Schools, Factories Close As Millions Of Vehicles Forced To Park
Beijing has issued its first pollution red alert as acrid smog enveloped the Chinese capital for the second time this month. The alert will begin at 7am on Tuesday and should see millions of vehicles forced off the roads, factories and construction sites shut down and schools and nurseries advised to close.
“It is history – this is a precedent set,” said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public an Environmental Affairs in Beijing. “This is extremely important to stop children from being exposed to such a high level of pollution.”
Chinese authorities faced fierce criticism last week when they failed to issue a red alert even as Beijing’s residents choked on smog levels that in some areas rose to 40 times those considered safe by the World Health Organisation.
Greenpeace complained that the government’s insufficient alerting system compounded the effects of Beijing’s latest “airpocalypse,” in which readings of the hazardous airborne particle PM2.5 exceed 900 micrograms per cubic meter in some parts of the city.
Monday’s emergency announcement appeared in part to be a reaction to those criticisms. Ma Jun said it would have been a “very tough decision” for China’s leaders to declare the red alert in a city of about 23 million inhabitants.
“It is going to involve some very challenging actions like stopping half of the cars. In a city with more than five million cars you can imagine that is going to be a big challenge,” he said. “It is not about the political or financial cost, first and foremost it is about the great difficulty in trying to organize such an emergency response.
“But this will definitely help protect people’s health. With the red alert, primary schools, middle schools and kindergartens will be [advised] to stop having class. This will be very helpful in preventing extra exposure of the most vulnerable group of people to the air pollution hazards.”
Chinese state media said the latest bout of pollution would linger over Beijing until Thursday, when rain is expected to clear away the toxic smog. “Coal-fired power plants are the major culprit at this point,” said Xinhua, China’s official news agency.
Last year the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, vowed to declare war on pollution, but despite such pledges smog continues to blight cities right across the country. Scientists blame air pollution for about 4,000 deaths a day.
Ma Jun said Beijing’s first red alert underlined how serious the smog problem remained. “It just shows that air pollution is still a very big challenge to the city of Beijing and that the government has paid greater attention to this issue,” he said.
The crisis is even more severe in the regions surrounding Beijing, where hundreds of millions of tons of coal are still being burned each year even as the capital tries to slash its use of the fossil fuel.
Ma Jun said government action in those places was also needed in order to solve Beijing’s smog problem. “Beijing actually isn’t even in the top 10 polluting cities in the region [any more]. There are others which are significantly more polluting,” he said.
Six major U.S. banks are urging world leaders to adopt a strong agreement to slash carbon emissions and tackle climate change. The coalition warned in a letter Monday that warming global temperatures and related effects, including sea level rise and severe drought, threaten to upend the global economy and jeopardize future prosperity.
Their message targeted the heads of state and diplomats gathered in New York Monday for the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Climate change is one of the top subjects on the agenda, along with Syria’s civil war, the refugee crisis and the Iran nuclear accord. The U.N. is spearheading negotiations to forge a 195-country climate accord in Paris this December.
Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo called on negotiators to adopt policies that “recognize the cost of carbon” and help “provide greater market certainty, accelerate investment, drive innovation in low carbon energy, and create jobs,” according to the letter published by Ceres, a sustainability advocacy organization.
The banks noted that investments in global energy, water, transportation and urban infrastructure systems are projected to total $90 trillion over the next 15 years — a sum that could include funding for low-carbon alternatives given the right policy signals, according to a 2014 report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an initiative chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
“Businesses across the spectrum are evaluating the risks and opportunities associated with a changing climate,” Mary Wenzel, head of environmental affairs at Wells Fargo, said in a statement. “Strong, long-term policy frameworks can provide the business certainty needed to accelerate innovation and investment.”
The banks’ statement did not explicitly call for a price on carbon dioxide emissions, which proponents say would make it more expensive to burn coal, oil and natural gas and encourage greater investment solar and wind power, electric vehicles, biofuels and other clean energy alternatives. But some financial leaders, including the World Bank, a U.N. financial institution, have repeatedly urged policymakers to put an outright tax on carbon emissions or adopt a cap-and-trade system. China last week announced it would launch the world’s largest cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions from its steel, cement, paper and electric power sectors.
