The applications to be a WashU delegate at our November Conference is now this coming Thursday, September 30, at 11 pm!
Thanks, and good luck to all those applying!
Climate Change: Meet the UN’s New Top Climate Diplomat
After I sit down with Christiana Figueres, the energetic new chief UN diplomat on climate change, she asks me if I made it to last year’s global warming summit in Copenhagen, which was plagued with logistical problems. I tell her I had, and that the first day I’d waited outside in the Danish cold with thousands of other people because the summit had been overbooked. “I’m sorry!” she blurts out—and instantly wins a few points from me.
This May Figueres, a diplomat from Costa Rica with a long history in climate negotiations, took over as head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body charged with ushering the world’s governments toward comprehensive action on global warming. It’s a job that can be, as Figueres herself has said, “thankless,” and right now it looks like it will only get tougher.
The Copenhagen summit last December was supposed to be a make or break event for climate change, the meeting that would produce a global treaty to reduce carbon emissions. It broke—the summit was poorly organized, and only the last-minute intervention of President Barack Obama saved delegates from going home with nothing at all. The global economic slowdown has sapped the energy from efforts to cut carbon, and the situation is worse in the U.S., where the Senate ultimately passed on an attempt to create a national carbon cap—and where midterm elections will likely return a Congress even more hostile to action on climate change. The standoff between developed and developing countries on who needs to take the lead on cutting carbon hasn’t been solved. The world is still adding billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, but we seem to be actually be going backwards on climate change. “It can be really quite depressing when you think about it,” says Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International.
Unsurprisingly, however, that’s not how Figueres sees it—and she may have a point. For all the angst over Copenhagen, she notes that there was still agreement and action at the summit on a number of areas—including billions that will be fast-tracked to developing nations for climate adaptation and carbon mitigation. Avoided deforestation—essentially paying tropical countries for preserving their trees, and the carbon contained with them—is moving ahead slowly. And every year the international community gains more and more experience on managing carbon markets and adapting to climate change. “We have a much more heightened awareness of the issue,” says Figueres. “Climate change is a household term in a way it wasn’t when we began working on it.”
Still, Figueres seems to be purposefully managing expectations of what can really be accomplished at the UN global warming summit, which will be held in Cancun, Mexico, at the end of the year. A comprehensive global climate treaty is not on the table—Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate diplomat, made that clear in comments at the UN this week. Instead, Figueres expects work to be done on what she calls the “pillars” of a future global deal: climate adaptation, clean technology transfer, basic carbon mitigation, deforestation. “We want to create a solid foundation for the next chapter of the climate regime,” she says. “We can build on what was accomplished at Bali and at Copenhagen.”
It’s smart of Figueres to scale back ambitions for the Cancun meeting. Last year’s summit in Copenhagen might not have seemed like such a disaster if environmentalists—and Figueres’s predecessor at the UN, the Dutch diplomat Yvo de Boer—had not spent months hammering home the message that the meeting was the last chance for the world to confront global warming. Thus anything short of a treaty seemed like a total failure, even though it was obvious in the run-up to Copenhagen that a comprehensive agreement wasn’t yet possible—especially since the Obama Administration, which had been in office for less than a year at the time, hadn’t yet cemented its own climate policy.
The problem is that the science tells us that we’re long past the point of building foundations and pillars—we need to confront the climate and energy challenge now, and not at some future date. Figueres’s biggest challenge may be restoring some sense of legitimacy to the UN climate process, which was paralyzed for much of the Copenhagen summit. That won’t be easy—climate diplomacy is dysfunctional because climate change itself is such a wicked problem. Big, rich countries like the U.S. emit most of the carbon warming the atmosphere, but smaller, poorer countries like Papua New Guinea and Sudan will bear most of the damage, especially initially. Crafting a diplomatic system that can somehow accommodate both systems could be impossible. That’s why many have argued that is time to put aside the UN system and focus chiefly on the major economies— similar to an idea former President George W. Bush had in his last years in office. And China’s own ambitious green policies—spending hundreds of billions on renewable energy and energy efficiency—shows that nations don’t have to wait for a global climate treaty (one that might never come) to begin tackling the energy challenge.
