Monday, January 26, 2015

Help Small Island States Win Their Battle Against Climate Change by Achim Steiner

Earth’s fate is inextricably linked to 52 nations threatened by rising sea levels – the rest of the world should not let them drown

Many of the planet’s most prized destinations, places considered exquisite and idyllic, where nature seems bountiful and people appear at ease, are under threat. In less than a decade, climate change-induced sea level rise could force thousands of people to migrate from some of the world’s 52 small island developing states (Sids).

How Sids respond to threats such as sea level rise, and the degree of support they receive, is indicative of how we, collectively, will adapt to a host of climate change impacts in the coming decades.

When we think of Sids, we may be tempted to imagine small patches of paradise scattered with lightly populated fishing villages, unfettered by the demands of modernity. In fact, almost one in every 100 of us is from a small island developing state.

Sids boast a diversity of cultures, natural resources, biodiversity, and indigenous knowledge that makes them mainstays of our planetary ecosystem. From the multi-billion dollar economy of Singapore, to Papua New Guinea, one of the least explored countries in the world where 1,000 cultural groups are thought to exist, to the very remote Niue, which is one of the world’s largest coral islands – each small island developing state is endowed with its own unique attributes.

Yet what they increasingly share in common are escalating environmental threats that are further aggravated by economic insecurities. Sea level rise is among the most daunting of these threats, which in some regions is up to four times the global average.

According to recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates, if average global temperatures increase by approximately 4C, sea levels could rise as much as one metre by 2100, a scenario that would see nations such as Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu become uninhabitable, while a large share of the population of many other Sids could be displaced or otherwise.

What makes this situation even more grievous is that the climate change threats facing many Sids are by-and-large not of their own making. Their total combined annual carbon dioxide output, although rising, accounts for less than 1% of global emissions.

A girl sits on tree root at Teaoraereke, South Tarawa

Sids are suffering disproportionately from acts of environmental negligence of which we are collectively guilty. Larger economies, until recently, have managed better than small ones to mask the impacts of exhausting their natural capital and contributing heavily to greenhouse gas emissions, but the consequences of this neglect are catching up with them too.

Many of the planet’s most prized destinations, places considered exquisite and idyllic, where nature seems bountiful and people appear at ease, are under threat. In less than a decade, climate change-induced sea level rise could force thousands of people to migrate from some of the world’s 52 small island developing states (Sids).

How Sids respond to threats such as sea level rise, and the degree of support they receive, is indicative of how we, collectively, will adapt to a host of climate change impacts in the coming decades.

When we think of Sids, we may be tempted to imagine small patches of paradise scattered with lightly populated fishing villages, unfettered by the demands of modernity. In fact, almost one in every 100 of us is from a small island developing state.

Sids boast a diversity of cultures, natural resources, biodiversity, and indigenous knowledge that makes them mainstays of our planetary ecosystem. From the multi-billion dollar economy of Singapore, to Papua New Guinea, one of the least explored countries in the world where 1,000 cultural groups are thought to exist, to the very remote Niue, which is one of the world’s largest coral islands – each small island developing state is endowed with its own unique attributes.

Yet what they increasingly share in common are escalating environmental threats that are further aggravated by economic insecurities. Sea level rise is among the most daunting of these threats, which in some regions is up to four times the global average.

According to recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates, if average global temperatures increase by approximately 4C, sea levels could rise as much as one metre by 2100, a scenario that would see nations such as Kiribati, Maldives, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu become uninhabitable, while a large share of the population of many other Sids could be displaced or otherwise.

What makes this situation even more grievous is that the climate change threats facing many Sids are by-and-large not of their own making. Their total combined annual carbon dioxide output, although rising, accounts for less than 1% of global emissions.

Sids are suffering disproportionately from acts of environmental negligence of which we are collectively guilty. Larger economies, until recently, have managed better than small ones to mask the impacts of exhausting their natural capital and contributing heavily to greenhouse gas emissions, but the consequences of this neglect are catching up with them too.

Responses to these threats that apply the business-as-usual economic models that have brought them to the state of economic and environmental vulnerability they are in today will be temporary at best, and catastrophic at worst. That is why Sids are beginning to take the first steps on a blue-green economy transition – a strategy that targets resource efficiency and clean technology, is carbon neutral and socially inclusive, will provide a healthy environment and help conserve resources, while integrating traditional knowledge and giving priority to island community and culture that will build their resilience to the impacts of climate change.

