Daily Climate's Copenhagen update


POLITICO: The Arena - Expert Insights, Live from Copenhagen

Editor's note: Daily Climate editor Douglas Fischer will be updating this page daily with reports from Copenhagen. You can also follow the discussion in Politico's Copenhagen Arena.

Friday 18 December 2009

One planet, different universes

COPENHAGEN – All eyes in Copenhagen were on China and President Barack Obama Friday night, but no event captured the discord, mistrust and distance separating all sides at these climate talks than a pair of press conferences held simultaneously at the Bella Center earlier in the afternoon.

In the main room, refusing to cede the stage to other dignitaries, Venezuela' Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's Juan Evo Morales railed against the developed world's inability to accept responsibility for previous emissions obligations and the role it has played in warming the atmosphere. (link to UN video)

Across the hall, five Republican members of the U.S. House denounced the notion that humans could change the climate and expressed relief at the prospect of failure here.

"The fact that there's not an agreement coming out of this is not a bad outcome," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. "We need to reassess the science."

Barton was joined by Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Rep. John Sullivan of Oklahoma, Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, and Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan.

All of them said they had their doubts about the science behind climate change; all of them cited the stolen researcher emails from East Anglia University in England as reason to not act.

"We certainly should not be basing any treaty on corrupt data," said Sullivan. "We all should learn from this, go forth back to our respective countries and come up with different ways to address this issue."

What the House Republicans saw as fraud, Chavez and Morales saw as capitalist indifference. Their populations are already feeling some effects of a changing climate, they said through an interpreter. The Western world's inability to see that was infuriating.

Said Chavez: "You saw how Obama came, said four things, the majority of it without much sense, contradicting himself, talking about sovereignty – Obama talking of sovereignty. Imagine that. I don't know how the devil sees the church."

Chavez and Morales, running late, were supposed to clear the stage for another set of dignitaries. They refused.

"Do what you want. Tell them to bring the police," Chavez said. "We're not going to leave."

The Republicans, hounded by questions about science, impacts, and the need for an insurance policy, had to go. They left the building.

Asked earlier if any of them had talked with representatives from Tuvalu, the Maldives or other island states most at risk by rising seas, the five said no.

Their time at the talks, Upton explained, had been too brief. 

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Protesters' last gasp - in the Bella Center, at least

Activists staged what was likely one of the last major protests inside Copenhagen's Bella Center Wednesday, marching inside as a far larger and more unruly crowd massed outside in protest of limited access to the proceedings' final days.

Security in and around the Bella Center is extraordinarily tight and getting tighter. Police and military have formed a tight cordon around the complex, X-ray screeners have materialized INSIDE the media center (which is inside the security perimeter already, meaning journalists are going to be screened twice). The Plenary sessions are off-limits to all but select delegates with special badges, and the UN has alerted journalists that on the final day we'll need an escort to enter specific parts of the Bella Center.

Andriea Fanzeres of Brazil's O Eco grabbed this footage of protesters marching by in the hallway, an event that sent a packed media center scrambing for notebooks, cameras, Flips and phones  and scurrying out the exits.

Elsewhere today Sen. John Kerry filled a spacious briefing room with an address promising Congress will pass a climate bill if the world agrees to a deal here. What was perhaps most interesting about his speech was that it marked the first appearance of a teleprompter at these talks.


Wednesday 16 December 2009

Cities pushing nations toward deeper cuts


Melbourne Mayor Robert Doyle leads a panel of mayors representing some 45 million people in calling for nations to agree to more ambitious cuts. Photo by Douglas Fischer, Daily Climate

Mayors of some of the world's largest cities flexed their muscle at the United Nations climate talks Wednesday, warning that "billions of people" are prepared to cut emissions far beyond proposals national leaders have put on the table.

"We at the local level have too much too lose," said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. "We will go further, and we will make it safe for (politicians) to go further. We will push the envelope."

Nickels and mayors of Delhi, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Melbourne – representing some 45 million people – said they were pushing forward with ....  MORE

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Reading the cards in Copenhagen

Huq-200Copenhagen's Bella Center has the look and feel of a place tied in knots, but Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development is smiling.

Nobody's playing their cards yet, and they have no reason to show their hand until the last days of the conference, when the heads of state arrive.

But then, he told me, countries have to lay those cards on the table. They cannot bluff.

Countries will have to offer something. They have to move from their stuck positions. They have to compromise.

It won't be the solution many here want, but Huq is confident that the potential for significant progress remains very much in play.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Earth Journalism Awards

I must toot my horn for a few paragraphs.

