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Posts Tagged Climate politics

Something old, something blue, something borrowed, not much new: Labour’s climate policy Mr February Sep 11

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Mr February (aka Simon Johnson) looks at the Labour Party’s climate change policy and concludes it’s not exactly innovative.

As I was saying in my previous post Labour do have a seven page climate change policy that is at first look pretty comprehensive.

Labour will

  • begin the transition to a low carbon clean energy economy
  • set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets and plans to achieve them
  • set up an independent climate change commission
  • will implement a comprehensive risk assessment framework in order to develop a comprehensive climate change response plan
  • establish a carbon budget process
  • achieve 90% renewable electricity generation target by 2025
  • reduce per capita domestic transport emissions 50% by 2040 from a base year of 2007
  • ensure that there is no retail carbon price gouging of consumers
  • manage the transition to ensure social justice particularly with respect to low income families
  • restore the carbon price to the NZETS (NZ Emissions Trading Scheme)
  • require emitters to cover at least half their emissions with NZ issued Units (not the cheap international ‘hot air’ units).
  • bring agriculture into the NZETS from 1 January 2016
  • give agriculture a free allocation of NZ units equal to 90% of 2007 production

Something borrowed

This really does appear to be a great list of policies. Interestingly, some of these policies have been borrowed from a variety of people.

The carbon budget idea is borrowed from the Sustainability Council back in 2011 and in 2012 and from Generation Zero’s “Big Ask” Report of July 2014.

The independent climate commission idea is also borrowed from the Sustainability Council in 2012 and from Generation Zero’s “Big Ask” Report of July 2014.

The comprehensive risk assessment framework and climate change response plan is borrowed from the Wise Group.

The policy requiring ETS emitters to use at least 50% NZ units is borrowed from the long-suffering carbon forest industry who in 2012 asked for limits on the amount of ultra cheap ‘hot air’ imported units that emitters can use to meet their ETS obligations.

Labour’s policy also has a swipe at National for ignoring the foresters request to do something about the catastrophic decline in the NZ carbon price.

“Also, National sat on its hands as an influx of cheap, imported, international emission units collapsed the price of NZUs.

So, Labour’s fix for the price collapse is to;

“..restrict international units by requiring at least 50% of all units surrendered to meet obligations under the ETS to be NZUs (on an ongoing basis).

The problem with this measure is that it won’t work. It won’t stop the cheap dumpster diver international units holding down the NZ unit price. If its compulsory for 50% of units surrendered to be NZ units, then thats the same as permitting 50% to be cheap international units. So the international units will still drag down the NZ unit price.

I have argued in a previous post that allowing use of international units was a fundamental flaw in the design of the NZETS (along with the lack of a cap). Previous partial restrictions on international units have not had any impact on prices.

The ironic thing about the Labour policy swipe at National “sitting on its hands”, given that their 50% restriction fix won’t work, is that that the unlimited importing of international units into the NZETS was hardwired into the original design of the NZETS in the Labour government’s 2007 Framework for a New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme document. In other words, it was originally Labour’s idea that the NZETS be so open to international units that they set the NZ carbon price.

The only way to set a “real” carbon price in the NZETS is to ban the use of all international units and manage the supply of NZ units and assigned amount units so that the carbon price is sufficient to incentivise changes in behaviour. If Labour won’t do that, then their position is closer to Tim Groser’s view that the international price should set the NZ price than to the views of the environmental NGOs and foresters who want an effective carbon price.

Something old

The rest of Labour’s policy to “fix” the emissions trading scheme is to largely return it to the 2008 version Labour originally enacted.

Labour’s “something old” policies on the ETS are to:

  • strengthen the ETS by bringing agriculture in on 1 January 2016
  • base the amount of free emissions units allocated to agriculture on 90 per cent of its 2005 emissions
  • continue with free allocations for carbon-intensive industries exposed to export competition, such as steel and aluminium.

This means that Labour will continue gifting excessive amounts of carbon credits to major polluters like Tiwai Point smelter owner Rio Tinto Alcan NZ and Norske Skog Tasman. The base for allocation will change from past production intensity to historic 2005 production levels – which may end up being pre-Global Financial Crisis peaks.

Forestry professor Euan Mason points out that once agriculture is in the ETS with 90% free allocation, they too will be able to take advantage of the price differences in the ETS, just like the carbon intensive industries have. They will be able to surrender half of their free NZ units back to the government, with the other half of their obligation satisfied by buying 11c international units. They can then sell their remaining NZ units for say $4.00 each. They then pocket the arbitrage difference between the prices of the units.

