Environment Forum

Obama gets high marks for green record: environmental group

obama_solarPresident Barack Obama came into office with climate change and the environment on his list of top priorities.

Nearly a year later, one of the top environmental groups in the United States says that Obama has made the grade so far.

In a review of his green record, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) highlighted dozens of moves by Obama at home and abroad. They cited the $50 billion the president put in the stimulus package for cleaner energy and energy efficiency; an executive order for federal agencies to set targets to cut emissions by 2020; and the adoption of strict auto emissions standards, modeled after environmental trendsetter California.

Abroad, the group said that Obama has restored U.S. leadership in the arena of climate change. They pointed to Obama’s efforts to secure an accord at the global climate change summit in Copenhagen — an outcome that the president has said people are justified in being disappointed with — and to partner with China, India and Latin America on clean energy.

Perhaps the brightest spot on Obama’s green record is also his biggest challenge in 2010.

Packing while Copenhagen burns

Bella1The talks were supposed to be over, “family photo” taken, and slaps on the back given all round.

So all the 193 countries and many RINGOS, BINGOS, YOUNGOS, banks and others who had set up temporary Copenhagen offices had been told to have them packed up by Friday evening.

The rest of the plan has fallen apart, with world leaders crammed into conference rooms desperately trying to salvage something from two weeks of fruitless talks.

The strange spectacle of too many heads of government

COP15picThere are around 120 heads of government at the Copenhagen climate talks, so many that it’s hard to keep track of the exact number.

Their presence has been trumpeted as a sign of the world’s commitment to tackling climate change. But in return for showing up, they all want a chance to address the conference – and by extension the world.

To fit all the dignitaries in, organizers have slots limited to five short minutes, which would probably be barely enough to cover their introduction back home.

Auxiliary verbs at 10pm and the scarcest resource – sleep

CO2tonneThe issues are global and urgent, but the bureaucracy can sometimes be mind-bogglingly slow and petty.

After a day of stalled talks, the 193 nations at UN-led climate talks finally met for a plenary to discuss one of the main drafts floating around the summit, just two days (and two hours) from the deadline for a deal.

First on the agenda – auxiliary verbs. There was a discussion of should vs shall, before an appeal from the chair.

Are the Copenhagen climate talks failing?

COP15picIn the last few days it has seemed like the only thing everyone can agree on in Copenhagen is that time is running out.

The heads of state start arriving today and descend in full force on Thursday.

Negotiators say they don’t want their leaders arguing over the placement of a comma or a set of brackets, and so everything needs to be tied up by Friday morning.

That leaves just over two days, and more than 190 countries gathered in the conference hall can’t even settle on a draft text to argue over.

Cap and trade not the solution, climate scientist says

Fighting climate change is a huge investment opportunity but not through emissions trading and investors should instead put their money into renewables which will power the economy in the future, says a leading environmental scientist and cap and trade expert.

As yesterday’s walkout by African nations showed, getting anyone to agree on anything at the U.N. Climate Conference is easier said than done. The use of markets to address pollution is no different. Supporters of cap and trade — the system which allows companies or groups who meet their emissions targets to sell their remaining carbon credits — are out in force, but so are the groups who say the scheme prevents less responsible companies from breaking their bad habits.

Scientist Payal Parekh, from International Rivers, has come to Copenhagen to lobby on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to highlight the failures of the cap and trade system. She said: “We are working here to ensure that we get ambitious reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases so that we can make a smooth and efficient transition to a clean and green economy. This means that we really need to set up a system that rewards innovators as opposed to allowing dirty industries to continue polluting.

from Mario Di Simine:

Climate costs up front worth gains later, EBA chief says

Fiona Wain photoMany negotiators and large industry groups at the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen argue that climate action is a question of cost, but the price paid up front is worth the savings later, says the chief executive of a leading business think tank.

The cost often referred to in talks is regarding initial capital expenditures, or capex, but climate change solutions should be compared with operational costs, which would be decreased, and they should also be compared with the collateral of damage avoided cost benefits, Fiona Wain, chief executive officer of Environment Business Australia (EBA), told Reuters.com in an interview.

"If you haven’t got pollution, if you haven’t got waste, if you haven’t got greenhouse gas emissions, that’s a significant lessening of the drain on the public purse in all countries," she said.

from Mario Di Simine:

Video: Protests under way in Copenhagen

Demonstrators came out in force early Saturday morning as the sun broke through the clouds that have blanketed Copenhagen during the first week of COP15.  A huge march, with about 60,000 protesters expected, is planned for later in the day but smaller rallies are already under way as groups make their way to the main event -- the march to the Bella Center, host of the COP15 global climate conference.

Here are some video clips from one march, where protesters held aloft banners reading "Demand Climate Justice" and "Face Facts, Make Pacts". They want global leaders gathering in Copenhagen to commit to eliminating or at the very least radically reducing CO2 greenhouse gas emissions.

Packed train beats cheap plane to Copenhagen

Imagine standing packed inside a commuter train with a thousand other people, some in dire need of a shower, some apparently having eaten garlic for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Imagine your fingertips clinging to a metal overhead rack as you struggle to stay upright on turns and bumps in the track. And then imagine doing that for hours on end.

GERMANY-RAIL/STRIKESThat’s what the train trip from Berlin to Copenhagen today was like as some 45,000 demonstrators converged on the Danish capital for Saturday’s march. But the journey was still a lot of fun — and we saw a myriad of wind turbines in both northern Germany and southwestern Denmark turning in the breeze, and thousands more roof-top photovoltaic systems extracting what little daylight they could out of the mid-December sky.

Fortunately, most of the people headed to the demonstration were in a fabulous mood. And there was even a happy ending to the ride — for the last two hours of the trip, in Denmark, an extra four carriages were added so just about everyone ended up getting a seat for the final third of the ride from Berlin, via Hamburg and a short ferry-hop.

Forget polar bears, who will save the prostitutes?

Among the many messages sent out by politicians during the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, “Be sustainable — don’t buy sex” has to be one of the least expected. This was the advice circulated by Ritt Bjeregaard, the city’s mayor and a former EU Environment Commissioner, sent via postcard to all the hotels in the city to tell them to stamp down on conference-goers looking to patronise prostitutes on their premises.

Prostitution is legal in Denmark (though brothels and pimping are not), and sex workers had been expecting to do a roaring trade during the two-week conference.

Mayor Bjeregaard’s note sparked an angry response from the Sex Workers Interest Group, which pointed out that its members are not breaking the law and promised free sex to any attendees who produced one of the postcards along with their conference accreditation.

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