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The Copenhagen Accord

Having returned from Copenhagen, rested, and taken a little time to digest the two-page statement of principles the Copenhagen climate conference adopted at the very last minute, I'm going to climb way out on a limb with two claims about it and the process that led to it: The admittedly anti-climatic Copenhagen Accord (available on the UNFCCC website) is better than it may look at first glance; and the undeniably chaotic process that accompanied its negotiation and adoption was not as bad as reported. Though the conference organizers did a terrible job of handling the non-governmental organizations that represent the natural constituency for a strong climate agreement, they pushed negotiators hard to come up with something meaningful and may have contributed at least one crucial idea.

The Copenhagen Accord opens with a statement that climate change is to be combatted on the basis of "common but differentiated responsibilities"—the accepted formula for accommodating developing countries that are not yet ready to commit to a program of greenhouse gas reductions—"recognizing the scientific view that the increase in global temperature [in this century] should be below 2 degrees Celsius."

The next paragraph says, more specifically, that the nations of the world "should cooperate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries." Successive paragraphs call for a global climate adaptation program, with emphasis on the least developed countries, island states, and Africa, and mitigation aid for such countries coming to $100 billion a year by 2020. Countries classified in the Kyoto Protocol as Annex 1 (those required to make emissions reductions) are to submit 2020 targets to the climate secretariat by the end of January next year. Non-Annex-1 countries (those not required as yet to make emissions reductions) are to submit statements of what mitigation actions they propose to take.

The notion of peaking that is enunciated prominently in the accord's key second paragragh first came to my attention in a talk given at Columbia University early in the fall by Denmark's Connie Hedegaard, the conference chair. She said that even if fast-developing countries like China, India, and Brazil are not ready to commit to a schedule of emissions reductions, they should at least say when they expect and plan for their emissions to peak. Though she came under a lot of fire from developing countries at Copenhagen and got bad press, only to be replaced by Denmark's prime minister in the middle of the second week when push was coming to shove, Hedegaard may have contributed the idea that enabled China and the United States to bridge their radical differences—the U.S. demand that China commit to reductions, and China's for sharper U.S. reductions and generous aid for low-carbon technology. The implicit idea behind the appendix to the accord, in which advanced industrial countries have to state (and, by implication, be ready to defend) emissions targets and developing countries state (and defend) mitigation strategies, is that everybody will be required to say when their emissions will peak and then start declining.

Of course that is a far cry from what climate intellectuals and activists around the world had hoped for. But it may be the most that could reasonably be expected.

Perhaps the most stirring event to take place in Copenhagen during the two week conference was a downtown church service, with celebrities like South Africa's Bishop Tutu and climate activist Bill McKibbon participating. McKibbon has become closely associated with a global grassroots crusade called, which seeks to mobilize the world around the idea of reducing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million (versus 390 today and 270 pre-industrial); at the end of the service, the church bells tolled 350 times. Needless to say, what comes out of the Copenhagen Accord even on the most optimistic estimates will come nowhere close to getting us back to 350, and only if everybody joins in its implementation in the most sincere spirit will it keep us below 450--roughly the level scientists say is required to prevent this century's temperature rise from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius. Following release of the agreement, the Huffington Post published reactions from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and McKibbon denouncing the Copenhagen outcome. Greenpeace called Copenhagen "a crime scene," while Friends of the Earth said the accord was "a sham."  

The New York Times, in an excellent wrap-up written by two correspondents with contributions from four other reporters, characterized the agreement as a "grudging accord," and so it is. Nobody is satisfied with it. But consider the obstacles: the United States came in facing a world hostile because, for ten years, it has done so little to reduce its emissions and resentful that the Johnnie-Come-Lately now want to seize leadership and set conditions; the whole industrial world encountered the wrath of the developing nations, which suddenly have taken to blaming all their intractable problems on climate change; China and India knew they would come under huge pressure from the United States, Europe, and Japan to make emissions reduction pledges that they feel unready for. None of these differences could be immediately reconciled without some country's leadership being accused by its constituents of giving in to extortionist demands from somebody else.

Under the circumstances it was perhaps a clever ploy that Obama made a big deal out of emissions verification by countries like China. Naturally China was insulted and so there was a big fuss. The more that fuss goes on the less attention will be  paid to the costly and risky compromises the countries will have to make on really serious issues to move forward.

