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Posts Tagged UN

Ange Palmer: Why I Feel So Good About Climate Change Gareth Renowden Jun 26

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I have been marinating in the meaty world of climate change for a good five years now. I’ve been on a wild ride as a film maker producing a documentary called 2 Degrees (that’s the trailer above). Our film looks at the flaws in the UN climate negotiation process through the gritty lens of climate justice, and then follows a fantastic community uprising lead by a fiery 80 year old woman mayor in South Australia.

As a result of this process I have become intensely interested in how we respond psychologically to climate change as humans. How do we cope with the grief, anger, confusion, disbelief and disempowerment that inevitably arises when we allow the reality of those doomsday news reports to sink in? Can we keep our chins up amidst all this?

Personally, I can. I’m way beyond depression and anxiety. In 2009 I sat in at the Four Degrees and Beyond conference in Oxford when the world’s eminent climate scientists shared their current research and came to a collective realisation that the worst case scenarios that each was predicting via their various areas of specialty modelling was, in fact, already playing out. It was a sobering vibe to say the least.

Later, filming in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I witnessed poverty and suffering which left me stunned and numb with shame and sadness. And then of course there was the Copenhagen climate conference. Watch my film to get a feel for that! It was… unbelievable…

Congo Villagers reduced

Yet today I feel good about this climate emergency – a time of emerge-ence – because each morning when I awake I know that I will do the best that I can in the day ahead to address it. In my own small ways. And that this is the most I can do…that any of us can do.

In conversations about climate, of which I have many, people often express to me their despair at what WE have done, at what WE need to do, and what WE are unlikely to do, with faces grim and foreheads sagging. And therein lies my message. For me it is not so relevant how WE respond. Ultimately I am only responsible for how I myself tackle climate change and this is where it all begins.

Hold the concept of a million tiny lights across the world. We are each one of these lights and together they make up a virtual supergrid of life as we all wake up to the destructions and step up, speak out and act. Every day I learn of incredible new ideas and initiatives and am now constantly in awe and celebration of these.

Think of ourselves, those of us who care deeply about all this, as the Earth’s immune system. As the dis-ease of ecocide – large scale air pollution and destruction of ecosystems – takes hold, we are mobilised like white blood cells to protect our pulsing, precious body. Make the difference you can make – by what you consume, how you travel, changes you initiate or support in the work you do, your work place, school or community group.

Importantly, talk about climate change. A lot. Because this is how we learn and how we connect in to a collective response. Build community. There is much to be inspired and excited about, and much work to be done. Join the revolution.

Ange Palmer is a Nelson-based documentary film maker. She is planning a NZ tour with her film 2 Degrees in August / Sept. where she will share her experiences of making the film, and speak on our response to climate change and Eradicating Ecocide. If you could support Ange by hosting a screening send her an .

Volunteers are also sought to assist with distribution. See here for details. A film is a great way to create a community dialogue, and can be a pathway to action. The film can also be watched online via the 2 Degrees website, and you can follow the film’s progress on Facebook and Twitter.

Signing up to nonsense: denialists plot letter to UN secretary general Gareth Renowden Nov 29

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People send me stuff. Imagine my surprise when this morning’s mail included the text of a round robin email from Tom Harris — the Canadian PR man who heads the Heartland-funded denialist lobby group the International Climate Science Coalition [full text here]. It gives an interesting insight to how these groups work behind the scenes. Here’s Harris appealing for signatures to a letter to UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon:

Time is short if we are to mount a significant counterpoint to the scientifically invalid assertions already being broadcast by the 1,500 journalists and 7,000 environmentalists attending the UN climate conference now underway in Qatar.

Please find below our “Open Letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations” to which we are inviting your endorsement. We have 61 qualified endorsers as of 9 pm EST, about 19 hours after we started to ask people.

Because we have an agreement with a major media outlet to publish the open letter on Thursday, I will need to know of your support within the next day if possible, please.

The denialist spin machine in action. The usual suspects queuing to sign up to a letter that’s going to be published — where? My guess would be the Wall Street Journal. Even more interesting is the nonsense these luminaries are so keen to endorse…

It’s worth noting that Harris is not giving anyone the chance to change his proposed letter. The usual suspects are expected to sign up without quibbling about wording. And they’re signing up to a thoroughly modern catechism of climate crank disinformation. Here are the key claims in the letter:

UK Met Office data shows “there has been no statistically significant global warming for almost 16 years”.

This is nonsense, based on a beat-up published by the Daily Mail a few months ago. Warming continues, as the World Meteorological Organisation points out.

Global warming that has not occurred cannot have caused the extreme weather of the past few years. Whether, when and how warming will resume is unknown. The science is unclear. Some scientists point out that near-term natural cooling, linked to variations in solar output, is also a distinct possibility.

“Some scientists”? I suspect only the signatories to Harris’s letter expect a “near-term natural cooling” caused by the sun1.

The “even larger climate shocks” you have mentioned would be worse if the world cooled than if it warmed.

A remarkable (and unsupportable) assertion. I will allow that an ice age might be an inconvenience, but as our emissions have effectively postponed the next one for the foreseeable future, that’s the least of our worries.

The incidence and severity of extreme weather has not increased. There is little evidence that dangerous weather-related events will occur more often in future.

