Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Vietnam Puts the Pedal to the Metal – Germany Pumps the Brakes

December 5, 2009

Mongaby.com in Highest rate of CO2 emissions growth since 1990 reports:

Between 1990 and 2005 Vietnam had the highest rate of emissions growth among countries that emitted more than 100 million tons of CO2 in any year during the past three decades, according to mongabay.com’s analysis of emissions data from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC).

Vietnam’s emissions from fossil fuel use, cement manufacturing, and gas flaring increased 376 percent from 5.8 million metric tons of carbon to 27.8 million tons between 1990 and 2005. Malaysia ranked second with a 224 percent increase.

(General Note: It is maddeningly confusing when people switch between CO2 and carbon tonnage in the same breath – they are very different! 3.67 tons of CO2 equals 1 ton of Carbon.)

Of course Vietnam with a population of 86 million is accelerating to a paltry 1.2 tons of CO2 per person per year. While us Americans as well as the Australians and the Canadians (Yes, the Canadians! Their emissions are terrible and politics worse.) clock-in at a trance inducing 22 tons per person.

If not as dramatic, more worrisome is China’s emissions growth of 133% and India’s 106% growth. In a desperate (and futile) attempt to retain our title, “The World’s Biggest Emitter” the U.S. grew at a galloping 20%.

And so China is now The World’s Biggest Emitter – as Mongaby.com notes their tear upward has only gained steam:

China’s emissions have since climbed by another 25 percent to 1.923 billion tons of carbon in 2008, according to preliminary figures from CDIAC.

And it is the growth rate in India, China and Indonesia (120%) that should give us all pause. Because as their populations are growing, with world population passing 7 billion momentarily on its way to 9 billion, so are their per capita emissions and soon they will need to not just slow their growth but reduce their emissions. (Of course we need to drop ours by 90% – now. Minor detail!)

On the flip side of the coin, Germany reduced overall emissions by 3% and Belgium by 7% between 2000 and 2005. Tiny but

So the good news is it can be done – it’s not required that we be maniacs. Let’s hope Copenhagen illuminates a path for all the countries of the world to start applying the brakes on emissions.

And so China and India’s recent announcements on carbon intensity reductions – China saying 40% by 2020 and India, 24% by 2020 – are welcome news…if tentative, non-binding, baby steps.

Oh Canada, say it ain’t so!

December 3, 2009

Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

That’s one of many scathing passages in George Monbiot’s recent article Canada’s image lies in tatters. It is now to climate what Japan is to whaling. Ouch!

How bad is Canada behaving? Try worse than Saudi Arabia. Smack!

After giving the finger to Kyoto, Canada then set out to prevent the other nations striking a successor agreement. At the end of 2007, it singlehandedly blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding targets for industrialised nations. After the climate talks in Poland in December 2008, it won the Fossil of the Year award, presented by environmental groups to the country that had done most to disrupt the talks. The climate change performance index, which assesses the efforts of the world’s 60 richest nations, was published in the same month. Saudi Arabia came 60th. Canada came 59th.

They not only sound worse than Saudi Arabia but they sound a lot like W. Baaam!

In June this year the media obtained Canadian briefing documents which showed the government was scheming to divide the Europeans. During the meeting in Bangkok in October, almost the entire developing world bloc walked out when the Canadian delegate was speaking, as they were so revolted by his bullying. Last week the Commonwealth heads of government battled for hours (and eventually won) against Canada’s obstructions. A concerted campaign has now begun to expel Canada from the Commonwealth.

The apparent reason for the madness are the vast western tar sands, a mommoth repository of oil. As Monbiot describes it:

It’s actually a filthy mixture of bitumen, sand, heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals. The tar sands, most of which occur in Alberta, are being extracted by the biggest opencast mining operation on earth. An area the size of England…

Tar sands are pernicious. Zaap!

Refining tar sands requires two to three times as much energy as refining crude oil. The companies exploiting them burn enough natural gas to heat six million homes. Alberta’s tar sands operation is the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions.

And while us piggy Americans may find some joy in Canada being called out as the piggiest – we must acknowledge that, of course like the drug wars of Mexico and our drug consumption driving it, the tar sands north of the border, are undoubtedly here to serve America’s unquenchable thirst for oil.

And lest we worry about there not being willing investors for this ghg emissions barn burner, none other than our folk heroes Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have shown growing interest – saying “Wow, this is neat.”

I can’t help but make the side note that it’s no coincidence that Gates and Buffett are also being feed the same horseshit dished out via SuperFreakonomics by Nathan Myrhvold, former Microsoft executive, polymath, and purveyor of climate science (dystopian) fantasies. But I digress.

