Singapore Pays Price For Bungle In Indonesia’s Jungles
Illegal burning of Indonesian rainforest to make room for palm and paper plantations has left neighboring countries choking on smoke. Many hope the latest crisis will lead to stricter policies.
More than a month after uncontrollable wildfires were kindled in Indonesian rainforests to make room for palm and paper plantations, a blanket of smog is choking the region, including the country’s neighbors of Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.
The dense cloud of smoke has closed schools, canceled major events, grounded flights, and driven thousands of people to doctors.
Though this is regular occurrence, thanks to paper and palm oil companies that illegally burn down Indonesian rainforest to make room for farmland, this year’s fire is particularly devastating, having reached crisis levels, according to the World Resources Institute. Largely this is due to El Niño-induced drought helping the unrelenting fire spread through Sumatran peatland.
Environmental and public-health advocates from Singapore, Malaysia, and around the world have been sternly calling on the Indonesian government to strengthen its policies on forest fires, pressuring it in September to ratify a 13-year-old regional agreement on cross-border haze.
“Indonesia has already carried out operations for the prevention, mitigation of forest fires and haze, and recovery activities, at the national level,” the country’s parliament said in a statement. “But, to handle cross-border pollution, Indonesia and other Asian nations recognize that prevention and mitigation need to be done together,” it said.
The “together” part might be key, as Greenpeace points out that companies that own plantations on Indonesian islands are not necessarily Indonesian.
“Of course all the fires are coming from Indonesia, but Singapore is enjoying the ‘deforestation economy’ of Indonesia as a financial center,” Bustar Maitar, head of Indonesia Forest Campaign at Greenpeace International told the Times. “And there are many Malaysian palm oil companies operating in Indonesia, and Singaporean companies are there as well,” he pointed out.
Perhaps the latest bout of fires is a tipping point for the southeast-Asian countries. On Wednesday, reports the Times, Singapore’s largest grocery chain, NTUC FairPrice, stopped selling paper products sourced from one of the world’s largest paper and pulp companies: Indonesia’s Asia Pulp and Paper Group.
Singapore last month passed a bill allowing it to fine companies up to $1.6 million for causing or contributing to haze, the Guardian reported, regardless of whether they have an office in the country.
For its part, Indonesia arrested seven people last month whose companies are suspected of starting the fires. They could face 15 years in jail and heavy fines for breaking Indonesian laws that ban starting forest fires.
The end of civilization as we know it just got a little closer. According to an update to the Doomsday Clock, the world is now three minutes from midnight and one of the big reasons is the failure to reduce greenhouse emissions even in the face of climate change.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists maintains the clock and resets the hands every few years based on existential threats to civilization. Created in 1947, the clock initially served as a warning about the threat of nuclear weapons, but climate change has started to mess with the hands of time in recent years. This is the fourth update to the clock that explicitly mentions climate change, though it’s an issue that has been on the Bulletin’s radar since 1961.
The clock was last updated in 2012, when the hands were set at five minutes to midnight. The reason the world is closer to doomsday now is the growing clarity about impacts of climate change, including some already occurring, and the inaction to do anything about it.
“The reason we feel greater sense of urgency on the climate issue is quantitatively, if you want to limit climate change to a certain magnitude, you’re only allowed to have a certain amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We’re about halfway there,” Richard Somerville, a oceanographer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a board member of the Bulletin, which maintains the clock, said.
If emissions continue on their current trend, they’ll likely expend the carbon budget — a term used by scientists to describe how much carbon dioxide can be emitted while safely keeping the world from warming more than the 2°C (3.6°F) — in three decades.
Passing that threshold could lead to higher sea levels, an increased rate of ocean acidification, and rising global temperatures at rates that some scientists think could be beyond society’s ability to adapt. Beyond those direct impacts, climate change also poses a threat multiplier problem for the military by potentially increasing migration, destabilizing governments and increasing regional conflicts. The Pentagon already views climate change as an “immediate risk.”
Sivan Kartha, another Bulletin board member and senior scientist atStockholm Environment Institute, said that international climate treaties have weakened in the 20 years of major negotiations with most emissions cuts going from binding to voluntary and emissions cuts failing to come close to staying within the carbon budget.
The only time the Doomsday Clock has been closer to midnight was in 1953, a year after hydrogen bombs were tested by the U.S. and Soviet Union in an escalating nuclear arms race. The clock also struck 11:57 p.m. in the Cold War chill of 1984. On the positive side, the clock was moved all the way back to 11:43 p.m. in the wake of the Cold War and the start of nuclear disarmament.
