Posts Tagged Pakistan

Wake the world Gareth Renowden Sep 24

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This is a guest post by Anthony Giddens and Martin Rees. Giddens is a former director of the London School of Economics, a fellow of King’s College, Cambridge and the author of The Politics of Climate Change. Rees is president of the Royal Society.

This year has seen outbreaks of extreme weather in many regions of the world. No one can say with certainty that events such as the flooding in Pakistan, the unprecedented weather episodes in some parts of the US, the heatwave and drought in Russia, or the floods and landslides in northern China were influenced by climate change. Yet they constitute a stark warning. Extreme weather events will grow in frequency and intensity as the world warms.

No binding agreements were reached at the meetings in Copenhagen last December. Leaked emails between scientists at the University of East Anglia, claimed by critics to show manipulation of data, received a great deal of attention – as did errors found in the volumes produced by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Many newspapers, especially on the political right, have carried headlines that global warming has either stopped or is no longer a problem.

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that the core scientific findings about human-induced climate change and the dangers it poses for our collective future remain intact. The most important relevant fact is based on uncontroversial measurements: the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is higher than it has been for at least the last half-million years. It has risen by 30 per cent since the start of the industrial era, mainly because of the burning of fossil fuels. If the world continues to depend on fossil fuels to the extent it does today, carbon dioxide will reach double pre-industrial levels within the next half-century. This build-up is triggering long-term warming, the physical reasons for which are well-known and demonstrable in the laboratory.

Data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that this year is set to be the warmest year globally since their records began in 1880. June was the 304th consecutive month with a land and ocean temperature above the 20th-century average. Last year, the administration analysed findings from some 50 independent records monitoring temperature change, involving 10 separate indices. All 10 indicators showed a clear pattern of warming over the past half-century.

A renewed drive is demanded to wake the world from its torpor. The catastrophic events noted above should provide the stimulus. The floods in Pakistan have left some 20 million people homeless. Pakistan cannot be left to founder – but neither can other poor countries, many of which are vulnerable to catastrophic weather events.

World leaders should expedite and accelerate the discussions currently under way to provide large-scale funding for poorer countries to develop the infrastructure to cope with future weather shocks.

The United States and China are far and away the biggest polluters in the world, contributing well over 40 per cent of total global emissions. The European Union is pursuing progressive policies in containing the carbon emissions of its member states. Yet whatever the EU and the rest of the world do, if the US and China do not alter their current policies there is little or no hope of containing climate change.

The US has 4 per cent of the world’s population but churns out 25 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions. It must assume a greater leadership role in world efforts to curb climate change. President Barack Obama should reassert that containing climate change is one of the highest priorities of his administration.

Positive initiatives are happening at the level of local communities, third-sector organisations, cities and states. These groups must exert pressure on many different levels to promote a significant reduction in emissions across the whole US.

China’s leaders show increasing awareness of how vulnerable their country is to climate change, and are investing in renewable technologies and nuclear power on a substantial scale. However, China’s carbon emissions are steadily increasing. It has the right and the need to develop, but much clearer plans than seem to exist at present are needed to show how the country intends to move away from its existing high-carbon path. The Chinese leadership should formulate such plans, make them public and open them up for international scrutiny.

The current emphasis on improving energy efficiency is important, but nowhere near enough to seriously chart such a path.

Russia is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. President Dmitry Medvedev has proposed targets the country should adopt, but as they stand they are empty. Calculated against a 1990 baseline, they are accounted for simply by the decline of the country’s uncompetitive heavy industries.

Above all, a renewed impetus to international collaboration is required. The meetings of the UN to be held at Cancun in December carry little promise of initiating policies on the scale needed. The US, China, the EU and other major states such as Brazil and India, with due attention paid to the interests of smaller nations, should work with a greater sense of urgency.

Finally, limiting carbon emissions won’t happen solely through regulation and target-setting: innovation — social, economic and technological — will be central. Enlightened business leaders should step up their attempts to this end. The rewards, after all, are huge. The actions needed to counter this threat — the transition to a lifestyle dependent on clean and efficient energy — will create manifold new economic opportunities.

[Beach Boys]

Time to ring some changes Bryan Walker Aug 29

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Climate protestors at Aberdeen The results of the first climate trial in Scotland’s history were declared a few days ago when the court imposed modest fines ranging from £300 to £700 on each of nine activists who had broken into the Aberdeen airport in protest against the soaring carbon dioxide emissions caused by aviation.

Dan Glass, one of the nine, has commented:

“We’re not terrorists, we’re people who believe delivering our message on climate change is worth being charged and fined…We are secretaries, parents, cooks, community workers, architects and saxophonists. We are part of a growing movement of concerned citizens who are prepared to put our bodies in the way of dangerous high-carbon developments.”

