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Posts Tagged UNFCCC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moral Challenge of Dangerous Climate Change Bryan Walker Apr 22

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The combination of a recently acquired desktop video magnifier and a kindle has for the time being restored some ease to my reading. Hence this review. I was drawn by the title The Moral Challenge of Dangerous Climate Change: Values, Poverty and Policy, since I can’t see the resistance to energy reform mounted by powerful fossil fuel interests being overcome without some kind of moral determination by a significant portion of the population. I was also attracted by the fact that the author, Darrel Moellendorf is a political and moral philosopher and I was curious to read a philosophical perspective on the climate change issue.

Although the book is intended to be accessible to readers who are not versed in the discipline of philosophy it is no light read. The discussions of the various policy issues it addresses are exhaustive and rigorous. There are no ringing calls, just appeals to humane rationality. But the conclusions are no less compelling for that.

Moellendorf is heavily focused on the poverty in which a large proportion of the human race currently lives: “It should be scandalous that nearly half the world’s population lives in desperate poverty, especially while many lavish in such plenty.”  He declares the problem of global poverty to be central to climate change policy. The two issues cannot be separated.  In this respect he parallels Nicholas Stern who in his book The Global Deal similarly coupled combating climate change with poverty reduction as the two greatest challenges of the century and claimed that we shall succeed or fail on them together – to tackle only one is to undermine the other.

In Moellendorf’s view it is vital that climate change policy should not put restrictions on poverty-eradicating human development. He introduces what he calls the anti-poverty principle as a standard against which the actions proposed to address climate change should be measured. It’s no surprise then that the primary responsibility for action rests with the highly developed rich countries, as recognised by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. On those countries rests the responsibility of sharply curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, not through a steep reduction in economic activity but through the promotion of a technological revolution in energy. Subsidising the growth of renewable energy in the least-developed economies may well be part of this responsibility.

Moellendorf frequently refers to the UNFCC as an important source of norms and principles in determining climate change action and defends several of those principles in the course of his book. The convention provides compass and continuity in international negotiations.

Moellendorf fully understands the scientific consensus about the warming world and the risks it poses for humanity. He sets the risks out in some detail, acknowledging the uncertainties but seeing them as all the more reason to be concerned. He writes of the possibility of cascading uncertainties if various positive feedbacks are triggered by the warming. Climate change, he concludes, poses risks of catastrophic changes to human communities and ecosystems. The risks are particularly dangerous to people made vulnerable by the coincidence of poverty and geography, whether in the great river deltas of North Africa and East Asia, the glacier-fed rivers in Asia and South America or the  arid regions of central and southern Africa.

All of this points to a precautionary approach in attempting to mitigate climate change. It would be dangerous to gamble on a lower climate sensitivity than predicted by the science. The cost of mitigation, estimated at 2 percent of GDP, is low when set against the threat of a 3 degree rise in global temperature.

Moellendorf is not impressed by economists who attempt to discount the need for present action based on the supposition that future populations will be better off than we are and therefore better placed to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The likely severity of climate change casts doubt on the assumption that economic growth will continue at its current levels. Moellendorf’s clear appreciation of what the science portends contrasts with the bland assumption that economic growth will ensure later generations will be  up to the task of late mitigation.

An interesting chapter on the value of biodiversity explores not merely its economic importance but also the value of the “delight, wonder and awe at nature” which matter to human life. Moellendorf quotes a memorable statement of biologist E.O. Wilson with approval, and I can’t forbear to repeat it here: “This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve. It has eaten the storms – folded them into its genes – and created the world that created us. It holds us steady.”

What results from Moellendorf’s painstaking discussions is entirely consonant with what many who are alarmed by the human impacts of climate change have felt for a number of years. Put through close philosophic scrutiny the concerns emerge as rational and humane responses to a grave threat to the human future.

But rationality and humanity have a rough time in the political world where negotiations towards a global solution (the only sort there is for our common atmosphere) are supposedly proceeding. One has only to think of the ranting of many Republican congress members in the US or, closer to home, of our own government’s policies mired in contradiction yet energetically defended by ministers. Moellendorf is not blind to this reality and faces it squarely in his final chapter on urgency – “the fierce urgency of now” as one of his headings describes it. Against the fossil fuel industry and its political allies he looks to civil society movements and political organisations to use their organising skills to mobilise support for climate change mitigation in states currently lacking mitigation ambition. It’s a big ask, but we might remember that the moral challenge has informed powerful movements of ordinary citizens in the past which have overcome entrenched interests. The abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of slaves come to mind for me.

