Japan under fire for scaling back plans to cut greenhouse gases
UN climate talks in Warsaw face setback as U-turn on emissions angers developing countries in shadow of typhoon Haiyan
John Vidal in Warsaw and Terry Macalister
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 12.05 GMT
The UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, were faced with a new crisis on Friday, after Japan, the world's fifth largest greenhouse gas emitter, slashed its plans to reduce emissions from 25% to just 3.8% on 2005 figures.
The move was immediately criticised as "irresponsible" and "unambitious" by developing countries and climate groups at the talks.
In a statement, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a group of 44 low-lying island and coastal nations that are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, said: "[We] are extremely concerned that the announcement represents a huge step backwards in the global effort to hold warming below the essential 1.5-2 degrees celsius threshold, and puts our populations at great risk.
"This is neither the time nor the place to be backtracking on commitments. Developed countries have committed to taking the lead and must do so as we work to peak global emissions this decade and ink a new global agreement in 2015.
"We are also aware that the crisis now unfolding in the Philippines in the wake of typhoon Haiyan, which has also caused significant damage for our members in Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia, is just the latest in a series of climate-related extreme weather catastrophes."
Britain's energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, called the decision "deeply disappointing" and at odds with the need to tackle global warming.
He was still hopeful that the UK and other members of the G8 leading economies could encourage Tokyo to change its mind.
"It is deeply disappointing that the Japanese government has taken this decision to significantly revise down its 2020 emissions target. This announcement runs counter to the broader political commitment to tackle climate change, recently reaffirmed by G8, as well as the enhanced ambition we have seen from the world's major emitters," he argued in unusually robust terms.
"Yet I believe we can persuade Japan to change her mind again, to resume her leadership role in the world on climate change. Despite the challenges, if the public backs the government it can invest in low carbon electricity," he added.
However, Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC exective secretary, said she "understood" the problems that Japan faced following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which had forced the country to close 50 nuclear power plants.
"I do have some understanding that Japan has been hit by several catstrophes in the past few years. My hope is that Japan understands that investment in renewable energies galvanises investments and creates new jobs," Figueres said.
"This move by Japan could have a devastating impact on the tone of discussion here in Warsaw," said Naoyuki Yamagishi, WWF Japan's climate ands enrgy group leader at the talks. "This decision is a gross negligence of its responsibility and should be revised in line with the level that science and justice requires."
As compensation, Japan said that its public and private sectors intended to raise $16bn (£9.9bn) by 2015 to help developing countries reduce their emissions, with the intention of helping others to reduce the emissions that it could not.
The aid package is thought to include supplying developing countries with "green" technologies developed by Japanese firms, including offshore wind turbines, fuel-cell vehicles and high-tech housing insulation. No figures were given on the scale of the emission cuts that the package might achieve.
"The new target is based on zero nuclear power in the future. We have to lower our ambition level," said Hiroshi Minami, Japan's chief negotiator.
The talks in Poland, at which 190 countries are meeting to try to agree additional action to put the world on course to avoid dangerous climate change, have been overshadowed by typhoon Haiyan, which has increased the determination of developing countries to negotiate compensation for climate damage done in the past.
The Japanese announcement follows open criticism by Australia and Canada of policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their countries, and reluctance from the US and Europe to aim for more ambitious emissions cuts.
Oxfam's climate change spokesperson, Kelly Dent, said: "Japan's dramatic U-turn on its emissions target commitments is a slap in the face for poor countries who are right now struggling to cope with changes to their climate, and who will face yet more extreme and unpredictable weather in the future."
She added: "As one of the world's largest Co2 emitters, Japan has a responsibility to help lead the world in reducing emissions to ensure temperatures are kept at a safe level below 1.5 degrees celsius. Instead, their actions may well further erode trust in current negotiations which must deliver a global climate deal in 2015."
Study identifies 78 sites in need of environmental protection
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 14, 2013 19:50 EST
A scientific study out Thursday identifies 78 sites worldwide in dire need of environmental protection because they harbor species that could go extinct.
Many of the locations are already in protected areas of 34 countries. Together they contain populations of birds, amphibians, and mammals that are globally threatened.
Some are already designated for protection under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, including Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, Peru’s Manu National Park and India’s Western Ghats.
Other areas do not have the same level of recognition, including Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains National Park and Cuba’s Cienaga de Zapata Wetland of International Importance.
The most “irreplaceable” spot in the world for threatened species among 173,000 conservation areas studied went to Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Natural National Park.
“These exceptional places would all be strong candidates for World Heritage status,” said Soizic Le Saout, lead author of the study which appears in the journal Science.
“Such recognition would ensure effective protection of the unique biodiversity in these areas, given the rigorous standards required for World Heritage sites.”
The study was based on an international collaboration between the Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in France, International Union for Nature Conservation, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and BirdLife International.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Climate change pledges: rich nations face fury over moves to renege
Typhoon Haiyan raises fear over global warming threat as Philippines leads attack on eve of key talks
John Vidal in Warsaw
The Observer, Sunday 17 November 2013
Developing nations have launched an impassioned attack on the failure of the world's richest countries to live up to their climate change pledges in the wake of the disaster in the Philippines.
With more than 3,600 people now believed to have been killed by Typhoon Haiyan, moves by several major economies to backtrack on commitments over carbon emissions have put the world's poorest and most wealthy states on a collision course, on the eve of crucial high-level talks at a summit of world powers.
Yeb Sano, the Philippines' lead negotiator at the UN climate change summit being held this weekend in Warsaw, spoke of a major breakdown in relations overshadowing the crucial talks, which are due to pave the way for a 2015 deal to bring down global emissions.
The diplomat, on the sixth day of a hunger strike in solidarity for those affected by Haiyan, including his own family, told the Observer: "We are very concerned. Public announcements from some countries about lowering targets are not conducive to building trust. We must acknowledge the new climate reality and put forward a new system to help us manage the risks and deal with the losses to which we cannot adjust."
Munjurul Hannan Khan, representing the world's 47 least affluent countries, said: "They are behaving irrationally and unacceptably. The way they are talking to the most vulnerable countries is not acceptable. Today the poor are suffering from climate change. But tomorrow the rich countries will be. It starts with us but it goes to them."
Recent decisions by the governments of Australia, Japan and Canada to downgrade their efforts over climate change have caused panic among those states most affected by global warming, who fear others will follow as they rearrange their priorities during the downturn.
In the last few days, Japan has announced it will backtrack on its pledge to reduce its emission cuts from 25% to 3.8% by 2020 on the basis that it had to close its nuclear reactors after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Australia, which is not sending a minister to this weekend's talks, signalled it may weaken its targets and is repealing domestic carbon laws following the election of a conservative government.
Canada has pulled out of the Kyoto accord, which committed major industrial economies to reducing their annual CO2 emissions to below 1990 levels.
China's lead negotiator at the Warsaw talks, Su Wei, said: "I do not have any words to describe my dismay at Japan's decision." He criticised Europe for showing a lack of ambition to cut emissions further, adding: "They talk about ratcheting up ambition, but rather they would have to ratchet up to ambition from zero ambition."
When the highest-level talks start at the summit on Monday, due to be attended by representatives from 195 countries, including energy secretary Ed Davey, the developing world will seek confirmation from states such as Britain that they will not follow the path of Japan and others. David Cameron's comments this weekend in which he backed carbon emission cuts and suggested that there was growing evidence of a link between manmade climate change and disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan, will inevitably be used to pressure others to offer similar assurances.
The developing world also wants the rich western nations to commit to establishing a compensation scheme for future extreme weather events, as the impact of global warming is increasingly felt. And they want firm signals that rich countries intend to find at least $100bn a year by 2020 to help them to adapt their countries to severe climate extremes.
China and 132 nations that are part of the G77 block of developing countries have expressed dismay that rich countries had refused to discuss a proposal for scientists to calculate emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
Ambassador Jose Antonio Marcondes de Carvalho of Brazil, who initially proposed the talks, said: "We were shocked, very much surprised by their rejection and dismissal. It is puzzling. We need to understand why they have rejected it.