Monbiot concludes with astonished perplexity.

It feels odd to be writing this. The immediate threat to the global effort to sustain a peaceful and stable world comes not from Saudi Arabia or Iran or China. It comes from Canada. How could that be true?

The (7 billion) Population Problem

August 23, 2009

peopleThe world is headed toward 7 billion people and soon. As reported by Jeremy Hance at Mongaby.com (here) – in 2011 to be precise. That’s just 12 years after hitting 6 billion in 1999. 12 years earlier still we were at 5 billion. As the article notes:

“The great bulk of today’s 1.2 billion youth—nearly 90 percent—are in developing countries,” said Carl Haub, PRB senior demographer and co-author of the data sheet. “During the next few decades, these young people will most likely continue the current trend of moving from rural areas to cities in search of education and training opportunities, gainful employment, and adequate health care.”

Let’s say it: if 90% of the population growth were happening in America the planet would’ve been toast years ago, as we Americans (and Canadians and Australians) are now at the disgraceful level of emitting approximately 22 tons of CO2 per person per year. Yet on a world-wide basis 2 tons of CO2 emissions per person per year is generally now thought to be the necessary limit. Hence, we are morally and practically required to drop our emissions by 90% as fast as possible, certainly well before 2050.

BUT, with this population explosion in the developing world there’s a bigger problem still. Because places like India are fast approaching that mythical 2 tons per person – as reported by G.S. Mudur in Calcutta’s The Telegraph (here). The developing countries are now heading into the red – and it won’t take much per capita emissions growth for them to have a huge impact.

As India heads into the red and beyond, what’s the measure?

Given its population, per capita emissions of 6 tonnes for India would translate into more than 6,000 million tonnes of emissions per year — approaching or even exceeding the current US emissions.

And as the article notes, right now India and China alone are projected to account for 56% of world-wide emissions growth through 2030.

Consequently the ongoing population explosion makes our Herculean task of radical emissions reductions seem downright Sisyphean too.

Another Climate Rubicon

August 4, 2009

While we dither in driving down our carbon emissions there was always some comfort in the fact that while India’s and China’s emissions are rapidly growing, on a per capita basis they were still low.   And they are low.   Yet an ominous milestone seems certain to be reached quite soon.Chunk-of-coal-on-fire-001

On a world-wide basis two tons of emissions per person per year is generally now thought to be the necessary limit.  Americans (and Canadians and Australians) are now at the disgraceful level of approximately 22 tons per person (and so we need to drop 90% as fast as possible, certainly well before 2050).

But in India they’ve now reached a meager 1.8 tons per person – with 2 tons a short time away.   An perhaps more ominously, as the article notes, right now India and China alone are projected to account for 56% of world-wide emissions growth through 2030.

We will soon all be in the red.  If we don’t start radically reducing our emissions India and China will have little incentive to impede their own emissions growth.   And as it’s imperative that they be encouraged to hold the line at 2 tons – doesn’t it follow that we must show that we are serious about getting down to 2 tons ourselves?

However imperfect, Waxman-Markey is a first important national step.  Let’s all take millions of personal steps too.   See the checklist.

and The Bad News….

January 27, 2009

It is now inexcusable for us to not radically drop our CO2 emissions….. NOAA reports.     To do otherwise is to doom our decendents to hell on earth.   Read the checklist and do what you can now.

The Good News

January 27, 2009

Obama indisputably gets it. Not just Chu at Energy, not just a real EPA, but now….a Climate Change Envoy, Todd Stern – a heavy hitter.

The Importance Of Being Pristine – Another IPCC Shortcoming

August 20, 2008

As deforestation accelerates and grows ever more concentrated the consequences on climate change are even greater than previously thought. As reported in New Scientist:

Pristine temperate forest stores three times more carbon than currently estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and 60% more than plantation forests, according to research in Australia.

Yes, the IPCC underestimates yet again. The numbers:

Plugging the data into a computer, the team calculated that trees in areas untouched by logging store on average 640 tonnes of carbon per hectare, compared with an IPCC estimate for temperate forest of 217 tonnes.

The study?

Mackey and colleagues used remote sensing and direct sampling to study eucalyptus trees at 240 sites across a 14.5-million hectare swathe of natural forest in south-east Australia.

The study can be found here.

Globaly?

The global implications are not yet clear. It could be that the carbon-storing ability of other temperate forests, such as those along the Pacific coast of the US, have also been underestimated. Mackey’s team is now investigating this possibility.

