1.1. Copenhagen: EU Not Done Yet!
The Copenhagen climate talks were a disappointment but it is not over yet. The EU has so far still failed to give a clear answer to the question of what their future emissions reduction target will be. The UN deadline agreed for entering a target into the Copenhagen Accord has passed and the EU is still sticking to its 20%/30% line. But the only way to get global emissions on to a declining pathway is if all countries adopt the upper end of their ambition or better yet exceed it.
Europe has the opportunity to inject new enthusiasm and hope into the deflated international climate talks by adopting a more ambitious target.
Europe must lead by example. A 30% cut by 2020 is easier to achieve than ever and this must be the absolute minimum number that should be agreed. The Environment Council will meet up on March 15th, they must now address this issue there.
Please add your name below calling for leadership in Europe. A copy of this letter was sent ahead of an informal meeting of EU Heads on February 11th but we will continue to collect names and supporting organisations until Europe is finally persuaded to move. We have to show that Copenhagen is not done yet.
Petition at: http://sandbag.org.uk/notdoneyet
1.2. More Warming Worries: Methane from the Arctic
4 March 2010, Time, CNN
A string of ‘gates over the past few months — Climategate, Himalayagate, among others — have landed some hard punches on the politics of climate change science. They haven’t laid a glove on the science itself, however. Humans are pumping out planet-warming greenhouse gases at a prodigious rate, and the planet is warming. That’s no coincidence.
But climate scientists don’t have all the answers, as they will freely and frequently admit, and even when researchers uncover a new piece of data, it isn’t always clear what it means. That’s very much the case with a new paper about methane emissions, published Thursday in Science. Based on a series of expeditions to the margins of the Arctic Ocean by ship and helicopter, University of Alaska researcher Natalia Shakhova and her colleagues report that methane, a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, is bubbling up from the continental shelf and leaking into the atmosphere. The estimated total: 8 teragrams — that’s 8 trillion grams — per year. (See pictures of the effects of global warming.)
Exactly what this means for climate change, however, isn’t at all certain. Eight teragrams of anything, let alone a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, sounds dangerous, but as Martin Heimann of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, points out, the newly discovered methane leak represents a small piece of the overall global total of methane emissions — about 500 teragrams annually — from wetlands, termites and agriculture (including belching cows, rotting manure and rice paddies).
The number itself isn’t what worries people, though: it’s whether this newly identified methane source is part of an ominous trend. Climate scientists have long worried about the enormous amount of methane locked in Arctic permafrost, the thick layer of soil just beneath the surface that remains frozen all year. The methane was originally deposited there through decomposition of organic matter in ancient wetlands, and as long as it stays put, it can’t contribute to climate change. (See the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2009.)
But as the planet warms and the permafrost thaws, methane could begin to escape into the atmosphere, where it would trap more heat and melt more permafrost — one of the many positive feedback mechanisms that could accelerate the climate change that is already under way.
Not all permafrost is on dry land either. The East Siberian Arctic Shelf, a vast expanse of shallow seafloor off Russia’s northeast coast, was once wetland as well. It was submerged as melting glaciers drove sea level up at the end of the last ice age, but it still contains methane-rich permafrost, which Shakhova believes may now be becoming unstable. The numbers are not alarmingly large, she agrees, but what is worrisome is that no leakage was expected here. (See TIME’s special report on the environment.)
What’s changed, she thinks, may be that warmer water pouring into the sea from Siberia’s north-flowing rivers have raised the sea-bottom temperature to the point where the methane, much of it stored under pressure in the form of methane hydrates, can begin to break free. Unlike the permafrost on land, says Shakhova, soil under the sea floor is always hovering at close to the melting point because of its proximity to unfrozen seawater. Anthropogenic (that is, human-caused) warming may be the last straw.
If the undersea permafrost really is destabilizing rapidly, it could in principle lead to a catastrophic burp that would release a massive amount of methane in a short time. That’s a big if. The problem is that nobody has ever taken such careful measurements in this part of the world before, says Heimann. We have satellites that do a remarkable job of observing methane emissions from land, he says, but they’re not very accurate over water. So while he considers Shakhova’s data absolutely convincing, he’s less convinced that these emissions are necessarily new. "In the context of the global methane cycle, has this been accelerating recently, or has it been going on for some time?" Heimann says. "It may be related to recent Arctic warming, but I don’t know." (See the top 10 green ideas of 2009.)
