Thursday, November 21, 2013

LOL: 132 poor Countries Walk Out Of UN Climate Talks

Representatives of most of the world's poor countries have walked out of increasingly fractious climate negotiations after the EU, Australia, the US and other developed countries insisted that the question of who should pay compensation for extreme climate events be discussed only after 2015.

The orchestrated move by the G77 and China bloc of 132 countries came during talks about "loss and damage" – how countries should respond to climate impacts that are difficult or impossible to adapt to, such as typhoon Haiyan.

Saleemul Huq, the scientist whose work on loss and damage helped put the issue of recompense on the conference agenda, said: "Discussions were  oing well in a spirit of co-operation, but at the end of the session on loss and damage Australia put everything agreed into brackets, so the whole debate went to waste."

Australia was accused of not taking the negotiations seriously. "They wore T-shirts and gorged on snacks throughout the negotiation. That gives some indication of the manner they are behaving in," said a spokeswoman for Climate Action Network.

Developing countries have demanded that a new UN institution be set up to oversee compensation but rich countries have been dismissive, blocking calls for a full debate in the climate talks.

"The EU understands that the issue is incredibly important for developing countries. But they should be careful about … creating a new institution. This is not [what] this process needs," said Connie Hedegaard, EU climate commissioner.

She ruled out their most important demand, insisting: "We cannot have a system where we have automatic compensation when severe events happen around the world. That is not feasible."

The G77 and China group, which is due to give a press conference on Wednesday to explain the walkout, has made progress on loss and damage, which it says is a "red line" issue. It claims to be unified with similar blocs including the Least Developed Countries, Alliance of Small Island States and the Africa Group of negotiators.


After Haiyan: how to act on scientific advice that's politically inconvenient?

In the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan, debates over extreme weather require us to think harder about the relationship between the evidence, politics and institutions of scientific advice

The proposal, advanced by the G77 plus China, that the US and other nations should pay tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars to poor countries that suffer disasters, is a central theme of the climate negotiations now taking place in Warsaw, Poland.

It's an idea that has been made more tangible by the tragic loss of life and devastation in the Philippines caused by super typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful observed storms of recent decades. This disaster in the Philippines is part of a long-term trend of increasing damage resulting from extreme weather events around the world.

The US has already provided $6bn to developing countries in "climate finance" over the past two years and has committed to spend more. In light of the demands for even more money in the form of climate reparations, last week a leaked US diplomatic cable expressed the Obama administration's concern that poor nations will be "seeking redress for climate damages from sea level rise, droughts, powerful storms and other adverse impacts".

In principle, this debate should be a short one. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently issued two major assessments on extreme weather. Its report issued last month found little evidence to support claims that tropical cyclones (that is, hurricanes and typhoons), floods, drought, winter storms or tornadoes had become more frequent or intense. In the Western Pacific, where Haiyan occurred, in addition to a decreasing number of landfalls, the strongest storms have actually become weaker in recent decades, according to a recent analysis.

More to the point, a 2012 IPCC special report focused on extreme events and concluded that "long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded". In other words, if changes in climate – whether due to human or other influences – are influencing the rising costs of disasters, we can't detect that influence in the data. Yet, despite the IPCC's findings, the issue of compensation for historic emissions has continued to gain traction in the international community.

The Obama administration is right to be concerned about this issue because it risks derailing discussions about energy policies, and wider actions to reduce vulnerabilities to disasters that might actually prove effective in the context of the very real threats posed by climate change.

Yet partial responsibility for the emergence of a debate on historical reparations lies squarely with President Obama. Despite the scientific evidence to the contrary, President Obama declared in his 2013 State of the Union Address that "Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen, were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science." According to the IPCC, only one of these claims is correct – we have indeed seen more heat waves.

With the president implying US responsibility for weather disasters, it should be no surprise that developing nations are taking him at his word and are asking for compensation. And the Obama administration is not being helped by its supporters. For instance, Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Columbia Earth Institute, tweeted in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan that: "Climate liars like Rupert Murdoch & Koch Brothers have more & more blood on their hands as climate disasters claim lives across world." Similarly, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a thinktank influential with the White House, penned an op-ed in the Washington Post that claimed Haiyan shows that, "There is a theological prescription, in a classical sense, for what we must do: confession, repentance and change." Climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State, in between campaigning for Terry McAullife in the Virginia governor race and lobbying the California governor to halt fracking for natural gas, found time to claim that "global warming likely put [Haiyan] on steroids".

More prominently, Sunday's New York Times included a 1,500-word, front page article on the issue of climate "compensation", citing Philippine and Indian typhoons, as well as African drought, as indicative of "possible consequences of climate change [that] have surged". It went on to suggest that "the current global turbulence, consistent with what scientists expect to happen as the climate changes, is already taking a toll".

None of these examples referenced the conclusions of the IPCC's recent reports on extreme events, and the incorrect claims of the New York Times were made without any supporting evidence or attribution.

