16:00-18:00 (US Mountain Time), September 20th, 2016 – NREL, Golden, CO
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Organized by the Climate Knowledge Brokers Group jointly with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP).
The world is slowly waking up to the fact that climate change is already affecting people everywhere and in all sectors, and that in a not too distant future, it will affect almost all of us. Last year’s Paris Agreement was a big step forward towards global recognition of the magnitude of the challenges surrounding climate change mitigation and adaptation. Though the ambitious commitments made in the agreement were justly celebrated as a victory for anyone concerned about climate change, the hard work of turning those commitments into action has only just begun.
The Climate Knowledge Brokers Group, a community of practice consisting of more than 150 individuals and organisations involved in climate knowledge brokering work, believes that reliable, readily accessible information on climate change is key in making decisive action possible. Too often, policy makers and others dealing with climate change are having to base their decisions on unreliable or incomplete climate information, or without taking climate change into account at all. This can be because they are unaware of the importance of considering climate change in decision making, because no relevant information exists for their particular sector or location, or because so much information exists that they do not have the time to find what they need. The Climate Knowledge Brokers Group aims to address those problems to achieve its vision of a world where all people can make good climate-sensitive decisions based on the best available climate change knowledge and information.
16:00 Welcome and Introduction to the Climate Knowledge Brokers Group
If you ave any questions about the event or the CKB group, feel free to contact the CKB Coordination Hub by replying to this e-mail or contacting info at climateknowledgebrokers.net.
It is known that the world produces enough food for everyone but why do 800 million in the world still go to bed hungry?
GODAN has the answer to end this suffering – opening data on agriculture and nutrition – which will also stimulate global GDP by $6 trillion
What does the climate mean for food security?
In December 2015, 195 countries agreed to the Paris Agreement –the agreement that nations around the world would be committed to keeping the average global temperature increase at well below 2 ºC and at no more than 1.5 ºC from 2020 onwards. As of August 2016, 180 countries have signed the agreement – but average global temperatures have already reached 1.3 ºC. Coupled with the occurrence of the El-Nino, it is undeniable that the climate is having a huge impact on our planet, as more countries are affected by record breaking and unusual weather. But what impact is this weather having on our food supplies? And if there is more to come, what can we do about it?
To see the impact that climate has on food one only has to look at the spate of droughts that multiple parts of the world have been experiencing in the last decade. Ethiopia experienced its worst drought in decades earlier this year, causing crop failure and the loss of livestock. This was followed by heavy rains that further aggravated the agricultural disruption.
Ethiopia has made great strides since the famine of the 1980s. It has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, and thanks to working with the information and expertise of international aid organisations was able to build a food security system which, despite the desperate situation of the drought, has allowed the country to stay out of famine. Given that 43% of the country’s economy relies on agriculture and it forms the livelihood of much of the country’s rural population, food security for Ethiopia has meant more than food reserves.
The government, with the help of aid groups, have made a sustained effort to support farmers over the last decade, which has included launching open data for agriculture and socio-economic wellbeing in early 2015. This open data included detailed agricultural practices, information on health and data on food consumption and security. Ethiopia’s recent drought has been devastating –but the government’s attempt to mitigate its effects through years of investment in food security and making agricultural data available has allowed the country to escape the worst.
Meanwhile, a long drought over the past six years in California has caused water shortages, cost farmers billions of dollars with serious concerns over food security. Within California, residents have felt the impact of reducing water consumptions, and given that the state alone accounts ¼ of the USA’s fruit and vegetable produce, the implications of continued drought are concerning.
California has the benefit of being a state within the richest and most powerful country on Earth. The citizens of California have had access to public information giving them guidance on how best to cope throughout. The US Department of Agriculture has been monitoring the progress of the drought and its effect on everything from Californian farms to food prices, the results of which is open data that is publically available to all who need it. Although thousands of farmers have lost their livelihood, and the drought continues, the data and information made available by the US government has been invaluable in keeping the farmers of California informed of the drought’s progress and in allowing them to maintain food security through substitution and diversification of their produce.
The impacts of both droughts are having a drastic effect on the availability of food. As the climate continues to become more extreme, the issue of food security will become more urgent. But as Ethiopia and California have shown, open data on agriculture, weather trends and more can help farmers and governments alike prepare and adapt to some of the worst conditions for agriculture imaginable. That’s why it is so important to make vital agricultural data available for all who could use it.
GODAN (Global Open Data on Agriculture and Nutrition) aims to do just that. In New York City on September 15-16, the GODAN Summit 2016 is taking place, lobbying world leaders to open up their agricultural and nutrition data. Government ministers from Kenya and the UK will be in attendance, alongside open data activists, scientists and other leading figures, all of whom will be discussing the benefits of making relevant data available to everyone. There will also be a hackathon that will see the brightest and most disruptive young minds doing their bit to come up with innovative new open data solutions.
But GODAN needs your support. We have launched a petition in association with Global Citizen. Once complete, the petition will be presented to the world’s leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, calling on them to make agricultural and nutrition data open. Help secure food security for the world by signing the petition today: summit.godan.info/register/
· Why are governments hiding this data that could end world hunger?
· How can data truly better agriculture and farming in 3rd world countries?
· There is enough food in the world so why are 800 million people hungry?
· Technology really is saving the world, but how?
· How will open data affect health issues globally?
· What does this mean for the agriculture industry?
Achieving a low-carbon economy is dependent rather on new, well-designed energy law that shifts private incentives towards efficient use of renewable energy to “game-changing” technology such as Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) motor vehicles.
Those interested in how a near 0 economy could be achieved using existing technology may find this chapter, available at papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?a…
Integrating Vehicles and the Electricity Grid to Store and Use Renewable Energy by David Hodas :
The world could be powered by renewable energy: more energy from the sun hits the earth in one hour than all of the energy consumed on our planet in an entire year.
In Delivering Energy Policy in the EU and US: A Multi-Disciplinary Reader, (Heffron and Little, eds.) (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)
Widener University Delaware Law School Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 16-13
V2G vehicles integrate separate energy conversion systems: the electricity grid and light vehicle transportation fleet by storing electricity from the grid when it is not needed and returning it to the grid when it is needed.
The total U.S. light vehicle fleet power capacity is about 39 times the power generation capacity of the U.S. electrical generation system.
The grid could use power stored in idle V2G batteries whenever needed, yet each vehicle would be tapped only within the constraints of its drivers’ specific schedule and driving needs. 20,000,000 V2G cars (just 10% of the U.S. fleet) with an average peak power rating of only 50 Kw, would have the combined power capacity equivalent to the entire U.S. Electric grid. This fleet would be the backup system for a fully renewable (e.g., solar and wind) energy generation system.
