Sunday, March 29, 2015

Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change.

Click picture for video

Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And it's happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change

 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Seychelles Warns of ‘Catastrophic’ Climate Change

Samuel walks through through the ruins of his family home with his father Phillip, on March 16, 2015 in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

March 16, 2015 12:01PM ET

The president of the Seychelles on Monday called on the international community to "wake up" to climate change after a massive tropical cyclone devastated the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

"The cyclone, which has just struck Vanuatu — a sister Small Island State — with such catastrophic effects and the tragic loss of lives is a clear manifestation of climate change, which some persist to deny," Seychelles President James Michel said in a statement.

"Today it is the South Pacific, tomorrow it could be us," he added.

His comments echoed those of Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale. "Climate change is contributing to the disaster in Vanuatu," he said Monday, as relief agencies surveyed the scale of damage caused by Super Cyclone Pam.

Reports from the outer islands of Vanuatu on Monday painted a picture of utter destruction after the monster storm tore through the South Pacific island nation, flattening buildings and killing at least 24 people.

Disaster management officials and relief workers were struggling to establish contact with the islands that bore the brunt of Cyclone Pam’s winds of more than 185 mph, which destroyed homes, smashed boats and washed away roads and bridges as it struck late on Friday and into Saturday.

The official toll of 24 killed looked certain to rise as reports began to trickle from the hardest hit parts of the scattered archipelago.

"Many of the buildings and houses have been completely destroyed," Lonsdale told Reuters. "More than 90 percent of the buildings have been destroyed."

President James Michel blames devastating Cyclone Pam on global warming, issues warning to world

Military flights from New Zealand and Australia were bringing in water, sanitation kits, medicines and temporary shelters for the estimated 10,000 made homeless on the main island, with supplies being unloaded late into the evening at the airport. France and the United States were also sending aid.

Commercial flights resumed on Monday, bringing in more aid and taking out tourists.

Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu is a sprawling cluster of more than 80 islands home to 260,000 people, about 1,250 miles northeast of the Australian city of Brisbane.

Perched on the geologically active Ring of Fire, Vanuatu of the world’s poorest nations suffers from frequent earthquakes and tsunamis and has several active volcanoes, in addition to threats from storms and rising sea levels.

Low-lying island nations, some of which are little more than three feet above sea level, are regarded as some of the most vulnerable to rising seas blamed on climate change.

"When will the international community wake up to reality and put our efforts and resources to get a binding agreement to reduce global warming and sustain the survival of our planet?" Michel said.

In November last year, Michel urged the planet’s small island nations to unite for an unprecedented campaign against climate change or else be treated as global "bystanders" and be allowed to drown. The Alliance of Small Island States, a group of 44 coastal and low-lying countries, repeated that goal and presented measures to keep the global temperature from rising even further at the climate change summit in Lima, Peru in December. More

 

 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Climate change: UN backs fossil fuel divestment campaign

The UN organisation in charge of global climate change negotiations is backing the fast-growing campaign persuading investors to sell off their fossil fuel assets. It said it was lending its “moral authority” to the divestment campaign because it shared the ambition to get a strong deal to tackle global warming at a crunch UN summit in Paris in December.

“We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue,” said Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC).

The move is likely to be controversial as the economies of many nations at the negotiating table heavily rely on coal, oil and gas. In 2013, coal-reliant Poland hosted the UNFCCC summit and was castigated for arranging a global coal industry summit alongside. Now, the World Coal Association has criticised the UNFCCC’s decision to back divestment, saying it threatened investment in cleaner coal technologies.

Several analyses have shown that there are more fossil fuels in proven reserves than can be burned if catastrophic global warming is to be avoided, as world leaders have pledged. Divestment campaigners argue that the trillions of dollars companies continue to spend on exploration for even more fossil fuels is a danger to both the climate and investors’ capital.

“Everything we do is based on science and the science is pretty clear that we need a world with a lot less fossil fuels,” Nuttall told the Guardian. “We have lent our own moral authority as the UN to those groups or organisations who are divesting. We are saying ‘we support your aims and ambitions because they are fairly and squarely our ambition’, which is to get a good deal in Paris.”

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, sent a related message to investors in November, saying: “Please reduce your investments in the coal- and fossil-fuel-based economy and [move] to renewable energy.” But he stopped short of backing the divestment campaign itself.

