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A sunnier outlook from the ground up Bryan Walker May 19

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The NZ Herald business supplement recently carried a thoughtful feature by Peter Huck in which he described moves to combat climate change at lower levels than the floundering international negotiations. He begins with a report on Desertec Industrial Initiative, the German-led consortium which this year hopes to trial in Morocco a concentrated solar power plant as the harbinger of ambitious plans to provide very large quantities of solar and wind energy to North Africa and Europe.

Huck takes this as one of the many signals that the top-down approach to limiting carbon emissions through international deals is giving way to a ground-up attitude that stresses action.  Others include the EU’s introduction of a carbon tax on airlines that use its airports; Scotland’s investment in wave power; California’s embrace of renewable energy, clean fuels, a cap-and-trade programme to limit emissions, and other green policies; Ecuador’s efforts to preserve its forests by getting donors to pay it to keep oil in the ground; China’s approval last year of its 12th Five Year Plan, which aims to tackle energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Further down the chain Huck instances a growing urgency about reducing emissions which can mean corporate investment in renewable energy, municipal emphasis on public transport, or a family insulating their home.

He produces comments from a number of people in the course of his article, one of the most direct being from GLOBE’s president, John Gummer, Lord Deben:

“The shape of the debate is changing from one about sharing a global burden – with governments naturally trying to minimise their share – to one of realisation that acting on climate change is in the national interest.”

That sent me to the GLOBE website and to the discovery of a recent article by John Gummer and John Prescott. I’ll leave Huck’s article at this point, recommending it as a good example of well-informed and scientifically aware journalism, and turn to Gummer and Prescott who develop the theme Huck reports by pointing to recent Mexican and South Korean legislation. They emphasise the significance of Mexico’s recent landmark environmental legislation, the General Law on Climate Change. Mexico is also noted as very close to approving a REDD+ forestry law that will set a benchmark for international best practice.  Added to this is the recent passage of far-reaching legislation introducing an emissions trading scheme in South Korea.

The passage of Mexico and South Korea’s law (which in both instances were supported, significantly, on a cross-party basis) highlights the remarkable progress on climate change now being made globally. A critical mass of strategically significant — often emerging — economies have made landmark climate and energy-related legislation over the last year. These countries, including China, are advancing laws at a pace that contrasts sharply with the UN-brokered climate change talks that formally convene again in Qatar in late November.

They put the trend in a global context and hail it as marking a major shift:

This trend comes at a time of pivotal change in international relations with continuing economic downturn in the West being counterpoised with the increasingly rapid shift of power to emerging economies.  Mirroring this structural shift is a fundamental repositioning of the centre of gravity of the global climate change debate towards domestic climate change legislation. This is nothing less than game changing.

They provide other examples of countries where governments are developing climate change action plans and note that with the exception of Australia there is an encouraging move towards political consensus over such action, with many legislators increasingly recognising the positive co-benefits of climate change legislation, ranging from greater resource efficiency and increased energy security to the reduction of air pollution.

Here’s the different order that this points to:

All this, in turn, mirrors a crucial shift in the political debate on climate change. Until now, it has been largely framed by the narrative of sharing a global burden – with governments, naturally, trying to minimise their share.

Now, legislators increasingly view the issue as one of national self-interest, with each nation trying to maximise the benefits of climate change legislation. Indeed, those countries with strong national legislation are already attracting most inward investment on low-carbon technologies because there is greater business certainty rather than high regulatory risk.

They acknowledge that although there is encouragement in these developments they are not yet sufficient to avoid dangerous climate change.

Nonetheless, the national legal and policy frameworks to measure, report, verify and manage carbon that are now being created have the potential of significant tightening. This will be the more likely as governments experience the benefits of lower energy use, reduced costs, improved competitiveness, and greater energy security.

However a global deal still matters, and it will be important to translate progress at national levels into such a deal during the negotiations that began at Durban and are due to finish in 2015.

Such a deal will probably only be possible when even more countries are committed to taking action on climate change because it is to their advantage rather than out of perceived altruism. In other words, such a deal will reflect domestic political conditions not define them.

The authors note that this has opened up new possibilities for progress in international agreement:

Countries that have found it hard to agree to international action are now outdoing their commitments in domestic legislation. Having taken those steps at home they will find it much easier to commit to a global agreement which confirms the decisions they have already taken of their sovereign free will.

But they warn of the danger of some developed countries lowering their long-term ambition and hardening their stances.

A curmudgeonly response from the developed world is now the biggest threat to the Kyoto process.

John Gummer, Lord Deben, is a former Conservative UK Secretary of State for the Environment; John Prescott, Lord Prescott, is a former UK Labour Deputy Prime Minister. Their joint authorship is an indication of the extent to which climate change is now a cross-party issue in many countries, as it should be.

The thesis is that countries considering their own best interests in their own constituencies are proving able to act more hopefully for the climate than when they are assembled in international negotiating forums, and further that this can in turn help break the deadlocks which are frustrating effective international action. It’s an attractive interpretation, albeit accompanied by warning about possible intransigence from some unnamed developed countries. Contemplating the possibility of groundswell achieving the necessary changes is certainly more pleasant than looking at the bleak prospects so far offered by international negotiation.

