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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Climate change and COVID-19

Air pollution and Coronavirus

There is increasing evidence that the lockdown in multiple countries, in an effort to  reduce the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, has resulted in short-term reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, especially in cities and focusing on nitrogen dioxide. Indeed, scans from space have been published, showing huge decreases in this polluting gas:

china_trop_2020056

https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146362/airborne-nitrogen-dioxide-plummets-over-china

A new study published by Yaron Ogen in Science of the Total Environment suggests that long-term exposure to the pollutant, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), may be one of the most important contributors to 78% of fatalities caused by the COVID-19 virus in 66 administrative regions in Italy, Spain, France and Germany and maybe across the whole world. The image below is from the paper.

NO2

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969720321215  and

Science of The Total Environment, Volume 726, 15 July 2020, 138605
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138605

A similar study was published on April 22nd 2020:

In another analysis of trends in COVID-19 deaths, research  reported by the Guardian has shown that deaths are highest in the cities which are very polluted, suggesting that people living in such cities already have lung pathology caused by the pollution before catching the coronavirus.  See:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/20/air-pollution-may-be-key-contributor-to-covid-19-deaths-study?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMjAwNDIy&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=greenlight_email&utm_campaign=GreenLight

It suggests that 80% of deaths from coronavirus across four countries were in the most polluted areas.

However, a contradictory report from the UK, suggests that death rates have been higher in rural areas, though this may be linked to the greater number of elderly people living in such areas. There is still much to be learnt about this new virus.

But, is this reduction in pollution going to be enough to make a difference, indeed, of reversing the unrelenting march of increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, causing global warming and climate change?

Sadly, I think not, though it might become a wake-up call.  Scientists are already saying that, whilst there may be reductions in air pollution over major cities, and a temporary drop in carbon emissions, the overall trend is upwards, as there is already carbon, previously emitted, that is trapped in the upper atmosphere, that will take global warming beyond 3° unless we take serious action to follow the Paris agreement targets.

The problem as I see it is that panic has been caused by the effects of the lockdown on national and local economies. People are desperate for a return to “business as usual”.  And one can understand that many people have been forced into poverty by the loss of their incomes due to social distancing measures and lockdown.  And, in some cases, the people who have been affected by it probably thought that their future income would be relatively stable and secure. This must be taken into account when planning for the future, once the pandemic and the lockdowns are over.

road

A UK motorway devoid of traffic during the coronavirus lockdown

Although there has been a demonstrated drop in nitrogen dioxide levels, carbon dioxide levels have continued unrelentingly.  Global carbon dioxide levels have hit a record high despite reports of localised improvements in air quality due to the coronavirus lockdown, according to reports.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) released data showing that CO2 levels have risen steeply.

According to the US agency the monthly average CO2 concentrations, recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, were 416.21 parts per million (ppm) this year compared to 413.33ppm in April 2019.  Its the highest concentration since records began in 1958.

 



There are an increasing number of people who are hoping that the end of the pandemic will give an opportunity to rethink the economy, with a view to coming up with measures that do not damage the environment and put our world at risk. This subject has been tackled in Guardian articles and letters, published on 24th March 2020 by Colin Hines, Rosemund Aubrey and Carl Gardner:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/24/how-fresh-economics-can-tackle-coronavirus-and-climate-change

Another group who propound a circular economy – or doughnut economics – have circulated a long email, with plans for making Amsterdam the place to demonstrate that such ideas work.  Their email is copied in its entirety below (I apologise that some of the images are too small to be legible but this is their size in the original email). By clicking on the links provided, larger images can be seen by downloading the original documents.

 



Introducing the Amsterdam City Doughnut

from Kate Raworth (8.4.2020)

Today is the launch of the Amsterdam City Doughnut, which takes the global concept of the Doughnut and turns it into a tool for transformative action in the city of Amsterdam. It’s also the first public presentation of the holistic approach to ‘downscaling the Doughnut’ that an international team of us have been developing for more than a year. We never imagined that we would be launching it in a context of crisis such as this, but we believe that the need for such a transformative tool could hardly be greater right now, and its use in Amsterdam has the chance to inspire many more places – from neighbourhoods and villages to towns and cities to nations and regions – to take such a holistic approach as they begin to reimagine and remake their own futures.

The Doughnut was first published in 2012, proposing a social foundation and ecological ceiling for the whole world. Ever since then people have asked: can we downscale the Doughnut so that we can apply it here – in our town, our country, our region? Over the past eight years there have been many innovative initiatives exploring different approaches to doing just that – including for the Lake Erhai catchment in China, for the nations of South Africa, Wales and the UK, and for a comparison of 150 countries.

Today sees the launch of a new and holistic approach to downscaling the Doughnut, and we are confident that it has huge potential at multiple scales – from neighbourhood to nation – as a tool for transformative action. Amsterdam is a great place for launching this tool because this city has already placed the Doughnut at the heart of its long-term vision and policymaking, and is home to the Amsterdam Donut Coalition, a network of inspiring change-makers who are already putting the Doughnut into practice in their city.

When the Doughnut meets Biomimicry

This new holistic approach to downscaling the Doughnut started out as a playful conceptual collaboration between the biomimicry thinker Janine Benyus and me, as we sought to combine the essence of our contrasting ways of thinking about people and place. It then became a collaborative initiative, led by Doughnut Economics Action Lab (we are so new we don’t have a website yet – but watch this space!) working very closely with fantastic colleagues at Biomimicry 3.8, Circle Economy and C40 Cities, all collaborating as part of the Thriving Cities Initiative.

The result is a holistic approach that embraces social and ecological perspectives, both locally and globally. Applied at the scale of a city, it starts by asking this very 21st century question:

It’s a question that combines local aspiration – to be thriving people in a thriving place – with a global responsibility to live in ways that respect all people and the whole planet. As Janine put it in her characteristically poetic way, ‘when a bird builds a nest in a tree, it takes care not to destroy the surrounding forest in the process’. How can humanity also learn to create settlements big and small that promote the wellbeing of their inhabitants, while respecting the wider living communities in which they are embedded?

To dive into these issues, we explore four interdependent questions, applied in this case to Amsterdam:

These questions turn into the four ‘lenses’ of the City Doughnut, producing a new ‘portrait’ of the city from four inter-connected perspectives. Drawing on the city’s current targets for the local lenses, as well as on the Sustainable Development Goals and the planetary boundaries for the global lenses, we compared desired outcomes for the city against statistical snapshots of its current performance (see the published tool for full details).

To be clear, this city portrait is not a report and assessment of Amsterdam: it is a tool and starting point, ideal for using in workshops to open up new insights and bring about transformative action. The current coronavirus lockdown means that such workshops are on hold at the moment, but changemakers in the city are already finding creative ways to sustain momentum, including through many of the 8 ways that set out below.

Our team at the Thriving Cities Initiative has also worked with city staff to create city portraits for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Portland, Oregon (these are not yet published) and the initial workshops that have been held to date in all three cities have brought together policymakers and change-makers in dynamic and thought-provoking discussions.

Workshops for city officials and community representatives in Philadelphia, Portland and Amsterdam, 2019

And here’s what we think is the real opportunity. The City Portraits that our team has made are what we call public portraits of the cities – made using publicly available targets and data. What if a city were to turn this into its own self portrait, gathering together residents’ lived experiences, their values, hopes and fears, their ideas and initiatives, their own understanding of their deep interconnections with the rest of world? The process of creating such City Self Portraits is, we believe, what will make this tool really take off.

From Public Portrait to City Selfie Imagining Amsterdam’s City Selfie…

The likelihood of this happening in Amsterdam is high, thanks to the newly launched Amsterdam Donut Coalition: a network of over 30 organisations – including community groups, commons-based organisations, SMEs, businesses, academia and local government – that are already putting Doughnut Economics into practice in their work. Working together they are becoming a catalyst for transformative change, generating inspiration and action within Amsterdam and far beyond.

The Amsterdam Donut Coalition, founding meeting, December 2019

If you are interested in applying this tool for downscaling the Doughnut to your own place – your neighbourhood, village, town, city, region, nation – please do let us know by filling in this short form. Doughnut Economics Action Lab is already working on creating version 2.0 of the methodology and, once ready, we plan to share it on our forthcoming platform, which will make working collaboratively like this far easier and more effective. Our newly created team at DEAL is currently focused on setting up this platform, so please be a little patient, and by the end of May we will get in touch with our plans for taking this downscaling work forward.

Everyone is likewise welcome to leave responses and suggestions about Amsterdam’s City Doughnut, and the City Doughnut tool. I am currently focused on working with DEAL’s fast-growing team, as well as homeschooling my two children, and looking out for my local community – so please do understand that I may not be able to reply personally, but you are of course welcome to comment and discuss with each other.

As we all start thinking about how we will emerge from this crisis, let us seek to be holistic in how we reimagine and recreate the local-to-global futures of the places we live. I believe this newly downscaled Doughnut tool has a great deal to offer and I look forward to seeing it turned into transformative action, in Amsterdam and far beyond.

There is also a report in The Guardian about this initiative:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/08/amsterdam-doughnut-model-mend-post-coronavirus-economy?fbclid=IwAR1jAAhLG-r0DvvJ4hLqyOxHWaJcJ15J-OBDVc8LkXNHvIqAYKm7RgApjnQ



Other groups, such as the World Economic Forum, believe that:

  • The coronavirus pandemic may lead to a deeper understanding of the ties that bind us on a global scale.
  • Well-resourced healthcare systems are essential to protect us from health security threats, including climate change.
  • The support to resuscitate the economy after the pandemic should promote health, equity, and environmental protection.

We live in an age in which intersecting crises are being lifted to a global scale, with unseen levels of inequality, environmental degradation and climate destabilization, as well as new surges in populism, conflict, economic uncertainty, and mounting public health threats. All are crises that are slowly tipping the balance, questioning our business-as-usual economic model of the past decades, and requiring us to rethink our next steps.

See: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/climate-change-coronavirus-linked/



Carbon Brief has provided data to show the drop in carbon emissions that has occurred during lockdown, though they admit that it is early days to provide accurate data:

Analysis: Coronavirus set to cause largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions

With dozens more countries enforcing lockdowns in response to the pandemic, a wide range of indicators show how transport useelectricity demand and industrial activity are being cut. Yet there have been few attempts, thus far, to quantify the consequences for global CO2 emissions.

To date, most global estimates have been based on informed speculation, or on forecasts of reduced GDP growth. Many have also warned that emissions will quickly rebound, unless the response to the pandemic can create lasting, structural changes towards net-zero emissions.

Here, Carbon Brief gathers the latest evidence on how the coronavirus crisis is affecting energy use and CO2 emissions around the world, as a way to sense-check the GDP-based estimates.

Five key datasets and projections are identified, covering roughly three-quarters of the world’s annual CO2 emissions, including the entire output of China and the US, the EU carbon market, the Indian power sector and the global oil sector.

Carbon Brief analysis of this data suggests the pandemic could cause emissions cuts this year in the region of 1,600m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2). Although this number is necessarily uncertain, countries and sectors not yet included in the analysis can be expected to add to the total.

Nevertheless, this tentative estimate is equivalent to more than 4% of the global total in 2019. As a result, the coronavirus crisis could trigger the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions in 2020, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war.

Even this would not come close to bringing the 1.5C global temperature limit within reach. Global emissions would need to fall by more than 6% every year this decade – more than 2,200MtCO2 annually – in order to limit warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures.

