Climate Change: The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis
Kofi Annan, President of the Global Humanitarian Forum, introduced a major new report on the human impact of climate change. The Human Impact Report: Climate Change – The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis is the first ever comprehensive report looking at the human impact of climate change.
The report was launched at the Foreign Press Association in London on 29 May by the Forum’s President Kofi Annan. Dame Barbara Stocking, Chief Executive of Oxfam GB and part of a highly eminent Advisory Panel was also present. Further members of the Advisory Panel include Nitin Desai Member, Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, India; Distinguished Fellow, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), and Jan Egeland Former Director, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs; UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (2003–2006) among others.
The Human Impact Report is the first consolidated volume specifically and exclusively which foucs on the adverse impacts of the climate change on the human society across the world, The report is based on the latest information and inputs from world-leading scientists on the human impact of climate change.
The report also includes an estimate on the numbers of the people who die as the result of climate change, the economic cost of climate change as well as making projections 20 years into the future.
The aim of the report is to fill a void in both a general public understanding of climate change as well as to senior policymakers.
Sweden Aims for 30/20/20 Strategy
The Swedish Minister for the Environment Andreas Carlgren has stated that the Swedish government will aim for the adoption of more far reaching goals for reducing the waste from greenhouse gases, during its presidency of the EU in the 2nd half of 2009.
The EU member states have previously agreed on the so called ‘20-20-20 strategy’, meaning that before 2020, the waste from carbon dioxide shall be reduced by twenty percent, twenty percent of all energy shall be from renewable sources, and overall energy consumption shall decrease with twenty percent, all compared with 1990 levels. Carlgren however wants a tougher goal: he will try to convince the other member states to set a thirty percent CO2 emissions reduction goal instead of twenty.
One of the major tasks for Sweden is to make sure the 27 EU countries speak with one voice at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December. This summit is meant to lead to a new global treaty that will succeed the Kyoto protocol.
Sweden also intends to propose a carbon tax across the European Union when it takes over the EU presidency in July. Sweden wants to push for a tax on CO2 in sectors that do not participate in the EU's emissions trading scheme (EU ETS). The chances of the plan being adopted, even if exceptions are made for those industrial sectors that are not part of the EU's existing emissions-trading scheme, are widely thought to be slim.
Suggestions of a tax on CO2 emissions have proven unpopular among many voters, and few governments have so far dared to use such an instrument. Together with Norway, Sweden was one of the first countries to introduce a tax on carbon emissions back in 1991.
nef / Ecologist Essay Competition
Considerable faith is being put into carbon markets to tackle climate change. Yet the markets we do have, like the European Emissions Trading Scheme, are out-of-line with the carbon cuts that science tells us is necessary. In other words, without much more dramatic caps on emissions, we could end up trading ourselves over a global warming cliff.
It's the paradox of environmental economics. Sometimes in well-intentioned attempts to put a price on natural resources, we can miss the bigger picture. So, to connect our politicians with reality before it is too late, the New Economics Foundation (nef) has come up with a question and would like to know what you think. nef has teamed up with the Ecologist to run an essay competition. The question is: "How do you price the extra tonne of carbon that, once burned, tips the balance and triggers potentially catastrophic, irreversible global warming?" All submissions should be under 1000 words, submitted electronically to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org and be received by 30th June 2009.
Marrakech Process Second Draft
The Marrakech Process is a global multi-stakeholder process to support the implementation of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) and the elaboration of a 10-Year Framework of Programmes on SCP (10YFP). UNEP and UN DESA are serving as the Secretariat to coordinate this global process, with an active participation of national governments, development agencies, UN –Inter Agency Network, and major groups -thus far represented by business and industry, NGOs, trade unions, and other stakeholders. The first meeting devoted to developing the 10-YFP took place in Marrakech, Morocco in June 2003, hence the name.
