Posted by: eengelh | December 21, 2007

Bali’s Carbon Footprint

tree_small.jpgUpon returning to Washington, D.C., I decided that it was time to take stockthat is, carbon stock. My travels took me more than 20,000 miles round-trip, and as one reader of this blog aptly pointed out, the 10,000 people who traveled to the Bali climate conference racked up quite a carbon footprint in the course of their efforts to help abate climate changethe UN estimated about 47,000 tons total. Some media reports put the number as high as 100,000 tons and compare the meeting’s greenhouse gas emissions to driving 20,000 cars for a year or the annual emissions of the African state of Chad.

Before the word “hypocrite” gets thrown about too loosely, however, many people thought about this before the conference. For example, the meeting’s convener, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), announced during the conference that it will offset the 3,370 tons of carbon dioxide generated by the travel of UN staff, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And the Indonesian government planted 79 million trees before the meeting, which they estimated would absorb the emissions of the entire meeting. (Tree projects are tricky, though; it’s hard to say how many of the trees will survive, and eventually they will die and re-release carbon dioxide.)

Any “offset” is basically a way to cancel out greenhouse gas emissions in one place by reducing greenhouse gases someplace else. For example, the UN will offset its staff travel by investing about $100,000 into the Kyoto Protocol’s Adaptation Fund, which ultimately will go to projects that reduce emissions in developing countries. The money might go to planting trees that take up carbon dioxide, or to reducing the production in China of potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are made in the manufacture of refrigerants.

Some organizations and delegations traveling to Bali also purchased their own offsets, including the U.K.’s 40-person team and 80 people from the environmental group WWF International.

As for me, I went online to find out how much carbon I burned getting to Bali. There are many good carbon calculators available, and the three I tried placed my emissions between 3.7 and 5.3 tons of carbon dioxide. According to Carbonfund.org (their tagline: Reduce what you can, offset what you can’t), I can cancel out my Bali emissions for about $20. They’ll invest my 20 bucks in projects that support renewable energy (such as wind and solar) and energy efficiency, and in forestry projects.

Offsetting may not be as good as avoiding emissions in the first place, but at least it’s a start. Looks like it’s time for me to pay up.

Posted by: eengelh | December 15, 2007

We Have A Roadmap!

After a dramatic turnaround by the U.S. on Saturday, stressed and exhausted negotiators agreed on a two-year plan, the Bali Roadmap, for the next international agreement on tackling climate change. Talks dragged on a day longer than scheduled and were revived when the U.S. accepted a compromise agreement.

It’s still a long road: as expected, there are no binding commitments to greenhouse gas cuts in the document. And the agreement provides only a starting point for negotiations that will end in Copenhagen in 2009. However, the new map does lay out some key points along the way and made significant progress in some areas. The roadmap recognizes that “deep cuts in global emissions will be required.” It recognizes an urgent need to reduce greenhouse gases from deforestation and encourages nations to establish pilot projects to address deforestation. And it calls for greater investment in helping developing countries adapt to climate change and obtain the clean technologies, such as renewable energy, that they need to maintain economic development while keeping their own emissions down.

Language was removed from the preamble recognizing that emissions must begin to decline within 10-15 years as well as the importance of negotiating a target range for developed countries of 25-40% cuts below 1990 levels by 2020, but there is a footnote that keeps a reference to that target and timetable in the roadmap. The final preamble emphasizes “the urgency to address climate change as indicated in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.” The word “urgency” is footnoted, with a reference to pages in the IPCC (pages 39 and 90, here, and also page 776 here). Those pages reference targets and timetables for cuts–how much must be cut, and how fast. Page 776 is important, because it contains a table of emissions reduction ranges needed to stabilize greenhouse gases at certain levels. And one of those is the very range that was cut from the preamble: 25-40% cuts below 1990 levels by 2020 in Annex 1 (i.e. industrialized) nations in order to stabilize greenhouse gases at 450 ppm. That’s an important recognition of IPCC science as a basis for negotiations, and it means that specific science-based emissions targets are not absent entirely from the document.

Read the full text of the Bali Roadmap here and read more details about all of the decisions that came out of the meeting here.

We will all continue to pore over and pick over this document for some time, but early response seems positive, and there is a real sense of a turning point here in Bali.

Posted by: eengelh | December 14, 2007

Papers that are non-papers

The press conference room is cool enough for a nap. Half a dozen reporters are camped out on the padded, scratchy seats, heads hanging to the side, trying to catch a few winks before the U.S. delegation holds its next press conference. The negotiators are secreted away behind closed doors now, and until they come out with a Bali Roadmap (probably late tonight or early tomorrow morning), there’s little to do but wait. Wait, and spread rumors, that is.

two-million_crop_small.jpgThe current rumor is that the U.S. is winning its battle to strip a target range for emissions reductions by developed countries from the Bali Roadmap, the plan for how the UN will proceed with climate negotiations when the first period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012. But it’s a rumor; we don’t know what will happen. The rumors fill our time. The latest publicly available draft is here. In the twisted parlance of UN negotiations, this paper is called a non-paper. It’s a working document, not final. Everyone is trying to sneak peeks at one another’s non-papers, like schoolchildren cheating on the test.