What’s keeping the clock from striking midnight now is that despite little to no action on climate change, solutions do exist. Namely, that means transitioning away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy.
“The IPCC concluded unequivocally that we can shift away from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy resources. Moreover, we can afford to do this,” Kartha said, noting it would shave just a fraction of a percent off project global economic growth, which “means instead of global GDP doubling in say 25 years, it would double in 26 years.”
Some countries have started that transition but Kartha said more efforts are needed and that the coming climate negotiations in Paris later this year could be a crucial turning point.
Climate Change Update via http://www.climatecentral.org/news/climate-change-doomsday-clock-18576
Climate negotiators from around the world came up with a modest agreement early Sunday for every nation to do its part to address global warming — but the Obama administration’s aggressive environmental regulations and last month’s landmark deal with China weren’t enough to keep the talks from nearly coming apart during a tense weekend of last-minute wrangling.
At the close of the United Nations negotiations in Lima, Peru, delegates from 196 countries aimed at paving the way toward a global deal next year in Paris, but they failed to resolve the most divisive issues facing the talks.
The most serious divisions remained those between the rich nations that have pumped the most carbon into the atmosphere and the poor nations that have the most to lose from a warming planet. And the U.S. position remained deeply at odds with that of China, despite last month’s much-touted agreement in which the two nations jointly announced pledges to curb greenhouse gas pollution in the coming decades.
The agreement reached in Lima would commit all countries to outlining domestic plans by early next year to slash their greenhouse gas emissions. Those plans would lay the foundation for a major climate accord that countries hope to clinch in Paris at the end of 2015. Sunday’s deal marked the first time that all countries agreed to reduce their emissions.
In the run-up to the talks, the United States and other major developed countries took pains to underscore their commitment to reaching a deal. Top Obama administration officials — including White House adviser John Podesta and Secretary of State John Kerry — spent months in secret negotiations with Chinese officials ahead of the November joint announcement in Beijing. And Kerry, who has made climate change a top priority at State, jetted to Lima for just a few hours on Thursday to jump-start the global negotiations.
But the efforts failed to erase the entrenched frustrations of poor nations. Instead, the Lima talks offered a clear signal that long-standing disagreements over the core elements of any future deal run deep. And the negotiations nearly collapsed at the 11th hour.
Negotiators huddled behind closed doors for much of the day and into the night on Saturday in an attempt to reach a last-ditch compromise. They announced a deal early Sunday morning, more than 36 hours after the 12-day talks had been slated to end.
Throughout the negotiations, poor countries insisted that wealthy nations should shoulder more of the burden for tackling climate change, including by committing to provide money to help developing nations deal with rising seas and other disastrous effects. Earlier Saturday, developing countries expressed opposition to a draft text, arguing it did not do enough to further those goals.
But in the end, exhausted negotiators reached a compromise. The result was a five-page text dubbed the “Lima Call for Climate Action” that offered few specifics about the path toward clinching a deal in Paris.
Todd Stern, the Obama administration’s top climate change negotiator, told reporters on the ground that the agreement represented progress. “It was contentious along the way but it fundamentally accomplished what we wanted it to,” he said.
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework on Climate Change, said negotiators are leaving Lima riding “a fresh wave of positivity” heading toward Paris.
“The negotiations here reached a new level of realism and understanding about what needs to be done now, over the next 12 months and into the years and decades to come if climate change is to be truly and decisively addressed,” she said.
Environmental Groups Criticizing Deal
“Negotiators have managed to get the boat in the water from Lima’s shores without sinking, but choppy seas are ahead before they reach Paris,” said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International. “This outcome can only be read as a call to action for people around the world. Governments will not deliver the solutions we need unless more people stand up to make our voices heard.”
“Against the backdrop of extreme weather in the Philippines and potentially the hottest year ever recorded, governments at the U.N. climate talks in Lima opted for a half-baked plan to cut emissions,” said Samantha Smith, leader of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative.
Other green groups offered a more positive take on the talks.
“Here’s the good news from the Lima talks: Countries around the world now fully understand that early next year they must commit to ambitious reductions in climate pollution and bold measures to slow global warming,” said Jake Schmidt, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program. “Most key countries are laying the groundwork at home for more aggressive commitments to cut their carbon pollution. There is no question about this point anymore.”
