Friday, December 14, 2007

Bali meeting a 'road map' for Copenhagen

Sarah Clarke

ABC news

As negotiations intensify in the final stages of the Bali climate change conference, Australia and the US are coming under more pressure not to water down the declaration.

The United Nations is urging countries to sign a declaration that specifies that developed nations support a cut in their emissions of between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020.

But the United States is trying to remove any mention of a target.

And while the Australian delegation is also refusing to sign on to the target, scientist and Australian of the Year Tim Flannery says he will not be disappointed if the specific target is removed.

"The role of this meeting was to agree a road map out to December 2009 in Copenhagen when by that stage, we will have needed to agree the basic building blocks of the new treaty, and they include targets," he said.

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that at the rate we are going, we are looking at two degrees Celsius increase in temperatures.

"Clearly not enough action's been taken to date to address that," he added.

"Emissions are growing year by year, the threat is growing year by year, but these negotiations are never easy. We're dealing here with the most difficult negotiations I think humanity has ever embarked upon."

Dr Flannery says some countries are not yet ready to move, and believes the best outcome can be achieved by taking a measured, step-by-step approach towards 2009.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said he is waiting for the Ross Garnaut report before he makes any commitment to short-term targets.

Dr Flannery says the Rudd Government's approach is cause for enormous optimism.

"As a bridge between the US and the Europeans and the Chinese, he can play a leading role globally in this, which is so much more important than waiting six months to decide precisely what the target's going to be," he said.

Interim targets

Dr Flannery says it is imperative for Australia to make short-term interim targets to meet the 25 to 40 per cent global level by 2020.

"Globally, we need to have emissions peak within about seven years and then 40 years from now we need to be living in what are effectively decarbonised economies," he said.

"That means we won't be burning coal conventionally anymore, won't be using petrol and oil as we use it now and probably with a greatly reduced dependency on gas.

"That is a massive, massive undertaking. This is really a new industrial revolution that we're going to see develop. So it's a big job, but I think for the first time ever, we've got the basic conditions right."

He says much of the work done over the last 12 months in the area of climate change, in which a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award have been won for work in the field, has helped to lay the foundations for future action.

But Dr Flannery warns that any contributions made by the US will be to be on its terms.

"We can't do anything with America. They have to be there and what that means in reality is that we need to keep a broad enough pathway open to allow the Americans to be part of this ongoing process," he said.

"They face difficulties, it's a much more cumbersome political system than we have in Australia and many places elsewhere. Changes take time."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Proof of global warming

Why doesn't the IPCC have this data in its report???

Tropical fever over targets

December 8, 2007
Marian Wilkinson

There is a simple but powerful equation that was being thrown at officials and reporters from the developed nations in Bali this week.

Almost 70 per cent of the greenhouse gas pollution already causing climate change was put into the atmosphere in the past by rich countries as they built prosperous economies for fewer than a fifth of the world's population.

Officials from China, India, Africa and the small island nations argued, at times acrimoniously, at the United Nations climate talks that this inescapable reality means rich countries must shoulder much of the burden in the fight to slow climate change and pay much of the bill to weather the damage that will continue for decades.

This is the harsh diplomatic reality facing the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and his Climate Change Minister, Penny Wong, when they arrive in Bali early next week. While scientific necessity, and the developed world, demand that heavily polluting developing countries such as China and India must rein in their own soaring emissions, the fight over who pays most and who sacrifices most underscored every discussion in Bali this week.

The crucial talks that began on Monday have one main aim: to agree to begin formal negotiations that will produce a new global climate change agreement by 2009. The outcome in Bali is not supposed to determine targets for rich or developing countries. But as officials from more than 180 nations ground out proposals for the "road map" to this agreement, the debate over what targets the rich countries would meet was impossible to ignore.

Led by China's formidable delegation, the developing world asked explicitly whether developed countries were trying to walk away from a consensus reached in Vienna earlier this year that they should take the lead in making deep cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. This proposal emerged from the hard scientific facts put together by the UN's peak scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If the world is going to avoid dangerous climate change, it needs to halve the soaring level of emissions by mid-century. To do that it must start now. The UN recognised that industrialised countries have the technology and government institutions capable of taking the lead. Under the principles of the Kyoto Protocol, that is expected.

As a newly ratified member of the protocol, Australia is now aligned with that position. But this week, developed countries under the protocol, such as Japan and Canada, appeared to want to water down the Vienna consensus. After a week of basking in plaudits for Australia's ratification of Kyoto, Rudd suddenly found Australia's position on the Vienna proposals under scrutiny. Where did Australia stand on developed countries cutting their emissions between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020?

Critically, the so-called Vienna Declaration does not commit individual developed countries to these cuts now. And how they can be achieved is up for debate. But in Bali this week, the developing world demanded that the Vienna proposal be recognised.

Europe and New Zealand confirmed their support for the Vienna Declaration, and by Wednesday night the Australian delegation did as well. But immediately, Rudd at home had to confront accusations from the Opposition that he had committed Australia to reckless cuts in emissions that would damage the economy. He was quick to insist that the Vienna Declaration was not a commitment.

"The target that you referred to, 25-40, is in fact contained in what is described generally as the Vienna Declaration," he explained. "Many states have publicly recognised the work of the IPCC in putting together that report but, in so doing, states have also indicated that they do not necessarily accept those targets, nor do they accept those targets as binding targets for themselves. That has been a reality since the Vienna Declaration was issued in August of this year. That is also the position of the Australian Government."

He repeated, as he did before the election, that Australia will not set any 2020 target until the report by the economist Ross Garnaut is delivered next year. That, he said, "is to ensure that those targets are meaningful environmentally and responsible economically. And that's the way ahead".

But in Bali, Rudd will not so easily duck this issue. As he spoke in Brisbane, in Bali the head of the UN climate negotiating team, Yvo de Boer, told reporters he had just come from a meeting discussing the Vienna proposals. And he said: "I think it is clear to everyone that industrialised countries will have to continue to take the lead. All countries, all governments, realise that industrialised countries will have to reduce their emissions somewhere between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020. So that's an agreed range for industrialised countries."

Australian and UN officials are anxiously stressing that these targets do not have to be signed or sealed in Bali or, indeed, until some way down the track. The Kyoto Protocol's first targets do not expire until 2012. Under these, Australia has an easy ride. While many developed nations agreed to cut their emissions by up to 5 per cent on 1990s levels, Australia was allowed to increase its emissions by 8 per cent of 1990 levels. Unfortunately for Rudd, this deal, and a decade of inaction by the Howard government to slow Australia's soaring emissions, means that making deep cuts by 2020 will be difficult.

While Australia can correctly insist the 2020 targets are not up for discussion in Bali, they are now deeply colouring the debate as officials move behind closed doors to nut out a deal on the road map.

Put simply, the Bali talks have divided the developing world and the developed. And among some developing nations, especially India, there is a very hard line emerging that there should be no concessions until the developed world takes the lead on cutting emissions, agrees to technology transfers and puts up serious money to fund the world's adaption to climate change.

On the other side, Japan among others wants to see serious proposals from China and India on emissions reductions before it agrees to commitments after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol's first round expires. The new global agreement that follows this cannot give its two biggest competitors, the US and China, an unfair advantage.

The hope is that a consensus will prevail. It is possible there will be a commitment to begin negotiations on two tracks: one will continue down the Kyoto track to pursue commitments from nations which have ratified the protocol. The other will be under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, called the dialogue track. This would include the developing countries and the US, which remains outside Kyoto and opposed to binding targets. By 2009 these two tracks could come together in a final agreement.

By the time Rudd attends the Bali talks early next week it will be clear whether a consensus is emerging. Along with the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, he will be performing on the main stage. This week, Rudd said he wanted to act as a "bridge" between the developed and developing world, especially between China and the US.

But when he stands to make his statement on the floor of the talks, many in the developing world will be listening to what the new Prime Minister will say about the burden Australia and the developed world are willing to take in the battle to save the planet.

