22 June 2009

Nuclear energy is not a clean alternative

Here´s one more graphic from the UNEP/Grid-Arendal, which is topical given the push to promote nuclear energy as a "clean" source (in the face of much evidence to the contrary).

Geeky carbon trading related fact: Lithuania had the largest surplus of carbon credits in the first phase of the EU´s Emissions Trading Scheme, exporting 33% of its credits to other countries in the EU. The underlying reason for its surplus was the planned closure of Ignalina, a nuclear power plant with a similar design to Chernobyl, which is taking place by phases. Lithuania claimed that the replacement power generation capacity will come from dirty coal plants instead. As a result it gained a large surplus of credits, which have been sold on and treated as “emissions reductions” elsewhere - including the UK (which was the largest purchaser of credits in the first phase of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme). They are, of course, nothing of the sort.

Animal farts and burps and climate change

Source: UNEP/GRID-Arendal

Apparently the above diagram was commissioned for a UN study on carbon neutrality. The UNEP/GRID-Arendal project is a mine of weird and wonderful climate change graphics.

17 June 2009

Jonathan Pershing on the outcome of the Bonn climate talks

Jonathan Pershing is the US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, and was the lead US negotiator at the Bonn climate talks. Here´s what he had to say, and a few comments to decode its significance:

Asked about the bilateral meeting held between the US and China during the talks, he said that the US is “working for a conclusion not just here but in other forms – perhaps most notably the MEF [Major Economies Forum]”. The emphasis in these bilaterals is on a “foundation of shared understanding”. Pershing left Bonn to join Todd Stern´s delegation in Beijing for “an engaged conversation” that was “very fruitful” (Stern is Special Envoy for Climate Change, the US lead negotiator).

The timing of these bilaterals was not arbitrary - it served to keep key Chinese negotiators in Beijing, which can help to isolate them from the rest of the G77 (developing countries) grouping. It might also serve to set up a media blame game in which the US looks to China for greater commitments, despite the fact that US per capita emissions remain three times higher than those of China and are historically on a wholly different scale.

A new agreement?
“The US is of the view that we need a new agreement... we need to frame what comes next.” The US has proposed an “implementing agreement of the Convention, to which we are a party.... we are of the view that all Parties must take action, including the US, but that doesn´t excuse countries like China or Korea.” [The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in Rio in 1992, and is the legal basis for the Copenhagen talks later this year]. The US submission is “framed as a complete agreement... which frames a vision of how we might move forward.” He also noted that “we are not a party to the Kyoto Protocol.. so our intention is using the Convention structure going forward”

The key political point here relates to fears that the legal form of a new agreement could undermine the Kyoto Protocol. The latter has many negative aspects to it - most notably, it is the basis for carbon offsetting under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). But the intention is not to scrap this, but rather something called "differentiation" - dividing up the grouping of developing nations. Such a move also absolves the US of its failure to ratify Kyoto.

Pershing also emphasised a “long term strategy” in which developed countries set a quantitative limit in relation to a baseline year while for developing countries “the actions are binding but not the outcomes.” He also stated that the US plan requires that developing countries “state when they would take on these kinds of commitments” to a quantitative reduction in relation to a baseline year.

Some “additional resources” are anticipated by the US especially for the “less developed” countries, and technology is a “central part” of this discussion.

Historical Responsibility
On historical responsibility, he drew attention to remarks by Stern at the last meeting in Bonn, summarising in these terms: “we recognise as a matter of fact that the US has historical responsibility for the largest share of emissions going back” and recognising also that the US has a “significant capacity” to take action.

Redefining "finance" within a private investment framework
The “vast majority” of the money for tackling climate change is private finance, Pershing said. The aim is to “leverage the various tools at our disposal to shift these investments” so we need a “marginal shift” to do this. He explained that the money concerned is not the whole cost of projects but, for example, the difference between regular coal power and CCS, or between “low till and no till agriculture.”

On public finance, he noted that public finance is generally emphasised in the UN context and said that “we´d like to change that debate”. In this regard, he highlighted offsets as a means to “provide substantial streams of money” if they are “scaled appropriately.”

Instead of paying the US climate debt, the proposal here is to reframe the issue in order to open new markets for the private sector.

14 June 2009

Divide and rule: the politics of climate negotiations

Want to know how global treaties get stitched up? You could do far worse than read this new briefing by Oilwatch International. It outlines the following tactics to force a treat in the interest of the developed countries at the expense of a just climate deal:
  • Controlling the discourse. Shape the narrative and expectations of negotiators and the public about what constitutes success and failure – including misleading the media.
  • Ambush and push. Seeking a sudden deal before developing countries have time to assess the implications.

