Saturday, December 26, 2009

China Becoming a Center for Green Technology?

The New Yorker magazine this week (Dec. 21 & 28, 2009, issue) has an article about the country that it says has taken the lead in clean energy technology.

The article must then be about the U.S. But it isn't. Then it must be an editing slip up and the article is talking not about a "country" per se, but about the economic powerhouse known as the European Union. Wrong again. Hum...Brazil maybe? Not a chance.

The country that the article ("Green Giant: Beijing's Crash Program for Clean Energy") refers to is China, and if you are interested in key developments in green energy then this article is a must read.

A few of the article's key observations:
"As [Chinese] President Hu Jintao...put it in October of this year, China must 'seize preemptive opportunities in the new round of the global energy revolution." (page 54)
"David Sandalow, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy for Policy and International Affairs, has been to China five times in five months. He [said], 'China's investment in clean energy is extraordinary.' For America, he added, the implication is clear: 'Unless the U.S. makes investments, we are not competitive in the clean-tech sector in the years and decades to come.'" (page 55)
"China is already buying and installing the world's most efficient transmission lines - 'an area where China has actually moved ahead of the U.S.,' according to Deborah Seligsohn, a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute. In the next decade, China plans to install wind-power equipment capable of generating nearly five times the power of the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest producer [of power]." (page 56)
While the article points out that China is now spending $70 billion each year on research and development, it also explains that China has enormous energy challenges and it faces a pollution problem like no other country in the world.

If nothing else, the policy makers in Brussels and Washington, D.C., better be giving careful consideration to what Beijing is doing. On the other hand, the more innovation the better since ultimately does the market really care whether a good idea comes from China, Brazil, the EU, the U.S. or anywhere else?

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Convergence of Natural Resources Development and Climate Change Policy: Rio Tinto to Hire Climate Advisor

Over the past year, this blog has contained many posts illustrating the convergence of natural resources, environmental, and business-related issues.

This observation has been born out yet again with the announcement by Rio Tinto, one of the world's leading mining firms, that it is seeking to hire a Principal Advisor: Energy and Climate Strategy. The job's location is Rio Tinto's operations in London.

According to Rio Tinto the role involves:
  • Developing analysis about climate change related issues and the company's underlying business.
  • Identifying and supporting the development of new business opportunities involving climate change regulation and policies.
  • Working to integrate procedures to deal with climate change across the company's various operations including safety, finance, community, and biodiversity.
Among the requirements for job seekers are:
  • Strong analytical, research, and data handling skills.
  • Interest in climate change policy.
  • Knowledge of energy markets.
  • Self motivation.
The world is changing right before our eyes and in our own time. The challenges and opportunities reflect these changes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

DU Law Professor Ved Nanda Says "Progress was Made" at UN Climate Change Conference

Prof. Ved Nanda, Thompson G. Marsh Professor of Law and Director of International Legal Studies Program at the University of Denver, is an individual with a global reputation for insight and fairness. Consequently, when Prof. Nanda speaks about an issue it behooves all of us to consider this wise man's perspective.

On today's Denver Post op-ed page, Prof. Nanda offers his observations about the just completed UN Climate Change Conference in a piece entitled, "Not all Lost at Copenhagen Climate Talks." Everyone interested in the international policy aspects of the climate change issue should take time to read Prof. Nanda's sage observations.

Among other things, Prof. Nanda said:
"The conference's shortcomings have made climate change skeptics happy. But, this accord, while watered down, must be welcomed. If the Copenhagen meeting had adjourned without even this framework document, it would have been potentially disastrous, as the momentum of the last 10 years would have come to naught. Although total failure was avoided, the need will be to pursue the initiative with vigor. The United States and China, especially, need to work together with the newly emerging countries and the European Union so there can be a legally binding treaty next year."
When trying to understand a complex issue, there is no substitute for the perspective that can be offered by an experienced and respected voice. That is why what Prof. Nanda says is so important.

Author Elizabeth Economy, Expert on Chinese Environmental Issues, to Speak at DU in February

Dr. Elizabeth C. Economy, an expert on Chinese environmental issues and C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, will speak about "China's Environmental Future" on February 9 at 7 p.m. in the Gates Concert Hall at the Newman Center at the University of Denver. Dr. Economy's remarks are free and open to the public.

She is the author of the award winning book, "The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future." To RSVP for the event, please click here.

This event will be an exceptional opportunity for the DU community to learn more about the fascinating and vexing environmental issues being faced by the world's largest (in terms of population) country. What is going on in China will ultimately have an impact on everyone in the world, and consequently the more one knows about China and its challenges and opportunities, the better one can position him or herself to be part of the future.

I heartily encourage anyone interested in China to attend what will certainly be an interesting and informative presentation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Reception Honoring December 2009 Graduates: Congratulations and Good Luck!

