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Efficiency in Poznan

Special to dispatch from Mark Hopkins, Director of International Energy Efficiency at the United Nations Foundation Poznan, Poland -- As an American at the [international conference on global climate change in] Poznan, whenever I talk with someone from somewhere else in the world, the first question asked is, "What is Barack Obama going to do on climate?" There is so much anticipation of greater US engagement on the issue and hope it will lead to an effective international agreement. I am hopeful too, but I keep reminding everyone, the Obama folks will be much focused on crafting not only an effective global agreement, but one that can also pass muster in the US Senate.There is much discussion here about the role of energy efficiency. The International Energy Agency is highlighting recommendations in their recent global energy report on the importance of significantly enhancing deployment of energy efficiency if we are to successfully address the climate problem. Given its importance, there is emerging discussion on the need to somehow more directly incorporate it in a post 2012 agreement. Some are seeing it as a potential "building block" essential to the success of a comprehensive agreement.I don't know how other people feel, but I have to compliment the Polish government and the city of Poznan on their hosting this conference. Other than being spread widely in hotel sleeping arrangements (which is almost inevitable given 10,000 plus attendees) the conference facility itself and its management has been really great. I am now sitting in the computer room, which is big, very big - there must be 500 computer terminals in use, with a good internet connection. And the awaiting lines are being well managed by conference staff. Hats of to the Poles.
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Where the side events are the main events

by Mark Hopkins, Director of International Energy Efficiency, UN Foundation
From the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland
I am lodging at a hotel about 11 km from the conference center, so I've spent a good bit of my time in taxis going back and forth. My hotel location is a bit unusual though -- it's in back of a gas station along a four lane highway and you have to drive through the station to get to the front door of my hotel.Given this COP is the final one for the Bush Administration and everyone is anticipating a U.S. policy change after President-Elect Obama takes office, many are jokingly referring to Poznan as "the lame-duck COP."Others are commenting that when these climate conferences began many years ago the negotiations were the main event, and side events were, well, just side events, something to occupy the time of all those at the conference who weren't at the negotiating table. But at "the lame-duck COP" the situation is now reversed -- the side events are where the real action is -- by action I mean the innovative thinking and ideas that might lead to an agreement some day.And finally, everyone got quite excited today, at least for a few minutes - the sun actually broke out of what seems to be the ever present dark gray Polish sky.
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One year ago representatives of most of the nations of the world met in Bali to set out a road-map for negotiations for a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocals, which expire in 2012. The resulting Bali Action Plan stipulated that a treaty should be completed by the end of 2009--at a meeting in Copenhagen--so as to give countries enough time to ratify it before Kyoto expires three years later. This week, at the half-way point between Bali and Copenhagen, delegates are meeting in Poznan, Poland to take stock of their progress over the past year.The position of the United States, which signed but did not ratify the Kyoto Protocols, is critical to the success or failure of this process. When negotiators met in Bali, they rightly judged that any future American administration is likely to be more open to an international climate change treaty than the current occupant of the White House. Thus, the Bali road map left most of the negotiating to sometime after the next administration takes office. This strategy certainly has its merits and makes perfect sense. But it also means that the new Obama administration will join the debate with less than a year to go before the December 2009 deadline. In Poznan this week, there are simmering doubts as to whether or not the deadline can be met.From the Pew Center on Climate Change
Copenhagen is unlikely to produce a full and final agreement that could be submitted to governments for ratification. A more realistic outcome may be an agreement on the basic architecture of the post-2012 climate framework -- for instance, binding economy-wide targets for developed countries, policy commitments for the major emerging economies, and support mechanisms for technology, finance, and adaptation in developing countries. This intermediary agreement could then serve as the basis for further negotiations in 2010 on specific commitments in a full and final agreement.
Even with a fully engaged Obama administration, these negotiations on these specific commitments are not going to be easy. From the Washington Post:
One of the biggest obstacles facing negotiators has been the gulf between the United States and the European Union on the extent to which industrialized countries must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to avert dangerous warming, and Obama's arrival goes only partway toward closing that divide. The European Union backs a goal of cutting emissions by 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020; Obama has called for the United States simply to get back to 1990 levels
In the same Washinton Post article, UN Foundation President Tim Wirth sums up the prospect for agreement at Copenhagen and says it is "'probably asking too much' to expect a binding agreement by the end of 2009, but delegates may leave Copenhagen with the 'building blocks' in place for a pact, along with 'an overall agreement in principle' on how to address climate change. 'That's all doable.'" I agree.
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Weaning the Meaning of Greening

