Wednesday, January 20, 2010

After the disappointment of Copenhagen - where now?

It depended what, or where, you were reading, how December's COP-15 talks were spun to you. Hailed as a success in the US and the Indian Times, they were marked as a failure in Europe.

For those who saw failure for the UN Climate Change conference to conclude with a legally binding and effective deal, the blame lay either with China or the US.

Over in the US, the pro-climate action body World Resources Institute was among those who blamed Somalia and other developing nations most threatened by climate change for nearly scuppering the deal, which they claimed was "rescued" by Obama.

Meanwhile, Lumumba Di-Aping (Sudanese leader of the G77) compared the Copenhagen Accord proposed to the Holocaust and to asking African people to sign a suicide pact.

Tuvalu and other threatened states remain very bitter about the lack of transparency - the text of the Accord had been agreed before midnight by a small group of countries (including China, Japan, India, Brazil, the US and EU) and brought to the plenary.

The EC identified the biggest challenge as finding a way to share global emission reductions between rapidly-developing countries, like China and India, and more industrialised regions, like the US and Europe, responsible for the bulk of historical CO2 emissions. It said it was 'disappointed' by both the Chinese and Ameican pledges at Copenhagen.

After the dust has settled, it does seem that China was more obstructive than any other significant player.

So, after two years of wrangling and stalling, we must now wait for further meetings and talks this year to (maybe) declare a legally binding document, with firm targets.

What was decided at Copenhagen?

A small group of nations negotiated the Copenhagen Accord. However, they are responsible for 80% of emissions, and they promised immediately $28bn of short term support and $100bn/yr from 2020.

When this document was taken to the Plenary on the floor, there wasn't final agreement, but UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer claims there was "overwhelming support", citing the 120 heads of state who came to Copenhagen. But in the end, the Accord was only "noted" by those countries.

Nevertheless, de Boer argues, "it is a political tool we will deploy to resolve remaining issues over the coming year, e.g. on financial support and what developing contries need to do and what bodies need to be established".

The Accord contains no mention of targets for 2020 or 2050, but there is an "intent" to work towards a maximum 2 degree Celsius limit on average global temperature rise.

The document mentions pledges already made by some parties. Other countries can write their intentions into the scheme in the document before 1 February.

Before Copenhagen, financial pledges were made by individual countries and these are in the Accord.

For long term finance: $100 bn each year by 2020 was promised, from public and private sources.

For short term finance (2010-12) the following was promised:

$30 billion - EU

$11 billion - Japan

$3.6 billion - US.

Verification of countries' claims for emission reduction was a contentious issue: large developing countries must report their emissions every second year. There will be some kind of international surveillance but at the same time "respecting national sovereignty". There will not be a review of progress until 2015 to determine if all this action is urgent enough. We already know it is not.

In fact, de Boer said on 20 January that the failure at Copenhagen "makes our task more urgent, as the window of opportunity is closing faster than before". He acknowledged that in "financial, human and economic terms the challenge requires much greater investment". Nevertheless he acknowledged three outcomes:

1. the challenge is being met at the highest levels of government

2. it reflects a gobal political consensus

3. at negotiations away from the camera, a full set of decisions was brought to conclusion.

However, the REDD framework was not finalised at Copenhgen, so REDD money (for forest preservation) cannot be distributed.

The UN is looking forward

The names of those countries who agree with the Accord will be published in the Accord below the title.

De Boer has given countries a deadline of 31 January to be on this list, which will be updated on an ongoing basis on the UNFCCC website.

He was careful to say that signing it meant they do not "adhere" to its contents but agree to "be associated".

They can opt to adhere, or, if they are industrialised countires, to indicate the targets they will set, or, if developing countries, say what actions they will take. "The Accord is a living document" he said. No one is 'bound' to the Accord.

It will be used to advance the formal negotiations inside the UN process.

Of the short term finance pledged, many countries have it in their budgets and will channel it through the existing Kyoto Protocol measures and bodies. No more meetings are therefore required to implement it.

The next COP (16) is expected to be held in Mexico from 29 November 2010 to 10 December 2010. De Boer wants an "incentivised negotiating schedule" before then, in the second part of this year, details yet to be determined.

At the end of May / early June there will be a review of progress towards Mexico. Mexico could conclude in a legally binding agreement, but that can only be decided then. De Boer said he had spoken to 15-20 countries sine Copenhagen, who believe that discussions in Mexico will reach a conclusion after which it will be decided how to package it in legal terms.

The decision making process

The cumbersome nature of discussions came under much criticism at Copenhagen. Individual countries could hold up major discussions on points of order.

Could it be improved upon? De Boer now believes that "You can't have 192 countries involved in all the details all of the time on all issues.

"These are the most complicated negotiations the world has ever seen. They must be broken up into smaller parts. Transparency is vital. Countries will decide where they want to be involved.

"Then, when any decisions are brought back to the whole community, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. This will build confidence among all parties," he said.

The vulnerable countries strike back

Many countries feel excluded from the UN process. Pablo Solon, Bolivia's ambassador to the UN said on 18 January:“The US climate envoy Pershing must be very deaf if he thinks that only a small minority of countries opposed the Copenhagen Accord. The agreement was roundly condemned in almost every quarter of the world, because it patently fails to tackle the climate crisis.