The letter goes on to quote from last year’s IPCC special report on climate extremes (SREX), but ignores the key findings of that report: that increased extremes of hot weather and rainfall are being recorded, and are “virtually certain” to continue as the climate warms.

We also ask that you acknowledge that policy actions by the UN, or by the signatory nations to the UNFCCC, that aim to reduce CO2 emissions are unlikely to exercise any significant influence on future climate.

Harris and his tame signatories can ask, but to expect the UN secretary general to reject the advice of his own organisation and the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists on the basis of an error-ridden screed put together as a stunt by PR flacks for fossil fuel interests is a bit of stretch, I’d have thought. Harris’s letter will be just as effective as all the other letters he’s sent to UN secretary generals at climate conferences, and that is not at all.

  1. The phrasing recalls similar pronouncements by NZ’s very own Bryan Leyland, a veteran of several climate science coalitions. I wonder if by any chance he had a hand in the letter?

Don’t worry Kyoto (National’s Only Looking Out For Its Friends) Gareth Renowden Nov 12

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The New Zealand government has announced that the country will not join the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (CP2), but will instead make voluntary commitments within the Kyoto framework [Herald, NBR]. Climate change minister Tim Groser presented this move as:

…aligning [NZ's] climate change efforts with developed and developing countries which collectively are responsible for 85% of global emissions. This includes the United States, Japan, China, India, Canada, Brazil, Russia and many other major economies.

To put it another way, New Zealand has chosen to abandon the 36 countries already signed up for CP2 — which runs from 2013 to 2020 — and instead aligns itself with the world’s worst polluters. Ironically, Groser rejected CP2 on the same day that Australia, only recently equipped with a meaningful carbon emission reduction scheme, announced it would sign up. The move completes the National-led government’s programme of gutting and dismembering the climate policies it inherited from the last Labour-led government when it took power in 2008.

Reaction from political opponents was swift and, as you might expect, damning1, but more telling from my perspective was the response from scientists, compiled by the Science Media Centre.

Jim Salinger, currently the Lorry Lokey Visiting Professor in the Program in Human Biology, Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford:

…the New Zealand Government must take its head out of the sand and step up to its scientific responsibility collectively together with the nations of the world in order to save future generations from the horrendous future impacts of a dramatically warming planet.

Martin Manning of the Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University:

This move now leaves any sense of legal commitment to limiting future climate change to the EU and Australia. And while it probably has only a small direct effect on total global CO2 emissions New Zealand’s retreat seems to be part of a growing reluctance by several developed countries to play any leadership role. So New Zealand’s move is part of a pattern that just leaves the problem to others.

Associate Professor Euan Mason, School of Forestry, University of Canterbury:

The government’s failure to commit us to a second Kyoto commitment period is consistent with, and is perhaps a consequence of, its failure to secure our NZU currency, and represents a failure to take opportunities to contribute to a better environment for us all.

Associate Professor Ralph Chapman, Director, Environmental Studies Programme, Victoria University:

This move has to be interpreted in the context of other signals New Zealand is sending on climate change policy. These signals are sadly pointing in the direction of easing back, rather than doing more, despite the climate change problem steadily worsening. The signals that the NZ government is not serious about climate change include its weakening of the ETS, a hiatus on renewable energy, a determination to build more highways that encourage carbon emitting land transport, and so on.

What’s interesting about these comments is not so much what they say — Hot Topic readers and anyone who has been following developments in climate science and policy would probably say much the same things — but who is saying it. These are working scientists who understand the issue in all its seriousness. They have an intelligent appreciation of the risks we and the world face as the planet warms. It’s becoming all too obvious that those risks are not understood by Key, Groser and the rest of the leadership of the National party.

In radio interviews over the weekend, Tim Groser described the move as in New Zealand’s national interest, and this morning prime minister John Key was forced to defend the move by rewriting history2:

I think we never wanted to a world leader in climate change we’ve always wanted to be what is affectionately called a fast follower.

Key conveniently forgets that Helen Clark’s government most certainly did want NZ to be a world leader on tackling climate change3 — in fact, Clark suggested we should be one of the first carbon neutral economies. Her government put together a coherent blend of policies — an emissions trading scheme backed by a suite of regulations, commitments to renewable energy, solar heating initiatives, home insulation and so on — that backed up that position. Key’s government, as Ralph Chapman notes, has been busily unravelling all that policy.

Groser’s view that this latest move is somehow in “the national interest” seems to depend on a definition of national interest that focusses only on the economic interests of fossil fuel and mining companies and his party’s supporters in the agricultural sector, as well as the frankly daft idea that economic interests can somehow be balanced against environmental issues4. National interest is about much, much more than is dreamt of in his philosophy — and includes taking prudent steps to prepare for an uncertain, but much warmer future. A strategic approach to the risks posed by rapid climate change5 would involve taking immediate steps to ensure that the ETS prices carbon at a level sufficient to ensure emitters take action6.

If Key, Groser, Joyce, English and the others are not listening to what the scientists are saying, perhaps they will listen to the International Energy Agency, who have noted that we are currently on a trajectory that will take us a long way beyond two degrees of warming. The world’s biggest accountants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, recently suggested that current policy settings were pushing the world towards six degrees7 of warming. These organisations speak the language that one must presume National’s leadership understands, so it would behove them to pay attention. But of that there is no sign.

