Tag Archives: COP22

Credit: Pixabay, bycfotografem

Environmentalists plead Japanese and French banks to stop financing coal-fired plants in Indonesia

At a press conference during the second to last day at COP22, Marrakech, a motley crew of environmental organizations called out leading international banks to stop financing two controversial coal-fired plants in the Central Java Province, Indonesia. For the last five years, locals have vociferously protested against the planned new coal-fired generators Tanjung Jati B (TJBc) and Cirebon, which pollute their water, air, and crops, threatening their livelihoods. There are reports of police violence and harassment, but also land grabbing.

Credit: Pixabay, bycfotografem

Credit: Pixabay, bycfotografem

Indonesia is a rapidly growing developing country. To sustain this growth, the government plans to install 35,000 MW of new power capacity until 2019. About one hundred new coal-fired plants will be built in the country amounting to 20,000 MW.

Wednesday at an event in Marrakech, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar stressed the important role of preserving forests and generating sustainable energy. Per its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC), Indonesia vowed to cut greenhouse emissions by 26% by 2020 and 29% by 2030 based on a 2010 projected business as usual scenario.

The environmentalist panel, which included representatives from Friends of the Earth International, Greenpeace Indonesia, Oxam France, put into the question the seriousness of these statements in light of the government’s plan to massively expand its coal-fired energy infrastructure.

“In Cirebon, almost everyday communities protest against the project,” said Arif Fiyanto, Greenpeace Indonesia.

“Fishermen can’t feed their families because the plants polluted the water. In terms of air pollution, in both Cirebon and Tanjung Jati, the new plants will add 1,000 premature deaths in Indonesia every year,” he added.

“The Japanese government, acting through Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), should stop financing coal. Why doesn’t Japan invest in renewable energy? Indonesia has abundant renewable energy resources.”

Besides JBIC, French bank Crédit Agricole and the dutch-based ING are also heavily involved in financing these controversial plants. Last year, the French co-operative bank set sustainable targets in the wake of the Paris Agreement and only weeks before COP22 kicked off, Crédit Agricole said it would stop financing coal-related energy projects. The announcement cited a number of factors that influenced its decision, among them the threat of future regulation due to coal’s impact on the planet and human health. The COP22 conference is now closed and Crédit Agricole has to yet to withdraw its financing for the 1,000 megawatt Cirebon 2 coal plant, despite it’s not locked in a formal agreement.

Believe it or not, Japan actually states that it’s financing a ‘climate project’. Back at the 2009 COP held in Copenhagen, rich countries pledged $30 billion for climate finance over the next three years — Japan pledged half of this generous sum. However, out of all the countries which participated in this action, Japan is the only one to directly support coal plants by using financing reserved for climate action. The country reasons that without its financial and technical aid, Indonesia, which has a high demand for energy, might build cheaper, more polluting coal plants. Hence, its financing can be counted as ‘climate-friendly.’ If this sounds preposterous, you’re not alone.

“There are countries . . . that cannot afford to have other methods than coal,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Takako Ito for the Japan Times. “For these countries, we’d like to provide the best method of reducing carbon dioxide. We believe . . . this is a very practical and realistic and effective way to reduce carbon dioxide.”

Since 2011, the Indonesian government has issued 44 regulations in favor of providing land for investors, none of which prioritize protecting human rights. All 44 regulations are in fact being used to legitimize the government’s confiscation of land from farmers and local community, as well as customary land from the indigenous people. Infrastructure works like roads, coal plants or even palm oil farms are given priority over the rights of people. Not only public, but also private investments are counted as in the interest of the state lending corporations the legal means to easily expropriate locals. In other words, ‘land grabbing’ is perfectly legal in Indonesia and there’s not much people can do about it.

“It’s not only about pollution and climate change. It is a violation of human rights in Indonesia. For instance, the local community has fought against the largest coal-fired plant [the 2GW Batang] and delayed it for five years. Then companies and the government used every single thing that they had to push the community to sell their land. The community refused to sell their land  — they were intimidated to sell. Seven locals are in jail because they refused to sell,” Fiyanto said.

The environmental panel demanded that the foreign banks immediately stop financing coal plants in Java island.

“We are talking about staying under 1.5 degrees. The Paris Agreement has a clear commitment.  All of the coal fired power plants , the ones proposed not under const or operating, all of these take us to a six-degree world. That’s enough to say why Tanjung Jati B, why Cirebon, why every single coal-fired plant needs to be stopped because the only way to solve the climate crisis is to keep the coal in the hole and oil in the soil. ” said Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth International climate justice and energy coordinator.

Australia lobbies coal mine at climate talks

In what can only be described as hilariously sad, Australia’s energy minister Josh Frydenberg has used the climate talks in Marrakech to lobby support for what could become one of the largest coal mines in the world.

Australia’s coal production shows no signs of slowing down. Image credits: Wikipedia.

While in Marrakech, Morocco, people are working to find ways to protect the planet’s climate, Australia seems to be on a different path. The country has been repeatedly singled out as a laggard in addressing climate change, coming ahead of only Kazakhstan, South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia in a UN climate report. Another, separate study conducted by the London School of Economics, found that out of the G20 countries, Australia – as well as Argentina, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US – were “falling behind with their national climate mitigation action”.

Furthermore, some provinces and cities in Australia have independently tried to act more boldly but received little support from the government. This has been criticized both externally, and internally. The Australian Conservation Foundation’s chief executive, Kelly O’Shanassy, said:

“The government spruiks its climate credentials but Australia remains a laggard on cutting climate pollution. The world is watching as our pollution rises and governments support new mega-polluting coalmines.”

But that’s not all. Australia is openly defiant and even hypocritical in its climate strategy. Although they recently signed the Paris agreement, Australian environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, lobbied for the opening of a new, grand coal mine. If the Carmichael mine goes ahead, it will easily become the biggest in Australia and one of the largest in the world. Coal is, of course, one of the most CO2 intensive industries and one of the first we must phase out to ensure a sustainable future for the planet.

Australia’s government defended its coal mine, saying that “Australia had a very effective environmental approvals process” and that “We should decide what mining projects are opened up in this country and the circumstances in which they open.”

Frydenberg was upset that a US NGO which had ties to the Democratic party was sponsoring activists in Australia. A campaign was sparked in Australian newspapers, vigorously contesting the activists and their activities.

“Such authority rests with Australia’s democratically elected representatives and established government processes. It does not belong with overseas governments (including prospective US presidents or their staff), self-appointed meddling international activists or local vigilante ‘lawfare’ litigants funded by activists.”

For this move, Australia was named the “Fossil of the Day” – a faux award given to countries or companies who fail to address climate change properly. The Climate Action Network which organizes this award, stated:

We don’t mean to gossip, but today the Australian Energy and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg was caught complaining to US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz about American charities standing in solidarity with Australian communities who are fighting to prevent the construction of the largest ever coal mine down under – Adani’s Carmichael mine. Australia ratified the Paris Agreement last Friday, so lobbying for coal expansion at the United Nations climate negotiations is an ugly, ugly thing to be doing. Shape up, Australia.

China to Trump: We didn’t invent global warming

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin subtly criticized Donald Trump’s stance on climate change, reminding him of a Tweet in which the president-elect claims the Chinese “created” global warming.

Xie Zhenhua is a veteran of UN climate talks and in recent years, he has taken a more vertical position. (Pic: UN Photos)

Xie said that it was actually Republican US presidents starting negotiations on the climate.

“If you look at the history of climate change negotiations, actually it was initiated by the IPCC with the support of the Republicans during the Reagan and senior Bush administration during the late 1980s,” Liu said according to a Bloomberg story published Wednesday.

Trump did state that the Tweet was a joke, but it’s not the only instance he has spoken against climate change — and the Chinese. The US president-elect has repeatedly stated that the environment is not one of his priorities, and furthermore, that he considers global warming to be a hoax. His reasoning? Because it was cold some days.

In Marrakech, where world leaders are deciding the future of the world’s climate and how to best implement the Paris climate agreement, there is a lot of talk about Trump and his anti-science stance. Several times he has stated that he will do everything he can to destroy Obama’s legacy, including ripping the Paris agreement. The US is already likely failing its part of the deal, and with the Trump administration, things are expected to go even worse.

This is why China’s top envoy directly addressed this issue, repeatedly stating that the world trend is shifting to renewable energy and a sustainable future, and any wise leader will do the same.

“I believe a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends,” said Xie, in response to a question about how he would work with a Trump administration. “If they resist this trend, I don’t think they’ll win the support of their people, and their country’s economic and social progress will also be affected.”

It’s very rare for high-rank Chinese officials to make comments on the external policy of other countries, which makes the statement even more powerful. As unlikely as it seems, China is slowly assuming the role of the world leader in fighting climate change. In 2015, they invested more than the US and EU combined and despite basically building their economy on coal, they want to make the switch to renewables as soon as possible.