"Developing countries are doing vastly more to reduce their emissions than Annexe 1 [rich] countries."
Members of the Disaster Emergencies Committee, which co-ordinates British aid efforts, also warned leaders that the disaster offers a glimpse of the future if urgent action is not taken.
Aid agencies including Christian Aid, Cafod, Care International, Oxfam and Tearfund said ministers meeting in the Polish capital must act urgently because climate change is likely to make such extreme weather events more common in the future, putting millions more lives at risk.
Cameron links typhoon Haiyan to climate change
Prime minister seemingly endorses stance that global warming is creating more extreme weather patterns
Rowena Mason in Colombo, and Damian Carrington
The Guardian, Saturday 16 November 2013
There is growing evidence that climate change is causing more extreme weather disasters such as the Philippines typhoon, David Cameron said.
In remarks likely to infuriate the green sceptics in his party, the prime minister gave his first acknowledgement that global warming may be linked to increasingly intense storms across the world.
The remarks are Cameron's strongest defence of climate change science for a while, after repeated accusations that he has retreated from his pre-election pledge to run the greenest government ever.
Despite urging people to "vote blue, go green" in 2010, he has not given a full speech on the issue nor attended a UN environment summit since becoming prime minister.
Under pressure from many backbenchers, he has tightened planning controls on windfarms and pledged to "roll back" green subsidies on bills, leading to fears of dwindling support for the renewables industry.
However, Cameron spoke out on the need to tackle global warming at the Commonwealth summit in Colombo, Sri Lanka, after typhoon Haiyan killed at least 4,000 people and caused devastation across the Philippines.
Asked on Fridaywhether climate change was linked to the Philippines disaster, Cameron said: "I'll leave the scientists to speak for themselves about the link between severe weather events and climate change. But the evidence seems to me to be growing. As a practical politician, I think the sensible thing is to say let's take preventative and mitigating steps given the chances this might be the case."
He added: "Scientists are giving us a very certain message. Even if you're less certain than the scientists, it makes sense to act both in terms of trying to prevent and mitigate."
His comments also coincide with the United Nations talks on climate change in Warsaw, which has seen Japan slash its commitment to reducing CO2 emissions and Australia fail to send a minister to the conference for the first time in 16 years.
The Philippines has made an impassioned plea at the talks for nations to cut their emissions and redouble their efforts to reach an international agreement on stopping temperatures rising.
Yeb Sano, the country's lead negotiator, said Haiyan "was like nothing we have ever experienced before, or perhaps nothing that any country has ever experienced before".
He told the conference how his brother "gathered bodies of the dead with his own two hands", adding: "To anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare you to get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of your armchair."
Cameron's comments come after Ed Davey, energy secretary, said it was possible that rising sea levels caused by global warming may have made some islands more vulnerable and made storms more intense.
However, Lord Lawson, a former Tory chancellor and leading figure in the party's climate sceptic lobby, claimed on Thursday that there was absolutely no link between Haiyan and global warming.
"Typhoon Haiyan is terrible but I'm afraid these things happen in the tropics," he said on BBC1's Question Time.
In comments appeared designed to appeal to sceptics in his party, Cameron made the case that Britain should tackle climate change as an "insurance policy".
"There is no doubt there have been an increasing number of severe weather events in recent years," he said. "And I'm not a scientist but it's always seemed to me one of the strongest arguments about climate change is, even if you're only 90% certain or 80% certain or 70% certain, if I said to you there's a 60% chance your house might burn down, do you want to take out some insurance – you take out some insurance. I think we should think about climate change like that."
Scientists have said it is too soon to say whether Haiyan is linked to climate change, but many have pointed to evidence that rising sea temperatures can increase the intensity of storms.
Prof Myles Allen, of Oxford University, has said: "The current consensus is that climate change is not making the risk of hurricanes any greater, but there are physical arguments and evidence that there is a risk of more intense hurricanes."
A Nature Geoscience research paper from 2010 found that global warming will increase the average intensity of the storms, while the total number of storms will fall, meaning fewer but more severe cyclones. It also found that rainfall in the heart of the storms will increase by 20%.
Earlier this year, a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Prof Kerry Emmanuel agreed that the most intense cyclones – category 3 to 5 – would increase, but the work suggested smaller cyclones would also increase. It also found that "increases in tropical cyclones are most prominent in the western north Pacific".
And in 2011, a synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that the average wind speeds in cyclones were likely to increase, as was the frequency of heavy rainfall, but it noted the difficulty of linking changes in complex events such as cyclones to climate change.
Active Antarctic volcanoes may be ‘lubricating’ ice sheets into ocean
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 17, 2013 14:00 EST
Accelerating ice loss from the Antarctic icesheet could be due in part to active volcanoes under the frozen continent’s eastern part, a study said on Sunday.
From 2002 to 2011, the average annual rate of Antarctic icesheet loss increased from about 30 billion tonnes to about 147 billion tonnes, the UN’s panel of climate scientists reported in September.
The icesheet is a mass of glacial land ice — one such sheet covers most of Greenland and the other Antarctica, and together they contain most of the freshwater on Earth.
The sheets are constantly moving, slowly flowing downhill and seawards under their own weight. Portions that extend out over the water are called ice shelf.
Previous research has blamed warmer seas swirling in a circular fashion around Antarctica for the quicker pace of icesheet loss from the southernmost continent.
These waters erode ice shelves, went the theory. And as more of the shelves disappeared, the quicker the sheet would flow and lose ice to the sea.
But in a new paper in the journal Nature Geoscience geologists led by Amanda Lough at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, suggested that, in West Antarctica, the faster flow may be also be due to volcanoes.
These heat the underside of the ice, causing melting that lubricates the flow, they suggested.
Evidence for this comes from recently deployed sensors that recorded two “swarms” of seismic activity under Mary Byrd Land, a highland region of West Antarctica, in 2010 and 2011.
Using ice-penetrating radar, the team found an intriguing elliptically-shaped deposit, measuring about 1,000 square kilometres (386 square miles) in the area, at a depth of 1,400 metres (4,550 feet).
The deposit is believed to be volcanic ash, spewed out by an enormous eruption some 8,000 years ago — an estimate reached on the assumption it has since been covered by ice accumulating at the rate of 12.5 centimetres (five inches) a year.
“Together, these observations provide strong evidence for ongoing magmatic activity and demonstrate that volcanism continues to migrate southwards.”
Several volcanoes were known to exist in West Antarctica, but none were thought to be active.
“Eruptions at this site are unlikely to penetrate the 1.2 to two-km (0.75-1.2-mile) -thick overlying ice, but would generate large volumes of melt water that could significantly affect ice stream flow,” said the study.
UN climate talks in Warsaw: what you need to know
The aim is to forge a legally binding global climate treaty in Poland to cut carbon emissions. But it's easier said than done
Fiona Harvey in Warsaw
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 13.06 GMT
What is happening in Warsaw?
It is COP19 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – or, in other words, the latest round of the ongoing United Nations talks aimed at forging a new global agreement on climate change. The talks began on 11 November but the real business – the "high-level segment" in which government ministers take part – opens on Tuesday with a short session and gala dinner for the assembled dignitaries, then the ministers get down to talks on Wednesday with the aim of finishing up on Friday evening.
Haven't we had this before? What has changed?
The UN talks have been going on since 1992, with annual conferences producing a few highs and lows along the way, but so far no comprehensive legally binding agreement. In 1997, the Kyoto protocol was signed, binding rich nations to cut their emissions by about 5% by 2012. But the US never ratified the treaty, so its impact was limited. In 2009, the Copenhagen summit ended in scenes of chaos, but it did produce commitments from all of the world's major economies, developed and developing, to cut or curb their greenhouse gas emissions – a historic first. However, those commitments only run to 2020, and are far less than the cuts scientists say are needed. In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change produced its most comprehensive review yet of the science of climate change, warning that the world is running out of its "carbon budget" – the amount of greenhouse gas we can pour into the atmosphere before warming the world by more than 2C, which scientists have identified as a crucial threshold beyond which many of the effects of climate change could become catastrophic and irreversible.
