Tag Archives: Political action

Political lobbying buys off climate law

When it comes to influence, big bucks are hard to beat. Climate campaigners can learn from a study of US political lobbying.

LONDON, 4 June, 2019 − Big money talks loudest. A decade ago Washington saw political lobbying spend $700 million to influence the political shape and progress of the American Clean Energy and Security Act – and significantly reduce its chances of success.

The reward for the investment was a 13% reduction in its chances of progress into law. The pay-off for the rest of humanity was, at a conservative estimate, an extra $60 billion worth of climate damages from future superstorms, droughts and heatwaves associated with global heating.

The political initiative was at the time the most prominent and promising US climate regulation legislation so far on the books. It failed.

“The popular media widely postulated at the time that oppositional political interests played a key role in the bill’s demise,” say two US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If valid, this points to lobbying as an explanation for why so few climate change regulations are enacted. It also provides an example in which lobbying had welfare consequences by reducing the likelihood of enacting a socially beneficial policy.”

“There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences”

That political persuaders, funded ultimately by the fossil fuel industries or think-tanks and associations that act for them, can affect the political process is not news. Research has at least twice linked the strident voice of climate denial with very big corporations or unexplained sources of funding.

And the lobby industry in Washington has been linked with systematic attempts to muddy or cast doubt upon the science that now comprehensively supports evidence of human-triggered and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Since then, President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, backed in 2015 by 195 nations, and the US Department of Energy has started to rebrand the potent greenhouse gas methane as the “freedom molecule” in a bid to give an exported fossil fuel a more wholesome reputation.

“There has been a striking disconnect between what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and what has actually been done to date,” said Kyle Meng, of the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. “There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences.”

But all political decisions involve compromise and there are many reasons why legislation can fail. Dr Meng and his co-author played statistical games with the available evidence to make calculations of the chances of success for the so-called 2009-2010 Waxman-Markey Bill that would have become the American Clean Energy and Security Act had it been passed.

Reduced chances

They made judgements about how successful legislation would affect the stock prices of businesses that were involved in lobbying congress and senate. They calculated that the bill had about a 55% chance of adoption, and used available data to calculate that big business which might have been affected by the bill in various ways spent $700 million on trying to influence the politicians.

And they found that lobbying by corporations that might expect to lose was more effective than lobbying by those businesses that might gain from successful legislation, and in effect reduced the bill’s chances of success to 42%.

They then used the same statistical logic to set a total for the extra “social cost” of greenhouse gases in terms of damage to human health, agriculture, insurance costs and so on: a total, they calculate, of $60bn at 2018 prices.

There are always problems with this kind of “what if?” or counter-factual research, and the authors concede the need for caution. But they argue that lessons can be learned about the way such legislation should be drawn up in the first place.

“Our findings also provide a glimmer of hope by paving a path toward politically more robust climate policies,” Dr Meng said. “Subtle design changes to market-based climate policies can alleviate political opposition and increase chances of adoption.” − Climate News Network

When it comes to influence, big bucks are hard to beat. Climate campaigners can learn from a study of US political lobbying.

LONDON, 4 June, 2019 − Big money talks loudest. A decade ago Washington saw political lobbying spend $700 million to influence the political shape and progress of the American Clean Energy and Security Act – and significantly reduce its chances of success.

The reward for the investment was a 13% reduction in its chances of progress into law. The pay-off for the rest of humanity was, at a conservative estimate, an extra $60 billion worth of climate damages from future superstorms, droughts and heatwaves associated with global heating.

The political initiative was at the time the most prominent and promising US climate regulation legislation so far on the books. It failed.

“The popular media widely postulated at the time that oppositional political interests played a key role in the bill’s demise,” say two US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“If valid, this points to lobbying as an explanation for why so few climate change regulations are enacted. It also provides an example in which lobbying had welfare consequences by reducing the likelihood of enacting a socially beneficial policy.”

“There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences”

That political persuaders, funded ultimately by the fossil fuel industries or think-tanks and associations that act for them, can affect the political process is not news. Research has at least twice linked the strident voice of climate denial with very big corporations or unexplained sources of funding.

And the lobby industry in Washington has been linked with systematic attempts to muddy or cast doubt upon the science that now comprehensively supports evidence of human-triggered and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Since then, President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, backed in 2015 by 195 nations, and the US Department of Energy has started to rebrand the potent greenhouse gas methane as the “freedom molecule” in a bid to give an exported fossil fuel a more wholesome reputation.

“There has been a striking disconnect between what is needed to avoid dangerous climate change and what has actually been done to date,” said Kyle Meng, of the University of Southern California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. “There is increasing concern that this lack of climate action may be due to political influences.”

But all political decisions involve compromise and there are many reasons why legislation can fail. Dr Meng and his co-author played statistical games with the available evidence to make calculations of the chances of success for the so-called 2009-2010 Waxman-Markey Bill that would have become the American Clean Energy and Security Act had it been passed.

Reduced chances

They made judgements about how successful legislation would affect the stock prices of businesses that were involved in lobbying congress and senate. They calculated that the bill had about a 55% chance of adoption, and used available data to calculate that big business which might have been affected by the bill in various ways spent $700 million on trying to influence the politicians.

And they found that lobbying by corporations that might expect to lose was more effective than lobbying by those businesses that might gain from successful legislation, and in effect reduced the bill’s chances of success to 42%.

They then used the same statistical logic to set a total for the extra “social cost” of greenhouse gases in terms of damage to human health, agriculture, insurance costs and so on: a total, they calculate, of $60bn at 2018 prices.

There are always problems with this kind of “what if?” or counter-factual research, and the authors concede the need for caution. But they argue that lessons can be learned about the way such legislation should be drawn up in the first place.

“Our findings also provide a glimmer of hope by paving a path toward politically more robust climate policies,” Dr Meng said. “Subtle design changes to market-based climate policies can alleviate political opposition and increase chances of adoption.” − Climate News Network

Brazil spurns do-it-yourself solar power

Brazilian Customs imagine that parts for a do-it-yourself solar power scheme in remote communities are luxury goods and tax them accordingly.

SÃO PAULO, 16 May, 2019 − Cheap and simple do-it-yourself solar power sounds a good way to help poor communities. But try telling that to Brazil’s customs authority.

Since 2009, when the government of President Lula launched a national programme called Luz para Todos  (Light for All), Brazil has extended electricity to almost all corners of this vast country. The extra costs of extending the grid to more distant regions has been spread among all users.

But 47 localities, with a total population of 3 million people, still remain unconnected to the national grid, most of them in small, remote communities in the Amazon.

They include the 300,000 or so residents of Boa Vista, capital of the northernmost state of Roraima, which gets most of its energy from a hydro-electric dam across the border in Venezuela.

Long haul for oil

But with that country experiencing increasing chaos, with frequent blackouts, the supply has become unstable. When the power goes down, expensive thermo-electric plants running on diesel oil must be used, the oil brought by road from Manaus, 750 kms (465 miles) south.

Although Roraima enjoys even more hours of sunshine and strong winds than the rest of Brazil, these renewable alternatives have been largely ignored.

Boa Vista, though, is an exception. Most of those unconnected to the national grid live in small, isolated communities in the Amazon region. Some have diesel-powered generators, noisy, polluting and expensive, switched on for only 2 or 3 hours a day.

The disadvantages of living without a regular supply of energy are many – children cannot study at night, food cannot be preserved in fridges or freezers, fish catches cannot be sold, because without a freezer they will rot.

Health posts cannot stock medicines or vaccines. There is no TV, no access to the internet. Without a pump, people spend a lot of time on activities like carrying water.

“Inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items”

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has plans to “universalise” energy provision, linking even these remote communities to the national grid within the next ten years. In some places photovoltaic panels have been installed, but their maintenance depends on technical assistance from the nearest town, which can be several hours’ boat ride away.

The proposed privatisation of the national energy company Eletrobras could also see an end to the plan to provide universal access, because profit-making companies will not want to spread the costs through higher tariffs.

Villi Seilert, a solar energy researcher, believes this top-down solution is not the answer. Together with engineer Edson Kenji Kondo, of the Universidade Católica de Brasília, he has developed what they call a social solar factory, a system of mini-factories which can be based in low-income communities, making cheap solar panels.

The idea was born during a project for start-ups developing innovative projects in the context of climate change, which at the same time offered decent jobs to people on low incomes.

At first they made solar panels out of recycled cartons. Then they developed a wafer thin panel with 6 photovoltaic cells, just 4.55 mm thick and weighing only 1.75 kg., making it easy to transport and mount. This is called the i920W-Slim.

Meeting basic needs

A micro-system of these panels mounted on a roof generates 165 kilowatts of electricity a month, the average consumption of a low-income family in Brazil.

The idea is that local communities will easily be able to understand the technology, produce their own panels and generate their own electricity, without depending on outside companies or technicians.

Seilert reckons that 1,000 such mini-factories could be installed in 5 years – providing not only energy, but jobs as well.

