Saturday, 7 November 2009

Obama set to announce US target for cutting emissions at summit

November 7, 2009
Ben Webster, Environment Editor

President Obama is preparing to break the deadlock in negotiations on a global deal on climate change by announcing a target for cutting US greenhouse gas emissions.
The US is the only developed country yet to propose an emissions target. Poorer nations, including most of Africa, are threatening to walk out of a UN summit in Copenhagen next month unless Mr Obama commits to an ambitious reduction.
Mr Obama may wait until the final stages of the negotiations in Copenhagen in order to achieve maximum political impact with his announcement and give other countries little opportunity to demand deeper cuts from the US.
The US delegation at pre-summit talks in Barcelona hinted that Mr Obama was considering offering a range of possible reductions rather than a single number. This would make it easier for the President to persuade Congress to pass legislation making the target legally binding.

During his election campaign, Mr Obama proposed that the US should cut emissions by 14 per cent on 2005 levels. A bill passed by the House of Representatives last summer would cut emissions by 17 per cent.
A second bill, tabled in the Senate by John Kerry, the former Democrat presidential candidate, would cut emissions by 20 per cent.
Jonathan Pershing, the lead US negotiator at the Barcelona talks, gave the clearest indication to date that America would announce a provisional target before the end of the Copenhagen summit.
He said: “Developing countries, including the US, need to make robust mid-term reductions from a set base year.” Mr Pershing added: “In the US we are moving to make a substantial contribution to a robust Copenhagen deal. We are very interested in seeing that deal move forward and we recognise that others are seeking numbers from us.” He said Mr Obama could make a political commitment to a target without waiting for the Senate to approve it.
“The executive body has authorities which are not exclusively reliant on Congress and that is a decision which has to be made.” Mr Pershing also said that the US was preparing to make a “substantial contribution” to a global fund aimed at helping developing countries adapt to climate change and pursue low-carbon economic growth.
He said the US was not expecting developing countries to cut their overall emissions but it wanted to see specific commitments from them on reducing their growth in emissions compared with the “business as usual” position.
Yvo de Boer, the UN’s senior climate change official, said the summit would achieve very little if Mr Obama failed to announce a target

Climate talks end in acrimony as UN and EU accuse US of endangering deal

Yvo de Boer says US target is essential as poor countries threaten walk-out at Copenhagen
John Vidal, Barcelona, Friday 6 November 2009 18.20 GMT
The last formal negotiations before the global summit on climate change in Copenhagen concluded in acrimony today, with developing countries threatening to walk out of the December conference unless rich countries commit themselves to far greater cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
While the countries remain officially optimistic that a strong global warming treaty can be struck, they are privately braced for a weak outcome which heads of state will sign, but the public and scientists will condemn as much too little to prevent catastrophic global warming.
In addition, the US and Europe put themselves on a collision course with the world's poorest countries by repeating demands that the existing Kyoto treaty be scrapped in favour of a single new international treaty.
It was announced by the UN that more than 40 heads of state have agreed to go to Copenhagen, including Gordon Brown and others from Europe, Africa and South America, and many more are expected. It is recognition that the only way a legally binding deal will be concluded is with the highest level political involvement.
Ironically, the involvement of the heads of state will give negotiators much less time to bridge what appears to be nearly insurmountable gaps between positions, thereby forcing the talks to continue well into 2010. Earlier this week, the US, EU and UK accepted that an enforceable deal would take at least six months to finalise.
"Little progress was made [this week] on the key issues of emission targets and finance that would allow developing countries to limit their emissions and adapt to climate change," said Yvo de Boer, the UN director of the talks. "Without these two pieces of the puzzle in place we will not have a deal. Leadership at the highest level is now required to unlock the pieces".
The 130 developing countries represented by the G77 group said today they would walk out of Copenhagen if rich countries did not offer far deeper emission cuts and more money. "If there are no ambitious targets and timetables in the first few days then there will definitely be a reaction," said Lumumba Di-Aping, chair of the G77.
Jonathan Pershing, the US chief negotiator, denied the US was holding up the talks by not naming a figure for its cuts and refused to say whether the US would go to Copenhagen with a figure. "If we were to do a 17% reduction or a 20% cut I'm not sure it would make a difference to the talks," he said.
But the UN, EU and NGOs all said the US was endangering years of negotiations, and hopes of tackling global warming, if it did not come up with firm targets. "We need a figure from the US. It is very important for a deal to have the biggest emitter there with a concrete figure which should be legally binding," said Anders Torrson, the Swedish chief negotiator.
"A US target is essential. If the US can deliver that target [in Copenhagen] that will give a critical signal," said de Boer.
NGOs said there was everything still to play for. "This is the darkest hour. There is enough time. Consensus is not forming around a weak deal. That is only wishful thinking by industrialised countries. Developing countries are fighting for their survival," said Greenpeace climate director Martin Kaiser.
"The EU countries should be prepared to cut themselves loose from the US or risk losing a climate deal. World leaders cannot wait while the US plays catch-up. Rich countries are using the US as an excuse to put their national interests above alleviating the suffering of the millions of people," said Antonio Hill, climate adviser for Oxfam.
In a series of impassioned speeches, poor countries accused the US and EU of putting the talks and planet at risk. "They are negotiating for themselves and not humanity," said Angelica Navarro, Bolivian ambassador to Switzerland. "They must go beyond the individual interests of each country and put the interests of the world first."
However, progress was made on a technology agreement, reducing emissions from deforestation in poor countries, and ways to distribute funds to help countries adapt to climate change.
Centres of technological excellence are likely to be set up around the world which would have staff trained to help poor countries with renewable energy.

