Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Indigenous rights row threatens rainforest protection plan

Green groups accuse US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada of deleting lines on indigenous peoples' rights in draft agreement in Poznan on climate change and deforestation
David Adam, Tuesday December 9 2008 18.06 GMT

Talks aimed at finding ways to protect tropical forests in a new global deal on global warming hit problems today after a row over the rights of indigenous people.
Green groups accused the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada of deleting a line about indigenous peoples' rights from a draft agreement due to have been published tonight, as part of UN talks on climate change.
The original confidential draft, seen by the Guardian, talked of "noting the rights and importance of engaging indigenous peoples and other local communities".
The amended version mentions only "recognising the need to promote the full and effective participation of indigenous and local communities". The change sparked protests at the Poznan meeting by delegates representing indigenous groups from Panama and the US.
Campaigners said the suggested change would leave indigenous people across the world vulnerable to exploitation under proposals to pay tropical nations not to cut down forests.
A joint statement from groups including Friends of the Earth and the Rainforest Foundation condemned the change as "totally unacceptable". It said: "The forests being targetted... are those which indigenous peoples have sustained and protected for thousands of years. The rights of forest peoples to continue playing this role, and being rewarded for doing so, has to be recognised."
Talks continue, but the row threatens to derail attempts to agree a rulebook for forest-protection schemes, which was supposed to have paved the way to include them in a new global climate deal to succeed the Kyoto protocol. Deforestation causes almost a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions.
Negotiators had said such an agreement on forests was one of the few breakthroughs expected at the Poznan talks, which are largely a preparatory meeting for more serious negotiations next year.

Rich nations must plan for floods, heat and drought now, warns panel

James Randerson, science correspondent
The Guardian, Wednesday December 10 2008

Two thousand people killed during a summer heatwave; mosquitoes at Heathrow carrying malaria parasites picked up from infected holidaymakers; road-builders switching to a melt-resistant tarmac.
If anyone is in any doubt that climate change is already affecting the UK, this is your answer. "It's not just a question of impacts in the future. We are actually looking at impacts right now," said Chris West, director of the UK Climate Impacts Programme. His job is to advise the government, private and voluntary sectors on how changes to the UK's climate will affect how they operate.
The most severe and immediate impacts of climate change will hit developing countries. But the rich, developed world will also be affected, and adapting to the changes will be extremely expensive.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fourth Assessment report last year included a detailed breakdown of impacts for regions around the world. Europe must prepare for warmer, wetter winters in the north and hotter, drier summers in the south. That is going to put severe demands on water in southern Europe and will mean more crop failures due to drought. Also, people will suffer directly. The 2003 summer heatwave killed 2,000 people in the UK alone. Winter floods will increase in maritime regions and flash floods will be more common across the continent. Coastal flooding linked to sea-level risk will threaten up to 1.6 million more people each year by 2080.
Like Europe, the US will experience the greatest warming in winter at high latitudes and hotter summers in the south-west, according to the IPCC. Climate modellers expect extremes of hot weather, wildfires, water stress, insect outbreaks and a range of health problems to increase; but there will also be benefits. Crop yields will rise 5-20% during the next few decades as the warming climate opens up more land for cultivation.
But probably the hardest hit of the developed regions will be Australia. In temperate regions, the IPCC climate models predict up to 32 more days in a year over 35°C (95F) by 2020 and up to 84 more by 2050. Water security will become a major concern with prolonged droughts a regular feature, while extreme weather and sea-level rise will cause problems for Australia's predominantly coastal population. Water flow in the Murray-Darling river basin - Australia's largest, which accounts for around 70% of irrigated crops and pastures - is expected to fall by between 10 and 25% by 2050.

Q-Cells cuts profit forecast as drive for renewable energy loses power

The Times
December 10, 2008
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

Q-Cells, the world’s largest manufacturer of solar cells, cut its 2008 earnings forecasts yesterday, giving warning that a global recession was sapping demand for renewable energy.
Anton Milner, the chief executive of the German group, said that it had been hit by a “flood” of cancellations and delays in customer orders in recent weeks as developers of solar power projects worldwide struggle to raise finance. Tumbling oil prices have also undermined the economic rationale behind renewable energy schemes.
The company, which is planning a production shutdown over Christmas to clear stocks, said that it was cutting its sales forecast for 2008 by nearly 10 per cent to €1.225 billion (£1.072 billion) and its profit forecast by 14 per cent to €185 million.
The announcement has compounded the sense of crisis in the renewable energy industry, which had been seen as one of the few bright spots in manufacturing. Another manufacturer, Evergreen Solar, of the United States, said yesterday that it was delaying a planned $800 million (£540 million) factory in Asia that would manufacture enough solar cells to power a city of 500,000 people.

