Monday, December 10, 2012

Doha grinds to an end

This is it.  Expensive bureaucrats toting expensive Powerpoint presentations fly to the capital of an oil emirate and what is accomplished?  An extension of Kyoto.  You know, the 1997 agreement the Clinton-Gore administration didn't even bother to submit to congress for approval.

Considering the urgent nature of the climate-change problem, the folks who go to these gatherings seem remarkably casual about getting anything done.  Of course, being good members of the Leisure Classes, they believe that actually solving problems is something they cannot be bothered with—it's why god invented the serving classes, after all.  You know, it's a damn shame the highest virtue of the Leisure Classes is uselessness.

Doha conference extends Kyoto Protocol

December 10, 2012 - 04:57 by Emma Woollacott

The UN climate change talks in Doha have ended with a commitment from developed countries that they'll help pay for the costs of climate change for poorer nations.

However, what exactly this will entail is unclear, and there's disagreement about whether the funds should be disbursed by a new body or by existing institutions.

Countries have agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol, with a new treaty due to be signed in 2015, coming into effect five years later. However, Russia, Japan and Canada have now withdrawn from the agreement, while major polluters such as China, India and the US are not covered by the protocol.

"Doha has opened up a new gateway to bigger ambition and to greater action – the Doha Climate Gateway. Qatar is proud to have been able to bring governments here to achieve this historic task," says Conferences of the Parties president Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah.

"I thank all governments and ministers for their work to achieve this success. Now governments must move quickly through the Doha Climate Gateway to push forward with the solutions to climate change.”

The US fought strongly against proposals to compensate poorer nations - and particularly against the use of the word 'compensation' as this could imply legal liability. Instead, the fund will use the word 'aid'.

However, some $100 billion is to be set aside for this, with Germany, the UK, France, Denmark, Sweden and the EU Commission announced concrete finance pledges of around $6 billion by 2015.

One glaring issue for the talks was the growing gap between what countries commit to do in terms of emissions and the actual amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres urged nations to put their promises into action.

"Doha is another step in the right direction, but we still have a long road ahead. The door to stay below two degrees remains barely open. The science shows it, the data proves it," she said.

"The UN Climate Change negotiations must now focus on the concrete ways and means to accelerate action and ambition. The world has the money and technology to stay below two degrees. After Doha, it is a matter of scale, speed, determination and sticking to the timetable."

The next major UN Climate Change Conference – COP19/ CMP9 - will take place in Warsaw, Poland, at the end of 2013. more

The German environmental minister states the obvious—we need better ways to make decisions.  18 conferences with almost nothing to show for it pretty much confirms that more conferences are probably not going to accomplish anything.

Altmaier: 'We need a new way of making decisions

Andrea Rösenberg  06.12.2012

German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier was a critic of the ongoing climate conference even before he traveled to Doha. In a DW interview, he went on to question the UN approach to climate protection.

DW: Before your trip to Doha you criticized the fact that, up to now, there's been a "lack of political willpower" everywhere you look. Now that you're in Doha, have you discovered any?

Peter Altmaier: No, at this point I don't have any reason to revise my assessment. There are talks at all levels about moving forward with the documents at the very least, but at this point there hasn't been a breakthrough.

One particularly stubborn country is Poland. Poland has refused to agree to the EU's higher goal of reducing emissions by 30 percent instead of 20 percent by the year 2020. You said that "We, as Europeans, are able to affirm 30 percent without Poland." How does that statement look now?

We're in very sensitive state of negotiations right now, which is why I can't give any details as to possible solutions without putting those solutions at risk. That said, we'd like to ensure that the EU is substantially more ambitious in protecting the climate than it has been before. We've almost achieved the 20 percent levels we agreed to, and that's why we need a new goal for the next eight years. How we achieve that and when we achieve that, is something that hasn't been pinned down yet.

You've criticized the tempo of international climate action as "absolutely inadequate." But isn't it impossible to achieve something adequate with 194 countries involved?

It will definitely become more difficult as the years go on. The cost of putting on a conference like this is very high and it doesn't always make up for itself in terms of earnings. That's why we need a new structure for discussions and a new way of making decisions. I've already proposed a few things with the group of renewable energy countries. I also think we could get stronger by grouping states into units - states that beforehand could agree on how they intend to answer certain questions - so that not every country would have to send one of its dignitaries, but could still safeguard its interests.

Which opportunities do you see for climate protection when it comes to the G8 group of the largest industrial nations, or the G20, or even the Major Economies Forum that was initiated by the US?

I believe that climate protection generally has to be more strongly recognized on an international scale. It belongs on the agenda of every international body - the G8 as well as the G20

Should those negotiations happen within the framework of climate conventions as hosted by the UN, or beyond the framework of such conventions?

That's something that will have to be discussed.

The new alliance of countries that you helped build - countries that are now pursuing a new set of energy and policy priorities on their own domestic fronts - doesn't that represent a shift in emphasis away from the UN climate conferences?

