Monthly Archives: June 2010

G-20 misses opportunity to tackle world's dependence on fossil fuels

UPDATE JUNE 29  |  Reuters AlertNet invited me to write an extended blog post on this, which you can now read here: G-20 misses opportunity to tackle world's dependence on fossil fuels. My original post is below.

The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico should have been a call to action for the G-20 leaders meeting in Toronto to take serious steps to begin immediate reductions in the world's dependence on fossil fuels and encourage a more rapid move to clean energy technology and jobs.

While the G-20 leaders deserve some credit for not backtracking on urging nations to phase out wasteful fossil fuel subsidies in the medium term, world leaders once again missed a critical opportunity to seriously tackle the world's dependence on fossil fuels or to encourage a more rapid move to clean energy technology and jobs.

There is no way we can watch the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and consider it rational policy that most developed nations continue to reward oil companies with tax breaks and other subsidies.

Posted in News, Other| 1 Response

G-20 should look to BP disaster for lessons on fossil fuel subsidies

World leaders gathering at the G-20 summit in Toronto this weekend need look no further than the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico to recognize the need to phase out fossil fuel subsidies.

The dark ooze coating the coastal marshes and pelicans are grim symbols of why the world needs to encourage greater investment in clean energy sources.  Fossil fuel subsidies — such as tax breaks for oil and coal companies — do nothing but undermine incentives for developing clean energy sources and encourage the world to stay on its grimy diet of coal, oil and gas.

Early indications are that the G-20 — despite the horrendous economic and environmental disaster unfolding to their south — is going to renege on last September’s pledge in Pittsburgh to “phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies while providing targeted support for the poorest.”

A leaked draft of this year’s communiqué being widely reported in the news media offers this anemic pledge: “We reviewed progress made to date in identifying inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption and we agree to continue working to develop voluntary, member-specific approaches for the rationalization and phase-out of such measures.”

That would be an extraordinarily short-sighted approach:  There is no better solution for any nation’s economic woes than creating low-carbon economies that will create new jobs and enhance national security for each country.

It’s time for the G-20 to be leaders, not laggards, on climate.  The world is watching.

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The Numbers Game and Climate Change

EDF's experts are at the forefront of work with the economics of climate policy; the figure above is one example of how economic experiments could help take the guesswork out of economic projections when “real life” intervenes.

Some of the papers and reports unveiled this week at the International Energy Workshop in Stockholm, Sweden had the look of a math professor gone mad.

But this conference and others like it are the frontier of climate policy.  The research discussed here will ultimately shape the thinking of negotiators in international climate talks, and governments responsible for designing and implementing policy.

Environmental Defense Fund’s internationally recognized economists are in the vanguard of efforts to create new and better ways of measuring everything from the impact of global economics and climate change to the value of a “strategic reserve” system for regulating emissions allowance prices.

EDF’s economic modeling expert Oleg Lugovoy tackled the long-standing problem of how to measure the interaction of climate and economics when policymakers don’t have perfect information.  The model he proposes could help take the guesswork out of economic projections when “real life” intervenes.  (Also see Lugovoy’s presentation at the International Energy Workshop, “Deterministic models are going stochastic.”)

In another paper, Senior Research Fellow Alexander Golub – along with Lugovoy and climate scientist James Wang — unveiled their ideas for yet another vexing problem: How to factor in unforeseen events and uncertainties when trying to choose the best economic path in the face of climate change. You can read more about the work they compiled along with economists from the Basque Center for Climate Change in the "The DICER Model: methodological issues and initial results of calibration".

You’ve heard of the strategic oil reserve that can be used help stave off massive fluctuations in oil prices and supplies?

Golub and fellow economist (and Director of Economic Policy and Analysis) Nathaniel Keohane presented a pioneering study of the design and performance of a “strategic reserve” of emission allowances in a U.S. cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.

For those who may not understand the complex mathematical formulas behind all the studies, most of the studies illustrate their theories with amazing color charts and graphs.

Posted in Economics| Leave a comment

PBS Frontline acknowledges EDF's comments, but doesn't change its tune

Rachael Petersen, Amazon Basin Project intern, contributed to this post.

In the month since PBS’s Frontline aired its misguided story, "The Carbon Hunters", on May 11, Environmental Defense Fund and other environmental groups have worked diligently to set the record straight.

The Frontline segment — which profiled two areas of Brazil purporting to show a questionable connection between the carbon market and tropical forest protection projects — was riddled with errors and misrepresentations.

