Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sierra Club Cancun Update 12-9-10

Sierra Club Cancun Update
By Justin Guay

Sierra Club Cancun Team
With a 36 member delegation, and thanks to volunteer participation and leadership, the Sierra Club has enjoyed a strong showing in Cancun that has helped to elevate our presence with colleagues, negotiators, and institutions on the global level. The Sierra Club delegation has met every other day to coordinate our efforts and inform staff and volunteers by bringing in speakers on critical issues. Notable speakers have included John Lynchberry from Birdlife International, Elizabeth May from the Green Party of Canada, as well as staff from WWF Mexico, and the Many Strong Voices Project. The Sierra Club International team would like to extend a special thanks to Fred Heutte, Glen Besa, Tyla Matteson, Allison Chin, Joseph Manning, Jim Dougherty and many others for their help in coordinating these meetings and overall Sierra Club efforts.

Heads in the Sand

The Sierra Club delegation has been busy building the momentum, and pressure needed to ensure that our politicians and leaders live up to international responsibilities and infuse positive momentum into the climate change negotiations here in Cancun. This past Friday led by Jim Dougherty, the Sierra Club and the Sierra Student Coalition teamed up with Bill McKibben of, and the Center on Biological Diversity to call on world leaders to get their heads out of the sand. An event aimed at calling attention to the danger climate change poses and the need for concerted global action. The event enjoyed worldwide coverage.
· Reuters, LA Times, BBC, NPR, Washington Post, The Australian, The Hindu, Edmonton Journal, Euro news, Straights Times, SF Gate, Signon San Deigo News, Herald Online, and many more…
SSC Work & China-US Youth Climate Exchange
When our delegation wasn’t calling the world’s attention to the talks, the Sierra Student Coalition was busy pulling together rapid response calls back to US politicians, writing post cards to delegates, and organizing media events on the US/Chinese energy race. Perhaps the most impressive was the international bridges the SSC built through the China-US Youth Climate Exchange. The spirit of cooperation and understanding the event engendered between students from China and the U.S. was summed up well by Chen Yingao, a graduate student from Peking University, "Before Cancun, I didn't have a lot of experience communicating with American youth. The past five days have provided me a totally new view of the United States."
· A Reuters video segment on China-US Youth Climate Exchange

Policy Advocacy
As the talks moved into the second week Sierra Club staff ramped up efforts to break the death grip fossil fuel interests have on international climate politics by exposing coal for the dirty 19th century fuel that it is. We have focused most heavily on a strong push for the World Bank to clean up its energy lending including holding a side event, placing numerous articles, and making sure the Bank staff in Cancun knew we were watching them with the help of “Bank trackers”. We have supplemented these efforts with a strong administrative advocacy push to ensure the United States plays a constructive role in moving the ball forward on key issues such as Adaptation, Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), Technology Transfer, Transparency, and Climate Finance.

Sierra Club United Nations Side Event: World Bank Climate and Energy Finance
The Sierra Club side event shone a much needed light on the World Bank’s coal lending at the global stage. The all star panel mediated by Stephen Kretzman of Oil Change International was made up of Sierra Club international allies from a broad swath of important emerging economies. Siziwe Khanyile from the South African NGO groundwork - who played an instrumental role in fighting the recent Medupi coal loan - spoke of the terrible impact Medupi has had on the health and livelihoods of affected communities. Srinivas Krishnaswamy from Vasudha Foundation India spoke about the importance of ensuring energy access for the poor – something large scale coal plants fail to deliver time and again. And Yoke Ling Chee from Third World Network spoke about the Bank’s destructive legacy, the need for it to clean up its act, and how future climate finance should be structured to ensure a positive outcome for developing countries. The event represented a strong step forward for our international work as it solidifies ties with South African and Indian colleagues which we have been building over the past year. We plan to continue working with and supporting our allies in their fight to protect communities facing destructive fossil fuel projects.

Bank Tracking

When staff wasn’t organizing public events for policy makers we were teaming up with the Bank Information Center, Oil Change International and various other NGOs to “track the bank”. This initiative was meant to keep up much needed pressure and make sure the Bank knew civil society was watching them. The highlight of these efforts came with Sierra Club Staff member Nicole Ghio posing as an employee handing out documents for a side event on World Bank lending and Climate Finance. She personally handed the World Bank Director of Environment Warren Evans a copy of our factsheet highlighting the Bank’s destructive coal lending and detailing our demands for revised energy lending (read all about it in her bank tracking blog below).

