Obama Brings Movement but No New Offers to Copenhagen
President Barack Obama told the UN climate summit on Friday that he had come to "not to talk but to act." And while his lacklustre speech disappointed many who had hoped he could inject some fresh impetus into the fraught climate talks, he then proceeded to get to work behind the scenes, holding an hour of talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
China and the US, the world's two largest polluters have been at loggerheads during much of the conference but the two sides seemed to be moving ever-so-slightly together on Friday.
Before meeting with the Chinese leader, the US president told assembled leaders that the summit "was running short of time" and urged "movement on all sides." But his failure to bring anything new to the conference disappointed many observers. Some had hoped for an increase in Washington's emissions-cut pledge or that Obama might put an exact figure on the amount the US would contribute to the $100 billion fund to help poor nations to deal with the effects on climate change. But Obama merely repeating the target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 relative to 2005.
Wen, for his part, told the conference that Beijing would "honor our word with real action." "Whatever outcome this conference may produce, we will be fully committed to achieving and even exceeding the target."
The two leaders then met for an hour and after the talks an official said that they were a "step forward." The leaders then instructed their negotiators to work on a bilateral basis as well as with other countries to try to secure a deal by the close of the summit.
One of the biggest sticking points has been the developing world's insistence that the Kyoto Protocol be continued. That agreement requires only industrialized countries to make legally binding commitments to CO2 reduction. The US never ratified Kyoto, which runs out in 2012.
Another sticking point is the issue of monitoring, with China opposed to international measuring and verification of its efforts to cut emissions.
It seems that now the two sides are moving closer on the verification issue. Wen said that China would "increase transparency and actively engage in international exchange, dialogue and cooperation." Obama said in his speech, that any global climate in which "we all are not sharing information and ensuring we are meeting our commitments doesn't make sense. It would be a hollow victory." But he added: "These measures need not be intrusive or infringe upon sovereignty."
Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters that he thought Obama's speech had been "calibrated not to put things on the table at this point because of the hard-ball negotiations going on." He said that he was hopeful that the subsequent bilateral meeting cleared the air. "If China and the United States see more eye to eye on some of the flashpoint issue that has to be helpful."
IEA Chief Says Failure to Move Would Cost $500 Billion Per Year
Thousands of doctors have gathered in Copenhagen to provide treatment for a sick planet Earth. Most are concerned about its fever, but Nobuo Tanaka is more worried about the planet's pulse. Tanaka, from Japan, is the head of the International Energy Agency, and it's his job to make sure that there is enough energy to power globalization.
Tanaka's organization, headquartered in Paris, has long been considered the unofficial mouthpiece of the world's energy companies. But since the release of its 2009 World Energy Outlook, the organization has had a strong climate protection message. And in Copenhagen, Tanaka wants to have nothing to do with that old label.
The IEA, too, supports efforts to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius. The organization is also calling for the CO2 concentration in the Earth's atmosphere to be limited to 450 parts per million. Tanaka's mathematicians have also developed a scenario that would enable the world to actually achieve that. "I am very optimistic," he said this week in Copenhagen.
Tanaka also agrees that the gigatons of carbon dioxide that are produced and the damage done by them must stop. His primary concern, though, isn't the climate crisis -- he's worried about "creeping" energy crisis. "They are two sides of the same coin," he told attendees of the Copenhagen summit.
He then peppered his listeners with some dizzying figures, but he also had a message for the world leaders negotiating an agreement just a few rooms away: "It would be best if you made the choice now," said Tanaka. "Every year that we lose will cost the countries of the world $500 billion more for the restructuring of our energy systems."
A Surge in Fossil Fuel Demand
But then Tanaka listed the threat of shortages mankind faces between now and 2030 if things continue as they are now. He said emerging economies would develop an insatiable hunger for resources, creating demand for the consumption of 40 percent more oil, coal and natural gas than today. This would require massive supplies of fossil fuels. The demand for natural gas alone will be around four times the amount that is stored in Russia's reserves. IEA estimates that by 2030, the price for a barrel of oil will be at least $115 and that industrial nations will have to spend as much as 2 percent of their gross domestic product for it -- a serious imbalance Tanaka believes.
That alone is reason enough to abandon our addiction to fossil fuels, he argues. In order to prevent a global increase in temperatures greater than 2 degrees Celsius, carbon dioxide emissions need to be radically reduced. Tanaka said to meet that goal, 20 percent of the total energy supply must come from renewable energies by 2030 and that nuclear power would also be required.
But he argued that two-thirds of carbon emissions reductions should come through more efficient use of energy. Taking those steps could lead to $8.6 trillion in savings over the next 20 years. "I can only hope that the leaders have taken note of these figures for their negotiations," he said.
He said the sum was proof that the global economy wouldn't collapse if the countries agree, as he hoped they would, to drastic emissions curbs. "This is actually an economic summit dealing with a long overdue restructuring of our energy systems."
Tanaka also came with his own medication for anxiety-riddled energy producers, including the oil-producing OPEC states, who stand to lose the most if a deal is struck in Copenhagen. Even under his organization's greener energy scenario, he said, oil companies would still quadruple their profits by 2030.
Climate News from December 17
Merkel, EU Seek Breakthrough As Copenhagen Stalls
With many signs pointing Thursday to a failure at the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen, the European Union called for an emergency meeting of "relevant players" on Thursday afternoon in a bid to rescue summit talks. The Swedish EU presidency and the European Commission issued a statement saying they sought "to decisively step up the negotiation." The EU called for "a meeting with relevant players to be convened this evening to help build a consensus for a global deal that produces an ambitious outcome to this conference."
After arriving in Copenhagen on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated the urgency of a binding agreement, saying that industrial nations must reduce their CO2 emissions by 25 percent by 2020 and that developing nations must start to do their part, too. Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned the summit could end in "catastrophe." He also called for a meeting of decision-makers from all continents to debate a compromise text after dinner on Thursday with Denmark's Queen Margrethe.
In a speech given Thursday, Merkel noted that the European Union had agreed to reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and that it would agree to a 30 percent reduction if other countries came on board. But she said other countries must now increase their pledges in order to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than an average of 2 degrees Celsius.
"We have the chance of achieving that," she said. Merkel also admonished developing nations like China to start accepting incremental binding limits.
Merkel added that Germany would provide its fair share of the $100 billion a year needed starting in 2020 for poorer countries to undertake climate protection initiatives and to deal with the consequences of global warming. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said her country would join others in raising that money.
Hopes Fade in Copenhagen, as Leaders Arrive
With just two days left, the Copenhagen climate talks are on thinner ice than polar bears in the Arctic.
A number of countries have signalled that the talks are in trouble. China told conference participants that a detailed agreement to combat climate change wasn't possible, according to Reuters, who cited an official from another country involved in the talks. Danish daily Berlingske Tidende and the TV channel DR are reporting that the Danish negotiators have also abandoned hope for a climate agreement, citing government insiders. The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House described the talks as "deadlocked" on Wednesday.
Even Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is doubtful. "The news reaching us isn't good. At the moment, there doesn't seem to be any reasonable negotiation process in sight," said Merkel in Berlin on Thursday. Merkel added that she hopes the presence of world leaders can give the conference the boost it needs right now.
As 120 leaders, including US President Barack Obama and Chancellor Merkel, arrive from all over the world to join in the last two days of talks, a number of roadblocks still remain. Industrialized nations and developing countries are still sparring over emissions cuts. Chancellor Merkel on Thursday echoed what many are saying, calling the emissions reduction pledges from the US -- the largest polluter in the world in per capita terms -- not good enough.
"I must say very honestly that the United States offer to cut (emissions) by 4 percent compared to 1990 levels is not ambitious," she said, speaking to the German parliament on Thursday. The EU by comparison has pledged a 20 percent cut in emissions by 2020 relative to 1990 levels and Germany has pledged a 30 percent cut.
Meanwhile, Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, a Sudanese diplomat and spokesman for the coalition of developing nations called the Group of 77, has called a proposed offer of $10 billion in compensation from developed nations inadequate, according to the New York Times.
There are some encouraging signs, however, that all is not lost in Copenhagen. The White House on Wednesday pledged $1 billion to a $3.5 fund aimed at curbing deforestation in developing countries. The offer is contingent on some sort of deal coming out of the climate talks. At the same time, President Obama has telephoned leaders in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Brazil, Grenada, France, Germany and the UK to lobby for an agreement, according to the Wall Street Journal. Africa lowered the amount of aid it was willing to accept in an effort to spur on negotiations, while Japan pledged $12 billion to fight climate change in developing nations, Reuters is reporting.
But the hard work is clearly still ahead. Even after all-night negotiating sessions on Wednesday, much of the climate change agreement was still in dispute. "The final negotiations will be tense and strenuous," Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen warned in the New York Times.
