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Carbon Watch

CLIMATE WATCH BLOG

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Copenhagen Q & A

Posted by Jackie Bennion | December 23, 2009



A few weeks ago we asked you to send in your questions on climate change for our reporter Mark Schapiro while he was in Copenhagen covering the talks.

Many of you did, sending them via webcam, email and from the summit itself. Questions came in from Tibetans, Russians, Pacific Islanders, Brazilians and many Americans.

As soon as the Bella center shut up shop at the weekend, we found the festive if freezing King's Square in downtown Copenhagen to put your questions to Mark, and get his initial thoughts on what had been achieved there.

The analysis of what did or should have happened at the summit is only just beginning to surface, and we'll be following the road from Copenhagen to Bonn and Mexico Ciity where the next crucial stages of these talks will take place in the coming months.


 

The Lunacy of the Last Day

Posted by Andres Cediel | December 22, 2009



Even on a normal day in the Bella Center, we suffered from information overload: there was the official daily program, press conferences, side events and presentations by the country delegations all competing for time.

With 15,000 people buzzing through the complex, we seemed to bump into a story at every turn ­ at the cafe, in the coat check line, or from an unlikely tap on the shoulder. In the midst of this, the media center became a refuge of relative calm, as hundreds of journalists quietly typed, edited and filed their reports, trying to make sense of all the activity.

But just when we thought we knew what was going on, the whole dynamic changed on the last day. (See the video for that!) Now that the heads of state were in the building -- Jiabao, Obama, Lula, Chavez -- scheduled events were not just "subject to change," they seemed designed to deceive, sending journalists in one direction as VIPs headed in another.

The media began roaming in packs. We didn't always know whom we were trying to capture; we just knew we didn't want to miss it. After all, Obama would be speaking -- although we didn't know when -- and finally the "Deal or No Deal" issue would be resolved.

When he took the podium around midday, his speech created more questions than answers. The media center began to hum again and negotiators locked themselves behind closed doors. None of us would leave until well past midnight.

Days later, and we're still trying to decode the deal in Copenhagen.


Following the Money in Copenhagen

Posted by Mark Schapiro | December 18, 2009

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The money folks have been grappling this week over how much or little regulation the carbon market needs.

I'm sure there will be a flood of reactions to the "agreement" reached today, which made things pretty quiet and tense in the press center. People were hunched over computers talking in multiple languages, first trying to interpret President Obama's speech -- "hugely disappointing" seemed to be the main reaction -- then following the last-minute back-room bargaining he was engaged in to salvage a deal.

But I'm going to go against this wave and continue following the aggressive push here toward carbon markets and the debate over how to regulate them.

This is where the only real money lies at this point, anyway.

During these past two weeks, the Crowne Plaza hotel has been temporary home to the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), which represents global banks, brokerage firms, commodity traders and energy companies at the apex of moving billions of dollars through the global carbon markets.

The buying and selling of so-called carbon "offsets" is now the fastest growing commodity market on earth. Worth practically zero in 2005, the market transacted $150 billion last year; and that number is expected to explode into the trillions once the U.S. passes its own emission limits next year.

With genuine fears about the economic consequences of a market growing this big this fast, traders at a panel on Thursday were grappling with how much regulation was appropriate as carbon emerges as the epitome of the 21st century commodity.

Carbon is becoming much like any other commodity but with one key distinction: It is designed not to be delivered (like oil or gold) but to be eliminated, presenting an array of potential regulatory challenges.

Not surprisingly, there was consensus among the panelists, which included a member of the IETA, an executive with EurEx, a German commodity exchange that opened a carbon trading facility in Chicago last year; and a policy expert with the investment bank, JP Morgan.

Carbon is becoming much like any other commodity but with one key distinction: It is designed not to be delivered (like oil or gold) but to be eliminated, presenting an array of potential regulatory challenges.

David Hunter, the IETA's director for U.S. policy said the group was firmly against a federal cap and trade bill introduced by Senators Collins (R-ME) and Stabenow (D-MI). Measures in the bill want to avoid some of the highly speculative investments that have driven Europe's carbon market, which is regulated under provisions of the Kyoto treaty.

