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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 144678 times)
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« Reply #825 on: Nov 22, 2013, 06:51 AM »

Hosts Poland accused of endangering world climate talks timetable

Friction at COP 19 in Warsaw could leave negotiating countries without time to agree testable national targets

Fiona Harvey and John Vidal in Warsaw
The Guardian, Thursday 21 November 2013 19.00 GMT   

A bitter row about the timetable for forging a global agreement on climate change is threatening to derail the already fragile United Nations climate change talks, now entering their final stage in Warsaw.

The furious disagreement has pitted the EU against member state Poland, the host of the conference, which has the power to determine much of the pace of the talks. China, India, Venezuela and others are also accused of reneging on commitments made over the past two years to set out a plan for a new global deal that would be signed at a conference in Paris in late 2015.

The row threatens to derail the long-running process towards a new global deal. At stake is whether the Warsaw talks end with a clear timetable for countries to set out their emissions reduction targets before the crunch meeting in Paris. Those targets need to be defined by each country in time for them to be assessed by the other participants, and to ensure they are ambitious enough.

At the back of delegates' minds is the lesson of disastrous Copenhagen talks in 2009, when many of the crucial negotiations over targets, financing for poor countries and other crucial points were settled late, leaving too little negotiating time to forge a treaty. If the national targets are not set in good time, Paris could be yet another failure in the 20-year process, and the future of the UN talks would be in doubt.

"Without a timetable set out, we have no leverage to make sure that countries have to come together to work on this before Paris," said one high-level EU official.

Ed Davey, the energy secretary, likened it to revising for an exam. "When I was a student preparing for my GCSEs, I started well before the exams - you need to do the homework. And we need a process where that homework can be marked."

Ruth Davis, political director at Greenpeace, said the point was critical: "'Many governments have signalled their willingness to table new targets in 2014, as well as make contributions to the Green Climate Fund. If this ambition isn't captured in a decision the hosts and the negotiators will have let down not just those affected by climate change, but every country that is already investing in the green economy.

"Civil society groups left the talks today in part because the Polish government is too busy promoting the coal industry to fulfil its obligations to the international community."

Poland has been accused of delaying and watering down the draft text of one crucial strand of the talks, which currently does not include a timetable or work programme. The EU official said Poland was projecting its own interests on to the negotiations. Poland has long been resistant to tough emissions targets within the EU.

China is also resisting a timetable, along with allies in the "like-minded group" – countries ranging from Saudi Arabia to Venezuela that have a history of obstructing the talks. China has often in the past resisted any suggestion that its targets should be monitored at an international level.

Most other countries accept a timetable should be part of the outcome, aligning both the poorest nations and many rich governments. The US has said it will set out its future emissions target early in 2015, and it is understood would accept a timetable as long as both developed and developing countries are required to follow it. Brazil also said it wanted a timetable, as well as ambitious targets, and South Africa, Mexico and other rapidly emerging economies are also understood to be aligned.

Neither the Polish presidency nor the Chinese delegation responded to requests for comment.

But the UN seemed to be preparing for damage limitation, in case the timetable cannot be agreed. The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, gave a much weaker endorsement of a timetable than many wanted, telling Reuters: "I understand that many countries still may not be ready, for their political or economic considerations … We may not need to wait until everybody declares their positions. So whoever can do, they should do by September next year."

Christiana Figueres, the UN's top official on climate, said: "The text is disappointing. But it is not the last and not the

2015 agreement. It is a call to action."


Warsaw climate change conference: polluting corporations welcome

The COP 19 conference is sponsored by big polluters, including petroleum companies. Money is crowding out substantive action

Amy Goodman, Thursday 21 November 2013 18.30 GMT   
The United Nations is holding this year's climate conference in Warsaw, a city steeped in history. Nicolaus Copernicus, the famous Polish astronomer who first posited that the Earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa, is celebrated here. The Frederic Chopin Airport is named for the brilliant composer who lived here. The pioneer in the science of radiation, Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (she won two of them), was born here.

Here also was the Warsaw Ghetto, one of the many awful hallmarks of the Holocaust, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were imprisoned before being shipped off to their deaths at Treblinka and other Nazi concentration camps. It was under the oppression of the German occupiers that the Jews of the Ghetto rose up, in a courageous act of self-defense. Later, inspired by the Ghetto uprising, the non-Jewish residents of Warsaw rose up as well and fought for two months before being crushed. By the end of second world war, 6 million Poles, half of them Jews, had been killed; 85% of Warsaw was demolished.

This is where the so-called COP 19 is being held, the 19th conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UNFCCC. Sequestered in the new National Stadium, thousands of negotiators from the body's 198 member countries hurry through the temporary, canvas-walled corridors erected on the stadium's field, along with representatives of countless nongovernmental organizations and members of the press. This year's meeting has a new feature: corporate sponsorship.

Pascoe Sabido, who works with Corporate Europe Observatory – which published the pamphlet the COP 19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying: Climate Crooks and the Polish Government's Partners in Crime – told me:

    This is perhaps the most corporate climate talks we have ever experienced ... not to say that previous ones haven't had a large corporate influence. But what's different this time is the level of institutionalization, the degree to which the Polish government and the UN, the UNFCCC, have welcomed this with open arms and have actively encouraged it.

Among them, Pascoe says, are "General Motors, known for funding climate skeptic think tanks like the Heartland Institute in the US; you have BMW, which is doing equal things in Europe, trying to weaken emission standards." Grupa Lotos, the second-largest Polish petroleum corporation, has its logo emblazoned on the 11,000 tote bags handed out to delegates here.

Poland, which gets 80-90% of its power from coal, hosted a parallel conference with the World Coal Association, called the International Coal and Climate Summit. UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres enraged many climate activists by dignifying the coal conference with a keynote address. Outside the summit, Greenpeace activists in climbing gear hung from the Ministry of Economy with a huge banner, in the red and white of the Polish flag, stating "Who Rules Poland: Coal Industry or the People?" On the roof, others unfurled "Who Rules the World? Fossil Fuel Industry or the People?" On the plaza below, hundreds rallied against coal, arriving in a procession called "Cough 4 Coal" with two huge inflated lungs, signifying the destructive impact of coal on the atmosphere and human health.

Back in the National Stadium, the negotiations were breaking down. "WTF?" activists shouted in unison. "Where's the finance?" Wealthy countries had pledged financial support for poorer, developing countries to move to renewable energies ("mitigation") and to prepare for the onslaught of climate change ("adaptation"). Oxfam estimates that to date this fund has raised only $7.6bn, far short of the promised $30bn to $100bn. This is not charity; polluters should pay.

The Philippines' chief climate-change negotiator, Nadarev "Yeb" Sano, spoke with me on the ninth day of his fast, which he started on the day COP 19 opened. He said:

    The US, accounting for at least one-fourth of cumulative emissions, has a huge responsibility, a moral responsibility, to tackle climate change, not just to address it domestically, but also to be able to provide support for developing countries.

Typhoon Haiyan's destruction provides a grim backdrop to the negotiations in Warsaw. Yeb Sano learned that his brother survived only by seeing him on a news report, helping to collect the dead. The science is clear: with increasing temperatures, extreme weather events will become more frequent and more deadly. After Sano announced his fast in an emotional address to the plenary, several students silently walked with him as he exited, holding a banner commemorating the dead in the Philippines. For this spontaneous act of solidarity, they were banned from the climate proceedings, for a year. One of the banned, Clemence Hutin from Paris, told me, "I don't understand why civil society isn't welcome here and corporations are."

• Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2013 Amy Goodman; distributed by King Features Syndicate


November 21, 2013 03:00 PM

'Nature Does Not Negotiate': Environmentalists Walk Out of UN Climate Summit in Warsaw

By Diane Sweet

Via Democracy Now!:

Hundreds of environmental activists walked out of the U.N. climate change summit (COP 19) in Warsaw, Poland on Thursday morning over the absence of a binding agreement on curbing global warming. The move comes less than 36 hours after a group of 133 developing nations walked out of a key negotiating meeting amidst a conflict over how countries who have historically emitted the most greenhouse gases should be held financially responsible for some of the damage caused by extreme weather.

Groups backing the walkout include Greenpeace, Oxfam,, the International Trade Union Confederation, Action Aid International, WWF International and Friends of the Earth.

"Our message to our political leaders is that nature does not negotiate," says Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo. "You can’t change the science -- we have to change political will."

    KUMI NAIDOO: "This action is a clear statement that this particular COP is a complete betrayal to the sense of urgency that is needed. In fact, today, as we are here, there are activists around the world who are paying a price for standing up to take action on climate action. Whether it is the Arctic 30 that are in prison in Russia or whether it’s indigenous peoples in different parts of Latin America, they are the ones who actually are saying, "Our livelihoods are at threat. We need to act." And our political leaders have the temerity to tolerate the fact that we are called hooligans, when in fact the real hooligans are the CEOs and the big bosses of oil, coal and gas companies that have completely captured our governments and have completely captured this negotiating process. It is an insult to us that, in fact, this COP is largely sponsored by the coal industry. It’s been given opportunity to proclaim that there such a thing as clean coal and so on.

    And given all of this, this action is about sending a clear statement that our leaders here need to wake up, they need to pull up their socks, they need to actually act with the urgency that both science and extreme weather events are actually saying that we need to. As my comrades here have already said, we are not disrespecting the United Nations or the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is the individual positions that powerful governments bring here that is holding the process. That is why our commitment here is not simply saying we’re walking out. We are saying we are walking out, and we are committing ourselves to mobilize the largest number of people in every single country in the world to say to every parent, "Your child and your grandchildren’s future is at stake. You need to stand up now and take action," so that when we get to the next COP in Lima, Peru, next year, we have, hopefully, a better fighting chance to lay the foundations for a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty when we get to Paris—something, by the way, that we were supposed to have achieved in Copenhagen.

    So our message to our political leaders: Understand that nature does not negotiate. You cannot change the science. And we have to change political will. And it’s within their capacity to do that, and they cannot drag their feet any longer, and they need to start doing that now."

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« Reply #826 on: Nov 22, 2013, 07:27 AM »

November 21, 2013

U.S. and China Find Convergence on Climate Issue


WARSAW — Discord and rivalry between Beijing and Washington have factored in international discussions of global warming since the United Nations climate treaty was established in 1992, contributing to the foundering of the 2009 talks in Copenhagen and much rough sailing since.

But with China having recently surpassed the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the countries are finding that their interests increasingly overlap, climate experts and government officials say. The more productive relationship is raising hopes that the friction of recent years may be easing, paving the way for a new global climate change treaty in 2015.

International delegates have been meeting in Warsaw to negotiate the provisions of that treaty. The conference is scheduled to end Friday.

Zhang Haibin, a professor of international relations at Peking University who has served as an adviser to China’s Ministry of Commerce, said that while climate cooperation with the United States remained difficult, there appeared at the very least to be a tacit agreement not to torpedo the talks. That represents progress.

At the government level, “I think there is some convergence,” Professor Zhang said. “They can speak a common language about this.”

The countries are driven by compelling domestic constraints as well as a desire not to be seen by other nations as superpolluting superpowers that scuttled an international deal. China suffers from choking pollution produced by its hundreds of coal-fired power plants, and it has invested billions of dollars in alternative energy sources to power its growing cities. The Obama administration, facing court orders and pressure from environmental and public health groups, is writing rules to clean up existing coal-burning power plants and essentially ban the construction of new ones.

The cooperative spirit has been on display this year in an agreement by President Obama and President Xi Jinping to work together to phase down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a family of potent greenhouse gases widely used in propellants and refrigeration. In April, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the formation of a United States-China climate change working group.

“The United States and China are absolutely essential” to this process, Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations climate convention, said in an interview.

She continued, “No agreement will move forward without their participation.”

There remain formidable impediments to reaching a deal in 2015 in Paris, where negotiators will try to fashion a new agreement to replace the moribund Kyoto Protocol. Among them, of course, are the very commitments that countries are willing to make to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, when they fear that doing so could slow economic growth. Also at issue are questions of so-called climate justice, that is, who should pay for the climate-related damages and how much should be diverted from rich countries to poor ones to protect against the inevitable losses from rising seas and violent storms. These are the fraught subjects under discussion here this week among the 195 members of the United Nations climate treaty meeting to map a path to a new accord.

But it is the confluence of those two issues — emissions reductions and financing for climate adaptation — that has so far frustrated the United States and other developed nations in dealing with China.

Despite China’s being the world’s second-largest economy and the largest greenhouse gas polluter, it is treated under the rules of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as though it were the relatively poor developing country it was when the treaty was created. China has until now allied itself with the poorest African countries and most vulnerable island states in demanding a set of rules and obligations separate from those that apply to the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and European nations.

The United States argues that those categories — annexes, in the treaty’s terms — are outmoded in a world in which developing nations will soon surpass the developed world in emissions, and China will soon be the largest emitter in cumulative historical terms.

“They do a lot,” Todd D. Stern, the United States climate envoy, said here this week, describing actions by China to slow its pollution. “I’m not criticizing China. The question is what they’re prepared to agree to.”

But, he added, the Chinese “can’t say both that the annexes are operational in terms of who does what and that they are immutable from 1992.”

As a practical matter, those distinctions make it less likely that the United States Senate, wary about the economic impact of an agreement, would ratify any eventual treaty that does not treat the largest polluters equally.

Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief climate negotiator, acknowledged at a news conference in Warsaw this week that China was now the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, a result of the country’s rapid industrialization.

But he said China was slowing the rate of growth of its emissions and would not wait until its people had reached the living standard of wealthier countries before taking more substantial measures to cut pollution.

He reaffirmed the principle of separate responsibilities for rich and poor countries, but he also signaled that China would work toward a treaty that provided benefits to all parties, rather than punishes one group of nations to reward others.

“We hope that in the climate negotiations there won’t be some countries win while some countries lose,” Mr. Xie said. “We want everyone to win. If in these negotiations some countries win and some lose, then the outcome will be a failure. ”

Robert N. Stavins, the director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, said that a more cooperative approach by China would be a major lift to prospects for a new treaty, especially if it helped persuade other emerging economies like Brazil, India and South Africa to join.

“If the 20th century was the American century, a lot of people expect the 21st century to be the Chinese century,” Mr. Stavins said. “And if it’s your century, you don’t obstruct, you lead.”

