In this issue of Need to Know: Science & Insight I look at some of the underlying causes of extinctions, what can be done, and how you and I can help. And, believe it or not, it starts with a breakfast with a cassowary, a really big en and dangerous endangered species.
Critics Brand Climate Talks Another Lost Opportunity
By Stephen Leahy
DOHA, Qatar, Dec 11 2012 (IPS)
Rich countries came to the U.N. climate talks in Doha intent on delaying needed action on climate change for another three years and a still to be hammered out new global treaty.
This delay will be extraordinarily expensive and risky.
Every year that fossil fuel emissions fail to decline adds to the cost and reduces the odds that a global temperature rise can be kept below two degrees C.
“Science says emissions need to peak in 2015,” said Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, as the final plenary of COP 18 concluded last Saturday night, a full day late.
The 195 parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) approved a set of documents called “The Doha Climate Gateway” that does not increase emission reductions or guarantee much-needed financial help to poor countries suffering present and future impacts of climate change.
“Doha is a betrayal of people living with impacts now. And it is a sellout of our children and grandchildren’s future,” said Naidoo.
“The fossil fuel industry won,” said Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ director of strategy and policy, who has attended nearly every one of these climate negotiations over the past 18 years.
“The science is clear that four-fifths of known fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground but we continue to burn them like there is no tomorrow,” Meyer said.
“Doha became more of a trade fair…Negotiators protected the interests of corporations and not the needs of people,” he told IPS.
More than 16,000 delegates participated in the two-week conference of the parties (COP) in Doha, Qatar, a country rich in oil and gas in the heart of the Middle East fossil fuel empire.
Meyer, along with representatives from more than 700 civil society organisations, blamed the U.S. for blocking proposals for greater emissions cuts. The U.S. also refused to commit a singly penny to assisting countries hard hit by climate change. U.S. negotiators did acknowledge poor countries were suffering costly damages and losses.
The world has already warmed 0.8 degrees C, altering weather patterns and increasing extreme events which have led to nearly 400,000 deaths and more than 1.2 trillion dollars being lost every year, according a 2011 study.
A delegate from Bangladesh told IPS that climate-related damages cost his country three to four percent of its annual GDP. Climate change, which is also driven by deforestation and land conversion for agriculture, is undercutting development and will push his country’s and other countries’ economies into a steady decline, he said.
To help governments cope, industrialised nations promised to put 100 billion dollars a year into a Green Climate Fund by 2020. To bridge the gap until then, developing nations asked for 60 billion dollars in total by 2015. Britain, Germany and a few other countries promised to contribute six billion dollars.
But the U.S., Canada, Japan and others agreed only to more talks next year.
“The U.S. spends 60 billion dollars on its military marching bands,” said Naidoo.
The only hope is to build a robust grassroots movement to force countries to act in the interest of the public and future generations, he said.
“We have to build a new social movement like (the one) that overcame slavery,” agreed Oxfam International climate change policy advisor Tim Gore.
“We reject what our leaders are doing here. We are more angry, more impassioned to defeat this process,” said Gore.
The COP process is an obstacle because a few big countries can easily block the will of the majority, said Mohamed Aslam, former environment minister and chief negotiator for the Republic of the Maldives.
“The signs of global warming are obvious and we know that the safe limit is to stay below 1.5 C…and yet we are failing to act,” Aslam said in a press conference.
The U.N. spends millions of dollars on these negotiations and they are going nowhere, he said. “We are running out of time. (We) need to take this to another fora,” he said.
What is lacking is a real commitment to reduce global emissions, said Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
“What needs to change most is political will,” Figueres told IPS.
In Doha, the U.N. secretary-general announced a world leaders’ summit in 2014 to hammer out emission reduction targets to keep warming below two degrees C. The Doha Climate Gateway confirmed details for a new negotiation track to have a new global climate treaty ready for ratification in 2015 and go into force in 2020.
Under this agreement all countries will likely be obligated to make emission cuts, varying in depth and timing. Without additional cuts before 2020, reductions afterwards will need to be rapid and massive, moving to a zero-fossil fuel emission society in a few decades based on the science.
The Doha agreement includes a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol with the European Union, Australia and a few other countries agreeing to cut fossil fuel emissions between 2013 and 2020. However, they did not set new targets, agreeing instead to a mandatory review of targets in 2014.
The nations involved only represent 12 percent of global emissions, and do not include large developing country emitters like China, India and Brazil. The U.S. has never participated, while Canada and Japan have opted out of the second phase but are supposed to make to make comparable cuts but offered nothing new.
“Rich countries think they can protect themselves from the impacts, leaving the poor with no clear pathway to the future,” said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid.
“Our leaders have let us down. Civil society will have to lead to get the future we really want,” said Adow.
Ocean Acidification Leaves Mollusks Naked and Confused
Climate change is making oceans warmer and more acidic…expect the worst
By Stephen Leahy
When the carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans dissolves in seawater, carbonic acid is formed and calcium carbonate, vital for the formation of the skeletons and shells of many marine organisms, becomes scarcer.
