Friday, March 04, 2022

175 states agree pact to tackle plastic in the seas and soil

What a lot of hot air. The big cause of plastic in the oceans is poor people in Africa and Asia treating their rivers as rubbish dumps. How are you going to change that? Laws will be unenforceable. Erecting booms across the mouth of the Yangtse to capture plastic would be a big help and might be possible but not much else would

Millions of tonnes of plastic waste could be prevented from contaminating the ocean, soil and air each year after 175 countries agreed to develop the first binding treaty on plastic ­pollution.

Its terms are due to be agreed by the end of 2024 and will cover the lifecycle of plastic from production to disposal.

The treaty will address all forms of plastic pollution, including microplastic particles, which have been found everywhere from the deepest ocean to near Everest’s peak as well as in Arctic snow and Antarctic ice, shellfish, table salt and drinking water.

Under the resolution agreed unanimously at the UN environment assembly in Nairobi on Wednesday night, an intergovernmental negotiating committee will be convened “to develop an international, legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment”. The committee will start work this year, with “the ambition of completing its work by the end of 2024”.

The resolution gives it a broad mandate to develop both binding and voluntary measures, set global targets and produce mechanisms for tracking progress and ensuring accountability.

The measures could include limits on the production of virgin plastic, the phasing out of single-use products, and requirements to recycle.

The resolution also calls for financial assistance to help poorer countries to take action.

Plastic production globally increased from two million tonnes in 1950 to 348 million in 2017 and is on course to exceed 600 million by 2040. About 11 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the ocean annually and the UN said that could triple by 2040. The total plastic waste produced globally has more than doubled since 2000 to 353 million tonnes in 2019, according to a report last month by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Only 9 per cent is recycled, 19 per cent is incinerated and 50 per cent sent to landfill.

The remaining 22 per cent is dumped in unregulated sites, burnt in open pits or leaks into the environment, the report says.

Ellen MacArthur, the record-breaking yachtswoman who runs an environmental foundation, said the resolution was “a key moment in the effort to eliminate plastic waste and pollution on a global scale”.

“Critically, this includes measures considering the entire lifecycle of plastics, from its production, to product design, to waste management, enabling opportunities to design out waste before it is created,” Dame Ellen said.

The UK was among more than 70 countries that helped to develop the resolution by supporting an initial proposal from Rwanda and Peru that addresses the full lifecycle of plastics.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Program, said: “This is the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord. It is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it.”

Zac Goldsmith, the British Environment Minister representing the UK at the conference, wrote on Twitter: “This is a historic moment, and I’m hugely proud the UK co-sponsored the proposal.”

Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International, the conservation group, said: “By agreeing to develop a legally binding global treaty on plastic pollution, our world leaders are paving the way for a cleaner and safer future for people and the planet. But our work is far from over – world leaders must now show even more resolve in developing and implementing a treaty which addresses our current plastic pollution crisis and enables an effective transition to a circular economy for plastic.”


Putin blows up NetZero and the green reset

There can be no greater demonstration of the massive failure — and the paralyzing contradictions and disconnect — revealed this week between two branches of the United Nations that allegedly serve to protect and assure peace and prosperity around the world. One branch is the United Nations Security Council, allegedly dedicated to international peace and security. The other UN operation is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was created to ”provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options.”

As Vladimir Putin dropped bombs on the Ukraine and invaded its cities, the UN Security Council, along with the UN General Assembly, sank into paralysis and debate, unprepared and unwilling or simply incapable of rousing serious opposition to the Russian military operation. On Monday, the UNIPCC delivered its latest report, “Climate Change 2022,” subtitled “Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability.” A monumental 3,675-page document packed with incomprehensible science and meaningless geopolitical jargon, the report in effect outlines how the global fixation on climate policy and net zero carbon targets laid the groundwork for Putin’s move to invade Ukraine.

The split UN personality was personified on Monday by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said the IPCC report demonstrated that “As climate impacts worsen — and they will — scaling up investments will be essential for survival … Delay means death.” Then, on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Guterres said “civilian deaths” were totally unacceptable. “It must stop now.”

