Tag Archives: Paris

Paris seeks to revamp Champs Élysées by turning it into an urban garden

The Champs-Élysées, one of the most famous avenues in Paris, is set to be given a full makeover to transform it into what Mayor Anne Hidalgo says will be an extraordinary garden. The project will cost over €250 million (USD300 million) and comes after years of complaints by Parisians over the growing crowds and noise pollution in the area.

Image credit: Flickr / Eerko Vissering

One of the world’s most famous shopping streets, the Champs-Élysées has eight lanes of traffic running between the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde. Its name is French for the mythical Greek paradise, the Elysian Fields. It was originally a mixture of swamp and kitchen gardens but it has been gradually transforming.

It is on Champs-Élysées that Parisians celebrated the 1944 liberation from Nazi occupation and World Cup victories, but the charm of the avenue has slowly faded away. Nowadays the avenue is packed with expensive cafes, luxury shops, and high-end car salesrooms. Except for tourists, most locals avoid it and have long been asking for a transformation.

“The mythical avenue has lost its splendor over the last 30 years. It has been progressively abandoned by Parisians and has suffered a number of crises: the gilets jaunes, strikes, the health and economic crisis,” the Champs-Élysées Committee, which has been working on ideas to change the avenue for the past three years, said in a statement.

Last year, the gilets jaunes or yellow-vest protesters broke the windows of several luxury stores on the boulevard. They also set fire to Le Fouquet’s restaurant, a spot seen as a symbol of political elitism. The avenue has also suffered from a lack of maintenance over the years and has been a usual spot for strikes.

Hidalgo just announced the approval of the renovation project, which will include reducing space for vehicles by half, turning roads into pedestrian and green areas, and creating tunnels of trees to improve air quality. While It won’t be fully done until after the Olympic Games in 2024, the first stage, revamping of the Place de la Concorde at the avenue’s west end, will take place in time for the event.

Architect Philippe Chiambaretta and his agency, PCA-STREAM, created the plans. In an interview with The Guardian, Chiambaretta said an average of 3,000 vehicles drives on the street each hour, mostly just passing through on their way somewhere else. He told The Guardian that the avenue faces problems due to “pollution, the place of the car, tourism, and consumerism.”

The plan for the famous avenue is actually part of a wide array of initiatives by Hidalgo to revamp the densely populated French capital, where elegant squares and tree-lined boulevards are often overwhelmed by vehicles. She has already closed two main roads that ran along the river Seine and built a lot of infrastructure for bikes and scooters.

Hidalgo, who was re-elected last year, said Paris needs to become a “15-minute city” so that residents can have all their needs met —be they for work, shopping, health, or culture— within 15 minutes of their own doorstep. This, she said, would reduce pollution and stress and create socially and economically mixed districts.

Mayors want “15-minute” cities for a sustainable recovery of the pandemic

An international coalition of mayors focused on sustainable development want the world to re-think the way cities function once the coronavirus pandemic is over.

We should be able to meet all our recreational and work needs within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from home, they say.

Paris has been mentioned as a model for the 15-minute cities. Credit Flickr

The C40 Cities is an international group of mayors and municipality leaders focused on fighting climate change and promoting sustainable development The group recently published a plan for a green and just recovery after the pandemic and recommended.

They call it “15-minute cities.”

The term was coined by Professor Carlos Moreno, who studies innovation and sustainability in urban areas. Moreno’s recent research focuses on how city dwellers’ use of time could be reorganized to improve both living conditions and the environment. Moreno argued that the daily urban necessities should be a 15-minute reach on foot or bike, including work, hope, shops, education and healthcare.

The first mayor to actually apply it has been Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, who has worked on pedestrian infrastructure and car-free transit. Hidalgo even made the concept of a 15-minute city in the center of her recent reelection campaign. Following such a model would help cities rebuild areas hard-hit by the pandemic and guarantee jobs and city services for all, the C40 argued in its letter.

“Fifteen-minute cities, micromobility, and more space for walking and biking are innovative solutions that will help our cities rebuild and restore our economy while protecting lives and cutting dangerous pollution,” Carol M. Browner, former EPA administrator and board chair of the League of Conservation Voters, said in a press statement supporting the agenda.

Despite the name being coined by Moreno, this is actually not a new concept. Several planning philosophies such as the New Urbanism have been asking for a more walkable development for decades, but not much has improved over the years — with a few exceptions, such as Paris. But now, with reduced traffic from the pandemic and the C40’s call for a 15-minute city, it might be the right context to push the idea even harder.

