SciBlogs

Archive 2009

The cracks are showing Gareth Renowden Dec 18

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At 9-45am this morning, hackers broke into Hot Topic’s WordPress installation and wreaked havoc. I’ve wasted a whole morning trying to put things right — and we’re slowly getting there. It will take a while to get the look and feel back to normal, and I’m sorry to say that we’ve lost all comments made since my last database backup (yesterday morning). I do have email copies of those, so if anyone wants their words of wisdom restored, let me know. Registered users should change their passwords by logging in and clicking on your name to access your profile.

[Update: Getting there... slowly...]

[Update2 5pm: I think everything's now cleaned up.]

Craziness in Copenhagen Gareth Renowden Dec 18

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coplogoOur second guest blog from a member of the NZ Youth Delegation comes from Louis Chambers — a 20-year-old student studying in Otago. He grew up on a farm in Hawke’s Bay, where he developed a passion about the outdoors. With the rest of the twelve young New Zealanders in Copenhagen, he’s doing his best to ensure that the youth perspective is heard at this critical time.

It is impossible to capture the diversity of the Copenhagen negotiations in one article. There is a city packed full of climate change seminars, events and displays. There are hundreds of businesses, NGO’s and universities offering regular talks and lectures. Even if you make it to the negotiations, they are so formal and detached that the human lives behind climate change are forgotten. The challenge is to stay focussed in the face of masses of information, numerous distractions and a negotiating process which reduces a critical moral issue down to numbers and data.

The first thing to realise is that the term ’Copenhagen negotiations’ is misleading. There is so much more going on other than just negotiations. For example, there have been incredible speeches from the likes of Desmond Tutu and Bill McKibben (the founder of 350). Unfortunately I did not see either of these speakers: I was too busy at the host of other events available. There are events looking at climate change in almost every context, from human rights to business, local government to youth.

If these events and speakers do not capture your imagination, then the negotiations themselves should. The negotiations bring together 192 countries from every corner of the world. When I first sat in the ’plenary session’, the sheer number of countries blew my mind. The discussions took me on a tour of the globe as my geography was tested by the numerous countries awaiting their turn to speak.

However, in the excitement of the negotiations, I realised that what is important is to keep focussed on the reality of climate change. That reality is that behind all awe and the fun, all the men in suits, there are human lives being negotiated. As the International Youth Climate Movement often says: ’Survival is not negotiable’. This realisation symbolises a process which occurs here. We are blown away by the information, the glamour and the opportunity. Yet in the same instant we realise that the magnitude of the challenge faced is incredible.

People power can still drive political change here in Copenhagen
The difficulty I have had in these negotiations is that Governments themselves lose this perspective. They become lost in all the numbers and the data. They also become lost in the world of politics. As different countries try to ’win’ the political game, they forget why we are all here.

Why are we all here? As young people, we have been able to remind Governments that we are here to negotiate our future. Behind all the numbers and all the politics is a stark choice. If we cannot keep global warming below 2 degrees, we are effectively choosing to erase any hope of a safe, not to say prosperous, future.

Of course, even simple goals like keeping warming below 2 degrees are not easy. In order to reach this goal, you do need the economic models and the complex data. You do need politicians who can negotiate.

The problem is that so far in these negotiations politicians seem to have become so immersed in how to reach the goal that they have forgotten why the goal itself is so important. As the New Zealand Youth Delegation, we have been working hard to keep the importance of the goal fresh in their minds. As we run out of time to reach an agreement, you can do this too.

Send a love letter to John Key at www.dearjohn.co.nz. We are currently delivering letters from this site in person to John Key. Or join 12.5 million other people from around the world in calling for a fair, ambitious and binding agreement here in Copenhagen — click here.

After all, we are the ones who give leaders the power to lead. Currently, the draft text is confused and complicated. It is no surprise given the complexity of issues here in Copenhagen. However, Kyoto was negotiated at the last minute. With over 110 leaders here in Copenhagen now, we certainly have enough political will to produce the result the world wants and which our future generations need.

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Behind the scenes in Copenhagen: 2 Gareth Renowden Dec 16

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As the Copenhagen conference moves into its final phase, heads of state turning up and negotiations seemingly stalled, Oxfam NZ’s executive director Barry Coates provides another insight into what’s going on behind the scenes. Barry’s daily updates are posted at Oxfam’s web site and also at Pacific Scoop.

