Beginning the March to Copenhagen: Climate Negotiations Getting Serious


If you've read my previous posts, you'll know that the international global warming negotiations have already commenced (see here, here; and here). But if last year was the "dry run", this year will be need to be the real thing. While progress was made last year, it was stymied as the US Administration sitting across the negotiating table from other countries was never really serious about getting a strong agreement. Of course, that has changed with President Obama signaling that he will move domestically to cap US global warming pollution and also help secure a strong international agreement to this global challenge.

So that is why I'm in Bonn, Germany right now. For the next ten days, delegates will be engaged in the next round of climate negotiations (I'll be back in Bonn in early June for another negotiation session). This will be the first negotiation session where the US will be led by a team that wants to address global warming (and more importantly a President and leaders in Congress that support that vision).

At some point during the reign of the previous Administration, other countries knew they weren't really serious so the developing countries stopped providing stronger signals of the action that they would take in the new agreement. Some hints of progress emerged, but they were held back by this reality (as I discussed in my New Year's Resolution).

So what does a changed US dynamic mean? What can we expect at this negotiation session?

The changed US dynamic, will have a very strong impact on these negotiations. If anyone wants an example of how US leadership can change a complex international negotiation, all you have to do is look to the recent agreement to negotiate a treaty to address mercury pollution (as my colleague Susan Keane discussed). For the previous 8 years the US didn't want an international mercury treaty and things didn't progress (to put it mildly). But at the beginning of the last negotiation session, the Obama Administration signaled that they wanted a mercury treaty. And after two weeks of hard negotiations, an agreement was reached to negotiate a mercury treaty. Which is why many people, including the members of the US Climate Action Partnership have stressed that: "U.S. climate policy is an essential precondition for a full and effective international framework".

Of course, simply a change in US position won't break down all the impasses, but it sure can go a long way. But this is a complicated negotiation with a lot of issues on the table, which is where we are at right now. I still believe that there is a lot of convergence on the agreed structure (as I discussed here), but the clock is ticking as we are less than 8 months from Copenhagen. Continued...


The Really, Really Bad Debt


It’s time for a reality check in the contentious debate over the investments President Obama has proposed to fight global climate change and build a new energy economy.

As Ken Burns once put it, “we need a little more Pluribus and a little less Unum” in the United States these days. Instead, a newly outraged Outrage Class is firing bullets made of silly putty, hoping some will stick to the new President.

Here are some prominent current examples:

Burdening Our Children With Debt
: A frequent argument from fiscal conservatives is that borrowing money to build a new energy economy – including the investments contained in President Obama’s stimulus package and his 2010 budget proposal -- will place an unconscionable debt on our children. Reacting to deficit projections from the Obama budget, for example, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said: “We simply cannot continue to mortgage our children and grandchildren’s future to pay for bigger and more costly government.”

But the debt we should be most concerned about is our carbon debt. It’s a far more serious threat to future generations. Researchers at the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently concluded that even if we stop emitting carbon dioxide now, the impact of climate change from emissions already in the atmosphere will have “legacies that will irreversibly change the plant” with damages continuing for 1,000 years. Among them are coastal inundation, drought, desertification, wild fires and disruptions to agriculture. They all carry big economic costs that will undermine our kids’ prosperity as well as their health, safety and quality of life.

We all agree that it would be far better to pay cash up front to build the green economy, but past Congresses and the past Administration have left the country broke. The President’s response to Boehner was right on target: “What we will not cut are investments that will lead to real growth and prosperity over the long term.”

Not making those investments now will burden our children with and irreversible carbon debt that sentences them to hundreds of years of tragically negative returns. The carbon debt is by far the worst curse.


Earth Hour 2009



Whistleblower’s Revenge


The gust of wind that surged through Washington D.C. earlier this month was not a warm front moving in. It was the collective sigh of relief when President Barack Obama issued a memorandum that will protect the work of the 100,000 scientists and engineers in the U.S. government.

But it’s likely that no one felt a greater sense of relief – or vindication -- than Rick Piltz.

Rick is the guy who blew the whistle on the Bush Administration’s abuse of federal climate science. More specifically, he’s the guy who told the New York Times about the politically motivated manipulation of climate science reports by Phil Cooney, an oil industry lobbyist who was appointed to a top position in the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

It wasn’t a pleasant experience for Rick. From his former position as Senior Associate in the office that coordinates the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), he witnessed a sustained government cover-up of federal climate science. To blow the whistle, he resigned after 10 years in that job andensorship gave up his three-figure salary.

The CCSP is a joint effort by 13 federal agencies to study what climate change is, how it’s progre
ssing and what the impacts will be. Participants include many of the nation’s top climate specialists from the National Aeronautic and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several other government agencies.

Rick saw the blatantly dishonest and disgraceful pattern of how the White House and
its political appointees were handling reports from these agencies. One example was the type of censorship Cooney was doing at the CEQ. Cooney, who came to government from the American Petroleum Institute, oversaw the CCSP’s work for the White House.

“Cooney waited until the 12th hour, after the career scientists had finished reviewing the reports,” Rick recalls. “He edited them at the last minute.” His edits weren’t minor changes in grammar and p
unctuation; Cooney was watering down scientists’ conclusions. Continued...


Global Temperature Trends: 2008 Annual Summation


by James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Reto Ruedy, Ken Lo

The Goddard Institute for Space Studies has analyzed the global temperature trends based on 2008 surface air temperature leading to the conclusion that, despite the cold brought on by the strong La Nina event last year, 2008 was the ninth warmest year since measurements began in 1880.

Calendar year 2008 was the coolest year since 2000, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies analysis [Reference 1] of surface air temperature measurements (Figure 1, below). In our analysis 2008 is the ninth warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements, which extends back to 1880. The ten warmest years all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008. The two standard deviation (95 percent confidence) uncertainty in comparing recent years is estimated as 0.05°C [Reference 2], so we can only conclude with confidence that 2008 was somewhere within the range from 7th to 10th warmest year in the record.

The map of global temperature anomalies in 2008, Figure 1 (right), shows that most of the world was either near normal or warmer than in the base period (1951-1980). Eurasia, the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula were exceptionally warm, while much of the Pacific Ocean was cooler than the long-term average. The relatively low temperature in the tropical Pacific was due to a strong La Nina that existed in the first half of the year. La Nina and El Nino are opposite phases of a natural oscillation of tropical temperatures, La Nina being the cool phase