Author Archives: Jennifer Andreassen

Senate committee approves short-sighted bill that could jeopardize action on airplane pollution

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee today passed a bill that would allow the secretary of transportation  to ban airlines from complying with the only program in the world that sets enforceable limits on carbon pollution from aviation.

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee voted in favor of a bill that would allow the transportation secretary to block airlines from complying with Europe's anti-pollution law for aviation.

The Senate bill (S.1956) would give the transportation secretary the authority to prohibit airlines from participating in the EU Emissions Trading System, if, after taking into account many different considerations, he determines that it is in the public interest to do so. Unlike the bill passed last year in the House of Representatives, this bill does not automatically prohibit U.S. airlines from participating in the EU system.

Countries, including the United States, along with airlines and environmental groups all agree aviation emissions should be addressed at the international level, through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

However, countries have spent a decade and a half at the UN agency discussing — and failing to agree on — a program to cut carbon pollution.

EDF's International Counsel Annie Petsonk said in a statement after the vote today this Senate bill doesn't get the United States any closer to such a solution, and urged the Obama administration to step up its pressure on ICAO.

Passage of this disappointing and short-sighted bill today seems only to decrease the odds of action at the international level by calling into question the status of the one lever that actually moved ICAO to have serious discussions after 15 years of inaction – the EU Emissions Trading System.

This bill now ups the pressure on the Obama administration to produce a solution at ICAO. We are happy to see the text at least encouraged international negotiations at ICAO, which we believe hold the key to a global agreement to reduce aviation emissions.

Petsonk also said that only a couple times in history has U.S. legislation blocked companies from obeying another country's law.

Legislation that blocks American companies from obeying the laws of the countries in which they do business is almost unprecedented in U.S. history, showing up most recently when Congress barred American firms from suborning apartheid in South Africa.

How disconcerting that airlines, which are spending significant funds touting their environmental friendliness, are acting as though an anti-pollution law is as grievous as a massive human rights violation.

Amendment

An amendment to the bill says the secretary of transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator and other government officials:

should, as appropriate, use their authority to conduct international negotiations, including using their authority to conduct international negotiations to pursue a worldwide approach to address aircraft emissions;

Expressing skepticism of that "authority to conduct international negotiations to pursue a worldwide approach to address aircraft emissions," Petsonk told Reuters:

We've been in hot pursuit of this (an ICAO framework) for 15 years, so what makes the Senate think this is any different?

Up next, the bill's proponents will seek its quick passage on the Senate floor, either as a stand-alone bill or as an amendment to other legislation. Whether they succeed remains to be seen.

See also: Annie Petsonk's blog, Will Washington meeting on aviation pollution be undermined by U.S. airlines?

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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.

 

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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.

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Brazil's President Rousseff should veto disastrous Forest Code

EDF joined the chorus of Brazilian and global environmental groups in calling for Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff to veto the revisions of the country's main forest protection legislation passed last night by the House of Representatives that, if signed into law, would severely roll back environmental protection for the Amazon forest and other threatened ecosystems.

Brazil's Congress has sent President Dilma Rousseff the Forest Code, which would essentially legalize deforestation on vast areas of land. Rousseff can veto parts of or all of the law. (Photo credit to Flickr user dilmarousseff)

By giving amnesty for past illegal deforestation and opening up new land for deforestation, the Forest Code would essentially legalize deforestation on vast amounts of land.

This is a big problem, because global emissions from deforestation contribute about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions — as much as all the world’s cars, trucks, ships and airplanes combined – and Brazil is home to about 40% of the world's rain forests.

Brazil's relatively recent success in reducing deforestation in the Amazon has made it a global leader in reducing carbon emissions, but if President Rousseff approves the House-passed law, the country risks reversing that trend.