December 15 — Copenhagen: Looking for a breakthrough

Building a house without the foundations

On one of the last days of the talks, we were looking for a breakthrough. I am sorry if anyone read my blog last night. It was written with waves of sleep washing over and my eyes largely closed. Then I started the day with my own personal breakthrough — I finally got time to do my laundry. I enjoyed my one hour off over the last 9 days and then it was back to work.

We did a press release on the state of the negotiations after receiving the almost final versions of the outcome of two years of negotiations. The line was that the politicians ducked the tough issues two years ago and agreed only a really broad and vague mandate. It is little surprise that the negotiators have flailed around trying to agree a deal. It is like trying to build a house but without having prepared the foundations.


Framework for finance

The main issue that Oxfam has been focusing on is the right kind of framework for finance. Most attention goes on the amount of money needed, but some of the really important elements are in the framework. This includes additionality — whether governments will just take money from the aid budget and re-badge it as climate finance; also how the funds will be spent — whether through the World Bank and its sidekick, the Global Environment Facility, or as Oxfam is pressing for, through the new Adaptation Fund that has balanced governance, transparency and sound accountability.

And funding has to be predictable rather than trying to convince Ministers of Finance to vote it through (which they are never going to do) — that means levies on air travel and shipping fuels (which currently get away without being taxed) or taxes on pollution permits. These are the building blocks that can provide funding for vulnerable people to protect their communities and adapt to climate change, as well as support to leverage big emissions reductions in developing countries.

Restrictions and receptions

Today there were restrictions on non-government organisations getting into the convention centre, cutting down numbers by two-thirds to 7000 NGO representatives. It will get much tougher on Thursday — down to 1000. Then by Friday it will be around 300 on current plans. NGOs are complaining vociferously, especially since the UN climate change talks have been one of the forums that have been more open to NGO scrutiny and accountability.

I went to drinks with the New Zealand delegation last night. The highlight was the youth delegation presenting a spinnaker signed by hundreds of young people, accompanied by a great speech. It was carried off powerfully and with great dignity.

In defense of Africa

I talked with the [Press] journalist, David Williams, just as he was leaving the reception. He said he had just done an interview with the Minister for Climate Change Negotiations, Tim Groser, where the Minister had been very condemnatory of developing countries on the dynamics of the negotiations.

When I had met with him earlier in the day, I had said that this was not our experience of the negotiations and the Africa group (and the small island states last week) had insisted that there be a fair process. The real problem lay with the rich nations who had not come with decent negotiating proposals and had tried to evade their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and their negotiating mandate, the Bali Action Plan. In our press release, we said that the Africa group had pulled the emergency cord on the train that was headed for a wreck, a very different perspective from Tim Groser.

When it came out, the article contained comments against the Africa group that were even more harsh than I had thought. The reaction from the conference centre was sharp. There is real concern that the perception seems to really misunderstand the process and such criticism is unhelpful to achieving the agreement that we all need. The characterisation of the EU and US as calm and constructive while the African countries are the wreckers is a misreading of the situation.

No more excuses; the time is now

As I complete this blog (after midnight again!), the closing plenary sessions are underway. They are running half a day late, and were concluded not with a bang and a celebration, but with a whimper. Little progress has been made over the past two years and the big issues are all shunted off to the Ministers. We have a very long way to go to complete the deal and time is really running out. It is worth pushing hard to secure agreement even if there is not sufficient political will, because tight negotiating parameters will be needed to conclude a treaty early in 2010.

The message we are sending is ‘no more excuses; the time is now’.

Something potty in the state of Denmark Gareth Renowden Dec 15

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“Scrøtum! Where Ã¥re my bøøts?” The Laird was having trouble with the “Danish” accent he was affecting in an attempt to impress the natives. To the wrinkled retainer’s large but withered ears it sounded as though he’d been taking lessons from the Swedish Chef. Monckton’s exquisite English diction was hovering somewhere over the Baltic being mangled by a madman with a chopper. He was in dire need of a vøwel movement.

After the episode with Mycroft, all had been quiet on the climate front for a few weeks. Monckton did some desultory work on his cure for AIDS and shot a few pheasants from the security of the second-hand armoured car he had acquired to protect himself from attacks by birds of prey, but the Laird had recovered all of his normal confidence and poise following a few long phone conversations with his American sponsors. He’d spent most of the last week at Tannochbrae reading Danish history, and had been most struck by tales of the Nazi occupation during World War 2.