Civil unrest has a role in stopping climate change, says Gore

Ahead of Copenhagen summit, former US vice-president says 'non-violent lawbreaking' is legitimate in persuading governments to cut emissions
Oliver Burkeman in Los Angeles, Friday 6 November 2009 17.48 GMT
Al Gore has sought to inject fresh momentum into the Copenhagen build-up, saying he is certain Barack Obama will attend and predicting a rise in civil disobedience against fossil-fuel polluters unless drastic action is taken over global warming.
Amid increasing incidents of climate protesters disrupting the operations of fossil-fuel industries and airports in Britain and elsewhere, Gore suggests the scale of the emergency means non-violent lawbreaking is justified. "Civil disobedience has an honourable history, and when the urgency and moral clarity cross a certain threshold, then I think that civil disobedience is quite understandable, and it has a role to play," he says. "And I expect that it will increase, no question about it."
In his only UK newspaper interview to mark the publication of his new book, entitled Our Choice, Gore says it is crucial for Obama to attend Copenhagen in person, adding: "I feel certain that he will."
He remains optimistic, he insists, that the US Senate will pass a climate change bill before Copenhagen – a move widely seen as vital for persuading the world, especially developing countries, that the US is serious about reducing emissions.
But Gore was speaking before reports this week that Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, would back Republican demands for a full cost analysis of any such legislation – a process that could take five weeks, postponing debate until after the Copenhagen summit.
On Thursday the UK climate change secretary, Ed Miliband, acknowledged that hopes were fading that Copenhagen would result in a full treaty.
Nevertheless, there are "surprises … in store" on a potential Senate bill, Gore says, citing confidential conversations between Democrats and Republicans in which he has been involved. This week Democrats made small but significant progress when they pushed the bill through a vital committee stage despite a Republican boycott.

Barcelona diary: Russia keeps everyone in dark and Pershing scores direct hit

Russia tries to hang on to its carbon credits, UK wins a fossil booby prize and US negotiator charms the Indians
John Vidal, Friday 6 November 2009 11.53 GMT
Russia's credit riches
Russia is such a dark horse at these talks that you would barely know it was here, let alone it was the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Not only does the country give no briefings or make any public appearances, it has steadfastly refused to divulge its position. What it is clearly trying to do in secret negotiations, though, is hang on to its 4-6billion "assigned amount units" (AAUs) — effectively credits to emit billions of tonnes of carbon. These go back to the early 1990s before Russia's economy crashed, but they are still valid and if Russia is allowed to carry them over into another Kyoto round, it will be able to go for years without having to even think about reducing emissions. Indeed, when other countries' AAUs are included, there exists the real possibility that the rich world could effectively sign up to a deal that only forces it to cut emissions by 6% on 1990 figures. That's a 1% increase on cuts agreed at Kyoto 1997. That's progress.
New shoots for forest plan
Yesterday we berated the EU for not putting language that protected natural forests back into the proposed final text. This provoked an immediate response: in a new "open non-paper" (no 39) we find the key words restored but with some major differences. Not only has the protection been watered down, but a country that must remain nameless (OK, it's the US) has put brackets round some of it. That effectively means that forest protection is still open to negotiation. Someone out there really wants plantation palm oil forests to be seen as the same as old growth forests.
Gushing and Pershing
It's just a straw in the wind, but sometimes the body language of negotiators says it all. Jonathan Pershing, the US chief negotiator, was spotted this morning being greeted by a clearly overjoyed Indian delegation. "We have just had a meeting with your team. It went very well indeed," said the Indians. Pershing was also effusive. Does this mean the Indians and the US have stitched up a deal? Who knows, but whispers from inside the talks suggest that it is moving to distance itself from the G77, the political grouping of poor countries which it traditionally sits with, and wants to sit at the rich man's table.
US and UK land fossils booby prize
At the end of every negotiating day, the massed ranks of the non-government groups award "fossils" to the country they think has done the most to set the talks back. Yesterday the US and Britain were joint winners of the prestigious but dishonourable award for their statements that a legally binding agreement could be delayed by very many months.