EDF’s Director of Tropical Forest Policy, Steve Schwartzman said Brazil's historic achievement in reducing deforestation in the Amazon nearly 80% since 2005 is at serious risk:

Brazil’s Forest Code has been instrumental in the country’s success in curbing carbon emissions, but President Rousseff is now faced with a deeply flawed, probably unenforceable law that would offer near-total amnesty for past illegal deforestation.

Brazilians overwhelmingly support stopping deforestation in the Amazon. About 85% of them want Amazon deforestation to stop no matter what, according to a public opinion poll taken in the last year.

Schwartzman said:

President Rousseff should respect the views of the vast majority of the Brazilian public that wants an end to Amazon deforestation and veto this bill.

Rousseff, from as far back as her presidential campaign, has repeatedly declared she would not accept legislation that amnesties past illegal deforestation. Brazilian law gives her as president the right to veto parts or all of the bill.

Given Brazil's position as host of June's global Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, and with the great importance of the Forest Code to the country's forests and the world's climate, all eyes are on President Rousseff's next move.

Posted in Brazil, Deforestation, News |: | 1 Response

U.S. airlines give up legal battle against Europe’s anti-pollution law

It’s official: U.S. airlines have given up their legal challenge to the European Union’s landmark law limiting global warming pollution from aviation.

Airlines have dropped a challenge in the UK High Court to the aviation directive three months after a ruling from the European Court of Justice, above, upheld the law. (Thanks and photo credit to Gwenaël Piaser)

It was an abrupt move by United, American, and their trade association, Airlines for America, none of which gave an explanation for dropping the case in the UK High Court in London less than 48 hours before the Court's scheduled hearing.

We can only guess that after the European Court of Justice's strong ruling  upholding the EU directive as consistent with international law, the airlines' lawyers realized their efforts in the UK court would be fruitless.

EDF, with the transatlantic coalition of environmental groups that intervened in the litigation, said today that the airlines' move presents an opportunity for industry to support a global deal to reduce emissions from aviation.

In a joint statement today from Aviation Environment Federation, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, EDF, Transport & Environment, and WWF-UK, we said:

Although we are pleased this avoids a pointless legal challenge in the UK, it is disappointing that U.S airlines are refusing to accept the ECJ ruling, and may simply be moving the battlefield elsewhere. …

United States, Europe, and other countries [should] work together with airlines and civil society to craft a global solution and enforceable domestic measures.

U.S. House industry-dominated "roundtable discussion" ignores significant developments

In related news, today the U.S. House of Representatives aviation subcommittee hosted a “roundtable discussion” on the EU law and "its impact on the U.S. aviation industry, international law, and global trade.”

However, in the 1.5 hours when participants from the Federal Aviation Administration, State Department and aviation industry delivered short remarks and fielded questions from Members of Congress, the latest updates from the law were noticeably absent. No mention was made that just three months ago, the EU’s highest court had ruled strongly against the airlines, or that yesterday the airlines had given up their latest challenge to the law.

Eyes now turn to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), where its Secretary General Raymond Benjamin has proposed to agree, by the end of the year, on global measures to reduce aviation emissions. We hope airlines use this opportunity to support a global deal.

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Effort in Moscow to coordinate attack on EU aviation emissions law fizzles

Countries have failed in Moscow to agree on any joint moves against the European Union's pioneering law to curb emissions from aviation at a two-day meeting that ended there yesterday.

The declaration coming out of the Moscow meeting, which was reportedly attended by representatives of countries and the aviation industry, states the 23 signing countries will merely "consider" taking actions against Europe for its pioneering law to curb emissions from aviation. EDF's Annie Petsonk said "Today's failure to reach agreement on a coordinated attack indicates cooler heads may have prevailed." (Thanks and photo credit to Flickr user Aleksander Markin)

The meeting, which was preceded by great deal of hype about 26 countries' supposedly working toward a "basket of countermeasures" against Europe, produced a joint declaration signed by 23 countries that included a "Basket of ACTIONS/ MEASURES."

