Monday, 16 November 2009

stairway to heaven ... or not

Up, Down.

November 17: a-and there is still hope for Copenhagen, some upbeat comments by Barack Obama following his meeting with Hu Jintao, some positive input by Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, slim hope maybe, faint hope maybe, but reason to at least continue our prayers

also some negative spin in Spiegel: Obama Has Failed the World on Climate Change & Can Copenhagen Still Be Saved?, but I think these are trumped by Rasmussen & Obama, and I have also included what seems a reasonable perspective from BBC's Richard Black, while k-k-Canada drags its feet for years to come, I'll give the last word to Nicholas Hirst: 'You first' stance on climate change killing Canada's credibility.

Dipping water from a streamFlaring gas in Rumaila Basra IraqGreg Perry, what Stephen Harper really cares aboutHuarangoGreg Perry, Santas Workshop, Global Warming

Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven. Escadaria para o paraíso
There's a lady who's sure
All that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
There's a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have
Two meanings.
In a tree by the brook
There's a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are
Ooh, it makes me wonder.
Ooh, it makes me wonder.
There's a feeling I get
When I look to the west
And my spirit is crying
For leaving.
In my thoughts I have seen
Rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those
Who stand looking.
Ooh, it makes me wonder.
Ooh, it really makes me wonder.
And it's whispered that soon
If we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason.
And a new day will dawn
For those who stand long
And the forests will
Echo with laughter.
Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, ooh, whoa, oh.
If there's a bustle in your hedgerow
Don't be alarmed now
It's just a spring clean
For the May queen.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There's still time to change
The road you're on.
And it makes me wonder
Aw, oh.
Your head is humming and it won't go
In case you don't know
The piper's calling you to join him.
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow?
And did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?
And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard
The truth will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll.
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
 Há uma senhora que acredita
Que tudo o que brilha é ouro
E ela está comprando uma escadaria para o paraíso.
Quando ela chega lá ela percebe
Se as lojas estiverem todas fechadas
Com uma palavra ela consegue o que veio buscar.

E ela está comprando uma escadaria para o céu.
Há um cartaz na parede
Mas ela quer ter certeza
Porque você sabe que às vezes as palavras têm
Duplo sentido.
Em uma árvore a beira do riacho
Há um rouxinol que canta
Às vezes todos os nossos esforços são
Em vão.
Isto me faz pensar
Isto me faz pensar.
Há algo que sinto
Quando olho para o oeste
E meu espírito chora
Para partir.
Em meus pensamentos tenho visto
Anéis de fumaça atravessando as árvores
E as vozes daqueles
Que ficam parados olhando.
Isto me faz pensar
Isto realmente me faz pensar.
E um sussurro avisa que cedo
Se todos entoarmos a canção
O flautista nos levará à razão.
E um novo dia irá nascer
Para aqueles que suportarem
E a floresta irá
Ecoar gargalhadas.

Se há um alvoroço em sua horta
Não fique assustada
É apenas limpeza de primavera
Da rainha de maio.
Sim, há dois caminhos que você pode seguir
Mas na longa estrada
Há sempre tempo de mudar
O caminho que você segue.
E isso me faz pensar.

Sua cabeça lateja e não vai parar
Caso você não saiba
O flautista te chama para se juntar a ele.
Querida senhora, pode ouvir o vento soprar?
E você sabe
Sua escadaria repousa no vento sussurrante.
E enquanto corremos soltos pela estrada
Nossas sombras mais altas que nossas almas.
Lá caminha uma senhora que todos conhecemos
Que brilha luz branca e quer mostrar
Como tudo ainda vira de ouro.
E se você ouvir com atenção
Ao menos a canção irá chegar a você
Quando todos são um e um é o todo
Ser uma rocha e não rolar.
E ela está comprando uma escadaria para o paraíso.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
 Girando e girando em voltas mais amplas
O falcão não pode ouvir o falcoeiro;
As coisas se desfazem; não se mantém o centro;
Pura anarquia espalha-se mundo adentro,
A maré obscurecida de sangue se espalha, e em todo lugar
A cerimônia da inocência é afogada;
Aos melhores falta toda convicção, e os piores
Estão cheios de intensidade apaixonada.

Certamente alguma revelação está próxima;
Certamente o Segundo Advento está próximo.
O Segundo Advento! Mal proferidas estas palavras
Quando uma vasta imagem vinda do Spiritus Mundi
Ofusca minha visão: nalgum lugar, nas areias do deserto
Uma forma com corpo de leão e cabeça de homem,
Um olhar fixo e impiedoso como o sol
Está movendo as lentas coxas, enquanto sobre ela
Oscilam sombras de pássaros do deserto indignados.
A escuridão cai novamente; mas agora sei
Que vinte séculos dum sono profundo
Irromperam-se em pesadelo por um berço oscilante.
E a besta fera, sua hora enfim chegada,
Se arrasta até Belém para nascer?

my image of Pisgah has devolved to a shopping mall escalator, going up, going down, not an integrated image anymore ... oh well

the Globe has weighed in on post-Singapore Copenhagen, later I may post the comments, first one is mine :-)

and the relationships of climate change to food, and real-estate hedges is not rocket science ... or is it?

I agree with it - agribusiness will try to scoop carbon trading schemes for their own profit, but I don't understand it, neither the carbon trading schemes themselves - I do not understand how they work, nor some of the associated logic - for example, why is it that hydroelectric has now gotten a bad name exactly? relative to solar, maybe relative to wind, but relative to nuclear? doh!?

1-1. Editorial: No need for defeatism, Nov. 17 2009.
1-2. No need for defeatism - Comments.
2-1. UN softens stand on rush to buy farmland, Eric Reguly, Nov. 16 2009.
     2a. GRAIN international non-profit organisation, website.
2-2. The agribusiness lobby arrives in Copenhagen, GRAIN, Nov. 2009.
2-3. Stop the global land grab!, GRAIN, Nov. 16 2009.
2-4. Generating Conflict, Jimmy Langman, Sep. 13 2008.

3. Can aging brains cut it in the classroom?, Angela Troyer, Nov. 16 2009.

4-1. Copenhagen 'must produce targets', BBC, Nov. 17 2009.
4-2. Climate: A defining issue, Richard Black, 17 Nov. 2009.
4-3. Climate change laws years away: Prentice, Susan Lunn, Nov. 17 2009.
4-4. 'You first' stance on climate change killing Canada's credibility, Nicholas Hirst, Nov. 19 2009.
     4-4a. Original Pictures Inc.

Editorial: No need for defeatism, Nov. 17 2009.

Each week brings new pessimism on the climate-change front. Leaders at the weekend summit of Asia-Pacific leaders seemed to throw in the towel, ruling out the possibility that December's Copenhagen conference would yield an international treaty to fight greenhouse gases. This is indeed a blow. But if leaders maintain a sense of urgency, the Copenhagen meeting need not be for naught.

The announcement from Singapore is a disappointment because so much preparatory work whose value is now in question had already been done. The Bali road map established in December, 2007, to which Canada was a party, had established principles that would be necessary in any future treaty, and had set a Copenhagen agreement as its endpoint. Diplomatic efforts had accelerated and Western governments (especially European countries and the United States) had readied their publics for some of the changes that sharp emissions reductions might entail.

It was evident, however, that the leap from progress to deal would be too great for countries to attempt together. The requisite U.S. legislation has not been passed. On some fundamental issues - what emissions reductions developing countries ought to undertake; whether the Kyoto treaty process should continue at all - profound disagreements remain. On many others - how much money should go from the developed to the developing countries to help them reduce emissions; what shape international carbon markets should take - there is no semblance of convergence on numbers or details, making existing agreements-in-principle inadequate.

But a political agreement is possible without a treaty, and that means politicians should be more engaged, not less. China, the world's largest polluter, has recently pledged to reduce emissions as a proportion of GDP: it must now be moved to commit itself to actual reductions. Western countries, including Canada, need to put money on the table to show developing nations that they will be reliable partners in the fight against rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change.

