Dec 052015

Alexander Ochs, published as Worldwatch Institute blog

Many of us still remember the images from the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, which was launched as “Hopenhagen” with great expectations and concluded in the “Flopenhagen” fiasco: the disappointment of freezing environmentalists lining up in front of the Bella Convention Center; the desperate faces of exhausted negotiators; the Danish sherpas trying to argue small successes in the summit’s failure.

But America’s political superstars would not succeed if they didn’t manage to emerge as winners, even in moments of defeat. U.S. president Barack Obama somehow thwarted the image of Europeans marked by the poor results of months of negotiations. Obama flew in to Copenhagen by helicopter, cut through the icy Scandinavian winds toward the conference venue, and assembled those around him whom he decided were the chosen few.

It is this other image that we conjure up when remembering Copenhagen: the U.S. president, with his sleeves rolled up, surrounded by the representatives of Brazil, China, India, and South Africa. The message: “We saved what could be saved.” But to anyone familiar enough with the negotiations to look behind the façade, this image actually showed those who had sabotaged the ambitious plans of Europeans and their coalition of “more willing but less mighty.” The picture was deceptive: What was rescued was not the climate, the environment, or sustainable development, but a minimal consensus to continue talking. After that, the world became relatively silent on climate diplomacy. But the talking did continue, and it led to much more progress than could have been expected shortly after Copenhagen.

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Big failures, small successes mark Obama’s environmental record

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Nov 032011

Deutsche Welle, 3 November 2011 [original source]

As presidential candidate Barack Obama ran on a bold green agenda. He vowed to reverse the climate change policy of his predecessor and push for green jobs. But one year before the election the results are mixed at best.

Barack Obama in Copenhagen (…)

Alexander Ochs, director of the climate and energy program at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, isn’t all that surprised about Obama’s reactions to the Fukushima and Deepwater Horizon accidents. He notes that Obama upon becoming president considered nuclear energy a clean technology and it doesn’t seem Fukushima changed his stance.

What’s more, says Ochs, energy security for most key players in the US simply trumps environmental protection. By continuing or even expanding domestic drilling for oil, those players hope to decrease US dependency on imported oil, which in the long run is impossible because of decreasing reserves.

And yet, despite many shortcomings, it wouldn’t be fair to label Obama as an abject failure on the environment. While it wasn’t hard to beat the environmental record set by his predecessor, Obama does deserve credit for some important green initiatives, argue the experts.

As part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama administration has made available investments in renewable energy projects totaling $90 billion (65 billion euros), explains Ochs. He adds that the so-called Cafe standard, i.e. the fuel standard for cars and light trucks, has been raised substantially. And the way in which federal agencies analyze environmental impact of green house gas emissions has also been improved.

While these efforts sound mundane compared to a sweeping international climate mandate they are important and do produce clear environmental change, says Ochs.


“Environmental protection could indeed play a role in the election to the extent that it can be cast by Republicans as a job killer,” says Ochs. “If Republicans are successful in framing it this way it can become quite a liability for Obama and Congress Democrats.”

Author: Michael Knigge, Editor: Rob Mudge

From Flop’enhagen to Can’tcun? US climate policy before the mid-term elections and the UN summit

 magazine article  Comments Off on From Flop’enhagen to Can’tcun? US climate policy before the mid-term elections and the UN summit
Oct 202010
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co2_climateIt all started so nicely. The hope for change that Barack Obama had raised among American voters was felt by citizens worldwide, including those yearning for a change in US environmental policy. After all, Obama had made global warming and energy policy important cornerstones of his campaign. Once in the White House, the newly elected President explained that “few challenges facing America – and the world – are more urgent than combating climate change” and that his “presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change.” Repeatedly he stressed that “the nation that wins this competition [for new energy technologies] will be the nation that leads the global economy.”