As for the mistreatment the NGOs suffered, it didn't feel as bad as it sounded. As I stood in line with a handful of people I got to know rather well in five or six hours, it became apparent that even though some had come half-way around the world to do something that they now couldn't get into the convention hall to do, most didn't really care all that much. (If they had, there would have been a riot.) If you were there, by definition you cared about climate, and the real reason you were there was simply that you wanted to be.

Copenhagen and the UN's NGO Problem

During the Copenhagen climate conference a local newspaper, the Copenhagen Post, has been putting out a surprisingly good daily newspaper devoted to the meeting, The COP15 Post. Yesterday, December 1, its lead story had the headline, NGO Fury Directed at COP15 Organisers. It described the difficulties accredited NGOs have had in getting access to the conference center, and an open letter 50 of them addressed to Yvo de Boer protesting the treatment they were getting. The well-regarded de Boer is executive secretary of the secretariat, based in Bonn, Germany, of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, or, as it's more popularly known, the Rio treaty).

That brought to mind not only the difficulties I personally had getting into the conference center this week but also problems I ran into immediately with the UNFCCC's secretariat when I tried to obtain press accreditation as IEEE Spectrum magazine's editor for energy and the environment. When proper press credentials failed to arrive on request, and I sent an e-mail message of inquiry, the secretariat told me that they did not issue press credentials to publications of "non-governmental organizations" and only accredited press organizations somehow recognized by member governments.

It sounded positively Soviet! The United Nations does not recognize independent press organizations and only accredits government-approved press??

When I calmed down a little, a respected colleague suggested to me that perhaps what the UNFCCC secretariat meant to be saying was that they did not recognize publications of professional or membership organizations, or of non-governmental institutions. This sounded plausible, and so I sent another message to the secretariat, asking whether it was indeed the case that they accredited--say--Rupert Murdoch's publications but not the AAAS's Science magazine, MIT's Technology Review, or IEEE's Spectrum. That query went unanswered.

On closer reading of the secretariat's mail to me, as my colleague pointed out, it seemed that perhaps I could get admitted to the conference as part of an NGO delegation, though that meant I would not have proper press credentials and would not be admitted to press-only events So, rather than keep harping on the press issue,  I instead obtained accreditation as a member of an NGO group--a Dutch one as it happened--and went to Copenhagen planning to participate in a couple of Holland Climate House panels. That said and done, I couldn't help but wonder whether, when I arrived, I would find reporters working for magazines like Science or National Geographic, a membership publication of the National Geographic Society, working with press credentials after all, contrary to the UNFCCC's supposed principles.

When I finally arrived at Holland Climate House at 6 pm on Tuesday this week, after being turned away my first day by the conference and having had to stand in line for seven hours the second day to get in, I found my Dutch host being interviewed right at that very moment by a press-accredited reporter for National Geographic magazine.

So does the UNFCCC have some kind of problem in how it handles non-governmental organizations? It sure seems to. But don't ask me what exactly the problem is. I frankly have no idea.

Copenhagen Crunch

For a window into the climate conference in its critical last 48 hours, go to's Copenhagen Live 24/7--Your Pass to the UN Conference, which is broadcasting the proceedings but also comment and commentary. The UN's own official webcasts of the conference show everything that official participants say in public, but bear in mind that nobody is seeing the really important conversations and negotiations taking place in private.

And speaking of passes, for video showing a clash between Danish police and would-be frustrated conference participants, along with a sound account of what led to thousands of accredited participants getting turned back at the conference center's doors, go to the New York Times's Dot Earth blog.

Having been turned away on Monday this week myself, I found myself standing in line for seven hours the next day next to a young woman who has worked on climate issues in the White House who had waited at the very front of the line on Monday for nine hours without being able to get in.

There were people in the line who had come from half-way around the world, spending 48 hours on planes and in airports, who now found access to the convention denied, even though their accreditation documents were perfectly in order.

Only those who are members of state delegations or who have press credentials get right in. I personally had to obtain accreditation not as press but as an NGO member, but that's another story. . . .