Chancellor Merkel reminded everyone of the initial goal to limit global warming to just 2 degrees Celsius, and the consequences for failing. "All (scientific) reports make clear that if we can't agree to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius then the costs will be far greater than a change in our lifestyles," she said. "If we are not able to achieve this, then the summit in Copenhagen will be a failure," she added.
US and Denmark See China as Roadblock to Climate Change Agreement
Is everyone simply blaming China out of convenience or is China really to blame?
The talks in Copenhagen have stalled with only two days to go. Finger pointing is abundant, but a lot of fingers seem to be pointed at China. The New York Times reported Thursday that China has dragged its feet all week, raising technical objections to the text on the table. One such objection, not obviously technical from the outset, happened on Wednesday when Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen requested that delegates begin high level talks over a new Danish draft plan that China said it had not been fully consulted on. To be sure, Brazil, India and Sudan also objected.
Rasmussen seemed annoyed. "I think the world is expecting us to reach an agreement addressing climate change and not just discussing procedure, procedure, procedure," he was quoted as saying in the New York Times.
China wasn't impressed. "I think the matter is not just procedure, procedure, procedure. I think it's substance.... You can't just put forward some text from the sky," Su Wei, deputy head of the Chinese delegation in Copenhagen, fired back.
Meanwhile, China and the US continue to butt heads over how proposed emissions cuts would be monitored. Any new deal must include international monitoring of emissions cuts, in order for the US to sign on, something China has refused. Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary, commented that any agreement where there is no transparency to determine whether countries are meeting their obligation is "unenforceable" and "nonverifiable."
As far as China is concerned, its word is good enough. "China is very sincere in its energy-conservation and environment-protection drive," said Su Wei, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Climate News from December 16
Climate Protest Quashed by Danish Police
Danish police on Wednesday foiled an attempt by demonstrators to break into the convention center in Copenhagen where the United Nations climate summit is taking place, arresting over 100 activists.
Climate Justice Action, a consortium of activists and non-governmental organizations committed to combating climate change, had made public that they planned to storm the climate conference Wednesday and "disrupt the sessions" in order to bring their agenda to the delegates inside.
Reports indicate, however, that the planned march didn't make it very far. Reuters reported that Danish police fired tear gas on hundreds of demonstrators as they tried to push through barricades outside the United Nations conference. French news agency AFP reported that as 1,500 activists began storming the conference, voicing their discontent with the delegates inside and blaring techno music, police beat them back with dogs and tear gas. A police helicopter hovered overhead keeping an eye on the action.
The AFP quoted police spokesman Johnny Lundberg as saying the arrests were for attempting to pass through the security perimeter surrounding Bella Center, where the climate conference is being held. No injuries were reported. Security forces "will not tolerate any act of violence but are also seeking a dialogue with the demonstrators," he said.
Demonstrators contend that the nations meeting in Copenhagen are not taking radical enough steps in order to curb climate change. "The message we want to get across is that we need a radical new climate agenda," Kevin Smith, a participant from Climate Justice Action, told AFP.
In some ways, it seemed the police had the jump on the activists all along. Climate Justice Action released a press release on Tuesday announcing that Tadzio Müller, political scientist and climate activist with Climate Justice Action, was arrested by three undercover Danish police officers yesterday afternoon on suspicion of planning criminal actions after presenting the group's protest plans for Wednesday at a press conference.
Police then raided a bicycle shop used by demonstrators, before arresting another 35 people at Klimaforum, an alternative climate change summit happening simultaneously, according to the press release. Before the demonstration even began, police were checking cars and buses heading into the Bella Center. Police also kept a close eye on the area of Noerrebro, where many foreign activists are housed.
"There is less and less hope in the (Copenhagen) process, and more and more willingness to trample over people's civil liberties in order to stop the mass civil disobedience that will take place at the summit on Wednesday," Kamille Hjuler of Climate Justice Action said in a statement.
European Union Backing Away from Emissions Reduction Goals?
The offer from the European Union was a generous one. The 27-nation block has committed itself to reduce its CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020 relative to 1990. But, EU leaders agreed, if other countries commit themselves to ambitious reduction targets, Brussels would raise its target cuts to 30 percent by 2020.
With the talks in Copenhagen bogged down this week, however, the EU is reportedly backing away from its higher offer. The Financial Times Deutschland reports on Wednesday that EU negotiators are currently working on a position that would see the bloc backing off to a cut of 26 percent against 1990 emissions. The 30 percent reduction goal would then be postponed to 2025.
"Those are the options that we are currently developing," an unnamed EU negotiator told the financial daily.
The change comes as both the US and China are digging their heels in and refusing to consider an increase in their emissions reduction targets. The US has offered a mere 4 percent cut in emissions by 2020 over 1990 levels. China has pledged to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted per dollar of economic activity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 relative to 1990 -- a commitment which still assumes an increase in absolute terms in the amount of CO2 the country pumps into the atmosphere.
The European Union move also has the advantage of potentially avoiding an internal debate about the bloc's emission reduction goals. Last week, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk came out against the higher EU target, saying "if we massacre the economy while others continue to emit just as much as before, then it makes no sense."
A further hurdle is represented by efforts to come up with an agreement on long-term financial help for developing countries to both counter the effects of climate change and to introduce measures to combat global warming. United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon told the Financial Times on Tuesday that it is "not quite sure" whether such an agreement will be reached this week. "We can start next year discussing this matter," he said.
Further Complaints Logged Against Danish Police
As the climate talks head into the final stretch this week, climate change groups and advocacy organizations are complaining that the Danish police are detaining peaceful protestors unnecessarily and violating their rights.
Since the start of the conference, the Danish police have already detained over 1,600 demonstrators, some of which set fire to barricades and hurled Molotov cocktails at riot police on Monday evening. But Ole Hoff-Lund, a spokesman for Amnesty International Denmark says that the police were out of line when they detained hundreds of innocent protestors along with the small number of violent ones.
"Hundreds of innocent peaceful demonstrators, who only were there to use their right of freedom of speech, were forcefully taken by police," Hoff-Lund told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We believe the police could very quickly have distinguished between those who were there for violence and those who were peaceful," he added.
German newspaper Die Tageszeitung also reported Wednesday that Danish police had used pepper spray against detained protestors. On Sunday and Monday, police threatened detainees locked in cages with pepper spray, because they were making noise in their cells. After the detainees put mats and blankets in front of the cell bars to protect themselves, the police then climbed on top of the cages and sprayed the detainees from above, according to protestor Anna Kollerup, as quoted in Die Tageszeitung. The blankets, mats and water bottles were then confiscated, the paper reported.
The Danish police are operating under a new law, passed by the Danish Ministry of Justice in November, that increased the penalties for police obstruction and vandalism. The law allows police to detain potentially dangerous protesters for up to 12 hours instead of six, for example. Jail time for obstructing police also increased. Actvisits have called the new law "hostile," accused the Danish police of threating freedom of speech and assembly.
An officer in the Danish police press center said he had no knowledge of pepper spray being used on detainees. If a formal complaint is filed, the police officers said, the department will look into it and take appropriate measures.
The officer added the Danish police force always try to operate within the realm of Danish law, but added that when such large scale police actions and tactical manoeuvres occur, "it is almost impossible, regrettable though it is, to avoid that some people who are actually peaceful attendees are actually detained."
"The only thing we can do is apologize for the inconvenience," he added.
Danish Police Stand Accused of Over-Reacting
It has become difficult to keep up with the arrests in Copenhagen. Following protests last week, Danish police took over 1,000 demonstrators into custody, making many of them sit handcuffed for hours on the cold ground before ultimately being released. On Monday, a further 200 were arrested. And on Wednesday, with a day of protests planned, 100 were detained before the clock struck noon.
While some of the marches have indeed turned violent, there are some who say that the Copenhagen police are being a bit too overzealous. In an editorial, SPIEGEL ONLINE partner site Politiken argues that the heavy-handedness stems from a package of new laws -- known as the Hooligan Package -- that was rushed through parliament ahead of the Copenhagen climate summit.
"The basic principles of individual guilt and concrete suspicion have been put aside in favor of a highly objectionable practice of collective arrests and preventive attacks," the paper writes. Read the full editorial here.
Climate News from December 15
World Leaders Arrive in Copenhagen Early to Clean Up the Mess
Things aren't looking so good in Copenhagen as the critical end phase of the climate summit nears.
Indeed, the face off between developing countries and rich nations has become so tense that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has decided to head to the conference early. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that she was "nervous" about the prospects of the summit, which comes to an end on Friday.
"I can't conceal the fact that I've become a bit nervous about whether we'll be able to do it," Merkel said at a press conference in Berlin, where she held talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono prior to heading to Copenhagen later this week. "We all know time is running out and we need to get serious."
She added that "considering how little time is left, everyone needs to make a constructive contribution to make Copenhagen a success."
