Sunday, 27 July 2008

Life on Earth is the product of evolution by natural selection.

Chain 3

From Chains of Reason

Life on Earth is the product of evolution by natural selection.

Link 1

Premise 1
A plant or animal's prospects of surviving and reproducing are affected by the nature of its anatomy.
Premise 2
There is slight, random variation in the hereditary anatomical features of the members of any species of plant or animal.
Some hereditary anatomical variations within the population of any species of plant or animal will be more conducive to survival and reproduction than others.

Link 2

Premise 1
Some hereditary anatomical variations within the population of any species of plant or animal will be more conducive to survival and reproduction than others.
Premise 2
The more an hereditary anatomical feature of a plant or animal is conducive to survival and reproduction, the more likely it is to pass into the next generation.
Some hereditary anatomical variations within the population of any species of plant or animal will be inherently more likely to pass into the next generation than others.

Link 3

Premise 1
Some hereditary anatomical variations within the population of any species of plant or animal will be inherently more likely to pass into the next generation than others.
Premise 2
In the competition between members of any species of plant or animal for finite resources and mates, any hereditary anatomical variations which are inherently more likely to pass into the next generation than others will tend to do so at the expense of those others.
Some hereditary anatomical variations within the population of any species of plant or animal will tend, in a non-random way, to become increasingly common in the population with each new generation, at the expense of other such variations.

Link 4

Premise 1
Some hereditary anatomical variations within the population of any species of plant or animal will tend, in a non-random way, to become increasingly common in the population with each new generation, at the expense of other such variations.
Premise 2
The constant occurrence of mutant genes within every generation of any species of plant or animal ensures that there is a constant supply of new variation in the population of any species of plant or animal.
The anatomical features of today’s plants and animals, and therefore the organisms themselves, could have evolved from less complex forms as the result of the non-random accumulation of the slight, random hereditary anatomical variations that always exist in the population of any species of plant or animal.

Link 5

Premise 1
The anatomical features of today’s plants and animals, and therefore the organisms themselves, could have evolved from less complex forms as the result of the non-random accumulation of the slight, random hereditary anatomical variations that always exist in the population of any species of plant or animal.
Premise 2
It can be concluded from the fossil evidence that the form of today’s plants and animals have evolved over geological time.
The anatomical features of today’s plants and animals, and therefore the organisms themselves, have evolved over geological time from less complex forms as the result of the non-random accumulation of the slight, random, and hereditary, anatomical variations that always exist in the population of any species of plant or animal.

Link 6

Premise 1
The anatomical features of today’s plants and animals, and therefore the organisms themselves, have evolved over geological time from less complex forms as the result of the non-random accumulation of the slight, random, and hereditary, anatomical variations that always exist in the population of any species of plant or animal.
Premise 2
According to the theory of evolution by natural selection, the anatomical features of today’s plants and animals, and therefore the organisms themselves, have evolved over geological time from less complex forms as the result of the non-random accumulation of the slight, random, and hereditary, anatomical variations that always exist in the population of any species of plant or animal.
Life on Earth is the product of evolution by natural selection.

External links

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Back to basics on climate change

The climate change debate has become shrouded in hot air. We need to step back and look at the larger picture

Tonight marks the exciting climax of the eco-drama Burn Up, which I enjoyed watching. Despite its simple political message, the characters were complex and interesting, the acting strong and the drama unrelenting.

Aside from the unnaturally high percentage of beautiful people and the stunning scenery, a similar climate change drama has been playing itself out here on Cif's own narrative threads in recent weeks. This was triggered by the emission of Ofcom's report on Channel 4's The Great Global Warming Swindle which caused the temperature of the debate to rise alarmingly, raising concerns about Cif's delicate ecosystem.

In fact, I have found

the growing fixation on climate change over the past few years worrying, because the entire debate has become sidetracked. What should have become by now a broad debate on the environment and our place in it has actually been reduced to a single issue. The whole environmental debate is being shoehorned through the funnel of global warming.

In a way, this is understandable, because people find it easier to focus on individual political issues than try to tackle the intricate complexities of reality.

Environmentalists and greener politicians can scare us with stories of the coming inferno, while big business and free-wheeling politicians can assure us that in consumer heaven our actions have no consequence, and even if the temperature does rise a bit, this particular hell ain't no bad place to be.


mainstream thinking has focused on the idea that a low-carb Kyoto energy diet will save our obese societies. And, like the formula of any successful dietary programme, it acknowledges pain in one aspect of our life but promises that our broader lifestyle will remain intact.

Those unable even to contemplate cutting back, cast doubts on whether the climate is actually warming up, whether temperatures will rise as much as models project, whether it is our fault and how much responsibility we bear for it.