Picasso print enters frame to fight climate change

Signed linocut by Picasso offered in 10:10 competition
Alok Jha, Friday 6 November 2009 14.11 GMT
Ever fancied owning an original Picasso? How about a signed one? And what if it was also something that helped the fight against global warming? Well, the dreams of one art-loving environmentalist will soon come true.
The 10:10 campaign plans to give away an original, signed linocut made by Pablo Picasso in 1956. Vallauris is a linocut printed in five colours, each made from a separate block.
Picasso produced a series of linocuts from 1951 to 1964, which were used as posters for an annual exhibition of ceramics in the southern French town of Vallauris, where the Catalan artist had settled in 1948. The town is famed for its ceramics, arts and crafts exhibitions and bullfighting. Picasso made many of his ceramic artworks near Vallauris, in the local Madoura pottery.
Now the Vallauris linocut will enter history in a new role — raising money to fight climate change. To win the artwork, entrants can buy as many tickets as they wish to enter (each priced at £10.10) and answer a question about Picasso's work. Correct entries will be drawn from a proverbial hat on 31 January next year and all proceeds go to the 10:10 campaign.
"Short of robbing a gallery, this is the best chance that us ordinary mortals have of getting our hands on a Picasso. And you'll be saving the planet at the same time," said Franny Armstrong, founder of the 10:10 campaign. "If we could sell 100,000 tickets, we could run the whole campaign for another 18 months."
The 65cm by 54cm artwork, valued at around £4,500, is one of a few printer's proofs made by Impremerie Arnera in 1956 and printed on Arches paper by the Association des potiers de Vallauris. It was donated to the 10:10 campaign by art dealer and philanthropist Fred Mulder.

‘2012’ latest Hollywood film to reduce carbon footprint

Relax News
Friday, 6 November 2009
The Hollywood disaster movie 2012, due to hit theaters worldwide the week of November 9, is the latest in a growing number of Hollywood films to neutralize its carbon emissions.
Several major Hollywood studios have begun greening their sets, taking measures such as buying carbon credits, using solar power or alternative fuel, and reducing or recycling production waste. For Sony Pictures' 2012, carbon offsets were purchased, biofuel was used for generators, and sets were either recycled or donated to Habitat for Humanity, reports The Mother Nature Network.
Major studio productions require significant carbon emissions: jetting actors to and from filming sites, constructing elaborate sets, creating artificial light and weather. As a result, carbon offsets--rather than only a reduction in emissions--are often a preferred method of reducing carbon footprints. Universal Pictures' 2007 film Evan Almighty reportedly achieved carbon neutrality by donating to the Conservation Fund's Go Zero program, which plants trees to "zero out" greenhouse gases produced. For the 2004 Fox film The Day After Tomorrow, director Robert Emmerich--who also directs 2012--paid Future Forests to plants trees that would offset the movie's CO2. Producers of Warner Brothers' 2005 film Syriana worked with the firm NativeEnergy, which calculates carbon emissions and then offsets those emissions by purchasing credits from renewable energy projects.
Hoping to create a go-to resource for the entertainment industry, Fox Entertainment Group in 2008 launched the Fox Green Guide, an online tool outlining best practices for going green. The site includes suggestions tailored specifically for feature films, television shows, sports production, and events, as well as a vendor guide listing environmentally-friendly products and services worldwide.

