Think Forward blog

Climate vs the speculators

Posted December 9, 2009

In both U.S. climate legislation and within the global climate talks there are serious proposals to create a new carbon emissions derivatives market with big Wall Street speculators looking to cash in.

A new issue brief by IATP's Steve Suppan finds that the same regulatory loopholes that led to excessive speculation on commodity futures markets in 2007 and 2008—leading to big spikes in food and energy prices and riots in over 30 countries around the world—are also in place within proposals for a new carbon market. A poorly regulated carbon derivatives market could induce huge volatility within agriculture futures prices—ultimately affecting farmers and food security. Additionally, volatile carbon prices driven by speculators could delay investments in greenhouse gas–reducing technologies.

Watch the short video interview with Steve below to see how he breaks down the risks of proposed carbon derivatives markets.

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Climate inequity

Posted December 9, 2009

When negotiators arrive in Copenhagen this week, they will quickly become immersed in jargon and highly technical drafts of text. But they shouldn't lose sight of an important fact: climate change occurs in a world of extreme social and economic inequality.

That is the message of a new briefing paper by IATP's Shalini Gupta and Dr. Cecilia Martinez. The paper looks at the disproportionate role wealthy nations have had in contributing to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contrasted with the role of poorer nations and people. It also looks at who has benefited the most from GHG-intensive development patterns and who is most affected by climate change. The paper links the eradication of the Indigenous commons in the U.S. and the capture of agriculture by agribusiness to the same market-based philosophy underlying the industrial world's approach to climate change.

You can watch a short video with author Shalini Gupta below.

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Time to get arsenic out of animal feed

Posted December 8, 2009

Four years ago, IATP released test results which found that over 55 percent of uncooked chicken products in supermarkets and all 90 fast food chicken products we tested contained detectable levels of arsenic. Because of health risks associated with arsenic, we called for federal and state regulators to withdraw the approval of arsenic in animal feed.

Today, after four years of governmental inaction, IATP and the Center for Food Safety filed a legal petition with the Food and Drug Administration once again calling for the agency to act.

“Arsenic can be poisonous. Its use in animal feed, therefore, is unnecessarily risky and has not been shown to be safe given the latest science,” said IATP's David Wallinga, M.D. in a press release today. “To best protect public health, all avoidable exposures to arsenic should be eliminated. FDA can and should act.”

Here's the full petition and our 2006 report Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat.

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Agriculture change

Posted December 8, 2009

At the climate negotiations in Copenhagen there will be a lot of talk about supporting more "climate-friendly" agriculture systems and there will be a lot of debate about exactly what type of agriculture is better for the environment. Some agribusiness companies like Monsanto are aggressively pushing genetically engineered crops as part of the climate solution. IATP's Jim Kleinschmit, however, makes the case in a new issue brief that we need to shift research and investment away from genetically engineered crops and input intensive agriculture practices toward low-input, resilient agriculture systems that increase carbon sequestration in the soil and lessen our output of greenhouse gases. Agriculture systems that are both adaptive and mitigative should be given the highest priority. Such a transition would redirect government investment from proprietary genetically engineered seed and crop technologies towards enhancing traditional plant breeding and perennial systems; and shift away from large-scale confined animal feeding operations toward greater integration of livestock production with low-input cropping systems.

You can read the full issue brief and watch a short interview with Jim below.

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How U.S. climate policy treats agriculture

Posted December 8, 2009

We can expect that the U.S. government's position on agriculture at the global climate talks in Copenhagen will reflect how agriculture has been treated in climate bills being written by Congress. Thus far, Congress has seized upon agriculture and forestry-related sequestration as a key tool to reduce the country's overall greenhouse gas emissions. Thus far, legislative proposals have set no caps for agriculture emissions.

IATP's Julia Olmstead writes in a new issue brief that instead of considering agriculture in its entirety—such as what practices might be good not only for the climate, but also for farmers, consumers, the soil, air and water—U.S. climate policy reduces agriculture to a carbon storage coffer, enabling other sectors to avoid real emission reductions. The paper critiques U.S. policy proposals regarding agriculture offsets and argues for a different approach that recognizes the multifunctionality of agriculture. Such an approach would provide predictable and sufficient payments to farmers for climate-friendly practices; ensure flexibility for farmers as climate science evolves; hold agriculture accountable while accounting for scale and types of operation; and strengthen rural resilience.

