Blog about UN Climate Change Conference in Bali 3-14 December 2007 and other related issues

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Preparing for Global Warming's Health Crisis

Hurricanes pound the Gulf Coast with unrelenting force. Floods deluge the Midwest. Wildfires rage out of control in California and Florida. A "red tide" of algae blooms off the West Coast, endangering marine and coastal wildlife. Dengue fever spikes in Mexico and looms over the United States.

No one can say with certainty that any single one of these events is due to global climate change. But there is little doubt among scientists that we are making unprecedented changes to our environment, with grave potential consequences already upon us and others on the horizon.

Global climate change is more than a weather phenomenon; it is also a major public health issue. The environmental threats are increasingly appreciated, but the human health effects have received less attention. And the effects — caused by intense weather events such as heat waves, wildfires and floods, and indirectly from changes in water, air, agriculture and infectious disease patterns — are troubling.

The World Health Organization estimates that our shifting climate is now responsible for widespread health effects, including millions of illnesses and 160,000 deaths each year, many from the spread of malaria into new areas where mosquitoes were once unable to survive. In the absence of uncontrolled greenhouse gases, the projections are far more sobering.

Public health has mostly remained on the sidelines amid policy debates on reducing greenhouse gases. That is a mistake. It is our responsibility to explain the science and advocate for policy change. Addressing the root causes of global warming has the dual benefit of dealing with the unfolding catastrophe as well as reducing other environmental air pollutants that are also causing an unacceptable burden of cardiac and respiratory illness and death.

In late January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Nobel Prize-winner and former UCLA faculty member Al Gore warned that climate change is occurring far faster than even the worst predictions last year by the United Nations' Nobel Prize-winning scientific panel on climate change.

Forecasts that the North Pole ice cap may disappear entirely during summer months in as little as five years have led Gore to declare a "planetary emergency" unlike any other in human civilization.

The United States has a window now to prepare for some of the health consequences of global warming. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that preparing for the health threats from global warming is a top priority.

Yet President Bush's budget for fiscal 2008 is silent on this issue. A national strategy and comprehensive approach are needed — not to delay but rather to add to what we already know but conveniently disregard. We need more science, yes, but also resources and leadership to plan and implement programs that help us prepare to address current and future health consequences of the climate crisis.

At UCLA, we have an opportunity to be leaders. The School of Public Health recently hosted a first-of-its-kind summit to explore the health effects of climate change and is actively engaged in partnerships across campus to address this critical, yet insufficiently recognized, issue.

Source: UCLA

UN official: New technologies must tackle climate change

NEW DELHI, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- New technologies are the only way to tackle climate change, a special adviser to the U.N. Secretary-General said here Saturday.

"Rapid economic growth and climate change mitigation cannot go together as long as we stick to current technologies," Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute told delegates at the valedictory session of the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit.

"But there are a host of technologies that are close (to breakthroughs), such as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)." This technology captures carbon dioxide - the main greenhouse gas that is leading to global warming - emitted by thermal power plants and sequesters it underground.

"It is possible to have your coal and climate too," Sachs said. "It is the only way to avoid end of civilization, continue economic development and high living standards."

The noted academic listed other new technologies that would be essential to tackle climate change.

"High-mileage automobiles and hybrid cars that run on a combination of electricity and petrol are about five years away.

"Buildings need to move to electricity-based heating once power generation is cleaned up.

"Then you need nuclear power. It will have to be part of the green solution. But you will have to ensure safety.

"And then you have concentrated solar power."

Sachs said policy makers must focus on these technological changes right now, rather than on economic measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. "These changes require upfront public R and D funding, especially for demonstration projects, plus a supportive regulatory environment.

"Scientists and business leaders have to work together to monitor which new technologies are working. After all this, you can have realistic carbon pricing to help the new technologies along."

Source: China view

Obama says stronger than McCain on climate change

SEATTLE, Feb 8 (Reuters) - U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama promised on Friday to start working on an international pact to reduce global warming if he becomes the Democratic nominee, touting his plan to reduce U.S. emissions as stronger than that of Republican front-runner John McCain.

Global warming has become a key issue in the race for the White House, with the top candidates in both political parties seeking to put a cap on greenhouse gases blamed for rising global temperatures.

