Tiempo Climate Newswatch
News Archive 2010
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.
Reaction to the twin agreements reached at the Cancún climate summit has been generally positive. "We have strengthened the international climate regime with new institutions and new funds," said European Union climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard. Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council in the United States, citing progress on emissions reductions, greater transparency, forest preservation and the creation of the green fund, described the Cancún Agreements as a detailed set of visionary, yet pragmatic principles. "The Cancún Agreements, combined with the efforts of millions of people around the world working at the personal, local, state and regional levels to deal with this problem, signify real progress" he said. "We now have a solid foundation from which to build upon." Saleemul Huq from the International Institute for Environment and Development, a Tiempo editor, commented that "we're on a very good start" with the Green Climate Fund. "The two things that we did achieve in Cancún, against expectations somewhat in fact, we now have the new climate fund and countries have started pledging," he explained. "Market participants didn't really expect much and what we saw was a clear political commitment," said Martin Schulte, a director at First Climate. "We've got out of the complete standstill," he concluded.
Agreement on forests and emissions, REDD, was a major outcome of the meeting. Greenpeace spokesman Steve Campbell said that the REDD mechanism could be a major step forward for forests, though "the devil is really going to be in the detail." He was pleased that forests will not be included in carbon markets. Ben Powless from the Indigenous Peoples' Forum on Climate Change welcomed the forest agreement but considers that the language on safeguarding indigenous peoples' rights is weak. "That still maintains the possibility to privatize a large part of our natural resources, our lands and territories. And really the ones who would suffer from that would be indigenous communities as well as biodiversity," he said.
There was a very positive response to the possibility that China will accept a degree of international verification of its emissions control. "It's a huge step in the right direction," said Fred Boltz of Conservation International. In a letter sent to the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldives, pledged his country's backing for the Cancún Agreements and congratulated Calderón for his government's "remarkable achievement in successfully brokering the balanced package of decisions." The atmosphere throughout the meeting was far more constructive than at the previous summit. "There is more camaraderie than I saw in Copenhagen, more dialogue and much more intense engagement between the United States and China, and less shadow boxing," commented Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh.
Governments are risking human lives by underestimating the emissions cuts needed over the next 40 years, according to a new report from Friends of the Earth (FoE). For a reasonable 70 per cent chance of avoiding unacceptable impacts, a global temperature rise of less than two degrees Celsius, emissions would need to fall 16 per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. Government calculations are based on a 50 per cent probability. Andy Atkins from FoE commented that "it's astonishing that the United Kingdom, European Union and Group of 8 have adopted policies based on a 50:50 chance of avoiding a two degree rise in global temperatures - this is a reckless gamble with the lives and livelihoods of millions of people on the planet."
If the maximum amount of global emissions that could be permitted were allocated equally amongst the world's population to 2050, the United States would have to reduce its emissions by as much as 95 per cent by 2030 and the European Union by 83 per cent. Following peak emissions in 2013, China would need to reduce its emissions by five per cent a year. "The failure to curb emissions over the last 20 years means that millions of people around the world face an increased risk of drought, flooding and hunger," said Atkins. "This is a global emergency that requires immediate global action - wealthy nations must show leadership by rapidly slashing their emissions and provide poorer countries with sufficient finance and technology to do the same."
Real-world observations have confirmed that clouds are likely to respond to greenhouse gas-induced warming by amplifying that warming in a positive feedback. "No one has really rigorously quantified this feedback, and that's basically what I've done," said Andrew Dessler from Texas A&M University. "The cloud feedback is indeed positive. It does amplify the warming we get from greenhouse gases. The results suggest that our understanding and the models' simulation is actually quite good."
The analysis suggests that, for every one degree Celsius warming, clouds will trap an additional 0.5 Watts per square metre of energy. "If you ask the question, how could mainstream science be wrong about climate change? There would have to be something in the climate system that would cancel the warming," Dessler said. "One of the main places that could be would be clouds. Based on this work, I don't really see any evidence that that would happen." The research used satellite data as well as analyses of conventional weather observations for the first decade of the present century.
After over-running on the final day, the Cancún climate summit ended with two major agreements. The developed nations, recognizing their historic responsibility, "must take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof," states the agreement on long-term cooperative action. Developing countries, for their part, will take "nationally appropriate mitigation actions in the context of sustainable development," subject to adequate financial and technical support. A compromise agreement was reached on an international inspection regime for these nations, a development that China had opposed. Under the second agreement, the Kyoto Protocol will continue beyond 2012. This was despite opposition from Japan, though critical details, such as national emissions targets, have still to be negotiated. The overarching goal of the two agreements is to hold the increase in global average temperature to below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This goal will be reviewed after five years and the need to restrict the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius will be considered.
Adaptation is now given equal weight with mitigation in the international response. The wide-ranging Cancún Adaptation Framework covers: planning and implementing adaptation actions; impact, vulnerability and adaptation assessment; strengthening institutional capacities; building social and ecological resilience; enhancing disaster risk reduction strategies; measures regarding climate change-induced displacement, migration and planned relocation; development and transfer of technologies, practices and processes and capacity building; strengthening data, information and knowledge systems, education and public awareness; and improving climate-related research and systematic observation. A process will be established that enables least developed country nations to formulate and implement national adaptation plans. The Green Climate Fund will provide "scaled-up, new and additional, predictable and adequate funding" for developing country activities and will be run by developing and developed countries, resolving contention regarding the role of the World Bank. Support will rise to a goal of US$100 billion a year in 2020. Agreement has also been reached on finance to support developing countries limit emissions by forest protection.
In his closing address, Mexican president Felipe Calderón declared the conference a success, saying that the agreements "altered the inertia and have changed the feeling of collective powerlessness for hope in multilateralism" that had settled over recent negotiations. The role of Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in pushing through the two agreements was highly commended. She was described as a "goddess" by the Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh.
Climate change could cause nearly one million deaths a year by 2030, according to a report from Development Assistance Research Associates (DARA) and the Climate Vulnerable Forum. Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2010: The State of the Climate Crisis documents the vulnerability of 184 nations to short-term climate impacts in the areas of health, weather disasters, habitat loss and economic stress.
The report also details effective ways to avoid fatalities, such as averting weather disasters by planting mangroves to prevent flooding and flood-proofing houses. Local early warning systems to alert people to coming disasters can be cost-effective within a year. They are most relevant to low-income countries where 90 per cent of deaths due to natural disasters occur. Avoiding widespread death from climate-sensitive diseases like malaria is also deemed particularly cost-effective. "If we let pressures more than triple, or worse, no amount of humanitarian assistance or development aid is going to stem the suffering and devastation," commented DARA head Ross Mountain. "Highly fragile countries will become graveyards over which we pour billions of dollars. Low-lying islands will simply not be viable anymore, then disappear. We will all pay and we will pay big time."
An international conference will be held May 2011 in the United States to discuss the legal implications of the complete loss of a nation-state's territory due to climate change. "We're facing a set of issues unique in the history of the system of nation-states," said Dean Bialek, adviser to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. "We're confronting existential issues associated with climate impacts that are not adequately addressed in the international legal framework."
The government of the Marshall Islands has sought advice from the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York, who will host the May conference, to advise on the issue. "If a country like Tuvalu or Kiribati were to become uninhabitable, would the people be stateless? What's their position in international law?" asked Jane McAdam from the University of New South Wales in Australia. "The short answer is, it depends. It's complicated." Michael Gerrard, head of the Center for Climate Change Law, asks "If [the Marshall Islands] go underwater, what becomes of their fishing rights?" Licensing tuna fishing is a major income source for the nation.
"Climate change is an issue that affects life on a planetary scale," said Mexican president Felipe Calderón in his opening speech to participants at the Cancún climate summit. "What this means is that you will not be here alone negotiating in Cancún. By your side, there will be billions of human beings, expecting you to work for all of humanity," he continued. Major issues at the summit include the future of the Kyoto Protocol and formalizing emissions commitments made by nations under the Copenhagen Accord.
The mobilization of long-term finance in support of developing country mitigation and adaptation efforts is a critical item on the summit agenda, including the creation of a new fund and accountability of its delivery. Also on the agenda are accountability for implementation of mitigation targets and actions and how fairness can guide long-term mitigation efforts. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, called on delegates to reach an outcome that is both firm and dependable with a dedicated follow-on process for future work. "When the stakes are high and issues are challenging, compromise is an act of wisdom that can unite different positions in creative ways. I am convinced that governments can compromise to find their way to a concrete outcome," she said. Around 15,000 people are participating in the summit.
Japan has said that it will not support extension of the Kyoto Protocol from 2012. Environment minister Ryu Matsumoto described the treaty as "outdated" as it only covered nations responsible for 27 per cent of world emissions. Japan wants a global treaty. "It does not make sense to set the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol as the current Kyoto Protocol is imposing obligation on only a small part of developed countries," said Japanese negotiator Hideki Minamikawa.
"With this position, Japan isolates itself from the rest of the world. Even worse, this step undermines the ongoing talks and is a serious threat to the progress needed here in Cancún," said Yuri Onodera of Friends of the Earth Japan. Developing nations see progress on the future of the Kyoto Protocol as a prerequisite for a broader global agreement. "The fate of the Kyoto Protocol is going to cast a shadow over what we’re trying to do here on all the other building blocks of a climate agreement," commented Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council in the United States.
The World Meteorological Organization has reported that global temperature estimates for the year to date indicate that 2010 is set to be one of the three warmest years since 1850. Adam Scaife from the United Kingdom Met Office noted that "2010 is clearly warmer than 2009 despite El Niño declining and being replaced by a very strong La Niña, which has a cooling effect." Because of continued La Niña cooling, 2011 is considered unlikely to be a record year.
The most extreme high temperature departures from normal over land during 2010 have occurred in two major regions: across much of Canada and Greenland and over most of the northern half of Africa and south Asia. The tropical North Atlantic was especially warm. Areas that have been colder than normal during 2010 include parts of western and central Siberia in Russia, parts of southern South America, interior Australia, parts of northern and western Europe, eastern China and the southeast United States. A number of northern European countries may have their coolest year since 1996, including the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Norway.
In the run-up to the Cancún climate summit, leaders from over 100 urban centres met at the World Mayors Summit on Climate in Mexico City and agreed the Global Cities Covenant on Climate, the Mexico City Pact. The pact establishes a set of voluntary commitments aimed at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and facilitating urban adaptation. Actions will be recorded in the carbonn Cities Climate Registry. "We have to tell the international community that it's in the cities that the battle to slow global warming will be won," said Marcelo Ebrard, mayor of Mexico City.
Ebrard was appointed champion of the United Nations campaign Making Cities Resilient at the summit. "It is our way to recognize Mayor Ebrard for his exemplary leadership, and for showing how local action can be taken to build the resilience of nations and their assets," said Margaret Wahlström of the Secretariat of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. "It is particularly relevant at a time when the cost of disasters is expected to rise significantly because of climate change. Cities will have to bear the biggest brunt of climate-related risks," she added. The campaign draws on the sustainable urbanizations principles developed in the UN-Habitat World Urban Campaign 2009-2013.
China has acknowledged that is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases. "Our emissions volume now stands at number one in the world," said Xie Zhenhua from the National Development and Reform Commission. He called on the United States to take a leadership role at the Cancún climate summit reaffirming his country's position that developed countries should accept their historic responsibility for the climate problem. China is taking voluntary action to limit emissions growth. "We will not allow our emissions to increase unchecked. China is taking decisive actions to slow down our emissions so that our emissions peak can come at an early date," he said. China will not, however, accept mandatory controls.
Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh has said that India would be open to engagement with a system of global monitoring of climate change efforts that respects national sovereignty, a source of contention at the Copenhagen climate summit. He described the sum committed to fast-start finance in support of developing country actions by the United States as a "laughable number." Small Island States want an end-2011 deadline for a new climate agreement. "In the case of climate, emergency requires speed," said Dessima Williams of the Alliance of Small Island States. "Anything that is not concluded in Cancún should not be put off into the indefinite future but could easily and should be referenced to South Africa [the 2011 climate summit]," she argued. This position will meet opposition from the United States.
Existing pledges and promises to control national emissions, if fully realized, could deliver around 60 per cent of the reductions needed to limit the rise in global temperature to two degrees Celsius over the 21st century, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). There is still, though, a large "gigatonne gap" to be addressed.
"The results indicate that the United Nations meeting in Copenhagen could prove to have been more of a success than a failure if all the commitments, intentions and funding, including fully supporting the pledges of developing economies, are met," commented Achim Steiner, UNEP head. "This still leaves a gap of perhaps 5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent - a gap that could be bridged by higher ambition on carbon dioxide by developed and developing countries perhaps complemented by action on a range of so-called non-carbon dioxide pollutants such as methane from waste tips to black carbon from the inefficient burning of biomass and animal wastes," he continued.
India is amongst the nations most vulnerable to climate change, according to a comprehensive report from the Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment (INCCA). Following the launch of the report, environment minister Jairam Ramesh stressed the need to develop Indian research rather than relying on global scientific data and analysis. "This dependence on borrowed data, borrowed models, borrowed research has cost us politically," he said, noting that blindly accepting Western science's prognosis could have social and economic costs for the nation.
According to the INCCA report, India could warm by around two degrees Celsius within 20 years, with some coastal regions experiencing a greater rise in temperature. While rainfall levels may increase, particularly in the Himalayas and the northeast, there could be fewer days of rain, increasing the likelihood of both flooding and drought. The report examines potential impacts on human health, forestry, water supply and agriculture. It projects that irrigated rice is likely to gain in yields marginally as temperatures rise compared to rainfed crops as irrigated rice could benefit from the carbon dioxide fertilization effect. Maize and sorghum may have reduced yields. Coconut productivity is forecast to rise on the western coast and be reduced in the eastern coastal region. A reduction in apple production has occurred in the Himalayan region and this is likely to continue in the future. Thermal stress in livestock could lead to a reduction in milk productivity.
Development agencies can act now to help Himalayan communities prepare for the impact of glacier melt on their lives, according to a new study by American researchers. "The extremely high altitudes and sheer mass of High Asian glaciers mean they couldn't possibly melt in the next few decades," said Elizabeth Malone of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "But climate change is still happening and we do need to prepare for it. That's especially true in this part of the world, where poverty and other concerns make its residents very vulnerable to any change," she continued.
The report identifies the challenge of lack of information, vulnerabilities related to current societal and ecosystem conditions and the need for mitigation, focusing on black carbon. Addressing these issues would be a "no regrets" approach as they concern critical needs whatever the glacial response to climate change. Programmes that integrate health, education, the environment and social organizations are needed, the report concludes. As glacier melt is part of complex, region-wide hydrological changes, effective programmes will have to be cross-sectoral and will achieve co-benefits across sectors. Extending programme timelines beyond three to five years and explicitly coordinating projects, especially across sectoral and geographic boundaries, should also be considered given the nature of climate change. "Agencies like USAID already have assets and expertise that have advanced the developing world for years," Malone commented. "This report offers a menu of options on how those assets can also be used to address the many issues that will arise from climate change."
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that food prices may rise by 10 to 20 per cent next year as a result of poor harvests and an expected rundown of global reserves. The forecasts for 2011 have had to be revised due to extreme volatility in world markets. "Rarely have markets exhibited this level of uncertainty and sudden turns in such a brief period of time," the FAO report notes. World cereal production is now forecast to contract by two per cent, rather than to expand by just over one per cent as predicted in June.
International food import bills could pass the one trillion dollar mark this year. The report warns that "prices could rise even more if production next year does not increase significantly – especially in maize, soybean and wheat. Even the price of rice, the supply of which is more adequate than other cereals, may be affected if prices of other major food crops continue climbing." Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington DC fears that 2011 will not be a good harvest. "The condition of winter wheat crops is not good. Neither the United States nor Russia are expecting good harvests," he said.
"Everything I see tells me that there is a deal to be done [at the Cancún climate summit]," Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said last week. While not underestimating the political gaps that remain to be bridged, she considers that agreement can be reached in four important areas: measures to cope with climate change, technology transfer, forests and long-term climate financing for developing countries. "I don't hear any party saying that there would be a possibility to only pick out some of the components and move those forward," she said. "What I hear from the parties is the need for a balanced package."
What might emerge from Cancún is a set of interlocking agreements. "Countries have actually learned for themselves... that there is no such thing as one all-encompassing solution," Figueres said. "They also seem to be setting out to develop the building blocks upon which they can build realistic action on the ground, because countries really need results on the ground right now. And I don't see them veering away from that in any sudden way." The summit runs from November 29th to December 10th.
Kenya plans to open Africa's first continent-wide climate exchange platform, the Nairobi Climate Exchange, next year, enabling all African nations to sell carbon credits. "Kenya is better placed to emerge as a regional carbon emission trading hub," said treasury permanent secretary Joseph Kinyua. "We have started a process of establishing a carbon emission trading scheme in Nairobi to pioneer the carbon market in Africa."
According to the Kenyan government, there has been a high degree of interest from foreign banks wanting to partner in trading carbon credits. "We have been flooded with inquiries from financial institutions like HSBC Bank and JPMorgan, but we cannot engage them now until we have set rules and regulations," commented economic secretary Geoffrey Mwau. It is hoped that the exchange will stimulate investment in renewable energy and forest projects.
Fifteen countries, meeting at the Tarawa Climate Change Conference in Kiribati, have signed the Ambo Declaration, which calls for decisions on an "urgent package" for concrete and immediate implementation to be agreed to at the Cancún climate summit to assist those in most vulnerable states on the frontline to respond to the challenges posed by the climate crisis. The aim of the meeting was to hold a consultative forum between vulnerable states and their partners, creating an enabling environment for multi-party negotiations under the auspices of the climate treaty.
Colonel Samuela Saumatua, Fijian environment minister, said that the location of the meeting was ideal for dialogue. "The spirit of discussion was very helpful, very Pacific," he said. "It's a far cry from Copenhagen, and here people suggested things, instead of saying you can't have that, they said it may be better to look at it this way. So that's the spirit of things." The Declaration was signed by Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Fiji, Japan, Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Solomon Islands and Tonga. Kiribati president Anote Tong reported that he was disappointed that the United States and the United Kingdom opted out of the declaration by taking up observer status.
The Republican gains in the mid-term elections mean that the United States is not likely to adopt a cap and trade approach to mitigation, but other options are available, according to United States president Barack Obama. "I think the smartest thing for us to do is to see if we can get Democrats and Republicans in a room who are serious about energy independence and are serious about keeping our air clean and our water clean and dealing with issue of greenhouse gases," he said. A raft of energy policies for a cleaner environment, including national standards, might provide common ground. The Republican gains do further erode prospects for a far-reaching deal at the imminent Cancún climate summit. "The... elections confirm what many people already suspected: the next United Nations meeting in Cancún won't be a breakthrough on emission reductions," commented Richard Klein of the Stockholm Environment Institute.
