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Richard Heinberg

Climate change is not an isolated issue. And techno-fixes will not solve it. Only a dramatic move away from fossils combined with the willingness of a large part of society to forgo on excessive convenience and luxury products and services, argues Richard Heinberg.

As Heinberg writes: climate change is often incorrectly described as an isolated pollution issue. In this flawed framing, humanity has simply made a mistake in its choice of energy sources; the solution entails switching sources and building enough carbon-sucking machines to clear the atmosphere of polluting CO2. Only the political power of the fossil fuel companies prevents us from adopting this solution and ending our existential environmental crisis.

But techno-fixes (that is, technological solutions that circumvent the need for personal or cultural change) aren’t working so far, and likely won’t work in the future. That’s because fossil fuels will be difficult to replace, and energy usage is central to our collective economic power.

In other words, power is the key to solving climate change—but not necessarily in the way that many pundits claim. Solutions will not come just from defeating fossil fuel interests and empowering green entrepreneurs; real climate progress will require the willingness of large swathes of the populace, especially in wealthy countries, to forgo forms of power they currently enjoy: comfort and convenience, the ability to travel far and fast, and the option to easily obtain a wide range of consumer products whose manufacture entails large inputs of energy and natural resources.

This is not a feel-good message, Heinberg mentions, but the longer we postpone grappling with power in this larger sense, the less successful we’re likely to be in coming to terms with the climate threat.

Why not?

Why can there be no climate techno-fix? There are two routes to this conclusion. The first one meanders through the history of humans on Earth, revealing how each new technological or social innovation empowered some people over others, while often imposing a long-term environmental cost. The adoption of agriculture was a milestone on this path: it enabled more people to subsist in any given area, and it led to cities, kings, and slavery; further, in many places, plowing tended to deplete or ruin topsoil, and city-dwellers cut down nearby forests, leading to eventual societal collapse.

But the real show-stopper came much more recently. The adoption of fossil fuels gave humans the biggest jolt of empowerment ever: in just the last two centuries, our global population has grown eight-fold, and so has per capita energy consumption. Our modern way of life—with cars, planes, supermarkets, tractors, trucks, electricity grids, and internet shopping—is the result.

Climate change is the shadow of this recent cavalcade of industriousness, since it results from the burning of fossil fuels, the main enablers of modern civilization. Nevertheless, rapidly increasing population and consumption levels are inherently unsustainable and are bringing about catastrophic environmental impacts on their own, even if we disregard the effects of carbon emissions. The accelerating depletion of resources, increasing loads of chemical pollution, and the hastening loss of wild nature are trends leading us toward ecological collapse, with economic and social collapse no doubt trailing close behind. Ditching fossil fuels will turn these trends around only if we also deal with the issues of population and consumption.

That’s the big picture. However, the quest for a climate techno-fix also fails on its own terms—that is, as a painless means of averting climate change while maintaining our current industrial economy and way of life.

Why Solar Panels Won’t Save Consumerism

Renewables like solar and wind are not without challenges. While sunlight and wind are themselves renewable, the technologies we use to capture them aren’t: they’re constructed of non-renewable materials like steel, silicon, concrete, and rare earth minerals, all of which require energy for mining, transport, and transformation. These materials are also depleting, and many will be difficult or impossible to recycle.

Sunlight and wind are intermittent: we cannot control when the sun will shine or the wind will blow. Therefore, to ensure constant availability of power, these sources require some combination of four strategies:

  • Energy storage (e.g., with batteries) is useful to balance out day-to-day intermittency, but nearly useless when it comes to seasonal intermittency; also, storing energy costs energy and money.
  • Source redundancy (building far more generation capacity than will actually be needed on “good” days, and then connecting far-flung solar and wind farms by way of massive super-grids), is a better solution for seasonal intermittency, but requires substantial infrastructure investment.
  • Excess electricity generated at times of peak production can be used to make synthetic fuels (such as hydrogen, ammonia, or methanol), perhaps using carbon captured from the atmosphere, as a way of storing energy; however, making large amounts of such fuels will again require substantial infrastructure investment, and the process is inherently inefficient.
  • Demand management (using electricity when it’s available, and curtailing usage when it isn’t) is the cheapest way of dealing with intermittency, but it often implies behavioral change or economic sacrifice.

Today the world uses only about 20 percent of its final energy in the form of electricity. The other 80 percent of energy is used in the forms of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. A transition away from fossil fuels will entail the electrification of much of that other 80 percent of energy usage, which includes most transportation and key industrial processes. However, many uses of energy, such as aviation and the making of cement for concrete, will be difficult or especially costly to electrify. In principle, the electrification conundrum could be overcome by powering aviation and high-heat industrial processes with synfuels. However, doing this at scale would require a massive infrastructure of pipelines, storage tanks, carbon capture devices, and chemical synthesis plants that would essentially replicate much of our current natural gas and oil supply system.