I thought of my own country New Zealand when reading the article. We seem to have persuaded many observers that our emissions trading scheme is a bold example of national initiative on climate change. But if they looked below the surface they would see that so far it is little more than a public relations exercise, weak in its effects and co-exists with a firm intention to obtain wealth from increased fossil fuel exploitation. One hopes that the examples Gummer and Prescott — and Huck — have offered have more substance than New Zealand is yet providing.

But not to be gloomy and to end on a positive note here’s a recent video from Desertec.

Reinventing Fire Bryan Walker Feb 29

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Is there movement already under way in the world of industry which will outstrip the painfully slow progress of the political world in facing up to the challenge of climate change?  Amory Lovins certainly thinks so and his recent book, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era, explains why. Lovins is the co-founder, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute(RMI), a well-staffed non-profit organisation established thirty years ago and active in research and consultation on issues relating to energy and the efficient use of resources. The book is the product of some years of work by many RMI staff. It focuses the Institute’s current initiative to map and drive the transition from coal and oil to efficiency and renewables.

Can the US realistically stop using coal and oil by 2050? And can such a vast transition toward efficient use and renewable energy be led by business?  The answer the book gives to both questions is yes, based on painstaking exploration of existing renewable technologies and an assessment that they are already competitive with fossil-fuel-based industry for those who have eyes to see. The book is directed to the business world. It presents the energy transition as a major shift for a civilisation which has benefited greatly from fossil fuels but must now move from the old fire dug from below to the new fire which flows from above and works without combustion (save for a small amount of sustainable biofuel). It is a time of exceptional business opportunity for those prepared to recognise it and take it. The costs of oil and coal are rising as the price of renewables keeps on dropping. ’The curves are already crossing. The endgames of oil and coal have already begun.’ Lovins reminds readers that inattentive whalers in the 19th century were astounded to find they had run out of whale-oil customers before they ran out of whales.

The book pursues the opportunity theme into four key areas of the economy – transportation, buildings, industry and electricity. Each area is discussed with an abundance of detail impossible to convey in a review but of fundamental importance in that Lovins’ solutions are a combination of many complementary factors. He doesn’t offer sweeping simple answers to the challenges of decarbonising the various sectors of the economy but gradually and exhaustively builds up the case for change in each area, demonstrating its feasibility and stressing its economic advantage. What is offered in the four key areas is not unfamiliar for the most part, but great care is given to explaining how the various options can be organised into achievable ends and due attention is always paid to any attendant difficulties. Technical detail is closely woven into the presentation. Where firms are already pursuing anything Lovins advocates their example is pointed to. It’s the rigour with which solutions are presented that is distinctive.

An interesting facet of the book’s analysis is what Lovins describes as the surprising discovery that to achieve a largely fossil-fuel-free economy  by 2050 ’did not depend on pricing carbon or any other externality, it required no  act of Congress nor any new taxes, subsidies or mandates; and it cost $5 trillion less than business-as-usual, creating big profit opportunities’. He is well aware of the hidden costs of seemingly cheap fossil fuels, but declares renewables are already cost-competitive even without counting those hidden costs. Which is not to say he sees no role for government. There are important regulatory steps that can substantially aid the transition. France’s feebate system, which rewards car efficiency and penalises inefficient cars, influences car-buying decisions and provides an incentive for auto makers to innovate.  Aggressive and widespread energy standards and training are important in accelerating building retrofits.  A requirement that producers take a life-cycle responsibility for their products would do a great deal to help industrial asset turnover and upgrading.

Lovins places primary emphasis on the more efficient use of energy. Large gains can be had without any increase in energy supply. The book envisages new technologies and new ways of combining them which will result in many times more work from the same amount of energy, a process which is already clearly under way in many industries. The place of information technology in advancing energy efficiency is highlighted, with the development of smart grids a particularly promising area in which it can deliver remarkable innovations.  The full contribution to be made by information technology to the efficient use of energy is as yet far from realised and represents a huge business opportunity.

The book contains an interesting discussion about whether the transition will destroy the fossil-fuel companies. If they’re to survive they’ll have to change. Hydrogen, biofuels and ’green’ chemicals may enable oil companies to continue to use their infrastructure, and there may be other ways they can work at many small things. Lovins sounds a cautionary note about the conventional investments oil companies are continuing to make, particularly in high-risk frontier exploration and production. Such ventures look unwise business today. The oil age will end with falling demand, not with the exhaustion of the resource. As for coal owners, they ’must either migrate to another business or figure out how to use coal not as a low-value, high-volume boiler fuel but as a high-value, low-volume reagent and reductant’.