He says two monitors could train up to 10 people in a six-day course, covering general principles, soldering techniques and mounting circuits.

The training venue and the factory can be set up in any available covered space. The kiln for firing the glass can be a pizza oven with a temperature regulator, transportable in the back of a car. Each panel will cost about US$40, $28 of it for components, including several that have to be imported from China.

Unfortunately, and inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items, not basic elements for a low-cost energy system.

Little help offered

The basic cost of setting up a social solar factory varies between $2,000 and $3,000, plus the cost of accumulators or storage batteries.

Seilert is hoping to persuade local authorities, NGOs and local communities to give his project a go. He is trying to persuade the customs authority to lower the import tariff on the imported components, which would reduce the overall cost.

But while solar energy is definitely gaining ground in Brazil, with projects springing up in different places, the government remains wedded to the fossil fuel economy, unwilling to offer to renewables even a fraction of the subsidies, incentives and tax holidays they give to that sector.

So it is left to pioneers like Seilert to battle for recognition, and to NGOs and enlightened local authorities to fund projects,.One of the few mini-factories to have been successfully installed is in a prison in the central state of Minas Gerais, where inmates near the end of their sentences learn to make the solar panels. − Climate News Network

Brazilian Customs imagine that parts for a do-it-yourself solar power scheme in remote communities are luxury goods and tax them accordingly.

SÃO PAULO, 16 May, 2019 − Cheap and simple do-it-yourself solar power sounds a good way to help poor communities. But try telling that to Brazil’s customs authority.

Since 2009, when the government of President Lula launched a national programme called Luz para Todos  (Light for All), Brazil has extended electricity to almost all corners of this vast country. The extra costs of extending the grid to more distant regions has been spread among all users.

But 47 localities, with a total population of 3 million people, still remain unconnected to the national grid, most of them in small, remote communities in the Amazon.

They include the 300,000 or so residents of Boa Vista, capital of the northernmost state of Roraima, which gets most of its energy from a hydro-electric dam across the border in Venezuela.

Long haul for oil

But with that country experiencing increasing chaos, with frequent blackouts, the supply has become unstable. When the power goes down, expensive thermo-electric plants running on diesel oil must be used, the oil brought by road from Manaus, 750 kms (465 miles) south.

Although Roraima enjoys even more hours of sunshine and strong winds than the rest of Brazil, these renewable alternatives have been largely ignored.

Boa Vista, though, is an exception. Most of those unconnected to the national grid live in small, isolated communities in the Amazon region. Some have diesel-powered generators, noisy, polluting and expensive, switched on for only 2 or 3 hours a day.

The disadvantages of living without a regular supply of energy are many – children cannot study at night, food cannot be preserved in fridges or freezers, fish catches cannot be sold, because without a freezer they will rot.

Health posts cannot stock medicines or vaccines. There is no TV, no access to the internet. Without a pump, people spend a lot of time on activities like carrying water.

“Inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items”

The Ministry of Mines and Energy has plans to “universalise” energy provision, linking even these remote communities to the national grid within the next ten years. In some places photovoltaic panels have been installed, but their maintenance depends on technical assistance from the nearest town, which can be several hours’ boat ride away.

The proposed privatisation of the national energy company Eletrobras could also see an end to the plan to provide universal access, because profit-making companies will not want to spread the costs through higher tariffs.

Villi Seilert, a solar energy researcher, believes this top-down solution is not the answer. Together with engineer Edson Kenji Kondo, of the Universidade Católica de Brasília, he has developed what they call a social solar factory, a system of mini-factories which can be based in low-income communities, making cheap solar panels.

The idea was born during a project for start-ups developing innovative projects in the context of climate change, which at the same time offered decent jobs to people on low incomes.

At first they made solar panels out of recycled cartons. Then they developed a wafer thin panel with 6 photovoltaic cells, just 4.55 mm thick and weighing only 1.75 kg., making it easy to transport and mount. This is called the i920W-Slim.

Meeting basic needs

A micro-system of these panels mounted on a roof generates 165 kilowatts of electricity a month, the average consumption of a low-income family in Brazil.

The idea is that local communities will easily be able to understand the technology, produce their own panels and generate their own electricity, without depending on outside companies or technicians.

Seilert reckons that 1,000 such mini-factories could be installed in 5 years – providing not only energy, but jobs as well.

He says two monitors could train up to 10 people in a six-day course, covering general principles, soldering techniques and mounting circuits.

The training venue and the factory can be set up in any available covered space. The kiln for firing the glass can be a pizza oven with a temperature regulator, transportable in the back of a car. Each panel will cost about US$40, $28 of it for components, including several that have to be imported from China.

Unfortunately, and inexplicably, the Brazilian Customs authority insists on taxing these imported components at 50%, as though they are luxury items, not basic elements for a low-cost energy system.

Little help offered

The basic cost of setting up a social solar factory varies between $2,000 and $3,000, plus the cost of accumulators or storage batteries.

Seilert is hoping to persuade local authorities, NGOs and local communities to give his project a go. He is trying to persuade the customs authority to lower the import tariff on the imported components, which would reduce the overall cost.

But while solar energy is definitely gaining ground in Brazil, with projects springing up in different places, the government remains wedded to the fossil fuel economy, unwilling to offer to renewables even a fraction of the subsidies, incentives and tax holidays they give to that sector.

So it is left to pioneers like Seilert to battle for recognition, and to NGOs and enlightened local authorities to fund projects,.One of the few mini-factories to have been successfully installed is in a prison in the central state of Minas Gerais, where inmates near the end of their sentences learn to make the solar panels. − Climate News Network

UK climate emergency is official policy

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

It says: “We conclude that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective: necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement; feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government; cost-effective – because of falls in the cost of key technologies.”

The CCC says striving to reach the target would bring “real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities for clean growth. The science demands it; we must start at once. There is no time to lose.”

“ . . . it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government”

The problem for the government is that its current policies are chaotic and fall well short of reaching the existing target of 80% cuts by 2050, let alone the 100% the committee now proposes. Currently the government is expected to miss its existing 2025 and 2030 targets as well.

This is because there is no sign of the “strong leadership” the committee says is required, and all policy is at a standstill because the government is still mired in the Brexit controversy. It has no coherent energy policy, has cut schemes for energy efficiency and virtually banned on-shore wind power. In April ministers abolished subsidies for solar power.

The only bright spot for renewables is that the UK has the largest off-shore wind industry in the world, which is growing at a great pace and is encouraged by the government, although at the same time the Conservatives support fracking for gas and give large tax breaks and subsidies to the North Sea oil and gas sector.
It also has a policy to nearly double the size of London’s main airport, Heathrow, by building an extra runway, which will increase the already excessive air pollution in the capital and add to UK emissions generally.

Tytus Murphy, campaigner for 350.Org, a climate campaign, said after the climate emergency vote: “Now that Parliament has officially recognised the true scale of the climate crisis they must take appropriate measures. Across the UK people are demanding that MPs take emergency action to stop emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Huge change needed

“This requires an immediate and permanent ban on fracking, bringing the North Sea oil and gas sector into managed decline, kicking the third runway at Heathrow into the tall grass, ending UK finance that funds fossil fuel exploration and extraction around the world, and divesting pension funds from fossil fuel companies.”

Although many Conservative MPs are keen to take action on climate change, it will need a massive U-turn to change government policy on Heathrow expansion and building new motorways. There is also a rump of right-wing MPs in the party who still refuse to accept climate change as a fact.

Business leaders are backing the 2050 zero emissions target, including giants like Siemens, Legal and General and Coca-Cola. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “The [committee’s] recommendation marks a new dawn for climate change action”. What was needed was timely policy from government to implement it.

Extinction Rebellion, the group that through its actions showed the strength of public feeling on the issue, said the 2050 date for zero emissions was too little, too late, and they were clearly distrustful of the government taking any of the necessary action.

Delayed targets rejected

It seems likely that the group will plan more actions unless the government acts quickly. Nuala Gathercole Lam of XR said: “While we welcome the fact that MPs are talking about the emergency, change must start now. Targets that are set for 50 years in the future do not match the scale of the emergency.”

In a statement XR said: “Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the sixth mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

“Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government.”

The organisation’s key demands are that the government “tell the truth” about the climate emergency; act to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and form a citizens’ assembly on climate to lead on the issue. − Climate News Network

Major changes in the government’s policy on fossil fuels will be vital to tackling the UK climate emergency that Parliament has recognised.

LONDON, 3 May, 2019 − The United Kingdom has taken a potentially momentous policy decision: it says there is a UK climate emergency.

On 1 May British members of Parliament (MPs) became the world’s first national legislature to declare a formal climate and environment emergency, saying they hoped they could work with like-minded countries across the world to take action to avoid more than 1.5°C of global warming.

No-one yet knows what will be the practical result of the resolution proposed by Jeremy Corbyn, the Opposition Labour leader, but UK politicians were under pressure to act following a series of high-profile strikes by school students in recent months and demonstrations by a new climate protest organisation, Extinction Rebellion (XR),  whose supporters closed roads in the centre of London for a week.