Of course, I don't believe that our oil-based economies are sustainable and I think that switching to renewable energy is essential to our future. But even if our energy supply becomes predominantly renewable, will our woes end there?

By weaning us off oil, this will help avert a massive energy crisis that already appears to have begun. After all, at most we only have a few decades' worth of petroleum left.
According to a 1999 estimate by the American Petroleum Institute, the world's oil supplies would be depleted between 2062 and 2094.

This was based on estimated proven reserves of 1.4 to 2 trillion barrels and consumption at 80 million barrels per day. As we have learnt since then, both Opec and oil companies have had a vested interest in overstating the amount of oil that is still out there, and, already in 2005, daily oil consumption already passed the 83.5 million barrel per day mark.

The trouble is that it is not just the oil that is running out – everything is. Coal at current production levels is likely to run out within 150 years. If it is used as an oil substitute, many decades would be knocked off this projection.

Many relatively common metals, such as copper, are at risk of serious depletion, if the global economy continues its rapid upward trajectory. Even relatively abundant iron ore could disappear within six decades if demand continues to grow at 2% per year,
according to Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute.

At the current rate of deforestation, all tropical forests in the world might disappear by 2090. One model even suggests that the Amazon could be no more within half a century and that more than half of Papua New Guinea's rain forest – the third largest in the world – could disappear by 2021.

This is not just about the devastating effect on biodiversity and protecting cuddly and not-so cuddly animals, but it also means

we will be facing a global food and wood shortage pretty soon, as well as the collapse of the farming land that will replace the forests, due to soil erosion and depletion.

Droughts and desertification are also threatening millions of people. The Sahara desert is growing at a rate of up to 30 miles a year; Nigeria loses hundreds of square kilometres of land to the desert annually, and as much as 80% of arid Afghanistan's land is subject to soil erosion and desertification.

Even in more temperate Europe, droughts have dramatically increased over the past three decades – the areas affected have gone up by a fifth between 1976 and 2006. The 2003 drought affected about 100 million Europeans and southern Spain might become desert in the coming decades.

Within a couple of generations, the global economy will have outgrown the globe. Without access to other planets, exponential economic growth cannot go on indefinitely. Finite resources cannot be used to fuel infinite rises in our standards of living. One day we will hit a brick wall. Our reckless lifestyles pose some risks for ourselves and even more for future generations.

There is a desperate need to rethink our attitudes to consumerism, the disposable culture, overpopulation and the economic growth orthodoxy so as to find ways to spread the joy more equitably without necessarily committing mass suicide in the process. Humanity will probably survive our irresponsibility but our modern industrial civilisation may not, and we may become the Atlantis myth for future societies.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

'100 months to save the planet'

Man walking past screen showing share prices (Image: AP)
The group says the plans will be good for the environment and our pockets

A "Green New Deal" is needed to solve current problems of climate change, energy and finance, a report argues.

According to the Green New Deal Group, humanity only has 100 months to prevent dangerous global warming.

Its proposals include major investment in renewable energy and the creation of thousands of new "green collar" jobs.

The name is taken from President Franklin D Roosevelt's "New Deal", launched 75 years ago to bring the US out of the Great Depression.

The new grouping says rising greenhouse gas emissions, combined with escalating food and energy costs, mean the globe is facing one of its biggest crises since the 1930s.

Its members include former Friends of the Earth UK director Tony Juniper, Green MEP Caroline Lucas and Andrew Simms, policy director of the New Economics Foundation (nef).

In an article for the BBC News website's Green Room series,

Mr Simms warns that the combination of the current credit crunch, rising energy prices and accelerating emissions are "conspiring to create the perfect storm".

BBC Green Room logo

"The UK and the global economy are entering unchartered waters, and the weather forecast is not bad, but appalling.

"Instead of desperate bailing-out, we need a comprehensive plan and new course to navigate each obstacle in this new phenomenon."

The group's recommendations include:

  • massive investment in renewable energy and wider transformation in the UK
  • the creation of thousands of new "green collar" jobs
  • making low-cost capital available to fund the UK's green economic shift
  • building a new alliance between environmentalists, industry, agriculture and unions

The authors said their proposals drew inspiration from President Roosevelt's 1933 New Deal.

During 100 days, he sent a record number of bills to Congress, all of which went on to become law, including banking reforms and emergency relief programmes.

The prolific reforms were credited with turning around the US economy.

The authors say that that within "the very real timeframe of 100 months" the world will reach the point where the risk of "runaway" climate change became unacceptably high.

Climate documentary 'broke rules'

Climate documentary 'broke rules'

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website
Sun over shipwreck
Recent evidence has almost sunk the film's contention that changes in the Sun's output are driving modern-day climate change, a controversial Channel 4 film, broke Ofcom rules, the media regulator says.

