Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nourish the Hungry

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....

January 20, 2009 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Most of the green team confirmed today: Jackson, Sutley, and Clinton remain

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)

Visitors from Mozambique and Inaugural Awe

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

ELI Endangered Laws Writing Competition

FOURTH ANNUAL ENDANGERED ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS
STUDENT WRITING COMPETITION (2008-09)

Co-sponsored by
The Environmental Law Institute
The American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources
The National Association of Environmental Law Societies

The Constitution has long been interpreted by the courts and understood by most Americans to
support comprehensive environmental protections. However, arguments targeting the
constitutional legitimacy of environmental laws continue to gain traction in the federal courts. To
inform the debate, we invite law students to submit papers exploring current issues of
constitutional environmental law.

AWARD: $2000 cash prize and an offer of publication in the Environmental Law Reporter.

TOPIC: Any topic addressing recent developments or trends in U.S. environmental law that
have a significant constitutional or “federalism” component. (See sample topics below.)

ELIGIBILITY: Students currently enrolled in law school (in the U.S. or abroad) are eligible,
including students who will graduate in the spring or summer of 2009. Any relevant article, case
comment, note, or essay may be submitted, including writing submitted for academic credit.
Jointly authored pieces are eligible only if all authors are students and consent to submit.
Previously published pieces, or pieces that are already slated for publication, are ineligible.

DEADLINE: Entries must be received no later than 5:00 PM ET on April 6, 2009. Email essays
(and questions) to Lisa Goldman at goldman@eli.org. You will receive a confirmation by email.

SUBMISSION REQUIREMENTS:
Cover page. This page must include the following information:
• Title;
• Author’s name, year in law school, and expected graduation date (to facilitate impartial
judging, the author’s name and law school must NOT appear anywhere in the essay, other
than on the cover page);
• Law school name and address;
• Author’s permanent and school mailing address, email address, and phone number
(IMPORTANT: indicate effective dates for all addresses);
• Abstract (limited to 100 words) describing the piece;
• Certification that the article has not been published and is not slated for future publication
(while authors may submit their articles to other competitions, publication elsewhere will
disqualify an entry from further consideration); and
• Statement as to where the author(s) learned about this competition

Format. Submissions may be of any length up to a maximum of 50 pages (including footnotes),
in a double-spaced, 8.5 x 11-inch page format with 12-point font (10-point for footnotes).
Citation style must conform to the Bluebook. Submissions must be made by email attachment in
Microsoft Word format, with the cover page as a separate attachment.

CRITERIA AND PUBLICATION: The prize will be awarded to the student work that, in the
judgment of ELI, ABA-SEER, and NAELS, best informs the debate on a current topic of
constitutional environmental law and advances the state of scholarship. ELI reserves the right to
determine that no submission will receive the prize. While only one cash prize is available, ELI
may decide to extend multiple offers of publication in the Environmental Law Reporter.

For more about ELI and its Endangered Environmental Laws Program, including past writing
competitions, please visit www.eli.org and www.endangeredlaws.org. Information about
ABA/SEER may be found at www.abanet.org/environ/. Information about NAELS may be found
at www.naels.org.

