November 5, 2009
Barcelona, Spain – With the U.S. Congress still struggling to agree on sharp cuts in greenhouse gases or how to fund them, European officials said Thursday they were now striving for a political agreement instead of a new treaty to allow the U.S. and other rich nations to make commitments that are not legally binding.
The revised thinking was an implicit admission of defeat: the two-year timetable for crafting a landmark treaty will miss its deadline, and that failure threatens to deepen the distrust between rich countries and poor nations reeling from drought and failing crops caused by persistently warmer weather.
The treaty had been due to be completed in December at a 192-nation conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.
European and U.N. officials are now suggesting a political deal, rather than a legal accord, that would rely on commitments from both wealthy and developing countries. Industrial countries would commit to firm targets for reducing emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and allocating funds for poor countries, while developing countries would specify their plans for low-carbon growth.
Such a deal would not be legally binding, but would carry the authority of world leaders who would come to Copenhagen to sign off on it. Nations would agree to stick to their promises while they continue negotiating the details of a treaty, taking as long as another year.
The delay is significant. The only instrument for controlling carbon emissions, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, expires in 2012. Unless a new treaty is in place by then, no regulations will exist, threatening chaos among industries relying on predictable rules for their business development.
"People are more and more talking about a framework ... that you clarify further in the following months," said Artur Runge-Metzger, chief delegate from the European Union Commission.Despite the troubled passage of U.S. legislation, delegates at the U.N. talks in Spain had not given up hope the Obama administration will bring specific pledges to the final round of negotiations in Copenhagen.
Success at Copenhagen "depends very much on President Obama himself, on ... whether he can put numbers on the table or not," Runge-Metzger said.
Legislation working its way through Congress would reduce U.S. emissions by about 4 percent below 1990 levels. The Europeans and developing countries have complained, however, about the Washington's "low ambitions."
Former Vice President Al Gore, who won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for highlighting global warming, suggested the U.S. may not need the legislation to pass to help secure a global agreement next month.
Gore said in an interview with The Associated Press that draft U.S. legislation "that reflects consensus support, carrying realistic expectation of 60 votes" needed to pass in the Senate, would make the chances better than 50-50 that 192 nations could reach an agreement.
"That's the threshold that will enable the United States to play the leadership role the rest of the world expects of us," Gore said in Washington.The downsizing of ambitions for the treaty after two years of difficult global negotiations left developing countries and lobby groups despondent.
"We are completely dismayed by the shuffling of feet and sliding backward of the developed countries," said Raman Mehta, program manager in India for global anti-poverty agency ActionAid.Following pleas by European leaders in Washington this week, Senate Democrats sidestepped a Republican boycott and pushed a climate bill out of committee. Other committees still must weigh in and the partisan antics cast a pall over the legislation — one of Obama's top priorities.
"This is a very good start," Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., said. "It is regrettable that we could not move forward in a more constructive way."Specter said the vote would send a positive signal to other countries before the Copenhagen conference.
"It is not the best signal, but it is a signal that the Senate is ready to move forward," he said.But U.S. delays appear to have already jeopardized global commitment toward concluding a legally binding treaty next month.
Yvo De Boer, the U.N. official who is shepherding the talks, has urged negotiators to consider a transition agreement that would be adopted by consensus among the 192 countries. The proposal would delay the politically explosive question of the format the final agreement will take. Developing countries insist an amended Kyoto Protocol be the central document of a new treaty. The United States wants nothing to do with the protocol.
In private consultations, de Boer has proposed drafting an overarching statement of long-term objectives, and a series of supplemental decisions on technology transfers, rewards for halting deforestation and building infrastructure in poor countries to adapt to global warming, delegates said.
These agreements would be appended with annexes listing the emission reduction targets of all industrial countries; details of actions developing countries will take to lower the growth of emissions; a list of financial pledges by wealthy countries; and an outline of a new body for dispersing the funds, over which developing countries have control.
Though lacking grounding in international law, any decision accepted by all countries at Copenhagen would be "morally binding," de Boer said.
Even an interim deal would clear the way to mobilize funds to help poor countries. The EU has said euro5 billion to euro7 billion ($7.4 billion to $10.4 billion) will be needed in the next three years for developing nations to begin planning their first steps toward controlling their emissions and protecting themselves against the effects of climate change.
The EU calculated that $150 billion (euro101 billion) a year will be needed by 2020 to fight climate change in the developing world.
There was no sign that developing nations were backing away from their demands for next month's meeting — including that industrial nations pledge to reduce emissions by at least 40 percent of their 1990 levels by 2020. Scientists say at least a 25-40 percent reduction from those levels is required to avert climate catastrophe.
"What we can't do is keep the whole thing open and wait and see whatever comes out of the U.S., because the only possibility then is that the whole thing gets dragged down," said Antonio Hall of Oxfam International.Alden Meyer, policy director at the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists, played down the political maneuvering and noted that the climate issue was now on the agenda for every major summit over the next month.
