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24 December 2009

A few more photos...

President Obama giving his remarks to the COP15 plenary on the morning of Dec. 18

A "garden" inside the Bella Center. The planter is made of 2x4 lumber on top of a concrete floor.

Organic Danish apples for 5 Kronor, about $1.
Probably the only decent food in the entire Bella Center.


The hot dog line - the other food hit of the conference. Long lines no matter what time of day.
I never got around to eating one...


President Obama giving his press conference announcing the Copenhagen Accord
on the evening of Dec. 18, just before flying off to beat the storm in DC.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 7:51 PM | permalink

 

Assessing the Copenhagen Accord

It's been almost a week since the end of the COP, and the world has had some time to digest what happened at the conference, especially the events of the final 48 hours. Myself, I've also had some time to rest and digest as well.

I think, like most people, I am somewhat disappointed with the outcome of the COP. The result wasn't bad, but I think there was a better deal to be had, and much more could have been accomplished. That being said, there are significant accomplishments to note. The accord addresses the key sticking points toward getting a more substantive agreement in the next year.

  • For the first time, all of the major developed AND developing emitters (US, China, India, EU, Brazil, S. Africa, Russia) have put specific mitigation targets on the table. This was not thinkable a year ago.
  • The US and China have gone from passive observers to active participants, and even leaders.
  • A substantial amount of money is being devoted to developing countries. The $30 billion in fast-start money pledged by developed countries is nearly 10x the current size of the Global Environment Facility, the principal multilateral funding mechanism for environment projects.
  • There is a pledge from developing countries for long-term adaptation funding.
  • Brazil, as a developing country, has pledged to contribute to adaptation funding for less developed countries.
  • Significant progress was made on Forestry, Technology Transfer, and other implementation issues.
There are also some things to be concerned about. For one, the Copenhagen Accord was negotiated outside the UNFCCC process. To have it incorporated as part of the COP took some procedural acrobatics. This begs the question of whether a UN-style process, where 190+ countries have to agree to every little piece, is the best way to address climate change. From a mitigation and financing standpoint, the solution rests with a handful of developed and major developing countries. However, it was smaller countries (Sudan, Tuvalu, Venezuela) who were the main roadblocks to a more significant deal. Had they not repeatedly delayed proceedings, there would have been time to do much more before heads of state arrived.

Certainly, island states and the least developed countries deserve a place at the table, and their concerns are important - especially when it comes to adaptation. However, the UNFCCC process gives them the disproportionate power to hold up the process. It's almost like the US Senate, without the ability to invoke cloture! Since the UNFCCC seems unable to come to consensus on rules for voting, it seems like some sort of alternative process is necessary to move forward.

I was reminded on the last day that COP15 is part of a process, it is not the end. Work will continue, and countries will keep talking. The US Senate will act on climate legislation this year (I'm still optimistic on this point) and I think that the Accord will give this effort a boost (although not as big a boost as a more substantive agreement would have.) COP16 is in Mexico next year, and people are already hard at work getting ready for it. A binding agreement will be made, it is just a matter of time and a lot of hard work.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 7:03 PM | permalink

 

19 December 2009

Day 11/12 - Relief

Well, COP15 has come to a close, and we have a deal. While it's not the binding treaty or definitive political document people were hoping for, but this is a HUGE step forward. The deal that was brokered yesterday and finalized last night/this morning is a strong basis for moving forward. The key sticking points have been resolved.

Of specific note, the major developing economies have agreed to allow their emissions to be reported and subjected to international "analysis." This was a key issue late in the stage - the US and other developing nations insisted that major economies subject their emissions reductions to monitoring, reporting, and verification. China in particular balked at the idea of "verification" because of fears of international intrusion. A small change in wording, that hopefully does not lead to significant loss of rigor in the process, helped move this forward.

Once the announcement was made, I decided to go "home" and get rest. The agreement that President Obama announced had to go through the UNFCCC process to be formally drafted and accepted, which ended up taking all night and into the day Saturday. Tuvalu, Somalia, Venezuela, and one or two other countries did not accept what is now being referred to as the "Copenhagen Accord". Somalia used particularly strong and graphic words, which received widespread condemnation from other countries. The opposition turned out to be a very small minority, and had there been a process for a vote, they would have been soundly defeated.

I had planned to return to Washington this morning, but there is a heavy storm in the DC area and my flight has been cancelled. I'm talking this opportunity to see the city of Copenhagen in the daylight (for the first time) and get some rest. Once I have some time to gather myself, I'll post some closing thoughts on the conference (and more photos!) in the coming days.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 4:43 PM | permalink

 

18 December 2009

Announcement imminent...

There is a press conference starting imminently, "after a meeting concludes". Washington Post says a deal has been reached. :-)

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 10:41 PM | permalink

 

Finding the political will...

The first several Heads of State and Government have given their statements, including Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Brazilian President Lula da Silva, and President Obama. The Prime Minister of Japan is now speaking. The meeting started very, very late - it felt like an hour, but I didn't check the time, so I can't say for sure.

Negotiations are still ongoing. Apparently, several major leaders, including President Obama, were in a meeting before the plenary started. The statements given by the leaders so far indicate that agreement has not yet been reached. There is still room for hope, but people are again reiterating their known positions. It seems to my uninformed eyes that someone is going to have to give on something, or at least allow an issue to be kicked down the road, in order to come away with an agreement.