When it comes to renewable energies, the fact is that there just isn't a reasonable UN framework. With the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) we have a body that's making real progress. But we need real political willpower to promote energy change at a worldwide level. And that can only happen when a group of countries leads the way.

You've lamented the fact that, throughout the Doha conference, sea levels continue to rise. Can it be said that sea levels will drop one millimeter as a result of these talks at Doha?

That would be desirable, but I'm not convinced yet.

Peter Altmaier is the German federal minister for the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety. more
Time is running out, folks.

Polar ice sheets melting faster than ever

Author Irene Quaile   06.12.2012

The polar ice caps have faster in last 20 years than in the last 10,000. A comprehensive satellite study confirms that the melting ice caps are raising sea levels at an accelerating rate.

The polar regions are important drivers of the world's climate. When the "everlasting ice" melts at an increasing rate, the rest of the world is affected. Global sea levels are rising, dark meltwater pools absorb warmth from the sun which white ice would reflect back into space. Fresh water flows into the sea, changing ocean currents and the living conditions for marine organisms.

For 20 years satellites have been monitoring earth's biggest ice shields on Greenland and in the Antarctic, using different technologies from radar to gravity measurements. In the past, the uncoordinated publication of individual one-off measurements led to confusion, especially with regard to the state of the Antarctic ice. A new study, supported by NASA and European Space Agency ESA combines the data from different satellite missions.

"It's the first time all the people who have estimated changes in the size of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets using satellites over the past 20 years have got together to produce a single result," Andrew Shepherd from the University of Leeds in the UK explained in an interview with DW.

Satellite monitoring ends confusion

"Thanks to the accuracy of our data set, we are now able to say with confidence that Antarctica has lost ice for the whole of the past 20 years. In addition to the relative proportions of ice that have been lost in the northern and southern hemispheres, we can also see there's been a definitive acceleration of ice loss in last 20 years. So together Antarctica and Greenland are now contributing three times as much ice to sea levels as they were 20 years ago," says the Professor of Earth Observation.

According to the study, melting ice from both poles has been responsible for a fifth of the global rise in sea levels since 1992, 11 millimeters in all. The rest was caused by the thermal expansion of the warming ocean, the melting of mountain glaciers, small Arctic ice caps and groundwater mining. The share of the polar ice melt, however, is rising.

Greenland is melting fastest

The pattern of change differs considerably between the Arctic and the Antarctic. Two thirds of the ice loss is happening in Greenland. "The rate of ice loss from Greenland has increased almost five-fold since the mid-1990s", says Erik Ivins, who coordinated the project for NASA.

Although the Greenland ice sheet is only about one tenth the size of Antarctica, today it is contributing twice as much ice to sea levels, according to Shepherd: "It's certainly the larger player, probably just because it is at a more equatorial latitude, further from the North pole than Antarctica from the South pole." The ice on Greenland is also melting on the surface, because of increasing air temperatures.
Different conditions within the Antarctic

In the Antarctic, the situation is a more complex one. Scientists distinguish between the West and East, which are being affected differently by climate change. West Antarctica is losing ice at an accelerating rate. Many of the region's glaciers are by the sea, which is warming. It is only to be expected that the ice is melting faster here, says Shepherd.

In the huge area of East Antartica, the ice is mostly above sea level, Shepherd explains. The air temperature is also much lower, and the experts do not expect the ice to melt on account of rising temperatures. In this part of Antarctica, the ice sheet is actually growing as a consequence of increased snowfall. This has led some critics to question the global warming theory. However for Shepherd and his colleagues, the changes are all consistent with patterns of climate warming, which leads to more evaporation from the oceans and in turn more precipitation, which falls as snow on the ice sheets.

If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt completely, sea levels could rise by seven meters

"20 years is a very short time-scale to draw conclusions about climate change. "We are just beginning an observational record for ice," said co-author of the study Ian Joughlin, a glaciologist at the University of Washington. "This creates a new long-term data set that will increase as new measurements are made."

But the scientists are convinced the relatively new technology is the best way to keep track of climate change in inaccessible polar regions. Earth observation expert Shepherd is sure global warming is the only possible explanation for the accelerating polar ice melt. He sees especially the rapid melt in West Antarctica as a signal and a result of direct changes in the local balance between the ice sheet, the ocean and the atmosphere.

If the west Antarctic ice sheet should become unstable, it could trigger abrupt changes globally. Joughlin sees the recent ice activity in the region as a reason to pay attention, but not to panic.

Key data for the IPCC

In the last report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the development of the ice sheets was regarded as the major unknown factor with regard to predicting future sea level rises. "The results of this study will be invaluable in informing the IPCC as it completes the writing of its Fifth Assessment Report next year," according to Tom Wagner, NASA's cryosphere program manager in Washington.

The question of how the satellite data will influence predictions of sea level rise is not easy to answer, says Andrew Shepherd: Any model is only as reliable as its data. He hopes the more accurate satellite measurements will help improve the models. He does, however, have one reservation. The main uncertainty in climate projections is not to do with the physics or processes, the scientist says. It is the uncertainty as to what emissions scenarios nations will adopt in the future. more

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