In a long-awaited judgement, Ofcom says Channel 4 did not fulfil obligations to be impartial and to reflect a range of views on controversial issues.
The film also treated interviewees unfairly, but did not mislead audiences "so as to cause harm or offence".
Plaintiffs say the Ofcom judgement is "inconsistent" and "lets Channel 4 off the hook on a technicality."

Hundreds of people... were misled and it seems Ofcom didn't care about that
Sir John Houghton
The film's key contentions were that the increase in atmospheric temperatures observed since the 1970s was not primarily caused by emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, and that the modern focus on climate change is based in politics rather than science.
It is seen in some "climate sceptic" circles as a counter to Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth, and credited with influencing public perception of climate science. It has reportedly been sold to 21 countries and distributed on DVD.
High definition
"It's very disappointing that Ofcom hasn't come up with a stronger statement about being misled," said Sir John Houghton, a former head of the UK Met Office and chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scientific assessment.
"I know hundreds of people, literally hundreds, who were misled by it - they saw it, it was a well-produced programme and they imagined it had some truth behind it, so they were misled and it seems Ofcom didn't care about that," he told BBC News.
Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chairman
I think this is a vindication of the credibility and standing of the IPCC
Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC
Ofcom defines a misleading programme as one by which the audience is "materially misled so as to cause harm or offence", and that Swindle does not meet this "high test".
"The programme has been let off the hook on a highly questionable technicality," said Bob Ward, former head of media at the Royal Society, who played a prominent role in co-ordinating objections to the film.
"The ruling noted that Channel 4 had admitted errors in the graphs and data used in the programme, yet decided that this did not cause harm or offence to the audience."
Plaintiffs accused the programme of containing myriad factual inaccuracies, but Ofcom says it was "impractical and inappropriate for it to examine in detail all of the multifarious alleged examples... set out in the complaints."
The regulator also says it is only obliged to see that news programmes meet "due accuracy".
'No balance'
The broadcaster argued that the judgement vindicated its decision to showcase the documentary.
"Ofcom's ruling explicitly recognises Channel 4's right to show the programme and the paramount importance of broadcasters being able to challenge orthodoxies and explore controversial subject matter," said Hamish Mykura, the station's head of documentaries.
"This is particularly relevant to Channel 4 with its public remit and commitment to giving airtime to alternative perspectives."

On another issue - whether contributors to the programme had been treated fairly - Ofcom mainly found against Channel 4 and the film's producer WagTV.
Former UK chief scientific adviser Sir David King had been misquoted and had not been given a chance to put his case, the regulator said.
Ofcom also found in favour of Carl Wunsch, an oceanographer interviewed for the programme, who said he had been invited to take part in a programme that would "discuss in a balanced way the complicated elements of understanding of climate change", but which turned out to be "an out-and-out propaganda piece, in which there is not even a gesture toward balance".
The film alleged that the IPCC's scientific reports were driven by politics rather than science, and Ofcom ruled the organisation had not been given adequate time to respond.
"I think this is a vindication of the credibility and standing of the IPCC and the manner in which we function, and clearly brings out the distortion in whatever Channel 4 was trying to project," said Rajendra Pachauri, the organisation's chairman.
Science 'settled'
Ofcom's Broadcasting Code requires Channel 4 to show "due impartiality" on "matters of major political and industrial controversy and major matters relating to current public policy".
Model Earth
Human hands are driving climate change, Ofcom acknowledges
The last segment of the programme, dealing with the politics of climate change, broke this obligation, Ofcom judged, and did not reflect a range of views, as required under the code.
But the main portion of the film, on climate science, did not breach these rules.
Ofcom's logic is that "the link between human activity and global warming... became settled before March 2007".
This being so, it says, climate science was not "controversial" at the time of broadcast, so Channel 4 did not break regulations by broadcasting something that challenged the link.
"That's a very big inconsistency," said Sir John Houghton. "They said it's completely settled, so why worry - so they can just broadcast any old rubbish."
While some of the 265 complaints received by Ofcom were short and straightforward, one group assembled a 176-page document alleging 137 breaches of the code.
Channel 4 will have to broadcast a summary of the Ofcom ruling, but it brings no sanctions.

Opinion: A reluctant whistle-blower - The Great Global Warming Swindle

Channel 4's The Great Global Warming Swindle documentary, broadcast in March 2007, broke Ofcom rules, the UK media regulator has ruled.
The controversial programme, which presented the view that climate change was not primarily caused by burning fossil fuels, attracted a range of criticisms from viewers, including a number of leading climate scientists.
Dave Rado, who co-ordinated a formal complaint to Ofcom, explains why he felt compelled to challenge the programme's contents.

