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Building on global momentum, Lima climate talks take on foundational issues

The annual UN climate conference kicked off today in Lima, Peru, and over the next two weeks delegates from more than 190 countries will be seeking to build on the momentum created by the recent US-China bilateral agreement and efforts launched at September's Climate Summit.

Christiana Figueres

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres opens the latest round of UN climate talks in Lima, Peru. Source: Flickr (UNclimatechange)

Nathaniel Keohane, vice president of EDF's International Climate Program and a former economic adviser in the Obama administration said in EDF's opening statement:

Lima signals the bell lap in the current round of talks leading to a climate agreement in Paris next year. Countries won’t finalize an agreement in Lima, but they should make progress in setting out fundamental elements of such an agreement.

No single UN agreement will solve climate change. What an agreement in Paris can do is to build a structure that spurs countries to be more ambitious, makes them accountable for their progress, and gives them the confidence that other countries are taking action as well.  The talks in Lima can lay the groundwork for such an outcome.

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Also posted in Deforestation, Lima (COP-20), REDD, UN negotiations, United States| Leave a comment

An urgent call to climate action in the IPCC Synthesis Report

Photo: IPCC

It was released two days late for Halloween, but an international report on the dangers of climate change still has plenty of information about our warming planet that will chill you to the core.

The report is the latest from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC releases a series of reports every six or seven years that assess the latest data and research on climate change. This latest is the Fifth Assessment Synthesis Report—a culmination of three earlier reports in this series.

The Synthesis Report summarizes the physical science of climate change; current and future impacts, vulnerabilities, and adaptation of the human and natural worlds; and mitigation opportunities and necessities.

More than anything else, the report underscores the urgent need for action. Read More »

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Who deserves credit for protecting Brazil's Amazon rainforest? It's not even close.

Who’s responsible for the 70% reduction in Amazon deforestation that’s made Brazil the world leader in reducing greenhouse gas pollution, keeping 3.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere since 2005?

Who, if anyone, is responsible for the 29% increase in deforestation from 2012 – 2103 (which looks to repeat in 2014)?

Simon Romero’s New York Times story, Clashing Visions of Conservation Shake Brazil’s Presidential Vote, asks these questions from the vantage of wild-west frontier town Novo Progresso, Pará.

Terra do Meio_Brazil_map

The shaded area shows the indigenous territories and protected areas of the Terra do Meio region, whose 7 million hectares of protected forests Marina Silva created as environment minister.

Part of the answer lies just up the BR-163 highway from Novo Progresso, in the indigenous territories and protected areas of the Terra do Meio region of the Xingu River basin. When Marina Silva took over as environment minister in 2003, the Terra do Meio was overrun with gunmen working for land grabbers busy threatening forest communities, opening roads and clearing forest.

After Marina put together the national Plan to Prevent and Control Amazon Deforestation – and after American nun Sister Dorothy Stang was murdered nearby in 2005 – the government created about 7 million hectares of protected areas in the previously lawless Terra do Meio. The land grabbers and their hired guns left, because they knew they weren’t getting land titles in officially recognized indigenous territories and protected areas – and deforestation stopped.

This illustrates why legally recognizing indigenous territories and creating protected areas have been so effective in reducing deforestation on the Amazon frontier. Public lands not designated for any specific use (e.g., park, indigenous territory, national forest), like the Terra do Meio before 2005, are historically subject to invasion by land grabbers, who clear forest in order to claim the land. Once government declares land a park or reserve, it can’t be treated like no man’s land anymore, and the incentive to drive out local communities and clear forest goes away.

The science on how and why Brazil reduced Amazon deforestation agrees across the board that while various factors are in play (consumer and government pressure through commodity supply chains, law enforcement, increasing agriculture yields on cleared lands), creating protected areas and particularly legally recognizing indigenous lands is a very important part of the answer. (For more, see Nepstad et al, 2014; Soares Filho et al, 2010; Assunção, Gandour and Rocha, 2012; and Busch and Ferretti-Gallon, 2014.)

Going back to the question of who can claim credit for stopping deforestation, it is then notable that President Rouseff protected just 5% of the forest in indigenous territories and protected areas that her predecessor Lula did – with the large majority of Lula’s gains coming under minister Marina.

