Environment Forum

Day Three: And what of Obama?


President Barack Obama’s decision to attend the climate talks in Copenhagen next week, at the end of the process rather than at the beginning, is said to show the White House is serious about pursuing a deal to curb global warming.

On the first day of talks in Copenhagen this week, the Environmental Protection Agency cleared the way for regulation of greenhouse gases without new laws passed by Congress, a move said to enforce Obama’s commitment to act.

And on Tuesday, the top Chinese climate envoy told Reuters the U.S. needs to increase its commitment to emission cuts.

With Obama set to accept his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Thursday, we thought it was a good time to turn the discussion toward what exactly we’re expecting from him at climate talks in Copenhagen.

Today’s question: What should President Barack Obama promise to do to fight climate change when he comes to Copenhagen?

Day Two: Reaction to the EPA

(Updated with comments from Dr. Gidon Eshel, physics professor, Bard College)

On the first day of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cleared the way for regulation of greenhouse gases without new laws passed by Congress, reflecting President Barack Obama’s commitment to act on climate change.

The EPA ruling that greenhouse gases endanger human health was widely expected, but for the record, Reuters.com asked our panel of experts on climate change what they thought of the decision.

Watch this space throughout the conference, which runs to Dec. 18. We’ll be asking some of the world’s foremost thinkers timely questions about breaking news and overarching themes about fighting global warming. We hope you will join the discussion.

In dengue-infested Indonesian village: clinic or trees?

It was as I lay in a Singapore hospital bed — ablaze with dengue fever but shivering in a sweat that chilled my aching bones — that I began to understand why villagers in a remote part of Indonesia would trade their forest for decent health services.

Teluk Meranti is a tiny, 800-family fishing hamlet in Riau province of Sumatra island in Indonesia, where dengue is common but health services are poor and infrastructure is very basic.

With a monthly income of around $200, the average Teluk Meranti dweller doesn’t have much — but they do have customary rights to an enormous tract of rainforest in the lush Kampar Peninsula, home to rare flora and fauna.

from The Great Debate:

Comfortable conservation and global warming

kemp.jpg-- John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own --

Energy efficiency will have to make the single most-important contribution if policymakers are serious about limiting greenhouse gas emissions and dampening growing demand for fossil fuels.

Energy efficiency will not remove the need to invest in large volumes of wind, solar and nuclear generation, or in technology for carbon capture and storage, but it does form the third leg of the triad.

In the United States, nowhere have efficiency initiatives been given higher prominence and become as deeply entrenched in the public policy process as in the state of California. In response to a series of power crises, the state has adopted some of the toughest standards anywhere in the world.

Five minutes of Al Gore

He started late, made them laugh for the first 5 minutes then gently kicked out the media.

“I’m Al Gore and I used to be the next president of America,” he said. Everyone laughed.

“Now I’m a recovering politician”.

On a speaking tour that touched down for a $500-a-plate dinner in Toronto Tuesday evening, the former U.S. vice president and co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC  told a near-full banquet room of 1,300 members from the “mostly telecoms” business community about his perspective on the green, clean economy.

Trade lessons for climate negotiators

- John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

As hopes for reaching a binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions at the Copenhagen summit die, climate negotiators could learn useful lessons on how to structure the negotiations from the multiple rounds of trade talks within the GATT/WTO framework.

Climate negotiations are about limiting carbon dioxide emissions, but the negotiators are also hammering out a complex economic instrument that will define the distribution of production, energy use and income in the next few decades. It is the agreement’s profound economic effects that are making it so hard to reach a final deal.

While the stalled negotiations on the Doha Round might make it seem likely an unlikely role model, the GATT/WTO process has successfully created a legal framework for liberalising world trade through eight successive rounds of increasingly complex negotiations, as well as a dispute settlement system accepted by all major countries.

from The Great Debate UK:

Can emissions be tackled without Copenhagen deal?

Even if a deal is reached among political delegates at the upcoming United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen, it is unlikely to set out specific emission targets, says Mike Hulme, author of "Why We Disagree About Climate Change" and a professor at the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

"What we've done with climate change is to attach so many pressing environmental concerns to the climate change agenda that trying to secure a negotiated multilateral agreement between 190 nations is actually beyond the reach of what we can achieve," he argues.

Hulme, who will take part in a debate hosted by the Institute of Economic Affairs in November about carbon emission policies and economic activity before he heads to the Copenhagen conference, discussed his views with Reuters.

G8 leaders: still around to keep 2050 climate promises?

Last year, when G8 leaders agreed a “vision” of halving world greenhouse gases by 2050 at a summit in Tokyo, Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked around the table and wondered aloud if any of them would still be around to ensure the plan worked — or held to account if it didn’t.

“Probably only Dmitry”, one of the leaders said, referring to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, according to a G8 source. At the time, Medvedev was 42 and will be 84 in 2050.

At this year’s G8 summit, the discussion came up again when the leaders agreed other distant targets, including an 80 percent reduction in emissions by developed nations by 2050. (Critics said they should have focused more on 2020 goals that are most relevant to a new U.N. climate treaty due in December.)

Ice Age or global warming?

It looks more like an Ice Age than global warming.

There is so much snow in Oslo, where I live, that the city authorities are resorting to dumping truckloads of it in the sea because the usual storage sites on land are full.

That is angering environmentalists who say the snow is far too dirty – scraped up from polluted roads — to be added to the fjord. The story even made it to the front page of the local paper (‘Dumpes i sjøen’: ‘Dumped in the sea’).

In many places around the capital there’s about a metre of snow, the most since 2006 when it was last dumped in the sea. Extra snow usually gets trucked to sites on land, where most of the polluted dirt is left after the thaw. Those stores are now full — in some the snow isn’t expected to melt before September.

from Davos Notebook:

A climate deal: easier than trade?

Conventional wisdom has it that if the leaders of the world can't agree on a round of negotiations to liberalise world trade then there's no chance they will agree on measures to tackle climate change.

After all, a pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions will involve re-tooling vast swathes of industry and impact the way companies do business from Boston to Beijing.

But is that view right? British economist Nicholas Stern - author of a seminal report in 2006 on the economic fallout of global warming - thinks not.