Monthly Archives: May 2012

UN climate talks end in Bonn with progress on technical issues, divide over Durban Platform negotiations

The latest round of United Nations negotiations for a climate change treaty wrapped up today in Bonn, Germany with both familiar drama highlighting the precarious state of international efforts to reach an agreement to curb climate change, and some behind-the-scenes progress on technical issues.

The latest UN climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany ended with the now-familiar political drama among countries and some quieter progress on technical issues. (Photo thanks and credit to Flickr user UNclimatechange)

The Bonn negotiations marked the first set of negotiations since December's conference in Durban, South Africa laid the groundwork for developed and developing countries to move forward on a new framework engaging all nations.

During the two-week meeting, countries launched three years of negotiations to develop the new agreement by 2015. Progress on this "Durban Platform" negotiating track and other substantive issues was impeded by a lengthy impasse in agreeing to an agenda for discussion and selecting a Chairperson to run the negotiations.

However, countries did not seem to fall into the typical divide between developed-vs.-developing country, but rather split between nations determined to move forward versus those that weren't — with developing countries on both sides of the debate.

Jennifer Haverkamp, EDF's International Climate Program Director said:

We can only hope the intensity of the battles being fought over issues like what will be on the agenda and who will chair the new negotiating track signifies that countries are taking these Durban Platform negotiations seriously.

If countries didn't deem this new round of negotiations significant, they wouldn't be as invested in these procedural issues.

Smaller negotiating groupings on technical issues, including Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), did make good progress in the Bonn negotiations.

Despite continued limited action at the UN level, there is notable action taking place at the national and "sub-national" levels. Nations concerned about climate change are moving ahead in a variety of ways, including:

  • individually, like Mexico and South Korea, which both recently passed domestic climate legislation;
  • at the sub-national level, like California and Quebec; and
  • in country groups, like Europe, which has had an Emissions Trading Scheme in place for several years.

Haverkamp said:

It's essential countries start taking action at the national and state levels.

A fragmented system of climate laws will necessarily entail strains and is unlikely to add up to what is needed anytime soon. But the alternative, global inaction, risks global catastrophe.


Posted in News, UN negotiations / 1 Response

In Brazil, attorneys and scientists join calls for President Dilma Rousseff to veto Forest Code

Update (May 14): President Dilma Rousseff has until Friday, May 25 to either sign the bill or veto some or all of it.

Leading environmental law experts this week issued a paper detailing why President Dilma Rousseff should veto the law (1876/99) passed by Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies last week that would replace the country’s core forest protection legislation, the Forest Code. (View English translation of the paper.) The attorneys' paper follows a late-April statement from some of Brazil's top scientific organizations also repudiating the legislation.

A protester in Brazil marches with a sign calling for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to "veta," or veto, the Forest Code legislation. The legislation could reverse the major gains Brazil has made in reducing deforestation in the Amazon by opening up hundreds of millions of acres of forests to deforestation. Photo thanks and credit to Flickr user Stefanny Silva.

With the Rio+20 environment and development conference, hosted by Brazil, only weeks away, many in Brazilian government are concerned that weakening the Forest Code would draw international criticism.

In recent years, Brazil has made major gains in reducing Amazon deforestation, but the new law could reverse the trend.

The revised Forest Code, passed with support of the large ranchers and farmers’ caucus of the Congress (or ruralistas), would exempt farmers from penalties for illegal deforestation before 2008.

The legislation would also open up hundreds of millions of acres of currently protected forest to deforestation, including more than 98 million acres of critical wetlands, according to Brazil’s National Space Research Agency. President Rousseff has maintained since last year’s electoral campaign that she would not sign a law that gave amnesty for illegal deforestation.

The paper’s authors call for President Rousseff to veto the entire bill passed in the Chamber, rather than vetoing parts of it (she can choose to do either). Partial vetoes would introduce ambiguities and lacunae into the law and could make it unenforceable. For example, the Chamber bill changes the way that required forest buffers along streams and rivers are measured, allowing tens of millions of acres of new forest to be legally cleared. Vetoing this paragraph would leave undefined the key question of how riparian forest buffers are measured.

The new paper follows a statement by a working group of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC) and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC), the country’s two principal scientific organizations, repudiating the bill passed by the Chamber. The scientists argue that special interests pushed through changes detrimental to the national interest and will not provide a basis for environmentally sustainable growth of the agriculture sector.

President Rousseff should respect the wishes of the vast majority of the Brazilian public that wants an end to Amazon deforestation and veto this dangerous law in its entirety.

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South Korea's new climate law signals growing global momentum to curb climate change

South Korea's new climate law will establish a cap-and-trade system covering about 60 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

South Korea today became the first country in Asia to pass climate change legislation that limits the country's carbon emissions, joining the host of countries around the world that also have passed climate laws. (Only weeks ago Mexico passed a climate bill that aims to increase renewable energy use, set ambitious goals to curb domestic emissions and establish a high-level climate commission authorized to create a domestic carbon market.)

The South Korean bill, approved today in a near-unanimous vote in Korea's National Assembly, establishes a cap-and-trade system for limiting the country’s growing carbon emissions. Specifically, the law:

  • limits emissions from top polluters across the economy through a cap-and-trade system that is slated to start in 2015.
  • covers about 60 percent of South Korea’s greenhouse gas emissions, which puts the government on track to fulfill its international pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent from projected levels by 2020.
  • allows Korea’s system eventually to link internationally with other emissions trading systems. The government and Australia have already announced plans to initiate such talks later this year.

Richie Ahuja, EDF’s Regional Director for Asia, said:

South Korea’s bold move is evidence that fast growing economies can put a limit on dangerous carbon emissions with broad support from elected leaders, and of the mounting desire and momentum to curb climate change across both the developed and developing world.

Such visionary actions by countries is how the global climate race will be won.

Cap-and-trade systems like Korea's have a successful track record of curbing carbon emissions. The cap-and-trade system for sulfur dioxide in the U.S. Clean Air Act, for example, reduced emissions faster and at lower cost than predicted. In Europe, the world's first and largest Emissions Trading System  has played a significant and successful role in reducing the EU's emissions.

Next for Korea, the Presidential Commission on Green Growth and related ministries will work on the final details of the law; those will be released in a Presidential Decree in the next few months.

Posted in News, Other / 2 Responses