While most of my posts from Cancún have focused on the progress in the climate negotiations, that is only one element of the UN climate change conference. Each day there are dozens of side events where researchers and policymakers talk about specific responses to the climate crisis.
This afternoon as the high level ministers delivered their statements on the negotiations, I attended three side events. These give you a flare for what one could expect to encounter in a typical day.
The first one was organized by the European Parliament and focused onj what the EU is doing on the policy front to encourage energy efficiency. For many of the developed countries, a significant proportion of their emissions are the result of waste.
Recognizing that waste is one of the “low-hanging fruit,” that should be easy to eliminate with education and the right incentive structure, they have adopted some pretty simple and inexpensive policies to address this issue. Ivo Belet talked about the new energy labeling program, where by the end of next year, many products will have to have written on their packaging their greenhouse gas content. He discussed specifically a new labeling system for automobile tires, saying that tire performance is a strong determinant of fuel efficiency. Give consumers the information, and they are more likely to make smart purchases. Conincidentially, a group of Republican-led House members came out today against better auto fuel labeling in the US. The EU is implementing a lot of simple and effective policies. One wonders why policymakers in the US are incapable of learning from their European counterparts.
Later, I went to a side event sponsored by the government of Brazil. Two researchers from the Institute of Applied Economic Research presented work estimating the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that could be mitigated from stronger recycling programs in the country. They proposed a shift in the incentive system to give a better price for certain recyclables based on their total ecological worth, rather than their simple market price.
The last event I went to was sponsored by the United States Departement of State and involved three uniformed representatives from the Department of Defense. The topic was the national security consequences of climate change–a topic that gets very little treatment in both the political and policy circles.
The Pentagon representatives portrayed themselves as fully engaged with the implications of climate change. The bulk of the discussion by the presenters, however, was on adaptation. Given the fact that many military bases–particularly naval–are situated in threatened environments, it makes sense that they would be concerned with the impacts of climate change. They mentioned that climate change is given treatment in the Quadrennial Defense Review–a major departmental strategic document.
I found it interesting to hear these servicemen talk about the climate threat and to reflect on the disfunction in Congress on climate. Many of the most anti-science members of Congress like Inhofe or Fred Upton also purport to be “pro-military.” I’m wondering how they resolve these incongruities!
The European Union hosted a seminar at the Copenhagen climate talks today that discussed efforts underway in Sweden to develop sustainable cities.
The presentation included Swedish representatives of various levels of government–from the EU down to municipal officials. Most compelling were the stories told about sustainable urbanism in the capital city of Stockholm and the southwestern city of Malmö.
Stockholm is the first city to be designated a European Green Capital by the European Commission. This award recognizes local efforts to minimize environmental impact. Deputy Mayor Ulla Hamilton discussed the city’s efforts to reach a 3 metric tonne per capita CO2 emissions rate by 2050. Unlike North American cities where development tends to sprawl out from urban centers, Stockholm’s model has been to grow through infill and redevelopment.
One of the city’s development planners, Olle Cyren, described two development efforts: the first was Hammarby Sjöstad, which is looking to emit 50% less GHGs than a comparable development from 1990. The second example discussed was the Royal Seaport, which is one of the largest real estate developments in Europe with 10,000 residential units and room for 30,000 workers. This site is attempting to reach a per capita level of emissions of 2.5 tonnes–as a point of comparison, the US per capita level is about 20 tonnes!
The final presenter was Anders Rubin a Deputy Mayor from the city of Malmö. Malmö is situated across the Öresund sound from Copenhagen. Rubin charted the history of Malmö from its heyday as a shipping port and center of industry in the post-War era to a victim of deindustrialization where during the first three years of the 1990s the city lost a third of its jobs.
With a depressed economy and a shrinking population Malmö more or less had a “blank slate” for redevelopment, which city leaders chose to pursue with a decidedly green agenda.
They were helped quite a bit by the building of the Öresund Bridge in 2000, which improved transport links to Copenhagen. The inevitable growth that accompanies a large infrastructure project like a bridge was coordinated with the introduction of green technology. According to Rubin, half of Sweden’s solar electricity is produced in Malmö and he described a strategy of making rooftop solar panels especially conspicuous to provide the city with a distinct identity. The city also boasts 40% of its population reporting that they commute to school or work by cycling.
These types of examples contradict the false idea that economic and urban growth MUST follow a high-carbon model. Lessons learned from cases in Sweden can be especially valuable for US cities as they start to develop low-carbon policies.
The discussions at the Bangkok conference during the first two weeks of October in 2009 were highly anticipated and hopeful for agreements and progress before the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Headway must be made before the Copenhagen Climate Conference during the Bangkok and Barcelona conferences, if there is to be a strong global deal agreed upon, or at least drafted at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.
The rich and powerful leaders must make drastic cuts in emissions and allow for a meeting point for developing nations who cannot afford to make as drastic cuts. The developing countries such as India would not agree to a strong cut of emissions for their country since they did not play a major role in the amount of damage done to the environment in the 1900s. The rich, developed and industrialized countries such as the US, UK and other EU countries had major hands in the emissions emitted and still do emit a lot. This fact must be taken into account in the global deal drafts and must require leaders in the developed countries to look at the ways to convince developing nations into cutting their emissions. This can only be done through developed nations making large commitments.
The leaders in climate change commitments are in the European Union. The European Union held press briefings through the conference to update the media on their progress. On October 5, 2009, it was disappointingly reported that discussions were slowly moving along and that key political issues needed to be focused on more closely. Moderate progress was being made in the less politically difficult area of adaptation; however, the difficult topic of mitigation in developed countries still needs a lot of attention and work.
On October 9, 2009, the European Union held another press briefing where the panel announced that they would make goals and sign onto deals if there is a sound fair deal outlined where other leading countries have comparable deals. The United States is one of the leading produces of emissions and therefore they are a key group in the discussions and the weight of the deal that comes from the discussions. After the Kyoto Protocol was not ratified in the United States it set global accountability back. If the leading countries such as the United States do not pass the deal made in Copenhagen it will send a message to the rest of the world that climate change is not of importance.
Copenhagen will hopefully provide a strong and realistic global deal that all countries can sign on to. The European Union has said that they will commit to a fair global deal and they are key in leading other rich and high emitters in the developed countries during the weeks leading up to Copenhagen and during the Climate Conference. A strong global deal that creates change in behavior can only work if it is fair and realistic. This can only be created through leaders taking risks and creating partnerships and coalitions that involve both mitigation and adaption initiatives. There is a lot of work still to be done before Copenhagen and hopefully Barcelona will provide more substantive discussion on the key issues and mitigation.