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Apps For Climate – time to vote for your favorites!

Tim Herzog's picture

Apps For Climate enters a new phase this week. The World Bank’s innovation competition, which was launched at COP-17 alongside the Open Climate Data Initiative and the Climate Change Knowledge Portal, attracted about 50 qualifying entries. These are now on public display on the Apps For Climate websiteTake a look.

For those who have been watching the competition and wondering what developers might cook up, now comes the fun part: trying out the dozens of interesting apps and voting for your favorites. Voting for the Popular Choice category is now open and runs through April 27, 2012, with the winner receiving US$5,000. The entry pool contains something for everyone, including web apps, mobile apps, visualization programs, and games. Some apps focus on taking actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and others on different aspects of development and adaptation.

Formal judging also kicks off this month. The judging panel includes Christiana Figueres, Rachel Kyte, Rajendra Pachauri, Juliana Rotich, Andrew Steer, and Patrick Svenburg. This group will be reviewing the qualifying entries, and making awards based on originality, design, performance, and potential impact. We will announce these awards in June. There are 15 awards in all, with the first place winner receiving US$15,000.

Be afraid. Be very afraid

Dan Hoornweg's picture

Earlier this week, I read an article in Scientific American that had an ominous warning ‘global warming is close to becoming irreversible’. In typical cautionary climate-speak there’s a hope stated that “we can cap temperature rise to two degrees”. This is followed by a more subtle message, “we are on the cusp of some big changes”.

‘On the cusp of changes’ is an understatement. There are a half-dozen possible tipping points, crossing any of which gets us into scary unchartered territory. Ocean acidity and coral die-off; drying the Amazon rainforest; run away growing fossil fuel use; loss of ice sheets; large scale melting of permafrost: and the biggest tipping point of all – our amazing inability to come anywhere near an agreement limiting global GHG emissions and warming.

The article argues that unless we seriously curb the rate of growth of GHG emissions within the next 10 years, we will cross tipping points that lead to significant and irreversible global warming. And yet, all that was agreed at COP17 in Durban last year is for countries to reach an agreement by 2015 for action that will not start until 2020. Too little too late, according to the science.

The world will likely only see 450 ppm CO2 concentrations from our rear-view mirror as we hurtle down the express lane to at least 550 ppm CO2 and a 5 degree warming. What the article doesn’t say is that we will need to figure out how to geo-engineer some sort of amelioration. Good luck with that. We can’t agree on the much easier aspects of limiting GHG emissions; how will we ever agree on something as complicated as managing the planet’s climate?

Giving oceans a fighting chance

Mary Barton-Dock's picture

Last week I went swimming with manta rays, sharks and dolphins along some of the world’s most spectacular reefs. Well at least, it felt like I was swimming among them. With my special 3D glasses on, it was as if I was flying across coral atolls, plunging through clouds of jellyfish and darting in and out of brightly colored corals alongside hundreds of thousands of tropical fish.

In a new film by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas – The Last Reef 3D: Cities Beneath the Sea – viewers embark on a worldwide journey to explore coral reef habitats from Palau and French Polynesia in the Pacific to the Bahamas in the Caribbean.

As visually stunning as the film is, it carries a very sobering message: human activity is having a significant negative impact on the world’s oceans.

Many of us who work on climate change and oceans have known about the threat from ocean acidification and warming for a long time. Increasing carbon dioxide emissions have resulted in rising surface and air temperatures. Moreover, ocean acidity is rising owing to an increased absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Increasing acidity levels in turn make it harder for corals to grow and for shell-forming animals like mussels to build their protective housing, leading to knock-on effects of biodiversity loss in ocean called “dead zones”.

The movie’s message is reinforced by a recent report published in Science Magazine which says the oceans are acidifying at a pace not seen in 300 million years. Historically, ocean acidification has led to mass extinctions. What makes today’s situation particularly alarming is that the rise in CO2 is not due to volcanic eruptions or other natural occurrences but is the direct consequence of human behavior over the course of the last century or so.

Tar sands: The story behind the headlines

Alan Miller's picture

The complexity of climate change issue is a challenge for most mainstream media, which increasingly seek the shortest possible sound bite to interest an audience with a very limited attention span. Yet a recent example illustrates the importance of looking past the headlines to understand the importance and true meaning of scientific announcements.  The article featured the optimistic headline: “New study finds oil sands fuels would cause imperceptible temperature rise.” 

This declaration understandably attracted considerable attention from climate policy-watchers because Canadian oil sands (also commonly referred to as “tar sands” reflecting the heavy, molasses like quality of the substance) are the resource proposed for transmission via the controversial Keystone XL pipeline recently denied a permit by the Obama Administration. (Oil sands deposits have also been found in Russia, Venezuela and Kazakhstan, but a majority of identified reserves and virtually all commercial production are in Canada.)  