The Conservative government ordered its MPs not to oppose the Labour resolution, and it was passed without a vote.

Zero carbon by 2050

Hours after the MPs’ decision, a long-awaited detailed report by the government’s official advisors, the Committee on Climate Change, was published. It recommends cutting the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The current target is 80%.

The report says the government should accept the new target immediately, pass it into law in the next few months and begin to implement policies to achieve it. The committee says that will mean the end of petrol and diesel cars on British roads, a cut in meat consumption, an end to gas boilers for heating buildings, planting 1.5 billion trees to store carbon, a vast increase in renewable energy, and many other measures.

It says: “We conclude that net zero is necessary, feasible and cost-effective: necessary – to respond to the overwhelming evidence of the role of greenhouse gases in driving global climate change, and to meet the UK’s commitments as a signatory of the 2015 Paris Agreement; feasible – because the technologies and approaches that will deliver net zero are now understood and can be implemented with strong leadership from government; cost-effective – because of falls in the cost of key technologies.”

The CCC says striving to reach the target would bring “real benefits to UK citizens: cleaner air, healthier diets, improved health and new economic opportunities for clean growth. The science demands it; we must start at once. There is no time to lose.”

“ . . . it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government”

The problem for the government is that its current policies are chaotic and fall well short of reaching the existing target of 80% cuts by 2050, let alone the 100% the committee now proposes. Currently the government is expected to miss its existing 2025 and 2030 targets as well.

This is because there is no sign of the “strong leadership” the committee says is required, and all policy is at a standstill because the government is still mired in the Brexit controversy. It has no coherent energy policy, has cut schemes for energy efficiency and virtually banned on-shore wind power. In April ministers abolished subsidies for solar power.

The only bright spot for renewables is that the UK has the largest off-shore wind industry in the world, which is growing at a great pace and is encouraged by the government, although at the same time the Conservatives support fracking for gas and give large tax breaks and subsidies to the North Sea oil and gas sector.
It also has a policy to nearly double the size of London’s main airport, Heathrow, by building an extra runway, which will increase the already excessive air pollution in the capital and add to UK emissions generally.

Tytus Murphy, campaigner for 350.Org, a climate campaign, said after the climate emergency vote: “Now that Parliament has officially recognised the true scale of the climate crisis they must take appropriate measures. Across the UK people are demanding that MPs take emergency action to stop emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Huge change needed

“This requires an immediate and permanent ban on fracking, bringing the North Sea oil and gas sector into managed decline, kicking the third runway at Heathrow into the tall grass, ending UK finance that funds fossil fuel exploration and extraction around the world, and divesting pension funds from fossil fuel companies.”

Although many Conservative MPs are keen to take action on climate change, it will need a massive U-turn to change government policy on Heathrow expansion and building new motorways. There is also a rump of right-wing MPs in the party who still refuse to accept climate change as a fact.

Business leaders are backing the 2050 zero emissions target, including giants like Siemens, Legal and General and Coca-Cola. Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist of the Confederation of British Industry, said: “The [committee’s] recommendation marks a new dawn for climate change action”. What was needed was timely policy from government to implement it.

Extinction Rebellion, the group that through its actions showed the strength of public feeling on the issue, said the 2050 date for zero emissions was too little, too late, and they were clearly distrustful of the government taking any of the necessary action.

Delayed targets rejected

It seems likely that the group will plan more actions unless the government acts quickly. Nuala Gathercole Lam of XR said: “While we welcome the fact that MPs are talking about the emergency, change must start now. Targets that are set for 50 years in the future do not match the scale of the emergency.”

In a statement XR said: “Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the sixth mass species extinction and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

“Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their government.”

The organisation’s key demands are that the government “tell the truth” about the climate emergency; act to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and form a citizens’ assembly on climate to lead on the issue. − Climate News Network

Green New Deal aims for triple payback

Support is growing for a plan to tackle climate change, our economic crisis and deepening social divisions together − the Green New Deal.

LONDON, 18 March, 2019 − If you haven’t yet heard of the Green New Deal, chances are that you soon will. To its growing band of supporters, it looks like an idea whose time has come.

Just suppose we could see a  way to transform the global economy, society and even the environment so that they met real needs, and promised to go on doing so far into the future. Well, we can. And it’s growing simpler all the time, futurologists say.

The bad news? Inertia and resistance. Too few of us think we really need a transformation. Too many are actively trying to prevent one. No change there then − except that the balance may be starting to shift, thanks largely to science and money − and ordinary people who are refusing to go on as we are.

Supporters of the Green New Deal say we don’t have to look very far ahead for results − no further than about mid-century.

By then, some of them told The New Yorker magazine, much of the world should be able to achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions, a goal for which they say the world already has about 90-95% of the technology it needs.

Technological gallop

One problem often raised is the need to store the power produced by wind and solar power, which may be inconveniently unavailable just when it’s needed. But even here there are hopeful signs that the galloping pace of technological advance may soon have an answer in the form of greatly improved batteries.

The Deal’s supporters are not the first to claim we’re most of the way towards a carbon-free future in 30 years, and possibly well before that. But this Deal, itself a reminder of US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1933 New Deal, explores more ambitious territory still, with the prospect of also ensuring a living wage job for everyone who wants one and reducing racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth.

To make any headway the new Deal will need strong political backing. Here it’s had a stroke of luck, being identified with the arrival in Washington DC of the politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress.

There are signs across the Atlantic of mounting involvement in the ideas spelt out in the Green New Deal, incorporating lessons learned from France, for instance, and the experience of Germany.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs … The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere”

In Britain a rising star of the parliamentary opposition, Clive Lewis, the shadow sustainable economy minister, told a recent meeting: “The green economy will simply be ‘the economy’ under the next Labour government”.

The British economist Ann Pettifor, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, describes the Green New Deal as “incredibly ambitious . . . a huge advance for green campaigners and, hopefully, for our threatened species.”  Pettifor was co-author of the original Green New Deal Report, published in the UK in 2008, which in many ways prefigured the present US initiative.

Her fellow co-author was Andrew Simms, now co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), an enthusiastic backer of Ocasio-Cortez’ vision.

The RTA says: “Like the UK proposal, [the Deal] seeks to tackle the climate and economic crisis simultaneously and looks at job creation, decarbonising electricity, renovating buildings for energy efficiency and much more.

Affordable

“A Green New Deal today would cost no more than [Roosevelt’s] New Deal, less than the 2008 bailouts, and see off the worst effects of the climate crisis.”

Simms told the Climate News Network: “What does it actually look like to start transforming our economies to prevent climate breakdown and meet the internationally agreed climate targets?

“Practically it looks like a Green New Deal − a programme that meets our economic, social and environmental needs at the same time − a ‘win, win, win’ package of measures.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs by building the low-carbon infrastructures which respect environmental limits and are vital to modern economies − renewable energy, zero carbon homes, efficient and clean mass transport systems delivered by switching investments from old, dirty ways of doing things and with innovative financial mechanisms. The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere.”

Obstacles remain

Perhaps an idea which puts the environment, the economy and social justice together can hope to mobilise mass support in a way the three distinct groups have so far not managed to achieve − especially when it exploits the potential of new technology and falling costs. But there’s still political inertia to reckon with, and financial self-interest.

Even there, change may be afoot. A British group of scientists, activists and one former archbishop of Canterbury, ExtinctionRebellion, has been staging audacious public protests in the UK for four months now, and started a spring uprising on 16 March, giving no sign yet of succumbing to inertia.

And resistance to the very idea that the world needs an energy transformation? A brief online search for the way parts of the fossil fuel industry continue to challenge and decry climate science suggests change could be coming there too. One example from the US site Inside Climate News shows the deniers are facing challenges of their own.

Change on the scale envisaged by the Green New Deal is certainly demanding, but it will be far less so than refusing to change. − Climate News Network

* * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Support is growing for a plan to tackle climate change, our economic crisis and deepening social divisions together − the Green New Deal.

LONDON, 18 March, 2019 − If you haven’t yet heard of the Green New Deal, chances are that you soon will. To its growing band of supporters, it looks like an idea whose time has come.

Just suppose we could see a  way to transform the global economy, society and even the environment so that they met real needs, and promised to go on doing so far into the future. Well, we can. And it’s growing simpler all the time, futurologists say.

The bad news? Inertia and resistance. Too few of us think we really need a transformation. Too many are actively trying to prevent one. No change there then − except that the balance may be starting to shift, thanks largely to science and money − and ordinary people who are refusing to go on as we are.

Supporters of the Green New Deal say we don’t have to look very far ahead for results − no further than about mid-century.

By then, some of them told The New Yorker magazine, much of the world should be able to achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions, a goal for which they say the world already has about 90-95% of the technology it needs.

