Category Archives: Sustainable Development

Forest peoples urge land rights action

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Palm oil concession in Sumatra: Indigenous  peoples want more action to save the forests Image: Hayden via Wikimedia Commons

Palm oil concession in Sumatra: Indigenous peoples want more action to save the forests
Image: Hayden via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

There’s plenty of talk at the United Nations and in the corridors of international conferences on making land rights a realiy for forest people. But campaigners say there’s not much action to match.

LONDON, 23 February – Forest people’s groups say many governments are failing to protect their right to their ancestral lands, and argue that this neglect is damaging efforts to slow climate change.

Their argument is supported by campaigners. Research by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) says the pace of provision of new legal protection for indigenous communities has fallen, despite an increase in professions of support by industry, governments and international initiatives like REDD+ and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

RRI says fewer new laws have been passed to protect indigenous land rights since 2008 than in the six preceding years, and the legislation that has been enacted is weaker.

Previous RRI research into 12 emerging market countries found that at least one out of every three hectares licensed for natural resource development overlaps with indigenous community land. When private companies acquire land and resources without first checking who lives there, it says, they expose themselves and their investors to substantial risk, as some level of conflict or business disruption often results.

The ownership of almost half the developing world’s rural, forest and dryland areas is contested, according to RRI, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of over two billion people. They often have no formal title to the lands on which they live and depend, and can seldom legally defend their rights.

Better stewards

An RRI report, Lots of Words, Little Action: Will the private sector tip the scales for community land rights?, examines how land rights and attempts to mitigate climate change through REDD are linked.

One of its findings is that REDD+ initiatives are not yet translating into globally significant increases in the area under the ownership and control of indigenous peoples and local communities. Meanwhile, it says, the global forest area covered by industrial concessions is large and growing.

Global climate change efforts have a key role to play in securing the land rights of indigenous people and rural communities, it says. And when they are secured, that means less deforestation and more climate change mitigation.

Indigenous communities, it is argued, are unlikely to over-exploit forest resources. Their understanding of the forests as the place on which they depend encourages them to resist deforestation and the piecemeal exploitation and destruction of their fauna and flora.

Indonesia is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, chiefly because of deforestation for palm oil and other natural resource extraction. One group, the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), says those it represents claim 40 million hectares of the country’s rainforests. If they are given stronger rights over their lands, AMAN says, they will help the country to fight deforestation and reduce climate change.

Wide regional variations

The head of AMAN, Abdon Nababan, is urging President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyon to formally implement a May 2013 Constitutional Court decision which declared unconstitutional a line in the country’s 1999 Forestry Law stating that customary forests are state forest. The Indonesian Government controls 96% of the country’s forests.

The RRI report also highlights a number of regional differences:

  • In Latin America, communities own or control more than 39% of forests, a direct contrast with sub-Saharan Africa where less than 6% of forests are controlled by communities.
  • Of the recorded progress seen in Africa since 2002, 89% comes from the implementation of Tanzania’s Village Land Act (1999) and Forest Act (2002).
  • Only two African countries in the study – Liberia and Mozambique – have statutory frameworks that recognize community ownership of land.
  • Governments of the countries of the Congo Basin, which contains the world’s second largest rainforest, claim legal control of more than 99% of forest land.
  • By 2013, all 12 Asian countries surveyed had implemented some form of community tenure regime, but these laws affect less than 4% of forestland in seven of the nations.

One of  RRI’s campaigns seeks to double by 2018 the amount of land recognized worldwide as owned or controlled by indigenous peoples and local communities. Another effort is focused on REDD+, which RRI describes as “the world’s leading initiative to support forest conservation”.

REDD+ promises to respect the rights of indigenous people and local communities to protect forests and to sell the carbon they contain as offsets to polluters seeking to meet emissions targets.

The United Nations is leading the negotiations for new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) intended to guide economic development and poverty reduction for the next 15 years. But RRI is concerned that no specific target for land rights has yet been set for the SDGs. - Climate News Network

Green Climate Fund ‘can power poor’

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Farming, health and education are some of the sectors that could benefit from the plan Image: US Department of Agriculture via Wikimedia Commons

Farming, health and education are some of the sectors that could benefit from the plan
Image: US Department of Agriculture via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

A new funding idea for developing countries could provide the renewable electricity output equivalent of 100 new coal plants by 2020.

LONDON, 28 October – A vast programme of financing solar, wind and other renewable electricity technologies for developing countries using the UN’s new Green Climate Fund is proposed today.

The Fund is currently being set up by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to “provide support to developing countries to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions” as well as to help them to adapt to global warming.

