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Biofuels from waste ‘need EU backing’

March 3, 2014 in Adaptation, Agriculture, Biofuels, Business, Carbon Dioxide, Energy, European Union, Forests


The bales head  for the farm: Straw is an agricultural waste suitable for making biofuel Image: Ian Kirk from Broadstone, Dorset, UK via Wikimedia Commons

The bales head for the farm: Straw is an agricultural waste suitable for making biofuel
Image: Ian Kirk from Broadstone, Dorset, UK via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

The countries of the European Union could slash their greenhouse gas emissions and save significant amounts of oil by making fuel from waste, researchers say. But they think policymakers should give a lead.

LONDON, 3 March – Europe has the technology and the raw material to make a big cut in the amount of oil its transport uses, researchers say. But it will fail to reap the benefits on offer unless the European Union comes up with more radical policies.

A report, Wasted: Europe’s Untapped Resource, says the continent has significant unexploited potential to convert waste from farming, forestry, industry and households into advanced low-carbon biofuels, saving more than a sixth of the EU’s expected total fuel consumption for road transport 16 years from now.

But it says the conversion will not happen unless EU policymakers give greater priority to sustainability and to the need to lower the dependence of transport on high-carbon fuels by 2030.

The research which produced the report was carried out by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) and NNFCC, a UK research consultancy. The project was supported by a group of companies interested in introducing new technology, including two airlines, British Airways and Virgin, and by WWF, BirdLife Europe and several other environment NGOs.

The report says that if all sustainable waste from farms, forests, households and industry is used for transport fuels, that could make enough to replace about 37 million tonnes of oil annually by 2030 – the equivalent of 16% of the EU’s road transport fuel demand by then.

Safeguards needed

It also says that so long as the new fuels came from sustainable sources, they would produce less than 40% of the carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Using them would inject up to €15 billion (US$21 bn) of extra revenue into the rural economy every year and create up to 300,000 new jobs by 2030.

The sorts of wastes that could be used include straw and other crop left-overs, forestry residues, municipal solid waste and used cooking oil.

But the report carries a warning too: safeguards would be needed to ensure the waste was obtained sustainably, including land management methods to protect biodiversity, water and soil.

And the benefits of biofuel from waste would have to be paid for. The report says some combinations of feedstock and technology would need short-term financial incentives, although others are already close to being competitive and would need little more than certainty about policy.

Easier challenge

The authors say cautiously that the research shows it is possible to develop a biofuel industry based on farm and forest wastes “which in the case of the cheapest feedstocks could become cost-competitive with only modest incentives…” Biofuel from other wastes might need different levels of subsidy.

Chris Malins led the analysis for the ICCT. He said: “Even when taking account of possible indirect emissions, alternative fuels from wastes and residues offer real and substantial carbon savings. The resource is available, and the technology exists – the challenge now is for Europe to put a policy framework in place that allows rapid investment.”

David Turley of the NNFCC, who led the economic analysis, said advanced biofuels from agricultural and forest wastes would require “little or only a modest additional incentive” to stimulate production at prices comparable to those of current fuels made from specially-grown crops.

The report concludes that while trying to use all the available waste might be thought optimistic, achieving just 2% of current EU road transport fuel use in 2020, as suggested by the European Parliament, would be less challenging.

Even that more modest aim, the report says, would still add about €163 million (US$224 m) in net revenues to the agricultural sector and €432 m (US$594 m) to the forestry sector. It would also generate an extra 37,000 permanent jobs in the rural economy, and 3,500 more in biofuel refineries. – Climate News Network

Low-flatulence livestock can cool planet

January 18, 2014 in Agriculture, Emissions reductions, Greenhouse Gases, Livestock, Methane, Mitigation


Eating for a cooler world? Animals' diets are one factor that could cut methane emissions Image: Courtesy of Yaron P

Eating for a cooler world? Animals’ diets are one factor that could cut methane emissions
Image: Courtesy of Yaron P

By Tim Radford

Farmers may be able to rear livestock which produce fewer emissions from their stomachs of methane, one of the most important greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 18 January – Stand by for a new breed of farm animal – the low-methane cow. European scientists are collaborating in a bid to find a cow that makes the same milk, but manages to do so while emitting lower levels of natural gas from the ruminant stomach.

