Gathering Together the Beasts of Change

The Night Before Copenhagen

Posted on December 9, 2009

Sunset on a smoggy summer day in Los Angeles during the early 1990’s. You can see faintly the tallest buildings in the downtown area poking up through the mist and smog layer, and you should just be able to make out the Los Angeles River wending its way across East Los Angeles in the foreground, and the Hollywood Hills in the background.
Photograph by Barbara Gaitley, JPL image P-48863A

Last night, I attended a panel and Q&A in Manchester, England, to hear Ed Miliband, the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change speak and answer questions before his departure for the UN climate conference that has just started in Copenhagen.

He was joined by Sir Richard Leese from the Manchester City Council, Len Wardle, CEO of The Co-op, and Mike Childs from Friends of the Earth. The panel was captured real-time on video, if you want to view it here.

But if you don’t want to watch the entire hour-plus video, here are some of the more salient points that captured my interest:

Most of the impact of climate change is felt by the developing world, even though they’ve created a fraction of the problem.

“There two truths at the heart of these negotiations,” said Ed Miliband during the Q&A. “The first is we caused the problem [the developed world, Britain, the US]. The second truth is that ninety-percent of future growth in emissions will come from developing countries.” He went on to say while he’s in favour of developed nations assisting the developing world financially to develop clean power, he’s not a big fan of helping China. Despite the fact that the Chinese generate far less greenhouse gas per capita than we do in the US – we tip the scales at 19.9 tons per capita – or the UK, at 9.3 tons per capita. China, in contrast, generates about 5 tons per year per person.

“The point in this deal is not to finance China,” said Miliband, although he conceded that some financial support for green technology would probably be made available to China. “If the world is to have a chance of achieving the 2°C world [limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees C], the truth we have to tell people is that China has to take action and quickly.”

One of the other interesting points made was that it’s impossible to change climate without changing at the local level. The city of Manchester has promised to reduce its own carbon emissions by 41% by 2050. It hopes to set an example to the rest of the world.

Deforestation was a major topic of discussion. Deforestation accounts for about 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. To put this in perspective, this number is slightly greater than the emissions from all transportation globally, which accounts for about 15 percent. Without reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD), the widely endorsed goal of climate stabilization at a maximum 2°C temperature increase will be impossible.

Later this week, I’ll post an interesting excerpt from a historical document: King Canute of Denmark’s laws regarding forest preservation – as he wrote them in 1016. Then, if I can reach him, I’ll be speaking with a colleague who is attending the conference to get his take on what is happening on the ground.

Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Posted on December 10, 2009

The satellite image taken in 2006 shows a thick band of haze over eastern China that stretched from Beijing to beyond Shanghai.
Credit: NASA

Although we all like to think the world began the day we were born, and will end the day we die, in fact some of the very conservation issues being discussed in Copenhagen this week began life and were legislated about by political leaders very long ago.

Dr. Roger Short, who originally trained as a veterinarian, is a leading expert in reproduction at Melbourne University in Australia. He also collects antiquarian books. One of his books, John Manwood’s book of 1615, A Treatise of the Lawes of the Forest (London: Societie of Stationers, 1615) contains an even earlier set of forest management rules: King Canute of Denmark’s forest laws.

Among the interesting details of these laws, two in particular caught my attention. Law number 23, declares: “He that doth hunt a wilde beast & doth make him paunt shall pay 10 shillings. If he be not a free man, then he shall pay double. If he bee a bound man, he shall lose his skin.”

Law number 29 declares: “If any man do cut downe a Holly Tree, or any other Tree in the Forest, which doth beare fruit for food for the wild beasts… he shall paie twenty shillings to the King for a recompence.”

I wonder what sort of recompense carbon emitters are going to pay to populations whose forests are so compromised by climate change they can no longer live, nor eat nor survive. I’m dying of curiousity to see what laws will emerge from the climate conference in 2009 to protect the forest.

Copenhagen: Gathering Together the Beasts of Change

Posted on December 10, 2009

I don’t think I’m alone in not being surprised about what has happened in Copenhagen so far. The overwhelming impression I’m getting: hypocrisy is more contageous than vector-borne disease.

These tidbits were noted by The Independent (UK) on opening day, December 8:

The Angry Mermaid prize was to be “awarded to the corporate lobby groups undermining effective climate action”. The Fossil of the Day Award was given to the country which does most to hold up talks. It was handed to… all 40 of the industrialised and transition nations. The so-called Annex 1 nations were cited for their “profound deficit of ambition” on the summit’s first day. Alas for idealism, yesterday (December 9) said mermaid was ejected from the chilly waters of diplomacy by summit organisers for – get this – being potentially upsetting to the corporate lobbyists.

According to Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, two-thirds of the food provided for delegates is organic. However, since it also did not taste very good (evidently) at least one delegate, Nnimmo Bassey, head of Environmental Rights action, the Nigerian chapter of Friends of the Earth, went out to dine in a Copenhagen restaurant (I don’t know which one) before addressing the activists’ summit.

Others who choose to eat out can pick from a range of 13 Michelin-starred eateries. Era Ora offers a seven-course menu, boasting a wine menu that can be had for about GBP485. For dessert: vanilla panna cotta frosted with a razor thin leaf of 24-carat gold.

And then there’s the water: Rasmussen declared the talks would be a “bottled water free environment.” Many foreign delegates – and journalists – were none too pleased with this development. They had to be assured by local caterers that the water in Denmark really is safe to drink.