It tells you a lot about the nature of the COP16 climate conference in Cancun that I’m only writing this now. Gareth approached us — the New Zealand Youth Delegation — back near the beginning of the conference, offering a guest blog spot. ’Fantastico!’ we said. I set to work planning what I’d say, jotting down a few notes to finish over the next day or so.
That didn’t quite end up happening… I was unprepared for the full on assault on the brain, senses, heart, and email inbox that this has been. I wasn’t even an ’insider’ during the first week (to limit numbers, the UNFCCC Secretariat only gave us eight spots per week to share amongst twelve people), but that didn’t make much difference. For a start, there’s a fair bit going on outside with alternative events such as Klimaforum, and demonstrations like the La Via Campesina one on Tuesday. There’s a huge constituency of youth NGOs (under the banner YOUNGO) we’ve been (net)working with on policy, media campaigns, and actions. There’s plenty of work to be done trying to figure out what the hell is actually happening in the negotiations, and really getting to grips with the policy issues. Then there’s the battle of trying to garner any mainstream media interest in what’s going on over here.
You end up being in ’go’ mode around the clock, with little time to stop and think. You end up having to squeeze intense group meetings in late at night or in the early hours of the morning. You end up spending hours sitting on busses between the two main conference venues. You end up wasting hours in a bureaucratic ordeal trying to get approval for a very tame action inside the conference centre, only to have it shot down at the final hurdle. You end up losing your laptop power cable because you were in such a hurry packing up to get to the next event, and having to start your half-written blog all over again…
And then when you finally do get a chance to sit down and do some writing, your brain is often too tired and overloaded with information you are struggling to make sense of that the words just won’t come.
Anyway, I don’t mean for this whole blog to be a ’dog ate my homework’ exercise. I’m trying to express how the twelve of us in NZYD are feeling as these talks reach the hectic final stages before coming to a close, with it looking like the outcomes may not even succeed in meeting the depressingly low expectations.
For me personally, the last fortnight is a blur. It’s going to take a heck of a lot of reflection to process all that has happened and all that I’ve learned. I came here with one question in the forefront of my mind: does this UNFCCC process have a chance of delivering us the deal that we so desperately need? Right now, I’m not sure if I’ve come any closer to an answer. Will a consensus be reached on all the fine details, such as forestry rules, before it really is too late? Are the insufficient pledges on the table worth the effort in the first place? How much should we hold out for something stronger? Is it more important to get something in place, no matter how weak? If the talks were to collapse, would an alternative path emerge?
Hope remains, though. I have recognised the genuine desire in the politicians and negotiators to deliver a deal. The wise words of Bill McKibben, in his speech at the three-day Conference of the Youth that preceded the COP, have stuck with me. Paraphrasing from my sporadic notes, it went something like this:
In some sense, what goes on here inside the COP16 is the side-show. We are the centre. What happens inside is only a reflection of the work we are all doing back home in building the movement for action.
The battle against climate change is different from most other problems the world has faced; there is no guarantee we’re ultimately going to win. But there’s one thing you can guarantee: there are people like you all around the world who will keep fighting until the very end.
We’ve met many amazing people over the last fortnight, and what Bill says is true.
This is Barry Coates of Oxfam NZ’s fourth report from COP16 in CancÃºn: now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty…
Things are starting to move here in Cancun. Most of the Ministers arrived today, joining around 30 who have been around since the weekend. Some were shoulder-tapped to do consultations on key issues, including the New Zealand Minister Tim Groser, who has been paired with the Indonesian Minister to consult on mitigation and MRV — which is how to go about Measuring, Reporting and Verifying emissions cuts — one of the really tough nuts to crack.
The arrival of politicians can help unlock these talks. In the past three years there has been some progress but at this rate we may be negotiating for the next decade. A major problem has been that the political mandate has never been clearly defined for the negotiators — this was obvious when the current round was kicked off in Bali in 2007. The subsequent summit in Poland failed to make important political decisions, leaving a log-jam for Copenhagen in 2009.
There is some interesting re-thinking of what Copenhagen achieved or not. Certainly it was badly chaired by Denmark (not the fault of the Environment Minister who is now with the EU) and it damaged trust between countries. But, as Michael Jacobs, former climate adviser to Gordon Brown (and old friend from my UK days) has written, the Copenhagen Accord was never officially adopted but countries accounting for around 85 per cent of global emissions have put in pledges under it. The Copenhagen Accord, for all its failings and bad process, has provided some of the political direction that has been lacking.