David Jolly reported from Warsaw, and Chris Buckley from Hong Kong.

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« Reply #827 on: Nov 22, 2013, 07:47 AM »

November 21, 2013

Font of Natural Energy in the Philippines, Crippled by Nature


ORMOC, the Philippines — Clouds of steam surge from fissures in the earth along the beds of mountain streams here that splash down slopes carpeted with coconut palm forests, hints of the enormous source of renewable energy that lies underground.

Engineers have drilled a series of boreholes a mile down into hot volcanic rocks, tapping into superheated water under enormous pressure. The water surges to the surface, expands into steam and then cools, spinning a series of turbines that produce five times as much electricity as all of Leyte Island, with 1.5 million people, can consume. The rest of the electricity is sold to other islands in the Philippines.

Or at least that is the way it is supposed to work. When Typhoon Haiyan barreled across Leyte Island almost two weeks ago with a tsunami-like storm surge and nearly tornado-strength winds, killing thousands of people and effortlessly tearing the roofs off homes, it also damaged the crucial geothermal operations here.

For many in the Philippines, the damage here exemplifies a broader paradox: A storm consistent with some scientists’ warnings about climate change has done tremendous damage to an island that is one of the world’s biggest success stories of renewable energy, and to a country that has contributed almost nothing to the global accumulation of greenhouse gases.

“Many Filipino families have become climate refugees,” said Senator Loren Legarda, the chairwoman of the Philippine Senate’s standing committee on climate change. “We may not pollute the world, yet we are victims of extreme weather and climate change.”

As if to highlight that rueful conclusion, the United Nations climate talks in Warsaw, which unfolded as the world became aware of the typhoon’s savagery, have been marred by bitter quarrels between rich and developing nations.

The Tongonan geothermal field on the outskirts of Ormoc on western Leyte Island is the world’s second-largest producer of geothermal energy, after one in California. Yet the operation here is remarkably little known even among renewable energy experts because of its unusual history and a lingering penchant for secrecy for national security reasons.

The New People’s Army, one of the world’s longest-lasting Maoist insurgencies and an enduring though low-intensity threat on Leyte Island, represents a potential risk to the operations. A small army of soldiers and security guards defends the site and maintains layers of checkpoints to keep visitors out of the mountain valley where five geothermal power plants are.

The extraordinary force of the typhoon’s winds shattered the coconut palm forests that line the steep, narrow valley that for years has churned out so much geothermal energy. Particularly near the ridgelines, mile after mile of trees have changed from green to brown since the winds tore loose virtually every frond. The winds then twisted and bent the usually resilient trunks until they snapped or burst.

Sheltered in the valley below, however, the homes of the site’s 795 workers seem to have fared surprisingly well, although one of the military barracks has lost much of its green, corrugated steel roof. Agnes de Jesus, the senior vice president for the environment at the Energy Development Corporation, which now owns the power plants, said that no one was killed or seriously injured at the plants during the typhoon, even as the storm surge on the opposite side of the island, 50 miles to the east, killed thousands in the coastal cities of Tacloban, Palo and Tanauan.

Responding to the Arab oil embargo of 1973, President Ferdinand E. Marcos began developing the field in the late 1970s with a small demonstration project. The goal from the start was not environmental, but nationalistic and economic: to reduce the Philippines’ dependence on imported energy and save money on fuel bills.

After the demonstration project proved successful, five large geothermal plants were built atop boreholes in the same valley here in the mid-1990s, each big enough even today to power the entire island. Each of the five was built by a different company, and then all five transferred them to a state-owned company.

The state-owned company subsequently privatized them and they became the Energy Development Corporation, a company listed seven years ago on the Philippine Stock Exchange.

The valley here differs from many geothermal sites around the world in that the underground rocks are hotter and what comes up through the boreholes is superpressurized water, not steam.

The underground water here is at a scalding 480 to 660 degrees Fahrenheit. Four of the power plants essentially rely on two steps: first they spin turbines using the tendency of water at such high temperatures to expand into steam, and then they spin further turbines as the steam cools. Finally, those four power plants were designed to condense the steam into water in steel-reinforced wooden cooling towers for reinjection into the ground.

The typhoon destroyed all four cooling towers, located near ridgelines, splintering the wood and casting aside the steel. The Energy Development Corporation is now studying whether to replace the cooling towers with identical construction or build new ones that may be more durable, said Leonita Sabando, the environmental management chief at the site.

The fifth power plant does the expansion from water to steam, the cooling of the steam and the condensation of the steam in a single complex that is also high on the valley wall. Yet it does not protrude so high above the surrounding terrain, and so suffered much less damage. The company is now testing all of the components of that power plant in the hope of bringing it back into full service and repowering Leyte Island by Dec. 24, the national target for restoring electricity after the typhoon, Ms. de Jesus said.

Replacing broken poles for electricity transmission across Leyte Island presents another challenge. Phil Morales Jr., the leader of a digging team in central Leyte, estimated that only 10 percent of the poles are either new or survived the storm along the 50-mile segment that is his responsibility; even fewer poles survived on links to villages to the north and south of the main east-west route.

“The backbone should be energized this coming December, but not the laterals,” he said as he and his team paused for lunch in sweltering heat in Tunga, a town in the hills of central Leyte.

Other islands have not suffered electricity failures, except as a result of damage to transmission lines, as power plants elsewhere in the Philippines have made up for the loss of the geothermal capacity here, said Cynthia Alabanza, the spokeswoman for the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines.

About one-ninth of the Philippines’ electricity consumption comes from geothermal power, mostly generated here; geothermal power produces half the electricity in the central Philippines, but a tiny share for the energy-hungry northern Philippines, including Manila, which relies more heavily on coal.

Engineers for the project here forecast that the underground rocks, heated by volcanic activity a million years ago, will not cool significantly for another million years, while the underground water is being constantly recharged by water percolating down from the surface.

Although geothermal power has been a success here, few other countries, notably tiny Iceland, have similar resources to tap. Geologists in China, currently the largest emitter of global warming gases by a wide margin, have not found comparably hot underground water for electricity generation there, although warm underground water is piped from near Xi’an to heat thousands of homes there in winter.

As sunshine alternated with squalls one afternoon here this week, a succession of bright, luminous rainbows soared over the valley. They drew comparisons to the rainbow that the Bible describes Noah as seeing, as a pact that after the great flood, humanity would endure.

“It’s a hope that we can revert to normalcy, it’s a sign to us, because we Filipinos believe in God,” Ms. de Jesus said.

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« Reply #828 on: Nov 23, 2013, 06:44 AM »

Warsaw climate change talks falter as EU and developing countries clash

EU chief chastised for expressing frustration with failure to agree timetable on emission cuts and attempts by some to opt out

Fiona Harvey in Warsaw
The Guardian, Friday 22 November 2013 19.58 GMT   

United Nations talks on climate change were on the brink of breaking down on Friday as a group of developing countries launched a furious attack on the European Union over plans to set out a timetable towards a global deal on greenhouse gas emissions.

Rows over whether rich countries should pay compensation to the poor for the effects of climate change, and over how governments can move to a historic global deal on emissions, have disrupted the fortnight-long talks, which have been marked by walk-outs and recriminations.

