Thursday, December 6, 2007

All nations 'need emission goals'

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Farmer, China. Image: AP
Britain is putting money into a "global audit" of climate adaptation
Britain's Trade and Development Minister Gareth Thomas has said that developing countries will need targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

Rich nations had to lead emissions cuts, he said, but developing countries such as China should have targets too.

Mr Thomas also told BBC News that too little money was available to help poor countries prepare for climate impacts.

Britain will next week launch a major international study to identify the best ways to fund climate adaptation.

I frankly think every developing country has to have clear targets
Gareth Thomas
The minister was speaking to the BBC as representatives of more than 180 countries met in Bali for this year's round of UN climate negotiations.

Britain and its European allies hope the Bali meeting will begin a process that will lead to a further international set of binding targets for emissions cuts to take effect when the current Kyoto Protocol targets expire in 2012.

Developing difficulty

A major sticking point in the UN process has been whether big developing countries such as China, India and Brazil should take on firm commitments.

The US in particular argues that with China's emissions set to overtake and eventually exceed its own, there is little point in making a deal that includes only developed nations.

Gareth Thomas MP. Image: BBC
Gareth Thomas' portfolio straddles trade and overseas development
Others argue that the per-capita emissions of developing countries are still much lowed than in the west, and they should not yet take on any commitment that could impair their economic development.

"I frankly think every developing country has to have clear targets," said Mr Thomas.

"Some developing countries who are at a very low stage of development are going to have to be allowed to increase their emissions, while the bigger developing countries draw back on theirs, and developed countries draw back even faster on their carbon emissions."

However, he said developed nations could not escape their primary responsibility for climate change.

"Quite understandably, (developing countries) are looking to developed nations such as ourselves and the US and the rest of the EU to take more of the burden of responsibility, and we in the UK have accepted that we have that role to play."

Adapt and survive

The Bali meeting is also looking at adaptation - assisting developing countries to protect their societies and economies against climate impacts such as hotter growing seasons, drought, floods and disease.

The British and Dutch governments will be announcing a two-year project in six developing countries to research the best ways of funding adaptation.

The research will focus on analysing the resources already available, how much extra donor assistance is needed, ways of drawing in the private sector, and on assessing how much money is needed each year.

"Frankly we don't know the scale of the financial challenge," said Mr Thomas.

"Various estimates have been put forward - anything from $11bn to $86bn (£5.5bn to £42bn) has been touted as being necessary."

The idea was endorsed by Oxfam, one of the charities heavily involved in climate adaptation.

Wind turbine components at Indian factory. Image: AP
Indian private enterprise could help the country reduce emissions
"This would be an absolutely vital piece of research that has to be done," a spokesman commented.

"We've previously called for a global audit for adaptation - Oxfam believes the sum needed will be around $50bn (£25bn) a year.

"But the fact that they're taking adaptation seriously and doing research doesn't mean we should take a breather and wait for the results - people need to start funding adaptation immediately."

Earlier this week, Oxfam, together with other charities and the UN Development Programme, poured scorn on the scale of the global commitment to adaptation funding - "less than Americans spend on suntan lotion each month" and "roughly what Britain spends on flood defences each week" were two of the unflattering comparisons.

Gareth Thomas agreed that the sums available fall well short of what was needed.

"I can understand the frustration," he said.

"[But] I do think we need to get our information right, it will help to shape how we approach the private sector, how we look for innovative financial solutions that involve the private sector in helping to address deforestation, etc."

They key to generating adaptation funds, the government believes, is a global and effective carbon market.

But many economists believe such a market cannot function properly without a global system of emission caps.

The British and Dutch governments will formally launch their research fund during the Bali meeting

Climate scientists call for urgent emission cuts

Greenhouse gas emissions must be urgently cut, with reductions of at least 50% by 2050, climate scientists warned today.

More than 200 leading international climate scientists attending the UN climate change conference in Bali called for emissions to peak and decline within the next 10 to 15 years.

If emissions are not limited, millions face extreme events such as droughts, flooding and rising sea levels, the scientists said.

In the "Bali declaration" published today, the scientists say that a new international deal on climate change must ensure global warming does not exceed a 2C rise above pre-industrial levels.

Today's declaration said: "The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now far exceeds the natural range of the past 650,000 years and it is rising very quickly due to human activity.

"If this trend is not halted soon, many millions of people will be at risk from extreme events such as heat waves, drought, floods and storms, our coasts and cities will be threatened by rising sea levels, and many ecosystems, plants and animal species will be in serious danger of extinction."

Negotiations on a new treaty have to begin now and be completed by 2009, with targets of keeping warming below 2C by reducing global emissions by 2050 and ensuring they peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years, they said.

"As scientists, we urge the negotiators to reach an agreement that takes these targets as a minimum requirement for a fair and effective global climate agreement," the declaration said.

Corinne Le Quere, of the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey, is one of the scientists who have signed up to the initiative, which is under the auspices of the Climate Change research centre at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

She said: "Climate change is unfolding very fast. There is only one option to limit the damages: stabilise the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"There is no time to waste. I urge the negotiators in Bali to stand up to the challenge and set strong binding targets for the benefit of the world population."

The warning comes after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment this year, drawing on work by thousands of scientists, which said that warming was "unequivocal" and was at least 90% likely to be mostly caused by humans.

Congress passes global warming bill

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington

Guardian Unlimited

Congress yesterday defied the threat of a presidential veto and passed the first legislation aimed at curbing global warming, voting to impose higher automobile fuel standards for the first time in three decades.

The measure, the first bill since the Democrats took control of Congress a year ago, passed by 235-181 and would require a 40% increase in in fuel efficiency for new cars by 2020.

The White House immediately said it would veto the measure. "This is a misguided approach," a statement from the White House said last night.

The hostile response belies recent claims by the White House on the eve of the Bali conference that president George Bush was serious about the dangers of climate change.

