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Updated: 2 hours 14 min ago

Lima climate talks reach watered-down global warming agreement

Wed, 12/17/2014 - 00:11
A new global agreement on climate change has been reached this past weekend at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru. The agreement, dubbed the Lima deal, is the first important step towards a climate change deal in Paris next year. But critics say the Lima deal is a weakened agreement that will do nothing to stop catastrophic climate change.

The conference (COP20) is the 20th yearly conference on global warming and was hosted by one of the countries worst affected by climate change. Delegates from around 200 countries managed, after more than 30 hours of extended talk, to reach an agreement on a draft text that will form the basis for a global agreement on how to combat global warming by next year. Many hoped that such a global climate agreement would be reached at COP15 back in 2009 when Copenhagen hosted the conference. Hopefully such a global climate agreement will instead be reached in December next year in Paris – six long years later.

The Lima deal lays out how each nation will present their own plans for curbing global warming, preferably during the first half of next year. The deal commits all countries – both developed and developing countries – to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The draft text says that all countries have “common but differentiated responsibilities” to prevent global warming. This means that the Lima deal marks the first time all nations have agreed to cut carbon emissions – both rich and poor countries, North and South.

The draft says that wealthy and developed countries would assist poorer developing countries to fight global warming by offering climate aid and investing in clean energy technology. Countries already threatened by global warming – such as small island states – have been promised financial aid in a “loss and damage” programme.

“As a text it's not perfect but it includes the positions of the parties,” said Pulgar-Vidal, conference chairperson. “I think for the first time ever the world can contemplate a global deal applicable to all and Lima has helped that process,” the UK’s energy and climate change secretary, Ed Davey, said in response to the agreement.

Critics warn that Lima agreement fails humanity and the earth, and that it will result in a weak climate deal in Paris.

“We were deeply concerned that these talks would fail to deliver a fair and ambitious outcome as we watched events here in Lima this week,” said Jagoda Munic, chairperson of Friends of the Earth International. “Our concerns have proven to be tragically accurate. This text is desperately lacking in ambition, leadership, justice and solidarity for the people worst hit by the climate crisis.”

“The only thing these talks have achieved is to reduce the chances of a fair and effective agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year,” said Asad Rehman, Friends of the Earth’s International Climate Campaigner. “We have the ingenuity and resources to build the low carbon future we so urgently need – but we still lack the political will.”

Rehman also notes how poorer nations once again was “bullied” by richer nations to accept a climate deal that further weakens climate justice. For example: several rich nations, such as USA and China, both whom are currently the world’s top polluters, opposed plans for a review process that would compare and assess climate pledges and emission reduction targets. And the agreed draft text in the Lima deal only says that climate pledges will be reviewed one month ahead of COP21 in Paris next year. Also, the draft only say that nations “may” (and not “shall”) include measureable information showing how they intend to meet their emissions targets.

“With the world speeding towards catastrophic climate change, wealthy industrialised nations who have contributed most to our polluted atmosphere must take the lead in tackling this threat,” Rehman said in a statement.

Categories: Ecological News

Once again extreme weather events draw headlines during international climate talks

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 19:55
It’s becoming increasingly common for extreme weather events to occur during the annual COP negotiations for global deal to combat climate change.

They largely take place in developing countries who have done little to contribute to the climate change challenge; an unfortunate and noted dichotomy.

Last year, as COP began in Poland, the tragic and devastating super typhoon Haiyan wrecked havoc in the Philippines. In what became one of the highlights of a dull and ineffectual round of climate talks, Philippines climate negotiator Yeb Sano’s pleaded emotionally to the western world to take the climate threat seriously. He has since become an inspirational environmental advocate and darling of the youth climate movement and environmental NGO’s. The Philippine government was however less amused and banned him for taking part in this years climate summit as a negotiator.

This year, a week ago as negotiators were settling into long talks at the COP20 in Lima, another devastating typhoon hit the Philippines state, casting another blow on several of the regions still recovering from Haiyan. Typhoon Hagupit (known locally as Ruby) made landfall on the evening of Saturday 6th of December with wind speeds of 125mph, slowly moving west with widespread heavy rains and torrential downpours passing very close to the capital Manila. In the region of a million people were forced to evacuate their homes in preventive measures. Fortunately the this years response was strongly coordinated and the death toll has so far been low, with only 21 people confirmed dead and 920 people injured. Whilst still serious, this is nothing like the 6,300 lives lost during Haiyan.





Yeb Sano took to Twitter to encourage world leaders to strike a deal and Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, rerouted his visit to Lima to and headed to the Philippines where he assisted the local Greenpeace office with visiting affected areas bringing relief and aid. Yeb Sano is joined him. Writing in EcoWatch, Mr Naidoo said: “I am joining Greenpeace Philippines and Yeb to visit the worst hit areas, document the devastation and SEND a clear message from climate change ground zero to Lima and the rest of the world that the ones that are responsible for the majority of emissions will be held accountable by the communities that are suffering the impacts of extreme weather events linked to climate change”.

At the time of writing it is yet unclear if a meaningful outcome has been reached in Lima as talks had been extended well into Saturday.
Categories: Ecological News

Lima climate talks begin as countries eye global treaty in 2015

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 19:36
The latest in a long series of UN-sponsored talks is convening in Lima, Peru, for two weeks of negotiations. The goal is to lay the basis for a climate treaty deal in Paris in November 2015. The last international agreement, the Kyoto Accords, expired in 2012; all subsequent efforts to replace it have failed thus far.

The recent bilateral agreement between the Obama administration and the Chinese government set targets for limiting and then reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time, China agreed to set a peak for its greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 and to reduce them in the decades following. China's reluctance to set such targets in the past has been a key stumbling block to reaching an international agreement, more significant since China became the world's largest emitter of carbon pollution in the last few years. This bilateral agreement has given new impetus to the likelihood of using the UN process to reach a new and more far-reaching agreement.

Similarly, the foot-dragging of U.S. negotiators has been another key roadblock to an international agreement. New steps taken by the Obama administration include the agreement with China, which sets a target of serious reductions by 2025 for the U.S.; new EPA rules for new and existing power plants limiting their carbon pollution; continued commitment to renewable energy which started with the 2009 stimulus bill; and heightened attention in Obama's 2013 Inaugural and State of the Union speeches.

While the bilateral agreement by itself is not enough, it does lay the basis for both the US and China to play a more positive role in international negotiations.

This gathering takes place against the backdrop of continuing increases in temperature worldwide.

There is a developing three-part alliance bringing pressure to reach an international agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The three parts of this de facto alliance are:

- First, the massive environmental movement demanding action on climate change, highlighted by the 400,000 strong September People's Climate March in New York City, alongside support marches around the world of many more tens of thousands of protesters, totaling over 600,000.

- Second, the continuing signs from the natural world that climate change is real, is affected by human activity, and is already causing destruction and economic losses.