MONTEREY, California, Oct 2 2012 (IPS)
Climate change will ruin Chilean sea snails’ ability to sniff out and avoid their archenemy, a predatory crab, according to Chilean scientists who presented their findings at an international science symposium here.
Researchers from Australia also revealed that as the oceans become more and more acidic, some fish become hyperactive and confused, and move towards their predators instead of trying to escape.
“The conditions in oceans are changing 100 times faster than at any time in the past,” said Jean-Pierre Gattuso, a marine biologist with CNRS-INSU and the Laboratoire d’Océanographie de Villefranche in France.
Climate change is making oceans warmer and more acidic. “We are beginning to understand what will happen. I think we can expect the worst,” Gattuso told Tierramérica*.
Gattuso is one of nearly 600 scientists from around the world who presented their research on Sep. 24-27 at the Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World: Ocean Acidification in Monterey, California.
Researchers discovered only 10 years ago that burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas has made the oceans about 30 percent more acidic since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Continue reading
Indigenous Peoples Can Show the Path to Low-Carbon Living If Their Land Rights Are Recognized
Youba Sokona of Mali is co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III. Photo: Citt Williams, OurWorld2.0
by Stephen Leahy
First published at National Geographic’s NewsWatch
Many indigenous peoples are living examples of societies thriving with sustainable, low-carbon lifestyles. Successfully meeting the global climate change challenge requires that much of the world shift from high carbon-living to low.
This shift is daunting. Current emissions for Australia and the United States average about 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. In the coming decades that needs to fall to two tonnes per person as it is currently in Brazil or the Dominican Republic.
Emissions from most indigenous peoples are even lower and are amongst the lowest in the world.
All options for making the shift from high- to low-carbon living need to be explored and that’s why the United Nations University Traditional Knowledge Initiative (UNU) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) invited indigenous peoples to a special three-day workshop in Cairns, Australia last week.
“Climate change is the result of our behaviour,” said Youba Sokona, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III that will report to governments in 2014 on ways carbon emissions can be reduced.
The IPCC is the world authority on climate, assessing the state of knowledge on the issue every five to six years. Traditional knowledge of local and indigenous peoples have been left out until now.
“One of the critical solutions is to change our behavior, to change our production and consumption systems,” said Sokona, a climate expert from the African nation of Mali.
The Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous peoples workshop offered a number of “examples of local peoples in Siberia, in Australia, northern Canada and in some African countries demonstrating that it is possible to change our behavior,” he said.
Marilyn Wallace, a Kuku Nyungkal Aboriginal woman. Photo: Citt Williams, OneWorld 2.0
“I live in a shack but I love being on my ‘bubu’, my traditional land,” said Marilyn Wallace of the Kuku Nyungka ‘mob’ (tribe) in northern Queensland, Australia.
Wallace has lived in towns but fought for years to “return to country” and live in her tropical forest homeland 60 kilometers from Cooktown.
At the workshop Wallace and every other indigenous delegate focused on land rights. The simple truth is that if they can’t live on and manage their lands with time-tested traditional methods, they can’t be part of the solution to climate change.
For complete article see Nat Geo’s NewsWatch
Thought Bubbles: Who Will Stand Up For Our Future on 5th of May?
Here’s a thoughtful article written by my son who is working on a farm in Tasmania. Normally he is a historical tour guide in Europe. He’s not part of any organization but just decided to take action for sake of his generation’s future. It is amazing what he and his friends are up to. — Stephen
By Derek Leahy
I sat down in a café in Franklin, Tasmania the other day trying to sort out all that has transpired these past few weeks. You see, May 5thcould very well become a massive day of action. A lot of people from all over the world want to make their voices heard the week of May 5th. International Stop the Tar Sands Day’s circle of friends just got bigger.
Anyway, I sat down in an practically empty café (Franklin is a pretty small town), opened up my journal to a blank page and took out a pencil. With the pencil I drew four separate thought bubbles on the page for four different campaigns or movements or whatever you want to call them.
The first was for 350.org’s Climate Impacts Day, which will take place the exact same day as ISTSDay; May 5th. The second thought bubble was for the Occupy Movement because members of Occupy in Canada and the UK have stepped up recently to help us out.
The last two bubbles were for International Stop the Tar Sands Day and for Ecocide. I threw in Ecocide because of an email I had received earlier in the day (thank you Kirstie for the inspiration!). We have not talked to these guys about working together on May 5th. Yet.
Indigenous Peoples Needed to Meet the Challenge of Climate Change
Gimuy Wallabarra Yidinji Dancers performing Welcome to the Country in Cairns, Australia .Photo: Gleb Raygorodetsky
By Stephen Leahy
First published at National Geographic NewsWatch
“Planning is not part of our culture. You just get up in the morning and do what you need to do for the day,” said Marilyn Wallace of the Kuku Nyungka ‘mob’ (aboriginal nation) in northern Queensland, Australia.