Obama, an Illinois senator who is battling New York Senator Hillary Clinton to become their party's presidential nominee, said he would start developing the U.S. position on a pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol before the general election in November.

"I've been in conversations with former Vice President (Al) Gore repeatedly, and his recommendation, which I think is sound, is that you can't wait until you are sworn into office to get started," Obama told a news conference in Seattle.

"I think we need to start reaching out to other countries ahead of time, not because I'm presumptuous, but because there's such a sense of urgency about this."

Nearly 200 nations, including the United States, agreed at U.N.-led talks in December to launch negotiations on a new pact to fight global warming. But many environmentalists say real progress will only be made once President George W. Bush, who was long a global warming skeptic, leaves office.

Obama said he would not wait until January 2009, when the new president takes office, to get started.

"The moment I secure the nomination, I want to bring together experts in this area to start putting together the U.S. position ... what we're going to be doing internally, what we can agree to with other countries," he said.

"I know that my climate change plan is stronger than John McCain's," Obama said, citing his intention to make industrial polluters pay for the right to emit greenhouse gases.

McCain told reporters on his campaign plane that he had not seen Obama's plan so could not properly judge it.

"The debate is between the carbon tax and cap and trade," he said. "I will do whatever I can to get consensus on cap and trade legislation."

Obama, Clinton, and McCain all support building a so-called "cap and trade" system that would issue big polluters such as oil companies and power producers permits to emit carbon dioxide (CO2), the main gas blamed for global warming.

Under such a system, companies that exceed their CO2 limits must buy more permits to pollute, while those that come in beneath their limits may sell the permits on a market.

Obama said his plan was superior to McCain's because it required companies to buy all of those permits up front -- a process known as auctioning.

"I've been very specific about proposing 100 percent auctioning, which makes an enormous difference in terms of how effective it's going to be," Obama said.

The European Union, which now has the biggest CO2 emissions trading scheme in the world, is changing that system to increase the amount of auctioning required.

Source: Reuters

Biofuels make climate change worse, scientific study concludes

Growing crops to make biofuels results in vast amounts of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere and does nothing to stop climate change or global warming, according to the first thorough scientific audit of a biofuel's carbon budget.

Scientists have produced damning evidence to suggest that biofuels could be one of the biggest environmental con-tricks because they actually make global warming worse by adding to the man-made emissions of carbon dioxide that they are supposed to curb. Two separate studies published in the journal Science show that a range of biofuel crops now being grown to produce "green" alternatives to oil-based fossil fuels release far more carbon dioxide into the air than can be absorbed by the growing plants.

The scientists found that, in the case of some crops, it would take several centuries of growing them to pay off the "carbon debt" caused by their initial cultivation. Those environmental costs do not take into account any extra destruction to the environment, for instance the loss of biodiversity caused by clearing tracts of pristine rainforest.

"All the biofuels we use now cause habitat destruction, either directly or indirectly. Global agriculture is already producing food for six billion people. Producing food-based biofuel, too, will require that still more land be converted to agriculture," said Joe Fargioine of the US Nature Conservancy who was the lead scientist in one of the studies.

The scientists carried out the sort of analysis that has been missing in the rush to grow biofuels, encouraged by policies in the United States and Europe where proponents have been keen to extol biofuels' virtues as a green alternative to the fossil fuels used for transport.

Both studies looked at how much carbon dioxide is released when a piece of land is converted into a biofuel crop. They found that when peat lands in Indonesia are converted into palm-oil plantations, for instance, it would take 423 years to pay off the carbon debt.

The next worse case was when forested land in the Amazon is cut down to convert into soybean fields. The scientists found that it would take 319 years of making biodiesel from the soybeans to pay of the carbon debt caused by chopping down the trees in the first place.

Such conversions of land to grow corn (maize) and sugarcane for biodiesel, or palm oil and soybean for bioethanol, release between 17 and 420 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels, the scientists calculated.

"This research examines the conversion of land for biofuels and asks the question 'is it worth it?' Does the carbon you lose by converting forests, grasslands and peat lands outweigh the carbon you 'save' by using biofuels instead of fossil fuels?" Dr Fargione said.