As the talks dragged on into the night, the EU's climate chief, Connie Hedegaard, expressed frustration with the failure to agree a timetable on emissions cuts, and with attempts by a small number of developing countries to opt out of the proposal.

In a dramatic intervention late on Friday, Venezuela's head of delegation, representing a group of "like-minded countries" including China, India, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, accused the EU of "damaging seriously the atmosphere of confidence and trust in this process". Claudia Salerno said: "We are shocked by the brazen attack against our group by Hedegaard – it is incredible that she has chosen to accuse our group of blocking progress."

Talks had been inching towards a conclusion, with participants reporting "productive" meetings and "modest progress". The negotiations were meant to lay the groundwork for a crunch meeting in Paris in late 2015, at which governments are supposed to sign a new global treaty on climate change, to come into force from 2020, which would be the first to include commitments on emissions from both developed and developing nations.

Before this can happen, it is crucial thatall countries set out national targets on emissions well in advance of the Paris talks, so that other participants can assess the targets – which would lay out cuts into the 2020s and beyond – and can see whether they are sufficiently ambitious to head off dangerous levels of climate change.

The US, the EU and many other rich and poor countries see such a programme as essential. But as the talks dragged on into extra time in Poland's national football stadium on Friday night, there was still no consensus.

Salerno's outburst underlined the fractious nature of the talks, and the new divisions between some rapidly emerging economies, some of them with large fossil fuel interests, and other developing countries that have more to lose from the effects of climate change.

The spokesman for Hedegaard said some countries wanted to portray the talks as divided between the developed and developing world. "It's not like that. It is the willing versus the unwilling."

The EU and US are also anxious to ensure that rapidly growing economies – especially China, which is now the world's biggest emitter of C02 and second biggest economy – take on responsibilities for their emissions, which they did not under the Kyoto protocol.

In another strand, the highly contentious issue of "loss and damage", by which developing countries stricken by the effects of severe weather would receive assistance, was moving towards compromise.

That would involve a mechanism for channelling funds to vulnerable countries when they suffer natural disasters related to global warming. This is very different from the "compensation" that some developing countries want from the rich world, and which rich countries have ruled out, but they may accept this compromise as it would allow them to receive funding when disaster strikes.

Ed Davey, the UK's energy and climate secretary, said: "I think we will be able to reconcile these views."

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« Reply #829 on: Nov 23, 2013, 07:51 AM »

November 22, 2013

Strong Rules on Fracking in Wyoming Seen as Model


In energy-friendly Wyoming, oil and gas companies are getting a clear message: Drill, baby, drill — but carefully.

Last week, state regulators approved one of the nation’s strongest requirements for testing water wells near drilling sites. The measure is intended to address concerns that groundwater can become contaminated from drilling activities.

It is the latest of several groundbreaking regulations related to energy production issued by Wyoming, which in 2010 became the first state to require disclosure of some of the chemicals used in the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“I am not going to accept the question of do you want a clean environment or do you want energy,” said Gov. Matthew H. Mead, a Republican who championed the water-testing regulation. “The fact is that in Wyoming, we want and need both.”

Wyoming ranks about fourth among states in natural gas production and eighth in oil production, which has grown rapidly in recent years. The new water rule, which takes effect in March, will require oil and gas companies to test wells or springs within a half-mile of their drilling site, both before and after drilling. The tests will measure a range of factors, including temperature, bacteria, dissolved gases like methane and propane, and roughly 20 chemical compounds and elements including barium, benzene, strontium and nitrates. The rule comes after another measure that took effect this month requiring drilling companies to monitor for certain air pollutants at new oil and gas production sites, and fix any leaks. The requirement applies only to an area in western Wyoming that struggles to keep ozone in check.

In 2010, Wyoming joined Colorado as one of the first states to adopt tougher standards to reduce emissions while an oil and gas well is being drilled, said Jon Goldstein, a senior energy policy manager at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Mark A. Northam, director of the School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming, said that Wyoming was working to enhance public confidence in drilling. “They’re stricter rules,” he said, but the idea is to help the oil and gas industry operate smoothly, “rather than making it more difficult.”
Environmental groups are pressing for more change. In a closely watched case, the Wyoming Supreme Court on Wednesday heard a case brought by several environmental groups that seeks to mandate the disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking. Companies are now allowed to withhold information from the public about certain chemicals, lest their competitors try to re-create their proprietary mix. The case is an appeal of a district court ruling against the environmentalists this year.

Timothy Preso, a lawyer who argued the case for the environmental groups, said he knew of no other such case in the nation, perhaps reflecting that Wyoming’s chemical disclosure requirement for fracking predates similar rules in any other states.

The water testing rule reflects concern about fracking, which uses a blend of water, chemicals and sand to break up underground rock at high pressures to extract oil or gas. If the chemical-laced liquid escapes during part of the drilling process, critics say, it could pose a threat to nearby groundwater.

John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said that as long as rules about the construction and completion of a well were followed, “I do not believe there would be an instance of any kind of contamination due to a drilling operation.”

The two largest oil-drilling states, Texas and North Dakota, do not have water-testing requirements. Colorado and Ohio have some requirements, and several states encourage drillers to conduct tests. Mr. Goldstein of the Environmental Defense Fund said that Wyoming’s was the strongest water-testing rule yet.

“It’s kind of a model for the country,” he said. Wyoming has a history of water contamination disputes. Years ago, landowners in a drilling area near the town of Pavillion complained of groundwater quality problems. The federal Environmental Protection Agency investigated and issued a draft report in 2011 indicating a “likely impact” of fracking on groundwater. An industry outcry ensued, and the E.P.A. never finished the study, instead handing it over to Wyoming officials for further work. That prompted more criticism, from environmentalists. Wyoming’s study is financed by the drilling company that worked in the area.

Wyoming expects to release two studies related to Pavillion in late December, with a final report scheduled for the end of September next year. Governor Mead said he wanted to know what had happened in Pavillion, but he did not know of any instances in Wyoming in which fracking had contaminated groundwater. His goal, he said, was to “set the politics aside and let science lead the way on what we should do.”

Mr. Robitaille of the petroleum association estimated that the new water testing requirement would cost roughly $15,000 per oil and gas well. Even before the rule passed, he said, some companies were testing water before drilling. But his group is most worried about what happens if the postdrilling water tests show changes from the predrilling tests, even though Wyoming’s rule states that drillers will not be presumed to be at fault for discrepancies.

“It is our concern that instantly the oil and gas operation would then be blamed, where it may be a natural occurrence,” Mr. Robitaille said. For example, he said, nitrates can fluctuate with agricultural runoff, or a water well company could accidentally spill something down a well. Governor Mead acknowledged that it “may be difficult to predict what exactly will happen” in individual cases, but “if there is an issue, that is what we want to know.” The whole point, he said, is to avoid another episode like the one in Pavillion in which “everything’s left in this limbo because there’s no background, no baseline, to help us determine what is taking place.” Environmentalists hope Wyoming will now act on other drilling-related issues, like a reduction in flaring, or the burning off of excess gas, and greater distances between drilling rigs and homes and schools. Mr. Mead said he would continue to review issues including air quality, flaring and water.

