Wednesday, November 28, 2012

German ennui over climate change

After years of nearly universal agreement that climate change was a significant problem that required coordinated action and the spending of billions of euros, it looks like the Germans are pretty fed up with the whole subject.  One can hardly blame them—it's hard to get out in front of a subject and even harder when no one seems to want to follow your lead.

My guess is that the real decline in interest in climate change is less driven by weariness over the subject and more by the incessant clamoring by the financial sector that only they must be paid—everyone and everything else must wait.  There are damn few problems that can be solved without financial resources—building a world that runs without most of its fires is certainly not one of them.

Unfortunately, the climate change problems will not disappear even though everyone really wants to stop thinking about them.  And when the next disaster rams climate change to the front of the line again, those who have used their time to think deeply about what must be done next will have a considerable advantage over those who have done no planning whatsoever.

Failed CO2 Targets

Going Through the Motions in Doha

REUTERS   11/26/2012

The United Nations Climate Change Conference beginning in Doha this week is turning into a farce. While negotiators are sticking to the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, even climatologists admit that the project has failed.

Protecting the climate is incredibly important to Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, as evidenced by all the resolutions it has adopted in the past to save the planet. Germany has climate funds and reduction targets, building and transportation programs, and even an entire strategy to wean itself off nuclear power and shift to green energy, which has been dubbed the Energiewende, or "energy revolution." But at some point there is such a thing as overkill.

Can a member of parliament be expected to be chauffeured around Berlin in a small car? Or should he even stoop to the level of taking a cab? Now that, the Bundestag recently decided, would be asking too much. But because the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the elegant limousines normally used to chauffeur German lawmakers exceeds standards set three years ago, the Bundestag came up with a convenient solution. They simply raised the previously established limit of 120 grams of CO2 per kilometer to 140.

And what about the fact that the European Commission in Brussels has been fighting for months to set the limit at 95 grams? Forget it! And the climate? Oh, that again.

Only a few years ago, lawmakers would have hardly dared raise the limits for allowable greenhouse gas emissions coming from their official cars. They would have been too worried about upsetting climate activists and triggering outraged editorials in the papers.

But things have changed, so much so that the Bundestag's decision hardly attracted any notice in the press, and neither did the government's decision to eliminate a rule requiring official trips to be climate-neutral. As mundane as these decisions seem, they symbolize a significant failure, namely that no issue of global urgency has tanked quite as quickly as the warming of the earth's climate.

A Bizarre Ritual

What was seen as a question of man's survival not too long ago is little more than a side note today. Even forest dieback, the great bugaboo of the 1980s, did not suffer a comparable plunge into irrelevance.

This only amplifies the bizarrely ritualistic nature of the Climate Change Conference starting this week in Doha, Qatar. Thousands of negotiators, environmentalists and industry lobbyists are meeting in the Arab emirate to set the course for an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

But the world has already turned its back on the issue. And if that weren't unnerving enough, the attendees from 195 countries will be debating a project that everyone suspects is no longer achievable: the 2-degree target.

It remains a mantra for saving the climate that the earth's temperature curve cannot be allowed to climb any further than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Climatologists have calculated how much carbon dioxide emissions from cars, chimneys and fields can increase without jeopardizing the 2-degree target. If we fail in this mission, at least according to their computer models, life on the planet will become intolerable.

But a look at their calculations reveals that limiting the earth's warming to 2 degrees Celsius is no longer realistic. Our thirst for energy is too enormous and our efforts to wean ourselves off fossil fuels have been too insignificant.

Instead of declining, emissions continue to rise year after year. If nothing changes, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) predicted last week, global carbon emissions will increase to about 58 gigatons by 2020 -- much more than the 44 gigatons necessary to adhere to the 2-degree target.

According to the 2011 World Energy Outlook published by the International Energy Agency (IEA), global fossil fuel subsidies jumped 30 percent to $523 billion (€403 billion) last year. Although countries are spending more and more on renewable energy, subsidies for coal, oil and gas are still six times as high. About 1,200 new coal-fired power plants are planned worldwide, and even Germany generated more electricity from coal in the first nine months of this year than it has in a long time.

Unwilling to Admit Defeat

In times of crisis, burning fossil fuels helps industry, while the climate must wait. According to a study by the research institute Oxford Economics, almost all key producers of greenhouse gas are spending decreasing amounts on saving the planet. Crisis-ridden Spain plans to cut €3.8 billion ($4.9 billion) from its climate protection budget by 2015, Great Britain will reduce spending by €3.1 billion, and even Germany is cutting climate-related spending by €1.5 billion. When ranked by how much it spends on climate protection as a percentage of total spending, the United States comes in last.  more
And then there is USA—a country that still cranks out massive amounts of greenhouse gasses while denying that it is even a problem.  We just went through a presidential campaign where the subject of climate change never even came up.

Obama fails first climate test by rejecting EU aviation carbon regime

President disappoints campaigners by signing bill into law that exempts US airlines from European carbon trading scheme
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, 28 November 2012 

Barack Obama signed a law on Tuesday excluding US airlines from the European Union's carbon trading scheme and delivering a blow to campaigners' hopes for stronger climate action during the president's second term.

Environmental campaigners had urged Obama to veto the aviation bill as a sign of his commitment to fighting climate change in his second term.

The White House said in a statement that Obama still saw climate change as a priority but that he disagreed with subjecting US and other foreign airlines to the EU emissions trading scheme.

"The Obama administration is firmly committed to reducing harmful carbon pollution from civil aviation both domestically and internationally," a White House statement to reporters said. But "the application of the EU ETS to non-EU air carriers is the wrong way to achieve that objective".

The White House said the Obama administration would work to resolve airline emissions through the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
But the move was disappointing to European officials and to campaigners in the US who had urged Obama to veto the bill.

After winning re-election Obama listed climate change as one of the three main challenges facing the country. Campaigners had hoped he would make the fight against climate change part of his legacy.

The World Wildlife Fund said it was disappointed the bill had passed. "However there is a silver lining here – the administration has appointed high-level representatives to pursue a global solution for aviation and climate," WWF said.

Connie Hedegaard, the EU's climate commissioner, tweeted: "Aviation ETS: So far the re-elected Pres. #Obama #climate policies look EXACTLY as in first term. Wonder when we'll see the announced change?" more 


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