Monday, December 16, 2019

UN climate summit in Madrid at risk of collapse after all-night talks leave nations more divided than ever on how to combat global warming

A UN climate summit is at risk of collapsing today after all-night negotiations between countries left them more divided than ever over on how to fight global warming and pay for its ravages, having already gone into overtime for the talks.

Delegates from across the world have been in Madrid for the COP 25 conference for nearly two weeks attempting to work towards a deal for countries to commit to new carbon emissions cuts by the end of 2020.

Diplomats from rich nations, emerging giants and the world's poorest countries - each for their own reasons - found fault in a draft agreement put forward by meeting host Chile in a botched attempt to strike common ground.

The South American country was meant to host the event but billionaire President Sebastian Pinera cancelled the hosting plans as well as an Asia-Pacific APEC economic summit in November due to protests.

Faced with five-alarm warnings from science, deadly extreme weather made worse by climate change, and weekly strikes by millions of young people, negotiations in Madrid were under pressure to send a clear signal that governments are willing to double down in tackling the crisis.

But the 12-day talks, now deep into overtime, had retreated even further from this goal on Saturday.

'It appears that we are going backwards on the issue of ambition when we should be calling for a quantum leap in the other direction,' Marshall Islands climate envoy Tina Stege said.

'I need to go home and look my children in the eye and say we got an outcome that is going to ensure their future, and the future of all of our children,' she added, a catch in her voice.

Veteran observers of UN climate talks were stunned by the state of play nearly 24 hours after the negotiations had been set to close.

'I have never seen such a disconnect between what the science requires and the people of the world demand, versus what the climate negotiations are delivering,' said Alden Meyer, strategy and policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Outside the exhibition centre, activists from Extinction Rebellion dumped horse manure as they staged a protest alongside an international movement of school children demanding faster and more tougher action.

Under the Paris accord, countries agreed in 2015 to work to limit global temperature rises to 'well below' two degrees Celsius through a series of voluntary action pledges that step up over time.

'The one thing in Paris that gave us hope was that the deal is going to be strengthened over time,' said Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, referring to the 196-nation Paris climate treaty. 'If that doesn't come through, Madrid will have failed.'

The push for a strengthening of voluntary carbon cutting plans is led by small-island and least-developed states, along with the European Union.

Ministers from this 'high ambition coalition' have called out countries they see as blocking a consensus call for all countries to step up, notably the United States, Australia and Saudi Arabia.

China and India, the world's No. 1 and No. 4 carbon emitters, meanwhile, have made it clear they see no need to improve on their current emissions reduction plans, which run to 2030.

These emerging giants have chosen instead to emphasise the historical responsibility of rich nations to lead the way and provide financing to poor countries.

The COP 25 summit was also meant to finalise a chapter on carbon markets in the Paris rulebook, which goes into effect next year.

But a complicated wrangle over how to structure markets, and deal with carbon credits left over from the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2020, have remained deadlocked, and may be punted to further talks next year.

The United States, which is leaving the landmark Paris climate deal next year, was accused of acting as a spoiler on a number of issues vital to climate-vulnerable nations. This included so-called 'loss and damage' funding to help disaster-hit countries repair and rebuild.

'The US has not come here in good faith,' said Harjeet Singh, climate lead with charity ActionAid.

'They continue to block the world's efforts to help people whose lives have been turned upside down by climate change.'


Mike Bloomberg says he will close the country's 251 coal-fired power plants by 2030 if he's elected president next year

Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg has unveiled a radical plan to completely eliminate coal-fired power plants by 2030.

The New York billionaire, 77, vowed Friday that he would close the country's 251 coal plants within the next ten years should he become Commander-in-chief.  However, he stopped short of revealing how he would help communities severely impacted by such closures.

Bloomberg made the announcement during a campaign stop in Virginia - a surprising choice given the state is considered the heart of coal country.

During the announcement, he also boasted that he had already 'helped to close more than half the nation's dirty coal plants.'