Methane is a fact of farm life: cows eat grass, hay and silage, and then proceed to digest it with help from an arsenal of stomach and gut microbes. But methane is also a potent greenhouse gas (GHG): weight for weight it is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a century.

About a fifth of all GHG emissions from agriculture are directly released from the stomachs of the world’s cattle herds. And a consortium called RuminOmics has launched research into every aspect of animal husbandry in an attempt to lower the methane productivity while keeping up the dairy output.

Phil Garnsworthy is a dairy scientist at the University of Nottingham, UK, and one of the project partners. He reasons that cattle vary quite dramatically in the levels of methane from their stomachs, so it would be possible to imagine a dairy herd that produced the same volume of milk while reducing their gaseous discharges.

There are other factors: as every human knows too well, gas output is linked to diet. “It is possible to imagine cutting emissions from cattle by a fifth, using a combination approach in which you would breed from lower-emitting cattle as well as changing their diets”, said Professor Garnsworthy.

More profitable

Inheritance, too, may play a role. “There are three issues: diet, genetics and the microbiology of the cow’s rumen”, says Lorenzo Morelli of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Piacenza, Italy. “We think that animal genetics may well influence their gut microbiology. However, this link has not been proved and we are still in the data collection phase.”

Most animal husbandry research has concentrated on raising animal productivity and fertility. But lower methane output could join the list of desired characteristics. There could even be a direct pay-off for the herdsmen.

“The methane is lost energy that could go into producing milk”, says Morelli. “So if we can find the right genetic mix, we can find cattle that are less polluting, more productive, and more profitable for the farmer.”

Methane is a short-lived gas: it stays in the atmosphere for about 10 years. Carbon dioxide – always the dominant greenhouse gas – is released in far greater quantities, and a molecule of carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years.

Multiple gains

But the same volume of methane over a 20-year period will trap 70 times the heat that carbon dioxide retains, so any serious reduction in methane output could make a significant difference to the pace of climate change. Some scientists have argued that it would be better simply to reduce the herds, rather than their digestive output.

In December an international team argued in the journal Nature Climate Change that since methane was the second most abundant GHG, one of the most effective ways to cut output would be to reduce global populations of ruminant livestock – sheep, goats, camels and buffalo as well as cattle are all ruminants.

Globally, they argued, the numbers of ruminant livestock had risen by 50% in the last 50 years, and now about 3.6 billion animals were grazing on about one quarter of the Earth’s land area. Furthermore, a third of all arable land was used to grow feed for these animals.

“Cutting the number of ruminant livestock could have additional benefits for food security, human health and environmental conservation involving water quality, wildlife habitat and biodiversity”, said Peter Smith of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, one of the authors. – Climate News Network

OECD states cut emissions too slowly

January 14, 2014 in Economy, Emissions reductions, Greenhouse Gases, Mitigation, OECD, Pollution


Gridlock in Dakar:  The growth in vehicle numbers has outweighed better engine efficiency Image: Ji-Elle via Wikimedia Commons

Gridlock in Dakar: The growth in vehicle numbers has outweighed better engine efficiency
Image: Ji-Elle via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

The club of the world’s richest countries admits that its members are failing to prevent dangerous climate change, despite their eforts to rein in pollution.

LONDON, 14 January – The world’s richest countries have made some progress since the 1990s in limiting environmental damage. But they have not done enough to prevent catastrophic climate change, according to the OECD, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Scientists say that carbon dioxide emissions need to start going down in the next decade to prevent global temperatures reaching dangerous levels. But the OECD predicts that levels of carbon dioxide will continue to rise and by 2050 will be 50% higher than today.

