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Wake of the flood (first reprise) Gareth Renowden Oct 26

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EOBangkok20111025

Thailand is experiencing its worst monsoon flooding for at least 50 years. The NASA Earth Observatory image above shows the waters piling up to the North of the capital Bangkok, which is already beginning to experience flooding (visit the EO page to see a comparison with earlier floods, and The Guardian for a striking set of flood pictures). The Thai government yesterday declared a five day weekend to allow the city’s inhabitants to make preparations. The intense monsoon season has also brought extensive flooding to Cambodia and northeastern India over the last couple of months, and destroyed a significant part of SE Asia’s rice crop. On the other side of the planet, heavy rain and flooding has been affecting Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Jeff Masters reported that in the ten days up to October 20th, Huizucar in El Salvador received an astonishing 1.513 metres of rain.

At first glance, it looks like a continuation of the remarkable series of extreme weather events — especially heavy rainfall and flooding — that we’ve seen over the last few years. But apart from the human suffering and economic dislocation being experienced around the world, it appears there’s another interesting consequence of all this precipitation — it’s causing global sea level to fall.

I stumbled across this idea in a NASA news item released back in August, and referred to it in the last edition of The Climate Show, but I think it’s worth developing the idea a little further. Here’s what NASA had to say:

[Josh] Willis said that while 2010 began with a sizable El Niño, by year’s end, it was replaced by one of the strongest La Niñas in recent memory. This sudden shift in the Pacific changed rainfall patterns all across the globe, bringing massive floods to places like Australia and the Amazon basin, and drought to the southern United States.

Data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center’s twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) spacecraft provide a clear picture of how this extra rain piled onto the continents in the early parts of 2011. “By detecting where water is on the continents, Grace shows us how water moves around the planet,” says Steve Nerem, a sea level scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

So where does all that extra water in Brazil and Australia come from? You guessed it–the ocean. Each year, huge amounts of water are evaporated from the ocean. While most of it falls right back into the ocean as rain, some of it falls over land. “This year, the continents got an extra dose of rain, so much so that global sea levels actually fell over most of the last year,” says Carmen Boening, a JPL oceanographer and climate scientist. Boening and colleagues presented these results recently at the annual Grace Science Team Meeting in Austin, Texas.

The story included a couple of graphs to illustrate the point. Here’s the drop in sea level, as recorded by satellite:

NASAsldrops

And here’s where the GRACE satellites showed it ended up.

NASAGRACEwater

When I first read the NASA article, I was amazed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. After all, lots of things can cause sea level to rise and fall — thermal expansion, ice melt (or freeze), and so on. During ice ages lots of ocean ends up on land in the form of the great ice sheets that are built by accumulating snowfall. But this is, to coin a phrase, a really neat demonstration of an interesting effect — one that we can only begin to appreciate because of the application of truly remarkable technology.

So what’s happening now? Here’s the latest sea level chart from the University of Colorado (data to Sept 19th):

CUSLR

There’s been a slight upwards tick over the last few months, but no dramatic surge back towards to the trend line. That suggests to me that the processes that caused the drop in the first place are still operating. The population of Thailand might agree…

Eventually, as Josh Willis says at the conclusion of the NASA article, the floodwaters will run off the land and return to the ocean, La Niña will swing back to El Niño, and sea level rise will resume its upwards trajectory. With La Niña likely to stay in place through the southern summer, it will be some time before El Niño returns and imposes its own pattern on the world’s weather. But when it does we could be in for a wild ride as sea level surges and global temperatures reach new peaks. We live in interesting times.

[Update 27/10] Flash flooding has ripped through Liguria and Tuscany in Italy. Both the Guardian and BBC videos open with water roaring down the streets of (I think) Monterosso — a place I visited in September. Dublin has also experienced torrential rain and flash flooding in the last few days: video here. Intensification of the hydrological cycle anyone?