The trip to Copenhagen was turning out to be rather more exciting than Scrotum had expected, at least at this early stage. The Laird had been summoned by his American sponsors to perform at another of their climate meetings, and to be a general pain in the neck for the socialist billionaire conspiracy to force humanity back to the Stone Age. The little climate conference had passed quietly enough, with the exception of an elderly scientist who had insisted that the seas weren’t rising, and had taken to throwing salad forks at the audience when questioned by a journalist. He’d chucked the contents of a large bag of wooden implements at a Guardian writer (the Laird offering advice on range and elevation) before the questioners made their excuses and left. Monckton had glided over the incident in the blog provided for him by the Americans : “All was calm, rational scientific discussion among the world’s leading climate experts”, but he couldn’t avoid mentioning a salad fork.

The real fireworks came a day later, as Monckton began an address to a packed meeting. The audience got up and started berating him. The Laird was notably unfazed:

I used the old crowd-control trick of standing behind the Hitler Youth and talking quietly. The microphones were right where I wanted them, so I began reporting on that day’s progress in negotiating the world-government agreement that, if it is passed at Copenhagen, will shut down the economies and democracies of the West without affecting the climate in any measurable way.

The six people left in the room after the rabble left were moved to tears by the Laird’s eloquence, but that had the unfortunate effect of giving him an excess of confidence. Scrotum had seen rather too many of Monckton’s mad moments to be surprised, but when the Laird started accusing everyone in Copenhagen under the age of 25 of being members of the Hitler Youth it was obvious he was heading for trouble.

*****

Scrotum sniffed the air at the back of the hotel. The night was chilly, but a gentle breeze was wafting scents of smørgÃ¥sbord delights, mainly pickled herrings and remoulade sauce. The soft tak tak tak of Danes being polite to each other as they passed in the street renewed the wrinkled retainer’s faith in humanity, and in the giant wicker basket that had arrived that morning from the USA, a very large golden eagle glared balefully at the hand that was about to feed it scraps of liver.

“Aethon, my pretty, you’ll have work to do soon enough” Scrotum murmured. The eagle cocked an ear, and if raptors could smile, there would have been one on its bloodstained beak.

*****

As the UN conference staggered into its second week, the sheer weight of the unscientific evidence being hurled by Monckton and his American allies was beginning to have a visible effect. The Hitler Youth had sandbagged their stand to ward off attacks by the Laird, who had disgraced himself by giving Nazi salutes in their general direction and beating a young bearded lad around the head with a rolled-up copy of the UK Independence Party constitution. Only a swift intervention by the sprightly Fred Singer and his personal security consultant, famed New Zealand kung-fu exponent Bryan “British” Leyland, had prevented serious injury. Greenpeace operatives had foregone their traditional conference attire — polar bear outfits — in favour of suits and ties. Monckton’s sly ruse — walking up to shake hands, only to push warm chewing gum into their fur — was costing them a fortune in cleaning fees.

“I may be but one man against a global conspiracy” the Laird had told Scrotum while dressing for dinner, “but I will stop the march of this neo-Fascist movement, with its crude denigration of opponents, breaking-up of meetings, taxpayer-funded propaganda at every street corner, and vast, expensive Nuremberg Rallies such as that which is now taking place at the Bella Centre.”

Scrotum blinked impassively.

*****

The highlight of the peer’s Copenhagen trip was to be a public rally outside the Bella Centre. A crack team of German sceptics had converted a minivan into a portable speaking platform. The nondescript van would be parked in the street, the crowd would gather, eagerly looking forward to the free rollmops and Aquavit laid on by the Scaife Foundation, and then at an opportune moment — sun setting, TV crews arrived and filming — the back of the van would crack open like a Kinder egg, and Monckton would emerge on a modified lifting device (a deliberate parody of the moment in Gore’s sci-fi horror movie when the politician is raised up to point to the top of a giant graph). He would ascend into the night sky, his vibrant prose amplified by a powerful Tannoy system, his face lit by the beams from LED headlamp torches sported by the A team of sceptical scientists. Lindzen had been training them for weeks, and their choreographed light show was a Choi to behold.