Science can’t afford to be slowed down by unrealistic standards while politics runs around the house naked

With looming water scarcity, food insecurity, and extreme weather, science can’t afford to wait years and years for a paradigm shift or unnecessary standards. We can’t afford to be too meticulous and need to start publishing more results on the fly.

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“We are not on the right track and we need to deal with that” – is something we’ve been hearing more and more at the climate summit in Marrakech. That’s the healthy approach. Admitting your mistakes is the first step to making things right. But it’s still only one step out of a very long journey and unless politicians start acting based on the science, it’s all in vain.

In an ideal world, science first helps us understand what’s happening. Then, after we have a good idea what’s going on, researchers provide potential solutions to existing problems. Lastly, policymakers implement said solutions, problems are solved, and everyone’s happy. Sadly, that rarely happens.

In reality, more often than not, there are several roadblocks along the way. Let’s take climate change for example. Even though deniers still abound, the science is pretty much settled: climate change is happening, and it’s fueled largely by man-made emissions. We’ve known that for a long time and there’s almost a complete consensus on this issue. There are thousands of studies pointing in the same direction.

A myriad of studies have proposed solutions, the elephant in the room being that we need to reduce our emissions and start using more renewable energy. Of course, climate change is a complex issue affecting the entire planet in different ways, but a number of pathways for adaptation and mitigation have been scientifically described and proposed, in all parts of the world. This is what the scientists have done, what thousands of people have devoted their lives to. The next step would be for policy-makers to implement said measures – and this is where the big problems start.

As we can see all around us, politics is slow to adapt to the science – and in some cases, it outright refuses to adapt to it.

Politics vs Science

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In many ways, science and politics are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. Science is all about facts, figures, and proving things. In order to publish a paper in a scientific journal, highly capable teams work months or years, slowly answering research questions, while ensuring a standard of accuracy and reproducibility. Then, the paper is sent to peer review. Other researchers working in the field review and approve or reject the paper – and they can easily reject it for the thinnest of reasons. A small writing error, an uncertainty in the data interpretation, anything can lead to a rejection. Sure, sub-par papers do slip through the cracks, but generally, published peer-review papers represent a very high standard of quality. Mistakes are not allowed, be they intentional or accidental. Errors are not allowed. You have to bring value, you have to create something new and useful. Everything has to be up to the highest standard.

Politics, on the other hand, has none of that. Public opinion is the be-all-end-all and everything else is often just a detail. Bringing value? How many empty or shallow political speeches have you heard? Who holds politicians accountable for their promises or their statements? There’s rarely a standard here. But it gets even better.

You rarely get punished for lying. Just take a look at recent events. For the Brexit vote, the UK referendum discussing whether the UK should leave the European Union, the ‘Leave’ campaign was riddled with lies; and I don’t mean exaggerations or omissions – I’m talking about blatant lies, which can easily be pointed out. The National Health System was promised 350 million pounds a week if Brexit happens, a promise which was dropped the second day after the vote results. If the equivalent of this were to happen in science, your career would be over. But Boris Johnson, the man who made this promise, is now Secretary of State.

Look across the ocean and you’ll see Donald Trump lying his way to the White House, contradicting himself disturbingly often. He outright denied saying things he said. He is now set to be the most powerful man in the world, as president of the United States. So why then do we have to wait for the science to be “fully in” and why is a certainty of 95% considered to be insufficient?

What should happen

The heart of the matter is that science and technology are developing much faster than policy-makers can keep up with, and that generates a gap. There’s a gap between what we know and how we act, and that’s equivalent to the gap between science/technology and politics. We, as a society don’t give science nearly enough credit — and that needs to change. We often think of experts or specialists as the enemy, overlooking the fact that these men and women have spent years or decades researching something we passingly issue an opinion on.

It almost sounds wrong to say it, but sometimes, you just can’t afford to do a meticulous study and you have to act on the fly, with the available data. We can’t afford to wait years for a study to figure out tiny, often irrelevant details, when people are suffering at the other end. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and at this moment, policy is the weak link and that’s where we should strive to impose higher standards.

Let’s get one thing straight: no one is saying “let’s rush things up” when it comes to astronomy or medicine. No one wants to rush quantum mechanics or anthropology. But when it comes to humanitarian studies, when it comes to water resources, hygiene, climate, or other vital aspects for a community, sufficient certainty should be sufficient. We’ll have to wait long enough for the politics to act as it is, we can’t afford to wait to be “completely sure, beyond the shadow of a doubt” — because if we do that we will be completely sure, but it will simply be too late.

canada justin trudeau

The Canadian government’s double standards: acting on climate but seeking to export more fossil fuels

canada justin trudeau

Credit: YouTube

Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was one of the champions of last year’s COP21 climate talks in Paris. Trudeau and his Liberal government led by example, being very vocal and borderline aggressive in the fight against climate change. Twelve months later, despite concrete steps that currently put Canada on track of meeting its domestic greenhouse gas reduction targets, the government is also seeking to significantly expand its fossil fuel exports by opening new pipelines and a massive new natural gas exploitation project.

Swiping it under the rug

This twin pursuit has been called out by environmentalists who held a press briefing at COP22, Marrakech, Morocco.

“It is a serious concern when we see the international community not honouring their commitments and we are concerned Canada is still pursuing their fossil fuel projects,” Benson Ireri of theChristian Aid Africa said. “Developed countries have a moral obligation to honour the Paris Agreement.”

The panel references the Canadian government’s recent approval of a massive liquefied natural gas project in British Columbia. The $11 billion project will be one of Canada’s largest natural resource development project. Yet, despite the reassuring statements made by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr that the new exploitation will respect 190 legally binding environmental conditions, the public wasn’t convinced. Rankled environmentalists and some First Nations expressed concerns that immense amounts of greenhouse gases will be expelled, while local fisheries and habitat will be threatened.

“I think Mr. Trudeau made the biggest mistake of his career … he’s not as straightforward of a guy as everyone perceived him to be,” said Donald Wesley, a hereditary chief with the Gitwilgyoots tribe, vowing also to pursue legal action.

“We’re trying to protect something here that belongs to the people of Canada.”

According to the COP22 panel, the Petronas LNG project in northern British Columbia will pump 4.3 million tonnes of equivalent CO2 emissions annually for decades to come.

Then, there’s the matter of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries, which the Liberal government currently in power supports. The KXL pipeline was blocked by U.S. President Barack Obama because it doesn’t meet his nation’s current pledges for reducing greenhouse emissions per the Paris Agreement. President-elect Donald Trump and his cabinet, however, favour KXL. Trump also has the backing of the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress and House of Representatives, and once he takes office in January, President Trump is expected to green-light the project. With both sides in accord, there doesn’t seem to be anything keeping KXL from moving forward.

All of this doesn’t seem to bode well with Canada’s pledge for cutting emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The government’s plan includes energy efficiency measures but also a nation-wide carbon tax  starting at $10 per tonne in 2018 but gradually incremented to $50 per tonne by 2022.

Catherine Abreu of Climate Action Network Canada stated in Marrakech, however, that Canada’s current plan indeed puts the nation well on track to meet its pledges. At the same time, though, its planned oil exports will not only offset, but possibly worsen the domestic progress.

In December, Minister Carr and the Liberal cabinet will decide whether or not to expand the Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C.The $5.4-billion project would increase the capacity of the system to at least 890,000 barrels per day. This additional capacity will go to Asian markets. “It’s a goal of the government of Canada to expand its export markets,” Carr said in a statement.

A bigger Trans Mountain pipeline would add 14 to 17 million tonnes of equivalent CO2 emissions per year. To put things into perspective, Canada’s plans to cut emissions through a carbon tax will reduce emissions by some 18 million tonnes when fully implemented in 2022.

In other words, Canada seems to have no problem in meeting its emission reduction targets, but by exploiting new resources and exporting these to new markets, on a global level they might actually perform worse than a business as usual scenario. It seems unbelievable, but this cabinet pretends these new oil and gas exports will become someone else’s problem.

“Canada is on a pathway to reduce domestic emissions and meet the 2030 targets domestically while also increasing the amount of fossil fuels it exports,” Abreu said in a statement to the press.

“This contradiction is not lost on the countries that are experiencing sea level rise, drought, increased storms and other climate impacts.”

US businesses urge Trump to support climate deal

Over 360 multinationals and investment groups have published an open letter to president-elect Donald Trump, urging him to implement low-carbon policies and ensure a sustainable future for the country. Among many others, Mars, Ikea, Kellogs, Gap, HP, Intel, Starbucks, North Face, eBay, Nike, and Virgin have expressed support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Levi Strauss was also among the companies signing the letter. Image credits: Wikimedia Commons/M62

The letter reads as follows:

“Dear President-elect Trump, President Obama, Members of the US Congress, and Global Leaders at COP22 in Marrakech:

We, the undersigned members in the business and investor community of the United States, re-affirm our deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.