To put it another way, atmospheric carbon levels are expected to increase again this year, even if CO2 emissions cuts are greater still. Rising CO2 concentrations – and related global warming – will only stabilise once annual emissions reach net-zero.

Emissions data challenges

It is important to stress before explaining Carbon Brief’s analysis that there are many challenges when it comes to estimating the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on global emissions in 2020.

The most significant of these are timely data availability, attribution of any changes to coronavirus, and the huge uncertainty over the path and duration of the crisis.

For example, UK data on demand for petroleum products is published monthly, but the figures for January were only released at the end of March. Similarly, the 20 March release of UK tax data – including fuel duty receipts reflecting road-traffic volumes – only covers the month of February.

Estimates of annual global CO2 emissions are usually first published by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) in November or December of the year in question, but more definitive figures only arrive the following spring. Official emissions inventories can take years to be finalised.

The US Energy Information Administration (US EIA) publishes national energy data and emissions estimates only a few weeks in arrears. Yet in its 8 April weekly report on oil markets, it notes that, on a global basis, “real-time data remain limited”.

Robbie Andrew, senior researcher in climate economics at the CICERO Center for International Climate Research in Norway and a contributor to the GCP, tells Carbon Brief:

“We get frequently updated economic stats, but environmental stats are just occasional. How would it change the way we think if, every time economic stats were published, there were environmental stats updated alongside?”

In terms of attributing any changes to the on-going pandemic, a long list of confounding factors cloud the picture. This means it is hard to attribute a changing indicator solely to coronavirus, given multiple reasons why fossil-fuel demand in March 2020 might have fallen, relative to the same month in previous years.

The mild winter across Europe and North America has cut demand for heating in the first quarter of the year, for example, making it cheaper to burn gas for power and industry. Temperatures also affect electricity demand. Adjustments to account for this are possible, but add complexity.

Renewable capacity was already rising, eating into the market share of fossil fuels, while sunny and windy weather has boosted the output of existing windfarms and solar parks relative to last year.

These trends, combined with low gas prices that were also unrelated to coronavirus, mean coal-fired electricity was already plummeting in many countries – and was expected to continue doing so.

As a practical example, German electricity got much cleaner in the first quarter of 2020cutting emissions by 20m tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2). But only a quarter of this (5MtCO2) was due to the pandemic, according to analysis from the thinktank Agora Energiewende.

Second-order effects add to this already complicated situation. The drop in oil demand due to the pandemic is being compounded by a price war, in which Saudi Arabia and Russia have raised their output. This means oil prices are tumbling, as are those for gas, because of oil-linked contracts.

Finally, the unprecedented nature of the current crisis makes all forecasts and predictions even more than usually susceptible to being wrong. The duration of the crisis and the timing of lockdowns being lifted are particularly uncertain.

In its latest short-term projections, the US EIA says that it expects the biggest hit to oil demand in the second quarter of 2020, but that the reduction will only “gradually dissipat[e] over the course of the next 18 months”. Its outlook notes:

“Although all market outlooks are subject to many risks, the April edition of EIA’s Short-Term Energy Outlook is subject to heightened levels of uncertainty because the impacts of the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) on energy markets are still evolving.”

Marcus Ferdinand, head of European carbon and power analytics for data provider ICIS, published one early analysis on 24 March, looking at how coronavirus would affect the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). This covers EU emissions from electricity generation, industry and aviation.

Ferdinand told Carbon Brief on 3 April that while electricity sector data is “relatively good” and despite reasonable proxies being available for transport, there was still a lot of “guesswork” involved at this stage, particularly around the unknown depth and duration of the crisis.

His analysis started by looking at the effect of the 2008-9 global financial crisis, then drew on a mixture of hard data and news reporting of planned measures to extrapolate onto the current situation. He described the effort as a “first impact assessment” that would need to be refined as more data became available. Ferdinand told Carbon Brief on 3 April:

“I’m humble enough to know that I’m wrong. And I think every forecast, in this case, is wrong – unless there is pure luck – because there’s so many unknowns. So I think what we painted here is one potential scenario of what could happen, if the circumstances were as we described them. If the circumstances are different – which we will find out when we get more and more data – then we will need to adjust our analysis.”

Despite all of these challenges, there is plenty of data to draw on that points to significant – though uncertain – changes in CO2 emissions, as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Estimated impact on global emissions

In order to start building up a global picture of how the pandemic is affecting energy use and emissions, Carbon Brief has been gathering evidence from a wide range of sources.

The information includes direct data, proxy indicators, news reports and third-party forecasts. It covers road-transport demand, aviation, industrial activity, economic output, electricity demand, air pollution, atmospheric carbon and other relevant markers.

In some countries and sectors, notably international aviation, the impact of the current crisis is so severe and dramatic that there can be little doubt it is due to other factors. Even so, a number of assumptions are needed to translate flight cancellations into tonnes of CO2.

 

Ferdinand tells Carbon Brief the index “has a strong correlation with German industry production”, meaning it can provide “some early hints” regarding how economic activity will develop.

So far, five sets of data and existing analysis stand out as offering strong, timely and quantifiable evidence of the coronavirus crisis cutting global CO2 emissions in 2020. These cover the global oil sector, the EU ETS, India’s electricity sector and the entire economies of the US and China.

More detail on all of the pieces of evidence gathered so far will be added to this article over time, with a particular focus on the key countries and sectors highlighted here. (Details of the estimate for China are contained in previously published Carbon Brief analysis; the EU ETS analysis is explained in detail in a report by ICIS analyst Marcus Ferdinand.)

Together, these five areas account for the large majority of annual global CO2 emissions, some three-quarters (76%) of the total in 2018, according to Carbon Brief analysis of data from ICIS and the International Energy Agency (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2019.

The chart below shows the combined estimated impacts for these five areas in red, alongside an illustrative range (grey bars) showing what a 1, 3 or 5% drop in annual emissions would look like in 2020. Below the dotted line, in blue, are the five largest annual falls ever recorded prior to this year.

The five largest falls in annual global CO2 emissions ever recorded are shown in blue bars, in millions of tonnes of CO2. The grey bars illustrate how far emissions would fall in 2020 under a 1%, 3% or 5% reduction compared to 2019 levels. The red bars show estimated emissions impacts of the coronavirus crisis in 2020 on the global oil sector, the EU carbon market, China, the US and India, with the latter only accounting for changes in the power sector. Where possible, estimates are shown relative to pre-crisis forecasts. Geographical estimates exclude oil. Source: Carbon Brief analysis of emissions data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre (CDIAC) and the Global Carbon Project; analysis of assessments from ICIS and the US Energy Information Administration; analysis of daily data from India’s Power System Operation Corporation (POSOCO). Chart by Carbon Brief.

As if to emphasise the fast-moving and uncertain nature of the current situation, consultancy Rystad Energy published a significantly updated estimate of the impact on global oil markets on 8 April, after Carbon Brief’s analysis in the chart, above, had already been finalised.

Whereas the firm had earlier been aligned with the latest US EIA outlook of a roughly 5% decline in oil demand this year, it now expects a much larger 9.4% reduction for the year. This would increase the global oil sector component of CO2 emissions cuts this year from 816MtCO2 to 1,283MtCO2.

Carbon Brief’s estimated coronavirus impact on emissions in 2020 is uncertain and incomplete, but amounts to some 1,600MtCO2 this year. This is already more than 4% of global emissions in 2019. (The Rystad forecast for oil would increase this to nearly 6% of 2019 emissions and 2,000MtCO2.)

 

The full report can be found by clicking on the weblink at the beginning of this section.



On a lighter note, it has been encouraging to see how it has not taken long for wildlife across the globe to come and take over our towns, helping themselves to greenery in our gardens and parks, maybe reclaiming the habitats we have stolen from them. The photographs below give examples of where this is happening in the UK.

goats

Wild mountain goats in Llandudno

 

deerDeer in an east London suburb

sheeponround

Sheep on a roundabout in a deserted children’s playground

Perhaps this gives a moment of cheer after the devastating images we have seen earlier this year, coming from Australia with the widespread bush fires there, destroying the lives of their unique fauna.

Another source of encouragement is the recent Big Garden Birdwatch in the UK, which has shown increases in the house sparrow, which was in decline, as well as other bird species.

The National Trust has reported some species which are thriving in lockdown: buzzards, orcas and cuckoos. Peregrine falcons are reported to be nesting in Corfe Castle, Dorset; partridges wandering in an empty Cambridge car park and Little Owls have been spotted at Ham House in London. Other species which have been reclaiming empty gardens and streets are otters, stoats, weasels, hares and insects.

And there are reports from Thailand, that the threatened species Dugongs are returning to the sea grass meadows around the tourist islands of Thailand, which are now quiet due to the pandemic. Other species of shark have also been seen in the area more readily.

Another report in the Guardian describes how reduced shipping in the oceans has made life better for marine creatures, such as whales:

In cities, human lockdowns during the coronavirus pandemic have offered some respite to the natural world, with clear skies and the return of wildlife to waterways. Now evidence of a drop in underwater noise pollution has led experts to predict the crisis may also be good news for whales and other sea mammals.

Researchers examining real-time underwater sound signals from seabed observatories run by Ocean Networks Canada near the port of Vancouver found a significant drop in low-frequency sound associated with ships.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/27/silence-is-golden-for-whales-as-lockdown-reduces-ocean-noise-coronavirus

Unfortunately, this optimistic note is not replicated across the globe, as the BBC reports that it has led to increased poaching:

“How the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening Africa’s wildlife

A wildlife catastrophe is unfolding in Africa, according to park rangers and conservation experts.

They say the closure of safari tourism, due to the coronavirus pandemic, is decimating the industry, and leading to an increase in poaching.

The African tourism industry is worth almost $30 billion a year and employs almost four million people.

Experts and rangers on the ground say they are seeing a surge in poaching as thousands of unemployed people dependent on the industry turn to wild animals for food.

They also fear an upsurge in more organised poaching of endangered species.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-africa-52564615/how-the-covid-19-pandemic-is-threatening-africa-s-wildlife



Natasha Chassange has given an optimistic note in her piece for The Conversation, entitled “Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about climate change“:

Every aspect of our lives has been affected by the coronavirus. The global economy has slowed, people have retreated to their homes and thousands have died or become seriously ill.

At this frightening stage of the crisis, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. But as the International Agency has said, the effects of coronavirus are likely to be temporary but the other global emergency – climate change – is not.

Stopping the spread of coronavirus is paramount, but climate action must also continue. And we can draw many lessons and opportunities from the current health crisis when tackling planetary warming.

A ‘degrowing’ economy

S&P Global Ratings this week said measures to contain COVID-19 have pushed the global economy into recession.

Economic analyst Lauri Myllyvirta estimates the pandemic may have reduced global emissions by 200 megatonnes of carbon dioxide to date, as air travel grinds to a halt, factories close down and energy demand falls.

In the first four weeks of the pandemic, coal consumption in China alone fell by 36%, and oil refining capacity reduced by 34%.

In many ways, what we’re seeing now is a rapid and unplanned version of economic “degrowth” – the transition some academics and activists have for decades said is necessary to address climate change, and leave a habitable planet for future generations.

Degrowth is a proposed slowing of growth in sectors that damage the environment, such as fossil fuel industries, until the economy operates within Earth’s limits. It is a voluntary, planned and equitable transition in developed nations which necessarily involves an increased focus on the environment, human well-being, and capabilities (good health, decent work, education, and a safe and healthy environment).

Such a transformation would be profound, and so far no nation has shown the will to implement it. It would require global economies to “decouple” from carbon to prevent climate-related crises. But the current unintended economic slowdown opens the door to such a transition, which would bring myriad benefits to the climate.

