Deniers’ voices try to drown out climate scientists

Deniers’ voices try to drown out climate scientists

New study indicates that loud dissent from contrarians may prompt some researchers to soften their language about the threats of climate change.

LONDON, 16 May, 2015 − Climate change denial by contrarians claiming that global warming has stopped, is a natural cycle rather than a consequence of human action, or is simply a hoax or conspiracy can take its toll of climate scientists too.

A new study in Global Environmental Change suggests that the loudest voices of dissent can affect the way researchers who have separately and repeatedly confirmed the reality of global climate change then talk about their own research.

Scoffing by contrarian voices can lead researchers to over-emphasise the inevitable scientific uncertainties, or over-react to claims of alarmism, or even adopt some of the contrarian language – chief of which has been talk of a “pause” or “hiatus” in global warming in the 21st century.

Psychological mechanisms

Stephan Lewandowsky, professor at the University of Bristol School of Experimental Psychology in the UK, and colleagues from the US and Australia call the problem “seepage”. That is, the language of the contrarians has seeped into scientific discourse.

The researchers identify three psychological mechanisms, which they call “stereotype threat”, “pluralistic ignorance” and “third-person effect”.

The first acts as a behaviour response: stereotype climate scientists as alarmist and this triggers a natural reaction to avoid the stereotype and downplay the climate threat, or at least not highlight the risks.

“The public has a right to be informed of risks,
even if they are alarming”

Pluralistic ignorance follows when a noisy minority opinion gets disproportionate play in public debate − that is, when people who thought they were in a majority begin to feel inhibited.

The third-person effect is the assumption that persuasive communications might persuade other people, but not the experts. In fact, there is evidence that even experts can be subtly affected by such talk.

Professor Lewandowsky says: “It seems reasonable to conclude that the pressure of climate contrarians has contributed, at least to some degree, to scientists examining their own theory, data and models, even though all of them permit – indeed expect – changes in the rate of warming over any arbitrarily chosen period.

“We scientists have a unique and crucial role in public policy to communicate clearly and accurately the entire range of risks that we know about. The public has a right to be informed of risks, even if they are alarming.

“Climate scientists have done a great job in pursuing their science under great political pressure, and they have tirelessly rebutted pseudoscientific arguments against their work.

“However, sometimes scientists have inadvertently allowed contrarian claims to frame the language of their scientific thinking, leading us to overstate scientific uncertainty and under-communicate knowledge.”

A second study by US scientists recently confirmed that, in fact, scientists have communicated the knowledge. They have certainly done so to a US legislature rich in Republican representatives who make a point of challenging or dismissing the climate science consensus.

Contrarian voices occasionally claim that the scientific community is “divided” − but such division was not on show in evidence presented to the US Congress.

Expert witnesses

Xinsheng Liu, associate research scientist at Texas A&M University, and colleagues report in the journal Climatic Change that they analysed 1,350 testimonies delivered to 253 congressional hearings from 1969 to 2007.

Of the expert witnesses who expressed a view, 86% said that climate change was happening, and 78% said it was a consequence of human activity. Most significantly, 95% of those scientists who gave testimony supported action to combat climate change.

So a “supermajority” of scientific opinion had presented the facts to Congress, and the near-complete agreement in the science community had been consistently presented.

“Possible explanations for policymakers’ contention must be based on something other than a lack of knowledge or divided scientific information,” the report’s authors conclude. – Climate News Network

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Education protects best from climate risks

Education protects best from climate risks

Many of us accept that the world is warming but will not necessarily recognise that climate change caused by human activities is responsible. Social scientists say better education is the answer.

LONDON, 24 December, 2014 − Researchers in the US have confirmed the great global warming paradox: people recognise that climate may be changing and that the storms, floods or heat waves they experience are not normal − but whether they attribute the abnormalities to man-made climate change depends on their existing beliefs.

Political party identification, the researchers found, plays a role in these matters. Democrats generally believe in the idea of global warming, Republicans do not.

Aaron McCright, a sociologist at Michigan State University, and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they analysed Gallup Poll data from 2012 on the responses of 1,000 people to temperatures in their home states.

