Rio-NottheFutureWeWant

Press Release: Civil Society Groups Denounce Sustainable Energy for All Initiative promoted at Rio +20 Earth Summit

From: Biofuelwatch, Global Forest Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Global Justice Ecology Project and International Rivers

As the final negotiations for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 conference get underway in Rio de Janeiro, almost 50 civil society groups have published an open letter denouncing the UN Secretary General’s new “Sustainable Energy For All Initiative” (SEFA). The letter states: “The SEFA process and Action Agenda are deeply flawed and threaten to further entrench destructive, polluting and unjust energy policies for corporate profit under the guise of alleviating energy poverty, while undermining community rights to energy sovereignty and self determination”.

The “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative was announced in September 2011, and a “high level panel” was established by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon. The panel includes major investors in the fossil fuel economy including, Statoil, Eskom, Siemens and Riverstone Holdings. The initiative’s stated goals are to 1) double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency, 2) double the share of renewables in the global energy mix by 2030, and 3) provide access to modern energy services for all of humanity. An action agenda is being put forward for endorsement at Rio+20, along with commitments for action from countries and groups.

Groups denouncing the initiative view it as an attempt to use claims of poverty alleviation to further expand corporate control over energy policies with the aim of gaining access to new markets and investment opportunities. The letter points out that the initiative’s goals are inadequate,that it promotes dangerous and unsustainable forms of energy and that there is a deplorable lack of transparency and democratic participation in the process thus far.

Rachel Smolker from Biofuelwatch states “While the term ‘sustainable’ is used, there is absolutely no indication what this means. Large-scale biofuels, natural gas projects, large hydroelectric dams, waste incinerators, even fossil fuels and nuclear energy all appear to be acceptable under this initiative and all are referred to as ‘sustainable’.”

“We are concerned that this initiative could end up providing yet more support for toxic waste incinerators, subsidized and supported as “sustainable energy” stated Mariel Vilella, from GAIA. Similarly Zachary Hurwitz from International Rivers points out: “Large hydro dams referred to as “sustainable energy” are likely to gain considerable support under the SEFA initiative in spite of clear evidence that they are risky, less resilient to climate change impacts and exacerbate problems with water stress.”

Simone Lovera, Executive Director of the Global Forest Coalition adds: “Lip service is granted to providing services to those in poverty, including, in particular, women who are currently dependent on fuelwood for their energy needs. But small scale community based, off-grid energy projects are not likely to generate profitable returns on investments in the manner these corporate players are accustomed to, so they are very unlikely to be prioritized by this initiative.”

Further, the open letter denounces the initiative’s process as “unaccountable and undemocratic”, pointing out that there are only 5 governments and 3 NGOs represented on the high level panel. There have been virtually no opportunities to participate or provide input into the action agenda, and there are no mechanisms in place to hold participants accountable.

Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project states: “While many are pleased to see the issue of energy access gaining much needed attention, there is little confidence that this top down, market-driven and undemocratic process can deliver human services on the scale necessary to both meet people’s needs and protect the planet and environment.”

Tatiana Roa of CENSAT/Friends of the Earth-Colombia adds: “This initiative is emblematic of the growing ‘corporate takeover’ of the UN as ‘public private partnerships’ like SEFA are becoming ever more pervasive. The private sector is now viewed as the only possible source of sufficient finance, and hence granted undue and inappropriate control and access. What we need are rights-based, bottom-up and participatory approaches that will ensure genuinely fair and sustainable solutions within the framework of energy sovereignty.”

NOTES:

1) The Sustainable Energy For All Initiative was established by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. A high level panel was selected and an action agenda released. It is expected that the initiative will be formally launched and country and other commitments under the initiative will be announced at the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

For more information: http://www.sustainableenergyforall.org/

2) The UN Commission on Sustainable Development RioPlus20 Earth Summit begins in Rio this week. The first Earth Summit, held in 1992 resulted in major treaties and agreements aimed at protecting the environment while addressing the problems of poverty, globally.