“I want as robust an oil and gas industry as possible in Wyoming,” he said, “and I think one of the ways we get there is to continually strive to make improvements.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 22, 2013
An earlier version of this article misidentified the  director of the School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming. He is Mark A. Northam, not Mark A. Mortham.
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« Reply #830 on: Nov 24, 2013, 07:38 AM »

Warsaw climate talks set to reach deal to agree targets on emissions cuts

Developing countries bitterly opposed to signing up to same timetable as long-industrialised countries

Fiona Harvey in Warsaw
The Observer, Saturday 23 November 2013 20.34 GMT      

Marathon talks on a new global agreement on climate change looked likely to end on Saturday night in a partial deal that would require all countries to come forward with targets on curbing their greenhouse gas emissions within a little over a year.

The deal looked likely to be struck after a fortnight of negotiations ran into an unscheduled extra day because countries could not agree on a timetable for setting clear national targets on cuts in carbon.

There were angry scenes and bitter rows, underlining the difficulty of getting all of the world's 190 or so countries to agree on a way forward to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. This conference was meant to lay the groundwork for a potential new global deal on climate, to be negotiated within two years.

The key sticking point considered a basic issue: should both rich and poor nations be obliged to come forward with emissions reduction targets in time for a crunch conference in Paris next year when a historic global deal on the climate is supposed to be signed? If successful, the deal would come into force in 2020, and would govern emissions levels through the following decade and beyond.

Scientists say that if the world continues to emit carbon dioxide at current rates, within three decades the "carbon budget" – the total amount that can be poured into the atmosphere without triggering a dangerous climate change of more than 2C – will be used up within three decades. That makes the business of cutting emissions extremely urgent, as at present the global output of carbon is still rising.

China, India, Venezuela and several other developing countries remained bitterly opposed until the final moments to signing up to a timetable that would require them to set out plans to curb their emissions by early next year. They insisted that only developed countries should have to formulate such targets. That was the model used in the Kyoto protocol of 1997, by which the "historical" emitters such as the European Union and the United States bore the only obligations to make cuts. But that agreement quickly ran into trouble and was largely abandoned after its first deadline passed in 2012.

Developed countries argue that previous agreements, struck at a crucial conference in Durban in 2011, require all of the world's major economies – including China, which is the biggest emitter globally, and the world's second biggest economy – to sign up to plans to bring down emissions in line with scientific advice.

Major developed countries such as the US fought hard for a clear timetable that would force all governments to come to the table with their targets by early 2015. That would give enough time for the plans to be assessed before the Paris conference and ensure they are "ambitious" enough.

But as weary delegates wilted after more than 36 hours of non-stop negotiations, many issues remained to be resolved. There was no agreement on the level of cuts needed, how they should be divided up, and how rich countries should provide $100bn a year by 2020 to help poor countries move to a greener economy and adapt to the effects of extreme weather.

Much of the criticism was focused on the Polish hosts of the Warsaw conference, who were accused of putting their national interests – coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, provides 90% of the country's energy – before their duty to broker an agreement. The talks dragged on far beyond the cut-off point of 6pm on Friday.

Ruth Davis, political director at Greenpeace UK, said: "The potential for a new climate deal in Paris in 2015 is still alive, even after a bitter and divisive conference in Warsaw, which the Polish hosts tried to run as a showcase for the coal industry. The fact that many countries came here with so little to offer the victims of climate change in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan has caused wounds which will take some time to heal."

Mohamed Adow, senior climate change adviser at Christian Aid, said: "In the post-2020 agreement, China – together with all countries, rich and poor – must do their fair share of efforts to prevent climate change. But country-bashing won't get us the deal we need. We need to rebuild trust and confidence to help get the equitable outcome that will drive real climate action."

Connie Hedegaard, the EU's climate commissioner, said ministers must return to their capitals and prepare national targets. "Time for all to go home and do the homework: prepare contributions in time to see if the combined effort is enough. The EU is preparing."

She added, referring to the fractious nature of the talks: "I'm sure there are more comfortable ways to Paris, but now we can move forward."

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« Reply #831 on: Nov 25, 2013, 06:46 AM »

11/25/2013 12:49 PM

UN Conference: European Trick Delivers Climate Compromise

By Axel Bojanowski in Warsaw

It was a conference characterized by outbursts of anger, an atmosphere of mistrust, global divisions and a dramatic ending, but the delegates at the UN climate conference managed to reach an agreement over the weekend.

After nearly two weeks of climate talks and an all-night marathon session, the delegates' despair became obvious at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Why wasn't he being allowed to speak, a Bolivian representative called out to the delegates gathered in Warsaw. Why were others being given precedence? Developing nations, he said, were supposed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, while the industrialized nations were refusng to make any further financial pledges.

There it was again -- the mistrust that marred the climate conference in Warsaw. The mistrust between two blocs -- the old industrialized nations of the West on the one side and newly industrialized nations like China, India and Brazil as well as developing economies who want the West to take care of the climate problem on its own and to compensate them for their existing problems.

"The division of the world into two parts is the hidden debate that is making things so difficult," said Karsten Sach, the head of the German delegation in Warsaw. At times, he said the mood of the debate had been "horrible."

Still, by 5 p.m. on Saturday, it appeared that an agreement had been reach on a climate deal in Warsaw. It was only seconds away. But just as Polish conference president Marcin Korolec raised his hammer to conclude the proceedings, the delegate from Fiji issued an objection, protesting a single formulation in the treaty document.

A Dramatic Conclusion

The wording hindered the most important demand made by developing nations: that poor countries would be given greater aid if they are struck by natural disasters linked to climate change. Scientists believe climate change could make extreme weather events more dangerous. The developing nations demanded a new institution for managing such aid, but the industrialized nations wanted the issue to be placed under an existing framework for countries for adaptation to the effects of climate change. They feared they would be held liable if it were placed in its own category.

A delegate from Nepal said that wasn't what had been agreed to. Meanwhile, a delegate from Fiji, speaking on behalf of the developing and emerging economies, said, "There is absolutely nothing to write home about at the moment."

Talks were broken off yet again. Representatives of the United States, the European Union and the poorer countries then gathered in the middle of the room and began intense discussions. At 7:15 p.m, they finally found a compromise. "Loss and Damage," as the issue is referred to in UN jargon, would be addressed under the existing adjustment provision. But they also agreed that the status of the new Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage would be renegotiated at the 22nd climate conference in 2016. The treaty also states that the losses and damage caused by weather catastrophes go beyond the scope of adaptation. Ultimately, the agreement delays any real decision.

Here's an overview of the other important results of the UN climate conference in Warsaw:

    In 2015 in Paris, a new universal climate agreement is intended to be agreed on that will include concrete goals for curbing CO2 emissions and will also seek to limit the rise of global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius. "We now have a pathway for negotiations in Paris," said Sach. "The most important aim in Warsaw has been achieved."
    Starting in 2020, the industrialized countries will provide $100 billion (€74 billion) per year to developing nations to help mitigate the effects of climate change. A working group has been established at the Warsaw conference that is now expected to develop a finance plan.
    Even before that, six UN funds will support poor countries in tackling climate change. Western states promised in Warsaw to provide larger contirbutions to the funds, with Germany serving as one of the leading donors. Most of the funds are set to be operational soon.
    Industrial states want to finance reforestation projects worldwide. In Warsaw it was decided to explore in more detail research on the extent to which planting trees benefits the climate.