  • Mischaracterizing policy as science. This is a way to depoliticise the claims of the powerful – for example, by arguing that IPCC reports make recommendations about the north/south balance of action to tackle climate change.

  • Obscuring the details. Setting goals and expectations in different statistical terms, making the implications difficult to evaluate and compare

  • Building a Trojan Horse. The inclusion of developed country officials or consultants in developing country delegations, who then mischaracterise their positions.

  • Carving out special deals. Splitting up developing countries by offering special deals to sub-groups – for example, in relation to market access in trade negotiations, or in relation to aid provisions.

  • Establishing new groupings of countries. Breaking the ties between developing country groupings by championing new groupings – normally, by developed countries defining that sub-grouping in relation to “favourable treatment” offered in the form of a special deal

  • Setting up the blame game. Characterising larger developing countries as “reluctant” while championing the unambitious efforts of developed country governments.

  • Divide and rule narratives. For example, seeking to juxtapose a “right to survival” narrative of some developing countries with a “right to development” narrative of others – shifting attention from developed country obligations.

  • Forum shopping. Larger developed countries and country groupings – such as the European Union – coordinate actions across a number of different forums – eg. in negotiations outside the climate arena, where officials who do not know the issues are encouraged to ratify positions that circumvent negotiating stances in the climate talks.

  • Establishing other forums. New forums are also created to circumvent the UNFCCC process – the Major Economies Forum being a notable example. This is also part of agenda-setting and media messaging for the formal negotiations

  • Inappropriate chairing and biased texts. Circumventing the proper channels to advance biased negotiating texts, which are ordered to reflect industrialised country interests – for example, by using developed country proposals as the basic structure, while lumping developing country submissions together in a single block.

  • Green rooms. “In the context of the WTO, small group settings – or “green rooms – have been used to cut deals between small groups of powerful countries, with participation (often largely symbolic) by “representatives” of other countries. Green rooms have provided a means for isolating “problematic” countries, advancing negotiations with relatively inexperienced ministers, or excluding key negotiators (on the basis of insufficient seniority). ”

  • Green men. Another WTO trick, through which Chairs appoint individuals to “facilitate” consensus on specific issues the development of consensus on specific issues.... forcing the agenda to a biased conclusion.

  • Moving up the ladder. Ministerial-level meetings and Summits are sometimes used to marginalizes and overturn the positions of developing country negotiators who “know too much” and are therefore seen as obstacles by developed countries to achieving their interests.

  • Use of non-governmental organizations. NGOs cane be useful, but can also be used to do the dirty work of gathering intelligence and lobbying of the developed country governments who fund them

13 June 2009

Climate Camel

As if the world of UN climate talks weren´t surreal enough, Avaaz brought camels to Bonn. Their presence was meant to highlight how climate change exacerbates the threat of desertification. Given the under-representation of those at the frontline of desertification in these talks, it just looked a bit crass.

11 June 2009

2009 International Climate Calendar: Diversions in the Road to Copenhagen

The Pew Center has produced a useful overview of the major events in the negotiations for a global climate treaty between now and Copenhagen. It is worth comparing with this earlier effort:

Although it was not the point of the Pew Center´s exercise, this clearly shows how the formal UN climate talks going sit within a larger structure of inter-governmental meetings driven by the major industrialised countries - with the Major Economies Forum, initiated by George Bush and revived by Barack Obama, taking an increasingly crucial role. This, in turn, overlaps with the G8.

One of the notable facts about the "one bracket and comma at a time" snore-fest that is the Bonn climate negotiations is how the US lead negotiator Todd Stern skipped the session to go to China instead, with senior negotiators from there held back too. This is a fairly transparent divide and rule game, which aims to isolate China from the rest of the G77, the grouping of developing nations - thereby decreasing their influence. It also plays to a domestic audience, where the US government is setting up to blame China for failures in the climate talks, despite the massive historical and present gap between the two countries when it comes to their contribution to climate change.

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists had this to say about the record: "The G8 summit before Kyoto was when President Clinton redoubled US efforts on Kyoto which led ultimately to Al Gore coming to Kyoto to help negotiate a final deal." And we all know how that worked out.

09 June 2009

Punch and Judy on the Climate: Bonn negotiations

Oh yes you did! Oh no you didn´t!

The regular Punch and Judy show that is the UN climate talks is currently underway in Bonn. As ever, everyone is talking up the need for emissions reductions made by someone else – with the industrialised nations seeking out every opportunity to avoid their historical responsibility for tackling a problem that they were overwhelmingly responsible for causing in the first place.