But Guterres’s warnings fail to acknowledge the climate/invasion links. Without the UN-led climate crusade it is highly unlikely Putin would have been in a position to launch the Ukraine invasion.

The IPCC, along with political leaders and activists everywhere, portrayed the 21st century war on carbon to be a do-gooding crusade that aims to avoid what they refer to as “risks” associated with climate change. What the UN climate warriors failed to appreciate were the real-world risks associated with political actors who controlled the governments that were being enlisted in the seemingly benign business of protecting the world from climate disaster. Putin, after all, had committed to net zero by 2060.

The opening chapter of the new report, a “Summary for Policymakers,” starts with a fleeting mention of risks and warning of “violent conflict’ over climate issues, but no mention of inter-state military invasions or conflict. Instead, it baffles its way through a claim that the IPCC “recognizes the interdependence of climate, ecosystems and biodiversity, and human societies and integrates knowledge more strongly across the natural, ecological, social and economic sciences than earlier IPCC assessments. The assessment of climate change impacts and risks as well as adaptation is set against concurrently unfolding non-climatic global trends e.g., biodiversity loss, overall unsustainable consumption of natural resources, land and ecosystem degradation, rapid urbanization, human demographic shifts, social and economic inequalities and a pandemic.”

No mention of possible invasions or military attacks. The language is classic UN climate geobabble. The report goes on to state that “the subject of risk is central” to the IPCC report, which “recognizes the value of diverse forms of knowledge such as scientific, as well as Indigenous knowledge and local knowledge in understanding and evaluating climate adaptation processes and actions to reduce risks from human-induced climate change.”

The prospect of “violent conflict” is noted 55 times over the 3,675-page IPCC report, including a warning that “climate change may increase susceptibility to violent conflict, primarily intrastate conflicts, by strengthening climate-sensitive drivers of conflict.” Mostly, the IPCC sees violent conflict as something that could occur in regions where climate change may provoke local populations to react to floods, fires, and extreme weather.

Nobody saw Putin coming, riding on the back of Germany and other European nations as they attempted to remake their energy systems to conform with IPCC decarbonization programs. Germany sought to bring in more Russian gas to offset its plans to eliminate coal power from its energy grid. In the wake of the invasion, Germany has withheld approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and has now begun to remake its energy strategy to include the continued use of coal.

Nations around the world, including Canada and the United States, are now under economic and strategic pressure to rethink the IPCC climate crusade toward NetZero 2050. There comes a point when the banal pursuit of the overwhelmingly complicated science of climate change becomes the source of serious geopolitical and military risk. Fossil-fuel energy, thanks to Putin, is now about to make a major comeback as a relatively inexpensive and readily available secure source of energy.

Neither Prime Minister Trudeau nor President Joe Biden can, in the wake of Putin’s disruption of the world energy and political system, continue to regurgitate the Build Back Better and Green New Deal slogans that have dominated their pronouncements over the last two years. The era of the pipeline blockers is over.


Youngkin Poised to Withdraw Virginia From Multistate Climate Pact

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is pursuing a multipronged strategy to dismantle climate change regulations and hold down energy costs, his press secretary told The Daily Signal.

Government records indicate that Youngkin will rely on a mix of executive action, budget changes, and legislation to withdraw from the 11-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

Some environmental activists and lawyers question the new Republican governor’s authority to exit the pact exclusively through executive action.

But Youngkin press secretary Macaulay Porter said the governor is committed to ending Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a “cap and trade” agreement to limit carbon dioxide emissions that is widely known as RGGI.

“The governor pledged to withdraw Virginia from RGGI because of the unfair burden it places on Virginia ratepayers,” Porter said in an interview. “On Day One, he issued an executive order to do just that.”

“The executive action initiated the regulatory process to withdraw,” Porter added, “but he’s also supporting legislative action to make sure future governors cannot unilaterally put Virginia back into this failed and expensive program.”

Youngkin’s executive order set in motion a series of actions that will result in what it calls “a full report reevaluating the costs and benefits of participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative,” while notifying RGGI officials that the governor intends to withdraw either by legislative or regulatory action.