It’s important to remember that Labour’s original NZETS wasn’t particularly well designed or effective. As Jeanette Fitzsimons said in the documentary “Hot Air”, the Greens only unwillingly voted for it as it was “the only game in town”, a first step and better than nothing.

In 2009, economist Geoff Bertram gave one of those Victoria University Institute of Policy Studies talks about the Labour and National emissions trading schemes. After about 30 minutes of carbon supply and demand curves, some one asked Geoff to sum up in plain language. Geoff Bertram’s reply is the only part of the lecture I can remember to the letter. He explained that both schemes were patchwork quilts of exemptions and loopholes and delays. Both schemes lacked caps on emissions. Both schemes introduced unnecessary NZ units whose pricing would be at the whim of the international markets. He concluded:

“Well the Labour ETS is a dog, and the National ETS is a complete dog”

Something blue

Are you surprised that I am saying that Labour’s climate change policy includes “something blue’, as in from the National Party? I am surprised as well. Any climate change policy in common with National would seem almost to be logically impossible given that in National’s list of policies has no climate change policy.

This statement from the the third page is what I mean.

“Labour is committed to achieving a lasting consensus among New Zealand’s main political parties on an ETS. We have consistently tried to work with the National Party to reach common ground. But we aren’t prepared to compromise our fundamental principles to do so.

Labour also gave a similar answer to Forest and Bird in their “Polling the Pollies 2014″ report. Forest and Bird asked why Labour wasn’t supporting the Green’s ‘carbon tax cut’ policy.

“Labour’s preferred means of pricing is to fix the the existing ETS. Using an ETS to price carbon is the only broad area of agreement in climate change policy, particularly particularly between the two largest parties (despite National’s lip service for an ETS). Labour would not throw that agreement away lightly to start again with a carbon tax.”

Reading these statements removes any doubts I may have had about being too hard on Labour’s climate change policy. Ultimately Labour are just borrowing the headline ideas of the NGOs to make their policy appear effective. The truth is that in terms of how they intend to price carbon via an ETS, they would rather be “something blue”, closer to National than to the Greens. This is just raw political expedience masquerading as high principle. A compromise being justified on the grounds we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

In an enigmatically named post I wrote three years ago for the 2011 election, The snake swallows the elephant in the room and then flogs a dead horse, I suggested that climate change politics and particularly the NZETS could potentially descend into a politically institutionalised ritual of “flogging the dead horse”.

My fears appear to have been realised. National and Labour in effect have the same policy narrative that explains the problem; “THEY undermined the NZETS”, and a narrative solution, “WE will fix the NZETS”. This creates the on-going cycle of the ‘horse is underperforming’ and the narrative’ solution (keep flogging the horse). But beneath the impenetratable detail and complexity of the arguments about fixing the NZETS, it will remain ineffective.

In summary, it is not enough for Labour’s climate change policy to borrow some good policies from the NGO’s when the fundamental problems of the NZETS are not addressed. It needs a cap on emissions. The number of units or carbon credits or permits must be limited to the cap. It needs to exclude all international units. There should be no free allocation of units. It should apply to all sectors. All the ducks must be in a row. All the cogs must turn in the same direction. Returning the NZETS settings to the 2008 design doesn’t achieve this. Seeking a ‘flog the dead horse’ consensus with National also doesn’t achieve this. Isn’t climate change important enough to warrant policies better than something old, something blue, something borrowed and not much new?

TDB Today: An election looms: do I feel lucky? Gareth Renowden Sep 10

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A word to the wise: there’s an election about to happen. Not much sign of climate policy coverage in the newspapers or on television, so in my Daily Blog post this week — An election looms: do I feel lucky? — I provide an entirely superficial but 100% accurate overview of the climate policies of the main parties seeking our votes. (Includes obligatory old film reference.)

Memo to Labour: Calling fossil fuels “transition fuels” doesn’t make the carbon go away Mr February Sep 09

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The New Zealand Labour Party announced their climate change policy on 24 August; the Sunday before last Sunday.

At first glance, it sounds refreshingly like a policy that takes anthropogenic global warming seriously. From the announcement:

A Labour Government will put in place a comprehensive climate change strategy focusing on both mitigation and adaptation, establish an independent Climate Commission and implement carbon budgeting, says Labour Climate Change spokesperson Moana Mackey.

“This is about future-proofing our economy. Making the transition to a low-carbon clean technology economy is not a ‘nice to have’ as the current Government would have us believe. It is a transition we must make and the sooner we begin, the easier that transition will be.”

