Timorese President José Ramos-Horta today exhorted his fellow Asians to take the lead on tackling climate change, telling the General Assembly that his continent needs a common agenda to promote sustainable development, environmental protection and better land and water management.
Mr. Ramos-Horta told the third day of the Assembly’s high-level debate that almost a year after countries failed to reach lasting agreement at a major summit in Copenhagen, there was a danger that no meaningful action will be taken and the planet’s health will deteriorate rapidly.
“If we don’t act now, in a few decades many hundreds of millions of fellow Asians will be uprooted and become climate refugees exacerbating existing tensions and conflicts,” he said.
And so it began: the countdown timer at the United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) website struck 0. On Monday December 7th, COP15 President Connie Hedegaard declared:
‘Time is up! We have had enough wake-up calls. And we have hit the snooze button one time too many. We can make Copenhagen that turning point the world is expecting. Let’s get it done!’
After 6 full days of negotiations, COP15 is now halfway through. Some progress has undoubtedly been made. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advanced the regulatory option of classifying greenhouse gas emissions as a threat to public health, which has the effect of instituting a (albeit government-determined) price on carbon. The EU also made a conditional pledge to reduce 30% of its 1990-level emissions by 2020 and committed $3.6bn per annum in prompt-start funding for developing countries in the next 3 years.
Perhaps most significantly, the first official draft of a climate deal – mercifully concise at 6 pages long – was put forth by the UNFCCC Ad-Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) on Friday. Granted, it is full of square brackets (in which unconfirmed figures and commitments are put) that ministers and heads of states will seek to fill when they arrive next week. According to the official COP15 press release:
‘… the draft states that emissions should be halved worldwide by 2050 compared to 1990 levels, but it also suggests 80 percent and 95 percent reductions by that year as possible alternative options… Even the core goal of the deal is in brackets. Throughout 2009, a number of scientific and political conferences have called for global warming to be kept below two degrees Celsius. Still, the new draft mentions 1.5 degrees Celsius as a possible alternative goal.’
The debate about targets that limit global average temperature increases to 1.5degrees or 2degrees Celsius is an especially contentious one. At the frontline of this debate is the Tuvalu-led Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), which make the case that their nations’ very existence depends crucially on a commitment to limit temperature increases to less than 1.5degrees. Tuvalu, in particular, has made a clarion (if somewhat emotional) call in appealing to developed countries to consider the plight of its people – practically all of whom live within 2metres above sea level – in the ongoing negotiations.
It is easy to underestimate the feasibility gap between 1.5deg and 2deg. It entails a stabilization of CO2e concentrations in the atmosphere at 350ppm as compared to 450ppm, and involves hundreds of billions of dollars more in mitigation and adaptation efforts. While acknowledging that ‘nobody has more legitimate concerns than [the island countries] do’, U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern pointed out that ‘1.5 [degrees] is not in the realm of what we can get done with right now’.
At the end of the day, political realities in the U.S. make it difficult for the world’s largest economy to show the ambitious international leadership that the world is looking for. Most developed countries’ proposals for emissions reductions and financing for developing countries are conditional on strong action from the U.S., and this deadlock has led to a deep rift between developed and developing countries.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than in the pointed arguments between the U.S. and China. In response to Todd Stern’s remarks that China shouldn’t expect any American public climate aid money, China’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs He Yafei said:
‘I don’t want to say the gentleman is ignorant… I think he lacks common sense when he made such a comment vis-a-vis funds for China. Either lack of common sense or extremely irresponsible.’
Such arguments for developed countries, which have been responsible for the bulk of the GHG stocks in the atmosphere, to provide financial and technological support to developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change are nothing new. What is surprising is the gap between the numbers put forth by the two sides.
The 50 countries of The African Group, for example, has called for developed countries to pay as much as 5% of their GDP to developing countries to support them in their fight against climate change. This is in the order of trillions of dollars (5% of U.S. GDP, for instance, amounts to $722bn), more than an order of magnitude higher than the amount the EU has calculated the developing countries would need. Developed countries have also been asked to commit to much more ambitious emissions reductions by a significantly earlier date: 65% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, compared with an indicative 4% the U.S. has offered.
