February 16, 2009

Urgent need for action on climate change

Filed under: Environment — Tags: , , — 4fooey @ 7:35 pm

The need to do something about climate change is now becoming extremely urgent and is without doubt man’s no. 1 challenge. The  “STERN REVIEW: The Economics of Climate Change” was published in 2006 and it seems very little has been done, apart from that the UK government has passed a law to commit the UK to a cut of greenhouse emissions by 80% by 2050. This is fine in itself, but I wonder how on earth this is going to be achieved — I don’t see the practical steps towards this target being taken. To see how urgent this is, you just need to read the Stern Review again — the following are extracts from the review:

The scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change presents very serious global risks, and it demands an urgent global response.

Climate change is global in its causes and consequences, and international collective action will be critical in driving an effective, efficient and equitable response on the scale required.

The benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs. What we do in the next 10 or 20 years can have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next.

No-one can predict the consequences of climate change with complete certainty; but we now know enough to understand the risks. Mitigation – taking strong action to reduce emissions – must be viewed as an investment, a cost incurred now and in the coming few decades to avoid the risks of very severe consequences in the future.

The stocks of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides and a number of gases that arise from industrial processes) are rising, as a result of human activity. The current level or stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is equivalent to around 430 parts per million (ppm) CO2, compared with only 280ppm before the Industrial Revolution.

Even if the annual flow of emissions did not increase beyond today’s rate, the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would reach double pre-industrial levels by 2050 – that is 550ppm CO2e – and would continue growing thereafter.

But the annual flow of emissions is accelerating, as fast-growing economies invest in high carbon infrastructure and as demand for energy and transport increases around the world. The level of 550ppm CO2e could be reached as early as 2035. At this level there is at least a 77% chance – and perhaps up to a 99% chance, depending on the climate model used – of a global average temperature rise exceeding 2°C.

Under a BAU scenario [levels of emissions remain the same as today, therefore assumes no accelaration], the stock of greenhouse gases could more than treble by the end of the century, giving at least a 50% risk of exceeding 5°C global average temperature change during the following decades. This would take humans into unknown territory.

The following are possible physical outcomes, taken from the Stern Review, of temperature rises of between 1 to 2°C and 3 to 5°C.

1 to 2°C rise

Food – Falling crop yields in many developing regions, rising number of people at risk from hunger, with severe impacts in marginal Saharel region.
Water – Small mountain glaciers disappear worldwide, significant changes in water availability (e.g. more than a billion people suffer water shortages in the 2080s).
Ecosystems – Coral reefs extensively and irreversibly damaged, large fraction of ecosystems unable to maintain current form.
Weather – Rising intensity of storms, forest fires, droughts, flooding and heat waves.
Risk of rapid climate change and major irreversible impacts – Risk of weakening of natural carbon absorption and possible increasing natural methane releases and weakening of the Atlantic THC, Onset of irreversible melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

3 to 5°C rise

Food – Entire regions experience major declines in crop yields (e.g. up to one third in Africa).
Water – Sea level rise threatens major world cities, including London, Shanghai, New
York, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Ecosystems – Possible onset of collapse of part or all of Amazonian rainforest, Many species face extinction (20 – 50% in one study).
Risk of rapid climate change and major irreversible impacts – Increasing risk of abrupt, large-scale shifts in the climate system (e.g. collapse of the Atlantic THC and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet)

The most alarming outcome listed above is that for a rise of 5°C, for which Stern says there is now a 50% risk of happening, up to 50% of the earth’s species are at risk of extinction — this prospect is truly appalling and would be catastrophic for life on earth.

In a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Prof James McCarthy said the planet will be in “huge trouble” unless Barack Obama makes strides in tackling climate change. Prof McCarthy said that the US has just four years to save the planet. And at the same meeting, Professor Chris Field, said future temperatures “will be beyond anything” predicted. He said warming is likely to cause more environmental damage than forecast: “We are basically looking now at a future climate that is beyond anything that we’ve considered seriously in climate policy”. He said the increases in carbon dioxide have been caused, principally, by the burning of coal for electric power in India and China. “Without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought,” he said.

