Monthly Archives: October 2011

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and EDF partner to show on-the-ground realities of reducing emissions from deforestation (REDD+) in Panama

en español  |  This blog was co-authored by Environmental Defense Fund’s Amazon Basin Project Coordinator Chris Meyer and McGill University professor and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Research Associate Dr. Catherine Potvin.

Deforestation accounts for as much as 15% of all manmade global warming pollution, and negotiators from countries around the world have been working to hammer out policies at United Nations climate talks to reduce emissions from deforestation.

It’s easy to get lost in the details of the complex policies of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), and miss what’s happening — and who’s working — on the ground.  So, just prior to the UN climate negotiations in Panama City earlier this month, Environmental Defense Fund’s Chris Meyer and McGill University and Smithsonian’s Dr. Catherine Potvin organized a field trip for UN negotiators to see first-hand the realities of deforestation, and of the policies that have been put in place to protect forests.

Indigenous-led REDD+ project preserving trees in eastern Panama

The hill on the right side of this photo, taken in the Panama province of Darien, has been deforested by migrant farmers, while the indigenous-owned lands on the left hill and in the distance show heavily forested lands that are absorbing carbon and helping curb global warming. (Photo courtesy of STRI.)

For their first stop, REDD+ negotiators from Canada, Denmark, the European Union, France, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Peru, the United States, and a member of Panama’s government's REDD+ team visited a REDD+ project in eastern Panama.

The 500 indigenous people who live in Ipeti-Embera control approximately 3,200 hectares (7,910 acres) of land.  In the eastern part of Panama, including the provinces of Panama and Darien, where the community is located, huge swathes of primary forest, rich in biodiversity, have been cleared for timber and cattle ranching by migrant farmers coming from Panama's central Provinces.  Indigenous People mostly try to withstand invasion from these migrants, as they value the forest more than pastures.  The REDD+ project seeks to find a solution to such land conflicts and deforestation.

This picture shows the benefits of having indigenous communities control forests; the indigenous-owned lands of Ipeti-Embera on the left remain heavily forested, while the hill to the right has been cleared of its forests and converted to cattle pasture.

Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute using REDD+ to become carbon neutral

In 2007, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) decided to move towards carbon neutrality.  As part of its strategy to offset its carbon footprint, STRI became interested in piloting a REDD+ project with the Ipeti-Embera community.

Twenty-one families in Ipeti-Embera now have small reforestation parcels of native species that are sequestering carbon while 48 households are ready to modify their pattern of land use to reduce deforestation and forest degradation.  STRI is purchasing the sequestered carbon, or carbon offsets, while analyzing the barriers to implementation of similar projects elsewhere.

McGill University and Smithsonian’s Potvin said:

The revenue from the offset sales to STRI is a welcomed extra income for the families.

After a delicious customary lunch served in banana leaves, the group headed to the community of Nuevo Paraíso, or New Paradise.

REDD+ can sustain communities and keep trees standing

Country negotiators, members from non-governmental groups, and local residents look at young mahogany trees, planted by the local indigenous people of Ipeti-Embera. The group was able to talk with community leaders about the community's efforts to reduce deforestation. (Photo courtesy of STRI.)

Founded about 25 years ago, Nuevo Paraíso is a migrant farmers community whose families own 25-50 hectares of land and practice a mix of subsistence agriculture and small-scale cattle ranching on deforested land.

In this field trip, negotiators were able to see REDD+ projects that work with communities and farmers to prevent further deforestation and maximize the benefits of forest protection.

EDF’s Chris Meyer said:

This was a truly eye-opening experience for negotiators, seeing how well policies to avoid deforestation work.  Negotiators told us they enjoyed the opportunity to spend time on the ground in the rainforest, and some even mentioned this was their first time in the forest and first contact with communities trying to halt deforestation.

In Ipeti-Embera, negotiators had time to speak with community leaders and participants in the REDD+ project, and witness first-hand the complex challenges of implementation.  In Nuevo Paraíso, discussion centered on how the private sector could be successfully engaged in REDD+ activities, and provide much-needed financing.

Financing options for REDD+, including carbon markets, are on the official agenda for the upcoming UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, at the end of this year.  These negotiators now are able to take back with them to Durban and later international climate talks the on-the-ground knowledge they have about the REDD+ projects, including that REDD+ policies work, and local communities are critical to implementing — and simultaneously benefitting — from them.


