Deal agreed in Bali climate talks

December 15, 2007

A compromise deal for a new international climate change agenda was agreed at the UN summit in Bali today.The move was hailed by environment secretary, Hilary Benn, as “an historic breakthrough”.

Ministers from around 180 countries were united in accepting the agenda for a global emissions cuts agreement to launch negotiations for a post-2012 agreement to tackle climate change.

Consensus for the road map followed a dramatic U-turn by the US, which had threatened to block the deal at the 11th hour and been booed by other countries.

It dropped its opposition to poorer countries’ calls for technological and financial help to combat the issue.

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Applause

The sudden reversal by the US in the marathon talks which saw the country duelling with European envoys was met with rousing applause.

While it will be two years before a final deal on post-2012 is likely to be struck, countries have been fighting for the kinds of things they want to see on the table for those talks.

Mr Benn said: “This is an historic breakthrough and a huge step forward.

“For the first time ever all the world’s nations have agreed to negotiate on a deal to tackle dangerous climate change.”

He said it was the compelling clarity of the science and the strength of the case for urgent action that has made this agreement possible.

But it was political leadership that made it happen, Mr Benn added.

He continued: “Our changing climate has changed our politics, because we knew that we could not let people down.

“We came here saying we wanted a road map that included every country and covered emission reductions from developed countries and fair and equitable contributions from developing countries.

“We leave here with all of this and more – a groundbreaking agreement on deforestation, and others on adaptation and technology.

“And against predictions these negotiations will be guided by ambitious goals for emission reductions.

“What we have achieved here has never been done before.

“Less than a year ago, many would have said this agreement was impossible.

“Now we must make it work, and in the next two years agree the detail of a comprehensive global climate deal that will take us beyond 2012.”

The agreement follows two weeks of insults, arguments and threatened boycotts and trade sanctions, as countries wrangled over who should take responsibility for cutting carbon pollution

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, who returned to Bali as the conference stretched into another day, had earlier said he was “disappointed” at the lack of progress.

A highly emotional Mr Ban had told delegates: “Now the hour is late. It’s time to make a decision.

“You have in your hands the ability to deliver to the people of the world a successful outcome to this conference.”

Ministers worked through the night to hammer out the details of an agenda for the agreement, which will replace the current Kyoto Protocol.

The EU conceded on one of the main sticking points – the inclusion in the road map of a reference of 25% to 40% emissions cuts by developed countries by 2020, which scientists have said are necessary to avoid dangerous climate change.

The EU had insisted the figures were in the document because they are based on the science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and an ambitious road map was needed.

But the US demanded – and won – their removal, claiming they could “prejudge” outcomes of negotiations over the past two years.

This morning the Europeans accepted a road map in which the targets were missing, as were references to the need for emissions to peak within 10 to 15 years and for global greenhouse gas output to halve by 2050.

Instead the document said countries recognise that “deep cuts in global emissions” will be required, and calls for a “long-term global goal for emissions reductions”.

In turn the US conceded over the issue in the road map of how much developing countries need to do to curb their emissions.

Paula Dobriansky, the head of the US delegation, said: “I think we have come a long way here.

“In this, the United States is very committed to this effort and just wants to really ensure we all act together.

“We will go forward and join consensus.”

Campaigning groups said the deal had been stripped of important targets and hit out at the US’s “wrecking policy”.

Keith Allott, Head of Climate Change at WWF UK, said:

“We are not at all pleased.

“We were looking for a road map with a destination.”

But he praised the talks having been brought back from the brink of collapse, with the alliance of the G77 developing countries with the EU.

He said positive aspects included the beginning of a framework to ramp up the finance to help poorer countries adapt and potential for “real movement” with technology transfer.

Looking ahead, Mr Allott hoped for a new administration in the US.

“We are seeing a dynamic situation in many of the countries,” he said.

“We have had a sea change in Australia.”

Greenpeace said that the agreement had been stripped of the emission reduction targets that humanity needs.

“The Bush administration has unscrupulously taken a monkey wrench to the level of action on climate change that the science demands,” said Gerd Leipold, executive director of Greenpeace International.

“They’ve relegated the science to a footnote.”

Greenpeace said it remains confident that mounting public pressure on every continent will force governments over the next two years to agree “inevitable” deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The group criticised the US’s strategy, saying the Bush administration was “shamed” by the firm resolve of the developing countries China, India, Brazil and South Africa, who came to Bali with concrete proposals.

Nelson Muffuh, a Christian Aid senior climate change policy analyst, said: “For most of the conference, the US delegation in particular proved a major obstacle to progress.

“They appeared to operate a wrecking policy, as though determined to derail the whole process.

“We welcome their last minute agreement to support the consensus in accepting the Bali road map, having said less than an hour earlier that it was unacceptable, and we sincerely hope they are serious in their stated desire to negotiate.

“But the way ahead will be hard. The Bush administration has said throughout that it wants to see developing countries agree to cuts in carbon emissions.

“A number of emerging economies put creative, flexible plans on the table, but will have little incentive to negotiate further until the industrialised world agrees deeper cuts.

“Climate change is already having a devastating impact on the lives of some of the world’s poorest communities through drought and flooding.”

He said the lack of clear targets in the road map leaves them exposed to further catastrophe.

“We were expecting a road map, and we’ve got one,” said Mr Muffuh. “But it lacks signposts and there is no agreed destination.”

