Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Greenwire reported on the Madrid meeting next week that will be examining progress on addressing the worldwide food crisis -- where one of every seven people in the world is hungry. What a wonderful time to begin to make a difference! Although the crisis in food prices that fueled the Rome discussions last summer has abated, the long-term problem remains. And, if the Administration is swift and sure-footed enough, President Obama can use the discussions in Madrid to signal that the United States is serious about fulfilling his inaugeral promises:
UNITED NATIONS -- One of President Barack Obama's first forays into into multilateral diplomacy will be following up on a food crisis that engulfed the world's poorest countries last year. Though food prices have fallen sharply in recent months, diplomats will gather Monday in Madrid to see whether they are keeping their promises of food aid and support for agricultural development made at U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) talks in Rome last June. "The Madrid meeting will raise the political profile of food security," said David Nabarro, coordinator of a U.N. task force established last year by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to address the crisis. "The food systems of the world have been in crisis, continue to be in crisis and will go on being in crisis until we're able to create a situation where they work in the interests of poor people."
U.N. officials estimate that about 1 billion people are undernourished and at least 100 million would face imminent starvation were it not for emergency food assistance. Last year, record oil prices, burgeoning demand for food, and failing crops contributed to a upward spiral in the price of most food basics, especially rice, wheat and corn.
U.S. farm income rose by about 50 percent during the boom, but most of the world suffered. Food prices have since plunged, but Nabarro told reporters here yesterday that food commodities are still much more expensive than they were in decades past. And officials fear that under-investment in agriculture expected during the current market slump is only setting the stage for greater problems down the road. "The food crisis is not the story that's on the tip of everybody's tongue right now. It's the financial crisis," said J.B. Reed of the nonprofit Nuru Project, which staged a New York photography exhibit last month showing images of starving people and Third World food riots. "But the financial crisis has implications for the food crisis."
Average food prices more than doubled worldwide over three years. Farm subsidies in wealthy countries, the popularity of biofuels and market speculators were among the culprits blamed. But a long neglect of the importance of Third World agricultural productivity by organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the U.S. Agency for International Development contributed greatly. For 20 years, aid efforts have focused mostly on industrial infrastructure, figuring the developing world could simply import cheap food grown efficiently in the West. Agriculture enjoyed about 20 percent of international aid dollars back in the late 1980s, but skewed priorities have shrunk its share to just barely 3 percent today. FAO estimates that by mid-2008 food prices were 64 percent higher than 2002 levels. The only other time prices shot up so quickly was in the wake of the oil shock of the 1970s.
In total, governments pledged about $6.6 billion in new spending on food aid and agriculture programs in Rome last year. The lion's share of commitments came from Washington, which pledged to spend $5 billion over the next two years. Since then, the global financial crisis has diverted hundreds of billions of dollars in government resources to shoring up banks and protecting deposits. Meanwhile, collapsed commodity prices and rising food stocks have largely eliminated any sense of urgency. "Actually, most countries that pledged in Rome have followed up, but the follow-up has been a lot slower than we would like," Nabarro said. "One of the things we will be doing in Madrid is tracking that follow-up." Experts who have stayed focused on food security issues worry that the financial crisis will affect future food production more than many appreciate. Falling prices and weaker demand mean farmers in developed countries have little incentive to grow more this year. And the tight credit environment makes it difficult for farmers to finance expanded yields even if they wanted to....
U.N. leaders have said that between $20 billion and $40 billion in new annual spending on agriculture is needed over the next several years to keep up with population growth and expanding demand as nations like India and China grow richer. Nabarro said he hopes at least some new commitments for additional spending will materialize in Madrid, with the new Obama administration playing a lead role. "We take a view that in a world where 14 percent of the population remains hungry ... that is an extremely unsatisfactory situation," Nabarro said. "That is a representation of a crisis."
Lower food costs give public policymakers some breathing room as they focus on halting the decline in the global economy, which began in the developed world but is now hitting developing countries hard, as well. Agricultural economists predict that prices for most food commodities will stay low for much or all of 2009. "World production of wheat, maize and rice is expected to exceed demand and contribute to a partial replenishment of stocks," experts with the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs say in their latest global economic outlook. But economists warn that once the financial system recovers, so will food markets. And price declines over the last few months still don't make up for much of the increases experienced over three years. The World Food Programme's budget for 2009 is estimated at $5.2 billion, a record....
