December 15 Highlights: EPA Session and Update on IPCC Session

December 18, 2009

Posted by: Menas Kafatos

This was a full day and the last day where reasonable access to the Bella Center was provided. Besides talking to people in NGO booths and going around, I attended several key press conferences and side events. In the morning, Paul and I attended the U.S. EPA’s event on domestic climate change activities. EPA Assistant Administrator of Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy gave an overview of EPA activities, including the recent endangerment act, which declares CO2 as harmful to human health. She explained that under the clean air act, large companies will be reporting on the amounts of CO2 released. EPA gas Inventory Expert Leif Hockstad further explained that this reporting ruling does not control emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG’s). Discussion followed and we introduced ourselves.

The side event “Are we prepared for the worst-case scenario? News in Climate Science since IPCC last report” was an event of several speakers from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, PBL; as well as panelists Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist of UNEP and Bas Eickhout, member of European Parliament.

The event was  well attended. I will get into more details in my 2nd blog on the science of global change but basically the speakers emphasized that still a lot of science needs to be done and the environment may be undergoing changes faster than even the IPCC anticipated. I asked a question which initiated a lot of discussion on why business is not brought in a more integral way into the whole process (which seems to be involving primarily politicians, with input from science). I was assured that business is part of the process, particularly in Europe. Without substantive worldwide business and economic involvement in the whole climate issue, we will either have just academic discussions (by academics and scientists) or just politics (by the politicians) or a combination of both (the current situation), with little real prospects of both sustainable economic development and sustainable environment. The importance of this is appreciated in the EU, in Korea and some other countries.


Day 3: The chosen few

December 17, 2009

Posted by:  Chris Kim

[Started writing this last night, just finished and posting it today] I’m still, amazingly, in the Bella Center, going on hour 13 today; I figured that if this is my last day at COP15, I’m going to make it count.

As has been covered already in this blog, severe limitations on access to the conference have been enacted.  Although rumors abounded about getting in as the week goes on (external protests supposedly caused the NGO entry line to be closed by mid-morning), David Shafie and I were lucky enough to get in around 9 AM.  Unfortunately, everyone else in our group got shut out as they arrived after we did, so it was up to David and me to represent our delegation from within the Bella Center.

We started things off at the U.S. Center, where a representative from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave a presentation using the amazing visual Science on a Sphere technology.  From NOAA’s website: “Science On a Sphere (SOS) is a room sized, global display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe.”  This was a great way to view changes in ocean temperatures over time as well as different pelagic (open ocean-dwelling) animal migration patterns, and carbonate saturation limits in a fully 3D surround form.

NOAA's Science on a Sphere shows sea turtle migration data; colors indicate ocean temperature gradients and shows that turtles prefer a fairly narrow temperature range which threatens to be disrupted by climate change.

Within a timeframe of about 15 minutes, I then got pictures of (and in the first two cases, with) General Wesley Clark, Dr. John Holdren, and Senator John Kerry.  Increasingly bigger names were definitely in attendance today.  General Clark told us a personal but likely well-practiced anecdote about arguing with an 11-year-old over the age of the dinosaurs, as he (the kid) had been taught that the earth was only 6000 years old, while I chatted with Dr. Holdren about folks we both know at Harvard.  Holdren, the primary science advisor to President Obama and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, has also appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and is likely one of the most public faces of science today.  His ability to communicate complex scientific concepts with patience, intelligence, and enthusiasm are in my opinion a great asset to the current administration.  More on his talk in a future post.

General Wesley Clark with me and David Shafie.

Senator John Kerry rushes by, surrounded by press and staff.

Me with John Holdren, science advisor to President Obama.

David and I went to a panel discussion in the Bellona Room, buried in the depths of the delegate offices (each country/big govt. office gets one, which acts as the center of business for all govt. officials), to hear from representatives of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the World Wildlife Foundation, the Blue Green Alliance, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and the National Wildlife Federation about the status of climate change legislation and how NGOs can play a role in shaping it.  They were all quite savvy about how Congress operates and how to effectively lobby for science priorities (e.g. emphasizing job creation and showing how states can financially benefit).

Panel discussion on US climate change legislation held at the Bellona Room.