What is expected to come out of this year's talks?
The current goal of the negotiations is to forge an agreement, to be signed in Paris in 2015 and to come into force by 2020, that would involve substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from all the major economies, as well as commitments from poorer countries. But this meeting is just a staging point on the road to that goal – there is as yet no draft text for an agreement, no consensus on what a new deal should involve, or what legal form it should take.
That doesn't sound very interesting.
In terms of the business of this COP, much of it will be "housekeeping" – clearing the decks on various technicalities so that work can begin soon after on the draft text. But the Warsaw meeting has already provided more drama than was bargained for.
It began just two days after the most powerful typhoon ever to make landfall devastated the Philippines, with the loss of thousands of lives. Yeb Sano, leading the country's delegation, made an opening statement at the start of the discussions in which he broke down and connected the devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan to climate change. His words had an effect on David Cameron, who also linked extreme weather to climate change.
Then, Japan came under attack for announcing that instead of aiming for a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, it would increase its emissions by 3%, saying this was necessary after the Fukushima disaster. But many onlookers feared that it would lead to further backsliding – there are doubts over what Australia's new climate-sceptic government will do about its existing agreements, and over the commitment of Canada and Russia to the talks.
What have the Polish hosts done about this?
Mostly, attract their own controversy – by giving a two-day platform at the talks to the global coal industry and highlighting the role of coal in energy generation. Coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, but it supplies most of Poland's energy, and the government takes a hard line within Europe, resisting calls for more action on emissions.
What about developing countries?
They want clearer commitments on the provision of much-needed finance to help them move to a low-carbon economy: $100bn by 2020 is the aim. Some of this will come from public funds in rich nations, but that pot is likely to be meagre, so ways have to be found to raise money from the private sector. At present, it is not clear how that will happen, or what will count towards the $100bn (£62bn).
Some developing countries also want to resurrect the issue of "loss and damage", which some interpret as compensation to poor countries from the rich for the effects of climate change, such as an increase in the number or intensity of typhoons and hurricanes. Rich countries are determined that this will not happen. The rich nations also want major developing economies such as China and India to take on more of a role in curbing emissions.
Will these disagreements jeopardise the outcome?
This meeting is still likely to end with a feel-good statement that some form of progress has been made towards the 2015 goal, but the danger is that between now and that crucial date any further upsets, backsliding, failure to agree finance or deepening rifts between rich and poor could derail the whole process. That would leave the world without an agreement on tackling climate change, which would send a poor signal to investors and let countries that don't want to cut their emissions off the hook for years to come. Against a background of still-rising emissions, that is likely to take us well beyond our carbon budget.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA ...
Arctic oil spill is certain if drilling goes ahead, says top scientist
Russia's push for exploration will devastate pristine Arctic, warns expert analyst of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Fiona Harvey in London and Shaun Walker in Moscow
theguardian.com, Tuesday 19 November 2013 11.45 GMT
A serious oil spill in the Arctic is a "dead cert" if drilling goes ahead, with potentially devastating consequences for the pristine region, according to a leading marine scientist who played a key role in analysis of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The warning came as Russia filed court orders this week to have Greenpeace activists and journalists kept in prison for a further three months in prison before their trial over a protest at Arctic oil dirlling.
Concerns about the potentially dire consequences of drilling for oil in the region have intensified as the Russian government and others have begun exploration under the Arctic seas. In such a cold region, any spill would be much more troublesome, because the oil would not naturally disperse as it does in warmer waters, and because of the difficulty of mounting a clean-up operation in hostile weather conditions.
The "Arctic 30" – comprising 28 activists and two journalists – were arrested when Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise vessel was boarded by Russian coastguards in September and are facing lengthy jail terms if they are convicted. They have been kept in harsh conditions in freezing cold jail cells with poor food, and are being moved 800 miles from Murmansk to St Petersburg.
Simon Boxall, an oil spill expert from the University of Southampton, told the Guardian exploring the region was inherently dangerous: "It is inevitable you will get a spill – a dead cert. I would expect to see a major spill in the not too distant future. I would be astonished if you did not see a major spill from this."
The conditions in the Arctic would vastly compound the problem, he said. "It's a completely different environment. In temperate climes, oil disperses quickly. Bacteria help [to digest the oil]. In the Arctic the oil does not break down in this way – it can take decades before it breaks down. Nature will not help us."
Arctic oil spill pollution risks : Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico The surface of the Gulf of
During those decades, any spilled oil would be a serious hazard to marine life.
No industry is perfect, Boxall said, but the oil industry has behaved poorly in the past. "There are lots of failsafes on planes, but accidents still happen. At times, this is an irresponsible industry. Corners are cut, money is saved in small ways. Then it can go wrong and end up costing a huge amount of money, like in the Gulf of Mexico."
He added: "Different countries have different levels of health and safety. Russia does not have an enviable record on this."
Even without a spill, exploring the region could disrupt the Arctic environment, warned Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol. "You get an increase in shipping, and ships release their ballast water which contains species from other areas. So you could get the introduction to the Arctic of entirely foreign species and we don't know the impact of that. The Arctic ocean is very enclosed, virtually landlocked, so this could have very big consequences and affect the whole food chain."
Arctic map Arctic map showing location of Prirazlomnaya rig and where Greenpeace boat was seized
Greenpeace pointed out that the Arctic is the habitat for "a diverse range of unique wildlife", including 17 species of whale – such as the endangered narwhal, 90% of the remaining population of which lives in Baffin Bay – as well as polar bears, Arctic foxes, seals, hundreds of species of seabirds and millions of migrating birds. There are also 4m people who live in the Arctic, descendants of indigenous communities who have lived there for thousands of years. "The impact of a spill on these communities and already vulnerable animal species would be devastating and long-lasting," the group said.
Three Russian nationals among the Arctic 30 – Yekaterina Zaspa, Denis Sinyakov and Andrey Allakhverdov – were released on bail on Monday.
Gazprom Neft Shelf, the branch of the Russian state energy behemoth that runs the Prirazlomnaya platform where Greenpeace staged its protest in September, said that after multiple delays it planned to start drilling in December, and currently the rig is working in test mode. Next year, the plan is to produce 600,000 tonnes of oil, and the company says output will peak in 2021 when it will be working at maximum capacity and producing 6m tonnes per year.
Gennady Lubin, executive director of Gazprom Neft Shelf, declined to speak to the Guardian, but in a recent interview with an oil and gas periodical rubbished the claims of environmentalists that the rig's location makes it a uniquely dangerous operation. He said there were two icebreakers moored adjacent to the rig which are on permanent standby to deal with any emergency situations, and additional equipment available in the town of Varandey, about 40 miles from the platform. "Of course, in theory it is possible to contemplate any script based on the assumption that if you don't do that, environmental safety might be in danger," said Lyubin. "But that kind of thinking is absurd."
He also dismissed concerns about the durability of the rig itself. The top part of the rig was taken from a decommissioned North Sea oil rig built in 1984, which has led to further speculation about the reliability of Prirazlomnaya, but the Russians claim that the critics are again wrong.
Lyubin says Prirazlomnaya is a "new facility" that was "built to operate in the specific weather conditions of the Pechora Sea", and that only small parts of the Hutton rig were used in the structure. "The specially designed caisson part has allowed us to create a facility that successfully resists the Arctic climate, waves and ice, to protect all equipment and to ensure safe operation."
Lyubin said that Prirazlomnaya was inherently more secure than, for example, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. "The wells there are drilled from a floating platform, which is at hundreds of meters distance from the seabed," said Lyubin. "But here, the sea depth in the field area is 19-20 meters, so the Prirazlomnaya is installed directly on the seabed."