At a conservative estimate, Marina, not Dilma, protected an area of forests nearly the size of France on the Amazon frontier.

Indigenous Territories and Amazon Protected Areas Officially Designated 1995 – 2014
GovernmentIndigenous Territories Officially Designated (#)Indigenous Territories Officially Designated (Million Hectares)Amazon Protected Areas Created (#)Amazon Protected Areas Created (Million Hectares)MILLION HECTARES — TOTAL
Dilma Rouseff (2010 – 2014)2135N/A3
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003 – 2010)168324926.358.3
Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995 – 2003)263773814.891.8
Source: Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) (Note: The table does not include the five Amazon protected areas Dilma created in the last leg of the election campaign, but they wouldn’t change the picture much.)


It’s too bad that in his otherwise very good story on Amazon deforestation today, Simon Romero didn’t point out this huge disparity.

As for why deforestation was up in 2013, and likely will be again in 2014, Beto Veríssimo of Imazon put it well in the Times:

We’re witnessing an increase in speculative deforestation and forest destruction for the government’s own infrastructure projects… There’s been a rearrangement of priorities

It doesn’t have to be this way.  If Brazil improved average pasture yields from the current 30% of sustainable potential to 50%, it could meet all the demand for agriculture commodities until 2040 with no more deforestation. Unilever, Nestle, and Cargill are only a few of long list of major consumer goods companies that have committed to zero-deforestation supply chains in recent years.

Brazil could be the go-to source for zero-deforestation commodities in emerging low-carbon, high-environmental quality markets – if it can avoid backsliding into business as usual on the Amazon frontier.

Also posted in Brazil, Deforestation| 5 Responses

8 reasons for hope: Our top take-aways from Climate Week

My forecast had been for a Climate Week “on steroids” and that’s exactly what we got.


(Image: Jane Kratochvil)

We saw the largest climate rally in history draw 400,000 people – up from the 250,000 we had initially hoped for – and then the United Nations Climate Summit, where 125 heads of state joined business and civic leaders to discuss ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Another highlight for the week was the growing momentum for putting a price on carbon. More than 1,000 businesses and investors, nearly 100 national, state, province and city governments, and more than 30 non-profit organizations called for expanding emissions trading and other policies that create market incentives for cutting pollution.

Could it be that we’re finally reaching the point of meaningful action on climate change? To find out, I asked colleagues at Environmental Defense Fund who participated in the Climate Summit for their key take-aways from the week.

Here’s their report:


Eric Pooley, Sr. Vice President, Strategy and Communications: This march shot down, once and for all, the old canard that Americans “don't care” about climate change. And it reminded me what an extremely big tent the coalition for climate action really is — with plenty of room for groups with vastly different views.

More than 1,000 EDF members and staff, plus 300 members of the Moms Clean Air Force, were proud to be marching alongside all kinds of people from all kinds of groups from all over the country. To win on climate, we need a strong outside game and a strong inside game. EDF is helping to build both.


Mark Brownstein, Associate Vice President, U.S. Climate and EnergyMethane is becoming a top priority in the fight against climate change. Last week, EDF helped to launch the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil & Gas Methane Partnership, which creates a framework for oil and gas companies to measure and reduce methane emissions and report their progress.

At the summit, I watched the chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, turn to Fred Krupp to say that his company was interested in joining the six companies that already agreed to sign on. While the ultimate test of the partnership will be the reductions that it achieves, it has gotten off to a promising start.


Stephan Schwartzman, Senior Director, Tropical Forest Policy: One of the high points of the week, no doubt, came when 35 national and state governments, more than 60 non-profits and indigenous organizations, and 34 major corporations pledged to halve deforestation by 2020 – and to completely end the clearing of natural forests by 2030. EDF was proud to be part of the coalition that put the New York Declaration on Forests together.


Christopher Meyer, Amazon Basin Outreach Manager: Indigenous groups from the major rain forest basins pledged to continue to conserve 400 million hectares under their control. Those 400 million hectares are important for cultural and biodiversity purposes globally, but they also hold an estimated 71 gigatons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to 11 years of emissions from the United States.

I was honored to accompany Edwin Vasquez Campos of the Coordinator of the Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin, and to watch him deliver a stirring speech to a room that included the leaders of Norway and Indonesia. It was the first time an indigenous leader was given such an opportunity at the U.N.


