Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An American and Parisian View on Senator Kerry's Speech

This post is a collaboration. Two heads are significantly more insightful than one.

Hayssam Hoballah, is masters student studying Energy, Economics and Climate Economics, at Paris Dauphine University is representing Master Energy, Finance, Carbon(EFC) (an affiliation with his university) at Copenhagen.

We both attended U.S. Senator Kerry lecture: the critical role of a global deal in advancing U.S. legislation.

Beneath is a collaborative blog on our review/take of the speech made by Senator Kerry.
Also, He invites us to check out their delegation's link Here

Here are a few highlights of Senator John Kerry's speech at his side-event on the critical role of a global deal in advancing U.S. legislation

Yvo de Boer introduced the session by saying that America had a huge burden on climate and that the world was waiting for the Senate process to move forward.

Senator Kerry continued on saying that for 17 years since Kyoto , there has been new challenges on the path of Copenhagen but there always remained two constants:

  • The urgency of science saying that we must act has always remained true
  • We as a group of peoples have remained mobilized.

In 1992, the U.S. president -George Bush Senior - took the time to go to the Earth Conference of Rio but he recognized after that, the US failed to lead, mislead the debate and let everyone down. This time though, is a promise of a new beginning. He admitted though that 17 years is a very long time to pursue what he called an urgent goal. "But history reminds us that sometimes urgent matters take time." To illustrate this claim, he quoted a Senator on the hundred-year long conflict in Northern Ireland and the immense efforts that were needed to achieve peace: "We had 700 days of failure and 1 day of success." That's enough to make a difference.

“Urgency of science that tells us we must act.” Climate science reflects a catalyst that readily accepts the flaws in a try and error system. However, as Senator Kerry pointed out, varied organizations have put forth scientifically peer-reviewed journals that point towards devastating effects of climate change, and cannot be disregarded. Science acts on observations and collection of data. Kerry affirms this and states that the United States' position on environmental climate policy is in "accordance with scientific evidence of global climate change."

Regarding this, he boldly outlined that, “Amateur hour is over, it’s time for science fact to trump science fiction.” By sending a strong message to climate skeptics, policy decisions in the upcoming days can be made according to observable fact, and not a system of beliefs or doctrines.

He believes that we jointly accepted the science in 1992 by ratifying the UNFCCC: "No one has the privilege of being half-pregnant, either you are, either you’re not. You can’t accept science to tell you what’s happening and then reject what science tells you has to be done to limit climate change."

He put forth that in the last few days, some flagship longtime climate change deniers in U.S. politics had changed their position. And to those who were still refusing the evidence, he threw: "prove us wrong or stand down". "Prove that the pollution that we’re putting in the atmosphere is not harmful. Prove that the oceans are not rising, that ice caps are not melting, that the deserts are not advancing. Well, good luck!" As prominent photographer Jason Balog stated today in a pictorial presentation on Glacial recession globally, "Its not a problem with economy and technology, its a problem with perception and reality."

"As of now," he continued, "our best effort might limit us to 3.9°C rise in T°C. But no individual country and none of us collectively are doing enough. The next 3 days are crucial because we need to send a signal to the marketplace that will forever change the patterns of the free market."

In 1992, there were only 26 sites on the Internet. Now, when you type Copenhagen, it gives 46M results: this is a revolution...

He estimates that over "half of the U.S. economy is already ready to implement emission cuts and that more than a thousand U.S. mayors are already preparing for that." CHECK QUOTE This seems a blanket statement consider slow policy reform and unity within the United States. However, Kerry commited to emission reductions on behalf of US current policy reform. Beginning in January 2010 Kerry stated that "we have made the single largest investment in clean energy in our nation’s history: eighty billion dollars which will result directly in emissions reductions." The conference is hinged on agreements made between developed and developing nations. When the Energy Secretary of the USA, Steven Chu, announced "a $350 million dollar clean energy fund for advanced economies to help pay for wind, solar, and efficiency projects in the developing world." the step is a forward one. However, when juxtaposed against other USA investments like "$140B on TARP, 700B in Iraq, 240B in Afghanistan, " this gesture in research and development for energy technologies seems nominal and fragile in comparison.

Yet, Kerry continues the statement by asserting that : "We’re just talking about a small fraction of that to fight climate change [referring to investment made in energy sector] We must not walk back on it."

He noted as a great advancement the EPA's recent stance taken last week in Washington, DC: “If Congress won’t legislate, the EPA will regulate”. He didn't mention though the other recent statement of the EPA regarding the CO2 emissions being officially considered as harmful to the public health... The reason for this ommission might be that it is not clear yet what can be done at this level in terms of health regulation.

Senator Kerry continued on by recalling a statement that was made two years ago at the COP13 in Bali, by the Papua New Guinea spokesman, Kevin Conrad, representing one of the smallest and poorest country’s represented at the conference, who challenged the U.S through this short speech that has since then become world famous :

There is an old saying “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”. And I would ask the United States, we ask for your leadership, we seek your leadership, but if for some reason you are not willing to lead, then please, leave it to the rest of us, please get out of the way.”

