Saturday, 27 June 2009

Gordon Brown's bid to lead world on global warming

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Gordon Brown yesterday bid to lead the world in tackling global warming by launching a groundbreaking initiative to set up a 100bn dollar-a-year fund, rescuing deadlocked international negotiations on a new climate treaty.

Gordon Brown wants to lead the world on climate change
Gordon Brown wants to lead the world on climate change Photo: REUTERS

In a landmark speech in London the Prime Minister publically broke with the position of other developed countries by proposing that they provide "around 100 billion dollars" (£60bn) a year to help developing nations combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

It would be used to help fund their measures both to reduce their emissions of the pollution that causes global warming and to defend themselves against the consequences of increasing temperatures and rising seas.

Such financial aid is one of the key Third World demands in the negotiations, but until now no rich country has been prepared to make a concrete response. It has been one of the main reasons why talks convened by the United Nations – which two weeks ago concluded their second abortive session so far this year in Bonn, Germany – have so far failed to make progress.

Setting out the Government's manifesto for international climate change talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year, the Prime Minister said it was essential to cap damaging carbon emissions in order to stabilise global warming.

Speaking at the manifesto launch at London Zoo, Mr Brown committed Britain to paying its "fair share" of the global total and said he expected other developed countries to do the same.

"Over recent years the world has woken to the reality of climate change. But the fact is that we have not yet joined together to act against it. Copenhagen must be the moment we do so," he said.

"If we act now, if we act together, if we act with vision and resolve, success at Copenhagen is within reach. But if we falter, the earth itself will be at risk."

Mr Brown's initiative was immediately welcomed yesterday by Denmark - which will host the crucial final session of the negotiations in Copenhagen in December – and by the key developing world governments of Bangladesh and the Maldives, two of the countries most threatened by inundation from the higher sea levels that will result from global warming.

And it received unaccustomed praise from hitherto critical environmental pressure groups. WWF-UK (formerly the World Wildlife Fund) said Britain should be "loudly applauded for being the first country to begin to break the stalemate that has dogged international talks."

Greenpeace added that "by becoming the first major leader to put a figure on how much money is needed" the Prime Minister "has shown signs of leadership on climate change that have so far been sorely lacking".

Mr Brown will now phone the leaders due to attend a climate change summit in Italy next month – starting with President Obama – to muster support for the plan. The summit, which will immediately follow the annual meeting of the heads of G8 countries, will bring together major developed and developing nations in an attempt to breathe new life into the UN negotiations.

So far European finance ministers have twice refused to come up with a figure for the amount of money they are prepared to offer, fearing that it will only be bid up by Third World countries.

Some goverments, including France, tried to persuade Mr Brown not to make today's announcement. But he decided that it was needed both to revive the negotiations and to provide a realistic proposal around on which the talks could focus.

In his speech, the Prime Minsiter described the £100 billion a year sum as "a working figure" and "a credible number against which countries can develop their plans".

He added that the negotiations "are not moving at the pace we need" and hoped his proposal would "help us move forward towards agreement."

Carbon man shuns Washington trip

An academic has refused an all expenses paid trip to a conference in Washington to discuss tackling carbon emissions.

Larch Maxey of Swansea University described the invite to the Smithsonian Festival, which this year focuses on Wales, as the "irony of our times."

He said the plane journey across the Atlantic would use several years' worth of his carbon share and now others invited to attend have followed suit.

Instead they taking part in the event via video link.

Some have chosen to fly to attend but Dr Maxey said there was "no finger pointing."

"It is a great opportunity to showcase Wales," he added.

"To be fair to the organisers they looked at getting everyone to the conference by boat but it was not possible.

Dr Larch Maxey
I would encourage everyone to think about their carbon emissions
Dr Larch Maxey

"If I had flown it's more than my share of carbon emissions for a couple of years."

He said he had been avoiding flying for around 15 years and those conferences he could not reach by rail, bus or boat he turned down.

'I regularly use phone and video conference meetings, but this is the first time I've used it to present at an international conference.

"It's really empowering to be able to make the choice.

"I would encourage everyone to think about their carbon emissions.

"We have to do everything we can as soon as we can and everyone has to play their part."

The conference, organised by the Wales' Centre for Alternative Technology, was taking place on Thursday and Friday.