US refuses to budge over climate change deal

The US has refused to sign up to a deal on climate change unless poorer countries also cut levels of pollution.

Published: 6:13PM GMT 06 Nov 2009
In the latest round of UN climate change talks in Barcelona, the US said it was unfair to expect rich countries to cut emissions while developing nations like China and India continue to pollute.
It is the latest blow to the negotiations and puts any chance of a deal in Copenhagen at the end of the year in serious doubt.

Already, the UK Government and others have been forced to concede that the chance of any legally-binding deal is unlikely before the end of next year.
The UN climate change negotiations are focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions so that temperatures do not rise above 3.6F (2C).
Under current proposals the rich countries are expected to cut carbon emissions by between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020. The rich world would also pay out billions of pounds every year to help developing nations adapt to climate change and cut emissions.
But Jonathan Pershing, the US Deputy Special Envoy on Climate Change, said poorer nations should be subjected to the same tough conditions as the rich world.
Although he said poor nations do not need to sign up to targets, he said a new deal on climate change must include “legally binding actions” for developing countries that cut pollution. This would require countries like China to invest in renewables and improve nenergy efficiency.
“The developing countries want a legal deal that applies to us but not to them and we are not prepared to have such an agreement,” he said.
“They would like us to have binding commitments on finance and binding commitments on emissions targets but they are not prepared to have a review [of their emissions] - much less make it binding. The US wants the strongest possible agreement. If other countries will do this, we would be prepared to do this ourselves. It is not dependent on us, it is dependent on others.”
But Alf Wills, deputy direct general of international co-operation for South Africa, who was representing the G77 group of nations, said rich countries that are historically responsible for most of the pollution must move first.
He said poor nations will walk out of the talks if the US refuses to sign up to tough targets.
“We will not accept a green wash deal,” he said.
Despite the deadlock, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN negotiations, insisted a deal can be done as long as rich countries sign up to targets and agree to give money to poor nations.
“Without these pieces of the puzzle in place, we will not have a deal in Copenhagen,” he said. “So leadership at the highest level is required to unlock the pieces,”
David Waskow, Climate Change Programme Director for Oxfam America, said only the US can save the deal now.
“President Obama has recognised time and again that the poorest are being hit hardest by climate change. If ever there was a time for audacity and hope, it is now.”

Railroads & Windmills: Berkshire's 'Green' Bets

Adair, Iowa
Warren Buffett's blockbuster deal this past week for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. was based partly on the view that railroads are more efficient than trucks when energy prices are high.
But another company in Mr. Buffett's portfolio, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., also is making a "green" bet, building windmills and investing in high-tech batteries in one of the most significant pushes by a regulated utility in clean energy.