[Grateful Dead]

Tropic of Chaos Bryan Walker Jun 20

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Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of ViolenceThe title piqued my curiosity: Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. Christian Parenti’s book is about what he calls ’the catastrophic convergence’, when the dislocations of climate change collide with already-existing crises of poverty and violence. He points to evidence, often in tropical countries, that political, economic and environmental disasters are compounding and amplifying each other, to the great detriment of some populations. In other words, climate change is intertwining itself with the existing difficulties faced by those populations and making them worse.

Parenti is an investigative journalist, a contributing editor for the US progressive weekly magazine The Nation, and author of earlier books on the American penal system, surveillance in America and the American occupation in Iraq. This book is firmly anchored in close-up visits he has made to the places he writes about, visits where he met with people on the receiving end of the crises he describes. In fact the book opens with the description of a man dead with a bullet through his head who lay ’beneath a flat-topped acacia tree, its latticework of branches casting a soft mesh of shade upon his body’. He was a pastoralist in northwest Kenya belonging to a tribe Parenti was visiting. He had been killed in the course of a cattle raid by a neighbouring tribe. Drought was bad. Raiding picks up when that is the case. It could be said that tradition killed him, or the drought killed him. But in Palenti’s mind, as he walked among the tribe’s warriors scanning the hills for the neighbouring tribe’s war party, the man’s death was caused by the catastrophic convergence of poverty, violence and climate change.

He pursues this theme into the unsettled regions of north Kenya and the failed or failing states which adjoin them — Uganda, Southern Sudan and Somalia. It’s a complex picture, in which the relatively recent history of the regions plays a strong part, as Parenti’s discussions of colonialism and the Cold War remind the reader. Failed and semi-failed states are not well placed to tackle poverty or to control violence in their communities, let alone cope with the added burden of more droughts and more flooding which climate change is bringing to the region.

From Africa he turns to Asia. In Afghanistan droughts, floods and failed crops, combined with the failure of governance lead unerringly to the opium poppy as a source of relative security. In India and Pakistan water and climate have become the key drivers of the continuing conflict which has its roots in the past. Within India Parenti focuses on the Andhra Pradesh region where farmers reported that in the last ten to fifteen years regular drought and strangely timed rain had become very common. None of them had heard of greenhouse gases or anthropogenic climate change and many speculated that deforestation was the problem. The dominance of cotton growing in the area is no help since the crop needs large amounts of water. Many farmers are poor and mired in debt.  Neoliberal austerity offers them little help. Insurgency and counterinsurgency, both often brutal, plague the region. The Indian government meanwhile does not face the reality of climate change. Parenti interviews a top climatologist Dr. Murari Lal and reports him as distraught: ’The political class are in total denial…They are thinking, ‘Development first, then address the environment’.’  It’s a grim picture Parenti paints and not surprising to read his final comment that India should fight the Naxalite insurgency by adapting to climate change with economic redistribution, social justice and sustainable development.

His final focus is on Latin America. In Brazil he shuttles between the violent crime-ridden slums of Rio and the severely climate-stressed Northeast of the country, from where many of the slum-dwellers have perforce come. Once again it’s not climate alone that the people of the Northeast struggle to deal with, but a nexus of social and political factors which have made it difficult for them to establish adequate and stable farming. Lula’s attempted roll-back of neoliberalism and his economic redistribution efforts have helped, and Parenti sees interesting signs of hope on land owned by small farmers who are discovering green farming systems which work within the new climate-constrained limits. Land reform is climate adaptation, he comments.

Mexico, or at least the northern city of Juarez on which Parenti focuses, presents a grim picture. The economic and political history of the country is enough to account for the breakdown in social order which the violence in Juarez represents, and the fact that Mexico is now a social laboratory of radical free market orthodoxy only worsens its problems in Parenti’s view. But climate change is also at work. He presents a climate refugee, a former fisherman he found gazing across the river at the US. ’The sea became red and all the fish just disappeared.’  This happened at the time of the 1998 El Niño event. Parenti is well aware that it is impossible to say that a warmer globe causes any single weather event, and nowhere throughout the book does he do so. But he works from the broad correlations to discern the impacts of climate change among the problems bearing down on the stressed populations of which he writes.