It raises further doubts about a separate bill that emerged from the Senate's environment committee on Wednesday which seeks to impose the first mandatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and factories.

Democrats have made climate change legislation one of the key goals in Congress - to the extent of insisting that the Christmas tree use energy efficient light bulbs.

Yesterday's bill could be brought to a vote in the Senate as early as Saturday. The vote is expected to be close, and passage could depend on the Democrats' willingness to drop a repeal of billions of dollars in tax breaks for big oil companies.

Even so, the bill marks the first time that Congress has intervened on fuel efficiency since the standards were first established in 1975, and comes amid growing popular anger in America at rising petrol prices and imported fuel.

In addition to imposing a 35mpg standard on cars, the bill would require power companies to generate 15% of their energy from renewable sources such as wind or solar power by 2020.

It would encourage the use of energy efficient light bulbs - in effect phasing out incandescent bulbs - pay for training for 'green collar' jobs, and offer small monthly stipends to people who ride their bicycles to work. It also calls for tax incentives to encourage the use of ethanol as a motor fuel.

Environmental thinktanks have said the bill would reduce energy use by almost 8% by 2030, and carbon dioxide emissions by 10%.

"This bill is really a signal to Opec that we mean business, and it is a signal to the rest of the world that we are serious about global warming," Ed Markey, a Democratic member of Congress from Massachusetts and chairman of the committee on energy independence, told the House.

However, the house bill risks encountering further opposition in Congress because it would roll back $13bn in tax breaks for the five largest oil companies and divert the money to research into cleaner energy sources and hybrid cars.

The proposed repeal was singled out by the White House in its statement yesterday. "The administration strongly opposes using the federal tax code to single out specific industries for punitive treatment," the statement said.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Troops use rafts to evacuate flooded Oregon town

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) -- National Guard troops evacuated residents in a flooded town and tens of thousands of people remained without power Tuesday after back-to-back storms pounded the Pacific Northwest, killing five people.

Floodwaters surround houses Tuesday in Centralia, Washington.

Troops with the Oregon Air National Guard used inflatable rafts to evacuate flooded residents in Vernonia, a mountain timber town on the Nehalem River, about 35 miles northwest of Portland.

"They're moving down the streets, and through the backyards," said Maj. Mike Braibish, spokesman for the National Guard.

Vernonia, which has about 2,200 residents, had been largely cut off by landslides that blocked roads into the community, but Guard trucks with high clearance were able to get in late Monday and more were being sent, Braibish said.

Still, communications were difficult. "There are no phone lines or land lines available in Vernonia," said Hyla Ridenour, spokeswoman for Columbia River Fire and Rescue in nearby St. Helens.

The storm that hit Monday smacked the region with hurricane-force winds and several inches of rain, and was blamed for five deaths in Oregon and Washington state. It came only a day after another severe system moved through Sunday.

By Tuesday, the second system had moved on to the Upper Plains and Midwest, where it was predicted to bring new snow. In North Dakota, the National Weather Service said parts of the state could get up to 9 inches of snow.

Towns on the coast were hit hardest by the storms. Red Cross shelters in western Oregon were housing 556 people as of midnight, said spokeswoman Lise Harwin.

The governors of Washington and Oregon declared states of emergency, which could speed relief efforts in flood-hit areas. The National Weather Service said 3 to 6 inches of rain had fallen across much of western Washington. The 24-hour rain total for Bremerton, Washington, was 10.78 inches.

In Washington, some 130 people had to be rescued from flooded areas by Coast Guard helicopters. Mudslides and floods blocked roads, and Interstate 5, the principal north-south route along the West Coast, was closed near Centralia because of about 3 feet of water over the road. Many schools and government offices were closed for a second day. Photo See photos of the storm damage »

Mudslides also halted Amtrak passenger train service between Portland and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Nearly 75,000 customers lost power in Washington, and more than 50,000 were still without power Tuesday morning, emergency management officials said. In Oregon, Portland-based Pacific Power said about 36,000 customers were still without power.

Power companies said electricity may not be restored to some areas for three or four days. More stiff winds were likely, but nothing like the blasts that exceeded 120 miles mph at the height of the storm.

Five deaths were blamed on the storm. In Oregon, a 90-year-old woman died after suffering what Tillamook County medical examiner Dr. Paul Betlinski called "a weather-related heart attack" as she evacuated. In the same area, a truck was swept away by floodwaters, and the driver was reported dead.

In Washington, a man in Aberdeen died when a tree fell on him as he was trying to clear another downed tree. Another man died in Montesano when the cutoff of electricity left him without the oxygen equipment he needed, officials said.

A man in Mason County died Monday night when he was buried in a building hit by a mudslide, Kyle Herman, spokesman for the Washington State Emergency Management Division, said Tuesday.

Mudslides blocked numerous roads and forced an undetermined number of residents to evacuate condominiums, apartments and houses in Seattle, at least nine houses in suburban Burien and several mobile homes in Shelton.

In Olympia, the rain Monday turned a normally small creek into a roiling, muddy surge of water that tore through a wall at the Ranch House BBQ restaurant. Tables and booths were strewn across the street.

Christy Romo, who lives just up the hill, said she could hear the floodwaters coming and started packing before the first floor of her cabin was inundated.

"I knew I wouldn't have much time," Romo said. "I heard a bang, and then saw the water rising quickly."

The back-to-back storm fronts Sunday and Monday were among the Northwest's worst in recent memory. The first storm marched across the country, killing at least 15 people, mostly in traffic accidents, and dumping snow from the Midwest to the Northeast.

Lake-effect snow storms delivered a first blast of winter overnight Tuesday to a large part of upstate New York, dumping up to a foot of snow on some areas and forcing schools to close.

"There's people who will be cursing this stuff as they drive to work today. Not me," said Chip Sutton, a 45-year-old mechanic who was plowing parking lots and driveways in Syracuse. "I'm tired, but I'm happy, and a few dollars richer."