So in preparation for Ministers starting the ’high level segment’, the pace of negotiations accelerated today. It’s been a juggling act, with my time divided between analysing the last draft of the section on finance (the ’text’) to understand what changes are being made, who is making them and where there is scope for the points Oxfam wants to see included; lobbying delegations; writing articles; coordinating Oxfam’s policy team work; tracking the flow of information on email and Skype chats; networking with allies, generally through the coordinating group, Climate Action Network; and doing media interviews (from Al-Jazeera to USA Today!)
In all of this, I did not get a chance to join a march involving the international farmer’s movement, Via Campesina, the indigenous people’s networks and of a host of social movements and NGOs from Mexico and across Latin America (Flickr photoset).
Evenings are the time for meetings. Tonight was the New Zealand delegation reception, with the Minister, Nick Smith and the NZ negotiating team (but not Tim Groser who was tied up in consultations). The highlight was the presentation of an amazing fern mounted on a long sheet, containing hundreds of signatures (I couldn’t even see where mine was) and messages for the negotiations. The fantastic NZ Youth Delegation, who made the fern, gave a speech about the importance of the talks, especially for their future. They have been doing some great campaigning on the accounting rules for forests (called LULUCF for all you policy wonks). I will include some photos in the next blog.
But in amongst all of this, has been the opportunity to discuss strategy for climate change campaigning with allies in the Global Campaign for Climate Action — the tcktcktck campaign. Key people from Oxfam, Greenpeace, WWF, Avaaz and 350.org talked about where to next for the campaign. I also had a chance to meet with Martin Khor, formerly head of Third World Network and now head of the South Centre. I have worked with Martin on trade issues for many years and on climate issues more recently. I have huge respect for his incredible power of analysis, confirmed by his really interesting insights into the dynamics of the negotiations.
I have not yet mentioned much about the Pacific negotiators and NGOs here in Cancun. Pacific people have acted as the moral conscience of these negotiations with skill and determination, generally working with other island countries in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). It has been great catching up with Oxfam partners Pelenise Alofa from Kiribati and the amazing Ursula Rakova from Bougainville. She is an inspiration.
Another AOSIS representative made a memorable comment today in response to British Minister Chris Huhne, who pointed out that if you had a 95 per cent chance of your house burning down, and it would only cost 2 per cent of your income to insure it, you’d kick yourself if you didn’t do something. The AOSIS negotiator pointed out that it is more like there are 192 houses in these negotiations and the developing country houses are on fire. This was in support of the proposal from AOSIS to introduce a form of insurance for loss and damage from climate change, an innovative and important idea.
There are now three days to go. Oxfam is calling on ministers to elevate the level of vision and ambition for these negotiations, and ensure that the key political direction is provided. This must include the agreement to set up a new fair Climate Fund and clarity about the legally binding outcome of the UNFCCC negotiations. Success in securing agreement on these issues is essential to mark Cancun as a milestone that accelerates the pace of negotiations towards an agreement in Durban next year.
Tomorrow morning, the Ministers get down to work. They carry the expectations and hopes of millions of people. We will encourage them to be bold, but also hold them to account for the decisions they make.
Scrotum is laying low it seems, so (as yet) I have no inside information on the doings of the the good Lord Monckton in Mexico beyond his own words, but they are extraordinary enough to demand a post. Monckton is in Cancun with Roy Spencer (satellite temperatures a speciality), the pair acting as emissaries for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a Scaife-funded organisation devoted to the usual denial. Monckton is helpfully providing regular updates on his doings via another of his fossil-funded US sponsors, the SPPI blog. It appears he’s gone bananas…
Dr. Spencer and I decided to try banana daiquiris instead. After a good 20 minutes — well, this is the MaÃ±ana Republic — the head waiter hovered along to our table and told us our daiquiris would be along in a minute. He had hardly made this ambitious promise when the wine waiter shimmered in and explained that there would be no banana daiquiris because — yes, you guessed it — ’we have no bananas’.
Lacking the necessary fruit, the sceptical pair settled for frozen margaritas. My experience with said drink usually involves two headaches — one on the way in, as the cold explodes in my sinuses, and one the morning after — but in the noble lord’s case it seems to have caused a major episode of sceptical revisionism. Apparently, poor old Dick Lindzen is suffering because his papers are not impressing his peers:
Within months, a savagely-phrased and deliberately-wounding rebuttal was published by one of the most prominent of the Climategate emailers. It was one of those tiresome papers that pointed out one or two supposed defects in Professor Lindzen’s analysis, but without being honest enough to conclude that these defects could not and did not alter the Professor’s conclusion.
Monckton rather glosses over the serious methodological problems with Lindzen’s paper that meant his conclusions could not be supported by the evidence he provided. But let’s not let the facts stand in the way of a good tale. It appears that Douglass and McKitrick have suffered equally badly, and it’s nothing to do with any “supposed defects” in their work, it’s all the fault of that mean old IPCC.