However,  yesterday's Joint declaration of the Moscow meeting on inclusion of international civil aviation in the Eu-ETS only says countries will "consider taking actions/ measures" against the EU. No single coordinated attack emerged from the meeting, and Russia's Deputy Transportation Minister Valery Okulov said in a press conference that countries themselves "will choose the most effective and reliable measures that will help to cancel or postpone the implementation of the EU ETS (Emissions Trading System)."

In EDF's statement following the meeting, Annie Petsonk, EDF's International Counsel said:

The airlines ginned up a laundry list of actions they wanted governments to take so that airlines don't have to comply with a reasonable law to cut global warming pollution.

Today's failure to reach agreement on a coordinated attack indicates cooler heads may have prevailed, and if so, they are to be commended.

This Moscow gathering was a follow-up to one that took place in India last September, where the U.S., Saudi Arabia and 23 other countries signed a statement that suggested opposition to the EU law, the world’s first program to reduce global warming pollution from aviation.

ICAO action to cut aviation pollution is critical

The first action/measure in Moscow's "Basket" is launching an "Article 84" case under the Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation — a formal protest against the EU law at the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Countries, the aviation industry and environmentalists have all called for a global system to be developed through ICAO, but 14 years of negotiations has yielded nothing.

ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin had warned weeks prior to the Moscow meeting that a decision by any nation to launch an Article 84 case would distract ICAO from designing and obtaining global agreement on effective, market-based measures to address aviation greenhouse gas emissions.

EDF thinks such constructive participation can help ICAO achieve an effective and durable outcome, which is the best path toward resolving the current dispute. Petsonk said:

Had an Article 84 case been launched, that surely would have called into question the seriousness of the claims of industry and some nations that they truly want a solution in ICAO.

Speaking of industry, the airline industry trade association International Air Transport Association (IATA) was reportedly present at the meeting. However, EDF knows of no “civil society” group invited to the Moscow meeting. Petsonk said in EDF's statement:

With such a limited invite list, the meeting didn’t present an opportunity for a balanced discussion. Civil society must be afforded equal opportunity to participate in ICAO’s work going forward. Such participation can help ICAO achieve an effective and durable outcome.

These countries have agreed to meet again later this year in Saudi Arabia.

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In significant victory, Europe’s highest court upholds EU law that curbs aviation pollution

Early this morning, the highest court in Europe read out a decision in Luxembourg that evoked cheers across the environmental community: the Court of Justice of the European Union had decided the world’s first program to reduce global warming pollution from aviation, the EU Aviation Directive, is fully compliant with international law.

The decision was a strong finish at the EU court, where United/Continental and American Airlines — and their trade association, known at the time as Air Transport Association of America (now called Airlines for America) — had challenged the legality of the Aviation Directive, and EDF, in partnership with five other U.S. and European environmental organizations, intervened in support of the EU law.

EDF, with our other European and American co-intervenors, applauded today’s decision, saying in a joint statement:

Today’s decision makes clear Europe's innovative law to reduce emissions from international flights is fully consistent with international law, does not infringe on the sovereignty of other nations, and is distinct from the charges and taxes subject to treaty limitations.

Today's outcome was generally anticipated, as an Advocate General – a senior legal advisor appointed by the Court of Justice of the European Union – issued a formal recommendation to the Court supporting the legality of the EU law in October.  That opinion called the airlines’ challenges “unconvincing”, “untenable”, “erroneous” and based on a “highly superficial reading” of the Aviation Directive.

Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, rising 3 to 4% per year.  Though airlines often say they agree with environmental groups that these growing emissions need to be addressed, until now, the sector has escaped regulations that would require emissions reductions.  But the EU Aviation Directive, the very law airlines were suing to get out of complying with, will cut 183 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually by 2020, the equivalent of taking 30 million cars off the road every year.

While the airlines were suing in the EU, however, at home they were lauding their environmental performance in advertising and media campaigns.