As climate change discussions continue in Poznan, Poland, I'm encouraged by a broader change I've seen in the public's thinking about what a greener economy will mean. I remember only months ago, it seemed that most people took for granted the notion that trying to abate a climate crisis would inherently mean hurting the economy. These days, the conventional wisdom seems to be that creating an economy and an infrastructure more friendly to the planet will do exactly the opposite and result in economic gains.I don't know exactly what caused this change. It could have been the recent set of economic crises, it could have been Barack Obama's frequent messages on "green jobs," it could have been the "Pickens Plan," or it could have been Al Gore's "We" campaign. Likely, it was a combination of all of these things, along with a collective of hard working activists and bloggers who have been absolutely relentless in spreading the idea that clean does not equal poor, and dirty does not equal rich.Thanks to all those who worked to finally turn the old misguided notion on its head, and let's all continue to push forward and make Poznan, and eventually Copenhagen, a great step forward in ensuring an excellent quality of life for future generations on Earth.
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Climate Conference Kicks Off in Poznan, Poland

Delegates from 190 countries descend on the small university town of Poznan, Poland this week to discuss elements of a successor international climate change treaty to the Kyoto Protocols, which expire in 2012. This meeting is the halfway point in a two year negotiating process that kicked off in Bali, Indonesia last year and will conclude (hopefully!) in Copenhagen in December 2009.It's Getting Hot in Here, a fantastic blog about youth climate activism, runs down the top five issues at the conference.
5. Forests Back in 1992, the Rio summit was originally supposed to develop a forests treaty in addition to the two well-known agreements which came out of the meeting: The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The forests issue is now coming back in the climate talks in the form of REDD - reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation. The UN does have a way with acronyms, doesn't it?Key challenges under REDD are the definition of a 'managed forest' for the purposes of carbon credits, what to do about reforestation, and whether or not developing countries should be paid not to cut down their forests. If you're interested, Friends of the Earth has just released a major report on REDD ahead of the talks.4. China Although China is way behind in per capita emissions, the country is now, officially, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter on an absolute scale. This, not to mention being the world's most populous nation, makes it one of the most important countries in the quest to stop climate chaos. Until recently, the U.S. and China were both at an impasse, with each country refusing to accept binding greenhouse gas emissions targets without the other. Now, with Barack Obama pledging a new chapter in U.S. action on climate change, the ball is in China's court. The actions they take at this year's meeting may influence international climate change policy for many years to come.3. Money - for adaptation and technology transfer Moving our great big resource-munching world to a low-carbon lifestyle isn't just about political will (although that's a big part of it). It's about money. In this case, the money is specifically needed for two things: adaptation, to help poorer countries cope with the effects of global warming, and technology transfer, to help other countries grow their economies in a clean, green, lean sort of way. The UNFCCC has already established an Adaptation Fund, but it's yet to be seen whether this fund will get the money it needs. The U.S. has tried to block proposals for technology transfer in previous negotiations, but this may change under an Obama administration - remember during the debates when he repeatedly mentioned exporting clean technologies to China?2. The United States Well, this is a bit obvious, isn't it? But despite the fact that the country is under new management, the current occupant is yet to move out of the White House. Because the U.S. team at the climate talks is run by the state department, it's under executive authority - this is why the U.S. delegation in Bali was politely but firmly told to get out of the way and let the world get on with the job of solving the climate crisis. For the past eight years, the U.S. delegation has been pulling out all the stops to prevent climate progress, and arguably there's even less to keep them from being international nincompoops one last time.However, the balance of power has shifted. The views from the U.S. congressional delegation, as well as from Obama's transition team, may be more influential then the spastic flappings of a lame duck administration.1. The Youth Caucus This is the youth climate blog, after all. If you're here, it's because you already tentatively agree that the next generation is the one to watch. Youth from around the world have spent the last year preparing to hit the ground in Poland and speak truth to power - and you can read about it all here. We have one climate, one future, and one chance to avert disaster.
But you don't have to take it from them. The UN's top climate change negotiation moderator, Yvo De Boer explains what is at stake in Poznan.On Red Green and Blue, Tim Hurst has more. You can view the conference webcast here.
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All Aboard the Carbon-Neutral Plane

Costa Rica's NatureAir, which four years ago became the world's first carbon-neutral airline, has now signed on to the Climate Neutral Network, an initiative of the UN Environmental Program.
"With the airline industry contributing an estimated three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions - nearly as much as the entire African continent, it is vital that solutions to the climate change challenge come from within the industry itself. I welcome NatureAir to the Climate Neutral Network as a trailblazer on the path to zero emissions air travel," said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
NatureAir offsets all of its carbon emissions -- no small feat, even for a small airline with efficient propellor planes -- by purchasing credits from the government, which go toward protecting the country's hundreds of acres of tropical forests. The increasingly popular airline has found that flying green is not only environmentally friendly; it's also quite profitable, as NatureAir has grown an average of 20% annually since 2001.So if you happen to be travelling in Costa Rica -- a country aiming to become the world's first entirely carbon-neutral nation -- hop aboard one of NatureAir's colorful, climate-friendly planes. And unlike the even smaller prop planes of its competing "puddle-jumper," NatureAir can also fly in the rain.(photo from flickr user Matt Stratton under a Creative Commons license)
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Spinning Carbon Emissions