The idea of sustainable degrowth is very different to a recession. It involves scaling back environmentally damaging sectors of the economy, and strengthening others.

A tale of two emergencies

Climate change has been declared a global emergency, yet to date the world has largely failed to address it. In contrast, the global policy response to the coronavirus emergency has been fast and furious.

There are several reasons for this dramatic difference. Climate change is a relatively slow-moving crisis, whereas coronavirus visibly escalates over days, even hours, increasing our perception of the risks involved. One thing that history teaches us about politics and the human condition in times of peril, we often take a “crisis management” approach to dealing with serious threats.

As others have observed, the slow increase in global temperatures means humans can psychologically adjust as the situation worsens, making the problem seem less urgent and meaning people are less willing to accept drastic policy measures.

Key lessons from coronavirus

The global response to the coronavirus crisis shows that governments can take immediate, radical emergency measures, which go beyond purely economic concerns, to protect the well-being of all.

Specifically, there are practical lessons and opportunities we can take away from the coronavirus emergency as we seek to tackle climate change:

Act early: The coronavirus pandemic shows the crucial importance of early action to prevent catastrophic consequences. Governments in Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore acted quickly to implement quarantine and screening measures, and have seen relatively small numbers of infections. Italy, on the other hand, whose government waited too long to act, is now the epicentre of the virus.

Go slow, go local: Coronavirus has forced an immediate scale-down of how we travel and live. People are forging local connections, shopping locally, working from home and limiting consumption to what they need.

Researchers have identified that fears about personal well-being represent a major barrier to political support for the degrowth movement to date. However with social distancing expected to be in place for months, our scaled-down lives may become the “new normal”. Many people may realise that consumption and personal well-being are not inextricably linked.

Stimulus spending should be directed to clean energy. EPA

New economic thinking is needed. A transition to sustainable degrowth can help. We need to shift global attention from GDP as an indicator of well-being, towards other measures that put people and the environment first, such as New Zealand’s well-being budgetBhutan’s gross national happiness index, or Ecuador’s social philosophy of buen vivir (good living).

Spend on clean energy: The International Energy Agency (IEA) says clean energy should be “at the heart of stimulus plans to counter the coronavirus crisis”.

The IEA has called on governments to launch sustainable stimulus packages focused on clean energy technologies. It says hydrogen and carbon-capture also need major investment to bring them to scale, which could be helped by the current low interest rates.

Governments could also use coronavirus stimulus packages to reskill workers to service the new “green” economy, and address challenges in healthcare, sanitation, aged care, food security and education.

More people are shopping locally during the pandemic. AAP/STEFAN POSTLES

Looking ahead

As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said this month:

What really matters is the same for all of us. It’s the health and safety of our friends, our family, our loved ones, our communities, our cities and our country. That’s what the coronavirus threatens, and that’s exactly what climate change does, too.

The coronavirus crisis is devastating, but failing to tackle climate change because of the pandemic only compounds the tragedy. Instead, we must draw on the lessons of coronavirus to address the climate challenge.



And in another Guardian article the suggestion is made that the oil industry will never recover, even after the pandemic has ended.  Written by Damian Carrington, Jillian Ambrose and Matthew Taylor on 1st April 2020, and begins:

“The plunging demand for oil wrought by the coronavirus pandemic combined with a savage price war has left the fossil fuel industry broken and in survival mode, according to analysts. It faces the gravest challenge in its 100-year history, they say, one that will permanently alter the industry. With some calling the scene a “hellscape”, the least lurid description is “unprecedented”.

A key question is whether this will permanently alter the course of the climate crisis. Many experts think it might well do so, pulling forward the date at which demand for oil and gas peaks, never to recover, and allowing the atmosphere to gradually heal.

The boldest say peak fossil fuel demand may have been dragged into the here and now, and that 2019 will go down in history as the peak year for carbon emissions. But some take an opposing view: the fossil fuel industry will bounce back as it always has, and bargain basement oil prices will slow the much-needed transition to green energy.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/01/the-fossil-fuel-industry-is-broken-will-a-cleaner-climate-be-the-result



There have also been people who have linked the emergence of new deadly viruses and other diseases to deforestation.

https://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2020/04/12/covid-19-bulletin-7-climate-change-and-new-pathogens-linked-to-deforestation/

For example:

Deforestation can also remove the habitat of insects and animals. In addition to 1990s information given to the writer by an Indian scientist, about the relationship between deforestation and malaria carried by mosquitos and monkeys in India, a 2019 study found that in Brazil a resurgence of malaria in recent decades paralleled rapid deforestation and settlement in the Amazon basin.

Pathogens are breaking through species boundaries because we are exploiting natural resources with unforeseen consequences – for instance:

  • overfishing in the coastal waters of many African countries by foreign fleets leads local populations to turn to bushmeat, increasing the likelihood (as with Ebola) that pathogens will be transmitted to humans.
  • Markets that trade wild animals are ideal locations for pathogens to cross boundaries. Some virologists attributed the Sars outbreak of 2002/2003 to contact with the civet cat eaten as a delicacy in some parts of China.
  • There are indications that the current coronavirus outbreak also spread to humans at a wildlife market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.”

The writer of this article also draws attention to the organisation CHE – CO2 Human Emissions, which was set up for a short term to investigate the effects of human activity on carbon emissions, and is due to release a final report this year:

https://www.che-project.eu/news/main-sources-carbon-dioxide-emissions

and:

https://www.che-project.eu/news/che-starting-its-final-year-first-set-recommendation-reports

On their home page is this statement:

“There are both natural and human sources of carbon dioxide emissions. Natural sources include decomposition, ocean release and respiration. Human sources come from activities like cement production, deforestation as well as the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

Due to human activities, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been rising extensively since the Industrial Revolution and has now reached dangerous levels not seen in the last 3 million years.1 2 3 Human sources of carbon dioxide emissions are much smaller than natural emissions but they have upset the natural balance that existed for many thousands of years before the influence of humans.

This is because natural sinks remove around the same quantity of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than are produced by natural sources.4 This had kept carbon dioxide levels balanced and in a safe range. But human sources of emissions have upset the natural balance by adding extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere without removing any

Carbon Dioxide Emissions: Human Sources

Since the Industrial Revolution, human sources of carbon dioxide emissions have been growing. Human activities such as the burning of oil, coal and gas, as well as deforestation are the primary cause of the increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

87 percent of all human-produced carbon dioxide emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil. The remainder results from the clearing of forests and other land use changes (9%), as well as some industrial processes such as cement manufacturing (4%).”

Planned reports:

With the start of 2020 the CO2 Human Emission (CHE) project has entered its final 12 months of coordinated developments across its 22 partners institutes. The work has reached several important milestones that prepare “the baton” for the run into the next phase of development in 2021-2023, guided by the European Commission’s CO2 Task Force strategy (see the CO2 reports) that will move us closer to operational monitoring targets.

A review and assessment of the CHE observational capabilities from existing networks and platforms has been prepared (D5.1 report) for CO2 and non-CO2 satellite observational components (e.g. CO, NO2) as well as for ground-based remote sensing and in-situ observations defining a clear set of recommendations.

The capacity building efforts for global, regional and local modelling have been studied and grouped in two areas, namely offline and online approaches. These research areas are explored and well delineated in the implementation strategy for the multi-scale modelling and data assimilation capabilities (D5.3 report and D5.5 report respectively) achievable within CHE and its follow-on. These reports are detailing the state- of-the-art modelling components (e.g. atmospheric transport, biogenic fluxes, anthropogenic emissions, biomass burning, ocean fluxes, and atmospheric chemistry) and data assimilation methodologies (e.g. 4DVAR, EnKF, Hybrid EnVar), highlighting a key set of recommendation and research priorities.”



And factory farming of pigs (eg) has been linked to pandemics (Tracy Worcester email):
Factory farms, like wet markets, provide the ideal conditions for diseases such as the Covid-19 coronavirus to mutate, multiply and spread. A number of different coronaviruses have decimated pig populations in recent years, and it has been shown that some of these viruses could have (or have already) made the jump to humans (see below). This is deeply concerning, particularly amidst this global pandemic we are currently facing.

In March, the campaign group Pause the System took to the streets in front of Downing Street urging the UK government to ban factory farming amongst a set of measures to prevent any future pandemic outbreaks. Since then, many newspapers, journalists and writers have been speaking out about the links between public health, epidemics, pandemics and factory farming. We have a responsibility to put a halt to all the broken systems that contribute to viral pathogens, to reduce the possibility of this happening again. We need to ban factory farming. However, last month we were met with the devastating news that, in the UK, pig and chicken factory farming is actually continuing to rise.

Please read and share widely our blog article that discusses the link between factory farming and viruses. We can all help bring factory farming to an end by only buying high welfare pork from small scale high welfare farms. Look for high welfare labels like RSPCA Assured, Free Range or best of all, Organic – Or go direct to your farmer via farmers markets, box schemes and online.



 


The Chair of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), Dr Phil Webber, has written a piece about the pandemic and its implications for policies related to health, social justice, science, economics, environmental protection and security.  Entitled “Covid-19: time for a paradigm shift?”, it can be found at:

https://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/covid-19-time-paradigm-shift

PhilWebber

Dr Philip Webber

The whole article is well worth reading but I copy below the last two sections, as they particularly apply to climate change and international co-operation:

Acting on climate change would be easier than tackling Covid-19

Clearly governments could have already acted to deal with a range of other very serious international challenges. An obvious one, which had been rapidly climbing the international political agenda before Covid-19, was the need for urgent action to move the global economy to zero-carbon emissions within a few decades. Most experts agree that insufficient action has been taken. The political arguments instead – rather pointlessly – have focused on what the target year for zero emissions should be rather than actually allocating sufficient resources to bring down emissions by at least 7% per year for ten years or more.  

But actions to combat climate change and to move to a zero-carbon economy would often pay for themselves. For example, a recent detailed study of home insulation and renewable energy technology installation across the UK found that spending of £90bn up to 2035 would result in benefits slightly exceeding that amount. This was the case even while sticking to the Government’s own financial guidelines.

In any case, the economic, human and ecological impacts of not taking action to combat climate change including major sea level rises, extreme weather, crop failures, in the longer term (2050 – 2100) cannot easily be converted into £ or $ ‘cost’ terms. But even narrow economic estimates suggest a cost range of 5-20% of GDP, far exceeding the ‘cost’ of allocating large resources now to transition to a zero-carbon economy of around 2% of GDP/ year over the next decade.
 

International cooperation and action

The early impacts of the Covid-19 virus have made it very clear that worldwide action is needed to minimise deaths and economic disruption.

The virus threat will have been dealt with – hopefully – within 18 months once a vaccine is found, although the risk will remain of the virus mutating and causing successive rounds of infection. The other huge threats to the safety of our world and our health remain. Dealing with dangerous climate heating requires a huge financial effort comparable to that needed to deal with coronavirus, lasting at least ten years. Eliminating the risk of nuclear annihilation requires the political will to cooperate to reduce and dismantle thousands of nuclear weapons capable of killing hundreds of millions of people within hours and potentially billions within in years.

Covid-19 has shown us how we can cooperate, or at least act together independently, unilaterally, towards a common goal. It shows how we must act to protect, ‘sanitise’, our everyday lives with well-funded, strong health systems. In the same way we need well-funded climate protection programmes – like a public health programme only for the climate – which would create large numbers of worthwhile jobs, get the economy moving again sustainably and improve health and reduce poverty. This would be popular too. A recent survey found that the public by a large margin want governments to respond “with the same urgency to climate change as it has with Covid-19”.

