Obama Administration Off to a Promising Start
The new United States Administration under President Barack Obama has immediately acted to reverse the policies pursued under George W. Bush. The new Administration has ordered a stop to all pending regulations pushed through in the waning days of the Bush Administration. The new White House says it will carry out its own legal and policy reviews on the specific rules before making a final decision on them. Some of the new Bush rules that will likely never see the light of day include proposals to weaken the Endangered Species Act, to allow mining companies to dump their waste within sensitive riparian zones and to exempt large-scale factory farms from notifying government officials when they release unsafe levels of toxic emissions into surrounding communities.
On 26 January, the new President instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review a previous denial of a waiver request by California to set its own standards for the regulation of vehicle emissions. President Obama stated: "This refusal [by the EPA] to lead risks the creation of a confusing and patchwork set of standards that hurts the environment and the auto industry. And that's why I'm directing the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately review the denial of the California waiver request and determine the best way forward. This will help us create incentives to develop new energy that will make us less dependent on the oil that endangers our security, our economy and our planet." It remains to be seen whether Obama will press for national emissions standards.
On the same day, the President called for measures to enforce the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which entails a 40 % increase in the federal "corporate average fuel economy" (CAFE) standards by 2020. The CAFE standards are intended to improve the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks sold in the United States. The Act sets the goal for the national fuel economy standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
In December, President-elect Obama nominated Carol Browner to the position of Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate. She will act as a coordinator for environmental, energy, climate, transport and related matters for the federal government. Browner served as Administrator of the EPA during the Clinton Administration, and was on the board of former Vice-President Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection.
The new Secretary of Energy is 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics winner Steven Chu. Chu has been a vocal advocate for more research into alternative energy, arguing that a shift away from fossil fuels is essential to combat global warming. However, it remains to be seen whether Chu will prioritize sustainable alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar, and geothermal over ecologically and/or socially harmful sources such as nuclear power, coal, and agrofuels.
The new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is Lisa P. Jackson, who has a long career in government service on environmental matters. Throughout the years of the Bush Administration, the EPA has been plagued by a number of controversies involving political interference in the work of EPA staff and influence by corporate lobbyists.
According to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Jackson will provide more of the same: "In many instances, Jackson embraced policies at [the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, DEP] echoing the very practices at the Bush EPA which Senator Barack Obama condemned during the presidential campaign. DEP employees describe Ms. Jackson as employing a highly politicized approach to decision-making that resulted in suppression of scientific information, issuance of gag orders and threats against professional staff members who dared to voice concerns. These reports raise troubling questions about her fitness to run an agency of much greater size and complexity." In her opening remarks at the confirmation hearing on 19 January, Jackson stated: "President-elect Obama has affirmed two core values that he expects EPA to uphold during his administration: scientific integrity and the rule of law. He has also made it clear that we will operate with unparalleled transparency and openness. I pledge to uphold those values."
The new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has appointed Todd Stern as the Special Envoy for Climate Change. "[T]he President and I believe that American leadership is essential to meeting the challenges of the 21st century. And chief among those is the complex, urgent, and global threat of climate change. From rapidly rising temperatures to melting arctic icecaps, from lower crop yields to dying forests, from unforgiving hurricanes to unrelenting droughts, we have no shortage of evidence that our world is facing a climate crisis", said Clinton. "The Special Envoy will serve as a principal advisor on international climate policy and strategy. He will be the Administration’s chief climate negotiator. He will be leading our efforts with United Nations negotiations and processes involving a smaller set of countries and bilateral sessions. Because the main cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuel and because the solution rests with our ability to shift the global economy from a high to a low carbon energy base, the Envoy will be a lead participant in the development of climate and clean energy policy. He will participate in all energy-related policy discussions that, across our government, can have an impact on carbon emissions, and will be looking for opportunities to forge working alliances."