Technological gallop

One problem often raised is the need to store the power produced by wind and solar power, which may be inconveniently unavailable just when it’s needed. But even here there are hopeful signs that the galloping pace of technological advance may soon have an answer in the form of greatly improved batteries.

The Deal’s supporters are not the first to claim we’re most of the way towards a carbon-free future in 30 years, and possibly well before that. But this Deal, itself a reminder of US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s 1933 New Deal, explores more ambitious territory still, with the prospect of also ensuring a living wage job for everyone who wants one and reducing racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth.

To make any headway the new Deal will need strong political backing. Here it’s had a stroke of luck, being identified with the arrival in Washington DC of the politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress.

There are signs across the Atlantic of mounting involvement in the ideas spelt out in the Green New Deal, incorporating lessons learned from France, for instance, and the experience of Germany.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs … The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere”

In Britain a rising star of the parliamentary opposition, Clive Lewis, the shadow sustainable economy minister, told a recent meeting: “The green economy will simply be ‘the economy’ under the next Labour government”.

The British economist Ann Pettifor, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation, describes the Green New Deal as “incredibly ambitious . . . a huge advance for green campaigners and, hopefully, for our threatened species.”  Pettifor was co-author of the original Green New Deal Report, published in the UK in 2008, which in many ways prefigured the present US initiative.

Her fellow co-author was Andrew Simms, now co-ordinator of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), an enthusiastic backer of Ocasio-Cortez’ vision.

The RTA says: “Like the UK proposal, [the Deal] seeks to tackle the climate and economic crisis simultaneously and looks at job creation, decarbonising electricity, renovating buildings for energy efficiency and much more.

Affordable

“A Green New Deal today would cost no more than [Roosevelt’s] New Deal, less than the 2008 bailouts, and see off the worst effects of the climate crisis.”

Simms told the Climate News Network: “What does it actually look like to start transforming our economies to prevent climate breakdown and meet the internationally agreed climate targets?

“Practically it looks like a Green New Deal − a programme that meets our economic, social and environmental needs at the same time − a ‘win, win, win’ package of measures.

“Any Green New Deal worthy of the name creates millions of ‘green collar’ jobs by building the low-carbon infrastructures which respect environmental limits and are vital to modern economies − renewable energy, zero carbon homes, efficient and clean mass transport systems delivered by switching investments from old, dirty ways of doing things and with innovative financial mechanisms. The opportunities are immediate, needed and everywhere.”

Obstacles remain

Perhaps an idea which puts the environment, the economy and social justice together can hope to mobilise mass support in a way the three distinct groups have so far not managed to achieve − especially when it exploits the potential of new technology and falling costs. But there’s still political inertia to reckon with, and financial self-interest.

Even there, change may be afoot. A British group of scientists, activists and one former archbishop of Canterbury, ExtinctionRebellion, has been staging audacious public protests in the UK for four months now, and started a spring uprising on 16 March, giving no sign yet of succumbing to inertia.

And resistance to the very idea that the world needs an energy transformation? A brief online search for the way parts of the fossil fuel industry continue to challenge and decry climate science suggests change could be coming there too. One example from the US site Inside Climate News shows the deniers are facing challenges of their own.

Change on the scale envisaged by the Green New Deal is certainly demanding, but it will be far less so than refusing to change. − Climate News Network

* * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Uncertain futures warn world to act as one

Different computer simulations deliver variant and uncertain futures. One research team has studied millions. And in most cases the outlook remains ominous.

LONDON, 15 March, 2019 − US scientists have peered ahead in more than five million ways, and they do not like the uncertain futures they see there. Unless the world collectively and in concert takes drastic steps to slow or halt global warming, generations to come face an intolerable prospect.

And even if humans do switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, economise on resources and restore the world’s forests and grasslands, there is still no guarantee that disaster will not happen.

That is because the outcome depends not just on the steps humans take now, but on one of the great, unresolved scientific questions: just how sensitive is climate to shifts in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

If sensitivity is low, and humankind acts effectively and immediately, the future could be tolerable. But in a total of 5,200,000 computer-generated scenarios involving population growth, economic development, the role of carbon in the economy and the levels of climate sensitivity, this happens only relatively infrequently.

“If large abatement efforts are undertaken, warming is generally limited and damages are low. However, aggressive abatement action does not guarantee a ‘tolerable’ future,” the scientists write, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Good luck needed

“Our simple analysis shows that, to achieve a tolerable future, we must also have the good fortune of living in a world with low climate sensitivity. Failure to rapidly increase abatement all but guarantees failure over a very wide range of climate sensitivities.

“We show that our generation has an important responsibility to ensure that coming generations have a tolerable future.”

And they conclude: “It is still, however, a gamble that depends on how sensitive the climate turns out to be and how soon the promises of negative emissions materialise, but we show immediate rapid growth in abatement remains our safest course of action.”

At the heart of all such studies is the question: how much time does human society have before climate change becomes dangerous and inevitable?

The scientists defined “tolerable” as a future in which global warming stopped, by 2100, at 2°C or less above historic levels, a future 195 nations have already agreed to work for in Paris in 2015.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action”

To achieve this tolerable future, the scientists reasoned that the cost of abatement should be no more than 3% of the gross world product, and the damage wrought by climate change no more than 2%. Then they considered 24 levels of uncertainty in what they call the “human-Earth system” and generated their vast number of possible outcomes.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have already soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have soared with them, to around 1°C above the average for most of human history.

Climate scientists have already identified the costs of “intolerable” climate change. They warn that as the thermometer rises, so does the threat of devastating famine. Extremes of heat become increasingly lethal. Floods could become more devastating and sea levels rise  dangerously. Drought, rising temperatures and food shortages are likely to create the conditions for  dangerous conflict.

But in 2019 greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels  are likely to be higher than ever. The world is already midway through the hottest decade since records began. And the planet could tip the 1.5°C global average temperature rise – the target proposed in Paris – in the next decade.

No reassurance

The consequences of accelerated global warming could be calamitous, but there is still argument about the rate of change, the role of the natural cycles in atmosphere and ocean that influence climate, the scale of hazard to human civilisation and the nature of the steps vital to contain warming.

So the US researchers decided to look at the whole range of possible future outcomes. Their answers are not reassuring.

The message is that either global economies react now – at considerable cost and for no immediate reward – or that future generations must pay what could be a wretched price for present inaction.

“Despite massive uncertainties in a multitude of sectors, human actions are still the driving factor in determining the long-term climate,” said Jonathan Lamontagne, a civil engineer at Tufts University in Massachusetts, who led the study.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action.” − Climate News Network

Different computer simulations deliver variant and uncertain futures. One research team has studied millions. And in most cases the outlook remains ominous.

LONDON, 15 March, 2019 − US scientists have peered ahead in more than five million ways, and they do not like the uncertain futures they see there. Unless the world collectively and in concert takes drastic steps to slow or halt global warming, generations to come face an intolerable prospect.

And even if humans do switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, economise on resources and restore the world’s forests and grasslands, there is still no guarantee that disaster will not happen.

That is because the outcome depends not just on the steps humans take now, but on one of the great, unresolved scientific questions: just how sensitive is climate to shifts in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?

If sensitivity is low, and humankind acts effectively and immediately, the future could be tolerable. But in a total of 5,200,000 computer-generated scenarios involving population growth, economic development, the role of carbon in the economy and the levels of climate sensitivity, this happens only relatively infrequently.

“If large abatement efforts are undertaken, warming is generally limited and damages are low. However, aggressive abatement action does not guarantee a ‘tolerable’ future,” the scientists write, in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Good luck needed

“Our simple analysis shows that, to achieve a tolerable future, we must also have the good fortune of living in a world with low climate sensitivity. Failure to rapidly increase abatement all but guarantees failure over a very wide range of climate sensitivities.

“We show that our generation has an important responsibility to ensure that coming generations have a tolerable future.”

And they conclude: “It is still, however, a gamble that depends on how sensitive the climate turns out to be and how soon the promises of negative emissions materialise, but we show immediate rapid growth in abatement remains our safest course of action.”

At the heart of all such studies is the question: how much time does human society have before climate change becomes dangerous and inevitable?

The scientists defined “tolerable” as a future in which global warming stopped, by 2100, at 2°C or less above historic levels, a future 195 nations have already agreed to work for in Paris in 2015.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action”

To achieve this tolerable future, the scientists reasoned that the cost of abatement should be no more than 3% of the gross world product, and the damage wrought by climate change no more than 2%. Then they considered 24 levels of uncertainty in what they call the “human-Earth system” and generated their vast number of possible outcomes.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have already soared from around 280 parts per million to more than 400 ppm, and global average temperatures have soared with them, to around 1°C above the average for most of human history.

Climate scientists have already identified the costs of “intolerable” climate change. They warn that as the thermometer rises, so does the threat of devastating famine. Extremes of heat become increasingly lethal. Floods could become more devastating and sea levels rise  dangerously. Drought, rising temperatures and food shortages are likely to create the conditions for  dangerous conflict.