Last night I was awarded an Earth Journalism Award, an international prize given to fifteen journalists this year for the best climate change reporting on a variety of topics.

The IPCC's Rajendra Pachauri presented some of the awards, as did former Ireland president Mary Robinson, African singer Lydia Achien'g Abura, Chinese actress Li Bing Bing.

An international jury of veteran journalists picked the 15 winners from a pool of 902 print, radio, TV and online entrants. Among those taking top honors are the expected heavyweights – Scientific American on carbon capture, Reuters for an investigation into possible corruption in New Guinea's carbon market, E&E News' ClimateWire with a piece on migration in Bangladesh.

But also sharing the limelight were a number of smaller, local and regional publications – Alsat M TV in Macedonia, Pakistan's Friday Times, Kenya's Business Daily. They are worth reading.

I won the climate diplomacy award for a piece exploring a new political framework. The proposal came from a Princeton University team headed by Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala, the brains behind the "wedge" solutions concept, and it starts with the premise that every country has a class of high-emitters living a carbon-intensive, Western lifestyle.

The Princeton team suggested that the world look at those individuals when assigning country-wide targets. Developed countries like the United States and Europe would be hit the hardest initially, but as developing countries such as India and China prosper – and more individuals cross that carbon line – they'd start to face obligatory cuts.

The concept is politically toxic here in Copenhagen, UN officials have assured me. China, India and other developing nations are adamant that the developed world must deliver on promises to cut emissions before they will accept legally binding obligations.

But at some point China and India will face binding emissions targets, and this is one way to divvy responsibility.

All the Earth Journalism Awards are online and translated into English here.

Monday 14 December 2009

Samsø cuts the cord

NORDBY, Denmark –  U.S. Energy Secretary Steve Chu and a host of foreign energy ministers announced Monday a $350 million initiative aimed at boosting renewable technologies worldwide. But out here on windswept Samsø, a remote, rural island in Denmark, resident have already transited to the carbon-free world these ministers envision.

They did so without the new technology or fancy investments envisioned by the ministers. Their secret? The residents themselves. And their desire to make a buck. READ THE FULL STORY



Saturday 12 December 2009

Climate solutions: Copenhagen bikes

To visit Copenhagen is to see bicycle commuting taken to an entirely new level, at least by standards in the United States.

The residents of Copenhagen bike 1.2 million kilometers every weekday - that's 40 times around the globe. The climate benefits are obvious, but to the Danes, that's almost secondary. City planners have spent nearly a decade transforming the city, putting in bike lanes, connecting major routes, slowing traffic, adding ramps to stairs. The result is that the majority of people who bike in Copenhagen - and 37 percent of all the people entering Copenhagen during the week do so on bike -  are on two wheels because they find it easy.

For more information about cycling in Copenhagen, visit the Danish Biking Federation.


Friday 11 December 2009

Stale and stalemated, one week in

people-550One week in and progress, if it's to be seen at all, can only be found "under the ... magnifying glass," as Karl Falkenberg, the European Commission's director general for the environment said Friday.

At a briefing Friday morning with Falkenberg, Ambassador Qingtai Yu of China, Secretary C. Dasgupta of India and Ambassador Quamrul Islam Chowdhury of Bangladesh, the take-home message was clear: Nobody has moved from the stalemated positions that have kept international negotiations seized up since the Bali accord in 2007.

Rumors of dissent and discord are just so much froth and foment, these men agreed. China and the 130 less-developed countries of the G-77 remain in lock-step. The origins of various texts – be they Danish, Chinese or South African – is a non-issue.

The EU and developed countries want binding targets for everyone. The developing countries don't. That's the bottom line.

Everyone seems to be looking for the ministers or the heads-of-state to arrive and somehow cut through the knots. Or for what we might as well call the Bali ex machina – where in the middle of the night, well past the 11th hour, a solution somehow emerges from the ether, as it did in Bali in 2007.

I'm not going to stay up. It appears – at least right now – that we're headed for a federated approach where ministers arrive, announce their national mitigation goals and head home to cut emissions as best they can.

It seems pretty clear, based on the science, that such an approach won't produce the reductions scientists say we need to avert the worst impact. But it seems equally clear, based on the politics, that the developing world is looking for the rich to carry through on earlier promises to reduce emissions before they're willing to ink any sort of an agreement.