The real value of this new report, he believes, is that it finally gives scientists a solid baseline against which they can measure changes in methane over the coming years to see if it really is increasing. It’s also a perfect example of how climate science actually works, as opposed to the cartoon version bandied about by activists and politicians: you take data, acknowledge any uncertainties about exactly what it means, then go out and take more data to narrow those uncertainties. That’s exactly why human-triggered global warming was widely acknowledged to be mostly theoretical a few decades ago — and why it’s considered a scientific fact today.
1.3. China sticks to int’l climate cooperation
5 March 2010, China Daily
Reaching agreements on climate change will continue to be a key part of China’s diplomatic work in 2010, said a government work report to be delivered by Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday morning at the convening of the annual National People’s Congress.
"We will continue to carry out diplomatic work in climate change, energy and resource cooperation, and other areas, and play a constructive role in finding proper solutions to hot issues and global problems", said the work report, which was handed out at the Great Hall of the People, where the annual National People’s Congress opened at 9am.
China will continue to use the G20 financial summit and other major multilateral activities as platforms to actively participate in the international community and safeguard the interests of developing countries, according to the government work report.
China said it will continue to promote further comprehensive development of its relations with major powers this year, though the bilateral ties between China and the United States have experienced some frictions since the beginning of this year.
1.4. World leaders, top academics selected for Ban’s climate change advisory group
4 March 2010, UN News Centre
Philanthropist George Soros and prominent British academic Nicholas Stern are among the 19 members of the high-level advisory group set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon seeking to mobilize financing to help developing countries combat climate change, it was announced today.
Last month, Mr. Ban launched the Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing, which will be headed up by the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Ethiopia, Gordon Brown and Meles Zenawi.
It was also revealed in February that President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway will participate.
The four leaders will be joined by high-level officials from Government ministries, including Mexican Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero Arroyo, as well as representatives of central banks, such as Jean-Pierre Landau, the Second Deputy Governor of the Bank of France.
The Advisory Group is slated to hold its first meeting on 29 March in London and is expected to submit its final report to Mr. Ban before the next conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Mexico later this year.
The Copenhagen Accord reached at December’s UN conference in the Danish capital aims to jump-start immediate action on climate change and guide negotiations on long-term action, with developing countries to be given $30 billion until 2012 and then $100 billion a year until 2020.
It also includes an agreement to work towards curbing global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius and efforts to reduce or limit emissions.
The Advisory Group will be tasked with creating practical proposals to boost both short- and long-term financing for mitigation and adaptation strategies in developing countries, the Secretary-General said on 12 February during a press conference, where he was joined via video-link from London and Addis Ababa by Mr. Brown and Mr. Zenawi.
“Let me emphasize the importance of rapid action,” Mr. Ban stated. “Developing countries need to move as quickly as possible toward a future of low-emissions growth and prosperity,” he stressed, noting that millions of people in Africa and around the world are suffering from climate change’s effects.
Additionally, the Secretary-General emphasized that assisting with adaptation efforts is a “moral imperative,” as well as “a smart investment in a safer, more sustainable world for all.” The UNFCCC announced last month that by the 31 January deadline specified in the Copenhagen Accord, some of the world’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide – including the United States and China – had formally submitted their national targets to cut and limit greenhouse gases by 2020. It said that it had received specific pledges from 55 countries that together account for 78 per cent of global emissions from energy use.
The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that to stave off the worst effects of climate change, industrialized countries must slash emissions by 25 to 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, and that global emissions must be halved by 2050.
2.1. NEW REPORT: EU funds must plug clean energy gap in central and eastern Europe
3 March 2010, FOEE, CEE
On the day that the European Commission launches its vision for 2020, its ‘Europe 2020 strategy’, a new report from CEE Bankwatch Network and Friends of the Earth Europe lays out how improved targeting of EU structural and cohesion billions for energy efficiency and renewables can get the EU – and particularly the new member states in the east – on track to meet and exceed emissions reduction targets for tackling climate change.
