article placeholder

Weaning the Meaning of Greening

As climate change discussions continue in Poznan, Poland, I'm encouraged by a broader change I've seen in the public's thinking about what a greener economy will mean. I remember only months ago, it seemed that most people took for granted the notion that trying to abate a climate crisis would inherently mean hurting the economy. These days, the conventional wisdom seems to be that creating an economy and an infrastructure more friendly to the planet will do exactly the opposite and result in economic gains. I don't know exactly what caused this change. It could have been the recent set of economic crises, it could have been Barack Obama's frequent messages on "green jobs," it could have been the "Pickens Plan," or it could have been Al Gore's "We" campaign. Likely, it was a combination of all of these things, along with a collective of hard working activists and bloggers who have been absolutely relentless in spreading the idea that clean does not equal poor, and dirty does not equal rich. Thanks to all those who worked to finally turn the old misguided notion on its head, and let's all continue to push forward and make Poznan, and eventually Copenhagen, a great step forward in ensuring an excellent quality of life for future generations on Earth.
article placeholder

Climate Conference Kicks Off in Poznan, Poland

Delegates from 190 countries descend on the small university town of Poznan, Poland this week to discuss elements of a successor international climate change treaty to the Kyoto Protocols, which expire in 2012. This meeting is the halfway point in a two year negotiating process that kicked off in Bali, Indonesia last year and will conclude (hopefully!) in Copenhagen in December 2009. It's Getting Hot in Here, a fantastic blog about youth climate activism, runs down the top five issues at the conference.
5. Forests Back in 1992, the Rio summit was originally supposed to develop a forests treaty in addition to the two well-known agreements which came out of the meeting: The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity. The forests issue is now coming back in the climate talks in the form of REDD - reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation. The UN does have a way with acronyms, doesn't it? Key challenges under REDD are the definition of a 'managed forest' for the purposes of carbon credits, what to do about reforestation, and whether or not developing countries should be paid not to cut down their forests. If you're interested, Friends of the Earth has just released a major report on REDD ahead of the talks. 4. China Although China is way behind in per capita emissions, the country is now, officially, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter on an absolute scale. This, not to mention being the world's most populous nation, makes it one of the most important countries in the quest to stop climate chaos. Until recently, the U.S. and China were both at an impasse, with each country refusing to accept binding greenhouse gas emissions targets without the other. Now, with Barack Obama pledging a new chapter in U.S. action on climate change, the ball is in China's court. The actions they take at this year's meeting may influence international climate change policy for many years to come. 3. Money - for adaptation and technology transfer Moving our great big resource-munching world to a low-carbon lifestyle isn't just about political will (although that's a big part of it). It's about money. In this case, the money is specifically needed for two things: adaptation, to help poorer countries cope with the effects of global warming, and technology transfer, to help other countries grow their economies in a clean, green, lean sort of way. The UNFCCC has already established an Adaptation Fund, but it's yet to be seen whether this fund will get the money it needs. The U.S. has tried to block proposals for technology transfer in previous negotiations, but this may change under an Obama administration - remember during the debates when he repeatedly mentioned exporting clean technologies to China? 2. The United States Well, this is a bit obvious, isn't it? But despite the fact that the country is under new management, the current occupant is yet to move out of the White House. Because the U.S. team at the climate talks is run by the state department, it's under executive authority - this is why the U.S. delegation in Bali was politely but firmly told to get out of the way and let the world get on with the job of solving the climate crisis. For the past eight years, the U.S. delegation has been pulling out all the stops to prevent climate progress, and arguably there's even less to keep them from being international nincompoops one last time. However, the balance of power has shifted. The views from the U.S. congressional delegation, as well as from Obama's transition team, may be more influential then the spastic flappings of a lame duck administration. 1. The Youth Caucus This is the youth climate blog, after all. If you're here, it's because you already tentatively agree that the next generation is the one to watch. Youth from around the world have spent the last year preparing to hit the ground in Poland and speak truth to power - and you can read about it all here. We have one climate, one future, and one chance to avert disaster.
But you don't have to take it from them. The UN's top climate change negotiation moderator, Yvo De Boer explains what is at stake in Poznan. On Red Green and Blue, Tim Hurst has more. You can view the conference webcast here.
article placeholder

