Climate change is one of the most important ecological imperatives facing the human population in our modern times. There is hardly any debate remaining among scientists these days regarding whether climate change exists or whether it is caused by human activities. Climate change threatens not just global average temperature, but it also can play a damaging role in all other aspects of ecosystem health, such as biological diversity and world food supply. We have identified the problem, now we must come up with a fair and sustainable solution.
This blog will focus around the United Nations climate change conference to be help in Copenhagen from December 7th to 18th 2009. During this conference, 192 countries including two of the largest polluters - the United States and China - will gather to discuss the problem and try to find solutions. These widely varied countries will be responsible for the onus task of hammering out an agreement that can satisfy all involved for the period following 2012.
The countdown to COP15 TIG blog aims to consolidate the many youth climate action blogs from around the world, while offering a forum for youth to get informed and get involved regarding this important issue.
The world is now firmly on course for the worst-case scenario in terms of climate change, with average global temperatures rising by up to 6°C by the end of the century, leading scientists said yesterday. Such a rise – which would be much higher nearer the poles – would have cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable and threatening the basis of human civilisation.
We are headed for it, the scientists said, because the carbon dioxide emissions from industry, transport and deforestation which are responsible for warming the atmosphere have increased dramatically since 2002, in a way which no one anticipated, and are now running at treble the annual rate of the 1990s.
This means that the most extreme scenario envisaged in the last report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in 2007, is now the one for which society is set, according to the 31 researchers from seven countries involved in the Global Carbon Project.
Although the 6°C rise and its potential disastrous effects have been speculated upon before, this is the first time that scientists have said that society is now on a path to meet it.
Their chilling and remarkable prediction throws into sharp relief the importance of next month’s UN climate conference in Copenhagen, where the world community will come together to try to construct a new agreement to bring the warming under control.
For the past month there has been a lowering of expectations about the conference, not least because the US may not be ready to commit itself to cuts in its emissions. But yesterday President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao of China issued a joint communiqué after a meeting in Beijing, which reignited hopes that a serious deal might be possible after all.
It cannot come too soon, to judge by the results of the Global Carbon Project study, led by Professor Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey, which found that there has been a 29 per cent increase in global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel between 2000 and 2008, the last year for which figures are available.
On average, the researchers found, there was an annual increase in emissions of just over 3 per cent during the period, compared with an annual increase of 1 per cent between 1990 and 2000. Almost all of the increase this decade occurred after 2000 and resulted from the boom in the Chinese economy. The researchers predict a small decrease this year due to the recession, but further increases from 2010.
In total, CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels have increased by 41 per cent between 1990 and 2008, yet global emissions in 1990 are the reference level set by the Kyoto Protocol, which countries are trying to fall below in terms of their own emissions.
The 6°C rise now being anticipated is in stark contrast to the 2°C rise at which all international climate policy, including that of Britain and the EU, hopes to stabilise the warming – two degrees being seen as the threshold of climate change which is dangerous for society and the natural world.
The study by Professor Le Quéré and her team, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, envisages a far higher figure. “We’re at the top end of the IPCC scenario,” she said.
Professor Le Quéré said that Copenhagen was the last chance of coming to a global agreement that would curb carbon-dioxide emissions on a time-course that would hopefully stabilise temperature rises to within the danger threshold. “The Copenhagen conference next month is in my opinion the last chance to stabilise climate at 2°C above pre-industrial levels in a smooth and organised way,” she said.
“If the agreement is too weak, or the commitments not respected, it is not 2.5°C or 3°C we will get: it’s 5°C or 6°C – that is the path we’re on. The timescales here are extremely tight for what is needed to stabilise the climate at 2°C,” she said.
Meanwhile, the scientists have for the first time detected a failure of the Earth’s natural ability to absorb man-made carbon dioxide released into the air.
They found significant evidence that more man-made CO2 is staying in the atmosphere to exacerbate the greenhouse effect because the natural “carbon sinks” that have absorbed it over previous decades on land and sea are beginning to fail, possibly as a result of rising global temperatures.
The amount of CO2 that has remained in the atmosphere as a result has increased from about 40 per cent in 1990 to 45 per cent in 2008. This suggests that the sinks are beginning to fail, they said.