Many religious groups are among the 180 organisations that have already divested their funds from fossil fuels, as well as city authorities and universities. “We see the divestment of churches very much as a moral imperative for them,” Nuttall said. “If their goal is relieving the suffering of millions of people, then divestment is in line with how they want the world to be.”

A recent tweet from the UNFCCC said: “Divestment worked to free [South Africa] of apartheid. Now it can help free us of fossil fuels.” The tweet carried a quote and image of the archbishop Desmond Tutu, who in 2014 told the Guardian: “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”

— UNFCCC (@UNFCCC) February 11, 2015

#Divestment worked to free SA of #apartheid. Now it can help free us of #fossilfuelshttp://t.co/RWEszTzWvp @350 pic.twitter.com/0yWJOAn1y8

Divestment campaigners say their aim is to bankrupt fossil fuel companies morally, not financially. “No one is saying divestment by churches and universities will shift the market in a one-to-one way,” said Nuttall. “The message now is that you can get off fossil fuels without undermining your investments. It’s a different world now. You can save the world and get a good return on your investment.”

Many senior figures and institutions in the financial world, including the World Bank, Bank of England, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Standard and Poor’s, have warned that only a fraction of known fossil fuel reserves can be safely burned and that the remainder could plummet in value posing huge risks to investors.

Benjamin Sporton, acting chief executive of the World Coal Association, rejected the linking of divestment from fossil fuels with divestment from tobacco and apartheid South Africa. “The coal divestment campaign is not comparable to any other divestment campaign,” he said. “Active and responsible investors play a vital role in encouraging investment in cleaner coal technologies. Demand for coal is not going away.”

As global warming argument moves on to politics and business, Alan Rusbridger explains the thinking behind our major series on the climate crisis

Sporton said the divestment campaign was a concern: “There are economic and social dimensions that mean divesting from fossil fuels – and in particular coal – comes with significant risks, not least when 1.3 billion people are still without access to electricity.” The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in November that global warming is set to inflict severe and irreversible impacts on people and that “limiting its effects is necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication”.

“Meeting the demand projected by the International Energy Agency will call for $18.5tn of cumulative investment between 2014 and 2035,” said a spokesman for the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP). “This doesn’t support an argument for divestment.” Replacing coal-fired power stations with gas can halve carbon emissions, he added.

IPIECA, the global oil and gas industry association for environmental issues and “the industry’s principal channel of communication with the UN”, declined to comment. More

 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Climate change threatens human rights, Kiribati president tells UN

Pacific leaders tell Human Rights Council they fear for the future of their civilisations as climate impacts intensify

Just three weeks after the conclusion of the most recent climate negotiations, Geneva has once again offered a space for governments to consider how to address the human rights implications of climate change.

As the issue recently emerged as one of the elements that many countries wish to see integrated to the Paris climate agreement, these discussions provided insights on opportunities for states and UN bodies to better address this issue in the coming months.

Last Friday, the Human Rights Council hosted two high-level panels dedicated to the issue of human rights and climate change, with specific focus on the importance of international cooperation and on the impacts of climate change on the exercise of the right to food.

Representatives from small islands states called for urgent action to mitigate climate change, pointing at the fact that climate change threatens the progress made with the promotion of human rights.

The prime minister of Tuvalu Enele Sopoaga warned that climate change will worsen existing inequities in world already riven with inequality, poverty and conflict. Tuvalu, the prime minister warned, has neither the resources nor the capacity to cope with these impacts.

Kiribati’s President Anote Tong reminded the Human Rights Council that, despite all the efforts by his government, climate change remains an existential threat to his people.

“Who do we appeal and turn to for our people’s right to survive?” president Tong asked the Council. “If there is a major challenge on human rights that deserves global commitment, leadership and collaboration, this is the one: the moral responsibility to act now against climate change.”

Both Sopoaga and Tong challenged the Council to consider how the international community should respond to the climate crisis and to urge more strongly for climate action in order to protect the rights of the most vulnerable people.

Other speakers discussed in their interventions the benefits of integrating human rights into climate policies. UN Special Envoy on Climate Change (and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) Mary Robinson emphasized that a “human rights framing to our development and climate responses can maximize the potential for inclusion, participation and equality”.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, insisted more specifically on the importance to respect the rights of indigenous peoples, in particular land rights and participatory rights, when designing climate policies.

Quoting the fifth assessment report from the UN’s IPCC climate science panel, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz also highlighted that “indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change, but these have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts”.