“Even though it seems difficult to replicate, it’s the right way to go,” Dario Hidalgo, the senior mobility researcher for the World Resource Institute (WRI), told Bloomberg. “Walking and cycling present huge opportunities for small businesses in the neighborhood to thrive. It’s not just the reduction of emissions.”

Amid the pandemic, many cities around the world have taken advantage of the lockdowns to start car-free infrastructure projects. In Italy, the city of Milan added 35 kilometers (22 miles) of bike lanes downtown and will pedestrianize several school streets. In Canada, the city of Ottawa announced plans for 15-minute neighborhoods, while Tallinn, Estonia, is building a green corridor through neighborhoods.

Still, Paris remains the flagship of this new approach. The city installed a set of cycleways amid the pandemic to reduce transit crowding and prevent traffic to grow when the businesses reopened. This added to the actions previously taken by Hidalgo as part of her 15-minute city model.

But whether the actions implemented in Paris can be easily translated into other cities remains to be seen, as Paris has always been relatively easy to travel by foot. For Hidalgo, the WRI researcher, cities need to “bring activities to the neighborhoods and not people to the activities,” asking to “decentralize urban life.”

Paris registers all-time hottest day amid Europe’s heatwave

A historic heatwave caused record temperatures on Europe and shattered all-time highs in multiple countries and cities. Paris is one of the hardest-hit cities, registering 108.7 degrees Fahrenheit (42.6 Celsius), breaking the previous record of 104.7 (40.4) set in 1947.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

 

The heatwave was caused by a massive area of high pressure air that extended into the upper atmosphere. The phenomenon — known as a heat dome — has temporarily rerouted the typical flow of the jet stream and allowed hot air from Africa to surge northward. It is expected to migrate farther north by the weekend.

French authorities issued a red alert in the Paris region and 19 other districts as temperatures were expected to reach 108-109 degrees (42-43C) in parts of the country. Locals were advised to avoid traveling to work from home if possible. Some nurseries were closed.

“No one is safe in such temperatures,” said Agnès Buzyn, France’s health minister. “This is the first time that this affects departments in the north of the country, populations that are not accustomed to such heat.”

France is particularly wary of high heat after a 2003 heatwave killed nearly 15,000 people, especially elderly people. Since then, the government has introduced a color-coded heat alert system to warn people when temperatures are expected to rise to dangerous levels in their area and trigger government assistance efforts.

The alert system went to its maximum level of red for the first time during last month’s heatwave, when France saw its highest-ever recorded temperature of 114.8 degrees (46C). On Thursday, about one-fifth of French territory was issued a red alert, stretching from the English Channel through the Paris region and down to Burgundy. Élisabeth Borne, France’s minister of sustainable development, urged citizens to cancel or postpone all unnecessary travel. The SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company, allowed customers to exchange or cancel free of charge any Thursday travel to the heaviest-affected 20 northern regions.

Climate experts at the UK’s Met Office said there’s “no doubt” climate change is playing a role in the heatwave, assuring it’s making summer heatwaves five times more likely and significantly more intense – making these temperatures the new normal in many parts of the world.

“What we have at the moment is this very warm stream of air, coming up from northern Africa, bringing with it unusually warm weather,” Peter Stott, from the Met Office, said. “But without climate change, we wouldn’t have hit the peaks that we’re hitting right now.”

The UK recorded a record temperature for July of 100.5 (38.1C), with trains running more slowly to stop rails from buckling. Meanwhile, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also reached new record highs, of 107.2 (41.8C), 106.7 (41.5C), 105.4 (40.8C) and 105.2 (40.7C) respectively.

But temperate Europe – where air conditioning is rare – isn’t equipped for the temperatures sizzling the region this week. So, tourists frolicked in fountains to seek relief, while authorities and volunteers fanned out to help the elderly, sick, and homeless — those hit hardest by the heat.

Across Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, some communities painted rail tracks in white hoping the light color would help cool them down by a few degrees. In Cologne in western Germany, volunteers offered free water to passers-bys at the initiative of the city’s local transportation system.

Parasitic wooden cubes level up 1970s Parisian building with more space, more energy efficiency

“Parasite” wooden cubes may help extend the livelihood of old buildings by increasing available space and improving energy efficiency. The cubes were designed by architect Stéphane Malka as part of the Plug-in City 75 project and will be attached to the facade of a 1970s-era Parisian building slashing its annual energy consumption by roughly 75 percent.

Faced with gloomy, cramped apartments and poor energy efficiency of a by-gone era of building, the co-owners of a Parisian building in the city’s 16th arrondissement asked Malka to spruce up their property. It’s just one of many buildings facing these issues in Paris, but since the city’s building laws are quite restrictive and do not allow for the building to be raised to make way for better, more efficient space, he couldn’t just tear it down and replace it.