We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy. Cost-effective and innovative solutions can help us achieve these objectives. Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness. We pledge to do our part, in our own operations and beyond, to realize the Paris Agreement’s commitment of a global economy that limits global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

We call on our elected US leaders to strongly support:

  • 1. Continuation of low-carbon policies to allow the US to meet or exceed our promised national commitment and to increase our nation’s future ambition.
  • 2. Investment in the low carbon economy at home and abroad in order to give financial decision-makers clarity and boost the confidence of investors worldwide.
  • 3.Continued US participation in the Paris Agreement, in order to provide the long-term direction needed to keep global temperature rise below 2°C.

Implementing the Paris Agreement will enable and encourage businesses and investors to turn the billions of dollars in existing low-carbon investments into the trillions of dollars the world needs to bring clean energy and prosperity to all.

We support leaders around the world as they seek to implement the Paris Agreement and leverage this historic opportunity to tackle climate change.”

World leaders from both the political and the private sector are gathering in Marrakech, Morocco, to discuss how to best protect the planet’s future and ensure a sustainable future for everyone, and the business man’s election has created great uncertainty, as Trump has repeatedly spoken against any climate agreement. It remains to be seen what he will actually do in the future, because as Secretary of State John Kerry said, some things seem different when you’re inside the oval office.

“For those in power, in all parts of the world including my own, who may be confronting the decisions about which road to take at this critical juncture: I ask you, on behalf of billions of people around the world… to see for yourselves. Do your own due diligence, before making irrevocable choices,” Kerry said in a strong, emotional speech.

John Kerry: “Above all, consult the scientists”

Secretary of state John Kerry addressed COP22 today, delivering an impassionate speech which included a plea for all of us, and the president-elect in particular: don’t ignore the science when considering your strategy.

John Kerry in Marrakech. Image: State Department/Flickr.

A long-time supporter of a climate agreement and environmental reform, Kerry’s efforts were at the forefront of the Paris Pact and he was at the heart of international negotiations. It wasn’t just one time that he was in the negotiation room until 5AM in the morning, only to return a few hours later to continue work. This year, he addressed the summit with a striking message, riddled with optimism but also realism.

“Climate change is deeply personal to me, but it’s personal to everyone in this COP, I know that and we want it to be just as personal for everyone in the whole world,” he said in the opening part of his speech. “We are all in this together, and when we left Paris, no one rested on their laurels. Instead, the world unified and moved expeditiously to pull the agreement permanently into force, crossing the threshold of 55 countries representing 55% of emissions, doing so far faster than even the most optimistic of us hoped for.”

“We have in place foundation based on national climate goals, 109 nations, each of them with their own plan, setting goals based on our own abilities and our own circumstances. This agreement is the essence of common, but differentiated responsibilities. It leaves no country to weather the storm of climate change alone.”

Still, despite his passion, there is a growing sentiment that at least some did rest on their laurels. Many representatives acted as if the Paris Pact is the be-all-end-all of climate problems, when in reality, the math doesn’t add up. The goal is to keep global warming within 2 degrees Celsius, but if you add all the national contributions, it’s just not enough. According to Climate Analytics, if (and this is a big if) all national contributions are fulfilled, we’re on a course for 2.7C – almost double 1.5C, which is considered a major threshold, and significantly more than the official 2C objective.

But of course, most people attending already knew that, and as Kerry himself said, it felt a bit like preaching to the choir.

“Whatever our background may be, this is an imperative. I know the danger of preaching to the choir, and all of us here are the proverbial choir. Here at the 22nd COP, no one can deny the progress that we have made, progress that was pretty hard to imagine even a few years ago”

Optimism from the market, pessimism from politics

The climate is heating up dramatically, the US delegation to COP says. But what will it say next year? Image credits: Andrei Mihai / ZME Science.

The climate is heating up dramatically, the US delegation to COP says. But what will it say next year? Image credits: Andrei Mihai / ZME Science.

Perhaps ironically, Kerry’s optimism lies with the market and not within governance. The Paris Agreement was never going to solve all our problems, it was above all meant to send a signal to the global markets. Outside of government intervention, he says, global markets have been given the signal to react and start moving towards renewable energy – and they have.

For the first time since the industrial revolution, people are investing more in renewable energy than in fossil fuels, a trend which will only grow more pronounced. Furthermore, this is happening when oil prices are at a historic low, lending even more credibility to the idea of a renewable revolution. Still, this would not be possible without leadership from politicians. Much of this is happening due to President Obama’s initiatives, who has been a long-time supporter of an energy revolution. But with a new administration just around the corner, are there still reasons to be optimistic?

Earlier in the day, Kerry has reportedly told The Guardian’s Arthur Neslen (before he was blocked by the arm of a secret service attendee) that climate change is “bigger than one person, one president”. In fact, the result of the US elections has been one of the most debated topics and no one is overly optimistic. Among others, president-elect Trump has called global warming a hoax, has said he would rip up the Paris deal, stop any funding towards UN climate programs, and revive the coal industry. In Marrakech, at COP22, the US delegation has presented a long, 111-page document in which it calls for a “deep decarbonisation” of the U.S. economy by 2050, reducing emissions by 80 percent compared to 2005 levels. Sadly, the best thing we can hope for now is that Trump lied during his campaign.

“While I can’t stand here and speculate about what policies our president-elect will pursue, I will tell you this: In the time that I have spent in public life, one of the things I’ve learned is that some issues look a little bit different when you’re actually in office compared to when you’re on the campaign trail,” Kerry said.

Also, he argued, even with the results of these elections, the citizens of the US are still determined to see a sustainable future for themselves, their country, and the planet

“And no-one, no-one should doubt the overwhelming majority of citizens of the United States who know climate change is happening and who are determined to keep our commitments that were made in Paris.”

A plea for mankind

As for Kerry himself, this is the last time he addressed COP and the UN as Secretary of State. His mandate is coming to an end and there is good reason to fear what will come in his stead. Kerry has had a long-standing concern with environmentalism as a global issue and he was the one to mediate many of the negotiations which led to this pact. He was also the one to sign on behalf of the US. Amidst these troubled times, Kerry also became the first Secretary of State and highest-ranking U.S. official to date to visit Antarctica. He wanted to see, with his own eyes, how the frozen continent is faring. He didn’t go there to talk to the media or address a press conference, he went there to talk to scientists – and what he found confirmed his fears. The planet is changing, and the effects are already upon us. This is the canary in the coal mine, as he himself put it.

To a conference room jam-packed of journalists and representatives and sometimes with a breaking voice, Kerry urged world leaders to think about what they are doing – to consider the impact of their decisions.

“For those in power, in all parts of the world including my own, who may be confronting the decisions about which road to take at this critical juncture: I ask you, on behalf of billions of people around the world… to see for yourselves. Do your own due diligence, before making irrevocable choices.”

As we’ve said it countless times in the past and as we’ll no doubt say again and again, the science is in. Hopefully, politics will listen.

2006 National Climate March, “Buddhists for Creative Change” banner, photo by Akuppa John Wigham, flickr C.C.

Fighting climate change with inner change: a case for heightened spiritual awareness

2006 National Climate March, “Buddhists for Creative Change” banner, photo by Akuppa John Wigham, flickr C.C.

2006 National Climate March, “Buddhists for Creative Change” banner, photo by Akuppa John Wigham, flickr C.C.

Man-made climate change is knocking on our doors. Scratch that — it’s banging! In the face of unprecedented heat waves, droughts, and extreme weather events, the world has banded together to limit global warming under no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, per the Paris Agreement signed last year. This landmark agreement is, perhaps, the single most important pact we’ve ever vowed to keep in the fight to preserve biodiversity, human values, and a predictable climate for us all.

Words do not equal action, however, and we have a lot to prove before skepticism makes room for hopeful optimism. Right now, more than 10,000 delegates, statesmen, journalists, and civil society are presented in Marrakech, Morocco for COP22 — the successor to the Paris Agreement — where the action plan for the terms signed to much fanfare are expected to be hammered out.

During such times, maybe it’s worth taking a step back to consider how we got in this situation in the first place. The Industrial Revolution shifted progress into high gear and almost overnight humanity found the means and energy to make larger leaps than ever though possible. What previously took 100 man-hours to make could now be completed in mere minutes with mechanical precision.

With each turn of the gear, our prosperity and wealth grew to startling heights. It would be naive to think, however, that there wouldn’t be a price to pay: pollution, extinctions, and climate change that threatens to undo all the good that came out of burning coal and oil like there’s no tomorrow.

We can forgive our ignorance during these early first baby steps, but in the face of mounting evidence there is no excuse for inaction. Yet, something is clearly pulling us down — it’s ourselves.