Earlier, I sat sipping coffee and chatting with a woman from an oil-producing country when chief U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson sat down across from us. I strained to overhear his conversation with a colleague, but caught nothing more than occasional phrases. The woman I was talking to pulled documents from her bag, a couple of today’s draft versions of the roadmap that a delegate had passed on to her. More non-papers.

In one version, the range of 25-40% emission cuts for developed countries appeared, and in another, it did not. Both versions still contained language recognizing that emissions must begin to decline within 10-15 years. If the range is included, as the EU and most developing countries want, it will not bind nations to any target, but will serve as a starting point for negotiations that will go on for the next two years.

Watson ate a sandwich, then headed off. He didn’t look to me like someone who thought things were going well, or going poorly. He just looked like someone who has seen most of this before. In previous years, negotiations have often dragged late into the night, and one delegate said today that negotiations seem to proceed at a rate of about one sentence per day.

Outside, environmental groups are staging a steady stream of demonstrations in the hot sun, like the one (shown above) that presented to delegates a petition signed by more than 2 million people urging action on climate change. Inside, it’s as calm as the eye of a storm.

Posted by: eengelh | December 12, 2007

The Talk Gets Serious in Bali

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Today, ministers and heads of state descended on Bali. Men with guns seemed to sprout up everywhere overnight, and the convention staff and taxi drivers looked almost alarmed at the sudden swell in crowds and security.

There was a new tension in the air. News of the bombing of UN headquarters in Algeria led to official statements denouncing the violence; of dozens killed in the blasts, at least 11 were UN employees. Before the U.S. delegation’s press conference, the press was required to clear out so that security could sweep the room.

Beyond the seeming chaos of black SUVs and bodies pushing to enter the convention center, there was a very tight order in Bali today. Access to the opening ceremony was limited, and ministers gave speeches prepared months in advance.

There were hopeful moments, as well. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd handed over a freshly-signed copy of the Kyoto Protocol in a private meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the meeting and was warmly applauded in the opening ceremony.

And work continued on a draft of the Bali roadmap (an early draft of the roadmap is available here). Environmental groups worry that its content is being seriously watered down in negotiations. “We are very close to a stalemate,” said Stephan Singer of WWF International. “Whatever we lose here is not coming back,” he added, expressing concern over continued wrangling over the inclusion of a target range for emissions cuts.

The talk was serious today; now we will see what happens when talks get serious behind closed doors.

Posted by: eengelh | December 11, 2007

Rich-Poor Divide Blocks Progress

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

Bali, Indonesia—

kyoto-cake_blog.jpgConflicts among nations, particularly over the interests of developed versus developing countries, stab at the heart of every decision being considered in Bali.

Today, on the Kyoto Protocol’s tenth anniversary, nations squabbled over a call in the Bali roadmap for developed nations to reduce their emissions by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020. The U.S. strongly opposes the range, even though it would be non-binding, says lead U.S. negotiator Harlan Watson. The U.S. wants “a Bali roadmap that will set up a negotiation process to be completed by 2009,” Watson says, and setting any target now would mean “starting out with a predetermined answer” to those negotiations. Developing nations counter that rich nations must bear a large share of the burden.

Read More…

Posted by: eengelh | December 7, 2007

A Skeptic on the Side in Bali

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Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

This morning as I sat bleary-eyed in the press room, a flyer landed on my desk with the provocative title, “The IPCC’s Scientific Fraud.” The IPCC is the scientific body that informs the UN on climate change, and they were scheduled hours later to present their comprehensive 2007 climate report to be entered into official record for consideration during the Bali negotiations.

The flyer went on to request the pleasure of my company at a briefing by The Viscount Christopher Monckton of Brenchley (photo, above), a British climate skeptic who was involved in the recent court case which attempted to ban Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” from UK schools. Lord Monckton, as he is known formally, vigorously denies that humans are changing the climate.

Curious, I headed to Monckton’s talk to see what he would say at a conference filled with thousands of professionals devoted to stopping climate change. He spoke in a small conference room outside the official meeting venue. A handful of fellow skeptics (some scientists prefer to call them deniers) had gathered with several scientists and journalists.

Read More…

Posted by: eengelh | December 6, 2007

Scientists Call for Climate Action

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

somerville_blog.jpgScientists put in their own two cents on climate policy at today’s meeting. More than 200 prominent climate scientists from around the world have signed a statement calling for negotiators in Bali to set aggressive new targets for curbing greenhouse gases.