The announcements came as representatives from 190 countries at a United Nations climate change conference in Poznan, Poland, continued to place clean energy technology, such as solar and wind power, at the top of the agenda as they sought to hammer out a successor agreement to the Kyoto protocol. Achim Steiner, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme, called this week for solar power to play a key role in cutting carbon emissions.
In recent weeks there have been signs that the market is facing a sharp slowdown as demand evaporates. Analysts expect a glut of solar panels and cells to hit the market next year as manufacturers struggle to shift equipment.
New Energy Finance believes that lower costs could have a positive impact on the industry in the longer term by making solar power equipment more affordable in comparison with conventional fossil-fuel based sources of electricity.

Climate change experts 'lose faith' in renewable technology

Specialists less optimistic that wind, solar and hydro power have 'high potential' to solve climate crisis, survey shows
David Adam in Poznan, Tuesday December 9 2008 15.00 GMT

Support for renewable energy technology to fight global warming is weakening in the face of worldwide economic problems and the true scale of the carbon reductions required, a survey published today has suggested.
Figures presented at the UN climate talks in Poznan, Poland, show that climate experts have less faith in alternative energy than they did 12 months ago.
The survey shows less support for wind energy, solar power, biofuels, biomass and hydrogen energy as technologies with "high potential" to reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere over the next 25 years.
There was also less support for carbon capture and storage, new nuclear build, small-scale hydropower and natural gas stations as viable ways to hit targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Eric Whan of Globescan, which carried out the survey of "climate decision makers", said: "As the climate crisis deepens they could be becoming less optimistic that individual technologies may be able to solve the problem."
The survey, supported by groups including the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme and the Pew Centre for Global Climate Change, questioned 1,000 senior figures across governments, pressure groups and companies in 115 countries over the last few weeks.
Almost three-quarters of the experts agreed in the survey that "equitable economic growth and development and significant progress in combating climate change can be achieved at the same time".
Asked to rate the likely success of low-carbon technologies in the mid-term, they showed less confidence than a similar survey 12 months ago. Support for offshore wind farms, the bedrock for ambitious UK renewable energy plans, was down to 61%, from 65% last year. Solar electricity generation was rated as having high-potential by 66% of respondents, down from 74%. Support for hydrogen power was 32%, down from 36% in 2007.
The respondents also warned that a deep recession would make a new global deal on climate harder to achieve. Some 44% agreed that the current economic crisis will significantly delay or compromise the "achievement of effective climate change agreements".
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat, said the Poznan talks were edging towards an agreement on how rich countries could pay to help developing nations adapt to the effects of climate change. "On adaptation I would say the glass is two-thirds full," he said.
But he said this week's talks were unlikely to agree a long-term goal for overall carbon reductions by 2050.
The Poznan negotiations aim to set the stage for a new global treaty of climate change to succeed the Kyoto protocol to be agreed in Copenhagen at a meeting this time next year.
De Boer said: "We're at a very important moment in time, and at a very important moment of political stock taking."

Leaders agree 20% 2020 renewable energy target

Ian Traynor in Brussels and Allegra Stratton
The Guardian, Wednesday December 10 2008