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Copenhagen on Tuesday and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was expected later in the day -- a day earlier than he had originally planned to show up. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who twice failed to pass climate legislation in his country, arrived in Copenhagen on Monday. Most of the 110 world leaders expected to attend will arrive on Wednesday and Thursday.
But they will arrive at a climate conference which, at the beginning of its second week, is descending into a free-for-all clash between the world's rich countries and the world's poor countries. Indeed, Ban said on Tuesday that the two groups must "stop pointing fingers."
He was referring to an ongoing debate over how much rich countries should compensate developing nations for the effects of climate change and for measures needed to combat climate change in the developing world. On Monday, the argument boiled over, with developing nations, led by African countries, walking out of the conference for five hours.
Many in the developing world are concerned that the West would like to jettison the Kyoto Protocol, particularly the provision in the Kyoto agreement which frees poor countries from binding emissions cuts. A major point of disagreement in Copenhagen -- particularly between the US and China -- centers on a move to make emissions reductions in the developing world binding and open to international scrutiny. The US has said it will not sign an agreement without such provisions.
"You can't even begin to have an environmentally sound agreement without the adequate, significant participation of China," said US special climate envoy Todd Stern on Tuesday.
China, meanwhile, accused rich countries of not doing enough to provide financial support to those countries that need it. The European Union and the US have both agreed to pay into a fund to help poor countries over the next three years, but funding beyond that has become a matter of dispute.
In a Tuesday interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, Ban said "this is a time where (world leaders) should exercise the leadership. And this is the time to stop pointing fingers, and this is a time to start looking in the mirror and offering what they can do more, both the developed and the developing countries."
Whether the arrival of Ban and Brown will have much of an effect on the talks remains to be seen. One world leader who is not going to be present in Copenhagen, Pope Benedict XVI, also spoke out on Tuesday. He said that rich nations have an "historic responsibility" to solve the world's environmental problems.
The Chaos of Copenhagen
Prior to the Copenhagen climate talks, there was plenty of skepticism that world leaders would be able to come up with a binding agreement to combat global warming. But few suspected that the hosts of the conference in Denmark would fail so miserably when it came to event organization.
Just how catastrophic the situation has become was on full display on Monday outside the entrance to the convention hall Bella Center, where the talks are taking place. The conference hall was closed on Sunday -- due to "urgent maintenance needs" according to the UN Climate Secretariat -- meaning that thousands of those hoping to attend the conference on Monday were unable to pre-register. As a result, there was an immense line of people waiting to enter the facility on Monday.
For hours, it hardly budged. When segments of the line did manage to shuffle forward, it was only because some of those further ahead had given up because of the bitter cold. Most of those waiting in line had registered for the conference weeks in advance. There was no official information as to when the waiting masses might be allowed in -- nor were there seats or even sanitary facilities for the hours-long wait.
The problem appears to be that both the Danish summit organizers and the United Nations Climate Secretariat were inexplicably unprepared for the sheer numbers of those who wanted to attend the conference. Some 45,000 people registered for the summit -- there have been no new accreditations handed out since last month. The conference center, however, can only hold 15,000 people.
"When it became clear that so many people would be coming, they should have split the conference in two parts: one for the general program and one for the political negotiations," Tilman Santarius, head of climate and energy policy for the Green Party-aligned Heinrich Böll Stiftung, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. The organizers insist that many people came who were not registered. But even those who registered well in advance were unable to enter on Monday.
For journalists and for the 18,000 observers from non-governmental agencies, the issue of access is only to become worse. Once the so-called "high level segment" of the summit begins on Tuesday, only 7,000 observers will be allowed in. When world leaders begin arriving, the number will drop to 900. Some television journalists will be allowed in. But for those in print media, will have to stay outside.
"In view of the high number of participants, access to plenary Tycho Brahe" -- the hall where the high-level negotiations are to take place -- "for print media will not be permitted throughout the high-level segment," reads a statement on the UN Climate Secretariat Web site.
On Friday, the final day of the summit, only 90 NGO observers will be allowed to attend.
"The fact that the limitations on the number of participants was agreed on only during the first week of the conference shows that the Danish summit presidency and the Climate Secretariat were not appropriately prepared," says Santarius.
But the damage to the reputation of both Denmark and the United Nations Climate Secretariat is already substantial. "How can one expect the UN to come up with a climate agreement when they can't even get this line under control," grumbled one American delegate on Monday as he shivered in the winter cold.
-- Christoph Seidler, in Copenhagen
Riots in Copenhagen on Monday Night
Danish riot police arrested some 200 people on Monday night following riots outside the counter-culture compound Christiania. Click here for the full story.
Climate News from December 14
Developing Nations Stage Five-Hour Walkout
Africa's frustration at the direction that the United Nations climate talk are heading reached boiling point on Monday with the African delegates leading a boycott of the working groups for five hours. They were joined by other developing nations, including China and India.
The walk out occurred as African nations sought guarantees that the summit would not sideline talks about the future of the Kyoto Protocol. They want a second seven-year commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012, be given priority over broader discussions on a "long-term vision" for cooperation on tackling climate change.
The Kyoto Protocol, which was never ratified by the United States, ties rich countries to legally binding limits on emissions. Poorer countries do not have the same legally binding curbs. The Protocol is also a mechanism to transfer clean-energy technology to poorer nations.
Many countries at the talks would like to see a brand new treaty to tackle climate change, but developing nations want to see the Kyoto Protocol continued as well.
Speaking on behalf of the 53-nation African Union, Algeria said that there should be a special plenary session devoted to Kyoto. "Otherwise we are going to lose everything," said Kemal Djemouia, Algeria's chief negotiator.
Activist groups said they backed the Africans' stance, arguing that a non-binding approach would deprive the poor of their sole international safety net.
"Africa has pulled the emergency cord to avoid a train crash at the end of the week," said Jeremy Hobbs, the executive director of Oxfam International.
Germany Stands to Lose Jobs, if Others Do Nothing on Climate Change
For years, Germany has led other nations with investments in renewable energyand environmentally friendly policies, even as those around it have stood still. As leaders struggle to agree on how to combat climate change in Copenhagen, research shows that this time, a go-it-alone approach when it comes to climate change not only wouldn't save the planet, but it could cost Germany jobs.
That's according to a new study, first reported in the German financial daily Handelsblatt, conducted jointly by consultancy Prognos AG and economic researcher GWE and commissioned by RWE, Germany's largest power producer. Should Germany and the European Union in fact go it alone, reducing emissions when other countries do nothing, the country could lose as many as 55,000 jobs. Germany could also see its gross domestic product, often viewed as a measure of the standard of living, reduced by tens of billions of euros.
"Climate protection must not become a competitive disadvantage for German industry," Eckhard Cordes, the chief executive of Germany-based multinational retailer Metro Group, told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper. "Germany can't save the climate on its own -- it can only do so together with other nations. The German government must now ensure that all do their share -- including China, India and the USA. Otherwise the wide-ranging German measures won't do anything for the climate."
At the same time, the study concluded that if world leaders do agree to binding emissions targets, Germany could actually profit disproportionately through the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in a country that is the global leader in Green technologies.
In some ways Germany has already charged ahead on climate change, even before leaders in Copenhagen have had time to hammer out an agreement to reduce carbon emissions. Germany's new government, elected in September, has already pledged to reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels in their coalition contract. It's a promise they will have to keep, even if talks in Copenhagen fail. That differs from the former coalition government, which stated it would only pledge to reduce emissions by 40 percent after a global binding agreement had been signed.
Over 1,000 Arrests at Copenhagen Protests
Danish police enthusiastically implemented controversial new powers to pre-emptively detain protestors over the weekend in Copenhagen. Climate activists had gathered in the Danish capital for largely peaceful protests on Saturday, to coincide with other marches across the world.
Nearly 1,000 protestors were detained at the mass protest on Saturday and a further 200 anti-capitalist activists were held on Sunday.
A new law passed ahead of the global climate conferenceallows preventative detention under which people can be held by the police for up to 12 hours. Critics point out that the fact that only 13 of the 968 people detained on Saturday are still in custody, indicating, they say, that the police action was disproportionate. Of these only three are set to be arraigned on charges of fighting with the police.
Police estimated that around 40,000 people attended the rally on Saturday, while organizers put the figure at 100,000. The march ended with protestors holding aloft candles and torches as they gathered outside the Bella Center where the 192-nation UN conference is being held.
The majority of the demonstrators were peaceful as they wound their way along the city streets, chanting and carrying banners reading "Demand Climate Justice," "The World Want a Real Deal," and "There Is No Planet B."
However, officers in riot gear moved in when some youths wearing black, with masks covering their faces, threw stones through the window of the former Copenhagen stock exchange and Foreign Ministry buildings. One police officer was injured when he was hit by a rock.
