International Relations Government Environment

Climate Change Debate is Losing Momentum

Polar bear on a diminishing ice floe cake, photo: douglemoine/flickr

For those (still) interested in climate change issues, two things are happening next week that are worth to ponder:

First, Global Warming is turning 35! As announced on the blog of the RealClimate website, the term “global warming” was used for the first time in an article by Wally Broecker in the journal Science on 8 August 1975. Happy Anniversary!

Second, a UN Climate Change Confererence will be held next week (2  – 6 August 2010) in Bonn, discussing  possible contributions by both industrialized and developing countries to reduce emissions. Further issues to be discussed include how to adapt to climate changes, slow down deforestation and develop new technologies – and how all these measures can be financed. The conference is intended as a further preparation for the sixth meeting of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will take place in Cancun, Mexico, in November and December 2010.

Yet the global optimism prior to last year’s Copenhagen Summit, when there was so much hope that a newly elected US president who promised change and truly seemed to care about the environment would finally lead the world into a new, environmentally more responsible era, has all but vanished.

International Relations Government Foreign policy

Responsibility in Practice

Oil rig in a forest, courtesy of DW from the peg/flickr

Last December in Copenhagen, the Northern and Southern Hemispheres were at odds over how climate protection and economic development should be linked.

To make it short, the North argued that southern countries should develop themselves in a sustainable and ecological way. The South replied vehemently by claiming their right to development and their right to do it the same way the North did.

Apparently, Ecuador got a head start in understanding the concerns of the West and decided to put responsibility in practice. The country started the project Yasuni ITT in 2007. This project implies a conceptual break in the understanding of development and climate change.

The idea is pretty simple. Ecuador will not exploit the 850 millions of oil barrels that lie below the Yasuni forest for the sake of world heritage and climate change.

The rest of the world, mostly western countries, should in exchange contribute financially to a fund that will be internationally monitored and that will allow Ecuador to diversify its energy sources. The fund will amount to half of the benefits that Ecuador could make if it decided to exploit the oil, which is approximately €6 billion.

The project is supported by various Nobel Prize Laureates such as Mohammed Yunus, Desmond Tutu and Al Gore. Prominent environmental personalities are also on board.

This initiative is revolutionary for more than one reason.

  • It acknowledges the notion of ecological world heritage. The Yasuni forest not only benefits Ecuador. It’s also a reserve of biodiversity for the whole planet.
  • The project forces western countries to face up to their responsibilities. European and North American countries need to join the project if they want to remain credible. Unfortunately, only a few European countries, Germany, Norway, Spain and Switzerland, support the initiative.
  • It creates an example for the southern hemisphere. By renouncing oil exploitation, Ecuador acknowledges the responsibility of southern countries in the fight for climate change. It sets an example of ecological development that other countries could use. Being host of the most natural resources, the southern hemisphere has surely something to learn from the Ecuadorian experiment.
  • The project proposes to add a third generation of carbon bonds that could be traded on the ‘carbon market.’ This new generation (G3) of bonds would be given to countries that avoid or prevent environmental pollution of the atmosphere. This new concept challenges the previous understanding of carbon bonds that so far were only available for countries or companies that reduce  their level of pollution. By rewarding countries and companies that prevent pollution, this new system would move away from the “license to pollute” that has been created by the Kyoto Protocol and would ensure a more positive understanding of the carbon market.

So, why has such an alternative project not been given a greater public attention worldwide? Why only a few European countries are supporting it?

I think it is time for the West to put responsibility in practice.


ISN Weekly Theme: Social Resilience

Basketball bouncing
Can society bounce back after catastrophe? Photo: Kristin/flickr

In a new millennium that must face complex, transnational challenges ranging from climate disruption to cyberwar, averting disaster is not always an option. How then can society quickly rebound from unavoidable disruptions to its social fabric? Social resilience helps guide us toward a sustainable answer.

This ISN Special Report contains the following content:

  • Jamais Cascio’s Analysis outlines a vision for the resilient society of the future.
  • In our Podcast interview Jennifer Giroux discusses the concept of resilience in light of the Iceland volcano eruption, particularly the impact of social media and the private vs public sector relationship.
  • A Security Watch article about “The Complexity of Social Resilience” by Professor Norman Vasu of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, like the Center for Security Studies’ policy brief, “Resilience: A Tool for Preparing and Managing Emergencies.”
  • Links to relevant websites, among them the UN’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
  • Our IR Directory with relevant organizations, such as the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, which provides a research outlet for ‘non-traditional’ security studies, like social resilience.