The panels were followed by an interactive dialogue with representatives from governments and civil society.

Several common threads emerged from this discussion, including the importance to fully implement the right of the public to take part in decision-making related to climate change, the recognition of the impacts of climate change on economic and social rights, and the importance to consider the linkages between the need to address climate change while protecting the right to development.

Several speakers also spoke in favor of two specific proposals for UN institutions: the importance to include strong references to human rights in the Paris 2015 climate agreement and the opportunity for the Human Rights Council to nominate a UN special rapporteur on human rights and climate change.

Germany also announced during the panels that the country would join the “Geneva Pledge on Human Rights and Climate Action” signed by 18 countries during the most recent round of climate negotiations.

However, the impact of the high political stakes related to the preparation of the Paris Climate Agreement could also be felt throughout the panels.

The interventions by most countries reflected mainly well-entrenched positions in the Council and at the climate negotiations.

The United States in particular suggested that attempts to push for the inclusion in the climate negotiations of references to the work of the Human Rights Council could lead to the “sabotage of the 2015 climate agreement”, a statement that many participants to the session considered out of tone with the discussions.

The panels were followed by the presentation, on Monday, of the report of the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment John Knox.

In his presentation, Prof. Knox emphasized that climate change is likely the most serious threat to the enjoyment of human rights.

Referring to the Geneva Pledge as an example of a good practice to better integrate human rights and climate policies, he challenged relevant UN bodies, such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNEP and UNDP, to establish focal points for human rights and climate change.

The ongoing discussions in Geneva this week are not expected to lead to immediate concrete results. These exchanges could nevertheless provide additional momentum when related sessions will resume in June, both in Geneva and in Bonn.

For the first half of the month, UN climate negotiations will continue to advance work towards the Paris climate agreement.

Momentum

Several governments having insisted last month on the need to insert human rights language in the negotiating text, the June meeting of the climate talks will be crucial to determine whether this proposals are retained in the draft agreement.

Upon the closing of the climate negotiations in Bonn, the Human Rights Council will gather once again in Geneva to consider, among other matters, the adoption of a new resolution on human rights and climate change.

Over the past two months, Geneva offered two opportunities for governments to deepen their understanding of the interplay between human rights and climate action.

The coming months will now be critical to determine whether, through the UN climate body and the Human Rights Council, states are willing to commit to take steps towards ensuring that climate policies address climate change in a way that promotes human rights at the same time. More

 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

New York’s new solar plan sets a high bar

New York wants to get serious about solar power. The state has a goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and it’s already among the nation’s solar leaders. New York ranks ninth overall for total installed solar, and in 2013 alone it added enough to power more than 10,000 homes.

While that’s great news for solar companies and environmentalists, it’s a bit of a problem for electric utilities. Until recently, the business model of electric companies hadn’t changed much since it was created a century ago. (The country’s first electric grid was strung up by Thomas Edison in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1880s, and some parts of it continued to operate into the 2000s.) Utilities have depended on a steady growth in demand to stay ahead of the massive investments required to build power plants and the electric grid. But now, that tradition is crumbling — thanks to the crazy growth of rooftop solar and other alternative energy sources and some big advances in energy efficiency that have caused the overall demand for electricity to stop growing. Meanwhile, utilities in New York are also required to buy the excess power from solar buildings that produce more than they need — a policy called "net metering".

But here’s the thing: Even the most ardent climate hawks agree that we can’t afford for utilities to go out of business altogether. Someone needs to maintain and manage the grid. Hardly any solar homes are actually "off the grid," since they still depend on power lines to soak up their excess electricity during sunny afternoons and deliver power at night. In fact, net metering is a key factor in making solar economically viable to homeowners.

The question of how to aggressively slash carbon emissions without completely undermining the power sector (and simultaneously raising the risk of blackouts and skyrocketing electric bills) is one of the big existential questions that climate-savvy lawmakers are now trying to figure out. And last week in New York, they took a huge step forward.

Under a new order from the state’s Public Service Commission, utility companies will soon be barred from owning "distributed" power systems — that means rooftop solar, small wind turbines, and basically anything else that isn’t a big power plant. (There are some rare exceptions built into the order, notably for giant low-income apartment buildings in New York City that small solar companies aren’t well-equipped to serve.)