The mood in the hall is very, very subdued. The NGOs have essentially been shut out of the halls today, so there are no crowds, and the energy seems to have been sucked out of the place. For most of the people here, the outcome is no longer in their hands. It now rests with Heads of State. There is a sense of cautious hope, mixed with some resignation, but most of all, exhaustion. Many of the people here have gone without adequate sleep for several days.

I'm still hopeful. I will try to post once or twice more today.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 1:25 PM | permalink

 

Photo of the Day - December 17


Need I say more?

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 2:21 AM | permalink

 

Day 11 - Bated breath

For anyone close to COP15, but not actually negotiating, the word of the day was 'suspense.' There were no real developments overnight, other than the fact that the House had finished its business for the year and the Congressional delegation was coming. That sent me into a bit of a frenzy, as I had to finish up some briefing papers and make sure everything was ready for the boss.

The big development of the morning was Secretary Clinton's announcement of a new funding commitment from the US. In addition to ramping up to $10 billion/year by 2012 (so-called 'fast-start' money), the Secretary offered to commit the US to jointly raise $100 billion/year by 2020, if developing countries agreed to measures for monitoring and transparency of GHG emissions. The money will come from a a variety of sources, including public and private investment, forestry, multi- and bilateral agencies, and alternative financing options. The funds would focus on the most vulnerable populations.

Most of the day was spent in closed-door neogtiations, so there' s not much news to report. It's a matter of waiting, and hoping the negotiators can find the keys to unlock an agreement.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 1:56 AM | permalink

 

17 December 2009

Photo of the Day - December 16


Nyhavn channel on a snowy Wednesday evening in Copenhagen

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 2:54 AM | permalink

 

Day 10 - Waiting...

The negotiators worked well into the morning to get a text ready for ministers and heads of state today. I'm told the sessions lasted until 7:30am, and they thought they had an agreement on a working text to give to ministers.

We were told to expect a roller coaster, and well, we've got one. The COP and CMP were supposed to convene first thing this morning to receive the texts from the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP. The COP was postponed because time was needed to prepare all the formal text of the LCA agreement (and give the negotiators the chance to take a nap.)

During the high-level plenary, Connie Hedegaard resigned as President of the COP so Danish PM Rasmussen could preside. Here's where the confusion started. Apparently, the Danes have been working on some provisions meant to bridge the gap between the LCA and KP tracks. This took some by surprise, and ignited a new round of disagreements. It is unclear whether the text has been tabled yet or not, nor any indication of what's in it. For the time being, talks are stalled while the parties discuss the "text".

So, for now, we wait...

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 1:50 AM | permalink

 

16 December 2009

Photo of the Day - December 15

(OK, this one's from yesterday. It got so busy today I forgot to take photos!)



These Australian activists (and one koala) are singing a parody of "Land Down Under" by Men at Work, calling for tougher emissions targets from Australia.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 1:52 AM | permalink

 

Day 9 - Making sausage, international style

The original attribution is a matter of some debate, but I must admit, whomever came up with the line about law and sausage was a genius. Having experienced the lawmaking process on the national level, and now in an international context, I must say that it is absolutely true. (I also enjoy sausage, and have seen it being made, but that's not why I choose to eat it sparingly.)

The high-level ministerial discussion started this evening, and, to be honest, I was too worn out to watch them for very long. I feel a sense of urgency in the air - people do not feel they are as far along as they wanted to be, and need to catch up. Connie Hedegaard essentially said as much in her opening statement; people had spent too much time reiterating known positions rather than trying to find common ground. I had heard that some good progress was made, but I don't have any details.

Back to this idea of making sausage. In Congress, the official process of changing and developing a bill in a committee is called a "markup." It has rules and procedures for submitting and debating amendments, and a voting process for agreeing to or disagreeing to amendments. If you've ever seen one on C-SPAN or in person, you know that they're (generally) orderly, but can get a bit animated at times. The content of the amendments, of course, is often a different story, and the bill that comes out of a committee can often be much different from the one that went in (for better or for worse...) I'd call the Congressional process like watching the sausage being "made" at the stage where the filling is being put into the casing. A bit nauseating to the most squeamish, but generally tolerable.

The UNFCCC process is like watching the sausage made from...well, let's not get too graphic here. At a UNFCCC meeting, text is negotiated in "drafting sessions" which are generally held in smaller groups, with smaller rooms, and closed to all but Party Delegates. I was able to sit in on one of them last week. I won't talk about the details of the discussion, but let's just say that "tedious" barely begins to describe the process. Actually, a UNFCCC drafting session makes a Congressional markup look like a techno dance party.

The UNFCCC is a consensus-based body. Nothing can be agreed to unless everyone agrees (or, at least, no one objects.) There is no voting. (Actually, there aren't any official rules of procedure in the UNFCCC. They have been using "draft" rules for the last 15+ years, without rules for voting, because they cannot come to consensus on what those rules should be!) So, if you want to add, remove, or change something, you have to get everyone else to go along with you. There are certainly philosophical reasons why one would want to do this in a UN context. For one, it gives small countries more power, which could be argued is a good thing since larger countries generally dominate the world stage. On the other hand, it makes it incredibly easy for one country to hold up an entire meeting for almost any reason under the sun.

But I digress. So, rather than have a formal document with a specified procedure for amendments, the process at the COP (at least in the draft session I observed) is to project the starting text, in a word processor, on a screen and turn on "Track Changes." The only strict procedure I observed was the orderly process of recognizing countries to address the room and offer comments or new text. When changes are suggested, they are simply made in "track changes" and discussed, sometimes ad nauseum. If the parties cannot come to agreement, disputed text is [put in brackets][with multiple options side-by-side] and they move on. Longer changes with multiple choices for text are often enumerated "option 1", "option 2", etc.