The Marrakech Process Secretariat has released for public comment the Second Draft input to the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) on a 10-Year Framework of Programmes (10YFP) on sustainable consumption and production, together with a background document. You can provide comments on this draft by 7 June 2009. Based on substantive comments, the Secretariat will issue a Third Public Draft for comments again in the first week of July 2009.
Renewable Electricity and the Grid
Can renewable energy provide reliable power? Will it need extensive backup?
The energy available from wind, waves, tides and the sun varies in ways that may not match variations in energy demand. Assimilating these fluctuations can affect the operation and economics of electricity networks, markets and the output of other forms of generation. Is this a significant problem, or can these new sources be integrated into the grid system without the need for extensive backup or energy storage capacity?
Renewable Electricity and the Grid examines the significance of the issue of variability of renewable electricity supplies, and presents technical and operational solutions to the problem of reconciling the differing patterns of supply and demand. Its chapters are authored by leading experts in the field, who aim to explain and quantify the impacts of variability in renewable energy, and in doing so, dispel many of the myths and misunderstandings surrounding the topic.
Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment of Products
The Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment of Products, produced by the UNEP/SETAC Life Cycle Initiative, provides a map, a skeleton and a flash light for stakeholders engaging in the assessment of social and socio-economic impacts of products life cycle. First, the S-LCA Guidelines provides a map, which describes the context, the key concepts, the broader field in which tools and techniques are getting developed and their scope of application. The map is important because it relates to history, initiatives and ideas that are both molding the S-LCA technique and essential to its broad application.
Shared concerns about the state and sustainability of environmental, economic and social dimensions of today’s and tomorrow’s world are expressed through the concept of Sustainable Development. The journey towards sustainability finds sustainable production and consumption at its very heart. It also relates to the social responsibility of organizations and the objective to improve social and environmental performances along with sustained economic profitability -all in the perspective to contribute notably to greater human well-being.
Because it is holistic, systemic and rigorous, Life Cycle Assessment is the preferred tool when it comes to access information about potential and real impacts of products life cycle. Life cycles of products involve material, energy and economic flows. They are also made of stories about production and consumption impacts on the workers, the local communities, the consumers, the society and all value chain actors.
Second, the S-LCA Guidelines provides a skeleton. It presents key elements to consider and provide guidance for the goal and scope, inventory, impact assessment and interpretation phases of a social life cycle assessment. The S-LCA Guidelines provide the necessary basis for the development of databases and the design of softwares that will ease the practice of S-LCA. The skeleton is important because it is a foundation on which a larger group of stakeholders can engage.
The framework detailed in the S-LCA Guidelines is in line with the ISO 14040 and 14044 standards for Life Cycle Assessment. Adaptations for the consideration of social and socio-economic issues are described in the framework. It proposes a two-fold classification of social impacts: by stakeholder categories and impact categories. A set of subcategories, which are social and socio-economic issues of concerns, to be used in S-LCA are presented.
Third, the S-LCA Guidelines provide a flash light that highlights areas where further research is needed. Other publications shall follow these Guidelines, presenting details of the methodology and further developments notably in regard to Impact assessment. A flash light is important to enable researchers and practitioners to identify rapidly where additional efforts should be invested. It also helps to prevent the use of the technique for applications that would not be appropriate considering its current state of development such as comparative assertion communicated to the public.
Hands Off Our Rice
Rice is the world's most important staple food - with more than half of the global population eating it every day. It has been grown around the world for over 10,000 years and is cultivated in 113 countries. Rice is also a key ingredient in a wide variety of processed foods ranging from baby food to the more obvious rice noodles. But all this is under threat as genetic engineering (GE) continues to creep up on our most valuable food.
Today, genetically modified (GM) rice only exists in field trials. But all that could change tomorrow as agri-chemical companies and some governments around the globe are trying to commercialise it. Ecological farming is the safest solution to the food crisis and looming climate change disasters. Keeping rice GE-free is not just about consumer choice or the environment - it's a lot bigger than that. It's a matter of global food security, human rights and survival.