The U.S. bill proposes to cut out middlemen and to strictly limit trading activity between those industries that have emission credits and those industries that need them.

Hunter disputes some of the biggest conerns the bill is designed to address -- chiefly that the market is growing so rapidly it could quickly devolve into the bubble-and-bust scenario that kicked off the global economic crisis two years ago, and that the market could be exposed to the same manipulations the electricity industry went through in the 1990s.

"Nothing like that could happen in the carbon markets," Hunter told me, "because carbon [commodities] are just a piece of paper."

He is right in the fact that, unlike other commodities, no physical commodity is ever actually delivered. Instead, it is an unorthodox financial instrument containing a promise not to emit greenhouse gases.

Richard Folland, a senior climate change and energy adviser at J.P. Morgan, now one of the world's largest carbon trading firms after buying British carbon brokers Eco Securities last fall, argued that minimal regulations are necessary but that overly intrusive regulations could end up “diminishing liquidity.” And contrary to fears, he said, expanding the number of "market actors" would make the market more difficult to manipulate not less.

Overall, the discussion provided a stark contrast to the main emissions negotiations at the Bella Center. No matter how today's non-binding agreement is received and changes things, the carbon markets will continue to grow at an exponential rate.

Inside Bella there was abundant talk about the growing cataclysmic symptoms of global warming, and much dodging around money. At the Crowne Plaza, there was much talk about money, and barely a reference to reducing the world's greenhouse gas emissions. 


BRAZIL TELLS U.S. DON'T BANK ON OUR FORESTS

Posted by Mark Schapiro | December 17, 2009



Brazil and the United States, the two key players in the REDD negotiations, are now squaring off. Negotiations are down to the wire and one major division remains. Hold on as we head into U.N. speak. Here's what is at the heart of the dispute:

Brazil, with the support of the European Union, is arguing that all deals on forests be conducted on a national basis -- so any market mechanisms involved have to be conducted and overseen by national authorities.

The Brazilians argue this is the only way they can ensure that deforestation activities don't simply move from one state to another, and the only way to stop this problem is at the national level.

The United States, with strong vocal support from Colombia, is arguing that such deals also be conducted on what they call a "sub-national" level -- meaning that individual states or regions, depending on the country, should be allowed to cut their own forest deals, irrespective of whether they fall in line with national policy.

Brazil and the United States, the two key players in the REDD negotiations, are now squaring off. Negotiations are down to the wire and one major division remains.

This sub-level deal making, say opponents, only encourages shifting the problem of "deforestation into another state."

Earlier this week, we spoke with Eduardo Braga, governor of the powerful state of Amazonas in the heart of the Amazon jungle, about his position. Braga has gone through something of a transformation on the question of "states rights" in Brazil.

Eudardo Braga

Amazonas state governor Eduardo Braga sends message to U.S. companies: no easy access to Brazil's forests.

Until recently he has been a strong supporter of Brazilian states being able to negotiate their own forest deals within their borders, which have become a primary revenue source for Amazonia and other heavily forested states.

In fact, last year Braga signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of California to cooperate on forest preservation projects and alternative energy technologies. The hope on both sides was that the forests of Amazonas could be used to offset emissions by California state industries on the arrival of tighter emissions controls expected next year.

This type of transaction may not be as simple now that Brazil's states and federal government are presenting a united front on preventing such unilateral deals from happening. Braga told us that any American partner approaching Brazil with a carbon offset project would have to do their homework first.

"We are not going to support your emissions at the cost of the standard of living of our people." That's the difference now," he said.

"If you do your homework and establish your target to reduce your emissions of greenhouse gases, then you can come to us to help mitigate further emissions," he told us.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has conceded that carbon markets may play a limited role in preserving Brazil's and other countries' forests. But to get there, the Brazilian negotiators have added an interesting obstacle course and are calling the shots.

The REDD Ahead

In the latest REDD negotiations, and echoing Braga's change of heart, Brazil has taken the position that if developed countries want to gain access to the countrys forests to offset their emissions, they must first demonstrate their own commitment to reducing greenhouse gases at home.

