Posts Tagged ‘President Nasheed’

Copenhagen – Who pays the bill?

Monday, December 7th, 2009

The United Nations Climate Change Conference gets under way in Copenhagen this week. There’s a lot at stake. We need a global commitment from all nations to adopt a low-carbon path for the future, and we need to get on that path fast. There’s simply no alternative if we want our children and grandchildren to live in a world that we would recognise.

I’m somewhat optimistic about the outcome. I certainly don’t think that the conference will result in an agreement that can prevent catastrophic climate-change in itself. Even if it did, we still have to make sure that it gets implemented, and that’s going to take decades of work. Signing a piece of paper this year will not be enough, even it if says all the right things.

So why am I optimistic? Grab a cup of tea, sit down, and I’ll tell you.

Most governments have made some form of commitment in recent weeks, even those that had steadfastly resisted pressure to do so in the past. The United States has pledged a 17% cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020. China will aim to reduce ‘carbon-intensity’ by 40-45% by 2020, and India will reduce its carbon intensity by 20-25%, also by 2020.

On the one hand, it’s great to see such statements in the leadup to the conference. On the other, of course, those levels of cuts are not enough to make any difference to the changing climate. Compared to 1990 levels, the US figure corresponds to a cut of just 2%, while the Chinese and Indian carbon-intensity targets mean even less.

Carbon intensity is like car mileage, you can drive more efficiently to improve your mileage, but if you drive further as well, you may still burn more petrol. China plans to grow its economy at 8% per year. That would mean that by 2020 Chinas’ emissions will be almost double the 2005 level.

Of course, there will be lots of finger-pointing, with people on all sides calling for others to do more, while claiming that they are doing their share already, or that they do not want to do more until other countries commit themselves to do more. Playing ‘chicken’ with the climate is not what we really want to see in Copenhagen. Some will point out that China emits more CO2 than any other country. Others will point out that the US emits more per person than any other country (sorry, almost any other country.).

You can see the emissions per person for a number of countries in the graph, below, taken from David MacKay‘s free ebook, Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air. That graph is for the year 2000, and you can clearly see that the ‘developed world’ is emitting far more CO2 per person than China or India, for example.

Carbon dioxide (equivalent) emissions per country for the year 2000

Carbon dioxide (equivalent) emissions per country for the year 2000

So it seems to me that the developed world has a clear moral obligation to take the lead in cutting emissions. Of course, everyone has to play their part, but there’s no need for anyone to wait, we can and should be cutting deeply, now. Unfortunately, politicians end up discussing the financial cost of action instead, arguing about how much money it will take to change, and what will it do to their countries’ economy. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s your money they’re protecting either. No, it’s the money of big corporations that lobby hard to protect their interests.

Big corporations have always worked to protect themselves. The gas companies opposed Thomas Edison when he wanted to light the streets with electricity, for example. The reality is that every year of delay only increases the financial costs down the line. Will we have to change the way we live in order to tackle climate change? Yes, we will. Will it have an effect on our economies? Yes, of course. But will it hurt you, or me? Not necessarily.

Thomas Alva EdisonThomas Edison
Image via Wikipedia

Thomas Edison changed our lives for the better. Henry Ford changed our lives when he established the automobile industry. Other changes are more gradual, like from theatre to silent films, to talkies, to television, to videos, and now to satellite and internet TV. The entertainment industry has changed drastically in that time, and people have changed with it.

Changing our way of life is very much part of our way of life, and that’s a good thing. When we realise that fact, tackling climate change will not seem difficult or painful, it will appear as the opportunity it is. Unless you’re the CEO of a fossil-fuel company, of course.

So that’s one reason why I’m optimistic. I believe people can come to terms with the changes needed to tackle climate change, once they realise it is in their personal interest and the interests of their family to do so. For that to happen, we just need to look at who is behind the voices opposed to doing anything.

If you’re among those who think climate change is not a real problem, ask yourself this: where did you get the information that led you to that opinion? What motivates the person who tells you not to worry about climate change? What’s in it for them if you believe them?

Dig deep enough, and you’ll probably smell oil. Sometimes its obvious, such as the recent article in Scientific American, but often you have to dig deeper. If you do, you’ll probably find you are being conned by industry-funded PR campaigns.

Regular readers of this blog will know I’m fond of quoting President Nasheed of the Maldives. Well, I’m going to do it again. In a recent speech, he expressed himself very clearly:

To my mind, countries that have the foresight to green their economies today will be the winners of tomorrow. They will be the winners of this century. These pioneering countries will free themselves from the unpredictable price of foreign oil. They will capitalize on the new, green economy of the future. And they will enhance their moral standing, giving them greater political influence on the world stage.

Here in the Maldives we have relinquished our claim to high-carbon growth. After all, it is not carbon we want, but development. It is not coal we want, but electricity. It is not oil we want, but transport. Low-carbon technologies now exist, to deliver all the goods and services we need. Let us make the goal of using them.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a few other leaders could make a stand with President Nasheed, and offer us development, electricity, and transport, instead of coal and oil?

Why is Copenhagen important?