The European Union, planning to cut carbon emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels over the next ten years, has agreed its position for the Cancún talks. "The European Union stands ready with an ambitious approach as regards emissions, provided other major emitters also take their responsibilities," said Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council. The European Union wants loopholes closed and other major economies to make deeper emissions cuts. "The goal for Cancún remains a balanced set of decisions which keep up the momentum toward an international framework to keep global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius," said José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission.
WWF has published "policy prescriptions" for eleven nations ahead of the Cancún climate summit. "These eleven governments have not done enough to get climate policy out of its sick-bed since Copenhagen," said Gordon Shepherd of the WWF Global Climate Initiative. "WWF is delivering the right policy prescriptions to restore the talks to good health."
For example, WWF is calling on the governments of Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States to come to the climate summit with a commitment, without reservation, to take on legally-binding emission reduction targets that match scientific findings and to putting in place national action plans for a zero carbon economy. Germany or the United Kingdom should promote the need to implement innovative financial instruments, such as a levy on the aviation and shipping sector or a financial transaction tax, to finance developing country efforts. "The Cancún meeting itself might not result in a 'new climate deal' for our planet. But if these governments show political leadership there is room for optimism - all of the building blocks are in place to make the Cancún negotiations a success," Shepherd said.
Higher levels of shipping activity in a warmer Arctic could not only increase greenhouse gas emissions but also worsen other forms of pollution, according to a study completed by a research team from the United States and Canada. "One of the most potent 'short-lived climate forcers' in diesel emissions is black carbon, or soot," reported James J Corbett from the University of Delaware. "Ships operating in or near the Arctic use advanced diesel engines that release black carbon into one of the most sensitive regions for climate change."
The incomplete burning of marine fuel releases tiny particles of carbon that absorb sunlight, both directly from the sun and reflected from snow and ice. The researchers estimate that this black carbon and other forms of pollution from ship engines could increase the contribution of Arctic shipping to global warming in the year 2030 by 17 to 80 per cent over that of carbon dioxide alone. With emission control technologies, though, black carbon from shipping could be reduced in the near term and then held nearly constant through to the year 2050. "Our hope," said Corbett, "is that this study will enable better communication of emerging science with policy makers and aid the eight Arctic Council nations with climate policy."
Delegates at the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, reached agreement on a new Strategic Plan, the "Aichi Target", with 20 objectives for the year 2020. "This conference must be viewed as a success and a major global achievement," commented Russ Mittermeier of Conservation International. "We were able to solve the key issues that were blocking the negotiations and ended up with a strategic plan with 20 targets to protect biodiversity over the next decade." Some believe that it was Japan's announcement of US$2 billion in funding that re-energized the talks after they appeared to stall.
The objectives include a zero tolerance target for species extinction, a goal to protect 17 per cent of all inland water and terrestrial areas and 10 per cent of marine areas, restoration of 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems and reducing habitat loss by at least 50 per cent. A measure was adopted banning climate-related geo-engineering activities that may affect biodiversity until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks and impacts. There is an exception for small-scale scientific research studies. Agreement was also reached on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS), which aims to ensure equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. "I won’t say it’s a miracle that we achieved this agreement, but it is surely historic," said Mittermeier. "History will recall that it was here in Nagoya that a new era of living in harmony was born and a new global alliance to protect life on earth was established. History will also recall that this would not have been possible without the outstanding leadership and commitment of the government and people of Japan," said Ahmed Djoghlaf, CBD executive secretary.
Climate change is threatening genetic diversity and food security, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns in a new report. "There are thousands of wild crop relatives that... hold genetic secrets that enable them to resist heat, droughts, salinity, floods and pests," said FAO director general Jacques Diouf. "Increasing the sustainable use of plant diversity could be the main key for addressing risks to genetic resources for agriculture," he continued.
The FAO estimates that three-quarters of crop diversity was lost during the 20th century. A recent study from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research suggests that climate change could result in the loss of as much as 22 per cent of the wild relatives of food crops such as peanut and potato by the year 2055. The FAO report does note that there is now greater awareness of the importance of protecting and making use of the genetic diversity of food crops, with gene banks increasing in number and size. It stresses, though, the importance of mechanisms to ensure ready access to preserved genetic diversity, such as that provided by the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
The Asia-Pacific region is four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than Africa and 25 times more more likely than Europe or North America, according to a new report from the United Nations. The region accounted for 85 per cent of deaths and 38 per cent of global economic losses due to natural disasters over the past three decades.
"Unless these imbalances are addressed, people who are constantly exposed to disaster risk are more likely to remain poor and more vulnerable to disasters, perpetuating a vicious cycle from which it is extremely difficult to break free," Noeleen Heyzer and Margareta Wahlström from the United Nations said in a joint statement. "Thus the question for us is not 'how to?', but rather 'how to do better?' – because people matter!"
As the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) opened in Nagoya, Japan, executive secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf stressed the importance of monitoring and evaluation processes if the Aichi Nagoya Strategic Biodiversity Plan, to be approved at the meeting, is to be successful. "Not one country reporting to the CBD... has met the 2010 target of substantially reversing the rate of loss of biodiversity," reported Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme. "Among the important agenda items here in Nagoya is resetting this ticking clock by setting bolder and more determined goals," he continued.
The equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources, a principal aim of the CBD, will be a major issue in Nagoya. The Informal Consultative Group on access and benefit-sharing (ABS) is working towards a protocol. Whether or not significant progress is made could be a critical factor in determining the overall success of the summit. A ministerial meeting this coming week will make preparations for the Cancún climate summit on issues related to sustainable forest management, climate change and biodiversity.
Scientists spend too much time collecting data and attending conferences, and not enough time providing practical solutions that local people can implement, charged Anthony Nyong of the African Development Bank. They are failing Africa in its efforts to adapt to climate change, he told a Climate Change Adaptation Programme meeting, organized by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Stockholm Environment Institute and held in Addis Ababa before the recent Seventh African Development Forum. "Eighty-five per cent of the money coming to Africa for adaptation is used for 'capacity building' [meetings] in hotels - yet nobody has ever built capacity in a hotel," he said.
The theme of the African Development Forum was acting on climate change for sustainable development in Africa. "Finances are critical," commented Abdoulie Janneh, head of the Economic Commission for Africa, in an interview with UN Radio. "We must mobilize our own resources to really again underpin the importance we attach to climate change. But this is the challenge that was imposed on Africa. We are not contributing much to this phenomenon of climate change and, therefore, what we are saying is that those countries that have created this should really come up with the resources necessary," he continued.
The United Kingdom and China head a recent survey of clean energy efforts in six countries that together account for half the world's carbon emissions. "The Chinese leadership have made a strategic decision that they missed out on the last two industrial revolutions and they don't want to miss out on the third one," commented Erwin Jackson of Australia's Climate Institute, who commissioned the report.
The survey estimates the United Kingdom's incentives to cut pollution from electricity generation as equivalent to a price tag on emissions of just over US$29 per tonne of carbon. China's efforts amount to US$14.20 per tonne of carbon, with the remaining countries in the survey falling well below (the United States at US$5.10; Japan, US$3.10; Australia, US$1.70; South Korea, just over 70 US cents). The survey was conducted by Vivid Economics.
As the Tianjin Climate Change Talks ended, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was pleased that participants had come closer to defining what could be achieved at the forthcoming Cancún climate summit. "This week has got us closer to a structured set of decisions that can be agreed in Cancún. Governments addressed what is do-able in Cancún, and what may have to be left to later," she said. Action that could be agreed at the summit was about turning "small climate keys that unlock very big doors," generating a new level of climate action among rich and poor, business and consumers, governments and citizens. "If climate financing and technology transfer make it possible to give thousands of villages efficient solar cookers and lights, not only do a nation's entire carbon emissions drop, but children grow healthier, women work easier and families can talk, read and write into the evening," she said. This is about real people being given the opportunity to take control of their future stability, security and sustainability, she added.
With little progress made in Tianjin towards resolving the impasse with regard to the next stage of the climate treaty's development, there is increasing concern that the Kyoto Protocol could unravel. "We have to acknowledge that the world is in a valley of frustration," Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, told the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit. He remains confident, though, that global agreement will eventually be achieved. "Climate change has not gone away," he said. "Our problem has not become smaller as a result of Copenhagen. The problem has continued to grow bigger. That will sooner or later re-focus government attention on why there is more to be gained by acting together." The Tianjin talks also failed to resolve the allocation of the US$30 billion "fast start fund" for developing countries, a Copenhagen Accord pledge. At a subsequent meeting, the BASIC group of developing nations "expressed concern with the lack of transparency and the relevant information on fast start finance and reiterated that these resources must be new and additional to the existing ODA [Official Development Assistance] and bilateral funds," according to a statement released after the meeting.
Eighteen per cent more water entered the oceans in 2006 than in 1994, with an average increase of 1.5 per cent per year, according to an analysis of satellite records of sea-level rise, precipitation and evaporation. Global precipitation is also increasing. "In general, more water is good," commented author Jay Famiglietti at the University of California at Irvine in the United States. "But here's the problem: Not everybody is getting more rainfall, and those who are may not need it."
"What we're seeing is exactly what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted - that precipitation is increasing in the tropics and the Arctic Circle with heavier, more punishing storms. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people live in semiarid regions, and those are drying up," reported Famiglietti. The researchers caution that the analysis period is short. "I want to be clear that this is an emerging trend... there are many ups and downs in the data, [but] if these trends persist, then they will be very much an indication that the water cycle is intensifying," Famiglietti said.
New research indicates that the biological impact of global warming could be greatest in the tropics, even though the temperature increase has been smaller there than in colder regions. "The expectation was that physiological changes would... be greatest in the north temperate-Arctic region, but when we ran the numbers that expectation was flipped on its head," said Michael Dillon of the University of Wyoming in the United States.
The study focused on the effect of recent temperature rises on metabolic rates in cold-blooded organisms, whose body temperature approximates the temperature of their surroundings. Small temperature changes can push tropical organisms beyond their optimal body temperatures, causing substantial stress, whereas organisms in temperate and polar regions, adapted to large seasonal temperature shifts, can tolerate much larger increases. Dillon argues for more studies of climate impacts in the tropics in view of the past neglect of this area.
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, urged Parties to the climate treaty to "move beyond their national interests in pursuit of a common good" as the final negotiations before the Cancún climate summit took place in Tianjin, China. Figueres considers that agreement on at least two "elements" will be reached in Cancún: a framework to support adaptation and a mechanism for technology cooperation. Agreement on emissions control and funding for developing countries remains problematic, she said. She wants delegates to focus on manageable aspects of the climate negotiations at the December summit, with contentious issues to be resolved at a later date.
Tension between China and the United States threatened to overshadow the Tianjin talks, with China warning that there would be no compromise on the interests of developing countries. "We are losing trust and confidence," said foreign ministry representative Huang Huikang. The Chinese response was triggered by comments by Jonathan Pershing, United States deputy special envoy on climate change, who said that the United States was disappointed with the pace of the negotiations and might pursue an alternative to the United Nations process. Pershing also accused some countries of attempting to "relitigate" agreements embodied in the Copenhagen Accord. "A developed country I won't name hasn't done a job for itself," said Xie Zhenhua, China's head negotiator. "It has not provided financing or technology to other countries, yet it asks them to accept stringent monitoring and voluntary domestic actions. It's totally outrageous. It's quite unacceptable," he continued.
The United States needs to develop a national strategy for adaptation to climate change, according to a report commissioned by the White House. "A lot of communities in our country are struggling with how to plan to ensure reliable access to food, water and other things in their community in the face of a changing climate," said Jack Fellows, vice president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, organizer of the National Climate Adaptation Summit on which the report was based. "There's really not a clear federal strategy in this area."
The report recommends that the federal government move aggressively to develop a national adaptation strategy to coordinate planning and exchange information between federal agencies and local governments. A federal "climate portal" is needed to provide one-stop access to climate data and projections compiled by federal agencies and a list of "best practices" should be drawn up to help guide local and state governments and business sectors to develop their own adaptation plans. Report contributor Rosina Bierbaum of the University of Michigan commented that "wise adaptation measures can protect our citizens, communities, and ecosystems from many negative consequences of climate change." "But," she said, "we need to act now. Some local adaptation efforts are more advanced than federal efforts. Thus, we all need to learn from one another, agree to a national strategy, and share and develop authoritative tools, information, and best practices."
A new system that will allow scientists to monitor the impact of climate change in the Himalayas using satellite imagery has been launched. "The whole of the Himalayan region is something of a black hole for scientists and we hope to use this system to bridge the data gap," said Basanta Shrestha from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu. "We can use this to monitor the dynamics of the cryosphere in the light of climate change, which is very important in terms of both disaster management and future water availability," he continued.
The system, a regional implementation of SERVIR, is a joint initiative between ICIMOD and the Agency for International Development and the National Atmospheric and Space Administration in the United States. The launch took place as experts gathered for an international symposium on bridging the data gap for adaptation in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region. The symposium included a youth forum, attended by participants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
The Group of 77 (G-77), meeting at the United Nations headquarters, has criticized the rich nations of the world for failing to meet their promises of financial support for the developing world. The core of the problem, said Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egyptian foreign minister, is "the failure of many developed countries to fulfil their financial commitments" with regard to the Millennium Development Goals. Undersecretary-general Sha Zukang noted the continuing failure of rich nations to commit funds to help the transfer of "clean" technologies to the developing world.
Abubakr al-Qirbi, outgoing G-77 president, describing climate change as an urgent challenge for the group that "threatens not only our societies' developmental prospects but also their very existence," stressed the importance of the continuity of the Kyoto Protocol as an essential element for the future of the climate change regime. "New quantified emission reduction commitments by Annex I parties under the Kyoto Protocol, therefore, must be met to avoid any gap between the first and subsequent commitment periods under the Protocol," he said.
Researchers met in Senegal last week to discuss the potential of the cowpea, the black-eyed pea, one of the world's oldest crops. "It's hard to imagine a more perfect crop, particularly for Africa, where food production lags behind population growth, demand for livestock products is soaring, and climate change is bringing new stresses to already challenging growing conditions," said Christian Fatokun of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, co-organizer of the conference.
"Climate-ready" crops such as the cowpea could be substituted for staples, for example, maize and rice, that may fail as climate changes. Cowpeas provide good yields, even in hot and dry conditions, and yet more resilient varieties are being developed. The challenge is dealing with the threats that limit production and long-term storage. "The good news in Senegal is that researchers will be revealing new and innovative approaches to dealing with the pests and weeds that attack cowpeas at every stage of their lifecycle and with the voracious weevils that devour dried cowpeas," Fatokun said.
A global assessment of groundwater use has concluded that the rate at which humanity is depleting underground stores of water has more than doubled over recent decades. The extraction of groundwater, which enters the atmosphere through evaporation then the oceans through precipitation, could account for around a quarter of observed sea-level rise, the study finds.
"Although the role of groundwater depletion in rising sea levels had already been acknowledged, it was not addressed in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report due to a lack of reliable data to illustrate the severity of the situation, commented researcher Marc Bierkens from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. "Our study confirms that groundwater depletion is, in fact, a significant factor." The study showed that groundwater depletion is most acute in areas of India, Pakistan, the United States and China, which are also the regions without sustainable levels of food production and water consumption.
"We will not be able to mitigate climate change or adapt to its impacts, or prevent desertification and land degradation, if we don't protect our ecosystems and biodiversity," Jose-Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, warned a recent high-level meeting on biodiversity at the United Nations. He called on the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, next month to adopt a strategic plan that would force all countries "to raise their game; to tackle the key drivers of biodiversity loss; to prevent ecological tipping points from being reached."
During panel discussion, it was recognized that there had been a collective failure to meet the CBD's current target of reducing the rate of biodiversity loss by the year 2010. A major challenge for the October summit will be to agree a workable post-2010 strategy with clear, measurable and communicable targets for 2020. Moreover, progress needs to be made in developing the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which is intended to provide a bridge between the scientific community and policymakers. The overarching issue of fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of biodiversity use is also on the agenda, with developing countries concerned that they should benefit financially from the use of their genetic resources.
The United Kingdom is woefully unprepared for the impact of climate change, according to a government advisory body. The adaptation subcommittee of the Committee on Climate Change reports that, while a lot of preparatory work has been undertaken, there are few signs of concrete action - in many places, the concept of adaptation is just "name-checked". This is despite clear evidence that the British climate is already changing.
"The United Kingdom must start acting now to prepare for climate change. If we wait, it will be too late," said subcommittee chair John Krebs. "It is not necessarily about spending more but about spending smart and investing to save. If we get it right, we can save money in the short term and avoid large extra costs in the future. The time has come to move from talking to acting."
The United States is interpreting the Copenhagen Accord as a move away from the Kyoto Protocol paradigm of mandatory obligations for the industrialized nations and voluntary commitments for the developing world. At a briefing following a meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in New York, climate negotiator Todd Stern emphasized that the United States was "perfectly supportive" of discussions stemming from the Copenhagen Accord that were not legally binding. He said, though, that "if we are in a world... where the negotiation on the table is for legally-binding commitments by some, then I would say... if it's going to be legally binding for the United States or Europe or Japan or Australia or whatever, then it would need to be legally binding for China, which at this point is now the world's largest emitter, and India and other major developing countries."
Russia will seek a non-binding agreement at the Cancún climate summit in December that will encompass developing nations. "28 per cent of the world cannot change anything," argued climate change adviser, Alexander Bedritsky, noting that the industrialized nations bound by the Kyoto Protocol only account for a limited percentage of global emissions. "We want cooperation in the period after 2012 to be all inclusive," he said. India fears that the richer nations, sceptical of a new global deal being achieved in Cancún, are secretly developing ground rules for the next stage of the negotiations, a Mexico mandate, that could undermine developing country interests and the process established by the Bali Roadmap.
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has endorsed the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as the proper forum for reaching global agreement on limiting the aviation industry's contribution to climate change. "The world will continue to need a strong aviation industry but the high-flying plane must also be a symbol of pro-active action to address climate change," she said in a video address to the Air Transport Action Group Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva, Switzerland. "Your sector has been proactive and I welcome that... but we face major challenges and the aviation sector holds some critical keys," she continued.