Rajendra Pachauri discusses US approach to climate change

US States, Cities Can Impact Climate

BALI, Indonesia (AP) — Despite Bush administration reluctance, U.S. states and cities could make an American "national commitment" to a new global agreement to cut greenhouse gases, the chief U.N. climate scientist said Friday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Rajenda Pachauri said the U.S. approach to climate change might be altered by the upcoming presidential election or by the combined actions of states and cities.

Pachauri, whose Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared this year's Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, spoke with AP during the U.N. climate conference on this resort island.

More than 180 nations are assembled to try to launch negotiations on an agreement for future reductions in carbon dioxide and other industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for global warming.

The Indian climatologist, chairman of the IPCC, is heading to Norway to accept the Peace Prize on Monday on behalf of his panel, which is a network of 2,000 climate and other scientists.
Later in the two-week conference, Pachauri and Gore will make separate appeals for decisive steps toward a new regime of deeper emissions cutbacks to succeed the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

The 1997 Kyoto accord required 36 industrial nations to reduce emissions by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The United States is the only industrial nation to reject Kyoto; President Bush says the required cuts would damage the U.S. economy.

The U.S. delegation in Bali has indicated no change in that position. However, "there's much that's happened in the U.S." at congressional, state and local levels, Pachauri said.

California last year adopted a sweeping law requiring reductions of about 25 percent in greenhouse gases by 2020. New York and nine other Northeastern states are putting caps on power-plant emissions and developing a system to trade emissions allowances. And just last month, six Midwestern states announced a joint program to reduce emissions.

At the local level across the United States, city governments have introduced significant measures to rein in carbon emissions.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to reduce his city's emissions by 30 percent by 2030, by requiring taxis to switch to gas-saving hybrid vehicles, for example, and most controversially by proposing fees for vehicles to enter lower Manhattan.

Seattle claims city operations have cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 60 percent through motor pools of hybrid cars, trucks using biodiesel fuel and other measures.

Pachauri said he saw two paths for the United States.

"One would be, let's say, the U.S. administration committing itself to certain actions," he said. "The other approach would be, independent of what the U.S. administration does, several states in the U.S. and several other entities over there decide to take action on their own, and the sum total of that would amount to a commitment, you could say, equivalent to a national commitment."

In addition, he said, "the U.S. is in for a presidential election that really would have some bearing on what the outcome is in these negotiations" over the next two years.

Presidential candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties favor mandatory caps on U.S. emissions, and a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would — if not vetoed by Bush — impose a cap-and-trade system nationwide.

Some analysts have suggested a new international deal on climate, because of an American aversion to international controls, might have to accommodate a U.S. caps system lying outside a treaty-bound regime obligating other nations to emissions caps.

Asked what might happen if world governments fail to act decisively on climate, Pachauri referred to the landmark findings of his panel's 2007 reports.

The "inevitable consequences," he said, are "clearly not in the interest of the human species and other species that inhabit this planet," including mass extinctions of plants and animals and sharp rises in sea level because of warmer, expanding water and the runoff of melted land ice.

"And that's really an irreversible change," he said.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Australian PM distances himself from big emissions cuts by 2020

Here is a story about Kevin Rudd backing down on 'deep' emission cuts for 2020 and said Australia was opposed to cuts of between 25 and 40%.
Well I am certainly not opposed to 'deep' cuts and I agree with Dr Pearman (former head of CSIRO atmospheric research) that the scientific research is suggesting we need cuts of between 20 and 30 % minimum.
6th Dec 2007
BRISBANE, Australia (AFP) — Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Thursday denied his government would support deep carbon emission cuts for developing nations by 2020 aimed at curbing global warming.

Rudd said Australia remained opposed to the binding cuts of between 25 and 40 percent in the next 12 years, despite reports that Australian officials had publicly embraced the plan at a major UN climate change conference in Bali.

Speaking after his cabinet's first meeting in the eastern city of Brisbane, Rudd told reporters his government was opposed to the target, which originated from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this year.

"(Nations) have ... indicated that they do not necessarily accept those targets, nor do they accept those targets as binding targets for themselves," he said.

"That is also the position of the Australian government," he added, days before flying to Bali to attend the conference along with four of his senior ministers and just after he moved to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Two major Australian newspaper groups reported earlier Thursday that Australian representatives to the Bali conference had told delegates that Canberra "fully supports" the proposal that developed countries need to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020.

Environmental groups had praised the reported announcement, while Australia's new opposition said such a move would have a "devastating impact" on the country's economy.

Rudd had earlier repeatedly said Australia would not set its own 2020 target until he received a report he has commissioned from his climate change economic specialist next year.

The prime minister, who has set a 2050 target for cutting greenhouse gas pollution by 60 percent, said Thursday he would wait for the report before setting short-term targets.

"I think speculation on individual numbers prior to that is not productive and I would suggest it would be better for all concerned if we waited for the outcome of that properly deliberated document," Rudd said.

The link to this story is broken (so I have left the full story).

Random Man says "Hmmmm... Hope he isn't just going to "wait and see" when it comes to climate change!!!"

Emissions bill heads to fight on senate floor

Zachery Coile
Chronicle Washington Bureau
December 6, 2007

Washington- Congress took its first significant step in the fight against global warming Wednesday as a Senate committee voted to send a bill to cut greenhouse gases to the Senate floor next year.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's 11-8 vote sets up a contentious debate in Congress over climate change that could have an impact on the presidential and congressional elections.

"This is a historic moment," California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who chairs the committee, said teary-eyed at the end of the nine-hour hearing. "What happened here today will not go unnoticed. The whole world is watching."

Boxer was under intense pressure to finish the bill this week while world leaders are gathered at a climate change summit at Bali, Indonesia, to show the world that Congress is moving closer to acting on climate change even though the Bush administration still opposes mandatory cuts in emissions.

"The United States simply has to take a leadership role," said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., one of the chief sponsors of the bill. "We are the superpower in the world, and we've got to utilize our status to try to correct a situation all of us acknowledge is causing hardship through fluctuations in temperature throughout the world."

The bill is modeled on California's market-based climate program. It would set a mandatory cap on emissions and would create a national trading system in which polluters could buy or sell credits to emit greenhouse gases.

The measure would cap greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2012 and require power plants, large manufacturers and the transportation sector to gradually reduce their emissions by 62 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

But the heated debate at Wednesday's hearing showed there is still no clear consensus in Congress on solutions to the climate crisis. Warner was the lone Republican to join Democrats and two independent senators on the committee to support the bill.

Most Republicans on the panel warned that the bill could raise energy costs for American businesses and consumers and might not slow rapid temperature increases if emissions in China and India continue to grow.

"This bill is all pain and no gain," said Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the committee's ranking Republican.

The sharpest debate came over the issue of rising emissions from China and India. The United States historically has been the world's largest emitter - and it continues to be the world's largest per-capita emitter. But China, with a booming economy fueled by coal-fired power plants, is overtaking the United States in total emissions.

"We can do what we want, and Europe can do whatever it wants, but if China and India continue to do what they want, we will have zero impact on world carbon dioxide levels," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

But Warner, who warned of the national security implications if rising sea levels lead to mass population displacements, said the United States must stop using China and India as an excuse not to limit emissions.

"If we don't act, China and India will simply hide behind America's skirts of inaction and take no steps of their own," he said.

Republicans offered several amendments to boost nuclear energy, which some tout as a possibility for solving global warming because nuclear plants produce electricity without emitting greenhouse gases. But the measures were defeated after Boxer warned they would kill the bill.

Many of the GOP amendments were symbolic: One would have opened waters off the shore of several Southern states to drilling if natural gas prices increased because of the bill. Another would have pulled the plug on the bill if China and India didn't pass similar measures within 10 years. Still another measure would have required businesses to tell the Securities and Exchange Commission about how much it would cost them to comply with the bill. The committee rejected them.

A measure to prevent states like California or municipalities from enacting their own climate rules also was defeated.

The bill "continues to let the states do their trailblazing work," Boxer said.

