COP21: Kickout the big Polluters

As the world leaders get ready to meet in Paris for 21st Conference of the parties (COP21), to establish a solid ground to solve the climate crisis, doubts shadow whether or not corporate business and big oil polluters have taken over the agenda.

The corporate involvement, specially fossil fuel lobby groups within the UNFCCC is not new. From the very beginning of the earth summit and 1995 COP1 (Statement by the International Chamber of Commerce before COP1) in Berlin till cop20 in Lima, we have seen corporate parties taking every action to jeopardize any climate agreement and to make sure their interest is not harmed, which they refer to as ‘Business as usual’.

The negotiation to bring the countries on same page in solving climate crisis has been going on for 20 years now through COP. And each time the outcome was same: No universal agreement. Closest were COP3 and COP15, but there were no legal binding. The corporations and fossil fuels lobbyist group played a key role ensuring that.The failure of 20 climate summits to date has corresponded with a dramatic speed up of greenhouse gas emission rates. In fact, since 1988, more than half of all industrial carbon emissions have been released, raising the prospect of irreversible climate change.

co2_800k.png
CO2 level has never been this high in human history. Credit: NOAA & Scripps Institution of Oceanography

But, why do organizations like UNFCCC let business corporations take over things? A short history lesson will help us understand that.

Back in 70s, UN took up an initiative to monitor big corporations so that they can’t  create pressure on underdeveloped nations for business. With time, UN changed that policy and the companies were given priority to invest in the name of foreign direct investment through UN. Later in the 90s, the financial crisis within the UN, opened doors for more Corporate-UN partnership. UNFCCC is just one part of it.

Corporate influence

The corporate influence within UNFCCC—Polaris Institute

With COP, the whole world has seen the effort fossil fuel lobbyist group indulge in. From ‘business as usual’ market based solution to ‘greenwash’ every effort has been put into place to care for profit, not for the environment. To them, climate action is important, but can’t jeopardize the growth. Carbon tax is another loophole, which shifts focus from emission reduction to emission transfer.

So, when the French Senate cut funding for COP21, the French government’s announced that corporate sponsors would cover 20 percent of the €170 million event was not a surprise.

CORPORA
Corporate and dirty, does not look smart—COP21 sponsors

Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Accountability International and many other civil society organizations have been pointing out the corporate involvement with COP for years. The corporate sponsorship of COP21 creates a dangerous conflict of interest in two key points [1]:

  1. Most of the sponsors invest heavily in fossil fuel, and with a weak climate agreement, they benefit the most
  2. UNFCCC and its member governments are allowing the corporations responsible for causing the climate crisis to greenwash their brands while continuing to make no meaningful changes to their polluting operations.

 

Fossil Fuel lobbyist are also becoming desperate. With downward pressure on gas and coal prices, both the removal of Fossil Fuel Subsidies and implementing renewable energy strategy is possible without raising much energy cost. Then there is their public image, which is also facing much scrutiny as fossil fuel industry knew about their effect on climate change since 1980s and they continued to fund deniers throughout.

So, what this means? This means that whatever outcome we get from COP21, may also serve the fossil fuel industry, a reason why a drive is now ongoing to kick out the big polluters from COP21 negotiation. World Health Organisation (WHO) had done such before in one of United Nations quickest ratified treaties in 2005 which introduced a bar between public health officials and tobacco industry. We do not want the same history to be repeated again and again, as we have found for the last 20 COPs, big polluters find their way in. It’s time that we say no to them through an action like WHO, for us and for the planet.

More to come, this week: Have you heard, renewable can save the world by 2050? Stay tuned. 

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Why Ramsar Convention is Crucial: Introduction

Wetlands are the most productive ecosystem in the world, and the most threatened as well. Why? Cause 60% of the world’s population live around such environment. Wetlands provide critical habitat for fish and wildlife, protection from hurricanes and flooding. Then they have recreational opportunities, water purification ability and can recharge groundwater supplies. But, Wetlands continue to decline globally, both in area and in quality. As a result, the ecosystem services that wetlands provide to humans and society are diminishing. Ramsar Convention has been providing the basic framework for wetland conservation.

The Ramsar Convention is a major Environmental Agreement which works as standard for wetland management and biodiversity governance system. Though development of Ramsar was a lengthy process as universal consensus was the target, the convention was signed in Ramsar (Iran) in 1971 and came into force in 1975. The mission of Ramsar Convention according to 4th Strategic Plan (2016-2024):

Conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.

The Ramsar convention was adopted to stop the continued destruction of wetlands, particularly those which support migratory waterfowl, and to recognize the ecological, scientific, economic and recreational values of wetlands (Kusler and Kentula, 1990; Hails, 1996). There were two characteristics in the conceptual development of the convention: 1) Area protected by conservation approach and 2) an immutable deference to ‘national sovereignty’ was echoed (Hettiarachchi et al. 2015). International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) was asked to host to ensure neutrality and there was funding shortage as well.