The winter of 2012 was the fourth warmest in the US since 1895. Around 80% of US citizens reported that winter temperatures were warmer than usual, and those polled by Gallup also recognised that the conditions were out of the ordinary.

But only 35% believed that the main cause of the abnormally high temperatures was global warming. “Many people had already made up their minds about global warming and this extreme weather was not going to change that,” said Dr McCright.

Mistaken assumption

“There has been a lot of talk among climate scientists, politicians and journalists that warmer winters like this would change people’s minds. The more people are exposed to climate change, the more they’ll be convinced. This study suggests that this is not the case.”

The research confirms a pattern, and others have already hypothesised that humans are not very enthusiastic about dealing with threats that lie some way in the future. The Michigan State researchers conclude that “actual temperature anomalies influence perceived warming but not attribution of such warmer-than-usual winter temperatures to global warming.

“Rather, the latter is influenced more by perceived scientific agreement; beliefs about the current onset, human cause, threat and seriousness of global warming; and political orientation. This is not surprising given the politicisation of climate science and the political polarisation on climate change beliefs in recent years.”

So the message is: personal experience might help spread support for the idea of adaptive measures, but it may not increase support for mitigation policies.

The North American warm winter of 2012 was only one of a string of extremes that indicate a pattern of change: the 2010 Russian heat wave, Superstorm Sandy on the US East Coast in 2012 and Typhoon Haiyan in the Pacific in 2013 were all natural disasters consistent, the researchers say, “with expectations for a warming world.”

Education matters most

Which is why Wolfgang Lutz of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and colleagues argue in the journal Science that although huge sums of money will be spent on engineering adaptations to climate change, the urgent need is for universal education.

The researchers looked at recently-published analyses of disaster data from 167 countries in the last 40 years and found that making people aware of the hazards and their own vulnerability might do more than sea walls, dams, irrigation systems and other protective infrastructure.

For the researchers, knowledge is power. “Our research shows that education is more important than GDP in reducing mortality from natural disasters. We also demonstrated that under rapid development and educational expansion across the globe, disaster fatalities will be reduced,” said Raya Muttarak, one of the co-authors.

“Education directly improves knowledge, the ability to understand and process information, and risk perception. It also indirectly enhances socioeconomic status and social capital. These are qualities and skills useful for surviving and coping with disasters.” – Climate News Network

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Ignorance hinders UK’s lofty aims on energy saving

Ignorance hinders UK’s lofty aims on energy saving

Housing in the UK is among the least energy efficient in Europe – and a new survey reveals that part of the problem is that many people are ill-informed about how to save energy in their own homes.

LONDON, 2 October, 2014 − We all know the easiest and most effective way to make the typical house more energy efficient in colder climates. Or do we?

A survey commissioned by the National Energy Foundation (NEF), an independent organisation that works to improve the use of energy in the UK’s buildings, recently assessed how well informed people are on energy issues.

Loft insulation is the answer to the above question on improving energy efficiency – yet of the more than 2,000 people questioned in the survey, less than 40% answered correctly.

And while about 60% of adults in the survey felt they were well informed on energy issues, half of them could not identify the most energy efficient lighting for their homes − LED bulbs, which are said to use 90% less energy than traditional incandescent ones.

Action aimed at cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions tends to focus on the power generation sector and transport. Yet buildings – both residential and commercial – account for 46% of the UK’s CO2 emissions, says NEF.

Energy saving

Relatively low-cost improvements to buildings, such as more insulation and LED lighting, can result in considerable energy saving.

The UK has one of the oldest housing stocks in Europe, with more than half of homes constructed before 1960 and only 10% built in the last 25 years.

A lack of comprehensive, effectively implemented building regulations means even newly-constructed dwellings are often sub-standard in terms of energy efficiency.

“Newly-constructed buildings typically use between 2.5 and 4.5 times as much energy as predicted – a phenomenon now being called the performance gap,” says Kerry Mashford, NEF’s chief executive.

“Changes to the way we design, deliver and operate buildings can close this gap dramatically. The trouble is that many don’t know where to start, what to do, or even that such a problem exists.”