The 34 OECD countries in the survey are mainly the older mature economies which in the 1970s produced well over half the world’s CO2 emissions from their factories and transport. Now the OECD share of total world emissions has dropped to 30%, but only because of the vast increase in the energy use of China and other high-growth countries like Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and South Africa.  These now account for 40% of global emissions on their own.

More vehicles

There is some good news in the report. Some OECD countries have both increased production and reduced CO2 emissions by introducing renewables and energy efficiency.

The problem for those that fail to do so appears to be political, with countries like Australia and Canada, which have repudiated the Kyoto Protocol, apparently also abandoning most policies to combat climate change.

The report, Environment at a Glance 2013, says that on average there has been progress. Since 1990 there has been a drop of 25% in the amount of energy required to produce a unit of production in member countries, but this is well short of what is needed to safeguard the planet.

The report, which reviews OECD members’ efforts to combat climate change by reducing fossil fuel use, says that the overall energy mix has barely changed in 20 years. There is still an 80% reliance on fossil fuels, although there has been a lot of switching from coal to gas, which does reduce emissions.

Renewable energy is still only 9% of the total energy supply. Another problem is the increasing demand for transport. Smaller, more efficient engines are failing to offset a 17% increase in vehicle numbers.

Rejecting Kyoto

The major political driver for reducing emissions since 1997 has been the Kyoto Protocol. Countries which made pledges to reduce emissions, principally those in the expanded European Union, have made most progress.

This is partly due to the economic recession and exporting some dirty industries to China and other developing countries, but domestic efficiency measures and switching to renewables has helped.

Among the worst performing countries are those that made pledges under the Kyoto Protocol and subsequently abandoned them for political reasons – the United States, Canada and Australia.

The top four countries in the per capita emissions table (the amount of CO2 emitted for each person in a country) has Australia in the lead and Luxembourg second, followed by the United States and Canada.

Positive note

Luxembourg makes the list only because of its low taxes on fuel, which mean that motorists from neighbouring countries fill up their cars at its petrol pumps and then drive back over the border.

Australia relies heavily on coal burning to power its industry and also exports large quantities of coal to China. The new government turned its back on international efforts to combat climate change last year. Canada had previously done the same, deciding instead to exploit its tar sands for oil production, involving high-energy use.

The United States has high per capita carbon emissions because of the lavish lifestyles of its citizens and a powerful Republican lobby that supports the fossil fuel industry and blocks any attempt to combat climate change.

On what the OECD calls “a positive note”, its members have slashed emissions of sulphur oxides by 69% since 1990 and of nitrogen oxide by 36% in the same period.

Sulphur oxides, in various forms, are a chief cause of acid rain and a potent greenhouse gas. Nitrogen oxides are also a contributor to climate change and low level ozone, which damages plants and buildings and irritates human lungs.

These reductions have been possible because of political action, showing that it is not the lack of technology that prevents the world tackling climate change but the lack of will and legislation. – Climate News Network

Single stomachs help to cut the carbon

January 2, 2014 in Africa, Agriculture, Greenhouse Gases, Livestock


Cattle on the move in Sudan: They can often eat plants which humans find inedible Image: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

Cattle on the move in Sudan: They can often eat plants which humans find inedible
Image: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

By Alex Kirby

Cutting greenouse gas emissions from livestock involves much more than simply reducing meat-eating, researchers say. It involves the animals’ diet, how they’re farmed, and what they produce.

LONDON, 2 January – Quite probably, if you’re reading this, you try to find ways of reducing your carbon foot-print. Perhaps you’re also a meat-eater. So, for the sake of the planet, should you ditch meat altogether? Or just eat white meat? Or eat only animals produced close to home?

The answer, says a new international study, is a bit more complicated than any of these. The researchers say the resources required to raise livestock and the impacts of farm animals on environments vary dramatically, depending on the animal, the type of food it provides, the kind of feed it consumes and where it lives.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study assesses what farm animals eat in different regions; how well they convert their feed into milk, eggs and meat; and how much greenhouse gas they produce.