- And third, the growing realization by policymakers and some economic heavyweights that action must be taken.

These three forces have combined to create an atmosphere of excitement in the international negotiations, a welcome shift from the failures of previous gatherings in Bali, Cancun, and Copenhagen.
There are significant issues and problems facing the negotiations, including many related to India.

Moreover, given the rapidly developing problems from climate change, including some unexpected ones, the danger of approaching tipping points, and the sometimes apocalyptic uncertainties of climate change, it is highly unlikely that even the most aggressive agreement possible will adequately address the need for a worldwide shift to renewable energy, and will not touch the need for a fundamental restructuring of the capitalist world economy.
Categories: Ecological News

E.ON dumps fossil fuels and nuclear, goes all-in on renewable energy

Wed, 12/03/2014 - 00:34
E.ON, which is one of Europe’s largest utility firms, has issued a “new corporate strategy” in which the energy giant lay out its plans to focus on renewable energy while spinning off its fossil fuel assets in a separate company.

“We are convinced that it’s necessary to respond to dramatically altered global energy markets, technical innovation, and more diverse customer expectations with a bold new beginning,” said E.ON Supervisory Board Chairman Werner Wenning in a statement.

This move by E.ON is largely due to Germany’s Energiewende – the country’s transition away from nuclear and fossil fuels and towards clean, sustainable and renewable energy. E.ON is Germany’s largest utility and the company has done massive investments in fossil fuels, such as coal and gas, but also renewable energy, from generally hydro and offshore wind farms, in Germany and across Europe. Energiewende therefore plays a huge role for E.ON’s decision, and is part of this “dramatically altered energy market” that Wenning is talking about in his statement.

“E.ON’s existing broad business model can no longer properly address these new challenges,” Wenning said.

While E.ON will focus on renewable energy technologies and solutions, the new separate and independent company will take over E.ON’s former fossil fuel assets, energy trading, exploration and production globally. They have not yet named this new fossil fuel company but said that the spin-off will take place after 2016.

E.ON has around 60.000 employees and has said that there will be no job cuts following this decision. About 40.000 employees will remain with E.ON while the other 20.000 will transition to the new company. “We firmly believe that creating two independent companies, each with a distinct profile and mission, is the best way to secure our employees’ jobs, E.ON SE CEO Johannes Teyssen said.

This decision by E.ON will clearly add credibility to Energiewende and boost Germany’s renewable energy sector while encouraging further investments in renewables. But will it give E.ON customers access to clean energy and, more importantly maybe, will it be a blow to the fossil fuel industry? Damian Kahya who is the editor of Energydesk, Greenpeace's energy and climate blog, says no.

“Even when the deal goes through, the power you get will come from coal or gas because EON will still buy power from the open market. Indeed, it will probably buy power from the 'new company' and then sell it to you,” Kahya writes.

“EON has set up a really good deal for new, fossil fuel-heavy, company, which it will hold a minority stake in (for a while at least). What it's done is keep all of the debt with the parent firm, the EON that does renewables and the like - and left the new company, which owns the gas and coal plants, almost entirely debt-free. Because the new firm also holds EON’s existing hydro and nuclear stakes it may actually generate more money from renewables than the parent company.”

E.ON currently has €31 billion in net debt and this split makes sense economically as it will make it easier for both the new E.ON and the new fossil fuel company to attract investors. Kahya explains:

“Investors who like to put their money somewhere safe didn’t necessarily see EON as a safe bet (the share price has fallen over the past five years) but the company wanted their money to build power grids and offshore wind turbines, safe investments backed by the government. On the other hand the fossil fuel bit of the firm was essentially competing against itself in an effort to stave off competition from clean energy. EON is part of a EU lobby group which has actively campaigned against subsidies for renewables. In splitting the company EON’s created a firm which your pension fund can buy into — an outfit which owns regulated power grids and subsidy-funded offshore wind farms and dominant positions supplying power to consumers.”

This move by E.ON – to dump nuclear and fossil fuels in favour of renewables – might not dramatically change either the renewable or fossil fuel industry. But it’s still good news and it might point towards a new trend where large national energy companies starts to divest, or at least separate themselves away, from fossil fuels.
Categories: Ecological News

Renewable energy overtakes nuclear and becomes Scotland's top power source

Thu, 11/27/2014 - 23:16
According to newly released statistics from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, renewable energy sources produced 32 percent of Scotland's electricity in the first half of 2014 – beating both nuclear power, which used to be Scotland's main source of electricity, and fossil fuels.

Scotland produced 10.3 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity from renewable energy sources in the first half of 2013. Nuclear energy, which had previously been Scotland’s main source of electricity, only generated 7.8TWh over the same period. Other fossil-fuel sources then followed, with 5.6TWh of electricity generated from coal and another 1.4TWh from gas-fired power stations.

The energy policy of the Scottish government is that 100 percent of all electricity consumed in Scotland by 2020 should come from renewable energy sources. The majority of renewable energy in Scotland comes from wind and hydro. Onshore wind generated more than half of all renewable electricity output in Scotland in 2013. Hydro power contributed almost one third of renewable electricity output. Experts say that other renewable energy sources, such as biomass, have a substantial potential for growth in the future.

Environmental campaigners and leaders in the green energy sector have hailed this as an historic event and urged increased commitment towards renewables in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Niall Stuart, chief executive of the industry body Scottish Renewables, said that “the renewables industry has come a long way in a short space of time” and that there is still “plenty of potential” for more. Besides fighting climate change, Stuart also said that renewables will decrease the country’s reliance on imported energy while supporting communities across Scotland with more jobs and investment.

“The announcement that renewables have become Scotland's main source of electricity is historic news for our country and shows the investment made in the sector is helping to deliver more power than ever before to our homes and businesses,” Stuart added. “This important milestone is good news for anyone who cares about Scotland's economy, our energy security and our efforts to tackle climate change.”

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said that this “represents a major step on the way to Scotland becoming a 100 per cent renewable nation” and added that “last month, while nuclear reactors were forced to shut because of cracks, Scotland's renewables were quietly and cleanly helping to keep the lights on in homes across the country.”

“Put simply, renewables work and are helping to cut climate change emissions and create jobs in Scotland.”

Categories: Ecological News

Air pollution in Europe has high economic and human cost

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 22:36
Air pollution in Europe cost society up to €189 billion (about US $235 billion) in 2012 alone, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said in a new assessment report. Over the period 2008-2012 the estimated cost was at least €329 billion and possibly up to €1053 billion.

The greenhouse gases and air pollution from Europe’s industry mainly comes from coal-fired power plants located predominately in Germany and Eastern Europe. The majority of the damage costs between 2008 and 2012 were caused by just 1 percent of Europe’s industrial facilities.



