The Carbon Footprint of Products: a powerful tool to support existing market dynamics in favour of a low carbon economy

ENEA

The international political negotiation on climate change shows that a top-down approach is not the only way to effectively fight the anthropogenic climate change: also the market can substantially contribute. The existing mechanisms (ETS, CDM and JI) and the carbon tax have been able to generate a new economic value through the carbon price but it shall be considered only the first step towards this direction. Another important economic contribution is expected by the CFP, with its capacity to create new dynamics between producers and consumers.

A fair implementation is needed to fully exploit the CFP opportunity, to carefully take into consideration risks of any possible market distortion, in order to facilitate the creation of a low carbon path, both in developed and developing countries.

A specific interest is expected by the food sector, where the CFP may play a central role to facilitate the promotion of low-distance consumption, also known as “0 km supply”

La Carbon Footprint dei Prodotti (CFP): uno strumento potente a supporto delle dinamiche di mercato a favore di un’economia a bassa emissione di carbonio

Le trattative politiche internazionali sul cambiamento climatico mostrano come l’approccio calato dall’alto non sia l’unico modo per combattere efficacemente il cambiamento climatico antropogenico: anche il mercato può contribuire in maniera sostanziale. I meccanismi esistenti (ETS, CDM e JI) e la tassa sul carbonio hanno generato un nuovo valore economico mediante l’attribuzione di un prezzo al carbonio, ma sarà solo il primo passo in questa direzione. Un altro importante contributo economico è atteso dalla CFP per la sua capacità di creare nuove dinamiche tra produttori e consumatori.

Per valorizzare appieno l’opportunità offerta dalla CFP di tener conto di tutti i rischi di qualunque eventuale distorsione del mercato, al fine di facilitare la creazione di un percorso a bassa emissione di carbonio sia nei paesi industrializzati sia in quelli in via di sviluppo, è necessario che venga applicata correttamente.

Un interesse particolare è previsto nel settore alimentare, dove la CFP può avere un ruolo chiave per facilitare la promozione del consumo dei prodotti cosiddetti “a km zero”

Daniele Pernigotti

A top-down approach is not enough

Climate change seems to be a problem of eyesight defect.

On the one side scientists may be considered “far-sighted”, as they concentrate on what it will probably happen far from now, in the next decades or, more likely, at the end of the century. That will happen when it is virtually certain that nobody among who is writing or reading this article will have the opportunity to experience the correctness of any climate model projection.

On the other side, politicians are strongly affected by myopia, considering that they generally focus their attention on what it may happen during the few years of their mandate or, in the worst case, on the results of daily polls[1].

Out of focus in between, there is the destiny of billions of people, partially responsible of global warming with their behaviour as well as affected by the consequences of the ongoing changes.

In 2009, during the preparation of COP15, the former UNFCCC Executive Director, Mr. Yvo de Boer, repeated as a mantra that the solution for the climate crisis had to be found right there in Copenhagen because “there is not a Plan B”[2]. Nonetheless, the call for a deeper commitment of the Parties did not work and the plan A failed without excuses[3].

Today, the three-year track of the Durban Platform[4] (which was agreed last year) roughly reproduces the aim of the two-year Bali Road Map (2007) and it seems very similar to the kind of Plan B mentioned by Mr. Yvo de Boer.

The hope is to achieve plan B: that would be enough to stop the most dangerous consequences of climate change by maintaining the increase in temperatures below 2° C. Observing the negotiation process of the latest years, it is easier to find difficulties rather than a substantive will to move together towards a global, ambitious, effective and comprehensive international agreement[5].

In the meanwhile, CO2 emissions are continuously registering new records, year after year (30.6 billion of tons in 2010[6], 31.6 in 2011[7]) such as its concentration in the atmosphere, today close to the symbolic threshold of 400 ppm. The discussion about the Arctic Pole is now more oriented to who has the right and how to use its more easily achievable natural resources[8], rather than if the ice surface reduction should worry the planet. In the media, the extreme weather events are nowadays becoming almost a normal and accepted condition.

In this framework, there is no doubt that an international agreement is fundamental but not enough to solve climate change[9].

The market is already moving

It is not possible to apply an effective solution to climate change without a deep and extensive involvement of people in their double role of citizens and consumers. The first kind of involvement is necessary to create the fundamental bottom-up pressure needed to foster any government towards an ambitious global deal.

Consumers are equally important to facilitate the drastic change in the market dynamics in order to realize the revolution expected in the next years.

Something has already started to change in the last decade. The Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) operating from 2005 in the EU, together with the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the Joint Implementation (JI) under the UNFCCC umbrella, introduced the CO2 as a new economic value[10]. At the beginning of May, with almost unanimity, an ETS was approved also in South Korea[11]: in this way the country exceeded the tactical moment existing in Asia, where Japan and China are slowly moving forward on this topics, but avoiding to do the first step in order to control what has been done by the respective big economical competitors. The voluntary movement of China in this area is however interesting, taking into account that it is not part of the group of countries formally committed under the Kyoto Protocol (KP) with greenhouse gas (GHG) targets reduction. In fact, a pilot ETS should be implemented in six provinces of China by 2013 as well as at the national level by 2015[12]. According to Bryony Worthington and Terry Townshend,[13] the reasons why China is moving towards ETS are threefold: to maintain social cohesion through a sustainable growth; since command and control policies applied to date do not stimulate innovation nor encourage enterprises; and, finally, because after the 2011 Durban Conference, China knows that it is expected to take part in an international agreement to cut global emissions from 2020.