With lowered expectations for Copenhagen, Stephen Harper may think he has dodged a bullet. But overcoming gulfs among countries - the new central task at Copenhagen - takes political leadership; a commitment to establish credibility and share ideas. Of late, Canada has done neither. As a first step, Mr. Harper could bring - or at least send - an achievable plan to meet Canada's emissions reduction targets to Copenhagen. That would make Canada a more credible player when it asks others to bridge those gulfs.

UN softens stand on rush to buy farmland, Eric Reguly, Nov. 16 2009.

Race by foreign investors to secure food supply through land purchases can be 'win-win' proposition, FAO says

Rome — Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi calls it the “new feudalism.” Groups representing peasant farmers call it “land grabs.” The United Nations literature dispersed at this week's UN food summit in Rome calls it “direct foreign investment.”

That's not exactly what the UN called it a year and a half ago, when record-high food prices triggered riots in dozens of countries and threatened famine in some of the poorest nations. Then, Jacques Diouf, the director-general of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization, said the global farmland rush could be interpreted as a form of “neo-colonialism.”

Since then, the FAO has softened its stand. It admits foreign investors' purchases of farmland in poor countries do not always benefit local farmers and food markets. But they can be “win-win” deals if the fresh capital delivers new technology to raise crop yields, provides employment and improves domestic food security.

Whatever the name, the race by foreign investors to lock up food supplies by collecting productive farmland outside their own countries has become the hot-button issue at the food summit. Addressing the summit Monday, the first day of the three-day event, Mr. Gadhafi became an unlikely ally of smallholder farmers with his warning that they “are being bereft of their own land thanks to the new feudal power coming from outside of Africa and buying up land very cheaply.”

Farm protection and watchdog groups such as Grain and La Via Campesina suspect the UN's new position reflects the general belief that the land deals are unstoppable, meaning the UN has to learn to work with them instead of against them. They also note that the UN is wary of biting the hand that feeds it. Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest foreign farmland collectors, is one of the top sponsors of FAO and the other UN food agencies. It is also financial sponsor of the Rome food summit.

The watchdog groups fear the land-buying spree violates the rights of poor farmers, who may be thrown off the land they cannot prove they own, and is contributing to local food shortages. In most cases, the farms' production is exported directly back to the investors' home country, bypassing the international food-commodity markets.

A recent Grain report said the farm deals amount to “the siphoning of fertile and probably contested agricultural lands to rich foreigners.”

Some of the groups think Canada, with its vast tracts of fertile Prairie farmland, will be the foreign investors' next target. They believe the investors will find a way around the foreign or non-resident ownership restrictions in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta that prevent them from buying. Or they expect the restrictions to melt away as farmland values rise, giving Canadian owners an incentive to sell to the highest bidder in a global land market.

“It will come to Canada and it will be called corporate investment, not land grabs,” said Nettie Wiebe, a Saskatchewan farmer and St. Andrew's College professor who is in Rome this week to protest against what she views as the UN's implicit support for the land deals.

Stephen Johnstone, a partner in the Calgary private equity fund Agcapita, which buys Canadian farmland for Canadian investors, said massive amounts of Prairie farmland would get snapped up overnight if it weren't for the ownership restrictions. “We're contacted weekly by foreign investors,” he said.

The watchdog Grain has been investigating “land grabs” for a year and a half and estimates that 40 million hectares of farmland, worth $100-billion (U.S.), have been bought or leased in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The UN says data on foreign direct investment in farmland is hard to come by, but estimates that foreign investors – governments, sovereign wealth funds, private equity funds – have bought or leased 20 million hectares in Africa alone in the past three years.

Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, China and South Korea are among the biggest buyers of farmland. India, Japan, Israel and Jordan also are buyers. Sudan, where the UN's World Food Program is feeding millions of people, is one country that encourages farmland sales to foreigners.

Another is Georgia. At the food summit, Georgia's ambassador to Italy, Konstantin Gabashvili, said his country has been selling farmland to the Saudis, Israelis and Chinese and welcomes the investments. “We are very open to the process of [food] globalization,” he said.

The FAO, along with the UN's sister food agencies and the World Bank, are trying to develop a voluntary international code of conduct “highlighting the need for transparency, predictability, sustainability and stakeholder involvement” to govern the land deals.

Speaking on the fringes of the UN food summit, Grain co-founder Renée Vellvé said she doesn't believe in the “win-win” scenario because the voluntary codes of conduct, by definition, cannot be enforced, and because many of the investing countries lack productive farmland and will pay virtually anything to ensure their populations get fed. “It's all about fear,” she said. “Saudi Arabia is worried about security of supply.”

Saudi Arabia has been particularly aggressive in buying farmland since it dropped its policy two years ago of wheat self-sufficiency. The effort, which involved using vast amounts of water to turn desert into farms, was too expensive, with farmers getting subsidies of as much as $1,000 a tonne.

Mr. Johnstone, of Agcapita, thinks the rush to buy farmland in poor countries to lock up the food supplies and export them back to the investing country is ultimately doomed. If a new food crisis emerges, local populations will not tolerate food exports. “I think the Saudis and the Chinese will shrink away from foreign farmland purchases when they realize the political risk,” he said. “If food goes short, governments will nationalize the farms.”

Can aging brains cut it in the classroom?, Angela Troyer, Nov. 16 2009.

Seriously? Can aging brains cut it in the classroom?

We ask the experts to settle common questions we've all wondered about

Given the fact that memory and concentration skills tend to decline with age, how difficult would it be for a person in their 50s to return to university to work on a masters degree? And are there strategies that can be used to improve cognitive powers to be a top-performing older student?

ANSWER: This is a question that many people are asking, especially those who have lost their job and need to look for new work or a complete career change that may require upgrading skills or retraining.

Although it is true that some cognitive powers decline with age, it's not all bad news. Some cognitive skills actually improve with age, and there are many techniques for compensating for the abilities that do diminish.

With age comes more life experience, which is important for building your body of general knowledge. There is evidence that knowledge and experience are important for decision-making. For example, your knowledge about how past problems were solved can help you make smarter decisions when faced with new problems.

On the flip side, there are some cognitive challenges that come with older age, and it is important to be aware of these in order to pro-actively compensate for them.

One of the most robust cognitive changes is a general slowing in processing speed. This means that it takes the average 50-year-old more time to take in new information, process that information and make decisions compared with a 20-year-old. Older students need to give themselves extra time when faced with a new learning situation, such as reading a textbook or working on an assignment.

Another age-related change is an increased vulnerability to distraction. Although your teenager appears able to study while simultaneously listening to music and texting friends, this becomes more difficult with increasing age. Focus on one task at a time, and study in a quiet place free of distraction to give your attention a power boost and optimize new learning.

Part of the challenge of returning to school is having to remember a considerable amount of new information. Most people over 40 or 50 have noticed this is not as easy as it used to be.

Fortunately, research has provided us with useful tools and techniques to improve memory. One of the most powerful and practical ways to get new information into memory and keep it there is to repeat the information often over time. Rather than cramming study periods into a few time slots, it is much more effective to use shorter study periods spaced apart over time. For example, when learning new concepts or facts, read the relevant information thoroughly, then quiz yourself immediately afterward, then again after a few minutes, a few hours, and the next day.

Another good strategy is to organize your schedule to stay on top of assignments. We have a number of electronic tools to help us with this. Using a smart phone or other electronic organizer can help you file away important information, recall it quickly and remind yourself of class projects and deadlines.

Going back to school in middle age or later years is a wonderful opportunity for personal and professional growth. What one lacks in speed and raw memory power can be more than made up for by taking a smart approach and employing the strategies I've outlined above.

Dr. Angela Troyer is a clinical neuropsychologist and director of psychology at Baycrest in Toronto. She runs the Memory and Aging Program – a five-week education and discussion series for older adults in the community.

The agribusiness lobby arrives in Copenhagen, GRAIN, Nov. 2009.

(* This is a version, shortened and edited by GRAIN, of part of “Agriculture and climate change: real problems, false solutions” – preliminary report by the Grupo de Reflexión Rural, Biofuelwatch, EcoNexus and NOAH–Friends of the Earth Denmark”,

Until now, agriculture has been largely excluded from global carbon markets, but this is set to change in December 2009 at the Copenhagen conference. Agribusiness companies are lobbying hard to make a range of farming activities eligible for future funding under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). As a result, billions of dollars will almost certainly be invested in agriculture, mainly livestock production and plantations. What makes this prospect so alarming is that this huge investment, carried out in the name of mitigating the climate crisis, will be channelled largely to big agribusiness. And it is precisely their approach to farming and food production that has created so many of the problems we face today.

