Over the last month, U.N. agencies, Member States and civil society groups have been busy: they made well over 600 contributions toward Rio+20, the next United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (U.N. CSD), to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The inputs submitted by the stakeholders will be assembled into a compilation document by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), where a Rio+20 Dedicated Secretariat has been established to support the U.N. CSD bureau in steering the preparatory process leading up to Rio+20. The compilation document will form the basis for developing the draft that will be negotiated at Rio+20.
As I said in an earlier blog, Rio+20 will mark the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit, held in the same city where heads of states came together to address what was then seen as the priority issue: environmental limits to development. If anything the situation is much worse now.
Earlier this month, not far from the site of Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Plaza in New York, a small group of people gathered; they too were engaged in a conversation about systemic change in the face of some of the challenges faced by the world today, specifically global food and water insecurity, financial crisis and climate change. IATP was invited to be a part of the “Global Transition 2012, New York Dialogue,” an effort to provide input to Rio+20 (read "Rio plus 20), an international conference scheduled to take place in Brazil next summer. Co-organized by Stakeholder Forum, New Economic Institute and New Economic Foundation, the ‘Global Transition 2012’ Initiative will use the results of this dialogue as input for its policy proposals and advocacy in the lead up to Rio+20, so that these recommendations are included in the negotiating text and final outcome document.
The Rio conference will mark the twentieth anniversary of the first Earth Summit, where heads of states came together to address what was seen as the priority issue at the time: environmental limits to development. They sought to develop a global framework to chart a path for “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (IATP participated in the first Earth Summit with a focus on environment and trade.) Sustainable Development became the buzzword in development efforts in the following decade, with the three pillars: economic, social and environmental development.
In the global climate talks agriculture is a peripheral issue, despite the serious impacts rising temperatures will have on crop production worldwide and significant emissions that come from the agriculture sector. Negotiations on agriculture within the UNFCCC arena are currently taking place under the heading “Cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions in order to enhance the implementation of Article 4, paragraph 1(c), of the Convention,” along with the topic of bunker fuels – fuels used in aviation and shipping.
The meeting in Panama completed over the weekend was the last before the next Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Durban, South Africa in December. Panama saw little progress on the issue of agriculture, as most of the meeting was devoted to procedural maneuvering. A group of countries (India, Brazil, China, South Africa, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Uruguay, Egypt, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador and Nicaragua) started the week’s negotiations by proposing text for the general framework provisions of the document – general framework text that would be applicable to any of the sectors that could be considered under this particular heading: transport, waste management, energy, agriculture, forest, and industry.
The proposal was met with some consternation on the part of several developed countries, the U.S., Canada and New Zealand in particular, who are keen to establish a work program on agriculture under the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). Their enthusiasm for an agriculture work program is not shared by most developing countries, reflected by the emphasis they placed during the week on negotiating the general framework text, rather than the agriculture-related portion of the document.
IATP’s Karen Hansen-Kuhn was in Panama City last week for negotiations on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Climate change delegates and advocates from around the world were in Panama last week to make progress on the UN climate talks before the Durban Conference of Parties in December. They debated a lot of tough issues, especially how to pay for climate change adaptation and mitigation in an era of tight budgets. Carbon markets have been held out as a way to “leverage” private sector funds for deforestation, energy and other much needed projects. Last year, the World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund launched the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project, as a pilot project on soil carbon sequestration and to bring agriculture into carbon markets. IATP, ActionAid and the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) held a packed side event at the Panama talks to challenge that idea and refocus the debate on the urgency of finding realistic solutions to climate chaos and food production.
Tomorrow, IATP will join millions of people in 176 countries in Moving Planet, a coordinated a day of activities to advocate for a sharp reduction of greenhouse gases and other sustainable solutions to climate change. The activities will range from bike marches, prayer services, workshops, lectures, presentations of petitions, press releases and concerts. IATP will be at a Moving Planet event on the grounds of Minnesota’s state capitol building in St. Paul.