Kyoto and Copenhagen

As I sat waiting for climate point man John Kerry to begin his talk yesterday, a member of the Swiss delegation to the Copenhagen climate talks reminded me of something very basic: even as negotiators frantically try to reach agreement on a new framework to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, parties are negotiating in parallel reduction targets for the second Kyoto implementation period, roughly 2012-20. The first phase of Kyoto called on the industrial countries--the so-called Annex ! countries--to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5 percent by 2012 by comparison with 1990. Except for the United States, which declined to ratify Kyoto and has been saying here in Copenhagen that it will not "do Kyoto" in any way, shape or form, all the advanced industrial countries have at least promised to cut emissions in line with Kyoto targets.

There are now two possibilities, as the Swiss woman explained. Kyoto will be retained--the overwhelming preference by the way of the Group of 77 developing countries--and new reduction targets will be adopted for 2020 in light of what the United States and major non-annex 1 countries like China and India agree to do in parallel. Or Kyoto will be ditched, as such, and Kyoto-like commitments will be folded into a new framework agreement . The poorest developing countries much prefer to keep Kyoto so as to retain their non-Annex 1 status, and unless the United States brings something substantial to the table in the next 48 hours, the rest of the world may end up coming around to their position.

Remember: under Kyoto, which the United States not only signed but virtually wrote, it was to cut its emissions by 7 percent by 2012 versus 1990. Instead, by 2005 its emissions were about 17 percent higher than they were in 1990. So when Obama promises to now cut U.S. emissions by 17 percent by 2020, he's only promising to get us back to 1990--in other words, to the point where Americans were supposed to start cutting their emissions in 1997, twelve years ago.

Tracking Carbon Pledges

As the week wears on here in Copenhagen, attention will keep focusing on who is promising to do what and when, and whether the aggregate results can possibly keep the earth's 21st-century warming from exceeding 2 degrees Celsius, the stated goal of the COP15 conference.

Yesterday, standing in a seven-hour line to get into the Bella Center, I found myself by happy coincidence standing next to Tom Fiddaman, who created the global pledge thermometer or barometer that I recommended in an earlier post. Fiddaman, who obtained a doctorate in systems dynamics at MIT's Sloan School and now lives in Montana where he telecommutes for Ventana Systems, turned me on to a carbon pledge inventory maintained by UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme. While you're there, check out the daily Copenhagen news feed that UNEP maintains on its homepage.

For another user-friendly indicator of Copenhagen progress or regress, check out the World Wildlife Fund's Climate Deal Barometer. And while you're there, you might as well take a glance at WWF's useful COP15 newsfeed.

China's Copenhagen Presence

As I write this, I happen to be sitting in Holland house, where the Dutch have been presenting a two-week-long round-the-clock program of climate-related panels, many of them about water, naturally. The scope and physical scale of what they're doing is almost unique at the Copenhagen climate conference, though just across the corridor Brazil has a similar presence, much of it devoted to agribusiness and cane ethanol production. That focus is not so surprising either. But what's really a little startling is China's nearby setup, a climate information center that in terms of physical scope and programmatic ambition is the equal of Holland's and Brazil's, and by the same token more impressive than anything any other country is doing here as part of the parallel or "side" meetings.

The COP15 climate conference basically has two parts, the negotiations among the nearly 200 countries that are party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and a parallel exhibition and program of activities sponsored by non-governmental organizations. Physically, the two parts are co-located and inter-penetrate, though participants who obtained accreditation as members of NGOs are not invited to negotiations and cannot attend many of the events staged by or for state delegations. (The difficulties many NGO participants had obtaining access to the conference complex have been widely reported in the world press; as a person with NGO accreditation, I personally was unable to get into the conference complex on Monday, even though I was scheduled to participate in a panel that afternoon; and I got in on Tuesday only after standing in line for seven hours with many hundreds of other NGO people. Today I got right in as I now have the required badge, but the conference has stopped issuing any new NGO badges, whether one is pre-accredited or not, evidently because the numbers attached to state party delegations are greater than expected.)

But I digress. Here at the far back side of the conference complex, where state delegations have their offices and semi-official groupings such as Holland's and Brazil's have their set-ups as well, China has one of the most impressive exhibitions. At this moment, as I listen to Europeans talk about trans-boundary water cooperation, next door Mr. Ding Zhongli is delivering his "Presentation  on Critical Evaluation for Long-term Carbon Emissions Reduction by IPCC, G8, OECD, etc." On the racks outside the room where he's talking are glossy official publications with titles like "China's Fiscal Policy on Climate Change" and "Addressing Climate Change: China in Action," as well as an impressive packet from the Laboratory of Low Carbon Energy at Tsinghua University, the Beijing institution that's routinely described as the country's MIT.