One voice they will almost certainly dismiss out of hand for purely political reasons is that of our last prime minister, Helen Clark. Clark is now the administrator of the UN Development Programme, and recently addressed a meeting at Stanford about “Why Tackling Climate Change Matters for Development”. The full text is available here8, and shows Clark joined the dots on the importance of climate change years ago9, while John Key is still playing with his Etch A Sketch.

Wedded to an unrealistic view of the world, where climate change is just another policy setting that can be fiddled to the advantage of supporters or to suit ideology, New Zealand’s present government is stuck inside an epistemic bubble of considerable size. They are, quite literally, divorced from reality. What the national interest requires is that someone burst that bubble and force them to confront the need to take serious action on mitigating, and — crucially — adapting to the climate changes that are now “locked in” to the system. Perhaps a group of senior scientists equipped with a very large pin might seek an audience with the National Party caucus…

[Yoko Ono - should be played at full volume during all cabinet deliberations until such time as they fully understand the risks we face.]

  1. Labour: Day Of Shame As National Pulls Out Of Kyoto, Greens: ETS destroyed, now Government gets to work on Kyoto.
  2. Or perhaps he conveniently forgets recent NZ political history.
  3. Although his use of the “royal we” suggests he has other problems beyond memory.
  4. A clue: without a functioning environment, a vibrant economy is impossible.
  5. Which is exactly what we’re witnessing today.
  6. And doesn’t stuff up an entire industry, as Euan Mason’s full comment at the SMC notes.
  7. If six degrees is where we’re heading, I’d recommend reading Mark Lynas’ book of that title to get some appreciation of just what sort of Dante’s Inferno that might be.
  8. With short video.
  9. And did so while NZ PM.

Rio wrap: a real limp deal (where’s the way out?) Gareth Renowden Jun 25

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So it ended, as have most of the recent UN conferences on climate change, with a statement of platitudes and good intentions but nothing in the way of firm commitments to action. George Monbiot called the conference text 283 paragraphs of fluff, The Economist called the outcome “a limp agreement” and “a poor result for a summit billed by some as a “once in a generation” chance to save the planet from its intolerable burden.” Despite warnings of ecological tipping points looming, and the world’s top scientific organisations urging action on population and consumption, the leaders of the world (or at least, the ones who could be bothered to turn up) managed only to boot the ball downfield about as effectively as an English footballer in a penalty shoot out. It was all just too difficult. So they left it for another day — perhaps another generation — to sort out.

It’s easy to point the finger of blame. The United Nations is ineffectual at best1, hamstrung because it can only go as fast as a consensus of its member nations will allow — and the perverse interaction of perceived national interests with multinational corporate desires means that no-one is going anywhere fast.

So where do we go from here? It’s tempting to answer “to hell, in a hand basket”, and get on with planting the vegetable garden2. Personal, familial and local sustainability are achievable without needing the permission of the United States government, Hu Jintao or Charles and David Koch. We can all build our little local lifeboats. We can also aspire to building a national lifeboat. We can work from the bottom up, instead of from the top down. If politicians and diplomats can’t do what’s needed, then we can do it ourselves — and in the process ditch the politicians who won’t and elect ones who will.

But is “bottom up” action enough to get us out of trouble? There are encouraging signs that it might be. Earlier today, as I was mulling over my reaction to the Rio failure, my attention was drawn to a new paper in Nature Climate Change titled Bridging the greenhouse-gas emissions gap by Kornelis Blok, Niklas Höhne, Kees van der Leun and Nicholas Harrison. The authors propose 21 “wedges” — actions which may in themselves be small, but can be done because they are directly beneficial without reference to emissions, and which will when taken together give us a chance to bridge the gap between current national and international commitments on emissions reductions and the emissions levels required to enable to the world to stay within two degrees of warming. Rather charmingly, they call their approach “wedging the gap”.

Action by an individual citizen, a municipality or even a large multinational company may be considered ‘a drop in the ocean’. Even individual actions by large companies or big cities will rarely have an impact of more than a few megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. However, being part of a larger coalition that has the potential to completely bridge the entire emissions gap will make it much more attractive to participate in and take action. To this end, it is necessary that globally leading organizations in the world of business, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participate. They need to be part of a coalition that together provides leadership in bridging the gap. Therefore, the key to the success of the wedging-the-gap approach is forming and sustaining this coalition.

Emission-reduction pledges of countries under the UNFCCC and ‘bottom up’ initiatives by players other than national governments reinforce each other. Both have the objective to eventually bridge the emissions gap, but from two different angles. Ultimately, the objective is to close this gap, and both sides are essential.

In other words, we need both bottom up and top down approaches to climate and sustainability. And if we set about preparing the individual foundations well, then we may just create an environment that enables the people working on the top floor to focus on what’s needed, and not on what their paymasters want.

[Caetano Veloso]

  1. Making a mockery of those who claim that it is forcing “totalitarian world government” on the people of the planet.
  2. This week I be mainly planting garlic. A lot of garlic.

Alphabet soup in Bonn Gareth Renowden May 16

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Emma Renowden is attending the first few days of the UN climate change conference in Bonn. In this guest post she looks at how negotiations are progressing, what the major issues are likely to be, and what New Zealand’s up to.