This debate is currently being played out in a working group on the Kyoto Protocol, the existing global climate treaty. The aim is to reach new targets for emissions reductions by industrialised countries (called “annex 1” countries in the jargon) but few commitments are on the table. Broadly speaking, there is a split between developing countries, which want the industrialised nations to commit to deep cuts in carbon emissions domestically, and developed countries which want to discuss the issue within a broader framework for “offsets”.

These discussions are currently in some trouble – with developed countries leading moves to “kill” the Kyoto Protocol. The US and others hope that this will revert the discussion to one in which the developed/developing world divide will be weakened, forcing the latter to take on further commitments. These are likely to take the form of voluntary “nationally appropriate mitigation plans” (NAMAs) and a variety of “sectoral” approaches. The language comes from the Bali Action Plan, but the developed countries are pushing an interpretation that stresses market-based approaches – for example, allowing NAMAs to generate carbon credits that can be sold back to developed countries as a means for them to avoid meeting their commitments at home.

Another key trend is the move towards more secretive and selective negotiations. As noted in a previous post, there are numerous meetings to shape a global climate agreement that are happening outside the UN framework. These are being accompanied by move towards a WTO-style Green Room process. This means that powerful countries will hand pick negotiators for particular aspects of the treaty, with a view to locking in their favoured outcome. With Ministers and Heads of State, rather than professional climate negotiators, sitting around the table – a bad (and somewhat absurd) deal would be a likely result.

That´s not the way to do it!

05 June 2009

Carbon Trading: From Washington to Bonn

With a new President in the White House there's a fresh approach to climate change and energy policy in the US. But the Energy bill currently going through Congress is based on the widely-criticised "Cap & Trade" system and has been weakened further by a massive corporate lobbying campaign. How does this feed into the UN talks in Bonn in June which prepare the way for the critical meeting in Copenhagen in December? I recently spoke to the 300-350 climate radio show about this very topic. Listen online

04 June 2009

Stepping around the UN: how and where is a global climate agreement being made?

All sorts of misplaced hopes are currently being pinned on a global climate agreement, due to be reached at the UN climate conference in December. As things stand, the negotiating texts are fairly dire as regards action to tackle climate change, since they are framed around expanding market mechanisms and displacing action onto Southern countries. A key part of this has to do with how the debate is framed around "least cost" action rather than what is environmentally effective or socially just.

So while the talks currently underway in Bonn set out negotiating texts, working these over in excruciating detail, the framework they adopt is set out elsewhere. What follows here is a quick sketch of some of the key initiatives shaping the global treaty that exist outside of the formal UN process.


* G8. The Group of Eight remains a key body for setting the global climate agenda in a business-friendly manner, even though it may eventually be eclipsed by the G20. A first tier of corporate lobby influence includes the participation of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and World Economic Forum (WEF). The World Bank and various Regional Development Banks also play a vital role. Second tier initiatives include Globe (currently chaired by Steven Byers MP, the former UK Trade and Industry Minister); and the Club of Madrid and UN Foundation (the former is a group of ex-Presidents, the latter a private organisation), which have advanced various principles at the G8 which have then found their way into the formal climate negotiations. The G8´s work to shape a global climate agreement started in earnest during the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, when Tony Blair launched the Gleneagles Dialogue.

* Major economies forum. Started by Bush and revived by Obama, this club of industrialised nations is now holding monthly meetings of representatives from: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Denmark (as chair of COP 15) and the UN also participate. A heads of state meeting of this grouping will convene at the G8 in Italy in July.

* World Business Summit on Climate Change: for a quick report, see here. This was hosted by the WBCSD, Copenhagen Climate Council, 3C, World Economic Forum (WEF), the Climate Group and the UN Global Compact.

* World Economic Forum hosts its own Climate Change Initiative, as well as carrying forward proposals at regional meetings. A "World Economic Forum Business Expert Task Force on Low-Carbon Economic Prosperity" which partners the WEF with the UK government will deliver recommendations in autumn 2009.

* Global business groupings: WBCSD and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) are the key bodies. The WBCSD, in particular, has been instrumental in pushing "sectoral carbon markets", which would expand the use of carbon offsets - as well as undermining attempts to waive intellectual property rules so that low-carbon technologies can be developed more quickly.

* Climate specific business grouping.