The panel also added a low-carbon fuel standard - modeled on a California rule - that would require a 5 percent cut in the carbon content of transportation fuels by 2015 and a 10 percent cut by 2020. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who approved a similar standard in January, made calls to lawmakers in recent weeks lobbying for the measure.

But other efforts to toughen the bill failed. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., offered an amendment to require an 80 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2050, in line with what some scientists say is needed to limit the worst potential effects of global warming.

But Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., a chief sponsor of the bill, said the deeper cuts would not pass. "The most important thing is to get something passed, to get something started," Lieberman said.

Sanders also lost on a measure, backed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., that would have required the permits to emit greenhouse gases to be auctioned to companies rather than given away. The bill gives away most permits at first and gradually moves to auction them over time. But Sanders warned it could lead to windfall profits for some electric utilities and manufacturers.
Supporters hailed the panel's voting out of the bill as a major step, but insiders say it faces long odds in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to pass any major bill.

The measure has three Republican co-sponsors - Sens. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has sponsored a separate climate bill. But supporters of climate legislation might have lost another key Republican vote: Arizona Sen. John McCain, who recently said he'll support a bill only if it boosts nuclear power.

The House has been waiting for Senate action, but House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., has pledged to push forward on a climate change measure next year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, has said it will be one of the House's top priorities in this session.

The battle lines for the debate are already being drawn. Schwarzenegger and groups of environmentalists, scientists and evangelical leaders released letters this week supporting the bill. The U.S Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association released their own letters, warning of the bill's costs.

Inhofe promised "an enormous floor flight" next year to defeat the bill. But Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who played a key role in brokering a deal over the climate bill, predicted: "The votes are going to be there. They're going to be there because it's the right thing to do."

Key provisions of climate bill

The bill passed Wednesday by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, among other things, would:

-- Cap emissions of greenhouse gases starting in 2012, and gradually reduce emissions by 62 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

-- Cover about 80 percent of U.S. emissions, mostly from electric utilities, major manufacturers and fuel refiners.

-- Allow polluters to buy, sell and trade credits to emit greenhouse gases.

-- Create a Federal Reserve-type board to monitor the trading system, and make adjustments if the costs of the program rose too quickly.

-- Use the proceeds from auctions of the credits to develop new energy technologies and help low-income consumers pay their energy bills.

-- Create a low-carbon fuel standard, modeled on California's rules, cutting the carbon content of transportation fuels by 10 percent in 2020.

To read the complete text of the global warming bill go to

Source: Chronicle staff report.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Greenhouse gases reached record levels in 2006

November 24, 2007

Geneva -- Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide that contribute to global warming reached record levels in 2006, the World Meteorological Organization, said yesterday.

The rise in carbon dioxide emissions is chiefly due to fossil-fuel combustion, such as coal power stations, the WMO said.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the world's atmosphere rose 0.53 per cent from 2005, while nitrous oxide was up 0.25 per cent, the WMO said in its latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

Carbon dioxide remains the most important of the greenhouse gases, making up 63 per cent of the total, and over the past five years it has been responsible for 91 per cent of the increase in global warming, the WMO said.


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Gorilla Slaughter

November 5, 2007

If the people of Congo save the mountain gorilla, might the gorilla return the favor?

That is the hope of environmental activists, who realise that wildlife conservation and tourism could be the key to survival for people as well as animals in a part of Africa where conflict has been the norm. Mountain gorillas are gentle giants that range across the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa.

These primates are considered extremely endangered, with fewer than 720 in existence. After a decade of relative calm for these animals -- the same cannot be said of the humans around them -- wildlife officials report at least 10 have been killed this year. Photographs documenting the slaughter are heartbreaking, mostly because of the peaceful, human-like expressions the dead gorillas wear.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4) report

Planet's Tougher Problems Persist, UN Report Warns

Nairobi/New York, 25 October:

The United Nations Environment Programme says that major threats to the planet such as climate change, the rate of extinction of species, and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the many that remain unresolved, and all of them put humanity at risk.

The warning comes in UNEP's Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4) report published 20 years after the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) produced its seminal report, Our Common Future.

GEO-4, the latest in UNEP's series of flagship reports, assesses the current state of the global atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, describes the changes since 1987, and identifies priorities for action. GEO-4 is the most comprehensive UN report on the environment, prepared by about 390 experts and reviewed by more than 1 000 others across the world.

It salutes the world's progress in tackling some relatively straightforward problems, with the environment now much closer to mainstream politics everywhere. But despite these advances, there remain the harder-to-manage issues, the "persistent" problems. Here, GEO-4 says:

"There are no major issues raised in Our Common Future for which the foreseeable trends are favourable."

Failure to address these persistent problems, UNEP says, may undo all the achievements so far on the simpler issues, and may threaten humanity's survival. But it insists: "The objective is not to present a dark and gloomy scenario, but an urgent call for action."

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "The international community's response to the Brundtland Commission has in some cases been courageous and inspiring. But all too often it has been slow and at a pace and scale that fails to respond to or recognize the magnitude of the challenges facing the people and the environment of the planet".

"Over the past 20 years, the international community has cut, by 95 per cent, the production of ozone-layer damaging chemicals; created a greenhouse gas emission reduction treaty along with innovative carbon trading and carbon offset markets; supported a rise in terrestrial protected areas to cover roughly 12 per cent of the Earth and devised numerous important instruments covering issues from biodiversity and desertification to the trade in hazardous wastes and living modified organisms," he added.

"But, as GEO-4 points out, there continue to be 'persistent' and intractable problems unresolved and unaddressed. Past issues remain and new ones are emerging?from the rapid rise of oxygen 'dead zones' in the oceans to the resurgence of new and old diseases linked in part with environmental degradation. Meanwhile, institutions like UNEP, established to counter the root causes, remain under-resourced and weak," said Mr Steiner.

On climate change the report says the threat is now so urgent that large cuts in greenhouse gases by mid-century are needed. Negotiations are due to start in December on a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate agreement which
obligates countries to control anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Although it exempts all developing countries from emission reduction commitments, there is growing pressure for some rapidly-industrializing countries, now substantial emitters themselves, to agree to emission reductions.

GEO-4 also warns that we are living far beyond our means. The human population is now so large that "the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available... humanity's footprint [its environmental demand] is 21.9 hectares per person while the Earth's biological capacity is, on average, only 15.7 ha/person...".

And it says the well-being of billions of people in the developing world is at risk, because of a failure to remedy the relatively simple problems which have been successfully tackled elsewhere.

GEO-4 recalls the Brundtland Commission's statement that the world does not face separate crises - the "environmental crisis", "development crisis", and "energy crisis" are all one. This crisis includes not just climate change, extinction rates and hunger, but other problems driven by growing human numbers, the rising consumption of the rich and the desperation of the poor.
Examples are:

- decline of fish stocks;
- loss of fertile land through degradation;
- unsustainable pressure on resources;
- dwindling amount of fresh water available for humans and other creatures to share; and
- risk that environmental damage could pass unknown points of no return.

GEO-4 says climate change is a "global priority", demanding political will and leadership. Yet it finds "a remarkable lack of urgency", and a "woefully inadequate" global response.

Several highly-polluting countries have refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. GEO-4 says: "... some industrial sectors that were unfavourable to the... Protocol managed successfully to undermine the political will to ratify it." It says: "Fundamental changes in social and economic structures, including lifestyle changes, are crucial if rapid progress is to be achieved."

Among the other critical points it identifies are:

Water: Irrigation already takes about 70 per cent of available water, yet meeting the Millennium Development Goal on hunger will mean doubling food production by 2050. Fresh water is declining: by 2025, water use is predicted to have risen by 50 per cent in developing countries and by 18 per cent in the developed world. GEO-4 says: "The escalating burden of water demand will become intolerable in water-scarce countries."

Water quality is declining too, polluted by microbial pathogens and excessive nutrients. Globally, contaminated water remains the greatest single cause of human disease and death.
Fish: Consumption more than tripled from 1961 to 2001. Catches have stagnated or slowly declined since the 1980s. Subsidies have created excess fishing capacity, estimated at 250 per cent more than is needed to catch the oceans' sustainable production.

