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Special Weekend Report: Copenhagen Recap; USDA Climate Analysis

Climate Issues: Copenhagen- Background and Draft Accord

Coral Davenport reported yesterday at CQPolitics.com that, “World leaders have reached a deal on a broad-strokes political agreement to curb climate change, with the expectation that the details will be filled in over the coming year.

“‘This is going to be a first step,’ said President Obama, who acknowledged that the agreement falls short of what will be necessary in the long run to mitigate the global warming forecasted by scientists.

“While it is not the binding treaty that had been the initial goal of the Copenhagen talks, the deal appears to boost efforts to pass climate change legislation in the Senate.”

Ms. Davenport pointed out that, “‘This can be a catalyzing moment,’ said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., who has driven efforts to pass a climate bill. “President Obama’s hands-on engagement broke through the bickering and sets the stage for a final deal and for Senate passage this spring of major legislation at home . . . With this in hand, we can work to pass domestic legislation early next year to bring us across the finish line.”

“But early reaction from moderate Democrats, whose support will be crucial to passing legislation in the Senate, was more muted.

“‘Acting unilaterally to address climate change is simply not an option for the United States,’ said Arkansas Democrat Blanche Lincoln, who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry committee and is a potential swing vote on any climate bill. ‘While an international agreement out of Copenhagen could be a positive step toward addressing this global issue, my litmus test in this debate will be American industry’s ability to remain competitive in the global marketplace.’”

Glenn Thrush and Louise Roug reported yesterday at Politico that, “The climate deal reached between U.S, China and other great powers on Friday night is so vague, hastily hatched and non-binding President Obama isn’t even sure he’ll be required to sign it.

“‘You know, it raises an interesting question as to whether technically there’s actually a signature… It’s not a legally binding agreement, I don’t know what the protocols are,’ said a bleary-eyed Obama, before hopping in Air Force One for the trip back to Washington.”

The Politco writers also pointed to a statement made yesterday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) on the Copenhagen talks, “The agreement reached tonight in Copenhagen is a breakthrough in the global effort to combat the climate crisis and could not have been reached without President Obama’s active involvement and leadership…The President has secured a critical agreement that includes an achievable mitigation target, transparency measures and a financing mechanism – the three key fundamentals outlined in the President’s speech today and embodied in the House-passed Waxman-Markey bill.’”

Jeffrey Ball, Stephen Power and Elizabeth Williamson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Leaders of the U.S., China and other major economies said late Friday that they had tentatively reached a new climate accord, though they said the pact wasn’t aggressive enough to meaningfully curb greenhouse-gas emissions and merely set up a future round of negotiations to hash out the details.

“The announcement followed a hectic day of diplomacy that included a series of closed-door meetings in which President Barack Obama tried repeatedly to persuade leaders of other countries, particularly China, to commit to a deal. But the Copenhagen Accord leaves key questions unanswered. And it will likely have little immediate impact on companies in the U.S. and elsewhere that had hoped for more certainty about the future of regulation to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.”

In more detail with respect to the Copenhagen Accord, the Journal writers explained that, “The pact calls on developed nations to provide $30 billion to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change from 2010 to 2012. By 2020, the text says rich nations ‘set a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion a year’ for poor nations. The text says the money will go to the ‘most vulnerable’ developing nations.

“The deal pledges countries to try to keep atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide low enough to keep average global temperatures less than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — a threshold beyond which many scientists say dangerous consequences could result.

“But the agreement doesn’t specify how countries will achieve that goal.”

And regarding the potential domestic political implications of the Copenhagen summit, the Journal writers stated that, “The fighting in Copenhagen comes as Mr. Obama is trying to persuade Senators to pass legislation cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 80% by 2050.

But Congress, Democratic aides said, is more likely to set the cap and trade bill aside during the 2010 election year. Instead, Congress and the White House could craft an energy bill that includes green-job creation measures like tax credits and standards for increasing the use of renewable energy.

“‘The failure of the U.N. climate conference should surprise no one,’ said Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.,), who challenges the premise human activity is affecting the climate in potentially dangerous ways. ‘The same major issues that have plagued any U.N. global-warming treaty for over a decade remain today.’

White House officials disagreed, saying bipartisan legislation being drafted by Sens. John Kerry (D., Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.,) and Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) would include cap and trade.”

Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Top Senate Democrats quickly claimed the agreement would help them pass a climate bill next year. Legislation to mandate emissions curbs has been stalled in that chamber after the House narrowly approved a bill in June.

“‘Today’s developments strengthen our resolve to pass comprehensive clean energy legislation this spring that creates jobs, reduces pollution and improves our energy independence,’ said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).”

The Hill article added that, “But Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) was skeptical and said more information is needed.

“‘The president has painted a very nice picture, but as I have said time and time before, the devil is in the details. I am very concerned that developing countries like China, India and Brazil are simply giving the idea of international participation lip-service,’ he said.”

Mr. Geman noted that, “Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp issued a statement praising the limited agreement.

“‘Today’s agreement takes the first important steps toward true transparency and accountability in an international climate agreement. The sooner the U.S. speaks through Senate legislation, the sooner we can set the terms of engagement for talks to come,’ he said.”

However, Margot Roosevelt reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “Reaction from environmentalists [on the Copenhagen outcome] ranged from lukewarm to hostile. U.S. groups that work closely with Obama administration officials were relatively positive.

“‘It strikes a credible blow against the single greatest environmental ill of our time,’ said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“But others, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, were sharply critical.”

Juliet Eilperin and Anthony Faiola
reported in today’s Washington Post that, “For the Obama administration, the focus of the climate debate shifts to the domestic stage. Though Obama voiced hopes for greater results, the modest agreement may help the administration as it presses Congress to pass landmark climate-change legislation.

“By not committing the United States to new standards and by insisting on monitoring cuts made by other nations, the administration can say passage of domestic legislation would not put the United States at a competitive disadvantage with other nations, particularly China.

“In announcing the deal, even Obama — who walked in on a meeting of developing nations to insist on an agreement late Friday — conceded its limitations. ‘Today we made a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough here in Copenhagen,’ he said. But, he added, ‘It is going to be very hard, and it’s going to take some time’ to get a legally binding treaty. That, he said, ‘was not achievable at this conference.’”

After discussing many of the negotiating details that took place in Copenhagen over the past couple of days, the Post writers noted that, “Throughout the negotiations, Obama officials advocated a strong provision to ensure the United States’ economic competitors were cutting emissions, saying it was essential to satisfying senators back home, who have yet to pass climate legislation. In an interview before the deal was reached, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said such language would make the outcome ‘politically acceptable,’ adding, ‘That, in turn, will create momentum for passage of legislation.’

“‘It’s important that the world knows the Chinese are keeping the promises they are making,’ Markey said.”

Edward Felker and Matthew Mosk reported in today’s Washington Times that, “Mr. Obama told global leaders during his speech Friday that he came to the climate-change negotiations in Copenhagen ‘not to talk, but to act.’ He also voiced frustration over the fact that the summit netted little progress in the days before he and other world leaders arrived.

“‘After months of talk, and two weeks of negotiations, after innumerable side meetings, bilateral meetings, endless hours of discussion among negotiators, I believe that the pieces of that accord should now be clear,’ he said.

“He also took a jab at China, which pledged to cut its ‘carbon intensity,’ which refers to emissions for a given amount of economic activity, but refused to accept a binding verification system.

‘I don’t know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and assuring that we are meeting our commitments. That doesn’t make sense. It would be a hollow victory,’ Mr. Obama said.”

Meanwhile, the AP reported today that, “A plan to protect the world’s biologically rich tropical forests was shelved early Saturday after world leaders failed to agree on a binding deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Delegates scrapped plans for a comprehensive climate agreement that would have included the deal to pay poor countries to protect their forests. The program is known as REDD for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation.

“‘REDD gets punted along for another year,’ said Kevin Conrad, executive director of the Coalition of Rainforest Nations, which includes many of the 40 tropical countries that would take part in the program.”

And Guy Chazan reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The agreement achieved at the Copenhagen climate summit leaves business leaders around the world close to where they began, facing uncertainty about how environmental policy will affect their costs and decisions about investments.

“Companies around the world had hoped the United Nations-sponsored talks would bring clarity on the new rules of the game in a new low-carbon world. They have had to think again.”