Machine-based carbon removal and sequestration methods work in the laboratory, but would need staggering levels of investment in order to be deployed at a meaningful scale, and it’s unclear who would pay for them. These methods also use a lot of energy, and, when full lifecycle emissions are calculated, it appears that more emissions are often generated than are captured. The best carbon capture-and-sequestration responses appear instead to consist of various methods of ecosystem restoration and soil regeneration. These strategies would also reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions. But they would require a near-complete rethinking of food systems and land management.

Heinberg: fixes require even more energy

The essence of the problem with a climate techno-fix is this, Heinberg explains: nearly everything we need to do to solve global warming (including building new low-emissions electrical generation capacity, and electrifying energy usage) requires energy and money. But society is already using all the energy and money it can muster in order to do the things that society wants and needs to do (extract resources, manufacture products, transport people and materials, provide health care and education, and so on). If we take energy and money away from those activities in order to fund a rapid energy transition on an unprecedented scale, then the economy will contract, people will be thrown out of work, and many folks will be miserable.

On the other hand, if we keep doing all those things at the current scale while also rapidly building a massive alternative infrastructure of solar panels, wind turbines, battery banks, super grids, electric cars and trucks, electrified industrial equipment, and synthetic fuel factories, the result will be a big pulse of energy usage that will significantly increase carbon emissions over the short term (10 to 20 years), since the great majority of the energy currently available for the project must be derived from fossil fuels.

The happy illusion that we can do it all can be maintained only by refusing to acknowledge the stubborn fact that all activity, including building alternative energy generators and carbon capture machinery, requires energy.

Energy is inextricably related to power. Thus, if society voluntarily reduces its energy usage by a significant amount in order to minimize climate impacts, large numbers of people will likely experience this as giving up power in some form—whether physical, social, or economic.

It can’t be emphasized too much: energy is essential to all economic activity. An economy can grow continuously only by employing more energy. World leaders demand more economic growth in order to fend off unemployment and other social ills. Thus, in effect, everyone is counting on having more energy in the future, not less.

Problems ignored usually don’t go away. And not all problems can be solved without sacrifice. If minimizing climate change really does require substantially reducing world energy usage, then policy makers should be discussing how to do this fairly and with as little negative impact as possible. The longer we delay that discussion, the fewer palatable options will be left.

If we just could give up power

The stakes could hardly be higher. If emissions continue, the result will be the failure of ecosystems, massive impacts on economies, widespread human misery and migration, and unpredictable disruptions to political systems. The return of famine as a familiar feature of human existence is a very real likelihood.

It’s easy to see why people would wish to avoid giving up social, political, economic, and physical power to the degree that’s necessary in order to deal with climate change. Fighting entrenched power is a contentious activity, often a dangerous one. People with power don’t like threats to it, and they often fight back.

That’s why environmentalists like to choose their battles. The fossil fuel industry is wealthy and formidable, but at least it’s an enemy that’s easy to identify, and a lot of people already feel critical of the oil and gas companies for a variety of reasons (gasoline is too expensive, oil pipelines cause pollution, and so on).

But not all roadblocks to climate solutions are attributable to the oil companies. The rest of us are also implicated, though to greatly varying degrees depending on where we live and how much we consume. Our whole modern consumerist way of life, the essence of our economic system, is at fault. Unless we’re willing to give up some of our power over nature—our power to extract and transform resources and deliver the goods that we have come to rely on—then we’re destined to careen from one disaster to the next until our worst fears are realized.

It’s understandable why most environmentalists frame global warming the way they do. It makes solutions seem easier to achieve. But if we’re just soothing ourselves while failing to actually stave off disaster, or even to understand our problems properly, what’s the point?

The only real long-range solution to climate change centers on reining in human physical, social, and economic power dramatically, but in ways that preserve human dignity, autonomy, and solidarity. That’s more daunting than any techno-fix. But this route has the singular advantage that, if we follow it intelligently and persistently, we will address a gamut of social and environmental problems at once. In the end, it’s the only path to a better, safer future.

This article is adapted from POWER: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival (New Society Publishers, September 2021) by Richard Heinberg

Read the complete article by Richard Heinberg on resilience.org

Also read: Electric cars emit more co2 at production than conventional cars

ipcc leaks

Juan Bordera Romá reports about how recent IPCC leaks were passed on to him, and what it actually means. He is a screenwriter and journalist and a degrowth activist in Extinction Rebellion and the Transition Network.

Somewhat by chance and because I was working in the right place at the right time, I was one of the journalists who exclusively leaked the contents of one of the most important reports in recent years. This is the report by Working Group 3 of the UN organization – the IPCC – which is in charge of designing proposals to mitigate the effects of climate chaos. Both those already caused and those yet to come. The conclusions drawn from what has happened so far and from the report itself are not easy to digest. And precisely because of this, much less is being done than what is essential.

Let’s start by recalling that there was a leak prior to ours, of the report from the Working Group 3 – the one in charge of measuring the impacts – made by Agence France-Presse (AFP) in June of this year. I don’t know where the leak came from and what it contained, but the headline: “Life on Earth can recover from major climate change. Humanity cannot”, went around the world and we at Fastlove analysed it here.