A carbon price is “the most powerful move that a government can make in the fight against climate change and the reengineering of the economy,” Rachel Kyte, a special envoy for climate change at the World Bank, said a year ago at the 2014 Climate Week NYC, an annual forum to promote the business case for a low-carbon economy.
Climate Change Solutions via http://www.ibtimes.com/six-major-us-banks-urge-global-leaders-adopt-climate-change-agreement-2116755
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 Changing At Vatican On Environmental, Social Issues
He has been called the “superman pope,” and it would be hard to deny that Pope Francis has had a good December. Cited by President Barack Obama as a key player in the thawing relations between the US and Cuba, the Argentinian pontiff followed that by lecturing his cardinals on the need to clean up Vatican politics. But can Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?
It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.
The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.
“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”
Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.
According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.
In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
“The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.
“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he said.
In Lima last month, bishops from every continent expressed their frustration with the stalled climate talks and, for the first time, urged rich countries to act.
Sorondo, a fellow Argentinian who is known to be close to Pope Francis, said: “Just as humanity confronted revolutionary change in the 19th century at the time of industrialisation, today we have changed the natural environment so much. If current trends continue, the century will witness unprecedented climate change and destruction of the ecosystem with tragic consequences.”
According to Neil Thorns, head of advocacy at Cafod, said: “The anticipation around Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical is unprecedented. We have seen thousands of our supporters commit to making sure their MPs know climate change is affecting the poorest communities.”
However, Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate.
Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who has been placed in charge of the Vatican’s budget, is a climate change sceptic who has been criticised for claiming that global warming has ceased and that if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled, then “plants would love it”.
Former Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell arrives at the Clementina Hall to exchange Christmas greetings with Pope Francis on 22 December, 2014 in Vatican City.
Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic climate covenant, said: “There will always be 5-10% of people who will take offence. They are very vocal and have political clout. This encyclical will threaten some people and bring joy to others. The arguments are around economics and science rather than morality.
“A papal encyclical is rare. It is among the highest levels of a pope’s authority. It will be 50 to 60 pages long; it’s a big deal. But there is a contingent of Catholics here who say he should not be getting involved in political issues, that he is outside his expertise.”
Francis will also be opposed by the powerful US evangelical movement, said Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the conservative Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has declared the US environmental movement to be “un-biblical” and a false religion.
“The pope should back off,” he said. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect. Our position reflects the views of millions of evangelical Christians in the US.”
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.
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.
The Patrick Administration has announced a grant program to reduce or eliminate risks associated with coastal storms, erosion and sea level rise through natural and nonstructural approaches called green infrastructure. The grants, available to cities, towns and nonprofit groups, are part of the Patrick Administration’s US$50 million investment in climate change initiatives.
“As we face the challenges associated with climate change and sea level rise, we need to implement effective approaches for protecting our coastal communities while preserving the natural resources that define our Massachusetts coastline,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Rick Sullivan.
“These grants demonstrate the Patrick Administration’s commitment to innovation and infrastructure, by promoting local pilot projects that reduce erosion and storm damage, minimize impacts to shoreline systems and neighboring properties and protect or enhance natural habitat.”
“Green infrastructure projects offer a range of benefits to our communities and the shoreline itself, including storm damage and flooding protection, habitat for aquatic and terrestrial species and support for the recreational values of natural systems,” said Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Director Bruce Carlisle. “The Green Infrastructure for Coastal Resilience Pilot Grants will help advance the use of these emerging techniques in Massachusetts by providing coastal property owners the opportunity to stabilize their shoreline while enhancing the natural benefits of our coast.”
Earlier this year, Governor Patrick announced a strategic plan to address the present and future impacts of climate change in Massachusetts. The investments will assess and address vulnerabilities in public health, transportation, energy and the built environment.
The latest announcement is part of US$10 million in investments for critical coastal infrastructure and dam repairs. The plan also includes a US$40 million municipal resilience grant program that will enable cities and towns to harden energy services at critical sites using clean energy technology.
Administered by CZM, the Green Infrastructure for Coastal Resilience Pilot Grants Program will provide up to US$1.3 million in funding and technical resources for natural approaches addressing coastal erosion and flooding problems.