The new analysis from CEE Bankwatch Network and Friends of the Earth Europe  points to alarming shortcomings in how billions of EU funds earmarked for clean energy projects in the new member states are being deployed. It calls for big increases in the marginal allocations that the new member states have thus far given to clean energy schemes, citing widespread evidence from the ground that building efficiency schemes are ready to take off if they become more affordable and if EU money is better targeted.
Markus Trilling, EU Funds coordinator for Bankwatch and Friends of the Earth Europe , said: “As the central and eastern European economies struggle through the economic crisis, and at the same time know they must play their part in combating the climate crisis, evidence from across the region shows that the low carbon development potential afforded by the EU funds for increased energy efficiency and renewables projects is not being tapped into.
“The EU’s new Europe 2020 strategy aims to set a course for economic development via green growth, but this ambition needs to be backed up by action and, crucially, funds. The European Commission and the member states must mainstream sustainability into all EU policies and ensure that all existing instruments, such as the structural and Cohesion funds, support the development of a sustainable, Europe-wide, low-carbon economy.
“Good practices such as the Green Invesment Scheme in Latvia, where energy efficiency measures are financed through surpluses from selling emissions allowances and combined with financial incentives, need to be promoted throughout the EU, while common obstacles, such as the administrative incapacity of local authorities to process sustainable EU-funded project applications as seen in Bulgaria, must be lowered.”
Today also saw the launch of the website www.sustainableeufunds.org – the site, a new Bankwatch initiative, will be a campaign support centre for NGOs from across Europe that are working to ensure sustainable use of the EU Funds.
2.2. EU drafts warn of biofuels’ link to hunger
5 March 2010, Reuters
The European Union’s promotion of plant-based biofuels will raise EU farm incomes and agricultural commodity prices, but could create food shortages for the world’s poorest consumers, draft EU reports show.
The EU has a legal target to get a tenth of its road transport fuels from renewable sources such as biofuels by 2020. For EU farmers hit by falling incomes, Europe’s 5 billion euros-per-year ($6.84 billion) biofuels market is coveted as a source of new revenues.
Impact studies drafted for EU policymakers — included in 116 documents released to Reuters under freedom of information laws — predict that current biofuel policies will boost EU farm incomes by 3.5 percent in 2020.
But the studies also reveal concerns about the unintended impact of Europe’s thirst for biofuels.
"A new and strongly growing non-food demand for agricultural output will undoubtedly boost farm prices and hence farmers’ incomes," one report says.
"However, the desired effect may come at a potentially high cost: a human cost paid by the world’s poorest consumers who may face higher food prices or food shortages."
High food prices in 2008 led to food riots in some developing countries and were partly blamed on biofuels such as ethanol consuming part of the U.S. corn crop.
"The simulated effects of EU biofuels policies imply a considerable shock to agricultural commodity markets," the report reads.
MORE WORK NEEDED
Internal communications in the European Commission describe the modeling exercises as "scientifically acknowledged and robust." But more work needs to be done before drawing firm policy conclusions, a spokeswoman for the EU executive told Reuters.
EU demand for cereals such as wheat — used to make ethanol — will rise by about 7 percent in the next decade as a direct result of its biofuel policies, raising cereal prices by 10 percent, one modeling study shows.
World prices for sugar and maize (corn), also used to make ethanol, are predicted to rise 20 percent due to EU demand for biofuels. Sugar imports will rise sharply as a result, despite EU sugar beet production increasing by 10 percent, another model predicts.
The greatest impact of EU demand for biofuels will be on the price of vegetable oils, used to make biodiesel. The EU will account for nearly half the world’s biodiesel consumption in 2020, the studies say, leading to a 30-35 percent rise in vegetable oil prices.
EU vegetable oil imports could more than double to 20 million tonnes in 2020, the studies show, with much of the increased demand being met by increased palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia.