The police detained 968 people, from 26 countries, and left them sitting on the cold ground in handcuffs for several hours before transporting them to a special detention center near the city. Human rights groups say that the detainees were denied water, food, medical attention and toilet facilities and there have been calls for an inquiry into the mass preventive arrest tactics.
"When nearly 1,000 people are arrested and then all but 13 are released it means that many of these people were just innocent people in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Idu Theusen of Amnesty International Denmark. She called on the government to launch an investigation into the arrests.
Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement, agreed. "It's absolutely outrageous that the police responded in this extreme manner on an incredibly family-friendly march. It's a complete violation of the right to protest and a step towards the breakdown of democracy."
On Sunday, the police arrested around 200 people at an anti-capitalist demonstration outside the Oesterport railway station close to the headquarters of the Danish shipping giant Moeller-Maersk. The police said the had discovered "gas masks and other illegal items" in a van that was part of the protest and suspect the protestors planned to block a section of Copenhagen's port.
The detention of over 1,200 protestors over the weekend can be regarded as a show of strength ahead of the arrival of heads of state and government for the climax of the talks this week. "It's like a football match," police spokesman Henrik Jakobsen told the Agence France Press news agency. "We get rid of the hooligans do they don't spoil the party for the other spectators."
Climate News from December 11
Google Launches Forest Tracking System
A new program from Google is helping environmentalists see the forest for the trees. Literally.
In Copenhagen on Thursday, the Internet giant launched a new technology that will allow governments, environmentalists and others to observe and measure on a global scale how the Earth's forests are changing. Google worked with the Carnegie Institution for Science and with Imazon, a non-profit research institution dedicated to sustainable development in the Amazon, to bring the project to life.
Using the "Google Cloud," the company's system of networked computers and computing power, the technology will be able to analyze deforestation and detect illegal logging in seconds, the company says. Indeed, in addition to helping scientists, it could also be a potential boon to local law enforcement. It will also lower the cost for nations to monitor and thereby protect their forests by providing an online platform to access and analyze the data collected. Google points out that Google Earth already allows people to view deforestation, but up until now there has been no way to measure the destructive activity.
"We hope this technology will help stop the destruction of the world's rapidly-disappearing forests," said Rebecca Moore, engineering manager, and Dr. Amy Luers, environment manager, of Google in a company blog post. The company is currently testing the service, but plans to making it more broadly available over the next year as a not-for-profit service.
Google's announcement is significant for climate activists. Protecting forests from illegal logging is considered one of the easiest and cheapest ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations has addressed the problem with its REDD initiative, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. The initiative aims to fund efforts in rainforest nations to protect their forests. It is an immense challenge: 22,500 square kilometres (8,687 square miles) of protected Amazon rainforest was deforested between 2000 and 2008.
EU Pledges €7.2 Billion To Developing Nations
On Friday, European Union leaders reached an agreement to provide €2.4 billion ($3.5 billion) a year between 2010 and 2012 to help developing countries tackle climate change, a tidy sum larger than previously expected.
France and Britain are the ones responsible for the boost, as the two countries in the last minute upped their offers. French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised France's offer to €1.26 billion over the three years -- matching Germany's contribution -- with a possibility to go even higher. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown also raised Britain's offer to €1.2 billion. Original estimates had the EU contributing €2 billion a year to the fund.
The funding, deemed "fast start funding," is to be targeted towards getting projects off the ground quickly that mitigate climate change in the poorest, most vulnerable countries. The great hope is that now that the EU has decided on a solid amount of money to donate to the fund, other countries will step up to contribute. In fact, the EU says it wants to see the global contribution increase to a total of €7 billion a year for each of the three years in question.
"The EU has now taken on a significant share of the total amount and has shown leadership on the issue. Now we want to encourage the rest of the world to contribute to reach €7 billion," said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in an EU statement. Sweden currently holds the rotating EU presidency. "It would be good if we could get an agreement on this in Copenhagen," he added.
According to the Financial Times, the United States is expected to contribute an additional $1.4 billion for the first year. But talks have been bogged down by details surrounding how the money will be distributed and managed.
Financing climate change is a key issue being talked about in Copenhagen this week and next. Developing nations have said no deal to cut emissions can be made without compensation from the industrialized world. At the same time, some of the money pledged by the EU is slated to come from existing funds. For example, Poland intends to fund its €56 million ($82.4 million) contribution through the sale of pollution credits.
"Finance is key to get this deal done," Jose Barroso, president of the European Commission, said in the FT.
Senators Support Obama on Climate Change with Revised Climate Bill
After weeks of inaction on a climate bill already passed by the House of Representatives, the US Senate on Thursday finally unveiled a plan in line with what US President Barack Obama had been asking for. It is a move that is sure to boost Obama when he attends the Copenhagen climate summit next week.
Expected to come to a vote next year, the new framework is a significant compromise between both Republican and Democratic senators. It commits the United States to reduce its emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, consistent with the carbon emission reductions Obama has already pledged.
"This indicates to folks in Copenhagen that we're serious," Democratic Senator John Kerry told reporters on Thursday. Kerry has been a primary backer of the climate since its inception.
To win the bipartisan support the bill will need to pass the Senate, the proposed framework also makes several compromises, including support for nuclear power and offshore oil drilling. The bill also supports research for carbon capture and storage technology, where carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants, for example, is captured before it reaches the atmosphere and stored in geological formations far under the Earth's surface. The hope is that the inclusion of such funding for the still infant technology will win over senators from coal mining states such as West Virginia.
While Republicans are still critical of the bill, arguing that it will cost American jobs, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham crossed party lines to support the bill and predicted that the business interests built into the bill will attract others.
"The hope is that, as we develop more details, you'll see more Republicans and Democrats come," he said.
Climate News from December 10
EU Meets to Discuss €6 Billion Fund For Developing Nations
Climate change is expensive. But somebody's got to pay for it.
EU leaders are meeting today in Brussels in an effort to agree on a €6 billion ($8.84 billion) fund to support developing countries' climate change efforts. If successful, the move could convince other nations to contribute, and give a much needed boost to the complicated climate talks. Developing nations have hung the blame for global warming on the shoulders of the West, and they threaten that without adequate compensation, a global deal to reduce emissions is off the table.
The EU's effort is noble but challenging. The global financial crisis has nations pinching pennies at home and flipping their pockets inside out at the climate conference. Sweden, which holds the current EU presidency, is thinking €2 billion a year between 2010 and 2012, according to a diplomatic source quoted by the French newswire AFP. Sweden and Britain have also promised a quarter of the money, €1.5 billion, between them.
Or it could be that nations are reluctant to show their hand before major polluters, such as the United States, do. Germany, France, Italy and Poland have so far been mum. "We're not going to hand over a blank check so that others can wriggle out of their responsibilities," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was quoted as saying by the AFP.
Island Nations Hamper Climate Talks with New Demands
The first wrench in the climate talks in Copenhagen has been thrown into the works. The culprit: island nations.
With more than a week to go, delegates have hit several roadblocks over demands from the island nations of Tuvalu, Kiribati and others. The Alliance of Small Island States, which consists of 42 island nations, and other countries are balking at the goal of limiting the global temperature increase to just 2 degrees Celsius, suggesting instead a much more strenuous goal of 1.5 degrees. Only then, they say, will their nations be spared the crippling floods and droughts caused by climate change.
Making matters more complicated, Tuvalu, a Pacific island nation, has moved to add an amendment to the Kyoto protocol that would require larger developing countries such as India, Brazil and China for the first time to legally commit themselves to cutting emissions after 2013. Tuvalu argues that in the future, the majority of emissions will come from these developing countries.
The demand is a touchy one, especially with countries such as China, which considers itself still a developing nation. Since the UN climate convention's founding in 1992, a prevailing belief has been that rich countries caused global warming so they should be the ones to signing legally binding agreements. As such, big developing countries immediately shot down the proposal.
Kiribati, another remote Pacific island, is appealing to rich countries to provide its citizens with job training and take them on as skilled immigrants, in case the island nation is swallowed by rising seas caused by global warming. Kiribati sits just two meters (6.6 feet) above sea level, a vulnerable position if glaciers continue to melt and sea levels continue to rise. The government hopes to create communities of Kiribati people around the world, in case its 100,000 population is displaced by widespread flooding. Already such programs exist in Australia and New Zealand, the island nation said.
"Our people will be the first to go if nothing happens here in Copenhagen," Kiribati Foreign Secretary Tessie Eria Lambourne said at a side event.
Climate News from December 9
China Says it Will Bend if Obama Does
Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. All eyes continue to be on US President Barack Obama, with hopes high that he will bring more to the climate change table than he has already offered. Indeed, China on Wednesday also asked that Obama improve on his pledge of cutting US emissions by 17 percent by 2020 relative to 2005 levels.