Some advocates for developing the oil sands see their use as essentially a national energy security issue, maintaining the pipeline is an important step forward toward fulfilling the long cherished dream of US energy independence, not to mention the potential to reduce or at least stabilize gasoline prices: ``Is US Energy Independence Finally Within Reach”, National Public Radio, March 7, 2012.

To be sure, the promise of lower gasoline prices and energy security are strong considerations. But an ongoing debate continues as to whether or not this economically attractive resource can be extracted, refined, and distributed without unacceptable environmental harm. This is why an otherwise academic analysis by Neil Swart and Andrew Weaver at the University of Victoria in British Columbia proved newsworthy. They calculated the global temperature rise that would result from the carbon dioxide released by burning currently proven reserves of Canadian oil sands: Neil Swart and Andrew Weaver, “The Alberta oil sand and climate,” Nature Climate Change, Feb. 19, 2012.

Crystal gazing with McKinsey on resources for the future

Alan Miller's picture

In 1980, the biologist Paul Ehrlich and business school professor Julian Simon famously wagered on the likelihood of resource scarcity over the coming decade. Based on his expectation that population growth would lead to a rapid growth in demand for basic resources, Ehrlich bet that the prices of five commodity metals would increase; Simon, argued that rising prices incent human innovation and consequently that resource prices should be stable or declining. In the decade that followed, despite population growth of 800 million, the prices of all five commodities chosen by Ehrlich declined and he paid the bet. In July 2011, the investor Jeremy Grantham noted that if the bet had been extended to 2011, Ehrlich would have won – by a lot. 

McKinsey Global Institute, a research arm of McKinsey & Company, recently revisited the debate about economic growth and resource scarcity with the release of a major study, “Resource Revolution: Meeting the world’s energy, materials, food, and water needs”. One of the lead authors, McKinsey partner Jeremy Oppenheim, recently visited the World Bank in Washington DC to describe the report’s conclusions and discuss its implications for development strategy, particularly for the World Bank. His presentation captivated a large audience and provoked a lively discussion.

The key findings of the report can be summarized in two categories – challenges and opportunities. The former starts from the projected increase of up to 3 billion more middle class consumers in the next 20 years, driving up demand at a time when finding and extracting resources is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive, while also resulting in enormous environmental pressures.

The good news is the existence of sufficient technically and economically feasible efficiency improvements and alternative technologies to meet nearly 30 percent of predicted demand and offset much of the projected growth. Some of these measures are already identified and well understood, such as improving the efficiency of buildings and irrigation – a “resource productivity revolution”. These measures would, however, not be sufficient to alleviate poverty and avoid global warming in excess of the two degrees Centrigrade widely considered the threshold.

To meet these goals, McKinsey outlines an additional level of ambition with respect to clean energy and carbon sequestration.

A view from the top: mountain forests

Klas Sander's picture

“Mountain Forests – roots to our future”. That was the headline for this year’s International Mountain Day celebrated by the UN every 11th of December since 2003. This year especially emphasized the interdisciplinary implications of sustainable mountain development. Whenever I have the opportunity to spend time in mountains, I realize how strongly the different elements in that landscape depend on each other and how fragile it all is. Earlier this year, for example, I had the privilege to visit the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The experience of seeing these amazing animals in their natural habitat was incredible and it wasn’t just the climb up the Virunga Volcanoes that was breathtaking.

But the conservation of this ecosystem does not only provide benefits in terms of biodiversity conservation. Adjacent communities and the Government of Rwanda as a whole benefit from the income streams the tourism sector generates. Protecting the ecosystem also helps to assure sustainable flow of water from these “water towers” benefiting agriculture and lowland ecosystems alike. Not only are the Virunga gorillas and other mountain species threatened by climate change but there are also consequences for the communities that depend on them.

Covering 24% of the Earth’s surface, mountain ecosystems play a critical role in maintaining a sustainable flow of resources to the plains below. Mountains are the source for nearly 50% of the world’s freshwater for direct consumption, agriculture, and energy. Also, mountain tourism accounts for 15-20% of the world’s tourism industry, totaling an estimated $US70-90 billion per year. Mountain regions are also severely impacted by climate change, which only magnifies existing development challenges. Ecosystems will experience a vertical shift, as climates warm, generally flora and fauna will move towards higher altitudes. Fragile alpine ecosystems systems and endemic flora and fauna are likely to change resulting in significant negative ecological and socio-economic implications.

What did Durban deliver?

