Posts tagged ‘climate change’

Good news for the ozone layer, but what lessons for climate change?

A few days ago the death was announced of F. Sherwood Rowland, the American scientist who identified the damage being caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to the earth’s protective ozone layer. His pioneering scientific work and the fierce campaigning by him and his collaborators led to a UN framework agreement to tackle the problem and to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which provided the basis for the global phasing out of CFCs and halons in refrigerators, aerosols and industrial processes – a good template, you might think, for global agreement on climate change.

The European Community was of course a major player in negotiating the Montreal Protocol and subsequent decisions.

It all began as scientific theory, but this was borne out by clear evidence, discovery in the mid ’80s of a vast hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic. The ozone shield which protects Earth from solar radiation was being rapidly eroded, especially during the winter months, potentially exposing people to increased radiation from cancer-causing UV and threatening extensive damage to the natural world. CFCs and related gases were the culprit.

The good news is that the action taken over the last 25 years appears to be working. We have reached a turning point. A recent study suggests that the ozone layer is no longer undergoing the damage that it was. UV radiation levels are beginning to decline and the scale of ozone holes is diminishing. It was always clear that recovery would take many years as the man-made chemicals dispersed, but positive results are now coming through. It just shows how the world can respond when faced with an identified threat. A NASA website illustrates the trend.

The benefits go further: as well as damaging the ozone layer, CFCs and the other targeted chemicals are greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming, so their elimination is already making a contribution to slowing climate change.

What is striking about the CFC measures is how the scientific evidence was accepted by policy-makers and how the world rallied to take action. There were sceptics, and some industrial sectors were opposed to legislation, but the scientific approach – and the precautionary principle –  prevailed. Given the gravity of the threat the world decided it had to act, even if elements of doubt remained. Would that climate change could be approached with the same degree of global agreement and commitment! But it is of course a hugely more complex problem.

There is scientific theory, and then there is experience. Yet again this spring parts of western Europe, including eastern England, France, Germany, northern Italy and Spain are suffering drought, it seems because the jetstream has taken an unseasonal northerly shift, producing a high pressure area across Europe which is blocking access for the usual spring showers from the Atlantic.  Once more there is talk of harvest failure if the rains don’t come soon.

Climate change is just one of the “evil twins”  spawned by CO2 emissions. The other twin, more secretive and silent, is ocean acidification, where man-made carbon dioxide dissolved in the water is already affecting life in the seas and has the potential to damage ocean ecosystems and destroy vital fish stocks. It is surprising that the European Union has paid so little attention to this threat, but a new Swedish study sets out just how serious the risks are.

Michael

March 27, 2012 at 11:54 am Leave a comment

Is the climate right for change?

Not so long ago, I had the privilege to visit our team in South Africa, where our world-class team has been in overdrive helping a range of clients prepare for the upcoming COP17 global climate talks in Durban later this year.

It is clear the government there – and many of its biggest companies – are determined to put on a big show. Anyone suffering hearing damage from the sound of vuvuzelas at World Cup 2010 would surely agree that the country does “big show” very well. But now, football has been replaced by climate change as the subject on everyone’s lips.

That strikes me as a contrast to the way the subject is being viewed in Europe. The continent has historically led the world in the development of climate change policy and practice, but lately, I get the feeling that other concerns – economic recovery, job creation and so forth – have caused politicians and business leaders to focus elsewhere.

While in many ways this is perfectly understandable, it fundamentally misses the point. I say that for two reasons. Firstly and most obviously, the problem hasn’t gone away. Climate change is still happening, we’re still making more of an impact on the world than we should, and many complex issues have yet to be solved before we are able to live sustainably within the world we created.

Secondly, there is a mistaken notion that tackling climate change costs money and jobs. In reality, it often makes good business sense to tackle climate change. High energy prices mean that measures taken to make operations more efficient can give companies a competitive advantage. The opportunity to do our part to save the planet motivates employees, inspires innovation, and creates new jobs in cutting-edge industries. The notion that reducing our impact on the environment has to mean increased costs or job cuts is outdated.

That said, I also think that it is important to put a value on our environmental impact if we are going to seriously address the problem. It has often been said by companies that “we will not buy our way out of environmental responsibility;” but the real issue is about changing behaviour. Behavioural change is always difficult, and cost is a much more powerful motivator than goodwill.