The report by the World Future Council says providing feed-in tariffs for developing countries so that they can finance setting up large-scale renewable systems and feed electricity to their grids is the best way forward for the fund.

Feed-in tariffs provide the owners of small or large-scale wind and solar arrays with a guaranteed price for electricity over 20 years, so the investor is certain to get a return on their capital. The scheme has worked in developed countries like Germany and Italy to rapidly boost renewable output.

Pilot projects

If the same system was introduced into developing countries, the report says, it would be an important step in keeping the world’s temperature from exceeding a 2°C increase over pre-industrial levels, the limit set by politicians as the threshold of  unacceptably dangerous climate change.

Although the Green Climate Fund is still not operational, the report says that a one billion euro fund should be made available as soon as possible for pilot projects in three countries to test the feed-in tariff scheme.

These would be for three classes of countries, starting with one of the least developed states and two that are more advanced but still in need of power.  That would test how the scheme would work and who would benefit most from it, and would eliminate some of the teething problems.  Depending on the technology chosen, this money could fund between one and three megawatts of clean power.

That way any glitches could be discovered and then corrected when a much larger amount of funding became available.  Hundreds of wind, solar, energy-efficient biomass and small hydropower projects could then be financed in the same way.

Disrepute

Axel Michaelowa and Stephan Hoch say in the report, Fit for Renewables?, that their scheme needs tight controls to make sure that money is not wasted.

Although they do not mention the criticism of the Convention’s Clean Development Mechanism, where carbon credits have been claimed for dubious projects, they do not want another UNFCCC scheme designed to help developing countries to fall into disrepute.

They acknowledge that one of the problems of getting feed-in tariffs right is that the price of renewables, particularly solar, is falling all the time. If the support price is set too high there is a massive uptake and the country concerned is locked into paying too high a price for electricity. If the price is cut too quickly then the industry judders to a halt and many are thrown out of work, a situation that occurred in the United Kingdom.

An added problem in developing countries is making sure that the national or local grid can take up and use the electricity generated. Some developed countries have already had difficulties with this, so sorting out the grid must be part of any financing package, the report says.

The authors say the Green Climate Fund needs to look at all these aspects and develop a transparent system that prevents overfunding of schemes and builds trust, so that industrialised countries provide sufficient money.

The report envisages 100 gigawatts of electricity being funded in this way by 2020 – the equivalent of the output of 100 large-scale coal-fired power plants. This would cost 1.3 billion euros a year to fund, sustained over two decades. – Climate News Network

Energy investors pile on the pressure

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Energy companies such as ones in the oil & gas sector will have to assess their asset risks towards  climate change. Image: Dragon Oil via Wikimedia Commons

Energy companies such as ones in the oil & gas sector will have to assess their asset risks towards climate change.
Image: Dragon Oil via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Fossil fuel companies are feeling the heat from investors concerned that moves towards a global low-carbon economy could leave many of their assets worthless.

LONDON, 25 October - In recent days a group of 70 investment managers from around the world – controlling funds worth a total of more than US$3 trillion – have launched the first ever coordinated campaign aimed at making the large energy and power companies disclose how they assess the risks of climate change.

Under what is called the Carbon Asset Risk (CAR) initiative, the investors have sent letters to 40 of the world’s major oil and gas, coal and electric power companies requesting detailed responses to questions about the financial risks posed to corporate accounts by climate change. The companies have been asked to provide answers before the next annual round of shareholder meetings begins early next year.

The CAR campaign follows on from a number of other initiatives, with increasing numbers of shareholders around the world demanding more corporate disclosure on the impact on company revenues posed by climate change.

The CAR investors, mainly based in the US and Europe, include California’s two largest public pension funds and the UK-based Scottish Widows Investment Partnership, one of Europe’s largest asset management companies.

“We would like to understand (the company’s) reserve exposure to the risks associated with current and probably future policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050”, says the investors’ letter.

“We would also like to understand what options there are for (the company) to manage these risks by, for example, reducing carbon intensity of its assets, divesting its more carbon-intensive assets, diversifying its business by investing in lower carbon energy sources or returning capital to shareholders.”

Radical cutbacks required

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other international bodies say that in order to limit the rise in global average temperatures to 2C above pre-industrial levels by 2050 there must be a radical cut-back in the use of fossil fuels. This means that a large portion of fossil fuels already discovered – and which are listed as assets on the books of the corporate energy giants – must stay in the ground.

“As long-term investors, we see the world moving toward a low-carbon future in which fossil fuel reserves that companies continue to develop may actually become a liability, which could take a toll on shareholder value”, says Jack Ehnes, the head of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the second largest public pension fund in the US, managing assets of $172 bn.

