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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "climate change"

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World Bank Doesn't Belong at the Green Climate Fund's Drawing Table

April 5, 2011 ·

The UN climate talks held in Cancun late last year paved the way for a new Green Climate Fund to channel money for developing countries to build resiliency, protect forests, and bring low-carbon technologies and practices into mainstream use.

That marked a critical victory for developing countries, but the biggest fights have yet to come. In the coming year, a committee of 40 government representatives (25 from developing and 15 from developed countries) will be working furiously with the UN and other institutions, as well as finance, gender, community participation, and other experts, on making this fund a reality. They must do everything from creating a management structure to forging a global definition of "clean energy."

This ambitious task is meant to result in a Green Climate Fund that can handle the tens, if not hundreds, of billions of dollars a year developing countries will need in the coming decades to combat climate change and at the same time continue their fight against poverty.

It's fundamentally disturbing, however, that the World Bank — the planet’s leading cheerleader for a growth-without-limits development paradigm — is elbowing its way to the front of the line to help design the new fund, almost guaranteeing itself a permanent role in its management.

More than 90 environment, development, human rights, and anti-debt organizations from around the world conveyed this concern in a letter to the Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the convener of the first fund design meeting.

In the letter, civil society leaders called for strictly limiting the World Bank's role in the design on the Green Climate Fund for the following reasons:

First and foremost, the World Bank continues to finance dirty coal, oil and gas projects. According to a World Bank Group Energy Sector Financing Update prepared by the Bank Information Center, the global lender supported fossil fuel projects to the tune of $6.6 billion in 2010, a 116 percent increase from the year before. That included $4.4 billion for coal power projects, more than it spent on all new renewable energy and energy efficiency projects combined for the year ($3.4 billion). So while the World Bank is undeniably increasing it renewable energy financing, the volume is still dwarfed by its fossil fuel lending.

Bobby Peek, director of groundWork/Friends of the Earth South Africa, an environmental justice group in Durban, South Africa, that endorsed the NGO letter, noted, “Only a year ago the World Bank made its largest loan ever to dirty energy, signing $3.75 billion over to the Eskom energy company to build a 4,800MW coal-fired power station in South Africa.” He asked, “Is this the institution we want to put in charge funding the solutions to the climate crisis?”

Bank officials say that the Eskom power plant — and similar coal projects in other countries — are important for bringing access to electricity for energy-poor families. But environmentalists and local activists argue that the project will benefit large mines and smelters, not the local community.

In fact, in an independent review of the Bank’s 26 fossil fuel loans in 2009 and 2010, Oil Change International found that none of these clearly identify access for the poor as a direct target of the project. The Bank agreed that not a single coal or oil project could be classified as improving energy access.

To the World Bank’s credit, it may be about to change course to a degree. A leaked draft of its new 10-year energy strategy revealed plans to move away from supporting new coal projects in middle-income countries. But environment and development groups argue that the language used in that draft document is riddled with loopholes. The energy plan also includes a massive scale-up of hydropower mega-dams that threaten to displace communities, destroy fisheries, and release their own greenhouse gases.

The Green Climate Fund should remain fully independent from the World Bank. Its design committee should engage experts from UN agencies and all regions of the world. Experts on gender, sustainable development, poverty alleviation, renewable energy and efficiency technologies, indigenous peoples, human rights, and social and environmental safeguards should weigh in, too.

A Deficit of Ideas

January 27, 2011 ·

Today, the White House will announce plans to eliminate the color coding warning system created after 9/11 under the Bush administration. If there is a problem, the Obama administration says, they will tell us. Unlike the doom-and-gloom Republicans, Obama is once again trying to reduce fear and inspire "hope," though he was careful not to use that specific campaign word during his State of the Union address.

But make no mistake about Obama’s speech — at the dawn of what promises to be two years of gridlock, Obama is settling back into where he is most comfortable — the campaign trail. It was no coincidence that the stories he featured throughout his address came from battleground states like Michigan, Colorado, and Oregon or that he visited Wisconsin the next day.

By portraying himself as a sensible centrist above the fray of bipartisan bickering, he futilely attempted to appease one side and then the other, often almost in the same breath. Allow gays in the military (to make Democrats happy) but also allow ROTC on college campuses (to make Republicans happy). Allow people not born in the United States to stay (Democrats) but secure the borders (Republicans).

Obama attempted to appeal to the center by pushing a pro-business agenda and emphasizing American exceptionalism. But pandering to business has a high price. The spending freeze on discretionary domestic programs would have a devastating effect on many American families. Obama emphasized job-creating exports but failed to mention that our trade policies have increased our imports even more. Our trade deals also push a deregulatory agenda that undermines workers and the environment everywhere. Instead of addressing climate change, Obama spoke of “clean energy,” code for the use of oxymoronic "clean coal" and nuclear power.