Moellendorf is ever mindful that climate change affects the lives and well-being of billions of people both now and in the future. Morality is to do with what we owe other people. The energy revolution we require to constrain climate change may be technological, but the motivation to demand it is profoundly moral. His patient exposition of this imperative is most welcome.

Welcome to the Carbon COP cindy Nov 18

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The Polish National Stadium

The first week here at the climate talks in Warsaw kicked off with the super typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines in a terrible tragedy, brought into the meeting by the country’s lead negotiator Seb Yano, whose fast has been joined by many from civil society. The plight of his people has been a rallying call around the world as we all look at the aftermath of this storm with horror.  Is it a direct result of climate change? What we do know is that the sea surface temps were 1.5degC above normal, and that we can expect more intense cyclones as the earth’s temperature warms.  But  as NCAR’s Kevin Trenberth wrote:

“The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be….”

As we’ve been all walking around in circles of the Polish National Stadium, trying to stay sane, looking at the images from the Philippines and the campaigning by their government to get a stronger outcome, it seems several governments have kept their eyes firmly OFF the ball, instead  taking the opportunity of the occasion to walk away from their commitments. Most notably, Japan.   After warning all year they’d do this, Japan announced their new target, sending it over a veritable climate cliff.  The change in target would increase the emissions gap outlined by UNEP just last week by 3-4%, according to calculations by the Climate Action Tracker (disclosure: I’m here in Warsaw working for Climate Analytics, who run this analysis with Ecofys and the Pik Potsdam Institute). Instead of reducing their emissions by 25% by 2020 on 1990 levels, Japan’s emissions will now increased by 3.1%. The general thinking is that Japan’s change in target is down to the fact that they’ve had to close all 54 of their nuclear power stations, so have had to switch to coal.  Not so.  The CAT calculated that if Japan’s nuclear industry didn’t re-open at all before 2020, they could still reach a target of 17-18%.

“The expected increase represents only 55% of the increase in emissions from the original Copenhagen pledge to the new 2020 target. The remaining 45% must therefore represent a change in Japan’s political will to reduce emissions.”

Not exactly an inspiration to other countries who have come here to negotiate a strong new 2015 climate agreement in good faith, and certainly not an inspiration to the people in the Philippines.  But perhaps this screenshot from Japan’s Ministry of Industry English website could explain it?

Screenshot of Japanese Industry Ministry's english website.

Screenshot of Japanese Industry Ministry’s english website.

Next up, Australia.  As we all settled into the second day of the talks, Australia’s new government was busily dismantling its climate legislation, an exercise that will cost them more than $7billion. This may take a while, not least because the current Labour/Greens dominated Senate won’t change until after July. But the CAT has calculated that this move, if successful, and combined with Tony Abbott’s so-called “Direct Action” policy to replace it,  they are very unlikely to meet their (already totally inadequate) pledge of 5% reduction on 2000 levels by 2020. It’ll begin a recarbonisation of Australia’s electricity sector, just at the time when the new legislation was beginning to make a difference. Australia’s not even sending a Minister here for the High Level segment of the talks, for the first time in 16 years.  One gets the impression that this government really doesn’t give a flying (Castlemaine) XXXX about climate change, an extraordinary move given the rolling 12-month heat record set in August, September and October.  I think it’s clear who Tony’s listening to.  Certainly not Yeb Sano. Meanwhile the Polish Government is going ahead with hosting the World Coal Summit over the next two days.   More on that in my next post.  

Poland or Coaland? Climate talks about to begin in Warsaw cindy Nov 10

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Will the sun rise over progress at the climate talks (is that a coal fired power station in the distance?)

Will the sun rise over progress at the climate talks (is that a coal fired power station in the distance?)

Another year, another round of climate talks.  It’s the 19th Conference of Parties to the UN Climate Convention and we’re back in Poland, the scene of an almost complete non-event in 2008, the year before Copenhagen.

It’s Eastern Europe’s turn to host another meeting, and nobody else was prepared to put their hand up, so we’re back in the land of coal, in the country that has rallied their biggest coal companies to sponsor the conference, and which is dragging the whole of the EU down to their level as they refuse to accept stronger targets.  I suspect #coaland will be a well-used hashtag by the end of this.