These IPCC leaks already revealed that there was a certain nervousness in the scientific community, and a desire to skip the step of review and modification by governments of the summaries of the reports (yes, incredible as it may seem, governments can propose changes to scientists and must unanimously approve the final summary of each working group). Moreover, these summaries are what the absolute majority of journalists read, and they are the basis for the subsequent information that is disseminated, as the reports are several thousand pages long each. Although the scientific work is unimpeachable, this makes it even more difficult for the more daring positions to appear.

Then, a month and a half after the first IPCC leaks – on 6 August – just 3 days before the first part of the report was officially published (Working Group I – in charge of giving science evidence), a very special piece of content reached the Extinction Rebellion Spain movement, of which I am a member. We are talking about the leaked summary of Working Group 3, the mitigation proposals.

Obviously this part of the report is very important, as it has to dive into proposing paths that are passable to avoid the worst results of the climate chaos we have already unleashed.

And while sometimes they are not as bold as the situation requires – even with the summer of extreme events we are experiencing – on this occasion there are parts of the report that have challenged the usual somewhat tepid logic of previous reports.

So, in short, what does the scientific community propose?

Based on the previous work of more than 14.000 different studies, very briefly their conclusions are clear:

  • “Coal and gas plants should be shut down within 9 to 12 years”.
  • “Total emissions need to peak in 2025 and fall rapidly from there to net zero between 2050 and 2075”.
  • All these plans are based on technologies (carbon capture and sequestration, and carbon dioxide removal – CCS and CDR) that are far from being developed. Therefore, they are still relying on some sort of “technological miracle”. This is not very scientific, to be honest.
  • “In scenarios with reduced energy demand, the mitigation challenges are significantly reduced, with less reliance on CO2 removal (CDR), less pressure on land and lower carbon prices. These scenarios do not imply a decrease in welfare, but a provision of better services.” This is literally an adaptation scenario to the economic theory that advocates that it is possible to live well with less. Degrowth.
  • Different scenarios are expected: Global warming associated with these different emissions scenarios ranges from less than 1.5°C to more than 5°C by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels. We are at 1.1°C and are already seeing increasingly catastrophic consequences of climate destabilisation. Avoiding exceeding 1.5°C is almost impossible to achieve. But every tenth of a degree counts.
  • Fighting energy poverty and climate change are not incompatible. This is because the biggest emitters are the richest ones: the richest 10% emit ten times more than the poorest 10%.

For all the above reasons, the content of the exclusive has gone around the world.

We first published it in the Spanish magazine CTXT, from there it reached The Guardian in the UKthe Spiegel in GermanyCNBC in the US and Yale University, as well as IndiaChinaIndonesiaBrazil and many other countries.

As if this were not enough, the source of the leak (a group of scientist-activists, Scientist Rebellion) was so happy with the work that they passed us more material (the entire chapter 1 of the report) and with it we were able to produce another article in CTXT, co-written with some of the best experts in our country on the issue, and which has even been translated into English in the prestigious Monthly Review. Well, now that the maelstrom of work and unleashed emotions has passed, and the content has settled, I am going to try to summarise how complex I see this issue.

Embracing degrowth can be key to managing climate chaos, and capitalism as we understand it is unsustainable.

These are the two main conclusions. And the fact that they are reflected in a report that tends to be more conservative than daring says a lot about the seriousness of the situation.

The first thing I would like to do is to thank the enormous team effort that has made it possible for this to get this far. Secondly, I would like to point out that there are many barriers in the media. Some – most of the television channels – have not even deigned to mention the leak. They dare not speak clearly about the enormous problem and how little is being done to solve it. And this barrier is key. If it is not told, it does not exist. And it is impossible to do what needs to be done.

You may be wondering: how huge is the climate problem? Well, I remember the headline of the first leak:

“Life on Earth can recover from major climate change by evolving new species and creating new ecosystems. Humanity cannot”.

Extinctions seem to us to be a thing of the past and could never affect us, the all-powerful and omnipotent being that calls itself “Sapiens Sapiens”, while destroying its own life support. But there are many facts that confirm that this is not the case. The current rate of species extinction is tens to hundreds of times higher than the average of the last ten million years. And it is accelerating. Dangerously close to the rate of the previous 5 great mass extinctions. Add to this runaway climate change that may take on an irreversible inertia for humans. It is not serious. It is a matter of life and death.

Extinctions are usually caused by an abrupt change in some factor that destabilises the quasi-magical balance of life on Earth. In the past they have been triggered by a series of volcanic mega-eruptions or a meteorite impact. And this sixth mass extinction is happening because of us. Yes, us. We are the meteorite now. At least the unbridled economic system we have built.

This story was first published on resilience.org

damage of climate change

A study by an international team of scientists found that the economic damage of climate change could be six times higher by the end of this century than previously estimated.

Projections like this help governments around the world calculate the relative costs and benefits of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. However, prior analysis has shown that the models used may ignore important risks and therefore underestimate the costs.

Currently, most models focus on short-term damage, assuming that climate change has no lasting effect on economic growth, despite growing evidence to the contrary. Extreme events like droughts, fires, heatwaves and storms are likely to cause long-term economic harm because of their impact on health, savings and labour productivity.