Specifically, Brazil is asking that no more than 10 percent of a developed country's excess emissions can be written off against forest preservation schemes, and that this would only happen after those countries had already committed to reducing their emissions by 30 percent from 1990 levels.

So doing the math, a country with a stated 30 percent reduction goal would have to reach 33 percent to receive the keys to the carbon-rich magic kingdom of the Amazon.

According to Kate Dooley, a forest policy analyst for the UK-based NGO FERN (Forests and the European Union Resource Network), this offer is only on the table if developed countries stick to their commitments to continue negotiations on a binding global agreement under the Kyoto protocol.

Few close to the REDD talks believe these conditions will be met.


THE U.S. UPS ANTE ON FORESTS

Posted by Mark Schapiro | December 16, 2009



The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack shook up the negotiations on REDD Wednesday when he announced that the United States would release $1 billion over the next 3 years to help tropical countries slow the rate of deforestation.

The move, he told us, was intended to signal a new American commitment to forests and climate change. "The United States and the Obama administration is very interested in sending a clear message that we are engaged aggressively in climate change," Vilsack said.

We caught up with the secretary at a private dinner sponsored by Avoided Deforestation Partners, a consortium of business and environmental interests looking to the carbon market to finance forest preservation.

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During climate talks, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announces $1 billion from U.S. to fund forest preservation.

The move came just as tensions were mounting in negotiations over who would provide the funds to "make forests worth more alive than dead," a phrase often used by forest advocates to highlight their aims.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that $25 billion will be needed over the next 5 years to significantly slow the rate of deforestation, which contributes as much as 20 percent of all greenhouse gases.

Vilsack said that his actions also reflected a new commitment at the USDA to deal with climate change and to help stimulate a new green economy in U.S. agriculture.

Vilsack said that his actions also reflected a new commitment at the USDA to deal with climate change and help stimulate a new green economy in U.S. agriculture.

This includes a move toward more unorthodox carbon offsets such as as no-till farming -- a practice that releases less nitrogen into the atmosphere. It is one example, Vilsack said, of "revitalizing rural America."

A former Iowa governor, Vilsack said the funding could not only help reduce forest clearing to plant crops such as soy, but could be an advantage to U.S farmers. "If we can avoid people deforesting acres and acres of forests to plant new crops,” he said, "then we avoid competition with our own agriculture."

The administration's move is by far the most serious commitment the U.S. has made to preserve forests. The money is intended to spur the ability of countries like Indonesia, Brazil, Guyana and other tropical forest nations to develop alternative industries to forest degradation, and to do the measurements that are critical to determining how much carbon their forests contain.

In the long run, these measurements are essential if forest-based credits are going to be used with any legitimacy by U.S. industries seeking to offset their emissions.

Other tensions remain. Industry analysts Point Carbon called a recent draft of the REDD agreement "remarkably void of any references to tradable credits or offsets from forest-related activities." Indeed, the latest draft seems to rely heavily on government aid to fund projects, whereas the United States wants a more market-driven solution, whereby companies will ultimately pay for forest preservation schemes as an offset for exceeding their emissions limits at home.

Vilsack's announcement suggests that the U.S. may use its $1 billion to change the power dynamic and push for more market-based approaches worldwide.


NATIVE INCENTIVES

Posted by Andres Cediel | December 15, 2009



"Where there are forests, there are indigenous people. Where there are no forests, there are no indigenous people."

Onel Masardule, a Kuna leader from Panama, smiled at the simplicity of his statement. You could read this as part fact, or depending on the results of the current negotiations, part prophecy.

According to The World Bank, 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihood. If the forests perish, so do they. This fundamental principle has been built into their culture, which is why the most preserved forests on earth are on indigenous lands.

As the world's leaders argue about incentives for stopping deforestation, the indigenous leaders I've been talking to keep telling me that protecting the forests should be handed to them.

Masardule described the forest as his hospital, his house and his supermarket. Joseph Onesimel, a Masai from Kenya, described taking care of the forest as a duty similar to taking care of children. To him, paying someone not to chop down trees makes no sense. "When you go to the bathroom to take a shower, that is your duty. Why should I pay you for that?"

