Rio + 20

Civil society groups were scathing.

George Monbiot describes it as 283 paragraphs of fluff. The outcome document was given the title “The future we want”. You can read it in the first 59 pages of the official report. Go to the official site and look for a link in the top right hand corner or direct to the pdf document.

If you try reading the document you’ll soon get the idea. The verbs are affirm, recognise, acknowledge, stress, underscore, note, commit, strengthen etc, etc. They do this to everyone and everything, importantly the poor and the hungry, but also corporations large and small, small farmers, fisher folk, women, small island states, landlocked states, Africa, the oceans and seas and “Mother Earth”. In fact everything under the sun is included. You may think climate change is important. So it is, it gets three paragraphs (190-192), that’s one more than sustainable tourism (130-131) and mining (227-228). It looks as though every UN meeting, agreement and convention in the last 20 years gets a mention. For example we have the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions of the Strategic Approach to Intensive Chemical Management together with their regional and coordinating centres.

It’s a matter of ticking off and general urging, not actually doing anything. I tell a lie. The conference made three ‘decisions’. The third was to recommend that the UN Secretary General establish a registry of voluntary commitments (283) to record the financial contributions to doing everything mentioned but done by other parties. To explain the first two I’ll have to fill in some background.

Rio+20 got it’s head of power from a resolution of the UN General Assembly but it was an initiative of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) which is one of 10 functional commissions of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). ECOSOC is the UN interface point with 19 specialised agencies including the IMF, the World bank, the ILO the WMO and a number of UN agencies. The CSD was spawned by the UN general Assembly in 1992 to implement Agenda 21 arising out of the June 1992 Rio Earth Summit (more correctly, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development) which also spawned the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which spawned the Kyoto Protocol and holds a Conference of Parties every year, memorably the Copenhagen conference of 2009 and the last in Durban.

For reasons not identified it does appear that the Commission on Sustainable Development has been considered insufficiently effective to the point where it needs to be replaced. So at paragraph 84 we have:

We decide to establish a universal intergovernmental high-level political forum, building on the strengths, experiences, resources and inclusive participation modalities of the Commission on Sustainable development, and subsequently replacing the Commission. The high-level political forum shall follow up on the implementation of sustainable development and should avoid overlap with existing structures, bodies and entities in a cost-effective manner.

But “we” being the official representatives at the conference don’t do anything,

we decide to launch an intergovernmental and open, transparent and inclusive negotiation process under the general Assembly to define the format and organisational aspects of the high-level forum.

The actual work, I gather, is done by the UN bureaucrats answering to the Secretary General, reporting to the General Assembly, with the aim of convening the first forum before the 68th meeting (September 2013).

That was the first decision taken. The second (245-251) was to establish a new set of sustainable development goals building on and carrying forward the Millenium Development Goals due to be achieved (if that’s the word) by 2015. A working group of 30 representatives of member states, drawn from the five UN regional groups will prepare a set of goals for the General Assembly meeting in September next year.

Stephen Lacey’s report at Climate Progress suggests that the high-level forum will also comprise 30 members. This may well be the the new formula to inject a bit of vigour into the process.

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) who advise Chancellor Merkel directly issued an interesting press release after the conference, beginning:

The international community is currently incapable of promoting the urgently needed transformation towards a sustainable society with the requisite speed and commitment, says the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). „We might well be moving towards the end of such mammoth meetings as these. Although they make a lot of noise, the very fact that so many problems are covered means that no single problem is tackled resolutely,“ says WBGU chairman Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. „The future of humanity is too precious to be left to this ongoing game of nation-state Mikado. What we now need are pioneers from all spheres of the world community.“

It’s up to a myriad of actors within the global community. They said:

At the G8, the EU and the USA were negotiating in different directions, and the tensions between newly industrialising and developing countries led to further blockades. The result is an international crisis of leadership and confidence, a “G-Zero World” in which no leading power effectively is taking the initiative and no coalitions capable of taking action are emerging. The EU’s attempt to form a sustainability coalition for a more meaningful final statement also failed.