Here's where the consensus part gets tricky - anyone can object at almost any time. In the room I observed, the room had come to a consensus that a particular clause was redundant and could be deleted. (They were trying to shorten the document.) A few hours later, after other amendments had been considered and adopted, another country insisted that it be put back in. That's when I left. Well, actually, that's when the chair called a recess for dinner. For the sake of leaving what hair I had left firmly planted in my scalp, I had already decided not to go back.

Despite all this madness, things do manage to get done. (Just like in Congress...) They never come out the way you want, or expect (just like in Congress...) but good things do happen at these meetings. One just needs to have the patience and endurance to wait for them. I'm impressed that the negotiators can handle schedules like they have been this week - pre-8am starts and post-midnight endings - especially when you have to go through experiences like these. It gives me a new appreciation for the service they provide for their countries and the world, and the commitment that they bring to their work.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 12:49 AM | permalink

 

15 December 2009

Picture of the Day - December 14

Shades of Inaugurations past...


The Metro tracks feel like a tunnel, I'm standing next to a fence, with the entrance in sight, and I'M NOT MOVING!

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 12:08 AM | permalink

 

14 December 2009

Day 8 - The bosses are coming! The bosses are coming!


It was a c-c-c-cold day in Copenhagen today. A flood of new delegates arriving in advance of ministers, who all needed to be credentialed, and the lines to get in the Bella Center stretched most of the way down the block - I waited for nearly an hour to get in. The temperature was 2 degrees C, not including the wind chill. The experience gave me flashbacks to my Inauguration Day experience. (Yes, I was one of those purple ticket holders who didn't get in...)


On the negotiation front, multiple things are happing all at once, and very quickly. I have to admit that I am feeling quite overwhelmed at the moment, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to synthesize and understand everything that's going on. The procedural maneuvering in the broader LCA/KP discussion continues. The African delegations and other G77 nations refused to participate in a public informal consultation session this morning, again over the question of whether there should continue to be a two-track process, one for parties to the Kyoto Protocol, and one for a new long-term agreement. They returned to the table in the afternoon after additional informal discussions. This, as I mentioned in a previous post, seems to be a part of the typical process of a COP meeting.


Behind the scenes, the working groups are still making progress. The negotiators have been very busy, and I haven't seen them in a while, except when they've been dashing between meetings, so I don't have any new information here. They're still going strong, which is a good sign.


On a lighter note, during today's impasse in the proceedings, I took advantage of the opportunity to tour the Middelgruden Offshore Wind Farm. This is a set of 20 x 2MW Bonus turbines just outside Copenhagen Harbor. The farm supplies roughly 3% of Copenhagen's power.


Here are some photos. Unfortunately, the windmills are white, and it was a cloudy day.




LEFT: Passing row of windmills RIGHT: At the base of the northernmost windmill. The bow of our boat was less than 2m from the base!


LEFT, RIGHT: A few more shots of the windmills

ABOVE: Oh, the irony. A windmill with a coal plant in the background. It's likely that the coal plan uses a Combined Heat and Power system to both generate electricity, but also steam for heat from the same fuel. This is at least twice as efficient as generating each individually. Almost all of Denmark operates on district heating through Combined Heat and Power. In fact, according to our tour guide, if a plant uses coal, Danish law requires it to employ CHP.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 11:53 PM | permalink

 

Day 7 - Rest...

Sunday was a day off for most of the COP. There were no plenaries or side events scheduled that I knew of. I'm sure key negotiators were busy trying to hammer out an agreement, and I know that many in the NGO community were working on strategy as well. For the rest of us, it was an opportunity to catch up on some sleep (and for me, to do some laundry) and explore Copenhagen for the first time.


Here are some photos from my day:


LEFT: A pink globe pig outside the Kongens Nytorv metro station. Not sure what the artist was trying to say with this.

RIGHT: The "Hopenhagen" pedicab. In the back is Knauss Sea Grant Fellow Elia Herman, who also works on the Hill.


LEFT: A "screaming" ball. RIGHT: The Nyhavn channel. Down the left side is a row of stalls for the Christmas market.


LEFT: World Wildlife Fund's "Melting Polar Bear" exhibit. When the COP started, this was an ice sculpture of a polar bear. The melting accelerated somewhat earlier this week when it rained.

RIGHT: A few climate exhibits from international Scouting organizations. The orange ball on the right represents the volume of 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide.


LEFT: On the Stroget, Copenhagen's pedestrial mall/shopping strip.

RIGHT: I'll just let the picture speak for itself...


BOTH: At the "Hopenhagen" pavilion next to Copenhagen Town Hall. Siemens and OSRAM have an LED Christmas tree that people light up by riding bicycles.

LEFT: Outside the Oddfellows Palaeet, headed into a reception hosted by "Wind Energy Works".
RIGHT: Yes, those are full-size Star Wars characters made from LEGOs.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 11:20 PM | permalink

 

12 December 2009

Day 6 - Here comes the sun...

COP15 experienced a first today - a sunny day. Too bad most people were stuck inside and couldn't enjoy it.

There were several demonstrations scheduled for today, and there was some concern that they could turn violent. There were concerns that some groups would try to enter the venue and disrupt the meetings. At the moment, it seems that this probably won't happen. There are thousands of people marching in the streets of Copenhagen, and things look peaceful so far. They're showing a video feed of the march on the TV screens here, and it looks like people are just carrying signs and making a lot of noise. So far, so good.