A spokesman for the Carbon Markets Association (CMA) welcomed the breakthrough “of a road map to engaging all nations, including the US, in meaningful negotiations toward long-term commitments by 2009.

“The process to 2009 should at a minimum deliver an extension of the first phase binding commitments beyond 2012 as well the engagement of a broader group of nations with binding commitments.”

The US is the only major industrial nation to reject Kyoto.

President George Bush has complained that it would unduly damage the US economy, and emission caps should have been imposed on China, India and other fast-growing developing countries.

The Bush administration favours a voluntary approach with each country deciding how it can contribute in place of internationally negotiated and legally binding commitments.

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Source

So the US makes some concessions to strike a deal. But not before ‘targets’ are take out of the deal, which in my opinion taints the whole ‘historic moment’. It’s something, but not the everything I was hoping for. And i don’t think I’m the only one.

With emerging economies coming to the fore as major contributors to climate change, fair or not, we in the west need to lead the way and try and compensate for the damage these relatively new, to the climate problem, countries are causing.  Now is the time, and the USA needs to put the world before themselves for a change.


Is the biofuel dream over?

December 14, 2007
  • 15 December 2007
  • From New Scientist Print Edition.
  • Fred Pearce
  • Peter Aldhous

Can biofuels help save our planet from a climate catastrophe? Farmers and fuel companies certainly seem to think so, but fresh doubts have arisen about the wisdom of jumping wholesale onto the biofuels bandwagon…….

About 12 million hectares, or around 1 per cent of the world’s fields, are currently devoted to growing biofuels. Sugar cane and maize, for example, are turned into bioethanol, a substitute for gasoline, while rapeseed and palm oil are made into biodiesel. That figure will grow because oil is so costly, and because biofuels supposedly emit fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

But a slew of new studies question the logic behind expanding biofuel production. For a start, there may not be enough land to grow the crops on or water to irrigate them, given other demands on global agriculture. Worse, any cuts in carbon dioxide emissions gained by burning less fossil fuels may be wiped out by increased emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from fertilisers used on biofuel crops.

In parts of the world, shortage of water is already putting a brake on agricultural productivity. According to Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden, switching 50 per cent of the fossil fuels that will be devoted to electricity generation and transport by 2050 to biofuels would use between 4000 and 12,000 extra cubic kilometres of water per year. To put that in perspective, the total annual flow down the world’s rivers is about 14,000 km3.

A more modest target of quadrupling world biofuel production to 140 billion litres a year by 2030 – enough to replace 7.5 per cent of current gasoline use, would require an extra 180 km3 of water to be extracted from rivers and underground reserves, calculates Charlotte de Fraiture at the International Water Management Institute, based near Columbo in Sri Lanka.

That target may be manageable across much of the globe. But in China and India, where water is in short supply and most crops require artificial irrigation, de Fraiture argues that there is not enough water even to meet existing government plans to expand biofuel production.

Another contentious issue is how much land is available to grow biofuels (New Scientist, 25 September 2006, p 36). And the answer appears to be not much, a point that Sten Nilsson, deputy director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, makes using a “cartographic strip-tease” based on a new global mapping study.

Beginning with a world map showing land not yet built upon or cultivated, Nilsson progressively strips forests, deserts and other non-vegetated areas, mountains, protected areas, land with an unsuitable climate, and pastures needed for grazing (see Maps). That leaves just 250 to 300 million hectares for growing biofuels, an area about the size of Argentina.

Even using a future generation of biofuel crops – woody plants with large amounts of cellulose that enable more biomass to be converted to fuel – Nilsson calculates that it will take 290 million hectares to meet a tenth of the world’s projected energy demands in 2030. But another 200 million hectares will be needed by then to feed an extra 2 to 3 billion people, with a further 25 million hectares absorbed by expanding timber and pulp industries.

So if biofuels expand as much as Nilsson anticipates, there will be no choice but to impinge upon land needed for growing food, or to destroy forests and other pristine areas like peat bogs. That would release carbon now stashed away in forests and peat soils (New Scientist, 1 December, p 50), turning biofuels into a major contributor to global warming

De Fraiture is more optimistic. Her modest projection for a quadrupling of biofuel production assumes that maize production will be boosted by 20 per cent, sugar cane by 25 per cent and oil crops for biodiesel by 80 per cent. Assuming future improvements in crop yields, de Fraiture estimates that this might be done on just 30 million hectares of land – or 2.5 times the area now under cultivation.

Even today’s biofuel yields depend on generous applications of nitrogen-containing fertiliser. That contributes to global warming, as some of the added nitrogen gets converted into nitrous oxide, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Over 100 years it creates 300 times the warming effect of CO2, molecule for molecule. And now researchers led by Paul Crutzen of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, who won a share of a Nobel prize for his work on the destruction of the ozone layer, claim that we have underestimated these emissions. Factor in their revised figures, and cuts in CO2 emissions as a result of replacing fossil fuels may be wiped out altogether.

“Fertilisers contribute to global warming, as some of the added nitrogen gets converted into a potent greenhouse gas”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that between 1 and 2 per cent of nitrogen added to fields gets converted to nitrous oxide, based on direct measurements of emissions from fertilised soils. But nitrogen from fertiliser also gets into water and moves around the environment, continuing to emit nitrous oxide as it goes. To estimate these “indirect” emissions, Crutzen and his colleagues calculated how much nitrogen has built up in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times, and estimated how much of this could be attributed to the use of fertilisers.

