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Obama administration sees Rio + 20 Summit in June as Festival of Global Greenness

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By George Russell
Published February 24, 2012
FoxNews.com

With gasoline prices spiking, a presidential election looming in the fall, and recent failures at reaching sweeping global agreements on environmental policy, the Obama Administration is heading into this summer’s Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development with modest goals, looking for areas of broad agreement and civic engagement that can be touted as populist environmental progress.

“We consider it an aspirational meeting,” a U.S. State Department spokesman told Fox News.

“This is a good, positive meeting,” in which “we go forward in as pragmatic a way as possible.”
The apparent aim is to turn the June Rio + 20 Conference –a nostalgic reference to the last environmental summit Rio de Janeiro hosted in 1992– into a festival of global greenness, in order to create the widest possible sense of participation around the planet. In short, something like a global Green Woodstock, this time enhanced on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Nevertheless, the long-term goal of Rio + 20 remains the same: to push the world as fast as possible toward a drastic reordering of social, economic and industrial policies, reorganize global distribution of food and water supplies, and engage in mammoth international financing exercises and new exercises in “global governance” to make the whole scheme work.

Click here to read more on that story from Foxnews.com.

Only now, the emphasis is on cooperation rather than hard bargaining—especially in the wake of the failure last December of another U.N. effort in Durban, South Africa, to create a new global environmental deal to replace the Kyoto Accord on greenhouse gas suppression, which expires at the end of 2012. The Durban failure followed the even more highly publicized failure to achieve the same thing at a summit in Copenhagen in December, 2009.

Yet another reason for soft-pedaling the discussion is the U.S. presidential elections in November. A happy-face summit in Rio that mobilizes environmental enthusiasm around the world is definitely more to the advantage of the incumbent Obama Administration than a strident meeting that ends in failure or fizzle. The recent spike in gasoline prices in the U.S. is also likely to dampen domestic enthusiasm for environmental mandates that would likely make carbon-based energy even more expensive.

Hence the need for a new strategy. Or, as a U.S. diplomat put it at a U.N. session last month to begin considering the “zero draft” of a communiqué put it: “We should focus on partnership, inclusion, and cooperation rather than false distinctions between countries.”

A first round of “informal-formal” negotiations on the draft is slated to begin in New York City in mid-March, immediately after a major preparatory meeting for the Rio conference that starts on March 4. Negotiations over the outcome document will like continue through the Rio summit itself, which is scheduled for June 20-22.

Conciliatory themes very much lie at the center of U.S. notions concerning the Rio communiqué, chief among them being to keep any broad, sweeping statements about the summit aims short and sweet, and concentrate as much as possible on engaging a global audience.

Indeed, at a preliminary meeting on the draft in December, the U.S. declared that the zero draft “should provide a political statement no more than five pages long. We do not see the need for chapters in a concise political document.”

So far, the zero draft, entitled “The Future We Want,” isn’t there: it is 19 pages long, and broken into five chapters.

One approach for Rio that the U.S. government is strongly backing is to engage as many people, institutions, businesses and governments as possible around the world to sign onto a “Compendium of Commitments” –in effect, a set of green goals of their own devising—that will create a groundswell of activity in line with the conference’s aims.

“These are voluntary, non-regulatory commitments that any party is willing to put forward,” a State Department spokesman who is knowledgeable about the process told Fox News. “It would not require a negotiated resolution on behalf of the U.N. community. “ It could be, say, a beverage company that promises to cut water usage over the next ten years.”

“This is what we really see as valuable.”

To that end, a flotilla of senior Obama Administration officials descended earlier this month on Stanford University, for a two-day conference entitled US Rio + 2.0, on using “connection technologies,” meaning social media, “to advance sustainable development solutions in the fields of health, the environment, agriculture, and sustainable economic growth.” The conference aimed at highlighting a fast-mutating array of high-tech opportunities to create new solutions to social and economic problems—akin to the Compendium approach that the U.N. is now advocating for Rio + 20.

