Friday, December 10, 2010

News from Cancun

As regular readers no doubt remember, I had few expectation for anything that remotely resembled success coming out of the latest convention to save the world.  Now that Cancun 2010 is nearly over, it's time to add up the score.

First of all, we should recall the fiasco that was Copenhagen 2009.  It turns out that there was more than simple incompetence at work in that mess.

Copenhagen Climate Cables
The US and China Joined Forces Against Europe
By Gerald Traufetter   12/08/2010 
Last year's climate summit in Copenhagen was a political disaster. Leaked US diplomatic cables now show why the summit failed so spectacularly. The dispatches reveal that the US and China, the world's top two polluters, joined forces to stymie every attempt by European nations to reach agreement.
In May 2009 the Chinese leaders received a very welcome guest. John Kerry, the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, met with Deputy Prime Minister Li Keqiang in Beijing. Kerry told his hosts that Washington could understand "China's resistance to accepting mandatory targets at the United Nations Climate Conference, which will take place in Copenhagen."
According to a cable from the US embassy in the Chinese capital, Kerry outlined "a new basis for 'major cooperation' between the United States and China on climate change."
At that time, many Europeans were hoping the delegates at the Copenhagen summit would agree climate-change measures that could save the planet from the cumulative effects of global warming. But that dream died pitifully in mid-December 2009, and the world leaders went their separate ways again without any concrete achievements. Confidential US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks now show just how closely the world's biggest polluters -- the United States and China -- colluded in the months leading up to the conference. And they give weight to those who have long suspected that the two countries secretly formed an alliance.
The cooperation began under the last US president, George W. Bush. In 2007 Bush's senior climate negotiator, Harlan Watson, organized a 10-year framework agreement with China on cooperation on energy and the environment. The two countries also agreed to hold a "Strategic and Economic Dialogue" -- backroom talks that neither the Americans nor the Chinese were willing to admit to at first. more
At least the US made a show of trying to look like they are going to take the problems of climate change seriously in Cancun.  This German report on the presentation by Energy Secretary Chu in the German magazine Spiegel is quite charitable considering Chu's address was more appropriate for a junior high science class.
Chu in Cancun
US Energy Secretary Plays Climate Activist
By Christian Schwägerl in Cancun, Mexico  12/08/2010 
At the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun, the US government has fought back against accusations that it isn't doing anything to combat global warming. In his speech, Energy Secretary Steven Chu criticized climate change deniers, highlighted inventions by US scientists and even quoted a Native American saying about saving the planet.
After getting this much praise, most politicians would smile proudly and bask in the recognition. But Steven Chu, who had just flown in from Washington and was sitting in Building D at the conference center in Cancun, where the United Nations Climate Change Conference is currently being held, didn't move a muscle as his achievements were listed. He knows full well that he was recognized as a top researcher at Stanford and Berkeley, that he is a member of elite science academies in both the United States and China, and that he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997 -- and he isn't interested in the things he already knows.
Chu, it turns out, isn't a normal politician but a man who has remained a scientist at heart. Speaking in Cancun on Monday, the 62-year-old US energy secretary only became animated when it was time for him to explain to his audience why the world is in danger, and what he wants to do about it.
His speech was titled "Building a Sustainable Energy Future." One year after the failed United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, this sounds almost cynical. The United States bears much of the responsibility for the fact that a global plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions did not materialize in Copenhagen. Now leaked diplomatic cables have also revealed that Washington, together with Beijing, made sure that the negotiations in Copenhagen would fail. more
I wrote on Nov. 30, "If the Cancun meetings put the need for banking and monetary reforms at the center of their agendas, we can hope they have gotten serious."  Well, it looks like it required the peasants to point out the absurdities of "cap and trade."
Peasant and Indigenous Groups Oppose Market Schemes for Global Warming
Anti-Climactic in Cancun
The UN Climate Conference (COP16) in Cancun is turning out to be both anti-climactic and anti-climatic.
There will be no major agreement to stop global warming this week, despite the timed release of a number of reports that show that the phenomenon is advancing more rapidly than expected, with lethal consequences.
What there will likely be are announcements of progress in schemes to allow contaminating industries and nations to continue with business as usual and to add another lucrative area to their portfolios—trade in carbon offsets and credits.
It’s a worst-case scenario for the planet. Most negotiators seem to agree on abandoning or postponing the essential goal of mandatory emissions controls while promoting markets for the global trade of permits to pollute. 
Rather than commit this massive assault on our futures all at once, the representatives of 193 nations gathered at this beach resort will likely put off major decisions until next year in South Africa. Here in Cancun they are expected to announce progress in increasing the market-based incentives like the UN Reduction of Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) proposal and the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol. Both allow developed-country polluters to use peasant and indigenous lands and projects in developing countries to offset continued pollution.
In the bargain, not only do polluters avoid having to reduce emissions, but the land-management contracts involved for verifying offsets typically strip traditional communities of their rights over the carbon-absorbing lands they have preserved for millenia. more