In Australia the situation is more complicated:[14] the attempt to introduce ETS was one of the main reasons which pushed Kevin Rudd to resign in favour of the party’s colleague Julia Gillard. She moved straight towards the ETS, despite the strong opposition of the important national lobby of the coal industry[15]. The aim is to introduce ETS after 3 or 5 years from the launch of the carbon tax[16]. The law has been approved in November 2011[17] and a new tax will be on place from July 2012 with a value of A$23 (almost €19) per ton of CO2. An ETS is already on place in New Zealand too, from July 2010[18].

The carbon tax has also been discussed for quite a long time in the EU. France renounced to its carbon tax when the project was already announced[19] because the government was worried that competitiveness might possibly sink[20]. Ireland introduced a carbon tax of 4c a litre in 2010[21]. Italy is ready to introduce a carbon tax of a not yet defined value, included between 4c and 24 c[22].

For many countries (i.e., Norway, Australia, New Zealand) the availability to commit for more ambitious targets in the UNFCCC context is subject to the availability of a market-based mechanism[23].

The Norwegian climate policy is based on the principle to put a price on emissions, through economy-wide measures. From 2013, about 80% of emissions in Norway will be covered by economic instruments (CO2 taxes or emissions trading).

The same applies to the Switzerland, which approved a legislation in December 2011, for the 2013–2020 period, setting several instruments, such as a CO2 levy on fuels used for energy and an ETS for large industries.

A new market-based mechanism has been agreed in the UNFCCC context, although modalities and procedures are yet to be elaborated and a decision is expected by the end of 2012.[24]

The existing and evolving ETS and carbon tax at the international level are confirming the prospect of a growing and extensive CO2 price, which gives extra value to the investments in energy efficiency and facilitates the introduction of low carbon technologies and solutions.

The actual development of the Carbon Footprint of Products

A further and powerful market mechanism is growing very fast with regard to products at the international level, acting on the important producer-consumer relationship.

The crucial importance of the Carbon Footprint of products (CFP) is found in the capacity to condense in a single number the GHG emissions arising from the entire life cycle of a product. Through this tool the producers may have a double set of advantages: internally, they achieve a detailed description of the amount of GHG emitted in the product life cycle, mainly linked to its energy content, besides knowing in which phases this happens. The “external” advantages are probably even more attractive, based on the possibility to use the CFP as the preferred way to communicate the product’s climate characteristics to clients.

This is exactly what consumers are increasingly looking for at the international level, with the awareness that their purchase choices have a central role in the market dynamics in order to address the transition to a low-carbon economy. The idea that, in the near future, there will be a great spread out of information about the CFP, also has a strong potential to increase the consumers’ awareness related to choices and behaviours in daily life.

In June 2012 more than 27.000 products have obtained the CFP Carbon Trust certification in 21 countries[25]. Different national schemes for CFP have been created in several countries, such as UK, Japan, Sweden, Korea and Thailand, and it is expected that several more will be developed in the next few years.

Also in Italy the situation on this topic is changing very quickly and the Minister of the Environment, Mr. Corrado Clini, is showing particular attention to the CFP as may be understood by the creation of a pilot project involving 22 different products of large use (Table 1). It is not excluded that the forthcoming months may lead to the creation of a National scheme of CFP.

All these examples of strong attention already achieved in so many countries may be explained only taking into account the combination of opportunities for producers and consumers and the consequent possibility to create new market dynamics among these actors. Nevertheless, a single international standard reference is still missing.

ENEA-tab1

An international standard by summer 2013

The first reference document on CFP has been the PAS 2050, published in 2008 by BSI, the British Standardization Institute. Technically speaking this is not a standard but a Public Available Specification. The difference between the two levels of documents is mainly related to the involvement of stakeholders in the development process and the time needed to complete and publish them. Both kinds of documents may introduce specifications and requirements and, probably for this reason, now everyone calls the PAS 2050 a CFP “standard”.

The choice to develop a PAS has been related to the awareness of an already existing market request for this kind of tool. Therefore, the “time” factor has been considered crucial for the success of the project and, as a matter of fact, the PAS 2050 has been produced only in one year. Carbon Trust – a private company created in 2001 by the UK government to foster low-carbon technologies and solutions – and DEFRA – the UK Environmental Agency – promoted the document. The revision published in 2011 has been sponsored by different actors, all part of the UK national departments: DECC (Department for Environment and Climate Change) and BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills), together with DEFRA[26]. This is a clear evidence of the UK Government’s attention to the market opportunity for the CFP.