Grants can be used for planning, feasibility assessment, design, permitting, construction and monitoring of green infrastructure projects that use natural approaches instead of hard structures such as seawalls and groins.
Potential projects include building and enhancing dunes and beaches by adding sand, planting beach grass and other erosion-control vegetation, building natural oyster or mussel reefs, restoring salt marshes or implementing bioengineering techniques that stabilize eroding shorelines.
By Harini Nagendra, BangaloreFrom my office, on the 9th floor of a tall building in an academic campus in Bangalore, I have a birds-eye view of the city’s peri-urban surroundings. To the west, I can see a 6-lane high-speed highway choked by traffic, full of people frenetically commuting from their homes in city to their jobs in the globally famous Information Technology campuses located just outside. To the east, I am fortunate to witness a completely different picture. A tranquil marshy wetland and freshwater lake, with dozens of cows grazing and cooling down in the water while the mid-day sun blazes overhead, accompanied as companions by hundreds of cattle egrets feeding on the insects that annoy the cattle. This idyllic picture of cooperation, mutualism, and rural bliss has evolved and been sustained over centuries in Bangalore. (Bangalore’s lakes are not natural, but were created and maintained by local communities, with a history that can be traced as far back as 450 AD.) Yet even this picture is marred by construction and dumping of large mounds of debris onto the wetlands at one side of the lake.
Such contradictions of livelihoods and lifestyles, urbanity and rurality, shared cooperation and rampant self-interest, may be typical of many Indian cities but are certainly not unique to India. Certainly, the situation I have just described in Bangalore could be familiar to people in many other countries, even continents. Conflicts such as these just described have given rise to, and are exacerbated by, some of the worst inequities that the world has ever experienced. A recent Oxfam report, released on the occasion of the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos, quotes a staggering figure: the world’s richest 85 people now collectively own as much money as the world’s poorest 3.5 billion! In a world that seems to be moving towards increasing self interest, and growing private control of the environment and natural resources, how can we ever hope or plan for a better future?
Following the example of Elinor Ostrom, who received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economics for her pioneering work on the commons, we need to enlarge our discussion of models of urban governance to include a third alternative to the commonly espoused twin pillars of private and government administration, i.e., that of the community.
Research from case studies in diverse contexts across the world has now proven clearly that multi-level collaborations between local community groups, civic society actors and government administration are essential for the effective, equitable and sustainable governance of natural resources. For such collaborations to be effective, they should however enable the scope for negotiations on an equal slate between different groups, such as high income apartment owners and slum residents, that are likely to have very different power structures. Developing the platform to allow negotiations at an equal level is particularly challenging in cities given the underlying context of high economic growth, which puts natural resources at stake. The imbalance between power structures becomes every more stark when natural resources are monetized, whether in the context of fracking and industrialization in China and the USA, or ground water withdrawal and water privatization in Latin American and Indian cities.
Effective governance is the key, obviously. Yet, to address these thorny challenges requires an adequate appreciation of the complexities of politics and political science, which is often lacking in approaches adopted by governments, influential think tanks and international policy makers.
Clearly, in today’s information age, lack of information does not constitute a barrier. More likely, it is the lack of dialogue, exacerbated by the imbalance in power, that creates barriers to cooperative governance for inclusive cities. It is the same lack of dialogue and imbalance in power between the urbanized landscape to the west of my office (with its character shaped by the shared use of large roads by high speed traffic), and the rural landscape to the east (with its character shaped by the shared use of wetlands by cattle and people), that leads to the dominance of the road over the lake, of the need for speed and linear growth over reflection and an appreciation of the cycles of life. Such an imbalance in appreciation, in ideology, almost inevitably leads to the disappearance and decay of these commons in urban areas. Cities thus become oceans of gray in a quest for endless economic growth, swallowing up all the little islands where commoners once thrived and flourished in respectful contestation and adaptive dialogue with nature.