So he decided to level it up. And what better way to do that than with a class of modular add-ons that also look really cool?

Companion Cubes

Malka designed a type of “parasitic architecture” to solve both problems at the same time. The design calls for a series of bio-sourced wooden cubes to be mounted onto the structure — extending the useful space horizontally through openings in the exterior.

This extension would also reduce the total energy consumption of the building by a factor of four — its current consumption of 190KWh/sq. meter would drop significantly, to 45KWh/sq. meter.


These cubes will be made from a lightweight-but-strong mix of wood particles and chips which can be easily transported and assembled on site by workers.

Once affixed to the building, they will not only increase living space and allow more light to enter the building, but also allow for an inner garden courtyard on the first floor. The new facade will also be draped with hanging plants, which will make it even prettier.

Dust

Cosmic dust identified on cities’ rooftops for the first time in history

Space dust is all around us — if you happen to be in Paris, Oslo, or Berlin, at least. New research has identified such tiny particles for the first time in urban environments.

Dust

Image credits Unsplash / Pexels.

Space has the unusual property of being void and full of stuff at the same time. Part of that stuff — including some that’s left over from the formation of the Solar System 4,6 billion years ago — coalesces in tiny bits of matter known as cosmic dust. A new study now proved that this dust is still falling on Earth today, and has isolated them from urban samples for the first time ever.

“We’ve known since the 1940s that cosmic dust falls continuously through our atmosphere,” says planetary scientist Matthew Genge from Imperial College London in the UK. “[But] until now we’ve thought that it could not be detected among the millions of terrestrial dust particles, except in the most dust-free environments such as the Antarctic or deep oceans.”

Previous attempts to find cosmic dust in cities have proven unsuccessful because of the sheer quantity of dust, grime, and industrial pollution we have in our cities. But Dr Matt Genge from Imperial College London’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering working together with Jon Larsen, a science buff who runs micrometeorite site Project Stardust, found some 500 cosmic dust particles after sifting through more than 300 kilograms of gutter-sediment from three European cities: Paris, Oslo, and Berlin.

The duo knew they were looking for a needle (only smaller, cause it’s a speck of dust) in a huge haystack (which was also made of dust.) So they turned to the oldest trick in the book: magnets. Cosmic dust particles contain magnetic minerals, so the two separated magnetic particles from the rest of the sediment then identified cosmic dust by composition.

Fastest moving dust on Earth

They found S type (silicate-dominated) cosmic spherules which were melted into disk and other non-spherical shapes — an effect of the extreme temperatures they experienced during atmospheric entry. Cosmic dust specks are usually incredibly tiny, measuring around 0.01 millimeters (0.003 inches) in size, but the ones the team found were larger, measuring about 0.03 millimeters. Based on the shape and size, Genge believes they fell to Earth with speeds around 12 km/s (7.5 miles/s), which would make them the fastest-ever dust particles on Earth.

While they’re the fastest, they’re probably not the oldest dust specks we’ve seen. The crystal structures found in these samples resemble those of particles dating from medieval times — by contrast, older samples that date back millions of years which were found in Antarctica show a different crystal make-up. Exactly why these differences arose is still unknown, but the team speculates it’s the effect of planetary orbit changes in the Solar System. Over millions of years, gravitational fluctuations cause planets to shift their orbits around the sun slightly, which in turn affects their gravitational effect on the matter around them.

They could in fact be the most recently-crashed bits of cosmic dust on Earth. Since the rooftops of commercial buildings are cleaned regularly and there was little rusting of the dust’s metallic content (which only started after they got to Earth,) the team estimates that they fell down sometime within the past six years.

The team points out that while they found these particles only in cities, they could be found anywhere on the planet. And the more of it we can collect and analyze, the more we’ll understand about how the Solar System and Earth evolved from birth all the way up to today.

“This find is important because if we are to look at fossil cosmic dust collected from ancient rocks to reconstruct a geological history of our Solar System, then we need to understand how this dust is changed by the continuous pull of the planets,” says Genge.

“The obvious advantage to this new approach is that it is much easier to source cosmic dust particles if they are in our backyards.”

The full paper “An urban collection of modern-day large micrometeorites: Evidence for variations in the extraterrestrial dust flux through the Quaternary” has been published in the journal Geology.

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City to ban all diesels by 2025, mayors announce

Four major cities are taking up the fight on air pollution by clamping down on diesel engines. The ban should come into full effect by the middle of the next decade.