Frontline has a much-deserved reputation for providing well-researched, hard-hitting investigative reports on controversial issues, which is why this report was so troubling.  I wrote in a personal email to my colleagues that Frontline is the video-journalism investigative reporting program of record, and that’s why I considered it  so important that its viewers understand that giving living forests a positive economic value can be beneficial to both indigenous communities living in the forests and to the global environment.

EDF, others respond to PBS Frontline World’s "The Carbon Hunters"

Armed with three decades of experience working on the ground with indigenous peoples to protect forests in Brazil and an intimate understanding of how forest carbon markets actually works, we contacted Frontline Executive Producer, David Fanning  and PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler.

In our correspondence with Frontline and in my post, "PBS's 'The Carbon Hunters' – Hunting the Elusive Facts", I emphasized the deeply flawed premises of the PBS feature, including the fact that carbon markets for forest carbon do not yet formally exist.  I also noted  that the problems Frontline depicted as effects of the “carbon market,” are in fact the result of conflicts arising from flawed conservation strategy that long pre-dates any notion of carbon crediting.  You can view our comments at PBS Frontline's The Carbon Hunters webpage.

Producer Andres Cediel said in an email to EDF before the comments were posted:

We appreciate your thoughts and criticisms, and value your feedback and hope to have a continued discussion on these important issues.

EDF was not the only organization objecting to this program. Two of the major organizations discussed in "The Carbon Hunters" –The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which led the effort in the Atlantic Forest, along with its Brazilian partner Sociedade de Pesquisa em Vida Selvagem e Educação Ambiental (SPVS) — have also responded to "The Carbon Hunters".

In a formal six-page response, TNC and SPVS described the important contribution the projects Frontline profiled have made in the implementation standards for successful policies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD), which, in turn, has provided valuable input for climate negotiations at the global level.  They said:

The PBS media stories omit relevant facts that explain the success of these projects for scientific research and generating social and economic benefits.

Despite Frontline’s reporting, TNC and SPVS report that the Guaraqueçaba projects lowered carbon emissions, helped protect one of the world’s most threatened forest habitats, and worked closely with forest communities to ensure they received benefits from conservation efforts.

Frontline writes back

Frontline’s response to us was certainly well thought out, and worth a read.

Senior Correspondent for the Center for Investigative Reporting Mark Schapiro and Producer Andres Cediel, the signers, thanked EDF for our comments and my "long commitment to forest protection, and [my] knowledge of the realities on the ground in Brazil."

Regarding the goal of their reporting, they said:

Our journalistic project here, as throughout 'The Carbon Hunters,' was to look at hard at projects like Juma/REDD and consider pros and cons, in order to help inform public understanding and future debate at this early stage of so many critical questions about how best to address climate change.

But a little understanding of the reality on the ground and of the policy frameworks actually under discussion for forest carbon show that Schapiro and Cediel were really interested in manipulating viewers into taking their biased view for an actual discussion of pros and cons.

Consider, for example, that "The Carbon Hunters" consistently claims that U.S. companies are "buying up forests to offset their emissions", even though just buying a forest isn't eligible for credit under any existing or proposed system for carbon credit for reduced deforestation.  It's no accident that the Carbon Hunters' number one example of how the carbon market is supposedly hurting poor people in the forest, TNC and SPVS's Atlantic Forest reserves, hasn't generated a single carbon credit in ten years, not even in the voluntary market.  Frontline is trying to sell viewers a donkey it's calling a camel.

Why this matters, and what it means going forward

EDF, as well as TNC, SPVS and a large number of other organizations in the environmental, business, and political community, understand that no REDD policies will be effective without initiatives that both respect and benefit the local communities that depend upon forests for their livelihoods.

While "The Carbon Hunters" raises questions about the implementation of some forest carbon projects, its makers pointedly ignored the best examples of how Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (REDD) can benefit local communities and studiously avoided even talking to most of the scientists, advocates and policy makers most engaged with these issues.

We’re grateful Frontline has engaged with us about the program, even if we can’t agree with the show's ultimate message.

Mr. Schapiro and Mr. Cediel concluded their response to us by saying "we sincerely hope that [Mr. Schwartzman] will continue to engage with us passionately on future reports."  It's fine with us if they want to disqualify our remarks by calling them "passionate", rather than, say "informed", or "reasoned", but at the end of the day they can't hide their shoddy reporting and blatant bias.

