Thursday, March 19, 2009

An army of lobbyists readies for battle on the climate bill

With carbon cap-and-trade legislation now on Washington's agenda, companies and interest groups have been hiring lobbyists at a feverish pace, by Marianne Lavelle. From Yale Environment 360, part of Guardian Environment Network

Climate action advocates found the sign they had been waiting for in Summary Table 4 of President Obama's budget plan: The administration intends to place a price on carbon dioxide emissions that would cost fossil fuel industries $646 billion through 2019 — creating a new pot of federal money in the process.

That stark row of numbers also gave opponents of climate legislation what they had been waiting for: a call to arms. "The Obama budget did more to help us consolidate and coalesce the business community than anything we could have done," William Kovacs, who heads up regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The Wall Street Journal.

If the stage is now set for the climate battle to begin, there is no shortage of combatants. A Center for Public Integrity analysis shows that, by the end of last year, more than 770 companies and interest groups had hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change. That's an increase of more than 300 percent in just five years, and means that Washington can now boast more than four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress.

Some of the lobbyists, like those representing the U.S. Chamber, clearly are seeking to derail any federal effort to mandate a reduction in fossil fuel emissions. But others have more subtle agendas — they seek to blunt the costs, or tailor any new climate policy to their narrow agendas. Some just want a slice of that revenue stream. Others hope to shape the rules of the bazaar in the market-based system that the politicians, including Obama, favor for grappling with global warming.

So the growth in lobbyists signals not only a redoubling of efforts by the energy industry and manufacturers — who dominated the scene five years ago — but the addition of a slew of new interests, from the bankers on Wall Street to the officials running public transit on Main Street.

Some longtime climate action advocates welcome the newcomers to the party. They have a kind of Realpolitik rationale: As a practical matter, they believe support will build among the politicians as more interests like agriculture, financiers, builders, and even forward-looking manufacturers and power companies see what they could gain in a carbon-reduction regime.

Perhaps they're right. Maybe the "sum of all lobbies," as U.S. energy policy has been famously described, will this time add up to a positive for the planet. But there's more reason to fear that climate policy will die at the hands of special interests than there is to believe that special interests can bring climate policy to life.

Look at what happened to the climate bill sponsored last year by Connecticut Independent Joseph Lieberman and Virginia Republican John Warner.

With the legislation being debated last spring just as U.S. gasoline prices made their historic climb to more than $4 a gallon, the Chamber of Commerce and other business opponents focused on how climate policy would make the nation's favored fuels even costlier. The Chamber warned of job losses and economic hardship, with memorable ads featuring energy-starved Americans cooking eggs over candles and jogging to work on auto-free streets.

Proponents of climate legislation were able to summon economic studies — including from the government's own experts — challenging the grim predictions of the Chamber and others. But when push came to shove, the bill garnered only 48 votes, and nine of those came from the infamous "Gang of 10" Democrats who soon revealed they would have voted against the actual bill — all due to their concerns over the price for consumers and business. Remember, Lieberman estimated his bill only would have imposed $17 billion in costs on the fossil fuel industry in the first year. That key line in the Obama budget anticipates first-year climate revenue of $79 billion.

Dealing with blatant opponents is bad enough. But what about wavering climate action supporters? Jim Rogers, chief executive of Duke Energy, the nation's sixth-largest power producer, says he wants to see a climate bill this year. But he has been quick to criticize the Obama approach, because he says a slower transition is needed to protect consumers of the coal-dependent states in the Midwest and South.

Duke and other members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership — a coalition of businesses and some environmental groups — favor the government giving carbon pollution allowances for free to local electric distribution companies like Duke in the early stages of the program. Rogers has been critical of the Obama approach, which is expected to require polluters to pay for the program through a government auction of all carbon dioxide emissions permits. Proponents of auctioning 100 percent of CO2 permits seek to avoid the pitfalls of the European system, which initially gave away many permits to power producers at no cost, resulting in windfalls for those companies. The U.S. auction would provide revenue for the federal government to fund programs to offset the increased energy costs to families, as well as to invest in development of clean energy.

