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Small Island States and the Paris Agreement

Islands predominated in the Paris COP negotiations.[1] From metaphor to moral compass to declarations of kinship—like President Obama’s— the small island developing states’ vulnerability, dignity, and ambitions served as a rudder.

I’m an island boy” — President Barack Obama

Among other significant provisions discussed below, the response of the Agreement and the decision text—the latter a supporting though not legally binding document—and to demands for capacity building and efficient, simplified procedures for accessing financial resources directly addressed small islands’ concerns. And so the closing movements of the meetings offered congratulatory and hortatory words from island representatives, including a spontaneous, harmonized chorus of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds stressing the refrain, “Every little thing is gonna be alright.”[2]

Small island states representatives are, however, clear-eyed about the potential of the Paris Agreement and understand that it is but a foothold in a much, much steeper journey. In Paris they were represented primarily by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) negotiating bloc, a coalition of small island and low-lying coastal countries that share similar development challenges and concerns about the environment, especially their vulnerability to the adverse effects of global climate change. AOSIS, with 44 members and observers from all regions of the world, works as a negotiating voice for small island developing states (SIDS).

The small islands representatives demanded a number of elements, including a long-term temperature goal of “well below 1.5 degrees” Celsius above pre-industrial levels, an indicative pathway to achieve it, an international mechanism on Loss and Damage due to climate-related events, and scaled-up, reliable financial resources above the $100 billion per year by 2020 already promised by developed countries to developing nations, particularly the most vulnerable.[3]

1.5˚C to stay alive

Beginning with the 2009 COP15 meetings in Copenhagen, SIDS and particularly the atoll nations noted the existential threat of a 2˚C ceiling on temperature rise. The calls for 1.5 to stay alive were, however, largely relegated to the tense hallways of Copenhagen’s Bella Center six years ago. The 2015 final decision text and Paris Agreement, in contrast, emphasize the urgent need to hold increased global average temperature to “well below 2˚ C above pre-industrial levels” and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5˚ C.

This is palpable progress, meeting in part a demand of island states, but is not supported by the remainder of the text. While the Agreement calls for global peaking of emissions “as soon as possible,” it does not require complete decarbonization of global economies, opting instead for a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks. The absence of the decarbonization mandate makes the 1.5˚ C goal almost entirely illusory. Settling on and supporting a1.5˚C ceiling will be a critical next step in future decision-making. More

 

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When the End of Human Civilization Is Your Day Job

In the photo: Glaciologist Jason Box, left, at work on the Petermann Glacier on Greenland’s northwest coast, which has lost mass at an accelerated pace in recent years. Box and his family left Ohio State for Europe a couple years ago, and he is relieved to have escaped America’s culture of climate-change denial.

Jason Box

The incident was small, but Jason Box doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s been skittish about the media since it happened. This was last summer, as he was reading the cheery blog posts transmitted by the chief scientist on the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which was exploring the Arctic for an international expedition led by Stockholm University. “Our first observations of elevated methane levels, about ten times higher than in background seawater, were documented … we discovered over 100 new methane seep sites…. The weather Gods are still on our side as we steam through a now ice-free Laptev Sea….”

As a leading climatologist who spent many years studying the Arctic at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center at Ohio State, Box knew that this breezy scientific detachment described one of the nightmare long-shot climate scenarios: a feedback loop where warming seas release methane that causes warming that releases more methane that causes more warming, on and on until the planet is incompatible with human life. And he knew there were similar methane releases occurring in the area. On impulse, he sent out a tweet.

“If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d.”

The tweet immediately went viral, inspiring a series of headlines:

CLIMATOLOGIST SAYS ARCTIC CARBON RELEASE COULD MEAN “WE’RE FUCKED.”

CLIMATE SCIENTIST DROPS THE F-BOMB AFTER STARTLING ARCTIC DISCOVERY.

CLIMATOLOGIST: METHANE PLUMES FROM THE ARCTIC MEAN WE’RE SCREWED.