Image from the Public Domain.

Diesel engines will be banned from Paris, Mexico City, Madrid, and Athens sometime in the next ten years to promote cleaner transport such as alternative vehicle use or old-fashioned walking and cycling. The announcement was made at the C40 conference in Mexico.

Diesels were originally promoted by governments as test runs showed they released lower levels of CO2 and other harmful emissions. But, this type of engine has (rightfully) come under a lot of flak recently, particularly in urban areas, after it became apparent that manufacturers faked the results (you can read about it here). They have been linked to nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) emissions, which can build up in huge quantities in cities.

Fine PM, such as PM2.5, can pass into the bloodstream and contribute to heart or lung conditions (both acute and chronic), even death. At ground levels, NOx emissions can lead to ozone build-ups, causing breathing difficulties even for those without a history of respiratory problems. The WHO estimates that around three million people each year die due to exposure to outdoor air pollution.

In some cases, such as London, citizen groups have taken matters into their own hands. Environmental groups have championed their case and appealed to courts for clean air standards and regulations. Mayor Sadiq Khan has proposed an expansion of the planned Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, and campaigners are pushing for him to phase out all diesels from London by 2025.

“In the UK, London’s mayor is considering bolder action than his predecessor, proposing an expansion to the planned Ultra-Low Emission Zone. This is welcome but we want him to go further and faster,” said ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews.
“And it’s not just London that has this problem, we need a national network of clean air zones so that the problem is not simply pushed elsewhere.”

Keen on preventing such troubles at-home, mayors from four other cities with long-standing air pollution problems have pledged to use their executive power to limit the use of diesel engines. The four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and “commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles”.

“It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic,” said the city’s mayor, Miguel Ángel Mancera.

“By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs.”

Paris has already laid down some groundwork on the issue. Cars registered before 1997 are already banned from entering the city. The Champs-Élysées is closed to traffic once every month, and a 3-km long stretch on the Seine — once a two-lane motorway — has been recently pedestrianized. The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said that they will continue to “progressively ban the most polluting vehicles from the roads” of Paris.

“Our ambition is clear and we have started to roll it out: we want to ban diesel from our city, following the model of Tokyo, which has already done the same.”

Manuel Carmena, Madrid’s mayor, has spoken in support of cleaning city air saying it’s intimately tied with our efforts of tackling climate change. All in all, these four mayors seem to be set on cleaning the air, and they have their sights set on diesels.

Which is a big deal, because if major cities go down this road, they will set a powerful precedent for others to follow suit. Carmakers, too, are likely to understand this and push for the development of hybrid and electric cars even more than before. Hopefully, this time somebody will double-check their results before the WHO has to issue another grisly statistic.

Reactions to the Paris Climate Deal

A crucial date, or another point in a long line of failures? History will certainly judge the Paris Climate Agreement, but until then, reactions to it have generally been positive. It’s a monumental achievement, if only for being unanimously supported.

I found remarks by US Secretary of State John Kerry to be highly relevant:

“For a long time we have known that climate change is real, that it’s happening now, and that unless we come together as global community – because no one country can solve the problem – we’re not going to have a chance of doing what we need to do.  It’s clear that the impacts all around the planet are beginning to manifest themselves increasingly. “

The called COP21 a “breaking of the cycle”, a cycle of half measures and empty promises. So, does this mean that the promises made here won’t be hollow?

“[T]hose of us who have been attending these things called COPs – Conference of the Parties – for many years have recognized that half-measures, empty promises, and intransigent positions which we have seen in the past at these events were just not going to cut it.  They weren’t going to get the job done. So we had to come here and break that cycle.”

In his view, this binding agreement is different and successful because it also takes into consideration the financial part of the deal.

“I think that we’ve reached an agreement here that is the strongest, most ambitious global climate change agreement ever negotiated.  And many of us here in Paris have recognized that we were going to have to do that in order to send a signal to the marketplace that can change the direction that the world is on with respect to dependency on carbon fossil fuels. “

The very fact that the US Secretary of State was in Paris, working intensively and making himself available for comment basically every day after negotiations sent a very clear signal, and one that personally I wasn’t expecting – the US is serious about this. The US basically killed the Kyoto Protocol, but unless I’m missing something, they’re damn serious about making Paris work. This was also highlighted by Kerry, as he received a question about domestic opposition. Earlier this week, Senator James Inhofe vowed to block every effort that the US made in Paris. Kerry commented:

“Well, it’s already happening.  I have news for Senator Inhofe.  The United States of America has already reduced our emissions more than any other country in the world under President Obama’s plans.[..] o I think that – I regret to say Senator Inhofe is just wrong.  This has to happen and I believe this will continue, because I don’t – I just personally do not believe that any person who doesn’t understand the science and isn’t prepared to do for the next generations what we did here today and follow through on it cannot and will not be elected president of the United States.  It’s that simple.”