Jennifer Morgan, global director of the World Resources Institute’s Climate Program, said a Paris deal is “within reach,” though she acknowledged that “more hard work remains.”
The interim Lima negotiations were never expected to result in any major breakthroughs, and its goals were relatively modest.
Nations were charged with deciding what precisely should be included in countries’ nationally determined plans to cut emissions. But the negotiations over the plans — which in U.N. parlance are known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions — proved to be difficult. Developed countries preferred that the plans focus solely on targets for reducing greenhouse gases, while poorer countries wanted wealthy nations to include adaptation and finance commitments.
Ultimately, the final agreement “urges,” but does not require, developed countries to “provide and mobilize enhanced financial support to developing country Parties for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions.” It also “invites” countries to include an adaptation component in their plans.
Countries also agreed in broad terms that the plans, which would be published online, should “represent a progression beyond the current undertaking” of the country proposing them. And the agreement again calls on those countries “ready to do so” to submit their plans by the first quarter of 2015 so they can be reviewed and better understood by the international community ahead of the Paris meeting.
The agreement says the domestic plans “may include” details on the reference point (possibly a base year), time frames and periods for implementation of the cuts, as well as the assumptions and methodology used to account for and estimate the greenhouse gas reductions. The plan should also include an explanation of why it is “fair and ambitious” and how it contributes to the overall goal of tackling climate change.
It includes broad language sought by developing countries like China that underscores the so-called “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.”
The final text also includes a token reference to the so-called “loss and damage” issue, which developed countries have long argued has not received enough attention in the talks. But it does not offer any substantial approach to addressing the massive economic losses poor countries have suffered from the effects of climate change.
Negotiators agreed to a separate draft negotiating text that will form the basis for the Paris discussions. That agreement consists of a slew of often contradictory options that will be on the table at the December 2015 negotiations, though few issues are resolved.
The United States has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. The plan is based on what can be accomplished using existing executive authorities, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on greenhouse gas pollution from coal-burning power plants. President Barack Obama has also pledged $3 billion to a global climate fund to aid poorer nations, but getting the new GOP-controlled Congress to provide that money will be difficult.
Countries are slated to meet in Paris at the end of 2015 to finalize the deal, which would go into effect beginning in 2020. That means they have only one year to bridge the formidable divide between rich and poor nations.
A slew of key issues still needs to be worked out over the next year, including the legal weight of the final agreement and how countries will meet their goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 in public and private financing to help poor nations.
The talks began on Dec. 1 with a sense of optimism after last month’s U.S.-China announcement. U.S. officials and longtime observers of the talks hoped the news would build momentum and help break the logjam between developed and developing countries.
But countries quickly reverted to familiar negotiating positions. China, the world’s largest carbon polluter, poked holes in the draft negotiating text, arguing that rich countries aren’t required to do enough. The Chinese also opposed proposals requiring outside monitoring of countries’ plans to cut emissions.
Still, Stern told reporters that the U.S.-China deal helped make progress in Lima, asserting that the agreement “came in handy here.”
Environmentalists and officials from countries most threatened by climate change are growing increasingly disillusioned with the U.N. process. Even if countries reach a deal in Paris next year, it probably won’t do enough to avoid the most catastrophic effects of a warming planet.
The United Nations Environment Programme warned in a report released last month that there is a growing gap between the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to prevent a disastrous rise in global temperatures and what the world is actually cutting. The final text of the Lima agreement notes “grave concern” about that gap but does not require countries to put forward emissions pledges that would hold the average global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels — the threshold that scientists say would avert catastrophic climate change.
Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organization estimated earlier this month that 2014 is on track to be the hottest year on record.
Glasgow University has become the first academic institution in Europe to divest from the fossil fuel industry, in a turning point for the British arm of the student-led global divestment movement.
After 12 months of campaigning, led by the Glasgow University Climate Action Society and involving over 1,300 students, the university court on Wednesday voted to begin divesting £18m from the fossil fuel industry and freeze new investments across its entire endowment of £128m.
Describing the result as “a dramatic beachhead for the divestment movement,” American environmentalist and climate activist Bill McKibben said that it sent a powerful signal that Europe would be “just as powerful in this fight as Australia and North America.”
“That it comes from Glasgow, which has as much claim to birthing the industrial revolution as any city on Earth, makes it that much more special,” said McKibben. “Everyone from the Rockefellers on down is realizing it’s time to move on.”