Our studies, as well as practical experience with community governance in the context of Bangalore’s lakes, has strongly highlighted the role for dialogue between communities and city government in providing the conditions that are inductive for effective co-management. This is particularly important in high growth urban contexts, which face political economic challenges of rent seeking, corruption and economic profit-making that can bias planning towards short term profit seeking, at the expense of long term sustainability. Fortunately, Bangalore seems to doing well in this regard, with a number of lake communities coming forward to reclaim derelict lakes in their neighborhood, supported by civic action in the form of Public Interest Litigations and an active judiciary that places pressure on city administration. Such initiatives cannot be taken for granted, however, and are few and far between at the national level in India and indeed, in most countries with fast growing cities. Our only hope for scaling up such action is to enable outreach at a mass scale, through interdisciplinary education that crosses boundaries, engages with students, local communities, policy makers and private actors, and facilitates respectful contestation across groups of actors joined in the common goal of seeking equitable pathways towards greater urban sustainability. Engaging with problems of sustainability in an equitable, fair and just manner will require the fresh perspectives engendered by such discussion. Source: http://www.thenatureofcities.com/2014/05/28/the-cooperative-governance-of-urban-commons/
Tom Steyer isn’t the only ambitious fundraiser working to get climate hawks elected. Meet Nick Josefowitz. Both men live in San Francisco, but while Steyer is playing on the national scene, Josefowitz is focused on his home state. He recently founded a new political action committee, Leadership for a Clean Economy, to raise money for future leaders on climate change policy in the California state legislature. Josefowitz made his fortune founding RenGen Energy, a developer and operator of solar power plants, and at the age of 30 he has already retired to focus on environmental activism.
LCE is similar to organizations like EMILY’s List in that it does not actually collect and disburse money itself. Rather, it examines candidates and recommends the most worthy ones to a network of donors who can then make direct contributions. In California, such contributions from an individual to a candidate are limited in size to $4,100. Some PACs raise and spend unlimited amounts to promote candidates, but Josefowitz decided not to go that route. “We think raising money directly for candidates is more effective,” he tells Grist. “Candidates know more about how to spend their money. If you do an independent expenditure, the first thing you do is spend $30,000 on a consultant, which is money straight down the drain.” Indeed, many PACs, especially on the right, have been caught spending most of the money they raise on operational expenses rather than activities that directly help candidates.
Given that the Democrats hold wide majorities in the California State Assembly and State Senate, it may seem odd for LCE to focus environmental dollars there. Shouldn’t the environmental movement’s top priority be helping Democrats hang on to the U.S. Senate and regain seats in the U.S. House?
“It is clearly important to stop the Koch brothers-funded Republicans from taking over the Senate,” Josefowitz wrote in an MSNBC op-edlast week, but even if Democrats succeed in that mission, “we will have another two years of bitter, partisan trench warfare in Congress without any progress.” Until the political climate changes in D.C., we have to focus on the states, where things actually get done, he argues.
But California already has the most advanced clean energy standards in the country, so why spend money and effort there? “California is one of the states that has done the most, but it hasn’t done nearly enough,” says Josefowitz. “If all the states in the Union looked like California today, we’d still have an extremely long way to go. California still needs to keep pushing the envelope. A lot of the things California is most famous for — for example, its 33 percent renewable portfolio standard, cap-and-trade, the low-carbon fuel standard — sunset in 2020. We need to set more aggressive targets for 2020, 2030, 2040 and ‘50.” Also, California is huge — if it were its own country, it would be the world’s eighth largest economy. And where California leads, other states follow. A dozen other states have chosen to adopt California’s ambitious fuel-economy standards for cars, for example.
Josefowitz believes it’s insufficient to have a state legislature full of Democrats who vote the right way on the environment. The climate crisis demands more than just passive supporters in the majority; it needs leaders who will write bills, garner public attention, and corral votes. In California, thanks to term limits that hold every legislator to no more than 12 years in office, senators and assembly members can quickly become leaders, without having to wait decades to assume powerful positions like in most states or in Congress. That means eco-minded campaign donors can get a lot more bang for the buck in California than on the national stage.
“Because of the constant turnover in Sacramento because of term limits, electing one or two dedicated climate leaders can have an impact that it won’t in D.C.,” says Josefowitz, who speaks with an English accent left over from a childhood in London. Born in New York, he is an American citizen, but he only moved to San Francisco two and a half years ago. On the East Coast, where Democratic urban machines are often deeply entrenched, it might be hard for a newcomer like Josefowitz to have an impact. But in California, he is already ensconced in a network of wealthy, eco-friendly donors.
