(Not So) Good Intentions: Climate Change Adaption & Mitigation Projects

I am pretty certain that we are all aware that everything we do has an impact as does everything we don’t do! This is particularly important as we all do our bit for the planet, nature, our environment, a sustainable future, our families, our next pair of shoes, or outfit, meal, or our next chocolate fix …… or whatever the reason is that you do the things you do.

Often we assume that our actions have no impact and that our positive and “good” actions are just that… perfectly wonderful and good for the world. We especially fall prey to thinking we have achieved great wondrous goodness when we do something that we perceive as good for the planet, nature or society. In addition green washing and misinformation by organisations simply adds to the fake feeling of ”goodness”. It is for this reason that we often end up doing things that we think are very good and that have possible negative impacts that we do not consider or that we blindly ignore.  An example is a recent presentation that I attended on energy efficiency, certified emissions reductions and climate change adaptation technology. Considering all the energy that COP 17 generated about the pros and cons of the climate change response and adaptation, I was quite hopeful that the first presentation that the first post COP 17 presentation I attended  relating to the climate change and technology issue would actually provide some new and amazing information or solution or way forward.

The presentation related to the use of agricultural wastes as an energy source, (nothing new here I thought….) specifically, palm oil processing wastes which are used to generate methane gas which is then used to generate power. Shock horror…..palm oil!

Palm oil, a major component of many processed food products has the dubious honour of being a major contributing factor to green house gas emissions, deforestation, landless-ness, relocation of marginalized communities etc

Surely, these people aren’t trying to sell a climate change adaptation solution (and we all agree that we definitely need solutions to climate change) that involves deforestation, habitat and species loss, and general negativity based on the creation of a few emissions reductions?

So the issue is, do we really need to cause more degradation and negative impacts by adopting solutions that actually take us backward in the journey towards sustainability?

When I raised the issue with the team that was presenting they had no idea about the linkage between palm oil production, species and habitat loss and deforestation etc. I am not sure whether the projects negative impacts will be mitigated or reduced but I did realize that before we blindly follow the solutions presented to us by we need to ensure that the so-called solution is in fact a solution. The other sad fact is that most people should by now know about the impacts of the palm oil industry and we should all be trying to reduce our use of palm oil and not creating opportunities for palm oil production to be increased or overlooked under the guise of sustainability and climate change adaptation.

I do note that the project uses the waste from palm oil processing and in so doing is trying to make the system more efficient. However, at the same time the use of palm oil in this project provides it (in my opinion) with a layer of green wash aimed at making it more acceptable and sustainable.

However, given the palm oil industry’s not so good record as far as habitat and species loss is concerned I think we should avoid climate change adaptation projects that may actually contribute to climate change and increased green house gas emissions in the long run.

In case you did not know here are some facts on the impact of palm oil cultivation:

  • Deforestation, mainly in tropical areas, accounts for up to one-third of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and is a driver toward dangerous climate change.
  • Greenpeace has concluded that “first generation” biodiesel extracted from new palm oil plantations may not on balance reduce emissions. If wood from forests cleared for palm plantations is burned instead of used for biodiesel, leaving forests untouched may keep more carbon out of the air.
  • Habitat destruction, leading to the demise of critically endangered species (e.g. the Sumatran tiger, the Asian rhinoceros, and the Sumatran Orangutan.)
  • Reduced biodiversity including damage to biodiversity hotspots.
  • Destruction of cash crops, such as fruit and rubber trees in Sarawak, Sabah and Kalimantan and Borneo, that belong to indigenous peoples (the Dayak), despite their frequent objections.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_palm_oil#cite_note-30)

Additional information on Palm Oil:

FAQ PALM OIL

Palm oil in your shopping

Borneo orangutan survival

CSPINET Palm Oil report

Mongabay Article on Palm Oil 

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Durban Platform: COP17 ≠ Urgent Action.

“Negotiators have sent a clear message to the world’s hungry: let them eat carbon,”Celine Charveriat: Oxfam.

 The outcome of 16 days of fun in the sun for the politicians and celebs is pretty much what was expected. In case you haven’t heard the news:

  • A commitment was made by all countries to accept binding emission cuts by 2020. Governments now get more time to negotiate emissions cuts ??
  • A new climate fund will be set up
  • Carbon markets will be expanded and countries will be able to earn money by protecting forests.