I’m not sure whether COP17 will produce a watershed of political support for environmental and social sustainability. Early signs are promising – China, for instance, is sending 2000 delegates to Durban, South Africa intends to unveil a comprehensive carbon tax, and the EU remains ideologically committed to furthering the discussion. But international agreements are complicated, the world is deep in recession, and – and as COP15 in Copenhagen showed us – intent and result are often very different things. Time will tell.

In the meantime, however, each of us can focus on where we can personally have an impact. If we each can assess and show improvement in a small way, and actively think about and manage our energy use, it can make a huge difference. It is also important for each of us – either as companies or as individuals, to communicate: to talk about what we’re doing; how successful we have been, what we have learned along the way and – of course – how much money we have saved. Doing this will make it much more real than talking about it in the abstract.

There is no one-size-fits-all model for reducing environmental impact. But if each of us does a little, we can have a big influence. The future of the planet is too important to be a passing fashion.

Dan Baxter

November 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm 1 comment

Is Europe’s drought a symptom of climate change?

Driving across the rolling farming country of northern and central France, as my wife and I have just done, you might think that French arable farmers have never had it so good. Grain prices are high and the landscape as far as the eye can see is bright yellow with rapeseed and brilliant green with wheat, barley or potatoes, the very picture of a healthy agriculture.

It’s not really healthy, of course. Unless rain falls within the next week or so those rolling hectares will lose their bloom. Drought has hit the cereal regions of the UK, France, Germany and Poland, which together account for two-thirds of European grain production. Already forecast yields for wheat, barley and rape are down by 10-20 per cent, while the prospect of a dry summer threatens a greater shortfall and a further escalation in food prices, which have already gone up by 30 per cent since March.

This is bad news for Europe. High grain prices mean rising costs for milk, meat and egg production, as well as bread, beer and other cereal-based foods, putting more strain on shop prices. Food price inflation has a direct political impact which will put additional pressure on EU governments at a time when household spending is already squeezed and unemployment levels remain high.

In France 42 départements have declared water control restrictions. The Polish government has been pressing the European Commission to raise the support level for wheat in support of its arable farmers – a plea which was rejected in the recent farm ministers council.

There are unexpected consequences. As rivers levels fall or even run dry I see that French nuclear power stations, which rely on river water for cooling, may have to cut back on generation capacity.

The global picture is no more comforting. With the US also suffering from drought there is little prospect of recovery in world supplies, let alone the building of stocks, during 2011. China is also affected.  Russia and the Ukraine are the only northern hemisphere producers which have decent prospects for grain production this year.

The political implications are far-reaching. All those countries which depend on grain imports to feed their people, which include most of the Maghreb and much of the Middle East, will face a further food price crisis at a time when their political systems and their economies are undergoing revolution.

A succession of climatic disasters in the US may lead to recognition in the United States that climate change is happening and that something must be done, although it is a big step to acknowledge that human activity is the driver. As for Europe, after the driest and warmest April in parts of our continent since records began the argument that the climate is undergoing fundamental change seems incontrovertible.

Michael

May 26, 2011 at 10:02 am 3 comments

Low profile on Europe for UK coalition

Against the backdrop of a European economic crisis of monumental proportions, the creation of the UK’s coalition government must seem like “noises off” to other European theatre-goers. But at least the deal reached between Conservative leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats could provide political stability in Britain for several years and remove a potentially destabilising element in the councils of Europe.

Having said that, I don’t recall a time when Britain seemed so much apart from European affairs, so preoccupied with its own problems, terrified that the troubles of the eurozone will scupper recovery and growth in the British economy, yet unable to do anything much to help.

David Cameron’s decision to visit Paris and Berlin within ten days of becoming prime minister was a significant gesture. There are certainly bridges to build, especially following the break with the EPP in the European Parliament. Last week’s meeting between David Cameron and President Sarkozy was only the second time since June 2008 that the two had met, and any substantive discussion was put off until the French president’s state visit to London on June 18.

In Berlin Chancellor Angela Merkel provided a guard of honour and addressed her guest as Du rather than Sie. Cameron reminded her of British opposition to any new treaties, but avoided criticism of the German ban on naked short selling. It was a friendly meeting, but had none of the signs of the Anglo-German rapprochement which could be possible.

It does seem that Cameron is not yet at ease dealing with other European leaders. Indeed, reports that deputy prime minister (multi-lingual) Nick Clegg has been asked by the prime minister to strengthen the government’s personal relations with top EU politicians does make sense.