It is estimated that the average UK household is responsible for emitting about 10 tonnes of CO2 a year, although there are wide disparities between high and low income earners, with the richest 10% emitting three times more than the poorest 10%, according to a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

More than five million households in the UK – about a fifth of the total − suffer fuel poverty, which is defined as homes where more than 10% of total income is spent on keeping warm.

Fuel poverty

The Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE), a group of companies involved in energy conservation issues, ranks the UK as “the cold man of Europe” – the worst for fuel poverty out of 13 western European countries, and near the bottom of the league on a number of other household energy indicators.

“The UK ranks so low despite the fact that it has among the lowest gas and electricity prices in Europe and relatively high household incomes compared to the other countries,” ACE says.

David Cameron, the UK prime minister, said early last year he wanted to make Britain the most energy efficient country in Europe.

“Far from being a drag on growth, making our energy sources more sustainable, our energy consumption more efficient and our economy more resilient to energy price shocks – those things are a vital part of the growth and wealth that we need,” he said.

The European Union has said that the greatest energy saving potential in Europe – and one of the easiest ways to cut back on CO2 emissions – is through the construction of more energy-efficient buildings. – Climate News Network

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Hollywood goes big on climate change

Hollywood goes big on climate change

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
It’s being billed as “the biggest story of our time.” This weekend viewers of Showtime, the US cable channel, will be watching the first of an eight-part documentary series on climate change: some of the biggest names in Hollywood are involved.

LONDON, 9 April – There’s Harrison Ford in the jungles of Indonesia, investigating deforestation and the plight of orang-utans. There’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, battling wildfires in California, Don Cheadle seeing the impact of drought in Texas, Matt Damon examining the consequences of a heat wave.

Years of Living Dangerously, a US$20 million production due to be first aired on cable TV on 13 April in the US, features an Oscar red carpet roll-call of Hollywood celebrities along with a cast of high-profile US journalists and columnists, all looking at the impact a warming climate is having on people around the world.

“These are the stories of people whose lives have been transformed by climate change”, says veteran director James Cameron, one of the backers of the project.

“Everyone thinks climate change is about melting glaciers and polar bears. I think that’s a big mistake. This is 100% a people’s story.”

Hollywood is no stranger to the subject of a changing climate: so-called disaster movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, Category 7 and Waterworld all used dramatic though some would say rather implausible changes in climate as the backdrop for some edge-of-the-seat film action.

Well-trodden path

A growing band of Hollywood stars has been speaking out about the dangers of climate change: Leonardo DeCaprio  produced and narrated The 11th Hour, a 2007 film investigating the state of the global environment. Morgan Freeman and Susan Sarandon have been among the Hollywood celebrities lobbying President Obama to do more on climate change.

Meanwhile a whole new genre of climate change-related documentaries has hit the silver screen. An Inconvenient Truth, a film starring former US vice-president Al Gore, is perhaps the most famous while the low budget The Age of Stupid, is among the most acclaimed.

Thin Ice and Chasing Ice are other documentaries looking at the impact of a warming world, while more focused local productions such as Are You Listening! – a Bangladeshi film about one community’s battle against rising sea levels – are playing to enthusiastic audiences.

There are differing opinions about the effect Hollywood celebrities have on the issue. Declan Fahy is an associate professor at American University’s School of Communication. He tells the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media that celebrities have a powerful promotional value and can reach wide audiences.

Not actors but preachers?

“They put a recognisable, individual face on a complex, systemic phenomenon like climate change and therefore make the issue connect with audiences, engaging them on the issue and potentially mobilising them to take action.”

However Fahy warns that using Hollywood stars can cause problems. Celebrities come with their own cultural baggage and their own histories: they can be open to the criticism of being another example of a liberal entertainment elite preaching to people.

The backers of Years of Living Dangerously, who include the Hollywood movie mogul Jerry Weintraub, feel the use of celebrities brings a new, high-profile urgency to the subject.

James Cameron says the series will include ample upbeat and optimistic messages along with the grim news about a rapidly warming atmosphere.

“This is about survival”, says Cameron. “This is the biggest story of our time – and this is the time to tell it.” – Climate News Network

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US cools on states’ climate action

US cools on states' climate action

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
While Washington is doing more to address climate change, individual American states are scaling back their policies – apparently to public approval.