What’s left, as we approach mid-term elections in Obama’s first administration, is a very mixed bag.  There have been important successes, including over $60 billion that were earmarked for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; the first tightening of Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards in three decades; and the federal Environmental Protection Agency ‘s “Endangerment Finding” that recognizes, as a follow-up of the Supreme Court ruling Massachusetts et al. vs. EPA, that the  agency  has the right to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. To the great disappointment of the environmentalists, however, comprehensive climate and energy legislation, including a market-based system with mandatory economy-wide emission targets as well as strong incentives for the employment of energy efficiency measures and renewable energy technologies, has not been passed.

The situation that has unfolded over the last 1 ½  years is almost absurd. A White House and all involved secretaries and agencies support strong climate policy; a majority of the public wants effective climate action; a thorough climate and energy bill finally passed the House; and then there is also majority support for climate legislation in the Senate – albeit this majority is not filibuster-proof. The Senate’s leadership was unable to get 60+ votes. And here the story ends for now. A minority of 40+ Senators puts a hold on domestic legislation and shuts a historic window of opportunity.

[This article appered in Bridges vol. 27, October 2010. Read the rest of the article here:]

Sharp Decline in EU Emissions as Europeans Debate Reduction Target

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Jun 082010

 Co-author: Shakuntala Makhijani

EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard

 The European Environment Agency (EEA) yesterday released its greenhouse gas inventory for 2008, showing a two-percent fall from 2007 levels across EU-27 countries and an 11.3-percent reduction from 1990 levels. The new data also show that the EU-15 (the 15 only EU members in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated) have reduced emissions by 6.9 percent since 1990, putting those countries on track to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitment of reducing 2008-2012 emissions by an average of 8-percent below 1990 levels. The European Commission points out that the EU-15 emission reduction—a 1.9-percent drop from 2007 to 2008—came as the region’s economy grew 0.6 percent, suggesting that economic growth and emissions cuts can be compatible.

Just last month, the European Commission had announced that emissions covered under the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) fell even more rapidly: verified emissions from covered installations were 11.6-percent lower last year than in 2008. EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard cautioned that these reductions are largely due to the economic crisis, as opposed to ambitious actions by covered industry. The crisis has also weakened price signals in the trading scheme and slowed business investment in emissions-reducing innovations.

Earlier this year, the European Commission began arguing that the Union should commit to deeper cuts than a 20-percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020, calling instead for a 30-percent decrease. It released figures showing that, largely due to the economic crisis, the annual costs for cutting emissions will be lower than originally estimated by 2020. In 2008, the EU estimated that €70 billion per year would be necessary to meet the 20-percent target, but this cost estimate has now fallen to just €48 billion. For a 30-percent target during the same timeframe, the new projected annual cost is €81 billion—only €11 billion more than what EU countries have already accepted under the 20-percent target.

[Please read the rest of the blog on ReVolt]

Copenhagen Ends with Minimum Consensus, not Binding Treaty

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Dec 242009

The Copenhagen UN climate conference ended last Saturday with a weak agreement, not the groundbreaking treaty many had hoped for. With more than 100 heads of governments and many more parliamentarians and dignitaries, COP-15 became the largest assembly of world leaders in diplomatic history. The Copenhagen conference had been planned out for two years in many small informal and large official meetings, following the 2007 Bali Action Plan in which nations had agreed to finalize a binding agreement this December. The outcome falls far short of this original goal. Delegates only “noted” an accord (“the Copenhagen Accord”) struck by the United States, Brazil, China, India, and South Africa that has two key components: first, it sets a target of limiting global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times; second, it proposes $100 billion in annual aid for developing nations starting in 2020 to help them reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

2 degrees Celsius is seen by mainstream science as a threshold for dangerous climatic changes including sea-level rise and accelerated glacier melt, as well as more intense floods, droughts, and storms. Many scientists also believe that a majority of worldwide ecosystems will struggle to adapt to a warming above that mark, and more recently have set the threshold even lower, at 1.5 degrees Celsius. The accord, however, lacks any information on how this goal of preventing “dangerous” climate change, which had already been set by the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention, would be achieved. It is generally assumed that in order to keep global warming below 2 degrees, worldwide emissions have to Continue reading »

Hope’nhagen: Was ist vom Klimagipfel zu erwarten?