The aviation industry welcomed the definition of responsibility by Figueres. Giovanni Bisignani, head of the International Air Transport Association said that Figueres had provided "a clear recognition of ICAO's responsibility to manage aviation's emissions as per the Kyoto Protocol. And critically, the concern for any conflict between UNFCCC's principle, Common But Differentiated Responsibility, and ICAO's universality has been addressed." John Byerly of the United States State Department commented that "we've had for years a conflict over whether UNFCCC and ICAO were competing areas in which we could deal with aviation and we've had states that don’t want to deal with aviation in ICAO. They want to leave everything to UNFCCC. Her message is a very clear one: That ICAO has a role and the states that constitute ICAO... they have an obligation to come up with a global framework for aviation."
Experts meeting at a workshop on forest governance and decentralization in Mexico have called for a flexible, balanced approach to the dilemmas surrounding REDD+ (reducing deforestation and forest degradation) to ensure that not just the wealthy benefit. "Good forest governance - involving transparent and inclusive relationships between governments, forests and the people who depend on them - is fundamental for ensuring that REDD+ helps forest-dependent communities move out of poverty, instead of fueling corruption and funding entrenched bureaucracies," said Elena Petkova from the Center for International Forestry Research.
Major barriers to forest governance reform in Latin America reported at the workshop included burdensome, unrealistic and contradictory government regulations, widespread disregard for owners' rights to forest use and continuing corruption and illegal logging. Positive developments were also noted, such as Brazil's progress in detecting illegal logging, Costa Rica's simplified standards for sustainable forest management and the wave of land tenure change since the 1980s, which has helped clarify the rights of rural groups, especially those of indigenous people.
The summer ice coverage over the Arctic this year was the third lowest on record, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in the United States. "The Arctic, like the globe as a whole, is warming up and warming up quickly, and we're starting to see the sea ice respond to that. Really, in all months, the sea ice cover is shrinking - there's an overall downward trend," commented Mark Serreze, NSIDC director. "Our thinking is that by 2030 or so, if you went out to the Arctic on the first of September, you probably won't see any ice at all. It will look like a blue ocean, we're losing it that quickly," he said.
As the ice disappears, Arctic wildlife is coming under ever-greater threat. "The polar bear is the best-known victim of rapid melting in the Arctic, but if we don't slash greenhouse pollution, many more creatures will follow it down the path to extinction," said Shaye Wolf of the Center for Biological Diversity in the United States. A recent report from the Center for Biological Diversity and Care for the Wild International finds the Arctic fox, the polar bear, caribou or reindeer, muskox, the Pacific walrus, the gray, beluga, bowhead and narwhal whales, the ringed, bearded, harp and ribbon seals, three seabirds - the Kittlitz's murrelet, spectacled eider and ivory gull - and a species of plankton, the sea butterfly, at particular risk.
Four insurance initiatives have called on governments to harness risk management techniques and industry expertise to help the developing world adapt to climate change. "With climatic disasters inflicting more and more damage, the increasing reliance of governments on foreign aid alone is unsustainable," commented Andrew Torrance, chairman of ClimateWise and head of Allianz Insurance. "As the global climate continues to warm, we have to find new ways to protect people and economies from the impacts of extreme weather, particularly those who are most vulnerable. Insurers have much to offer, but this potential can only be leveraged through a partnership approach with governments," he continued.
Governments are being asked to implement risk reduction measures already agreed at the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction, to provide a suitable enabling environment for risk management and insurance to function at all levels of society, to invest in reliable risk exposure data and making it freely available to the public and to act on lessons learned about the benefits of regional public-private partnerships and micro-insurance schemes that reduce climate-related losses. Patrick M Liedtke from The Geneva Association noted that the core principle of risk management and loss prevention is that in most cases prevention is better than cure. "If governments, especially in the developing world, can implement robust risk management and loss reduction measures then a significant amount of both human suffering and economic loss could be prevented," he said.
Experts meeting at World Water Week in Stockholm have warned that erratic weather is threatening food security. "We are getting to a point where we are getting more water, more rainy days, but it's more variable, so it leads to droughts and it leads to floods," observed Sunita Narain from the Centre for Science and Environment in India. She believes that climate change is making rainfall even more variable. Colin Chartres of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Sri Lanka warned that "millions of farmers in communities dependent on rain-fed agriculture are at risk from decreasing and erratic availability of water."
A new report from IWMI concludes that unpredictable weather requires large investment in a wide range of water storage options to counter the uncertainty. It warns against over-reliance on single solutions like large dams, proposing instead an integrated approach combining storage on all scales, including the use of water from natural wetlands, water stored in the soil, groundwater beneath the earth’s surface and water collected in ponds, tanks and reservoirs. "Just as modern consumers diversify their financial holdings to reduce risk, smallholder farmers need a wide array of 'water accounts' to provide a buffer against climate change impacts," commented the report's lead author, Matthew McCartney from IWMI. "Even small amounts of stored water, by enabling crops and livestock to survive dry periods, can produce large gains in agricultural productivity and in the well-being of rural people," he added.
An international team of scientists has concluded that the estimated rate of ice loss from the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets should be halved. The correction results from a new assessment of the effect of glacial isostatic adjustment, the rebounding of the Earth's crust after the last ice age. "A good analogy is that it's like a mattress after someone has been sleeping on it all night," said team leader Bert Vermeersen of Delft Technical University in the Netherlands.
The researchers made use of observations of changes in the Earth's gravitational field related to the distribution of mass on Earth, including ice, from the two GRACE satellites. Global Positioning System (GPS) and sea-floor pressure measurements were also used. They are calling for a more extensive network of GPS readings, which, combined with other data, "will possibly be able to provide conclusive evidence on this matter in the years to come." The corrected figures means that expansion of the warming oceans must account for around 70 per cent of recent sea-level rise, rather than the 50 per cent that was previously assumed.
Anders Berntell, head of the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) underlined the importance of water quality in the run-up to World Water Week. "We haven't given enough emphasis to the quality of the resource," he said. "So that has been the sort of the orphan child of international water discussions. And I think that it's really time that we put the spotlight on the water quality challenge." He highlighted three priority areas: water-borne diseases; widespread use of chemicals; and the shift of polluting industries from the western world to developing countries.
According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people have no access to safe drinking water and 2.5 billion people don't have access to decent sanitation. Asha-Rose Migiro, United Nations deputy secretary-general, has warned that the world is likely to miss the Millennium Development Goals sanitation target by a billion people. "Access to clean water and adequate sanitation are a pre-requisite for lifting people out of poverty," she said. Alongside climate change, the issue of water consumption in food production will also be discussed during World Water Week, which is organized by SIWI.
Growing support for a "Green Fund" to support developing nation respond to climate change was evident at a meeting of environment ministers in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss climate finance. "We are hoping that we can make a very formal decision [at the Cancún climate summit in December] regarding the establishment of the fund and at the same time decide on how to make this fund be able to channel resources immediately, because there is this sense of urgency," said Patricia Espinosa, Mexican foreign minister. The fund would dispense up to US$100 billion annually by the year 2020.
United States negotiator Todd Stern warned that agreement on other developing country issues - notably, curbs on greenhouse gas emissions and monitoring of national pledges - would be a prerequisite. "This has to be part of a package," he said. "That doesn't mean that you can't negotiate quite far down the road on this... [but] all of those key elements have to move, not just one or two." According to a Reuters overview, it is unclear how much of the US$29.8 billion pledged as climate support for the period 2010-12 to date is "new and additional" money, as specified by the Copenhagen Accord. For example, much of the substantial Japanese commitment of $US15 billion represents funding already committed under the Cool Earth Partnership.
An independent review has called for an overhaul of the management of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including the creation of an executive committee that would include members outside of the IPCC. "The IPCC needs to strengthen its procedures to handle ever-larger and increasingly complex climate assessments as well as the more intense public scrutiny coming from a world grappling with how best to respond to climate change," said Robbert Dijkgraaf, co-chair of the InterAcademy Council, convenor of the review, and president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science.
The review was commissioned following criticism of the IPCC when errors were found in its latest assessment reports. It advises the IPCC to avoid policy advocacy and to only make predictions when there is firm evidence. It also recommends adoption of a "rigorous" conflict of interest policy. The head of the United Nations Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, noted that the report reaffirms the integrity, importance and validity of the IPCC’s work, while recognizing areas for improvement. "These recommendations underscore that the IPCC remains the premier body for undertaking the risk assessment needed in such a complex field where knowledge – especially in respect to likely regional impacts – remains imperfect and where new knowledge is constantly being generated," he said.
As it is looking increasingly unlikely that the United States Senate will pass a climate bill this year, environmentalists are gearing up to defend the plans by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit greenhouse gas emissions from major polluters. "Obviously, the chances are slim that we'll see a comprehensive bill this year - but regardless, the regulations that EPA will be considering next year can achieve some pretty substantial global warming pollution reductions on their own," said Nathan Willcox of Environment America.
According to Sara Chieffo from the League of Conservation Voters, the fight will be two-fold: "One is fighting off legislative attacks to hamstring, weaken or delay EPA's ability to move forward with reductions from our nations' largest emitters" and the second is "pushing EPA to be ambitious on the direct greenhouse gas rules." Democrat senator Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia intends to seek a vote on a bill that would stop the agency from regulating stationary source emissions for two years. Others are expected to try to block climate rules through riders to appropriations bills or other legislation.
Researchers from the United Kingdom, China and Denmark have concluded that, even if all but the most far-reaching emissions control measures, such as geo-engineering, are implemented, global sea level will rise by 30-70cm this century. The team used 300 years of tide gauge measurements to reconstruct how sea level responded in the past to changes in the amount of heat reaching the Earth from the Sun, the cooling effects of volcanic eruptions and past human activities. This information was then used to model sea level under geo-engineering schemes and other emissions control scenarios over the present century.
"Natural sea-level variations caused by extreme events such as severe volcanic eruptions... were generally much smaller than those caused by anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions or predicted under effective geo-engineering schemes," said Svetlana Jevrejeva of the National Oceanography Centre in the United Kingdom. Injections of sulfur dioxide particles into the upper atmosphere on the scale of a major volcanic eruption every 18 months would delay sea-level rise by 40 to 80 years. The researchers caution that such an approach would be costly and also risky. "We simply do not know how the Earth system would deal with such large-scale geo-engineering action," commented Jevrejeva.
A new analysis of observational data for the Antarctic coupled with climate modelling suggests that the recent trend towards increasing Antarctic sea ice could be the result of regional warming. "We just want to understand this paradox," said Jiping Liu of Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States. "For the past 30 years, the Arctic sea ice has been decreasing while Antarctic sea ice has been increasing. We've been trying to explain this."
The proposed explanation is that higher sea surface temperatures have strengthened the hydrological cycle above the Southern Ocean, with increased evaporation towards the equator resulting in greater precipitation, mostly snow, close to Antarctica. Snow stabilizes the upper ocean, insulating it from the heat stored below, as well as reflecting heat away from the ice surface. The additional precipitation also lowers the salinity of the surface water, slowing ice melt. There may come a point, though, the researchers warn, when the temperature rise is such that rainfall rather than snowfall dominates, leading to decreasing Antarctic sea ice.
The United Nations has launched a ten-year campaign to reverse and prevent desertification and to soften the effects of drought in affected areas in order to support poverty reduction and environmental sustainability. The proportions of the problem require a global response, according to secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. "More than two billion people live in the world's drylands. The vast majority live on less than one dollar a day and without adequate access to freshwater," he said. The United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification, which will run to December 2020, aims to raise awareness and prompt action that will protect the world’s drylands from further deterioration and degradation.
Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) stressed that "the path of business-as-usual will worsen the speed of degradation with devastating impacts on livelihoods, families and communities, and will further cause more extinction of life and jeopardize the future of humanity." He underlined the need for an alternative route that “will embrace and undertake the formidable challenges of sustainability." The UNCCD has warned that half the world's population may be living in areas of limited water supply by the year 2030.
Four nations of the eastern Himalayas - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal - have met in Kathmandu to create a roadmap leading to the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas in 2011 in Bhutan and a regional adaptation framework. The aim of the initiative is to reduce the vulnerability of local populations of the region, including the lowlands. Individual country roadmaps on the water, energy, biodiversity and food security sectors will now be prepared.
Madhav Kirki from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Nepal suggested four key areas for developing a climate-resilient region: livelihood diversification, diaster preparedness, climate risk assessment for infrastructure development, and improved management of natural resources. He also stressed the importance of sharing scientific understanding and addressing knowledge gaps. Pema Gyamtsho, agriculture and forest minister of the Royal Government of Bhutan, noted the need to gain a clearer picture of the changes taking place in relation to temperature rise and its local effects. "There are heavy fluctuations in weather patterns and their implications at the local, national, and regional levels are going to be significant. We have to work towards developing our own adaptive strategy at the regional level," he said.
Global plant growth has declined since the year 2000, following a period of increasing productivity from 1982, according to a new analysis. The increase had been attributed to rising temperatures and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. "This is a pretty serious warning that warmer temperatures are not going to endlessly improve plant growth," said Steve Running of the University of Montana, who co-authored the study.
Satellite data indicate that, over the recent period, a continued increase in growth over the northern hemisphere has been offset by a decrease in the southern hemisphere, linked to drought. "This past decade's net decline in terrestrial productivity illustrates that a complex interplay between temperature, rainfall, cloudiness, and carbon dioxide, probably in combination with other factors such as nutrients and land management, will determine future patterns and trends in productivity," commented Diane Wickland at the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Writing in Conservation Letters, Will Turner of Conservation International and his collaborators argue that, unless we plan properly, the manner in which humanity responds to the climate problem may cause more damage than climate change itself. "Climate change mitigation and adaptation are essential," Turner comments. "We have to reduce emissions, we have to ensure the stability of food supplies jeopardized by climate change, we have to help people survive severe weather events - but we must plan these things so that we don't destroy life-sustaining forests, wetlands, and oceans in the process."
Turner cites the example of the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Although this was not a climate event, he acknowledges, many of the responses that it stimulated are comparable with how people will react to extreme weather and climate. "The damage that the response to the tsunami did to many of Aceh province's important ecosystems as a result of extraction of timber and other building materials, and poor choices of locations for building, should be a lesson to us all," he warns. The authors note that one fifth of the world's remaining tropical forests lie within 50km of human population centres that could be inundated if sea levels rise by one metre. About half of all Alliance for Zero Extinction sites - which contain the last surviving members of certain species - are also in these zones. These forests and their resources would be a likely destination of populations forced to move away from the coast.
Even a modest rise in daily minimum temperature could adversely affect Asian rice production, according to an international team of researchers. "If we cannot change our rice production methods or develop new rice strains that can withstand higher temperatures, there will be a loss in rice production over the next few decades as days and nights get hotter," warned team leader Jarrod Welch of the University of California, San Diego. Rice is the staple food to some 600 million people in Asia.
The analysis was based on the link between daily minimum and maximum temperatures and irrigated rice production during the period 1994-1999 at over two hundred sites in China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. "As the daily minimum temperature increases, or as nights get hotter, rice yields drop," Welch said. "Up to a point, higher daytime temperatures can increase rice yield but future yield losses caused by higher night-time temperatures will likely outweigh any such gains because temperatures are rising faster at night," he continued.
Richard Alley, a geoscientist at Pennsylvania State University, has warned the United States House of Representatives committee on energy independence and global warming that a global sea-level rise of seven metres is a realistic possibility. Alley is concerned that the world is rapidly approaching a tipping point, a temperature rise of somewhere between two and seven degrees Celsius, that would force the loss of major ice masses such as the Greenland ice sheet. "Some time in the next decade we may pass that tipping point, which would put us warmer than temperatures that Greenland can survive," Alley said.
John Church at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, who has acted as a lead author on sea-level rise for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, broadly agrees with the assessment. "We are seeing something significant, and it's something our coastal cities have not experienced before," he said. "We're beginning to move outside the range of what we have become used to seeing as normal variability, and see an acceleration of both greenhouse gas levels and sea-level rise." He did, however, stress that there remains considerable uncertainty regarding the potential loss of the Greenland ice. "We are looking at a process that will be going on for centuries," he commented. "It may be that we do cross that threshold relatively soon, but there is a lot of uncertainty around it, in my view."
"Governments have a responsibility this year to take the next essential step in the battle against climate change," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as she opened the third round of climate negotiations this year. "How governments achieve the next essential step is up to them. But it's politically possible. In Cancún, the job of governments is to turn the politically possible into the politically irreversible," she added.
Progress, however, proved slow. "I came to Bonn hopeful of a deal in Cancún, but at this point I am very concerned as I have seen some countries walking back from progress made in Copenhagen," said United States representative Jonathan Pershing. The draft negotiating text on long-term cooperative action has doubled in length to 34 pages with new proposals added and old ones reinstated. "The mitigation discussion even went backwards and became more polarized," remarked Gordon Shepherd at WWF. There has been no resolution of the contentious issue of limits on emissions growth in the major developing nations. There were also signs of deepening rifts over finance for the poorer developing countries. The Copenhagen Accord pledge that US$100 billion a year would be raised by 2020 to assist poor countries adapt to climate change is being questioned. "It sounds very large," said Dessima Williams, delegate from Grenada. "For the donor countries it is a lot to ask taxpayers to pay. But you must weigh that against the need" of countries at risk.
As the meeting ended, Figueres said that the draft negotiating text would not be allowed to grow further. She did feel that some progress had been made on the shape of a future deal. "If you see the bigger picture, we have progress here in Bonn. It is hard to cook a meal without a pot, and governments are much closer to actually making the pot," she said. The final negotiating session before the end-of year Cancún summit will be in Tianjin, China, in October, following high-level political meetings in Geneva and New York. All industrialized nations have now submitted pledges under the Copenhagen Accord to reduce emissions by the year 2020 and 38 developing countries have submitted their proposals to limit emissions growth.
Around 14 million people have been affected by the worst flooding to hit Pakistan in eighty years. At least 1600 people have been killed. The Federal Flood Commission reports that 1.4 million acres of crop land has been flooded and more than 10,000 cows have perished.
In Khyber_Pakhtunkhwa province in northwest Pakistan, the floods devastated areas affected by last year's military offensive against the Taliban. "The economy was restarting... people were getting back to work, people were starting to live some semblance of normality. Of course the flooding's just turned that completely around again and put people back to square one," said Simon Worrall of the Norwegian Refugee Council. As the flooding swept south, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that more than 500,000 people in Sindh province had been relocated with evacuation continuing. There has been anger at the absence abroad of President Asif Ali Zardari, who many feel should be supervising the relief operation.