The climate "hockey stick"
The film suggested global warming was not down to burning fossil fuels

When I sat down to watch the screening of Martin Durkin's The Great Global Warming Swindle on Channel 4 in March last year, I had no idea how much of an impact it would have on my life. Fifteen months later, after a 176-page complaint involving more than 20 scientists and other distinguished academics, the film's contents have now been scrutinised by the UK media regulator.
I was initially wary of doing anything public regarding my involvement with the Ofcom complaint - I'm merely a concerned citizen, and what's important is the quality of the other contributors, who include many of the world's most respected climate scientists.
But when I was told that it was possible that the film-maker might try to portray himself as the "David", being ganged up against by the "Goliath" of the scientific establishment, I reconsidered.
I'm simply a person, unconnected with any environmental or scientific group, who believes that a public service broadcaster should not be allowed to deceive the public about science - particularly on issues that have profound implications for our future.
Natural Sceptic
My interest in climate science and my subsequent involvement in this project were sparked several years ago.
Channel 4 logo (Getty Images)
Channel 4 said it aired the film to show that the climate debate was not over
A friend told me there was a global conspiracy involving nearly all of the world's governments, most of the world's scientists and the media to convince the public that there is a major human influence on climate when they were well aware there was no evidence for this.
I am a natural sceptic, and find it hard to take conspiracy theories seriously; but out of respect for my friend I decided to research the issue in depth.
After reading hundreds of scientific papers and summaries I was struck by the quite extraordinary amount of evidence - and more importantly, the many completely independent lines of evidence that all point in the same direction - that human greenhouse gas emissions are indeed profoundly changing the climate, and that the problem is going to become extremely serious in the long run unless emissions are cut drastically.
Moreover, all of the papers I read disputing this premise used the cherry picking of evidence as a tactic. Many of them recycled long discredited myths, while others used statistically flawed techniques, in an apparent attempt to massage data in order to support their desired conclusions.
This also led me to find a number of high profile websites devoted entirely to peddling misinformation about climate - many of them run by, and most of them funded by, lobby groups that campaign against action on climate change. Many of these lobby groups are partly funded by sections of the fossil fuel industry.
So my friend was right that there are many people actively engaged in a well-funded attempt to subvert mainstream science and to mislead the public; although he seems to have been mistaken about which side is doing most of the subverting.
So by the time I watched Swindle, after all the reading I'd done, I was flabbergasted by both its brazenness and its unprecedented number of deceptions.
I hope that in some small way the complaint...provides inspiration to others who would challenge questionable assertions made by certain sections of the media
We have a right to expect broadcasters not to set out to mislead us; yet to me, this was exactly what Channel 4 and Wag TV appeared to be doing.
Where Channel 4 claimed the film was an attempt to give a minority a voice, I saw it as a systematic attempt to deceive the public, an out and out propaganda piece masquerading as a science documentary.
The morning after the broadcast, I posted on the blog of the British Antarctic Survey's scientist William Connolley, saying that I wanted to complain to Ofcom and asking whether any scientists could help me write a comprehensive complaint.
Nathan Rive and Brian Jackson responded to my post and became my two co-lead authors. William Connolley also agreed to peer review it. I wrote the same morning to Carl Wunsch, who confirmed to me what I suspected - that he had been duped.
There followed a frantic three months, in which most of my spare time was devoted to co-ordinating, editing, recruiting authors and peer reviewers, and managing the peer review process.
Humbling experience
I was astounded by how many of the world's most distinguished scientists and other academics in relevant fields were willing to devote time to the project.
Ofcom logo (Getty Images)
For example, Bert Bolin, widely regarded as the world's most distinguished climate scientist until his sad death from cancer last December, agreed to peer review some sections. Many other academics of similar standing also made huge and very time-consuming contributions, in some cases giving up several weekends in order to do so.
I found this very humbling.
The complaint was submitted in early June last year. Much of it related to individuals and organisations having had their views unfairly misrepresented without being given an opportunity to respond in the film.
In October, after receiving the sections of our complaint relating to former UK chief scientific adviser Sir David King and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Channel 4 responded with a very long document that we felt was packed with misinformation. Our response was written and reviewed by as distinguished a group of scientists as the original complaint had been, including one former and one current IPCC Co-Chair.
Largely because of Channel 4's tactics - which included trying to have our complaint thrown out - the entire process dragged on for more than a year, a huge waste of public money.
The experience has left me feeling that the odds are greatly stacked in the broadcasters' favour.
How often would ordinary members of the public have the time, inclination or support from scientists to jump over so many hurdles? And unlike the anti-Al Gore court case, there has been no rich benefactor behind this complaint - just the time and goodwill of a large number of academics who object to their fields of study being misrepresented.
In February, I began building a website called Ofcom Swindle Complaint containing our complaint, which I hope will become an educational resource for the public.
Given that many of the inaccuracies and misleading arguments in the Swindle are widely used elsewhere, I thought that the detailed response in our complaint, with thousands of links to supporting evidence, should be available to the public in an easily accessible format. I'll continue to improve the website as time goes on.
Mixed feelings
Now that Ofcom has published its ruling, I'm looking forward to getting back to my life again.
While I am very pleased that the regulators upheld our complaint that a number of scientists who contributed to the programme were unfairly treated, I am surprised and disappointed by its accuracy verdict.
Ofcom says that it was only able to consider the documentary's accuracy in terms of whether it was misleading enough to cause harm.
The issue of whether or not a programme is factually accurate only applies to news media, they explained.
Because The Great Global Warming Swindle fell outside of this category, they were not in a position to make a ruling on the accuracy of some of the assertions that the programme presented as fact.
If this is the case, then I would argue that Ofcom's remit needs to be revised in order to protect the public when it comes to programmes' accuracy on matters of science.
It's been 15 months of major highs and lows. The best parts were working with wonderful people, such as Professors Jim McCarthy and Bert Bolin, who gave their time and expertise.
The worst were the deaths of three people who made major contributions before the ruling was published. Bert Bolin was a very special person as well as a great scientist.
Also, my co-lead author Brian Jackson died last August. His involvement was immensely valuable to the complaint and he had his whole life before him.
And Chris Curtis, one of the world's leading malaria mosquito experts, died in May this year after a brief and unexpected illness. He was an exceptionally compassionate person.
I'm very saddened by their deaths and grateful to have known such wonderful, selfless people.
I hope that in some small way the complaint honours their memories and provides inspiration to others who would challenge questionable assertions made by certain sections of the media that could result in political or commercial gain.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The green inquisition