After the near-failure of Durban in December last year, the current Bonn Climate Change Conference promises to be interesting. With the Kyoto Protocol commitment period ending this year, the development of a second commitment period is perhaps the most important objective that needs to be met. A number of states have already submitted their Quantified Emissions Limitation and Reduction Objectives (QELROs), signalling their continued commitment to the KP, but it has become clear that not all countries are so eager to sign themselves up again.

States were ‘invited’ to submit their QELRO figures, leaving it as a matter of choice. New Zealand, for instance, has yet to do so, and is ’still considering whether to take its target under a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol or under the Convention.’ When NZ’s submission does come, it is expected to demand a number of conditions, mainly around forestry rules (the LULUCF) and the carry-over of surplus emissions units. However, NZ faces a lot of criticism for its current stance. The Alliance Of Small Island States (AOSIS) called on it to submit its QELRO without such limitations, on the grounds that the KP is not the place for conditional commitments.

The Climate Action Network (CAN) also urged NZ and Australia, to fulfil their commitments and not to follow in Canada’s ’dirty footprints’ by pulling out of the treaty.

One of the key disagreements over the second commitment period is about the time frame. Many groups would prefer a five year Kyoto period, and we have seen strong statements from AOSIS, the Africa Group and the Philippines in favour of this. On the other hand, many Annex 1 countries and their relevant groupings insist on a more conservative eight year period. The European Union, for example, called for ambitious targets and across-the-board participation in the KP, but still called for an eight year time frame. However, as the African Group pointed out in the AWG-KP plenary, this time frame would internalise low ambition within the climate process, which would be disastrous for Africa, and the rest of the world. This issue is unlikely to be resolved in Bonn, and will remain a major — and possibly decisive — negotiating point in Doha in December.

Another key issue in this session is the development of National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPs and NAPAs), and in order to facilitate these plans, a review of the Adaptation fund. Adaptation deserves to funded and maintained in the same way that mitigation is in order that developing countries can carry out well-designed and participatory planning. This review has been encouraged by the Philippines, the G77/China and the least developed countries (LDCs). Related to this, the issue of loss and damage will be discussed, as there is a need for an effective international loss and damage mechanism and climate risk insurance facility. This was especially stressed by AOSIS and the LDCs in the opening plenary.

New Zealand’s inclusion of reduced subsidies for fossil fuels in their Durban Platform submission is positive in regards to building climate ambition. However, this is not enough. It is essential that they fully commit to an unconditional second commitment period and support a five year time frame.

It will also be interesting to see how the issue of an aviation emissions trading scheme pans out during the next two weeks. It has already been a contentious issue outside of Bonn, and should continue to be so within negotiations.

On a side note, as one of the younger people present, I admire the statement of Camilla Born on behalf of YOUNGO, who called on states to increase their ambition in these negotiations. Ambition is an essential component of the UNFCCC talks. Youth movements around the world have called on leaders to acknowledge our generation as the future, and act in our interest as well as their own. There are some states that seem to agree with us, with the Philippines stating in the opening plenary session that ’the youth are vigilantly watching us.’

Overall, it is critical that the ambition gap — and the equity gap — are closed in order to make progress in these negotiations. Bonn provides countries with the opportunity to take significant and positive steps before COP18 in Doha later this year. Let’s hope that they take those steps, and make concrete commitments before it’s too late.

Follow Emma’s occasional live tweets from the Bonn conference at @emmarenowden.

How Heartland lied to me and illegally recorded the lies cindy Mar 15

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4 a.m. Bali, December 2007, the first Tuesday of the two-week UN climate talks. My phone rings, waking me up. Blearily, and a little crossly, I answer it.

I was in Bali to run Greenpeace International’s media for the meeting. The caller was someone called “John” who said he was an intern for a US NGO that I had never heard of. It was a small NGO, he said, who couldn’t come to the meeting, but “john” asked me for a copy of the UNFCCC’s media list for the meeting.

I confirmed I had a copy but refused to give it to him – he appeared a little suspect. The conversation ended when I put the phone down – the caller clearly wasn’t bothered that he had woken me at 4 am, which was odd, as an NGO colleague would have apologised and hung up immediately.

Three days later I was again woken by the phone, with the information that the right wing think tank the Heartland Institute had just issued a press release slamming the UN for working with environmental NGO’s. Heartland’s press release posted a link to a recording of the 4 a.m. conversation earlier in the week.

Hang on, let’s get this clear:

Someone from the Heartland Institute:
 – called me at 4 am, lied to me saying they were an intern for a US environmental NGO 
- recorded that conversation without my knowledge or my permission, and released the audio of the telephone conversation to the media, again without my permission.

Sound familiar?

This calls into question Heartland’s bleatings about being misled by climate scientist Peter Gleick, and its threats to sue him for using false credentials to obtain information. They seem happy to use underhand tactics to get information for themselves, yet slam Gleick for doing similar.  CEO Joseph Bast called it a “serious crime”.

So I’ve written to Joseph Bast reminding him of this incident:

To recap, the Heartland Institute used a false organizational identity in order to obtain an internal document. It also surreptitiously recorded a telephone conversation (illegally, I believe, if it was done from your home state of Illinois) then posted it online to attack me in the same sort of privacy invasion you’ve been complaining about.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should, not only because your organization did all this, but it recorded itself doing exactly what you’ve been howling about was done to you. I’m calling on you to show the same level of post-action forthrightness of Dr. Gleick, admit what you did, and re-post the audiotape of the full conversation.