But we should not look at climate change threats in isolation from other influenced by human activities, because climate change is in fact exacerbating problems that we have already created, such as desertification, biodiversity loss, and food insecurity.

Take the degradation of marine ecosystems as an example. A number of studies show that it is overfishing that currently outweighs all other human impacts on marine ecosystems, including climate change. With Sids accounting for seven out of 10 of the world’s countries most dependent on fish and seafood consumption, reducing emissions alone will not be enough to ensure a sufficient supply of fish in the future.

The governments of these small island states are recognising that many policies of the past have left them ill-prepared to respond to the impacts of climate change, and it is this awareness that is motivating them to make sustainable economic growth the cornerstone of their development.

The energy sector, where they are leading the switch to renewables, is a prime example of necessity driving innovation and change. On average, Pacific island households spend approximately 20% of their household income on energy, and can often pay up to 400% more per kilowatt-hour of electricity than the United States.

As a result, many states are now developing their domestic renewable energy markets. For instance, the small South Pacific island of Tokelau is close to meeting 100% of its energy needs through renewables – even powering generators with locally produced coconut biofuel.

And Barbados, already the leading producer of solar water heaters in the Caribbean, is set to save an estimated $283.5m (£171m) through a 29% switch to renewables by 2029.

From valuing and managing their natural resources, to putting the right incentives in place to switch to renewable energy, Sids are leading the blue-green economy transition. And next week, at the third international conference on Sids in Samoa, they will reaffirm their commitment to advancing national sustainable development goals in front of a global audience. What they need from the rest of the world is the solidarity, technologies, and resources to act on that commitment on a scale that will radically change their fortunes.

It is hoped that the new international climate change agreement currently being negotiated, and which will be adopted at the Paris conference in 2015, might help to relieve some of their economic burden of adapting to the impacts of climate change, while also reducing the severity of the impacts by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Supporting Sids on this journey of transition provides an unprecedented opportunity to be part of game-changing socioeconomic solutions that can be applied in broader contexts and bigger economies.

We should look upon Sids as microcosms of our larger society, and not stand back and allow them to grapple with a threat for which they are largely inculpable. More

 

 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Is India's 100 GW solar road map feasible?

Ever since the new government was sworn in, India has been making all the right noises about its ambitions for solar power. Both Prime Minister Modi, and the Minister for New and Renewable Energy, Mr. Goyal, seem determined to achieve an ambitious target of 100 GW by 2020.

After the headline items have been absorbed and expectations have risen, it is now time for delivery. They have their work cut out for them. It cannot be a straightforward process as the goal is so ambitious, the market environment is complex and the technologies changing. However, it needs to be much more thought through than it is at present

Last week, in a run-up to the RE Invest India conference to be held in Delhi in February, a tweet from the official RE-Invest 2015 handle for the first time published a year-by-year road map on how the government intends to ramp up solar capacity.

This plan shows a very quick initial ramp up from the current 1 GW per year market size. In the upcoming financial year, the government wants to install 7 GW, of which 3 GW is to be of rooftop solar. That is a 100-fold increase from the current total rooftop capacity. In the year after that, India is to be a 18 GW solar market. No country has ever added 18 GW of solar in a year.

According to the BRIDGE TO INDIA analysis, an un-incentivized rooftop solar market would add 1.5 GW by 2018. In the road map, the government is planning to add around 20 GW by the same time. Achieving this will need a substantial policy push. As of now, we have little idea about what that might be. The only substantial announcement so far has been a plan to provide an interest rate subsidy by using around EUR 1 bn of funds from the German KfW. However, even this has not yet been formalised and it would take at least a year to become operational. The government has also been tinkering with the subsidy mechanism (refer) but that too doesn't seem to be adding up to any larger plan.

The most active market segment at present is utility scale capacity addition through the solar parks model. Yet this, too, is not without roadblocks. There is still some confusion on what parks are ready for the first 3,000 MW of allocations to be auctioned by March 2015. The guidelines for allocations have been changed multiple times in the past weeks, as the situation changed on the ground due to land, infrastructure and funding challenges (refer). International developmental banks have been asked to finance these parks, but there is still not enough clarity on the business models and on how this could work from a lender’s (and investor’s) perspective. Under the current conditions, many investors might just decide to give this opportunity a pass.

