Monthly Archives: June 2011

U.S., EU officials meet on aviation amid U.S. airlines' efforts to gut anti-pollution program

U.S. and European Union officials are attending a recurring bilateral meeting on aviation in Oslo today and tomorrow — but this time it will be amid efforts by three major U.S. airlines to gut Europe’s pioneering anti-pollution program for aviation.  Meanwhile, the airlines' move has garnered public chiding from a group of major environmental groups.

This session of the U.S.-EU Joint Committee will focus on the EU’s new law, scheduled to go into effect in 2012, that holds all airlines accountable for their global warming pollution from flights to, from and within Europe.  United (which is merging with Continental) and American Airlines have brought suit in European court to block the so-called “aviation directive.”

A recent Wall Street Journal story quoted unnamed “people familiar with the U.S. position” who suggested that, in next week’s U.S.-EU talks, the United States will oppose the European law; the sources, paraphrased by the Journal, said

“American officials will argue that the EU is taking a unilateral approach that violates international treaties and is illegally asserting jurisdiction in other countries.”

Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director at Natural Resources Defense Council, a major U.S. environmental group, said in a statement today:

“It’s disappointing that some parties are apparently trying to align the U.S. government with the airlines against the world’s only enforceable program to reduce carbon pollution from airplanes

But we’re confident that within the administration, cooler heads will recognize that President Obama needs to fight carbon pollution, rather than allowing some in his administration to fight anti-pollution initiatives.”

(Jake has additional comments in his blog post about this topic: Some in the US need to stop opposing the EU program to control carbon pollution from aviation)

Ad calling on airlines to "start flying cleaner" runs in POLITICO, but rejected by airline magazines

This advertisement calling for Continental and United to "start flying cleaner" ran on page 2 today in POLITICO, in advance of a U.S.-EU bilateral meeting on aviation.

Last month, six major environmental groups sent letters to the CEOs of American Airlines and United denouncing the airlines for their lawsuit to block anti-pollution programs while simultaneously bragging about their environmental performances.  (See our previous post: American, United, Continental Airlines "Greenwashing", say environmental groups)

Today, a full-page ad published on page 2 in POLITICO calls on United to live up to its avowed “focus on protecting the environment.”

The POLITICO ad counters the airlines' touting of their environmental initiatives while being involved with the lawsuit.  American Airlines, in its April in-flight magazine American Way featured a story called “AA Reduces Environmental Footprint”.  This month, United's in-flight magazine Hemispheres features a piece about its new “Eco-Skies” campaign, which says

United reaffirms its commitment to the environment, both in the air and on the ground…  [and that the company is] Committed to leading commercial aviation as an environmentally responsible company by taking actions today that shape a sustainable future.

The ad that ran in POLITICO is the same one EDF also submitted to both airline in-flight magazines on May 11th.  Last month EDF had requested the airlines respond in a week to whether the ads could run in the magazines, but it took only a matter of hours for EDF to receive a phone call from a United representative stating the United and Continental ad would not be accepted into Hemispheres magazine.

The next day EDF received an email from an American Airlines representative, which said, “After careful consideration,” they could not accept the American Airlines ad for publication in American Way because:

Our policy is not to run advertisements which can be perceived as targeting or highlighting social and/or political issues.  Additionally the ad itself is demeaning to the American airlines brand.

The amount of global carbon emissions from aviation is expected to grow 3-4 percent per year, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Posted in Aviation, News / Leave a comment

Bonn climate talks manage slow progress on technical issues, but key political differences loom

Today's end to the international climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany were marked by two weeks of slow progress and unresolved differences, and seemed sharply disconnected from the realities of natural disasters that have been ravaging the United States in the past few months.

Global surface temperature anomalies in May 2011. (credit: NOAA)

Here in the U.S., we’ve been learning that the erratic weather events and temperature extremes just in the past few months have been breaking records.  Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) this week indicated:

A NOAA spokesperson said climate change is to blame for part of the increase in frequency in the extreme weather events.

"Slow, incremental progress" made

Back in Bonn, negotiations among more than 190 countries were taking place to develop a global agreement to address climate change.

Countries managed to make slow, incremental progress on some technical issues, but the large differences that have been part of U.N. climate negotiations process for more than 20 years remain unresolved.

EDF’s International Counsel Annie Petsonk said in a statement at the conclusion of the negotiations today that it looks like real progress to curb global warming is going to take place outside the U.N. talks:

There is still a potentially useful role for the U.N. talks regarding common rules for measuring and accounting for emissions necessary to create strong markets – but only if countries find ways to negotiate decisions more efficiently.