After that I hustled to catch the end of a Department of Transportation talk at the U.S. Center which discussed current and possibly future changes to gas mileage requirements as well as other ongoing initiatives in jet fuel R&D, hybrid and electric cars, and funding for new transportation-related improvements.  All talks at the US Center are streamed live and archived in many cases online along with the slides used during the presentation at:

www.cop15.state.gov

From there it was off to a discussion of green jobs in the EU Center (the correlate to the US Center), then back to the US Center for John Holdren’s talk entitled “The Science of Climate Change:  What do we Know? What Can We Do?”  Then John Kerry’s talk on “The Critical Role of a Global Deal in Advancing US legislation, followed by a biofuels panel presentation by General Wesley Clark and several CEOs of different biofuel companies that regrettably felt more like an infomercial for the industry than a cogent talk.  We then attended a talk by numerous high-level UN representatives and led by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  David Shafie has covered the Kerry and Ban talks elsewhere in this blog.

UN presentation with an impressive collection of high-ranking UN officials.

Seating chart for UN panel presentation.

Grabbed some side event catering on the way to a panel presentation called “Getting into Shape for Green Growth:  Korea’s Case” which covered all of the things Korea is doing to get out ahead of green growth and technology.  Surprisingly, while Korea seems very prominent this week, and China is obviously a large force in the ongoing negotiations, Japan is relatively subdued in their presence at the conference.  Finished with more catering and hauling a bunch of chocolate, cheese and sandwiches (one of the latter donated by David) out to some of the non-violent protestors in the main hall who were pretty appreciative.  Busy day!

Nonviolent protestors inside the Bella Center (compared to the (few) violent protestors outside the Bella Center earlier that day).

I’ll break out more detail on a few of these talks separately, as this is already a pretty long post.  However, one item mentioned in a few different talks was a chart created by McKinsey called the greenhouse gas abatement cost curve, plotting abatement methods along two axes showing each method’s cost per ton of CO2 and the actual number of gigatons (109) of CO2 potentially reduced.  This allows a visual representation of the cost benefits of various approaches, showing that several will save large amounts of money while others will cost more.  I’ve included the figure here which is worth a closer look.

McKinsey greenhouse gas abatement cost curve.


Some observations and thoughts on COP15…

December 17, 2009

Posted by Paul Chan

Many developing nations are already facing climate change threats such as chronic droughts, floods, and inundation due to sea level rise. These nations include Pacific Islands, Bangladesh, Nepal, and many African countries. For them, the worst of climate change is yet to come and no end is in sight. Their view is that developed nations are responsible for the currently high atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration. Even though the governing bodies of some developed nations might have in the past refused to acknowledge and act on climate change, this knowledge has been open to them for the past 30 years. So in the view of developing nations, some developed nations’ past refusal to acknowledge climate change or refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol does not excuse them of the harm they have inflicted on the rest of the world.

Every nation recognizes that a strong economy will help it better prepare for climate change. Without assistance from developed nations, developing nations will be forced to take the Faustian choice of economic development at any cost and at the expense of the environment. Some western critics have criticized China for taking this Faustian choice. However, for many developing nations, China is in an enviable position because its strong economy allows it to prepare for climate change. So in China’s perspective, its developmental path was not a Faustian choice at all. Developed nations should take this as a lesson that without their assistance, many developing nations will all be too willing to follow China’s path because they have no better choice. For some less fortunate nations, this is not even an option; without assistance from developed nations, they will simply wither in the face of climate change.

Currently most financial assistance from developed nations to developing nations is in GHG mitigation (estimated to be 90%) and the rest in climate change adaptation. A more balanced approach is needed. Most developing nations have very low GHG emission, yet they are facing disproportionally large climate change threats. What they need is a balance of two types of assistance. The first is in climate change adaptation to help them moderate climate change threats; this is urgently needed. The second type of assistance is for sustainable economic development to help developing nations avoid the past mistakes of developed nations in reliance on fossil fuels and the mistake of massive environmental degradation in the course of their economic development.


Are we getting the deal we want? Part I

December 17, 2009

Klimaforum 09 Lobby

Posted by Emmanuel Smith
I spent most of the day at the Klimaforum 09 side event of the COP15 conference.  Located at the DGI-byen near the Central Station, there were several hundred activists and NGO members who were also denied access to the Bella Center today as government officials continue to arrive and talks “progress”.  The main talk of the day was hosted by the George Manbiot organization, entitled “Are you getting the deal you came for?”  The four main questions addressed during this talk were:

1) What is the current state of the talks?
2) Do we want them to succeed or to fail?
3) What would a good climate agreement look like?
4) Assuming they fail, how do we get what we want next year?