The Special Envoy for Climate Change added: "The time for denial, delay, and dispute is over. The time for the United States to take up its rightful place at the negotiating table is here. ... As the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases, we can only expect to lead abroad if we are prepared to act decisively at home. Yet we can only meet the climate challenge with a response that is genuinely global. Eighty percent of greenhouse gas emissions are produced outside the United States, and a rapidly growing percentage is produced in emerging market countries." Todd Stern was Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary in the White House from 1993 to 1998, and has acted as the senior White House negotiator at the Kyoto Protocol and Buenos Aires negotiations.
The Obama Administration has a combined energy and environmental agenda which includes the following objectives:
- Creating 5 million jobs by strategically investing US$150 billion over the next 10 years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future.
- Putting 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon on the road by 2015.
- Ensuring that 10 % of the nation's electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 % by 2025.
- Implementing an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 % by 2050.
EESC Calls for Massive Reduction of Oil Demand
In an opinion requested by the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee of the European Parliament, the EESC calls for a massive reduction of oil demand in Europe year by year over the next 40 years. The objective must be to reduce oil demand by more than 50% by 2050.
The two critical factors which will shape the future of oil over the next decades are the acceleration of climate change, and the growing difficulties of obtaining secure access to diminishing global resources of oil. The only successful way out of the climate change crisis will be a rapid transformation of the world’s energy base away from its excessive dependence on the burning of fossil fuels. Global demand for oil needs to stop growing within a few years and then to decline steadily to much lower levels by the mid-century. There needs to be a major switch from fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy, and a quantum leap improvement in energy efficiency in all sectors. The change needed is comparable in scale to a new industrial revolution.
The European Union has made a good start on the measures needed within Europe with its Climate Change and Energy package. These can and should be implemented swiftly and vigorously. But, even if that is achieved, the EESC believes that a further set of measures will be needed before we have a fully adequate and comprehensive strategy for Europe. The public must also be engaged more fully in understanding the need for major change and playing their part in bringing it about. Civil society organisations of all kinds need to be involved in the process of spreading awareness and acceptance of the necessary changes, particularly those that will affect lifestyles and behaviour. We need to make these changes swiftly and cooperatively so as to create a European model for transforming our economy to a low carbon base that will be attractive and influential in the rest of the world.
The EESC opinion makes concrete proposals to reduce European oil demand in key sectors, such as transport (e.g. planning cities, towns and other settlements so as to reduce journey lengths and times; systematic preference for rail rather than air flights, public transport rather than private transport, electric or hydrogen powered vehicles rather than internal combustion, cycling and walking wherever possible), construction and building (e.g. replacement of oil for heating, cooling and cooking by electricity from green sources), power generation (e.g. renewable sources to be expanded as fast as possible, coal and oil-powered power stations to be fitted with carbon capture and storage as soon as possible). In order to bring about these changes there need to be strong fiscal and regulatory measures to drive the process, major public and private investment programmes, and strong political, business and civil society leadership to create the necessary dynamic and momentum for change.
This EESC opinion was requested by the European Parliament to obtain the view of Europe's organised civil society on the long-term trends of oil supply and demand. The Parliament’s ITRE Committee adopted a report on this topic on 20 January. The EESC urges the Parliament to frame their report primarily in the context of climate change and the need to reduce oil consumption massively in the years ahead.
Reducing Europe’s consumption of imported oil and relying more on Europe-based alternative energy sources will also make us less vulnerable to oil-price shocks and longer term interruptions or constraints on oil supply. The high oil prices of the first half of 2008 were a wake-up call. The subsequent decline in prices does not mean that the long-term problem has gone away. We need to act now to make our society less dependent on a resource that is certainly finite and can only become more difficult to obtain in the years ahead.
FAO Releases Forests and Climate Change Video
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UK Forestry Commission have produced a 17-minute video on “Forests and Climate Change: a Convenient Truth.” The video shows how forests can contribute to the mitigation of climate change, stressing the importance of reversing forest loss.
The video explains how society can combat climate change by: conserving and managing existing forests; tackling causes of deforestation; and planting new forests. It stresses the use of wood as a renewable energy source and as a raw material. A section on adaptation notes how the world’s changing climate will affect the health and composition of forests and stresses the importance of adapting and planning ahead for the changes.
