Sunday, June 30, 2013

Climate change poses grave threat to security, says UK envoy

Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, special representative to foreign secretary, says governments can't afford to wait for 100% certainty.

Flooding in Thailand 2011

Climate change poses as grave a threat to the UK's security and economic resilience as terrorism and cyber-attacks, according to a senior military commander who was appointed as William Hague's climate envoy this year.

In his first interview since taking up the post, Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti said climate change was "one of the greatest risks we face in the 21st century", particularly because it presented a global threat. "By virtue of our interdependencies around the world, it will affect all of us," he said.

He argued that climate change was a potent threat multiplier at choke points in the global trade network, such as the Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the world's traded oil and gas is shipped.

Morisetti left a 37-year naval career to become the foreign secretary's special representative for climate change, and represents the growing influence of hard-headed military thinking in the global warming debate.

The link between climate change and global security risks is on the agenda of the UK's presidency of the G8, including a meeting to be chaired by Morissetti in July that will include assessment of hotspots where climate stress is driving migration.

Morisetti's central message was simple and stark: "The areas of greatest global stress and greatest impacts of climate change are broadly coincidental."

He said governments could not afford to wait until they had all the information they might like. "If you wait for 100% certainty on the battlefield, you'll be in a pretty sticky state," he said.

The increased threat posed by climate change arises because droughts, storms and floods are exacerbating water, food, population and security tensions in conflict-prone regions.

"Just because it is happening 2,000 miles away does not mean it is not going to affect the UK in a globalised world, whether it is because food prices go up, or because increased instability in an area – perhaps around the Middle East or elsewhere – causes instability in fuel prices," Morisetti said.

"In fact it is already doing so," he added, noting that Toyota's UK car plants had been forced to switch to a three-day week after extreme floods in Thailand cut the supply chain. Computer firms in California and Poland were left short of microchips by the same floods.

Morisetti is far from the only military figure emphasising the climate threat to security. America's top officer tackling the threat from North Korea and China has said the biggest long-term security issue in the region is climate change.

In a recent interview, Admiral Samuel J Locklear III, who led the US naval action in Libya that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi, said a significant event related to the warming planet was "the most likely thing that is going to happen that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about".

There is a reason why the military are so clear-headed about the climate threat, according to Professor John Schellnhuber, a scientist who briefed the UN security council on the issue in February and formerly advised the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

"The military do not deal with ideology. They cannot afford to: they are responsible for the lives of people and billions of pounds of investment in equipment," he said. "When the climate change deniers took their stance after the Copenhagen summit in 2009, it is very interesting that the military people were never shaken from the idea that we are about to enter a very difficult period."

He added: "This danger of the creation of violent conflicts is the strongest argument why we should keep climate change under control, because the international system is not stable, and the slightest thing, like the food riots in the Middle East, could make the whole system explode."

The military has been quietly making known its concern about the climate threat to security for some time. General Wesley Clark, who commanded the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo war,said in 2005: "Stopping global warming is not just about saving the environment, it's about securing America for our children and our children's children, as well." More


Friday, June 21, 2013

Could big bills from extreme weather drive climate action?

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Could the growing costs of damage from extreme weather – in rich countries as well as poor – be the push that finally drives action on climate change?

House inundated by the Elbe river

Worst-in-a-decade flooding that swept through Germany as U.N. climate talks took place there this month will cost Germany’s government and its insurance companies up to $8 billion, experts estimate. In the United States, the bill for recovery from Hurricane Sandy is estimated at more than $50 billion, with agricultural losses from that country’s widespread drought last year even more costly.

“When you add up what all the extreme weather events cost last year (in the United States), it’s in excess of $250 billion,” said Rachel Kyte, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank. “You’re talking about economic devastation that at some point is going to start hitting.”

So far, such heavy losses have not led to widespread political support for action on climate change in the United States, or other hard-hit countries. But a new report from the World Bank on the expected impacts of climate shifts suggests that so-called “loss and damage” from extreme weather is just starting, and the costs – in lives, economic damage and even potentially political stability – could rise dramatically around the world.

