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Phasing Out Fossil Fuel Subsidies Must Be One of the Major Outcomes of Rio+20

twibbon-24-subsidies.pngWhat if I told you that governments around the world were spending almost $1 trillion dollars a year to subsidize activities that are driving global warming?  What if I told you that the leaders of the major countries had committed to phase-out these fossil fuel subsidies in 2009 but they hadn’t really done much to follow through on that commitment? What if I told you that countries had a chance to send a clear signal right now that it is time to finally phase-out these destructive subsidies?`  World leaders have a chance at Rio+20 to stop subsidizing fossil fuels to the tune of nearly $1 trillion and make an important dent in reducing global warming.  And now you have a chance to tell these world leaders that it is time to end fossil fuel subsidies.  Join with NRDC, 350.org, Avaaz.org, and other leading groups in telling world leaders that it is time to #endfossilfuelsubsidies.

Here is why this is so critical and why important progress can be made at Rio+20.

Nearly $1 trillion reasons to change course. Countries are spending around $1 trillion in subsidies for fossil fuels.

This is 12 times more in subsidies than are being provided to renewable energy* (see figure).

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We Need New Action on Renewable Electricity at Rio+20

Since 2002 the amount of wind, solar, and geothermal electricity in the energy mix throughout the world has risen from nearly non-existent levels to something that shows up in energy statistics.  Despite this important increase, these sources of electricity still count for a modest amount of the electricity in the world’s largest economies. So twenty years after the first Earth Summit in Rio, it is time that world leaders return to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Rio+20 Earth Summit and step up their game on renewable electricity. Countries, companies, cities, and individuals need to commit to increasing the amount of electricity production from these sources so that they account for 15 percent of total electricity produced in 2020.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is releasing a new report — Delivering on Renewable Energy Around the World — which shows the progress of each of the G20 countries since 2002.  The report concludes that significant progress has been made since 2002 – when countries last met for an Earth Summit – but much more needs to be done. When leaders meet in Rio they can help unleash the potential of renewable electricity.

Some countries are rising to the top. As of 2011, the European Union (E.U.) has the most electricity produced from these sources, with Germany the most out of the G20 countries.  Other countries like the U.S., China, Mexico, and Brazil lag behind.  While all these countries have made important progress since 2002 they are still significantly behind other countries like New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, and Iceland (see map).

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House Committee Votes to Allow Illegal Loggers to Pillage World’s Forests

Turning the Page on Rainforest Destruction: Children’s Books and the Future of Indonesia’s RainforestsToday, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted to allow illegal loggers to undercut the Lacey Act by allowing them to pillage the world’s forests.  The vote was close as a bipartisan group of Representatives voted against the bill that would gut the Lacey Act.  Unfortunately, by a 25-19 vote too many House Members still took the side of illegal loggers that pillage forests around the world, utilize slave and child labor, decimate wildlife, drive deforestation that is causing global warming, and undercut American companies and workers. This bill by Representatives Blackburn (R-TN), Bono-Mack (R-CA), and Cooper (D-TN) – offered by Rep. Flemming (R-LA)—would gut the Lacey Act.  The Lacey Act has been playing a critical role in helping to stop deforestation and ensuring that American companies and workers that produce sustainable products can compete on a level playing field.

All the Democrats voted no, one Republican voted no, two Democrats and one Republicans didn’t attend.  For the list of Members that deserve thanks and which ones should go on the wall of shame see below.*

The Lacey Act is a critical tool in combating global deforestation.  The premise behind the amendment to the Lacey Act is pretty straightforward – it is illegal to import and trade in illegal timber.  Companies importing wood and wood products into the U.S. must verify that they are buying that material from legal sources.  So if a company imports wood from Brazil that wood must be cut, produced, manufactured, etc according to Brazilian law or it would be deemed illegal according to the Lacey Act.

The Lacey Act doesn’t cover every law in the exporting country.  The Act’s specific language, and legal precedent (this Act has a 111 year old track record), focus on “conservation” laws.  The law is also based on the premise that importing companies need to ensure that their supply chain meets the requirements of the Act.  So if you are IKEA, Home Depot, WalMart, or a maker of musical instruments that imports wood and wood products into the U.S. you must take the necessary steps to ensure that your suppliers are complying with the law in the country where the wood is sourced.  That is just common sense as no company wants to encourage illegal activity.

Bill that passed would gut the Lacey Act.  The Committee voted on a bill from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) – the RELIEF ACTas amended by Rep. Flemming (R-LA). [Here is analysis of the implications of the RELIEF Act.]

The bill that passed would allow illegal loggers to keep their ill begotten gains, would eliminate the requirements of the Lacey Act for “non-solid woods” (e.g., pulp and paper) which is one the main sources of illegal logging, and would strip down what conservation laws would be subject to the law.  Despite the claims of its proponents, this modified version would still gut the Lacey Act.

