentalists are optimistic about Obama’s plans to invest billions in alternative energy and to place mandatory caps on greenhouse gases across the country similar to those already mandated in California. As we have reported here, Obama recently said in his video address to the Governors’ Climate Summit that he will work for “a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”

But some are raising questions about whether Obama’s plans go far enough. A recent article in Time Magazine cites a November 12th International Energy Agency (IAE) report projecting that a $26 trillion investment in power-supply needs will be needed to address a 45 percent increase in the demand for energy between 2006 and 2030, if no new government policies are enacted.

It appears that Obama will promote new policies that may mitigate this scenario but the challenge may be greater than it was a few months ago. With half a million jobs lost last month and regular gasoline at $1.69 a gallon in San Francisco, large scale investment in new low-carbon industries might be a harder sell.


Pipeline to Poznan

Map courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica OnlineAs a general rule, I’d say anything that already has 789 credentialed media members covering it doesn’t need me there. That’s the announced size of the press contingent at the UN climate talks going on this week in Poznan, Poland. All those reporters should find something to write about, among the 10,696 reps from 187 countries.

And yet, expectations are not high for this round, which is described by the U.N.’s Yvo deBoer as “the halfway point” to a successor agreement for the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. DeBoer says he is hoping for substantive progress on matters like deforestation and technology transfer.

So far it’s sounding a lot like the recent Governors’ Global Climate Summit in Beverly Hills–at least until President-elect Barack Obama seized the crowd by laying out his aggressive plans for climate policy. His four-minute video greeting effectively let the air out of Poznan, which is being staffed, of course, by a U.S. delegation from the outgoing Bush administration.

Recently I had a chance to get a Poznan preview from Jonathan Pershing, a former science and climate advisor in the Clinton Administration, now at the non-profit World Resources Institute.  You can hear my radio report about California’s influence on the tone of the UN climate talks on The California Report.

Use the audio player below to hear a one-minute excerpt from my interview with Pershing.

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