Ambassador Yu summed the matter succinctly Friday morning:

Despite all this broad range of proposals ... it boils down to one issue quite clearly: this emissions space – whether as human beings we are all entitled to the same amount of emissions space. For developed countries, when it comes to emissions space, their fundamental position is 'what is mine is mine, but what I've taken away from you I've got to keep.' For us, the developing countries, our position is our emissions space is under occupation, and we want it back.

The freshness of the Bella Center at 8 a.m. has, by midday Friday, given way to that stale smell of a crush of humanity - mostly body odor, a bit of perfume, an oh-so-faint hint of coffee and lunch. Even the protesters seem a bit sapped, tired of fighting to be noticed above the din.

Until the West has a way to refute Yu's logic, it's hard to see how an international political agreement can emerge.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Disarray in Denmark

My sense  in talking with various delegates is that the Danish text controversy is more of a wrinkle, if that. Delegates from South Africa, Mexico, Algeria hadn't even heard of it when I asked them about it late yesterday and early today; I haven't gotten any sense that these talks have come to a standstill or are in disarray.

The "text" isn't on the table, it's not a part of the talks. A member of the Mexico delegation, which is part of the so-called "compromise block" of states (including Switzerland and South Korea) trying to find common ground - told me yesterday that such rumors and stories of strife and conflict are fairly common during the first week of these negotiations. 

There may indeed be a walkout at some point in the next few days. But it does appear, at least right now, there's far too much momentum behind this train for something like the "Danish text" to derail it.

The original Guardian article that broke the story can be found here. Daily Climate also has several stories today following the story, available on our politics page.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Political theater of an entirely different kind

COPENHAGEN – Location and timing – that's all that matters in the end, and the folks at Climate Action Network had the market cornered Tuesday.fossil-600

Six o'clock at the end of a long second day here at the Bella Center and delegates, activists, press and observers were starting to file out. The exodus came to a halt just short of the exit, where the CAN folks were presenting – with near-Oscar-style glitz – their Fossil of the Day Award.

The crowd swelled, overflowed, ultimately came to a complete halt – storm run-off hitting a clogged street drain. The mass soon dwarfed the audience suffering through the far more august – and deadly dull – plenary session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Assistance, happening simultaneously across the cavernous convention center.

Cell phones and digital cameras were raised. Necks craned. The CAN folks, dressed in tuxedo, dinner gown and – inexplicably – a mermaid suit, had a captive audience, and the show was on.

Out came a cello. Song and dance numbers followed. A call-and-response to get the crowd worked up, a drum roll, countdown, then fake acceptance speeches. Activist theater on a high level.

Other campaigns situated nearby but completely eclipsed by the hullabaloo could only smile grimly.

CAN's mock award goes daily to the country or countries that campaigners feel are doing the most to obstruct progress in the global climate talks. Ukraine walked away with top honors for what CAN described as the "worst emissions reduction target in the world" – a 20 percent chop from 1990 levels. In reality, CAN said, that's a 75 percent increase from current levels, given the drop-off in industrial production following the Soviet collapse.

"In the negotiations, people are starved for a little bit of drama," said one of the emcees, Katharine Trajan of Canada. "Plus you get a bite-sized bit of information about what happened during the talks today."

In many ways the best theater – and the human side to climate change – is found a half-hour's bus ride from the sterile, tightly controlled Bella Center.

At the center of Copenhagen, in and around a slightly down-at-the-heels swim center, is the KlimaForum – the people's climate forum. It's a all-admitted, global civil society counterpart to the official United Nation's conference.

And it has a distinctly different vibe.

Here the dress is a bit rougher. The laptops have more stickers. The food is far more exciting – spicy South American dishes instead of drab ham sandwiches.

The content was quite different. A pounding techno beat throbbed from one of the theater rooms, while scattered fliers promoted a one-day workshop, "Awakening the Dreamer" (promising a "profound inquiry into how we might realize a bold vision").

Andreas Molgaard and Eriko Matsumura of London's Extreme Design Lab had tacked a dozen black pillows to the wall. On each was artwork from a British schoolchild aged 12-15 picturing a worst-case scenario for the future.

"It was amazing to tick the box that said design could be art of the debate," Molgaard said.

The KlimaForum's mission is quite similar to goal at the UN's Bella Center: Identify solutions that accommodate all people.

But with the world's attention focused across town, is anyone noticing?

"I haven't been able to engage directly with industry decision-makers," Molgaard said. "But hopefully it's the right time and place."

The KlimaForum continues at Copenhagen's DGI-Byen center through Dec. 18.


Tuesday 8 December 2009

More Climategate...