On Friday, finance ministers from the Group of 20 industrial and developing nations will discuss climate funding at a summit in St. Andrews, Scotland, and climate will dominate Oct. 18-19 talks in London by the 17 nations in the Major Economies Forum.
Al Gore’s Sequel to "An Inconvenient Truth" Recruits World Religions for a Holy War on Climate ChangeBy Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
November 3, 2009
Al’s Gore’s much-anticipated sequel to An Inconvenent Truth is published today, with an admission that facts alone will not persuade Americans to act on global warming and that appealing to their spiritual side is the way forward.
In his latest book, Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, the man who won a Nobel prize in 2007 for his touring slideshow on disappearing polar ice and other consequences of climate change, concludes: “Simply laying out the facts won’t work.”
Instead, Gore tells Newsweek magazine in a pre-publication interview, that he has been adapting his fact-based message – now put out by hundreds of volunteers – to appeal to those who believe there is a moral or religious duty to protect the planet.
“I’ve done a Christian [-based] training program; I have a Muslim training program and a Jewish training program coming up, also a Hindu program coming up. I trained 200 Christian ministers and lay leaders here in Nashville in a version of the slide show that is filled with scriptural references. It’s probably my favourite version, but I don’t use it very often because it can come off as proselytising,” Gore tells Newsweek.Gore’s book arrives at a time of intense international scrutiny of America’s moves on the environment ahead of an international meeting on global warming at Copenhagen, now just more than a month away.
It draws on the scholarly approach Gore developed for Inconvenient Truth. Since 2007, the former vice-president has been calling experts together from fields ranging from agriculture to neuroscience to discuss possible solutions to climate change.
The book draws on 30 such “solutions summits,” as well as Gore’s countless telephone conversations with scientists at America’s best institutions. According to the book’s press release:
“Among the most unique approaches Gore takes in the book is showing readers how our own minds can be an impediment to change.”New polling last month showed a steep decline in the numbers of Americans who share Gore’s sense of urgency in acting on climate change.
The book aims to reach those Americans by familiarising readers with emerging alternative energy sources, such as geothermal, biomass and wind power, as well as the possibilities of making cleaner coal power plants, and developing a more efficient and responsive “smart” electrical grid.
Gore also explores how deforestation, soil erosion, and the rising world population are multiplying the effects of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
Much of the material was developed through the series of brainstorming sessions organised by Gore. Since 2007, the former vice-president has been calling experts together to discuss possible solutions to climate change. He has also held countless telephone conversations with scientists at America’s best institutions.
“He is one of the only politicians that takes the time to actually talk to scientists who are producing the cutting-edge stuff and he comes in with questions. He doesn’t ask us how our results impinge on a particular policy he actually asks about science,” said Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who spoke to Gore along with colleagues four or five times for the book. “Nobody that we have dealt with has ever taken as much time to understand the subtlety of the science and all the different complications and what it all means as Al Gore.”Those conversations led Gore to politically inconvenient conclusions in this new book. In his conversations with Schmidt and other colleagues at the beginning of the year, Gore explored new studies – published only last week – that show methane and black carbon or soot had a far greater impact on global warming than previously thought. Carbon dioxide – while the focus of the politics of climate change – produces around 40% of the actual warming.
Gore acknowledged to Newsweek that the findings could complicate efforts to build a political consensus around the need to limit carbon emissions.
“Over the years I have been among those who focused most of all on CO2, and I think that’s still justified,” he told the magazine. “But a comprehensive plan to solve the climate crisis has to widen the focus to encompass strategies for all” of the greenhouse culprits identified in the Nasa study.The former vice-president has been working behind the scenes to try to nudge the White House and Congress to move forward on a 920-page proposed law to cut America’s greenhouse gas emissions and encourage its use of clean energy sources like solar and wind power.
On Saturday, he told the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, he was “almost certain” Obama would attend the negotiations. The White House has so far refused to make a commitment.
But Gore has also been confronted with almost daily fresh reminders of the difficulties of prodding Americans to action.
The proposed legislation has set off a ferocious debate about the costs of dealing with climate change – with conservative Democrats and Republicans saying reducing America’s use of oil will deepen unemployment and hurt average American families.
Republicans in the Senate have threatened to boycott a session today that had been called to move forward a draft of a 920-page proposed law to deal with climate change.
Progress on the bill is seen as crucial to getting a binding deal at Copenhagen. Barbara Boxer, the chair of the Senate’s environment and public works committee, said yesterday she was ready to move ahead without any Republican participation.
"Animism, naturalistic pantheism, Gaia theory — there are various belief systems that deify the natural world. But should a fervent belief in the need to fight climate change be given the same legal protection as an actual religion? A London judge said yes, ruling this week that environmentalism should carry the same legal weight as religion under Britain's employment laws." - Eben Harrell, Environmentalism, the British Religion, Time, November 6, 2009