Many complain that China is recalcitrant on fossil fuels and will negate any other countries’ efforts to reduce their use. Lovins won’t have a bar of that argument. The opposite is the case he affirms at some length. He agrees that coal’s habits and bureaucracies remain powerful in China but says its star is starting to wane. ’Its prices are rising, coal-fired utilities are losing money, environmental rules are tightening, and Chinese solar power is planned and likely to approach coal’s cost by 2015.’ The transition has begun and China is the world’s leading manufacturer of many renewable technologies. Increasingly, as the US slashes its R&D budgets, technological development will be driven by China and others. The country is also making impressive progress with energy efficiency. Lovins suggests the US should draw inspiration from China’s efforts and move to catch up or go ahead in the greatest business opportunity of the age.

Concern about climate change is present in the book but not predominant, since Lovins considers the business advantages alone are sufficient to drive the transition, whether or not those engaged credit the science. In fact in a recent interview with Fen Montaigne he suggests that this theme has not been sufficiently sounded:

I think that when the bogus studies were issued claiming that climate protection would be very costly, the environmental movement fell into a trap of saying it won’t cost that much and it’s worth it. What they should have said is, ’No, you’ve got it wrong. Climate protection is not costly but profitable because it’s cheaper to save fuel than to buy fuel.’

The full interview is well worth reading for an overview of some of the major points his book makes.

Whether the business world will go in the direction Lovins points may remain moot, but it won’t be for lack of prodding from the Rocky Mountain Institute. The book makes an impressive case.

[Support Hot Topic by purchasing this book (or any book) through our affiliates: The Book Depository (UK, free shipping worldwide), Fishpond (NZ) and Amazon.com.]

The counsel of failure: Greenhouse Policy Coalition on Durban Bryan Walker Dec 03

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’There is a danger that, in trying to encourage major emitters to sign up to a new agreement or to bridge the Kyoto legal gap, New Zealand might commit itself to something short of a global deal that binds us to making economic sacrifices which are not reflective of fair burden sharing.’ So wrote David Venables, executive director of the Greenhouse Policy Coalition, in the NZ Herald this week.

I described the Greenhouse Policy Coalition in a post last year, but I’ll briefly recap. Its members come from a range of New Zealand industry and sector groups covering the aluminium, steel, forestry (including pulp and paper), coal, dairy processing and gas sectors. They include Fonterra, NZ Steel, the Coal Association, Solid Energy, NZ Aluminium Smelters Ltd and others. They are not deniers of climate change and express the cautious opinion that ’there is sufficient scientific evidence to warrant the adoption of appropriate precautionary public policy measures’. However their emphasis is strongly on policy which protects what they regard as New Zealand’s international competitiveness.

This is very apparent in Venables’ Herald opinion piece, timed to coincide with the Durban conference. Hope of an early global agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions has gone.  The most we can expect to see is ’incremental, year-by-year, meeting-by-meeting progress, which years in the future may see all major emitters agreeing to make cuts’.

This worries Venables, not because of what it would mean in terms of dangerous climate change, but because we in New Zealand ’face pursuing climate change policies aimed at cutting emissions in the absence of a binding international target, and proper sharing of the burden between countries, after 2012’.

He points to what he calls the ’patchy’ nature of emissions trading around the world and the likelihood that the Kyoto Protocol will become obsolete after the Durban meeting which no-one expects to provide a break-through agreement.

Some sort of political deal whereby ministers promise to do things without a legally binding framework may be possible. At best Durban might produce an agreement from the major players to discuss a binding global agreement. Even this would be a major step forward.  Meanwhile when the Kyoto first commitment period ends next year developed countries will have no binding targets for cutting emissions and there will be a legal gap in the process which could last for years.

It’s at this point that he reaches his major concern, highlighted at the beginning of this post, that New Zealand might be tempted to do more than its fair share. That would be a bad mistake because it would achieve nothing in term of reducing global emissions but would impose significant economic cost on the country.

So rein in your concern, those of you who want us to commit to more action. ’Our ETS already puts us ahead of the rest of the world in terms of incorporating a price of carbon into the economy.’

Venables may well, sadly, be right in his appraisal of where the international negotiations have reached and of how slow and incremental any future progress may prove. But the conclusion he draws for New Zealand is wrong. He appears oblivious to the magnitude of the threat posed by climate change. That threat doesn’t diminish because politicians are having difficulty facing up to it. Indeed it is increasing as we pump more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Report after report on the science, the latest from the World Meteorological Organization just a couple of days ago, makes it clear that inexorable change is under way.

How can we settle for competitive advantage as our major concern in the face of something so big as to threaten the survival of whole societies of human beings?  Venables invites us to ignore the larger perspective and focus on the proximate. That’s an inclination which fits very well with many of our instincts, but it doesn’t stand critical examination or moral scrutiny. Brian Fallow, the NZ Herald’s economics editor, put it well in a recent column:

At the most basic level the status quo is a gigantic exercise in free riding. There is a disconnect between where the benefits and costs of fossil fuel use fall.

Our emissions are diffused over the whole planet and accumulate in the atmosphere, a global commons.

The effect is the moral equivalent of a subsidy flowing from poor countries to rich ones and from future generations to the present.

Being on the bludger’s end of this arrangement we naturally don’t want it to end.