Environmentalists warn that to meet the added demand for biofuels, farmers around the world will expand into new areas, sometimes by clearing tropical rainforests and draining peatlands.
3.1. Don’t let the carbon fat cats stop us moving to 30%
3 March 2010, Sandbag
We published a new report today focused on the companies under the EU ETS who are currently building up nice fat surpluses of emissions permits. We launched it at a briefing for MEPs in the European Parliament – we got a good turn out and quite a heated debate ensued. There appeared to be quite a distinct North – South divide on this issue with representatives from Italy and Greece both stoutly defending those they fear will lose out if Europe goes ahead with a tougher target. But the overall message was that some of the biggest corporate lobby groups, currently trying to ensure Europe’s targets remain weak, are also some of the companies currently profiting greatly from the scheme.
We were very grateful to work with the company Carbon Market Data to establish a picture of how the EU ETS is working at a company level since the information made available to the European Commission doesn’t actually enable you to see this, as it just deals with individual installations. For companies like ArcelorMittal, the number one carbon fat cat, who own many sites in a number of countries they might have been hoping that nobody ever worked out just how flush they are in credits. Today we also heard that their ridiculous legal challenge against the EU ETS was defeated which ironically they might now be quite relieved about, given just how much money they can make from the position they find themselves in. But sadly this won’t stop them and the trade association they work through, Eurofer, claiming that the sky will fall in if targets are increased. Hopefully at least there are now some MEPs armed with enough real information to challenge them on this.
Our aim in publishing the report was as ever to point out that trading can be effective if implemented correctly and we also focused on the companies who are being required to make deep cuts – the power companies. Sadly a lot of their effort is being cancelled out by buying spare credits from the fat cats who were handed credits far too generously. In fact, this scheme would have had more effect if we had just included the power sector and left most of the others out. Hindsight is a marvelous thing – perhaps the US can learn this lesson though as they consider what shape their legislation should now take – power first is the key.
Next up this week will be a second report accompanying an interactive map focused on the use of offsetting to meet caps in the EU ETS. For the first time exactly who is offsetting, what type of projects they are using and where they are getting them from will be revealed in a glorious technocolour googlemap. Again this reinforces the message that companies will find it far easier to hit future targets than they are claiming. More on this to follow shortly.
Environment Ministers meet on March 15th to discuss the EU’s climate targets – we hope they will reach the obvious conclusion that caps can and must be tightened irrespective of what happens internationally. Only then can we cut down on the excessive profit making and start getting companies to make real investments in emissions cuts.
3.2. EU plans centralised CO2 auctioning from 2011
4 March 2010, EurActiv
The European Commission is considering auctioning emissions permits over centralised platforms from 2011 and might cancel auctions if carbon prices are "abnormally low," according to two leaked documents.
Officials in the EU executive, pressured by industry calls for longer-term visibility on carbon permit prices, are deciding how to arrange auctions ahead of the third phase of bloc’s emissions trading scheme (EU ETS), which starts in 2013.
The scheme is the EU’s main tool for reining in carbon dioxide emissions, blamed for warming the planet. Companies above their emissions cap must buy carbon permits from firms that have a surplus.
The scheme’s first two phases have been dogged by teething troubles that included low prices, stemming from an overall permit surplus and the economic slowdown, as well as windfall profits for industry as a result of receiving free permits.
As a result, from 2013 the EU will force utilities to buy at auction most of their permits under a steadily tightening emissions cap.
"Two central auctioning platforms are to be developed and established […] a provisional central platform, the purpose of which would be to auction in 2011 and 2012 allowances required for 2013," read a letter seen by Reuters. "The other platform will be the definitive central platform," it added.
A centralised platform, either a regulated market or a multilateral trading facility, would be a setback for Britain and Germany, which had pushed for linked national platforms, and had successfully lobbied Spain and Poland to support them.
At present, trading is mainly done over regulated, private exchanges like London’s European Climate Exchange.
There will be no active price management but if prices are too low, auctions might be cancelled, both documents show.
"In case the auction clearing price is abnormally low, the auction shall be cancelled forthwith and the auctioned volume shall be distributed evenly over the next four scheduled auctions," the leaked draft regulation said.