Tackling climate change is a very complex problem and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Technology like new clean renewable sources of power or artificial intelligence has its part to play, so does state and non-state action. But by overly focusing on externalities, we run at risk of missing the forest for the trees, says Joachim Golo Pilz, the director of the World Renewable Spiritual Trust’s Solar Research Institute and project lead for India One.

“We are here to meditate and share our experience in renewable energy and to inspire people to look more deeply into climate change issues,” Pilz told me, shortly after a talk in the Green Zone of COP22. 

“We believe we should be with those climate conferences and inspire people that a change in the world has to be supported by a change in ourselves. If we don’t change our attitudes and awareness on the inside, it will be very difficult to change the world on the outside. The inner world, our mind, and the outer world are very, very strongly interconnected.”

The India One CST plant nearly completion. Credit: India One.

The India One CST plant nearing completion. Credit: India One.

Pilz’s flagship project, an experiment in solar thermal energy generation called India One, will see 770 newly developed 60 m2 parabolic dishes concentrating solar thermal power near the Shantivan Campus of the Brahma Kumaris. The plant will generate enough heat and power (1 MW) for a campus of 25,000 people, and is considered a milestone for decentralized and clean power generation in India. The thermal plant is expected to come online very soon. “By the end of the year, we hope to push the button and start generating electricity!” Pilz told me.

The India One site also acts as a training center for concentrated solar thermal power to enable local organizations to replicate the project at a larger or smaller scale in their local communities.

Drone footage of the India One site. Credit: India One.

Drone footage of the India One site. Credit: India One.

‘What happens on the inside and what happens on the outside — these are inseparable’

“Most of the people here are very strongly intellectually orientated,” Piltz said, speaking about the busy folks making their ways along the crowded corridors of COP22. “They look into tech, they look into science, they look into funding, they look into strategy — nobody looks much into the heart; the emotions and the feelings. This is an area which is not really looked into and people separate what happens on the inside and what happens on the outside.”

“We believe they are actually inseparable because I live in this world and through my consciousness and awareness, and subsequently through my actions, I create and shape this world. So if I change my consciousness and awareness, I also shape the world in a different world,” he added.

These might seem like odd statements to make when speaking about climate change, which is essentially a complex scientific phenomenon. However, this time around, climate change is caused by humans and their actions, and Piltz is right saying that awareness or thought shapes these actions. Ignorance and lack of action, just as well. By bridging the pragmatic with the idealistic, his organization is building projects with a people-first, do no harm approach, and setting an example in doing so.

Golo Pilz. Credit: India One

Golo Pilz. Credit: India One

“People are aware that in the next coming years we dramatically have to change and increase our pledge, and foremost we have to implement them. We have to see if humanity can organize such a momentum and such a unity because for such steps to be taken you need also unity among all stakeholders. But at the moment most countries have their own agenda, some want old technology to continue because they benefit from such a system, others want new technology and many are in between.”

“Many are already suffering from climate change. Islands are disappearing, in Africa the rivers are falling dry, in India we had this year the heat record with 51 degrees C, America had seven years drought in California — so, there are many signs, very big warning signs that people are already suffering under climate change. We have to see if humanity is really able to steer around that. What we feel as a spiritual organization is it’s very important that we understand that these problems we see in the outer world are all connected to problems in the inner world. For example, I read a report recently in America every year 35,000 people are dying by guns, so I’m asking myself why we have so much violence in families or in society? Why we have so much suffering among people? Either people are suffering in relation with their families, or people are suffering from hunger, or poverty, or these problems. Why are all these problems there and we aren’t able to find an answer? Because our inner world and outer world are very strongly connected and linked. Our soul is empty inside, we’re consuming too much — we’re trying to compensate. We’re looking to the outside world for solutions, and we lost our inner peace and our inner connection to the supreme and divine light, and then we’re wondering that the world comes into a bad shape.”

No one knows how to solve climate change, really. Sure, the obvious solution is to stop emitting all the greenhouse gases, but that’s besides the point. The point is how do you convince billions of stakeholders that this is a global issues that deserves their immediate attention and requires urgent action. In the past decade, we’ve seen great momentum building-up — a momentum that might one day transition society to 100% renewable energy and advert potentially catastrophic global warming — but today we’re not doing nearly enough. To build this giant snowball, we need engineers, scientists, lawyers, artists, journalists, parents and grandparents to each pitch in — and this requires great awareness because the task at hand is by no means trivial. And maybe looking inwards, not outwards, as Pilz suggests, might help us go a long way.

“We believe that this process [solving climate change] will happen automatically because light always will spread its way and will chase the darkness away,” Pilz said.

Will geoengineering save us from climate change? Not if we don’t care enough to research it, COP22 panel says

Every year, we’re generating around 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels. That’s an equivalent figure, because it also takes into account other greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour and so on. The bottom line is that we’re exceeding our allowed budgets at an alarming rate and the Paris Agreement stated goal of reducing global warming to no more of 2 degrees C past Industrial Age levels seems too hopefully optimistic. The world is already 1.2 degrees C locked-in according to the most recent reports. With this in mind, many scientists are looking to unconventional methods of offsetting the carbon we’ve spewed into the atmosphere, so-called geoengineering methods.

“We’re flat out on the business as usual trajectory and a two degrees warming is very optimistic,” said Dr. Hugh Hunt, a professor at the Department of Engineering, Trinity College, Cambridge University, during a Climate Matters panel at the COP22 event held in Marrakech, Morocco.

According to this high-resolution climate model, by the year 2090 the ice caps will warm by 20 degrees Kelvin, New York by 8 K, the Amazon, which is often called the lungs of the planet because of its ability to suck up carbon, also by 8 K. Credit: James Haywood, Met Office, 2014.

According to this high-resolution climate model, by the year 2090 the ice caps will warm by 20 degrees Kelvin, New York by 8 K, the Amazon, which is often called the lungs of the planet because of its ability to suck up carbon, also by 8 K. Credit: James Haywood, Met Office, 2014.

Joining Hunt were Stuart Scott from the Climate Matters show and Dr. Peter Wadhams, Emeritus Professor of Ocean Physics, also from Cambridge University, UK. The panel argued that giving our rising appetite for energy and the copious amount of greenhouse gases released in the atmosphere as a result of meeting this demand, the world urgently needs geoengineering solutions that might capture 10 billion tonnes of this carbon per year. That’s a quarter of what we’re currently burning and it’s perhaps not enough, but “that’s the very least we have to do,” said Hunt.

Geoengineering technology — will it save us?

Perhaps the most commonly available geoengineering method at our disposal is simply to plant more trees, preferably to replace those we’ve cut down but also planting new forests where none where to be found to begin with. After these trees die, however, it’s important we dispose of the carbon they sucked over their lifetimes. One solution is to transform the trees into biochar — turning trees into charcoal essentially — then burying it somewhere.

Looking upwards, scientists are also exploring ways to make the atmosphere more ‘milky white’, essentially increasing the amount of radiation that’s reflected back into space. This rather aggressive form of geoengineering involves literally whitening clouds to manage radiation forcing. With this in mind, fine particles would be scattered into the stratosphere, the second major layer of the Earth’s atmosphere. Some of these compounds can be aerosols like sulfur-based compounds, which the public often finds very undesirable. But, Prof. Wadhams says we can just as well help clouds become whiter by injecting benign water vapour particles right up the level of the stratocloud, the lowest level at which clouds form. As a result, the finely divided water particles form salt crystals that stay suspended and gray clouds become whiter.

ship-contrails

Satellite imagery of vapour trails from ships, not that different from those made from aircraft. But while aircraft vapour trails last for minutes, those coming out of the funnels of ships can last for days. (Bay of Biscay with Britain on the right).

To deliver the salty water vapour into the atmosphere, Wadhams proposes using computer-controlled unmanned ships that go around the ocean driven by the wind and inject water particles into the cloud. This already happens naturally as seen above.

“Rather than doing this accidentally, we want to do it intentionally and inject the right kind of particles into the clouds to make them whiter,” Wadhams said.

An alternative is the SPICE Project, which stands for stratospheric particle injection for climate engineering. This project aims to offset the effects of greenhouse gas increases by causing the Earth to absorb less radiation from the Sun. Inspired by the natural behaviour of volcanoes whose eruptions inject aerosols that can significantly cool the planet for years, like the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, SPICE aims to do much of the same by using the right, safe kind of particles. Hunt says one proposed delivery method for such aerosols involves lifting a helium balloon up 20 kilometers into the atmosphere. Tethered to the balloon is a 20 kilometers pipe, not a string, which is strong and able to carry fluid.

spice-model

Such engineering methods are non-trivial and could take 20 years to mature. During the same time, the Arctic might be completely out of ice, the scientists from the panel warn. The biggest concern is that methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 80 times more potent than CO2, might bubble out of the arctic. Perhaps 50 Gigatonnes of methane currently trapped under the continental shelf of the Arctic could be released into the atmosphere as a result of the melting of protective permafrost skin.