The format was an open forum Q&A with several hundred people in the crowd.  It was very democratic and respectable in nature as just about anyone who wanted to ask a question or make a comment was able to do so.  As of the time of the forum, the current state of the talks seemed to be that not much had been agreed upon yet, although world leaders were still in discussions.  Two documents are being focused on now, the Kyoto Protocol, which they are trying to renew, and the AWG-LCA (Long-term Cooperative Action).  There is also the possibility that these two documents will be combined in some fashion.  It seems the leaked “Danish text” will not be on the table at all at this time.  So there is still hope of something to come out of those closed door sessions.

When addressing the second question, the discussion in the room was split.  One point of view was that the talks should fail rather than it produce something terrible.  One of the moderators, George Monbiot asked “is the agreement going to be so bad that it would be better not to have an agreement at all?”   One audience member responded that “a non-binding agreement of intent might be better than a binding agreement that is not good enough.”  Another point made was that we need a change in the model of production AND consumption to really make a difference.  Simply getting off oil or coal or just lowering the amount of CO2 emissions won’t really be sufficient if people still mass-produce and mass consume.

However, why should the COP15 even take place if it won’t succeed in producing something?  “Maybe emissions reduction is not a very strong tool, but if you lose this discussion, this ground totally, you may lose the main principles of the convention,” said another audience member.  “The reason for the convention shouldn’t be ignored just because leaders can’t come up with a decent agreement so it would be even worse for the talks to fail completely.”  It was refreshing to hear all the different points of view from people from all over the world in such a casual setting.  Even though some people spoke more about ideals than about realistic actions that could be taken, there were some really good points and ideas offered.  The answer will have to lie somewhere in the middle, but I think the problem is that no one wants to meet there, no one seems to want to give an inch.  Too many interests are at stake and that is the problem right now.


Part II and video clips coming soon.


Chaos in Copenhagen

December 17, 2009

Posted by Mary Platt

This is the fourth day of our visit to COP15, and we have watched the conference descend into more and more chaos each day. Yesterday was the worst: a huge contingent of activists, mostly from “Climate Justice Action” and “Climate Justice Now,” attempted to march on the Bella Center, hoping to enter and hold a “people’s rally.”  Police (it looks like the combined police forces of all of Denmark and many from neighboring countries are here) halted them (Manny got some footage) and, inevitably, violence resulted.

Everybody's mad: The failed takeover of Bella Center, resulting police violence and NGO fury were front-page news in the English-language COP15 newspaper.

We were far away and didn’t personally witness any of the violence, but it was all over the news here last night. From what they showed on the news, the front lines of protesters linked arms and tried to force their way through the police line by sheer dint of numbers, and the police took out truncheons and began whacking. Pepper spray was also used (not tear gas as some reports had it).  There was some bottle-throwing, too, so although the activist side of the story is that their intent was peaceful assembly, a linked-arm forced march through police lines accompanied by thrown objects was probably asking for trouble. If the intent, however, was to get on TV to get their voice heard, it was a successful PR ploy – they were all over the news. More than 200 were arrested.

The NGO’s (non-government organizations) have been increasingly shut out of the Bella Center as the week progressed.  The Chapman team lucked out the first two days by arriving essentially before the crack of dawn (well, dawn actually cracks here around 9 a.m. — so we would be in line at the Bella before 6:30 a.m. before the hugest of the waiting crowds arrived).  Wednesday they restricted NGO entry completely after 9 a.m. – only Chris and David were able to get in and the rest of us were shut out.  Today they restricted NGO entry to only 1,000 people, so with 40,000 25,000 people here representing NGOs [45,000 total registered], you can guess where that left us – outside again!  Tomorrow, with all the world leaders, including President Obama, here, they say they are limiting NGO entry to just 90 people, so I can safely predict we ain’t gettin’ in!

The NGOs issued a strongly worded open letter to UN-FCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer and COP15 president Lars Loekke Rasmussen protesting this action.

So who’s to blame for this massive snafu?  Alas, many are blaming the Danish government for being too conservative and too paranoid about the security of the event.  Some are blaming the UN organizers.  Yup, a lot of angry, frustrated people and a lot of blame being tossed about.

On top of that, the world leaders have been arriving in waves, unmarked helicopters are buzzing ominously over the city like swarms of bees, and blaring sirens and swirling blue lights mark the progress of top-level leaders’ motorcades rushing through the city. There is talk that all routes to the airport will be shut down tomorrow when Obama arrives (throwing the return plans of at least one of our team members into disarray).

Oh, well — there have been a lot of other climate-related events around Copenhagen that we have been able to visit now.  And gracious, beautiful Copenhagen itself, with the ever-helpful Danes, have made it all worthwhile.  Most Danes on the street decry the police violence and think the security measures are completely overboard.

