Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Goody! UN process in danger unless world agrees on climate change
The United Nation process is in danger of collapsing unless countries are able to agree on the best way to stop global warming by the end of this year, the outgoing head of climate change negotiations has warned.
More than 170 UN countries gathered in Bonn this weekend for the first meeting on climate change since talks ended in chaos in Copenhagen at the end of last year.
Yvo de Boer, the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is leading the talks, said small progress was made on technical issues.
He said officials will meet at least three more times before a final meeting of ministers in Cancun, Mexico at the end of the year where it is hoped the world will finally reach an agreement on the best way to stop catastrophic warming.
The meeting at Copenhagen failed because rich and poor countries could not agree on the best way to cut greenhouse gases.
Mr de Boer, who will leave his post in June, said the world cannot afford another failure. "Copenhagen was the last get-out-of-jail-free card and we cannot afford another failure in Cancun," he said. "I think if we see another failure in Cancun, that will cause a serious loss of confidence in the ability of this process to deliver."
However the three day meeting in Bonn suggest there are still serious disagreements for the world to overcome. Developing countries accused the rich world of trying to ‘bully’ the poorer nations into signing up to a weak deal by withholding aid.
In response rich countries said there would be no movement until big developing countries like China agree to cut emissions.
The question of who will succeed Mr de Boer will also influence the progress of future talks, with growing speculation that a candidate from the developing world will be brought in to mend trust between the rich and poor nations
It is now clear to most climate researchers that something has been stopping the world from warming in the past decade. During this time, according to the standard hypothesis, levels of man-made greenhouse gasses have increased in our atmosphere so the temperature should have gone up. It obviously hasn’t so what is cooling our world?
For some the answer is so-called decadal variations – influences on our climate that warm or cool and that take place over periods longer than a couple of years but are not long-term trends.
It would be fair to say that the study of such variations is still in its infancy and any use of them to predict future variations in the Earth’s climate is mired with uncertainty.
Many are in no doubt about what lies a century or so ahead. The human “signal” of increased levels of greenhouse gasses causing higher temperatures is written into climate models so decadal variations are seen as just short-term noise. They will eventual be overwhelmed by the incessant AGW climate forcing. Whatever decadal variations are doing they will eventually, according to the standard hypothesis, be averaged out. This means as far as projections of a century ahead one can effectively forget decadal variations. In the short term however, the influences on the climate will be human and decadal, and clearly, as the past ten years have shown, natural decadal variations are far stronger.
The next IPCC assessment is set to include decadal predictions in the hope they will reproduce the observed recent temperature record of the earth which is drastically at odds – far cooler - with the last IPCC assessment. It is hoped that this would give the IPCC’s decadal forecasts more credibility and provide support for those explaining the recent temperature hiatus as strategically unimportant.
Recently the UK Met Office abandoned its three-month forecasts because they were inaccurate. It uses the same climate model to predict fifty years ahead which it says is more certain than its short-term forecasts. However, using the same model just how accurate its decadal predictions will be is a matter for anticipation.
Predicting decadal variations will be a big challenge. For example take the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Reproducing these in a model that has some predictive power will be difficult as there is no accepted theory as to how these oscillations occur. One can look at their past behaviour, look for patterns and try to project them forward in time but it is not clear that their past behaviour has any detailed predictive power in a chaotic climate system. Forecasts for the future decadal variations are contradictory; as many predict decadal cooling as warming.
Nobody predicted the post 1995 global temperature hiatus although some researchers have afterwards said it is “consistent” with their climate models. Being consistent with a model is a very poor form of confirmation, predictive power is another and much more impressive. The current situation is that decadal variations in climate models can prove almost anything.
The recent global temperature standstill can be explained using climate models that incorporate the overall AGW trend. However, it depends upon exactly how long that standstill is.
In such models standstill or slight cooling trends are common for intervals of a decade or less. However, the simulations generally rule out zero trends for intervals of 15 years or more, suggesting that an observed absence of warming of this duration is needed to create a discrepancy between the theory that greenhouse gasses force temperature upwards and the observed present-day warming rate.