Yet another position is being staked out by the Edison Electric Institute — a power industry group to which Duke also belongs — which argues that free allowances also should go to the so-called "merchant" generators of power, companies that sprung up due to state deregulation and are now responsible for nearly a third of the power consumed in the United States. The merchants don't serve local populations — as old-style utilities do — but sell their power to the highest bidder in the wholesale market. Local utilities would be required by state regulators to pass the value of free allowances to their ratepayers, but unregulated merchant generators could keep any financial windfall for themselves.

If it sounds like the power business is divided among itself, that's because it is. That's part of the reason that U.S. CAP never could reach agreement on whether to support Warner-Lieberman bill last year. Meanwhile, U.S. CAP's $870,000 in spending on climate lobbying last year paled next to the $9.95 million spent by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a group of 48 coal mining, hauling and burning companies. (Duke, incidentally, is one of several companies that are members of both ACCCE and U.S. CAP. It's hard to tell the players in the game, even with a scorecard.)

ACCCE will undoubtedly be a major player in the battle to pass climate legislation, and the group advocates a cautious approach that some cap-and-trade advocates say would delay serious climate legislation for years. While the group claims to support a federal program to curb CO2 emissions, ACCCE opposed the Warner-Lieberman bill and says it will only back legislation that encourages a "robust utilization of coal." Since there's no technology available today that scrubs the carbon out of emissions from coal-fired power plants, what ACCCE is really seeking is a go-slow approach from Congress while the government invests in developing that technology. Warner-Lieberman, in ACCCE's view, went too far, too fast.

On the other end of the spectrum is the fast-growing renewable energy sector, which is fully devoted to adding the price of carbon pollution to every kilowatt generated from cheap coal competitors. Yet, put renewable energy interests together with the environmental groups — both lobbies have mushroomed in the past five years — and they are still outnumbered 8 to 1 by all other interests lobbying on climate.

Climate action advocates will be counting on winning some of those interests to their side. Cities, counties and public agencies, for instance, see an opportunity to plug into a new federal revenue stream. Growth of mass transit, for example, could help get cars — and their carbon emissions — off the road. But would-be grant recipients want as few strings attached as possible, meaning fewer assurances that the money will actually be invested in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And take agriculture. It is a hotly disputed subject, but some argue farmers could contribute to the climate solution through improved soil and manure handling practices. Projects to retain carbon in the soil or capture methane from manure are costly, but what if farmers could earn "credits" that they could later sell to coal-fired power companies that have trouble reducing their carbon dioxide emissions? Would these so-called "offsets" be enough to offset the agriculture interests' worries over rising fuel costs? Last year, the American Farm Bureau Federation was originally neutral on the Warner-Lieberman bill, then opposed it when offset opportunities were reduced in later amendments.

Shaping a climate policy to satisfy a variety of narrow interests has obvious perils. And the number of parties interested in influencing climate legislation seems to grow by the day. Wall Street banks and other financial players, for example, had virtually no presence on climate change on Capitol Hill five years ago. But by 2008 they had 130 lobbyists — as many as the alternative energy companies. Wall Street interests see themselves as brokers, project developers, financers and consultants in an emissions "permit" market that one federal regulator estimates could reach $2 trillion in value within five years, making carbon the world's most widely traded commodity.

Among the group of financial climate lobbyists last year was now-serial federal bailout recipient American International Group, which aimed to make investments around the globe in carbon-reduction projects. AIG was forced by public outcry to stop lobbying last fall soon after its first infusion of federal dollars, and the company recently withdrew from the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. But there are plenty of other potential carbon marketers looking to weigh in on policy, and oversight of their dealings is sure to be a sticking point — complicating or delaying the already difficult task of crafting a program to tackle global warming.

Former Senator Tim Wirth, president of the Ted Turner-funded UN Foundation — which has been working to promote global progress on climate — is worried. Public policy-making, he says, is by its nature incremental. But as climate scientists deliver ever-more urgent warnings about the rapid pace of warming, Wirth is increasingly convinced that radical action is needed.