Across the border from Juarez, Palenti introduces the reader to the land of walls and demagogues. He doesn’t have to scratch around to find deeply disturbing material among those without understanding or concern for the desperate people seeking illegal entry into the US.

Palenti confronts his readers in rich developed countries with uncomfortable realities. We bear responsibilities, as is often all too painfully apparent as he sets out the histories of the peoples he writes about and points to the unfairness of the economic structures they have been subjected to. We certainly bear responsibilities for the climate impacts that have been introduced into the mix; the greenhouse gases are from our activity, not theirs.

What are we in the rich countries going to do in the face of the rising crises he describes, crises which will only worsen if we allow climate change to develop further?  One possibility is that we turn to the politics of xenophobia and racism and build fortress societies while the rest of the world slips into collapse. Neofascist islands of relative stability in a sea of chaos, in his words. Not that it will work for long, but when one considers the ease with which we ignore the plight of the populations the book investigates and even blame the sufferers, it must be a real short-term prospect. All the more since short-term seems what we are best at. The other possibility, on which Parenti rests some hope, is that civilised society moves rapidly to the mitigation of climate change, for which we have the technology and the money albeit not as yet the political will, and that at the same time we address the social inequity which tolerates extremes of wealth and poverty.

Parenti is far from alone in coupling the mitigation both of climate change and of poverty. I frequently thought while reading his book of economist Nicholas Stern whose own book makes it clear from the start that combating climate change is inextricably linked with poverty reduction as the two greatest challenges of the century and that we shall succeed or fail on them together.

[Purchase via Hot Topic affiliates: The Book Depository (UK, free shipping worldwide), Fishpond (NZ), Amazon.com.]

Casualties of Climate Change Bryan Walker Jan 14

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As we watch the devastation of the Queensland flooding it’s timely to be reminded of climate change impacts being experienced and anticipated in other parts of the world.  In the latest issue of The Scientific American three researchers have written an article — Casualties of Climate Change — in which they suggest that climate-forced migration and displacement may be the defining humanitarian challenge in coming decades. They begin with some general observations on the threat of rising sea level not only to small island nations, but also to a country like India where a metre of sea level rise will displace 40 million people. South Asia is in addition particularly threatened by the likelihood of more intense rainfall — more monsoon rain combined with a decrease in frequency is what some models are suggesting. Shifts in seasonality of river flows as glaciers shrink is also likely to impact on the agricultural livelihoods of several hundred million rural Asians, as well as the food supplies of an equal number of Asian urbanites.

There’s a lot to understand yet, but the increase in climate-related catastrophes is already a fact.

’The frequency of natural disasters has increased by 42 percent since the 1980s, and the percentage of those that are climate-related has risen from 50 to 82 percent. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that in 2008, climate-related calamities drove 20 million people from their homes–more than four times the number displaced by violent conflict.’

The article then selects and comments on three regions of the world where there are initial signs of population movements impelled by climate change: Mozambique, the Mekong Delta, and Mexico and Central America. The writers look briefly at the factors which are at work in each region to cause relocation of population, treating them as case studies which might spur further analyses of regions where mass migrations are likely to occur.

In 2000, 2001 and 2007 disastrous floods in the Zambezi and Limpopo river basins in Mozambique displaced hundreds of thousands of people. In the past people have moved periodically out of the floodplains to avoid floods, but in this last decade as the severity and frequency of flooding has increased the government has encouraged permanent resettlement and has initiated a work-for-assistance programme to help the resettlement. The resettlement schemes remain heavily dependent on governmental and international aid however because of the lack of infrastructure and frequent crop failure in the areas to which people have been moved.

