Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Resources for Climate at State

The Guardian's Environment Blog has an interesting post on the resources devoted to Climate Change at State. They say:
Todd Stern, her special envoy for Climate Change, is getting only half a dozen
aides. That's just two more than the special envoy for Guantanamo.

They compare that with Holbrooke's 50 staff and $8.5 million budget.

However, I think this mis-represents the issue. Holbrooke's authority in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the sole responsibility of the State Department. On the other hand, responsibility for climate change policy is shared across the government: including by the EPA, the Department of Energy, the White House Council for Environmental Quality, and the National Security Council.

It cuts across so many lines because Climate Change is not just an issue of diplomacy, it is also an energy issue, an environmental issue, and -- increasingly -- a security issue.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A week of Action on the Hill

As Sophia mentioned below, this has been quite a week on the Hill for hearings on Climate Change. Although not specifically related to the security effects of climate change, it is nonetheless important to keep up with what's going down on the Hill. Here's so quick links to articles about the hearings:

This morning, Al Gore testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee that this bill "has the moral significance equivalent to that of the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s and the Marshall Plan of the late 1940s.'' Testifying along with him, Newt Gingrich, however, said that this bill was a "huge mistake" and ammounted to a major new tax on energy.

At the same hearing, former Senator Warner focused on the national security implications of climate change.

Among the things that this bill would do, it would create a new "National Climate Service" to log and coolate all the data in the US about climate change.

On Huffington Post, John Kerry writes that Newt is rehashing "The same tired formula".

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

US Climate Change and Energy Bill

The week of 20-24 April marks a big week in the US Congress, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce will have four hearings discussing the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, entitled “The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.” Among the departments testifying was the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Transportation (DOT), as well as the Department of Energy (DOE). Every department has economic recovery on the top of their agendas.

According to Jackson from the EPA, the funding provided by the stimulus bill for the ARRA has allowed the EPA to bring numerous new clean jobs into the US economy, working to overhaul clean-water systems, restoring and redeveloping polluted properties, and installing clean-air equipment on diesel engines. But this stimulus funding will run out, and the Administration believes there needs to be long-term structural change in advanced clean energy industries that will help the US recover in the long-term. They claim these jobs created through clean energy and energy efficiency standards cannot be shipped overseas, avoiding job leakage.

Steven Chu from the DOE said the US has not had a clear energy strategy for decades and although much has been done already, the US needs to set clear long-term emissions reductions goals that “empower the private sector to find the most innovative ways to reduce carbon pollution.” The US needs to be the leader in clean technology. US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood calls for major investments in building high speed rail lines and other options to reduce the amount of carbon-intensive transportation. This bill needs to combine clean job creation, technology innovation and investments that facilitate long-term low-carbon infrastructure. In doing so, the US can become an international leader in climate change legislation as well as stimulate economic recovery.

According to the Obama administration officials, such a bill would help promote economic recovery and reduce consumption of foreign oil, hopefully enough progress will be made by the end of this week in order to put these words into action.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Historical Responsibility

While climate change is moving fast to further endanger the lives of many of the world’s poor living in already conflict-prone regions, international leaders and negotiators remain at odds for the intensity of GHG emissions reductions commitments. As the UNFCCC Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) convened in their plenary session to discuss a shared vision for long-term cooperative action, there remained tensions between developing and developed countries over who holds greater responsibility to reduce emissions.

China pointed out that an important item on their negotiating agenda is ‘historical responsibility,’ and emissions reductions targets must reflect this idea. The influence of historical contributions to climate change influence present-day emissions reductions targets calls for an analysis that has not been conducted by the IPCC because the complete separation of scientific and ethical issues nearly impossible. Michael Zammit Cutajar, Chair of the AWG- LCA called for an informal Workshop to provide clarity on ‘historical responsibility’ before the group convenes at the next negotiating session in 29 October to 4 November 2009.