As of last month, more than 800 global investors – including foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers, religious groups, healthcare organizations, universities and local governments – have pledged to withdraw a total of $50bn (£31bn) from fossil fuel investments over the next five years as a result of the campaign which began on college campuses in the United States three years ago.
Writer and activist Naomi Klein said that Glasgow University had joined “a fast-growing global movement providing much-needed hope to the prospect of climate action.”
“Students around the world are making it clear that the institutions entrusted to prepare them for the future cannot simultaneously bet against their future by profiting from corporations that plan to burn many times more carbon than our atmosphere can safely absorb,” said Klein.
“They are sending an unequivocal message that fossil fuel profits are illegitimate – on par with tobacco and arms profits – and that brings us a significant step closer to demanding that our politicians sever ties with this rogue industry and implement bold climate policies based on a clear, progressive ‘polluter pays’ principle.’”
Glasgow University joins thirteen US universities, including Stanford, which have already committed to divest from the fossil fuel industry. In the UK, student unions at Imperial College and University College, London, are demanding that their institutions take similar action. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), at the University of London, has agreed to a temporary freeze on investment in advance of a decision on full divestment to be taken later this year.
Decisions are also imminent from the University of Edinburgh, which conducted a staff and student consultation that was overwhelmingly in support of divestment. Oxford University and its colleges, which have an endowment wealth of £3.8bn, the largest of any higher education institution in the UK, is currently conducting a staff-only consultation, after almost 2,000 students and academics joined a campaign calling for divestment.
Andrew Taylor of the People and Planet Network, which has launched over fifty ‘Fossil Free’ campaigns across the UK involving over 15,000 students in the past year, said: “Divestment now has a firm foothold in the UK. Student and academic pressure to get out of fossil fuels is building across the sector. It’s time to stop profiting from wrecking the climate, whether you’re an institution with lots of money like Oxford or Edinburgh, or a world leader in climate research such as the University of East Anglia. Glasgow has helped make the moral case crystal clear and we expect more universities to very soon put their money where their research is.”
Founded in 2011 across just half a dozen US college campuses, the fossil fuel divestment movement has gained remarkable traction over a relatively short period of time. A study by Oxford University last autumn found that it had grown faster than any previous divestment campaign, including those relating to apartheid, armaments and tobacco.
The campaign has recently enjoyed a succession of symbolic boosts. Last month, the heirs to the Rockefeller oil fortune announced that they were withdrawing funds from fossil fuel investments and in July the World Council of Churches, which represents over half a billion Christians worldwide, decided to pull its investments out of fossil fuel companies.
Writing in the Guardian in April, Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged that “people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”
With every year that passes, we’re getting further away from averting a human-caused climate disaster. That’s the key message in this year’s “Low Carbon Economy Index,” a report released by the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The report highlights an “unmistakable trend”: The world’s major economies are increasingly failing to do what’s needed to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. That was the target agreed to by countries attending the United Nations’ 2009 climate summit; it represents an effort to avoid some of the most disastrous consequences of runaway warming, including food security threats, coastal inundation, extreme weather events, ecosystem shifts, and widespread species extinction.
To curtail climate change, individual countries have made a variety of pledges to reduce their share of emissions, but taken together, those promises simply aren’t enough.
According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, “the gap between what we are doing and what we need to do has again grown, for the sixth year running.” The report adds that at current rates, we’re headed towards 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by the end of the century—twice the agreed upon rate. Here’s a breakdown of the paper’s major findings.
The study compares our current efforts to cut “carbon intensity”—measured by calculating the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per million dollars of economic activity—with what’s actually needed to rein in climate change. According to the report, the global economy needs to “decarbonize” by 6.2 percent every year until the end of the century to limit warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But carbon intensity fell by only 1.2 percent in 2013.
The report also found that the world is going to blow a hole in its carbon budget—the amount we can burn to keep the world from overheating beyond 3.6 degrees.
The report singles out countries that have done better than others when it comes to cutting carbon intensity. Australia, for example, tops the list of countries that have reduced the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP, mainly due to lower energy demands in a growing economy. But huge countries like the United States, Germany, and India are still adding carbon intensity, year-on-year.