He missed out on the opportunity to advocate for a progressive vision of the United States and to take on a real leadership role. IPS scholars pointed out that he should have proposed gun control or criminal justice reform. In addressing the deficit, he gave only vague reference to cutting the military budget, a necessary action to take if we are serious about job creation and deficit reduction. Obama failed to propose new ways to generate revenue by clamping down on corporate tax dodgers. Read all of the great suggestions the IPS staff proposed for Obama on the IPS Blog.

Obama is right when he says we are living in a different time. The Republicans have the strength of the conservative movement on the outside pulling them and the nation further and further to the right. We, as progressives, need to apply that same pressure. Hope alone will not sustain us.

SOTU: Parsing Obama's 'Clean Energy' Promises

January 26, 2011 ·

Tellingly, President Barack Obama didn't utter the two words "climate change" once in his State of the Union speech. He did, however, mention "clean energy" several times.

Read these sentences carefully:

"So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean-energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen."

What's happening behind the scenes is that Democrats and Republicans believe that a so-called "clean energy standard" is the way forward on climate change. It takes the word "standard," which environmentalists had successfully paired up with the two words "renewable energy" — as in "renewable energy standard," and perverts its meaning. What once meant a renewable energy target that the nation should shoot for — reliance on wind, solar, and other truly clean, renewable energy — is now becoming conflated with the same old dirty energy of the past: coal, nuclear power, and natural gas.

Code for 'Clean Coal'

But what Obama suggests is that this is a divide to be bridged, that we can move forward with all the old, dirty forms of energy, and maybe add in some wind and solar. The truth is that "clean energy" in this instance is code for "clean coal" (an oxymoron if there ever was one), nuclear power, and natural gas. And "clean coal" and nuclear power are so expensive that they'll starve truly clean energy options in the cradle, and will saddle future generations with debt, radioactive waste, and climate chaos.

The other goal Obama mentioned that has climate implications is high-speed rail. As oil becomes more expensive, this form of transportation will be desperately needed. So hearing this commitment — "within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car" — is welcome news. Will Congress follow through with funding for such a bold initiative? Don't hold your breath.

So, too, his mention of "one million electric cars" coming online is good news, but only if we have a grid that's largely powered by clean and renewable energy. Otherwise, it simply means a greater growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

It's worth noting that Obama made no mention of the state of scientific integrity and openness within his administration, despite making clear in his inaugural address two years ago that science had become politicized to the point of interference with sound scientific policy. Today, scientific openness remains almost as constrained as it was under the previous administration, when climate scientists were muzzled by their media handlers. Obama must take this issue on from his bully pulpit, and not leave it to the Office of Management and Budget to determine what science passes the "cost-benefit" evaluation of economists and what remains off limits for public discussion.

Scrapping Subsidies

Obama did propose ending subsidies for oil companies, adding, "I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own." He also offered a catchy slogan: "Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s."

However, as long as the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling stands, allowing unlimited campaign contributions from corporations, including large oil companies, it's unlikely that Congress will embrace this proposal.

Obama made no mention of the worst oil spill in U.S. history which occurred less than a year ago. It's also worth noting that the recommendations that emerged from the oil spill commission's findings on the BP oil disaster will require a Congress not beholden to the oil industry to act on those recommendations. Without action, a catastrophe like the BP disaster is likely to recur, according to the commission.

Yet by staying silent on this spill, on the commission's findings, as well as on the disastrous public health and environmental fallout that persists today as a result of the EPA's decision to allow dispersants to be used in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama has let down thousands of fisher-folk and others in the region who are paying for this disaster with their livelihoods and their health.

Cancun: More Exclusion of Civil Society, More Bad News from Governments

December 8, 2010 ·

I'm commuting to the Cancun climate talks on a bus packed with the Friends of the Earth International delegation and hanger-onners like myself. This morning, when our bus arrived at gigantic Cancun warehouse where climate civil society groups are convening — along with our personal police escort — we were stopped again. This time, the federal police said that the bus that we arrived on didn’t match the license plate of the bus we had arrived on yesterday. In fact, that bus had broken down, so this was a different bus.

But the fact was that we arrive with a police escort, so the fact that the police then didn’t let us into the venue was just over the fine line of what many of us could handle at 8 a.m. after two weeks of sleep deprivation.

Then, when we were finally allowed into the building complex, people who had been standing where an action had taken place yesterday and had had their pictures taken were barred from entering even the civil society space.

Meanwhile, the deteriorating state of negotiations inside the UN climate talks is pushing people further toward the edge.

Yesterday, the prime minister of Kenya’s announcement that they were fine with rich countries abandoning a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was met with gasps of horror from the developing countries assembled in a high level plenary.

He later retracted the statement saying that he had read an early draft — not the correct final intervention. As it turns out, a Japanese bureaucrat had written that draft — revealing Japan’s attempt to bring developing countries into their campaign to kill the Kyoto Protocol.