Rage, Wrath, Disappointment

In many important questions, however, global divisions prevented agreement. Right up to the end, representatives of developing nations had asked the West to make larger payments even before 2020, calling for $70 billion per year starting in 2016. Industrial nations had already provided $10 billion a year from 2010 to 2012, but there are no clear commitments for the period betwen 2013 and 2019. Germany, however, is providing €1.8 billion in 2013, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier reported in Warsaw last week, mostly in development aid projects. By 2020 this figure will rise to €3 billion according to unofficial plans.

"We are very disappointed with the draft text," the Bolivian representative said on Saturday afternoon in the UN plenum. "This ought to be a financial summit," he argued angrily.

"We are frustrated by how things are developing," added the Fijian representative speaking on behalf of developing and emerging countries. The approach of the EU and US was disappointing, the Chinese delegate said. His country supported the demands of the poorer states, he said.

The EU representative retorted that it was European money that had enabled several global climate change initiatives such as the green climate fund and the adaptation fund to be established at the Warsaw conference. In addition, Europe had contributed significantly to the so-called "Fund for the Poorest Countries," so far to the tune of $600 million.

The Europeans' Trick

These funds were Europe's decisive trick in persuading the poorest countries to leave the bloc of developing nations and come over to its side. The world's 48 poorest countries gave up their opposition to the deal on the table at Warsaw and suddenly voted for the climate compromise. For a short time, the world's division had been overcome.

With the Warsaw deal, the EU and US managed to get developing and emerging countries to also set targets by 2015 for limiting their greenhouse gas emissions. Still, the ambitions have been scaled down: Whereas earlier drafts mention "commitments," now it is only "contributions." China and India strongly opposed more binding wording that had been promoted by France.

"We would have preferred something a little more ambitious," said Sach, describing the talks as a "tough fight". But "some states wanted to hold on to the old world with all their might, even though the balance of power has long since shifted." He said it is no longer realistic for strong nations like China, India or Brazil to demand that they still be considered developing countres when it comes to climate change. After Warsaw, he said, it is clear that the world's divisions must be overcome.

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« Reply #832 on: Nov 26, 2013, 07:24 AM »

EPA may have underestimated U.S. methane emissions by 50 percent

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 25, 2013 22:05 EST

U.S. emissions of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — could be significantly higher than indicated in estimates by the US Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study published Monday.

The study found the EPA numbers could underestimate by as much as 50 percent the true amount of the gas being produced by the United States.

The most striking discrepancy, the researchers said, was in the oil-producing south-central United States, where their results were nearly three times higher than EPA estimates.

“It will be important to resolve that discrepancy in order to fully understand the impact of these industries on methane emissions,” said lead author Scot Miller, a doctoral student at Harvard University.

Methane is produced by livestock, landfills, coal mining, and natural gas production and distribution, among other natural and man-made activities, the authors explained, adding that humans are thought to contribute around 60 percent of the total.

The researchers explained their figures differ from the government ones because of a difference in methodology.

The EPA, they explained, uses a “bottom-up” approach that multiplies amounts typically released, for example, by each cow, per unit of coal, or per unit of natural gas sold.

But in this new study, researchers took the opposite “top-down” approach, calculating how much methane is actually present in the atmosphere and then tracing it to its sources using meteorological and statistical analysis.

“When we measure methane gas at the atmospheric level, we’re seeing the cumulative effect of emissions that are happening at the surface across a very large region,” said Steven Wofsy, a Harvard professor and co-author of the PNAS study.

“That includes the sources that were part of the bottom-up inventories, but maybe also things they didn’t think to measure,” he explained.

For the analysis, the researchers used observational data from 2007-2008, when the US sharply increased its natural gas production, and compared it with the EPA figures from the same period.

They intend to repeat the analysis using present-day data.

“Now that we know the total does not equal the sum of the parts, that means that either some of those parts are not what we thought they were, or there are some parts that are simply missing from the inventories,” said co-author Anna Michalak of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

“It really offers an opportunity for governments to reexamine the inventories in light of what we now know.”

Methane is the second-most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, emphasized the researchers, who also hailed from the University of Michigan, NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Atmospheric and Environmental Research, the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Italy, and the University of Colorado Boulder.

It traps 70 times more heat than CO2 in the atmosphere, but it only lasts 10 years in the atmosphere, compared to 100 years for carbon dioxide.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #833 on: Nov 26, 2013, 09:36 AM »

November 25, 2013 07:00 PM

Shattered by Oil: Exxon Arkansas Spill and the People Left Behind, Part 1

By Diane Sweet

On March 29, 2013, an ExxonMobil oil pipeline that runs under a tiny residential neighborhood in Mayflower, Ark. split open and spilled 210,000 gallons of Canadian dilbit across backyards and streets and in waterways.

InsideClimate News spent months reporting the spill on the ground. In Part 1 of "Shattered by Oil"—an ICN co-production with This American Land—Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth McGowan returns to Mayflower, Ark., to explore the fate of residents who are living with the effects of the oil disaster and trying to piece together their lives.

Click to watch:

And click here for the website that has done all the full reporting on this:
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« Reply #834 on: Nov 27, 2013, 07:21 AM »

EU delays new car CO2 rules

Carbon dioxide limit on new cars pushed back to 2021 from 2020, after months of lobbying by Germany

Reuters, Wednesday 27 November 2013 09.21 GMT   
The European Union on Tuesday agreed a compromise in order to enforce stricter rules on carbon dioxide emissions for EU cars, ending months of wrangling after Germany insisted an earlier deal was torn up.

The new outline agreement delays until 2021 the 100% implementation of a limit of 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre (CO2/km) for all new cars, the previous deadline having been 2020.

It also changes the rules on flexibility, giving more leeway to German luxury car manufactures such as Daimler and BMW, whose emissions are higher than those of smaller, lighter carmakers such as Fiat.

"We have worked together with the European Parliament for limited additional flexibility. Tonight we have found a very delicate balance," said Arunas Vinciunas, the ambassador for Lithuania, which holds the rotating EU presidency.

He added that the deal would be presented to a meeting of EU diplomats on Friday, with a view to getting their agreement. It would then have to be signed off by member state governments and the European parliament.

Provided it is signed into law, it will draw a line under six months of acrimony over what other member states saw as heavy-handed negotiating tactics from Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose party received money from BMW, took up the cause of the big German carmakers, declaring she was protecting German jobs, and persuaded other EU states to agree to scrap an agreement on 2020 emissions targets that was reached in June.

Germany has won some of the concessions it sought.

Apart from the phase-in, under which 95% of new car sales will have to comply in 2020 and 100% in 2021, Tuesday's agreement also changes the rules for "supercredits".

These allow manufacturers that make very low emission vehicles, such as electric vehicles, to claim extra credits for them, so they can continue to produce more heavily polluting vehicles as well.

An agreement reached in June had set a limit for use of supercredits at 2.5 grams per year. Tuesday's new deal sets a cap of 7.5 grams of carbon dioxide for the years 2020-2022, so a manufacturer could opt to use all the flexibility in the first year.

Environmental campaigners, who have strongly criticised the German stance, gave a very cautious welcome to the deal, saying at least it provided certainty.

"It is disgraceful that the heavy-handed lobbying of Germany has paid off in weakening the 95g target," Greg Archer of campaign group Transport & Environment said.