Perhaps it was the lack of bananas, or an excess of tequila, that drove the Viscount Brenchley to liven up the “sombre” proceedings at Cancun by gatecrashing a green business luncheon attended by Nick Stern, Richard Branson and assorted Mexican billionaires. John Vidal of the Guardian was there:
Holding forth in the centre of the UN climate conference lunch party, he claimed that man-made climate change was not happening and businesses should hesitate before investing in green energy.
Most people steered clear, but Monckton had no hesitation in barging in on conversations, reeling off statistics and arguments that, he said, proved not only that the world was not warming but that “certain newspapers” were not reporting the reality.
Eventually the patience of the organisers wore thin, and he was asked to leave — but not before Vidal had recorded a short exchange with the potty peer. It’s well worth a listen.
Monckton appears to concede that 2010 was a year of record setting warmth, blaming it on El NiÃ±o, but then later claims there’s been no warming since 2001. The rest of his patter is a glib Gish Gallop of standard Monckton nonsense. But there’s more… The CFACT crew have been conducting more merry japes — here’s Monckton introducing a short Youtube video nominating the CFACT “Kook of the Week” (an unlucky NZr). I leave it to the reader to decide who might be the real “kook”.
[PS: In his latest Mexican missive, he reveals he's working on a dramatic new piece of scholarship:
I have recently been preparing a learned paper for the Econometrics Journal on the so-far-unaddressed but surely not-unimportant question of how to determine the amount of ’global warming’ that might actually be prevented by any proposed strategy to mitigate future ’global warming’ by taxing or regulating carbon dioxide emissions, or by adopting alternative technologies.
I expect it will pass peer review, because he's the only peer who will read it.]
Bill McKibben has come up with a striking metaphor for the US stance in climate change negotiations. In a Huffington Post article he describes it as a tease — ’it shows some leg, but it never ends up in your arms.’
Twice before US negotiators have persuaded the world into a watered-down agreement — the Kyoto pact and the Copenhagen accord — and in both cases the Senate didn’t come through — it didn’t ratify Kyoto, and it didn’t pass the climate legislation last summer. ’All the watering down was for nought — you might as well have done the right thing.’
Now, says McKibben, we’re into Climate Tease Part III.
’This time the U.S. is demanding that the poor countries of the world stop thinking of themselves as poor. Before there can be any agreement on stopping deforestation, or on aid to help poor countries cope with climate change, Mr. Stern said last week, those nations have to agree to start cutting carbon more or less as if they were the U.S.’
It isn’t fair, but McKibben acknowledges that there’s a logic to it, in that the developing world’s emissions will need to be reined in like everyone’s if we’re to slow down climate change. It would make sense if the developed world sent them the aid that lets them move past coal.
’But since we’ve seen this movie twice already, we know how it ends. The rest of the world gives in, and then the Senate doesn’t come through with the money — indeed, just yesterday four GOP solons offered a preview of coming attractions. They sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton demanding that she freeze the relatively small sum of climate aid we’d already pledged — less than $2 billion next year. They were, they said, opposed to the deal Obama struck last year which would ‘transfer billions of US taxpayer dollars to developing nations in the name of climate change’. In other words, even the small sums we’ve promised are unlikely to be forthcoming.’
Don’t be deceived, he says. Washington is ’playing the world for suckers’. In conclusion he reiterates his consistent theme. ’If we actually want to stop global warming, then we have to build a movement big enough to force change. Otherwise we’re suckers too.’
McKibben is no cynic. Although he can write light heartedly and with humour he’s very much in earnest. Indeed the idealism of the 350.org movement he co-founded is about as far from cynicism as you can get. ’Our theory of change is simple: if an international grassroots movement holds our leaders accountable to the latest climate science, we can start the global transformation we so desperately need.’ Their latest effort is an exhibition of art (an Indian one pictured) large enough to be seen from space.
Another humorous look at the intransigence of US lawmakers was provided by Thomas Friedman in his New York Times column a week ago. He imagined a Chinese WikiLeaker publishing a cable from the Chinese Embassy in Washington.
’Americans just had what they call an ‘election’. Best we could tell it involved one congressman trying to raise more money than the other (all from businesses they are supposed to be regulating) so he could tell bigger lies on TV more often about the other guy before the other guy could do it to him.’
Among the results:
’Most of the Republicans just elected to Congress do not believe what their scientists tell them about man-made climate change. America’s politicians are mostly lawyers – not engineers or scientists like ours – so they’ll just say crazy things about science and nobody calls them on it. It’s good. It means they will not support any bill to spur clean energy innovation, which is central to our next five-year plan.’
