Monday, December 21, 2009

Copenhagen Update: What's Next?

What can we expect to happen next after the breakdown in Copenhagen? Considering that no deadline was put in place to reach an international accord, it seems safe to say that such an agreement is easily several years away, particularly in light of the great differences that exist on the major issues, like binding emission reductions.

The outcome in Copenhagen is also going to make it very hard for Senate Democrats, particularly those from Midwestern manufacturing states, to vote for anything that resembles the House bill. Considering China had little interest in even talking to our President in Copenhagen, those senators should be wary of voting for any bill that will send jobs in their states overseas. That is exactly what cap and trade will do.

Just as the Kyoto Accord should be torn up and a whole new approach developed, the same can be said of climate legislation before Congress. While we have been busy debating climate bills, China and India’s economies have continued to grow. China has spent the last year buying up energy and mineral resources around the world, including the Canadian oil sands. Meanwhile, we engage in a completely pointless either/or debate about energy. If we don’t wake up, we will find our energy security severely compromised in the not-to-distant future.

We need to refocus the U.S. debate so that it is about energy security and independence and how best to drive the technology needed to achieve both. The discussion needs to recognize the need for more nuclear power, the important role fossil fuels will continue to play, the need for economically sustainable renewable energy, and how to best drive energy efficiency. Greenhouse gas emission reductions will be a byproduct of this effort.

We will need all of these approaches to meet our future energy needs and increase our energy security. We cannot continue to delude ourselves into thinking one or two technologies alone will make the difference. The time to change the conversation is now, before it is too late.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Copenhagen Update: Broken Process

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen ended early this morning with delegates voting to “take note” of an agreement brokered by the U.S. that essentially establishes a system for third party verification of emissions and aid to developing countries. The final agreement did not establish binding emission reduction targets or even set a timeline for their completion. The vote to simply “take note of” – as opposed to approving – the agreement severely undercuts efforts by the Obama Administration to spin the agreement yesterday as unprecedented.

The Administration and other governments would be far better off being honest and admitting that the U.N. process is a failure that no amount of future talks can salvage. As noted in previous posts, the impasse is largely attributed to differences between developed and developing countries and the expectations for each under a new treaty. My main take away from this conference is that the U.N. process has simply become a forum for developing nations to extort money from developed nations under the guise of environmental protection and for traders who want to make millions of dollars in a new carbon market.

The President once again wasted an enormous amount of political capital for very little result. This agreement could have been hammered out by the Secretary of State and other foreign ministers while leaving the heads of state at home. Much of the stalemate came down to differences between the U.S. and China on issues like binding reductions, emissions verification and money. As this quote from the New York Times illustrates, the President is far more interested in a deal than the Chinese Premier: “Twice during the day, [Chinese Premier] Wen sent an underling to represent him at the meetings with Mr. Obama. To make things worse, each time it was a lower-level official.” The President needs to become a better negotiator with China on a whole range of issues.

The U.S. did float some interesting ideas over the two weeks to make China, India and other rapidly developing countries more accountable. One idea is to establish a new category of countries that captures this group and would not exempt them from making required reductions. This is crucial now that China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. Another is to demand third party verification, which was part of the final agreement though questions remain as to whether it will have enough teeth to be effective.

The President interrupted a meeting of the leaders from China, India, Brazil and South Africa to finally get his audience with Mr. Wen. While it is embarrassing they started without him, this meeting may offer a path to a future agreement and exerting leadership. Ever since the Kyoto Protocol established different expectations for developed and developing countries, true progress on global greenhouse gas emissions reductions has been difficult. As I have said, Kyoto is broken and using its framework to craft a successor agreement will be a failure, as these talks have illustrated. It may make more sense for the leaders of the top ten emitting countries, which account for approximately 70 percent of global emissions, to work out an agreement.