Overall, PricewaterhouseCoopers paints a bleak picture of a world that’s rapidly running out of time; the required effort to curb global emissions will continue to grow each year. “The timeline is also unforgiving. The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] and others have estimated that global emissions will need to peak around 2020 to meet a 2°C [3.6 degrees F] budget,” the report says. “This means that emissions from the developed economies need to be consistently falling, and emissions from major developing countries will also have to start declining from 2020 onwards.” G20 nations, for example, will need to cut their annual energy-related emissions by one-third by 2030, and by just over half by 2050. The pressure will be on the world’s governments to come up with a solution to this enormous challenge at the much-anticipated climate talks in Paris next year.
Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.
The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.
Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said.
And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty. In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday.
The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the intergovernmental panel. The group, along with Al Gore, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. The report released on Monday in Yokohama is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released next month, leaked in the last few months.
The report attempts to project how the effects will alter human society in coming decades. While the impact of global warming may actually be outweighed by factors like economic or technological change, the report found, the disruptions are nonetheless likely to be profound. It cited the risk of death or injury on a widespread scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations.
“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger,” the report declared.
The report also cites the possibility of violent conflict over land or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”
The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just some problem of the distant future, but is happening now. For instance, in much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region, the scientists reported. And the snow that does fall is melting earlier in the year, which means there is less meltwater to ease the parched summers. In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.
“Now we are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.
The experts did find a bright spot, however. Since the group issued its report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are starting extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.
“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report, and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif.
Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the grounds that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.
A striking example of the change occurred recently in the state of New York, where the Public Service Commission ordered Consolidated Edison, the electric utility serving New York City and some suburbs, to spend about $1 billion upgrading its system to prevent future damage from flooding and other weather disruptions.
The plan is a reaction to the blackouts caused by Hurricane Sandy. Con Ed will raise flood walls, bury some vital equipment and launch a study of whether emerging climate risks require even more changes. Other utilities in the state face similar requirements, and utility regulators across the United States are discussing whether to follow New York’s lead.
But with a global failure to limit greenhouse gases, the risk is rising that climatic changes in coming decades could overwhelm such efforts to adapt, the panel found. It cited a particular risk that in a hotter climate, farmers will not be able to keep up with the fast-rising temperatures.
“When supply falls below demand, somebody doesn’t have enough food,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist who helped write the new report. “When some people don’t have food, you get starvation. Yes, I’m worried.”
The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.
The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during a dayslong editing session in Yokohama.
The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations are private.
The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.
Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result, and it is not clear whether the negotiations in New York this fall will be any different. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India.
For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily.
The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress.
David B. Lobell, a Stanford University scientist who has published much of that research and helped write the new report, said in an interview that as yet, too little work was being done to understand the risk, much less counter it with improved crop varieties and farming techniques. “It is a surprisingly small amount of effort for the stakes,” he said.
Timothy Gore, an analyst for Oxfam, the anti-hunger charity that sent observers to the proceedings, praised the new report for painting a clear picture. But he warned that without greater efforts to limit global warming and to adapt to the changes that have become inevitable, “the goal we have in Oxfam of ensuring that every person has enough food to eat could be lost forever.”
World Bank Investing In More Sustainability Projects
Under the new leadership of Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank Group continues to reinvent itself to meet the challenges of global development. That reinvention will continue this Saturday, when the Board of Governors is expected to endorse a new strategy for the institution. If properly implemented across the Group, the strategy could help boost the institution’s contribution to equitable and sustainable development. Two areas of focus will be especially important, including how the Group handles its work on climate change and selects its investments.
Emphasis on Shared and Sustainable Prosperity
The new strategy centers on implementing the institution’s two new goals: ending extreme poverty by reducing the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day; and promoting shared prosperity by fostering income growth for the bottom 40 percent of every country’s population. The strategy emphasizes that securing these goals in the long-term requires sustainable use and management of our natural resources and planet. The goals are meant to focus the World Bank Group’s efforts on both social equity and environmental sustainability.
The new goals are ambitious and admirable. But in order for the Bank to play the transformative role President Kim envisions, it will need to funnel its human and financial resources toward activities that directly support the poor and away from those that do not.
Emphasis on Climate Change
The new strategy positions climate change as one of five cross-cutting themes for the institution. These themes will support 14 new “global practices” (see box). It is encouraging that the strategy views climate change as relevant to all sectors of the World Bank Group’s work. The challenge will be to ensure that the cross-cutting nature of climate change strengthens rather than dilutes focus on the problem.