SAMPLE TOPICS FOR THE 2008-09 ELI-ABA-NAELSWRITING COMPETITION
Students may choose a topic from below or develop their own constitutional environmental law topic.
1) Challenges to environmental plaintiffs’ standing to be heard in federal courts–
a) Standing to sue to enforce environmental laws. E.g., Earth Island Institute v. Ruthenbeck, 490
F.3d 687 (9th Cir. 2007), cert. granted, Summers v. Earth Island Institute, 128 S. Ct. 1118 (Jan.
18, 2008); implications of Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), and progeny; Coalition
for a Sustainable Delta v. Carlson, 2008 WL 2899725 (E.D. Cal. July 24, 2008).
b) Standing to sue for “increased risk of harm.” E.g., implications for environmental protection
of an ever-higher bar in the D.C. Circuit for establishing standing in risk-based injury cases. See
Public Citizen v. NHTSA, 513 F.3d 234 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (Sentelle, C.J., concurring) and 489 F.3d
1279 (D.C. Cir. 2007); NRDC v. EPA, 440 F.3d 476 (D.C. Cir.), vacated, 464 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir.
2006).
2) Application to climate-change cases of other constitutional theories, such as statutory and foreign
affairs preemption, political question doctrine, dormant Commerce Clause, and Compact
Clause. E.g., possible challenges to regional cap-and-trade schemes, such as RGGI and the WCI; the
impact of a future federal cap-and-trade law on state and regional climate frameworks; challenges to
California’s tailpipe emissions regulations, as adopted by 16 other states; and efforts by states and
local entities to recover damages from industry for contributions to global climate change.
See Green Mountain Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Jeep v. Crombie, 508 F.Supp.2d 295 (D. Vt. 2007),
appeal filed, No. 07-4342, -4360 (2d Cir.); Central Valley Chrysler-Jeep, Inc. v. Goldstene, 529 F.
Supp. 2d 1151 (E.D. Cal. 2007), aff’d on reh’g, 563 F. Supp. 2d 1158 (E.D. Cal. 2008); Lincoln
Dodge, Inc. v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 5054863 (D.R.I. Nov. 21, 2008); California v. General Motors
Corp., 2007 WL 2726871 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 17, 2007), appeal filed, No. 07-16908 (9th Cir.); Comer v.
Murphy Oil, No. 05-436 (S.D. Miss. Aug. 30, 2007) (granting motion to dismiss), appeal argued, No.
07-60756 (5th Cir. Nov. 3, 2008); Connecticut v. American Electric Power Co., 406 F.Supp.2d 265
(S.D.N.Y. 2005), appeal filed, No. 05-5104 (2d Cir.); and Kivalina v. Exxonmobil Corp., No. 08-
01138 (N.D. Cal. filed Feb. 26, 2008).
3) Legislative developments and potential court challenges to Congress’s authority under the
Commerce Clause and other constitutional provisions (e.g., Spending Power, Property Clause, and
Treaty Power) to afford comprehensive protection to the “waters of the United States.” E.g., Clean
Water Restoration Act (H.R. 2421, S. 1870). In the wake of SWANCC v. U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, 531 U.S. 159 (2001), and Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006), and the resulting
confusion for Clean Water Act administration and enforcement, much of the debate over the
constitutional reach of federal water protections has shifted from the federal courts to Congress.
4) Invocation of constitutional due process to cap punitive damages in environmental cases. See Exxon
Shipping Co. v. Baker, 128 S. Ct. 2605 (2008), establishing as an upper limit in maritime cases a 1:1
ratio between compensatory and punitive damages. Justice Ginsburg, writing separately, wondered if
the Court intended to signal that this ratio would eventually become a ceiling imposed by due process.
5) Impact of preemption jurisprudence (including in non-environmental cases) on environmental
protection. See Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc., 128 S. Ct. 999 (2008); Levine v. Wyeth, 944 A.2d 179 (Vt.
2006), cert. granted, Wyeth v. Levine, 128 S. Ct. 1118 (Jan. 18, 2008); Pacific Merchant Shipping
Association v. Goldstene, 517 F.3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2008).

January 19, 2009 in 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 | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Biofuels too

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.”

 

January 4, 2009 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Biofuel Soars on Air New Zealand

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.

Environmental News Service reported in more detail:

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.

January 4, 2009 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

More on Ocean Acidification

OCEAN SCIENCE: Winter Carbonate Collapse

H. Jesse Smith

Anthropogenic fossil-fuel burning is increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, which in turn is causing more CO2 to dissolve in the ocean, thereby lowering the water's pH. Such ocean acidification in turn decreases the concentration of carbonate ion (CO3)2-, which makes it more difficult for calcifying organisms such as foraminifera, pteropods, and corals to build their skeletons. So far, most of the attention paid to this process has focused on the time-averaged chemistry of the ocean, but organisms actually experience seasonal carbonate and pH variations. McNeil and Matear examine these variations and show that anthropogenic CO2 uptake is likely to induce winter aragonite undersaturation in some regions of the ocean when atmospheric CO2 levels reach 450 parts per million. These findings underscore the importance of understanding the seasonal dynamics of marine carbonate chemistry, as natural variability could hasten the deleterious impacts of future ocean acidification. -- HJS Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105, 18860 (2008).

January 1, 2009 in Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Energy, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Rate of Calcification of Coral Reefs Declining

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

January 1, 2009 in Air Quality, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability, Water Quality | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Economist on Poznan: Fiddling with Words

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!

December 26, 2008 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, South America, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Here are some of the picks of Change.gov

 

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.

   

December 23, 2008 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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.

1

December 22, 2008 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Social Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

UNGA Adopts Climate Change-Related Resolutions

UN General Assembly (UNGA)

Last week, among 34 development-related actions put forward by its Second Committee (Economic and Financial), the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a number of resolutions including consideration of the economic ramifications of climate change. 

