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Earlier this month, I was proud to see the Register-Guard publish a news story about my daughter’s participation in a lawsuit to require the State of Oregon to take bolder, more aggressive action to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. My daughter’s lawsuit is part of a nationwide legal effort to protect our climate.
For the preservation of our environment, there is no issue more pressing than averting catastrophic warming of the Earth’s atmosphere, which would lead to mass extinctions and human suffering associated with harm to our food and water security. This year, 38 percent of the contiguous United States has experienced severe to extreme drought. July was the hottest month on record: the average temperature of the continental U.S. was 77.5 degrees F. What we have experienced this summer foreshadows what we might suffer if we do not quickly decrease the amount of greenhouse gases we are pumping into the atmosphere.
As the next generation mobilizes into action, ELAW is making climate change a high priority. Part of ELAW’s commitment is ensuring that the impacts of global warming are considered at the planning stage of proposed developments. We are helping our partners around the world make legally and scientifically strong arguments to prevent emissions of greenhouse gases that would come from coal-fired power plants, cement plants, and mining projects in tropical forests.
Last week, I traveled to San Salvador, El Salvador for Uniendo Esfuerzos Centroamericanos: el Enlace entre Género, Pobreza, y el Medioambiente (Uniting Central American Efforts: The Link between Gender, Poverty, and the Environment). This Central American regional conference brought together ELAW partners and other grassroots advocates from a wide range of civil society groups who are working in their home countries to promote social and environmental justice.
Opening night featured presentations that set the stage for rest of the conference in which climate change and its relationship to food security, access to water and other human rights, and the impacts on women and vulnerable populations were discussed in detail. The opening event included a speech by Herman Rosa Chávez, El Salvador’s Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, who, along with Salvador Nieto (the Ministry’s Legal Advisor) were part of the delegation representing El Salvador at the climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa last year. Nieto spoke later in the week about El Salvador’s experience at the negotiations and described the “Fossil of the Day” prize, which was awarded by Climate Action Network International to whichever country most inhibited progress during the day’s negotiations. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. frequently won “Fossil of the Day” and was in fact awarded the Grand Poobah for slowing progress: “The Colossal Fossil.”
At least we shared the prize with Canada.
While it is important that government officials create opportunities for international dialogue, it will take a strong voice
from citizens, along with mitigation and adaptation at the local level, to come up with anything resembling a solution to climate change. With “Colossal Fossils” in power, grassroots efforts and actions are more valuable than ever.
The San Salvador meeting was an inspiration. We had the opportunity to bring a human element to our collaboration and increase our awareness and understanding of the challenges facing us as global and regional communities. Despite leaps in technology, meeting face-to-face simply cannot be recreated via the Internet.
However, the real work continues when we return to our own communities, the places where we experience the impacts of our efforts. Here in Oregon we have been lucky to have escaped severe weather events on the scale faced by El Salvador. Just last year, Tropical Depression 12E dumped almost 30 inches of rain on El Salvador in ten days, leaving 10% of the country flooded. 10%! If 10% of the U.S. was under water, would the U.S. still be a “Colossal Fossil” in climate negotiations?
ELAW partners are bringing lessons from El Salvador back to our home communities- where we can make a difference, regardless of the sluggishness of intergovernmental negotiations. One of these lessons is from Elena Caal Hub from the Red de mujeres jóvenes Q’eqchi’ (Q’eqchi’ Young Women’s Network) who spoke about her community and the impact of mining and other environmental abuses. She challenged the term “environment,” saying that our planet is “la Madre Tierra, ” (Mother Earth.) La Madre Tierra is living and breathing and not an object or “environment” to be exploited.
Elena Caal Hub’s presentation was a turning point in the conference: it emphasized why we had gathered in El Salvador and it exposed the changes that need to be made in our collective consciousness to effectively combat climate change. It is easy to take small steps to reduce our ecological footprints: eat local, use alternative transportation, reduce, reuse, recycle, etc. However, the changes we need to make if we are going to live in a more just world go to the very root of how we view and interact with the planet and with one another.
The time has ended for focusing on differences between cultures, differences between our efforts, and differences between ourselves and our home, our mother, this planet. Regardless of whether we call ourselves environmentalists, activists, feminists, or human rights advocates, todos somos seres humanos — we are all human beings.