The German chemical giant Bayer is trying to sell a herbicide resistant variety of GM rice to countries - for commercial planting. Conventional and organic rice is at great risk from being contaminated by GM strains and controlled by multinational corporations and governments.
The rice made by Bayer (called LL62) has been genetically engineered to withstand high doses of glufosinate, a herbicide sprayed on rice fields to control a wide range of weeds. It's no surprise that Bayer also makes the glufosinate. Any use of the GM rice will boost their chemical sales as a consequence. While this is a nice set up for Bayer shareholders it places farmers, consumers and the environment at risk. Glufosinate is considered to be so dangerous to humans and the environment that it will soon be banned in Europe in accordance with recently-adopted EU legislation.
The Bayer GM rice has been shown to have a different nutritional composition than its natural counterpart. It also has a high risk of producing superweeds by transferring its new gene to weedy relatives. Rice traders and producers worldwide reject the GM rice, because of high economic risks. The global rice industry lost some 1.2 billion dollars in 2006, when another GM rice variety from Bayer contaminated global food supplies.
Greenpeace is campaigning to keep rice GE-free for the following reasons:
- Genetic engineering is a threat to food security, especially in a changing climate. GM crops repeatedly failed under extreme weather conditions, and some GE plants yield consistently less than their natural counterparts. Earlier this year, GE farmers in South Africa, for example, lost more than 80,000 hectares of corn for unknown reasons. The best insurance policy against climate change and erratic weather conditions is diversity.
- The introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by choice or by accident grossly undermines sustainable agriculture and in so doing, severely limits the choice of food we can eat. There have been over 140 documented cases of GM crop contamination in the past 10 years. Once GMOs are released into the environment, they are out of control. If anything goes wrong, if crops fail, human health risks are identified or the environment is harmed, they are impossible to recall.
- GMO contamination threatens biodiversity. Biological diversity must be protected and respected as the global heritage of humankind, and one of our world's fundamental keys to survival.
Greenpeace is asking all governments around the world to protect consumers and farmers, their crops and fields by rejecting Bayer’s GM rice, and to stop GM rice field trials. You can sign the petition here.
Towards a Greener Retail Sector
In July 2008, the Commission presented its proposal for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) and Sustainable Industrial Policy (SIP) Action Plans. This new policy approach integrates the potential of the different policy instruments, implementing them in a dynamic way.
In this context, the aim of the study Towards a Greener Retail Sector is to contribute to the development, assessment, and implementation of possible measures to facilitate and encourage large retailers to support actions towards smarter consumption and changing consumers’ behaviour. In parallel, it should help develop a better understanding and strengthen the evidence base related to greening the whole life cycle of products and their supply chain. The retail sector has undoubtedly a key role to play in sustainable production and consumption, as highlighted in the EC’s proposal for a SCP Action Plan. Its key place in the life cycle of consumer products enables influence on both production (greening the supply chain) and consumption (promotion of green products). Moreover, due to the size of its activities, the sector in itself generates impacts linked to e.g. store and warehouse operations and logistics.
More precisely, the objectives of the study are to provide the European Commission – DG Environment with information related to the description and assessment of the current environmental performance of large retailers, as well as an approach to measure and follow their performance over time.
Renewables Global Status Report
The REN21 Renewables Global Status Report released this month shows that the fundamental transition of the world’s energy markets continues. Global power capacity from new renewable energy sources (excluding large hydro) reached 280,000 megawatts (MW) in 2008 – a 16 percent rise from the 240,000 MW in 2007 and nearly three times the capacity of the United States nuclear sector.
Solar heating capacity increased by 15 percent to 145 gigawatts-thermal (GWth), while biodiesel and ethanol production both increased by 34 percent. More renewable energy than conventional power capacity was added in both the European Union and United States for the first time ever.
During 2008, a number of governments enacted new policies, and many countries set ambitious targets. Today, at least 73 countries have renewable energy policy targets, up from 66 at the end of 2007. In response to the financial crisis, several governments have directed economic stimulus funding towards the new green jobs the renewable energy sector can provide, including the U.S. package that will invest $150 billion over ten years in renewable energy.