BRIDGE TO INDIA continues to believe that India can achieve its ambitious solar targets, but it will need to rapidly step up its policy planning and implementation. What India actually wants to do, is to significantly shift its future energy mix towards renewables. That is strategically sound, but definitely not business as usual. It requires an expanded and improved institutional infrastructure to support a complex, new policy process: an excellently staffed "Central New Energy Command". That should be the starting point.

Even with this in place, a build-up as rapid as anticipated will be a stretch. It just takes time to fine-tune the details of a successful policy. Long delays have plagued Indian policy making in solar and other areas in the past. Given the strong economic fundamentals behind solar market growth in India, the goal could more easily be reached with a slower initial ramp up and larger additions towards 2020.

In the current policy environment, and given the time pressures created by this road map, we see the danger of a knee-jerk reaction: if the market is not quick enough to react, then the government will simply push large projects through directly, using a select group of public and private companies, whose decision-making calculus includes factors not related to the solar opportunity at hand. This will undermine competition and slow down the fall of solar costs. It might lead to a faster capacity addition in the short term, but carries the risk of the market stalling. For solar to be the big success in India that it can, it needs a wide spectrum of innovative players (including start-ups and international companies), a predictable policy framework and a large range of financing options. More

 

 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Dr. Vandana Shiva on corporate personhood

Watch an excerpt of a very powerful speech from Vandana Shiva. She explains the insanity behind the idea of corporations as people and what that notion is doing to our society. Watch her full speech today at 5pmPT/ 8pmET.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

That Was Easy: In Just 60 Years, Neoliberal Capitalism Has Nearly Broken Planet Earth

A pair of new studies show how various forms of human activity, driven by a flawed economic system and vast consumption, is laying waste to Earth's natural systems

The conclusion that the world's dominant economic model—a globalized form of neoliberal capitalism, largely based on international trade and fueled by extracting and consuming natural resources—is the driving force behind planetary destruction will not come as a shock, but the model's detailed description of how this has worked since the middle of the 20th century makes a more substantial case than many previous attempts. (Photo: NASA)

Humanity's rapacious growth and accelerated energy needs over the last generation—particularly fed by an economic system that demands increasing levels of consumption and inputs of natural resources—are fast driving planetary systems towards their breaking point, according to a new pair of related studies.

"It is difficult to overestimate the scale and speed of change. In a single lifetime humanity has become a geological force at the planetary-scale." —Prof. Will Steffen

Prepared by researchers at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the first study looks specifically at how "four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity." Published in the journal Nature on Thursday, the 18 researchers involved with compiling evidence for the report—titled 'Planetary Boundaries 2.0'—found that when it comes to climate change, species extinction and biodiversity loss, deforestation and other land-system changes, and altered biogeochemical cycles (such as changes to how key organic compounds like phosphorus and nitrogen are operating in the environment), the degradation that has already take place is driving the Earth System, as a whole, into a new state of imbalance.

"Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human well-being in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries," said Professor Will Steffen, a researcher at the Centre and the Australian National University, Canberra, who was lead author for both studies.

In addition to the four boundaries that have already been crossed, the study looked five other ways in which the planetary systems are under assault by human activity. They include: stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; freshwater use; atmospheric aerosol loading (microscopic particles in the atmosphere that affect climate and living organisms); and the introduction of novel entities into ecosystems (e.g. organic pollutants, radioactive materials, nanomaterials, and micro-plastics).

"I don't think we've broken the planet but we are creating a much more difficult world," Sarah Cornell, another report author, told Reuters.

In this interview with Wired last year, Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, described the idea about planetary boundaries in details:

Related to the findings of the first study, the second report examines what it calls the "Great Acceleration" and is an assessment of the speed and influence that specific factors have had in damaging the planetary systems described in Planetary Boundaries 2.0. Using a series of indicators, the study compares the relationship, over time, between 12 'socio-economic factors'—including economic growth (GDP); population; foreign direct investment; energy consumption; and water use—on one side with 12 'Earth system trends'—like the carbon cycle; the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity—on the other.