But in 2019 greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels  are likely to be higher than ever. The world is already midway through the hottest decade since records began. And the planet could tip the 1.5°C global average temperature rise – the target proposed in Paris – in the next decade.

No reassurance

The consequences of accelerated global warming could be calamitous, but there is still argument about the rate of change, the role of the natural cycles in atmosphere and ocean that influence climate, the scale of hazard to human civilisation and the nature of the steps vital to contain warming.

So the US researchers decided to look at the whole range of possible future outcomes. Their answers are not reassuring.

The message is that either global economies react now – at considerable cost and for no immediate reward – or that future generations must pay what could be a wretched price for present inaction.

“Despite massive uncertainties in a multitude of sectors, human actions are still the driving factor in determining the long-term climate,” said Jonathan Lamontagne, a civil engineer at Tufts University in Massachusetts, who led the study.

“Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action.” − Climate News Network

Growing nuclear waste legacy defies disposal

Supporters say more nuclear power will combat climate change, but the industry is still failing to tackle its nuclear waste legacy.

LONDON, 7 February, 2019 − The nuclear industry, and governments across the world, have yet to find a solution to the nuclear waste legacy, the highly dangerous radioactive remains that are piling up in unsafe stores in many countries.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace France says there is now a serious threat of a major accident or terrorist attack in several of the countries most heavily reliant on nuclear power, including the US, France and the UK.

The report fears for what may be to come: “When the stability of nations is measured in years and perhaps decades into the future, what will be the viability of states over the thousands-of-year timeframes required to manage nuclear waste?”

Hundreds of ageing nuclear power stations now have dry stores or deep ponds full of old used fuel, known as spent fuel, from decades of refuelling reactors.

The old fuel has to be cooled for 30 years or more to prevent it spontaneously catching fire and sending a deadly plume of radioactivity hundreds of miles downwind.

Some idea of the dangerous radiation involved is the fact that standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute, the Greenpeace report says.

Official guesswork

The estimates of costs for dealing with the waste in the future are compiled by government experts but vary widely from country to country, and all figures are just official guesswork. All are measured in billions of dollars.

To give an example of actual annual costs for one waste site in the UK, Sellafield in north-west England, the budget just for keeping it safe is £3 bn (US$3.9 bn) a year.

It is estimated that disposing of the waste at Sellafield would cost £80 bn, but that is at best an informed guess since no way of disposing of it has been found.

The report details the waste from the whole nuclear cycle. This begins with the billions of tons of mildly radioactive uranium mine tailings that are left untended in spoil heaps in more than a dozen countries.

Then there are the stores of thousands of tons of depleted uranium left over after producing nuclear fuel and weapons. Last, there is the highly radioactive fuel removed from the reactors, some of it reprocessed to obtain plutonium, leaving behind extremely dangerous liquid waste.

Although the environmental damage from uranium mining is massive, the major danger comes from fires or explosions in spent fuel stores, which need constant cooling to prevent “catastrophic releases” of radioactivity into urban areas.

“Standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute”

There are now an estimated quarter of a million tons of spent fuel stored at dozens of power stations in 14 nuclear countries.

The report concentrates on Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. What happens in Russia and China is not open to public scrutiny.

All countries have severe problems, but those with the most reactors that have also gone in for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons face the worst.

The report says of France, which has 58 reactors, a number of which are soon to be retired: “There is currently no credible solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste in France; the urgent matter is reducing risks from existing waste, including spent fuel.”

In the 60 years since the nuclear industry began producing highly dangerous waste, some of it has been dumped in the sea or vented into the atmosphere, but most has been stored, waiting for someone to come up with the technology to neutralise it or a safe way of disposing of it.

Sea dumping outlawed

Since the option of dumping it in the sea was closed off in the 1980s because of alarm about the increase in cancers this would cause, governments have concentrated on the idea of building deep depositories in stable rock or clay formations to allow the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

The problem with this solution is that high-level waste stays dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, so future generations may be put in danger.

Only two countries, Finland and Sweden, which both have stable rock formations, are building repositories, but in both cases there are still doubts and controversy over whether these schemes will be robust enough to contain the radioactivity indefinitely.

In democratic countries, in every case where a depository has been or is proposed, there is a public backlash from nearby communities. This is true in all the countries studied, many of which have been forced to abandon plans to bury the waste

As a result of this resistance from the public the report says that the US “lacks a coherent policy” and the American Department of Energy suggests that “extended storage for 300 years” is the current plan. − Climate News Network

Supporters say more nuclear power will combat climate change, but the industry is still failing to tackle its nuclear waste legacy.

LONDON, 7 February, 2019 − The nuclear industry, and governments across the world, have yet to find a solution to the nuclear waste legacy, the highly dangerous radioactive remains that are piling up in unsafe stores in many countries.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace France says there is now a serious threat of a major accident or terrorist attack in several of the countries most heavily reliant on nuclear power, including the US, France and the UK.

The report fears for what may be to come: “When the stability of nations is measured in years and perhaps decades into the future, what will be the viability of states over the thousands-of-year timeframes required to manage nuclear waste?”

Hundreds of ageing nuclear power stations now have dry stores or deep ponds full of old used fuel, known as spent fuel, from decades of refuelling reactors.

The old fuel has to be cooled for 30 years or more to prevent it spontaneously catching fire and sending a deadly plume of radioactivity hundreds of miles downwind.

Some idea of the dangerous radiation involved is the fact that standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute, the Greenpeace report says.

Official guesswork

The estimates of costs for dealing with the waste in the future are compiled by government experts but vary widely from country to country, and all figures are just official guesswork. All are measured in billions of dollars.

To give an example of actual annual costs for one waste site in the UK, Sellafield in north-west England, the budget just for keeping it safe is £3 bn (US$3.9 bn) a year.

It is estimated that disposing of the waste at Sellafield would cost £80 bn, but that is at best an informed guess since no way of disposing of it has been found.

The report details the waste from the whole nuclear cycle. This begins with the billions of tons of mildly radioactive uranium mine tailings that are left untended in spoil heaps in more than a dozen countries.

Then there are the stores of thousands of tons of depleted uranium left over after producing nuclear fuel and weapons. Last, there is the highly radioactive fuel removed from the reactors, some of it reprocessed to obtain plutonium, leaving behind extremely dangerous liquid waste.

Although the environmental damage from uranium mining is massive, the major danger comes from fires or explosions in spent fuel stores, which need constant cooling to prevent “catastrophic releases” of radioactivity into urban areas.

“Standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute”

There are now an estimated quarter of a million tons of spent fuel stored at dozens of power stations in 14 nuclear countries.

The report concentrates on Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. What happens in Russia and China is not open to public scrutiny.

All countries have severe problems, but those with the most reactors that have also gone in for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons face the worst.

The report says of France, which has 58 reactors, a number of which are soon to be retired: “There is currently no credible solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste in France; the urgent matter is reducing risks from existing waste, including spent fuel.”

In the 60 years since the nuclear industry began producing highly dangerous waste, some of it has been dumped in the sea or vented into the atmosphere, but most has been stored, waiting for someone to come up with the technology to neutralise it or a safe way of disposing of it.

Sea dumping outlawed

Since the option of dumping it in the sea was closed off in the 1980s because of alarm about the increase in cancers this would cause, governments have concentrated on the idea of building deep depositories in stable rock or clay formations to allow the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

The problem with this solution is that high-level waste stays dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, so future generations may be put in danger.

Only two countries, Finland and Sweden, which both have stable rock formations, are building repositories, but in both cases there are still doubts and controversy over whether these schemes will be robust enough to contain the radioactivity indefinitely.

In democratic countries, in every case where a depository has been or is proposed, there is a public backlash from nearby communities. This is true in all the countries studied, many of which have been forced to abandon plans to bury the waste

As a result of this resistance from the public the report says that the US “lacks a coherent policy” and the American Department of Energy suggests that “extended storage for 300 years” is the current plan. − Climate News Network

Drought and conflict can spur climate refugees

How do you identify climate refugees? And is climate change at the heart of the flow of asylum-seekers? Statistics can offer a cautious answer.

LONDON, 25 January, 2019 − Austrian researchers have made it simpler to identify climate refugees, claiming to have established a direct causal link between climate change, conflict and the numbers of migrants.

They are not the first to confirm that there is a statistical association between the likelihood of drought, or heat extremes, and violence. Evidence of cause for any civil or international conflict is always complex and often disputed.

But researchers now say that mathematical techniques provide an indirect connection between formally-established drought conditions and recorded levels of applications for asylum.

“In a context of poor governance and a medium level of democracy, severe climate conditions can create conflict over scarce resources”

The link is conflict, of the kind observed in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

“Climate change will not cause conflict and subsequent asylum-seeking flows everywhere,” said Jesus Crespona Cuaresma of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

“But in a context of poor governance and a medium level of democracy, severe climate conditions can create conflict over scarce resources.”