The study authors first updated one of the three climate-economy models used to set the price of carbon for national policy decisions, then used it to explore the impact of year-to-year climate variations and the rates of economic recovery after climate events.

The study, that was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, shows that by 2100, global GDP could be 37% lower than it would be without the impacts of warming, when taking the effects of climate change on economic growth into account. Without accounting for lasting damages – excluded from most estimates – GDP would be around 6% lower, meaning the impacts on growth may increase the economic costs of climate change by a factor of six.

Up to 51% of global GDP

Yet, there is still considerable uncertainty about how much climate damages continue to affect long-term growth and how far societies can adapt to reduce these damages; depending on how much growth is affected, the economic costs of warming this century could be up to 51% of global GDP.

“Climate change makes detrimental events like the recent heatwave in North America and the floods in Europe much more likely. If we stop assuming that economies recover from such events within months, the costs of warming look much higher than usually stated. We still need a better understanding of how climate alters economic growth, but even in the presence of small long-term effects, cutting emissions becomes much more urgent.”

The researchers also updated the model to take advances in climate science over the past decade into account, as well as the effect of climate change on the variability of annual average temperatures – both of which increased the projected cost of climate change.

The authors calculated the effect of these changes on the ‘social cost of carbon’ (SCCO2), a crucial indicator of the level of urgency for taking climate action that calculates the economic cost of greenhouse gas emissions to society. Expressed in US dollars per tonne of carbon dioxide, estimates currently vary greatly between $10 to $1,000. However, when taking more robust climate science and updated models into account, this new study suggests that the economic damage could in fact be over $3,000 per tonne of CO2.

“Burning CO2 has a cost to society, even if it is not directly to our wallets. Each person’s emissions could quite well result in a cost to humanity of over $1,300 per year, rising to over $15,000 once the impacts of climate change on economic growth are included,” Dr Brierley said.

Much higher than policy makers assume

While the findings show large uncertainties, the central values were found to be much higher than policymakers currently assume; the US government, for example, currently uses a social cost of carbon of around $51 per tonne to judge the costs and benefits of projects linked with greenhouse gas emissions, whilst the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which covers power, manufacturing and aviation, recently exceeded €61 for the first time.

Study co-author Paul Waidelich (ETH Zürich) said: “The findings confirm that it is cheaper to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than it is to deal with climate change impacts, and the economic damages from continued warming would greatly outweigh most costs that could be involved in preventing emissions now. The risk of costs of damage of climate change being even higher than previously assumed reaffirms the urgency for fast and strong mitigation. It shows that choosing to not reduce greenhouse gas emissions is an extremely risky economic strategy.”

Source: UCL

 

electric cars ford mustang

Electric cars and hybrid cars create more carbon emissions during their production than standard vehicles. That sheds a different light on the speedy transition to electrical transportation that climate activists advocate.

Electric and hybrid cars create more carbon emissions during their production but are still greener overall, according to a new report. A new report by Ricardo highlights the increasing importance of accounting for whole life carbon emissions to compare the greenhouse gas emissions of low carbon vehicles.

Some of the CO2 savings made during the use of low carbon vehicles are offset by increased emissions caused during their production, and to a lesser extent disposal. However, overall electric and hybrid vehicles still have lower carbon footprints than normal cars.

For example, a typical medium sized family car will create around 24 tonnes of CO2 during its life cycle, while an electric vehicle (EV) will produce around 18 tonnes over its life. For a battery EV, 46% of its total carbon footprint is generated at the factory, before it has travelled a single mile. For a conventional cars that is 26%.

Perverse effect: electric cars co2 emissions first go up

However, an accelerated replacement of fossil fuel propelled cars by electric, may lead to a perverse effect. In stead of reducing CO2 emissions in the short term, they will increase. Producing an electric vehicle emits almost twice as much greenhouse gas as a conventional one. It takes several years, depending from the annual mileage, to break even.

The calculation is simple: the extra emissions from production have to be compensated by the savings when operating the vehicle.

But there are complications. When a new car is sold, the old one usually enters the used car market and remains in use. At the end of the line some 5% of cars are scrapped annually, much less than new car production. And new conventional cars emit considerably less during operation than older ones, which decreases the lifetime footprint advantage further. (The carbon footprint of an electric car should be compared to a new, state-of-the-art conventional car of the same size, which it actually replaces. But electric replacements also tend to be larger than the cars they replace.)

On average, we look at some 4 tonnes of extra co2 per electric car produced, which has to be offset by 0.5 tonne annually of prevented emissions. According to these figures it would take some 8 years to break even. (Given electric cars run on 100% renewable energy)

What to do?

The automotive industry is taking steps to address this issue of production emissions- the recent announcement by Toyota of a solar array to provide electricity to power the hybrid Auris production facility and wind power at the Nissan Leaf plant are excellent examples of this.

But that will be far too little too late to result in short term effects. After all, we aim at 2030 for first results. No electric car sold today will contribute to those under the present conditions.