The winter weather also spelled success for ski areas in New England that suffered through an abysmal winter last year. In Vermont, 7 inches of snow welcomed skiers and snowboarders Monday.

"It's not snow. It's white gold," said Christopher Francis, innkeeper at Ye Olde England Inne, a 30-room establishment in the shadow of Vermont's Stowe Mountain Resort.

This crisis demands a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means

Outdated figures have been hiding the full extent of climate change. But I am still advocating action, and not despair

George Monbiot
Tuesday December 4, 2007
The Guardian

When you warn people about the dangers of climate change, they call you a saint. When you explain what needs to be done to stop it, they call you a communist. Let me show you why.

There is now a broad scientific consensus that we need to prevent temperatures from rising by more than 2C above their pre-industrial level. Beyond that point, the Greenland ice sheet could go into irreversible meltdown, some ecosystems collapse, billions suffer from water stress, and droughts start to threaten global food supplies.

The government proposes to cut the UK's carbon emissions by 60% by 2050. This target is based on a report published in 2000. That report was based on an assessment published in 1995, which drew on scientific papers published a few years earlier. The UK's policy, in other words, is based on papers some 15 years old. Our target, which is one of the toughest on earth, bears no relation to current science.

Over the past fortnight, both Gordon Brown and his adviser, Sir Nicholas Stern, have proposed raising the cut to 80%. Where did this figure come from? The last G8 summit adopted the aim of a global cut of 50% by 2050, which means that 80% would be roughly the UK's fair share. But the G8's target isn't based on current science either.

In the new summary published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), you will find a table that links different cuts to likely temperatures. It suggests that to prevent global warming from eventually exceeding 2C, by 2050 the world will need to cut its emissions to roughly 15% of the volume in 2000.

I looked up the global figures for carbon dioxide production in 2000 and divided it by the current population. This gives a baseline figure of 3.58 tonnes of CO2 per person. An 85% cut means that (if the population remains constant) the global output per head should be reduced to 0.537 tonnes by 2050. The UK currently produces 9.6 tonnes per head and the US 23.6 tonnes. Reducing these figures to 0.537 means a 94.4% cut in the UK and a 97.7% cut in the US. But the world population will rise in the same period. If we assume a population of 9 billion, the cuts rise to 95.9% in the UK and 98.3% in the US.

The IPCC figures might also be out of date. In a footnote beneath the table, the panel admits that "emission reductions...might be underestimated due to missing carbon cycle feedbacks". What this means is that the impact of the biosphere's response to global warming has not been fully considered. As seawater warms, for example, it releases carbon dioxide. As soil bacteria heat up, they respire more, generating more CO2. As temperatures rise, tropical forests die back, releasing the carbon they contain. These are examples of positive feedbacks. A recent paper (all the references are on my website) estimates that feedbacks account for about 18% of global warming. They are likely to intensify.

A paper in Geophysical Research Letters finds that even with a 90% global cut by 2050, the 2C threshold "is eventually broken". To stabilise temperatures at 1.5C above the pre-industrial level requires a global cut of 100%. The diplomats who started talks in Bali yesterday should be discussing the complete decarbonisation of the global economy.

It is not impossible. In a previous article I showed how by switching the whole economy over to the use of electricity and by deploying the latest thinking on regional supergrids, grid balancing and energy storage, you could run almost the entire energy system on renewable power. The major exception is flying (don't expect to see battery-powered jetliners), which suggests that we should be closing rather than opening runways.

This could account for around 90% of the necessary cut. Total decarbonisation demands that we go further. Preventing 2C of warming means stripping carbon dioxide from the air. The necessary technology already exists: the challenge is making it efficient and cheap. Last year Joshuah Stolaroff, who has written a PhD on the subject, sent me some provisional costings, of £256-£458 per tonne of carbon. This makes the capture of CO2 from the air roughly three times as expensive as the British government's costings for building wind turbines, twice as expensive as nuclear power, slightly cheaper than tidal power and eight times cheaper than rooftop solar panels in the UK. But I suspect his figures are too low, as they suggest this method is cheaper than catching CO2 from purpose-built power stations, which cannot be true.

The Kyoto protocol, whose replacement the Bali meeting will discuss, has failed. Since it was signed, there has been an acceleration in global emissions: the rate of CO2 production exceeds the IPCC's worst case and is now growing faster than at any time since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It's not just the Chinese. A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (the US institute's journal), finds that "no region is decarbonising its energy supply". Even the age-old trend of declining energy intensity as economies mature has gone into reverse. In the UK there is a stupefying gulf between the government's climate policy and the facts it is creating on the ground. How will we achieve even a 60% cut if we build new coal plants, new roads and a third runway at Heathrow?

Underlying the immediate problem is a much greater one. In a lecture to the Royal Academy of Engineering in May, Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College explained that a growth rate of 3% means economic activity doubles in 23 years. At 10% it takes just seven years. This we knew. But Smith takes it further. With a series of equations he shows that "each successive doubling period consumes as much resource as all the previous doubling periods combined". In other words, if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2040, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs. Then, between 2040 and 2063, we must double our total consumption again. Reading that paper I realised for the first time what we are up against.

But I am not advocating despair. We must confront a challenge that is as great and as pressing as the rise of the Axis powers. Had we thrown up our hands then, as many people are tempted to do today, you would be reading this paper in German. Though the war often seemed impossible to win, when the political will was mobilised strange and implausible things began to happen. The US economy was spun round on a dime in 1942 as civilian manufacturing was switched to military production. The state took on greater powers than it had exercised before. Impossible policies suddenly became achievable.

The real issues in Bali are not technical or economic. The crisis we face demands a profound philosophical discussion, a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means. Debating these matters makes us neither saints nor communists; it shows only that we have understood the science.

Riots and hunger feared as demand for grain sends food costs soaring

· Expert to warn industry of threats to world supply
· Biofuels and Chinese boom put pressure on harvests

Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Tuesday December 4, 2007
The Guardian

A peasant protests in Mexico City at the rising price of corn
A peasant protests in Mexico City at the rising price of corn. Photograph: Luis Acosta/AFP
The risks of food riots and malnutrition will surge in the next two years as the global supply of grain comes under more pressure than at any time in 50 years, according to one of the world's leading agricultural researchers.