"The money that will go into complicating this issue and casting doubt on this issue is going to be increasing as rapidly as the science," he says. "There will be more and more interests weighing in on behalf of doing little, or even taking the incremental steps that you'd expect policymakers to take. And it's exceedingly dangerous."

Negotiations for a new global climate treaty, of course, can go forward just as they have for years, without any clear signal of what sort of commitment the United States is willing to make to cut carbon emissions. But there's no chance of a deal that can make a difference to the planet without the U.S. on board. And that's going to take a feat of political leadership that keeps the interest of solving the climate crisis in the forefront, while leaving the special interests behind.

• From Yale Environment 360, part of Guardian Environment Network

Worlds of business and activism collide at carbon trading conference

“Our climate, not your business” - a graffitied sign at a carbon trading conference in March 2009

'Our climate, not your business' - a graffitied sign at the Carbon Market Insights Conference. Photograph: Bryony Worthington

osted by Bryony Worthington Thursday 19 March 2009 15.34 GMT

This week's Carbon Market Insights Conference in Copenhagen has proved emissions trading is not as dull as it sounds. Just look at the debate of the dramatic price falls in the price of carbon, or the ideological splits emerging between the EU and UN's climate negotiators.

It has struck me there are two conferences going on here. There are the traders, brokers and permit sellers for whom this is a trade conference. They are here to win new business. They sponsor high tech stalls, hand out freebies, provide free cocktails and beer and hire fancy nightclubs to throw parties.

But there are also NGO's, think tanks, policy people and government representatives here. They are here to discuss where emissions trading policy might be going in the future.

The contrast between the two groups is quite stark. Men in stripy suits are really completely indifferent to whether this market is really doing anything for the environment. They can make money whatever the market conditions – they just need volatility and fortunately for them this market delivers that quite effectively.

The other group do care about whether this market is delivering, they have studied it in detail and have many ideas for how it can be improved. This is the group I was hoping to find here. They will be faithfully following every bend in the road to this December's Copenhagen climate treaty negotations, doing what they can to improve the chances of a sensible deal being reached. The conversations in the corridors are wide ranging and full of solutions: how to expand the market to include transport emissions, how to increase the targets to be better in line with the science.

A third group of people also made their presence known during the conference. They were a small but noisy group of 20 or 30 student protesters who banged drums and windows, stayed for about an hour, and then left. The only sign of their presence was the graffiti left behind: "Our climate, not your business" (see above).

I am sympathetic to their concerns. This industry has effectively privatised pollution and so far failed to demonstrate it can deliver the scale of change necessary to tackle the problem. But, I am also a pragmatist.

To increase the chances of carbon trading's success the NGOs and media need to act as a conduit for public pressure – distilling some of the complexities into clear messages and helping people to make their voices heard.

I fear this isn't happening, but the combined effect of lots of disparate voices may still succeed in creating political pressure to allow the ideas of the policy experts to flourish. I hope so. It would be nice if some of the men in stripy suits also joined the debate, but perhaps that is expecting too much.

• Bryony Worthington is founder of Sandbag, a not-for-profit organisation seeking to engage civil society in improving emissions trading policy. Sandbag is part of the Guardian's Environment Network.

Leading climate scientist: 'democratic process isn't working'

Climate activists

Climate activists protest at this month’s Guardian Climate Change Summit in Londonover plans for a coal-fired power station in Kingsnorth, Kent Photograph: Alex Sturrock/AFP

Protest and direct action could be the only way to tackle soaring carbon emissions, a leading climate scientist has said.

James Hansen, a climate modeller with Nasa, told the Guardian today that corporate lobbying has undermined democratic attempts to curb carbon pollution. "The democratic process doesn't quite seem to be working," he said.

Speaking on the eve of joining a protest against the headquarters of power firm E.ON in Coventry, Hansen said: "The first action that people should take is to use the democratic process. What is frustrating people, me included, is that democratic action affects elections but what we get then from political leaders is greenwash.