As the world's leaders argue about incentives for stopping deforestation, the indigenous leaders I've been talking to keep telling me that protecting the forests should be handed to them. Traditional knowledge has maintained biodiversity for centuries.

"Preserving forests is not complicated,” Onesimel told me. But, REDD, the global agreement behind forest preservation, is.

Many of the forests where indigenous people live have not been demarcated; property lines have not been drawn; and there are no titles. Before any offsets are sold, land rights are going to have to be settled, which makes Masardule and others wary.

Dozens died in violent clashes between the Peruvian government and indigenous groups in the Amazon last summer. The dispute was over oil and gas development, not carbon, but for Masardule it's the most recent example of foreign money trumping indigenous sovereignty. "How can REDD help me if my rights aren't recognized?"

Free, prior and informed consent is the basic right all indigenous people are asking for in Copenhagen. In other words, they demand that before any carbon projects are developed on their lands, they be given the right to examine the issue and decide for themselves whether they want to participate.

The latest draft of the REDD agreement only mentions indigenous people in the preamble -- not in the legally binding body of the text. The New York Times reported today that a final text of the agreement will be given to ministers on Wednesday, and that all major points, including indigenous rights, have been worked out.

Masardule says the agreement will allow industries to keep polluting, while credits are changing hands. "They want to get rich off the disgrace of the whole world,” he said.


FOREST TALKS SLOW OVER CORRUPTION CONTROLS

Posted By Mark Schapiro | December 15, 2009

During the last 24 hours of negotiations, a bloc of countries led by Papua New Guinea, with support from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia, have resisted efforts to impose a package of safeguards to ensure the credibility of forest offsets.

The three countries -- each with substantial amounts of uncut forests and a questionable ability to oversee them -- are objecting to three major provisions, according to Greg Picker, a former member of the Australian climate negotiating team and now a consultant on forest issues to the delegation.

The first of these is the U.N.'s desire to "put boots on the ground” to ensure that trees are actually left standing -- in other words, allow inspectors to move freely within a country's borders to assess the veracity of preservation claims.

The second is to clarify land titles and make sure that those paid for the carbon in the trees actually own the land on which the trees are growing.

The third is a provision that will assess the "permanence" of these preservation efforts.

Papua New Guinea agreed that safeguards were necessary but objected to the presence of international inspectors challenging its national sovereignty.

The country has already been tarred by corruption in setting up early offset projects. In September, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on a $100 million carbon trading scandal involving fake carbon certificates in one of PNG's preservation deals.


THE FATE OF TREES

Posted By Mark Schapiro | December 14, 2009



Trees loom large over the proceedings in Copenhagen. Here in this sprawling, climate-controlled complex of low-slung metallic hangars where the negotiations are unfolding, the fate of the earth's forests may rest with decisions reached by the end of the week. The question is how to pay the estimated $15 to $25 billion it will cost over the next five years to start reducing deforestation by 50 percent by 2020 and eliminate it by 2030. These are the goals being set for any serious reductions on greenhouse gas emissions.

The first signal of where these forest negotiations are headed came Saturday afternoon, when the Ecosystems Climate Alliance, a group representing a coalition of international and U.S. NGOs, claimed it had obtained a draft of what such a deal would look like. Called REDD, which stands for Reduced Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation, the agreement set no clear guidelines on whether public or private money would pay to protect forests -- a critical area of debate.

The draft also downplayed another sensitive issue -- getting Prior Informed Consent from the indigenous people living in the forests. Environmental groups across the spectrum, including Global Witness and the Rainforest Action Network are particularly wary of forests being subjected to the forces of a carbon market.

The United States is aligned with tropical nations like Indonesia and the Congo, arguing that the best way to preserve forests is by permitting companies to protect them through offset funds.

Even the Nature Conservancy, which has been pro-market in saving forests, is demanding that provisions for people living in them be a central part of any agreement.