The EEA research show that 26 of the top 30 industrial facilities that are polluting the worst and causing the highest damage are power-generating facilities which are primarily fuelled by dirty coal and lignite. Eight of the top 30 facilities are located in Germany and six are in Poland – two countries that rely heavily on coal. Germany and Poland are followed by Romania which has four of the dirtiest facilities; three are located in Bulgaria and the United Kingdom, two are in Greece; and the Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy and Slovakia all have one each.

The combined cost for air pollution in Europe is equal to the gross domestic product (GDP) of Finland or half the GDP of Poland – a country which has opposed tougher EU and IPCC climate targets. The EEA calculated the costs of air pollution on health costs, damage to buildings, reduced agricultural yields, lost working days from sickness caused by air pollution, among other things.

“While we all benefit from industry and power generation, this analysis shows that the technologies used by these plants impose hidden costs on our health and the environment,” Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said. “Industry is also only part of the picture – it is important to recognise that other sectors, primarily transport and agriculture, also contribute to poor air quality."”

Another EEA report released earlier this month calculates the human costs of air pollution in European cities. The study show that while various policies have indeed improved air quality overall, air pollution continues to be a major environmental health hazard in Europe. EEA calculates that air pollution is responsible for causing workers to go sick, resulting in higher costs for health care systems. According to the environmental agency, air pollution is responsible for an estimated 400 000 premature deaths in Europe in 2011.

"Air pollution is still high in Europe," EEA Executive Director Hans Bruyninckx said. "It leads to high costs: for our natural systems, our economy, the productivity of Europe’s workforce, and most seriously, the general health of Europeans."

The two reports from EEA will come in handy for EU policymakers who are currently reconsidering proposals to tighten air pollution laws put forward last year by the former European Commission. According to documents obtained by Reuters, the new conservative European Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, is considering to weaken or even scrap these proposed new air quality laws.

Categories: Ecological News

Population controllers kill more women

Wed, 11/26/2014 - 00:44
Rich country advocates of third world population reduction like to present their programs as benign efforts to offer humane support to poor women who want birth control pills or devices but can’t obtain them. It’s all about filling “unmet demand” they say. There may have been abuses in the distant past, but that’s behind us now.

But when we move from the liberal-sounding fundraisers in the North to actual activity in the South, very different pictures emerge. The population controllers are still imposing their ideology on the very poorest women, denying them choice and control, and killing many.

In India, populationism is official government ideology, and campaigns to reduce the number of poor people are official government policy. Government programs pay per capita bounties to doctors who sterilize women en masse. Unsafe operations are performed by ill-trained doctors, using poor equipment in unsterile conditions. So-called health-care workers get just over $3 for each woman they persuade to be sterilized, creating a strong motivation for clinics to process large numbers as quickly as possible.

As Simon Butler and I discussed in Too Many People, when birth control programs are motivated by population-reduction goals, the inevitable result is a focus on meeting numeric objectives and driving up the totals, regardless of the desires or needs of the ‘targets.’

Blackmail, bribery, and coercion target the very poorest women. In India today, women who agree to the operation are paid the equivalent of $23, which is more than most rural women earn in a month — if they can find work at all. As Kerry McBroom, director of the Reproductive Rights Initiative at the Human Rights Law Network in New Delhi, says, “The payment is a form of coercion, especially when you are dealing with marginalised communities.”

Yet another tragedy, caused by just such population reduction programs, is reported this week in the Guardian.

“Eight women have died in India and dozens more are in hospital, with 10 in a critical condition, after a state-run mass sterilisation campaign went tragically wrong.

“More than 80 women underwent surgery for laparoscopic tubectomies at a free government-run camp in the central state of Chhattisgarh on Saturday. Of these, about 60 fell ill shortly afterwards, officials in the state said. …

“The Indian Express daily said the operations in Chhattisgarh were carried out by a single doctor and his assistant in about five hours.”


The death-toll has since risen to ten, and 14 more women are reported to be in serious condition.

This is not an isolated incident. The health ministry admits to paying compensation for 568 deaths resulting from sterilization between 2009 and 2012, a figure that independent observers believe substantially understates the number of women who have actually died to help state officials meet arbitrary population quotas.

Similar programs, with similar results, have killed or maimed poor women on every continent. As David Harvey says, “Whenever a theory of overpopulation seizes hold in a society dominated by an elite, then the non-elite invariably experience some form of political, economic, and social repression.”

Ecosocialists support unrestricted access to all forms of birth control. We defend women’s absolute right to choose whether to use birth control, and which kinds to use, free from all forms of coercion. We oppose birth control programs based on populationist ideology because they consistently violate those fundamental principles.
Categories: Ecological News

The Keystone XL pipeline is down, but not out

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 17:58
After receiving a total of 59 votes in the Senate - 45 Republican, 14 Democratic - a bill that would approve Keystone XL came one vote shy of its needed support on Nov. 19, putting a stopper on the troubling project for now. The victory settled the nerves of environmentalists and spared President Obama the task of vetoing the legislation, as he was likely to have done. Though the GOP has vowed to renew the fight to push the project through, those who value the safety of nature and people, including indigenous groups throughout the U.S., can now celebrate a moment of triumph.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., staked her hopes of winning a fourth Senate term on the Keystone measure, engaging in frantic last-minute lobbying, especially trying to acquire the needed votes from her fellow Democrats - the majority of whom, alongside Obama, wholly oppose the bill. "I'm going to fight for the people of my state until the day that I leave," Landrieu claimed. Her efforts were seen by many as unwise, especially as her state - a long-embattled victim of Big Oil in its own right - had nothing to gain from the project's approval, as the pipeline would not go through Louisiana, and would thus create no jobs there. This is a particularly important point, as it rendered her statement rather hollow.

For the Republican Party's part, they will gain an additional eight or more Senate seats in 2015, and are expected to seize that opportunity next year to try and ram the legislation through once more. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will become Senate Majority Leader in January, said, "I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone 'jobs bill' early in the New Year." The GOP's language surrounding the bill, which emphasizes job creation and support for working families, is alarmingly misleading, as several labor unions pointed out yesterday. This is because it will not generate the job numbers that Republicans suggest, and moreover, will pose a risk to the environment that most Democrats, and the President, agree is not worth taking. Nevertheless, the GOP will likely try again in January or February, and might even try and integrate the measure into a broader bill that Obama would find harder to veto.

Landrieu asked, "What is everybody upset about?" from the Senate floor on Nov. 18, adding, "We already have 2.6 million miles of pipe in America." But environmental activists and those affected by the oil industry have been answering that question since the project's inception back in 2008.

"If she wants this pipeline so badly, it can go through her front yard and not any one of ours," said Karthik Ganapathy, communications manager for environmental advocacy group 350 Action. "For somebody that had the Gulf oil spill and the devastation it brought to her state, she should understand how important it is that we don't have these types of environmental disasters," added Art Tanderup, a Nebraska farmer and member of the Cowboy Indian Alliance, a group uniting workers and Native Americans against the pipeline.