How did the media respond? Well they ignored it. I haven’t seen any reporting of Labour’s climate change policy in the Herald, or Stuff/Fairfax, or Radio NZ or TV1 or TV3. I only stumbled onto it via Scoop a week after the release.

Like the 2011 election, the issue of climate change has been notable for it’s absence (the snake swallowing the elephant in the room).

However, some climate change focused NGOs responded positively to Labour’s policy. Simon Terry at the Sustainability Council said a carbon budget was the single most important reform. Generation Zero and the Iwi Leaders Group and forest owners welcomed the policy. The mainstream media of course also ignored these NGO views.

However, before I get into the detail of Labour’s climate change policy (a topic for another post), it’s important to ask “are the dots connected with Labour’s energy policy?” Unfortunately, the dots are not connected and the energy policy is 180 degrees contrary to the concept of a carbon budget.

Let’s look first at the sixth paragraph of Labour’s energy policy.

“It is internationally agreed that the average global temperature increase must be kept below 2 degrees Celsius if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided. That means two-thirds of currently identified fossil fuel reserves cannot be consumed before 2050, in the absence of widely-deployed (and still unproven) carbon capture and storage technology.”

This is fantastic, isn’t it? Labour get it! They have read up on the Meinhausen et al Two Degrees Nature paper, the Carbon Tracker Unburnable Carbon Report, Bill McKibbin’s Do the Math and the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report.

They understand that the carbon in existing fossil fuel reserves will when consumed produce significantly more carbon dioxide than the quantity compatible with keeping average global warming to two degrees.

If only that were so. The next sentence tells us that Labour don’t get climate change.

“This does not mean that New Zealand should stop developing its own petroleum resources in a world still heavily dependent on oil. But this will be in the context of transitioning to renewable energy, which New Zealand and the rest of the world needs rapidly to do.”

This is inconsistent and nonsense. Someone else somewhere else must keep their fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change. But not New Zealand. Under Labour’s policy, the private sector will develop New Zealand’s oil and gas reserves and the oil and gas infrastructure, with say a 40 or 50 year life span, over which they will expect to get a market return. Thats a carbon commitment for most of the years until 2100. The very time frame that the IPCC low emissions pathways say we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70%.

What is Labour thinking here? Where does Labour think the carbon dioxide from NZ’s new hydrocarbon reserves will end up? Or maybe if you label the NZ hydrocarbons as “transition” fuels there are fewer carbon atoms? Again this is nonsense.

I can only guess that Labour, in stating that their policy is in “the context of transitioning to renewable energy”, are arguing that oil and gas are now “transition fuels” to renewable energy supplies. That oil and gas are “bridge fuels” to renewables. Again this is nonsense. Are Labour now agreeing with Nick Smith?

I am not the only person to note the inherent contradiction in Labour’s policy. Bryan Walker has already noted that the intellectual hollowness is plain in Labour’s policy. Walker said;

“Political parties and governments which support expanded exploration and development of fossil resources either do not understand the severity of the scientific message or are so consumed by the prospects of economic wealth that they are determined not to heed it.”

Ditto Forest and Bird’s Kevin Hackwell;

“If Labour is taking climate change seriously it would realise that its fossil fuels policy is at odds with the party’s overarching policy statements on sustainability and climate change.”

Labour really need to be challenged on this. It’s as if the party has set a compass bearing for the destination and then headed off in the exact opposite direction. If there isn’t an understanding of the limited carbon budget in both your energy policy and your climate change policy, then it’s pretty much a ‘fail’ before even looking at the detail of the climate change policy.

The great climate voter debate Gareth Renowden Sep 07

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Last week’s Great Climate Voter Debate is a must view for anyone wanting to understand NZ’s mainstream political parties stance on policies to address carbon emissions and climate change. Moderated by TV3’s Samantha Hayes, the debate features climate change minister Tim Groser, Labour’s deputy leader David Parker, Greens co-leader Russel Norman, NZ First’s deputy leader Tracey Martin, John Minto from Internet-Mana and Nancy Tuaine from the Maori Party. The ACT Party and Conservatives couldn’t be bothered to send representatives — no surprises there.

It’s an excellent discussion, covering all the bases. Every NZ voter should take the time — only two hours — to watch it through.

Reason in a Dark Time Bryan Walker Sep 03

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Dale Jamieson is a philosopher long acquainted with the work of climate scientists. His recently published book was begun 25 years ago, “an avocation that became an obsession”. He used to joke when asked why the book wasn’t appearing that he was waiting to see how the story ended. Then it dawned on him after the failed 2009 Copenhagen conference that there was no ending, and certainly not a happy one. The continuing journey is largely a matter of salvaging what we can from the wreckage. The book’s title sets the stark picture: Reason in a Dark Time. Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed – and What it Means for Our Future.