EU leaders agreed yesterday to combat climate change by ordering that a fifth of Europe's energy mix should come from renewable sources within 12 years.
The agreement, hailed as a "landmark" deal and a breakthrough by politicians and the green lobby alike, came before a crucial EU summit opening in Poland tomorrow at which 27 prime ministers and presidents are supposed to finalise an ambitious package to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020.
The agreement reached yesterday paves the way for a law obliging all EU countries to meet national targets for renewable energy. Two points had threatened to derail the legislation: the insistence that biofuels comprise 10% of transport fuel by 2020, and an attempt by Italy to loosen the law by ordering a review of progress on renewables in 2014. The review date was retained, but the compulsory target and national quotas also survived.
Biofuels have become an incendiary issue over the past year because of soaring food costs and shortages, partly blamed on the diversion of land to grow fuel rather than food. Expert opinion has turned on the value of biofuels in combating climate change. The 10% of transport fuel target was retained, but the equation was changed to include electric cars and trains and the European commission is to report within two years on the impact on land use and sustainability of biofuels.
Experts argue that using crop-based products as a petrol or diesel substitute is misplaced, as greater energy savings can be made by using them for heating.
Greenpeace, usually a fierce critic of the EU climate change policies, described the agreement as a "landmark".
Claude Turmes, the Luxembourg Green MEP who led the negotiations for the European parliament, said he had "mixed feelings" about the biofuels factor.
"Despite mounting scientific evidence on the dangers of biofuels, we were unable to completely revise this wrong-headed target ... Renewable energy will be put at the very heart of EU energy policies."
The European Wind Energy Association, a lobby group, said yesterday's deal put Europe in the lead of "the energy revolution the world needs". It calculated that, if the law was properly implemented, more than a third of Europe's electricity would come from renewable sources by 2020.
The summit in Poznan will turn on the broader deal to cut emissions by 20% by 2020. Britain came under pressure yesterday to reinvest in green technology the millions of pounds likely to be raised from auctioning carbon emission permits.
The environmental consultancy WSP predicts the UK government could possibly raise as much as £1bn from 85m permits in 2012 and £2.5bn in 2013. Next year alone the British government plans to auction 25m permits, raising nearly £350m.
A cross-party group of Lords says the funds raised through the ETS should be ploughed back into "climate change-related measures" to "maintain the credibility of the scheme".
The Lords also said that moves by some European countries to "postpone" broader use of permit auctioning to spare industry the additional cost should be resisted.

Renewable Businesses Bring the Green to Portland

Oregon's bid to cash in on its green appeal has given Portland's weakening commercial-real-estate market an early holiday gift.
Denmark-based Vestas Wind Systems AS said this month that it is planning to build a new North American headquarters in the city. Negotiations still are under way and the site isn't set, but the project is likely to be more than 500,000 square feet and be valued at about $250 million.

Vestas Americas, which has been in the city since 2002, has roughly 300 employees in about six leased office locations totaling about 100,000 square feet in the Portland area, says Roby Roberts, a spokesman for Vestas, one of the world's largest wind-turbine suppliers.
Vestas, despite the credit-starved times, hopes to start construction next year.