Friedman’s no cynic either, as is apparent from his climate change book Hot, Flat and Crowded. But like McKibben he’s exasperated by the seeming inability of the American political system, at least on the federal level, to even acknowledge the seriousness of the problem let alone address it. It’s certainly difficult to see the US leading us anywhere promising while they’re stuck with their current mix of legislators. Any meaningful agreements at CancÃºn, which Barry Coates’s latest blog considers possible, will still have to survive the bluster and bombast which substitute for science back home.
Oxfam NZ’s Barry Coates continues his series of on the spot reports from CancÃºn: in this episode, he looks at the way international negotiations work…
Negotiations have picked up pace in CancÃºn. But it is impossible not to feel frustrated with how long it has taken to get to this point. The problem is not just about the past few days in Cancun. Much of the past three years of negotiations has been wasted since the Ministerial meeting in Bali in 2007 that kicked off these negotiations. Government negotiators stated their positions early on, and then in meeting after meeting over the past three years, repeated these positions. Too much of the time and energy of negotiators has been spent trying to score points off each other.
In previous years, the rich nations were very good at doing this and used un-transparent and biased processes to get their own way. This is particularly the case in venues such as the World Trade Organisation. The last time I was in CancÃºn was for the WTO talks in 2003. After huge protests and the tragic death of a Korean farmer, the talks collapsed in spectacular fashion. The African group walked out of the Cancun WTO negotiations after an unfair negotiations process (eg. a small group of nations were picked to steer the outcome — the ’Green Room’ named after the office in Geneva where the practice started) and after rich nations tried to force their own issues (notably the deregulation of international business) onto an agenda that was meant to be about development (the ‘Doha Development Agenda’). Since then the WTO talks have limped along, in perpetual deadlock.
There have been some similar tactics tried in past climate change talks, although the common aims in negotiations on climate change are more obvious than on trade (or should be). This was one of the reasons that the Copenhagen talks last year were so ill-tempered and disappointing.
The world has changed and these unfair negotiating tactics are being challenged. Developing countries have gained negotiating skill and economic power. The tectonic plates of global governance have shifted with the rise in economic and political power of the major developing countries. As a result, developing countries will no longer accept the agendas imposed by the rich nations. And they negotiate skilfully and collectively in groups — including the large and powerful BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), Africa and other regional groups, the radical ALBA group (Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and some Caribbean countries), the low income Least Developed Countries and the moral conscience of the negotiations, the Alliance of Small Island States.
So the good news from this re-alignment is that developed nations will not get away lightly with their attempts to renege on their obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When Japan earlier in the week said they would not agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the response from negotiators was sharp and strong. Japan was heavily criticised. Civil society groups have also played an important role — Japan’s announcement was met with campaign actions here in CancÃºn from NGOs in the Global Campaign for Climate Action, and by campaigners in many countries. It appears that Japan has been surprised by the reaction (I don’t know why they didn’t anticipate it). They are still here, and still negotiating and they may be showing more flexibility than their harsh statement implied (’we will never inscribe our target in the Annex B to the Kyoto Protocol under any circumstances and conditions’).
But in other ways this greater balance of power poses challenges to global governance. In climate change negotiations, as in most UN negotiations, there are two main blocs — developed and developing countries — under the rather outdated UN definitions (developing countries include relatively rich nations like South Korea and Singapore). The two blocs can grind each other into stalemate, as they seek to gain advantage, often through unproductive points scoring. Even the most obvious decisions, such as defining a base year for emissions reductions, take years to agree. The answer to the question was always going to be 1990, as it was under the Kyoto Protocol, but Canada and Croatia resisted because it doesn’t suit their pattern of greenhouse gas emissions. Yesterday, after three years, it appeared that this issue had finally been agreed. Glacial progress.
The United Nations is often blamed for these problems, but really the blame lies in the approach of governments. Despite the attempts of the United States and others to find a new place to negotiate, only the UN can generate the full participation and buy-in that is essential for a global agreement.
This means that negotiations are taking years, and we are running out of time. Rising greenhouse gas emissions are causing damage and suffering. The World Meteorological Organisation came out with its most recent data earlier this week. It shows that the past decade has been the hottest ever. Temperatures this month will determine whether 2010 is the hottest year since records began. But millions of people around the world know this already. Farmers know that the seasons are changing, that droughts or intense rainfall are destroying their crops and storms are more frequent and intense. Climate change is deadly serious and extremely urgent, particularly to millions of poor and vulnerable people whose lives and livelihoods are at risk.
The good news from CancÃºn is that there is a real possibility that there will be some meaningful agreement here.