This suggested that between 3 and 5 per cent of the nitrogen added to the soil in fertilisers ends up in the atmosphere as nitrous oxide. Crucially, that would be enough to negate cuts in CO2 emissions made by replacing fossil fuels. Biodiesel from rapeseed came off worse – the warming caused by nitrous oxide emissions being 1 to 1.7 times as much as the cooling caused by replacing fossil fuels. For maize bioethanol, the range was 0.9 to 1.5. Only bioethanol from sugar cane came out with a net cooling effect, its nitrous oxide emissions causing between 0.5 and 0.9 times as much warming as the cooling due to fossil fuel replacement.

These simple calculations, which set increased nitrous oxide emissions against reductions in CO2 emissions caused by replacing gasoline or diesel with biofuels, do not account for all the greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing, processing and distributing the various fuels. Now Michael Wang of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois has taken Crutzen’s upper estimate for nitrous oxide emissions and plugged it into a sophisticated computer model which does just that. When he did so, bioethanol from maize went from giving about a 20 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions, compared to gasoline, to providing no advantage at all. Still, Wang suspects that Crutzen’s method may overestimate nitrous oxide emissions. “It is a very interesting approach,” he says. “But there may be systematic biases.”

Crutzen stresses that his paper is still being revised in response to comments he has received since August, when a preliminary version appeared online. “Here and there the numbers may change. But the principle doesn’t,” he says. “It’s really telling us about a general problem with our lack of knowledge about the nitrogen cycle.”

With governments and businesses backing biofuels as part of a “green” future, that represents a disturbing gap in our knowledge.

From issue 2634 of New Scientist magazine, 15 December 2007, page 6-7

So the biofuel solution is running into problems, well its an emerging technology and it isn’t the only solution / possibility for humans to switch away from fossil fuels and other green house contributors.

Onwards, always onwards 🙂


Bali draft says all nations must join climate fight

December 9, 2007

By Alister Doyle and Gerard Wynn

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) – All nations must do more to fight climate change, and rich countries must make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts, a draft proposal at United Nations talks said on Saturday.

The four-page draft, written by delegates from Indonesia, Australia and South Africa as an unofficial guide for delegates from 190 nations at the December 3-14 talks, said developing nations should at least brake rising emissions as part of a new pact.

It said there was “unequivocal scientific evidence” that “preventing the worst impacts of climate change will require (developed nations) to reduce emissions in a range of 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.”

The draft is the first outline of the possible goals of talks on a new global deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which binds just 36 developed nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

“Current efforts … will not deliver the required emissions reductions,” according to the text, obtained by Reuters, that lays out a plan for averting ever more droughts, floods, heatwaves and rising seas.

“The challenge of climate change calls for effective participation by all countries,” it said. The United States is outside the Kyoto pact and developing nations led by China and India have no 2012 goals for limiting emissions.

Echoing conclusions this year by the U.N. climate panel, it said global emissions of greenhouse gases would have to “peak in the next 10 to 15 years and be reduced to very low levels, well below half of levels in 2000 by 2050.”

The draft lays out three options for how to proceed after Bali — ranging from non-binding talks over the next two years to a deadline for adopting a new global pact at a U.N. meeting in Copenhagen in late 2009.

Rich nations should consider ways to step up efforts to curb emissions of greenhouse gases by setting “quantified national emission objectives”, the draft says.

Poor countries should take “national mitigation actions … that limit the growth of, or reduce, emissions,” it says. It adds that “social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities” for poor nations.

Delegates will report back on Monday with reactions.

Earlier, trade ministers from 12 nations met for the first time on the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference, opening a new front in the global warming battle.

Their two-day discussions ending on Sunday focus on easing tariffs on climate-friendly goods to spur a “green” economy. About 20 finance ministers will join the fringes of the Bali meeting on Monday and Tuesday.

“Climate change solutions open up important opportunities for jobs and trade,” Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean told reporters. Ministers at the trade meeting included those from the United States, Australia, Brazil and India.

Differences over who should take the blame for, and do most to curb, emissions threatened to deadlock the main talks. Canada and Australia joined Japan on Saturday in calling for commitments from some developing countries.

But developing nations would find it “inconceivable” to accept binding targets now, said the U.N.’s climate change chief Yvo de Boer. An alliance of 43 small island states urged even tougher action to fight climate change, saying they risked being washed off the map by rising seas.

Outside the conference centre, Balinese dancers used sticks to burst black balloons labelled “CO2”, the main greenhouse gas.

— For Reuters latest environment blogs click on: blogs.reuters.com/environment/

(Reporting by Gerard Wynn and Alister Doyle, Editing by Tim Pearce)

Just do it….


Germany Commits to Steep CO2 Cuts

December 7, 2007

The plan is forecast to cost Germany, Europe’s top polluter, $45.5 billion (that’s about what the U.S. spends on the Iraq war every seven months).

Germany yesterday sent a strong message to the 10,000 delegates discussing global warming in Bali: Change is possible, and we’re going to get started.

The German cabinet agreed to a 36% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, below 1990 levels, by 2020 through improvements in energy efficiency, better building insulation and investments in new renewable energy sources. (A report released last week found the U.S. could make a similar, or even steeper reduction, mostly by investing in energy efficiency; the report was produced by both environmentalists and leaders of industry, including major utilities and energy companies.)