Recently the graduate program honored our December 2009 graduates with a reception at the DU law school. It was a wonderful evening enjoyed by nearly 60 graduates, current students, alums, professors, and other friends of our community.

These pictures illustrate the goodwill and camaraderie shared by all those who attended. A particular point of pride for all of us associated with the program is the vast diversity of our community. There were graduates at the reception from the following countries: Chile, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. And there were current students from the following countries: Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, and the United States. And to top things off, we also had alums and other friends of the community from these countries: Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, and the U.S.

It was a wonderful evening, which captured the community-minded nature of our students, alums, professors, and friends. Moreover, it was a vivid example of the vast diversity of our program, which includes students from every continent on the globe as well as students from the length and breadth of North America.

Two observations that I can make with all manner of confidence: Environmental and natural resources law and policy challenges and opportunities know no political or geographic boundaries. Moreover, the world's "best and the brightest" have chosen to study at the DU law school. Celebrations such as the one we enjoyed at this event remind all of us of the enduring nature of our broad community, and how resolving the issues that bring us together will always be compelling for the world at large.

A special thank you to Lucy Daberkow, assistant program director, who organized what was indeed a truly splendid evening. And also a thank you to Mochamad Kasmali, a December 2009 graduate from Indonesia, who supplied all of the photos in this posting.

Monday, December 21, 2009

UN Copenhagen Conference: Success, Failure, or Something in Between?

The dust is just now settling from the UN Climate Change Conference, which ended its run last Saturday. Looking back -- admittedly with the benefit of just two days -- did the conference accomplish what it intended to do? Was it a success? Or a big disappointment?

Views are all over the board. Not surprisingly, the word from 1600 Pennsylvania in Washington, D.C. is that the conference conclusions were a "breakthrough [that] will lay the foundation for international action in the years to come." It seems rather "rich" to call the results a "breakthrough," at least if one had been expecting some sort of firm agreement with ambitious and enforceable targets.

An editorial in today's New York Times ("Copenhagen, and Beyond," Dec. 21, 2009) wrote in part, "The global climate negotiations in Copenhagen produced neither a grand success nor the complete meltdown that seemed almost certain as late as Friday afternoon [of last week.]" The editorial goes on to argue that, "For the moment it is worth savoring the steps forward. China is now a player in the effort to combat climate change in a way that it has never been...And the United States is very much back in the game too. After eight years of playing the spoiler, it is now a leader with a president who seems to embrace the role."

From across the Atlantic, a more somber tone was generally in evidence. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose government is serving as the current president of the EU, said, "Let's be honest. This is not a perfect agreement. It will not solve the climate threat."

The Economist put it more bluntly: "Even its biggest fans -- if such people exist -- would be hard put to find the Copenhagen Accord on the climate a rousing success." ("Better Than Nothing," Dec. 19, 2009). Moreover, The Economist offered its view (one that I believe we will be hearing much more about) that the overall process was nearly a flop: "The UNFCCC process...looks in need of some serious attention."

Finally, the Financial Times offered this perspective today: "As the meeting ended, Barack Obama was calling the Copenhagen accord -- the emptiest deal one could imagine, short of a fist fight -- an 'important breakthrough.' Mr. Obama's credibility at home and abroad is one casualty of this farcical outcome." ("Dismal Outcome at Copenhagen Fiasco," Dec. 21, 2009).

The big disappointment from today's review of various newspapers is the fact that The Wall Street Journal editorial team had nothing to say about Copenhagen. But that is not entirely a surprise since the Journal devoted its entire editorial column today to lambasting a cobbled together health bill that the U.S. Senate seems poised to approve. Nevertheless, the Journal will undoubtedly chime in very soon.

Is the U.S. Moving Closer to a Carbon Constrained Economy?

Despite an old American foreign policy tradition of telling other countries how to run their own affairs and the necessity of different sides of an issue acting in a civil manner, politics in America is not exactly a "no contact" sport. In fact, one battle now raging in Washington, D.C., is how greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced in the U.S. And there is going to be plenty of contact as Washington considers the various available alternatives.

In some ways, it is rather fitting that the U.S. now faces the issue of what to do and how to do it. For years, the Europeans, who have in place the world's only major emissions trading reduction program, have practically begged the U.S. to do something. Even China is making noises about doing something (although it is worth noting that China does a lot of "noise making" in Beijing, but often the actual implementation gets lost out in the provinces). But, alas, nothing has been forthcoming from America, although the U.S. may now be on the precipice of doing something. The question now is will that "something" be through regulation or through legislation? No one is quite sure today. But the method of reducing emissions makes a big different to the various affected constituencies.