E & E News reported:
The Senate unanimously confirmed seven of President Barack Obama's Cabinet picks today, including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, but postponed debate on his nominees to lead the State Department, U.S. EPA and White House Council on Environmental Quality...In a post-inauguration session, the Senate quickly approved Chu, Salazar, Vilsack, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also scheduled a 3 p.m. roll call vote for tomorrow on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Obama's nominee to be secretary of the State Department.... The Senate did not take up two other Obama nominations: Lisa Jackson to be the next EPA administrator and Nancy Sutley to be the chairwoman of the White House CEQ. Both nominees did not face significant scrutiny during their confirmation hearings last week, leaving several Senate Republican and Democratic leadership aides today searching for answers about who was holding up the two Obama environmental picks....Andrew Wheeler, Republican staff director for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) supports both nominees and isn't sure who raised the objection to Jackson and Sutley's confirmations, though he said the objection to Sutley being confirmed today was because her position is not Cabinet-level.
January 20, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Today I had the pleasure as Director of our law school's Certificate Program in Law and Government to host two visitors from Mozambique through the International Leadership Visitor Program funded by the State Department. This program focuses on bringing emerging leaders from developing countries concerned with good governance to the United States, to expose them first-hand to various aspects of American governance. Last year, we hosted 16 visitors from more than a dozen African countries. Today's session was more informal and a bit more manageable.
Our visitors were the Governor of a northern province and the second in command of a major department within the national government. They were interested in learning how the United States trains its graduate or advanced students in law and government. We were able to share some aspects of our program, including attending and speaking with my first year Lawmaking Process class. They were also fascinated by how the United States is evolving with its election of President Obama.
The treat, of course, for me was to learn first-hand something about Mozambique, its politics and policy, and role in Africa. Certainly, its thorough integration of woman into the power structure and into all aspects of administration is a lesson for Americans as well as other Africans. This is beginning to happen here, witness Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Diane Feinstein, the corps of talented Governors through the US and the league of women joining the Obama administration. But, until a woman stands where President Obama stood today, we still lag behind virtually every developed country in the world -- and many, such as Mozambique, in the developed world. Women took their place in the struggle for independence in Mozambique -- even on the battlefield. They have continued to serve in Parliament and throughout government, with stature and an assured equality that American woman still lack.
Their challenge is to solidify their independence and their emerging democracy -- and to solve the problem of poverty. There, President Obama gave them reason to hope: "To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our boders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it."
As you who read this blog regularly no doubt realize, these words, especially about providing clean water and reducing our consumption of resources, were music to my ears. And perhaps to yours.
We have a President who in the midst of the raging storms of the failure of our economy and two wars, understands that "each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet." That the work to be done includes the promise that "[w]e will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories." That "we will work tirelessly...to roll back the specter of a warming planet."
As my new friends from Mozambique realize, President Obama has not become just an American president, but he is today the most important leader of the whole world. Not just by virtue of our relative prosperity and military power, but by virtue of our willingness to turn the page of history and to pledge to live up to our responsibilities to people seeking peace and justice and equality and means to enjoy their full measure of happiness throughout the world.
Today, my friends, let us celebrate with all of our new friends...and pledge ourselves to making this vision become a reality, in law, in policy, and in how we conduct our obscure, everyday lives.
January 20, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, January 19, 2009
According to MarketWatch, Jim Gordon of Cape Wind Associates, the developer of the controversial Cape Wind wind farm off the coast of Nantucket, plans to begin construction as early as 2010 now that the Cape Wind project has cleared a years-long environmental review by the federal government. The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service has issued a 2800 page final EIS, estimating that the $1.2 billion plan to build 130 turbines in Nantucket Sound would reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change by 880,000 tons per year, create hundreds of jobs and ultimately supply most of the electricity needs for Cape Cod. The Record of Decision is expected roughly 30 days after issuance of the FEIS.
EPA reports sea levels on the United States' mid-Atlantic coast are rising faster than the global average because of global warming, threatening the future of coastal communities. Coastal waters from New York to North Carolina have crept up by an average of 2.4 to 4.4 millimeters (0.09 to 0.17 inches) a year, compared with an average global increase of 1.7 millimeters (0.07 inches) a year. As a result, sea levels along the East Coast rose about a foot over the past century. EPA Sea Level Assessment and Adaptation Report
The IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report indicated that the rate of sea level rise has accelerated and, by the end of the century, global sea levels could be seven to 23 inches higher. Readers should remember that this IPCC estimate excludes the contribution of Antarctic and Greenland ice because of uncertainties about ice stability and dynamics at the time the Working Group I report was drafted. In the last two years, additional scientific research has begun to identify a more reliable range of sea level rise associated with those areas of ice, dramatically increasing the estimate of likely global sea level rise by 2100.