Other notable news out of Bali, where the United Nations is convening an important meeting designed to produce a roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions past 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires:

  • Because 16 of the 36 nations that ratified the Kyoto Protocol have failed to meet the targets set out for them, many are looking to buy carbon offsets, according to Reuters. That is drawing ire, even as most nations are focused on the future.
  • China is pushing for a new world fund that rich nations would contribute to, and developing nations would draw from, according to Reuters. It would pay for renewable and clean energy technology projects.
  • Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, urged nations to boost spending on so-called “adaptation,” according to China’s state-run media, because long-lived carbon in the atmosphere makes many effects from global warming inevitable.
  • After ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called on the United States — now, the only industrialized nation that is holding out — to follow suit, according to Asia Pulse. De Boer said Australia’s action sends a powerful message.
  • The United States, Canada and Japan are throwing up repeated roadblocks to even small steps on global warming, like setting up a working group to discuss the transfer of technology from rich to poor nations, Friends of Earth has said, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
  • Harlan Watson, a U.S. envoy, was quoted in Asia Pulse, however, as saying that the United States wants to support adaptation, mitigation, transfer of technology and funding, and possibly a mechanism for preserving forests in Indonesia and other developing countries. One roadblock to transferring technology from rich to poor nations is that the technology isn’t owned by the government, but the private sector, according to Watson.
  • The leaders of Pacific Islands warned the delegates that their nations would be swamped if nothing is done to stop sea-level rise due to global warming, according to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation. The Global Governance Project will recommend creating an international fund to resettle “climate refugees,” according to the New Zealand Herald.
  • Japan pledged to give $10 million to preserve forests through a World Bank program designed to combat global warming, according to Asia Pulse.
  • China is warming to the idea of binding emissions reductions, according to The Australian Financial Review.

Climate change will significantly increase impending bird extinctions

December 6, 2007

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Where do you go when you’ve reached the top of a mountain and you can’t go back down?

It’s a question increasingly relevant to plants and animals, as their habitats slowly shift to higher elevations, driven by rising temperatures worldwide. The answer, unfortunately, is you can’t go anywhere. Habitats shrink to the vanishing point, and species go extinct.

That scenario is likely to be played out repeatedly and at an accelerating rate as the world continues to warm, Stanford researchers say.

By 2100, climate change could cause up to 30 percent of land-bird species to go extinct worldwide, if the worst-case scenario comes to pass. Land birds constitute the vast majority of all bird species.

”Of the land-bird species predicted to go extinct, 79 percent of them are not currently considered threatened with extinction, but many will be if we cannot stop climate change,” said Cagan Sekercioglu, a senior research scientist at Stanford and the lead author of a paper detailing the research, which is scheduled to be published online this week in Conservation Biology.

The study is one of the first analyses of extinction rates to incorporate the most recent climate change scenarios set forth earlier this year in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the Nobel Peace Price with Al Gore.

The researchers modeled changes to the elevational limits of the ranges of more than 8,400 species of land birds using 60 scenarios. The scenarios consisted of various combinations of surface warming projections from the 2007 IPCC report, habitat loss estimates from the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (an evaluation of the planet’s ecosystems by 1,360 experts around the world), and several possibilities of shifts in elevational range limits.

The worst-case scenario of 6.4 degrees Celsius surface warming combined with extensive habitat loss produced the estimate of 30 percent of land bird species going extinct by 2100. Increasing habitat loss exacerbates the effects of climate change because organisms seeking more suitable conditions will be less likely to find intact habitats. Even with an intermediate 2.8 C warming, 400 to 550 land-bird extinctions are expected.

”Vegetational shift is the key issue here,” Sekercioglu said. ”Birds will follow the shift in habitat.”

All plants have certain temperature and precipitation requirements they need to flourish. As lowlands become too warm for some species, higher slopes that were formerly too cool become better suited to their needs, and the distributions of plants slowly move upward. That shifting of populations renders bird species vulnerable to a host of complications.

Topography itself is a major issue. Each bird species is only found between specific elevations, limits based mainly on the temperatures at which it can survive and the presence of the plants, insects and other animals on which it feeds. Temperature decreases as one goes up a mountain, so as the lowlands become warmer, plant and animal communities need to move higher in order to remain in their required microclimates. Most bird species live in the tropics, mostly in lowland environments. In many of these areas, there may be no significantly higher slopes to which they can retreat. But even the presence of hills or mountains does not guarantee the survival of a species.

As one moves upslope, the extent of the area encompassed by a given elevational range almost always decreases. It’s a matter of simple geometry. The circumference of a mountain is typically smaller near the summit than at its base, so a range of, say, a hundred vertical meters occupies a far smaller band of area near the top than it does down at the base.

And once the summit of a mountain becomes too hot for a species or its preferred vegetation type, the habitable area is reduced to nothing.

”It’s like an escalator to extinction. As a species is forced upwards and its elevational range narrows, the species moves closer to extinction,” Sekercioglu said.

In some instances, species can expand their ranges, which the authors also considered in their models. If warming is limited and a species adapts, only the upper limit of a species’ elevational range might rise. As warming continues, however, the lower bound is likely to rise, as well.

