Tiempo Climate Newswatch
News Archive 2008
The Blue Carbon Portal brings together the latest knowledge and resources on the role of oceans as carbon sinks.
WalkIt provides walking routes between user-defined points in selected British cities, with an estimate of the carbon savings.
Joto Afrika is a series of printed briefings and online resources about adapting to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa.
The CoolClimate Art Contest presents iconic images that address the impact of climate change.
About the Cyberlibrary
The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary was developed by Mick Kelly and Sarah Granich on behalf of the Stockholm Environment Institute and the International Institute for Environment and Development, with sponsorship from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
While every effort is made to ensure that information on this site, and on other sites that are referenced here, is accurate, no liability for loss or damage resulting from use of this information can be accepted.
The deal struck by the European Union (EU) to deliver its "20-20-20" targets - reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent and meeting 20 per cent of energy requirements from renewable sources by the year 2020 - has been heavily criticized. "This could have been one of the EU's finest moments, but once again short-sighted national self-interest has been put ahead of the long-term safety of the planet," commented Friends of the Earth. Oxfam described that final package as "business-as-usual tied up in a green ribbon," saying that "EU leaders bowed to business lobby pressure and faltered at an historic moment."
In a series of compromises, concessions were granted with regard to the auctioning of carbon emissions permits to protect industries that "face particular challenges." According to one estimate, the deal will allow around 80 per cent of the EU's emissions cuts to be made outside the economic group through the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms. "This is an impossible message to send to the third world. We're only going to make a fifth of the effort ourselves at home and get everyone else to do our work for us?" said Claude Turmes, Green member of the European Parliament. Member states will control how revenue from the auctioning of permits is spent. It had been proposed that a certain percentage would be committed to green measures and adaptation efforts in the developing world.
Australian environmentalists mounted a series of protests in the nation's major cities in response to the government's announcement of its new emissions target, reduction by five to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2020. "The Australian government, given the global financial crisis, makes no apologies whatsoever for introducing responsible medium-term targets to bring down our greenhouse gas emissions, capable of being built on in the future more ambitiously," said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Greens leader Bob Brown described the policy as "an appalling and disgusting failure by the Rudd government in their duty to this nation's future."
Analysts argued that, in adopting a modest target, Rudd was aiming to appease business and protect jobs. "He's made a decision based on winning votes, rather than winning plaudits from the green movement," commented Nick Economou from Monash University. "Kevin Rudd's emissions trading blueprint is laden with caution rather than vaulting ambition, as the government tries to navigate through a dreadful economic outlook and a hostile Senate," said Michelle Grattan, political editor at The Age. Climate change minister Penny Wong said that "what we've been determined to do is to strike the right balance, to find the right policy that will drive the change that is required in the Australian economy over time."
The United Nations has launched guidelines to help countries collect the data needed for effective relief operations following natural disasters. "As recent history has shown, natural disasters often lead to large contributions of humanitarian aid. However, to ensure that this influx of aid reaches the people that need it most is a daunting and highly complex task," commented Joachim von Amsberg, World Bank country director for Indonesia.
Based on case studies from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, recent hurricanes and floods in Guatemala, Haiti and Mozambique and the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, Data for Natural Disasters concludes that information management systems are a critical element of an effective humanitarian response. The book highlights the United Nation's cluster approach," which seeks to improve the strength and effectiveness of the response in the event of a large-scale emergency.
"Poznań is the place where the partnership between the developing and developed world to fight climate change has shifted beyond rhetoric and turned into real action," claimed Maciej Nowicki, Polish environment minister, as the 2008 United Nations Climate Change Conference ended. Conference participants made a clear commitment to shift into full negotiating mode next year in order to meet the end-2009 deadline for the development of the next stage of the international response to climate change. It was agreed that emissions control commitments of the industrialized countries under a post-2012 treaty regime should principally take the form of quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives, as at present.
Work was completed on operationalizing the Adaptation Fund, which, as things stand, will be supported by a levy on the Clean Development Mechanism and voluntary contributions. It has been estimated that the Fund could be worth US$300 million a year by 2012, though the United Nations considers that tens of billions of dollars a year could be needed by 2030 to respond to climate impacts on developing nations. There was no agreement in Poznań on increasing support for the Adaptation Fund by applying levies on Joint Implementation and Emissions Trading. "The elephant in the room is still where the money for adaptation is going to come from," commented Barry Coates of Oxfam New Zealand. "We urgently needed a decision on increased future funding for adaptation, but we didn't get there." The conference did endorse a strategic programme on technology transfer through which the Global Environment Facility aims to leverage private investment in mitigation and adaptation technologies in developing countries.
"Governments have sent a strong political signal that, despite the financial and economic crisis, significant funds can be mobilized for both mitigation and adaptation in developing countries," said Yvo de Boer, head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "We now have a much clearer sense of where we need to go in designing an outcome which will spell out the commitments of developed countries, the financial support required and the institutions that will deliver that support as part of the Copenhagen outcome," he continued. Others were less optimistic. "In the face of the unbearable human tragedy that we in the developing countries see unfolding every day, this is nothing but callousness, strategizing and obfuscation," said India's delegate, Prodipto Ghosh.
Small island states have proposed that global warming be capped at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, challenging the European Union target of two degrees. "Two degrees is simply too high," said Leon Charles on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). "It is not a sector that needs to be adjusted - we are talking about the survival of countries," he continued. "We will be the canary in the coal mine. If we go, so will others," said Albert Binger, an adviser to the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre. "It is incumbent on our fellow citizens of the planet to keep the canary from dying." AOSIS is calling for the issue of insurance and compensation to be included in any future climate agreement.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, wants small island states to pursue adaptive measures and work towards global emissions reductions rather than "giving up" by considering relocation. Lisa Schipper at the Stockholm Environment Institute office in Bangkok, disagrees. "I do not know if I would say that it is 'giving up'," she said. "It is situation specific. If you are talking about a small island context there aren't that many options." According to Schipper, relocation "reflects the acknowledgement that there is a limit to how we can adapt. For the Pacific Islands, that is a serious issue but for other countries there might be more flexibility because they do not have to worry about their territories disappearing." de Boer considers that the fact that relocation is being seriously considered means that the climate treaty processes are not responding fast enough for vulnerable small island states.
Geothermal power capacity in East Africa is set to increase substantially. A pilot project in Kenya has demonstrated that geothermal is a viable and economic source of power, with the potential to generate 7,000 megawatts. "It's part of Africa's future," concludes Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme. "Geothermal is 100 per cent indigenous, environmentally-friendly and a technology that has been under-utilized for too long." The project will extend to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania in 2009 using the equipment and techniques piloted in Kenya.
The European Union (EU) has agreed a plan to meet its "20-20-20" targets - reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent and meeting 20 per cent of energy requirements from renewable sources by the year 2020. A series of compromises were necessary for agreement to be reached. For example, the degree to which emissions can be offset by sponsoring projects in developing countries was increased. The renewable commitment allows for a 2014 review of how national targets are allocated, though the overall 20 per cent goal cannot be altered at that time. A similar compromise regarding new emissions standards for vehicles was adopted recently. EU member states have also approved plans to phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2012. "This groundbreaking measure delivers a clear message about the EU's commitment to reach its energy efficiency and climate protection targets," said energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs. "By replacing last century lamps with more performant technologies, European homes will keep the same quality of lighting, while saving energy, carbon dioxide and money."
As the United Nations Climate Change Conference began in Poznań, Poland, delegates from India and China welcomed the 2020 emissions target (a reduction to 1990 levels) proposed by Barack Obama, United States president-elect, but said that it is not tough enough. "It's more ambitious than President Bush but it is not enough to achieve the urgent, long-term goal of greenhouse gas reductions," commented He Jiankun of Tsinghua University in China. "It's not ambitious enough considering the Kyoto Protocol targets, but, given the eight-year Bush administration, it's progress," said Dinesh Patnaik of the Indian Foreign Ministry.
In his opening address, Yvo de Boer, head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, called on the industrialized nations "to show the world that they are willing to shift gear and take on the leadership role in emission reductions." The challenge in Poznań, he said, is to identify which proposals for ongoing action and a post-Kyoto agreement should be taken forward and to focus on ranges of emissions reduction targets for industrialized nations. He noted that progress also needs to be made in improving the geographical scope and effectiveness of the Clean Development Mechanism, fully operationalizing the Adaptation Fund and advancing work on reducing deforestation emissions from developing countries. Important issues related to national communications from non-Annex I Parties (mostly developing nations), such as the role of the Consultative Group of Experts and delays in processing, have to be resolved.
"Climate projections for the Pacific island countries are bleak and indicate reduced food security, especially for households," reports Alexander Müller of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The assessment is based on a new report prepared by FAO and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme. Regional forecasts suggest rainfall fluctuations could devastate agriculture through water stress, increases in pests and weeds and soil erosion and fertility losses. Increasing coastal inundation, salinization and erosion may contaminate and reduce the size of productive agricultural lands.
"It is critical to build resilience of food systems to avoid enormous future economic losses in agriculture, fisheries and forestry. Countries will have to assess how vulnerable their food systems are and how they can adapt agriculture, forestry and fisheries to future climate-related disasters. There is a need to act urgently," Müller argues. The report concludes that "nations that have pushed for monoculture crop production for foreign markets will need to assess their food security potential. It is well established that diversified agricultural systems will fare better under climate change scenarios." The authors call for a more systematic approach to climate change, with national development plans serving as the basis for adaptation measures involving governments, the private sector and civil society.
Rajendra Pachuari, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has lashed out at governments for spending trillions of dollars on the banking crisis while neglecting funding for poverty alleviation and climate change. "It defies any kind of logic, if you look at the type of money that the world has spent on these bailouts, 2.7 trillion [US] dollars is the estimate, and it's been done so quickly and without questioning," he said. Fifty billion dollars a year was the estimate for tackling the Millennium Development Goals on sickness and poverty, he noted. "But everyone scoffed at it. Nobody did a damn thing," he continued. "(Yet) here, you've got agencies, you've got organizations that are not only responsible for their own failure but the failure of the entire economic system, and they get cheques worth 2.7 trillion dollars. I find this amazing... What can you say, what can you do?" Pachauri reckons there will, eventually, be a "deep and major reappraisal of the way we've been growing economically."
Climate change is overwhelming disaster agencies, according to three major relief organizations. Kasidis Rochanakorn of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), warned that "capacity has been overwhelmed because of the frequency and intensity of natural disasters." OCHA has launched a new climate campaign. Jose Riera, policy adviser with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, fears that, in coming years, climate will suddenly become the main driver of refugee movements. A new scheme may be needed to compensate climate victims, argues a report commissioned by WWF UK. "The science is progressing far enough to make these kinds of claims [against major emitting nations] legitimate," said co-author Peter Roderick of the Climate Justice Programme.
A global poll indicates that the environment remains a major concern despite the financial downturn. Three quarters of those responding to an annual HBSC survey wanted their countries to reduce their "fair share" of greenhouse gases. "This research demonstrates the need for decisive action on climate change," commented Nicholas Stern, advisor to HBSC.
China and India are calling on the industrialized nations to increase financial support for action on climate change. "Developing countries are saying that if you expect us to make measurable, reportable and verifiable action, there has to be measurable, reportable and verifiable money on the table," said Yvo de Boer, head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. China has proposed that developed nations commit 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product. "It will be on the table at Poznań... India supports the Chinese proposal," said an anonymous Indian government official.
Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2007, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports. Based on the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, developed by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the total warming effect of all the long-lived greenhouse gases increased by 1.06 per cent from the previous year, by 24.2 per cent since 1990.
Carbon dioxide concentrations reached 383.1 parts per million, a rise of 0.5 per cent from the previous year. Methane levels registered their largest yearly increase over the past decade. Ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons registered lower levels than last year. "The Montreal Protocol, through the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances, has actually had a positive effect also on climate," said WMO expert Geir Braathen.
The amount of nitrogen in the foliage of trees affects significantly the role of forests in the Earth's energy balance, according to a new study. Nitrogen-rich foliage reflects more sunlight back to space, cooling the planet's surface. The evidence emerged from a study of forest sites across North America.
"Bits and pieces of evidence for this [cooling effect] have been around for years but nobody put them together before because it's a question we hadn't even thought to ask," said study leader Scott Ollinger of the University of New Hampshire in the United States. "Scientists have long been aware of the importance of albedo, but no one suspected that the albedo of forests might be influenced by nitrogen. And because most of the effect is in the infra-red region of the sun's spectrum, beyond that which human eyes can detect, the pattern isn't immediately obvious." Nitrogen-rich foliage also offsets greenhouse warming by absorbing more carbon dioxide.
"Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change," promised Barack Obama, United States president-elect. He was speaking in a taped message at the opening of a climate summit organized by governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger. Obama repeated his goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020 and a further 80 per cent by 2050.
Schwarzenegger has partnerships established with seven Western states and four Canadian provinces to develop regional cap-and-trade systems. He is also exploring links with states in the northeast United States and has agreements to combat climate change in place with the United Kingdom and with Australian state Victoria. At the summit, agreements to limit deforestation were signed with Brazil and Indonesia. In the final declaration, summit delegates pledged to work together on climate issues. China's representative at the meeting, Gao Guangsheng, signed the declaration as an "honorary witness."
The Coalition of Rainforest Nations is calling for the establishment of a single body to coordinate the use of carbon trading in limiting deforestation as part of a post-Kyoto climate agreement. "There is money floating around... but countries don't know where to put it. There are various ideas, often not coordinated and that is very confusing," said Federica Bietta of the New York-based coalition.
A number of proposals aimed at reducing deforestation or land degradation under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD) initiative will be presented at the forthcoming climate treaty negotiations. There are concerns that bringing forest carbon credits into existing carbon trading systems may undermine pricing structures by making available cheap offsets. As an alternative, the European Commission would like to see some carbon trading proceeds set aside for use in projects that tackle deforestation.
The Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has released the latest greenhouse gas emissions figures. Over the period 1990-2006, excluding land use, land-use change and forestry, the industrialized nations ( Annex I nations) have decreased their total emissions by five per cent. This masks, though, an overall rise of ten per cent in Annex I nations outside the economies-in-transition (EIT) category. Economic collapse in the 1990s saw a dramatic decline in EIT emissions, amounting to 37 per cent over 1990-2006 despite a seven per cent increase over the period 2000-2006. The Annex I nations reporting the greatest emissions rise since the baseline year 1990 were Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Australia, Greece and New Zealand.
Proposals regarding the shape of a post-Kyoto climate agreement made by countries and observer organizations have been published prior to the next round of climate treaty negotiations, which starts December 1st. The European Union and New Zealand propose that global emissions should peak within the next 10 to 15 years. The Maldives wants the growth in carbon levels to end by 2015. The United States' position, set by the outgoing Bush administration, calls for a revamp of the country groupings under the climate treaty based on "recent advances in scientific knowledge and changing social and economic situation in the world" and wants "aspirational" rather than binding long-term goals.
"We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades," said Mohamed Nasheed, newly elected president of the Maldives, as he announced that a proportion of tourism revenues would be invested in buying a new homeland. "We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere. It's an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome."
"It's an unprecedented wake-up call," commented Tom Picken of Friends of the Earth. "The Maldives is left to fend for itself. It is a victim of climate change caused by rich countries," he continued. Land may be purchased in countries such as India or Sri Lanka with similar cultures, cuisines and climates or else in Australia, where unoccupied land is available. A formal request by Australia's Greens party last month for the country to grant special visas to Tuvaluan climate change refugees was denied. "The question [of relocation] needs to be sorted out by all 50 territories that stand to be affected by rising sea levels," Scott Leckie of Displacement Solutions in Geneva, Switzerland.
Participants at the Road to Copenhagen 2009 conference, held in Brussels on November 6th, have called for more climate justice in the next round of climate treaty negotiations, which takes place in Poznań, Poland, next month. "Now that we have the scientific evidence on climate change, we have to cope with the justice dimension," said Mary Robinson of the Global Humanitarian Forum. "Clean energy technologies must be developed not only for use on a large scale in industrialized economies, but also on an appropriate scale for least-developed countries based on their needs," she continued.
"We can't afford to go for the short-term perspective because of the [global financial] crisis," stressed Margot Wallström, vice-president of the European Commission. "We need strong leadership and I hope the European Union will continue to demonstrate a strong commitment." Nicholas Stern, the British economist, described as "muddled thinking" claims that the financial crisis would undermine European plans for ambitious action on climate. "These two crises coming together give a fundamental opportunity," he said.
A new report suggests that billions of tons of carbon held in peat bogs could be released into the atmosphere as global warming develops. "Peat bogs contain vast stores of carbon," commented lead author Paul Moorcroft at Harvard University in the United States. "They will likely respond to the expected warming in this century by losing large amounts of carbon during dry periods."