A key factor is car ownership. Reducing car ownership – especially in cities – and replacing it by electric car sharing, would result in a much more effective reduction of co2 emissions in the short term. It will reduce the need for new car production and take more cars out of circulation. And it will shift from fossil miles to electric miles much faster.

Of course this is a somewhat radical idea. But the central question is not how to sell as many electric cars as possible, it is how to reduce emissions and save the climate. That does take radical solutions to achieve it. The report does not address that. We do.

The report “Determining the environmental impacts of conventional and alternatively fuelled vehicles through LCA” and its associated documents are available for download from at DG Climate Action’s web pages.

 

real inconvenient truth about climate change

Some fifteen years ago, Al Gore tried to wake up the world with his Inconvenient Truth message, after dozens before him failed to do so. An audience of millions saw the movie or read the book, and moved on to business as usual. That was back in 2006.

New reports from the IPCC followed, in 2015 a major climate conference was held in Paris, and the climate continued to change. We hardly did. At all levels, we continue to underestimate climate- and societal risks.

In 2019 I wrote a column about the risk of extreme events, which is much greater than the IPCC wants us to believe. Breakthrough, an Australian think tank, described this phenomenon in a 2017 report.

It’s forecasts included both the corona pandemic (it could have been any other virus) and the current extreme weather disasters. No one responded to this really inconvenient truth. Even while the world experiences  runaway climate change, the illusion is kept alive that we can prevent worse.

Misty IPCC jargon and hidden deceivers hide real inconvenient truth

Underestimation results from the terminology the IPCC applies to describe the risk levels of events, and the level of consent about it. Outsiders are easily misled by this code.

It leads to a (far too) positive assessment of risks. For example, an event with a 33% chance, or 1 in 3, is described as ‘unlikely’. Would you get on a plane that has a 33% (or even a 10% chance = very unlikely) risk to crash? Or would you be able to insure a house that has even a 1% chance of burning down within a year? At the IPCC, they apparently don’t have a problem with those.

Hidden deeper is the underestimation that results from the risk-calculation itself, which is based on a normal distribution of the Gauss curve.

It works fine for collections of static elements, for example the height of people. However it does not work with dynamic elements, whose properties or values ​​change over time, such as the weather. With those, events with a small probability in a normal distribution could appear to pose a much greater risk as a result of the influence of external factors, creating a so called fat tail at the positive end of the graph. (What Lies Beneath, pg 13)

This can have major consequences for estimates like the possible rise of temperature, as Breakthrough shows. In a scenario of (average) 3 degrees rise, the risk that it eventually turns out to be 6 degrees warmer is not 2%, but 10%. In other words, 1 in 10, instead of 1 in 50, or 5 times as large. At the IPCC however, both are still “very unlikely”. So you can sleep peacefully.

The delusional IF word

The illusion that we can prevent worse is often preceded by the word ‘if’. If we take extra measures to reduce co2 emissions in time, if we all work together, if we… just name a few. The Paris Agreement is built on it: if we all stick to our resolutions….

In reality, we have not even done what is absolutely necessary. Even the day after the release of the last IPCC report, both China and the worst polluters of Dutch industry announced that they are not going to change their climate plans. Putin is silent. India says it can do no more and that probably goes for the rest of the world as well. Europe has a plan, but it is slow and divided.

As in the case of the corona pandemic, in the climate crisis too we are unable to organise a collective and coherent response to deal with it. Yet we know very well what needs to be done and there are more than enough resources to do so. But each and every time we don’t. Why?

Bubbles in a tunnel

This paralysis is rooted in a few reinforcing phenomena in human behaviour. Two of these are bubble thinking and tunnel vision.

Tunnel vision is the unwillingness or inability to experience events that lie outside one’s immediate world. It occurs in individuals and in group behaviour.

Bubble thinking arises when likeminded people form a group (bubble) in which they reinforce their common ideas. Thus bubbles are easily created based on tunnel vision. The larger (or louder) the group, the stronger the effect. It happens in football stadiums and in meeting rooms and more recently it happens on social media.

Add the effects of economic and political interests, socio-cultural sentiments and technical lock-ins of existing, rigid structures to this and then calculate the effects of the interplay of millions, perhaps billions, of organised and informal systems interacting. From Yellow Vests and Taliban to United Nations and football associations.

That outcome almost certainly leads to a real inconvenient truth: we won’t make it. The climate warms (much) more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. We are on course for 3 to 4.5 degree rise in temperature which will have dramatic consequences. For you, for me, for our (grand)children and for the rest of the planet, that becomes sheer uninhabitable. Dozens of disaster movies show what that looks like.

What we still might be able to do

Breakthrough argues that only an all-out war economy can turn things around. All our actions should be aimed at the max reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

It requires extreme measures that go way beyond keeping distance and wearing face masks. It will take extensive and powerful interventions.

Unavoidable in such a strategy is the rationing of CO2. Like food stamps during World War II, limited rights on emissions will be allowed. Emission equivalents are assigned to all products.

Car ownership and air travel are allowed only on a permit base. The idea that everyone can own a car is unsustainable, even if it is electric. Especially in cities we need to completely switch to car sharing and public transportation.