Mozambique is threatened by a double whammy, flood in the north and drought in the south, as the climate turns ever more unforgiving. They can be simultaneous, as in 2007 when the south was in drought even as the Zambezi further north was overflowing its banks. Models suggest that rainfall levels may increase in the north while decreasing in the south. Much depends on the spacing and intensity of the rainfall: further intensification will mean a continuation of the catastrophic flooding experienced throughout the past decade. Without continuing humanitarian assistance it appears likely that resettled people will need to migrate longer distances or across borders — the capital city Maputo or the neighbouring South Africa are the most likely destinations for such population movement.

The Vietnamese portion of the Mekong Delta is home to 18 million people, or 22 percent of Vietnam’s population.

’It accounts for 40 percent of Vietnam’s cultivated land surface and more than a quarter of the country’s GDP. Its residents grow more than half of Vietnam’s rice, produce 60 percent of its fish and shrimp haul and harvest 80 percent of its fruit crop.’

All that is under threat. A one metre sea level rise this century would displace 7 million people in the Delta, a two metre rise 14 million, or 50% of the Delta’s population.  Flood cycles are part of life in the area, and ‘nice floods’ range between half a metre and three metres. In recent decades however both the frequency and magnitude of floods exceeding the four-metre mark have increased. This has already led to migration by some to cities. The government is furthering a programme to adapt farming methods to the changes, and to relocate some of the poor landless to new residential clusters, but clearly there is a prospect of large population displacement ahead.

In Mexico and Central America it’s drought and storms which are driving population relocation. The area is home to 10 million farmers who struggle to meet their basic needs by growing traditional staples. They need moderate rainfall, not droughts and tropical storms which are increasing and driving people into the cities or to El Norte (’The North’). The great majority of migrants to the US come from these poor rural areas.  Many environmental and social factors contribute to the problems farmers are encountering, but climatic factors are adding to the distress. One farmer:

’My grandfather, father and I have worked on these lands. But times have changed…. The rain is coming later now, so that we produce less. The only solution is to go away [to the U.S.], at least for a while.’

The article wonders about allowing seasonal migration to the US and Canada on temporary work visas when climate disasters such as drought or flooding occur, while for the longer term regional planners work out water-saving irrigation technologies and alternative livelihoods.

These three regions are indicators of what migratory pressures may lie ahead as the effects of climate change begin to bite. Increases in flooding, drought and sea level rise will put pressure on many populations. The authors of the article want to urge the international community to prepare for the humanitarian challenge. Their recommendations in conclusion are sensible and civilised.

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to safe levels.
  • Invest in disaster risk management, which has been shown to decrease the likelihood of large-scale migration.
  • Recognise that some migration will be inevitable and develop national and international adaptation strategies.
  • Establish binding commitments to ensure adaptation funding reaches the people who need it most.
  • Strengthen international institutions to protect the rights of those displaced by climate change.

NZYD in Cancun: hope remains Gareth Renowden Dec 10

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This is a guest post from Cancun by Paul Young (bottom right in the pic – click to put names to faces) of the New Zealand Youth Delegation.

It tells you a lot about the nature of the COP16 climate conference in Cancun that I’m only writing this now. Gareth approached us — the New Zealand Youth Delegation — back near the beginning of the conference, offering a guest blog spot. ’Fantastico!’ we said. I set to work planning what I’d say, jotting down a few notes to finish over the next day or so.

That didn’t quite end up happening… I was unprepared for the full on assault on the brain, senses, heart, and email inbox that this has been. I wasn’t even an ’insider’ during the first week (to limit numbers, the UNFCCC Secretariat only gave us eight spots per week to share amongst twelve people), but that didn’t make much difference. For a start, there’s a fair bit going on outside with alternative events such as Klimaforum, and demonstrations like the La Via Campesina one on Tuesday. There’s a huge constituency of youth NGOs (under the banner YOUNGO) we’ve been (net)working with on policy, media campaigns, and actions. There’s plenty of work to be done trying to figure out what the hell is actually happening in the negotiations, and really getting to grips with the policy issues. Then there’s the battle of trying to garner any mainstream media interest in what’s going on over here.

