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
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