That politicians, academics or journalists express outlier or even incorrect views is usually not problematic: both science and democracy are self-correcting, and challenging ideas helps to make them stronger. However, in cases where evidence matters in policy making, decision makers need a way to separate the reliable from the hyperbole.

The IPCC, despite the fact that it has made some missteps in the past, is exactly the sort of institution for providing scientific advice to help evaluate conflicting and uncertain empirical claims. In the case of loss and damage from extreme events, the evidence is extremely strong. There is at present no evidentiary basis to support demands for reparations. That may change in the future, but the IPCC's recent assessments are an accurate reflection of where the science is today.

Disasters are important because people die and economies are disrupted. Abandoning the conclusions of the institution that we depend upon to evaluate evidence in climate science for policy making in this context may be politically popular in some circles. However, ignoring that evidence is unlikely to help us arrive at solutions that will improve future outcomes related to disasters, which will only get worse as global population and wealth continue to grow, and will be exacerbated if climate extremes become more frequent or intense, as expected by the IPCC.

For the Obama administration, it is not too late to recover – "to restore science to its rightful place", as the phrase goes. But this means relying upon institutions of scientific advice for evidence, rather than on political campaigners or error-strewn media reports. It shouldn't be a difficult choice. For those interested in both scientific integrity and action on climate change, the issue of extreme weather provides a useful case for thinking about institutions of scientific advice. Are they only useful when the results are politically convenient?


Green Madness: EU To Spend Staggering €180 Billion To Fight Climate Change

20% of the EU’s budget will go towards fighting climate change, climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard announced in Warsaw today.

This equates to €180 billion on climate spending between 2014 and 2020, which will be used to reduce emissions domestically and help developing countries adapt to climate change—three times what was provided in the previous budget.

Much of this will be spent on domestic projects, helping with the development of climate-smart agriculture, energy efficiency and the transport sector.

Over the next seven years, €15 billion from the EU’s overseas development budget will be ringfenced for climate spending. This is separate from what is provided each year by individual member states. For instance, the UK will provide £3.87bn of international climate aid between 2011 and 2015.

Speaking at a press conference in Warsaw today, EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that if the world is successfully going to tackle climate change “one of the things we need is to change is the whole economic paradigm, including the way we construct our budgets.” She added that Europe is the first region to construct its budget in this way.

Finance meeting

Dr Celine Herweijer, partner at consultancy firm PwC says that, with high-level discussions on climate finance taking place tomorrow, other countries may soon announce similar policies.

“The EU finance announcement will hopefully be followed by many others in the coming hours and days. Finance holds the key to unlocking the stalemate we are seeing on the post 2020 agreement,” said Herweijer.

But she added: “Whether we’ll get the scale of movement on finance we need is unlikely. Targets of $60bn-$70bn by 2016 have been mentioned by some of the developing country groupings. Getting there would be a huge outcome.”

This will be the first time that there has been a ministerial dialogue dedicated to climate finance. The purpose of the discussion is to find a way to scale up the finance promised by developed countries to the US$ 100bn they have promised to deliver annually from 2020 to be delivered through the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

It comes with high expectations. “Countries have known about this for a long while,” says Liz Gallagher, senior policy advisor at E3G. “I get a sense there’s going to be some announcements on a range of different issues associated with finance. Whether that will be enough to placate and temper some of the quite heightened frustration in these negotiations, I don’t know.”

Green Climate Fund

There has been some doubt over whether the GCF will be able to harness the level of funding that was promised at UN climate talks in Cancun in 2010. At a press conference today, UN chief Ban Ki-moon called the Fund an “empty shell” and urged developing nations to fulfill their promise to supply $100bn.

“We need a lot of resources and financial resources is the most important and quickest way [of addressing climate change],” he said.

But speaking today in Warsaw, Manfred Konukiewitz, co-chair of the GCF board, said that the fund was “on track”, and that there was a “good chance” that the fund would be capitalised in 2014.

But while he said that the “window is now open” for countries to make a success out of the GCF “it won’t stay open for an unlimited time.” He stressed that the credibility of the UN climate process depended on successful capitalisation of the fund.

“Looking at the entire year we have the opportunity to really bring the fund to the point where it can mobilise resources and where it can spend money,” he said. “If we miss that opportunity we have a problem because that will certainly not be good for the credibility of this whole process and we don’t know when the next such opportunity will arise.”

Hedegaard said that EU contributions to the GCF remained dependent on the eventual mechanisms contained within the fund, but said that once it was set up, many member states would be ready to contribute.


Climate talks: Polish environment minister sacked to accelerate shale gas operations

Poland's prime minister Donald Tusk dismissed environment minister Marcin Korolec on Wednesday as part of a government reshuffle, but said the latter would continue to represent the country in ongoing UN climate talks.