That statement was certainly part of the reason why the U.S. ended up agreeing in Bali about five minutes after that statement was made for a pact that provided for the Bali negotiating round to conclude in 2009, here in Copenhagen on a binding agreement to cut down GHG emissions.

And here is Senator Kerry's take on the extent of the journey that has been taken in Bali and the finish line where it leads: "In the coming hours and days, the world expects us to get the job done."

And here are in his opinion the barriers to that job getting done:

  • Shared responsibility implies shared information amongst countries and since trust is based on transparency, we need to have transparency. "We have nuclear proliferation treaties and trade agreements. On those pacts, many countries have thrived and reached economic development. Today we need to agree on this core issue of transparency to thrive all together on [the] climate change [struggle];"
  • "Some countries shouldn't dump high carbon content on other markets", referring obviously to China even though he didn't mention them namely;
  • "Even if tough steps are taken by the U.S to curb down their emissions, forward efforts can be eclipsed by other emerging nations", referring once again to China and the likes.

He remained on the official position of the U.S since Kyoto that is that the problem of climate change cannot be adequately addressed through commitments for emissions cuts by developed countries alone but that major developing economies must likewise act.

He admitted though that "there is inconsistency in asking developing countries to develop in a different way than we did" and that "for the last 20 years, we have known of our impact and it only adds up to our responsibility: because of our inactions, it’s their land that will be less fertile…"

He continued on saying that "it is also our responsibility [now] to act upon what we know and [encourage them to] use the most modern technology"

By 2020, China’s emissions will be 40% larger than those of the U.S, which at current rates of consumption is near-impossible to support without a massive assault on global environmental capital i.e. sky, water sources, land management.

He further commented that “90% of new emerging nations are next the inescapable step to watch" as climate policy enforcers watch their every move. A few non-annex 1 countries have already put on the table some emission cut proposals to be achieved by 2020: China with a 40-45% cut in their carbon intensity (as compared to 2005), India with a 20-25% cut in their carbon intensity (as compared to 2005), Brazil with a net 36.1-39.8% emission cut (as compared to 199.

Let's remember the position before the negotiations started of the so-called BASIC coalition of four (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) lead by China : they will accept no legally binding cuts, no unsupported mitigation actions, no international monitoring of unsupported mitigation actions and no use of climate as a trade barrier.

He still believes that "China, India and Brazil have committed and that these commitments have to be part of an international agreement." In his opinion, "they broke with the precedent framework that had been agreed upon", referring to the Kyoto Protocol in an obvious attempt to underline the idea that these countries are not thinking anymore within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol and thus push the adoption of a brand new Protocol, rather than an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol. In our opinion, breaking the legislative power of an old protocol guarantees a place for new protocols to also fail... And that risk wouldn't be desirable.

Kerry also referenced environmental equity in response to rising developed nations. In order for emerging nations to compete with leading nations, their financial foot-ladder is dependent on rapid industrial growth. Therefore, financial success for these countries will mean an exploitation of externalities. As a quick review...externalities are goods/services not traditionally valued on the market. This is a throw-back to the new economic argument ("new" being past few decades) of the Kuzent's Curve. Depicting a direct relationship between income and environmental protection the Kuzent’s Curve verifies that at higher levels of income, environmental capita is prized and at lower levels of income environmental destruction is guaranteed. It is ethically unfair to ask developing nations to look elsewhere for economic stability. The luxury of a capitalism-based market is not one that the world's resources can withstand if every country is racing towards the same finish-line of global wealth and security.

He believes that there is a real synergy in Copenhagen and that "with a successful deal here in Copenhagen, next year, the United States Congress—House and Senate—will pass comprehensive energy/climate legislation that will reduce America’s emissions". He stated that "more and more businesses and legislators are being convinced that the only way to get emission reductions is to put a price on GHG emissions and that every country sets itself targets". He also said that REDD should play an important role in this deal.

He believes also that we are reaching the limits of what anyone can do alone: “if we go forwards, will others follow?” "[Everyone's] emotions [here in Copenhagen] can run high and even if we might be tempted to walk away from each other, we can’t afford to do so".

He pointed out the responsability the U.S. had to save the lives of the millions who they are forced to suffer because of the unwillingness of wealthy nations to change their status quo: "when desert is creeping into East Africa [...] people from the Maldives are forced to leave their land, our grandchildren grow up in a world we don't recognize, then it’s a stain on our collective conscience, and a moral challenge to each of us."

Kerry concluded his speech with a warning curbed by optimism. He quoted Benjamin Franklin, "We must all hang together or, assuredly, we will all hang separately,” expressing the concern that without unity and cooperation, climate change will eventually affect us all.

Kerry commits to embracing the integrity of science. He thinks that the peoples and leaders of the world need to unite in ambition to curb current consumption rates.

He repeated that "People fail for seven hundred days and succeed for one" adding to that "People strive for 17 years and succeed for one"

"[Let’s] make Friday our day of success."

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