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Dec 092009

austria-flagLange Zeit sah es so aus, als ob die Klima-Karawane aus Regierungsdelegationen, Interessenvertretern und Umweltschützern nur auf der Stelle tritt. Beim letzten großen Zusammenkommen auf höchster Ebene im vergangenen Dezember wie auch bei den unzähligen Vorbereitungstreffen ging es so zaghaft voran, dass viele den UN-Klimagipfel schon abgeschrieben hatten.

Doch dann überschlugen sich in den vergangenen Wochen die Ereignisse: Die USA, China, Brasilien, Indonesien und Südafrika legten nationale Ziele vor, die teilweise deutlich über dem lagen, was man noch vor kurzem für möglich hielt. Am vergangenen Wochenende dann der nächste Hoffnungsschimmer, der Kopenhagen doch noch zum “Hope’nhagen” machen könnte: US-Präsident Barack Obama kündigte an, dass er am letzten Verhandlungstag, dem 18. Dezember, in die dänische Hauptstadt kommen will, um dem Treffen womöglich zum Durchbruch zu verhelfen. Obama zeigt damit klar, wie hoch die Klimapolitik inzwischen auch auf der amerikanischen politischen Agenda steht.

Hier geht’s weiter zu meinem Op-Ed in der Wiener Zeitung.

Successful Transatlantic Media Dialogue Ahead of Copenhagen Climate Summit

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Nov 172009

17__MediaDialogue__pic2,property=InhaltsbildFrom November 9 to 11, around 25 German and U.S. journalists and climate policy experts met at the Aspen Wye Conference Center on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland to discuss the climate policy in Europe and the U.S. in view of the upcoming Copenhagen climate summit. The event was part of the Transatlantic Climate Bridge, and it not only aimed at providing journalists with the latest facts and figures on the summit but gave the participants the opportunity to exchange their views on the public debate in their respective countries, the status quo of the legislative process in Germany and the U.S., and the impact of climate change and respective policies on the economy and the international security, among others.


The World Looks to Americans and Europeans

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Nov 042009
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

As a former Minister of the Environment turned Chancellor, Angela Merkel had already proven those wrong who surmised that environment positions are a dead end to high-rising political aspirations; now she became only the second German politician (after Konrad Adenauer, the first head of a German government after the Second World War, in 1957) who received the honor to address the U.S. Congress; and as a widely respected leader on environmental issues who is, at the same time, the leader of a conservative party, she would be well positioned to appeal to cautious Republicans when talking about climate change and energy reformation—at least I had hoped so in a recent interview with Reuters.

Angela Merkel in her speech on Capitol Hill yesterday, just weeks after her reelection for a second term (this time as a leader of a center-right coalition) was moved by the honor and the standing ovations she received from U.S. lawmakers even before she had started her speech. Following up on her promises, she spent a good portion of her talk on climate change, urging Congress and the Obama administration to take bold steps to address the issue, in her view one of the “great tests” of the 21st century. “We all know we have no time to lose,” she said.

Read the rest of the story on Dateline: Copenhagen.

AICGS Podcasts – Alexander Ochs on the Copenhagen Climate Conference

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Oct 162009

Alexander Ochs, AICGS Senior Non-Resident Fellow and Director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Worldwatch Institute, talks about the parameters for success or failure at the upcoming Copenhagen conference on climate change with Dr. Jackson Janes. This AICGS Podcast premiered on October 16, 2009

To download this AICGS Podcast directly, please click here.