Deepa just arrived out of the night and said tomorrow’s protesters are already camped out at the central train station. I’ve seen major police presence everywhere in town.  I think we are in for a wild and wacky day tomorrow (Friday)!!


Kerry Appeals for Action and Trust

December 16, 2009

Posted by David Shafie

Senator John Kerry delivered an urgent and frank talk Wednesday, saying that “amateur hour is over; it’s time for science fact.”  Despite the alarming tone, Kerry told a packed room that he expected the delegates to deliver an agreement on greenhouse gas emissions because of the constant dedication of those involved and “the urgency of the science.”

The former presidential candidate acknowledged that the U.S. “failed to lead” after the Rio Summit in 1992 and this setback has made it harder to reach a climate agreement. However, Kerry said that Congress and the Obama Administration were moving in the right direction.  Since January, Kerry said, Congress has appropriated $80 million for investments in clean energy, and he named some of his Senate colleagues, who obstructed climate change legislation on behalf of the coal industry in the 1990s, who now support taking action to reduce carbon emissions.

Sen. John Kerry

Even before he addressed the conference, we noticed the Massachusetts senator moving frantically around the hall and visiting the section of the center where the delegation offices were housed.  That Kerry would devote so much energy to this is no surprise.  As the principal sponsor of the carbon cap-and-trade bill, passed by the House but stalled in the Senate, he has a lot riding on its success.  He not only called upon the parties to act, but also spoke of the importance of trust.  No doubt fearful that the stalled U.S. legislation might derail the Copenhagen talks, Kerry sought to reassure the delegates–and the audience beyond the hall–that the U.S. could be trusted to deliver after the Senate takes up the bill next Spring.

His talk seemed to be a call to action and a message of reassurance to other nations.  After all, he said, the EPA’s recent finding that carbon dioxide is a threat to human health will serve as a “wake up call” to the Senate, which would likely force it to enact more favorable legislation to create a flexible program to reduce carbon emissions.  The alternative, he said, would be strict command-and-control regulations that industry—and Congress—would hope to avoid.  The EPA’s message was clear, according to Kerry: If you don’t legislate, we will regulate.


Ban Ki-Moon: Don’t Be Discouraged

December 16, 2009

Posted by David Shafie

When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed an audience of delegates and observers tonight, he asked the participants–and those around the world following the news from inside the conference center–to remain optimistic.

Secretary General Ban, Ki-Moon

The Secretary General insisted that the media’s portrayal of the conference as a stalemate is not accurate, and on the problems facing developing nations, he told us, “I’m much more sympathetic than I’m given credit.”  By the time we saw him speak this evening, he looked tired, but spirited.  He reminded everyone that it’s unprecedented to have such a large number of states engaged in a negotiation this far-reaching.  On today’s protests, he said the fact that 40,ooo people wanted to come into the hall (most of whom had to be turned away) was a “positive” sign because it shows how much people want the parties to take action.

Ban said he was aware how the media was portraying the conference, and that the public should not be discouraged about by the reports they hear.  He said he was confident a deal would be reached, and acknowledged there were some sticking points.  One is the issue of greenhouse gas mitigation–many of the countries involved in the talks have proposed targets, but they still haven’t been able to agree to accept the levels recommended by scientists.  Another is the issue of fast track financial support to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change.  While the amount already pledged by developing nations is “not insignificant,” Moon said, the discussions have not produced a solution to the problem of long-term support for those countries.  In addition to the $4 billion already pledged, there should be a “fair formula for burden sharing” and a mechanism for long-term support.

Ban’s comments came at the conclusion of a question-and-answer session held by the administrators of 20 UN and UN-affiliated agencies, including UNESCO, the UN Environmental Program, and the World Bank.  In an impressive display of unity, the administrators sat in a semicircle onstage and described their organizations’ dedication to the climate change issue (Chief negotiator Yvo de Boer’s seat was empty, since he was still working in a closed-door session on the climate deal).

Each of administrators’ comments were well-received.  However, Francis Gerry of the World Intellectual Property Organization energized the room by summarizing the dilemma facing negotiators in a way that resonated with the delegates and observers:  Two million women and children die of pulmonary disease die every year due to indoor air pollution because they have no access to electricity, and their household energy source is burning biomass.  That’s a death toll that rivals malaria, Gerry said. So, he asked, how can we ensure that the one of benefits of alternative energies will be to save those lives, not just a few dollars for the people who put up a solar panel?