Professor Le Quéré emphasised that there are still many uncertainties over carbon sinks, such as the ability of the oceans to absorb dissolved CO2, but all the evidence suggests that there is now a cycle of “positive feedbacks”, whereby rising carbon dioxide emissions are leading to rising temperatures and a corresponding rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“Our understanding at the moment in the computer models we have used – and they are state of the art – suggests that carbon-cycle climate feedback has already kicked in,” she said.
“These models, if you project them on into the century, show quite large feedbacks, with climate amplifying global warming by between 5 per cent and 30 per cent. There are still large uncertainties, but this is carbon-cycle climate feedback that has already started,” she said.
The study also found that, for the first time since the 1960s, the burning of coal has overtaken the burning of oil as the major source of carbon-dioxide emissions produced by fossil fuels.
Much of this coal was burned by China in producing goods sold to the West – the scientists estimate that 45 per cent of Chinese emissions resulted from making products traded overseas.
It is clear that China, having overtaken the US as the world’s biggest carbon emitter, must be central to any new climate deal, and so the communiqué from the Chinese and US leaders issued yesterday was widely seized on as a sign that progress may be possible in the Danish capital next month.
Presidents Hu and Obama specifically said an accord should include emission-reduction targets for rich nations, and a declaration of action plans to ease greenhouse-gas emissions in developing countries – key elements in any deal.
6°C rise: The consequences
If two degrees is generally accepted as the threshold of dangerous climate change, it is clear that a rise of six degrees in global average temperatures must be very dangerous indeed, writes Michael McCarthy. Just how dangerous was signalled in 2007 by the science writer Mark Lynas, who combed all the available scientific research to construct a picture of a world with temperatures three times higher than the danger limit.
His verdict was that a rise in temperatures of this magnitude “would catapult the planet into an extreme greenhouse state not seen for nearly 100 million years, when dinosaurs grazed on polar rainforests and deserts reached into the heart of Europe”.
He said: “It would cause a mass extinction of almost all life and probably reduce humanity to a few struggling groups of embattled survivors clinging to life near the poles.”
Very few species could adapt in time to the abruptness of the transition, he suggested. “With the tropics too hot to grow crops, and the sub-tropics too dry, billions of people would find themselves in areas of the planet which are essentially uninhabitable. This would probably even include southern Europe, as the Sahara desert crosses the Mediterranean.
“As the ice-caps melt, hundreds of millions will also be forced to move inland due to rapidly-rising seas. As world food supplies crash, the higher mid-latitude and sub-polar regions would become fiercely-contested refuges.
“The British Isles, indeed, might become one of the most desirable pieces of real estate on the planet. But, with a couple of billion people knocking on our door, things might quickly turn rather ugly.”
We cannot change the world by changing our buying habits
Small actions allow people to overlook the bigger ones and still claim they are being environmentally responsible
Originally posted on guardion.co.uk by George Monbiot on November 6th 2009.
How many times have you heard the argument that small green actions lead to bigger ones?
I've heard it hundreds of times: habits that might scarcely register in their own right are still useful because they encourage people to think of themselves as green, and therefore to move on to tougher actions.
A green energy expert once tried to convince me that even though rooftop micro wind turbines are useless or worse than useless in most situations, they're still worth promoting because they encourage people to think about their emissions. It's a bit like the argument used by anti-drugs campaigners: the soft stuff leads to the hard stuff.
I've never been convinced by this argument. In my experience, people use the soft stuff to justify their failure to engage with the hard stuff. Challenge someone about taking holiday flights six times a year and there's a pretty good chance that they'll say something along these lines:
I recycle everything and I re-use my plastic bags, so I'm really quite green.
A couple of years ago a friend showed me a cutting from a local newspaper: it reported that a couple had earned so many vouchers from recycling at Tesco that they were able to fly to the Caribbean for a holiday.
The greenhouse gases caused by these flights outweigh any likely savings from recycling hundreds or thousands of times over, but the small actions allow people to overlook the big ones and still believe that they are environmentally responsible.
Being a cynical old git, I have always been deeply suspicious of the grand claims made for consumer democracy: that we can change the world by changing our buying habits. There are several problems with this approach:
A change in consumption habits is seldom effective unless it is backed up by government action. You can give up your car for a bicycle - and fair play to you - but unless the government is simultaneously reducing the available road space, the place you've vacated will just be taken by someone who drives a less efficient car than you would have driven (traffic expands to fill the available road-space). Our power comes from acting as citizens - demanding political change - not acting as consumers.