Recent pasta protests in Italy, tortilla rallies in Mexico and onion demonstrations in India are just the start of the social instability to come unless there is a fundamental shift to boost production of staple foods, Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, warned in an interview with the Guardian.

The growing appetite of China and other fast-developing nations has combined with the expansion of biofuel programmes in the United States and Europe to transform the global food situation.

After decades of expanding crop yields and falling food prices, the past year has seen a sharp rise in the cost of wheat, rice, corn, soya and dairy products.

"Demand is running away. The world has been consuming more than it produces for five years now. Stocks of grain - of rice, wheat and maize - are down at levels not seen since the early 80s," said von Braun, whose organisation is the world's largest alliance of agricultural researchers, economists, and policy experts.

So far, crises have been averted because states have eaten into national stocks, but this could be set to change because China, in particular, has run down its supplies.

"Over the next 12 to 24 months we are in a fairly risky situation. Large consuming nations, particularly China, will feel pressed to enter international markets to bid up prices to unusual levels," von Braun warned ahead of a speech today to the institute's AGM in Beijing.

Thanks to its manufacturing prowess China has huge foreign exchange reserves and could buy the global food crop several times over. But its consumers are already feeling the cost of food inflation. According to the local media three shoppers died last month in a stampede at a supermarket in Chongqing that was offering cheap rapeseed oil. The threat of instability has prompted prime minister Wen Jiabao to make the fight against food price rises one of his government's priorities. So far it seems a losing battle.

Economic growth - estimated at 11.5% in the first nine months of the year - has made Chinese consumers wealthier, while urbanisation and globalisation has changed their diet. In October the government announced pork prices were up more than 50%, vegetables 30% and cooking oil 34% compared with the year before.

The knock-on is felt across the world. In Britain and other rich nations it means a few more pence for breakfast cereal in the short term and a slightly higher cost for toys, clothes and other China-made goods. But for the world's poorest communities the rises will have a potentially devastating effect.

Bangladesh has had to ask for half a million tonnes of food aid - a severe blow to the pride of a country that had been trying to wean itself off international assistance. Bangladeshi officials say the price of cooking oil - of which it imports 1.2m tonnes a year - has almost tripled in the past two years because it is now valued as an alternative to diesel oil. More worryingly, their main staple of rice is hard to buy at any price because India, Vietnam and Ukraine have cut exports.

Added to this are the pressures caused by global warming, which have been blamed for the droughts that damaged crops in Australia this year.

The social tensions caused by rising food prices are already evident, says von Braun. "The first sign was the tortilla riot in Mexico city, where 70,000 took to the streets. I think that was only the beginning - there will be more," said von Braun. "For a year or two countries can stabilise with stocks. But the risk comes in the next 12 to 24 months. The countries that cannot afford to buy will be the losers, while those with huge foreign exchange reserves will bid up the world market."

Von Braun called on Europe to reconsider its biofuel policies, to provide more aid to poor nations, to keep markets open and to boost production.

The forces pushing up food prices

1 Rising consumption: The appetite of fast-growing nations, such as China, is rising as economic booms cause a surge in demand for meat and dairy products

2 Competition from biofuels: The cars of the rich are now rivalling the bellies of the poor for corn, cane and edible oils

3 Climate change: Global warming is putting pressure on water needed to irrigate crops

Monday, December 3, 2007

Furnace Cities

Furnace Cities



It's possible to see, right now, what global warming will eventually do to the planet. To peek into the future, all we have to do is go to Beijing, Athens, Tokyo, or, in fact, just about any city on Earth.

Most of the world's urban areas have already experienced far more dramatic temperature hikes over the past few decades than the 2.6°C increase expected from global warming over the next hundred years.

It's simple enough to understand. On a hot day in New York, locals sprawl out on the grass fields of Central Park, not on asphalt parking lots or concrete sidewalks. Bricks, concrete, and asphalt—the building blocks from which cities are made—absorb much more heat from the sun than vegetation does in the countryside.

Across an entire city, there's much more tarmac than there is grass. So the air above the city heats up. This effect, called an "urban heat island," was discovered in London in the early 1800s.

Today, the fastest-growing cities are in Asia. Beijing is roughly 10°C hotter than the nearby countryside in the daytime and 5.5°C warmer at night. There are even more dramatic increases in Tokyo. In August, temperatures there climbed 12.5°C above the surrounding countryside, reaching 40°C—a scorching heat that affected not only the downtown area, but also covered some 8,000 square kilometers.

Looking at a fast-growing city like Houston, Texas, we can see the real effect of the urban heat island. Over the last 12 years, Houston grew by 20 percent, or 300,000 inhabitants. During that time, the night time temperature increased about 0.8°C. Over a hundred-year period, that would translate to a whopping 7°C increase.

But, while celebrity activists warn about the impending doom posed by climate change, a more realistic view is offered by these cities' ability to cope. Despite dramatic increases over the past 50 or 100 years, these cities have not come tumbling down.

Even as temperatures have risen, heat-related deaths have decreased, owing to improved health care, access to medical facilities, and air-conditioning. We have far more money and much greater technological ability to adapt than our forebears ever did.

Of course, cities also will be hit by temperature increases from CO2, in addition to further warming from urban heat islands. But we have an opportunity to act. Unlike our forebears, who did very little or nothing about urban heat islands, we are in a good position to tackle many of their effects.

While celebrity activists focus entirely on cutting CO2, we could do much more—and at much lower cost—if we addressed urban heat islands. Simple solutions can make a vast difference to temperatures.

Cities are hotter than the land around them because they are drier. They lack moist green spaces and have drainage systems that efficiently remove water. In London, the air around the River Thames is cooler than it is a few blocks away in built-up areas. If we plant trees and build water features, we won't just beautify our surroundings, but we'll also cool things down—by upwards of 8°C, according to climate models.