Andrew Steer's picture

At 4.30 on Sunday morning, after 36 hours of overtime (a record), the 194 country members of the UNFCCC pulled a rabbit from the hat. Special flights had been put on by South African Airways as a way to encourage delegates not to leave.

Putting the Puzzle Together

Three big pieces of the jigsaw needed to fall into place in order to clinch the `Durban Platform’. First, a new commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, without which developing countries would have walked. Second, a road map towards a truly global deal to be effective by 2020 at the latest, without which the EU wouldn’t sign on to a new Kyoto. Third, the launch of the Green Climate Fund, without which developing countries wouldn’t sign on to such a global road map.  

Putting the pieces together required compromise and was accompanied with brinksmanship, emotion, and millions of words spoken, usually repeating what had already been said. The outcome, however, is highly positive for the long term prospects for a deal, and delivered all that could reasonably be hoped for (see my earlier blog: Will Durban Deliver?).

Thus, in a nutshell, delegates left Durban having agreed on:

  • A new commitment period under Kyoto for the EU and 11 other countries beginning January 1, 2013.
  • An agreement to negotiate a global deal by 2015, which would be effective from 2020 with "legal force" applying to all countries.
  • A Green Fund launched, with regional groupings to nominate board members in the coming three months. Board selection will be very important since most operational details yet to be designed.

Making carbon finance work for the poor

Rachel Kyte's picture

During this week in Durban, we announced two new financial initiatives designed to help the least-developed countries access financing for low-carbon investments and enable them to tap into carbon markets after 2012 - the Carbon Initiative for Development (Ci-Dev) and the third tranche of the BioCarbon Fund (BioCF T3).

The funds, focused on agriculture and access to energy, are designed to strengthen links to private sources of capital via carbon markets for some of the world's poorest communities.

The new instruments will help client countries to buy carbon credits from a range of projects including household biogas systems in Nepal, cook stoves in Africa, reforestation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, soil carbon in Kenya, and municipal solid waste in Uganda.

Ci-Dev, aiming to raise USD 120 million, is a partnership of donor and recipient countries, where public and private sector are pledging their support to capacity building and carbon market development in the poorest countries of the world.

The second initiative, the BioCF T3, will focus on reforestation and agriculture projects.

The agriculture projects are another example of the climate-smart agriculture we have been talking about all week – and deliver a triple win of increased food security and resilience through reduced soil erosion and increased land fertility as well as the access to new carbon markets.

Why are climate data and evidence important

Vicky Pope's picture

Decisions about climate change are complex, costly and have long-term implications. It is therefore vital that such decisions are based on the best available evidence. We need to understand the quality and provenance of that evidence, and whether any assumptions have been made in generating it.

The analysis needed to underpin climate change decisions is like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw. We need observations of weather, climate, water resources and agriculture and other sectors. We also need to analyze the links between these and human and ecosystem development. We need to provide model projections of the future for all these elements. Finally specialists in different sectors need to work with scientists to interpret the information in a way that is relevant to them in order to make informed decisions.

The World Bank's Climate Change Knowledge Portal helps to draw climate change and related information together in one place and is a useful additional tool in the armoury for the decision maker.

The Met Office Hadley Centre in the UK has been preeminent in monitoring, analyzing and projecting climate and climate change and has been and is still a major contributor to IPCC. But more importantly we work closely with government to ensure that their decisions are underpinned by sound science.

Stuck Between Doha and Durban?

Rachel Kyte's picture

One of those small but important agreements that would mean that Durban had moved the ball forward in the search of an international, comprehensive approach to climate change is a forum to discuss trade issues.

As countries seek lower emissions development, and plan out pathways to greener growth, they are considering introducing different forms of “green subsidies”, border tax arrangements, embedded carbon footprint standards which many in the developing world feel will be exclusionary.

A new generation of new tariff and non-tariff barriers is feared.

This is complicated by the question of where to resolve this - in the WTO or the UNFCCC. So, in order to move forward, start looking at the issues in a practical way, learn lessons from different approaches: the idea of a forum.

The success of such a forum could be an important input to the growing body of work around how to make greener growth for all, or as Ban Ki Moon said today at a meeting of heads of UN agencies and minister of environment, “sustainable green growth.”

We are keeping up the pressure for inclusion of language that would allow a work program on agriculture to start up. While some delegations object to agriculture’s inclusion for fear it dilutes the agenda, others fear the carbon content of agri-products and green standards, on top of existing phyto-sanitary standards and other aspects of agriculture trade.

While today only 15% of the global food supply is subject to international trade, that is expected to double as the world population rises from 7 to 9 billion.

Follow Rachel Kyte's tweets (@RKyte365) at her liveblog from the COP17 conference in Durban