Google Earth at COP16

Google used COP16 to launch Earth Engine, a new product using the Google Earth platform, focused on helping scientists and conservations document changes to ecosystems.

See this video for one early application that sparked the idea for a dedicated product

Very cool, and sure to be extremely useful in understanding the massive changes to our planet that are already underway.


Beyond the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – Japan’s Approaches to Carbon Mitigation Efforts

One of my key goals of this COP16 was in setting a meeting with the Japanese government officials and learn about Japanese initiatives for solving climate change related problems. There are three reasons. Firstly, as a Japanese, I am very much interested in how Japanese advanced technology is applied for those issues. Secondly, I would like to contribute to Japan by let Tuck students know the Japanese initiatives for those issues. Finally, I would like to contribute to the Tuck by learning and sharing how Japanese government and private companies collaborate in this particular area.

I made an appointment with Japanese officers from METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Investment). I was so excited to have the opportunity to listen to the (hopefully) successful Japanese story of its technologies related to the environment, and in the area of policy coordination.

However, a day before the meeting, a shocking bit of news arrived: a key climate negotiator for Japan, Mr. Jun Arima, announced publicly that the Japanese government would never sign up to another set of emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol, and that, if fact, the Kyoto Protocol – named so because it was signed in the famous Japanese city – should be thrown out. As a result of this announcement, Japan won the 1st place of ‘Fossil of the Day’ prize from an association of NGOs. What happened to Japan? Where is its leadership/initiative in climate change sector??? I was so confused!

This was the biggest headline of the first week of COP16.

So, who is one of the two METI officials with whom we had the meeting on Wednesday? Mr. Arima himself! He is also the Deputy Director General for Global Environmental Affairs at METI. The other was Mr. Hiroshi Asahi, Director General for Energy and Environmental Policy.

We had the opportunity to ask several questions including the one regarding above news. Surprisingly, their answers were not only very straightforward, but also logical, thoughtful and well-examined.

1.       Japanese strategic initiative for Kyoto Protocol: Currently Kyoto Protocol covers only 27% of world carbon emission volume because large CO2 emitting countries such as China and USA are not in the framework. It is better to create a new architecture that reflects the reality of 2010 than just sticking to a protocol that reflects a 1997 reality, they said. Also the new architecture should be a soft agreements that each country can set and achieve its own individual target rather than a globally binding one, and one in which they would agree to a system of ‘MRV’ (Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification) under ‘ICA’ (International Consultation and Analysis; the COP process is full of such jargon).

2.       Ambitious target setting and policy implementation: Japan will set and achieve an ambitious emissions target by using feed-in-tariff mechanism:

·         Increase non-fossil-fuel energy ratio to 70% by 2030

·         Increase renewable energy (wind, geo-thermal, solar, biomass) to 10% by 2020 (For example, Iceland and Japan have the most advanced geo-thermal technologies, and 80% of Iceland’s plant and equipment for this is made in/by Japan.

3.       To facilitate this industry change, Japanese government and private companies to work closely with them. The institution called “kei-dan-ren”, the association of big-name private companies, worked as an intermediately between METI and private sector, and helped them make realistic policies and implement them. Following METI’s advice, keidanren set a voluntary CO2 reduction target, and government conducts evaluation and verification of targets through relevant advisory committees every year.  

Also, according to Mr. Arima, a new carbon tax bill will be passed in Dec 2010.

4.        The Japanese government is creating a new mechanism called the ‘bilateral offset mechanism’ to transfer Japanese energy efficiency technologies to developing countries to take advantage of CDM, whereby both Japan and the partner country can share project credits. Currently, CDM has several weakness. For example, it takes more than two years for projects to get registered and to issue a ‘CER’ or a Certificate of Emissions Reduction. Also the registration procedure costs a lot for private companies. Instead of going through this long process, Japan has decided that to pursue its own direct bilateral offset mechanism by strictly following CDM guidelines, but acting outside of it.

After the meeting with Mr. Arima and Mr. Asahi, I realized that the way in which the news about Japan’s stand towards the Kyoto Protocol was portrayed by the media was just plain wrong. Not only was Japan recommending something that made sense, but the country seemed to be backing up its words with concrete and continuing actions (this, despite the fact that Japan is already the lowest emissions-intensity country of any of the major economies in the world).

Perhaps the Japanese government should do a bit more on the marketing and PR fronts.

