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This was my third and final dispatch from the climate conference. It follows up on a piece written the day before for TNR. A colleague forwarded along evidence that supported my central thesis: businesses have mixed motives about climate change and, as such, should be kept a safe distance from the climate negotiations. Unfortunately, that distance is being increasingly diminished.


CANCUN, Mexico — Most observers agree that the Cancun deal is a tremendous achievement for UN climate process and a testament to the dogged diplomacy of the tireless Mexican hosts. After reaching what was a seemingly impassable divide over the future of the Kyoto Protocol, negotiators worked into the early hours this morning to produce two compromise texts that were agreed upon by all but the Bolivian delegation.

All that has been widely reported. What has been less discussed in the growing influence of large multinational corporations over the UN climate process. This is, as I wrote yesterday for The New Republic, “cause for concern.” Because businesses are quarterly-driven entities beholden primarily to their investors – not the long-term public interest – it isdangerous to allow them a prominent role in the climate negotiations. This risk was made evident by a letter Greenpeace uncovered shortly after the story was published.

While the government of Mexico worked hard to include corporations in the climate protection discussion that occurred here over the past two weeks, some big businesses used the platform they provided to push their narrow self interests. Shell was a particularly dishonest actor. On Wednesday its executive vice-president Graeme Sweeney joined Mexican Secretary of Economy Bruno Ferrari at a panel sponsored by the national development agency to discuss the role the private sector can play in preventing catastrophic climate change.

“Sweeney used every opportunity to emphasize the importance of funding R&D for carbon capture and sequestration—a promising but completely unproven technology to reduce emissions from coal plants,” I wrote of the event. “While Shell’s commitment to climate action is nice, it also seems to be a glorified form of lobbying.”

But, as I learned later, pushing for dubious solutions to the climate crisis wasn’t the only thing the oil company was doing to undermine the negotiations. Click here to read the rest of this UN Dispatch post or to make a comment.

Photo credit: Lee Jordan (via Flickr)

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This piece, my first to lead TNR.com, was given three different titles by the editors there — none of which I particularly liked. They were: In Cancún, Corporations Are Taking Over The U.N. Climate Talks; Corporations Fight The U.N. Climate Talks In Cancún; and on the front page, Can Wal-Mart Stop Global Warming? The title above is probably the best representation of the post below.

One historical note: I hopped a plane to Mexico without a plan or press passes because an editor from the Guardian newspaper contacted me about doing some guest blogging for them. He rejected a pitch for this story due to the timing and another pitch about Evo Morales because his corespondent was already planning a piece on the Bolivian president. Although I was disappointed to not make onto the Guardian’s site, leading TNR.com is a new accomplishment (and one that paid me nearly as much). Pretty good for flying south on a hope and a prayer, I think.

Cancún, Mexico—Another year, another round of U.N. climate talks. This year’s discussions in Cancún are likely to end much as last year’s haggling in Copenhagen did—without a firm global treaty to stop drastic climate change. But the stalemate has led to an intriguing side development: Large, multinational corporations are starting to play an outsized role in the negotiations. If world leaders can’t agree on how best to cut carbon emissions (and, so far, it’s not clear they can), then the world’s CEOs may start taking the lead. But is that really a positive development?

Consider some examples: On the very first day of the Cancún talks, the Consumer Goods Forum, a coalition of more than 400 of the world’s largest manufacturers and retailers, pledged to use its market might to help stop deforestation by 2020. The forum also pledged to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons—refrigeration gases that are thousands of times more potent than CO2—by 2015. This week, Wal-Mart came out in support of a major global forest-preservation initiative, REDD, and has announced plans to expand its sustainable palm oil policy.

Mexican Secretary of the Economy Bruno Ferrari

To top it all off, the Mexican government announced that it had secured $55 million in private low-carbon investments since the beginning of the talk—all this while wealthy nations struggle to come up with funds to finance carbon reductions in the developing world.

It’s clear that private companies are stepping in to do what the public sector hasn’t been able to do—take concrete steps and shell out money to reduce greenhouse gases. Indeed, many officials are starting to treat these firms as major actors akin to governments. “I’m sure in the future [the Cancun conference] is going to be remembered as the moment when you have an additional part of the COP that is related with business,” predicted Bruno Ferrari, Mexico’s secretary of the economy. Last week, hundreds of businesses leaders staged their own climate summit. The message seemed clear: NGOs and non-profits haven’t been able to fix the climate problem, so let’s see if the private sector can.

Can they? It’s clear that private companies can act much more nimbly than governments. The measures taken by the Consumer Goods Forum and Wal-Mart will start taking have real effects on global greenhouse gases immediately, whereas a formal climate treaty won’t materialize until at least next year in Durban, South Africa—if that.

But there’s also cause for concern. Click here to read the rest of this post on The Vine.

 

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This was my third, final, and favorite piece that I wrote at CGI.

Earlier this week at the Clinton Global Initiative, UN climate chief Christiana Figueres offered her assessment of what was preventing progress in the international negotiations. Yesterday, a few high-profile American business leaders shared their perspectives. They offered a first-hand view of government shortcomings, the powers and limitations of private sector action, and the role US citizens have played in stymieing the global climate talks.

Free the market?

Regulations are important, but can sometimes get in the way. Moderator Mindy Lubber, the president of the sustainable investor network Ceres and a former regulator, defended environmental rules, in particular the one that now allows the EPA to restrict carbon emissions. “Given that the congress didn’t act [to reduce greenhouse gases], it is all the more important for the EPA to have that authority.” However, in the next breath she lamented the legal delays that have held up the permitting of Cape Wind, the controversial windfarm project off the scenic coast of Cape Cod. “It should not have taken ten and a half years,” Lubber said.