"By restricting utilities from owning local power generation and other energy resources, customers will benefit from a more competitive market, with utilities working and partnering with other companies and service providers," the commission said in a statement.

The move is part of a larger package of energy reforms in the state, aimed at setting up the kind of futuristic power system that experts think will be needed to combat global warming. The first step came in 2007, when the state adopted "decoupling," a market design in which a utility’s revenue is based not on how much power it sells, but on how many customers it serves. (Remember that in most states utilities have their income stream heavily regulated by the state in exchange for having a monopoly.) That change removed the incentive for utilities to actively block rooftop solar and energy-saving technology, because lost sales no longer translate to lost income. But because utilities could still make money by recouping the cost of big infrastructure projects through increases to their customers’ bills, they had an incentive to build expensive stuff like power plants and big transmission hubs even if demand could be better met with efficiency and renewables.

Now, under New York’s most recent reform, a utility’s revenue will instead be based on how efficiently and effectively it distributes power, so-called "performance-based rates." This, finally, provides the incentive utilities need to make decisions that jibe with the state’s climate goals, because it will be to their advantage to make use of distributed energy systems.

But there’s a catch, one that had clean energy advocates in the state worried. If utilities were allowed to buy their own solar systems, they would be able to leverage their government-granted monopoly to muscle-out smaller companies. This could limit consumer options, drive up prices, and stifle innovation. That, in turn, could put a freeze on consumers’ interest in solar and ultimately slow down the rate at which it is adopted. But if small companies are allowed in, then the energy market starts to look more like markets for normal goods, where customer choice drives technological advances and pushes down prices.

"New York’s approach to limit utility ownership balances the desire for more solar with the desire to have competitive markets that we expect to continue to bring down the costs of solar," said Anne Reynolds, director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York.

The upshot is that solar in New York will be allowed to thrive without being squeezed out by incumbent giants like Con Edison and National Grid.

"This is as exciting as the Public Service Commission gets," said Raya Salter, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York who worked with state regulators on the plan. "These are bold, aggressive changes."

The policy puts New York on track for a new way of doing business that many energy wonks now see as inevitable. In the past, the role of electric utilities was to generate power at a few central hubs and bring it to your house; in the near future, their role will be to facilitate the flow of power between countless independent systems.

"We need to plan for a primarily renewable system," said John Farrell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for breaking up the old utility model as a key solution to climate change. "We want to pay [utilities] for doing things we want, rather than paying for their return on investment for the things they build."

So far, the response from utilities has been receptive; a spokesperson for Con Ed said the company looks forward to developing details for how the order will move forward.

The change in New York could become a model for other states, Reynolds said. Regulators in Hawaii are already considering a similar policy.

"Everyone is watching to see what’s happening here," she said. "It’s really a model of what a utility could be in the future." More

 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Earth Policy News - The Great Transition: Shifting from Fossil Fuels to Solar and Wind Energy

PRE-PUBLICATION ANNOUNCEMENT

THE GREAT TRANSITION: SHIFTING FROM FOSSIL FUELS
TO SOLAR AND WIND ENERGY

by Lester R. Brown with Janet Larsen, J. Matthew Roney,
and Emily E. Adams


The Great Transition
Buy book button
“The energy transition will change not only how we view the world but also how we view ourselves,” say the authors of The Great Transition. “With rooftop solar panels to both power homes and recharge car batteries, there will be a personal degree of energy independence not known for generations.”

As fossil fuel reserves shrink, as air pollution worsens, and as concerns about climate instability cast a shadow over the future of coal, oil, and natural gas, a new world energy economy is emerging. The old economy, fueled largely by coal and oil, is being replaced with one powered by solar and wind energy.

We can see the transition unfolding. In the U.S. Midwest, Iowa and South Dakota are generating 26 percent of their electricity from wind farms. Denmark generates 34 percent of its electricity from wind. Portugal and Spain are above 20 percent. In China, electricity from wind farms now exceeds that from nuclear power plants. And in Australia, 15 percent of homes draw energy from the sun. With solar and wind costs falling fast, their spread is accelerating.

In The Great Transition, Lester R. Brown and his colleagues explain the environmental and economic wisdom of moving to solar and wind energy and shows how fast change is coming.

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY.

For a sneak peek, check out Chapter 1. Changing Direction, up now on our website. More

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How do agri-food systems contribute to climate change?