Usually when you come to a meeting like this, the town is full of banners and signs that a climate meeting is being hosted, but there’s not much sign of it here in Warsaw, except this rather confusing industry advertisement at the airport.

Next weekend there’s a World Coal Association conference in town, being addressed by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christian Figueres, who turned down a talk to youth at the Powershift conference in favour of talking with Big Coal.  She’s assured them it’s because she wants to “talk frankly” – let’s hope she does.

Last month the Polish hosts were caught posting a news piece heralding the melting of the Arctic as a new opportunity to explore for yet more fossil fuels.  While The YesMen (in a specacular own-goal, in my opinion) tried to claim the piece as their own, it was indeed the Polish Government’s own work. Given this government is chairing the talks, it’s not looking terribly hopeful.

Meanwhile in the Philippines, Cyclone Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded, has caused a terrible loss of life that’s still being counted – and major damage.  With winds at 195mph as it made landfall, it beat the 1969 record,  according to Jeff Masters’ blog.  Sea surface temperatures were up to 1.5degC above normal.

What role will the science have in these talks?  Will the IPCC’s recent working group 1 conclusions make a difference?  Figueres has already confirmed the IPCC’s carbon budget figures will not be on the agenda.

Finance for the poorest

This meeting is supposed to be the “Finance meeting” where governments are expected to make progress on committing money to the Green Climate Fund. They’ve promised $100bn a year by 2020 to help the world’s poorest countries adapt to climate change and shift to renewable energy, but so far there’s little to show for it in the fund.

And a programme to get to 2015

Governments agreed last year that this year would be when they set up the roadmap to get to a global agreement on climate to be agreed in Paris, 2015.  This should include a timetable for when they all put their increased targets on the table (early next year would be good) and that they will have a full draft negotiating text sorted out by next year, to be finalised by 2015.   But of course that 2015 agreement, even if it does get finished on time, wouldn’t come into force until 2020.  If the world does nothing except the Copenhagen pledges between now and 2020, it’s not going to be pretty. So there’s a strong call from many quarters for better 2020 targets to be put on the table as soon as possible.

How will New Zealand stack up?  During the course of the next two weeks, expect information to come out that will make it clear what New Zealand’s “fair share” of climate action actually is.  Given our walking away from Kyoto and the Ministry for the Environment’s recent admission that our emissions are set to soar, I don’t hold out much hope.

The Australians have made a spectacular start, announcing that for the first time in 16 years, no Minister will make it to the conference. Environment Minister Greg Hunt, recently famous for declaring there was no evidence of a link between climate change and bush fires (using the solid source of Wikipedia) is instead staying at home to dismantle the Australian climate legislation.  That’s a Fossil of the Day right there.

Then of course there’s the Russians.  What will they do?  Will they continue to throw their toys out of the cot about decisions being made in Doha without their agreement?  Will they actually start negotiating and be good global citizens?  (hint: releasing the 30 Greenpeace activists from the Murmansk prison would be a good start).

More to come, as it happens.   From both myself and from David Tong with the Adopt A Negotiator team.

100% useless: NZ government announces pathetic 5% emissions target Gareth Renowden Aug 16

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Climate change minister Tim Groser has finally got around to announcing that New Zealand’s emissions reduction target for 2020 will be a 5 percent reduction on 1990 levels — a significant step back from NZ’s previous conditional commitment to make cuts in the 10 to 20 percent range. Since the Key government refused to join the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol last year, this target is being adopted under the wider UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and therefore has no penalties (or incentives) attached. Groser’s announcement claims:

The target is affordable and demonstrates that New Zealand is doing its fair share to address global climate change. In deciding this target, the Government has carefully balanced the cost to New Zealand households and businesses against taking ambitious action to tackle climate change.

This is an unconditional target to take responsibility for our emissions, and gives certainty to domestic stakeholders.

Groser also claims that the new target “compares favourably with our traditional partners’ actions” — but fails to note that it’s way out of line with UK and EU commitments to cuts of 30% and 20% over the same period.

The announcement will come as little surprise in the context of recent government actions — in particular Groser’s reckless mismanagement of the emissions trading scheme, which is now leading to huge and expensive dislocation in the forestry sector.