In South Asia, the once-regular Asian monsoon is growing less predictable, leading to deepening concerns that shifts could affect the food security and lives of 1.6 billion people. This year, the monsoon arrived almost a month early, causing severe flooding in some parts of India. At other times it has come late, leading to widespread power blackouts as desperate farmers switch on irrigation pumps, said Erick Fernandes, an adviser on climate change and natural resources for the World Bank.

Worsening drought in the Amazon threatens rainfall in food-producing areas of South America as far south as Argentina, he said, during a seminar on the World Bank report at the offices of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London.

Brazil’s crops – which are widely exported to other countries as well as feeding Brazilians – are 95 percent rainfed, Fernandes said, and the country relies heavily on hydropower for its energy.

Ocean acidification, as the world’s seas absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, has risen by 30 percent from pre-industrial times, the seminar heard. Acidification could prevent many shellfish from growing shells while an expected global temperature rises of at least 4 degrees Celsius would kill most coral reefs around the world, threatening tourism income and leaving coasts now protected by reefs more vulnerable to storms.

The Caribbean alone earns $5 billion a year from its coral reefs, Fernandes said.


Much of southern and southwest Africa is expected to see worsening drought by 2030 that could make growing maize – the region’s staple – impossible in 40 percent of the area it is now cultivated, the report said. Rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is also likely to turn many of Africa’s grass savannahs to brushy woodlands, affecting pastoralists.

In Southeast Asia, where coastal cities are seeing a big population surge, particularly in informal settlements, rising temperatures are expected to make life extremely uncomfortable for those without access to air conditioning, and to drive a serious increase in the severity of storms that could flood homes and workplaces – as happened in Thailand in 2011, said Fernandes.

Such shifts, besides causing huge financial losses, are likely to force a complete revamp of existing development plans.

“The development paradigm we’ve been peddling for years, that it’s easier to deal with the poor in urban settings than rural, because they’re easier to find and reach with services” may now be wrong, Kyte said.

“This report says that perhaps the most dangerous place to be if you’re poor is in the slums of a southeast Asian city.”

Changes are coming faster than expected, Fernandes said, noting that there was now a chance that a 4 degree Celsius rise in temperatures could arrive by 2060, and that “we could experience a 2-degree (hotter) world in our lifetimes”.

The increasingly extreme weather of recent years is the result of a 0.8 degree Celsius rise in the world’s temperature since pre-industrial times, which suggests that “even 2 degrees is not going to be a picnic”, he said.

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, and a senior fellow at the IIED, said he saw the World Bank report as “all about loss and damage” – a relatively new term that describes the costs associated with failure to reduce or adapt to climate change.

Who might pay those costs remains a huge political question. Rich countries at the U.N. climate talks have so far refused to accept any liability for their higher carbon emissions, fearing it could lead to them having to pay billions in compensation, experts say.

That suggests many countries, companies and communities will be asked to shoulder the rising costs of extreme weather themselves – and those costs could lead to growing pressure for action, experts predicted. More


Thursday, June 20, 2013

China warns it will execute serious polluters

There are carrot and stick approaches to tackling pollution. China is reaching for the stick. The country announced Wednesday that it is willing to impose the harshest possible penalty on polluters. From Reuters:

Polluted River

Chinese authorities have given courts the powers to hand down the death penalty in serious pollution cases, state media said, as the government tries to assuage growing public anger at environmental desecration. …

A new judicial interpretation which took effect on Wednesday would impose “harsher punishments” and tighten “lax and superficial” enforcement of the country’s environmental protection laws, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

“In the most serious cases the death penalty could be handed down,” it said.

The announcement comes at a time when China is attempting to turn a new leaf in environmental protection following decades of unchecked pollution and a slew of anti-pollution protests.

China also said it is reducing the amount of damage that must be caused by a polluter before they are prosecuted. From South China Morning Post:

The [new judicial] interpretation … states that a person can be convicted if he or she causes pollution that seriously injures a person. Previously, an incident would have had to result in a death before a person was convicted.