He cites his partnership with a the environmental organization, Sierra Club, 'which has since shuttered more than half - 299 to date - of America's coal-fired power plants, and counting.'

In addition to eliminating coal-fired plants, Bloomberg vowed Friday to halt construction of 150 new gas facilities. Both plans are part of a bid to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030.

The presidential hopeful further claims he wants to move the nation toward phasing out fossil fuels 'as soon as humanly possible' - ideally before 2050.

Bloomberg's climate plans will also include an emphasis on 'environmental justice' and 'environmental racism'. 

In a statement accompanying the release of his new policy, he said: 'The president refuses to lead on climate change, so the rest of us must.

'As president, I'll accelerate our transition to a 100% clean energy economy.'

Bloomberg's plans drastically contrasts with President Trump - who has previously vowed to save the coal sector.

Bloomberg has not outlined a cost for his plan, but campaign officials said he would begin to release estimates in the coming weeks. 

Climate is shaping up as a central issue in the 2020 Democratic primary election,  with Bernie Sanders. Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar  all signing on to the Green New Deal.

But Bloomberg - who is positioning himself as a more moderate candidate - has not agreed to such proposals.

The former New York mayor is currently in a precarious position, having to vacillate between more liberal positions in order to scoop the Democratic primaries, while at the same time still appealing to centrist voters in order to be viable candidate at the general election 2020. 


The EU’s absurd environmental risk aversion stifles new ideas

Matt Ridley

Excessive regulation means the health and environmental benefits of new technology are suppressed

Last month, at the WTO meeting in Geneva, India joined a list of countries including Canada, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and Malaysia that have lodged formal complaints against the EU over barriers to agricultural imports. Not only does the EU raise hefty tariffs against crops such as rice and oranges to protect subsidised European farmers; it also uses health and safety rules to block imports. The irony is that these are often dressed up as precautionary measures against health and environmental threats, when in fact they are sometimes preventing Europeans from gaining health and environmental benefits.

The WTO complaints accuse the EU of “unnecessarily and inappropriately” restricting trade through regulatory barriers on pesticide residues that violate international scientific standards and the “principle of evidence”. Worse, they say, “it appears that the EU is unilaterally attempting to impose its own domestic regulatory approach on to its trading partners”, disproportionately harming farmers in the developing nations whose livelihoods depend on agriculture.

The problem is that the EU, unlike the rest of the world, bases its regulations on “hazard”, the possibility that a chemical could conceivably cause, say, cancer, even if only at impossibly high doses. WTO rules by contrast require a full “risk” analysis that takes into account likely exposure. Coffee, apples, pears, lettuce, bread and many other common foods that are part of a healthy diet contain entirely natural molecules that at high enough doses would be carcinogenic. Alcohol, for instance, is a known carcinogen at very high doses, though perfectly safe in moderation. The absurdity of the EU approach can be seen in the fact that if wine were sprayed on vineyards as a pesticide, it would have to be banned under a hazard-based approach.

This is all part of the EU’s insistence on using an especially strong version of the precautionary principle, as required by the Lisbon Treaty. Along with diverging from international scientific standards, this creates an insurmountable bias against new innovations, as anything new presents hypothetical risks, while the hazards of existing technologies are not assessed in the same way. Ironically, the precautionary principle will make it impossible to develop innovative technologies that can promote human health, improve the environment and protect biodiversity. Everything has potential downsides: what should count is the balance between risk and benefit.

Germany plans to phase out the use of glyphosate herbicide by 2023 and the European Commission is moving towards a ban, though not on other more toxic herbicides. This is one of the issues that has brought thousands of German farmers on to the streets in protest. Glyphosate has repeatedly been shown to be less toxic to animals than coffee, even at high doses, let alone at the doses people in practice encounter. This has been confirmed by the European Food Safety Authority and its equivalents in America, Australia and elsewhere.

This problem matters because glyphosate (better known as Roundup) is a valuable tool in conservation, used for protecting habitats from invasive alien weeds. Moreover, throughout the Americas today glyphosate used as part of “minimal tillage” replaces ploughing as a means of controlling weeds. This results in better soil structure, less soil erosion, less damage to soil fauna, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, more carbon storage and better water retention.