Most pertinent of the publications on display, at a time when the U.S. and Chinese delegations are trading public jibes about who will be most to blame if this conference fails, is a one pager called "Developing the Energy and Climate Registry in China." The United States has been pressing China to accept international verification of their greenhouse gas emissions, but to judge from what China is showing and telling here, they're already doing that verification and don't need or want outside help.


The U.S. Copenhagen Presence

Speaking at 1:15 this afternoon in an open meeting, Senator John Kerry delivered what was billed as a report on the prospects for enactment of a U.S. bill limiting the country’s carbon emissions and establishing a carbon trading system. Because Kerry is well known to be the Obama administration's designated point man on climate, both domestically and internationally, the large meeting room slated for his talk--the Hans Christian Anderson room, as it happens--was filled to capacity well in advance of his remarks.

Kerry's speech turned out to be two-parts stemwinder, in which he forcefully preached to the converted about the absolute necessity of taking historic action on climate, two-parts an equally forceful re-statement of the administration's position on emissions verification and targets—and just one part about the prospects for U.S climate change legislation.

The stemwinder need not long detain us: Kerry remarked that difficult climate talks have been taking place for 17 years, with many ups and downs in domestic politics. He gently reminded his audience that the process began in Rio with the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which Bush 1 signed on behalf of the United States, and less gently of the unfortunate years of "delay, divide, deny" that ensued under Bush 2. Etc.

By way of putting the issues facing diplomats here in Copenhagen in context, Kerry pointed out that the United States has just adopted the most ambitious and expensive green energy development program in its history, that half the states in the country already are participating in regional greenhouse gas trading programs, and that some 1,000 U.S. cities have promised to bring their carbon emissions down in keeping with Kyoto (the 1997 protocol to the framework convention that the United States signed but then declined to ratify or implement). The EPA has just issued a finding that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, sending a message to Congress "that if it doesn't legislate, then we'll regulate." A climate and energy bill adopted by the House earlier this year for the first time sets an emissions target for the United States, and Kerry confidently expects the Senate to follow suit early next year.

However, Kerry said pointedly: he will not be able to persuade an Ohio legislator to enact a climate bill if that person's constituents worry about losing their jobs because countries like China and India refuse to make commitments that are independently verifiable. Thus, transparency is a "core issue" for the United States at Copenhagen. Further, he said, "every country that contributes significantly to the climate problem must commit to emissions targets." Admittedly, he continued, this will require developing countries to adopt growth paths that are different from those that brought the world's present-day advanced industrial countries from rags to riches. But having the luxury of "following our mistakes will be cold comfort if it leads to climate catastrophe," Kerry exhorted.

As for the advertised subject of his talk, Kerry conceded that the Senate battle will be tough. But he took comfort from the support that strong climate action is now getting-or so he claimed--from senators like South Carolina's Lindsay Graham and West Virginia's Robert Byrd, the Senate's senior member by far. Byrd, elected in 1959, was cosponsor with Chuck Hagel of the Senate resolution that forever killed any prospect of the United States' ratifying Kyoto. 

Copenhagen's Rich-Poor Rift

Yesterday's threatened walkout by the so-called Group of 77 countries was unsurprising and yet surprising. From the git-go, the fate of the Copenhagen climate conference obviously was going to depend on whether the gap dividing the United States from the most rapidly developing poor countries--China and India, notably--could be bridged, They want sharp emissions cuts by rich countries and a lot of financial assistance to promote green technologies, and they refuse to commit to emissions reductions targets, which the United States insists on.

What yesterday's eruption showed is that it's not by any means just China and India; it's the whole of the world's South.

The Group of 77, founded in the 1960s to advance the global South's economic agenda, played a highly vocal role in world politics in the 1960 and 1970s. In recent decades, it has hardly been heard from, however, though its membership has continued to grow, to 130. It now includes all of Latin America except Mexico, almost all of Africa, the South Asian countries including the big emitters China, India, and Indonesia, and most of the MIddle East.