I haven’t yet heard back from Bast.

DeSmogBlog has more examples of Heartland’s history of deception, including leading someone to believe that a video they were being interviewed for was for the Discovery Channel rather than a climate denial video.

Given my first-hand experience of Heartland, and having also witnessed the theft of thousands of emails between climate scientists and Heartland’s thousands of words about them (often willfully taking them out of context) in Climategate, I find it breathtaking that Heartland has suddenly become all ethical about the leaks of its documents.

These are documents that show plans to mislead children about the science of one of the most important issues in their future: climate change.

Also attending the Bali meeting was the right wing think tank, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), that had brought its crack team of climate deniers, including Lord Christopher Monckton, whom I’d seen hectoring journalists in the media centre.

Monckon was registered on the CFACT delegation but the UN media list itself confirms Monckton’s attempts to register himself as a journalist, listing his email contact as Tom Swiss (Heartland’s PR man), as with another denier, Will Alexander, whose email contact was another Heartland email address.

CFACT has received a total of $2,509,285 from fossil fuel funders ExxonMobil, the Koch Foundations and the Scaife Foundations since 1998.

We now know that Heartland had paid for a number of the deniers who were part of the CFACT team. Heartland money went to the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition that year, and NZCSC members, Owen McShane, Bryan Leyland and Vincent Gray were also on the CFACT team, along with a number of Australian deniers, Prof Robert (Bob) Carter, David Evans and Joanne Nova.

Desperate for the attention they weren’t getting, CFACT even offered free Balinese massages to people who attended their event.

Why didn’t I sue Heartland at the time?  Simple: they would have loved the attention – and I had better things to do with my time, as the 192 governments who had already accepted the science of climate change worked towards agreeing the Bali Mandate.

As it was, no media covered Heartland’s outraged press release and the whole incident served as an opportunity for me to talk in detail to a number of journalists about the climate denial industry and its funding by the fossil fuel industry.

My one failing is that I cannot recall the name of the NGO that the caller pretended to be an intern for.  I didn’t write it down at 4 am and, given that I’m not from the US, I didn’t recognize the name the caller gave me. But he definitely didn’t tell me he was from – or acting on behalf of -  the Heartland Institute.

And given that I am one of the co-founders of Greenpeace’s Exxonsecrets website, launched in 2004 to track money going from ExxonMobil to think tanks including the Heartland Institute for their campaign to promote climate denial, every alarm bell would have gone off if I’d received a telephone call from The Heartland Institute, no matter what time of day or night it was. I knew this organization and its peddling of climate denial very well.

I would certainly have remembered if they said they were taping the call, let alone agreed to that – and its subsequent broadcast.
This blog has been cross-posted from Polluterwatch, where Greenpeace is conducting a series of ongoing investigations into the Heartland documents. My letter to Bast is available here.

A mad deal in Durban Gareth Renowden Dec 11

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Let’s revisit that cold war phrase: mutually assured destruction. Fifty years ago, MAD meant that in the event of conflict the USA and USSR could and would ensure the total annihilation of the other, thus ensuring what Wikipedia rather tamely describes as “a tense but stable global peace”. Having lived through those years, the tension was notable, and in some cases inspirational.

The madness on display in Durban is of another kind, and of a different character. The destruction on offer will be (we can only hope) slower, but it is likely to be just as total — and is certainly being mutually assured. The governments of the world, by kicking the can down the road aways, have just ensured that the task of reducing emissions will be harder than it need be, and that the ultimate damage will be greater than it might have been. [Guardian]

Durban represents progress of a kind, as Climate Action Tracker’s analysis acknowledges:

As the climate talks in Durban concluded tonight with a groundbreaking establishment of the Durban Platform to negotiate a new global agreement by 2015, scientists stated that the world continues on a pathway of over 3°C warming with likely extremely severe impacts, the Climate Action Tracker said today.

The agreement in Durban to establish a new body to negotiate a global agreement (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) by 2015 represents a major step forward. The Climate Action Tracker scientists stated, however, that the agreement will not immediately affect the emissions outlook for 2020 and has postponed decisions on further emission reductions. They warned that catching up on this postponed action will be increasingly costly.

What is mind-boggling is that so many leaders, so many highly-skilled diplomats and negotiators, can accept the evidence being offered by our understanding of climate system, and yet so comprehensively fail to act.

History and human nature, combined with the dysfunctional nature of international relations have conspired to give us what looks like it might be the worst of all worlds: one where lip service is paid to taking action, but where the big players are excused responsibility, and any efforts made are weak and meaningless. Plus c’est la même chose.

And so as not to beg the obvious question: I am left agreeing with Joe Romm. It will take a series of undeniable climate disasters, sufficient to provide the equivalent of a wartime motivation for action, before our politicians feel empowered to take the necessary action — before the world will act appropriately. One can only hope that the damage is not costly in terms of human welfare and wellbeing, and that they happen before nature rips the reins from our hands and the Anthropocene comes to an end.