Also:

The global transformation towards a low-carbon, sustainable society is already taking place, yet international policy-makers are currently showing no visible will to participate. (Emphasis added)

(BTW WBGU stands for Wissenschaftliche Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen. It was set up in 1992 to advise the German Government prior to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and remains the official advisory body on climate change.)

They said much the same in a policy paper after Copenhagen.

Closer to home at The Conversation Nick Rowley, having worked on the 2005 G8 and Copenhagen, says internationalism in this area is stuffed:

Our global response to climate change and sustainability must now be a process of progressive incrementalism through decisions made by national, state and local governments, investors, businesses and individuals.

In his second piece Rowley says pretty much the same again, pointing out that most of the heavy hitters amongst the PMs didn’t bother to stop off in Rio on their way home from the Mexico G20 meeting.

Ruben Zondervan and Steinar Andresen are more specific about what needs to be done other than peak talk-fests. Upgrading the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to a specialised UN agency like the FAO was actually proposed, and favoured also by WBGU, but it didn’t get up although the final document does call on the UN General Assembly to strengthen its membership, funding and role.

The WBGU press release commented favourably on the supporting program, which “showed that the transformation towards sustainability is already in full swing”. The conference site registered over 500 on-site side events over 10 days. In Rio+20 in numbers they suggest there were thousands if you count those off-site as well. In a sense the official summit was a side-show.

Problem is, in the official summit you can go backwards. In an earlier piece George Monbiot tells us what Barack Obama’s mob were up to:

The word “equitable”, the US insists, must be cleansed from the text. So must any mention of the right to food, water, health, the rule of law, gender equality and women’s empowerment. So must a clear target of preventing two degrees of global warming. So must a commitment to change “unsustainable consumption and production patterns”, and to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources.

Most significantly, the US delegation demands the removal of many of the foundations agreed by a Republican president in Rio in 1992. In particular, it has set out to purge all mention of the core principle of that Earth summit: common but differentiated responsibilities. This means that while all countries should strive to protect the world’s resources, those with the most money and who have done the most damage should play a greater part.

I haven’t checked every one, but my impression is that most of those suggestions failed. Definitely “common but differentiated responsibilities” survived.

After the weekend Monbiot really ripped in calling the conference the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. Governments concentrate their efforts on defending the machine – consumer capitalism – that is destroying the living Earth.

Was it too much to have asked of the world’s governments, which performed such miracles in developing stealth bombers and drone warfare, global markets and trillion-dollar bailouts, that they might spend a tenth of the energy and resources they devoted to these projects on defending our living planet? It seems, sadly, that it was.

Our PM attended, but she can’t save the world on her own. Our Environment Minister stayed home. He wasn’t granted a pair by HM Opposition. Domestic political games trumps saving the planet every time!

 

Climate clippings 71b

This post was written in October 2012 trialling the site. I’ve decided to leave it in time sequence and fiddle the numbering.

1. Did climate change shape human evolution?

There’s no evidence yet that it did according to Richard Leakey.

I’m not sure about his four key questions, though. Yes, bipedalism seems to be important as does using tools to make tools. But I can’t see the importance of migration out of Africa as important to our evolution. Apart from picking up some Neanderthal genes presumably in a palm grove somewhere in the Middle East, which did boost our immune system, those of us who left Africa are much the same genetically as those who stayed behind.

I’d say the development of language was important. If you want a fourth I’d suggest our patterns of social organisation – how we interact and how we co-operate within groups. But I don’t know how much of that is in our genes.

2. Aid for climate refugees

Speaking of climate and migration, displacement by extreme weather events does not qualify you as a refugee under present UN arrangements. The International Organisation of Migration (IOM) hopes this will change at the annual United Nations climate change summit to be held in Qatar later this year, gaining access to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and other sources. It seems that 42 million people were displaced by storms, floods and droughts in Asia and the Pacific during 2010 and 2011.