You end up being in ’go’ mode around the clock, with little time to stop and think. You end up having to squeeze intense group meetings in late at night or in the early hours of the morning. You end up spending hours sitting on busses between the two main conference venues. You end up wasting hours in a bureaucratic ordeal trying to get approval for a very tame action inside the conference centre, only to have it shot down at the final hurdle. You end up losing your laptop power cable because you were in such a hurry packing up to get to the next event, and having to start your half-written blog all over again…

And then when you finally do get a chance to sit down and do some writing, your brain is often too tired and overloaded with information you are struggling to make sense of that the words just won’t come.

Anyway, I don’t mean for this whole blog to be a ’dog ate my homework’ exercise. I’m trying to express how the twelve of us in NZYD are feeling as these talks reach the hectic final stages before coming to a close, with it looking like the outcomes may not even succeed in meeting the depressingly low expectations.

For me personally, the last fortnight is a blur. It’s going to take a heck of a lot of reflection to process all that has happened and all that I’ve learned. I came here with one question in the forefront of my mind: does this UNFCCC process have a chance of delivering us the deal that we so desperately need? Right now, I’m not sure if I’ve come any closer to an answer. Will a consensus be reached on all the fine details, such as forestry rules, before it really is too late? Are the insufficient pledges on the table worth the effort in the first place? How much should we hold out for something stronger? Is it more important to get something in place, no matter how weak? If the talks were to collapse, would an alternative path emerge?

Hope remains, though. I have recognised the genuine desire in the politicians and negotiators to deliver a deal. The wise words of Bill McKibben, in his speech at the three-day Conference of the Youth that preceded the COP, have stuck with me. Paraphrasing from my sporadic notes, it went something like this:

In some sense, what goes on here inside the COP16 is the side-show. We are the centre. What happens inside is only a reflection of the work we are all doing back home in building the movement for action.

The battle against climate change is different from most other problems the world has faced; there is no guarantee we’re ultimately going to win. But there’s one thing you can guarantee: there are people like you all around the world who will keep fighting until the very end.

We’ve met many amazing people over the last fortnight, and what Bill says is true.

Coates in Cancún: ministers on the job Gareth Renowden Dec 09

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This is Barry Coates of Oxfam NZ’s fourth report from COP16 in Cancún: now we’re getting down to the nitty gritty…

Things are starting to move here in Cancun. Most of the Ministers arrived today, joining around 30 who have been around since the weekend. Some were shoulder-tapped to do consultations on key issues, including the New Zealand Minister Tim Groser, who has been paired with the Indonesian Minister to consult on mitigation and MRV — which is how to go about Measuring, Reporting and Verifying emissions cuts — one of the really tough nuts to crack.

The arrival of politicians can help unlock these talks. In the past three years there has been some progress but at this rate we may be negotiating for the next decade. A major problem has been that the political mandate has never been clearly defined for the negotiators — this was obvious when the current round was kicked off in Bali in 2007. The subsequent summit in Poland failed to make important political decisions, leaving a log-jam for Copenhagen in 2009.

There is some interesting re-thinking of what Copenhagen achieved or not. Certainly it was badly chaired by Denmark (not the fault of the Environment Minister who is now with the EU) and it damaged trust between countries. But, as Michael Jacobs, former climate adviser to Gordon Brown (and old friend from my UK days) has written, the Copenhagen Accord was never officially adopted but countries accounting for around 85 per cent of global emissions have put in pledges under it. The Copenhagen Accord, for all its failings and bad process, has provided some of the political direction that has been lacking.

So in preparation for Ministers starting the ’high level segment’, the pace of negotiations accelerated today. It’s been a juggling act, with my time divided between analysing the last draft of the section on finance (the ’text’) to understand what changes are being made, who is making them and where there is scope for the points Oxfam wants to see included; lobbying delegations; writing articles; coordinating Oxfam’s policy team work; tracking the flow of information on email and Skype chats; networking with allies, generally through the coordinating group, Climate Action Network; and doing media interviews (from Al-Jazeera to USA Today!)