Many thanks to the Seattle International Foundation for sponsoring this event and to local hosts Victor Mata Tobar (Instituto de Investigación y Promoción Ambiental), Luis Francisco López Guzmán (Firma Legal López Guzmán), and Carla Trillos de la Hoz (Fundación Nacional Para el Desarrollo, El Salvador).
Latin America Program Assistant
ELAW will be co-presenting the film “The 4th Revolution: Energy Autonomy” on October 8th at 8:15 p.m. and Sunday, October 9th at 1:30 p.m. at Bijou Art Cinemas as part of the GoodWorks Film Festival. A first time event in Eugene, the GoodWorks Film Festival will feature a series of acclaimed feature-length films with an array of social justice themes.
One of the highlights of the Festival will be the opportunity for audience members to interact with the creators of these inspiring films. Following both showings of “The 4th Revolution,” the filmmaker, Carl-A. Fechner, will join ELAW Staff Attorney and energy law professor Jen Gleason and EWEB representative Bill Welch in a Q&A with the audience.
Coming to see the film and participating in the conversation that follows will be a great way to find out what you can do to support renewable energy and make a difference.
The film presents the hypothesis that we can make the change to 100% renewable energy within the next 30 years if — and only if — we truly want to. Peak oil and the end of the fossil fuels era is near — if not already here — and whether we can make the shift to a more renewable society is up to us.
Eugene has already been a leading renewable energy adopter among similar-sized U.S. cities:
- “Oregon ranks third in the region for installed capacity of renewable energy, behind California and Washington“;
- After a brief brush with nuclear power in the early 1980s, the city’s publicly-owned electricity and water utility, Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) now has incentives in place encouraging residents to adopt solar hot water and solar photovoltaic systems;
- The city government has a portion of the city’s website devoted to sustainability;
- The local community college, Lane Community College offers an Associate’s Degree in “Alternative Energy Engineering Technologies“.
Yet, we still have a ways to go if we want to make the switch to 100% renewable energy. I hope you will join us this Saturday and Sunday to learn more about what you can do.
The Festival will feature several other socially conscious films, including: “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator,” “Bag It: Is your life too Plastic?” and “The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls.”
Find the complete Festival schedule here.
See you at the Festival!
Liberia has been reeling from a scandal that came to light early this summer involving a UK-based carbon trading company and allegations that the company bribed Liberian officials to secure a forest carbon contract. The situation was first brought to light by Global Witness, which discovered evidence of irregular payments to a Liberian government official and a Liberian politician while investigating the environmental, social, and economic implications of the proposed contract.
The proposed deal was between the Liberian government and Carbon Harvesting Corporation (CHC). CHC sought a 400,000-hectare forest concession, or one fifth of Liberia’s forests, from which to sell carbon credits. One news report explained that this deal could have bankrupted Liberia, which is still recovering from years of violent civil war. According to The Guardian, not only was the contract based on flawed and exaggerated emissions estimates, but
“[u]nder the contract, if Liberia’s forests had failed to deliver the full estimated number of carbon credits, based on a minimum target price of around $13.5 per tonne of CO2, it could have been liable to make up the difference to a maximum of $2.2bn. The west African country…had an estimated GDP last year of $1.6bn, according to the IMF.”
Shortly after the alleged contractual improprieties came to light, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf established a Special Presidential Investigative Committee to look into the problem. The Committee issued its report and recommendations, and President Sirleaf issued a strong statement on October 12th clearly outlining the course of action she plans to take against the individuals involved in the scandal. Nine current and former government employees have been linked to the fraudulent carbon-trading plan with CHC. Reuters recently reported that the Liberian government plans to prosecute British citizen and CHC Chief Executive Officer, Michael Foster, under Liberia’s anti-corruption laws.
ELAW Partners around the world are also expressing concern about fraud and corruption associated with forest carbon deals. Commenting on news about the Liberian government’s investigative report, a lawyer in Papua New Guinea (PNG) wrote to ELAW:
“There are similar deals being done by what we term as ‘carbon cowboys’ with local landowner leaders and some politicians in Papua New Guinea. They are promising local landowners millions of dollars for voluntary carbon trading.”
Last September, a scandal similar to that in Liberia broke in PNG with allegations that fake carbon certificates were being sold to local landowners. The head of PNG’s Office of Climate Change was implicated (and removed from office), along with private carbon trading firms from Australia.