All was going well. The crowd was gathering, the roll mops had been delivered, and the Laird had taken up his position in the van. After passing Monckton his pith helmet and Kevlar corset — he wouldn’t be seen out of doors without them since that business with the eagle — Scrotum scuttled away to a nearby street where a black van waited. It was the work of mere moments to open the back doors and undo the leather straps on the wicker cage. Aethon blinked in the street lights, and climbed onto Scrotum’s leather gauntlet. The retainer fitted the titanium tips to the eagle’s claws, raised his arm, and with a whispered “be gone, my pretty” sent the great bird flapping into the night sky.

*****

Aethon climbed high above the rooftops of Hans Christian Anderson’s city, and began to circle over the Bella Centre. He let out a piercing screech, but no one in the busy streets below heard. Others did. From all round Copenhagen, birds of prey began their final approach.

*****

Monckton’s great peroration was going mostly to plan. The van had cracked open as it should, but he’d had to deliver a swift kick to one half when it threatened to block his elevation. And who was the idiot who had turned the headlamps green? Lindzen looked unperturbed, but Monckton was sure it was sabotage by the bedwetters. He began to build towards his climax:

Those brave dissidents who have not yet had their meetings broken up by groups of savage goons are more and more openly saying that the nastiness that was National Socialism/Fascism/Communism now stalks the world again, in a new and more terrible form. This time, it is global. This time, leaders of once-democratic nations subscribe to its half-baked, unscientific notions and are themselves increasingly intolerant of anyone who dares to dissent.

The intolerance, of course, stems from the realization on the part of those behind the ’global warming’ scam that it is entirely false. It is always liars who have to shout loudest in the hope of temporarily prevailing over the truth.

James Hansen, a fully-paid-up member of the new regime, has notoriously called for anyone who disagrees with the new superstition to be put on trial for ’high crimes against humanity’. Now, crimes against humanity are punishable by death, as Saddam Hussein discovered. So what Hansen is asking for is the judicial murder of those of his fellow-citizens who disagree with him — one of the unfailing hallmarks of Nazism and Fascism everywhere.

Monckton’s voice cracked with emotion as he forced out the words. He was approaching his closing remarks, and another light, this time from behind lit him up like a fat angel on the top of a leafless Christmas tree. The Laird paused, a little nervous. This wasn’t in the plan. Still, he must keep going.

Aethon’s claws struck him in the middle of his back, and broke through the Kevlar to his skin. Monckton screamed. Two more eagles grasped each shoulder, and a fifth grasped to the top of his helmet. He screamed again. The crowd gasped. Great wings flapped. Monckton’s vain attempts to hold on to his speaking platform were defeated by sparrow hawks lacerating his fingers. He slowly lifted into the starry sky, lit by the quivering beams provided by the cream of shocked (and appalled) sceptical science, his arms flapping ineffectively.

Mycroft turned to Scrotum. “Will they be gentle with him?”

Scrotum smiled. “No.”

Walker update Gareth Renowden Dec 15

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Good news: my co-blogger Bryan Walker is home from hospital after a successful operation. He’ll be taking things quietly for a while, but with luck he’ll have his blogging boots on before the end of the year. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery!

Behind the scenes in Copenhagen: Oxfam’s view Gareth Renowden Dec 13

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This is another guest blog, this time from Oxfam NZ’s executive director Barry Coates in Copenhagen who gives us an insight to what’s going on behind the scenes at this huge conference. Regular updates from Barry are posted at Oxfam’s web site and also at Pacific Scoop.

Day 5: Friday 11th December

It is 1 am (again!) and exhaustion is setting in. The last two days have been extremely volatile. After the morning coordination meetings with Oxfam colleagues and the New Zealand delegation, I gave a presentation at a panel on migration and climate change at the Klimaforum venue in the centre of Copenhagen. It was good to see so many committed activists learning, networking and planning campaigns.

There were many people on the panel, including Tim Jones from the World Development Movement (the organisation in the UK that I used to head) and friend Kumi Naidoo formerly of Civicus and the Global Campaign Against Poverty. I talked about the perspectives of many of our Pacific partners and allies who are reluctant to discuss migration because it implies acceptance of the injustice of climate change. It is wrenching that people have to leave their homes, their livelihoods, their land and their culture. We must challenge the assumption that emissions cannot be slashed. Migration must not be seen to be a feasible option that takes the pressure off the rich nations to step up to the challenges of stabilising greenhouse gas emissions at safe levels.

Later in the afternoon I visited with another old friend, Danny Nelson, now with the OneClimate channel. I did an interview with him on the state of the negotiations, then several other journalist briefings and interviews.