Venables’ competitive advantage plea is a plug for the status quo. It’s dressed up to appear reasonable by reference to the need for a fair sharing of burdens and to the economic danger of moving ahead of the pack. For good measure there’s the implication that we’re too small for our actions to have any effect on reducing global emissions anyway.

Of course arguments need to be had about sharing in the task of emissions reduction. Of course China will have to accept limits. So will the US, in some ways the most recalcitrant of the nations. If they don’t we will all, including them, suffer terrible consequences. But countries like New Zealand cannot treat this as some kind of excuse to carry on with business as usual themselves, any more than those who opposed the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries could engage in it themselves on the grounds that they might as well share the profit while it continued.

Further action in New Zealand to reduce emissions is in any case not necessarily inimical to the economy, as Venables appears to take for granted with his talk of economic sacrifices. There are plenty of signs that it could be positive for the country to venture a little ahead of where some other countries are prepared to go, that it is an opportunity to be grasped and profited from.

New Zealand went ahead of the pack in the 19th century in the introduction of the eight hour working day and the sky didn’t fall in. We were also early leaders in old age pension provision in 1898, and in many of the features of the welfare state which followed in the 20th century, from which our own Prime Minister benefited in his youth. Why should we shun the forefront in such a fundamental challenge as building low carbon economies?

The Climate Show #21: carbon, coal and Cook on BEST Gareth Renowden Nov 10

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Bad news on carbon emissions balanced by good news on solar photovoltaics, a Medicane bringing dramatic flash flooding to Italy and France, a scientist who thinks the Arctic could be effectively ice free in late summer in only four years, and the inside story on what the New Zealand election might mean for climate policy down under. John Cook joins us to talk about the new BEST temperature record (great gifs, Dana!), and in the solutions section Gareth and Glenn talk about solar powered airships, China’s plans to ban incandescent light bulbs, and a continent spanning €400bn solar thermal power plan for North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. All this and more as The Climate Show comes of age with its 21st show…

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold…

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, and on Facebook and Twitter.

The Climate Show

News & commentary: [0:04:50]

Record carbon emissions

Levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago: The Guardian.

Chinese economic miracle fuels surge in carbon emissions – greenhouse gas output hits record high as China overtakes US to become world’s biggest polluter: The Independent.

Global carbon intensity on the rise for first time in a decade, and PwC Report here.

The Triumph of King Coal: Hardening Our Coal Addiction by Fred Pearce.

Still raining…

More on floods in Italy and France (not forgetting Thailand and Cambodia).

Six killed in Genoa: 356 mm of rain in 12 hours — Daily Telegraph, and photos from the Telegraph and the BBC.

Rare storm with tropical features forms in Mediterranean: Jeff Masters

Bering Sea storm, aka the snowicane: Jeff Masters and the Alaska Daily News.

Arctic forecast: Peter Wadhams thinks there’s a good chance the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by 2015:

“It is really showing the fall-off in ice volume is so fast that it is going to bring us to zero very quickly. 2015 is a very serious prediction and I think I am pretty much persuaded that that’s when it will happen.”

[0:24:00]It’s election time in New Zealand:

Three years of “very serious” climate policy failure.

NATIONAL: From The Listener‘s excellent election blog:

The National party’s climate change policy, which is being released today in Nelson by the prime minister, has appeared. The important bit is this, from Key’s statement: ’We intend to slow the phasing in of the emissions trading scheme from 2013 to 2015, at which point we will look to align our scheme with that adopted by Australia. Any change to our emissions trading scheme will be fiscally neutral.’ Fiscally neutral, maybe, but not environmentally neutral. The door to a teal deal creaks closer to shutting.

Policy PDF.

LABOUR TV 3 News: The Labour Party will not allow Solid Energy to mine for liquid fuels in Southland because of the increase to greenhouse gas emissions, it has been announced today.
Full Labour climate policy here.

GREEN PARTY climate policy here.

Debunking the skeptic, John Cook from skepticalscience.com [0:38:40]

The BEST (Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature) of times…

“I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong’
Anthony Watts, March 2011

DENIAL STAGE 1: ’IT’S NOT HAPPENING’

’I consider the paper fatally flawed as it now stands, and thus I recommend it be removed from publication consideration by JGR until such time that it can be reworked….it appears they have circumvented the scientific process in favor of PR.’
Anthony Watts, October 2011

DENIAL STAGE 2: ’IT’S HAPPENING BUT IT’S NOT US’

“All sceptics believe in “global warming” (depending on what time scale you use); what they doubt to various degrees is the “man made” element.”
James Delingpole

DENIAL STAGE 3: BACK TO ’IT’S NOT HAPPENING’

Daily Mail showed cooling from BEST data (animated GIF):

Animated GIF of cooling trends throughout warming period:

http://sks.to/best

Australia joins the grown-ups.

Solutions [00:58:30]

China phasing out incandescent light bulbs

Paul Krugman in the NY Times: Here comes the sun. See also Bryan Walker’s post at Hot Topic: Let The Sun Shine In.