It looks increasingly likely that the real progress on fighting global warming will take place outside the U.N. process, in national, regional, and state-level carbon markets.

Strong carbon markets have shown they can stimulate large amounts of finance; for example, in the past five years, the EU’s emissions trading system became a $140 billion-per-year market; in contrast, the Kyoto Protocol’s inefficient mechanism, the Clean Development Mechanism, only reached $20 billion total in 2010.

Large-scale capital, Petsonk, said must be mobilized quickly — especially with the intensifying signs of global warming — but:

If the U.N. process can't get decisions made about the future of the Kyoto Protocol, then the smart money will move into low-carbon development opportunities in those countries and communities that deliver the incentives to go low-carbon.

Many large differences among countries remain unresolved after the two-week session made only incremental progress on some issues. Above: the Maritim Hotel in Bonn, Germany, where the U.N. climate negotiations took place. (photo credit: Gus Silva-Chávez)

One of the biggest shake-ups in the negotiations was a proposal by Mexico and Papua New Guinea to amend the 1992 climate treaty, to let the parties make decisions by majority instead of by the current standard of “consensus.”  This stemmed from a move in December’s Cancun conference in which Mexico, then the conference chair, showed major decisions cannot and should not be blocked by a single party.  Petsonk said:

That proposal has really begun to concentrate the minds of negotiators on improving the way the U.N. climate negotiations are conducted.

Among specific policy issues, once again the most progress was made on policies to reduce emissions from deforestation (REDD+).  Petsonk said

Tropical forest nations made good and steady progress on the key technical issues they need to resolve to be able to offer to carbon markets well-verified reductions in emissions from deforestation.

The meeting also launched a consideration of how agriculture, which has a large potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers around the word, should be included in a global climate treaty.

Many critical issues left unresolved

A few crucial questions loomed large over the talks, and were not resolved in the two weeks.  These include:

  • Will the world's biggest-emitting countries, including the United States and major emerging economies, join the EU in making significant emission reductions after the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012?
  • Where will nations get the financing to stimulate investment in low-carbon development and to fund adaptation?
  • Can countries find a way to extend and improve the Kyoto Protocol, or will they need to move to a bottom-up world based on national and regional carbon markets?
  • With growing concern among countries that the Kyoto Protocol is not the ideal basis for a global agreement, how much of a new framework can be built in Durban?

Countries will have the opportunity to address these issues in the upcoming meetings, announced this afternoon, which will be held in early July in Berlin, late July in Auckland, New Zealand, and in September or October at a location to be determined.

The meetings that ended today are part of the twice-annual meetings for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)'s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) to meet and work out the technical details and make recommendations for draft decisions for review by the larger meeting of the Conference of Parties.  (This year, the June meetings also included groups responsible for the broader aspects of an international climate agreement, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention [AWG-LCA] and the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol [AWG-KP]).

The largest of the U.N. climate meetings are the ministerial-level Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC, held near the end of every year.  This year’s 17th Conference of Parties (COP-17) begins November 28 in South Africa’s beachside city of Durban.

Posted in Bonn, News, REDD+, UN negotiations / Leave a comment

Brazil at the crossroads – House of Representatives vote to roll back environmental regulation, slew of killings troubling reminders of dark past

This past week I could have sworn I was back in the 1980s, based on the news coming out of Brazil.

Brazil's powerful agriculture caucus (bancada ruralista) and Communist Party led the charge in the House of Representatives to pass a bill that, if enacted, would essentially legalize deforestation in vast amounts of land.

And three activists who worked for years to protect forests from illegal logging were killed for their efforts.

Then, yesterday, the Brazilian environmental agency approved the Belo Monte dam – a hydroelectric project so controversial and flawed that the Federal Attorney General's office brought a series of lawsuits against it, most of which have not been judged, and recommended that it not be licensed.

As someone who works with indigenous and environmental groups in Brazil and has been active in tropical forest policy for years, I find this series of events deeply troubling, and reminiscent of the Brazilian Amazon's dark past. And these events come at a time when, because of strong pressure on land use from increasing commodity prices, and an expectation that the Congress would revise the 1965 Forest Code, the clearing of trees for expanding farms and cattle ranching in the Amazon rainforest is on the rise, possibly up 30% over last year.

Brazil's government is at a crossroads – either it can go back to a future of rampant deforestation and frontier chaos, or ahead, to the future of a sustainable and equitable green economy leader, with rule of law, good governance and a secure natural and investment environment. Senate action on the Forest Code over the next few months could spell the difference.

Is Brazil going backward or forward?

