EDF Talks Global Climate

In Bangkok talks, countries grapple with transition to new climate regime

The latest round of UN climate negotiations in Bangkok ended today with Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres touting the talks’ “positive momentum” and “concrete progress,” and the NGO coalition Climate Action Network sounding notably less enthusiastic.

Above: Delegates met in Bangkok for a week of climate negotiations to prepare for the major conference later this year in Doha. (Photo credit: flickr user UNclimatechange)

Environmental Defense Fund Attorney Alex Hanafi said in EDF’s closing statement:

In Bangkok, it became clearer still that the prospect of a new climate deal that calls for all countries to do their part to lower emissions is still in its very early stages, and countries are grappling with how to transition from the old regime to a still as-yet-undefined new one.

Outside the slogging UN negotiations, however, momentum for action on climate change continues growing at national, regional and state levels. For instance, Alex said:

Australia and Europe’s agreeing to link their carbon markets last month is the latest example of the kind of international cooperation needed to stitch together climate action into a whole that will be greater than the sum of its parts.

The next — and the year’s biggest — round of international negotiations begins in November in Doha, Qatar.

In Doha, Alex said, countries’ success will be measured by their ability to do two things:

  1. expeditiously resolve their differences on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, and
  2. then focus on making substantive progress toward achieving a strong, enforceable and flexible climate agreement by 2015.
Posted in Bangkok, UN negotiations / Leave a comment

Obama urged to resist aviation industry calls for blocking airline pollution law

Leading U.S. environmental groups today sent a letter to President Obama urging him to resist the aviation industry’s calls to block a European law that limits pollution from aviation.

Environmental groups called on President Obama today to lead a global effort to “craft a meaningful global approach on aviation carbon pollution.”  (White House photo credit: Flickr user LollyKnit)

The European law is the only program in the world that sets enforceable limits on carbon emissions from aviation; that pollution is growing so quickly, it’s projected to quadruple from 2005 levels by 2050 if left unregulated.

But the aviation industry has been calling for the U.S. government to block the law by bringing a so-called “Article 84” international legal case in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The letter, signed by 15 environmental groups and the U.S. Climate Action Network, which represents more than 80 U.S. environmental groups and millions of members, said filing such a formal proceeding to block the law

would be highly inconsistent with your Administration’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution from other sources, and would undermine your Administration’s stated goal of achieving an agreed framework in ICAO to limit global warming pollution from international aviation …

[C]alls for such a proceeding must be viewed for what they truly are: not an effort to improve ICAO’s odds of achieving a global solution, but rather a means of reducing the likelihood that ICAO takes meaningful action on carbon pollution from international aviation – while simultaneously obviating the world’s only program that is now actually doing so. In short, an Article 84 proceeding is at base a transparent effort to allow airlines to evade responsibility for their carbon pollution in perpetuity …

[Y]our Administration should lead the effort in ICAO to craft a meaningful global approach on aviation carbon pollution, working together with airlines and civil society.

CEOs from the following groups signed the letter: 350.org; Center for Biological Diversity; Climate Protection Campaign; Climate Solutions; Earthjustice; Environmental Defense Fund; Environment America; Environment Northeast; Greenpeace USA; Interfaith Power & Light; League of Conservation Voters; Natural Resources Defense Council; Oxfam America; Sierra Club; US Climate Action Network; and World Wildlife Fund US.

View the letter from environmental groups to the president.

Posted in Aviation, News / Leave a comment

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.


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?

Posted in Aviation, News / 1 Response

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

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

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 / 2 Responses