The good news from CancÃºn is that, despite the glacial progress over the past three years, Japan’s unhelpful announcement, and a myriad of other obstacles, there is a real possibility that there will be some meaningful agreement here. The Mexican government has been fair and transparent in chairing the negotiations, but they have also been insistent that negotiations will not take place on a line-by-line basis, with arguments over every word. They are steering progress forward through informal meetings, the involvement of Ministers (including New Zealand’s Minister of Climate Change Negotiations, Tim Groser), and strong directions by the chairs of working groups. A lot of the real progress in the negotiations is therefore happening outside the formal process, but it is being managed in an open and transparent way. At last, the negotiations are starting in earnest and compromises are getting made.
The agreement will not include everything we want. But it will include some elements that are important for tackling climate change and helping those at risk. In particular, CancÃºn might agree the basic structure of a fair Climate Fund. Oxfam has been lobbying negotiators to make sure the structure is equitable and effective in getting funding to those who desperately need it. Some of the other issues will need more work to get to a decision, particularly the level of ambitions on emissions reductions. There has been little progress on that so far, but at least Japan and others are still around the table negotiating. We are pushing hard for a clearly defined process beyond Cancun to raise the level of ambition for emissions reductions.
The 2003 collapse of the WTO trade negotiations was a disappointment for the developing countries that were pushing for fairer trade rules, but it had the silver lining of getting issues like investment out of the trade talks. It also sent a strong message that the rich nations could no longer bully their way to get what they want. But we haven’t got time for a collapse of these climate change negotiations. A collapse would mean even more delay and more suffering. As a T-shirt in Cancun worn by youth delegates here says: ’You have been negotiating all my life. You cannot tell me you need more time.’
We need a global agreement — a fair, ambitious and binding agreement. It is clear that an agreement won’t be signed here. But if we get the right result from Cancun, signing the deal in Durban next year becomes a real possibility. We have no more time.
’We are facing the end of history. We don’t want to be the sacrificed countries of the 21st century. We want to survive.” These were the words of Antonio Lima, ambassador of Cape Verde to the UN, speaking at the start of the CancÃºn conference, where he is one of the delegates representing the 43 members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
They’re heartfelt words. They’re also knowing. The realities of climate change at this early stage are much closer to some countries than to others. Small island states are among them. Hot Topic has drawn attention to some of the most threatened such as Kiribati, the Maldives, and Tuvalu. To them can be added most of the Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands as nations which Lima said will be washed away by sea level rise (SLR).
The effect of SLR on Caribbean islands will be less total but a new report nevertheless reveals highly alarming prospects. Commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme, the UK’s Department for International Development and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, the report has been produced by Caribsave, a partnership between the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre and the University of Oxford. There’s an excellent survey in this week’s Independent, written by the environment editor Michael McCarthy. The report itself is accompanied by a convenient publication which provides the key points and a summary for policy makers.
It carefully analyses the impacts of a one metre SLR this century. They include the loss of nearly 1300 km2 of land, the displacement of over 110,000 people, damage to or loss of at least 149 multi-million dollar tourism resorts, beach assets lost or greatly degraded at many more resorts, and the severe disruption of transportation networks. Severe storms would exacerbate these effects, as would the coastal erosion which will accompany SLR. The study also details the even worse impacts of a 2 metre SLR, which many scientists now consider cannot be ruled out.
The likely costs of adaptation are detailed in the report. Suffice to say here that they rise to very large percentages of GDP by the end of the century. The figures are staggering for developing countries.
AOSIS makes two pleas to the developed world. The first is not to accept a 2 degree rise in global temperature as safe for humanity. 1.5 degrees is the maximum we should settle for. They are not on their own with such a claim. Indeed where the science is concerned it is becoming increasingly clear that 2 degrees cannot be considered a safe limit. As Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows put it in their recent paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, ’the impacts associated with 2â—¦C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so that 2â—¦C now more appropriately represents the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change.’
I’ll briefly detour to note that Anderson’s and Bow’s paper, Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world, is one in a series in a Theme Issue of the Philosophical Transactions which considers the probability and consequences of a warming of 4 degrees or higher, as a not unlikely result if the present trajectory of emissions is not reversed more drastically than so far indicated. Their article speaks of a ’pivotal disjuncture between high level aspirations and the policy reality’.
So if there’s little as yet to suggest that even the 2 degree guardrail is likely to be achieved, how much less likely is the 1.5 degrees that AOSIS pleads for? One can almost hear the ’get real’ response from the big guys. But AOSIS are dealing in a physical reality: ”The difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees is the difference between survival and collapse,” said Lima. It may not be a political reality, but it’s hardly their task to trim the science to fit what negotiators consider politically possible.
