Switzerland = Star Climate Pupil

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

Now about that Paris climate summit that is still scheduled to happen starting next 30 November . . .

Wait now, don’t nod off! I realize that coverage of such UN climate summits is supposed to intrude into our consciousness only when they are actually going on, and even then to confine themselves to newspapers’ back-pages, to some link way down at the bottom of the homepage.

But not in Denmark, at least. (Maybe that is due to some sense of guilt over the signal failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference (“COP15”) at the end of 2009 – as if that were their fault. Or maybe it is due to the Danes actually being quite a bit more serious about renewable energy than most other lands.)

Schweiz
It’s a Danish article, from Politiken, but it’s not about Denmark: it’s about Switzerland, which “is first with a climate-plan” for that Paris summit at the end of this year. In the accompanying article by Politiken’s Ellen Ø. Andersen we learn some interesting things about how that summit will be structured that I did not know before. As she writes:

The idea to let countries themselves tell how much they will do [i.e. towards acting againt climate change] was thought up to prevent the same sort of fiasco as that which afflicted the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

When all the world’s leaders gather in Paris in December, in this way they will not argue about the amount of CO2 reduction – instead they can concentrate on other difficult questions such as financing and control mechanisms.

Sounds like a smart idea, although already the widely varying commitment among countries to this new set of rules has to be a little disheartening.

All countries in principle have to send in such a [national] plan before 1 April. In practice it is expected that only a smaller number of lands, mostly from among the world’s richest, will live up to that deadline. The other countries’ plans will be sent later, some even around the final deadline of 30 September.

But let’s shift our focus here back to the good news – Switzerland! Not only have the Swiss already sent in their plan – the first country to do so – but it seems mighty impressive: the Swiss want to halve their CO2 emissions from what was their 1990 level by 2030. This is even more than what it is anticipated will be proposed in a collective plan that the EU will draw up and submit on behalf of all its 28 member-states.

Then again: Switzerland is in a particularly favorable position to be able to set such a goal. It is a very mountainous country, of course, which means quite a lot of clean hydroelectric power is available. It also generates 36% of its power via nuclear plants, and apparently even boasts a culture in which storing long-term nuclear waste is considered a privilege which many local jurisdictions are willing to compete for.

As a result, as Ms. Andersen notes here, Switzerland already emits somewhat less CO2 than it did in 1990. So perhaps cutting that down to half 1990’s level within fifteen years is not so ambitious after all – indeed, that has been the gist of some criticism of its plan. Nonetheless, it’s the first hand-in of an assignment that every one of the world’s countries (or the EU collectively) has due, and so a handy reminder of both that task and the Paris summit’s greater task, which is nothing less than “to achieve . . . a binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.”

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Thoughts on Team Juncker

Friday, September 12th, 2014

It happens only once every five years, so I’m willing to describe as a pleasure yesterday’s eye-squinting, fast-research exercise in tweeting out the announced composition of the new EU Commission under President Jean-Claude Juncker. A couple of conclusions did come to my mind as a result – conclusions which I think you might find as outside the mainstream.

But first the one proviso that should always be kept in mind on this subject. The US and EU government are of course very different in their structure and their powers, but perhaps it would be useful nonetheless to remind ourselves of the nearest analog in Washington DC to the Commission. It is of course the President’s Cabinet, a collection of administrators appointed (and confirmed) to head executive-branch departments in widely different fields of expertise (Foreign Policy; Agriculture; etc.).

Naturally, it is strongly assumed that those Cabinet secretaries will operate solely with the national interest in mind, and not any interests of the particular state or region that they come from. That is the going assumption for EU Commissioners, as well – yet, incongruously, there a system persists whereby each EU member-state gets one of its own on the Commission! The US counterpart to that – just to show how ridiculous the practice is – would be an insistence that each of the 50 states (and Washington DC, Puerto Rico, etc.) have a representative taking up some function in the President’s cabinet.

It’s supposed to be about expertise and administrative ability, not about where one comes from. Truth be told, it is unlikely that the number of jobs there are to do can really be stretched to equal the number of all member-states: there has to be some degree of duplication and/or “make-work” assignments to artificially inflate the quantity of posts available. (For example, Andrus Ansip, Digital Single Market; Günther Oettinger, Digital Economy). I understand the Brussels powers-that-be are well aware of this consideration, and that they made an effort in connection with the Lisbon Treaty to address it to some degree by introducing a cut-back regime in which it was NOT true that every member-state would be guaranteed a Commissioner. However, I also recall that squelching that was one price Ireland demanded for finally voting the “correct” way in its umpteenth referendum on Lisbon.