Korolec will be replaced by Maciej Grabowski, former deputy finance minister responsible for preparing shale gas taxation.

"It is about radical acceleration of shale gas operations. Mr Korolec will remain the government's plenipotentiary for the climate negotiations," Tusk told a news conference.

Warsaw is hosting this year's UN climate talks, at which almost 200 countries are trying to make progress on a global climate deal that should be agreed by 2015.

Korolec, as Poland's environment minister, assumed the presidency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process on November 11, the first day of the two-week conference, and was to hold it throughout 2014.

His dismissal raised questions over Poland's position in the negotiations.

Some delegates complained about the timing of the reshuffle, saying it indicated that Poland was not interested in ensuring tougher global action to combat global warming.

"This is nuts. Changing the minister leading the climate negotiations after a race to the bottom by parties of the convention shows Prime Minister Tusk is not sincere about the need for an ambitious climate deal," said Maciej Muskat, director of Greenpeace Poland.

"Furthermore, justifying the change of minister by the need to push the exploitation of another fossil fuel in Poland is beyond words," he said.

One delegate added: "Poland hosted a conference to promote coal earlier this week and now this. You have to question how serious they are."

The country, which generates 90% of its electricity from coal, has been one of the most reluctant European Union members to toughen the existing goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.

The environment ministry under Korolec was criticised for hampering work on new shale gas legislation, which, together with red tape and poor results, forced a number of global players to quit Poland.


New paper finds Pacific cyclone activity is at the lowest levels of the past 5,000 years

A new paper published in Quaternary Science Reviews reconstructs cyclones of the central Pacific and finds cyclone activity of the 21st century is at the lowest levels of the past 5,000 years. The paper also shows typhoons in Japan at the lowest levels of the past 3,500 years and that North Atlantic hurricanes were more frequent/severe than modern times during various intervals over the past 3,000 years.

The authors attribute the changes in Pacific cyclones to the El Nino Southern Oscillation [ENSO], which is also shown to be at the lowest levels of the past 5,000 years. In addition, the paper shows sea levels of the central Pacific were ~.5 meters [~1.6 feet] higher than modern times from ~1,700 to ~2,500 years ago. Contrary to the claims of climate alarmists, the paper demonstrates cyclone activity and the frequency of El Ninos are currently at very low levels relative to the past 5,000 years.

Reconstructing mid-late Holocene cyclone variability in the Central Pacific using sedimentary records from Tahaa, French Polynesia

By Michael R. Toomeya et al.


We lack an understanding of the geographic and temporal controls on South Pacific cyclone activity. Overwash records from backbarrier salt marshes and coastal ponds have been used to reconstruct tropical cyclone strikes in the North Atlantic basin. However, these specific backbarrier environments are scarce in the South Pacific, with cyclone records limited primarily to the period of modern observation.This instrumental record suggests a correlation with the El NiƱo–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), but longer records are necessary to test this relationship over geologic timescales and explore other potential climate drivers of tropical cyclone variability. Deep lagoons behind coral reefs are widespread in the Pacific and provide an alternative setting for developing long-term sedimentary reconstructions of tropical cyclone occurrence. Coarse-grained event deposits within the sediments of a back-reef lagoon surrounding Tahaa reveal a 5000-year record of cyclone occurrences. Timing of recent high-energy deposits matches well with observed tropical cyclone strikes and indicates coarse deposits are storm derived.Longer records show tropical cyclone activity was higher from 5000 to 3800 and 2900 to 500 yrs BP. Comparison to records from the North Pacific (out-of-phase) and North Atlantic (in phase) suggests a coordinated pattern of storm activity across tropical cyclone basins over the mid-late Holocene. The changes in tropical cyclone activity we observe in the South Pacific and across other basins may be related to ENSO as well as precession driven changes in ocean-atmosphere thermal gradients.


Norwegian army goes vegetarian as it goes to war against climate change by cutting ‘ecologically unfriendly’ foods

   The Norwegian army has announced it will feed soldiers a vegetarian diet once a week in an effort to cut down on ecologically unfriendly foods.  'Meatless Mondays' have been introduced at one of the country's main bases and will soon be rolled out to all units in a boycott of food whose production contributes heavily to global warming.

With livestock farming accounting for almost 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, the army's proposal has been welcomed by environmental groups.

'It's a step to protect our climate. The idea is to serve food that's respectful of the environment," a Norweigan army spokesman said.

Eystein Kvarving added: 'It's not about saving money.  'It's about being more concerned for our climate, more ecologically friendly and also healthier.'

Environmental group, The Future in Our Hands, praised the defence ministry for 'taking climate and environmental issues seriously,' reports The Local.

According to research carried out by the orgnisation, the average Norweigan adult eats more than 1,200 animals over the course of their life, including 1,147chickens, 22 sheep, six cattle and more than two deer.

The army estimates that its meat consumption will be cut by 150 tonnes per year by following the plan.



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