Climate change department shut down by Theresa May in ‘plain stupid’ and ‘deeply worrying’ move

The Independent reports: The decision to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change has been variously condemned as “plain stupid”, “deeply worrying” and “terrible” by politicians, campaigners and experts.

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to move responsibility for climate change to a new Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

Only on Monday, Government advisers had warned of the need to take urgent action to prepare the UK for floods, droughts, heatwaves and food shortages caused by climate change.

The news came after the appointment of Andrea Leadsom – who revealed her first question to officials when she became Energy Minister last year was “Is climate change real? – was appointed as the new Environment Secretary.

And, after former Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd announced in November that Britain was going to “close coal” by 2025, Ms Leadsom later asked the coal industry to help define what this actually meant.

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband tweeted: “DECC abolition just plain stupid. Climate not even mentioned in new deptartment title. Matters because departments shape priorities, shape outcomes.” [Continue reading…]

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Leaked TTIP energy proposal could ‘sabotage’ EU climate policy

The Guardian reports: The latest draft version of the TTIP agreement could sabotage European efforts to save energy and switch to clean power, according to MEPs.

A 14th round of the troubled negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade deal between the EU and US is due to begin on Monday in Brussels.

A leak obtained by the Guardian shows that the EU will propose a rollback of mandatory energy savings measures, and major obstacles to any future pricing schemes designed to encourage the uptake of renewable energies.

Environmental protections against fossil fuel extraction, logging and mining in the developing world would also come under pressure from articles in the proposed energy chapter.

Paul de Clerck, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Europe, said the leaked document: “is in complete contradiction with Europe’s commitments to tackle climate change. It will flood the EU market with inefficient appliances, and consumers and the climate will foot the bill. The proposal will also discourage measures to promote renewable electricity production from wind and solar.” [Continue reading…]

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How Brexit might jeopardize the Paris Agreement on climate change

ClimateWire reports: One of the first questions to be settled is how Brexit will affect Europe’s commitment to last year’s landmark Paris climate agreement. The European Union put forward a combined promise to cut emissions at least 40 percent compared with 1990 levels by 2030, and Brussels planned to spend the summer divvying that responsibility up among its members in preparation for joining the deal. But the impending departure of the European Union’s second-largest emitter throws a monkey wrench in that plan.

Member of Parliament Barry Gardiner, the Labor Party’s shadow energy and climate minister, told ClimateWire that Brexit could jeopardize the global warming accord.

“The implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate may now be seriously undermined,” he said, noting that the United Kingdom played a leading role in pushing for greater E.U. ambition ahead of the deal and also acted as a bridge between Western European powers and Eastern and Central European countries like coal-dependent Poland on climate and other issues.

The United Kingdom is on a pathway to cut its emissions 57 percent by 2030 under a 2008 domestic law—a trajectory that would have gone a long way toward delivering the European Union’s collective commitment.

That raises the question of how the United Kingdom will formulate its own contribution to the Paris Agreement now that it is leaving, and how that exercise will affect the rest of Europe. [Continue reading…]

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China’s plan to cut meat consumption by 50% cheered by climate campaigners

The Guardian reports: The Chinese government has outlined a plan to reduce its citizens’ meat consumption by 50%, in a move that climate campaigners hope will provide major heft in the effort to avoid runaway global warming.

New dietary guidelines drawn up by China’s health ministry recommend that the nation’s 1.3 billion population should consume between 40g to 75g of meat per person each day. The measures, released once every 10 years, are designed to improve public health but could also provide a significant cut to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Chinese Communist party has found unusual allies among Hollywood celebrities, with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and director James Cameron involved in a series of new public information adverts encouraging Chinese people to consume less animal flesh to help the environment.

Should the new guidelines be followed, carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from China’s livestock industry would be reduced by 1bn tonnes by 2030, from a projected 1.8bn tonnes in that year.

Globally, 14.5% of planet-warming emissions emanate from the keeping and eating of cows, chickens, pigs and other animals – more than the emissions from the entire transport sector. Livestock emit methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, while land clearing and fertilizers release large quantities of carbon. [Continue reading…]

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Global warming’s evil twin: ocean acidification

Climate Reality reports: Our oceans are an incredible carbon sink — they absorb about 25 percent of the carbon dioxide humans produce every year. But this is changing sea surface chemistry dramatically: when carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, it dissolves to form carbonic acid. The result, not surprisingly, is that the ocean becomes more acidic, upsetting the delicate pH balance that millions and millions of organisms rely on.