The current organizational framework of the Ramsar framework. (Hettiarachchi et al. 2015)
The current organizational framework of the Ramsar framework. (Hettiarachchi et al. 2015)

Currently, Ramsar has 2,218 Sites covering 214,131,110 ha worldwide in 168 countries (October 2015). In order to declare a site as ‘Ramsar site’, there are 9 criteria that are taken into considerationRamsar has three pillars to which all joining parties commit:

  1. Ensuring the conservation and wise use of wetlands it has designated as Wetlands of International Importance,
  2. Including as far as possible the wise use of all wetlands in national environmental planning, and
  3. Consulting with other Parties about implementation of the Convention, especially in regard to trans-boundary wetlands, shared water systems, and shared species.

44 years later, the Ramsar convention works as the ‘bible’ for wetland regulation and management. In the 12th meeting of the Convention of Wetlands (2015), the key messages delivered were:

  • The global extent of wetlands is now estimated to have declined between 64-71% in the 20th century, and wetland losses and degradation continue worldwide.
  • Because of wetland losses and degradation, people are deprived of the ecosystem services that wetlands provide. Adverse changes to wetlands, including coral reefs, are estimated to result in more than US$20 trillion in losses of ecosystem services annually.
  • Despite some positive news about Ramsar Sites, even these are under threat. For example, although populations of wetland species appear to be increasing in Ramsar Sites overall, populations of wetland species in Ramsar Sites in the tropics are decreasing.
  • While there are ongoing initiatives that will provide a more precise picture of the extent of the world’s wetlands, it is clear that there is a negative trend and wetlands are still being lost or degraded, resulting in negative impacts on biodiversity and other ecosystem services.
  • Policymakers have sufficient scientific information to understand the urgent need to take appropriate actions to conserve wetlands and their services to people.
Natural wetland habitat area loss between 1975, 1990 and 2005 in a sample of 214 wetland sites around the Mediterranean
Natural wetland habitat area loss between 1975,
1990 and 2005 in a sample of 214 wetland sites around the Mediterranean

SO, how successful has the Ramsar Convention been? Michael Bowman in 2002-03 wrote:

considerable progress which has been made in the realms of wetland conservation over the thirty years since the Ramsar Convention was concluded, not least in the rehabilitation of the image of wetland features in human consciousness. Although the provisions of the Convention as originally drafted were deficient in various respects, a great deal of time and effort has been devoted to their clarification, amplification, and development, primarily through CoP resolutions, and this has undoubtedly enhanced the potential of Ramsar to advance the cause of wetland conservation

Ramsar Convention is one of the six treaties which are in the Liaison  Group of Biodiversity related convention. Ramsar guidelines support legal initiatives, including litigation and advocacy, to protect wetlands worldwide e.g. Mexico, USA, South Africa.

Urban wetlands were not formally considered before 2008 (Res. 27), and Urban setting is the most complex and crucial due to the fact that environmental degradation is more complex in cities, specially in developing countries.

For example, Bangladesh has only two wetlands as Ramsar sites and the data for these two site are not up-to-date and there are other sites which should come within the convention.

Climate Change and USA: What is happening?

Last Tuesday I came across an article on national geographic magazine stating that

Only 40 percent of Americans, according to the most recent poll from the Pew Research Center, accept that human activity is the dominant cause of global warming.

An explanation was given as well in the article:

The “science communication problem,” as it’s blandly called by the scientists who study it, has yielded abundant new research into how people decide what to believe—and why they so often don’t accept the scientific consensus. It’s not that they can’t grasp it, according to Dan Kahan of Yale University. In one study he asked 1,540 Americans, a representative sample, to rate the threat of climate change on a scale of zero to ten. Then he correlated that with the subjects’ science literacy. He found that higher literacy was associated with stronger views—at both ends of the spectrum. Science literacy promoted polarization on climate, not consensus. According to Kahan, that’s because people tend to use scientific knowledge to reinforce beliefs that have already been shaped by their worldview.

Americans fall into two basic camps, Kahan says. Those with a more “egalitarian” and “communitarian” mind-set are generally suspicious of industry and apt to think it’s up to something dangerous that calls for government regulation; they’re likely to see the risks of climate change. In contrast, people with a “hierarchical” and “individualistic” mind-set respect leaders of industry and don’t like government interfering in their affairs; they’re apt to reject warnings about climate change, because they know what accepting them could lead to—some kind of tax or regulation to limit emissions.

I tried to test this, and my findings were similar. I asked 10 of my friends who are American and half of them are involved in scientific research work. I asked them whether they believe climate change is caused by humans for the last 200 years. Interestingly the answer came up ‘no’ in 8, even though I gave 6 of them agreed there is scientific evidence.

One of the common reason came out, is—the record keeping. We have been keeping records from 1659 and a clear warming trend since 1880, when modern scientific instrumentation became available to monitor temperatures precisely. So, to them it’s not long enough to say humans are reason for global warming or climate change. According to one of my friend and participant:

Who knows this maybe a cyclic process, that happens every few thousand years, I believe it’s natural, we are not effective enough to change the course that god decided for us.

But most valuable comment came from a professor, when he told personally he believes that it is not caused by humans, but his research arena is climate change and he wants the funds to keep coming in.

