Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Warsaw conference on climate change

For many reasons, I believe the climate change debate is about to enter a new phase.  Some of those reasons I have already created posts about.  On the plus side, we are discovering that even in bastions of climate change ignorance and naked stupidity like Texas and Oklahoma, the folks on the street are roughly as enlightened about the issue as they are in Massachusetts (the political positions of their respective representatives in congress notwithstanding.)

But the down side is even more depressing as the events at the current climate conference being held in Warsaw demonstrate so vividly.  We see the Japanese backtracking on previous committments to reduce their carbon footprint—mostly because they have shut down nearly 50 nukes post Fukushima. Australia and Canada are also backtracking even though their reasons are not nearly as compelling as those of Japan (hey, you must make those fossil fuel lobbies happy, eh?) And then we see Al Gore issuing his "dire" warning that climate change will destroy human civilization in only 100 more years—which has the side effect of telling a whole lot of people that hey, we still have plenty of time to fix things.

On the surface, this sounds like more business as usual.  That's because it is.  However, the important message is beginning to sink in—however tentatively—which is, doing something about this problem is going to WAY harder than we first thought.  Oh, and conferences, treaties, and other sorts of expressions of good intentions are not going to accomplish much.

UN expert warns climate change happening now

Climate change is erasing jobs, choking water supplies and permanently shifting the way people live, a new report from the UN University has revealed. Climate expert Dr Koko Warner warns that action is needed now.

Date 07.11.2013
Author Interview: Saroja Coelho

The United Nations University has released the second volume of Pushed to the Limit, a study that examines evidence of loss and damage caused by climate change from the perspective of affected people in nine vulnerable countries. In the run up to the climate conference in Warsaw, Dr Koko Warner, lead author and scientific director of the study, explains why policymakers must take action now.

DW: Your study for the UN University examines loss and damage caused by climate change. What does that mean?

Dr. Koko Warner: For our study, loss and damage refers to the negative impacts of climate variability and climate change that people haven't been able to cope with or adjust to.

For example, worldwide, people struggle with rain. Farmers especially. If rain comes too early, or too late, the seeds that they have planted don't grow, or they get washed away. Sometimes, if the rain comes too late, the seedlings just die, and farmers don't have a way to adjust to that kind of stressor.

DW: What people try to do if they can't grow enough food is try to eat less. But, of course, there is only so much less that people can eat before they start feeling hungry or the impacts of malnutrition. We cite choices about food all throughout our study - that's one example of not being able to do enough to adjust to these climate stressors.

Warner: In northern Burkina Faso, extreme drought has destroyed crops and forced farmers to give up their livestock

DW: You have released the second volume of the study having surveyed a total of nine countries.. How did you choose the countries to include in your survey?

Warner: Our job was to go and find out what loss and damage is, what kinds of problems people are experiencing now, what they do if they have too little or too much rain, or if they have floods, or hurricanes, cyclones, sea level rise. What they are doing, and what do they need in order to be able to adjust or adapt better. The countries that we came up with were Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Kenya, Micronesia, Mozambique, and Nepal. So as you can see African countries, island countries, mountain countries.

DW: What have you seen in these countries?

Warner: I was in Bangladesh recently, doing fieldwork, and had a chance to sit down with women and children. Some of the women noted that they are having trouble with the weather, some of these particular women had lost their farms because of river bank erosion.

Some of the families had other relatives in the area so they went and lived with relatives. One of the women said, it's really hard because I lost my farm and the impact of that is we don't have enough food to eat and we don't have enough income, but what's really hard is that I don't have work to do during the day. People's work and their livelihoods are really a part of their identity.

People are experiencing troubles today that they can't adjust to. Just to get to the end of the day they have to make decisions like taking their kids out of school, eating less, selling their productive assets, not investing in their family businesses - decisions that really undermine their resilience.

DW: What kind of impacts are we talking about on their health and safety?

Warner: In the Satkhira district in Bangladesh, they had trouble with salt in the water and in the soil. Pregnant women were consuming the water - what else can you do, you have to drink water. They were having trouble with waterborne diseases because of flooding and cyclone activity, but they were also having trouble with their reproductive health, in part because of the high saline in the water that they were drinking. Children were having trouble with malnutrition, there were problems with eyesight and skin lesions, a whole number of health problems that they attributed to higher salt content in the water and in the soil, that had both to do with the cyclone that came through, and maybe as well incremental sea level rise - those things working together.

DW: You've timed the release of this report just ahead of the meeting of climate negotiators that starts Monday in Warsaw. What is the message that you would like them to take from this report?