David R. Hodas
4601 Concord Pike
President Obama meets with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in September 2015 at the Oval Office. On January 1, Saudi Arabia executed 4 individuals who engaged in non-violent protest for democracy and human rights in the Kingdom. Behind the president and King Salman sits a bust of the champion of non-violent protest, Martin Luther King Jr. (photo: AP)
26 February 2016
According to the British rights organization Reprieve, Saudi Arabia has had one of the world’s highest rates of execution for over ten years. Many of these executions occur after unfair trails and may be carried out by the barbaric means of beheading, public crucifixion, stoning, or firing squad.
All 47 individuals executed on January 1 were accused of being terrorists. However, four of those executed were involved in Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring protests. These four remained strictly nonviolent in their calls for greater democracy and rights in the Kingdom.
Despite being a major US ally, Saudi Arabia has an atrocious human rights record. The Kingdom is intolerant of any dissent and harshly represses any critics. The Kingdom has also banned all public gatherings and demonstrations since the Arab Spring erupted in 2011.
One of these four political prisoners executed was the well-known Shia cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr. Al-Nimr was a powerful and articulate critic of the Saudi government and royal family.
Amnesty International stated that Sheik al-Nimr’s execution showed that Saudi officials were “using the death penalty in the name of counter-terror to settle scores and crush dissidents.”
Reader Supported News spoke with Sheik al-Nimr’s son, Mohammed al-Nimr, just a few weeks after his father’s execution.
Mohammed described his father as someone who believed in the same values as Americans and who wanted all people to have basic things like democracy, freedom, justice, dignity, and human rights.“He was a peaceful man who demanded change in my country because he wouldn’t tolerate any tyranny. He always spoke for the oppressed against the oppressors.”
Mohammed said his father guided Saudi Arabia’s Arab Spring protesters in the way of nonviolence. “He demanded peaceful change in the form of democratic elections and he also demanded basic human rights.”
Despite the Saudi government labeling him a terrorist, Mohammed said, “My father was always a strong supporter for peaceful change. He always asked people to be peaceful and not to fall into violence. I never saw my father with a weapon. He once told a protestor, you are right to demand your rights, but don’t engage in even the smallest forms of violence like throwing rocks at riot police.”
Mohammed’s father was first arrested in 2012. A security vehicle rammed into his car, security personnel dragged him out of the car, then finally opened fire on him, striking him 4 times.
When Sheik al-Nimr woke up in the hospital his upper chin was broken and two teeth were missing. “My father underwent an operation to remove the bullets, but the hospital intentionally left one bullet in his thigh to cause him pain.”
Due to his injuries, Sheik al-Nimr suffered an enormous amount of pain, which prevented him from sleeping properly for an entire year. Sheik al-Nimr was also held in solitary confinement for almost four years, the entire time he was imprisoned.
I asked whether the US reached out to help free his father, who believed in democracy, nonviolence, and justice, the very values America claims to stand for. But Mohammed said the US never reached out to him. “They know about the case, but they didn’t do enough to stop the execution.”
In the days after Sheik Nimr’s execution, the White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that the White House had “raised concerns” with the Saudi government that executing Sheik Nimr al-Nimr could heighten sectarian tensions.
Mohammed said this is the US government’s way of saying they did their part. “But that’s not enough. You don’t just warn them. He was a peaceful man. The US should have demanded his release and done all they could to stop the execution from happening.”
When asked if he had a message for the American people, Mohammed said, “Your security is in danger. As long as your government supports the Saudi regime, which has a lot of money to support terrorism all over the world, your security is in danger.”
“This Saudi regime supported the Taliban, and the result was al Qaeda. Then the Saudi regime supported the rebels in Syria, and the result was ISIS.”
“Where does the money for all these terror groups come from? It’s the Saudi government’s oil money. The Saudi government pretends to fight terrorist ideology, but their ideology is the root of terrorist ideology. For example, 15 of 19 September 11th hijackers were Saudi. Why is that? Because that’s what they teach people in school.”
“So my message for American citizens is look out for your safety. You don’t want more 9/11 attacks, you don’t want more Paris attacks. That’s what this regime supports, even if the regime shows another face.”
When asked what his father would think of the attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran that followed his father’s execution, he said, “I believe if my father was here he would not agree to the attack in Tehran. As I said, he was a peaceful man and would never encourage violence.”
Mohammed said his father’s execution left an enormous impact on him. “My father was really a friend to me. He was a great father and I will have a deep sadness for the rest of my life due to his loss. I know he’s in a better place right now, but the painful thing is that I’m never going to see him, or hear his voice with new words about freedom, justice, dignity and humanity.”
When asked how he planned to attain justice for his father, Mohammed said, “I will make the whole world hear his voice. Make the whole world know what he stood for and what he demanded and not the picture the Saudi government is trying to paint of my father.”
“He was not a violent man. He was just someone who wouldn’t tolerate any tyranny and any oppression against anyone. He would stand up for anyone who is oppressed.”
Paul Gottinger is a staff reporter at RSN whose work focuses on the Middle East and the arms industry. He can be reached on Twitter @paulgottinger or via email.
Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.
The so called Paris Agreement is an AGREEMENT only because it is not Legally Binding but it is important because CIVIL SOCIETY can act by demanding from their own governments to fulfill what they promissed – and do more!
By Sara Nelson, Jacobin
19 February 16
he Paris Agreement, achieved December 12 at the twenty-first Conference of the Parties to the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP21), has been heralded as a “turning point for humanity” and “a new type of international cooperation.” In his remarks to the General Assembly following the close of COP21, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it “a triumph for people, the planet, and multilateralism.”
More critical voices have pointed to the “wrinkles” that mar the agreement, while influential climate scientist James Hanson has dismissed it as “just worthless words.” Most commentary falls in a middle ground, viewing the agreement as an important, if faltering, step in the right direction: even if we’re not entirely happy with what has been achieved, that something was achieved at all signals a “political will” for change.
But the drama and significance of the COP as an event isn’t primarily about the emergence of an agreement. The history of international climate negotiations — with the exception of the spectacular failure at Copenhagen — boasts a long line of Outcomes, Accords, and even Protocols. Throughout, emissions have continued not only unabated, but at an accelerated pace.
The COP as an event, then, does not simply represent the failure to contend with the ongoing catastrophe of climate change. Its very process perpetrates what Rob Nixon calls the “slow violence” of climate change.
Nixon uses this term to describe how contemporary imperialism transfers its toxic byproducts to peoples and ecosystems at the peripheries of the global economy, challenging us to recognize imperial violence in the cumulative, attritional, and mundane forms of death and disease that do not resolve into moments of spectacular destruction.