The measures now needed to deal with climate change are going to extensive and will effect every area of life — and the changes required need to start in the next months and years. We simply don’t have a moment to lose.


January 1, 2009

A new year, a time for urgent action

Filed under: Environment, Politics/News — Tags: , — 4fooey @ 12:13 am

On the Today programme (31 Dec, on Radio 4 in the UK) Jarvis Cocker was the guest editor. He interviewed Nicholas (Lord) Stern about climate change and how lessons can be learned from the action that has been taken in the response to the financial crisis. He also pointed out the contrast between President Bush and the president to be Obama regarding their response to climate change. The interview with Stern is reported here: Stern hope over US climate deal.

Stern pointed out that the financial crisis shows us that the longer we leave a problem or ignore a risk then the worse a crisis can become and the harder it is to resolve it. The same can be said on climate change — if we leave it too long to act then it will be more difficult to solve it, and more costly in financial terms and its effect on the planet. He also suggested that the need to solve the climate change issue represents a great opportunity for technology, science and business, on a level with the industrial revolution.

Stern suggested that the financial crisis has been large in magnitude, but suggested that the issue of climate change is far bigger, in terms of the effort and commitment required. He was however very optimistic that is could be solved, but stressed that it would require so-far unseen collaboration, across governments and international agencies. Given that in crisis situations, wars and such like, countries tend to act in their own self interest, this will be a huge challenge for the world, but one we must attempt and meet. The scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated, but it’s looking increasingly like we have absolutely no option but to take up the challenge.

Jarvis Cocker ended his stint as editor of the Today programme with an assessment of his interview with Stern. Cocker felt we are at a turning point and that we have interesting times ahead. Acknowledging that the financial crisis will effect a lot of people, he was very optimistic about our capacity to solve the climate change issue and that people would be able to adapt. Maybe if you resolve to do one thing this year it should be to ‘do your bit’ for climate change, and then hope the US, China and other governments can reach a historic and binding agreement later in 2009 to tackle climate change: the time for urgent action is now.

November 3, 2008

The Candidate of Hope

Tomorrow, the American people go to the polls and we all hope they will make the right choice, finally putting the last eight years behind us. If you look back over the presidency of George W Bush, it has been a tragic case of missed opportunities, and some would say terrible disasters.

The catalogue of missed opportunities and disasters is a dismal and shocking one:–

– Iraq, the biggest disaster of them all; the US believed Iraq had WMD when they had none. Their invasion of Iraq, with their “Shock and Awe” campaign unleased death and destruction on a weak country — the country fell in 2-3 weeks, overwhelmed by the mighty US military. Since then it is estimated that around 100,000 Iraqis have died, many more bereaved and injured, with terrible inter-ethnic fighting, excerbated by Al-Quaeda and Iran. Everybody’s lives there turned upside down, a country wrecked. There’s nothing about it to be proud of.

– ‘War on Terror’, the most ludicrous statement, lacking even the merest insight into the problem of jihadist fundamentalism. Tactically the so-called ‘War on Terror’ is probably unwinnable. From 911 onwards the US has lashed out, killed many thousands of innocent people, wreaked havoc across the middle-east, and all for nothing. They failed to tackle the root of the problem; disaffected and angry young men, with misguided views of islam, who have been manipulated by their masters. The jihadists have a politcal and religious agenda which has only been strengthened by the ‘War on Terror’.

– Afghanistan, a lot of people have said this is the real battle to be fought, although others say it’s a battle that cannot be won. The Taleban should not be allowed to regain power, but it seems that the only long-term solution for this country, which has been at war for over 30 years (Russia invaded in the 1970s), is a political one. And bordering Afghanistan is Pakistan, now unstable and greatly weakened, and the training ground for jihadist fighters — and it does have nuclear weapons. The middle east is as unstable as ever, Eastern Europe is more tense, with a resurgent Russia, and Africa is a terrible failure (Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe) – the world is in greater danger now and will see continuing conflict in these areas.

– Guantanamo, how can this be at all justified, to anyone with any sense of justice or what is right. How could the US lock people up without trial, for many years in some cases, without proper legal process. GW Bush has also admitted the existence of secret CIA interrogation camps where they have used ‘water-boarding’, humiliation and other punishments — this is torture and totally unacceptable. Guantanamo should never have been allowed to happen, and should now be closed. If people have commited crimes they should be dealt with in the proper way.