Wikileaks Shed Light on US Position in Copenhagen

For those interested in understanding the realpolitik behind Copenhagen and the continuing talks in Cancun,  I recommend the reporting of the UK Guardian newspaper.

Hidden behind the save-the-world rhetoric of the global climate change negotiations lies the mucky realpolitik: money and threats buy political support; spying and cyberwarfare are used to seek out leverage.

The US diplomatic cables reveal how the US seeks dirt on nations opposed to its approach to tackling global warming; how financial and other aid is used by countries to gain political backing; how distrust, broken promises and creative accounting dog negotiations; and how the US mounted a secret global diplomatic offensive to overwhelm opposition to the controversial “Copenhagen accord“, the unofficial document that emerged from the ruins of the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009.

Meeting with Dr. Pachauri of the IPCC

One highlight of the trip was a Tuesday evening meeting with Dr. R.K. Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  As head of the IPCC, Dr.  Pachauri has been responsible for building the global scientific consensus about climate change, publishing reports endorsed by every government in the world.   He correctly points out that this is the first time in history this process has been tried and successfully accomplished.    The IPCC received the Nobel Prize for its work.

In his capacity with the IPCC, Dr. Pachauri has met with many of the most well-known US leaders including Presidents Obama and Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore, and he follows US politics closely. We had a lively discussion about President Obama’s leadership and the recent election.  Dr. Pachauri shared observations about many other prominent officials, including the leadership of the UNFCCC.  

Dr. Pachauri’s own experiences in the last few years have been challenging, with climate deniers launching attacks on the science in IPCC reports, the IPCC organization, and Dr. Pachauri himself.   As has been publicly reported, he even hired lawyers at one point to defend himself against libel charges.  Dr. Pachauri links these attacks to corporate interests, unfortunately, opposed to international action on climate change.   Unfortunate but not surprising, however, considering that action on climate change will constrain profits of carbon-intensive energy producers and major industrial energy users. 

As we think about positive roles that private sector companies can play, we should be emboldened to act in order to show that companies can be part of the solution and not just obstructionist forces.  At the same time, there must be continued action by forward-thinking companies within carbon-intensive industries to reduce the political influence of obstructionist peers.  The companies 3M, DuPont and PG&E were mentioned in our Tuck side event today as ones playing positive roles, and should do more politically to prevent obstructionist companies from holding up action.  This would include speaking up to defend the integrity of organizations like the IPCC and UNFCCC.

Recent US Election Not a Bad Thing, Say Some

Back on the home front, I’ve been trying to find a more optimstic view of the recent US elections with regard to climate change and the clean energy revolution.   I believe if the US makes any progress on reducing carbon emissions it will be because Americans see it in their own economic interest, rather than because of any sense of obligation whatsoever to the UN or international community.

Here are a couple worth sharing:

By David Gold, Access Venture Partners

With the recent “shellacking” (as President Obama referred to the election results) of the
Democratically controlled Congress, much of the buzz in the cleantech space has been
doom and gloom. Is cleantech doomed to a new dark age? I do not believe so.

Energy policy is one area where there is an overlap of goals between the parties. Members
of both parties largely agree that energy is critical to our economic and national security.
And most Republicans do not dismiss out of hand the risks of global warming.

I suspect that energy policy will be a topic where this Congress will get something done especially with the President’s increased desire to work across party lines. It won’t be exactly what the president wants and it won’t be exactly what the Republicans want. It will be an old-fashion compromise that may actually result in some policies and that will have greater long-term impact on cleantech than most of the short-term handout programs
that were put in place under the largely ineffective cleantech stimulus bill.

By Michael Kannellos, Editor of Greentech Media

Presumptive Speaker of the House John Boehner (R.-Ohio) knows he has to accomplish something other than yammer about creeping socialism. Incessant complaining and a failure to follow through helped undo the last Republican revolution. Whether his allies like it or not, statesman-like compromise is on the agenda.

Clean energy, luckily, remains one of the few issues that enjoys bipartisan support. It also plays well in most regions of the country. Forget the rejection of Prop 23, an anti-greenhouse gas regulation initiative proposed in California, for a moment. Voters in Missouri — the heart of coal country — in 2008 voted for an initiative that required utilities in the state to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources, according to Rosalind Jackson at Vote Solar. The initiative came about after the legislature failed to act. Voters in Colorado and Washington have both passed renewable standards.