We are very good at deceiving ourselves about our impacts. We remember the good things we do and forget the bad ones.
The 'licensing effect': Researchers have found that buying green can establish the moral credentials that license subsequent bad behaviour.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't always try to purchase the product with the smallest impact: you should. Nor am I suggesting that all ethical consumption is useless. Fairtrade products make a real difference to the lives of the producers who sell them; properly verified goods - like wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or fish approved by the Marine Stewardship Council - are likely to cause much less damage than the alternatives. But these small decisions allow us to believe that our overall performance is better than it really is.
The researchers call this the "licensing effect". Buying green can establish the moral credentials that license subsequent bad behaviour: the rosier your view of yourself, the more likely you are to hoard your money and do down other people.
Then they took another bunch of students, gave them the same purchasing choices, then introduced them to a game in which they made money by describing a pattern of dots on a computer screen. If there were more dots on the right than the left they made more money. Afterwards they were asked to count the money they had earned out of an envelope.
The researchers found that buying green had such a strong licensing effect that people were likely to lie, cheat and steal: they had established such strong moral credentials in their own minds that these appeared to exonerate them from what they did next. Nature uses the term "moral offset", which I think is a useful one.
So perhaps guilt is good after all. Campaigners are constantly told that guilt-tripping people is counterproductive: we have to make people feel better about themselves instead. These results suggest that this isn't very likely to be true. They also offer some fascinating insights into the human condition. Maybe the cruel old Christian notion of original sin wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Final Draft of declaration issued November 11 in the Maldives, by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, comprising the 11 countries considered most vulnerable to climate change: Maldives, Kiribati, Bangladesh, Nepal, Vietnam, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Barbados and Bhutan.
We, Heads of State, Ministers and representatives of Government from Africa, Asia, Caribbean and the Pacific, representing some of the countries most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change:
Alarmed at the pace of change to our Earth caused by human-induced climate change, including accelerating melting and loss of ice from Greenland, the Himalayas and Antarctica, acidification of the world’s oceans due to rising CO2 concentrations, increasingly intense tropical cyclones, more damaging and intense drought and floods, including Glacial Lakes Outburst Floods, in many regions and higher levels of sea-level rise than estimated just a few years ago, risks changing the face of the planet and threatening coastal cities, low lying areas, mountainous regions and vulnerable countries the world over,
Asserting that anthropogenic climate change poses an existential threat to our nations, our cultures and to our way of life, and thereby undermines the internationally-protected human rights of our people – including the right to sustainable development, right to life, the right to self-determination and the right of a people not to be deprived of its own means of subsistence, as well as principles of international law that oblige all states to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction;
Conscious that while our nations lie at the climate front-line and will disproportionately feel the impacts of global warming, in the end climate change will threaten the sustainable development and, ultimately, the survival of all States and peoples – the fate of the most vulnerable will be the fate of the world; and convinced that our acute vulnerability not only allows us to perceive the threat of climate change more clearly than others, but also provides us with the clarity of vision to understand the steps that must be taken to protect the Earth’s climate system and the determination to see the job done;
Recalling that the UNFCCC is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change,
Desirous of building upon the commitment of leaders at the recent United Nations High-Level Summit on Climate Change in New York in addressing the needs of those countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as well as other political commitments, including the AOSIS Declaration and the African Common Position,
Underlining the urgency of concluding an ambitious, fair and effective global legal agreement at COP15 in Copenhagen.
Gravely concerned at reports of a downgrading of expectations for COP15 and calling therefore for a redoubling of efforts – including through the attendance in Copenhagen, at Head of State- or Head of Government-level, of all States, and especially of major industrialised nations and all major emerging economies.
Emphasising that developed countries bear the overwhelming historic responsibility for causing anthropogenic climate change and must therefore take the lead in responding to the challenge across all four building blocks of an enhanced international climate change regime – namely mitigation, adaption, technology and finance – that builds-upon the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol.