"The Arctic has been important for us for centuries," said Roman Khatsevich of the Murmansk Institute of Economics. "It's not just economics. Our country is a northern country, and the Arctic is one of the foundation blocks of our statehood. In the 1990s a lot of Arctic financing was stopped due to the economic and political collapse, but since 2000 it has been a priority again."
For now, there is a big question about how economically viable oil extraction in the taxing conditions will be, but Russia is pushing ahead with a number of major programmes to improve infrastructure in the region with an eye on both oil extraction and on developing the Northern Sea route through the Russian Arctic, as an alternative shipping lane from Europe to Asia.
"Especially with the worsening situation in the Middle East, the Arctic could become more and more important as a shipping route. In an ideal world, the Arctic can be a forum for international co-operation rather than conflict," said Khatsevich.
Just last week, Russian oil giant Rosneft signed a deal with Korean shipbuilding company Daewoo that should lead to the establishment of a major new shipbuilding cluster in Russia's far east, that would build icebreakers and marine equipment for offshore energy projects.
Rotterdam: designing a flood-proof city to withstand climate change
The Dutch delta-city is preparing for the battle with climate change through innovative sponging and water storage design
Guardian Professional, Monday 18 November 2013 15.30 GMT
Water plazas, green walls, floating neighbourhoods. Rotterdam, the famous Dutch university city, is building a captivating new infrastructure, but not out of vanity. If it doesn't come up with innovative solutions, the city is set to lose its battle with climate change.
"We're really planning ahead", says Alexandra van Huffelen, Rotterdam's vice mayor in charge of sustainability. "The Dutch have lived below the sea level for centuries and are used to dykes and barriers. But today we're experiencing heavier and more unpredictable rainfalls, so behind the barriers we're turning the city into a sponge."
A crucial sponge. Surrounded by water on four sides, this delta city of some 600,000 people can't flush the sudden stormwater away. Instead, it has embarked on a climate change adaptation strategy that turns every conceivable area into water storage. "We have squares that are set lower than the surrounding streets and pavements that will function as water plazas and fill themselves up with water", explains van Huffelen.
"We've also built water storage facilities, for example an underground parking garage with a basin the size of four Olympic swimming pools. And we've introduced more green areas, including green roofs and green facades, that will be able to absorb water as well."
You can even watch a livestream of the Benthemplein water plaza, which will be completed on 4 December, being built.
The city is also in the process of building a floating neighbourhood, to be completed within the next three years, that will feature homes, offices, a school, a park and even a dairy factory. More are planned in future. A floating pavilion in the inner harbour is being used as a conference centre.
If this sounds surprisingly positive, it's because Rotterdam sees climate change adaptation as a selling point. Local companies involved in building the futuristic solutions report doing good business selling their expertise to other cities.
"The world makes its money in big cities, so they have to be operational, which means they'll need climate change protection and infrastructure", notes Piet Dircke, director of global water management for the Dutch-based company Arcadis, which advises cities from Jakarta to New York on climate change adaptation. "It's a good business opportunity. For me, being from Rotterdam is good because Rotterdam is a living showcase of climate change adaptation."
New Orleans has paid Arcadis a $200m consulting fee, and Dircke predicts large contracts as booming cities in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America develop comprehensive adaptation strategies. "Of course it won't just be Dutch companies getting the contracts", he acknowledges. "But we have something to show the world."
According to Jeroen Aerts, professor of water and risk management at VU University in Amsterdam, the reason Rotterdam is ahead is that it has integrated its plan with the private sector. "That will become the blueprint for the future," he says. Cities have so little space that they've no choice but to make their limited area climate change-proof, he adds. "Sometimes it costs a bit more, but the investment will pay off in the long term, and often it leads to innovation. In the past, the Netherlands exported dykes. Now it exports comprehensive climate change solutions."
Still, despite all the innovative sponging and water storage, Rotterdam's residents aren't fully protected against floods. But city officials point out that the only alternative is to seal off certain neighborhoods during storms – and in such a densely populated city, that's not a realistic option. "We have to learn to live with more water", says van Huffelen. "People should be prepared for the fact that we'll have floods at least once a year."
As Rotterdam's chief water engineer, Daniel Goedbloed is charged with trying to bridge the gap between public and private storm preparedness. "Streets will inevitably flood, so we have to make sure that houses don't flood along with them," he explains "It's a tricky issue, because as a municipality we have power over the public domain, but we have to get companies and residents to work with us on adapting houses."
In an initial step, one neighbourhood is now fully storm-adapted, with residents in every house having moved wiring from the basement to an upper floor to prevent power outages when the basement is flooded, and replaced wooden floors with floor coverings that better resist water. The city is subsidising green roofs with a 50% discount, and training roofers to install them rather than asphalt ones. It's also considering tax schemes that would, for example, give residents who collect rainwater a reduction on their sewage tax. Since 2008, Rotterdam has planted 140,000 square meters of green roofs, and expects to have over 200,000 square meters by next year.
Van Huffelen proudly reports that city delegations from around the world now arrive weekly to study Rotterdam's climate change adaptation. In future, innovative climate change adaptation may even overtake Erasmus as Rotterdam's number one claim to fame.
Are we witnessing the start of a global green revolution?
Mass environmental protests are gaining strength. If governments won't take the lead on an imperiled planet, someone will
Michael Klare for TomDispatch, part of the Guardian Comment Network
theguardian.com, Monday 18 November 2013 19.15 GMT
A week after the most powerful "super typhoon" ever recorded pummeled the Philippines, killing thousands in a single province, and three weeks after the northern Chinese city of Harbin suffered a devastating "airpocalypse", suffocating the city with coal-plant pollution, government leaders beware!
Although individual events like these cannot be attributed with absolute certainty to increased fossil fuel use and climate change, they are the type of disasters that, scientists tell us, will become a pervasive part of life on a planet being transformed by the massive consumption of carbon-based fuels. If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on "unconventional" fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble. In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.
None of us can predict the future, but when it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment. Take a look and you will see that the assorted environmental protests that have long bedeviled politicians are gaining in strength and support. With an awareness of climate change growing and as intensifying floods, fires, droughts, and storms become an inescapable feature of daily life across the planet, more people are joining environmental groups and engaging in increasingly bold protest actions. Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.
In fact, it is possible to imagine such a green energy revolution erupting in one part of the world and spreading like wildfire to others. Because climate change is going to inflict increasingly severe harm on human populations, the impulse to rebel is only likely to gain in strength across the planet. While circumstances may vary, the ultimate goal of these uprisings will be to terminate the reign of fossil fuels while emphasizing investment in and reliance upon renewable forms of energy. And a success in any one location is bound to invite imitation in others.
A "green revolution" is unlikely to arise from a highly structured political campaign with clearly identified leaders. In all likelihood, it will erupt spontaneously, after a cascade of climate-change induced disasters provokes an outpouring of public fury. Once ignited, however, it will undoubtedly ratchet up the pressure for governments to seek broad-ranging, systemic transformations of their energy and climate policies. In this sense, any such upheaval – whatever form it takes – will prove "revolutionary" by seeking policy shifts of such magnitude as to challenge the survival of incumbent governments or force them to enact measures with transformative implications.
What recent episodes such as the mass environmental protests in Turkey last June, farmers and students blocking the construction of a petrochemical facility in Ningbo, China, and post-Fukushima anti-nuclear demonstrations tell us is that people around the world are becoming ever more concerned about energy policy as it affects their lives and are prepared – often on short notice – to engage in mass protests. At the same time, governments globally, with rare exceptions, are deeply wedded to existing energy policies. These almost invariably turn them into targets, no matter what the original spark for mass opposition. As the results of climate change become ever more disruptive, government officials will find themselves repeatedly choosing between long-held energy plans and the possibility of losing their grip on power.