All Aboard the Carbon-Neutral Plane

Costa Rica's NatureAir, which four years ago became the world's first carbon-neutral airline, has now signed on to the Climate Neutral Network, an initiative of the UN Environmental Program.
"With the airline industry contributing an estimated three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions - nearly as much as the entire African continent, it is vital that solutions to the climate change challenge come from within the industry itself. I welcome NatureAir to the Climate Neutral Network as a trailblazer on the path to zero emissions air travel," said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
NatureAir offsets all of its carbon emissions -- no small feat, even for a small airline with efficient propellor planes -- by purchasing credits from the government, which go toward protecting the country's hundreds of acres of tropical forests. The increasingly popular airline has found that flying green is not only environmentally friendly; it's also quite profitable, as NatureAir has grown an average of 20% annually since 2001. So if you happen to be travelling in Costa Rica -- a country aiming to become the world's first entirely carbon-neutral nation -- hop aboard one of NatureAir's colorful, climate-friendly planes. And unlike the even smaller prop planes of its competing "puddle-jumper," NatureAir can also fly in the rain. (photo from flickr user Matt Stratton under a Creative Commons license)
article placeholder

Spinning Carbon Emissions

Contrast these two headlines, from The New York Times and Scientific American, respectively, on the report released yesterday by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, detailing industrial countries' progress in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions . NYT: Pollution Has Leveled Off, but the Figures Have Holes, Report Says Scientific American: From Bad to Worse: Latest Figures on Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Thumbnail image for CO2 emissions.jpg
The ledes of the two stories present the difference even more starkly. The Times declares that "[e]missions from industrialized countries plateaued in 2006" -- only afterward adding the extremely relevant caveat that emissions have not been reported since then -- while Scientific American presents the reality more bluntly: "The U.N. says that even countries that vowed to cut pollution that causes global warming are churning out more of it." Why the Times chose to present the story with a more optimistic slant is unclear to me. It is correct that greenhouse gas emissions did decrease over the 2000-2006 period, but, in an emergency as dire as climate change, these declines should not be interpreted in a vacuum, but judged against the extent to which countries pledged to reduce their emissions in the Kyoto protocol. And according to this metric, every country has failed rather ignominiously. There are perhaps two small enclaves of optimism. Leading up to next month's climate change conference in Poznan, Poland, two countries did meet their emission reduction goals: the United Kingdom and...the Principality of Monaco. (image from flickr user freefotouk under a Creative Commons license)
article placeholder

A Question For International Lawyers to Ponder

As we noted earlier in the week, the small island state the Maldives is sinking. Or rather, rising sea levels threaten to literally wipe the Maldives off the map and the Maldive government is looking to purchase some terra firma should the worst happen. Over on Opinio Juris Duncan Hollis asks "what happens to the Maldives' sovereignty and sovereign rights when its existing territory falls below sea level?" That's a good question. Hollis continues.
Would islands cease to be islands under the law of the sea (see article 121 of UNCLOS)? That's an important question regardless of their habitability since the existence of land territory dictates the scope of a state's sovereignty over its territorial sea as well as its sovereign rights in an exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf, all of which may still contain valuable natural resources. UNCLOS Articles 60 and 80 allow for a state to construct artificial islands and installations within its exclusive economic zone, but that presumes that it still has an exclusive economic zone within which to build. Artificial islands and installations do not get the benefits of island status themselves. I assume that since the Maldives currently have an undisputed status as a sovereign state, they would not face the plight of sovereign-wannabees like Sealand. Still, the scope of their territorial sovereignty and sovereign rights would certainly warrant more careful study. What about buying new land to replace land lost to rising seas? International law does not limit the ability of states to buy or own land in the territory of another sovereign state. One of my first jobs as an attorney-adviser at the State Department was to sell some $30 million in property the United States Government owned in Bonn, Germany as part of moving the U.S. Embassy to Berlin. Similarly, most diplomatic missions in Washington, D.C., are actually owned by the state they represent. But, contrary to popular conceptions of these properties as extensions of the territory of the sending state, they remain under U.S. sovereignty (albeit subject to certain privileges and immunities). So, I don't see a problem with the Maldives' government buying land in other countries where its residents could live if they lose their homes on their existing islands.
As other small island states --Vanuatu and Nauru come to mind -- seek redress from climate change, I imagine these kinds of questions will become more commonplace. Frankly, it would only seem fair that the developed world, whose actions resulted in the disappearance of these islands, shoulder some of the responsibility for taking care of the resulting climate refugees. (Photo from Flickr)
article placeholder