Despite the World Bank Group’s emphasis on climate risks in recent years, investments have yet to fully consider climate impacts. A draft report from WRI looking at 40 investments in the World Bank’s 2012 portfolio suggests that 90 percent did not assess the likely greenhouse gas emissions from these investments, while only 22 percent looked at the risks to the investment’s success arising from the impacts of climate change. These results suggest that the Bank has not systematically made consideration of climate risks part of regular operational procedures. WRI has found, too, that those responsible for understanding and monitoring the environmental and social risks associated with investments are often over-stretched. To truly accomplish its two goals, the institution’s climate change plan must be more than just words on paper. The Group will need to dedicate sufficient staff and resources to ensure that climate change becomes a central focus for the institution.
Selectivity and Risk
The new strategy aims to employ greater selectivity and focus to achieve the institution’s two goals. The strategy also calls for the institution to be less afraid of risk. It envisions multi-sector engagements with longer time-frames and higher-risk profiles than most current investments. For example, the institution plans to reformat its country-level engagement to ensure that resources are used to tackle the most pressing problems facing developing countries. The aim of the new model is to use evidence-based analysis to diagnose, prioritize, and overcome the major challenges facing countries, as well as more effectively capture lessons learned.
Greater focus will help the World Bank Group pool its resources and provide higher-quality services to borrowing countries and their citizens. Greater selectivity, though, will require greater care to ensure that investments support the institution’s goals of inclusive and sustainable development. Early results from a WRI assessment suggest that only about half of assessed projects clearly demonstrate that they address the specific needs of poor and vulnerable populations. The Bank must carefully analyze project risks and potential long-term results—and recognize that all risks are not equal. Risks to vulnerable people and ecosystems must be minimized if the twin goals are to be reached.
With around 10,000 employees worldwide and a budget of more than $30 billion, the World Bank Group has the potential to make significant change in the world. The Group’s new strategy provides an encouraging blueprint, but it will only yield positive action with the right follow-through. The next step is to provide the resources and commitment necessary for equitable and sustainable development.
The authors call the habitual American fixation on winning energy independence through expanded North American production of oil and natural gas “misguided.” They say the “only sustainable solution” to the problem of energy insecurity is not through more drilling, but through energy efficiency and renewable fuels, like biofuels to replace oil.
Despite the steady supplies provided by the current U.S. drilling boom, “the increased domestic production of oil and natural gas is not a panacea for the country’s energy security dilemma,” they say.
And in blunt language, they criticize American policymakers and legislators for refusing to accept the “robust” scientific evidence that emissions of carbon dioxide are already causing harmful global warming, and for refusing to take actions that, if taken swiftly, could ward off its worst effects.
“Political leaders, including many in the United States, refuse to accept short-term costs to address long-term dangers even though the future costs of responding to disasters after they occur will be far greater,” said their report, published this month.
In a major policy speech on Tuesday, Obama is expected to renew his commitment to regulating emissions from coal-fired power plants, as well as other measures involving renewable energy and green technologies, but not to tip his hand on the Keystone decision. Many in Washington believe that he wants to offer strict controls on power plants, the nation’s leading source of greenhouse gases, as a quid pro quo for approving the controversial pipeline, which is seen by opponents as a contributor to the global warming problem.
Keystone’s proponents have described the project as important for energy security.
The military embraces solar and other forms of alternative energy.
For several years, the view that global warming caused by burning fossil fuels is an overwhelming national security threat has been taking firmer hold in national security circles. In 2007, a report from CNA’s military advisory board called climate change a “threat multiplier.” In 2008, a formal National Intelligence Assessment found that climate change poses a serious threat to national security and long-term global stability. The Department of Defense’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, a major planning document, warned that climate change may fuel conflict, put new strains on military forces operating in the field, and cause damage to military bases, especially ports exposed to rising seas and intense storms.
In an article published in Foreign Affairs online in June, Tom Donilon, the former National Security Adviser to President Obama, wrote: “The Obama administration’s National Security Strategy recognizes the ‘real, urgent, and severe’ threat posed by climate change in no uncertain terms, stating, ‘change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe.'”
But the focus of Donilon’s piece was on energy, not on climate change, and it spoke expansively of the importance of increased energy production to America’s strength in the world. For example, it claimed that by helping to provide plentiful oil to satisfy world demand, the United States could more effectively squeeze Iran with an embargo, a strategy that otherwise would harm oil-deficient allies.