We're being force-fed vastly over-hyped scare stories which block out sensible solutions to climate change

When it comes to global warming, extreme scare stories abound. Al Gore, for example, famously claimed that a whopping six metres of sea-level rise would flood major cities around the world.

Gore's scientific adviser, Jim Hansen from Nasa, has even topped his protege. Hansen suggests that there will eventually be sea-level rises of 24 metres, with a six-metre rise happening just this century. Little wonder that fellow environmentalist Bill McKibben states that "we are engaging in a reckless drive-by drowning of much of the rest of the planet and much of the rest of creation."

Given all the warnings, here is a slightly inconvenient truth: over the past two years, the global sea level hasn't increased. It has slightly decreased. Since 1992, satellites orbiting the planet have measured the global sea level every 10 days with an amazing degree of accuracy – 3-4mm. For two years, sea levels have declined. (All of the data are available at

This doesn't mean that global warming is not true. As we emit more CO2, over time the temperature will moderately increase, causing the sea to warm and expand somewhat. Thus, the sea-level rise is expected to pick up again.

This is what the UN climate panel is telling us; the best models indicate a sea-level rise over this century of 18 to 59 centimeters (7-24 inches), with the typical estimate at 30cm.
This is not terrifying or even particularly scary – 30cm is how much the sea rose over the last 150 years.

Simply put, we're being force-fed vastly over-hyped scare stories. Proclaiming six meters of sea-level rise over this century contradicts thousands of UN scientists, and requires the sea-level rise to accelerate roughly 40-fold from today.
Imagine how climate alarmists would play up the story if we actually saw an increase in the sea-level rise.

Increasingly, alarmists claim that we should not be allowed to hear such facts. In June, Hansen proclaimed that people who spread "disinformation" about global warming – CEOs, politicians, in fact anyone who doesn't follow Hansen's narrow definition of the "truth" – should literally be tried for crimes against humanity.

It is depressing to see a scientist – even a highly politicised one – calling for a latter-day inquisition. Such a blatant attempt to curtail scientific inquiry and stifle free speech seems inexcusable.

But it is perhaps also a symptom of a broader problem. It is hard to keep up the climate panic as reality diverges from the alarmist predictions more than ever before: the global temperature has not risen over the past 10 years, it has declined precipitously in the last year and a half, and studies show that it might not rise again before the middle of the next decade. With a global recession looming and high oil and food prices undermining the living standards of the western middle class, it is becoming ever harder to sell the high-cost, inefficient Kyoto-style solution of drastic carbon cuts.

A much sounder approach than Kyoto and its successor would be to invest more in research and development of zero-carbon energy technologies – a cheaper, more effective way to truly solve the climate problem.