Project Catalyst is crucial here. With support from the consultancy McKinsey, its working groups include "a total of about 150 climate negotiators, senior government officials, representatives of multilateral institutions, business executives, and leading experts from over 30 countries." The UK government is heavily represented amongst these.

The Climate Group is also influential, with a task force on the climate agreement led by Tony Blair. As Henrey Derwent, CEO of the International Emissions Trading Association, IETA (and formerly the head of climate policy for DEFRA, in which role he played a crucial role in G8 negotiations in 2005) puts it: “PricewaterhousCoopers and the Climate Group have done a lot of work on scaling up the CDM [Clean Development Mechanism].” Their recommendations can be found here.

3C is an initiative of CEOs of major companies, hosted by Swedish energy giant Vattenfall.

IETA is an associating that promotes a global carbon market, as well as suggesting business-friendly rules for how those markets are governed.

Regional, national and sectoral

* Below this lies a far broader network of sectoral, regional and national lobbying - far too exhaustive to list here.

* USCAP is key in the push for carbon markets in the USA. It lines up alongside more powerful industry bodies that oppose or seek to water down all climate legislation. A good breakdown can be found here.

* The EU climate and energy package, passed in December 2008, was lobbied hard by numerous industry sectors. Avril Doyle MEP, the centre-right Irish MP who was rapporteur on carbon trading for the EU Parliament, suggests that German coal power and chemicals producers were loudest lobby voices.

* There are also a plethora of inter-governmental and inter-regional meetings to shape the agenda - including EU-US, US-China and EU-China bilateral meetings. US and EU carbon markets are not dependent on a global agreement, while the EU is pushing plans to link these together across the OECD (industrialised nations) by 2015.

* Most industry sectors are preparing their own plans on the climate agreement too. The head of the International Air Transport Association (a private industry body), for example, effectively pre-announced the International Civic Aviation Organisation (UN body) plan on climate at the World Business Summit - suggesting that the latter is captured by corporate interests.

Specific companies

A lot of the usual suspects are involved, but amongst the most active - either on their own or, more typically, through broader associations, are: BP, Shell and Vattenfall. PricewaterhouseCoopers and McKinsey are also very active as advisers.

02 June 2009

Business as usual on the climate

(An edited version of this article was published by The Guardian on 28 May)

When Sir Crispin Tickell had the temerity to suggest that "the business community needs to re-examine the fundamentals of economics" at the recent World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen, his discordant tone was drowned out by a chorus of over 800 delegates singing the praises of unfettered markets as a means to tackle climate change.

The commitment to carrying on with business as usual took an almost surreal form at times. Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, proudly proclaimed "The fact that I flew here for 1 1/2 hours to sit on a panel them I´m flying straight back to the US is an example of our commitment to environmental sustainability."

More worryingly, plans for low-carbon technology give the expansion of high-carbon coal power pride of place. The promotional rhetoric is of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), yet those from the power sector are blunt about its shortcomings. "One of the plants we are building is CCS ready, although to be quite frank no one really knows what that is at the moment" claimed Steve Lennon, Managing Director of South Africa´s Eskom. James Rogers, CEO of US-based Duke Energy, added that CCS is at best 15 years off and is likely to prove unfeasibly expensive if it even works at all.

The underlying problem is that business adjusts the problem of climate change to neoliberal economics, which judges value according to financial cost rather than environmental sustainability or social justice. This manifests itself in a promise to massively expand carbon markets. The idea is that governments give out a limited number of permits to pollute; the scarcity of these permits should encourage their price to rise; and the resulting additional cost to industry and power producers should encourage them to pollute less.

Jos Delbeke, Deputy Director-General for the Environment at the European Commission, was in Copenhagen claiming that this is how the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is now working. Yet his department´s own data for 2008 shows more international "offset" credits circulating than the level of claimed reductions, while lobbying pressure has resulted in a twin-track system from which every business wins.

On one side, heavy industry like the steel sector has more credits than would be needed to reduce its emissions, so it sells them. Delbeke shared a panel on carbon markets with a representative of ArcelorMittal, which alone gained an estimated subsidy of over €1 billion between 2005 and 2008 by this means.

On the other side, power companies pay less for pollution permits than the cost they pass on to consumers, generating windfall profits that could reach up to around €70 billion by 2012. The circulation of these permits does nothing to help new investment in renewables, as Zhengrong Shi, CEO of Chinese firm Suntech Power, admitted in a second session on carbon markets: "All European investment in renewables, in our sector [solar] is based on a feed-in tariff not the Emissions Trading Scheme or Clean Development Mechanism."