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is hosting a conference in Copenhagen in December (United Nations Climate Change Conference, Dec 7-18, 2009). It’s supposed to negotiate a successor for the Kyoto protocol, to map the road for reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses worldwide. As such, it’s an extremely important event, but how important is it really? Well, in the words of President Nasheed of the Maldives:

Copenhagen can be one of two things. It can be an historic event where the world unites against carbon pollution, in a collective spirit of cooperation and collaboration, or Copenhagen can be a suicide pact. The choice is that stark. My message to you, my message to the world, is simply this: Please, don’t be stupid.

Until now, politicians everywhere seem to be claiming to be leaders in cutting emissions, while refusing to do anything until someone else does more. Everyone manages to find someone else to point the finger at. With all that hot air from the politicians it’s no surprise the globe is getting hotter!

There are few now who doubt that the global climate is being changed by mankind. Those who do are regularly debunked in the media as having not read or understood the scientific information they refer to, or they simply make up their own ‘facts’ to suit themselves. Some will tell you the climate is not changing. Some will tell you it is getting cooler. Some will say it’s getting warmer, but that it’s not our fault, or that it is our fault but it’s good for us, and so on. Like a child who hasn’t done his homework, they keep hunting for credible reasons.

On the other hand, scientists are agreed that the climate is changing, and that it’s our fault. Organisations as diverse as the World Bank and leading medical organisations around the world are calling for action to tackle climate change. Even religous leaders agree that the climate-change must be addressed.

If you personally have any doubts about the reality of global warming, one easy way to get some good information is to watch the Climate Denial Crock of the Week videos, by Peter Sinclair. These are a series of short videos that address some of the major claims by climate-deniers, showing where they are wrong in a very clear and entertaining manner. The facts are laid out very clearly, and he doesn’t pull his punches. Take a look, for example, at Denial was a River in Africa, and ask yourself if professor Hugh Montgomery might be correct in his claim that India is building a fence to keep Bangladeshi climate refugees out.

Other good starting places for more information on global warming are RealClimate.org and the New Scientist Guide for the Perplexed.

You do not have to look far to see evidence of climate change. The small island nation of Tuvala is already feeling the effects of rising sea-levels, while on the other hand, California is running out of water. Even the British government knows it must plan for a changing climate. Changing the climate in Britain might sound like a good idea, but it’s not. Decreases in rainfall will harm agriculture, while increased flooding will also occur. Even so, Britain will have it easy compared to other countries. August in Australia has been exceptionally warm this year, and the predictions are that it will only get worse there. These are only a few examples, there are many others, from all over the world. Just keep your eyes on the news, you’ll see more.

Back in July, a meeting of the G8 countries accepted that global warming should be limited to no more than 2 degrees celsius (3.6 degrees farenheit). The Alliance of Small Islands States has called for a limit of 1.5 degrees celsius, arguing that 2 degrees is too much. They’re right, even 2 degrees will be enough to drastically alter the climate of the earth. Our grandchildren will grow up in a world unlike the one we see today. 2 degrees is enough to ensure that, for example every summer in Europe is as hot as the summer of 2003, and that one killed tens of thousands of people.

So how do we limit the temperature rise to 2 degrees? To translate that number into action, you have to consider the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that we can allow in the atmosphere. 2 degrees corresponds to about 400 ppm of CO2 (according to the IPCC). So far, so good, we’re below that according to the little counter on the left of this page. However, that’s not the whole story. Barry Brook points out that lower emissions-targets are even better, in order to slow down the damage from the warming that has already begun. It’s like turning down the heat before the milk boils, so it won’t boil over. 350 ppm is now the widely accepted target, enshrined in the campaign by Bill McKibben at 350.org. As you can see, we’re way above that target already!

Whichever number you pick, the important point is that we are already in a dangerous situation. The world’s climate is changing fast, and in ways that are not good. There will continue to be big changes in climate whatever we do, but it is not too late to do something about it, not too late at all. The faster we reduce emissions, the sooner we reduce the damage to the environment, and the less sufferring there will be for man and beast alike. That is why Copenhagen is so very important.

Reducing emissions fast is possible, we know enough to be able to do it. Cleaner energy, higher efficiency cars and electrical appliances, recycling, reducing waste, and all the other things we keep hearing so much about, these all add up. Sometimes it costs money, for large-scale infrastructure like replacing coal-fired power stations, sometimes it saves money instead. Many big companies are going green, despite the economic recession, so cost can’t really be a big issue.

For individuals, too, reducing your carbon footprint can be as easy as small changes in lifestyle, neither expensive nor difficult. It’s quite possible to reduce your electricity use by half, for example. Solving global warming is more a political problem than a technical one, persuading people at all levels (families through to governments) that it must really be done.

Individual action is very important, of course, but the Copenhagen meeting must succeed if we are to reduce emissions globally and really begin to tackle climate change. That is why we have to make sure that our leaders do the right thing, instead of getting wrapped up in petty arguments and worrying that they will lose the next election. People power is crucial to making Copenhagen a success, and one way in which you can express your personal-power is to get involved in some of the demonstrations that are being coordinated around the world in advance of the meeting. 350.org is organising an International Day of Climate Action on October 24th, why not take a look and see if there’s something near you that you can go to? You might be glad you did, one day!