A second blow to climate justice was struck when Ethiopian president Meles Zenawi proclaimed that the Cancun talks must result in adoption of the Copenhagen Accord — a deal that would lead to a “pledge & review” process instead of a global greenhouse gas target with equitable effort in reducing emissions among developed countries. A recent UNEP report shows that the pledges under Copenhagen Accord would lead to a worldwide average temperature inccrease of 2.5-5 degrees Celsius — which scientists say would push us part the tipping point of climate chaos.

What's worse is that if the Copenhagen Accord is the model for a new deal here in Cancun, governments have locked the world into dangerously warm planet.

The ALBA countries — notably Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Paraguay — are still standing strong, but are coming under increasing fire for resisting a pledge and review process, and climate finance without first making concessions on being legally bound to mitigate their own emissions — even while the true climate criminals responsible for the vast majority of emissions remain free.

The game now is to support African countries in resisting Meles’ attempts to ram support for a bad deal through the Africa Group, call bullies like the United States and Japan out for attempting to tank a fair process, and hold up those countries like Bolivia who are willing to speak truth to power.

We’ll see what happens today as we race closer to the wrap up of the UN climate talks here in Mexico this Friday.

Shielding Climate Talks from Public Scrutiny

December 7, 2010 ·

It’s the beginning of the second week of the climate summit here in Cancun and everyone — from NGOs, to governments, to the policy wonks — is starting to get jumpy as it becomes clear that a battle is brewing between those who want a climate deal at any cost, and those who only want one that is just, equitable and effective.

It started yesterday before we even left the hotel zone.

I’ve been hitching a ride on the Friends of the Earth bus to the negotiating venue — an "all-inclusive" resort called the Moon Palace. Actually, it's quite exclusive. It’s located an hour from the hotel zone and only accessible after passing through multiple security screening points and additional bus trips.

Holding talks at the Moon Palace srategically discourages participation from all but the most dedicated climate wonks. The Mexican government and the UN climate convention secretariat have said they don’t want a repeat of last year’s talks in Copenhagen where people who weren't officials (oooohhh scary) participated in a creative diversity of actions to get government delegations’ attention on key issues.

Last year, the secretariat went so far as to kick Friends of the Earth out, claiming that flash mobs (spontaneous gatherings in the hallway usually accompanied by a stunning visual and catchy chant) put delegates at risk.

 Huh?

I guess that the secretariat was concerned that by being exposed to regular people’s ideas and demands government officials would be on the hook for having to respond. Being seen as uninterested in whether your negotiating positions doom small island states to inundation or African communities to drought and starvation can certainly be risky — especially if the press catches you.

So instead, this year, the secretariat worked with the Mexican government to assemble a temporary warehouse — which they’ve decorated with posters, potted plants and “ethnic” baskets to make a bit homier — as a civil society holding pen.

To get to the actual negotiations at the Moon Palace you have to get on a second bus. Last week, traffic flowed freely between these two spaces. But now, anyone going to the Moon Palace has to pass through an additional checkpoint before boarding the shuttle bus. And if last year is any indication, you can bet that civil society will be stopped from even getting on the bus.

Access to the actual negotiating hall is already restricted for Tuesday to a total of just 100 non-governmental observers from all of civil society around the world.

It’s astonishing to think that we — the members of the public here in Cancun — are allowing the secretariat t get away with this. But we are.

I think it’s mostly because of the threat of being locked out of climate negotiations forever if you make a fuss. And for many of the people who came here, attending these global conferences is their life’s work.

Climate justice activists, however, are a bit more averse to flying low under the radar. But before even getting anywhere near the venue our bus was pulled over by the federal police.

Most of us were busy reading the latest negotiating text or checking our BlackBerries and didn’t notice until an officer in full swat gear and touting an automatic rifle boarded the bus.

It turns out that as we passed the first check-point on the road to the Moon Palace the police noticed that our bus was registered in Chiapas. Not only is Chiapas home to the Zapatista movement — which has taken on the Mexican government with gusto in the past two decades — it’s also the state from where a caravan of peasant farmers had come from over the weekend.

So we sat in the bus for about an hour while the bus driver smoked a cigarette on the grass and the police tried to figure out if we were an uprising of militant campesinos.

We were finally allowed to move ahead, but under the condition that the federal police escort our bus to the negotiations. There was one black Hummer in back, and another one in front, each with four heavily armed soldiers training machine guns on our coach.

I have to admit that I think we all took the police harassment as a kind of a badge of honor. But it's becoming crystal clear and making me increasingly uncomfortable that the Mexican government, as the climate talks' host, and the countries and institutions that control the UN climate convention, don't want public scrutiny of the kind they received in Copenhagen. They have made careful arrangements to castrate any possibility of a potent climate movement impacting their conversations. And they’ve got a contingency plan that includes very heavily armed security forces if that should fail.

Given the lack of direct action in the halls, and a dearth of interventions to call attention to a general lack of climate justice, it seems — disappointingly — that the pacification plan at the climate talks has worked. I hope to be proven wrong in the next four days. In the meantime, I'm marching in the street with Via Campesina between plenary sessions.

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