Annie Petsonk, EDF’s International Counsel, referenced these claims in her statement after the decision was announced:

It is high time airlines actually live up to their green claims, and comply with the EU law, which will cut pollution and spark low-carbon innovation.  Americans invented the airplane, now it’s time for us to create climate-friendly skies. The EU’s leadership challenges U.S. airlines to take charge and deliver to the flying public clean and green air travel.

This decision on the case now returns to the UK High Court, where airlines had originally brought the suit challenging UK regulations implementing the law, and which will implement the recommendations of today’s ruling.

And in the meantime, the Aviation Directive begins January 1 – now with legal affirmation – to hold all airlines accountable for their emissions from flights using European airports.  We hope the airlines use the new year as a fresh start to reduce their emissions, fly cleaner, and embrace the opportunity provided by the Aviation Directive to move to a lower-carbon aviation sector.

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Deep into overtime, countries in Durban lay groundwork for future global climate agreement

Breaking the record for the longest UN climate negotiations ever, the two-week-long international climate talks in Durban, South Africa wrapped up early yesterday morning with the world taking a small, but essential, step toward a global agreement to curb climate change.

The UN climate conference went into a second day past its scheduled end at the Durban International Conference Center, but its resulting Durban Platform has produced a good first step toward a global climate agreement.

It had been a long night leading up to the conclusion: enthusiastic soccer fans had taken a break from the dragging negotiations late Saturday night at the conference center's cafe and bar, seemingly the home to the only television not tuned to the center's closed-circuit channels, to drink local Castle beer and watch Barcelona's 3-1 victory over Real Madrid; and by the end of the negotiations at dawn on Sunday morning, most attendees — including a number of the negotiators and ministers covering critical issues at the talks — had already left, a significant number of them to catch their flights home.

But applause rang loudly from the remaining countries and non-governmental organizations in the large Baobob plenary room when the president of the conference, South African Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, wrapped up the UN climate negotiations' 17th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP-17) at 5 a.m. Sunday.  Having run into a second day — 35 hours after its supposed 6 p.m. Friday deadline — Durban's conference now holds the record for the UN's longest climate negotiations.

The Durban Platform

The "Durban Platform" reached by countries at COP-17 reflects the "first small but essential steps toward creating a new global agreement to curb climate change," Jennifer Haverkamp, director of EDF's international climate program, said in a statement.

For the first time all major emitting nations, including China and India, have agreed on the need to move forward – and to do so together.

The challenge is that we begin the talks from the lowest common denominator of every party’s aspirations. For this effort to be successful, countries need to be ambitious in their commitments and to refuse to use these negotiations as just another stalling tool.

Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane

The president of COP-17, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, speaking at the closing session of the UN climate conference early Sunday morning.

The conference also saw two big wins on individual policy issues:

  1. Finance: Accomplishing one of the highest priorities for this conference, countries agreed to start building infrastructure for the "Green Climate Fund,"  which is dedicated to helping developing countries address and adapt to climate change.  Now that the Fund has been launched, one of the highest priorities for countries is to find the public and private money to finance it.
  2. Avoiding deforestation: Countries included carbon markets as a possible funding source to pay for policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).  This represents a major achievement for countries, as markets are important in achieving the large-scale, sustainable funding needed to keep carbon-rich tropical forests alive.
However, the Durban Platform included a less-than-positive move in rules to measure emissions from land-use and forestry.  In EDF's closing statement, Jennifer Haverkamp explained:

An unfortunate development in the Durban talks was the finalization of rules for measuring emissions from forests in developed countries that may allow countries to increase their forest emissions without penalty by almost half a billion tons of emissions a year.

Some countries will be rewarded even if they increase emissions from forests, while others will receive massive windfalls for doing nothing.

Read more about the Durban outcomes in EDF's closing statement and Reuters' wrap-up analysis.  We will be posting our own further analysis on the Durban outcomes soon.

Posted in Deforestation, Durban (COP-17), Forestry, News, REDD, UN negotiations |: | 2 Responses

Secretary Clinton urged to not block process on global climate deal at UN Durban negotiations

EDF joined 15 other major non-governmental organizations in urging U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to not block progress on a global climate deal going on now in the UN climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa.