"And surprisingly the answer is 'no'. These natural areas store a lot of carbon, so converting them to croplands results in tons of carbon emitted into the atmosphere," he said.

The demand for biofuels is destroying the environment in other ways. American farmers for instance used to rotate between soybean and corn crops but the demand for biofuel has meant that they are growing corn only. As a result, Brazilian farmers are cutting down forests to grow soybean to meet the shortfall in production.

"In finding solutions to climate change, we must ensure that the cure is not worse than the disease," said Jimmie Powell, a member of the scientific team at the Nature Conservancy.

"We cannot afford to ignore the consequences of converting land for biofuels. Doing so means we might unintentionally promote fuel alternatives that are worse than the fossil fuels they are designed to replace. These findings should be incorporated into carbon emission policy going forward," Dr Powell said yesterday.

The European Union is already having second thoughts about its policy aimed at stimulating the production of biofuel. Stavros Dimas, the EU environment commissioner, admitted last month that the EU did not foresee the scale of the environmental problems raised by Europe's target of deriving 10 per cent of its transport fuel from plant material.

Professor John Pickett, chair of the recent study on biofuels commissioned by the Royal Society, said that although biofuels may play an important role in cutting greenhouse gases from transport, it is important to remember that one biofuel is not the same as another.

"The greenhouse gas savings that a biofuel can provide are dependent on how crops are grown and converted and how the fuel is used," Professor Pickett said. "Given that biofuels are already entering global markets, it will be vital to apply carbon certification and sustainability criteria to the assessment of biofuels to promote those that are good for people and the environment. This must happen at an international level so that we do not just transfer any potentially negative effects of these fuels from one place to another."

Professor Stephen Polasky of the University of Minnesota, an author of one of the studies published in Science, said that the incentives currently employed to encourage farmers to grow crops for biofuels do not take into account the carbon budget of the crop.

"We don't have the proper incentives in place because landowners are rewarded for producing palm oil and other products but not rewarded for carbon management. This creates incentives for excessive land clearing and can result in large increases in carbon emissions," Professor Polasky said.

Source: The Independent

G7 to consider climate change fund: Japan

TOKYO (AFP) — Japan, Britain and the United States will propose a special fund to promote clean technologies as part of efforts to combat climate change, a Japanese official said Thursday.

The proposal will be put forward at a meeting of top finance officials from the Group of Seven industrialised nations on Saturday in Tokyo.

"Japan, Britain and the United States are currently examining a plan to establish a multilateral clean technology fund in cooperation with the World Bank," a finance ministry official told reporters.

"The three countries will explain the content of their current discussions on the fund, and we'll see how the rest of the Group of Seven members react to it," the official said on customary condition of anonymity.

It was unclear whether the plans would be included in the official statement by the G7, which also includes Canada, France, Germany and Italy.

If the idea gains traction, existing organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are expected to be involved.

Japan aims to take a lead in the debate over measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions when it hosts this year's Group of Eight summit, which also includes Russia, from July 7 to 9 at the northern lakeside resort of Toyako.

The world's second biggest economy after the United States, Japan is the home of the Kyoto Protocol, the landmark 1997 treaty that mandated cuts in greenhouse gas emissions heating up the planet.

Japan is far behind in meeting its Kyoto commitments as its economy recovers from recession in the 1990s.

As well as the issue of climate change, G7 powers are expected to discuss the worsening global economic outlook and recent financial market turmoil.

Source: AFP

Global Warming Could Lead to Increase in Thunderstorms

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Severe thunderstorms are predicted to increase dramatically in the United States and in some cities, like Atlanta, New York, and Dallas, storms are expected to double by the end of the century due to global warming, according to research by Jeremy Pal, a professor of civil engineering and environmental science at Loyola Marymount University

Researchers who study severe weather and climate change joined forces to study the effects of global warming on the climate. Pal is one of the lead developers of the regional climate model used in this study and a co-author of "Changes in severe thunderstorm environment frequency during the 21st century caused by anthropogenically enhanced global radiative forcing." Pal said the regional climate model offers the most detailed picture available of weather and climate activity across the United States.

