Category Archives: conference

Todd Stern, debunking myths

Press briefing by Todd Stern – Special Envoy for Climate Change and Head of the United States Delegation

Comments on the US mitigation commitment:

Reduction proposal submitted around 17% below 2005 levels in 2020, with upgrades to 30% below 2005 in 2025 and 42% by 2030.

–> there is considerable frustration that the US hasn’t been using 1990 levels as a benchmark, but consider that 30% in 2025 and 42% in 2030 are equivalent to 18% and 30%, respectfully, for 1990.

Stern responds to criticism that the US has been outdone by the EU in these commitments: EU 20% reduction against 1990 levels is equivalent to 13% against 2005, so less than what the US is putting down.

Also, a good question from member of press: Q: “China has pledged to reduce its carbon intensity.  The US has said that it wants all pledges to be verifiable.  Carbon intensity has two components.  There’s the carbon emissions – that seems reasonably straightforward, you can count the coal plants.  But if you want to measure GDP, how do you do an external audit that people believe of a country’s GDP?

A: … “that nicely encapsulates the reason why we think that there ought to be some measure of international consultation or review or dialogue or whatever the term is, with respect to any transparency report that a country puts in, whether it’s China or anybody else, so that quesitons can be asked.  And, how – in the US can you audit?  that’s kind of outside my particular range of expertise.  But it’s a question that I think underscores the need to be able to ask questions, understand assumptions behind numbers and things like that.

–> anyone else have an answer to this?


(going to press Thurs.)

On behalf of President Obama, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced in Copenhagen Monday the launch of a new Renewables and Energy Efficiency Deployment Initiative (Climate REDI) as a “quick start” initiative for the broad technical and financial mechanisms of an international climate agreement.  Secretary Chu also welcomed progress under the Major Economies Forum for Climate and Energy (MEF), inviting counterparts in MEF and other countries to a first-ever Clean Energy Ministerial in Washington next year.

Cramped alongside the meeting room with press and other onlookers, I was brushed aside by secret service as Chu and energy ministers from Italy, India, and Australia were hurried into the briefing.  In moments like this, the COP15 Climate Conference lives up to its representation in the mainstream press as nothing more than a high-profile shouting match over “factual” science, controversial forebodings and arbitrary commitments.

It is different, however, when you’re close enough to the politics to be pushed out of the way.  You see them roll their eyes, wipe their brows, check their blackberries, and begin to question the humanity of entrusting so few individuals with such imperative decisions.

The U.S. presence here is reassuringly strong, and high-profile appearances are expected every day this week by members of Obama’s cabinet.  Destabilizing to Copenhagen skeptics is the compelling rhetoric emanating from Chu, a Nobel laureate, who speaks in largely technical and less wistfully emotive terms than Obama, when he must frustratingly tailor climate science to a global audience.

Climate politics is unique in that credible science is unavoidably manipulated towards discursive ends.  The U.S. media center at COP15 is particularly geared towards bringing American scientific research to the global forefront.  To clear space for Chu’s speech, for instance, a team of staffers hurried to move the elaborate demonstration by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of meteorological modeling, involving an enormous spherical display of real-time global storm patterns.  Chu, himself, was speaking a foreign language to probably half his audience of press and politicians as he explained ion-pool energy storage and jet-engine-inspired turbine research.  From what I’ve seen, Chu and the Department of Energy are not going to dumb down the scientific realities facing decisionmakers just so that they are more easily discussed over dinner.

But the next day, Secretary Chu was on a plane back to Washington.  Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, made his own speech on Tuesday afternoon as part of the back-to-back strategy of U.S. delegators in laying the groundwork for Obama’s appearance on Friday.  Needless to say, I won’t be standing anywhere nearby for that speech, which will be attended by over a hundred heads of state expected in Copenhagen for the final days of negotiations.

The difficulty for me is in reconciling that a strong American presence encounters a delicate balance of global perspectives, especially significant resentment towards our disproportional contribution to global emissions.  With blinders on, one is easily convinced that our scientists will live up to a history of life-changing innovation and provide American homes and businesses with the necessary tools for a carbon neutral future.  The reality of conference proceedings, however, is that the most convincing stance, such as that of American scientific consensus, often has limited political voice.

Fishy Business

Today the largest restaurant at the conference center is serving fish. Salmon, to be precise. The two restaurants that sell hot food at the center choose two or three dishes to serve each day and make A LOT of them over and over for hours (often even serving the same meal for lunch and dinner). Unfortunately, today’s special has created a wave of fishy stink that is wafting above the thousands of people rushing about the central building of the conference center. Luckily the stench doesn’t spread farther than the central dining and media area as I’m sure negotiatiors would not be happy if it felt like they were negotiationing for hours in a fish market!