But if climate change is “slow violence” in terms of its cumulative effects, it is equally slow in its execution — and nothing illustrates this quite so effectively as the trudging pace of international negotiations.
Geopolitical power operates here in decidedly non-spectacular ways, through the procedural minutiae of negotiations over subtleties of wording. The drama of urgency around the production of an outcome distracts from the reality of negotiations as a long process of strategic refusal, whereby wealthy countries deny their historical responsibility for global emissions and thereby lock in catastrophic climate trajectories.
Rather than heralding the success of an agreement or rejecting it outright as a failure, we should attend to the COP as an instance of slow violence in action.
Unlike previous efforts, the substance of the Paris agreement is based on individual countries’ voluntary emissions targets, which each nation was encouraged to submit in the form of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs.
The voluntary nature of these targets is the result of, among other things, the fact that a binding treaty including quantified emissions targets would need to be ratified by the US Congress.
Given political realities in the US, seeking legally binding emissions targets would have effectively excluded at least one of the world’s largest emitters. (During COP21, presidential hopeful Ted Cruz convened a congressional hearing on climate change entitled “Data or Dogma?”, in which he claimed that “for the past eighteen years . . . there has been no significant warming whatsoever” and that CO2 is “good for plant life.”)
The fact that quantified emissions targets were off the negotiating table in Paris sat in tension with growing pressure to establish a global limit for temperature rise. Whereas the 2-degree Celsius threshold identified at Copenhagen has long been the marker separating “acceptable” levels of warming from catastrophic ones, a new limit was asserted by a coalition of vulnerable countries and civil society groups in a mantra that reverberated through the COP halls: “1.5 to stay alive.”
If 2C was a political compromise more suited to northern latitudes, the 1.5 threshold aimed to move vulnerable nations from the peripheral vision of the international system to its focal point. As Tuvalu’s environmental minister proclaimed in his national statement, “If we save Tuvalu, we save the world.”
But things don’t look good for Tuvalu. According to a recent United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) report, the current national commitments, if realized, would add up to a 2.7 degree increase in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels — well beyond the “acceptable” range for any part of the globe. Moreover, the large majority of developing countries’ national commitments are at least partially conditional upon international climate finance.
The substantive political problems of the COP therefore concerned whether and how developing countries will be provided with the financial support to respond to climate change; whether the most vulnerable countries will be entitled to compensation for loss and damage suffered as a result of climate impacts; and how the international community will contend with climate-induced displacement.
All these issues hinge on the crucial notion of “differentiation.” This principle, put forth in Article 3 of the UNFCCC, establishes the differential responsibilities of developed and developing nations regarding climate change, based on industrialized countries’ historical responsibility for causing global warming as well as their far-greater capacity to respond to it.
Based on this historical responsibility, developed countries have a legal obligation under Article 4.3 of the UNFCCC to provide developing countries with the resources necessary to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.
But while it is the cornerstone of the Convention, the notion of differentiation is something that developing nations cannot take for granted. The US and other wealthy countries have pushed for a reinterpretation of differentiation based on current emissions rather than historical ones, a move that would shift a large part of the burden to BRIC countries.
At the COP, all these problems of responsibility and obligation play out through the nuances of the text. Through all manner of minor turns of phrase and strategic omissions, rich countries continually seek to delink decisions from the provision.
Meanwhile developing countries are continually reinserting textual references to the Articles of the convention where this principle is enshrined. Up until the penultimate draft, the problem of whether the agreement would “be implemented on the basis of . . . common but differentiated responsibility” or would merely “reflect” this principle remained unresolved, although the US had been forced to back off its proposal to delete the relevant article altogether.
Should and Shall
The COP is a massive logistical and infrastructural endeavor that requires transportation, catering, security, and information services for 22,000 registered participants, where everything from lighting to menu design is a diplomatic affair.
Because the very process of negotiation is itself subject to negotiation, trying to keep up with the COP can be a disorienting experience. There is an established schedule of side events, press conferences, and “High-Level Segments,” but the time, location, and details of access to the negotiations themselves are in constant flux.
The confusion of the schedule is not just annoying for observers — it also bears geopolitical weight. During the second week of the COP, many developing nations with fewer delegates complained that they struggled to locate the “informal” discussions and “bilaterals” that COP President Laurent Fabius has convened in order to sort out particularly sticky political problems in the text, undermining their participation in the agreement.
Although Fabius has been praised for avoiding the backroom process that undermined the Copenhagen agreement, the problem of transparency is consistently raised by developing countries through debate over when, where, and how meetings should be conducted.
Inside the meeting rooms, the pace of events is markedly slower. The working documents are the product of years of negotiations, inaugurated by the Durban Platform in 2011, all of which have led up to the promise of a global agreement for the post-2020 period and an agenda for pre-2020 action in Paris. Lack of consensus is depicted by a succession of nested brackets, resulting in grammatically tortured constructions like this:
[[Developed country Parties [and other developed country Parties included in Annex II to the Convention][and Parties in a position to do so] [should take the lead and]][All Parties in a position to do so] [shall][should][other] provide [support][[new and additional] financial resources] to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation [as well as addressing loss and damage] [and others in a position to do so should complement such efforts].]
The weight of global futures that bears on each nuanced shift in language is more, apparently, than the text can withstand. Developing countries strongly favor that climate finance be “provided” by developed countries through public funds, whereas developed countries push for such resources to be “mobilized,” opening the door for private capital to fulfill the bulk of climate finance obligations.
In the final moments leading up to the agreement, the US threatened to back out altogether when a “should” was replaced with a more-legally-binding “shall,” a change that was quickly chalked up to a technical error.
Similarly, the seemingly innocuous afterthought urging “others in a position to do so” to “complement such efforts” carries particular import, as it would include rapidly industrializing nations such as China and India among those responsible for financing the mitigation and adaptation efforts of the rest of the developing world — a proposition that for these countries disavows the West’s historical responsibility for squandering the global “emissions budget.”
Much of the substance of differentiation comes down to the question of “climate finance,” or who will pay for climate change mitigation and adaptation. For many countries, the answer to this has been emissions markets. Through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), developed countries with binding emissions reduction obligations under the Kyoto Protocol can “offset” their emissions by purchasing credits from offsetting projects in developing countries, where the cost of mitigation is cheaper.
Criticisms of the CDM for its failure to actually deliver on mitigation are nothing new, whether due to outright fraud or to the inherent flaws in emissions accounting. Equally ubiquitous are documented cases of the land- and resource-grabbing that often accompanies offsetting projects, especially those involving forest offsets. The CDM, as many have argued, is essentially a big loophole designed to enable developed countries to meet their emissions targets on paper without actually investing in infrastructural changes back home.