It is the work of scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). The initial work was funded by ILRI and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

Perhaps surprisingly, the study shows that animals in much of the developing world require far more food to produce a kilo of protein than livestock in wealthy countries. It also shows that pork and poultry are being produced far more efficiently than milk and beef, while greenhouse gas emissions vary widely depending on the animal involved and the quality of its diet.

Frugal pigs and poultry

“If the problems are global, the solutions are almost all local and very situation-specific”, said Mario Herrero, lead author of the study.

It finds that, globally, monogastric livestock (species with a simple, single-chambered stomach, like pigs and poultry) are more efficient at converting feed into protein than cattle, sheep and goats (ruminants), regardless of the product involved or where the animals live.

Pork produces 24 kilos of carbon per kilo of edible protein, with poultry producing only 3.7 kilos – compared with anywhere from 58 to 1,000 kilos of carbon from ruminants. Cattle are the biggest source of greenhouse emissions from livestock globally, producing 77% of the total, against 10% for pigs and poultry.

The study shows how an animal’s diet makes a major difference in both feed efficiency and emission intensity. In arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, a cow may consume up to ten times more feed – mainly in the form of rangeland grasses – to produce a kilo of protein than a cow in a more developed country.

Production risks

However, almost all the 1.3 billion tons of grain consumed by livestock each year are fed to farm animals in Europe, North America, Eastern China and Latin America, mainly to pigs and poultry.

All of sub-Saharan Africa’s livestock combined eat only about 50 million tons of grain annually, relying more on grasses and “stovers,” the leaf and stalk residues of crops left in the field after harvest. Ruminants need up to five times more feed to produce a kilo of protein in the form of meat than a kilo of protein as milk.

The authors say the lower emission intensities in the pig and poultry sectors are driven largely by industrial production systems. But these pose significant risks to public health (from the possible transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals to people) and environmental risks. These include the greenhouse gases produced by the energy and transport needed for industrial livestock production, and the felling of forests to grow crops for feed.

Cattle grazing in arid parts of East Africa can release the equivalent of 1,000 kilos of carbon for every kilo of protein they produce. In much of the US and Europe that figure is around 10 kilos.

The authors say no single measurement is an absolute indicator of sustainability. For example, Africa’s low livestock feed efficiencies and high greenhouse gas emission intensities result largely from most animals’ consumption of vegetation inedible by humans. – Climate News Network

2013 ‘will mark continued rise of CO2′

December 30, 2013 in Carbon Budget, Greenhouse Gases, Mitigation


The coal-fired power station at Drax in the North of England: Coal is still the world's biggest source of CO2 Image: Paul Glazzard via Wikimedia Commons

The coal-fired power station at Drax in the North of England: Coal is still the world’s biggest source of CO2
Image: Paul Glazzard via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

The world’s emissions of the main greenhouse gas produced by human activities, carbon dioxide, in 2013 are expected to be nearly two-thirds higher than in 1990.

LONDON, 30 December  – Global carbon dioxide emissions are likely to hit 36 billion tonnes in 2013, according to new research from the University of East Anglia in the UK. This is a small rise – an estimated 2.1% – on 2012, but it will be 61% above the levels in 1990, which is the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol was agreed by most of the world’s concerned nations, anxious to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and contain warming to a global average of 2°C. So the 2013 carbon budget is not being hailed as a great success.

“Governments meeting in Warsaw this week need to agree on how to reverse this trend,” said Corinne Le Quéré of the university’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, who led the Global Carbon Budget report for 2013, compiled by 49 authors from 10 countries. She was speaking before the start of last month’s UN climate talks in the Polish capital.

“Everyone can explore their own emissions, and compare them with their neighbouring countries…”

“Emissions must fall substantially and rapidly if we are to limit global climate change to below two degrees. Additional emissions every year cause further warming and climate change.”

