Archive for the ‘News’ Category


Doha climate talks: Gateway to hell?

15 December 2012

The Doha climate talks (COP18) reached an agreement on Saturday night. They’re calling it the “Doha Climate Gateway”. To me it looks like a gateway to probable inaction and climate catastrophe.

Delegates blatantly ignored the urgent warnings being screamed at them from all directions, and put off consideration of ramping up ambition until next year, or the one after that. They agreed an extension of Kyoto with meaninglessly weak 2020 targets and enough carried-over surplus permits to lock in business-as-usual for many countries until at least 2020. They failed to agree a pathway for global emissions or significant finance for poor countries. Meanwhile, our governments still expect us to wait until 2020 for a possible global binding regime. In the showdown between developed countries and small island states in Doha, rich countries won hands down. Ultimately, we all lose.

One of the most depressing parts of humanity’s annual cycle of procrastination on the climate crisis is that after the conference fails to achieve much of significance, 195 government spin machines kick into action to sell the outcome as a step forward. This time the main justification is that Doha “crossed the bridge” to a new regime. Ministers say things like “where would we be if we had failed to agree and the process had collapsed?” While of course I don’t want the climate talks to collapse, I don’t think it has ever been likely and it occurs to me that it would have a bright side: there would no longer be a false sense of security that the climate crisis is being addressed.

The message that progress is being made is seductive to those of us desperate for climate action, but one we must see through. After the high-profile failure of Copenhagen, governments have gone into Cancun, Durban, and Doha conveying low expectations, which in many cases I suspect was a deliberate public relations strategy so that at any hint of incremental progress they could reemerge proclaiming they met or exceeded those expectations. It’s a psychological manipulation technique called “under-promise and over-deliver”. Judging outcomes relative to the expectations governments set for themselves is playing into the hands of the delayers. Instead outcomes must be judged on real-world merit, and in this context the Doha Climate Gateway is worse than nothing.

The climate talks have gone on my entire life, yet despite the negotiators’ constant claims they are making progress, the situation has deteriorated at an accelerating rate. Global fossil fuel CO2 emissions have risen by 58% since 1990 and 2.6% this year (with most of the recent growth in China), and the Earth is headed for a catastrophic 4-6°C global warming by 2100, plus potentially large feedbacks and post-2100 warming. If we allow anywhere near that level of warming, humanity faces a very uncertain future. To be sure of preserving a habitable climate and avoiding feedbacks that could send climate change spiraling out of our control, we must aim to reduce CO2 to ~350 ppm (limiting warming to ~1°C). That means we must phase out fossil fuels globally as fast as possible. Politically, this has never looked more impossible. Read the rest of this entry ?


Doha climate talks: Dreadful deal on the table

7 December 2012

There are just a few hours to go until the Doha climate talks (COP18) are scheduled to finish (though they are likely to go into overtime). Drafts of the key decisions have been released, and the outlook is very black indeed.

The most important draft text, agreeing a second period of Kyoto, is still filled with brackets and options to be pared down in last-minute negotiations. This may be because the Alliance of Small Island States rightly challenged its pathetic emissions targets for countries it binds, access to offsets for countries it excludes, carryover of surplus permits, and eight-year length – all of which threaten to lock in meaningless action. The EU reportedly sorted out its internal division in talks with Poland on Thursday night, but with the wrong outcome: an agreement to not cancel surplus permits. Reportedly, the specifics of the deal are the surplus permits will be carried over but only tradable with countries in Kyoto. Regardless of trade restrictions, surplus permits will not only sabotage Kyoto but also dilute any post-2020 regime, allowing business-as-usual to continue indefinitely.

(UPDATE 8 December 2012: A revised Kyoto text has been released with the brackets and options removed. It amends the Kyoto Protocol to create a second period, but merely “recognizes” countries “may” provisionally apply the amendment before it is ratified and legally enters into force. It decides Kyoto 2 will drag on until 2020, and the aggregate target is only 18% below 1990 averaged over 2013-2020, albeit with a ministerial roundtable in 2014 where each party “may” raise its ambition toward at least 25-40% below 1990 by 2020. The US, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Russia are out. The conditions for Australia, Norway, and Switzerland to increase their pledges will not be binding. The “Australia clause”, which allows creative accounting on land use, remains in effect. On the bright side, if I understand correctly access of Kyoto offsets will be restricted to countries with binding targets. I’m still trying to understand what it means for surplus permits, which I consider make-or-break for the integrity of Kyoto 2, but in any case there has been a whole day’s worth of dispute over that issue since this version of the text was made available.) Read the rest of this entry ?