Additional threats include interactions between the rising temperatures and other environmental factors. For example, as Hawaiian mountains get warmer, mosquitoes carrying avian malaria, to which most native bird species have no immunity, are moving upslope, invading the last refuges of birds already on the brink of extinction. In Costa Rica, toucans normally confined to lower elevations are colonizing mountain forests, where they compete with resident species for food and nesting holes, and prey on the eggs and nestlings of other bird species.

In addition, plant species that currently share a habitat may not all react the same way to temperature and moisture changes. Some species may be forced upslope while others are able to linger behind, tearing apart plant and animal communities even if all the species survive. Differences in soil composition can further disrupt plant communities. If soils at higher elevations are inhospitable to some plant species, those species will be wedged between a fixed upper bound and a rising lower bound until they are squeezed out of existence.

Until now, highland species have been less threatened by habitat loss and hunting, simply because most people live in flat lowlands instead of the steeper highlands. Compared to lowland birds, however, highland species are not only more sensitive to temperature changes, but their populations also are more isolated from each other, as mountains effectively constitute habitat islands surrounded by a sea of hotter lowlands.

The study also has shown that sedentary birds, which comprise over 80 percent of all bird species, are much more likely to go extinct from climate change than are migratory birds. That suggests that many sedentary mountain species currently thought to be safe are actually jeopardized by global warming. All in all, climate change is likely to be especially hard on the hundreds of bird species endemic to tropical mountains.

But in part because of the remoteness of the mountains and in part due to a lack funding for ornithological studies in most tropical countries, there are few data on these birds’ responses to climate change. Crucial remote sensing data are also becoming less available, as government satellites like Landsat age and as image distribution moves increasingly to the relatively expensive private sector.

”To effectively monitor the rate of change as warming progresses, especially in the species-rich tropics, we need a lot more data on birds’ distributions and on the speed and extent of birds’ elevational shifts in response to climate change,” Sekercioglu said.

Perhaps the most worrisome finding is that each additional degree of warming will have increasingly devastating effects. The authors estimate that an increase of 1 C from present temperatures will trigger roughly 100 bird extinctions. But if the global average temperature were to rise 5 C, from that point on an additional degree of warming, to 6 C, would be expected to cause 300 to 500 more bird extinctions.

”This emphasizes the importance of any measure that reduces surface warming, even if we cannot stop it altogether,” Sekercioglu said. ”Even a reduction of 1 degree can make a huge difference.”

”Giving up the fight against global warming would be the true disaster,” he added.

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Communities Across the Globe Getting to Grips with Climate Change

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UN Environment Programme/Global Environment Facility Report Points to Real Possibilities for Climate Proofing Economies, Livelihoods and Infrastructure

UN Climate Convention – 2 to 14 December – Bali and Beyond

Bali/Nairobi, 4 December 2007 – The way farmers in the Sudan, flood-prone communities in Argentina and dengue-challenged islands in the Caribbean are beginning to adapt to climate change are distilled in a new report launched today.

The five-year Assessments of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change provides new and inspiring examples of how vulnerable communities and countries may ‘climate proof’ economies in the years and decades to come.

In doing so, the assessments lay a foundation upon which at-risk nations and the international community can build and fund a credible and timely response to the climate change that is already underway.

Choices – the Tortoise and the ‘Hare’

The report underlines that factoring climate into development strategies is do-able but that in some cases hard choices may have to be made.

In a modern re-run of Aesop’s famous fable, it highlights the case of tortoise and the rabbit rather than hare.

One study in South Africa’s world famous Cape Floral Kingdom – a unique and economically important ecosystem – indicates that climate change is likely to increase the risk of extinction of the highly endangered riverine rabbit.

However, adaptation measures might conserve the padloper tortoise highlighting how across sectors – from biodiversity to agriculture, water and infrastructure – investments in adaptation will need to be intelligently and cost-effectively targeted.

The more than $ 9 million assessment has been funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), implemented by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and executed by the START secretariat in Washington DC and TWAS, the Academy of Science for the Developing World in Trieste, Italy.

Twenty-four case studies were carried out under the AIACC project, including eleven in Africa. They encompass food security in the Sahel; smallholder farmers and artisanal fishing communities in South America; coastal townships of small islands in the Pacific; pastoralists in Mongolia; rice farmers in the lower Mekong basin.

More than 350 scientists, experts and ‘stakeholders’ from 150 institutions in 50 developing countries and 12 developed ones took part. Pilot adaptation programmes have been drawn up in some cases and some of these have already been tested with many encouraging results.

The findings, stories and recommendations from the AIACC case studies are presented in two newly published books, Climate Change and Vulnerability and Climate Change and Adaptation. Results of the project are also summarized in the final technical report and detailed in a number of supporting reports available at http://www.start.org.

Community Involvement and Early Warning

A key success of the assessment has been the increased awareness among the scientists, governments and local communities as to the importance of adaptation.

It also highlights in many cases the need to develop early warning systems especially, but not exclusively in Africa, where weather and climate monitoring networks remain sparse, under funded or poorly maintained.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “2007 has, as a result of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), been a year in which the science of climate change has reached a finality – it is happening, it is unequivocal”.

“2007 has also seen clear and cost effective strategies for cutting greenhouse gas emissions put on the table from improved energy efficiency in buildings to ones that address deforestation and agriculture,” he added.