And only one death arising from an incident will be enough to see a sentence increased, rather than three deaths.

[Court spokesman Sun Jungong] said the lowering of the threshold for convicting polluters demonstrated authorities’ determination to “fight and deter environmental crimes”. …

[T]he interpretation details 14 activities that will be considered “crimes of impairing the protection of the environment and resources”.

Dumping radioactive substances into sources of drinking water and nature reserves, and incidents that poison more than 30 people or force more than 5,000 people to be evacuated, will be considered environmental pollution crimes for the first time.



Arctic Council: John Kerry steps into Arctic diplomacy

Three and half a months into his tenure as US secretary of state, John Kerry is grappling with war in Syria, tensions on the Korean peninsula and other crises. But on Tuesday, he takes a short break to dive into an issue in which he has long been interested - climate change.

John Kerry

Mr Kerry arrived in Stockholm and headed to Kiruna, Sweden's northernmost city, in the province of Lapland, for a meeting of the Arctic Council.

The council, founded in 1996, brings together eight nations with land above the Arctic Circle - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US.

Mr Kerry, who held one of the first US Senate hearings on climate change as early as 1988 with then-Senator Al Gore, is hoping to put the spotlight on the issue of climate change again, after efforts to make concrete progress faltered during President Barack Obama's first term.

Despite a multitude of international crises, Mr Kerry insisted on attending the meeting of the once-obscure council.

Climate change has countries as far away as India also paying attention to the Arctic - and seeking observer status in the council. Melting polar ice is making mineral and oil resources easier to exploit, setting off a scramble for access. The US Geological Survey estimated in 2008 that some 22% of the world's undiscovered oil and natural gas deposits were located above the Arctic Circle.

The warming climate also opens shipping routes that were once mostly inaccessible. The northern sea route would cut the distance between Shanghai and Europe by several thousands of miles, saving time and money.

China is courting Nordic countries, signing a trade agreement with Iceland and several commercial agreements with Denmark.

Greenland, a self-governing part of Denmark, is considering awarding mine exploration licenses to companies this year for a $2bn (£1.3bn) project north-east of the capital Nuuk.

One of those companies is London Mining, which would join a Chinese mining company in the project that could supply China with 15 million tonnes of iron ore a year.

China is one of 14 countries that have applied for observer status in the council, along with Japan, South Korea, India and others. Several European countries such as France and the Netherlands are already observers.

Observers do not participate in the decision-making process. But the Arctic's growing geopolitical significance allows countries with even a toehold in the small club - like China - to be closer to the action.

The council will consider the new applications during the Kiruna meeting and possibly come to a decision, which requires consensus. Canada and Russia are opposed, while the Nordic countries are in favour. More


Monday, June 10, 2013

Four energy policies can keep the 2 °C climate goal alive

Warning that the world is not on track to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, the International Energy Agency (IEA) today urged governments to swiftly enact four energy policies that would keep climate goals alive without harming economic growth.

“Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities. But the problem is not going away – quite the opposite,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said in London at the launch of a World Energy OutlookSpecial Report, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, which highlights the need for intensive action before 2020.

Noting that the energy sector accounts for around two-thirds of global greenhouse-gas emissions, she added: “This report shows that the path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C but also finds that much more can be done to tackle energy-sector emissions without jeopardising economic growth, an important concern for many governments.”

New estimates for global energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012 reveal a 1.4% increase, reaching a record high of 31.6 gigatonnes (Gt), but also mask significant regional differences. In the United States, a switch from coal to gas in power generation helped reduce emissions by 200 million tonnes (Mt), bringing them back to the level of the mid‑1990s. China experienced the largest growth in CO2 emissions (300 Mt), but the increase was one of the lowest it has seen in a decade, driven by the deployment of renewables and improvements in energy intensity. Despite increased coal use in some countries, emissions in Europe declined by 50 Mt. Emissions in Japan increased by 70 Mt.

The new IEA report presents the results of a 4-for-2 °C Scenario, in which four energy policies are selected that can deliver significant emissions reductions by 2020, rely only on existing technologies and have already been adopted successfully in several countries.