Environmental groups are excited about this temporary victory, but it is tempered by an ongoing sense of uncertainty. Still, many believe the President will make the right decision, despite Republican efforts to fight him tooth and nail on this issue. "Since day one, the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline has belonged to President Obama," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "And he has repeatedly said he will reject this pipeline if it contributes to the climate crisis. As there is no doubt that it does, we remain confident that is precisely what he'll do."
Categories: Ecological News

Climate agreement with China kills major rightwing argument against carbon curbs

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 17:42
During President Obama's visit to China, both countries announced a new climate change agreement that effectively takes away one of the right wing's major arguments against action to curb global warming.

For the first time, China has agreed to set a limit on the amount of greenhouse gases it will emit by 2030, increasing its reliance on renewable energy. This is significant for two reasons-one, China is now the largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions in the world, and two, the US government and conservatives have used China's previous unwillingness to set such limits as an excuse to avoid any and all binding targets on U.S. emissions. The U.S., as part of this agreement, sets ambitious goals for reductions in carbon pollution by 2025.

The bilateral agreement is also significant because it comes in advance of UN sponsored climate talks in Paris in the fall of 2015, aimed at forging a binding international treaty on climate change.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, notes both the historic nature of the agreement and also its limitations, in his commentary on Huffington Post. He points out that this agreement comes barely more than a month after the giant People's Climate March in New York City on Sept. 21. This massive outpouring set the pace for the upcoming struggles over environmental issues. He also notes that this agreement by itself is no reason to slow down or stop the mass struggle for more aggressive climate action.

And have no doubt that there will bee sharp struggles. Mitch McConnell, the likely new Senate majority leader in 2015, has already announced that he opposes the new deal; that he will oppose the efforts of the EPA to regulate new and existing power plant carbon pollution and that he places a high priority on Congress passing legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Some Democrats propose a vote to approve the Keystone pipeline during the lame duck session to boost the chances of Mary Landrieu winning re-election to the Senate from Louisiana.

The battles over climate change and other environmental issues will play a larger role in electoral and legislative struggles, and we can already see glimpses of splits in the ruling class. A new study confirms that the opposition by conservatives is not some kind of general rejection of science, it is a reaction against the steps needed to find solutions. That reinforces the points made author Naomi Klein in her new book, "This Changes Everything" that right-wing politicians recognize climate change as being a challenge to the capitalist system.

The new agreement will only escalate the intensity of right-wing opposition to any and all steps to tackle climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and all forms of carbon pollution. But it offers renewed hope for a serious international agreement to replace the expired Kyoto Accords.
Categories: Ecological News

Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise detained in Spain following oil protest

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 00:52
The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation in Spain has detained the Arctic Sunrise, a ship operated by Greenpeace International, while an investigation is completed into the peaceful anti-oil drilling protest, which took place in the waters off Canary Islands this past weekend. The protest was violently stopped by the Spanish Navy – resulting in the injuries of two Greenpeace activists.

“The detention of the Arctic Sunrise violates the rights of all people who strive to defend the environment,” said Mario Rodriguez, director of Greenpeace Spain, in a statement. “It’s telling that the Spanish Government would so quickly support the interests of an oil company, Repsol, against a peaceful environmental organisation which stands alongside millions of people who oppose reckless oil exploration.”

An investigation has been launched by the Spanish government against the captain of the Arctic Sunrise, for an alleged “infringement against marine traffic rules”, which is punishable with a fine of up to €300,000. Pending this investigation, Spanish authorities have ordered the ship to be detained until a €50,000 bond is paid. Fortunately, the captain and crew have not been detained.

In a statement, Greenpeace says they find this response “to a peaceful protest against dangerous oil drilling” to be both “unnecessary and disproportionate.”

This incident is sure to bring up bad memories. Just six months ago, the Arctic Sunrise was released by Russian authorities after a nine month long detention for an attempted protest against a Gazprom oil rig. Two freelance journalists and 28 Greenpeace activists were arrested at gunpoint in the Russian Arctic and had to spend three months in jail before being granted amnesty.
Categories: Ecological News

U.S. Senate rejects Keystone XL approval bill by a narrow margin

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 20:26
The U.S. Senate has rejected a bill that would allow the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to be completed. The bill was rejected by a narrow margin, with 59 yes votes and 41 no votes. The bill would have needed 60 votes to pass.

The Keystone XL pipeline is an extremely controversial project. If constructed, the pipeline will transport dirty oil from the tar sands in Western Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands is considered to be the world’s most polluting fuel and its production process is highly energy-intensive and causes widespread environmental damage. Besides wrecking the climate, environmentalists also claim that the pipeline would be a danger to local ecosystems and pollute water sources along the way it’s built. NASA climate scientist, James Hansen has said that the pipeline will be “game over for the planet.”

Proponents of the bill has said that the pipeline will generate thousands of jobs and secure U.S. energy independence. But critics say these claims are overstated and that the pipeline would bring no energy independence, no cheap gas and no lasting jobs.

Environmental organisations are now calling for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL project once and for all.

“The bill would have turned Congress into a permitting authority, overriding environmental law, and giving a green light to a pipeline project that would worsen climate change and threaten water quality,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “The Senate did the right thing to reject the misguided bill, and now the president should do the right thing and reject the pipeline.”

“Since Keystone XL has always been President Obama’s decision, this vote was never anything more than an empty gesture of political theatre,” 350.org Executive Director May Boeve said. “Rather than letting Congress continue to pantomime for Big Oil, President Obama should step up and reject this dirty tar sands pipeline once and for all.“

This vote does not mean the end for the Keystone XL project. Republicans, who will control both chambers of the new Congress from January, has promised to re-examine the project and put it up for a vote once more.
Categories: Ecological News

The U.S. Congress could pass pro Keystone XL bill today

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 00:00
It has become the defining environmental battle in the US. And on Friday the Republicans fresh from the midterm elections victory voted on a bill directing the Obama Administration to direct the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project. It was comfortably passed. Today the bill will be voted on in the Senate and if approved it will land on Obama’s table where he would be expected to veto it. In the last week Obama has made the strongest signals yet that he is against the pipeline when he questioned how many jobs it would actually create and if Americans would actually see any benefit of the extra oil.



Advocates of the pipeline claim that it will create growth and thousands of jobs while making US more energy independent, while the opposition, such as former NASA scientist James Hansen and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben claims it will be game over for the climate if the pipeline were to be built. Opponents also say that it actually won’t create a lot of jobs, only 35 permanent jobs and Americans would not benefit from it as the oil it is transporting will be shipped to China and other Asian markets from Texas refineries. Below video released by the Sierra Club explains why they insist the pipeline is such a bad idea.