Further context for Groser’s approach to climate policy came in a reply to a series of questions from Green Party climate spokesman Kennedy Graham at Question Time on August 8th. Asked to reconcile sanctioning a new West Coast coal mine with climate action, Groser made himself completely clear:

We will not sacrifice everything to the altar of climate change.

Failing to take climate change seriously — by failing to cut emissions and doing nothing to encourage prudent adaptation — will sacrifice the entire country to the effects of climate change. By refusing to bite the bullet, Groser and his cabinet colleagues put easy money now ahead of our future wellbeing. Or, perhaps, any future worth having.

Lost and damaged cindy Dec 08

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New Zealand Youth Delegate Simon Tapp with our golden prize: a Colossal Fossil, shared with Canada.

At the end of every UNFCCC meeting, on the last day, there’s a grand prize: the Colossal Fossil. So proud:  New Zealand took top prize for the first time, shared with Canada.

For a country whose emissions are similar in scale to the Canadian tar sands, New Zealand has demonstrated exceptional blindness to scientific and political realities. Surprising many and disappointing all, New Zealand has fought hard to unseat 5-time Colossal Fossil winner, Canada, in a campaign of extreme selfishness and irresponsibility.

While New Zealand may have helped drown the talks for another year, New Zealand’s small and vulnerable Pacific neighbours should take heart that they have not been forgotten – New Zealand intends to drown them too.

I don’t think I can add much to this, except to say that for a small country, we sure manage to punch above our weight at these talks, upsetting more governments and people than is warranted for our small size.   Sam from the Youth Delegation has summed it up nicely over on the youth blog. It’s all about trust.

I was going to write a light-hearted blog today, poking fun at Lord Christopher Monckton’s appearance in Doha, in his Arabic dress and antics in the plenary. But I thought about it overnight and woke this morning more angry about it than amused.Monckton turned up on Wednesday dressed in full Arab regalia –  the long, white kheffiyeh that the majority of Qatari men wear every day.   He held a press conference the next day with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and a Texan tea party group, with Republican Senator James Inhofe joining by video.

But this week saw a massive typhoon in the Philippines that has so far killed more than 500 people – and counting. The southernmost super-typhoon ever seen in the country.  It nearly wiped out Palau altogether.

The Philippine delegate, in tears, appealed to the meeting to take action, to get agreement:  “If not us, then who; if not now, then when; if not here then where?”

Later, Monckton later took the floor in the plenary, posing as a delegate for Burma, who don’t have a delegation here, and told the meeting that there had been no warming in 16 years.   The whole plenary booed him.   He had his badge taken off him, and was ejected (he was leaving anyway). The Guardian Liveblog covered it here, if you feel you must watch (another rant from me there too).

I got an email from the UN telling me: “Lord Monckton has been permanently barred from the UNFCCC process.”

So that’s it.  Never again will I see the Viscount of Brenchley, Lord Christopher Monckton at a climate talks.  Good riddance.   He’s already trying to spin that he was thrown out because he was talking about no warming for 16 years, when in fact he was rightfully thrown out for  speaking on the floor as Burma when he wasn’t entitled to do that.

Midnight oil

Right now, it’s after 2 am and I’ve left the negotiations to get some sleep.  There’s big deadlocks around a lot of the detail, with much focus on an incredibly weak Kyoto Protocol text. Who’s in, who’s out?  Our government has been right in there, weakening rules around trading to the point that they’re actually weaker than they were in the early 1990’s.

Then there’s the issue of “loss and damage,” new to the discussions from last year. The key sticking point is over whether there is an international mechanism set up to help distribute money for the poorest countries to pay for the loss and damage from climate impacts.  It’s about the industrialized world paying for the damage it’s now wreaking on the poorest.

As Seychelles Ambassador Ronny Jumeau told a press conference earlier this week:

“If we had had more [emissions cuts], we would not have to ask for so much for adapatation.  If there had been more money for adaptation, we would not be looking for money for loss and damge. What’s next? The loss of our islands?”

This isn’t going to finish any time soon.  What we’ll get tomorrow is up in the air, but what we do know is  that air will continue to be filled with increasing amounts of C02 – and nothing that’s happening here is going to slow it any time soon.

I’ll know more in the morning, but bets are on that it’s going to last through to late Saturday.

