Monday, November 2, 2009

Which loophole is the smallest?

It was a discouraging first day for me at the UN Barcelona Climate Change Talks (it was only one day - it already feels like a week!?).

I spent the day with pledges in the inside pocket of my suit, ever ready to take the name and signature of a country representative that was ready to commit to making forests count: agree that we should account for actual changes in emissions resulting from logging. Coming across people willing to commit to this idea was the exception, finding people to explain their preferred method for avoiding this full accounting was the norm.

I contributed to an article (LULUCF Follies)in the Climate Action Network's daily newsletter, ECO, describing the cancer that is taking over the negotiations; here's an excerpt: "It’s a little hard to believe, but the positions taken by many Annex 1 negotiators [industrialized countries] effectively define their preferred management choices as carbon-neutral, regardless of what emissions actually are. In this fantasy world, you incur no debits for a ‘business-as-usual’ policy of cutting forests at age 50 even if most of the national forest estate is now 49 years old and you’re about to cut it all down. Nor do you receive debits for stepping up forest harvest to produce bioenergy. But the atmosphere sees increased emissions from both these changes!”

I'm not sure what is more troubling: the number of these alarming proposals or the number of people that don't seem alarmed by them. One negotiator observed that this is perfectly okay as long as you set the national emission reduction target with the knowledge that you are excluding these emissions. Another hopefully offered that I should consider which of the many proposed loopholes being brought forward is the smallest, and side with that one.

With champions from industrialized countries increasingly hard to find, could it be that the developing world could save the day here? They are now engaging in negotiations and presenting a concern for environmental integrity and there is certainly a limit to their patience for the indulgences of industrialized countries. But where will that limit be found? It seems likely that a Barcelona outcome will be the presentation of a choice to be made in Copenhagen at the political level.

...that is if there is an outcome from Barcelona on forests: today's talks were cancelled because the Africa Group has apparently said that it would boycott all further sessions until progress is made on an emission reduction target for industrialized countries.

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