Climate Issues: Agricultural Perspectives; and An Updated USDA Analysis

A news release issued yesterday by Congressman Adrian Smith (R-Nebraska), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, stated that, “In the midst of the worst recession in over a generation, President Obama has traveled to Denmark to advance a jobs-killing global climate change agreement.

“Skyrocketing energy prices are a prescription for economic decline. Forcing American businesses to meet the carbon emissions reductions will slow our economic recovery and inflict greater pain on American families.

Agriculture is an energy-intensive industry – relying on fuel for the pick-up truck, fertilizer for the crops, generators to keep heaters on during the winter and even a small increase in production costs could have a tremendous impact on ag producers.”

Also yesterday, Philip Brasher reported at The Des Moines Register Online that, “More than 20 million acres of cropland in Iowa and other Corn Belt states would likely be converted to forests under a congressional plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to an Agriculture Department analysis released today. [A copy of the USDA analysis is available here, “The Impacts of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 On U.S. Agriculture,” December 18].

About 59 million acres of land nationwide would be converted to forest by 2050 because of the carbon-offset program, the analysis showed. Some 22.5 million acres of that new forest land would be in five Corn Belt states, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Some of that land is now in pasture, but 20.6 million is now used for growing crops, according to the study.

By comparison, Iowa farmers harvested about 22.5 million acres of corn and soybeans this fall.”

Mr. Brasher added that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said such land shifts would be ‘disruptive’ to U.S. agriculture, but questioned the accuracy of the projections, which are based on a computer model developed at Texas A&M University.

The projections are likely to make it even more difficult than it already has been to sell farm-state senators on legislation that would create a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The USDA study said another 15.1 million acres of new forests would be in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.”

In a statement issued yesterday by USDA, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack commented on the latest USDA analysis, here are some excerpts:

USDA’s Chief Economist, Joe Glauber, released the results of his full economic analysis showing that agriculture will benefit from energy and climate legislation if it includes a robust carbon offsets program and other helpful provisions. The costs of such legislation will be modest while returns from offsets will increase over-time and result in positive net income for agriculture.”

“In addition to analyzing the impacts using our own model, USDA has also reported on the output of the FASOM model – a model developed by researchers at Texas A & M University that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used as part of its efforts to study the impacts of climate legislation. Earlier this month, Dr. Glauber discussed results from the FASOM model in testimony he gave before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research.

I am aware that the results of the FASOM model have caused considerable concern within the farm and ranch community as a result of the models projections on afforestation over the next several decades. If landowners plant trees to the extent the model suggests, this would be disruptive to agriculture in some regions of the country.

Based on conversations with Dr. Glauber and my staff, I don’t believe the results related to afforestation forecast by the FASOM model are necessarily an accurate depiction of the impacts of climate legislation. The model could be updated to better reflect current legislative proposals. The FASOM model as it is currently configured makes assumptions that reduce farmer income from offsets generated by conservation tillage, methane reductions and other offset activities. The model also makes other assumptions that could lead to an overestimate of afforestation. This is especially true given that the model attempts to forecast land use impact over long-time horizons.”

In a related development, a news release from yesterday indicated that, “U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and U.S. Representative Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), ranking members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees respectively, today sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson requesting the agency correct the Forest and Agriculture Sector Optimization Model (FASOM). Just this week, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tim Vilsack stated the FASOM, which is often cited in the climate change debate, is not ‘current’ and ‘complete.’ Chambliss and Lucas sent a similar letter to Sec. Vilsack yesterday requesting the flawed analysis be corrected, and that the Secretary report to Congress upon its completion.”

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In an update posted yesterday at The Des Moines Register’s Green Fields Blog, Philip Brasher indicated that, “Hopes of enacting one of President Barack Obama’s signal goals, capping carbon emissions, took two more hits today. First, there was the release of a USDA study that predicts the legislation would lead to 59 million acres of cropland and pasture being planted to trees. Then, more seriously, Obama left Copenhagen today without any agreement for binding cuts in emissions by China and India. Instead, the countries have agreed to set non-binding targets for emission cuts. Without a binding deal, it’s hard to see how the Senate will ever enact legislation committing the United States to emission reductions. The top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Jim Inhofe, declared this week that climate legislation is dead in the Senate. There’s little reason after today to think he’s wrong.”

Keith Good