Indeed, COP15 has not been short of drama up to this point. Late Thursday night, G-77 chief negotiator Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aiping walked away from the negotiating table, telling the Danish media that ‘things are not going well’. Tuvalu’s representative told delegates at a plenary session that he cried on his way to the conference on Friday, noting that the fate of his country rests on the outcome of the conference. All around the world and in Copenhagen, environmentalists and climate activists have been stepping up on their demonstrations, demanding that global leaders seal the deal.
At this halfway point, we have now seen much of the posturing and rhetoric that countries tend to exhibit before the ministers and heads of state arrive in Copenhagen for the second and final week. This is where the real action begins.
Hold your breath, for the planet’s fate will be decided over the course of the next week.
The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) is happening this week, from Monday Dec 7th to Friday Dec 18th. Lord Nick Stern of the LSE has rightly called COP15 ‘the most important international gathering since the Second World War’. Having been involved in Nick’s work for about a year now, I hope to bring to your attention how absolutely crucial COP15 is.
Many of us remain skeptical about whether anthropogenic climate change is indeed happening. A question I keep hearing goes along the lines of: ‘Given that the science is uncertain, why should the world throw so much resources at it for a disaster that may not even happen under business-as-usual?’
Take a moment to think about this question, and you would agree that it’s not even based on common sense.
Scientists around the world have already told us that it is ‘unequivocal’ that anthropogenic climate change is happening, and people are of course free to question the supposed ’scientific consensus’, especially since it inevitably involves major uncertainties.
But here’s the key: just because no one can be certain that we will face climate calamity does not mean that we don’t do anything about it. Prudent decision-making under uncertainty – or, quite simply, common sense – tells us that we should make use of whatever information we have at hand to make sure that we minimise the risk of climate chaos in decades to come.
In other words, the world can only justifiably choose not to expend resources to fight climate change if we know for certain that the possibility of huge damages due to anthropogenic climate change is remote. Not even the most fervent of climate deniers have come close to arguing that to be true.
It is the responsibility of an informed and educated citizenry to be aware of this logic. Let me be clear – I am by no means advocating that people stop eating meat and flying on planes to reduce emissions; all I am asking for is for us to take a moment and reason it out for ourselves why a low-carbon revolution is both necessary and desirable.
As an open atheist (proselytizing mail will go directly to the trash, thank you), I would be among the first to admit that some ‘greenies’ have taken their causes a step too far, making climate change sound like a religion based almost entirely on faith – this article by Mike Moore, former PM of New Zealand, argues as much. At the same time, it is arguable that it’s important to have these people around to counter-balance those loyal to the faith of climate denial. Needless to say more about which of the two groups is doing more harm.
Let’s face it: there is every likelihood that this generation will be among those to suffer the consequences of anthropogenic climate change decades down the road. People like Nick Stern and Al Gore rightly point out that they are spreading the message because they want their children to live on a safe planet: they probably won’t be around by the time the worst consequences happen. But we won’t have anywhere to hide.
I end this short note by asking of you to pay a little attention to the news from Copenhagen over the next two weeks.
It is one thing to be apathetic about things that don’t concern us. Quite another to be apathetic about things that do. COP15 definitely falls into the latter category.
From the (messy) desk of Benjamin (Mr Miyagi) Lee:
There seems to be little or no awareness in Singapore of the Copenhagen Summit. It’s not surprising, given our general attitude that can be summed up as, “we’re a small country, it’s not our problem, let’s see what the big boys do, then we might follow”.
Personally, I’m resigned to the fact that we do not have a framework capable of springboarding Singapore as a global leader in combating climate change despite the many, many opportunities to do so. “Let’s see what the big boys do, ‘cos we’re just a little red dot”. Our inferiority complex is astounding.