Biodiversity: Current biodiversity changes are the fastest in human history. Species are becoming extinct a hundred times faster than the rate shown in the fossil record. The Congo Basin's bushmeat trade is thought to be six times the sustainable rate. Of the major vertebrate groups that have been assessed comprehensively, over 30 per cent of amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds are threatened.

The intrusion of invasive alien species is a growing problem. The comb jellyfish, accidentally introduced in 1982 by US ships, has taken over the entire marine ecosystem of the Black Sea, and had destroyed 26 commercial fisheries by 1992.

A sixth major extinction is under way, this time caused by human behaviour. Yet to meet our growing demand for food will mean either intensified agriculture (using more chemicals, energy and water, and more efficient breeds and crops) or cultivating more land. Either way, biodiversity suffers.

One sign of progress is the steady increase in protected areas. But they must be effectively managed and properly enforced. And biodiversity (of all sorts, not just the "charismatic megafauna" like tigers and elephants) will increasingly need conserving outside protected areas as well.

Regional Pressures: This is the first GEO report in which all seven of the world's regions emphasize the potential impacts of climate change. In Africa, land degradation and even desertification are threats; per capita food production has declined by 12 per cent since 1981.

Unfair agricultural subsidies in developed regions continue to hinder progress towards increasing yields. Priorities for Asia and the Pacific include urban air quality, fresh water stress, degraded ecosystems, agricultural land use and increased waste. Drinking water provision has made remarkable progress in the last decade, but the illegal traffic in electronic and hazardous waste is a new challenge. Europe's rising incomes and growing numbers of households are leading to unsustainable production and consumption, higher energy use, poor urban air quality, and transport problems. The region's other priorities are biodiversity loss, land-use change and freshwater stresses.

Latin America and the Caribbean face urban growth, biodiversity threats, coastal damage and marine pollution, and vulnerability to climate change. But protected areas now cover about 12 per cent of the land, and annual deforestation rates in the Amazon are falling. North America is struggling to address climate change, to which energy use, urban sprawl and freshwater stresses are all linked. Energy efficiency gains have been countered by the use of larger vehicles, low fuel economy standards, and increases in car numbers and distances travelled. For West Asia the priorities are freshwater stresses, degradation of land, coasts and marine ecosystems, urban management, and peace and security. Water-borne diseases and the sharing of international water resources are also concerns. The Polar Regions are already feeling the impacts of climate change. The food security and health of indigenous peoples are at risk from increasing mercury and persistent organic pollutants in the environment. The ozone layer is expected to take another half-century to recover.

The FutureGEO-4 acknowledges that technology can help to reduce people's vulnerability to environmental stresses, but says there is sometimes a need "to correct the technology-centred development paradigm". It explores how current trends may unfold by 2050 in four scenarios.
The real future will be largely determined by the decisions individuals and society make now, GEO-4 says: "Our common future depends on our actions today, not tomorrow or some time in the future."

For some of the persistent problems the damage may already be irreversible. GEO-4 warns that tackling the underlying causes of environmental pressures often affects the vested interests of powerful groups able to influence policy decisions. The only way to address these harder problems requires moving the environment from the periphery to the core of decision-making: environment for development, not development to the detriment of environment.

"There have been enough wake-up calls since Brundtland. I sincerely hope GEO-4 is the final one. The systematic destruction of the Earth's natural and nature-based resources has reached a point where the economic viability of economies is being challenged and where the bill we hand on to our children may prove impossible to pay," said Mr Steiner.

The GEO-4 report concludes that "while governments are expected to take the lead, other stakeholders are just as important to ensure success in achieving sustainable development. The need couldn't be more urgent and the time couldn't be more opportune, with our enhanced understanding of the challenges we face, to act now to safeguard our own survival and that of future generations" ends.

Full report available from below link:

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The World's Priorities?

Estimated annual cost to provide universal access to basic social services in all developing countries (source UNDP). Figures are from 1997

Basic education $6 billion (we spend $8 billion on cosmetics in the US)
(we spend $50billion on cigarettes in Europe)

Water and sanitation $9 billion (we spend $11 billion on icecream in Europe)
(we spend 105 billion on alcohol in Europe)

Reproductive Health $12 billion (we spend $12 billion on perfume in Europe and US)
(we spend $400billion on narcotics in the world)

Basic Health and nutrition $13 billion (we spend $17 billion on pet food in Europe and US)
(we spend $780 billion on the military worldwide)

Look at the state of the Earth

Marian Wilkinson
Environment Editor
October 26, 2007

The most authoritative scientific report on the planet's health has found water, land, air, plants, animals and fish stocks are all in "inexorable decline" as 2007 became the first year in human history when most of the world's population lived in cities.

The United Nations' Global Environment Outlook-4 report, released in New York, reveals a scale of unprecedented ecological damage, with more than 2 million people possibly dying prematurely of air pollution and close to 2 billion likely to suffer absolute water scarcity by 2025.

Put bluntly, the report warns that the 6.75 billion world population, "has reached a stage where the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available".

And it says climate change, the collapse of fish stocks and the extinction of species "may threaten humanity's very survival".

Launching the report, the head of the UN's Environment Program, Achim Steiner, warned that, "without an accelerated effort to reform the way we collectively do business on planet earth, we will shortly be in trouble, if indeed we are not already".

One of the most disturbing findings is that environmental exposures are now causing almost one quarter of all diseases including respiratory disease, cancers, and emerging animal-to-human disease transfer.

Pressure on the global water supply has also become a serious threat to human development as the demand for irrigated crops soars. The report estimates that only one in 10 of the world's major rivers reaches the sea all year round because of upstream irrigation demands.

Each person's "environmental footprint" has on average grown to 22 hectares of the planet but the report estimates the "biological carrying capacity" is somewhere between 15 and 16 hectares per person.

Critically, fish stocks, a key protein source for several billion people, are in crisis. About 30 per cent of global fish stocks are classed as "collapsed" and 40 per cent are described as "over-exploited".

The exploitation of land for agriculture has hugely increased as populations increase and living standards rise. A hectare of land that once produced 1.8 tonnes of crops in 1987 now produces 2.5 tonnes. But that rise in productivity has been made possible by a greater use of fertilisers and water leading to land degradation and pollution.

"The food security of two-thirds of the world's people depends on fertilisers, especially nitrogen," the report says. In turn, the nutrients running off farmland are increasingly causing algal blooms. In the Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea these have created huge "dead zones" without oxygen.

The report estimates that all species, including animals and plants, are becoming extinct at rates 100 times faster than those shown from the past in fossil records. The main causes include land clearing for agriculture, over-exploitation and pollution. Of the major species assessed, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds are threatened with extinction.

Genetic diversity is also shrinking as just 14 animal species account for 90 per cent of all livestock production and 30 crops dominate global agriculture. But overwhelmingly, the report finds that climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions poses the gravest danger to the future of the planet. The authors note "a remarkable lack of urgency" in tackling human-induced global warming and, in a criticism of the Australia and the US, it notes that "several highly-emitting countries have refused to ratify the global climate change treaty, the Kyoto Protocol".

Significantly, Mr Steiner said last night be believed the governments were "finally turning the corner" on dealing with climate change.

"The momentum on climate change in 2007 is nothing short of breathtaking", he said. "It is time to find the same sense of urgency on biodiversity and degradation, on fisheries and freshwater".

Mr Steiner noted important progress in some areas, cuts in air pollution in Europe and cuts to overfishing in the Pacific. And he stressed that the authors of the report insist that its objective "is not to present a dark and gloomy scenario but an urgent call for action".

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Poor Turtle

More than a million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals, and countless fish die in the North Pacific each year, either from mistakenly eating plastic or from being ensnared in it and drowning.

Friday, October 19, 2007

How climate change will affect the world

David Adam
The Guardian
Wednesday September 19 2007

The effects of climate change will be felt sooner than scientists realised and the world must learn to live with the effects, experts said yesterday.