“One of the big missing links has been adaptation, both in terms of adaptive strategies and in terms of resources for vulnerable communities. This assessment, involving experts across the developed and developing world, lays a solid and much needed foundation – a foundation upon which adaptation can become part of country development plans and built into international assistance including overseas development aid,” said Mr Steiner.

Monique Barbut, Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the GEF, said: “The GEF has a long history working with the world’s most vulnerable countries

that want environmentally-friendly ways to adapt to changing climate without sacrificing key development goals”.

“As this wide sweeping assessment shows first hand, we are moving forward in a very focused way to weave adaptation strategies into daily practice. GEF money is working today to ensure that food security, access to drinking and irrigation water, sound public health and other basic needs are protected now and into the future,” she added.

Neil Leary of the International START Secretariat in Washington, who along with the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in Trieste, have executed the project said: “Adaptation to climate hazards is not new. People have always been at risk from the climate and have continually sought ways of adapting. Still, variations and extremes of climate regularly exceed abilities to cope, too often with devastating effect, and give evidence of what has been called an adaptation deficit”.

“Now climate change threatens to widen the deficit, as shown by the AIACC studies. But the AIACC studies also find and document a variety of adaptive practices in use that reduce vulnerability. Building on and improving many of these practices can serve as a good starting point for adapting to the growing risks from climate change. Reducing emissions of the gases that cause climate change is necessary. But adaptation is necessary too,” he added.

The decision to carry out the assessments was at the request of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC said the peer reviewed reports had made a significant contribution to the IPCC’s landmark fourth assessment report published this year.

Highlights – Africa

South Africa

The Berg River dam was commissioned in 2004 to supply Cape Town, South Africa with water for uses such as drinking and irrigation. Climate change is likely to put increased stress on water availability over the coming decades in the Western Cape region.

The researchers looked at various costs and benefits linked with a variety of adaptation measures including increasing the capacity of the dam to creative water markets. They conclude that “substituting water markets for the existing allocation system substantially increased the simulated marginal cost of water to urban users and led to reduced consumption”.

The researchers add that such a system would have to take into account the impact on poor households in the Cape Town area.

Another study has looked at cost effective adaptation opportunities in parts of the Cape Floral Kingdom in the Western Cape – a biodiversity hotspot and major tourist attraction.

By 2050, climate change may result in loss of habitat for over 10 per cent of species and six per cent would need to move to new locations. Wildlife corridors will help.

One option might also be to expand the conservation network including reserves. Overall however a more cost effective option will be to pay farmers to manage land for conservation or to encourage more environment-friendly farming, the study concludes.

The Gambia

Some projections of climate change suggest steadily declining rainfall from 2010 to the end off the century in West Africa. Should a drier climate come to pass, millet, a key staple crop, would undergo a gradual decline in yields unless adaptation measures are taken.

The researchers looked at four responses including the introduction and extension of irrigation, the introduction of new crop varieties and the use of fertilizers.

The findings show that millet crop yields can be increased even in a climate constrained world with harvests improved by 13 per cent if new varieties are deployed; up to a third if fertilizers are made available and increased by 37 per cent if irrigation is introduced.

The analysis indicates that new varieties and expanded use of fertilizer can be cost effective measures for maintaining grain yields in a drier climate. However, the adoption of irrigation is found to be too costly to be economically viable for growing relatively low valued grains.

The actual income for poor farmers might fall without assistance as irrigation will require the purchase and maintenance of diesel-powered water pumping kit. Solar-powered pumping could reduce the costs by perhaps 60 per cent.

Sudan

Here three case studies were undertaken in the dry, drought-prone and often degraded lands of Bara Province of North Kordofan; Arbaat, Red Sea State and El Fashir, North Darfur to see if communities can be made more resilient to climatic shocks.

The findings indicate that relatively minor but well thought out interventions, if supported by community involvement and involving in many cases the empowerment of women and services such as veterinary to micro-credit, can boost livelihoods and reduce vulnerability.

In Bara, a pilot to develop sustainable livelihoods has been tested under an UN Development Programme-GEF initiative called the Community-Based Rangeland Rehabilitation for Carbon Sequestration’.

Small-scale irrigated vegetable gardens, pest management, a switch from goats to sheep, sand dune stabilization and other measures have been tested as adaptive measures.

The project in Bara has seen land rehabilitation rise by close to 60 per cent; the carrying capacity for livestock rise by over 45 per cent and forage production climb by 48 per cent.

In Arbaat, various practical and institutional measures have been tested including the deployment of rainwater harvesting and tree planting alongside micro credit schemes, adult literacy for women and training for improved agricultural practices.

The work in Arbaat has led to land productivity increasing by 12 per cent and crop productivity by almost a fifth with improvements in both water quality and quantity.

In El Fashir, the community has developed their own response to a changing climate now supplemented by outside assistance.

Utilizing a water collection system known as trus alongside earth dams.

Responding to the encroachment of sand over fertile soils by adopting magun cultivation involving the sinking of regular placed holes five to 15 cm deep in which to plant melon and other seedlings.

Diversifying crop production including pumpkin, okra, tomatoes, citrus fruits, cucumbers, tobacco, millet and sesame.

The establishment of trades union – the Traditional Farmers and Fruits and Vegetable Unions – to organize production, harvesting and distribution.