Senator John Kerry to Deliver Speech, Hold Press Briefing at COP15

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and lead author of the Senate’s comprehensive climate change legislation, will deliver a major address tomorrow highlighting critical steps toward combating the climate crisis as well and outlining America’s commitment to reducing pollution through comprehensive legislation from the Congress soon after the New Year.

He’s an alumni and my senator – might have an interview…

Tutu + Robinson @ Copenhagen

Yes, the corner of College and Chapel may be called Bishop Tutu Corner. But I’ve just met the guy. He loves to laugh and has a great smile. When I told him that there was a street near my college named after him, former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and Irish President Mary Robinson joked that it must be an alley.

Both are here for Oxfam international climate hearing at Copenhagen (“Oxfam organized hundreds of climate hearings. The COP hearing will be the culmination of this effort. The hearing will include climate witnesses from around the world and moral voices.”)

Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu Meeting

Taking pictures of a dignitary

Me, Robinson, Tutu, and two friendly people

Some notable quotes:

“We forget there is a great deal of good and you represent that. Fantastic human beings who care, who want to see our earth home, the only one we have, to be hospitable to all of its inhabitants. I want to clap you, because you are just fantastic human beings.”

“All have one super-goal. Persuading others to listen.”

“It’s the difference between survival and doom. We’re in this together. There are all kinds of competing voices. The 1.5 million people that have attended Climate Hearing in 36 countries, that’s not the whole story, they represent hundreds of millions more people who may not have attended a hearing but are suffering from climate change. The future is becoming a source of fear and uncertainty. People suffer with nothing to eat during the dry months and then lose everything when the rains fall with such ferocity that everything is washed away.

All of these changes, we know, are not just incidental. These stories testify to a disaster already in progress. But you know that we have it in our power.

Leaders from more than 60 countries are in Copenhagen today. We are here to tell the leaders of the world we have one Earth home, if it is destroyed there is nothing else. And we are in it together. We are going to swim or drown together. We are interconnected; we are bound together. If the one slips down, she or he brings down the whole lot. We are here to call for action.”

Negotiations opened up…but few left to attend

Every morning, after standing in long lines to enter the Bella conference center, we pick up a Daily Programme at the front information desk. The programme is a collection of the day’s events: the negotiations, the press briefings, and the public side events among other things. For each event the programme lists the times, the locations and most importantly who is allowed into each session.

Just this morning, when talking to a Yaw Law/F&ES student, Paul Beaton, we found out that more delegation and working group negotiations have been opened to public observers than ever before at COPs. Apparently, this is because during negotiations last week the US, EU and China tried to start closing off some of the talks (prohibiting entrance to all members of civil society) in order to bully the smaller states into certain agreements.

Undoubtedly, this is relatively common at international conferences and has happened at previous COPs, but this time the small states refused to be pushed around. The world’s smallest nations, including many developing countries, are more united than ever before. They are on a mission to achieve a fair agreement and are pulling the industrialized Annex I countries with them. So there was a revolt, the small states  refused to only negotiate behind closed doors. The UNFCCC responded hastily trying to ameliorate the situation by throwing open the doors to many of the negotiations, even ones that have never before admitted members of the public.

When I was leaving one of the Ad-hoc Working Group – Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) contact group negotiations last night I overheard one of the negotiators remarking with surprise that there were NGO members sitting in back half of the room (where I had been watching the discussion for nearly 4 hours by that point). “I had no idea NGOs were allowed in here,” she said.

It’s ironic, of course, that starting this morning only a third of the civil society will be admitted to attend these negotiations with fewer and fewer being submitted over the coming days. According to the Danish President of COP15 UN Summit, the primary reason for reducing the number of admitted people from the civil society is to accommodate the increasing size of country delegations.

“Security-wise things are getting very difficult,” Hedegaard explained. “It will be more difficult for press and NGOs to get in as we get closer to Friday. The heads of state bring very large delegations and that requires a lot of security.”

Ultimately the same number of people will be attending the conference, 20,000 total (which is the capacity of the conference center), there has simply been a cut back on civil society attendees and an increase in delegation attendees.

– Alice

P.S. UN text negotiations all use track changes!?

I forgot to mention that all of the negotiations are done using track changes and electronic comments. The negotiations take place in a long hall that has approximately 15 rows of long tables with individual microphones for hundreds of people and a large speaker system. Members of the UNFCCC secretariat sit at a raised desk at the front of the room in front of a large screen onto which the agreement text is projected. As delegates suggest changes to the text one of the representatives at the front literally adds comment bubbles and writes in track changes in different colors for the rest of the delegates to consider. It makes you wonder how negotiations worked before the advent of the track changes tool, but undoubtedly the discussions went even more slowly. Thank you technology!