You watch a video interview below with author Julia Olmstead. Julia will be in Copenhagen to report on the global climate talks.

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Will Obama be the closer in Copenhagen?

Posted December 7, 2009

Is President Barack Obama's decision to appear on the last day of climate negotiations in Copenhagen a game-changer? There certainly have been a lot of games played with expectations of the Copenhagen meeting over the past year. At the beginning of 2009, expectations were high that this would be the most important global climate meeting since Kyoto—where countries would finally agree to make substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But after talks at the October preparatory meeting in Bangkok stalled, U.S. lead negotiator John Pershing lamented that the U.S. was hamstrung in making stronger GHG-reduction commitments by Congress—which has yet to pass climate legislation. 

Obama's announcement that he'll arrive on the last day—re-enacting former Vice President Al Gore's last minute deal-making at the Kyoto talks in 1997—seems to raise the stakes for the Copenhagen meeting. But how much? Proposed GHG reductions announced by India and China seemed to have influenced Obama's decision. But Congress's inaction on climate will still limit what Obama can commit to in terms of concrete GHG-reduction targets.

So, what type of progress could be made within a non-binding political declaration without a Congressional bill? Some of the more structural issues related to a climate deal could be discussed, including aid to developing countries, who want a new global fund to help with climate-related disasters and to transition toward a low carbon economy to be managed by the United Nations, rather than the World Bank as the U.S. proposed last week. Linked to this discussion is the role of purchasing of offset credits in developing countries (often related to forest preservation) to help developed countries like the U.S. meet their GHG-reduction targets. Part of this debate could include the establishment of a secondary carbon derivatives market, see our concerns. Progress on agriculture could also be made (see our agriculture benchmarks). 

The trouble with last minute—often behind-closed-doors—deals is that they often fail in the follow-through (see Kyoto, and the WTO's never-ending Doha Round). We'll know a lot more about whether Obama's announcement has changed the game next week when negotiations begin their two-week journey.

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Sustainable ag central to climate solution

Posted December 4, 2009

Next week government representatives from around the world—including President Obama—will gather in Copenhagen to talk about how to address climate change. The focus will be on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deal with the effects of climate change. Earlier this year, agriculture became a larger part of the global climate talks.

“We cannot truly address climate change without getting it right on agriculture,” Jim Harkness, IATP's president, said in a press release. “Agriculture is a contributor to climate change, but just as importantly it profoundly affects land use around the world, and has the potential to be part of the solution. Smart climate policy for agriculture can help address hunger, support rural livelihoods, improve water quality and biodiversity, and strengthen our energy security.”

As a lead up to the Copenhagen meeting, IATP has produced a series of issue briefs covering different aspects of agriculture, climate and public policy. Each is available on our new climate page—as well as video interviews with authors, and other resources for agriculture and climate. Here's a quick review of the  issue papers:

• Agriculture and Climate—The Critical Connection, by Jim Kleinschmit, gives an overview of the science of agriculture and climate change.
• Putting Agriculture on the Global Climate Agenda, by Anne Laure Constantin, sets benchmarks for including agriculture within global climate negotiations.
• U.S. Climate Policy and Agriculture, by Julia Olmstead, reviews how agriculture is considered in U.S. legislation and makes recommendations for a better approach.
• Speculating on Carbon: The Next Toxic Asset, by Steve Suppan, analyzes how Wall Street speculators could influence agriculture and climate goals.
• Eye of the Storm: Integrated Solutions to the Climate, Agriculture and Water Crises, by Shiney Varghese, explains water’s role in the climate and agriculture crises.
• Climate Inequity, by Shalini Gupta and Dr. Cecilia Martinez, traces the historical inequities that have contributed to climate change, and proposes a more equitable climate policy.

IATP will be sending a big team to Copenhagen and blogging, videotaping and tweeting about these issues there. You can follow all the action at our climate page.