But since the market essentially collapsed from lack of demand in 2012, arguments in favor of the program have become even less tenable. Offset prices of one to three dollars per metric ton of CO2 undermine the whole economic logic of carbon markets, which is to “internalize” the cost of emissions and thereby provide a disincentive to emit (managing director of the IMF Christine Lagarde recently suggested that an economically efficient price for carbon would be far higher, around $30 per ton).
It was clear in Paris that the emissions trading industry had high hopes that the carbon markets might be revived in a new agreement. At a business-focused side event, Jeff Swartz, Director of Policy for the industry group International Emissions Trading Association, described the group’s lobbying efforts leading up to COP21, which included proposing specific wording for the agreement to delegates in 90 countries.
Whereas the current geography of carbon trading is a fragmented patchwork of regional and national markets, each with their own accounting and verification procedures, the Paris agreement could open the door for new international standards that would enable carbon to circulate seamlessly in globally-integrated markets. “Business wants rules,” Swartz said; it is up to governments, he argued, to create the necessary conditions that will expand foreign investment in climate finance and enable carbon to become a truly “fungible” commodity.
With Brazil and India among those pushing hardest for an expansion of emissions trading, the issue hardly marks a binary division between “developing” and “developed” countries; Patrick Bond recently wrote that “with regard to both world financial markets and climate policy, the BRICs are not anti-imperialist but instead subimperialist.” Nonetheless, the expansion of market-based climate finance such as carbon trading serves developed countries by shifting the burden of climate finance off of their public coffers and onto private markets.
At a COP side event on climate finance, a speaker from the Kenyan government demonstrated the extent to which some developing countries are overhauling their policy infrastructure in order to attract much-needed climate finance in all forms. Outlining Kenya’s “Elaborate Climate Finance Readiness Strategy (ECFRS),” he argued that developing countries need to establish legal, institutional, financial, and reporting frameworks that will make them as “attractive” as possible to the private capital flowing into climate change adaptation and mitigation.
The state’s role, the Kenyan speaker argued, is to provide the accounting frameworks, institutional support, and regulatory environment necessary to “liberate” the private capital flowing through a tangled network of financial channels.
This mandate that the developing state contort itself to the demands of private climate finance was countered by the speaker’s colleagues on the panel. The climate justice activist Mithika Mwenda pointed out that the whole point of climate finance is to support those necessary activities that don’t produce a return on investment.
Likewise, Mariama Williams of the South Centre, a consulting group that assists developing nations in international negotiations, was clear that “Climate finance arises out of one fact: historical responsibility.” This alone distinguishes it from voluntary development assistance.
In practice, however, this distinction is not so simple. According to the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative, with some monies going through public budgets, some through national climate funds, some through designated international funds, and some through private markets, tracing the flows of climate finance — and where they ultimately end up — is near impossible.
As Williams pointed out, the very confusion of climate finance flows is a strategy on the part of developed countries to overrepresent their contributions to developing countries. Moreover, as Mwenda described, developed countries tend to direct funds to institutions that they dominate, such as the World Bank, rather than the more democratic funds that serve the Convention.
In this light, the $248 million pledges heralded at COP21 for the Least Developed Countries Fund are not so much a boon as a belated acknowledgement that while billions are reportedly flowing into climate finance, the funds dedicated to making these resources available to the most vulnerable countries remain empty.
This is why developing countries pushed so hard for the qualifier “new and additional” to be added to the text on climate finance — it’s an attempt to ensure that climate finance means more than just a redirection of existing development assistance.
As the environmental minister of Tonga — one of the planet’s most climate-vulnerable nations — explained in his address to the COP, the country is already spending 30 percent of its overseas development assistance on climate change adaptation. Unless the climate finance promised for developing countries comes on top of existing development assistance, it effectively means that these countries will be sacrificing long-term development goals to the demands of basic survival.
Across town at Paris’s Grand Palais, the corporate perspective on climate finance was represented at the COP21 Solutions exhibit. Dubbed “The Climate Experience,” the exhibition by major energy, transportation, and beverage corporations sparked a protest in which activists were forcibly removed for calling out the environmental and human rights violations of companies participating in the event.
Inside the Grand Palais’s art nouveau pavilion, a display by the transnational energy, water, and waste management corporation Veolia invited the visitor to “Voyage to the land of +2C” through a set of white curtains. Inside, rather than submerged coastal cities and devastating droughts, the land of +2C was a “circular economy” powered by methane, in which the currency was the “price of carbon.”
Across the pavilion, on a stairway constructed in a form of a glacier, visitors donned goggles to embark on a virtual reality tour of Evian’s sustainability solutions while chickens pecked in the grass of a tiny barnyard maintained by the French oilseed industry group Avril.
Of course “The Climate Experience” for much of the world’s population bears little resemblance to corporate techno-futures of biofuels and cradle-to-cradle plastics. For most, that future is better articulated through the Paris agreement’s language of “loss and damage.” Loss and damage recognizes the limits of adaptation, beyond which affected countries and populations should be subject to some kind of redress for the loss.
But how and by whom this redress should take place is not easy to answer. Climate change is a “threat multiplier” that compounds existing stressors, making the “climate-induced” elements of loss and damage difficult to extricate from the social and political ones.
Yet the language of loss and damage has been crucial for developing countries and activists hoping to pry open a space for the possibility of compensation from high-emitting countries for the impacts of climate change — what some have referred to as climate reparations. Loss and damage compensation would transform the general acknowledgement of historical responsibility into a principle of liability.
As negotiations stretched on in midnight-to-5 AM meetings, there was a general sense of drama around the possibility of collapse. In the final hours of negotiations, COP President Laurent Fabius warned that Paris must not become “Copenhagen with more police.”
Differentiation is less strict than in some previous agreements (like the Kyoto Protocol), but it cuts through the entire text. Article 2, in a somewhat awkward compromise, asserts that “The Agreement will be implemented to reflect [my emphasis] equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.” This overarching statement — which the US wanted to delete entirely — is an important gain for developing countries.
It also “encourages” other Parties to do so voluntarily, to the apparent satisfaction of India and China who had strongly resisted being subject to the obligations of the major historic emitters in the West.
But the $100 billion promised in the decision text accompanying the agreement is actually a figure that was already negotiated eight years ago in Cancun; its presence in this text is simply testament to the unceasing work of activists and developing country parties to prevent the US and other rich countries from backsliding on this promise. It is also a number that pales in comparison to the $500 billion spent annually on fossil fuel subsidies, which receive scant mention in the agreement.
