The end of another year and, depending on how you calculate it, the end of
another decade, means time for reflection and resolutions.and reflections on
The end of the year on climate issues culminated in Copenhagen. The
Copenhagen climate conference is now history, but as many have noted,
including the Center for Biological Diversity, the repercussions of the
world's failure to adopt measures stronger than the so-called Copenhagen
Accord may haunt us for some time.
Below are some excerpts from the Center's last entry in their Copenhagen
blog, "On Thin Ice". For the Center's full perspective on what we needed,
what we got and why, and what happens next, go to:
News reports in the closing hours told a dramatic story: President Obama
crashed a secret meeting among the heads of a few rapidly industrializing
nations and came out of the meeting with an agreement that saved the talks
from collapse. Behind these reports, however, lies an infinitely more
complex - and far more troubling - reality. Ultimately, the Copenhagen
Accord reflects rather than resolves deep conflicts: divisions between
developed and developing nations, deepening rivalries among economic
competitors, and the vast distance between the emission reductions necessary
to avert disaster and the steps the world's largest emitters of greenhouse
gases are willing to take.
What We Needed: A Strong, Binding International Agreement
Scientists agree that emissions must peak within the next decade and decline
steeply thereafter. What we needed in Copenhagen was a meaningful, science
based, fair, and binding international agreement. We needed firm emissions
reduction targets and firm achievement dates, including ambitious short-term
targets. We also needed firm funding commitments and financing mechanisms to
assist the least developed but hardest hit countries in adapting to the
severe environmental changes.
What We Got: A Fill-in-the-Blanks "Accord"
The Accord nominally sets a goal of holding global temperature increases
below 2 degrees Celsius, but does not contain the targets necessary to
achieve this goal. In fact, it does not specify any targets or achievement
dates at all, but rather leaves those targets as blanks to be filled in by
the end of January 2010. Nothing in the Accord makes these fill-in-the-blank
targets legally binding.
And, if participating countries bring the targets they brought to the
conference, there is no way they can meet even the stated 2 degrees Celsius
goal, much less the more scientifically defensible 1.5 degrees Celsius goal
that the Accord states should be studied further. According to a scientific
analysis, these targets would put the world on a path toward exceeding a 3
degrees Celsius temperature increase, committing our planet to catastrophic
and irreversible climate change.
Why We Got What We Got: A Global(ized) Game of Chicken
The blame game is in full swing. Many quite understandably fault the United
States, which brought embarrassingly weak targets and an unwillingness to
enter a binding commitment, and then refused to improve those targets even
as the conference approached collapse. Others point the finger at China and
other rapidly industrializing nations, which do not want to lose economic
advantages that they are just beginning to enjoy - especially at the behest
of wealthy, industrial nations that have enjoyed the same advantages for
decades, pumping the atmosphere full of carbon in the process. And even the
small island states and others are assigned blame for their pursuit of
stringent, science-based emission reduction targets that sometimes brought
the consensus-based process to a halt.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Global dynamics aside, it is
impossible to deny that domestic politics in the United States cast a long
shadow in Copenhagen.
This is the resolution part: Mexico City, Washington, and Your Hometown
By the end of January 2010, at least some countries presumably will have
filled in the Accord's blank spaces with promised but nonbinding emissions
targets. The next climate conference will take place at the end of 2010 in
Meanwhile, in Washington, Congress will continue to debate - or avoid
debating - a number of climate bills, all of them far weaker than the
science demands. But 2010 is an election year, and many - smarting from the
rancorous healthcare debate - have already expressed reluctance to take on
another big, contentious issue.
More promising, although under threat by climate-science deniers and others,
is the Environmental Protection Agency's burgeoning effort to regulate
greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. EPA recently released a
powerful finding that greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks endanger
public health and welfare by contributing to climate change. If EPA were to
make similar findings for other greenhouse gas sources - which both science
and the law compel - the stage would be set for comprehensive regulation and
reduction of emissions. Seeking to use the most powerful tools available
under the Act, the Center for Biological Diversity and 350.org recently
petitioned EPA to set a science-based nationwide cap on greenhouse gas
concentrations in the atmosphere. One hundred other conservation
organizations and scientists have since signed on in support of the
The Copenhagen Accord leaves a tremendous amount of work to be done. Let's
Obviously, the big news last week was Copenhagen and what did or did not
happen. Wanted to share with you a short post on the fall out from our
allies at the Center for Biological Diversity and also think about what
needs to come next.