Hansen is not alone in trying to blame others for his message's becoming harder to sell. Canada's top environmentalist, David Suzuki, stated earlier this year that politicians "complicit in climate change" should be thrown in jail. Campaigner Mark Lynas envisions Nuremberg-style "international criminal tribunals" against those who dare to challenge the climate dogma. Clearly, this column places me at risk of incarceration by Hansen & Co.

But the globe's real problem is not a series of inconvenient facts. It is that we have blocked out sensible solutions through an alarmist panic, leading to bad policies.

Consider one of the most significant steps taken to respond to climate change. Adopted because of the climate panic, biofuels were supposed to reduce CO2 emissions. Hansen described them as part of a "brighter future for the planet." But using biofuels to combat climate change must rate as one of the poorest global "solutions" to any great challenge in recent times.

Biofuels essentially take food from mouths and puts it into cars. The grain required to fill the tank of an SUV with ethanol is enough to feed one African for a year. Thirty percent of this year's corn production in the United States will be burned up on America's highways. This has been possible only through subsidies that globally will total $15bn this year alone.

Because increased demand for biofuels leads to cutting down carbon-rich forests, a 2008 Science study showed that the net effect of using them is not to cut CO2 emissions, but to double them. The rush towards biofuels has also strongly contributed to rising food prices, which have tipped another roughly 30 million people into starvation.

Because of climate panic, our attempts to mitigate climate change have provoked an unmitigated disaster. We will waste hundreds of billions of dollars, worsen global warming, and dramatically increase starvation.
We have to stop being scared silly, stop pursuing stupid policies, and start investing in smart long-term R&D. Accusations of "crimes against humanity" must cease. Indeed, the real offense is the alarmism that closes minds to the best ways to respond to climate change.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2008.

Monday, 14 July 2008

MPs criticise government over CO2

Thermal image of a government building (Image: IRT Surveys)
Ministers have set government departments guidelines on energy

The government has made "very poor progress" on reaching its own carbon emissions-cutting targets, MPs say.

Ministers want departments and agencies to reduce emissions by 12.5% by 2010/11 compared with 1999/2000 levels - and to be carbon-neutral by 2012.

But the environment audit committee said a cut of just 4% had been achieved by 2006/07.

Chairman Tim Yeo said this damaged the government's "moral authority" on environmental issues.

'Degree of confusion'

The committee said it was "extremely disappointed" that only 0.0004% of all electricity consumed by the government was generated on Crown property using renewable energy sources such as wind, solar or biomass power plants.

Ministers were relying "too heavily" on buying offsets to help achieve carbon neutrality, the report - Making Government Operations More Sustainable - said.

There was a "degree of confusion" about how the targets would be met and these "essential issues" should be worked out urgently, the committee added.

Mr Yeo, a Conservative former minister, said: "Until the government shows that it is living up to its commitments it will find it hard to maintain the moral authority to influence the rest of us."

The committee also expressed concern over the reliability of emission figures.

Members criticised the Ministry of Defence for claiming a big cut in emissions after it sold the defence agency QinetiQ.

In reality, the committee said, the government was simply moving these emissions "off-balance sheet" to the private sector.

A committee spokesman said: "The government has now stopped claiming this as a cut in emissions, but the committee warns it not to make similar claims in the future."

The Office of Government Commerce should annually publish details of the amount the Government expected to spend on offsetting emissions, it was added.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

G8 fails to set climate world alight

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

G8 leaders believe they have planted the seeds of climate success

At first sight, the G8 agreement on climate change promises much.

Leaders are "committed to avoiding the most serious consequences of climate change", and determined to stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at levels that would avoid "dangerous climate change".

In fact, this is exactly what leaders of nearly 200 countries signed up to in the original UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), agreed at the 1992 Earth Summit. So if re-stating a 16-year-old commitment is progress, then this is clearly a success.

The question ever since Rio has been what to do about it. But the reality of negotiations within groups such as the G8 is that every party needs to emerge with bits of language that they can point to and say "I won".

So here is the key sentence in all its diplomatic finery: "We seek to share with all parties to the UNFCCC the vision of, and together with them to consider and adopt in the UNFCCC negotiations, the goal of achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050, recognising that this global challenge can only be met by a global response, in particular, by the contributions from all major economies, consistent with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities."

The G8 are crawling forward on emissions cuts at a time when giant leaps and bounds are needed
Peter Grant, Tearfund

So the EU emerges with an apparent commitment to cut emissions by at least 50%.

The US and Canadian administrations can say that it is only a commitment if the major developing countries play ball, and that the 50% figure concerns global emissions, not necessarily their own.