The agribusiness lobby arrives in Copenhagen

Grupo de Reflexión Rural, Biofuelwatch, EcoNexus, NOAH–FoE Denmark

In 2008 a record 4.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emission reductions were traded on global carbon markets. Overall, carbon trading increased by 83 per cent in just one year. [1] This trading, however, has not led to a reduction in emissions: since the Kyoto Protocol came into force in 2005, global CO2 emissions have continued to rise. [2] The growing carbon markets have not even led to emission reductions in the so-called Annex 1 countries, that is, the industrialised nations that are committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Instead, the world is now on course for the worst emissions scenario predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), or perhaps one that is even worse than that. [3] Peter Atherton of Citigroup, which is strongly involved in carbon trading, admitted in 2007 that, while the parties involved had found the activity highly profitable, the world’s biggest carbon market had failed in its basic objective: “The European Emissions Trading Scheme has done nothing to curb emissions.” [4]

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is an arrangement under the Kyoto Protocol that allows Annex 1 countries [5] to invest in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries as an alternative to more expensive reduction of emissions in their own countries. The CDM plays a crucial role within the carbon markets because CDM credits can be traded on other carbon markets, including the European Emissions Trading Scheme, which accounts for two thirds of all carbon trading. The only exception is CDM credits for “afforestation and reforestation”, which cannot at present be traded under the European scheme. The CDM has come under sustained criticism: for funding projects that are not “additional” and would have gone ahead anyway; for “being routinely abused by chemical, wind, gas and hydro companies who are claiming emission-reduction credits for projects that should not qualify”; [6] and for funding projects which actually increase greenhouse gas emissions, such as hydro dams. [7] Nonetheless, the great majority of proposals for a post-2012 climate change agreement involve a major expansion of the CDM and a further weakening of existing safeguards.

Before the Kyoto Protocol came into force, a decision was taken not to include soil “carbon sinks” under the CDM, largely because of the uncertainties involved in, for example, measuring carbon dioxide fluxes and nitrous oxide emissions linked to no-till monoculture. Only around 6 per cent of CDM credits have gone to agriculture, with almost all of the funded activities outside mainstream farming. Significant funding has been channelled to biomass energy projects in the farming sector: the big winners have been livestock manure management (including biogas from swine manure), heat generation from palm-oil effluents and the use of agricultural residues for biomass. In 2007, for example, 90 per cent of all approved CDM projects in Malaysia benefited palm oil companies; in Mexico half of all CDM projects are pig farms. This arrangement has meant, however, that big agribusiness firms like Monsanto have so far obtained very little funding through carbon markets and none through the CDM, despite a long-standing lobbying campaign for no-till GM monocultures to be classified as a way of sequestering carbon and reducing emissions. At the moment, there is no CDM methodology for calculating the possible reductions in greenhouse gases stemming from no-till farming as such. So far, only one large carbon trading scheme, the Chicago Climate Exchange, has included agriculture and specifically no-till farming. In Saskatchewan, a pilot project was set up in 2005 which allowed trading in credits from no-till farming, but this was later abandoned.

For similar reasons, CDM credits for soil carbon sequestration from cropland or forest management were ruled out in 2003. [8] Only the Chicago Climate Exchange and a few carbon offsetting companies and schemes, such as C-Lock Technology Canada, provide carbon credits for soil carbon sequestration. Carbon Farmers of Australia have set up the Australian Soil Carbon Grower Register and are lobbying for carbon credits for soil, but as yet these are not being traded. Moreover, the Australian government has reacted sceptically to calls by opposition politicians to support carbon credits for biochar and other soil carbon sequestration methods, saying that the technology is as yet unproven. [9] Nor has the agrofuel industry profited from carbon trading as yet. So far, no agrofuel CDM project, using biomass from crops and trees grown for this purpose or from vegetable oil (other than waste vegetable oil) has been approved. This could soon change, however: the Brazilian company Plantar has just had a new methodology approved for using charcoal made from eucalyptus plantations to produce pig iron. [10] Local communities and human rights organisations have long opposed Plantar’s plantations for the damage they have caused to people, biodiversity and freshwater resources, but their concerns have been ignored because of the allegedly more pressing need to combat global warming. [11]

Much bigger role for agriculture

In the negotiations under way for the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009, the idea that industrial agriculture has an important role to play in both mitigation (that is, measures to deal with the causes of climate change) and adaptation (that is, measures to tackle its effects) is being strongly promoted. [12] Leading bodies, including both the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), believe that the exclusion of agriculture should be lifted in the new Copenhagen treaty. Earlier this year FAO issued a press release saying it “has urged policy makers to include agriculture in negotiations for a new climate change treaty”. [13] It observes that “soil carbon sequestration, through which nearly 90 per cent of agriculture’s climate change potential could be realised, is outside the scope of the Clean Development Mechanism”, and claims that, if this were changed, “millions of farmers around the globe could also become agents of change helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” [14] Proposals for mitigation include the practice of no-till farming, a move to a “bioeconomy” (where all types of fossil fuel use are increasingly replaced with biomass, including second-generation agrofuels, large-scale wood burning, bioplastics, and so on), [15] and the further intensification of the livestock industry to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Proposals for adaptation are largely focused on the development and cultivation of a new generation of genetically modified crops that are “climate ready”. At the same time, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), supported by a number of African countries and Belize, is promoting biochar for carbon sequestration and as a soil additive. [16] Biochar, which is fine-grained charcoal applied to soils, is a by-product of technology which processes biomass into bioenergy which can be refined further into so-called second-generation agrofuels. Making biochar eligible for funding under the CDM would thus be warmly welcomed by the companies that have developed this technology.

As a result of this lobbying, it is now being proposed that:
• agriculture should be fully included in the negotiations for the new climate treaty;
• agriculture should be paid for its environmental services, mainly through carbon markets and possibly through inclusion into REDD-plus (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation-plus);
• special emphasis should be given to carbon sequestration in the soil, including CDM status for biochar.
FAO sees the inclusion of agriculture in the climate treaty as hugely positive, freeing up resources for the “massive investments in agriculture” needed “to change unsustainable production methods, to train farmers in climate change mitigation practices and to improve overall access to credit”. FAO goes on: “These investments will make agriculture more resilient to climate change and at the same time will improve agricultural productivity and sustainability, thus contributing to better food security and poverty reduction.”

Carbon market bubble

The view espoused by FAO ignores a swathe of problems. To begin with, the measuring and certification of the reduction in emissions from agricultural practices and the regulation of such a market will be a big challenge in itself. A large number of agricultural activities could potentially benefit, and it is impossible to predict how much money would be raised. More importantly, the very existence of such a market will free the industrialised countries and their industries from their obligation to reduce their own emissions. In other words, trading schemes in agriculture will not address the fundamental problem of the world continuing to promote a model of permanent economic growth on a planet that has finite resources. Having just experienced the impact of the sudden collapse of a subprime property market, we now run the risk of building a carbon market bubble, the existence of which would have the devastating impact of diverting resources away from the funding of meaningful responses to the climate crisis. [17]

The most worrying impact of all of these proposals is that they will further promote industrial farming. Very often companies argue that they can isolate single elements of very specific traditional or indigenous farming methods and then scale them up and integrate them into industrial farming. Biochar is cited as an example. The companies claim that, by doing this, they will increase yields and thus reduce pressure on fragile ecosystems. But as the climate crisis gains momentum and the world faces growing problems of drought, heat waves, soil erosion and extreme weather, this assertion seems increasingly far-fetched. It is much more likely that industrial farming will continue along its present course, or perhaps move even faster, destroying the very biodiversity and ecosystems that are crucial if we are to have any hope of stabilising climate, producing enough food to feed ourselves and leaving a habitable planet for future generations. As is argued elsewhere in this Seedling (see “Earth matters”), agriculture can certainly play a key role in combating climate change, but it is biodiverse, agroecological, non-chemical farming that is needed, a far cry from the kind of farming promoted by FAO.