From the Center:
Let's start with the good: The "good" is actually not found in the accord,
but rather in the birth of a diverse global movement for climate justice
that is demanding real solutions that get us down to 350 parts per million
of carbon dioxide - demands made with a collective voice growing ever louder
and more unified.
Turning to the bad: The 12-paragraph "Copenhagen Accord" might actually
better be termed the Copenhagen "press release".because it's about as
In the end, rather than "adopting" the accord, delegates only "noted" its
existence. As one commentator said, remarking on the "accord's" existence,
it reads like a preamble to a treaty that was supposed to be agreed upon in
Copenhagen but was not.
The bad also lies in the way in which this so-called accord was reached,
with the United States sticking to a take-it-or-leave-it proposition that
put vulnerable countries in even weaker bargaining positions. As the
Center's press release noted: "We cannot make truly meaningful and historic
steps with the United States pledging to reduce CO2 emissions by only 3
percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The science demands far more."
The Ugly: Perhaps the gravest problem with the Copenhagen accord is that it
sets a goal of limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius but fails
to provide the targeted reductions to meet that goal - even if those
voluntary targets were in fact completely achieved.
The accord simply reiterates the emissions reduction targets already on the
table before Copenhagen, most notably the United States' meager and frankly
embarrassing pledge to reduce emissions just 3 percent below 1990 levels by
Preliminary calculations by a team of experts led by an MIT professor found
that under the accord, even if fully implemented despite its voluntary
structure, the average global temperature is likely to rise 3.2 degrees
To go along with the weak and unenforceable pledges, the accord also fails
because it does not set a target date where emissions would peak and then
decline, which ideally would be around 2015.
United Nations climate chief Yvo de Boer stated: "It is very critical that
you get a peak and a decline starting soon.The opportunity to actually make
it into the scientific window of opportunity is getting smaller and
Summing it all up, Andrew Watson, a professor at the University of East
Anglia in Britain, said: "From the evidence of the last two weeks, I would
say we have a heck of a long way still to go if, as a species, we are to
avoid the fate that usually afflicts populations that outgrow their
resources." We better get busy making the most of the "good."
We're Not Done Yet:
So what's next? A number of groups, including the Center for Biological
Diversity, Greenpeace, 350.org, Avaaz, 1Sky, Amnesty International and
others, have joined together as part of the tck tck tck alliance to unify
their web site's home pages. The goal: to demonstrate their extreme
disappointment with the outcome at Copenhagen, and to send the message that we are united, and we are not done yet.
While the United Nations climate negotiations may have ended, we don't have
the fair, science-based, and legally binding treaty that millions of people
worldwide have demanded. What we do have is a global movement of people who aren't going to go away until our demands are met.
These groups are asking everyone to pledge that in 2010, you'll join
millions of others in working for a fair, science-based, and legally binding
treaty that truly solves the grave problem of global warming before it's
simply too late.
You can sign onto the Center's pledge at:
The Copenhagen accord is not the best we can do, and it's not nearly good
enough. We stand at the precipice of climatic tipping points beyond which
we'll face a climate crash out of our control. We cannot make truly
meaningful and historic steps globally with the United States pledging to
reduce carbon dioxide emissions by only 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
The science demands far more.
We know what must be done. We need a fair, legally binding international
agreement that returns levels of CO2 in our atmosphere to no higher than 350
parts per million. We need to take bold action in the coming months to make
this a reality.
As we write this, the Copenhagen climate talks are reaching a crescendo. On
Wednesday December 16, there was a walkout, groups such as Friends of the
Earth and Avaaz have been threatened with being banned from the Bella Center headquarters, hundreds of people outside the Bella Center were clubbed and tear-gassed as they tried to go in and participate in the proceedings, and as this is written, there is a youth sit-in inside the Bella Center.
Why? Rather then getting us down to the science-based target of 350 ppm CO2
we need, current numbers on the table in Copenhagen are projected to put us
on a path to 750 ppm by the end of the century, and there is no agreement on
adequate financing to support developing nations in shifting to a clean-energy economy or adapting to climate change.