Restoration of damaged rainforests is more effective at capturing carbon than softwood monoculture plantations, according to an Australian study that challenges existing views. "Carbon markets have become a potential source of funding for restoration projects as countries and corporations seek the cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions", said researcher John Kanowski from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. "However, there is a concern that this funding will encourage single species monoculture plantations instead of diverse reforestation projects, due to the widely held belief that monocultures capture more carbon."
The research team studied three types of projects in northeastern Australia: monoculture plantations of native conifers, mixed species plantations and rainforest restoration projects with a wide range of rainforest trees. "We found that restoration planting stored significantly more carbon in above-ground biomass than the monoculture plantations of native conifers and tended to store more than mixed species timber plantations," Kanowski reported. It was found that the monoculture plantations reforestation projects were more densely stocked, there were more large trees and the trees that were used had a higher wood density then the plantation conifers.
The Executive Board of the Clean Development Board (CDM) is considering altering the manner in which carbon credits are calculated in order to safeguard against potential fraud. The concern is that companies are producing more waste hydrofluorocarbon 23 (HFC-23), a greenhouse gas, than is justifiable as they are being paid, through Certified Emission Reductions, to then destroy the gas. HFC-23 is produced through the manufacture of the refrigerant and propellant hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22).
"If the United Nations CDM Executive Board wants to reinstall the integrity of the mechanism it has no other choice than to put current crediting methodology on hold with immediate effect and cease issuance of all credits for the destruction of HFC-23 until the panel has fully investigated the issue," said Eva Filzmoser of CDM Watch. Most HCFC-22 factories are in India and China. "The fact that you can get all this money means there's now a disincentive to do anything else in that regulatory space to try and control these emissions," said Bryony Worthington from Sandbag.
Meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, environment ministers from the BASIC countries of Brazil, South Africa, India and China, concluded that achieving a binding agreement at the next major climate negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, will be difficult. "The single most important reason why it is going to be difficult is the inability of the developed countries to bring clarity on the financial commitments which they have undertaken in the Copenhagen Accord," Jairam Ramesh, Indian environment minister, said.
Delays on the part of the United States and Australian governments in implementing climate legislation contributed to the pessimistic assessment. "If by the time we get to Cancún [US senators] still have not completed the legislation then clearly we will get less than a legally binding outcome," commented South African minister Buyelwa Sonjica. No specific proposal regarding emissions reductions emerged from the meeting. The BASIC group will meet again in Beijing in October to determine their position at the talks in Cancún. Though not reflected in the official statement, it is reported that the group may, in light of the difficulties in extending the Kyoto Protocol with regard to emissions from the industrialized nations, work towards a single, global agreement.
In a study of the past link between climate, crop production and Mexican census data, an American team of scientists has concluded that climate change could force between 1.4 and 6.7 million Mexicans to migrate across the border with the United States by the year 2080. "There is a significant response of emigration from Mexico to past climate variations," said team member Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University. "It looks like the climate change could be an important factor in future migration," he added.
The historic data suggest that for every 10 per cent reduction in crop yield as a result of climate change an additional two per cent of Mexicans would emigrate, leading Oppenheimer to conclude that "climate changes predicted by the global circulation models would cause several per cent of the Mexican population to move north [if] all other factors are held constant." The researchers took account of other factors, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and border control policy, in identifying the particular impact of climate variability. "For NAFTA, we took special pains to ensure the robustness of the result by comparing Mexican states that were greatly affected by NAFTA with those which were not," said Oppenheimer.
Steve Schneider, leading climate scientist and communicator, has died, aged 65. Flying to London from a meeting in Sweden, he is believed to have suffered a heart attack. He had been diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma in 2001. "Today the world lost a great man," said Ben Santer from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States. "Stephen Schneider did more than any other individual on the planet to help us realize that human actions have led to global-scale changes in Earth's climate. Steve was instrumental in focusing scientific, political, and public attention on one of the major challenges facing humanity – the problem of human-caused climate change." Tiempo laments the passing of an old friend, a constant source of amusement and inspiration, who showed the way for those, like us, committed to the public understanding of science in all its complexity.
"A gripping and eloquent speaker, he had a gift
for expressing complicated ideas in terms that made
sense to people from all walks of life. Steve also had
a remarkable ability to help people understand why they
should care about an issue. He could, in a few
sentences, range from dispassionate and analytical to
fiery and angry, with a couple of memorable jokes in
the middle. Sometimes, words poured from Steve at a
dizzying rate. But regardless of the pace, Steve was
invariably engaging. His arguments were based on the
best available data. He never overstated his case. And
he had a rare gift for turning a phrase that not only
crystallized an important idea but also lodged it in
Six countries, amongst those most vulnerable to climate change, plan substantial cuts in their carbon emissions as a sign of their commitment to combat global warming. "Antigua and Barbuda, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands and Samoa all pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions and pursue green growth and development," according to a statement from the Maldives government. "When those with the least start doing the most, it shows that everyone's ambitions can be raised," said Mohamed Nasheed, president of the Maldives.
The Maldives and Samoa hope to be carbon-neutral by the year 2020, Costa Rica by 2021 and Ethiopia by 2025. The Marshall Islands plans to cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2020 and Antigua and Barbuda by 25 per cent by that year. "Cutting fossil fuels from our economy will benefit both the climate and our financial bottom line," commented Faumuina Tiatia, Samoan minister of natural resources and environment. "It is much cheaper for us to generate electricity from renewable sources than to import increasingly-expensive oil." The announcement was made in the Maldives at the second meeting of the Cartagena Group/Dialogue for Progressive Action, an informal space for discussion open to all countries committed to reaching an ambitious outcome through the climate negotiations and to becoming or remaining low-carbon.
As the second tropical storm in less than a week hit southern China, the national death toll for the year from floods and landslides passed 700. The government reported that water levels in over two hundred rivers in the country have risen beyond warning points, with two dozen exceeding historic highs. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed, 110 million people have been affected and economic losses have reached at least US$21 billion. The casualty and damage figures are the worst for a decade.
A state of emergency has been declared in 17 regions of Russia as high temperatures have destroyed nearly 10 million hectares of crops. The area of crops lost represents around 12 per cent of all lands sown in the country, costing the agricultural sector about US$1 billion. The area affected extends from the southern Urals and central European Russia to the Volga, the Agriculture Ministry reported. The heatwave began in late June and the resultant drought is described by the Russian Grain Union as the worst in 130 years.
Pacific small island states are concerned that, despite the creation of the High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF), climate aid will not be delivered in a timely fashion. "The Pacific SIDS [Small Island Developing States] bear almost no responsibility for the onset of climate change, yet we are suffering the consequences today... Climate change is a man-made disaster and redress for the damage being done to our islands is long overdue," said Ambassador Marlene Moses of Nauru.
The role of the AGF is to design innovative ways of mobilizing new and additional financial resources from private and public sources following commitments made at the Copenhagen climate summit. While the AGF co-chair Jens Stoltenberg, prime minister of Norway, reported that discussions have shown that there are many, possible sources of finance, he acknowledged that political viability remains an issue. Ambassador Stuart Beck of Palau considers it unlikely the private sector would be responsive. "We're not really sanguine about the delivery here," he said. "They're nice words, but when you get on the ground it's difficult to build business models that make a whole lot of sense."
A fifth of the world's mangroves have been lost since 1950, according to the World Mangrove Atlas published by the United Nations Environment Programme and The Nature Conservancy. Mangrove forests are being destroyed up to four times faster than other forests, with the current rate of loss standing at 0.7 per cent a year. Mangroves provide a range of services to humanity, including storm protection, nurseries for fish, carbon storage and wood supply.
The report concludes that the destruction of mangroves is prompted by local decisions, market forces, industrial demand, population expansion or poverty. Coastal development and shrimp farming are often responsible. High-level policy decisions can also play an important part. In the Philippines, state-wide encouragement of aquaculture has led to massive losses whereas in Malaysia state ownership of mangroves has ensured that large areas remain in forest reserves, managed for timber and charcoal production. "Given their value, there can be no justification for further mangrove loss," said Emmanuel Ze Meka, head of the International Tropical Timber Organization. "What's urgently needed is for all those working in fields of forestry, fisheries and the environment to work together and communicate their worth, both to the public and to those with the capacity to make a difference."
Across the Indian Ocean, the rate of sea-level rise is particularly high along the coasts of the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Colorado and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the United States. However, "global sea-level patterns are not geographically uniform," reports Gerald Meehl from NCAR, and sea levels are falling in some areas, such as the Seychelles Islands. The study suggests that the pattern of sea-level rise in the Indian Ocean is linked to changes in the oceanic and atmospheric circulations, which may have been induced by anthropogenic climate change.
Temperatures across the tropical ocean from the east coast of Africa to the International Date Line in the Pacific, termed the India-Pacific warm pool, have risen by 0.5°C over the past 50 years. Weiqing Han of the University of Colorado warns that "if future anthropogenic warming effects in the Indo-Pacific warm pool dominate natural variability, mid-ocean islands such as the Mascarenhas Archipelago, coasts of Indonesia, Sumatra, and the north Indian Ocean may experience significantly more sea level rise than the global average."
Both China and the United States are making available cooling centres, with air conditioning and water, for people stressed by the severe heatwaves affecting parts of the two countries. In China, areas of the north and centre of the country have been experiencing temperatures reaching 40°C, hospital wards have been crowded with victims of heat-related illnesses and overheated vehicles have caught fire. Beijing has experienced the highest single day of water use since 1910. Five hundred cooling shelters have been opened in Guangzhou in southern China.
In the eastern United States, cooling centres in schools and neighbourhood buildings have been opened in New York and Philadelphia. The New York City government has advised residents to visit the cooling centres or spend the day at the mall, museum or movies. Residents are also advised to restrict strenuous activity to between the hours of four and seven in the morning. Heather Buchman of AccuWeather warned that "in addition to putting stress on people and their health, the intense heat will also place a higher demand on power grids due to increased usage of air conditioning. Power outages could result in some communities, putting people at an even greater risk for developing heat-related illnesses."
Solar Impulse has flown for over 24 hours, powered overnight by energy harvested by its 12,000 solar panels during the previous day. Pilot André Borschberg described the flight, over Switzerland, as the most incredible of his 40 years' flying - "just sitting there and watching the battery charge level rise and rise, thanks to the sun." After dark, the plane flew at a height of 6,500m at a speed of 23 knots.
The aim of the project is to demonstrate that, in theory at least, the plane, which has an airliner-scale wingspan, could stay in the air indefinitely. "We are on the verge of the perpetual flight," said project chief Bertrand Piccard. International Air Transport Association commented that, while solar power is unlikely to be the solution for commercial aviation, "after today’s flight, nobody, ever again, can say that carbon-free flight is impossible. The industry’s job is to achieve the same for a plane carrying 400 people."
Lack of attention to the ethical dimension is stifling progress toward sustainability, according to two American researchers. The sustainability debate, write John Vucetich of Michigan Technological University and Michael Nelson of Michigan State University in the journal Bioscience, has "almost entirely neglected" the ethical dimension. They consider the issue of ethics a vital component in the teaching and research of sustainability.
According to Vucetich and Nelson, the most widely appreciated definitions of sustainability - roughly, meeting human needs in a socially-just manner without depriving ecosystems of their health - could mean anything from "exploit as much as desired without infringing on the future ability to exploit as much as desired" to "exploit as little as necessary to maintain a meaningful life." "Handling these disparate views is the inescapable ethical crisis of sustainability," said Vucetich. "The crisis results from not knowing what we mean by value-laden terms like 'ecosystem health' and 'human needs,'" Nelson commented. "In other words, is ecosystem health defined by its ability to meet human needs only, or does ecosystem health define the limits of human need?"
Eliminating soot pollution from sources such as diesel engines and poorly-controlled heat sources could mean that the world has an additional eight years to limit carbon emissions, according to researchers at Princeton University in the United States. Unfortunately, most climate change mitigation scenarios used in policy contexts have focused exclusively on heat-trapping gases," commented Denise Mauzerall from Princeton's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "This means those eight years aren't actually eight years we can gain by cutting soot emissions; rather, our results suggest that we need to accelerate carbon dioxide emissions [reductions] by about eight years relative to these scenarios if we don't also act to reduce soot emissions."
The components of soot, black carbon and organic carbon, have complex effects on climate. Black carbon absorbs radiation, warming the air and, as it falls on snow or ice, the earth's surface, whereas organic carbon is more reflective and tends to have a cooling effect. Both can have an additional cooling effect as they affect cloud formation. "But effects on global climate aren't the only reason to reduce soot emissions," Mauzerall said. "The public health case for reducing emissions of fine particles, including soot, is unequivocal, and aerosol pollution can have significant regional climate effects. For instance, soot pollution from India and China that is transported to the Himalayan glaciers can enhance glacier melting and hence influence water supplies in India, China and Bangladesh -potentially contributing to increased flooding in some regions in the short-term and reduced water availability in the longer term."
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is likely to increase its estimates of future sea-level rise in its next assessment, due 2013/14. The state of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will be a major focus of the new report and experts met in Kuala Lumpur recently to start the review process.
New satellite data "are starting to show... that both the Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheet are losing net mass, not on the margins but as an ice sheet", said Jean-Pascal van Ypersel, IPCC vice-chair. "These are new data, these are new developments and new methods, which will allow the IPCC in its developments around sea-level rises to provide numbers that will almost inevitably be higher than the last assessment."
Underground organisms hold the key to species diversity and patterns of species abundance, concludes Scott Mangan of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the United States. Seedlings of five species were planted under adults of the same species in the forest and, in a greenhouse, seedlings of each species were grown in soil collected around each of the other species. Mangan and his collaborators found that survival rates of seedlings grown in soil from the same species were closely related to how common or rare they are as adults.
"We've known for a long time that tree seedlings do not grow and survive well under their mothers or other adult trees of the same species," Mangan said. "One explanation for the maintenance of the diversity of tropical trees is that adult trees harbour pests and diseases that harm seedlings of their own species more than they do seedlings of other species," he explained. The researchers emphasise this mechanism, though important, is likely to be one of many that determine species abundance in forests.
Micronesia has continued to lead the drive to phase down the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montréal Protocol treaty on protection of the ozone layer. HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases as well as ozone depleters. Speaking at a meeting of the Open-ended Working Group of the Parties to the Montréal Protocol in Geneva, Switzerland, Micronesia's negotiator Tony Oposa argued that, rather than waiting for action on HFCs under the climate treaty, action should be taken now under the Montreal Protocol. "Who do you call if a house is burning and the fire truck is far away – with the firefighters arguing over what to do – and a volunteer brigade is already at the scene, ready and able to put out the fire?" he said.
According to Guus Velders of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, phasing down HFCs could result in avoidance of over 200 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions by the year 2050. "This would be a major victory for the world, and especially for vulnerable nations like Micronesia that need fast, near-term climate mitigation to survive," commented Durwood Zaelke of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. "Opportunities for progress under the climate negotiations this year are uncertain, but we know the ozone treaty is ready to deliver. The Parties have the chance to solve a big part of the climate change problem by taking action to phase down HFCs this year, virtually eliminating one of the six greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol."
A four-year drought in Syria's rural areas is forcing local inhabitants to migrate to the cities. The World Food Programme (WFP) is delivering more than 2,900 tonnes of food rations to the provinces of Al-Hasakeh, Al-Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. "The situation is really bad" in northeast Syria, said Selly Muzammil of the WFP. Wheat is going to be imported for the third consecutive year.
African nations have the most precarious water supplies in the world, according to a survey by the British consultancy Maplecroft. Somalia, Mauritania and Sudan head the "water security risk index". "With climate change there is going to be a greater strain on limited water resources in many nations," the study's author Anna Moss commented. Pakistan and Egypt are also amongst the most vulnerable countries and are already experiencing internal and cross-border tensions due to limited water resources. "This should send a signal to investors who will need to develop water conservation and security strategies and be mindful of their water-use impacts on local communities," said Maplecroft head Alyson Warhurst.
Oscar Schofield from Rutgers' Cool Ocean Observation Laboratory in the United States and a group of American and British scientists, writing in Science, have called for improved ocean observing in the Antarctic, particularly around the Western Antarctic Peninsula.
The Western Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing rapid climate change, with close to 90 per cent of the peninsula's glaciers in retreat and the ice season shortened by 90 days. Schofield and his colleagues propose a "nested, multi-platform" approach, which would involve data collection from ships, satellites, drifting sensors, submersible robots and sensors mounted on animals such as seals and whales. The data would provide information on the heat budget for the atmosphere and ocean, interaction between the deep ocean and shelf waters and effects on local marine climate, ice and ecology. The role of feedback in amplifying polar climate trends would be an important topic for further research.
The latest draft negotiating text on long-term cooperative action under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was reviewed by a contact group at the Bonn Climate Change Talks and then circulated to delegates to facilitate discussion before the text is considered formally at the next negotiating session in August. While environmental groups welcomed the manner in which the negotiating text was developing, it was clear that a number of issues remained to be resolved.
During the final plenary session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), the United States noted "unacceptable" elements in the draft text, saying that it moved away from the agreement in Copenhagen, and observed that there is no presumption that the text can be used as a draft going forward. Yemen, for the G-77/China grouping, described the draft text as "unbalanced" due to the removal of the G-77/China's proposals and insisted that it be revised to better reflect developing country concerns before it is discussed formally. Grenada, speaking for the Alliance of Small Island States, lamented deletion of references to Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States and Africa. Despite this criticism, many developing countries stressed their support for the AWG-LCA Chair, Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, acknowledging that she had prepared the advance draft in good faith.
Saving the sperm whale may have an unexpected benefit in terms of offsetting carbon emissions. Researchers at the Flinders University in Australia have estimated that these whales remove 400,000 tonnes of carbon each year as iron released in their faeces stimulates removal of carbon by boosting phytoplankton growth.
According to Trish Lavery, the lead researcher, sperm whales "have certainly gone past the carbon-neutral status that we all aspire to, and they're actually sinking more carbon from the atmosphere each year into the deep ocean... than what they add to the atmosphere." Were it not for commercial whaling, they would be disposing of ten times as much carbon. "If we hadn't decreased sperm whale populations from their historical levels," Lavery said, "we'd have an extra about two million tonnes of carbon being pulled out of our atmosphere every year."
Global warming could increase hazard risk in alpine areas, according to European researchers. Studying the impact of the 2003 heatwave and the 2005 floods in the European Alps as an analogue for the consequences of climate change, the researchers concluded that global warming would "have a significant impact on hazard type, location and frequency and a potentially negative effect on the region's economic engine – tourism," according to Jasper Knight of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.