In fact, Bolivia's Eva Morales was downright angry about the causual attitude of the industrialized world.
Bolivia's defiant leader sets radical tone at Cancún climate talks
Evo Morales is drawing on an indigenous vision to challenge western positions on rising temperatures
John Vidal Cancún, Saturday 11 December 2010 
The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, in Cancún, Mexico, where he has demanded world leaders should commit to holding global temperature rises to just 1C
Of all the ministers and politicians parading the world stage in Cancún last week, President Evo Morales of Bolivia knows best the impact of a theatrical entrance. His entourage includes 15 colourfully dressed, bowler-hatted indigenous Aymara, an admiral in gold braid, teams of advisers and white-coated bodyguards, Mayan priests and ambassadors.
When the mop-haired, chubby-faced poster boy of Latin American socialist politics speaks, they stand around him, filling the stage with the physical embodiment of what is now called the "plurinational" state of Bolivia.
But then Morales is a true individual, the only head of state in Cancún who dared to insist that the world should hold global temperature rises to just 1C. As he argues, nature has rights.
Yesterday Bolivia was diplomatically isolated at the end of the UN talks but remained unrepentant, accusing other governments of a disastrous lack of ambition. Some groups have pressed him to tone down his demands to ensure that a political deal could be done at Cancún.
"Some powers are happy to put forward measures that would lead to an increase of 2C, and some think even of increases to four degrees. Imagine what our planet would look like with an increase in temperature of two degrees or four degrees, given that at 0.8 degrees we already have serious problems in the world…
"It's easy for people in an air-conditioned room to continue with the policies of destruction of Mother Earth. We need instead to put ourselves in the shoes of families in Bolivia and worldwide that lack water and food and suffer misery and hunger. People here in Cancún have no idea what it is like to be a victim of climate change." more 
I also wrote 11/30, "Now some of the folks who show up these conventions are hawking the hardware necessary for building the new green society. They have distilled good ideas into new ways to keep humanity's technological umbilical cord working."  This was an easy prediction because I knew the Germans were going to show up.
Global Warming Summit
Germany Focuses on Climate Protection Opportunities in Cancun
By Markus Becker in Cancun, Mexico  12/09/2010 
Somber warnings about the approaching climate castastrophe, en vogue during the UN climate summit in Copenhagen last year, are passé in Cancun. Now, countries like Germany are instead looking to the opportunities that the fight against global warming provide. Still, disagreement threatens to doom the conference.
The German environment minister, it would seem, is tired of issuing dark warnings of impending climate change disaster. "In Germany, we have begun to see things in a different light in recent years," Norbert Röttgen said on Wednesday during his first appearance at the UN climate summit in Cancun, Mexico. "People in business, in politics and in the society at large no longer see climate change as a threat, but as an opportunity and a challenge."
Several delegates -- those from island nations in the Pacific, for example, or those from coastal countries in Asia -- were no doubt not particularly impressed by Röttgen's efforts to play down the global warming catastrophe. Indeed, the dangers posed by climate change serve as their central argument in favor of a new agreement which would require industrialized nations to assist poor countries and those at acute risk.
But in contrast to the climate summit in Copenhagen at the end of 2009, a businesslike atmosphere has dominated the talks so far this year. Climate change itself is changing -- from an existential danger to civilization into an opportunity for profit.
The delegate from Mexico, who spoke immediately prior to Röttgen, spoke of the "ethical responsibility to future generations" and of "mutual understanding" among the world's nations. But moral arguments of this kind have become a rarity following the calamitous failure of the Copenhagen talks.
Pragmatism has become the name of the game -- at least among industrialized countries. Indeed, Röttgen's Cancun speech could just as easily have been held in front of the annual meeting of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce. "Our strategy of investing in renewable energies and energy efficiency proved itself successful in times of economic and financial crisis," Röttgen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, said. more
Of course, not all Germans think their country is some sort of Green utopia.  Here an inventor of a recycling scheme from the old DDR thinks he must go to Asia to market his ideas.
Scientist hits on recycling plan for vital 'rare earth' metals 
Published: 1 Dec 10 08:54 CET 
Surrounded by smoking vats in his tumble-down factory in former communist East Germany, Wolfram Palitzsch sees a golden future in recycling "rare earths," the metals crucial to gadgets such as mobile phones and TVs. 
The 44-year-old scientist is exploring ways to extract the exotic metals that have spiked 300 percent in price over the past year, driven in part by trade tensions with China which enjoys a near-monopoly on their export. 
"It's incredible that almost no one has thought of this before," Palitzsch said, pacing eagerly around bubbling test-tubes. 
For the moment, his work is focused on recycling indium from solar panels. 
Not catagorised as one of the precious rare earths, this metal is nonetheless needed to make flat-screen televisions. Like rare earths, its price has soared. 
Using a technique he has patented, Palitzsch plunges the solar panels into a vat containing a special chemical solution, then collects the residue from which he extracts the valuable indium. 
But he is already turning his attention to the extraction of europium - a rare earth used to produce the colour red in television screens - from the glowing white powder found in energy-saving light bulbs. 
For years, he tried in vain to hawk the idea around German firms and eventually turned to Asia. 
"I was invited to talk about my discoveries in Tokyo and I got the impression that the topic was considered much more interesting in Japan than here at home. We Germans are sometimes too slow on the uptake," he said. more