EPA had focused on the mid-Atlantic region because it "will likely see the greatest impacts due to rising waters, coastal storms, and a high concentration of population along the coastline." Higher sea levels erode beaches and drastically change the habitats of species, often at a pace too fast for species to adapt and survive. Communities in the area are at greater risk of flooding as a "higher sea level provides an elevated base for storm surges to build upon and diminishes the rate at which low-lying areas drain." Floods will probably cause more damage in the future as higher sea levels gradually erode and wash away dunes, beaches and wetlands that serve as a protective barrier. Consequently, homes and businesses would be closer to the water's edge and more likely to be damaged in extreme storm events that other scientists predict are increasing with global warming.
Rising sea levels have implications beyond the mid-Atlantic region. Ports challenged by rising waters could slow the transport of goods across the country, and disappearing beaches could hurt resorts and affect tourism revenue, damaging an already fragile U.S. economy.
EPA, NOAA, and USGS recommend:
- Federal, state and local governments should step in now to prepare for the rising seas
- Governments should protect residents through policies that preserve public beaches and coastal ecosystems and encourage retrofits of buildings to make them higher
- Engineering rules for coastal areas be revised because those used today are based on current sea levels
- Flood insurance rates also could be adjusted to accommodate risk from rising sea levels
January 19, 2009 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, Land Use, Legislation, North America, Physical Science, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The US Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a coalition of business, environmental and other interests, unveiled its "Blueprint for Legislative Action" climate change program today, which features a cap-and-trade approach to reducing GHG emissions. USCAP link to 28 page Blueprint USCAP Executive Overview The cap-and-trade proposal is, of course, by now mainstream thinking -- and unsurprising given the Environmental Defense economic incentive approach to environmental problems. The USCAP plan is based upon an 80% reduction of 2005 GHG emissions by 2050. Note that this goal falls far short of more ambitious proposals already made in Congress and is woefully inadequate to meet the 350 ppm, 1 degree C criterion for climate change mitigation policy proferred by James Hanson, et al. to avoid dangerous global warming impacts.
The Blueprint apparently represents two years of work by USCAP members building on their January 2007 Call for Action, which articulated principles for climate change mitigation efforts and made recommendations urging “prompt enactment of national legislation in the United States to slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the shortest time reasonably achievable.”
The Blueprint responds to requests by federal policymakers for a detailed consensus to help inform climate change legislation. USCAP acknowledges that it does not include all stakeholders and interests. It characterizes the Blueprint as an "integrated package of policies [providing] a pragmatic pathway to achieve aggressive environmental goals in a responsible and economically sustainable manner." 4 page
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The EU will list EU-approved "active substances," excluding 22 ingredients that are classified as carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction. The chemical "blacklist" includes eight substances used in the manufacture of herbicides, 11 used in fungicides and three in insecticides, many of them produced by German chemical giants Bayer and BASF -- including Ioxynil, Amitrol and Iprodion. That list will provide the basis for national EU governments to approve pesticides nationally or, via mutual recognition with 120 days, in the north, center, and south regions of the EU. Currently, approvals apply only for individual countries and there is no deadline set for mutual recognition approvals.
Already licensed pesticides remain available until their 10-year authorization expires, avoiding a sudden large-scale withdrawal of pesticides from the market.EU countries will be allowed to ban a product, because of specific environment or agricultural circumstances. Also, certain restrictions will be put on pesticide use, including banning most aerial crop-spraying, strict conditions on pesticides use near aquatic environments and drinking water supplies, and buffer zones requirements around water and protected areas along roads and railways.
January 14, 2009 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Biodiversity, Economics, EU, Governance/Management, Land Use, Legislation, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, January 11, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Larry Kopp/Seth Allen, The T.A.S.C. Group
Ph: 646-723-4344/ cell: 917-282-2357
Clean Energy States Alliance To Hold Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill
CESA Will Propose New Federal/State Partnership for Green Stimulus Investment
Washington, DC, January 9, 2009: Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) will hold a congressional briefing on Tuesday, January 13 on the strategic role of states in supporting clean energy. The event is co-sponsored by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and will be held from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. at 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill. CESA will present policy recommendations for the Obama administration and outline a new federal/state partnership for moving forward with effective clean energy economic stimulus. The key is distributing federal funds for clean energy investment directly through the many existing state clean energy funds and programs.
"For years, the states have been funding clean energy projects and have taken the lead in green collar job creation," said CESA President, Lewis Milford. "The federal government should use the many existing state clean energy funds as vehicles to quickly and efficiently deploy the green stimulus investment."
Speakers for the briefing include: Lewis Milford, President and Founder of Clean Energy States Alliance and Clean Energy Group; Janet Joseph, Director of Clean Energy Research &Market Development, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA); Tom Plant, Director of Colorado Governor's Energy Office; Rob Sanders, Sustainable Development Fund Manager, The Reinvestment Fund and Peter West, Director of Renewable Energy, Energy Trust of Oregon.