According to a recent report produced by the Carbon Tracker group and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment the world’s 200 largest publicly quoted fossil fuel companies spent an estimated total of $674 bn in 2012 on finding and developing new reserves of fossil fuels – some of which may never be used, becoming what are termed “stranded assets”.

“Companies must plan properly for the risk of falling demand by stress-testing new investments to minimize the risk our clients’ capital is wasted on non-performing projects”, says Craig Mackenzie, head of sustainability at Scottish Widows Investment Partnership.

The CAR campaign is being coordinated by the Carbon Tracker group and Ceres, a US-based organisation which lobbies for more sustainable business practices.

“Fossil fuel companies are the biggest sources of carbon pollution by far, which means they are also uniquely positioned to lead the world in responding to global climate risks”, says Mindy Lubber, the Ceres president. - Climate News Network

CO2 is vital asset for planet’s future

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Sea change: CO2 could be used in storing electricity from wave energy farms (above) or from solar and wind power Image: AW-Energy Oy via Wikimedia Commons

Sea change: CO2 could help store electricity from wave energy farms (above) or solar and wind power
Image: AW-Energy Oy via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

Scientists urged to revise attitudes towards carbon dioxide and see it not as a threat to the planet but as a valuable and sustainable resource to help combat climate change

STRASBOURG, 15 October − Don’t think of carbon dioxide as a menace to the planetary climate − think of it as a precious renewable resource. That’s the message issued to scientists this week from two conferences looking at key issues related to climate change

According to Jacques Amouroux, a chemical engineer at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, carbon dioxide recaptured could be set to work again. Turned back into fuel, it could be used as a form of energy storage; it could be deployed in the manufacture of plastics; and it could be pumped underground to recover even more oil, or force more shale gas to the surface,

There are already experimental projects to exploit captured carbon dioxide. The world is not likely soon to stop producing increasing quantities of the greenhouse gas, so science and industry should look for new ways of using the stuff again, and again, Prof. Amouroux told young researchers attending the Fourth World Materials Summit in Strasbourg, France.

His point is that carbon dioxide might be the end point in the fuel cycle, but it is the beginning of the life cycle. Just as life catalyses carbon dioxide very efficiently into lignins, cellulose, starches and sugars, so there are industrial catalysis systems to turn surplus carbon dioxide back into fuel, or into some other resource, and keep it out of the atmosphere.

“We are carbon; life is only from carbon,” Amouroux said. “Carbon gives us life, carbon gives us food, carbon storage gives us energy. Carbon is the key to our future. It is not a waste. It gives us wood, it gives us sugar, it gives us the cereal. Without carbon dioxide, it is impossible to have any kind of food on the surface of this earth.”

The summit was organised by the European Materials Research Society to address world challenges, and these include sustainable energy and climate change.

Catastrophic consequences

Amouroux is not proposing a business-as-usual scenario in which the world goes on burning fossil fuel because it is not concerned about climate change − a problem with catastrophic consequences in the form of flood, drought, heat wave and destructive windstorms.

But he argues that, inexorably, the energy-hungry developing world will go on developing by burning oil, gas and coal. It remains the most immediate and most available resource for most people. Renewables in 2010 provided less than 20% of the world’s energy, and fossil fuels the remaining 80%.

So the challenge is for the developed world – which uses more than seven times as much energy per capita as the poorer nations − to find and exploit new ways of increasing the efficiency of energy use, and to find economically attractive ways to exploit captured carbon dioxide without adding to the burden in the atmosphere.

Amouroux sees carbon dioxide first as a way of storing the energy generated off-peak by renewable resources: carbon dioxide and water could be turned into methane to serve as a battery into which to store wind, wave or solar energy when demand is low. He also sees liquid carbon dioxide as a supercritical solvent that could be used to recover residual oil in all-but-spent oil fields. And he envisages it as the basis for a feedstock for polyurethane and other hydrocarbon-based products.

Two steel plants in China are converting carbon dioxide into ethanol; a business has invested millions in making methanol from waste CO2 in Iceland; and there are programmes in both Germany and Japan to use renewable energy to convert the greenhouse gas into methane as a form of energy storage. It is, said Amouroux, an opportunity for a new industrial revolution.

“Europe can no longer afford to look
at CO2 as waste to be disposed of”

 Paul Brown adds:

LONDON, 15 October − Meanwhile, another conference this week in Essen, Germany, discussed carbon dioxide as a useful resource and a business opportunity, looking in depth at the latest technology using CO2 as a feedstock for the chemical industry and for making plastics.