The main story today was that the chairs of the negotiating groups prepared drafts of the outcome, far shorter than the huge documents they have been painstakingly working through. This is a welcome process, even if the draft on the negotiating track ‘Long term Cooperative Action’ is painfully vague and empty of content. It is hugely disappointing that two years of negotiations have yielded so little in terms of an outcome. My role was to work through the details of each of the documents, preparing briefing notes for government officials and lobbyists.

And, although it sounds a really policy-wonk-thing to say, I had the pleasure of analysing the draft prepared by the group of small island states (AOSIS). They have continued to be courageous in standing up for their principles in negotiations, despite pressure from the rich nations and large developing countries. In doing so, they have received huge support from NGOs and activists around the world. Their draft for a final agreement is along the lines we have been calling for — fair, ambitious and binding. Perhaps there is yet hope for a strong outcome from this frustrating process. Power to the Pacific!!

Imagining 2020: Green Crude Gareth Renowden Dec 13

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The fourth contribution to the Imagining 2020 series of essays comes from Pete Fowler, who takes a look at producing biofuel from algae as a sustainable means of meeting our liquid fuel needs. If you’d like to contribute your vision of a low-carbon future for New Zealand, please get in touch — details at the end of the piece.

I was very pessimistic until last year about our prospects of weaning off fossil fuels before reaching an irreversible tipping point. Some positive feedback loop would kick in, like higher temperatures releasing trapped methane from arctic permafrost and seafloor sediments. Increased atmospheric methane, about 30 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, would further raise temperatures. End result? Within a few decades Earth would be as hot as Venus. The whole of humanity would go the way of the civilisations described by Jared Diamond in Collapse, who could see they were on a track to self destruction but were unable to alter course.

In 2008 I read one of the most positive books ever written; The Singularity Is Near, by Ray Kurzweil. He points out that whichever way you measure the rate of technological change, it accelerates exponentially. Moore’s law for instance predicted in 1965 that artificial intelligence would double in complexity and halve in cost every two years. It’s held for the last 44 years, and if it continues to hold until 2020, we’ll then have machines approaching human intelligence.

Kurzweil maintains that right now, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and robotics are the main drivers of technological advance. The production of crude oil from atmospheric CO2 and water will be mostly a triumph of genetic engineering.

Nature took hundreds of millions of years to produce the crude oil which, in about 200 years, we’ll have exhausted. If we can speed up this process, and produce all our liquid fuels and chemical industry feedstocks, and some stock feed and human food from atmospheric CO2 and waste, by a process many times as efficient as farming, without diverting farmland or native bush, on the same timescale as the rate at which we deplete fossil fuel, we’ll have solved the problems of peak oil and global warming, and a few lesser problems.

Conventional biofuel production isn’t particularly efficient. It requires fuel inputs for farm vehicles, and it either diverts farmland away from food production or destroys native bush. Only an average 300 watts per square metre world wide of sunlight is available for photosynthesis, and natural photosynthesis isn’t a very efficient way to convert sunlight to chemical energy. The most efficient fuel crop is sugar cane, fermented to ethanol. It yields up to three harvests a year. But it’s labour and land intensive, requires fuel for farm machinery and transport, it increases the cost of food and only grows in the tropics. Because all conventional crops need further processing in different places before they reach the petrol pump or dinner table, their total number of carbon kilometres is typically several times the distance round the world.

What’s needed is a continuous process, not a batch process like conventional harvesting. The world is running out of land suitable for conversion to farming. An algae reactor can be set up on land which is unsuitable for farming or anything else, and can still produce more than 15 times as much fuel per hectare as canola or palms. Unlike natural crude, it can yield a product free of contaminants like nitrogen, sulphur or benzene. The first generation will use sunlight for their energy source, but later, as energy sources like pebble bed fission reactors and ultimately nuclear fusion become available, these will drastically increase yield.

Some natural cyanobacteria can double their mass every hour. With genetic engineering, high temperature varieties, and varieties which fix their own nitrogen from the atmosphere are possible. The obvious raw materials to use are untreated sewage and atmospheric CO2, helping to solve two environmental problems. Eventually, when energy sources other than sunlight are available, the demand for sewage will outstrip supply, and other sources of micronutrients will be needed. But as with conventional agriculture, micronutrients are in principle recyclable. All you need is a way to reclaim elements like phosphorus, sulphur, iron, molybdenum and the rest. This is feasible with a bioreactor producing algae, but not on a conventional farm, where they drain away, and not only are they wasted, but they cause problems like nitrate in drinking water and eutrophication in waterways.

