Copenhagen (COP15): Bioenergy industry reacts
Copenhagen climate summit (COP15) has concluded without a definitive climate treaty. Inductry reactino follows from Renergie CEO Brian Donovan (US), Alkol CEO Al Costa (Brazil), Biomass Advisors’ Mackinnon Lawrence (US), and Biofuels Digest South Asia correspondent Joelle Brink:
Joelle Brink, South Asia correspondent for Biofuels Digest, writes:
Biofuels leaders invited to the Copenhagen came away from the first week of negotiations assured that they will receive priority in the UN’s renewable energy plans, and eager to partner with one another to speed up the pace of innovation. In the second week, however, the negotiations with national governments bogged down over the issue of emissions cuts by China and the developed economies. In the end a nonbinding agreement between the major polluting nations was signed with many others dissenting, leaving the real work for the Mexico City round n 2010.
Not only were many developing nations left hanging, but also US utilities that had planned on utilizing cap and trade credits. A global recession, heightened economic competition between developed nations and emerging superpowers, and historic neglect of the environmental problems of the poor led to a collective reluctance to address the thornier aspects of global warming. In particular, the question of “carbon budgets” linked to population size was a sticking point. By this measure the US would not be eligible for carbon credits and would have to pay into a fund to assist poor nations.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived at the talks with a pledge of US $100 billion per year to fund environmental action in the most endangered developing nations. President Obama later acknowledged that more was needed but said the $100 billion pledge was the best the US could do in its present circumstances. He attempted to broker a last minute emissions reduction agreement among the major polluters, but came away with a nonbinding voluntary commitment only.
China subsequently declared itself satisfied with the non-binding resolution, which leaves it free to maintain or even increase its emission levels and does not require it to accept international monitoring. The same line was taken by other governments that lack political transparency. India, which already has a monitored civilian nuclear agreement in place with the US, took the American side. Indian Climate Minister Jairam Ramesh, who was among the chief negotiators in Copenhagen, declared that the Indian delegation was “preparing for 2010” and would continue to press for a binding resolution.
Climate activists gathered in the cold outside the Bella Center and representatives of environmental NGOs gathered inside reacted at first with disbelief, which slowly turned to anger. Al Gore canceled a scheduled personal appearance “with great annoyance” according to the publisher of his upcoming book, Our Choice. As Friday night wore on some proposed uniting to take on the challenge of global warming collectively. It was a moment Ghandhi would have approved of, in which people at last understand that they must be the change they wish to see in the world.
In 2010 the discussions move on to Mexico City, and to what was originally intended as a meeting to resolve the logistics of the Copenhagen action plan. There is no action plan at present, but political heat from environmental activists and pro environment governments, which is likely, may produce one over the next several months.
Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, said:
“While the accord negotiated in the closing hours by a small number of heads of government, including China, India, and the US, is a disappointment to many—in process, form, and content—others will see the full engagement by heads of government as a milestone in climate policy. The true value of the accord depends on the follow-up. A key aspect of follow up is the fast, forgotten 50% of warming caused by non-CO2 gases and aerosols. Not only do non-CO2 pollutants make up half of warming, they are the half that can be solved quickly. Cuts in CO2 are essential but won’t result in cooling benefits for up to 1,000 years. The islands have recognized the urgent need for fast, near-term solutions, in addition to CO2 reductions.”
Mackinnon Lawrence, a policy analyst with Biomass Advisors, writes:
Last week, world leaders emerged from the two-week Copenhagen conference (COP-15) with an Accord falling well short of the binding agreement many had argued was necessary to combat the worst effects of human-induced climate change. To be fair, with a slumping global economy draining political will and lethargy in the U.S. Senate raising questions about U.S. climate leadership, expectations were low heading in. Just weeks before the Conference kicked off on December 7th, world leaders announced they would pursue a two-step strategy, which included a framework agreement as a foundation for follow-up talks in Mexico City in December 2010.
To this end, the Accord seems to have delivered with provisions that include aid to developing countries, transparency, and most notably, commitments among the world’s major economies to curb emissions and report actions. But it fails to agreements Reports suggest that the deal was brokered in large part by some 11th-hour bargaining by Obama among the U.S., China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, which salvaged a diplomatic deadlock that took negotiators through an all-night marathon session.
First, it represents the first time that all major economies (including emitters) have made commitments to curb global warming pollution and report their actions. This latter point is especially encouraging in anticipation of future talks.
Perhaps the most difficult obstacle for international consensus on climate change has been the rift between developed and developing countries. Developed countries that have long enjoyed the benefits of industrialization and resulting economic prosperity want to hold developing countries accountable for their emissions as they modernize their economies. Developing countries, including China, India, and Brazil, argue that they should be exempt from having to report their emissions so long as they are playing “catch up.” The deadlock slowly eroded Kyoto’s efficacy and has more recent efforts to reach an agreement.
Getting China on board is perhaps the biggest breakthrough, especially in light of their increased willingness to exercise its growing economic influence. Although China forced a roll-back of emissions reduction commitments, they are now not only putting numbers on the table with a pledge to join the global fight to reduce climate pollution, they have agreed to open their books on their rising emissions and allow a transparent review of their progress toward their emission pledge. The China excuse is now off the table for the U.S. Senate, which could lead to action on the Kerry-Boxer bill.
Second, the Accord establishes the first ever “Green in the amount of 30 billion dollars for 2010-2012 to be allocated between adaptation and mitigation, including forestry.
Third, while fingers have been fixed on the U.S. over the last decade for its part in styming international efforts to combat climate change, Obama may have single-handedly salvaged U.S. reputation and leadership through, what is being hailed, as a skillful diplomatic meneuvering.