To deal with nuclear weapons we need international political agreements to avoid nuclear catastrophe by mistake, equipment failure, cyber-attack or a foolish or warlike leader. As a result, 122 nations have developed a new approach – the UN nuclear ban treaty – to gradually sanitise the globe of the nuclear danger.

SGR urges the nations of the world to learn the lessons of Covid-19 and to act positively to protect us all against the coming disaster of climate heating – including huge sea level rises and violent weather – and the pent up unimaginable risk posed by 14,000 nuclear weapons with 1,800 currently ready to fire within minutes – which would effectively end human civilisation. We need many more nations – not least the UK – to step up and show leadership against disaster.”
 

Dr Philip Webber is Chair of Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR).

Thanks to Stuart Parkinson for editorial input.



Another Guardian article entitled “Halt destruction of nature or suffer even worse pandemics, say world’s top scientists” starts by saying:

The coronavirus pandemic is likely to be followed by even more deadly and destructive disease outbreaks unless their root cause – the rampant destruction of the natural world – is rapidly halted, the world’s leading biodiversity experts have warned.

“There is a single species responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic – us,” they said. “Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost. We have a small window of opportunity, in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis, to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones.”

Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz and Eduardo Brondizio led the most comprehensive planetary health check ever undertaken, which was published in 2019 by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It concluded that human society was in jeopardy from the accelerating decline of the Earth’s natural life-support systems.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/27/halt-destruction-nature-worse-pandemics-top-scientists



 


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How climate change affects extreme weather around the world: Carbon Brief analysis

Carbon Brief is a UK-based website designed to “improve the understanding of climate change, both in terms of the science and the policy response”.  It is funded by the European Climate Foundation and is based in London. The article cited , and included, below received a highly-commended award for investigative journalism from the Royal Statistical Society.  Originally published in 2017, it is updated annually.



Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world

Scientists have published more than 230 peer-reviewed studies looking at weather events around the world, from Hurricane Katrina to Russia’s 2010 heatwave. The result is mounting evidence that human activity is raising the risk of some types of extreme weather, especially those linked to heat.

Carbon Brief’s analysis suggests 68% of all extreme weather events studied to date were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for 43% such events, droughts make up 17% and heavy rainfall or floods account for 16%.

To track how the evidence on this fast-moving topic is stacking up, Carbon Brief has mapped – to the best of their knowledge – every extreme event attribution study from a peer-reviewed journal.

The map below shows 260 extreme weather events across the globe for which scientists have carried out attribution studies. The different symbols show the type of extreme weather; for example, a heatwave, flood or drought. The colours indicate whether the attribution study found a link to human-caused climate change (red), no link (blue) or was inconclusive (grey).

How to use our map of attribution studies.

Use the plus and minus buttons in the top-left corner, or double click anywhere, to zoom in on any part of the world. Click on a weather event to reveal more information, including a quote from the original paper to summarise the findings and a link to the online version.

The filter on the left allows users to select a specific type of weather event to look at or, for example, only those found to be influenced by climate change.

The software used to make the map currently only works with a Web Mercator projection (as used by virtually all major online map providers). It is worth noting that this – like all map projections – offers a somewhat distorted view of the world.

It is important to note that the weather events scientists have studied so far are not randomly chosen. They can be high-profile events, such as Hurricane Harvey, or simply the events that occurred nearest to scientific research centres. (More on this later.)

Guardsmen help evacuate Texans in need during Hurricane Harvey, Houston, Texas

Weather types

The 260 weather events in the map are covered by 234 individual scientific papers. Where a single study covers multiple events or different locations, these have been separated out.

Combining the evidence over the past 20 years, the literature is heavily dominated by studies of extreme heat (31%), rainfall or flooding (20%) and drought (18%). Together, these make up more than two-thirds of all published studies (68%). The full list is available in this Google sheet.

As the chart below shows, the number of events studied each year has grown rapidly over time; from eight in 2012 to 59 in 2018. Note that the studies typically follow a year or so after the event itself as the writing and peer-review process for journal papers can take many months.

The majority of studies included here have been published in the annual “Explaining extreme events” special issues of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). Each bumper volume typically contains around 20-30 peer-reviewed studies of events from the previous year. Other studies have been found through the Climate Signals database and online searches through journals.

Specific types of event can be displayed in the chart below by clicking on the category names at the top.

https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/cbhighcharts2019/attribution/attribution-studies.html

Number of attribution studies by extreme weather event type and year. Note: the total number of events dipped in 2017 because the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society special report for that year was published in early 2018 rather than late 2017.

Most of the categories of extreme weather are self-explanatory, but “storms” and “oceans” require a bit of explanation.

For ease of presentation, the “storms” category includes both tropical cyclones (i.e. hurricanes, typhoons) and extratropical storms. The “oceans” category encompasses studies looking at sea surface temperatures and storm surges, such as those generated by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Hurricane Sandy (pdf, p17) along the eastern US seaboard.

Thirsty people drinking from a public fountain set up for Paris Plage, during the summer heatwave, Paris, France.

There are also some new categories of events in this update, including “coral bleaching” and “ecosystem services”, reflecting the ongoing developments in attribution science.

For example, two studies focusing on 2016 found that El Niño and human-caused climate change combined to bring drought and poor harvests to southern Africa (pdf, p91), and that enhanced warming of sea surface temperatures increased the risk (pdf, p144) of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

Such studies show that attribution studies are increasingly considering the impacts of extremes, rather than focusing purely on the weather event. One of the first of these “impact attribution” studies was published in 2016. It estimated that 506 of the 735 fatalities in Paris during the 2003 European heatwave were down to the fact that climate change had made the heat more intense than it would otherwise have been. The same was true for 64 of the 315 fatalities in London, the study said.

This shift towards impacts “is quite significant”, says Prof Peter Stott, who leads the climate monitoring and attribution team at the Met Office Hadley Centre and has been a co-editor of the BAMS reports since they began in 2012. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Impacts are hard to do because you have to establish a significant link between the meteorology and the impact in question. As editors, we’ve been trying to encourage more studies on impacts because it’s the impacts rather than the meteorology per se that tends to motivate these types of study – and if we only have the attribution on the meteorological event then we only have an indirect link to the relevant impact.”

Finally, some attribution research has also looked at the human influence on changes in general indicators of climate change, such as global average temperature or sea level rise. These have not been included in the attribution map as the focus here is on extremes.

Human influence

Turning to the results of the attribution studies that have been published so far, scientists found that human-caused climate change has altered the likelihood or severity of an extreme weather event in 78% of cases studied (68% made more severe or likely and 10% made less so).

In Carbon Brief’s first edition of this analysis in 2017, 68% of events were found to have a human impact (with 63% made more severe or likely and 6% less so).

Note that events are classified here as having an human impact if climate change is found to have influenced at least one aspect of that event. For example, a study of the 2011 East Africa drought found that climate change contributed to the failure of the “long rains” in early 2011, but that the lack of “short rains” in late 2010 was down to the climate phenomenon La Niña. This event is, thus, designated as having a human impact.

For the majority of events affected by climate change, the balance has shifted in the same direction. That is, rising temperatures made the event in question more severe or more likely to occur. These events are represented by the red in the chart below. Clicking on the red “slice” reveals that heatwaves account for 43% of such events, droughts for 17% and rainfall or flooding for 16%. Return to the original chart, and do the same with the other slices to see the proportion of different weather types in each category.

https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/cbhighcharts2019/attribution/attribution-drilldown.html

In 11% of studied weather events, scientists found climate change had made the event less likely or less severe (pale orange in the chart above).

Unsurprisingly, this category includes blizzards and extreme cold snaps. However, it also features a few studies that suggest climate change has lessened the chances of heavy rainfall, and another that found rising temperatures have made agricultural drought in California less likely.

With thanks and acknowledgements to Carbon Brief.

The complete article can be found at

Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world

Later sections of the article contains sections on:

heatwaves

drought

heavy rain and flooding

 

 



 


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Carbon Brief provides a map of the world’s coal powered plants

In an outstanding analysis of current use of coal as a source of power, Carbon Brief, has introduced a map showing where the coal powered plants are.

https://www.carbonbrief.org/mapped-worlds-coal-power-plants

They are remarkably absent from most of the continent of Africa, apart from South Africa, but are still very present in other parts of the world, most being present in the northern hemisphere.

According to Carbon Brief , since 2000, the world has doubled its coal-fired power capacity to 2,000 gigawatts (GW) after explosive growth in China and India. Alarmingly, another 200GW is being built and 450GW is planned.


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Outcomes of the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, November 2017, including plans for the Talanoa dialogue

An excellent summary of the conference can be found on the Carbon Brief website:

https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop23-key-outcomes-agreed-un-climate-talks-bonn

A rather wordy official document from the UNFCCC can be found at:

Click to access l13.pdf

It includes as Annex II, an informal note on the plans to implement the Talanoa Dialogue, which is copied below:

Talanoa dialogue
Approach

The Presidencies of COP 22 and COP 23 conducted extensive consultations on the Talanoa
dialogue throughout 2017, which continued during the twenty-third session of the COP. This informal note has been prepared by the Presidencies of COP 22 and COP 23 on this basis.
Mandate
The COP by its decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 20, decided to “convene a facilitative dialogue
among Parties in 2018 to take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Agreement and to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 8, of the Agreement”.
Features of the Talanoa dialogue
Based on input received by Parties, the main features of the dialogue are as follows:
− The dialogue should be constructive, facilitative and solutions oriented;
− The dialogue should not lead to discussions of a confrontational nature in which
individual Parties or groups of Parties are singled out;
− The dialogue will be conducted in the spirit of the Pacific tradition of Talanoa:
o Talanoa is a traditional approach used in Fiji and the Pacific to engage in
an inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue;
o The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and trust;
o During the process, participants advance their knowledge through common
understanding;
o It creates a platform of dialogue, which results in better decision-making
for the collective good;
o By focusing on the benefits of collective action, this process will inform
decision-making and move the global climate agenda forward;
− The dialogue should be conducted in a manner that promotes cooperation;

* Reproduced as received from the Presidents of the twenty-second and twenty-third sessions of the Conference of
the Parties.
FCCC/CP/2017/L.13
8
− The dialogue will be structured around three general topics:
o Where are we?
o Where do we want to go?
o How do we get there?
− The dialogue will be conducted in a manner that promotes enhanced ambition. The
dialogue will consider, as one of its elements, the efforts of Parties on action and
support, as appropriate, in the pre-2020 period;
− The dialogue will fulfil its mandate, in a comprehensive and non-restrictive
manner;
− The dialogue will consist of a preparatory and a political phase;
− The Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24 will jointly lead both phases of the
dialogue and co-chair the political phase at COP 24;
− A dedicated space will be provided in the dialogue, both during the preparatory and
the political phase to facilitate the understanding of the implications of the Special
Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Global Warming of
1.5°C;
− As regards inputs to the dialogue:
o The Special Report by the IPCC on global warming of 1.5°C requested by
the COP will inform the dialogue;
o Parties, stakeholders and expert institutions are encouraged to prepare
analytical and policy relevant inputs to inform the dialogue and submit
these and other proposed inputs, including those from intergovernmental
organisations and UNFCCC bodies, by 2 April 2018 for discussions in
conjunction with the May session, and by 29 October 2018 for discussions
in conjunction with COP 24;
o The Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24 will also provide inputs to inform
the dialogue;
o An online platform will facilitate access to all inputs to the dialogue, which
will be overseen by the Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24;
o The secretariat will be requested to prepare relevant inputs and to develop
and manage the online platform under the guidance of the Presidencies of
COP 23 and COP 24;
− The preparatory phase will seek to build a strong evidence-based foundation for the
political phase:
o The preparatory phase will start after the dialogue is launched at COP 23,
in January 2018, and will end at COP 24;
o Parties and non-Party stakeholders are invited to cooperate in convening
local, national, regional or global events in support of the dialogue and to
prepare and make available relevant inputs;
o The May discussions will be used to explore the three central topics
informed by inputs by various actors and institutions, including from the
Technical Examination Process and Global Climate Action, with the
support of the high-level champions;
o Summaries from all discussions will be prepared under the authority of the
Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24;

o The information and insights gained during the preparatory phase will be
synthesised by the Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24 to provide a
foundation for the political phase;