Not surprisingly with such a title the book is not a call to action but rather an invitation to understand our failure and to think about what we might learn from it and how best live in the changed world we are creating.

Jamieson proposes a variety of reasons for our failure. Scientific ignorance is one. He recalls British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow’s famous “two cultures” claim in 1956 that the British political and cultural elite, educated in the humanities, was quite ignorant and even contemptuous of science. The “two cultures” are alive and well in the United States today, including among the political elites.  In particular the weight of peer-reviewed science is often not grasped. Jamieson presents an illuminating explanation of the process of peer review which enables the incremental advance of solid science. It is scientific ignorance which has allowed climate change denial to find a foothold, aided by powerful corporations anxious to prevent or delay action which might affect their profitability.

But it’s our ways of making political decisions that have contributed most to our failure. Climate change is a “wicked problem” politically, in that it comes in many frames – global governance, market failure, technological failure, global justice, and others – each requiring its own focus. Our political systems are not good at coping with such complexity. The extraordinarily cumbersome processes of government in the US have certainly not been up to the task. The vulnerability of democracies to populism makes it difficult to see how they can be persuaded to accept the constraints that might help make climate stability possible. It’s a terrifying possibility that we might simply not be able with our systems of government to measure up to the challenge of climate change but it’s difficult to argue with Jamieson’s observations.

He puts at the heart of our failure the notion that evolution did not design us to solve or even to recognize this kind of problem. The onset of climate change is gradual and uncertain. Evolution has geared us to respond to the immediate and obvious. Our animal nature doesn’t help us. Climate change must be thought rather than sensed and we are not very good at thinking. I always find myself resisting this kind of analysis, comforting myself with the thought that evolution has also endowed us with an intelligence capable of modifying our instinctive reactions and that in the history of civilisation there is often evidence of longer term planning. But I have to admit that in the middle of an election campaign in New Zealand the short term predominates.

Neither economics nor commonsense morality are up to the complex challenge of climate change. Jamieson is painstaking in his explanation of why there is no substantial hope from those quarters. He remarks that some economists give the impression that acting too aggressively to reduce emissions is as bad as failing to act aggressively enough, and contrasts this with the scientists’ emphasis on precaution. I wondered whether he sufficiently differentiated the work of economists like Stern who call for early and decisive action because they clearly understand and accept the stark realities of the science, while those who counsel delay do not.

Jamieson acknowledges that many will find his conclusions depressing, and goes on to offer such consolation as he can muster as we live in the world we have changed. In part he writes of what he describes as the “virtues” needed for personal life in the Anthropocene. They are a mix of the traditional and the new or the re-interpreted.  Humility, temperance, the love of nature, mindfulness, cooperativeness, simplicity.

He also offers opportunities for “temporary victories and local solutions while a new world comes into focus”. They are very much of a piece with what more optimistic campaigners urge, albeit toned down and modest in scope: integrate adaptation with development, increase terrestrial carbon sinks, adopt full-cost life cycle energy accounting, put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, force technology adoption, substantially increase research in renewable energy and carbon sequestration, and finally and more generally plan for the flexibility demanded by life in the Anthropocene. There is unlikely to be any concerted global deal to remove the threat of major climate change, but that doesn’t mean we attempt nothing.

When writing this review I watched the film Hot Air which was included in this year’s film festival screenings. It tells the sorry story of how well-intentioned attempts, from both the right (in the early stages) and the left, to introduce climate change legislation in New Zealand were stymied by powerful business lobbies and the argument that we would place ourselves at an economic disadvantage if we took action to reduce emissions. That was just in our small corner of the world. I came away from the film angry and despairing and ready to concede, however unwillingly, that Jamieson’s judgment is likely to prove correct.

[Amazon]

We Play Dirty at the Climate Talks Too: New Zealand’s Dirty Politics of Climate Gareth Renowden Sep 01

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This guest post is by David Tong, an Auckland based community lawyer working on his Master’s in Law on the UN climate talks. He chairs the P3 Foundation and co-chairs the Aotearoa New Zealand Human Rights Lawyers Association, and last year tracked New Zealand’s climate negotiators as an Adopt a Negotiator Fellow.

Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics and the subsequent revelations have shaken New Zealand’s Government. On Saturday, Minister of Justice Judith Collins resigned, facing allegations of interfering with Serious Fraud Office investigations. On Sunday, the Inspector General of Security and Intelligence summonsed the Prime Minister — or perhaps just his Office — to appear before a hearing into the Dirty Politics allegations on 11 September 2014, just nine days before the election.

But three key ministers have escaped remarkably unscathed from the scandal: Ministers Tim Groser, Nick Smith, and Amy Adams. Tim Groser, our Minister for Climate Change Issues, has danced past the scandal without a speck of dirt. Minister for Conservation and Housing Nick Smith, who resigned as Minister for the Environment after admitting two relatively minor indiscretions must be spitting mad at how many final warnings Judith Collins flouted before resigning. Of the three, only Amy Adams faced a substantive allegation in Hager’s book, which alleges that she printed, scanned and forwarded an invitation accidentally sent to her by the Labour Party to Judith Collins, who then leaked it to the far right blogger at the heart of the scandal.

But compared to the other allegations in Dirty Politics — or even the past conflict of interest allegations levelled at Adams — these matters are minor. Hager’s book only mentions climate change once. Other emails show at most that Slater ran an ineffectual smear campaign against Generation Zero, which may or may not have been encouraged by Government figures. All this could be interpreted to mean our Government plays cleaner on climate change than it does at home.

That suggestion is wrong. Our domestic and international politics mirror each other. Dirty politics at home are mirrored by dirty tricks at the climate talks. The last few rounds of negotiations brim with examples.

My first exposure to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations came when I attended the 2011 Durban Talks with the New Zealand Youth Delegation. Three days into the talks, small island negotiators torpedoed my naiveté when I was lucky enough to get into a closed door Alliance of Small Island States briefing. Hearing representatives from some of the most vulnerable states describe New Zealand as “pulling the Kyoto Protocol down to the lowest level of ambition, and the lowest level of cooperation” by taking “deliberately inconsistent” stances sank my idealism about my country without a trace.

Like Hot Topic‘s Durban correspondent Cindy Baxter, I had no idea what we were playing at, but knew we were “cheating and lying”. In particular, we stood accused of proposing a “wild west” carbon market allowing secret, bilateral sales of carbon credits, with no central register to prevent us from selling the same units twice. By the end of the Conference, our veneer of conditional support for a Kyoto Protocol had collapsed, with Minister Groser describing a Second Commitment Period as “actually an insult to New Zealand”.

In the eyes of the NGO community, though, we had improved a tiny bit, narrowly escaping a Colossal Fossil award for disrupting negotiations the most by sneaking into third place, after coming second overall in 2010.

We made up for lost time in 2012, by walking away from the Second Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol. In doing so, we further abandoned our past claims of conditional support for a Second Commitment Period and, ultimately, further betrayed the trust of our Pacific neignbours: “Its island partners in the Pacific should think again before ever trusting NZ again.” After our near misses in 2010 and 2011, we cleanly took out the 2012 Colossal Fossil award. The Climate Action Network sledged our “exceptional blindness to scientific and political realities” and accused us of trying to “drown the talks” — and our Pacific neighbours. What credibility we had in the talks, we tossed away with the Protocol. For our dirty deeds, the Doha talks agreed to shut NZ out of international carbon markets from next year.

I went back to the climate talks last year as an Adopt a Negotiator Fellow, tracking New Zealand in the talks. After the beating we took in 2013, we kept our heads down. But, again, I saw a duplicity between domestic politics and international posturing. While ministers laughed at Russel Norman quoting Philippine lead negotiator Yeb Sano and denied the very existence of climate change at home, our negotiators advanced a platform of “Bounded Flexibility” — a nice name for almost pure voluntarism. Jim Salinger described this sort of approach as inviting people to volunteer to pay taxes. And when I was lucky enough to spend a day with Marshall Islands Minister Tony de Brum, I couldn’t help but compare our hollow lack of ambition in Warsaw with our decision to sign the Majuro Declaration on Climate Leadership. At the Pacific Islands Forum — and no doubt this week at the Small Island Developing States Conference — we pledged to stand with our Pacific neighbours, but in the UNFCCC, we don’t — and they know that.

We play dirty on climate change. If our international record wasn’t enough to show this, you just have to look at our domestic emissions trading scheme. Far from cutting emissions, it has subsidised pollution.

The only question is whether a change in Government will change this. Under Helen Clark’s Labour Government, we still copped at lot of flak at the climate talks. Last year, in Warsaw, our lead negotiator said that she did not believe a change in government would change our international stance. Paradoxically, however, we have excused inaction around this month’s Ban Ki Moon Summit because of the uncertainty around our election. Labour and the Green Party have both committed to meaningful domestic action, but this needs to be coupled with cleaning up our international act.

