“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet” — Economist

mar 28 2015 mona loa C02 png

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

Hopefully, on Earth Day today, high-level ministers from all countries are thinking about what they can bring to the table at a key set of meetings on climate change in early May.

This will be the first opportunity for governments to discuss their proposed climate action plans in light of the final Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last week.

“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.” — Professor Ottmar Edenhofer

That report warned that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels are still rising far too fast, even with more than 650 billion dollars invested in renewable energy in the last three years. However, over the same time period even more money was invested in getting more fossil fuels out of the ground.

The latter investment is keeping humanity and the planet locked onto a devastating path of a global temperature increase of four to five degrees C, the IPCC’s Working Group III report warned.

Scientists and economists say that unlocking ourselves from disaster will require a massive reduction in emissions – between 40 percent and 70 percent – by midcentury. This is can be readily accomplished without inventing any new technology and at a reasonably low cost, reducing global economic growth by a comparatively tiny 0.06 percent.

“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the IPCC team, said at a press conference.

It does mean an end to investments in expanding fossil fuel infrastructure as the annual growth in CO2 emissions from burning oil, coal and gas must peak and decline in the next few years. The atmosphere already has 42 percent more CO2 than it did prior to 1800.

This extra CO2 is trapping more heat from the sun, which is heating up the oceans and land, creating the conditions that spawn super storms and extreme weather. And it will do so for the next 1,000 years since CO2 is a very durable molecule.

Current emissions are adding two percent more heat-trapping CO2 each year. That will push humanity’s ‘CO2 contribution’ to 50 percent four years from now.

“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” Edenhofer said.

The IPCC’s first report released last September as part of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) clearly stated once again that the climate is changing rapidly as a result of human activity and urgent action is needed.

This was followed last month with a strong confirmation that climate impacts are already occurring on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans. This second report warned that one of the major impacts will be declines in food production unless emissions begin to decline.

The fossil fuel sector, the richest in human history, appears to be ignoring the IPCC warnings.tar sands flag copenhagen sml0000

Earlier this month, oil giant ExxonMobil issued a report to its shareholders saying it does not believe the world will curb CO2 emissions and plans to extract and sell all of its 25.2 billion barrels worth of oil and gas in its current reserves. And it will continue investments hunting down more barrels.

“All of ExxonMobil’s current hydrocarbon reserves will be needed, along with substantial future industry investments, to address global energy needs,” said William Colton, ExxonMobil’s vice president in a statement.

The IPCC agrees oil, gas and coal will still be used in future but there is a CO2 maximum to have a reasonable chance of staying below two degrees C. That fossil energy cap won’t be enough to meet global energy needs so Working Group III recommends shifting to large-scale bioenergy and biofuels, waste incineration, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

These energy sources are controversial and risky. Large-scale bioenergy and biofuels needs huge areas of land and vast quantities of water and will compete with food production.

Studies show ethanol results in more emissions than burning gasoline. Even making ethanol from the leftovers of harvested corn plants released seven percent more CO2 than gasoline while depleting the soil, a new study revealed in Nature Climate Change this week.

The IPCC acknowledges bioenergy and biofuels can increase emissions, destroy livelihoods and damage the environment, says Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch, an environmental NGO.

“It is a shame they put so much stock in something that would make things worse rather than better,” Smolker told IPS.

Given all this, what climate action plans are governments going to propose when they meet in Abu Dhabi on May 4 and 5th? This is an informal ‘put your cards on the table’ regarding a new set of commitments on emission reduction targets and action plans to be made public at the U.N. Climate Summit in September.

Current reduction targets will not avoid four degrees C, most experts agree.

In hopes of getting countries to increase their reduction targets, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked governments to bring new proposals to New York City in September. With the current U.N. Climate Change Convention meetings deadlocked on key issues, the New York Summit is intended to kick-start political momentum for an ambitious, global, legal climate treaty in 2015.

The May get-together titled the “Abu Dhabi Ascent” is the only meeting before the Summit where governments, and invited members of the private sector and civil society will come together to explore how to get ambitious action to reduce emissions.

The Abu Dhabi meeting will be a window into the future of humanity: ascent or descent?

first published as Charting a Course for Survival, or Oblivion?

Your Water Footprint Book Reviewers Making Me Blush

front cover resized1REVIEWS: 

…exceptionally lucid narration with arresting, full-page info graphics”  – Booklist,  starred review

 

“Leahy, an award-winning Ontario environmental journalist… makes it clear that the most innocent-seeming actions and products are far from water-neutral. — Toronto Star

 

“Leahy drops a tsunami of sobering facts and infographics on the heads of readers who take what comes out of their faucets for granted.” — Kirkus Reviews

 

Journalist Stephen Leahy’s new book about water footprints is a great introduction to the mysterious world of virtual water. – EcoCentric

 

“… answers on our water consumption pour forth in this entertaining and extremely well illustrated book..” — Harvest H20

 

“Leahy’s straightforward, teen-friendly explanations and clever, compelling visuals constitute an ideal introduction to the urgent facts about water.” — Booklist Review

 

Your Water Footprint:  The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use To Make Everyday Products

