Van Jones endorses Greenhouse Development Rights, is fired

Van Jones, a high-profile victim of US Administration timidity, may not longer be Barack Obama’s green jobs guru, but he’s still ours. In this context, we note that his bestselling book, The Green Collar Economy, endorses Greenhouse Development Rights (see page 164) in glowing terms. Why, because GDRs…

recognizes that the desperately poor around the world have a right to develop themselves economically, even if they add slightly to carbon emissions. In other words, they have a right to bring themselves up to a dignified level of consumption. Meanwhile, it is the rich who must now bring their emissions and consumption down to a dignified level.

"Planetary Boundaries" loom

In a new approach to synthetic environmental science, a prestigious research team fronted by the Stockholm Resilience Centre‘s Johan Rockstrm has just published a fascinating paper on “planetary boundaries,” in Nature, under the title of A safe operating space for humanity.

Planetary boundaries are “values for control variables that are either at a safe distance from thresholds for processes with evidence of threshold behavior or at dangerous levels for processes without evidence of thresholds.”

To meet the challenge of maintaining the Holocene state, we propose a framework based on planetary boundaries. These boundaries define the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth system and are associated with the planets bio-physical subsystems or processes. Although Earths complex systems sometimes respond smoothly to changing pressures, it seems that this will prove to be the exception rather than the rule. Many subsystems of Earth react in a nonlinear, often abrupt, way, and are particularly sensitive around threshold levels of certain key variables. If these thresholds are crossed, then important subsystems, such as a monsoon system, could shift into a new state, often with deleterious or potentially even disastrous consequences for humans.

This paper is short, and definitely a “must read.” The nine “boundaries,” by the way, are climate change; rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine); interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles; stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; global freshwater use; change in land use; chemical pollution; and atmospheric aerosol loading. The three areas in which we are already over the line are, unsurprisingly, climate change, rate of biodiversity loss, and interference with the nitrogen cycle.

Like so:


The Nature paper, and a collection of expert comments on it, is available here. A much more detailed scientific paper can be found here.

Obama to propose eliminating fossil fuel subsidies?

The rumor (at the moment, it’s September 17th) is that next week at the G20 meeting, President Obama is going to propose an international agreement to end fossil-fuel subsidies. This would be brilliant, if it was done properly, and would go a long way towards rectifying the wealthy world’s typical unwillingness to consider “alternative” approaches to climate finance.

And there is, indeed, hope that it will be done properly. The New York Times reports that Michael Froman, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, said in a Sept. 3 letter that:

The move away from subsidies should be managed to protect those most vulnerable to price increases… The G-20 should commit to take the lead in eliminating non-needs based fossil fuel and electricity subsidies and to provide technical assistance to non-G-20 countries taking steps to reduce fossil fuel and electricity subsidies.

Continue reading “Obama to propose eliminating fossil fuel subsidies?”

Adaptation costs have been radically underestimated

This shouldn’t be news. We should have known this all along.

Actually, many of us did. Particularly those of us who do not steer our stars by the pragmatism of the moment. And those of us in the more vulnerable parts of the world.

The small island states come particularly to mind, as does Africa, the unlucky continent where the full impacts of climate-induced desertification will be felt first. In such places as these, the various estimates of “adaptation costs” (as if all impacts could be “adapted” to at any price) have long been regarded with skepticism, if not contempt.

This includes the UNFCCC’s own official 2007 estimates, embedded in the UNFCCC Secretariat’s INVESTMENT AND FINANCIAL FLOWS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE (2007, see table IX-65. And see as well its 2008 update), which though it long contained the highest authoritative adaptation cost estimates (rising to $49 to $171 billion per year in 2030) still turned out to be low-balling the problem. Continue reading “Adaptation costs have been radically underestimated”

The Bill

This little film

… isn’t perfect, but damn is it good.

Four minutes and 22 seconds, in German with English subtitles, but watch it anyway.

Kudos to Germanwatch , and if anyone wants to pay for an English version, don’t hesitate to call.

300,000 deaths per year, and that's just for starters

A recent report from Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum tells us that climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year. And if we go beyond simple death to count the number of people that are already impacted, the number swells to 300 million. The report, Human Impact Report: Climate Change The Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, projects that increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires will be responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths a year by 2030, making it the greatest humanitarian challenge that the world now faces. Which, frankly, is saying something! Continue reading “300,000 deaths per year, and that's just for starters”

The Remaining Emissions Budget

On April 30th, Nature finally published something \we’ve wanted to see for a long, long time – a peer-reviewed paper that integrates the latest science towards the very pragmatic goal of defining a entirely citable, global emergency emissions reduction trajectory. The paper is called Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2C (download it here) and it’s written by a team led by Malte Meinshausen, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, which has in recent years been the source for much of best scientific work on precautionary emissions trajectories. Also on the author’s list is William Hare (better known in as Bill Hare, particularly within the climate movement) – both Bill and Malte have long been key members of the Greenpeace International climate team.

What Meinshausen et. al. have done is define a comprehensive probabilistic framework which calculates the total amount of CO2 that can be emitted between 2000 and 2050, relative to any given chance of meeting, but not overshooting, a particular temperature target. If you’re interested in high chance of meeting a safe target – or at least the most widely supported of plausibly manageable targets – which would hold the global average temperature increase to 2C above pre-industrial levels target, that budget is extremely small. More precisely, the 2C target corresponds to total 2000-50 emissions of about 1000 Gigatons of CO2, a number to be compared to the approximately 300 Gt that were emitted between 2000 and the end of 2008. (At which point the annual emissions rate was about 36 Gt CO2 per year). Continue reading “The Remaining Emissions Budget”

One billion high emitters

An important scientific paper (by Chakravarty et al.), called Sharing global CO2 emission reductions among one billion high emitters was just published in the Proceedings of the [US] National Academy of Sciences. And because, as Greenwire notes, it “loosely builds on the idea of ‘greenhouse development rights,'” we’ve decided to write, and prominently feature, this a friendly rejoinder to it. Continue reading “One billion high emitters”

A Blame Game? Get ready for Prime Time!

First up, the climate talks are not going very well. After a rousing start in Rio in 1992, from which we returned with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the negotiations have been anything but inspiring. 1997s Kyoto Protocol defined the rich-world actions the first steps that would put meat on the Conventions bones, but the details were not ideal, and as the years passed, well, lets just say that things didnt quite work out as hoped. And now, twelve years on, Copenhagen is rising on the horizon. Continue reading “A Blame Game? Get ready for Prime Time!”

Annex 1 targets are NOT on track

According to a report by the a-list team at Climate Analytics that was just published in Nature Reports, we’re not even close to being on track for success in Copenhagen. Which is to say that an aggregated analysis of Annex 1 commitments (which “would be in the range of 814 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 if current commitments were followed through”) and non-Annex 1 “deviations from baseline (which are assumed to be 4% by 2020) yields the conclusion that we are in trouble deep, with virtually “no chance of limiting warming to 2 C (or 1.5 C) above pre-industrial temperatures.” Continue reading “Annex 1 targets are NOT on track”