At the Stanford session, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson declared that “The Internet and social networks give citizens from across the globe the ability to participate in the push towards sustainability in their own communities. We should challenge ourselves to find creative new ways to apply existing technologies, and look ahead to emerging technologies and their potential impacts.”

Jackson’s statement is now linked prominently on the State Department’s own Rio + 20 website page.

But even while discussion of the Rio + 20 outcome is being framed in feel-good, futuristic terms, the old, tough issues of the global green economy debate linger in the bureaucratic langue of the middle passages of the zero draft document.

Among other things, the document as written includes an agreement to “provide new, additional and scaled up sources of financing to developing countries,” without going into details. It also includes a need to “gradually eliminate subsidies that have considerable negative effects on the environment and are incompatible with sustainable development”—rhetoric that could justify such controversial measures as the Obama Administration’s new, proposed tax bias against oil and gas companies.

Moreover, the document contains a time line that, in veiled terms, continues to call for more efforts to overcome the failure to produce a comprehensive global agreement on “sustainable” development by 2015 that would take increasing effect over the following 15 years.

It also argues that “strong governance at local, national, regional and global levels is critical for advancing sustainable development,” and says strengthening this “institutional framework” should involve identifying “specific actions in order to fulfill the sustainable development agenda through the promotion of integrated decision making at all levels.”

Click here to read the Zero Draft document.

When it comes to what specifics the U.S. delegation favors, a State Department spokesman told Fox News that “what happens will be coming into focus in the next few months.”
In the meantime, he said, “we are listening to a lot of views.”

George Russell is executive editor of Fox News and can be found at Twitter@GeorgeRussell
Click here for more stories by George Russell

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EXCLUSIVE: UN chief, aides plot ‘green economy’ agenda at upcoming summit

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By George Russell
Published February 09, 2012
FoxNews.com

At a closed-door retreat in a Long Island mansion late last October, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his topmost aides brainstormed about how the global organization could benefit from a “unique opportunity” to reshape the world, starting with the Rio + 20 Summit on Sustainable Development, which takes place in Brazil in June.

A copy of the confidential minutes of the meeting was obtained by Fox News. According to that document, the 29-member group, known as the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), discussed bold ambitions that stretch for years beyond the Rio conclave to consolidate a radical new global green economy, promote a spectrum of sweeping new social policies and build an even more important role for U.N. institutions “ to manage the process of globalization better.”

At the same time, the gathering acknowledged that their ambitions were on extremely shaky ground, starting with the fact that, as Ban’s chief organizer for the Rio gathering put it, “there was still no agreement on the definition of the green economy, the main theme of the [Rio] conference.”

But according to the minutes, that did not seem to restrain the group’s ambitions.

Its members see Rio as the springboard for consolidation of an expanding U.N. agenda for years ahead, driven by still more U.N.-sponsored global summits that would, as one participant put it, “ensure that the U.N. connected with the roots of the current level of global discontent.”

Click here for the minutes of the retreat.

Among other things, the CEB heard Ban’s top organizer, a U.N. Under Secretary General from China named Sha Zukang, declare that the wish list for the Rio + 20 meeting, already being touted as a landmark environmental conclave on the issue of “global environmental governance,” included making it:

  •   “the catalyst” for solidifying a global economic, social and political agenda, built around “green economy” goals
  •   a means to “reorient public and private decision-making” to make the world’s poorest people the new economy’s “main beneficiaries,”
  •   a method of also reorienting national decision-making in countries around the world to put the new agenda “at the heart of national ministries,”
  •   the occasion to create new bodies, like a U.N. Sustainable Development Council, similar to the U.N. Human Rights Council, to help guide the global process further in the years ahead, or give additional responsibilities to the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP), the world body’s chief environmental agency..

Other participants chimed in with additional ideas, including the notion from one key organizer that “the U.N. in Rio should be the voice of the planet and its people.”