"The democratic process is supposed to be one person one vote, but it turns out that money is talking louder than the votes. So, I'm not surprised that people are getting frustrated. I think that peaceful demonstration is not out of order, because we're running out of time."

Hansen said he was taking part in the Coventry demonstration tomorrow because he wants a worldwide moratorium on new coal power stations. E.ON wants to build such a station at Kingsnorth in Kent, an application that energy and the climate change minister Ed Miliband recently delayed. "I think that peaceful actions that attempt to draw society's attention to the issue are not inappropriate," Hansen said.

He added that a scientific meeting in Copenhagen last week had made clear the "urgency of the science and the inaction taken by governments".

Officials will gather in Bonn later this month to continue talks on a new global climate treaty, which campaigners have called to be signed at a UN meeting in Copenhagen in December. Hansen warned that the new treaty is "guaranteed to fail" to bring down emissions.

Hansen said: "What's being talked about for Copenhagen is a strenghening of Kyoto [protocol] approach, a cap and trade with offsets and escape hatches which will be gauranteed to fail in terms of getting the required rapid reduction in emissions. They talk about goals which sound impressive, but when you see the actions are such that it will be impossible to reach those goals, then I can understand the informed public getting frustrated."

He said he was growing "concerned" over the stance taken by the new US adminstration on global warming. "It's not clear what their intentions are yet, but if they are going to support cap and trade then unfortunately i think that will be another case of greenwash. It's going to take stronger action than that."

U.S., China worlds apart on climate change curbs

From: Miami Herald

WASHINGTON -- China's top climate negotiator's visit to Washington Monday sent a fresh signal that the two countries, which account for about half the world's greenhouse gas emissions, have a long way to go to reach a common agreement on how to cut emissions to prevent serious climate change.

China wants to become a "low-carbon society," but can't say when that will be achieved. And it doesn't want to be held accountable for emissions it produces to make goods for export, said Li Gao, the director of China's climate change office.

Li described China's actions and plans on climate while the head of China's negotiating team met with his American counterpart at the State Department. The meeting was part of the preparations for global negotiations on an agreement to reduce emissions in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

China plays a big role as the world steps up efforts to hold back global warming.

With 1.3 billion people and a large industrial base, China is the world's biggest source of heat-trapping gases from coal, oil and gas, just ahead of the U.S.

Many members of Congress say they will only support mandatory emissions limits at home if China acts too. And other countries are looking to see what the U.S. will do to cut emissions before they make commitments of their own toward an international agreement due in December.

China shouldn't have to take responsibility for the 15 percent to 25 percent of its emissions that result from making products for the rest of the world, said Li, the director of the Department of Climate Change in China's National Development and Reform Commission. He spoke at a briefing sponsored by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a nonpartisan research organization.

"For many developing countries, not only China, we produce the products for the consumers, especially in developed countries," Li said. He argued it wouldn't be fair to hold China accountable because "we are on the lower end of the economic chain of the global economy."

Li also said it would be a "disaster" - and possibly the start of a trade war - for the U.S. to impose tariffs on imports from China or other countries that didn't have mandatory emissions controls. He said the tariffs would be unfair and a violation of trade rules.

Action by China will be critical for any chance for a global solution to global warming. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlined the dangers of letting temperature rise beyond 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many reports in the past two years find the effects of warming are happening faster than predicted.

Last week, international scientists meeting in Copenhagen for a conference on climate change told world leaders recent observations confirmed "the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized."

The report added many changes, such as average global temperature and changes in the ocean, were "already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived" and that "there is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climate shifts."

President Barack Obama has said the U.S. would follow scientific advice on the climate and would reap benefits - including new jobs - from a shift to cleaner energy.

Li said China saw shifting away from fossil fuels was in its own long-term interest, "but I cannot tell you what time we can achieve it, because there's not a format in the world," he said. "I think if developed countries can give us an example, if the global economy can structure to a low-carbon type, that will be helpful for the developing countries to learn the experience and follow the trend."

China's plans call for it to reduce energy intensity - the amount of energy needed for each unit of gross domestic product - and to increase renewable energy to 15 percent of total energy supply by 2020. China also intends to expand the use of biogas in rural areas, plant more trees and expand research in clean energy.