Because few governments are as yet prepared to launch the sorts of efforts that might even begin to effectively address the peril of climate change, they will increasingly be seen as obstacles to essential action and so as entities that need to be removed. In short, climate rebellion – spontaneous protests that may at any moment evolve into unquenchable mass movements – is on the horizon. Faced with such rebellions, recalcitrant governments will respond with some combination of accommodation to popular demands and harsh repression.
Many governments will be at risk from such developments, but the Chinese leadership appears to be especially vulnerable. The ruling party has staked its future viability on an endless carbon-fueled growth agenda that is steadily destroying the country's environment. It has already faced half-a-dozen environmental upheavals like the one in Ningbo, and has responded to them by agreeing to protestors' demands or by employing brute force. The question is: How long can this go on?
Environmental conditions are bound to worsen, especially as China continues to rely on coal for home heating and electrical power, and yet there is no indication that the ruling Communist Party is prepared to take the radical steps required to significantly reduce domestic coal consumption. This translates into the possibility of mass protests erupting at any time and on a potentially unprecedented scale. And these, in turn, could bring the Party's very survival into question – a scenario guaranteed to produce immense anxiety among the country's top leaders.
And what about the United States? At this point, it would be ludicrous to say that, as a result of popular disturbances, the nation's political leadership is at any risk of being swept away or even forced to take serious steps to scale back reliance on fossil fuels. There are, however, certainly signs of a growing nationwide campaign against aspects of fossil fuel reliance, including vigorous protests against hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
For environmental activist and writer Bill McKibben, all this adds up to an incipient mass movement against the continued consumption of fossil fuels. "In the last few years", he has written, this movement "has blocked the construction of dozens of coal-fired power plants, fought the oil industry to a draw on the Keystone pipeline, convinced a wide swath of American institutions to divest themselves of their fossil fuel stocks, and challenged practices like mountaintop-removal coal mining and fracking for natural gas". It may not have achieved the success of the drive for gay marriage, he observed, but it "continues to grow quickly, and it's starting to claim some victories".
If it's still too early to gauge the future of this anti-carbon movement, it does seem, at least, to be gaining momentum. In the 2013 elections, for example, three cities in energy-rich Colorado – Boulder, Fort Collins, and Lafayette –voted to ban or place moratoriums on fracking within their boundaries, while protests against Keystone XL and similar projects are on the rise.
Nobody can say that a green energy revolution is a sure thing, but who can deny that energy-oriented environmental protests in the US and elsewhere have the potential to expand into something far greater? Like China, the United States will experience genuine damage from climate change and its unwavering commitment to fossil fuels in the years ahead. Americans are not, for the most part, passive people. Expect them, like the Chinese, to respond to these perils with increased ire and a determination to alter government policy.
So don't be surprised if that green energy revolution erupts in your neighborhood as part of humanity's response to the greatest danger we've ever faced. If governments won't take the lead on an imperiled planet, someone will.
• This commentary is an excerpt of an article that was originally published 17 November 2013 at TomDispatch
11/19/2013 06:09 PM
Climate Conference: Doubts Emerge Over Germany's Leadership
By Joel Stonington
Renewable energy experts worry that support will fade for climate-related policies in Berlin with the inauguration of the planned new grand coalition government. The UN climate conference and NGOs are responding with pressure on Germany to send a signal that the country is still a leader.
As the high-level segment of the United Nations conference on climate change gets under way on Tuesday in Warsaw, it's an open question as to whether Germany can continue to be a leader on the issue. There is increasing concern among renewable energy industry groups and environmental organizations that the planned new grand coalition government will scale back the speed and funding of the promised switch to renewables, known as the Energiewende.
On Tuesday, a group of 85 organizations sent a letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel and the top negotiators for both her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats' (SPD) urging German support for a European-wide target of a 55 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. They also encouraged domestic support for a climate act that would give investors the ability to plan for the long term.
"We want them to give clarity about the Energiewende and put that in a binding climate act," said Christoph Bals, the policy director of environmental organization Germanwatch.
Germany's role as a leader has already taken a hit during this conference. The country's emissions rose 1.8 percent last year despite headway in building renewable energy and a focus on the Energiewende. In the European Union as a whole, emissions were down 1.3 percent, according to the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo.
What's more, Germany's new coalition government has already agreed in negotiations to drastically cut the country's offshore wind target for the next 15 years. It's the kind of change that worries investors and sends a signal that renewables are risky. One major energy firm, DONG Energy, would not have invested in a number of offshore wind farms with the new, lower levels of support, according to BusinessGreen.
A member of the German delegation declined to comment on the letter and Peter Altmaier, Germany's Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety does not arrive in Warsaw until Wednesday.
Merkel Putting Off Tough Decisions
Another issue at the conference is Germany's level of support for fixing Europe's broken carbon trading program. Energy-heavy industries and coal-dependent countries like Poland, which ironically held a coal conference yesterday and today in Warsaw, have battled against a strong European Emissions Trading System (ETS). But while Germany has the ability to sway the argument, Merkel has largely been sitting on the sidelines during the last year, putting off the tough decisions until the new government takes shape.
Germany has set country targets for reduction of emissions of 40 percent by 2020, but is unlikely to achieve the goal without a strong emissions trading system. The ETS is crucial for meeting targets on emissions reductions by setting European limits on sectors like aviation, chemical producers and other energy-intensive industries such as steel and cement.
Now, with ministers arriving in Warsaw for the high-level segment of the talks, there is much concern that this crucial conference will not accomplish what is necessary among countries before Paris in 2015, when a legally binding agreement is expected.
Germany could help shift the conversation with strong agreements for a governmental direction on these topics in Berlin. However, Berlin may be moving away from a leadership position. It wouldn't be the only country to do so. Australia has been undercutting negotiations in Warsaw, with the prime minister moving to repeal the country's carbon tax. And with Japan announcing lower targets for emissions, it's clear there are few leaders among the wealthy countries here at the climate conference. As today's letter to Merkel noted, "in Warsaw, this leadership is lacking."
Poor countries walk out of UN climate talks as compensation row rumbles on
Bloc of 132 countries exit Warsaw conference after rich nations refuse to discuss climate change recompense until after 2015
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 November 2013 11.38 GMT
Representatives of most of the world's poor countries have walked out of increasingly fractious climate negotiations after the EU, Australia, the US and other developed countries insisted that the question of who should pay compensation for extreme climate events be discussed only after 2015.
The orchestrated move by the G77 and China bloc of 132 countries came during talks about "loss and damage" – how countries should respond to climate impacts that are difficult or impossible to adapt to, such as typhoon Haiyan.
Saleemul Huq, the scientist whose work on loss and damage helped put the issue of recompense on the conference agenda, said: "Discussions were g oing well in a spirit of co-operation, but at the end of the session on loss and damage Australia put everything agreed into brackets, so the whole debate went to waste."
Australia was accused of not taking the negotiations seriously. "They wore T-shirts and gorged on snacks throughout the negotiation. That gives some indication of the manner they are behaving in," said a spokeswoman for Climate Action Network.
Developing countries have demanded that a new UN institution be set up to oversee compensation but rich countries have been dismissive, blocking calls for a full debate in the climate talks.
"The EU understands that the issue is incredibly important for developing countries. But they should be careful about … creating a new institution. This is not [what] this process needs," said Connie Hedegaard, EU climate commissioner.
She ruled out their most important demand, insisting: "We cannot have a system where we have automatic compensation when severe events happen around the world. That is not feasible."
The G77 and China group, which is due to give a press conference on Wednesday to explain the walkout, has made progress on loss and damage, which it says is a "red line" issue. It claims to be unified with similar blocs including the Least Developed Countries, Alliance of Small Island States and the Africa Group of negotiators.
Hedegaard poured cold water on last week's related proposal by Brazil, that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change be asked to find a way to quantify each country's historical emissions of greenhouse gases in order to help countries establish the level of future emission cuts.
Debate on the issue has been rejected by rich countries, which fear it could lead to unacceptable costs.
