So what were the results produced by the climate change talks in Copenhagen?
When we last left off our story, the 71 nations who made pledges in Copenhagen were committed to try and limit the increases in temperature to 2 degrees.
The various controversies of the meeting have made it clear that the global meetings (Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen) are not likely to be the basis for actions that will equal the scope of the problem. But there was still hope that the voluntary actions by well meaning, committed nations could offer some hope. Now it turns out, maybe not so much.
Researchers from the Potsdam institute for Climate Impact Research writing in Nature however have now reviewed the results and they write that “its amazing how unambitious these pledges are”. The researchers estimate that the increases in temperature will most likely exceed 3 degrees.
We are now beginning ot see the implications of past deals. It turns out that when the agreements were being made that some of the limits applied to selected countries were lax. So some were able to do better than their easy targets. And you could bank these extra achievements. So the banked extra savings have to be deducted from the promises. This, the Potsdam researcher explain, is one of the most important reasons that there is a growing gap between rhetoric and reality.
But analysis and explanations aside, 3 degrees rather than 2 degrees is a big deal and leaves us no closer to global solutions. As the 5 day celebration of Earth Day concludes and the Senate of the U.S. begins the next round of discussion of Cap and Trade legislation we have reached the place where it is time for someone to become ambitious.
The analysis is a collaboration of researchers at PIK, Ecofys (www.ecofys.com) and Climate Analytics (www.climateanalytics.org).
There is a great deal of talk these days of branding – no less in New Zealand, the home of the Hobbit.
New Zealand has promoted itself as 100% pure. Unfortunately, the Guardian’s environmental blog Greenwash reports, it has been increasing its greenhouse gas emissions. Reports are that they have increased 22% since 1990. The Economist (“It’s Not Easy Seeming Green” a backlash to New Zealand’s vow of purity, March 23, 2010, the Economist online) notes the response:
To this, Prime Minister John Key responded, “bollocks”.
Apparently New Zealand has been planting trees to absorb the results of high car ownership per capita and a certain unmentionable problem with methane production.
But of course it’s more complicated. One of the most difficult problems of the modern world involves the shipping of food around the world. Food represents 40% of New Zealand’s exports. “In many ways, the dilemma New Zealand faces is no different to that of other rich countries – how to balance economic growth with the need to address environmental degradation,” comments the Economist. That and the need to connect the brand with reality.
News of a new association that sought to promote the efficiency of telecommunications network might have seemed interesting. Reading that there goal was to improve efficiency by 1,000 percent by 2015 made the story somewhat more interesting. But reading of the members of the new Green Touch
Bell Labs, AT&T, and China Mobile from industry; MIT and Stanford University from the academic world; and The French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control
made the story interesting indeed. In fact, seeing the members made the story about 1,000% improvement and 10,000% gains in efficiency seem somewhat more plausible.
To point out that the President of the U.S. has become critical to many public policy debates (especially Climate Change) would seem to be gratuitous in these times. But we have come upon an obscure set of anniversaries and its useful to recognize, before Copenhagen, how tenuous progress on Climate Change has been. Now we seem to be moving on one of the profound historical shifts of our times and it all turns on Barack Obama.
Only three years ago, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which Massachusetts and 12 other states sought to require the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases. In February of 2007, Al Gore’s documentary, an Inconvenient Truth, won an Oscar. On April 2nd 2007 in a 5-4 vote the Court agreed that Massachusetts did have standing to bring the case.
Justice Roberts argued on behalf of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito and himself that the President should be allowed to execute the laws. (Of course there is some irony here since the dispute was about whether the President should be required to act to execute the law.) The Bush Administration had argued that EPA should not be required to regulate automobile emissions because the science was unclear and it had a much broader program of voluntary compliance, incentives and research. Conservatives argue that the Executive Branch should be free to devise its own strategies and to negotiate with the less developed countries without interference from the Courts and the Legislative Branch (hence the Unitary Executive).
Of course that was then, and this is now. Last November, long before he was sworn in as the 44th President of the U.S., Barack Obama declared that there was no longer any debate, the science was clear. He declared that during his Administration the US would become a world leader on Climate Change Policy. President Obama has done many things in the ensuring year to demonstrate that he was serious. But now he goes to China and then to Scandinavia in December. The ball is in his hands.
And the science was clear, but the economics? The Climate Change aficionados have been saying that the recession has given us some breathing room. But not much. Today the International Energy Agency forecasts that the demand for electricity (by 2030) that will be generated by coal unless something happens to change things, this will require the equivalent of 5 times the amount currently consumed by the entire US.
More than half of that coal generation will come from China. Much of the balance will come from the Less Developed Countries. By 2030 the world will be looking back to this time when the direction changed, indeed pivoted on one Unitary Executive in a very short period of time.
In the weeks that have followed the announcement that President Barack Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, there were no doubt moments when former Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland has wondered whether they did the right thing. The critics refuse to go away.
His question, won’t it be too late to respond 3 years from now? And his comment at the press conference when he asked, “who has done more to advance the cause of world peace?” expressed his logic and the reasoning of his fellow board members. Since then he has been attacked from many sides, most recently in the Wall Street Journal.
But whether or not the Nobel Peace Prize should have been awarded to the American President only a few months into his Presidency (even President Obama said that he was not sure that he had yet earned a place among the transformational figures who have been awarded the prize), it does raise some interesting questions.
In recent weeks the question of Copenhagen has had to play a much bigger role in the conversations at Rahm Emanuel’s conference table where Presidential schedules are planned. No, not the trip to Copenhagen to make the pitch for Chicago’s bid to host the Olympics, the trip that would outline the U.S. position toward a global Climate Change treaty. Would the President go? Would the Chinese and the Indians do enough to make a US response necessary?