Martin Parry, a climate scientist with the Met Office, said destructive changes in temperature, rainfall and agriculture were now forecast to occur several decades earlier than thought. He said vulnerable people such as the old and poor would be the worst affected, and that world leaders had not yet accepted their countries would have to adapt to the likely consequences.

Speaking at a meeting to launch the full report on the impacts of global warming by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Professor Parry, co-chairman of the IPCC working group that wrote the report, said: "We are all used to talking about these impacts coming in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren. Now we know that it's us."

He added politicians had wasted a decade by focusing only on ways to cut emissions, and had only recently woken up to the need to adapt. "Mitigation has got all the attention, but we cannot mitigate out of this problem. We now have a choice between a future with a damaged world or a severely damaged world."

The international response to the problem has failed to grasp that serious consequences such as reduced crop yields and water shortages are now inevitable, he said. Countries such as Britain need to focus on helping nations in the developing world cope with the predicted impacts, by helping them to introduce irrigation and water management technology, drought resistant crops and new building techniques.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, said: "Wheat production in India is already in decline, for no other reason than climate change. Everyone thought we didn't have to worry about Indian agriculture for several decades. Now we know it's being affected now." There are signs a similar shift is under way in China, he added.

The summary chapter of yesterday's report was published in April, after arguments between scientists and political officials over its contents. Prof Parry said: "Governments don't like numbers, so some numbers were brushed out of it."

The report warns that Africa and the Arctic will bear the brunt of climate impacts, along with small islands such as Fiji, and Asian river megadeltas including the Mekong.

It says extreme weather events are likely to become more intense and more frequent, and the effect on ecosystems could be severe, with up to 30% of plant and animal species at risk of extinction if the average rise in global temperatures exceeds 1.5C-2.5C. The consequences of rising temperatures are already being felt on every continent, it adds.

Prof Parry said it was "very unlikely" that average temperature rise could be limited to 2C, as sought by European governments. That would place 2 billion more people at risk of water shortages, and hundreds of millions more will face hunger, the report says.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

UNDP - Millennium Development Goals

Target: Halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and those who suffer from hunger.

Target: Ensure that all boys and girls complete primary school.

Target: Eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.

Target: Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five.
Target: Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.

Target: Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Target: Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

Target: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes; reverse loss of environmental resources
Target: Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water
Target: Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020

Goal 8 of the Millennium Development Goals sets out by the year 2015 to:
- Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory. Includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction—nationally and internationally.
- Address the least developed countries’ special needs. This includes tariff- and quota-free access for their exports; enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction.
- Address the special needs of landlocked and small island developing States.
Deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt problems through national and international measures to make debt sustainable in the long term
- In cooperation with the developing countries, develop decent and productive work for youth.
- In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries.
- In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies—especially information and communications technologies.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How green is NSW living? now we can tell

September 12, 2007

Over the past few weeks there has been a running commentary on the effect of the crisis in the US subprime mortgage market on the Australian sharemarket.

When it emerged we saw record falls on the Australian market. When the US Federal Reserve intervened, confidence was restored and the sharemarket surged upwards.

We love watching numbers go up and down. Even if they don't move, they seem to spark interest.

And if it is reported, it must matter.

Of course, this is not restricted to the sharemarket. We know we want dam levels to rise, the dollar to rise (unless you are a farmer), pollen levels to be low and mortgage rates to go down.

But do you know what happened with our greenhouse gas emissions last week? Did they go up? Stabilise? Or, more hopefully, go down? Do you have any idea how much NSW emitted?

With climate change one of the most critical issues facing the planet and our release of greenhouse gases critical to this, this seems to be a significant oversight.

It would be good if we took as much interest in how greenhouse gas emissions were tracking as we did in other indicators. There is little doubt that reports on dam levels helped raise awareness of the need to save water and contributed to cutting water use. If we had weekly information on how much greenhouse gas we produced, perhaps we would realise that rather than cutting our emissions, we were actually increasing them.

This year the Climate Group introduced in Victoria a weekly indicator of greenhouse emissions.

From today, NSW will also be able to track greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electricity, natural gas-fired electricity and petroleum products.

The NSW Greenhouse Indicator - on the facing page - keeps an account of about 65per cent of NSW greenhouse gas emissions. Remaining emissions come from agriculture, waste and industry. Surprisingly, information on emissions like this is not provided weekly anywhere else in the world. As in other countries, the Federal Government releases an annual report a couple of years after the emissions.This data, while comprehensive and critical for policy planning and scientific assessment, is too slow for us to respond to in the manner necessary to tackle this problem.

The good news is that there are many ways to make substantial cuts to greenhouse gas emissions now, without a huge cost.

As the indicator shows, our biggest source of greenhouse gas is coal-fired electricity. By buying government-accredited GreenPower, you can eliminate overnight all the emissions produced from electricity.

Driving your car more efficiently, walking or cycling more often, or catching public transport, or buying a more fuel-efficient car can help slash petroleum emissions.

Rupert Posner is the Australian director of The Climate Group. ( Check the Herald each Wednesday for latest greenhouse gas figures.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Making up for carbon emissions

Saturday, 09/01/07

Even on the environment, people get what they pay forToday's Topic: Making up for carbon emissions

Our View

It is probably a sad commentary on modern society that even on something like a clean environment, rather than do the hard part, people think they can just pay for it.
A trend toward purchasing "carbon offsets" is a recent example.

The Washington Post recently reported on how organizations are popping up, offering people a chance to "offset" their polluting ways, such as offsetting the drive to work in a gas-fueled car by paying into a program where clean steps — like planting trees — can be purchased.

If someone can write a check and know with certainty that they are helping the environment equal to their polluting ways, more power to them. It appears many organizations offering offsets for purchase have the best of motives. But scientists are beginning to question whether all of those groups deliver on exactly what they're selling. For example, if someone uses a credit card to pay for a $100 offset, how can they know for certain that the carbon offset will really be exactly what they paid for? The process, though well intended, could very well become just a feel-good way to "help" the environment without creating any real benefit.

The concept of offsets is certainly not limited to individual purchases. The theory is discussed in broader policy terms, where regions, even countries, could buy and trade credits on carbon emissions. But putting a specific dollar amount on offsets can be hard to get down to an exact science. There seems to be little doubt that offset sellers do attempt to apply the funds toward the noble purpose of cleaning up the environment, like putting the funds into a wind power program. But if people feel a purchase gives them license to then drive guilt-free, it leaves the question of precisely how much good is being done. It also leads to the question of whether they feel they can drive even more since they've paid for an offset.

Fortunately, the practice has gotten the attention of Congress. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., has requested that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Trade Commission consider setting standards for such offset operations. As long as the concept is sound, and as long as there are good-faith efforts at work, the premise should be pursued. But it doesn't take long to see that such efforts could fall short of what is promised, and it doesn't take long to see that such purchases could be fodder for abuse.

According to the Post report, the Sierra Club suggests that instead of spending $100 on a carbon offset, it would be better to invest $100 in something like fluorescent light bulbs. Conservation and common sense should factor more into people's thinking than the belief that a cleaner earth is possible just by writing a check. There is actual work involved in improving the environment.

Putting money into a good idea is one thing. Actually cleaning up the planet can be something else.

End game for Mugabe 'could be in sight'

Saturday September 1

The "end game" for Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe could be in sight, the African country's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said as he wound up a week-long Australian visit.

The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was also forced on Saturday to defend claims from within the Mugabe regime, that his visit was to encourage further sanctions against his crisis-hit country.

"There have been accusations that I am here to advocate for sanctions against the country. Far from it," Mr Tsvangirai told reporters before flying out of Sydney.

"We would like to engage all democratic progressive governments in the world, to draw their attention to (Zimbabwe's) crisis.

"I'm sure that in engaging some of the progressive democratic nations of the world we are advancing the interests of Zimbabwe rather than undermining Zimbabwe."

Mr Tsvangirai said March next year would see the staging of presidential along with parliamentary and local government elections in Zimbabwe.