Using what it calls a "planetary dashboard," the research charts the spread and speed of human activity from the start of the industrial revolution in 1750 to 2010, and the subsequent changes in the Earth System – e.g. greenhouse gas levels, ocean acidification, deforestation and biodiversity deterioration. The analysis found that increased human activity—and "predominantly the global economic system"—has unseated all other factors as the primary driver of change in the Earth System, which the report describes as "the sum of our planet's interacting physical, chemical, biological and human processes." The most striking, i.e. "accelerated," changes to that system have occurred in the last sixty years.

"It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive. History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today." —Prof. Will Steffen"It is difficult to overestimate the scale and speed of change. In a single lifetime humanity has become a geological force at the planetary-scale," said Steffen, who also led the Acceleration study.

The conclusion that the world's dominant economic model—a globalized form of neoliberal capitalism, largely based on international trade and fueled by extracting and consuming natural resources—is the driving force behind planetary destruction will not come as a shock, but the model's detailed description of how this has worked since the middle of the 20th century makes a more substantial case than many previous attempts.

"When we first aggregated these datasets, we expected to see major changes but what surprised us was the timing. Almost all graphs show the same pattern. The most dramatic shifts have occurred since 1950. We can say that around 1950 was the start of the Great Acceleration," says Steffen. "After 1950 we can see that major Earth System changes became directly linked to changes largely related to the global economic system. This is a new phenomenon and indicates that humanity has a new responsibility at a global level for the planet."

The paper makes a point to acknowledge that consumption patterns and the rise of what has become known as the Anthropocene Era does not fall equally on the human population and its examination of the economic system which is underpinning planetary destruction is one rife with inequality, in which certain populations consume at vastly higher levels than others.

According to the report, "The new study also concludes that the bulk of economic activity, and so too, for now, the lion's share of consumption, remain largely within the OECD countries, which in 2010 accounted for about 74% of global GDP but only 18% of the global population. This points to the profound scale of global inequality, which distorts the distribution of the benefits of the Great Acceleration and confounds international efforts, for example climate agreements, to deal with its impacts on the Earth System."

A worrying trend, notes the paper, is how a growing global middle class—exemplified by those in the BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—is an increasing threat to the planet as the consumer mindset established in the OECD nations, particularly the U.S., spreads.

In an interview with the Guardian, Steffen spoke clearly about the overall impacts of the two new studies as he sounded the alarm over humanity's trajectory. "People say the world is robust and that’s true, there will be life on Earth, but the Earth won’t be robust for us," he said. "Some people say we can adapt due to technology, but that’s a belief system, it’s not based on fact. There is no convincing evidence that a large mammal, with a core body temperature of 37C, will be able to evolve that quickly. Insects can, but humans can’t and that’s a problem."

"It’s clear the economic system is driving us towards an unsustainable future and people of my daughter’s generation will find it increasingly hard to survive. History has shown that civilisations have risen, stuck to their core values and then collapsed because they didn’t change. That’s where we are today."

What increasing amounts of strong evidence shows, he said, is that that there "tipping points" that the human race should simply not "want to cross." More

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Friday, January 2, 2015

A New Canal Through Central America Could Have Devastating Consequences

When construction crews begin digging a new canal this month across Nicaragua, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic, it’ll be a boon to global shipping and, the government says, to the economy of the second-poorest nation in the Americas.

But activists, scientists and others are increasingly alarmed by the environmental impact of a 173-mile artificial waterway—wider, deeper and three and a half times the length of the Panama Canal.

Developed by Wang Jing, an enigmatic Chinese industrialist with ties to China’s ruling party, the Grand Nicaragua Canal will cost an estimated $40 billion and take five years to build. At 90 feet deep and 1,706 feet across at its widest, the channel will accommodate the newest cargo supertankers, which are longer than the Empire State Building is tall and carry 18,000 shipping containers. The vessels are too big to pass through the Panama Canal (even after a $5 billion expansion is completed) or to dock in any U.S. port.

The new canal and its infrastructure, from roads to pipelines to power plants, will destroy or alter nearly one million acres of rainforest and wetlands. And that doesn’t include Lake Nicaragua, a beloved 3,191-square-mile inland reservoir that provides most Nicaraguans with drinking water. The canal cuts through the lake, and critics say ship traffic will pollute the water with industrial chemicals and introduce destructive invasive plants and animals.