"Certainly the existing economic situation is one that's going to make you be careful, but we're reasonably confident that things are going to work out," Mr. Roberts said. The state has sweetened the deal with an offer of about $15 million in cash on top of incentives from the city that could be valued at $12.5 million, city and state officials say.
Other sustainable-development and renewable-energy businesses also have made a home in Oregon. The state has courted the industry with such initiatives as the Business Energy Tax Credits, says Jillian Schoene, spokeswoman for Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
First created in 1979 and expanded in 2007, the tax credits have helped draw solar-energy manufacturers to the state, Ms. Schoene says. Germany-based SolarWorld AG this fall opened a 480,000-square-foot solar-cell manufacturing facility in Hillsboro, outside Portland. Moreover, the North American headquarters of Spain-based Iberdrola Renovables, already located in about 57,000 square feet of leased space in Portland's Pearl District, is looking for additional room to grow, a spokeswoman says.
By the Numbers
Third quarter
Portland, Ore., Metro
Office vacancy
Avg. annual rent/s.f.
Retail econ. vacancy
Avg. annual rent/s.f.
Hotel occupancy
Avg. daily room rate
Median single-family home price
Source: Property & Portfolio Research Inc., Smith Travel Research, National Association of Realtors
But the demand from green businesses comes amid signs in the Portland region of the broader economic malaise wracking the country.
Home to about 2.2 million people, the area counts Nike Inc. and Intel Corp., based in Santa Clara, Calif., among its larger employers. Median home prices that had held up longer than in many western U.S. markets have weakened over the past year, and the metro area's unemployment rate rose to 6.4% in October, just above the national rate of 6.1% and well above the 4.6% level in the year-earlier month, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
That slowdown has begun to damp demand for commercial real estate. The region's retail, office, warehouse and apartment vacancies, though still below national averages, are edging up and rents are either declining or are forecast to begin falling, according to Boston-based Property & Portfolio Research.
The region's office-leasing market, among the region's strongest commercial sectors, also is slowing. The amount of sublease space available in Portland's commercial business district jumped to 146,000 square feet in the third quarter from about 45,000 square feet in the year-earlier period, as some companies trimmed space needs, according to Crispin Argento, a research analyst for Colliers International in Portland.
The amount available for sublease was still less than 1% of the inventory, he says. And a surge of new office buildings, some speculative, also are on tap to deliver space in the next two years. Vestas also could add to that available space if it builds anew rather than leasing space in one of the projects underway.
Against this backdrop some cautiously optimistic developers are pushing ahead. Todd Sklar, senior vice president and head of development for San Francisco-based Shorenstein Properties, says construction is now up to the 10th floor on an environmentally friendly office building in Portland called First & Main.
Set to open in 2010, it is to include retail space and about 346,000 square feet of office space that isn't yet leased, as well as a place for cycling commuters to park bikes and shower, and paneling in the lobby made from old stadium seats.
Mr. Sklar notes that in some cities numerous companies are cutting space as they face takeovers or restructurings. Compared with that, having a company like Vestas put space on the market so it can expand doesn't seem so bad, he says. "In the context of other cities, we're in good shape," Mr. Sklar said.
Write to Maura Webber Sadovi at