Figure 1 – Preparatory phase (the figure can be found in the original document)
− The political phase will bring high-level representatives of Parties together to take
stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term
goal referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Agreement and to inform the
preparation of nationally determined contributions pursuant to Article 4, paragraph
8, of the Agreement:
o The political phase will take place at COP 24 with the participation of
Ministers;
o This phase will build on the preparatory phase and focus on the objectives
of the dialogue;
o Political discussions will include roundtables to ensure focussed and
interactive discussions among Ministers;
o At the closing meeting of the dialogue, the Presidencies of COP 23 and
COP 24 will provide a summary of key messages from the roundtables;

(Fig. 2 – the political phase – can be found in the original document)

− It will be important to send clear forward looking signals to ensure that the outcome
of the dialogue is greater confidence, courage and enhanced ambition;
− The outcome of the dialogue is expected to capture the political momentum, and
help Parties to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions;
− The outputs of the dialogue will include reports and summaries of the discussions.

The Carbon Brief website also includes a section on what needs to happen before next year’s COP24 meeting in Poland:

https://www.carbonbrief.org/what-needs-happen-cop24-keep-paris-agreement-track

including a video which gives comments on this from people from around the world:


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Trading Systems, Deficits and the Concept of Growth

CHAPTER 4

International trade has become so much a part of our lives that there is a tendency to take it for granted, as a normal and essential part of modern society and that of the countries of the world with which we trade.  Politicians particularly focus on it, as it is seen as a means of balancing the economy; they particularly encourage the export of British goods and turn a blind eye to all the stuff that we import.

The industrial revolution and its continuum and the development of trading systems

Historically though, trading systems as we know them today were first developed alongside the Industrial Revolution. And again, the UK was a forerunner in developing these new trading systems, as they sold the goods produced in their factories to other countries across the world, particularly to members of the British Empire, such as through the East India Company in India.  This change from the local exchange of goods to the export of goods across continents and the world has had such a great impact that its influence now affects, and influences, the whole world’s economy. The nations of the world have become so inter-connected through trade that, if one country goes through economic difficulties, then all the others are affected by it too. Because of the strong link between trading and the industrial revolution and its continuum, I have to consider it, and its effects, as one of the major interconnections that has led us globally to the situation in which the future of our planet is at risk.  Indeed, I believe that free trade is at the centre of it all.

The Industrial Revolution ended more than a century ago but the effects of it, the trading systems that were developed alongside it and the IR Continuum, still have a  growing global impact.

The effect of the IR Continuum on global trading systems has seen the rise of multi-national companies (mostly of American origin), not only trading with other countries but also setting up business abroad, in order to cut costs, employ cheaper labour and to avoid national tax tariffs.  It is not unusual now to see MacDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Monsanto and other multi-national outlets in most capitals of the world.  This is sad because the setting up of food and clothing outlets selling goods that promote the American way of life has the effect of damaging indigenous cultures and their traditions.

We also see locally produced goods transported across oceans and continents in order to trade with partner countries many thousands of miles away.  In the UK, for example, we import apples from New Zealand and Chile, fruit from South Africa, fish from Japan and Argentina, clothing and digital goods from the Far East, vehicles from Europe and so on.  The invention of the refrigerator has played its part in preventing perishable goods from decomposing whilst in transit.

Image result for McDonalds in Japan

Fig. 34  A multi-national outlet for the USA in Japan (from: blog.getchee.com)

Changes in trading patterns across the world since the industrial revolution can also be contentious.  For example, when I lived in Australia during the early 60s, the UK was considering whether it would join the European Common Market (now the EU).  This was very unpopular with Australians, as they had a special trading relationship with the UK, as part of the British Commonwealth.  However, Britain did join the EU and so Australia had to develop other markets, closer to home, and were able to survive this change.  But the resentment it caused in some Australians towards the EU, and the British, is still present today, as seen by the anti-EU stories constantly being peddled to the UK population, through the Australian-owned media magnates.

There has been a big change in Britain’s trading patterns as, during the 1940s-50s, about 40% of our trade was with Commonwealth countries but this is now down to 10%, as the EU has become our major market.

Large Companies and Climate Change Denial

The largest company in the world, ExxonMobil, produces oil and gas and a recent article by Shannon Hall, in Scientific American32 reports that this company was aware of climate change as early as 1977, before it became a public issue.  The company then spent decades refusing to publicly acknowledge climate change and even promoted climate misinformation.  Hall likens this approach to the lies spread by the tobacco industry regarding the health risks of smoking.  Exxon became a leader in campaigns of confusion and helped create a Global Climate Coalition to question the scientific basis for concern about climate change.  It also lobbied to prevent the USA from signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 (to control greenhouse gases), also influencing other countries, such as China and India, not to sign as well.  It has spent $30 million on think tanks that promote climate denial, according to Greenpeace. Hall’s article provides data that suggests that half of the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere have been released since 1988.  If ExxonMobil had been upfront about the issue in those early years, there could have been so much more progress on climate change than there has been.  The company obviously had vested interests in opposing the scientific evidence but they now have a lot to answer for. And there are now rumours that Shell is under investigation for doing a similar thing.

It has recently been reported that one of the major American charitable foundations (Rockefeller Family Fund) has announced that it will cease to invest its funds in fossil fuels and, in doing so, made the following statement: “We would be remiss if we failed to focus on what we believe to be the morally reprehensible conduct on the part of ExxonMobil”.33

Table 3 shows that there are three energy companies amongst the 10 largest companies in the world and the top British company, BP, is the 17th largest in the world.  Energy companies obviously have much to lose once the issue of carbon emissions is properly dealt with by global agreements to reduce them.  ExxonMobil would have better spent their $30 million researching into new forms of renewable energy; it is currently worth more than $300 billion.

Table 3: Largest 25 companies in the world (from google images and http://bespokeinvest.typepad.com/bespoke/2009/04/largest-companies-in-the-world.html)

25biggest

Carbon Majors – the companies who emit the most greenhouse gases

90 carbon majors have been identified as being the major emitters of the greenhouse gases that are primary drivers of climate change.  Since 1751, they have produced 65% of the world’s total industrial carbon dioxide emissions according to a study by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute34.  The 90 majors include 50 private companies, 31 state-owned companies and 9 nations. Twenty-one are based in the US, 17 in Europe (five in the UK), six in Canada, two in Russia and one each in Australia, Japan, Mexico and South Africa. Of the state-owned companies, Saudi Aramco has the highest emissions, followed by Gazprom (Russia), National Iranian Oil Company, Pemex (Mexico) and British Coal. The top 10 carbon majors are:

Chevron USA, ExxonMobil USA, Saudi Aramco Saudi Arabia, British Petroleum (BP) UK, Gazprom Russian Federation, Royal Dutch Shell, National Iranian Oil Company Iran, Pemex Mexico, British Coal Corporation UK and ConocoPhilips USA  For full details of these companies, and where they rank, are given by Greenpeace35.

Last September Greenpeace Philippines were so concerned about the devastation caused in their country by a major typhoon, that they filed a human rights complaint to the Commission of Human Rights, against the 50 largest multi-national private companies36.

The Volkswagen deception

ExxonMobil has not been the only large corporation to deceive the public on the issue of carbon emissions.  Just recently, it has come to light that the large German car-manufacturing company, Volkswagen, has tried to avoid green regulations and tests by fitting its cars with devices to cheat the emissions tests carried out on vehicles. The scandal has resulted in Volkswagen shares falling by 40%.  This deception is akin to the deception propagated by ExxonMobil, described earlier, where large and successful companies have used their trading links to make money for themselves at the expense of the health of the planet.  One wonders how many more companies will come to light which are carrying out similar deceptions for selfish reasons.

Earlier this year, a new independent organisation was set up in London (InfluenceMap.org), to map, analyse and score the extent to which corporations are influencing climate change policy. An article in ExaroNews37 published in 2015, reported that research from InfluenceMap has demonstrated that car manufacturers (especially those in Germany) have been lobbying strongly against climate-change policy, especially those who have made little progress in complying with future standards for emissions of CO2 in the EU and US.  The InfluenceMap article ranks car makers according to their compliance with the 2020 standard on emissions, with Nissan coming top, followed by Honda, Renault and Peugeot.  According to the report, the world’s 12 biggest car manufacturers would be facing fines of $35.7 billion if the 2020 rules on emissions were to be applied now, with Volkswagen paying more than any of them, at $9.5 billion. Car manufacturer Mercedez-Benz has admitted that meeting the 2020 emission standards poses a technological strain (also reported in ExaroNews).  One wonders why none of them have acted sooner to develop greener cars, as some of the Japanese manufacturers have done.

Trade and Competition 1

The problem is that trading evokes a competitive spirit, even in the largest and most affluent companies, and the temptation to cheat can be persuasive.  As well as the deceptions already mentioned, there has been the development of parallel economies, in which companies try to evade taxes and tariffs by investing their profits in offshore accounts.  There are many people throughout the world who try to avoid national taxes by setting up their own parallel economies.  They contribute to an underground economy or “black market”, which is a market consisting of all commerce on which applicable taxes and/or regulations of trade are being avoided.  It includes many multi-national businesses, as well as those involved in the growing and selling of illegal drugs.

Because trading has become an endemic part of the global economy, embargos on goods are often used as powerful political weapons to bring other countries “into line”.  Examples of this are the embargos on South African goods during the apartheid era and that currently being imposed on Russia because of its occupation of the Crimean region of the Ukraine.

The competition for markets associated with trade has far-reaching effects across the globe.  Politicians talk about it as being a vital part of the economy and in so doing, they encourage this competitive spirit.  Its linkages into the economy and how trade-associated competition is making global warming and climate change worse, will be discussed later in this chapter and in chapter 7.

The whole trading scenario reaches into many aspects of life and plays just as important a role in the development of climate change, as the industrial revolution has done.

OIL

Oil has also come to dominate global trading systems, with prices being hiked by the oil-producing countries, with non-oil-producing countries being held to ransom.  Most governments fear that having no access to oil will impair their ability to manufacture and to trade, and thus impact on their national economies. The fear of losing access to oil has had a huge impact on national decision-making and the willingness to go to war to wipe out regimes who have large oil resources and who are not friendly to the western world.  All of these fears, and the actions associated with them, are futile really because, if we are to save the planet, we need to stop using oil and other fossil fuels, by leaving them in the ground, and to replace them with renewable forms of energy.  Perhaps ExxonMobil and BP and other oil producing companies still need to learn this.

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Fig. 35  An oil well

Further details about the movement of oil around the world (in terms of imports and exports) are shown on the Carbon Brief website38, which appears to show that exports of oil were still increasing in 2014, compared with 2004.