The mood here has definitely become more serious - lots of hard, focused discussions going on. the fact that ministers will arrive soon (some are here already) weighs heavily, and people want to get as much done as possible.

Tomorrow is a day off, and not a moment too soon. It's a good day to recharge the batteries, sleep in a little, and explore the town. Hopefully I'll have some good photos to post.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 4:31 PM | permalink

 

Picture of the Day - December 11


Who thought up this name?


Apparently, this is a British chain, serving Asian-inspired food. They like to serve it fresh, and encourage you to eat immediately after being served to preserve the freshness. I had a chicken katsu curry that was OK. Definitely not as good as Gombei in Menlo Park and San Jose, but passable. Definitely overpriced at $22, but similar to lots of places around town. (IEEE accountants are most likely NOT going to like that...)

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 2:00 AM | permalink

 

Day 5 - Crunch time!

It's Friday night, but it's far from party time at the COP. There's still lots of work to do, and high-level ministerial talks start soon. Negotiations are scheduled to continue through tomorrow. Both AWG-LCA and AWG-KP released new drafts this morning, and the reactions to those are just about as people expected. China and India want the US to do more, the US wants China and India to commit, the G77 and AOSIS want everyone to pony up more cash and codify 1.5 degC or less of warming. Ministers start showing up this weekend, so people are pushing hard to nail things down. Text on other issues is progressing, but the attention of people not negotiating is focused on the LCA and KP sessions. It's going to be a late night for the negotiating teams, that's for sure.

Some of this frenzy is due to the fact that they have less time than normal - since Heads of State and Government are coming next week, the text needs to be more or less settled by then. So, apparently, what you'd normally see on the last few days is happening now.

Speaking of heads of state and government - next week is going to be interesting. 100+ heads of state all here at the same time...

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 1:26 AM | permalink

 

11 December 2009

Kerry-Lieberman-Graham release principles for climate bill

Senators Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham have released a framework for moving a Senate climate bill forward. It calls for 17% reductions in GHG from 2005, along with provisions for expanding nuclear power and oil and gas drilling, investment in carbon capture and sequestration from coal, provisions to strengthen our manufacturing base, as well as carbon market oversight and other provisions.

Read Sen. Kerry's release and letter text here.


According to the NY Times, Senators Cantwell and Snowe will supposedly release their own bill later this week.

This is an encouraging sign for US domestic legislation, and will bolster confidence in President Obama's position when he comes next week. However, whether it helps get a deal is uncertain - many countries already see the US offer as inadequate and are asking the President to put more on the table. This development reaffirms 17% below 2005 levels as a US target for 2020, which could mean that nations who want more could get discouraged and give up, or could realize that the US cannot change its position because of political realities in Congress and thus accept a compromise.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 2:45 AM | permalink

 

Photo of the Day - December 10

Delegates gather in the E.U. pavilion to watch
President Obama give his Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 1:53 AM | permalink

 

This is an IEEE blog, so...



...it would not be complete without photos to satisfy my inner geek.


An ad for a Volvo electric car at the airport

A wind turbine outside the Bella Center. Even in a seemingly light wind, it still spins.

Google "Galaxy" - Google Earth in near 3D!

Project Gaia - these ladies are working to set up arrangements in developing countries to manufacture and distribute low-cost ethanol stoves to replace wood burning stoves, which contribute to poor air quality and adds black carbon, a powerful climate change agent. The stoves use a re-usable canister as a safety measure. They envision establishing the entire supply chain - including stove manufacture and ethanol production in-country in order to create a self-reliant community.

The Lotus Eco Elise, in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Plaza Copenhagen. It is gasoline powered, but made from eco-friendly materials and paint.

A portable LED flood light, used by a film crew. They said it costs about 5x more, but they can run it off a battery, and it's much lighter than a conventional lamp!


Hidro+ Linear Generator. This Australian company uses a 15m water column with counterbalanced bouys to drive a linear generator. Compressed air is injected into a buoy, which floats to the top of the column. The air is released at the top, causing it to fall. The buoys are connected mechanically to a weight, and the up-and-down motion drives a linear generator as well as a piston or flywheel to generate electricity. The founders envision this as a distributed, base-load system. A set of 13 towers has approximately 1MW capacity.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 1:32 AM | permalink

 

Day 4 - In the thick of it

Things are really getting in to the thick of things today. Most of the negotiating groups are heavily involved in drafting text, or working "in the weeds" as we call it in DC. They're all working very, very hard to get a deal. I can see it at the morning briefings - some people have bags under their eyes and look like they could use a few more cups of coffee. The hours are long and the sessions are challenging. People's spirits are still high, and they keep at it - there are only a few more days before high-level ministers show up, and a couple days after that, Heads of State and Government arrive. It's time to get moving - there's a planet to save.

For me, this actually means a bit of a lull in activity. Most of the drafting takes place in closed sessions, which I cannot attend. In the plenaries, the story of Tuvalu's request for a formal contact group continues to play out. There was no resolution today as far as I can tell. The press is reporting the talks as "stalled," which is only partly true. The formal COP15 meeting is currently suspended, but there are multiple meetings going on simultaneously. There are meetings discussing the Kyoto Protocol (the Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC acting as the Meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol, also known as the COP/MOP or CMP), the subsidiary bodies to the UNFCCC - the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), the two ad-hoc working groups on the Kyoto Protocol and long-term cooperative agreement (AWG-KP and AWG-LCA, respectively), as well as the many contact and drafting groups. There is much to discuss, and the delegates aren't just waiting around while the COP sorts itself out.