Climate deregulation still on agenda

6 December 2012

It’s called the COAG Taskforce on Regulatory and Competition Reform, and don’t be fooled by the boring name: it could be the gravestone of Australian climate policies and environmental regulation. Today Prime Minister Julia Gillard meets with the unelected Business Advisory Forum (BAF), and tomorrow with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), to advance this radical corporate-driven deregulation agenda.

I was going to write that the federal government intended to hand over its environmental approval powers to the states tomorrow. Fortunately that has been delayed following a campaign by the Greens and environmental groups, though it remains very much on the agenda. Instead this blog post will focus on another, even more important aspect of the COAG Taskforce program, which has received less attention but presumably rolls on inexorably toward an imminent conclusion: reviewing almost all climate policies with a view to axing them.

The process is completely opaque and undemocratic. Federal and state governments are advised by business lobbyists, with no comparable consultation of anyone else, and the public are not told what is happening apart from vague communiqués following decisions at BAF and COAG meetings.

It is not even clear why the BAF was created in the first place, though I can offer an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. Throughout 2011, business lobbyists campaigned against the Gillard government for daring to rock the boat even slightly by introducing a carbon price (never mind that it was full of holes). Some supported the Liberals’ campaign for an election and no carbon price, and I imagine behind the scenes some supported Kevin Rudd’s leadership plot in return for Rudd’s promise to weaken the carbon price. When Rudd was decisively defeated, the Business Council of Australia called for “a renewed commitment to make Australia more competitive and productive” including “a regulatory environment that encourages business to invest, adapt, and innovate”. Within a week, Gillard announced the formation of the Business Advisory Forum. The whole thing had a vibe of Gillard desperately trying to win the support of business. And what better way to atone for the carbon price than to dismantle all other climate and environment policies? Read the rest of this entry ?


Doha climate talks: Island states stand up for ambition

5 December 2012

“We have not seen concrete progress on the issues that are important to ensuring the survival of all our members. How many conferences do we have to endure where we go back to our countries and say, ‘next year we will increase ambition to reduce emissions, next year we will see finance, next year we will save the climate’? No more next years.”

Sai Navoti, lead negotiator for Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)

The elephant in the room at the Doha climate talks (COP18) is the cavernous “ambition gap” between the pathetically weak pledges on the table and the rapid emissions cuts urgently required to keep global warming below the 2°C limit agreed by the world’s governments, let alone a truly safe global target.

Last year’s conference in Durban established a process to close the ambition gap, Durban Platform workstream 2, yet in Doha it is being sidelined in favor of competing negotiating streams. The state of those other streams has reached a new low: the Kyoto Protocol is set to lock in meaningless targets for its few remaining participants diluted by endless loopholes, Long-term Cooperative Action has devolved into a system of inadequate voluntary pledges, and Durban Platform workstream 1 will not be implemented until 2020 when it will be far too late. An informal note from the Durban Platform chair suggests Doha’s outcome on ambition could consist entirely of planning future negotiations. Indeed the talks may even be going backwards on ambition, with Russia backing away from its pledge to cut emissions 25% by 2020.

Only the Earth’s most vulnerable countries, the small island states, are exposing the emperor’s lack of clothes. “The science is absolutely clear,” AOSIS said in a recent statement. “If emissions are not lowered immediately, the opportunity to avert the worst impacts of climate change may be irrevocably lost.” AOSIS is calling for Kyoto 2 to end in five, not eight years; for there to be no legal gap between commitment periods; for surplus permits to be severely limited; for access to Kyoto offsets to be restricted to those bound by Kyoto targets; and for more ambitious targets from all parties, especially rich countries. Read the rest of this entry ?


Doha climate talks: battlelines

3 December 2012

This is the second installment of a three-part blog post about the ongoing Doha climate talks (COP18). Part 1 recaps the history of the negotiations up to 2011; this part covers this year’s battlelines; and Part 3 outlines my opinion on what should happen in Doha and why it matters.


After governments had loudly proclaimed the Durban Platform as progress, interim negotiations held in Bonn, Germany in May showed countries have very different visions of what it is supposed to produce.

On the ambition workplan (in my opinion the most promising result of Durban), AOSIS and the LDCs rightly advocated urgent action to close the ambition gap before Kyoto 2 targets are set in Doha, and the EU argued global emissions should peak before 2020, but the US argued for any avenue other than a higher target for itself under the UNFCCC, Australia emphasized international emissions trading mechanisms, and India saw the workplan as relating to after 2020, claiming it must wait for the IPCC AR5. India’s position is blatantly obtuse, because the workplan’s reason for existence is clearly to raise ambition now and we don’t need another report to tell us current pledges are utterly inadequate. Small island states took the lead by pledging to cut their emissions by a collective 45% by 2030.