3. Ocean heat content update

Skeptical Science recently posted on an update by Levitus et al on ocean heat content, which increases apace. Around 93% of additional warming goes into the ocean which is truly vast with, for example, an average depth of around 3,790 metres. This graph indicates the changing heat content within bands of the upper 2000m:

4. Southern Ocean research shows decrease in dense Antarctic bottom water

Antarctic Bottom Water is a massive current of super dense salty water which used to be which used to occupy the bottom mile of the Great Southern Ocean. Used to. Researchers are now able to report that the current is diminished by 60% compared to what it was in 1970.

Antarctic Bottom Water is colder than the normal freezing point and is a vast store of CO2. Understanding changes in this deep ocean current are crucial to understanding the likely future of global climate patterns as the planet warms. The researchers have not only been able to make direct observations, they have distributed buoys which should be able to provide data at times of the year when field work is impossible.

5. Plants flower faster than climate change models predict

For years scientists have been doing experiments to find out how much earlier plants will flower and leaf with global warming. A new study using field observations has found that plants are responding much faster than they had thought. Their research suggests that that spring flowering and leafing will continue to advance at the rate of 5 to 6 days per year for every degree celsius of warming.

What surprises me is that they thought they could model natural conditions in the lab.

It seems they will have to rethink the impacts of global warming on ecosystems and food production.

See also Science Daily.

6. Climate change experimentation goes bush

Another approach is to manipulate the environment on a large scale and monitor what happens. Researchers are using to control the amount of CO2 available to plants.

The idea is explore the role of “Australia’s large tracts of undeveloped land, known as bush” in storing carbon. They will be able to add carbon or take it away.

I’m not sure it doesn’t suffer from the same problems as experiments with plants, where only one variable was controlled, neglecting changes in precipitation patterns and cloudiness, for example.

7. Wind farms do not cause global warming

There has been a raft of articles in the MSM suggesting that wind farms cause global warming, mainly in the headlines, it seems.

In fact a study of some large wind farms in remote areas of Texas found local warming. The authors don’t know what’s going on but the suggestion is that thermal energy is being redistributed, perhaps by pulling down warmer air from higher altitudes during the nights.

For the spinning blades of wind turbines to increase the overall temperature of the planet some basic laws of physics would need to be rewritten.

Climate clippings 71

1. State of the climate 2012

BOM amd the CSIRO have produced the State of the Climate – 2012 report. BOM has a handy summary summary and link to the brochure. The CSIRO site has some added interviews. I’ve extracted two images. First is the relentless increase in ocean heat content:

Ocean heat content

Second is the rainfall pattern for April to September from 1997 to 2011:

Rainfall April to September, 1997-2011

According to the report we can expect the same only more so in the future.

See also The Conversation. Continue reading Climate clippings 71

Climate clippings 70

Stuff happens. We have a household of three with separate access to our online service and last week the youngest member blew our monthly usage budget downloading games, 11 days out from when it renews automatically on 17 March. So the speed became truly painful. Bigpond have given us a once only ‘goodwill’ 2 gigs to go on with. Trouble is, by he time I found out what was going on we’d already used a third of it.

Trouble also is that when the speed slows my email connection just doesn’t happen.

Anyway I’ve prepared a CC for this week from material to hand, then I’m going to disappear to preserve my email.

1. You’ve been told

When a link came through on a feed about a conference on what the planet would be like with 4C warming it looked a bit familiar. Then I noticed the date – October 2009. The link is now broken, but the conference is here. There’s a lot of good material in the presentation downloads, mostly depressing, some of which I looked at before things gummed up.

In the article it said that Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who advise Angela Merkel on climate change, had dropped in President Obama’s top people, who told him that the political system couldn’t cope with what he was saying about the science. He wasn’t impressed. Continue reading Climate clippings 70

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1. Electric cars

you have about 750 million cars in the world today; you’re going to have about 1.3 billion cars in about 25, 30 years; and you can’t expect them all to be running on gasoline. There isn’t that much gasoline around.

Stan Correy has a look at the future of the car industry and our potential place in it on ABC RN’s Background Briefing.