The Tyndall Centre has also launched the Global Carbon Atlas, an online platform that identifies the biggest carbon emitters. “Everyone can explore their own emissions, and compare them with their neighbouring countries – past, present and future,” said Professor Le Quéré.

China is the biggest contributor, with 23%, followed by the US at 14% and the European Union at 10% and India at 6%. Emissions per person put these figures into another perspective: people in China and in the EU each released seven tonnes per head in 2012. The US remains the highest emitter with 16 tonnes per capita; people in India, by comparison, release only 1.8 tonnes each.

Coal remains the biggest source of carbon dioxide at 43%; oil 33%, gas 18% and cement 6.3%. Since 1870, humans have released 2,105 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – 70% from fossil fuels and 30% by chopping down forests and changing the patterns of land use. – Climate News Network

2C rise will be a disaster say leading scientists

December 2, 2013 in Adaptation, Climate, Climate risk, Climate Sensitivity, Emissions reductions, Greenhouse Gases, Science, Warming


Male maldives Image: Taichi via Wikimedia Commons

A 2C temperature rise would seriously threaten cities like Malé, the capital of the Maldives 
Image: Taichi via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

Countries round the world have pledged to try and limit the average global temperature rise to 2C above pre industrial figures. That’s way too high and would threaten major dislocations for civilization say a group of prominent scientists.

London, 3 December – Governments have set the wrong target to limit climate change. The goal at present – to limit global warming to a maximum of 2°C higher than the average for most of human history  - “would have consequences that can be described as disastrous”, say 18 scientists in a review paper in the journal PLOS One.

With a 2°C increase, “sea level rise of several meters could be expected,” they say.  “Increased climate extremes, already apparent at 0.8°C warming, would be more severe. Coral reefs and associated species, already stressed with current conditions, would be decimated by increased acidification, temperature and sea level rise.

Hansen at helm

The paper’s lead author is James Hansen, now at Columbia University, New York, and the former NASA scientist who in 1988 put global warming on the world’s front pages by telling a US government committee that “It’s time to stop waffling so much and say the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”

Hansen’s fellow authors include the economist Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and the biologist Camille Parmesan, of the University of Plymouth in the UK and the University of Texas at Austin, USA.

Their argument is that humanity and nature – “the modern world as we know it” – is adapted to what scientists call the Holocene climate that has existed for more than 10,000 years – since the end of the Ice Age, the beginnings of agriculture and the first settlement of the cities.

Warming of 1°C relative to 1880–1920 keeps global temperature close to the Holocene range, but warming of 2°C, could cause “major dislocations for civilization.”

Clear arguments

The scientists study, uncompromisingly entitled “Assessing ‘dangerous climate change’: required reduction of carbon emissions to protect young people, future generations and nature” differs from many such climate analyses because it sets out its argument with remarkable directness and clarity, and serves as a useful briefing document for anyone – politicians, journalists and lay audiences – anxious to better understand the machinery of climate, and the forces that seem to be about to dictate climate change.

Its critics will point out that it is also remarkably short on the usual circumlocutions, caveats, disclaimers and equivocations that tend to characterise most scientific papers. Hansen and his co-authors are however quite open about the major areas of uncertainty: their implicit argument is that if the worst outcomes turn out to be true, the consequences for humankind could be catastrophic.

Feedback is critical

The scientists case is that most political debate addresses the questions of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but does not and perhaps cannot factor in the all potentially dangerous unknowns – the slow feedbacks that will follow the thawing of the Arctic, the release of frozen reserves of methane and carbon dioxide in the permafrost, and the melting of polar ice into the oceans. They point out that 170 nations have agreed on the need to limit fossil fuel emissions to avoid dangerous human-made climate change.

“However the stark reality is that global emissions have accelerated, and new efforts are underway to massively expand fossil fuel extractions by drilling to increasing ocean depths and into the Arctic, squeezing oil from tar sands and tar shale, hydro-fracking to expand extraction of natural gas, developing exploitation of methane hydrates and mining of coal via mountain-top removal and mechanised long wall-mining.”