ENEA-tab2

Also in 2011 the PAS 2050 revision has been published and another CFP reference document has been issued by WRI (World Resources Institute) and WBCSD (World Business Council for Sustainable Development). The publishing of both documents has been delayed with regard to the original time schedule due to the focus that the two processes reserved to the ongoing decision on ISO 14067. The high level of attention to this standard is justified by the awareness that this will become the main standard reference, once published. However, the development path towards the ISO standard is not so easy. In the past there have been more stops to its mandatory development steps (WD, CD, DIS and FDIS), documented by the three revisions of the Working Draft and the three revisions of the Committee Draft. Nowadays, the balloting to move from DIS to FDIS failed with a 33% of negative vote against the maximum accepted threshold of 25% (Table 2)[27] forcing to a second DIS 2 stage.

A tool facilitating low-carbon economy rather than building up trade barriers

Why such an important and expected standard is finding all these difficulties in its development, being forced to repeat time after time the same development steps (WD and CD) and then failing the ballot from DIS to FDIS? Probably there exist some internal causes in ISO because this process has not always been managed in an effective way. However, the main reasons are related to the number and importance of different interests, rather than lobbies, acting around this topic. It is normal to expect that any powerful tool may generate big opportunities as well as big risks. There is no doubt that ISO 14067 will play a very powerful role in the international market and the level of pressure influencing the Standard’s text and its requirements becomes evident.

There are, for example, different expectations on ISO 14067 among fossil and palm oil companies, concrete and wood industries, or the view of the consumers and the industrial associations. Yet, probably one of the most crucial factors that will decide the future success of the Standard is its potential role in the market relation between developed and developing countries.

For a deeper understanding of this area of interest it might be useful to describe a couple of examples.

The first one is already 5 year old. In 2007 Tesco, the big UK retail company, decided to evaluate the CFP of a set of products. Among them, there were flowers produced in Kenya. The most important contribution of the CFP on these flowers was connected with the aircraft transportation. For this reason, Tesco decided to halve the amount of flowers supplied by Kenya. A broad discussion followed these decisions in the UK, due to another kind of considerations, such as the role of agriculture for a sustainable development path in Kenya[28] or technical considerations about the environmental impact evaluation during the cold season, when the flowers coming from the Netherlands have a CFP 5 times as bigger as the African one[29], due to the additional energy input for their cultivation in greenhouses.

Anyhow, the Kenya Flower Council called for a risk of creation of trade barriers[30].

Probably this situation forced the developing countries to ask and obtain the introduction of the requirement to report separately the aircraft emissions in the current version of the ISO 14067, despite the complete absence of technical reasons to treat this emission differently than the ones arising from sail and road transportation.

The other crucial example happened before the Oslo meeting in June 2011, when a decision had to be taken on the possible upgrade of the ISO 14067 CD2 to the DIS level.

In the official balloting before the meeting, Egypt voted to move the document from CD to DIS. After that, the India Foreign Minister wrote a letter to the Egyptian Foreign Minister to claim for the positive vote of the Mediterranean country. It is really unusual, almost surely the first time in the environmental sector, that such a high level politician takes part directly in an ISO technical process.

As a consequence, Egypt expressed a negative vote in the following ballot in June 2012 (to decide if moving the DIS to FDIS), although it is possible that additional causes contributed to this change of position. Informal confirmation of a broader lobby activity from India pushed other countries to decide for a negative vote. For example, Armenia expressed, with its negative vote, full support to the Indian position[31] and, on the “secondary data” item, India and other three countries expressed exactly the same comment. The large majority of negative votes from other countries were justified by the concern that ISO 14067 would have created a new kind of trade barrier (Table 3).

ENEA-tab3

To give an answer to this concern, in the same month, at the Bangkok meeting, a specific clause was been proposed (4. Application) in the ISO/DIS2 14067, improving the previous Oslo’s version[32] and specifying that the standard shall not be adopted or applied in a manner that results in barriers to trade that contradict WTO requirements, aiming at solving the developing countries’ opposition.

Carbon will play an important role in future markets

The CFP is, therefore, just in the middle between the risk to facilitate the creation of an unattended trade barrier and the strong need to use the market potentiality to build up the needed pressure from the bottom, in order to complement (or substitute, in the worst case) the necessary international top-down new political deals.

As a matter of fact, bottom-up and top-down approaches have a complementary role and the hurdle of politically achieving an international deal may force some countries to ask for the introduction of different kinds of market tools. In this respect, the choice of Mr. A. Montebourg, the France Minister of Industrial Renewal, to introduce a carbon tax on goods imported from outside Europe should be understood [33]. This was thought in order to balance the European situation with other developed countries, whereas the absence of any commitment on GHG reduction may generate a different structure of costs for goods’ production hence creating a clear market distortion.

The possibility to create trade barriers is therefore deeply connected with the existence of strong, comprehensive and effective international agreements.

Within this framework, the possible role of CFP as trade barrier should be considered more connected with external factors and political choices rather than with technical characteristics, such as requirements introduced in an ISO standard.