Bad tidings

Vietnam is the country most at risk from rising sea levels, according to a new study, as rich nations are being called on to bail out vulnerable populations

David Adam
The Guardian, Wednesday December 10 2008

Which country will be most affected by the steady rise of the seas? Which country could see more than a tenth of its population displaced, a tenth of its economic power crippled and a tenth of its towns and cities swamped by the end of this century? The answer, which may surprise you, is Vietnam, named by the World Bank as the nation with most to lose as global warming forces the oceans to reclaim the land.
Just a one-metre rise in sea level would flood more than 7% of the country's agricultural land, and wreck nearly 30% of its wetlands, the bank says. And the situation could be worse than that: a one-metre rise in sea level is at the conservative end of the predictions for the year 2100. Some climate experts, including Jim Hansen, director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, argue that the likely rise should be measured in several metres.
A one-metre rise would still be enough to cause chaos. In a study recently published in the journal Climatic Change, the World Bank says such a rise would impact on about 0.3% of the territory - some 194,000 sq km - of 84 developing countries. That might not sound much, but it would affect about 56 million people. Coastal populations across poorer countries generally do better economically, so the surge in the seas would impact on GDP even more - about 1.3%.
The study, which summarises the findings of a 50-page briefing paper published by the bank last year, comes as campaigners call for rich countries such as the UK to do more to help the developing world adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change.
Heather Coleman, senior climate change policy adviser with Oxfam, says: "Helping vulnerable people cope with the effects of climate change is desperately needed today because they already face increasingly severe and ever-worsening climate change impacts."
The charity released a report last week that called for at least $50bn (£33.85bn) a year to be channelled from international carbon trading schemes into adaptation efforts.
"With a global financial crisis unfolding, these mechanisms could raise enough money from polluters without governments having to dip into national treasuries," Coleman says. "Many negotiators agree that this is one of the more practical approaches. Billions of dollars can be raised and invested to prevent future climate change and to help poor people adapt to the negative impacts of global warming."
Oxfam says poor countries need help to upgrade national flood early-warning systems, plant mangrove "bio-shields" along coasts to diffuse storm waves, and grow drought-tolerant crops.
The report comes as ministers are due to arrive at UN talks in Poznan, Poland, to continue negotiations on a new global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto protocol. With little progress on new carbon targets expected until the new US administration makes its position clear next year, adaptation could be a key issue at Poznan.
"It is extremely important for negotiators in Poznan to reach a broad understanding about how best to raise adaptation money, because they have paid lip service to the issue for too long," Coleman says. "It is a vital part of the overall deal, a litmus test of how serious rich countries are in tackling the problem.
"Poor people around the world bear the brunt of climate change, and yet they are least responsible for global warming. Even during tempestuous financial times, rich countries can and should help poor people to cope. We can't afford to exchange a short-term saving for a long-term disaster."
If countries fail to adapt to the new reality of climate change, Coleman warns, they would suffer far greater damage from floods, droughts and hurricanes.
Of those, the World Bank study, led by Susmita Dasgupta, of its Development Research Group, says some countries will suffer the effects of sea level rise much worse than others. Severe impactswill be limited to a "relatively small number of countries".
As well as Vietnam, the report highlights likely damage to the Bahamas, which could lose more than a tenth of its territory to a one-metre rise, and Egypt, which faces the flooding of 13% of its agricultural land. Mauritania, Guyana and Jamaica are also among the biggest losers.
In the bank's rankings of the top 10 countries affected by a sea level rise, across six different types of impact, Bangladesh - often associated with rising sea levels - features only once. The country is listed as the tenth most affected by land area, with just over 1% likely to be flooded.
The report says: "The overall magnitudes for the developing world are sobering: within this century, tens of millions of people are likely to be displaced by sea level rise, and the accompanying economic and ecological damage will be severe for many."
It adds: "International resource allocation strategies should recognise the skewed impact distribution we have documented. Some countries will be little affected by sea level rise, while others will be so heavily impacted that their national integrity may be threatened. Given the scarcity of available resources, it would seem sensible to allocate aid according to degree of threat."
The bank says the study is the first of its kind, but admits it is not foolproof. It did not investigate the effects of milder sea level rise, which will be felt in the next few decades. And its methods were too crude to assess the fate of small islands, which are particularly vulnerable. It also fails to take into account adaptation measures put in place over the next century, which would lessen the damages, or storm surges, which would worsen them.
Nevertheless, its central message is clear: "There is little evidence that the international community has seriously considered the implications of sea level rise for population location and infrastructure planning in many developing countries."A separate Oxfam report last month investigated the situation on the ground in Vietnam, in the provinces of Ben Tre and Quang Tri.
Achievements at risk
The charity warned that the effects of climate change threatened Vietnam's development achievements. It is one of the few countries on track to meet most of its millennium development goals by 2015, and it managed to reduce its poverty rate from about 58% of the population to 18% in 2006. "Such impressive achievements are now at risk," Oxfam says. In 2000, Vietnam produced just 0.35% of world greenhouse gas emissions - one of the lowest contributions in the world.
It is not just rising sea levels that pose a threat; higher temperatures, as well as more extremes of weather such as drought and typhoons, will have a "potentially devastating impact on the country's people and economy", the report says.
Some communities are already adapting to changing weather patterns. Rice farmers are harvesting earlier, before the main flooding season, or growing a rice variety with a shorter cycle. But the report found countless cases of poor people across both Ben Tre and Quang Tri, who were ill-equipped to cope with the consequences of the climate changing.
Oxfam says that rich countries must step in - and quickly. "The amounts of investment needed are beyond [Vietnam's] budgetary capacity," it says. "International adaptation finance will be needed in the face of unavoidable impacts."