The project has registered a 50 per cent improvement in productivity of the land as a result of dramatically increased water harvesting.

Asia

Mongolia

A study of livestock – a key mainstay of the Mongolian economy – indicates that climatic impacts are already affecting productivity.

Over the period 1980 to 2001, the average weight of sheep, goats and cattle have fallen by an average of 4kg, 2kg and 10 kg. Wool and cashmere production are also down.

Models forecast increasing impacts as a result of climbing air temperatures including a spread of the desert area to the north by 2080. The weight of ewes in the summer is expected to decline by 50 per cent by the same date as a result of factors including heat stress.

The area of land in Mongolia suitable for grazing may decline from 60 per cent now to 20 per in 2080.

There is also concern that climate change may intensify weather extremes from drought to a phenomenon called dzuds – sudden spurts of heavy and long-lasting snowfall that bar animals from access to grazing land.

In 1999-2000 a dzud event saw herders losing more than a quarter of their livestock forcing Mongolia to request international assistance.

A suite of adaptation measures are pinpointed ranging from insurance systems and risk funds to buffer herders against climatic shocks up to improved forecasting of extreme weather events.

The revival of traditional pasture management, reforestation of flood plains and irrigation of pasture lands are also proposed alongside the provision of animal shelters.

Studies on climatic impacts and possible adaptation strategies have also been carried out for Indonesia.

Here the Citarum watershed emerges as highly vulnerable to climate change with more extreme floods and droughts likely over the coming decades.

Studies indicate that many of these impacts can be minimized if forest cover is kept above 25 per cent. The authorities and the private sector are now looking at paying communities upstream to maintain rather than fell the forest – a system known as payment for ecosystem services.

“The electricity company Indonesian Power is also willing to support community reforestation activities through a community development programme. With these efforts, it is expected that a minimum forest cover of 25 per cent could be achieved to ensure a continuous supply of water during dry season and extreme drought years,” says the AIACC report.

China

A further study in Asia has focused on the Heihe River Basin in Northwestern China – an area where water supplies are already heavily utilized if not overtly utilized and where conflict of water is already occurring.

The study forecasts that that average temperature rises of between 2.5 degrees C and 6.5 degrees C could occur by 2050.

A vulnerability assessment has also been undertaken indicating a range of serious emerging risks as a result off climate change including very severe water shortages; increased floods and droughts and impacts on food supplies.

“Ecosystem vulnerability to climate change in the Heihe River Basin is also high. The degree of vulnerability is highest in the lower reach of the basin which is largely unmanaged grassland,” says the report. Indeed, it warns that increasing pressure from climate, population and over use of nature-based resources could trigger ecological collapse in some areas.

The researchers have drawn up a list of adaptation options that might assist the communities of the Heihe River Basin.

These include water-saving irrigation strategies; leak reduction from irrigation channels; conserving soil moisture by plastic films, straw and deep plowing methods up to the establishment of market mechanisms such as water permits and water allocation policies.

Latin America

Argentina and Uruguay

One AIACC study here has focused on the likely impact of climate change on floods and storm surges on coastal and estuary lands on La Plata River.

Strong winds, high tides and the natural features of the La Plata mean flooding occurs already with vulnerable areas identified as Samborombon Bay and up stream as far as Buenos Aires and its surrounds.

The researchers modeled likely future floods as a result of climate change including effects on storm surges and sea level rise.

It is likely that the level of the La Plata will rise higher than average sea level rise because of changes in wind patterns with the increase higher on the Uruguay coast and greater up the river’s estuary.

The report estimates that, as a result of climate change and a modest one per cent per year increase in population, the population at risk of floods could be 1.7 million by 2070 – more than three times the current numbers at risk of floods.

Around a quarter of a million people will be at risk of flooding each year or six times the current number at risk.

Property and infrastructure losses for the period 2050-2100 could range from five to 15 billion US dollars. Part of the loss calculation is based on the assumption of a single storm surge surging into the Metropolitan region of Buenos Aires.

The findings have been presented to the governments concerned alongside recommendations that include a review of coastal and city defenses and of early warning systems and flood response strategies.

The report also flags up concern that a traditional adaptation strategy is being ignored with increasing numbers of poor settlements and ‘gated communities of upper middle class people’ being sited on very low coastal lands.

The Caribbean

Dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome are forecast to increase in the tropics and sub tropics as a result of climate change.

In the Caribbean cases have climbed from a few hundred a year in the 1980s to as many as 8,000 a year since the early 1990s.

There are concerns that rising cases of dengue could impact on the economically-important tourism industry which accounts for nearly 70 per cent of GDP in Antigua and more than 10 per cent on most other islands.

The researchers estimate that a two degree C temperature rise in the Caribbean could, by the 2080s, triple the cases of dengue.

This AIACC study not only assessed the likelihood of dengue increasing but pin pointed measures that can reduce the risk.

It found, for example, that pupae of the dengue-carrying mosquito favour breeding in 40 gallon drums commonly used for outside water storage. The study also concluded that informal settlements and poor households, often headed by a single unemployed woman, were at greatest risk.

Education on the disease and its transmission, targeted at these households, is suggested as one important adaptation strategy, alongside measures to deal with the breeding grounds.

A pilot early warning system has also been developed and the findings and recommendations discussed with several countries including Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

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Scientist: Greenhouse Gas Levels Grave

October 10, 2007

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — Strong worldwide economic growth has accelerated the level of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere to a dangerous threshold scientists had not expected for another decade, according to a leading Australian climate change expert.