Developing countries – particularly China and India – are increasingly playing major roles in both the manufacture and installation of renewable energy. For example, China’s total wind power capacity doubled in 2008 for the fourth year running.
For several previous years, the modern renewable energy industry has been viewed as a “guaranteed-growth” sector, and even “crisis-proof” due to the global trends underlying its formidable growth throughout the past decade. In 2008, renewable energy resisted the credit crunch more successfully than many other sectors for much of the year and new investment reached $120 billion, up 16 percent over 2007. However, by the end of the year, the impact of the crisis was beginning to show.
Climate change and energy security, two of the main drivers of the renewable energy sector, are still at work. As the REN21 report shows, the renewable energy sector offers an essential path for growth that can stimulate economic recovery and job creation without the burden of increasing carbon emissions.
Shell World’s Most Carbon Intensive Oil Company
Research by four leading environmental organisations released this month to coincide with Royal Dutch Shell’s Annual General Meeting, reveals the carbon intensity of the top international oil companies. Shell is now the most carbon intensive oil company in the world based on its total resources.
The research examined the leading international oil companies and measured their carbon intensity by calculating emissions per future barrel of oil produced. While all the companies are moving into higher carbon production, Shell stands out because of its reliance on Nigerian crude which is associated with huge levels of gas flaring, liquefied natural gas which is highly energy intensive, and Shell’s massive gamble on Canada’s tar sands. Shell revealed to investors last year that 30 per cent of its total resources are tar sands.
"As carbon control legislation moves forward in the US, and the world looks towards Copenhagen for action to limit climate change, Shell is going the wrong way by massively increasing the carbon intensity of its production" said Steve Kretzmann, Executive Director of Oil Change International, and one of the authors of the report.
Charlie Kronick, senior climate advisor of Greenpeace UK said "Shell has a stated goal to be the leading tar sands operator, but they can’t lead on tar sands and climate change at the same time. A strategy based on tar sands will inevitably not just damage the climate but also increase risks to the company’s future as well as shareholder and investor value."
"Shell’s carbon heavy portfolio explains why they have been leading the industry lobby against EU carbon control legislation in Brussels," said Paul de Clerck, Corporate Campaign Coordinator for Friends of the Earth International.
This is not just a problem for Shell. Investors around the world are voicing their concerns over tar sands investment. 30 per cent of ConocoPhillips shareholders voted for a resolution calling for an assessment of the environmental impact of the company’s tar sands projects and at Statoil’s annual meeting there was significant support for a motion calling for the company to end its tar sands investment altogether.This research shows that Shell’s tar sands liability and carbon exposure is in fact the greatest among its peers and its claims on 'responsible energy' need to be seriously questioned by investors.
Obama Announces Fuel-Efficiency Standards
U.S. President Obama has announced the first-ever national emissions limits for vehicles, as well as a 35.5 miles per gallon fuel efficiency standard requirement. The plan couples pollution reduction from vehicle tailpipes with increased efficiency on the road. It is supposed to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil through 2016 and to be the environmental equivalent to taking 177 million cars off the road.
New vehicles would be 30 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient by the end of the program. Consumers would be paying an extra $700 for mileage standards that had already been approved, and the plan would add another $600 to the price of a vehicle. The extra miles would come at roughly a 5 percent increase each year. By the time the plan takes full effect, at the end of 2016, new vehicles would cost an extra $1,300. The cost would be recovered through savings at the pump for consumers and if gas prices follow government projections.
In a battle over emission standards, California, 13 other states and the District of Columbia have urged the federal government to let them enact more stringent standards than the federal government's requirements. The states' regulations would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and trucks by 2016 — the benchmark Obama planned to unveil for vehicles built in model years 2012 and beyond.