Still time

The scientists argue that swift and drastic action to limit global greenhouse gas emissions and contain warming to around 1°C would have two useful consequences. One is that it would not be far from the climate variations experienced as normal during the last 10,000 years, and secondly that it would make it more likely that the biosphere, and the soil, would be able to sequester a substantial proportion of the carbon dioxide released by human industrial civilisation.

Trees are, in essence, captive carbon dioxide. But the warmer the world becomes, the more likely it is that existing forests – the Amazon, for example – will start to release more CO2 than they absorb, making the planet progressively even warmer.

Therefore the scientists make a case for limiting overall global carbon emissions to 500 gigatonnes rather than the 1,000 billion tonnes in the 2°C rise scenario.

“Although there is merit in simply chronicling what is happening, there is still opportunity for humanity to exercise free will,” says Hansen. – Climate News Network


Warsaw – Day 12: Too little too late to save the planet

November 22, 2013 in Adaptation, Alliance of Small Island States, China, Climate finance, Emissions reductions, Policy, UNFCCC


Sea level rise threatens beaches like this in India: Warsaw offers little prospect of help Image: Frederick Noronha via Wikimedia Commons

Sea level rise threatens beaches like this in India: Warsaw offers little prospect of help
Image: Frederick Noronha via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown in Warsaw

The Climate News Network’s Paul Brown has been in Warsaw for two weeks at the UN climate talks – the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. With the talks in their final hours, he reports on the probable outcome, a  depressingly familiar one.

While every country has agreed it is vital to keep the planet from overheating by more than 2°C, there is no sign in Warsaw that the political action needed to achieve that is possible.

As the negotiations dragged on through the final day and into the night, countries were still wrangling over details of draft agreements that will take another two years to negotiate.

A bleak assessment by the 44 countries that make up the Alliance of Small Island States is that politicians have not faced the reality of what is about to happen.

Even though they feel desperate about the lack of progress, delegates still avoid naming names to avoid diplomatic embarrassment. But one tired negotiator said: “We know that it is probably too late to prevent whole countries disappearing beneath the waves, but that is only a small part of it.

“There will be an intense escalation of global instability caused by trans-boundary migration of displaced people, massive hikes in the price of food causing civil unrest, and many more climate-related disasters. That is the situation we are walking into.”

Refusing liability

There have been several strands to the negotiations here. The developing countries want access to new funds from rich nations to prepare for the ravages of climate change. At these talks $100 million was pledged by developed countries, but it was unclear how much of it was new money, or existing aid money diverted to the climate from other sources.

Since at previous conferences countries have pledged to provide $100 billion a year of new aid by 2020, the Warsaw pledges are seen by developing countries as hopelessly inadequate.

But the most contentious issue was “loss and damage”. There is already a fund for adaptation to climate change, but the developing countries say that this does not cover irreversible losses, for example whole areas, even countries, disappearing into the sea. Other examples are loss of coral reefs and fisheries and the destruction of agriculture through climate change.

What developing countries want is a separate fund to cover these losses. But the richer countries fear this is an open-ended commitment they cannot afford, and they will never agree to it. They want to shift this issue into the adaptation fund and avoid the notion of being liable for compensation for climate damage.

Anyone for fudge?

The United States, China and the European Union are much keener to talk about the new international agreement due to be signed in Paris in 2015, in which all 194 countries that are parties to the Climate Change Convention will take on responsibilities to reduce or at least limit emissions.

A fourth draft of a proposed agreement to limit emissions, and a timetable for achieving them, are now being talked about. The optimists hope that countries will begin to offer new pledges to cut emissions beyond 2020 on 23 September 2014, when the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has called a climate summit of world leaders in New York.

If this happens, then all the pledges can be examined over the following months to see whether countries have done enough to keep the temperature rise below 2°C. If scientists tell politicians that their pledges do not limit the rise enough, then there will be time for more to be done before aiming for final agreement in Paris in December 2015.

