December 09, 2019
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    Climate change: COP25 talks open as 'point of no return' in sight

    December 02, 2019

    Political leaders and climate diplomats are meeting in Madrid for two weeks of talks amid a growing sense of crisis.According to UN Secretary General António Guterres, "the point of no return is no longer over the horizon".Meanwhile, Save the Children says that climate shocks have left millions in Africa facing hunger.The charity says 33 million people are at emergency levels of food insecurity due to cyclones and droughts.This conference of the parties, or COP25, was due to be held in Chile but was cancelled by the government due to weeks of civil disturbances.Spain then stepped in to host the event, which will see 29,000 attendees over the two weeks of talks.
    School protesters are among those who have taken to the streets Speaking ahead of the meeting the UN secretary general said the climate crisis was imminent and political leaders had to respond."In the crucial 12 months ahead, it is essential that we secure more ambitious national commitments - particularly from the main emitters - to immediately start reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a pace consistent to reaching carbon neutrality by 2050."We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions," Mr Guterres said.Almost every country in the world has now signed and ratified the Paris climate agreement and under the terms of the pact they will all have to put new climate pledges on the table before the end of 2020.This meeting in Madrid signals the start of a frantic 12 months of negotiations that will culminate in Glasgow with COP26 in November next year.Some 50 world leaders are expected to attend the meeting in the Spanish capital - but US President Donald Trump will not be among them.
    However Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi will attend the conference with a congressional delegation.While her presence has been welcomed, US environmentalists want to see concrete steps on climate."While it's great Speaker Pelosi is coming to Madrid in place of Trump, symbolic gestures are no substitute for bold action," said Jean Su, from the US Center for Biological Diversity."America remains the number one historic contributor to the climate emergency, and even Democratic politicians have never committed to taking responsibility for our fair share."Underlining the real world impacts of climate change, a report from the charity Save the Children, says that what it calls "climate shocks" are threatening tens of millions of people in East and Southern Africa.
    The UN secretary general says no new coal-fired power stations should be built after 2020 The charity says that floods, landslides, drought and cyclones have put 33 million people at emergency levels of food insecurity. More than half of these are believed to be children. The situation has been made worse because the two strongest cyclones ever to hit the African continent, affected the same region just weeks apart.Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi last March, while six weeks later Cyclone Kenneth slammed Mozambique with millions affected by flooding."The climate crisis is happening here, and it's killing people, forcing them from their homes and ruining children's chance of a future," said Ian Vale from Save the Children."These unrelenting emergencies are stretching the humanitarian system to breaking point. Repeated cycles of food insecurity from climate-related shocks is resulting in big gaps in funding and unmet humanitarian needs. We are reaching a crisis point in this region."
    Temperature data for the five major global climate databases The UN Secretary General, António Guterres, will tell the meeting that the world is now facing a full-blown climate emergency.He will urge countries to significantly increase their carbon cutting ambitions. Subsidies for fossil fuel extraction must end, he said, and no new coal-fired power stations must be built after 2020.
    Greenhouse gas concentrations again break records

    Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases once again reached new highs in 2018.The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says the increase in CO2 was just above the average rise recorded over the last decade.Levels of other warming gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, have also surged by above average amounts.Since 1990 there's been an increase of 43% in the warming effect on the climate of long lived greenhouse gases.The WMO report looks at concentrations of warming gases in the atmosphere rather than just emissions.The difference between the two is that emissions refer to the amount of gases that go up into the atmosphere from the use of fossil fuels, such as burning coal for electricity and from deforestation.Concentrations are what's left in the air after a complex series of interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans, the forests and the land. About a quarter of all carbon emissions are absorbed by the seas, and a similar amount by land and trees.
    Using data from monitoring stations in the Arctic and all over the world, researchers say that in 2018 concentrations of CO2 reached 407.8 parts per million (ppm), up from 405.5ppm a year previously.This increase was above the average for the last 10 years and is 147% of the "pre-industrial" level in 1750.The WMO also records concentrations of other warming gases, including methane and nitrous oxide. About 40% of the methane emitted into the air comes from natural sources, such as wetlands, with 60% from human activities, including cattle farming, rice cultivation and landfill dumps.Methane is now at 259% of the pre-industrial level and the increase seen over the past year was higher than both the previous annual rate and the average over the past 10 years.Nitrous oxide is emitted from natural and human sources, including from the oceans and from fertiliser-use in farming. According to the WMO, it is now at 123% of the levels that existed in 1750.Last year's increase in concentrations of the gas, which can also harm the ozone layer, was bigger than the previous 12 months and higher than the average of the past decade.What concerns scientists is the overall warming impact of all these increasing concentrations. Known as total radiative forcing, this effect has increased by 43% since 1990, and is not showing any indication of stopping.
    "There is no sign of a slowdown, let alone a decline, in greenhouse gases concentration in the atmosphere despite all the commitments under the Paris agreement on climate change," said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas."We need to translate the commitments into action and increase the level of ambition for the sake of the future welfare of mankind," he added."It is worth recalling that the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was three to five million years ago. Back then, the temperature was 2-3C warmer, sea level was 10-20m higher than now," said Mr Taalas.The UN Environment Programme will report shortly on the gap between what actions countries are taking to cut carbon and what needs to be done to keep under the temperature targets agreed in the Paris climate pact.Preliminary findings from this study, published during the UN Secretary General's special climate summit last September, indicated that emissions continued to rise during 2018.Both reports will help inform delegates from almost 200 countries who will meet in Madrid next week for COP25, the annual round of international climate talks.
    Plan to cut carbon emissions from concerts
    By Laura Foster
    Massive Attack are donating four years of touring data for the report.Scientists from the University of Manchester are creating a blueprint to help bands and pop stars to perform live and tour the world without contributing to climate change.It's after the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research were approached by the group Massive Attack who say they want to help find solutions to the climate crisis.The findings will be shared with musicians from across the industry and, it's hoped, will inspire millions of fans to live more sustainably.Massive Attack have spent a lot of 2019 with the environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion, even playing a set at one of their protests in London in April.
    Robert del Naja, aka 3D, told the BBC he felt conflicted because of how his career has contributed to climate change."[As musicians] we have enjoyed a high carbon lifestyle. But as a society we've all existed in a fossil fuel economy for a long time and had very little choice in that."The challenge now is to not only make personal sacrifices, but to insist on the systemic change that's needed. Business as usual is over."The news comes a week after Coldplay announced they would not tour with their latest album for environmental reasons.Meanwhile, Billie Eilish is offering fans a chance to earn tickets to her next tour by fighting climate change and there'll be eco-villages at each concert where fans can learn more about the issues facing the planet.
    What will the scientists be looking at?This new research will look at all aspects of touring and how its carbon footprint can be reduced to zero, or as close to zero as possible.It's not looking simply at balancing out emissions from concerts by planting trees for removing carbon dioxide from the air - a process known as carbon offsetting.Instead, researchers will look at how to reduce the amount of energy used during concerts and in moving musicians, crews and sets between different venues and cities, as well as the impact audiences have.
    Tyndall Manchester's Director, Prof Carly McLachlan, says they'll be looking at where switches can be made to renewable energy sources, how to reduce the amount of energy being consumed but also thinking about how touring could be different."It is a high carbon sector and we need to try and tackle that, because every sector has to be part of the transition to a low-carbon economy."It's not yet known what impact, if any, changing the way tours are put on will have on ticket prices, routes or number of concerts.Glastonbury festival-goers were praised this year by Sir David Attenborough for cutting back on their plastic use.Then there are the carbon emissions from tour buses, from moving sets, from making merchandise, on top of the energy needed for things like lighting and sound.Recent figures suggest that live music generates 405,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK every year.

    Critical year for climate change starts in Madrid

    An image showing carbon dioxide emissions over the EarthA critical 12 months in the battle against rising temperatures begins in Madrid this week, as UN delegates gather for key talks.The 25th Conference of the Parties, or COP, will see negotiators from almost 200 countries in attendance.Ahead of the meeting the UN secretary general has warned that the world is at the point of no return.António Guterres said the global response to date has been "utterly inadequate".
    The conference takes place amid a welter of bad news on climate change in recent days.
    The World Meteorological Organisation announced that greenhouse gas concentrations reached their highest recorded level in 2018.The UN Environment Programme showed that there's a huge gap between the plans that governments currently have on the table to cut emissions and what's needed to keep under 1.5C. Keeping to that guardrail will need a five-fold increase in the carbon cutting ambitions of countries.The UN Secretary General warned delegates ahead of the meeting "the point of no return was no longer over the horizon".