Other key speakers including assembly government environment minister Jane Davidson and Molly Scott Cato of the University of Wales Cardiff, will also have their presentations streamed by staff at Swansea University.

Dr. Maxey's presentation entitled 'The Future in Our Hands: Low Impact Development and Sustainability Transitions' draws on his recent book and current research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

Wales is the featured nation at the 43rd Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival and chose to focus on sustainability throughout its programme at the festival.

US House supports emissions bill

Reposted from:

US President Barack Obama speaks at the White House (23 June 2009)
Mr Obama made climate change a key part of his election campaign

The US House of Representatives has passed a climate change bill aimed at reducing the country's emissions.

The legislation will put curbs on pollution and apply market principles to attempts to tackle global warming.

It was passed by a narrow margin of 219 votes to 212. President Barack Obama said the vote represented "enormous progress".

But the bill still has to be passed by the US Senate before it can become law, and it faces another tough fight.

"Today the House of Representatives took historic action with the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act," Mr Obama said after the vote.

"It's a bold and necessary step that holds the promise of creating new industries and millions of new jobs, decreasing our dangerous dependence on foreign oil."

'Job-killing bill'

Correspondents say the bill was passed after a long and heated session.

Bill aims to cut emissions by 17% below the level in 2005 by 2020, then by 83% by 2050
Imposes national limits and requires polluters to acquire emissions permits
Permits are either free (85%) or bought at auction (15%)
Permits can be traded, allowing major polluters to offset surplus emissions

It seeks to cut emissions from 2005 levels by 17% by 2020, introduce a carbon trading system and and force a shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources.

Supporters say it will create a new "green" industry, boosting jobs and innovation, and reduce US dependence on foreign oil.

But opponents of the bill, both Republicans and Democrats, say it will lead to massive job losses in the US and impose greater taxes on every American.

Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner said energy costs would soar, and called the legislation "the biggest job-killing bill that has ever been on the floor of the House".

The battle now moves to the Senate, where correspondents say it will face a rough ride. It is not yet clear when the Senate might debate the bill.

The legislation has been widely supported by environmentalists but there are concerns that it will not go far enough towards addressing climate change.

White House issues 'unequivocal' warning on climate change in the US

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America is already experiencing the harmful effects of global warming with hotter temperatures, retreating glaciers and rising sea levels, according to the first climate change report from the Barack Obama presidency.

The US Global Change Research Programme gave an
The US Global Change Research Programme gave an "unequivocal" warning that climate change will intensify over the next century Photo: Bloomberg News

In the strongest language ever to come out of the White House on the issue, the US Global Change Research Programme gave an "unequivocal" warning that climate change would intensify over the next century and "challenge the ability of society and natural systems to adapt".

The study's authors, who include the White House science adviser and other senior officials and academics, painted a far more ominous picture of the effects of global warming than has ever come from a US government.

The 200-page study, a climate status report required periodically by Congress, contains no new research but is far more detailed than the updates put out in the Bush era.

After failing to put out a report since 2000, the Bush administration was forced by legal action from environmental groups to issue a first draft of the report last year which provided the basis for the new one.

Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called the report a "game changer".

She said it addressed the historic US "foot-dragging" over an issue that many Americans believed only affected remote parts of the planet.

"This report demonstrates that climate change is happening now, in our own backyard, and it affects the things that people care about," she said.

The issue of water – generally a case of too much in the East and too little in the West – is a dominant theme in the study.

Global warming consequences detailed in the study included an increase in heavy downpours, shorter and warmer winters – more than seven degrees (F) warmer in the Midwest – and declining forest growth in the Southwest.

It concluded that heat-related deaths are likely to increase, with such fatalities in Chicago rising tenfold by the end of the century without a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

While warmer winters will benefit farmers by lengthening the growing season, it will also help insects and spreading diseases.

Meanwhile, warmer nights will spell trouble for America's famous maple syrup industry, pushing production north into colder Canada, said the study.

River flows will change and rising sea levels will increase the frequency of airports, roads and tunnels flooding, it said.

The Gulf Coast, where most of the biggest US ports are concentrated, would be particularly at risk.

The report's authors stressed that the chances of preventing such problems would increase if action was taken to slow global warming. Climate-related proposals that would seek to reduce America's enormous carbon footprint are currently before the US Congress.