The carbon release would occur as higher temperatures cause water tables to drop, causing more peat to dry and decompose. "Over several centuries, some 40 per cent of carbon could be lost from shallow peat bogs, while the losses could total as much as 86 per cent in deep bogs," Moorcroft predicts. The assessment is based on a more sophisticated analysis of the interaction between the water table, temperatures and peat accumulation than previously available.
Listing the "planet in peril" alongside two wars and the financial crisis in his acceptance speech, United States president-elect Barack Obama has made climate change a priority. There is speculation that a bill aimed specifically at boosting the renewable energy industry may come early next year, before a more wide-ranging climate bill, which is described as "mid-to-long-term solution" on Obama's campaign website.
The goal of Obama's climate plan is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by the year 2050. Under a cap-and-trade programme, emissions credits would be auctioned rather than allocated at no charge to polluters. "Barack Obama could well put off a costly and regressive surcharge until later in 2009 or 2010," reckons Kevin Book at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co in Arlington, Virginia. Noting that Obama is committed to engaging in the international climate treaty negotiations, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, observed that "leadership from the United States on this issue can have a huge impact on the dynamics of these negotiations."
Greenpeace has launched the Forests for Climate (FFC) initiative, which was announced earlier this year. The aim of the initiative is to slow deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The FFC is a non-market mechanism, intended as an alternative to the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation mechanism, which is supported by the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility.
The basis for the FFC will be Tropical Deforestation Emission Reduction Units (TDERUs). Industrialized nations would have to meet part of their emissions obligations using TDERUs. The resulting funds would be used for "capacity-building efforts and for national-level reductions in deforestation emissions." It is claimed that the FFC is "the only mechanism that involves local and indigenous forest peoples' representatives to ensure their rights and livelihoods are respected."
Italy, Poland and other east European nations, concerned about costs, may weaken European Union (EU) plans to cut carbon emissions by a fifth by the year 2020. Last month, Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister, threatened to veto the plan in order to protect his nations's manufacturers and auto industry.
East European countries want to be able to continue to allocate free carbon emission permits to their power plants under the EU's emissions trading scheme. Poland also wants a stronger link between the climate plan and energy security. Donald Tusk, Poland's prime minister, noted that "the entire European Union has understood the need for secure energy supplies." "We want to deftly tie this to the climate package," he continued. Tusk is concerned that "not all the proposals in the climate and energy package increase the security of energy supplies." There is hope that a compromise can be achieved. "We don't want to block or veto anything really and we hope we will be able to agree it in the end," commented Mirek Topolánek, Czech prime minister.
China has called on the developed nations to commit one per cent of domestic product to assist poorer countries in cutting their greenhouse gas emissions. The financial support, which would largely cover the transfer of green technology, could amount to more then US$300 billion a year. Even such large funds "might not be enough," said Gao Guangsheng of the National Reform and Development Commission. He observed that the developed nations had not fulfilled "some of the promises they made in the past very well."
In a new policy paper on climate change, China repeats its longstanding position that developed countries should take the lead in reducing emissions in view of their historic responsibility and current high level of emissions. It does, though, conclude that developing countries "should actively adopt adaptation measures, reduce their emissions to the lowest degree and fulfill their duties in addressing climate change."
"If we want to tackle climate change challenges, we must look to the untapped potential of the soil to sequester carbon," according to Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). "By doing that, we are improving biodiversity of the soil ecosystem and improving the productivity of the soil, therefore impacting the livelihoods of affected populations," he continued. He argued that tackling desertification and land degradation could help address ongoing global crises. For example, improving land productivity will also boost the capacity to produce more food and therefore tackle the issue of food security. "An ecosystem is like a bank account," he noted. "If we keep on withdrawing, and we don’t invest by feeding the soil and enabling it to regenerate, we are moving towards bankruptcy."
Experts met late October in West Lafayette, Indiana, in the United States, under the auspices of the United Nations, to discuss how the agriculture sector could benefit from funding available through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). "This is a win-win-win opportunity," said Theodor Friedrich from the Food and Agriculture Organization. "We have a chance to slow climate change, help poor farmers make a better living and improve soil health and productivity all at the same time." At present, though agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, it receives little funding through the CDM. Approaches such as no-till Conservation Agriculture could retain significant amounts of carbon in the soil.
"If our demands on the planet continue to increase at the same rate, by the mid-2030s we would need the equivalent of two planets to maintain our lifestyles," concludes James Leape, head of WWF International. Leape was speaking at the launch of the latest WWF Living Planet Report, which documents the world's evolving ecological footprint. The depletion rate of natural resources now exceeds the planet's capacity to regenerate by 30 per cent.
"We are acting ecologically in the same way as financial institutions have been behaving economically - seeking immediate gratification without due regard for the consequences," commented Jonathan Loh of the Zoological Society of London. The nations with the largest ecological footprint per person are the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Kuwait, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand.
The world needs a Green New Deal as political efforts to protect the environment have proven totally inadequate, according to Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme. "The financial, fuel and food crises of 2008 are in part a result of speculation and a failure of governments to intelligently manage and focus markets. But they are also part of a wider market failure triggering ever deeper and disturbing losses of natural capital and nature-based assets coupled with an over-reliance of finite, often subsidized fossil fuels," he argued as the Green Economy Initiative was launched.
The Green Economy Initiative rests on three pillars: valuing and mainstreaming nature's services into national and international accounts; employment generation through green jobs and the laying out the policies; and instruments and market signals able to accelerate a transition to a Green Economy. Steiner emphasized the "enormous economic, social and environmental benefits likely to arise from combating climate change and re-investing in natural infrastructure - benefits ranging from new green jobs in clean tech and clean energy businesses up to ones in sustainable agriculture and conservation-based enterprises."
A new report from the Chinese Academy of Sciences predicts that the nation's greenhouse gas emissions could double over the next twenty years. The authors of China Energy Report 2008 estimate that, by the year 2030, China's burning of fossil fuels could emit between 11.4 and 14.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Global carbon dioxide emissions in 2007 were estimated to be about 31.2 billion tonnes.
The authors conclude that, regardless of historical responsibility, China's development path "cannot repeat the unconstrained emissions of developed countries' energy use. We must soon prepare and plan ahead to implement emissions reduction concepts and measures in a long-term and stable energy development strategy." Nevertheless, echoing the government line, economic development must not be sacrificed to climate mitigation. European environment ministers have called on the major developing nations to cut emissions by 15 to 30 per cent below a "business as usual" level as part of a post-Kyoto climate framework.
The United States Department of the Interior is to make more than 190 million acres of federal land available for the development of geothermal electricity generation. Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced that electricity production in the areas to be leased could meet the power needs of 5.5 million homes by the year 2015. Land in the National Park System would not be available for leasing.
The United Kingdom has taken over from Denmark as the world's largest generator of energy from off-shore wind turbines. Mike O'Brien, minister of state for the department of energy and climate change, said that "offshore wind is hugely important to help realize the government's ambition to dramatically increase the amount of energy from renewable sources. Overtaking Denmark is just the start. This will help in the fight against climate change and further secure the UK's energy supplies." The British government plans to boost power generation from wind farms by a third over the course of the coming year and what will be the world's largest wind farm, the Greater Gabbard scheme, should be completed by 2011. It intends to meet 15 per cent of the nations' energy needs by renewable energy sources by the year 2020.
There are fears that the world's poor will be overlooked as the global financial crisis develops. "Who will compensate the innocent countries who are going to suffer from this debacle?" asked John Michuki, Kenya's acting finance minister, last week. "An estimated 1.8 trillion [US] dollars has been found in a matter of weeks to bail out investment bankers. It is outrageous that the world's poorest people, suffering daily from soaring food and fuel prices, are still waiting for their rescue package," commented Shefali Sharma of ActionAid.
In Ethiopia, over six million people now require food assistance. "General food insecurity, prevalence of acute malnutrition, severe pasture and critical water shortages in the livestock sector and drought-induced diseases have exacerbated the emergency situation," reported Mitiku Kassa, minister of agriculture and rural development. The government and international humanitarian partners have appealed for US$265.6 million for food supplies. "The competition to secure these scarce resources has progressively become rather fierce," Mitiku said. "We, as part of the global community, are feeling the impact of the global food constraints."
The California Air Resources Board has released the final version of its new climate change law (AB32). The law combines direct regulations and market incentives with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. "Our comprehensive approach steers California away from its dependence on fossil fuels and accelerates the state's necessary transition toward a clean-energy future," said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the Board.
The regulations will lead to reduced greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles and a lower fuel carbon content. There will be stricter efficiency standards for buildings and appliances. A third of power generated by utilities must be from renewable sources by 2020. The plan also covers a new emissions trading system, restrictions on urban sprawl and new training programmes to move workers toward "green-collar" jobs. The plan has its critics. According to Margo Thorning of the American Council for Capital Formation, the law "will result in a lot of economic pain for Californians." "The cap and trade system will cause 'leakage' of industry to states and countries with no mandatory emission caps resulting in job losses and higher energy prices. This is a high price-tag to pay for no net reduction in greenhouse gases," she continued.
The American Museum of Natural History in New York has launched a new exhibition on climate change. Curator Edmond Mathez proposed the show as he was frustrated that the public was not responding to the alarm voiced by scientists. "The news media was presenting climate change as a controversial issue, which is complete nonsense, it's not," he said.
"Presenting the latest information about what climate change is, what causes it, and alternative energy options, the exhibition makes clear both that there is no single solution for addressing this imperative issue and that a combination of individual and society actions are necessary to, and can successfully, mitigate it," said Ellen V Futter, the museum's president. There are interactive displays where visitors can commit to changes in their behaviour by, for example, recycling, improving energy efficiency or altering transportation use. The show will travel to Spain, Denmark, Mexico and Abu Dhabi after closing in New York in August 2009.
Fears are growing that the global financial crisis may weaken prospects for a strong climate pact. "The problem of climate change is going to stick with us. But the pace and the scale of ambition may be less in the near term," reckons Elliot Diringer at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Washington DC. Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, is concerned that failure to meet the 2009 deadline in the Bali roadmap might mean a "slide into a WTO-like process that goes on without a clearly agreed deadline or, perhaps even worse, that you get a highly fragmented approach to climate change."
Others see potential benefits. "It's the environmental opportunity of a lifetime," said Bill Valentine of the HOK Group. "The heart of sustainability is conserving and not wasting, and this idea of getting clients to think about projects that are actually less expensive rather than more expensive and still sustainable these days gets a lot of good traction," he continued. Others see benefits in lower greenhouse gas emissions. "It's a cruel thing to say... but if we are looking at a slowdown in the economy, there will be less fossil fuels burning, so for the climate it could be an advantage," observed Paul Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany.
"The battle for life on earth will be won or lost in cities," warned Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, interviewed by Reuters at the annual congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Barcelona, Spain. He would like to see more cities adopt the Curitiba Declaration on Cities and Biodiversity developed in Brazil, whereby 34 mayors agreed to protect biodiversity by, for example, setting aside more land for parks, planting trees, shifting to renewable fuels and improving recycling.
"Forests have a unique ability to simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, capture carbon and lessen the vulnerability of people and ecosystems to climate change," according to a statement from the Forests Dialogue alliance put before the congress. The alliance said forest carbon storage projects should not be a substitute for deep cuts in industrial emissions of greenhouse gases and must aim to curb poverty, strengthen land rights, safeguard indigenous peoples and improve forest management. The statement on forests and climate change aims to guide the climate treaty negotiators in the inclusion of forest protection.
Brazil has released for consultation a national plan to address climate change and its impacts. "Brazil has done its part in the mitigation of climate change and is determined and committed to doing more, using its full national capacity as part of an overall effort to combat climate change," the plan states. "This initiative is important because it helps to incorporate climate issues into all government programmes and projects," commented Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, secretary of climate change and environment quality of the Ministry of Environment.
The National Plan on Climate Change covers mitigation, vulnerability, impacts and adaptation, research and development and empowerment and public awareness. It sets sectoral targets to be met by promoting sustainable development in the industrial and agricultural sectors, maintaining a high proportion of renewable energy in electricity production, encouraging the use of biofuels in the transportation sector and reducing deforestation. A moratorium on the selling of soybeans from deforested areas of the Brazilian Amazon is proposed.
The latest global data show that the growth in atmospheric carbon levels continues to accelerate. "This new update of the carbon budget shows the acceleration of both carbon dioxide emissions and atmospheric accumulation are unprecedented and most astonishing during a decade of intense international developments to address climate change," commented Pep Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project.
Emissions growth over the period 2000-2007 was four times faster than in the previous decade, and was greater than even the most fossil fuel-intensive projection by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Carbon emissions from the combustion of fossil fuel and land use change reached 10 billion tons in 2007. Natural carbon sinks are growing but slower than the growth in atmospheric carbon concentrations.
"Blaming cities for greenhouse gas emissions misses the point that cities are a large part of the solution," argues David Satterthwaite of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. "Well-planned, well-governed cities can provide high living standards that do not require high consumption levels and high greenhouse gas emissions."
Satterthwaite reckons previous studies have over-estimated urban emissions. He recommends that emissions be allocated to consumers rather than producers. "The problem is not cities but a minority of the world’s population with high-consumption lifestyles. A large proportion of these consumers live not in cities but in small towns and rural areas," he concludes.
South Africans consider climate change a serious threat but are more concerned about other problems, according to a recent survey. "When we asked people what the most important challenges facing South Africa were, the list started with unemployment, HIV/AIDS, economic issues and poverty. The environment was number 10. If you're not sure where your next meal is coming from, it's more pressing than something that will affect future generations," said John Seager of the Human Sciences Research Council.
Grace Bent, Nigerian senator, has called for urgent assessment of the impact of development projects, which, she fears, may be making her nation more vulnerable to climate change. Speaking at a conference in the United Kingdom earlier this year, she said that "environmental impact assessment must be conducted on some of these things they call environmental developmental projects in Lagos." "That is why at the senate level, we are putting every machinery in place and that is why senate committee is working on the Climate Commission Bill," she continued.
A British jury has accepted that six campaigners had a "lawful excuse" in causing more than £35,000 worth of damage to a coal-fired power station to prevent greater damage caused by climate change. James Hansen of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the United States testified at the trial regarding the dangers posed by global warming and called for a moratorium on all coal-fired power stations.
"This verdict marks a tipping point for the climate change movement," commented defendant Ben Stewart from Greenpeace. "When a jury of normal people say it is legitimate for a direct action group to shut down a coal-fired power station because of the harm it does to our planet, then where does that leave Government energy policy? We have the clean technologies at hand to power our economy. It's time we turned to them instead of coal," he added.
The United Nations has launched the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Programme (UN-REDD), which could provide the foundation for a tradeable carbon credit system. "Forests are worth more alive than dead... and their ecosystem services and benefits are worth billions if not trillions of dollars if only we capture these in economic models," commented Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme.
Nine countries - Bolivia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia - will receive assistance during the initial phase. It is hoped that UN-REDD will be included in any post-Kyoto agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "Reducing deforestation in developing countries is a key element of addressing the global climate change challenge," said Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general.
The nation's first cap-and-trade market in greenhouse gas emissions has opened in the United States, with ten northeastern states, under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, conducting an initial auction of permits. By the year 2012, the region's power companies must stabilize emissions at current levels or else turn in permits bought in the market. The emissions cap will be lowered ten per cent from current levels by 2019.
There is concern regarding just how the revenue will be spent. "There is a real danger that auction proceeds will be diverted to state budgets rather than used to accelerate the transition to a clean-energy economy," warned a New York Times editorial. Laurie Burt, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, commented that "we need to develop creative ways to make sure the benefits of energy efficiency are going to all ends of the spectrum of energy consumers, not just large consumers, but low income citizens and tenants."
"This is the most effective and least expensive way to safeguard the environment," said Jens Stoltenberg, Norwegian prime minister, as he signed a US$1 billion agreement to prevent deforestation in Brazil. The agreement covers the first contribution to the Amazon Fund, set up by the Brazilian government in August this year. The new fund aims to raise US$21 billion over 13 years for conservation and sustainable development.
"The Amazon Fund breaks new ground because money is only paid out if deforestation is actually halted," commented Lars Løvold from the Rainforest Foundation. Payments will be dependent on assessments of annual deforestation rates based on satellite data. Norway and Brazil will also cooperate in research and development in the areas of forest surveillance and carbon emissions assessment.
Richard Blakeway, environmental advisor to Boris Johnson, London's mayor, has recommended promoting green roofs to demonstrate the city's commitment to environmental protection in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. "The mayor has very much put green roofs at the centre of his [climate change] adaptation policy and his city greening policy," he said. With energy use reduced due to the increase in insulation, one scheme in Canary Wharf is saving over £5,000 a year, he reported. The city of Sydney, in Australia, is developing guidelines and planning controls for green roofs.
Lighter colours for roofs, which would increase the amount of solar radiation reflected back to space, is the recommendation of a team of researchers in the United States. "The potential energy savings in the United States is in excess of US$1 billion annually," said California energy commissioner Art Rosenfeld, part of a team from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. From 2009, new residences and retrofit constructions in California will have to have "cool-coloured" roofs.