If and when private companies will be able to purchase forestlands to preserve them is at the heart of these negotiations. The United States is aligned with tropical nations like Indonesia, the Congo and Papua New Guinea, arguing that the best way to preserve forests is by permitting companies to protect them through offset funds.

Meanwhile, the European Union is advocating for a multistage approach, which would begin with public support to prepare countries over the next several years to manage their forests sustainably before subjecting them to the market. Both sides have yet to agree on how much money will be committed, and from where.

Rosalind Reeves, a forest campaign manager for the environmental and human rights group Global Witness, working in Kenya, is concerned that linking forest preservation directly to the carbon market could lead to a boom in government corruption, especially in countries that have large areas of tropical forest in tact -- like the Congo and Papua New Guinea.

"A lot of people see [the REDD agreement] as a big opportunity to save the forests," Reeves said, "but there are lots of risks attached." If you get a deal that "doesn't protect the natural forests and the rights of the people who live in that forest, and doesn't promote strong governance or include effective monitoring, then you've got problems," she said.

Reeves has gone from tracking the illegal wildlife trade to the illegal logging trade and is now trying to ensure that the market solution for preserving forests favored by the United States does not create an entirely new business in carbon crimes. Any agreement is in peril without the ability to properly enforce it.

The Lusaka Agreement Task Force is one of the enforcement operations talking to delegates. The group was created under a joint agreement between several African nations and draws from enforcement agencies across West Africa. The group is helping advise on REDD guidelines so that accounting for fraud and other potential abuses are not overlooked.

In many parts of the world, land titles are unclear; and the rules governing how to account for forestlands, even tax them, have yet to be written.

"You have unclear rules, a whole economy being formed -- it's ripe for criminals," said Davyth Stewart, a former organized crime investigator in Australia's national police force. He's now a lawyer with Global Witness, and focusing on this new market for forests.


COPENHAGEN: WEEK ONE

Posted By Jackie Bennion | December 12, 2009

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U.S. special envoy Todd Stern goes on the offensive in Copenhagen. PHOTO © EPA

Our team is following the role forests will play in the climate debate and a country critical to those negotiations -- Brazil. They will be posting some of what they've found early next week. In the meantime, here's what else made the headlines during the first week.

One of the key questions on delegates' minds:

Who's Going to Pay for This?
A few days after the Environmental Protection Agency announced that carbon-dioxide emissions posed a threat to human health, paving the way for regulation despite a climate bill languishing in the Senate, America's special climate envoy Todd Stern arrived in Copenhagen on the offensive.

Stern took aim at China saying the U.S. would not pay for its emissions problems as part of any deal. With some "$2 trillion in reserves," China's economy was big enough to take care of itself, he said, and warned that the U.S. was not here to make "reparations" for past emissions.

The commitment the G77 is asking for and unlikely to get is between 0.5 and 1 percent of the richest nations' GDPs; in other words, hundreds of billions a year in climate aid.

His blunt remarks caught the media and the Chinese by surprise. He later told reporters: "You cannot get to the reductions we need globally if China is not a major player. It's just the reality."

The fact the U.S. is already $800 billion in China's debt didn't escape the notice of some U.S. news outlets.

We're in this Noxious Cloud Together
The world's two largest polluters face an interesting standoff. Despite China's economic clout, it's part of the G77 negotiating bloc, a mixed bag of 133 developing countries that want to keep the Kyoto provisions alive because they already hold developed countries to stringent emissions targets, while leaving their own carbon outputs to voluntary efforts.

What these developoing countries want from Copenhagen is for rich nations to pay them to mitigate the effects of climate change and provide the technology. The rub for the U.S. and other wealthy nations is that Brazil and India are also members of the G77, and these emergent powerhouses, with their emissions rising not stabilizing, should not get a free pass this time around.

Gross Domestic Displeasure
The amount the group is asking for and unlikely to get is between 0.5 and 1 percent of the richest nations' GDPs; in other words, hundreds of billions a year in climate aid, far beyond the U.N.'s initial proposal of $10 billion a year.