The inauguration of Britain’s Con-LibDem coalition will certainly have come as a matter of great relief to both Sarkozy and Merkel. The “programme for government” launched on May 20 confirms that any further “transfer of power” to the EU would be resisted and that a referendum would be held to ratify any new treaty, but stresses the government’s wish to be a “positive participant” in EU affairs “with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century: global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty”.

Joining the euro in the life of the current parliament is, of course, specifically excluded.

The European Commission will find a definite ally on climate change, where the British coalition programme presses the EU to “demonstrate leadership” and supports a 30 per cent CO2 reduction target by 2020.

In some policy chapters the EU is notably absent.  No mention of trade, for instance, nothing on EU security and defence policy, and not a single mention of the EU under the foreign policy heading, despite unilateral commitments on the Balkans, Iran, India and China. The coalition has clearly decided to treat these issues as routine business and not to stress their EU context.

The coalition programme emphasises that cutting the budget deficit is the absolute priority of this government. Britain’s role in the world will be reassessed, which will in turn raise questions in relation to defence spending (closer co-operation with France, cancellation of orders like the A400M?), foreign policy (cut diplomatic spending and rely on a stronger EU overseas service?)  and the contribution to the EU budget, which will soon become a big political issue.

I do wonder how Baroness Ashdown feels about the whole thing as she wrestles with conflicting national demands in relation to the European External Action Service. After all, a slimmed down British diplomatic network might well demand an enhanced European capability.

Michael

May 26, 2010 at 11:14 am 3 comments

Who said what last week on energy?

We’ve flagged our conference last week on financing Europe’s energy needs shamelessly on this blog in recent days and weeks. You’ll be happy to know, no more. This is the last reference to it we shall make. Just to note for the 150 souls that didn’t make it off the waiting list to gain entrance, many of the principal speakers agreed kindly to repeat some of their main points to camera post their conference interventions.

You can find everyone from Sharon Bowles MEP to Philip Lowe of DG Energy speaking on energy, climate and Europe here.

A highlight was hearing Dr. Fatih Birol from the IEA contrast the good that could come from Europe reasserting its leadership role on climate while warning Europe about the impact such leadership could have on European competitiveness. Jos Delbeke from the Commission perhaps unsurprisingly argued for a renewal of EU leadership in the field. Today’s Commission work programme suggests he may well win out.

James

March 31, 2010 at 5:54 pm Leave a comment

Combating climate change: it’s a marathon

At the Financing Europe’s Energy Needs conference on Wednesday, which, I might add (and completely impartially), was a huge success, speaker Russel Mills (Global Director of Energy & Climate Change Policy for Dow Chemicals) described the climate change mission as a ‘long marathon’ and profoundly questioned, ‘how do we win this marathon?’

In an attempt to inspire the pessimists and sceptics amongst you I wanted to take Mr. Mills’ incredibly apt metaphor and extend it somewhat.  I wanted to describe the efforts of those who have started us all thinking about this global problem and educating us on how to begin tackling it as the coaches training us all before the big race.  I wanted to talk about the need to invest in the proper equipment and the need to have strict rules because, after all, we can’t be taking shortcuts.  I even had ambitious plans for a pun on pre-race carb-loading/pre-Copenhagen carbon-loading.

However, whilst searching for a motivational picture to accompany such descriptions, I came across this rather interesting article which led me to a new train of thought: Thinner is better to curb global warming, study says.

The conference brought up a number of ideas on how to deal with and finance climate change and future energy needs, from Emissions Trading Schemes and Clean Development Mechanisms to EU FP7 funding for non-nuclear clean energy research, to name but a few.  But whilst these measures are of course essential to managing the big picture, it is still important to consider the role that we as individuals can play in combating this problem.

So, what a pleasure to now know that each of us can do our bit for the environment not just by turning off lights and keeping the heating on low, but by cutting out the chocolate, avoiding the chips or, say, by running a marathon.

Jess

March 26, 2010 at 3:44 pm Leave a comment

Carbon Market – The EU Goes It Alone?

Yesterday at the FH/Barclays Capital Conference on Financing Energy Needs, a lot was said about financing mechanisms for energy investments and climate mitigation measures.

As argued by Philip Lowe and Jos Delbeke, the lion’s share of funds will have to come from private sources, because of Member States’ reluctance to dedicate national funds in these times of economic crisis. Another source of revenue will eventually come from carbon markets, but with current low carbon prices, this is a long-term perspective rather than an immediate solution. A high carbon price is deemed necessary for expensive technologies such as CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage). Participants generally argued in favour of a global carbon market, which would yield more benefits and generate more revenues (estimated at $2 trillion by 2020 if the U.S. gets on board).