On the road to Copenhagen, hope springs eternal

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Jun 262009

cop15_logo_imgHalf a year before the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, negotiators are far from agreeing on key components of a global climate deal. As envisioned in the 2007 Bali Climate Action Plan (or “Bali Roadmap”), the summit in December is supposed to deliver a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which expires at the end of 2012.

Ever since Bali, however, progress in the negotiations has been slow. Only recently have the delegations entered full negotiation mode—which is necessary right now, the most pivotal year since the 1992 UNFCCC. From June 1 to 12, more than 4,600 participants—including government delegates from 183 countries as well as business, industry, environmental organizations and research institutions—met in Bonn, Germany, to discuss key negotiating texts that will serve as the basis for an agreed Copenhagen outcome. The gathering in Germany was the second in a series of five major U.N. negotiating sessions this year leading up to the Copenhagen summit in December (…).

Please find the full article in Grist Magazine here.

The USA on its way to Copenhagen – Perspectives for international climate policy

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Jun 222009

More than 80 participants followed the invitation of the NABU and the Heinrich Böll Foundation on 15 June 2009 in Berlin to discuss with American and German experts key contributions on both sides of the Atlantic to tackle the global climate crisis. Another key point of interest was an assessment of the current state of negotiations of a new global climate pact on which the international community wants to agree at the UN climate conference in the end of this year in Copenhagen.

In the discussion, I emphasized the central Importance of new U.S. energy and climate legislation, the so-called Waxman-Markey Bill, which has already passed important hurdles in the House of Representatives and will be discussed in the Senate later this year – hopefully to be be adopted. Since 1990, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have risen by about 16 percent. For the US to reduce its emissions by 20 percent compared to 2005 in 2020, as W-M envisions, will be a very remarkable challenge and an effort compatible to the cuurent evrsion of the EU climate and energy package. Critics often suggest that the absolute reductions in WM amount to only 4% compared to 1990. I pointed out, however, that these 4% only include the emission reductions in the  sectors covered by a future emissions trading scheme. Some estimates believe that the entire reduction effort in the US (including non-ETS-covered sectors and offsets) could amount to about -17% in 2020 compared to 1990. Accordingly, the U.S. would reduce its emissions by more than one third compared to total emissions expected in a business as-usual-scenario. Europe aims at reducing emissions by 20% compared to 1990 and has offered a -30% target if other parties commit to a similar level of ambition.

I also pointed to the fact that the American climate debate much more than the one in Europe is fixated on China, because of competitiveness concerns for the U.S. economy. In many cases, these concerns are distorting important facts and are therefore exaggerated. Only recently it has been noted that China already has very ambitious policies inplace to increase energy efficiency and the expansion of renewable energies despite no binding reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol. I also discussed sectoral approaches as a way to provide additional incentives to abate emissions in energy-intensive industries. Panel guests: Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs, Research Center for Comparative Environmental Policy, Free University Berlin; Alexander Ochs, director of international climate policy, Center for Clean Air Policy, Washington DC; Dr. Karsten Sach, Deputy Director General for International Cooperation, Federal Ministry of Environment; Duncan Marsh, director of international climate policy, The Nature Conservancy; Carsten Wachholz, secretary for energy policy and climate protection, NABU.

You can find a German summary of the event here.

International Climate Negotiations: The Road to Copenhagen and beyond

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Apr 052009

On April 3, 2009 I joined Nigel Purvis, the former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment and science and current President of Climate Advisers, at and American Law Institute and American Bar Association conference on “Climate and the Law” in Washington DC . In my presentation on “International Climate Negotiations: The Road to Copenhagen and beyond”, I outlined key elements of a global climate deal and a roadmap for what results have to be reached by the UN conference in Copenhagen in December, and what details of the global climate deal could be negotiated in 2010 and 2011.

