Climate change in the news (Mar 20- 26, 2010)
The perceived communications fiasco of the last few months about what is known and not known about the science of climate change led one of my students, Andy Lubershane, to try a different approach—animation. His effort is meant to communicate in a clear, humorous, memorable way the reasons why we need to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.
Andy is one of 160 Master’s students using the World Development Report 2010 as a textbook on Environmental Assessment at the University of Michigan.
Today is World Water Day, a good time to ponder the impacts of global climate change on water availability and quality. Julia Bucknall was part of a team of experts from the WDR2010 and the World Bank's Middle East and North Africa region visiting Israel last week to learn about innovation in water. The blog below is the first in three installments.
Can high-tech agriculture help developing countries get more from their water?
Israel invented drip irrigation, a technology that has spread rapidly since its introduction in the 1960s and which is widely touted as a key way for countries to close their water gap and be more adapted to climate change. It certainly does reduce evaporative losses, is often associated with a switch to high-value crops, and reduces fertilizer use when liquid fertilizer is added to the mix and delivered precisely to the root of the plant (a process that delights in the name “fertigation”). We often see important productivity gains.
Yet it’s not as simple as that.
"Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride my bike
I want to ride my bicycle
I want to ride it where I like..."
Earlier today, I was stuck in a herd of slow-moving, smoke-belching traffic (also known as the Beltway in Washington D.C.), when I heard an uplifting feature about electric bikes on the radio. Electric bikes are apparently all the rage at this year’s ongoing bike show in Taipei.
The WDR 2010 described in its chapter on innovation how the electric bike market took off in China over the last 10 years as a result of “technological improvements, faster urbanization, higher gasoline prices, and increases in purchasing power.” Not surprising, in the Kingdom of the Bicycle. But will e-bikes sway car addicts elsewhere?
On today’s “Science Friday” radio show, callers shared their enthusiasm for Do-It-Yourself mitigation. There are now dozens of kits out there to help retrofit ordinary bicycles -- so you can chug up a hill without a sweat. A brother and sister team, 59 and 61, are setting off on Earth Day on an electric bike tour of the United States to show that older people are never too old to pedal.
Climate change in the news (Mar 13- 18, 2010)
|Photo © istockphoto.com|
Here is the sad truth: Presently, the resources available for developing countries to address the impacts of climate change cover 5% of estimated needs by 2020.
One of the challenges is to mobilize the resources needed without dipping into the same basket of current official development assistance (ODA). Another challenge is to measure and monitor what is 'new and additional' from the complex web of sources and channels.
More than a technical exercise, it is a useful tool to build trust and accountability with developing countries to show that assistance is being delivered in line with promises made.
Green growth has been in the news lately with much talk about greening the fiscal stimulus for a triple bottom line. Yet there are worries and the question remains as to whether green growth means slower growth with resources diverted to cleaning up the growth process. And what would happen to countries who unilaterally decide to impose domestic environmental regulations and/or a carbon price?. Will this lead to jobs moving abroad—to poorer or less-green countries that would become pollution havens?
|Photo © iStockphoto.com|
Unfortunately much of the green growth discussion has been of the proselytizing or the scare-mongering kind, with not enough analysis of the potential trade-offs between greening and growing, and not enough thought devoted to ways of minimizing these trade-offs.
In this context, a new paper by Philippe Aghion, Daron Acemoglu and two Harvard graduate students, on “The Environment and Directed Technical Change” (pdf) is a much needed contribution. It also makes for a fascinating read: do not let the large number of equations scare you off! As in all of Aghion’s work, the key insights of the papers are fully captured in crisp writing in the first few pages of the paper.
In his presentation at the World Bank on March 8, Aghion explained the motivation of the paper: most economic models looking at the trade-offs between acting aggressively or not on climate change assume technical change is exogenous—i.e., does not respond to changes in energy prices (for example through a carbon tax) nor to environmental regulation (like a cap on emissions). This results in green growth being slower than dirty growth, at least if the negative impacts of climate change are small, and/or results in the need for permanent subsidies.
|In Ethiopia, Humbo mountain is thriving after early regeneration efforts. Photo © World Vision|
What are the obstacles to implementing carbon projects in Africa?
This was the question underlying many of the discussions at the Africa Carbon Forum, which took place in Nairobi, Kenya on March 3-5, 2010.
Over 1,000 participants attended the conference to discuss obstacles such as lack of financing, lack of experience and technical skill, land titling and monitoring challenges, and the complexity of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) rules. These hurdles have to date resulted in low numbers of African carbon projects: only 2% of CDM projects registered by the UNFCCC are in Africa.
This week we were inspired by Skeptical Science.com, a site for people who are "skeptical about global warming skepticism." On February 10, Skeptical Science put some of its best scientific rebuttals to arguments commonly used by climate change deniers in a handy cheat-sheet format that you can consult from your i-Phone. Leo Hickman, over at The Guardian / Environment blog, wrote about the tempest this tactical app immediately roused in the opposing camp.
On Wednesday we asked Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute in Washington DC, to answer simple questions about the facts: Are the glaciers melting faster in the past? Do we know why? What about the sun? And why are climate change debates so heated anyway?!
Click below for his answers.
|Photo © Himalayan Trails/flickr|
But, as we now know, the negotiations only produced an aspirational target—to limit the global mean surface temperature to no more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels—and an accord that does not bind any country to reduce their emissions.
Since then, the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment report has been criticized for errors or imprecise wording.
- For example, the statements that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 or earlier (IPCC admitted that this was an error and not evidence-based);
- that agricultural production in some North African countries would decrease by up to 50% by 2020 (the synthesis report did not contain the nuances and more detailed discussion in the underlying chapter);
- and that over half of the Netherlands was below sea level rather than a quarter (this was largely a definitional issue – the Netherlands Dutch Ministry of transport uses the figure 60% - below high water level during storms).
These inaccuracies, coupled with the controversy surrounding illegally hacked e-mails and temperature data from the University of East Anglia (UEA), have provided climate skeptics and some media with ammunition to undermine public confidence in the conclusions of the IPCC and climate science in general.
Yesterday’s New York Times op-ed piece by Al Gore is well worth a read. It’s one of those pieces where I found myself nodding along to the computer screen. Gore helpfully cuts through to the heart of the supposed controversies about the climate science and within the climate science community.
|Photo © iStockphoto.com|
His arguments echo what I heard at a recent seminar here at the Bank on the role and functioning of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the overblown reaction to mistakes that are real but which in no way alter the overwhelming majority of existing scientific findings about climate change.
During that seminar Kristie Ebi, Executive Director of the IPCC Technical Support Unit for Working Group ll (which authors the volume addressing physical and social impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation) for the next round of assessments coming out in 2013, carefully explained the extensive review process applied by the IPCC.
|Photo © iStockphoto.com|
Hans Timmer, director of the World Bank Prospects Group which analyses the world's economic outlook, described recently a scenario in which only high-income countries would limit the emission of CO2 while developing countries would seize on energy-intensive manufacturing as a comparative advantage to rekindle medium-term growth.
"That is not a position a developing economy wants to be in," cautions Timmer. "Scarcity of energy supply had become one of the binding factors at the end of the boom that was suddenly interrupted by the global financial crisis. When you try to rekindle strong medium-term growth, you don’t want to be pushed into an artificial comparative advantage in energy-intensive production."