1) Right, with that out of the way . . . consider the following, typical of the general tenor of tweets in reaction to yesterday’s announcements:

henhouses
It’s snarky, it’s maybe a bit superficial – but it’s also a clever point. And I would simply like to add to it the name of Tibor Navracsics, the former Hungarian Foreign Minister who has been assigned the portfolio for “Education, Culture, Youth & Citizenship.”

How Hungary gets a Commissioner at all is something beyond my understanding; more to the point, how it is getting €22 billion euros in economic assistance from the EU is really beyond my understanding. For make no mistake, with its almost-total government control over the press and now its assault on NGOS, Hungary currently resembles no other polity so much as Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and is heading even beyond that to a final destination which is that of Alexandr Lukashenko’s Belarus. (more…)

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COP15 Revisited: The Behind-the-Scenes Debates

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Another behind-the-scenes revelation about the COP15 United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen last December has emerged, this time in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. This one is different enough from the secret report from the Danish government that I discussed in my last post that I felt a new entry was appropriate. It has to do with the leaked transcript of a crucial part of the climactic negotiations on the afternoon of the conference’s very last day – Friday, 18 December 2009. And it’s quite a bit juicier than the leaked Danish report, since it directly involves superstar national-leader celebrities such as Obama, Merkel, and Sarkozy – although not Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who had indeed traveled to Copemhagen but at this critical stage was deliberately cooling his heels in his hotel room, having sent a deputy (one He Yafei) to represent China in his place. (more…)

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Copenhagen Climate Conference Failure: Post-Mortem

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

As all of us realize who care to recall, that COP15 “Hopenhagen” Climate Summit of last December was a failure, despite the personal involvement of nearly all top world leaders, including President Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. No clear agreement on worldwide action to act against global warming and the emission of greenhouse gases – much less one with any binding force – was arrived at. Official commitment to such action on the part of most governments since then has mostly just dwindled away. The question naturally arises, “How could it have failed?”, but that is an inquiry that naturally invites a lot of finger-pointing. As for the host Danish government, the Prime Minister’s Office (Statsministeriet) has conducted its own classified analysis of the question – something which reporters Martin Aagaard and Mette Østergaard of the mainstream newspaper Politiken nonetheless managed to get a hold of and discuss in an article in that newspaper. (more…)

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Death of French Carbon Tax: “Crime Against Humanity”

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Remember how, only a couple short months ago, the election for Edward Kennedy’s old Senate seat was lost by the Democrats, and suddenly nothing in politics that people had thought to be sure was so sure anymore in the face of that supposed voters’ anti-Establishment revolt? This particularly applied to health care reform, which up to that point had been laboring slowly through Congress, but had already been passed by both chambers, in two different versions that still needed to be reconciled. With the Massachusetts Senate result, though, even many of that legislation’s greatest supporters were nonetheless ready to throw that effort overboard entirely or at least drastically scale back its ambition.

A similar thing has just happened in France, following regional elections there last Sunday which resulted in heavy losses for the governing UMP party of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Two days afterwards, French premier François Fillon announced that his government was dropping the idea of a carbon tax, something it had previously been developing with a view towards putting it in the tax code on 1 July. And there is reason to believe that this concept is certainly more permanently dead than US health care reform turned out to be; for one thing, as Claire Guélaud reports in Le Monde, the main French organizations representing employers and entrepreneurs broke out in rejoicing at Premier Fillon’s announcement. (more…)

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IPCC in Hot Water

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Climate change – remember that? It doesn’t seem to be much in the news anymore, ever since that “COP15” climate change conference back in December in Copenhagen, where all the world’s important leaders flew in to confer but then only emerged with some lame, non-binding agreement. So is the crisis somehow over? Can we all go back to our old, comfortable carbon-emitting ways?

That is highly unlikely, as most realize, but that distinct lull in any seeming concern about human-caused climate change has come about not only from the damp squib that COP15 turned out to be, but also from the steep drop in credibility that has been suffered lately by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). And remember, that IPCC has been pushing the urgency of doing something about global warming just as much as Al Gore has with his Inconvenient Truth – as we are reminded from the picture of Gore and IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, both holding up their Nobel medals and certificates at the 2007 ceremony in Oslo, that stands at the top of Where have the doubts gone?, an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in which reporter Matthias Wyssuwa pays a visit to the IPCC’s Geneva offices to see how that organization is doing. (more…)

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Micronesia Asks to Czech Dirty Power Plant

Monday, January 18th, 2010

As those of us keeping track of such things know, the mild, non-binding agreement that emerged out of last month’s COP15 UN climate-change conference in Copenhagen was disappointing to many. Just imagine how much it fell short of the expectations of those island countries, like the Maldives, whose very existence is threatened by the rising sea-levels global warming brings!