The Chinese delegation was in Washington to talk about China's climate policies and its negotiating position for international climate talks, but not to try to reach any agreement with the U.S., Li said.

"We think that climate change is a global challenge," he said, and that it had to be addressed within the United Nations climate framework. Those negotiations are meant to reach an agreement in December, though some experts predict 2010 is more likely.

State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the meeting was "a beginning, and we'll see where it leads." He added the Chinese were willing "to really engage on the subject of climate change, and we welcome that."

Selfish use of rivers seen threatening political stability

From: Reuters

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Countries that selfishly use shared rivers threaten political stability at a time when water is scarce and demand is growing, a conservation group warned on Wednesday.

Disputes over shared rivers such as the Tigris and the Euphrates could be resolved if nations put borders aside and viewed the entire river basin as a unit instead, they added.

In the past some states have built dams or siphoned water from rivers for irrigation without consulting neighbors downstream -- stirring political tension.

"The question countries must face is are they interested only in holding all the water themselves and living in a destabilized region, or do they wish to share the water and cooperate?" said Mark Smith, head of the water program of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a body funded by states, and NGOs.

Rivers shared by more than one country provide about 60 percent of the world's fresh water. There are 260 international river basins in the world, covering half of the Earth's surface and home to 40 percent of the world's population.

Traditionally the focus in negotiations over shared rivers has been how to apportion water. Once the water is divided each country tries to optimize water use within its borders, rather than across the shared basin, the IUCN said.

By working jointly countries could reap better economic benefits from rivers and ease political tensions.

Turkey, hosting the triennial World Water Forum in Istanbul, is home to the sources of the Euphrates and Tigris, which form a river basin flowing through Syria and Iraq before draining into the Gulf from Iraq. Wrangling over the rivers is longstanding.

Upriver dams built by Turkey, Syria and Iran have caused Iraq water shortages, exacerbated by an infrastructure devastated by war.

"There is a real distinction between the upstream and downstream position. Those upstream hold a lot of power. In Turkey that power is accentuated because Syria and Iraq are very dry countries," said Smith.

Article Continues:


Growing pollution leads to 'global dimming'- study

Published March

Visibility on clear days has declined in much of the world since the 1970s thanks to a rise in airborne pollutants, scientists said on Thursday.

They described a "global dimming" in particular over south and east Asia, South America, Australia and Africa, while visibility remained relatively stable over North America and improved over Europe, the researchers said.

Aerosols, tiny particles or liquid droplets belched into the air by the burning of fossil fuels and other sources, are responsible for the dimming, the researchers said.

"Aerosols are going up over a lot of the world, especially Asia," Robert Dickinson of the University of Texas, one of the researchers, said in a telephone interview.

Dickinson and two University of Maryland researchers tracked measurements of visibility -- the distance someone can see on clear days -- taken from 1973 to 2007 at 3,250 meteorological stations worldwide.

Aerosols like soot, dust and sulfur dioxide particles all harmed visibility, they said in the journal Science.

The researchers used recent satellite data to confirm that the visibility measurements from the meteorological stations were a good indicator of aerosol concentrations in the air.

The aerosols from burning coal, industrial processes and the burning of tropical forests can influence the climate and be a detriment to health, the researchers said.

Other pollutants such as carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases are transparent and do not affect visibility.

The data will help researchers understand long-term changes in air pollution and how these are associated with climate change, said Kaicun Wang of the University of Maryland.

"This study provides basic information for future climate studies," Wang said in a telephone interview.

The scientists blamed increased industrial activity in places like China and India for some of the decreased visibility, while they said air quality regulations in Europe helped improve visibility there since the mid-1980s.

The aerosols can have variable cooling and heating effects on surface temperatures, reflecting light back into space and reducing solar radiation at the Earth's surface or absorbing solar radiation and heating the atmosphere, they added. (Editing by Maggie Fox)

Sourced from the Thomson Reuters Carbon Markets Community - a free, gated online network for carbon market and climate policy professionals.


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