The Antarctic ozone hole is larger in 2008 than in the previous year but it is not expected to exceed the size reached in 2006, reports the World Meteorological Organization. By September 13, the hole covered an area of 27 million square kilometers.
International efforts under the Montreal Protocol have succeeded in reducing atmospheric concentrations of the most harmful ozone-depleting chemicals and, notwithstanding variability from year to year, recent data suggest that ozone levels in the upper atmosphere have stabilized. Marking the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general, warned that global economic adversity should not divert attention away from the need to protect the environment. "Safeguarding the planet has often been seen as a luxury, and as a burden on economic recovery and development," he said. "But the remarkable story of the ozone layer... shows such thinking for what it is: mere myth."
Oxfam has called on the industrialized nations to base their climate policies on existing international human rights principles and stop using economic excuses to avoid their responsibilities. "Climate change is a matter of international justice," said Kate Raworth, author of the new report on climate justice from Oxfam. "Human rights principles give an alternative to the view that everything - from carbon to malnutrition - can be priced, compared and traded," she continued. "These principles must be put at the heart of a global deal to tackle global climate change."
The Oxfam report identifies three areas where current policy diverges from existing human rights principles. Rich countries’ failure to cut their emissions since 1992 have put the world at a high risk of exceeding a catastrophic level of warming, which would cause widespread violation of rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. Adaptation financing is under-resourced. US$2 billion is needed just to meet the most urgent and immediate adaptation needs of the 50 least developed countries but total contributions to that end now stand at just US$92 million. Rich countries are failing to deliver sufficient finance and technology to help poor countries shift to low-carbon pathways and realize their right to development. The report has been submitted to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which is currently reviewing the relationship between international human rights and climate change.
A new set of international laws may be needed as the Arctic opens up due to climate warming, according to experts gathered at a recent meeting in Iceland. "Many experts believe this new rush to the polar regions is not manageable within existing international law," said A H Zakri, head of the United Nations University's Institute of Advanced Studies in Yokohama, Japan. Shipping passages along the north coasts of Russia and Canada have both thawed this year.
There is concern, for example, that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which covers the rights of states to impose restrictions such as compulsory pilots for ships in "particularly severe climatic conditions" or when ice covers the sea for "most of the year," may have to be revised. The definition of "particularly severe" conditions could become a problem, warns Tullio Scovazzi of the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy. WWF is calling for a new international convention to protect the Arctic as escalating industrial activity increases the risk of oil spills.
The New Zealand parliament has agreed to the establishment of an emissions trading scheme, which will start operation in 2009. The scheme will cover all sectors of the economy, with a phased start for different sectors. It will include agriculture, responsible for around half the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. "For the first time we will start factoring in the true cost of greenhouse gas emissions into our economy," said David Parker, minister for climate change.
There has been concern about the economic impact of emissions trading. Federated Farmers warned that the scheme would "cost New Zealand significant real money and is unlikely to achieve the global outcomes sought." Rio Tinto has said that it would "put the [Tiwai Point aluminium] smelter on the path to closure." The phased start for different sectors has also been criticised. While welcoming the scheme, Trevor Sikorski of Barclays Capital in London commented that "it's really from 2010, when most of the big power producers come in, that it starts to look interesting." New Zealand aims to be carbon neutral across the energy sector by the year 2040.
The Northern Hemisphere warmth of the most recent ten years is greater than at any time over the past 1300 years according to the latest estimate of long-term temperature trends derived from indirect climate data. The evidence used includes information from marine and lake sediment cores, ice cores, coral cores and tree rings. "We looked at a much expanded database and our methods are more sophisticated than those used previously," said Michael Mann of Penn State University in the United States.
The researchers assessed the use of tree-ring data in the analysis, an aspect of earlier studies that had drawn criticism. "Ten years ago, we could not simply eliminate all the tree-ring data from our network because we did not have enough other proxy climate records to piece together a reliable global record," said Mann. "With the considerably expanded networks of data now available, we can indeed obtain a reliable long-term record without using tree rings." Tree-ring data can be used, with care, to extend the record back a further 400 years. The recent warmth is without precedent even over this longer period.
Ross Garnaut, government adviser, has called for a focus on biosequestration to reduce the impact of the new Australian emissions trading regime. "We are, of the OECD countries, probably the country in the world with the largest area of woodlands and forest per capita and this vast area is going to provide very large potential for biosequestration of many kinds," he said. He considers that Northern Australia's savannahs have great potential to store carbon.
The drought that, for many years, has been affecting Australia's main food-growing region, the Murray-Darling river system, has intensified. Eighty per cent of the region's eucalyptus trees are dead or stressed. "It seems to me from what we've seen to date, there's no indication that it's going to end in the immediate future," said Wendy Craik of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. Over the past two years, water inflows have been at an all-time low. "What we really need to make some inroads in the situation is a big wet, and what our weather models aren't showing is a strong likelihood of a big wet over the next few months," said Neil Plummer of the National Climate Centre.
The price of carbon may rise as a result of the downward adjustment of the number of certified emissions reductions (CERs) likely to be issued over coming years. The revised estimate is the result of bottlenecks in the approval process for Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects. The Carbon Market and Investors Association recently said that delays were resulting in "losses with regard to both opportunity costs and real costs to CDM developers."
Henrik Hasselknippe at Point Carbon commented that the United Nations Environment Programme had been trying to reduce the bottlenecks through the appointment of more staff, but an increase in the number of applications and tightening of the approval process has meant continuing delays. He is confident, though, that the situation will improve. "There are always areas that can be improved," he said, "but we shouldn't forget that this market is still very young and it is getting better all the time."
The European Union was heavily criticized for not committing additional funds to assist the developing country response to climate change as the Accra Climate Change Talks came to a close. "A serious and equitable response to climate change will require rich countries to pay billions in public funds to help poor countries develop in a sustainable, low carbon manner. So why has the European Union, which likes to claim global leadership in the response to climate change, turned up with empty pockets again?" asked Nelson Muffuh, adviser to Christian Aid, speaking on behalf of a number of African non-governmental organizations. The World Bank announced last week that developing countries would require 170 billion US dollars between now and the year 2030 to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Developing nations continued to resist pressure to expand the number of countries covered by binding emissions reduction targets.
Long-standing obstacles remained firmly in place at the Accra talks. The United States, for example, continues to refuse to accept binding emissions targets and this position is unlikely to change before the presidential elections later this year. Japan, Canada, Russia and Australia were also accused of stalling tactics. Nevertheless, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, is confident that progress is being made. "Governments are very committed to this process. I feel sure that the train will reach Copenhagen as planned," he said. Agreement on a post-Kyoto framework needs to be reached by the time of the Copenhagen meeting in December 2009. Agreement does seem likely on the inclusion of deforestation-related measures in any post-Kyoto framework, backed by a new financial mechanism. The possibility of sector-specific emissions reduction targets, aimed at high-polluting industries, was a major focus of discussion in Accra. It has been agreed that developing countries will not have to accept binding sectoral targets, though voluntary sectoral initiatives may be included in an upgraded Clean Development Mechanism. The next negotiations will take place in Poznañ, Poland, in December 2008.
A meat-eating diet results in almost twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as a vegetarian diet, according to a new study from the Institute for Ecological Economy Research in Berlin. Going vegan, giving up meat and dairy products, would reduce emissions more than seven-fold and, if all the vegan food was organic, the overall reduction would be by a factor of seventeen.
"The cow is a climate bomb," warns Thilo Bode of Foodwatch. Producing a kilo of beef generates almost three times the emissions generated in raising a kilo of pork. Meat should become a luxury food once more; "it's time we went back to the days of the Sunday roast," says Bode. The study concludes that, overall, the worst source of agricultural emissions, making up 30 per cent of the total, is the draining of wetlands during land conversion, as a result of the carbon released from the soil.
"Governments should urgently review their energy subsidies and begin phasing out the harmful ones," says Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). "Many fossil fuel subsidies are introduced for political reasons but are simply propping up and perpetuating inefficiencies in the global economy," he continued. Steiner was commenting on a new UNEP report on the role of energy subsidies in generating climate change. The study estimates that energy subsidies, which are almost all for fossil fuels, total about 0.7 per cent of world gross domestic product (GDP) each year. "Cancelling these subsidies might reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as six per cent a year while contributing 0.1 per cent to global GDP," the report concludes.
"Some countries spend more on subsidies than on health and education combined... they stand in the way of more environmentally friendly technologies," warns Kaveh Zahedi, climate change coordinator at UNEP. In India, liquefied petroleum gas subsidies, intended to get fuel to poor households, totaled US$1.7 billion in the first half of 2008 but they are mainly benefiting higher-income households. The report calls for smarter subsidies, such as tax breaks, financial incentives or other market mechanisms, which could generate benefits for the economy and environment if properly targeted.
Opening the latest round of climate treaty negotiations, the Accra Climate Change Talks, John Agyekum Kufuor, president of Ghana, called for an "international deal... in which developing countries commit to plan for climate resilient development. In return the international community should commit to provide adequate, predictable, long-term funding and support in terms of technology transfer and capacity building." The Accra meeting is the latest stage in the development of strengthened long-term action on climate change. Agreement needs to be reached by the time of the Copenhagen meeting in December 2009. "The clock is ticking," Kufuor warned. "We need to be pragmatic and move beyond rhetoric to make progress as we move towards Copenhagen."
In his opening address, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, noted that Africa is "the climate change regimes's forgotten continent," with a limited number of Clean Development Mechanism projects and relatively low funding from the Global Environment Facility. "If this meeting can be a step towards the design of a regime that helps Africa to achieve clean economic growth and deal with the impacts of climate change through effective mechanisms that deliver on finance, technology and capacity-building, you will have done very important work here," he continued. The Accra discussions will cover the finance and technology needed to limit emissions and adapt to climate change, sectoral approaches to emissions reduction and sector-specific actions and reducing emissions from deforestation.
"Climate change is not science fiction. As your countries know all too well, it is real and present," said Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary general, in a message to the Pacific Islands Forum Summit held in Alofi, Niue. The United Nations and Samoa intend to set up an Inter-Agency Climate Change Centre to assist in coordinating support for Pacific Island countries in responding to climate impacts in the region. "The challenges for the region are no longer a matter for research or scientific theory and modelling. The evidence is quite clear that climate change is already wreaking havoc here," Toke Talagi, Niue prime minister, told the summit delegates. "We shouldn't wait until a worse human catastrophe occurs before acting."
The Niue Declaration on Climate Change, issued as the summit ended, notes that "despite being amongst the lowest contributors to factors causing climate change, the Pacific Islands region is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change including its exacerbation of climate variability, sea level rise and extreme weather events." The Declaration commits Forum members to continue to develop Pacific-tailored approaches to combating climate change. It encourages the Pacific’s development partners to increase technical and financial support for action on adaptation, mitigation and, if necessary, relocation, calling for increased support for efforts to move towards alternative and renewable energy sources.
"Behind the world food crisis is a global freshwater crisis, expected to rapidly worsen as climate change impacts intensify," said James Leape, WWF head, as the 2008 World Water Week opened in Stockholm. "Irrigation-fed agriculture provides 45 per cent of the world's food supplies, and without it, we could not feed our planet's population of six billion people." He warned that many irrigation areas are drawing more water from rivers and groundwater reserves than can be sustained, especially in view of climate change.
A new survey of 53 cities from the International Water Management Institute concludes that 80 per cent are using untreated or partially-treated wastewater for food production. "Irrigating with wastewater isn't a rare practice limited to a few of the poorest countries," reported Liqa Raschid-Sally, lead author of the report. "It's a widespread phenomenon, occurring on 20 million hectares across the developing world, especially in Asian countries, like China, India and Vietnam, but also around nearly every city of sub-Saharan Africa and in many Latin American cities as well."
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has launched a youth version of its latest Human Development Report, which focuses on climate change. "We hope the call to action against climate change will be heard in every continent, every country, city and town and in every family," said Cecilia Ugaz of UNDP's Human Development Report Office. "We can change our today, little by little, person by person and with that obtain a more sustainable tomorrow for coming generations," she continued.
Young people aged 16 to 25 prepared the report, including their own messages, artworks and testimonials as well as summarizing the main points of the Human Development Report. "Do not wait fifty years to gaze regretfully at your changed face in the mirror and the scarred face of Mother Earth around you. Know that when you heard the call you listened and you played your part. The choice is yours!" write the compilers.
China is to double sales tax on cars with engines larger than four litres and cut taxes on the smallest cars to reduce pollution. "Autos are the giants of energy consumption and pollution emissions and this is a major part of the effort to conserve resources and reduce emissions," the Finance Ministry announced. China is the world's second largest market for passenger cars. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution triggers diseases that kill over half a million Chinese residents each year.
The United States could reduce fuel consumption by a half over the next 25 years if lighter, hybrid vehicles were available claims a new report from researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The researchers estimate that the weight of the average car could be cut by 20 to 35 per cent without compromising security and convenience and that this would cut fuel consumption by between 12 and 20 per cent. Hybrid electric cars could reduce consumption by up to a factor of four. But it's not just a matter of technological development, drivers attitudes must also change. "We've got to get out of the habit of thinking that we only need to focus on improving the technology - that we can invent our way out of this situation," says co-author John Heywood. "We've got to do everything we can think of, including reducing the size of the task by real conservation."
At least thirty cities in the United States are expected to commit to disclosing their greenhouse gas emissions under a new voluntary programme. The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability will provide the reporting tools and each city will assemble comparable emissions data.
"Over 70 per cent of total global emissions are generated from cities and if you don't measure these emissions, you cannot manage them," said CDP chief executive Paul Dickinson. "This is a vital step for city councils who wish to gain a better understanding of their own impact and, by improving their understanding of risks and opportunities associated with climate change, best prepare their cities for a carbon constrained world," he continued.
"Ultimately, the cities hardest hit by climate change will be the ones least prepared," warns Neeraj Prasad of the World Bank. Prasad was speaking as a new handbook on improving the resiliency of cities was launched by the World Bank and its collaborators, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.
Cities play a central role in the economy. The manual estimates that a one-metre rise in sea level will create a loss of two per cent in national Gross Domestic Product as water supplies, agriculture, fisheries, tourism and energy security are affected. The handbook, intended as a tool for city managers, provides sound practices from cities worldwide. It uses a dual track approach to encourage cities to develop their own strategies for adaptation and to mitigate the consequences of future natural disasters, as well as identifying means of limiting greenhouse gas emissions. "Every city is different. You have to respond based on what your city is," Prasad says. "There is no cookie-cutter solution to climate change impacts. It's important that you are able to anticipate the likely impacts on your city and make the decision to deal with that."
The trend towards more frequent tropical downpours seems worse than expected, according to a new study. The researchers compared rainfall fluctuations with trends in temperature and atmospheric moisture. "We saw a distinct signal of the increased frequency of increased rainfall as the tropics warmed up and then a reduction as the tropics cooled down," said Richard Allan of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. The link is stronger than suggested by climate modelling studies.
The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season will be more active than predicted earlier, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported. The forecast now stands at 14 to 18 named storms, with six to nine developing into hurricanes. "One of the key things that's critical is the fact that a couple of named storms have formed in the deep tropics and usually that's a very strong indicator that the season will be above normal," said Gerry Bell at the Climate Prediction Center. Other forecast groups have also predicted a more severe storm season than expected.
Scientists from the Australian National University claim that untouched eucalypt forests store three times more carbon than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has assumed. "In Australia, and probably globally, the carbon-carrying capacity of natural forests is underestimated and therefore misrepresented in economic valuations and in policy options," the researchers conclude.
The difference arises because older forests store a greater amount of carbon in the soils and trees. The IPCC estimate generalizes across old-growth stands and younger plantations. The oldest areas of forest, with trees up to 80 metres tall, can store 2000 tonnes of carbon per hectare. According to Brendan Mackey, co-author of the study, "protecting the carbon in natural forests is preventing an additional emission of carbon from what we get from burning fossil fuel."
South Africa will require all new coal-fired power stations and coal-to-liquid plants to have carbon capture facilities. "We have to move away from dirty coal as the dominant source of energy... Where we continue to rely on coal we want to make sure that it is cleaner coal," said Marthinus van Schalkwyk, environmental affairs minister. The announcement came as the South African government agreed on a "progressive policy" on climate change, the latest development of the 2006 Long Term Mitigation Strategy. The policy includes a commitment to curb national emissions from the year 2020 onwards. A further carbon tax, on business, is under consideration. The government is committed to a shift away from energy-intensive and towards carbon-neutral industries.
The Japanese government plans to cut national carbon emissions by up to 80 per cent by the year 2050. It will start carbon trading on an experimental basis later this year and boost research into carbon capture technologies. Solar power production will increase tenfold by 2020 and nine more nuclear reactors will be built by 2018. "Japan must continue showing leadership on the issue of environment," Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said. "To lead the world, Japan must take the initiative by achieving a low-carbon society." It is intended that the price of a solar power system will halve in three to five years and that, by 2020, every other new vehicle will be "next generation" cars, such as electric cars.
