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Martin Wagner's blog

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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.

Martin Wagner is the Managing Attorney in Earthjustice's International office. His work includes taking corporations to task for environmental practices that violate international human rights. During backpacking excursions in the Sierra Nevada and later as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, Martin learned to appreciate the intricate relationship between a healthy environment, social justice and human rights, and the value of the law as a tool for guaranteeing the basic rights of all people. When tackling environmental problems, he is reminded of John Muir, who once said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

View Martin Wagner's blog posts
29 December 2011, 10:39 AM
It's time for U.S. to stop opposing regulations

Emissions from aircraft are a substantial contributor to global warming. Taking into account greenhouse gas emissions, the warming effect of contrails and aviation-induced cirrus clouds, and anticipated growth in air traffic, scientists estimate that aircraft could be responsible for as much as 10 percent of human-caused global warming by 2050. So, of course the airlines are working hard to reduce these emissions, right?

Wrong. For more than a decade, the industry-influenced International Civil Aviation Organization has rejected calls to regulate greenhouse gas pollution from aircraft. Finally, fed up with inaction at the international level, Europe decided to lead the way to a solution.

Under a European regulation to go into effect in 2012, flights into or out of European airports will have to account for their contribution to global warming, and will have to buy permits for emissions exceeding 85 percent of historical amounts (if they reduce their emissions enough, they can sell their excess permits for a profit).

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03 December 2010, 11:23 AM
New report says delay equals catastrophe

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

"I was born in 1992. You have been negotiating all my life. You cannot tell me that you need more time."

This is the text on the t-shirts worn today by each of the international youth delegates here at the United Nations climate change negotiations in Cancun. It comes from a speech that Christina Ora of the Solomon Islands gave at last year's negotiations in Copenhagen.

Christina has a point.

The basic U.N. climate change treaty was produced in 1992 (the first President Bush ratified the agreement on behalf of the United States the same year). Ever since, the members governments have engaged in essentially continuous negotiations to establish and strengthen commitments that could avoid catastrophic climate change. And as the negotiations have dragged on, the evidence of the need for progress has grown.

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01 December 2010, 11:46 AM
Earthjustice attorneys blog from world climate conference

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

It is with some urgency that my colleague Erika Rosenthal and I have come to Cancún to participate in the U.N. climate negotiations.

For the next two weeks, we will work with thousands of diplomats, scientists, activists and others to try to make progress toward an agreement to set the planet on a different path.

We'll draft proposals and counter-proposals in the strange lingo of climate change negotiations ("Should the UNFCCC's COP require the US to MRV its LULUCF commitments?"). We'll discuss the special concerns of countries as different as Norway and Zimbabwe. We'll strategize and re-strategize to address daily (or hourly) diplomatic changes. And we'll work with other nongovernmental organizations to bridge differences and develop solutions.

As if it weren't clear enough, the past year has shown that serious climate change is already upon us, and it's not pretty.

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23 December 2009, 9:27 AM
What really happened inside the climate conference—and what's next

(Editor's note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are back from two weeks of long hours and hard work deep inside the world climate conference at Copenhagen. In their final report, Martin goes behind the headlines to describe and explain how the conference really worked and why it shouldn't be dismissed as a failure. Amid the disappointments, there was progress, he says, and opportunities that must be seized.)

Erika and I are back from Copenhagen, and have finally gotten a few hours' sleep, so it's time to review what happened there, and to think about the work ahead. Let's start with what happened.

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15 December 2009, 4:00 PM
Nobel winner Desmond Tutu speaks in Copenhagen

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are blogging live from the Copenhagen climate change conference.)

I took a moment out of the negotiation madness this morning to sit in on an event sponsored by Oxfam International in which Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu participated. I had been in the same room as Archbishop Tutu once before, and wanted another opportunity to experience his incredible energy.

The event presented the testimony of a number of people, from all over the world, who are already being harmed by the effects of climate change. People who faced death and hunger after an unprecedented drought and flood; cyclone and hurricane survivors; a farmer suffering water shortages and hunger due to glacier melting.

Archbishop Tutu spoke passionately about these tragedies, and brought a special message to the people in the room working to solve climate change. I believe his message applies just as much to everyone working anywhere to stop climate change, or for peace, justice, human health or environmental protection. Some of his words follow, but if you have 15 minutes, you can experience his spirit as well by watching here.