Moreover, although it may seem almost comically straightforward, one of the best temperature-reducing approaches is very simple: paint things white. Cities have a lot of black asphalt and dark, heat-absorbing structures. By increasing reflection and shade, a great deal of heat build-up can be avoided. Paint most of a city and you could lower the temperature by 10°C.

These options are simple, obvious, and cost-effective. Consider Los Angeles. Re-roofing most of the city's five million homes in lighter colors, painting a quarter of the roads and planting 11 million trees would have a one-time cost of about $1 billion. Each year after that, this would lower air conditioning costs by about $170 million and provide $360 million in smog-reduction benefits. And it would lower Los Angeles temperatures by about 3°C—or about the temperature increase envisioned for the rest of this century.

Compare that to the $180 billion cost of implementing the Kyoto Protocol, which will have virtually no effect.

At the moment, we don't hear much about the smartest choices when it comes to addressing global warming. That needs to change. We do get to choose which future we want.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Forget the green technology - the hot money is in guns

Far from saving us from catastrophe, the market is developing fortresses to shield the haves from the victims of the future

Naomi Klein
The Guardian, UK

Anyone tired of lousy news from the markets should talk to Douglas Lloyd, a director of Venture Business Research, which tracks trends in venture capitalism. "I expect investment activity in this sector to remain buoyant," he said recently. Lloyd's bouncy mood was inspired by the money that is gushing into private security and defence companies. He added: "I also see this as a more attractive sector, as many do, than clean energy."

Got that? If you are looking for a sure bet in a new growth market, then sell solar and buy surveillance: forget wind, buy weapons.

This observation - coming from an executive who is trusted by such clients as Goldman Sachs and Marsh & McLennan - deserves particular attention in the run-up to the United Nations climate change conference, which takes place in Bali next week. There, world environment ministers are supposed to come up with the global pact that will replace the Kyoto agreement.

The Bush administration, still roadblocking firm caps on emissions, wants to let the market solve the crisis. "We're on the threshold of dramatic technological breakthroughs," the American president assured the world last January, adding: "We'll leave it to the market to decide the mix of fuels that most effectively and efficiently meet this goal."

The idea that capitalism can save us from climate catastrophe has powerful appeal. It gives politicians an excuse to subsidise corporations rather than to regulate them; and it neatly avoids a discussion about how the core market logic of endless growth landed us here in the first place.

The market, however, appears to have other ideas about how to meet the challenges of an increasingly disaster-prone world. According to Lloyd, the really big money - despite all the government incentives - is turning away from clean-energy technologies, and is banking instead on gadgets that promise to seal wealthy countries and individuals into hi-tech fortresses. Key growth areas in venture capitalism are private security firms selling surveillance gear and privatised emergency response. To put it simply, in the world of venture capitalism, there has been a race going on between greens on the one hand, and guns and garrisons on the other - and the guns and garrisons are winning.

According to Venture Business Research, last year North American and European companies developing green technology were neck and neck in the contest for new investment with those companies that focused on "homeland security" and weaponry: green tech received $3.5bn (£1.7bn), and so did the guns-and-garrisons sector. But this year, guns and garrisons have suddenly leapt ahead. The greens have received $4.2bn, while the garrisons have nearly doubled their money, collecting $6bn in new investment funds. And 2007 isn't over yet.

This trend has nothing to do with real supply and demand, since the demand for clean-energy technology could not be higher. With oil now reaching nearly $100 a barrel, it is clear that we badly need green alternatives, both as consumers and as a species. The latest report from the Nobel prize-winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was characterised by Time magazine as "a final warning to humanity", while a new Oxfam report makes it clear that the recent wave of natural disasters is no fluke: over the past two decades, the number of extreme weather events has quadrupled. Conversely, this year has seen no major terrorist events in North America or Europe, there are hints of a United States troop drawdown in Iraq, and, despite the relentless propaganda, there is no imminent threat from Iran.

So why is "homeland security", not green energy, the hot new sector? Perhaps because there are two distinct business models that can respond to our climate and energy crisis. We can develop policies and technologies to get us off this disastrous course. Or we can develop policies and technologies to protect us from those we have enraged through resource wars and displaced through climate change, while simultaneously shielding ourselves from the worst of both war and weather. (The ultimate expression of this second option is in Hummer's new television adverts: the gas-guzzler is seen carrying its cargo to safety in various disaster zones, followed by the slogan "HOPE: Hummer Owners Prepared for Emergencies". It's a bit like the Marlboro man doing grief counselling in a cancer ward.) In short, we can choose to fix, or we can choose to fortress. Environmental activists and scientists have been yelling for the fix. The homeland security sector, on the other hand, believes the future lies in fortresses.

Though 9/11 launched this new economy, many of the original counterterrorism technologies are being retro-fitted as privatised emergency response during natural disasters - Blackwater pitching itself as the new Red Cross, firefighters working for insurance giants. By far the biggest market is the fortressing of Europe and North America - Halliburton's contract to build detention centres for an unspecified immigration influx, Boeing's "virtual" border fence, biometric ID cards. The primary targets for these technologies are not terrorists but migrants, an increasing number of whom have been displaced by extreme weather events such as the recent floods in the Mexican state of Tabasco, or the cyclone in Bangladesh. As climate change creates more landlessness, the market in fortresses will increase dramatically.

Of course, there is still money to be made from going green; but there is much more green - at least in the short term - to be made from selling escape and protection. As Lloyd explains: "The failure rate of security businesses is much lower than clean-tech ones; and, as important, the capital investment required to build a successful security business is also much lower." In other words, finding solutions for real problems is hard, but turning a profit from those problems is easy.

Bush wants to leave our climate crisis to the ingenuity of the market. Well, the market has spoken: it will not take us off this disastrous course. In fact, the smart money is betting that we will stay on it.