On another note, I finally have some company here. Other Congressional staff started to arrive today - I've been operating more or less alone for the last few days. I met one other staffer earlier in the week, but I haven't seen him since the first day. The Congressional delegation is still up in the air at the moment, so we staff still have to prepare as if they are coming. This means trying to plan meetings, get the lay of the land so we can write briefing memos, etc.




Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 12:35 AM | permalink

 

10 December 2009

Photo of the Day - December 9

Save water, drink beer!



The organizers are trying to encourage sustainability - they are not providing bottled water, but rather have tap water chillers throughout the conference venue. The cafes are still selling bottled water, albeit at DKK 25 (roughly USD $5) for a 500 ml bottle. I find it somewhat amusing that a bottle of beer costs the same amount.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 11:50 AM | permalink

 

Day 3 - They said this might happen

During a briefing last week for Congressional staff, we were told by the negotiating team to expect a roller coaster during the negotiations. Apparently, it is a fairly regular occurrence for talks to come almost to the point of breaking down, only to be brought back from the brink to salvage some progress. It happened at the interim meetings in Bangkok and Barcelona earlier this year - the developing nations were in an uproar in Bangkok, and the African nations briefly walked out of the talks in Barcelona.

Well, it's happened again. This time, the spark was proposal from the island nation of Tuvalu, who proposed that the COP produce two legally binding treaties - a tightened and extended Kyoto Protocol and a new, "Copenhagen Protocol" to encompass the US and other major emitters. Other countries from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) quickly lined up behind them. China and India immediately opposed, as they would like to continue the Kyoto Protocol, with tightened targets for the period following 2012, when Kyoto is scheduled to expire.

The US and Japan have their own proposals as well. The US proposal would start with a political (non-binding) agreement, but over time, merge the dual-track negotiations currently ongoing (one track for Kyoto Protocol (KP)parties, and one track for a long-term cooperative agreement (LCA) that includes non-KP nations like the US) into one process for negotiating a binding agreement in the near future.

Tuvalu requested a formal "contact group" on their proposal, where terms are negotiated in open forum. Several nations opposed this idea, preferring a more informal consultation where issues can be discussed free from procedural and protocol constraints. Connie Hedegaard, acting as President of the COP, opted for the informal option. Tuvalu insisted on a formal contact group, and demanded that the session be suspended until resolution could be achieved on the contact group. News reports I've seen say the consultations could be concluded today.

This event exposed some of the tensions with in the G77+China group, as it pitted China, who seems to see itself as the leader of the developing world, and India against the rest of the developing nations. The ultimate implication of this is unclear at the moment.

Outside the meeting room, a group of people from NGOs gathered outside, chanting "A-O-SIS! A-O-SIS!" and "Climate Justice!" This, of course, was not appreciated by the organizers, who then restricted access to the plenary room to Party delegates only. At this point, as far as I know, NGO personnel are now banned from entering the plenary room.

As I said earlier, we were told to expect something like this. The sentiments of AOSIS countries are quite important - these are countries that will simply disappear underwater if climate change continues unchecked - and their requests mirror closely those of other developing countries. The UNFCCC process requires consensus to move forward, so any significant opposition presents a problem that must be resolved. How this issue is resolved is unclear to me at this moment, but if we are to have a deal here, resolution will need to be found. It is surely the case that negotiators were working late into the night on this. We will simply have to wait to learn the results.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 2:03 AM | permalink

 

09 December 2009

US star power

The US is bringing a train of its heaviest hitters in the next few days. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson spoke to a packed house at the US Center earlier today, highlighting EPA efforts to help curb GHG emissions in the US. She also explained the significance of the Endagerment Finding to an international audience, many of whom have no real idea of what the Clean Air Act actually does. The message from the Administration is that the US is making strides at home to deal with climate change, and wants to see a deal done.

Up later this week are Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. Next week comes Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, as well as Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and Carol Browner, Director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.

There may (or may not) be a Congressional Delegation (CoDel) here next week - it's still up in the air because of the Congressional calendar. The Senate is still considering health care, and the House is taking up the rest of FY2010 appropriations (including Commerce, Justice, and Science!), derivatives reform, and other bills. We may not know if they're coming until they actually get on the plane...

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 5:02 PM | permalink

 

The so-called "Danish Text"

There has been a bit of a row about some leaked draft agreement language. The Guardian UK published an article yesterday that was highly critical of the draft, portraying it as rich countries marginalizing developing countries by doing away with the Kyoto Protocol and establishing unequal obligations biased against developing countries, among other things. The Guardian also portrayed this as something being done in secret.

As is often the case with leaks like this, I'm sure this is not even close to the entire story. My experience tells me that there are multiple drafts being circulated among various groups of nations for the purposes of discussion. In my work in Congress, it is often the case that groups of Members (or Members' staff) will circulate proposed text among themselves in order to present a concrete proposal to a larger body, be it a committee or the House (or Senate) as a whole. Sometimes, they will involve the committee chair, or a member of the chair's staff in these discussions. In some cases, the chair will propose a starting text to the group. These discussions are generally not public, as the proposals are still in flux - releasing a half-baked proposal simply makes the situation more complicated and the process of resolving differences more difficult. A proposal it put up for public discussion when it is at a point where it is settled enough to have a coherent discussion.