The Senate vote will also show how much Democratic support Obama has for his environmental policies. The Democrats still control the Senate and will do so until January when it will be Republican controlled. If all Democrats vote against the bill, it will be defeated easily but it is expected to be a lot closer meaning some Democrats will support the bill. One such Democrat is Mary Landrieu, who as a Keystone XL supporter, is expected to vote for the bill. Landrieu is currently locked in an election battle as her Louisiana seat was too close to call at the midterms election and will face a runoff election against Republican Bill Cassidy on the 6th December who sponsored the pro Keystone XL bill.

On Monday protesters gathered outside Landrieu’s house in protest against her stance on the pipeline:



While Obama has said he would use his veto power should the Senate approve the bill, it is clearly a risk that environmentalists does not want to take. Furthermore it could showcase cracks in the Democratic party.

We will post the result of the Senate vote here when available.
Categories: Ecological News

Bill McKibben: The IPCC still underestimates the situation

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 23:17
Bill McKibben, Co-founder of 350.org and – dare I say it – one of the most famous climate activist, has given his opinion about the latest IPCC assessment report on climate change. In the text, which was published in The Guardian, McKibben says that scientists have given us the clearest warning of the dangers of global warming yet.

“At this point, the scientists who run the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change must feel like it’s time to trade their satellites, their carefully calibrated thermometers and spectrometers, their finely tuned computer models – all of them for a thesaurus. Surely, somewhere, there must be words that will prompt the world’s leaders to act.

This week, with the release of their new synthesis report, they are trying the words “severe, widespread, and irreversible” to describe the effects of climate change – which for scientists, conservative by nature, falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola. It’s hard to imagine how they will up the language in time for the next big global confab in Paris.”

McKibben warns (and rightfully so) that the IPCC documents “almost certainly underestimates the actual severity of” climate change and the situation we're in.

And this is important to know. The IPCC operates on consensus among the member nations of the United Nations, which means that the words chosen in documents and reports from the IPCC will undoubtedly reflect political compromises. Another problem is that the IPCC’s reports are based on science that is already several years old. David Spratt, an Australia-based climate blogger, pointed out just this for Al Jazeera. “The cutoff date is three to four years before it’s published, meaning this report is the extent of climate science in 2010 — and a number of things have happened since then,” Spratt said. McKibben writes that “it’s a particular problem with sea level rise, since the current IPCC document does not even include the finding in May that the great Antarctic ice sheets have begun to melt. (The studies were published after the IPCC’s cutoff date.)” As such, the IPCC reports should be viewed as conservative estimates and statements of climate change.

Despite this, McKibben says that we should continue to fight for climate action and that a lot of progress have been made – although we need to do much more.

“Breaking the power of the fossil fuel industry won’t be easy, especially since it has to happen fast. It has to happen, in fact, before the carbon we’ve unleashed into the atmosphere breaks the planet. I’m not certain we’ll win this fight – but, thanks to the IPCC, no one will ever be able to say they weren’t warned.”
Categories: Ecological News

Naomi Klein: "Only mass social movements can save us"

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 03:11
Despite endless conferences, treaties and solemn promises, greenhouse gas emissions have risen 61% since 1990, and the rate of increase is accelerating. As Naomi Klein tells us in her new book, This Changes Everything, we are now experiencing an “early twenty-first century emissions explosion.”

The reason for this ominous failure, she shows, is that the present capitalist profit system itself is incompatible with climate and environmental stability. Our only hope is the rise of mass movements with the combined goals of saving the environment and achieving social justice.

This Changes Everything is a rich resource of fact and argument: it’s a book that every climate justice activist should read, use and share.

‘The Right is right’

Klein begins with a 2011 conference of prominent and well-financed U.S. climate deniers, whose main objection, she discovered, was not to the science of global warming but to the radical implications of actions to rein it in. Such measures require “heavy-duty interventions: sweeping bans on polluting activities, deep subsidies for green alternatives…. Everything, in short, that these think tanks … have been busily attacking for decades.” For many conservatives, she adds, quoting Australian scholar Robert Manne, climate science is “an affront to their deepest and most cherished basic faith: the capacity and indeed the right of ‘mankind’ to subdue the Earth and all its fruits and to establish a ‘mastery’ over nature.”

These hard-core rightist ideologues, Klein concludes, understand the significance of climate change better than most of those in the political center, “who are still insisting that the response can be gradual and painless.”

The free market trumps climate

Mainstream political leaders like Barack Obama and (grudgingly) Stephen Harper, acknowledge the climate crisis and tell us they are responding to it. For 35 years they have claimed to be working to reduce carbon emissions. Klein leads off her extended analysis of their record – and that of their allies among pro-establishment environmental NGOs – by describing the devastating impact of the trade treaties that now bind the governments of all major states.

“Green energy programs – the strong ones that are needed to lower global emissions fast – [are] increasingly being challenged under international trade agreements,” Klein says. Major powers are launching lawsuits against each other’s wind and solar energy programs citing the provisions in these plans encouraging local sourcing of green energy equipment.

The U.S. has launched such suits against India, challenging its ambitious solar energy program, and against China, over wind power. And yet, with brazen hypocrisy, Washington denounces China and India at the United Nations for not doing enough to cut emissions, claiming this as an excuse for U.S. inaction.

The people of Ontario fell victim to such an attack, Klein notes. The province’s climate action plan, the Green Energy Act, created 31,000 jobs in the local solar and wind power industry between 2009 and 2014, but when it was challenged by the European Union and Japan as a violation of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, “the province wasted little time in nixing the local content rules.”

The renewable energy programs in question represent the governments’ attempts, inadequate to be sure, to carry out promises made during world climate negotiations. Yet they are being snuffed out by these same governments on the basis of trade treaties.

“The trade and climate negotiations closely paralleled one another, each winning landmark agreements within a couple of years.” World Trade Organization negotiations concluded in 1994; the Kyoto protocol on reducing carbon emissions was adopted three years later. The treaties are two solitudes — each seemed to “actively pretend that the other did not exist.”

Yet it was clear from the start which treaty would prevail in case of conflict. The Kyoto protocol “effectively functioned on the honour system,” while the WTO agreement was “enforced by a dispute settlement system with real teeth,” often enforcing harsh penalties.

Thus asymmetry was built in from the start: trade deals were the foundation of the new “globalized” world order, while climate agreements have been little more than public relations exercises.

Globalization’s dirty underside

The trade system has other less obvious but more damaging climate impacts. Food production, for example, accounts for between 19% and 29% of world carbon emissions but the treaties have “helped to entrench and expand the energy-intensive, higher-emissions model of industrial agriculture around the world.”

Similarly, the massive shift of manufacturing to low-wage less-developed countries, with inefficient energy industries, has led to an increase in emissions. Swedish researcher Andreas Malm points to “a causal link between the quest for cheap and disciplined labor power and rising CO2 emissions.”

Significantly, climate agreements measure emissions in the country where products are manufactured, not where they are consumed. Thus about half of China’s carbon emissions are export-related. By outsourcing, rich countries have in effect exported their emissions.