Forests are slashed and burned in Brazil primarily to expand cattle ranching and agriculture. Above: Cows graze in a pasture where lush forests -- still visible in the distance -- once stood in Mato Grosso, Brazil.

This series of events recalls the former status-quo, business-as-usual days when deforestation was accepted – even promoted – as a necessary corollary to development and prosperity.

Those were the days when Brazil was the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, with about 70% of its emissions caused by clearing forests.  At the height of deforestation, the Amazon was losing more than 21,000 km2 – more than 8,000 square miles, about twice the size of Connecticut – of forest a year.

Those were also the days when grassroots environmental and union leaders were killed for working to protect the forest and forest peoples' rights; prominent activists like rubber tapper and union leader Chico Mendes and Roman Catholic Sister Dorothy Stang were both slain for their efforts to keep forests standing for the sake of communities' livelihoods and the environment.

Brazil has come a long way since then, particularly in reducing deforestation and altering public perception of it.

Reducing deforestation: Brazil has experienced seven years of almost uninterrupted decreases in deforestation, establishing it as the world leader in greenhouse gas pollution reductions. Between 2006 and 2010, Brazil has reduced Amazon deforestation about two-thirds below the annual average from 1996–2005, reducing about 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas pollution.  This was due largely to the 2003 National Plan to Prevent and Control Amazon Deforestation and the subsequent 2009 National Climate Change Policy, in which Brazil committed to reducing deforestation 80% below the 1996–2005 average by 2020.

Social shift against deforestation: Popular opinion on the Amazon has clearly changed – most people want deforestation to stop. Most people also think that murders for hire in land conflicts should be punished – and in cases when international spotlights shone on Amazon assassinations, like Chico Mendes and Sister Dorothy Stang, it seemed as though the rule of law could be taking hold.

But despite these encouraging environmental strides, and even aside from the passage of the explicitly anti-environment bill, three disturbing themes of the past couple weeks are calling into question just how permanent Brazil's environmental progress is:

1. Lethal intolerance of activists who protect forests

José Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, a Brazil nut gatherer and forest defender, was slain the morning of the Forest Code vote with his wife Maria do Espírito Santo in Nova Ipixuna, in Pará state in the Brazilian Amazon.  The couple had long resisted illegal logging and forest clearing for smelters for pig iron (made from iron ore and charcoal and used for manufacturing steel) and had received numerous death threats. In a public lecture in November 2010 José Claudio said, recalling slain grassroots environmental leaders Chico Mendes (1988) and Sister Dorothy Stang (2005), "What they did to Chico Mendes and Sister Dorothy, they want to do to me."

Then, on Friday, May 27th small-scale farmer leader Adelino Ramos was shot dead in Vista Alegre do Abunã, in Rondonia state.  Ramos had received death threats for denouncing illegal logging in the region.

And on Saturday May 28th, the body of a small-scale farmer Eremilton Pereira dos Santos, was found shot to death about 7 km away from where José Claudio and Maria were killed.  Police say they do not know whether these three killings are related, but representatives of the Pastoral Land Commission surmise that Eremilton may have witnessed the earlier killings.

2. Heavy influence of the Agriculture Caucus on Congress's Forest Code debate

Listening to the Forest Code debate in the Brazilian Congress so far is about as informative and edifying as listening to the U.S. Congress talk about climate change – that is, to say, not very.

It is commonly agreed within Brazil that the 1965 Forest Code needs revision and updating.  But Communist Party representative and author of the just-passed bill Aldo Rebelo didn't focus on looking at other solutions, like using taxes, credit or a carbon market to incentivize farmers to keep forests standing or restore past deforestation.

The Rebelo proposal instead falsely supposes that forests are inherently, as Márcio Santilli of the Instituto Socioambiental put it, "nothing more than 'anti-food'" – that more forest means less agriculture, less growth and less development.  Rebelo's bill, and its ultimate success, capitalized on the erroneous, purely ideological notion that environmental regulation is a foreign plot designed to keep Brazilian agriculture from competing with U.S. agriculture.

The agriculture caucus leadership has a sense of entitlement and cronyism about it that can get ugly. During the discussion before the vote on Tuesday, former Environment Minister and current Congressman José Sarney Filho made a motion in the House to ask for the federal police to investigate the killing of Ribeiro and his wife – and was met with boos from the agriculture caucus.

Brazil's farmers deserve better political representation than this. I've met farmers and ranchers across the Amazon who have worked hard to build productive, competitive businesses, and are proud that they're in compliance with the current law.  These voices are not being heard in this debate, and if the Rebelo bill is enacted, they will be penalized for their efforts, while the scofflaws will be rewarded.