Plus, the canal route lies in the middle of a hurricane belt, says Robert Stallard, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “You’re likely going to be looking at hurricanes vastly more powerful than anything that ever hit Panama, and ever will,” Stallard says. A storm like Hurricane Mitch, which killed 3,800 people in Nicaragua in 1998, would probably cause the canal to flood, triggering mudslides that would breach locks and dams. Communities, homes, roads and power lines would be swamped.

The Nicaraguan government has yet to release promised analyses of the canal’s likely environmental impacts, and has even dodged neighboring Costa Rica’s request to share disaster plans. “We’ve got a lack of information and a potentially big threat to the environment,” says Jorge A. Huete-Pérez, vice president of the Academy of Sciences of Nicaragua. “The government just wants to rush the thing through.” The canal’s true benefits can’t be calculated, Huete-Pérez and others argue, as long as the costs to Nicaragua’s forests, waterways and wildlife remain hidden. More

 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The age of fossil fuels is over

 

One theme that is emerging loud and clear from the UN Climate Talks (much more so than any other previous negotiation) - if the world is serious about addressing the climate crisis, we must get off fossil fuels— completely. We can't just leave it up to governments, will you be a part of creating the solution we need?

Read more —> http://buff.ly/1zVkaM7 #COP20

 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Joining Forces to Combat Climate Change and Re-ignite the Global Economy

The world’s three biggest carbon emitters—the United States, China, and the European Union—have all announced emissions goals or limits in the past few months. That’s great news, but global fossil fuel demand continues to rise, and with it, so do climate change’s risks—to economy, to environment, to security, to human health, to people living in poverty in areas where climate change will have devastating impact.

The most recent IPCC report (AR5) found that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” “human influence on the climate system is clear,” and “limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

The 2014 report Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States detailed the serious economic harm we can expect from climate change if we continue on our current path. But the challenge before us is about more than averting the worst economic impacts of climate change. As highlighted in the recently released Better Growth, Better Climate report from The New Climate Economy, it’s also about finding enormous economic opportunity in clean energy solutions that both tackle global warming and unlock growth opportunities for all.

The transformation to a low-carbon future is arguably the greatest business opportunity of our time. Combating climate change through energy efficiency, renewable energy technologies, clean transportation, and smarter land use can reap rewards as great economically as environmentally.

Fortunately, an energy revolution is rising all around us—enabled by smart policies in mindful markets, and led by business for profit. Efficient energy use fuels more economic activity than oil, at far lower cost, while its potential gets ever bigger and cheaper. In each of the past three years, the world invested a quarter-trillion dollars—more than the market cap of the world’s coal industry—to add over 80 billion watts of renewable capacity (excluding big hydro dams). Generating capacity added last year was 37 percent renewable in the United States, 53 percent in the world, 68 percent in China, 72 perent in Europe. Last year, the world invested over $600 billion in efficiency, renewables, and cogeneration.

This growth is accelerating: solar power is scaling faster than cellphones. Last year alone, China added more solar capacity than the U.S. has added in 60 years. Electric vehicle sales are growing twice as fast as hybrid cars did at a comparable stage. Shrewd companies are realizing climate solutions’ enormous business opportunities—a prospect scarcely dimmed by cheaper oil, which makes only a few percent of the world’s electricity.

Global companies like IKEA, Google, Apple, Facebook, Salesforce, and Walmart have committed to 100 percent renewable power. Tesla’s stock is up an astounding 660 percent over the past two years and has half the market value of General Motors Corp. The NEX index, which tracks clean energy companies worldwide, grew by 50 percent over the past two years—far outperforming the general market—while equity raisings by quoted clean energy companies more than doubled. Many of the world’s top financial firms concur that the era of coal and of big power plants is drawing to a close; Germany’s biggest utility is divesting those assets to focus on efficiency and renewables.

Yet we need to create even bigger and faster change. Which is why we are delighted to announce that our two nonprofit organizations—Rocky Mountain Institute and the Carbon War Room—are joining forces. By uniting two of the world’s preeminent nonprofit practitioners of market-based energy and climate solutions, we will help turn the toughest long-term energy challenges into vast opportunities for entrepreneurs to create wealth and public benefit for all. More