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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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Corporate Capture in Warsaw: The 'New Normal' in the Disaster Zone

November 18, 2013 ·

Robbie Watt in front of COP19's plenary session boxes, sponsored by the corporation ArcelorMittal

We are half way through the 19th summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in cold, grey Poland. Far away in the Philippines thousands of people have lost their lives to Typhoon Haiyan and hundreds of thousands struggle to find food, water, and shelter.

This typhoon makes climate chaos dramatically visible as current reality—not just future possibility. The pictures and stories of the devastation are a reminder that as the planet warms, mega-storms like Haiyan are expected to become more frequent and more fierce. A typhoon hit the Philippines at the time of the COP last year too, as if devastating storms are becoming a ‘new normal’ at the climate negotiations.

The immediate and future impacts of climate change make the case for an urgent response – yet in Warsaw delegates seem to be responding with words instead of action.

As has been the case since the signing of the climate convention in 1992, a priority of international negotiations is for rich countries to agree and then act to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. Commitments are not really on the table here, but are supposed to be agreed by 2015, when the summit meets in Paris. Unfortunately governments are not showing much ambition, and are even outlining plans to do less than they had previously agreed to. Australia, Japan and Canada have been set a bad example to this effect, while the United States’ position as a laggard has hardly changed.

There are plenty of technical questions under discussion here in various work programmes and subsidiary bodies, keeping the delegates busy. But without any ambition on pollution cuts we are left with the clear impression of running around going nowhere, like a hamster racing round on the exercise wheel in its cage. With the meeting rooms arranged in a ring inside the circular national stadium, delegates are literally running around in circles at this negotiation.

Officials in Warsaw are already resigned to the idea that we must wait until 2015 before reaching a new global climate deal, and many countries—particularly developed ones—have accepted the notion that we’ll wait another five years after that before any of these plans are implemented. If that happens, the next 8 years will be filled with another ‘normal’ at these negotiations – all talk and no walk.

Only an emotional speech by Philippine head of delegation Naderev Sano about the lives and livelihoods lost in his home country and his pledge to fast until “a meaningful outcome was in sight” seemed capable of rousing the attention of both delegates and international media. 

‘Green’ Corporate Sponsorship

Meanwhile, another ‘new normal’ is emerging at the climate summit. The negotiations in Poland have attracted an unprecedented number of corporate sponsors and lobbyists from big business and dirty industry, such as General Motors and the French energy conglomerate Alstom.

ArcelorMittal—one of Europe's most polluting firms, with a track record of lobbying to make millions out of Europe's failing experiments with carbon markets—constructed the temporary steel boxes in the national stadium (where the talks are taking place) to house plenary sessions, giving the impression that climate negotiations are literally being imprisoned under corporate control.

An entire floor in the stadium has been dedicated to private companies peddling ‘solutions’ to the climate crisis in the form of false-hope technologies such as pumping pollution underground and burning trash. Negotiators can relax in Emirates Air beanbag chairs, strategically placed all around the stadium. And many delegates carry complimentary goody-bags, a gift from the 11 official for-profit partners representing the aviation, auto, fossil fuel, and heavy industrial sectors.

The Polish government defends corporate sponsorship, claiming that the businesses involved provide ‘green’ products and services. In making this claim, the Poles are ignoring the compelling evidence of these firms’ environmental destruction and are legitimizing their dangerous presence at the negotiations, as outlined in the COP19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying.  

Of course the private sector has to be part of solving the climate crisis—but first, they have to get out of the business of polluting for profit. We find the corporate capture of the climate conference problematic in three major ways.

First, the 11 corporate partners are enjoying privileged access in return for their support while civil society observer organizations—the groups that represent the public interest—have experienced unexpected restrictions in their ability to participate in the UNFCCC.

Second, many of the ‘solutions’ corporate partners offer are not ‘green’ and will not stop the release of greenhouse gases. Instead, these proposals serve to protect corporate interests while creating new opportunities for profit.

Third, climate change is a problem that can only be properly addressed through collective action. However, it’s becoming ‘normal’ to frame climate change as a business opportunity, where companies can make money from flawed carbon markets and the ‘Green Corporate Fund’.

COP19 is being branded as the first full-out corporate COP. This sets a dangerous precedent and should not become a 'new normal.' The apparent normality of disasters and lack of action associated with climate politics is already bad enough. 

Climate Milestones in President Obama's Speech

June 26, 2013 ·

Obama climate speech photoPresident Obama's speech at Georgetown University was a milestone on climate change. It is a milestone in two ways. First, he made it clear he is not afraid to tackle coal as the primary culprit in climate change. Second, he made a major pivot in how he framed the Keystone XL pipeline debate. He’s no longer talking about "energy security" or "jobs" when talking about the pipeline but instead linking "our national interest" with whether or not the pipeline would have a significant impact on the changing climate.