Since the Industrial Revolution, our seas have become about 30 percent more acidic, a rate not observed in 300 million years. This has a wide range of consequences for marine ecosystems, as well as for the billions of people who depend on the ocean for food and survival. [Continue reading…]

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Norway pledges to become climate neutral by 2030

The Guardian reports: Norway’s parliament has approved a radical goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2030, two decades earlier than planned.

On Tuesday night MPs voted for an accelerated programme of CO2 cuts and carbon trading to offset emissions from sectors such as Norway’s oil and gas industries, which are unlikely to be phased out in the near future.

The minority government’s ruling Progress and Conservative parties withdrew their support for the motion at the last minute. But their argument, that ambitious emissions reductions now could interfere with future climate negotiations, was roundly defeated.

Rasmus Hansson, the leader of the Norwegian Green party in parliament, said: “This is a direct response to the commitments Norway took on by ratifying the Paris agreement and means that we will have to step up our climate action dramatically. ‘2050’ is science fiction. ‘2030’ is closer to us now than the year 2000.”

The high profile climate motion followed a zero deforestation parliamentary vote earlier this month, which made Norway the first nation to ban public procurements that contribute to rainforest destruction. [Continue reading…]

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El Niño has ended kingdoms and civilizations

Claudia Geib writes: On a damp, foggy January morning in 1793, Louis XVI, besieged monarch of France, stood before a guillotine. To some 20,000 of his angry subjects, Louis declared: “I die innocent of all the pretended crimes laid to my charge. I forgive all those who have had any hand in my misfortunes, and I pray that my blood may be of use in restoring happiness to France — and you, unhappy people!” The rest of his speech was cut short. The king was strapped to a plank, slid through the “widow’s window,” and decapitated.

What Louis could not have known was that one root of his “misfortunes” was not any one of his subjects. It was El Niño, the climatic fluctuation that has sown misfortune for humankind for millennia. Today, as global temperatures rise, El Niño events will likely become more dramatic — causing longer, drier droughts, extreme floods, and more unpredictable weather. Stories of how El Niño shaped history are thus more than mere curiosities, says Brian Fagan, author of Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Niño and the Fate of Civilizations.

“You cannot study climate change without looking at human experience of climate in the past,” he says. We might live in a world of billions more people, but past El Niños can still offer insights into human behavior. “They won’t tell you how to do something,” Fagan says, “but they can give you precedents for how you might.” [Continue reading…]

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Scientists have found yet another part of Antarctica that may be in trouble

Thwaites-ice-shelf

The Washington Post reports: The forces affecting the ice in West Antarctica are an area of urgent focus for climate scientists who are all too aware of the ice sheet’s huge potential contributions to global sea-level rise. A great deal of this attention has centered on a specific region bordering the Amundsen Sea, south of the Antarctic Peninsula, where research has suggested that a set of rapidly retreating glaciers — including the famous Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers — may be increasingly vulnerable to collapse.

But research is increasingly suggesting that the region is not the only area deserving of concern. Just last month, a new study suggested that the Totten Glacier in East Antarctica, which has typically been considered much less of a threat than West Antarctica, is also thinning quickly and has retreated inland by close to two miles in some areas. Overall, the glacier has the potential to raise sea levels by about 13 feet should it collapse.

And now, a new study just published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters has identified a new area of concern. The new research focuses on the Bellingshausen Sea region, an area just above the Amundsen Sea on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. Using four decades’ worth of satellite data, researchers have found that ice in this region has also experienced significant retreat, particularly since 1990, and could be a bigger threat than expected. [Continue reading…]

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Nuclear plants, despite safety concerns, gaining support among environmentalists

The New York Times reports: Just a few years ago, the United States seemed poised to say farewell to nuclear energy. No company had completed a new plant in decades, and the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 intensified public disenchantment with the technology, both here and abroad.

But as the Paris agreement on climate change has put pressure on the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some state and federal officials have deemed nuclear energy part of the solution. They are now scrambling to save existing plants that can no longer compete economically in a market flooded with cheap natural gas.

“We’re supposed to be adding zero-carbon sources, not subtracting,” Ernest Moniz, the energy secretary, said recently at a symposium that the department convened to explore ways to improve the industry’s prospects.

As a result, there are efforts across the country to bail out nuclear plants at risk of closing, with important test cases in Illinois, Ohio and New York, as well as proposed legislation in Congress.

Exelon, one of the country’s largest nuclear operators, for example, is deciding whether to close two of its struggling plants in Illinois after efforts to push a bailout through its Legislature fell apart.