“We identify a set of proven measures that could stop the growth in global energy-related emissions by the end of this decade at no net economic cost,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol, the report’s lead author. “Rapid and widespread adoption could act as a bridge to further action, buying precious time while international climate negotiations continue.”

In the 4-for-2°C Scenario, global energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions are 8% (3.1 Gt CO2‑equivalent) lower in 2020 than the level otherwise expected.

  • Targeted energy efficiency measures in buildings, industry and transport account for nearly half the emissions reduction in 2020, with the additional investment required being more than offset by reduced spending on fuel bills.
  • Limiting the construction and use of the least-efficient coal-fired power plants delivers more than 20% of the emissions reduction and helps curb local air pollution. The share of power generation from renewables increases (from around 20% today to 27% in 2020), as does that from natural gas.
  • Actions to halve expected methane (a potent greenhouse gas) releases into the atmosphere from the upstream oil and gas industry in 2020 provide 18% of the savings.
  • Implementing a partial phase-out of fossil fuel consumption subsidies accounts for 12% of the reduction in emissions and supports efficiency efforts.

The report also finds that the energy sector is not immune from the physical impacts of climate change and must adapt. In mapping energy-system vulnerabilities, it identifies several sudden and destructive impacts, caused by extreme weather events, and other more gradual impacts, caused by changes to average temperature, sea level rise and shifting weather patterns. To improve the climate resilience of the energy system, it highlights governments’ role in encouraging prudent adaptation (alongside mitigation) and the need for industry to assess the risks and impacts as part of its investment decisions.

The financial implications of climate policies that would put the world on a 2 °C trajectory are not uniform across the energy sector. Net revenues for existing renewables-based and nuclear power plants increase by $1.8 trillion (in year-2011 dollars) collectively through to 2035, offsetting a similar decline from coal plants. No oil or gas field currently in production would need to shut down prematurely. Some fields yet to start production are not developed before 2035, meaning that around 5% to 6% of proven oil and gas reserves do not start to recover their exploration costs. Delaying the move to a 2 °C trajectory until 2020 would result in substantial additional costs to the energy sector and increase the risk of assets needing to be retired early, idled or retrofitted. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) can act as an asset protection strategy, reducing the risk of stranded assets and enabling more fossil fuel to be commercialised.

To download the WEO special report Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map, click here.

To read Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven's comments at the report's launch, please click here.

To see the presentation that accompanied the report's launch, please click here.

Accredited journalists who would like more information should contact

About the IEA

The International Energy Agency is an autonomous organisation which works to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy for its 28 member countries and beyond. Founded in response to the 1973/4 oil crisis, the IEA’s initial role was to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks to the markets. While this continues to be a key aspect of its work, the IEA has evolved and expanded. It is at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing reliable and unbiased research, statistics, analysis and recommendations.


Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map


Waiting on new climate deal 'will set world on a path to 5C warming'

The world cannot afford to wait for a new global climate changeagreement to come into force in 2020, because doing so will mean an end to hopes of limiting global warming to moderate levels, one of the world's foremost authorities on energy has warned.

Fukushima Cleanup

Carbon dioxide emissions from energy rose by 1.4% in 2012 to a record high of more than 31bn tonnes, according to a report from the International Energy Agency on Monday, driven in part by a striking 6% rise in emissions from Japan following its phase-out of nuclear power and continuing growth in emissions from China.

Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA, and one of the world's most respected energy experts, told the Guardian that greenhouse gas emissions were continuing to rise so fast that pinning hopes on a replacement for the Kyoto protocol would set the world on a path to 5C of warming, which would be catastrophic.

Birol urged governments to take urgent action on improving energy efficiency, replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon power, stopping the construction of inefficient power plants and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, as low or no-cost ways of reducing emissions quickly. "This will not harm economic growth, and they are policies that can be taken in a fragile economic context," he said.

The IEA has calculated that making clean energy investments sooner would be cheaper than leaving them until after 2020. About $1.5 trillion should be spent before 2020 to meet climate targets, it found, but if the investments are left until after 2020 it will take $5tn to achieve the same results.