The 2003 heatwave caused record glacier loss, three times above the 1980-2000 average, and melting permafrost resulted in increased rockfalls. In Switzerland, it is estimated that the 2005 floods caused one quarter of all damage by floods, debris flows, landslides and rock falls recorded since 1972. In Austria, the floods were responsible for an estimated €555 million worth of damage to buildings, railways, roads and industrial areas. The greatest hazards tend to be concentrated in mountaineering and skiing areas.
Saudi Arabia blocked a call at the Bonn Climate Change Talks by the Association of Small Island States for a study into the impact of 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming. "Some small island states could become stateless from sea level rise, which is why they are calling for global temperature rise to be kept below 1.5°C," commented Wendel Trio of Greenpeace. "That Saudi Arabia, a country with such obvious oil interests, exploited the United Nations consensus rule to stop the world's most vulnerable countries from getting a much-needed summary of the latest climate science is breathtaking for its criminal disregard for the human impacts of climate change," he continued.
As the talks ended, Yvo de Boer, outgoing executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat, noted that there has been a "positive spirit" at the talks, with "good progress" over technical issues. Nevertheless, "a number of hot political issues are very much stuck and need to be addressed," he added. In his farewell statement, he accused governments of doing too little on climate change. "To move towards World Cup imagery: we got a yellow card in Copenhagen and the referee's hand will edge towards the red one if we fail to deliver in Cancún and beyond," he said. His expectation of the Cancún summit later this year is that it can provide an agreed architecture to deliver on adaptation, mitigation, technology, finance, capacity-building and reducing deforestation in developing countries. de Boer was given a standing ovation by the delegates following his address. Christiana Figueres takes over as executive secretary of the UNFCCC Secretariat.
A survey of trends in the size of a sample of Pacific islands has shown that most have not lost area as sea level has risen over the past 60 years. Just four islands out of the 27 studied have diminished in size since the 1950s. "It has been thought that as the sea level goes up, islands will sit there and drown," commented co-author Paul Kench of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. "But they won't. The sea level will go up and the island will start responding."
"Atolls are composed of once-living material," said co-author Arthur Webb at the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission in Fiji, "so you have a continual growth." Debris from coral reefs around the islands provides a constant supply of material that can preserve an island's size, though changes may occur on the coastal configuration. Kench and Webb warn, though, that accelerated sea-level rise may overwhelm the islands' capacity to respond.
A joint study by British and Brazilian scientists has shown that fire incidence in the Amazon has increased in 59 per cent of areas affected by reduced deforestation, threatening the success of international efforts to reduce carbon emissions resulting from forest loss and degradation. "Changes in fire frequency could jeopardize the benefits achieved through UN-REDD [the United Nation's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation programme] as trends in fires are the opposite to trends in deforestation. However, despite UN-REDD's vital importance in this region, fire is currently neglected in the emerging United Nations framework," said researcher Luiz Aragao at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.
The increase in fire occurrence is largely the result of leakage of fires from farms using slash and burn into surrounding forest edges and forest fragments. This must be addressed by sustainable fire-free land-management of deforested areas as part of the UN-REDD programme, Aragao concludes. "We need to change the way Amazonian people use and manage their land so that they can do this without fire. They would need financial assistance for machinery, training and technical support to enable them to comply with implementation and maintenance of fire-free management of their land," he said. The National Institute for Space Research in Brazil was partner in the research.
This year's second round of the Bonn United Nations Climate Change Talks is intended to pick up on issues that were not resolved at the Copenhagen Climate Summit and pave the way for full implementation of climate change action across the globe. "The Copenhagen meeting may have postponed an outcome for at least a year, but it did not postpone the impacts of climate change, said Yvo de Boer, outgoing executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat. "The deadline to agree an effective international response to climate change at Copenhagen was set because governments, when launching negotiations in Bali in 2007, recognized the scientific warning on climate for what it was: a siren call to act now, or face the worst," he continued.
A new negotiating text under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention will be considered. "Climate negotiations over the next two weeks will be on track if they keep focused on a common way forward towards a concrete and realistic goal in Cancún. There is a growing consensus on what that the goal for Cancún can be - namely, a full, operational architecture to implement effective, collective climate action," de Boer commented. The Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol will be discussing the future of the Protocol beyond 2012. de Boer called on governments "to develop greater clarity on the future of the Kyoto Protocol, since this issue cannot be left unattended until Cancún." He expects progress to be made in key areas such as forests, finance for developing countries and cuts in emissions. "Cancún can deliver if promises of help are kept and if promises to compromise are honoured in the negotiations," he said, calling for more concrete contributions to the adaptation fund from other countries in the run-up to Cancún, "to deliver on what they promised five months ago."
Bolivia's ambassador Pablo Solón has expressed concern over the current United Nations climate negotiations, saying that the voices of the real victims of climate change are being excluded from the negotiations. "In April 2010 more than 35,000 people from 140 countries gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia and developed the historic Cochabamba People's Agreement a consensus-based document reflecting substantive solutions to the climate crisis." he said. "We are, therefore, deeply concerned that the new text proposed as a basis for climate change negotiations does not reflect any of the main conclusions reached in Cochabamba," he continued.
Solón criticized the level of financial assistance that has been proposed: "On finance we are only considering US$100 billion a year to respond to climate change - just US$20 per person in the developing world - to solve climate change. It's clear that climate change impacts are not going to be dealt with for just US$20 per person." He urged the United Nations to embrace the conclusions reached by social movements, indigenous peoples and international civil society in Cochabamba. "It is both undemocratic and non-transparent to exclude particular proposals from the negotiations, and it is imperative that the United Nations listens to the global community on this issue critical to humanity," he said.
A more accurate method of calculating the change in greenhouse gas emissions due to land-use change has been developed by researchers in the United States. Existing methods of estimating the greenhouse gas value of an ecosystem such as a forest may only consider the amount of carbon stored in the trees. "What some analyses miss is the potential for that forest to take up more carbon in the future," said author Evan DeLucia from the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "And they're missing the greenhouse gas costs - the added emissions that result from intensively managing the land - that are associated with that new cropland."
The new method takes account a wider range of factors that influence the emissions associated with land-use change, such as an ecosystem's ability to take up or release greenhouse gases over time and its vulnerability to natural disturbances, such as fire or hurricane damage, according to co-author Kristina Anderson-Teixeira at the Energy Biosciences Institute. "To understand the place of nature these days, we've got to put a value on it," DeLucia said. "It's got to compete with all the other values that we put out there. This is by far the most comprehensive way to value an ecosystem in the context of greenhouse gases."
Guidelines for releasing aid to protect forests have been agreed at the Oslo Climate and Forest Conference. "The outcome of this meeting could be the first comprehensive component for a future international agreement on climate change [since the Copenhagen climate summit]," commented World Bank chief Robert Zoellick. "This is a good day, it rebuilds trust in the international community's ability to confront climate change," said Abyd Karmali of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
"The interim REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation)Partnership Agreement puts the world on course to delivering scaled up early action to tackle deforestation and represents a real breakthrough in making progress on keeping global temperatures below 2°C," said the United Kingdom's climate change minister Greg Barker. "The onus is now on all of us to support real action on the ground in rainforest nations to stop vast acres of forests disappearing. This means that finance must also be scaled up in the long term and that this can only be achieved in partnership with the private sector," he continued. The United States, Australia, France, Japan, Britain and Norway agreed at the Copenhagen climate summit to commit US$3.5 billion over the period 2010-12 to forest protection. That fund has now grown to US$4 billion.
Control measures have at least ten times the impact of climate factors on malaria incidence, according to a recent study conducted by the Malaria Atlas Project. Researcher Peter Gething from Oxford University described the climate link as an "unwelcome distraction" from the main issues of tackling malaria.
Computer models of disease spread were used to assess the efficacy of control measures over the past century, showing that control measures were one to two orders of magnitude greater than any climatic influence. "I'd say what we've shown is that if we can provide people with existing technologies such as drugs and bednets, we have the capacity as a global community to reduce the misery this disease causes," Gething commented.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources such as power plants, refineries and factories by modifying the Clean Air Act. "After extensive study, debate and hundreds of thousands of public comments, EPA has set common-sense thresholds for greenhouse gases that will spark clean technology innovation and protect small businesses and farms," Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, said.
"The Obama administration has again reminded Washington that if Congress won't legislate, the EPA will regulate," Senator John Kerry commented. The move is being challenged. "If EPA wants changes in the Clean Air Act it should propose them to Congress, not unlawfully take on the role of Congress," said Gregory M Scott of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association in a statement. "If EPA is allowed to get away with this, it sets a dangerous precedent for unelected officials in federal agencies to change laws approved by the elected representatives of the American people," he added.
Christiana Figueres has been appointed executive secretary of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, succeeding Yvo de Boer. She has been a member of the Costa Rican negotiating team since 1995 and is founder of the Center for Sustainable Development in the Americas.
"I have known Christiana Figueres for many years," said de Boer, "and can testify to her deep commitment and work to establish the robust and effective international climate regime... She is familiar with the different interests a successful outcome of negotiations must address and can help stakeholders to find common ground. I wish her every success." United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon expressed his gratitude to de Boer for his "dedicated services and tireless efforts on behalf of the climate change agenda." Small island states had supported the appointment of Figueres, a candidate from a smaller developing country, opposing the contender from South Africa, a member of the BASIC group of larger developing nations.
Making use of temperature recordings gathered by flotation devices sampling the upper 700m of the ocean, an international team of researchers has confirmed that the top ocean layer has warmed significantly over the period 1993 to 2008. Earlier recordings from expendable bathythermographs are not as accurate as more recent data from Argo floats, said Gregory Johnson from the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) in the United States. "However, our analysis of these data gives us confidence that, on average, the ocean has warmed over the past decade and a half, signaling a climate imbalance."
The research team was led by John Lyman of PMEL and the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. "Ocean heat content is a very good indicator for how the entire planet is warming," Lyman observed. The seas act as a huge planetary heat sink with 80 to 90 per cent of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases in the ocean, he explained. The additional energy stored in the ocean's surface layer over the study period would be sufficient to power nearly five hundred 100-watt light bulbs for each of the 6.7 billion people on the planet.
A United Nations report has called for a new "green revolution" led by Africa's small farmers in order to reduce extreme poverty and hunger. Ineffective farming techniques and wasteful post-harvest practices, according to the 2010 Technology and Innovation Report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), have left sub-Saharan Africa the region most likely to miss the Millennium Development Goals on poverty and hunger. The new green revolution for Africa should be built on technology and innovation and aimed at the needs and capabilities of the millions of smallholder farmers as well as at coping with varying climate conditions.
Africa's capacity to provide food has declined by one-fifth over the past 40 years, UNCTAD secretary-general Supachai Panitchpakdi observed as the report was launched. "There has been a severe deterioration in the way that agriculture should have been addressed, supported by the national governments, supported by the international community and also supported by the kind of technology and innovation methodology that could really prove to be of great help as it has done in Asia," he said. Africa was once a net food exporter, the report notes, but is now dependent on imports for food due to a sustained lack of public investment and the exclusion of the private sector from agriculture.
Radical and creative action is needed to conserve the variety of life on Earth, warns a new report from the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Environment Programme. "We need a new vision for biological diversity for a healthy planet and a sustainable future for humankind," United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon writes in the latest Global Biodiversity Outlook. "To tackle the root causes of biodiversity loss, we must give it higher priority in all areas of decision making and in all economic sectors." The report is based on scientific assessments, over 100 national reports and future scenarios for biodiversity.
The report concludes that the five principal pressures driving biodiversity loss - habitat change, over-exploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change - are either constant or increasing in intensity. For a fraction of the money committed by governments in recent years to avoid economic meltdown, a much more serious and fundamental breakdown in the Earth’s life support systems could be averted. "Business as usual is no longer an option if we are to avoid irreversible damage to the life-support systems of our planet," according to Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity. "The arrogance of humanity is that somehow we imagine we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral: the truth is that we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050," warned Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director.
Speaking at the latest meeting of the Conference of the African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change, Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi, chief negotiator for Africa, identified two issues that must be addressed before the next major climate summit in Cancún, Mexico. "One is that the mechanism through which Africa negotiates as a single team is completely an unprecedented thing for us," he said. "We need to streamline our negotiating mechanism at all levels so that losses are ironed out before Cancún." The second issue is the implementation of the Copenhagen accord in general and its financial provisions in particular. "Even if the African Union Summit endorsed the Copenhagen accord there is a wide spread skepticism about the implementation of the accord expressed during the last Summit," he continued.
The European Commission (EC) may be considering upgrading the European Union's carbon emissions target to a 30 per cent reduction by 2020 in order to break the deadlock in the climate negotiations. Economic recession has significantly reduced the cost of meeting the 30 per cent target according to a paper to be published by the EC later this month. The current goal is a 20 per cent reduction. Previously, an upgrade to 30 per cent had been dependent on action by other nations, which has not been forthcoming. Connie Hedegaard, European commissioner for climate change, has argued that a more stringent target could be the only way to force up the price of carbon and promote investment in low-carbon technologies. "With business as usual and the 20 per cent target we will not see a substantially higher price of carbon," she said. "That is a challenge because we need innovation. Around €30 [per tonne of carbon] people would start to do things differently."
"Quite simply, the world is consuming too much energy and materials," said Luis Alberto Ferraté Felice, chair of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), as the 18th Session of the CSD took place in New York. "The 20 per cent of the population in the highest-income countries accounted for 77 per cent of total private consumption in 2005, while the poorest 20 [per cent] accounted for only 1.3 per cent," he observed. The new two-year cycle of the CSD will review five major themes: mining, chemicals, transport, a 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production, and waste management.
Addressing the high-level segment of the conference, Asha-Rose Migiro, United Nations deputy secretary-general, called on participants to aim high. "We made plans and promises in Rio and Kyoto, in Johannesburg and here in New York at the turn of the Millennium. Let us keep the promises we have made to each another, and to our planet," she said. As the meeting ended, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called on participants to "accelerate momentum" in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. He also stressed the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen the resilience of vulnerable countries and communities.
The Petersberg Climate Dialogue, co-hosted by Germany and Mexico, saw ministers and negotiators from 45 countries meet from May 2nd-4th in an informal setting to discuss the "building blocks" of a new global climate agreement. The aim was to focus on specifics, avoiding the sensitive political issues that have undermined recent negotiating sessions. "This meeting was a very important contribution to building trust and confidence," commented Norbert Röttgen, German minister for environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety.
Topics discussed during the Petersberg Climate Dialogue included mechanisms for the measuring, reporting and verification of emissions reduction pledges, short-term financing for poor countries and halting deforestation. "We have reached consensus on forest protection, and there are good perspectives for consensus on technology transfer - a result is possible, at least in Cancún," said Röttgen. Information about individual projects, including South Korea's Green Growth Institute, was also presented at the meeting. Switzerland has announced that they will host a similar dialogue, focused on global financing, in July.
Plant leaves account for less than one per cent of total methane emissions, according to scientists from the University of Edinburgh. "Our results show that plant leaves do give rise to some methane, but only a very small amount," said Andy McLeod. "This is a welcome result as it allays fears that forestry and agriculture were contributing unduly to global warming." A previous study had suggested that vegetation might give rise to much greater emissions of methane.
Scientists in the United States and Australia have warned that heat and humidity may combine to exceed the highest tolerable wet-bulb temperature for human life as global warming develops over coming centuries. "Whole countries would intermittently be subject to severe heat stress requiring large-scale adaptation efforts," said Matthew Huber from Purdue University in the United States. "One can imagine that such efforts, for example the wider adoption of air conditioning, would cause the power requirements to soar, and the affordability of such approaches is in question for much of the Third World that would bear the brunt of these impacts. In addition, the livestock on which we rely would still be exposed, and it would make any form of outside work hazardous."
Asian nations, particularly China and the Republic of Korea, are leading other major nations as green investments play a major role in their economic and employment recovery packages, according to a new book authored by Edward Barbier. "The financial and economic crisis triggered a fundamental awareness that investments in the environment may be the key to tackling multiple challenges from climate change and food shortages to natural resource scarcity and unemployment," commented Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, the book's co-publisher.
Five hundred towns and cities in the European Union (EU) have pledged to exceed the EU's greenhouse gas emissions target of a 20 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by the year 2020. "Smart green buildings, smart transport and logistics and, in general, the whole concept of smart cities are job-intensive activities that contribute directly to the local economy," said José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission. "Crucially, they also make a positive contribution to other issues, such as social integration, quality of life, well-being, and the attractiveness of our cities." Under the Covenant of Mayors initiative, the cities will share knowledge and low-carbon strategies. Almost half the towns and cities are from Italy, with one hundred from Spain.
Australia has shelved plans for its carbon trading scheme until at least 2013. "The opposition decided to back-flip on its historical commitment to bring in a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) and there has been slow progress in the realization of global action on climate change," prime minister Kevin Rudd said. The legislation was rejected for a second time by parliament in December. "Climate change remains a fundamental economic and environmental and moral challenge for all Australians, and for all peoples of the world. That just doesn't go away," Rudd said, confirming that Australia remained committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least five per cent of 2000 levels by the year 2020.
Despite the Australian delay, New Zealand will launch its emissions trading scheme on July 1st. "This is a long-term issue requiring a steady and consistent approach. Our strategy has been to start the transition early but at a softer rate," climate change minister Nick Smith commented. "There would be real instability and uncertainty in deferring the emissions trading scheme's introduction at this late stage," he continued. New Zealand would, however, be unlikely to proceed with its full obligations for the energy, transport and industrial sectors, nor would it expand the scheme to other sectors, unless there was progress in other countries, particularly trading partners like Australia, Japan and the United States.
Meeting in South Africa, the BASIC group of major developing countries, Brazil, South Africa, India and China, have called for a global, legally-binding agreement on climate change to be finalized by 2011. "Ministers felt that a legally binding outcome should be concluded at Cancún, Mexico, in 2010, or at the latest in South Africa by 2011," according to a joint statement. It was proposed that US$10 billion of this year's fast-start funding, available under the Copenhagen Accord, would be used to test and demonstrate ways of adapting to and mitigating climate change.
The countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have adopted the Thimphu Statement on Climate Change, reaffirming their commitment to address the challenge of climate change. Amongst other initiatives, an Inter-governmental Expert Group on Climate Change will be established to develop clear policy direction and guidance for regional cooperation as envisaged in the SAARC Plan of Action on Climate Change. Advocacy, awareness and education programmes on climate change will be undertaken and a study will be commissioned to explore the feasibility of establishing a SAARC mechanism to provide capital for projects that promote low-carbon technology and renewable energy. Ten million trees will be planted over the next five years in a regional campaign. The SAARC leaders agreed to work towards a common position for this year's climate summit in Cancún.