He even went on to say that this agreement received much more backing than he’d expected.

“Now in truth, I didn’t anticipate 186 countries.  I thought we’d be doing great if we hit 100 or somewhere – this far surpassed that.  But because we got together and it became serious as a result for a lot of countries, and because you had a developing country and somebody who had been leading the efforts against us in Copenhagen, that opened up the door.  And it was a sea change.”

But not everyone was so happy about the results. Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo stated that this “won’t dig us out of the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep”.

“The deal sets out the objective of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, but the emissions targets on the table take us closer to 3 degrees. That’s a critical problem, but it’s one with a solution. Renewable energy is already doing heavy-lifting across the globe, but now its moment must come. It’s the only technology mentioned in the Paris Agreement. There’s a yawning gap in this deal, but it can be bridged by clean technology. We’re in a race between the roll-out of renewables and rising temperatures, and the Paris Agreement could give renewables a vital boost. The wheel of climate action turns slowly, but in Paris it has turned.”

He also made a very important point: it’s not the time to celebrate our triumph – it’s time to start working.

“This is not a moment for triumphalism given the lives that have been lost already as a result of climate impacts, and the lives that are on the precipice as temperatures rise. This is a time for urgent action. The climate clock is ticking and the window of opportunity is closing fast.”

There are also some things which aren’t encouraging about the pact. The agreement itself is a Treaty under international law, which makes it legally binding. However, the national targets (NDCs), are not. This was one of the things basically veto-ed down by the US – they wouldn’t be a part of the pact without this.

Bill McKibben, Co-founder of 350.org argued that the change is pushed so far down the line that the damage will already be done by the time we transition to a carbon-free economy:

“Every government seems now to recognize that the fossil fuel era must end and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry. This didn’t save the planet but it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

But even so, the solution has been praised. The B Team, a group of eminent business and civil society leaders praised the agreement. Sir Richard Branson, B-team co-founder and founder of Virgin, stated:

“Today, the course of history has shifted.  Paris will be remembered for generations as a watershed moment when the people of the world came together and set us on a pathway to net-zero emissions, economic justice and shared prosperity.  We have an opportunity to build a new economy, and business is poised to help make it happen. The “Paris effect” will ensure the economy of the future is driven by clean energy.”

For better or for worse, this is the agreement will have – and it has every change of becoming more ambitious. We can all play our tiny part and start making a difference. As said above, we have a chance to save the planet, but the window is closing fast.

COP21

COP21 Live Blog: Day 11

COP21

Live updates and recent developments from COP21, in Paris — Day 11.

COP21

COP21 Live Blog: Day 10

COP21

Live updates and recent developments from COP21, in Paris — Day 10.

COP21 Live Blog: Day 9

COP21

Live updates and recent developments from the COP21 Conference in Paris, Day 5

COP21

COP21 Live Blog: Day 5

COP21

Live updates and recent developments from the COP21 Conference in Paris, Day 5

cop21 IPCC panel

‘The 2 degrees goal is a political figure, not generated by scientific reports’, says IPCC at COP21

cop21 IPCC panel

The stated goal of the COP21 conference on climate change held in Paris until late next week is that of averting potentially catastrophic 2 degrees warming past industrial levels. At the last COP, held in Copenhagen, the stated goal of the meetings is that of curbing emissions to avoid 1.5 C of warming. Some might feel this sounds incongruous, weakening the credibility of the International Panel on Climate Change – a science board responsible for the most comprehensive assessments on the state of global warming. Today, at a press conference at COP21, a panel of scientists and chairmen from the IPCC said that they never suggested one or the other figures as a baseline for averting climate change. “The 2 degree goal is a political figure, not generated by scientific reports,” the panel warned.

Climate change has stopped being the object of the debate, that is that it’s real and it’s caused by humans. Among scientists, this has been settled decades ago. What scientists are debating now is far more important like “how much will sea levels rise” or “what temperature threshold is too dangerous”. Yet, many researchers question the use of a temperature target when talking about mitigating climate change. Concerning the two-degrees warming the policymakers have taken upon themselves to avoid, this is largely arbitrary. It’s not based on scientific consensus, but that’s not to say that it’s not useful since it can be used as rallying figure.