The second plea from AOSIS is for assistance in coping with the future effects of climate change. The Telegraph reports that they are calling for a global insurance fund to be set up.
’Poor nations at risk of sea level rise would pay an annual premium, but a large chunk of the money would come from climate change aid provided by rich nations. Like a normal insurance fund, the money would be invested privately so that there are hundreds of billions of pounds available in the event of a crisis.
’The fund would pay out according to damage, as it is impossible to prove weather is directly caused by climate change. However the insurance would only be available to nations that are affected by global warming and do not have the capacity to protect themselves. Also they would have to first take reasonable preventative measures, such as building coastal defences, so that the money is only used for extreme events.
’The insurance pay-outs could help whole nations pay for a new ‘homeland’ if sea level rise means it becomes impossible to live on their own island. It could also be used to repair airports, roads and hotels.’
The plea for assistance should not fall on such deaf ears as the plea for mitigation action is likely to. The Copenhagen Accord agreed that developed countries will support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries, and that such funding ’will be prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries, such as the least developed countries, small island developing States and Africa.’
The closer we draw to the unfolding effects of global warming the more apparent it becomes that the costs of adapting to it will stretch our economic capacity. Beyond breaking point in the case of some developing countries if they do not receive assistance. Reports such as that on the Caribbean will be invaluable in identifying with more precision the adaptation needs in specific regions and prompting the preparations which simple prudence demands. They may also serve to jolt us into more serious endeavours to cut emissions. We don’t have to construct such a dangerous future.
Climate talks heat up in Mexico, snow blankets Britain and much of Europe, and The Climate Show is at the heart of the action. Glenn and Gareth set the scene for COP16 in CancÃºn and then interview Oxfam NZ’s Barry Coates at the conference to find out how things are shaping up. Gareth explores the link between Arctic climate change and cold winter weather in Western Europe, John Cook debunks that favourite sceptic myth — that the world’s cooling — and we look at the potential for nuclear power to provide part of the solution to decarbonising the power economy.
Show notes below the fold.
NOAA’s Arctic Report Card on WACCy weather here.
UK Met Office statement, Nov 30.
(plotted at NOAA’s ESRL Daily Mean Composites page)
Normal NH atmospheric circulation at this time of year (850mb geopotential height climatology)
Current atmospheric circulation
(plotted at NOAA’s ESRL NCEP reanalysis page)
Cancun starts – expectations low: Can CancÃºn’s COP deliver?
Copenhagen Accord sets the world on a path to 3C: (2) Degrees of existence.
…or perhaps 4C: RS Journal special issue – Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications, and Guardian report.
UNFCCC iPhone app, Negotiator.
Barry Coates at Oxfam NZ: blog, new report, Now More Than Ever: Climate talks that work for those who need them most.
Give a goat for Christmas.
The Many Parts Solution
Going nuclear: new power station in Finland – ’many of the engineers and building experts working here are in their late 50s and early 60s; some are in their 30s, but few are in between. There’s a hole in the nuclear workforce, not just in Finland but across the Western world.’ — Reuters special report.
Nuclear is certainly part of the solution, for good coverage of a key technology – ’fourth generation’ integral fast reactors – see Prof Barry Brook’s excellent Aussie blog Brave New Climate.
Smaller scale: LED lightbulbs approaching mass market — 60 watt replacement due soon.
This is the first in a series of guest blogs from the Cancun climate conference by Oxfam NZ’s executive director Barry Coates.
I’m sitting in the warm evening air of Cancun after the first day of the climate change talks. It was quite a trip getting here — I came from Timor Leste and the journey took 60 hours!
It was a great preparation for me to go to Timor Leste first. It is the poorest Asian country, still recovering from a bloody and traumatic struggle for independence. I visited some remote rural agricultural cooperatives with Oxfam’s partner, Movimento Cooperativo Economico Agricola (MCE-A). These were small growers, generally farming a hectare of customary land and working on a larger plot with other members of the cooperative. They have recently increased their income through support from MCE-A. They use a revolving loan scheme to invest in hand-tractors and milling machines, and have dramatically improved yields from sustainable rice intensification using permaculture techniques. It is a really inspiring programme that is driven by the cooperatives themselves. You can read about their work here.
But in a country with high levels of malnutrition and months without enough food, these farmers have just experienced a disaster. This is not one we read about in the papers but one of the many thousands of disasters that happen around the world, affecting farmers such as those in Zumalai in Timor Leste. During the dry season they had unprecedented levels of heavy rainfall that caused floods and damaged their irrigation canals. The communities of Zumalai live a tenuous existence and disasters like this are the difference between them and their children having enough food for their needs — or not.