Hedegaard conceded that rich countries had a special responsibility to cut emissions. "The whole financing discussion reflects that the developed world knows it has special responsibility. Most of what has been emitted has been done by us," she said.
Harjeet Singh, ActionAid Internatonal's spokesman on disaster risk, said: "The US, EU, Australia and Norway remain blind to the climate reality that's hitting us all, and poor people and countries much harder. They continue to derail negotiations in Warsaw that can create a new system to deal with new types of loss and damage such as sea-level rise, loss of territory, biodiversity and other non-economic losses more systematically."
Botswana bans fracking in Kalahari Game Reserve
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 19, 2013 17:35 EST
Botswana’s government Tuesday said environmental protection was key in its search for natural gas, rejecting claims that fracking was already under way in the country’s top wildlife park.
“There are currently no fracking operations going on in the country except exploration drilling by various exploration companies,” said a statement from the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources.
This week, the Open Society Initiative for Southern African (OSISA) said Botswana had granted concessions “over vast tracts of land” while keeping the public in the dark about the developments.
“There is coal bed methane prospecting in the reserve as well as other areas of Botswana, but no commercial operations now or in the near future,” government spokesman Jeff Ramsay said.
“We are guided by environmental regulations that we adhere to,” he said, dismissing reports that the Central Kalahari Game Reserve was threatened by mining activity.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, has met with intense resistance from environmental groups in countries such as the United States who say the process damages the environment.
The 52,800 square kilometre (20,400 square mile) Kalahari park is also home to the indigenous San people, who have faced several attempts by the authorities to remove them from the park.
OSISA had voiced concern that fracking would lead to devastating results for the water scarce country, as well as for the San.
The organisation also revealed that the government had granted coal bed methane concessions within Chobe National Park in the north. South Africa’s Sasol, Australian-based Tamboran Resources and Anglo American are said to be among companies granted drilling licences.
The rush for natural gas has been seen as a growth-boosting alternative by countries seeking investment.
Botswana’s diamond-led economy had seen a slump due to slow export earnings.
Neighbouring South Africa recently published regulations for fracturing, earmarked for the arid Karoo region, a year after lifting a moratorium on the process.
Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions
Chevron, Exxon and BP among companies most responsible for climate change since dawn of industrial age, figures show
• Interactive - which fossil fuel companies are most responsible?http://www.theguardian.com/environment/interactive/2013/nov/20/which-fossil-fuel-companies-responsible-climate-change-interactive
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 November 2013 16.07 GMT
The climate crisis of the 21st century has been caused largely by just 90 companies, which between them produced nearly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the industrial age, new research suggests.
The companies range from investor-owned firms – household names such as Chevron, Exxon and BP – to state-owned and government-run firms.
The analysis, which was welcomed by the former vice-president Al Gore as a "crucial step forward" found that the vast majority of the firms were in the business of producing oil, gas or coal, found the analysis, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Climatic Change.
"There are thousands of oil, gas and coal producers in the world," climate researcher and author Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in Colorado said. "But the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two."
Half of the estimated emissions were produced just in the past 25 years – well past the date when governments and corporations became aware that rising greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of coal and oil were causing dangerous climate change.
Many of the same companies are also sitting on substantial reserves of fossil fuel which – if they are burned – puts the world at even greater risk of dangerous climate change.
Climate change experts said the data set was the most ambitious effort so far to hold individual carbon producers, rather than governments, to account.
The United Nations climate change panel, the IPCC, warned in September that at current rates the world stood within 30 years of exhausting its "carbon budget" – the amount of carbon dioxide it could emit without going into the danger zone above 2C warming. The former US vice-president and environmental champion, Al Gore, said the new carbon accounting could re-set the debate about allocating blame for the climate crisis.
Leaders meeting in Warsaw for the UN climate talks this week clashed repeatedly over which countries bore the burden for solving the climate crisis – historic emitters such as America or Europe or the rising economies of India and China.
Gore in his comments said the analysis underlined that it should not fall to governments alone to act on climate change.
"This study is a crucial step forward in our understanding of the evolution of the climate crisis. The public and private sectors alike must do what is necessary to stop global warming," Gore told the Guardian. "Those who are historically responsible for polluting our atmosphere have a clear obligation to be part of the solution."
Between them, the 90 companies on the list of top emitters produced 63% of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane between 1751 to 2010, amounting to about 914 gigatonne CO2 emissions, according to the research. All but seven of the 90 were energy companies producing oil, gas and coal. The remaining seven were cement manufacturers.
The list of 90 companies included 50 investor-owned firms – mainly oil companies with widely recognised names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP , and Royal Dutch Shell and coal producers such as British Coal Corp, Peabody Energy and BHP Billiton.
Some 31 of the companies that made the list were state-owned companies such as Saudi Arabia's Saudi Aramco, Russia's Gazprom and Norway's Statoil.
Nine were government run industries, producing mainly coal in countries such as China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea and Poland, the host of this week's talks.
Experts familiar with Heede's research and the politics of climate change said they hoped the analysis could help break the deadlock in international climate talks.
"It seemed like maybe this could break the logjam," said Naomi Oreskes, professor of the history of science at Harvard. "There are all kinds of countries that have produced a tremendous amount of historical emissions that we do not normally talk about. We do not normally talk about Mexico or Poland or Venezuela. So then it's not just rich v poor, it is also producers v consumers, and resource rich v resource poor."
Michael Mann, the climate scientist, said he hoped the list would bring greater scrutiny to oil and coal companies' deployment of their remaining reserves. "What I think could be a game changer here is the potential for clearly fingerprinting the sources of those future emissions," he said. "It increases the accountability for fossil fuel burning. You can't burn fossil fuels without the rest of the world knowing about it."
Others were less optimistic that a more comprehensive accounting of the sources of greenhouse gas emissions would make it easier to achieve the emissions reductions needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.
John Ashton, who served as UK's chief climate change negotiator for six years, suggested that the findings reaffirmed the central role of fossil fuel producing entities in the economy.
"The challenge we face is to move in the space of not much more than a generation from a carbon-intensive energy system to a carbonneutral energy system. If we don't do that we stand no chance of keeping climate change within the 2C threshold," Ashton said.
"By highlighting the way in which a relatively small number of large companies are at the heart of the current carbon-intensive growth model, this report highlights that fundamental challenge."
Meanwhile, Oreskes, who has written extensively about corporate-funded climate denial, noted that several of the top companies on the list had funded the climate denial movement.
"For me one of the most interesting things to think about was the overlap of large scale producers and the funding of disinformation campaigns, and how that has delayed action," she said.
The data represents eight years of exhaustive research into carbon emissions over time, as well as the ownership history of the major emitters.
The companies' operations spanned the globe, with company headquarters in 43 different countries. "These entities extract resources from every oil, natural gas and coal province in the world, and process the fuels into marketable products that are sold to consumers on every nation on Earth," Heede writes in the paper.
The largest of the investor-owned companies were responsible for an outsized share of emissions. Nearly 30% of emissions were produced just by the top 20 companies, the research found.
By Heede's calculation, government-run oil and coal companies in the former Soviet Union produced more greenhouse gas emissions than any other entity – just under 8.9% of the total produced over time. China came a close second with its government-run entities accounting for 8.6% of total global emissions.
ChevronTexaco was the leading emitter among investor-owned companies, causing 3.5% of greenhouse gas emissions to date, with Exxon not far behind at 3.2%. In third place, BP caused 2.5% of global emissions to date.
The historic emissions record was constructed using public records and data from the US department of energy's Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Centre, and took account of emissions all along the supply chain.
The centre put global industrial emissions since 1751 at 1,450 gigatonnes.
11/20/2013 03:40 PM
Cheap But Imperfect: Can Geoengineering Slow Climate Change?
Interview by Johann Grolle
Canadian environmental scientist David Keith wants to change the world's climate by creating a type of sun filter in the sky to halt global warming. In an interview, he argues the technology is effective and inexpensive, but critics liken it to a nuclear bomb.
