Thursday, 26 November 2009

Too little? Too late?....

US President Barack Obama and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao will be attending the conference at Copenhagen. They will both be bringing a firm commitment to cut their nations' emissions to the table. This is good. This is very good.

But...
Being the cynical so and so that I am I wonder what this really means...

The US commitment of a 17% cut in emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2020 (reported by the Guardian here http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/25/barack-obama-copenhagen) equates to only a 6% cut relative to 1990 levels (the reference level for Kyoto), compared to the EU pledge to cut emissions by 20% relative to 1990 levels and 30% if there is a global deal.

China has said that it will reduce the energy intensity of its economy by 40-45% relative to 2005 levels by 2020 (reported by the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8380106.stm and by the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/26/china-targets-cut-carbon-footprint). Carbon intensity is a measure of the amount of CO2 produced per unit of GDP.

Several reports indicate that these commitments do not go nearly far enough.
1) The recent report from the Global Carbon Project which reported that emissions had risen 29% in the period 2000-8 (referred to in my recent post, Burning Out)
2) The IPCC third report (2007), described the necessity for our emissions to start declining by 2015
3) Recent peer-reviewed scientific literature review by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) (pdf here: http://www.unep.org/compendium2009/) suggested that predictions from the upper end of the 2007 IPCC report were becoming ever more likely.

There are questions that we should be asking.

These commitments made are meant to look like a good beginning, but might they simply be a photo opportunity for the politicians? Even if these pledges are set down in a treaty or other legal document/vehicle, will we be able to do it?

The recent Institute of Mechanical Engineers (Imeche) report, referred to in my post Hard Choices, indicates that the UK will be unable to meet the targets of the Climate Change Act. Is there any more certainty that other nations will be able to meet the targets of any treaty made at Copenhagen?

Will any targets set be legally enforcible, and what mechanisms will there be to enforce them?

From where I am sitting, it looks like too little, too late. I hope that I am wrong and that this is the start of the massive collective effort at all levels, by all, that we so badly need.

Only time will tell.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Burning out

A report published in the magazine Science Daily on November 17th reports on the findings by the Global Carbon Project (http://www.globalcarbonproject.org/index.htm) saying, that global CO2 emissions are up by 29% in the period 2000-2008(41% 1990-2008) and that despite the global recession, emissions increased by 2% in 2007-2008, suggesting that we are on course for a 6 degree celsius rise in the mean global temperature (read the article in Science Daily here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091117133504.htm).

The article also reports that the researchers found that coal is now the dominant source of emissions, after 40 years of oil dominance, and that increased economic growth in some developing nations has meant growth in their emissions, a quarter of their emissions being produced by manufacturing items for trade with developed nations.

With the efficiency of planetary carbon sinks declining (also found in the report), this paints a bleak picture.

We do not have time to pussyfoot around, we must act radically and we must act now.

Hard choices

The Guardian newspaper reported recently (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/09/peak-oil-international-energy-agency) that a whistleblower at the International Energy Agency (IEA) is claiming that the IEA is deliberately underplaying the rate of decline from existing oil fields due to US pressure and fears that the market would go into chaos.

This is huge! the IEA Energy Outlook is used by governments around the world (including the UK government) as a tool for guiding energy and climate change policies.

The IEA Energy Outlook 2009 was released on Nov 10 and can be found here(http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/) The press release and the Climate Change Excerpt do not make pleasant reading.

The prediction that the current level of oil output can be raised from it's current 83m barrels a day to 105m barrels a day seems questionable and some of the assumptions for future scenarios including the "greener" 450 scenario, which assumes fossil fuel demand peaking by 2020 and zero carbon sources accounting for a third of global primary sources of energy, along with all the investment needed, seem unlikely to my cynical eyes, and the report by the Peak Oil Group(http://peakoiltaskforce.net/),(http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/oct/29/fossil-fuels-oil) an industry taskforce on peak oil and energy security, which reportedly states that the UK could be hit by a major energy crisis within 5 years or even as early as 2011 is frankly terrifying.

The recent report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (Imeche) (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8358077.stm)illustrates some of the challenges facing us. The report says that the government's targets are unacheivable, that there just is not enough time or infrastructure (eg wind turbines or other forms of generating power) capacity to meet the targets set out in the Climate Change Act (80% cut in emissions relative to 1990 levels by 2050 with an interim target 0f a 34% reduction by 2020)

The report points out that the UK will be competing for the resources to build the necessary infrastructure in a global market, where many nations are trying to de-carbonize (leading to competition and price rises and increased profits for the shareholders no doubt) and also calls for massive investment in green infrastructure/projects, including geoengineering such as artificial trees.

It is difficult to see where this money will come from. With our millitary costs and commitments to superficial projects such as the London Olympics as well as the economic crisis and the needs of the NHS, not forgetting our contributions to the international climate change fund when/if it happens. (Of course this is looking at things from a very nationalistic viewpoint,much of the competition grows directly out of the construct of statehood.)

We have a very limited time to make some very hard decisions and investments that will be absolutely critical in the coming decades and we must choose wisely.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Shock and anger

I am writing because of an issue that I find unacceptable and which, unfortunately, I have encountered in person more than once recently. I am speaking of racism.

What, you might ask, is this doing on an environmental blog? Well, the issue arose during a discussion about reducing the global population and it was the same point of view that Dave Foreman put forward in his 1986 interview for Simple Living magazine, and later apologised for (everyone is entitled to make mistakes right?). The suggestion was that we should ‘stop all those people having babies in the developing world’ and even that we should ‘let nature take its course’ during and after natural disasters in developing nations. I was shocked, but sadly not completely surprised.

Maybe it is my age. I am in my forties and so I am sometimes (and in these cases I was) talking to people in their fifties and sixties whose upbringing was different. Maybe people younger than I rarely encounter this?

This opinion completely ignores the fundamental social causes of environmental degradation and destruction in some developing nations. The fact of the matter is that rich industrialised nations and multinational corporations have a long history of exploitation. It also completely exonerates the western consumer from responsibility by refusing to address the massive global inequality in allocation of resources. In every conceivable way, this view is morally indefensible!

Global overpopulation is an issue that desperately needs addressing, but when a medium sized pet dog in a developed nation uses more resources per year than a citizen of Ethiopia or Vietnam
(see New Scientist article here: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427311.600-how-green-is-your-pet.html?full=true), then something is very wrong.

We must look beyond our personal and national ‘interest’ and recognise our common humanity. We in the industrialised nations cannot deny our responsibility for the mess that we are in both currently and historically. We must all act together and act fairly if we are going to survive.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Truth will out

Two years ago, at Bali, politicians from around the globe vowed to finalise a binding treaty at Copenhagen next month. The UK government has acknowledged that this is now very unlikely (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8345501.stm).

With the massive and inspiring global day of action which happened just under a fortnight ago (see http://www.350.org/) I had hoped for something genuine. I now believe that it will not happen. I expect to see some sort of "deal" made but I suspect it will have no real substance and any gains made will be frittered away in the cause of "national economic interest".

We have relied on our politicians to save us and they are proving to be something of a broken reed. Now we must act for ourselves. We must build local resilience in the face of the crisis; we must adapt or go under.
Grassroots activism and initiatives such as all the Transition initiatives, the 10:10 campaign and all the local food groups are needed now. As individuals we must act in our own lives, each reducing our personal impact on the planet.

Whether our politicians act or not, there is trouble ahead, and we should accept our personal responsibility to address it.