In 2000 the US proposed that under the Kyoto Protocol an unlimited percentage of the total emission reductions should be allowed to come from tree plantations and agricultural practices, instead of reducing emissions from other sources, such as industry and transport. This was rejected by the EU and many other parties as undermining attempts to address the causes of climate change. Now the US is once again arguing that the CDM should be altered to cover new technologies, such as carbon capture and nuclear power, and that the rules should be changed to make it easier to gain funding for other allegedly “environmentally-friendly” technologies. At present, a maximum of 1 per cent of total credits can come from sequestration in forests (with the term “forests” including tree and shrub plantations) and no CDM credits for carbon sequestration in soils are permitted. Now UNCCD, in particular, is calling for an increase in the 1 per cent limit and for inclusion of carbon sequestration in soils, as well as for changes to the rules by which carbon sequestration projects have to be shown to be “additional” to what would have happened without CDM funding.

Unless the lobbyists can be stopped, the big winners will be agribusiness, particularly US-based corporations. In the US, the proposed climate change legislation includes provisions for agriculture and forestry to provide carbon offsets, [18] and these sectors are expected to provide the vast majority of domestic offsets. Yet, taking carbon trading to a new level of absurdity, the emissions created by the activities providing the carbon offsets will not be capped. In other words, the US is close to introducing legislation by which emissions from “capped sectors” (that is, sectors where limits have been placed on emissions) will be offset by methods not yet shown to be effective in uncapped sectors. These proposals, as well as others which would further boost agrofuel production and industrial wood bioenergy, have been drawn up largely through the efforts of a lobby group called the 25x’25 Coalition. This is made up of leading figures in the US soya and maize lobby together with representatives of the forestry companies. In all, the 25x’25 Coalition predicts that, as a result of climate change legislation, “the [US] agriculture and forestry sector could realise over US$100 billion in additional annual gross revenue” – 50 per cent of the total value of US agriculture. [19]


Our analysis, outlined above, calls into question the effectiveness of the proposed measures relating to agriculture. Agrofuels [20] and other forms of bioenergy from monoculture, probably combined with biochar, no-till GM plantations and industrial livestock, are likely to attract a large part of future carbon credits for agriculture. This means that most of the funding will go into further agricultural intensification and more plantations, which are seen as effective means of reducing greenhouse gases by, for example, the IPCC and by the UNFCCC Secretariat. [21] The idea is that pressure on ecosystems will be reduced by increasing yields. But this is very unlikely to happen. Greater demand for agrofuels and other types of bioenergy, as well as a new, fast-growing market for biochar, if its proponents have their way, will create an unlimited new market for agricultural and forest products. Even if yields can be raised, which is by no means guaranteed, as droughts and floods are becoming more common and soil and freshwater are becoming depleted, demand for bioenergy will grow faster, which means that higher yields will translate into greater production and higher profits, thus creating even more incentives for companies to expand their agricultural activities. This dashes any hope that higher yields will result in less pressure on ecosystems.

Non-industrial, biodiverse farming by small-scale farmers is unlikely to benefit from the proposed climate deal. As Larry Lohmann from Corner House states: “The CDM’s market structure biases it against small community-based projects, which tend not to be able to afford the high transaction costs necessary for each scheme.” [22] As a result, no effective response to climate change is likely: on the one hand, the large-scale inclusion of agriculture and soil carbon sequestration into carbon trading as offsets will further weaken any incentives to reduce fossil fuel emissions, and, on the other hand, the main beneficiaries of the proposals are likely to be industries, such as South America’s soya industry (because of its use of no-till farming) and companies that own tree plantations. These industries are likely to continue large-scale deforestation and other ecosystem destruction, thus accelerating climate change, causing greater pollution of the air, soil and water, and further displacing indigenous communities, small farmers and other communities.

There are alternative models for the future of agriculture, but they are currently neglected in the UNFCCC process. They include biodiverse ecological agriculture and agroforestry, which can increase food production and reduce the climate footprint of agriculture, as well as play a major role in ecosystem restoration and maintenance. Agriculture should be recognised as a multifunctional activity: it not only produces food, medicine, materials, fibres, and so on, and effectively recycles waste into soil restoration, but also does a lot else. This includes not only protecting biodiversity, soils and water sources but also satisfying people’s cultural, landscape, and well-being needs, over and above their requirement for food. Finally, it is a repository for knowledge built up over generations that we lose at our peril. As long as the UNFCCC relies on carbon trading from agriculture and other sectors to resolve the climate crisis, it will not reduce emissions.

Messages like these come, for example, from farmers themselves, as in La Via Campesina’s report on how small-scale sustainable farmers are cooling down the earth [23] and in Practical Action’s paper on biodiverse agriculture for a changing climate. [24] The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, written by 400 scientists in a cooperative process between a wide range of UN institutions and approved by 57 governments prior to publication, also notes: “A powerful tool for meeting development and sustainability goals resides in empowering farmers to innovatively manage soils, water, biological resources, pests, disease vectors, genetic diversity, and conserve natural resources in a culturally appropriate way.”25 Great caution is needed about adopting new agriculture practices and techniques for climate change mitigation. Policy makers should not assume that solutions to climate change are essentially technical; the most important are social and cultural. We urgently need to shift our focus away from the promise of future technological fixes to the readily available knowledge, experience and resourcefulness of local communities.

Geoengineers are gambling with Gaia

ETC Group*

What is geoengineering? According to geoengineering’s advocates, climate chaos is accelerating beyond all predictions; critical “tipping points” might already have passed; governments don’t have the political will to take unpopular decisions, especially in a worldwide financial depression. Humanity urgently wants a technological fix, even one that is profoundly regrettable and known to be hazardous. With the after-effects of the industrial revolution as “proof of principle” that geoengineering “works”, a current bright idea is that technology got us into this and so technology can get us out. Geoengineering – intentional, strategic manipulations of terrestrial, aquatic and/or stratospheric regions – could solve our problems or buy us time. Among the technologies are: (1) Ocean fertilisation – dumping iron nanoparticles into the ocean to stimulate algal blooms to sequester CO2 (though a dozen experiments have failed to prove its effectiveness); (2) Stratospheric sulphates – blasting a continuous aerosol sulphate stream to block sunlight and turn down the thermostat without reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; (3) Cloud whitening – “albedo” enhancement (increasing reflectivity) to reduce heat absorption, which will rise as darker seas replace Arctic ice; (4) Biochar – burning crop “waste” to sequester carbon and apply it to soils; (5) Synthetic trees – large land areas covered by giant “goal posts” to suck up CO2; (6) “Climate-ready” crops – vast, genetically uniform and Terminator-protected (i.e. sterile) food crops and agrofuel plantations with enhanced stress tolerance and (theoretically) CO2-fixing capacity.

At what scale? When? The scale could not be bigger and the time is now. Each year global warming is already seriously affecting 300 million people and causing US$125 billion-worth of damage. Since the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the dire warnings of the UK’s Stern Report, technological fixes once considered off the wall are suddenly on the table for governments and industry. After decades of denial, industry sees a silver lining to the climate’s storm-clouds, and governments see an escape route from tough decisions, and a way to stimulate their economies. In the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate conference in December, the White House, the US National Science Foundation and the UK’s Royal Society (among others) are testing the waters to judge public acceptance of geoengineering. An added attraction for policymakers: unlike negotiating UN accords on GHG emissions, where everyone has to be on the same page for anything to work, a single superpower or a “coalition of the willing” can regauge Gaia without intergovernmental consensus. Just as the Cold War made atmospheric and deep-sea nuclear testing possible (at least for a time), the panic that is building over climate chaos may give the G8 carte blanche to try to rejig the barometer.

Geoengineering’s impact on the environment? The scheme has to be massive. Solar screens or whitened clouds must deflect a lot of sunlight; artificial forests must displace a lot of flora and fauna; ocean fertilisation must cover a lot of sea. The problems that these will create for biodiversity – and food security – would be huge, and (possibly) intractable.

On health? Geoengineering will present its own risks to health, whether from sulphate pollution in the air or from major land-use changes, with diseases possibly migrating or mutating.