A new study has used scientific data to confirm Inuit observations that Arctic weather is becoming less predictable. "I've been hearing these reports from the Inuit probably since the late '90s," said researcher Betsy Weatherhead from the University of Colorado in the United States. "My colleagues would give these presentations saying, 'The Inuit are saying this, and I don't see it. The data isn't showing it.'" By analysing weather data in terms of short-term, day-to-day variability, Weatherhead showed that there had been a decrease in persistence since the 1960s that was consistent with the Inuit observations of more variability in weather conditions.
"The Inuit, by being really clear about what they were observing, and us, by taking it seriously, have not only given us insight into what's going on in the Arctic, but really given us insight into how the climate is changing around the world. We probably wouldn't have come down this path if they hadn't been really clear about it," Weatherhead observed. "Part of what I learned is to listen incredibly carefully to what Inuit are saying in real detail and understand that our numbers are telling only half the story. They've got something unique and different to say and anyone who lives it, who's out there, we've got to respect that," she added. Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic has been set up to support the collection, preservation, exchange and use of local and traditional knowledge.
Short-term financing to assist developing nations respond to climate change proved a major issue at the latest meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Washington DC. In a bid to allay concerns that the Copenhagen Accord commitment would not be honoured, the importance of moving forward promptly with the Accord’s financing provisions in a transparent fashion was noted by many countries. "There is an appreciation by everybody in the room it is important to make good on that commitment," commented United States climate envoy Todd Stern. According to a document circulated to participants, the Obama administration has requested that United States climate funding be increased from US$1.3bn this year to $1.6bn next year and has committed US$1bn to rainforest protection programmes.
The BASIC group of rapidly-growing developing countries will meet in South Africa from April 25-26th to discuss the "trust deficit" with the richer nations that has characterized the recent climate negotiations. Participants will discuss the status of the Copenhagen Accord in future climate negotiations and the future of the Kyoto Protocol. The South African hosts have suggested that the meeting consider what deal could replace the Kyoto Protocol if agreement cannot be reached on a second commitment period. The possibility of a shorter second period will also be discussed. "The general feeling is, 'Let's be realistic'," said Jairam Ramesh, India's minister of state for environment and forests. "Now the general consensus seems to be that we won't get anything done in Cancún. So we need to look at Plan B, which is essentially to focus on [the summit in] South Africa in 2011."
Bolivian president Evo Morales opened the People's World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights in Tiquipaya, central Bolivia, with an attack on capitalism's failure to honour its climate debt. "Humanity is at a crossroads and must choose whether to continue the path of capitalism and death or take the path of harmony with nature," he said. The main aim of the meeting was to analyse the structural and systemic causes of climate change and to propose further measures to enhance harmony between humanity and nature. Conference participants included indigenous peoples, social movements, environmentalists and scientists as well as governments "who want to work with their people."
After lengthy discussion, it was agreed to reject REDD [the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation initiative] and call for wide-scale grassroots reforestation programmes. "REDD is branded as a friendly forest conservation programme, yet it is backed by big polluters and climate profiteers. We cannot solve this crisis without addressing the root cause: a fossil-fuel economy that disregards the rights of Mother Earth," said Alberto Saldamando, legal counsel for the International Indian Treaty Council. "President Morales has heard our recommendations on the structural causes of climate change and predatory carbon schemes like REDD's, and will bring our voices to the world stage in Cancún later this year."
Current pledges to limit national greenhouse gas emissions under the Copenhagen Accord are likely to result in global warming of three degrees Celsius or more, far above the Accord's two degree target, according to researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany. "It's amazing how unambitious these pledges are," the analysts commented.
The current pledges would result in an increase of ten to 20 per cent in annual emissions by the year 2020, equivalent to at least 48 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. "Forty-eight gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions is not on track to meet the two degree Celsius goal - it is like racing towards a cliff and hoping to stop just before it," said Malte Meinshausen from PIK. The study's authors highlight the potential contribution of surplus allowances under the Kyoto Protocol, as much as 11 gigatonnes, the result of the Protocol's weak national targets.
The main aim of the Bonn Climate Change Talks, the first negotiating session since the Copenhagen climate summit, was to determine the organization and methods of work for the remainder of the year, including what documentation would be used as a basis for negotiations. In the event, the meeting over-ran as delegates argued over whether or not the Copenhagen Accord should be included in draft text that will act as a basis for the negotiations leading to the end-of-year climate summit in Cancún, Mexico. The United States and the European Union favoured its inclusion, but other countries were opposed, objecting to the Accord's voluntary emissions commitments and the manner in which it was brokered. It was eventually agreed that Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention, would draft a negotiating text with implicit recognition that she would be able to draw on the Accord. "The negotiations were very tense. There is a lot of mistrust," said French negotiator Paul Watkinson.
Discussions also came close to deadlock over the issue of the relationship between the twin negotiating tracks of long-term cooperative action and the future of the Kyoto Protocol, with lengthy debate over the nature of cooperation between the chairs of the two working groups. The matter was resolved with agreement that the chairs should identify "information" regarding the commitments of Annex I Parties rather than identifying "issues of common concern" regarding this topic. Rifts were evident both within the G-77/China group and between the developed and developing nations. It was agreed that there will be two additional negotiating sessions between the next scheduled talks in May and the Cancún summit. "The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún must do what Copenhagen did not achieve: It must finalize a functioning architecture for implementation that launches global climate action, across the board, especially in developing nations," charged Yvo de Boer, outgoing executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat. Specific issues to be resolved concern mitigation targets and action, an adaptation package, a new technology mechanism, financial arrangements, ways to deal with deforestation and a capacity-building framework, he said. de Boer also referred to the necessity for high-level political guidance when appropriate.
A conference on Muslim action on climate change in Bogor, Indonesia, has called on the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to promote climate change policies, including on lifestyle in accordance with Islamic values. Participants stressed the need to prevent climate change through education, proposing the establishment of eco-Islamic boarding schools and spreading sustainability information through mosques.
The conference failed to set up the proposed Muslim Association on Climate Change Action (MACCA) as an umbrella group to implement the Bogor declaration and the implementation of proposals for "greening" the hajj was not discussed. "With or without the MACCA, we will go forward to take action against climate change," Ismid Hadad, head of the steering committee, said. Mohammad Azmi from the Malaysian Consumer Association of Penang argued that the conference should come up with strong stance to back up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). "All Muslim countries should be part of the UNFCCC board to prevent rich nations from killing the Kyoto Protocol," he said.
Countries that have involved local communities in monitoring climatic conditions experience better outcomes in terms of improved agricultural yields and public health, according to evidence presented at the first conference of ministers responsible for meteorology in Africa held in Nairobi. Governments may have to localize meteorological services, such as data collection and analysis, so that weather and climate information makes most sense to users in agriculture and related sectors.
Mali has adopted a system in which thousands of rain gauges are located in villages, with members of the community involved in data collection and the analysis of rainfall patterns. "Local monitoring of rainfall patterns has boosted preparedness among farmers, and through agricultural extension officers, they have been able to determine exactly the type of seed they should plant, when to plant them, and the insecticides they need to buy in advance," said Issa Djire, director of the Upper Niger River Valley Programme. Climate change makes the need for this information ever more pressing. "For years, African communities have used traditional methods of predicting climatic conditions. But in the wake of climate change, it is no longer easy for them to use natural indicators to determine the same," Djire warned.
As the April 2010 Bonn Climate Change Talks got underway, Bruno Sekoli of Lesotho, speaking for the least developed nations who want tougher emissions cuts than cited in the Copenhagen Accord, called for a post-Copenhagen reassessment of the situation. Wendel Trio of Greenpeace said that many of the national targets submitted under the Accord had to be toughened if global warming was to stay below two degrees Celsius. "The pledges so far will probably take us to somewhere between 3.5 and 4 degrees Celsius," he said, warning that that would generate dangerous changes such as floods, heatwaves, droughts, more species extinctions and rising sea levels.
Before the talks, Yvo de Boer, outgoing executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, said that he did not believe that the Copenhagen Accord would become the new legal framework. He hopes that the end-of-year summit in Cancún, Mexico, will agree a basic architecture "so that a year later [at the next summit to be held in South Africa], you can decide or not decide to turn that into a treaty." de Boer sees the Bonn talks as an opportunity to rebuild confidence in the process after what many see as the setback of the Copenhagen climate summit, "to rebuild confidence that the way forward will be open and transparent on the one hand, and efficient on the other." There has been criticism of the slow debate of lengthy negotiating texts and the entrenched defence of national interests, as well as the apparent mistrust and suspicion between political blocs, evident during the United Nations process and culminating in the disappointing Copenhagen outcome.
The World Bank has approved a US$3.75 billion loan to South Africa in support of the nation's energy security plans. Part of the loan concerns wind and solar power projects and low-carbon energy efficiency measures, including a railway to transport coal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "Eskom will pilot 100 megawatts of solar power with storage and wind power, the biggest grid-connected renewable energy venture in any developing country," said Vijay Iyer, the World Bank's energy-sector manager for Africa. "We are optimistic that the lessons learned from these projects will facilitate the scale-up of the renewable energy industry across Africa," he continued.
The bulk of the loan, US$3.05 billion, however, covers the completion of the Medupi coal-fired power station and this has attracted strong criticism. The governments of the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Italy and Norway opposed the loan and abstained from voting on the decision. "I am not going to give them points for abstaining," said Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth. "This was totally the easy way out. If the United States were to follow its own clean coal guidance for multilateral development banks it would have had to vote no on this loan." Michael Stulman of Africa Action described the project as misguided, saying that it would do little to help poor South Africans. "This is one of those stereotypical development disaster stories," he added.
The Solar Impulse aircraft, which will attempt to fly round the world on solar energy, has completed its first test flight. "There has never been in the past an aeroplane of that kind to fly. It was a huge question mark for us and it's an extraordinary relief," said Bertrand Piccard, co-founder of the project. Powered by four ten-horsepower electric motors, the 'plane flew for 87 minutes. The aircraft weighs only 1600 kilogrammes, though its wingspan is comparable to that of an Airbus A340 airliner. Around 12,000 solar cells on the wings fuel its battery packs. A non-stop 36-hour flight through darkness is planned, leading up to a five-stage flight around the world in 2013.
Plastiki, a catamaran made from 12,000 recycled plastic bottles, has set sail on a 100-day voyage from San Francisco to Sydney. The aim of the trip is to highlight oceanic waste accumulation, including the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch. "What we wanted to do with this project is to create something that was designed to show efficiency... and to say that these [plastic bottles] can be used again as a resource rather than being thrown out as waste," said David de Rothschild. Over 46,000 pieces of plastic litter are floating on every square mile of ocean, according to a recent report from the United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP). Plastic waste is blamed for killing as many as one million sea birds and hundreds of thousands of sea mammals annually. "It’s the most dangerous type of litter in the ocean," commented Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox from UNEP.
A bottom-up approach to making agricultural research for development more effective, labelled AR4D, has been endorsed at a landmark global conference on the topic held in Montpellier, France. A report on the new approach, based on consultations with 2000 experts, was presented at the meeting. The aim of AR4D is sustainable intensification, to achieve sustainable food and income security for all food producers and consumers, especially the poor, using the same resources of land, labour and water that are available currently, but within the constraints of climate change and an expanding population.
AR4D differs from traditional approaches where scientists are distant from the process being researched or developed. AR4D research needs to happen where it will be used, such as in national research institutions, the report concludes. "The focus is on developing technology and adapting it to the local conditions," said lead author Uma Lele. The bottom-up approach must involve the poor and disenfranchised, using a combination of farmers' traditional knowledge and practices, conventional technologies and modern biotechnology. "The conference has enabled all constituents to have a voice, and those voices will be included in the future of agricultural research to help us face the problems we have," said Adel El-Beltagy, chair of the Global Forum on Agricultural Research. The Montpellier Road Map, presented at the close of the conference, will provide a framework for linking science and innovation to the needs of farmers and the rural poor. The proposal for eight mega-programmes to transform research has, however, attracted criticism.
A draft accord on global biodiversity has been finalized at a United Nations meeting in Cali, Colombia. The agreement covers access to the Earth’s genetic resources and the fair and equitable share in benefits from their use, a major objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
"Cali marks a major breakthrough to fully implement the Convention on Biological Diversity. 18 years after the Earth Summit we have opened the opportunity for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits provided by the biodiversity of our one planet," said Jochen Flasbarth from the CBD Bureau. "Novel" styles of negotiation that facilitated open, inclusive and flexible representation of views by Parties, governments and their partners were used to reach agreement, according to the conference organizers. It is intended that the accord will be adopted at the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit to be held in October 2010 in Japan.
The current El Niño event will probably end by the middle of this year, according to the latest assessment from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), though impacts will remain likely till then. "El Niño is already in a decaying phase. We expect it to fully decay by mid-year and neutral conditions to be established," said Rupa Koumar Kolli from the WMO's World Climate Applications and Services Division. "But this is a period where the predictability of the system is very low. Things could happen very suddenly," he added.
"Since June 2009, this El Niño has waxed and waned, impacting many global weather events," commented Bill Patzert from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration. "I, and many other scientists, expect the current El Niño to leave the stage sometime soon. What comes next is not yet clear, but a return to El Niño's dry sibling, La Niña, is certainly a possibility, though by no means a certainty. We'll be monitoring conditions closely over the coming weeks and months."
"For the first time, we are able to show that the rate of deforestation has decreased globally as a result of concerted efforts taken both at local and international level," commented Eduardo Rojas of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) previewing the results of FAO's Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010. The net loss of forest slowed to 5.2 million hectare a year during the past decade. "A lower deforestation rate and the establishment of new forests have helped bring down the high level of carbon emissions from forests caused by deforestation," said Mette Løyche Wilkie, coordinator of the FAO Assessment. Nevertheless, the situation in some countries is still alarming, she warned.
An international study has concluded that forest protection represents one of the most practical strategies to limit climate change. "Deforestation leads to about 15 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, more than all the cars, trucks, trains, ships and planes on earth. If we fail to reduce it, we'll fail to stabilize our climate," said lead author of the study, Taylor Ricketts from the World Wildlife Fund. "Creating and strengthening indigenous lands and other protected areas can offer an effective means to cut emissions while garnering numerous additional benefits for local people and wildlife," he continued. The study's authors recommend that forest nations can strengthen the role of protected areas in their REDD strategies by identifying where indigenous lands and protected areas would most effectively reduce deforestation rates and associated emissions. In addition, governments should establish national monitoring systems and also insurance mechanisms for illegal logging or forest fires, provide indigenous groups and local communities the information and capacities they need to participate and distribute payments transparently to reward those responsible for reducing emissions.
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat, has called on the industrialized nations to show "real leadership" in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and move swiftly in providing the first round of financial support to developing nations. "There’s no formal deadline for mobilizing the short-term finance, but there’s an emotional deadline," de Boer said. "There's a strong feeling on the part of developing countries that rich nations have not met their financial commitments in the past and they now want to see the countries deliver."
Commenting on prospects for the next round of climate treaty negotiations, de Boer commented that "I'm for the first time in my life going to be recycling my ambitions. My expectations for Copenhagen was not a legally binding treaty but a functioning architecture on adaptation, mitigation, technology, financing and capacity building which you can then either turn into a new treaty or not. So I’m just going to recycle those ambitions and take them to Cancún." de Boer steps down as executive secretary in July and a number of developing countries have expressed interest in nominating a successor. Costa Rica has already nominated its lead climate change negotiator Christiana Figueres.
The United Nations has launched a greenhouse gas emissions calculator for use by the world's cities, enabling a common standard of comparison. "In reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cities are part of the solution: city officials are discovering new ways to get people out of cars and into rapid transit buses; to harness the methane released by landfills and turn it into energy; to support compact urban development and not urban sprawl," said Anna Tibaijuka from the Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).
The Greenhouse Gas Standard calculates emissions on a per capita basis and allows cities to compare their emissions over time, across cities and in specific sectors such as energy, transportation or waste. It is now available for more than 40 cities. The goal of its creators, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), UN-HABITAT and the World Bank is to eventually have all cities around the world represented. "Cities can be a key catalyst towards the international aim of keeping a global temperature rise to under two degrees Celsius by 2050... There remains an ambition gap between where we are and where we need to be in 2020 — bigger cuts by cities may be one route towards bridging this divide," observed UNEP head Achim Steiner.
The world could exceed the 2015 safe drinking-water target set by the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), according to the latest status report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Greater efforts are needed, though, to come close to meeting the MDG sanitation target. Almost 39 per cent of the world’s population live without improved sanitation facilities and, on current trends, the sanitation target could be missed by almost one billion people. "The question now lies in how to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDG targets and most importantly how to leap a step further to ultimately achieve the vision of universal access," said Maria Neira, director of the WHO Department of Public Health and Environment.
"We need to not only focus on reaching the water and sanitation MDG targets but also on achieving them with equity; ensuring that the most vulnerable groups and those hard to reach share in the successes achieved elsewhere," commented Tessa Wardlaw from UNICEF. The report notes that, although the world's population is divided close to equally between urban and rural areas, seven out of ten people without basic sanitation live in rural areas, as do more than eight out of ten people without access to improved drinking-water sources. In sub-Saharan Africa, the richest 20 per cent of the population are more than twice as likely to use an improved drinking-water source and almost five times more likely to use improved sanitation facilities as the poorest 20 per cent.
Around 60 countries have agreed a multi-billion dollar scheme to cut greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation following a commitment made at the time of the Copenhagen climate summit. A total of US$3.5 billion has been pledged for the period 2010-2012. Donor nations and tropical forest states met recently at a one-day conference in Paris. A "slim" secretariat has been established consisting of four developed and four developing nations. The immediate issue to be resolved is how to disburse the funds - which forests should be protected, how to conserve them and how to enforce transparency, help indigenous forest dwellers and battle corruption. Although it was launched at the Copenhagen meeting, the forestry initiative does not technically fall under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Opening the Paris meeting, French president Nicolas Sarkozy described the Copenhagen summit as "an example of bad management" and called for the working methods to change. He suggested that a "representative" group of countries should do the haggling before the global forum became involved, echoing a recent observation by Gro Harlem Brundtland that the climate negotiations will become "more of a dual track system." Copenhagen "will serve as a base for discussions going on this year. It's not only going to be focused on the United Nations framework, but more on what these emerging economies and big economies are committing to," she said. United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has said that he regards dual track negotiations as "not desirable," though smaller group discussions may be necessary at times to build consensus. The official negotiating process must follow the existing UNFCCC process, which has been agreed by all countries.
