Greenpeace says Copenhagen climate talks flawed, biofuel incentives far-off

By Nicholas Zeman | November 20, 2009
Posted December 15, 2009

Leaked reports, negotiation walk-outs and other issues have fueled a media hype surrounding the United Nations 15th conference of the parties (COP 15) on climate change in Copenhagen this month. Actual results, however, like a legally binding agreement, or consensus among nations are disappointingly distant, says Greenpeace spokesman, Rolf Skar.

"So far we've seen a failure of leadership from the bigger players in Copenhagen," Skar says, adding that instead of dealing with more concrete issues and the legality of any treaty on the international stage, the U.N. talks are instead mired in very "broad-brush, big picture" issues that lack detail and specificity.

"Most likely, at the very best, this will give the negotiations some momentum heading into Mexico City next year," Skar says. "It will be a political agreement more than it will be a legal treaty. Obama and his staff show up later this week, however, so we could be surprised."

In regard to biofuels, transparency and accounting directives that track the supply chain are very important for Greenpeace and its position on an international climate change treaty. "We don't have a one-size-fits-all stance when it comes to biofuels," Skar says. "We definitely support those technologies that reduce carbon footprints, but we do not think we see that across the biofuels industries. Everyone should be in favor of rigorous scientific accounting and life-cycle analysis when it comes to biofuels and right now we don't think we see that."

Providing incentives for developing countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil to produce feedstocks for biodiesel on existing agricultural lands instead of clearing more forest land and "driving species to extinction," is an important priority for Greenpeace.

Several oppositional NGO's have iterated that Greenpeace and other environmental watchdog organizations are "heartless and out-of-touch" with the world's poor and are using international stages like the Copenhagen summit in a campaign to prohibit the proliferation of palm oil and other products that have links to deforestation.

"I think this is a bunch of hogwash," Skar says. "These are big companies trying to hide their destructive practice behind the face of the poor, and none of them have very good human rights records to begin with-they've been tied to some pretty nasty stuff."

Big news from the summit last week was the leak of a document prepared by the Danish government, "the Danish Text" as Britain's The Guardian called it. The Guardian initially published the document and subsequently said that "it would appear that the Danish government has been trying to establish some kind of underlying consensus among the big western players. This will not warm the delegates from the developing world to the already cold and wet experience of being in Copenhagen."

Tension between industrialized and developing countries is certainly bearing on the negotiations in Copenhagen. The ways in which European interests, the U.S and other "wealthy" nations help others like Indonesia and China finance their carbon reduction strategies could include biodiesel technologies. "Greentech transfer is a major component of the negotiations right now," Skar says. "[Biofuels] companies might license their products to developing countries at a discount or for free. This would help with carbon reduction strategies and develop new markets for these technologies."

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