Over the weekend, church bells rang across the globe at 3:50 p.m. in their
respective time zones, up to 100,000 people marched through the streets of
Copenhagen and about 1,000 were detained, and in San Francisco, a soggy,
stalwart band of Center for Biological Diversity supporters, along with
Organizing for America volunteers, Greenpeace, and the Mobilization for
Climate Justice, came together under a single banner: WE NEED A REAL DEAL IN COPENHAGEN NOW!
What's a real deal? One that's ambitious and grounded in science, and that
means no more than 350 ppm of CO2. One that's just and fair, and that means
nations largely responsible for carbon pollution need to take the lead in
curbing that pollution and cleaning up the mess. And one that's binding,
meaning political promises without legally binding commitments won't fly.
Before the vigil in front of San Francisco's City Hall, organizers met with
the staff of Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and delivered a
Center petition with nearly 30,000 signatures on it calling for 350 ppm,
maintaining all of the Clean Air Act's capacity to curb carbon pollution,
and eliminating or greatly reducing offsets.
They also delivered a letter from nearly 100 organizations
Â supporting the Center
and 350.org's petition to the Environmental Protection Agency to cap carbon
pollution at no more than 350 ppm under the Clean Air Act's National Ambient
Air Quality Standards program. If you belong to an organization, please
consider asking your organization to sign on!
Already this week, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowki announced that she will try
to reverse the progress made last week when the Environmental Protection
Agency found that greenhouse gases endanger public health. Â In response, the
Center for Biological Diversity's Executive Director Kieran Suckling said,
"It is a sad day when a United States senator attempts to stop a federal
agency from enforcing one of our nation's most successful and cost-effective
laws - Â the Clean Air Act." Â We need to vigilantly defend the Clean Air Act
-- the only existing tool that can ensure a truly science-based
From the Senate offices, the SF group marched through a constant drizzle to
City Hall, passing several painfully cute holiday displays of polar bears as
they went. These holiday depictions could soon be the only polar bears left
on the planet if we don't translate our symbolic love of the bears into
concrete action to save their lives.
Take one minute to call the White House at (202) 456-1111 to let President
Barack Obama know the world is looking to him for bold leadership to take on
the greatest threat of our time: catastrophic global warming. Tell him we
must cut CO2 emissions by 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, rather than
the 3-percent cut he has pledged to take with him to Copenhagen.
Let's keep up the pressure till the end for a real deal in Denmark.
A lot going on back at home and in Copenhagen.
Allies from the Center for Biological Diversity are in Copenhagen joining
tens of thousands of others there pushing for real action on climate change.
Monday's attendance was said to be 11,000, with more people arriving every
On Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute
released a report demonstrating that President Obama has clear legal
authority to commit the United States to reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
The report, titled "Yes, He Can: President Obama's Power to Make an
International Climate Commitment Without Waiting for Congress", concludes
that the President need not wait for Congress to act before taking strong
action to reduce U.S. emissions.
The report was released at an event hosted by Greenpeace at the conference
site. The take away: President Obama's hands are not tied by Congress's
lack of action or the grossly inadequate cap-and-trade bills currently under
debate. President Obama can lead, rather than follow, by using his power
under the Clean Air Act and other laws to achieve deep and rapid greenhouse
emissions reductions from major polluters. The Constitution and existing
domestic environmental laws give President Obama all the power he needs to
join with other nations in making a real commitment to solve the climate
The report cites prominent legal scholars and U.S. Supreme Court opinions
recognizing the President's broad power to make binding international
agreements that do not need to be ratified by a two-thirds majority vote in
the Senate. For example, the President could enter into either a
"congressional-executive" agreement under authority already granted by
Congress, or a "sole executive" agreement based on his own constitutional
powers. It cites agreements such as NAAFTA and the WTO that the US signed
without ratification of two-thirds of the Senate.
The report also details the President's broad authority to reduce domestic
greenhouse gas emissions under existing environmental laws, including the
Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and National
Environmental Policy Act. The release of the report follows an important
finding by the Environmental Protection Agency issued earlier in the week
that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare and the Center and
350.org's petition to the EPA of last week asking EPA to set a national
pollution cap on greenhouse gases.