NZ in Durban: delegation gone mad? Or just business as usual? cindy Dec 05

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It’s getting embarrassing here in Durban. I’ve had a veritable flood of people come up to me in recent days saying things like “what the hell is your government doing?”

The NZ Government has been pretty bad in these negotiations over the last few years, but things appear to have taken a turn for the worse, in multiple directions.  I’m wondering what’s going on.

Let’s take the “easy” one first.  Kyoto.

With Canada, Japan and Russia on their way out of the Kyoto Protocol, there are a lot of discussions on how one could carry it forward without them.

One possible solution is the idea of “provisionally” implementing a new commitment period, from 2013-2017. This would mean that it wouldn’t legally “come into force” but parties to the Protocol could agree the new rules, and implement it anyway, if they all agreed to do so.

This can happen under the “Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties” (1969), that NZ has signed up to. Not so, says the NZ delegation. This would be a breach of the constitution.

But a quick look on the MFAT website makes me think they are being a bit daft.  Maybe they were too busy to read the MFAT document: “International Treaty Making: Guidance for government agencies on practice and procedures for concluding international treaties and arrangements” written in August 2011. That’s – erm – about four months ago.

This guidance, presumably for delegations like this one in Durban, spells out the rules of the Vienna Convention, ie, that: “Provisional entry into force of a treaty may also occur when a number of parties to a treaty that has not yet entered into force decide to apply the treaty as if it had entered into force.”

This is precisely what is being proposed.    Indeed, we have done this with a number of international treaties already.   But is NZ just looking for excuses to get out of Kyoto?  Meanwhile I’m off to the printer to get the delegation a few copies.

The “honest, guv” emissions trading regime

Next up, emissions trading. Personally, I don’t think that emissions trading are a proper way to stop climate change.

Doing something to stop climate change somewhere else in exchange for doing nothing at home seems like a weird way to go about things, when we all know that ultimately we should cut our own emissions and be done with it.

It has always seemed a bit cheaty to me and I know I campaigned hard to stop it from happening way back in the day when Kyoto was being negotiated. But setting that aside for a minute, let’s look at the proposal our Government is trying to push here in Durban.

Under the “flexible mechanisms” for emissions trading, NZ is proposing that the rules – erm – have no rules. The environmental groups were onto this, and NZ won its first “fossil of the day” (2nd place) on Friday.

“They want to be able to use any market mechanisms they wish with absolutely no oversight or international review. There would be no way to ensure that the units from one mechanism have not been sold two or three times to another such mechanism. This would likely unleash a wild west carbon market with double or triple counting of offsets and a likely increase of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.” I’m calling it the “honest, guv” rules – ie you just have to believe what we say.  I’m sorry, but that’s just nuts, especially from a Government that doesn’t seem to like cutting emissions very much.

The “I’m alright jack” rules on forests

Let’s now turn to the forests. NZ has always been pretty bad in the conversations here about Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation REDD.

That’s the stuff that deals with the emissions from deforestation. First I might remind you that in NZ we have protected our forests.  Long, hard battles have been fought – and were resoundingly won with the historic NZ Forest Accord that banned the cutting of native forests on private land. Our native forests are protected – and so they should be. But not everyone is in the same boat.

But when it comes to the REDD discussions, NZ’s perspective is taken purely from the point of view of our pine plantations. They’ve long been a point of contention between forest owners and government. NZ has always pushed hard to get everyone to accept our “special circumstances”.  But in Kyoto, someone has special circumstances for almost everything – and that would make for extremely messy international agreements.

The problem is that the forest nations, like Brazil, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, have beautiful old growth forests that MUST be protected, not only for climate reasons, but also for the biodiversity and indigenous peoples who live in them. So it’s important to get the international rules right for these forests, the lungs of the earth.

So it is with the “reference” levels in REDD.  These are like a baseline from which to measure emissions from deforestation.  NZ has proposed that instead of looking at historical behaviour, (our proven rate of deforestation), the rules are based around “projected reference levels” – what we think we might do in the future.

It’s all incredibly complicated, but essentially the NZ delegation is being very creative in trying to invent new ways of getting more Kyoto credits for our plantations so that we don’t have to cut emissions elsewhere. That’s all very well for us, but if you put this regime onto, say, the Amazon, it is unlikely to stop them slowing the rate of deforestation there, which is one thing we need to do to save the planet.

Hot air

You just can’t make this stuff up.  The rest of the world is trying to come up with a way to deal with the Russia “hot air” problem but NZ is terrified that the solution on the table means we might lose some of our own little stash of hot air that we got from Kyoto’s loopholes around accounting for land use change and forestry. Heaven help us if we have to actually cut emissions instead of carrying over credits that we shouldn’t have in the first place.

I am still struggling to come up with an answer on what the hell “my” government is doing.   Nick Smith was coming, now he’s not.  Brendan Burns, sorta understandably, isn’t coming as planned, as he doesn’t know if he’s got a seat in Christchurch Central.   Tim Groser is apparently coming this week, but my hopes aren’t high that he’ll change much.  Is the delegation running loose while their bosses are in turmoil back home?

But what I do know is that these people are definitely not representing my views, nor considering our Pacific Island state neighbours.   Cheating and lying doesn’t stop climate change.