Read this blog in Spanish/ Siga este vinculo para leer el blog en español: El Instituto de Investigaciones Tropicales del Smithsonian y EDF colaboran para mostrar la realidad local sobre la reducción de emisiones por deforestación (REDD+) en Panamá

Posted in Deforestation, Indigenous peoples, REDD+ / 1 Response

U.S. House passes bill to make it illegal for U.S. airlines to comply with EU law to cut aviation emissions

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill tonight that could worsen air pollution and force U.S. airlines to stop flying to Europe, or risk violating other nations’ laws at their and other U.S. companies’ expense.

The EU law that the House voted to block, the Aviation Directive, is a modest, non-discriminatory first step to tackling pollution from airlines, and was enacted several years ago after countries spent a dozen years failing to agree on a program in the International Civil Aviation Organization to cut carbon pollution.

The "European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011” (H.R. 2594) was introduced in July by Rep. John Mica (R-FL), among others, and would make it illegal for airlines to comply with the EU law, the only program in the world that sets enforceable limits on carbon pollution from aviation.

Ten environmental groups wrote in a letter to Representatives on Friday that the bill would worsen air pollution and make it impossible for U.S.-based airlines to provide service to and from Europe.

The groups, including EDF, ActionAid USA, Earthjustice, Environment America, Greenpeace USA, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oxfam America, Sierra Club, and World Wildlife Fund, said the House bill is “premised on fundamentally erroneous legal and policy assumptions,” because:

Contrary to the bill’s assumptions, the Aviation Directive is carefully crafted to fall well within the requirements of international law (and has been upheld as such in a rigorously reasoned preliminary decision of the European Court of Justice). It is non-discriminatory and applies even-handedly to all flights landing in or departing from EU airports regardless of origin or destination, and to the operators of those flights regardless of the airline’s home country. The program requires a 3% emissions reduction (compared to a 2004-2006 baseline) by 2013, and a 5% reduction by 2020; it is flexible in design, giving airlines multiple compliance options to meet these emissions control obligations. Moreover, flights arriving from countries with programs equivalent to the EU’s are exempted altogether.

House bill could make U.S. airlines outlaws, start trade war

In a statement after tonight’s vote, EDF’s International Counsel Annie Petsonk said the House’s passing this law could turn U.S. airlines into outlaws and ignite a trade war:

‪The House passing this bill is like another nation saying, 'We don't care if the U.S. has a law enacted by Congress and upheld by the U.S. courts — we're going to prohibit our companies from complying.’  It's unlikely that our Congress would let that kind of action go without retaliation. ‪

This bill could ignite a trade war that would put tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in jeopardy.  By barring U.S.-based airlines from complying with applicable law for flights traveling to EU airports, this bill would compel those airlines either to drop their EU routes or become scofflaws.  ‪It’s bizarre Congress would knowingly pass a law that compels U.S.-based airlines to become outlaws when they do business in the EU.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where there is no companion bill.

Meanwhile, three U.S. airlines — United/Continental and American — and their trade association, Air Transport Association of America (ATA), have also challenged the legality of the EU law in Europe's highest court. EDF, in partnership with US and European environmental organizations, has intervened in support of the EU law.

The European Court of Justice’s Advocate General released a preliminary opinion at the beginning of this month advising that the airlines' challenge had no merit, which EDF and our fellow co-intervenors called an “encouraging development.”  On Oct. 6, when the opinion came out, Petsonk said:

Airlines operate in a global market, and the reality is that those markets will be increasingly carbon-constrained. It’s time for the U.S. airlines to provide leadership and demonstrate that we can compete in the carbon-limited markets of the 21st century. No lawsuit will stop climate change or its effects, so it’s time to move forward and implement the solutions already available: Europe’s Aviation Directive.

The European Court of Justice is anticipated to issue its final ruling sometime in the beginning of next year.

Posted in Aviation / 6 Responses

Australia’s carbon price system passes in historic vote in lower house, 2012 start now virtually guaranteed

Australia is likely to pass legislation next month that will give it the largest carbon price system in the world outside of Europe. (Thanks and photo credit to Flickr user Urban Gazelle)

In a historic vote Wednesday Oct. 12, Australia’s lower house passed a legislative package to put a price on carbon starting mid-2012.  This will put the country – which is comparable to the United States as one of the developed world’s largest per-capita emitters – on the path to reducing its emissions and shifting energy to renewable, less-polluting sources.