One solution is to bring back Artic sea because permafrost melting is a result of warm water on the shelves during the summer. If you could bring back sea ice you could avert a potential catastrophe but this involves first and foremost cooling the atmosphere, so we’re back to where we started.

It’s worth noting at this point that while scientists use CO2 as a yardstick to equate all forms of greenhouse gases, the gas only makes 1/3 of all global warming chemicals. Methane, nitrous oxide and CFCs make up the rest.

This brings us to carbon sequestration and storage from the atmosphere, but also the SPRING project — a solar catalytic method for removing greenhouse gases which uses  “solar updraft towers“. This is a novel type of renewable energy power plant (with no-CO2 emissions) that involves massive air flows through a concentrated tower to generate power. Because such a large quantity of air passes through each tower, it is possible to contact and remove the GHGs in this air stream with a much greater efficiency.

Extracting 10 billion tonnes of carbon each year, or one cubic kilometer every second, from the atmosphere is a mammoth task in itself, but that’s only half the picture. Where do you put it afterwards? One good place you can use to bury all that carbon is the coal mines where the carbon was extracted from in the first place. However, the CO2 and methane needs to be liquified beforehand, compressing their volumes thousands of times, otherwise you’ll never have enough room. Other places scientists are exploring sequestration is sedimentary rock underneath the ocean or continental crust.

If all of this sounds overly ambitious, you’re not wrong — but scientists need to start from somewhere. For this to happen, researchers have to be allowed to do their jobs.

“Geoengineering is a dirty word in many environmental circles. We have to get out of this contrail conspiracy circle and let researchers do their work,” Hunt said.

“We must not be sidetracked in thinking we have to get approval because we don’t have the time.”

“Back in WWII, the urgency of winning the war against Hitler was such that things were done, like the Normandy landing, without thinking too much whether people agreed.  Sometimes the urgency is such that we need to do the research, and fast,” Hunt added.

To say geoengineering — from dumping iron filings in the ocean to spraying artificial clouds — is controversial can only be described as an understatement. It doesn’t help that the technology is in its infancy and the long-term effects of geoengineering are poorly understood, simply because we’ve never undertaken something of this scale. Hunt and Wadhams, however, stress that this is the reason why we have to get heavily involved with geoengineering. Twenty, thirty years from now the world might desperately need such measures and it would be very wise of us to have the necessary mechanisms and technology in place.

We could start geoengineering the planet tomorrow if we wanted to. One obvious solution would involve spraying aerosols from aircraft. That’s very easy. What we lack, however, is a complete picture of the consequences of such actions.

“It took us centuries to make the coal and steel industries to where they are today. We don’t have that much time,” Wadhams said.

“Generally the technology was well received by the public,” Hunt said speaking of public engagement programs run by his lab. “But the media didn’t see it that way. As a result of fairly adverse coverage, we were not allowed to do our experiments. Now, if we’re not allowed to do experiments then how will we ever going to develop technology, which if one day turns out to be necessary, works as intended?”

“I’m not pro-geoengineering at all — I’m pro-research. I am hoping geoengineering may never be needed, but I’m worried by the melting of the arctic. If the arctic does disappear I think we’re in deep trouble,” Hunt added.

Former French president Sarkozy says Europe should impose carbon tax on US if Trump pulls out of Paris Pact

More than 100 countries in the world have already ratified the Paris Pact, pledging to reduce emissions and keep climate change to less than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. But president-elect Trump has been very vocal about how he doesn’t believe in climate change and he is now reportedly trying to back away from the pact.

“Donald Trump has said – we’ll see if he keeps this promise – that he won’t respect the conclusions of the Paris climate agreement,” Sarkozy, who is a French presidential candidate told the TF1 television channel on Sunday.

Current US president Barack Obama has been a great supporter of the Paris agreement, constantly pushing for sustainable measures. But Donald Trump has called global warming a hoax and has promised to quit the Paris Agreement. Under these circumstances, Sarkozy believes we should impose a carbon tax on the United States. Kind of like how Trump wants to build a wall, but instead of a physical wall stopping Mexicans, this would be an economic wall fighting climate change.

“Well, I will demand that Europe put in place a carbon tax at its border, a tax of 1-3 per cent, for all products coming from the United States, if the United States doesn’t apply environmental rules that we are imposing on our companies,” he added.

Sarkozy was president in France and he is running again. Image credits: Guillaume Paumier.

Trump’s election has caused uproar in the scientific world and he has repeatedly taken anti-science positions, causing extreme worry at the UN summit in Marrakech, Morocco, where world leaders are discussing ways through which emissions could be kept to a minimum.

“Trump will be the first anti-science president we have ever had,” says Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society in Washington DC. “The consequences are going to be very, very severe.”

As a global leader in innovation and one of the planet’s biggest carbon emitters and polluters, the US has a responsibility to clean up its act and ensure that at the very least, it is taking concrete steps to reduce its negative impact. But as Sarkozy points out, pretty much the only way to make sure that a country is holding up its end of the deal is a carbon tax.

It’s also interesting that he proposed this, considering Sarkozy himself is often labeled as a climate skeptic.

“Climate has been changing for four billion years,” the former president told a panel of business leaders in September, the weekly Marianne reported. “Sahara has become a desert, it isn’t because of industry. You need to be as arrogant as men are to believe we changed the climate.”

But beyond the potential hypocrisy in his statement, he does have a valid point, echoing reasoning that’s popular in many parts of the developed world. We need leaders that address global concerns and have the ability to grasp the greater picture on vital issues such as climate change. The science is in, it’s time for politics to act.

The ZME Diaries: #COP22 — The heart of COP

The bread and butter of COP, the political talks, always take time to reach a conclusion. So in the meantime, we went exploring through the conference’s Innovation and Civil Society area – known as the Green Zone – a colorful melting pot of ideas, peoples, cultures, and science. Made up of three pavilions, or “tents”, the area is smaller than its more political, big-player counterpart, the Blue Zone.

The first tent, however, makes up for it in sheer passion, diversity, and vision. If the national and university pavilions are the brain, with hard facts, policy building, and flashy gadgets, this pavilion is the heart — it has the gusto, the feeling, the optimism of youth. And flashy gadgets.

All image credits ZME Science. Usage permission granted with attribution.

To me, this picture encapsulates what the area is all about: pooling our differences, our uniqueness together for a cleaner future.

To me, this picture encapsulates what the “first tent” is all about: pooling our differences, our uniqueness together for a cleaner future.

The first pavilion is an exercise in diversity. Everything here demands attention — hand-woven Moroccan bags splash with color next to bubbling algal cultures dedicated to making biofuel. Tiny electric cars weave their way through crowds packed for talks in the Agora, as engineers showcase smart solar panels and artists paint the walls to protest, make you think, or just create something beautiful.

Traditional saffron growing promoted in the Eco Village pavilion.

Traditional saffron growing promoted in the Eco Village pavilion.

Part of the Green Zone is dedicated to promoting the role local crafts and traditions have in sustainable lifestyles. In the rural community / Eco Village area, one stand showcases recycling plastic, metal, and electronics. Another, the traditional agriculture practices for date fruits, saffron, argan oil. Next to them, smart hydroponic agriculture offers rural communities a more water and energy efficient way to grow greens throughout the year – for communities where both resources fuel can be hard to come by, such practices make all the difference.

Other traditional crafts, such as leatherworking, weaving, oil pressing, or dyeing were also showcased here. The exhibitions promoted traditional processes and values supported by modern technology and know-how to increase sustainability and reduce their environmental footprint.

Other traditional crafts, such as leatherworking, weaving, oil pressing, or dying were also showcased here. The exhibitions promoted traditional processes and values supported by modern technology and know-how to increase sustainability and reduce their environmental footprint.

The Eco Village was tailored on Morrocan needs, conditions, and traditions. But they’re not the only country bringing ideas and solutions to the COP.

Cultures from all over the world are showcased.

Cultures from all over the world are showcased.

And those often overlooked are given a voice.

And those often overlooked are given a voice.

Or an instrument.

An instrument.

Or a simple chair.

Or just a chair.

Art, technology, and imagination are side by side here.

Art, technology, and imagination are side by side here.

The pavilion also promotes recycling for a more sustainable lifestyle.

The pavilion also promotes recycling for a more sustainable lifestyle.

More creative ways of recycling are also showcased.

Re-use, re-imagine, re-purpose.

Overall, this area reminded me of something very important: behind the politics, the universities, the science talks, COP is about people. It’s about each and every one of us working together for each and every one of us. That we can all to contribute to the cause — from signing international treaties to making flower pots out of painted, cut-out water bottles.

But at the same time, amid all the color, and music, and passionate talks, I’ve felt a pang of melancholy. It’s an echo from last year’s Paris conference, of a “let’s agree to agree in the future” syndrome — a feeling that in the end, we’re not acting fast enough, or decisive enough, to keep climate from spiraling out of control.