And then there is USA.  We are going to get aboard with the building the new green society? Right?  According to the Harper's index in the January 2011 issue, USA has approved 4603 offshore oil and gas leases since 2005.  The number of offshore wind projects approved in the same time frame was ONE!  I wonder if Secretary Chu mentioned this little factoid in his presentation.

Ken Salazar: Offshore Wind Power Permits Will Be Expedited To Spur Atlantic Coast Projects
MATTHEW DALY | 11/23/10 06:11 PM | 
WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowed Tuesday to spur offshore wind projects in the Atlantic Ocean by expediting permits and identifying promising areas for wind power.
At a speech in Baltimore, Salazar said he will institute a "smart permitting process" that could result in leases issued within two years, instead of seven years or more.
Salazar said he and other federal officials will work with governors in 11 Atlantic Coast states to identify promising areas for wind development. If no serious problems are identified, leases could be issued late next year or in early 2012.
Salazar said he hopes to pursue offshore wind power along the Atlantic Coast in the same way officials are pushing solar power in the Southwest.
"These are areas with high wind potential and with fewer potential conflicts with competing uses," he said. "If we are wise with our planning, we can help build a robust and environmentally responsible offshore renewable energy program that creates jobs here at home."
The announcement comes as Internet giant Google and other investors have pledged up to $5 billion for a network of deepwater transmission lines to bring power from offshore wind farms to homes and businesses along the East Coast. The first phase is expected to cost $1.8 billion and run 150 miles in federal waters from New Jersey to Delaware. more

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