NOAA Study: Climate Change Largely Irreversible
A new scientific study led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reaches a powerful conclusion about the climate change caused by future increases of carbon dioxide: to a large extent, there’s no going back.
The pioneering study, led by NOAA senior scientist Susan Solomon, shows how changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are completely stopped. The findings appear during the week of January 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Our study convinced us that current choices regarding carbon dioxide emissions will have legacies that will irreversibly change the planet,” said Solomon, who is based at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.
“It has long been known that some of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years,” Solomon said. “But the new study advances the understanding of how this affects the climate system.”
The study examines the consequences of allowing CO2 to build up to several different peak levels beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts per million and then completely halting the emissions after the peak. The authors found that the scientific evidence is strong enough to quantify some irreversible climate impacts, including rainfall changes in certain key regions, and global sea level rise.
If CO2 is allowed to peak at 450-600 parts per million, the results would include persistent decreases in dry-season rainfall that are comparable to the 1930s North American Dust Bowl in zones including southern Europe, northern Africa, southwestern North America, southern Africa and western Australia.
The study notes that decreases in rainfall that last not just for a few decades but over centuries are expected to have a range of impacts that differ by region. Such regional impacts include decreasing human water supplies, increased fire frequency, ecosystem change and expanded deserts. Dry-season wheat and maize agriculture in regions of rain-fed farming, such as Africa, would also be affected.
Climate impacts were less severe at lower peak levels. But at all levels added carbon dioxide and its climate effects linger because of the ocean.
“In the long run, both carbon dioxide loss and heat transfer depend on the same physics of deep-ocean mixing. The two work against each other to keep temperatures almost constant for more than a thousand years, and that makes carbon dioxide unique among the major climate gases,” said Solomon.
The scientists emphasize that increases in CO2 that occur in this century “lock in” sea level rise that would slowly follow in the next 1,000 years. Considering just the expansion of warming ocean waters—without melting glaciers and polar ice sheets—the authors find that the irreversible global average sea level rise by the year 3000 would be at least 1.3–3.2 feet (0.4–1.0 meter) if CO2 peaks at 600 parts per million, and double that amount if CO2 peaks at 1,000 parts per million.
“Additional contributions to sea level rise from the melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets are too uncertain to quantify in the same way,” said Solomon. “They could be even larger but we just don’t have the same level of knowledge about those terms. We presented the minimum sea level rise that we can expect from well-understood physics, and we were surprised that it was so large.”
Rising sea levels would cause “…irreversible commitments to future changes in the geography of the Earth, since many coastal and island features would ultimately become submerged,” the authors write.
Geoengineering to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was not considered in the study. “Ideas about taking the carbon dioxide away after the world puts it in have been proposed, but right now those are very speculative,” said Solomon.
The authors relied on measurements as well as many different models to support the understanding of their results. They focused on drying of particular regions and on thermal expansion of the ocean because observations suggest that humans are contributing to changes that have already been measured.
NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.
From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth
Our economic system has failed in every dimension: financial, environmental, and social. And the current financial collapse provides an incontestable demonstration that it has failed even on its own terms. Spending trillions of dollars in an effort to restore this system to its previous condition is a reckless waste of time and resources and may be the greatest misuse of federal government credit in history. The more intelligent course is to acknowledge the failure and to set about redesigning our economic system from the bottom up to align with the realities and opportunities of the 21st Century.
The Bush administration's strategy focused on bailing out the Wall Street institutions that bore primary responsibility for creating the crisis; its hope was that if the government picked up enough of those institutions' losses and toxic assets, they might decide to open the tap and get credit flowing again. The Obama administration has come into office with a strong focus on economic stimulus, and particularly on green jobs - by far a more thoughtful and appropriate approach.
The real need, however, goes far beyond pumping new money into the economy to alleviate the consequences of the credit squeeze. We need to rebuild the system from the bottom up.