The briefing coincides with a press conference and panel event CESA has scheduled for the morning of January 13 at the National Press Club. The press breakfast will start at 9:30 a.m. and run through 11:00 a.m. At the event, CESA will release a new report which highlights its national database of nearly 50,000 state funded renewable energy projects. The projects in the database have a capacity of 1.7 Gigawatts and generate 5.3 million megawatt hours of electricity each year, enough to power 500,000 homes. As of 2007, 12,000 state renewable energy projects have been completed and state clean energy funds have invested $1.5 billion and leveraged an additional $2.5 billion in private capital.
Much of the innovative and effective activity to advance clean energy has taken place at the state level. By supporting creative finance, policy, and market initiatives, the states have been serving as laboratories where ideas for implementing clean energy can be tested and proven in the real world. In many cases, the states have established special funds to promote renewable energy and other clean energy technologies. CESA will also honor five state clean energy programs with the inaugural "State Leadership in Clean Energy Awards" at the event. Representatives from CESA and the winning programs will be present.
The CESA and EESI briefing is open to press. Anyone interested in attending the event and scheduling interviews with CESA representatives must contact:
Larry Kopp/Seth Allen, Office: (646) 723-4344, Cell: (917) 282-2357, firstname.lastname@example.org
About Clean Energy States Alliance
Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) is a national nonprofit organization that works with clean energy funds and state agencies to expand the nation's clean energy infrastructure and advance markets for clean energy technologies. CESA provides information and technical services to its members and shares its knowledge with the federal government and influential policymakers. CESA's member states manage programs that will invest nearly $6 billion in the next ten years to support clean energy. Clean Energy Group (CEG) created CESA in 2002 and now manages it.
Friday, January 9, 2009
This speech takes a leaf from Ken Cohen's playbook. I think that Cohen is honestly convinced that taxes are better and that cap-and-trade is too complicated. On the other hand, it certainly muddies the waters for quick passage of a climate change bill. And maybe that's the real point. The other strategic possibility is that oil companies are quick to suggest that their marginal costs of control are far higher than utilities. If so, since utilities will control first rather than pay the tax, the tax necessary to secure reductions from the utilities will be relatively low. So, the oil companies could pay the low tax and defer payment of the higher costs of control.
Also, as I frequently point out to my students, environmental taxes produce a downward pressure on the level of emission control to be achieved simply because they tax each unit, not just the undesired units, of pollution. That drives the cost of control through the roof and creates the downward political pressure. Additionally, there is always the uncertainty of what the marginal cost of control is and thus the amount of emission reduction that will be achieved.
The chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp. for the first time called on Congress to enact a tax on greenhouse-gas emissions in order to fight global warming. In a speech in Washington, Rex Tillerson said that a tax was a "more direct, a more transparent and a more effective approach" to curtailing greenhouse gases than other plans popular in Congress and with the incoming Obama administration...
By backing [a carbon tax], Mr. Tillerson has become an unlikely member of a club that includes former Vice President Al Gore, consumer advocate Ralph Nader and President-elect Barack Obama's designated head of the National Economic Council, Larry Summers.
Carbon taxes have been politically unpopular. "Calling for a carbon tax could be a ploy because few observers believe such a tax is politically feasible in our Congress," says Daniel J. Weiss, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a left-of-center think tank in Washington.
The leadership of the Democratic-led Congress and other major oil companies prefer using a cap-and-trade approach. Under this system, the government would establish economy-wide emission limits as well as limits for individual companies. There would be a market for firms to buy and sell pollution allowances based on whether they were above or below their caps. ConocoPhillips and the U.S. divisions of BP PLC and Royal Dutch Shell PLC have all supported a cap-and-trade solution.
Mr. Tillerson said a cap-and-trade system would be costly, bureaucratic and create a "Wall Street of emissions brokers." The speech signals an evolution in the thinking of Mr. Tillerson, who became chief executive and chairman of Texas-based Exxon, the world's largest Western oil company, in 2006. Mr. Tillerson now calls the issue complex and challenging to understand, but -- in contrast to Exxon's previous party line -- he doesn't question whether fossil fuel use has contributed to rising global temperatures.
Tillerson's certainly right about the transaction costs associated with a cap-and-trade system. This could be interesting.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
A new study by Stanford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Mark Jacobson entitled “Review of Solutions to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security” Jacobson study link comprehensively analyzes various energy solutions, addressing associated impacts on water supply, land use, wildlife, resources, and pollution. Ultimately, the study finds that “In sum, the use of wind, CSP, geothermal, tidal, solar, wave, and hydroelectric to provide electricity for BEVs [battery-electric vehicles] and HFCVs [hydrogen fuel cell vehicles] result in the most benefit and least impact among the options considered. Coal-CCS and nuclear provide less benefit with greater negative impacts. The biofuel options provide no certain benefit and result in significant negative impacts.”