U.S. Administration Advocacy

Finally, our international climate program director and policy staff are pushing hard for progress on a climate fund that can help build a 21st century economy. This has included direct and frequent discussions with top U.S. negotiators and State Department officials to push them to agree to progress in critical areas – not block efforts in search of a “balanced outcome. In addition, we have contributed to coordinated efforts with other US NGOs through USCAN as well as international colleagues through CAN international to publicly pressure them with ECO articles and Fossil nominations.

ECO NGO Newsletter and Bunkers
Last but certainly not least we enjoyed a strong presence in the Climate Action Network International. CAN-I is a very influential grouping of NGOs which publishes a daily NGO newsletter – ECO - widely read by delegates and coordinates working groups on key issues as well as advocacy and media efforts at these negotiations. Fred Heutte led the Sierra Club charge as ECO editor helping us to get timely articles printed on key topics, working with a variety of working groups including the notorious LULUCF, as well as serving as an ambassador for the Club. At the same time Art Williams lead the very important work of the Bunkers Working Group (Aviation and Maritime Fuel). Art was instrumental in setting up meetings with delegates, coordinating advocacy, and pushing hard for a positive outcome on the Bunkers issue in Cancun.

Coverage · Sierra Club Cancun World Bank Side Event
· Coal articles: Coal’s low carbon pitch, World Bank and Coal
· ECO articles: coal in the CDM, The World Bank’s addiction to coal, the problematic role the US is playing in negotiations *to be posted (thanks to the tireless efforts of ECO editor and Sierra Club lead volunteer Fred Heutte)
· Blog’s: Evolution in Cancun, Bank Tracking Blog, Tree Hugger summary of Sierra Club activities in Cancun by Sarah Hodgdon, and many many more on the Sierra Club Delegation Blog
· World Bank Climate Finance Coal Action Alert

Status of the Negotiations

All of this brings us to an update on the talks themselves. Despite leading efforts to call out the US on their high risk strategy of a “balanced outcome” the administration continues to refuse to allow progress in areas ripe for agreement including reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD), Technology Transfer, and the creation of a Global Climate Fund. Top U.S. negotiator Todd Stern has continually reiterated the fact that a deal is to be had here in Cancun, yet despite positive overtures from the Chinese and the Indians on the all important transparency issue, the US continues to hold up progress. With only one day left it is impossible to say what the outcome of the negotiations will be but we will continue to push for steps forward - particularly on REDD and a global climate fund - that will shore up the fragile state of the talks and help the world to move forward in the fight against climate change.
The other key dynamic at play in Cancun is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol (KP). At the beginning of the talks the Japanese made official statements that they would not be seeking a second commitment period which has opened the door for other bad actors (including Canada and Russia) to join in the killing of this legally binding international protocol. As of now the fate of the KP is highly uncertain with many developing countries lobbying hard for its extension and many developed countries seeking an early exit.

Ultimately, Cancun could very well determine the fate of international negotiations. Without clear progress the talks may drift for years to come with key parties seeking other venues for cooperation. It is important that we understand that even without a new binding treaty or continuation of the KP the United Nations plays a critically important role as a global platform that brings the world together in the fight against climate change. The tough decisions we must face going forward are the nature of its role and how we can leverage the UNFCCC to ensure that we are fighting climate change and fossil fuel interests as aggressively as the science demands.

Justin Guay
International Climate Program, Sierra Club
+1 202.664.6460
Skype: guayguay2

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Dispersants in Your Seafood?

Sierra Club - Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

Dear Friend,

Tell the EPA to regulate toxic oil dispersants!

Plane Spraying Dispersant

Send Your Letter

Though the oil from the BP Macondo well stopped flowing in late July, the effects of the disaster continue to affect communities across the coast. Not only has oil penetrated our coast, but questions remain regarding the impacts chemical oil dispersants have on our waters and our seafood.

Send a message to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson telling her to regulate toxic oil dispersants!

At present, approximately 1.84 million gallons of chemical dispersants have been dumped into Gulf waters, all with little knowledge or research on the chemicals' toxic impacts. Regulations guiding how and where dispersants can be used are based solely on their effectiveness at breaking up oil not on any scientific standards of safe use.

Tell the EPA to set standards for dispersants that protect public health and the environment!