· A version of this article appears in the Nation (

Climate chief calls for 80% cuts in greenhouse gas

Sir Nicholas Stern

Sir Nicholas Stern's review last year warned of the economic and social costs of climate change. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP

Sir Nicholas Stern, the government adviser on the economics of climate change and development, has urged nations to agree on ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions or face the "destructive" consequences of global warming.

Writing in today's Guardian, Stern, who produced a high-profile review of the economics of climate change last year, says rich countries must show leadership at a UN conference in Bali next week and aim for 80% cuts in their own pollution by 2050. The meeting will aim to agree the scope and timescale of a treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol when it expires in 2012.

Stern writes: "Ambitious targets for emissions reduction must be at the heart of that agreement, together with effective market mechanisms that encourage emission trading between countries, rich and poor. The problem of climate change involves a fundamental failure of markets: those who damage others by emitting greenhouse gases generally do not pay.

"We risk damages on a scale larger than the two world wars of the past century. The problem is global and the response must be a collaboration on a global scale."

Stern says the response must pay more attention to the issue of equity. "Our starting point is deeply inequitable, with poor countries certain to be hit earliest and hardest by climate change."

The average emissions a head must fall from seven tonnes to two to three tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2050, he says. US emissions a head are more than 20 tonnes each year, with European citizens producing 10-15 tonnes each. In China it is about five tonnes, in India about one, and in Africa less than one tonne each.

Stern says the rich countries also need to provide public funding for three more key elements of a global deal: to combat deforestation, develop technology such as carbon capture and storage, and to help poor and vulnerable regions adapt to the consequences of climate change.

British officials do not expect the conference to produce a significant breakthrough, but they hope countries will agree general principles and set the ground for detailed talks over the next two to three years. Observers say a treaty needs to be finished by 2009-10 to follow Kyoto and allow carbon markets to develop.

Separately, business leaders from 150 global companies will today call for mandatory cuts in carbon to be agreed at Bali. The initiative, led by the Prince of Wales, argues that a "sufficiently ambitious, international and comprehensive legally binding UN agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will provide business with the certainty it needs to scale up global investment in low-carbon technologies."

The group includes Chinese companies such as Shanghai Electric and Suntech, as well as US firms including Nike, Coca-Cola, Gap and Sun Microsystems.

Rich nations fail to honour climate pledge

Rich nations fail to honour climate pledge

· Poor countries receive little of promised £600m
· Money intended to tackle effects of global warming

Expanding desert in China’s Gansu province

Expanding desert in China’s Gansu province. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty

A group of rich countries including Britain has broken a promise to pay more than a billion dollars to help the developing world cope with the effects of climate change. The group agreed in 2001 to pay $1.2bn (£600m) to help poor and vulnerable countries predict and plan for the effects of global warming, as well as fund flood defences, conservation and thousands of other projects. But new figures show less than £90m of the promised money has been delivered. Britain has so far paid just £10m.

The disclosure comes after Gordon Brown said this week that industrialised countries must do more to help the developing world adapt to a changed climate, and two weeks before countries meet in Bali to begin negotiations on a new global deal to regulate emissions which is expected to stress the need for all countries to adapt.

Andrew Pendleton, climate change policy analyst at Christian Aid, said: "This represents a broken promise on a massive scale and on quite a cynical scale as well. Promising funds for adaptation is exactly the kind of incentive the rich countries will offer at Bali to bring the developing world on board a new climate deal. This is the signal we are seeing on all fronts, that the developed countries are unwilling to fulfil their moral and legal commitments."

Under the terms of the climate adaptation agreement, made at a UN meeting in Bonn in 2001, the EU, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and New Zealand said they would jointly pay developing countries $410m (£200m) each year from 2005 to 2008. They called on other countries to donate as well. The money was supposed to compensate developing countries for the severe effects over the coming decades of global warming, which is largely caused by carbon emissions from the developed world.

The vast majority of the promised money was expected to be channelled through funds run by an organisation called the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in Washington DC, which was to distribute it through programmes run by the World Bank and United Nations. But accounts presented to a GEF council meeting last week show that only $177m (£86m) had been paid into the funds by September 30 this year, much less than the $1.2bn due by the end of 2007 under the Bonn agreement. Another $106m (£51m) has been pledged to the GEF by specific countries, but not yet paid. Britain has pledged to pay another £10m over the next three years, which makes it among the largest donors, but still below its promised level of commitment.

Saleem Huq, head of the climate change group at the International Institute for Environment and Development, said Britain should have paid between a fifth and a quarter of the £600m promised to date, based on past contributions to international aid. He said: "Most people in the climate change debate focus on how to cut emissions and how to bring the US, China and India into an agreement. The impact of climate change on poor countries, and the responsibilities of rich countries to help them, gets much less attention." The Department for International Development insisted Britain's share was closer to £30m a year, and that it had "fully met its commitments". It said Britain had given an extra £100m since 2005 to climate change work in the developing world through routes outside the GEF, such as bilateral aid given directly to poor countries.

Huq said this money cannot be counted towards the Bonn agreement because it was part of general overseas aid. "The Bonn agreement is clear that the money paid to help developing countries cope with climate change must be additional. Just counting overseas development aid as money for climate change adaptation cuts no ice and is double counting."

Christian Aid said climate change was already having a devastating impact on poor communities around the world. A report from the charity today says people from Bolivia and Bangladesh to Mali and Tajikistan are being affected. It says: "It is the rural poor who are the most exposed. In many countries, they were struggling with droughts, floods and hurricanes even before climate change started to bite. Now their problems are intensifying."