On one hand, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that would reduce carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade system (as well as several other concepts such as instituting a national renewable energy standard). The U.S. House, as reported in this blog in June, has passed a cap-and-trade bill, albeit one punched full of holes for all sorts of special interests. A similar measure is awaiting action in the U.S. Senate, although the powerful "status quo" lobbies (e.g., many big unions, the fossil fuel interests, etc.) are assisting their friends in the Senate (generally those who reap huge political support from these groups) "understand" their side of the matter. Among the friends of the status quo are such luminaries as the two Democratic Senators from West Virginia, the two Republicans from Wyoming, and a vast array of other senators and representatives.

Businesses and policy wonks are watching closely what sort of legislative (if any) measure comes out because of the likely inclusion of a cap-and-trade scheme where regulated businesses can sell and buy emissions allowances on an as-needed basis. (This approach is called a market-based approach, which is contrasted to a regulatory-based command and control approach.)

On the other hand, the Obama Administration's EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has recently defined greenhouse gas emissions as dangerous to public health, thus setting the stage for the EPA to regulate these emissions. In this context, the federal Clean Air Act will provide the statutory basis for reducing emissions. With no small amount of boasting in her voice, Ms. Jackson announced that this decision "cements 2009's place in history as the year when the U.S. government began seriously addressing the challenges of greenhouse gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean energy reform." However, if the U.S. follows this approach (rather than the legislative one), cap-and-trade will not be part of the program.

Where do various interests and observers line up?

Many U.S. electric utility executives would prefer a legislative approach that includes cap-and-trade. For example, David Ratcliffe, chief executive of the large electricity generator Southern Company, said last week, "A carbon bill [legislation] would give more clarity to what you need to do and when." ("EPA's Carbon Proposal Riles Industries," The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 8, 2009). Frank Prager, vice president for environmental policy at Xcel Energy, has also voiced support for a cap and trade solution, particularly with respect to Xcel's renewable energy initiatives. "From our perspective, a flexible market-based program would do a much better job in allowing us to bring renewable energy on-line," Mr. Prager told National Public Radio recently ("Companies Weigh Climate Laws Over EPA Rules," Morning Edition, Dec. 17, 2009).

Across the Atlantic, the EU appears to be situated somewhere between relief that the U.S. will do something and disappointment that it is not enough. For instance, the Financial Times' editorial page, which is often a proxy for European views, wrote recently, "The prospect of EPA action will focus minds in Congress and make passage of cap-and-trade more likely" ("A Changed Climate for Copenhagen," Dec. 8, 2009). However, the FT editorial also made this sage observation: "The EPA's new posture is...a mixed blessing. As the administration knows, an old-fashioned regulatory approach to carbon mitigation is certain to be far more costly than cap-and-trade...since it lacks a market-based mechanism to apportion the curbs efficiently."

If the FT editorial page can be seen as a proxy for European interests, the Wall Street Journal editorial and op-ed pages can nearly always to be counted on to boost their perception of U.S. interests. Recently Kimberly Strassel, who writes the "Potomac Watch" op-ed column for the Journal, panned the EPA's move towards regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Ms. Strassel wrote, "From the start, the Obama team has wielded the EPA action as a club, warning Congress that if it did not come up with cap-and-trade legislation the EPA would act on its own -- and in a far more blunt fashion than Congress preferred" ("The EPA's Carbon Bomb Fizzles," Dec. 11, 2009). Then Ms. Strassel went on to offer an interesting -- and perhaps prescient -- observation: "Bottom line: At least some congressional Democrats view [the EPA's announcement] as breathing room, a further reason to not tackle a killer issue in the run-up to next year's election...[Mr. Obama's] real problem is getting Congress to act, and his EPA move may have just made that job harder."

And to make things even more curisor, in a nod to Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" (or "Alice in Washington" as the case may be), Alaska Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski has announced her intention to introduce a resolution aimed at overturning the EPA's finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health. According to Sen. Murkowski, "I remain committed to reducing emissions through a policy that will protect our environment and strengthen our economy, but EPA's backdoor climate regulations achieve neither of those goals. EPA regulation must be taken off the table so that we can focus on more responsible approaches to dealing with global climate change." What are the Senator's ideas for "more responsible approaches?" It is not entirely clear. But she went on to say, "Upon introduction, a disapproval resolution is referred to the committee of jurisdiction, which in this case will be the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. If the committee does not favorably report the resolution within 20 calendar days, it may be discharged upon petition by 30 Senators. Once a disapproval resolution is placed on the Senate calendar, it is then subject to expedited consideration on the Senate floor, and not subject to filibuster."

The debate can and will go on and on. For now all we know for sure is that the U.S. will do something. If the Congress does not act, then the administration -- through its EPA administrator -- will regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The stage is now set.