By protecting old-fashioned farming practices, such as ploughing, or the use of much more toxic pesticides by organic farmers, such as copper sulphate, the EU is effectively imposing lower environmental standards on its citizens than in some other parts of the world. This makes a mockery of some Remainer claims that leaving the EU will result in a lowering of our environmental standards.

The EU has effectively banned genetically modified crops by requiring impossibly complex, uncertain and lengthy procedures for their approval, and has now ruled that even gene-edited crops (where no “foreign” genetic material is added) must be subject to the same draconian regulations. Crops produced by random bombardment with gamma rays, a less predictable process, are exempt, merely because that is an older technology.

Most maize, cotton and soya bean in the Americas is grown with a gene inserted from a bacterium that kills certain insects but is harmless to humans. It protects the crop against pests but leaves “innocent civilian” insects such as butterflies unharmed. There has been a noticeable improvement in biodiversity in and around such genetically modified crops elsewhere in the world. The greatest irony is that the gene in question, known as Bt, is derived from a bacterium that has been used as an organic pesticide by organic growers for almost a century.

European protectionism does not only discriminate against poor countries, raise costs for domestic consumers and damage the competitiveness of domestic producers. Increasingly it also results in lower environmental standards.


No end in sight for the biofuel wars

Biofuels are unsustainable in every way, but still demand – and get – preferential treatment

Paul Driessen

The Big Oil-Big Biofuel wars rage on. From my perch, ethanol, biodiesel and “advanced biofuels” make about zero energy, economic or environmental sense. They make little political sense either, until you recognize that politics is largely driven by crony-capitalism, campaign contributions and vote hustling.

Even now, once again, as you read this, White House, EPA, Energy, Agriculture and corporate factions are battling it out, trying to get President Trump to sign off on their preferred “compromise” – over how much ethanol must be blended into gasoline, how many small refiners should be exempted, et cetera.

This all got started in the 1970s, when publicly spirited citizens persuaded Congress that “growing our own energy” would safeguard the USA against oil embargoes and price gouging by OPEC and other unfriendly nations, especially as our own petroleum reserves rapidly dwindled into oblivion. Congress then instituted the Renewable Fuels Standard in 2005, when the Iraq War triggered renewed fears of global oil supply disruptions. The RFS requires that almost all gasoline sold in the USA must contain 10% ethanol – which gets a third fewer miles per gallon than gasoline and damages small engines.

But, we were told, these fuels are renewable, sustainable, a way to prevent “dangerous climate change.”

It’s all bunk. In recent years, the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) revolution has given America and the world at least a century of new oil and natural gas reserves. America has become the world’s largest oil and gas producer and within five years could be producing far more oil and gas than any other country in the world. Terminals built years ago to import fuel from distant lands are being reconfigured to export abundant US oil, liquefied natural gas and refined products to distant lands.

Average global temperatures – as actually measured by satellites and weather balloons – are now almost a full degree Fahrenheit lower than predicted by climate models (the average of 102 IPCC computer model forecasts) that also foretell the daily litany of climate and weather cataclysms. However, hurricanes are less frequent and intense than a half-century ago, and Harvey was the first Category 3-5 hurricane to make US landfall in a record 12 years. Violent F4-5 tornadoes have also been less frequent over the past 34 years than during the 35 years before that, and not one F4-5 tornado hit the USA in 2018.

Over their full life cycle (from planting, growing and harvesting crops, to converting them to fuel, to transporting them by truck or rail car, to blending and burning them), biofuels emit just as much (plant-fertilizing) carbon dioxide as oil-based gasoline and diesel. Those biofuels also require enormous amounts of land, water, fertilizer, insecticides and energy. None of this is renewable or sustainable.

In fact, corn turned into E85 fuel (85% ethanol/15% gasoline) and grown where rainfall is insufficient requires irrigation – and up to 28 gallons of water from rivers or groundwater supplies per mile traveled!