Among the climate change-related resolutions, the UN General Assembly:

  • supported international efforts and funding to prevent and manage natural disasters, as well as extreme weather patterns;
  • stressed the need to further advance and implement the Bali Strategic Plan for Technology Support and Capacity-Building (document A/63/414/Add.7);
  • called for urgent global action to address climate change for the benefit of present and future generations, and urged parties to the UNFCCC to continue using the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their work (document A/63/414/Add.4);
  • urged all governments, relevant organizations, UN bodies and the Global Environment Facility to take timely action to effectively follow-up and implement the Strategy and the Mauritius Declaration, and called upon the international community to help Small Island Developing States adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change (document A/63/414/Add.2);
  • encouraged governments to promote sustainable urbanization to improve the living conditions of vulnerable populations, including slum-dwellers and the urban poor, and to help mitigate climate change (UN-Habitat document A/63/415); and
  • reaffirmed its partnership with the Pacific Island Forum through the lens of the serious threats posed to vulnerable island States by climate change and the global economic recession (document A/63/L.56).

[UN Press Release]

December 22, 2008 in Air Quality, Climate Change, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Plight of the South Pacific Islands -- visit Kiribati with PBS

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

December 22, 2008 in Asia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Haiti's Resurrection

Dear Readers and Friends:

It is so difficult this time of year to decide how to spend one's limited resources in a way consistent with our duty to reduce human suffering and make the world a better place.  It is especially difficult now, when all of us are a bit uncertain about our financial future and have lost a considerable amount of our paper wealth.  But, I am concentrating for now on Haiti, the most impoverished nation in the Western hemisphere. Below I post a letter from a friend in Haiti, in the hope that some of you may help in the resurrection of Haiti after this fall's hurricane season. Obviously, my friend is a Christian (as I am), but human need knows no religion.  Be assured that any money sent him through the church will be used to meet profound human need, not the promotion of a creed.  And, if you are reluctant to send money to a faith-based organization, just let me know and I'll be happy to find a secular route for your gift.

[We] are writing you all with a great mix of emotions – sadness and frustration, great doubts, fear, but also some sense of hope. Many of you already know that in the past five weeks, Haiti was affected by four hurricanes – Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike, resulting in profound destruction throughout the entire country. Chavannes Jean Baptiste, the director of MPP (Mouvman Peyizan Papay–Farmer’s Movement of Papay) noted this past Monday that the situation is without precedent.  MPP along with other national and international organizations are beginning to get a grasp of the level of havoc and devastation, but it seems impossible that anyone will ever be able to make a full accounting of the loss of life and property.


Many of the root causes of the poverty in Haiti–weak government, inadequate communication, lack of roads and other infrastructure, virtually non-existent social services–have always kept Haitind other countries with similar conditions, open to the full effects of disasters such as this. These same conditions now make it difficult and in some cases impossible for a quick response to those who need help the most. It is even nearly impossible to know who needs the help the most. In the last two days, I have received reports via e-mail of whole communities without food and water, with no help in sight. Lack of real roads have always been part of the isolation of many of these communities. Now, the serious damage to bridges and other weak points along the roads that do exist has increased the number of people who are isolated from any easy access, as well as deepening the level of isolation for those who have always lived at the limits.


Given all this, [our] sense of sadness is easy to understand. We live along side people who carry on their daily lives with grace, great generosity and wonderful senses of humor, despite the profound limitations. Now, these same people, some of whom are close personal friends, have lost homes and possessions and we know they have no real resources, or hope, for recuperating their losses. We have a great need to help, but we ourselves do not have the ability to provide any help that seems significant, even at the local level. Not even for just the families who are part of MPP – at least 52 families whose homes were flooded last week. Multiply the needs of the folks in Hinche by all of communities in nearly every part of Haiti, you can easily understand our frustration. What can we do? Within the sadness and frustration I also feel some guilt, because we ourselves are safe and suffered no damage at all to our home or even to the project where I work.


We also wonder whether the kind of help that is starting to come could possibly be adequate, given the enormous need. And will the assistance that comes be directed to address some of the root causes of poverty in  Haiti?  Will the funds help rebuild roads and bridges so that they are better than they were, or will the be used to make the highways and byways merely passable, subject as always to rapid degradation by even normal use? And will the international lending agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund, encourage the Haitian government to create “safety nets” that can help families and communities recuperate losses? Or will they follow their standard policy, insisting on budgetary stringency, regardless of the needs of the most vulnerable–the poor in general, and women, children and the aged in particular?