The regional model divides up landmass across the United States into a grid of cells spaced 25 kilometers, or 15.6 miles, apart and provides information about the conditions occurring for each cell.

"The regional model has a higher resolution than global models and provides information on the tens-of-miles scale" said Pal. "Global models give data on the hundreds-of-miles scale. The use of four different models in this study makes the results more robust."

The study results were compared to current and past environmental conditions shown to produce severe thunderstorms. Research suggested global warming would lead to an increase in humid air that fuels severe thunderstorms. However, it also suggested global warming would reduce strong winds that contribute to the storms. The increase in humid air outweighs the reduction in winds leading to an increase in severe storm occurrence.

The study also found that the increase in storm conditions occurs during the typical storm seasons for these locations and not during dry seasons when such storms could be beneficial. The findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

About Loyola Marymount University

Located between the Pacific Ocean and downtown Los Angeles, Loyola Marymount University is a comprehensive university offering a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Founded in 1911, LMU is the largest Catholic institution of higher education on the West Coast with nearly 5,500 undergraduate students and more than 3,000 graduate and law students. Students can choose from more than 80 majors and programs in four colleges, two schools and Loyola Law School. For more LMU news and events, please visit

Source:PR Newswire

Global warming threatens to devastate the Mediterranean - Feature

Madrid - There is no sea like the Mediterranean, which links three continents and has contributed to the development of human civilization for millennia. Today, however, the sea the Romans called Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) evokes ugly images of pollution and concrete apartment blocks rather than that of the goddess Aphrodite rising from its foamy waves. Pollution, oil spills and global warming are affecting the Mediterranean with a frightening speed, environmental organizations warn in Spain, one of the 21 countries bordering the sea which is almost completely enclosed by land. More than 1,500 endemic or nearly endemic marine plant or animal species are under threat, Ricardo Aguilar, an expert on the Mediterranean with the environmental group Oceana, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "It would be exaggerated to say that the Mediterranean will die, but it is in a serious danger of suffering a great impoverishment in terms of plant and animal diversity," Aguilar said. The alarm raised by groups such as Oceana can be corroborated by almost any Spanish swimmer who has seen bottles, cans, plastic bags or other types of garbage floating on the waves. Spain has also seen the beauty of its Mediterranean coast disappear beneath strings of hotels and holiday apartments, which are responsible for part of the pollution. About 200,000 ships crisscross the Mediterranean every year, releasing up to 650,000 tons of oil into the water and making the Mediterranean the world's oiliest sea. At the same time, global warming is causing the sea level, water temperature and saltiness to rise, aggravating the threat to coastal ecosystems and to underwater life. About 150 million people live around the Mediterranean, and more than 100 million tourists come to its shores annually. The most polluted parts of the Mediterranean include the coasts of highly industrialized countries - Spain, France, Italy - and river mouths with dams, Aguilar explains. In Spain, for instance, about 800 municipalities systematically disobey rules on waste water, which is poured into the sea without purifying it first, according to local press reports. The Western Mediterranean has 1,900 pieces of garbage - mainly plastic - per square kilometre on its sea bed on the average, more than any other sea, according to figures given by the environmental group Greenpeace. A plastic bottle, for instance, can take centuries to disintegrate. Ships and boats routinely release fuel and other effluent into the sea. The joint impact of such spills is more harmful than that of major environmental disasters, Aguilar says. Contamination from garbage, waste water and oil affects fish and other animals, entering the food chain and leaving local people at risk of eating the pollution they produce. At the same time, the Mediterranean will offer less and less nourishment, with 65 per cent of its fish stocks estimated to be outside safe limits because of overfishing. If the sea level continues rising with the current speed, southern Spanish shores will retrocede by about 10 metres by 2050 on the average, according to a study by the University of Cantabria. Surface water temperature has risen by up to half a degree centigrade over the past 50 years, and the water is also becoming saltier. "The excess of heat in the water is killing typical Mediterranean species such as certain corals, sea fans and sponges," Aguilar says. "Millions of corals have died in the recent years."Seaweed, fish, molluscs and crustaceans also face the threat of invading tropical species, which come in for instance on ship hulls and can now survive in the warmer water. Global warming is also damaging beach ecosystems. The rising sea meanwhile washes sand to the sea bed, where it suffocates plants, Aguilar explains. Less than 1 per cent of the Mediterranean is currently under environmental protection, while scientists recommend protective measures for up to a half of it. In Spain alone, it would cost 5 billion euros (7 billion dollars) to rescue nothing but the coastal landscape with measures such as demolishing illegally erected buildings, the Environment Ministry estimates. "Many agreements have been signed to protect the Mediterranean, but most of them are not applied. Governments still see the Mediterranean mainly as a tourist destination," Aguilar complains. Saving the Mediterranean would not be easy, as it would require joint action from countries differing from each other politically, culturally and, above all, in terms of their wealth, he admits.


