Posts Tagged ‘environmental policy’

Obama speaking on the environment. I had to watch:

I listened attentively to Obama’s words, and felt encouraged by his speech. Part of me wished he would be more aggressive. But then, I have to remember, policy making is a process, and  it has to start somewhere. My favorite moments were his speech to the guys in Detroit and the shots of his two daughters.

Imagine for a second, if you were President of the United States, what would your plan for a sustainable world be? Would it be any different from Barack Obama’s?

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Yesterday, I wrote with a sense of urgency, about the need for Americans to start questioning their materialistic excesses. And I advocated in no uncertain terms, for a shift in individual behaviors. Not everybody agrees. Last month I attended an E2 presentation by Rick Duke, Director of Center for Innovation at NRDC, and also ex-McKinsey consultant. The topic was a recent McKinsey report on ‘Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Much at What Cost?‘. The ground-breaking study was co-sponsored by a group of environmental and corporate heavy weights: NRDC, DTE Energy, Environmental Defense, Honeywell, National Grid, PG&E, and Shell. From E2:

Rick Duke followed by presenting McKinsey’s findings, which showed that the U.S. can cost-effectively address global warming – doing our part to avoid potential adverse climate impacts estimated to range as high as 20 percent of GDP – if we act immediately and comprehensively to start redirecting capital from old polluting infrastructure to clean solutions. Building, vehicle and appliance efficiency will play a critical role – generating net economic benefits that roughly pay for more expensive measures needed to clean up energy supply. Lastly, Rick emphasized that to enable businesses to scale up solutions, we urgently need three kinds of policy innovation: 1) measures to overcome non-price barriers to energy efficiency, e.g. smart regulation to ensure utilities can profit from delivering efficiency; 2) an effective cap on carbon emissions that puts a price on greenhouse gas pollution; and 3) incentives to develop and deploy emerging low-carbon solutions.

What the E2 summary does not cover, is the point Rick Duke made during his presentation about Americans not needing to make sacrifices in their way of life. This assumes the U.S. implement the policies recommended in the McKinsey report. The sigh of relief in the audience was palpable. You mean, I can keep going. The powers in charge will take care of things? Peter Waldman, also present during the presentation, protested that policy innovation was no substitute for some of the hard choices citizens ought to make. Choices such as driving less and consuming less.

Rick Duke‘s answer: sure, it’s great if people green their lifestyles, but what are the odds? In the mean time, let us forge ahead with policy innovation. I agree with him, and I also want to point the danger of his concurrent message. We cannot afford the luxury of ignoring the role of individual behaviors. It will take all, policy makers, businesses, and citizens, to reach a carbon neutral state.

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A wind of morality has been blowing all over, from the greenwashing watchddogs at Greenwashingindex, to companies broadcasting their good deeds in corporate citizenship reports, to the buzz about sustainability in the blogosphere. It is happening. JWT calls it the ‘emerging new spirit of good-citizen ethics’. Like the EcoMoms phenomenon, however, it is a movement, still confined to a fringe of the American culture.

The good citizen ethics certainly has not made its way through the streets of our cities. From The Open Planning Project in New York City, here is a very thought-provoking video on the ethics of urban automobility, featuring Randy Cohen, The Ethicist from the New York Times – thanks Kyle, for sending the video my way:

I agree with Randy Cohen that ethics cannot be left to individual moral choice. Instead ethics need to be embedded in wise policies, to be decided democratically by informed citizens. The problem of the individual car is just one example of the many environmental villains that are threatening our very existence. One precursor of ethics is consciousness. The more we watch and engage in discussions such as the one in the video, the more aware we become and the more ready we will be to define and accept a new code of ethics. That new code will make room for the consequences of our personal actions when we pollute our environment.

I am really curious to hear your thoughts on that one!

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Another environmental summit. Another admonition to get our act together:

The three-day General Assembly debate on climate changed wrapped up yesterday with the body’s President issuing a call for increased global partnerships to tackle the issue.

The event – entitled “Addressing Climate Change: The United Nations and the World at WorkA” – was held at UN Headquarters in New York and included addresses by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; panels featuring media, government and business leaders; and plenary meetings featuring 115 delegates.

Addressing Climate Change

What is evident is “that the actions necessary to address climate change are so intertwined that they can only be tackled through combined efforts,” Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said in his closing remarks to the debate.

But despite the importance of partnerships, he underscored that individuals can also make a difference in the battle against global warming.

“Small contributions add up,” Mr. Kerim pointed out. “Many of our speakers made the case that we can all make a difference through simple changes to our daily behaviour.”

He also spotlighted the link between addressing climate change and sustainable development, nothing the need for the creation of low-carbon economies which can in turn promote growth.

With all the talks about corporate and government responsibility, it is easy to forget where the problem starts, and the role we can play as individual citizens. This is more fuel for the idea I have been pushing, of a national advertising campaign for climate fight, to make citizens more aware and to persuade them to change their behaviors.

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The Sierra Club of Canada just came out with this slamming report on the Canadian government’s environmental policy:

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way is Sierra Club Canada’s advice to the federal government in its 2008 Kyoto Report Card, released today. The Report Card’s release comes on the same day that senior European Union and Canadian officials are meeting to discuss successful European practices in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Canada has a lot to learn from the European Union and we hope that Environment Canada officials will listen carefully to governments that are rising to the challenge of meeting their Kyoto targets,” said Stephen Hazell, Sierra Club Canada’s executive director. “The EU is not only reducing emissions, it is creating a green economy with more than a million new jobs for Europeans. There is no reason why Canada should not share in these green economic benefits. “

The 2008 Kyoto Report Card describes the leadership assumed by municipal leaders, including the 150-plus municipalities that have signed on as Partners for Climate Protection. The Report Card also highlights the efforts of provinces such as Québec and British Columbia that have serious emission reduction strategies, and those of countries such as the United Kingdom, Denmark and Germany that are on track to meet or exceed their Kyoto targets.