Scientist Tim Flannery told Australian Broadcasting Corp. that an upcoming report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will contain new data showing that the level of climate-changing gases in the atmosphere has already reached critical levels.

Flannery is not a member of the IPCC, but said he based his comments on a thorough review of the technical data included in the panel’s three working group reports published earlier this year. The IPCC is due to release its final report synthesizing the data in November.

“What the report establishes is that the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is already above the threshold that can potentially cause dangerous climate change,” Flannery told the broadcaster late Monday. “We are already at great risk of dangerous climate change, that’s what these figures say. It’s not next year or next decade, it’s now.”

Flannery, whose recent book “The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth,” made best-seller lists worldwide, said the data showed that the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions had reached about 455 parts per million by mid-2005, well ahead of scientists’ previous calculations.

“We thought we’d be at that threshold within about a decade, that we had that much time,” Flannery said. “I mean, that’s beyond the limits of projection, beyond the worst-case scenario as we thought of it in 2001,” when the last major IPCC report was issued.

The new data could add urgency to the next round of U.N. climate change talks on the Indonesian island of Bali in December, which will aim to start negotiations on a replacement for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Flannery said that the recent economic boom in China and India has helped to accelerate the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but strong growth in the developed world has also exacerbated the problem.

“It’s a worldwide issue. We’ve had growing economies everywhere, we’re still basing that economic activity on fossil fuels,” he said. “The metabolism of that economy is now on a collision course clearly with the metabolism of our planet.”

A spokesman for Australia’s IPCC delegate, Ian Carruthers, said he was not available to comment on the report because it was still in draft form.

I’m sceptical, I guess mainly because I don’t want it to be true.  It seems that we as a race are finally coming to grips with the fact that we need to change the way we live our lives on this planet and that we still have a chance to make changes that can reduce the risk of a total climate disaster.  In the short term nothing changes, as in, we need to combat global warming on every front, with every measure possible.


UN climate summit

October 1, 2007

New York, United States — The good news: The biggest environmental gathering of government leaders in many years showed the world is finally waking up to the urgency of climate change. The bad news: Time is running out.

Yesterday, world leaders gathered in New York City for the largest United Nations meeting on climate change since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.  Top officials from 150 countries (including 80 heads of state) plus big names like Al Gore and Arnold Schwarzenegger were in attendance – and so were we.

“The time for doubt has passed,” as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in his opening address.  Ban sees the world’s response to global warming as something that, “will define us, our era, and ultimately the global legacy we leave for future generations”

Gore told the world leaders, “We have to overcome the paralysis that has prevented us from acting”.  Governor Schwarzenegger called for, “action, action, action”.

One by one, heads of state stood up and essentially echoed their sentiments.  Our own Lo Sze Ping, from Greenpeace China, told the attendees that the world’s worst per capita emitting countries need to stop using developing countries as an excuse not to act.

Lo went on to call for an energy revolution with massive uptake in energy saving and renewable energy technology world wide, and real action by world leaders rather than more talk.

“At the climate negotiations in December, you must therefore agree to nothing short of a Bali Mandate,” he said. “Not a road map to nowhere, not a wish list.”

Bali Mandate

The next meeting on climate change negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol will take place on the island of Bali in December. Greenpeace is pushing for world leaders to strengthen the Kyoto Protocol at these meetings. Industrialized countries must begin the process of negotiating emissions reductions of 30 percent by 2020, and at least 80 percent by 2050 in order to prevent climate chaos.  This is what the best and latest science tells us is needed now to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

The meetings in Bali must advance a negotiating agenda, a Bali Mandate, to combat climate change on all fronts, including adaptation, mitigation, clean technologies, deforestation and resource mobilization. All countries must do what they can to reach agreement by 2009, and to have it in force at the end of the current Kyoto Protocol commitment period at the end of 2012.

US remains isolated

US President George W. Bush was not among the heads of state at the high level UN climate change meeting.  He only showed up late at the end of the day to dine with a select group.

Instead, Bush has scheduled his own meeting for this Thursday and Friday in Washington, DC, limited to the countries with the largest global warming emissions.  Bush’s meeting, imaginatively dubbed the “Major Emitters Meeting”, is widely seen as part of his strategy to avoid legally binding caps on greenhouse gas emissions.  Instead, Bush is pushing for voluntary, “aspirational” targets with no weight behind them. Bush is just pretending to care. The world must not be fooled.

At our meeting with Ban, last Wednesday, Greenpeace USA executive director, John Passacantando, reassured the UN Secretary General that people in the US are ready to tackle climate change, and dismissed the Big Emitters Meeting as a diversion tactic from a president no one is listening to anymore.

I knew it, bloody America as usual.  Spend billions and billions on a war that nobody wants or that solves anything and can’t commit to the future of our planet.  Says something doesn’t it.  I hate to be in that ‘I told you so’ bracket but….

On a different note it’s much harder to find time to study with a small person in the house!  Who knew!?  Not that I would change anything 🙂

I have also started a page up for my gorgeous baby girl  Chelsea-Jennifer.co.uk

I intend for it to be a place where I can record everything that happens in her life until she can dictate to me when she is older, and finally take over the blog herself.  Call it a special present from me to her.