Dickinson students tackle global warming through game (with video)

nvesting in the stock market, reducing carbon levels and losing or misplacing billions of dollars was all just another part of the game for Dickinson College students on Saturday.

Four groups of students finished the college’s National Symposium on Global Warming with the Climate Change Game, working as corporations, governments and individuals to affect climate change and reduce carbon emission from their respective organizations.

"It puts people in charge of the global climate,” said Medard Gabel, a consultant with Big Picture, Small World, which designed the climate game and helps educate students and corporate offices on the subject matter. “It’s about changes we need to make as a society to deal with the climate change. There are things we can do as governments, corporations, organizations and as individuals.”

Each group was given a set of strategies released by international scientists on what people could do to help alleviate the problem in their respective areas, such as raising fuel efficiency standards. From all 17 corporations, governments and organizations listed, the groups chose to represent, the Chinese government, U.S. government, Chinese individuals and Wal-Mart.

With students within the groups working against each other as “change-makers” and “keepers of the status quo,” the game wasn’t entirely easy, especially when the goal was a 200 billion ton reduction of carbon. Students also tried to outdo each other, funding certain programs and making deals or merely bribing two students representing the media outlets for preferential treatment.

“You have to keep all of your interests in mind when you’re making deals,” said senior Topher Murray, who represented the U.S. government and nonchalantly dropped a billion dollars in front of the conservative news reporter. “You’re picking and choosing what to invest in and have to think about who it will affect negatively, who it will affect positively, who matters more to me and our own self interests.”

Source: The Sentinel Online

Arroyo calls for unity against global warming

CANDABA, Pampanga, Philippines --Act with solidarity against global warming.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made this pitch for the environment on Friday as she warned that rising sea levels may swamp the country's more than 7,000 islands.

Arroyo made the call during the first Ibon-Ebun (Birds-Eggs) Festival here where she praised local officials and residents for conserving the Candaba Swamp and making it a thriving refuge for migratory birds.

The swamp, spanning 32,000 hectares in Bulacan, Pampanga and Nueva Ecija, is one of the three major wetlands in the country.

Candaba, she said, has struck the "right balance between the needs of the people and the environment." This was the festival's theme.

"In the case of our country as a whole, we have begun the Green Philippines Plan. This is a blueprint for mapping our environment and economic policies that will allow for sustainable development that does not fall on the back of the poor or erode our environment," she said.

She said efforts to heal the environment were important because of rising tides, changing weather, deforestation, and pollution of air, sea and land.

"The challenges of the environment of this side of climate change are great. Our country has more than 7,000 islands so in our country if the seas rise due to global warming, that takes on a whole new meaning. Florida in America may lose some (of its existing) coastlines but we could lose our whole nation," she said.

"Our intent is very serious. We must work together to solve this problem, like Candaba is doing its part to take care of the Candaba Swamp."

One of the great achievements of Candaba, she said, was that it has transformed the town "from one where there are floods throughout the year, people are always sick, there's very little agricultural activities and birds rarely come to one where there is a reverse of all of that."

"Every nation, developed or developing, progressive or poor, must assume the mantle of leadership and address the challenge of climate change," she said.

Bird hunters, smokers and polluters have a share of the blame, she said, but added that "all the apportionment of blame does nothing against a rising tide of global warming that will swamp our nation if we do not act with solidarity."

She added: "What we need is unity. Unity is a real aspiration that manifests itself through progress. Unity is about action, not discussion. It is about working together, not just talking together."