October 2014 Firefly Books, 160 Pages, 125 Unique Infographics only $19.95 Paperback (Also avail in hardcover) Order today

In US:  AmazonPowell’s Books; Barnes&NobleIndiebound

Canada:  Chapters-Indigo Signed copies avail at Blue Heron Books – Stephen’s home town bookstore

UK:  WH SmithAmazonWaterstones

Australia: Angus & RobertsonBooktopia

New Zealand: Mighty Ape

Canada Leading ‘Deforestation Nation’ In Race to Destroy Planet’s Last Wilderness Areas

Canada's tar sands projects visible from space
Canada’s tar sands projects visible from space

Forest Loss Results in Massive Emissions of CO2

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 5 2014 (IPS) 

The world’s last remaining forest wilderness is rapidly being lost – and much of this is taking place in Canada, not in Brazil or Indonesia where deforestation has so far made the headlines.

A new satellite study reveals that since 2000 more than 104 million hectares of forests – an area three times the size of Germany – have been destroyed or degraded.

Since 2000 more than 104 million hectares of forests – an area three times the size of Germany – have been destroyed or degraded.


“Every four seconds, an area of the size of a football (soccer) field is lost,” said Christoph Thies of Greenpeace International.

The extent of this forest loss, which is clearly visible in satellite images taken in 2000 and 2013, is “absolutely appalling” and has a global impact, Thies told IPS, because forests play a crucial in regulating the climate.


The current level of deforestation is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the world’s cars, trucks, ships and planes together, he said, adding that “governments must take urgent action” to protect intact forests by creating more protected areas, strengthening the rights of forest communities and other measures, including convincing lumber, furniture manufacturers and others to refuse to use products from virgin forests.

Greenpeace is one of several partners in the Intact Forest Landscapes initiative, along with the University of Maryland, World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia among others, that uses satellite imagery technology to determine the location and extent of the world’s last large undisturbed forests.

The new study found that half of forest loss from deforestation and degradation occurred in just three countries: Canada, Russia and Brazil. These countries are also home to about 65 percent of world’s remaining forest wilderness.

However, despite all the media attention on deforestation in the Amazon forest and the forests of Indonesia, it is Canada that has been leading the world in forest loss since 2000, accounting for 21 percent of global forest loss. By contrast, the much-better known deforestation in Indonesia has accounted for only four percent.

Brazil's Amazon forest - 2013. Credit_Courtesy of Global Forest Watch

Massive increases in oil sands and shale gas developments, as well as logging and road building, are the major cause of Canada’s forest loss, said Peter Lee of Global Forest Watch Canada, an independent Canadian NGO.

A big increase in forest fires is another cause of forest loss. Climate change has rapidly warmed northern Canada, drying out the boreal forests and bogs and making them more vulnerable to fires.

In Canada’s northern Alberta’s oil sands region, more than 12.5 million hectares of forest have been crisscrossed by roads, pipelines, power transmission lines and other infrastructure, Lee told IPS.

Canada’s oil sands and shale gas developments are expected to double and possibly triple in the next decade and “there’s little interest at the federal or provincial political level in conserving intact forest landscapes,” Lee added.

The world’s last remaining large undisturbed forests are where most of the planet’s remaining wild animals, birds, plants and other species live, Nigel Sizer, Global Director of the Forest Programme at the World Resources Institute, told a press conference.

Animals like Siberian tigers, orangutans and woodland caribou require large areas of forest wilderness, Sizer noted, and “losing these top species leads to a decline of entire forest ecosystems in subtle ways that are hard to measure.”

While forests can re-grow, this takes many decades, and in northern forests more than 100 years. However, if species go extinct or there are too few individuals left, it will take longer for a full forest ecosystem to recover – if ever.

In just 13 years, South America’s Paraguay converted an incredible 78 percent of its remaining forest wilderness mainly into large-scale soybean farms and rough pasture, the study found. Satellite images and maps on the new Global Forest Watch website offer see-it-with-your-own eyes images of Paraguay’s forests vanishing over time.

The images and data collected for the study are accessible via various tools on the website. They reveal that 25 percent of Europe’s largest remaining forest, located 900 km north of Moscow, has been chopped down to feed industrial logging operations. In the Congo, home of the world’s second largest tropical forest, 17 percent has been lost to logging, mining and road building. The Global Forest Watch website also shows details of huge areas of Congo forest licensed for future logging.

Deforestation starts with road building, often linked to logging and extractive industries, said Thies. In some countries, like Brazil and Paraguay, the prime reason is conversion to large-scale agriculture, usually for crops that will be exported.

The new data could help companies with sustainability commitments in determining which areas to avoid when sourcing commodities like timber, palm oil, beef and soy. Market-led efforts need to gain further support given the lax governance and enforcement in many of these forest regions, Thies said.

He called on the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – a voluntary certification programme that sets standards for forest management – to “also play a stronger role” and to improve those standards in order to better protect wilderness forests.

Without urgent action to curb deforestation, it is doubtful that any large-scale wild forest will remain by the end of this century, concluded Sizer.