So it seems that ten years of no global temperature increase can be explained with decadal variations, but 15 years probably not. With 15 years the hypothesis that there is a long-term warming component due to man-made greenhouse gasses is in jeopardy. Recently Prof Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia Climatic Research concluded that there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995, i.e. 15 years.
The fight against eco-imperialism
It is not acceptable to use climate change as an excuse to limit growth in poor countries as the west's carbon emissions rise
Last Thursday the World Bank approved a £2.4bn loan to build a huge new coal-fired power station in South Africa. The issue has exposed the rift between two central international goals – alleviating poverty and preventing global warming. South African ministers claimed that the project was essential for their country's development, while a concerted environmental campaign lobbied international governments to block the scheme. Amid concerns about global warming, this question of development versus environment may become one of the most contentious international issues over the next few years.
Since the 1970s the green movement has acquired ever-greater prominence in international development. In the last decade, global warming concerns have refocused the emphasis of poverty reduction strategies away from development and towards the environment. This is portrayed as a win-win situation – where the interests of the local people are perfectly aligned with the interests of environmental campaigners. Sustainable technologies like wind turbines and solar panels improve the lot of the recipients while keeping their carbon emissions to a minimum. However, this approach has been criticised as a form of eco-imperialism – because western carbon considerations remain a limiting factor on developing world progress.
The Working Group on Climate Change and Development is a network of more than 20 NGOs including WWF, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. Founded in 2004, its "central message is that solving poverty and tackling climate change are intimately linked and equally vital, not either/ors".
The group's most recent report lists the overarching challenges as (1) how to stop and reverse further climate change, (2) how to live with the degree of climate change that cannot be stopped and (3) how to design a new model for human progress and development that is climate-friendly. The makes fascinating reading – and is illuminating as to the ideological backdrop to development policy.
These environmental groups, while spanning quite a large spectrum, tend to demonstrate an affinity with the pro-rural socialist left. The report describes climate change as not just a threat but also an "opportunity" to re-think the entire global system. It challenges western notions of development and growth and, most starkly, concludes that "mere reform within the current global economic system will be insufficient" to tackle poverty in a carbon constrained future. Indeed, members of these groups often seem to embrace rural village life as representing a pre-industrial idyll which should be preserved.
Such romantic ideology therefore seeks to largely maintain the status quo – where the African poor are kept "traditional" and "indigenous". It's hard to disagree with Lord May, former president of the Royal Society in his observation that "much of the green movement isn't a green movement at all, it's political".
With poverty redefined in terms of the environment and infused with pro-rural socialism, large-scale projects to industrialise or modernise are not the priority – indeed, western-style development and modernisation are seen as part of the problem. Instead there is a self-limiting bottom-up approach which subsidises underdevelopment not as a transitionary phase but as an end goal.
To effectively sideline the development strategy that every western country has undertaken in raising living standards is remarkable. Indeed, while India and China have lifted at least 125m people out of slum poverty since 1990, over the same period 46 countries have actually got poorer – the large majority of them African states.
It would be too simplistic to prescribe the industrialisation and modernisation agenda pursued by India and China as a panacea for the problems of sub-Saharan Africa, and the Indian and Chinese policies have not been without adverse consequences. Nevertheless, it is a staggering achievement which demonstrates that poverty alleviation should be pursued through a developmental agenda.
The truth is that African poverty is not a result of global warming. It is likely that the poor will be disproportionately affected by global changes in temperature – but this is not a reason to limit development. It is development which will allow countries to better cope with the consequences of a changing climate. For example, the Netherlands is better prepared to build dams to protect its coastline from rising sea levels than Bangladesh. Those that will be hardest hit by global changes to temperature will be those who are most exposed to the vagaries of the environment now – the rural poor.
Environmental policies that seek to reinforce the rural status quo as a means of limiting carbon emissions may be of benefit to the developed world, but they are detrimental to the long-term ability of the poor to cope with climate change. The planned South African power plant at Limpopo exposes the collision between these different policy aims. With the country going to the World Bank for a £2.4bn loan, international governments have been forced to weigh up developmental advantage versus environmental damage.