Despite claims that the bill is aimed at protecting American business and not supportive of illegal loggers, the Republicans (with the exception of one) also voted against two amendments offered by the Democrats.  The first amendment (offered by Rep. Markey) would have restricted imports from countries that engage in drug trafficking, trafficking of people,and are state sponsors of terrorism.  Illegal loggers are often closely tied to illegal drugs, slavery and child labor, and terrorism so this amendment would have ensured that imported wood doesn't support these activities. The second amendment (offered by Rep. Garamendi) would not have the RELIEF Act go into effect if the Secretary of Interior and the Governors of timber producing states certify that the RELIEF Act is "negatively impacting employment" in the U.S. timber industry. Since the Lacey Act protects American workers against illegal activity, this amendment would have ensured that the RELIEF Act didn't lead to job loss in the timber industry.

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Closing the Gap: International Global Warming Actions for 2012 (Part 3)

Mind the Gap.PNGIn Durban, South Africa countries agreed to: launch the negotiations on a new legal agreement to be adopted in 2015, move forward implementation of the agreements reached in Cancun, finalize the negotiations on the second round of the Kyoto Protocol, and address the gap between what the science demands and the current actions that countries have pledged.  This later issue – “closing the mitigation gap” – is a critical task that must begin in 2012.  Many of the actions to begin to close the gap are poised for even greater movement in 2012.  These steps could go a long way in helping address global warming and complement the domestic actions that many countries are beginning to implement.

This is a four-part post.  Part 1 focuses on the actions at that are happening at home in key countries and a couple of key issues to watch in these countries.  Part 2 considers the actions at Rio+20 that are essential for moving forward on global warming action.  Part 3—this post— discusses key actions to “close the mitigation gap” that are at critical turning points in 2012.  Part 4 outlines some key debates this year that are important to “lay the groundwork for future action”.

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What lies ahead for international action on global warming for the rest of 2012? (Part 1)

Stop Global WarmingWith the haze of the Durban climate negotiations finally lifting, the climate negotiations in Germany at the midway point, and one month before Rio+20 it is time to reflect on the path that lies ahead for the rest of this year.  While global negotiations have slowed since the high-intensity period over the last three years (in Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban), that doesn’t mean we can afford for action to slow down.  After all, as the International Energy Agency just pointed out the door for avoiding the greatest impacts is quickly closing.

Four key themes are critical to watch the remainder of this year that are essential ingredients for progress on international global warming action: (1) the actions countries take at home right now; (2) the actions countries commit to implement at Rio+20; (3) how much progress is made in closing the “mitigation gap”; and (4) what stage is set this year for the international legal agreement that is to be reached in 2015.

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Saving Ourselves from the Status Quo: Youth Stand Up for the Earth and their Future

This post was written by Michael Davidson. One block from my office in Washington, DC, young people frustrated by the lack of accountability and democracy in corporate America have gathered to demand and demonstrate change. I hear many voices of my generation as I walk through McPherson Square, but our concerns are unmistakable: unemployment, corruption, massive subsidies to established industries, corporate irresponsibility and—inherent in all these problems—environmental injustice on a global scale. Given the increasingly precarious world that we inhabit, there is much to do at next year’s Rio+20 Earth Summit on sustainable development. What is certain: The status quo …

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Members of US House Introduce Bill to Stop Another Country from Controlling Aviation Pollution

Yesterday in the sweltering heat of Washington, DC Members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation which would seek to stop the European program to control aviation’s air pollution.  The bill is another backward attempt by the House to undermine efforts to control the carbon pollution that is causing global warming.  This bill should be rejected by the House, never even considered by the Senate, and rejected by the Obama Administration as unhelpful to its effort to be a leader in addressing global warming. Representatives Mica (R-FL), Rahall (D-WV), Petri (R-WI), Costello (D-IL), Hultgren (R-IL), Duncan (R-TN), Shuster (R-PA), …

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Renewable Energy Keeps Growing: Earth Summit in Rio provides an opportunity for even more action

Several new reports released over the past few days show that renewable energy keeps growing, with more countries implementing policies or incentives to spur renewable energy deployment.  The studies found that renewable energy accounted for $211 billion in new investments in 2010 – an increase of 32% from the previous year.  Next year at the Earth Summit in Rio, countries and companies have a chance to build upon this momentum by committing to deeper actions to spur renewable energy deployment within their country and company.  This is an important opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. So what are the key findings …

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Some in the US need to stop opposing the EU program to control carbon pollution from aviation

On Wednesday June 22, the US and European Union (EU) officials will meet in Oslo, Norway for a bilateral on aviation issues.  As a part of this meeting they will discuss the EU Aviation Directive – the only program in the world to regulate the carbon pollution from airplanes.  The Wall Street Journal is reporting that US will:  “deliver its first formal objections to the European Union's impending emission-trading plan for airlines”.  This is the wrong position on legal, policy, and environmental grounds.  It sends the wrong signal about the US commitment to battling global warming. So today, Environmental Defense …

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Where are US Global Warming Emissions Headed?

As I meet with global warming officials from other countries, I frequently hear this statement: “American action on global warming is lost for the foreseeable future.”  This is a good time to evaluate how true or false this statement is since the US Energy Information Administration  (EIA) has just released its annual projections – the Annual Energy Outlook 2011.  The general conclusion: emissions will be below 2005 levels for the next 15 years and could be reduced even further if the Administration implemented EPA and other rules in a strong fashion. But before giving some detail on the results here …

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