The new American-British report looks mostly at the other side of the coin, the risks presented by the burning of fossil fuels no matter where they come from.
It acknowledges the problems caused by Western reliance on imported oil, especially from unstable parts of the world. But the new report says that even more important is the compelling need to stop using fossil fuels in the first place, since the steady addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is now posing imminent dangers to national security.
Even though the United States gets just 20 percent of its oil imports from the Middle East, the lowest share in four decades—and it could be headed toward being an oil exporter two decades from now—”the U.S. economy is highly sensitive to supply shocks and price fluctuations, regardless of the source of the oil,” it says. “Even new, domestic sources of oil and gas do not free the United States from the risks of over-reliance, because the prices of these commodities will be determined by global markets,” the report says.
The bigger problem, says the report, is global warming, which will cause upheaval, and military challenges, across the globe in the coming decades.
“Our consumption of oil and other fossil fuels contributes to climate change, which poses growing risks to our infrastructure, livelihoods, and national security,” it says in its primary conclusion. “Using more natural gas and oil, even if domestically produced, neither frees our economies from global oil prices nor checks the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten future generations. The only sustainable solution to this dual challenge is to improve our energy efficiency and diversify our energy sources to include cleaner and renewable power.”
Experts outside the military have also been increasingly alarmed by the possibility that climate change, by spreading famine, drought, disease and poverty, would lead to migration, competition for resources, and war, especially in poor regions of Africa and Asia. Rich countries might easily be drawn into these conflicts.
“The potential connection between environmental factors and conflict is a highly contested on, and the literature contains evidence both supporting and denying such a connection,” it said. “However, given that unprecedented climatic conditions are expected to place severe stresses on the availability and distribution of resources, the potential for climate-related human conflict emerges as a risk—and one of uncertain scope and sensitivity to degree of warming.”
Strategists frequently note that dealing with uncertain risk is a central feature of military planning, and that whether the risk is of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, or climate change, it must be addressed long in advance of becoming real.
The new Center for Naval Analysis report quotes the “voice of experience” of General Charles E. Wald, a retired Air Force officer who was deputy commander of the U.S. European Command: “The biggest thing we could do right now to address climate change and its national security effects would be to decrease the amount of carbon we pump into the atmosphere, and the biggest thing we could do about that would be to have a comprehensive energy policy that addresses not only the amount and diversity of our energy, but how clean it is.”
The report hits hard at those in Congress who deny the scientific consensus on climate and use national security arguments to encourage more production of coal, oil and natural gas.
“Many elected leaders in the United States fail to grasp or distrust the scientific evidence for global warming,” it says. “To some, the revelation of newly accessible oil and gas reserves across North America seems to resolve the problem of relying on oil imports—a position we regard as misguided.”
The biggest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States are coal-burning power generators.
The top three polluters are American Electric Power, Duke Energy and Southern Company. AEP emits the equivalent of 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, accounting for about 2 percent of the annual total, with Duke at 127 million tons and Southern Co. at 118 million.
Coming in a distant fourth is the U.S. Government with 77 million tons. Why? Uncle Sam is the official owner of the power plants operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
It should go without saying that these biggest emitters are also the nation’s biggest generators of electricity.
Then there’s the oil refiners like ExxonMobil (no. 14 with 39 million tons) and BP (no. 19), which generate a lot of emissions in the process of making gasoline and chemicals. And steelmakers like U.S. Steel (22nd) and ArcelorMittal (26th), which require massive amounts of energy to smelt iron ore.
Koch Industries, owned by the billionaire Koch brothers, is at 27th place with 24 million tons.
It’s abundantly clear from looking at this list that coal-burning power plants are the biggest single-point carbon emitters in the country. To put this into terms we can more closely identify with — the average human, at least according to this calculation, emits roughly 200 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year from breathing. That implies that AEP is emitting about as much carbon dioxide as the breathing of 650 million people.
Southern Company operates what are, according to EPA data, the two biggest single-point carbon emitters in the nation — the James Miller plant in Quinton, Alabama and the Scherer plant in Juliette, Georgia. Both are tied at roughly 22 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Individually, each of those plants would have ranked 31st on the list of biggest emitters. The Scherer plant produces 3,500 mw of electricity, about enough to supply 3.5 million homes.