A new direction is required for any international treaty to be effective. A new agreement has to recognize the changes that have taken place since 1997. With the United Nations predicting that two-thirds of the expected growth in emissions between now and 2030 will come from developing countries, exempting these countries from mandatory reductions makes no sense. And any agreement should be about the environment and not redistributing money to other countries and Wall Street.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Copenhagen update: no entry

The site of the Copenhagen climate negotiations – a conference center called Bella Center – is situated between busy roads and rail tracks south of town and is surprisingly isolated from the heart of the city.

Like the short leash they have given protesters here, security is paramount at the Bella Center. Your only chance to get within 1,000 yards of the facility is to hold a UN-issued badge. But sometimes that isn’t even good enough.

Would you believe that people who went through the rigors of getting entrance badges, traveling thousands of miles, and spending a fortune to attend have been turned away at the gates? As it turns out, thousands of badge-holders have been denied access to the climate change summit this past week, because over 40,000 badges were issued for a facility that holds only 15,000 people.

I personally know of visitors who spent hours in line never to be admitted to the Bella Center. Call me crazy, but I’m wondering how an organization that can’t even count heads for a conference is going to be able to orchestrate a complex international agreement involving nearly 200 countries?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Copenhagen update: It's about the money

Yesterday the International Herald Tribune reported that the African Union, fearing that they may be forced to return to Africa with no cash in their pockets, has returned to talks at Copenhagen with a new proposal: "Reflecting the gulf between north and south over money, the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, speaking on behalf of the African Union, offered to reduce to $100 billion a proposal for wealthy countries to provide energy and adaptation aid of $400 billion a year starting in 2020," the paper reported.

It is clear that the main objective of the African Union is to get payed. What's more, they feel they are entitled. Thanks to overblown reports of man's role in climate change, the feeling across Africa (and other developing areas) is that their environmental woes are being caused by "the north."

This is another unfortunate example of how these Copenhagen talks are about economics, not the environment. Perhaps the African Union should try listening to the wisdom held in the words of "The Gambler": "You never count your money, while you're sittin' at the table, there'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done."

Photos from Copenhagen

Denmark gets 20 percent of its power from wind, but it also still relies on traditional energy sources including coal.

Hopenhagen (billboard) is a grassroots movement urging world leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Conference to achieve meaningful outcomes that limit future carbon emissions, minimize the effects of climate change, and fuel a sustainable global economy. As the conference winds down, hopes are fading that an agreement can be reached.

This large white ball, located in City Square in Copenhagen, Denmark, lights up at night and has climate change information scrolling around it. This area is the center of activity in Copenhagen, where various energy and environmental displays have been featured during the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Copenhagen update: the religion of climate change

One of the most striking things I saw on my first walk around Copenhagen should have been no surprise at all. It was a sign, about 20 x 20 (feet not meters!) that said "Stop Climate Change Now." It was just another of the many signs plastering the walls, hanging from buildings, and displayed on cars and sea faring vessels around Copenhagen. But after some of the recent research I have been doing, this one was particularly of interest. Because the climate is, and forever has been, changing, we cannot stop this change. You might as well display a sign saying "Stop the Earth Rotating on its Axis Now."

As more and more research is released about the dramatic and sometimes sudden changes the Earth's climate has experienced long before the Industrial Age, it has become clear that many of those who have gathered here have their climate belief system and they are unwilling to accept any challenges to it, and are not very interested in the realities of historical climatology. The blinders they have put on allow them to continue to pursue their goals with a religious fervor.

The choice of Denmark as the location of these historic talks is of interest as well. Denmark was home to many of the Vikings that built wealth in the Middle Ages through pillage, conquest, and the settling of new lands that became available because of a distinct and sudden warming pattern called the Medieval Warming Period. And yet Denmark is also home to multinational corporations and banks that have spent billions preparing to make billions more from the establishment of a cap and trade regime.

Denmark stands to lose if this new climate movement loses steam. The windmills that dot the skyline here are a testament not only to the dedication to the cause, but also the vast investment.