That brings me to my focal point: Is not America suffering themselves from Climate Change?

Let’s just look at California for instance, facing it’s worst drought in 1200 years. Now, if you don’t want to believe science, stop believing in all the technology and medicines. Oh, I forgot 1 in 5 Americans do believe vaccine causes autism (Kahan Strikes in this case, as the 1998 research paper that set off a sharp decline in vaccinations in Britain after the paper’s lead author suggested that vaccines could cause autism. Kahan: Science can’t not take away the core believe you often have).

Ukiah in California, 2013 annual rainfall lowest of all time. Source: http://www.savingwaterpartnership.org

20 hours ago, standing in a brown field that would normally be smothered in several feet of snow, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered cities and towns across California to cut water use by 25% as part of a sweeping set of mandatory drought restrictions, the first in state history. Well, this is not just it. Let’s have a look at US overall Water Stress Index:

Water Stress Index of USA, Source: Averyt et al. 2011
Water Stress Index of USA, Source: Averyt et al. 2011

As you can see most of the west of severe water problem. Here is a comparison with the World on water Stress Index:

World Water Stress Situation Source: UNEP

So, United States faces environmental problems. Whether you agree it’s you or not causing it (as human). Let’s look overall disasters. In 2014, there were 8 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $8 billion across the United States. These events included a drought event, a flooding event, 5 severe storm events, and a winter storm event. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 53 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.

Now, Most countries are concerned about climate change and they want to know what is going to happen in their own country first and are funding work for their specific area.  So how much money does US spend on fighting climate change, is a question I asked my self, here is what I got from a simple Google search:

Estimates reveal that the federal government will spend more money on fighting global warming than it will on tightening border security. Global-warming spending is estimated to cost approximately $22.2 billion this year and $21.4 billion next year which is .57% of the total federal budget, twice as much as the $12 billion estimated for customs and border enforcement.Oct 30, 2013

I then tried to look at how much US contribution is in mitigating climate change effect. Turns out they are second in line contributing around 1.9 billion dollars:

Contributors
Source: http://www.climatefundsupdate.org

There is also the spending on clean energy, US have spent 7.9 billion dollars in the clean energy field in FY 2014 and the overall R&D in USA is predicted to be declining:

R&D Crash Prediction Source:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/26/the-coming-rd-crash/
R&D Crash Prediction Source:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/26/the-coming-rd-crash/

All these brings me to again Kahen’s second type of Americans again. If you look at the Social Safety Net spending and climate change spending, that will tell you which side US government is working towards.

Now, in June 2014, EPA released the Clean Power Plan — the first-ever carbon pollution standards for existing power plants on the path toward a 30 percent reduction in carbon pollution from the power sector by 2030 from 2005 levels. But here is the catch:

The good news is that U.S. emissions are already about 15% below those 2005 levels — so we’re halfway there.

So, stats matter, as 30% sounds better than 15%. And there are states which have to work towards making a plan by 2016 for cutting emission and there is flexibility. There are states that are already not willing to go down easy with EPA. Since 1992 (Earth Summit), the world can see the political play of global warming  at state and federal level in the United States

The United States, although a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the protocol. In 1997, the US Senate voted unanimously that it was not the sense of the Senate that the United States should be a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol.

So, what has changed over time? Except for industrialization and population? I agree with gapminder regarding population, it will balance by 2100. But, the climate change will not, unless we work together. We have unearthed so much in the last 200 years that it will take centuries or even millenniums to restore it, or may not be ever possible. But right now what we can do is fight, fight climate change.

As I write, reports come in  of 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit shines on Antarctica, the chilly continent recorded the temperature (15.5 degrees Celsius) on March 24, possibly the highest ever recorded on Antarctica. As the temperature rises across the globe, so does the energy consumption, disease and other side effects.

Many in USA will agree with me, while trying to balance power the system is almost failing. In short run, states may face loss economic and other sides, but in the long run, this can restore the balance.  It was truly said,” Government by the people, for the people, of the people”, at least in this case. As the opinion is divided, people needs to understand the shear consequences of human activity on climate change. Otherwise, it might be too too late.

Govt’s role to make people aware about climate change lauded

Collected from Financial Express Bangladesh. Link.

The experts have said that the government has been able to achieve marked progress in making people aware about the adverse impacts of climate change. Addressing a workshop in the city, they said that ensuring a sustainable management of common ecosystem in South Asian countries could address the adverse impacts of global climate change in the region. Speaking at the workshop, Dr Saleemul Huq, director of International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), said “There is a common ecosystem in the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna river basins. We’ve to look into the things much more.” Oxfam Bangladesh in financial assistance from the European Union organised the Learning Sharing Workshop of the project, titled Strengthening the role of Non-state Actors in Climate Change Policy Formulation in South Asia and Enhancing their Capacities to Influence Global Climate Change Negotiations. Dr Saleemul Huq, also a senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), said Bangladesh has already raised its voice at international climate negotiations. About the preparation to cope with climate change impacts, the ICCCAD director stressed the need for providing half of the fund allocated for adaptation to the marginal and climate vulnerable people, according to a news agency.