"If we cannot even manage trade, how should we then find ourselves in a position to manage the new challenges lying ahead of us" such as climate change, said European Union agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel as the latest Doha round of world trade talks broke down. "The bottom-line of the disagreement between the rich and developing countries arises from the fact that the developed do not want to remove agricultural subsidies and the developing nations like China and India also want to start giving their farmers support by controlling dumping from Europe and the United States," said Rwandan delegate Antoine Ruvebana. Ruvebana described the failure of the talks as a "missed opportunity" to uplift millions from poverty.
"It's a good thing that there was no agreement," said Daniel Mittler from Greenpeace International. "What was on the table was unacceptable, therefore it's no loss that negotiations have failed," he continued. He reckoned it would be "disastrous" to liberalize, as proposed, sectors such as fisheries, forestry and electrical waste products, where proper regulation is required. Lori Wallach of Public Citizen wants to see a new agenda focused on fixing existing World Trade Organization rules. "Thank God no deal was reached," she said, "because the proposal under consideration would have exacerbated the serious economic, food security and social problems now rocking numerous countries."
The United Nations (UN) is cutting the use of air conditioning in its New York offices under the new Cool UN initiative. During a one month trial, the air conditioning will be switched off at weekends and, during the week, office temperatures will be set at 77°F, five degrees higher than previously. If the trial is successful, office temperatures will be set five degrees lower than usual during winter. The one month trial should cut energy use by ten per cent. Over a year, the financial savings could amount to one million US dollars.
"We have succeeded in moving climate change to the top of the international agenda for action, and this means that the UN must take action itself," said Ban Ki-moon, UN executive secretary. "We must lead by example and if we are to ask others to take action, we must do so as well." As office temperatures rise on August 1st, staff, delegates and diplomats are being invited to relax clothing protocols and wear lighter attire or don their national dress rather than wear business suits. Men can leave their ties off.
Climate change could cost the nations of the Andes US$30 billion a year by 2025, according to a new report prepared for the Andean Community (CAN). At the report's launch, the CAN Secretary General, Freddy Ehlers, argued that, as the current development model is incompatible with the planet’s sustainability, a new model is needed that would guarantee human development and a harmonious relationship with nature.
"Climate change is already happening. Floods, droughts, landslides, frosts, and landslips virtually doubled between 2002 and 2006, as compared with the five-year period 1987-1991," reported Carlos Amat y León, the study coordinator. "Since 1970, every single province in the CAN countries has experienced at least one hydrometeorological disaster." According to the assessment, deglaciation in the Andes could, by the year 2020, jeopardize the water supply for drinking, hydroenergy and farming for close to 40 million people. The supply of water to the Amazon could be threatened as global warming develops further.
A Greenhouse Development Rights framework has been proposed that would allow poorer countries to continue developing while contributing to greenhouse gas emissions reductions without any substantial effect on their economies. The scheme weights each nation's emissions by its wealth to determine a fair way to apportion emissions controls. Nations with high weighted emissions, as well as taking on responsibility for the bulk of emissions reductions, would subsidize emissions controls and adaptive measures in the poorer nations with low emissions.
A key aspect of the framework is that wealth is assessed after setting aside the income of the poorest inhabitants of each country in order to protect their interests. The overall aim is to treat "luxury" emissions differently from "survival" emissions. "We are trying to propose what would be fair," said Tom Athansiou of EcoEquity. The plan has been developed by EcoEquity and the Stockholm Environment Institute.
An internal review has criticized the performance of the World Bank in supporting environmental projects. A persistent lack of environmental focus was observed in each step of the lending chain, from determining the priorities that shape development projects to environmental standards and monitoring in the field. The review, by the Independent Evaluation Group, found that pledges of environmental sustainability were often not translated into practice when it came to financing dams, pipelines, and so on.
Moreover, the World Bank's estimate of its funding of environmental projects "appears to overstate the actual volume of resources going directly for environmental improvement," the report observes. One of the review's authors, John Redwood, has described problems in assessing environmental funding levels as "one of our great frustrations." "The priority given to lending for ENRM (environmental and natural resource management) appears to be modest," states the report.
The Australian government has released a new plan for combating climate change. "We confront a daunting reality: we cannot continue to pour carbon pollution into the atmosphere as if there is no cost," said Penny Wong, climate change minister. "As one of the hottest and driest continents on earth, Australia’s economy and environment will be one of the hardest and fastest hit by climate change if we don’t act now," she continued. The goal is to cut national emissions by 60 per cent by the year 2050.
The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which is essentially an emissions trading scheme, will cover stationary energy, transport, fugitive emissions, industrial processes, waste and forestry sectors and all six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol. It will come into operation in 2010. "Placing a limit and a price on pollution will change the things we produce, the way we produce them, and the things we buy. It will open new doors to a cleaner energy future," Wong said. There will be an action fund to help help business make the transition to a cleaner economy and households, particularly poorer ones, will be compensated.
Growing demand for food, fuel and wood is placing unprecedented pressure on the world's forests, according to the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a coalition of international, regional and community organizations. "Arguably, we are on the verge of the last great global land grab," warns Andy White, co-author of a new RRI report.
Without a sharp rise in agricultural productivity, land equivalent to twelve times the area of Germany will need to be converted for crop production to meet demand in the year 2030. "Unless steps are taken, traditional forest owners, and the forests themselves, will be the big losers," White predicts. "It will mean more deforestation, more conflict, more carbon emissions, more climate change and less prosperity for everyone."
New York's taxi cabs will go green over the next five years. "It will be the largest, cleanest fleet of taxis anywhere on the planet," said Michael Bloomberg, the city's mayor. "And because taxis are so heavily used, the new standard will have the equivalent effect of removing 30,000 individually-owned gas-powered vehicles from our streets," he continued.
One thousand hybrid taxis, powered by gasoline and electricity, are to be introduced by October this year and the remainder of New York's 13,000 taxi cabs will be replaced by the year 2012. Three major automobile manufacturers have committed to delivering 300 hybrid vehicles per month for use in the taxi fleet. The Taxis for All Campaign, working on behalf of the handicapped, is concerned that the new hybrid taxis would not have lifts nor enough space for a wheelchair.
Leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations have agreed to consider and adopt, in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, the goal of achieving a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions of at least 50 per cent by the year 2050. The need for shorter-term goals was recognized, but with no agreement on specific targets. While this was the first time that the United States had accepted a long-term goal, criticism of the deal was harsh. Tom Picken of Friends of the Earth said that "setting a vague target for 42 years' time is utterly ineffectual in the fact of the global catastrophe we all face. Urgent action is needed to tackle climate change and spiralling energy prices caused by our addiction to increasingly expensive and insecure fossil fuels."
The G8 communiqué underlines the need for all nations to contribute to the international response, stating that the "global challenge can only be met by a global response." Following the annual G8 summit, the G8 leaders met with eight other nations, Australia, Indonesia, South Korea and the Group of Five (G5) major developing economies, India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. These sixteen nations account, in total, for 80 per cent of global carbon emissions. They agreed that "deep cuts in global emissions will be necessary to achieve the Convention's ultimate objective," but could not agree on actual targets. The G5 nations want to see the developed nations taking the lead in achieving "ambitious and absolute" greenhouse gas emission reductions, committing to an 80 to 95 per cent emissions cut below 1990 levels by 2050 and a mid-term target of a 25 to 40 per cent cut by 2020. The G8 has committed US$150 billion in public and private investment to ensuring developing countries grow their economies with green technology.
Asha-Rose Migiro, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, has warned that a "war footing" must be adopted to combat climate change. She was speaking at a General Assembly follow-up to the February session on climate change. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, president of the Maldives, urged the United Nations to adopt a new universal right to live in a safe, secure and sustainable environment, the declaration of which would promote climate justice. "It is surely wrong for small vulnerable communities to suffer because of the actions of other, more powerful, resource-rich countries," he said.
Climate change is one of the top priorities for the current session of the United Nations General Assembly, reports the Assembly's president, Srgjan Kerim. "Climate change poses special threats and places extra demands on a considerable group of countries. For them the threat is far from abstract and remote, but clear and present and may already affect the actual livelihoods of their people," he said. He considers that an international agreement on combating climate change is now more achievable than ever before. "To achieve this, we need to build on our previous work and strengthen the ability of the United Nations system to assist vulnerable countries build their capacity and capability to adapt," he said, addressing the General Assembly follow-up debate.
Ports authorities from around the world, meeting in Rotterdam, have endorsed the World Ports Climate Declaration, an industry commitment to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. Rotterdam mayor, Ivo Opstelten, told the meeting that port cities had a unique responsibility to combat climate change. "For a long time, it [carbon emissions] was something we did not pay much attention to," he said. "Now is the time for action." The port of Rotterdam aims to cut its carbon emissions by 50 per cent by the year 2025.
There was disagreement at the conference regarding the scale of the maritime transport contribution to global emissions, with estimates varying from 1.5 to 4.5 per cent. There was also discussion of the scope of any emissions reduction commitment, particularly the situation of ships registered in developing nations. "It seems completely incongruous that two ships, carrying similar cargo, loaded in the same port, sailing at the same speed and having the same destination, should be treated differently because they are registered under two different flags," commented Efthimios Mitropoulos, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization. The Declaration is the first step towards the development of concrete international measures. Issues to be considered include a global indexing system that will enable port authorities to reward climate-friendly ships and punish the polluters.
An estimated 1.5 billion people are threatened by land degradation, according to a new assessment from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and partners. "Land degradation also has important implications for climate change mitigation and adaptation, as the loss of biomass and soil organic matter releases carbon into the atmosphere and affects the quality of soil and its ability to hold water and nutrients," observes Parviz Koohafkan from FAO’s Land and Water Division. The FAO cites land degradation as a priority issue, requiring renewed attention by individuals, communities and governments.
The new report from FAO, with the United Nations Environment Programme and World Soil Information, estimates that more than 20 per cent of all cultivated areas, 30 per cent of forests and 10 per cent of grasslands are undergoing degradation. Some bright spots were identified where land is being used sustainably (19 per cent of cropland) or is showing improved quality and productivity (10 per cent of forests and 19 per cent of grassland). Nevertheless, despite the commitment of 193 countries to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, land degradation is worsening rather than improving.
"Just as thousands were drawn to California and the Klondike in the late 1800s, the green energy gold rush is attracting legions of modern day prospectors in all parts of the globe," observed Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, on the release of the latest assessment of clean energy investment trends. "A century later," he continued, "the key difference is that a higher proportion of those looking for riches today may find them."
During 2007, new investment in clean energy reached nearly US$150 billion, a rise of 60 per cent on the previous year. Wind energy gained most of the new funding, over US$50 billion, whilst solar power gained almost US$30 billion. With 31 gigawatts of new installed generation, sustainable energy accounted for almost a quarter of new power capacity globally, about ten times that of nuclear. Describing the trend as "nothing less than a fundamental transformation of the world's energy infrastructure," Steiner stressed that it was critical that "creative market mechanisms and public policy continue to evolve to liberate rather than frustrate this clean energy dawn."
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of Brazil, has urged developing countries to join the industrialized nations in setting greenhouse gas emissions targets. "All participants, including our country, should set a reduction target in accordance with their own emissions of greenhouse gases," da Silva said ahead of his attendance at this year's Group of Eight (G8) summit.
India will also attend the G8 summit, as will China, South Africa and Mexico. India's position is that industrialized countries should meet their own commitments rather than "pointing fingers at countries like India" and asking developing countries to limit their emissions, according to principal climate negotiator Shyam Saran. The World Bank has agreed to set up new climate investment funds on clean energy and adaptation ahead of the G8 summit, which is being held in Toyako, Japan, July 7-9th. A declaration on climate change, signed by sixteen major economies, including Brazil and India, is expected at the time of the meeting. "What you are likely to see is a large rhetorical statement, saying that everyone is committed to reduce their emissions," observed Phil Clapp of the Pew Environment Group.
"My friend went out hunting but never returned. He never returned because he fell through thin ice, ice that should never have been thin at that time of year," Jesse Mike, from Baffin Island, Canada, told the first annual meeting of the Global Humanitarian Forum. Mike, along with young people from other vulnerable regions, was a climate witness, documenting the threat posed by rising sea levels and the erosion of traditional ways of life.
"What is absolutely crucial is that we and people around the world measure and weigh the impact of climate change not just in scientific terms but by its social, economic and humanitarian implications," said Kofi Annan, the Forum's president, addressing the meeting. He called for "climate justice". "It is the industrialized and wealthier nations who must take responsibility for rising greenhouse emissions," he said, "and they have an obligation to help and enable developing countries to 'grow green'." Tackling adaptation "means empowering communities everywhere so that they have the knowledge and the tools available to prepare for the worst effects of climate change, not after its effects have already taken grip, but well before," he continued. The two-day meeting brought together senior government officials, leaders of international agencies and major corporations and global financiers.
The latest Major Economies Meeting on Energy Security and Climate Change held June 21st-22nd in Seoul, South Korea, was charged with drafting a declaration to be issued at the sidelines of the forthcoming Group of Eight (G8) summit. While participants agreed that major emission cuts are needed, it appears that no agreement was reached on the proposed long-term target of a 50 per cent cut by the year 2050. The G8 summit is being held in Toyako, Japan, July 7-9th.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, has called on the leaders of the major industrialized nations to reach agreement on mid-term greenhouse gas targets at the G8 summit. Yasuo Fukuda, prime minister of host nation Japan, had said previously that the G8 summit would not set medium-term targets, but would consider a longer-term goal. While it was "important to define the final destination of the journey," responded de Boer, he is "also very interested in what the first stop on that journey is going to be." The European Union has called for a specific mid-term goal to be set for the year 2020.
Global warming will cause "unprecedented" losses in agricultural production, "causing huge setbacks in the struggle against poverty and creating millions of impoverished environmental refugees," warns the latest report from the Africa Progress Panel. "This will only exacerbate the ongoing trend of rising food prices," the Panel concludes.
The Panel predicts a "sharp increase" in deaths amongst young children as a result of the current rise in world food prices. "Rising food prices are affecting tens of millions of Africans, especially those living in urban areas, and are threatening to wipe out [development] gains made over the last several decades," the report says. The food crisis "requires an immediate and thoughtful response on the best strategy... in order to enable rural populations to take advantage of the new level of agricultural prices and increase food production." The Africa Progress Panel, an independent group aiming to focus world leaders' attention on making the most of the growing number of opportunities for progress in Africa, was formed prior to the 2007 Group of Eight summit.
Friends of the Earth Canada is sueing the Canadian government over its alleged failure to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. "The case is about defending the fundamental principle that the government must be accountable and comply with the law," said Ecojustice lawyer Hugh Wilkins. "The government cannot pick and choose which laws to obey. The law is the law."
In April 2007, the Canadian government announced its Turning the Corner strategy, setting its greenhouse gas reduction target to 20 per cent below 2006 levels by the year 2020, much less ambitious than its Kyoto target of a six per cent reduction below 1990 levels by the end of 2012. "While other industrialized countries actively work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change, our government has offered pollution holidays for emitters for decades to come," charged Beatrice Olivastri of Friends of the Earth Canada. "This government has broken the law," she said, "and, as Canadian citizens, we have both a moral and legal imperative to insist on enforcement of our own laws on climate action."
António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has warned that climate change is forcing greater numbers of people to flee their homes as resources become increasingly scarce. "We are now faced with a complex mix of global challenges that could threaten even more forced displacement in the future," he said. "They range from multiple new conflict-related emergencies in world hotspots to bad governance, climate-induced environmental degradation that increases competition for scarce resources, and extreme price hikes that have hit the poor the hardest and are generating instability in many places."
In Darfur, in the Sudan, where 2.5 million people have been displaced by conflict, "the root of the conflict is greatly due to the competition for water and grazing land between tribes," says Peter Kessler of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. "Wherever you look, the footprint of climate change and environmental degradation is bring people to a situation where resources are increasingly scarce and forcing them to move." observes Nick Nuttall of the United Nations Environment Programme. He cites the Rwenzori mountains of Uganda, where glacial retreat threatens the flow of rivers on which millions of livelihoods depend. In Mali, Chad and Ethiopia, entire lakes have near disappeared in recent decades, severely reducing water availability for local peoples.
"We show that the rate of ocean warming from 1961 to 2003 is about 50 per cent larger than previously reported," said Catia Domingues from the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, commenting on a recent re-assessment of ocean temperature records. The study resulted in an estimate of the warming rate in the top 700 metres of the world ocean as well as a re-calculation of how fast sea level should be rising as a result. Thermal warming should have contributed to a 0.53 millimetre annual rise in sea level over the past four decades, greater than that reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
There is concern that freshwater runoff from the Greenland Ice Sheet may more than double by the end of this century. "The Greenland Ice Sheet mass balance is changing as a response to the altered climatic state," said Sebastian Mernild of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "This is faster than expected. This affects freshwater runoff input to the North Atlantic Ocean, and plays an important role in determining the global sea-level rise and global ocean thermohaline circulation." Mernild's assessment is based on modelling and observational data.