And the major developing countries, involved on the sidelines of the G8 summit, can point to inclusion of the UNFCCC phrase "common but differentiated responsibilities" as continued acknowledgement that far less would be required of them than of developed economies.

Off base

The host nation Japan appears to have won two key concessions.

One is that different industrial sectors could be set different targets with the aim of preserving competitiveness.

The second, which is more important, concerns the baseline year against which carbon savings would be measured.

With very few exceptions, the UN process has always used 1990 as the baseline.

But Japan argues this is unfair. The significant gains in energy efficiency it made before 1990 are effectively penalised, it says, while the gains made in Europe after 1990 through the clean-up of Soviet-era industry and the switch to natural gas are rewarded.

Inflatable politicians hover at G8 summit
Campaigners say the G8 has shown far less ambition than is needed

The G8 document does not specify a baseline year, but asked by reporters, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said it was "current levels".

This would be significant in at least three ways.

From a practical standpoint, emissions have risen by more than a quarter since 1990; so a 50% cut from now is worth far less than a 50% cut from 1990 levels.

On the diplomatic front, it would raise a big question for the EU, which has taken 1990 as the baseline for its own target of cutting emissions by 20% by 2020. The UK's domestic targets also use 1990.

And from a philosophical point of view, it would again amount to turning the clock back 16 years, and saying "we're going to ignore what we said then and start again from here".

The EU will continue to insist that 1990 stays as the baseline in UN talks; and as the G8 document does not specify any date, any party can select whatever it feels is more politically acceptable when reporting back to its electorate.

But just by raising the issue, Mr Fukuda has thrown up yet another thing for parties to argue about.

Leadership question

So it is perhaps not surprising that campaign groups have lined up to criticise the deal.

WWF said it confirmed the recent trend of industrialised countries showing less, rather than more, of the leadership required.

"The G8 are responsible for 62% of the carbon dioxide accumulated in the Earth's atmosphere, which makes them the main culprit of climate change and the biggest part of the problem", said the director of the group's global climate initiative, Kim Carstensen.

"WWF finds it pathetic that they still duck their historic responsibility, and refuse to turn from the main driver of the problem into the main driver of the solution."

Tearfund, which campaigns on issues of developing world poverty rather than the environment per se, added that using a 1990 baseline was crucial.

"Concrete commitments on climate change are the acid test of success at this summit," said international director Peter Grant.

"The G8 are crawling forward on emissions cuts at a time when giant leaps and bounds are needed."

Coal-fired power station
The G8 acknowledged that the coal industry needs to be cleaner

The other main gripe of these organisations is that 2050 is too distant. They have been urging parties to commit to shorter timescales for achieving cuts, as the EU has done with its own 2020 target, arguing that this removes the option of delaying action until it is too late.

Instead, the statement merely acknowledges that "a long-term global goal will require mid-term goals and national plans to achieve them" - without specifying what these goals should look like.

Elsewhere, there is acknowledgement that the poorest countries are going to need help to adapt to climate impacts, and that clean energy technologies need to be developed and rolled out rapidly.

There is support for the rapid development of "clean coal" demonstration plants, in particular, and recognition that some countries will seek to lower carbon emissions through investing in nuclear.

Place in the world

It is important to recognise what the G8 could not achieve.

The UNFCCC is the sovereign body for making global agreements, and the two-year road leading from last December's UN climate summit in Bali to next year's in Copenhagen is still the most important route to a low-carbon future.

Nothing that the G8 or G8+5 or G20 or any other expansion of the core group could agree would change that.

What this week's gathering could have done was to point the way and ease the path, by agreeing a common front to take into the UN process.

On Wednesday, G8 countries meet the large group of "big emitters" or "major economies", the latest stage in a process formulated by the Bush administration.

The group includes major developing countries such as China, India and Mexico. And they have already set out their stall, responding to the G8 declaration with a statement calling on rich countries to go further and faster, committing to cuts of 25-40% by 2020 and 80-90% by 2050.

So far, then, this G8 summit has confused the issue rather than clarifying it.

Governments are as divided as ever on what they are prepared to pledge and what they want to achieve; and re-opening the baseline year question is potentially hugely destructive.

Summit ends with climate 'vision'

US President George W Bush, South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, Russian President Dmitry Medvede, Germany's Angela Merkel, and Canada's Stephen Harper at G8 meeting in Japan, 9 July
G8 leaders and developing nations remain divided on emissions cuts

World leaders have proclaimed a "shared vision" on climate change, but failed to bridge differences between rich and emerging nations on curbing emissions.

Concluding a summit in northern Japan, leaders from the G8 and developing countries said "deep cuts" in greenhouse gas emissions were needed.

China and other emerging powers declined to endorse specific targets.