Don’t expect Figueres to stop fighting, though. What might seem impossible to others is “the most inspiring job in the world,” she says. “There’s no other task where you can make such a difference for the next generation, for our children and grandchildren.” She’s right—but it’s long past time to turn rhetoric into reality on global warming, and the UN process fails again, it might be time to take a very different tack.
Here’s an interesting article I found: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE68C0RS20100913
“The prospects of a new global climate change pact still hinge on resolving the divisions between rich nations and the developing world, a top Chinese climate negotiator said in remarks published on Monday.”
It gives insight into the political and economical realms of dealing with environmental issues – the rich vs. the poor struggle is making working on climate issues even more difficult.
And an update on our activities:
Our Information Center on Tuesday went very well – special thanks to Karen and Summer for putting on such a wonderful presentation.
We are happy to report that applications are beginning to come in! WashU students seem just as enthusiastic as their Fudan University counterparts to attend out Conference and be an active part of environmental change – not just at the University level, but the global one as well.
If you haven’t submitted your application, you still have time! Suggest to your friends to apply too.
If you are a WashU student and interested in being a delegate at our November Conference, please see our WashU Delegates page and fill out the application. Please note that we are only accepting sophomores, juniors, or seniors as delegates – freshmen, however, are still very welcome to attend our Conference, during which they will hear what our speakers have to say, and be part of the audience during the Mock Trial. Please take your time with the application, as we are only accepting 11 WashU delegates.
To all our applications, this will be a wonderful opportunity to interact with Fudan University students, share your knowledge on the environment and foreign relations, listen to speakers, and build an attractive resume for future endeavors!
Good luck to everyone,
Field to deliver talk on the velocity of climate change
Chris Field is coming to speak at WashU!
Field is the founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, Faculty Director of Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, Professor of Biology & Environment Earth System Science at Stanford University… and so much more. With over 200 scientific publications under his belt and research on the impacts of climate change, his
Chris Field is the founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology, Professor of Biology and Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford University, and Faculty Director of Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. The author of more than 200 scientific publications, Field’s research emphasizes impacts of climate change, WashU is honored to host him as an I-CARES Distinguished Speaker.
If you wish to attend, the event is at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21, in Graham Chapel.
HONG KONG — A broad trade case filed on Thursday by an American labor union, accusing China of unfairly subsidizing its clean energy industry, pressed a hot-button jobs issue in the United States during a Congressional election season.
But even if the Obama administration agrees to pursue the case, it could prove hard to resolve, as both countries consider their industries crucial to energy security and future economic growth.
The filing, by the 850,000-member United Steelworkers union, accuses China of violating the World Trade Organization’s free-trade rules by subsidizing exports of clean energy equipment like solar panels and wind turbines. Through its policies, fair or otherwise, China has helped turn its makers of that equipment into the global leaders, while manufacturers in the United States and Europe have struggled financially, cut jobs and in some cases moved operations to China.
President Obama has cited clean energy manufacture as a priority on economic and environmental grounds, and in a speech this week, he called for “a homegrown clean energy industry.”
Mr. Obama has shown a willingness to confront China before, imposing steep tariffs a year ago on Chinese tire imports — a decision that China is itself challenging before a W.T.O. panel in Geneva, which is expected to give an initial ruling this month.
Whether or not the administration wants to risk escalating trade tensions with China right now, the timing of the union’s petition has thrust the issue into the Congressional election season. The union filed under a law that requires the Obama administration to make a decision on whether to pursue the case within 45 days, which would be Oct. 24 — a week and a half before the elections.
“Once we file the case, we’re going to take it to the rest of the public,” Leo W. Gerard, president of the union, said before formally submitting the case. “We’re going to mobilize around this.”
If the administration does take up the case, the first step would be to ask China for bilateral consultations, which in a few months might lead to the formation of a W.T.O. dispute resolution panel in Geneva, unless either side backed down first.
A succession of mostly Democratic members of the House and Senate issued statements through the day on Thursday, endorsing the steelworkers’ case. That support, together with public anxiety about unemployment and the rise of China, could make it hard for the administration to refuse the union’s request.
Nefeterius A. McPherson, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, said that the office had accepted the union’s petition and would reach a decision on whether to open an investigation of Chinese trade practices within the designated 45 days, even though the administration has the option of extending that deadline.
The filing of the trade case comes as trade and currency frictions with China are mounting. On Friday morning in Beijing (late Thursday night in New York), China announced that it ran another large trade surplus in August of $20.03 billion.