Government environmental policy is plagued by a lack of accountability and direction. Jeffrey Swartz, the CEO of sustainable footwear manufacturer Timberland, seized on the Cape Wind fiasco to illustrate the difference between how the public and private sectors operate. “If it took me ten and a half weeks to deliver against a promise I made, [the board of directors] would fire me. And I’m the majority shareholder of our company,” said Swartz, whose family has run Timberland for three generations. “The absence of leadership is the crisis” in climate protection, he continued.

Big business, small changes

So who should take the lead in reducing carbon emissions and preventing catastrophic climate change? Describing business and government as dancing partners with each waiting for the other to take the first step, the the UNFCCC’s Figueres suggested on Tuesday that it was time for business to make a move. Although Swartz used the same metaphor, he also gave a great illustration of why business can’t take the lead on an issue as big and complex as climate change.

Click here to read the rest of this UN Dispatch piece on the Huffington Post or to comment.

Photo credit: Clean Wal-Mart (via Flickr)

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This was my write up of the first of a handful of great panel discussions I saw at CGI.

In a candid session on energy and the environment at the Clinton Global Initiative yesterday, the world’s lead climate negotiator Christiana Figueres explained why her organization, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), had made so little progress in establishing international climate protection regulations. She suggested that there were two main reasons for the climate negotiations stalemate: Tensions between developed and developing countries and-surprisingly, given that she was sharing the stage with green entrepreneur Richard Branson-businesses.

According to the Costa Rican executive director of UNFCC, business is not taking bold enough steps to reduce its carbon footprint because it’s waiting for government to move onto creating a comprehensive regulatory framework. And the governments are nervously staring at their feet because “business is not pushing us,” Figueres explained. “We have a nice little dance of you first, you first, you first…” So which partner does the head of the intergovernmental climate negotiations believe should make the next move? “Very conveniently, I think business should be taking the lead here,” she confided to the audience of corporate and nonprofit leaders. And what would private sector leadership in climate protection look like? Figures suggested the example of the mobile phone revolution, which has spread and decentralized modern communication. The first cellphone was invented in 1973 and weighed 2.5 pounds. By the end of 2010, there will be 5 billion mobile phones on the market, all of which will weigh less than 4 ounces according to her figures.

But letting business twirl governments around the dance floor has its risks.

Click here to read the rest of this UN Dispatch piece on the Huffington Post or to make a comment.

Photo credit: Lorenia (via Flickr)

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This the first piece I wrote at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. Having missed the opening day of what was a busy week full of high-level climate talks, I had to rely on the reporting of other journalists. However, even with that handicap, I picked up on one of the (problematic) themes for the coming week: The supposed power of business to fix the climate problem.

Yesterday marked the official beginning of UN Week in New York City. This flurry of high-level diplomatic meetings will culminate in the two-day UN General Assembly, which gets under way Thursday. International leaders are using the gathering to try and kick-start the stalled climate negotiations. At the same time, innovative businesses and nonprofits are meeting around town to consider other approaches to the climate challenge. On Monday, the moods of the the dueling gatherings could not have been more different.

The first day of the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy was a sobering attempt by governments to lower the expectations for coordinated climate action. The two-day meeting is bringing together climate negotiators from 17 nations that are responsible for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. “Clearly now the focus is on post-Cancun,” the Indian environmental minister Jairam Ramesh said, referring to the year-end climate summit in Mexico. “We recognize that there is no breakthrough possible in Cancun but let’s now try to cut our losses and see what we can do after Cancun,” Ramesh said.

Business leaders were much more upbeat about the role the private sector can play in reducing climate change.

Click here to read the rest of the UN Dispatch piece on the Huffington Post or to make a comment.

Photo credit: fotdmike (via Flickr)

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Below are the stories I covered for this bi-weekly edition of the OPA intelligence report. Follow the links to read individual stories or click here for full coverage of the top online media news. Any comments are welcome below.

Intelligence Report – 8/02/2010
By Mark Glaser and Corbin Hiar

NEWS

Yahoo Japan picks Google over Yahoo for search
Newspaper revenues rebound as NY Times profits
Sales booming for iPad, as Amazon slashes price on Kindle
FTC considers ‘do not track’ registry for online ads

RESEARCH

Forrester: Foursquare not ready for the mainstream yet
ACSI: Customers not satisfied with Facebook, social nets

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One of the many things I help out my boss at PBS MediaShift with is his work for the Online Publishers Association, a media research organization founded and financed by some of the biggest names in news after the dotcom crash. He has written a weekly intelligence report for them for over a decade. The past couple bi-weekly studies were primarily written and researched by me, but this is the first one onto which I requested my byline be added. I will continue to post these on Hiar Learning every couple weeks (with less of an explanation next time).

You can follow the links below to read an individual story or click here to access the full report.

OPA Intelligence Report — 7/19/10
By Mark Glaser and Corbin Hiar

NEWS

Apple iPhone 4 woes lead to free bumpers — but no recall
Mobile Roundup: iAds blast off; Meredith buys Hyperfactory
Twitter does deal-a-day with @Earlybird feed
Time.com limits magazine stories online

RESEARCH

Search ads grow, tempered by economy, social nets
Gigya: Facebook dominates log-ins, except on news sites

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