The Obama plan gives the states essentially what they sought and more, although the buildup is slower than the states sought. In exchange, though, cash-strapped states such as California would not have to develop their own standards and enforcement plan. Instead, they can rely on federal tax dollars to monitor the environment.
The auto industry will be required to ramp up production of more fuel-efficient vehicles on a much tighter timeline than originally envisioned. It will be costly; the Transportation Department last year estimated that requiring the industry to meet 31.6 mpg by 2015 would cost nearly $47 billion. But industry officials — many of whom are running companies on emergency taxpayer dollars — said Obama's plan would help them because they would not face multiple emissions requirements and would have more certainty as they develop their vehicles for the next decade.
The plan still must clear regulatory hurdles at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department. Automakers appear to be in support.
NGOs Leave Industry-Dominated Nuclear Talking Shop
Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Sortir du Nucléaire formally ended their participation in the European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF) at a meeting in Prague hosted by the Czech and Slovak governments and backed by the European Commission. The environmental groups accuse the nuclear industry-dominated body of stifling critical voices and ignoring the concerns of civil society.
The EU promised an open debate but the concerns of civil society are being ignored or even misrepresented to suit the nuclear industry. There is no reason why European taxpayers should help fund the nuclear propaganda machine. The forum, which is publicly funded, was set up by the Commission to encourage an open debate "without taboos" about the future of nuclear energy in the EU. But the three environmental organisations, the only NGOs to be granted access to the forum, accuse the Commission of not acting as an honest broker. After actively participating in several working groups since the forum’s creation in 2007, the environmental groups claim their contributions on issues such as nuclear waste and nuclear safety have been ignored.
ENEF is no stakeholder discussion. The working groups on nuclear risk as well as non proliferation consist of industry representatives assuring each other that nuclear power is basically problem free. Input by the NGOs, even written statements, were not being included, or even reflected in discussions or reports. ENEF has reached a complete standstill.
The environmental groups also accuse the Czech and Slovak governments of using ENEF meetings to stage pro-nuclear PR stunts. Slovak prime minister Robert Fico and his Czech counterpart Jan Fischer announced a deal this month between Czech state-owned utility CEZ and Slovak state-owned utility JAVYS to build a new nuclear power station in Bohunice, in Slovakia. Greenpeace filed a complaint to the European Commission earlier this week for infringement of EU market rules, accusing the Slovak government of illegally selecting CEZ without holding a public tender.
During ENEF meetings, scientific literature submitted by the NGOs was not acknowledged in discussion papers. The groups will from now on focus on their direct contacts with the Commission, the Parliament, member states and industry. The nuclear industry’s attempt to greenwash itself through ENEF must be exposed.
The environmental groups believe that without the participation of civil society the nuclear forum has lost its legitimacy and should therefore be dissolved. Despite terminating their participation within ENEF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Sortir du Nucléaire will continue to act as watchdogs on nuclear safety and engage in bilateral dialogue with nuclear stakeholders outside the framework of the forum.
Smart Meters in All UK Homes by 2020
The UK government this month announced the world's largest roll-out of smart electricity and gas meters to help households to get on top of their energy consumption.
The government's plans oblige the country's 26 million homes and millions of businesses in the country to have high technology meters installed by 2020. The technology enables remote meter readings and comes with display devices that give customers accurate, real-time information on their energy consumption.
"Smart meters will empower all consumers to monitor their own energy use and make reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions as a result. Smart meters will also mean the end of inaccurate bills and estimated meter readings," said Ed Miliband, the UK's energy and climate change secretary.
The government estimates that the economic savings of the scheme will be between £2.5 billion and £3.6 billion over the next twenty years.
The plans are part of a revamp of Britain's climate strategy. Last month, the country became the first to commit to a binding framework for greenhouse gas emission reductions, committing to cut their CO2 emissions by 34% by 2020.
"The meters most of us have in our homes were designed for a different age, before climate change. Now we need to get smarter with our energy," said Miliband.
Yesterday's announcement included the launch of a public consultation on how to install and manage the meters. The government would prefer energy suppliers to install and operate the devices and a third party to coordinate all communications to and from them, it said.