The EPA needs to amend regulations on dispersants and require more extensive and robust toxicity testing, establish criteria that define the safe use of dispersants' chemical substances, and require full public disclosure of each dispersant’s ingredients.

Please write EPA Administrator Jackson and urge her to create regulations for dispersants that prioritize safeguarding our environment and communities.

Thank you for all that you do for the Gulf.

In Solidarity,

Jordan Macha
Gulf Coast Field Organizer

P.S. After you take action, please forward this message to your friends and family!

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Take a Stand for the Gulf!

Sierra Club - Explore, enjoy and protect the planet

Dear Sierrans,

Call Your Senators and Tell Them to ACT NOW on the BP Oil Disaster Before it's Too Late!

We must end our addiction to oil!

Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

Call Your Senators Today!

As the clock winds down on the 111th Congress, we may only have days left to pass a bill in the Senate that addresses the devastation caused by the BP oil disaster and helps prevent future spills.

Call your senators today and tell them we refuse to wait until 2011 to address the BP oil disaster.

Big Oil has held the Gulf Coast hostage for too long.

It's time to establish a Gulf Coast Regional Citizens Advisory Council, like the one created after the Exxon Valdez spill, that willgive local residents a voice in decisions that affect their communities, economy, and coasts.

But working to prevent future disasters is not enough. The Senate must also direct that Clean Water Act fines from the BP oil disaster be returned to the Gulf Coast and used to restore areas devastated by the catastrophe -- with input from the Regional Citizens Advisory Council.

Time is running out -- tell the Senate to act now to prevent future disasters and ensure the Gulf Coast communities get the necessary resources to continue the cleanup.

We cannot allow another tragedy like the BP oil disaster to occur off our coasts. But that's exactly what will happen if the Senate allows Big Oil to continue calling the shots when it comes to oil development.

It's up to us to stand up for the Gulf Coast -- will you make the call?

Thanks for all that you do to protect the environment,

Sarah Hodgdon
Sierra Club Conservation Director

P.S. Help us spread the word by forwarding this message to your friends and family.
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Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Sierra Student Coalition first exciting week at COP16!

So far, COP16 has been an invaluable experience and the Sierra Club and the SSC have had a great impact at the convention with exciting media coverage. Every day has brought interesting and learning experiences and even adventures.
We have been participating in exciting things such as “Hello, Nihao & the Future,” a workshop where Chinese Youth Delegation, Sierra Student Coalition, SustainUS, and Cascade Climate Network shared their cultures and climate concerns to demonstrate cooperation and creativity to our world leaders, who should be doing the same to solve climate change. It was so exciting to see how cultural differences are what make us unique and not enemies. Everyone had a great time sharing their experiences and talking about the U.S. and China can do to agree on a binding climate treaty. This was the first of three workshops, and there will also be a shared action to get our leaders attention.
We also took part of a closed-door briefing with Jonathan Pershing, and between the Sierra Club and SSC we asked more than half of the questions. It was really interesting to hear the U.S. perspective on the whole negotiations, especially regarding relations between the U.S. and China.
Another big thing was our involvement at the Young and Future Generations Day. Thursday was the fourth day of the convention and the Young & Future Generations Day. International youth from 198 countries celebrated this date with different actions and workshops held at Cancun, Mexico and other places across the globe.
The day for the Student Sierra Coalition started at 8:30 a.m. with a Youth NGO (YOUNGO) meeting, where delegates got a taste of how complex it is to negotiate at an international level. From choosing a main language to convey the meetings to discuss intergenerational equity and strong climate solutions at the United Nations talks, young adults experienced some of the heat that negotiators must feel when dealing with serious decisions about the future of coming generations.
Half of the “YOUNGOS” stepped out of the meeting to participate in the first of several actions taken to celebrate this day. To make a statement of how young and future generations have been excluded from giving substantial input to the talks, we wore t-shirts that said “You have been negotiating all my life. You cannot tell me you need more time” and received the negotiators entering the Cancunmesse.
After that, our delegation got together to have our daily meeting to check-in with one another and prioritize our activities for the day. Since there is so much going on, we need to be clear on our goals to be as effective as possible.
At 12 p.m., simultaneously at the Moon Palace and the Cancunmesse (both locations where the convention is being held) a climate action dance for solutions led by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts was organized. This is a tradition that started at a convention in Canada in 2005, and ever since, YOUNGOs dance “It’s hot in here” at every COP. Members of our delegation danced in front of dozens of cameras at both locations.
Following the dance, we all split to attend different plenary sessions and side events. I attended the Intergenerational Inquiry event, where the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, IPCC scientists, representatives of UN agencies and other key negotiators discussed their actions to address climate change. It is very interesting to observe how international policy is shaped and the challenges that nations have to overcome to have mutual understandings.
After that, we all met again to enjoy of exquisite Mexican food, and then prepare key questions for a Q&A sessions with Jonathan Pershing, lead U.S. negotiator at COP16. Chinese youth joined us at the meeting and we openly discussed China and U.S. relations and their roles in the climate change issue.
While this was happening, a Youth Market, held from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the Young and Future Generations Zone in Hall C at Cancunmesse, young people “traded” cultural goods and natural heritage products to highlight the diversity that’s being threatened by inaction on climate change. This was a fascinating experience that taught everyone a little bit more about all of our cultures and how with respect, we can all get to a mutual understanding.
We then gathered at the “Blogging Loft” to work on our projects and blogs, and then, we left to a YOUNGO reception at the Klimaforum, another climate event sponsored by the Mexican government during the talks. The reception was really fun, we were in the middle of the jungle listening to music and talking to each other about our days at the convention. Before we head back to the hotel, we got lost in the jungle on our way back, but we finally made it safely.
Friday, we help organize “Heads in the Sand” action. Sierra Club, Bill McKibben and the staff and SSC got to the beach early this morning to have a creative action that would get the media and the negotiators attention. We had different flags in our backs from certain countries that aren’t committed to sign a binding climate treaty, and then put our heads in the sand to send the message that leaders are not taking bold action to move forward with a climate treaty. We took pictures and recorded a video with Bill McKibben asking out leaders to take their heads out of the sand and save our future. We even had a “dead polar bear” in the picture. The event was a success; we got tons of media coverage and had a lot of fun. Here is a link to an article that BBC published about our action.