Dr. Gernot Klotz, executive director for research and innovation at the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), stressed the need for a change in our mentality towards CO2 . He told delegates: “Europe can no longer afford to look at CO2 as waste to be disposed of − for example, by burying it underground. We must recognise CO2 as a renewable resource for the future.”

The new plan is CO2 utilisation − recycling CO2 as an everlasting raw material and carbon source in a circular economy. Instead of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), these new technologies are called Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU).

As well as the possible uses mentioned above, CO2 could be used as an enabler for artificial photosynthesis. A potential use for waste gases from power stations is to breed algae that are rich in oils and can be turned into bio-fuel.

Abundant resource

Dr Klotz, who is also a board member of the European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry (SusChem), said carbon dioxide was the only renewable resource Europe had in abundance, and it could play a vital role in ensuring Europe’s future as a competitive economy.

Scientists believe that carbon dioxide will become a vital resource when fossil fuels begin to run out.

The chemical industry needs a constant supply of carbon atoms for their production cycles, and carbon dioxide captured to stop it reaching the atmosphere could meet that need. Preventing the carbon dioxide causing climate change would mean repeatedly recycling it, rather than “wasting it” by venting it into the atmosphere.

The scientists point out that life on Earth has thrived successfully for 3 billion years − relying only on carbon dioxide in combination with water and solar energy to keep life going. − Climate News Network

Norway’s billions could go into renewables

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Wind of change: huge turbine blades on their way for installation at a Norwegian wind farm Image: Zero Emission Resource Organisation via Wikimedia Commons

Wind of change: a huge turbine blade on the way for installation at a wind farm in Norway
Image: Zero Emission Resource Organisation via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Possible plans by a new government in Norway to make huge financial investment in global renewable energy projects are being heralded as a potentially world-changing initiative to address climate change

LONDON, 14 October – Norway is sitting on a huge pot on money – and a new government now being formed in the country is considering investing some of that vast stock of wealth in renewable energy projects around the world.

“If Norway actually does this, it will be an unprecedented shift in the global investment community and also for tangible action on climate change,” says Samantha Smith, head of the global climate and energy initiative at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), one of the organisations lobbying for Oslo to take a more proactive approach on renewables investment.

At the latest count, Norway had more than $750bn of holdings in its sovereign wealth fund – not a bad nest egg for a country with a population of a little over five million, but which is already one of the richest in the world.

A centre-right coalition government is in the process of being formed in Norway, following elections in September. The new government, headed by Conservative Party leader Erna Solberg, has in recent days proposed using money from the sovereign wealth fund – the world’s largest – to invest in sustainable companies and projects in developing countries, and also to make substantial investments in the renewables sector.

The move is being supported by some of the country’s biggest pension funds and by religious groups, non-governmental organisations and other bodies.

“Norwegian savings could change the world,” says Nina Jensen, head of WWF-Norway.

WWF wants the Norwegian fund to allocate 5% of its portfolio to direct investments in renewable energy infrastructure and projects – and to end its investments in coal and tar sands.

Money through taxes

The fund – officially known as the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global, which up to 2006 was called the Petroleum Fund of Norway  – was formed in 1990 and makes its money through taxes from Norway’s substantial oil and gas sector. It also owns oil fields in the North Sea and elsewhere, and has a 67% stake in Statoil, the Norwegian oil conglomerate.

The fund has considerable influence on financial markets around the world. Under present rules governing investments, the fund can put 60% of its money in stocks, 35% in bonds, and up to 5% in global real estate. The fund owns sizeable chunks of some of Europe’s leading companies, and it is estimated that one in every $80 invested in global equities is owned by Norwegians.

Several large investment funds in Europe are already investing in the renewables sector, including pension funds in Denmark and in the Netherlands.

Climate scientists warn that global average temperatures need to stay within a 2°C rise on pre-industrial levels by mid-century. If not, serious climate change could be inevitable.

In a World Energy Outlook report earlier this year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said there was little hope of remaining within the 2°C limit based on present levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and called for a $2 trillion renewables investment programme up to 2020.

Call for subsidies cutback

The IEA also called for a cutback on fossil fuel subsidies, which it said were six times the amount of support given to the renewables industry in 2011.

Those lobbying for more renewables investment by Norway say the government in Oslo could act as a trendsetter.

The Norwegian fund, generally considered to be transparent and well run, is often held up as a leading example of how to carefully shepherd money accumulated from oil resources, for the benefit of future generations.