One thing is clear: the IPCC desperately needs to update their projections to include data such as this, as well as “slow” feedbacks such as permafrost melt, wetland destruction, actic ice loss and
deforestation
to name a few. As humanity debates what to do to combat climate change it’s clearer than ever that the climate change beast is still not fully exposed to be the potential cataclysm it is morphing toward.

For the next American administration to make a serious attempt to combat climate change up-to-date consensus climate models will be invaluable. The past year has brought an avalanche of data that is destined to profoundly affect the models.

So while the media remains insistent on hedging what has been with a few exceptions a bad to worse story – Al Gore’s remarks back in January at Davos ring truer than ever: “the climate crisis is significantly worse and unfolding more rapidly than those on the pessimistic side of the IPCC projections had warned us,

As many scientists have anecdotally said: “Things are happening 100 years ahead of schedule”.

Yet, disconcertingly, the IPCC is not scheduled to issue another scenario report until 2013.

Wetland Destruction – Another AGW Puzzle Piece

July 24, 2008

Wetlands, understood to be an essential ecosystem in promoting biodiversity and flood control, is also another key element in slowing climate change – as wetland destruction potentially accelerates global warming.

As reported in Science Daily, leading scientists are now meeting in Brazil at the 8th International Wetlands Conference, discussing actions to better understand, protect and manage this key global resource.

How big a deal are the wetlands?

Covering just 6% of Earth’s land surface, wetlands (including marshes, peat bogs, swamps, river deltas, mangroves, tundra, lagoons and river floodplains) store 10-20% of its terrestrial carbon. Wetlands slow the decay of organic material trapped and locked away over the ages in low oxygen conditions.

So how much carbon are we talking about?

These waterlogged (either seasonally or year-round) areas contain an estimated 771 gigatonnes (771 billion tonnes) of greenhouse gases — both CO2 and more potent methane — an amount in CO2 equivalent comparable to the carbon content of today’s atmosphere.

Put another way:

Drained tropical swamp forests release an estimated 40 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year. Drained peat bogs release some 2.5 to 10 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year.

That’s significant. Of course it all depends how quickly, particularly the Methane, is released. And like the disappearing forests, disappearing wetlands hold a double whammy for climate change – as another carbon sink becomes a carbon emitter.

The preciousness of wetlands goes beyond carbon capture, of course:

“Wetlands act as sponges and their role as sources, reservoirs and regulators of water is largely underappreciated by many farmers and others who rely on steady water supplies,” says Prof. Junk. “They also cleanse water of organic pollutants, prevent downstream flood inundations, protect riverbanks and seashores from erosion, recycle nutrients and capture sediment.”

Typically high in nutrients, wetlands also offer rich habitats for small organisms which feed fish and other water life, which in turn nourish mammals and birds. Many wetlands feature biodiversity comparable to that of rainforests or coral reefs.

What’s our track record in protecting this invaluable resource you might wonder?

Some 60% of wetlands worldwide — and up to 90% in Europe — have been destroyed in the past 100 years, principally due to drainage for agriculture but also through pollution, dams, canals, groundwater pumping, urban development and peat extraction.

So what to do now?

German expert Wolfgang Junk says…”Lessening the stress on wetlands caused by pollution and other human assaults will improve their resiliency and represents an important climate change adaptation strategy,” he says. “Wetland rehabilitation, meanwhile, represents a viable alternative to artificial flood control and dredging efforts that may be needed to cope with the larger, more frequent floods predicted in a hotter world.”

Prof. Junk, of the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Biology, notes that maintenance of wetlands is much cheaper than rehabilitation and that poorer countries will have fewer means to rehabilitate their wetlands to cope with climate change. Wetland-friendly development alternatives must be elaborated in developing countries, therefore, to minimize losses of their many benefits, he says.

Like a deforested northern hemisphere asking the tropics to save their forests, this familiar dynamic is unavoidably playing out with wetlands:

He notes too that while pressure on wetlands in poorer countries has risen dramatically in recent years, they have not suffered nearly as much damage as those in the developed world.

In fact the conference is taking place in Cuiaba on the edge of the Pantanal wetlands: “…spanning 160,000 square km, is confronted by increasing development pressure. Its catchment area straddles Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, while Uruguay and Argentina are downstream.”

A bit of good news here in the U.S., since there’s been so little, should be noted: Not only has the U.S. largely stopped wetland destruction, it is undergoing significant wetland restoration, most notably in the Florida Everglades:

The US will spend $700 million over two decades to revive the Florida Everglades. It will include six artificial wetlands (“storm water treatment areas”), to receive and cleanse excess nutrients from neighbouring farm districts.