Or perhaps they’re too busy representing Business NZ and the Forest Owners Association, both of whom have a representative on the official NZ delegation?

ps the timezones are almost 12 hrs difference to NZ so I won’t be replying to comments in a hurry.

Lies, damned lies and brutal storms cindy Nov 30

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Hot off the wires: Hot Topic’s Durban correspondent Cindy Baxter posts her first insider’s view from COP 17.

As thousands of people poured into Durban’s massive conference building yesterday morning for the start of the 17th session of climate talks, we heard news that the extraordinary storm we’d gotten soaked in on Sunday night had actually killed eight people in this very city.

It was a chilling start to the two-week talks and a stark reminder to us all as to what is at stake, just a week after the IPCC warned us that extreme weather events are going to get more frequent.

Also over the weekend weekend we saw the start of a story that is playing out in the corridors. It seems that the big developing country emitters: China, Brazil and India, have joined the US and others in saying there will be no new legally binding agreement on climate change until at least 2020.

The first day of these meetings is a marathon of PR, a dueling of statements from the world’s biggest and smallest trying to attract the attention of the press. A delay in action to 2020 would be “a betrayal not just of small island nations, many of whom would be destined for extinction, but a betrayal of all humanity,” Grenada Ambassador Dessima Williams told the meeting on behalf of AOSIS (the Alliance of Small Island States).

“There are no plausible technical, economic or legal impediments for not taking the actions required by science – we need to act now.”

I then had the pleasure of sitting through the EU and US press conferences – in retrospect a bad move in terms of my abilities to retain the will to live. They lined up against the Kyoto Protocol (too little, not enough countries, etc). They assured us they were pouring billions into funds for developing countries (when I’ve seen much bigger sums being poured into the fossil fuel industry).

But, for now, I won’t dwell on Kyoto. Because again, the US press briefing took my breath away. Jonathan Pershing, head of the US delegation, was quite something.

Nobody, he said, had even considered increasing the pledges that they made in Copenhagen and confirmed in Cancun. Everybody would be far too busy implementing those pledges all the way up to 2020 to look at how to increase them before that. Never mind that the IPCC’s fifth assessment is likely to give us even stronger warnings in 2014 than it did in ’07.

But Dr Pershing’s last comment was the best. He was asked how did he equate his statement (that the US firmly believed in climate science and that the Copenhagen pledges wouldn’t be increased until 2020) – with the IPCC’s recommendations that to keep below 2ºC of warming, the industrialized world would need to cut emissions by 25-40% by 2020 and emissions needed to peak by 2015?

Oh, he said, I was a lead author of that report (he was). And, I can tell you, there are many emissions pathways where you could keep temperature rise below 2ºC based on not really doing much else except the Copenhagen pledges until 2020.

Really?

Really?

So I’ve spent the last couple of days talking with scientists about it. I even met Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC and put it to him. They tell me that there are pathways where you could do the most work after 2020. But they are the ones that would see economies crashing under the weight of the massive cuts in energy that would have to happen virtually overnight in order to get under that curve.

The UNEP “Bridging the Emissions Gap” report 2011 assessed the scientific literature to look for technologically and economically feasible emissions pathways that can limit temperature to below 2ºC. In layman’s terms, I’ve now got a very broad brush idea of what some of those “many pathways” might look like.

The current pledges on the table don’t give any sort of a price signal or incentive to stop our reliance on fossil fuels and start the switch to renewable energy. The pledges are tiny, but they’re going to keep the US pretty busy for a few years (4% cut at 1990 levels by 2020). But on our way to Dr Pershing’s bright and easy 2020 world, we’d carry on building coal-fired power stations and all the other fossil-powered infrastructure that our Governments continue to subsidise. And all those other things we do that pumps CO2 into the atmosphere.

According to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook projections, by 2017, we’d be using a lot more energy and pumping out a lot more CO2. Indeed, if we want to keep below 2ºC, essentially, we’d pretty much have to stop that CO2 at source around then. We’d have used up our “carbon budget”.

So what happens then? Well, by 2020, we’ve have a whole new generation of brand new coal-fired power stations that haven’t reached the end of their economic life. Those would be the ones we’d have to turn off.

From there, if we’re really serious about this two degrees thing (and Dr Pershing keeps assuring us that the US is serious about keeping this promise), we have a couple of choices:

We could turn off the coal-fired power stations. Shut ‘em down. Our Copenhagen promises made nearly 20 years ago have meant we don’t have enough renewable capacity to swap over to. Can you imagine that? The screaming by the electricity companies? Governments breaking electricity supply contracts? A corporate lawyer’s dream.

The other option is to carry on pumping CO2 out there and start a massive takeup of technology to suck the CO2 back out and get rid of it somehow -  technology that we haven’t invented yet.

Can you imagine the US doing either of the above?  Pershing seems to think is a perfectly acceptable scenario.

There’s so much else going on here: Kyoto dead or alive? Monckton’s antics1 . But I’m still a bit stuck on what Pershing was able to say, with a perfectly straight face, to the world’s media, then say he had no time to take more questions before he walked out of the room.

More to come, especially on all things Kyoto, as I can bring myself to think about that situation even less.

  1. Details, please! Ed.

Vidal’s voyage to Durban Bryan Walker Nov 28

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How better to journey to the climate conference at Durban than through the African countries along the way which are already grappling with climate change? That’s the route John Vidal, the Guardian’s environment editor, has been following over the past ten days and reporting on in a series of articles.