This is how our days have passed so far, we run from one place to another learning and experiencing invaluable things about our world and ourselves. I’m excited for what is coming in the next few days that we have left at the convention, and I hope I can keep sharing all of our adventures with Sierra Club back home.

Here are some resources where people can follow our actions at COP16.

Our blog

Sierra Club "Heads in the Sand" video

A climate action dance for solutions led by the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, where members of our delegation participated.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Mary DeVany Wins Appeal of Censure in Formaldehyde Case

Mary DeVany, the industrial hygienist who was the Sierra Club volunteer who gave us expert advice and testified in Congress regarding the flawed CDC study that indicated the formaldehyde levels found in the FEMA trailers were acceptable, recently won a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals victory for a censure from Federal Judge Englehardt.

Mary was chosen by the plaintiff attorneys to test more than five thousand FEMA trailers for the lawsuits by former FEMA trailer occupants against FEMA and the trailer manufacturers. Mary’s testing found very high levels of formaldehyde in the trailers in Hope, AR, Hattiesburg, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and other locations throughout the Gulf.

Englehardt has been extremely pro FEMA, pro trailer manufacturers, and pro formaldehyde (which should be no surprise as he is “very, very good friends” with the formaldehyde Senator, David Vitter). Englehardt summarily dismissed all the FEMA mobile home occupants from the lawsuits saying the mobile homes’ formaldehyde was regulated by HUD. This was after hundreds of tests had proven the high formaldehyde levels (and probably lack of compliance with the HUD rules) in the FEMA mobile homes. The judge also dismissed FEMA as a defendant, despite the proof that FEMA knew about the high formaldehyde levels early on, and conspired to cover it up.

Then the judge went after Mary, and gave her a censure for making a statement in a totally unrelated workman’s comp case in Washington State in which she made an error in describing the multi district FEMA cases. It was really bizarre that the defendant attorneys dug so deep into Mary’s background and this was the only thing they could find—something that really had no bearing whatsoever on the case.

When the judge gave the censure he knocked Mary out as a witness in the cases, saying if the plaintiff attorneys put her on, he would state that jurors should not trust her testimony. This action impacted not just these thousands of cases, but Mary’s career.

Mary fought back, filed an appeal, and the Fifth Circuit recently vacated the censure. Functionally (and legally), it is as though the order never happened. It is really, really wrong that Mary had to spend a large amount of money to fight off a federal judge appointed to the bench on the recommendation of the formaldehyde senator.