And the most threatened?

…those around the Mediterranean, where for two millennia the population has been draining wetlands and floodplains for agriculture — and more recently for urban areas, tourist developments, and to eradicate malarial mosquitoes.

Wetlands destruction is also a slow positive feedback. As we warm, the rising temperatures will destroy further wetlands. So far it is estimated that wetlands damage due to rising temperatures has been minimal, but according to UN University scientists: “…a warming of 3° to 4°C could eliminate 85% of all remaining wetlands in the world.”

Saving and restoring wetlands, like stopping deforestation and promoting reforestation, must be a top-shelf climate change fighting effort.

Rainforest Destruction – Greater and More Concentrated

July 7, 2008

Deforestation is not only unabated, it’s accelerating around the globe. The problem is growing bigger, yet it is also becoming more concentrated.

Just how concentrated has the problem become? Previously Brazil was thought to account for 27% of worldwide deforestation – per the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Now it is understood to be a whopping 48%.

This news comes from a new study in the 7/8/08 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Matthew Hansen – as reported by Mongabay.

Put another way:

…Brazil accounts for nearly half of global deforestation, nearly four times that of the next highest country, Indonesia, which makes up about an eighth of worldwide forest clearing.

A corollary of sorts being that African deforestation may not be as critical as once thought:

“Africa, although a center of widespread, low-intensity selective logging, contributes only 5.4 percent to the estimated loss of humid tropical forest cover. This result reflects the absence of current agro-industrial scale clearing in humid tropical Africa.”

Interestingly this greater concentration has the benefit of potentially making the problem more manageable.

Matthew Hansen says:

…the geographic concentration of deforestation, coupled with the shift from subsistence-driven to enterprise-deforestation forest clearing, may hold unexpected benefits for conservation: it may be easier for environmental groups to target their campaigns on major forest-destroying corporations and industries.

A sliver of good news to be leveraged for sure.

Previously the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provide the authoritative analysis on deforestation. But its data was largely based on individual countries self-reporting. And the new estimates?

…produced by analysis of a combination of satellite imagery from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and Landsat programs. The researchers say the integrated methodology offers a more accurate way to track change in forest cover.

A bit of detail on the newly revealed concentrations:

…55 percent of total tropical humid forest clearing occurs within only 6 percent of the biome area, indicating the existence of deforestation “hotspots,” especially for Brazil and Indonesia where rates of forest loss — 3.6 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively — far exceed regional deforestation rates (1.2 percent for the rest of Latin America, 2.7 percent for the rest of Asia).

Other hotspots revealed:

“Latin American hotspots include northern Guatemala, eastern Bolivia, and eastern Paraguay. As a percentage of year-2000 forest cover, Paraguay features the highest areal proportion of change hotspots, indicating an advanced, nearly complete forest clearing dynamic…”

And:

“…Riau province in Sumatra has the highest indicated change within Indonesia. Hot spots of clearing are present in every state of Malaysia, and clearing in Cambodia along its border with Thailand is among the highest of indicated change hot spots…”

What does the future hold?

“The pattern of deforestation in the humid tropics for the current decade indicates concentrated areas with high rates of deforestation in Latin America and southeast Asia,” study co-author Ruth DeFries, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Geography and Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, told mongabay.com. “With skyrocketing demand for biofuels and agricultural commodities, we can expect that deforestation in the future will be increasingly driven by large-scale industrial agriculture rather than small-scale landholders.”

Deforestation like coal is top-shelf climate villain. And as new coal power plant construction must be stopped so must we also stop rainforest based industrial agriculture.

Let’s capitalize on the sliver of good news. To find out more about what you can do to help, large and small, visit:

China making a move?

April 25, 2008

Forbes has an interesting little article out, “China seen committing to environmental targets; seeking technology transfer – UN”.

It’s short so here it is:

China will offer to commit to environmental targets in the current round of climate change negotiations, in exchange for technology transfer from developed countries, according to the head of the United Nations secretariat on climate change.

China is seeking technology from developed countries that will help it deal with global warming and reduce carbon emissions, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN’s Framework on Climate Change, said.

Speaking at a news briefing here, de Boer added that the US wants to obtain commitments from developing countries like China and India to cut carbon emissions in an eventual post-Kyoto settlement.

Seems to me they are setting the table for the next U.S. President to take bold action. As I described in “Reactions speak louder than Bush climate speech” it seemed that China’s reaction in particular indicated a shift in attitude and a hopeful sign. I think this news report builds on that sense. It is encouraging if small news. Little steps can get us moving.