The rate of global warming would only slow slightly if the sun entered a prolonged period of reduced brightness such as experienced during the Little Ice Age of the 17th century, according to researchers at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. A century-long period of low solar activity would only reduce global warming by 0.3 degrees Celsius at most by the year 2100.
It has been suggested that low sunspot activity in recent years may presage a longer period of reduced solar output, a Grand Minimum. "The notion that we are heading for a new Little Ice Age if the sun actually entered a Grand Minimum is wrong," said lead author Georg Feulner. According to Julie Arblaster from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology the study's reduction of 0.25 per cent in solar output is "on the extreme end of what we would expect for the next century." The results show, she says, that "any changes in the Sun, even large changes, will only have a small impact in offsetting... warming."
The flow of the Mekong river in Southeast Asia is at its lowest for 20 years, according to the Mekong River Commission. The Save the Mekong Coalition believes that the low level is the result of upstream dams in China. Chen Dehai of the Chinese embassy in Bangkok blamed low rainfall over the catchments of the rivers that feed into the Mekong in Thailand and in neighbouring areas, saying that only four per cent of the Mekong's flow was affected by the new hydro-electric dams. China has refused a request to release water from dams on the upper Mekong to allow commercial boats to continue to operate. "Chinese authorities have said they cannot release the water because Yunnan province is facing drought and they need to reserve the water for their people. They said that they had to wait for the rainy season," said Abhisit Khampilo from the Marine Transportation and Commercial Navigation Office of Chiang Rai Province.
The recent El Niño has affected rainfall throughout the region. Vietnam is facing its worst drought in 100 years, with virtually no rainfall in the north since September 2009. The Red River in northern Vietnam is at its lowest point since records began in 1902. "Never before has the water been so low that most ships cannot move," said one local resident. Ian Wilderspin, at the United Nations Development Programme in Hanoi, warned that climate change meant Vietnam could experience more frequent droughts that arrived sooner in the year and lasted longer. "We have to look at the ways and means to build resilience of local communities," he said, whether by providing drought-resistant seeds, planting different crops or protecting fresh water sources. "Climate change is only going to make these [natural] cycles worse."
China and India have announced that they will be listed amongst over 100 countries associated with the Copenhagen Accord. Earlier, when submitting voluntary plans for emissions controls as requested by the Accord, they had noticeably failed to give the agreement their full endorsement. "The Chinese are coming into line and cooling things off with the United States, which was exasperated with their attitude," commented Emmanuel Guérin of the Institut du Développement Durable et Des Relations Internationales in Paris.
In both cases, the endorsement has been heavily qualified. India placed three conditions on being associated with the Copenhagen Accord: that the Accord is a political document, that it is not legally binding or a template for outcomes, and that it is used as an input for the existing two-track negotiating process (regarding the future of the Kyoto Protocol and long-term cooperative action) rather than as a third outside track of discussion. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said that it is "neither viable nor acceptable" to use the Copenhagen Accord as the starting point for new negotiations. While accepting non-intrusive verification of emissions control measures at Copenhagen, both countries continue to reject any formal verification scheme.
Permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere, according to an international research team led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) in the United States. "Subsea permafrost is losing its ability to be an impermeable cap," reported UAF's Natalia Shakhova. The permafrost barrier was thought to be sealing in the methane, but it has become perforated.
"The amount of methane currently coming out of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf is comparable to the amount coming out of the entire world’s oceans," Shakhova said. In recent surveys, methane levels in the air over the shelf were elevated overall and the team found more than 100 hotspots. As the shelf is shallow, the methane bubbles out into the atmosphere rather than oxidizing into carbon dioxide at depth. "The release to the atmosphere of only one per cent of the methane assumed to be stored in shallow hydrate deposits might alter the current atmospheric burden of methane up to three to four times," she said.
The government of the United Kingdom intends to introduce cheap loans for householders to improve the energy efficiency of their homes if it wins the forthcoming election. The long-term loans will be at subsidized interest rates and will be attached to the house rather than the homeowner. "By spreading the repayments over a much longer period - more like 25 years than the eight years that someone might want to live in a house - that's what makes it financially affordable," energy and climate secretary Ed Miliband said. "The key thing that we're doing is to put the proposed legislation forward to ensure that the re-payments are attached to the house not the person," he added.
United States president Barack Obama has proposed rebates of up to US$3000 to encourage homeowners to improve energy efficiency. The initiative is part of a US$6 billion programme to create jobs. The highest rebates will go to upgrades leading to a 20 per cent saving in energy use. The rebates will be available through a variety of channels, including building material stores, companies that install the equipment and utility's energy efficiency programmes. Speaking at Savannah Technical College, Obama said: "I just hope Washington [Congress] stands alongside me in making sure we've got the kind of energy future that we need."
The European Union (EU) has requested public input on how best to protect the region's forests against the impact of climate change. "Europe's forests are a precious resource that must be protected against the harmful impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. Their wide range of social, economic and environmental functions means that the stakes are high," said environment commissioner Janez Potocnik. "We need to explore what value European action can add to national efforts to safeguard forests and maintain reliable, coherent and up-to-date information about them," he continued.
Connie Hedegaard, former Danish climate and energy minister and host of the Copenhagen climate summit, is the EU's first commissioner for climate action. She regards ensuring that Europe's forests can continue to perform all their functions as essential to the EU's climate strategy. "As huge stores of carbon, forests will play a critical role in efforts to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius," she commented. The public consultation, through the Your Voice in Europe website, will end July 31st 2010.
Taiwan faces the threat of more frequent storms on the scale of last August's Typhoon Morakot, which generated 2777mm of rainfall, leaving over 700 people dead or missing, and resulted in US$3.3 billion of damage. "A typhoon as powerful as Morakot is very likely to strike Taiwan in a year or two," warned Wang Chung-ho from the Institute of the Earth Sciences of the Academia Sinica in Taipei. "The government must work out effective countermeasures," he continued.
Wang noted a long-term trend towards increased precipitation over Taiwan during the monsoon season, with the mean monthly rainfall for the half-year beginning in May surpassing 400 millimetres during the past six years, compared with an average of 380 millimetres in the years before 2004. "It's pretty remarkable to see this kind of humidity in the atmosphere over such a sustained time period," he commented. Ho Tsung-hsun of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union considers that "typhoons of the Morakot scale hitting Taiwan will become normal as the Earth's environment changes... This is a grave warning from nature. It could end up exceeding our worst fears."
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has warned that emissions control commitments made since the Copenhagen climate summit will not be sufficient to limit the rise in global temperatures to two degrees Celsius or less. "No one should assume that the pledges will be enough," Achim Steiner, UNEP director, said at the organization's annual meeting. "Countries will have to be far more ambitious in cutting greenhouse gas emissions if the world is to curb a rise in global temperature."
It has been decided that the next negotiating session regarding the future of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will take place in April in Bonn, Germany. At this time, two further sessions are planned for 2010, in May in Bonn and then in December at the annual summit in Cancun, Mexico. "Following the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, this constitutes a quick return to the negotiations," said UNFCCC executive secretary Yvo de Boer. "The decision to intensify the negotiating schedule underlines the commitment by governments to move the negotiations forward towards success in Cancun," he continued.
Global warming could have a substantial effect on food prices, poverty and hunger over the next two decades, according to a new modelling study led by the Food Security and the Environment programme at Stanford University in the United States. The outcome, though, depends on the scale of the change in climate. A rise in global temperature of one degree Celsius by the year 2030 would have relatively little effect on crop yields, food prices and poverty rates. A further half a degree warming by that year, however, would result in a 10 to 20 per cent drop in agricultural productivity, a 10 to 60 per cent rise in the price of rice, wheat and maize and an overall rise in the poverty rate of three per cent in the 15 countries studied.
While many poor people will be adversely affected, some may benefit, the researchers report. "Poverty impacts depend not only on food prices but also on the earnings of the poor," said David Lobell from the FSE programme. "Most projections assume that if prices go up, the amount of poverty in the world also will go up, because poor people spend a lot of their money on food. But poor people are pretty diverse. There are those who farm their own land and would actually benefit from higher crop prices, and there are rural wage labourers and people that live in cities who definitely will be hurt," he continued.
The mass media have been a key vehicle by which climate change contrarianism has travelled, according to Maxwell Boykoff of the University of Colorado at Boulder in the United States. "A variety of influences and perspectives typically have been collapsed by mass media into one general category of scepticism. This has been detrimental both in terms of dismissing legitimate critiques of climate science or policy, as well as amplifying extreme and tenuous claims," he reported at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego.
Over-dramatization of new stories has also created problems. "Reducing climate science and policy considerations to a tit-for-tat between duelling personalities comes at the expense of appraising fundamental challenges regarding the necessary de-carbonization of industry and society," he said. Boykoff's conclusions were based on surveying newspaper reports on the climate issue in 20 countries and assessing how people understand and relate to climate science and policy in the United States, the United Kingdom and India.
Yvo de Boer is to step down as executive secretary of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on July 1st 2010 to work in the private sector and academia. "Working with my colleagues at the UNFCCC Secretariat in support of the climate change negotiations has been a tremendous experience," de Boer said. "It was a difficult decision to make, but I believe the time is ripe for me to take on a new challenge, working on climate and sustainability with the private sector and academia," he continued.
"It is quite bad news he is quitting at this point," commented climate change consultant Mark Lynas, "because the world is in desperate need for a reliable pair of hands to get through this dark period where climate change negotiations are under assault from anti-science deniers, by the Climategate furore and by the United States Senate. I think he is very likely to be going because he has had enough. Because the whole process is unraveling at this point." de Boer has led the UNFCCC Secretariat since September 2006.
The European Union (EU) could exceed its target of generating 20 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2020, the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) estimates. "Europe has witnessed a sea-change since the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive was agreed, as in 2008 many countries were stating that their target would be difficult to meet. Now the majority are forecasting that they will meet or exceed their national target," commented Justin Wilkes from EWEA.
Companies from Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, France and Italy are joining the German founders of the Desertec solar power project. The Desertec Industrial Initiative intends to supply 15 per cent of Europe's power by the middle of the present century. Fields of mirrors will harvest solar energy to boil water, driving turbines to generate power. The electricity that is produced will be distributed across a network covering Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The immediate goals of the project are to set up demonstration projects and to ensure an appropriate legal framework is in place. Price incentives will be needed to justify investment.
Commercially-viable crops of the biofuel jatropha can only be grown on fertile soil, according to a new report from ActionAid, despite claims that jatropha cultivation will not displace food crops. BP has pulled out of a joint venture to establish jatropha plantations. "As other [renewable fuel] technologies came up, we looked again at whether jatropha was going to be the best biofuel source that could be scaled up. There were problems with it. We have decided to look elsewhere," a spokesman said.
"Jatropha is a real gold-rush crop, and the same amount of common sense that applies in a gold rush has been applied to the jatropha rush," commented ActionAid's Meredith Alexander, co-author of the report. "Jatropha was the subject of an explosion of fabulous propaganda. But this was an untried crop at commercial levels and the many thousands of marginal farmers who have gone into production have been experimented on with disastrous results. They are simply not getting the income they were promised and now cannot afford food for their families."
The global economic crisis and recent natural disasters have increased the vulnerabilities of Pacific Island developing nations, already weakened by rising food and fuel prices. Efforts are required at both national and international levels to more effectively manage their impacts, delegates at a recent high-level meeting in Port Vila, Vanuatu, concluded. "Pacific Island economies are vulnerable for a number of reasons. They are isolated, small in size, lacking in resources, subject to a high frequency of natural disasters and vulnerable to rising sea-levels," said Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in a keynote address. "In order to move forward, we must first understand the social, economic and environmental impacts these new risks and vulnerabilities have had on the region. With this knowledge we can then develop appropriate strategies for recovery and long-term plans for sustainable development," she continued.
The two-day meeting, organized by ESCAP and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, focused on a five-year review of the Mauritius Strategy for Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (MSI). It was concluded that strengthening the implementation of the MSI requires that the international community honour their commitments, the adoption of green growth policies, strengthening of implementation mechanisms and adequate budget allocation. Heyzer noted that "external assistance, through development aid, debt relief and foreign investment, is needed to support the Pacific on its path to equitable economic growth." In a follow-up meeting the same week, United Nations Development Programme head Helen Clark said that the financial crisis presents an opportunity either to initiate or to broaden existing social protection programmes that address the needs of the vulnerable, particularly of women and children. "Well designed, [such programmes] can help make societies more crisis-resilient over the longer term, and contribute to more stable and equitable growth," she said.
As El Niño continued to disrupt Pacific weather patterns, flooding affected parts of Central and South America while Rio de Janiero, Brazil, experienced a record heatwave. "February right now is the hottest month for the past 50 years," commented meteorologist Giovanni Dolif. The heatwave was blamed for the deaths of 32 elderly residents of Santos on the coast of São Paulo state, where heavy rains over recent months have been held responsible for the deaths of more than 70 people. In Peru, flooding isolated the Machu Picchu Incan ruins leading to the evacuation of over two thousand tourists.
The Philippines has reactivated its El Niño Task Force in preparation for an abnormally dry season which is expected to cause agricultural losses amounting to over a billion pesos this year. The province of Isabela has already been placed under a state of calamity. According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific remain at levels typical of a mature El Niño event. Since peaking in late December, temperatures continued to cool in January. In the latest BOM assessment, it is reported that most climate model simulations are predicting that the warmer temperatures will persist in El Niño regions over the coming months, declining to neutral conditions by about the middle of the year.
With a bill to control domestic greenhouse gas emissions stalled in the Senate, United States climate negotiator Todd Stern has called on the major developing nations to make clearer commitments to combat climate change. China, India, Brazil and South Africa have submitted plans under the Copenhagen Accord but insist they are voluntary and they have not formally endorsed the Copenhagen agreement. They have committed to the on-going two-track process under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "I do believe that they will sign on to the accord because the consequences of not doing so are so serious - in a word, leaving the accord stillborn, contrary to the clear assent their leaders gave to the accord in Copenhagen," Stern said.
The first signs of emissions trading have emerged in Tianjin, China, where a regional emissions intensity trading scheme is being established. Three voluntary transactions have taken place, covering energy savings at utilities that supply heating to businesses and hospitals. China should meet its existing energy intensity target of a 20 per cent reduction below 2005 levels this year and aims to cut carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 per cent below the 2005 baseline by the year 2020. The Tianjin trading scheme should be established by early 2011. "We see this as a start for building a fully implemented carbon-intensity market in China," said John Shi of Arreon Carbon in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Nations responsible for nearly 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions have submitted emissions-reduction plans under the Copenhagen Accord, meeting the January 31st deadline. "This represents an important invigoration of the UN climate change talks," said Yvo de Boer, head of the climate treaty secretariat. "The commitment to confront climate change at the highest level is beyond doubt," he added. Welcoming endorsement of the Copenhagen Accord call to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Washington DC, noted that "this is the first time that countries have ever committed to this goal." That's the good news, he continued, "the bad news, of course, is that the pledges that have been put on the table to date don't put us on track to meet that goal, and would make it very difficult - both economically and politically - after 2020 to catch up."
There is concern that little progress has been made in arranging the financial support for developing nations covered by the Accord. "It remains far from clear where the funding will come from, if it is genuinely new and additional, and how it will be allocated," said Saleemul Huq at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. "Looking at past experience of overseas development aid and climate funding, it may take several years to disburse even the 'fast-start' finance promised for 2010 to 2012," he warned. "All the mechanisms have yet to be invented," commented French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo. "Simple bilateral aid is out of the question. We have to invent a new partnership and establish the fast-start modalities."
Global surface air temperature has increased by about 0.2 Celsius a decade over the past 30 years and by a total of around 0.8 Celsius since 1880, according to the latest analysis by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the United States. "There's a contradiction between the results shown here and popular perceptions about climate trends," GISS head James Hansen commented. "In the last decade, global warming has not stopped."
2009 tied for the place of second warmest year world-wide in the modern global temperature record. "There’s always an interest in the annual temperature numbers and on a given year’s ranking, but usually that misses the point," Hansen said. "There's substantial year-to-year variability of global temperature caused by the tropical El Niño-La Niña cycle. But when we average temperature over five or ten years to minimize that variability, we find that global warming is continuing unabated." The GISS analysis is based on weather data from more than a thousand meteorological stations around the world, satellite data for the world oceans and data from Antarctic research stations. The analysis program is available for public download.
On-line fraudsters had targeted international carbon markets, stealing emissions permits from companies to sell illegally. In a phishing scam, fake emails were sent to users asking them to log on to a website and give user codes and passwords. Seven German companies responded to the request, which was sent world-wide. Six of the companies were then subject to theft, according to the German emissions trading authority DEHSt. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat reported nine fraudulent transactions, but said that the software of national registries operated by Kyoto Protocol members did not appear to have been compromised.
"We have to be careful not to blow this out of proportion," said European Union environment spokeswoman Barbara Helfferich. "This happens to banks, Visa, Mastercard about once or twice a month. And this is the same sort of thing. It's not something intrinsic to the ETS [Emissions Trading Scheme]. This could happen to anyone." The UNFCCC Secretariat said that it was collaborating closely with the remaining national registries to ensure that access to their systems was secured. The European Commission will review the security measures applicable to ETS registries and prepare revised security guidelines for registries and an action plan aiming at a harmonized approach in case of future incidents.
The BASIC nations, Brazil, South Africa, India and China, will submit plans for voluntary mitigation actions by the end of January deadline under the Copenhagen Accord, but they have noted that the agreement has no legal basis. "We support the Copenhagen Accord. But all of us were unanimously of the view that its value lies not as a stand-alone document but as an input into the two-track negotiation process [on the future of the Kyoto Protocol and on long-term cooperative action] under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)," said India’s minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh. The BASIC nations called for at least five negotiating sessions before the next annual UNFCCC summit in Mexico at the end of the year.
"BASIC will take the lead in large-scale emission reduction and also stick to the policy of common but differentiated principle," said Buyelwa Sonjica, South African minister for water and environmental affairs. She emphasized that BASIC would not make any decision outside the Group of 77 (G-77) countries. "We see ourselves as adding value to the proposals of G-77," she added. The BASIC nations committed to developing a framework for permanent scientific cooperation and extending technological support to other developing nations, especially least developed countries (LDCs), in areas such as forestry and adaptation. Resolving to help the most vulnerable nations was a "slap in the face of rich countries that are in a better position to do so", commented Carlos Minc, Brazil's environment minister. Minc estimated total support to LDCs would top the US$10 billion pledged by the rich.
