Syndicate content

Environment

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.

Disruptive Innovation needed, submit your ideas now

Jean-Louis Racine's picture

Henry Ford once famously said that if he had asked his customers what they wanted they would have asked him for a faster horse. If he had listened to his customers, the Ford Motor Company may never have existed, or would be called the Ford Faster Horse Company. The automobile became what is called a “disruptive innovation” meaning that it radically displaced the incumbent technology (the horse and carriage) by not listening to the demands of mainstream consumers, but trying to uncover their real needs.

This is the approach the World Bank is now prototyping in Indonesia: Trying to uncover the real clean energy needs of rural communities by understanding their underlying energy-related problems rather than simply asking them what technologies they want. The Indonesia Green Innovation Pilot Program is prototyping a new approach to fostering green disruptive innovation. The first stage of the program is being launched this week, and consists of identifying possible challenges – or problems – linked to energy in rural communities. In keeping with the logic of disruptive innovation, the program does not start with a market demand study, or a survey of clean energy solutions in the market, but with uncovering stated and unstated needs that affect the population of a rural community in their everyday lives. This is being done in three ways: One is through field research by a team of designers from Inotek and Catapult Design, a second way is through consultative workshops in Jakarta and in the rural communities,  and a third is through a “call for challenge” where the program is using a crowdsourcing approach to collect problems linked to energy in rural Indonesian communities. If you are in any way familiar with rural Indonesia and its energy challenges, the program invites you to submit a challenge through this website.

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.

Let's take charge of our future

Max Thabiso Edkins's picture

Here at the African COP, I aimed to highlight African climate change experiences. As a young African filmmaker, I am extremely excited to have been selected as the winner of the Connect4Climate Special Prize in their photo/video competition. This is a great opportunity for me and for the communities I have been working with in Southern and Eastern Africa to showcase the exciting photo, theatre and video work I have been engaged in with them.

With Astrid Westerlind Wigström I have developed and implemented the ClimateConscious Programme of ResourceAfrica UK. Under this programme, we have worked with partner NGOs in Namibia, Tanzania and Kenya to raise awareness, build capacity and facilitate the knowledge exchange with and from rural African communities. Our activities are aimed at spreading climate change knowledge to those communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and least likely to receive climate change education.

Working together on adaptation-based mitigation

Rachel Kyte's picture

Over the weekend the business community held its meetings coinciding with CoP17.

In Copenhagen, the business community, especially in Europe, had mobilized for a deal and arrived in force. Even the financial and investor communities turned up. But then the negotiation process came unraveled and some blamed the business community for not mobilizing enough.

In Cancun, having licked its wounds and learned lessons, the business community adopted the classic entrepreneurial behavior of “don’t ask permission, just apologize afterwards” i.e. don’t wait for a deal- if it makes business sense go ahead.

There, the focus was on action on the ground, strategies, and innovations for firms across the world.

In Durban, things have moved on yet again – here, there is a greater focus on adaptation and, while the stories of success are powerful, there was a call for action again - for the public sector to set the conditions necessary to move ahead at speed and scale.

Will Durban deliver?

Andrew Steer's picture

The next two weeks will see nearly 20,000 people descending on Durban for this year’s Climate Change negotiations.  What might they achieve? Not much, if you believe some of the pessimistic assessments in the press. Are the gloomsters right? No, not necessarily.

What could be achieved?   

Here goes… starting with the practical decisions that are on the agenda, and could affect peoples’ lives fairly quickly:

  • A global system of technology centers that would provide access to knowledge and capacity building in developing countries for climate smart technology – which in turn could yield more investment, more jobs and lower costs.
  • A system that would help developing countries prepare and finance their adaptation plans.
  • A decision to incorporate agriculture fully into the Convention (something that, oddly, has never been done), allowing poor farmers to benefit from climate finance.
  • Simpler rules on how to credit greenhouse gases from forests, in turn making it simpler to prevent deforestation, and for forest dwellers to access support.
  • Common rules allowing city-wide approaches to dealing with climate change. (Many cities are showing more leadership than countries).
  • New eligibility procedures that would help bring sustainable energy to the 65% of African households that currently have no electricity.
  • Agreements that would encourage the development of a long-term networked carbon market that would lower the costs of addressing climate change and bring finance and technology to developing countries.

There is a risk that these measures will be crowded out by the big political decisions at Durban. This would be a mistake. While not game-changers individually, they are important building blocks towards an eventual global deal. 

Pages