Jos Delbeke underlined the Commission’s willingness to link up cap-and-trade systems by 2015 at a global level. Today this perspective seems unrealistic, given that other big emitting countries are still far away from adopting a model comparable to the EU ETS.

It is still unsure whether the US will enter the race. As described in The Economist last week, the cap-and-trade provision in the US Senate Climate Bill will not be a centrepiece of the legislation, as it should only apply to electrical utilities and leave out transport and industrial emissions – at least for now. Reasons for this are threefold: industry reluctance, skepticism for market mechanisms as a result of the financial crisis and fear for the US competitiveness when China does not intend to put a cap on its emissions for the time being.

In Japan, the Cabinet approved a Climate bill early March, but its provisions on a cap-and-trade system have been watered down. The text will now be examined in Parliament and industries covered are still to be defined, but for the same reason as in America, the end result may differ greatly from the EU ETS.

In sum, there are still several hurdles to a global carbon market…

Clara

March 25, 2010 at 6:56 pm Leave a comment

EU must toughen its stance after Copenhagen

Mexico City
The EU’s next challenge?

For the European Union it was a depressing end to the year! Gone were all hopes of providing global leadership at the Copenhagen conference on climate change. The EU found itself helpless on the sidelines as the US president, constrained by a sceptical Congress, confronted a Chinese prime minister apparently determined to reject any binding commitments which might set limits to China’s CO2 emissions over the next 40 years.

The Copenhagen Accord, put together at a meeting between the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, seemed more wishful thinking than a blueprint for the future.

President Barroso put a brave face on it, describing the outcome as a positive step, “but below our ambitions”. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said it would not solve the climate change threat to mankind. The first test will come during January 2010 when developed countries publish their targets for emissions beyond 2020 and major emerging economies make voluntary pledges.

What will be the implications for European policy, I wonder? Instead of the 30 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 the EU presumably sticks to 20 per cent. If there is no global commitment to a plus-two-degree temperature ceiling, no binding reductions for 2050, and the prospects of soaring emissions elsewhere in the world, how can the EU and its 27 member states convince the people of Europe to make the sacrifices needed to achieve a low-carbon economy? I wouldn’t want to hold a referendum on the subject!

Maybe the next 12 months will deliver where Copenhagen failed. Maybe the experience of the world’s leaders getting together in Copenhagen will produce results. Maybe there will be progress in Bonn at the beginning of June leading to the UN climate change conference in Mexico City in December. Maybe. But for this is to happen will require fundamental change in the positions of other players.

The EU played its part in seeking an agreement at Copenhagen. It put money on the table, committed itself to more technology transfer and was willing to accept binding emissions targets, but it strikes me that the EU now has to toughen up its international negotiating stance on political, trade and aid issues. It has the institutions for joined-up external relations policies which reflect its economic importance; climate change is one of the first policy areas where these new capabilities should be mobilised.

Europe is after all a key market for the goods produced in emerging markets: we get the benefits in cheap and abundant products, but at what cost to our long-term wellbeing? The rejection of any binding long-term commitments could affect everyone.  Flooding, drought, hunger and mass migration on other continents would have consequences for Europe. EU leaders should put on the pressure to retrieve what was lost in Copenhagen.

Michael Berendt

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December 21, 2009 at 2:45 pm 2 comments

Vote for continuity before Copenhagen

The European Parliament’s convincing vote for Jose Manuel Barroso’s second term as European Commission president puts him in a stronger position than any candidate since Jacques Delors in the 1980s. To have secured the votes of the European Conservatives and their allies and an estimated 25 Socialists in addition to his centre right supporters in a secret ballot was a considerable achievement, at 382 delivering 13 more votes than an absolute majority.

Cometh the hour cometh the man. Barroso is no Delors, but can deliver the continuity which will be needed in a highly unpredictable period, where I see that the latest threat is from the Czech constitutional court which could delay Lisbon ratification for another six months even if the Irish vote “yes” on October 2.

Whatever the result of the referendum, Europe must get its act together for the Copenhagen conference on climate change, much as it did more than 20 years ago when the Vienna Convention on the ozone layer and the Montreal Protocol were negotiated.

I mention this because just 80 days before the opening of the Copenhagen conference the United Nations designated September 16 2009 as Ozone Day. The UN sees action on the ozone layer as a curtain raiser for Copenhagen, a model for what can be achieved through concerted international action in the face of a major environmental challenge.