"The leaders of the world's largest polluting nations have failed us. That is why Bolivia is organizing a Peoples' Conference on Climate Change in April to put forward effective proposals for saving humanity from climate chaos. We invite all people committed to saving our planet to join us.”

Climate Justice will mean radical reduction of emissions in industrialized countries and the transfer of resources and technology to developing countries.

"If the US and other governments can so easily find money for endless wars, bank bailouts and bonanza bonuses for the rich, they clearly have the resources to help save lives and protect future generations.”

Solon added: “The US admission that it wants to exclude the vast majority of the planet from decisions about climate change is deeply offensive, when the climate crisis will fall first on those who are most vulnerable.

"The earthquake in Haiti has shown very clearly how vulnerable impoverished countries will be to environmental crises. The US decision to ignore our voices is the attitude of a colonial ruler.”

Europe struggles to lead the way

The Commission has proposed immediate action on climate finance agreed in Copenhagen, including fast-start funding ($30 billion) for 2010-2012 and long-term finance ($100 billion per year in 2020).

At an informal meeting of European energy and environment ministers in Seville on 16 January there were calls for swift implementation by the EU of the Copenhagen Accord. They urged other countries to follow suit and reach a legally-binding agreement in 2010.

"Doing so will require an active outreach by the EU, including at bilateral and regional levels, but possibly also through facilitating a meeting of 'Friends of the Accord' during the first quarter of 2010," a statement said.

The EU (which accounts for about 14% of the world's CO2 emissions) has committed to achieving a 20% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990, as called for in its climate and energy package adopted in 2008. It would commit to 30% if other developed countries commit to comparable emission reductions and economically-advanced developing countries - namely China and India - contribute adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities. 

The nominee for European climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, told a European Parliament hearing on 15 January that she hoped the EU's conditions for moving to 30% would be met before a meeting set for Mexico later this year.

The EU's newly-appointed president Herman Van Rompuy (a former Belgian prime minister) has said he will be focusing on Europe's recovery from the financial crisis and on tackling climate change during his two-and-a-half-year tenure. 

Though the Copenhagen climate talks lfailed to meet European expectations, they laid a good foundation for further work, Van Rompuy told the German chancellery. 

Angela Merkel has said that without European participation in the Copenhagen summit, China and India would not have taken any responsibility or confronted the issue of climate change. 

In March there is an EU Summit to endorse the European Energy Action Plan for 2010 onward.

US prospects

The loss of a Democrat majority in the US Senate on 20 January was seen as potentially making it more difficult for the US cap-and-trade climate change bill to be passed.

Steny Hoyer, Democrat leader in the House of Representatives, said the bill was not dead, but parts aimed at increasing energy independence were more likely to pass than those aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

De Boer put a brave face on the news: "No political development in US will mean we go back. US concerns on fuel prices and scarcity and economic problems will not go away.

"At Copenhagen Obama committed to a reduction of 17% - the global community will hold the US accountable to this," he said.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Have your say on new nuclear power stations

A consultation on new nuclear power stations is underway.

The potential sites for these are at Bradwell, Braystones, Hartlepool, Heysham, Hinkley Point, Kirksanton, Oldbury, Sellafield, Sizewell and Wylfa. Bradwell was nominated by EDF, who are currently seeking to sell the site to a credible nuclear operator.

Under new planning laws which make it harder for people to object, large infrastructure projects (like nuclear power stations, railways, large wind farms, power stations, reservoirs, harbours, airports and sewage treatment works) are subject to generic consultation periods conducted by the new Infrastructure Planning Commission, with individual instances having restricted subjects on which it's possible for locals to comment.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change's consultation on the Energy National Policy Statements ends on the 22nd February, followed by an opportunity for Parliament to comment.

Nuclear power is a step in the wrong direction, sucking capital and engineering know-how into a short-term technology with a terrible long-term legacy of nuclear waste.

Instead support energy efficiency to reduce the demand. Support renewable energy whose fuel is harmless and free and will never run out.

A map of potential sites for new nuclear is here.

Respond to the consultation here.

Early praise for Sustainable Home Refurbishment

Sustainable Home Refurbishment: The Earthscan Expert Guide to Retrofitting Homes for Efficiency by David Thorpe
Sustainable Home Refurbishment: The Earthscan Expert Guide to Retrofitting Homes for Efficiency
, to be published by Earthscan in June 2010

Just in: some nice praise for this title:

"This is an excellent book - comprehensively-researched,
powerfully-presented and crystal clear. It should be the first stop for
anyone seeking objective advice in a field cluttered with misleading claims.
I couldn't recommend it more strongly." - George Monbiot

"As the idea of radical retrofit of our existing housing stock gradually moves from geek-dom to chic-dom, this book is a must have for all involved in this burgeoning industry. This book is both for the capable amateur and the professionally engaged.
"There is all the detail you could wish for with a vast array of practical examples and materials. This is not a book for the total novice but is a life saver for anyone on the road to radical retrofit.
"We can't recommend it highly enough. David has managed to make the book a good and interesting ready whilst managing to get all the necessary hard-core energy information in there as well." - Penney Poyzer (tv presenter, writer, "Queen of Green", grass roots activist) and Gil Schalom (architect).

Order it using the link above