It said the Commission will determine what amounts to an abnormally low price using a confidential methodology that can be modified.
"If something goes wrong in an auction for whatever reason and the price goes below the secondary market price the auction would be cancelled," Yvon Slingenberg of the EU’s Climate Action division said on the sidelines of a conference in Amsterdam.
Auctions will occur at least weekly using a "uniform, single round, sealed bid," and will be mainly limited to ETS participants and regulated financial institutions, the draft said.
To prevent market manipulation, a maximum bid of 25% of allowances could be implemented, and to ensure the auctions are protected against fraud or abuse, a monitor will be appointed to supervise.
Getting it right
A spokeswoman said the Commission was finalising its proposal before seeking the approval of the EU’s 27 countries, and it regretted the details had been leaked.
Emissions traders and market observers praised the plan.
"Getting this right is absolutely vital for the integrity of the EU’s climate policy," said Sanjeev Kumar of environment think-tank E3G. "The Commission’s position is quite solid. There should be one central platform and no more loopholes."
Seb Walhain, head of environmental markets at Fortis Netherlands, said: "A centralised platform is good for the market as it is more transparent and guarantees the proper distribution of revenues."
By starting auctions from 2011, the Commission will keep industry happy, particularly utilities which, instead of receiving them for free, must pay for their permits from 2013.
Auctioning permits from 2011 will allow utilities to hedge their forward power sales.
4.1. ‘Difficult birth’ awaits EU diplomatic service
5 March 2010, EurActiv
The birth of the European External Action Service, one of the most anticipated innovations of the Lisbon Treaty, will be a difficult one, admitted a top European Commission official yesterday (4 March).
João Vale de Almeida, director-general at the European Commission’s external relations department and future EU ambassador to Washington, spoke of the double challenge of setting up the European External Action Service (EEAS) fast and "right". He was speaking at a conference organised by 14 European think-tanks, who presented a "contribution to the Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian trio presidency".
Vale de Almeida is a key player in the 13-member committee led by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, in charge of producing a proposal for setting up the EEAS.
Based on her suggestions, EU heads of states and government are expected to come to a decision on the EU’s new diplomatic corps by the end of April (see ‘Background’).
"For the Lisbon Treaty, it took us a nine-year pregnancy," Vale de Almeida said. Comparing this with the short timeframe for adopting the EEAS, he said "birth after three months will be very difficult".
The top official said it was extremely important to design the EU’s new diplomatic service in "the best possible way" and called on EU member countries to show "political will".
Implicitly, he appeared to confirm that the blueprint, already drafted by Ashton’s committee, was encountering difficulties in some member countries.
A "long discussion" had taken place at the level of EU member-state ambassadors (Coreper) yesterday, he said, and talks were due to continue at the informal foreign ministers’ meeting in Cordoba, Spain, tomorrow (5 March). The European Parliament will also have a say, he added.
But recruiting staff from the member countries will take time, Vale de Almeida said, adding that upgrading the European Commission’s existing network of foreign delegations will also take "a few months".
Speaking to EurActiv, Vale de Almeida said that if the decision was taken by the end of April as planned, he expected the service to start work by the end of the year.
An assessment on both the EEAS and the Lisbon Treaty would come "maybe at the end of 2012," he said. "We would shoot ourselves in the foot" if conclusions were drawn now, he added, because there are lots of critical voices saying that the Lisbon Treaty is not working and that "the people we chose are not the best ones".
Bildt and Miliband acknowledge turf wars
Meanwhile, Britain’s foreign minister David Miliband, a socialist, and his conservative counterpart from Sweden, Carl Bildt, published an open letter, expressing concern "about some of the inter-institutional struggles evident in our current negotiations on the EEAS package".
"A new culture may end up being the hardest aspect for the EEAS to develop," they write ahead of the Cordoba meeting.
The two ministers appear to give Ashton a helping hand in securing for the EEAS a grated field of action that the Commission would agree to release.
In particular, under the heading "funding", the ministers insist that more operational budgets, such as the CFSP budget and the stability instrument, are put under EEAS control.