John Holdren, the White House science adviser, said the study "tells us why remedial action is needed sooner rather than later".

The report compiled years of scientific research from government experts and academics, updating with new data.

One in six homes in England is at risk of flooding and climate change.

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Flooding in northern England

In a new report the Environment Agency calculated that 5.2 million of the homes in England are built on a flood plain, near a river or where there is a risk of surface water flooding during heavy rainfall.

Of those properties, 490,000 are at "significant risk" of flooding, which means they have a greater than one in 75 chance of being flooded in any year.

With the situation set to worsen because of climate change, it warns that 840,000 homes will be classed as at "significant risk of flooding" by 2035.

Thousands of health centres and doctors' surgeries, schools and miles of railways and roads are also liable to flooding, according to the agency's Flooding In England report.

The risk of flooding is set to increase due to rising sea levels, more rapid coastal erosion and increasingly severe and frequent rainstorms.

At present, the worst affected local authority is Boston in Lincolnshire where 23,700 properties are at high risk. In the South East of England some 111,356 are seriously threatened with flooding.

To keep a basic level of protection, the Environment Agency suggested it will be necessary to invest £20 billion over the next 25 years in flood defences.

Lord Smith of Finsbury, Chairman of the Environment Agency, said investment was "crucial" to prevent more properties becoming at risk.

"The latest climate change data shows that the risk of flooding and coastal erosion will continue to increase in the future due to rising sea levels and more frequent and heavy storms," he said.

"There are important decisions for us all to take about how to manage these risks to protect people, communities, businesses and the economy in future."

Government pamphlet urges people to walk to work to stop climate change

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Catastrophic floods and droughts caused by climate change could be prevented simply by putting less water in the kettle, according to new Government advice.

A new pamphlet, to be placed in every public library in the country, warns that the UK faces summer heat-related deaths, sea level rises and food shortages by the end of the century as a result of global warming.
But ordinary citizens can make a difference by making simple changes to their lives such as hanging out clothes to dry rather than using a tumble dryer, cutting food waste, taking showers rather than baths and switching off the television at night. The leaflet also gives advice on more costly changes people can make such as insulating their home and using energy-saving light bulbs.
It is estimated that if everyone in the UK stopped using standby on household appliances for a year, it would save the same amount of CO2 caused by the entire population of Glasgow flying to New York and back. If the whole world followed suit, it would avoid one per cent of global CO2 or 240 million tonnes.
It was issued by the Department for Energy and Climate Change to coincide with a statement by Gordon Brown on the UK's role in climate change.
The Prime Minister is due to set out the country's position on the forthcoming UN climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in December. He will commit the UK to ambitious plans to cut global greenhouse gases including an agreement that the emissions of developed nations should peak by 2015.
The UK will be negotiating as part of the EU, which has set a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. However the UK wants to push the target to beyond 30 per cent after scientists said the goal for developed countries should be at least 42 per cent by 2020.
A "war room" has been set up to co-ordinate the efforts of different departments in tackling climate change and every minister who travels abroad will be asked to push the country they are visiting about making more ambitious cuts on carbon emissions.
Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, said it was important to involve the public in such an important issue.
"I think it is essential we engage the British public in what we are trying to sign up to and what we are discussing in the coming months which is why we are distributing thousands of leaflets to try and explain what is Copenhagen all about because this cannot be something left to negotiators and Government ministers."
Nearly 20,000 pamphlets will be issued to every public library, Citizen's Advice Bureaus, health centres and schools. A new website called Act on Copenhagen will also give information on Copenhagen and more tips about how to save carbon. An "Act on CO2 Calculator" will enable people to work out how much carbon they use in their daily lives in order to make cuts.
Mr Miliband, who has called in the past for mass protests on the issue of climate change both in the UK and globally, said there was a huge appetite for taking action on climate change with organisations like the Women's Institute, the National Trust and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds all lobbying for an ambitious deal at Copenhagen.
"People believe climate change is happening in the UK, most people don't think it's a plot or something made up, but most people don't seem to think it will happen in their area," he added.
David Mackay, Professor of Physics at Cambridge University, said small actions can help to tackle climate change alongside wider action such as switching from fossil fuels to renewables.
He also said becoming vegetarian, flying less, joining a car club and supporting renewables like wind farms can help.
"If people do get serious about changing their transport, heating and energy habits and insulating their homes it is a substantial chunk of the solution but it is not the whole solution," he said.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

UK 'must plan' for warmer future

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By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News

Flooded town
Some regions of the UK are likely to see more floods, especially in winter

The UK needs to plan now for a future that will be hotter and bring greater extremes of flood and drought, says Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.