Virtually all climate scientists who have weighed in on the Keystone XL pipeline agree that tar sands oil, if exploited, would result in a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. NASA's former top scientist, James Hansen, said it would be "game over" for the climate if the pipeline went forward.

But more significantly, Obama signaled in this speech that he is ready to use his executive authority, and not willing to compromise on two key things: the climate impacts of coal and tar sands.

He made a major pronouncement in stating that public financing of coal should end, such as financing via agencies such as U.S. Export-Import Bank.

The Institute for Policy Studies was the first organization, together with Friends of the Earth, to document the significant climate impacts of U.S. Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation's fossil fuel investments in 1998. That research resulted in a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the City of Boulder challenging both of those public financial institutions with violations under the National Environmental Protection Act, for not calculating the cumulative emissions of their projects on the global climate. Obama's statement today takes that research and legal action one step further and calls for an end to almost all U.S. government funding of coal overseas. The White House statement released today says:

"...The President calls for an end to U.S. government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas, except for (a) the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries in cases where no other economically feasible alternative exists, or (b) facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies. As part of this new commitment, we will work actively to secure the agreement of other countries and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies as soon as possible."

While this statement allows for some wiggle room on coal – if the carbon produced from the coal can be captured, which currently is not financially or technically feasible – it would eliminate U.S. Obama climate speech photo 2backing of coal financing in countries like India and South Africa, both of which have recently received billions of public dollars for massive coal-fired coal plants.

Obama also said he would encourage developing countries to transition to natural gas as they move away from coal, a posture consistent with what he is calling for at home. Such a statement is unfortunate as it encourages the expansion of fracking on U.S. lands, which results in fugitive methane emissions, water contamination, and health problems for nearby communities. The low price of natural gas, while welcome as a replacement for coal, is making truly clean and renewable energy less attractive financially.

Obama also continues to support nuclear power – a surprising posture in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns, a disaster that is transforming Japan, causing it to shut down its nuclear power plants and replace them with renewable energy.

And Obama was unafraid to call out the climate deniers – the "flat earth society" – and shame them, while urging the public to "invest, divest," a statement sure to warm the hearts of students and faith groups across the country, who are urging their institutions to divest their endowments of fossil fuels.

But the significance of this speech is that Obama is finally showing us he is willing to fight – on coal, on tar sands, and on climate. Obama remains an "all of above" champion who believes he can simultaneously frack and drill our country's oil and gas resources and solve the climate crisis. But his apparent feistyness and willingness to challenge the climate impacts of coal and tar sands – after years of silence on both topics – is cause for some celebration.

Now, Will Obama Break His Climate Silence?

November 8, 2012 ·

Like most U.S. climate activists, I breathed a sigh of relief as the election returns rolled in.

Climate scienceYou didn't have to be paranoid to fear that Mitt Romney just wasn't taking seriously the potential devastation in store for us if we don't change course. The Republican hopeful even tried to score political points by poking fun at President Barack Obama for taking climate change seriously.

And in his acceptance speech, Obama laid out a vision of a nation "that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

Still, it would be naïve to assume that Obama's victory is a win for the environment or the communities most impacted by climate change.

After all, Obama has yet to break the deafening silence that lasted throughout his long reelection campaign. By failing to even utter the term "climate change," he's signaling that he still considers climate deniers a powerful political force. And it makes me nervous when I hear Obama talk about "freeing ourselves from foreign oil" as he did in his acceptance speech.

In the past four years his "all of the above" approach to energy independence has leaned too heavily on expanding drilling, pumping, blasting, piping and fracking for domestic consumption and export. Staying this course means more greenhouse gas pollution, more warming, and more storms like Sandy — or worse.

And his push to expand nuclear power under the guise of "low-carbon" energy is an expensive and toxic diversion from investment in clean renewable energy like wind and solar.

Freed of his campaign obligations and concerns, Obama is now free to be bold. We must hold him accountable for living up to his visionary rhetoric and call him out on the shortsightedness of his energy policy. He said so himself.

"The role of citizens in our democracy does not end with your vote," Obama said in his acceptance speech."America's never been about what can be done for us. It's about what can be done by us together."

We can't sit back and wait for Obama to lead on climate or anything else. We can't abdicate the political space to Beltway lobbyists — even the ones with green credentials — to negotiate solutions to this most urgent threat. We need to organize and take action.