The recent credit meltdown has resulted in bailout commitments estimated in November 2008 to be US$7.4 trillion, roughly half of the total U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Other, even larger government commitments, including US$4.5 trillion from the Federal Reserve, largely escaped notice. Large as the bailouts were, the failure of the credit system is only one manifestation of a failed economy that is wildly out of balance with, and devastating to, both humans and the natural environment.
Wages are falling in the face of volatile food and energy prices. Consumer debt and housing foreclosures are setting historic records. The middle class is shrinking. The unconscionable and growing worldwide gap between rich and poor, with its related alienation, is eroding the social fabric to the point of fueling terrorism, genocide, and other violent criminal activity.
At the same time, excessive consumption is pushing Earth's ecosystems into collapse. Climate change and the related increase in droughts, floods, and wildfires are now recognized as serious threats. Scientists are in almost universal agreement that human activity bears substantial responsibility. We face severe water shortages, the erosion of topsoil, the loss of species, and the end of the fossil fuel subsidy. In each instance, a failed economic system that takes no account of the social and environmental costs of monetary profits bears major responsibility.
We face a monumental economic challenge that goes far beyond anything being discussed in the U.S. Congress or the corporate press. The hardships imposed by temporarily frozen credit markets pale in comparison to what lies ahead.
In his new book, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth - Why Wall Street Can't Be Fixed and How to Replace It, David Korten argues the nation faces a monumental economic challenge that goes far beyond anything being discussed in Congress. He writes that now is an opportune moment to move forward an agenda to replace the failed money-serving institutions of our present economy with the institutions of a new economy dedicated to serving life.
Encouraging Energy Conservation in the Home
Despite high levels of environmental concern in the EU, domestic energy use continues to rise. A recent study, Promoting Household Energy Conservation, has examined the psychology behind energy usage and behaviour change to help inform energy strategies.
There are two key strategies for changing the behaviour of the public. Psychological strategies aim to change an individual's views and motivations through education, whereas structural strategies such as taxation, legal changes or product development, target the context in which decisions are made, thereby changing the pros and cons of different behaviours. Most information campaigns only inspire small changes, but information targeted at specific groups and structural strategies may be more effective. For example, despite prior surveys suggesting otherwise, the London congestion charging scheme has considerably reduced traffic levels in the city.
The study explains that individuals must be (i) aware of the need, (ii) motivated and (iii) able to change their behaviour. Householders need to be aware of the environmental need for energy conservation policies as well as feeling a greater personal responsibility for tackling the problem.
Policies which increase choice and efficiency are more popular than restrictive or prohibitive policies, and individuals are more likely to adopt new behaviours which require little expense or effort. They will give up the new behaviour if it ceases to be cost-effective. Restrictive policies are unpopular with consumers, and therefore with politicians, who fear reductions in individual freedom and wealth. However, in reality the overall quality of life may change little due to environmental gain, in cases such as transport and energy consumption.
Information campaigns have increased awareness of climate change, but many people still do not fully understand energy consumption. For example, they may believe that all larger appliances use more energy, or they may underestimate the amount of energy needed to heat water.
Households consume around 15-20 per cent of total energy in OECD countries, around half of which is used directly, i.e. gas, electricity and fuel used to run appliances or drive cars. The rest is used indirectly, i.e. the energy consumed creating and supplying goods and services. Around 75 per cent of domestic use is for heating homes and water, 16 per cent for appliances, 6 per cent for lighting and 5 per cent for cooking.
There is little detailed information about indirect energy use, but it should be a priority for targeting coherent conservation efforts across consumers and suppliers. Further research into energy conservation strategies is recommended by the study due to the lack of detailed evaluation of previous strategies.
Controversial Practices of Dutch Multinationals
In 2007, SOMO prepared overviews of controversial practices of ten Dutch multinationals. The VBDO (Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development) addressed some of these at the shareholders meetings and in confidential follow-up meetings with the management. The project has had some successful outcomes: some companies were more willing to discuss the controversial practices once these had been raised in shareholder meetings. In 2008, SOMO prepared two overviews, of Philips and Unilever.