On Wednesday night, the Climate Voter Coalition are hosting a debate, and all the major parties have fronted up. Tickets are sold out, but you can stream it live here. I will be watching it with interest, because our climate politics need cleaning up. It’s time to wash out the dirt.

Oxfam: saving the tava’e (and the world) Gareth Renowden Aug 29

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This guest post is by Oxfam NZ‘s (relatively) new director, Rachael Le Mesurier. She’s off to the UN conference on Small Island Developing States in Apia next week, and here provides an interesting overview of the climate, sea level and other issues that are going to be on the agenda.

The national leaders of some of the world’s hottest island getaway spots are meeting in Apia, Samoa as the third UN conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) gets underway 1st – 4th September. 14 Pacific Island nations and Timor Leste, 16 Caribbean countries and eight small island nations from Africa, the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea are coming together, for the first time in the Pacific, under the theme “The sustainable development of Small Island Developing States through genuine and durable partnerships.”

But it isn’t all glorious sunsets and palm-tree lined white sand beaches in these small island nations. That perfect, tourist-brochure picture is already being impacted by climate change, economic isolation, social challenges and increasingly severe environmental disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, cyclones and floods. The SIDS are coming together to alert the world that the Tava’e/Tropicbird — like the infamous canary in the coal mine — is struggling and the world needs to pay attention.

Oxfam works with Pacific Island civil society organisations (CSOs) as partners in our development programmes across the Pacific. We also work with these CSOs and their governments as they lead the response to extreme weather events and put plans in place to manage the risk associated with these disasters in future. The CSOs in SIDS have sent a very strong message on climate change’s impact on sustainable development to the UN meeting in Samoa. They have highlighted that twenty years after the first SIDS meeting in Barbados, the positive achievements in sustainable development are primarily seen at local and community levels.

There are some SIDS governments providing leadership on the global stage in advocating on climate change. At the UN launch of the International Year of SIDS, the president of Nauru, Baron Waqa said:

“No people or country has faced the risk of total inundation from rising seas before. Yet, that is exactly what we must contend with — losing entire languages, cultures, histories, and all the progress that came at such a high cost for those who came before us.”

The CSOs are drawing attention to the environmental impact of climate change on sustainable development as king tides and coastal erosion impact some of the lowest-lying countries on the planet, contaminating their water supplies and undermining work on sanitation. Cyclones are now causing increased damage to the natural environment, crops, and infrastructure that cannot be repaired in time for the next cyclone season.

Climate change also impacts on the economic and social dimensions of sustainable development. Rising sea levels, ocean acidification and extreme weather are threatening livelihoods, access to social systems such as health care and education and leaving many homeless, particularly women and children. Climate change threatens food security and efforts to eradicate poverty and fuels civil unrest. Climate change-driven migration is going to be an increasing challenge to the developed countries. In July this year a climate change asylum seeker, from Kiribati, was declined refugee status by the NZ government.

SIDS members know that the reality of living surrounded by oceans, hundreds of miles away from any other nation, with short runways and non-existent deep water harbours, means very little humanitarian aid can reach them quickly when a disaster hits. Disaster risk management has become an essential tool for climate change adaptation, sustainable economies, resilient communities and prevention of environmental degradation – in short: essential for the survival of these small island nations.

Addressing the General Assembly last September, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Winston Baldwin Spencer told delegates:

“It is a recognised fact – but it is worth repeating – that small island states contribute the least to the causes of climate change, yet we suffer the most from its effects.”

The CSOs are calling on developed nations to re-commit to the action necessary to keep warming below the 2C target leaders agreed 5 years ago in Copenhagen, including by meeting the $100bn per year financing promise made in Copenhagen by 2020. CSOs have also offered specific suggestions including:

  • A comprehensive vulnerability index, first raised in the SIDS Bermuda Plan of Action (BPoA) in 1994, as a more appropriate measure for the allocation of financial resources and support by development partners.
  • The development of appropriate micro-insurance policies to provide the protection of infrastructure and crops through natural disasters and the increasing impact of climate change.
  • Local island communities have to respond to the reality of earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis, so resources and risk reduction plans need to be communicated in a form that can be understood by those who need it most, hours and days before any external help can reach them.

The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon and 21 heads of UN agencies are attending the UN SIDS meeting in Apia. They are sending a strong message of support to SIDS, in recognition of their unique and particular vulnerabilities to climate change, that their messages are essential to the success of the UN General Assembly’s High Level joint meeting on Climate Change and the post 2015 goals (23rd and 25th September).