How much will it take for the rich countries to satisfy the concerns of the poor? Perhaps more than most U.S. citizens will ever be able to fathom and accept. Yesterday, coincidentally, a daily conference newspaper published by the Copenhagen Post ran an article by Indian environmentalist Sunita Narain. Here's some of what she had to say: “The rich must reduce so that the poor can grow. This was the basis of the climate agreement the world reached in the first Earth Summit in 1992. This was the basis of the Kyoto Protocol.…But the world has never been serious about this agreement.…Industrialized countries are responsible for seven out of every 10 tons of carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere from the start of the industrial revolution.…Between 1980 and 2005, the total emissions of the United States were almost double that of China and more than seven times that of India. In per capita terms such injustice is even more unacceptable, indeed immoral.”



Handicapping Copenhagen

A large demonstration in downtown Copenhagen on Saturday--and the determined efficiency with which police rounded up and arrested a couple of hundred allgedly unruly activists--got most of the headlines over the weekend. Negotiators reportedly worked hard through the weekend, however, trying to narrow differences on a draft protocol before heads of state arrive later in the week for some last-minute head-bashing.

To follow developments closely in real time, the most useful Twitter feed that I've located so far is one posted and culled by France's Le Monde: you can ignore the introductory French at the top and go straight to the mostly English-language entry list.

For context, the Wall Street Journal has an excellent synoposis of who wants what at Copenhagen, while the Financial Times has pulled toghther data summarizing 2005 greenhouse gas emissions for key countries and players and reduction pledges they have made so far. The online version of the FT's Reducing Carbon Emissions: Government Pledges is somewhat dated but still worth consulting because it's so compact and nicely interactive. Some developments not enumerated in the current versions: Brazil's promise to get emissions down 36-39 percent by 2020, largely by means of reduced Amazon deforestation; China's plege to trim the nation's carbon intensity--CO2 per unit GDP--40-45 percent by 2020; the European Union's offer to hike its planned 2020 cut to 30 percent from 20 percent if other critical parties such as the United States, India, and China do enough.

Speaking of interactivity, a newly formed group called Climate Interactive has posted a thermometer-like climate scoreboard that tells you how Copenhagen negotiators are doing in terms of business-as-usual and carbon-reduction scenarios. (Current reading: the proposals on the table today will get the world's increase in temperature between now and 2100 down to only 3.9 degrees Celsisus from 4.8 degrees C, business-as-usual; the stated goal is to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees C.) For more qualitative measures of success, go to IEEE Spectrum’s What to Expect from Copenhagen Confab.

The Associated Press's Michael von Bülow did a nice job of summarizing where things stood in Copenhagen as weekend negotiations began. Stay tuned here for this week's developments.


Large California Geothermal Project Bites Dust

AltaRock Energy informed the U.S. Department of Energy on Friday, Dec. 11, that it is abandoning its major geothermal demonstration project at The Geysers, north of San Francisco. It already had disclosed in September that it was finding drilling into deep rock more difficult than expected, and last summer the company reacted defensively to reports that a similar project near Basel, Switzerland, had induced earthquakes. On Dec. 10, the day before the California announcement came the disclosure that the Basel project was being ditched. The technical leader of that project, meanwhile, faces judicial charges in Switzerland that he had proceeded with the drilling technique knowing of possible earthquake damage.

The techniques being developing in Switzerland and California involve fracturing bedrock, so that water can be circulated through the fissures to generate steam. AltaRock had obtained about $6 million from DOE for The Geysers project, and around $30 million venture capital from investors such as Google, Khosla Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins, according to a New York Times report.

These are not the only major green energy projects to go under in recent months. Earlier in the fall TRU Energy, a subsidiary of CLP in Hong Kong, announced it was writing off its whole investment in Solar Systems'  154-megawatt solar project in Mildura, Australia.  To be built at an estimated cost of 420 million Australian dollars, the installation was to consist of curved mirrors that would track the sun and focus light on high-efficiency photovoltaic material, to generate electricity. With a projected capacity factor of 20 percent, it would have produced 270,000 MWh of electricity per year, enough for about 45,000 homes.

The PV concentrator plant was not the only innovative solar project to be slated for Mildura, by the way. A town of about 30,000 people in norhwestern Victoria, with a semi-arid Mediterranean climate, Mildura may yet be home to a proposed solar tower, in which the upward convection of air would drive a turbine.

Or will that too turn out to be an exciting green energy idea that just doesn't quite cut it technically or economically?





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