“If the Harper government refuses to follow the leaders, it should at least get out of the way of provinces taking serious action such as adopting California standards for cars,” said Emilie Moorhouse, atmosphere and energy campaigner. “After two decades of foot-dragging, the federal government should be racing to catch up, instead of diluting efforts by adopting the weakest standards.”

“Not only were the federal government’s domestic actions to fight global warming in 2007 inadequate, Canada became known as the colossal fossil in United Nations negotiations,” said Jean Langlois, national campaign director. “The next federal election will give Canadians the chance to demand serious action to reduce emissions so that Canada can hold its head high internationally as a respected steward of the atmosphere.”

For a second, I thought they were talking about the U.S . . .

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“In addition to changing the light bulbs, it is far more important to change the laws and to change the treaty obligations that nations have,”
From Davos, Gore Says “Changing Light Bulbs” Not Enough
“Whoever is elected is going to have a different position and a better position. But let’s be clear: whoever the leaders are, this issue is going to be dealt with responsibly and effectively only when there is a sufficient degree of urgency on the part of the people themselves.”
These two statements from Al Gore were made in the context of world market turmoil and the impact it has had on the content of the Davos discussions, shifting the attention away from global warming. 

In an earlier article, I shared Michael’s Oppenheimer‘s concern for that very issue, what Elke Weber calls the limited worry pool. The real danger is that world leaders and their people get distracted from the urgency of the climate fight, by an ongoing flow of crisis, as is the case currently with the financial markets. Tomorrow it could be a war, or a terrorist attack, . . .

This reminds me of this family I saw years ago as a therapist. One of the children had been killed by the boyfriend’s mother, and she had gone on with her life trying not to burden the other siblings with her grief. The big issue in the family was the message she had sent to the other children, that she did not seem to value the life of their dead sibling, and hence their own lives. Every week the family came, and presented with yet another crisis, that ‘could not be ignored’. In the mean time, nothing changed and the family became increasingly at risk of disintegration. Not until I realized what was really going on, and I stopped reacting to each weekly crisis did we start the real work. Same thing with global warming. World leaders need to realize that there will always be a new crisis. However, the one crisis that supersedes all others is global warming. Nature cannot wait. Markets will return to normal. Wars will end. The damage that’s being caused to our living ecosystem is on its way to being irreversible.

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First the French, now the Norwegians . . . According to a recent Reuters‘ announcement, ‘Norway says aims to go carbon neutral by 2030‘:

The plan includes offsetting Norwegian emissions by spending around 3 billion crowns ($553.1 million) per year to combat deforestation in developing countries. Forests act as a sink for CO2, the main greenhouse gas blamed for causing global warming.

Under the Kyoto Protocol curbing greenhouse emissions, countries do not get credit for the effect of their own forests, but they can get credits by planting trees in developing lands.

“The parties now think it is realistic to assume reductions in Norwegian climate gas emissions of 15-17 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents by 2020 when forests are included,” the government said in a statement.

Three million metric tons of that reduction would come from Norway’s forests absorbing carbon, it said.

The initial target was to cut 13-16 million metric tons of CO2.

Achieving the target will require cutting Norway’s total emissions by two-thirds domestically, the statement said.

Environmental groups said the deal was too vague, and Oil and Energy Minister Aaslaug Haga acknowledged: “We don’t know how we will achieve the goals yet, and that is challenging.”

A “significant sum” of money will be earmarked for investment in renewable energy, mass transport and measures to reduce emissions from the transport sector, while tax on diesel fuel will rise by 0.1 crowns ($0.018) per liter and on gasoline by 0.05 crowns, the government said.

“Both carrot and stick will be used to promote more environmentally friendly behavior and to reduce climate gas emissions,” the centre-left coalition said.

Finance Minister Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left (SV) party said the policy would lead to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions both in Norway and abroad.

“The agreement gives Norway a far-sighted climate policy that can stand independently of shifting governments,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said in the statement.


Stoltenberg, who heads the Labour Party, has said Norway’s policy on cutting CO2 emissions is the world’s most ambitious and he has likened the challenge of fighting climate change to a “moon landing” for the 21st century.

Norway, with a population of just 4.7 million, is the world’s fifth-biggest exporter of oil and Western Europe’s biggest exporter of natural gas.

Endowed with rivers and waterfalls, it gets almost all its own electricity from non-polluting hydroelectric stations. But the Nordic country aims to begin burning natural gas for power generation in the future to satisfy growing demand.

The government wants emissions from such power plants to be captured and buried, a technology still under development.

“The agreement implies technologies that are not known yet,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.

The government said it would spend an extra 70 million crowns ($12.91 million) this year on research into renewable energy and carbon capture and storage this year, and funding for such research would rise to at least 600 million in 2010.

My first reaction was Wow! Kudos to the Norwegians. If they can do it, why can’t the rest the world, and the U.S. especially, follow? Upon closer look, I am uncomfortable with their plan however. Too much is left up to chance, including relying on not yet existing technologies. Also too much of their anticipated reductions will be the result of carbon offsets – reforestation in developing countries. They could be more specific with possible reductions from existing solutions. So, yes, I agree with the environmental groups. The plan is way too vague.

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