“It emerged from a political agenda, not a scientific analysis,” said Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College London, for the WSJ. “It’s not a sensible, rational target because the models give you a range of possibilities, not a single answer.”

Actionable goals have proved difficult to articulate from the beginning of climate-policy efforts ever since the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) expressed the aim as preventing “dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system”. Because there’s a great deal of uncertainty when studying the Earth’s climate system, efforts that attempted to clarify what “dangerous” actually means have been fruitless.

There are also concerns that temperature is not a suitable metric, and a more holistic approach should be taken. For instance, the oceans soak a huge proportion of the CO2 dumped in the atmosphere and about 93% of the extra energy being added to the climate system, both warming it and acidifying the waters. A climate change index would be cool, but that might only further add to the confusion. Some say that CO2 ppm levels in the atmosphere is better — just keep it as low as possible!

“The measure in change of temperature on the surface of the planet is an indicator. Change in sea level is another indicator. When climate is changing, the temp change is not unform. It’s particularly strong over the Arctic. There are regional dimensions and the temp metric is just a measure to reduce all other metrics to one,” the IPCC panel said today at COP21.

Also, at the end of the day, scientists debating whether 1.5 or 2 degrees should be averted is largely of not good since we may already be locked in. If we continue on a business-as-usual scenario, the world will likely warm by at least 3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

cop 21 paris

COP21 Live Blog: Day 3

cop 21 paris

Emissions per capita drop by 8% by 2025, if the 155 countries respect their UN pledges

Before the official talks at the UN climate change summit start next month in Paris, each nation was invited to submit a pledge in which it details how it plans to reduce its carbon emissions. The plan is for the world’s leaders to reach a sensible agreement such that the climate might avert warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 past pre-industrial levels. The climate is already 0.9 degrees Celsius warmer. More than 155 countries have responded to the call, amounting to 128 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Each country outlined the progress it wants to make differently, depending on how many resources they can dispose of and, of course, how serious they take the issue.

The Paris Climate Change COP21 conference will take place between November 30 and December 11.

The Paris Climate Change COP21 conference will take place between November 30 and December 11.

Brazil says it will cut emissions by 37% by 2025 from 2005 levels by reducing deforestation and boosting the share of renewable sources in its energy mix. China vowed to peak its emissions, the highest in the world in absolute numbers and on a rapid growth trend for the past decade, around 2030. The U.S. target, announced in China last year, is to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, and to make best efforts to reduce by 28%. The world’s third largest emitter, the European Union, isalready locked in a separate in-house agreement destined to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Of course, it’s not only about the CO2. One-hundred and ten INDCs included adaptation plans, describing activities and goals in vulnerable sectors like water, agriculture and human health.

As you can notice, each country has different targets. Also, each target took different baselines as reference. Some pledged reduction targets taking 2005 levels as reference, others 1990. Then, some countries – developing countries, in particular – chose to set a date when their emissions will peak.

Luckily, the U.N. released a report summarizing the overall  INDC picture and aggregating the emission reduction targets. According to the report, the 155 participating countries collectively sum 90% of all the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If each of their pledges is respected by the letter, then global average emissions per capita will drop as much as 8% by 2025 and 9% by 2030, the U.N. says.

Is that enough? The analysis suggests that these pledges  are likely to lead to less than 3C of global warming over the century, one degree Celsius shy from the declared target. Of course, it’s better than nothing. Actually, a lot better. Per business as usual, the UN estimates the climate might warm by as much as 5C, which would bring floods, droughts, heatwaves, sea level rises and more intense storms of unprecedented intensity and frequency.

“These national climate action plans represent a clear and determined down-payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations. Governments from all corners of the earth have signalled through their INDCs that they are determined to play their part according to their national circumstances and capabilities,” said Christiana Figueres, executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

She added: “The INDCs have the capability of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7C by 2100, by no means enough but a lot lower than the estimated four, five, or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs.”

Giza Gaspar-Martins, the Angolan diplomat who chairs the LDCs group, said: “Today’s analysis shows the urgent need to address the lack of ambition within the INDCs. Current plans will only slow emissions by a third, which is clearly not enough to keep us within safe limits. Governments must do more in Paris, but the work does not end there. For the INDCs to succeed they must be adjusted before 2020 and reviewed in five year cycles from 2020 to ensure national actions quickly and rapidly progresses, or we all face a grim and uncertain future.”

He added: “The current plans to mitigate emissions do not keep us even within a temperature rise of 2C. However from the LDCs’ perspective, it is far worse than that. For 48 of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, economic development, regional food security and ecosystems are at risk in this 2C ‘safe zone’. So we once again call on the world to grow its ambition for a 1.5C target.”