But at the same time, Congressional Republicans are warning Obama not to sign on to any agreement that he can't get passed in the Senate. Indeed, a group of Republicans said on Wednesday that they would travel to Copenhagen in an effort to highlight the scandal over leaked e-mails that seem to indicate climate scientists altered data to solidify evidence of human-caused global warming.
Top Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua told Reuters on Wednesday that China would agree to a target of a 50 percent global emissions cut by 2050 if "the demands of developing countries can be satisfied." He also said "I do hope that President Obama can bring a concrete contribution to Copenhagen," indicating that he wanted to see the US improve the offer that it has made thus far. When adjusted to the 1990 baseline used by the European Union, the US cut is just 3 percent.
Together, China and the US account for 40 percent of global CO2 emissions.
In what sounded like a response, a leading US negotiator, Todd Stearn, said later in the day that the US will contribute to a fund to help poor countries deal with the effects of global warming. "We absolutely recognize our historic role in putting emissions in the atmosphere ... but the sense of guilt or culpability or reparations, I just categorically reject that."
The World Bank estimates that developing nations need close to $400 billion per year to help them develop technologies that will improve their energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions. A further $150 billion would be needed to help them cope with the effects of global warming as the Earth warms up. Just how much the world's rich nations will pledge and how that money will be collected and distributed remains to be seen.
A number of Congressional Republicans seem intent on making sure that the US agrees to nothing at all. "I will not be one of the sycophants that says climate change is the biggest problem facing the world and we need to do all these Draconian things that cost jobs," said Republican Representative Joe Barton. His party colleague James Sensenbrenner, who will head up the Republican mission to Copenhagen, said that Obama should be careful not to agree anything that cannot pass through the Senate. US President Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, but never sent it to the Senate for ratification, knowing that it would likely have been rejected.
Not to miss out on the parade of climate change skeptics, former Alaska governor and ex-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, now on tour promoting her auto-biography, wrote an editorial in the Washington Post on Wednesday that "the last thing America needs is misguided legislation that will raise taxes and cost jobs -- particularly when the push for such legislation rests on agenda-driven science." Palin, who seems to be maneuvering for a 2012 run at the White House, also said that it is clear that "any potential benefits of proposed emissions reduction policies are far outweighed by their economic costs."
The National Wildlife Federation estimates that global warming could ultimately cost Alaska 28,583 jobs provided by the state's hunting, wildlife tourism and fishing industries. The oil industry provides 41,744 jobs in the state, according to a 2008 report by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association.
Developing World Anger over Leaked Draft Text
Even before the Copenhagen climate summit began, developing nations were worried that they were once again going to draw the short straw. Now, with the conference just three days old, negotiators from poorer countries are livid about a leaked document they say proves that the developed world plans to reserve power for the rich.
The document, which was leaked to the Guardian, has been interpreted as an effort to wrestle control of anti-climate change efforts from the auspices of the United Nations. Developing countries also say it would allow rich countries to emit up to twice as much greenhouse gases per capita as poorer countries.
It is "a very dangerous document for developing countries," an unnamed senior diplomat told the Guardian. "It is a fundamental reworking of the UN balance of obligations. It is to be superimposed without discussion on the talks."
The text comes from a group known as "the circle of commitment," but the Guardian says it is assumed that the group includes the United Kingdom, the United States and Denmark. "Your prime minister has chosen to protect the rich countries," G-77 Chairman Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping told the Danish daily Politiken. "It's not on."
According to the document, control of climate change finance would be handed over to the World Bank. It also represents a departure from principles established in the Kyoto Protocol, whereby rich countries are compelled to make deep cuts to CO2 emissions while poorer countries do not have to take action.
Di-Aping told Politiken that the document represents a parallel process to that taking place at the UN conference in Copenhagen. It is seen as an effort to provide world leaders a text to work from when they arrive next week. But in doing so, it sidelined most of those participating in the summit.
"You have to listen to all the countries of the world," Di-Aping said. "That is what democracy is about."
Huge Iceberg Spotted Off the Australian Coast
It's hardly uncommon for gigantic chunks of ice to break off from Antarctica. But the enormous iceberg recently spotted in the ocean south of Australia has researchers calling it a once in a lifetime event.
The hunk of ice, christened B17B, is approximately 19 kilometers long by 8 kilometers wide -- or almost twice the total area of Hong Kong. Australian glaciologist Neal Young spotted the slab on a satellite photo. While such enormous icebergs have been seen just off the Antarctic coast in recent years, they rarely drift as far north as B17B has. It is now 1,700 kilometers south of Australia and drifting north.
Young said that it was part of a much larger sheet of ice that broke off from the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest shelf of Antarctic ice extending into the ocean, about 10 years ago. Since then it has been circling the continent. "This one has survived in the open ocean for about a year," he told the news agency AFP.
For decades, the ice in Antarctica has remained relatively stable, despite large-scale melt-offs in Greenland and the Arctic. But recent evidence suggests that the ice shelf on East Antarctica, which holds about five times as much ice as West Antarctica and Greenland combined -- has begun to decline. According to a study by Jianli Chen of the Center for Space Research at the University of Texas at Austin, published in the current issue of the journal Nature Geoscience, satellite data suggests lower gravity over East Antarctica since 2006, suggesting less mass.
"The amount (of decline) right now isn't very big," Jianli told Time magazine. "But the trend is alarming."
Climate News from December 8
This Decade the Warmest on Record
As if there wasn't enough urgency surrounding the climate summit currently underway in Copenhagen, the top weather expert for the United Nations announced on Tuesday that this decade is likely to be the warmest on record.
"The decade 2000 to 2009 is very likely to be the warmest on record, warmer than the 1990s, which were in turn warmer than the 1980s," said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organisation.
He also said that the year 2009 would likely end up being the fifth warmest year since accurate weather records began being kept in 1850. According to data released by Britain's Met Office, average global surface temperatures have risen by more than 0.15 degrees Celsius per year since the mid-1970s.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency in the US, 2005 was the warmest year on record with the eight warmest years all having occurred since 2001.
Copenhagen Off to a Good Start
The forecast for the first week of the Copenhagen conference is sunshine and blue skies. And the weather inside the conference itself looks to be rather pleasant as well.
A number of industrialized countries have agreed to contribute to a fund to help poorer countries battle climate change. Jonathan Pershing, head of the American delegation in Copenhagen, confirmed on Monday that the United States, one of the world's largest polluters, is prepared to contribute its fair share to a $30 billion fund between 2010 and 2012.
The European Union has also indicated a willingness to help out the global poor. In a draft version of the climate summit's concluding statement, which has been seen by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, it says that the EU is "willing to pay its share of relief aid for the years 2010 to 2012."
Just how much that share might be remains uncertain, but it could be as high as €2 billion to €3 billion per year according to an anonymous EU diplomat quoted by the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Negotiations on the aid total promise to be one of the stickiest points in the days of talks ahead.
That wasn't the only bit of good climate news on Monday. The US Environmental Protection Agency announced that carbon dioxide was a risk to public health and the welfare of the people, authorizing the agency to create new, more stringent emissions standards for vehicles, facilities and businesses under the Clean Air Act.
The findings, based on decades of peer-reviewed scientific data according to the EPA, is a clear admission that climate change is real and carbon dioxide emissions are a main cause. The breakthrough will not only give US President Barack Obama a stronger hand in Copenhagen negotiations, but should also give the climate bill he wants to get past the US Senate a much needed boost.
"That (greenhouse gas) increase is deteriorating the natural balance in our atmosphere and changing our climate," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in prepared remarks. "The overwhelming amounts of scientific study show that the threat is real -- as does the evidence before our very eyes."
Climate News from December 7
Copenhagen Climate Conference Kicks Off
Scientists are calling the Copenhagen climate summit the last best chance to save the world from catastrophic global warming. And finally, after years of at times contentious negotiations leading up to the 11-day long conference, momentum appears to be in favor of a deal.
Speaking to thousands of delegates who gathered in Copenhagen on Monday, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said that a deal was "within reach." The fact that 110 world leaders planned to attend the decisive phase of the conference -- including US President Barack Obama -- "reflects an unprecedented mobilization of political determination to combat climate change," Rasmussen said.
With a number of heavy polluters around the world having made commitments to either lower greenhouse gas emissions or reduce "carbon intensity" (the amount of CO2 released per dollar of economic activity) in recent weeks, Rasmussen's optimism does not seem to be misplaced.
The latest to jump on the emissions reduction bandwagon was South Africa on Monday. A statement on President Jacob Zuma's Web site announced that the country was prepared to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 34 percent by 2020 and 42 percent by 2025 -- provided that rich nations provide the developing world with sufficient aid to combat climate change. The wording of Zuma's statement made it appear that South Africa's cuts would be against a baseline of what emissions would otherwise be were no measures taken.