Specific conditions

He and colleagues report in the journal Global Environmental Change that they looked at data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees of asylum applications from 157 countries between 2006 and 2015.

They then matched the patterns of asylum bids against conditions in their parent countries, using a measure that scientists call the Standardised Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index, which provides a guide to the gap between rainfall and heat and drought.

They next assembled a tally measure of battle-related deaths collected by the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme in Sweden. Then they modelled other factors, such as the distance between the countries of origin and destination, the sizes of populations, the migrant networks, the political status of the drought-stressed countries and the known divisions into ethnic and religious groups.

And they found that – in specific circumstances – climatic conditions do lead to increased migration as a consequence of conflict exacerbated by the more severe droughts.

Hard to establish

All conclusions about human behaviour at the political level are difficult to establish. Archaeologists and climate scientists have repeatedly linked the collapse of ancient civilisations to climate change but in most such cases the evidence is circumstantial, and incomplete.

But there is often little or no direct testimony from the faraway past, and no surviving voice to offer a challenge. The connection between climate conditions and human response is less certain in a disputed world.

Researchers have systematically found associations between climate and violence and between climate and the conditions for civil inequality.

Urgent prospect

Some have found an association between drought and the conflict in Syria, but others have disputed the conclusion. Researchers have warned that future climate change could create large numbers of migrants and climate refugees and that both issues are urgent.

But it remains more difficult to establish that climate is the only or even the most pressing factor in any individual case.

So the IIASA finding is a cautious one, backed, the scientists say, by statistical rigour. This identifies climate change, and migration flow, and finds conflict as the causal mediator which links the two, most obviously in the events in the Middle East and North Africa since 2006.

“Our results suggest that climatic conditions, by affecting drought severity and the likelihood of armed conflict, play a statistically significant role as an explanatory factor for asylum-seeking exclusively for countries that were affected by the Arab Spring,” they write. − Climate News Network

How do you identify climate refugees? And is climate change at the heart of the flow of asylum-seekers? Statistics can offer a cautious answer.

LONDON, 25 January, 2019 − Austrian researchers have made it simpler to identify climate refugees, claiming to have established a direct causal link between climate change, conflict and the numbers of migrants.

They are not the first to confirm that there is a statistical association between the likelihood of drought, or heat extremes, and violence. Evidence of cause for any civil or international conflict is always complex and often disputed.

But researchers now say that mathematical techniques provide an indirect connection between formally-established drought conditions and recorded levels of applications for asylum.

“In a context of poor governance and a medium level of democracy, severe climate conditions can create conflict over scarce resources”

The link is conflict, of the kind observed in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

“Climate change will not cause conflict and subsequent asylum-seeking flows everywhere,” said Jesus Crespona Cuaresma of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

“But in a context of poor governance and a medium level of democracy, severe climate conditions can create conflict over scarce resources.”

Specific conditions

He and colleagues report in the journal Global Environmental Change that they looked at data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees of asylum applications from 157 countries between 2006 and 2015.

They then matched the patterns of asylum bids against conditions in their parent countries, using a measure that scientists call the Standardised Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index, which provides a guide to the gap between rainfall and heat and drought.

They next assembled a tally measure of battle-related deaths collected by the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme in Sweden. Then they modelled other factors, such as the distance between the countries of origin and destination, the sizes of populations, the migrant networks, the political status of the drought-stressed countries and the known divisions into ethnic and religious groups.

And they found that – in specific circumstances – climatic conditions do lead to increased migration as a consequence of conflict exacerbated by the more severe droughts.

Hard to establish

All conclusions about human behaviour at the political level are difficult to establish. Archaeologists and climate scientists have repeatedly linked the collapse of ancient civilisations to climate change but in most such cases the evidence is circumstantial, and incomplete.

But there is often little or no direct testimony from the faraway past, and no surviving voice to offer a challenge. The connection between climate conditions and human response is less certain in a disputed world.

Researchers have systematically found associations between climate and violence and between climate and the conditions for civil inequality.

Urgent prospect

Some have found an association between drought and the conflict in Syria, but others have disputed the conclusion. Researchers have warned that future climate change could create large numbers of migrants and climate refugees and that both issues are urgent.

But it remains more difficult to establish that climate is the only or even the most pressing factor in any individual case.

So the IIASA finding is a cautious one, backed, the scientists say, by statistical rigour. This identifies climate change, and migration flow, and finds conflict as the causal mediator which links the two, most obviously in the events in the Middle East and North Africa since 2006.

“Our results suggest that climatic conditions, by affecting drought severity and the likelihood of armed conflict, play a statistically significant role as an explanatory factor for asylum-seeking exclusively for countries that were affected by the Arab Spring,” they write. − Climate News Network

Katowice climate talks run short of time

The annual UN global warming conference is over. Despite some progress, the Katowice climate talks show political action still lags far behind the science.

LONDON, 17 December, 2018 − By tradition, United Nations conferences on tackling global warming always over-run. No surprise then that the Katowice climate talks ended a day late. They made some useful progress. But the underlying message from Poland is that diplomatic efforts to prevent global temperatures increasing to dangerous levels are nowhere near what climate scientists say is needed.

Katowice (COP-24, in UN jargon, otherwise the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) was meant to be an opportunity to put flesh on the bare bones of the Paris Agreement, the achievement of the 2015 COP, held three years ago in the French capital.

That agreed that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise by more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, and that every country should do its utmost to keep the rise if possible to a maximum of 1.5°C.

The Agreement’s commitments do not actually commit governments to anything, because they are entirely voluntary. So Katowice sought to agree a rule book: countries would sign up to more demanding pledges of greenhouse gas emission cuts and would be more transparent about how far they were living up to them.

The meeting did agree on measures to improve transparency: how governments will measure, report on and verify their attempts to cut emissions. But there was little movement on the central question of how countries will step up their targets on making bolder cuts, and without that it is hard to see the Paris Agreement being able to have much practical effect.

“The UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science”

For all that, there was praise for Katowice. The incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Johan Rockström, said: “The Katowice agreement is a relief. The Paris Agreement is alive and kicking, despite a rise in populism and nationalism. With the rule book now finally adopted, the Paris agreement can be implemented. Overall the Katowice decisions provide enough momentum to move forward…

“My biggest concern is that the UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science, in particular missing the necessity of making clear that global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut by half by 2030 to stay in line with the IPCC 1.5 C report.

“This is a real concern. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4°C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events are hitting people all across the planet already, with only 1°C of global warming.”

Professor Rockström identifies exactly why many people, despite Katowice’s acknowledged progress, are disappointed at its outcome: it does not seem to have absorbed the scientists’ message that the planet needs far faster action on reducing emissions than anything now on offer.

Approaching crisis

Once again, the careful pace of diplomacy as the annual COPs roll around is the best that the UNFCCC can manage, and it is not remotely fast enough to confront the scientific reality. The negotiators make gradual progress, while in the real world the climate gallops towards crisis point, now only 12 years away according to the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Add to this the fact that the entire COP process is voluntary, consigning the fate of the single biosphere which sustains life on Earth to the choices − and sometimes the whims − of around 200 widely differing governments, and it is little surprise that the UN is being left behind by events.

Yet it remains the only game in town, the only way so far developed for potentially slowing global temperature rise. It’s not enough, but it still offers hope of reducing the threat from climate change to some degree.

The Katowice negotiators ran out of time. It is ironic that at this rate the planet could do so too. − Climate News Network

The annual UN global warming conference is over. Despite some progress, the Katowice climate talks show political action still lags far behind the science.

LONDON, 17 December, 2018 − By tradition, United Nations conferences on tackling global warming always over-run. No surprise then that the Katowice climate talks ended a day late. They made some useful progress. But the underlying message from Poland is that diplomatic efforts to prevent global temperatures increasing to dangerous levels are nowhere near what climate scientists say is needed.

Katowice (COP-24, in UN jargon, otherwise the 24th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) was meant to be an opportunity to put flesh on the bare bones of the Paris Agreement, the achievement of the 2015 COP, held three years ago in the French capital.

That agreed that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise by more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels, and that every country should do its utmost to keep the rise if possible to a maximum of 1.5°C.

The Agreement’s commitments do not actually commit governments to anything, because they are entirely voluntary. So Katowice sought to agree a rule book: countries would sign up to more demanding pledges of greenhouse gas emission cuts and would be more transparent about how far they were living up to them.

The meeting did agree on measures to improve transparency: how governments will measure, report on and verify their attempts to cut emissions. But there was little movement on the central question of how countries will step up their targets on making bolder cuts, and without that it is hard to see the Paris Agreement being able to have much practical effect.

“The UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science”

For all that, there was praise for Katowice. The incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Johan Rockström, said: “The Katowice agreement is a relief. The Paris Agreement is alive and kicking, despite a rise in populism and nationalism. With the rule book now finally adopted, the Paris agreement can be implemented. Overall the Katowice decisions provide enough momentum to move forward…

“My biggest concern is that the UN Summit failed to align ambitions with science, in particular missing the necessity of making clear that global emissions from fossil fuels must be cut by half by 2030 to stay in line with the IPCC 1.5 C report.