Fred Krupp, EDF President: On September 23, EDF hosted a meeting with Chinese government officials, who reiterated their plans for a national carbon market in China, and said they’re interested in working with the United States to combat climate change. Later that day, I heard President Obama speak at the United Nations General Assembly.

I was encouraged and inspired to hear him say that the U.S. and China, “as the two largest economies and emitters in the world … have a special responsibility to lead.”


Richie Ahuja, Regional Director, Asia: After a three-year global effort involving a large number of diverse stakeholders, we finally launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. Its purpose: To help the world figure out how to feed a growing population on a warming planet.

The alliance will use the latest technology and draw on the experience of farmers to improve livelihoods and build resilience – while at the same time cutting greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. This is climate action that truly counts.


Ruben Lubowski, Chief Natural Resource Economist: One thing that made the Climate Summit unique was that it included corporate leaders, not just heads of state. In addition to signing the New York Declaration on Forests, chief executives of major global companies that buy and trade palm oil and other tropical commodities that drive deforestation – companies like Cargill, Unilever, and Wilmar – spoke strongly about their plans to change sourcing practices.

Already, companies accounting for about 60 percent of the world’s palm oil trade have made commitments to eliminate deforestation from their products.


Derek Walker, Associate Vice President, U.S. Climate and Energy: California has served as a proving ground for climate change policies that can be adapted by other jurisdictions, whether in the U.S. and abroad – and there’s more to come. My highlight for the week: when Gov. Jerry Brown said that California will set a post-2020 emissions limit and ratchet up its 33-percent renewable standard – already the nation’s top target.

California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols also told us that the state is preparing to develop rules on how to incorporate forest carbon credits into its carbon market – a key step toward reducing deforestation.

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices on Sept. 29.

Also posted in Agriculture, Brazil, Deforestation, Emissions trading & markets, Indigenous peoples, REDD, United States| Leave a comment

NY Times forests oped is out on a limb: protecting trees still key to solving climate change

In an oped in Saturday's New York Times (To Save the Planet, Don't Plant Trees), Nadine Unger argues that reducing deforestation and planting trees won't help fix climate change but will rather make it worse. One might ask how the 2,000-plus scientists and experts on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) got this one wrong – they found tropical deforestation a major source that must be reduced to control climate change – but in fact it's Unger who's way out on a limb here.

Steve Schwartzman, Director of Tropical Forest Policy

Steve Schwartzman, Director of Tropical Forest Policy

When trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in their trunks, branches, leaves and roots. When people cut the trees down and burn them to clear forest for cattle pasture or crops, as they have at a rate of 13 million hectares of forest per year in the tropics over the last decade, this releases CO₂ back into the atmosphere.

Unger argues that forests absorb more sunlight than crops or grassland, which reflect more sunlight back into space and cool the earth. But that's not true in the tropics. In tropical forests like the Amazon, where deforestation is happening and thus where the Climate Summit's attention is focused, trees take up water from rainfall and evaporate it through their leaves, and create cloud cover. These clouds reflect even more sunlight than grasslands or bare earth, thus cooling the earth more. This is why large-scale deforestation disrupts rainfall regimes – and why deforestation in the Amazon, if unchecked, may reduce rainfall in California.

Emissions from tropical deforestation are, from the perspective of the atmosphere, just the same as emissions from burning fossil fuels – carbon that was wood, coal, oil or gas is turned into CO₂ and released to the atmosphere. In a living forest, trees do die and, over time release CO₂ to the atmosphere. But then new trees grow, and absorb that CO₂ again – not the case when forests that have stored carbon for centuries are replaced by grass to feed cattle or oil palm plantations.

Contrary to Unger’s claims, the "high risk" is to ignore the 200 billion tons of at-risk carbon stocks in the world’s tropical forests. In fact, as the IPCC has concluded, stopping tropical deforestation is a critical priority for controlling climate change.

Also posted in Deforestation| 5 Responses

California-Mexico partnership on climate change: promise, possibility, and a whole lot of work to do

California Governor Jerry Brown and Mexican officials pose after signing climate pact. (Credit: Danae Azuara)

California Governor Jerry Brown and Mexican officials pose after signing climate pact. (Credit: Danae Azuara)

When California Governor Jerry Brown kicked off a three-day trade and investment mission to Mexico last week, he didn’t do it by meeting with the minister of finance (though that did come later in the trip).