A progressive tax on unsustainable products will be introduced.

Climate crime will be included in criminal law.

No one would imagine it will ever come to this. But that’s what we thought too, two years ago, when it comes to face protection and lockdowns.

All of us have to act within our power to contribute: stop using fossil fuels, eat less meat, or none at all, consume less and sustainable only.
It we don’t, it will mean the end of our current civilisation. Unfortunately there is no more convenient truth.

Peter van Vliet

chief editor of iNSnet.org and Duurzaamnieuws.nl

killer climate

The leader of the European Union has seen the light: Ursula von der Leyen has discovered that doing nothing about climate change is getting too expensive. Sir Nicholas Stern came to that conclusion more than 15 years ago when he wrote his much-discussed report about the cost of climate change. In 2008 he corrected his earlier conclusion: the costs of climate change turned out to be much higher than anticipated in the first calculations. About political smalltalk in a killer climate.

As it took 15 years for EU bureaucrats to absorb a 662-page report, it would take 272 years to decide on its own climate proposal “Fit for 55”, which holds some 12000 pages and is to be approved by 27 Member States, if processed at the same speed.

The publication process of the IPCC series of climate reports follows a similar path. These too, contain an almost incalculable amount of pages about the risks of climate change, which are already obsolete at the time of publication and which have been politically watered down beforehand because of the required consensus about the articulation of scientific facts.

Belgium as a third world country

Meanwhile, at some 100 kilometers from the European capital, the rubble and wreckages of the first real European climate disaster are still piled up in the streets of – also still electricity and water deprived – villages, because the local crisis response in Belgium hardly reaches the level of an average third world country.

That is where the measures that have to save the world from a climate Armageddon have to come from, since the rest of the world still regards the EU as a forerunner in the fight against climate change.

Meanwhile politicians continue to chatter as climate change creates a killer climate. The numbers of fatal climate change related casualties are carefully kept out of the main news media, even as those numbers are significantly higher than those of the victims of the corona pandemic. By way of comparison: more than 4 million people died from corona in almost a year and a half, while in 2017 alone more than 5 million deaths were directly linked to climate change. These numbers don’t even include deaths by starvation.

Hard reality

These are not forecasts and predictions, these are the confronting numbers from the recent past and the present.

The outlook is even more confronting.

Although scientists are well aware that climate change is not gradual, they calculate with models that do suggest just that. Also, they express the risk of an event as a probability, as a percentage within a period of time. And their data are running years behind. That doesn’t work well, as we’ve noticed: the event  of flooding in Europe of the present magnitude was calculated not to occur before for 2050. Things are getting worse much sooner than expected.

The same applies to the rest of the world and to the effects of accumulating climate events. Tipping points in various types of climate change show the risks of a sudden acceleration. Look how heat leads to more wildfires, which release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing even more heat.

Or like melting ice as a result of a warmer climate creates a larger ice-free and dark water surface that absorbs more heat and makes ice melt even faster.

Stacking disasters and costs

Hardly any research has been done on the mutual reinforcement of various tipping points. Or the interplay between climate and environmental disasters (such as leaking oil pipelines in burning tundras). Perhaps this will soon no longer need to be investigated, then we will see it happen ourselves.

And just as tipping points can pile up, so will the costs of climate and environmental disasters. At an ever-increasing pace, we are going to pay for slowing down climate change (it has long been impossible to stop), for repairing damage after disasters and for preventing more damage in future disasters.

The political mills are now standing still for a while; it’s vacation after all. These will slowly start again in September and in Brussels they will then start a long grind to get 27 countries to agree with 12000 pages of new measures. With notorious climate criminals in and around the club, you can be sure that they will be slowed down and wrung out. And by the time a decision can be made, the money has already partly disappeared because it has been spent on recovery after subsequent climate disasters.

Climate change not our fault

Last minute, I read a commentary by John Sutter on CNN that holds an interesting view: Climate change is not our fault, as consumers and citizens. It is certainly the fault of waning big business owners and politicians who have been shifting their actual responsibility onto us for decades. Instead of buying tofu burgers, we should put more pressure on politicians to finally take action. For the sake of convenience, Sutter assumes that it would work in the current system and that it will work in the rest of the world as it does in the US. Nevertheless he has a point.

Maybe ballot papers from now on should show a warning: voting for unwilling politicians kills.

Peter van Vliet

IPCC report 6

The climate is changing in every region and across the whole climate system. That is the inevitable conclusion of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report.

Many of the changes observed in the climate are unprecedented in thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion—such as continued sea level rise—are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years. However, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases would limit climate change.

While benefits for air quality would come quickly, it could take 20-30 years to see global temperatures stabilize, according to the IPCC Working Group I report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis. The report was approved on Friday (August 6) by 195 member governments of the IPCC, through a virtual approval session that was held over two weeks starting on July 26.

The Working Group I report is the first instalment of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), which will be completed in 2022.

“This report reflects extraordinary efforts under exceptional circumstances,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC. “The innovations in this report, and advances in climate science that it reflects, provide an invaluable input into climate negotiations and decision-making.”