The bill, passed by a predictably close margin, is now virtually guaranteed to pass in the Senate when it comes to a vote, likely in November.  That will give Australia, the third-most coal-dependent country in the world, the largest carbon-price system in the world outside of the European Union (at least until California’s program takes effect six months later).

What Australia’s "Clean Energy Future" legislation will do

The Clean Energy Future package consists of 18 bills that aim to cut Australia’s emissions 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 (though the target can be strengthened based on international action), and 80% below 2000 levels by 2050.

The legislation reaches these targets through programs that will start shifting Australia’s energy to renewable sources by:

  1. Placing a price on carbon.
    • Starting July 2012, Australia’s largest industrial emitters, which cover roughly two-thirds of the country’s greenhouse gas pollution, will have to pay a fixed price for the carbon pollution they produce — $23 (Australian) per ton of carbon, rising by 2.5 per cent each year.
    • In 2015, the fixed price system will automatically transition to a market-based cap-and-trade system open to trading carbon credits in the international market.
  2. Designing the market-based system to link to international carbon markets, with plans to link with already operational cap-and-trade programs in New Zealand and Europe after 2015.
  3. Giving a big boost to renewable energy research and development and deployment through a new $10 billion financing vehicle, the “Clean Energy Finance Corporation.”  The money will be invested in jump-starting Australian commercial-scale renewable energy projects to reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

The Australian system has strong support from key international players in global carbon markets: the European Union and the United Kingdom have both praised the Australian approach, and a senior visiting Chinese official has observed that China is also looking to the Australian system as a potential model as China designs its six proposed regional cap-and-trade trials.

The link to international markets that’s built into the system also sets up Australia to become a key player in the international offset market – and will enhance Australia’s influence at the UN climate conference in Durban at the end of this year.

We look forward to Australia’s Senate vote in November, and to the critical momentum the country will bring to the development of international carbon markets when it becomes the newest member in the group of the world's carbon market leaders.

Posted in News, Other / 6 Responses

For Brighter Skies, Europe Should Stay on Course with its Aviation Directive

The highest court in Europe, the European Court of Justice, issued a preliminary opinion on Thursday, Oct. 6 saying the EU’s pioneering law to curb aviation pollution is consistent with international law.  EDF and the five other European and U.S. groups that have intervened in the suit in support of the EU law called the opinion "very encouraging."

In the commentary below, which I drafted at the invitation of Point Carbon's Carbon Market Europe, I discuss the significance of the opinion and what the Aviation Directive could mean for industries in Europe and around the world.


For Brighter Skies, Europe Should Stay on Course

By Annie Petsonk, International Counsel, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF is part of a transatlantic coalition of environmental groups that are intervener-defendants in the litigation).  Published Oct. 7, 2011.

Yesterday’s preliminary opinion by the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice in the “aviation case” offers a refreshing prospect for climate policy and a potential boost for low carbon economic growth. But whether European political leaders can consolidate those gains will depend on two developments, only one of which is within their control.

The background: U.S. airlines have fought carbon regulation for almost twenty years, since the mid 1990s, when climate scientists began quantifying aviation’s impact on global warming, and policy-makers began discussing how to allocate emissions from flights originating in one country and traveling to another.

A preliminary opinion from Europe's highest court could offer a boost for low-carbon economic growth in the aviation industry. (Thanks and photo credit to Flickr user ELTMAN.)

In 1997, during the talks that led to adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, airline lobbyists pressed for and obtained language in Article 2.2 of Kyoto stating that Parties included in Annex I “shall pursue” limits on these aviation emissions “working through the International Civil Aviation Organization” (ICAO).

European governments dutifully pursued these limits working through ICAO. But a decade of ICAO talks produced no such limits. So the EU launched stakeholder consultations on including aviation in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). The result was a law capping the emissions of flights landing at and taking off from EU airports. The law, which passed with an extremely broad parliamentary majority and the support of all EU Member States, is non-discriminatory. Its first caps, admittedly modest, start January 1, 2012.