On the topic of the outcome of COP17 Mr. Ban Ki Moon has stated that the outcome is “essential for stimulating greater action and for raising the level of ambition and the mobilization of resources to respond to the challenges of climate change.” Essentially, we haven’t committed to anything other than committing to binding emissions cuts in 8 years time. In the interim the emission cuts will be debated and agreed upon by the countries by 2015 and then implemented in 2020. What does this mean? It means we do not have binding emissions targets at the moment but we will hopefully have some by 2020 (keep your fingers crossed).

So I guess in a way we should be happy…. maybe even celebrate by popping some organic champers!!

Apparently, COP17 is the commitment that big business needs (it seems that they haven’t noticed all the changes and impacts caused by in climate change, extreme events, resource degradation and scarcity etc) to ensure that they stop green-washing and earnestly start the move towards low (er)-carbon technology and a greener economy.

“Delaying real action till 2020 is a crime of global proportions.” Nnimmo Bassey: Friends of the Earth International

What we need is action not agreements or more discussions in 2015 or words that simply make investors happy. While we fine tune the wording of the agreements and the emissions targets etc we will continue merrily along the path towards higher emissions, warming and increased climate risk and vulnerability. Has any thought been given to the impact of delaying action until 2020?

  • What impact does this have on the vulnerable populations in Africa, the small island states and coastal areas?
  • What does waiting until 2020 mean for the increasing global temperature? As it is current pledges for emissions reductions are not consistent with the 2C target required and the science is not matching the action, thus we are not effectively transitioning towards the low carbon path that we should/ need to be on by 2020.
  • The financial and social cost of climate change impacts is already growing… by waiting until 2020 we are just compounding the costs and the impacts? Or are we making sure that we implement the correct actions just a little too late?
  • In addition to this, according to Damian Carrington we also have “investors that are too nervous to put money into the old economy, yet too uncertain of the low-carbon commitment of politicians to put their money into the new economy.” So why the dependence on carbon markets that are directly linked to the old economy?

“The chance of averting catastrophic climate change is slipping through our hands with every passing year that nations fail to agree on a rescue plan for the planet.” Kumi Naido: Greenpeace International director  

 “The current pledges from countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions were not enough to hold global temperatures to 2C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which scientists say climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible. Bob Ward: Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics

In conclusion; COP17 and the lack of action and commitment from politicians, eco-celebs and green-washers merely highlights the need for individual and community commitment and action to reduce emissions, environmental degradation and climate change vulnerability and risks. We cannot wait for the politicians, investors and big business to debate argue and fine tune the details of what needs to be done while flying around and attending more and more talk sessions that result in no tangible action.

Additional reading FYI:

Durban climate deal struck after tense all-night session

COP17: Decision

Ban welcomes climate change deal reached at UN conference in Durban 

BRICS & COP17

BRICS

Despite all being emerging economies Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and often being referred to in the same discussion, are all approaching the summit with different goals. This highlights the fact that the countries should not all be viewed through the same climate change lens and that each country has its own development context, agenda and goals that must be considered. For example:

The Indian GDP per capita is almost identical to that of Africa’s. No one is expecting all of Africa to match China’s commitments. Perhaps if India negotiated in 30 discrete blocks things would be different.

“You can’t compare China and India,” says Kartikeya Singh, CIERP Junior Associate at the Fletcher School who is also serving as an advisor to government delegations in Durban. “It’s convenient to compare them side-by-side because of their mammoth populations but the reality from an energy and emissions perspective, is quite different. They have fast growing economies too and all of these indicators make people want to put them together in a club.”

(www.rtcc.org)

The BRICS countries each have their own agendas and the following has emerged from the negotiations to date:

Brazil has stated that it is not placing any conditions on committing itself to an internationally legally binding instrument to reduce carbon emissions as long as such a treaty helped the fight against climate change based on scientific studies. Brazil is hoping for the following:

  1. The adoption of a second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol before the end of COP17 summit.
  2. A fully functional Green Climate Fund, which includes short-term and long-term financing mechanisms to assist developing nations to adapt to climate change.

Russia, a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, has blankly refused to consider a second commitment period.

India has emerged as the leading opponent to a binding treaty at COP 17. India is the world’s third largest carbon emitter, yet has one of the smallest one of the smallest per-capita-carbon footprints in the world, and  has made it clear that it is choosing economic growth over efforts to reduce emissions. In addition India has joined with other emerging economies in advocating a renewal of the Kyoto Protocol. Under this treaty, developing nations like India and China have no obligations to make cuts to emissions and all the onus is put on Western industrialized countries.