Box has been outspoken for years. He’s done science projects with Greenpeace, and he participated in the 2011 mass protest at the White House organized by 350.org. In 2013, he made headlines when a magazine reported his conclusion that a seventy-foot rise in sea levels over the next few centuries was probably already “baked into the system.” Now, with one word, Box had ventured into two particularly dangerous areas. First, the dirty secret of climate science and government climate policies is that they’re all based on probabilities, which means that the effects of standard CO2 targets like an 80 percent reduction by 2050 are based on the middle of the probability curve. Box had ventured to the darker possibilities on the curve’s tail, where few scientists and zero politicians are willing to go. More

 

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5 Radical Takeaways from the Pope’s Letter on Climate

Pope Francis recognizes that there’s no way to stop climate change without confronting the way the world does business. That’s huge.

Pope Francis just released an “encyclical,” a letter meant to serve as a guide to understanding our personal relationship to some of the most complex issues of the day through religious doctrine. This particular encyclical is on climate change and is addressed not just to the globe’s 1.2 billion Catholics, but to everyone of any — or no — faith. In it, Pope Francis boldly challenges us all to take an honest look inside our hearts and question the foundations of a society that’s created wealth for some at the expense of others and “our common home”— the planet earth.

Here are five key quotes from the encyclical that will shake up the global climate debate.

1. Climate change and inequality are inextricably linked.

“We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” It’s not hard to see how climate change hits people living in poverty first and worst, and inevitably widens the gulf between rich and poor. After extreme weather washes away their homes or drought kills their crops, those living in poverty have a harder time bouncing back than those with savings accounts and sturdier houses. But what’s really radical is how the Pope names inequality itself as an impediment to solving a looming planetary and human rights crisis. The encyclical calls out “masters of power and money” to stop masking the symptoms and address climate change in service of the common good.

Pope Francis boldly challenges us all to take an honest look inside our hearts and question the foundations of a society that’s created wealth for some at the expense of others and “our common home”— the planet earth.

2. The global economy must protect the Earth, our common home.

“The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings.” Today’s global economy profits at the environment’s expense. And the pursuit of growth is fueling environmental degradation, natural disasters, and financial crises. Pope Francis envisions a people-and-planet-first economy more in harmony with the environment that would prevent imbalances of wealth and power and foster peace among nations.

3. Everyone must divest from fossil fuels and invest in the future.

“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels… needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” Pope Francis is crystal clear that the current development model based on the intensive use of coal, oil, and even natural gas has to go. In its place we need renewable energy options and new modes of production and consumption that combat global warming. This is precisely what a growing movement of students, faith communities, socially responsible investors and everyday citizens are calling on individuals and private and public institutions to do: Divest their money from fossil fuels and invest it in climate solutions like wind, solar, and energy efficiency.

4. It’s time for powerful nations to pay their fair share.

“A true ‘ecological debt’ exists, particularly between the global north and south. … In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.” Countries in the global North have benefitted from fossil fuel-driven industrialization, while developing countries bear the brunt of the related greenhouse gas emissions. So while everyone must act to avoid climate disruption, rich countries have a greater responsibility. For starters, they must make rapid, deep cuts in carbon emissions. And they have to keep their promise to finance the cost for poorer countries to build climate resilience and transition to renewable energy through the Green Climate Fund.

5. There’s no easy way out of this.

“Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation, or blind confidence in technical solutions.” There’s only one way to meet the climate challenge: Extinguish the “dig, burn, dump economy.” And markets and technology can’t be relied on to do the job. Gimmicks like trading carbon credits as a financial commodity or burning coal in “cleaner” power plants are distractions from the only real solution: Stop digging up and drilling — then burning — oil, gas, and coal.

Pope Francis is calling for solutions to climate change that is rooted in our “deepest convictions about love, justice, and peace.” His letter to the world illuminates a radical, compassionate path that shows what it truly means to have faith in humanity. More

 

 

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Antigua Faces Climate Risks with Ambitious Renewables Target

Ruth Spencer is a pioneer in the field of solar energy. She promotes renewable technologies to communities throughout her homeland of Antigua and Barbuda, playing a small but important part in helping the country achieve its goal of a 20-percent reduction in the use of fossil fuels by 2020.