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A happy and healthy holiday season

Posted December 3, 2009

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It’s that time of year: when many shoppers are off to the stores with gift lists in search of good deals. With the holiday season upon us, the folks at the Ecology Center thought it was time to conduct a new round of testing on toys to find out which toxic chemicals, if any, are still lurking beneath the shiny packaging and promises of door-buster prices. Their third annual consumer guide was released today, in partnership with the Healthy Legacy coalition (IATP is a co-founder), and various groups throughout the country. The results might surprise you.

What’s new this year?

This year tested over 700 toys and children’s products—they do it because the U.S. government and toy manufacturers are not currently providing this information. It’s no big surprise that lead was still found in nearly 20 percent of the new products tested. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended in 2007 that 40 parts per million (ppm) should be the maximum allowable limit of lead in children’s products, the federal recall standard is 300 ppm—and 3 percent of the products tested exceeded that limit.

While it’s frustrating that many toys still contain lead, the good news is that there has been a 67 percent reduction in products with lead which exceed regulatory standards.

It’s not just lead...

Other chemicals of concern, like cadmium and arsenic, are also found in some children’s products (Read more about the health concerns for these chemicals.) Many toys are also made of PVC plastic, which is known as the poison plastic, due to the dangers it poses through its entire lifecycle (from manufacture, through product life and disposal). PVC often contains those nasty phthalates that make it soft and flexible, and lead, cadmium and other heavy metals are also often added to PVC products. The tests detect the concentration of some chemical elements, but do not test for all chemicals, or even all chemicals of concern.

What can we learn from this?

As much as this is a time for family gatherings, good meals and gift giving, it is also a time of reflection. The good news in this year’s testing is that the prevalence of lead in toys is going down over time. But that’s not good enough! We don’t want lead or other harmful chemicals in any of our toys.

The best gift you can give to your loved ones is to contact your senators and representatives and ask them to support a strong reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)—the outdated and toothless law that regulates toxic chemicals in the United States. Strong reform of our chemicals policy will shift the responsibility for the safety of chemicals and products back to the companies that make them. The Healthy Legacy coalition supports the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families platform for reforming TSCA. 

In the meantime, how can you shop safer?

The Healthy Stuff database offers a lot of good options for helping you shop safer this holiday season (and all through the year).

 You can:

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WTO Ministerial accomplishes nothing—again

Posted December 2, 2009

Stuck in Doha Round quicksand, trade ministers participating in the WTO Ministerial in Geneva left town today with nothing much accomplished. Well, actually, some left a day early—demonstrating once again how deadening these negotiations have become.

As IATP's Anne Laure Constantin said in our press release today, “With 1 billion people going hungry every day, governments must build a more coherent system of global governance for food and agriculture. The WTO needs to rejoin the wider multilateral system and defer to other institutions with the mandate to advance human rights and sustainable development, rather than reducing them to an afterthought in the trade debate. World leaders should take a fresh look at the Marrakesh Agreement, which established the WTO. It sets overarching objectives to raise standards of living, promote sustainable development and protect the environment. The obsession with tariffs and subsidies, at the expense of public policy goals, needs to end.”

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Brazil negotiators put cards on the table

Posted December 2, 2009

Adhemar Mineiro represents the Brazilian Trade Network REBRIP. He is blogging from Geneva this week at the WTO Ministerial.

The Brazilian position in the WTO talks, and especially at the 7th Ministerial this week, reflects in a certain way the assumption that they went too far last year to try to make a deal. With the subsequent financial crisis, after Lehmann Brother’s default, and the result of the elections in the U.S., it became evident that showing all their cards was not a good move.

At this moment, governments are stalled in their position, waiting for the other to make a move. In some bilateral discussions with the U.S., Brazilian negotiators asked for more solid positions and dates. They got only a very general assessment from the U.S. Trade Representative saying that concluding the Doha round is important for the multilateral trading system, and the round must be concluded in 2010. But the U.S. is not saying how to achieve the conclusion of the round.

There are also concerns among Brazilian authorities that, in the case of the failure to conclude the Doha round, the adoption of protectionist measures would increase, threatening the trade liberalization process. At this moment, the Brazilian government sees the possibility of failure of the Doha round more as a risk than as a possibility of building another path towards a new multilateral trading system.

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