The agreement gives loss and damage its own section separate from adaptation, makes permanent the Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage (established in 2013 and previously set to expire in 2016), and establishes a task force to address climate displacement.
In place of liability or compensation, however, the text prioritizes insurance-based solutions for vulnerable populations. As a final nail to the issue of reparations, the US has succeeded in gaining a general waiver that “Article 8 of the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.”
Thus what has really been accomplished at the COP is the slow, careful work by which rich countries refuse to substantively accept their historical responsibility (and that of the corporations whose agendas they support) for the environmental devastation that threatens lives and livelihoods, and the very existence of many nations, around the globe.
But this is work that is far from complete. Developing countries have fought successfully and made significant gains in this process; indeed, since the 1972 Stockholm Convention on the Environment that helped to inaugurate the Third World Forum, international environmental politics has been an important arena in which formerly Third World countries have asserted national sovereignty.
In regard to climate change, however, the uneven geography of vulnerability intersects with that of geopolitical power, such that it is the most vulnerable countries who can least afford the hardline negotiating strategies that might undermine an agreement.
On the other hand, “non-outcomes suit the powerful,” by substituting the “performance of care” for substantive policy. Speaking for the Caribbean community, Barbados admonished delegates that the failure to acknowledge these uneven capacities and vulnerabilities constituted a “benign neglect” that would condemn island nations to “certain extinction.” In this context, climate change is not simply an unintended byproduct of colonial history, but an ongoing act of imperial violence.
Looking at the COP as a process of slow violence raises questions about the meaning of climate justice in the context of the UN system. In her coverage of Israel’s 1962 prosecution of Nazi SS commander Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt reflected on the basic juridical problem at the heart of the trial: to what extent could criminal law provide justice for the kind of “administrative massacre” perpetrated by the German state bureaucracy?
In the final paragraphs of her postscript to the trial report, Arendt distinguished between the notion of individual guilt and the fact of political responsibility, which “every government assumes . . . for the deeds and misdeeds of its predecessor and every nation for the deeds and misdeeds of its past.”
“It is quite conceivable,” she argued, “that certain political responsibilities among nations might some day be adjudicated in an international court; what is inconceivable is that such a court would be a criminal tribunal which pronounces on the guilt or innocence of individuals.”
Based on the process in Paris, such an institution would not be the UNFCCC, either. Through the principle of differentiation based on historical emissions, the UNFCCC establishes this notion of political responsibility as the basis for an international legal framework for contending with climate change. Nevertheless, the reality of international negotiations means that it falls far short of holding Parties accountable to this in practice.
If justice requires the capacity to judge, to allocate responsibility for wrongdoing, how is climate justice to be achieved in an institution that requires the consent of those who bear the lion’s share of that responsibility? What does the promise of a “just transition,” relegated now to the non-operative preamble of the text, mean without the ability to enforce that justice?
The lesson from COP21, as a political process and spectacle, is not only that our international institutions remain woefully inadequate for facing the structural violence that underpins modern life. Arendt highlights how the performance of justice, by failing to confront its own limitations, risks perpetuating the atrocities it seeks to address. The COP21 was nothing if not such a performance, in which the language of “climate justice” was invoked by heads of state and delegates from rich countries and poor alike.
The ongoing violence of climate change demands that, rather than seeking justice in an institution fundamentally incapable of delivering it, we confront the question inspired by Nixon. How do we create institutions that hold actors responsible for “a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all”?
The Paris Agreement is not an outcome to be celebrated or rejected, but a series of foot- and handholds along a path that remains a steep climb.
The presence of loss and damage, the up-front acknowledgement of differentiation, the mandated reporting and updating of national contributions every five years, and the mention of a 1.5 Celsius temperature limit all provide imperfect tools with which to demand state policy that would make the targets meaningful.
All of these tools, as Kate Aronoff has noted, are the results of years of struggle, and all of them will continue to be grasped by activists at the forefront of that struggle. As Carroll Muffett, president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental law, put it:
It’s simply easier [if the mention of human rights is] in the operative text; but I can tell you, lawyers like me, and lawyers around the world, will be taking those existing rights, they’ll be taking this preamble, and they’ll be taking every word of this text against any party who tries to block human rights.
Because it’s international in scope, the agreement can provide a common point of gravity among a diversity of local movements on the front lines of the struggle to keep fossil fuels in the ground, to address climate-related displacement, and to prevent land grabbing under the guise of sustainable development.
Much of this will have to happen at the national or sub-national level, as it is in domestic law where the goals articulated in the INDCs will or will not take legal form. With the recognition that “the legalities standing in the way of justice” demand that environmental activists, labor unions, indigenous movements, and coalitions of climate-vulnerable peoples continue to take climate justice into their own hands, the Paris agreement may provide a framework for strengthening existing solidarities and forming new ones.
[ THE CONCLUSION OF THIS ARTICLE IS IN OUR OPINION: }
There is a danger, however, that the COP process itself, in its attritional slowness, will drain vital energy and resources from efforts to build more effective climate justice institutions. Without rejecting the international process as simply dysfunctional, we should be wary of how its particular functions can absorb and redirect activist energy that might be better spent elsewhere.
As Sarah Bracking and M. K. Dorsey caution, “having an inflated and not very well proved faith in the ability for supranational structures to change our future . . . detracts from efforts to build it ourselves in the everyday now.” In these efforts, the Paris Agreement might be one more tool in the shed, but only if it is taken up with the understanding that the institutions capable of delivering on climate justice are yet to be built.
SEDITION is the word not yet uttered by President Obama. Those in the US Senate that call for the postponement of the discussion of a sitting US President’s submission of his choice for the Nation’s Supreme Court commit an act of Sedition that asks for their being secured in jail. Mr. President – this is not COMEDY – this is SEDITION!
Typically, sedition is considered a subversive act, and the overt acts that may be prosecutable under sedition laws vary from one legal code to another. Where the history of these legal codes has been traced, there is also a record of the change in the definition of the elements constituting sedition at certain points in history. This overview has served to develop a sociological definition of sedition as well, within the study of state persecution.
The term sedition in its modern meaning first appeared in the Elizabethan Era (c. 1590) as the “notion of inciting by words or writings disaffection towards the state or constituted authority”.
We are amazed that the word SEDITION was not mentioned yet in Washington. Is this a sign of White House weakness?
The Constitution obligates a sitting President to submit to the Senate’s Consent the name of his choice for te US Supreme Court of Justice, and the Senate is obligated by the Constitution to pick up and discuss this appointee. This is crystal clear in the Constitution.