In all of this, I did not get a chance to join a march involving the international farmer’s movement, Via Campesina, the indigenous people’s networks and of a host of social movements and NGOs from Mexico and across Latin America (Flickr photoset).

Evenings are the time for meetings. Tonight was the New Zealand delegation reception, with the Minister, Nick Smith and the NZ negotiating team (but not Tim Groser who was tied up in consultations). The highlight was the presentation of an amazing fern mounted on a long sheet, containing hundreds of signatures (I couldn’t even see where mine was) and messages for the negotiations. The fantastic NZ Youth Delegation, who made the fern, gave a speech about the importance of the talks, especially for their future. They have been doing some great campaigning on the accounting rules for forests (called LULUCF for all you policy wonks). I will include some photos in the next blog.

But in amongst all of this, has been the opportunity to discuss strategy for climate change campaigning with allies in the Global Campaign for Climate Action — the tcktcktck campaign. Key people from Oxfam, Greenpeace, WWF, Avaaz and 350.org talked about where to next for the campaign. I also had a chance to meet with Martin Khor, formerly head of Third World Network and now head of the South Centre. I have worked with Martin on trade issues for many years and on climate issues more recently. I have huge respect for his incredible power of analysis, confirmed by his really interesting insights into the dynamics of the negotiations.

I have not yet mentioned much about the Pacific negotiators and NGOs here in Cancun. Pacific people have acted as the moral conscience of these negotiations with skill and determination, generally working with other island countries in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). It has been great catching up with Oxfam partners Pelenise Alofa from Kiribati and the amazing Ursula Rakova from Bougainville. She is an inspiration.

Another AOSIS representative made a memorable comment today in response to British Minister Chris Huhne, who pointed out that if you had a 95 per cent chance of your house burning down, and it would only cost 2 per cent of your income to insure it, you’d kick yourself if you didn’t do something. The AOSIS negotiator pointed out that it is more like there are 192 houses in these negotiations and the developing country houses are on fire. This was in support of the proposal from AOSIS to introduce a form of insurance for loss and damage from climate change, an innovative and important idea.

There are now three days to go. Oxfam is calling on ministers to elevate the level of vision and ambition for these negotiations, and ensure that the key political direction is provided. This must include the agreement to set up a new fair Climate Fund and clarity about the legally binding outcome of the UNFCCC negotiations. Success in securing agreement on these issues is essential to mark Cancun as a milestone that accelerates the pace of negotiations towards an agreement in Durban next year.

Tomorrow morning, the Ministers get down to work. They carry the expectations and hopes of millions of people. We will encourage them to be bold, but also hold them to account for the decisions they make.

Can Cancún’s COP deliver? Gareth Renowden Nov 30

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Another year, another Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, number 16 in a series that looks set to run and run. Mexico is the host, Cancún the seaside resort where thousands of diplomats, negotiators, activists and apparatchiks are gathering to have another go at sorting out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. High hopes for a comprehensive deal in Copenhagen last year were dashed on the rocks of US inaction, Chinese intransigence and a failure of political will. A weak but face-saving Accord was cobbled together at the last minute, but it satisfied very few — least of all those who’d like to do more than pay lip service to a 2ºC target.

By way of contrast, the build-up to Cancún has seen prospects of a final deal downplayed by just about everyone involved in the process. COP 16 will make progress on the building blocks of a Kyoto follow-up, we are told, but few expect anything substantial to happen before COP17 in Durban next year.

Nature News has a good overview of expectations:

“It’s a question of trying to get some incremental gains,” says Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London. “The approach of all-or-nothing that we took in Copenhagen blew up in our faces, and we can’t just sit back and do nothing at all.”

John Vidal in the Guardian reports on the impatience of Latin American and African nations:

“There is deep frustration among the least developed countries”, said Bruno Sikoli, the spokesman for the 54-strong group of mainly African countries. “We feel there has been far too much talking. If the rich countries put nothing new on the table, then it will be very serious. Climate change is affecting our countries hard now. It is most urgent.”