LONDON, 1 April – In the last five years – five years marked by heat waves that broke all temperature records, an unprecedented superstorm that devastated New York, catastrophic blizzards in the north-eastern states and sustained drought in the south-west – American citizens have become more divided in their views on climate change.

In 2008 seven out of 10 believed it was their state’s job to address global warming if the federal government failed to do so. The proportion is now down to one in two. The degree of commitment to an opinion has also changed. In 2008, 41% agreed strongly with that position. Now only 19% do so, according to a report from the University of Michigan.

The report, by the University’s Centre for Local, State and Urban Policy, also reveals that a greater number of people are opposed to increases in fossil fuel taxes as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: in all, 71% are against, and of these, 55% are strongly against. Overall, only 5% strongly support increases in such taxes.

Gasoline taxes as an instrument to reduce greenhouse emissions were supported by only 23% of respondents in 2008; this proportion fell to 17% in 2013.

Paradoxically, a large majority of Americans continue to support the argument that a proportion of electricity in any state should come from renewable sources. However, only 29 states so far have agreed such a mandate, and all of them before 2008.

The research is not directly concerned with public recognition of the reality of climate change, although other pollsters and analysts report that opinion tends to shift according to argument and direct experience of climate extremes.

“This less engaged era of state activity has come as American public support for state-level actions regarding global warming has declined”

Instead it is concerned with the more complex question of democratic responsibility for response, and the authors observe that voter attitudes and state policies seem to be broadly in step.

So the question is about whether people think federal or state government should take the initiative.

“Since the turn of the 21st century it has been the states, and not the federal government, that have been the leaders in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” the authors conclude.

“But just as the federal government under the Obama Administration has emerged as a more aggressive player in climate change policy, the states have entered into a period of more limited effort and even modest decline in terms of policies targeting global warming.

“This less engaged era of state activity has come as American public support for state-level actions regarding global warming has declined from where it was five years ago.” – Climate News Network

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How weather shapes our climate ideas

How weather shapes our climate ideas

EMBARGOED until 1800 GMT on Sunday 12 January
Researchers in the US say most people’s convictions about climate change are largely shaped by the weather outside – because that’s the most immediate data we can find.

LONDON, 12 January – It’s by now a no-brainer to say that what we think about climate change is often influenced by what we know of weather change. On a cold day many of us are much less ready to agree that the climate is changing than we are on a warm one.

But now researchers have gone a stage further, trying to establish just why we react to these topical prompts rather than to the evidence of long-term change. And In a series of surveys, they have found that we often respond to the most accessible and immediate information – whether on temperature or something else – that we can find.

The research, published in Nature Climate Change, was completed by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

One survey examined several possible influences on perceptions of the climate, for example testing 686 people on whether individual words could alter their reactions on a very warm day. But the researchers found that speaking of “global warming” rather than “climate change” made little difference.

Experience beats memory

Another survey gave around 330 respondents information on the scientific distinction between local temperature and global climate change, while a control group – a different set of respondents, used to draw comparisons – received information unconnected to climate. Yet greater knowledge about how climate works made very little difference to how that day’s weather affected the respondents’ views on climate.

Then the researchers wanted to see whether more accessible information – like the current day’s temperature – simply took over from less accessible information, such as scientific explanations of global climate change.

So as well as asking about the current temperature they asked 300 participants to do a word puzzle which included several heat-related terms. This “priming” with extra “accessible” information did increase levels of belief in climate change.

In another test they asked 251 people about the previous day’s temperature (which was by then a memory), and found it did not influence their beliefs about climate change in the same way that the current day’s temperature did: that was a matter of immediate experience.

One cold day

In a final survey of 270 people, asking what they recalled of warmer-than-usual events, the researchers found that one unusually warm day could prompt memories of other similar days and could lead people to overestimate the frequency of such exceptionally warm days.

The lead author of the study, Lisa Zaval, a graduate student in psychology at Columbia University working with CRED, said the survey’s findings about warm weather events could apply to cold ones, too. “Our data suggest that perceiving today’s local temperature to be colder than usual can lead to decreased belief in and reduced concern about global warming”, she said.