The Bonn Climate Change Talks ended in recriminations over lack of progress. "We're not at the moment seeing the leadership from industrialized countries which I think is essential," warned Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), midway through the meeting. As the talks ended, he described the task of reaching agreement by the end of 2009 as "daunting." "It could well be said that we have been beating around the bush," said Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, India's representative. The United States, Canada and Australia, in particular, were accused by environmentalists of limiting progress.
On a positive note, "we are seeing a huge willingness on the part of developing countries to engage in working out a new pact in return for aid and technology," de Boer observed. In a workshop on investment and financial flows, the Philippines, on behalf of the G-77/China, identified basic principles, including equity and direct access to funding by recipients. Barbados, for the Alliance of Small Island States, said that new resources should be channeled through the climate treaty process and proposed a Convention adaptation fund, an insurance mechanism and a technology fund. Mexico favours a world climate change fund on mitigation, adaptation and technology transfer, with participation of all countries and contributions according to greenhouse gas emissions, population and GDP. Switzerland suggested a global carbon dioxide levy of US$2 per tonne on all fossil fuel emissions, with an exception for less developed countries.
The majority of projects applying for funding under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) or already approved should not be supported as "they would be built anyway," according to a report from analysts at Stanford University in the United States. "It looks like between one and two thirds of all the total CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts," reported author David Victor. "Traders are finding ways of gaining [carbon] credits that they would never have had before. You will never know accurately, but rich countries are clearly overpaying by a massive amount," he added.
The key requirement for funding is "additionality," emissions reductions over and above what would have occurred without CDM support. In a Guardian comment, Patrick McCully from International Rivers notes that nearly three-quarters of registered CDM projects were complete at the time funding was approved. "It would seem clear that a project that is already built cannot need extra income in order to be built," he comments. "Judging additionality has turned out to be unknowable and unworkable. It can never be proved definitively that if a developer or factory owner did not get offset income they would not build their project," he concludes.
The £800 million Environmental Transformation Fund, which was announced by the British government last November, will provide climate aid for developing nations mostly in the form of concessionary loans, to be repaid with interest, rather than grants, the Guardian has reported. "We need urgently to prepare for climate change, but we are not in a position to pay back loans," a spokesman for the Bangladesh high commission in London responded. "The climate situation has not been created by us. The money should come spontaneously from rich countries and not be a loan."
British ministers defended the decision to offer support through loans. "Loans, especially if they have a very large grant element - like ours will - enable larger and deeper investments and can then be used again by other countries, creating a higher impact," Phil Woolas (environment) and Gareth Thomas (trade and development) wrote following publication of the Guardian story. "If we cling to the sort of outdated thinking that implies that concessional loans aren't helpful for developing economies, we will get nowhere."
"A critical issue would be financial engineering: how to generate sufficient financial resources that will drive the technology into the market that allows developing countries to act, both to limit their emissions and to adapt to the impacts of climate change," announced Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, opening the Bonn Climate Change Talks. China, Brazil and Ghana called for developed nations to create a fund to buy rights for them to use new climate-friendly technologies. "Technology transfer from North to South should not promote transfer of old aged and inefficient technologies," the Bangladesh delegate told the meeting.
Movement along the road to the Copenhagen, where agreement on a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol is to be achieved in late 2009, is also essential, said de Boer. "The world is expecting a Copenhagen deal to reach the goal set by science without harming the economy. Parties will need to make real progress towards this goal." There was continued opposition to World Bank control of climate funds in Bonn. "With their long-term record of massive fossil fuel financing, the World Bank is spectacularly unqualified to control climate funds," said Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth United States. Other issues to be discussed at the meeting include adaptation to climate change and reducing emissions from deforestation.
The United Nations food summit held in Rome last week mapped out an emergency plan to deal with the world food crisis. The summit declaration calls for "urgent and coordinated action to combat the negative impacts of soaring food prices on the world's most vulnerable countries and populations." It also demands more agricultural investment, immediate food aid and the rapid conclusion of the Doha round of trade liberalization. There was much disagreement at the meeting and Franco Frattini, Italy's foreign minister, described the final text as "disappointing relative to expectations" and said that it had been "watered down."
Food and Agriculture Organization officials fear that rising food and fuel prices could increase the number of people facing famine or malnutrition to over one billion. The World Food Programme (WFP) is committing a further US$1.2 billion in food aid to assist people in the nations hardest hit by the crisis. "With soaring food and fuel prices, hunger is on the march and we must act now," said Josette Sheeran, WFP head. There was controversy at the summit over the role of biofuels, with estimates of the biofuel contribution to food price increases varying from three to 30 per cent of the overall rise. A proposal for international standards to ensure biofuels are not produced at the expense of food was ignored by the Rome summit.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) marked World Environment Day with the launch of a new report, Kick the Habit: The UN Guide to Climate Neutrality, intended as a straightforward guide to low-carbon living. Noting that some actions that need to be taken to curb the climate problem are big, such as national policies and taxes, Achim Steiner, UNEP head, emphasized that "others are small, such as perhaps thinking about which appliances we buy, how we travel and where we source our energy. But multiplied across the world and acted upon by 6.7 billion people, the public have the power to change the future."
The Guide concludes that "adopting a climate-friendly lifestyle needn't require drastic changes or major sacrifices" and makes a series of practical recommendations. Using a wind-up alarm clock rather than an electric one would save 48 grams of carbon dioxide emissions a day. Drying clothes on a washing line rather than in a tumble dryer would save 2.3 kilograms a load. Replacing a 45-minute workout on a treadmill with a jog in a nearby park would save nearly 1 kilogram. The global carbon dioxide savings would be 2 million tonnes a year if every airline passenger cut the weight of baggage to below 20 kilograms and bought duty free goods on arrival.
Ministers from nearly 60 nations have pledged to support a global effort to end deforestation by the year 2020. The agreement took place alongside the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity held May 19-30th. James Leape, head of WWF International who organized the pledge, described the event as wildly successful, saying that "we expected 20 countries, but we got more than 50." Halting deforestation "is critically important for a mountainous country like Nepal," said Krishna Pandel, head of Nepal's delegation. "When we lose forest, we not only lose biodiversity, but bring environmental disasters - especially mudslides - onto the poorest of the poor."
Bangladesh will plant 100 million trees over the next three months to create a "natural fence" against floods and storms. "It's the country's biggest-ever planting programme," said Raja Debashish Roy, deputy environment minister. "We've undertaken it to protect our natural calamity-prone country from frequent cyclones and floods that has been exacerbated by climate change," he continued. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has warned that, in Myanmar, mangroves and other natural barriers must be restored as a matter of urgency to bolster flood defences. "We believe that restoring healthy ecosystems, particularly mangroves, should be on top of the reconstruction priority list," reported Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN director general.
New Carbon Finance predicts that the price of carbon will continue to rise over the next four years. The firm has upgraded its expectations for carbon credits traded through the European Union's emissions trading scheme and reckons that prices could reach 38 euros a tonne by the year 2012. The rising price of carbon within the European scheme is currently being driven by higher gas prices and a bottleneck in issuing certified emission reduction credits through the Clean Development Mechanism.
Deutsche Bank has raised its 2008 price forecast to 40 euros because of higher than expected carbon emissions last year, rising oil prices and the forthcoming inclusion of aviation carbon emissions in the European emissions trading scheme. Jonathan Malsbury at New Carbon Finance commented that "in terms of their profit and loss, firms in the scheme are pretty immune [to the price rise] as the bulk of the credits are allocated for free. But a higher price does increase the incentive for them to cut emissions as it would allow them to sell excess credits."
New York City will feel like Las Vegas today if global warming is allowed to continue, according to a new report on the impact of climate change on the United States commissioned by the Natural Resources Defence Council in New York. The report concludes that doing nothing on global warming will lead to annual costs of more than 3.6 percent of GDP, US$3.8 trillion (in today’s dollars), by the end of this century. "Some important impacts are priceless, so the real situation is worse than the numbers can convey," said the report's lead author, Frank Ackerman of Tufts University in Somerville, Massachusetts. "But the numbers, for those impacts we can put prices on, are bad enough. Climate change is on a collision course with the United States economy, long before the end of the century, unless we act now."
A new report from the United States Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) warns that the ecological effects of climate change could be felt earlier than expected and that land managers may find it more difficult to respond as monitoring systems are not in place. "The fact is, we're seeing lots of effects and impacts right now," commented Anthony Janetos, a lead author from the Joint Global Change Research Institute in College Park, Maryland. "These effects appear to be happening faster than expected, and the magnitude is bigger than expected. That's a surprise," he added. Previously, the CCSP, which was created by the Bush administration, has come under pressure to downplay climate effects.
The world is not on the right path to protect the diversity of species and would not reach the agreed target of the year 2010 for reversing biodiversity loss, Sigmar Gabriel, German environment minister, warned delegates at the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity, in Bonn last week. He called for a roadmap, similar to the one on climate reached in Bali last year, that would lead to the establishment of an international set of rules for biodiversity, governing access and equitable sharing of benefits. The Bonn conference is the annual meeting of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD).
The UNCBD Secretariat wants the Biodiversity Conference to highlight sustainable agriculture "not only to preserve biodiversity, but also to ensure that we will be able to feed the world, maintain agricultural livelihoods, and enhance human well-being into the 21st century and beyond." The Bonn Biodiversity Summit takes place this coming week and will receive the results of the conference. The International Youth Conference, Biodiversity on the Edge, was held alongside the Biodiversity Conference. Participants are seeking the integration of sustainable development education into school curricula as well as a protocol on protected areas, no patents on living organisms, prohibition of genetically modified organisms, full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities and measurable targets for biodiversity protection.
Six million Ethiopian children are threatened by drought, according to an assessment from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The agency estimates that 126,000 children are already suffering from severe malnutrition and need urgent therapeutic care. "Widespread drought, poor rainy seasons, heavy loss of livestock, limited food supply and soaring prices of food, fuel and fertilizer linked to the global food crisis are contributing to the troubled outlook of children in Ethiopia," UNICEF reports. "The mechanisms and capacity to prevent and respond to the increase of severe acute malnutrition are in place but are under-resourced," says Bjorn Ljungqvist, UNICEF representative in Ethiopia. He fears that recent progress in ensuring child survival is at risk because of the emergency.
Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has told the United Nations Human Rights Council that the soaring costs of corn, wheat, rice and other foods "jeopardize the well-being and rights of countless people." "This crisis boils down to a lack of access to adequate food," she said, continuing that "such access is a right protected by international law." She warned that failure to act in a comprehensive manner could put at risk other fundamental rights, such as the right to health or to education, as people are forced to give up other necessities or services in order to feed themselves and their families. The Seventh Session of the Human Rights Council subsequently adopted a resolution expressing "grave concern" at the worsening world food crisis and calling upon "States, individually and through international cooperation and assistance, and other relevant stakeholders, to take all necessary measures to ensure the realization of the right to food as an essential human rights objective."
Global warming will reduce the number of Atlantic hurricanes, though these storms may be wetter and their winds may be stronger, according to a new study by Tom Knutson of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and his collaborators. "This study adds more support to the consensus finding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other reports that it is likely that hurricanes will gradually become more intense as the climate continues to warm," said Knutson. "It's a bit of a mixed picture in the Atlantic, because we're projecting fewer hurricanes overall."
Knutson considers that the new results argue "against the notion that we've already seen a really dramatic increase in Atlantic hurricane activity resulting from greenhouse warming." NOAA meteorologist Chris Landsea does not find the study's overall conclusions surprising. "I think global warming is a big concern, but when it comes to hurricanes the evidence for changes is pretty darn tiny," he said. Over the Atlantic basin, the direct effect of warmer sea surface temperatures, which would act to increase hurricane numbers, is offset in Knutson's model as the warming creates an increase in wind shear that seems to reduce hurricane activity.
The level of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, now stands at 387 ppmv (parts per million by volume), a rise of 40 per cent since the industrial revolution. According to a new European study of the gas content of Antarctic ice cores, this is the highest levels have been for at least 800,000 years. "Despite all the talk," commented Martin Parry, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's impacts working group, "the situation is getting worse. Levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise in the atmosphere and the rate of that rise is accelerating. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change and the scale of those impacts will also accelerate, until we decide to do something about it."
An extensive assessment of changes in bird and animal populations or behaviour has concluded that 90 per cent of the cases could only be explained by global warming. Ninety-five per cent of environmental changes reviewed were consistent with rising temperatures. "When you look at a map of the world and see where these changes are already happening, and how many species and systems are already responding to climate change after only a 0.6°C rise, it just heightens our concerns for the future," said Cynthia Rosenzweig, co-author of the study from the Goddard Institute of Space Studies in the United States. "It's clear we have to adapt to climate change as well as try to mitigate it. It's real and it's happening now."
The Billion Tree Campaign has upgraded its planting target to a goal of seven billion trees by the time of the Copenhagen climate change conference in November 2009. Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said that "when the Billion Tree Campaign was launched at the Climate Convention meeting in Nairobi in 2006, no one could have imagined it could have flowered so fast and so far. But it has given expression to the frustrations but also the hopes of millions of people around the world."
In the past eighteen months, the campaign has doubled its original goal of one billion trees planted. "In 2006 we wondered if a billion tree target was too ambitious; it was not," Steiner reported. "The goal of two billion trees has also proven to be an underestimate. The goal of planting seven billion trees - equivalent to just over a tree per person alive on the planet - must therefore also be do-able given the campaign's extraordinary track record and the self-evident worldwide support." Over ten million trees were planted in a single day in Uttar Pradesh, India. The initiative is led by UNEP and the World Agroforestry Centre.
The geothermal energy industry is "on the cusp of what could be an extraordinary growth period," according to Mark Taylor, an analyst for international group New Energy Finance. In the United States, concern over climate change is driving the trend, with a number of states requiring that utilities derive more energy from green sources. The renewable energy production tax credit, extended to geothermal sources since 2005, makes geothermal energy competitive with wind power. The United States Geological Survey estimates that the United States could generate 150,000 megawatts of geothermal power. Currently, production stands at 3,000 megawatts, a third of the global total.
"Geothermal energy is very complex and diverse in terms of its use. It's used for fish farming in China, alligator growing in Idaho, power production in China, spas and greenhouses in Mexico and Iceland, and used to heat buildings in Iceland," says Karl Gawell, head of the Geothermal Energy Association, based in Washington DC. At 27,000 megawatts, Indonesia has the largest geothermal resource identified anywhere in the world. "Geothermal is very clean energy and its economics can make sense. This is a terrific business for us," reckons Steve Green of Chevron. Chevron hopes to double its geothermal production in Indonesia to over 1000 megawatts by the year 2020.
Tropical cyclone Nargis struck the coast of Myanmar on Saturday May 3rd. The storm made landfall in the Irrawaddy delta, leaving 5,000 square kilometres under water and tens of thousands of people dead or missing. "The information that we're receiving indicates that there may well be over 100,000 deaths in the [Irrawaddy river] delta area," warned Shari Villarosa at the United States embassy in Myanmar.
The government of Myanmar was heavily criticized for delays in allowing foreign assistance into the country and for ignoring warnings of the storm's imminent arrival. "Forty-eight hours before [tropical cyclone] Nargis struck, we indicated its point of crossing (landfall), its severity and all related issues to Myanmarese agencies," said B P Yadav of the Indian Meteorological Department. Environmental destruction may have exacerbated the impact. The increase in population in the coastal area led to "encroachment into the mangrove forests, which used to serve as a buffer between the rising tide, between big waves and storms and the residential area," reported Surin Pitsuwan, secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Whether or not climate change is leading to more severe storms remains open to debate. "It's only in the long term that you get the perspective that lets you say whether an extreme event is part of a wider trend," said Hervé Le Treut of the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique in Paris.
Creating a market for carbon as a tool to tackle the climate problem has been vehemently attacked by leaders of the world's indigenous peoples. "It's a new way to make money," charged Jihan Gearon of the Indigenous Environmental Network. "It has nothing to do with environmental concerns or indigenous peoples' rights." The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues focused on climate change during its seventh session, held at the end of April. The Forum recommended that the international community take serious measures to mitigate climate change, as the survival of the traditional ways of life of indigenous peoples depended in large part on the success of those efforts. It stressed that indigenous peoples’ traditional livelihoods and ecological knowledge can significantly contribute to appropriate and sustainable mitigation and adaptation measures.
According to a new report from the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington DC, the World Bank's role in carbon markets is "dangerously counterproductive." The World Bank is "playing both sides of the climate crisis," concludes Janet Redman, main author of the report. "It is making money off of causing the climate crisis and then turning around and claiming to solve it," she says. Instead of encouraging clean energy investors, the Bank is lending much of its financial support to the fossil fuel industry. According to the World Bank, the global carbon market grew to US$64 billion in 2007, more than twice the value in 2006, although there was a leveling off of transactions under the Clean Development Mechanism.