We hope Frontline will, indeed, not only be open to our informed and reasoned responses in the future, but to helpful and informative engagements during their next round of  reporting.

Posted in Deforestation, Other, REDD| 1 Response

U.N. climate talks in Bonn make limited progress, conflicts remain

The U.N. Climate talks in Bonn concluded today, after two weeks of negotiations.

The plenary room at the Bonn U.N. climate talks. (Photo: Miriam Chaum)

EDFs international counsel, Annie Petsonk, on the ground in Bonn, said in a statement that while the U.N. talks made limited progress overall, plenty of conflicts still remain.

The good news is that we moved forward on important forestry and land use issues that can play a pivotal role in reducing and preventing future greenhouse gas emissions.

The discouraging news is that even as the BP oil disaster continued to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico, some oil-exporting countries – including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait and Qatar – were so desperate to protect the oil industry that they blocked efforts to expand studies of the climate change problem.

While there were noisy disagreements in the main meeting halls, in quieter corners many delegates from both industrialized and some developing nations expressed their determination to find paths forward, whether in the U.N. or in parallel processes.

U.S. leadership – in particular by President Obama and the U.S. Senate – has the potential to be the real game-changer.  In the eyes of much of the rest of the world, American leadership could unlock a low-carbon growth pathway that would reinvigorate many nations' economies, including America's own.

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Forest experts point the way to better carbon accounting

Guest post from Bonn by Miriam Chaum, Economic Policy Fellow, EDF's Climate & Air Program

EDF's Miriam Chaum and Jason Funk participate in a panel discussing forests and land use at a side event in Bonn.

Environmental Defense Fund is working to keep rules governing accounting for forest and land use change high on the agenda at the U.N. climate talks continuing here in Bonn, Germany.

It is EDF’s position that currently proposed accounting rules for Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) will not create the proper incentives for countries to change behavior from business-as-usual management practices.  Our research on forestry and land use identifies the need for:

  1. Higher quality data
  2. More comprehensive accounting (such as tracking changes in forests and land use for which countries are not currently held accountable), and
  3. Clear ambition to reduce emissions from the land use sector.

The goal of reducing emissions or, alternatively, increasing the absorption of greenhouse gases by trees, grass, and soil through good management is included in both the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord.

In partnership with colleagues from other non-governmental organizations, Environmental Defense Fund experts presented at a  "side event" on forest and land use accounting earlier this week in Bonn.  (I blogged last week on this issue from Bonn.)  The event, titled “Toward better Land-Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry accounting: Navigating a path from current proposals to robust and transparent accounting,” attracted country negotiators, NGO participants, and United Nations observers.

Panelists included EDF’s own Dr. Jason Funk and (me,) Miriam Chaum, along with Florence Daviet from World Resources Institute and Jagdish Kishwan from the India delegation.  Together, we provided a review of the LULUCF negotiations, presented new analysis on the potential for more comprehensive accounting, spoke to possible policy improvements, and offered a view of the issue from the developing world.

A lively discussion followed, moderated by Chris Henschel from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, in which attendees expressed interest in the assumptions underlying EDF’s analysis, inquired about the potential for related economic analyses, and stressed the importance of good accounting rules for land-use emissions from non-human-induced events, like forest fires and pest outbreaks.  In the midst of difficult negotiations on this issue, negotiators seemed pleased that EDF had the depth to understand the nuances and was prepared to offer workable solutions.

Many thanks to our side event panelists from outside EDF – Jagdish, Florence and Chris.

Posted in Forestry, UN negotiations| 1 Response

Efforts in Bonn to protect indigenous peoples winning big

Guest post from Bonn by Chris Meyer, EDF’s Amazon Project Coordinator

Indigenous leaders supporting strong protections in global climate change efforts for indigenous peoples won a major victory this week in the new negotiating text unveiled at the Bonn climate change talks.

A member of the indigenous group COICA measures a tree to estimate the amount of carbon it contains. A new U.N. negotiating text includes strong protections for indigenous peoples.

Provisions to protect indigenous peoples included in text

The indigenous peoples' language in the new LCA (Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention) text is taken from the UN Declaration on Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which EDF and our partners from the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazonian River Basin (COICA) strongly supported back in Copenhagen.

Most promising in this is that the two-year-old brackets around the text – text is [bracketed] when it is controversial and does not have unanimous support from countries – have been removed.  This is a big victory for indigenous leaders, as it indicates strong support for indigenous peoples' rights.

