Monthly Archives: December 2009

COP15 debrief: U.N. says world leaders rolled up their sleeves

Lawyers will be debating for months and weeks what exactly was achieved at the Copenhagen climate summit. Which key goals, pledges and targets were, or were not, firmly nailed down – and what work remains to be finished in 2010.

But U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon gave a sweeping summary of events on Saturday that made you stop, rub your bleary eyes and marvel at what just happened. Nearly 120 world leaders gathered here in the last 48 hours to discuss how they can work together to stop global warming. And despite deep divisions and conflicting interests, they refused to walk away from the table and instead hashed out an outline for advancing next year.

Here’s what Ban said:

"Bringing all the leaders to the table paid off. The Copenhagen accord may not be everything everyone hoped, but this is an essential beginning. We now have a foundation for the first truly global agreement that will limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

In case anyone in Copenhagen thought global agreements come easily, U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Policy Planning Robert Orr was there to remind us:

"The process you just witnessed, one reason it was a wild roller coaster ride is that it was truly unprecedented. This was the most genuine negotiation I've ever seen between leaders – and I've worked at the U.N. a long time — usually it's something pre-cooked.

Orr said he never saw so many world leaders roll up their sleeves and get down to caucusing and negotiating at all levels, especially in the face of uncertain outcomes. In plenary remarks Friday, Brazil’s President Lula said it reminded him what it felt like to be a labor leader.

But will it be enough? President Obama and others have already said the Copenhagen accord is a first step and there's a lot more to be done to reach the kind of legally binding treaty we need. The accord's critical contribution may turn out to be the fact that it drew world leaders into the process and got us all moving forward together in the right direction.

Some sleep-deprived delegates and observers in Copenhagen expressed frustration that more wasn't achieved. But Mr. Orr was optimistic the Copenhagen accord could draw countries in and kick-start a virtuous circle:

"The key is to get the machinery going. This will create a dynamic in countries, marketplaces and innovation systems… it's not inconceivable that with the dynamics in the marketplace and technologies unleashed by this you could outperform targets."

"The instinct is to be conservative at first, and not over-pledge, but they're getting into the game of setting targets and surpassing them. It was a common refrain in negotiations that countries said they could progressively outperform targets."

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UN Recognizes U.S.-Backed Climate Accord in Copenhagen

It's done.

After a grueling all-night session here in Copenhagen, the United Nations has passed a motion recognizing an agreement on climate change that the U.S., China and other nations reached just before midnight last night.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told BBC News:

Finally, we sealed the deal …  It may not be everything we hoped for, but this decision of the Conference of Parties is an essential beginning.

Ban also stressed that the agreement must be made legally binding next year.

EDF's Fred Krupp had this to say: 

We have never been so close to having so many agree on so much. If anything was clear at the Copenhagen talks it's that the world is waiting for the U.S. to act. When it does, President Obama can knit together the historic breakthroughs obscured by the end of the Copenhagen meeting.

The coalition of the willing that emerged today represents roughly 60 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. It will undoubtedly be joined by others as ‘low-carbon’ becomes the new term of engagement in the global economy.
 
A lot of hard work remains, but a lot of hard work is finished. The new positive steps taken here, many of them by developing countries, present the U.S. Senate and President Obama with an historic opportunity. When most of the pieces of the puzzle are in place, it’s much easier to add the missing ones later.

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Obama Announces Climate Deal in Copenhagen

Right now, President Obama is announcing that leaders at the Copenhagen climate summit have reached what the White House calls a "meaningful deal."

Details are just starting to emerge, but those inside the Bella conference center, including EDF president Fred Krupp, have gotten a first look at the agreement. Fred says:

Today’s agreement leaves the U.S. in control of its own destiny. We have always known that the path to a clean energy economy goes through Washington, D.C. As President Obama said today, strong action on climate change is in America’s national interest.

It’s the Senate’s turn to speak next. Whether we move ahead with a common-sense plan to create new manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and reduce dependence on foreign oil is not up to other countries; it’s up to us. A year from now we can be further ahead or further behind, and the Senate will make the difference.

Today’s agreement takes the first important steps toward true transparency and accountability in an international climate agreement. The sooner the U.S. speaks through Senate legislation, the sooner we can set the terms of engagement for talks to come."

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Life in Copenhagen: Working for a Climate Treaty… with a Few More Challenges

Today’s our fourth day reporting remotely from the Copenhagen climate talks.  The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has placed sharp restrictions on access to the conference center where the climate negotiations are being held due to the arrival of the heads of state.