Global and local food

The CFP may play an important role in the food sector to facilitate the development of local markets as possible alternative of the globalization. This may generate large discussions on the implication of this case in terms of lack of economic opportunities, but it is fundamental to always keep in mind the dimension of the challenge that climate change is asking to face.

This implies that strong changes in consumer behaviours are not more deferrable. Just last year, on the occasion of the ISO meeting in Toronto to develop the ISO 14067, in a restaurant a maitre served me a bottle of water produced less than 100 km from my house in Italy. And this happened in a country that does not have any problem of water availability. H

ow is it possible to imagine 50% of global GHG reduction by 2050 (compared with 1990) without changing this kind of market pattern? This personal experience could be probably replicated for large part of the food sector, where the main contribution of foods and beverages to CFP may be due to their long transportation distances.

In order to reduce the importance of this kind of GHG global emissions and to promote local agriculture, several movements promoting the “0 km products” approach in the food sector were initiated in the last years . In this context, the CFP could play an important role to support with objectivity this evolution that started to be part of the market dynamics before the idea of CFP was launched.

ENEA-Biblio

A radical change from the globalization to the localization approaches may seem today unlikely considering the actual market dynamics. Reality is also expected to change radically in the next years to build up an effective answer to the anthropogenic global warming, and it is very likely that what today seems impossible in few years may become simply the reality.

Conclusion

The high level of attention paid to the development of the CFP standard ISO 14067 shows the important role this document will have at the international level when published. Some developing countries are worried that the new standard may create undesired trade barriers but this seems to be related more to the international political negotiation than to the content of a technical standard. The ISO 14067 development process has been largely delayed, as evidence of the large level of existing interests, but it does not seem possible it will fail considering that other CFP standards are already present in the market. The CFP will probably play a key role, particularly in the food sector, where it may objectively support the already existing dynamics in favour of the local agriculture production.

Per informazioni e contatti: infoEAI@enea.it

Daniele Pernigotti – Italian delegate to ISO/TC 207/SC7/WG2, National Coordinator of UNI WG on GHG

Annunci

CO2 spikes, remedial action slumps

The question about addressing climate change is becoming increasingly warped as the gap between what should be done and what countries actually are doing grows. This was vividly demonstrated at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Talks, which ended last Friday in Bonn, Germany.

The level of awareness on this topic is growing throughout the world, as is the perception of its connection to the increasing number and magnitude of extreme climate events1 .

These perceptions are specifically supported by an accumulation of scientific evidence2, including the confirmed rise of CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Only a few days ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its official data related to 2011 CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion: it recorded a new high, exceeding the 2010 level by 3,2%. In 2011, the global emission of CO2 from fossil fuel was 31,6 Gt (billion tons), 1 Gt more than in 2010. In order to have even a 50% chance of limiting the increase of the average global temperature to 2°C, which is the “450 Scenario” of the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2011, CO2 emissions would have to peak at 32,6 Gt before 2017. Considering the increase recorded between 2010 and 2011, it is likely that this threshold will already be reached next year.

There is a sliver of hope despite the dire outlook: with proper action, the world could still achieve the CO2 emission level recommended by scientists.

At the UN General Assembly in New York last February, Felix Finkbeiner, a 13-year- old boy, shared his personal qualms about climate change with the international audience: “The adults know exactly what challenges we face and they know the solutions to these challenges, but we don’t understand why there is so little action.” Everyone applauded the young man’s statement, but nobody had a satisfactory reply to it.

Only recently, another report, “Bridging the Emission Gap,” published by UNEP, indicated that a short-term CO2 emissions reduction, needed to keep the increase in global temperatures below 2°C, is still achievable. Achim Steiner, the UNEP Executive Director, declared that the necessary emissions reduction would be “possible by 2020, even without any significant technical or financial breakthroughs.” But this would require strong and rapid action, propelled by unified international political will.

And what was the outcome of the latest UNFCCC Climate Talks just concluded in Bonn?

After two weeks of negotiations among delegates from every part of the world on the new ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action), they only managed to agree on the work agenda, and this not until the the very last day, following heated debates that people outside the conference would have trouble understanding.

Obviously, the issue is not straightforward, as it concerns the interests and roles of developed countries and major emerging economies on the path to CO2 reduction. Still, it would be difficult to explain to little Felix the applause at the end of the Bonn Conference, when in reality, instead of addressing substantial concerns, conference attendees whittled away the time discussing terminolgy and protocol.

Artur Runge Metzer, the Director of International and Climate Strategy of the European Commission, conceded that “we spent too much time on procedures,” and he pointed to a small group of countries that were hindering the process. He didn’t refer directly to any specific nation, but a senior delegate mentioned the US as part of this group, in particular Washington’s attempt to consistently block discussion on certain issues, for example, the request to organize a workshop on research, proposed by CfRN (Coalition for Rainforest Nations). But during a press conference, Jonathan Pershing, the USA Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change, deflected the blame, declaring that he was “disappointed and frustrated that the discussion of this meeting focused largely on procedural issues.”

The UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, also conceded that the weeks of negotiating had been “boring”. PlanetNext pointed out to her the lack of progress in the ongoing process, only 6 months away from the conclusion of the present Kyoto Protocol (KP) commitment period and the expiration of LCA (the ad hoc working group including countries not part of the KP).

After 6 years of negotiations on the KP, it has still not been decided if the second commitment period will be 5 or 8 years. The KP was never underwritten by the US, and Canada left it just last year. Now it looks probable that other important countries such as Japan and Russia will follow suit, meaning that after 2012 the KP will consist of countries collectively responsible for only 15% of global CO2 emissions. The voluntary commitment so far expressed by countries at the Copenhagen Accord and later covers around 50% of scientists’ CO2 reduction request by 2020. After 20 years of negotiations, rich countries have committed to economically help developing countries, but the money is not yet on the table.

Following the debacle in Bonn, is it even reasonable to expect the next COP in Doha to achieve positive results or to awaken the necessary political will? Figueres was not fazed by the lack of ambition of the process and simply stated that Doha will be an important COP.

But Bali was “an important COP” too, as were Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban. The question is not whether a COP is deemed to be important or not, but rather whether this negotiation process is actually able to produce results at the level required by science–or admit that it has failed.

At the moment, it is not known if an additional conference will be held in Bangkok next September, to better prepare for Doha, due to a lack of funding which, according to Christiana Figueres, runs at around 4,8 million €. Word has it that developed countries (such as the EU) would offer the necessary financial support, on the condition that developing countries accepted the policy of reaching an agreement on the election of the ADP chairs by consensus, as has been the case in the past, in order to avoid a vote by majority, which is very unusual for this process. But the real concern is that the next meeting in September could again become stuck on secondary issues, failing to address and solve the most critical and important items.

Wael Hmaidan, Director of CAN, the international umbrella of NGOs on climate change, blames the problem world-wide on a political class unwilling to address the real interests of its citizens, who are however directly affected by climate change. According to Hmaidan, politicians take a short-term view in order to protect their own interests and maintain the political consensus needed to guarantee re-election.

Looking at what the international climate change negotiations have produced until now, it is difficult to refute Hmaidan’s argument. The UNFCCC process urgently needs to shift gears and to show that it is capable of producing concrete results. Maybe, then, the international political establishment will prove Hmaidan wrong.

In the meantime the level of CO2 is continuously rising in the atmosphere, while the time for effective action is drastically shrinking. Christiana Figueres is completely right when she says that Doha will be an important COP. In particular if it can show a change in the participants’ attitudes.

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First climate data of 2011 confirming worrying global warming trend

UraganoAccording to the June 2011 consolidated information from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), as reported by The Guardian, the last 300 months have all had above-average temperatures and the 13 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 15 years since 1997.

The first data for 2011 from NOAA, reported by http://www.climalteranti.it, indicate an increase of the average global temperature of 0,40 °C for the year in comparison to the average recorded in the period 1961-1990. The more significant rise is recorded in the northern hemisphere, examplified by a warm December in Montreal and an unusual winter with rain, instead of snow, in Trondheim (Norway). Levels of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere are by now close to 400 ppm (parts per million), a value never reached before.
The list could continue with a mass of other data, but all would confirm the same conclusion: the Earth’s temperature is rising. And this is happening at an ever faster rate.
A counteracting global action is not only an option, it is becoming absolutely necessary. This is the task that former Senator Ted Kaufman is urging Congress to tackle in 2012. The USA is still one of the most critical countries whose contribution is needed in order to achieve a global deal and what happens in this country is crucial for the future of the planet.
A few years ago, Ian Fry, the representative of Tuvalu at the UNFCCC negotiation, lamented that a handful of US senators were substantially deciding the destiny of almost 7 billion people.
A change is necessary and urgent, but, scientific evidence notwithstanding, it may be difficult to achieve in a country where some politicians insist in denying Darwin’s theory of evolution and where climate-sceptic lobbies provide generous support to the election campaigns of their favorite congresspersons.
In his recent book ‘Fools Rule‘, William Marsden puts at around US$725,000 the total contribution given by oil and gas companies and by the Kock Industries to three candidates during the midterm Senate races in 2010: Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio and Tom Coburn. “There isn’t any real science to say we are altering the climate path of the earth,” Roy Blunt has repeatedly stated. If a sufficient number of Blunt’s colleagues takes the same approach, it is very unlikely that in 2012 Congress will listen to Ted Kaufman’s urgent appeal.
And yet, with the evidence of a rapidly approaching disaster mounting daily, it is becoming harder to sit by and wait for political change to occur. It is therefore no surprise that activists are trying to mobilize a grass-roots movement to put pressure on Congress. The task is difficult but not impossible. Indeed, this is exactly what happened in Australia in 2007, when Kevin Rudd replaced John Howard, one of the most vocal opponents to any action to fight climate change, and in less than a couple of weeks ratified the Kyoto Protocol. That change occurred because Australia was in the grips of the worst drought of the last 100 years and the public’s priorities were immediately affected, pushing climate change to the top of the political agenda. And when Kevin Rudd was unable to follow up with strong legislation on climate change, he was quickly booted out of office and substituted by Julia Gillard. Now, despite strong opposition from the coal sector, Australia is one of the first countries to have introduced a carbon tax (A$23/t CO2) and is planning to introduce a cap and trade system similar to that which exists in the EU.
Looking back to the serious climate events recorded in the US in 2011, it seems possible that a public outcry on climate change might put pressure on Congress, as happened in Australia in 2007.
For NOAA spokesman Christopher Vaccaro, as reported by The Guardian, “In many ways, 2011 rewrote the record books. From crippling snowstorms to the second deadliest tornado year on record to epic floods, drought and heat, and the third busiest hurricane season on record, we’ve witnessed the extreme of nearly every weather category.” It is no surprise that 2011 is being called the “year of the tornado.” The damage from weather-related disasters has been enormous, with more than 14 disasters, each costing over $1bn and total estimated financial losses over $50bn.
For scientists and US policy makers this may not come as a big shock, considering that, at the COP 16 in Cancun, during the presentation of the Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2010, the United State was highlighted with several large red dots in the document, showing that the country was destined to pay a high tribute for strong weather events caused by climate change.
But this report was probably not common reading among the overall population so that what happened during the last year may still have come as a surprise and facilitate a change in people’s priorities.
For this reason, all the world is now looking with particular attention to the US primary election season, well aware that once again the winners of this process will hold in their hands the future of the world.
The positions of the candidates on this issue are not harbingers of good news. The front-runner, Mitt Romney, has been defined byLisa Hymas in Grist as one of the more sane Republicans when it comes to climate change. But his views have changed over time. In 2004, when he was governor of Massachusetts, he unveiled a Climate Protection Plan that aimed to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and then about 10 percent more by 2020.