I just pray that I’m wrong. That the larger-than-life enthusiasm I’ve seen in this larger-than-life tent will make the difference — the heart, after all, deals with hope.

Here’s how Donald Trump might bring the U.S. back to the climate ‘dark ages’

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Seemingly against all odds, Republican Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States on Tuesday. This was the culmination of perhaps the most polarizing, populist, and downright nasty campaign in the history of the nation. Now that he’s been elected, Trump has a pretty long list of campaign promises that he needs to address once he takes the seat of the Oval Office. Some of these are pretty worrisome like enforcing strict immigration and deportation policies for Muslims and Mexicans, repealing Obama Care or — his most famous campaign promise — build a ‘big, beautiful’ wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But right now, here in Marrakech, Morroco, where the 22nd Conference of the Parties on climate change is held, there are other reasons to be concerned.

Trump has made it very clear that he is no friend of the fight against climate change. Actually, he has gone as far as calling climate change ‘a hoax’ and ‘a Chinese invention.’ That’s in stark contrast to the eight years of Obama’s presidency, characterized by initiative, diplomacy and energetic efforts to unite the world under the common good of reducing greenhouse emissions, smarter energy use, and a push for renewable energy. But Trump simply called Obama’s remarks that climate change is a pressing issue “one of the dumbest statements I’ve ever heard in politics”.

That being said, Trump and his cabinet risk pulling America back into the ‘dark ages of climate awareness’, reverting to a situation similar to the pre-Obama days, which is making everyone in Marrakech rightfully depressed. Here are just a couple of ways this could happen.

Canceling America’s involvement in the landmark Paris Agreement

Last year in Paris for COP21, the United States was one of the leaders of the talks pushing for ambitious targets. At the end of the event, more than 190 countries signed climate pledges that will see them reduce or cap their emissions on a case by case basis to limit global warming to around 1.5 degrees Celsius and no more than 2 degrees Celsius. As part of the pact, the United States vowed to reduce emissions by 26–28% of 2005 levels by 2025.

The Paris Agreement is not legally binding, however, which means there is no ‘climate police’ to enforce these targets. Instead, there’s a sort of diplomatic agreement that pressures each country to carry its own weight. So, it’s critical to have a couple of leaders, like the United States, China or the European Union, to inspire everyone else.

For COP22, held during the third consecutive year of record-breaking heat, the aim of the conference is to prepare for action by drawing the necessary measurable frameworks. Ironically, one of the most important players of Paris, the United States, might actually retire from this action plan after the event is over.

Congress, which is mostly made of Republicans who have committed to blocking any climate legislation, was never asked for permission for the U.S. to join the Paris pact. Instead, the Obama Administration used executive orders. These same executive orders could be canceled by the next President, Donald Trump, who publically said he would do so. He also said he would cut payments to the United Nations intended for climate change mitigation efforts.

Before Tuesday’s elections, leaders from China, Brazil, and France all publically urged Donald Trump to support the Paris agreement. There’s still no word out about Trump’s cabinet will do on the matter once they come to power, but many fear for the worse. Nevertheless, countries like China or the European Union block have reiterated that despite an eventual lack of U.S. support, they will continue their march towards carbon neutrality.

Killing the Clear Power Plan

The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan is at the heart of the country’s commitment to the Paris agreement. It involves mandating power plants to reduce their carbon emissions and fosters renewable energy development. Trump, however, vowed to ‘kill’ the Clean Power Plan.

Following Trump’s win, the market took a plunge, among those hurt the most being solar companies like First Solar, Sun Power, and SunEdison.

We continue to highlight the negative industry background on solar, and the election results should weigh even more on solar stocks. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) would have been a strong growth driver for the industry, but we believe it is unlikely to be implemented under a Republican White House. Importantly, we do not expect the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) to be rolled back, as the tax credit is unlikely to be changed retroactively. We expect a significant overhang on solar stocks due to negative sentiment trades and the oversupply in the industry. SPWR reports today after the close and we are cautious heading into quarter,” said  R. W. Baird’s Ben Kallo. 

It seems likely that Myron Ebell, who is the director of the Centre for Energy and Environment at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute and a critic of CPP calling it ‘illegal’, will likely lead the EPA transition team. As one of his first duties, Ebell is expected to scrape the CPP. Ebell is also an avowed climate change denier. 

The investment tax credit (ITC) extension that is set to last until 2020 but may not fare much better, PV Tech reports.

“The Trump Presidency and GOP-controlled Senate & House are meaningful negatives for US solar. Although the Trump team has indicated to our sources that it has no plans to roll back the ITC extension, our checks suggest the ITC could very well be on the chopping block at some point. The CPP is effectively dead. All in, tens of gigawatts of solar demand are at risk. We see another leg down for all solar stocks in our coverage universe,” according to fellow equity research firm Roth Capital Partners.

“One of Trump’s goals is to pursue tax reform and reduce the corporate tax rate to 15%. With the GOP controlling the executive and legislative branches, there is a meaningful probability that this develops momentum. One of our DC contacts suggested that when the Bush administration estimated the impact of eliminating all incentives and accelerated depreciation from the tax code, it could only get to a corporate tax rate of 29%. As a result, the Trump team will likely have to dig even deeper to get to 15%. We estimate that the value of the ITC is US$40-50bn, which is a large number that could pay for a corporate tax cut.”

Stopping the ‘war on coal’

The coal industry all over the world is tanking, but nowhere else as bad as in the United States. Coal companies, which spent $114m obstructing climate news in 2015 alone, are in a very, very bad shape. Thousands have been laid off, losses have amounted to billions and stocks have plummeted. For instance, Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest coal company, traded stocks below $1 when it used to be $72 in 2011.

One of Trump’s campaign promises is to unleash an energy revolution. He never mentioned renewable energy will be part of this strategy. Instead, coal seems to be on the menu.

Some bullet points from Trump’s energy campaign include.

  • Unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.
  • Open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands, eliminate moratorium on coal leasing, and open shale energy deposits.
  • Rescind all job-destroying Obama executive actions. Mr. Trump will reduce and eliminate all barriers to responsible energy production, creating at least a half million jobs a year, $30 billion in higher wages, and cheaper energy.

Repealing federal spending on clean energy

It’s not clear year who will lead the Department of Energy under Trump’s leadership, but experts believe finding fresh talent to work with the agency will become difficult simply because no serious scientist wants to work in an Administration that doesn’t believe climate change is real. R&D for wind, solar, nuclear power, and electric vehicles  are all now under question since Trump vowed to “cancel all wasteful climate change spending.” His staff claims these amount to $100 billion over eight years.

“The figure combined an estimate of what the Obama administration had spent on climate-related programs, the amount of U.S. contributions to an international climate fund that Trump would cancel, and a calculation of what Trump believes would be savings to the economy if Obama’s and Clinton’s climate policies were reversed,” according to Bloomber BNA. 

And all of this adds up to a lot of additional greenhouse emissions — not less as was ‘the plan’

Trump’s energy plan will emit 3.4 billion more tons of carbon than Clinton’s proposals, according to energy analytics firm, Lux Research.

“It is quite possible that a Trump administration will spell devastation for environmental and climate regulation in the U.S., and to the public health and well-being of people, ecosystems and biodiversity around the world,” said Michael Burger, the executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “It is also possible that it won’t. Let’s hope that the responsibility of the office takes hold, and his obligations to current and future generations register once he has power.”

All in all, the election of Donal Trump, now a harsh reality for all of us who think climate change is an urgent priority for any leader, could be devastating for the planet’s future. But even if Trump is genuinely intended on setting ablaze everything good that came out of the Obama Administration in terms of climate, all is not lost. It is our duty, now more than ever, to be vigilant.

WMO’s “Global Climate in 2011-2015” report published, proves we need to act now

The World Meteorological Organization has just submitted a detailed climate analysis for the last 5 years (2011-2015) — the hottest years on record — and it doesn’t look very good. The WMO report “The Global Climate in 2011-2015” shows that humanity’s footprint on extreme weather and climate events is becoming more pronounced, dangerous, and costly to deal with.

Artist credits Azmaa Omassou / ZME Science / COP22.

Artist credits Asmaâ Ouassou. Photo by ZME Science / COP22.

A simple Google search and you can see a pattern emerging: we’ve consistently been reporting that this “is the warmest year” or “the warmest month on record” for quite some time now. I’d like to be able to say we were wrong at least once but, according to the WMO’s climate analysis of 2011-2015, we weren’t. It’s what we do.

The paper also shows that rising sea levels, a reduction in Arctic sea ice, continental glaciers, and snow cover in the northern hemisphere have accompanied these record-breaking temperatures.