Yesterday and today, only two of our team – EDF president Fred Krupp and Policy Director Jennifer Haverkamp – were allowed inside the Bella Center to talk with negotiators and press.

The rest of our team is working from a nearby apartment or hotels.

EDF Copenhagen team

The EDF international climate team is now working from an apartment nearby the conference center

Here are some numbers given in a press conference by the UNFCCC to explain why access to the conference center is so limited:

  • 15,000: total capacity of the conference center, due to security issues
  • 22,000+: the number of “active” badges, meaning badges belonging to people who are entering and leaving the center
  • 45,000+: the number of registered participants to the conference

A few more updates:

  • Starting yesterday morning, an additional conference venue in Copenhagen is available for outside observers with official badges.  The venue, Forum Copenhagen, has been arranged by the Danish Government and the Danish group Peoples’ Climate Action.  It will have TV links to the conference center and wireless internet.
  • Many “side events” — like panel discussions and presentations that happen concurrently with the main negotiations — that were originally to be held inside the conference center are being rescheduled in off-site locations throughout Copenhagen. We haven’t checked, but we suspect that hotels and restaurants are pretty happy about that.
  • The EDF Copenhagen team is working as hard as we can, balancing computers on our laps in an apartment (frustratingly, the place actually overlooks the conference center).
  • And on the upside, the apartments are lovely; we’re surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows designed to let in as much of the rare winter light as possible, the place is fully equipped with modern Danish furniture (think “Ikea”), and we’ve stocked up with plenty of coffee. Now if only we could get some of that free dark chocolate the conference center distributed so liberally…

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Island Nations Agree on Plan to Cap Emissions, Join Carbon Markets

One of the biggest breakthroughs at the Copenhagen climate talks was just achieved by some of the world's smallest countries.

An association called the Small Island Developing Nations signed an agreement this morning to cap greenhouse gas emissions and take advantage of financing opportunities in the global carbon market.

The initiative won praise from EDF's climate and air director Peter Goldmark:

Small islands have to act boldly because for them climate change is already a matter of life and death … this is a dramatic move from rhetoric to action … let's hope the rest of us take a lesson and move ahead courageously.

The group of island nations, led by Grenada, agreed to work together to increase energy efficiency, lower fossil fuel consumption and adopt hard line targets for lowering their greenhouse gas emissions.

The groundbreaking agreement, officially called SIDS Dock, is also an investment vehicle. It will allow the island states to plug into carbon markets and generate financing when they take a hard emissions cap. That financing will make it possible for the islands to transition from high-cost, high-carbon, largely imported fuels to a clean and more affordable economy. 

Goldmark says:

They will be able to take advantage of preferential terms for carbon market access like those contained in the U.S. House-passed clean energy bill.

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Forests May Be the Big Winners at Copenhagen

Negotiators in Copenhagen are still nowhere near a final overall deal, but they are making significant progress on one very important issue — preserving the world's forests.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide; the destruction of the rain forests is responsible for about 17 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.  That's why Environmental Defense Fund supports the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degredation program, better known as REDD.

The 193 countries taking part in the Copenhagen climate summit have been working on a REDD agreement for the past two weeks, and are reportedly very close to a deal.

EDF's president Fred Krupp told the New York Times:

It is likely to be the most concrete thing that comes out of Copenhagen — and it is a very big thing.

Deforestation is partly a result of  poor countries needing the revenue generated from harvesting and selling wood. REDD would provide ways for those countries to make money by conserving their forests instead. Under the program, poor countries would get a new income stream and the world would get more forests. In the U.S., REDD could serve both a political and an economic purpose by helping win support for a clean energy bill with a declining carbon cap. According to the Times:

The agreement is also being closely watched in Congress … Under the cap-and-trade system preferred by Democratic leaders and the Obama administration, companies that cannot meet their greenhouse gas pollution limit could buy extra permits by investing in carbon-reduction programs abroad. Plans to preserve forests under REDD would presumably qualify.

In other good news for the world's forests, the United States Department of Agriculture just announced that it would join Australia, France, Japan, Norway and the United Kingdom, to provide the initial public funding for a related program called REDD+ (pronounced "red plus"). The program provides funding for poor countries that are trying to plant more trees and expand their forest cover. Assuming the Copenhagen talks produce a deal on REDD+, the coalition will provide $3.5 billion over three years for the effort; the U.S. will put up $1 billion of that.

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