While there have been some partial or regional successes, the world has "failed to fulfill the target adopted by the 110 heads of state to substantially reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010," warned Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, at a high-level meeting in Paris to launch the International Year of Biodiversity. "We have forgotten nature is the source of life on our planet, that nature provides the basic infrastructure for all economic activity and for our cultures," said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Thirty per cent of all species are threatened - including 22 per cent of all mammals who are our biological cousins. "Imagine if 30 per cent of your friends faced extinction and that risk was increasing," Marton-Lefèvre said.
Funding is a critical issue. "There is never enough funding, never enough political will, especially in the wealthy countries. So what can we do?" asked Henri Djombo, minister of sustainable development, forestry economy and environment for the Republic of Congo. "Our wealth and well-being is being undermined by not acting," he warned. According to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, we need to diagnose the real causes of the extinction crisis - the current economic system." Market mechanisms don't integrate ecology, culture, fairness and equity, she said.
Bill Gates, Microsoft chairman, has warned that climate research could take funds away from global health, placing hundreds and thousands of lives at risk. Writing in the Annual Letter from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he warns that "if just one per cent of the $100 billion goal [pledged in the Copenhagen Accord] came from vaccine funding, then 700,000 more children could die from preventable diseases."
Gates argues that the most important innovation required to avoid climate change will be a way of producing electricity that is cheaper than coal and that emits no greenhouse gases. Governments, he says, should supply large amounts of funding for research and development. But as the energy and climate market is huge and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invests in areas where there is not a big market, "a way that we can play a unique role here" has yet to emerge. Gates considers that, in the long run, "not spending on health is a bad deal for the environment because improvements in health, including voluntary family planning, lead people to have smaller families, which in turn reduces the strain on the environment."
In his first public assessment of the Copenhagen climate summit, Yvo de Boer, head of the climate treaty secretariat, remained optimistic that the negotiating process would eventually result in a global treaty. While, he acknowledged, the Copenhagen summit may not have delivered enough, it did raise the climate issue to the highest level of government, the only level at which it can be resolved. A second positive outcome was the Copenhagen Accord, which reflects a political consensus on the long-term, global response to climate change. Finally, he said, negotiations away from the cameras brought an almost full set of decisions to implement rapid climate action near to completion. "If countries follow Copenhagen's outcomes clearly with their eyes firmly fixed on the advantages of global action, then we can finish the job," he concluded.
Concern has been expressed that many nations may not meet the January 31st deadline to "associate" with the Copenhagen Accord and document what sort of measures they plan to take to meet its goals. This was not a coercive deadline, however, de Boer said, but simply to help him write a report on the outcome of Copenhagen. "If you fail to meet it, then you can still associate with the Accord afterwards," he continued. "In that sense, countries are not being asked to sign the Accord, they are not being asked to take on a legally-binding target, they will not be bound to the action which they submit to the [climate treaty] secretariat." Following the heated discussions in Copenhagen, there will be a "cooling-off period" before the next negotiating session in Bonn, Germany, at the end of May 2010. The next major summit will be in Mexico at the end of the year. Flagging that the negotiating process could well continue unto 2011, de Boer said that his sense is that generally "people want to reach a conclusion on the [negotiating texts on the future of the Kyoto Protocol and on long-term cooperative action] in Mexico and then they will be in a position to decide on how they want to package that outcome in legal terms."
Farmers in Burkina Faso are responding to the disappointing outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit by developing strategies to adapt to changing weather patterns. Traditional soil protection techniques, such as compost-filled planting pits to hold water and rock and soil barriers around crops to reduce soil erosion, are being re-introduced. Financial support amounting to US$3 million has been channelled by the government to the farming, livestock, forestry and water resource sectors through the national adaptation programme.
"Despite the failure of Copenhagen we must follow adaptation at our own cost because we have been experiencing the impacts of climate change in Burkina for several years, and they are getting worse," said Bassiaka Dao, president of the confederation of farmers in Burkina Faso. Desertification in the north of the country is spreading south and both the start and the end of the rainy season have been delayed in recent years, with heavy rains more frequent. "The rain comes in torrents, with the capacity to flood a field in 15 minutes," Dao reported. Francois Traoré, president of the National Union of Cotton Producers of Burkina, said that "aid to help farmers adapt to changes could open up new areas of agricultural production and transform how we produce crops here."
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has admitted that a conclusion regarding the future of Himalayan glaciers in its latest report was "poorly substantiated." The statement, which referred to a very high probability of Himalayan glaciers "disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner," was based on an unpublished study and a later inversion of the date (2035 rather than 2350) cited in a WWF report. "In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly," the panel acknowledged.
The IPCC stands by its overall conclusion that "widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century" and chairman Rajendra Pachauri robustly defended the overall work of the Panel. "Theoretically, let's say we slipped up on one number, I don't think it takes anything away from the overwhelming scientific evidence of what's happening with the climate of this Earth," he said. The next IPCC reports are due in 2014 and 2014 and will focus on sea-level change, climate variability and regional effects.
The global culture of excess, typified by the fact that the average American consumes more than his or her weight in products every day, is emerging as the greatest threat to the planet, according to State of the World 2010 from the Worldwatch Institute based in Washington DC. The report cites cultural patterns as the root cause of an unprecedented convergence of ecological and social problems, including a changing climate, an obesity epidemic, a major decline in biodiversity, loss of agricultural land and production of hazardous waste. Erik Assadourian, project director, warned that "until we recognize that our environmental problems, from climate change to deforestation to species loss, are driven by unsustainable habits, we will not be able to solve the ecological crises that threaten to wash over civilization."
The report presents examples of strategies that can change consumer habits. In Italy, school menus are being reformulated to use healthy, local, and environmentally-sound foods, transforming children's dietary norms in the process. In the German suburb of Vauban, bike paths, wind turbines and farmers' markets are not only making it easy to live sustainably but are making it hard not to. In the United States, carpet company Interface Inc has set the goal of taking nothing from the Earth that cannot be replaced by the Earth. In Ecuador, rights for "Pachamama" (Mother Earth) have entered into the Constitution. "As the world struggles to recover from the most serious global economic crisis since the Great Depression, we have an unprecedented opportunity to turn away from consumerism," commented Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin. "In the end, the human instinct for survival must triumph over the urge to consume at any cost."
"The world will have to use all options to contain average global warming within two degrees Celsius. Agriculture and land use have the potential to help minimize net greenhouse gas emissions through specific practices, especially building soil and biomass carbon," said Alexander Müller, assistant director-general with the Food and Agriculture Organization, announcing a new report on drylands pastoral systems and climate change. "We have a fantastic potential to have both better livelihoods and a better natural resource base while mitigating and adapting to climate change," said report co-author Constance Neely from Heifer International. The report concludes that pastures and rangelands could become greater than forests if properly managed.
Improved management practices that would restore organic matter to grassland soils could sequester up to one billion tonnes a year of carbon according to some estimates, though this would require a vigorous and coordinated global effort and appropriate funding. A more realistic short-term goal would be to place five to ten per cent of grazing lands worldwide under carbon sequestration management by the year 2020. This could store 184 million tonnes of carbon a year. Socio-political and economic barriers, such as land tenure, common property and privatization issues, competition from cropping and lack of education and health services for mobile or nomadic pastoralists, would have to be overcome. The report proposes payment for environmental services, including both financial rewards and non-financial incentives such as capacity building and knowledge sharing, and increased access to existing funding mechanisms such as the Global Environment Facility.
A meeting of European Union (EU) environment ministers in Spain has re-affirmed the EU's conditional goal of a 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2020, despite disappointment over the outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit. The EU had hoped that the offer to deepen its commitment from 20 to 30 per cent would inspire other nations to adopt more ambitious targets. "We definitely think we should maintain the 30 per cent offer. We think it is very, very important. It has always been a conditional offer but it is a very important signal that it is maintained," British energy and climate change minister Ed Miliband said.
The EU plans to make greater use of informal bodies such as the Major Economies Forum and the G20 in future discussions on climate change due to concern that the United Nations framework can readily be blocked by a small number of obstructionist states. "EU officials are pretty upset with the United Nations process and feel pretty frustrated," commented Jason Anderson from WWF. "The trick is to find a way to avoid the blockages. If you could just get the major emitters to agree to things, that would take some major problems out of the process," he continued.
Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, is to host an alternative climate conference in the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate summit. Morales called the Copenhagen summit "a triumph of the people" as "the presidents came, proposed and went without hearing, but this time they could not impose their declaration." Bolivia was one of a group of nations that blocked a consensus on the Copenhagen Accord, objecting to the deal being done in secret by a small group of nations.
The First World Conference of the People on Climate Change will include indigenous peoples, social movements, environmentalists and scientists as well as governments "who want to work with their people." It will be held in Cochabamba in April. The main aim of the conference is to analyse the structural and systemic causes of climate change and to propose further measures to enhance harmony between humanity and nature. It will exert pressure on the richer nations to accept that they have a "climate debt" to poor countries and will work toward an international court on environmental crimes, the Climate Justice Tribunal. The meeting will also consider a "universal proposal for the rights of mother earth" and technology transfer.
The areas most impacted by climate change in the United States will be "communities-of-color, indigenous peoples, and low-income communities that are socio-economically disadvantaged, disproportionately burdened by poor environmental quality, and least able to adapt. They will be the first to experience extreme heat events, respiratory illness, vector-borne infectious diseases, food insecurity, and natural disasters," write Peggy M Shepard and Cecil Corbin-Mark of West Harlem Environmental Action in a guest editorial special issue of the journal Environmental Justice devoted to the topic of climate justice.
Elsewhere in the special issue, J Timmons Roberts, director of the Center for Environmental Studies at Brown University, argues that the global community needs to get to work swiftly in developing, testing and improving distribution systems for funding to assist developing nations adapt to climate change. "Handing piles of money to corrupt governments without mechanisms to fairly distribute them, and to transparently track them, seems a recipe for foreclosing any chance at addressing international climate justice with real compensation," he comments. Roberts calls on the international community to consider how the allocation of adaptation funding can incorporate national issues such as democratic and participatory governance, transparency and effectiveness of governments in such efforts. He raises the question of where governance and funding are best located at the regional, national or local levels. What institutional arrangements will be required for varied forms of adaptation funding, he asks.
In the United States, Republican senator John Barrasso has called for hearings on the use of intelligence satellites for collecting data on climate change. Collaboration between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and climate scientists is weakening the focus on preventing terrorism, he claimed, saying that "the CIA’s resources should be focused on monitoring terrorists in caves – not polar bears on icebergs."
The CIA recently set up a centre on climate change and national security. "This effort draws on imagery and other information that is collected in any event, assisting the United States scientific community without a large commitment of resources," the agency said. Data from the intelligence community has already been posted online in the Global Fiducials Library, where sea-ice imagery from six sites in the Arctic Circle is publicly available. Ice imagery is now being released that will also enable researchers to follow particular ice floes as they drift through the Arctic Ocean. For this summer, Norbert Untersteiner of the University of Washington has asked that the intelligence agencies start the monitoring process sooner, "so we still see the snow cover, maybe in early May."
Natural catastrophes took many fewer lives and caused much less damage on average in 2009 than in the previous decade, according to German reinsurance company Munich Re. The death toll in 2009 was around 10,000, well below the annual average of 75,000 for the past 10 years. Total economic losses, including losses not covered by insurance, dropped to 35 billion euros from 139 billion euros in 2008.
Torsten Jeworrek, a member of the Munich Re board, expressed disappointment at the outcome of the Copenhagen climate summit, noting an almost three-fold rise in weather-related natural catastrophes since 1950. "Despite the lack of severe hurricanes and other mega catastrophes, there were a large number of moderately severe natural catastrophes," commented Peter Höppe from Munich Re. "The trend towards an increase in weather-related catastrophes continues," he warned. 2009 saw 850 catastrophic weather events, above the ten-year average. "We need as soon as possible an agreement that significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions because the climate reacts slowly and what we fail to do now will have a bearing for decades to come," he said. According to Munich Re, the failure of the Copenhagen summit means that insurance costs will rise in the future.
The price of carbon has remained low in the aftermath of the Copenhagen climate summit. At around 12 euros (US$17) a tonne on the European Climate Exchange, the price of carbon may be too low for emissions trading to be effective. "You need carbon prices at 25 to 50 dollars a tonne to start sending the right market signals," comments Daphne Wysham of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC in the United States. The price dropped to eight euros a tonne early in 2009.
The downward trend in the price of carbon since its peak in mid-2008 has been the result of the global economic crisis and its impact on demand as well as delays in climate legislation in the United States. The design of existing emissions trading schemes has also been held responsible. Offsets, allowing emitters in rich countries to invest in clean technology or sequestration in developing countries in exchange for carbon credits, act as "a drag on price because they're the cheapest option out there" for meeting emissions targets, according to Wysham. "Overly generous initial allowances" that "expedited the political process needed to launch cap and trade" are also playing a part in holding price down, says Michael Clingan of Ascendant Consulting. The depressed price of carbon has led to renewed calls for direct taxation of carbon.
On the fifth anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami, experts have warned that the new early warning system must be backed by greater community involvement if it is to be effective. "The weakest link remains at the interface between the early warning system and the public, and in ensuring there's enough preparedness at the local level to react appropriately," said Bhupinder Tomar of the International Federation for the Red Cross (IFRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.
"You need to start with the people and move outwards," commented Ilan Kelman of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway. Kelman recommends that the evacuation process be integrated with everyday activities. For example, "in a heavily vegetated area, people need paths to get from the coast to inland... and there's no reason why those paths should be different from an evacuation route," he observed, adding that "having a development project to create more paths and maintain them is actually useful for the communities every day, as well as every decade when there's a tsunami warning." Experts are also saying that warning messages need to be written by local communities. "We don't want to see panic, we don't want to see people taking the wrong action. So getting the words right, getting the message right and getting it delivered are key components," advised Al Panico of IFRC.
The European Union (EU), largely sidelined at the Copenhagen climate summit, is blaming the United States and China for the "great failure" of the talks. "It was obvious that the United States and China didn’t want more than we achieved at Copenhagen," commented Andreas Carlgren, the environment minister of Sweden, which currently holds the EU presidency. The EU’s strategy of offering to deepen its emissions cuts if other nations showed comparable efforts failed to shift the position of the United States or China. "We’ve been taught some lessons about the realities of the so-called multi-polar world," said Carl Bildt, Swedish foreign minister. "These lessons will have to be taken into account when we go for a more comprehensive global agreement." Carlgren did say, though, that the Copenhagen Accord means that United States negotiators "can now show the [United States] Senate that they have an agreement with [major developing nations such as] China, India, Brazil and South Africa", removing a long-standing obstacle. "Now the pressure is on the United States to really deliver," he concluded.
The carbon market responded to the Copenhagen Accord with an immediate fall of ten per cent in the price of EU emissions permits. Opinions on the agreement amongst analysts were, however, mixed. Trevor Sikorski of Barclays Capital saw the Accord as a "very disappointing outcome that is even below our modest expectations... I see nothing here that should drive investment in the carbon commodity and low carbon technology." David Metcalfe at Verdantix advised that "executives responsible for energy and climate change plans should avoid new investments in the Kyoto-based global carbon markets." Citing badly defined rules, insufficient United Nations staff and a depressed carbon price that conspire to make a very high risk market, he believes that "the Accord further postpones crucial reform of this dysfunctional market mechanism." Richard Gledhill of PwC was more optimistic. "America is going to take action on climate now," he said. "If passed by Congress, United States climate legislation could create a market three times the size of the EU scheme. That would be a massive boost to the global carbon market," he continued.
Ed Miliband, British secretary of state for climate and energy, accused China of vetoing reference to specific emissions targets, such as the need for 50 per cent reductions in global emissions by 2050, in the Copenhagen Accord. "We cannot again allow negotiations on real points of substance to be hijacked in this way," he said, calling for "major reform of the United Nations body overseeing the negotiations and of the way the negotiations are conducted." In a swift response, Jiang Yu from the Chinese foreign affairs ministry referred to the statement as "plainly a political scheme," intended to "shirk the obligations of developed countries to their developing counterparts and create discord among developing countries." While intent on showing leadership in reducing its emissions growth, China is wary that it, along with other major developing nations such as India, may face demands to take on formal emissions targets at some future date. Yvo de Boer, head of the climate treaty secretariat warned that "all this finger-pointing and recrimination" could cloud negotiations next year. "We need to work together constructively," he said.
The claim by India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh that his country got a "good deal" out of the Copenhagen summit by avoiding emissions targets has been described as baseless. "India buckled under pressure in Copenhagen," said a statement from the Center for Science for Environment (CSE) in New Delhi. "The Copenhagen Accord that India plans to sign will erase both historical responsibility and the distinction between industrialized and non-industrialized countries from future climate change negotiations." Suparno Banerjee from CSE lamented the lack of legally-binding targets that the developed countries have to meet. "We have failed to agree at a sort of solution which will lead us to a viable action plan towards controlling climate change. And we believed that it is a disastrous summit and it is specially disastrous for India's poor and the vulnerable section because they are going to be most severely hit," he said.
Grace Akumu, Kenya's technical adviser on climate change, has warned that the failure of world leaders to commit to sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will have serious consequences for developing nations. "The deal in Copenhagen will do very little to end the damage of climate change, particularly for the poorest in Africa," she said. She criticized the funding, the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, allocated to developing nations in the Copenhagen Accord. "The money is very little," she said. "All of us were shocked when the continent’s spokesperson, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, backed this proposal." Kenya is seeking US$3 billion annually to support its climate change response strategy, but the global start-up fund only amounts to US$10 billion a year. Bangladesh will seek 15 per cent of the global start-up fund but "this money is not enough to enhance our adaptation capability," said Hasan Mahmud, state minister for environment and forests. "We expect bilateral assistance too to finance our mitigation and adaptation plans," he said. The government plans to construct new embankments, repair 11,000 kilometers of coastal embankment and build more cyclone shelters.
While the Copenhagen Accord calls for the immediate establishment of a mechanism to unleash funds for forest protection, just what this means for the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Forest Degradation in developing countries) programme remains to be resolved. Funding has been the critical issue, with developing countries reluctant to take on targets for reducing deforestation without a clear financial commitment. Without targets, "REDD becomes toothless," according to Peg Putt of the Australian Wilderness Society. It has been estimated that at least US$25 billion a year would be needed to launch the programme. To date, US$3.5 billion has been committed to preparatory work over the coming three years. Nevertheless, the endorsement of REDD in the Copenhagen Accord has sent a clear signal to the foresty industry. "Once we implement REDD projects, we cannot anymore allow uncontrolled illegal logging. That kind of leakage will not be acceptable to the global community," commented Indonesian environment minister Sarwono Kusumaatmadja.
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