3. Surge in deforestation

In mid-May, we learned that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon in March and April may have spiked dramatically over those same months last year, and Brazil's Environment Ministry and many researchers hold that expectations that the Congress would weaken forest protection requirements in the Forest Code are contributing to the increase.  Preliminary reports from Brazil's National Space Research Agency (INPE) now suggest that deforestation has increased about 30% from last year, which is also widely attributed to the anticipation of the approval of the new Forest Code.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon in March and April may have increased dramatically over last year. Above: Deforestation has replaced tropical forest with cattle pasture in Mato Grosso, Brazil.

So, what does all this mean for Brazil?

EDF believes that the brutal killings, the influence of the agriculture caucus, the rapidly increasing deforestation, and the House vote to cripple Brazil's environmental legislation, must be met with a solid government response for Brazil to maintain its international leadership on the environment. And we're not the only ones calling for action at this critical juncture.

The Forest Code changes were opposed by Brazil's major national scientific associations – the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science – as well as numerous forestry sector trade associations and ten former Environment Ministers. The Ministers wrote in a letter to President Dilma Rousseff:

"We understand… that history has reserved for our times… above all, the opportunity to lead a great collective effort for Brazil to proceed on its pathway as a nation that develops with social justice and environmental sustainability."

And the range of interests that came together to support forest protect protection – the scientific community, the National Council of Brazilian Bishops, the national association of attorneys, small farmers' organizations and environmentalists — are coming together to provide the efforts needed to produce balanced and fair revisions to the Forest Code.

If enacted, the House language would open up wholesale entire categories of land that are now protected, and could completely roll back the progress Brazil has made in the last seven years by:

  • Giving amnesty for past illegal deforestation
  • Opening up to deforestation hundreds of thousands of acres of currently protected forests along watercourses, on steep slopes and hilltops and mangrove swamps
  • Making virtually any regulation against forest clearance unenforceable, by inter alia, allowing illegal deforestation to be compensated with replanting over a twenty year period.

Justification for change in Forest Code "patently false"

The most common justification for Congressional support for the bill – that environmental regulation has shackled Brazil's development and growth of agriculture – is patently false.  The Communist Party's Rebelo and his large landholder and rancher allies also justified the measure in the name of small farmers burdened with environmental restrictions.

The fact is, since 2003, Brazil's economy has grown steadily and robustly and some 25 million people escaped poverty, all while Amazon deforestation declined two-thirds below the average of the previous decade.  In recent years, Brazil has become the world's largest exporter of beef, chicken and sugar, and the second biggest exporter of soy.

And major small farmers' organizations actually opposed the bill.  The Amazon has enormous potential for growth through intensification – some 80% of the deforested land in the Amazon is extremely low-yield cattle pasture (less than one head per hectare).  Small farmers are poor because they lack access to credit, technology and technical assistance, not because of environmental regulation, as Rebelo claims.

World watching Brazil as Forest Code moves to Senate, President

An aerial view of deforestation in Mato Grosso, Brazil.

The House passage of the Forest Code is certainly not the end of this story.

The bill now goes to Brazil's Senate, which could spend months debating it.  (Before last week's passage of the bill, the House had been debating the Forest Code since 2009). The rapporteur for the bill, Senator Jorge Viana, has an outstanding record on forest protection and sustainable development as former governor of Acre state. If the Senate makes any changes, the bill goes back to the House, and so on, until the bill's language is agreed. The bill is then sent to President Rousseff, who has the option to veto portions of the bill or the entire bill.

During Rousseff's presidential campaign last fall, she pledged to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80 percent and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 39 percent by 2020.  Reuters quotes the then-candidate saying, in regards to these pledges from her environmental platform:

"I will keep those promises.”

President Rousseff and the Senate have — and should grab — the opportunity to preserve Brazil's leadership on sustainable development and signal investors that they can count on rule of law and a stable investment environment in a plethora of sustainable, green economy alternatives from biofuels, to sustainable forestry and forest carbon credits.

However, if the bill should pass the Senate and be enacted as currently written, it could, over time, erase Brazil's gains in controlling Amazon deforestation, undermine the considerable international stature the country gained through its environmental leadership, and foreclose Brazil's enormous green growth potential.

With Brazil set to host the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development next year, the world will be watching the Senate and President closely.

Read EDF's press release: Brazil's Forest Code vote would cripple environmental regulation, call into question country’s environmental leadership

Learn more about EDF's work in Brazil and the Amazon.

Posted in Deforestation, News / 1 Response