And so Josefowitz has set out to find candidates who might play the role in California’s state legislature that Californian Henry Waxman has played in Congress: the environment’s indefatigable advocate and master legislator. Since state legislators cannot spend decades working on an issue in Sacramento, it’s critical that they come in with an understanding of complex sustainability issues and policies, Josefowitz argues. This year, only two candidates, both running for Assembly, have earned LCE’s support: Suja Lowenthal, a member of the Long Beach City Council, and Joe Krovoza, the mayor of Davis. Winning LCE’s approval is arduous, requiring the candidates to demonstrate both knowledge and achievement on the issues, through a series of interviews and questionnaires. The vetting is done by Josefowitz and LCE’s sole employee, Political Director Rachel Van Wert, with input from donors in the network.
“It was almost like they were doing opposition research,” jokes Krovoza. He won them over with his deep environmental knowledge. He was able to tick off a litany of climate actions he has taken in Davis, such as setting a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, and requiring solar panels and bike crossings as conditions of approving a new mixed-use development. And even while serving as mayor, Krovoza has continued his work as director of external relations for the Institute of Transportation Studies at U.C. Davis. “I know the Sustainable Communities law and AB 32 inside and out,” boasts Krovoza, referring to the California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Law, which promotes smart growth, and the Global Warming Solutions Act, which created the state’s cap-and-trade system.
LCE has had a tangible impact on Krovoza’s campaign. “I’ve raised about $300,000; I think they’re at about $30,000 for me,” he says. “And they’re cranking away. They’re calling all the environmentalists we can identify in the district. That’s been huge for me. They’ve been my advocates in the environmental community in the district. Some of the environmentalists are active in the Democratic Party. Some of them have volunteered to walk [knocking on doors for the campaign], some have volunteered to put up a road sign.”
Krovoza was introduced to Josefowitz by Bob Epstein, who sits on the board of the Institute of Transportation Studies and chairs the NRDC Action Fund. “When Nick said he was interested in developing environmental champions, I said, ‘Great idea,’” recalls Epstein. “There are very few politicians now who are well versed in issues. They tend to float at the conceptual level and rarely know the details. Every cycle in the California legislature there is less leadership [on the environment].” Frequently, state legislators are more focused on running for higher office than on getting things done in Sacramento. Those are the kinds of candidates LCE avoids.
Josefowitz has found his climate leaders for 2014; his PAC won’t be endorsing any more people this year. Now he’ll be looking out for the next batch of promising politicians.
Global Warming Cost Country $32.9 Billion Since 1990
The effects of climate change have cost China US$32.9 billion since 1990, according to the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s leading planning agency. It warns the country is ill-prepared to deal with the consequences of global warming, and has outlined a national adaptation plan to ensure all sectors take the threat seriously.
The NDRC recommends further investment in developing resilient infrastructure, warning that 2000 people died in the past two decades as a result of extreme weather events.
“We have deep concern of the negative impacts of climate change, like other developing countries,” Li Gao, Climate Change Deputy Director General at the NRDC told RTCC last month.
“If you look at China we have a very long coastal line, and if you look at sea level rising, it will have a very big threat to our development. Typhoon Haiyan reminded the world adaptation is urgent.
“We think it’s the right time to pay more attention to adaptation, because the urgent thing is something that is happening.”
What many are calling China’s adaptation blueprint warns that the health of the population and the natural environment it relies on are at acute risk from changing conditions.
“Degraded ecosystems, threatened biodiversity, and a variety of infectious diseases” are major concerns it says, recommending that forests, grasslands, wetlands, and desert regions are better protected.
The plans, which are region specific, call for more support to be directed to farmers, highlighting rising levels of soil erosion, poor water management and a lack of access to drought-tolerant crops.
Agencies must make “full use of international funds for adaptation action” the NDRC say, suggesting that the funding potential of ‘catastrophe bonds’ and ‘climate-related service products’ also need to be explored.
Critically, the report says early warning systems that can help populations escape dangerous storms are “insufficient”, while water supplies, drainage, gas and telecommunications need to be designed to cope with severe climate impacts.
The NDRC also suggests public awareness of climate adaptation needs to be urgently raised, while better South-South international cooperation also needs to be explored.