“The effects of climate change have been consistently visible on the global scale since the 1980s: rising global temperature, both over land and in the ocean; sea-level rise; and the widespread melting of ice. It has increased the risks of extreme events such as heatwaves, drought, record rainfall and damaging floods,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

The hot and unnerving

These past five years have been the warmest ever globally recorded for all continents apart from Africa — here, it was the second warmest, the paper reports. Mean temperatures over these five years were 0.57 °C (1.03 °F) above the 1961-1990 figure. For 2015, the warmest year yet, mean temperatures were 0.76 °C (1.37 °F) above the 1961–1990 average. It was also the first year when temperatures have passed the 1 °C above pre-industrial era levels mark. And it wasn’t a fluke occurrence, either — the second warmest year after 2015 was, you guessed it, 2014.

The oceans have also been feeling the heat, with mean temperatures rising to unprecedented levels. The global-average surface temperatures for 2015 were, again, the highest ever on record, followed by those in 2014. While most areas of the world recorded higher-than-average water surface temperatures, parts of the Southern Ocean and eastern South Pacific saw below-average temperatures.

Ice and snow

Arctic sea coverage also continued to decline. The mean Arctic sea-ice extent in September, averaged for 2011-2015, was 4,70 million sq km (1,82 million sq miles), 28% lower than the 1981-2010 average. For summer months, the 3,39 million sq km ice recorded in 2012 is the lowest we’ve ever seen. On the other end (pun intended) Antarctic ice extent was above the 1981-2010 average values during the timeframe, particularly during the winter maximum.

On land, things aren’t looking very well. The Greenland ice sheet experienced above-average levels of melt, with the summer months throughout the study period exceeding the melt seen in the reference years of 1981-2010. Mountain glaciers have also experienced a continued decline in volume. Snow cover extent in the northern hemisphere was “well below average” in all five years from May to August, continuing a powerful downward trend.

Sea Level Rise

Image credits Sebastian Voortman / Pexels.

Increased ocean heat accounted for roughly 40% of the observed sea-level rise in the past 60 years, the report says (as seawater heats up, it expands). The contribution of continental ice sheets to sea-level rise (through melt) is also accelerating, particularly fed by the Greenland and west Antarctica sheets.

Sattelite records from 1993 to the present show that sea levels have risen approximately 3 mm per year. In 1900-2010, this trend (measured based on tide gauges) was 1,7 mm per year — an almost 100% increase.

Freak weather

Warming climate means there’s more energy available to fuel freak weather patterns. Several individual weather and climate events were identified during 2011-2015 that were likely made more severe as a result of human-induced climate change. In the case of some extreme high-temperature events, the probability factor was increased by ten or more, the paper notes. Examples of this include the record high seasonal and annual temperatures seen in the US in 2012, or Australia and western Europe in 2013 and 2014.

In many cases, there wasn’t as much evidence to tie freak precipitation patterns to climate as for the other elements, for example, the 2011 floods in South-East Asia. But the extreme rainfalls in the UK during December 2015 were found to have been increased by as much as 40% due to climate change.

In other cases, the effect is more indirect. The 2014 drought in south-east Brazil was linked to three similar rainfall deficits on since 1940, but climate change amplified its effects by creating a substantially larger demand for water (also tied to population growth). There have also been events, such as the unusually prolonged, intense and hot dry seasons in the Amazon basin of Brazil in both 2014 and 2015, which are of concern as potential “tipping points” in the climate system.

Where does this leave us?

The report confirms (again) that what we’re seeing isn’t natural — greenhouse gas emissions power a long-term warming trend. CO2, one of the prime drivers of warming, passed the 400 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere mark in 2015, according to the report. The paper also examined 79 studies published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society between 2011 and 2014 and found that more than half found evidence that human-caused climate change “contributed to the extreme event in question.” Some of them considered the probability of extreme heat increased by 10 times or more.

The paper also estimates, based on statistics of losses and damage provided by the UN, the cost of climate change. The East African drought in 2010-2012 led to an estimated 258,000 excess deaths, and the 2013-2015 southern African drought. Approximately 800 deaths and more than US$40 billion in economic losses were tied to flooding in South-East Asia in 2011. Heatwaves in India and Pakistan in 2015 claimed more than 4,100 lives. Hurricane Sandy, in 2012, caused economic losses totaling US$67 billion in the United States of America. The deaths of 7,800 people were associated with Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013.

So, in a pretty precarious position. Organizations like the UN are trying to get world leaders to act on the issue — this is why we have COP’s. The agreement in Paris last year has been criticized as being too limited but, for better or worse, it has been reached and then entered into force.

But a lot of damage has already been done. Decisive action is needed, and it’s needed fast.

“The Paris Agreement aims at limiting the global temperature increase to well below 2° Celsius and pursuing efforts towards 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This report confirms that the average temperature in 2015 had already reached the 1°C mark. We just had the hottest five-year period on record, with 2015 claiming the title of hottest individual year. Even that record is likely to be beaten in 2016,” Taalas added.

There are a lot of economic interests in play against the things being discussed and decided here, just as it happened with COP21. But as the WMO report shows, it’s time to take things seriously. This conference has been touted as “the COP of action” and hopefully, that will be the case.

The report was submitted to COP22 in a five-year timescale to allow a better understanding of climate trends and extreme events (such as prolonged droughts and recurrent heatwaves) compared to an annual report. WMO will release its provisional assessment of the state of the climate in 2016 on 14 November. The two papers will serve to inform and steer the negotiations in Marrakech.

The ZME Diaries: #COP22, Day 1 – Our Thoughts and Impressions

World leaders and global stakeholders are gathering in Marrakech, Morocco, in a UN summit focused on deciding how to best implement the policies in the Paris Climate Agreement. The ZME team is there, gathering information and reporting it back, using our #COP22 tag. You can check our articles discussing the environmental, economic, and social aspects of the summit there. Now, here’s our own opinions and impressions about how this crucial summit is going, somewhat like a travel diary.

The Kingdom of Morocco has prepared in great detail for this event. The red and green flags can be seen everywhere, there's millions of policemen around and COP22 ads are ubiquitous. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

The Kingdom of Morocco has prepared in great detail for this event. The red and green flags can be seen everywhere, there’s millions of policemen around and COP22 ads are ubiquitous. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

Tens of countries have stands promoting their own ideas and progress in fighting climate change. The Paris Agreement set national contributions for every country. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

Tens of countries have stands promoting their own ideas and progress in fighting climate change. The Paris Agreement set national contributions for every country. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

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This is the main pathway, with the pavilions being placed in huge tents to the left and to the right. It’s a beautiful setup and quite easy to navigate around. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

People hope to continue the momentum of the movement started last year in Paris. I'm not so convinced, even though I wish I could be more optimistic. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

People hope to continue the momentum of the movement started last year in Paris. I’m not so convinced, even though I wish I could be more optimistic. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

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Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

This is often being called 'The African COP' -- the African countries desperately need their voices to be heard, and it seems that they're finally starting to step in the highlights. But Africa still struggles to find its path. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

This is often being called ‘The African COP’ — the African countries desperately need their voices to be heard, and it seems that they’re finally starting to step in the highlights. But Africa still struggles to find its path. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

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It’s probably not intentional, but I find that there’s some symbolism to this setup: the main path is dry and barren soil, surrounded by green, lush plants to the left and to the right. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

Scientific models (like this one presented by the US delegation) are crucial for predicting, forecasting, and mitigating the effects of climate change -- and models have gotten better and better in recent years. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

Scientific models (like this one presented by the US delegation) are crucial for predicting, forecasting, and mitigating the effects of climate change — and models have gotten better and better in recent years. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

The Japan delegation presented scale models of their highly advanced and efficient railway systems. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

Among others, the Japan delegation presented scale models of their highly advanced and efficient railway systems. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

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The restaurant area attempted to be (or appear) eco-friendly, with plywood chairs and tables, but I found the plastic waste to be appaling. Still, there was a veggie and “green” menu option. This was taken late in the afternoon, when the long lines of the day had passed. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

It was a hectic and chaotic day, and I'm not sure what to expect of this COP. Everyone talks about action, but is the world also walking the walk? I guess we'll see in the future. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

It was a hectic and chaotic day, and I’m not sure what to expect of this COP. Everyone talks about action, but is the world also walking the walk? I guess we’ll see in the future. Image credits: ZME Science. Permission granted to share with attribution.

 

 

 

Oil & gas lobby shouldn’t have a full seat at the climate table

The world’s leaders are deciding the future of our planet’s climate, but should oil companies be given a full seat at the decision table?

The wolves, dining with the sheep

Credit: Pixabay

As humanity is struggling to build a sustainable future for our planet, reducing our emissions is absolutely crucial — and when it comes to reducing emissions, the elephant in the room is fossil fuels. In 2013, a study reported that just 60 companies are responsible for 60% of all man-made global warming emissions, with big names like Exxon, Chevron, and BP leading the way. Today, the situation is similar, with a few big companies being responsible for a disproportionately large percentage of global emissions — but wait, there’s more. The world’s big oil is also investing heavily into blocking climate laws. In 2016, Exxon, Shell, and three trade associations spent US$114 million in 2015 alone to manipulate lawmakers and public discourse on climate change, according to a report by British NGO Influence Map. At least a few companies knew that global warming was incoming decades ago, and not only did they not do anything, but they invested into denying climate change. The coal industry, which is currently in much more distress than oil&gas, is also investing heavily towards the same goal. So why then are oil companies key players at the UN climate summit in Marrakech?