The three-day summit on Hokkaido island also discussed Zimbabwe, and the global rise in food and energy prices.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had called on the G8 to tackle the "interconnected challenges" of soaring food costs, development, and climate change.

On the third and final day of the summit, the G8 and eight developing countries issued a statement calling global warming "one of the great global challenges of our time".

We, the leaders of the world's major economies, both developed and developing, commit to combat climate change in accordance with our common but differentiated responsibilities
G8 statement on climate

But it stopped short of urging numerical targets reducing greenhouse emissions.

"Leaders of the world's major economies, both developed and developing, commit to combat climate change in accordance with our common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities," it said.

India and China dismissed the rich nations' call for them to halve emissions by 2050.

The BBC's Roger Harrabin at the summit says China felt that emerging economies were being implicitly asked to take responsibility for a problem caused mainly so far by the West.

'Criminal cabal'

On Tuesday,

the G8 - which includes the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia - restated its "vision" of halving harmful emissions by 2050.

But Mexico, Brazil, China, India and South Africa challenged developed countries to cut their greenhouse emissions by more than 80% by 2050.

Leading environmentalist R K Pachauri discusses the summit outcome (Recommended, 6 mins)

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said the G8 leaders had demonstrated they were serious about tackling climate change.

"It is the very first time ever that leaders of the major economies have got down to vigorous discussions on a broad range of climate-change-related issues, and I believe that the leaders have shown strong political will," he said.

Why G8 climate pledge doesn't go far enough

  • 17:16 08 July 2008
  • news service
  • Catherine Brahic

The world's leading economic powers agreed Tuesday that global emissions should to be reduced 50% by 2050.

On the face of it that seems like good news for the environment, but the G8 nations failed to say whether they would halve current or past emissions levels, rendering the agreement "pathetic", say campaigners.

Moreover the agreement failed to say how nations should split the burden of responsibility for emissions cuts, and, crucially, what would be done in the short term to meet the 2050 target.

On day two of the G8 summit on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK, the US and the European Union agreed to a statement on environment and climate change.

In it, they say they "seek to consider and adopt [in UN negotiations] the goal of achieving at least 50% reduction of global emissions by 2050".

'Strong signal'

Politicians have hailed the statement as breakthrough, pointing out that at the same summit last year, the countries could only agree to "seriously consider" such a target – falling short of a commitment to adopt it.

"This is a strong signal to citizens around the world. A new, shared vision by the major economies in the climate challenge within the UN framework has emerged," says José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission.

The agreement refers to international UN climate-change negotiations on several occasions, indicating the G8's support for that process. There have been fears that the agreements made in different political forums could work against each other.

Missing base

But environmental campaign groups have been quick to point out that the statement is missing a "base year". The Kyoto protocol, for instance, states that emissions will be reduced by 5.2% by 2012 relative to 1990 levels – with 1990 being the base year. Without this, an emissions target bears little meaning.

Speaking from Hokkaido, Kathrin Gutmann, policy coordinator for the WWF Climate Change Programme, says the countries could not agree on a base year and so left it out.

The EU, she says, pushed for 1990, in line with the Kyoto protocol. However, Japan and Canada, whose emissions have risen considerably since 1990, wanted more recent base years. Japan was keen for a 50% reduction compared to current emission levels.

"That would make a 10 percentage point difference," says Gutmann. "If the target were to cut emissions by 50% by 2050 relative to 2008 levels, that would mean a reduction of less than 40% when translated to 1990 levels."

Speedy decision

It nonetheless comes as a surprise that the G8, including the US, were able to agree on a statement at all so early on in the summit. The reason is perhaps that China, India and other influential developing countries are not involved.

This allowed the G8 to make the 50% target a global one, without saying how it would be shared between developing and developed nations, something which environmental charities have also criticised.

The document has also been criticised for taking too much of a long-term view on climate change. "Governments think in five-year periods and act in five-year horizons," says Gutmann.

"You need to link long-term goals to short-term action," agrees Jim Watson of the Tyndall Centre on Climate Change in the UK. "You need to something to tell you if you're on track to meet the 2050 goal."

Carbon pie

But Watson says the G8 cannot be expected to make concrete agreements and decide how to split the responsibility for cutting emissions between developed and developing countries. "In a way, if the G8 started cutting up the carbon pie, the rest of the world would cry foul and say it was trying to sidestep the UN," he says.

On Wednesday, US president George W Bush will convene the last in the series of Major Economies Meetings (MEM) which he launched last year. China, India, Brazil and other developing countries that rank among the world's top emitters will be present at these meetings.

A draft MEM agreement seen by New Scientist makes no mention of quantified targets, although it does state that "deep cuts in global emissions will be necessary".

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