 

 

 

Dear Negotiators… cindy Nov 30

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Guest Post by Sam Sharp, a member of the NZ Youth Delegation in Doha 

This morning I stood with 40 other youth from all around the world to represent the voices of 1.5 billion youth who are not directly represented here at the climate change negotiations in Doha.

We stood for one and a half hours, while thousands of negotiators and NGO’s passed us on their way to the negotiations. The response was pretty overwhelming.

Between us in NZYD, we were interviewed by eight different international journalists. Youth that I had never met in my life came and stood next to me to hold up the boards with our message

”Dear Negotiators, 1.5 billion youth are not directly represented here at COP18. Your decisions must reflect their demands”.  

The Irish ex-president and nobel peace prize winner , Mary Robinson, shook our hands. Thousands of photos were taken, iPhones and cameras left right and centre.

But to me, this international media attention was not what made this experience so special.

What blew me away, was the exchanges of smiles from a select few negotiators and this huge sense of pride I felt from standing with youth from all over the world  who are fighting for action on climate change.

Negotiators who looked us in the eye, acknowledging our message and saying “We are with you” have given me this new sense of hope among  this place full of cold stares and pressed business suits. In particular, it was the negotiators from the developing countries that really stopped to acknowledge what we were doing, as many of their youth are un-represented here at COP.

I have learnt this morning, that as youth we can give such a powerful message to the world, simply by standing together to show that regardless of our nationalities, we are all here for the same reason.

We are here to be heard, and we are here to show that we already doing what we can to make sure that our generations actions make a positive, lasting change. Regardless of the amount of negotiators that gave us a smile, it is us – today’s youth – that have shown that we have the strength in numbers and unity to actually make change.

Check out the NZYD Doha Blog 

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?

Realism and risk: waiting for the bus Bryan Walker Sep 02

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Climate Change Minister Tim Groser gave a substantial and intelligently argued speech recently to an informal meeting in Auckland of international climate negotiators met to discuss the  way forward to a new agreement in 2020. Groser makes the case for political realism in climate negotiation. He records his sense after attending a COP conference at Poznam a year before Copenhagen that the negotiation was not on track and that if more reality did not prevail Copenhagen might be a train wreck. It was, and he says that it was only some superb political leadership by the Mexican hosts at Cancun which got the UNFCCC process back on the tracks. “My conclusion is simple: negotiating scenarios which are developed without any political realism behind them cause great and unhelpful friction.”

The claim to political realism is always difficult to argue against, particularly with someone who has spent literally decades in difficult international trade negotiations, as Groser has. But those of us who aren’t negotiators or politicians can’t allow the question to be arbitrated only by those who are.

To be fair to Groser he doesn’t push political realism to the point of helplessness in addressing the problem:

“Our objective must be to aim for a high quality comprehensive agreement that actually deals with the problem of global emissions, not finds a political fix to a diplomatic problem.”

“Fresh thinking is possible.”

“As we look towards the task of delivering a long-term comprehensive agreement that might actually deal with global, not regional, emissions, the first order requirement is around participation. And by ‘participation’ I mean mitigation — the ultimate and agreed objective of the Convention. I am convinced this can be achieved within the framework of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

He also stresses that the eight-year transition period between now and when the new agreement is timed to come into effect should not be treated as of little consequence:

“Well, my strong view is that ‘the transition’ is not a vacuum, and the way that we all shape our actions, the way we report them, and the way we are held accountable for them — now and over the next few years — will be critical to whether we can succeed in building a new global agreement.”

To turn to his argument for political realism. At its heart is the notion that we must first get everyone on board the mitigation bus before we worry about picking up speed:

“In political language — ie, not to professional negotiators — I have often talked about the importance of ‘getting people on the bus’, rather than worrying about the speed limit. If we get more and more countries on the mitigation bus, doing what they can to drive towards a lower carbon future for their own country, we can later look at the speed limit, or pace of adjustment. The logic of this is straightforward: we are trying to get lower carbon economic strategies embedded administratively and politically. There is huge resistance to this, for a variety of reasons. Look at the debate over comprehensive carbon pricing proposals in any number of countries if you are in any doubt. It is still unsettled in many countries.”