Come on, we’re not a little red dot! We’re already global leaders in many areas – we recycle our drinking water, and we’ve got the basic user-pays framework for water consumption that other nations would struggle to implement and therefore take ages to convince people that there are business opportunities in resource conservancy. There are other examples, but I’m beginning to foam at the mouth and that is not a good look.
But for those of us with a modicum of curiosity, you might want to keep abreast of what’s going on at Copenhagen – and then get back to what concerns you municipally – I just wrote to the NEA regarding the lack of recycle bins in my condo even after the management had been ordered by law to comply and supply, but that’s another longish story.
So here’s a useful primer to get you started (and hopefully keep the ball rolling by telling other people):
What is happening in Copenhagen and why is it called COP15?
First of all, COP15 doesn’t refer to COPenhagen.It stands for the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties, which is the highest body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The United States and 191 other countries around the world are all parties to this international climate treaty. And we’re up to the 15th meeting – therefore: COP15.
One of the most well-known COP meetings was COP3 in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, which resulted in the Kyoto Protocol, a document signed by over 180 countries and put into action in February 2005. The protocol set binding emissions targets for greenhouse gases for 37 industrialized countries and the European Union, committing them to reducing their emissions by 7 percent on aggregate against 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.
This year’s conference is taking place from December 7-18th in Copenhagen and is being hosted by the Danish government. Officials from 192 countries, plus a sizable number of non-governmental organizations and a large media contingent will be in attendance….
Read more at nature.org
One of the events at this year’s Indochine Green Festival is a public lecture, “Nature is Changing – Copenhagen and Beyond. What does it mean for Asia”, featuring speakers from the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Details in the invitation below:
Andy Ho from The Straits Times recently gave an interesting take on why Singapore should not commit to cutting its carbon emissions come 7 December 2009 at COP15.
In his commentary, Andy states that “9,209 scientists have signed up to www.petition-project.org to reject that global warming is caused by human activities “. He did not mention that a lot of those numbers are no longer current, since this petition was first active between the years of 1999 and 2001. It was only as recent as 2007 that the petition began recirculating, and many of the “scientists” are really PhD holders in mathematics, biology and medicine, and not climate science. In 2001, Scientific American did a random sampling on the “scientists” and found that some did not remember agreeing to it, some changed their minds about it, and one had since passed on.
Next, Andy brings up the case of Lord Christopher Monckton, who is said to be a former policy advisor to Margaret Thatcher. Monckton works for the Heartland Institute – a think-tank funded by ExxonMobil to the tune of at least US$791,000 since 1998 – as a “global warming expert”, Roy Spencer, who is later mentioned in the commentary, also has close links to Heartland Institute, even though he says he does not receive funding from oil companies.
The commentary also doesn’t at all highlight that Dr. Steenburgh, who is mentioned later in the article, said 97.4 percent of active climate scientists believe human activity is a significant factor to global warming.
There are more points that Andy has raised, but we will leave it up to you to decide how believable it is:
Reasons for Singapore to be cool on global warming
Emissions cap will slow growth while scientific evidence is not clear-cut
Andy Ho, Straits Times 30 Oct 09
A NEW global warming treaty is set to be signed in Copenhagen come December.
Singapore will face pressure from countries like Japan and Australia to be listed as an Annex I country, subject to carbon emissions caps. Revealing this at a student forum last week, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said Singapore would resist such attempts.
AnnexI comprises industrialised countries that have to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide) by 50per cent to 85per cent by 2050. Being an AnnexI country is only a small step away from a subset of AnnexII countries that have to transfer wealth to developing countries for the ‘climate debt’ the latter are owed.
Singapore is not listed on either annex. And it should stay that way. For one thing, it is not yet an OECD country. After all, a tiger economy is still part of the developing world. For another, as MM Lee argued, ‘it’s not possible to just treat (Singapore) like an ordinary country’.
While it has one of the world’s highest emissions per capita, he said, its fuel consumption cannot be cut drastically, as its manufacturing sector lives or dies by it. Much of its carbon emissions comes from manufacturing things for use in other countries, not domestically.