    "We simply have to stop digging and drilling and take advantage of the vast possibilities offered by renewable energy and nature-based solutions," Mr Guterres said.

    As well as demanding that the negotiators increase their level of carbon cutting ambition at this meeting, Mr Guterres announced that the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney will take on the role of UN Special Envoy on climate action and climate finance.

    Wasn't this meeting supposed to be in Chile?
    Yes, this annual event, the Conference of the Parties or COP was due to take place in the Chilean capital Santiago this year. It was cancelled by President Sebastián Piñera due to ongoing civil unrest in the country.

    Image copyrightCOP25 CHILEAN PRESIDENCY
    After a brief flurry of diplomatic activity, Spain said they would step into the void and host the conference, with Chile still leading the diplomatic negotiations.

    The Spanish argue that it is critical to support a UN process that depends on global co-operation in the face of rising nationalism around the world.

    "COP25 will reaffirm that multilateralism is the best tool to solve global challenges such as climate change," said Spain's minister for the ecological transition Teresa Ribera.

    "Neither the UN nor the international community have let the climate agenda fall, despite the challenges to organise this event, because this is a vital moment to drive implementation and action. Spain immediately offered to organise the summit in record time. There is no turning back."

    What will this gathering achieve?
    The hope is that this meeting will concentrate the minds of international diplomats on the huge scale of the challenge.

    Governments have promised to update their climate pledges by 2020, when the COP will be held in Glasgow.

    But so far, despite the urgings of scientists, major improvements in pledges have been slow to materialise.

    Many nations have aspirations to carbon neutrality in the long term, but they have been slow to put specific short-term commitments on the table.

    "Some 70 countries have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050, this must be carried on at Madrid COP," said Sonam Wangdi, the Chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group in UN climate change negotiations.

    "There must be an agreement among us all to do our fair share. If it doesn't happen in Madrid it could be too late for 2020 pledges."

    The hope for Madrid is that the meeting can avoid major bust ups and keep edging forward.

    It also has to overcome two possible banana skins - loss and damage, and carbon markets.

    What is loss and damage, and why is it important?
    This issue has dogged the negotiations for several years now, but the likelihood is that it will come to a head in Madrid.

    Loss and damage are the impacts that can't be prevented or adapted to by countries.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    Extreme weather events like Cyclone Kenneth in Mozambique are said to be examples of loss and damage, say campaigners
    Some experts consider "loss" to apply to the complete destruction of something such as human lives, habitats and species. "Damage" refers to something that can be repaired, such as roads or buildings.

    So the examples that are given are rising sea levels which can't be prevented, or storms that are connected to rising temperatures.

    Back in 2013, under pressure from developing countries, the climate talks set up a special forum to discuss loss and damage. In Madrid the delegates must decide how to progress. Poorer nations want the loss and damage to have teeth within the UN setup, and more importantly, funding.

    "Everybody has to recognise that there is a need and then there must be a funding window," said Sonam Wangdi from the LDCs.

    "Once you have that, where the funding comes from is secondary, right now there is no fund."

    Rich countries fear that the whole question is a way of tying them into paying out for sea level rise and storms for centuries ahead, because the bulk of the carbon in the atmosphere comes from fossil fuels used by the developed world.

    As the conference starts, 150 environmental groups including climate activists Naomi Klein and Lidy Nacpil have written to ministers calling for adequate funding for loss and damage.

    They say the combination of climate disasters and debt can prove toxic for developing nations.

    "The climate crisis has been causing death, despair and displacement in the global south," said Harjeet Singh from Action Aid.

    "This bullying of the countries hardest hit by climate change, by those that got rich from extracting and consuming fossil fuels, must end now."

    What about carbon markets - a load of hot air?
    Hot air is in fact one of the big concerns with the question of carbon markets.

    In the past richer countries have often paid for carbon reduction projects in poorer nations.

    The wealthy have then been able to count the carbon saved from these projects against their own emissions.