“Strengthening the association between… cold weather, or extreme weather fluctuations, and climate change in people’s minds might be a good step.”

Her team’s report sounds a similar note: “If the United States is to take a stronger stance against climate change, forecasters may be well advised to make increasing warming abnormalities more cognitively available to the general public.” In other words: in a warming world, prepare for all sorts of surprises. – Climate News Network

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Climate change – and it’s for free

Climate change – and it’s for free

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A British university has teamed up with climate scientists to help to explain – at no cost to participants – what climate change is, why it matters, and what solutions are on offer.

LONDON, 21 December – Having trouble explaining the impact of greenhouse gases on the atmosphere? Puzzled by talk of the acidification of the seas? Interested to learn the effect global warming will have on food supplies?

Then step this way. Or rather, enrol on a course being run online by the UK’s Exeter University in partnership with the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, called “Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions”.

And the best thing about the eight week course? It’s all for free.  Already more than 8,000 people from around the world have signed up.

Tim Lenton, professor of climate change and earth systems science at Exeter, is the main organiser of a unique experiment at the University called the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

“Climate change is a huge, defining issue of the era”, Lenton told Climate News Network. “We feel it’s vitally important to make the subject open and accessible to everyone – not just to those who can afford to come to university. Access to the latest information on the issue is important.”

Sceptics welcome

Lenton hopes the course, which begins on 13 January 2014, will appeal to a wide spectrum of people – to those in the developing world who might not have ready access to information on climate change and to others who might never have thought of going to university but are interested in learning more about the world and its climate.

“This is a new project for us – it’s really designed as a taster to get people interested and to be spurred to become more involved in the whole question”, says Lenton.

“We want to appeal to everybody, including those who might be sceptical. And we’re certainly not spreading a doom and gloom message: we want to offer solutions as well as examine the challenges that face us all.”

The course is being led by eight prominent academics from various disciplines at the university. It examines the record of climate change in terms of the Earth’s history, looks at developments since the industrial revolution, and questions the underlying assumptions behind various modelling techniques.

Climate politics

The course will also focus on geo-engineering and its possible applications, and on how buildings can be better adapted to a changing climate.

“We wanted to approach climate change in a multidisciplinary way”, says Lenton. “For instance we’ll be looking at sustainability and social and political factors – why some object to wind farms, how the whole issue of climate change has become so politicised.

“And students will have plenty of opportunity through social media to give feedback and participate in what we hope will be a very active debate.”

Lenton admits the motive for the course is not entirely altruistic. It was relatively inexpensive to structure as some parts of the programme are already being taught at the University. And for Exeter and the Met Office Hadley Centre, also in the city, it’s good public relations.

“It’s a chance to showcase some of the important work we’re doing down here”, says Lenton. “It makes us more visible. And it could well encourage students to come to Exeter and learn more.” – Climate News Network

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Reigniting the climate change debate

Reigniting the climate change debate

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
A British group says people’s interest in global warming has dwindled, and new ways of telling what is essentially a human story should include talking to those who may be sceptical about climate change.

LONDON, 15 December – George Marshall is a co founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN), an organisation based in Oxford in the UK which specialises in climate change communication.

Whenever he can, Marshall tries to engage people in conversation about global warming: he finds it a tough task.

“I’m always casual about it – after all, no one wants to find themselves sitting next to a zealot on a long-distance train journey.

“But I need not worry because, however I say it, the result is almost always the same: the words collapse, sink and die in mid-air and the conversation suddenly changes course…it’s like an invisible force field that you only discover when you barge right into it. Few people ever do, because, without having ever been told, they have somehow learned that this topic is out of bounds.”

Others in the business of communicating climate change will sympathise: they become used to eyes glazing over, people suddenly finding others to talk to or urgently expressing the need for a drink. It can be a lonely occupation.

COIN has just produced a report entitled Climate Silence, questioning why the interest of the public in global warming is still low – despite all the warnings about the threats being faced.

The report, which focuses mainly on events in the UK, says public interest in the issue was at its height back in 2008. The Stern Review, making the financial case for tackling the problem sooner rather than later had, been published, the UK had brought in its Climate Change Act, and there was optimism that a global deal on climate change could be sealed at the  Copenhagen summit.