In this case it would not surprise me in the least if there are multiple discussion drafts being worked on by the Danes and others, and multiple drafts of each text. The one in the Guardian is the only one that got out (or the only one the Guardian chose to write about.) Denmark is the host nation and President of COP15, and it is the Danes' job to pursue a successful COP by working with all of the various groups of nations. (They go by various names - the G77+China, AOSIS, the Environmental Integrity Group, the Umbrella Group, the European Union, etc.) These discussions are all occurring simultaneously in the hopes of coming to an agreement.

I've skimmed the text on the Guardian website, and it appears to be a reiteration of the position taken by several developed countries. There is no indication of where in the process this text is coming from, so there is a reasonable possibility that this was a starting text or early working text proposed by a group of developed countries. There are still several days of negotiations remaining, and progress is being made very quickly. It is definitely premature, and perhaps irresponsible, to be drawing conclusions about an ultimate agreement from a text leaked on the second day of negotiations.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 10:27 AM | permalink

 

What's going on?

Much like a technical conference, figuring out what's going on at the COP is a challenge. There are so many choices - multiple tracks of plenary sessions are going on simultaneously, and side events by hundreds of national delegations and NGOs are being held throughout the day. It's mind-boggling, and tough to make any sense out of.

Thankfully, the schedule for the day comes out every morning in the Daily Programme, which comes in two parts - Part I lists plenary sessions, group meetings and press conferences, Part II lists side events and other briefings. If you'd like a flavor of what's on today's schedule (December 9), download the Daily Programme from the IPCC website. Part I; Part II

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 9:57 AM | permalink

 

08 December 2009

Pictures of the Day - December 8

I chose two today - one funny and one cool:

The funny pic of the day - "Take me to your climate leader!"

Aliens from Avaaz.com are looking for climate leaders. The $200 billion refers to a request from developing countries for aid to help adapt to the effects of climate change and aid in low-carbon development.


Cool pic of the day - "There's LEDs on them thar ceilings!"

12x Digital zoom telephoto of an overhead spotlight from one of the plenary
session rooms. I'm very surprised that this picture actually worked.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 11:50 PM | permalink

 

Day 2 - Side events and side shows

When most people think of COP15, they think about the negotiations. Well, the negotiations are really only a part of what is going on in Copenhagen this week. In addition to the negotiations, NGOs and national delegations have booths and give briefings and events known as "side events." Most are educational in nature - briefings on specific issue areas, groups showing what they're doing to help climate change, universities explaining their research, companies promoting their technology, etc. It's almost like a technical conference alongside the negotiations.

The US has a booth, the "US Center" where they hold talks from Administration officials, researchers, and others on what the US is doing to study and combat climate change. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was there this morning, fresh off her press conference announcing the GHG Endangerment Finding, and Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero and Assistant Secretary of Energy for International Policy David Sandalow gave briefings this afternoon. Several cabinet secretaries are scheduled to speak there when they arrive later this week and early next week.


Outside the US Center (photo taken Dec. 7)

The booth also features NOAA's "Science on a Sphere" demo. It is a sphere on which can be projected all sorts of geospatial data, so you can see how a particular phenomenon occurs across the Earth over time. There are images of weather, ocean temperatures, airplane flights, and even plate tectonics.


NOAA's Science on a Sphere - Projected future ocean temperatures (photo taken Dec. 7)

Science on a Sphere - Worldwide Airline Flights (photo taken Dec. 7)

Of course, some of the activist groups are more creative with their events, making them more like "side shows" than "side events." Some are from groups participating in the COP, and some are from outside who do them in the street outside the Bella Center. Here are some photos:


The "Fossil of the Day" award show, where they ridicule countries'
proposals or actions as inadequate to address climate change

A group of young musicians outside the Bella Center (photo taken Dec. 7)

A melting ice sculpture, courtesy of Friends of the Earth (photo taken Dec. 7)

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 10:37 PM | permalink

 

What a few hours' sleep will do...

I've been feeling pretty warn down by the last couple days. I just hit me that in the last 100 hours, I had a farewell party with my host office, packed and moved my apartment, flew halfway around the world, and spent a day observing international negotiations. It's all been very exciting, and I've been neglecting sleep. (Hey, it wasn't that long ago I was a grad student and ignoring sleep on a regular basis!) It definitely affected my mood toward the end of the day yesterday. On top of that, the very short daylight hours (roughly 8:30am to 3:30pm) and long working days (6am to well past 7pm) mean that I haven't seen more than a few minutes of natural light in a while.

It all caught up to me this morning - I slept straight through my cell phone alarm (which I usually set pretty loud). Days here start at 8am with a daily briefing by the State Department for the delegation. My distance from the hotel where they're held means I have to wake up at 5:45am to get there. Needless to say, I missed the briefing today, but I feel much better, and there's some daylight in the window! (No sun, though. It's fairly overcast right now.) I've probably also missed breakfast at the hotel. Oh, well. At least I'll actually get to be able to SEE this neighborhood that I'm staying in. And, I HAVE CLEAN CLOTHES!!!! :-)

Alright, off to start the day (if a bit late...)

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 9:24 AM | permalink

 

EPA Endangerment Finding

I'm a bit behind the ball on this one (I was dealing with a certain luggage problem when this came out) but the EPA finalized its "Endangerment Finding" for greenhouse gases, which is the first step in establishing regulations for reducing GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act. It came out too late in the day to impact things much in Copenhagen today, but the COP15 website did make note of it, and I expect it to have at least some impact tomorrow.

I personally think the CAA would be a terrible way to reduce GHGs, but at the very least, it gives negotiators here some assurance that the US can act even if a climate bill fails in Congress. Hopefully, it will give US Senators a kick in the pants to get things moving.

