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.

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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