He wrote in his 2010 book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness: “I believe that climate change is occurring, the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to factors out of our control.”
During a forum in Pennsylvania, in October 2011, he retreated even further on the issue: “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

No doubts on climate change for Rick Santorum: “There is no such thing as global warming,” he stated on Fox News in June 2011. He actually seems to regard it as a liberal conspiracy: “It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative,” as quoted by The Guardian. And Ron Paul simply regards climate change as a big hoax.

While Americans vote, the rest of the world watches, aware that the same oil lobbies mentioned above are still working to deny the existence of climate change and to obstruct any legislative initiative against it.

People concerned about climate change can only hope that citizens in the US will follow the same path as those in Australia. After all, as Marsden reminds us, at the end of 2010 California voted 61,4% against Proposition 23, strongly supported by oil companies. Its aim was to undermine the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was enacted in 2006 and which could provide a basis for a nationwide law for effective CO2 emission reduction in the US. In 2010 the oil lobby lost an important fight, but it remains to be seen if that was an isolated case or the first step towards real change in the US policy on global warming. Observers are now watching to see how many people during the caucus, and the other primary election meetings, will raise their hands and ask the candidate “What’s your strategy to fight global warming?”

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Durban: some progress, vastly outpaced by global warming

COP 17 concluded its work in Durban one week ago and observers of the UNFCCC negotiation meeting are divided between those who see the glass half empty and those focused on the part half full.

Good progress was achieved in the implementation of the Green Climate Fund, the transfer of technology and in the fight against deforestation through the REDD+ (Reduction Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).
World-wide attention is however dedicated to the topic of mitigation. Which country needs to reduce its national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, by how much and when: these are the crucial questions still unresolved.
But even on this issue Durban produced very important results.
Ahead of the COP 17 very few experts thought that the Kyoto Protocol (KP), the only existing international legally binding agreement on climate change, would survive beyond, when its first commitment period runs out.
The EU decided to commit to a second period no matter what other developed countries, such as Japan and Russia, will decide for the period after 2012.
Canada’s opposition to the KP was the most clear-cut, having announced its intention to abandon even the KP’s first commitment period. This is only the latest step of Prime Minister Steven Harper’s strategy to renounce any commitment on climate change in exchange for the support of the oil lobby, based mainly in the Alberta Province. Harper’s weakness and lack of political will erode in the long term his predecessor’s reduction commitment of -6%, as defined in the previous KP accord, and the actual national GHG emission level of +30% (data UNFCCC, 2009).
The EU’s willingness to extend its participation for the second commitment period created a bridge between Europe and the majority of developing countries, including the African Group, the Alliance of Small Islands States and the Less Developed Countries: they were all crucial in drafting one of the most important achievements of the COP 17, i.e., the Durban Platform (DP). The DP is a three-year track aimed at defining mandatory emission targets for all major GHG emitters, including the US and China. The new commitment will be part of a new mandatory agreement, whose legal form has not yet been defined, but should be in place by 2020.
From this perspective, the COP17′s results point undoubtedly to a “glass half full,” but any elation is mitigated by the bad news arriving from climate science. A recent study published in the magazine Nature shows a continuous decline in the arctic ice extension in the last decades.
IEA (International Energy Agency) data show that 2010, with global emissions in the atmosphere at 30,6 billion tonnes of CO2, topped all previous records.
Further, data on temperature will almost certainly indicate that 2011 was one of the warmest years since the beginning of physical record-keeping.
But what is probably even more worrying to climate scientists is the status of the permafrost in the Arctic area. This is one of the most important tipping points, a situation where change does not move in a linear way, but rather resembles a switch where, within in a short time, the position can pass from “off” to “on.” If the permafrost, a land area constantly frozen throughout the year and which extends also into the coastal seabed, melts, all the gases trapped therein will be quickly released into the atmosphere. A Russian study presented a few days ago at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco indicated the existence of huge amounts of methane gas bubbling to the surface of the ocean, a phenomenon never registered in the previous 20 years of research in the area.
A study presented in 2010 by the same group estimated an amount of methane emissions from this area of about 8 million tonnes a year, but now it seems clear that the emissions are underestimated. The situation is particularly critical if we take into consideration that methane is 25 times more damaging for climate change than CO2 and this figure is higher than the entire emission of a country like the Netherlands.
Rethinking the outcome of Durban after these latest news, it becomes clear that the glass is always completely empty when we compare the speed of progress in the political process with the rate of change of climate conditions.