US ethanol production utilizes 38% of America’s corn and 27% of its sorghum – grown on cropland the size of Iowa: 36 million acres, much of which would otherwise be wildlife habitat. And the fertilizers used to grow those crops, especially the corn, result in nutrient-rich runoff that increases nitrogen levels in the Gulf of Mexico, causing deadly algal blooms. When the algae die and decompose, they create low and no-oxygen zones the size of Delaware – killing marine life that can’t swim away quickly enough.

In short, biofuels have huge downsides and do nothing to address the scary scenarios that have either shriveled amid the winds of history – or were wildly exaggerated or imaginary to begin with.

But once these biofuel programs were launched, they became permanent. They created a biofuel industry that wants to get bigger every year, and supports politicians who want to get reelected year after year. That brings us back to the Executive Branch biofuel battles – and to issues that I myself struggle to comprehend, amid the morass of acronyms and conflicting policies and mandates.

Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency require that refiners blend “conventional biofuel” (mostly ethanol) into gasoline – and also meet various “advanced biofuel” and biomass-based diesel requirements. However, too much ethanol in gasoline damages engines in older cars, generators, garden equipment and boats; that puts a limit on how much ethanol can actually go in the fuel supply (the “blend wall”). As a result, while ethanol blending continues to increase gradually, American motorists have never been able to consume enough ethanol to satisfy applicable Renewable Fuel Standards.

However, biofuel interests want the government to keep mandating even more ethanol – a desire that faces multiple problems. Gasoline demand is decreasing, as people drive less, in more fuel-efficient cars, and in electric and hybrid vehicles (that are heavily subsidized under other laws).

Tariff wars with China and other countries have hurt corn and sorghum farmers, who want to be “compensated” via more biofuel mandates under the Renewable Fuels Standard – even though beef, pork and poultry farmers get hurt by higher grain prices resulting from so much corn devoted to ethanol.

Declining fuel demand and the blend wall mean refiners cannot mix all the mandated 15 billion annual gallons of ethanol into gasoline. They are thus forced to over-comply with the “advanced biofuel” part of the RFS mandate by buying expensive foreign biodiesel and “renewable” diesel. Refiners that do not control the point where biofuel can be blended into gasoline (eg, large distribution terminals or local gas stations) must buy “credits” called Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) that show (or pretend to show)  the required (foreign) biofuels were mixed with the gasoline they make domestically.

This all gets really expensive, really fast, which is why the law allows exemptions to small refiners that  face “disproportionate economic hardship” from costs that have gotten so high that courts have ordered the EPA to grant more “small refinery exemptions” (SREs) – waivers from the RFS mandates.

However, biofuel has been blended into the fuel small refiners make anyway. This situation resulted in ample supplies of RFS compliance credits, and RIN prices have dropped from over 90 cents apiece to 12 or 20 cents over the past two years or even lower at times. Of course, this all angered the biofuel lobby, which has attacked the Administration for issuing SREs, falsely claiming the exemptions are   “destroying demand” for biofuel and “hurting American farmers.”

They levied these attacks on EPA, despite the fact that the Trump Administration granted the biofuel industry its biggest request in 20 years: an air quality waiver that allows E15 to be sold year round. So some in the Administration have proposed to “reallocate lost biofuel gallons” the biofuel industry says were caused by SREs. But there’s nothing to reallocate, since ethanol is being blended despite the SREs.

The reallocation proposal thus has the practical effect of increasing the biofuel mandate by over 700 million gallons above the 15-billion-gallon statutory ceiling on ethanol. That brings us back to the fact that America is not producing enough advanced biofuels, biodiesel or renewable diesel. That means refiners have to buy more foreign supplies of these fuels, from Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, et cetera.

Of course, that does nothing to help American farmers. It just turns the Renewable Fuel Standard into a big foreign biofuel mandate. It also means President Trump is caught between trying to placate two of his core constituencies: farmers, primarily in the Midwest, and the oil and refining industry with all its jobs.

