Brazil Makes Major Offer to the World

Here is another update from National Wildlife Federation staffer Barbara Bramble who is in Bali, Indonesia at the climate talks. I was especially touched by the story of Almir Surui, the indigenous leader of one of the Amazonian tribes, who is experiencing climate change in his region. "I feel like I’m being asked to pay the restaurant bill but I didn’t eat the duck," he said.

Dec 13, Bali Indonesia – Thursday night, very late

We’re trying to get some sleep before the real battle begins to finalize some sort of document to come from Bali. The negotiations are still going on now (midnight) and will resume tomorrow, perhaps going all night on Friday. This seems to be traditional, but not very adult behavior!

Meanwhile, Brazil yesterday made a major offer to the world – they fleshed out their ideas on how the avoided deforestation fund they have been talking about would actually work. They are offering is to take a "baseline" national deforestation rate (that is the word that most developing countries had refused to utter in public up til now) calculated as the average forest loss over the last 10 years. (Keep in mind that this includes the last 3 years, which already is a big reduction from the bad old days.) They will then set a target to reduce deforestation below that level over time, toward an eventual goal of zero. For the first 5 years, they have calculated their baseline at 1.95 million hectares per year. They have calculated the carbon dioxide equivalent per hectare at 100 tons, which is very conservative. For each year, they would calculate the real deforestation rate, after the figures are in, and compare it to the 1.95 million hectare baseline. If they had succeeded in reducing deforestation below that figure, they would ask for donations from friendly countries and companies in the amount of $5/ton for the avoided emissions. After the first 5 year period they would recalculate the baseline, and bring it down in increments, each 5 year period. The minister said they would aim for major reductions by 2020, and eventually reach zero.

Apparently, this was well received by the other countries, though it hasn’t helped the US to budge on the major sticking point – whether to have any "range of reductions" in the Bali Roadmap. The Europeans are asking for an "indicative range" of 25-40% reductions by industrial countries below 1990 levels by 2020, because that is what the IPCC says is necessary to stay below the danger zone of 2 degrees Celsius of global warming. The US says that to include any numbers at all at this stage is to pre-judge the outcome of the next two years of negotiations.

As you may have read in AP and Reuters stories today, there was quite a confrontation between the French and Germans versus the US over this yesterday. They both said that if there isn’t a strong plan for the 2-year negotiations coming out of Bali (the "roadmap") then there isn’t any reason to have those Major Economy meetings that the Bush Administration is so fond of. They essentially threatened to boycott them if the US doesn’t allow the 25’40% range into the final document here.

I just had a quick discussion with Brice Lalonde, the head of the French delegation in our hotel garden. He seemed frankly torn about what to do as the negotiations move into the end game tomorrow. The choices are: to accept the US strong arm tactics, and leave Bali with no target zone for reductions (the 25-40 % range, mentioned above, that would be the heart of the negotiations over the next two years toward a final post 2012 agreement), or to say "no numbers no deal" and blow up the Bali session.

Well we’ll see tomorrow night. The final session may go on into the night as they hash this out.

Today, at a side event organized by IUCN I spoke on biofuels, giving an update on the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, especially the status of work on how to calculate the GHG emissions of the feedstocks. The huge problem the scientists are finally grappling with is that biofuels can cause deforestation directly, if land is cleared to grow them, or they may cause deforestation indirectly, if increased demand for crops leads to deforestation in some other location. Depending on how you count, this deforestation may cause biodiesel to have 6 – 20 times MORE GHG emissions than regular diesel. It’s a big dilemma for all biofuels coming from developing countries. The event was organized as an interactive session, with small groups posing research questions for IUCN’s new program on biofuels. Very well attended.

I learned a great phrase from Almir Surui, the indigenous leader of one of the Amazonian tribes, today. He came from Brazil Amazon to talk about how tribes have preserved more than 20 % of the Amazon from deforestation (all other kinds of protected public lands like national parks amount to another 12% in preserved status). There are already noticeable effects of climate change on his region of the Amazon, particularly rivers that are drying up for months at a time. Since that is their main mode of transportation, it’s devastating. He said he feels like he is "being asked to pay the restaurant bill but he didn’t eat the duck."

At a reception for Mayor Bloomberg, I met one of the UK delegates to whom I had given a stress ball several days ago. He still had it in his pocket for instant use, and said it was "the best piece of marketing at this conference"!

The youth delegates gave out 200 more balls today, with fact sheets, and one was given to the Environment Minister of Norway. I wasn’t there to get a picture, but we are so proud of the Sustain US "kids".

Published: December 13, 2007