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Decision time in Durban, outcome as yet unclear

The 9th of December will be remembered as an historical date for the fight against climate change–either for the better or for the worse. The choice lies fully in the hands of ministers and heads of state involved today, and probably tonight, in the final plenary of the COP 17 in Durban and in the decision whether to save the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and the rest of the UN multilateral process or to simply let the KP expire.

Less than 24 hours before the end of the Durban Conference, it would appear that a large majority of countries is in favour of the II Commitment period of the KP and of a further legally binding commitment meant to involve a larger number of countries and emissions controls than the KP. But it is as yet unclear if this can be turned into a consensus-based decision valid for all.
Annie Petsonk, the representative of the NGO Environmental Defence Fund, identifies three possible options for the legal form a new commitment might take.
– The first one, very similar to the EU proposal, is a new Protocol with negotiations starting next year and to be adopted by COP 20 (2014) or by COP 21 (2015).
– The second one is a legally binding instrument, less stringent than the Protocol, without any timetable to conclude the work: this proposal is close to the US position.
– The last one, and the weakest, would involve simply a decision about the next steps: this option appears as the least likely, as it would signify the failure of the multilateral process.

Negotiations continued during the night of 8 December and from the delegates there is positive feedback for an agreement and even rumours of new margins for Russia and Japan to be part of the II Commitment period of the KP.
Karl Hodd, Grenada’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Chair of AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States), reminded everyone of the reason for this meeting during his Thursday speech in the High Level section. “We must lift our sights and not let national interest overtake global interests. I want to challenge you today to demonstrate to the world over the next few days that we have that political will.” He also warned participants to behave in an honourable way: “Let us not speak one thing outside the negotiating room and another inside the room.” Another AOSIS country, Fiji, asked all parties to support a stronger commitment. Samuela Saumatua, Minister for local government, urban development, housing and environment of the island, remarked that “Durban presents a unique chance to renew faith in the multilateral process.”
Hodd used less diplomatic language during the AOSIS press conference, underlining that “there is not enough seriousness in this negotiation,” adding: “if we believe there is a problem on the planet, why don’t we address it?”
This is a feeling shared by many participants. During the same press conference, Saumatua said that in Fiji “we have to relocate people due to costal erosion. It is not a fairy tale, it is reality.” References to the very real consequences of climate change come from several other countries, including the Maldives, Tuvalu, Iceland, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea and Iraq. Most of the speeches in the High Level section sent a clear message: stop the talking and start acting. Soon.
Hood pointed out that scientists are asking for decisive action before 2017 and that there is no point in postponing pledges until after 2020: “We totally reject the hypothesis of 2020. Waiting is a disaster.”
Venezuela used its time to link global warming to capitalist economies. “The market is the problem, not the solution,” said Claudia Salerno Caldera, the special envoy for Climate Change. She repeated what Hugo Chavez said in Copenhagen two years ago. “If climate change had been a bank it would already have been saved…; it is not possible to have money to save the banks and pay for wars but not for climate change and for life”, she said, receiving a loud round of applause.
The urgent plight of some countries was summarized thus by Amberoti Nikora, the Minister of the Environment of Kiribati, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean: “I hope you’ll have the opportunity to visit my country and to see our children before it is too late.”

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EU praised for its effort to save Kyoto

Planetnext“I have to congratulate the EU for the leadership shown here.” It is rare to hear such praise during speeches in the High Level segment of a COP. But the words uttered yesterday by Mohamed Aslam, the Maldives’ Minister of Housing and Environment, are something more than a simple recognition of the effort made by the EU for a II commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP). For all developing countries it is fundamental to save the only legally binding climate instrument, the KP, in order to preserve the hope for a further international deal against climate change. But for Small Island States the EU represents the only real life-vest for their future, considering that water levels in the oceans are already increasing by circa 1 cm every 3 years.