At present, oil-producing countries have the upper hand but I do not see this as lasting, as there is a move to using non-carbon-emitting forms of energy, such as solar panels and wind, tidal and water-based energy.  This could completely change the whole dynamic of global trading.  If they seize the opportunity, some African countries in Saharan and sub-Saharan regions, could move from being poverty-bound regions, to replacing the oil-producing countries in the pecking order, by becoming leaders in producing and supplying cleaner forms of energy, such as solar power.  Chile has already made a start by building a “farm” of solar panels in a desert area; this already supplies enough energy for one of their largest cities.

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Fig. 36 Solar power farm in Chile 

 The trend towards renewable forms of energy has put some of the multi-national energy companies into a panic, as they search frenetically for oil and/or gas in more and more remote places, such as the Arctic.

There is a saddening history of how oil has damaged the environment and some animal and bird species, through oil slicks and spillages, yet the competitive urge to find new places to drill for oil and other gases continues unabated.  The following three photographs show some of the consequences of oil spillage.

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Fig. 37  

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Fig. 38

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Fig.39

Another area of concern is the new practice of fracking where licences have already been obtained to carry out this practice, which releases natural gas from under the ground in areas very close people’s homes.  Further information and an interactive map of the areas of the UK and Ireland affected by this can be found at the website:
http://frack-off.org.uk/extreme-energy-fullscreen/.

News stories from Canada and America suggest that fracking there is linked to significant earthquakes

News stories from Canada and America suggest that fracking there is linked to significant earthquakes.

 Market Economies

The major change in trading systems across the world, since before the industrial revolution, has impacted substantially on the way of life and the economies of most nations of the world, so that whole economies are now based on trading patterns, potential markets and import/export ratios.  Indeed, the description of a market economy is considered by some to be a progressive form of government.  It is based on the concept of demand and supply, where governments encourage those companies in their trade who are meeting an overseas demand for their goods.  The income they receive from overseas is seen to help the balance of payments and to bring about economic growth.

What a market economy fails to do is to analyse, and meet the needs of, its own people, especially those who are in poverty, with no goods to sell. The excuse for failing to help those in most poverty is that there will be a trickle-down effect; in reality this rarely happens.

What does happen is that the rich get richer at the expense of the poor.

Market economies are based on the encouragement of free trade, which is thought by 93% of economists to be a good thing (Ian Fletcher (2010)39 but, as argued by Fletcher, it has led to a situation where some developed nations have huge trade gaps, or deficits, Britain being one of them. This has occurred mainly because some of the developing nations pay much lower wages to their industrial workers and can therefore produce and sell their goods at more competitive prices than those of the developed nations. In 2014 the trade deficit of the U.S.A. was $508,324 billion.  Fletcher makes a case for rethinking and reforming current trade policies, by debunking some of the cherished assumptions held by mainstream economists. In the UK, the trade deficit for manufactured goods is higher than that of most other European countries but, in the past, politicians have worked to reduce the deficit by implementing austerity measures, rather than by rethinking our trade policies altogether, introducing localisation policies and making the reduction of carbon emissions a priority.

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides data which shows that the balance of trade in goods in the UK has shown a deficit in all but six years since 1900.  They recorded net surpluses in the years 1980 to 1982, largely as a result of growth in exports of North Sea oil. Since then, however, the trade in goods account has remained in deficit (see Figure 40).

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Fig.40

The trade deficit in the UK – from the Office of National Statistics

Figure 41 shows that Britain’s trade in services is doing much better than its trade in goods.

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Fig.41 – From the Office of National Statistics

The trade deficit also impacts on crops and foodstuffs produced by our farmers.  In 2002, Dr Caroline Lucas, a Green MEP, wrote a report40 entitled “Stopping the Great Food Swap: Relocalising Europe’s Food Supply”. It was based on background research and support provided by Andy Jones and Vicki Hird of Sustain and from Colin Hines, author of “Localisation: a Global Manifesto, published in 200041.

Lucas’s report provides some astonishing data:

  • The UK imports 61,400 tonnes of poultry meat from the Netherlands and, in the same year, exports 33,100 tonnes of poultry meat to the Netherlands;
  • The UK imports 240,000 tonnes of pork and 125,000 tonnes of lamb while exporting 195,000 tonnes of pork and 102,000 tonnes of lamb;
  • In the UK in 1997, 125 million litres of milk was imported and 270 million litres exported;
  • In 1996, the UK imported 434,000 tonnes of apples, 202,000 tonnes of which came from outside the EU. Over 60% of UK apple orchards have been lost since 1970.

Thus, we are importing more agricultural goods than we actually export, and importing goods which we produce ourselves, yet our own farmers struggle to make an income. I have also come across figures which show that 46% of the food we eat is imported.

The report stated that trade-related transportation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore significant in terms of climate change.

 In 2011, Rianne ten Veen, of GreenCreation, updated the Lucas report, providing more recent data, with three case studies on meat, milk and fruit, for the Counting the Costs series of reports42.

 The EU Common Agricultural Policy has been accused of creating a situation in which damage is caused to the environment and to rural livelihoods, by encouraging larger, more intensive farms at the expense of smaller, more sustainable ones and leading to the inhumane treatment of farm animals.  There is evidence that the transport of livestock and meat across Europe has led to diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease and BSE being passed from one country to another. The system has led to an absurd situation, which rewards a few, very wealthy farmers, the supermarkets and multinational food companies at the expense of small and medium-scale farmers. It makes no economic sense.

Further data is available in the report, which concludes that this destructive globalisation needs to be replaced with a localisation that protects and rebuilds local economies across the world.

The organisation, Local Futures, has recently released a 16-page action paper, entitled Climate Change or System Change?43 which argues that globalisation (the deregulation of trade and finance through an ongoing series of “free trade” treaties) is the driving force behind climate change.  The document makes the case for an international move towards localisation and provides a list of the pro’s and con’s for both systems, showing that the advantages of localisation far outweigh the advantages of globalisation.  It provides evidence to demonstrate that globalisation:

  • Promotes unnecessary transport;
  • Promotes rampant consumerism;
  • Is making the food system a major climate-changer;
  • Replaces human labour with energy-intensive technologies;
  • Promotes energy-intensive urbanisation.

A recent book by Colin Tudge44 proposes a complete rethink of our approaches to farming, through “enlightened agriculture”, without wrecking the rest of the world.

Economic Growth

Economic growth is defined as an increase in the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services, compared from one period of time to another.  It is the long-term expansion of the productive potential of an economy.  The problem with this is that this type of growth (as with so-called progress) is dependent upon relying on producing more and more manufactured goods and finding overseas markets to sell them.  It all feeds into the IR Continuum, thus adding to further carbon emissions.

Growth is seen as a good thing by economists and politicians but, as with “progress”, it can’t be good if it is adding to carbon emissions and the destruction of the planet.  At present, success in national economies is measured using an index called the GDP (gross domestic product).  At the time of writing the growth in the GDP in the UK was 0.5% and, in the USA it was 1.5%.

In his book, “The Growth Illusion: how economic growth has enriched the few, impoverished the many, and endangered the planet” (1999), Richard Douthwaite5,45 sets out how a capitalist system can be redirected to fulfil society’s hopes by restructuring economies to be based on local rather than global imperatives.  Some of his ideas will be looked at further in a later chapter.

Social Businesses

The Nobel laureate, Muhamad Yunus has promoted the concept of social businesses, which are businesses with social objectives (Creating a world without poverty: by Muhammad Yunus, 2007)46. He believes that we need to recognize the real human being and his or her multi­faceted desires. In order to do that, we need a new type of business that pursues goals other than making personal profit – a business that is totally dedicated to solving social and environmental problems.  He gives three examples of social businesses:

  • One that manufactures and sells high-quality, nutritious food products at very low prices to a targeted market of poor and underfed children;
  • A social business that develops renewable-energy systems and sells them at reasonable prices to rural communities that otherwise can’t afford access to energy;
  • A social business that recycles garbage, sewage, and other waste products that would otherwise generate pollution in poor or politically powerless neighborhoods.

It may be owned by one or more individuals, either as a sole proprietorship or a partnership, or by one or more investors, who pool their money to fund the social business and hire professional managers to run it.

A social business might be defined as a non-loss, non-dividend business. Rather than being passed on to investors, the surplus gener­ated by the social business is reinvested in the business. Ultimately, it is passed on to the target group of beneficiaries in such forms as lower prices, better service, and greater accessibility. Not only does the investor get his money back, he still remains an owner of the company and decides its future course of action.

It is not known whether a social business feeds into the IR continuum as much as traditional businesses do but, because there are social and/or environmental objectives, one suspects that the carbon footprint will be much reduced because those who run the business are not there to make profit for themselves but to improve society.  The Fair Trade movement also has social objectives.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

oecd

The OECD is a forum where the governments of 34 democracies with market economies work with each other, as well as with more than 70 non-member economies to promote economic growth, prosperity, and sustainable development.

In recent years there has been an OECD move to start measuring economies according to their green growth.  In June 2009, ministers from these 34 countries with market economies signed a Green Growth Declaration47, declaring that they will: “Strengthen their efforts to pursue green growth strategies as part of their responses to the crisis and beyond, acknowledging that green and growth can go hand-in-hand.” They endorsed a mandate for the OECD to develop a Green Growth Strategy, bringing together economic, environmental, social, technological, and development aspects into a comprehensive framework. The Strategy was published in 2011 and formed part of the OECD contributions to the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012.

The strategy identified the following as being the most polluting industries with the greatest CO2 emissions:

  • Air transport;
  • Water transport;
  • Electricity, gas and water;
  • Coke, refined petrol and nuclear fuel;
  • Land transport;
  • Basic metals;
  • Non-metallic mineral products.

The document outlines ways to achieve international co-operation on the strategy and ways to monitor green progress.  It is a significant document47.

I would support the introduction of a new measure – a green GDP – which assesses only productivity associated with products which do not add to the total global emissions of CO2 and other pollutants.  Thus countries’ outputs could be compared using both metrics:

  • The normal GDP
  • The green GDP

The OECD suggestion of monitoring the green GDP would give incentives to nations to lower their carbon emissions and to focus on developing products which run on clean energy or which can be manufactured with minimal emissions.

 Another form of trading of the last few decades is in world currencies and commodities.  National currencies vary from day-to-day, according to the world economic situation, and some people speculate in buying and selling currencies, like a kind of international casino.  It is a form of risk that titillates the human need for excitement and intellectual entertainment, as does speculation on stock markets and commodities. But it can also help an individual to make money at the expense of some countries with fragile economies.

National Self-Sufficiency

So, what the industrial revolution and its continuum has done, is to set into place trading systems, and a merchant culture, that it will be difficult to reverse.  The most stable system would be for each nation to provide for itself – to become self-sufficient, only buying from overseas those products which cannot be sourced at home – but we are a long way from that ever becoming a reality. It is said that the UK at the moment can only produce goods that meet 60% of its needs.  Is self-sufficiency a realistic target to aspire to?  Could it be reached within the three generations that we have left?

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Fig.42

A local farmer’s market (From clipart)

Britain’s Responsibility

As with the Industrial Revolution, Britain is again responsible for setting into play an international trading system that now runs out of control, feeding the IR continuum, and contributing to increasing levels of carbon emissions.  Britain started it off but, because it is a small country with limited resources, it has long been left behind by the larger countries with vast resources of mineral and fossil-fuel wealth.  Britain tries to keep pace with the larger, resource-rich countries but is really fighting a losing battle.  It would be much better placed in leading the world in finding ways of becoming self-sufficient, supporting its own farmers and reducing carbon emissions.  And by modifying its economy to support those in most need and in developing green products.