The fatal shore of Bangladesh

Cyclone Sidr is the latest of a string of disasters to have befallen Bangladesh. Here the Costa-nominated author describes how her country is succumbing to global warming

Tahmima Anam

The Guardian, UK

The first time I heard the word cyclone was in April 1991. My father had just left his job with the United Nations and moved our family back to Bangladesh. We had lived abroad for 14 years, most of my life, and I suddenly found myself returning to a home I hardly knew. It was a long-held dream of my father's to work for a politically neutral daily newspaper in Bangladesh. He had fought in the war of independence, and during our decade and a half in exile he spoke of little else but giving something back to the country. Eventually he realised he would have to start his own newspaper if it was to be truly impartial, and by the summer of 1991 he had convinced a small group of businessmen to support his venture.

And then, by a stroke of fate, Hossain Mohammad Ershad, the military dictator who had ruled Bangladesh for nine years, was overthrown by a grassroots political movement. The newspaper, called the Daily Star, would start its life in a climate of hope and possibility.

Things did not go so well for me in Bangladesh. When asked to introduce myself on the first day of school, I announced how thrilled I was that democracy had finally been restored to Bangladesh after the cruel and pointless reign of the dictator. Freedom had found us at last, I said, parroting what I had heard at home. I didn't know, as I made that speech, that several of my classmates had parents who were in jail for being closely associated with the just-fallen regime. Needless to say, the welcome was less than warm.

There were other discomforts. There was something wrong with the water supply to our flat, and we had to fill vats of water before the pipes shut down at noon. We had an old car, a cast-off from one of my father's newspaper financiers. Being picked up in it was a daily humiliation. Soon, my father said, we'll buy a new car; we'll move somewhere better.

A few months later, cyclone Gorki crashed into the Bay of Bengal. The young reporters at the Daily Star spent weeks on the Chittagong coast, watching the bodies wash up on the shore. The final tally of casualties topped 130,000. Our new car never materialised, its absence marking an era of austerity for us as the newspaper struggled to establish itself.

Gorki was not the deadliest tropical storm to hit the Bangladesh coast - that honour goes to the Bhola cyclone, which struck on November 12, 1970, and claimed almost half a million lives. Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan at the time, and that cyclone was to have political and historic implications. The West Pakistan administration's handling of the disaster ended the illusion that the two wings of Pakistan were equal, and in the general election a month later, the people of East Pakistan overwhelmingly voted for the pro-independence Awami League, setting in motion a chain of events that would lead to the secession of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh.

Cyclone Sidr comes 37 years after Bhola, and 15 years after Gorki. Much has changed in Bangladesh in that time: the warning systems are far more sophisticated, and many millions of people were taken to safety before the worst of the storm could hit. Nonetheless, as winter sets in, there are still a million homeless, and their livelihood - their crops - has been destroyed.

We don't know whether and to what extent global warming is responsible for the severe weather conditions in Bangladesh. There have been deadly storms in the past; no doubt they will occur again. Nonetheless, there is a strong sense that Bangladesh, so vulnerable to sea-level rises, is on the front line of climate change. Whatever may happen to the planet is already happening here.

Our fears of a world submerged - ravaged by nature, catastrophes apocalyptic in scale - are all writ large on this small patch of earth. Entire villages razed to the ground, trees uprooted and flattened, upside-down ships clogging the rivers and knocking against thousands of drowned cattle, shrimp farms washed away, bodies lost at sea: this is a calamity, in a country that has seen more than its share of disasters.

It is easy to develop disaster fatigue when it comes to Bangladesh. I recently met an American journalist who had been reading about the effect of rising sea levels on our low-lying delta. "Where are all those people going to go?" he asked. "That's a lot of refugees."

I wondered if I should be ashamed at coming from such a blighted place, or angry that he should blame us for a chain of events which may have been set in motion by people in other places. The truth is, many of us have already moved away for reasons that have to do with economics and educational opportunities. And now this diasporic community is spearheading a transformation in the way we respond to disasters. Within hours of the news of cyclone Sidr hitting blogs, broadsheets and Blackberries the world over, expatriate Bangladeshis began appealing for aid. Bloggers in Bangladesh sent updates and photographs of the devastation; Paypal accounts were quickly set up, and a debate began about the best way to send money.

A couple of days ago, someone sent a proposal to a mailing list entitled "Sidr cyclone compensation fund". "What do people think of the following idea? Set up a fund, funded totally by expatriates, to pay cash compensation to families of the deceased? If we set a scale - 5,000 taka (£35) for each adult and 2,500 taka (£17.50) for each child." The fundraising target was set at $275,000 (£133,000), to be raised through global appeals.

Other people replied almost immediately. Some were uncomfortable with placing a price on the victims. "Your suggestion is crude," wrote one. "How do we know whether the victims' families are the ones most in need?" Another person responded: "Can we give the money to the women of the household? Less chances of the money being spent on hooch and gambling."

The fund was set up by the following morning. A name was found (United Bangladesh Appeal); $100,000 has already been pledged.

Our ideas of giving are influenced by the new societies of which we in the diaspora have become part. In Bangladesh, a culture that has favoured giving within family networks, the concept of indirect, relatively anonymous charity is new. It has been introduced by the immigrants who live in societies with fundraisers, leaflets in magazines, TV appeals. These learned forms of giving are making their way into Bangladesh and, with more traditional forms of charity, they are making a difference.

At the heart of this campaigning is a strong sense of responsibility for our fragile homeland. Soon after winning the Nobel Peace prize last year, Mohammad Yunus published an article called A Vision for Bangladesh, in which he pointed out a startling fact: expatriate Bangladeshis send more money home per capita than their Chinese and Indian counterparts. Last year, over $5bn went directly into the Bangladeshi economy, sent from Britain, the US, and, most substantially, from the Middle East.

The story of this money, how it is earned, how it is sent to Bangladesh and why, is one that deserves more space than I have here, but no doubt there is a vein of hope and longing running through every dollar earned abroad, saved and sent home.

I have heard countless times over the past week that we should be grateful the death toll was not higher. That the authorities should be praised for their efficiency in warning people and getting them to safety. That it was worse the last time, much worse. But that does not change the fact that over 3,000 people died on November 15; that many more may yet fall victim to this storm, as their water gets contaminated, and because their crops will yield no harvest, because their jobs and homes and cows have gone. Of course it matters that the situation was not worse. But it is bad enough.