Due to the poor EO/EI ratio of biofuel and its competition with food crops, most of us are skeptical about widespread use of biofuel to meet transportation needs. However, air transportation is one of the few sectors where finding alternative energy sources is difficult. So, the recent and forthcoming tests of various biofuels in the air transportation sector are noteworthy, especially when strict conditions are placed on biofuel production. In one recent test, Air New Zealand set three requirements for sustainable biofuel:
(1) the fuel source must be environmentally sustainable and not compete with existing food resources;
(2) the fuel must be a drop-in replacement for traditional jet fuel and technically be at least as good as the product used today; and
(3)the fuel must be cost competitive with existing fuel supplies and be readily available.
A passenger jet with one of its four engines running on a biofuel blend today completed the world's first commercial aviation test flight to test a biofuel made from jatropha. The test flight was a joint initiative with partners Boeing, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell's UOP. The two hour Air New Zealand test flight was powered by a second-generation biofuel made from the seeds of the jatropha plant that could reduce emissions and cut costs. The flight was the first to use jatropha jatropha seed oil as part of a biofuel mix [50% jatropha, 50% jet fuel]....
Air New Zealand test plane (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)
Jatropha seed pods (Photo courtesy Air New Zealand)
Jatropha is a plant that produces seeds that contain inedible lipid oil that is used to produce the fuel. Each seed produces 30-40 percent of its mass in oil and jatropha can be grown in a range of difficult conditions, including arid and otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime areas available for food crops....
The jatropha used on Tuesday's flight was grown in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, the airline said. The criteria for sourcing the jatropha oil required that the land was neither forest land nor virgin grassland within the previous two decades.
Jatropha grows on poor soil and in arid climates not suitable for most food crops. The jatropha farms that grew the seeds for this test flight are rain-fed and not mechanically irrigated.
The test flight partners engaged Terasol Energy, a leader in sustainable jatropha development projects, to independently source and certify that the jatropha-based fuel for the flight met all sustainability criteria. Once received from Terasol Energy, the jatropha oil was refined through a collaborative effort between Air New Zealand, Boeing and refining technology developer UOP. The process utilized UOP technology to produce jet fuel that can serve as a direct replacement for traditional petroleum jet fuel.
Air New Zealand aims to meet 10 percent of its fuel needs through sustainable biofuel by 2013. In February, Virgin Atlantic was the first airline to test a commercial aircraft on a biofuel blend, using a 20 percent mixture of coconut oil and babassu oils in one of its four engines. In January, two more airlines will test their biofuel blends. Continental Airlines on January 7 will conduct a test flight powered by a blend involving algae and jatropha. The flight will be the first biofuel flight by a commercial carrier using algae as a fuel source, the first using a two-engine aircraft, and the first biofuel demonstration flight of a U.S. commercial airliner. On January 30, Japan Airlines is planning a test flight from Tokyo using a fuel based on the camelina oilseed as a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
Science reports on a new study showing that both rising ocean water temperatures and ocean acidification are causing a reduced rate of calcification of coral reefs in the Great Barrier Reef. Coral reefs are threatened by from rising sea-surface temperatures, ocean acidification (the declining pH of surface seawater layers caused by the absorption of increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2), pollution, and overexploitation. Other studies have demonstrated declines in the coverage and numbers of live coral reefs, as well as reduced coral diversity, but few examined how rates of coral calcification have been affected. The study by De'ath et al. examined growth patterns of 328 massive Porites corals from the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and found that their rates of calcification have declined by nearly 15% since 1990, to values lower than any seen for the past 400 years. The main causes of this continuing decline appear to be increasing water temperatures and ocean acidification.Science today link
Friday, December 26, 2008
The Economist summarized the December Poznan, Poland meeting as fiddling with words. Economist link Likewise, in 2007, I characterized the G8 summit in these words, "Nero became infamous for fiddling as First Century Rome burned. This month, the parties at the G8 summit followed Nero's insanely frivolous, time-wasting lead. Unfortunately, this time the whole planet is burning." Findlaw: Smith commentary But the Economist captured the situation with a different metaphor.