According to Peter Younger, an Interpol environmental crime specialist: “Organized crime syndicates are eyeing the nascent forest carbon credit industry as a potentially lucrative new opportunity for fraud. . . . Alarm bells are ringing. It is simply too big to monitor. The potential for criminality is vast and has not been taken into account by the people who set it up.”
Alfred Brownell, a long-time ELAW partner from Liberia, tells us that scandals in the country’s forest sector are not a new phenomenon. In 2006, more than seventy timber concessions in Liberia were canceled after an investigation revealed widespread non–compliance with laws and pervasive mismanagement in the forest sector. During that review it was discovered that only 14 percent of the taxes owed to the Liberian government were actually collected, there were over US$64 million in tax arrears accumulated by concession holders, and the combined land area allocated for logging concessions over the last twenty-five years was two and one-half times the forested surface area of the entire country.
A primary reason that these current scandals are emerging is because forest carbon trading is a relatively new frontier with few existing laws to guide implementation and prevent corruption. Some have described forest carbon trading as the new gold rush. As policies and laws are developed to address forest carbon trading, ELAW is working with its partners to ensure that these frameworks are fair for local communities and will effectively contribute to global carbon emission reductions.
ELAW Staff Attorney
I’ve followed the UN climate negotiations for four years with particular attention to an emissions mitigation policy framework called “REDD” (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation). Below are my thoughts on one of the most controversial aspects of REDD — transparency of bilateral financial arrangements to reduce deforestation in developing countries such as Indonesia.I have chosen Indonesia, the country where I have lived and worked for almost four years (I am originally from Chile). Living here has been one of the most fascinating episodes of my life. This southeast Asian country is a first-class case study. Indonesia is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and holds the second highest deforestation rate after Brazil. Additionally, it is the largest economy in southeast Asia and a member of the G-20. Finally, and most significantly, Indonesia has become a REDD policy “laboratory” where several pilot projects, schemes, strategies and new regulations are being tested.
What happens with REDD in Indonesia will have enormous repercussions in many less-developed countries with ambitions to implement REDD policies and projects.
Like it or not, we need to understand REDD. For much of the developed world, REDD is being viewed as a cheap and quick mechanism to reduce global GHG emissions. At present, developed nations and regions (e.g. U.S., Canada, Australia and EU) are facing severe economic and political roadblocks to implementing concrete emissions reduction targets through domestic legislation. Therefore, the only choice they have left is to support, by means of short-term commitments, emerging nations to reduce their GHG emissions.
This explains why Norway, Japan, Canada, U.S., U.K., France and Australia pledged $3.5 billion in short-term funding for REDD at the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen last year. A lot of money is flowing to developing countries, such as Indonesia, and major international environmental organizations to implement REDD projects.
In my opinion, it is difficult to see REDD becoming part of a binding agreement under UN Climate Change Framework during the upcoming meeting in Cancun. Rather, I see REDD becoming a mitigation tool in overseas development assistance projects or implemented through bilateral initiatives negotiated between developing and developed countries.
My prediction is that REDD will rapidly move forward over the next three to four years with encouragement from developed nations and developing countries that view REDD as a faster vehicle to control deforestation and GHGs, as well as a source of economic incentives to tackle illegal logging and forest fires. REDD will particularly be embraced by countries experiencing systematic troubles with forest governance and management, including Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Zambia, Congo, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Guyana, among many others.
With all this attention being focused on REDD, there has not yet been any global consensus on how REDD is to be financed over the long-term and what arrangements will be needed to make the mechanism operational. For the moment, REDD is being financed in an ad-hoc manner through seed funds set up by developed nations and though private sector voluntary carbon markets.
For example, Indonesia and Norway signed a letter of intent in May 2010 in which the government of Norway pledged the sum of US$1 billion in funds in exchange for Indonesia’s commitment to cut emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
The letter of intent is expected to be transformed into a legally binding bilateral agreement by the end of this year. If the main goal of the agreement is to pay for “reduced emissions results,” that include concrete reforms in policy and laws, enhanced technical assistance, increased enforcement, reduction of forest crimes, effective implemented institutional frameworks and capacity building, so far small progress has been made since the signing of the LoI.