"Still, this revised deal will provide much needed regulatory certainty and ensure cars continue to reduce their CO2 emissions and improve fuel efficiency."

So far Europe has a 2015 CO2 limit of 130g/km as an average across the EU fleet, a goal many manufacturers are already meeting or very close to doing so.

No one from the German central government had immediate comment.

Sabine Wils, a member of the European parliament representing Die Linke, a German leftwing party, said the deal meant hundreds of tonnes more carbon dioxide would enter the atmosphere and consumers would spend much more on fuel.

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« Reply #835 on: Nov 28, 2013, 06:12 AM »

Poland will begin producing shale gas in 2014

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 27, 2013 22:10 EST

Poland will begin commercial production of shale gas next year, the Deputy Environment Minister said Wednesday, becoming the first European country to use the controversial technique known as fracking.

“After the results which I just saw, the first commercial exploitation will begin in Poland next year,” Piotr Wozniak was quoted as saying by the Polish news agency PAP after the company San Leon Energy published further results from a test well.

The London-listed company said in a statement that the refracturing of a well initially drilled this summer in the north of Poland “has far exceeded expectations”.

Testing to determine how much gas was produced by the well is still ongoing, however, and the company plans to drill another test well in the region.

“The results are very good,” said the junior minister, saying he hoped other companies would be in a position to begin commercial exploitation of the reserves next year.

Poland and Lithuania are the only two EU countries which are pushing forward with exploration and quick commercial extraction of shale gas reserves using hydraulic fracturing.

The technique consists of pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into deep rock formations to free oil and gas, but environmentalists warn the process can contaminate ground water.

Concerned about its energy security, Poland hopes to exploit its shale gas reserves estimated at between 800 and 2,000 billion cubic metres.

The central European country of 38 million currently imports about two-thirds of the 14 million cubic metres of natural gas it uses annually from Russia.

Plentiful natural gas would also potentially allow Poland to reduce its reliance on dirty domestic coal for 90 percent of its electricity production, a situation that has caused tensions with European partners concerned about missing clean air targets.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #836 on: Nov 28, 2013, 06:13 AM »

11/27/2013 03:01 PM

Climate Progress: Warsaw's Meaningful Compromise

By Joel Stonington

Although the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw yielded few significant benchmarks, one initiative to compensate poor countries faced with disasters could have major implications for the future.

Typhoon Haiyan whipped into the Philippines on Nov. 7, just as the 19th United Nations Climate Change Conference was getting underway in Warsaw. With storms getting more ferocious due to human-induced climate change, a typhoon that was both the strongest storm to hit land in human history and the Philippines' deadliest storm ever quickly became the poster event for climate tragedies.

The conference, however, got off to a rocky start on Nov. 11. Japan announced that instead of a 25 percent reduction in emissions by 2020, they would increase emissions by 3 percent. The Global Carbon Project said emissions from fossil fuels and cement production reached a record high in 2012, with a 2.2 percent increase from 2011.

By the second-to-last day of the conference many of those in organizations like Greenpeace, WWF and Oxfam walked out in protest of the talks' lack of ambition. The final agreement fell short of providing significant financing for stopping climate change and delegates were unable to agree on a solid road map for how countries can prepare for a legally-binding agreement in 2015, when they meet again in Paris.

In one important area, however, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) did make some progress: by instituting a mechanism for richer countries to help poorer countries cope with the challenges of climate change. As Yeb Sano, the delegate from the Philippines, argued in the wake of the storm, poor countries are disproportionately affected by temperature rise and other effects of climate change. This mechanism hopes to alleviate that.

The initiative, which will be known as the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, will commit countries to sharing knowledge and expertise, collecting and distributing data, broadening international dialogue, providing technological support and, most controversially, giving financial support to poorer countries damaged by the changing climate. The question of which countries will be responsible for these payments, and how payments will take place, has the potential to raise some thorny questions in the years to come, but, even so, the mechanism is an important commitment to dealing with the current consequences of climate change, on the ground.

Grim Calculations

"What we're finding all over the world is that when people are having trouble with the weather, it affects food and income," said Koko Warner, an expert on environmental migration based at the United Nations University. She has spent time during the last two years studying how differing levels of rainfall affect human migration and hunger. The answer: a lot.

Climate change doesn't just mean stronger typhoons. It also means sea-level rise, desertification, unpredictability of rain for crops, drought and other problems that tend to result in fewer news reports than a crushing storm like Haiyan.

Many of the resulting losses are difficult to categorize and count in terms of money. It's the emotional burden of leaving a family grave behind, of moving from ancestral lands, of kids giving up the ability to go to school. But global financial losses, even just those tabulated from major disasters, have also been rising through the last few decades. Annual estimates are now at just under $200 billion (€146 billion), according to a report released by the World Bank during the conference. That's up from about $50 billion each year through the 1980s.

Burden on the Poor

Compared to those numbers, countries are spending small amounts to mitigate and slow climate change. Back at the Copenhagen talks in 2009, the developed countries made a promise to provide $100 billion in climate aid by 2020. Since then, the global financial crisis rendered that goal more illusory, with countries giving less during difficult economic times. Though the annual total is difficult to assess due to poor transparency, between $7.6 billion and $16.3 billion was likely spent on climate aid this year, according to a report released by Oxfam during the conference.

The World Bank made it clear disasters affect lower-income countries to a greater degree than rich countries. Between 2001 and 2006, the average financial impact of disasters was ten times higher in middle-income countries than in high-income countries. And the poorest countries fared the worst.

"Typhoon Haiyan has brought into sharp focus how climate change is intensifying the severity of extreme weather events, which hurts the poor the most," said Jim Yong Kim, World Bank Group President. "While the immediate relief effort must be front and center of our attention today, such tragic events show that the world can no longer afford to put off action to slow greenhouse emissions, and help countries prepare for a world of greater climate and disaster risks."

No Country is Innocent

The Warsaw International Mechanism will, starting next year, commit countries to evening out this disparity. The vague wording of the agreement, however, has created a debate about about how and when rich, energy-intensive countries should pay for damages in more seriously at-risk poor countries -- and who is responsible for what environmental damage.

When it comes to pollution, there is no simple calculus and no country is innocent. With all of the focus on the hurricane in the Philippines this year, few have noted the ongoing investment the country is making in highly polluting coal-fired power plants. Output of electricity from coal, usually the dirtier version called lignite, is expected to increase more than six-fold by 2035 in the country, according to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation organization. Coal will make up 70 percent of the national electricity generation in the Philippines by 2035, while natural gas will fill out much of the rest, at 16 percent.

Although China is now the top emitter of greenhouse gases -- leading the United States, European Union, India and Russia -- the US is responsible for cumulatively releasing the most emissions since 1850. This led the United State - fearing it must assume liability for its historical pollution -- to resist the new initiative.

Final Compromise

The US and the EU wanted the new mechanism to be positioned "under" UNFCCC's "framework for adaptation," an existing initiative to "strengthen action" on adaptation to climate change in developing countries "through international cooperation." Part of the argument for keeping the new Warsaw Mechanism under adaptation is that all three areas -- mitigation, adaptation, loss and damages -- must work together towards solutions. Developing countries, however, wanted to make it clear that the issue isn't just about "adaptation" to climate change, because they were asking to be compensated for events to which no nation can adapt, like rising sea levels in low-lying coastal regions.