IMAGINE that some huge rocky projectile, big enough to destroy most forms of life, was hurtling towards the earth, and it seemed that deep international co-operation offered the only hope of deflecting the lethal object. Presumably, the nations of the world would set aside all jealousies and ideological hangups, knowing that failure to act together meant doom for all. At least in theory, most of the world’s governments now accept that climate change, if left unchecked, could become the equivalent of a deadly asteroid. But to judge by the latest, tortuous moves in climate-change diplomacy—at a two-week gathering in western Poland, which ended on December 13th—there is little sign of any mind-concentrating effect. To be fair to the 10,000-odd people (diplomats, UN bureaucrats, NGO types) who assembled in Poznan, a semicolon was removed. At a similar meeting in Bali a year earlier, governments had vowed to consider ways of cutting emissions from “deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries; and the role of conservation [and forest management]”. After much haggling, delegates in Poland decided to upgrade conservation by replacing the offending punctuation mark with a comma. At this pace, it seems to hard to believe that a global deal on emissions targets (reconciling new emitters with older ones) can be reached next December at a meeting in Copenhagen, seen as a make-or-break time for UN efforts to cool the world.
The Economist went on to explain some of the background factors that influenced the events at Poznan and why it was not a totally depressing waste of time:
In the background of the Poznan meeting, there was mild optimism (and a reluctance by others to put fresh cards on the table) ahead of an expected change of stance by an Obama administration in America; resentment (among the poor and green) over the refusal of Japan and Canada to promise deeper cuts; and strong demands from China for the transfer of technology from the rich to others. In the final hours of the conference, the governments of small, sinking island nations were delighted to learn that they, and not some global body, would control a fund to help them adapt to a warming world. Their mood changed when it became known that no extra money had been set aside for this purpose. However hard it looks to put this global jigsaw together, there were some encouraging unilateral moves, especially from Latin America. Mexico vowed to halve greenhouse emissions by 2050; Brazil said it could reverse a recent rise in deforestation and cut the rate of forest loss by 70% over the next decade; Peru said that with help it could reduce deforestation to zero.
But the economist made the case that the key to progress towards an agreement in Copenhagen is the willingness of the EU to continue to provide climate leadership. The EU's attitude seems a bit ambivalent. As the Economist reported,
At a summit on December 11th and 12th, the EU’s leaders eventually decided to keep their targets intact while also allowing opt-outs which may yet undermine their stated goals. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who chaired the summit, boasted of a “terrific fight” which French diplomacy had managed to finesse. Despite many concessions for heavy industry and poor newcomers to the EU, the final deal (perhaps to its credit) left everybody unhappy. European industry felt too much was being asked of it, while green groups thought industry had gained rather too many concessions. In the background of the EU’s wrangling were some goals laid out last year in pre-recession times. By the year 2020, the EU promised three things: to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 20% over 1990 levels; to obtain 20% of overall EU energy from renewables like wind, waves and plant waste; and to make efficiency savings of 20% over forecast consumption. The new EU deal kept the targets, but offered sops to countries that fear an emphasis on the “polluter pays” principle may drive up electricity costs, or push heavy industry away to places, like Asia, that in Copenhagen will oppose big emission cuts. Opt-outs were granted from plans to force large polluters to buy allowances to emit carbon at auction. Poorish ex-communist countries that rely on coal for power will be allowed to dish out up to 70% of the carbon allowances needed by power firms, for no payment, for a few years after 2013. Heavy industries that face global competition will also get up to 100% of their allowances free, at least initially, if they use the cleanest available technologies. And EU nations will be allowed to buy in credits for emissions reductions far from Europe, and count them against as much as 90% of their national reduction targets. Eurocrats say a reduced emphasis on auctioning permits won’t undermine the benefits of the package; carbon-cutting discipline still comes from the ceiling on the number of allowances issued. That cap will be cut each year after 2013: this should help to support carbon prices in the EU’s Emissions-Trading Scheme. The concessions risk prolonging some follies. For example, big power firms that now get carbon allowances free have been passing on their nominal cost to customers. Handing out free allowances may also reduce revenues available to governments for investment in greenery. Moreover, some pro-market countries fret that using climate-change policies to redistribute money within the EU will cause trouble in global talks. It will make it harder to resist China and India when they seek transfers of money in the name of “solidarity”.
The ECN had a more optimist view of the EU's action, arguing that the final package passed the political test:
The energy and climate policy package was proposed in January 2008 by the European Commission and, after some adjustments, agreed by the Member States last week during a meeting of EU government leaders. The central objectives remained in place: For the year 2020, (i) to save energy use by 20%, (ii) to increase the share of renewable energy in total energy use to 20% (compared to some 8% in 2005), and (iii) to reduce total EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20% (compared to 1990).
The main instrument to achieve the greenhouse gas reduction target is the EU-wide harmonised Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The most contested issue in the package was whether industries would receive their emission allowances for free or whether they would have to buy them in an auction. Currently, the allowances are given out for free, which has led to power companies charging their consumers as if they are paying a carbon price, resulting in billions of windfall profits. Auctioning of the emission allowances would solve this problem, but is politically controversial as it would lead to high costs for greenhouse gas emitting industries.