He spoke of their action as “justified, proportionate and necessary” in the face of catastrophic climate change, and quoted Michael Mansfield QC, one of Britain’s best-known defence barristers, who a couple of days prior to the sentencing said:

“As I write, one fifth of Pakistan, already blighted by earthquakes, is covered with flood waters threatening the health and safety of over six million people. Without conscientious and principled protest which focuses on the undoubted factors which contribute to this decimation of the environment, the urgency of the problem will not be addressed. I trust these entirely legitimate and selfless objectives will be reflected in the way the Climate 9 are judged by the court.”

It looks as if they were.

They certainly were last year in the UK when the Kingsnorth protestors, charged with criminal damage after painting messages on the chimney stack, won a jury  acquittal, aided by the testimony of expert witness James Hansen. The defence lawyer Michael Wolkind QC wrote afterwards:

“The formal document served on the court set out our position: the defendants acted in order to protect property that included ‘the Siberian permafrost and tundra regions, especially the Kola peninsula; the continental ice sheets; the Tibetan peninsula; the Yellow river in China, its banks and connected waterways; public and private property in Bangladesh; property belonging to or cultivated by subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Senegal, Namibia and Mozambique; private and public property in coastal regions and inland waterways of Indonesia and Sri Lanka, including farm land producing crops; property belonging to the Inuit people of the Arctic, northern Alaska, eastern Greenland and Canada’.”

The statutory framework was according to the law:

“A person shall have a lawful excuse if he damaged property in order to protect property belonging to another and at the time of the act he believed (1) that the property was in immediate need of protection and (2) that the means of protection adopted were reasonable having regard to all the circumstances.”

Across the Atlantic  in June last year James Hansen announced his readiness to engage in civil disobedience:

“If the Obama administration is unwilling or unable to stop the massive environmental destruction of historic mountain ranges and essential drinking water for a relatively tiny amount of coal, can we honestly believe they will be able to phase out coal emissions at the level necessary to stop climate change? The issue of mountaintop removal is so important that I and others concerned about this problem will engage in an act of civil disobedience on June 23 at a mountaintop removal site in Coal River Valley, West Virginia.”

He did that and was arrested as a result.

In a recent statement he explores the issue.

“‘How did you become an activist?’ I was surprised by the question. I never considered myself an activist. I am a slow-paced taciturn scientist from the Midwest. Most of my relatives are pretty conservative. I can imagine attitudes at home toward ‘activists’.

“I was about to protest the characterization — but I had been arrested, more than once. And I had testified in defense of others who had broken the law. Sure, we only meant to draw attention to problems of continued fossil fuel addiction. But weren’t there other ways to do that in a democracy? How had I been sucked into being an ‘activist’?”

He explains his disappointment that even green governments like Norway’s find it too inconvenient to address the implications of scientific facts. (I reported that disappointment recently.)

“It becomes clear that needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved. One way that citizens can help is by blocking coal plants, tar sands, and mining the last drops of fossil fuels from public and pristine lands and the deep ocean.”

He then delivers what will no doubt be denounced as a call to further acts of civil disobedience:

“To the young people I say: stand up for your rights — demand that the government be honest and address the consequences of their policies. To the old people I say: let us gird up our loins and fight on the side of young people for protection of the world they will  inherit.

“I look forward to standing with young people and their supporters, helping them develop their case, as they demand their proper due and fight for nature and their future. I guess that makes me an activist.”

Non-violent civil disobedience has a long and honourable tradition back through Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Thoreau and many others.  Thus far in relation to climate change it is sporadic but if governments continue to ignore their responsibility to drastically reduce emissions we may expect to see more of it.  Understandably so. What else will serve to communicate the deep seriousness of the issue? The capacity of governments to blandly absorb the climate message, sometimes to acknowledge it, and then to carry on regardless is beginning to seem limitless. Civil disobedience puts a strain on the body politic which the kind of people who engage in it would normally seek to avoid. But there is much at stake.

Thoreau in his famous essay on civil disobedience was forthright:

’How does it become a man to behave toward the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave’s government also.’

It will be protested that failure to act on climate change is hardly in the same league as condoning slavery. Perhaps not — though how do you class an issue that threatens so much human misery and will make fragile the bases of human civilisation? And like the abolition of the slave trade and slavery it is being put off because of the economic dislocation it will allegedly cause. Vested interests trump democratic processes.

[Richard Thompson]

Tumbling dice Gareth Renowden Aug 23

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Statement of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Mahmood Qureshi to the UN general assembly:

Climate change, with all its severity and unpredictability, has become a reality for 170 million Pakistanis. The present situation in Pakistan reconfirms our extreme vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change. It also complicates the reconstruction and rehabilitation scenario in Pakistan. Nature has made a graphic endorsement to strengthen the case for a fair and equitable outcome from the ongoing UNFCCC negotiations.

For more on the Pakistan flood disaster, see the Guardian, BBC and The Cost of Energy amongst many others, and for those wishing to donate, has a useful page of options. My own choice for disaster relief is Oxfam.