Recently in the news has been the collapse of the UK Steel industry, due to cheap imports from China.  Rather than trying to shore up outdated plants, which use fossil fuels to make steel, Britain would be better off using governmental investment to lead the world in developing a carbon-free steel.

Trading and Competition 2

I mentioned earlier in this chapter the competitive spirit that trade engenders.  I admit that Britain started trading in this way in the nineteenth century, by making use of its empire links, because it wanted to get a competitive edge over other nations.  Other countries, who have followed suit and come to dominate trading systems, have also done so for competitive reasons.  Indeed, it is almost impossible to separate the concept of a market economy from the concept of competition and rivalry.  But, unless, the nations of the whole world stop competing with their neighbours and reinforcing the IR Continuum, then we will no longer be here to compete against each other.

Global co-operation is what is needed at the moment, not competition; Britain needs to join forces with its neighbours to save the planet.

In a recent TEDx speech,”Why We Need to rethink Capitalism”, Paul Tudor Jones II48, formerly from big business himself, talked about a profit-led emphasis (to the exclusion of all else) that has led to a situation in which the concept of humanity has been removed from the corporate world.  He said that profit margins, at 12.5%, are currently at a 40-year high and that higher profit margins exacerbate income inequality, with the US having the greatest levels of inequality in the world. He demonstrated a strong link between income inequality and a series of social health metrics. He described a new way of corporate behaviour (The Just Index), in which the public are given a voice.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

TTIP is a series of trade negotiations being carried out mostly in secret between the US and the EU.  It is a bi-lateral trade agreement and is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business and includes things like: food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations.  The Independent49 lists six reasons why we should oppose TTIP:

The British NHS, as a public institution, is at risk, as one of the aims is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies, which could mean the privatisation of the NHS;

  • Food and Environmental Safety: the TTIP’s agenda is to seek to bring European standards on food and the environment, closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much more lenient, with 70% of processed food sold in US supermarket containing ingredients that have been genetically modified. The US also has very lax laws about the use of pesticides and the feeding of growth hormone to cattle;
  • Banking Regulations: it is feared that TTIP will remove current restrictions on banks imposed after the 2009 financial crisis;
  • Privacy: after a huge public backlash, the European parliament did not agree to an anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA), which would have allowed internet service providers to monitor people’s on-line activities. It is possible that TTIP may bring this back.
  • Jobs: the EU has admitted that TTIP may bring in unemployment, as US has weaker labour standards and trades union rights.
  • Democracy; this is the greatest threat that would be brought in with TTIP, as it will allow companies to sue governments, if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits.

It would appear that TTIP will allow the big US corporations, already responsible for huge emissions of CO2, to be given a free reign to wreak havoc in Europe as well.

 The Merchant Culture

In the End Piece to my first book and the introduction to this book, I stated that the world had been taken over by merchants – people who trade in all kinds of goods for their own benefit – and how this was destroying the world.  I still hold this opinion, 22 years after first making the observation.  The world is still controlled by merchants, as well as the greed and acquisitiveness that often accompanies this merchant culture. Unless this is addressed, many of the measures described in this chapter and elsewhere in this book, will make no difference to the domino effect this merchant culture is having on the stability and sustainability of the planet.

A Downturn in Global Trading Systems?

A recent joint publication from the Centre for Economic Policy and Research and The Robert Schuman Centre for Research Studies50 suggests that there is currently a global trade slow down.  The document contains 20 properly scrutinised research papers, which all come to the conclusion that there is a downturn in global trading patterns. Various conclusions are drawn from this; for example, a rise in protectionism, another impending collapse of global markets etc.  Economists are obviously worried about this, as they think it will impede economic growth.  However, it may herald a worldwide trend in consumers realising there is a climate change crisis and subsequently reducing their consumption of imported goods, deciding not to adhere any more to a throw-away culture.

According to the World Bank, a brief review of the evidence suggests that both cyclical and structural factors have been important in explaining the recent slowdown in global trade51. With high-income countries accounting for some 65 percent of global imports, the lingering weakness of their economies five years into the recovery suggests that weak demand is still impacting the recovery in global trade. But they feel that weak demand is not the only reason as trade had become much less responsive to income growth, even prior to the crisis. There is some evidence to suggest that part of the explanation may lie in shifts in the structure of value chains, in particular between China and the United States, with a higher proportion of the value of final goods being added domestically—that is, with less border crossing for intermediate goods. In addition, the post-crisis composition of demand has shifted from capital equipment to less import-intensive spending, such as consumption and government services.

I personally do not think that the downturn in global trade is a disaster; indeed, it may herald a new way forward, which has a glimmer of hope of saving the planet.

This whole issue is discussed further in chapters 5 and 7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The industrial revolution

CHAPTER 2

The most significant development, which is being linked to the environmental changes we are seeing in our world is the industrial revolution, so I will deal with it in some depth from an historical point of view, so we can all see how it came about and how it is still continuing.

Britain is considered to have been the birthplace of the industrial revolution which, historians say, took place during the period of 1760 to 1840.  Before this, societies were mainly rural and the daily existence of small communities revolved around farming.  Life was difficult, with the majority of people on low incomes, so many were malnourished and diseases were rife. People produced most of their own food, clothing, furniture and tools, with manufacturing (cottage industries) being carried out in homes or in small, rural shops, using hand tools or simple machines.  The industrial revolution was to completely turn this around, having an impact on every family in the land and on their way of life.

Several factors contributed to Britain’s role as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. It had great deposits of coal and iron ore, which proved essential for industrialisation and it was a politically stable society. At the time, it was also the world’s leading colonial power, which meant that its colonies could serve as sources of raw materials, as well as a marketplace for manufactured goods.  As demand for British goods grew, merchants needed better methods of production, which led to the rise of mechanization and the whole factory system.

One of the first inventions to spark the industrial revolution was in the textile industry: by the spinning “jenny”, invented by an Englishman James Hargreaves in 1764. It was later improved on by others, and led to the power loom, which mechanised the process of weaving cloth, leading to the production of textiles on a wide-scale.  Industrialisation of the textiles industry meant that some craftspeople were replaced by machines. This led to the Luddite Rebellion in 1811-1813, in which textile workers protested against the newly developed labour-economizing technologies which replaced them with less-skilled, low-waged labourers, leaving the craftsmen without work.

Industrialisation of the textile industry was followed soon after by the development of the iron industry. Englishman Abraham Darby discovered a cheaper, easier method to produce cast iron, using a coke-fuelled furnace and then, in the 1850s, British engineer Henry Bessemer developed the first inexpensive process for mass-producing steel. Both iron and steel became essential materials, used to make everything from appliances, tools and machines, to ships, buildings and infrastructure.

Fig.16: Image of the Industrial revolution in Britain

The steam engine was integral to the industrialisation process. In 1712, Englishman Thomas Newcomen had developed the first practical steam engine (which was used primarily to pump water out of mines) but, by the 1770s, Scottish inventor, James Watt, had improved on this and the steam engine went on to power machinery, locomotives and ships in the years that were to follow.  Some say that the steam engine represented a second phase of the industrial revolution though many of these new technologies did overlap.

 Coal mining became a major industry in the 19th century, as coal and/or coke was needed to power up the factories, as well as the engines running the railways and steamships.

The Industrial Revolution brought about a greater volume and variety of factory-produced goods and raised the standard of living for many people, particularly for the middle and upper classes. However, life for the poor and working classes continued to be difficult. Wages for factory workers were low and working conditions could be dangerous and monotonous. Unskilled workers had little job security and were easily replaceable. Children were part of the labour force, often working long hours and involved in hazardous tasks. In the early 1860s, one-fifth of the workers in Britain’s textile industry were younger than 15.

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Fig.17 Children working in a textiles factory (From: www.primaryhomeworkhelp.co.uk)

Children in the coal mines

Fig.18: Young boys working as miners during the industrial revolution

From: http://historylearning.com/great-britain-1700-to-1900/indrevo/coal-mines-industrial-revolution/

Additionally, urban, industrialised areas were unable to keep pace with the flow of workers arriving from the countryside, resulting in inadequate, overcrowded housing and polluted, unsanitary living conditions in which disease was rampant. However, conditions for Britain’s working-classes began to gradually improve by the later part of the 19th century, as the government instituted various labour reforms and workers gained the right to form trade unions.

The invention of the steam engine led to significant improvements in transport, from largely horse-drawn methods to the introduction of steam-powered engines for ships and railways. Steam powered cars first appeared in the late 19th century but these were to be replaced later by the, more popular, petrol driven engines.

The Motor Car

The history of the development of the motor car is well-known to us, as is the rise in the use of motor cars in the last 100 years, which has been phenomenal, with many households now being 2 or 3-car families, or even more. The thing that underlines this to me is the change in the road where I grew up.  In the 1950’s, there were no parked vehicles on this road and goods were often delivered with horse-drawn vehicles.  When I last visited this street, in 2005, there were cars parked on both sides of the road, with room for only one vehicle to pass between them; woe betide if anything was coming the other way.  Traffic jams are now a world-wide phenomenon, particularly in capital cities.  My visits to Bangkok and Manila in 1994 were an eye-opener; in both of these cities, if you wanted to get anywhere by car and quickly, you had to leave home very early in the morning.

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Fig.20 Takeover by the motor car

With petrol being a major culprit in contributing to carbon emissions, it would be expected that vehicles propelled by cleaner forms of energy would be starting to take over from petrol and diesel-driven vehicles but a chart published by Statista.com17 shows that the total number of new vehicles registered in the UK has been on the increase and few of these use alternative fuels. The actual numbers for the UK in 2014 were:

%

Petrol fuelled vehicles new registrations             1,184,409               47.8

Diesel fuelled vehicles new registrations             1,240,287                50.1

Alternative fuel vehicles new registrations               51,739                  2.1

So, the small increase in the use of alternative fuel is minimised by the continuing dominance of petrol and diesel fuelled vehicles and the ever-increasing overall numbers of cars being used on the roads.

From another source (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders – SMMT)18, I have obtained further information about the preferred type of alternatively-fuelled cars during 2014, compared with 2008 and 2011.  The figure below shows that there is an increase in purchase of these vehicles over the six-year period, with a 25% increase between 2013 and 2014.

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Fig.20: SMMT New car registrations for 12-month periods 2008, 2011 and 2014

©2016 SMMT Ltd. All Rights Reserved        Source: AIS 0207 235 7000

The continuing increase in vehicles of all kinds on the roads may be as a result of increases in the human population, or in an increased interest in driving by the developing countries of the world, as they try to catch up with the lifestyles of the developed countries. However, a recent initiative by Mexico City, to reduce the amount of pollution and smog in their capital city, has been to ban all vehicles from their roads for one day per week.

In the Netherlands in 2013, 1.4% of car sales were fully-electric vehicles and the Netherlands are currently second in the world (behind Norway) in adopting the highest number of fully electric plug-in vehicles19. Owners of these vehicles are already eligible for tax breaks and parking spots – a not surprising development in view of the vulnerability of this country to flooding as sea levels rise. A number of Dutch politicians are proposing the banning of gas and diesel-powered vehicles from 202520.

The large-scale production of chemicals, then cement, glass making and gas lighting also began during the industrial revolution.  Communication became easier with inventions, such as the telegraph and, in 1866, a telegraph cable was successfully laid across the Atlantic.