Financial analysts predict that if the Norway fund invests directly in renewables, then other sovereign wealth funds around the world are likely to follow suit. – Climate News Network

Sun ‘must supply 10% of energy by 2025′

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The Sun could supply thousands of times more energy than humanity can use today Image: NASA Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheres], via Wikimedia Commons

The Sun could supply thousands of times more energy than humanity can use today
Image: NASA Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheres, via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

In little more than a decade the world should be meeting 10% of its total energy needs from solar power, two British scientists say, despite the technological problems to be overcome. 

LONDON, 30 September – Hard on the heels of the latest UN report on climate change, two UK scientists have proposed an ambitious plan to tackle the problem it graphically describes.

Their solution? A massive and urgent international programme to increase the world’s production of solar energy – to 10% of total global energy supply by 2025, and to 25% by 2030.

The scientists, David King and Richard Layard, say their proposal – which they call a Sunpower Programme – should within little more than a decade be producing solar electricity which costs less than fossil fuel power.

They write in the online Observer: “The Sun sends energy to the earth equal to about 5,000 times our total energy needs. It is inconceivable that we cannot collect enough of this energy for our needs, at a reasonable cost.”

Last week the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, published the first section of its Fifth Assessment Report, called AR5 for short. It said: “Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Sir David King was formerly chief scientific adviser to the UK Government, and Lord Layard is the founder-director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.

They write: “There will always be many sources of non-carbon energy – nuclear fission, hydropower, geothermal, wind, nuclear fusion (possibly) and solar.

“But nuclear fission and hydropower have been around for many years. Nuclear is essential but faces political obstacles and there are physical limits to hydropower. Nuclear fusion remains uncertain.

“And, while wind can play a big role in the UK, in many countries its application is limited. So there is no hope of completely replacing fossil fuel without a major contribution from the power of the Sun.”

Time ‘desperately short’

They recognise the progress being made already: “The price of photovoltaic energy is falling at 10% a year, and in Germany a serious amount of unsubsidised solar electricity is already being added to the grid. In California, forward contracts for solar energy are becoming competitive with other fuels and they will become more so, as technology progresses.”

But time, they say, is “desperately short” – and there are two significant scientific challenges to be overcome: cloudy days and sunless nights, and the cost of sending the electricity produced – in areas with plenty of sunshine but few people – to where it is needed.

The first, they say, needs a major breakthrough in battery science, while the solution to the transmission conundrum needs new materials which are much better at conducting electricity without loss of power.

A German group, Desertec, announced plans to produce solar energy in the Middle East and North Africa and to transmit the surplus to Europe. It identified both the problems King and Layard have recognised, but the scheme was reported in July to have collapsed, partly because of market scepticism.

The authors acknowledge that their proposal amounts to “a major scientific challenge, not unlike the challenge of developing the atom bomb or sending a man to the moon”.

And they believe this challenge is also surmountable: “Science rose to those challenges because a clear goal and timetable were set and enough public money was provided for the research. These programmes had high political profile and public visibility.

“They attracted many of the best minds of the age. The issue of climate change and energy is even more important and it needs the same treatment.” – Climate News Network

Climate case overwhelming – scientists

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The Arctic is melting, and temperatures nearby could reach 8°C, the scientists say Image: Patrick Kelley via Wikimedia

The Arctic is melting, and temperatures nearby could reach 8°C, the scientists say
Image: Patrick Kelley via Wikimedia

By Alex Kirby

Eleven days before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes its latest report, a group of eminent scientists says there is massive evidence of human responsibility.

LONDON, 16 September – With the IPCC report not yet published, there is already heated debate about what it will say, and about the implications of its findings for human development.

The scientists’ statement is unequivocal, and is not based on whatever the IPCC may publish. They  say: “The body of evidence indicating that our civilisation has already caused significant global warming is overwhelming.”

The statement comes from 12 members of the recently established Earth League, which describes itself as “a voluntary alliance of leading scientists and institutions dealing with planetary processes and sustainability issues”.

They say that if humans continue with business as usual, using fossil fuels and pumping out excessive amounts of greenhouse gases, the world will be on track for a planet that is 4°C warmer by the end of this century, or even earlier.

The group says assertions that there has been no warming this century are simply wrong. “Regardless of the…  (erroneous) claim that global warming has already stopped, evidence is that once well-known impacts from El Niño, volcanic aerosols and solar variability are removed from the observations, the warming trend of the ocean-atmosphere system is unbroken; and that it will continue (potentially towards 4°C) unless serious mitigation action is taken.

“That global warming continues unabated over the last decade is confirmed by ocean measurements. Ninety per cent of the additional heat that the Earth system absorbs due to the increase in greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans, and the global array of thousands of scientific measurement robots in the oceans proves that they keep heating up at a steady pace. Meanwhile satellites show that sea levels also keep rising steadily.”