Warner: We used to think that we would be able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to avoid dangerous climate change. We thought we could adapt to the changes that come, but now we see that in spite of those good efforts, it's not enough.

When you look at all of this evidence, you see that the things that we care about the most, our identities, our cultures, poverty reduction, food security, livelihood security, safety and integrity of rural and urban areas where we live, are compromised by loss and damage that's related to climate change, and that's happening now.

Next week in Warsaw, countries will come together and discuss that big challenge for humanity. How do we avoid dangerous climate change, and what do we do about it? Because we see that loss and damage is already happening, it creates greater urgency. If we don't avoid dangerous climate change, the things that we care about most could be compromised.

DW: Your work seems to add another layer to the battle of mitigation versus adaptation and say that mitigation is extremely important, but adaptation is not a future concept, it's something we need to talk about right now.

Warner: That's correct. In addition, what will we do if all that we do isn't enough? That's an important question to ask. It's not that we have answers, but we really have to ask how we will collectively find solutions to things that are challenging us now.

DW: What message would you give the negotiators at the next round of climate talks?

Warner: I think that the time for decisions is now. My message would be - humbly - can we get some action, can we do things in a way that really produces tangible results, on the ground, for the people we've been working with in this research.

Dr. Koko Warner is with the United Nations University, and leads research on climate change and resilience. She is the lead author on the report Pushed to the Limit, a two-volume case study of loss and damage in nine countries. more
And the drumbeat of climate news keeps getting worse.

UPDATE 1-Greenhouse gas volumes reached new high in 2012 - WMO

By Tom Miles  Nov 6, 2013
* Carbon dioxide, methane volumes grew faster in 2012
* World temperatures to rise 2 degrees by mid-century
* UN conference in Warsaw to seek new emissions pact (Adds detail, background, quotes)

GENEVA, Nov 6 (Reuters) - Atmospheric volumes of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change hit a new record in 2012, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said on Wednesday.

"For all these major greenhouse gases the concentrations are reaching once again record levels," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud told a news conference in Geneva at which he presented the U.N. climate agency's annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin .

Jarraud said the accelerating trend was driving climate change, making it harder to keep global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius, a target agreed at a Copenhagen summit in 2009.

"This year is worse than last year, 2011. 2011 was worse than 2010," he said. "Every passing year makes the situation somewhat more difficult to handle, it makes it more challenging to stay under this symbolic 2 degree global average."

Greenhouse gas emissions are set to be 8-12 billion tonnes higher in 2020 than the level needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees, the U.N. Environment Programme said on Tuesday.

If the world pursues its "business as usual" trajectory, it will probably hit the 2 degree mark in the middle of the century, Jarraud said, noting that this would also affect the water cycle, sea levels and extreme weather events.

"The more we wait for action, the more difficult it will be to stay under this limit and the more the impact will be for many countries, and therefore the more difficult it will be to adapt."

He said the climate system was dominated by the ocean rather than the atmosphere, and the time needed to warm the seas meant the full impact of current emissions would only be felt later.

"Even if we were able to stop today - we know it's not possible - the ocean would continue to warm and to expand and the sea level would continue to rise for hundreds of years."

Delegates from over 190 nations meet in Warsaw next week for a U.N. conference to work on emission cuts under a new climate pact to be signed by 2015, but to come into force only in 2020.

The WMO bulletin said the volume of carbon dioxide, or CO2, the primary greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, grew faster in 2012 than in the previous decade, reaching 393.1 parts per million (ppm), 41 percent above the pre-industrial level.

The amount of the gas in the atmosphere grew by 2.2 ppm, higher the average of 2.02 ppm over the past 10 years.

Carbon dioxide is very stable and is likely to remain in the atmosphere for a long time, Jarraud said. The concentrations were the highest for more than 800,000 years, he said.

"The increase in CO2 is mostly due to human activities," Jarraud said. "The actions we take now or don't take now will have consequences for a very, very long period."

The second most important greenhouse gas, methane, continued to grow at a similar rate to the last four years, reaching a global average of 1819 parts per billion (ppb) in 2012, while the other main contributor, nitrous oxide, reached 325.1 ppb.  more
And then there is this.  Poland has just invested in a bunch of new coal-fired power plants.  And why would they do such a crazy thing seeing as the evidence of such behavior is the main cause of the climate catastrophe.  I cannot think of a single reason except that the Poles have decided to do exactly the opposite of whatever the Germans are doing.  And while there are about a million reasons and a 1000 years of history for behaving this way, it is still the wrong thing to do.

