Climate Compass Blog

Cancún Can

This post orginally appeared in the Opinio Juris blog.

Oh, how much difference a year — and lower expectations — make!

The BBC report on the Cancún meeting declared that “if Copenhagen was the Great Dane that whimpered, Cancún has been the Chihuahua that roared.” Never mind that the Great Dane’s whimper was about the same decibel level as the Chihuahua’s roar. Last year, expectations were sky high for a new legal agreement that would extend, complement or replace the Kyoto Protocol, so the non-binding Copenhagen Accord was a major disappointment. This year expectations for the Cancún Conference were extremely low, so an outcome that essentially incorporates the Copenhagen Accord into the UNFCCC process is seen as a big win.

Why Cancún Delivered

This post also appears in National Journal's Cancún Insider blog.

CANCUN – So what accounts for Cancún’s success?  I can see a number of factors that thankfully conspired to produce the most tangible progress in the U.N. climate talks in years.

The first, without doubt, is the savvy and skill of the Mexican diplomatic corps. The Mexicans have been widely praised for doing their utmost to keep the negotiations inclusive and above-board. Less noted, but equally important, was the firm hand they maintained in the crucial closing hours. Taking the very practical view that consensus does not mean strict unanimity, they refused to allow a vocal minority to impede the will of the vast majority. In short, they ensured that everyone had their say, even if all didn’t get their way.

Beyond Binding or Bust

This post also appears in National Journal's Cancún Insider blog

CANCUN – We’ll see tomorrow here in Cancún whether countries are ready to move past binding-or-nothing in the international climate effort.

For the past five years, negotiators have deadlocked over whether and how to extend a legally binding climate regime beyond 2012, when the first Kyoto targets expire. In that time, over countless sessions, the U.N. climate talks have produced little in the way of tangible results.

Cancún is an opportunity for a more sensible approach.

Supreme Court to Weigh in on Greenhouse Gas Common Law Nuisance Cases

The Supreme Court announced on December 6 that it would hear an appeal in one of the several common law nuisance cases against greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters that are making their way through the courts. By granting ceritiorari in AEP v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court has signaled its intention to weigh in on the appropriate role of the courts in addressing damages caused by climate change. As explained below, possible future regulatory actions by EPA or, alternatively, action by Congress to restrict EPA’s regulatory authority, could be factors that influence the Court’s decision.

Green Flights Take to the Air in 2011

From commercial airplanes from Virgin Atlantic to a U.S. Navy fighter jet, powering airplanes with biofuels has been long been a goal of the airline industry. Following test flights by a number of airlines and the U.S. Department of Defense, Lufthansa will be the first to offer a biofuel-powered commercial flight in April of 2011. Though a 50-50 mix of biofuels and jet fuel (traditional kerosene) will power only one of the aircraft’s engines, the German airline is achieving a considerable milestone. The program is a 6-month trial using the Hamburg-Frankfurt route to evaluate the wear and tear of biofuels on an aircraft engine. The program should reduce the airline’s carbon footprint by about 1,500 metric tons of CO2 in total (the annual emissions of about 300 cars) and cost about 6.6 million euros. The plane is no slouch either – an Airbus A321 has a seating capacity of 220 and a range of 3,000 miles.