Carbon markets might be used to help polluting sectors avoid other obligations that are placed on them, however. As Giovanni Bisignani, Head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), put it, "If some governments still want to implement taxes [on aviation emissions], we should get carbon credits to compensate every penny of these taxes."

Other measures to avoid business obligations displace the problem of tackling climate change onto the global South. The Summit´s final Copenhagen Call talks of a crucial role for forest protection in developing countries, with the co-organisers´ Business Case for a Strong Global Deal suggesting that such measures should represent around half of the action needed to limit climate change by 2020.

These figures are taken directly from Project Catalyst, an initiative bringing together "climate negotiators, senior government officials... and business executives", whose presentation (marked confidential) more straightforwardly emphasises the "the size of the prize for business" and, in particular, the opportunities for "companies in forest management, pulp and paper, or construction" to access a "€20-30bn value chain" in developing countries.

Strikingly similar assumptions have found their way into negotiating texts on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), which will be discussed when UN climate negotiations resume in Bonn next week. Yet the whole idea that deforestation can be stopped by simply putting a price on forests is flawed, with forest communities and Indigenous Peoples warning that it will encourage further land grabs by large companies. They point to evidence that the real drivers of deforestation are the major construction, mining, logging and plantation developments whose owners stand to be rewarded by REDD funds.

These are the voices that the world should be listening to as it seeks to tackle climate change - for, as things stand, even the self-proclaimed "progressives" of big business seem to be putting profit margins above environmental need. Without a more fundamental re-examination, to paraphrase one panellist, they look more like the back end of a horse that is galloping in the wrong direction.

World Business Summit on Climate Change... quote, unquote

I have a whole notebook from the summit, which will feed a report at some point. In the meantime, here´s a selection of the "finest" quotes from day 1 of the summit...

5. “Tom Burke of [E3G, also of Rio Tinto, also of the UK Foreign Office.” - Tom Burke, overselling himself somewhat whilst proving that conflict of interest is alive and well. His registration badge said Rio Tinto.

4. “We are perhaps the only company using windfarms to generate the electricity powering our oil platforms.” - Fu Chengyu, Chief Executive Officer, China National Offshore Oil Corporation provides some Greenwash, Chinese-style.

3. “Like other industry we should pay only once. If some governments still want to implement taxes [on aviation emissions], we should get carbon credits to compensate every penny of these taxes. ... we can make aviation the first global industry to achieve carbon neutral growth and I hope it will be a model for others to follow.” - Giovanni Bisignani, Head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), presents the true reason for his industry´s promise of “carbon neutral growth” by 2050.

2. “Sustainable next generation biofuels could increase our carbon footprint by 80 per cent. We are already flying test flights with biofuels of the next generation and we will be able to certify those by 2011. For the first time aviation could have a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.” - Giovanni Bisignani of IATA, again.

1. “The fact that I flew here for 1 1/2 hours to sit on a panel them I´m flying straight back to the US is an example of our commitment to environmental sustainability." -Indra Nooyi, Chairman [sic] and CEO of PepsiCo.

Copenhagen, 24 May

Welcome to the Bella Center

The Bella Center is in the Copenhagen equivalent of London´s Docklands, and will be site of the main UN climate conference in December. Vestas have erected a wind turbine in the car park in the front, which will be dismantled again when the UN climate conference is over. The car park is full of police vans.

I arrived by metro, walking around a building site to get there. Hardly any of the delegates to the World Business Summit on Climate Change take this route though - it is all taxis and limos.

On first arrival, the staff at registration are from the World Economic Forum and from the World Business Council on Sustainable Development - two of the six co-sponsors of the summit. I was refused a copy of the participants´ list but acquired one by other means... it is a list of men from North America and the EU, headed up by a range of dignitaries including the Queen of Denmark, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Al Gore. Most participants are CEOs or senior executives, with a significant proportion of government officials too.

My first “networking” experience involved being approached by a Californian with a Willy Loman personality trying to sell me hydrothermal vents as “the greatest new source of energy since nuclear”. For the most part, though, the CEO club is too inward looking to bother me so I can slip by unnoticed for most of the three days of the Summit.

Copenhagen, 24 May


Update: Taking a page of the participants list at random, the ratio of men to women was 4:1. Four of the 43 participants named on the page were from outside of the "annex 1" industrialised countries. (I counted four other pages, where this ranged from 4 to 6 - mostly from Korea, China, South Africa and the Middle East).

The official press pack states that "The World Business Summit on Climate Change gathers more than 800 participants from 47 countries including 500 business leaders, 137 government representatives and 43 NGOs" as well as 261 journalists.