Instead, Governor Brown presided over a marquee event where he signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Mexico’s federal Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to cooperate on combating climate change – a key priority that complements a broader joint economic agenda very well.

The Governor, staff, high-level administration officials, and legislators on the California delegation had a packed agenda that covered not only climate change, but also trade, investment, education, energy and immigration.

As a participant in the large delegation, I attended official events focused on energy and climate that were both substantive and informative. Both sides spoke thoughtfully and enthusiastically about implementation of the MOU.

But it was the meetings we had after the delegation had departed that gave me additional insight – and hope – that this agreement can truly signal the beginning of a new chapter in Mexico and California’s history, and one with global significance.

Still, it is fair to ask: In a world where MOUs are plentiful but action often seems in short supply, why is this agreement actually, as my colleague Nat Keohane argues, a sign that momentum is growing on climate action? I provide here some perspective on what we know about California’s and Mexico’s past and potential future paths on climate change.

Climate change optimism in Mexico

Mexico is currently the world’s 13th largest economy, though it’s projected to grow to the 5th largest by 2050. The country boasts a stable currency, saw modest growth in the middle class over the last decade, and is California’s biggest export market. Mexico’s foreign minister, José Antonio Meade Kuribreña, had no shortage of such statistics at hand when he explained to a group of business delegates in Sacramento why Mexico is such a good place to invest and build partnerships.

But Mexico is also a good place to invest in working to combat climate change. The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has inherited a legacy on climate change leadership, through high-profile international emissions-reduction targets and a sweeping domestic climate change law that passed just before he took office. It is also a country poised for big changes, in no small part because its congress just approved a national energy reform, with potentially enormous implications for its energy future and emissions trajectory.

Regardless of whether Mexico’s climate change law passed on Peña Nieto’s watch, it is his to interpret, to implement, and potentially to capitalize on immensely. Ratcheting down Mexico’s national emissions toward the 2020 target of 30% below business as usual can be achieved by implementing smart energy and economic development policy that also drives the growth of a sustainable, low-carbon economy. There is enormous opportunity in Mexico to achieve significant, economy-wide emissions reductions (many at low cost) to meet the country’s ambitious mitigation goals and to stimulate green investment and economic growth, particularly in the energy sector.

California-Mexico climate partnership opportunities on display

Given that opportunity, EDF staff met last week in Mexico City with policymakers, NGOs, think tanks and other experts to understand how this MOU could help propel Mexico and California forward, and serve as an important impetus for even broader ambitious action.

What we heard repeatedly, especially from those close to the California-Mexico climate agreement, was optimism and a multitude of perspectives on ripe opportunities to work together.

The MOU itself outlines cooperative work on policy and technical tools, such as putting a price on carbon (the price being a key ingredient to drive investment in low-carbon technologies and increased efficiency); potential harmonization of measurement, monitoring, and tracking of greenhouse gas emissions; and promoting the development of renewable energy (an area where California has enormous expertise and Mexico a huge untapped potential).

California’s bet on win-wins for the environment and the economy is paying dividends, with a state economy back on track after weathering a recession and implementing the second largest cap-and-trade program in the world. And California sees the lion’s share of green investments in the country, with green job growth outpacing all other sectors ten-fold.

Mexico has the opportunity to strengthen its investment in a green economy and benefit the health of its citizens and the planet, while showing itself as a shining example of global vision and leadership. And in California, it has found the ideal partner to help make it happen.

Could the energy on both sides fizzle? Could Mexico’s President decide to walk away from Mexico’s climate leadership?

Sure, it’s possible – but it’s hard to make a case for doing so. The very same strategies reduce emissions – improvements in technology, efficiency, increasing green investment, and making smart decisions on fuels, transportation, and infrastructure – also provide short- and long-term economic gains for Mexico, and ultimately, could do so for the entire region.

Governor Brown spoke passionately last week about the reality and the urgency of climate change, and both governments reflected a sincere desire to do something real to make a difference together. For my part, I was convinced – now it’s time to get down to work.


Also posted in Mexico| 1 Response
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