Johann Hari in The Independent takes the bleak view:

The collapse of Copenhagen has not shocked people into action; it has numbed them into passivity. Last year, we were talking — in theory, at least — about the legally binding cap on the world’s carbon emissions, because the world’s scientists say this is the only thing that can preserve the climate that has created and sustained human civilization. What are we talking about this year? What’s on the table at Cancun, other than sand?

Hari’s extended riff on the “great ecological crash” we’re staring in the face is well worth a read — he’s a compelling writer — and he articulates all too well the reality of the huge disconnect between the evidence piling up that we need to act fast and the complacency of the international realpolitik.

The Economist joins the chorus with perhaps the ultimate in negative perspectives. In an editorial the magazine declares:

In the wake of the Copenhagen summit, there is a growing acceptance that the effort to avert serious climate change has run out of steam. Perhaps, after a period of respite and a few climatic disasters, it will get going again. It certainly should. But even if it does, the world is going to go on getting warmer for some time.

The chance of hitting a 2ºC target has passed. It’s now time to focus on adapting to the inevitable:

Though they are unwilling to say it in public, the sheer improbability of such success has led many climate scientists, campaigners and policymakers to conclude that, in the words of Bob Watson, once the head of the IPCC and now the chief scientist at Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, ’Two degrees is a wishful dream.’

The fight to limit global warming to easily tolerated levels is thus over. Analysts who have long worked on adaptation to climate change–finding ways to live with scarcer water, higher peak temperatures, higher sea levels and weather patterns at odds with those under which today’s settled patterns of farming developed–are starting to see their day in the uncomfortably hot sun.

What’s left is planning to adapt, and The Economist does a characteristically through job of providing an overview. I’d say it was notably optimistic in the face of the climate numbers — particularly those presented in a “theme issue” of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society AFour degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications. [All the papers in the special issue are available free until Nov 30, and many beyond that date.] The Guardian does a good job of summarising the bad news:

Rachel Warren, at the University of East Anglia, described a 4C world in her research paper: “Drought and desertification would be widespread … There would be a need to shift agricultural cropping to new areas, impinging on [wild] ecosystems. Large-scale adaptation to sea-level rise would be necessary. Human and natural systems would be subject to increasing levels of agricultural pests and diseases, and increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.”

Warren added: “This world would also rapidly be losing its ecosystem services, owing to large losses in biodiversity, forests, coastal wetlands, mangroves and saltmarshes [and] an acidified and potentially dysfunctional marine ecosystem. In such a 4C world, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world.”

Another Met Office study analyses how a 4C rise would differ from a 2C rise, concluding that threats to water supplies are far worse, in particular in southern Europe and north Africa, where regional temperatures would rise 6-8C. The 4C world would also see enhanced warming over most of the US, Canada and northern Asia.

In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), “the prognosis for agriculture and food security in a 4C world is bleak”, according Philip Thornton, of Kenya’s International Livestock Research Institute, who led another research team. He notes there will be an extra billion people populating Africa by 2050.

Expectations for Cancún are low, but the stakes just keep on getting bigger. The next two weeks will give us an idea which way the chips are falling. Hot Topic will once again be featuring guest posts by Oxfam NZ’s Barry Coates, who is already in Cancún, plus I’ll add comment as news catches my attention. You can also follow the NZ Youth Delegation at their blog.

For more detailed news, there’s the International Institute for Sustainable Development‘s Reporting Services’ coverage, including their Earth Negotiations Bulletin, a daily update of events. iPhone owners can even download a UNFCCC app, Negotiator, designed to keep you up to date with COP 16 news — even read conference papers. Slightly more quixotic is the Twitter newspaper The unfccc-ipcc-cop Daily at paper.li. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes…

And finally: we can expect more comedy gold as the Scaife-funded Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow is flying Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley into Mexico to bring his unique brand of, er, something or other to proceedings. He’ll even have Roy Spencer to act as his bag man… I confidently expect high jinks.