Genuine and durable partnerships is the theme for SIDS 2014, but absent in providing any true partnership to date are many developed countries, such as Pacific neighbours Australia and New Zealand. From New Zealand being the fifth highest per capita emitters in the OECD to Australia dismantling its climate change institutions, neither have taken appropriate responsibility for the impact of their pollution on climate change.

Oxfam supports the people of the small island developing states in their efforts to be heard as true partners in the global response to climate change and calls on the UN member states to: attend the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit; support the conclusion of a fair and ambitious climate agreement in Paris in 2015 and articulate support for a climate change goal in the post-2015 agenda.

With the Climate Summit and then the COP 21 in Paris, there is a very real opportunity for the rest of the world to pay attention to the Tava’e, and take action to save it, and the rest of the planet, from the catastrophic impact of climate change.

TDB Today: Bought and paid for – the dirty politics of climate denial Gareth Renowden Aug 27

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It was always going to be difficult to avoid writing more about the impact of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics and what it tells us about the way the present government and its supporters have behaved, so in my post at The Daily Blog this week — Bought and paid for – the dirty politics of climate denial — I take a look at the latest revelations from the hacked correspondence. It ain’t pretty…

Friday melts, weird weather and whales (it’s been a long time…) Gareth Renowden Aug 22

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It’s been a long time since my last post: apologies for that. You may blame a bad cold, an urgent need for root canal work, the peak of the truffle season (and truffle tours for culinary heroes1 ), the start of pruning and political distractions for the drop off in activity here. Normal service should resume in the near future, but meanwhile here are a few of the things that have caught my eye over the last week or two. You may therefore consider this an open thread – and given what follows, somewhat more open than usual…

The political distraction, of course, has been the response to Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics. I haven’t yet read the book — it’s queued up on the iPad — but as everyone now knows, it concerns the sordid activities of right-wing attack blogger Cameron Slater, and in particular his close ties with senior government politicians. Slater has a long record of climate denial — often lifting material from µWatts or the Daily Mail to support his ignorant bluster — but the revelation that he published paid material for PR companies masquerading as his own opinion begs a question: was there a similar motivation for his climate denial posts?

As far as I can tell, Hager’s book only mentions climate once, in a discussion of Slater’s pet hates, but it will be interesting to see if the “raw data” now being drip fed into the public domain by the hacker2 who obtained Slater’s emails and Facebook chat messages contains any hints of another motivation — if it indeed it does go beyond the knee-jerk denial so common on the far right of NZ politics. For the record, I should note that Slater once used the words “twat” and “fraud” in close conjunction with my name. It would appear that both are likely to apply rather more aptly to him.

The real world, of course, obeys the laws of physics rather than the wishful thinking of political smear merchants, and out here the signs of continued warming are unmistakable. Europe’s Cryosat has detected a big increase in ice sheet melt at both poles, for example:

A new assessment from Europe’s CryoSat spacecraft shows Greenland to be losing about 375 cu km of ice each year.

Added to the discharges coming from Antarctica, it means Earth’s two big ice sheets are now dumping roughly 500 cu km of ice in the oceans annually.

“The contribution of both ice sheets together to sea level rise has doubled since 2009,” said Angelika Humbert from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute.

The atmosphere is also responding to energy accumulation by delivering an astonishing sequence of heavy rainfall events and flash floods. The BBC reports that 160 people have died in floods in Nepal and northern India, while in Hiroshima 36 people have died in landslides triggered by rain falling at rates of 100mm per hour (Japan Times). In Sweden, heavy rain is causing “catastrophic” flooding, while last month northern Italy bore the brunt of torrential downpours. Flash floods also hit parts of Arizona earlier this week. Nor should we forget the heavy rains that brought damaging floods to Northland in July. For a roundup of July’s weather, check out Chris Burt’s blog at Weather Underground.

Some of these rainfall extremes may be explained by the poleward expansion of the tropics, bringing warmer wetter air into the mid latitudes, as this new paper explains. Some of that tropical air may have been tickling Britain, which apart from experiencing some flash flooding has also just recorded its warmest January to July period since records began. And as a WMO conference found this week: “rising temperatures will have a “multiplying effect on weather events as we know them”.

Finally, and in brief: Earth Overshoot Day shot past this week – earlier than ever; warming may be hiding in the Atlantic; Choiseul in the Solomon Islands becomes the first town to relocate because of sea level rise; and The Wireless is running lots of good climate material this week.