    These schemes were discredited amid accusations of fraud and "double counting" where both the poor and the rich countries counted the same emissions reduction as part of their plans.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    A wind farm in China built with funding from richer countries. The carbon credits created by projects like this are controversial
    Article six of the Paris agreement set out to reform these carbon markets, recognising that if they were transparent and effective they could really help to raise ambitions.

    Discussions on how the new arrangements would work were due to be completed in Katowice at the COP last year but they ran into real problems. Brazil resisted all attempts to curtail double counting. Other countries wanted to carry forward carbon credits from older schemes.

    Some also want to be able to sell or carry forward credits if they overachieve on their existing carbon cutting plans, which observers feel would encourage countries to set a low bar in terms of commitments.

    Experts often call these types of credits "hot air" as they are more an accounting exercise than a real reduction in carbon dioxide.

    The amount of "hot air" is huge, running into billions of tonnes of carbon. Experts fear that these could undermine the integrity of the Paris pact if they are allowed to continue.

    "We believe that these markets will have an impact but they must result in real reductions on the ground," said Sonam Wangdi from the LDCs.

    "The option is needed and the carbon market is one of the tools - but there needs to be environmental integrity and they need to be transparent and there needs to be real reductions there."

    Why does Madrid matter if the real deadline is 2020?
    Trying to get unanimous agreement between almost 200 countries on how to tackle climate change is a really big ask. The agreement that was struck in Paris in 2015 only came about after six long years of snail pace negotiations.

    It was the deal that diplomats had hoped to strike in the failed Copenhagen COP in 2009.

    So if the goal is that countries have new promises in place by the end of 2020, Madrid is an important snapshot of what can realistically be achieved.

    Countries often tend to hold back on their pledges until they see what others are likely to do. Madrid will give a sense of whether there is a willingness from some of the larger countries, like India, China and the EU, to show leadership.

    "After 30 years of advocacy and optimism, we see COP 25 as the last opportunity to take decisive action," said Ambassador Janine Felson from Belize, the deputy chair of the Alliance of Small Island States.

    "Anything short of a vastly greater commitment to emission reduction through new national plans that are consistent with our fight for a 1.5 degree world, greater momentum towards honouring outstanding 2020 climate finance commitments, a new climate finance goal suitable for achieving a 1.5 degree world and tangible support for disaster risk reduction and reconstruction in small island and developing states will signal a willingness to accept catastrophe."

    What about the US - will they play a role?
    This could be the last year in which a US team will play a part in the negotiations. On 4 November President Trump sent a formal letter to the UN, which has triggered the 12-month countdown to the US pullout.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    President Trump has kept a campaign promise to his supporters to pull out of the Paris pact
    The Americans are due to leave on 4 November 2020, one day after the next US presidential election and five days ahead of the critical COP26 in Glasgow.

    The US has been playing a more truculent role in recent negotiations, joining with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia to prevent the conference welcoming a key IPCC report on how the world can keep temperatures under 1.5C this century.

    Over the past couple of years the US has also supported side events promoting coal and will likely continue to do so in the future.

    Even if they do withdraw completely next year, that will only be from the Paris agreement part of the negotiations. The US will still be party to the UN climate convention. It is unlikely they will stop sending teams to the conferences.

    What about Greta Thunberg - will she make it in time?
    Just a year ago, Greta Thunberg attended the Katowice COP as a relatively unknown Swedish student who was taking direct action in striking from school for the climate. A year later and she has become a global icon who can get a standing ovation from diplomats by calling out their hypocrisy on rising temperatures.

    Greta's dedication to the cause has been enhanced by her decision to cross the Atlantic in a yacht to attend the Santiago meeting. Now she is on another boat on her way back to Madrid. She is due to arrive a few days after the start. Her participation and her speech will likely make headlines around the world.

    Will the meeting give a voice to climate strikers and young people?
    Conferences like the COP are rooted in a traditional UN diplomatic that requires a unanimous agreement on steps forward. While environmental campaigners and others can observe, there is limited input from young people, school strikers and other voices.

    Nordic countries are attempting to do something different this year with ministers from Sweden, Finland and Iceland inviting five young people from different countries to take part in discussions with politicians and report back from COP25.

     

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