Desertec: how green energy could power Europe, north Africa and the Middle East – The Guardian, and Ecogeek.

Solar Ship Is Half Airship and Half Flying Wing.

Cloud computing can cut corporate carbon emissions.

Thanks to our media partners: Idealog Sustain, SciblogsScoop and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

Not good news Bryan Walker Sep 23

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My reading this morning didn’t incline me to optimism. I don’t actually need reminding, but in case I did two items underlined that we remain very much on course for a 3 to 4 degree global temperature rise by the end of the century.  A new report published by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency describes a 45 percent increase in global CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2010, reaching an all-time annual high in 2010.

From the summary statement heading the report:

After a 1% decline in 2009, global carbon dioxide emissions increased by more than 5% in 2010, which is unprecedented in the last two decades, but similar to the increase in 1976 when the global economy was recovering from the first oil crisis and subsequent stock market crash. CO2 emissions went up in most of the major economies, led by China and India with increases of 10% and 9% respectively. The average annual growth rate in CO2 emissions over the last three years of the credit crunch, including a 1% increase in 2008 when the first impacts became visible, is 1.7%, almost equal to the long term annual average of 1.9% for the preceding two decades back to 1990. However, most industrialised countries have not recovered fully from their decreases in emissions of 7 to 12% in 2009.

The industrialised countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol plus the non-ratifying USA have emitted approximately 7.5% less CO2 in 2010 than in 1990 and collectively remain on target to meet the original Kyoto Protocol objective of a 5.2% reduction. However, there are large national differences, with for instance over the period 1990 — 2010 decreases in CO2 emissions in the EU and Russia, increases in the USA and stabilisation in Japan. The efforts of the industrialised countries are increasingly hidden in the global picture where their share of CO2 emissions has dropped from about two-thirds to less than half since 1990. Continued growth in the developing nations and economic recovery in the industrialised countries are the main reasons for a record breaking 5.8% increase in 2010 in global CO2 emissions to an absolute maximum of 33.0 billion ton. Increased energy end-use efficiency, nuclear energy and the growing contribution from renewable energy cannot yet compensate for the globally increasing demand for power and transport.

The extract ends with a flat statement which one suspects is made dutifully rather than expectantly:

This illustrates the large and joint effort still required for mitigating climate change.

And today the Guardian reports that carbon capture and storage (CCS) plans have been seriously eroded. CCS is envisaged to account for one fifth of the world’s emissions reductions by the International Energy Agency roadmap to keep warming under 2 degrees. But Richard Jones, the deputy executive director of the agency has warned an international meeting on carbon sequestration that progress is too slow.

“Every year that passes makes it more difficult,” Jones said. “With current policies, CCS will have a hard time [being] deployed … There is less of a global push for climate action, and tighter government finances.”

He told the meeting that a 3.5 degree temperature rise, for which we are headed without successful mitigation, would wreak havoc on human well-being, a fact which one hopes the delegates would not need to be reminded of.

The lack of a price on carbon is an inhibiting factor.

US energy secretary Steven Chu told the meeting the price of carbon would have to be $80 a tonne for CCS to be economically viable with current technology.

But, he continued, the US has yet to even set a price, which makes it difficult for companies to invest and financial institutions to make loans to CCS projects.

“The US needs a price on carbon sooner rather than later,” said Chu. “This is something where we are losing time. It is very important that we get moving.”

Yes, as both items make clear, we have a long way to go. And it seems there’s no good looking to the world’s most powerful nation for leadership. Todd Stern, the US climate change envoy was chilling in his remarks this week, making it clear that the US won’t support any extension of the Kyoto pact and that they won’t take part in any emissions reduction agreement that doesn’t engage major developing powers like China, India and Brazil or that makes those nations’ participation dependent on financial support from the industrialised nations. I would have thought that even if his conditions are met it remains unlikely that the Republicans, gripped by the current frenzy of denial sweeping though their ranks, would see any reason to participate in any international agreement.

I try not to give way to pessimism. But sometimes it’s hard. I thought as the day progressed of Paul Gilding’s great awakening, described in my review of his book The Great Disruption. He foresees an absolutely remarkable turnaround in say 2018 when collapse looms and people come to realise what climate change is doing. It certainly looks as if we’re not going to act effectively without a major jolt. I hope he’s right in thinking that will do the trick.

 

 

The Lesson from China Bryan Walker Sep 15

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Environmentalist Lester Brown is a competitive long-distance runner even into his late seventies. There’s something of the dogged persistence of that sport in the way he keeps delivering the message that humanity must change course, and backing up what he has to say with masses of data.  The latest email I received a few days ago from his Earth Policy Institute underlined that message yet again, along with stark figures. It’s a short article headed Learning From China. I was taken with its directness and simplicity and thought it worth sharing here. He reflects that for as long as he can remember his own country, the US, with 5 percent of the world’s population has consumed a third or more of the earth’s resources. But today China consumes more basic resources than the US does. China uses a quarter more grain than the United States. Its meat consumption is double that of the United States. It uses three times as much coal and four times as much steel.