Worth noting too that Indonesia is experiencing “super extreme” weather at the moment, and that floods have also hit the China/North Korea border region.

[Hat-tip to Only In It For The Gold for the cartoon. Do you feel lucky? Well, do you punk?]

[Rolling Stones, Knebworth '76]

Lester Brown: Russian heat hits world grain supplies Bryan Walker Aug 13

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One of the things that persuaded Gwynne Dyer that it was time to write his book Climate Wars was the realisation that ’the first and most important impact of climate change on human civilization will be an acute and permanent crisis of food supply’. He’s not the only one to recognise that. Many of us hearing about what the Russian heat wave is doing to crops have no doubt been wondering what the effect of so much loss might be on global supplies. Right on cue Lester Brown, whose Plan B books always lays great stress on food reserves, has produced  an update on what the failed harvest in Russia might mean.

’Russia’s grain harvest, which was 94 million tons last year, could drop to 65 million tons or even less. West of the Ural Mountains, where most of its grain is grown, Russia is parched beyond belief. An estimated one fifth of its grainland is not worth harvesting. In addition, Ukraine’s harvest could be down 20 percent from last year. And Kazakhstan anticipates a harvest 34 percent below that of 2009. (See data.)’

He notes that the heat and drought are also reducing grass and hay growth, meaning that farmers will have to feed more grain during the long winter. Moscow has already released 3 million tons of grain from government stocks for this purpose. Supplementing hay with grain is costly, but the alternative is reduction of herd size by slaughtering, which means higher meat and milk prices.

The Russian ban on grain exports and possible restrictions on exports from Ukraine and Kazakhstan could cause panic in food-importing countries, leading to a run on exportable grain supplies. Beyond this year, there could be some drought spillover into next year if there is not enough soil moisture by late August to plant Russia’s new winter wheat crop.

The grain-importing countries have in recent times seen China added to their list. In recent months China has imported over half a million tons of wheat from both Australia and Canada and a million tons of corn from the US. A Chinese consulting firm projects China’s corn imports climbing to 15 million tons in 2015. China’s potential role as an importer could put additional pressure on exportable supplies of grain.

The bottom line indicator of food security, Brown explains, is the amount of grain in the bin when the new harvest begins. When world carryover stocks of grain dropped to 62 days of consumption in 2006 and 64 days in 2007, it set the stage for the 2007—08 price run-up. World grain carryover stocks at the end of the current crop year have been estimated at 76 days of consumption, somewhat above the widely recommended 70-day minimum. A new US Department of Agriculture estimate is due very soon, which will give some idea of how much carryover stocks will be estimated to drop as a result of the Russian failure.

We don’t know what all this will mean for world prices. The prices of wheat, corn, and soybeans are actually somewhat higher in early August 2010 than they were in early August 2007, when the record-breaking 2007—08 run-up in grain prices began. Whether prices will reach the 2008 peak again remains to be seen.

Brown performs the obligatory ritual of acknowledging that no  single event can be attributed to global warming, though I would have thought that by now that proviso could be taken as read. It’s surely more important to affirm, as of course he does, that extreme events are an expected manifestation of human-caused climate change, and their effect on food production must be a major concern.

’That intense heat waves shrink harvests is not surprising. The rule of thumb used by crop ecologists is that for each 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature above the optimum we can expect a reduction in grain yields of 10 percent. With global temperature projected to rise by up to 6 degrees Celsius during this century, this effect on yields is an obvious matter of concern.’

Demand isn’t going down to match the reduction:

’Each year the world demand for grain climbs. Each year the world’s farmers must feed 80 million more people. In addition, some 3 billion people are trying to move up the food chain and consume more grain-intensive livestock products. And this year some 120 million tons of the 415-million-ton U.S. grain harvest will go to ethanol distilleries to produce fuel for cars.’

And the obvious conclusion:

’Surging annual growth in grain demand at a time when the earth is heating up, when climate events are becoming more extreme, and when water shortages are spreading makes it difficult for the world’s farmers to keep up. This situation underlines the urgency of cutting carbon emissions quickly–before climate change spins out of control.’

There’s a podcast in which Lester Brown speaks at greater length, elaborating the matters covered in his written update, and amongst other things commenting on how we might be thankful, from a global grain harvest perspective, that it was Moscow and not Chicago or Beijing which experienced temperatures so far above the norm. The grain loss would have been much higher in either case.

It’s worth adding that while the Russian event is dramatic in terms of its obvious impact on exports of grain globally, there are plenty of other places where food production is threatened by extreme events or by other  trends which are in line with climate change predictions. It is impossible to look at the vast flooding of land in Pakistan and not wonder how they will cope with the washing away of millions of hectares of crops — there have been “huge losses” according to the BBC.

’We need to cut carbon emissions and cut them fast.’

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