This is mind-numbingly complicated. But the bottom line is pretty simple: Every time Congress gets involved in trying to fix complex energy and economic problems – instead of letting free market industries and innovators sort things out – it creates a legislative, regulatory, legal and lobbying mess. Every attempted additional fix makes things worse. And trying to justify all the meddling, by claiming we’re running out of oil or face manmade climate cataclysms, just makes things worse.

We should end this crazy-quilt biofuel program. But anyone who thinks that will happen in Washington, DC or Des Moines, Iowa is smoking that stuff that’s now legal and widespread in Boulder, Colorado. But President Trump and his EPA should at least reduce – and certainly not increase – any biofuel quotas.

Via email

Climate change is not Australia's burning issue

Stoic. We used to be stoic and sensible. And proudly so.

In Britain this was encapsulated by the wartime poster “Keep calm and carry on”. Here in Australia we have exhibited a phlegmatic hardiness down the gen­erations, dealing with all that a sunburnt country of droughts and flooding rains could throw at us.

Now hysteria reigns. That British poster today would read, “Cry panic and herald Armageddon”. The Australian visage of calm practicality has been replaced by a Munch-like scream.

On Christmas Day 1974, households around the nation were shocked by news coming through from Darwin and rang to offer their homes to house families evacuated in the wake of Cyclone Tracy. If it happened today many people would go and protest against the climate instead.

Rational arguments, hard facts and intelligent debate have been cast aside in favour of woke whingeing. In this information age, ill-informed emotionalism dominates public debate (although thankfully the great mainstream remain level-headed and smart, as they showed in this year’s so-called climate election).

We live in an age when Greta Thunberg can be named person of the year for doing nothing more than allowing herself to be the face of protest, bringing teenage hyperventilation to what should be a ­rational and scientific policy ­debate. She is to the climate debate what the Bay City Rollers were to music.

But she is far from alone. When Sydney was smothered in bushfire smoke this week The Sydney Morning Herald published Mark Mordue. “There is no other way to see it,” he wrote, “our dead future is here.” In The Guardian Australia Charlotte Wood wrote about her trauma from Sydney’s inner-west suburb of Marrickville. “We’re used to turning our attention briefly, ­intensely, to ‘those poor people’­ ­affected by climate change, then returning to normal life,” Wood wrote, without telling us who or what she was referring to. “Now those poor people include us.”

The New York Times fed the hyperbole, quoting novelist Anna Funder looking at bushfires on a flight into Sydney. “It was as if the country were being devoured by a chemical reaction,” she said.

“Dear prime minister,” Katharine Murphy wrote in The Guardian Australia, “the country is not parched but desiccated, and it is burning like a tinderbox, and people are frightened.”

Remember when journalism was about facts?

A host of people from the prominent to the anonymous took to social media to tell us that “Australia is burning”. NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean blamed the fires on climate change — without evidence.

Rather than explain what his department had done or failed to do to reduce fuel loads in national parks and forests — the one part of the bushfire equation humans can control — he promised more action on carbon emissions reductions policies that, of course, can and will never do anything to ­reduce or alleviate the bushfire threat. Yet, in this post-rational age, he was applauded by many.

People rallied in the streets not to offer their services with other fire volunteers for hard yakka on the frontline with backpacks and rakes or making sandwiches to help; no, they rallied for more government action on carbon emissions reductions. We have reached an absurdity when people blame governments for deliberately lit fires and the smoke they produce. Grown adults blame governments for weather.

Therese Rein, wife of former prime minister Kevin Rudd, took to social media to sheet home blame for destructive fires at the feet of Scott Morrison. Needless to say, she has never publicly blamed her husband for the 170 deaths on Black Saturday, when Rudd was prime minister just over a decade ago.

The divide in approaches was illustrated by the actions of two other former prime ministers. While Tony Abbott has spent weeks on distant fire fronts vol­unteering with his local Rural Fire Service brigade, Malcolm Turnbull jetted back to Sydney, posted a picture of the smoke and said we needed to take more climate action.