The amount of knowledge gained or breakthroughs in this area is debatable, however, and it seems as though this is a topic that has already been thoroughly analyzed. In 2001, Brazil proposed a study that would analyze these questions of historical responsibility. This formed the ad hoc working group for the modeling and assessment of contributions of climate change (MATCH) in November of the following year. The report released by this group found two kinds of responsibility, namely strict (or unlimited) responsibility, which reflects emissions since 1890, and limited responsibility, which limits the blame to large emitters due to previous ignorance or circumstances beyond control, therefore looking at emissions only since 1990 (the start of the UNFCCC negotiations). The results of their findings:

Although questions remain, such as whether countries should be concerned with emissions within their borders (as is currently the case), or should they also be responsible for emissions due to the production of goods and services they consume, it seems as though the historical responsibility is clearly falling on Annex I (developed) countries, especially the US. It is debatable, however, whether any further in-depth analysis of this topic will facilitate the negotiations and allow the countries to move forward. It seems as though the responsibility is clear, Annex I countries should take lead in combating climate change in order to prevent potentially disastrous threats to the environmental security of the world.

No matter what the historical realities may be, the present reality is that climate change negatively affects the lives of many in the most vulnerable climate-sensitive regions of the world. This means that already unstable, poor and conflict-prone areas of the world will experience more threats to their security as the climate changes. It is the present responsibility for all countries to act quickly in mitigating their CO2 emissions instead of arguing about who is ethically responsible to impose stricter emissions reductions targets.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Polar Conference

On Monday, Secretary Clinton opened a Joint Session of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Arctic Council with a speech that highlighted the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, and vowed to work on a similar effort in the Arctic.

This speech was important, because it was the first time that the Obama Administration has laid out its policy for the Arctic. Recall, the Bush Administration had issued a "Presidential Directive" on Arctic Policy on January 9, shortly before leaving office. Controversial sections of that policy included an assertion that the Northwest Passage should be treated as international waters, the ratification of the U.N Convention on the Law of the Sea, and an assertion that “energy development in the Arctic region will play an important role in meeting growing global energy demand.”

Up to now, the new Administration had not signaled the direction of its policy in the Arctic, and how they would follow-up on the Bush Administration directive. Clinton’s speech served notice that the U.S. sees the way to engaging in the Arctic through cooperation, as opposed to competition. We will continue to maintain the right of open passage through the Northwest Passage, but President Obama will also work to resolve that issue, though dialogue (and his personal charm).

From my conversations with people involved in Arctic defense policy, the Russians – aside from occasional blatant publicity stunts – have been the model of cooperation in the Arctic. The same can be said for the other Arctic nations. One thing that’s convenient about the Arctic is that the nations with a defined interest up there are very limited. In small groups (5 in this case), its much more difficult to make trouble and much easier to have a helpful dialogue and cooperate on areas of concern.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

(Almost) All-Emcompassing US Climate Change and Energy Bill

The US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee’s timely release of ‘American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009’ (a draft) gives encouragement to negotiators in the UNFCCC in Bonn, Germany.

In order for the US to reach serious agreements with the international community on climate change issues, significant steps must be taken domestically (in Congress) for binding limits on GHG emissions. The cap-and-trade program curbs US emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020 and creates a nationwide renewable electricity standard of 25% by 2025. This significantly improves the likelihood for a new global agreement in Copenhagen in December. ‘The bill is clearly sending a signal to the international community that the US is ready to engage,’ said Keya Chatterjee, deputy director of the WWF's climate program in the United States.

Both US and international environmental groups and NGOs support this proposal, which includes energy efficiency, renewable energy production and transmission, emissions allowances, climate change adaptation. Although the energy bill draft is 648 pages long, it has some gaps, including a mechanism for fixing a price on carbon emissions for heavy polluters, as well as the extent to which carbon credits will be given away or auctioned, making industry skeptical.

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation - an effort known as REDD - emerged last year as a key element in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. Deforestation has been a topic of dispute at the climate negotiations in Bonn, and the draft sets aside money to help developing countries protect their forests. ‘Such financing can deliver significant emissions reductions and foster the kind of international cooperation we need to adopt and implement an effective climate treaty,’ according to Union of Concerned Scientists strategy and policy director Alden Meyer.