Thursday :: Dec 13, 2007

Global Warming: Beyond diplomatic niceties

by Turkana

Spiegel Online gives a concise summary of the Bush Administration, at Bali:

It sounds good -- at first. The US says it wants to be part of a climate treaty and looks forward to a new chapter in climate policy. But a closer look reveals that Washington continues to torpedo any concrete agreement.

And little wonder. In fact, as the Guardian reports:

The war of words between the US and the EU over climate change policy escalated today as the EU threatened to boycott US-led talks on the environment if it continued to block emissions targets.

As the deadlocked UN climate change conference in Bali entered its final days, delegates had still not agreed on a deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, a UN pact which caps greenhouse gas emissions of all industrial nations except the US until 2012.

The US is opposing plans to make industrialised countries reduce emissions by between 25% and 40% by 2020. Next month it is hosting a meeting of 17 of the world's top-emitting nations, including China, Russia and India, to discuss long-term curbs on greenhouse gases.

However Humberto Rosa, the environment secretary of Portugal, which currently holds the EU presidency, said today: 'If we [were to] have a failure in Bali it would be meaningless to have a Major Economies' Meeting (MEM) in the United States.

Rosa says it's not blackmail, but it clearly is. And for good reason. If Bush again proves unwilling to honestly engage, what's the point of continuing to play his game? The White House says Rosa's comments are not constructive, and that they're trying to find common ground. I imagine they can agree that we all live on the planet Earth. Beyond that, common ground, to Bush, means do it his way or not at all. Newly minted Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore had this to say:

I am not an official of the United States and am not bound by the diplomatic niceties. So I am going to speak an inconvenient truth. My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali. We all know that.

And maybe that underscores why he's not running for president: on this issue, this is not a time for diplomatic niceties. You can watch Gore's speech here.


Desperate times, desperate scientists

How dire is the climate situation? Consider what Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nations' prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said last month: "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment." Pachauri has the distinction, or misfortune, of being both an engineer and an economist, two professions not known for overheated rhetoric.

In fact, far from being an alarmist, Pachauri was specifically chosen as IPCC chair in 2002 after the Bush administration waged a successful campaign to have him replace the outspoken Dr. Robert Watson, who was opposed by fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil. So why is a normally low-key scientist getting more desperate in his efforts to spur the planet to action?

Part of the answer is the most recent IPCC assessment report. For the first time in six years, more than 2,000 of the world's top scientists reviewed and synthesized all of the scientific knowledge about global warming. The Fourth Assessment Report makes clear that the accelerating emissions of human-generated heat-trapping gases has brought the planet close to crossing a threshold that will lead to irreversible catastrophe. Yet like Cassandra's warning about the Trojan horse, the IPCC report has fallen on deaf ears, especially those of conservative politicians, even as its findings are the most grave to date.

Spiegel Online:

Merkel's Climate Change Vision Doomed to Fail

The German government's position at the UN Climate Change Conference on Bali is the most radical out of all the major industrial nations. But there's little hope of Berlin persuading other countries to accept its ambitious vision.

When Angela Merkel last led global talks on climate change, she warned against setting utopian environmental goals. "I don't know if politicians should be in the business of talking about visions," she told environmental activists, who had been demanding bolder measures from her, at a 1995 conference in Berlin. Merkel, who had recently become Germany's environment minister, had just saved the first UN conference about a climate change treaty, known as COP1, from failure.

Now Germany's chancellor, Merkel has stayed true to many of her positions over the past 12 years. But that can't be said about her preference for pragmatism over political vision. When Germany's Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel boarded a plane Monday to the Indonesian island Bali to represent Germany at the COP13 talks (more...), his briefcase held a bold and utopian vision conceived by Merkel -- the most radical plans to combat climate change of any Western government.


Arctic summers ice-free 'by 2013'

Scientists in the US have presented one of the most dramatic forecasts yet for the disappearance of Arctic sea ice.

Their latest modelling studies indicate northern polar waters could be ice-free in summers within just 5-6 years.

Professor Wieslaw Maslowski told an American Geophysical Union meeting that previous projections had underestimated the processes now driving ice loss.

Summer melting this year reduced the ice cover to 4.13 million sq km, the smallest ever extent in modern times.


Greenland ice sheet melting at record rate

The Greenland ice sheet melted at a record rate this year, the largest ever since satellite measurements began in 1979, a top climate scientist reported on Monday.

"The amount of ice lost by Greenland over the last year is the equivalent of two times all the ice in the Alps, or a layer of water more than one-half mile deep covering Washington DC," said Konrad Steffen of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Using data from military and weather satellites to see where the ice is melting, Steffen and his colleagues were able to monitor the rapid thinning and acceleration of ice as it moved into the ocean at the edge of the big arctic island.

The extent of the melt area was 10 percent greater than the last record year, 2005, the scientists found.

(h/t Plutonium Page, at Daily Kos)

George Monbiot, in the Guardian:

The real answer to climate change is to leave fossil fuels in the ground

On a filthy day last week, as governments gathered in Bali to prevaricate about climate change, a group of us tried to put this policy into effect. We swarmed into the opencast coal mine being dug at Ffos-y-fran in South Wales and occupied the excavators, shutting down the works for the day. We were motivated by a fact which the wise heads in Bali have somehow missed: if fossil fuels are extracted, they will be used.

Most of the governments of the rich world now exhort their citizens to use less carbon. They encourage us to change our lightbulbs, insulate our lofts, turn our televisions off at the wall. In other words, they have a demand-side policy for tackling climate change. But as far as I can determine, not one of them has a supply-side policy. None seeks to reduce the supply of fossil fuel. So the demand-side policy will fail. Every barrel of oil and tonne of coal that comes to the surface will be burned.

Or perhaps I should say that they do have a supply-side policy: to extract as much as they can. Since 2000, the UK government has given coal firms £220m to help them open new mines or to keep existing mines working. According to the energy white paper, the government intends to "maximise economic recovery ... from remaining coal reserves".


Forest protection expected to form key part of Bali climate deal

Negotiators working on a new global climate deal in Bali scored their first success today with progress agreed on deforestation and how to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Officials said steps to protect forests were included in a new draft of the so-called Bali roadmap, and that they expected them to appear in the final text produced at the end of the talks on Friday. The move would make financial rewards for not cutting down trees a key part of a new climate deal.

Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, said: "It looks like we're going to get something on deforestation, which would be great."


Court backs California greenhouse gas limits

California's landmark law requiring cuts in greenhouse gas emissions may stand, a federal court judge in Fresno, California, ruled on Wednesday, rejecting arguments by car makers that federal law should preempt the state's effort.

A spokesman for the auto industry, which had argued that California's law is unconstitutional, said an appeal is uncertain.

"We're still reviewing the decision and a decision on whether or not to appeal hasn't been made yet," said Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Environmental activists cheered the decision as a major breakthrough in their legal efforts addressing global warming.

Turkana :: 4:20 PM :: Comments (6) :: Digg It!