The only high tech part of producing green crude is the final step; converting algae into oil. There’s no reason why bioreactors can’t be operated in the world’s poorest countries, as well as everywhere else where a demand for the products exists. Being a factory, rather than an outdoor farm operation, it can be conducted close to population centres, or anywhere else. CO2 is available everywhere, and low-grade water supplies unfit for human consumption, almost everywhere.

An obvious location for a bioreactor is right next to a thermal power station, where there’s waste CO2, waste heat and transmission loss free electricity, but in principle one can operate anywhere.

The algae is harvested continuously, 24/7. Currently four technologies exist to extract the oil:

  1. Dry the algae and press the oil out. This is the simplest method.
  2. Dissolve the oil in a supercritical fluid like CO2 at high pressure. When pressure is reduced the oil separates out and the CO2 is reused. This is the most promising method.
  3. Hexane solvent. Hexane, a hydrocarbon similar to petrol, dissolves the oil. The hexane is then separated from the oil and reused.
  4. Ultrasound breaks open the algae cells, and the oil is pressed out.

The remaining dry matter is a high protein stock feed.

A bioreactor producing algae which are processed into liquid fuels, foods and petrochemicals, is a machine for converting waste, including CO2, into essential commodities which are getting scarcer every year. The only input needed is energy. It’s a closed loop. There is no waste and no collateral damage to the environment.

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The “Imagining 2020″ Series of articles is a creative commons discussion effort coordinated by Scoop.co.nz , Hot-Topic.co.nz and Celsias.co.nz. Contributions are welcome from all comers. Please see the introduction for an explanation of the project and instructions for how to contribute.

The business of climate change — who really bears the burden? Gareth Renowden Dec 11

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This guest post comes from Mahara Inglis (left) and Oliver Bruce, members of the New Zealand Youth Delegation to COP15 in Copenhagen, who describe themselves as “a group of 12 young people passionate about ensuring our climate policies look after the planet for generations to come!” The original was posted at Mahara’s blog. They make a strong case that NZ should adopt a leadership role in low-carbon development.

So here we sit; two young Kiwis at the heart of the United Nations Climate Negotiations in Copenhagen. More than being just a beehive of policy wonks and bureaucrats however, it is also a centre for hundreds of companies and governments from all over the world to showcase innovative, low-carbon solutions to climate change. It really is the new frontier of the global marketplace.

Yet, amidst all this the New Zealand government is unfortunately acting like the world is not changing. In the negotiations, it is pushing for weak emissions reduction targets, working to offload the burden of action onto poorer countries, and publishing inflated and misleading figures on the costs of adaptation.

Contrary to the traditional conservative business rhetoric, we believe these actions are compromising our future economic integrity and prosperity, let alone our environmental and social wellbeing. There are several reasons this is the case. Firstly, by setting low emission reduction targets we’re failing to create the necessity to innovate. This makes us uncompetitive as we head into an increasingly carbon constrained world economy. Secondly, we’re failing to foster development of the next generation of low-carbon technologies that are, and will continue to be, massive areas of growth. Lastly, we’re compromising our clean green brand of 100% Pure, and any business worth their salt protects their brand fiercely.

Fundamentally, we believe that the stance being taken by the New Zealand Government is akin to the protectionist policies of earlier years. It only serves to insulate us from the realities of a changing global marketplace and pushes the burden of adaptation from today’s business on to tomorrows. In the mid to long term, this will compromise the New Zealand economy as it is forced to buy low-carbon technology and skills from overseas, rather than becoming a net exporter. We’d like to remind John Key that ‘fast followers’ still come second.

We’d like to remind John Key that ‘fast followers’ still come second.

The truth is high legally binding emission reduction targets are not anywhere near the death-wish some people make them out to be. Those who claim that New Zealand is a special case because of its high agricultural emissions fail to recognise two key points. Firstly, that bold commitments will provide us with the incentive to develop technologies that will be valuable the around the world in the years to come. And secondly, that we have already started making progress towards reducing our agricultural emissions. An Agresearch trial farm in Waikato has preliminary results showing a 20% reduction in their carbon footprint. This is supported by further research in the Waikato, oftentimes showing 12-15% reductions with no significant impact on farm profitability. This progress highlights that higher emission reduction targets are within our reach.