First published on IPS

Biofuels Worse Than Paying People to Use More Gasoline – European Study

I’ve done several articles previously about the problems of biofuels. (see below). New report out today shows Europe’s biofuel policy completely wrong headed.

European plans to promote biofuels will drive farmers to convert 69,000 square km of wild land into fields and plantations, depriving the poor of food and accelerating climate change, a report by green groups warned.

…extra biofuels that Europe will use over the next decade will generate between 81 and 167 percent more carbon dioxide than fossil fuels,

— read Reuters take

My previous articles listed below cover much of the same ground although the report is more specific reading impacts of EU policy than anything to date.  — Stephen

Europe’s Green Energy Portfolio Up in Smoke?

“Europe is going to cook the world’s tropical forests to fight climate change; it’s crazy” — Millions of Trees Burned for ‘Green Energy’

Ethanol and Biofuels – Everything (Almost) You Need to Know

Europe to cook the world’s tropical forests for biofuels — British told to back off targets by its climate advisors

UPDATE 13 Sept: UK must cut biofuels target “so that tropical forests are not cut down to make way for biofuel crops, government climate advisors said last Friday.”

“Europe is going to cook the world’s tropical forests to fight climate change; it’s crazy” — Millions of Trees Burned for ‘Green Energy’ Burning trees for energy produces 1.5 times as much carbon as coal – study shows

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 24 ’09 (Tierramérica) (Revised Sept 1’10)

Millions of trees, especially from the developing countries of the South, are being shipped to Europe and burned in giant furnaces to meet “green energy” requirements … Read More

via Stephen Leahy, International Environmental Journalist

“Europe is going to cook the world’s tropical forests to fight climate change; it’s crazy” — Millions of Trees Burned for ‘Green Energy’

Burning trees for energy produces 1.5 times as much carbon as coal – study shows

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 24 ’09 (Tierramérica) (Revised Sept 1’10)

Millions of trees, especially from the developing countries of the South, are being shipped to Europe and burned in giant furnaces to meet “green energy” requirements that are supposed to combat climate change.

In the last two months alone, energy companies in Britain have announced the construction of at least six new biomass power generation plants to produce 1,200 megawatts of energy, primarily from burning woodchips.

At least another 1,200 megawatts of wood-fired energy plants, including the world’s largest, in Port Talbot, Wales, are already under construction.

Those energy plants will burn 20 to 30 million tonnes of wood annually, nearly all imported from other regions and equivalent to at least one million hectares of forest.

“Europe is going to cook the world’s tropical forests to fight climate change; it’s crazy,”Simone Lovera, of the non-governmental Global Forest Coalition, which has a southern officed in Asunción, Paraguay, told Tierramérica.

Do you find this article interesting? It exists thanks to contributions from readers. Please click here to learn more about Community Supported Journalism.

Europe has committed to reducing its carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 in an effort to fight climate change. Biofuels and biomass energy will have key roles in achieving those goals, experts say.

[UPDATE: New story details regarding subsidies, increased air pollution from wood burning and the big lie that says ‘burning wood is carbon-neutral’: see Europe’s Green Energy Portfolio Up in Smoke?]

“Biomass is a very promising sector for energy companies,” says Jarret Adams, a spokesperson for Adage, a joint venture between French nuclear power giant Areva and the U.S.-based Duke Energy.

Adage is building a 50-megawatt, wood-burning power plant in the southeastern U.S. state of Florida, the first of 12 such “green energy” plants to be built over the next six years, Adams told Tierramérica.

“Burning wood for energy is considered carbon neutral by U.S. federal and state authorities,” he said. In other words, the process of generating electricity by burning wood emits an equal or lesser amount of carbon dioxide than the quantity absorbed by the trees through photosynthesis.

When Tierramérica questioned the assumption of carbon neutrality, Adams replied, “It is, but who knows for certain?”

See complete original story here.


Europe’s Green Energy Portfolio Up in Smoke?

…the truth about the “big lie” that burning wood for energy is carbon- neutral

By Stephen Leahy

BERLIN, Jun 7, 2010 (IPS)

Europe seems hell-bent on burning the world’s forests for bioenergy, even as it offers billions of euros to save them, critics say.

The dirty secret of Europe’s vaunted green energy revolution is the fact that 68.5 percent of its renewable energy portfolio comes from biofuels and burning wood for energy, according to a report released in Brussels last week. Modern technologies like wind and solar get all the press, but burning wood is well, prehistoric.

“We estimate at least 27 million tonnes of wood biomass will be needed annually to supply planned power stations in the UK (United Kingdom) alone,” said Almuth Ernsting from Biofuelwatch, a British NGO focused on bioenergy issues.

In a story broken by IPS last fall, at least one million hectares of forest annually will be needed to feed the dozens of planned wood-fired power plants in Britain alone. The Netherlands is already burning one million tonnes of wood. Germany is up 23 million cubic meters (16.5 million tonnes) – mostly imported – and plans to double this figure by 2020, said the report co-published with the Global Justice Ecology Project, “Wood Based Bioenergy: The Green Lie”.

“It’s getting pretty scary,” Ernsting, a report co-author, told IPS. Continue reading