Scientists reticent

Now, says COIN, the situation is radically different.

“Civil society, exhausted by the disappointment of the Copenhagen climate change negotiations in 2009, has largely fallen silent. Scientists, cowed by personal attacks, have become increasingly reticent.

“A door that was once firmly shut – to sceptical voices in the mainstream media – has been opened again…public interest has dwindled. The debate has become stale and fatigued.”

The UK public has recently been focused on the seemingly unstoppable rise in household energy bills, says COIN. Energy companies, much of the media and some politicians have been quick to blame “eco-taxes” for escalating costs.

“Climate change – if it was mentioned at all – was presented as the enemy of the common man: an elite, costly and distant concern that should not be considered during times of austerity.”

Energy saving has been talked about solely as a question of bringing down costs to the consumer, rather than in the wider context of climate change.

“What actually needs to happen is a little more challenging than this – ultimately involving a complete overhaul of how we travel, eat, heat our homes, consume and work.”

Collective failure

Ditto the Climate Change Act, says COIN: all the talk is of achieving technical targets – rather than considering climate change as a vital social issue that needs to be talked about and discussed by the general public.

COIN’s views on the lack of engagement of the UK public on climate change would seem to be backed up by a forthcoming survey, quoted in the report, from the Royal Society of Arts. Of 2,000 people surveyed in 2013, 40% said they never speak about climate change to their friends, family or colleagues.

In the US there seems to be less public engagement in the issue. A survey this year by Yale University found that only 8% of respondents said they communicated publicly about climate change, while nearly 70% said they rarely or never spoke about it.

“We have failed, collectively, to make climate change something that inspires passion in all but a vocal minority (on either side of the argument)”, says COIN.

So what’s to be done? COIN proposes a national series of conversations embracing a broad cross-section of society – including those who might be sceptical. Ways must be found to inspire people to care about the problem. Climate change, it says, is fundamentally a human story, and public campaigns must reconnect with that basic fact.

“For too long, climate change has been stuck in a rut – pigeon-holed as a scientific and an ‘environmental’ issue – a niche topic that has little direct relevance to the lives of ordinary people.

“Without a way of translating the dry, faceless facts of climate science into living, breathing reasons to care about climate change, meaningful public engagement will remain out of sight.” – Climate News Network

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Climate leaves European cities hesitant

Climate leaves European cities hesitant

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The European Union is a leader in the attempt to limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. But quite a few European cities seem not to have heard of climate change.

LONDON, 4 December – European governments might have national targets to meet the demands of climate change. Many European cities, however, may not be in the mood.

Diana Reckien of Columbia University in the US and 11 European colleagues report in the journal Climatic Change that one in three cities have no plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and seven out of 10 cities have no formal plans to adapt to climate change.

Cities – think factories, offices, cars, public transport, lighting, central heating, air conditioning, waste disposal and huge and continuous programmes of building, demolition and renewal with steel, concrete, brick and glass – account for between 31% and 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities represent huge concentrations of people and economic investment, vulnerable to flood, windstorm, extremes of temperature and other climate-related violence. And cities don’t actually have to involve themselves in the complex international deals that bedevil government climate policies.

Cities are at liberty to decide to reduce emissions, and to adapt to any future hazards that citizens may identify.

The research went beyond questionnaire and interview. The researchers focused on action rather than words. They made a detailed analysis of 200 large and medium-sized urban areas – large means more than 250,000 people; medium is defined as more than 50,000 – in 11 European countries.

Slow to adapt

They looked at strategic policy and planning documents; they scrutinised adaptation plans that might abate or reduce vulnerability to climate change; and they considered mitigation plans that involved improved energy efficiency and renewable energy generation.

Only one city in four had taken steps both to adapt to climate change and to mitigate it by setting measurable targets to reduce emissions. Overall, 130 of the 200 cities had a mitigation plan and 28% had an adaptation plan.

But civic ambitions varied across national boundaries. More than 90% of British cities had a mitigation plan; of cities in France and Belgium only around 42% had confronted the challenge.

Of the 30 cities examined in Britain, 80% had adaptation plans, but in Germany out of 40 cities, only 33% were ready. The Dutch scored highest for ambition, by aiming for 100% reduction in emissions by 2050.