While delegates meeting in Warsaw at the United Nations climate talks push for targets for reducing greenhouse gases, a small splinter group of scientists is promoting an entirely different approach to fighting climate change: They want to artficially manipulate the planet's climate to help stop global warming.
The name most commonly associated with this "geoengineering" is David Keith, a 50-year-old environmental scientist from Canada. Keith is arguably the best-known advocate of geoengineering. When he first devoted himself to the idea more than 20 years ago, it was considered dangerous nonsense. It enraged climate activists, and even Keith received death threats on his answering machine.
Since then, the concept of geoengineering has increasingly won over supporters, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) even grappled with the issue in its most recent report.
Keith runs a company called Carbon Engineering in Calgary, which is developing technology to capture carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. He currently travels back and forth between Calgary and Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.
He recently sat down with SPIEGEL for an interview about his work.
SPIEGEL: Professor Keith, are you a climate fixer?
Keith: That's what they said in the New Yorker, right? People have called me all sorts of things. But I wouldn't say that. I'm a professional whose work is on climate technology, on so-called geoengineering.
SPIEGEL: How would you describe the goal of climate engineers?
Keith: Geoengineering is the deliberate attempt to alter the climate on a global scale.
SPIEGEL: That's quite a bold claim. The New Yorker quotes you saying that you could easily imagine how the tools of climate engineering could spur "a chain of events that would extinguish life on earth."
Keith: … and a lot of my colleagues were unhappy I said that. What I mean by that is the following: If we use this technology with wisdom and humility, and in combination with big emission cuts, then it will almost certainly be a benefit to the world. But it's our responsibility to ask: What is the worst that could happen? What if the user goes nuts? What if humanity decided to commit some kind of racial suicide?
SPIEGEL: Then, you want to say, geoengineering might be the technology to use? In other words: You are dealing here with the most dangerous technology in the world?
Keith: Well, yes and no. There has been a lot of talk about the analogy to nuclear weapons. And in one way the analogy makes sense: This technology has a huge amount of leverage, meaning relatively small amounts of material give a huge amount of power. But the big difference is it all moves slowly -- in years, not minutes. This gives us more room to think and proceed carefully.
SPIEGEL: Critics have accused geoengineers of trying to play God …
Keith: … and maybe it's a fair attribution. I don't think I'm playing God, but I do think the phrase captures some of what's going on here: the desire to deliberately alter nature on a global scale.
SPIEGEL: And you share this desire?
Keith: Well, mankind is already changing the planet. Take agriculture, the emission of carbon dioxide, the intervention in the nitrogen cycle.
SPIEGEL: But in all those cases people didn't intend to change the planet.
Keith: You're right, but intention matters -- as we also distinguish between manslaughter and murder. But the intention of myself and my colleagues is actually to reduce mankind's impact on the natural environment, which is very different from the intent to design it to our liking. As long as we just try to slow down the rate of climate change, I wouldn't say that we are playing God.
SPIEGEL: How exactly would you slow down climate change?
Keith: The idea is to make earth a little bit more reflective by putting say, sulfate or sulfuric acid aerosols in the upper atmosphere. This method is cheap, effective, quickly implantable but rather imperfect.
SPIEGEL: Why imperfect?
Keith: Because it cannot deal with all problems with CO2 in the atmosphere. For example, it does nothing about ocean acidification.
SPIEGEL: And what do you mean by "cheap?"
Keith: According to my estimate the injection of a dose with an appreciable effect on climate would cost about a $1 billion per year -- which is essentially zero if you compare it to the costs of climate damage, which are expected to be at least a $1 trillion a year by mid-century.
SPIEGEL: A billion dollars! This is, in fact, frighteningly cheap. It means that any billionaire could start to change the climate according to his will?
Keith: True. We have a case here, where low cost is not necessarily good. But I don't consider it to be very credible that an individual would be doing this. A government would be able to prevent him.
SPIEGEL: And what if some small island state that feels threatened by rising sea levels decides to cool down the earth a little bit?
Keith: Even in that case the international community has lots of mechanisms to stop this. My real concern is the big countries, like Indonesia, India or the United States.
SPIEGEL: Whoever injects sulfur into the stratosphere will put heavy risks on health and environment. This doesn't frighten you?
Keith: No doubt there are considerable risks. Eventually the sulfur will settle down into the lower atmosphere. And then there's the ozone loss risk.
SPIEGEL: Ozone damage means more ultraviolet radiation on earth, and this means an increase in skin cancer fatalities. Would you accept fatalities for the sake of climate therapy?
Keith: I don't think the fundamental justification is hard. We routinely introduce technologies which threaten some people. If you build a power plant, you are adding some air pollution, and new air pollution means deaths. And, by the way, the net impact of sulfur aerosols on mortality is by no means sure. They do reduce ozone, but they also increase UV scattering, which reduces UV exposure down on earth.
SPIEGEL: How well do you know whether you can actually achieve your ultimate goal to slow down climate change with these sulfur aerosols?
Keith: Well, we know a lot about that. Aerosols in the stratosphere reduce the rate of climate change. This is what we expect from basic theory; this is what we observe after eruptions of volcanoes like Pinatubo (which erupted in the Philippines in 1991); and this is what we see in every climate model that has ever been tested for the impact of aerosols.
SPIEGEL: Some people seem to be concerned that the Asian monsoon might be severely altered by such an aerosol therapy.
Keith: The Indian monsoon has indeed become a touchstone of this confused debate. The whole argument started with an early paper by Alan Robock, who said that geoengineering could shut down the monsoon and threaten billions of lives. He is right to focus on potential impacts on the poor, but the really bad outcomes only come when models are run with a crazy amount of geoengineering. Most models -- including Alan's own results -- show that modest interventions can significantly reduce climate impacts in the Indian subcontinent. It's as in pharmacology: An overdose of a drug is fatal -- but a small dose can save a life.
SPIEGEL: When you talk about manipulating the climate, do you mean the regulation of average world temperature as a whole, or will it someday also be possible to tune climate differently in different locations?
Keith: This is delicate question. As an engineer you think, the more control the better. But I think in this case we might be better off if we couldn't turn too many knobs. While I oppose any military use of climate technology, you can be sure of one thing: The more targeted or tailored this technology gets, the more seriously military use will be considered.
SPIEGEL: Is it technically feasible to fine-tune the climate locally?
Keith: Sure it is. I have even published on this, but I wonder how much we should go on in this direction.
SPIEGEL: You won't be able to detain research anyway.
Keith: Not perfectly, but a little bit. Public programs have clearly stated goals. And you have the choice, whether making tailored modifications should be one of those goals.
'We Should Start Relatively Soon'
SPIEGEL: Are there any concrete plans to experiment with sulfur injection in the atmosphere yet?
Keith: This depends on what you mean by "concrete plans." There are several groups thinking hard about experimental proposals.
SPIEGEL: And who would approve such experiments?
Keith: There are still giant holes in the current law. If I introduce sulfur from a power plant, this is well regulated. If I introduce sulfur from aircraft as part of its fuel, again it's regulated. But if I introduce a million tons of sulfur a year to change the climate, this is not regulated. It's amazing, but by doing this you wouldn't violate any law.
SPIEGEL: So are you asking for restrictions that would be imposed on you and your colleagues?
Keith: Yes, I do. I differ from some of my European colleagues, though, in that I don't think it makes sense to leap right now to a full international treaty for tiny experiments. What we need is a strong memorandum of the large research institutions, which makes sure that in evaluating experiments we will have transparency and strict risk testing protocols. Such rules wouldn't be legally binding, but they would actually have big power.
SPIEGEL: Apart from health and environmental risks, there are also political side effects of geoengineering. The more people perceive climate fixing as an option, the less urgent they will consider the need for emissions cuts to be. Do you understand that activists are concerned about this?