South Africa suffers major power shortages and insists that a new plant is essential to the country's economic progress. Environmentalists are horrified that the plant will emit 25m tonnes of carbon per annum, and point out that much of the new electricity will be used by heavy industry. Despite a concerted lobbying campaign from environmental groups, the loan was approved on Thursday – albeit with abstentions from Britain, America and the Netherlands. A US treasury spokesman explained that the abstention was due to an "incompatibility with the World Bank's commitment to be a leader in climate change mitigation and adaption". Considering that the World Bank's first affirmed purpose is to alleviate poverty, we can see how pervasive the reframing of poverty in terms of environment has become.
It is up to the developed world to produce the technologies for cleaner energy and implement policies to significantly reduce carbon emissions. It is not acceptable to use global warming as a way of limiting growth in poor African countries when our own climate emissions continue to rise.
Environmental movements certainly have a role to play in highlighting ecological degradation and its impact on local people, and in some cases the interests of protecting the environment will be perfectly aligned with the needs of the local community. However, it is unacceptable for poverty reduction in the developing world to become a staging post for ideological battles lost elsewhere. We should embrace whatever methods provide the best outcome in alleviating poverty – whether that be new roads or airports, power stations or renewables. To do otherwise is to be guilty of the worst kind of eco-imperialism – where the poor are held back for the benefit of the rich.
Another nuisance inflicted on us by the Greenies
Screwy Light Bulbs Can Change TV Channels
Some energy saving light bulbs have caused interference with TV remotes. The unruly televisions appeared to take on a life of their own until engineers tracked the interference to a remote source: energy saving light bulbs.
The frequency of the flicker of the bulbs interferes with the infra-red sensors on remote control receivers.
Emma Clements and her husband Alistair were intrigued to find their Virgin Media box switching channels at random as well as turning on and off. They were astonished to find a replacement box did exactly the same thing.
A Virgin Media engineer suggested it could be related to a Philips energy saving bulb that was in a lamp about 12ft away from the television. The hunch proved a good one when removing the bulb solved the problem.
A Philips Electronics spokeswoman said the company was surprised that users of the bulbs still experienced the interference. "Some very early compact fluorescent lamps, shortly after starting, could cause interference with TV controls due to the frequency of operation of the bulb and when placed near a TV," she said. "The frequency was quickly changed many years ago and we have had no recent reported incidents." The company said it hopes to examine the bulb that caused the Clements' problems.
Traditional filament bulbs were banned by the EU in 2008 in favour of the more efficient low energy bulbs.
Shoppers rushed to stockpile the old style bulbs as they were phased out, while health campaigners complained the flicker of the efficient bulbs can cause migraines and dizziness.
Genetically engineered crops are more environmentally friendly than organic ones
THERE IS a green revolution going on, “doubly green’’ according to ecologist Gordon Conway, but it’s one the organic movement does not want to join. This revolution relies on modern biotechnology to create crop hybrids that can better utilize our scarce resources, and there’s the rub: the science is not trusted by organic farmers, and it plays against their economic interests.
The mantra against genetically engineered crops is that there are hidden dangers lurking within this powerful technology and we don’t know how it may harm us. We may not know what we don’t know, but we do know this: since genetically engineered crops have been planted, there have been no incidents of harm to man, beast, or the environment. We also know that organic farming is not any healthier for people than other methods, a unanimous conclusion among peer-reviewed studies as well as the US Department of Agriculture.
We also know that organic farming is not environmentally friendly. Yes, organic farming avoids some harmful chemicals and pesticides, but not as effectively as farms that plant genetically engineered crops.
The yield per acre of such organic crops as wheat and beans, the world’s most widely planted crops, is between 50 and 80 percent of the yield of conventional crops, according to the Elm Farm Research Centre.
Historically, the yields from genetically engineered crops of the same type are even above the yields of conventional crops: 36 percent better per acre for corn and 12 percent better for soybeans. Then there is the reduction of herbicides and pesticides. Overall, since 1997, the reduction in pesticide use resulting from genetically engineered crops is estimated at 790 million pounds, or 8.8 percent, and herbicide reduction in soybeans at 161 million pounds, or 4.6 percent.
But what is most telling perhaps, is a finding reported this year by the USDA: “Farmers who grow Bt-corn [a GE variety that contains the natural pesticide Bt] use 75 percent less pesticides, essentially receiving the benefits of chemicals without releasing them into the environment or leaving residue on the final product.’’ Bt is one of the pesticides organic farmers use to protect their own crops.
