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A new climate mobilization is emerging; its first mission? The isolation of Donald Trump. Sunday's New York Times headline about the G20 meeting in Hamburg was revealing, but inaccurate: World leaders Move Forward on Climate Change: Without the U.S.
Yes, 19 of the 20 major economic players in the global economy agreed that the Paris climate agreement was "irreversible," that every nation needed to play its appropriate part, and that the future laid out in Paris, a decarbonized global economy in this century, was inevitable. Even oil exporting nations like Saudi Arabia and Russia, whom President Trump has viewed as favorite diplomatic buddies, refused to stand with him on climate. Trump's unwillingness to concede anything on climate meant that the rest of the G20 could adopt the stronger version of each of their climate communiqués.
But what the Times headline writer missed was that the world was not advancing "without the U.S."—it was simply advancing without the current administration. The Trump administration no longer represents American in the way that we have understood the presidency for decades.
The broader signs of the isolation of the Trump administration have been evident for months. But look at climate, and look at last week only.
Monday, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, representing 250 of America's largest cities, unanimously endorsed the goal of converting their electricity supply 100 percent to renewables like wind and solar. What was the Trump administration response? According to the Houston Chronicle, Energy Sec. Rick Perry was preparing to "order Americans to pay more for electricity to keep his boss's promises to coal miners, nuclear power plants and electric companies ..." by requiring them to buy coal or nuclear power even if it cost more than clean renewables!
Then, as Trump boarded Air Force One to fly to Poland and ask, plaintively, if "the West has the will to survive?" California Gov. Jerry Brown, representing the most dynamic and rapidly growing economy in any industrial nation, proclaimed his survival plan. Brown announced that in September 2018 he would host a global climate summit in San Francisco, warning that the president "doesn't speak for the rest of America" in pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change ... it's up to you and it's up to me and tens of millions of other people to ... join together to combat the existential threat of climate change. That is why we're having the Climate Action Summit."
Even the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries broke with Trump and reaffirmed that they, too, supported the Paris agreement.
Talk about isolation.
A week later Brown joined with Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, to proclaim "America's Pledge," a groundbreaking mechanism for enabling the U.S., as a society, to participate in the global effort to curb climate change even while its normal representative, the Executive Branch of the federal government, struggles to hold back the tide.
America's Pledge is the latest expression of the new "bottom-up" diplomacy of climate, whose boldest achievement is, of course, the Paris agreement itself. From Kyoto through Copenhagen, the global community tried—and failed—to solve climate by arm-wrestling national governments into sharing sacrifice and imposing it on their citizens, like a tax bill.
They wouldn't pay it.
But in the aftermath of Copenhagen climate leaders like then UNFCCC Executive Christina Figueres, and U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern, realized that, as Figueres put it, "the big boom was over." Climate was not going to be solved by a top-down agreement to share pain—it had to be healed by a bottom-up effort to seize the emerging opportunities that can make climate progress a short term, local win, as well as a long term, global necessity.
The Paris agreement reflected that. Nations didn't get handed a tax bill. They came forward with their own preferred actions—things their governments thought would be good for their own populations, like restoring forests in Kenya, or cleaning up power plants in the U.S. Some focused-on deforestation, some on renewable electricity, others on low carbon transportation fuels.
The Obama administration's Paris offer—a "Nationally Determined Contribution," consisted of things most Americans wanted to do anyway—replace outmoded, expensive and dirty coal power with cheaper, cleaner renewables; stop wasting valuable natural gas by letting it leak or be flared; provide motorists with cars and trucks and waste less fuel and go further on a dollar's worth of gasoline; modernize our building stock to reduce utility bills and increase comfort; and replace climate destructive HFC refrigerants with modern, American developed safe alternatives.
So in walking from Paris, Trump is compelled to threaten that his administration will block Americans from doing things that make them more prosperous, competitive, safer or healthier. Why does Energy Sec. Perry have to threaten states to get them to buy more coal power? Because it costs more than wind or solar.
Some, perhaps many, actions will, of course, require federal action—regulating oil and gas pollution on federal land for example. Others, like better building codes to reduce wasteful household energy bills, are primarily matters for cities. Innovating new technologies to replace HFC refrigerants are mostly going to emerge from the private sector. And the best way to figure out how to best leverage a price on carbon as a climate solution might be to let California and other states run a series of experiments and see whose method works best.
So why should America wait for Trump?
But there is a challenge with bottom-up solutions, a problem that "America's Pledge" is designed to solve. If dozens of states, hundreds of cities, thousands of universities and tens of thousands of businesses are each innovating and cutting emissions on their own, how do we know how we are doing? How can we learn from successes and failures? How can we stimulate the competitive instincts that make even more progress possible?
That's the gap "America's Pledge" plans to fill—to measure, report, compare and aggregate both the actions taken, and the opportunities yet to be taken, by an entire society. Because, at its heart, bottom-up climate progress requires mobilizing all of us, each one to do something that makes sense, and is good for us, but might not ever get to the top of our "to do list" if we didn't understand that we are part of something much larger, and much more important, than our individual steps.
That means, incidentally, that America's Pledge will have to be just as, or more rigorous, methodical and comprehensive than the "Nationally Determined Contributions" that made up the Paris agreement. That's a major challenge. But I think that what President Trump doesn't understand is that this is the kind of challenge Americans respond to—and I'm thrilled that Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Brown have laid it on the table.
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A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.
The huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about donations to the Amazon Fund. LeoFFreitas / Moment / Getty Images
By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:
Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."
According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.
The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.
But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.
The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.
Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.
An Uncertain Future
The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.
Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.
There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.
Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).
Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.
One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).
Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."
Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.
The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.
The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."
Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.
Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr
Alternative Amazon Funding
Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.
In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.
Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."
Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."
Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.
Council of Hemispheric Affairs
Looming International Difficulties
The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.
In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.
But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."
The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."
Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.
Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.
Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY
Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."
Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.
Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."
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