The graph below summarizes how the world’s governments collectively plant to address their emission reduction targets.

Deploying more renewable energy and energy efficiency measures take the lead – as they should – while CCS (carbon capture and storage) methods are given minimum interest, given they’re highly expensive.

To put things into perspective, you can check how the pledges of the US, Canada, EU and Japan lineup against various baselines.

Paris takes drastic measures to limit car traffic, in an attempt to fight smog

Paris authorities have put in place 24-hour emergency measures to limit the number of cars in traffic as part of their efforts to fight the smog shrouding the city. Today (Monday, March 23) all cars with number plates that end with an even number will be banned from circulating in the Paris region, unless they’re carrying 3 or more passengers. Clean cars will also be allowed.

IMAGE: JACQUES BRINON, FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

A dense smog covered Paris, France’s capital last week, and levels of PM10 particulates (particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less, directly associated with lung cancer) went way above the levels considered safe by the World Health Organization. According to QZ, the Airparif nonprofit monitoring group predicted PM10 levels would drop to safer levels on Sunday (March 22), but then would rise again (link in French).

The mayor’s office announced at the weekend as of Monday, alternating number plate measurements will take place; also, cars carrying 3 or more passengers will be allowed to circulate, as will emergency cars, hybrids or electric vehicles. About 750 policemen are enforcing the restrictions on Paris’ streets.

While some drivers will find these restrictions extremely annoying, for most of the Parisian population this is a godsend.

“Goodness, it’s calm this morning. What a difference.” said Rosa, a concierge sweeping the front of a building near Boulevard Saint Martin. “I can breathe,” she added.

The Basilique du Sacre-Coeur shrouded in smog as French authorities tackle pollution. Photograph: Xavier Laine/Getty Images

Martin Pietz, a German photographer living in Paris, said he could hardly breathe when cycling to work – something experienced by many pedestrians and cyclists in the city.

“The pollution has become extremely noticeable and worrying. Apart from cutting off my breath, I also find these days that when I get a cough it takes two months rather than two weeks to clear up.”

It is only the third time since 1997 the city authorities have resorted to such emergency measures, but it’s the second time in 2 years – a similar two day ban was imposed in 2014, with positive results and a temporary reduction of PM10 particulates. However, the problem that Paris (and many other major cities in the world right now) is facing is that the huge number of cars in the city cause an increase in the number of particulates and whenever there’s a lack of wind to dissipate them, dramatic conditions ensue – like the ones visible in the images above.

Rather hesitantly, also pushed forth by the public view expressed on social media, the ecology minister agreed to the ban, but not without accusing city mayor Anne Hidalgo of failing to have a “real transport policy” to deal with the pollution problem.

Measures like this might become more and more common as pollution – and especially the number of threatening particulates – continues to rise in many parts of the world. Hopefully, we’ll be able to manage a smooth transition to safer, more eco-friendly cars before this becomes a common reality.

 

 

 

 

Smoke rises from a thermal power station in Sofia, Bulgaria. Credit: DIMITAR DILKOFF / AFP/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO

Australia might set the stage for failed climate change talks in Paris next year

Australia’s Abbott government has been accused of intentionally taking measures that might lead to an international greenhouse gas emission target in Paris, next year. Australian leaders are keen on insisting there should be a binding legal agreement between the countries that agree to the action, arguing that in lack of such a internationally enforceable framework the agreement would lack credibility. Critics have been quick to voice that such a measure is destined to fail since it would almost automatically put countries like US, China and India out of the picture, which are actually the key players that need convincing. Australia’s current government has proved time and time again that it cares little about climate change by cutting various projects and actually backing fossil fuel use. As such, their actions are suspicious to say the least.

Tensions rise

This week, negotiators from 194 countries met in Lima, Peru to discuss a potential format for the Paris talks next year where an international emissions target, similar to the Kyoto Protocol from 1997, might come into effect. Experts seem to agree that the best course of action is to guide each country to implement a domestic law that enforces emissions target, one that’s customized on a case by case basis. If the framework is guided under an international treaty format, where countries are legally bound, then the whole process is destined to fail since countries like the US and China won’t ever concede. With US and China out, there’s little reason for the other countries to participate anymore.

“It seems like they are trying to set impossible conditions so that they can portray a successful Paris agreement as a failure,” said Frank Jotzo, associate professor at the Australian National University’s Crawford School.

“Legally binding instruments can build confidence that countries will act on the commitments they make internationally. However, the legal form of an international agreement does not determine its effectiveness. The most binding treaty will do little to address climate change if some major emitters like the US and China do not participate.”