In early October 2009 there are many voices seeking to anticipate or even to influence the Climate Change policy debate. Many are predicting that there will not be the kind of global policy that had been anticipated. Nor do most people think that the US Congress, embroiled in debates over health care, could turn to passage of the Cap and Trade bill that would set US Climate change policy.
And now, President Obama will be going to Oslo on December 10th to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
The website of the Norwegian delegation to the Council of Europe where former Prime Minister Jagland presides, there is an interesting note. “In its awards to Wangari Maathai in 2004 and to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore in 2007, the Nobel Committee has indicated that its concept of peace now also embraces efforts to limit the harm done by man-made climate change and threats to the environment.” There is no question that they have their eye on the Copenhagen Climate Change conference as well.
Back to Mr. Emanuel’s conference table where the ghost of former Prime Minister Jagland now has a place. Can the President skip Copenhagen and then go to Oslo? Tricky question indeed.
Those of us who have spent our lives in the Boston-Washington corridor had learned to look to California for coming trends. At least this was true until the recent budget crises began to throw into question whether California itself was a sustainable venture.
But a report by the (CPUC) certainly reestablishes the state’s claim to offering insights about the future, even if it doesn’t yet nail the case. The CPUC announces that it has approved contracts for 8,300 Megawatts of power to be generated by renewable energy sources. And there is more in the pipeline.
Most of California electric generation’s renewable energy today comes from wind, but in the future solar is expected to surpass wind as a green energy source. Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic sources are playing a larger role in recent bids on power generation.
In 2002 California passed a law requiring Renewable Portfolio Standards for the state’s utilities. The RPS law requires that they get 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2010 and by 2013 it has to be up and running on the grid.
What makes the CPUC’s report huge is that it shows that the utilities are on track to meet the standards.
The Governor upped the ante last November by requiring that the RPS be 33% by 2020. And this is where the debate is today – can 33% be achieved? Can the utilities afford the $115 billion to do it? Can the state meet both its environmental and energy goals? Will the infrastructure be there to make it possible?
All of these questions are important, realistic questions. But when the debate is whether 33% is achievable now that 20% appears to be in hand, this is no longer a dreamy kind of a conversation. RPS will play a large role in the coming Climate Change debate. California now tends to make it seem as though RPS is shifting gears from a philosophical debate to an energy policy and engineering one.
The politics in Washington over the energy and environmental policy choices that are contained in the cap and trade bill may be fierce, but the public is less decisive and still generally supportive. A new poll (8/17/09) by Washington Post /ABC News that has just been released shows that President Obama would seem to have stronger support for his general energy policy direction (57%-29%) than for his handling of the economy (52%) or health care (46%). As has been widely reported his approval rating has fallen since February (68% down to 57%).
What’s more on the core tracking poll where the question is asked, “would you say that things are generally on the right track or are they headed in the wrong direction” (now summarized in pollster.com) it had appeared this summer that the President was likely to reverse the “wrong direction” majority. But even that trend seems to be reversing itself and the negative forces seem to be gaining ground again.
So in the context of sliding support, the idea that energy policy has 20 points more support than George Bush in 2005 must seem to be a positive sign. A plurality (41%) believe that the energy policy will add jobs in their state (the poll was taken before Toyota announced the closure of the plant in Freemont, California in site of the cash for clunkers program). A majority (52%) believes that the energy policy will help with global warming.
A majority continues to support the “cap and trade” bill although the support is slipping now that there is some understanding of cap and trade as a public policy issue. And the public is willing to support cap and trade even if it increases the cost of electricity, although the majority seems to evaporate when the increase in monthly bills goes from $10 to $25.
All in all, the news seems to support the assessments of researchers such as Oxford Analytica reported in Forbes that cap and trade is only a little better than 50/50 to pass the Senate. The fall’s run up to Copenhagen will increase the drum beat (and the need for the President to have credibility internationally. In spite of other pressing priorities, the cap and trade bill may assume even greater significance.) Say tuned.
In an article on the Saudi reaction to President Obama’s call for Energy Independence Jad Mouawad of the New York Times “Green Inc.” notes the ever-present dynamics of the geopolitics of oil. (“Saudi Blasts American Energy Policy.”)
The Saudis are as sensitive to the cross currents of energy policy change as anyone. In “In a short and strongly-worded essay in Foreign Policy magazine, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former ambassador to the United States and a nephew to King Abdullah” critiques the broad statements of the Obama Administration. His point recalls Sheik Yamani’s famous line about the stone age.
What this thought points to is the question of how soon green technology is going to replace the oil economy. While it makes the stream of articles on China’s development of solar panels and electric vehicles all the more interesting, it does recognize that no one can imagine a technology that is going to radically shift the energy balance in the next five years.
In the meantime, OPEC looks quite different today than it did in 1973. The difference is not in the names of the countries that are the sources of oil but in their leadership and their relationship to the U.S. Iran, Iraq, Venezuela and Nigeria could not be more different today than they were in 1973 when Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon first launched the policy of “energy independence.”
Obama’s Energy Initiatives put pedal to the metal:
Further accelerating the manufacturing and deployment of electric vehicles, batteries, and components here in America, and creating tens of thousands of new jobs, President Obama today announced 48 new advanced battery and electric drive projects that will receive $2.4 billion in funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These projects, selected through a highly competitive process by the Department of Energy, will accelerate the development of U.S. manufacturing capacity for batteries and electric drive components as well as the deployment of electric drive vehicles, helping to establish American leadership in creating the next generation of advanced vehicles.
As opposed to Bush’s 2007 energy initiative, this one has some real meat on its bones. Korean journalists buried the story though, it’ll be interesting to see whether they can bring it back next week.