Erika Rosenthal's Blog Posts

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Erika Rosenthal's blog

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Everyone has The Right To Breathe clean air. Watch a video featuring Earthjustice Attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a coal plant's smokestack, breathing in daily lungfuls of toxic air for more than two decades.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders.

Learn more about Earthjustice.

Erika Rosenthal is a Staff Attorney in Earthjustice's International office. Her work focuses on climate change, at international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as with the U.N. Environment program and with regional bodies like the Arctic Council to reduce emissions of other global warming air pollutants, such as black carbon and ozone. Erika handles it all with a sly sense of humor and quick wit. When she's not traveling on behalf of Earthjustice, she can be found with family and friends (two- and four-legged) in Rock Creek Park and other beautiful places in the D.C. area.

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22 June 2012, 1:56 PM
Nations take positive actions to enhance ocean protections

The news out of the Rio+20 Earth Summit has been bleak. World leaders, yet again caught in the headlights of financial crises and electoral cycles, fundamentally failed us and the planet. However, there is a bright spot—and it is blue. Both the formal Rio text and the voluntary, on-the-ground and on the water commitments nations made, are a reason for hope.

The oceans sequester, or absorb, about 30 percent of the CO2 we spew into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. But this remarkable environmental service, helping to moderate the climate impact of our fossil fuel addition, comes at a heavy cost—ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification has created renewed urgency to reduce pollution, over fishing and coastal damage to build ocean ecosystem resilience against the adverse effects of carbon pollution. The only long-term solution to acidification is deep cuts in CO2 emissions, but to ensure that as much marine biodiversity as possible survives the inevitable acidification in the coming decades, building resilience is essential and urgent.

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18 May 2012, 2:42 PM
Environmental groups urge Obama to attend Rio+20 summit

Twenty-two environmental organizations including Earthjustice, representing more than 5 million Americans, sent a letter to President Obama on Friday, urging him to lead the U.S. delegation at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June and be a strong advocate for action on clean energy, environmental rights and healthy oceans.

More than 130 heads of state and government leaders are expected to attend. Like the first Earth Summit in Rio 20 years ago, this gathering will help set the international agenda on environment and sustainability for the next 20 years.

The Earth Summit presents a rare opportunity for the global community to ratchet up action on issues like healthy oceans in the face of new challenges like ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is thought by many to be the greatest threat to marine ecology in this century, and is squarely on the agenda at Rio+20. Coral reefs—the nurseries of the sea—along with the shelled creatures that form the base of the marine food web are among the species and ecosystems most vulnerable to acidification.

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16 February 2012, 3:22 PM
Controlling methane, soot and others can reduce warming by a third
Black soot on snow (NASA)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, announced a program, Climate and Clean Air Coalition, today to reduce methane, soot and other pollutants. The United States is jumpstarting the program by contributing $12 million over the next two years.

"By focusing on these pollutants, how to reduce them and, where possible, to use them for energy, people will see results," Clinton said at a news conference today in Washington D.C.

So-called short-lived pollutants like black carbon (soot), methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) account for more than one-third of global warming. They are key to reducing warming in the near term because they stay in the atmosphere for only weeks or a few years, compared to carbon dioxide which remains in the atmosphere for centuries.

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12 December 2011, 4:53 PM
Despite dire planetary consequences, America shows weak leadership

(Earthjustice attorney Erika Rosenthal represented the organization at U.N. climate talks that wrapped up Sunday in Durban, South Africa.)

The first U.N. climate talks held on African soil ended in the wee hours of Sunday with important progress in several key areas – preserving the Kyoto Protocol, launching negotiations on a new more comprehensive accord, and advancing work on transparency, finance and technology transfer – but fell gravely short on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Of course, bringing together nations with wildly divergent visions of the future and views on responsibility for climate change to forge a deal is an extraordinary challenge. We have only to look at our own Congress’ inability to come to agreement.

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09 December 2011, 3:18 PM
U.N. conference coalition releases statement

(Earthjustice attorney Erika Rosenthal is attending the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa. This is the second in a series of blogs she will be filing from the conference.)

Fairness isn’t a philosophical or academic question here in Durban. Deep divisions on the question of equity – between the developed and developing world; between the US and China; between the most vulnerable countries and the major emitting countries north and south (a.k.a. the US, China, India and Brazil) – have stalled the climate negotiations for years.

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07 December 2011, 1:05 PM
At U.N. conference, these tiny nations say they are the biggest victims
Satellite image of the low-lying island nation of Nauru

(Earthjustice attorney Erika Rosenthal is attending the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa. This is the first in a series of blogs she will be filing from the conference.)

