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UN Climate Summit Upstaged By Rockefellers, Google…And Murray!

We just happened to drop by the UN General Assembly this morning when Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened the UN Climate Summit with a bang, stating that “we are not here to talk, we are here to make history.”  Actually, the gears of history were already churning away yesterday, when the well endowed Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced that it was ditching its fossil fuel investments, and corporate heavyweight Google announced that it would withdraw its backing for the powerful fossil fuel lobbying group ALEC.

Don’t hold your breath for those high profile fossil stakeholders the Koch brothers to come around (the Rockefeller Brothers Fund was founded with an oil fortune), but the Rockefeller and Google actions are yet another indication that corporate cash has already taken up the climate challenge. World leaders are going to have to scramble if they want to keep up.

On the other hand, for us here in the US, things are a bit more complicated, and that’s where Murray (Robert E. Murray, that is) comes in. We’ll get to him in a minute, after we talk about Bulgaria.

UN Climate Summit 9-23-14

UN Climate Summit 9-23-14 (photo by Tina Casey).

Bulgaria Has A Climate Plan

First, full disclosure: CleanTechnica did get accredited for a press pass to the UN Climate Summit, and that took a while so to be honest we didn’t really just drop in, but whatever.

After some brief introductory remarks (okay so Leonardo DiCaprio), the General Assembly split into three plenary sessions, which is fancyspeak for three groups, and we had access to a wall outlet so we stayed in the GA where Plenary 3 was taking place.

We bring this up because 41 countries were signed on to speak at Plenary 3 in less than four hours, and if you thought the Climate March was like herding cats you probably have some idea of how hard it is to get 41 heads-of-state to stick to a four-minute speaking limit.

Not to name names here, but to start things off Bolivia blew the whole thing off the rails with a 15 minute spiel (well, we lost count after 15 minutes) that earned a rebuke from GA President Mr. Sam Kutesa. After pleading with the next few speakers to keep to the limit, Mr. Kutesa enacted a fail-safe system: you get two bangs of the gavel at Minute 3, and if you don’t shut up by Minute 4 you get three bangs.

Naturally that didn’t work at all, so Mr. Kutesa stepped it up to four bangs, “so they can’t hear you,” which worked just as well as the three bangs.

Where were we? Oh right, Bulgaria. Bulgaria was one of the few countries that kept to the limit, leading off with an off-mic remark to Mr. Kutesa that “I will go exactly four minutes, I promise,” so as a reward we’re going to focus in on those four minutes.

Bulgaria did articulate most concisely why the climate denial lobbying effort has finally hit a wall. Although Bulgaria isn’t the first country you’d think of when asked to name a climate victim, Bulgaria stated that climate change has been the driving force behind destructive weather events in that country. The economic and human costs simply can’t be ignored.

For Bulgaria, that means a vigorous, national solar program (did you know that in 2012, Bulgaria was the world leader in installed solar capacity per capita?), as well as exploiting its wind and biomass potential, and investing in ambitious energy efficiency measures.

 

That framework for energy production and conservation should send up a red flag for US fossil stakeholders hoping to leverage the export market for growth. What it comes down to is that nations have done the math. The economic consequences of inaction are staring them in the face, while renewable energy technology is offering an action path that also enables more robust domestic energy production.

Bulgaria’s climate action history is something of a mixed bag, but at least they have a plan, and that seems to include a “no” to fracking.

President Obama speaks at UN Climate Summit

President Obama speaks at UN Climate Summit (photo by Tina Casey).

So, Why Don’t We Have A National Climate Plan?

Over here in the US it’s a different story. With Republican policymakers still stuck in the climate denial machine, Congress isn’t even close to legislating baby steps let alone a national plan. The Obama Administration has filled in the gap with agency and executive actions for investing in renewable energy technology, vehicle electrification, and energy efficiency, including the innumerable public-private partnerships we’ve been chronicling here.

Last year’s broad plan to reduce carbon pollution from power plants has also been the result of not-Congressional action, and the Administration also just nailed down a public-private agreement to bring the US in accord with international HFC reduction measures.

That brings us over to the aforementioned Robert E. Murray, who happens to own a few coal assets in the US. When your Congress isn’t legislating but a looming threat demands action so you bring your legally permitted administrative capabilities to bear, people like Robert E. Murray get to call you names.

Yesterday, the same day that the Google and Rockefeller news broke, Murray spoke at an industry meeting in Pittsburgh and according to Bloomberg News, he had this to say about the leader of the free world:

The insane, regal administration of King Obama has ignored science, economics, our poorer citizens and those on fixed incomes, our manufacturers, and the constitution, as it has bypassed our Congress.

Murray’s ire is perfectly understandable, given that he just doubled down on his coal holdings.

Speaking of President Obama, he just dropped by the Climate Summit to help conclude the morning session. In a speech to the General Assembly he talked about the next level of action for the US, which would include exporting more clean technology overseas.

“Helping more nations skip past the dirty phase of development,” is the way he put it.

That’s not exactly cheery news for US coal exports.

Oh what now, Robert E.?

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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