Thus Britain was the seat of these massive changes in industrialisation but it was not long before it spread, first to countries in Western Europe and then to America, being well established in these countries by the mid-19th century.  By the early 20th century, America had become the world’s leading industrial nation and remains so. Japan’s industrial revolution began in about 1870 but other large eastern nations followed much later. China’s was not until 1979 to 2000 and it still continues to escalate. India came under the East India Company at the time of the start of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, so there was some technological progress (such as the introduction of railways, canals, modern banks and postal system) but no significant advances during the 19th and 20th centuries, due to problems caused by some major famines and factional rivalries and wars, though India has been a major supplier of raw materials to Britain.

However, there are some people who believe that Britain’s colonisation of India and the sequestration of its resources, set that country back years, leading to the destruction of many forests, loss of land rights and the subversion of its education and cultural traditions, especially associated with arts and science (W. Pereira and J. Seabrook, 19964,21.

‘Follow Green Living’22 talks about the Uttarakhand (flooding) disaster, which was caused by deforestation. The World Wildlife Fund has stated that every minute, forest area equivalent to 36 football fields is lost, along with 137 species of plants, animals and insects, which totals 50,000 species a year.

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Fig 21: INDIAN weavers at the 1886 colonial and Indian exhibition in South Kensington; copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Fig.22: Deforestation in India

Some countries have still not become industrialised and continue to be mainly agrarian, rural or nomadic communities.

Other changes associated with the industrial revolution

During the industrial revolution there were changes in the economy, society and culture, perhaps some of the most significant changes in human history. It was much more than just a mechanization drive. It was also an epoch in European social history that characterized the transition from feudalism to capitalism and the development of the latter. So, there was a change from family-based economies, organised around and within agrarian communities, to an economy organised around a factory system, dependent on owners and managers, and on businesses and their productivity. The factory replaced the home as the centre of production. The industrialists running factories pressured governments to spend money on infrastructure (railways, roads, shipping etc), to foster free trade between nations, and not to interfere with businesses and the way factories were run. This change in the focus of the economy will be discussed in more detail in chapter 7.

The industrial revolution also saw the rise of banks and industrial financiers. A stock exchange was established in London in the 1770s; the New York Stock Exchange was founded in the early 1790s. In 1776, Scottish social philosopher Adam Smith, who is regarded as the founder of modern economics, published “The Wealth of Nations.”23 In it, Smith promoted an economic system based on free enterprise, the private ownership of means of production, and lack of government interference.  In the 21st century we have seen how the increasing power of banks has upset the balance of the economy, leading to vast profits for bankers at the expense of the average person.

So there have been many downsides to the industrial revolution, not the least of which has been the concomitant changes that have occurred to the earth’s ecosystems, its biosphere, to global temperature and to the earth’s climate.

The Industrial Revolution (IR) Continuum

Historians now say that the industrial revolution was followed by a second one, which continued from 1870 to 1914, with advances in technology, and a 3rd one later which included the digitisation of manufacturing and the internet and others are now saying that we are entering a 4th industrial revolution, marked by further advances in technology, which will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another – included in this revolution will be advances in green technology.  I personally don’t think it is helpful to divide the industrial revolution into historical eras.  This is because I believe that the chain of events the first industrial revolution initiated have continued to the present day. I call this process, which is still ongoing, the IR Continuum (ie the continuation of the first industrial revolution) and will use this name throughout the rest of this book.

Let’s look at a few of the things that have been invented since the late nineteenth century which, along with the industrial revolution, have changed the face of this planet and had a large impact on our experience as human beings living here.

  1. Electricity

The invention of electricity and the introduction of light bulbs by Edison in 1879 made a huge impact of the human way of life, as it extended the length of the day in which we could be active, from early morning until well into the evenings, as well as enabling people to work night shifts.

fig23

Fig 23: The development of the light bulb had a huge impact on society

The light bulb was followed by labour-saving devices, all powered by electricity; things for the home, such as washing machines and later dish-washers and the development of radio and television, as well as the motor car and other inventions described later in this chapter.  Whilst the motor car is powered by a petrol or diesel engine, electricity is needed to maintain and circulate that power.

 The problem with electricity of course is that, to generate it, we have been burning fossil fuels. And nuclear energy, now often promoted as a clean source of energy, is not the answer either as it has its own dangers from accidents (as in Chernobyl and Fukushima) as well as problems and dangers associated with disposal of nuclear waste. The present preferred means of generating energy are solar power, wind or water power but, as yet, they contribute to only a small proportion of electricity generation (see figure below, where renewable energy is marked as RE) and globally the proportion is even lower than that of the UK (see  Fig. 25)24.

fig24

Fig.24

Figure 24 shows UK electricity generation by fuel type since 1960.  In 2014, the UK electricity mix was 31% coal, 31% gas, 19% renewable and 18% nuclear. Chart by Carbon Brief using DECC data.  From CarbonBrief website: www.carbonbrief.org and http://www.carbonbrief.org/data-dashboard-energy-archive

And an interesting development in 2016 (also reported by Carbon Brief) is a 22% decline in coal use in the UK since 2014, coal now being replaced by renewables and nuclear power in the generation of electricity, as reported in The Guardian, 24th September 201525.

Changing to renewables is not a world-wide phenomenon, though.  The biggest problem is that the global use of energy continues to increase; it has tripled since 1965, as shown in figure 25, with coal, gas and oil being the major energy sources.

fig25

Fig.25 Global energy use by source, 1965-2014. Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015. Chart by Carbon Brief: www.carbonbrief.org and http://www.carbonbrief.org/data-dashboard-energy-archive

Despite the small proportion of renewable energy shown in the global graph, there is hope, as The Guardian recently reported26 that at least five countries have shown initiatives to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. For example: Uruguay gets 94.5% of its electricity from renewables, due to a hefty investment in wind, biomass and solar in recent years. Costa Rica went for 94 consecutive days earlier this year without using fossil fuel for energy at all, thanks to a mix of 78% hydropower, 12% geothermal and 10% wind. Iceland is able to tap geothermal sources for 85% of its heating, which with hydropower, enables this country to have 100% of its electricity from renewables. Paraguay has one huge hydropower dam at Itaipu, which supplies 90% of its energy and Lesotho gets 100% of its electricity from a cascade of dams that have enough spare capacity to export power to South Africa.

  1. Plastics

The first substance that could be described as plastic was Parkesine, produced by Parkes in 1862.  It was highly flammable, so later versions followed, such as celluloid, bakelite, artificial silk, cellophane, polythene etc. The great advantage of plastics is that they can be moulded into any shape that is required and much of our life activities today are surrounded and influenced by plastics in one shape or another. The downside of plastics is that most are not biodegradable.  So, the world now has many rubbish dumps, landfill sites and tips, all containing plastics, as well as other kinds of rubbish, the best example being that of Smoky Mountain near Manila.  In Britain, we are rapidly running out of landfill sites in which to dispose of our rubbish.  And we are told that our oceans are full of plastics, which damage marine life and wash up on beaches across the world.

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Fig.26: An Indian boy walks by the Arabian Sea near Mumbai, piled with mainly plastic rubbish

A young Dutch student may have come up with a cheap solution with which to clear the oceans of plastic rubbish, using the pre-existing ocean currents27 but this is not yet tried on a global scale and there would still be a problem of disposal, once the plastic is collected.

  1. Weaponry

During the industrial revolution, there was a big development of new forms of weaponry, with hand-held weapons becoming ever more sophisticated and playing a major part in the First World War (1914-18).  By the time of the Second World War (1939-45), there had been a development of bombs, as well as the aircraft to drop them on enemy targets.  This culminated in 1945 with the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 129,000 people immediately with many thousand others dying later as a result of nuclear fallout. Nuclear weapons have not been used in war since but are still owned by a number of countries, being used it is thought, as a deterrent to war.

Using weapons and bombs in war also has the effect of increasing carbon emissions.  For example, it has been calculated that, during the Iraq war, the total carbon emissions per year, as a result of the war, were higher than the emissions of 139 countries put together. This issue is of such importance that I have devoted a whole chapter to it (Chapter 6).

  1. Aviation

During the first half of the 20th century, there were huge advances in the manufacture of flying machines, first of all for early pioneers to fly over the great oceans but, later, to the development of passenger airlines, with some of the larger planes, such as the Airbus, now taking well over 500 passengers at a time.

fig27

Fig.27: The Airbus A380

In 1952, the first commercial jet flight took place and 24 years’ later, Concorde began its fascinating history.   Air travel has become so commonplace that it is now nothing special to fly to the other side of the world and back in a short space of time and to do it several times a year.

In her piece entitled “Counting the Cost”, written for the New Era Network in 200528 (and downloadable from their website, Molly Scott Cato MEP, a green economist, gave some compelling statistics about carbon dioxide emissions related to the aviation industry, the expansion of which has been completely unregulated.  Much of this increased usage of passenger airlines has been as a result of the expansion of tourism.  In 1990, CO2 emissions from aircraft accounted for about 2.4% of total emissions – they are projected to grow by another 3-7% by 2050 to approximately 10% of all emissions.  The entire transportation system accounts for about 25% of emissions. Global tourism increased from 8.5 million people in 1970 to 56.8 million in 2000. So, the current obsession with taking regular holidays (or mini-breaks) and flying around the world to some remote destination is a major contribution to the problems of global warming and climate change.  Yet, when people come into an unexpected financial windfall, the majority of them plan to use it first to take an overseas holiday. The effects of this on global warming are rarely thought of.  The airline industry is certainly not going to advertise their impact on climate change, for it might mean the loss of their business.

  1. Electronics, Space and the digital revolution

After the Second World War, we entered into an electronic era, the Space Age, satellite technology and the digital revolution, which began with the invention of the transistor in 1947, followed by computers, hard disks, microchips and microprocessors, recording devices for music and video/film, CDs, DVDs, iPODs, hand-held devices (calculators, 1972; mobile phones, 1983), computer games, smaller and smaller computers, the internet, computer software, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, smart phones, robots etc.

The development of space travel will be discussed further in the next chapter.

The Consumer Culture

The digital age has revolutionised the human way of life on a global scale, with vast advances in communication, which could never have been anticipated when the telegraph was first invented in the mid-1800s.  The downside of it is that some of the devices invented are superseded very rapidly by improved versions, leading to a throw-away culture, as people try to obtain the latest version of the devices they treasure.  All of this, of course, feeds into the escalation of the IR Continuum.

Whilst a significant number of people adhere to the consumer culture, wishing to have the latest invention in line with their friends and colleagues, there are those who are deeply concerned about it.  In fact, when I first talked about writing this book to some of my friends, the throw-away culture that we live in was the first thing that sprang to their minds.  Not only is it damaging to the planet, feeding into the IR Continuum and the accumulation of discarded items, it is also bound up with trading patterns and an obsession  with economic growth, as discussed in chapters 4 and 7.

Who are the worst polluters?

It is the industrialised countries that have contributed most to carbon emissions, though the whole world feels the effect of this.  And amongst the industrialised nations, some emit more per head than others.  Damon Matthews from Montreal in Canada has calculated climate debts for each country related to their population size. He sees those who pollute more than their fair share (i.e. above the global average), as being in climate debt.  From these calculations, the US leads the list by a long way, with the greatest climate debt, Russia is second and Japan third; the UK is the 6th worst polluter in the world29.  Other ways of presenting the data show the UK in first place (because we have been industrialised for longer).

However, in terms of individuals, the richest people in the world contribute to 85% of carbon emissions (see also in Chapter 5).

fig28

Fig.29: Picture showing different ages of man up to the present computer generation