South African president Thabo Mbeki has taken on a mediation role ahead of the elections and Mr Tsvangirai said he hoped this would lead to a demilitarisation of the electoral process, international observers and also give Zimbabwe's diaspora the vote.

"If we were to go through a similar exercise we have had over the last three elections it will be a pre-determined outcome," Mr Tsvangirai said.

"But if there are free and fair election conditions, there is no doubt in my mind that the people will win.

"The people in Zimbabwe are very much conscious of their dire straits ... they are also conscious that the end-game is probably near."

Mr Tsvangirai said his country was in the midst of an economic catastrophe with up to six million people dependent on food aid, widespread unemployment and inflation at a run-away 12,000 per cent.

"The nearest country with the next high rate of inflation is Burma only at 37 per cent," Mr Tsvangirai said.

"It is in freefall, this is an economy that has shrunk almost 60 per cent.

"The situation is dangerous because unless the haemorrhage is stopped we may actually have a serious collapse."

Friday, August 31, 2007

Industrial nations agree step to new climate pact

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
Fri Aug 31, 2007

VIENNA - Industrial nations agreed on Friday to consider stiff 2020 goals for cutting greenhouse gases in a small step towards a new long-term pact to fight climate change.

About 1,000 delegates at the Aug 27-31 U.N. talks set greenhouse gas emissions cuts of between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels as a non-binding starting point for rich nations' work on a new pact to extend the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012.

"These conclusions...indicate what industrialized countries must do to show leadership," said Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, welcoming a compromise deal on the range of needed cuts.

"But more needs to be done by the global community," he told a news conference at the end of the 158-nation talks. Many countries want to broaden Kyoto to include targets for outsiders such as the United States and developing nations.

Delegates agreed that the 25-40 percent range "provides useful initial parameters for the overall level of ambition of further emissions reductions."

It fell short of calls by the European Union and developing nations for the range to be called a stronger "guide" for future work. Pacific Island states said that even stiffer cuts may be needed to avert rising seas that could wash them off the map.

Nations including Russia, Japan and Canada had objected to the idea of a "guide," reckoning it might end up binding them to make sweeping economic shifts away from fossil fuels, widely seen as a main cause of global warming.

Delegates in the Vienna conference hall applauded for 10 seconds after adopting the compromise text by consensus.


"This is a small step," Artur Runge-Metzger, head of the EU Commission delegation, told Reuters. "We wanted bigger steps. But I think the 25-40 percent will be viewed as a starting point, an anchor for further work."

The U.N.'s climate panel said in a study in May 2007 that rich nations would have to cut emissions by between 25 and 40 percent to help avert the worst impacts of climate change from droughts, storms, heatwaves and rising seas.

"The process is moving along," said Leon Charles from Grenada, who chaired the final session. "By and large we have achieved our objectives."

De Boer said that the decisions might help environment ministers who will meet in Bali, Indonesia, in December, to agree to launch formal negotiations on a new global climate treaty to be decided by the end of 2009.

"This meeting has put the Bali conference in the starting blocks," de Boer said.

Environmentalists also hailed the conclusions as a step in the right direction. "The road to Bali is clear but it's time to switch gears," said Red Constantino of Greenpeace.

"We have a clear message from most governments that they will take seriously" scientists' calls for deep cuts, said Hans Verolme, climate expert of the WWF.

Kyoto binds 36 industrial nations to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12 in a first bid to contain warming.

The United States has not ratified Kyoto, rating it too costly and unfair for excluding 2012 goals for developing states, and thus was not involved in Friday's session. President George W. Bush has separately called a meeting of major emitters in Washington on September 27-28 to work out future cuts.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Judge orders White House to produce global warming reports

August 21, 2007

A federal judge ordered President George W. Bush's administration to issue two scientific reports on global warming, siding with environmentalists who sued the White House for failing to produce the documents.

U.S. District Court Judge Saundra Armstrong ruled Tuesday that the Bush administration had violated a 1990 law when it failed to meet deadlines for an updated U.S. climate change research plan and impact assessment.

Armstrong set a March 1 deadline for the White House to issue the research plan, which is meant to guide federal research on climate change. Federal law calls for an updated plan every three years, she said. The last one was issued in 2003.
The judge set a May 31 deadline to produce a national assessment containing the most recent scientific data on global warming and its projected effects on the country's environment, economy and public health. The government is required to complete a national assessment every four years, the judge ruled. The last one was issued by the Clinton administration in 2000.
The administration had claimed that it had discretion over how and when it produced the reports — an argument the judge rejected Tuesday.

"The defendants are wrong," Armstrong wrote in the 38-page ruling. "Congress has conferred no discretion upon the defendants as to when they will issue revised Research Plans and National Assessments."

The plaintiffs — the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace — said the ruling was a rebuke to an administration that has systematically denied and suppressed information on global warming.

"It's a huge victory holding the administration accountable for its attempts to suppress science," said Kassie Siegel, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs that filed suit in Oakland federal court in November.

more available here


Climate Change threatens China's food supply

Mary-Anne Toy
Herald Correspondent in Beijing
August 24, 2007

GLOBAL warming will cut China's annual grain harvest by up to 10 per cent, placing extra demands on the country's shrinking farmland and threatening its notion of food security, an official has warned. This would mean China would have to find another 10 million hectares of farmland by 2030, when its population is expected to peak at 1.5 billion.

The head of the State Meteorological Administration, Zheng Guogang, told an agricultural forum in northern China that global warming would increase the cost of production because more money would be needed to fight new insects and diseases.

A onedegree rise would also exacerbate ground-water evaporation by 7 per cent in a country where drought already affects 22 of 31 provinces.

A fall in the grain harvest of up to 10 per cent would mean 30 million to 50 million tonnes less grain at a time when an extra 100 million tonnes of food would be needed to feed an additional 200 million people in 2030, Mr Zheng said.

China has 20 per cent of the world's population but just 7 per cent of its arable land.

Chinese officials have warned that the country is already nearing the "red line" for the minimum amount of arable land needed to ensure the country can meet the bulk of its food needs.
At the end of 2006, China had 121.8 million hectares of arable land, just over the 120 million hectares deemed the minimum requirement by 2010.

Part of the soaring annual growth rate has been due to rapid urbanisation - which has seen the loss of more than 8 million hectares of arable land since 1996 for factories, industrial estates and housing.

Global warming would cause more drought in already dry areas in low-lying and mid-altitude regions because rainfall would drop 10 to 30 per cent by 2030, Mr Zheng said, while wet, high-altitude areas would experience more drastic flooding.

Although climate change would have little impact on wheat production it would cause corn and rice production to fall. Though some places in north-eastern China had increased grain production because warmer winters meant rice could be grown there, most regions' grain output was falling.

Mr Zheng is one of a growing number of experts to warn against the negative impact of global warming. Last month environmental authorities said climate change was shrinking wetlands at the source of China's two greatest rivers - the Yangtze and the Yellow - and other studies found that glaciers, the source for many of Asia's rivers, in north-western China's Xinjiang region and in the Himalayas have been shrinking rapidly. Summer droughts and floods have already affected a fifth of China's arable land this year and agriculture experts have warned that a decline in the autumn harvest - which usually provides 70 per cent of grain production - could fuel inflation.

China's inflation surged to a 10-year high of 5.6 per cent last month on the back of rising grain and other food prices, prompting the Government to lift interest rates for the fourth time this year.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Volunteers strip off to fight climate change

August 18, 2007
Hundreds of naked people formed a "living sculpture" on Switzerland's Aletsch Glacier on Saturday, aiming to raise awareness about climate change.

The photo shoot by New York artist Spencer Tunick, famous for his pictures of nude gatherings in public settings worldwide, was designed to draw attention to the effects of global warming on Switzerland's shrinking glaciers.

"The melting of the glaciers is an indisputable sign of global climate change," said environmental group Greenpeace, which co-organised the event. It said most Swiss glaciers would disappear by 2080 if global warming continues at its current pace.

The organisation added that it hoped the event and the pictures would make politicians and the population aware of looming dangers as average temperatures rise.