It is impossible to write about the current catastrophe without mentioning as well the ongoing global wide crises of food prices which are spiraling out of US control. In the project that I help coordinate – the crew prepares and shares two meals a day. We produce all of the vegetables for these meals ourselves, but for the items we can’t produce (corn, rice, coffee, oil etc), we paid a total of around  $100 in  May.  In August, we spent around $135 for the same supplies and in September we spent $175. In a country where over half the population earns less than $US 1.00 a day, the situation was devastating, before the flooding will now die from hunger, giving in at last to ongoing deprivation?


And the fear we feel, where does that come from? Haitians have a marvelous way of dealing with difficult situations that I have come to respect a great deal. They sing, they laugh, they joke and suddenly, the load lightens and the way forward opens up again. There is also a great deal of tolerance, or patience, with unjust conditions. But there are limits. The suffering from the food crisis was becoming nearly insufferable before the hurricanes. If there is not a rapid, reliable and comprehensive response to the current situation, especially by the Haitian government, there will almost surely be massive unrest, probably focused, as always, in Port au Prince, the capital of     Haiti.


At the end of such a letter, what could we say about hope that could balance the discouragement I’m sure you can sense in what I write? First and foremost is faith – [our] faith as well as the profound faith of Haitians in general. We do believe in a God who makes a way where there is no way – our God who sent our savior, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, not only to demonstrate God’s profound solidarity with his chosen people, but also to completely and finally put an end to despair. Because we are Christ followers, we hope, and there is nothing that can separate us from that hope, from the constant renewal of that hope. As [we] and several crew members were heading south, into Port au Prince,... we passed through an area just north of the city of    Mirebelais (Mee be lay) where the farmers have access to irrigation. In field after field as we traveled down the road, farmers were out in those fields transplanting rice, hoeing rice, irrigating rice. Just one day after Hurricane Ike had passed through, the fields were already moving from devastation into abundance, farmers moving from being victims to being the agents of their own resurrection. What a miracle. What a God.


Note:

Please be part of Haiti’s resurrection. Contributions for the crisis in Haiti may be sent to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA). Please write on the check “DR-000064 Haiti Emergency.” Mail it to:

Presbyterian Church (USA)
Individual Remittance Processing
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh PA 15264-3700 

 

December 18, 2008 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 | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

27th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference

DON’T FORGET TO MARK PIELC IN YOUR 2009 CALENDARS!

The 27th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference

Solidarity! United Action for the Greener Good

 

February 26th – March 1st

University of Oregon School of Law

Eugene, Oregon

www.pielc.org

 

Read on for planning updates and reminders . . .

 

- Last day to submit panel suggestions is January 15th, but the sooner the better, as our timeslots are already starting to fill up.  Go to http://www.pielc.org/pages/panel_suggest.html

- Submit artwork for PIELC 2009 posters and t-shirts now!  Email submissions to aengel@uoregon.edu, or mail them to 1221 University of Oregon School of Law, Eugene, OR 97403, attn: LAW

- Coming in mid-January, our website will be updated with more travel, lodging, and childcare options than ever at www.pielc.org.

- Our confirmed keynote speakers are:

Katherine Redford – Co-Founder and US Office Director of Earth Rights International, is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, where she received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Human Rights and Public Service. She is a member of the Massachusetts State Bar and served as counsel to plaintiffs in ERI's landmark case Doe v. Unocal. Katie received an Echoing Green Fellowship in 1995 to establish ERI, and since that time has split her time between ERI's Thailand and US offices. In addition to working on ERI's litigation and teaching at the EarthRights Schools, Katie currently serves as an adjunct professor of law at both UVA and the Washington College of Law at American University. She has published on various issues associated with human rights and corporate accountability, in addition to co-authoring ERI reports such as In Our Court, Shock and Law, and Total Denial Continues. In 2006, Katie was selected as an Ashoka Global Fellow.

Riki Ott – Experienced firsthand the devastating effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill—and chose to do something about it. She retired from fishing, founded three nonprofit organizations to deal with lingering social, economic, and harm, and wrote two books about the spill. Sound Truth and Corporate Myths focuses on the hard science-ecotoxicology, and the new understanding (paradigm shift) that oil is more toxic than previously thought. Not One Drop describes the soft science--the sociology of disaster trauma, and the new understanding that our legal system does not work in cases involving wealthy corporations, complex science, and class-action. Ott draws on her academic training and experience to educate, empower, and motivate students and the general public to address the climate crisis and our energy future through local solutions. Ott lives Cordova, Alaska, the fishing community most affected by the disaster.