Agriculture and food security are exposed to impacts and risks related to the changing climate in several ways. On the other hand, agriculture and food production activities are also responsible for part of the greenhouse gas emissions that in turn cause climate change.

According to the latest conclusions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, agriculture, together with deforestation and other human actions that change the way land is used (codename: AFOLU, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use), accounts for about a quarter of emissions contributing to climate change.

GHG emissions from farming activities consist mainly of non-CO2 gases: methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) produced by bacterial decomposition processes in cropland and grassland soils and by livestock’s digestive systems.

The latest estimates released in 2014 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization [pdf] showed that emissions from crop and livestock production and fisheries have nearly doubled over the past fifty years, from 2.7 billion tonnes CO2e in 1961 to more than 5.3 billion tonnes CO2e in 2011.

During the last ten years covered by FAO data (2001-2011) agricultural emissions increased by 14 percent (primarily in developing countries that expanded their agricultural outputs), while almost in the same years (2001-2010) net GHG emissions due to land use change and deforestation decreased by around 10 percent (due to reduced levels of deforestation and increases in the amount of atmospheric carbon removed from the atmosphere as a result of carbon sequestration in forest sinks).

The current situation, as highlighted by a recent study led by FAO and published in Global Change Biology, sees farming activities more responsible for climate pollution than deforestation. Even thought emissions from agriculture and land use change are growing at a slower rate than emissions from fossil fuels, emissions reduction achieved thanks to better forest and soil management are cancelled out by a more intensive and energy-consuming food production systems. The FAO estimated that without increased efforts to address and reduce them, GHG emissions from the sector could increase by an additional 30 percent by 2050.

In a recent study published on Nature Climate Change, scientists pointed out that “the intensification of agriculture (the Green Revolution, in which much greater crop yield per unit area was achieved by hybridization, irrigation and fertilization) during the past five decades is a driver of changes in the seasonal characteristics of the global carbon cycle”.

As shown in the graph below, livestock-related emissions from enteric fermentation and manure contributed nearly two-thirds of the total GHG agricultural emissions produced in the last years, with synthetic fertilizers and rice cultivation being the other major sources.

According to another report by FAO (“Tackling climate change through livestock”, accessible here in pdf), the livestock sector is estimated to emit 7.1 billion tonnes CO2-eq per year, with beef and cattle milk production accounting for the majority of the sector’s emissions (41 and 19 percent respectively).

Emission intensities (i.e. emissions per unit of product) are highest for beef (almost 300 kg CO2-eq per kilogram of protein produced), followed by meat and milk from small ruminants (165 and 112kg CO2-eq.kg respectively). Cow milk, chicken products and pork have lover global average emission intensities (below 100 CO2-eq/kg). However, emission intensity widely varies at sub-global level due to the different practices and inputs to production used around the world. According to FAO, the livestock sector plays an important role in climate change and has a high potential for emission reduction.

Together with increasing conversion of land to agricultural activities and the use of fertilizers, increasing energy use from fossil fuels is one of the main drivers that boosted agricultural emissions in the last decades. FAO estimated that in 2010 emissions from energy uses in food production sectors (including emissions from fossil fuel energy needed i.e. to power machinery, irrigation pumps and fishing vessels) amounted to 785 million tonnes CO2e.

FAO latest data show that in the past two decades around 40 percent of GHG agricultural outputs (including emissions from energy use) are based in Asia. The Americas has the second highest GHG emissions (close to 25 percent), followed by Africa, Europe and Oceania.

According to FAO, since 1990 the top ten emitters are: China, India, US, Brazil, Australia, Russia, Indonesia, Argentina, Pakistan and Sudan.

Agricultural emissions plus energy by country, average 1990-2012. FAOSTAT database

The need for climate-smart agriculture and food production systems becomes even more compelling when considering the shocking level of waste within the global food system. According to the first FAO study to focus on the environmental impacts of food wastage, released in 2013 (accessible here in pdf), each year food that is produced and gone to waste amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes.

Food wastage’s carbon footprint is estimated at 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent released into the atmosphere per year, to which must be added significant amounts of agricultural areas (1.4 billion hectares, globally) and water (250km3) used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.

How to meet global food needs (with global population projected to reach 9 billion in 2050) without overexploiting soil and water, and with lower emissions contributing to climate change (whose impacts in turn affect water and food security) is the greatest farming challenge of of today’s and tomorrow’s world. More

Credit: Best Climate Practices