At the same time, conference organizer Sha noted, “2012 was not the best year” for driving new environmental bargains, due to the global financial crisis walloping the world’s rich economies, a prevalent “atmosphere of general trust deficit” between the world’s rich and developing countries and that many countries (notably including the U.S.) were holding national elections that left their future policies up in the air.

Those realities had already stymied the latest attempt to forge a multi-trillion-dollar bargain to transfer wealth from rich nations to poor ones in the name of controlling “climate change,” at a meeting last December in Durban, South Africa.

As one of the participants, Achim Steiner, head of the UNEP, put it, according to the minutes: “In framing its role and mission, the U.N. not only had the preoccupations of the financial and economic crisis, but also had to grapple with the phenomenon of a geo-economically transformed world that was not yet geopolitically articulated.”

Translation: One of the U.N.’s challenges is that the world had not been globally reorganized in political terms — yet — to the same extent that it had been globally reorganized in economic terms.

But in general, the members of the CEB saw that as an opportunity for the world organization, which they clearly hoped to make central to that global re-articulation.

Citing a CEB high-level committee report entitled Moving towards a fairer, greener, and more sustainable globalization, a top CEB staffer, Elliot Harris, told the gathering that the issue was not to reverse globalization, “but rather to harness it to generate better outcomes.”

Among other things, the clearly left-leaning report underlined that “inequity” was the “single greatest challenge and threat” to the world, and that “any new approach needed to address the root causes of the imbalances,” which the report associated with the “liberalization of trade and finance.”

Among the “opportunities” that the current global crisis had provided, Harris said, was “a renewed recognition of the role of the State,” and “an appreciation of the value of collective and coordinated action at the global level.”

When it came to global issues, the U.N. chieftains were encouraged to think well beyond the environment and the international economy into a wide variety of social spheres, from human rights to health and education, where there was a “need for a global framework and national frameworks” for the development of new policies. The national policies “should be derived from the core values and norms that the U.N. system embodied, to ensure coherence between national level and global goals and aspirations”

For some of those present at the gathering, those values seemed to include a heavy reliance on populist methods to push the U.N.’s Rio message to a global audience, bypassing member governments along the way.

Rio conference coordinator Brice Lalonde (a onetime Green Party candidate for the French presidency), according to the minutes “stressed that Rio + 20 was not a routine conference but one of few opportunities to hold a real People’s Conference.” He informed Board members, intriguingly, that “the U.S. Government was working on the virtual conference angle,” the document reported.

(In fact, on Feb. 2-4, 2012, U.S. State Department, EPA and other officials took part in a conference at Stanford University, entitled Rio + 2.0, which examined, among other things, ways that the latest “connection technology”—from Facebook to mobile phones—could be used in furthering global sustainable development.)

Lalonde added that “a conceptual move was also needed toward much more redistribution and much more equity around the world,,i.e., One Planet,” the minutes said.

But whatever other values the CEB’s internal report, and its deliberations, were supposed to embody, transparency was apparently not one of them. According to the confidential minutes, UNEP head Steiner said that the high-level committee report, and the CEB’s feedback about it, are never supposed to become public.

Instead, they are apparently to circulate within the CEB and its high-level program committee, “and help the system rally around an agenda that guaranteed the future of the U.N.”

George Russell is executive editor of Fox News and can be found at Twitter@GeorgeRussell

Click here for more stories by George Russell.

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Draft U.N. climate accord emerges, debate turns ugly

Kyoto Protocol participation map 2005 Iraq

By Jon Herskovitz and Nina Chestney

DURBAN | Sat Dec 10, 2011 6:11pm EST

(Reuters) – The chairwoman of U.N. climate talks urged delegates to approve a compromise deal on fighting global warming in the interests of the planet, but an accord remained elusive on Sunday and rich and poor states traded barbs over the limited scope of the package.

South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the four separate texts represented a good outcome after two weeks of sometimes angry debates in the port city of Durban.

“I think we all realize they are not perfect. But we should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good and the possible,” she told the conference.