  1. See also: why.
  2. @whaledump on Twitter, see here for why whale dumps are important for climate.

Climate Change and Human Development Bryan Walker Aug 15

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It has been clear for some years that climate change is affecting poorer populations sooner and more gravely than it is economically developed societies. There is little sign that the wealthy nations are much disturbed by this fact, and no sign that it has any braking effect on the inexorable drive to find and exploit fossil fuel reserves. But there are some who care and they can show a dogged persistence in demanding that we take notice of how drastically the climate change for which we are responsible is threatening the lives of people with few defences against it.

Hannah Reid, a researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, has written a book Climate Change and Human Development which falls into that category of the doggedly persistent. She draws much of her material from a wide range of NGOs’ contact with affected communities and individuals. The book contains numerous short reports of what is happening to people in many parts of the globe, particularly Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific Island states. It brings the reader close to the struggles of people like the tribal community elder in Pakistan who describes the disappearance of birds, the advent of mosquitos, the eroding flash floods and concludes: “Our options for survival are shrinking day by day”.

The examples pile up: severe drought in Kenya, erratic rains in the Indonesian province of East Nusa Tenggara, salt water intrusion into estuaries and aquifers in Bangladesh, rising sea levels affecting mangrove forests in Pacific Island states, glacial retreat threatening the livelihood of South American communities, and a great many more.

Although many of the examples the book provides are localised, the populations from which they are drawn are large. Looking a little ahead Reid points out that if not addressed, climate change could put an additional 80–120 million people at risk of hunger, 70 to 80 per cent of whom will be in Africa.  Livelihoods built for generations on particular patterns of farming may quickly become unviable.  If temperatures rose by 2 degrees, large areas of Kenya currently suited to growing tea would become unsuitable; this would have an enormous impact on Kenya’s economy. Over 100 million poor people in Indonesia stand to suffer increasing hardships within two generations as a result of climate change. 2000 small islands in the Philippines will likely be lost by 2030 and many thousands of coastal farmers throughout the archipelago will have to look for other livelihoods as sea level rise predictions take effect. Vast numbers of people are under threat.

Painstakingly the book lists and discusses the major areas of concern, drawing on the predictions of climate science as well as the adverse effects already being experienced. Food and farming heads the list, appropriately since hunger is an ever-present threat to the poor and many of them are engaged in precarious subsistence farming. Water is next. Reid points out that 1.5 billion people already lack access to clean drinking water for a variety of reasons and that global warming is making the situation far worse. A further 2 billion are expected to be water-stresses by 2050. The list continues through health, weather disasters, migration, conflict and others, all of which impact heavily on less developed poorer nations.

The book is more than an account of the severe difficulties experienced and to be experienced by those living nearest to poverty. It demonstrates many efforts being made to cope with the changes and build resilience for what is yet to come. Heartening examples are provided from diverse areas: changing crops in Nepal, establishing sustainable agricultural practices and empowering small farmers in the Philippines, pooling resources and sharing technological information with farming neighbours in Kenya, rural communities joining to increase the productivity of their farms in west Honduras, and so on through many localities in many countries.  The book is clear that local engagement and cooperation is the key factor, with NGO and other assistance delivered through community engagement.

But no adaptive strategies lessen the need for a drastic lowering of carbon emissions by the industrialised nations. Reid emphasises the need for wealthy countries to make plans to implement cuts is emissions of greenhouse gases of between 60 and 80 per cent by 2050.  She also points to the moral and ethical obligations those nations have to help vulnerable nations and people deal with the consequences of climate change.

In her final section she challenges the notion that development is dependent on global economic growth, describing it as a major driver of the destruction of the natural environment.

“It is as if we hope that by turning natural capital into financial capital we can somehow disengage ourselves from our dependence on the natural environment and the ecological limits of our world. In climate change we find evidence that this approach is misguided, myopic and unsustainable.”

She invites contributions from four “world-leading thinkers”, development practitioners from poorer countries, to suggest new models for human development in a climate-change-constrained world. Their ideas give considerable substance to the book’s closing chapter. Local communities figure strongly in much of the thinking they articulate.

Earnest and well-intentioned books like this are important, even though they are likely to be little regarded by those who wield power in the wealthy world. The NGO world which the author represents is a better custodian of the values which civilisation is meant to embody than many of the companies and accomplice politicians who continue heedless of the human consequences of the continued use of fossil fuel. The sanity and decency the book exemplifies has intrinsic worth, whether or not it prevails against the unreason and greed which currently holds sway.

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