“This is a real concern. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4°C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events are hitting people all across the planet already, with only 1°C of global warming.”

Professor Rockström identifies exactly why many people, despite Katowice’s acknowledged progress, are disappointed at its outcome: it does not seem to have absorbed the scientists’ message that the planet needs far faster action on reducing emissions than anything now on offer.

Approaching crisis

Once again, the careful pace of diplomacy as the annual COPs roll around is the best that the UNFCCC can manage, and it is not remotely fast enough to confront the scientific reality. The negotiators make gradual progress, while in the real world the climate gallops towards crisis point, now only 12 years away according to the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Add to this the fact that the entire COP process is voluntary, consigning the fate of the single biosphere which sustains life on Earth to the choices − and sometimes the whims − of around 200 widely differing governments, and it is little surprise that the UN is being left behind by events.

Yet it remains the only game in town, the only way so far developed for potentially slowing global temperature rise. It’s not enough, but it still offers hope of reducing the threat from climate change to some degree.

The Katowice negotiators ran out of time. It is ironic that at this rate the planet could do so too. − Climate News Network

2018 will show record carbon emissions

Record carbon emissions are set to mark 2018. And although investment in renewable energy is rising, the world is still warming dangerously fast.

LONDON, 6 December, 2018 – For the second year running, the world will have a doubtful achievement to claim by 31 December: record carbon emissions.

Even before the close of 2018, scientists behind the biggest accounting effort on the planet, the Global Carbon Budget, warn that emissions from coal, oil and gas will have dumped a record 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (a way of  comparing the emissions from various greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential) into the atmosphere by the end of this month.

This is 2.7% more than last year, which also showed an increase. Human destruction of the world’s forests will add another four billion tonnes in the same 12 months.

The news comes as 190 nations negotiate in Katowice in Poland to work out how to meet the targets they set in 2015 in Paris,  to contain global warming to no more than 2°C by 2100, and if possible no more than 1.5°C.

Little time left

But in a commentary in Nature a second set of scientists warns that time is running out. At the present rate of fossil fuel use, the world is set to breach the 1.5°C target by 2030, rather than the 2040 everybody had assumed.

That is because rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles working together will make climate change more fast and furious than expected.

There are hopeful signs: renewable energy investment has begun to accelerate, and some nations have started to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

But the confirmation of yet another record year for fossil fuel combustion – after three consecutive years, 2014-16, in which fossil fuel use seemed to have peaked and might start to fall – suggests that even those nations most concerned about climate change are not doing enough.

“This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast”

The biggest emitters are China, the US, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Canada, but taken as a collective, the European Union elbows India out of third place.

If the UK, a self-proclaimed climate progressive country, could celebrate the exploitation of a new North Sea oil field while at the same time exploring for shale gas and expanding its biggest airport, it should be no surprise that global emissions were rising, said Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester, UK.

“If the climate-aware EU is planning new pan-Europe pipelines to lock in high carbon gas for decades to come, is it any surprise global emissions are rising? If ever-green Sweden, currently without any major gas infrastructure, is enthusiastically building a new gas terminal in Gothenburg – is it any surprise emissions are rising?”

Aimed at negotiators

Publication of the Global Carbon Project review for 2018 is timed to focus minds in Katowice, and as a reminder of how much has yet to be done to contain climate change.

“To limit global warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C, CO2 emissions would need to decline by 50% by 2030 and reach zero around 2050,” said Corinne Le Quéré, who directs theTyndall Centre for climate change at the University of East Anglia, UK.

“We are a long way from this, and much more needs to be done because if countries stick to commitments they have already made, we are on track to see 3°C of global warming.

“This year we have seen how climate change can already amplify the impact of heatwaves worldwide. The California wildfires are just a snapshot of the growing impacts we face if we don’t drive emissions down rapidly.”

Renewable energy grows

Paradoxically, the data in the report published in one version in Environmental Research Letters and in more detail in the journal Earth System Science Data also point to an acceleration towards renewable sources of energy: the political shorthand for this process is “decarbonisation.”

Coal consumption in Canada and the US had dropped 40% since 2005. Christiana Figueres, who in 2015 as a UN climate chief presided over the wheeling and dealing that resulted in the Paris Agreement, argues in another commentary in Nature that there are signs of promise.

Thousands of businesses in 120 countries had signed up to the Paris goals, which could bring $26 trillion in economic benefits, including 65 million new jobs in what she called the “booming” low carbon economy. “We have already achieved things that seemed unimaginable just a decade ago,” she said.

Robust accounting

“Exponential progress in key solutions is happening and on track to displace fossil fuels. Renewable energy costs have dropped by 80% in a decade, and today, over half of all new energy generation capacity is renewable.

“Before 2015 many people thought the Paris Agreement was impossible, yet thousands of people and institutions made the shift from impossible to unstoppable.”

But, warned David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, UK, the accounting within the balance sheet for the carbon budget 2018 was robust.

“Its message is more brutal than ever: we are in the red and still heading deeper. This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast. We knew this in 2015, we know it now. And yet they still rise.” – Climate News Network

Record carbon emissions are set to mark 2018. And although investment in renewable energy is rising, the world is still warming dangerously fast.

LONDON, 6 December, 2018 – For the second year running, the world will have a doubtful achievement to claim by 31 December: record carbon emissions.

Even before the close of 2018, scientists behind the biggest accounting effort on the planet, the Global Carbon Budget, warn that emissions from coal, oil and gas will have dumped a record 37 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (a way of  comparing the emissions from various greenhouse gases based on their global warming potential) into the atmosphere by the end of this month.

This is 2.7% more than last year, which also showed an increase. Human destruction of the world’s forests will add another four billion tonnes in the same 12 months.

The news comes as 190 nations negotiate in Katowice in Poland to work out how to meet the targets they set in 2015 in Paris,  to contain global warming to no more than 2°C by 2100, and if possible no more than 1.5°C.

Little time left

But in a commentary in Nature a second set of scientists warns that time is running out. At the present rate of fossil fuel use, the world is set to breach the 1.5°C target by 2030, rather than the 2040 everybody had assumed.

That is because rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles working together will make climate change more fast and furious than expected.

There are hopeful signs: renewable energy investment has begun to accelerate, and some nations have started to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

But the confirmation of yet another record year for fossil fuel combustion – after three consecutive years, 2014-16, in which fossil fuel use seemed to have peaked and might start to fall – suggests that even those nations most concerned about climate change are not doing enough.

“This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast”

The biggest emitters are China, the US, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Canada, but taken as a collective, the European Union elbows India out of third place.

If the UK, a self-proclaimed climate progressive country, could celebrate the exploitation of a new North Sea oil field while at the same time exploring for shale gas and expanding its biggest airport, it should be no surprise that global emissions were rising, said Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester, UK.

“If the climate-aware EU is planning new pan-Europe pipelines to lock in high carbon gas for decades to come, is it any surprise global emissions are rising? If ever-green Sweden, currently without any major gas infrastructure, is enthusiastically building a new gas terminal in Gothenburg – is it any surprise emissions are rising?”

Aimed at negotiators

Publication of the Global Carbon Project review for 2018 is timed to focus minds in Katowice, and as a reminder of how much has yet to be done to contain climate change.

“To limit global warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C, CO2 emissions would need to decline by 50% by 2030 and reach zero around 2050,” said Corinne Le Quéré, who directs theTyndall Centre for climate change at the University of East Anglia, UK.

“We are a long way from this, and much more needs to be done because if countries stick to commitments they have already made, we are on track to see 3°C of global warming.

“This year we have seen how climate change can already amplify the impact of heatwaves worldwide. The California wildfires are just a snapshot of the growing impacts we face if we don’t drive emissions down rapidly.”

Renewable energy grows

Paradoxically, the data in the report published in one version in Environmental Research Letters and in more detail in the journal Earth System Science Data also point to an acceleration towards renewable sources of energy: the political shorthand for this process is “decarbonisation.”

Coal consumption in Canada and the US had dropped 40% since 2005. Christiana Figueres, who in 2015 as a UN climate chief presided over the wheeling and dealing that resulted in the Paris Agreement, argues in another commentary in Nature that there are signs of promise.

Thousands of businesses in 120 countries had signed up to the Paris goals, which could bring $26 trillion in economic benefits, including 65 million new jobs in what she called the “booming” low carbon economy. “We have already achieved things that seemed unimaginable just a decade ago,” she said.

Robust accounting

“Exponential progress in key solutions is happening and on track to displace fossil fuels. Renewable energy costs have dropped by 80% in a decade, and today, over half of all new energy generation capacity is renewable.

“Before 2015 many people thought the Paris Agreement was impossible, yet thousands of people and institutions made the shift from impossible to unstoppable.”