Still, the Accord falls well short on a number of issues.”
Renergie CEO Brian Donovan offers a detailed policy analysis: “Why Carbon emissions should not have been the focus of the U.N. Climate Change Summit and why the 15th conference of the parties should have focused on technology transfer. ” Donovan writes, “Unfortunately, this conference focused primarily on setting a cap on carbon emissions and providing financial aid to developing countries to build capacities to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change… the focus should have been on the transfer of proven renewable energy technology from developed to developing countries and how this technology transfer can be financed with currently available funds.”
Al Costa, CEO of Brazil’s Alkol, writes:
Thank you Lula for saving COP15 (a “basic” solution)
One of the first things anyone who lives in Brazil learns is the famous “jeitinho brasileiro” (”brazilian little way”), or the ability to find some loophole, a legal backdoor, some little-known or used judicial tool to get things done. We see them happening everywhere: in fact, it was the only way former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso found to run the country: by issuing “MP – Medidas Provisórias” (”Temporary Measures”), or measures only to be used in times of war. So you get the point.
Still, there are times in which that artifice actually shows its value, and COP 15 is a prime example, for anyone who actually thought that COP 15 would be able to produce a legal document was to say the least a dreamer. In fact, the UN only accepts decisions that are made unanimously. And if we consider the fact that there 193 nations involved in an event that was already in its 15th edition, and that the event saw 3 presidents give their places to others, we easily see we were dreaming indeed.
And in fact, after almost 2 weeks of going in circles and with the event nearing its very end, no real agreement was done. Yes, there were plenty of drafts, ideas, proposals, etc presented by several parties but none seemed to satisfy everyone: when one almost seemed to be “the one”, some party would disagree on something and everyone would have to go back to the drawing board. So just when everyone was about to go home totally empty handed, 4 countries that were named “BASIC” (Brazil, South Africa (”Africa do Sul”), India and China), lead by Brazil, decide to have a secret meeting at 2:00 AM to actually work in a draft.
And Brazil has plenty of credibility to call such a meeting: the country actually made it into a law the proposition to cut greenhouse emissions from 36,1% to 38,9% until the year 2020: almost twice what was being proposed in COP15. It will also decrease the cutting down of the amazon forest by 80% until that year. It has also allocated R$1 billion a year from the pre-salt oil money for a fund destined to cover for global warming changes destined for the north-east region (which lacks water) and the coastal regions (because of the danger of the sea level elevation). It has also passed a law that allows sugarcane to be grown only in especific areas of the country, far from the amazon, cerrado, etc. And all that will come at a cost of US$16 billions a year: a very respectable number considering we are talking about a developing country. Lula even claimed in his final speech that if need be Brazil will step forward and actually lend or give money to developing countries to help them achieve their CO2 commitments.
During the secret meeting, Obama asked to sit besides Lula. The chinese promptly reminded Obama that they would not accept international inspections to check if their emissions were in fact being lowered, as they understood that was a breach in their sovereign, self-determination etc. Lula saved the day simply by suggesting a change of name: so, instead of “inspection”, the term “analysis” was chosen. Even so Obama objected, and was finally convinced when reminded by India that the term is actually used by the OMC. Finally, and to give the document a legal ground, a rarely used legal loophole was used and so the meeting ended, everyone went to their hotels and in the morning the draft was presented to the UN board. This promptly accepted the thing, glad that SOMETHING was finally signed and agreed upon!
So what it amounts here is basically a meaningful and united group got fed up with the indecisions and excessive babble of the event, got together in a secret meeting, was able to create a draft, and invited the US to bless it. The text basically recognizes the need to keep world climate 2 degrees down until 2020 and promises US$ 30 billion in financing to developing countries. So, after almost 2 weeks of intense debates that went basically in circles, the world saw COP15 ending up with a draft that had no legal binding and was not widely shown nor really understood. A very disappointing document indeed.
But the question remains: what if that document was not written? Most probably over 190 countries represented there would go back to their homes totally empty-handed. The unbelievable shame of that would completely destroy any possibility of ever reaching any sort of agreement on any COP16, 17, 18, you name them.
Still, the document was rejected by the usual US enemies: Cuba, Bolivia, and Venezuela. This last one very ungratefully to Brazil, as the country recently approved its entry to Mercosul. And not to mention Bolivia, which took over US$1.3 of brazilian oil investment a couple of years ago and payed mere US$150 million back for it. (If these are friends who needs enemies?) Other countries such as Tuvalu made the usual pseudo-impressive biblical remarks, saying they would not sell their countries for 30 pieces of silver, etc.
But the fact of the matter is that the usual legal tools to get things done have shown their inefficiencies for too long. And curiously enough, the jeitinho brasileiro is showing up in places known for being radically opposite to that. In the US, last week the EPA issued a ruling that greenhouse gas emissions actually endanger human health. And since anything that has to do with human health is under its unbrella, that effectively cleared the way for it to be able to regulate carbon without congressional legislation. In a similar fashion, Senator Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is leading an effort to overturn that ruling through a rarely used congressional joint resolution of disapproval.
So, again, anyone who truly thought that over 190 countries with radically different views on a subject that even in the scientific community is still debated would be able to produce a legal document under the UN framework is just not for real. That doesn´t mean however that we can´t still find ways to create some levels of commitments, as Lula proved.
In fact, Brazil showed without a doubt that it is definitely leading the way in nature conservancy and is in the right and fast track to be considered a a world leader. And let us not forget that Brazil is also being a very important part in the Honduras crisis, and was recently a peace keeper in Haiti as well. Brazil and Lula are definitely showing world-class leadership and COP 15 is a shining example of that.