But now one of those island nations, the Federated States of Micronesia (that’s who you turn to for your “.fm” Internet domain), has found a novel way to do something about it. I first caught word of this from the Some Assembly Required blog, which provided a link to an article in the New York Times sourced to Reuters (so it must be true, eh?). There you can read all about it: The Micronesia government is trying to intervene to influence the re-commissioning of a coal-fired power plant – one located in Prunéřov, Czech Republic, or around 13,000 km away! It has expressed this intention in two official government-to-government letters, one sent last month (while the Copenhagen conference was going on, apparently), and the second (laying out the technical details of what it objects to in the plant) just last week.

I’ve been able to find Czech-press coverage of this rather extraordinary episode only in that country’s main business newspaper, Hospodářské noviny. But that coverage is pretty thorough. There is a main article, telling the story: Micronesia: Prunéřov is [just] one of a thousand power plants, but it still is damaging us. In addition HN has an exclusive interview in a second piece (conducted by an unnamed reporter) with Andrew Yatilman, Minister of the Environment for Micronesia (We are fighting for our lives, Prunéřov is just our first act, says Micronesian minister).

Actually, in contrast to the impression of cool rage that that headline might give you, you’re really struck much more in the interview by how ad hoc this effort is on the part of the Micronesian government – how they are feeling their way as they go along in this legal initiative without precedent. For instance, Greenpeace (as you might expect) has had a big influence in this whole thing: it was protests carried out in front of the Prunéřov plant in question by Czech Greenpeace activists last month that inspired the idea in the first place, and Greenpeace has cooperated closely with the Micronesian government in providing both legal and technical advice. Will you be trying this with other plants, other governments? asks the reporter. For sure, Yatilman replies, although only after this episode is over and we have a chance to learn from the experience. (Note well that Micronesia is not going so far as to demand that the Czech government shut down the plant, it is only asking to be included in the process for granting it approval to re-open, so it can insist on a range of anti-CO2 emission safeguards.) Are any other island nations ready to join you in these efforts? I don’t know yet, Yatilman replies.

The interview concludes with a bit of unwitting comedy, as the HN reporter inquires whether Minister Yatilman is aware of the attitudes towards global warming of the Czech President, Václav Klaus. He is not; HN informs him how Klaus denies that global warming even exists, that he’s one of the world’s most-prominent climate change deniers. “Good that you say that,” replies Yatilman,

because we got a letter from the Czech Republic that purported to be from the president. But we didn’t really believe that. It wasn’t written on any letterhead stationery and it tried to find out why we were doing what we are doing. As if we weren’t a sovereign state. Underneath was some signature, but whether it was from your president, I don’t know. In any case we didn’t take it seriously.

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The Theoretical US Climate Change Advantage

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Interesting news comes from the Danish commentary weekly Information, best summarized by the lede from a recent article by Jørgen Steen Nielsen:

The EU punks the American government on climate questions, and the USA is behind due to the Bush administration. But when it comes to measures for the coming years, the EU has nothing for the Americans to hear, say experts.

(Yes, I have to assume that that Danish punker corresponds to “punks,” from “to punk,” as in “to rag on, to give someone a hard time about,” even though that meaning of “punk” is some rather obscure American street-slang – with which I myself am nonetheless familiar from the past, by the way. That’s simply the meaning called for by the context.)

The ultimate point here is a counterintuitive one. As Nielsen notes, the EU in particular loves to upbraid the American authorities for dragging their feet on anti-climate change measures, and it’s true that there was absolutely no progress on this during the George W. Bush years while the Europeans already succeeded in reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions somewhat compared to the 1990 baseline. But going forward, US “ambitions” for addressing climate change can actually be regarded as superior to those of Europe. (more…)

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One French Hand Clapping for Waxman-Markey

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

. . . er, yes, I know that Michael Jackson died, I’m just trying to see whether I can hold off having to write about that. Though if I get any more e-mail requests, I guess my hand will be forced.

For now, though, I’d rather discuss the Clean Energy and Security Act, otherwise known as the Waxman-Markey bill after its leading Congressional sponsors, that was passed in the US House of Representatives yesterday by a narrow 219-212 vote. This is the legislation that would move the US towards a “cap and trade” approach to regulating greenhouse-gas emissions. One key to understanding the push for such a law is clearly the issue’s whole international aspect: the rest of the world rather expects the United States to embark on something of this sort, whether it is Europe that already is further ahead in its environmental legislation or it is China and India who are definitely behind, but looking on to see whether there will ultimately be American inaction that can justify their own.

That’s why it is good to see an article in the authoritative French newspaper Le Monde such as the one just written by Corine Lesnes. Obama launches his green revolution, she proclaims in the piece’s very title, which features at the top an oddly hagiographic photo of Obama standing in front of what seems to be an early-American wilderness mural, perhaps during a visit to the Department of the Interior. (more…)

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