"Increases in food prices are not the consequence of food shortages, it's the consequence of human greed that is putting at risk the lives of millions of men, women and children," according to Jay Naidoo, chairman of the Development Bank of Southern Africa. "There are companies that are making super profits on this issue," he said. He called on the international community to take concerted action to control surging food prices. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations agency responsible for efforts to promote food security, has been criticized for its handling of the world food crisis. Abdoulaye Wade, president of Senegal, described the FAO as a "bottomless pit of money, largely spent on its own functioning, with very little effective operations on the ground."
Jeffrey Sachs, United Nations economic adviser, holds the European Union (EU) and United States' policy on biofuels as partly responsible for the surge in food prices. "The United States programme has a larger impact, but neither of them makes much sense in terms of environmental effects, energy balance or food policy," he said. "I would advocate reconsideration of both," he added. According to Olivier De Schutter, special rapporteur to the United Nations, on the right to food, "the ambitious objectives for the production of biofuels that have been set by the United States and the European Union are irresponsible." He has called for a freeze on all investment in the sector. Stavros Dimas, EU environment commissioner, accepts that "the effects on the environment may not be all that beneficial, especially in the case of low-productivity biofuels." The EU is formulating new rules on biofuel development that will take account of environmental and social concerns. "It's a question of making sure that the correct biofuels are being promoted... we have to be vigilant," commented Christophe Bouvier, European regional director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
The world's poorest children are among the principal victims of climate change, according to a new report from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). "It is clear that a failure to address climate change is a failure to protect children," said David Bull from UNICEF UK. "Those who have contributed least to climate change - the world's poorest children - are suffering the most." The report's authors estimate that global warming could be responsible for 40,000 to 160,000 child deaths a year in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa as economic growth is affected.
Fighting drought is essential in resolving the world food crisis, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) has concluded. "Drought creeps, so we can outrun it," said ISDR Secretariat head Sálvano Briceño. "But this will take a genuine mindset and policy shift towards the ethos that prevention is better than cure, and serious political and economic commitment to saving harvests and lives on a global economic level." ISDR recommends greater emphasis on disaster risk, with the international community strengthening defences against climate change, drought and desertification through measures such as improved water management.
The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose by 19 billion tonnes last year, an increase of 0.6 per cent, reports the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The rise is 20 per cent higher than the recent average annual increase. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide now stands at 385 parts per million.
Methane levels in the atmosphere also increased during 2007 after holding steady since 1999. Ed Dlugokencky of NOAA's Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, is "pretty sure [the rise] didn't come from biomass burning" because the data show no sign of a significant increase in carbon monoxide, also produced by burning biomass, but he is watching for the first signs of methane release from thawing Arctic permafrost.
The countries of the Asia-Pacific region could save US$700 billion by 2030 through greater use of energy conservation and renewable energy, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) predicts. "Heavy dependency on fossil fuels is aggravating the Asia-Pacific region's economic vulnerability," Noeleen Heyzer of ESCAP told a ministerial summit in Bangkok, Thailand.
Without energy management reform, the poor would be increasingly unable to afford energy, she warned. "Income inequalities have led, among others, to serious social and environmental imbalances. An increasing part of the region houses the world's poor and live in areas where the environment is under stress," Heyzer continued. "The poorest people may use less energy but actually pay proportionately more than the rich for energy services. These high levels of inequality erode social cohesion in the region."
The food security of millions of people is threatened by damage to the world ocean caused by over-fishing, climate change and pollution, warned marine scientists at the Fourth Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts and Islands, held in Hanoi, Vietnam, April 2008. "People think the ocean is a place apart," observed Peter Neill of the World Ocean Observatory. "In fact it's the thing that connects us - through trade, transportation, natural systems." It is estimated that 75 per cent of fish stocks are now fully exploited or depleted. "Increasingly, we are starting to see long term [climate] change affect the productivity, the distributions, the migrations," reported Steven Murawski, fisheries chief science advisor at the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Hanoi conference heard reports on the state of the local seas. On the South China Sea, Vo Si Tuan, who represented Vietnam on the South China Sea Project, said that "the key issues... are habitat degradation and loss, overfishing and land-based pollution." "The international trends are more pronounced in the South China Sea," according to Keith Symington of the World Wide Fund for Nature. "Boats have to go further and fish longer to catch the same amount of fish and they are catching smaller fish," he said. The conference heard that Halong Bay, a world heritage-listed site, is facing extensive reef destruction because of heavy sedimentation as erosion caused by deforestation increases the silt load. On the coast, shrimp farming and land reclamation have resulted in the loss of mangrove forests. Shipping, coal mining and tourism are increasing pollution.
Political leaders from Japan and the European Union (EU) have called for a "highly ambitious and binding international approach... to deal with the scale and urgency of the climate change challenge." They have advanced a plan for an International Partnership for Cooperation on Energy Efficiency, which will be put before the Group of Eight later this year.
Japan's proposal for sectoral targets, broken down by industrial sector, was on the agenda of the annual meeting between the two parties. "I believe there was an understanding shown from the EU towards our approach, which will be effective in ensuring fairness in setting national targets," Yasuo Fukuda, Japanese prime minister, said. The proposal has been greeted with suspicion by developing nations, who fear it may force them to purchase climate-friendly technology.
The Maldives is calling for deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is unhappy "because what the international community has agreed so far is not enough to save our country and other low-lying area countries." Gayoom was speaking on the publication of a collection of his speeches on the climate crisis, entitled Paradise Drowning.
Despite concerns about emissions from international flights, Gayoom is not prepared to cut tourism. "I don't think it's a viable option for us to cut down on tourism because it's the mainstay of our economy," he said. "It's up to the business community, the corporate community, to look at alternatives to air travel as it is now - to have more efficient fuel, alternative methods of fuel consumption, safer methods, greener methods - we are the victims," he continued.
The third Major Economies Meeting, an initiative launched by the White House last year, took place in Paris, April 17-18th 2008. Prior to the event, United States president, George W Bush, called for a halt in domestic emissions growth, but not until the year 2025. The announcement was greeted with widespread outrage. Describing the proposal as "particularly disappointing". Marthinus van Schalkwyk, South Africa's minister for environment and tourism said that "it seems as if the current United States administration wants to turn back the clock to where we were before the breakthrough achieved in Bali in December 2007."
There are fewer fears now that the White House initiative will undermine the ongoing process under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). "Countries are very much attuned to making sure that these processes do not begin to tumble over each other," said Yvo de Boer of the UNFCCC secretariat. The White House series of meetings is viewed as a less formal opportunity to discuss ideas and proposals than presented by the United Nations forum. The Paris meeting was, however, characterized by deep-seated clashes, particularly between the United States and the European Union, regarding just how severe cuts in greenhouse gas emissions should be. "We achieved a consensus on the need for long-term and medium-term goals for reducing greenhouse-house gases... but we have not quantified targets at this stage and we regret this," reported Jean-Pierre Jouyet, French secretary of state for European affairs. Further meetings will be held in May and June, with the aim of reaching agreement by the time of the Group of Eight summit in Japan in July 2008.
Changes in world farming in order to limit regional food shortages, increasing food prices and environmental impacts have been called for by sixty countries, with the support of the World Bank and United Nations agencies. The call stems from a landmark report from the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), released this month. According to Bob Watson, IAASTD director, "business as usual will hurt the poor. It will not work. We have to applaud global increases in food production but not everyone has benefited. We have not succeeded globally. In some parts of India, 50 per cent of children are still malnourished."
"Food is cheaper and diets are better than 40 years ago, but malnutrition and food insecurity threaten millions," according to the report's authors. "The unequal distribution of food, and conflict over control of the world's dwindling natural resources, presents a major political and social challenge to governments, likely to reach crisis status as climate change advances and world population expands from 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050," they conclude. The report has yet to be endorsed by Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. There are objections, on the part of some countries, to the conclusion that genetically-modified foods are not a quick fix to the problem of world hunger. The report also expresses reservations about trade liberalization. "Opening national markets to international competition can offer economic benefits but can lead to long-term negative effects on poverty alleviation, food security and the environment without basic national institutions and infrastructure being place," it states.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has seriously underestimated the threat of sea-level rise, according to Svetlana Jevrejeva of the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory in Liverpool in the United Kingdom. A new 2000-year reconstruction of sea levels suggests that the rapid rise in the 20th century was the result of melting ice sheets: ice sheets become more mobile and disappear faster as meltwater increases. Jevrejeva and her colleagues argue that ice dynamics, such as this, will play a critical role in determining the future scale of sea-level rise. The IPCC assessment neglected the contribution of ice dynamics as its role is poorly understood. The researchers predict that global sea level could rise by 0.8 to 1.5m by the end of the present century, close to three times the IPCC estimate.
The average rate of melting and thinning of 30 reference glaciers in nine mountain ranges more than doubled between the years 2004-5 and 2005-6, according to the latest data from the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) in Zurich, Switzerland. "The latest figures are part of what appears to be an accelerating trend with no apparent end in sight," commented Wilfried Haeberli, WGMS director. Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, noted that "millions if not billions of people depend directly or indirectly on these natural water storage facilities for drinking water, agriculture, industry and power generation during key parts of the year." "There are many canaries emerging in the climate change coal mine," he continued. "The glaciers are perhaps among those making the most noise and it is absolutely essential that everyone sits up and takes notice."
Jacques Diouf, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, has warned that world food prices, and shortages, are set to remain high for some time and that food riots could spread. "The problem is very serious around the world due to severe price rises and we have seen riots in Egypt, Cameroon, Haiti and Burkina Faso," he said while on a trip to India. "There is a risk that this unrest will spread in countries where 50 to 60 per cent of income goes to food," he continued.
Food prices have risen as a result of increasing oil and fuel prices, rising demand for food in Asia, conversion of cropland for biofuels, poor weather and speculation on futures markets. Grain supplies are at their lowest since the 1980s. The World Bank has warned that prices may stay above 2004 levels until 2015 for most crops. Fearing that the trend could reverse the recent decline in poverty levels, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said that, "as an international community, we must rally not only to offer immediate support, but to help countries identify actions and policies to reduce the impact on the world's most vulnerable."
A worldwide price on carbon and decisive policy to implement carbon capture and storage as soon as possible are the key elements of a "blueprint" energy futures scenario that would see carbon emissions peak by 2020 and then reduce to 1990 levels by the middle of the century, according to a new report, Energy Scenarios to 2050, from Royal Dutch Shell. Underpinning the scenario is a stable investment climate for clean technology and a meaningful set of international agreements to limit climate change.
In contrast, a "scramble" scenario sees nations competing for scarce oil supplies and switching to coal, without any solid international emissions framework. "Regardless of which route we choose, the world’s current predicament limits our room to manoeuvre. We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to rising population and economic development," commented Shell chief executive Jeroen van der Veer. van der Veer has called on the European Union to subsidize carbon capture and storage because it "adds costs and yields no revenues." He considers that "government action is needed to support and stimulate investment quickly on a scale large enough to affect global emissions."
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been overly optimistic in assuming that, without intervention, new technologies will reduce growth in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a commentary in the journal Nature. "Not only is this reduction unlikely to happen under current policies, we are moving in the opposite direction right now. We believe these kind of assumptions in the analysis blind us to reality and could potentially distort our ability to develop effective policies," said report co-author, Roger Pielke Jr of the University of Colorado.
The commentary's authors do not question that technological innovation is necessary to curb global warming, but they accuse the IPCC of playing "a risky game in assuming that spontaneous advances in technological innovation will carry most of the burden of achieving future emissions reductions, rather than focusing on creating the conditions for such innovations to occur." They cite the recent upward trend in carbon intensity, which contradicts the assumptions made by the IPCC, and note the significance of the development process in nations such as China, where carbon emissions are increasing rapidly.
The Bangkok Climate Change Talks have resulted in a commitment to a further seven rounds of negotiations over the coming 18 months to resolve what happens when the Kyoto Protocol lapses in the year 2012. "Not only do we have the certainty that critical issues will be addressed next year, we now have bit-sized chunks which will allow us to negotiate in an effective manner," commented Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The next meeting will be held in Germany in June and will focus on funding and on technology to mitigate climate change. The Bangkok meeting backed developing country calls to make climate-friendly technology and financial assistance a priority. The third meeting this year, in August, will take place in Ghana and will address issues related to enhanced action on mitigation, including reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries. The fourth session will be held at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznań, Poland, in December. There, the focus will be on risk management and risk reduction strategies, technology and the key elements of a shared long-term vision for joint action in combating climate change, including a long-term emissions reduction target. Japan's proposal for sectoral, rather than national, targets was the subject of fierce debate in Bangkok, with further discussion pended till later in the year.
The World Bank was heavily criticized in Bangkok over a perceived attempt, in promoting its own funding proposals, to seize control of climate aid. "The World Bank's foray into climate change has gone down like a lead balloon," commented Tom Picken of Friends of the Earth. "Many countries and civil society have expressed outrage at the World Bank's attempted hijacking of real efforts to fund climate change efforts," he continued. "Generally we have been unpleasantly surprised by the funds [proposed by the World Bank]," said Ana Maria Kleymeyer, Argentina's lead negotiator. "This is a way for the World Bank and its donor members to get credit back home for putting money into climate change in a way that's not transparent, that doesn't involve developing countries and that ignores the UNFCCC process," she added.
"Indigenous peoples regard themselves as the mercury in the world’s climate change barometer," says A H Zakri, director of the United Nations University's Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) in Tokyo, Japan. "They have not benefited, in any significant manner, from climate change-related funding, whether for adaptation and mitigation, nor from emissions trading schemes." UNU-IAS co-organized the International Expert Meeting on Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples, held in Darwin, Australia, in early April 2008.
In a paper prepared for the meeting, Rolf Gerritsen of Charles Darwin University, Alice Springs, Australia, argues that "if the Aboriginal people of Southeast Arnhem Land are to be able to adaptively and sustainably combat impending climate change through their traditional processes of managing country, they need to have mechanisms - such as access to carbon credit trading - that enhance their capacity to manage their own affairs." Gerritsen considers that governments, at all levels, are unwittingly the major obstacles to achieving this objective. Part of the problem is the governmental desire to centralize, but there are also serious questions about governmental capacity.
Al Gore has launched a US$300 million campaign, WE, to mobilize Americans to fight climate change. "We can solve the climate crisis, but it will require a major shift in public opinion and engagement," said Gore. "The technologies exist, but our elected leaders don't yet have the political will to take the bold actions required. When politicians hear the American people calling loud and clear for change, they'll listen," he continued.
The Alliance for Climate Protection, campaign organizer, will invest in an ad campaign and on-line support and will work with partners such as the United Steelworkers union and the Girl Scouts. The Girl Scout's 2.7 million members will be able to take a climate action pledge and will be provided kits offering suggestions for projects. "The resources are completely unprecedented in American politics," commented Philip Clapp of the Pew Environment Group.
Nearly one million people in southern Africa have been affected by floods, cyclones and heavy rains since October 2007. Madagascar has been hardest hit, with almost a third of a million people suffering the consequences of a series of extreme events. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, further heavy rains are still expected, including in central Mozambique, where the rivers are already swollen after two days of intense rainfall last week.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has called for more investment in weather forecasting in Africa, Central Asia and small island states. "We need to make more effort to better observe our planet... Every social [and] economic sector is affected by the weather, by water, by climate issues. To make the right decision it is absolutely essential to have the right information," said WMO head Michel Jarraud.
The Wilkins Ice Shelf, part of the Antarctic ice mass, is collapsing. "We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years, but warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing a break-up," said Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), Boulder, Colorado, in the United States.
NSIDC reports that, in late February, a large iceberg, 41 by 2.5 kilometres in size, fell away from the southwestern front of the ice shelf, triggering runaway disintegration of 405 square kilometres of the shelf interior. In 1993, David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge predicted that the Wilkins Ice Shelf was vulnerable to global warming. "Wilkins is the largest ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula yet to be threatened. I didn't expect to see things happen this quickly," he said.
South Asia could face a major crisis if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at the present rate, according to a new report from Greenpeace. The report suggests that the region could face a wave of migrants, with 125 million people displaced if global temperature is allowed to rise by 4-5°C this century. "Most of these people will be forced to leave their homes because of the sea-level rise and drought associated with shrinking water supplies and monsoon variability. The bulk of them will come from Bangladesh as most of the parts of that country will be inundated," said author Sudhir Chella Rajan of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras.
In India, large cities, such as Mumbai and Madras, lie within the low elevation coastal zone and huge investment along the coast line is at risk. "This isn't going to happen gradually. What we are going to see is a series of coastal surges, you will see inundation, salt water intrusion - which will cause lots of harm and devastate a lot of these infrastructures," Rajan warned. Stephanie Tunmore of Greenpeace commented that "this is yet more evidence of the humanitarian disaster that will unfold if we fail to be guided by the science of climate change and act to reduce our emissions. It is also further confirmation that climate change will hit the poorest nations, where people are most vulnerable, first and hardest."