Much of the discussion has focused on an EU plan designed to push major polluters — from developed and fast-growing emerging economies like China and India — to accept legally binding cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.

EU negotiators had accepted “legal instrument” in one draft as a phrase implying a more binding commitment. But the latest version spoke of a “protocol, another legal instrument or a legal outcome,” the sort of weak phrasing that almost collapsed the talks on Friday.

Asked if the latest language was acceptable, Karl Hood, who represents an alliance of 43 small island states, said: “No it’s not. Never was and never will be. It’s too broad a statement.”

His alliance colleague MJ Mace, added: “You need a legally binding instrument. You have legal outcomes all the time. A decision is an outcome. You need something treaty like.”

“BLACKMAIL”

The discussions took an increasingly bitter turn as they headed into Sunday, a second extra day that made the negotiations the longest in two decades of U.N. climate talks.

Venezuela’s climate envoy Claudia Salerno said she had received threats because of her objections to the draft texts.

“In the corridor, I have received two threats. One, that if Venezuela do not adopt the text, they will not give us the second commitment period,” she said, referring to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the only global pact enforcing carbon cuts.

“The most pathetic and the most lowest threat… we are not going to have the Green Climate Fund,” which is designed to help poor nations tackle global warming and nudge them towards a new global effort to fight climate change.

She did not say who had made the threat and delegates heard her allegation in silence.

Among the sticking points holding up a deal were an extension of the Kyoto Protocol. The draft text says the second Kyoto phase should end in 2017, but that clashes with the EU’s own binding goal to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

U.S. VS CHINA AND INDIA

But behind the back and forth over language and technical details, the talks have boiled down to a tussle between the United States, which wants all polluters to be held to the same legal standard on emissions cuts, and China and India who want to ensure their fast growing economies are not shackled.

The fractious late night exchanges punctured the earlier mood of cautious optimism which had suggested agreement on the four separate accord in the package was possible.

Should the talks collapse on Sunday, that would represent a major setback for host South Africa and raise the prospect that the Kyoto Protocol could expire at the end of 2012 with no successor treaty in place.

Scientists warn that time is running out to close the gap between current pledges on cutting greenhouse gases and avoiding a catastrophic rise in average global temperatures.

U.N. reports released in the last month warned delays on a global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions will make it harder to keep the average temperature rise to within 2 Celsius over the next century.

A warming planet has already intensified droughts and floods, increased crop failures and sea levels could rise to levels that would submerge several small island nations, who are holding out for more ambitious targets in emissions cuts.

(Reporting by Nina Chestney, Barbara Lewis, Agnieszka Flak, Andrew Allan, Michael Szabo and Stian Reklev; editing by Jon Boyle)

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Transocean’s Discoverer Americas Gets it Done for Statoil in the Gulf of Mexico

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By Rob Almeida On November 4, 2011

It’s about a two and a half hour helicopter flight from Louisiana to get to this lonely patch of ocean far out in the Gulf of Mexico, but the Geoscientists at Statoil said that’s where the oil would be.  They called the spot Logan and was located at block 969 in Walker Ridge.

Looking at a chart of the Gulf of Mexico, that’s way the heck out there.

For the past 6 months, the Discoverer Americas, a 6th-generation drillship owned by Transocean, has been sitting out there, precisely on station in around 7800 feet of seawater… slowly turning a drill string dangling far beneath the ship.

This rig is one of the newest in Transocean’s fleet, and her dual activity derrick and highly experienced personnel made her certainly one of the most capable.  Built at DSME in Okpo, Korea, her Commissioning Manager, a former US Marine officer and Citadel grad, did an impeccable job in making sure she was ready to go to work as soon as the time came to leave the shipyard back in 2009.

Over the past two years, she covered a lot of ground crossing the Indian Ocean, South Atlantic, and then the Gulf of Mexico before starting on her first well in Mississippi Canyon at a well site called Krakatoa.