Zuma's announcement comes on the heels of recent pledges by the US to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 against 2005 and by both China and India to significantly lower carbon intensity.
The conference is aimed at limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), but its success likely hinges on the ability of industrialized nations to come up with billions in aid to help poorer countries as they seek to combat climate change. The United Nations is asking for €10 billion a year from the developed world.
Climate activists warn that even the emissions reduction pledges made thus far will not be enough to stop global warming.
In a contribution to the Guardian, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wrote on Sunday that "the British government is absolutely clear about what we must achieve. Our aim is a comprehensive and global agreement that is then converted to an internationally legally binding treaty in no more than six months." He also wrote: "If by the end of next week we have not got an ambitious agreement, it will be an indictment of our generation that our children will not forgive."
Brown's wording seems a tacit acknowledgement that a final agreement will not likely result from the Copenhagen conference, which comes to an end on Dec. 18. German Chancellor Angela Merkel too has indicated that the first half of 2010 might be more realistic for the conclusion of an internationally binding agreement.
Nevertheless, it seems clear that whatever comes out of Copenhagen will have more teeth than the deal hammered out in Kyoto in 1997 -- a conference only attended by environment ministers. That agreement required those industrialized nations that ratified the agreement to cut emissions until 2012 and did not make requirements from developing nations, including China which has since become the world's biggest absolute emitter of greenhouse gases (with the US still well ahead in per capita emissions).
In an effort to encourage global leaders to take decisive action, 56 newspapers in 45 countries published a call to action on Monday. "The politicians in Copenhagen," it read, "have the power to shape history's judgment of this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that we saw a calamity coming but did not avert it."
Merkel Faces Criticism at Home as Copenhagen Conference Kicks Off
As the climate conference hosted by the United Nations in Copenhagen, Denmark kicks off today, German politicians wasted no time digging into Chancellor Angela Merkel for her environmental policies.
Sigmar Gabriel, who was Merkel's environment minister during her first term and now heads up the Social Democrats in the opposition, warned that Merkel's Copenhagen plan will face some difficult critics, as the government shifts money around to cover the cost of climate change.
"The new government wants to divert the additional funding that we need to fight climate change from the funds dedicated to fighting poverty in the developing world," Gabriel told the public broadcaster ARD. "I think that is a huge scandal."
Germany has pledged to reduce it's greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 relative to 1990 levels. But the European Union has yet to come up with a clear proposal on how to help the developing world pay for climate protection measures. And Germany, by demanding that any funding come from already-existing foreign aid funds, has been a primary reason for the delay.
Jürgen Trittin, co-chairman of Germany's Green Party and himself a former environment minister in Germany, told ARD that "the German government has made it more difficult to come up with an agreement in Copenhagen, because it continues to block binding pledges of financial assistance to the victims of climate change. Without an end to this blockade, there will be no success in Copenhagen."
The focus of the German government on finding an agreement of some sort in Copenhagen aimed at massively reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions remains undeterred. Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats, said: "We need concrete decisions.... We need to massively reduce CO2."
Deutsche Bahn Chooses Coal for Christmas
As Germany pushes for a greener future in Copenhagen over the next two weeks, Deutsche Bahn is travelling in the opposite direction.
The German national railway company recently signed a contract with a new coal-fired power plant in Mannheim to supply the company with power to run its trains. Deutsche Bahn justified the horribly-timed move by saying that the efficiency level of the new coal plants are much higher than what the rail giant previously used. That means that for every kilowatt hour of electricity used, less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. In addition, in 2008 Deutsche Bahn got 15 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, which produces no carbon emissions, only toxic nuclear waste.
Critics from the business world to politics called on Deutsche Bahn to expand its use of green electricity to run its trains, and to begin working towards operating its network exclusively through renewable energy. The request is especially pertinent given that Deutsche Bahn is ranked among one of the worst rail operators in Europe when it comes to emissions, according to a recent study from TÜV, the German technical inspections agency. The study says that Deutsche Bahn gets 54 percent of its electricity from coal and 24 percent from nuclear energy. Its share of renewable energy comes in the lowest at 21 percent. However, Deutsche Bahn says it wants to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Climate News from December 4
Nepalese Cabinet Holds Meeting at Everest Base Camp
Perhaps one of the bitterest ironies of global warming is that, while rich countries are responsible for the lion's share of greenhouse gas emissions, it is primarily the world's poor countries that will suffer the worst consequences. Low-lying coastlines, particularly on the Indian subcontinent, will flood. Small island nations are at risk of losing valuable land and, as Nepal made clear on Friday, melting glaciers in the Himalayas threaten to cause catastrophic flooding in the short term and dangerous water shortages in the long term.
To draw attention to the plight of Himalayan glaciers, more than 20 Nepalese government ministers flew to the Mt. Everest base camp, at an altitude of 5,250 meters (17,192 feet), for a cabinet meeting on Friday. All were outfitted with oxygen masks and they stayed for just 20 minutes in an effort to protect the ministers from succumbing to altitude sickness. But during their short time at the "world's highest cabinet meeting," Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal signed the "Everest Declaration," which urges the global community to take significant action at the Copenhagen climate summit, which begins next week.
"The Himalayas are getting hot and we are getting the brunt of it because of the actions of the developed countries," said Environment Minister Thakur Prasad Sharma. "This cabinet meeting was meant to highlight our point that we are being punished for no mistake of our own."
Nepal has joined forces with other developing countries to demand that the world's richest countries make a sum equivalent to 1.5 percent of their GDP available to fight climate change in poorer countries. Nepal is responsible for just 0.025 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The stunt recalls a similar recent meeting of the Maldives cabinet, which met under water in October.
A Wing-Wing Situation for Swedish Airline
What to do if you're an airline trying to navigate through the economic downturn and go green at the same time? Henrik Ekstrand thinks he has the answer.
He is a pilot with charter company Novair, currently involved in experiments in a new kind of "green landing" in Sweden. Like other airlines, they want to cut fuel costs. At the same time, the industry is under pressure to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions. The UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believes the air industry accounts for 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and 3 percent of emissions linked to climate change.
Novair has carried out 10 flights so far using the new technique, which involves idling the engines and gliding as planes approach for landing. It is both quieter and more fuel efficient. In the Novair tests, up to 300 liters of fuel was saved in each green landing.
Stockholm's Arlanda airport has actually seen over 2,000 "green landings" since the start of 2006, most of them by the Scandinavian airline SAS. Ulf Martinsson, an SAS pilot, told the news agency AFP that the aim is "to fly slower, especially on the descent, which means a long time idling." In theory, the slower landings would add to flight time, but according to the AFP, a satellite-guided approach system has been able to shorten approach distances, thus compensating for slower flight speeds.
Will 'Climategate' Dominate Copenhagen?
Days before the Copenhagen summit gets underway, there are more rumblings that the controversy over leaked e-mails from a British climate change research center could provide a stumbling block to any emissions deal.
On Friday the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the United Nations body would investigate claims that scientists had tried to suppress certain data to strengthen their arguments regarding the dangers of global warming. Speaking to BBC Radio, IPCC Chairman Rajenda Pachauri said: "We will look into it in detail ... we certainly don't want to brush anything under the carpet."
Someone who will not be holding his breath is US Congressman John Sensenbrenner. The Republican politician says the e-mails "read more like scientific fascism than the scientific process." Speaking before the House of Representative's Committee on Energy Dependence and Global Warming, Sensenbrenner insisted: "If the e-mails are genuine it is very disturbing because they call into question the whole science of climate change."
When challenged over his "fascism" remark, Sensenbrenner said he was referring to suggestions that a publication "ought to be boycotted because they weren't doing the politically correct thing" and "intimidation in the scientific community by people who wish to be contrary to what the conventional wisdom is."
Two weeks ago, hackers posted documents including e-mails between scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit, and their peers around the world. Climate change skeptics have seized on the correspondence, claiming it shows scientists have been conspiring to paint global warming as the result of greenhouse gas emissions.
Other see in "Climategate" a deliberate attempt to derail Copenhagen, and some academics point out that even if the CRU's data were excluded, the picture outlined by the IPCC in its 2007 report would remain the same.
But on Thursday Saudi Arabia' s chief climate negotiator Mohammad Al-Sabban said the issue would have a "huge impact" at Copenhagen, possibly deterring countries from offering carbon emissions cuts. Al-Sabban claimed: "It appears from the details of the scandal that there is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change ... (the) climate is changing for thousands of years, but for natural and not human-induced reasons."
And his skepticism has been echoed in, of all places, Copenhagen. This from Denmark's parliamentary speaker, and former foreign minister, Thor Pedersen: "The problem is that lots of people go around saying that the climate change we see is a result of human activity. That is a very dangerous claim." Pedersen does see a point to next week's summit, if it looks at ensuring energy and food for the world's growing population, but goes on: "That has nothing to do with the climate debate, in which we try to determine the globe's temperature. It is common sense."
