Dec. 17, 2009 by Victor Flatt

G77 Countries May Ethically Deserve More in Copenhagen, But Chance for This Much Foreign Assistance Unlikely to Come Again Soon

As we move into the last days of climate negotiations in Copenhagen, the chances of securing a binding agreement of all countries continues to look less and less likely. The primary culprit, according to the New York Times, is the G77, a group of 130 developing countries that have negotiated as a block since arriving. But as the Times notes, since they have very different needs and incomes, the main thing they have in common is their ability to rail against the rich developed world and hold up negotiations. Indeed, it seems that the main impediment to progress (at least from the perspective of the organizers) has been the continued focus on process rather than substance.

As any progressive knows, the G77 countries certainly have a lot to rail against, in terms of unfairness in many arenas, including climate change. Unfortunately, being right doesn’t always mean getting what you want or getting what is fair.

Everyone is correct that the developed world, including the United States, should morally do more, in terms of both emission cuts and in terms of adaptation assistance. But the sad truth, of course, is that the wealthier countries have never really understood or accepted …

Dec. 16, 2009 by Victor Flatt

There are two separate meetings going on here in Copenhagen, really. The one that everyone is focused on is the official negotiations between the countries to reach a new binding agreement on climate change (or extend Kyoto in some form). The other “meeting” is the interaction of the observer organizations inside and outside of the side event meetings and their informal reports to the official delegations. This second “meeting” is more amorphous, and more subject to chaos (the security clearance for credentialed observers has required more than seven hours of waiting in the cold and this morning (Wednesday) was suspended indefinitely). Nevertheless, it appears to me that there is some significant progress being made.

While here, I've focused on the intersecting issues of the carbon market, offsets and adaptation assistance to affected countries. From the official reports, it appears that little has happened in these areas …

Dec. 7, 2009 by Victor Flatt

Today, the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opens in Copenhagen. I will be a credentialed observer from non-governmental academic and research organizations including the Center for Progressive Reform and the Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation, and Resources (CLEAR) at the University of North Carolina School of Law.

In this space I have particularly focused on the carbon trading market and the use of offsets in the context of domestic legislation; in Copenhagen, I will continue to focus on the implications of any decisions regarding offsets and the carbon market, and whether or not this will in turn affect the U.S. debate and legislation. Because offsets raise concerns of co-harms and benefits, and because much of this harm or benefit will occur in the developed world I will be examining issues concerning adaptation as well …

Sept. 30, 2009 by Victor Flatt

This post is first in a series from CPR Member Scholars examining different aspects of the Boxer-Kerry bill on climate change, which was released today.

With respect to offsets, the Boxer-Kerry bill is a distinct improvement over the ACES. It allows a relatively strong approach to offset integrity, avoiding negative social or environmental effects, and facilitating possible integration with other systems. It also addresses some issues that will be important to the functioning of a trading market, but still leaves some uncertainties that could cause problems in the market.

Probably the most important difference between the bills is that the Boxer-Kerry bill does not specify which agency would be in charge of administering and ensuring the integrity of any offset program. In the House bill, a last minute compromise switched all of the administration of biological sequestration offsets to the USDA from the EPA, a change widely …

June 26, 2009 by Victor Flatt

Wednesday, I explored the various ways that the USDA takeover of bio-sequestration offsets could affect how well the offsets provision of the Waxman-Markey Climate Security Act would work. Today, we have legislative language in the form of an amendment offered by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), which fills in some of the details.  While some of the changes may be helpful, others are cause for worry.

The amendment gives all offset authority over bio-sequestration and agricultural activities to the USDA – the authority to initially approve offset rules; to create rules for “additionality,” leakage, and permanence; to approve offsets themselves; and to account for reversals. The language does remain specific about what must guide the rulemaking, and is also specific about accounting for reversals and holding offset credits in reserve for reversals. The offset reversal part of the law does expand the list of offsets eligible for requirements of …

June 24, 2009 by Victor Flatt

Last night, House Energy and Commerce Chair Henry Waxman announced that he had agreed with Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson that the USDA could have jurisdiction over agricultural offsets in the massive American Clean Energy and Security Act, which the House may vote on this Friday.

In agreeing to what had been one of the major sticking points to bringing farm Democrats on board, Waxman appears to believe that any concerns over USDA’s role are outweighed by the other good things in the bill. There are a lot of potential concerns with the USDA having the lead role on agricultural offsets. Most environmentalists have asserted that the EPA would be more likely to properly enforce the requirements that offsets be additional, verifiable, and not have leakage.

It is hard to make predictions about the effect of this change without specific legislative language, which is expected later …

June 23, 2009 by Victor Flatt

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled in Coeur Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council that the United States EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers could interpret the Clean Water Act to exempt water pollution sources from pollution control requirements if the pollution was accompanied by fill material.

This legal feat was accomplished because the Clean Water Act divides jurisdiction between the Corps for “fill” material and the EPA for pollutants. This division ostensibly gives each agency control of its own area of expertise, the Corps dredging and filling and the EPA pollutants that could harm human health or the environment generally. The problem comes when, as in this case, “fill” material contains significant amounts of pollution. Who then should regulate? I believe a straightforward reading of the intent of the legislation indicates that generally the Corps should only regulate fill that might contain de minimis amounts …

May 19, 2009 by Victor Flatt

On Friday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee released its anticipated Beta version of its comprehensive GHG and energy bill. Among other goals, the new discussion draft attempts to address concerns from moderate and conservative Democrats concerning the proposed cap and trade system and how it would work. The most notable change involves the free allocation of allowances to certain economic sectors to assist in the transition to the new system, and this is the part that seems to most directly respond to actual political pressures regarding the cost of controlling greenhouse gases.

With respect to offsets, the most problematic change is allowing the offsets, which are more uncertain than emission reductions, to be treated as equal in value to emissions allowances. The original Waxman-Markey discussion draft discounted all offsets by 20% with respect to equivalent greenhouse gas allowances, so that it took 1.25 offsets to …

April 27, 2009 by Victor Flatt

Two weeks ago, Representatives Waxman and Markey put forth a 648-page legislative draft for dealing with climate change. That draft had proposals for the use of offsets, some good and some not so good (see my earlier post). Moderate and conservative Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee have now put forward suggested changes (as reported by ClimateWire) that they say are necessary to make the proposed bill less onerous. In general, these provisions would more or less weaken the targets and enforcement mechanism in the proposed bill, and that is not a positive thing. We already know that climate change is serious and that the U.S. is going to have to take a leading role in addressing it, or we will never reach the international consensus necessary to address the problem. Yes, it will be hard, but instead of shirking our responsibility to ourselves and …

April 2, 2009 by Victor Flatt

On Tuesday, March 31, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) released a “discussion draft” of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 – a climate change bill that will serve as the starting point for long-delayed congressional action on the world’s most pressing environmental program. CPRBlog asked several Center for Progressive Reform Member Scholars to examine different aspects of the 648-page Waxman-Markey bill. This entry, by Victor Flatt, looks at the offsets for carbon emissions that would be permitted under the measure.

The Waxman-Markey draft bill treads some familiar ground with respect to the use of offsets to meet greenhouse gas reduction requirements, but also introduces some new innovations. In departing from other drafts and bills, the offsets provision may be most controversial in its limited examination of the environmental effects of offsets, and its use of …

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