Ozone Hole Revisited

Head scratching gorilla
Head scratching gorilla / photo: amuderick, flickr

Forget the complexity of global warming and the diffuse threat posed by global terrorism. Back in the day, problems faced by the international community seemed so much more manageable. During the Cold War, we knew who the bad guys were and where the threats came from. Environmental degradation became an important issue in the 1980s, but the problems we faced still seemed pretty straightforward: to halt de-forestation and soil erosion, we have to stop cutting trees without replacing them; to prevent the whole-sale extinction of endangered species, we have to stop hunting them.

Relatively straightforward also was the first man-made atmospheric problem humankind faced back in the ’80s: the ozone hole.

The culprit, as scientists were able to convincingly show, was a single chemical substance: the ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), widely used as coolants in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol cans.

The international community got together in Montreal and agreed to phase out the use of this ozone-depleting substance. The result was the Montreal Protocol, which entered into force in 1987 and was touted by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as ” perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date.”

Since January 1 of this year, developed states are bound by the treaty to cut HCFC consumption and production by 75 percent. The ozone hole is now slowly on the mend and scientists expect the hole to close within 50 to 100 years.

But as all our problems seem to be getting more and more complex in the 21st century, so does the good old ozone hole saga.

According to a recent piece in the New Scientist, the ozone hole over Antarctica is slowing down the warming of Antarctica (and thus the rising of sea levels). This is so because the thinning of the ozone layer is strengthening circumpolar winds that have a cooling effect on Antarctica. Once the ozone hole is closed up, the theory goes, it will trap more hot air and accelerate the melting of Antarctic glaciers.

It almost sounds as if global warming has turned the environmental success story of the 1980s into a no-win.

Or perhaps not? A scientist at Canada’s University of Waterloo, Professor Qin-Bin-Lu, now argues that the straightforward ban of HCFC in fact was more of a silver bullet to man-made atmospheric changes than we could have possibly imagined back in the ’80s.

Indeed, he argues that HCFC, and not CO2, is to blame for global warming all along. His satellite and balloon measurements show that HCFC is tens of thousands of times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 on a molecule per molecule basis.  Hence, Lu expects the global phase-out of HCFCs to eventually allow global temperatures to revert back to pre-HCFC levels.

It is an interesting theory, but to me it simply sounds too good to be true. As a member of generation X, I’m used to problems being more complex than that, and I have been taught that there simply is no silver bullet or straightforward solution to the complex global threats out there.

Besides, cutting our CO2 emissions and not burning down our forests still seem like pretty good ideas to me.


Grave Robbin,’ Climate Talkin’ (or not) and Skipped Bills

Photo: williac/flickr
Photo: williac/flickr

How they pulled it off, no one knows, but grave robbers managed to steal the body of former Cyprus president Tassos Papadopulous on Friday, a day before the anniversary of his death and as the islands two leaders meet yet again to attempt to hammer out a peace deal.

The hard-line Greek Cypriot died of lung cancer last year, 10 months after losing his quest to be re-elected in the first round of polling. Papadopulous was instrumental in calling for Greek Cypriots to reject a UN-sponsored peace deal in 2004 that would have paved the way for island reunification.

According to reports, the thieves managed to lift a 250kg stone covering the grave, dig down to the corpse and steal it.

This happened as Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias start the latest in a line of meetings to work out a reunification plan, this time, with ‘The Elders.’

Three suspects were questioned and released.

Just goes to show literally how low folks can go.

In other news: Depending on who you read, developing nations are either threatening to walk out of the Copenhagen talks or have already done so.

The NY Times says:

“Jairam Ramesh, the chief negotiator for India, said that the Group of 77 developing countries had staged the temporary walkout because their representatives had grown frustrated with how conference leaders had been conducting negotiations.”

Update (16:41): Le Temps says they’re back. Thanks Jonas!

By the way, Tyler Brule has an excellent op-ed in the FT on consumer ‘eco’ fatigue.

And last but not least: A Genovese hotel is reportedly suing Al-Saadi Gaddafi for skipping out on a EUR 300,000 bill. Muammar’s son is on the town’s soccer football team.

Good luck with that.