Stephen Stec – Adjunct Professor at Central European University (HU) and Associate Scholar at Leiden University (NL).  As well as the former head of the Environmental Law Program of the Regional Environmental Center (REC), Stec is one of the authors of The Aarhus Convention Implementation Guide and main editor for the Access to Justice Handbook under the Aarhus Convention. The subject of the Aarhus Convention goes to the heart of the relationship between people and governments. The Convention is not only an environmental agreement; it is also a Convention about government accountability, transparency and responsiveness.  The Aarhus Convention grants the public rights and imposes on parties and public authorities obligations regarding access to information and public participation and access to justice.

Fernando Ochoa – Legal Advisor for Pronatura Noroeste a Mexican non-profit organization and the Waterkeeper Program for the Baja California Peninsula, and founding member and Executive Director for Defensa Ambiental del Noroeste (DAN), an environmental advocacy organization. Mr. Ochoa has helped establish more than 60 conservation contracts to protect more than 150 thousand acres of land in Northwest Mexico.  As the Executive Director of DAN, Mr. Ochoa has successfully opposed several development and industrial projects that threatened ecosystems in the Sea of Cortes and the Baja California Peninsula, having saved critical habitat for Gray Whales, Whale Sharks and other endangered species.  His work has set important legal precedents on environmental law in order for local communities to gain participation in decision making processes, transparency and access to justice.

Claudia Polsky – Deputy Director of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Green Technology (P2 Office) in California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).  The P2 Office is central to the implementation of  new (2008) legal authority that gives California expansive ability to regulate toxic chemicals in consumer products.  Instead of focusing on cleanup of past pollution -- the historic emphasis of DTSC -- the P2  Office looks to the future by preventing the use of toxic materials in consumer products and industrial operations.  Ms. Polsky's duties include implementing California’s Green Chemistry Initiative, overseeing hazardous waste source-reduction programs, and working with staff engineers to evaluate and deploy new environmental technologies that reduce the need for toxic chemicals. The Office's work involves interaction with stakeholders as diverse as electronics manufacturers, breast cancer activists, analytical chemists, and venture capitalists.  Before joining DTSC, Ms. Polsky worked for the California Department of Justice, Earthjustice, Public Citizen Litigation Group, and The Nature Conservancy. She holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard University, and a J.D. from Boalt Hall School of Law, where she was Editor in Chief of Ecology Law Quarterly. She is also a former Fulbright Scholar to New Zealand, receiving a Masters of Applied Science in Natural Resource Management.

Gail Small – The director of Native Action, an environmental justice organization in Lame Deer, Montana. Small's political engagement in energy issues began in the early 1970s, when she and other high school students were sent by the tribal government to visit coal extraction sites on the Navajo Reservation and in Wyoming, after the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) signed leases opening the Northern Cheyenne Reservation to strip-mining. Small later served on a tribal committee that successfully fought for the cancellation of the BIA coal leases. She received her law degree from the University of Oregon and formed Native Action in 1984. Her work at Native Action includes litigation, drafting tribal statutes, and creating informational resources for tribal members.

Derrick Jenson – bio coming soon

SEE YOU THERE!

The Conference Co-Directors

Cadence Whiteley

Erin Farris

Jasmine Hites

Andy Engel

Teresa Jacobs


Questions? Suggestions? Comments?  email askpielc@uoregon.edu

December 17, 2008 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 | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

One Reason Why I'm Skeptical of Carbon Markets: UN Suspends CDM Carbon-Offset Verification Firm

Quirin Schiermeier of Nature News reported today Nature link that the UN has suspended the main company that validates carbon-offset projects in developing countries, "sending shockwaves through the emissions-trading business."  Certified emission-reduction credits from verified projects are traded and sold on the carbon emissions market, helping industrialized countries to meet their emissions-reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. However, only environmentally sustainable projects that would demonstrably not go ahead without additional revenue from sales of these credits (thus meeting the "additionality" requirement) may be certified.

Det Norske Veritas is the largest verification company, a billion dollar business employing 8000 staff.  In the past four years, DNV validated and certified almost half of the 1,200 projects approved under the CDM.  At its November meeting, the CDM's executive board temporarily withdrew DNV's accreditation after an audit revealed serious flaws in project management. The CDM board did not specify the projects affected by the problems, but indicated that there were problems with the company's internal auditing processes and staff qualifications, with at least one staff member who verified CDM projects without proper sectoral expertise. DNV  cannot propose new CDM projects to the UN for formal approval while suspended.  20–30 projects currently in the process of validation may be delayed and DNV cannot take new projects as long as the suspension remains in effect.  DNV will continue to validate and verify ongoing projects.

