Monthly Archives: November 2009

Giving thanks for President Obama's commitment to Copenhagen

After months of speculation as to whether he would or would not go, the White House announced today that President Obama will be attending the Copenhagen climate talks.

During his time there on December 9, he will also be announcing a U.S. emissions reduction goal "in the range of 17% below 2005 levels in 2020 and ultimately in line with final U.S. energy and climate legislation."  This range is consistent with the targets being debated in the U.S. Congress.

We are happy to see that the Obama administration is on the same page as Congress. This bodes well for U.S. leadership in 2010.

Earlier today, EDF's Managing Director of International Policy and Negotiations Jennifer Haverkamp had this to say:

President Obama's decision to attend climate talks in Copenhagen is good news for the planet, and a great Thanksgiving gift for America. President Obama's personal involvement in this historic event shows the U.S. is serious about protecting the climate and creating a clean energy future for the world. With the President attending, the odds of Copenhagen producing real progress leading to a final, effective agreement in the coming months just shot up. This strong support for international efforts to fight climate change, along with efforts to pass clean energy legislation at home, will ensure America's place as a global leader in the 21st century clean energy economy.

The EDF team will be on the ground in Copenhagen in just over a week.  In the meantime, check out our policy positions and keep checking this blog for real-time updates.

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Saving the world's forests and making global warming legislation affordable

For the past decade, scientists have estimated greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation to be around 20% of total global emissions.  When you cut down or burn a tree, the carbon in the tree goes into the atmosphere, adding to atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

But earlier this month, Nature Geoscience reported a revised estimate of the importance of deforestation, which includes clearing forests and other wildlands through logging and/or burning, in global anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.  The authors estimate that deforestation now accounts for about 15% of human-caused CO2 emissions globally.

What happened?

While it’s tempting to point to this seeming decrease as either proof that the world’s efforts at reducing deforestation have worked, or as evidence that we made a mistake in estimating these emissions, neither would be correct.

The change is not due to a decrease in deforestation rates since the 1990s, and in fact the analyses agree that rates of global deforestation in the early 2000s were similar to those 10 years before. So, this new estimate is not a sign of progress. The change in the estimate is due to several factors, including increases in fossil fuel emissions by about one-third from the 1990s to the present, as well as revision of the estimates of emissions resulting from deforestation due to the availability of new data and scientific analyses.

The total emissions from deforestation are still as great as those from all of the cars, trucks, planes, ships and trains combined worldwide. Despite the percentage drop, deforestation – particularly in developing countries – is still a hugely significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.  For example, 80% of Indonesia’s total greenhouse gas emissions and 60% of Brazil’s result from deforestation, thus making Indonesia and Brazil the 3rd and 4th highest global emitters of greenhouse gases.

Where does deforestation stand in U.S. policy?

Fortunately, the United States is well on its way to crafting a climate and energy bill that would include the necessary provisions to help stop deforestation globally.

Environmental Defense Fund is part of the Tropical Forests and Climate Change coalition (TFCC), a diverse group of businesses and non-governmental organizations working with lawmakers to ensure that Congress includes strong forest protection provisions.

Both the American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed by the House in June, and the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (S. 1733) passed last week out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, contain strong provisions for forest protection.  These provisions include financing to jump start forest conservation programs in tropical countries, the inclusion of offset credits from investment in international forest conservation, and a requirement that countries participating in carbon markets transition to national level reductions as quickly as possible.

Strong provisions for forest protection in domestic legislation will both encourage a reduction in global emissions and provide a cost-effective way for U.S. companies to comply with requirements under a domestic cap-and-trade system, all the while involving developing countries in the global effort to address global warming.

In fact, by satisfying a portion of their annual compliance obligation with credits from international forest protection, U.S. companies can begin reducing emissions immediately at a manageable cost while the economy transitions to low carbon technologies. According to EPA, the costs of a cap and trade system nearly double without international deforestation offsets.

Hopefully in a few years the latest estimates of deforestation will be further revised downward because we have successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation by protecting forests and changing the economic incentives to make living trees more valuable than dead ones.

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Barcelona: what they said in closing plenary

Sweden: In some respects this has been a good meeting, but the world is waiting for us to agree difficult issues. Failure is not an option. On one thing all parties agree — we need to reach an ambitious global agreement in Copenhagen this December.

India: The clock has not stopped ticking in Barcelona. India is not prepared to give up at this stage and will spare no effort to reach a strong outcome. Developing countries are not slackening efforts. We will certainly retain the audacity to hope.

United States: The perfect, while attractive, is the enemy of the good, and the deal we are working on is good. Never has there been this high level of commitment.

Bangladesh: many things we need can wait. Climate cannot. (Loud applause)

Australia: Let us be clear, we need to agree on some really significant issues in Copenhagen. We need the best possible outcome. One that reduces emissions substantially and causes funding to flow, that protects forests and provides finance for adaptation.

China: To be or not to be is no longer the question. Copenhagen must be a success. Our resolve remains to achieve an ambitious, strong, binding outcome in Copenhagen. (The United States) must wake up. Developing countries are leaving you behind.

Tanzania: A fair and equitable agreement must be struck in Copenhagen. The willingness and true leadership of industrial nations will be shown.

Egypt: Some progress was achieved, yet we still have serious differences on fundamental aspects. Both sides have different expectations. We still have hope we can achieve consensus in Copenhagen. If the issues are going to be resolved at the political level we should get the leaders involved as soon as possible.

South Africa: We are deeply concerned about the lack of progress in Barcelona. But we do not despair. South Africa called for a two track outcome — (where the Kyoto Protocol would continue until a new and stronger global climate treaty is reached.)

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Barcelona: nearing consensus or merely contentious?

You have a down day and it's followed by an up day, that's how negotiations go…. Thus the chairman of Barcelona's closing plenary session summarized a roller coaster week.

Strong words were uttered in Barcelona as tensions built over who should do what between developing and industrial nations. The source of most friction is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol — developing nations don't want to give up Kyoto without a strong commitment to a new and stronger agreement.

African nations actually walked out of a session Monday, stalling one track of talks for 24 hours. By Thursday some participants were lowering expectations for a climate treaty in December altogether.

But if Thursday was a down day, we bounced back Friday. In the closing plenary, instead of fireworks, nations took the microphone, one after the other, reiterated their positions and then stated their deep commitment to reaching a strong outcome in Copenhagen, establishing or leading to a firm and binding global climate treaty.

Not that all tensions were resolved. Far from it. Some nations are calling for a single agreement, others for a two track outcome — where Kyoto would continue until a stronger global treaty can be reached.

But if Friday was an up day, there is certainly more excitement to come.

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House staffer draws interest in Barcelona

You know something's afoot when a 9 a.m. talk by a U.S. House staffer draws more than 50 people. But it happened at an EDF panel on U.S. legislation at the climate talks in Barcelona — where U.S. moves to cap carbon emissions are a major topic of interest.
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Turn toward safety

Negotiations for a climate deal in December are getting down to the wire at the penultimate session in Barcelona this week. Negotiators are hashing through the essential minutiae of an agreement – a process not without tensions – but at moments like this it's important to keep in mind what the final deal should look like.
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