The call by a Senator saying that the Senate should not pick up and discuss the sitting President’s submission is tantamount to the non-recognition of the Presidential powers and as such an act of SEDITION that calls for the jailing of such a Senator – even if he plays at competing in his party’s presidential primaries; his non recognition of the Constitutional obligations of the Presidency disqualify him for the job anyway.
As such, we find too nice – and even weak – the following report from Washington:
President Barack Obama vowed on Tuesday to name an “indisputably” qualified Supreme Court nominee and lashed out at Republicans who he said demand a strict interpretation of the Constitution — except regarding his right to propose a new justice.
“The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now,” Obama said during his first press conference since Scalia’s passing over the weekend.
“I am amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there,” he said. “I am going to present somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat and any fair minded person, even somebody who disagreed with my politics would say would serve with honor and integrity on the court.”
He added: “Your job doesn’t stop until you are voted out or until your term expires.”
The Supreme Court nomination battle is putting control of the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court on the line this November. Democrats hope that voters will consider the GOP’s refusal to undertake that process as a sign of obstruction and overreach that could cause a backlash against Republicans and help Democrats take back the Senate.
In his news conference, the President bemoaned what he styled as the wider sweep of Republican obstructionism in the Senate which he said threatened the proper functioning of nation’s political institutions.
“This is the Supreme Court and it’s going to get some attention. We have to ask ourselves as a society, a fundamental question, are we able to still make this democracy work the way it’s supposed to, the way our founders envisioned it?” Obama asked.
He challenged anyone who adheres to a strict reading of the Constitution to come up with a reason why his nominee did not at least deserve a hearing.
YES – mentioning here SEDITION could perhaps help focus Americans’ attention is what we think could get people to think. Jailing a Senator or two would really enhance the debate going into this year’s elections – at least clean up the Senate’s floor.
A few hours later:
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the 82-year-old Iowa Republican who heads the Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that he may be open to holding hearings on Obama’s nominee.
“I would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions…. In other words, take it a step at a time,” he told radio reporters in Iowa.
Three days earlier, Grassley had insisted the “standard practice” was to not confirm new Supreme Court justices in an election year. “It only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president” in November, he said.
Legal experts, however, cite more than half a dozen examples since 1900 of justices being confirmed during a presidential election year.
“Every single senator has a right to vote no on any given nominee,” he said in a statement. “But the wisdom of the Founding Fathers dictates that we should go through the full vetting and confirmation process so that we and the nation can determine whether those candidates are out of the mainstream in this ideological era.”
The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that Scalia’s body would lie in repose in the Great Hall of the court Friday. His funeral Mass will be held Saturday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
Above produced ONE DECENT REPUBLICAN SENATOR – Sen. THOM TILLIS of North Carolina who warned that if fellow Republicans rejected an Obama nominee “sight unseen,” they would “fall into the trap of being obstructionists.”
On the top of the rejectionist heap are the two Senators that take part in the competition to become next US President – Rubio & Cruz.
The first talking already in terms of being the next President that will replace also the other octogenarians on the Supreme Court Bench, and the other one who clearly has a personal interest in picking his Supreme Court Justice of his choice – because his running for President is in open question – as he was born in Canada, though of a US citizen mother. In case he wins the Presidency because his extreme right-wing views on everything – his right to enter the White House will be thrown before the US Supreme Court of Justice called to interpret the Constitution and conventional US law in the matter of foreign birth. A process that will take most of his first year and will depend on the composition of the court.
From the US Government run Colorado based – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) – Ms. Victoria Healey goes to the Abu Dhabi IRENA meeting in order to stimulate governments’ interest in implementing their PARIS COMMITTMENTS.
In a letter to all IISD readers of the Clean Energy List, Ms. Victoria Healey, the Project Leader at US NREL writes:
About the Renewable Energy Policy Advice Network, the Clean Energy Finance Solutions Center, and the Clean Energy Solutions Center:
The Clean Energy Solutions Center and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) joined forces in 2013 to launch the Renewable Energy Policy Advice Network (REPAN)—a collaboration that leverages both organizations’ resources by coordinating a global network of experts and practitioners to help countries design and implement renewable energy policies and programs. To learn more visit cleanenergysolutions.org/expert/…
The Clean Energy Finance Solutions Center of NREL assists governments and practitioners with identifying appropriate finance mechanisms and designing and implementing policies to reduce risk and encourage private sector investment; helping to achieve the transition to clean energy at the speed and scale necessary to meet local development needs and address global challenges. The CEFSC is an expanded and dedicated resource that is part of the Clean Energy Solutions Center, a Clean Energy Ministerial initiative that helps governments design and adopt policies and programs that support deployment of clean energy technologies.
To learn more about how these initiatives can assist in meeting countries’ clean energy objectives, please visit cleanenergysolutions.org and finance.cleanenergysolutions.org…, and follow us on Facebook www.facebook.com/CleanEnergySolu… and Twitter twitter.com/Clean_Energy_SC
We wrote our own assessment of the so called Paris Agreement – this after we first submitted it to the OUTREACH MAGAZINE for their final issue of the conference – the evaluation and summary issue.
The problem with most assessments that find shortcomings with that agreement comes from the fact that they are authored by peple that were involved in the UN and its conferences that produced absolute nothing and wasted us 20 years. THey were chasing some elusive and impossible dream to get all the cats and dogs to find a meaningful way by consensus on how to handle the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
We pick here the assessment we got from Mr. Gleckman now fron Maine and Chappaqua, New York.
He was involved – as he says – via the UNFCCC as Former, Senior Advisor to UNFCCC at the Copenhagen COP15; and was
The approach he represents is the one that asks for that elusive legal binding agreement that we know we cannot get. So President Obama settled to stay with the voluntary promises by governments – even he knew they will not add up to what is needed. But he also banks correctly on Civil Society to come out from the UN basement and in full daylight demand governments’ honesty and the increase of the voluntary promises to the true needed levels. The first swallow of this kind was the Patrick Sciarratta led rebellion of Civil Society, backed by six UN Member States, against the negatively oriented UN DPI. Patrick succeeded and others will as well. I pot here the Gleckman letter and hope our readers will fill in the voids.
Seven questions about the ‘successful’ Paris COP
A good number of commentators on the Paris COP have shared views that could be summarized as “COP was a success-but.” Others have appraised the COP as a complete ‘success’ or a fraud .
The ‘success but’ message depends heavily what criteria one has for judging a successful outcome of an international negotiation.
Clearly some countries, UN-system, and some media commentators, have domestic and international rationales for declaring a ‘success’ in Paris – even it is just the act of concluding an agreement irrespective of the contents of the agreement, or whether it actually changes in the world for the better.