China, the worlds biggest greenhouse gas emitter has stated that it is open to signing a formal treaty restricting emissions after 2020. Chinas conditions arise from China’s need for rapid economic growth to counter the persistent poverty of millions of its citizens. This need for rapid economic growth is the underlying reason for China’s view that it cannot be bound by the same emissions standards as advanced industrialized nations. Chinas agreement to the signing of a treaty is subject to the following conditions;

  1. New carbon-cutting pledges by rich nations in the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol;
  2. The fast launch of the Green Climate Fund agreed on in Cancun under a supervisory regime;
  3. Implementing the consensus of adaptation;
  4. Technology transfer, transparency, capability building
  5. Other points agreed upon in the former conferences as well as appraising developed countries’ commitment during the first period of the Kyoto Protocol.

South Africa, like China, has shown interest in the EU Roadmap and has agreed to binding agreements with conditionality’s that are informed by the need for climate change adaptation financing, technology transfer and capacity building.

 

Extra Reading and references:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BRICS

http://www.ips.org/TV/cop17/basics-make-small-steps-towards-emission-reduction-deal/#more-1329

http://www.sabc.co.za/news/a/a552ec80493cd9268f8f9f1d15685aa2/Brazil-optimistic-COP-17-could-be-successful-20111129

http://www.rtcc.org/policy/comment-is-india-the-new-china/

http://dailymaverick.co.za/article/2011-12-08-deconstructing-the-african-position-at-cop17

What I Want For COP17 (& Christmas)

As I pack my bags to attend Conference of the Parties (COP) 17 (yes, I am attending, no, I will not be quaffing overpriced organic champagne with the amazing eco-celebs, financiers and politicians, as I am more of a worker bee type and will be working during COP17). I started thinking about what I would like to the outcome of COP17 to be.

Recently all one hears about in the media and COP related meetings are:

  • which politicians and celebs will be attending
  • what are the best side events to attend (heaven forbid i don’t get seen at the right event)
  • what events have you been invited to …(best make sure I get onto the rights lists! )
  • who to network with
  • do you have enough business cards…(hopefully printed on recycled paper)
  • the astronomical cost of flights and accomodation
  • who will be using public transport…. (will some people actually do this? )
  • where will you be staying
  • what will the weather be like
  • … blahblahblah.

One doesn’t really hear about the reality of climate change, the impacts that global temperature rise has as on vulnerable rural and coastal communities, what the impacts of having annual COPs have been or what the ideal outcome of this COP should be. Maybe its time someone did an evaluation of COP to determine if it is really helping with climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Reuters

I am getting ahead of myself… anyway….

I thought that maybe a some information the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the desired outcome of COP17 would be a good idea to refresh my memory and also provide a background to the negations that will be starting in Durban on 28 November 2011.

  • The UNFCCC entered into force in 1995. SInce 1995 the  Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC have been meeting annually to assess progress in dealing with climate change. The COP adopts successive decisions and resolutions  the aim of which is make up a detailed set of rules for practical and effective implementation of the Convention.
  • The COP serves as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, which adopts decisions and resolutions on the implementation of its provisions.
  • The COP adopts decisions and resolutions, published in reports of the COP with the aim of making up a detailed set of rules for practical and effective implementation of the Convention.
  • Parties to the Convention that are not Parties to the Protocol are able to participate in the CMP as observers, but without the right to take decisions.
  • South Africa (SA) will be hosting the 17th COP in Durban.
  • as the host SA holds the responsibility of being the incoming COP leadership, “this is a strategic and important task as SA will be required to coordinate and steer the COP17 process towards the reaching of an agreement.” (KZN: Department of Environmental Affairs, 2011) 
I hope at COP 17 that we do not experience a repeat of events of previous COPs with lots of talk and very few concrete actions taken that will reduce and mitigate climate change risks and vulnerabilities. Currently the politics around climate change is not aligned with the scientific evidence. this is primarily due to a lack of political will and, in my opinion, due to much emphasis being placed on “low hanging fruit” and greenwashing. despite the signs of climate change and environmental degradation we still have countries (Japan, Russia, Canada and the US) that are not willing to commit to a 2nd commitment period.
Given the history of the UNFCC COPs a good outcome would be something along the following lines:
  • An agreement that is inclusive, fair, effective and legally binding and that  operationalizes the agreements reached at Cancun while also enabling a 2nd commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.
  • A 2nd commitment period that takes forward the issues of climate change, climate resilience, climate adaptation and also enables equitable growth and development.
  • Indications/ actions relating to the implementation of a 3rd commitment period(2018) that is also a legally binding agreement for all parties.
  • A Green Climate Fund. One that actually contains funds as opposed to one that will one day have funds.
  • An adaptation committee aimed at assisting Africa, the less developed countries and the small island states.
  • The determination of a Global Peak Year of 2015 and a 2050 greenhouse gas reduction target of 80%.
  • The protection of biodiversity and forest ecosystems.
I guess I should just get used to not getting what I want!
Do you think COP17 will help us move towards a safer and more sustainable world… or do you think it is an opportunity for politicians and eco-celebs to have their egos stroked while they pretend to be working for the greater good? take poll and give us your thoughts! 