Nuclear power remains mired in longstanding questions over waste disposal, its safety record after the catastrophes at places like Fukushima and Chernobyl, and the potential for its plants to be converted into weapon-making factories. In spite of the lingering issues, policy makers, analysts and executives, along with a growing number of environmentalists, say that at stake is the future of the country’s largest source of clean energy.

“Nothing else comes close,” Mr. Moniz, a nuclear physicist, said at the symposium. [Continue reading…]

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Renewable energy surges to record levels around the world

BBC News reports: New solar, wind and hydropower sources were added in 2015 at the fastest rate the world has yet seen, a study says.

Investments in renewables during the year were more than double the amount spent on new coal and gas-fired power plants, the Renewables Global Status Report found.

For the first time, emerging economies spent more than the rich on renewable power and fuels.

Over 8 million people are now working in renewable energy worldwide.

For a number of years, the global spend on renewables has been increasing and 2015 saw that arrive at a new peak according to the report. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump would allow Keystone XL pipeline and end Paris climate deal

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump pledged to cancel the Paris climate agreement, endorsed drilling off the Atlantic coast and said he would allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built in return for “a big piece of the profits” for the American people.

At an oil and natural gas conference in North Dakota on Thursday, just minutes after he had celebrated hitting the 1,237 delegate mark needed to formally clinch the party’s nomination, Trump gave a speech on energy policy that was largely shaped by advice from Kevin Cramer, a US representative from the state.

In a press conference before the event, Trump praised the advice of oil tycoon Harold Hamm. Hamm and Cramer then introduced him onstage.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club environmentalist group, was taken aback by Trump’s address.

“I have never heard more contradiction in one hour than I heard in the speech,” he told the Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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Reading Edward Said in a warming world

Naomi Klein writes: Edward Said was no tree-hugger. Descended from traders, artisans and professionals, he once described himself as ‘an extreme case of an urban Palestinian whose relationship to the land is basically metaphorical’.​ In After the Last Sky, his meditation on the photographs of Jean Mohr, he explored the most intimate aspects of Palestinian lives, from hospitality to sports to home décor. The tiniest detail – the placing of a picture frame, the defiant posture of a child – provoked a torrent of insight from Said. Yet when confronted with images of Palestinian farmers – tending their flocks, working the fields – the specificity suddenly evaporated. Which crops were being cultivated? What was the state of the soil? The availability of water? Nothing was forthcoming. ‘I continue to perceive a population of poor, suffering, occasionally colourful peasants, unchanging and collective,’ Said confessed. This perception was ‘mythic’, he acknowledged – yet it remained.

If farming was another world for Said, those who devoted their lives to matters like air and water pollution appear to have inhabited another planet. Speaking to his colleague Rob Nixon, he once described environmentalism as ‘the indulgence of spoiled tree-huggers who lack a proper cause’. But the environmental challenges of the Middle East are impossible to ignore for anyone immersed, as Said was, in its geopolitics. This is a region intensely vulnerable to heat and water stress, to sea-level rise and to desertification. A recent paper in Nature Climate Change predicts that, unless we radically lower emissions and lower them fast, large parts of the Middle East will likely ‘experience temperature levels that are intolerable to humans’ by the end of this century. And that’s about as blunt as climate scientists get. Yet environmental issues in the region still tend to be treated as afterthoughts, or luxury causes. The reason is not ignorance, or indifference. It’s just bandwidth. Climate change is a grave threat but the most frightening impacts are in the medium term. And in the short term, there are always far more pressing threats to contend with: military occupation, air assault, systemic discrimination, embargo. Nothing can compete with that – nor should it attempt to try.

There are other reasons why environmentalism might have looked like a bourgeois playground to Said. The Israeli state has long coated its nation-building project in a green veneer – it was a key part of the Zionist ‘back to the land’ pioneer ethos. And in this context trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation. It’s not only the countless olive and pistachio trees that have been uprooted to make way for settlements and Israeli-only roads. It’s also the sprawling pine and eucalyptus forests that have been planted over those orchards, as well as over Palestinian villages, most notoriously by the Jewish National Fund, which, under its slogan ‘Turning the Desert Green’, boasts of having planted 250 million trees in Israel since 1901, many of them non-native to the region. In publicity materials, the JNF bills itself as just another green NGO, concerned with forest and water management, parks and recreation. It also happens to be the largest private landowner in the state of Israel, and despite a number of complicated legal challenges, it still refuses to lease or sell land to non-Jews.

I grew up in a Jewish community where every occasion – births and deaths, Mother’s Day, bar mitzvahs – was marked with the proud purchase of a JNF tree in the person’s honour. It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to understand that those feel-good faraway conifers, certificates for which papered the walls of my Montreal elementary school, were not benign – not just something to plant and later hug. In fact these trees are among the most glaring symbols of Israel’s system of official discrimination – the one that must be dismantled if peaceful co-existence is to become possible.