You can follow the Center's work in Copenhagen on their blog "The World on
Thin Ice: The Center Live From Copenhagen 2009" at
Didn't make it to Copenhagen? That's ok, because there is plenty to do
On Thursday, December 10, President Obama will receive the Nobel Peace
Prize. Before he heads off to Copenhagen next week for the most important
international meeting on climate change ever, the Center for Biological
Diversity is asking everyone to take one minute to call the White House at
(202) 456-1111 to congratulate him on the Nobel Prize and to let him know
that the world's inhabitants -- people, animals, and plants -- are relying
on his bold leadership to bring with him to Copenhagen emissions reductions
targets of 45% or more below 1990 by 2020, rather than his current proposal
to reduce emissions only 3% below 1990 by 2020, which would lead to climate
In addition to your calls, the Center will be delivering to the White House
and Senate offices petitions with nearly 30,000 signatures from people like
us calling for a climate agreement that sets an overall cap on atmospheric
carbon dioxide levels of no more than 350 parts per million; maintains and
uses all of the Clean Air Act's ability to regulate critical polluters; and
eliminates or greatly reduces offsets and other loopholes. It's essential
we get it right the first time. This may be our only chance.
Want even more to do? On Friday, December 11, 350.org is organizing vigils
around the world. Find one near you: http://www.350.org/weekend
Back at home this week, The Center for Biological Diversity and 350.org took
an historic step: they petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to
set national limits for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution
under the Clean Air Act. The petition seeks to have greenhouse gases
designated as "criteria" air pollutants and atmospheric CO2 capped at 350
parts per million (ppm), the level leading scientists say is necessary to
avoid the worst impacts of global warming.
"It's time to use our strongest existing tool for reducing greenhouse gas
pollution - the Clean Air Act. The Act's provisions should cap carbon
pollution at no more than 350 parts per million," said Kassie Siegel, an
author of the petition and director of the Center for Biological Diversity's
Climate Law Institute. "For four decades, this law has protected the air we
breathe - and it's done that through a proven, successful system of
pollution control that saves lives and creates economic benefits vastly
exceeding its costs."
Last week, in advance of the international climate negotiations in
Copenhagen, the Obama administration proposed emissions reduction targets of just 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, far below the cuts of
approximately 45 percent necessary to get back to 350 ppm. The current
atmospheric CO2 level is approximately 385 ppm.
The administration argues that its hands are tied by the weak cap-and-trade
bills passed by the House of Representatives and under consideration by the
Senate. This Clean Air Act petition, however, demonstrates that the Obama
administration already possesses the legal tools to achieve deep and rapid
greenhouse emissions reductions from major polluters consistent with what
The UN's top climate scientist, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, endorsed reducing carbon in our
atmosphere to no more than 350 ppm. NASA's top climate scientist James
Hansen has long advocated the need to reach 350.
"The science, unfortunately, is all too clear - 350 ppm is the most CO2 we
can have in the atmosphere if we want a planet 'similar to the one on which
civilization developed.' Around the world people have rallied around that
number, in what CNN called 'the most widespread day of political action in
the planet's history;' 92 national governments have endorsed it as a target.
Now it's time for the nation that invented environmentalism to use its most
progressive set of laws in the same effort," said Bill McKibben, founder of
While the Obama administration is moving forward to reduce greenhouse
pollution from automobiles and smokestacks under the Clean Air Act, two
laudable and critically important steps, the administration to date has
failed to implement other important and legally required provisions of the
The petition seeks a national pollution cap for CO2 and other greenhouse
pollutants through a central provision of the Clean Air Act requiring EPA to
designate "criteria" air pollutants, set national pollution limits for these
pollutants to protect the public health and welfare, and then assist the
states in carrying out plans to reduce emissions from major sources to
attain or maintain the national standards.
To date, EPA has designated six criteria pollutants: particle pollution
(PM), ground-level ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur oxides (SOx),
nitrogen oxides (NOx), and lead. The petition seeks the addition of seven
greenhouse gases to the list, including CO2 with a cap of no more than 350
ppm, as well as designation and caps for methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O);
hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); perfluorocarbons (PFCs); sulfur hexafluoride
(SF6); and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).