Indigenous peoples who live in tropical forests communities (like in Brazil, Latin American, and Indonesia) stand to be affected by and gain the most from efforts to reduce deforestation, which has been identified as a primary way to curb climate change.

We know that first ensuring indigenous peoples' rights to their lands and natural resources is critical to policies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), so the fact that the indigenous peoples' language is un-bracketed in the text is extremely encouraging to us and our indigenous partners.

Efforts paying off

These changes, however, didn’t come without efforts from advocates for indigenous peoples.

In Copenhagen, COICA, under the leadership of its chief political advisor on international relations and economic matters Juan Carlos,  executed a successful education and lobbying effort pushing for UNDRIP provisions to be included in the text; the language did make it into the REDD section of the text, but with brackets (the ones that have since been removed) around it.  Last year, I also worked with Juan Carlos and other indigenous leaders to insert strong human rights language in the REDD negotiating text.

What’s next

Throughout the next week of the Bonn meeting, Juan Carlos and the indigenous peoples’ caucus will continue efforts to ensure any Bonn decisions support and protect indigenous peoples within REDD policies.

This means, as an example, including in REDD language "capacity building", which is a necessary step to prepare countries for REDD policies that include determining the amount of emissions from forest destruction, using satellite images to identify deforestation, and training people to enforce forest protection laws.  COICA will also be working to ensure that social safeguards – like providing a mechanism for complaint resolutions and ensuring rights of indigenous peoples to free, prior, and informed consent – are a part of the monitoring, reporting, and verification activities required in REDD implementation.

The caucus will develop suggestions of new text for the delegates to add in the negotiating text on these subjects.  Once that’s done, they’ll need to find a country to introduce and support this text.

EDF and COICA share a strong interest in maintaining and increasing the human rights language in the negotiation texts in regards to deforestation and climate change.  There’s still work to be done, but our groups are encouraged by this first step and will be maximizing our time in Bonn to keep up this positive momentum.

Posted in REDD, UN negotiations| 1 Response

NGOs push for greater transparency, ambition in carbon accounting for forestry

Guest post from Bonn by Miriam Chaum, Economic Policy Fellow, EDF's Climate & Air Program

Forest and land use accounting rules are a growing part of the buzz here at the Bonn climate change talks. The cumbersome title for these accounting rules is LULUCF, short for Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry.

"LULUCheFs" demonstrate at U.N. climate conference in Bonn

Today, demonstrated against poor accounting rules.  Dressed as “LULUCheFs” and toting enormous spoons (to stir an enormous cauldron of “cooking books”), the demonstrators handed out flyers featuring a recipe for a “LULUCF cake,” which would require “equal portions of ambition and environmental integrity” and feature “a goal to reduce emissions.”  Bon appétit!

Where forestry accounting rules stand now…

But this is one of the most serious issues being debated here. These policies set the rules for measuring the addition or removal of carbon from land management activities by developed countries.

It is very important that these accounting rules are established correctly because the forests and lands in the developed countries hold a huge amount of carbon: In 2007, the carbon absorbed by the forests and lands of developed countries, including the U.S., amounted to nearly 1,600 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year (the way emissions are measured).  This means that if these forests and lands were a country, they would represent the third largest flow of carbon into or out of the atmosphere from developed countries, after the United States and Russia.

Unfortunately, the currently proposed accounting rules will allow developed countries to leave a total of about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from forestry and land use change off the books each year.  These rules would, in effect, eliminate the incentive to increase forest and land-based carbon sinks through better management practices.

… and how to fix them

I am here working with my EDF partner and LULUCF expert, Dr. Jason Funk.  Jason and I, in collaboration with our non-governmental organization (NGO) colleagues, are asking developed countries for:

  • greater transparency in their proposed accounting methods
  • improved data quality
  • a shift toward more comprehensive accounting of land use activities
  • a commitment to reduce emissions from the land use sector

Although it seems there may be overall progress here in Bonn, Jason and I are speaking directly to a number of countries — particularly those countries with forests and lands that remove a large amount of carbon from the atmosphere and for which these  removals represent a significant proportion of total national emissions.  We hope to partner with some of these countries on longer-term projects.  We have also analyzed the impacts of a move toward more comprehensive accounting and we will present the results of this analysis at a side event seminar here at the conference.