CDM projects under way in 51 countries are supposed to save some 250 million tons in greenhouse-gas emissions. The UN hopes the CDM will abate almost 3 billion tons by the end of 2012,

December 9, 2008 in Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

CGD Contribution to Development Index - Environment

 
Go check out the Center for Global Development's 2007 Commitment to Development Index page.  Its got some great graphics that you have to see to appreciate.  Unsurprisingly, EU countries lead the way on the Center for Global Development's index of commitment to environmentally sustainable development and the US trails the pack, scoring under 3 on a 10 point scale, while EU countries tend to score 6 or above with Norway near 9.  Center for Global Development Commitment to Development Index   

CGD reports:

Norway tops this year’s environment standings. Its net greenhouse gas emissions fell during 1995–2005, the last ten years for which data are available, thanks to steady expansion in its forests, which absorb carbon dioxide. Also high is Ireland, whose economy grew 6.6 percent per year faster in the same period than its greenhouse gas emissions; and the U.K., which has steadily increased gasoline taxes and supported wind and other renewable energy sources. Spain finishes low as a heavy subsidizer of its fishing industry while Japan is hurt by its high tropical timber imports. The U.S. has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the most serious international effort yet to deal with climate change. That gap, along with high greenhouse emissions and low gas taxes, puts the U.S. last. Two notches up, Australia cuts a similar profile, with the highest per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in the group.      

 

The environment component of the CDI compares rich countries on policies that affect shared global resources such as the atmosphere and oceans. Rich countries use these resources disproportionately while poor ones are less equipped to adapt to the consequences, such as global warming. Countries do well if their greenhouse gas emissions are falling, if their gas taxes are high, if they do not subsidize the fishing industry, and if they control imports of illegally cut tropical timber.

A healthy environment is sometimes dismissed as a luxury for the rich. But people cannot live without a healthy environment. And poor nations have weaker infrastructures and fewer social services than rich countries, making the results of climate change all the more damaging. A study co-authored by CGD senior fellow David Wheeler predicts that a two-meter sea level rise would flood 90 million people out of their homes, many of them in the river deltas of Bangladesh, Egypt, and Vietnam.

The environment component looks at what rich countries are doing to reduce their disproportionate exploitation of the global commons. Are they reining in greenhouse gas emissions? How complicit are they in environmental destruction in developing countries, for example by importing commodities such as tropical timber? Do they subsidize fishing fleets that deplete fisheries off the coasts of such countries as Senegal and India?

December 2, 2008 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 | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Oil prices increase modestly today

Crude-oil futures are climbing above $58 a barrel this morning based on the Federal Reserve's report that industrial output from US factories, mines and utilities increased in October, moderating September's sharp losses.  Industrial production in October increased 1.3% recovering at least a third of the 3.7% loss in September, which remains the biggest decline in 60 years. September's losses were due in part to the fact that fierce hurricanes in the Gulf shut down oil drilling, oil refining and chemical production.

November 17, 2008 in Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Special Guest Contribution: Will we leave the Great Barrier Reef for our children? -- Dr. Chris McGrath

Dr Chris McGrath is an Australian lawyer and researcher on laws protecting the GBR from climate change. This article is based on a previously published research paper, McGrath (2008).  Submitted 30 October 2008.

 

Amidst the current policy debate in Australia and internationally on climate change is a surreal argument that policies that will destroy the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBR) and other coral reefs around the globe are acceptable and economically rational.

Nicolas Stern (2007: 330) concluded that “coral reef ecosystems [will be] extensively and eventually irreversibly damaged” by temperature change relative to pre-industrial levels of 0.5-2°C. He found that at 2°C warming “coral reefs are expected to bleach annually in many areas, with most never recovering, affecting tens of millions of people that rely on coral reefs for their livelihood or food supply” (Stern 2007: 94).

Yet for what were clearly reasons of pragmatism and feasibility he recommended the global stabilisation goal should lie within the range of 450-550 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalents (ppm CO2-eq), thereby implicitly accepting a likely warming of 2-3°C and loss of coral reefs, including the GBR.

Ross Garnaut, the Australian Government’s handpicked economic advisor on responding to climate change, followed Stern’s approach and was alive to the damage to the GBR. He recommended that Australia should initially aim for a global consensus next year at COP-15 in Copenhagen to stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 550 ppm CO2-eq and hope that global consensus can be reached later for lower stabilisation.

Garnaut (2008a: 38) was brutally frank in his supplementary draft report: “The 550 strategy would be expected to lead to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs.” His final report does not shy away from this conclusion (Garnaut 2008b). 

The new Australian Government has silently avoided the issue of the expected impacts to the GBR when explaining the costs and benefits of its climate policies. It does not yet have a stabilisation target for the rise in global temperatures or greenhouse gases but recent modelling of economic impacts of mitigating climate change considered only three stabilisation targets.