Setting science-based national pollution caps for these greenhouse gases
would mark a critical step in the fight against global warming and add more
tools to the Clean Air Act programs the Obama administration is beginning
to implement. A national pollution cap for greenhouse gases would also
activate and coordinate the efforts of all 50 states, all of which currently
implement plans for the reduction of the existing criteria air pollutants,
and 38 of which are already drafting or implementing climate action plans.
"The Clean Air Act is a bipartisan bill signed by a Republican president.
Leading scientists at NASA and around the world say we need to get to 350
ppm. This petition simply asks EPA to do its job as science, the law, and
common sense require," said McKibben.
"Rather than perpetually wait for flawed and inadequate new climate
legislation before taking meaningful action, the Obama administration can
and must use the existing authorities under the Clean Air Act to set a
target of 350 parts per million to protect the climate and our future," said
The climate bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as
legislation currently pending in the Senate, would eliminate EPA's authority
under the Clean Air Act to designate greenhouse gases as criteria air
pollutants and to set a cap on such emissions as requested in today's
If you belong to a group, the Center and 350.org need your organization to
stand with them by signing on to a letter of support that can be found at
ming_litigation/clean_air_act/sign-on_letter.html. Email your group's name, along with a contact person and title, to Rose Braz, the Center's climate
campaign coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Now is the time to enforce the Clean Air Act - not gut it. Together, we can
save the Clean Air Act and put it to work to save our climate
Well, it's that time of year again. Thanksgiving -- when everyone in the U.S. is supposed to be identifying what we are thankful for. I want to look ahead and think about what I hope to be thankful for. I hope to be thankful for the U.S. designating critical habitat for our beloved and imperiled polar bears!
A world without polar bears by the end of the century? That's what scientists are predicting unless we take action now. As global warming accelerates, the sea ice they depend on for survival is literally melting away. If polar bears are to survive into the next century, we must do everything we can to protect their sea ice habitat.
Global warming is melting Arctic sea ice at an alarming rate. Just yesterday, a report by UN climate scientist found that arctic sea ice is melting 40 percent faster than the panel estimated just a few years ago. Every year more and more polar bears are starving and drowning as they have to swim farther and farther to reach solid ice. Some are even turning to cannibalism in a desperate search for food. Two-thirds of all polar bears - including all bears in Alaska - will be extinct by 2050 if current trends continue. The rest of the species will be gone by the end of the century.
Since the 1997 Kyoto agreement, the level of carbon dioxide pollution has increased 6.5 percent, climate change has worsened and its impacts are greater than anticipated. Once frozen summer Arctic sea ice now has open ship passages. In Greenland and Antarctica, ice sheets have lost trillions of tons of ice. Glaciers in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa are shrinking faster than before.
Sea level has risen by about an inch and a half. Droughts and wildfires have turned more severe worldwide. And the species impacted are so many that the Center for Biological Diversity struggled to pare down the list to 350 for its "350 Reasons we need to get to 350ppm: 350 Species Threatened by Global Warming" web installation (http://350.biologicaldiversity.org).
The only way to prevent the complete loss of polar bears in the wild is to aggressively tackle global warming and institute strong protections for polar bear habitat to reduce other threats. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has been slow on tackling global warming and worse on protecting the polar bear's sea ice habitat.
In 2008, the Bush administration leased 2.7 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska to oil companies. Now, not only is the Obama administration defending these Bush-era leases, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has issued permits to oil companies allowing harassment of polar bears during oil exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska, he has approved a new proposal to drill in the Beaufort Sea next summer and is considering a similar proposal for the Chukchi Sea.
The good news is it's not too late to save the polar bear if we join together and take immediate action. Thanks to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Obama administration has proposed designating more than 200,000 square miles of Arctic coastline and sea ice as critical habitat for the polar bear!
The administration is seeking comments on its proposed critical habitat now. Please tell the Obama administration that the proposed critical habitat is essential to the survival of the polar bear and that it must be protected against threats from offshore oil and gas drilling. Take action with the Center for Biological Diversity at http://mail.google.com/mail/?hl=en&tab=wm#inbox/12527f22b04c90a1 to make sure we don't have to face a world without polar bears.