In 2009, they will carry out a similar project, aiming to include more companies again. SOMO would like to receive your input on irresponsible practices of Dutch multinationals or their suppliers in 2008. Potential target multinationals, listed at the Dutch stock exchange, include Philips, Unilever, Shell, Arcelor Mittal, Akzo Nobel, DSM, Heineken, ING Group, SBM Offshore, CSM, Vopak, Randstad, BAM Construction, Océ Technologies, Fugro, ASML, Hunter Douglas, Nutreco, SNS Reaal, Aegon, TNT, Tomtom, Air France-KLM, and Arcadis. SOMO will select five to ten multinationals on the basis of the input they receive. The main selection criteria are the amount of input received, the urgency of the problems, and the chance of successful outcomes. The experience from last year is that cases based on new information from local organisations in developing countries have the highest chance of positive company responses.
The SOMO overview will cover all areas of unsustainable behaviour, including labour problems, environmental impacts, human rights violations, consumer issues, bribery and corruption, tax avoidance, controversial project financing, political influence, purchasing practices and supply chain issues, etcetera. Only information relating to such practices in 2008 can be used for the shareholders’ meetings. Please deliver input by 9 February 2009. This input need not be fully documented yet. After this date, the selection of multinationals will be decided and more detailed information will be collected.
If you have relevant information, please contact SOMO researcher Francis Weyzig as soon as possible.
The New Economics of Sustainable Consumption
Climate change is forcing us to rethink our lifestyles, but green consumerism won’t save the planet. Mainstream approaches simply cannot deliver the radical changes we need for a sustainable society. The New Economics of Sustainable Consumption: Seeds of Change offers a fresh look at sustainable consumption, presenting a holistic ‘New Economics’ approach. It explores how grassroots community actions for sustainability are experimenting with new ways of working, measuring value and progress, and expressing ecological citizenship.
Local organic food systems, low-impact eco-housing, and complementary currencies are examined to measure their success at delivering localized economies and inclusive communities, enabling people to reduce their ecological footprints, harnessing collective energies and building new forms of social organization. Viewing these activities as innovative ‘green niches’, the book explores the opportunities for grassroots innovations to spread and influence wider society, and the barriers preventing them achieving their potential.
Dialogue and Action for Sustainable Consumption and Production
What are the recent developments on the SCP policy processes and what is the role of civil society in these processes? How can Civil Society Organizations co-operate with researchers to promote SCP more efficiently? New ideas and partnerships are generated in the Dialogue & Action for Sustainable Consumption and Production Conference on 16-18 March 2009 in Wuppertal, Germany. The three-day conference invites CSOs and researchers interested in and working on SCP issues.
The event is organised by the UNEP/Wuppertal Institute Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP), the Centre for Sustainable Design - University for the Creative Arts (CfSD), the Regional Environmental Center (REC), Sustainable Europe Research Institute (SERI), Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), Northern Alliance on Sustainability (ANPED) and WWF-UK. The Conference is the second event of the EU FP-7 project named the Civil Society Platform on Sustainable Consumption and Production (DelibProcessSCP) and an opening event of the EU FP-7 project Action Town – Research and Action for SCP (CSOContribution2SCP).
The Hidden Costs of Clean Coal
Down in Washington, Pennsylvania, an hour’s drive southwest from Pittsburgh, one message can be found plastered on billboards, newspapers, even diner placemats. It reads: “Coal, Pennsylvania’s #1 Fuel for Electricity. Now Clean and Green.”
Those last words probably don’t spring to mind for citizens in the coalfields of northern Appalachia, where longwall mining thrives. A highly productive method, longwall mining yielded 176 million tons of coal in 2007—15 percent of total U.S. production. An estimated 10 percent of all U.S. electricity now depends on coal from longwall mines, which have grown in Appalachia and in Illinois, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.
But longwall mining is the most brutal technology yet employed to extract coal from underground quickly and cheaply. A hulking shearer, the longwall machine chews the coal seam and leaves the ground to cave in what the industry calls “planned subsidence.” Residents living above mines describe the effect differently. Says Rebecca Foley, whose historic house has been shaken apart by the shock waves: “It’s like living through an earthquake that happens in slow motion.”