Launching the UK Climate Projections 2009 report (UKCP09), Mr Benn told MPs that the UK climate will change even with a global deal on emissions.

By 2080, London will be between 2C and 6C hotter than it is now, he said.

Every part of the UK is likely to be wetter in winter and drier in summer, according to the projections.

Summer rainfall could decrease by about 20% in the south of England and in Yorkshire and Humberside by the middle of the century.

These projections show us the future we need to avoid, and the future we need to plan for
Hilary Benn

Scotland and the north-west of England could see winter rainfall increase by a similar amount.

The government hopes UKCP09 will allow citizens, local authorities and businesses to plan for future decades.

It uses computer models of the world's climate to make projections of parameters such as temperature, rainfall and wind.

"Climate change is going to transform the way we live," said Mr Benn.

"These projections show us the future we need to avoid, and the future we need to plan for."


"These projections show us the future we need to avoid, and the future we need to plan for."


Changes in Winter Mean Rainfall
An increase of 16% in winter rainfall in the North West, increasing the amount of rain on the wettest days leading to higher flood risk

Changes in Summer Mean Rainfall
Average summer rainfall could decrease by 22% in the already water-stressed southern England

Change in Summer Mean Temperature

By the 2080s, average summer temperatures could be up to six degrees warmer in parts of southern England

An effective global deal at December's UN climate talks in Copenhagen could keep the summer temperature rise in southern England to about 2C, the projections suggest.

But if greenhouse gas emissions rise quickly, that figure could be as high as 12C, Mr Benn said.

Probable futures

The UK Met Office, which led the scientific analysis, says UKCP09 is the "most comprehensive set of probabilistic climate projections at the regional scale compiled anywhere in the world".


Scientists collated data from 400 variations of the climate computer model developed by the Hadley Centre, part of the Met Office.

Each variant has been checked to see how well it predicted the climate of past decades; and the numbers have been compared with projections of other computer models.

This allowed scientists to assign probabilities to various forecasts.

Using a range of online tools including a "weather generator", people will be able to enter their postcodes and see projections of how conditions are likely to change within 25 sq km grid squares at different points in the future.

But some climate scientists have reservations about trying to project the future on such a detailed scale.

"If your decisions depend on what's happening at these very fine scales of 25 km or even 5 km resolution then you probably shouldn't be making irreversible investment decisions now," commented Myles Allen of Oxford University, one of the UK's leading climate modellers.


But the idea of the impact assessment has been well received by environment groups.

"It's great that the government has decided to put together such a scientifically robust analysis of the potential impacts of climate change in the UK," said Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK.

"But the picture it paints is an alarming one,"

"This research confirms that not only is climate change already having a serious impact in Britain, but that we are also locked into further impacts, and that these impacts will get much worse unless we act now to tackle the problem."

Mild UK

Campaigners say that the UK impacts are likely to be minor compared to other parts of the world.

Last month a report from the Global Humanitarian Forum, the think tank chaired by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, said the UK was among the 12 countries likely to be least affected by climate change.

"Life in parts of the UK will get harder, but it will get a great deal harder in countries already suffering the impact of climate change," said Alison Doig, senior climate policy expert with Christian Aid.


"Their plight will worsen dramatically unless the international community wakes up to the fact that a full-blown emergency is looming."

On Friday, the Environment Agency will release an assessment of how the changing climate will affect the risk of impacts such as flooding in England and Wales.

Commenting on the UKCP09 projections, Environment Agency chairman Chris Smith said:

"These new projections remind us starkly of the choices we face in ensuring a sustainable future for our fragile planet.

"A failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions will lead to a battle for survival for mankind and many other species across the globe by the end of this century; and we will feel the effects here in the UK too."

The agency is likely to recommend measures that would protect areas of the UK, and sectors of the economy, against climate impacts such as flooding.

With hundreds of miles of roads and railways running along embankments, scientists are studying the impact of climate change on these vital structures