Here are some inspiring grassroots examples of people who aren't waiting for our leaders to take action. They're already building alternatives to our fossil-fueled economy while making their communities more resilient to climate disruption.


Janet Redman is the co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. www.ips-dc.org
Durban Diary: Repaying Climate Debt

November 29, 2011 ·

A major flashpoint at the UN Climate summit in Durban is how nations in the global north should deliver the money that they're supposed to give countries in the global south to support efforts to deal with climate change.

Delegates at COP17 have presented different visions of how the Global Climate Change fund will work. Photo by UNClimateChange. It's not chump change. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs says it will cost developing countries upwards of $1 trillion every year to address climate change in the coming years.

Many negotiators want the UN to open the doors of the Green Climate Fund created at last year's summit in Cancun. They're also debating the scale and sources of long-term finance. The U.S. government is blocking both conversations.

Instead, Washington wants the private sector to take a leading role, and for tricks like carbon trading to leverage public money by raising big bucks in the financial market. This might sound good, but it would just add another roulette wheel to the casino economy that plunged the world into the worst recession since the 1930s.

Therefore, civil society groups and developing–country governments have demanded that the Green Climate Fund not serve as yet another game room for financial speculators to gamble with public dollars. A growing movement for innovative sources of climate finance — including a tiny tax on financial transactions — has shown that money is available for global public goods like climate change programs.

Now we just have to mobilize the political will of rich countries to share the wealth. With European countries adopting austerity measures, and a U.S. Congress that barely believes that the climate is changing, that'll be an uphill, but necessary, struggle.

Will the next two weeks of climate negotiations unleash a violent storm that makes our planet uninhabitable? Or can governments come together to keep our future safe?

As the second day of climate talks are winding down, storm clouds are building again.

Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies, is observing the United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa. www.ips-dc.org
Join the global call for climate justice by participating in 1,000 Durbans in conjunction with the December 3rd Day of Action on Climate Justice.

Durban Diary: What's on the Table?

November 29, 2011 ·

There are hundreds of issues and interests at stake at the 2011 UN climate summit, as well as representatives of the 192 countries who signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. But just two questions are on everyone's mind.

The first is whether the Kyoto Protocol will survive. The second is whether the world can agree on a climate finance system. Climate finance is the term we're all using for the money promised by developed countries to support developing countries as they adapt to a warmer world and shift to low-carbon development pathways.

Activists warn that the wealthiest countries are not negotiating in good faith at Durban. Photo by adoptanegotiator.

The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997 and enacted in 2005, is the only international, legally binding treaty regulating climate-warming pollution.

We're still in the pact's first "commitment period." For this phase, most developed countries (the recalcitrant United States didn't join) promised to reduce their emissions by 5 percent by the end of 2012.

That deadline is rapidly approaching. If countries don't agree to the second commitment period, which is slated to begin in 2013, there'll be nothing to keep global emissions from shooting through the roof.

But instead of getting behind a second commitment period, countries — especially the wealthiest ones — are dragging their feet.

Canada, Russia, and Japan say they won't sign up unless emerging economies like China take binding regulations. China says it shouldn't have to take mandatory cuts until the biggest polluter — the United States — shows any evidence of that it's reducing emissions or taking steps in that direction. And Washington flat out admits that it will never sign the Kyoto Protocol.

Stalemate.

U.S. climate negotiators say the world needs a new mandate. The Obama administration is proposing that the world move to a "pledge and review" model. It would allow countries to volunteer goals for cutting emissions. A couple of years later, world leaders would convene to see if anything's happened. There'd be no overall target that lines up with what scientists say is necessary, no repercussions if countries don't meet their goals, and no distinction between countries that are most responsible for creating the climate crisis and those that are primarily its victims.

This flies in the face of the "polluter pays" principle that we all learn in kindergarten - if you made the mess, you have to clean it up. It's also simply suicidal.

Social movements, environmental groups, trade unions, development organizations, human rights advocates, and youth activists — all the folks that will be most impacted by global warming — have made clear that inaction is not an option. "Governments are playing games with us while people are dying," said Desmond D'Sa, chair of South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, which helped organize an alternative summit called the People's Space being convened at Durban's University of KwaZulu Natal.

Developed countries made a commitment to reduce their emissions when they signed the UN climate convention. The mandate is there. It's clear. Now it's time for those countries, which grew wealthy exploiting cheap but dirty fossil fuels, to fulfill their promise.

Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies, is observing the United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa. www.ips-dc.org

Join the global call for climate justice by participating in 1,000 Durbans in conjunction with the December 3rd Day of Action on Climate Justice.

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