Anyway, as MM Lee once argued, Singapore’s diminutive size means its efforts make little difference to global warming.
In fact, there’s another good reason why the Republic should be slow to sign up to any emissions cap that could slow down the economy: The scientific evidence for and against global warming deserves a full and fair public hearing.
The 2007 consensus statement issued by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims the support of 2,500 scientists. That number actually includes those who disagreed with parts of it but had no say in the final text.
Climate science is not an exact one yet. In fact, 9,029 scientists have signed up at www.petitionproject.org to reject the notion that global warming is largely caused by human activities.
Climate change debate is thus often heated, with public challenges like the one issued in March 2007 by Lord Christopher Monckton, former policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher.
He took out big advertisements in The New York Times and Washington Post challenging Mr Al Gore to debate him. Mr Gore, who co-won with the IPCC the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his global warming evangelism, did not respond.
With the debate becoming politicised, a dispassionate, neutral forum like Parliament may provide a good platform for the issue to be aired in Singapore. This will educate Singaporeans and also forge a national consensus on the appropriate policies in response to global warming.
Singapore could look at the state of Utah in America, whose state legislators earlier this month invited two meteorologists with opposing views to brief them.
Summing up the consensus view, Dr Jim Steenburgh of the University of Utah said: ‘There is comprehensive evidence well-supported by the scientific community…that increases in greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the global warming…and that it is very unlikely that this warming is produced solely by natural processes.’
Conversely, Dr Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama-Huntsville testified that the consensus view arose from too many scientists fearing to rock the boat, even though the data they depended upon was limited. He argued that natural climate cycles, not human activities, cause climate variations, as 80per cent of the greenhouse effect is attributable not to carbon but water vapour and cloud cover. While low-level clouds provide shade and thus cooler temperatures, high-altitude clouds trap the sun’s infrared heat and thus warm up the earth.
In 2007, Dr Spencer published a study in Geophysical Research Letters using satellite images which showed that global warming leads to not more, but fewer, high-level, heat-trapping clouds. This allows more infrared heat to escape from the atmosphere into outer space, reducing global warming by 75per cent.
Received wisdom holds that warming of the earth’s surface causes water evaporation. More clouds form in the high altitudes. These trap heat and warm up the earth even more. But Dr Spencer showed that a natural cooling process exists in the upper atmosphere: Global warming leads to fewer of such clouds, so more heat escapes and cooling occurs instead.
Current climate models do not factor in this cooling mechanism. If this mechanism is verified with more empirical evidence, surely one must be circumspect about costly public policy decisions. Global emissions reduction will cost at least US$100billion (S$140billion) a year by 2020. In effect, the Copenhagen treaty promises carbon taxes for all.
In awarding President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize this year, the nominating committee’s citation said: ‘Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role’ in combating global warming. It also asserted that Mr Obama would ‘do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.’
This is patently false, since most people in the Group of 77 (G77) – including populous China and India – would not agree to reducing their use of fossil fuels. They want very much to industrialise because that will lead to material prosperity, just as it has done for the West.
Even in the US, a new Pew Research Centre poll shows that just over a third of voters – down from nearly half last year – now believe that it is human activities which cause global warming.
As December approaches, signs of fray are increasing. In Bangkok in early October, G-77 countries threatened to walk out if drafts leading to Copenhagen included binding commitments. On Oct22, India and China signed an accord to jointly fight off anticipated Western demands.
Western leaders may draft a treaty to manacle their countries. But Singapore should not be bamboozled into following suit.
Action-Pact is organized by Greenpeace, and asks for your help in putting together an “Action-Pact” for the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen this December. Each virtual package will contain your demands for a pact on climate change, and, if you have time, a brilliant slogan.
The virtual package will be delivered by a quirky cardboard cartoon character with YOUR face on it. The best slogan will appear on a Greenpeace banner and the characters will be part of a virtual video march.
See Action-Pact.org to get started!