"We need to act now before it is too late," said Greenpeace campaign director Markus Allemann. He pointed out that alpine glaciers had already lost one third of their surface and half of their mass over the past 150 years.

The organisers said they wanted to establish a symbolic relationship between the vulnerability of the melting glacier and the human body.

The event, which followed Tunick's recent shoots in London, Mexico City and Amsterdam, was designed to minimise any impact on the environment, Greenpeace said.

The participants, all volunteers recruited earlier this summer by the environmental organisation, had to walk about four hours to reach the site of the shoot.

Temperatures hovered around ten degrees Celsius while the photos were being taken, but nobody spent much time with their clothes off. A first picture was taken with 300 volunteers standing beside the glacier, before 600 people moved for another shot onto the ice itself.

The 40-year-old photographer has made a name for himself in recent years for his pictures of large groups of naked people, mostly in urban environments.

His first shoot was in New York in 1992, but he has also taken his signature photos in Switzerland in the past, including in Basel in 1999, Fribourg in 2001 and at the national exhibition in Neuch√Ętel in 2002.

swissinfo with agencies

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is extreme weather due to climate change?

25 July 2007

With parts of Europe baking in a heatwave, while parts of England are experiencing their worst flooding for 60 years, it is tempting to ascribe this extreme weather to climate change.

Parts of Europe have been sweltering in record temperaturesBut climate scientists are reluctant to make this link.

"You can say that due to the Earth getting warmer there will be on average more extreme events," said Dr Malcolm Haylock, an expert on climate extremes, "but you can't attribute any specific event to climate change."

This month, hundreds of people have died in a heatwave that has swept across south-eastern Europe. Wildfires have raged across Greece, confounding attempts to contain them.

Meanwhile, severe floods have brought chaos to parts of England, forcing hundreds of homes to be evacuated.

Growing consensus

There is a growing consensus, based on past climate records and other data, that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the Earth's climate.

Homes around England have been evacuated following the floodsMany climate scientists now believe the data points to global temperatures rising by between 1.1C and 6.4C by the end of this century.

But as far as the droughts and floods are concerned, climate scientists have found it more difficult to attribute long-term trends in rainfall to human activities.

European weather is affected by a climate system called the North Atlantic Oscillation. This describes changes in atmospheric pressure at sea level as measured over Iceland and over the Azores.

"Over the last 50 years or so, there's been a trend to lower pressures over Iceland and higher pressures over the Azores in winter, although this trend has reduced in recent years," said Dr Haylock, who works for re-insurer PartnerRe in Zurich, Switzerland, and is formerly of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, UK.

Firefighters have struggled to hold back the flames in GreeceThe impact of this climate system reaches from the upper atmosphere to the bottom of the ocean.

But its most obvious impact over the last half century is a trend towards drier conditions in southern Europe and more extreme rainfall in northern Europe during winter.

Its effects during other seasons, such as summer, are not as clear. Local weather systems seem to play a larger role here.

Computer models

Dr Haylock said that recent changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation could not be linked to human-induced climate change.

Scientists simply do not have the long-term measurements to say either way.

Climate models can be used to predict future climate variationOn the other hand, there is a growing consensus that the recent changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation will continue in the future, leading to winter storms in Europe tending to move further north and drier conditions in southern Europe.

Computer models suggest that, as the climate gets hotter over the coming decades, the available water in the landmass of Europe may be reduced. This may in turn have knock on effects for global temperatures.

"When we run these climate models for future years, we find we were getting very, very hot days. These were so hot, they can't be explained just by more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," said Dr Haylock.

"Water on the ground cools the atmosphere around it a lot, and once this has dried out, the temperatures just accelerate. So there is some concern that these hot days may become more frequent over the next decade, but that is still uncertain."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Carbon Trading in Australia

Here is a story on Australia's first carbon trading exchange which is a voluntary scheme between businesses that want to trade greenhouse gas emissions.
25th July 2007

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia's first carbon trading exchange opened on Monday, setting an initial price for carbon at A$8.50 ($7.50) per metric ton under the voluntary scheme.

Australian Climate Exchange (ACX) established the joint venture aimed at cutting the country's greenhouse gas emissions and bracing firms for possible pollution limits five years ahead of the introduction of a government-backed scheme.

About 1,600 tonnes of Voluntary Emission Reductions (VERs) changed hands, opening at A$8.50 per tonne for 2007 and closing at A$8.60. The total value of the trades was A$13,610, according to data on ACX's Web site

This compared with prices of 19.50 euros ($26.96) for European Union carbon emissions on the ECX exchange for delivery in December 2008, the first year of commitments under the U.N. Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

The ACX exchange is the fourth voluntary market, following schemes in the United States, UK and Japan.

ACX Limited Managing Director Tim Hanlin said businesses wanted an opportunity to sponsor clean technology now.

"This is a voluntary emissions trading market and it's business to business trading of greenhouse gas emissions," Hanlin told Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) radio.

Carbon trading involves putting a price and limits on pollution, allowing companies that clean up their operations to sell any savings below their allocated level to other companies.

ACX is a joint venture with companies trader Australia Pacific Exchange.

Brown links floods to climate change

July 25, 2007

BRITISH Prime Minister Gordon Brown has linked the country's worst floods in 60 years to climate change, as emergency workers warned the disaster was far from over.

Large swaths of central and western England have been submerged as rivers swelled and burst their banks during four days of heavy and persistent rain, leaving thousands without clean water or electricity and facing the prospect of more rain.

Water levels appeared to have peaked below a level that would have flooded a power station servicing 500,000 homes. But emergency services have said it could take some time for water to drain from devastated areas.

The largely rural counties of Gloucestershire, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire were the worst hit, forcing Royal Air Force helicopters to evacuate about 150 people in its biggest-ever peacetime rescue.

After a helicopter visit to the area, Mr Brown linked the floods to climate change and pledged £200 million ($467 million) in extra funding, plus a review to address future issues.

"Like every advanced industrialised country, we are coming to terms with the issues surrounding climate change," the Guardian quoted him as saying.

"We will have to invest in coastal defences, flood defences and, of course, drainage in infrastructure in the years to come."

Referring to the weekend storms, he said: "What we had was a month's rainfall in some places in an hour. This was unusual."

The Environment Agency said water levels in many of the worst-hit parts were set to peak.
In Gloucestershire, the worst-hit area, at least 150,000 homes were without water after a treatment works flooded, while 40,000 were without power. It could take up to two weeks to restore water supplies to some households, some reports say.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

What we don't know does hurt us.

What We Don't Know Does Hurt Us. How Scientific Illiteracy Hobbles Society
Norman Augustine

Norman Augustine is chairman of the Lockheed Martin Corporation and a member of the engineering faculty at Princeton University.

In an oft-told variation of the Hindu myth of cosmology, a young boy asks his father what holds up the Earth. Amused, the father assures his son that the world rests on the back of a very large turtle. "But what holds up the turtle?" the boy asks. After brief reflection, the father says, "A huge elephant." "But," the boy continues, "what is under the elephant?" Sensing that he is rapidly losing control of the conversation, the father finally exclaims, "Son, it's elephants all the way down from there!"

As one who interacts frequently with the public, I often hear similarly disconcerting explanations about the "cosmology" of the modern world. If one asks a new owner how their home computer works, one is likely to hear: "You plug it in, push the "on" button...and it's all microchips from there on down."

Apathy about science and technology seems especially rampant among my fellow Americans, among whom indifference toward scientific understanding is almost considered a badge of honor. A recent National Science Foundation survey showed that less than half of American adults understand that the Earth orbits the sun yearly, only 21 percent can define DNA, and just 9 percent know what a molecule is. Another poll showed that one in seven American adults--roughly 25 million people--could not even locate the United States on an unlabeled world map. NASA administrator Dan Goldin cites a question he received while defending funding for the space agency: "Why are we building meteorological satellites when we have the Weather Channel?"

The disdain toward science is hardly restricted to the United States. The lead character in British writer Muriel Spark's play The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie states very frankly: "Art and religion first; then philosophy; lastly science. That is the order of the great subjects of life, that's their order of importance."