Faster warming

The report provides new estimates of the chances of crossing the global warming level of 1.5°C in the next decades, and finds that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach. The report shows that emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are responsible for approximately 1.1°C of warming since 1850-1900, and finds that averaged over the next 20 years, global temperature is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C of warming. This assessment is based on improved observational datasets to assess historical warming, as well progress in scientific understanding of the response of the climate system to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

“This report is a reality check,” said IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte. “We now have a much clearer picture of the past, present and future climate, which is essential for understanding where we are headed, what can be done, and how we can prepare.”

Every region facing increasing changes

Many characteristics of climate change directly depend on the level of global warming, but what people experience is often very different to the global average. For example, warming over land is larger than the global average, and it is more than twice as high in the Arctic.

“Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we experience will increase with additional warming,” said IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Panmao Zhai. The report projects that in the coming decades climate changes will increase in all regions.

For 1.5°C of global warming, there will be increasing heat waves, longer warm seasons and shorter cold seasons. At 2°C of global warming, heat extremes would more often reach critical tolerance thresholds for agriculture and health, the report shows. But it is not just about temperature. Climate change is bringing multiple different changes in different regions – which will all increase with further warming. These include changes to wetness and dryness, to winds, snow and ice, coastal areas and oceans.

For example:

  • Climate change is intensifying the water cycle. This brings more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions.
  • Climate change is affecting rainfall patterns. In high latitudes, precipitation is likely to increase, while it is projected to decrease over large parts of the subtropics. Changes to monsoon precipitation are expected, which will vary by region.
  • Coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas and coastal erosion. Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century.
  • Further warming will amplify permafrost thawing, and the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and loss of summer Arctic sea ice.
  • Changes to the ocean, including warming, more frequent marine heatwaves, ocean acidification, and reduced oxygen levels have been clearly linked to human influence. These changes affect both ocean ecosystems and the people that rely on them, and they will continue throughout at least the rest of this century. For cities, some aspects of climate change may be amplified, including heat (since urban areas are usually warmer than their surroundings), flooding from heavy precipitation events and sea level rise in coastal cities. For the first time, the Sixth Assessment Report provides a more detailed regional assessment of climate change, including a focus on useful information that can inform risk assessment, adaptation, and other decision-making, and a new framework that helps translate physical changes in the climate – heat, cold, rain, drought, snow, wind, coastal flooding and more – into what they mean for society and ecosystems.

This regional information can be explored in detail in the newly developed Interactive Atlas interactive-atlas.ipcc.ch as well as regional fact sheets, the technical summary, and underlying report. Human influence on the past and future climate “It has been clear for decades that the Earth’s climate is changing, and the role of human influence on the climate system is undisputed,” said Masson-Delmotte. Yet the new report also reflects major advances in the science of attribution – understanding the role of climate change in intensifying specific weather and climate events such as extreme heat waves and heavy rainfall events.

The report also shows that human actions still have the potential to determine the future course of climate. The evidence is clear that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main driver of climate change, even as other greenhouse gases and air pollutants also affect the climate. “Stabilizing the climate will require strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions. Limiting other greenhouse gases and air pollutants, especially methane, could have benefits both for health and the climate,” said Zhai.

lng terminal

A proposed boom in new LNG import and export terminals is increasingly going bust, according to a new survey and report by Global Energy Monitor. Coming on the heels of the IEA’s recent call for a halt to new gas, oil, and coal investments, the report finds that more than one-third of proposed new global LNG terminal capacity is facing financing and project delays.

The report, “Nervous Money: Global LNG Terminals Update 2021,” includes the following highlights:

  • Worldwide, at least 26 LNG export terminals totaling 265 million tonnes per annum (MPTA) of capacity report final investment decision (FID) delays or other serious disruption—38% of the 700 MTPA of export capacity under development worldwide. In the US, at least 10 LNG export terminals totaling 123 MPTA of capacity report FID delays or other serious disruption—39% of the 314 MTPA under development.
  • Total’s declaration of force majeure for the Mozambique LNG Terminal, following an attack by insurgents, has highlighted the vulnerability of terminals priced in the tens of billions of dollars.
  • The cost overruns, scheduling delays, and high outage rate that plagued the LNG sector were further exacerbated in the past year by Covid-related workforce disruption.
  • Once regarded as a potential climate solution, the LNG sector is increasingly seen as a climate problem, particularly for European buyers. According to the IEA, inter-regional LNG trade would need to decline rapidly after 2025 under a 2050 net zero scenario.
  • Globally, only one LNG export project has reached FID in the past year, Costa Azul LNG terminal in Mexico.
  • North America accounts for 64% of the global export capacity in construction or pre-construction. North America also has the most troubled projects, with 11 of the 26 LNG export terminals reporting FID delays or other serious disruption.
  • Aggressive expansion of capacity in low-production-cost Qatar and the Russian Arctic has increased risks to U.S. LNG export developers.
  • Despite the rise in delays in development of LNG export capacity, global LNG import capacity continues on an aggressive expansion path, with enough projects in construction or pre-construction to increase global capacity by 70%. Of the capacity in construction or pre-construction, 32% is in China, 11% is in India, and 7% is in Thailand. Outside Asia, Brazil is a hotspot with 13 LNG import terminals in construction or pre-construction.