Betrayed by Big Green

Unfortunately some major environmental groups supported the new trade deals. When the NAFTA treaty was debated in the early 1990s, a strong coalition of unions and environmental groups rallied to lead a massive opposition to the deal, and “for a time it even looked as if they would win.” At that point, proponents of the deal tacked on two “toothless” side agreements, one for labor and one for environmentalists.

“The labor movement knew better than to fall for this ploy,” Klein says, but leaders of many large environmental organizations capitulated. Some groups held firm, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club, but U.S. President Bill Clinton was still able to claim that “groups representing 80% of national [environmental] group membership have endorsed NAFTA.”

Klein devotes many pages to a much-needed exposé of Big Green, the conservative environmental groups. Over time, she demonstrates, many NGOs and foundations fell under the domination of the extractive corporations whose power they were set up to contest, and now contribute to greenwashing oil-industry operations. The Nature Conservancy, for example, partners with BP and JP Morgan in fracking development, and has even drilled its own gas well in the middle of one of its Texas nature preserves.

Toward solidarity-based trade

“It is not too late for a new kind of climate movement to take up the fight against so-called free trade,” Klein says, calling for transfer of resources and green technology to developing countries and measures to support, not penalize renewable energy.

She could also have pointed to the success of mass hemisphere-wide opposition in quashing the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), one of the most dangerous of these schemes, a movement in which she played a prominent role. Although she doesn’t mention it, that campaign contributed to the formation of what might be called the anti-FTAA, a trade and cultural alliance based on solidarity – the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which includes Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Klein criticizes the dependence of majority-indigenous Bolivia on exports generated by extractive industries. However, as Klein herself says elsewhere of many indigenous peoples’ deals with extractive industries, they face “a paucity of good choices”; at present extraction may be essential to maintenance of sovereignty. Westerners who want poverty-stricken natives to swear off extraction for the world’s sake must ask, she says, “What are we going to do for them?”

Despite their poverty, some ALBA nations have registered significant climate achievements, such as Nicaragua’s program to produce 70% of its electricity by renewable energy. Indeed, ALBA’s very existence is step forward along the path Klein outlines.

Stranded assets

The sense of unreality surrounding world climate negotiations is reinforced by Klein’s observations on oil and gas corporations’ balance sheets. To maintain stable share prices, Klein notes, these companies must demonstrate that they have sufficient untapped reserves to replace current wells when their production declines. “It is this structural imperative that is pushing the industry into the most extreme forms of dirty energy,” she says.

Currently, the total amount of carbon in oil, gas, and coal reserves is valued at about $27 trillion – more than half again as much as the annual GDP of the United States. How much of that can be burned without launching the world into uncontrollable global warming? The best available estimates cited by Klein indicate that 80% of fossil fuel reserves – worth roughly $20 trillion – must be left in the ground if the currently accepted goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius is to be achieved.

Alternative sources of energy are available – that’s not the problem. The “loss” of these fossil fuel resources will make life better, not worse – that’s not the problem either.

The problem, Klein says, is that “we need to keep large, extremely profitable pools of carbon in the ground – resources that the fossil fuel companies are fully intending to extract.” The $20 trillion in unusable fossil fuel reserves is written into corporate balance sheets as “assets” and sustains their share value. Oil company executives defend not the public but their shareholders’ wealth – which means defending their ‘right’ to extract without limit.

To this end, corporations mobilize their immense wealth and social influence to block any move to reduce the burning of their product – fossil fuels. Under their influence, when governments act at all, it is to encourage use of renewable energy rather than to restrain the rise of carbon emissions. The oil industry and its many corporate allies have maintained a blockade against measures to rein in rising emissions for 25 years and are in no mood to change course.

A troubling imperative

Averting climate disaster, Klein tells us, “will mean forcing some of the most profitable companies on the planet to forfeit trillions of dollars of future earnings by leaving the vast majority of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground. It will also require coming up with trillions more to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations.” And these radical measures must be taken “democratically and without a bloodbath.” This means we must oppose unfettered capitalism –the profit-based economic and social system that wages war on our climate.

This requirement poses a question that Klein finds troubling. When has there ever been a transformation that intruded on capitalist property to such an extent – moreover, a change “demanded from below, by regular people, when leaders have wholly abdicated their responsibilities”? In the West, she says, the transformative social movements have been for human rights – for blacks, women, gays, she says. “But the legal and cultural battles were always more successful than the economic ones.”

As a precedent, she points to the movement in the nineteenth century to abolish slavery, particularly as it developed in the United States. The weight of slave capital in the U.S. economy then was comparable to the weight of stranded fossil fuel investment today. For many decades the slave-owners maintained full control over the U.S. state. But ultimately a mass movement broke that control and abolished slave property forever. And this was done democratically, although only at the cost of a protracted civil war.

Klein’s analogy has merit. However, it is also worth considering the precedent of socialist revolutions, even if they did not occur “in the West.” One such revolution took place only 90 miles from the U.S., in Cuba. In the 1990s, Cuba carried out the world’s most successful reduction of fossil fuel dependency. Despite a damaging U.S. blockade, the Cuban revolution continues to display creative vigor, most recently in the country’s role as world leader in on-the-ground response to the Ebola virus epidemic.

The experience of twentieth century socialist revolutions, while troubled, is surely relevant to what we must now accomplish in the face of a systemic crisis of capitalism triggered by climate change. It is hard to see how the fossil fuel stranglehold can be broken without popular ownership and control over dominant industries. This case is made in three books on ecology and socialism that I’ve listed below.

Mass social movements

Klein’s book has a single overriding strength: a comprehensive analysis – much broader than can be indicated here – that demonstrates that a movement to overcome the climate challenge must confront the prevailing economic and political system, and for that it must be massive, broad, and militant. A substantial and inspiring part of her book is devoted to first-hand accounts of what she calls “Blockadia” – grassroots movements on every continent that are directly challenging the fossil fuel industry’s destructive projects.

A movement on the climate issue alone cannot win, she says. Climate activism must link up with “the unfinished business of the most powerful liberation movements of the past two centuries, from civil rights to feminism to Indigenous sovereignty.” “Climate change can be the force – the grand push – that will bring together all of these still living movements.”

Calls for such a fusion are increasingly frequent. The liberation movements Klein mentions – and labor, too – were in evidence at the great People’s Climate March of 400,000 in New York on September 21 and in the surrounding conferences, as well as in parallel actions in Canada and around the globe. Naomi Klein’s book is an inspiring contribution to this movement, which is increasingly becoming identified with the goals of climate justice and system change.

“Only mass social movements can save us now,” Klein concludes. “If that happens, well, it changes everything.”