EPA GHG Endangerment Finding webpage
COP15 website article

Speaking of the Senate, Energy & Environment News PM reported last Friday that it was 'very possible' that a draft of the Kerry/Graham/Lieberman compromise could be released during COP15. This would also be a great shot in the arm for the talks, but I think it will need to come in the next 2-3 days, while the lower-level negotiators are still talking, to make the most impact. Once the high-level ministers get here, all of the options will have locked in the uncertainty of US action.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 3:27 AM | permalink

 

Picture of the day - December 7

With Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC


The story behind this starts with my lost luggage. I hadn't heard anything from the airline, and the clerk I talked to at the hotel said my bag hadn't been delivered. The airline customer service desk was closed, so not wanting to spend a third day in the same clothes, I decided to forgo the Welcome Reception that the City of Copenhagen was having for COP15 participants, and went to the airport in the hopes of talking to someone there. It turns out my bag HAD been delivered - there must have been some miscommunication between clerks at the hotel. (For some reason this ALWAYS happens to me when I go to Europe, and only when I go to Europe. I think there is some sort of creature in the Atlantic Ocean that likes to pluck my bags out of the airplane and hide them from me.)

I decided to try and make it back for the reception, but I got to the door just as they were closing. But as I was about to turn around, Dr. Pachauri walked out. I asked him for a photo, and here is the result. I chatted with him briefly and thanked him for his work and for his comments earlier in the day about the emails. He's a very friendly man, but definitely very upset by the email situation, and is determined to find out who is behind the hacking.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 1:28 AM | permalink

 

Now about those emails...

The emails stolen from East Anglia University don't seem to be having much of an impact on the COP so far. They've been mentioned a few times, and people are stepping up to defend the science that informs us about climate change, but it seems to me that most people are treating it more like an unwelcome distraction than a major issue.

Dr. Pachauri did make some note of it during his opening speech. He defended the work of the IPCC, and outlined the process that the IPCC used to ensure scientific integrity (multiple lines of evidence, multiple rounds of peer review, etc.) He also acknowledged the heavy responsibility that a group like the IPCC has to provide "fair, comprehensive and objectively produced assessments of climate change" and went on to call it a "sacred trust" between the IPCC and the UNFCCC. His full statement can be downloaded from the IPCC website.

Dr. Johnathan Pershing, lead negotiator for the US was asked a question about the emails during his daily press briefing, and he said that if anything, this stunt backfired on the perpetrators, because now so many people are coming out and showing how robust the science really is. He also expressed displeasure that scientists were being "pilloried in the press without regard for process." (Yes, this one stuck with me because of the alliteration.)

While on the subject of the stolen emails, I want to point out what a great job Dr. John Holdren and Dr. Jane Lubchencho did during a hearing of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming last week. They methodically explained the state of climate science, how the scientific process works, and how the scientific community deals with issues of integrity and situations like these emails. The were able to push back on every accusation and claim of the science being suspect or incorrect. Dr. Lubchencho also did a great demo on ocean acidification. It was a wonderful hearing - I felt particularly proud to be a scientist that day. The video can be found on the Select Committee website.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 1:03 AM | permalink

 

Day 1 - "Let's get to work, let's get it DONE."

The Danish Girls Choir performs for the COP15 opening ceremony


The COP got its official start today with a relatively simple opening ceremony. It started with a a short video featuring a young girl who goes to bed in a typical Western middle-class home, and wakes up in the middle of a climate change nightmare - her home is now in a desert, with flash floods and raging storms. The message, undoubtedly, was that we must act on climate change to save the planet for future generations. This was followed by a musical performance from the Danish Girls Choir, accompanied by a trumpet and harp. It was a light, airy piece, seemingly meant to both relax and inspire. Probably a good thing after the more jarring opening video.

Then came opening speeches from Danish PM Lars L√łkke Rassmussen, Copenhagen Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard, IPCC Chair Dr. Rajendra Pachuri, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer, the President of COP14 (who's name I didn't quite catch), and Connie Hedegaard, Danish Minister for COP15. She was also named President of COP15.

There was a notable sense of urgency in all of the speeches - the need for swift and comprehensive action was a consistent theme. The time for detailed negotiations is VERY short. Staff-level negotiators have 6 days to iron out major points to bring to ministerial-level delegates, who arrive early next week. The ministers then have two days to decide which options to present to their heads of state or government. This is not a lot of time considering the large number of issues that need to be sorted out.

There is also a sense that the political momentum is with us, and failure to reach an agreement at COP15 or soon thereafter will mean that action will be postponed for several years. I think Connie Hedegaard put it best when she said "Let's get to work, let's get it DONE."

Dr. Pachauri, Yvo de Boer, PM Rasmussen, and Mayor Bjerregaard at the head table

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 12:20 AM | permalink

 

06 December 2009

Day 0 - Arrival

Me, with my badge (finally), looking a bit disheveled from the day's travels

If anything has characterized the pace of climate negotiations this year, it has been "delays". That seems to have extended to my travel as well. I departed Washington, DC on the evening of Saturday, December 5, during the first major "snowstorm" of the year. (I grew up in Buffalo - DC doesn't get real snowstorms.) It turns out IAD only has four de-icing trucks, so it takes them a while to get to everyone. The KLM flight crew was quite good during the wait, giving regular updates on our place in line. At one point the purser turned on the in-flight video system and wished us a "pleasant waiting time", which I found somewhat amusing, but had to admit that it did help tone down the frustration. I wrote a few emails, updated my Facebook status ("Thomas is IAD-AMS-CPH") and called some friends before deciding I should take advantage of the opportunity to catch up on sleep.