– Palestine, this problem has been allowed to fester. Eight years without any real progress at all. Meanwhile the tit-for-tat violence goes on, with Israel the dominant, brutal force killing thousands of Palestinians and illegally occupying territory, and the terrifying use of suicide bombers from the Palestinians side. And during this time, Hamas have taken over throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

– Financial crisis and meltdown, and now an almost certain lengthy recession. The markets were not regulated enough, people borrowed too much, spent too much, consumed too much, and now the whole system is busted. The US Trade deficit, plus the cost of bank rescues and final cost of Iraq war leaves the US over $10 trillion in debt. A bankrupt state propped up by foreign money. The consumerist society also needs a major rethink, if we are to avert environmental and social collapse.

– Climate change, very little has been done to decrease CO2 emissions and halt climate change, despite the mounting evidence. Energy and resource use has carried on, and now the earth may be faced with catastrophic, environmental collapse, unless we take dramatic steps to stop the destruction. The US could and should be leading the effort.

It’s too easy to hate America, or what it does, but as a concept or idea, their multi-ethnic, liberal democracy is probably the best model we have. America is very good at some things: science, technology, medicine, and could be a major force for good on the foreign and diplomatic stage. It often appears to have the best of intentions, but their tactics or the actions they take are often counter-productive and alienate the rest of the world.

America needs to re-assert its founding principles, and given the right leadership, can look forward to a more sustainable future, and may even be liked again… In this election year, Barack Obama has emerged as the only candidate capable of remaking the American dream; he seems to connect with people and offers a believable message of hope.

There are so many urgent problems in the world that need America’s help to fix. Let’s hope the American people make the right choice! Having made the right choice, the real work will begin: it remains to be seen how successful Obama can be. This theme is summed up nicely by BOB HERBERT in the NY Times: Beyond Election Day.

October 3, 2008

Urgent need for action

Filed under: Development, Environment, Politics/News — Tags: , — 4fooey @ 10:02 am

Imagine the situation…. millions of people are threatened, their livelihoods at risk, their homes at risk, increased hardship, instability, wars even, etc. No, I’m not talking about the fallout from the current financial crisis, but the probable effects of climate change.

The evidence that CO2 and other emissions are warming the planet are incontravertible — in the past few months/years numerous research organisations and NGOs have shown this (including the Stearn report, various UN reports etc), and although there are still a few doubters both political and scientific, it is now time to take URGENT action.

Fast forward to now, and everyone is gripped by the financial crisis and the issue of climate change has taken a back seat. I would suggest the two things are linked, in both causes and effects. Our modern lifestyles and our rising level of prosperity have created climate change — the rise in living standards has been fuelled by the past few years of “living beyond our means”, both in terms of the “easy money/credit” from banks and increasing levels of consumption of goods, energy and resources. We are now racing towards a future of disastrous effects due to our profligate lifestyles and culture.

If we are to face a period of scaling down our lifestyles, of cutting back, due to economic hardship, then this might be a silver lining on some very dark clouds — if everyone borrows less, buys less, consumes less, then we damage the planet less. But don’t get me wrong the financial crisis is a disaster and I would rather it was not happening now. We need strong economies to tackle problems like climate change and other important issues (like those on the UN millennium development goals) — and I’m hopeful that America and the wider world will recover from this crisis.

Short term we need to get ourselves out of the dire financial mess, but longer term we need to rebuild the financial system, and the global economy as a whole, in a more sustainable way, to create a system that truly helps the majority of people towards a better life. It’s somewhat disappointing that relatively bold and swift action is being taken to solve the financial crisis, while the problem of climate change is potentially more damaging and yet nothing so radical is being done.

Update 14/11/08: Although the threat to humanity and planet from Climate change and its effects are far greater than the effects of the financial crisis or of global terrorism, large numbers of people seem to ignore the threat. This phenomenon is examined here: Are Human Beings Hard-Wired to Ignore the Threat of Catastrophic Climate Change?

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