This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein (Alfred A Knopf, 2014), reviewed by John Riddell.
Categories: Ecological News

Greenpeace boats violently rammed by Spanish Navy during peaceful protest, one activist hospitalised

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 00:12
Two Greenpeace activist have been injured following a peaceful demonstration against oil drilling in the waters off the Canary Islands. In a dramatic video, released by Greenpeace, you can see how the Spanish Navy deliberately and repeatedly rammed the small boats with the activists at full speed. The video shows how the military vessels partly climbs up on the small boats.

It was during one of these collisions that a 23 year old Italian activist was seriously injured when she was knocked overboard and had her leg broken. You can hear her scream in agony in the video. A diver from the Spanish Navy eventually jumps in and save her. The activist was then taken to a hospital in Las Palmas by a navy helicopter, and is reportedly in good condition. A fellow activist received minor injuries and was treated on board the Arctic Sunrise.

"We're thankful that no one else was seriously injured, and outraged at the unjustified use of force," Greenpeace writes in a comment to the incident. "It's another reminder of the lengths governments will go to protect the oil industry from peaceful protesters."

Greenpeace were protesting against controversial drilling plans just outside the waters of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, two of the Canary Islands. The environmental organisation has sided with locals who are worried that oil drilling could cripple the marine environment around the islands, and ultimately the tourism industry. The activist were heading towards a drilling vessel belonging to the oil company Repsol when they were violently stopped by the Spanish Navy.

A spokesman for Spain’s Ministry of Defence blamed the incident on Greenpeace. In a comment to The Spain Report, the spokesman said that Greenpeace "were committing a crime" when they came close to the Repsol ship. “There are government orders on protecting the prospecting ship and they will be followed.”

Juande Fernández, head of protest actions for Greenpeace Spain, said the incident was “an act of violence by the Spanish Navy”. Fernández also promised that, despite this incident, they would continue to protest against oil drilling in the Canary Islands.

In Madrid, the Socialist Party (PSOE) has called the incident "intolerable" and demanded that Defense Minister Pedro Moreno are to "urgently" explain the Spanish Navy's behaviour for the parliament.
Categories: Ecological News

IPCC: ‘Severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts’

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 01:52
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released two major reports on November 2 – a 116-page Synthesis Report (pdf), summarizing the key findings in the three working group reports issued earlier in the year, and a 40-page Summary for Policy Makers (pdf), which summarizes the Synthesis report.

This is the strongest and most unequivocal statement of scientific certainty we’ve seen from the IPCC since the first assessment report in 1990, but even so, bear in mind that the IPCC operates on consensus, and the actual wording undoubtedly reflects political compromises, so the report should be viewed as a conservative statement.

Also read: Near zero emissions needed by 2100 to avoid climate catastrophe

The Summary for Policy Makers identifies 18 key conclusions under four headings. The numbering below is by me, but the text is taken directly from the IPCC document.

Observed changes and their causes
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.
  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.
  • Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
  • In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Impacts are due to observed climate change, irrespective of its cause, indicating the sensitivity of natural and human systems to changing climate.
  • Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. Some of these changes have been linked to human influences, including a decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, an increase in extreme high sea levels and an increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions.
Future climate changes, risks and impacts
  • Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.
  • Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise.
  • Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.
  • Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases.
Future pathways for adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development
  • Adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change. Substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term, and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.
  • Effective decision making to limit climate change and its effects can be informed by a wide range of analytical approaches for evaluating expected risks and benefits, recognizing the importance of governance, ethical dimensions, equity, value judgments, economic assessments and diverse perceptions and responses to risk and uncertainty.
  • Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally. Mitigation involves some level of co-benefits and of risks due to adverse side-effects, but these risks do not involve the same possibility of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts as risks from climate change, increasing the benefits from near-term mitigation efforts.
  • Adaptation can reduce the risks of climate change impacts, but there are limits to its effectiveness, especially with greater magnitudes and rates of climate change. Taking a longer-term perspective, in the context of sustainable development, increases the likelihood that more immediate adaptation actions will also enhance future options and preparedness.
Adaptation and mitigation
  • Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and cooperation at all scales, and can be enhanced through integrated responses that link adaptation and mitigation with other societal objectives.
  • Adaptation and mitigation responses are underpinned by common enabling factors. These include effective institutions and governance, innovation and investments in environmentally sound technologies and infrastructure, sustainable livelihoods, and behavioral and lifestyle choices.
  • Adaptation options exist in all sectors, but their context for implementation and potential to reduce climate-related risks differs across sectors and regions. Some adaptation responses involve significant co-benefits, synergies and trade-offs. Increasing climate change will increase challenges for many adaptation options.
  • Effective adaptation and mitigation responses will depend on policies and measures across multiple scales: international, regional, national and sub-national. Policies across all scales supporting technology development, diffusion and transfer, as well as finance for responses to climate change, can complement and enhance the effectiveness of policies that directly promote adaptation and mitigation.
  • Climate change is a threat to sustainable development. Nonetheless, there are many opportunities to link mitigation, adaptation and the pursuit of other societal objectives through integrated responses. Successful implementation relies on relevant tools, suitable governance structures and enhanced capacity to respond.
Categories: Ecological News

IPCC: Near zero emissions needed by 2100 to avoid climate catastrophe

Sat, 11/08/2014 - 01:34
On November 2, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released two major reports on climate change, a 116-page Synthesis Report and a 40-page summary for policy makers. These reports represents the most comprehensive assessment on climate change to date and summarizes the work conducted by more than 800 scientists and three major climate reports – respectively laying out the causes, impacts and solutions to global warming – issued earlier in the year.

In this assessment report, the IPCC warns that climate change will inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” for humans and the natural world unless rapid action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The report shows how human activities are unequivocally responsible for global warming and details the severe impacts of climate change across the globe. IPCC notes that climate change is already responsible for an increased risk of extreme weather and severe heatwaves around the world. The report, which is meant to influence politicians and policy makers into action, warns that climate change will result in more and powerful hurricanes, more frequent droughts and floods, rising sea levels, food shortages and violent conflicts across the globe.

It’s a grim picture the report paints. But we could avoid the worst effects of climate change if we act now. Thankfully, as IPCC notes, there are options available for us to both adapt to a changing climate and implement mitigation activities to curb the most severe impacts of global warming.

“We have the means to limit climate change,” said R. K. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC. “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change.”

The goal is to stop the average global temperature to rise beyond 2C – but with the current trend we will badly exceed that target. To make sure we reach this goal the world needs to attain near zero emissions by 2100.

“We have little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2C of warming closes,” Pachauri warned. “To keep a good chance of staying below 2C, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100. We have that opportunity, and the choice is in our hands.”

Despite this, many countries remain hesitant to limit their greenhouse gas emissions claiming that climate action will damage their economies. IPCC refutes this and claims that ambitious mitigation programs and policies would only reduce economic growth by about 0.06 percent with the global economy still growing by 1.6 to 3 percent per year. But obviously, the costs will increase if we wait for too long.