On human rights? Geoengineering is a high-stakes gamble. The truth may be obfuscated and dissent terminated. Even successful interventions will have unexpected consequences, and allies will be exposed to “friendly fire”. The Pentagon has already declared climate change a threat to national security. Civil rights and human rights could be early victims.

On governance? Even though geoengineering violates basic UN principles and contravenes its binding Environmental Modification (ENMOD) Treaty, ratified by all major powers, it won’t go away because there is money to be made. In effect, geoengineering may lead to a unilateral environmental WTO, with countries heavily penalised if they stand in its way and powerless to evade its impacts.

Players: While still sending up trial balloons, some wealthy countries are encouraging their scientific and military institutes to investigate. Scientific conferences are held and reports trickle out; more are expected before and after Copenhagen. Rogue philanthro-capitalists, and aerospace, energy, chemical and agri-businesses see lucrative opportunities.

Fora: The first global skirmishes have taken place through the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and a showdown is certain when the CBD’s 192 members meet in Japan late in 2010. More immediately (and importantly), geoengineering may spring from obscurity to become a cause célèbre in Copenhagen. Researchers want the UNFCCC’s green light, as well as government grants for real-world experiments. In the US, Republican efforts from 2005–6 to establish environmental modification legislation may be born again in this Congress.

The bottom line: Geoengineering is the wrong response to climate change. The only valid approach is for OECD states to make immediate, drastic, measurable reductions of CO2 emissions at source. No market – compliance or voluntary – should grant carbon “offsets” for any geoengineering technique. Geoengineering must not be undertaken unilaterally by any nation. The UN must reaffirm (and, if necessary, expand) the ENMOD Treaty, recognising that any unilateral modification of climate is a threat to neighbouring countries and, very likely, the entire international community.

* By Kathy Jo Wetter, a researcher with ETC Group, an international civil society organisation based in Ottawa, Canada.


1 “Carbon Market Up 83% In 2008, Value Hits $125 Billion”, Environmental Leader, 14 January 2009,

2 According to the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency, global CO2 emissions increased from 22.5bn tonnes in 1990 to 31.5bn tonnes in 2008.

3 “Key Messages from the Congress”, International Scientific Congress – Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions, University of Copenhagen, 12 March 2009,

4 Citigroup Global Markets (2007), quoted in L. Lohmann, “Governance as Corruption”, presentation, Athens, November 2008,

5 Most Annex 1 countries (but not the USA) ratified the Protocol, thus committing themselves to reducing their emissions of six GHGs by at least 5% below 1990 levels over the period 2008–12.

6 J. Vidal, “Billions wasted on UN climate programme”, Guardian, 26 May 2008.

7 J. Langman, “Generating Conflict”, Newsweek International, 13 September 2008.

8 See James Jacob, “The Kyoto Protocol and the Indian natural rubber sector”, paper available at

9 Bronwyn Herbert, “Opposition supports biochar research”, The 7.30 Report, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 26 January 2009,

10 UNFCCC, “Use of charcoal from planted renewable biomass in the iron ore reduction process through the establishment of a new iron ore reduction system”,

11 See “The Carbon Connection”, Carbon trade watch,

12 See IPCC (2001): Climate Change 2001: Mitigation. Annex II Glossary.

13 “Climate change talks should include farmers”, FAO media centre press release, 2 April 2009,

14 Ibid.

15 Crop plants used as fuels are often described as “biofuels”. In this article we use the term “agrofuel” to make it clear that we are referring to agricultural crops grown as fuel and produced for the market. For details on the relationship between agrofuels and climate change, see also Chapter 1 of Agrofuels: towards a reality check in nine key areas, a report published by Biofuelwatch and other organistions in June 2007,

16 Submission by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 5th Session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA 5), Bonn, Germany, 29 March–8 April 2009, Submission of African Governments (The Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe) to the 5th Session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA 5), Bonn, Germany, 29 March -April 2009,

17 Friends of the Earth (2008), Subprime Carbon? Rethinking the world’s largest new derivatives market,

18 A carbon offset is a financial instrument aimed at a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Offsets are typically achieved through financial support through the carbon-trading markets of projects that are said to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the short or long term.

19 25x’25, Agriculture and Forestry in a Reduced Carbon Economy: Solutions from the Land, A Discussion Guide, 1 April 2009,

20 Many authors now believe that the production of agrofuels is intensifiying the climate crisis. See, for example, J. Fargione et al., “Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt”, Science, Vol. 319, No. 5867: 1235–8; T. Searchinger et al., “Use of US Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change”, Science, Vol. 319, No. 5867: 1238–40.

21 See UNFCCC, Workshop on opportunities and challenges for mitigation in the agricultural sector, 4 April 2009,

22 L. Lohmann (ed.), Carbon Trading: A critical conversation on climate change, privatisation and power, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Durban Group for Climate Justice and The Corner House, 2006. also available as Development Dialogue, No. 48, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation,

23 Via Campesina, “Small scale sustainable farmers are cooling down the earth”, background paper, 9 November 2007 (accessed 20 May 2009),

24 Practical Action, Biodiverse agriculture for a changing climate, 2009,

25 IAASTD, Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report, Island Press, Washington DC, 2009, See also Practical Action, GM Freeze and Friends of the Earth, New Labour and the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology (IAASTD) – Meeting the Challenge, Special Briefing, 2009,

Stop the global land grab!, GRAIN, Nov. 16 2009.

GRAIN statement at the joint GRAIN-La Via Campesina media briefing

Rome, For over a year a half now, we have been watching carefully how investors are trying to take control of farmland in Asia, Africa and Latin America as a response to the food and financial crises. In the beginning, during the early months of 2008, they talked about getting these lands for “food security”, their food security. Gulf State officials began flying around the globe looking for large areas of cultivable land that they could acquire to grow rice to feed their burgeoning populations without relying on international trade. So too were Koreans, Libyans, Egyptians and others. In most of these talks, high-level government representatives were directly involved, peddling new packages of political, economic and financial cooperation with agricultural land transactions smack in the centre.

But then, towards July 2008, the financial crisis grew deeper, and we noticed that alongside the “food security land grabbers” there was a whole other group of investors trying to get hold of farmland in the South: hedge funds, private equity groups, investment banks and the like. They were not concerned about food security. They figured that there is money to be made in farming because the world population is growing, food prices are bound to stay high over time, and farmland can be had for cheap. With a little bit of technology and management skills thrown into these farm acquisitions, they get portfolio diversification, a hedge against inflation and guaranteed returns -- both from the harvests and the land itself.

To date, more than 40 million hectares have changed hands or are under negotiation -- 20 million of which in Africa alone. And we calculate that over $100 billion have been put on the table to make it happen. Despite the governmental grease here or there, these deals are mainly signed and carried out by private corporations, in collusion with host country officials. GRAIN has compiled various sample data sets of who the land grabbers are and what the deals cover, but most of the information is kept secret from the public, for fear of political backlash.

Nothing in this race for farmlands in the South is in the interest of local communities, whether you're talking about Pakistan, Cambodia, the Philippines, Madagascar, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia or Mali. Many of these countries are tremendously food insecure themselves. And these land grabs are designed to do away with small scale farming, not to improve it. If only for that reason alone, this new global land grab has been quickly seen by social movements as a recipe for profound conflict -- over not only land, but water as well.

Today in Rome, we have a microcosm of this conflict. Over at the FAO, governments, international agencies (like the World Bank) and private companies (like Yara, Bunge and Dreyfus) are trying to work out what they call codes of conduct or voluntary guidelines to make these deals “win-win”. Their main concern is the money. They don't want the dollars and the dirhams being put on the table for farmland acquisitions to run away. So they have constructed an opportunistic response: to make these land deals “work” by managing the risks involved. And we know why. After 50 years of agricultural modernisation schemes like the Green Revolution and biotechnology, and the last 30 years of broader structural adjustment programmes, we have more hungry people on the planet than ever. It's plain knowledge that all these programmes to supposedly feed the world have backfired. Unfortunately, the World Bank and others have now decided that the best option is to fly forward, follow the money and install large scale agribusiness operations everywhere, particularly where they have not taken root yet, in order to fix the problem. That is the essence of the land grab paradigm: to expand and entrench the Western model of large scale commodity value chains. In other words: more corporate-controlled food production for export.