Climate News from December 3
Hoping for Failure at Copenhagen
James Hansen has spent the last 20 years trying to educate politicians about the causes of climate change and to persuade them to act. Now, he says, he hopes Copenhagen ends in failure.
Hansen's surprising comments come in the UK's Guardian, which calls him the world's pre-eminent climate scientist. Hansen, head of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, told the daily: "I would rather it (a deal) not happen if people accept that as being the right track because it's a disaster track....The whole approach is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation. If it is going to be the Kyoto-type thing then [people] will spend years trying to determine exactly what that means."
Hansen is especially critical of carbon market schemes, in which permits to pollute are bought and sold, despite many governmments seeing them as an efficient way of reducing emissions: "This is analagous to the indulgences that the Catholic church sold in the Middle Ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption. Both parties liked that arrangement despite its absurdity. That is exactly what's happening," he says. "We've got the developed countries who want to continue more or less business as usual and then these developing countries who want money and that is what they can get through offsets (sold through the carbon markets)."
At the start of 2009, Hansen urged US President Barack Obama to take urgent action, saying, "We have only four years left for Obama to set an example to the rest of the world. America must take the lead." Now he is dismissive of governments which have promised emissions cuts in the run-up to Copenhagen, telling the Guardian: We don't have a leader who is able to grasp it and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual."
However, Hansen argues that world leaders can prevent the worst predictions of environmental damage coming true: "It may be that we have already committed to a future sea level rise of a meter or even more but that doesn't mean that you give up. Because if you give up you could be talking about tens of meters. So I find it screwy that people say you passed a tipping point so it's too late. In that case what are you thinking: that we are going to abandon the planet? You want to minimize the damage."
Climate News from December 2
Carbon Cap-and-Trade System Brews Discord Amongst Aussie Politicians
A carbon trading scheme is threatening to rip the Australian government apart.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had hoped to take the new law with him to Copenhagen next week as a sign that he's hard on climate change. He even secured backing for the proposal from opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, which seemed to guarantee the bill's passage.
But then Turnbull's conservative liberal partry revolted earlier this week and replaced him as leader with Tony Abbott, who immediately moved to defer the vote on the carbon trading system. While Abbott was unable to defer the vote, he did help defeat the bill for the second time by a count of 41 votes to 33 in the Australian Senate, even after two opposition senators crossed party lines to vote with Rudd.
Under the proposed system, companies would be limited in the amount of carbon emissions they can pump into the atmosphere. The government would issue permits to emit that could be bought and sold, thereby creating a market that encourages companies to pollute less.
The bill would have also reduced Australia's carbon emissions up to 25 percent below 2000 levels by 2020. Australia's biggest export is coal, and it has the highest per capita carbon emissions among developed nations.
The twist is that under the Australian political system, when a government bill is rejected twice, the prime minister can call an early election. The prospect of an early election is promising to Rudd's Labor Party, given his popularity among voters. Not only would he likely win such an election, which some observers are already calling the world's first climate change election, but the party could also end up controlling the Senate.
So far Rudd has not suggested he will push for another election, and his deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard, told journalists that the government plans to resubmit the legislation to parliament early next year, adding, "All options are on the table as to what happens next."
Abbott on the other hand seems ready for a fight. "As leader I'm not frightened of an election and I'm not frightened of an election on this issue," he said.
US Proposes Climate Fund for Poor Countries
The greenhouse gas-emitting giant has finally weighed in on one of the touchiest topics surrounding this month's Copenhagen climate summit.
On Wednesday, the United States proposed a global fund intended to help poor countries battle climate change and better handle climate disasters, according to an article in the ClimateWire news service. The fund would operate under the World Bank, and would cover a wide number of efforts from building solar parks to creating climate disaster insurance, US Treasury officials told ClimateWire. A board of donors and recipients would run the fund.
The news is significant. Developing nations have demanded that rich countries should help poorer countries in trying to combat climate change, given that industrialized nations created most of the pollution in the first place and the fact that poor countries will be disproportionately affected by climate change. It's a key tenant of the global climate deal being discussed in Copenhagen, but so far many nations have been mum as to how such funding would work and exactly how much they are willing to give.
According to ClimateWire, countries are expected to offer between $7 billion and $10 billion to poor nations. The United States is expected to contribute approximately $1.3 billion of that sum, the article said. The US has not yet pledged any specific long-term funding, but William Pizer, deputy assistant secretary for environment and energy at the US Treasury, indicated that the government is committed.
"I don't think we would be going down this avenue if we didn't see the need for scaling up funding in the future," Pizer told ClimateWire.
There are already signs of contention in the US proposal. Under their scheme, only the least developed countries would be exempt from contributing to the fund, something many environmental groups object to.
Taking Targets to the Summit
Across Europe, environmental activists are urging governments to aim higher at the Copenhagen summit. On Wednesday Greenpeace activists in Paris did just that -- climbing to the top of the National Assembly building, using a ladder on a "fire truck"-style vehicle. Police prevented them from unfurling a banner, but they still made their point. They want the EU to commit to cutting CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020 -- double the current 20 percent target. They also want President Nicolas Sarkozy to put a figure on how much aid France will give developing nations each year.
India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh could use a speech in parliament on Thursday to announce ambitious targets. Reuters news agency obtained provisional government estimates suggesting India could cut its carbon intensity by 24 percent by 2020 compared with 2005 levels (carbon intensity is the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of gross domestic product). India also estimates that by 2030, it could reduce its actual carbon emissions by 37 percent, also from 2005 levels. As the world's fourth highest emitter, India is is under pressure to follow the US and China in outlining details of how it will control its growing emissions.
The AFP news agency, meanwhile, is reporting Mexican officials as saying the country will use Copenhagen to propose cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent (based on 1990 levels) by 2050 -- but the offer will be dependent on it receiving foreign aid. Mexico, which has Latin America's second-largest economy after Brazil, also aims to reduce emissions by 6 to 7 percent by 2012 "if we have the necessary technology and financing," according to Environment Minister Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada.
Climate News from Dec. 1
No Emissions Cuts for India, Says IPCC Boss Pachauri
"Coming as I do from India, a land which gave birth to civilization in ancient times and where much of the earlier tradition and wisdom guides actions even in modern times, the philosophy of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,' which means the whole universe is one family, must dominate global efforts to protect the global commons."
That is what Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said in his speech accepting the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC.
But with the Copenhagen summit set to begin in mere days, a consensus is emerging that developing countries should only be asked to slow the growth of their CO2 emissions. Pachauri this week made it clear that it is a position he solidly backs. Speaking about India, a country which has yet to reveal its CO2 intensity reduction goals, Pachauri said: "Cutting emissions is out of question. How can a country like India at this stage of our development accept any cuts in emissions? That is totally out of the question. I don't think anybody in the government would think of that at this point in time."
Combating Climate Change on the Cheap
Europe could save the planet for just €2 per person, per day!
What sounds like an infomercial is actually a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute and Friends of the Earth Europe. According to the study, released on Tuesday, the EU could reduce its emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and 90 percent by 2050, when compared to 1990 levels. That's twice the amount of reductions the EU has currently pledged ahead of Copenhagen.
However, as the study points out, such reductions won't come without a little sacrifice, aside from the €2 fee. Sacrifice number one: cars. The study calls for a reduction in trips taken by private cars to just 43 percent of total trips in 2050 from 75 percent in 2005. That means taking the train more. Additionally, the study calls on Europeans to use the train instead of the plane for trips of less than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles).
The study also asks meat eaters to go vegetarian, at least part-time. To reach such drastic reductions in carbon emissions, the average European would have to eat 60 percent less meat in 2020 compared to today. Such a diet would reduce the emissions that come from the animals and from fertilizing the crops those animals eat. It would also free up land currently used to raise livestock.
Best of all, all of these measures -- and the good karma that would presumeably result -- would cost Europeans just €2 per day between 2010 and 2020.
The study also in the EU's share owed to the developing world. Estimates range from €150 billion ($225 billion) to €450 billion ($675 billion) a year or another simple €3 a day charge to Europeans by 2020. In total, that means each European can buy clear skies and perhaps a clear conscience for just €18,250.
"Deep cuts in emissions can be achieved in Europe at a reasonable cost," says the Stockholm Environment Institute's Dr. Charles Heaps, who authored the report.
Optimism -- But Only for Next Year
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her optimism that there would be a binding deal on cutting emissions. But she indicated that it would only come in 2010 rather than at the Copenhagen climate summit which starts next week.