Although these plants are mega polluters, they only rank 15th in the world. According to this report from Carbon Monitoring for Action, the most polluting coal plant is in Taiwan (36 million tons of carbon dioxide a year). South Korea has five coal plants that emit more than the Miller and Scherer plants.
The EPA has been cracking down on America’s most polluting plants, forcing them to install technology to scrub emissions of mercury and other toxins before they leave smokestacks. Some power generators like Southern Company and the TVA have been retiring coal-fired plants and building cleaner natural gas plants to replace them.
But with coal still providing 40% of America’s electricity, it’s clear that unless we want to turn the lights out and air conditioners off for millions of Americans, coal isn’t going to go away any time soon.
An AEP spokeswoman notes that the company is working to reduce its emissions, largely by replacing coal with natural gas:
AEP’s greenhouse gas emissions have gone down significantly in recent years, from 185 million metric tons in 2000 to 122 million metric tons in 2012. Greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced largely because the demand for electricity is lower and coal plants are not running as much. Emissions will continue to go down as AEP retires nearly 6,000 megawatts of coal-fueled generation in the coming years to meet new emission regulations. As we transition our generating fleet, our coal-fueled generating capacity will go from 60 percent today to about 46 percent by 2020, while our natural gas capacity will increase from 23 percent to 33 percent over the same time period.
Environmentalists would like you to think that solar should be the answer when it comes to powering the future. Solar prices have been plunging, with the cost of installing 1 watt of solar generation falling from $7.50 in 2007 to roughly $1 today, according to Bernstein Research. But don’t expect solar power to be the carbon panacea. Nationwide, the entire base of installed solar panels generates roughly 8,500 mw. That’s less than the output of three giant coal plants.
For comparison, the world’s biggest solar installation, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, in the Mojave Desert of California is set to generate 400 megawatts from tens of thousands of reflecting mirrors.
To replace the Scherer coal plant you’d need to build 9 Ivanpah installations at a cost of roughly $20 billion, and you’d need to find nearly 100,000 acres to put them on. That’s because although Ivanpah covers 3,500 acres of land its developers have had to set aside some 6,000 acres to “mitigate” the impact of the power plant on desert tortoises and the like. That’s to replace just one coal-fired power plant.
A smarter, proven alternative to solar and coal is one that the Southern Company is already pursuing: nuclear. At its Vogtle nuclear power plant, Southern Co. is in the midst of constructing two new reactors. At a cost of roughly $15 billion they will generate 2,200 mw of carbon free electricity when completed in 2018. By not generating that electricity from coal, Southern will save roughly 10 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.
* Percentages are the parent corporation or entity’s percentage of all 2011 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, including electric power, transportation, industrial, commercial, residential, and agricultural emissions, the total of which is 6,708.3 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents according to the draft 2011 U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks.
Carbon dioxide emissions from energy rose in 18 states and fell in 32 between 2000 and 2010 with Texas showing the greatest absolute decline of 58.8 million metric tons, according to data released by the US Energy Information Administration.
Despite the 8.3 percent drop in emissions, Texas still led the US states in CO2 emissions from energy with 663 million metric tons in 2010, followed by California and Pennsylvania. Nearly half of Texas’ emissions came from petroleum fuels in 2010, according to the EIA data.
California produced about 370 million metric tons of CO2 in 2010 with about two-thirds of it generated from petroleum fuels and a third from natural gas.
Nebraska had the greatest percentage increase at 16 percent, or 6.6 million metric tons, while Colorado had the biggest absolute increase of 11.8 million metric tons, or 13.9 percent over a 10-year time span.
From 2009 to 2010, emissions from energy fell in only 14 states as the US rebounded from the recession, the EIA says.
Wyoming generated 118.5 metric tons per capita in 2010, the highest in the nation. The state was also the second-largest energy producer in the US. Unlike the largest energy producer Texas, which has a population of 25 million, Wyoming has less than 600,000 people, making it the state with the lowest population density in the lower 48.
North Dakota had 80.4 metric tons per capita in 2010, the second-highest in the nation.
EarthJustice had petitioned the EPA to add coal mines to the Clean Air Act list of stationary sources and use the law to regulate their greenhouse gas emissions, similar to what the agency has proposed in its emissions rules for new power plants issued last year. On April 30, the EPA denied the petition because of “limited resources and ongoing budget uncertainties,” the document says.
A federal appeals court last June upheld the EPA’s limits on GHG emissions from car tailpipes, factories and power plants.