It sounds sensible enough, but it founders because it doesn’t properly reckon with the urgency now required. Groser’s reply to that objection is clumsy and overlooks not a political reality but a scientific reality:

“I know the counter-argument. It starts by taking the most extreme of the IPCC scenarios of future climate change and arguing that ‘nothing less’ than immediate and drastic action will suffice.”

It’s significant that he goes on to make a slight acknowledgment that the scenario issue may be a little more complicated than that, while at the same time affirming that even if it is, the political reality is not affected and that “later” is the time to consider a more serious economic response.

“What I know is that there is a range of scientific views about the time dimension of the risk and which scenario is the more probable. But the one thing that will absolutely guarantee failure to develop a meaningful response to this global challenge is if we do not get most of the large emitters, plus a large number of small emitters like New Zealand who are absolutely prepared to join in genuine collective action, on board the mitigation bus. It is a global problem; only global action or something close to it, can work.

“Further, at this stage in the evolution of a global response, you are more likely to persuade countries, where climate change policies are very immature, to get on board the bus if they can persuade their political masters that the commitments are realistic and doable. Later, when lower carbon strategies are more deeply embedded, then we need to return to the matter to the pace of adjustment and the development of a global carbon price.”

That is too complacent about the level of risk. Groser’s use of the word “extreme” in relation to some scenarios carries the suggestion of exaggeration, of pushing something further than is necessary. As I understand the projections of climate science, though they cover a range of possibilities none of them are fanciful and it is not safe to dismiss any of them on the grounds that they must be extreme. As George Monbiot wrote in in his column on the same day that I read Groser’s speech:

“As I’ve warned repeatedly, but to little effect, the IPCC’s assessments tend to be conservative. This is unsurprising when you see how many people have to approve them before they are published.”

Groser’s appeal to political realism needs to far more disturbed than it appears to be by the magnitude of the threat that climate change is already disclosing. His wide experience of international negotiations is not as relevant as he appears to think.  Monbiot again:

“There are no comparisons to be made. This is not like war or plague or a stockmarket crash. We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening.

“What we are seeing, here and now, is the transformation of the atmospheric physics of this planet. Three weeks before the likely minimum, the melting of Arctic sea ice has already broken the record set in 2007. The daily rate of loss is now 50% higher than it was that year.”

Or from our own climate scientist James Renwick, who describes the break-up of Arctic sea ice as “just jaw-dropping”:

“This event unfolding in the Arctic Ocean right now should be a wake-up call to governments world-wide, that climate change is a serious threat, and it is not distant menace, it is on our doorstep today.”

Groser’s claims about political realism do not seem to have been exposed to the full impact of scientific realism. He does not say that human society is in grave danger. I have not heard that from any government Minister. Maybe the political realities will remain problematic even when that is said, but we would have more confidence in our negotiators if we knew that our government was fully cognisant of what climate change is threatening.  We would also expect such cognisance to put a dampener on the government enthusiasm for an increase in fossil fuel exploration and mining which sits very ill with the claim that we are attempting to persuade others to get on the mitigation bus.

In the eight years before the new international agreement we should not just be sitting on the bus waiting for it to fill up with passengers. We should be acting vigorously on our own account with serious mitigation measures because we understand the great danger of climate change.

[The Hollies]

20 years on, NZ’s Rio response inadequate: WWF Bryan Walker May 30

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PandalogoThe WWF report this week on how New Zealand has handled its responsibilities since the first Earth Summit 20 years ago is damning on the matter of greenhouse gas emissions. We have failed to measure up to our undertakings given back in 1992 and again in 2002. New Zealand signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on the first day of the that Rio meeting, and subsequently ratified it. We committed in Article 4 to:

“Adopt national policies and take corresponding measures on the mitigation of climate change, by limiting its anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting and enhancing its greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs. These policies and measures will demonstrate that developed countries are taking the lead.”

The WWF report points out that nothing happened here for the next fourteen years and the country’s greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase. They flattened off after 2007, but that was mainly due to a major drought affecting agriculture and then the subsequent recession. The report considers the Emissions Trading Scheme enacted in 2008 and weakened in 2009 has had limited impact on emissions.

We have clearly failed to set emissions on a downward trajectory.