Sixteen years ago my father moved us to Bangladesh believing his country desperately needed him. We were also an example of the fact that immigration occurs in both directions. If extreme weather continues to ravage our country, where will we all go? Far afield, no doubt. But we return home, in person, in the money we send, the tears we shed, the longing in our hearts for a land that is vulnerable - both to the vagaries of fate, and to the destruction that we, collectively, are wreaking upon the world.

· Tahmima Anam's A Golden Age, shortlisted for the Costa first novel award, is published by John Murray

Under the weather

November 1970
A cyclone with 222km winds causes a 20ft tidal surge and kills 500,000 people.

July 1974
Severe flood devastates the grain crop, leading to an estimated 28,000 deaths.

Floods cover three-quarters of the country, killing more than 5,000 and leaving millions homeless.

April 1991
A cyclonic 15ft tidal wave kills up to 138,000.

Flooding from July 12 to September 14 covers 67% of the country, killing 1,200 and causing damage worth $14.5bn.

November 15 2007
Cyclone Sidr hits Bangladesh, killing at least 3,200 and leaving more than two million struggling for necessities such as food, water, shelter and medicines.

· Isabelle Chevallot

Cutting forests for farmland 'yields meagre financial benefits'

From: Ella Syafputri, Science and Development Network

Nairobi, Kenya - Converting Indonesian forests and peatlands for various agricultural land uses has released huge amounts of greenhouse gases with little economic benefit, according to a new report.

The report, by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and Indonesian partners, was released last week (21 November).Data on changes in land use — such as deforestation for oil palm, rubber, coffee and mixed agroforestry — and carbon emissions in the provinces of East Kalimantan, Jambi, and Lampung were collected between 1990 and 2005.

The provinces make up 16 per cent of Indonesia and account for 16 per cent of the country's emissions, so they are considered relatively representative.

Researchers found that less than two per cent of the 400 megatonnes that the provinces emit per year, largely through 'slash and burn' land clearing, yield a clear economic benefit of more than US$15 per tonne of carbon dioxide.

But sustainable economic benefits can be achieved with low carbon emissions, says Sonya Dewi, head of the Spatial Analysis Unit of ICRAF. She said in a press release that high prices for palm oil and rubber means these crops can be profitable and that using land with low original biomass makes their cultivation environmentally feasible.

Greenomics Indonesia executive director, Elfian Effendi, says the government of Indonesia should use the country's potential for reducing emissions to benefit economically.

Indonesia has 36.5 million hectares of prime rainforest and conservation areas, the economic value of which is estimated at US$105–113.7 billion in carbon trading schemes.

The country's 38.7 million hectares of productive timber forest could add another US$111.46–120.74 billion, bringing total economic benefits from Indonesia's function as a carbon sink to US$216.4–234.4 billion.

Effendi also suggests that Indonesia should be compensated for not releasing 7,000 megatonnes of carbon stored in its forest and peatlands.

Meine van Noordwijk, regional coordinator for the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) said that international mechanisms — to be discussed at the upcoming UN Climate Change meeting in Bali— must not only look at forests but all types of land for their potential to reduce emissions.

India to tell West to shoulder climate change burden

From: Reuters


By Jonathan Allen

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is likely to stick by its pledge to keep its carbon emissions per person lower than those of the rich world at next week's climate change talks in Indonesia, according to policy advisers.

It might seem like an easy promise to make for now: the average American emits 20 times more carbon than the average Indian, not least because more than 600 million Indians still live in homes without so much as a lightbulb, according to government data.

But the pledge is the closest India has come -- and is likely to come for now -- to agreeing to measurable targets, underlining its emphasis on the idea that polluting, industrialized nations must shoulder the greater burden in reducing emissions.

The absence of such targets for developing nations like India and China has long been a sticking point with the United States, and was one reason it remained outside the Kyoto Protocol, which binds 36 rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

India is expected to negotiate from this position as it meets with about 190 nations in Bali this month to begin a two year process to find a new agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

"The prime minister has said that we will make our development path in such a careful way that 20, 30 years down the line we still don't cross the per-capita emissions of the developed world," Jayant Mauskar, a senior environment ministry official, told Reuters.

India's widely awaited climate change strategy is yet to be published, but Mauskar said this idea remained the "bedrock" of India's position.

"It provides a challenge to the developed countries," said Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian scientist and member of the prime minister's climate change council.

"If they want India to reduce or limit its emissions, they need to ensure that they provide the bar that must never be crossed."


Pachuari, who was jointly awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize as the head of the U.N. climate change panel, said it could prove a meaningful commitment in the long-term.

"If some countries are talking about emission cuts of up to 80 percent by 2050 then it really could become a challenge for India," he said.

Looked at from one angle, India is the world's fourth largest emitter of the greenhouse gases believed to be the cause of climate change. But India prefers to think of itself as representing about a sixth of humanity, yet responsible for only about a twentieth of global emissions.

Most other countries agree with this view, and accept that India must be allowed to burn more energy as it tries to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty.

This gives India a strong position in Bali from which it can demand greater action from rich nations, environmentalists say.

India also deserves some praise for leading the developing world in introducing clean-development policies, said Shruti Shukla of environmental group WWF, even if the policies are sometimes slow in becoming ground realities.

Climate change is expected to have an especially disastrous impact on India. Exacerbated droughts and floods would hurt the two-thirds of Indians who depend on farming for a living.

"I don't know why everybody's hung up on mitigation," said the environment ministry's Mauskar. "Adaptation is the first thing we have to tackle."

He repeated India's claim that it is forced to spend around 2 percent of its gross national product -- or 12 percent of its annual budget -- on dealing with the effects of climate change.

But many people see these figures as over-inflated, as they include its spending on things like anti-malaria and anti-poverty programs, which India would have to deal with regardless of climate change.

(Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Jerry Norton)


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