Now, after the proposed binding agreement is signed, Norway must provide initial funds to the government of Indonesia according to a schedule of payments provided by a third-party financial institution or “trustee.” The details of this arrangement are still under negotiation and relate to the REDD Trust Fund. The REDD funds are subject to the Indonesian Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF). The ICCTF aims to facilitate overseas development assistance and financial support for different climate change programs and activities. Furthermore, not only Norway, but the U.K., U.S., Australia and the Netherlands have committed funds to the ICCTF. The U.K. alone has allocated 10 million pounds to the Fund.
Despite this significant investment, there is very little transparency as to how these funds have been or will be spent.
Recent negotiations between the two countries in Jakarta failed to reach an agreement on a financial scheme, with Indonesia’s Government insisting that it wants the funds to be managed by a local bank, which has created uncertainty about the level of international scrutiny, transparency and governance that will be given to the operational financial arm of REDD in Indonesia.
Moreover, aware of its role as G-20 member and “climate change hotspot”, the government of Indonesia appears a bit reluctant to be subject to any international or foreign financial supervision and has passed legislation that allows an “interim” international agency to temporarily provide oversight assistance until a national entity takes over ICCTF.
In exchange for substantial economic support, Indonesia is obliged to stop issuing new licenses to exploit remaining peatland and natural forest areas. Yet Indonesia’s forest ministry appears to be debating within itself whether REDD is a valid path forward. Some officials are pro-REDD, while others apparently would prefer to continue promoting development of the palm oil and logging industries. The president of Indonesia has given a clear sign favoring the palm oil industry — the agreement with Norway exempts forestry development concessions issued before January 2011. These concessions will not be subject to the two-year moratorium on exploiting peat and natural forests.
It is worth noting that initial funds already provided by developed countries to Indonesia to begin implementing REDD have never been subject to solid disclosure and scrutiny by the public. In fact, it has been difficult to determine where the REDD funds have gone, and whether there have been measurable outcomes or concrete GHG emission reduction obligations. Quite simply, there is no independent assessment and monitoring of the agreements in either the donor or receiving countries.
It is very difficult to figure out why some developed countries (such as Norway) are so anxious to give away funds to developing countries, without first requesting firm reduced deforestation and mitigation goals in those countries that have received funds to tackle those issues. In my view, instead of blaming developing countries for accepting those funds offered without concrete results, members of the public in the donor countries should demand from their own governments that there be transparent accounting, monitoring, and reporting of outcomes.
The current agreement between Norway and Indonesia demonstrates that without open debate and transparent accounting of these agreements, it will be difficult to assess whether progress is being made to reduce GHG emissions, promote fair and non-corrupt forest governance, stop illegal logging, and protect local communities.
Environmental Policy Consultant
ELAW has been collaborating with Michael Zschiesche of Berlin, Germany since 1995, the year that Michael attended his first ELAW Annual Meeting in Eugene. Since then, Michael has attended two more annual meetings and participated in an ELAW Fellowship during the summer of 2004.
We are thrilled to welcome Michael and his family to our community again, where he will be staying through December. Michael’s partner Birgit and their two children, Cora and Julian were with him in 2004, however, the kids are older now and excited to improve their English and make new friends in their Eugene school this Fall.
Michael is the Director of the Department of Environmental Law and Public Participation at the Independent Institute of Environmental Concerns (UfU e.V.) in Berlin, Germany. You’ll remember his colleague Franziska Sperfeld visited Eugene with her family in the Fall of 2009. And Malte Schmitdals, Chair of UfU’s Climate Change and Education Department, visited Eugene as part of a U.S. study tour in the summer of the same year.
Michael also leads UfU’s Board of Directors. He is a lawyer (Humboldt University, Berlin) and economist (University of Economy, Berlin). His areas of interest include scientific research on the topic of environmental law, projects that support the understanding and practical use of public participation in environmental matters, and organizational questions related to non-governmental organizations in Germany and abroad.
While in Eugene, Michael will collaborate with ELAW staff on climate change policy and alternative energy. He also plans to meet with experts in the US and enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Look for more from the Zschiesches, our guest bloggers, in the coming months.
ELAW Partners from Kenya, Maurice Odhiambo Makoloo and Benson Ochieng, are in Copenhagen working to ensure that any agreement that is put forth at the COP15 meeting protects the interests of their country and all of Africa. They were interviewed about the African walkout on Kenyan television. (click on the screen to watch.)