She also believes that small non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have a crucial role to play in the bigger projects aimed at tackling the problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas.

Spencer, who serves as National Focal Point for the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-Small Grants Programme (SGP) in Antigua and Barbuda, has been at the forefront of an initiative to bring representatives of civil society, business owners and NGOs together to educate them about the dangers posed by climate change.

“The GEF/SGP is going to be the delivery mechanism to get to the communities, preparing them well in advance for what is to come,” she told IPS.

The GEF Small Grants Programme in the Eastern Caribbean is administered by the United Nations office in Barbados.

“Since climate change is heavily impacting the twin islands of Antigua and Barbuda, it is important that we bring all the stakeholders together,” said Spencer, a Yale development economist who also coordinates the East Caribbean Marine Managed Areas Network funded by the German government.

“The coastal developments are very much at risk and we wanted to share the findings of the IPCC report with them to let them see for themselves what all these scientists are saying,” Spencer told IPS.

“We are in a small island so we have to build synergies, we have to network, we have to partner to assist each other. By providing the information, they can be aware and we are going to continue doing follow up….so together we can tackle the problem in a holistic manner,” she added.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which paints a harsh picture of what is causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also describes what can be done about it.

Ruleta Camacho, project coordinator for the sustainable island resource management mechanism within Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of the Environment, told IPS there is documented observation of sea level rise which has resulted in coastal erosion and infrastructure destruction on the coastline.

She said there is also evidence of ocean acidification and coral bleaching, an increase in the prevalence of extreme weather events – extreme drought conditions and extreme rainfall events – all of which affect the country’s vital tourism industry.

“The drought and the rainfall events have impacts on the tourism sector because it impacts the ancillary services – the drought affects your productivity of local food products as well as your supply of water to the hotel industry,” she said.

“And then you have the rainfall events impacting the flooding so you have days where you cannot access certain sites and you have flood conditions which affect not only the hotels in terms of the guests but it also affects the staff that work at the hotels. If we get a direct hit from a storm we have significant instant dropoff in the productivity levels in the hotel sector.”

Antigua and Barbuda, which is known for its sandy beaches and luxurious resorts, draws nearly one million visitors each year. Tourism accounts for 60 to 75 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and employs nearly 90 percent of the population.

Like Camacho, Ediniz Norde, an environment officer, believes sea level rise is likely to worsen existing environmental stresses such as a scarcity of freshwater for drinking and other uses.

“Many years ago in St. John’s we had seawater intrusion all the way up to Tanner Street. It cut the street in half. It used to be a whole street and now there is a big gutter running through it, a ship was lodged in Tanner Street,” she recalled.

“Now it only shows if we have these levels of sea water rising that this is going to be a reality here in Antigua and Barbuda,” Norde told IPS. “This is how far the water can get and this is how much of our environment, of our earth space that we can lose in St. John’s. It’s a reality that we won’t be able to shy away from if we don’t act now.”

As the earth’s climate continues to warm, rainfall in Antigua and Barbuda is projected to decrease, and winds and rainfall associated with episodic hurricanes are projected to become more intense. Scientists say these changes would likely amplify the impact of sea level rise on the islands.

But Camacho said climate change presents opportunities for Antigua and Barbuda and the country must do its part to implement mitigation measures.

She explained that early moves towards mitigation and building renewable energy infrastructure can bring long-term economic benefits.

“If we retrain our population early enough in terms of our technical expertise and getting into the renewable market, we can actually lead the way in the Caribbean and we can offer services to other Caribbean countries and that’s a positive economic step,” she said.

“Additionally, the quicker we get into the renewable market, the lower our energy cost will be and if we can get our energy costs down, it opens us for economic productivity in other sectors, not just tourism.

“If we can get our electricity costs down we can have financial resources that would have gone toward your electricity bills freed up for improvement of the [tourism] industry and you can have a better product being offered,” she added. More

 

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