That’s national consumption. What if per capita consumption in China were to catch up with the US? That will happen by 2035 on the conservative assumption that China’s economy slows from the 11 percent annual growth of recent years to 8 percent.

If the Chinese spend their income more or less as Americans do today, then things get pretty well impossible.

If, for example, each person in China consumes paper at the current American rate, then in 2035 China’s 1.38 billion people will use four fifths as much paper as is produced worldwide today. There go the world’s forests.

If Chinese grain consumption per person in 2035 were to equal the current U.S. level, China would need 1.5 billion tons of grain, nearly 70 percent of the 2.2 billion tons the world’s farmers now harvest each year.

If we assume that in 2035 there are three cars for every four people in China, as there now are in the United States, China will have 1.1 billion cars. The entire world currently has just over one billion. To provide the needed roads, highways, and parking lots, China would have to pave an area equivalent to more than two thirds the land it currently has in rice.

By 2035 China would need 85 million barrels of oil a day. The world is currently producing 86 million barrels a day and may never produce much more than that. There go the world’s oil reserves.

It’s hard to gainsay his conclusion:

What China is teaching us is that the western economic model–the fossil-fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy–will not work for the world. If it does not work for China, it will not work for India, which by 2035 is projected to have an even larger population than China. Nor will it work for the other 3 billion people in developing countries who are also dreaming the ’American dream.’ And in an increasingly integrated global economy, where we all depend on the same grain, oil, and steel, the western economic model will no longer work for the industrial countries either.

Who in the world of planners, economists and politicians actually stops to think about this? These days there’s a plethora of interviews and discussions and reports by experts on the emergence of China as a new economic force and the extraordinary rapidity with which it is happening. But it is hard to find in the mainstream media any reflection on the factors Brown draws attention to.

He never utters warnings without also pointing to solutions.

The overriding challenge for our generation is to build a new economy–one that is powered largely by renewable sources of energy, that has a much more diversified transport system, and that reuses and recycles everything. We have the technology to build this new economy, an economy that will allow us to sustain economic progress.

And he finishes with that haunting question on which so much depends.

But can we muster the political will to translate this potential into reality?

Note: Two of Brown’s books have been reviewed on Hot Topic here and here.

Hotspots hit poor hardest Bryan Walker Jun 04

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Another report this week drives home the message that the world’s poorer people are going to suffer the early and potentially devastating effects of climate change. The report is the work of the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) programme associated with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a group of food research organisations.

The report, Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics, was produced by a team of scientists responding to what CCAFS describes as an urgent need to focus climate change adaptation efforts on people and places where the potential for harsher growing conditions poses the gravest threat to food production and food security.

The researchers identified places around the world where the arrival of stressful growing conditions could be especially disastrous.  They are areas highly exposed to climate shifts, where survival is strongly linked to the fate of regional crop and livestock yields, and where chronic food problems indicate that farmers are already struggling and they lack the capacity to adapt to new weather patterns.

For example, the report points to large parts of South Asia, including almost all of India, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa — chiefly West Africa — where there are 369 million food-insecure people living in agriculture intensive areas that are highly exposed to a potential five percent decrease in the length of the growing period. That’s a big enough change to significantly affect food yields and food access for people — many of them farmers themselves — already living on the edge.

Higher temperatures are also likely to exact a toll, the report indicates. Today, there are 56 million food-insecure and crop-dependent people in parts of West Africa, India and China who live in areas where, by the mid-2050s, maximum daily temperatures during the growing season could exceed 30 degrees. This is close to the maximum temperature that beans can tolerate, while maize and rice yields may suffer when temperatures exceed this level. For example, a study last year in Nature found that even with optimal amounts of rain, African maize yields could decline by one percent for each day spent above 30 degrees.  This map shows where the threatened areas are:

GISTEMPFig E201104

The intention of the report is to identify regions where adaptation measures are likely to be most urgently required. Crop production and livestock capacity are likely to be severely affected. One of the researchers commented on the need to move quickly on innovative solutions to meet the challenges if future serious food security and livelihood problems are to be avoided.

Time journalist Bryan Walsh’s blog remarks that the report is a reminder of one of the inescapable facts of global warming politics: those who are least responsible for the problem, those who are already living close to the edge, are those who will almost certainly suffer the most. The implication he draws is surely correct:

’That leaves much of the responsibility in the hands of the developed nations, whose wealth will shield them from the worst impacts of climate change – provided they plan well. Reducing emissions is a must, to blunt the worst effects of warming.  But adaptation will be just as important – if not more so… In short, we’ll need to help with the hard work of international development – which in a hotter world, is all but synonymous with climate adaptation.’

In obvious exasperation with lack of progress on mitigation he pushes the cause of adaptation:

’As diplomats gather for yet another round of climate negotiations – this time in Bonn – I’d rather see governments make concrete pledges on adaptation, foreign aid and technological development, instead of another empty promise about preventing temperature rise or keeping the atmosphere’s carbon concentrations at a ‘safe’ level. Action now is worth a lot more than promise tomorrow.’