Virtually all airlines are preparing to comply, filing emissions data and applying for the law’s generous free allowances. But United/Continental and American Airlines sued to block the law. They argued that under ICAO’s Chicago Convention on civil aviation, the ETS is an illegal tax. They claimed that Kyoto’s “pursue through ICAO” language precludes the EU law. And they asserted that a nation may only regulate emissions during the transit of its sovereign airspace, perverse results notwithstanding. Yesterday’s in-depth preliminary opinion by the Advocate General of Europe’s highest court rejected these claims.

What happens next turns on two developments. First, will the full Court follow the Advocate General’s careful reasoning? It might not, but past practice indicates a strong possibility that it will. Second, will EU policymakers carry through with the law that the Advocate General’s opinion powerfully supports? U.S. airlines are ramping up the heat. They say the ETS will cost them billions. (Independent analyses conclude that any fare increases are likely to be trivial – in the range of $3-6 per ticket.) They’re seeking a U.S. Congressional enactment making it illegal for them to comply with the EU-ETS, effectively daring the EU to enforce its law and goading tit-for-tat retaliation. And they’ve persuaded their friends in the U.S. Transportation Department to sign a statement in Delhi that ICAO is the only forum for regulation of aviation pollution (but not offering ideas for overcoming old logjams).

On this point the Advocate General’s opinion is clear: The EU is not required to wait indefinitely for ICAO. While multilateral solutions are preferable, multilateral inaction is no bar to regional action. Transport officials from Italy and The Netherlands are already feeling the heat. It will take fortitude for the EU to stand firm, but it is essential.

The Advocate General’s opinion found that the ETS is a market-based measure where allowance prices are determined by supply and demand. Supply and demand fundamentally reflect market perceptions of whether governments will implement law. When governments hold to their regulatory commitments, regulated parties, investors, and entrepreneurs compete to meet and beat pollution targets. The EU’s ability to generate the lion’s share of the $140 billion global carbon market, and Germany’s ability to generate low-carbon jobs even in difficult economic times by maintaining tough emissions limits and strong clean energy policy, demonstrate the power of government adherence to announced commitments.

But what if the message to regulated industries is, squawk loudly and government will wilt? Vacillation on aviation could undermine confidence in the most powerful climate policy instrument the EU has ever deployed, the world’s best hope for building, from the bottom up, an effective global climate framework.

The aviation sector can learn, as other EU sectors have, to survive and thrive with carbon constraints. It’s time for the EU to stay on course for brighter skies.

–This commentary was originally published Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, in Carbon Market Europe (A Thomson Reuters Point Carbon publication)


Learn more about EDF's work on aviation and the EU Aviation Directive at

Posted in Aviation / Leave a comment

European law to curb aviation pollution is legal, says preliminary court opinion

Very early this morning, the European Court of Justice issued a comprehensive, detailed preliminary opinion stating that the EU’s pioneering law to curb aviation pollution is consistent with international law. EDF and its co-intervenors in the case issued the following joint press release: (I've posted it here, as our web team won't be awake for a few hours.)



European Court’s Preliminary Opinion Supports Legality of EU Law That Curbs Aviation Pollution

Advocate General’s opinion bolsters position of Europe and intervening environmental groups in case on EU aviation emissions trading system (ETS)

(Brussels/ London/ Washington – October 6, 2011) A transatlantic coalition of environmental groups applauded today’s European Court of Justice’s Advocate General’s preliminary opinion, which supports Europe’s right to tackle carbon emissions from airlines that use its airports. The coalition said the preliminary opinion was very encouraging.  The Court is expected to hand down its final opinion in early 2012.

In a thorough and comprehensive opinion, addressing all issues referred to the Court, the Advocate General called the airlines’ challenges “unconvincing”, “untenable”, “erroneous” and based on a “highly superficial reading” of the Aviation Directive.

The opinion thoroughly dismisses the airlines’ argument that the EU Law violates sovereignty, pointing out that it is “by no means unusual for a State or an international organisation also to take into account in the exercise of its sovereignty circumstances that occur or have occurred outside its territorial jurisdiction.”

Commenting on the argument that Europe should wait for a global solution, the opinion states “The EU institutions could not reasonably be required to give the ICAO bodies unlimited time in which to develop a multilateral solution.”

The EU Aviation Directive, the world's only mandatory program to address emissions from aviation, will take effect in January 2012. 