Social movements see things quite differently. For us, all this talk of “win-win” is simply not realistic. It promises transparency and good governance as if foreign investors would respect communities rights to land there when the local governments don't. It speaks of jobs and technology transfer when those are not the problem (not to mention that little of either may materialise). It is shrouded in words like “voluntary”, “fear” and “could” instead of “guaranteed”, “confidence” and “will”. And the win-win camp is itself divided about what should happen in case of food pressures in the host countries, a more than likely scenario. Should countries be allowed to restrict exports, even from foreign investors' farms? Or should so-called free trade and investors' rights take precedence? No one that we have talked to among concerned groups in Africa or Asia takes this “win-win” idea seriously.

Today's global farmland grab, where foreign investors take control of land and water in developing countries, has nothing to do with strengthening family farming and local markets, which in our view is the only way forward to achieve food systems that actually feed people. It must be stopped. There is no win-win possible because those pushing these investments are asking the wrong question. The question we should be asking is not “How do we make these investments work?” It is “What farming and food systems will feed people without making them sick, keep farmers on the farm instead of the city slums, and allow communities to prosper and thrive?” Once we agree that the real question is what agriculture we want, then we can talk about what investment will get us there.

At GRAIN, we are extremely concerned that today's global land grab is only going to make the food crisis worse. For it pushes an agriculture geared toward large scale monocultures, GMOs, throwing farmers off the land in favour of machines, and lots of chemicals and fossil fuels. This is not an agriculture that will feed everyone. It's an agriculture that feeds speculative profits for a few and more poverty for the rest. Of course we need investment. But investment in food sovereignty, in a million local markets and in the four billion rural people who currently produce most of the food that our societies rely on -- not in a few mega-farms controlled by a few mega-landlords.

Generating Conflict, Jimmy Langman, Sep. 13 2008.

Dams are rejected in America as too destructive. Yet they are still promoted in Latin America. Why?

Almost 15 years ago, the top official at the U.S. government's Bureau of Reclamation, which is responsible for building massive dams throughout the American West, declared that the "era of big dams is over." Deemed unsafe, overly expensive and disastrous to the environment, hydroelectric power was dismissed throughout the developed world as a relic. Today less than 10 percent of electricity generated in the United States comes from dams, and throughout the developed world the trend is toward the decommissioning of dams, not building new ones. Not so in the developing world, where officials still tout big dams as the best way to tackle future energy needs and combat global warming. "We don't have the luxury not to take advantage of energy-generating resources," said center-left Chilean President Michelle Bachelet last year in her annual address to Congress, "especially during a time of climate change, in which countries should be promoting the greater use of nonpolluting energy such as hydroelectricity."

But the moves toward hydroelectric power have stirred up a flood of protest. In Mexico, there is fierce opposition to the La Parota dam, a 765-megawatt project planned for the Papagayo River. In Guatemala, activists have worked to halt plans for three dams slated for a nature reserve in the country's Rio Hondo area. Similar conflicts simmer in Panama, Ecuador, Brazil and Paraguay, and in parts of Asia and Africa. Particularly controversial are plans for a $3.2 billion, 2,750- megawatt series of dams in pristine southern Patagonia, in Chile, which its many critics say will imperil one of the world's most spectacular natural areas and the region's tourism economy.

Opponents of such mega-hydropower plants say they not only drown farmland and villages, but often, especially along the lazy rivers of the low-lying tropics, produce energy at exorbitant cost. The 2000 World Commission on Dams found that the construction of large dams cost, on average, 56 percent more than originally planned. Nor are they necessarily environmentally friendly. Big dams can destroy wildlife habitat, and in the Ganges, in India, and the Nile, in Egypt, have trapped silt, causing extensive soil erosion and land loss downstream. Drought is another concern. Ten years ago, the worst drought in decades dried up reservoirs and left Chile, which depends on hydroelectric power for more than half its electricity, with power outages stretching three or more hours a day.

Yet the dams keep getting built. Their backers, in government and the private sector, argue there are few other cost-competitive alternatives. After the expensive investment required on the front end for construction, dams can potentially produce power at a relatively cheaper cost over time, they say. For countries like Chile, which don't have substantial gas reserves, big dams are also seen as a way to avoid dependence on volatile international gas markets. "The president and all our ministers say that to face our energy needs, and to do that sustainably, we have to use our main richness in terms of energy resources, and that is hydroelectricity," says Marcelo Tokman, Chile's Energy minister.

The governments in the developing world have gotten help from, of all places, China, which is now home to half of the world's 50,000 large dams, and is financing more than 80 dams in developing countries in part to improve its access to commodities. In April 2006, for example, Nigeria awarded China four oil-drilling licenses in exchange for a commitment to invest $4 billion in infrastructure.

Concern over global warming is also aiding new construction of large dams in the south. The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), set up to help implement the United Nations' Kyoto Protocol, allows governments and companies to offset their negative contributions to climate change by financing dams because hydropower does not emit carbon dioxide. About 25 percent of projects considered for CDM funding are dams. Yet studies show that dams can produce significant quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more effective at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. In Brazil, where 80 percent of the grid is from hydro, many hydro plants are so inefficient they issue as much carbon dioxide and methane, from rotting vegetation, as a thermoelectric plant.

The defenders of Patagonia and other pristine natural environments threatened by big dams are now urging decision makers to reject hydroelectricity and push ahead with more ecologically palatable alternatives like solar, geothermal and wind. But for many Chileans—like many in the developing world—the ultimate decision on whether to send their wild rivers to oblivion will come down to how best to meet their hunger for energy in the years ahead.

With Mac Margolis in Rio De Janeiro

Copenhagen 'must produce targets', BBC, Nov. 17 2009.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen has said there must be firm pledges on greenhouse gas reductions at December's climate talks in Copenhagen. Mr Rasmussen said he wanted delegates to put "numbers on the table" and reach a "concrete and binding" agreement.

The summit will attempt to draw up a new global climate treaty to supplant the UN's 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Earlier, US President Barack Obama said the US and China agreed on the need for a comprehensive deal in Copenhagen.

Speaking in Beijing after talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Mr Obama appeared to raise hopes that such an agreement could be reached.

"Our aim there is not a partial accord or a political declaration, but rather an accord that covers all of the issues in the negotiations and one that has immediate operational effect," he said.

The comment seemed to be at odds with a much less ambitious statement from world leaders, including Mr Obama and Mr Hu, on Saturday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum.

Then, leaders failed to agree a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and instead said they viewed the Copenhagen summit as a "staging post", rather than an end point.

But Mr Obama's remarks appeared to chime with those of Mr Rasmussen.

"I am glad that the Danish strategy was supported today in Beijing at the Chinese-American summit... it confirms that we have taken the right stance," Mr Rasmussen said, following preparatory talks involving environment ministers from 44 countries.

The agreement "should be concrete and binding on countries committing to reach targets", he said. "Copenhagen should neither be a stopover nor a tiny stepping stone, as some proclaim." Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard described the two-day meeting as "very constructive".

Developing nations have called for richer countries to reduce their emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020, but so far there has been little enthusiasm for the suggestion.

Climate: A defining issue, Richard Black, 17 Nov. 2009.

A couple of weeks ago, the cat came well and truly out of the bag: there would not be a legally binding treaty at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen next month.

Or will there?

During his meeting on Tuesday with China's President Hu Jintao, President Obama appeared to indicate that some sort of comprehensive agreement was still possible.

Then, Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, speaking to a pre-summit meeting of environment ministers, called for developed nations to bring firm targets to Copenhagen - targets that should be binding.

All of this is very much at odds with statements from a number of European officials and ministers during and directly after the recent UN negotiating session in Barcelona, which were variations on the theme that a legally-binding deal was "unlikely", "extremely unlikely" or "impossible".

It certainly poses more questions. What does "legally binding" mean in this context? What does the alternative being bandied around - "politically binding" - mean?

And where does the formulation that President Obama used in his Beijing speech - "not a partial accord or a political declaration, but rather an accord that covers all of the issues in the negotiations and one that has immediate operational effect" - fit in to the overall picture?

We are into a miasma of nuance here; but for different parties, all of the nuances are important, so it's worth having a look at what's being suggested, what might actually transpire, and who's likely to be happy or unhappy.