According to The Guardian, representatives of companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell will not only have unquestioned access to most high-level discussions in Marrakech, but they will also be called upon to give advice and hold council with country representatives. The same goes for coal giants like Peabody Energy, BHP Billiton, and Rio Tinto. A new infographic by Corporate Accountability International reveals the true extent of the fossil fuel industry’s access to, and influence over, the talks. So what exactly is the sense of having private discussions between country leaders and the companies whose products they are trying to move away from?

“What interests—beyond slowing progress—does a corporation like Exxon Mobil or Shell have in these talks?” said Tamar Lawrence-Samuel of Corporate Accountability International. “The answer is ‘none.’ Before we can ensure the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement, we must first make sure that Big Oil and those representing its interests are not at the table.”

Image credits: Alternat

Image credits: Alternet

This is the first major summit after the Paris agreement was reached. Last year in Paris, world leaders agreed to reduce emissions, though the targets themselves are often brought into question. The Paris pact calls for an unprecedented support from the private sector, and yet it provides no protections against corporations or trade groups that might seek to steer negotiations toward their (or their members’) commercial interests. So how can this be reasonable, and how can we expect fossil fuel companies to not try to steer discussions in their favor? How could we expect any company to not follow its own interest?

A conflict of interest?

Among others, the Venezuelan delegation has spoken very strongly about this, arguing that this is a big conflict of interests which shouldn’t be allowed.

“The convention and the Paris agreement is an instrument between states. And the inclusion of non-state actors must go through a revision of conflict of interest. This is a standard request, a legal request and a moral request. It is unacceptable for our delegation that the concept of conflict of interest was not even considered as the fundamental basis for the ethical integrity and the effective implementation of the Paris agreement … It is a concern for the majority of the world represented here at this conference and the discussions in the contact room. We are astonished that this issue was completely overturned in the conclusions.”

It’s a strong point to be made — and yet, the US, the EU, and Australia have all been very vocal against limiting the access of oil companies to discussions. Australia especially framed the discussion as developing countries trying to make the process “less open”. They also argued that the concept of “conflict of interest” is too hard to define.

“There is no clear understanding of what a conflict of interest is and it means different things to different people.”

So where does that leave us? Not anywhere clear, really. The Paris Agreement was signed, it was ratified, and it has entered into force. But without an enforcing mechanism, it’s really hard to say whether participating parties, be they countries or companies, will hold up to their part of the deal. Even if they do, the math doesn’t really add up and we’re likely on course for a bigger-than-2C increase in global temperatures — and that’s a big ‘if’. The enthusiasm from Paris has waned, and the movement’s inertia seems to be bogging down.

In Marrakech, there is a lot of talk about action — but that’s still just a lot of talk. The world is racing to stop climate change caused in great part by oil and gas emissions, while still listening to the lobby of companies responsible for said emissions. Exxon’s profits, like those of most oil companies, are plummeting, but they still have a strong word to say and the lobby is as strong as ever.

Countries representing some 70% of the world’s population are asking for a special legal framework for the Paris agreement to make it less vulnerable in the face of vested interests. But that seems like an off chance right now. So ironically, even though this ‘business as usual’ is what we’re trying to change, things are as they’ve been before and they show little signs of change. Unfortunately, we can’t know just how much of an impact this lobby really has.

 

COP22 President Salaheddine Mezouar opened the conference with a message calling for more action and ambitious goals. Credit: COP22 Presidency

World leaders convene for COP22 in Marrakech to turn promises into action

It’s been a busy day throughout the bustling corridors of the Bab Ighli conference center here in Marrakech, Morocco, where COP22 just kicked off. Delegates from more than 190 countries will meet over the next weeks to granularly discuss and apply the Paris Agreement which was hammered out last year.

Walk the talk

COP22 President Salaheddine Mezouar opened the conference with a message calling for more action and ambitious goals. Credit: COP22 Presidency

COP22 President Salaheddine Mezouar opened the conference with a message calling for more action and ambitious goals. Credit: COP22 Presidency

The fact that we’re gathered in Marrakech is no coincidence. For starters, Morocco is one of the most forward-thinking African countries in terms of climate policy and action. In 2011, the kingdom revised its constitution to add the right to a healthy environment and sustainable development. Earlier this year, Morocco opened the first phase of Noor I — a massive concentrated solar array which is already serving 160-megawatts of solar capacity and, eventually, will be scaled to 580-megawatts capacity. The $9 billion solar power plant should be completely ready in 2018, serving one million Moroccans with clean, sustainable electricity. By 2030, 52% of the country’s energy ought to come from renewable energy sources, as outlined in the kingdom’s current energy strategy.

Morocco’s renewable energy initiatives are being propelled, partly, by wise governance phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels in favor solar and other renewables instead. This is of vital importance for a country which is dependent on imports for 90% of its energy needs.

Secondly, Morocco is one of the countries hardest hit by climate change in the region. Its 2,175 miles of coastline, where most of Morocco’s economic activity takes place, makes it particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. Some 40 percent of the 33 million Moroccans living in the kingdom are currently engaged in agriculture, most of it small scale. Though they probably can’t explain it in terms of “man-made climate change” and “carbon pollution”, they certainly feel its effects.

“Starting from the early 1990s, we’ve seen on average 15% to 20% less rain annually than previously,” Mohamed Ait Kadi, president of Morocco’s General Council of Agricultural Development, recently told the Guardian.

“The rain now comes in showers instead of sustained downpours, and we see arid areas spreading.”

Morocco isn’t alone. According to a 2014 report from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), countries like Sudan, Ethiopia, those surrounding Lake Victoria in central Africa, and the continent’s south-eastern corner — especially parts of South Africa — will be most vulnerable to climate change effects like severe droughts, reduced plant growth or floods near Lake Victoria. This is why this year’s United Nations conference on climate change has been unofficially called the “African COP” — the voices of the African people desperately need to be heard.

Salaheddine Mezouar, the COP22 President, opened the conference this morning with a message to world leaders calling for more ambition. Mezouar reiterated the remarks made by HM King Mohammed VI on the anniversary of Morocco’s Green March (November 6) in which he called for Marrakech to be the COP of action. Mezouar said Morocco’s southern neighbors see the event as critical and have high expectations in terms of climate finance, capacity-building, and technology transfer.

In December 2015, the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) was announced — a bold action plan that will see 10 GW of renewable energy capacity added across the continent and $100 billion in foreign investment by 2020. At a side event here at Bab Ighli, we learned that the aim is to install 300 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030 in Africa — an extremely challenging goal.

This massive initiative was on everyone’s lips but while the COP22 President praised AREI, he told those gathered at the press conference that more needs to be done. Mezouar mentioned the emergence of green finance (like the Green Fund) which also concentrates on finding ways to deliver climate friendly financing. He added that one of the major initiatives which will be the focus of COP22 is Morocco’s Adaptation of African Agriculture “AAA”.  This initiative is designed to drive climate finance and technology solutions to smallholder farmers across Africa in order to boost sustainable agriculture on the continent.

The COP of solutions

At Paris, 196 nations signed pledges called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that, on a case by case basis, reduce or cap greenhouse emissions in order to limit global warming. Now, these need to be tidied so that their impact is measurable. Schedules and baselines need to be implemented in a clear and transparent manner.

These NDCs are supposed to get more ambitious over time under a ratchet mechanism since current pledges only limit global warming to 3 degrees Celsius while the goal is to keep it ‘well below 2 degrees.’ The first stockstake, which will evaluate how each country performed to meet its goals, will take place in 2023 with a practice run scheduled for 2018. Now, at COP22, countries will discuss the form and content of these stockstakes, like the input sources and provisions of support.

As outlined earlier, a major focus will be on building climate change resilience for poor and vulnerable countries. To this end, the Paris Committee on Capacity Building was established during the previous COP. At a meeting earlier this year, a draft document outlining rules for the functioning of the committee was presented and at COP22 countries will have the chance to sign it. The signatory nations will also be expected to recommend what the main focus of the committee will be for the year 2017.

The Paris agreement has already entered into force, and while direct action isn’t scheduled for two more years, there is still a lot to do before then. Climate change has gathered a massive inertia and international efforts tend to be slow, bureaucratic and inefficient — so any plans drawn in Paris need to be addressed as soon as possible. Hopefully, this is what we’ll see in Marrakech: concrete plans, concrete actions, concrete solutions. A lot of ink has flown and much more will certainly flow in the future but for now, we’re done talking. Let’s start working, shall we?