The former Labor government’s expert adviser on climate policy, Professor Ross Garnaut, seems to agree.

“A comprehensive legally binding agreement is not possible because that is not what the US does,” he said for The Guardian. “It is rare for the US to bind itself on anything. Woodrow Wilson was unable to get the US Senate to support membership of the League of Nations that was the creation of the United States.

“President Obama has made it clear that he will not support US participation in a legally binding agreement, and that instead the US has made a serious domestic commitment to implementing the ambitious objectives embodied in the Xi-Obama Agreement. China will not enter a legally binding agreement if the US does not. So forget about it.”

Ignorant or malevolent? It’s just so hard to tell with Abbott and co.

Christiana Figueres (L), executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) addresses the opening meeting of the plenary session Photo: Xinhua News Agency/REX

Christiana Figueres (L), executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) addresses the opening meeting of the plenary session Photo: Xinhua News Agency/REX

The Kyoto Protocol that was adopted in 1997, but which only came into force in 2005, was signed in recognition of a dire need to tackle climate change by setting reduction targets. The aim was reduce emissions by 5% from 1990 levels. Today the world spews 58 per cent more greenhouse gases than it did in 1990. An utter failure. Kyoto too was set as a binding agreement, but this did little to help. Instead, the focus should be on setting realistic targets.

“A legally binding agreement is of no value anyway, as, while it may be legally binding, such an agreement is not enforceable. Look at Canada’s walking away from its legally binding Kyoto commitments … and there is no evidence that countries are more likely to deliver on notionally legally binding than on domestic political commitments,” Garnaut continued.

The Australian government’s independent advisory board, the Climate Change Authority, was also critical of a legally binding framework. Unsurprisingly, the Australian government unsuccessfully sought to abolish the panel.

“One thing the Paris meeting will not deliver is a universal, prescriptive, enforcement-oriented legal agreement, similar in form to the existing Kyoto protocol. For one thing, such an outcome is not achievable in the short term.

“Insisting on it would likely be counterproductive and lead to more modest global action. The value of the Paris outcome will be its effect on emissions and efforts over time, not its particular legal form.”

Among the critics of a legally binding Paris treaty is world renowned economist Lord Nicholas Stern, lead author of the Stern Report – an influential review on the economics of climate change.

“Some may fear that commitments that are not internationally legally-binding may lack credibility,” he said to the BBC.

“That, in my view, is a serious mistake. The sanctions available under the Kyoto Protocol, for example, were notionally legally-binding but were simply not credible and failed to guarantee domestic implementation of commitments.”

Lord Stern believes that grounding the process in the laws and promises that countries undertake by themselves is a better model for a deal than a top-down process like Kyoto. The EU has already committed to reducing its CO2 emissions by 40% from 1990s levels, while the US will cut 30% of its emissions from 2005 levels.

“It will be enforceable and deliverable through the arrangements and laws in the countries themselves.

“That way you will get stronger ambition as countries won’t be tempted to be hesitant about some type of international sanction.”

An ignorant government

Earlier this year, President Obama pledged between $2.5 billion and $3 billion over the next four years to the Green Climate Fund, an international effort to help poor countries address climate change. The Australian government has declined to contribute, stating that it already pays for climate adaptation via its foreign aid budget.

Under the guidance of its prime-minister, Tony Abbott, Australia has gone on a seemingly climate change denial path. Last July, the country scrapped its carbon tax, and its emissions rose after a promising six-year trend of decline. Only a few months ago, the Australian government approved works for the construction of the world’s largest coal mine. And these are only a couple of Abbott’s anti climate change initiatives.

Without a doubt, as it stands today, the Australian government is the world’s most ignorant in terms of climate change action of all the developed countries. While it’s under constant pressure from other countries to revise its take on climate change – something that might keep Australia isolated – it will be interesting to see how things pan out in Paris next year. Most likely, the country will refuse to sign any agreement, but we can only hope they won’t influence other countries as well.

San Francisco to Paris in 2 minutes [VIDEO]

Here’s another amazing time lapse video which is certain to enchant your senses and entertain equally enough, in which the Beep Show has documented its San Francisco to Paris flight by shooting a photo every 2 miles (clicky clicky every 15 seconds?). The photos were then put together masterfully, resulting in a lovely time lapse view over the American continent, the Pacific ocean and even … wait for it… Aurora Borealis! Yeah, now you gotta check this thing out.

All take-off and landing images are computer model renderings since the FAA prohibits the use of cameras at the beginning and end of flights

SF to Paris in Two Minutes from Beep Show on Vimeo.