Taking account of their historic responsibility as well as the need to secure climate justice for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities, developed countries must commit to legally-binding and ambitious emission reduction targets consistent with limiting global average surface warming to well below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and long-term stabilisation of atmosperhic greenhouse gas concentrations at well below below 350ppm,,and that to achieve this the agreement at COP15 UNFCCC should include a goal of peaking global emissions by 2015 with a sharp decline thereafter towards a global reduction of 85% by 2050,
Emphasising that protecting the climate system is the common responsibility of all humankind, that the Earth’s climate system has a limited capacity to absorb greenhouse gas emissions, and that action is required by all countries on the basis of common but differentiated responsibilities, respective capabilities, and the precautionary principle,
Underscoring that maintaining carbon-intensive modes of production established in 19th Century Europe will incur enormous social and economic cost in the medium- and long-term, whereas shifting to a carbon-neutral future based on green technology and low-carbon energy creates wealth, jobs, new economic opportunities, and local co-benefits in terms of health and reduced pollution,
Convinced that those countries which take the lead in embracing this future will be the winners of the 21st Century;
Expressing our determination, as vulnerable States, to demonstrate leadership on climate change by leading the world into the low-carbon and ultimately carbon-neutral economy, but recognising that we cannot achieve this goal on our own;
Declare our determination, as low-emitting countries that are acutely vulnerable to climate change, to show moral leadership on climate change through actions as well as words, by acting now to commence greening our economies as our contribution towards achieving carbon neutrality,
Affirm that this will enhance the objectives of achieving sustainable development, reducing poverty and attaining the internationally agreed development goals including the Millennium Development Goals,
Call upon all other countries to follow the moral leadership shown by the Republic of Maldives by voluntarily committing to achieving carbon-neutrality,
Assert that the achievement of carbon neutrality by developing countries will be extremely difficult given their lack of resources and capacity and pressing adaptation challenges, without external financial, technological and capability-building support from developed countries,
Declare that, irrespective of the effectiveness of mitigation actions, significant adverse changes in the global climate are now inevitable and are already taking place, and thus Parties to the UNFCCC must also include, in the COP15 outcome document, an ambitious agreement on adaptation finance which should prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable countries, especially in the near-term,
Call upon developed countries to provide public money amounting to at least 1.5% of their gross domestic product, in addition to innovative sources of finance, annually by 2015 to assist developing countries make their transition to a climate resilient low-carbon economy. This grant-based finance must be predictable, sustainable, transparent, new and additional – on top of developed country commitments to deliver 0.7% of their Gross National Income as Overseas Development Assistance.
Underline that financing for mitigation and adaptation, under the authority of the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC, should be on the basis of direct access to implement country-led national Low-Carbon Development Plans and Climate Resilient Development Strategies, and the process to allocate and deliver the finance must be accessible, transparent, consensual, accountable, results-orientated and should prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable countries.
Further underline that fundamental principles and issues relating to the survival of peoples and preservation of sovereign rights are non-negotiable, and should be embedded in the Copenhagen legal agreement,
Call on Parties to the UNFCCC to also consider and address the health, human rights and security implications of climate change, including the need to prepare communities for relocation, to protect persons displaced across borders due to climate change-related impacts, and the need to create a legal framework to protect the human rights of those left stateless as a result of climate change.
Invite other vulnerable countries to endorse this Declaration.
Decide to hold a second meeting of the Climate Vulnerable Forum in [country] on [date] to take forward this initiative, to further raise awareness of the vulnerabilities and actions of vulnerable countries to combat climate change, and to amplify their voice in international negotiations. In this context, request support from the UN system to assist the most vulnerable developing countries take action in pursuit of this Declaration.
Making Smart Food Choices: The Planet Will Thank You For It
By Melanie Potter
In buying locally grown food, the environmental impact of that food was never a focus for me. It was more about engaging with and supporting my local community, while eating healthily. What’s more, who wants to spend any time shopping in the sterile, plastic environment offered by the supermarkets, or the stupidmarket as a friend refers to them, when you can make a day of it at your fresh food market that offers a range of products from independent stall holders, get a great lunch with a great atmosphere to boot?
In researching the environmental aspects of shopping locally, I came across a lot of claims on both sides of the fence. The term food miles is a concept used often. The deal is the more miles your food has travelled to get to you; the worse it is for the environment. Richard Pirog of the Leopold Centre for sustainable Agriculture has reported than in America it takes something like 1500 miles for the average fresh food item to get to the dinner table. The less your food travels, the less fossil fuels are needed, and the lower your carbon footprint - right? However, this view is being argued due to the unsustainable nature of producing foods in environments where they are not well suited.
A number of these studies are actually suggesting that just because something is grown locally, doesn’t mean that it’s better for the environment. A recent study by engineers at the Carnegie Mellon University in the US looked at the major food groups and the total amount of green house emissions associated with food production; from raising or growing through to distribution. This study found that a whopping 83% of an average household’s food related carbon footprint was accounted for by the processes involved in producing the food not by its transportation. Whether or not an item is sustainably or organically produced can actually make more or a difference than actually where the item was produced.