Climate experts meet in coal-powered Poland

Date 10.11.2013
Author Andrea Rönsberg / lw

Negotiators from around the world begin meeting in Warsaw for an annual climate conference. In the past, Poland has made its mark by blocking the EU from calling for stricter greenhouse gas emissions limits.

For Christiana Figueres the facts are clear. "There is a very real necessity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's executive director. A report from the UN environment agency UNEP released at the beginning of November showed just how real this necessity is: we can only meet the target of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.4 degrees F) if greenhouse gas emissions worldwide are drastically reduced in the years leading up to 2020.

This goal was set out by the international community at the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen. The average global temperature should not increase on pre-industrialization levels by more than 2 degrees Celsius. Despite the political agreement, countries have failed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the necessary amounts since the agreement was made. According to UNEP, the greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 will be between 8 and 12 gigatons more than the amount compatiblewith the 2 degrees goal.

Poland blocks ambitious EU reduction target

The likelihood that big countries come forward at during the climate conference in Warsaw, which begins Monday (11.11.2013) with binding promises to reduce their emissions is low. This is partly due to the fact that the European Union has so far failed to set a good example by agreeing on an ambitious goal for its own carbon dioxide reductions.

The EU has almost already achieved its official goal of a 20 percent reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 in comparison to 1990. For a long time, environmentalists have been pushing for the EU to set itself a new, more ambitious goal. Some EU member states, for example France and the United Kingdom, have already come out in support of a goal of a 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. But one member country in particular is halting such agreements: Poland, the host of this year's climate conference.

"Particularly inside the EU, the role Poland has played in the last few years is a strongly blocking one," said Christoph Bals, policy director of the environment NGO Germanwatch. "Again and again, Poland has stopped goals from being increased as would have been necessary."

Coal-powered Poland

Poland meets around 90 percent of its energy requirements by burning coal. Compared to all other fossil fuels, coal releases the most carbon dioxide when used to create electricity. Despite this, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the country will continue to focus on coal as its main source of energy.

"The future of Poland's energy lies in brown coal (lignite) and black coal," he said at a mining conference in Katowice in September. "We respect that reducing emissions is necessary, but we will nevertheless continue to rely on coal."

There is also the issue of protecting jobs in the coal industry. "It's being said that the price of energy generated from coal is much cheaper than it would be otherwise, if we moved towards renewable energies in Poland," Maciej Muskat, director of the environmental organization Greenpeace in Poland, told DW.

Environmentalists see a chance for renewables

But for Muskat, such arguments are just a pretext. "On the issue of price it's worth remembering that what's interesting from the point of view of the consumer, is not the price, but the cost," he said. "And the cost is always the price multiplied by usage. If they really wanted to drive down the cost for the consumer, the Polish government would make a strong move towards energy efficiency." Muskat, however, added that he doubts this will happen.

The European Commission has already pushed for a case against Poland at the European Court of Justice for failing to implement directives on developing renewable energies. According to a report published at the end of October by scientists from Greenpeace and organizations in the renewable energy sector, less than 8 percent of Polish energy requirements were met by renewable energies in 2010. The scientists said they believe that by 2030, this amount could increase to just under 27 percent - if Poland stopped using coal now. Drawing on the results of several opinion surveys, Muskat from Greenpeace Poland said he is convinced that such a transition would reflect the wishes of Polish citizens.

Why can't countries reach a climate deal?

It is unlikely that the Polish government will change their stance, and equally unlikely that it will allow the EU to set more ambitious goals during talks in Warsaw for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Polish Minister of the Environment and President-Designate of the conference Marcin Korolec has stressed that he will lead this year's climate conference to success, said Maciej Muskat. "It's pure PR at the moment," he said, adding that if Poland keeps resisting stronger climate goals from the EU, there will be no progress internationally.

Cooperation necessary

Muskat said he hopes Polish citizens will put increasing pressure on the government to change its climate and energy policies. He also sees a chance that at least part of the opposition will take the issue on board in the medium-term.

But this will hardly change things for the climate conference in Warsaw. Bals of Germanwatch said he sees it as the duty of larger EU members, like Germany, to push for change. They would have to offer Poland a "package," allowing the country to change its stance without losing face or compromising security interests.

"On the one hand, we need to make it clear to Poland that if it focuses on energy efficiency and invests in renewable energies, its economy and its citizens can profit," said Bals. "Apart from that, we need to show Poland how not to become dependent on Russia through this kind of energy policy. The EU has to show that Poland's energy supply is guaranteed." more

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