Northern Appalachia represents that epicenter. In southwestern Pennsylvania, six of the country’s top 25 longwall mines snake below 138,743 acres of rural terrain—15 percent of the area. By contrast, the remaining 19 mines are scattered among West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and western states. Nationwide, no other place has as many operations—or as many citizens living above them—as southwestern Pennsylvania.
A new project by the Center for Public Integrity, The Hidden Costs of Clean Coal: The Environmental and Human Disaster of Longwall Mining, examines social and environmental impacts of longwall’s full-extraction method. The first article exposes the David-versus-Goliath battles that define the region, and documents the landowner’s dilemma: He must fight not only the powerful coal industry, but also indifferent state officials. The second article looks at the method’s steep environmental price: Longwall mining has sucked surface and ground water into the earth, and left behind disrupted aquifers. The result? Residents have had to sacrifice their way of life for “clean coal.”
Consider these findings:
- Structures above a longwall mine almost always suffer subsidence, forcing homeowners to contend with such damages as shattered foundations, crooked roofs, and cracked plaster. By last September, 1,819 property owners had reported longwall damages since the state began documenting such complaints.
- Longwall mining dams, diminishes, and dries up water sources. Scientists have found the practice is permanently lowering the area’s water table and draining its aquifers; state regulators have reported damages to 23 stretches over 97 miles of mined streams.
- The environmental fallout has hit farmers so hard that the agricultural land and farming community are dwindling.
- State policymakers have fostered this destruction through the mining law and environmental regulations, leaving citizens virtually powerless to undo harm.
Today, the United States is building more power plants that will burn the coal from this area; indeed, northern Appalachia ranks as its third largest coal-producing region. And yet most Americans have never heard of longwall mining. The project aims to change that, and to expose the havoc wreaked by an industry peddling a “clean coal” campaign. The longwall machine may not look as dramatic as blasted mountaintops, but it is quietly collapsing not just the ground below but the communities above it.
California Introduces Environmental Impact Label for Cars
As of 1 January 2009, every 2009 model year and newer car built for sale in California will be required to carry a label that clearly ranks the vehicle's environmental impact. A vehicle's certification level can be found under the hood on the vehicle emissions control information label. The label will show a simple ranking system that provides consumers with practical information that can help them choose the most environmentally friendly vehicle that still meets their transportation needs.
The California global warming score is based on the sum of a vehicle's greenhouse gas emissions, which are identified as the CO2-equivalent value. The global warming score ranks each vehicle's CO2-equivalent value on a scale of one to 10 relative to all other vehicles within the current model year. A score of 10 is the cleanest a vehicle can rate and indicates that the vehicle emits less than 200 grams of CO2-equivalent per mile driven. A score of one is the dirtiest a vehicle can rate and indicates that the vehicle emits more than 520 grams of CO2-equivalent per mile driven.
California's new smog score ranks each vehicle's pollutant levels of non-methane organic gases and oxides of nitrogen relative to all other vehicles within the current model year. Smog scores will be on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the cleanest. The average vehicle available in California today will get a smog score of 5. Many pre-2004 vehicles fall below a smog score of one. This is because, over time, there have been significant advances in air pollution control technologies and the Air Resources Board has established more stringent pollution standards for vehicles.
Electric cars earn the highest ratings on both scores. One car rating 10 on both scores is the GEM electric car from Global Electric Motors, a Chrysler company. Priced at $12,495, the GEM is 100 percent battery-electric and does not use any gasoline. A GEM electric car is the highest rated car for both the smog and the global warming scores.
A Top 10 of the cleanest cars is available on the California Air Resources Board consumer website.
Crocodyl: Holding Global Multinationals Accountable
Crocodyl is a collaboration between nonprofit organizations such as Center for Corporate Policy, CorpWatch, Corporate Research Project, other contributing organizations and individual contributors from around the world.