The silliness is constantly reinforced in the media. ABC presenters ask daily inane gotcha questions. Hamish Macdonald ­demanded drought tsar Shane Stone declare whether anthropogenic global warming was a thing, and Michael Rowland demanded to know whether federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher would join Kean in blaming climate change for bushfires.

The point about this game-playing is that nothing turns on the answers, except to desired creation of political embarrassment or the chance to shame someone for defying the zeitgeist. Whatever we do to combat drought and bushfire is what we have always done — build dams, supply feed, reduce fuel, protect houses and so on — because these are threats that are endemic to our land.

The expert analysis shows that if there is a long-term influence from climate change on either of these blights, it will be to make each of them slightly more common in a land where they are common already. Whatever Australia does on carbon emissions can have no impact on any of this, at least for decades to come as global emissions continue to rise. And if, at some unlikely time in the future, international resolve sees substantial cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, Australia will still be a land menaced by drought and fire.

There is no drought-free and bushfire-free Nirvana awaiting us, no matter how much nonsense we hear from Kean, Turnbull and Thunberg. It is only the practical that matters. Yet it is usually the gotcha moments, emotional cries and virtue signalling that dominate the public debate. We are our own worst enemies.

Look at the ridiculous coverage and response given to the Climate Change Performance Index ­released in Madrid this week. It is the work of European climate activist think tanks — comparable to The Australia Institute in our country — yet their findings are reported as though they are dispassionate assessments.

The overall ratings had the US ranked last and Australia third from last despite both these developed nations having reduced emissions and, in our case, being committed to further reductions. China — a country that is increasing its emissions ­annually by more than Australia’s total emissions — was ranked almost 30 places above Australia. India, too, was ranked high on the list.

Australia was marked down for approving the Adani coalmine but India was given a leave pass for burning the coal. The index pays more ­regard to climate politics and ­posturing than to emissions facts and outcomes.

Yet this week ABC opinionista Barrie Cassidy tweeted about the index by saying: “I don’t think we’ve ever had a government so out of touch with a national concern and an opposition so incap­able of putting pressure on them.” I guess Cassidy has already forced himself to forget the “climate election” of seven months ago.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese also used the index to criticise the government’s performance and his frontbencher Mark Dreyfus said our nation was now an “international embarrassment”. But the ALP’s climate spokesman, Mark Butler, would not be outdone: “Australia is burning. We can feel the impacts of climate change. Scott Morrison’s climate policy is ranked dead last, below Donald Trump. This is a crisis and the government won’t act.”

Against all this panic and politicking, we need to consider the facts. In NSW this has been a bad bushfire season, one of the worst the state has seen, certainly since 1974. With NSW’s drier winters and wetter summers, the season is usually earlier and less intense than the most bushfire-prone states of Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.

With widespread fires this year the smoke haze has been bad too. But, again, not unprecedented.

In 1936 the smoke haze was so bad in Sydney a ship from Hong Kong, the Neptuna, struggled to find the heads and sounded its foghorn but the harbourmaster couldn’t find the ship or see across the harbour. In 1951 all Sydney airports, from Mascot, through Bankstown to Richmond, were shut for hours because the smoke was too thick for planes to land.

Apart from rampant arson, the reason NSW’s fire season is bad is the drought. On this point it is ­important to note the clear assessments of University of NSW’s ­Andrew Pitman, who heads the Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes. “This may not be what you ­expect to hear but as far as the climate scientists know, there is no link between climate change and drought,” he said. “Now, that may not be what you read in the newspapers and sometimes hear commented but there is no reason a priori why climate change should make the landscape more arid.

“And if you look at the Bureau of Meteorology data over the whole of the last 100 years there’s no trend in data, there’s no drying trend, there’s been a drying trend in the last 20 years but there’s been no drying trend in the last 100 years and that’s an expression of how variable the Australian rainfall climate is.”

When Pitman was embarrassed by the use of his quote in the climate debate, he issued a statement saying he should have used the word “direct” — so there is no “direct link” between the drought and climate change.

There you have it. Most of the rest is just noise.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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