An hour ago, two members of the Arab Youth Climate Movement were arrested. They held up a banner in the COP18 conference centre that read, “Qatar, why host, not lead?”. Onlookers erupted in cheers as they were escorted out. In their wake, the mood was sombre. The process at COP is failing, the deal on the table is not an ambitious one.
What follows is the first of several dispatches from the front lines of climate negotiations. You can link to the Canadian Youth Delegation at www.cyd-djc.org
Part I:Tackling climate change from the air-conditioned desert.
COP 18, this year’s instalment of the annual United Nations climate negotiations, opens today (November 26th) in Doha, Qatar.
In the 28°C winter of Qatar, dust shifts on the street as I make my way to the shuttle. My shoes squeak in sand stained with black soot. With no sidewalk in sight, I gave up trying to preserve my shoes after dodging SUVs and 4×4 trucks on the road, almost all of them bearing the insignia of luxury brands. Continue reading
Record Arctic Ice melt, 2012.
The annual retreat of arctic ice away from the shores of the circumpolar countries ended on the 16th September. Timelapse videos of the summer’s melt show the ice morphing like an amoeba as it is pushed around by ocean currents and storms. All the while, it is being nibbled away at the edges by the warming ocean waters, and bergs are hemorrhaging through the Fram strait between Greenland and Svalbard into the North Atlantic, where they melt.
Figure 1. Arctic ice melt 2012. Note ice flowing through the Fram Strait and disappearing into the Atlantic at top right.
At its lowest, the extent[i] of the remaining ice was only 3.41 million km2, the lowest it had been since detailed recording began in 1972. What is more, this was a record coming hot on the heels of other record low ice years – in 2007, 2005, and so on.
About 800,000 km2 more ice was lost in 2012 than in the previous record loss. And if we consider ice volume, the situation is even worse; last year’s minimum volume of 4000 km3was about 75% lower than the minimum volume in 1979 (see Figure 2 below).
The unprecedented rate of change, especially in ice thickness, is obvious from sea level. Returning from a 37 day research voyage, David Barber of the University of Manitoba reported that the ice pack was “rotten” all the way to the North Pole: “The multi-year ice, what’s left of it, is so heavily decayed that it’s really no longer a barrier to transportation. You could have taken a ship right across the North Pole this year“. Continue reading
Part 1. Winning the Battle; Losing the War.
So I’m reading a short article about oil pipelines in the Report on Business. It’s banner proclaims “Beyond the protests, pipelines are a solid investment”. Sure, says author David Berman, there may be protests, fears, and discontent about pipeline projects on both sides of the Canada-US border, but investors can chill because markets care not a fig for any of that.
Berman explains that, compared to many other industries (e.g. gold mines and oil sands – great comparison group there !), pipelines are relatively safe. Hell, even “socially conscious investors” are getting in on the act. And this is why, despite all the opposition to projects like Keystone xl and Northern Gateway, share prices for pipeline builders remain strong.
This is remarkable. Environmentalists are having a field day with Enbridge, the aspirational builder of the Northern Gateway Pipeline, and pushback against Tory cutbacks to environmental spending crosses demographic, professional, and political boundaries. But the market seems to be saying that it is “all sound and fury”, and that in the end, pipelines will be built. Continue reading
But I was not there. In fact, I have largely stopped going to conferences, partly because I feel guilty about the large carbon footprint I rack up during international flights, and in part because most of them achieve little.
But David Suzuki, Canada’s elder statesman among environmentalists, was there. And I can do little better than repost his thoughts penned a few hours after the conference wrapped up. Continue reading
A few days ago, I wrote about the low expectations that most people had for the Rio +20 Earth Summit. I opined that the hopeful environmentalists and other civil society folks at the conference would be doomed to disappointment if they expected this conference to break through the logjam of entrenched interests that blocks our route to a truly sustainable society.
It’s sad to be right about this. As might be expected from a talk fest featuring 190 nations, competing national interests produced a final “agreement” that was a watery gruel of caveats and vague terminology. There was failure to move ahead on the implementation of several major issues, including climate change, biodiversity, and desertification.
Part of the problem may be the nature of summits themselves, in which leadership is conspicuously absent. Continue reading
What has really changed since the first Earth Summit?
The world has changed a good deal since the nations of the world convened the first Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
For one thing, the size of the global economy has increased by 89 percent (from US$28.1 trillion to $53.1 trillion by the end of 2011). This vast increase in the monetary value of goods and services has been accompanied by shifting tides of power as China has risen, Japan fallen, and America, once the global superpower, has succumbed to ideological infighting driven by the warped theologies of the Christian right.
The vast increase in global wealth has had little impact on overall poverty. True, large numbers of people have been lifted out of absolute poverty (which is either $1 or $2 of income per day, depending on who you listen to). But overall, while the rising tide has lifted all boats, it has lifted the yachts of the rich a hell of a lot more than the dugouts of the poor. The bottom line, according to the world’s leading poverty researcher, Branco Milanovic, is that even though incomes increased globally, levels of inequality within countries increased.
So that feeling you had about the rich getting richer and the poor getting (relatively) poorer – it was true!
But for environmentalists who think globally, the big thing that has changed appears to be that innocence and hope has been, if not lost, seriously eroded. Continue reading