Some COP17 links:

COP 17 – Going nowhere slowly

Durban COP17 

Greenpeace and COP

Climate Change, COP17 & Champagne Environmentalists

Pop the Champers for COP17!

Days away from COP 17 and the media is abuzz with which celebs will be making an appearance in support of COP17. Apparently  Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie, Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger and probably a score of others are scheduled to attend COP 17 in Durban.  This got me thinking…

  1. Is the celeb support helping fight climate change
  2. Is the support worth the GHG emissions
  3. Do the celebs make a difference to the people most affected by climate change and environmental degradation?
  4. Is celeb support of climate and environmental issues simply perpetuating the consumerist model (the you can have it all mentality) that has helped to get us to this position of ecological debt, climate change and environmental degradation that we are tying to solve…. think greenwash, the eco-fashion bandwagon, environment as advertising and publicity stunts, inequality in resource use etc….
  5. Will the celebs be flying economy class (first class=more emissions)? will they (and their entourage) be using public transport? will they walk to all their public appearances? or maybe they will offset their emissions by planting a tree or two… or three (hopefully indigenous to the environment that they plant it in….)

Please do not for a minute think that am totally against celebrities helping out with a “good cause”. I do however believe that quite a few celebs are rather involved with greenwash and publicity as opposed to actually making a difference…… they need to really look at the impact of their lifestyles, the cause that they are promoting and the actual message that they are communicating. Some reading about the contradictions in celeb champagne lifestyles and their environmental messages….

Hypocrisy of champagne environmentalists is deceitful and distracting

Enviro-celebs attending COP17

Luxury brands must wake up to ethical and environmental responsibilities

This also brings us back to the question of whether COP17 is worth all the carbon miles?… could we not have the same or a better result through just agreeing on what needs to be done and doing it instead to flying around the world year after year and going through the same arguments again and again….

COP16 : Cancun ~ COP 17: Durban

World Energy Outlook (International Energy Agency)

As we get closer to COP17 the issues of climate change, emissions, targets, the Cancun Agreement, equity, technology transfer, climate finance and what is expected from COP17 are on everyone’s mind. I these issues aren’t on your mind they should be because climate change will impact your life in one way or another….. if it hasn’t already. So I thought a bit of information on COP16 and its outcomes as well as what is expected from COP 17 would help contextualize the issues and hopefully get more of us thinking about the key issues around climate change and COP17.

Oil Refinery. (www.gaurdian.co.uk)

The key outcome of COP 16 is the Cancun Agreement. The Cancun Agreement is not regarded as the “ideal or required” fair, binding and ambitious agreement that is needed to resolve the climate change problem. A key criticism of the Cancun agreement is the fact that the agreement focused primarily on the alleviation of climate change symptoms without effectively addressing the causes of climate change. Of particular importance is the fact that the agreement did not include a binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction target or strategy or resolve the issue of the financing of the Green Climate Fund and REDD+.

The Agreement included and recognised the following:

  • That reductions in global GHG emissions are required, in order to reduce GHG emissions
  • A Shared Vision that Parties need to take urgent action to meet this long-term goal of keeping temperature rise below 2º.
  • A paradigm shift towards building a low-carbon society is required.
  • The importance of Climate Change Adaptation.
  • REDD+:agreement on reducing emissions from deforestation was reached despite the issue of financing not being resolved.
  • Technology Transfer
  • The establishment of a Green Climate Fund to mobilize long-term finance for climate change in developing countries. The financing of the fund was not detailed or specified and this was seen as a significant gap in the agreement.
  • The inclusion of gender considerations and the recognition that climate change impacts women and men differently.

Issues that were left to be resolved at COP 17, in Durban, South Africa are;

  • A decision on the second phase for the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Agreeing which countries are most vulnerable
  • The arrangements to compensate countries for permanent loss and damage due to climate change.

Some interesting COP17 articles:

No cash will be a COP-out  

South Africa aims for fair deal at COP 17

COP 17 ‘must establish roadmap’

Why is it so hard to stop Climate Change

World headed for irreversible Climate Change