Jason and I have only been on the ground in Bonn for two days, but we have been very active in this short time: communicating with our NGO colleagues, speaking directly with negotiators, and performing some real-time analysis.  We look forward to another week and a half of such productivity and, hopefully, to progress not only on forestry and land use accounting rules, but in these negotiations on the whole.  We have less than six months until the next Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico.

Miriam Chaum is an Economic Policy Fellow in the Climate & Air group at EDF working on global emissions reductions pathways, international climate finance and economics, and forestry and land use in the developed world.  She has been covering the forestry and land use issue with Jason Funk, Ph.D. since the 15th Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Posted in Forestry, UN negotiations| 1 Response

In Bonn, Countries Finally Focusing on the Substantive Issues

Reporting from the U.N. climate talks underway in Bonn, Germany

The 185-nation Bonn Conference, which will run until June 11, is the biggest international meeting on climate change since a summit last December in Copenhagen failed to agree to a new global deal.  At the beginning of the meeting, EDF urged countries to seize the momentum and start moving away from procedural arguments into a real, substantive negotiation of the critical issues like mitigation, finance, deforestation emissions and forestry accounting rules.

New negotiating text brings fewer fireworks than expected

Monday was a slow day as the scientific and technical panels started their discussions.  These are by nature not the most exciting negotiations but the fireworks were expected to begin on Tuesday when the real policy negotiations under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol were scheduled to start.  The Chair of the LCA (Long term cooperative action under the Convention) was going to unveil a new text that some thought would be the basis of negotiations while others thought it could be turned, via further discussions and negotiations during this week, into a formal negotiating text that would draw upon last year´s negotiating text and additional sources, such as the Copenhagen Accord.  The Kyoto Protocol negotiations were also scheduled to begin yesterday.

And what happened? No fireworks, at least not the ones that usually happen at these meetings.  Blocs of countries welcomed the LCA Chair´s negotiating text though many said that there are gaps that need to be filled over the next two weeks. As late as Monday night, at the traditional reception hosted by the City of Bonn, I was hearing from many countries that no one was happy with the text and that there was a real risk that the text would be rejected by dozens of countries, including the US and major developing countries.

This would have been catastrophic and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the UNFCCC process.  Maybe it was the inspirational farewell speech that Yvo Do Boer gave during Monday´s reception hosted by the mayor of Bonn and the Environment Ministry, or the optimistic message from the incoming head of the UNFCCC, Christiana  Figueres, but by 10 a.m. Tuesday, what could have turned into another nasty procedural fight, actually became the event that many of us hoped for–global negotiations in which countries act in their self interest but in a constructive and rational way with a real desire to reach compromise.

Forestry playing a leading role

Other EDF members who will help me to cover legal and finance issues, as well as forestry rules, have arrived.  In particular, Dr. Jason Funk has taken a break from helping out with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and assessing the impact of the oil spill on our precious wetlands.

Dr. Funk´s arrival is timed perfectly since he is our technical forestry expert.  The forestry rules in UN speak are known as "Land Use, Land use Change and Forestry", or LULUCF, and they are the accounting rules that developed countries use to measure the increase in carbon from their forests and land areas, as well as the increase in sinks when for example trees grow.  This is quite different from the utility generating sector which only produces emissions.  Read EDF's Forestry fact sheet for an overview of forestry issues in the U.N. climate talks.

John Ashe, chair of the climate negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol track, told countries that he expected to finalize the forestry and land use portion of the negotiating text on the last day.  I spent two days working with NGO colleagues to spread the message that these are bad rules that should not be finalized as they are currently drafted.  EDF and other NGOs have been highlighting this accounting loophole and we have been successful in receiving media attention.

We have had meetings with Heads of Delegation, walked them through our concerns and explained the quantitative analysis, using their own numbers and their own data that clearly show they are attempting to hide future emissions.  And some of them agree that the numbers do not add up and that we are setting up a bad system that will not be credible. And the pressure is getting to top negotiators, such as the lead Coalition for Rainforest Nations (CfRN), Kevin Conrad who called that (LULUCF accounting rules), "fraudulent accounting" and the co-head of the EU delegation, Artur Runge-Metzger, told Reuters that such loopholes must be closed, under "harmonized" reporting rules.

Today is the third day and as I have learned, the climate negotiations are unpredictable and a roller coaster.  But on this sunny day in Bonn, after three straight days of clouds and rain, it does seem that the clouds have parted for these negotiations to achieve progress on the road to Cancun and beyond.

Posted in Forestry, UN negotiations| 1 Response