On the platform for a future global agreement, AOSIS, the LDCs, and the EU advocated urgent negotiation of a new protocol (the LDCs also advocated decisions be made by a three-quarters majority instead of consensus), while the US and Australia foresaw a period of brainstorming, and India said the promised “agreed outcome with legal force” could include non-binding decisions. Developing nations defended the sharp distinction between responsibilities of rich and poor, repeating their longtime demand that rich countries cut emissions 25-40% by 2020 (based on the IPCC AR4), while the EU argued for a spectrum of commitments based on evolving responsibilities. Read the rest of this entry ?


Response to RET Review discussion paper

15 November 2012

I have submitted feedback (which you can read here) to the Climate Change Authority (CCA) on its Renewable Energy Target review discussion paper, released last month containing draft recommendations. A report with final recommendations will be released by 31 December.

In September, I wrote:

The RET review will be a key test of the Greens’ climate strategy. The Greens argued the independent reviews would provide regular opportunities to improve climate policies in future. The RET review is the first test of whether it will play out that way, or if the reviews will instead be regular opportunities for polluting industries to sabotage climate policies. The role of the Climate Change Authority is crucial, as in 2014 it will be tasked with recommending five years of emissions targets. The Authority is as yet an unknown quantity (though I am concerned that two board members have conflicts of interests). Will the Authority prove to be a strong advocate for climate action, or will it fall prey to the siren songs of vested interests?

So far, it appears the answer is neither, with a bit of the latter. On the one hand, the discussion paper rejects the proposals by 25% of submissions (almost all from businesses and business lobby groups) to abolish the RET or decrease the 2020 Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET). It acknowledges the RET plays an important role and the possibility of overachieving is not a bad thing (CCA estimates renewables will meet 25% of demand in 2020 instead of 20%). On the other hand, it completely ignored the 41% of submissions calling for the RET to be increased and/or strengthened (99% if you count the 8,500 submissions in the GetUp! campaign to increase the 2020 target and the Hepburn Wind campaign for a post-2020 target). It recommends neither increasing the 2020 target, nor introducing post-2020 targets, nor making Clean Energy Finance Corporation investments additional, nor strengthening the policy in any other way. Read the rest of this entry ?


Obama’s reelection won’t change anything

8 November 2012

What does the reelection of Barack Obama mean for climate change? On the one hand, it is a tremendous relief that Mitt Romney lost; but on the other, Obama’s victory is not particularly promising.

Firstly, it is unlikely that Obama will be able to accomplish much even if he wants to. The Republicans will continue to control the House of Representatives, as well as continuing to effectively control the Senate, which means they can continue to block everything as they’ve been doing for the past three years. Why do they effectively control the Senate, you may ask? As explained here, an idiosyncratic rule called the filibuster allows any Senator to prevent a bill being passed (or even being introduced) by debating the motion indefinitely (or secretly threatening to do so). To overrule a filibuster requires 60 out of 100 votes, which the Democrats have not had since 2009 and still don’t have after this election. The Republicans now filibuster pretty much anything and everything, making it almost impossible for the Obama administration to pass legislation. Even if the Democrats had 60 seats, many Democratic Senators representing coal states are unlikely to vote in favor of legislation to address climate change.

It is far from clear that Obama would take the necessary level of action on climate change even if he could get it through Congress. Obama’s first term will be remembered for the failure to act on climate change. The policies he has tried to implement so far have been utterly inadequate. In UN climate talks, Obama has secured a too-high 2°C target and promoted a system of voluntary pledges utterly inadequate to meet it with no intention of ramping them up until at least 2020, when it will be too late (although I say “Obama”, the president himself no longer bothers to show up to climate conferences in person). To his credit, he has invested heavily in renewable energy deployment, but his “all of the above” energy policy also continues to promote and even subsidize fossil fuels. His failed climate legislation, negotiated between Congress and industry lobbyists, was plagued by similar problems to Australia’s policy – weak targets, offsets, free permits for polluters, etcetera – so even if it had passed it was unlikely to be very effective. He delayed that legislation in favor of healthcare reform and financial regulation, after which the Democrats lost the required Senate supermajority. And since March 2009, he has followed a deliberate strategy of not even talking about climate change, instead trying (and failing) to sell climate policies on side-benefits like “green jobs”. Read the rest of this entry ?