The Daily Signal has requested a copy of that report, which was due within 30 days of Youngkin’s Jan. 15 order.

‘Change Not for Better’

The governor’s order provides for an “emergency regulation” enabling Virginia’s Air Pollution Control Board to consider repealing climate change regulations. Youngkin also backs a budget amendment that would start the process of withdrawing from RGGI.

Besides Virginia, the climate change agreement includes 10 other states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, as The Daily Signal previously has reported: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

In these states, government regulators impose an upper limit or “cap” on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that power plants are permitted to emit. The initiative also creates “allowances” within interstate auctions that may be traded back and forth among companies subjected to the emission caps.

The idea behind cap-and-trade is to provide energy companies with financial incentives to reduce emissions. Companies that meet or exceed emissions targets may sell any excess allowances to companies that have not done so.

Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow with the Washington-based National Center for Public Policy Research, a free-market think tank, told The Daily Signal that he is concerned about environmental degradation that may result from Virginia’s increased reliance on solar and wind projects.

“We have been told that by joining RGGI, adopting net-zero carbon emissions goals, and embracing other schemes to promote ‘clean’ energy, we will become full participants in something truly ‘transformative,’” Cohen said in an email, adding:

Yes, transformative it will be, but the change will not be for the better. The increased reliance on wind and solar power will transform broad swaths of Virginia’s bucolic countryside and deep-blue offshore waters into a world of unsightly and inefficient industrial-scale wind turbines and solar arrays. The pollution potential caused by the disposal of used-up solar panels (tens of thousands of them), giant wind turbines, and dead batteries for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow will make the worst Superfund site look like child’s play.


A dishonest and misleading IPCC report

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an important organization with a primary purpose to assess the scientific literature on climate in order to inform policy. The IPCC spans the physical sciences, impacts, adaptation and vulnerability and economics. I have often stated that the IPCC is so important that if it did not exist we’d need to invent it, because the challenge of climate change presents significant risks. As a consequence, both mitigation and adaptation responses must be a priority. Rigorous scientific assessments are thus needed to inform policy making. Earlier this week the IPCC’s Working Group 2 (WG2) report was released on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability — Working Group 1 on the physical sciences was released last year and Working Group 3 on economics will come later this year.

Regrettably, the IPCC WG2 has strayed far from its purpose to assess and evaluate the scientific literature, and has positioned itself much more as a cheerleader for emissions reductions and produced a report that supports such advocacy. The IPCC exhorts: “impacts will continue to increase if drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are further delayed – affecting the lives of today’s children tomorrow and those of their children much more than ours … Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

The focus on emissions reductions is a major new orientation for WG2, which previously was focused exclusively on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. The new focus on mitigation is explicit, with the IPCC WG2 noting (1-31) that its focus “expands significantly from previous reports” and now includes “the benefits of climate change mitigation and emissions reductions.” This new emphasis on mitigation colors the entire report, which in places reads as if adaptation is secondary to mitigation or even impossible. The IPCC oddly presents non-sequiturs tethering adaptation to mitigation, “Successful adaptation requires urgent, more ambitious and accelerated action and, at the same time, rapid and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.”

To illustrate with just one example (of many). The report concludes (TS-31) with high confidence that “Flood risks and societal damages are projected to increase with every increment of global warming.” This is simply not true. And by “not true” I mean that it is not an accurate representation of the literature that WG2 cites to justify this claim. It is also empirically false, as vulnerability to floods has dramatically decreased even as the planet has warmed. However, such a claim is useful in advocating for mitigation actions.

Allow me to go into the weeds just briefly (on Twitter I document many such journeys). The WG2 finding about about increasing damages from floods relies on three papers (Hirabayashi et al. 2021, Dottori et al. 2018 and Alfieri et al. 2017), as indicated below from the body of the report (4-69).

But when you actually go to these three studies, you find that they are not in fact projecting future damages, as claimed by WG2. They are instead exploring what would happen if climate changes projected for 2100 are imposed upon current society. These studies have in fact eliminated the possibility of adaptation in projecting the future. This is of course ridiculous as projection and of little use in a report about adaptation. You can see the relevant assumptions of the three papers in the figure below. For the WG2 to report these studies as projections of future societal damage from floods is misleading at best.