Lower yields force more acres of what could be left wild to be turned over to domestication. You want more organic foods? Then think about clearing more forests, more wetlands, and reducing wilderness. You want sustainable agriculture for the future? Then look ahead to the next generation of genetically engineered crops that address what is probably the biggest constraint we face: limited fresh water available to expand crop production. Genetically engineered crops are now under development to address this constraint.
One would expect that “green’’ organizations would welcome genetically engineered crops and part company with the organic movement. But this has not been the case: political expediency and romance have — temporarily at least — trumped science.
The organic movement is largely a romantic ideal, far removed in many ways from science. It believes it is environmentally friendly, but it largely avoids science. True environmentalists look at the facts, and those facts do not support the growth of organic farming as a way to feed the world. However, with few exceptions, environmental organizations do not admit to this publicly. Why? Because they share a constituency: citizens who oppose certain elements of mass production farming, who yearn for a simpler time, when things were more natural. But this constituency is built on a shared belief system about the past, not the future.
At some point the contradiction between what organic farming leads to — more land devoted to farming, higher food prices, less biodiversity — and the goals of environmentalists — sustainability, more biodiversity – will fracture this alliance.
Environmentalists will have to rethink their public position on the benefits that biotechnological innovation provides and the potential harm of an overly ideological organic movement. Stewart Brand, the editor of Whole Earth Catalog, recently summed up the issue best: “The environmental movement has done more harm with its opposition to genetic engineering than with any other thing we’ve been wrong about. We’ve starved people, hindered science, hurt the natural environment and denied our own practitioners a crucial tool.’’
Australia: The "green" reality behind the huge NSW electricity price rises
The NSW government faces rapidly increased demand due to the Federal government's breakneck intake of immigrants so how are they going to cope with that? Increase the supply by building more power stations? No way! The Greenies would have a fit and would block construction until Kingdom Come.
So the government is going to cut down demand. How? By making electricity so dear that most families will be forced to use less of it -- which will have the Greenies rubbing their hands with glee. And the whole process will be repeated to some degree nationwide, depending on how much reserve capacity each State has
BIG businesses in NSW have been spared the crippling 64 per cent increase in power bills that families and small businesses will be forced to pay.
The NSW State Government has even set the terms of reference for independent body that oversees regulation in the power industry so that the hefty rise does not even apply to itself, The Daily Telegraph reports.
Big businesses such as mining company Cadia Valley Operations, which uses almost 1 per cent of the state's power, and power-guzzling supermarkets Woolworths and Coles will also be unaffected by the electricity price hike.
Meanwhile, families in NSW will be paying up to $918 extra a year on their power bill.
Power for the Government buildings and big businesses is set through a competitive contract, meaning bureaucrats and businesses can secure the cheapest deal.
Around the nation, the price of electricity is also likely to keep rising, the Federal Government says. In an opinion piece last month, the Federal Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, Martin Ferguson, admitted that hikes to electricity prices are inevitable.
He put this down to the costs of "increased investment in electricity networks, investment that is critical to guarantee supply reliability."
Mr Ferguson added: "The fact is, state and territory regulators are now fronting up to necessary price increases, most recently the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) in NSW...and earlier in Western Australia."
In NSW, IPART granted the state's three electricity retailer-distributors average annual price rises of between $557 and $918 per household.
The Western Australian Government announced last year that electricity prices would increase by about 18 per cent. Other states would face increases of a similar magnitude, an expert told ABC.
"You would expect that all of the states should pay a similar price," International Energy Consultants managing director, John Morris, said. "There'll be variations from state to state, maybe plus or minus 5 or 10 per cent."
NSW Energy Minister John Robertson said yesterday households were free to select an electricity retailer and negotiate a better price with a different retailer in the same way big business could.
Opposition Energy spokesman Duncan Gay said the benefits for homeowners in switching retailers was only tiny and that they were being punished more by the increase than were big business and the government sector.
"Imagine the outcry there would be if shoppers could only choose between shopping at Woolworths or Coles," Mr Gay said.
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Posted by JR at 6:20 PM