The Chinese mission to the W.T.O. in Geneva declined to comment on the steelworkers’ filing on Thursday, on the grounds that no case had been filed yet at the W.T.O. and that any initial consultations between the United States and China would be bilateral.
Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, urged cooperation instead of confrontation: “Great potential exists between China and the U.S. in developing clean energy. And both the Chinese and the U.S. governments support their enterprises in collaborating in this promising sector, with the aim of creating a win-win situation commercially and helping combat the climate change effect.”
The issues go beyond jobs and exports, having real implications for efforts to curb global warming. Increasing China’s use of renewable energy for its own electricity needs would help slow the rise in China’s emissions of greenhouse gases. China passed the United States in total emissions in 2006, although emissions per person remain three times as high in the United States as in China.
Chinese energy policy makers have said in the past that developing a strong energy industry is a national priority that contributes to Chinese energy security. They say that China is helping to address global warming by rapidly increasing its output of renewable energy equipment and that the rest of the world should appreciate its heavy investment in clean energy, which has steeply pushed down the price of solar and wind energy in the past three years.
Many trade experts, though, say that China has made itself vulnerable to a W.T.O. case because much of its support for clean energy, often in the form of cheap land grants and low-cost loans from state-run banks, has benefited its export industries, rather than focusing on the domestic adoption of solar power and wind energy.
Trade lawyers in Washington have been saying for months that China’s export subsidies for clean energy were so extensive that sooner or later, they expected someone to file a trade case. But multinational companies and trade associations in the clean energy business, as in many other industries, have been wary of filing such cases, fearing Chinese officials’ reputation for retaliating against joint ventures in their country and potentially denying market access to any company that takes sides against China.
Besides Mr. Obama’s imposition of tariffs on Chinese tires, the Commerce Department has separately granted dozens of requests to impose tariffs on narrow categories of imports from China, like steel wire strands for prestressed concrete, after finding evidence that they have been subsidized or dumped in the American market.
But special tariffs and other import restrictions still cover less than 3 percent of American imports from China. Unions and many Congressional Democrats have contended that the administration should be more assertive in forcing China to honor previous free trade commitments. But the United States government has long depended on companies to gather commercial information for trade cases, and companies have been hesitant to do so.
China could greatly weaken the case against it, or even settle the matter entirely, by shifting more of its subsidies toward encouraging Chinese consumers to use clean energy, said Alan W. Wolff, a former deputy United States trade representative who has been one of Washington’s best-known trade litigators since the 1980s.
Government subsidies primarily for domestic manufacture and consumption are less likely to violate international trade rules.
“It is time for China to vastly increase its share of world consumption of solar and wind equipment,” Mr. Wolff said. “It needs to do so for its own environmental objectives and for peaceful trade relations with the other leading economies.”
In the 1980s, many big American companies like Kodak and industrial groups like the semiconductor industry were willing to give legal backing and financial support for trade cases against Japan, when it was still an ascending industrial power. But these days, when facing China, multinationals have been reluctant to file similar cases.
The difference is that China, unlike Japan in the ’80s, has encouraged the opening of many foreign-owned factories, making multinationals loath to file trade cases that could alienate Chinese officials and make it harder to do business there.
Section 301, the trade law provision being used by the steelworkers’ union, gives legal standing to unions as well as corporations to file trade cases. The law provided the legal basis for threats of unilateral American trade restrictions in many confrontations with Japan and South Korea through the ’80s and early 1990s.
Currently, the steelworkers’ union is one of the few with the legal resources to challenge China. And it has nothing to fear but the further loss of jobs in the United States.
The United Steelworkers union represents employees in a wide range of energy-related jobs, including manufacturers who make the steel for wind turbine towers and nuclear reactors and glassworkers who make solar panels and various kinds of incandescent and halogen light bulbs. The union also represents workers involved in the assembly of wind turbine towers and those who make gears, valves, engines and other components of clean energy equipment. All of those job categories have faced increased competition from China and other countries in recent years.
Stewart & Stewart, a Washington law firm known for filing antidumping cases at the Commerce Department, prepared the legal brief for the union. The union’s trade strategist for the case is Michael R. Wessel, best known as the trade adviser for many years to former House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt, who ran for president in 1988 on a platform calling for a more assertive American trade strategy.