In particular, I discussed potential avenues for solution regarding four most contentious issues: Contractual matters (most importantly, the question of whether agreement should take the form of a new protocol or an amendment to the Framework Convention), criteria and outlook for reaching comparable action amongst industrialized countries, the ambition of developing countries’ NAMAs versus the level of funding from industrialized countries, as well as the subject of the future financing architecture and governance.

[Please check back; presentation will be online soon]

CCAP Discusses Views of Carbon Offsetting in the U.S. at Copenhagen Carbon Markets Insights Conference

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Apr 022009

from CCAP Newsletter 

On March 18, 2009, Alexander Ochs, CCAP’s director of international policy, discussed “Views on Carbon Offsetting in the United States” at Point Carbon’s Carbon Market Insights Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.“International offsets like the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and domestic offsets will likely play an important role in any future U.S. cap and trade program,” Ochs told delegates from around the world. “However, it is important to understand that offsets are only one mechanism that U.S. lawmakers are currently considering in their effort to contain the cost of a federal carbon market. There is also a certain contradiction in the debate between lowering the cost of mitigating emissions on the one hand, and not wanting to send money oversees to make our competitors’ economies more efficient.”Ochs agreed with co-panelist Peter Zapfel from the European Commission that the CDM alone is not sufficient for reducing rapidly growing greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world. “Major emitters like the developing countries China and Mexico must contribute more to the solution than simply offsetting reduction commitments made elsewhere — and they are willing to do so,” Ochs said. “Sectoral commitments for energy-intense industries are the next important step on the staircase to a full integration of these countries into the global carbon market.”

You can find my presentation here: ochs-futureofoffsetsinus_carbonmarketinsights2009.pdf

GHG Mitigation Opportunities in Brazil and Mexico, NAMAs and the Global Deal on Climate Change

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Mar 242009
GHG Mitigation Opportunities in Brazil and Mexico
ECLAC, Santiago, Chile
March 25, 2009

Presentation given at ECLAC, Santiago, Chile on March 25, 2009


– Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP)
– Assisting Developing Country Climate Negotiators through Analysis & Dialogue
– Workshop overview: GHG Mitigation Opportunities in Brazil and Mexico

– Overarching goals and status quo
– Emissions
– Overview of International Climate Negotiations
– Developing countries are already doing more than many believe
– International Policy Context
– NAMA Requirements
– How financing could work
– Technology Finance
– Technology Finance Assistance to Encourage Stronger Actions
– Sources for Technology Finance
– China
– Mexico
– South Africa & South Korea
– Chile
– Brazil
– Sectoral Approach
– NAMAs and Sectoral
– Conclusions

[Please find presentation here on ECLAC website]

International Policy Director Outlines Expectations for Post-2012 International Climate Treaty

 presentation  Comments Off on International Policy Director Outlines Expectations for Post-2012 International Climate Treaty
Feb 022009

Source: CCAP newsletter 

At the 2nd Annual Carbon Markets North America Conference in Miami from Jan. 15-16, CCAP International Policy Director Alexander Ochs discussed the outcomes of the recent UN Climate Conference in Poznan, coupled with implications for global carbon markets and prospects of international and U.S. climate policy. “While disappointing to many, it is important to see the results of Poznan in the right light,” Ochs said. “Among experts, expectations had never been high. This COP was a stop-over on the way from the seminal 2007 Bali meeting to the 2009 conference in Copenhagen – the much-anticipated summit that will have to deliver the basic architecture for a post-2012 climate deal.” Poznan delivered an operational work-plan for a precursor to Copenhagen. Ochs outlined some of the necessary components of a future global climate agreement between the United States, Europe and major emerging economies. “We will need the architectural basics of the deal in Copenhagen, including industrialized countries’ emissions targets,” Ochs said. “The years 2010 and 2011 can then be used to reach agreement on details of a deal between them and the developing countries. If the U.S. moves quickly at home, it will be able to join the EU in its leadership position internationally — and that is what the world is really waiting for.” (Source: CCAP Jan 2009 Newsletter)