The thickest and oldest Arctic sea ice is melting, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in the United States. "Thickness is an indicator of long-term health of sea ice, and that's not looking good at the moment," said NSIDC's Walt Meier. "This is another startling and serious indicator of massive changes in the Arctic due to climate change," said Rafe Pomerance of Clean Air-Cool Planet. "It is one more reminder that we must address global warming with a level of commitment and resources equal to the problem."
Satellite data show that the perennial sea ice, ice that is older than one year, has declined rapidly in recent years. Perennial sea ice stands at less than 30 per cent of the area of the Arctic, down from up to 60 per cent some years ago. The older ice is being replaced by fragile new ice, which is more susceptible to disruption by winds and higher temperatures. "It's like looking at a Hollywood set," Meier said. "It may look OK but if you could see behind you'd see... it's just empty. And what we're seeing with the ice cover is it's becoming more and more empty underneath."
Carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants in the United States showed the largest rise in nine years during 2007, according to the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). "The current debate over global warming policy tends to focus on long-term goals, like how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent over the next 50 years," said Eric Schaeffer from EIP. "But while we debate, carbon dioxide emissions from power plants keep rising, making an already dire situation worse." Part of the rise in emissions comes from existing coal-fired power plants that are operating at increasingly higher capacities or that require more heat to generate electricity as they age. EIP recommends that these plants are phased out and replaced with clean energy sources.
Ken Kramer, from the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, responding to the "bad news" that Texas is number one in the EIP emissions league, said that "the good news is that Texas has the potential to play a major role in addressing global warming if we embrace smart energy solutions such as energy efficiency and renewable energy, solutions which pose tremendous economic as well as environmental benefits." Local company, TXU Energy, has dropped plans for nine new coal-fired power plants following determined opposition. A ban on new plants that do not have carbon capture and storage technology has recently been proposed.
The United Nations warns that, by the year 2025, a third of the planet's population could be scavenging for safe drinking water. More than two million people in developing countries die each year from diseases linked to unsafe water. "Poor sanitation combines with a lack of safe drinking water and inadequate hygiene to contribute to the terrible global death toll," according to United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. "Every 20 seconds, a child dies as a result of the abysmal sanitation conditions endured by some 2.6 billion people globally," he said, when launching recently the International Year of Sanitation.
Global economic growth, population pressures and the rise of mega-cities all contribute to the rising demand for water, with climate change compounding the problem over coming decades. Anders Berntell of the Stockholm International Water Institute, describes the lack of safe drinking water as an "acute and devastating humanitarian crisis." "But," he continues, "this is a crisis of management, not a water crisis per se, because it is caused by a chronic lack of funding and inadequate understanding of the need for sanitation and good hygiene at the local level."
Minorities and indigenous people often experience the worst effects of climate change but receive the least assistance, according to a new report from Minority Rights Group International (MRG). "Climate change has finally made it to the top of the international agenda at every level but... recognition of the acute difficulties that minorities face is often missing," said Ishbel Matheson from MRG. "From the immediate aftermath of a disaster to the point of designing policy on climate change - the unique situation of minority and indigenous groups is rarely considered." Loss of land for biofuel production and deforestation policies may further disadvantage these groups.
The MRG report notes that minority groups frequently live in risky areas rejected by the more affluent. They tend to inhabit marginal lands and, dependent on nature, are particularly vulnerable to changing climate. "In our community the elders interpret certain signs from nature to know when to plant their crops or when to start the hunting season. But with climate change it is becoming impossible for them to make such predictions anymore," says David Pulkol from the Karamajong community in Uganda. Negotiations surrounding the successor to the Kyoto Protocol provide an opportunity to place minority and indigenous concerns on the climate change map, according to the report. "Minorities and indigenous peoples will add weight to their demands if they emphasize their role (where appropriate) as stewards of precious natural environments - notably tropical forests, which are major carbon sinks and biodiversity hotspots that benefit the entire world," it concludes.
European leaders have pledged to adopt new climate change measures by the end of 2008. The measures must, though, "avoid excessive costs for member states." There is concern that implications for heavy industry may delay agreement. The commitment came at the end of a two-day meeting on global warming held in Brussels. The European Union (EU) plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2020.
The meeting also issued the threat of trade sanctions to nations that failed to commit to the climate regime, to be agreed in 2009. "Our main concern is to set up a mechanism that would allow us to strike against the imports of countries that don't play by the rules of the game on environmental protection," said French president Nicolas Sarkozy. German chancellor Angela Merkel noted that "industry, faced with global competition, could be exposed to a real disadvantage if no international climate accord is struck, but we in Europe have very strict rules."
A new projection of China's carbon dioxide emissions finds that the "growth rate is surpassing our worst expectations." This makes "the goal of stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide... much, much harder to achieve," says author Maximilian Auffhammer of the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States. The study predicts an annual growth rate of at least 11 per cent over the period 2004-2010, compared to previous forecasts of up to five per cent.
The new assessment is based on more detailed information than previously used, employing waste gas emissions data at the provincial level. "Everybody had been treating China as single country, but each of the country's provinces is larger than many European countries, both in geographic size and population," commented co-author Richard Carson of the University of California, San Diego. The authors consider hopes that China would adopt energy-efficient technology to have been unfounded. "Wealthier coastal provinces tended to build clean-burning power plants based upon the very best technology available, but many of the poorer interior provinces replicated inefficient 1950s Soviet technology," they say.
Japan will propose a sector-specific approach to emissions reductions as a basis for a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement at the G8 Summit in July. The proposal identifies eight sectors, each broken down into various industries, with emission reduction goals to be established based on indicators for each industry. There would be no nation-specific emissions cap. The Japanese proposal will be discussed at the Bangkok Climate Change Talks 2008, later this month.
A government-private sector panel in Japan has identified 21 cutting-edge technologies that, with support, could help achieve the goal of halving global greenhouse gas emissions from current levels by 2050. The technologies include near-zero emissions coal-fired power plants, advanced nuclear power, fuel cell vehicles, biofuels, steelmaking with hydrogen and next-generation lighting systems. The panel estimates that about 60 per cent of the 2050 target could be achieved if these technologies are widely adopted.
"A window of opportunity to act [on climate change] is now open," concludes a new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). "Regardless of the ethical, of the moral, of the social, of the political consequences, simply looking at it from the business and the economic point of view, it is a better idea to start right away focusing on the environment," said OECD secretary general Ángel Gurria. The report demonstrates that environmental protection is "affordable," it can be achieved without a significant impact on economic growth.
The report, Environment Outlook to 2030, recommends green taxes to encourage environmentally-sound technologies and practices. "We need forward-looking policies today to avoid high costs of inaction or delayed action over the longer term," it concludes. The report calls for technology transfer to the developing world and stresses the importance of international cooperation. "If we do not have everybody, and that includes every single developed country but also Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Indonesia etc, it will obviously not work," Gurria said. "When a body such as the OECD says that on a range of environmental issues we need to act globally and we need to act now, then it is clear that as communities, countries and companies we need to roll up our collective sleeves and get on with it," said James Leape of WWF.
Greenhouse gas emissions from shipping is three times higher than previously thought, according to the leaked results of a new study by International Panel on Climate Change scientists. The study estimates that global shipping emissions stand at twice those attributed to the aviation industry and predicts a rise of 30 per cent in shipping emissions by the year 2020.
"This is a clear failure of the system," said IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri. "The shipping industry has so far escaped publicity. It has been left out of the climate change discussion. I hope [shipping emissions] will be included in the next United Nations agreement. It would be a cop-out if it was not. It tells me that we have been ineffective at tackling climate change so far," he concluded.
The United States government has announced that it is ready to accept binding obligations on greenhouse gas emissions. Describing the presumption that the United States was only interested in setting voluntary emissions targets as "a myth," James Connaughton, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said that "we are prepared to join in a binding international agreement, if that agreement includes the major economies including major developing economies."
Critics have repeatedly accused the United States of using the involvement of the major developing nations as a blocking tactic. "It isn't going to happen," said Stephan Singer of WWF. "Why should they [China and India] do something when the United States has done nothing for the last eight years?" In what may prove a significant development, Connaughton noted that it would be acceptable if China and India adopted "a series of goals" sector by sector, rather than an economy-wide goal. It is "highly likely," though, that the United States will accept a single national target. Daniel Price, assistant to President George W Bush for international economic affairs, said that any commitment would be part of a global agreement, which could be announced at the time of the G8 summit in July.
The impact of climate change on fisheries represents an "emerging catastrophe of an unprecedented scale," according to Christian Nellemann of GRID-Arendal. Nellemann is chief editor of a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme on the state of the world's fisheries. "Efforts in the next two decades will determine the lives of hundreds of millions for centuries ahead," he continued. The number of marine dead zones, where oxygen is deficient, has risen from 149 in 2003 to over 200 in 2006, mostly in coastal waters.
The report, In Dead Water, warns that climate change could slow down ocean currents, which maintain water quality, nutrient cycling and the life-cycles of marine life in more than three-quarters of the world's fishing grounds. Higher sea-surface temperatures and ocean acidity threaten coral reefs, which are major fish nurseries. "In developed countries, the degradation of traditional fishing grounds will have commercial effects on the fishing industry sector and fleets," said Stefan Hain of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. "The effects in developing countries and SIDS [ Small Island Developing States] will be more direct, that is, on coastal communities and populations, which depend on marine resources for sustenance and livelihoods."
The United Nations is considering revising its rules on Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects after evidence of attempts to take excessive profits. "This is a billion-euro market and attracts people not only interested in the environment but in the money," said Lex de Jonge from the Dutch Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, who is vice-chair of the CDM Executive Board.
The problem is that projects are being put forward that would be very profitable even without the additional CDM revenue. The aim of the CDM is remove barriers, such as a lack of awareness of appropriate technologies, and to support projects that would not have been profitable otherwise. While it was unlikely that very profitable projects would be excluded a priori, one possibility would be to exclude, in some cases, new installations where the latest energy-saving technologies could easily be implemented, de Jonge said.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Environment Management Group have launched the Climate Neutral Network (CN Net). CN Net is an internet-based initiative aimed at sharing the plans, strategies and successes of participants. "The CN Net can assist in building confidence through demonstrable action at the national and local level on the art of the possible," said Achim Steiner, UNEP's executive director. The network is "aimed at mobilizing a broad-based response demonstrating that a transition to a low, even zero, carbon future can be a reality if inspiring and practical actions can be federated around the world," he continued.
Four countries - Costa Rica, Iceland, New Zealand and Norway - along with four cities - Arendal (Norway), Rizhao (China), Vancouver (Canada) and Växjö (Sweden) - and five companies - Co-operative Financial Services (United Kingdom), Interface Inc (United States), Natura (Brazil), Nedbank (South Africa) and Senoko Power (Singapore) - are taking part in the initial phase of the network. They will be joined by intergovernmental organizations and civil society groups. Individuals may also take part. Torill Rolstad Larsen, mayor of Arendal, reported that "Arendal is paying strong attention to the threats from climate change and trying to live up to the notion 'think globally and act locally'. We are currently embarking on an ambitious programme to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from Arendal’s own activities drastically by 2012. We will further become climate neutral from 2008 by offsetting remaining emissions." CN Net was launched at UNEP's annual Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Monaco.
Less than four per cent of the world ocean is considered a very low-impact area, according to a new survey of human impacts on marine health. Most of this area is near the poles. "Unfortunately, as polar ice sheets disappear with warming global climate and human activities spread into these areas, there is a great risk of rapid degradation of these relatively pristine ecosystems," said co-author Carrie Kappel, who is based at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California, in the United States.
The study found that 80 per cent of the world ocean is fished. "There's nowhere left for the fish to hide... fishing boats are just really everywhere," commented the University of Hawaii's Kim Selkoe, also an author of the study. The survey concluded that the three main causes of ocean degradation are climate change, fishing and shipping traffic. "When you look at the map of the ship traffic, it's just a solid coverage of the world's oceans," Selkoe said in a telephone interview with Agence France-Presse. "The fuel gets spilled, there's noise pollution which is disturbing to whales and such... which has a major affect on the ecosystem."
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazilian president, has called on the rich nations of the world to bear the burden of fighting global warming. "How can we ask the poor countries to take on the sacrifices the others didn't take on? The polluting countries must pay," he said at a conference in Brasilia organized by the Global Legislators Organization for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE International).
Describing the Kyoto Protocol's track record as dismal, Lula said that the situation can only be improved "if the global sharing of benefits and responsibilities begins in earnest now, and greater effort is placed on post-2012 climate-change initiatives." He defended Brazil's production of biofuels. "It is unthinkable that biofuel needs to go to the Amazon," he said, arguing that there are millions of hectares away from that area that can be used to cultivate biofuel crops. The primary aim of the GLOBE forum is to draft a proposal for a post-2012 climate regime.
Land clearance to grow biofuels may create a "carbon debt" that has the net effect of increasing greenhouse gas emissions for years to decades, according to researchers from The Nature Conservancy and the University of Minnesota in the United States. In the worst case studied, peatlands to palm oil plantations in Indonesia, the carbon debt could take over 400 years to repay as the annual biofuel savings in emissions offsets the carbon released as a result of the land conversion. Some sources of biofuel, such as perennial grasses, are more effective as they can be harvested without ploughing under existing carbon-carrying species.
A team led by Timothy Searchinger, a visiting scholar at Princeton University, also in the United States, has reached similar conclusions. "Previously, there's been an accounting error: Land use change has been left out of prior analysis," Searchinger said. A United Nations panel is considering the new evidence. "We don't want a total public backlash that would prevent us from getting the potential benefits," said Nicholas Nuttall on behalf of the United Nation Environment Programme. "There was an unfortunate effort to dress up biofuels as the silver bullet of climate change," he continued. "We fully believe that if biofuels are to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, there urgently needs to be better sustainability criterion."
The United States government has missed the deadline, already postponed once, to decide whether or not to declare the polar bear an endangered species as a result of global warming. The issue has been the subject of some controversy. A recent assessment arguing that forecasts of polar bear disappearance are premature was greeted with strenuous criticism, though it was received favourably by the Alaskan governor Sarah Palin.
It has been claimed the delay is to ensure that an oil lease sale goes through before any decision is made. "Now that the Bush administration has taken care of its clear first priority - taking care of their friends in the oil industry - perhaps they can finally give the polar bear, and the global warming that is causing the bear's demise, the attention it is due," commented Ed Markey, head of a House of Representatives panel on climate change. "If the Fish and Wildlife Service had protected polar bears before the lease sales were finalized, there would have been additional legal safeguards to the polar bears," said Andrew Wetzler at the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in New York. The Fish and Wildlife Agency denies that there is any link with the oil lease sale, citing the complexity of the issues and the science as the reason for the delay.
The United Nations has hosted a ministerial session of the General Assembly on the Bali Action Plan. Participants urged speedy action to meet the late 2009 deadline for a new global pact on climate change, with special attention paid to vulnerable nations. Antigua and Barbuda's ambassador, John Nashe, on behalf of the Group of 77 and China alliance, called for an "effective and comprehensive global response to cover the four building blocks of the plan - mitigation (action to reduce the extent of global warming), adaptation (action to minimize the effects of global warming), technology transfer and financing."
Addressing the session, Tavau Teii, deputy prime minister of Tuvalu, stressed that adaptation is "a crucial issue for an extremely vulnerable small, island nation" such as his. "It is very clear," he continued, "that financial resources for adaptation are completely inadequate." Closing the debate, Srgjan Kerim, General Assembly president, underlined the need for global partnerships, noting the general conviction that "the actions necessary to address climate change are so intertwined that they can only be tackled through combined efforts." The General Assembly will convene two more meetings this year on climate change.
Māori leaders are opposing the New Zealand government's climate change bill, which has been introduced to parliament. Tuku Morgan, chair of the leaders' group, said that the legislation threatens rights to manage land under the Waitangi Treaty. In their submission on the proposed legislation last year, Te Runanga A Iwi O Ngapuhi (TRAION), representing the descendants of Ngapuhi, criticized the consultative process and argued that their forests should be exempt from deforestation taxes. TRAION also wants credits to be available for forests established before 1990.
The government holds that their climate change policy would have significant benefits for Māori. An emissions trading scheme covering carbon credits from forestry would present options for economic opportunities, according to Parekura Horomia, Māori affairs minister. Māori are inextricably linked to and involved with the sustainable management and use of natural resources through the intergenerational exercise of kaitiakitanga. Climate change is a global issue that will impact on the relationship Māori have with the environment and in our use of natural resources, particularly in our coastal communities," he continued. "Many areas of Māori land are steep and in regions vulnerable to storm and erosion. With the onset of climate change, these lands will be even more exposed with the predicted arrival of more frequent and severe storms, and more droughts in the east of New Zealand."