On auctioning in the ETS the following was decided:
• Starting from 2013, power companies have to buy all their emission allowances at an auction. Contrary to the original EC proposal, however, the EU government leaders agreed that for existing power generators in some (mainly East-European) countries the auctioning rate in 2013 will be at least 30% and will be progressively raised to 100% no later than 2020. This means that for instance existing coal-fired power plants in Poland still get their allowances for free, but that new power plants need to pay. In the Netherlands, all power plants will have to buy their allowances.
• For the industrial sectors under the ETS, the government leaders agreed that the auctioning rate will be set at 20% in 2013, increasing to 70% in 2020, with a view to reaching 100% in 2027. The original EC proposal included 100% auctioning in 2020 rather than 2027. Industries exposed to significant non-EU competition, however, will receive 100% of allowances free of charge up to 2020.
With regard to greenhouse gas reduction in the sectors that are not covered by the ETS, such as households and transport, which cover about 55-60% of EU emissions, the Commission proposal allowed Member States to use offset credits to meet up to two-thirds of the emission reduction and the remaining part by domestic abatement measures. The EU leaders, however, agreed to allow 11 (mainly West-European) countries – including Spain and Italy – to use additional offset credits to meet their non-ETS targets.
My bottom line from all of this is that the U.S. needs to assert serious leadership on climate change -- and the green team Obama has assembled gives every reason for hope that it will do so. In just less than a month!
The Economist's reaction was that Obama has chosen an all-star team of heavy weights. Beyond Hillary Clinton at State,
... [Bill Richardson] surprised many by quitting as governor of New Mexico to become secretary of commerce. He had previously served as ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy under Bill Clinton. Such is his eagerness to serve that he has taken a low-profile job often given to unremarkable cronies of the president.
Next in the presidential-contender list was Tom Vilsack. The former governor of Iowa was well-enough regarded (for competence if not charisma) that he briefly ran for president himself, before finding fundraising tricky. He will become secretary of agriculture. His roots in a corn-growing state have dismayed opponents of America’s corn-based ethanol subsidies. But bravely, he has proposed lowering the tariff on greener, more efficient Brazilian sugar-based ethanol. His reckons that more ethanol in the energy mix will encourage the development of a delivery infrastructure. This will boost future investment into promising forms of non-corn ethanol, such as production from cellulose.
Behind the presidential contenders come other surprisingly weighty candidates for medium-sized cabinet posts. Ken Salazar, a senator from Colorado, has been tapped for the interior department. Mr Salazar, a moderate from a state that usually swings behind the Republicans, was valuable to Senate Democrats and was thought of as an up and coming. Mr Obama’s nominee for secretary of energy is Steve Chu, a Nobel-prize-winning physicist and head of the Lawrence Berkeley national laboratory, an important research centre.
Two appointments might seem like partisan payback. Tom Daschle was the head of the Senate Democrats until his South Dakota seat was taken by gleeful Republicans in 2004. The well-connected Mr Daschle will spearhead reform as head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Eric Shinseki was pushed into early retirement as army chief of staff, after predicting the Iraq war would take hundreds of thousands of troops to win. Mr Obama has nominated him to be Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. Yet even these two appointments have drawn surprisingly little Republican criticism.
Mr Obama’s picks may be one reason why the approval rating of his transition is high, according to polls, and well above that of George Bush or Bill Clinton at similar points. Including the appointment of Hilda Solis as Labour Secretary he has even managed to pick two blacks, three Hispanics and two Asian-Americans—and five of his cabinet are women—without any accusations of tokenism. The biggest point for criticism might be his choice of Eric Holder for attorney-general. Mr Holder is a well-respected lawyer. But he is tangentially implicated in some of the grubbier episodes of the Bill Clinton era, including Mr Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, a fugitive financier. Mr Holder may provide the only piece of controversy in cabinet confirmation hearings....
An ECN study analyzing the impact of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) on electricity prices, in particular on wholesale power markets across the EU, found that a significant part of the costs of freely allocated CO2 emission allowances are passed through to power prices, resulting in higher electricity prices for consumers and additional (‘windfall’) profits for power producers. The study discusses some policy implications of the pass-through of these costs, concluding that the pass-through of CO2 costs to electricity prices is a rational, carbon-efficient policy, while the issue of windfall profits can be addressed by either taxing these profits or auctioning - rather than free allocations - of the emission allowances. What the study didn't consider is the political impact of artificially high electricity prices to meet the modest Kyoto protocol goals in terms of the longer term political will to achieve the far deeper emission cuts necessary to prevent the impacts of global warming from being catastrophic.EU electricity price study
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The “green dream team”
President-elect Obama's picks for key members of his energy and environment team have not just drawn praise -- they've set off a wave of optimism that the time for serious action on climate change has arrived.