Windmills are good and we should invest in more and ensure they are part of our energy mix and energy solution. But we also need to look at affordable technology that is available and affordable now. The U.S. needs to get religion about energy security and reliability. Let's start looking realistically at the problem and we can take realistic action.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Copenhagen conference update

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen continues to be defined by the disagreements between developed and developing countries as the talks wind toward Friday’s conclusion. Not much progress has been made. Yesterday was marked by a day of protest by African countries, whose representatives walked out of the conference over draft language being discussed regarding the expectations and responsibilities of developed and developing countries when it comes to greenhouse gas emission reductions.

This display by developing countries gets to the heart of the major obstacle facing the climate negotiators, which is what exactly the role and responsibility is of developing and developed countries if a truly effective international agreement to reduce global greenhouse emissions is to be reached. Developing countries argue that historically the majority of emissions have come from developed countries as they industrialized their economies. Therefore, developed countries bear responsibility to more aggressively reduce their emissions. Further, there is an expectation that developed countries must financially assist developing countries in transitioning to low-carbon technology and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Developed countries worry that since developing countries are expected to account for more than two-thirds of the emissions growth over the next 30 years, they must agree to binding reductions. The rift between the U.S. and China highlights this divide. The U.S. is demanding real reductions by China and third-party verification of its reductions. China is resisting both demands, as well as efforts to create a new status for emerging economies like those in India and China that would be separate from developing countries, opening the door to requiring mandatory reductions from them.

It is unlikely that these issues will be resolved when the negotiations conclude at the end of the week. The role of developed and developing countries is sure to dominate the legislative debate in the U.S. when Congress takes up climate change legislation again after the New Year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Biodiesel mandate – at what cost?

The season’s first weather chill draws attention to another of Minnesota’s nation-leading energy mandates – and its resulting “cost.” We are the only state to require B5 – that all diesel fuel sold within our borders contains 5-percent biodiesel. By 2015, the mandate increases to B20. This fuel is made from renewable resources blended with petroleum diesel. In Minnesota, biodiesel is made primarily from soybean oil.

Other states have the biodiesel requirement, but Minnesota’s is easily the most aggressive. We are also the only cold-weather state to mandate B5, and that’s significant. Biodiesel often gels up during cold weather, thus hampering the performance of all diesel-fuel engines. The problem has flared up in recent winters with some school bus fleets.

Minnesota’s commissioner of commerce does have the ability to suspend the mandate when required by weather or supply issues. Still, the mandate forces diesel users in Minnesota to spend more money on fuel than states such as Wisconsin and Iowa without the mandate. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce supports the development of renewable fuels, but mandates must be in tune with “real world” economics.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Live from Copenhagen

Next week, I will be in Copenhagen for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. I will post updates from the second week of the conference where delegates from over 190 countries are negotiating a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol. Check in to find out the latest developments from the negotiations, as well as activities happening outside of the conference.

In the run-up to Copenhagen, expectations have been lowered. Major players have acknowledged that it is very unlikely that a binding treaty can be agreed upon by the end of the conference. Instead, political commitments for reduction targets are expected, as well as efforts to agree on a level of funding that will be provided by developed countries to help developing countries address climate change. The head of the U.N. Climate Conference said last week that he hopes a binding agreement could be reached by June. Even that timeline may prove to be too ambitious.

The roadblock on the way to Copenhagen is the same one that has existed since the Kyoto Treaty: establishing different commitments for developed and developing countries. In the last two weeks, the Obama Administration pledged to reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020, which is the target established in legislation passed by the House of Representatives last June. That announcement was followed up by a pledge from China to reduce its carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 and India which said it would reduce its carbon intensity by 20 to 25 percent by the same year. All three countries would use 2005 emissions as the baseline year.

By reducing carbon intensity, China and India will become more energy efficient (something that is happening already), but their overall emissions will still grow. With the U.S. pledging an absolute reduction, the risk of “carbon leakage”, or the migration of emissions from developed to developing countries, is still very real. The result: lost jobs in countries like the U.S. and increased global greenhouse gas emissions.

While Copenhagen may not produce a binding treaty as many had expected only a few months ago, there will undoubtedly be many interesting developments. Check back next week to find out what is happening in Copenhagen.