So let's go back to the Bali meeting nearly two years ago and the pledge, in the Bali Action Plan (BAP), to produce something new by Copenhagen.

The BAP doesn't actually prescribe a legally-binding treaty, although that's an interpretation and an outcome that's been accepted by most governments as desirable and necessary.

You could argue that something legally-binding is implied by the agreement that all developed countries must adopt "measurable, reportable and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation commitments or actions, including quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives".

What is explicit is that a Copenhagen agreement must "achieve the ultimate objective of the [UN climate] convention" - in other words, must stabilise "greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".

In the broadest sense, then, there is acknowledgement by all governments that everything enacted before - the UN climate convention of 1992, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 - could not achieve that goal, and something new was needed.

That "something else", according to BAP, would have to be bigger and bolder, encompassing emissions cuts by rich countries, curbs on the rate of growth of emissions by major developing countries, and finance and technology transfer to help poorer countries constrain their emissions and adapt to climate impacts.

It was described by UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband as the most complex set of international negotiations ever, on any issue.

Two principal factors now line up to prevent a full binding treaty emerging in Copenhagen. One is the sheer amount of negotiating needed in a tight period of time; the other is that the US has yet to put any commitments on the table and may not do so before the summit.

What a number of developing countries are still demanding - joined, apparently, by Mr Rasmussen - is something that is firmly binding even though it might not carry any formally legal weight, let alone the paraphernalia of a full treaty.

But how can that be?

Recall first that these treaties don't become binding on anyone until they've been ratified by enough countries to gain the status of international law. In the case of Kyoto, that took eight years - and in the case of Copenhagen, we don't yet have an agreement on the legal form of any treaty, let alone what would trigger its adoption as law.

Secondly, one of the bases for the Copenhagen process has been that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".

(A better phrase might be "nothing is binding until everything is binding, because certain things such as an agreement on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) could conceivably emerge as a self-standing entity whatever the carnage around it.")

Are governments really going to grant binding status to something that includes main numbers on emissions targets and finance, but omits details that for some nations might turn out to be crucial? This has to be a consensus of 192 countries, not a majority vote.

Thirdly, what is there except international law that can bind countries to anything?

When it comes to the form and status of something that is not international law but is more than just a promise, I for one am out of ideas; if anyone has a clearer notion, I'd be very happy if you can spell it out for us in a comment.

A fourth issue is that some countries are very unhappy about signing up to anything that is not legally binding. A number of developing nations including Sudan (chair of the G77/China bloc), Grenada and Barbados have been making noises about not agreeing to anything that is not legally binding.

Their position is that we had the politically-binding agreement in Bali. In a sense, we had it in Rio; this is supposed to be the time for delivery on those fine words.

And it not just small developing countries; a number of European delegates have said that no deal is better than a bad deal, and presumably if they do not see the requisite amount of "binding" in the text, they will not sign, whatever embarrassment that might cause the Danish hosts.

The runes on this story appear to shift their shape daily. Experienced negotiators and observers suggest the fog is unlikely to clear before the final Copenhagen dawn on December 18th.

To the outside observer, it might seem a strange old way to try and solve a problem that most governments acknowledge as a serious and urgent threat to humanity's prospects.

But if there's one thing that governments appear to consider truly binding in this process, it's the requirement to obfuscate and procrastinate right down to the wire.

No need for defeatism - Comments.

aen 17th 5:39 AM
well, that's interesting ... there IS some real interest in addressing climate change at the Globe

there is a Canadian philosopher worthy of the name, Charles Taylor, whose ideas of 'social imaginaries' bear on this issue, the operative principle in this case being the time it takes for notions to establish themselves in a social imaginary - the process is a slow one, witness vestigial 'creationism' that you still see in the American press from time to time

and in this regard humankind has done pretty well, it has only taken forty or fifty years for the greenhouse effect to become currency

the problem as I see it is that there is not the time ... your essay is quintessentially Canadian, accentuate the positive in a sober measured way and opt for gradualism, but I don't think it will wash

rather than recapitulate all the science as it has come to our attention in the last decade or so I will just refer to Gwynne Dyer's book, Climate Wars, (and skip quickly to the bottom line at that), like yourselves Dyer is a Canadian, sober, measured, thoughtful, ultimately as positive as he can be in the circumstances ... the bottom line is that 80% by 2050 is simply not enough, what is needed to reasonably ensure a temperature rise of no more than two degrees is more like 80% by 2020 and 90% by 2030, and the forfeit could very well be catastrophe of a scale that literally beggars the human imagination, time to re-read Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker maybe

running out of characters ...

(re)make k-k-Canada a credible player? hardly possible as long as we are led by Alberta dinosaurs and by the time that changes it will be too late ... more like this I would guess - we and our children will end up at the mercy of nitwits like this David Keith I have to watch shilling Carbon Capture in your Calgary University advertisements whenever I try to move on your awful website

whatever ... be well.

JimB2 17th 7:03 AM
Has anyone calculated the carbon footprint of the thousands of delegates and assorted hanger-on who will be soon jetting to this now meaningless conference (which could be conducted just as easily over email)?

Is there any requirement that those purchasing carbon offset credits with their taxpayers' money declare purchases made from companies in which Al Gore and Mo Strong have a financial interest?

This should be mandatory for each of these interminable warmer conferences.

RichS 17th 12:03 PM
While the point regarding Harper bringing the goods to the negotiating table is correct, the unfortunate truth is the cupboard is bare... no national policy of consequence (what passes for policy - Turning the Corner - is woefully inadequate)and no political will. Prentice is just the designated environment lackey. Harper simply does not believe climate change is a serious issue - never has and never will. Think about it. When has he ever proactively brought up climate change in the last four years? Exactly - never. That's the root cause. Unless he's removed in the next election, nothing is going to happen. It's up to us now to deliver the goods.

aen 17th 2:08 PM
I would have said this is a substantive editorial ... but looka'that, no interest from the hoi polloi

Margaret Wentasaurus and Rex Murpheratops garner thousands of replies and this ... almost nothing ... ahhh, I can almost visualize the editorial meetingroom and the earnest young writer, carrying three of four boxes of KFC saying, "Is that it?"

oh well.

Btok 17th 2:52 PM
Folks, we still need to be on guard and need to keep a close watch on our Government while in the Copenhagen Sumit during the Dec. 7 to Dec. 11 Treaty Talks, as I Have been informed by some professional sources, that the powers that be are still going to try and pin down and get that original Treaty deal signed! That we are being told they'll have a lesser binding agreement, to get the public to stand down! If this is the case I guess we have to continue telephoning, emailing and visiting our respective MP's offices and telling them absolutely not to accept any forceful agreement upon us that will threaten Canadian Sovereignty!
Re: Jurriaan Maessen, Infowars, November 16, 2009

“Political unification in some sort of world government will be required (…). Even though (…) any radical eugenic policy will be for many years politically and psychologically impossible, it will be important for UNESCO to see that the eugenic problem is examined with the greatest care, and that the public mind is informed of the issues at stake so that much that now is unthinkable may at least become thinkable.” Sir Julian Huxley, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Its Philosophy

As Lord Christopher Monckton pointed out, the Copenhagen conference at the beginning of next month is designed to eliminate national sovereignty in favor of a world government to replace it. With a stroke of the pen all UN-member-states will, by doing so, throw away years of prosperity in order to satisfy the transnational needs of a global elite, hellbent on destroying the last vestiges of freedom around the world in the name of “redistributing wealth”.

Make no mistake, if the ‘world leaders’ now announce they will not swallow this pill just yet, be sure that they will in the months after December. After all, they’ve been ordered to by their masters- who have proven themselves to be both cunning and patient.