We believe that with the right policies New Zealand has the potential to leverage our strengths (high education, great brand and entrepreneurial culture) to develop a knowledge economy based around low carbon and sustainable solutions. But to take advantage of this in an increasingly carbon constrained world economy we need:

  • Strong binding (minimum 30-40% by 2020) commitments for emissions reductions;
  • Supportive governmental policies that actively encourage emission reductions, and
  • Financial and institutional support for research and development of sustainable technologies and businesses.

New Zealand has always been a home of innovation. Seeing the opportunities that are being showcased here in Copenhagen, we know New Zealand has something to add. As budding young entrepreneurs we see the opportunities to lead in a range of industries are abundant, but at risk of passing us by.

New Zealand can be at the forefront of low-carbon business development which would only further our position as world leading innovators. But without solid commitment now, we risk passing up these opportunities and laying the burden of change on future generations.

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More than a number Gareth Renowden Dec 10

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This video was embedded using the YouTuber plugin by Roy Tanck. Adobe Flash Player is required to view the video.

If you want to know what’s happening on a stockmarket, the first place to look is at the relevant index — the Footsie (FTSE) for the London Stock Exchange, or the Dow Jones for Wall Street. Those indices aggregate all the price movements over a day into one handy number, to give a quick overview of how the market’s behaving. Now a group of scientists working for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) have compiled a Climate Change Index (CCI) to provide the same service for the evidence of climate change. The CCI was launched in Copenhagen yesterday. The video above describes the approach they’ve used, and the “ladder” graphic below shows how the CCI has moved over the last 30 years:

CCI_steps_bigger.jpg

The CCI tracks changes in global temperature, atmospheric CO2, Arctic sea ice, and sea level. An increase in the CCI shows a move away from a stable climate. Over the last 30 years the cumulative shift has been 574 points — in the wrong direction. The IGBP team point out that the CCI responds to global cooling events such as the Pinatubo and El Chichon eruptions, but they are also looking at adding other indicators to the index including land-use, fisheries exploitation, population, fire and extreme events. They are planning to update the index every year, and to backdate it to periods before 1980.

[The Drifters]

Copenhagen: opening thoughts Gareth Renowden Dec 09

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This video was embedded using the YouTuber plugin by Roy Tanck. Adobe Flash Player is required to view the video.

Delegates at the opening ceremony for COP15 — the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen — had to sit through this video, so I think you should too. ;-) It’s a fitting introduction to the next couple of weeks. There are not enough hours in the day for me to be able to cover everything that’s happening, but I hope to be able to provide occasional perspective, and pointers to interesting material.

Some key issues:

  • Can the global community pull together, or is the gap between the positions of the rich world and developing nations too big to bridge?
  • If a global deal can be done, will it be able to deliver emissions reductions on the scale required to avoid damaging change?
  • Will a deal build on Kyoto, or will a new framework emerge?
  • What will all this diplomatic tussling mean for New Zealand’s interests, and what role will Nick Smith, Tim Groser and John Key play?

A lot of the underlying tensions are already emerging, as the leak of a negotiating position document — the “Danish text” agreed by key developed nations (including NZ) is causing outrage in developing countries. The Guardian spells it out:

The UN Copenhagen climate talks are in disarray today after developing countries reacted furiously to leaked documents that show world leaders will next week be asked to sign an agreement that hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations.

The document is also being interpreted by developing countries as setting unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for developed and developing countries in 2050; meaning that people in rich countries would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much under the proposals.

While the diplomatic games begin, commentators sharpen their pens. Bill McKibben thinks the whole thing will be a disaster:

It’s like nothing we’ve ever faced before — and we’re facing it as if it’s just like everything else. That’s the problem.

To help me keep an eye on all this, I’ll be using a number of resources. Apart from my usual array of RSS and Twitter feeds, I’ll be keeping an eye on the Guardian’s amazingly diverse coverage (and blogs), the BBC (try the animated 800,000 years of climate history) and the COP15 web site (they provide good news coverage, and if you have the time, they’re providing live feeds to a lot of stuff). Press journalist David Williams is blogging his time at the conference, and the Science Media Centre has a page listing useful resources — aimed at the media, but there’s a lot of good stuff in there for the interested reader.

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