The World Resource Institute's "Environmental Stories to Watch in 2010"
WRI President Jonathan Lash speaking at the National Press Club. Image credit: World Resource Institute
Speaking to a small room packed full of environmental journalists on the 13th floor of the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, quickly outlined a series of issues to "watch in 2010."The goal of the briefing, Mr. Lash explained, was not to present interpretations of recent events or predictions for the coming year. Nor was it an opportunity to talk about what WRI or other organizations would like to accomplish. Instead, it was a chance for highly trained analysts to highlight key issues that are expected to be important in the coming months.
Unsurprisingly, climate change dominated 2010's briefing.
According to Lash, much of the first half of 2010 will be devoted to unraveling the outcome of COP15. Looking at the results, he admitted, the conference as a whole was a failure, especially considering the optimism unexpected emissions commitments by developing nations created leading up to the event.
Still, as a result of the 12-hour meeting between five heads of state, some interesting possibilities emerged. First, the composition of the group was significant. Instead of rallying the leaders of the G8, President Barack Obama entered into discussion with the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Conspicuously absent were representatives of the European Union.
Lash commented that this omission was likely a result of Europe's already aggressive stance on climate policy. He also added that, for any agreement to be successful, European nations would have to be included in later discussions, and will likely emerge as the leaders of any resulting program.
Second, there is the fact that the agreement was composed by actual heads of state not, as Lash pointed out, negotiators or climate policy advisors. This is likely the first time such action on climate policy has been taken and, because it failed to receive the consensus vote it needed to pass as a treaty, how it will be implemented remains a mystery.
The Copenhagen agreement represents other firsts as well. It is the first climate agreement to propose roughly symmetrical requirements for all parties involved. It is the first time a temperature target has been included, and it is the first time mandatory reporting and questioning has been agreed to by all involved. How these unique results of a seemingly unsuccessful conference play out, Lash contends, will constitute some of the most significant environmental news of the year.
Of course, the meetings and summits already being organized to hash out these unknowns are not the only matters of importance. China's commitment to controlling its carbon intensity, Lash said, will also be critical. Ultimately, this will not be settled until the 12th Five Year Plan is approved in the spring, but China's mandate to utilities to buy green power and its ability to replace old high-emission vehicles will be essential to the success of an emissions reduction agreement.
Slowing deforestation, too, will figure into the success of further climate discussions. Specifically, the implementation of a REDD-plus initiative—or some similar program that supports afforestation as well as conservation—will become, Lash believes, a critical part of future agreements.
In the United States, too, climate change is expected to dominate the environmental discourse. Lash pointed to the plan being drafted by Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham, as the necessary push to keep national and international climate talks alive. Figuring out how coal, state action on emissions reduction, and Senator Mukowski's amendment figure into this will be important for politicians and journalists alike.
Meanwhile, the EPA is expected to take action to control greenhouse gasses as pollutants by the end of the spring and federal agencies have submitted emissions reduction plans in response to an executive order issued in October of 2009.
With so much still in the air, it seems that the environment is set to increase its stake in the news in 2010.
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Read more climate news:
COP15: TreeHugger's Complete Coverage
Blaming China for Copenhagen Won't Help the Climate
How Do We Feel Post-Copenhagen?
Copenhagen's Silver Lining: Is the Accord a Big Step Forward?
Scientists Need to Step Up Public Communication on Climate, Journalists Aren't Doing It