“Compared to the imminent risk of irreversible climate change impacts, the risks of mitigation are manageable,” said Youba Sokona, who worked on the report. “The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.”

So what now? As we currently have no global framework on how to deal with the climate crisis such a treaty will need to be devised and agreed on. The first step towards such a global agreement will take place in Peru this December. A two-week long climate summit will be held in Lima where negotiators from around the world will try and find common ground on everything from emission targets, carbon credits and the North vs. South divide. Next up is to draft and sign a global agreement on how to tackle climate change. Hopefully this will happen in Paris in 2015. But if previous climate summits have shown one thing it’s that this process won’t be easy, and that it’ll most likely end in a failure or too weak targets.

Hopefully this assessment report will do its work and influence policy makers to realise the dangers of unchecked climate change and the benefits of taking climate action.

Also read: Eighteen key conclusions from the summary report issued this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Categories: Ecological News

Rare rhino death as poaching worsens

Wed, 11/05/2014 - 19:07
The extremely rare northern white rhino - a subspecies of white rhino - may soon disappear. One of the last males, a 34 year-old rhino named Suni, died from natural causes on Oct. 17, at a nature reserve in Kenya, leaving just six northern white rhinos (only one of them male) remaining worldwide. Its close cousin, the southern white rhino, is also severely threatened. The low numbers are themselves largely a product of the relentless rhino poaching that occurs across Africa, and which has driven the animals as a whole to the brink of extinction. And the problem is getting worse.

Back in 2009, Suni was one of eight of its species at the Kenyan Ol Pejeta Conservancy as part of a last-resort effort to save its kind. To date, these rhinos have not fared well in captivity. But after all, experts point out, it's not as though they're exactly doing too well in the wild: according to some conservationists, a free-roaming rhino is killed for its horn every nine hours.

"It's a shame the [northern white rhino] subspecies got to that point," said Matthew Lewis, the World Wildlife Fund's senior program officer for African species conservation. Corralling surviving rhinos in that type of nature reserve represents "the worst-case scenario in trying to bring back a subspecies. Its story is a fantastic lesson on what not to do, and how we need to avoid getting to this point with other rhinos."

So what to do? The answer, most would say, is to continue to support efforts to stop poaching, which is the primary cause of the decline of rhinos, as well as elephants and other animals. "That we've lost the subspecies is a statement of just how bad off animals are across Africa," said Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecologist at North Carolina's Duke University. "It's a measure of the fact that rhinos are being massively poached and in trouble wherever they are. It also means we're losing this distinctive, important animal within the savanna ecosystem. It's not just another charismatic animal; it's also a species that has a very clear ecological role, and we need to be very worried that we lost that."

Large demonstrations took place Oct. 4 in 136 different cities, with activists calling for an end to rhino and elephant poaching, and seeking to draw greater attention to the issue in the eyes of the public. "There's a lot of talk, but we need to see more action," said Simon Jones, founder of nonprofit group Helping Rhinos. "We need more rangers on the ground and we need more campaigns in countries where ivory and rhino horns are sold."

Among those actions was a march that took place that day in Johannesburg, South Africa. One of the organizers, Dex Kotze, remarked, "We have to do this for future generations. The youth today are making a statement globally, in 136 cities, that it's their heritage that is being killed. South Africa, home to the world's largest rhino populations, has seen at least 700 killed so far this year. We are also here protesting against the political leaders of the world, who do not have the guts and political will to make appropriate changes in their laws."

Organizers there debuted a list of objectives, which included the demand for a global ban on the trade in ivory and rhino horns, stricter penalties for poachers who are caught, and better, more coordinated international cooperation in stopping what has arguably developed into a flourishing underground criminal industry.
Categories: Ecological News

California to become first U.S. state to ban plastic bags

Wed, 11/05/2014 - 18:40
California may soon follow in the footsteps of its largest city: On Aug. 29, the state Senate voted 22-15 in support of a statewide ban on plastic bags. The bill, SB 270, will phase them out in grocery stores and pharmacies beginning in July 2015, and in convenience stores one year later, with the goal of making California a plastic bag-free state by the end of 2016. The legislation, which passed both houses of the state legislature, must now be signed by the governor. If that happens, the state will achieve a historical victory for the environment.

The good news? The governor plans to sign it. "I probably will sign it, yes," said Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat. "In fact, I'll tell you why I'm going to sign it; there are about 50 cities with their own plastic bag ban, and that's causing a lot of confusion," he remarked, referencing the similar plans in place in areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco. "This is a compromise. I'm taking into account the needs of the environment, the needs of the economy, and the needs of the grocers."

In agreement was Senator Kevin de León, a Democrat from Los Angeles, who stated, "SB 270 is a win-win for the environment and for California workers. In crafting this compromise, it was imperative to me that we achieve the goals of doing away with single-use plastic bags, help change consumer behavior, and importantly, support and expand California jobs."

That last note clashes with the words of Republicans, who have opposed the ban, claiming it will cause job losses for bag manufacturers. But such an assertion suggests a misunderstanding of the legislation, which will not do away with non-plastic bags; compost bags and paper bags will continue to be available, albeit for a ten-cent fee per bag. There is a strategy to that, as well: The goal is to encourage the use of recyclable and biodegradable materials and to give California manufacturing a boost by encouraging the continuous production of such bags. Hardly a jobs killer.

Leslie Tamminen, director of Seventh Generation Advisors, a sustainability and clean energy advocacy group based on Native American philosophy, said, "Data from the over 121 local plastic bag bans [in California] has proven that bans are effective at reducing litter and changing consumer attitudes, and have refuted industry's claims of apocalyptic impacts on jobs and poor communities. A state plastic bag ban saves taxpayers huge amounts of money spent on litter cleanup, and protects the environment."

It's worth noting that other nations have already moved forward on this issue, with the U.S. current lagging behind; Ireland, Taiwan, South Africa, Bangladesh, and Australia all have heavy taxation or outright bans of plastic bags, according to National Geographic. It is likely the countries have recognized the severe ecological threat presented by plastic bags, which non-profit environmental group Heal the Bay referred to as "urban tumbleweeds."

Charles Tyler, a professor at the University of Exeter School of Biosciences in the UK, added, "Scientists have shown that some of these chemical compounds from plastics," which affect human health, "are getting into the environment and are in some environments at concentrations where they can actually produce biological effects in a range of wildlife species."

David Barnes, a marine scientist with environmental research group the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England, said scientists have linked the uptick in plastic bag consumption with a dramatic increase in the deaths of sea life over the years. He remarked, "One of the most ubiquitous and long-lasting recent changes to the surface of our planet is the accumulation and fragmentation of plastics. Plastic bags have gone from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere."

Today, "even in [some of] the remotest of environments, there is plastic floating on the sea surface. ... And I bet [plastic bags] will be washing up in Antarctica within the decade."
Categories: Ecological News