The Europeans: Damned If You, Damned If You Don't
Coming to Denmark with a strong track record on emissions regulations and a trading system that puts a value on removing carbon from the atmosphere, the Europeans were always going to be the first movers on financing the effects of climate change. On Friday the 27 member states pledged $US3.6 billion a year (for three years) to poorer countries to tackle global warming. Yvo de Boer, the U.N.'s top climate official, greeted the news with "huge encouragement." And in the week's first horsetrading, the G77 turned it down, saying the Europeans were "climate skeptics" for offering such a paltry amount and accusing them of stirring up even more mistrust between rich and poor nations.

Who Can We Trust?
No one, it seems, certainly not the Danes. Earlier in the week, mistrust clouded everything when the Guardian leaked draft text of an agreement written by the Danish government and floated to a select group a few weeks before the summit. Delegates and NGOs had a field day interpreting the subtext. Some read it as rich nations trying to hijack the entire accord, cutting poor nations out of the deal, and turning the whole management of climate change over to the World Bank. It also gave G77 countries plenty to aim at. Lumumba Di-Aping, the group's head negotiator from Sudan, became the most quoted official of the week, reminding delegates that the developed world had wasted no time in bailing out the banks for a trillion dollars, but was now trying to "rob developing countries of their just, applicable and fair share of the atmospheric space.”

The Guardian followed the leak with reactions to it from several climate experts, and Politico did a good follow up on how it backfired on the host country and set the whole summit back.

A Cheer for Tuvalu
The tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu enjoyed a moment of solidarity when it asked for a new protocol to cap global temperature rises at 1.5 degrees Celsius, not the 2 degrees set in Kyoto. It struck a chord with many regions feeling the effects of rising oceans and temperatures.

A few years ago, we reported on Tuvalu's troubles in "That Sinking Feeling" and what populations face living just a few feet above sea level. Several African nations also got behind Tuvalu, attributing some of the continent's worst droughts in living memory to warming temperatures. The plight of Africa's pastoralist tribes, some living years wihout rain, was a focus of FRONTLINE's recent investigation into the effects of global warming around the world. For a few hours, midweek, Tuvalu became the underdog to cheer for.

A Tentative Agreement and Only Seven Pages Long
By week's end, the first official draft of a potential agreement began circulating. Environmentalists were upbeat. Greenpeace called it "a good step forward," and the WWF's Kim Carstensen said it "contains many gaps, exposes rifts, but also clearly shows that an agreement is possible.” Stern thought it was"constructive" but told reporters it was not nearly tough enough on emerging powers to cut their emissions, ending the week much the way he started it.

The Power of Trees
Saturday was a day of protest; Sunday, hopefully, a day of rest. Next week is all about numbers, and what they mean. From us, a lot more about forests and the leverage they're giving countries like Indonesia and Brazil who still have them. The proposal to put forests into the carbon equation as a legitimate offset is a hugely contentious one. Our story from Brazil's Atlantic forest gives you some indication why. Also, all eyes will be on what influence the U.S.will bring with a commitment to do its "fair share." On to week two.


THE WORLD IS WATCHING COPENHAGEN

Posted By Jackie Bennion| December 7, 2009

With 192 countries represented, a lot of conflicting agendas have just converged on the U.N. Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, and reporter Mark Schapiro and producer Andres Cediel will be in the thick of the action. During the next two weeks, they will be talking to diplomats, industry leaders, activists, economists, and many others with a stake in how the world proceeds from here.

Their coverage of this mother of all gatherings, which will set the course for new global emissions standards once the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012, is part of our new Carbon Watch series, a joint reporting project with the Center for Investigative Reporting and FRONTLINE/World. We will be tracking the new currencies of global warming, in particular the emerging trillion-dollar carbon market.

What are the mechanisms behind this new economy, which the French finance minister recently called "a regulatory vacuum?" And who stands to gain and lose as the value of carbon rises?  Also, what are the hidden interests already at work among the world’s largest polluting industries and countries, when there are no quick or easy fixes?

We began our series in Brazil, home to the world’s largest carbon sink, and now part of a controversial plan by rich nations to pay poorer ones not to cut down their remaining forests. It’s a critical issue on the table at Copenhagen as deforestation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Our team will be following that story and many others, posting updates and video interviews throughout the summit and beyond. So stay with us.