Organic farming practices can actually reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, while conventional techniques often actually add carbon
Just to make the issue more complex, there is more to consider than just greenhouse gas emissions. First of all farming should be sustainable, that means it should be appropriate to the local environment in terms of its impact. It should be measured by how it enriches soil, protects air and water quality, while at the same time minimising energy consumption. In eating locally the food choices we make should also support this, as just because it’s local doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. In Australia local government have allowed crops that require large amounts of water such as rice and cotton to grow in areas that have been affected by drought for much of the last decade. As a result, water needed to flow down the major river systems in the East have been severely limited, to the detriment of the eco system and traditional crops likes citrus and fruit. This is one example where eating locally isn’t always the best environmental choice.
The whole concept of sustainable farming goes hand in hand with the principles of organic food; the production of crops and the rearing of livestock without the use of chemicals or artificial additives. Organic farming is about doing things the natural way. While I was aware that organic food was generally grown without pesticides, chemicals and antibiotics, I wasn’t aware how much of an environmental cost was involved with industrial farming and the use of these additives. Their use represents the largest component of green house emissions in industrial farming, as much as 40 percent! But the environmental damage doesn’t stop there. Pesticides and other harmful chemicals end up in ground water and this runoff pollutes our water system with devastating effects upon ecosystems and even human health. The benefits of sustainable, organic farming also extend to the preservation of green space, thereby limiting suburban sprawl. In maintaining our green space we allow a greater diversity of wildlife and leave something of the natural environment for everyone to enjoy.
What has become pretty clear to me amongst the debate over food sourcing and the environment is that our food choices have such an important part to play. We need to start thinking about food. It’s about making that choice to eat sustainably and letting that choice guide you in sourcing suitable local organic produce. Consider that sourcing all of your food from local producers is not necessarily the best thing for the environment and your community. Ask yourself, if I buy this particular product from a local grower, am I causing more harm than if I picked the imported option? Educate yourself about food and its place in your community. Also, think about the way you yourself source that food. Can you find a market that offers a variety of stalls, providing a greater amount of your food needs in one place? When it comes to making your food choices, it all seems pretty easy then. Think sustainable, think local, think organic; think about your Environment!
Final Climate Talks Before COP15 Open Today in Barcelona Spain
The final preparatory session leading up to COP15 has begun in Barcelona, Spain today. The meeting hopes to draw up an internationally supported agreement and plan for dealing with climate change after 2012. The Barcelona climate talks 2009 will be attended by over 4000 delegates from nearly 180 countries.
"It is realistic to say that in Copenhagen we will not be able to conclude a treaty, but it is important to lay down a political framework which will be the basis of the treaty," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at the close of a European Summit in Brussels on Friday.
Even with that framework, she said, "negotiations will drag out longer until we get a treaty."
Environment advocates caution against losing faith and momentum.
The main areas where big divisions remain include:
The extent to which developed countries should cut their greenhouse gas emissions
How much money rich nations should contribute to help poorer ones reduce their emissions and adapt to climate impacts
How far developing countries will go in constraining the rise in their greenhouse gas emissions
In the opening press release of the five day conference, Mr. Yvo de Boer stated that "at Copenhagen governments must give their clear answer on what they will do to avoid dangerous climate change and how they will do it."
He continues that Copenhagen must deliver a strong agreement which will address four political essentials. These four essentials include:
Rich countries must take ambitious midterm emission reduction, both individually and as a group.
Developing nations and emerging economies must say what they will do to limit the growth of their emissions.
Industrialized countries must say what they will do to supply the finance and deliver the technology to help developing nations.
A governance structure to manage and deploy the money must reflect the economic and political realities of today, and give all sides an equal voice.
Mr. Yvo de Boer continues to stress that "Copenhagen can and must capture a result to which nations can be held accountable. It must deliver an agreement that involves all countries, consistent with their capabilities, working on a common goal to limit global temperature rise to a safe level."
However, he does not expect the Barcelona meeting to resolve the big political issues. These issues are mostly comprised of finance issues and emissions reduction targets. He goes on the stress that the Barcelona meetings are critical for putting into place an architecture that can enable the Copenhagen agreement to function.