The Australian Treasury (2008) considers only stabilisation at 450, 510 and 550 ppm CO2-eq, aiming to stabilise mean global temperature rises between 2-3°C. The only reference to impacts on the GBR is to a “very high risk [of] loss of complete ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef [if] the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rises to over 1,500 ppm CO2-eq by 2100 [giving an] increase in global average temperature of 5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100” (Australian Treasury 2008: 35).

In fact, as Stern recognised, the current science indicates that the GBR will be devastated long before such levels are reached and within the lower stabilisation range the Australian Government appears to be aiming for.

Stern and Garnaut’s frank admissions of the expected impacts to the GBR reflect research findings since mass coral bleaching occurred globally in 1998 and 2002. Rising sea temperatures and increasing acidity of the oceans due to our use of fossil fuels are now well-recognized as major threats to coral reefs and the marine ecosystem generally in coming decades.   

In relation to coral bleaching the IPCC (2007b: 12) found that:

“Corals are vulnerable to thermal stress and have low adaptive capacity. Increases in sea surface temperature of about 1 to 3°C are projected to result in more frequent coral bleaching events and widespread mortality, unless there is thermal adaptation or acclimatisation by corals.”

The findings of the IPCC suggest that a rise of 1°C in mean global temperatures and, correspondingly, sea surface temperatures above pre-industrial levels is the maximum that should be aimed for if the global community wishes to protect coral reefs. The range of 1-3°C is the danger zone and 2°C is not safe. Supporting this conclusion Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and his colleagues concluded in a review of the likely impacts of climate change to the GBR edited by Johnson and Marshall (2007: 295):

“Successive studies of the potential impacts of thermal stress on coral reefs have supported the notion that coral dominated reefs are likely to largely disappear with a 2°C rise in sea temperature over the next 100 years. This, coupled with the additional vulnerability of coral reefs to high levels of acidification once the atmosphere reaches 500 parts per million [CO2], suggests that coral dominated reefs will be rare or non-existent in the near future.”

The IPCC’s (2007a: 826) best estimate of climate sensitivity found that stabilising greenhouse gases and aerosols at 350 ppm CO2-eq would be expected to lead to a rise in mean global temperatures of 1°C, stabilising at 450 ppm CO2-eq will lead to a rise of 2°C, and stabilising at 550 ppm CO2-eq will lead to a rise of 3°C.

Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols have already passed 350 ppm CO2-eq making stabilisation at that level extremely difficult if not impossible in practice, particularly in the context of current global growth and energy use patterns. Atmospheric CO2 reached 379 ppm in 2005 and was increasing by around 2 ppm per year (IPCC 2007c: 102). Including the effect of other greenhouse gases such as methane, the total concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases was around 455 ppm CO2-eq in 2005 (IPCC 2007c: 102). However, the cooling effects of aerosols and landuse changes reduce radiative forcing so that the net forcing of human activities was about 375 ppm CO2‑eq for 2005 (IPCC 2007c: 102).

Global emissions of carbon dioxide, the major anthropogenic greenhouse gas, are growing at approximately 3% per annum, which exceeds even the “worst case” IPCC projections (Raupach et al 2007). This places global greenhouse gas emissions on a trajectory to rise by 150% between 2000 and 2050 on “business as usual”.

When the conclusions of the IPCC are synthesised, it is clear that reductions of greenhouse emissions of 60% by 2050, such as proposed by the Australian Government (2008), even if they can be achieved, are not likely to prevent serious damage to the GBR and other coral reefs. A 60% reduction in global emissions by 2050 is likely to lead to a mean global temperature rise around 2.4°C (IPCC 2007d: 67), which is likely to severely degrade coral reefs globally. Stabilising greenhouse gases and aerosols around 350 ppm CO2-eq and allowing a rise in mean global temperature of 1°C appear to be the highest targets that should be set if coral reefs are to be protected from serious degradation.

This brings us back to the current policy debate – Stern and Garnaut’s frankness in recognizing the likely damage to the GBR and coral reefs from the targets they recommend is welcome but their conclusions leave us to wonder: is this the best we can do? Should we be prepared to write-off the GBR and other coral reefs and their economic, social environmental values?

As a young boy growing up in Australia’s Whitsundays Islands in the 1970s I did not dream that the GBR that I swam and fished on would be severely damaged by human activity within my own lifetime. Much less would I have dreamt that we would choose to allow these impacts to occur, as we are currently doing.