The statement says a 4°C rise would drastically change the Earth. Some coastlines and entire islands would be submerged by rising sea levels, and more extreme heat waves would cause crop failures and loss of life.

It says powerful feedback processes that would very probably raise the warming even higher could be triggered, and might prove irreversible: “Four degrees of planetary warming means some 8°C change close to the Arctic, which will cause even larger impacts on the Eurasian and North American land mass and the surrounding seas.”

“…our societies seem to be willing to impose immense risks on future generations.”

Already, it says, there is persuasive evidence that immense changes may be under way: “The last two decades were… punctuated by devastating floods (like the Pakistan deluge in 2010) that may be related to an incipient restructuring of the atmospheric circulation.

“The signs on the climate wall as expressed by the accelerated melting of Arctic sea ice and by the retreat of the overwhelming majority of glaciers worldwide are there for all to see. Yet this is just the beginning.”

The scientists say: “Although climate science only tells us what might happen and not what to do about it, we feel that inaction is an unacceptable prospect.

“Nations go to war, implement mass vaccinations of their populations and organise expensive insurance and security systems (such as anti-terror measures) to address much fainter threats. However, our societies seem to be willing to impose immense risks on future generations.”

The 12 signatories recognise that some people believe it is impossible for human activities to produce a 4°C temperature rise.  Others, they say, are already acknowledging defeat by maintaining that the international policy goal of limiting warming to less than 2°C is a lost case.

They write that there is “ample evidence” that the world can hold a 2°C line, and say technology shows that global sustainability is attainable. But they add: “… the evidence demonstrates that the time frame to achieve this is rapidly shrinking.”

The signatories of the statement include Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, and Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London. The link above lists all 12 signatories. – Climate News Network

Brazil faces drop in crops

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Future harvests of crops such as soya beans could be severely reduced in Brazil Image: Tiago Fioreze

Future harvests of monoculture crops such as soya beans could be severely reduced in Brazil
Image: Tiago Fioreze

By Jan Rocha

Brazil’s standing as one of the world’s major producers and exporters of food could be severely threatened unless its farming methods are urgently adapted to take account of climate change.

São Paulo, 2 September − Higher temperatures, drastic changes in rainfall, lower productivity, more blight and disease − these are just some of the expected consequences of climate change in Brazil if the projections of 345 scientists who make up the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change (PBMC) prove true.

They predict that if present trends in greenhouse gas emissions continue, average temperatures in Brazil will be 3º-6ºC higher by 2100 than they were at the end of the 20th century.

Rainfall patterns could change drastically, increasing by up to 30% in the south and south-east of the country, while diminishing by up to 40% in the north and north-east.

The forecasts, based on research over the last six years, are contained in a report that provides the most complete diagnosis yet of the future tendencies of the Brazilian climate.

The report will be presented at Brazil’s first national conference on global climate change, to be held in São Paulo from 9-13 September and organised by the publicly-funded São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). The data will then be included in the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), to be released two weeks later.

The changes in temperature and rainfall will not be confined to Brazil, the largest country in South America, but will also affect neighbouring countries.

“With the exception of Chile’s central and southern coast, where the last decades have seen a cooling, there will be a rise in temperature in all the other regions of South America,” says Jose Marengo, a climate scientist at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), who uses regional climate models to develop projections for the future.

‘A bit crazy’

“There is a feeling that the seasons have become a bit crazy, with more frequent extremes of climate.”

Tornados, once a rare occurrence, will become more frequent. Big and medium-sized cities will become hotter, with altered rain patterns. Rainfall in the Amazon region and in the semi-arid caatinga area of the north-east could fall by 40%, whereas in the south and south-east it could increase by 30%.

For the cerrado savanna region of the central plateau, which has become a major cereal growing area, and the wetlands of the Pantanal, climate models also indicate significant changes, although the reliability of these projections is lower.

All these changes will have a dramatic effect on harvests in one of the world’s major food producing countries, but Brazil’s farmers have so far shown little awareness of the problems in store, and consequently have not begun to adapt to the changing climate. Monocultures continue to expand, advancing into the Amazon region and taking over the cerrado.

“We must act now to avoid a worsening situation,” warns Eduardo Assad, one of the PBMC researchers, who works for Embrapa, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation.

Suggested measures include investing intensively in mixed agricultural systems, and abandoning the practice of monoculture. Farmers should also increase the biological fixation of nitrogen, reduce the use of pesticides (since 2008, Brazil has been the world’s biggest consumer), and increase the rotation of crops.