It’s certainly a cause worth pleading, although not one that is likely to have much traction if New Zealand’s recent budget is any indication.  For yet another year the small proportion of our gross national income devoted to aid has suffered a cut. Caritas politely says how regrettable this is.  I think I’d have chosen a stronger adjective.

No matter how impervious politicians appear to the hardships global warming is beginning to impose on the poor and will impose on generations to come it’s important to keep hammering the message, if only to bear witness, as Stephen Gardiner’s recently reviewed book, A Perfect Moral Storm, puts it. There may be some ethical embers lying dormant which might yet be fanned into a blaze. Here’s a short video from CGIAR which brings viewers face to face with those who already grapple with climate change.

There are a couple more of the videos, on Ghana and Kenya, which can be accessed here.

BBC News carries some useful comments on the report, and John Vidal’s Poverty Matters blog in the Guardian is worth a look.

The Climate Show #12: twisters, Olaf on ozone, and Google in the sun Gareth Renowden May 05

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Ozone is the centrepiece of our show this week, with Dr Olaf Morgenstern of NIWA’s Central Otago atmospheric science lab (celebrating its 50th birthday at the moment) explaining the ins and outs of the ozone holes north and south, and their impacts on the climate system. Plus tornadoes, heatwaves, UN negotiations at an impasse, more melting in the Arctic, airships, see-through solar cells and Google’s solar towers. No John Cook this time — he’s been too busy launching his book (good luck with that John!).

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, or listen direct/download here:

The Climate Show

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, on Facebook and Twitter.

News & commentary:

[0:09:00] Tornadoes: NZ Met Service blog post on the Albany tornado, and Jeff Masters on the April US tornado outbreak. Frogblog comment (scroll down to comment by “Jimmy”).

Britain has hottest easter since records began (1960) and and the warmest April in more than 350 years: BBC.

Major polluters say 2011 climate deal “not doable”.

New analysis of Antarctic ice cores shows that CO2 increases start within a couple of hundred years of warming beginning at ice age terminations (the famous ’lag’ some sceptics claim disproves CO2/warming link much shorter than previously thought): New Scientist.

New Arctic report suggests sea level could rise by 1.6m by end of century:
“The observed changes in sea ice on the Arctic Ocean, in the mass of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic ice caps and glaciers over the past 10 years are dramatic and represent an obvious departure from the long-term patterns,” AMAP said in the executive summary: CBS News.

Chinese icebreaker to circumnavigate Arctic this summer.

Interview: [0:31:00] Dr Olaf Morgenstern of NIWA’s Lauder atmospheric science lab.

Ozone link to Aussie rainfall here, and this paper (not mentioned in the programme) explains some of the competition between ozone and greenhouse gas forcing (with good diagram of atmospheric circulation).

Solutions

[0:58:00]Airships as low-carbon freight carriers.

Google invests in Mojave solar thermal power: Guardian, Fast Company.

See-through solar cells.

New cheap fuel cell catalysts.

Thanks to our media partners: Celsias.co.nz, Scoop and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

The Climate Show #9: Barry Brook, hot spots and melting ice Gareth Renowden Mar 18

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With the terrible events in Japan uppermost in everyone’s mind, this week’s Climate Show goes nuclear, examining the prospects for the future of nuclear energy with Professor Barry Brook from the University of Adelaide. John Cook looks at what the tropical troposphere hot spot really means, and Gareth and Glenn look at mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, a record ozone hole over the Arctic, and review last winter’s climate numbers.

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, or listen direct/download here:

The Climate Show

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, on Facebook and Twitter.

Show notes below the fold.

News & commentary:

February ranked 17th warmest, winter (Dec-Feb) 16th warmest according to NOAA. NCDC global monthly reports here.

Arctic is on the verge of massive ozone loss this spring.

Melting ice sheets becoming largest contributor to sea level rise. Coverage also by Tom Yulsman at CE Journal and the BBC. Skeptical Science’s giant ice cube here.

A couple of notable articles from Nature: Ocean acidification: Earth’s Acid Test

And: China sets ambitious five-year goals for increasing energy efficiency and curbing carbon emissions – and a reduced target for economic growth.

Germany to shut down pre 1980s power plants.

Feature interview: Professor Barry Brook holds the Foundation Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and is Director of Climate Science at The Environment Institute, University of Adelaide. He has published three books and over 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and regularly writes opinion pieces and popular articles for the media. His blog, Brave New Climate, is one of the world’s top climate blogs, and over the last few years Barry has digging deep into nuclear energy issues…

Debunking the skeptic with John Cook from Skeptical Science.

The Tropospheric Hot Spot

Solutions

Meet the zero energy transparent TV: (hat tip to John Cook)

A report says that GeoThermal energy will double by 2020 (CNET news,
report here.

Iceland thinking about exporting geothermal power to Europe: Wired.

Thanks to our media partners: Celsias.co.nz, Scoop and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

Heart of the city Bryan Walker Jan 27

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We tend to become riveted on the efforts of national governments to address greenhouse gas reductions, so far with dismal results. But as a valuable new study reminds us, city administrations can play a significant role in mitigation and with more immediate effect. Cities and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Moving Forward is to be published in the journal Environment and Urbanization in April and has been made available online in advance. The lead author is Daniel Hoornweg, lead urban specialist on Cities and Climate Change at the World Bank.