"One word, 'under', will forever be the difference between two paths we take," said Filipino negotiator Yeb Sano during the long and passionate discussions before the agreement, referring to the positioning of the mechanism as part of the framework. The end result was a compromise: Although the new mechanism doesn't exist under the adaptation framework in an institutional sense, the word "under" was left in the text. There will also be a review of the status of loss and damage in 2016.

The agreement was disappointing to many poorer countries because of its lack of clear commitment. "The details of the mechanism are far behind what developing countries wanted," said Harmeling. "It was the bare minimum that was acceptable. It is now the task to build this up over the next few years. It is definitely a step forward, but with a lot of caveats."

Negotiating "Who Is To Live"

The conference in Warsaw also marked the first time that every Least Developed Country (LDC), the poorest countries in the world, has submitted adaptation plans for climate change. Many of these countries are already feeling the effects of climate change and need to plan for the, at times drastic, changes that are expected to take place.

"It started as learning by doing," said Thinley Namgyel, chief of the climate change division of the National Environment Commission of Bhutan, a least developed country. "In the beginning no one knew how to do adaptation. Now we are addressing the longer term."

Many countries and cities around the world are busy preparing plans and enacting changes to get ready for a different world. New York City, for example, has been undergoing a series of major adaptive changes that have mostly happened under the radar. But while cities like New York can afford this, poor countries cannot. Vietnam, for instance, has already seen a sea-level rise of 0.2 meters. The consequences of a rise in sea levels of just 0.8 meters more would mean inundation of 39 percent of the Mekong Delta as well as 20 percent of Ho Chi Minh City.

As Lucille Sering, the secretary of the Philippine delegation put it, "We are negotiating who is to live and who is to die."

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« Reply #837 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:55 AM »

New, more aggressive HIV strain found in West Africa

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 28, 2013 18:55 EST

A new and more aggressive strain of HIV discovered in West Africa causes significantly faster progression to AIDS, researchers at Sweden’s Lund University said Thursday.

The new strain of the virus that causes AIDS, called A3/02, is a fusion of the two most common HIV strains in Guinea-Bissau. It has so far only been found in West Africa.

“Individuals who are infected with the new recombinant form develop AIDS within five years, and that’s about two to two-and-a-half years faster than one of the parent (strains),” said Angelica Palm, one of the scientists responsible for the study based on a long-term follow-up of HIV-positive people in Guinea-Bissau.

Recombinant virus strains originate when a person is infected by two different strains, whose DNA fuse to create a new form.

“There have been some studies that indicate that whenever there is a so-called recombinant, it seems to be more competent or aggressive than the parental strains,” said Palm of the study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The strain was first discovered by the Swedish team in Guinea-Bissau in 2011.

According to researchers, the speed with which A3/02 leads to people falling ill from AIDS does not impact on the effectiveness of medication on infected individuals.

“The good news is that as far as we know the medicines that are available today are equally functional on all different subtypes of variants,” Palm said.

The study warns that such recombinants may be spreading fast, especially in regions with high levels of immigration, such as Europe or the United States.

“It is highly likely that there are a large number of circulating recombinants of which we know little or nothing,” said Patrik Medstrand, professor of clinical virology at Lund University.

Some 35.3 million people around the world are living with HIV, which destroys the immune system and has caused more than 25 million deaths since AIDS first emerged in the early 1980s, according to the World Health Organisation.

Existing treatments help infected people live longer, healthier lives by delaying and subduing symptoms, but do not cure AIDS. Many people in poor communities do not have access to the life-giving drugs, and there is no vaccine.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #838 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:56 AM »

Scientists target newly-discovered enzyme in fight against malaria

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, November 27, 2013 20:10 EST

Scientists on Wednesday said they had identified a new target in the parasite that causes malaria, a disease that causes more than a half a million deaths annually.

Potential drugs can aim at a newly-discovered enzyme that the parasite uses to metabolise energy at every stage of its infection in humans, they said.

The finding, published in the journal Nature, is important because only a tiny handful of weaknesses have been found that apply to every stage of the complex process by which the Plasmodium parasite grows and multiplies in the body.

Most drugs aim at specific stages in the parasite’s cycle, not all.

They notably fail to wipe out early forms of the parasite called hypnozoites that remain dormant in the liver and then revive, triggering a malarial relapse.

The new target, called phosphatidylinositol-4-kinase, or PI4K, is an enzyme that the parasite needs to survive in host cells.

“Most drugs selectively work on certain stages of the (parasite’s) life cycle, but not all stages,” said Case McNamara, a genomics specialist at the Novartis Research Foundation in San Diego, California.

“Inhibitors of this drug target have the potential to not only cure individuals of a malaria infection, but also to prevent infections and even block transmission of the parasite back to the mosquito.”

The only drug that is currently licensed to wipe hypnozoites is primaquine.

Licensed more than half a century ago, the formula is considered a last-throw-of-the-dice option, as it can cause potentially life-threatening anaemia for people with an inherited genetic mutation.

According to the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO), 219 million people became infected with malaria in 2010, of whom 660,000 died, most of them African children under the age of five.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #839 on: Dec 02, 2013, 06:31 AM »

New islands: how life colonises them

Islands formed from volcanic eruptions, such as the recent one off the coast of Japan, are harsh environments. But as the 50-year-old island of Surtsey near Iceland shows, nature will take hold anywhere

 Stephen Moss   
Sunday 1 December 2013 19.00 GMT The Guardian     

Link to video: Undersea volcano erupts creating new island off Japan

The recent appearance of a new island off the coast of Japan, following an undersea volcanic eruption, was well timed. It was 50 years ago that another island was born: Surtsey. Named after a "fire giant" from Norse mythology, it appeared off the southernmost tip of Iceland on 14 November 1963, just as the Beatles were riding high in the charts and President Kennedy was planning that fateful visit to Dallas.

Since then, the seas around Surtsey have begun the inevitable process of eroding it. From a maximum area of 2.7 square km (one square mile), reached at the end of the volcanic activity in 1967, Surtsey has shrunk to about half that size. The newly formed Japanese island, as yet unnamed, may not be with us for long either. Volcanologists have warned that the low-lying land may soon be eroded by the tide, and disappear beneath the wavesThese lumps of lava, though, provide biologists with the ideal opportunity to study how lifeforms colonise new pieces of land, as initially insects, then plants, and finally birds set up home there.

As a child in the late 1960s, I read about Surtsey in Reader's Digest magazine and was captivated by the story of how life was beginning to arrive there. The island is usually out of bounds to visitors, but in the summer of 2002, while making a wildlife film in Iceland with Bill Oddie, we casually were given permission to visit and flown there by the Icelandic air force for a brief, two-hour visit.

It was like being dropped on to another planet. The land beneath our feet was jet black – pure lava, thrown up by the eruption. It still felt stark and new, with only a few plants dotted around. The exception was the far side of the island, where a colony of gulls had made enough guano to create a forest of greenery.

Just as we prepared to leave, a swallow flew over our heads – a rare visitor this far north, hawking for insects. Like all creatures there, it was a true pioneer, showing that nature will always find a way, even in the most unlikely circumstances.

Stephen Moss is a naturalist, writer and broadcaster

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