Contrast these two headlines, from The New York Times and Scientific American, respectively, on the report released yesterday by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, detailing industrial countries' progress in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions .NYT: Pollution Has Leveled Off, but the Figures Have Holes, Report SaysScientific American: From Bad to Worse: Latest Figures on Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
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The ledes of the two stories present the difference even more starkly. The Times declares that "[e]missions from industrialized countries plateaued in 2006" -- only afterward adding the extremely relevant caveat that emissions have not been reported since then -- while Scientific American presents the reality more bluntly: "The U.N. says that even countries that vowed to cut pollution that causes global warming are churning out more of it."Why the Times chose to present the story with a more optimistic slant is unclear to me. It is correct that greenhouse gas emissions did decrease over the 2000-2006 period, but, in an emergency as dire as climate change, these declines should not be interpreted in a vacuum, but judged against the extent to which countries pledged to reduce their emissions in the Kyoto protocol. And according to this metric, every country has failed rather ignominiously.There are perhaps two small enclaves of optimism. Leading up to next month's climate change conference in Poznan, Poland, two countries did meet their emission reduction goals: the United Kingdom and...the Principality of Monaco.(image from flickr user freefotouk under a Creative Commons license)
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A Question For International Lawyers to Ponder

As we noted earlier in the week, the small island state the Maldives is sinking. Or rather, rising sea levels threaten to literally wipe the Maldives off the map and the Maldive government is looking to purchase some terra firma should the worst happen. Over on Opinio Juris Duncan Hollis asks "what happens to the Maldives' sovereignty and sovereign rights when its existing territory falls below sea level?" That's a good question. Hollis continues.
Would islands cease to be islands under the law of the sea (see article 121 of UNCLOS)? That's an important question regardless of their habitability since the existence of land territory dictates the scope of a state's sovereignty over its territorial sea as well as its sovereign rights in an exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf, all of which may still contain valuable natural resources. UNCLOS Articles 60 and 80 allow for a state to construct artificial islands and installations within its exclusive economic zone, but that presumes that it still has an exclusive economic zone within which to build. Artificial islands and installations do not get the benefits of island status themselves. I assume that since the Maldives currently have an undisputed status as a sovereign state, they would not face the plight of sovereign-wannabees like Sealand. Still, the scope of their territorial sovereignty and sovereign rights would certainly warrant more careful study.What about buying new land to replace land lost to rising seas? International law does not limit the ability of states to buy or own land in the territory of another sovereign state. One of my first jobs as an attorney-adviser at the State Department was to sell some $30 million in property the United States Government owned in Bonn, Germany as part of moving the U.S. Embassy to Berlin. Similarly, most diplomatic missions in Washington, D.C., are actually owned by the state they represent. But, contrary to popular conceptions of these properties as extensions of the territory of the sending state, they remain under U.S. sovereignty (albeit subject to certain privileges and immunities). So, I don't see a problem with the Maldives' government buying land in other countries where its residents could live if they lose their homes on their existing islands.
As other small island states --Vanuatu and Nauru come to mind -- seek redress from climate change, I imagine these kinds of questions will become more commonplace. Frankly, it would only seem fair that the developed world, whose actions resulted in the disappearance of these islands, shoulder some of the responsibility for taking care of the resulting climate refugees. (Photo from Flickr)
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Atmospheric Brown Clouds…

...are as scary as they sound. From the United Nations Environment Program
Cities from Beijing to New Delhi are getting darker, glaciers in ranges like the Himalayas are melting faster and weather systems becoming more extreme, in part, due to the combined effects of man-made Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs) and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.These are among the conclusions of scientists studying a more than three km-thick layer of soot and other manmade particles that stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to China and the western Pacific Ocean.
The New York Times is on the story.
The byproduct of automobiles, slash-and-burn agriculture, wood-burning kitchen stoves and coal-fired power plants, these plumes of carbon dust rise over southern Africa, the Amazon basin and North America. But they are most pronounced in Asia, where so-called atmospheric brown clouds are dramatically reducing sunlight in many Chinese cities and leading to decreased crop yields in swaths of rural India, say a team of more than a dozen scientists who have been studying the problem since 2002...The brownish haze, sometimes more than a mile thick and clearly visible from airplanes, stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to the Yellow Sea. During the spring, it sweeps past North and South Korea and Japan. Sometimes the cloud drifts as far west as California.The report identified 13 cities as brown-cloud hotspots, among them Bangkok, Cairo, New Delhi, Seoul and Tehran. In some Chinese cities, the smog has reduced sunlight by as much as 20 percent since the 1970s, it said.Rain can cleanse the skies, but some of the black grime that falls to earth ends up on the surface of the Himalayan glaciers that are the source of water for billions of people in China, India and Pakistan. As a result, the glaciers that feed into the Yangtze, Ganges, Indus and Yellow rivers are absorbing more sunlight and melting more rapidly, researchers say.
NASA has some photos of Atmospheric Brown Clouds, like the one above, taken from outer space. That photo shows an Atmospheric Brown Cloud over eastern China.