Evan Thornley, who is behind Better Place, thinks our niche in the electric car future is in the larger powerful muscle car, where we have always been. Continue reading Climate clippings 69

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1. Planning for storm surges

It seems the trickiest bit of planning for sea level rise is dealing with the increased risk of storm surges. Scientists have been taking a look at New York City.

The biggest they know about was a 3.2 metre surge in 1821, a one in 500 year event. Most buildings have a 60 to 120-year usable lifespan. With a 3-foot rise a once a century surge of 5.7 feet above tide level could occur every three to 20 years. Continue reading Climate clippings 68

Climate clippings 67

I’ve used a random image for the featured image of this post. I was going to use the one that once was my gravatar (to the left) but the original is quite small and it came up fuzzy. Continue reading Climate clippings 67

Climate clippings 66

New solar PV nanotechnology

There have been so many developments in PV technology it’s hard to know which will be significant.

Gizmag tells us about new material consisting of tiny hollow spheres, made out of nanocrystalline-silicon.

The new material is efficient, light, flexible, should be easy and cheap to make and their efficiency is less affected by the angle of the sun.

No downsides are mentioned. Continue reading Climate clippings 66

Climate clippings 65

I’m still stressing out over the project I’m working on and various health matters that are annoying, time-consuming but OK-ish. John D has helped as always, but don’t blame him for the fourth one, the one on Rupert’s WSJ.

Australian solar project to be the world’s tallest building

Hyperion solar chimney

Hyperion believes their so-called “solar updraft tower” would provide much needed power to mining operations in Western Australia, and could also connect to the grid. It hopes to go live by 2014. The company is currently seeking approval for the $1.7 billion plan.

Unlike many solar projects, this one would keep the generators humming day and night, as the ground continues to give off captured heat from dusk to dawn. Continue reading Climate clippings 65

Climate clippings 64

I’m currently working on another project, which is taking up much of my time. This week we had about 200mm of rain in one day. That could have been why my cable connection to the internet disappeared for 36 hours. I’m grateful to John D who sent me the links for each item in the following except the last.

Zero-emissions engine that runs on liquid air

A new zero-emissions engine capable of competing commercially with hydrogen fuel cells and battery electric systems appeared on the radar when respected British engineering consultancy Ricardo validated Dearman engine technology and its commercial potential.

The Dearman engine operates by injecting cryogenic (liquid) air into ambient heat inside the engine to produce high pressure gas that drives the engine – the exhaust emits cold air. It’s cheaper to build than battery electric or fuel cell technology, with excellent energy density, fast refuelling and no range anxiety. It just might be a third alternative.

Among the advantages are that it doesn’t catch fire or explode and doesn’t require rare materials. Continue reading Climate clippings 64

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China report on climate change

China's economicChina's advance will be hampered by climate change, a government report finds

(Photo from Reuters, via The Age.)

From Reuters we hear about the Second National Assessment Report on Climate Change which sums up advancing scientific knowledge about the consequences and costs of global warming for China:

Global warming fed by greenhouse gases from industry, transport and shifting land-use poses a long-term threat to China’s prosperity, health and food output, says the report.

In 2010 China’s emissions grew by 10.4%. This rate is expected to slow, but for reductions we will have to wait until about 2030, “with big falls only after mid-century”.

Here’s the Executive Summary. Continue reading Climate clippings 63

Climate clippings 62

Energy savings work!

It had passed me by, but an outfit called the Breakthrough Institute (BTI) has been suggesting that energy savings don’t work, according to a guest post at Climate Progress. They say there is a “rebound effect” which causes 60 to 100% or more of energy savings to be lost. For example, if you save on your power bill you will spend that money on a thing or activity that uses energy. The contention has been amplified in the MSM in the US.

A thorough examination of this theory has found that the rebound effect exists, but it’s 10 to 30%. So 70 to 90% of savings are permanent. This is important because, they say, 25-40% of GHG abatement could be achieved through energy savings. Continue reading Climate clippings 62

Climate change, sustainability, plus sundry other stuff