For several years the EU has been showing a strong commitment in the fight against climate change, but now in Durban it has the opportunity to strongly lead the process. And it appears unwilling to accept a secondary role, as had happened in Copenhagen where the main decisions were thrashed out mostly by the US and the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China).
As Connie Hedegard, the EU Commissioner for climate change, underlined in last Monday’s press conference, the EU has been working for the past 14 years within the framework of the KP. “All our legislation is based on the KP principle and you cannot find another country in the world where this happens.” There is thus no desire to go backwards, as many measures are in place and fully operational. The EU CO2 market connected with the Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) will probably continue to be implemented in the future regardless of what the Durban Conference will decide for the KP, because it is something already fully integrated in the European market.
Theoretically the EU could adhere to the II commitment of KP without any further political and technical measures, simply by introducing the -20% target by 2020, which has been enshrined in European legislation since 2008. This strengthens significantly the EU position in the negotiations. For this reason a new “Durban Road Map” appears more likely every day and this time the new three-year negotiation process needs to have all major emitters onboard, including the USA and China.
It is possible that China’s new willingness to discuss changes in its approach is the result of internal shifts within the G77 + China group, faced with the need to address new scenarios for the future. Already in 2007, during the Barcelona climate talks, the African countries started to speak with a single voice in order to better defend the interests of a continent strongly affected by climate change and with an economy lightyears behind that of China. Later in Copenhagen and Cancun it was the turn of the Less Developed Countries to ask for more financial assistance than the rest of the emerging economies. Now in Durban the insistent request for change comes from the small oceanic islands.
Tuvalu’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Tourism, Environment and Labour, Apisai Ielemia, remarked during his High Level speech that his islands are suffering not only for the rising sea levels, but also by the worst drought in memory. “We have to act now. Not in 2015 and definitely not in 2020. We have no time to wait!” But Ielemia spent a good part of his three minutes of time, normally dedicated to sound the alarm for the climate change affecting his islands, to ask for the participation of Taiwan in the UNFCCC.
This has to be interpreted as a clear message to China to begin acting as a major contributor to the reduction of the global CO2 emissions. Minister Mohamed Aslam was more blunt: “Not all developing countries are in the same basket. We are different in terms of emissions and we need to differentiate our commitments.
A possible signal of inside movement in the BASIC group comes from Tuesday’s press conference, where the Head of the Chinese Delegation, Minister Xie Zhenhua, decided to open his remarks by denying rumours of internal division within the BASIC countries.
Once more, Durban confirms that the real problem is, as always, that climate change progresses at a much faster pace than political decisions.
For Mohamed Aslam, “to postpone action until after 2020 is not acceptable for us” and probably for this reason he decided to thank the EU more than the G77 + China.

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Political progress registered, but China and US may be undermining EU goals

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“The USA is blocking, blocking, blocking!” The assessment of Tim Gore, the Oxfam representative, during yesterday’s NGO press conference is quite clear. His request that the EU and the developing countries move forward in any case, even if the US do not, resembles events at the COP 15 in Bali. In 2007 it was Al Gore who put forward a similar demand, echoed during the final plenary session by Kevin Conrad, the Special Envoy and Ambassador for Environment & Climate Change of Papua New Guinea. The roar of approval in the assembly forced the US to accept the Bali Road Map.

It now seems possible that the same script will play out next Friday night in order to launch the 3-year Durban Road Map proposed by the EU.

The first target in Durban is undoubtedly the need to assure a future to the Kyoto Protocol (KP) through the II commitment period, beyond 2012. But the second goal seems to be the need to find a way to involve the US, which in political terms stands on tenuous ground. Everyone knows that it is very difficult to negotiate with a government that seems unable to impose to its own Senate the ratification of any agreement.

Yesterday there was a bilateral meeting between China and the US, probably crucial for the development of the COP 17. No official statement was issued.

But the previous day, Minister Xie Zhenhua, the Head of the Chinese Delegation, had sent an indirect message, almost certainly meant for US negotiators: “It is time to see who is acting in a responsible way to solve a common challenge for the human race.”

Rumours circulated by Greenpeace suggest an agreement between China and the US to postpone the deadline of a new global deal until after 2015, the date on which the EU is instead insisting as a condition for it to subscribe to a second KP commitment period. The situation is further complicated by China’s announcement to be ready for a legally binding agreement, without clearly specifying whether this means Beijing’s acceptance of the year 2020 as a deadline for the introduction of its own absolute mitigation target.

At the same time, the uncertainty and the shifting of political positions might be interpreted as a positive sign, showing that negotiations are having an effect on the original positions of the parties involved.

In the meanwhile, progress is being reported on financing issues as the idea to collect funds for developing countries from taxation of international aviation and shipping is gaining ground and could be one of the Durban conference’s positive results.

Growing attention is also being given to Mexico’s and Papua New Guinea’s proposal for the introduction of a threefourths majority voting for the COP decisions. What could be seen as a simple procedural aspect may became one of the most interesting outcomes of the COP and facilitate the future of the Durban Road Map.