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15 December 2009, 8:07 AM
Conference organizers put tight limits on observer participation

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are blogging live from the Copenhagen climate change conference. This is today's post by Martin)

There is no shortage of irony in Copenhagen this month.

I wrote previously about the efforts of some countries to avoid recognizing that the planet has rights. The conference organizers delivered Monday's dose when they announced severe restrictions on access of non-governmental organization observers (that's what we are officially called) to the conference center over the next several days.

Today and Wednesday, only a portion of any non-governmental organization's delegation can enter the building. Thursday, only 1,000 will be permitted in total (the building holds 15,000). Friday, we're limited to 90.

The irony is that one of the main objectives of negotiations is defining the governments' shared vision for long-term cooperative action to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. (The emphasis is mine; the governments seem unable so far to find much they can agree on, and have closed so many negotiating sessions that it's clear they're not interested in sharing with others either.)

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13 December 2009, 7:41 PM
Bolivia leads movement to respect all natural beings

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are blogging live from the Copenhagen climate change conference. This is today's post by Martin)

What makes these negotiations so important, of course, is that human activities are changing our planet's systems of self-regulation. Global warming pollution from human activities is altering those systems faster than many ecosystems and species—including humans—can keep up with.

In recognition of this, a number of countries, led by Bolivia, are advocating for the final Copenhagen agreement to "take into account not only the right of human beings, but also the right of Mother Earth and its natural beings."

When countries object to proposals in the formal negotiations, they do so by insisting that the problematic proposal be surrounded by brackets in the formal negotiating documents. The brackets indicate that the proposal is not a consensus position, and thus remains subject to further discussion. In negotiations late last night, the United States and a number of other developed countries insisted that any reference to the rights of the earth be bracketed.

Given what is at stake here, it is frightening to think that Mother Earth might remain in brackets.


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12 December 2009, 12:38 PM
While U.S. fritters, Tuvalu could disappear underwater

I was in a plenary session of the Copenhagen climate meeting this morning, when Ian Fry, the representative of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu made an impassioned statement to the assembled government representatives.

He noted that nearly everyone in Tuvalu lives less than 7 feet above sea level, which puts them at risk of rising sea levels and increased storm intensity. He called for governments to adopt a legally binding agreement to cut carbon emissions, and expressed his frustration that "[i]t appears we are waiting for some senators in the US Congress to conclude before we can determine what will happen to the rest of the world."

On the verge of tears, he concluded by saying, "I woke up this morning and I was crying, which is not easy for a grown man to admit. Madame President,…the fate of my country is in your hands."

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10 December 2009, 6:10 PM
Nations must put human rights on their agenda at Copenhagen

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner is blogging from the Copenhagen climate change conference. Here is his report for Dec. 10).

Happy Human Rights Day.

Sixty-one years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was born. The Declaration and subsequent human rights agreements represent humanity's best expression of the minimum conditions for a life of dignity, and of the need to hold governments accountable for guaranteeing them.

Climate change threatens those rights.

 Warming temperatures melt glaciers that communities rely upon for dry-season water, directly undermining their rights to water, health and life. Increased droughts and ecosystem loss threaten the right to food. Sea-level rise and more intense storms threaten to wipe out island and coastal communities, undermining their right to life and physical security.

The list goes on, with unfortunate emphasis on indigenous peoples, the low-income, women and people of color—all of whom are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

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07 December 2009, 4:28 PM
A world of scientific evidence doesn't deter climate change deniers

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner is blogging live from the Copenhagen climate change conference, Dec. 7-18. This is his first post)

The Copenhagen climate negotiations kicked off today. This gathering of the world's governments is a crucial step in efforts to seal a deal to limit greenhouse gas emissions and fight global warming. Unfortunately, opponents of a serious agreement have dusted off long-debunked arguments about the scientific basis for global warming in a desperate effort to derail the negotiations.

Saudi Arabia, for example, made these false claims the centerpiece of its opening statement at the Copenhagen meeting. The Saudi representative pointed to e-mails stolen from a computer server used by British and American climate scientists as a basis for delaying the negotiations. According to the Saudis, these e-mails call into doubt the relationship between human activity and global warming, and undermine the need to negotiate at all.

Except they don't.

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