For more information:http://www.uncsd2012.org/rio20/

3) A briefing “Sustainable Energy For All or Sustained Profits For A Few”, detailing concerns about the Sustainable Energy For All Initiative (English and Spanish) is available at: http://www.biofuelwatch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/SEFA6.pdf

4) The open letter is available in English and Spanish at:

http://globalforestcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/SEFA-Open-Letter.pdf

http://www.globalforestcoalition.net/es/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/SEFA-Carta-Abierta.pdf

5) A statement from civil society groups opposing the “corporate capture” of the UN – of which SEFA is a prime example – is available here:

http://www.foei.org/en/get-involved/take-action/end-un-corporate-capture

Report back from the land of Mega Hydro

Red Clover Climate Justice visits proposed Hydro-Quebec dam sites, meets with Innu resisting Plan Nord and dams along the Romaine River.

This past week, members of Burlington, Vt-based Red Clover Climate Justice traveled to the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River to meet with Innu organizers and visit the dams that power Quebec’s-and much of Vermont’s-economy.

What we found didn’t fit in with the rhetoric we often hear about Hydro-Quebec.  Dead rivers, swaths of clear-cut forests giving way to the endless march of gargantuan transmission lines, aluminum smelters, and fractured indigenous communities in the middle of a bitter struggle for the survival of the Innu culture.  All of these images didn’t add up to what is often advertised to Quebecers and Vermonters as “green energy” and “sustainable development.”

Check back for more photo essays and stories from our trip north as we begin to mobilize in opposition to the New England Governor’s Conference, coming to Burlington at the end of July.

Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates speaks at a breakfast hosted by Climate Solutions in Seattle

Bill Gates backs climate scientists lobbying for large-scale geoengineering

Other wealthy individuals have also funded a series of reports into the future use of technologies to geoengineer the climate

Cross-posted from The Guardian

(Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP)

Sunday 5 February 2012

By John Vidal

A small group of leading climate scientists, financially supported by billionaires including Bill Gates, are lobbying governments and international bodies to back experiments into manipulating the climate on a global scale to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The scientists, who advocate geoengineering methods such as spraying millions of tonnes of reflective particles of sulphur dioxide 30 miles above earth, argue that a “plan B” for climate change will be needed if the UN and politicians cannot agree to making the necessary cuts in greenhouse gases, and say the US government and others should pay for a major programme of international research.

Solar geoengineering techniques are highly controversial: while some climate scientists believe they may prove a quick and relatively cheap way to slow global warming, others fear that when conducted in the upper atmosphere, they could irrevocably alter rainfall patterns and interfere with the earth’s climate.

Geoengineering is opposed by many environmentalists, who say the technology could undermine efforts to reduce emissions, and by developing countries who fear it could be used as a weapon or by rich countries to their advantage. In 2010, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity declared a moratorium on experiments in the sea and space, except for small-scale scientific studies.

Concern is now growing that the small but influential group of scientists, and their backers, may have a disproportionate effect on major decisions about geoengineering research and policy.

“We will need to protect ourselves from vested interests [and] be sure that choices are not influenced by parties who might make significant amounts of money through a choice to modify climate, especially using proprietary intellectual property,” said Jane Long, director at large for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US, in a paper delivered to a recent geoengineering conference on ethics.

“The stakes are very high and scientists are not the best people to deal with the social, ethical or political issues that geoengineering raises,” said Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace. “The idea that a self-selected group should have so much influence is bizarre.”

Pressure to find a quick technological fix to climate change is growing as politicians fail to reach an agreement to significantly reduce emissions. In 2009-2010, the US government received requests for over $2bn(£1.2bn) of grants for geoengineering research, but spent around $100m.

As well as Gates, other wealthy individuals including Sir Richard Branson, tar sands magnate Murray Edwards and the co-founder of Skype, Niklas Zennström, have funded a series of official reports into future use of the technology. Branson, who has frequently called for geoengineering to combat climate change, helped fund the Royal Society’s inquiry into solar radiation management last year through his Carbon War Room charity. It is not known how much he contributed.

Professors David Keith, of Harvard University, and Ken Caldeira of Stanford, are the world’s two leading advocates of major research into geoengineering the upper atmosphere to provide earth with a reflective shield. They have so far received over $4.6m from Gates to run the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (Ficer). Nearly half Ficer’s money, which comes directly from Gates’s personal funds, has so far been used for their own research, but the rest is disbursed by them to fund the work of other advocates of large-scale interventions.