“We will succeed together, or we will fail together.”
– Sprent Dabwido, President of Nauru, Chair of the Pacific Small Island Developing States

The climate change negotiations here in Durban shifted gear today with the beginning of the “high-level segment” of the talks. One after another, the presidents of the most vulnerable countries—small island states threatened by rising seas, and African nations prone to drought and famine—pleaded for the world community to take collective action to reduce GHG emissions before it’s too late.

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18 May 2011, 6:54 AM
Arctic Council must take lead in urging world action on climate change
NASA depiction of rapidly melting Greenland ice cap

From the Kangerlussuaq airport, at 67 degrees North in Greenland...

It’s four hours to New York and five to Moscow, but only three to the North Pole. People are speaking Danish and the language of the Inuit people. I’m writing at the airport on my way home from the Arctic Council ministerial meeting, held in the capital, Nuuk, about 45 minutes south by plane. The Greenlandic landscape is stark and beautiful and resplendent in ice and snow over the rolling hills and craggy mountains.

Greenland is poised to soon become the newest nation on Earth – the first to achieve sovereignty because of climate change, melting ice allowing for increased access to oil and mineral resources that will generate revenues to run the country and finalize independence from Denmark.

It is part of the fragile Arctic ecosystem whose future not only will determine the survival of the extraordinary indigenous cultures and wildlife of the region, but will affect climate globally. As Patricia Cochran & Sheila Watt-Cloutier, both former chairs of the Inuit Circumpolar Council have written: “All the people of the globe rely on the Arctic’s cold.”

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15 December 2010, 6:46 PM
Developed and developing countries make key agreements

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are back from participating at the United Nations climate conference in Cancun, Mexico. This is their assessment of what happened.)

In the early morning hours of December 11, the nations of the world concluded the U.N. climate change conference by adopting a set of decisions that lays the foundation for the world to tackle climate change in the future, while taking modest but critical steps forward on key issues.

Although there is still "a long road ahead to travel" to slow global warming, in the words of the Chilean delegate, the Cancún agreements took important immediate steps in the right direction.

The agreement sets up a Green Climate Fund to help developing countries cope with the devastating impacts of climate change. It establishes a mechanism to speed the transfer of clean energy technologies, which are essential if developing countries are to meet their basic needs without further endangering the planet. Because deforestation is responsible for roughly one-fifth of global warming, the agreement creates a framework to compensate developing countries for the preservation of tropical forests.

And developed and developing nations alike agreed to significantly increase the information they share on actions they take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—transparency that is essential to the environmental and political success of any climate agreement.

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10 December 2010, 11:30 AM
Give and take must occur among developing, developed nations

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are blogging from the United Nations climate conference in Cancun, Mexico.)

Just before midnight last night at a stock-taking session here at the climate negotiations, applause broke out for the first time in a tense day. The Swedish delegate spoke not in the rarefied jargon of these talks, but from the heart as though talking to friends and family. He urged compromise and spoke of it as the key ingredient to a functioning family, country and, indeed, international community—especially when faced with the greatest challenge in history.

Compromise is a heavy lift in these negotiations, as it has been in efforts at home (in the U.S.) to pass a climate bill. But without it, the heavy toll climate change is already exacting in human lives, wildlife and ecosystems—witness this year's devastating floods in Pakistan, landslides in China and wildfires in Russia—will only increase.

At the heart of it all is compromise on how developed and developing nations will share the effort of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

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18 December 2009, 8:46 AM
In the final hours at Copenhagen, depth of crisis is daunting

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorney Erika Rosenthal is blogging from the climate conference in Copenhagen. Here is her report from the night of Dec. 17.)

Sometime late in the marathon high level segment of the COP, the environment minister of the Central African Republic took the floor and said: “The catastrophe is at our door.” He allied his country with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and insisted the world must limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees and CO2 concentrations to 350ppm “for our survival.” “Two degrees and 450 ppm,” he said, “are unrealistic.” He meant it is unrealistic to expect that the countries of Africa will survive 2 degrees warming. But the literal reading of his words is also true. 

Just a few hours ago a leaked U.N. document revealed that the UNFCCC secretariat was fully aware that the emissions cuts on the table so far at the Copenhagen climate change summit would still result in temperature rise an average 3 degrees Celsius. (“Average” is critical—the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average; Africa too is warming faster than the global mean.)   Some experts say it’s likely to be even worse—closer to 4 degrees Celsius and 550 ppm. 

What is on the table so far, as we head into the final hours? The developed countries are offering to cut emissions by an aggregate 18 percent below 1990 levels. (This figure takes into account climate leaders, like Norway, that have pledged 40% reductions, and countries like the US that have pledged only 4% reductions.)  Some major emitting developing countries have pledged reductions in “carbon intensity.” But if the economy of China, for example, continues to grow, its pledge to cut energy intensity by 40 to 45 percent will result in an increase in its emissions. 

What does it add up to?

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