It’s 24 years since the Vienna Convention for protecting the ozone layer was signed and 22 years since the Montreal Protocol, which set the timetables for phasing out of the man-made chemicals responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer. It is proving a remarkable success, although the task is by no means complete. A UN note gives more detail.

What does surprise me is the contribution that the ozone-depleting chemicals, and particularly chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were making to global warming. CFCs have now been virtually phased out (January 1 2010 is the phase-out deadline of CFCs for the poorest countries) and scientists argue that this co-ordinated action has given the world up to 12 years of extra breathing space for arresting the process of climate change. They reckon its impact to be five or six times the impact of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol.

The late 1980s were years when environment policy came of age. The Vienna Convention was first based on a scientific thesis of ozone depletion caused by man-made chemicals, and only proven as fact in 1988 when US spy planes confirmed the existence of a vast hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic caused by man-made chemicals.  It will be many decades before the ozone layer is fully restored, but things are no longer getting worse and should progressively improve.

Of course tackling climate change is a vastly more complex challenge than reversing ozone layer depletion. Every country and every industry is involved, as is the whole human population, but there are some fundamental principles which have been established through the Vienna process which are relevant to Copenhagen:

A template was negotiated to assist developing countries through a combination of financial assistance and phasing to allow further time for adaptation, plus special help for the countries of central and eastern Europe.

The last twenty years have demonstrated industry’s remarkable capacity to adapt and innovate once faced with obligatory targets. Firms which at first resisted the proposed Montreal measures, arguing that there were no alternatives, have developed new products and new technologies – a process which must continue.

The international community found the political courage and the mutual trust to accept the scientific consensus and build a global policy in the face of inertia and downright opposition.

The European Community (as it then was) was a major driver in formulating an international agreement and seeing it through to completion. It’s a good precedent for the European Union to follow.

September 23, 2009 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

Frustrating start for Sweden’s presidency

LISBON TREATY POSTERS
Image by infomatique via Flickr

What a frustrating time this must be for Sweden’s EU presidency! Stockholm’s ambitious plans to demonstrate its dynamic management of the Union are becalmed. Two days after confirming the Council’s candidacy of Barroso, prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt was obliged to announce that the European Parliament had postponed until mid-September its vote on renewing the Commission president’s mandate. Urgent decisions relating to climate change and the economic crisis could well be delayed. No institutional navel-gazing was the Swedish promise, but it’s not turning out like that.

To make matters more complicated, all institutional matters must await the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty, now scheduled for October 2. “There is no plan B” commented Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt on the possibility of an Irish “no” vote.

All this delay must be especially galling for Bildt, a quintessential man of action who relishes the international stage – and one of the candidates for Lisbon’s new job as Council president.

Still, a pattern is beginning to emerge. On Bastille Day former Polish prime minister Jerzy Buzek is expected to be elected president of the Parliament for the next 2 ½ years on the understanding that the Socialist group will take over for the second half of the five year mandate in the person of Martin Schulz. ALDE’s Graham Watson has withdrawn his candidacy in return for an enquiry into the financial services crisis to be chaired by German liberal Wolf Klinz.

It now seems likely that this package will ensure EPP, Socialist, ALDE and Conservative support for Barroso in September, although the greens and others will seek a further postponement.

The MEPs are keeping up the pressure on Barroso: he must set out his own policy objectives to the Parliament in advance of the EP vote.

However, I see that Barroso is planning to use his spare time between now and mid-September to campaign for a “yes” vote in Ireland. Jerzy Buzek is also planning to go there. This is surely in marked contrast to the previous referendum, when foreign politicians were asked to stay away. The point will no doubt be made that without approval of the Lisbon Treaty, the Nice rules will apply, depriving Ireland of a commissioner, maybe for five years in every 15.

Back in the Parliament, chairs of the committees are being allocated. The Conservatives – that’s to say European Conservatives and Reformists – will be pleased that Malcolm Harbour is slotted to take over as chair of the Internal Market Committee. Harbour is much respected by the Commission, in particular because of the role he played in piloting the services directive through Parliament.

I reckon Harbour is someone in touch with the real world. Having just got a new mobile phone and yet another charger to add to my collection I’m glad to see his involvement in a voluntary scheme for setting a standard for these devices so you don’t get a new charger every time you have a new phone. Practical measures like that are especially welcome in the midst of all this institutional power play, or navel-gazing as they call it.

Michael Berendt

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July 13, 2009 at 9:57 am 2 comments

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