Even worse, each of the three studies utilizes the out-of-date and implausible extreme RCP8.5 scenario to project climate changes for 2100. So not only is society frozen in time, unable to adapt — which is clearly implausible, but future climate change is projected based on an extreme scenario that is also implausible. Implausibility built on implausibility offers no practical insight as to the role of adaptation in reducing vulnerabilities and increasing resilience. We might expect this sort of thing from a passionate advocacy group spinning science for theatrical effect, but not the IPCC.

What happens when adaptation is actually considered in projections of future flood risks and impacts? The IPCC notes (4-69) in the body of the text that according to another study that includes adaptation, 95% of projected flood damage in the absence of adaptation could be avoided: “projected flood damage could be reduced to 1/20th in absolute value with adequate adaptation.” The study that supports this claim (Winsemius et al. 2015) also uses RCP8.5. Even with an implausible climate future almost all damage from floods can be avoided with effective adaptation. Even further, in its supplementary materials the study includes an analysis of adaptation under a more appropriate upper end scenario (RCP4.5) and finds that flood damage could actually be reduced from today’s even with assumed changes in climate and society. Adaptation matters.

Of course, adaptation has long been viewed as problematic in climate policy and politics. The example above indicates why that is so — rather than supporting an apocalyptic view of ever-worsening impacts as a simple function of temperature increases, adaptation opportunities allow for positive human outcomes even as the climate changes. The WG2 misrepresentation of the literature of flooding is repeated throughout the report for other phenomena. Adaptation is often ignored or minimized in favor of presenting impacts as worsening a function of ever-increasing temperatures. In reality, adaptation has great potential to result in positive human futures at a wide range of levels of future emissions and temperature changes. Mitigation and adaptation are both important and the IPCC WG2 did itself and us a huge disservice by adding mitigation to its focus.

And it gets even worse. The RCP8.5 scenario which showed up in the case of flooding above is infused throughout this report. In fact, RCP8.5 plays a greater role in this report than any past IPCC report (the table below shows a count of each scenario explicitly mentioned in the report). This matters because RCP8.5 and similar extreme scenarios are now widely understood to be implausible. The IPCC Working Group 1 even acknowledged last year that such extreme scenarios are viewed as low likelihood with scenarios such as RCP4.5 more likely. Even so, RCP8.5 dominates the WG2 report’s outlook on the future (with RCP4.5 often improperly presented as mitigation success — on current policies the world is presently on track to undershoot RCP4.5 outcomes).

In fact, it is puzzling why it is that as scientific literature has accumulated indicating that such extreme scenarios are implausible — e.g., a 2017 study concluded, “RCP8.5 should not be a priority for future scientific research” — the IPCC has chosen to increase its reliance on these discredited scenarios. The figure below illustrates the increasing reliance on implausible scenarios from the Fifth (2013/14) to the Sixth (2021/22) IPCC assessment reports. I have invited IPCC contributors to justify this decision, so far no one has taken me up on the offer.

The reliance on implausible scenarios is all the more baffling because these issues have long been aired in the IPCC community. For instance, a 2016 paper from a leading scenario expert warned presciently that the lack of realistic scenarios for where the world is actually heading meant that, “it will be difficult to draw overarching conclusions from mitigation and impacts research in IPCCs 6th Assessment Report.” That has proven correct. So far, the IPCC has largely ignored the issues associated with its reliance on outdated, implausible scenarios, which fundamentally damages the credibility of its work.

There is no doubt that much excellent work from dedicated researchers is assessed by the IPCC WG2. For me, as an expert in several of the areas covered by WG2, the shortfalls in how the literature I am very familiar with is represented and the overt advocacy stance of the document lead me to distrust the overall report. (And I have not even gotten into the treatment of extreme events, including our work.) That is extremely unfortunate and a reflection of the failure of the IPCC to hold itself to its own high standards. That means playing things straight, leaving mitigation to WG3 where it belongs and avoiding the temptation to use the report for advocacy rather than assessment.




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