Governments are negotiating under the United Nations to forge a global deal on emissions that would be signed in 2015 but not come into force until 2020. Until then, most countries have their own voluntary goals to curb carbon, but these fall well short of the cuts scientists say are needed to limit temperature rises to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, which is regarded as the limit of safety beyond which warming is likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

Birol said: "I am very worried about the emissions trends. The chance of keeping to 2C is still there, technically, but it is not very great. It is becoming extremely challenging."

Officials are meeting in Bonn this week in the next round of the ongoing UN talks, and Birol urged "a change in political mood" in the run-up to the 2015 deadline. He noted that there were a few positive trends among the rising carbon levels identified by the IEA, the gold standard on energy and emissions data. Emissions from energy in the US are now at levels not seen since the mid 1990s, having dropped by 3.8% in 2012 due to the effects of the shale gas boom that has led to gas replacing coal.

But Birol warned that this could not be replicated globally: "Shale gas is not a panacea. It can only be helpful if we see these other low-carbon technologies also [coming into widespread use] if we are serious about 2C."

Birol also saw positive trends in China, the world's biggest emitter. Although China's emissions rose by more than 300m tonnes, this was one of the smallest annual increases in two decades, Birol said. "The Chinese government has made huge efforts in energy efficiency, and a major effort on renewable energy such as hydroelectricity and wind."

Lord Stern of Brentford, author of the landmark Stern review of the economics of climate change, said the IEA report showed the importance of making investments quickly in cleaner energy. He said: "Government-induced policy risk from lack of clarity on energy and climate policy is, in many parts of the world, a major deterrent to long-term investment. This is surely unacceptable at a time of idle resources, low interest rates, strong liquidity within much of the private sector, attractive medium-term prospects for low-carbon growth and a climate at great risk." More


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

As Sea Waters Rise, Costal Communities in Pakistan Suffer

As global warming causes ocean water to creep farther up the Indus Delta, communities in Pakistan's coastal areas are suffering. A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund Pakistan highlights these challenges.

One farmer told WWF Pakistan he had to start fishing:

“Over the last few years, I sowed seeds in over 200 acres. But now my hands are empty. Only 15 acres is still fertile while the rest has become plagued by the problem of water-logging and salinity.” reports over half of the population's livelihoods are threaten by climate change:

The majority of the people in Pakistan (between 60 to 70 per cent) depend on the eco-system to survive. A shepherd in Balochistan, a farmer in Punjab or a fisherman from Sindh — all rely directly on the environment for their livelihood. Unfortunately, the livelihood of these people is at risk due to climate change. More

Report from WWF Pakistan


Noam Chomsky: Are We on the Verge of Total Self-Destruction?

What is the future likely to bring? A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside. So imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now -- assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious -- and you’re looking back at what’s happening today.

You’d see something quite remarkable.

For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves. That’s been true since 1945. It’s now being finally recognized that there are more long-term processes like environmental destruction leading in the same direction, maybe not to total destruction, but at least to the destruction of the capacity for a decent existence.

And there are other dangers like pandemics, which have to do with globalization and interaction. So there are processes underway and institutions right in place, like nuclear weapons systems, which could lead to a serious blow to, or maybe the termination of, an organized existence.

How to Destroy a Planet Without Really Trying

The question is: What are people doing about it? None of this is a secret. It’s all perfectly open. In fact, you have to make an effort not to see it.

There have been a range of reactions. There are those who are trying hard to do something about these threats, and others who are acting to escalate them. If you look at who they are, this future historian or extraterrestrial observer would see something strange indeed. Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada. They’re not talking about nuclear war but environmental disaster, and they’re really trying to do something about it.

In fact, all over the world -- Australia, India, South America -- there are battles going on, sometimes wars. In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences. In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand. The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”

Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it -- and the ground is where it ought to be.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult, and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the U.N. General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling George W. Bush a devil. He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting. Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer. Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product. In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use. That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer. You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background. Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported. More