Ambition outstrips action

It is not as if nobody has mentioned global warming to civic authorities across Europe. Legislation in France, for instance, requires all major cities to have both a mitigation plan and an adaptation plan in place by the close of 2012. Right now, the scientists report, 14 French cities out of 35 have neither.

If the cities were representative of Europe, then on this showing the European Union would achieve its declared target of a 20% reduction in emissions. But this would be a long way short of the 80% reduction in emissions now required to keep global average warming to a maximum level of 2°C .

The EU is responsible for an estimated 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the EU has played a significant role in pressing for climate action at a global level. But not all countries within the EU have a uniform approach. And there remains a gap between declared ambition and civic action.

“Not all cities with high ambitions lie in countries with a national target as seen in the Netherlands. Likewise, an ambitious national target is no guarantee of an ambitious urban target. Every country analysed that has a nationally agreed target has cities without a GHG emission reduction target,” the researchers say. – Climate News Network

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Warsaw – Day 11: Civil society turns its back on talks

Warsaw - Day 11: Civil society turns its back on talks

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Climate News Network’s Paul Brown, at the UN climate talks – the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – reports on a day which saw an unprecedented mass exit from the procedings by green groups and other campaigners.

Half the green groups taking part in the climate negotiations here have staged a mass walk–out in protest at the lack of progress.

It is first time in 19 years of tortuous annual negotiations over targets and timetables for saving the Earth’s climate from overheating that the non-governmental organisations have felt sufficiently frustrated to take such a step.

Many of the 800 people involved are members of national delegations and are an important part of pushing the negotiations to a successful conclusion.

The groups concerned, some of them – like ActionAid, Oxfam and WWF – normally considered moderate, issued a joint statement saying that the climate talks here were set to “achieve virtually nothing.”

Enough is enough

The statement said: “The actions of many rich countries here in Warsaw are directly undermining the Climate Change Convention itself, which is an important multilateral process that must succeed if we are to fix the global climate crisis.

“The Warsaw Conference has put the interests of dirty energy industries over that of global citizens – with a Coal & Climate Summit being held in conjunction; corporate sponsorship from big polluters plastered all over the venue; and a presidency (Poland) that is beholden to the coal and fracking industry.

“When Japan announced that it was following Canada and backtracking on emission cuts commitments previously made, and Australia gave multiple signals that it was utterly unwilling to take the UN climate process seriously, the integrity of the talks was further jeopardized.”

Many individual statements from experienced campaigners underlined the lack of progress. Susann Scherbarth, for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “We are walking out in frustration and disappointment, enough is enough.”

Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy initiative, said: “We have been forced to take this action because of the failure of governments to take these talks seriously. We are not walking away from the UN process on climate change, just this conference in Warsaw.”

However, half the NGOs decided to stay in the talks and continued lobbying for progress. Several said they understood the sentiments of those outside but felt that there was still hope.

Nocturnal negotiations

The negotiations to try to rescue something from the talks were set to continue through a second night. Delegates are trying to negotiate the skeleton of an agreement whose aim is to bind the 194 participating nations into a new deal to help prevent the climate overheating. It is due to be signed in Paris in 2015. Pledges of emission cuts and of timetables to achieve them are not expected at this summit, but some time next year.

The main sticking point at Warsaw has been the lack of funds to help developing countries adapt to climate change and repair the losses caused by sea level rise and extreme climate events. There is one day left for formal negotiations, but in fact they are expected to run into Saturday to try to reach a deal.

Any countries or delegates who might have been relieved at the loss of campaigners from the conference can expect to see them back again at the next conference in Lima, the Peruvian capital, in 2014. In the meantime the NGOs said they would concentrate on raising public awareness of the threat to the planet and would organise as many civil protests as possible.

The groups are: ActionAid, the Bolivian Platform of Climate Change, Construyendo Puentes (Latin America), Friends of the Earth (Europe) Greenpeace, Ibon International, the International Trade Union Confederation, LDC Watch, the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, the Peoples’ Movement on Climate Change (Philippines), Oxfam International and WWF. – Climate News Network

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