But, warned David Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, UK, the accounting within the balance sheet for the carbon budget 2018 was robust.

“Its message is more brutal than ever: we are in the red and still heading deeper. This cannot continue. It must not. To give us a chance of meeting the Paris climate goals, emissions need to fall, and fast. We knew this in 2015, we know it now. And yet they still rise.” – Climate News Network

Climate treaty plan urged to cut warming

To inject some urgency into efforts to slow planetary warming, scientists, politicians and citizens are mulling how far a climate treaty plan could help.

LONDON, 3 December, 2018 − Could a new climate treaty be the way to tame global warming? With world leaders receiving constant demands to act far more urgently to limit climate change, events at either end of Europe are today increasing the pressure on them. At both, hopes are focusing on international diplomacy.

In eastern Europe the Polish city of Katowice is hosting the latest round of annual negotiations held by the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (the UNFCCC), formally known as the 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24 (due to end on 14 December).

Hopes for significant progress are muted. The 2015 talks produced the Paris Agreement, praised for making progress on how to limit emissions of the greenhouse gases which human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, are adding to warming.

But little has happened since then actually to slow climate change, and in important respects the situation is now worse than it was three years ago.

The combination since 2015 of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly inadequate action by the Agreement’s signatories to slow them means that the gap between where emissions are now and where they ought to be is bigger than ever.

Clear verdict

Speaking before COP24 began, Johan Rockström, incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said in a statement: “The scientific verdict is clear; global emissions must be cut by half by 2030 to stand a chance of staying well below 2°C [the more modest target agreed in Paris]”.

He said Katowice needed to find the ambition to ensure that the emissions cuts governments promise match the latest scientific assessments, and should also insist that every country’s emissions were counted accurately.

As well, he called for proper financing of the attempt to breathe new life into the Paris process: “The Green Climate Fund needs reliable and substantial contributions from industrialised countries.”

Professor Rockström concluded: “Science clearly shows that we have just one decade to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which is why we must start doing it now.” It sounds like a pretty intense two weeks ahead in Poland, then.

Over 800 miles to the west, London is the scene for the launch of a new international group, the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). Its founders are setting it up to push for accelerated action at the scale and speed needed to meet the 1.5°C climate target, the more ambitious Paris aim.

“Somehow many people have forgotten what we are capable of”

By gathering and sharing what it calls evidence-based hope,  the Alliance seeks to remove excuses for inaction, show what is possible, and find ways for everyone to take an active part in change.

Its members range from household-name environmental groups to professional bodies and international research centres, working internationally and locally, specialists and generalists, involved in practical work, research and campaigning.

The Alliance says examples of rapid action it has already analysed include responses to economic shocks, public health emergencies, financial and energy crises, and conflicts.
The examples range from transport to food, energy and the built environment.

With an eye on Katowice, Andrew Simms, the Alliance’s coordinator, said: “International climate talks matter, but they are not the whole story. The shift to a low-carbon economy isn’t just something for diplomats and presidents. You could say that we are crowdsourcing rapid actions to prevent climate breakdown.”

Results from diplomacy

Yet much like those who continue to work to get the best out of the Paris Agreement, the founders of the Alliance think high-level diplomacy and statecraft do matter and can bring about change.

They say: “A new line in the sand is needed to underpin the existing [Paris] climate agreement, to exert influence over the immediate choices of policymakers. At the very least, the science should mandate a moratorium in rich countries on any further expansion of the fossil fuel industry, or any infrastructure dependent on it.

“A moratorium could take the form of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. The threat of nuclear catastrophe provides a precedent for how, quickly, to stop a bad situation getting worse. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),  agreed between 1965 and 1968, was a triumph of rapid diplomacy, at the height of cold war mistrust, and against an immense security threat.”

Andrew Simms does not accept the argument that the NPT, while so far it has not failed, perhaps does not yet deserve to be called a success. He told the Climate News Network that a climate treaty modelled on it could really work: it would also “create jobs, clean air, tackle fuel poverty and generally make the world a better place”.

Extraordinary ability

And ignoring a climate non-proliferation treaty’s potential, he said, “underestimates humanity’s extraordinary ability to cooperate, innovate and act quickly with ambition when the moment demands it. Somehow many people have forgotten what we are capable of.

“First, and most importantly, we need to let go of the old fossil fuel economy, accept that it brought great benefits for some but that its time is now over and we must find better ways to meet our energy needs.

“Next we can look at the evidence base for hope in a warming world and get to work on a rapid transition.

“We’re calling on people and organisations to get in touch and let us know about such stories of rapid change from which we can learn, and we will work to get them seen and heard by others who can make a difference.” − Climate News Network

The Rapid Transition Alliance is being coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its activities.

To inject some urgency into efforts to slow planetary warming, scientists, politicians and citizens are mulling how far a climate treaty plan could help.

LONDON, 3 December, 2018 − Could a new climate treaty be the way to tame global warming? With world leaders receiving constant demands to act far more urgently to limit climate change, events at either end of Europe are today increasing the pressure on them. At both, hopes are focusing on international diplomacy.

In eastern Europe the Polish city of Katowice is hosting the latest round of annual negotiations held by the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (the UNFCCC), formally known as the 24th Conference of the Parties, or COP24 (due to end on 14 December).

Hopes for significant progress are muted. The 2015 talks produced the Paris Agreement, praised for making progress on how to limit emissions of the greenhouse gases which human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels, are adding to warming.

But little has happened since then actually to slow climate change, and in important respects the situation is now worse than it was three years ago.

The combination since 2015 of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly inadequate action by the Agreement’s signatories to slow them means that the gap between where emissions are now and where they ought to be is bigger than ever.

Clear verdict

Speaking before COP24 began, Johan Rockström, incoming director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said in a statement: “The scientific verdict is clear; global emissions must be cut by half by 2030 to stand a chance of staying well below 2°C [the more modest target agreed in Paris]”.

He said Katowice needed to find the ambition to ensure that the emissions cuts governments promise match the latest scientific assessments, and should also insist that every country’s emissions were counted accurately.

As well, he called for proper financing of the attempt to breathe new life into the Paris process: “The Green Climate Fund needs reliable and substantial contributions from industrialised countries.”

Professor Rockström concluded: “Science clearly shows that we have just one decade to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which is why we must start doing it now.” It sounds like a pretty intense two weeks ahead in Poland, then.

Over 800 miles to the west, London is the scene for the launch of a new international group, the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA). Its founders are setting it up to push for accelerated action at the scale and speed needed to meet the 1.5°C climate target, the more ambitious Paris aim.

“Somehow many people have forgotten what we are capable of”

By gathering and sharing what it calls evidence-based hope,  the Alliance seeks to remove excuses for inaction, show what is possible, and find ways for everyone to take an active part in change.

Its members range from household-name environmental groups to professional bodies and international research centres, working internationally and locally, specialists and generalists, involved in practical work, research and campaigning.

The Alliance says examples of rapid action it has already analysed include responses to economic shocks, public health emergencies, financial and energy crises, and conflicts.
The examples range from transport to food, energy and the built environment.

With an eye on Katowice, Andrew Simms, the Alliance’s coordinator, said: “International climate talks matter, but they are not the whole story. The shift to a low-carbon economy isn’t just something for diplomats and presidents. You could say that we are crowdsourcing rapid actions to prevent climate breakdown.”

Results from diplomacy

Yet much like those who continue to work to get the best out of the Paris Agreement, the founders of the Alliance think high-level diplomacy and statecraft do matter and can bring about change.

They say: “A new line in the sand is needed to underpin the existing [Paris] climate agreement, to exert influence over the immediate choices of policymakers. At the very least, the science should mandate a moratorium in rich countries on any further expansion of the fossil fuel industry, or any infrastructure dependent on it.

“A moratorium could take the form of a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. The threat of nuclear catastrophe provides a precedent for how, quickly, to stop a bad situation getting worse. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT),  agreed between 1965 and 1968, was a triumph of rapid diplomacy, at the height of cold war mistrust, and against an immense security threat.”

Andrew Simms does not accept the argument that the NPT, while so far it has not failed, perhaps does not yet deserve to be called a success. He told the Climate News Network that a climate treaty modelled on it could really work: it would also “create jobs, clean air, tackle fuel poverty and generally make the world a better place”.

Extraordinary ability

And ignoring a climate non-proliferation treaty’s potential, he said, “underestimates humanity’s extraordinary ability to cooperate, innovate and act quickly with ambition when the moment demands it. Somehow many people have forgotten what we are capable of.

“First, and most importantly, we need to let go of the old fossil fuel economy, accept that it brought great benefits for some but that its time is now over and we must find better ways to meet our energy needs.

“Next we can look at the evidence base for hope in a warming world and get to work on a rapid transition.

“We’re calling on people and organisations to get in touch and let us know about such stories of rapid change from which we can learn, and we will work to get them seen and heard by others who can make a difference.” − Climate News Network

The Rapid Transition Alliance is being coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its activities.