The JNF is an extreme and recent example of what some call ‘green colonialism’. But the phenomenon is hardly new, nor is it unique to Israel. There is a long and painful history in the Americas of beautiful pieces of wilderness being turned into conservation parks – and then that designation being used to prevent Indigenous people from accessing their ancestral territories to hunt and fish, or simply to live. It has happened again and again. A contemporary version of this phenomenon is the carbon offset. Indigenous people from Brazil to Uganda are finding that some of the most aggressive land grabbing is being done by conservation organisations. A forest is suddenly rebranded a carbon offset and is put off-limits to its traditional inhabitants. As a result, the carbon offset market has created a whole new class of ‘green’ human rights abuses, with farmers and Indigenous people being physically attacked by park rangers or private security when they try to access these lands. Said’s comment about tree-huggers should be seen in this context.

And there is more. In the last year of Said’s life, Israel’s so-called ‘separation barrier’ was going up, seizing huge swathes of the West Bank, cutting Palestinian workers off from their jobs, farmers from their fields, patients from hospitals – and brutally dividing families. There was no shortage of reasons to oppose the wall on human rights grounds. Yet at the time, some of the loudest dissenting voices among Israeli Jews were not focused on any of that. Yehudit Naot, Israel’s then environment minister, was more worried about a report informing her that ‘The separation fence … is harmful to the landscape, the flora and fauna, the ecological corridors and the drainage of the creeks.’ ‘I certainly don’t want to stop or delay the building of the fence,’ she said, but ‘I am disturbed by the environmental damage involved.’ As the Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti later observed, Naot’s ‘ministry and the National Parks Protection Authority mounted diligent rescue efforts to save an affected reserve of irises by moving it to an alternative reserve. They’ve also created tiny passages [through the wall] for animals.’

Perhaps this puts the cynicism about the green movement in context. People do tend to get cynical when their lives are treated as less important than flowers and reptiles. And yet there is so much of Said’s intellectual legacy that both illuminates and clarifies the underlying causes of the global ecological crisis, so much that points to ways we might respond that are far more inclusive than current campaign models: ways that don’t ask suffering people to shelve their concerns about war, poverty and systemic racism and first ‘save the world’ – but instead demonstrate how all these crises are interconnected, and how the solutions could be too. In short, Said may have had no time for tree-huggers, but tree-huggers must urgently make time for Said – and for a great many other anti-imperialist, postcolonial thinkers – because without that knowledge, there is no way to understand how we ended up in this dangerous place, or to grasp the transformations required to get us out. So what follows are some thoughts – by no means complete – about what we can learn from reading Said in a warming world. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s plan to renegotiate the climate deal would require the agreement of 195 countries

Reuters reports: Donald Trump would be “highly unlikely” to be able to renegotiate the global accord on climate change if elected U.S. president, the U.N.’s climate chief said on Wednesday, as doing so would require the agreement of 195 countries.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, told Reuters earlier this month he was “not a big fan” of the climate accord and would seek to renegotiate elements of the deal.

“As we all know, Donald Trump relishes making very dramatic statements on many issues, so it is not surprising, but it is highly unlikely that that would be possible,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told journalists at the Carbon Expo event in Cologne.

The accord, struck in Paris last December, saw countries agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 with the aim of limiting the rise in the global average temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

“An agreement that has been adopted by 195 countries would require 195 countries to agree to any new negotiation,” she said.

She added the current U.S. administration was a strong supporter of the deal because it benefits the country. [Continue reading…]

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ExxonMobil CEO: Ending oil production ‘not acceptable for humanity’

The Guardian reports: Rex Tillerson, the boss of oil giant ExxonMobil, said cutting oil production was “not acceptable for humanity” as he fought off shareholders’ and activists’ attempts to force the company to fully acknowledge the impact of climate change on the environment and Exxon’s future profits.

During a long and fractious annual meeting in Dallas on Wednesday, Tillerson, who serves as Exxon’s chairman and chief executive, beat back several proposals to force the company to take more action on climate change.

However, dissident shareholders won a vote that could make it easier for them to propose board candidates concerned about climate change and remove incumbent directors.

Tillerson said Exxon had invested $7bn in green technology, but the science and technology had not yet achieved the breakthroughs needed to compete with fossil fuels. “Until we have those, just saying ‘turn the taps off’ is not acceptable to humanity,” he said. “The world is going to have to continue using fossil fuels, whether they like it or not.” [Continue reading…]

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