Transport is selected as an obvious example of New Zealand’s lack of action. At the 2002 Earth Summit, along with other governments we undertook to:

“Implement transport strategies for sustainable development…so as to improve the affordability, efficiency and convenience of transportation, as well as improving urban air quality and health, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

But since the 2002 commitment transport emissions have continued to rise, except during the recent oil spike, and are projected to continue climbing between now and 2020. Emissions have also increased in the agriculture and industry sectors. They rose dramatically in the electricity sector for some years due to an increase in coal and gas-fired generation, but have now dropped back closer to the 1992 level, albeit still 7.5 per cent higher.

The report sees no relief in the projections for emissions forward to 2020. The Government’s own projections show a modest increase in gross emissions during these years, and a larger increase in net emissions (which include forestry and other land use changes). Net emissions are bound to fluctuate over time due to the structure of New Zealand’s plantation forests estate and the report sees gross emissions as the figure we should pay most attention to. It is the gross emissions figure which tells us whether or not we are making the transition to a low carbon economy across the different sectors of energy, transport, industry and agriculture.

The projection of a modest increase in gross emissions looks highly optimistic anyway. Current policy directions don’t support it, the report points out, evidencing plans to expand oil drilling, a major road building programme, facilitating the expansion of dairy farming and encouraging the exploitation of lignite, the dirtiest form of coal. Indeed the proposed industrial facilities to convert lignite into urea and diesel could alone increase New Zealand’s gross emissions by 10 per cent beyond the projection.

The report is suspicious of the Government’s position on carbon accounting. WWF’s analysis strongly suggests that the intention is to create a system of calculating emissions reduction commitments up to 2020 that will enable New Zealand to continue with business as usual – which means steadily rising emissions rather than emissions reductions.

It’s a dismal picture the report paints, suggesting that the Government in fact has no intention of making good on its promises of twenty years ago, thus both contributing to the climate crisis and also damaging the economy by not pursuing low carbon development.

There’s little likelihood that the Government will be moved by WWF’s analysis. The Minister for the Environment Amy Adams claims New Zealand has reason to be proud of its record on the environmental issues raised at Rio:

“I think in terms of other countries and the work that we have done … we can hold our heads very high.”

Pesky organisations like WWF are selling the country short:

“The work isn’t done, we still have more to do, but there are always going to be groups that want to go around bringing down New Zealand’s reputation and I think that’s unfortunate.”

Ministerial bluster is no substitute for the truth of the matter. The accusation that WWF wants to bring down New Zealand’s reputation is contemptible. Government gives no sign that it is serious about emissions reduction. It says it accepts the science, but its efforts, such as they are, appear to be confined to offsetting emissions by tree planting, a good thing in its own right but a temporary expedient in terms of fighting climate change. There can be no substitute for gross emissions reduction. The Government will no doubt trumpet that we have met our Kyoto obligation on net emissions, but that is a smoke and mirrors illusion: our emissions are considerably higher than they were in 1990.

Dr James Renwick, principal climate scientist, NIWA, offers straight talk in his comment on the report for the Science Media Centre:

“The report notes, quite rightly, that New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions have climbed significantly since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary. Like most nations on earth, we have talked the talk but we have yet to really walk the walk. Instead of tackling the problem, we have squandered the last 20 years and are now in a very difficult position, as a global community. To have any chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees (as promised in Copenhagen and elsewhere), developed countries need to achieve 50% reductions in emissions this decade, and 80-90% by 2050.

“New Zealand is better placed than most countries to achieve this, which represents a massive opportunity for New Zealand businesses and industry. Failure to act is likely to commit the globe to a climate not seen for millions of years, with grave consequences for global food production and economic stability.”

The climate change section of the report ends by urging the Government to develop a low carbon development plan.  Along with other nations we made a commitment at Cancun to draw up such a plan, but WWF says we have since reneged on it, claiming it was not a binding promise. The report points to other countries which have moved ahead in developing their strategies and plans for achieving low carbon economies, including Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Scotland, South Africa and the UK. Whether such plans survive such pressures as the excitements of natural gas fracking remains to be seen. According to George Monbiot the UK has already abandoned its coal and gas emission targets. (Denied by Secretary of State Edward Davey.)

Nevertheless making a plan at least forces a government to work out what a realistic process of reduction would involve, which is presumably why the New Zealand Government doesn’t want to do it. It would show up the inadequacy of our response to date and make it more difficult for the Government to fall back on propagandist assurances. All the more reason to undertake the preparation of a plan. It could bring some clarity and honesty into a currently murky scene.

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