Keith: Absolutely. This is my biggest single concern. The term "moral hazard," which describes exactly what you just talked about, was actually first introduced into this debate by me. Of course, geoengineering might decrease pressure on politics. But, interestingly, in opinion polls you actually find the opposite: After having been told about geoengineering, people appeared to be even more concerned about the climate.
SPIEGEL: Those on the right who deny climate change altogether seem to be remarkably attracted by the idea of geoengineering.
Keith: There are certainly some such people, and of course the oil industry attempts to abuse geoengineering in order to block action. But it is also a fact that most of our support comes from the left, not the right. Supporters of geoengineering overwhelmingly are people who want to see more action on reducing emissions.
SPIEGEL: According to your view, what kind of climate emergency would be necessary to get the first jets started and begin sulfur therapy for the world climate?
Keith: People who talk about a climate emergency need to articulate first what the heck they mean by this. This term reflects a naive and incorrect view of the world. For some ecosystems and some people, there is a climate emergency now. And others even benefit from the current warming. There is no value-free definition of a climate emergency. I don't support the view that we put a technology on the shelf and wait until there's an "emergency."
SPIEGEL: Which means we should get started right away?
Keith: If research shows that these technologies have benefits that greatly exceed the costs, then we should in fact start relatively soon, albeit carefully and with small steps. That will tell us a lot about unknown risks. And it would put us in a much better position to make decisions if there is really some kind of sharp change in climate that constitutes an emergency. The worst time to experiment with new technology like this is in the middle of an emergency.
SPIEGEL: And who should decide when and how to proceed?
Keith: That is the great question, and that is the reason why it's good to start talking about this sooner rather than later. Ultimately, the technological questions are all easy to solve. The governance questions are the ones that are really hard. In the end we have only one planet. And we must, as a species, evolve governance mechanisms that are capable of handling these globally acting technologies -- this is true not only for climate technologies, but also for Internet communications, for altering the human genome or for genetic manipulation of free living organisms.
SPIEGEL: Considering all the technical and political hurdles, what do you predict: Will the era of active climate manipulation start before your retirement?
Keith: I have no idea. I try and answer spontaneously every time I am asked this question. I just turned 50, so if I'm lucky, I will work another 25 years. And political systems, especially in the West, have become extremely inert. Today I think, I am going to answer "No."
SPIEGEL: Professor Keith, we thank you for this interview.
$280m forests initiative launched at UN climate talks in Warsaw
UK, US and Norway to fund drive to save world's forests and encourage sustainable agriculture to cut deforestation
Fiona Harvey and John Vidal in Warsaw
theguardian.com, Wednesday 20 November 2013 18.05 GMT
A new $280m (£173m) initiative to help save the world's remaining forests was launched by the UK, the US and Norway at the United Nations climate change talks in Warsaw on Wednesday.
The money is aimed at encouraging the sustainable use of land, including ensuring that fewer forests are lost to agriculture – the biggest cause of deforestation – and that there is a market for sustainably produced forestry goods, including food, fibre and timber.
Norway is earmarking up to $135m, the UK $120 million and the US $25m for the first year.
But the contributors to the fund acknowledged that the money was not new, as it came from existing climate aid budgets. The plan, called BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes, is aimed at kickstarting the Redd+ scheme, for the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, which has been in the works for more than six years but is still not fully operational. The World Bank will be involved in its implementation.
Ed Davey, the UK energy and climate change secretary, told the conference: "Our global forests are the lungs of the world, and protecting them is fundamental for our survival. When we hand these forests to future generations, we must be able to say we exercised our stewardship wisely and responsibly. This century, tree-cover the size of Greenland has been destroyed by logging, fire, disease and storms. We have the opportunity now to pull forests back from the brink – reducing emissions and safeguarding the wildlife, agriculture and other livelihoods that depend on the forests. We must not let that opportunity pass us by."
John Kerry, US secretary of state, speaking by video link, said: [This is a] critical new tool to help us meet our responsibilities to future generations. It will help countries make progress on sustainable land use practices. The United States stands with willing partners in the fight against global climate change and I look forward to continuing our work together to ensure a more secure future, not only forested countries but for the entire planet that we share."
Davey said that one new aspect of the initiative was that it would work with the private sector to promote the sustainable use of forest products.
Paul Polman, chief executive of Unilever, said: "This is exactly the type of initiative that we are delighted to support. We need to find new forms of public private partnership to address global challenges such as deforestation. Multilaterals like the World Bank play a critical role in catalysing these new business models and Unilever is interested to learn how we can participate and partner with the Bio Carbon Fund."
Some green campaigners welcomed the initiative, but said it did not go far enough, as tens of billions of pounds are needed for Redd+ to work effectively.
Josefina Brana-Varela of WWF said: "The announcement by top donor countries to fund the new joint Redd+ programme, the Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes, with $280m committed so far, is a great example of nations coming together to address climate change in ways that benefit people and nature, but more needs to be done. WWF's expectation is that nations fulfill their promise of $100bn per year from both public and private sources by 2020."
She added: "The announcement, though, sends an important and strong signal that some key nations are willing to work together to both fund and implement Redd+ ... action that needs to be embraced by other [countries] in order to achieve broad agreement on a Redd+ finance architecture."
However, Asad Rehman, head of International Climate, Friends
of the Earth EWNI said: "This money is the clearest choice in favour of dirty energy we've seen so far in Warsaw. Rather than investing in the transition to renewable energy at home and abroad, these countries are investing in establishing the conditions for discredited and ineffective 'forest carbon credits'
"We face a planetary emergency – the solution is not in continuing
business at usual at home and generating false 'credits' from
forestry, it is making the shift to clean energy technologies, while
also protecting forests and forest dependent communities through
improved forest governance and protecting rights to land and
Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst of ActionAid International said: "No new or additional climate finance has been announced at this event. Non-additional and repackaged finance provided in an ad-hoc manner through bilateral initiatives does not move us towards our long term finance goals."
Britain to join U.S. in ending coal power support abroad
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 11:39 EST
Britain said Wednesday it would join the United States in a charge to curb financial aid for building coal-fired power plants abroad.
The announcement was made at UN climate talks in Warsaw where the fossil fuel — the biggest single contributor to global warming — has been at the centre of a storm.
“The UK will join the United States in agreeing to end support for public financing of new coal-fired power plants overseas, except in rare circumstances,” Ed Davey, Britain’s energy secretary, told journalists in Warsaw.
“The two governments are going to work together to secure the support of other countries, and there are other countries who are already up to this… and the multilateral development banks to adopt similar policies.”
Last month, the United States said it would end most financing of coal projects overseas to help brake climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.
The decision put into action one of the pledges President Barack Obama made in announcing a new climate initiative in June.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged “much bolder” spending on measures to stave off climate change, which he called the “greatest single threat to peace, prosperity and sustainable development.”
“The rapid development of low-carbon infrastructure needs large injections of public capital,” he said.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says coal accounted for 44 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2011, the largest share, and remains the leading source of electricity and heat generation.
Poland, the world’s ninth-biggest producer of the commodity in 2012 according to the IEA, raised the ire of many this week with its “endorsement” of a global coal summit held in the same city hosting the annual round of UN climate negotiations.
The climate talks seek to pave the road to a new, global climate pact by 2015 on limiting climate change through emissions curbs.
UN climate chief Christiana Figueres addressed the coal summit on Monday, urging the industry to make dramatic changes to reduce its emissions.
Having powered the economic growth of the West ever since the Industrial Revolution, the biggest rise today is in developing countries with plentiful, cheap reserves.
United States climate envoy Todd Stern “commended” Davey’s announcement, but green groups urged stronger action.
“The UK government should also act to stop UK private finance supporting coal — regulating the finance sector is our only hope of keeping the coal in the ground,” the World Development Movement?s Hannah Griffiths said in a statement.
“Until we can cure the private finance sector of its coal addiction, coal will carry on cooking the planet thanks to UK money.”
The World Resources Institute (WRI) observer group says nearly 1,200 new coal-fired power plants have already been scheduled for development worldwide — more than three-quarters of them in India and China.