Makoloo wrote about his experiences:
“Copenhagen generally is quite cold but the negotiations inside the Bella Centre are quite heated and hot. Just a little update. After the two texts had been produced the African Group argued that they would tactfully accept the two documents as being part of the working documents for the negotiations. They soon thereafter equally submitted a document containing the African Group’s position on the issues. Additionally they called a press conference at which they expressed their concerns at the level of lack of transparency in the process and called for a lot more good faith. It was however, evident that given the previous leaked Danish document and now coupled with these developments, the African Group had formed the view that their partners from the developed countries were up to no good. Their position resonated with the G77 Group and China. It is fair to say that since then there has been a lot of mistrust among the delegates.”
President Obama is scheduled to speak in Copenhagen on Friday. Everybody is hoping that the delegates can create a document worth all the time and effort that have gone into these talks.
They write: “Lawyers from the Eugene-based Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, of which we are also members, are pursuing just such goals. ELAW lawyers from Australia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and the U.K., as well as the U.S. and others, are here trying to make a difference. Our task is to do what we can to nudge the climate change agreement toward what future generations really need.
Following these negotiations, lawyers in the ELAW network will play key roles back in their home countries, ensuring that governments follow up on their Copenhagen commitments.”
Here’s hoping that there is something worthwhile for the ELAW partners – and all others – to follow up on!
“1.5!” “One point five!” The rhythm picked up. The shouts got louder.
“Legally binding text! Legally binding text!”
What? These are not your grandfather’s demonstrators. Instead of making general political statements, the protesters were chanting details of their demands for a climate change agreement. This is clearly a sophisticated crowd.
As we tried to enter a meeting room where negotiations were proceeding here in the convention center in Copenhagen, the security guards refused us entrance. “NGOs are not allowed for the moment,” said the guard. “Why?” we asked. “Unauthorized demonstration,” the guard replied.
Then we ran into Hemantha Withenage from ELAW Sri Lanka, just emerging from the meeting. He explained more. “People from Tuvalu launched an unauthorized demonstration at the entrance to the room,” he reported. “So they shut down the entry.” We walked with Hemantha toward the chants and shouts. It was not the Tuvalu demonstration but another one – this one consisting of NGO delegates from Africa and the Middle East. “But we support Tuvalu also,” a young woman from South Africa told one of us.
The delegation from Tuvalu’s government had made a dramatic demand of its own in the morning of this third day of negotiations. They asked for a “contact group” to be set up, which would discuss the possibility of a new, legally binding protocol being drawn up, alongside the Kyoto Protocol. Their request was blocked by China and India, as well as oil-rich Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
At the same time, their request revealed divisions among the developing countries. The caucuses calling themselves the Least Developed Countries (LDC) and the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) are supporting an open and transparent discussion, while some others are opposing that. The United States stayed out of the fight.
What will actually happen is anyone’s guess.
To clarify — “one point five” refers to the number of degrees Celsius that the demonstrators want to use as a target for increased temperature from greenhouse gas emissions. Most of the governments negotiating in Copenhagen are talking about 2 degrees, and not even managing to create a plan to achieve that. Meanwhile, Tony Oposa, famed environmental lawyer (and ELAW partner) from the Philippines, told us tonight that he wants zero increases!
by ELAW Partners John Bonine and Svitlana Kravchenko
Svitlana and I are in Copenhagen for the climate change negotiations.
We almost did not get into opening session, however.
Governmental delegates had gone in through one door, while non-governmental delegates were routed to another, where we stood in a long line. When we got to the head of that line, we learned that our NGO credentials were not enough for entrance to the plenary session.
Only those who also had a special yellow tag, issued to some NGO focal points, could enter. How to solve that?
It happened that we ran into Hemantha Withenage, our good friend (and ELAW Partner) from Sri Lanka. Then Hemantha disappeared, as we tried to figure out a strategy to use. In ten minutes Hemantha came back, now wearing a yellow tag and smiling as he held one out to us. We decided that Svitlana should enter, leaving her laptop behind. I stuffed her cellphone hidden into her pocket. Some guards were prohibiting laptops and cell phones, but I wanted to be able to find her later.
I stayed close to the door, holding our two briefcases and looking for another miracle like Hemantha’s.
After some time, the guards decided that the remaining NGO seats should be filled, and so they let a dozen of us standing nearby enter. Since the guard said nothing about cell phones and laptops, I just innocently carried them all in.
John Bonine, ELAW Board of Directors