We managed to make up some time in the air (or rather, we probably just used up the slack time in the schedule) and landed in Amsterdam about an hour late. Unfortunately, that was too late for my bag (which they made me gate check in DC) to make it on to my connection to Copenhagen. I'm still waiting for my clothes. The bag arrived at the airport, but it hasn't been delivered yet. Thank God I remembered to take my toothbrush out.

Copenhagen is buzzing about COP15. The airport is filled with ads and posters about climate change. Coke has even jumped on the bandwagon with flowery billboards that say "Hopenhaven" which I think captures the sentiment. People really want something to come out of this COP, and there is a palpable sense of "now or never" in terms of dealing with global climate change.

The conference organizers have done a great job with transportation - there is a special COP15 shuttle to take people from the airport to the Bella Center (where the conference is being held) and the hotels downtown. The hotels that are farther away (like mine) are all within 1 hour of the Bella Center by public transport. In addition, the organizers have provided all the participants with complimentary unlimited transit passes good for the duration of the conference. (The IEEE accountants will like the sound of that...) I'm a 30-minute ride on the S-train from downtown Copenhagen, and another 15-minute bus ride to the Bella Center.

Not everyone here is from a national delegation. There are also hordes of students and representatives from various NGOs who are tracking the negotiations and putting on "side events" to brief people on various issues, showcase their projects, etc. I'm told there are some 60,000 extra people in town. (Can't confirm this, though.) I've met several already and had good conversations. People seem optimistic, especially since President Obama has changed his schedule to appear here along with other heads of state, and India unveiled its greenhouse gas intensity targets (25% reduction in emissions per unit GDP by 2020, relative to 2005) which is something of an about-face from previous statements that they would not commit to targets. They also announced today that PM Singh will attend the conference. This completes targets and head-of-state participation from the "Big 4" - US, EU, China, and India - who will be key to getting a deal done. Also keep an eye on Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and other large developing countries (some have already released their targets.)

I also met a Deputy Minister from a developing country while waiting in line for my badge. (At some point I will have to write a post about waiting in line - a UN conference is a great place to see the diversity of cultural attitudes about queueing...) She was very friendly and we had a pleasant conversations, but did make it a point to give me a (friendly) earful about how this whole deal hinges on the US, and that the developing world can't afford another round of dashed hopes. In many ways this is true, since the United States' past reluctance to act has given others cover to delay action themselves. However, some developing nations are asking the developed world to cut emissions 40% by 2020, which is what some say is now needed to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. IMHO, the political reality in the US simply doesn't make that a possibility, at least at this moment. I see US legislation as a step in the right direction, but just one step in what will be a long journey.

It's coming upon midnight here in Copenhagen, so I had best get to bed. Tomorrow starts early with a meeting at 8am.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 10:42 PM | permalink

 

Welcome to COP15!

Welcome to my Copenhagen Diary! This promises to be an exciting two weeks, and I'm glad you could join me as I participate in the UN International Climate Conference, which serves as the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). My goal is to help fill in the gaps and bring some "color commentary" to what you may see in press coverage of the COP.

If you're reading this from Copenhagen, please feel free top drop me a line (as soon as I figure out a way for people to do that without inviting tons of spam.) I'd love to get together and compare notes. This event is way too big for one person to cover alone. And if you're reading this from elsewhere, please feel free to post questions and comments. I can't promise to respond to all of them, but I'll try my best.

Now, a bit about me. I'm one of the 2009 IEEE-USA Congressional Fellows, part of the Government Fellowships program.. I finished my Ph.D. at Stanford in August 2008, and started working in my host Congressional office in January 2009. I will be completing my fellowship at the end of December, so COP15 is, in a way, the culminating experience of my fellowship. My legislative duties in my host office include energy, climate change, agriculture, science, and I even had a brief foray into health care. It's been an exciting year, to say the least, and I am grateful to IEEE-USA for the opportunity to experience the legislative process firsthand.

For those of you who aren't familiar with COP meetings or the UNFCCC, there are several resources I might suggest:
  • The UNFCCC website includes the Conference Program and Conference Documents, as well as all sorts of background documents on the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol.
  • The Danish COP15 website has news releases and information on other events being held in conjunction with COP15.
  • Several international environmental NGO's have extensive information available online as well, including the Pew Center, US Climate Action Network, World Resources Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club.
  • Copies and summaries of the House and Senate versions of US legislation making its way through Congress can be found on the House Energy and Commerce Committee website and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee website.
  • The New York Times has collection of articles on COP15 and climate change on its website.
Of course, what would a blog be without a few disclaimers? The views and experiences I will write about these next two weeks are my own and not those of IEEE or IEEE-USA, any Member of Congress, or any agency or branch of the US Government. Also, as since I am not speaking for my host office, I will not be mentioning by name the Member in whose office I serve. Instead, I will follow Capitol Hill etiquette for discussing work in public places and simply refer to him as "my boss" when necessary.

Finally, I would like to thank IEEE-USA for giving me the opportunity to attend this conference, particularly IEEE-USA President Grodon Day, Government Fellows Coordinator Erica Wissolik, who put the funding together, and IT Manager John Yaglenski for setting up this blog.

Thanks again for reading!

--Thomas

P.S. If you're interested in applying your science and engineering knowledge to help build sound policy in the United States, please consider applying for the 2011 IEEE-USA Government Fellowships. Applications are available now.

Posted By: Thomas Lee @ 8:57 PM | permalink

 

 

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