COPENHAGEN – Media keeps asking about the purloined emails, wondering what impact they have on the climate talks. Yvo de Boer addressed the issue - again - at his daily press conference Tuesday. His answer: "Not much." He went into more detail:

We're not talking about the first assessment report to the IPCC, not about the second, not about the third, but only the fourth. If you put those reports together, you see this trend. If you leave this conference center and look at what is happening outside, you see the same trend.... The science by the IPCC is rock solid.

But while UN delegates aren't distracted, others apparently see an opening to revive the debate on climate science. ClimateWire's Alex Kaplun has a good overview today. Best quote came from Michael McKenna, GOP strategist:

... it allows guys like me access to the science debate again. For a very long chunk of time, the science debate was thought to be toxic. It was settled, it was done, let's move along. This has given folks who want to talk about the science a very easy access point.

Climate Central's Andrew Freedman also has a piece in Politico's Arena on the UN, its faith in the IPCC, and the momentum behind the science.

Daily Climate continues to stockpile stories in its archive. Society of Environmental Journalists also has a sub-section of Climategate stories on its Copenblog.

But really, folks, aren't there more newsworthy stories out there?

Monday 7 December 2009

The 'Climategate' distraction?

pachauri-500COPENHAGEN – The most notable thing about "Climategate" here in the Bella Center is its silence. It doesn't even appear on the lengthy list of issues and concerns at these climate talks.

Here the hang-ups remain the four basic questions that have dominated international discussions for the two years leading up to Monday's opening ceremony: How do we cut emissions, help at-risk countries adapt to a changed world, share the technology, and finance these efforts?

The hacked emails are a "smear campaign," in the words of one United Nations official who couldn't be quoted. A distraction.

Many signs suggest the delegates and world leaders at the talks accept that climate science as settled. Example A: The decision to give Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a key role in Monday's opener.

In his speech, Pachauri rattled off a laundry list of impacts and supporting science and. He made no mention the stolen emails until his penultimate paragraph:

... The panel has a record of transparent and objective assessment stretching over 21 years performed by tens of thousands of dedicated scientists from all corners of the globe. I am proud to inform this conference that the findings of the AR4 are based on measurements made by many independent institutions worldwide that demonstrate significant changes on land, in the atmosphere, the oceans and in the ice-covered areas of the Earth. The internal consistency from multiple lines of evidence strongly supports the work of the scientific community, including those individuals singled out in these email exchanges....

"Climategate" is not an issue here in the Bella Center. The bigger question, perhaps, is why is it has such legs in the United States.

Photo of Pachauri by Denmark Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You can find 114 stories mentioning "emails" and "Anglia" (for University of East Anglia, from where the emails were stolen) in DailyClimate.org's archives.

Monday 7 December 2009

The missing strategist: Philip Clapp

clapp-230BOULDER, Colo. – It was the rubber ducks, really, that people remember. Hundreds of them – floating in washbasins, surfing dinner plates, peeking from ministers' breast pockets. They changed – if only slightly – the course of history.

But more on that in a moment. The latest round of climate talks begins Monday missing one of the most influential campaigners the United States offered: Philip Clapp, a charismatic strategist who could both cajole and shock world leaders past stalemate and deadlock. Clapp – Harvard-educated chain-smoker, fluent in French, an expert on British royalty and an accomplished pianist – died of pneumonia in September 2008 while vacationing in Amsterdam. He was 54.

As world leaders gather over the next two weeks in Denmark to hash out a solution, Clapp's shoes remain unfilled. Absent from these talks, various experts agreed, will be a key lubricator who could unify disparate groups, particularly the non-governmental community, find the open channels and help facilitate consensus.

"What will be missing in Copenhagen is this man who could get around to see everybody, find out when things weren't going right, find ways to get people on board, shock them into change, concentrate fire onto people, and sometimes caress them into change," said John Gummer, a British Member of Parliament who served as the UK Environmental Secretary in the 1990s and became close friends with Clapp.  MORE

About the Daily Climate's Copenhage update

Earth Journalism Awards

Daily Climate editor Douglas Fischer is in Copenhagen, courtesy the Earth Journalism Awards.

He'll be contributing daily to Politico.com's Copenhagen Arena, a collection of daily posts from a diverse batch of climate analysts, activists, observers and commentators.

This page contains all his posts, plus extra commentary, videos, pictures and links. It will be updated daily.

Fischer won his trip based on his coverage of a new framework that has potential to untangle the UN climate talks: "Solving the climate dilemma."

You can find more about the international contest, as well as the 14 other winners, at Earth Journalism Awards.