He started in Egypt. The impacts of climate change are difficult to disentangle from natural coastal processes and the effects of human activities on the flow of the Nile, but an inexorably rising sea level and the increasing intensity of storms threaten increased salination of groundwater and soil as well as inundation. Extreme heat will also take its toll on city life.

Sudan was next. A Sudanese researcher reports drought and extreme flooding becoming more frequent, temperatures rising in winter, extreme — good and bad — years now more common and rainfall patterns changing. If temperatures continue to rise, as is predicted over the next 50 years, Sudan can expect more desertification, and more tension between traditionally hostile groups. The country is not well placed to adapt to changes in climate, stressed as it is by endemic poverty, ecosystem degradation, complex conflicts and limited access to markets, infrastructure and technology. In South Sudan changes in rainfall patterns threaten crops and livestock.

In Uganda Vidal visited a coffee-growing village.

 One by one, the farmers, who mostly cultivate two acres of land each, tell us what they have observed in their lifetimes. “The springs are drying up”; “we find we can only plant crops twice’; “the coffee has started behaving differently; it flowers even as it fruits”; “we have more diseases”; “we have lost 20% of our income”; “there is less water from the mountain”.

The villagers say they have no scientific understanding of why it is hotter and there is less rain, but they instinctively believe it’s because there are fewer trees, and argue that they should plant more. And they had something to say to the negotiators at Durban:

“We must start with mitigation. Our message to the world leaders and the countries meeting in South Africa is to talk less and act more”, says Januario Kamalha, a villager.

Vidal moved on to Kenya where he reports the ambitious plans to continue the legacy of Wangari Maathai in massive tree-planting projects and to build one of Africa’s biggest wind farms near Lake Turkana. He includes an extract from the environment department’s official assessment of what has happened in the past 20-30 years:

“Rainfalls have become irregular and unpredictable, when it rains [the] downpour is more intense, extreme and harsh weather is now the norm. Since the 1960s both minimum (night time) and maximum (daytime) temperatures have been warming. Rainfall has increased variability year to year, there is a general decline in the main rainfall season and drought in the long rains season is more frequent and prolonged. On the other hand, there are more rains during September to February. This suggests that the short rains are expanding into what is normally the hot and dry period of January and February.”

An official in the environment department sums it up:

’We are vastly affected by climate change. The trends are now extreme. We are seeing adverse effects everywhere. When no crops grow, we have to seek aid. Our economy is greatly affected, so adaptation is our priority.’

In South Africa Vidal visited Ocean View near Capetown, where 75 fisherwomen each own a small 5 metre-long boat and go one mile out in the giant Atlantic swells two or three times a week to catch rock lobsters. They know that fish stocks are affected adversely by a variety of factors, including poaching and over-fishing, but they are convinced that climate change now plays a part.

“We the fisher people know what we see, and we can see changes. The lobsters are hibernating for longer, and their shells are softer and more fragile than they were. Their breeding cycles are being disrupted. The sea temperature is definitely warmer than it used to be. The seas are much rougher these days and people are scared to go out. The wind comes up bigger than before. The weather patterns seem to have changed too.”

Vidal sums his journey up in a final article.

From north to south the broad observations are remarkably similar. More floods, droughts, storms and changing seasons are being experienced: the heatwaves are getting longer and more frequent; the storms more intense; the nighttime temperatures higher; the farmers see new diseases and pests; and the growing seasons appear disrupted. On top of that, the marginal areas are turning to desert and cities are becoming unbearably hot. The peer-reviewed science is still sketchy, but it’s the best there is in a continent starved of research funds and it is consistent with the latest models done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But as the evidence continues to mount and the pain begins to be experienced in some of the poorer parts of the world there is little sign that the rich countries are preparing to tackle the issue seriously  at Durban or anywhere else:

… some leaders of the rich and big-emitting countries have lost interest and political momentum and want to consign the talks, like those on world trade, to a never-ending, never-achieving, low-grade, low-profile discussion to take place in backrooms without anyone listening or caring much. They may profess concern, but there is little evidence they want to act.

The 175 or more developing countries are not taking this submissively.

[They are] talking more as one, and the great illusion trick of the rich world is wearing thin. What has changed, they ask? The science of climate change is firmer than it ever was. A 2C-4C temperature rise still means that Africa fries and the polar bears die out, that Bangladesh and Egypt drown, the droughts in Latin America and Ethiopia continue to worsen, and the poorest communities and small-island states, who have the least resources to adapt, will be hurt the hardest.

Vidal is hardly optimistic. He ends with the comment that convincing the US to stop playing with the lives of the poorest or China to brake their economic rise may be too much to expect. Nevertheless he’s right to put his journalism at the service of those who are already discovering in their vulnerable lives what climate change means. Maybe the rich world will prove impervious to moral appeal. But the advocacy must continue and be reiterated again and again so that at least we cannot claim ignorance of the human effects of ever-rising greenhouse gas emissions. I often think how repetitive I feel my own writing about climate change has become as the years go by and little appears to change, at least at the political level. But there’s no escape from that repetition. The twin themes of the reality of the science and the injurious human impacts of climate change must go on being sounded until the world wakes up to what we are doing to ourselves.

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