“We need stronger government guidance [for farmers] . . .
The reorganisation of Brazil’s rural space is urgent.”

“The knowledge to do all this already exists, but we need stronger government guidance [for farmers],” Assad warns. “We must increase productivity in the mid-west, south-east and south to avoid the destruction of the Amazon. The reorganisation of Brazil’s rural space is urgent.”

Antonio Magalhães, adviser to the government’s Centre for Strategic Studies and Management in Science, Technology and Innovation (CGEE), also believes that agricultural, industrial and urban policies must be changed to include concerns with sustainability and extreme climate events such as rainstorms and droughts. “We must widen the debate and overcome institutional rigidity, resistances and short-term interests.”

Crop losses are already being noted. “Since 2000, we have seen a fall in productivity in some regions, principally in coffee, soy and maize,” Assad says.

Soy will be the most affected. By the end of 2013, Brazil is expected to overtake the US to become the world’s major producer, but that position will be hard to sustain if the expected effects of climate change kick in.

“Even if the amount of rain stays the same, soil humidity will fall, because the rise in average temperatures will increase evaporation,” Magalhães warns.

This will affect regions, such as the semi-arid north-east, where lack of water is a constant. The productivity of basic crops such as maize, beans, cotton, cassava and rice will suffer, leading to a drop in income in the region that is already Brazil’s most backward in terms of social indicators intensifying poverty.

The federal government’s successful poverty reduction programme, Bolsa Familia, will not be enough to stop a renewal of migration from the rural area to the cities, worsening infrastructure problems related to housing, transport and sanitation.

The PBMC report foresees that climate change in Brazil will also bring an increase in fungal diseases and pests, caused by the rise of CO² levels in the air and ultraviolet B radiation. In addition to cereals, fruit crops such as banana, mango and grape will be hit.

The report also says that more, and more intense, episodes of flooding and drought could alter the volume of the rivers and affect the supply of water to dam reservoirs. Hydropower accounts for well over half of Brazil’s energy.

Biodiversity will be badly affected, including that of aquatic environments. Some biomes, characterised by a dominant vegetation, have already lost large areas because of intensive agriculture − the cerrado has lost 47% and the caatinga 44% − and it is now questionable whether their ecological equilibrium can be restored.

In the cities, where more than 85% of Brazilians now live, there will be a greater risk of mudslides and worse flooding, while many of the major cities − such as Rio, Salvador and Recife − are on the coast, and therefore subject to a possible rise in ocean levels.

Future planning

The researchers want their report to be used to guide the drawing up and implementation of public policies for climate change adaptation and mitigation, as well as to help companies in their future planning.

The report, the first by the PBMC, also marks Brazil’s acceptance by the IPCC as a nation supplying projections on a planetary scale. This is because it has developed its own climate simulation model, the Brazilian Earth System Model (BESM) −  the only country in the southern hemisphere to do so.

The establishment of the BESM has enabled the scientists to reconstruct recent occurrences of the El Niño climate phenomenon − caused by abnormal heating up of the surface waters of the equatorial Pacific, which affects the rainfall regime in a large part of the planet − and simulate the effects of future El Niños. − Climate News Network

Author’s note: This report is based on articles by Carlos Fioravanti and Marcos Pivetta in the August edition of FAPESP’s research magazine.

Solar suburbia to power modern cities

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urban_sprawl

Rio Rancho, New Mexico: sprawl might be good for the environment
Image: Bradly Salazar/Riverrat303/commons.wikimedia.org

By Paul Brown

Urban sprawl may not be as bad for the environment as we thought – as long as every home is fitted with solar panels and electric cars become the norm.

LONDON, 8 August – Modern planners are building compact cities, believing tightly controlled zones are better for the environment. New research suggests the opposite: urban sprawl might be a better option, with solar power fitted to suburban houses and the adoption of electric cars transforming the energy needs of a city.

Research in Auckland, New Zealand – the largest urban area in the country and a city built for the age of the motor car – shows that solar panels fitted to the average suburban home can produce enough power for that household, extra to charge an electric vehicle, and still generate enough watts to export a surplus to the grid.

Adopting a citywide approach to fitting solar panels and providing charging points for cars would enable suburban homes to provide most of the power for the city centre as well as keeping the transport running, according to Professor Hugh Byrd, from the School of Architecture at the University of Lincoln in England.

In collaboration with the New Zealand Energy Centre and the University of Auckland, Byrd and his colleagues found that detached suburban houses typical of a motor car age city are capable of producing ten times more solar power than is possible from skyscrapers or other commercial buildings. The calculations are based on a detailed cross section of Auckland, which has skyscrapers in its business centre but has most of its homes spread out over the surrounding countryside in an urban sprawl.