It was a heck of a well to start with, and at times her name seemed to be a good fit.  After many months on the ocean, while enduring a frigid winter on the Gulf, and countless drilling challenges, the Deepwater Horizon exploded, bringing Gulf of Mexico drilling operations to a screeching halt.

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Discoverer Americas off Durban, South Africa, Image (c) Robert Almeida

A few months later, Statoil decided it was time to cram as much gear on board as possible and point the Americas’ bow east, and head back across the Atlantic.  Next stop Egypt.

Drilling operations began in a pretty straightforward manner, not many issues.  It was deep water, but a relatively shallow well.  Or so they thought.

Thousands upon thousands of feet down they drilled, but still nothing.  No signs of hydrocarbons, but soon the question of what to do next was once again answered for them.

Egypt erupted in a revolution, ending all possible support from shore.  Cairo-based personnel from Statoil and Transocean left town as fast as they could, and soon thereafter, the Discoverer Americas pulled their riser and followed suit, back across the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

This was her forth major ocean crossing in 3 years, and she had yet to hit paydirt.  Logan had been on the plans ever since she arrived in the Gulf of Mexico a year earlier, and now was the time to earn their paycheck, and hopefully give Statoil the return on investment they were looking for.

This past April, the Logan well was “spud-in” with 36-in casing, officially starting the top section of what would end up being an enormous steel and concrete structure extending miles down below the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico.  Over the next few months as they drilled through dozens of different sediment layers such as shale, sand, and thousands of feet of salt while carefully shoring up the well from the internal pressures of the earth with strings of steel pipe.

The geologists on board carefully analyzed the drill cuttings entrapped in mud that was returning back to the surface.  They were looking for the dead remnants of ancient organisms deposited long ago.  Finding the right type of organism would be a clue that hydrocarbon-rich sands were close by.

After 6 months of drilling, with their drill string extended nearly 5 miles into the earth, they found what they were looking for.  Their polycrystalline, diamond-studded drill bit had finally cut through a formation that was saturated with oil.  It was the Americas’ and Statoil’s first find in nearly two years of drilling.  Very little public information about how much oil was found and its properties is available however outside of the inner circles at Statoil.

Even Transocean has no idea how much, or exactly what was found, but at the end of the day, none of that matters.

As an offshore drilling contractor, they safely executed an incredibly complex drilling program in waters over a mile and a half deep, allowing their client to gain incredibly detailed and valuable information about the geology present in the Gulf of Mexico.

Next up for the Discoverer Americas is a few month drilling contract for Anadarko at the Heidelberg Prospect in Green Canyon.  Sitting below 5,000 feet of seawater, this well will reach over 30,000 feet below the wave tops to an area that has already proven to hold a significant amount of high quality oil-bearing sands.

Congrats to Transocean and the crew of the Discoverer Americas for a job well done.

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Source – gCaptain - Maritime & Offshore

Fairmount Marine Brings Ocean Yorktown Rig in U.S. Gulf of Mexico

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Fairmount Marine’s tug Fairmount Alpine has delivered the semi submergible drilling rig Ocean Yorktown safely in Brownsville, US, after a 5,400 miles tow from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Fairmount Marine was contracted in July by Diamond Offshore, a leading deepwater drilling contractor headquartered in Houston, to tow the semi submersible drilling rig Ocean Yorktown to the Mexican Gulf region. At that moment Fairmount Alpine just finished a special survey in Durban, South Africa.

The tug was instructed to mobilize towards Ro de Janeiro. Upon arrival in Rio de Janeiro Fairmount Alpine assisted the Ocean Yorktown in the field until the rig was ready in each and every aspect to commence the voyage towards Brownsville. Fairmount Alpine successfully towed the Ocean Yorktown over a distance of 5,400 miles in just 34 days with a general average speed of 6.6 knots, including a two day bunker stop.

The tow of the Ocean Yorktown was the fifth operation for Diamond Offshore Drilling performed by Fairmount Marine. In 2010 Fairmount’s super tugs were involved in four operations for Diamond Offshore.

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