Two other models under discussion would either trust all aspects of smart metering to suppliers, or set up regional franchises to manage installation and operation, with communications managed on a national level.
The European Parliament last month called for smart meters to be installed by default in all new buildings, as well as when renovating older ones.
The new metering devices are a prerequisite for so-called 'smart grids', which not only supply buildings with energy, but also enable them to sell back to the grid electricity generated on-site through solar panels, for example.
This technical capacity will be crucial to integrating all the renewable energy to the grids that the bloc will have to produce to meet its target for increasing the share of renewable energies to 20% by 2020.
Linking Drivers and Pressures that Cause Biodiversity Loss
Effective policies for biodiversity conservation require a good understanding of the socioeconomic drivers and pressures that cause biodiversity loss, such as population change and industrial activity. A recent study presents a model that helps identify gaps in our knowledge that need to be filled in order to improve policies.
Globally, we are experiencing biodiversity loss at a yearly rate that is up to 1000 times greater than the natural rate of extinction. There is recognition that policies need to reduce both the socioeconomic pressures that are causing this loss and the driving forces behind these pressures. All the major pressures are linked to human use of resources, such as habitat loss due to land use change, introduction of alien species and climate change. Examples of driving forces behind these pressures are economic activities, population increases and policy.
However, there is little understanding of the link between socio-economic drivers and pressures. The study, Towards an integrated model of socioeconomic biodiversity drivers, pressures and impacts, conducted under the ALTER-Net project (A Long-Term Biodiversity, Ecosystem and Awareness Research Network), presents a conceptual model which analyses the links and aims to close the gaps in knowledge. It considers drivers and pressures that are local, such as population and land use change, as well as wider factors such as climate change and trade.
The study applies the model to three European long-term socio-ecological research (LTSER) platforms in Romania, Spain and Austria that were established as part of the EU's Sixth Framework programme. They differed in terms of geography, climate, ecosystems, history and social and economic conditions.
The model successfully structured the data and research efforts from these LTSER areas to understand the biodiversity pressures and drivers that were present, as well as the relationships between them. For example, in Romania the model mapped the drivers of industrialisation and increased population onto pressures such as the exploitation of resources and pollution. In Spain, data indicated a strong link between intensive farming to the pressures of water pollution and eutrophication.
The study makes a number of recommendations:
- Data were missing in all three case studies. Greater efforts are needed to construct comprehensive databases and to reconstruct past chains of events.
- Research should be conducted with the scope of policy and management in mind. There are mismatches between the scale on which biodiversity is monitored, the scale on which it is managed and the scale on which the policies are implemented.
- Research needs to be cross-disciplinary, perhaps through the use of mathematical and computer-based models in order to inform policy at all levels.
- Stakeholder involvement is crucial to increase the applicability of the research for people living in the study regions.
By applying this model to three case studies, the study demonstrated that properly guided research can inform policy.
Conference Calls for Moratorium on GMOs
On 24 and 25th April, representatives of European GMO-free regions met in Lucerne, Switzerland during the 5th annual Conference of GMO-Free Regions. Under the motto “Food and Democracy”, the conference explored and emphasized the people’s right to self-determination in the foods they eat as well as the agricultural products growing in their region. Daniel Amman of the Swiss Working Group on GMOs, primary organizer of this year’s conference, noted that “the battle for authorizations within the EU for the autonomy of member states and the creation of GMO-free zones is in full swing. In acknowledgment of these coming challenges, Food and Democracy will look at how member states and regions can more fully engage in the participatory process and initiate legislation.” Switzerland enjoyed a much publicized success in 2005 when voters approved a five year moratorium on the commercial planting of genetically modified crops, which the Swiss government recently proposed to extend.
In the wake of six EU member states banning the planting of MON810 and in light of the rapid increase in GMO-free regions in Europe, 250 delegates from 28 countries at the conference called for a moratorium on GMOs.