One of the issues we’ll be talking about there will be finance: how do we pay for a global shift toward a low carbon economy? Over the past three years, IATP has focused on problems with using carbon emissions markets to address climate change, particularly as these markets relate to agriculture. Earlier this month, we published our analysis of the World Bank’s model project in Kenya for reducing greenhouse gases. The project would pay farmers an average of one dollar per year for 20 years to practice Sustainable Agricultural Land Management to sequester carbon emissions in soil. The World Bank would buy the results of the farmers’ work at $4 per metric ton of carbon emissions, converted into carbon emission offset credits to be sold to major polluters to help them comply with greenhouse gas caps without having to actually reduce their own pollution. Because the science of measuring soil carbon is fraught with uncertainties, the World Bank discounts 60 percent of the result of the farmers’ work, although the carbon accountants doing the monitoring and verification of that work will be paid well and in full.
It is axiomatic that negotiations successful for all sides require good faith. It would be inaccurate to say that good faith was completely absent during the climate change negotiations, June 6–17 in Bonn, Germany. Nearly two weeks of negotiations among the contact group for Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) produced a draft decision text to enhance action on adapting to climate change. There was progress on agreeing to the terms for authorizing an invitation to host the Climate Technology Center and Network. The institutions chosen by the Conference of Parties (CoP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will implement the terms of the Technology Mechanism decided at the CoP in Cancún, Mexico in 2010. The Center and Network will respond to developing country requests for needs assessments and technology options advice to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gases. However, the Technology Mechanism will not pay for transfer of technologies to developing countries, as is required by Article 4.5 of the convention.
As the UNFCCC negotiations came to a close Friday evening (June 17) in Bonn, the stage was set for a heated fight on agriculture as governments head to Durban for COP 17. South Africa, as well as the United States, have indicated that they would like to see agriculture as a “deliverable” in Durban.
There are nonetheless numerous issues of contention to be resolved: what the defining focus of agriculture should be in the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA ) under the negotiating agenda “cross-sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions” (linked to the Convention Article 4, para (c)); whether parties will agree to launch an agriculture work program in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) and when; if so, what the scope of prioritizing adaptation and food security would be; and what role carbon markets and agriculture offsets will play in emissions reductions and accounting loopholes.
Lake Erie. That’s how big this year’s dead zone—the largest ever—in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be, according to National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration predictions.
Dead zones (aka hypoxic zones) are low-oxygen aquatic areas that can no longer support life. They form when algal blooms, fed by nutrient pollution, eat up all available oxygen. Much of this pollution enters the water far upstream in the form of nutrient run-off from farm fields. For the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the corn and soybean fields of the Upper Mississippi River Basin that are the primary nutrient contributors.
There are lots of elements that contribute to dead zone formation, but this year’s record-breaker is the result of three primary factors:
The two-week climate talks in Bonn are supposed to be winding down tomorrow. Some countries will take up the issue of agriculture again in informal sessions closed to observers. During week one, heated debates took place about what to “do” with agriculture in the UNFCCC. In the Cancún final decision at COP 16, the agriculture chapter was taken out of the track known as Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA). However, this year, countries such as New Zealand, Canada and Switzerland have been pushing to bring it back. New Zealand and Canada are major agriculture exporters and would like to see the topic of agriculture emissions handled with care. One area of contention, though not openly shared, is livestock-related emissions and competition with major meat exporters such as Argentina and Brazil.
Later this month, carbon market investors will gather in Nairobi at a meeting hosted by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation. The meeting will connect heavy hitters in the carbon market world like Barclays Bank, JP Morgan, and the German bank KfW with African project managers.
Part of the reason for the meeting is the March 24 launch of the Africa Carbon Exchange (ACX). The ACX is positioning itself as the hub of climate change business on the African continent. But as IATP's Shefali Sharma writes in a new commentary, "existing and attempted carbon emissions exchanges in Europe and the United States have suffered one blow after another—fraud, carbon credit theft, poor legislative design, even profits for some major polluters—all at the expense of ordinary citizens and the environment." Due to these failures, Bloomberg recently characterized carbon trading as "a backwater of the global commodities market."
Shefali writes, "There is a real danger that carbon offsets will become a major policy distraction and capital diversion from the real climate change challenges that Africa faces: the urgent task of climate change adaptation and ensuring resilience of communities." You can read the full commentary here.