For small activist community groups campaigning against Bechtel in Nevada or Barrick Gold in Papua New Guinea, attempting to track and hold global multinationals accountable for environmental or human rights abuse in their communities is a formidable endeavor. Crocodyl can help them challenge the public relations machines of big business by providing an easy-to-access snapshot of information about these companies, including an inventory of their misdeeds. Crocodyl also increases traffic flow in the reverse direction, drawing attention to information gathered by small watchdog groups working on the front lines of corporate accountability. In addition, Crocodyl is intended to be useful to researchers, journalists, concerned investors, consumers and the public at large.
Using network tools such as the Wiki, Crocodyl enables disparate groups and individuals to pool our knowledge about specific corporations in order to reduce the high cost of corporate research and ensure maximum efficiency in holding corporations accountable. Now professional researchers in Mumbai, India can team up with a citizen journalist in the Netherlands to track international companies not easily held accountable in one country.
ITTO Plan Includes Actions on Climate Change
The International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) has made available its Action Plan 2008-2011, adopted by the International Tropical Timber Council at its 44th Session, held in November 2008. The Action Plan elaborates a strategy for advancing ITTO’s objectives, and as such, provides guidance on the Organization’s overall direction in terms of both policy initiatives and project activities.
Related to climate change, the Plan includes activities such as: in cooperation with other organizations, monitoring the potential implications of climate change on the forest resource base and the relevance and appropriateness of policy developments in this field; and regularly assessing and reporting on markets for forest environmental services, including carbon markets, as they relate to tropical timber producing forests. One of the Plan’s strategies for implementation consists of: including restored, rehabilitated and planted forest in the sustainably managed resource base; taking non-timber forest products and environmental services into account as part of sustainable forest management; and considering the impacts and opportunities that will accrue from climate change.
Czech Presidency Prioritizes Economy and Energy
The Czech Republic will preside over the European Union during the first half of 2009. After bilateral consultations with the representatives of the EU Member States and the presidents of the European Commission and the European Parliament, the Czech Presidency has formulated its priorities, summed up by the motto ‘A Europe Without Barriers’, as ‘the 3 E’s’ – Economy, Energy and External Relations.
Due to the agreement on the energy-climate package, on the economic recovery and financial crisis solution plan and on foreign policy the December Summit enables the Union to take further in the first half of 2009 the above mentioned ‘3 E’s’: ensuring energy security through diversification of sources, strengthening Europe’s competitiveness through promoting research and development and SMEs, developing the ‘Eastern Partnership’ and continuing the integration of the countries in the Western Balkans.
The Czech Republic is the second of the new Member States to take over the Presidency of the EU, at an important moment for the EU, in particular given the coming elections in European Parliament, which will test the credibility of the EU with its own citizens. With the Energy/Climate package adopted, the EU needs to focus on a creative, constructive and credible leadership role moving towards Copenhagen.
'Credible' EU leadership should include ambitious energy efficiency and ecosystem protection policies as well as substantial support to developing countries in their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. At the same time, there are crucial international debates on mercury and other hazardous chemicals where the EU needs to lead and eco-industrial innovation needs to be triggered with effective legislation on industry performance and emission ceilings.
We also expect the Czech Presidency to repair the failure of the French Presidency to reach agreement on an EU soil protection policy. As part of the Road to the climate summit in Copenhagen at the end of 2009, a new debate on CO2 reduction targets should be opened in response to new climate science. Progress is needed on pending environmental legislation including the revision of the industrial pollution prevention and control (IPPC) directive and improvement of waste legislation. In addition, after the collapse of discussions on the proposed Soil Framework Directive in December 2007, the Czech Republic should prioritise finding a compromise between Member States to keep the work that has already been done on this Directive afloat.
The countdown to reaching Europe's goal of halting biodiversity loss by 2010 is quickly approaching and more critical than ever with the EU’s recent admission that it will almost undoubtedly miss its self-imposed deadline. The Czech presidency says it will strive for the decline to be the least possible. It should show leadership in drafting an elaborate plan to address the ongoing problem of biodiversity loss.