In a letter sent to Secretary Clinton, the groups highlighted a 2008 speech from then President-elect Obama during which he said combating climate change was one of the most urgent issues facing America and the world, and pledged:

Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.

But now, three years later in Durban, the groups say America:

risks being viewed not as a global leader on climate change, but as a major obstacle to progress.

The letter urged Secretary Clinton to direct U.S. negotiators to show more flexibility on the U.S. position for two major issues in the negotiations, which threatens to impede critically needed global cooperation:

  1. The mandate to launch negotiations for a comprehensive binding climate regime
  2. Climate finance

Jennifer Haverkamp, EDF’s international climate program director, said:

Domestically, despite the cacophony coming from Congress, the U.S. is making major strides using existing legal authorities to reduce air pollution from power plants, mobile sources, and factories in ways that will also significantly reduce U.S. carbon emissions over the next several years.

However, that doesn’t make up for the fact that the U.S. is going out of its way to stymie progress in Durban toward a binding new agreement.  In the remaining week and a half in Durban, the U.S. needs to clear the way for countries to move forward on preventing the catastrophic effect of global warming.

The groups again signaled in the letter their unhappiness with the U.S. opposition to the European Union’s pioneering anti-pollution law for aviation, calling for the U.S. to end its opposition to include aviation emissions within the European Union Emissions Trading System.

Signers of the letter, which was sent to Secretary Clinton yesterday and released publicly today, include: Center for International Environmental Law, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, Greenpeace USA, National Tribal Environmental Council, Native American Rights Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oxfam America, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Population Action International, Population Connection, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, The Wilderness Society, and World Wildlife Fund.

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Durban UN climate talks open to calls from African and world leaders for solutions

The latest round of the UN climate negotiations opened on this balmy spring morning in the beach-side city of Durban, South Africa with strong affirmations of the urgent need to address climate change.

South African President Zuma addressed the opening session of the UN climate negotiations today in Durban.

In a series of powerful statements at the opening "plenary” at the conference of nearly 200 countries and almost 20,000 delegates, speakers expressed need for quick  and effective action on climate change, concern for their countries’ ability to adapt to climate change, and hope for what the next two weeks in Durban could accomplish.

Last year’s president of the conference, host country Mexico’s Patricia Espinosa, highlighted the successes of the 2010 negotiations in Cancun but cautioned “there is still certainly more to do.”  Then the conference presidency was  turned over to South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who said “countries must find a common solution to secure the future for generations to come.”

Two speakers from African nations told of the severe consequences climate change was bringing to their home countries, and said Africa must play a significant role in these negotiations. UN Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres received loud applause when she opened her speech with a Zulu welcome; and South Africa’s President Zuma, concluded the session, thanking the UN for its confidence in Africa’s hosting the conference, and declaring climate change as not just an environmental challenge, but a holistic development challenge.

Jennifer Haverkamp, EDF's international climate program director said in a statement at the opening of the conference that “the world can’t just “sit back and do nothing.

We need to build on the efforts of individual countries and regions so that every nation does their part to reduce the emissions that are harming our way of life.

Environmental Defense Fund is urging the climate conference to move forward in four key areas:

  1. A negotiating work plan with concrete goals for the next two years and a clear path toward a comprehensive, binding agreement.
  1. Agreements on financing arrangements for the Green Climate Fund, which will be dedicated to helping developing countries address and adapt to climate change.
  1. Positive signals to the carbon market that there’s life after Durban, encouraging more countries to follow Europe, New Zealand, and most recently Australia’s lead in setting a domestic carbon price.
  1. Accounting rules for measuring emissions from land-use change and forestry that accurately determine whether countries have reduced their emissions and met their obligations.

Read more in our statement and comprehensive blog post on Durban expectations: Durban UN climate talks could see modest, incremental progress; What to watch at COP-17.

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