New investment in clean energy may reach US$7 trillion by the year 2030, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), international energy advisers with a head office in the United States. The main drivers will be high oil prices and environmental concerns. A major shift in public opinion "is providing a vital impetus that is moving clean technology across the great divide of cost, proven results, scale and maturity that has separated it from markets served by mainstream technologies," said Daniel Yergin, CERA's chairman.
Wind power is likely to make the greatest gains, followed by solar power and biofuels. Current biofuel technology, the report concludes, is constrained by competition for land with food crops and relatively high production costs. Significant cost and technology hurdles must first be overcome if next generation technology is to convert more plentiful non-food biomass into fuel. The report notes a "bubbling" of clean energy clusters, with Brazil specializing in biofuels, Germany photovoltaic technology and Spain wind power.
"India is prepared to commit that our per-capita carbon emissions will never exceed the average per-capita emissions of developed industrial economies," Manmohan Singh, prime minister of India, announced at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit 2008. He repeated India's call for climate justice. "We cannot continue with a global development model in which some countries continue to maintain high carbon emissions, while the development options available for developing countries get constrained," he said.
Prior to the Delhi summit, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, expressed frustration at what he saw as India's lack of commitment to greenhouse gas emissions reduction. India will release a national plan to deal with the threat of global warming in June. The prime minister's Council on Climate Change has been asked consider the establishment of a venture capital fund to promote clean technologies, improve energy efficiency and avert climate impacts on the nation's poor.
The mood was optimistic at the second Major Economies Meeting on climate change, hosted by the United States in Hawaii. Given the historic attitude of the United States towards the climate negotiations, the first round of talks last year was greeted with cynicism. One reason for the change in mood was that the current talks focused on technology transfer and environmental tariffs, avoiding the controversial issue of mandatory emissions control targets.
Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, said that he thought that people were "a lot more comfortable now given that there was an outcome in Bali establishing the issues that need to be part of both the negotiations and a post-2012 package," he said. The meeting marked a "turning of the page," according to Andy Karsner of the United States Department of Energy. "It really exemplifies how significant the Bali roadmap has been in terms of all the nations of the world beginning to signal the areas that they will concentrate on over a very limited timetable," he added.
Russia has adopted the rules and regulations governing the approval and verification of domestic Joint Implementation projects, opening the door to investment in clean technology and the acquisition of carbon credits. "The necessary framework is in place as of today," reported Vsevolod Gavrilov from the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.
It has been estimated that, with much old infrastructure in need of renewal, Russia could generate 300 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emission reduction units over the next five years. "Theoretically, the potential for Russia is enormous, but due to the delays in getting the regulations in place some companies have focused on developing projects in other markets," such as China and India, commented Steve Eaton from C6 Capital.
The nations of southern Africa could lose 30 per cent of their maize crop by the year 2030 as a result of climate change, according to a new study led by scientists from Stanford University in the United States. Parts of South Asia could be affected by a five per cent decline in staple crops such as millet. "We were surprised by how much and how soon these regions could suffer if we don't adapt," said Marshall Burke from Stanford University.
The researchers combined climate model predictions with data on what poor people eat and the sensitivity of regional crops to climate stress. "We still have time to avoid these impacts, but we don't have much time," warns David Lobell, also from Stanford University "It's certainly our hope not to scare people, but to show them that there is some basis for focusing efforts and trying to get things done in a relatively speedy time frame," he added. The study concludes that substantial investments by farmers, governments, scientists and development organizations will be needed to adapt to the changing climate and avert adverse consequences.
2007 tied with 1998 as the second-warmest year in the global temperature record, according to scientists at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York, United States. The most significant warmth was found in the Arctic and neighbouring areas, resulting in record ice retreat during the northern summer. Over Northern Hemisphere land areas, 2007 was the warmest year since the start of the record in 1880, reports Jay Lawrimore from the United States National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
The occurrence of La Niña is likely to limit temperatures in 2008. "It is unlikely that 2008 will be a year with truly exceptional global mean temperature," predicts James Hansen from GISS. "The fact that 2008 is forecast to be cooler than any of the last seven years - and that 2007 did not break the record warmth set on 1998 - does not mean that global warming has gone away," comments Phil Jones from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, United Kingdom. "What matters is the underlying rate of warming."
The European Union (EU) executive has adopted its proposed energy and climate plan, with some modification to placate various industrial sectors. The plan is "the right policy framework for transformation to an environment-friendly European economy and to continue to lead the international action to protect our planet," said José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. Environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said that the plan "gives Europe a head start in the race to create a low-carbon global economy that will unleash a wave of innovations and create new jobs in clean technologies."
The EU emission trading scheme will be revised from the year 2013. Some concessions were won by lobbyists from sectors, such as steel, cement and aluminium, that consider they could be at risk from foreign competition if additional costs are imposed. Sectors at risk will receive their fixed quota of emissions permits for free until 2020. "In exempting these sectors from auctioning until 2020, the Commission is starting from the negative assumption that no other countries will introduce binding measures to reduce emissions," said EU member of parliament Caroline Lucas. A decision regarding conditions associated with the "at risk" category has been pended until the year 2010, leading to discontent within the business community.
Japan wants the baseline year for emissions reductions targets changed to 2000 in any post-Kyoto agreement. "The base year should... be reviewed from the standpoint of equity. Without equity, it will be impossible to maintain efforts and solidarity over the long term," said Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda at the 2008 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Moving the baseline year would assist any nation whose emissions rose during the 1990s. Fukuda called for a new global target of a 30 per cent energy efficiency improvement by 2020. Japan is establishing a ten billion US dollar fund to assist developing countries respond to the climate threat.
The Davos meeting renewed the commitment of world leaders to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). "We are here to say one thing loud and clear: Not on our watch!," said United Nations head Ban Ki-Moon. "I speak to those who are most vulnerable to climate change and those who suffer the most grinding poverty. Let 2008 be the year of the bottom billion." "For us in Africa, the achievement of the MDGs is our sacred duty," said Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, president of Nigeria. "I welcome this initiative from the global community." "I want to challenge the business community to join the renewed efforts of governments and non-governmental organizations," said Cisco Systems chief executive John Chambers. "It's the power of collaborative innovation that makes a difference," he said. Collaborative innovation was the theme of the Davos meeting.
The United States will develop a multibillion-dollar "clean technology fund" during the course of this year. The fund will assist developing countries finance technologies to limit emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. The aim, said David McCormick, Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs, is to "put a dent in the funding gap" between more expensive advanced technology and older, cheaper technology. It could cost developing countries an additional US$30 billion to switch to cleaner technology over the period to 2030, according to McCormick.
Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, welcomed the establishment of the fund. "The notion of this clean technology fund... represents a sea change in thinking on climate change," commented de Boer. "Up to now there has been a lot of concern, certainly in the United States, that helping developing countries like China and India on climate change would take jobs away from Americans and give them to the Chinese," he continued. The United States will host a second round of climate talks in Hawaii at the end of this month.
The European Union (EU) executive will put forward its controversial energy and climate plan this week. The plan spells out how the EU's agreed target of a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2030, and parallel targets for renewable energy and biofuels, will be met. "Our package... is a demonstration of our willingness to put our money where our mouth is," said José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. He recently warned the European Parliament "that transforming Europe into a low-carbon economy is not an easy task." "But this is the moment to be serious, responsible and coherent with our commitment," he continued.
The plan has been criticized from many sides. Environmental groups consider the targets too weak. "Coming up with just a 20 per cent proposal goes against both the scientific advice on what is needed to prevent a climate crisis and the moral obligation entered into in Bali," said Stefan Singer of WWF. Individual countries are concerned that they may be disadvantaged by their particular circumstances. Sweden, for example, fears that it may find itself penalized because its renewable energy sector is already substantial. France would like to see its nuclear power generation recognized. Industry and energy utilities across Europe are worried about economic costs.
A new assessment identifies coastal development as the main threat to Caribbean coral reefs. "The continuing degradation of coral reefs may be soon beyond repair, if threats are not identified and rapidly controlled," warns lead author Camilo Mora of Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada. "In the Caribbean alone, these losses are endangering a large number of species, from corals to sharks, and jeopardizing over four billion dollars in services worth from fisheries, tourism and coastal protection," he continues.
The assessment was based on monitoring corals, fish and macroalgae at over three hundred sites in 13 countries, comparing records with socio-economic data on population density, coastal development and agricultural land use as well as environmental and ecological statistics. The analysis revealed that the number of people living near coral reefs is the main cause of coral mortality, loss of fish biomass and increases in macroalgae abundance. Coastal development, by increasing sewage and fishing pressure was identified as a major contributor to loss of corals and fish biomass. The area of cultivated land, related to agrochemical discharges, appears to have driven macroalgae growth. It was found that, alongside these factors, higher sea temperatures accelerates coral mortality.
The World Economic Forum warns that turbulent financial markets and geopolitical tensions may divert attention away from the climate issue during 2008. "Action to mitigate climate change, for example, may be put in danger should the global economy weaken substantially, even though many of the... decisions which will shape the future path of global climate will need to be made in the next five years," according to a new report prepared for the forthcoming Davos summit.
The report on global risks identifies four major issues for the coming year: systemic financial risk, supply chain disruptions, energy security and, now a global concern, food security. Prices for many staple foods reached record highs during 2007 and global food reserves are at a 25-year low, rendering world food supply vulnerable to political crisis or natural disaster. In the longer-term, the report warns of complex challenges to global equity as the drivers of global food insecurity - population growth, lifestyle changes, use of crops to manufacture biofuels and climate change - become more acute.
The World Bank and the European Union (EU) are planning to raise a new loan to assist Least Developed Countries fight climate change. "I don't agree to use existing development funds to finance the fight against climate change in the least developed countries," said EU development commissioner Louis Michel. Industrialized nations would borrow money on the international capital market and the loan would be reimbursed over a long period. Some funds may be raised through taxation.
Michel had discussed the plan for a global fund at the European Development Days meeting in November 2007. There, he stressed the need for "a creative way to design this global loan which would allow us the resources to deal with these climate issues." "If we don't drive this forward through strong political decisions to get immediate results," he continued, "we will find ourselves in the same place fifteen years from now."
Switchgrass, a second-generation source of ethanol, yields around five times as much energy as is required to grow it, according to a new report. "This [study] clearly demonstrates that switchgrass is not only energy efficient, but can be used in a renewable biofuel economy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance rural economies," said co-author Ken Vogel from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The analysis was based on field trials conducted over five years in Nebraska and North and South Dakota. The switchgrass that was grown should have produced as much ethanol per acre as corn grown in the same areas, though the researchers cautioned that ethanol production from switchgrass, based on conversion of lignocellulose, rested on various assumptions. "Corn grain conversion technology is mature, whereas cellulosic conversion efficiency technology is based on an estimated value" Vogel warned. Switchgrass is being developed for use on marginal crop lands and it is not expected that it will replace corn being grown on prime agricultural land.
After heavy criticism at the United Nations Climate Change Conference 07, held in Bali, Indonesia, Japan is to reverse its opposition to numerical targets for greenhouse gas emissions controls. The decision will be announced at the Davos economic summit later this month. Japan will host a climate change summit before the Group of Eight (G8) leaders meet in Toyako, Japan, in July 2008, where new targets will be proposed.
The Japanese and Chinese governments have agreed a carbon-credit deal that will see Japan investing in emission mitigation in China and buying the resulting carbon credits. Japan will also provide training to Chinese researchers in the technology to limit climate change. Japan is currently looking for additional means of meeting its Kyoto Protocol target. The government announced plans for further action last year, including voluntary measures by industry and energy conservation. While holding the G8 presidency this year, "Japan hopes to lead the worldwide discussions in order to hand over clean skies to our children," said Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
The Orangutan Conservation Strategy and Action Plan will not only protect the endangered primate but should also limit climate change. "Protecting orangutan habitat, especially in the peat swamp forests which contain significant carbon sinks, means both a secure future for the orangutan, and avoiding carbon emissions from the forest," said Susan Lieberman of WWF’s Global Species Programme. The development of the Action Plan has been led by the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. The Plan aims to stabilize orangutan populations and habitat by the year 2017.
The new market for carbon credits could swing forestry economics in favour of conservation, according to a new study sponsored by the Partnership for Tropical Forest Margins (ASB). "What we discovered is that returns for deforestation are generally so paltry that if farmers and other land users were rewarded for the carbon stored in their trees and forests, it is highly likely that a large amount of deforestation and carbon emissions would be prevented," reported Brent Swallow, ASB global coordinator. The researchers found that, in most areas, deforestation rarely generated more than US$5 for every ton of carbon released. A ton of carbon is currently valued at around US$35 on the European market.
Production of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells rose to 3,800 megawatts worldwide in 2007, up an estimated 50 per cent over 2006, according to the annual review by the Earth Policy Institute. PV production has been doubling every two years since 2002. China tripled PV production in 2006 and has doubled output in 2007.
The latest development is thin-film technology, which could bring down the price of solar electricity to a level comparable with coal-fired production. Because of its flexibility, the technology can be used in far more situations than conventional PV panels. Nanosolar has recently started production of thin-film solar cells at its factory in California. The first panels will be used in a solar power station in Germany. "We are aiming to make solar power stations up to 10 megawatts in size. They can be up and running in six to nine months compared to 10 years or more for coal-powered stations and 15 years for nuclear plants. Solar can be deployed very quickly," said Erik Oldekop from Nanosolar.
World food prices rose 40 per cent over 2007 according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "Urgent and new steps are needed to prevent the negative impacts of rising food prices from further escalating and to quickly boost crop production in the most affected countries," said FAO director-general Jacques Diouf. "Without support for poor farmers and their families in the hardest-hit countries, they will not be able to cope," he continued. The shortage is the result of a combination of factors: low stocks, high oil prices, droughts and floods and the demand for biofuels.
The year 2007 also saw more frequent and costlier natural disasters, according to German re-insurance company Munich Re. This, the company concludes, could be a sign of things to come. "These events cannot, of course, be attributed solely to climate change, but they are in line with the pattern that we can expect in the long term: severe storms, more heavy rainfall and a greater tendency towards flooding," said Peter Höppe of Munich Re's Geo Risks Research Department. The worst human catastrophes during 2007 struck developing nations. More than 11,000 people died in Asia in natural disasters, with about 3,300 lives lost in Bangladesh as Cyclone Sidr hit.
Japanese scientists are seeking ways of reducing climate impacts on the country's rice crop, reports the BBC. "Global warming can affect rice in many ways," according to Toshihiro Hasegawa at the National Institute of Agro-Environmental Sciences near Tokyo. "The plant itself can be very sensitive to temperature at any time of the growth stages. But the most devastating effect can be seen in the late stage of the rice growth," he said. The pollination stage may only last one hour. Experiments suggest that pollination can fail if temperatures rise above 36°C.
The starting point is to consider varieties of rice that are most resistant to high temperatures. Different strains flower at different times of day so selecting those that flower when temperatures are lower is one way forward. Scientists are also examining means of reducing methane emissions. Rice fields are responsible for around a quarter of the nation's methane emissions. "Many other industries have been aware of the need to control emissions in the past," Hasegawa commented. "In agriculture there was more focus on environmental concerns. But scientists can help farmers to change their behaviour. We need to take strong action."
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recommends that developing nations invest more in urban and indoor agriculture to ensure an adequate food supply for growing city populations. The aim is to "make most efficient use of space using controlled environments," according to WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud.
The WMO is also advising member nations to make greater use of agro-meteorological products, which can also aid adaptation of changing climate conditions, and to make available the latest information about climate impacts on local farming systems and water resources. The recommendations were made during a WMO working group meeting to promote sustainable farming practices in Asia, held in Hanoi.
General Electric plans to cut solar installation costs by half
Project 90 by 2030 supports South African school children and managers reduce their carbon footprint through its Club programme
Bath & North East Somerset Council in the United Kingdom has installed smart LED carriageway lighting that automatically adjusts to light and traffic levels
The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the American Public Gardens Association are mounting an educational exhibit at Longwood Gardens showing the link between temperature and planting zones
The energy-efficient Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers hotel is powered by renewable and sustainable sources, including integrated solar photovoltaics and guest-powered bicycles
El Hierro, one of the Canary Islands, plans to generate 80 per cent of its energy from renewable sources
The green roof on the Remarkables Primary School in New Zealand reduces stormwater runoff, provides insulation and doubles as an outdoor classroom
The Weather Info for All project aims to roll out up to five thousand automatic weather observation stations throughout Africa
SolSource turns its own waste heat into electricity or stores it in thermal fabrics, harnessing the sun's energy for cooking and electricity for low-income families
The Wave House uses vegetation for its architectural and environmental qualities, and especially in terms of thermal insulation
The Mbale compost-processing plant in Uganda produces cheaper fertilizer and reduces greenhouse gas emissions
At Casa Grande, Frito-Lay has reduced energy consumption by nearly a fifth since 2006 by, amongst other things, installing a heat recovery system to preheat cooking oil
Tiempo Climate Newswatch