“LNG was sold to policymakers and to investors as a safe, clean, secure bet,” said Lydia Plante, lead author of the report. “Now all those attributes have turned into liabilities. The sheer size of the projects has exposed investors to catastrophic losses. And the recent IEA 2050 scenarios show that LNG has no place in a climate-safe energy future. The industry has lost its climate halo, and the only question is whether the Biden Administration will waste precious political capital propping up potential white elephant projects.”

“Those who are accustomed to thinking of infrastructure as a ‘safe’ investment may be in for a rocky ride with LNG terminals,” said Ted Nace, Executive Director of Global Energy Monitor. “The opportunity has narrowed for more export capacity to be built, and North American projects have fallen behind for several reasons. They’re rightly seen, especially by European buyers, as particularly dirty, due to their reliance on fracked gas. In addition, Qatar and Russia both have access to cheaper gas, and they’re not about to relinquish market share.”

Read the report here.

Image: photographic services, Shell International Limited.

ecocide

Commissioned by the Stop Ecocide Foundation, an expert drafting panel of 12 highly renowned international criminal and environmental lawyers from around the world has just concluded six months of deliberations.  The result: a legal definition of “ecocide” as a potential 5th international crime, to sit alongside genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

The Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide, chaired by barrister and author Philippe Sands QC (UK) together with UN jurist and former prosecutor Dior Fall Sow (Senegal), was convened in late 2020 at a powerfully symbolic moment, 75 years after the terms “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” were first used at Nuremberg.  The project emerged in response to a request from parliamentarians in the governing parties of Sweden.

The proposed definition will now be made available for states to consider, and will henceforth be visible on the newly launched Ecocide Law website, an academic and legal resource hub co-managed by the Stop Ecocide Foundation and the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law.

Jojo Mehta, Chair of the Stop Ecocide Foundation and convenor of the panel, said: “This is an historic moment.  This expert panel came together in direct response to a growing political appetite for real answers to the climate and ecological crisis. The moment is right – the world is waking up to the danger we are facing if we continue along our current trajectory.”

 The drafting work, she explained, “was high-level, collaborative and informed by many experts as well as a public consultation comprising hundreds of legal, economic, political, youth, faith and indigenous perspectives.  The resulting definition is well pitched between what needs to be done concretely to protect ecosystems and what will be acceptable to states.  It’s concise, it’s based on strong legal precedents and it will mesh well with existing laws.  Governments will take it seriously, and it offers a workable legal tool corresponding to a real and pressing need in the world.”

Rebecka Le Moine, Member of Swedish Parliament, who initially approached the Stop Ecocide Foundation with a request for a definition of ecocide, said:

“I welcome this definition, as it makes the term ecocide more concrete and clear, it also makes it a lot easier for me as a politician and a lawmaker to find support for criminalization of it.”

ifad sslrp

All over the world, it’s small scale farmers who suffer severely from climate change. Effects can differ locally, but hit the poorest hardest. In South Sudan, IFAD set up a support program, investing almost 20 million US dollar which will affect some 40,000 local households of small-scale food producers.

A new US$19.9 million project will bring much needed help to 38,800 rural households facing the impacts of poverty, food insecurity and climate change. The South Sudan Livelihoods Resilience Project (SSLRP) will empower rural people to boost productivity, food security and nutrition, and resilience. At a time when the COVID-19 crisis and climate change could further push the 85 per cent of South Sudanese who live in rural areas into deeper poverty, SSLRP will target the most vulnerable, food insecure and small-scale producers, engaged in fishing, cropping and livestock production.

In South Sudan, poverty is higher in rural areas, with 80 per cent of the population living below the poverty line and depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Therefore agriculture is key to defeating poverty and hunger. However, South Sudan, a resource-rich country and the youngest nation in Africa, remains the third most fragile in the world.

Conflict and poverty

Its agriculture sector’s potential is not fully exploited to due to a long conflict and prolonged instability, and poverty and food insecurity remain challenges. Irrigation and water harvesting technologies are inadequate, and there are poor post-harvest and value addition facilities. Adverse weather conditions and flooding are also challenges to small-scale production and access to markets.

In SSLRP, 70 per cent of beneficiaries will be youth and 60 per cent will be women, including returnees, women-headed households and persons with disabilities, who will receive particular attention to facilitate their integration into agricultural production and rural economy activities.

In South Sudan, farmers continue to bear the brunt of climate change, and the project will address their need for access to drought tolerant and early maturing seeds, drought tolerant agroforestry fodder species, water conservation and management, afforestation, mangroves rehabilitation and conservation, solar and other renewable energy sources. SSLRP will also rehabilitate and construct water infrastructure, rural roads to give access to markets, and processing and storage facilities. To build and strengthen the capacity of the beneficiaries and the government during the implementation phases, SSLRP will partner with the African Development Bank (AfDB), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Bank.