The scientists say that a post-Kyoto treaty must be negotiated by 2009 and should aim to reduce emissions by at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. Global emissions must begin to decline within the next 10-15 years, they say, in order to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas levels at 450 parts per million (in CO2-equivalent concentration) and keep the global average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. The statement and a list of scientists who signed it is available at http://www.climate.unsw.edu.au/bali/.

Leading climate experts were invited to sign the statement, according to Richard Somerville (photo above) of the University of California San Diego, who was in Bali along with scientists from Australia and the U.K. to present the statement. Somerville is a climate modeler and coordinating lead author for Working Group I of the IPCC (science and impacts). “The IPCC does not advocate policy,” he said, so this statement gave scientists a chance to give their informed opinion on policy by allowing them to speak in a private capacity. Read More…

Posted by: eengelh | December 5, 2007

Warming up in Bali

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

The climate in Bali is appropriately sweltering for talks on global warming. Meeting rooms simmer with sticky crowds, and one packed side event took on the distinct aroma of a locker room. The mood here is heating up as well.

fossil_blog1.jpgDespite repeated assurances from UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer that this meeting will lay out only a process for post-2012 agreements, leaving the negotiation of emission reduction targets for later, countries are already starting to jostle one another for position on the roadmap. Just days after Australia signed onto Kyoto, there’s concern about whether the country will support reduction targets that are in line with most other developed nations.

And developed and developing countries are lining up on opposite sides of a brewing debate over technology transfer projects that bring clean technologies to developing nations. Japan and the U.S. want to protect intellectual property rights, while many developing nations are eager to push forward with more of these projects as one way to maintain development goals under a post-2012 framework.

At the end of each day, one nation is singled out for really getting in the way of negotiations. The Fossil-of-the-Day Award is announced with great tongue-in-cheek fanfare each evening, complete with national flags planted in bags of coal. Winners are chosen by members of the Climate Action Network, a group of more than 400 non-governmental organizations. Members of a youth delegation, above, accepted awards on behalf of the winners.

Tonight, Saudi Arabia claimed first prize (as it has many times) for complaining in the morning session about an unfair focus on CO2, while maintaining that CO2-focused carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects (that clearly benefit an oil-producing nation) should be a high priority. Japan took second place for pushing to count CCS as a clean development mechanism, and the EU came in third for holding up changes in managing funds for adaptation to climate change.

Posted by: eengelh | December 4, 2007

New Greenpeace Proposal to Save Forests and Cut CO₂

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

While Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol, I finished my trek to Bali, arriving late Monday night. I jumped into the meeting with an issue I’ll be following closely in Bali: the push to provide incentives for developing nations to cut CO2 emissions from deforestation, which now accounts for about 20% of global emissions and the majority of emissions from some countries, such as Brazil and Indonesia.

Greenpeace panelAt a side event held by Greenpeace on Tuesday, the environmental group released a new report outlining a proposal for halting deforestation in the tropics. (With a 13-hour lag from Bali to U.S. Eastern time; Tuesday night in Bali is Tuesday morning on the U.S. east coast.) The key, they said, is to provide incentives for countries to avoid deforestation, rather than helping them only to restore deforested areas. The event was one of many such meetings held by countries and organizations alongside the main COP events.

The Greenpeace plan calls for establishing a new international trading credit, called a Tropical Deforestation Emission Reduction Unit, which would be traded separately from carbon credits used under the Kyoto Protocol. Industrialized nations would buy a minimum number of credits under a post-Kyoto agreement, separate from their required energy-sector emission reductions. This would help keep developed nations “on the hook” for their own emissions, rather than allowing them to maintain high emissions at home while buying into offset projects abroad.

Read More…

Posted by: eengelh | December 4, 2007

Kicking off with Kyoto

Filed by Erika Engelhaupt

The conference started on Monday with the news that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd officially signed on to the Kyoto Protocol. The ratification was one of Rudd’s first acts in office.

The Nusa Dua conference center in BaliThe Australian delegation announced at the meeting that the Prime Minister intends to cut the country’s emissions by 60% by 2050. Some environmental groups at the meeting are already calling the goals modest. The Climate Action Network, a group of non-governmental organizations, pointed out in its summary of the day’s events that Australia has a “startlingly low baseline” that should allow easy progress toward its targets.

Many at the conference are pointing out that Australia’s ratification leaves the U.S. standing quite alone as the only industrialized nation holding out against mandatory cuts in emissions. “On the fundamentals, there’s been no shift on the part of the [Bush] administration,” said Elliot Diringer of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change at a press briefing, noting that the U.S. stuck to a vision of voluntary emission cuts at the recent G8 summit. That leaves many here looking ahead to the next administration for major change—and Pew’s president Eileen Claussen notes that a new administration likely will not be ready to negotiate until mid-2009 at the earliest.

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