PS: I think we have a battle on our hands!

aen 17th 4:42 PM
yes, the Czech president, Václav Klaus, is on that wavelength too, wrote a couple of books on the subject: 'Blue Planet Endangered' & 'Blue Planet in Green Shackles,'

I watched a brief YouTube by this Lord Christopher Monckton fellow but it is not that impressive after you strip off the fear-monger & outright denial-of-facts rhetoric

I mean c'mon, do you really think that climate change is not happening? then why is there open water in the arctic? what happened to the Larsen B ice shelf in antarctica? what about the northward species creep? what about the growth rings on the bristlecone pines? what about the robins in Nunavut? and the permafrost ponds already bubbling methane?

give your head a shake man!

but ok, look at the plethora of lard-arsed bureaucrats we already have, ever had to deal with Revenue Canada? and there is no reason to think that green bureaucrats will be any better, probably worse given that they will see themselves as saviors of the planet

yes, it will be a struggle to keep them in line and on-topic, but regardless of that, immediate action must be taken to confront global warming, that's it really ...

mememine69 17th 5:25 PM
It doesn’t matter WHAT ANY OF THE SCIENTISTS SAY anymore because the public is getting intolerant and impatient for a promised crisis, therefore:
Sooner or later, it’s the deniers that will hold the majority of opinion because any fool can see that sustainability of this SAVE THE PLANET, can’t keep promising death for the next 100 years when the IPCC says we will all START to feel the effects of a “catastrophic climate crisis”. Public pressure will kill this already dead theory because the public is not experiencing the promised climate crisis, even after 23 years. I don’t see it, my neighbor doesn’t see it, and my family doesn’t see it. We have yet to meet anyone ourselves who has suffered from this so called crisis.
Sooner than later the global warming theory hand will have to be shown to the dealer because these threats of SAVE THE PLANET are unsustainable.
It’s “all in”, in this climate game and “death” is the last bet, the last promise, the last threat to our children.
You can’t have a little “catastrophic climate crisis.
It was a fad, a mistake, an error and history will not be kind.
Let the future begin.

aen 17th 6:05 PM
yes, those snobby scientists with their pesky cause & effect eh? well ... no point then in any 'therefore' is there? and those unruly foreign correspondents with their faked photographs of starving kiddies in Darfur, oh my

but from what you have said here, I wonder if your 'Let the future begin' may be little more than mere anarchy, is that it?

mememine69 17th 7:15 PM
Feel free to call anything bad being caused by my SUV if that is what you need to justify your modern day witch burning. And remember, it was YOUR saintly science Gods that polluted your poor little planet with their evil CHEMICALS in the first place.
If you really need something to have faith in, go to church like the rest of the "SAVE THE PLANET" thumpers and bible thumpers. Faith, correlation, precaution, Wow, now THAT'S science! Disco science and the majority of the public know that now and watch for the backlash against CO2 phobia. Can you even think for yourself? This disco science is making fools out of you romantically naive Greenzis who are more obsessed with death, than life. We love Nature, we don’t fear FOR it.
Even the kids are smirking at your insesent whining and trying to deny them futures by threatening them with death. The coming generation will be real environmentalists who don't fear the future but rather preserve, protect and respect our planet.
When most people don't believe anymore, you and your "scientists" can enjoy your little cult of doom and gloom.
You climate cowards will be cursed in history for this. Once the faith gone in the public, so will the theory be gone and nothing but another lesson for humans in the history books.

Climate change laws years away: Prentice, Susan Lunn, Nov. 17 2009.

The federal environment minister says it may be a few years before Canada tables regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Jim Prentice said the world has to first negotiate a new climate change treaty and Canada and the United States must finish their continental agreement on the same issue.

"I think it's fair to say that this all needs to knit together," Prentice said during a teleconference call from Copenhagen.

Prentice is taking part in the last round of climate change talks before the formal United Nations conference begins next month.

He also dampened any hope an international treaty will be reached in December.

"I think even a few months ago there had been an expectation on the part of the outside world that we would arrive at a full international treaty in December in Copenhagen. That clearly is not going to happen."

Instead, Canada is hoping a broad political agreement can be reached next month that will maintain the momentum towards a full international treaty, he said.

But he cautioned it may take most of 2010 to reach that legal accord.

At the same time, Canada is pursuing a continental climate change accord with the U.S. that would include a cap and trade system for greenhouse gas emissions.

That must be completed before Canada tables any regulations to dictate how much Canadian companies will need to cut their own emissions, Prentice said.

"I think it is in our interest as Canadians to ensure that we know what the international framework is going to look like. Our continental framework needs to be consistent with that. And our domestic policies need to be consistent with that," he said.

The Conservative government has promised to cut Canada's emissions by 20 per cent below 2006 levels by the year 2020. Prentice said he's optimistic that despite these delays, Canada will still meet that target.

'You first' stance on climate change killing Canada's credibility, Nicholas Hirst, Nov. 19 2009.

What is it about climate change that political leaders around the world fail to understand? Huge international hopes were placed on the summit in Copenhagen next month. Few will be realized.

Canada's environment minister, Jim Prentice, has voiced what all other senior international leaders are saying: there may be some kind of accord reached at Copenhagen to address climate change, but any move towards a comprehensive treaty went by the boards some time ago.

So Arctic ice melts, the polar bears move south, tinder dry forests burn and the world leaders, like Nero of ancient Rome, twiddle their fingers. Not even the recession has come to the world's aid. Usually, during recessions, industrial emissions of carbon dioxide gas drop. Scientists say that carbon dioxide is the most important of the "greenhouse gases" that serve to trap heat in the atmosphere. Last year, however, carbon dioxide emissions continued to rise largely because of the output from the still-growing Chinese economy.

U.S. President Barack Obama has been doing his best to rally the environmental troops. After meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Obama said that while a treaty might not be possible, a "comprehensive agreement" might.

While no one doubts Obama's sincerity and willingness to combat climate change, the U.S. has still to introduce new federal regulations. Prentice is waiting for the U.S. to formulate its policies before Canada brings in its own.

We could go on like this forever.

Why? It's not as if world leaders are incapable of responding to real threats to the globe's existence. In the 1980s, when scientists discovered worrying, growing holes in the ozone layer of the atmosphere, international leaders understood the danger. The ozone layer traps up to 99 per cent of the ultra-violet light from the sun. The small portion that gets through is what we use sunblock to protect ourselves from. The growing holes in the ozone in the 1980s threatened our very existence. If the ozone layer were destroyed, humans would simply fry.

Scientific research showed that the deterioration of the ozone layer was being caused by chemicals known as CFCs. They were used widely in aerosol sprays and refrigeration. In Montreal in 1987, world leaders met and agreed to ban CFCs, replacing them with a less damaging chemical. In 1989, the protocol came into effect.

Why similar and equally draconian measures have not been put into effect for climate change makes you wonder. The extrapolations on what happens if we do nothing are by now well known. The world will heat up. Oceans will rise. Coastal populations will be threatened and our ability to feed ourselves will weaken.

The danger appeared to be understood more than a decade ago with the signing of the Kyoto protocol that pledged industrialized nations to reduce their carbon emissions. Some countries, like the UK, did so. The U.S. didn't sign. Canada signed and proceeded to ignore the goals it had set for itself.

Copenhagen was supposed to put the reduction of carbon emissions back on track. There is no clear agreement on how to do that. The conclusion I come to is that neither the political leaders nor the people they represent truly believe that the threat is serious. The majority of the world's climate scientists believe that climate change is happening. But the public doesn't and if they do, they are not sure anything can be done about it. The argument over whether man-made pollution is really changing the climate never seems settled. Only last month, the BBC, normally a staunch believer in climate change, published an article by its climate correspondent Paul Hudson under the heading Whatever happened to global warming? The report stated that the world average temperatures had peaked in 1998. Scientists have responded by saying that the long-term trend is still rising and that models predict that as carbon dioxide continues to increase so will temperatures.

I have said it before and I'll say it again: the threat of climate change is so great that we cannot afford to trust that it won't happen. The long-term evidence is that it is happening and we have to do everything in our power to mitigate its effects.

Canada's ability to affect the world's output of carbon is limited. Our country's own emissions are less than two per cent of the world total. Our moral authority, however, is not measured by our output. Our governments, both Liberal and Tory, have been saying "you first" for far too long. Canada used to punch above its weight on the world stage. That's not been the case for many years. On climate change we have no moral authority at all. It's time Canada stopped thinking the climate was a problem for others and took a leadership role. It's not going to happen, but you can live in hope.

Nicholas Hirst is CEO of Winnipeg-based television and film producer Original Pictures Inc.

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