The following questions look at the definition of success but in different ways. They are intended to challenge a number of the presumptions behind the assessment of ‘success but’ advocates.
1. Goals and reality: a profound gap – The COP formally adopted a below 2 degree goal and de facto approved a 3.7 degree package of intended nationally determined contributions.
Why is so much post-COP attention on the goal and not on the planet instability of what Governments accepted? Or put in another way should the outcome of the meeting be called the Paris 1.5 degree COP or the Paris 3.7 degree COP ?
2. Free riders galore : – The intended nationally determined contributions are only promises about the future.
Based on the COP outcome, what arguments could be made to a Government that its best short-term economic and political interest is not to cut its emissions and quietly expand its existing industrial system and let everyone else make the GHG cuts ?
3. Five year fictions : Each year that mitigation cuts are postponed means that a higher and sharper level of cuts are needed to bring the carbon budget down to a less than 2.0 degree goal.
If governments in 2015 could formally adopt a below 2 degrees goal with the knowledge that the aggregate impact of the declared nationally determined contributions come to 3.7 degrees, what evidence is there that they would they have even greater political willingness for sharply increased mitigation cuts at five year stocktakings ?
4. A fantastic non-enforcement system : Under most bilateral investment treaties, MNCs can file complaints before a binding arbitration panel that an action taken by a specific Government reduced their expected level of profitability and that the foreign investor should be compensated by that Governments for damages.
As the Paris Agreement invites voluntary national contributions, what arguments can a Government use to defend itself before a binding arbitration panel from a MNC which seeks compensation for loss expected income ?
Climate change does not exist in a vacuum – In the Paris negotiations a good number of important policy areas were deleted by the chairs and host government from the final text of the Paris Agreement.
Why did the Paris COP disconnect climate change from the management of oceans, human rights, gender, workers, mountains, health effects, oil and gas subsidies, international transport emission, climate migrants, carbon black, carbon budget, historical responsibility, the trade regime, agricultural destabilization, etc ?
6. Financial support – now you see it and now you don’t – One outcome of the Copenhagen process five years ago was a commitment to have $100 billion available for developing countries by 2020. Since Copenhagen Governments have recognized that annual costs from 2020 are likely to be 3-5 times larger than the $100 billion ‘commitment’
Is there a greater commitment to have money available for developing countries to reduce GHG emission or prepared for the impacts of climate change in the Paris Agreement than in the ‘failed’ Copenhagen Accord ?
7. Voluntarism, voluntarism – where is the rule of law -
Under the Paris Agreement (and under the Copenhagen Accord) Governments were authorized to submit their voluntary national goal posts and GHG reducing plans to the UNFCCC. Under the Paris Agreement Governments agreed to have a 5 year stocktaking of these plans without any process to adapt these plans to meet the less than 2 degree goal.
Does the practice of voluntary national implementation included in the Paris Agreement enhance or undermine the future development of international rule of law in other environmental, social, human rights and economic regimes?
Al Gore’s heart was in the right place but his political know-how questionable and his leadership caused harm to his cause. Later on, in his run for the Presidency, Al Gore found himself squeezed between his own decision not to let Clinton help him – and the Green ‘Naderites’ that found him lacking in part because of the failure to find support for the Kyoto Protocol. President Obama was well familiar with the two great mistakes of Al Gore: 1) The fact that he did not understand that the Senators will never allow for a U.S. unilateral decrease in emissions if the growth of China and other countries will not bear a proportion of the responsibility. 2) That you must not speak of a legally binding international agreement because you really do not want to risk a vote in the Senate.
Looking back at the history of sustainable development and climate change, one has to start at the Rio Summit of 1992 with its high point in Agenda 21 and then go to COP1 of the UNFCCC in Berlin (1995) and jump to Kyoto (1997), followed by the empty years of the G.W. Bush/Cheney administration – until we reach the Copenhagen COP15 of 2009. That is when newly elected President Obama made his first move by going to Beijing on his way to the Conference in an attempt to make inroads with China. The Chinese agreed for the first time that they have grown to the point that they ought to worry about the effect of their emissions on the global environment and climate – but they were not ready to take the plunge without sharing this with the other BASIC countries – Brazil, India and South Africa. It took six more years for that first effort by President Obama to bear the fruits of the Paris COP21. Now the subject has opened up with nearly all countries having made voluntary commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and agreed to report their achievements on a cyclical basis. It is obvious the present commitments are only a first step in the right direction; it is anticipated that negotiations will now be possible between participating countries to further increase their efforts to decrease emissions. But one must start somewhere and Obama led to this starting position. The Senate cannot undo this.
The fact that in the meantime we saw the evolution of a sizable middle class in China that demands clean air has induced President Xi to be cooperative, but he still must keep an image of a developing country in his relationships with the old industrialized world and the lesser developed states. He is therefore slow in accepting outside monitoring of his forthcoming efforts – something that relates extremely well with another lesson President Obama has learned from Al Gore’s mistakes. President Obama does not want a strict legally binding agreement in his fight to move the world onto a path of slowing the effects of climate change. Why should he be interested in being undone by a Republican Senate obstructionist rejection?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pincas Jawetz, Editor of SustainabiliTank.info Media and former Consultant on Energy Policy.
for the complete issue of OUTREACH MAGAZINE please look at google for “OUTREACH MAGAZINE ISSUE OF December 18, 2015″
Please join us on September 1 as the Global Energy Efficiency Accelerator platform hosts a webinar on the opportunities to use building efficiency and district energy in combination to create more sustainable cities.
This webinar of the SE4ALL Global Energy Efficiency Accelerator partnership is jointly hosted by World Resources Institute (WRI), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability. Additional information on the webinar is included below and in the attached document.
Please feel free to share information about this webinar with your colleagues and partners. The primary audience for the webinar is local governments, but it is open to a general audience.
Combining Building Efficiency and District Energy for More Sustainable Cities: A Sustainable Energy for All webinar
Date: Tuesday, 1 September 2015
Times: 10:00-11:30 CEST
Location: Video conference/webinar
DTU – Dept. of Management Engineering
Xiao Wang is DTU Coordinator for
Email: xwang at dtu.dk
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US Independence of Oil Imports is Clearly a Desirable Goal, but Caving In to the Oil Barrons by Letting them Drill in the Arctic Harms US Global Goals and the Whole World. The Sierra Club promisses to fight such moves by the Obama Administration and Shell Oil Co.
Coming Clean – The blog of Executive Director Michael Brune, The Sierra Club.
So why has the administration allowed things to go this far? If this were a wedding with a reluctant bridegroom, we’d be listening to the minister clear his throat and gaze out over the congregation. I don’t know. Maybe, even though they know this is a bad idea, they just don’t have the guts to call it off.