"This is a team with a keen interest in addressing climate change, and the talent and skills to get the job done," Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said in a statement. "With Steven Chu, Carol Browner, Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley at the helm, President-Elect Obama's Administration will be well-equipped to tackle the challenge of building a new clean energy future that preserves the climate while revitalizing our economy."
"These selections form a green dream team that will help President-elect Obama’s vision for solving our economic and global warming challenges through clean energy become reality," Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, was quoted as saying by Congressional Quarterly's Politics blog.
In the press conference yesterday introducing the new team, President-elect Obama said of Energy Secretary-desginate and Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Chu, "His appointment should send a signal to all that my Administration will value science, we will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action."
That signal has been heard loud and clear.
"Obama has chosen about the most qualified scientist one can imagine to make the case for putting the E back into DOE," Science Insider, a blog run by the same organization that publishes the influential journal Science, wrote of President-elect Obama's choice to lead the Department of Energy.
Under the headline "Science Born Again in the White House, and Not a Moment Too Soon," Wired magazine's Science blog wrote that Secretary-designate Chu "recognizes the need to invest in science, from grade schools to universities to industry. He sees the imperative for the government to think in new and big ways about the energy problem. He understands we have to face up to climate change. And, most importantly, he has ideas about how to get it all done and the character to make them happen."
Reid Detchon, executive director of the Energy Future Coalition, praised the creation of a new White House post to coordinate energy and climate policy, and the choice of Carol Browner to fill it.
"The President-elect's decision...to integrate policy on the intersection of energy, environment and climate change is both visionary and overdue," he said in a statement. "All the agencies of government must be involved, and his selection of Carol Browner to lead the Council signals the importance he attaches to an effective inter-agency process."
The National Journal has more responses on its Energy and Environment blog.
Statement of Eileen Claussen
President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change
on President-Elect Obama's New Energy and Environment Appointments
December 11, 2008
This is a team with a keen interest in addressing climate change, and the talent and skills to get the job done. With Steven Chu, Carol Browner, Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley at the helm, President-Elect Obama's Administration will be well-equipped to tackle the challenge of building a new clean energy future that preserves the climate while revitalizing our economy. We look forward to working with the new Administration to achieve these goals.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Know your source: American Council for Capital Formation contends that CO2 controls will conflict with job creation and economic stimulus plans
E & E:
Can President-elect Barack Obama successfully stimulate the economy, create jobs and reduce emissions? What are some of the pitfalls of pursuing a "green" stimulus? During today's OnPoint, Margo Thorning, senior vice president and chief economist at the American Council for Capital Formation, gives her take on why some of the incoming administration's aggressive climate and economic goals may conflict with each other. Thorning assesses Obama's energy and environment Cabinet picks and explains how she believes the chairmanship shift in the House Energy and Commerce Committee will affect the push for cap-and-trade legislation.
ACCP has been an ExxonMobil-funded, conservative think tank with a climate skeptic slant. For example, in March 2003, Dr. Thorning had this take on the minor cuts required by the Kyoto Protocol:
Given the severe macroeconomic impacts the Kyoto Protocol would impose on the United States, including reducing U.S. GDP by 1-4 percent, slowing wage growth significantly, worsening the distribution of income, and reducing growth in living standards, Dr. Thorning called for a new approach. Voluntary measures to reduce CO2 emissions should include modifications to U.S. tax policy that reduce the cost of capital for energy-efficient investments
ExxonSecrets.org reported that American Council for Capital Formation Center for Policy Research has received $1,619,523 from ExxonMobil between 1998-2006. The 2007 report indicates that ExxonMobil still supports ACCF-CPR, again providing a $15,000 additional contribution.
In the Poland climate change meeting just concluded, a top UN official predicted that by the middle of this century, the world should expect six million people a year to be displaced by increasingly severe storms and floods caused by climate change.
But as the PBS program NOW recounts:
for many island nations in the South Pacific, climate change is already more than just a theory -- it is a pressing, menacing reality. These small, low-lying islands are frighteningly vulnerable to rising temperatures and sea levels that could cause flooding and contaminate their fresh water wells. Within 50 years, some of them could be under water. NOW travels to the nation of Kiribati to see up close how these changes affect residents' daily lives and how they are dealing with the reality that both their land and culture could disappear from the Earth. We also travel to New Zealand to visit an I-Kiribati community that has already left its home, and to the Pacific Island Forum in Niue to see how the rest of the region is coping with the here-and-now crisis of climate change.
To see the report, visit PBS NOW link