“This is an encouraging development.  We are pleased that the Advocate General found our arguments, and those of the European Union and its member states, persuasive, and we look forward to receiving the Court’s final opinion,” said the coalition.

The coalition’s six participants include three U.S.-based groups (Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, and Environmental Defense Fund) and three European groups (Aviation Environment Federation, Transport & Environment, and WWF-UK). All six groups are intervenor-defendants in the litigation.

The opinion of the Advocate General, an esteemed attorney appointed to the ECJ to provide an independent, unbiased opinion to the Court, will now be considered by the 13 members of the ECJ’s “Grand Chamber” who heard oral arguments on July 5, 2011.  The judges begin their deliberations upon receiving the Advocate General's opinion.  The opinion does not bind in any way the final decision of the Court.

Airlines have argued that the EU law is discriminatory in some way, but the Advocate General states clearly:

"If the EU legislature had excluded airlines holding the nationality of a third country from the EU emissions trading scheme, those airlines would have obtained an unjustified competitive advantage over their European competitors. Such a course of action would not have been compatible with the principle of fair and equal opportunity laid down in Article 2 of the Open Skies Agreement and which also underpins Directive 2008/101 itself."

Finally, the opinion concludes that the Aviation Directive is not a charge or a tax, noting that it “would be unusual, to put it mildly, to describe as a charge or tax the purchase price paid for an emission allowance, which is based on supply and demand according to free market forces.”

The European Court frequently follows the recommendations of Advocates General.


Europe’s Aviation Directive, which includes aviation emissions within the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) from 1 January 2012, is a pioneering law that holds airlines accountable for their emissions associated with their commercial flights that land at or take off from EU airports.  Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, rising 3 to 4% per year.  Until now, the sector has escaped regulations that would require emissions reductions. 

Three U.S. airlines — United/Continental and American — and their trade association, Air Transport Association of America (ATA), challenged the legality of the aviation emissions trading system, as applied to non-EU airlines. 



Tim Johnson, Director of the Aviation Environment Federation said:

"The Advocate General’s report is a positive step towards ensuring that airlines operating from European airports will become accountable for their carbon emissions from 1 January 2012 as the world’s first regional initiative to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector comes into effect."

Sarah Burt, Staff Attorney at Earthjustice said:

“In the absence of an effective global measure for reigning in greenhouse gases from aviation, the EU law is a necessary step to address this significant and rapidly expanding source of pollution.  We are pleased that the Advocate General’s opinion confirms the legality of this important action.” 

Annie Petsonk, International Counsel at Environmental Defense Fund said:

“Airlines operate in a global market, and the reality is that those markets will be increasingly carbon-constrained. It’s time for the U.S. airlines to provide leadership and demonstrate that we can compete in the carbon-limited markets of the 21st century.  No lawsuit will stop climate change or its effects, so it’s time to move forward and implement the solutions already available: Europe’s Aviation Directive.”

Bill Hemmings, Programme Manager of Transport & Environment said:

"The international community, aided and abetted by the airlines, has failed to make any progress on cutting aviation emissions in fourteen years despite innumerable meetings and negotiating sessions.  So the airlines cannot have been serious when they called for international action instead of European leadership.  That so many major airlines jumped on the bandwagon of criticizing the EU-ETS, an extremely modest measure equivalent to one cent a litre on (untaxed) kerosene, was just opportunistic and irresponsible.  The aviation industry should now start tackling climate change with engineers, not lawyers."

Keith Allott, Head of Climate Change at WWF-UK said:

We are pleased that this advice will send a message that the ETS is entirely consistent with international law. In the absence of a global deal, ETS is a positive first step towards bringing runaway aviation emissions under control.  To further enhance mitigation and adaptation, EU member states should dedicate revenues from this measure to climate action, especially in developing countries.”



Tim Johnson, Aviation Environment Federation (UK)

+44 (0) 7710 381742,

Sarah Burt, Earthjustice (USA)


Jennifer Andreassen, Environmental Defense Fund (USA)


Bill Hemmings, Transport & Environment (Brussels)

+32 (0) 487 582706,

George Smeeton, WWF-UK (UK)

+44 (0)1483 412 388, Mob: +44 (0)7917 052 948,



Posted in Aviation, News / 10 Responses