Dozens of state-of-the-art windmills that tower over rolling corn and soybean fields in this Iowa town are part of a MidAmerican wind project that generates enough electricity to power more than 50,000 homes.
It is one of several wind projects launched since 2004 by MidAmerican, of Des Moines, for billions of dollars. Iowa has become second in the nation in wind-energy capacity, behind Texas, due in part to MidAmerican.
On Thursday, just days after Mr. Buffett's deal for Burlington Northern, an Iowa utility board approved a new, roughly $2 billion wind project that will nearly double MidAmerican's wind capacity in the state, adding between 400 and 600 turbines. MidAmerican also owns wind farms in the Northwest.
"In Iowa there was wind but nothing to harness it 10 years ago," Mr. Buffett said in an interview. MidAmerican changed that, he said, "and we've got more on the way."
The profit motive is clearly at work at the company. Mr. Buffett believes that the investments will ultimately reward MidAmerican and its parent, Mr. Buffett's conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
"Clearly he thinks oil prices are going higher and Burlington is a way to have a low-cost provider, and you see that in MidAmerican, too," said Justin Fuller, partner at Midway Capital Research & Management, which closely tracks Berkshire.
The windmills are a risky move. Alternative energy has been one of the hottest, and least successful, investments in recent years.
High costs and technological hurdles have put a leash on once-hot areas such as ethanol and solar power. From Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens to U.K. energy giant BP PLC, the so-called smart money has lately scaled back on some once-highly touted clean-energy plans.
"The one thing we won't do is get involved in fads," said David Sokol, chairman of MidAmerican, in an interview. "We're looking at game changers."
Mr. Sokol is considered a top candidate to one day succeed Mr. Buffett, and his rising status at Berkshire puts a spotlight on his company's wind-power plans. MidAmerican has spent about $4 billion on wind projects and has billions more in the pipeline to finance wind and other alternative-energy projects around the country.
"Renewable energy has always been a fascination from my perspective, where it can make economic sense," Mr. Sokol said.
Messrs. Buffett and Sokol aren't on an environmental crusade. MidAmerican owns a vast number of coal-fired power plants, among the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Electric-power companies in the U.S. produce about 40% of the country's energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions, according to Energy Department data.
The railroad, while more efficient than trucking, hauls large quantities of coal. About 10% of the electricity produced in the U.S. comes from coal hauled by Burlington Northern, the railroad says.
Earlier this year, Mr. Sokol testified before Congress against legislation supported by many environmentalists to establish a market to trade carbon credits, arguing it would "impose a huge and unacceptable double cost on customers."
Mr. Sokol, who has said the wind-power industry still requires government support, also is trying to solve one of the longstanding problems of alternative energy -- how to store excess energy when the wind is blowing and transmit energy when it isn't.
MidAmerican has invested $232 million to buy 9.9% of Chinese battery maker BYD Co. If the company succeeds in producing batteries that can make power storable and portable, that could change the economics of alternative power. MidAmerican, which currently produces more electricity than its customers need, would be a winner.
Some see MidAmerican as a potential winner in the wind power race in part thanks to Mr. Buffett's deep pockets.
"If somebody is going to do wind energy successfully, my guess is would be it would be MidAmerican," said David Petina, a researcher for Freedonia Group, a Cleveland market-research firm who has studied wind power.
Write to Scott Patterson at

Germany, Mexico, US top the list in smart energy initiatives: study

Relax News
Friday, 6 November 2009
Germany, Mexico and the United States have crafted some of the world's smartest policies for improving energy use, according to a study released on Thursday on the sidelines of the UN climate talks here.
Making buildings more energy-efficient and providing tax breaks and tariff guarantees for renewable sources topped the "green new deal" policies scrutinised by two environment groups.
The scorecard examined energy initiatives launched by the European Union and six EU countries plus Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and the United States.
The schemes were measured chiefly for their capacity to reduce or save greenhouse-gas emissions, for their cost and their spur to economic activity.
Germany grabbed the top two spots with a programme to beef up energy efficiency in buildings through tougher construction standards supported by loans and grants, and with a "feed-in tariff" by which suppliers of renewable energy enjoy guaranteed price levels for 20 years.
The two initiatives scored 17.2 and 15.0 points out of 20, respectively.
Mexico came next with an urban bus system launched in Mexico City in 2005 that started to phase out creaky old buses.
Even though the programme was low technology, its environmental and economic effectiveness was extremely high when compared with the investment, earning 14.2 points out of 20.
In third place was the United States, which won plaudits for its "weatherisation assistance programme" to insulate the homes of low-income families, and for its tax breaks for energy from wind, solar, geothermal and bio-energy. These rated 13.8 and 13.7 points respectively.
China gained a medium score of 10.2 points for its "1,000 Enterprise Programme," which aims at getting the country's 1,000 most energy-intensive companies to reduce carbon emissions by 250 million tonnes during the 2006-2010 five-year plan.
The best policies not only help combat the greenhouse effect, they also stimulate economies and create thousands of new jobs, said the report, compiled by WWF International and E3G.
"The economic recovery packages put forward by many countries involve very large sums of money. But economic recovery packages so far have not generated a green new deal," it said.
"This report clearly shows that a well-designed climate policy will not adversely affect economic welfare."
On the downside, the report dished out "minus" scores for subsidies for coal mining and energy-gobbling industries, branding these the least effective both environmentally and in economic spinoffs.
It also said that arguments for supporting nuclear power to help mitigate emissions from fossil fuels were undermined by the hidden cost of dealing with long-term storage of radioactive waste.
It gave only 10.3 points to the EU's carbon market, the much-trumpeted outcome of the Kyoto Protocol
The emissions trading scheme was flawed for its start-up phase, which delivered windfall profits to power producers and other companies enrolled in the scheme yet provided "little environmental impact."
"Although the policy has considerable potential to achieve emissions reductions in the long-term, the short-term implementation of the scheme led to little reductions so far," the report said bluntly.