Also, under the heading "programming", they plead that in the areas of the European Development Fund (EDF), the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI), the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), EEAS would play a "strategic role". This, according to a EU diplomat, would mean the EEAS taking the lead at the strategic phase and the Commission following up with implementation.
On staffing, Miliband and Bildt ask for equal powers between the EU civil servants and the so-called "temporary agents" working in the new service. Up till now in the EU institutions, civil servants had more rights in areas such as budget management, compared to ‘temporary agents’ at the same level of the hierarchy. EU countries are expected to send to the EEAS national diplomats, who will be given the status of temporary agents.
The ministers stress that EEAS needs "the brightest and the best from wherever they come". However, diplomats admitted that other member countries, such as the EU newcomers, would place more importance on geographic balance than merit criteria.
Asked by EurActiv to comment on the tight schedule for putting in place the EEAS, Piotr Maciej Kaczyñski of the Centre for European Policy Studies ( CEPS ) said goals and timing were "extremely difficult".
"What Mr. Almeida alluded is that in April there will be a draft report by the High Representative, in order to have the new law adopted as required by the Council, because it’s a package of law proposals that is being negotiated right now. It is true that the Parliament is consulted only on the External Action Service, of its establishment. But it has full co-decision powers on staff regulations and on the budget of the new institution. So the Parliament is fully involved in the negotiation process."
"There is the possibility that negotiations would drag on, but there is massive political pressure to meet deadlines. Political players want to have the EEAS fast for post-Copenhagen, for [the next UN-led conference on climate change in] Cancun. If some circles complain about the poor performance of the High Representative, then partially they are right: it is because there is no system in place."
"The biggest responsibility lies with member states. Not the Commission or Catherine Ashton. Because they appointed her and because all these difficult questions should have been solved between December 2007 [when the Lisbon Treaty was signed] and now. They could have done it behind closed doors. I understand that they haven’t done it so that they would not be accused of prejudging the result of the second Irish referendum, but there is a cost to it."
Asked if Catherine Ashton, who appears overstretched, would need deputies, he said: "Yes, I think Catherine Ashton needs deputies. But I don’t think that the minister of foreign affairs of Spain [the rotating EU presidency] should be her deputy. I think she needs deputies in the EEAS."
4.2. EU’s new 10-year plan lacks ambition in green economy
5 March 2010, WWF
The European Commission has shown little ambition in developing a green economy strategy, WWF said after the 27-member bloc published its 2020 policy framework.
EU 2020 replaces the overarching policy framework known as the “Lisbon Strategy” which has guided economic, employment and social policy in the EU since 2000.
In the future, all objectives, policies and programme priorities as well the budgets will also have to contribute to the realisation of the new 10-year plan.
In WWF’s view the new proposal is yet another missed opportunity to facilitate a transition into a clean economy of Europe.
"The EU 2020 strategy is a collection of policy aspirations that are in themselves pretty unobjectionable, but do not add up to a whole,” said Tony Long, Director, WWF European Policy Office-
“It gives us signposts in reducing Europe’s environmental burden on itself but none on its impact on the rest of the world. We welcome some of the bolder elements such as resource efficiency, but there isn’t sufficient guidance for such a long-term strategy, especially in terms of integrating nature into key areas of policy or budget’’.
According to WWF the the strategy fails to give any clear direction on some of the biggest policy overhauls coming up in the next few years, including agriculture (Common Agricultural Policy reform), fisheries (Common Fisheries Policy reform) and rural development which are barely mentioned in the document.
"We cannot be saddled for the next 10 years with a strategy which is out of date before the ink is even dry. It is clear that the world needs to switch mindset. Instead of exploiting nature, we should be making space for it.”
Respecting ecological limits by enabling economic activity without depleting natural resources or burdening our planet’s ecosystems, are key to the sustainable creation of jobs and a sustainable economy. This is where the jobs of the future will come from and the EU has no choice but to lead the way in this respect.
5.1. 18/03/2010 – Conference: Start-Stop or Full Throttle – Europe’s transport decarbonisation strategy
For further information, and to register, click here: http://www.transportenvironment.org/conference
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