A large share of global greenhouse gas emissions is attributable to cities. But the study points to cities’ ability to respond to climate change at a local and proximate level; cities usually offer more immediate and effective communication between the public and the decision makers than national governments. Cities, say the authors, are credible laboratories of social change, with sufficient scale to bring about meaningful changes. The potential co-benefits of mitigation and adaptation are largest in cities.

The study proposes a path forward for cities which clearly measure and communicate their emissions. They can identify and tackle the largest issues first. They can get help from citizens, other cities and national governments. The study recognises the pragmatism with which cities have been able to tackle other issues such as waste management and water supply, seeing that as a likely indicator of the way they can address climate change.

Cities vary greatly in their per capita levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and the study includes many interesting analyses and comparisons. It is surprising — and encouraging — to see how much work has been done on the measurement of a large number of cities’ per capita emissions. The study refers to 100 for which peer-reviewed studies are available, discussing some of them in closer detail. In most countries per capita greenhouse gas emissions are lower in cities than the country-wide average, but there are often considerable differences between cities within the same country. For example, the per capita emission level in the USA is 23.59 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) per annum. The average level of emissions for New York residents is considerably less at 10.5 tCO2e, yet Denver’s approaches the national average at 21.5 tCO2e. The difference between the two cities is mainly attributable to New York’s greater density and much lower reliance on the automobile for commuting. A review of Denver’s emissions which includes the embodied emissions of material such as food and concrete coming into the city has emissions rising to 25.3 tCO2e per capita, which is above the national average.

Chinese cities are atypical in that, generally, their GHG emissions are, on average, much higher than per capita national averages. For example, Shanghai’s emissions are 12.6 tCO2e per capita, while national emissions are 3.4 tCO2e per capita. This reflects the high reliance on fossil fuels for electricity production, a significant industrial base within many cities and a relatively poor and large rural population, and hence a lower average per capita value for national emissions.

The study offers interesting material relating to Toronto where researchers have broken down the city into districts. Wealthy neighbourhoods and distant sprawling suburbs had significantly higher emissions, dramatically so by comparison with a dense inner-city neighbourhood with good access to public transportation.

Greenhouse gas inventories are obviously important in giving city government bodies reliable information to work with, to share with their citizens and to determine where best to direct mitigation efforts. The study considers that while the making of inventories is still an evolving process it is robust enough already to be operated by all cities, at least by those with more than a million inhabitants. I thought of Mayor Len Brown’s plans for emission reductions in Auckland over the next fifteen years when I read this, and realised that this important pre-requisite should be within that city’s reach.

A striking feature in the study for me was the table which lists the policy tools available for city-level action on climate change.  Transport figures heavily in the policy goals.  Land use zoning can be used to reduce trip lengths, to encourage transit-oriented development zones and to introduce traffic calming to discourage driving. The quality and linkages of public transport can be improved and its services expanded. Employee transport plans can be facilitated. Driving and parking restrictions can be applied, and softened somewhat for fuel-efficient vehicles. The city fleet can be made up of fuel-efficient vehicles. All these are mitigation measures, some of them regulatory, some service provisions. Unfortunately in New Zealand at present those relating to public transport would come up against the Minister of Transport’s benighted determination to put public transport on short rations and spend the money on new roads, but at least in the case of Auckland there are signs of steel in the new Mayor’s public transport intentions.

Next on the list are policy tools relating to building efficiency. Zoning regulations can promote multi-family and connected residential housing. Energy efficiency requirements can be part of building codes. Public and private retro-fitting programmes can be co-ordinated.

The increase of the local share of renewable and captured energy generation can be obtained by building codes requiring a minimum share of renewable energy, by district heating and cooling projects and by waste-to-energy programmes.

Adaptation appears on the list with measures to reduce vulnerability to flooding and increased storm events and to extreme heat. Tree-planting programmes and green roof requirements figure here.

City officials and elected representatives don’t have to scratch their heads and wonder where they can start in the battle to reduce emissions or adapt to the climate change impacts which can’t be avoided. Nor do they have to join the ’after you’ brigade of international governmental negotiators. They can get under way immediately, either to lower their emissions substantially or, if they are already low to keep them that way as the city grows or becomes more prosperous. Cities can also work co-operatively in their endeavours. Some of the largest are already doing so. The study remarks on the C40 organisation, a group of large cities committed to tackling climate change, currently chaired by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York. Relative to the world’s top nations they are collectively a very big player and anything they prove able to achieve must be significant in global terms.

As we watch what looks like the sad spectacle of implosion in the US attempts to tackle climate change at the national level one is wary of sounding enthusiastic about mitigation prospects, but this paper is nevertheless a positive reminder that not everything depends on a handful of anti-science Republican congressmen. Cities can carry hopes which their countries currently largely deny.

[Nick Lowe]

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