 

Transform planning

Although every city is different, the pattern of building in Auckland is repeated in many cities around the globe. Byrd’s idea is that if planners insist solar panels be fitted to properties and charging points be provided for electric cars, then cities judged to be damaging to the environment could be transformed.

“While a compact city may be more efficient for internal combustion engine vehicles, a dispersed city is more efficient when distributed generation of electricity by photovoltaic installations is the main energy source and electric vehicles are the principal mode of transport” says Byrd.

“This research could have implications on the policies of both urban form and energy. Far from reacting by looking to re-build our cities, we need to embrace the dispersed suburban areas and smart new technologies that will enable us to power our cities in a cost-effective way, without relying on ever dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.

 

Sprawl is good

“This study challenges conventional thinking that suburbia is energy-inefficient, a belief that has become enshrined in architectural policy. In fact, our results reverse the argument for a compact city based on transport energy use, and completely change the current perception of urban sprawl.”

Byrd concedes that the only way his ideas will work is if planning policy made fitting solar panels obligatory. Planning would also need to require the installation of photovoltaic roofing, smart meters and appropriate charging facilities for vehicles as standard in every household.

The advantages would be a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions, long term energy security, and a reduction in city pollution.  – Climate News Network

Green vehicles are EU’s win-win option

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Plugged in to the future: a battery-powered microcar "filling up" on electricity in Germany Source: J.Hammerschmidt

Plugged in to the future: a battery-powered microcar at an electricity “filling station” in Germany
Source: J.Hammerschmidt

Powerful message to Europe’s politicians that building low-carbon cars and vans is the way to create a million jobs, boost the economy − and improve air quality

 By Paul Brown

LONDON, 24 June − Europe will gain up to a million new jobs and reduce its dependence on foreign oil by supporting “green” technologies for cars and vans, and then building its own fleets of high efficiency, hybrid and electric vehicles, says a new report.

Far from it being too costly to embark on developing low-carbon vehicle options during an economic crisis, a consortium of companies contends that adopting the new technologies can only increase jobs, economic activity and wealth − as well as improving air quality and health.

The report, Fuelling Europe’s Future, was produced by Cambridge Econometrics − along with other independent energy and climate change consultancies − following a research project commissioned by the European Climate Foundation to assess the economic impact of decarbonising cars and vans.

Wide support

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the report is that it has the wide support of some of Europe’s biggest manufacturers, along with heavyweight trade union and environment groups. Rarely do these organisations agree on the core issue of transport.

At a time when Europe’s economy is in crisis, the report estimates that savings of between €58 billion and €83 billion a year in oil imports can be made by improving vehicle technology − in addition to creating jobs and new exports.

Among the organisations that reviewed and approved the report are Nissan, General Electric, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers and the European Aluminium Association.  All of them, and many other stakeholder groups, provide supporting testimony for the report.

The report says there have been concerns that the EU’s plans to cut transport emissions by 60% by 2050 would damage an automobile industry already in the doldrums because of the economic crisis.

There were uncertainties about which technology would emerge the winner from the current low-carbon options of hybrid, battery and fuel cell vehicles, but all of them offered more jobs, fuel import savings, and a healthier economy. There were also the fringe benefits of cleaner air and better health for European citizens.

Competitive advantage

Jobs created in building a new generation of vehicles are offset in the report against losses as the industry restructures to reduce over-capacity. Europe and Japan currently have the most demanding fuel efficiency targets in the world, and this gives them a competitive advantage when it comes to international markets, which are rapidly catching up.

The report says that, depending on how the various technologies develop, by 2030 there could be between 500,000 and one million net additional jobs, and another million by 2050.

Getting down to the cost to individual motorists of using advanced technology, the report calculates that the average cost of a vehicle will rise by around €1,000 by 2020, but the owner will save between €300 and €400 a year on fuel.

Olivier Paturet, general manager of electric vehicle strategy for Nissan Europe, said: “The accelerated market penetration of electric vehicles in Europe would result in a significant step being made towards a better urban air quality, creation of new jobs, and a stronger European economy.”

The global trade union group IndustriAll also endorsed the report. Wolf Jacklein, the group’s policy adviser, said: “From the workers’ perspective, it is important that this study shows that low-carbon technologies for motor vehicles offer the opportunity for new and additional jobs in this sector. Therefore, the current crisis should not become the pretext to slow down the transition, but should be an occasion for training workers and preparing the change.” – Climate News Network