Perhaps the only bright part of the talks in Warsaw has been the attitude of China, now the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. Partly because of domestic pressure to reduce pollution, the Chinese are making huge efforts at home to become more energy-efficient. There were even hints here from the Chinese delegation that their country would accept an emissions reduction target. This would be a remarkable transformation in attitude.

The final result in Warsaw will be a political fudge.  It will be denounced by green activists and developing countries as too little progress, and probably too late to save the planet from unacceptable climate change. Increasingly, that looks like the correct assessment. – Climate News Network

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

November 21, 2013 in Climate, Emissions reductions, Human response, Policy, Public Awareness, Science, Warming


The opening last week of COP 19: But by today some had had quite enough Image: Mateusz Włodarczyk

The opening last week of COP 19: But by today some had had quite enough
Image: Mateusz Włodarczyk via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown in Warsaw

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

Historic CO2 emissions require cuts now

November 21, 2013 in Black Carbon, Cumulative Emissions, Emissions reductions, Greenhouse Gases, Methane, Mitigation, Warming

EMBARGOED until 0800 GMT on Thursday 21 November

Accumulated CO2 emissions are still able to influence future temperatures Image: Photographic Collection from Australia via Wikimedia Commons

Accumulated CO2 emissions are still able to influence future temperatures
Image: Photographic Collection from Australia via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

The amount of carbon dioxide that has already built up in the atmosphere is helping to accelerate the pace at which the Earth is warming, two scientists say.

LONDON, 21 November – Two scientists urge the world to start reducing greenhouse emissions right now. There’s no time to be lost, they argue in Nature Climate Change. Future global temperatures depend on how much carbon dioxide has accumulated in the atmosphere, so as emissions increase, so does the rate of warming.

The reasoning by Myles Allen, of the University of Oxford in the UK, and Thomas Stocker, of the University of Bern in Switzerland, is complex. They are concerned with what they call peak-committed warming: how high the temperature can or is likely or is permitted to go.

Governments of the world have subscribed in principle to the proposition that they would like to limit global warming to 2°C above the levels before the Industrial Revolution, but to do this they will have to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, these are increasing.

Allen and Stocker warn that that peak CO2-induced warming is currently increasing at the same rate as cumulative CO2 emissions themselves. “At almost 2% per year, it is much faster than observed warming,” they say.

Their argument involves some fairly complex mathematics but some very-easy-to-understand assumptions. One assumption is that if the world starts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions right now, then peak warming will occur later in the century.

If governments delay action, and carry on for a limited period with what has become known as the “business-as-usual” scenario, then peak warming will arrive all the sooner.

“If we are aiming for peak warming of around 2°C, then as long as emissions are increasing at 1.8-1.9% per year, every year’s delay in reducing emissions increases peak warming by 1.8-1.9% of 2°C, or 0.04°C.

Delay is expensive

“If the same effort required in 2010 to limit CO2-induced warming to 2°C were applied starting in 2015, the resultant peak would be 10% higher, at 2.2°C,” they say. “Given the complexities of the climate issue, simple rules of thumb like this are a valuable way of comparing the impact of climate policies.”

In effect, the longer governments delay action, the more drastic such action must be in years to come, and the higher the average global temperatures will be when the world stops warming, and climates stabilise.

Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas, because it is long-lived, and because it is released in huge quantities from every combustion engine, from every fireplace, and from most of the world’s power-generating plants.

But it is not the only warming gas. Methane and black carbon – both of which are released by human action – also warm the planet. Methane doesn’t hang around in the atmosphere all that long, but weight for weight it is more than 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a century.

In a second perspective essay in Nature Climate Change Myles Allen and five colleagues argue that there are very good reasons for reducing emissions of short-lived pollutants – both economic reasons and health reasons – but doing so will not buy time for the planet, unless carbon dioxide emissions are reduced at the same time.