Atmospheric Brown Clouds…

...are as scary as they sound. From the United Nations Environment Program
Cities from Beijing to New Delhi are getting darker, glaciers in ranges like the Himalayas are melting faster and weather systems becoming more extreme, in part, due to the combined effects of man-made Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs) and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These are among the conclusions of scientists studying a more than three km-thick layer of soot and other manmade particles that stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to China and the western Pacific Ocean.
The New York Times is on the story.
The byproduct of automobiles, slash-and-burn agriculture, wood-burning kitchen stoves and coal-fired power plants, these plumes of carbon dust rise over southern Africa, the Amazon basin and North America. But they are most pronounced in Asia, where so-called atmospheric brown clouds are dramatically reducing sunlight in many Chinese cities and leading to decreased crop yields in swaths of rural India, say a team of more than a dozen scientists who have been studying the problem since 2002... The brownish haze, sometimes more than a mile thick and clearly visible from airplanes, stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to the Yellow Sea. During the spring, it sweeps past North and South Korea and Japan. Sometimes the cloud drifts as far west as California. The report identified 13 cities as brown-cloud hotspots, among them Bangkok, Cairo, New Delhi, Seoul and Tehran. In some Chinese cities, the smog has reduced sunlight by as much as 20 percent since the 1970s, it said. Rain can cleanse the skies, but some of the black grime that falls to earth ends up on the surface of the Himalayan glaciers that are the source of water for billions of people in China, India and Pakistan. As a result, the glaciers that feed into the Yangtze, Ganges, Indus and Yellow rivers are absorbing more sunlight and melting more rapidly, researchers say.
NASA has some photos of Atmospheric Brown Clouds, like the one above, taken from outer space. That photo shows an Atmospheric Brown Cloud over eastern China.
article placeholder

Electric Sunflower

A former Japanese race car driver has designed a new kind of electric car, called the Electric Sunflower. Via, the United Nations University's new webzine Our World 2.0.
The electric sunflower from UNUChannel on Vimeo. As the video notes, the electric sunflower is selling fairly poorly for the moment. That said, they are looking to March 20009 when a new government subsidy kicks in.
Where EVs are concerned, one of the most forward thinking prefectures in Japan is Kanagawa, which will start in March 2009 to provide a subsidy of about half that of the national government (i.e., ¥300,000), making EVs truly more price competitive. Kanagawa prefecture also has a plan to ensure that there are 3000 EVs on local streets by fiscal year 2014. This includes a range of measures to promote EVs, such as subsidies, lower taxes, plus reduced parking fees and expressway tolls. The electric charging infrastructure will be further developed with "quick chargers" installed in 30 locations by 2010, aiming for 1,000 charging outlets of 100 and 200 volts within the prefecture by 2014.
It's amazing to consider the extent to which truly local policies like parking and toll fees can have a global impact.
article placeholder


Via Green, Inc:
The European Union has said it is prepared to raise its target for cutting greenhouse gases to 30 percent from 20 percent - but only if there are similar pledges to cut emissions from other countries in the industrialized world. In a report issued on Thursday, health and environment campaigners called on the EU to adopt the more ambitious target anyway, because it will lengthen European lives -- and save money. Representatives from the Health and Environment Alliance, Climate Action Network Europe and WWF, say the higher target could generate additional health savings of 25 million euros each year by 2020, bringing the total annual savings to 76 billion euros. The groups based the calculation on economic evaluations of how people will live longer and healthier lives by breathing cleaner air, how industry will make savings from reduced loss of working days, and how governments will benefit from reduced costs to health services. They say the evidence comes from a large number of studies published over the last 20 years that show that sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter from fossil fuel emissions are linked to higher rates of death and respiratory illnesses, including bronchitis and the exacerbation of asthma symptoms, and cardiac problems.
So there you have it: raising greenhouse gas emissions standards saves lives. For more, read the report: The Co-Benefits to Health of a Strong EU Climate Change Policy. (pdf)