Somewhat more reassuring to those committed to the fields of science and technology, novelist C. P. Snow was appalled at the lack of technological understanding on the part of much of the public. He would occasionally ask an individual if they could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He almost always got a negative response. "Yet," said Snow, "that is about the scientific equivalent of 'Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?' "

The great irony, of course, is that as much as any other on Earth, the American economy and our attendant standard of living are based on a foundation of rapid scientific advances. Today, we take for granted that skyscrapers do not collapse, satellites in geosynchronous orbit allow us to communicate reliably and near-instantaneously with others around the world, elevators in 100-story buildings operate perfectly, dams do not fail, automobiles do not break down on the hottest days or the coldest nights, a vast electric power grid faithfully delivers energy to millions of homes and enables us to keep our pizza hot and our ice cream cold, bar-code scanners in supermarkets do not make mistakes (if humans make the proper data inputs), jet airliners carry us safely to our destinations, advanced medical devices function for years within our bodies without significant degradation, and a trillion dollars in electronic transactions are flawlessly entered into millions of individual accounts each day.

Our utter dependence on these advanced technologies became distressingly clear to millions of North Americans this past winter, when a freak ice storm toppled major power lines across eastern Canada and the northern United States. Suddenly, simply switching on an electric light became for many a distant dream; weeks went by before power was restored to many communities. As this episode dramatically demonstrated, much of what separates our modern way of life from that of our cave-dwelling forebears is the product of science--and its sister field, technology.

But despite the innumerable positive contributions of science, and despite the remarkable technological innovations that are constantly being fashioned from that science, there is a great challenge to our scientific community today--one that seems likely to intensify in the years to come. I am referring to what I have from time to time called the challenge of "socioscience."

To a not inconsiderable segment of the public, the word "science" conjures up images of Chernobyl, Bhopal, Thalidomide, Challenger, and the atomic bomb. Too often science is perceived as the cause of problems rather than the solution, as something to be avoided rather than something to be embraced. This aversion to modern technology was the stated rationale of the Unabomber--a viewpoint that traces its history back to the Luddites and other early anti-technology movements. But as Intel CEO Andrew Grove has observed, "Technology happens." And so, I would add, does science.

In a corresponding vein, we have seen huge court judgments rendered against companies for a variety of transgressions based on highly questionable "proof," at least insofar as scientists understand the term. Many juries seem to give about as much weight to the opinions of astrologers as to astronomers. We have seen life-saving medical devices forced off the market by the crushing costs of litigation. And we have the "not in my backyard" syndrome carried to absurd extremes. Recently an outraged citizen demonstrating against a proposed biomedical research laboratory reportedly exclaimed, "They're trying to bring DNA into my neighborhood!"

In short, while scientists have generally considered themselves to be the intellectual descendants of the "Benjamin Franklin" model of the benevolent scientist, bringing enlightenment to humankind, too often scientists are actually perceived by the public to be more in the "Dr. Frankenstein" mold, unleashing scientific havoc on an unsuspecting world.

The lesson we need to draw from this phenomenon is increasingly evident: Modern scientists (and their first cousins, engineers) must become as adept in dealing with societal and political forces as they are with gravitational and electromagnetic forces--and, candidly, up to this point I would not give us a passing grade. Today's scientists are no longer constrained simply by the laws of nature, as was generally the case in the past, but also by the laws (and attitudes) of the land.

For example:

Could we send men and women to Mars? Technologically speaking, I believe we could. But politically there is no will to do so.

Could we vastly increase the amount of electricity available to Americans through safe, nonpolluting nuclear power plants? Almost certainly--as is in fact being done in Europe and Japan even today--but communities in America are still repelled by the notion of nuclear power, especially after the horrendous example of Chernobyl.

Could we build automated highways that would increase convenience and reduce accidents? Absolutely. But who is to pay for them--and who is to insure their builders in today's litigious society?

Would an inventor be permitted today to introduce a new product that would create millions of jobs and make people's lives far more convenient, if projections showed it would cost the lives of 50,000 Americans a year? I do not know what Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler, and Henry Ford would answer, but I would seriously doubt it.

Could we build a superconducting supercollider? A manned base on the moon? Open new Alaskan oil fields? Create a reliable ballistic missile defense against terrorist nations? Quite likely--if anyone wants us to.

In a sense, scientists and engineers in the past have been fortunate, for we became accustomed to being measured by nature itself--an unwaveringly fair and consistent, albeit unforgiving, judge. Today, in contrast, we are often judged by humans--with all the vagaries, special agendas, and inconsistencies that entails. This has led me to propound what I have called Augustine's Second Law of Socioscience (and engineering), with due apologies to Sir Isaac Newton: "For every scientific (or engineering) action, there is an equal and opposite social reaction."

As scientists and engineers, our achievements are increasingly taken for granted and our occasional failures subject to intense public criticism. A portion of the problem is due to the fact that there is still widespread scientific illiteracy even among those who hold high-level decision-making positions. For example, only 20 of 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have a science or engineering background (which is, by the way, an increase from the recent past). There are only two in the Senate and none in the Cabinet. Of the 50 governors, 9 have a science or engineering degree. Keep in mind that these are the people who must make the decisions regarding automobile pollution standards, approval of a space program, funding of the superconducting supercollider, the human genome project, and developments in bioengineering such as the possibility of human cloning.

The danger to all when those to whom we entrust our well-being do not understand the rudimentary scientific aspects of critical issues was eloquently noted by the late Isaac Asimov, who wrote, "Increasingly, our leaders must deal with dangers that threaten the entire world, where an understanding of those dangers and the possible solutions depends on a good grasp of science. The ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, acid rain, questions of diet and heredity--all require scientific literacy. Can Americans choose the proper leaders and support the proper programs if they [themselves] are scientifically illiterate?" *

All of this leads inevitably to my proposal for a two-pronged effort to help Americans survive--and thrive--in the technologically driven 21st century. First, we need "rocket science for beginners": It has often been debated whether scientists need to be exposed to the liberal arts; a more compelling need, in my opinion, is for poets to be exposed to physics. In reality, uninformed decisions about scientific issues are the equivalent of denying ourselves the future.

Second, living as we do in a "sound bite" world, scientists must learn to communicate far more effectively with nonscientist audiences. In my judgment, this remains the greatest shortcoming of most scientists and engineers today. The time has arrived when scientists will have to come down from the Ivory Tower and enter the arena of real-world debate, bubbling controversy, and--brace yourselves--politics.

It is no longer viable to place our candle under a bushel, for at best we will find ourselves in darkness and at worst our bushel will go up in flames. One must ask why, in today's technology-based society, scientists' voices are so seldom heard along with those of all the others who choose to express their views on scientific issues? We must equip scientists of the future to present their cases in almost every forum imaginable--from town meeting to state legislature, from The New York Times to Sixty Minutes, from the Congress to the Oval Office.

If, as we have in the past, we put our trust solely in the primacy of logic and technical skills, we will lose the contest for the public's attention--and in the end, both the public and the scientific and technical communities will be the losers. If, on the other hand, we become more adept at explaining science and technology, while at the same time encouraging more "rocket science for beginners," our future will be bright indeed.

And already a few encouraging signs are beginning to emerge. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision strengthened the hand of trial judges to exclude evidence from scientifically frivolous studies or dubious "expert" witnesses. This would seem to be common sense, but for many years we have seen such questionable tactics go unchecked, leaving complex technical arguments to be decided on the basis of little more than the emotion of jurors. The Supreme Court decision reinforces a comment once made by former Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger that "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion...but no one is entitled to their own facts."

Over the long term, I am an optimist. I believe our fellow citizens will ultimately come to understand the critical link between scientific advances and our generally comfortable way of life. I believe we will realize that the answers to many of the problems that still confront us will need to be solved by scientists and engineers who understand the complexities of the societal problems their work impacts. Ultimately, I endorse the view of that great "honorary" American, Winston Churchill, who is reported to have said, "Americans will always do the right thing...after they have exhausted all the other possibilities."