“Even under the 2°C stabilization scenario, the combined impact of methane and black carbon emissions over the decade 2010 to 2020 is expected to increase the most likely peak warming by less than a few hundredths of a degree,” they say. In contrast, long-lived climate pollutant emissions such as carbon dioxide will contribute around 10 times that.- Climate News Network

Warsaw – Day 5: Dismay as Japan abandons greenhouse targets

November 15, 2013 in Emissions reductions, Greenhouse Gases, Japan, Mitigation, Nuclear power, UNFCCC

Fossil of the Day award for the land of the steeply rising emissions Image: Courtesy of Jessly Obando

Fossil of the Day award in Warsaw for the land of the steeply rising emissions
Image: Courtesy of Jessly Obando

By Paul Brown in Warsaw

One of the Climate News Network editors, Paul Brown, is in the Polish capital, host of the UN climate talks – the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He reports on the deep dismay which greeted the news that Japan’s emissions will increase much faster than expected. 

Japan has shocked delegates at the UN Climate Conference here by abandoning its plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 and says instead it will increase them by 3.1%.

The announcement, made in Tokyo in the middle of the night Warsaw time, used the shutdown of the nuclear industry in Japan following the Fukushima accident as a reason for abandoning the 25% target. But environment groups condemned this as a mere excuse.

Japan’s decision came at the end of the first week of negotiations in Warsaw, during which civil servants have been preparing for the arrival of government ministers by shaping the first drafts of agreements to provide new funding to developing countries to help them to adapt to climate change. They have also been working towards a global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020.

Some of the delegates here were alarmed by Japan’s announcement. China’s negotiator in Warsaw, Su Wei, said of the revised target: “I have no way of describing my dismay.”

Following the Fukushima accident in March 2011 50 nuclear reactors in Japan were closed amid safety concerns, accounting for 26% per cent of the country’s electricity generation.

As old fossil fuel plants were fired up to replace the nuclear stations, total carbon dioxide emissions began to grow and the Japanese Government announced it would review its 2020 targets.

Trampling corpses

The Government tried to dress up the announcement as a reduction in emissions by saying the new target for 2020 was 3.8% below the 2005 level. Campaigners pointed out that the old target was 25% below 1990 levels, so on that baseline the new target represented a 3.1% increase by 2020.

Following Canada’s repudiation of the Kyoto agreement two years ago and Australia’s decision earlier this week to abandon its renewable energy targets and other efforts to cut fossil fuel consumption, there was dismay in Warsaw at Japan’s news.

Wael Hmaidan, of Climate Action Network International (CAN), said:“It is unbelievable that this is happening. After the suffering in the Philippines the likes of Australia and Japan are trampling on the corpses of the dead.”

Kimiko Hirata, a Japanese representative of CAN, said “Japan is betraying these talks; this is very very disappointing, totally unhelpful, not to say destructive.”

Fossil of the day

She was particularly alarmed that the decision had been announced in the middle of the climate talks after more than two years of deliberations. “The government process has been totally without transparency. OK, 50 plants were shut down, but emissions only rose by 7.5% overall.

“This is just an excuse. Japan could still reduce emissions by 2020, I only hope that there will be such an internal and international reaction that the Government will reconsider.”

Japan was awarded the “fossil of the day” award by non-government organisations, reserved for the nation judged to have done most to obstruct progress at the climate talks.

It was clear that the Japanese representatives at the talks were not wholly comfortable at the decision either. Their chief negotiator, Hiroshi Minami, speaking at a press conference to explain the decision was challenged by a fellow-countryman to tell the young of his country what the decision meant.

He said: “That is up to the Japanese people to judge. This is very difficult personally, this is a serious matter and I have great sympathy, but as a bureaucrat I cannot answer the question.”

As well as announcing its changed target, Japan pledged that it would provide $16 billion by 2015 to help poor nations reduce their emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change, such as higher sea levels and more droughts.

Hiroshi Minami said the aid will be a mix of grants and loans, with $13 billion coming from the Government and the rest from the private sector. – Climate News Network