Many now understand the connections between renewable energy and national security and job growth. Two years ago, green jobs were synonymous with Van Jones. Now, they are synonymous with under-employed contractors getting licenses to perform energy retrofits and solar installations.

Whether or not these two optimistic predictions come true, I believe two facts will shape any positive future moves in the US: 1) job creation and energy security are the ONLY effective mainstream frames for clean energy policy; 2) private sector-led investment will respond best and most sustainably to simple price signals on carbon emissions rather than one-off grant and loan packages.

Continue reading David Gold’s piece for some of his ideas, including national renewable energy standards, a gas tax, tax credits for energy efficiency, and government procurement policies.

The Role of Business? Step up!

Christiana Figueres, the tiny but powerful UNFCCC Executive Secretary, addressed an audience of business leaders at the opening of the World Climate Summit, a business focused event happening in conjunction with COP16.  She states that expectations for COP16 are more realistic than COP15 , but the stakes are higher .

Yes, she believes that there is a “deal to be done” here in Mexico but shared two major concerns. The first concern is that the “deal may escape” because of the process. The UN places high value on transparency and representation from all countries. Without  both of these elements present as an integral part of the process, there will be problems. The second concern is the expected outcome, what she articulated as a “minimous agreement, pathetically inefficient compared to what the science tells us.” Despite this expectation, she indicated that COP 16 agreements  are  needed as a foundation on which the future climate work will be built. 

Ms. Figueres urged business to use their leverage to:

1) impact their value chain both up and down to ensure that their carbon footprint is decreasing quickly and that consumers are aware of the carbon impact of their purchases,

2)transform the sector in which the firms operate to develop pioneering technologies that reduce impact, and

3)influence policy makers within their own countries.

She said that negotiators have their positions set before their arrival at the COP sessions, so the work of influencing minds and policies needs to happen within individual countries. With some private sector actors applying a “handbrake” to action on climate change, businesses who care need to raise their voices to be heard.  Her closing plea to the business leaders present was that “if business sees itself as stewards of the planet then step up because we need you”.

Understanding UN Observer Process

I spent Wednesday and Thursday morning with the Indigenous People’s Caucus (“Caucus”).  As a neophyte to the UN and its processes, I thought I’d write about what I’ve learned.

The Caucus and its members come from around the world, representing Indigenous people in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Russia (as well as other parts of the world).  Members have recognized observer status within the UNFCC, the organizing body responsible for COP 16, and its formally known as the “International Indigenous Forum on Climate Change.”

Anyone with knowledge of the UN can speak to the number of acronyms that are associated with the UN system.  For example, Caucus member organizations are known as “Indigenous Peoples Organizations,” or “IPOs.”  Other observer organizations include youth (“YOUNGOs,” or “Youth non-governmental organizations”), business (“BINGOs” or “Business and industry non-governmental organizations”), trade unions (“TUNGOs” or “Trade unions non-governmental organizations”), and women (women’s groups are spared a silly acronym – would it be WINGOs?).

Kim Gottshalk, an attorney with the Native American Rights Fund (“NARF”), helped me find Caucus proceedings.  NARF is well known in the Native American community for its representation and advocacy of tribal interests, like the protection of the environment, and Kim has been participating in these international forums for some time.  Caucus meetings are held every day at 9 am, and proceedings are conducted in English and Spanish.  For non Spanish speakers, translation services are offered.  My Spanish is rusty, and I wore headphones.

Caucus activities are focused on two major areas: (1) the Kyoto Protocol and (2) Long term cooperative action (“LCA”).  These areas reflect the two major areas that negotiators are focusing on here.  The Caucus also has committees focusing on finance, REDD and other issues.  The Caucus itself seems to meet at every major UNFCC meeting.  During the course of both sessions that I sat in, members referred to decisions made at the Bonn and Tianjin conferences, which took place earlier this year.

Interestingly, Indigenous people are represented on different countries delegations.  If I heard correctly, the delegations of Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay and Guatemala have indigenous members.  It also sounds like Mexico is an ally for Indigenous issues.  As the Caucus develops recommendations and policies, they reach out to their contacts in these delegations, as well as the delegations of other countries, to state their concerns and make recommendations. It’s been pretty interesting, especially around policy issues.  I’ll write more about that later.