Watch the opening remarks.

 


AIRBORNE ACCOUNTING

Posted By Mark Schapiro| December 7, 2009

On route to Copenhagen, Mark Schapiro’s first blog post follows a surprising mid-air announcement.

It was at 33,000 feet, on route from Paris, when I had my first welcome to the climate change talks in Copenhagen. We’d reached our cruising altitude and the captain of the Air France flight came on the public address system, greeting us in French with the usual, ‘Hope you are enjoying your flight," when he launched into this: “This flight amounts to a carbon footprint of 2 liters of fuel per person for every 100 kilometers of the 900 kilometer trip to Copenhagen." That’s the same fuel consumption per person, he told us, as it would take to drive from Paris to Copenhagen, but then came the pilot’s twist: “We’re carrying a lot more people,” he said. I looked around and we were in a packed Airbus 321, carrying almost 200 passengers.

His statement got my attention. The stewardess, Fatya, told me it was the first time she’d heard such an announcement in her many trips across the continent. The man next to me, an engineer flying in from Bogota, whose business of recycling equipment to companies in Latin America is booming (a market U.S. manufacturers barely know exists), did some napkin calculations and assured me the pilot was right.

All airlines flying in or out of European airports must begin a tally of their fuel use and carbon emissions to create a baseline for limits that will be established in 2012.
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Delegates wait in line outside Copenhagen's Bella Center.

This was a lot more carbon-efficient than driving the same route: our Airbus 321 carrying 200 passengers, the average car carrying perhaps four. Air France plans to reduce its average fuel consumption per passenger to 3.7 liters per 100 km by 2012, and the industry’s green-focused trade groups say the new generation of fleets are already more efficient per person per mile than the most modern compact cars. (A number of variables are factored into calculating a flight's footprint, including how many passengers are on board, how much the cargo and baggage wiegh, how modern the plane is, and its air traffic and taxi patterns. But that's a whole other blog post.)

The message from Copenhagen, then, had made it into the turbulent, rain-soaked skies of Europe. When we landed, I had a quick word with Captain Gaetan Sroczysnki. He said it was his own decision to make the announcement -- not company policy -- and other pilot friends were doing the same. All of them were aware that airplanes are one of the largest guzzlers of fuel and thus emitters of greenhouse gases. These pilots wanted to acknowledge in their own way the necessity for reducing these levels. There were no such announcements on my flight from San Francisco to Paris.

Nor, it turns out, does Captain Sroczysnki’s concern come out of thin air. Here in Europe, the skies are already a major focus of greenhouse gas reduction efforts: The European Union recently issued a list of proposals to limit the emissions from the aviation sector, which is estimated to produce about 3 percent of Europe’s greenhouse gases. All airlines flying in or out of European airports must begin to tally their fuel use and carbon emissions to create a baseline for limits that will be established in 2012.

These actions have already prompted the Air Transport Association and major U.S. carriers like United, American Airlines and Continental to threaten a legal challenge to EU laws on the grounds that they violate free-trade provisions and air navigation treaties, some of which date back to 1944. While a new airline emissions limit is still being worked out, observers expect the cap will be around 20 million tons of CO2 for 2012, with a 5 percent reduction on that figure by the following year.

Welcome to the friendly skies!


Putting A Price on Trees

Posted By Mark Schapiro| November 12, 2009

The first time I heard there was a $150 billion market in carbon I thought I’d misheard the letter “b.” That was about a year ago. I quickly discovered that, indeed, it was “billion,” not million. But how could you spend $150 billion on something that barely anyone—in the U.S. anyway—understands?

The number is the amount of carbon offsets that have been traded on the international carbon market. The market was created in 2005 by the cap-and-trade system established in countries that signed the Kyoto Protocol (every developed country has ratified the treaty except the United States). In other words, “cap,” meaning government-mandated emission limits, and “trade,” meaning you can buy your way out of those limits through investments that reduce emissions elsewhere.