This is a typical situation faced by farmers around the world. Weather has become more extreme and unpredictable, and seasons have changed significantly over recent years. This is the backdrop for Oxfam’s new report Now More Than Ever: Climate talks that work for those who need them most, which says that 21,000 people died due to weather-related disasters in the first nine months of 2010 — more than twice the number for the whole of 2009. This year is on course to experience more extreme-weather events than the last ten-year average. Many countries have also broken heat records, with Pakistan logging 53.7°C — the highest ever in Asia.
These are the people who did little to cause climate change. But they are the ones suffering most. This is a good reminder of why we are in Cancun.
Behind these numbers are the stories of people’s lives. Not only millions of people suffering from the massive flooding in Pakistan or those affected by heat waves in Russia, but all of those whose destroyed lives and livelihoods never make it into the statistics or the media. It is the flooding affecting people in places like Zumalai in Timor Leste or the low-lying coasts of Bangladesh. It is those suffering from cyclones, king tides and sea swells in small islands across the Pacific. It is people struggling to cope with droughts across the arid zones of sub-Saharan Africa, and even in unexpected places like the Papua New Guinea Highlands. These are the people who did little to cause climate change. But they are the ones suffering most. This is a good reminder of why we are in Cancun.
When I arrived here, I was roped into Oxfam’s campaign launch, featuring a great image on the beach. This giant message in a bottle says ’Urgent: Save lives in Cancun’ and has featured in newspapers and websites around the world. I also joined in an opening event for the Global Campaign for Climate Action (the TckTckTck campaign). Yesterday, TckTckTck and partners built a ‘Mayan Pyramid of Hope’. Pyramids were built through collective will, and the ‘Pyramid of Hope’ serves as an affirmation of this collective will, showing what can be achieved if we work together. It is a message from tens of thousands of people around the world representing their aspirations for concrete action and real progress in Cancun. The pyramid is covered with photographs of people taking action in their communities to tackle climate change. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres wrote her hopes on one of the pyramid’s building blocks: ’Commitment and compromise’.
The negotiations started today. Not much to report, except for the usual highs and lows of political game-playing. The bad news was that Japan said that they would not, under any conditions, agree to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (which would mean that they would agree to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions after the end of 2012, when the first commitment period runs out). It is a bit ironic that it is Japan, the home of the Kyoto Protocol that is joining the US in not agreeing to these reduction commitments. The danger is that other countries, notably Canada and Russia, but also Australia and (shamefully) New Zealand, are likely to use this announcement to hide behind Japan and ’kill’ the Kyoto Protocol. This is a serious setback. The ’like-minded countries’ already went ahead in 1997 and signed the Kyoto Protocol without the US. But the like-minded group looks a lot smaller without those other countries as well. The EU is unlikely to agree to go it alone. This is a blow to many developing countries that have signalled their willingness to reduce emissions themselves. Even tough negotiators like China are making long-term commitments to reduce their emissions through renewable energy, clean technologies and shutting down polluting factories.
The good news from Day One is that a number of countries have made statements saying how important it is to make progress — to pick up the pieces after Copenhagen and move on. There are real gains that can be made on issues such as establishing a new climate fund that would channel money to the countries bearing the brunt of climate change, particularly the small and vulnerable nations (such as the Pacific islands), and to support emissions reductions in the developing world. And progress is possible on getting an agreement on adaptation and technology transfer. Other agreements that may come from Cancun are potentially more problematic — I will report out on the discussions around forests later this week. So the good news today is ‘mood music’ but a refreshing change after the trauma of Copenhagen.
But now it is late and I’m still in recovery mode, trying to figure out what time zone I’m in. I may miss a day or two of blogging this week while things are a bit slow, but I’ll write daily posts when Environment Ministers and some heads of state roll into Cancun next week.
I’ll leave you with the words of the negotiator from Tuvalu, again toughly defending their right to survive as communities, as a culture and as a nation: ’Give life to KP (the Kyoto Protocol) or take the lives of people in vulnerable island countries’. The stakes are high in Cancun.
Another year, another Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, number 16 in a series that looks set to run and run. Mexico is the host, CancÃºn the seaside resort where thousands of diplomats, negotiators, activists and apparatchiks are gathering to have another go at sorting out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. High hopes for a comprehensive deal in Copenhagen last year were dashed on the rocks of US inaction, Chinese intransigence and a failure of political will. A weak but face-saving Accord was cobbled together at the last minute, but it satisfied very few — least of all those who’d like to do more than pay lip service to a 2ºC target.