In Tuesday's edition of the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel, she's quoted as saying: "It is important that this year (2009) is remembered as one where we saw international co-operation over one of the biggest challenges facing humanity. For that to happen, Copenhagen must be a success." Merkel said there had to be a political agreement that allows the world to meet the target of limiting the rise in temperatures to just 2 degrees Celsius. She also stressed the importance of a new international monitoring system, to check whether individual countries' obligations are being met: "A clear political commitment should and must happen in Copenhagen. And on this basis it must be clear that next year -- preferably the first half of next year -- we need to achieve a binding agreement, with internationally binding targets, under the auspices of the United Nations."
With Copenhagen Just Days Away, EU Pushes for More
Despite recent commitments from the world's largest polluters, including a pledge from China to slow its emissions, the European Union wants more.
With the climate summit in Copenhagen scheduled to begin in less than a week, a proposed text from the Danish government, uncovered by Reuters this week, says that the world should reduce carbon emissions 50 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2050. Rich countries would account for 80 percent of the reductions, the document said with developing nations pitching in the rest.
While the Danish government has said the text is not a formal proposal for Copenhagen, developing nations have wasted no time in expressing their disapproval. Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told reporters in New Delhi, "if the Denmark draft is any indication then we are heading to a dead end. The draft, which is not based on realistic estimations, is totally unacceptable to us."
Meanwhile, following China's promise to reduce the rate at which it emits greenhouse gases, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, speaking at the EU-China Summit in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing on Monday, spoke frankly of the need for more action. "So far our belief is the global effort put on the table for mitigation is not enough ... more needs to be done," he said. Sweden is the current holder of the rotating EU presidency and will represent the EU position in the Copenhagen talks.
In response, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao reiterated that China is still a developing country. At the summit, the two sides agreed to cooperate on science and technology. "Financial support by developed countries and arrangements to promote technology dissemination in and transfer to developing countries will be an important outcome in Copenhagen," the EU and China said in a joint statement.
Climate News from Nov. 30
EU Backs Away from Specific Climate Change Aid
The European Union is using some clever accounting to fulfil its promise of financial assistance to help developing nations combat climate change.
The UK's Guardian got its hands on confidential documents showing that the EU has struck language from its official Copenhagen negotiating position that guaranteed any climate change aid would be granted in addition to foreign aid. Instead already existing funds will be used to help developing countries tackle the negative affects of climate change.
According to the Guardian, the EU negotiating team wrote: "Cannot accept reference to 'additional to', and 'separate from' ODA [official development assistance] targets."
The idea that richer, industralized nations should foot the bill for less developed nations to beat back climate change is a contentious issue in the Copenhagen talks. The news will come as a disappointment to developing nations such as India, China and Brazil, and could even serve as roadblock to a global agreement in Copenhagen in December, non-governmental organizations said.
China has demanded that the United States and other Western nations pony up as much as 1 percent of their annual gross domestic product to help less developed nations reduce their emmissions, but the US and the EU have not accepted the demand. At the same time, poor countries have asked for $400 billion a year by 2020, while rich countires have only proosed €110 billion ($164.6 billion), the Guardian said.
Germany and France have both argued the money should come from existing foreign aid, leading to fears that spending on other important issues, such as poverty and education, would be reduced. Britain and Holland, on the other hand, have argued that the money for climate change assistance come in addiiton to foreign aid.
Still developing nations are increasingly cautious about promises from their industralized counterparts, as previous pledges have not been kept. In 2001 at a UN meeting in Bonn, Germany, the EU, Canada, Norway, Switzerland and others promised they'd pay developing nations $410 million a year between 2005 and 2008. To date, however, only a tenth of the money has been delivered.
Developing Nations form Negotiating Bloc
Increasingly, the climate summit set to start in Copenhagen next week is shaping up to be a contest between industrialized nations and the developing world. Now, a group of leading developing countries have developed a coordinated position to confront the world's leading economies.
Government representatives from China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Sudan met in Bejing over the weekend. The agreed to demand that the West provide both environmental technology in addition to funding to help them fight global warming. The steps taken so far by rich countries in this regard have not been sufficient, they added.
"The purpose of the meeting was to prepare for and contribute to a positive, ambitious and equitable outcome in Copenhagen," the countries said in a statement released after the talks.
China, India and Brazil are among the world's biggest polluters, with the People's Republic now ranked ahead of the US in terms of absolute emissions. (The US remains far out ahead in per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases.) Last week, China pledged to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released per yuan of production by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 relative to 2005 levels. The promise would merely slow the growth of emissions in China and is well below pledges made by Europe, which seeks to cut emissions by 20 percent by 2020 using 1990 as a base line. Even the US, which plans to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 relative to 2005 levels, has gone further than China. Nevertheless, many feel it is a good sign that China is offering to make cuts at all.
The Beijing statement also called for the Kyoto Protocol to remain in force. Kyoto required rich nations to cut their emissions while making no such demand of the developing world. Kyoto expires in 2013; the Copenhagen summit aims at establishing a successor treaty.
Despite the pledges from China and the US last week, many fear that the Copenhagen summit will not produce the kind of breakthrough many had been hoping for. Speaking from China, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that countries needed to do more.
"If you sum up all the commitments made so far, according to our estimates, we are not yet where we should be if we want Copenhagen to succeed," he said.
Climate News from Nov. 27
As Copenhagen Approaches, China Offers to Rein in Emissions
With the Copenhagen climate summit just around the corner, the world's largest polluters are finally plegding to do something about unchecked greenhouse gas emissions. On Thursday, one day after the US committed to concrete CO2 emission reduction goals, China too made a promise to reduce its "carbon intensity."
The pledge is not exactly what environmentalists had been hoping for. Instead of lowering absolute emissions, Beijing will cut the amount of CO2 emitted per yuan of economic activity by 45 percent by 2020. Essentially, whereas Europe has agreed to slash CO2 output and the US has offered a minor trim, China is merely saying it will slow the rate at which its CO2 emissions are growing. China has been resistant to cut absolute emissions, arguing that climate concerns must be considered in concert with economic growth.
Nevertheless, the United Nations and others reacted positively to the Chinese announcement, perhaps another indication that momentum is building ahead of the Copenhagen climate talks, which begin on Dec. 7. China and the US are the world's top two polluters and their participation is considered critical if Copenhagen is going to ultimately result in a deal. China also announced that premier Wen Jiabao would attend the summit.
"The US commitment to specific, midterm emission-cut targets and China's commitment to specific action on energy efficiency can unlock two of the last doors to a comprehensive agreement," said Yvo de Boer, the United Nation's top climate negotiator.
Still, China's pledge is only a "binding" voluntary measure. Xie Zhenhua, the Chinese climate policy representative, who lead the press conference at which the cuts were announced, commented that "Chinese people stick to their word."
Brazil President Hands "Gringos" the Bill for Amazon Rain Forest
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Thursday that "gringos," or rich Western nations, should be the ones to pay to protect the Amazon rain forest from deforestation, because they already destroyed their own forests through destructive logging and farming practices. Da Silva made the comments at a conference on the Amazon that was sparsely attended by world leaders.
"I don't want any gringo asking us to let an Amazon resident die of hunger under a tree," Da Silva said according to the Associated Press. "We want to preserve, but they will have to pay the price for this preservation because we never destroyed our forest like they mowed theirs down a century ago."
Da Silva's efforts are not without merit, as many see the Amazon rainforest, which absorbs CO2, as one of the world's best defenses against climate change. Brazil has managed to reduce the level of deforestation to roughly 7,000 square kilometers (2,702 square miles) a year, the lowest level in decades. So far Norway has offered up $1 billion by 2015 to help save the rainforest, a significant sum, but not close to the $21 billion Brazil hopes to raise.
Americans Gobble Up the Resources of Five Earths
International think tank Global Footprint Network, based in Oakland, Calif., released a study on Wednesday that shows if the entire world consumed resources at the same rate as the US does, humanity would need five Earths to sustain itself. Averaged across the entire globe, humans use roughly 50 percent more resources annually than the Earth produces. The study draws its conclusion from a calculation of the ecological footprint of average citizens. The average American has a footprint of 9 global hectares, while the average European has a footprint of half that. The world, however, has resources enough for a footprint of only 1.8 global hectares per person.
India and US Forge "Green Partnership"
Ahead of the Copenhagen climate summit, the United States and India agreed to enter into a "green partnership" this week aimed at addressing the interlinking challenges of food security, energy security and climate change. India and the United States are seen as two crucial cogs in the upcoming Copenhagen climate talks, since they are two of the largest emitters of CO2 in the world.
As such, both countries agreed to work together and with others to achieve an agreeable outcome at the United Nations meeting. Any such agreement, the countries added, must reflect the need of developing nations for financial resources and technological development.
As a part of the partnership, Prime Minister Singh of India and US President Obama launched a Clean Energy and Climate Change Initiative that aims to improve the lives of citizens in both countries by developing and improving access to clean, affordable energy, thereby creating new jobs. The initiative calls for both countries to cooperate in areas such as solar and wind technologies, clean coal and carbon capture technologies and bio-fuels.