Carbon is now the fastest-growing commodity in the world. Once the U.S. establishes its own set of emission limits—and offsets to meet them—the market for carbon is expected to explode into a multitrillion-dollar business.

Roll forward five years, and carbon is now the fastest-growing commodity in the world, with companies buying and selling carbon credits much like pork bellies or silver. Once the U.S. establishes its own set of emission limits—and offsets to meet them—the market for carbon is expected to explode into a multitrillion-dollar business.

Finding out what lies behind those numbers led the Center for Investigative Reporting and FRONTLINE/World to launch our Carbon Watch series. Our first step in this ongoing investigation took us far from negotiations in Washington deep into the forests of Brazil. Three major U.S. companies, each with their own huge carbon footprint, invested in 50,000 acres of forestland on Brazil’s southeast coast. By agreeing not to cut down the trees, and thus sequestering the carbon dioxide rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, they’re hoping to obtain offset credits.

It’s something we’re likely to see more of: Every major bill now being considered by the U.S. Congress includes the potential for American companies to invest in forests like this one and use them as credits to either offset their own emissions or sell on the market.

While most Americans are not aware of what this market is, people in Brazil certainly are. While we visited the carbon reserve in Paraná state, my colleague Andrés Cediel, the producer of this segment, filmed a high school class in the port town of Antonina, on the edge of Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, one of the most bio-diverse regions on earth. The teacher turned the blackboard over to her star student and asked her to present the basic principles behind how a Brazilian forest could be turned into an offset.

It was a scene I would not forget: You can watch it for yourself in the clip below. If a student in Brazil could explain to her peers how the forests in her backyard are being turned into an offset by American companies thousands of miles away, then we should start trying to figure this out. The resulting FRONTLINE/World video and companion print story in the November/December issue of Mother Jones begin the first chapter.



We’ll be headed to Washington shortly and next month to Copenhagen where all the key political and financial players will be hammering out a new global climate deal. Stay with us as we investigate the financial, geopolitical and environmental forces at work in this new economy of global warming.


The Forest Debate
Can’t See the Carbon for the Trees

Posted By Andrés Cediel | November 3, 2009

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Deforestation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It accounts for 20 percent of all emissions, which is more than the emissions of all of the world’s transportation systems combined.

Global warming has become big business. The buying and selling of carbon offsets – credits earned from reducing greenhouse gas emissions – is already a $150 billion business worldwide. It’s projected to skyrocket to $3 trillion by 2020.

But the market is largely unregulated. Currently, there is no legislation in the U.S. to govern this market, and many of the rules proposed by Congress do not line up with the European system already in place. The negotiations coming up this December in Copenhagen are meant to resolve key discrepancies. One major issue on the table is what to do about forests.

Keeping forests standing is critical for two reasons: first, they operate as a carbon sink, sucking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and cooling the earth. Second, when forests are chopped down and burned, they release their stored carbon into the air.

Global warming has become big business. The buying and selling of carbon offsets – credits earned from reducing greenhouse gas emissions – is already a $150 billion business worldwide. It’s projected to skyrocket to $3 trillion by 2020.


Deforestation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It accounts for 20 percent of all emissions, which is more than the emissions of all of the world’s transportation systems combined.

Planting new trees is a universally accepted way of earning carbon credits. But avoided deforestation – that is, protecting a standing forest and agreeing not to chop it down – is highly contentious. The Americans and other forested countries are in favor of this practice, but it is not allowed in the European system.

The European argument is, How can you insure that a protected forest will not be chopped down in the future? And if you protect one area, loggers and farmers may just deforest a neighboring plot. What happens in the case of naturally occurring forest fires? Or disease?

There are too many uncertainties, says the EU, in trying to earn credits from a living organism. But the U.S. sees avoided deforestation as the least expensive route to reducing carbon emissions, and the best way to get American industries on board.

There is, however, one more factor that has largely been overlooked by markets and economists: people. As these carbon preserves expand around the world – Indonesia is considering its vast forested land – what happens to the local people who live and survive by these forests? Our journey through the preserve in Brazil highlights some of the human consequences of these ambitious projects.