But you know what? That’s the wrong analogy. What’s about to happen in the Chukchi Sea is more like a blind date than a shotgun wedding. Even if Shell manages to get its act together with its exploratory drilling this summer, it will still need approval for commercial drilling, and it will be even harder to make a case that such drilling can be done safely. Shell would also need to install hundreds of miles of pipeline, both on the seafloor and dry land. The process could take a decade or more, and every step along the way, we have opportunities to make the case that clean energy is better for our country and our planet. And the longer this drags on, the more obvious it will be that drilling in Arctic waters is an unnecessary invitation to disaster.
We will not rest until President Obama cancels all drilling and future leases and protects the Arctic Ocean.
“Water is the lifeblood of healthy people and healthy economies” – President Obama knows this and promisses to act. The Republican House opposes this as they side with those farmers, property developers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers and a national association of golf course owners, that reject the public good if it hurts their pockets.
Politics // The New York Times
Obama Set to Strengthen Federal Role in Clean Water Regulation.
By CORAL DAVENPORT, MAY 22, 2015
The Obama administration is expected in the coming days to announce a major clean water regulation that would restore the federal government’s authority to limit pollution in the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands.
Environmentalists have praised the new rule, calling it an important step that would lead to significantly cleaner natural bodies of water and healthier drinking water.
But it has attracted fierce opposition from several business interests, including farmers, property developers, fertilizer and pesticide makers, oil and gas producers and a national association of golf course owners. Opponents contend that the rule would stifle economic growth and intrude on property owners’ rights.
Republicans in Congress point to the rule as another example of what they call executive overreach by the Obama administration. Already, they are advancing legislation on Capitol Hill meant to block or delay the rule.
Gina McCarthy, above, the E.P.A. administrator, who is expected to release the final version of a new rule intended to protect the nation’s drinking water this week.
Critics Hear E.P.A.’s Voice in ‘Public Comments’ MAY 18, 2015
As head of Washington’s water department, George Hawkins, is on the scene every time a major sewer or water line breaks.
Toxic Waters: Clean Water Laws Are Neglected, at a Cost in SufferingSEPT. 12, 2009
The mouth of Avondale Creek in Alabama, into which a pipe maker dumped oil, lead and zinc. A court ruling made the waterway exempt from the Clean Water Act.
Toxic Waters: Rulings Restrict Clean Water Act, Hampering E.P.A.FEB. 28, 2010
The water system in Ramsey, N.J., has illegal concentrations of arsenic and the solvent tetrachloroethylene, both linked to cancer.
Millions in U.S. Drink Contaminated Water, Records Show, DEC. 7, 2009
The announcement of the rule could come as soon as Friday. If not, it is likely to happen next week, people with knowledge of the plans said.
Photo – Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, says a new clean water rule is intended “to protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction.”
This summer, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release a final set of rules intended to combat climate change, by limiting greenhouse gas pollution from power plants. Mr. Obama is also expected to announce in the coming year that he will put vast swaths of public land off limits to energy exploration and other development.
“Water is the lifeblood of healthy people and healthy economies,” Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A.’s administrator, wrote in an April blog post promoting the water rule. “We have a duty to protect it. That’s why E.P.A. and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are finalizing a Clean Water Rule later this spring to protect critical streams and wetlands that are currently vulnerable to pollution and destruction.”
But even as E.P.A. staff worked this month to finish the rule, the House passed a bill to block it. The Senate is moving forward with a bill that would require the agency to fundamentally revamp the rule.
“Under this outrageously broad new rule, Washington bureaucrats would now have a say in how farmers, and ranchers, and families use their own property,” said Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming and the chief author of the Senate bill.
“It would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate private property just based on things like whether it’s used by animals or birds, or even insects,” he said.
“This rule,” he added, “is not designed to protect the traditional waters of the United States. It is designed to expand the power of Washington bureaucrats.”
The E.P.A. and the Army Corps of Engineers jointly proposed the rule, known as Waters of the U.S., last March. The agency has held more than 400 meetings about it with outside groups and read more than one million public comments as it wrote the final language.
The rule is being issued under the 1972 Clean Water Act, which gave the federal government broad authority to limit pollution in major water bodies, like Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River and Puget Sound, as well as streams and wetlands that drain into larger waters.
But two Supreme Court decisions related to clean water protection, in 2001 and in 2006, created legal confusion about whether the federal government had the authority to regulate the smaller streams and headwaters, and about other water sources such as wetlands.
E.P.A. officials say the new rule will clarify that authority, allowing the government to once again limit pollution in those smaller bodies of water — although it does not restore the full scope of regulatory authority granted by the 1972 law.
The E.P.A. also contends that the new rule will not give it the authority to regulate additional waters that had not been covered under the 1972 law. People familiar with the rule say it will apply to about 60 percent of the nation’s waters.
“Until now, major bodies of water were protected under the law,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, a spokeswoman for Environment America, an advocacy group. “But they can’t be fully protected unless the streams that flow into them are also protected.”
The rule will also limit pollution in groundwater and other sources of drinking water. Polluted groundwater is now chemically treated before being used as drinking water.
“We could spend a lot of money to massively treat the water that we drink, but it makes a lot more sense to protect the source,” Ms. Ouzts said.
Farmers fear that the rule could impose major new costs and burdens, requiring them to pay fees for environmental assessments and to obtain permits just to till the soil near gullies, ditches or dry streambeds where water flows only when it rains. A permit is required for any activity, like farming or construction, that creates a discharge into a body of water covered under the Clean Water Act or affects the health of it, like filling in a wetland or blocking a stream.
“It’s going to cause a nightmare for farmers,” said Don Parrish, the senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“Our members own the majority of the landscape that’s going to be impacted by this,” he said. “It’s going to make their land, the most valuable thing they possess, less valuable. It could reduce the value of some farmland by as much as 40 percent. If you want to build a home, if you want to grow food, if you want a job to go with that clean water, you have to ask E.P.A. for it.”
The lobbying fight over the rule has also generated a public-relations battle over social media.
The Deck is not a plain playing field:
In its protest of the rule, the American Farm Bureau Federation started a social media campaign, using the Twitter hashtag #DitchTheRule, to urge farmers and others to push the E.P.A. to abandon or revamp the rule. The E.P.A., in response, created a campaign with the hashtag #DitchTheMyth, urging people to speak out in favor of the rule. But some legal experts contend that campaign might have tested the limits of federal lobbying laws, which prohibit a government agency from engaging in grass-roots lobbying for proposed policies or legislation.