Also, the Czech Presidency should take measures to systematically improve the enforcement of EU legislation, including by giving a greater role to citizens and improving the transparency of Commission processes.
The Environment Ministry considers climate protection the most important point of the EU plans in the first half of this year. Prague wants to launch a debate on ways of adaptation to climate changes. This is to be among the topics on the agenda of an informal meeting of the EU environment ministers Prague will host in June.
Within its efforts at human health and environment protection, the Czech presidency wants to enhance progress in the completion of an EU directive on industrial emissions and in the debate on a possible amending of the directive concerning ozone-unfriendly substances, and to launch a discussion on an amendment to the directive of national emission limits.
Discussions will also be conducted on electronic and biological waste disposal.
In the area of sustainable consumption and production, the Czech presidency will support initiatives aimed to upgrade EU countries citizens' quality and volume of information. Prague wants to organise an international conference on using e-instrument in environment protection. The conference might take place in late March and will promote a system of marking products according to their environmental impact.
Prague also wants a progress in the debate on a draft directive banning the trade in products made of seals and on the directive on soil protection, which started to be debated under the French presidency in the second half of 2008.
World Bank Unfit to Manage New Global Climate Funds
Civil society organisation were pleased at the end 2007 when the UN announced that its under-resourced adaptation funds - established to help less-industrialised nations adapt to the effects of climate change - were to receive a cash injection.
But they were dismayed to discover in 2008 that the organisation holding the purse-strings would be none other than the World Bank - not renowned for its track record in sustainable development.
142 organisations have signed a statement declaring that the World Bank is unfit to manage the funds. They argue that the funds would conflict with separate funds which the Bank already operates; that the Bank has serious conflicts of interest between tackling climate change and funding fossil fuel projects and deforestation; and that the organisation is undemocratic and unaccountable.
According to the organizations, it is sheer hypocrisy for the World Bank to claim any role in supposedly assisting the South in addressing the climate crisis when it continues to finance environmentally destructive projects and policies.
UNEP: World Anticipates Changes in US Climate Policy, Copenhagen
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that, after a year where weather-related disasters resulted in approximately US$200 billion in damages, many are anticipating 2009 to be a year of progress in the fight against climate change. In particular, many are looking towards the new US administration to make big changes with regard to climate change policy.
Among the signals that change may occur have been the appointment of key environmental officials who bring climate expertise, as well as US President-elect Obama’s pledge to spend over US$150 billion on alternative energy over the next decade.
UNEP has also reported that there are high expectations for the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and Fifth Meeting of the Parties to its Kyoto Protocol, which will convene 7-18 December 2009, in Copenhagen, Denmark. There is hope that industrialized countries will, at that time, commit to legally-binding emission-reduction schemes and include, in some form, the UN Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme in the post-2012 regime.
TEMATEA: Coherent Implementation of Biodiversity Related Conventions
A growing awareness of the pressure on biodiversity has led to an increase in the number of biodiversity-related conventions. In addition, sectoral agreements frequently take decisions relevant for biodiversity. The national implementation of the resulting obligations by each of the parties to these agreements, remains a huge challenge, mainly because of limited financial and human resources. Although everybody agrees on the need for more coherence between the processes, it seems to be quite difficult to actually put this into practice at the national and global levels.
Countries have therefore repeatedly expressed the need for tools to support and streamline the implementation of different conventions.
Based on the assumption that various agreements address similar environmental challenges, UNEP and IUCN, in collaboration with the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the IUCN Environmental Law Centre (IUCN-ELC) therefore developed the TEMATEA Project on Issue-Based Modules.
TEMATEA structures the multitude of commitments and obligations from regional and global biodiversity-related agreements in a logical, issue-based framework. This framework is built around issue-based modules which provide activity-oriented information on national commitments by identifying and grouping implementation requirements from different agreements on a selected issue. This facilitates the understanding by national experts of their national obligations and commitments in relation to a specific issue and lowers the threshold for experts to understand how commitments from other conventions and across sectors relate to their own.