By way of contrast, the build-up to CancÃºn has seen prospects of a final deal downplayed by just about everyone involved in the process. COP 16 will make progress on the building blocks of a Kyoto follow-up, we are told, but few expect anything substantial to happen before COP17 in Durban next year.
Nature News has a good overview of expectations:
“It’s a question of trying to get some incremental gains,” says Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London. “The approach of all-or-nothing that we took in Copenhagen blew up in our faces, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing at all.”
John Vidal in the Guardian reports on the impatience of Latin American and African nations:
“There is deep frustration among the least developed countries”, said Bruno Sikoli, the spokesman for the 54-strong group of mainly African countries. “We feel there has been far too much talking. If the rich countries put nothing new on the table, then it will be very serious. Climate change is affecting our countries hard now. It is most urgent.”
Johann Hari in The Independent takes the bleak view:
The collapse of Copenhagen has not shocked people into action; it has numbed them into passivity. Last year, we were talking — in theory, at least — about the legally binding cap on the world’s carbon emissions, because the world’s scientists say this is the only thing that can preserve the climate that has created and sustained human civilization. What are we talking about this year? What’s on the table at Cancun, other than sand?
Hari’s extended riff on the “great ecological crash” we’re staring in the face is well worth a read — he’s a compelling writer — and he articulates all too well the reality of the huge disconnect between the evidence piling up that we need to act fast and the complacency of the international realpolitik.
The Economist joins the chorus with perhaps the ultimate in negative perspectives. In an editorial the magazine declares:
In the wake of the Copenhagen summit, there is a growing acceptance that the effort to avert serious climate change has run out of steam. Perhaps, after a period of respite and a few climatic disasters, it will get going again. It certainly should. But even if it does, the world is going to go on getting warmer for some time.
The chance of hitting a 2ºC target has passed. It’s now time to focus on adapting to the inevitable:
Though they are unwilling to say it in public, the sheer improbability of such success has led many climate scientists, campaigners and policymakers to conclude that, in the words of Bob Watson, once the head of the IPCC and now the chief scientist at Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ’Two degrees is a wishful dream.’
The fight to limit global warming to easily tolerated levels is thus over. Analysts who have long worked on adaptation to climate change–finding ways to live with scarcer water, higher peak temperatures, higher sea levels and weather patterns at odds with those under which today’s settled patterns of farming developed–are starting to see their day in the uncomfortably hot sun.
What’s left is planning to adapt, and The Economist does a characteristically through job of providing an overview. I’d say it was notably optimistic in the face of the climate numbers — particularly those presented in a “theme issue” of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A — Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications. [All the papers in the special issue are available free until Nov 30, and many beyond that date.] The Guardian does a good job of summarising the bad news:
Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, described a 4C world in her research paper: “Drought and desertification would be widespread … There would be a need to shift agricultural cropping to new areas, impinging on [wild] ecosystems. Large-scale adaptation to sea-level rise would be necessary. Human and natural systems would be subject to increasing levels of agricultural pests and diseases, and increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.”
Warren added: “This world would also rapidly be losing its ecosystem services, owing to large losses in biodiversity, forests, coastal wetlands, mangroves and saltmarshes [and] an acidified and potentially dysfunctional marine ecosystem. In such a 4C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world.”
Another Met Office study analyses how a 4C rise would differ from a 2C rise, concluding that threats to water supplies are far worse, in particular in southern Europe and north Africa, where regional temperatures would rise 6-8C. The 4C world would also see enhanced warming over most of the US, Canada and northern Asia.
In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), “the prognosis for agriculture and food security in a 4C world is bleak”, according Philip Thornton, of Kenya’s International Livestock Research Institute, who led another research team. He notes there will be an extra billion people populating Africa by 2050.
Expectations for CancÃºn are low, but the stakes just keep on getting bigger. The next two weeks will give us an idea which way the chips are falling. Hot Topic will once again be featuring guest posts by Oxfam NZ’s Barry Coates, who is already in CancÃºn, plus I’ll add comment as news catches my attention. You can also follow the NZ Youth Delegation at their blog.
For more detailed news, there’s the International Institute for Sustainable Development‘s Reporting Services’ coverage, including their Earth Negotiations Bulletin, a daily update of events. iPhone owners can even download a UNFCCC app, Negotiator, designed to keep you up to date with COP 16 news — even read conference papers. Slightly more quixotic is the Twitter newspaper The unfccc-ipcc-cop Daily at paper.li. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes…
And finally: we can expect more comedy gold as the Scaife-funded Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow is flying Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley into Mexico to bring his unique brand of, er, something or other to proceedings. He’ll even have Roy Spencer to act as his bag man… I confidently expect high jinks.