“Bama” or caring for their local territory is an important part of aboriginal culture and identity Wallace told participants at a mini-workshop in Cairns, Australia today Sunday March 25th prior to the start of the main workshop Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous peoples on Monday.
Caring for the land includes monitoring the impacts of climate change and using traditional knowledge to keep or sequester carbon she said.
Click here for full article plus a video visit with Marilyn in her home country.
Reducing Fossil Fuel Use Only Way to Save Dying Corals
Another important reason why continuing to burn more fossil fuels is very dangerous for all of us. Excerpts from July 2008 article — Stephen
‘The world’s fossil fuel economy is like the Titanic — we know its going to hit an iceberg but it takes a very long time to stop a really big ship..’
By Stephen Leahy
FORT LAUDERDALE, U.S., July 12, 2008 (IPS)
The rapid decline of coral reefs around the world offers a potent warning that entire ecosystems can collapse due to human activities, although there is hope for reefs if immediate action is taken, coral experts agreed at the conclusion of a five-day international meeting Friday.
“Reefs are in serious trouble, but don’t write them off,” Terry Hughes, a marine ecologist at Australia’s James Cook University told 3,000 scientists, conservationists and policy makers attending at the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“We can save reefs if we take immediate action,” Hughes said.
More than 20 percent of the world’s reefs have died, and large areas are failing due to a combination of climate change, overfishing, pollution and sea level rise. Most of the fabulous corals that attract tourists to the Caribbean are gone and half of remaining reefs in the U.S. are in serious decline.
[Update 2010 – Here’s a list of Stephen Leahy’s latest articles on corals Coral Reefs and Acid Oceans Series]
“We may be facing ocean deserts in the future,” said Guillermo Dias-Pulido of Australia’s University of Queensland.
Now Historic Flooding Hits Southern Australia
[UPDATE 19 Jan – 25 % of state of Victoria underwater]
While flood levels drop in Queensland and Brisbane, Australia’s state of Victoria has now been hit with historic levels of flooding.
A strong La Nina enhanced by global warming seems to be behind the record flooding in Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka and elsewhere as documented in my earlier article. Part of the reason for the severity of the flooding is that the atmosphere now contains 4 per cent more water vapour as a result of the increased global temperature of roughly 0.8C.
As the planet continues to warm from the burning of fossil fuels floods will get worse, but so will droughts.
Climate Change Could Be Worsening Effects of El Niño, La Niña
Global Warming Worsening Impacts; Creating New ENSO ‘Flavors’
By Stephen Leahy*
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 11, 2011 (Tierramérica)
The strongest La Niña weather system in 50 years has brought historic flooding to Australia and drought to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, driving up food prices.
Scientists now believe climate change is likely enhancing the impacts of the famous El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world.
La Niña and El Niño are, respectively, the cold and warm phases of the ENSO cycle, and form part of the system that regulates heat in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.
Both accompany simultaneous changes in surface ocean temperature and air pressure.
In conditions defined by climatologists as “neutral,” high air pressure predominates in the eastern Pacific, while low pressure predominates in the west.
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The difference in pressure generates the trade winds, which blow east to west over the surface of the tropical Pacific, pushing the warm waters westward. The deeper, cooler waters then surface in the east, replacing the warm waters.
During episodes of La Niña, the differences in pressure are more marked, the trade winds blow more strongly, and the cold-water currents in the eastern Pacific intensify.
On the other hand, during El Niño, high surface air pressure in the western Pacific and lower pressure on the coasts of the Americas cause the trade winds to weaken or change direction, resulting in warmer water temperatures in the eastern Pacific.
“There has been a very rapid transition from El Niño to La Niña in 2010,” Kevin Trenberth, a senior climate scientist with the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the central U.S. state of Colorado, told Tierramérica. Continue reading
CLIMATE CHANGE: A Vision Worth Fighting For
By Stephen Leahy*
BROOKLIN, Canada, Apr 3 (IPS) – Sweeping societal change is a slow and erratic business. The civil rights movement in the United States went nowhere for decades and then exploded in the 1960s. Not long ago, smokers could light up anywhere they pleased in Canada and the U.S. Now they are mostly confined to a few outdoor areas and as a consequence, far fewer people smoke.
“There’s been a major shift in values regarding smoking,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change at Yale University.
Anti-smoking laws, higher taxes, and knowledge about the health impacts of second-hand smoke were all factors driving the shift, Leiserowitz told IPS.
While most people are concerned about climate change, they view it as a largely abstract problem, and fail to equate it with devastating weather events such as Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, he said.
[ *This story is part three of a four-part examination of the psychological and behavioural changes needed to dial down the temperature on our global greenhouse. Part one: Climate Change Reshaping Civilization Part two: Climate River in Full Flood Part four: CLIMATE CHANGE: A Game With Too Many Free Riders ]
However, that might be changing. Australians suffering record droughts made more intense by climate change elected a new prime minister in 2007 in part because the incumbent refused to act on carbon dioxide emissions.
“Arguably, John Howard (the former prime minister) was the first national leader to lose their job over climate,” Leiserowitz said. Continue reading