Stern and Garnaut’s targets are not ambitious enough and we should not accept them.

We should judge our climate change policies by this simple test: will we leave the GBR and other coral reefs around the world for our children? At present the answer we are giving to this question is “no”. We are all responsible for changing the answer to “yes”.

We should demand targets based on what we as a society want to achieve. We should not accept targets that will produce unacceptable outcomes.

The current science indicates our aim should be stabilising atmospheric greenhouse gases at 350 ppm if we want to protect the GBR and other coral reefs, but this is rarely even mentioned as a potential target.

We do not yet know if we can stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gases as 350, 450 or 550 ppm CO2-eq but think of it this way: if we want to build a bridge across a river that is 1 kilometre wide we would not ask our engineers to build us a bridge that is 500 metres long. We should apply the same logic to climate change policy and set targets for our engineers and scientists to achieve that produce results that we want to achieve.

We need vision, ambition, and hard work to solve the climate crisis. Stern and Garnaut’s approaches lacks the vision and ambition that is needed. We need to add these ingredients to the global community’s many hard workers to solve the climate crisis.

References

Australian Government (2008), Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green Paper (Department of Climate Change), http://www.climatechange.gov.au/greenpaper/index.html.

Australian Treasury (2008), Australia’s Low Pollution Future: The Economics of Climate Change Mitigation (Australian Government Treasury), http://www.treasury.gov.au/lowpollutionfuture/.

Garnaut R (2008a), Garnaut Review Supplementary Draft Report: Targets and trajectories (Garnaut Review, Canberra, 5 September 2008), p 38, available at http://www.garnautreport.org.au/.

Garnaut R (2008b), Garnaut Climate Change Review Final Report (Cambridge University Press), http://www.garnautreview.org.au/index.htm.

Hoegh-Guldberg et al, “Vulnerability of reef-building corals on the Great Barrier Reef to climate change”, Ch 10 in Johnson JE and Marshall PA (eds), Climate Change and the GBR: A Vulnerability Assessment (GBRMPA, 2007), p 295, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/22598/chapter10-reef-building-corals.pdf

IPCC (2007a), Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of WGI to the AR4 (Cambridge University Press), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg1.htm.

IPCC (2007b), Climate Change 2007: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. WGII Contribution to the IPCC AR4 (Cambridge University Press), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg2.htm.

IPCC (2007c), Climate change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of WGIII to the AR4 (Cambridge University Press), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg3.htm.

IPCC (2007d), Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report (IPCC), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-syr.htm

McGrath C (2008) “Will we leave the Great Barrier Reef for our children?” (IUCN), http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/cel_op_mcgrath.pdf.

Raupach MR, Marland G, Ciais P, Le Quéré C, Canadell JG, Klepper G, and Field CB, (2007) “Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions” 104(24) PNAS 10288-10293, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/104/24/10288.

Stern N (2007), The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, http://www.occ.gov.uk/activities/stern.htm.

 

November 7, 2008 in Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cabinet Speculation

 Here are some predictions/picks on the Cabinet positions of most significance to environmental matters according to Politico's semi-official leaks.  My picks and comments are in green.

Attorney general: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine; Eric Holder, who was deputy AG under Clinton and is now with Covington & Burling and led Obama’s vice presidential search; Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. Odds on favorite is Holder

Supreme Court nominee: Washington superlawyer Robert Barnett; legal scholar Cass Sunstein; Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York; Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard Law School. Consensus is it would most likely be a woman. First nominee has got to be a woman - Kagan is smart and has credibility, but this is a much shorter list than Obama will look at.

Secretary of State: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.); Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind)  State is too important to give to a Republican, Kerry's too valuable in the Senate, and Richardson was UN Ambassador so he knows  international diplomacy

Environmental Protection Agency administrator: Former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.); Kathleen McGinty, former head of the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Agency Again, McGinty is an odds on favorite who knows her stuff

Commerce secretary: Penny Pritzker, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)  Need some Republicans and Olympia Snowe is a liberal one; although she's more valuable in the Senate.  So maybe one of the non-environmental positions will go to a Republican and Obama will stick with a Democrat.  I'd take Sebelius -- she's articulate and mid-Western.

Secretary of the Interior: Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Robert F. Kennedy Jr.  This is the position most likely to go to someone who hasn't been in the running.

Secretary of Energy: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.); My pick would be Lincoln Chafee, a liberal Republican who understands environmental issues as well as energy issues.  Again, Bingaman's too valuable in the Senate. 

Secretary of Agriculture: Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)  Vilsack is odds on favorite.

 

 


 

 

 

November 4, 2008 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Mining, North America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)