According to statements of financial interests, Keith receives an undisclosed sum from Bill Gates each year, and is the president and majority owner of the geoengineering company Carbon Engineering, in which both Gates and Edwards have major stakes – believed to be together worth over $10m.

Another Edwards company, Canadian Natural Resources, has plans to spend $25bn to turn the bitumen-bearing sand found in northern Alberta into barrels of crude oil. Caldeira says he receives $375,000 a year from Gates, holds a carbon capture patent and works for Intellectual Ventures, a private geoegineering research company part-owned by Gates and run by Nathan Myhrvold, former head of technology at Microsoft.

According to the latest Ficer accounts, the two scientists have so far given $300,000 of Gates money to part-fund three prominent reviews and assessments of geoengineering – the UK Royal Society report on Solar Radiation Management, the US Taskforce on Geoengineering and a 2009 report by Novin a science thinktank based in Santa Barbara, California. Keith and Caldeira either sat on the panels that produced the reports or contributed evidence. All three reports strongly recommended more research into solar radiation management.

The fund also gave $600,000 to Phil Rasch, chief climate scientist for the Pacific Northwest national laboratory, one of 10 research institutions funded by the US energy department.

Rasch gave evidence at the first Royal Society report on geoengineering 2009 and was a panel member on the 2011 report. He has testified to the US Congress about the need for government funding of large-scale geoengineering and, according to a financial statement he gave the Royal Society, also works for Intellectual Ventures. In addition, Caldeira and Keith gave a further $240,000 to geoengineering advocates to travel and attend workshops and meetings and $100,000 to Jay Apt, a prominent advocate of geoengineering as a last resort, and professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Apt worked with Keith and Aurora Flight Sciences, a US company that develops drone aircraft technology for the US military, to study the costs of sending 1m tonnes of sulphate particles into the upper atmosphere a year.

Analysis of the eight major national and international inquiries into geoengineering over the past three years shows that Keith and Caldeira, Rasch and Prof Granger Morgan the head of department of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University where Keith works, have sat on seven panels, including one set up by the UN. Three other strong advocates of solar radiation geoengineering, including Rasch, have sat on national inquiries part-funded by Ficer.

“There are clear conflicts of interest between many of the people involved in the debate,” said Diana Bronson, a researcher with Montreal-based geoengineering watchdog ETC.

“What is really worrying is that the same small group working on high-risk technologies that will geoengineer the planet is also trying to engineer the discussion around international rules and regulations. We cannot put the fox in charge of the chicken coop.”

“The eco-clique are lobbying for a huge injection of public funds into geoengineering research. They dominate virtually every inquiry into geoengineering. They are present in almost all of the expert deliberations. They have been the leading advisers to parliamentary and congressional inquiries and their views will, in all likelihood, dominate the deliberations of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as it grapples for the first time with the scientific and ethical tangle that is climate engineering,” said Clive Hamilton, professor of Public Ethics at the Australian National University, in a Guardian blog.

The scientists involved reject this notion. “Even the perception that [a small group of people has] illegitimate influence [is] very unhealthy for a technology which has extreme power over the world. The concerns that a small group [is] dominating the debate are legitimate, but things are not as they were,” said Keith. “It’s changing as countries like India and China become involved. The era when my voice or that of a few was dominant is over. We need a very broad debate.”

“Every scientist has some conflict of interest, because we would all like to see more resources going to study things that we find interesting,” said Caldeira. “Do I have too much influence? I feel like I have too little. I have been calling for making CO2 emissions illegal for many years, but no one is listening to me. People who disagree with me might feel I have too much influence. The best way to reduce my influence is to have more public research funds available, so that our funds are in the noise. If the federal government played the role it should in this area, there would be no need for money from Gates.

“Regarding my own patents, I have repeatedly stated that if any patent that I am on is ever used for the purposes of altering climate, then any proceeds that accrue to me for this use will be donated to nonprofit NGOs and charities. I have no expectation or interest in developing a personal revenue stream based upon the use of these patents for climate modification.”.

Rasch added: “I don’t feel there is any conflict of interest. I don’t lobby, work with patents or intellectual property, do classified research or work with for-profit companies. The research I do on geoengineering involves computer simulations and thinking about possible consequences. The Ficer foundation that has funded my research tries to be transparent in their activities, as do I.”