Wetter and wilder: the signs of warming everywhere

In the third part of our series on the eve of the Poznan conference, we look at how climate change is already changing ordinary people's lives from Australia to Brazil
Vidal Immaculada in Brazil
The Guardian, Wednesday December 10 2008

An aerial view of Gonaives, in Haiti, after the passing of tropical storm Hanna. Photograph: Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty images
Joao da Antonio's eyes are full of tears. If good rains do not come, he says, he will pack his bag, kiss his wife and two children goodbye and join the annual exodus of young men leaving hot, dry rural north-east Brazil for the biofuel fields in the south.
Da Antonio, 19, can earn about £30 a month for 10 hours gruelling work a day cutting sugar cane to make ethanol, and more than a million small farmers like him migrate south for six months of the year because the land can no longer support them. Tens of thousands a year never return, forced to move permanently to Sao Paulo or another of Brazil's cities in search of work.
"Life here is one of suffering," Da Antonio said. "I will do anything to earn some money. None of us want to die, but the lack of water here will kill us. "
Around the world, millions of people like Da Antonio are feeling the force of a changing climate. As UN negotiations towards a global climate deal continue in Poznan, Poland, this week, evidence is emerging of weather patterns in turmoil and the poorest nations disproportionately bearing the brunt of warming.
While rich countries at the talks seek to set up global carbon trading, using financial markets to tackle - and profit from - climate change, poor countries want justice. They are seeking environmental justice: money to adapt their economies to climate changes they did not cause, and technology and resources to allow them to escape poverty while preserving their forests and ecosystems.
The fast and unpredictable shifts in weather are not threats for the future, but happening right now. "The frequency of heatwaves and heavy precipitation is increasing; cyclones are becoming more frequent and intense; more areas are being affected by droughts; and flooding is now more serious," says Sheridan Bartlett, a researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development in a new study looking at the effects of climate change on children.
"Increasingly unpredictable weather now affects hundreds of millions of farmers, resulting in food and water shortages, more illnesses and water-borne diseases, malnutrition, soil erosion, and disruption to water supplies," she says. Such changes confound the received wisdom of how to live on the land.
North-east Brazil has always known droughts, but they are becoming longer and more frequent, say scientists and farmers. "Climate change is biting. It is much hotter than it used to be and it stays hotter for longer. The rain has become more sporadic. It comes at different times of the year now and farmers cannot tell when to plant," says Lindon Carlos, an agronomist with Brazilian group Acev.
Brazilian scientists have recorded changes in the lifecycles of plants, greater oscillations in temperature and more water shortages, all consistent with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predictions of a devastating 3-4C rise in temperatures within 60 years if climate change is not halted. "All the research points to it becoming drier [in north-east Brazil]. In the last 30 years temperatures have risen by 1C. There is more very heavy rainfall over short periods and more evaporation," says Eneida Cavalcanti, a desertification specialist at the Joaquim Nabuco foundation in Recife.
On the other side of the world, the changing climate is wreaking havoc in a different way on low-lying and populous Bangladesh. There, government meteorologists this year reported a 10% increase in intensity and frequency in major cyclones hitting the country - two of the most powerful cyclones ever recorded have hit the country in the last three years.
"We are getting too much water in the rainy season and too little in the dry season. All this has implications for food security," says Raja Debashish Roy, Bangladesh's environment minister.
"We are learning about climate change," said Anawarul Islam, chair of the Deara district of about 2,500 people in the far south of the county. "This village is experiencing more rainfall and flooding every year. It has led to more homeless people and more conflict. "
"It's far warmer now," says one villager, Selina. "We do not feel cold in the rainy season. We used to need blankets, but now we don't. There is extreme uncertainty of weather. It makes it very hard to farm and we cannot plan. We have to be more reactive. The storms are increasing and the tides now come right up to our houses."
The balmy Caribbean is also being churned up with increasing frequency and ferocity. This year, the region experienced eight hurricanes and five major hurricanes, the second highest ever, and the hurricane season lasted a record five months.
"A warmer climate poses in some cases insurmountable challenges to the region. We face more hurricanes, coral bleaching and flooding," said Neville Trotz, science adviser to the Caribbean community climate change centre.
Across the Atlantic, in Africa, the theme unfolds further: climate change turning already bad situations in poor countries into potential catastrophe, and driving people to absolute poverty. Alexandre Tique, at Mozambique's national meteorological institute, says: "Analysis of the temperature data gathered in our provincial capitals, where we have meteorological stations that have kept continuous data over the years, shows a clear increase in temperature. Extreme events are becoming more frequent. We now see many more tropical cyclones that bring flooding, destruction and loss of lives."
Other African communities are suffering. In the village of Chikani, in Zambia, the farmers last year prepared their fields for planting in November, as they have always done, but the rains were very late for the third year running.
"We waited, but the first drop didn't fall till December 20. After a day, the rains stopped. Three weeks later, it started to rain again. But then it stopped again after a few days. Since then, we have had no rain. We have never known anything like this before," says Julius Njame.
From the plains of Africa, to mountaintop Nepal, where there is no respite from the weather in flux. Villages like Ketbari expect a small flood to wash off the hills every decade or so, now they seem to be annual and getting more serious.
"We always used to have a little rain each month, but now when there is rain it's very different. It's more concentrated and intense. It means that crop yields are going down," says Tekmadur Majsi, whose lands have been progressively washed away by the Trishuli river.
Nepalese villagers observe the minutiae of a changing climate. Some say that forest pigs now farrow earlier, others that some types of rice and cucumber will no longer grow where they used to. The common thread is that the days are hotter, some trees now flower twice a year and the raindrops are getting bigger.
The anecdotal observations of farmers are backed by scientists who are recording in Nepal some of the fastest increases in temperatures and rainfall anywhere in the world. Many lakes in Nepal and neighbouring Bhutan, which collect glacier meltwater, are said by the UN to be growing so rapidly that they could burst their banks.
Melting glaciers are creating anxiety about water supplies across the Earth. In Tajikistan, at current rates of change, thousands of small glaciers will have disappeared completely by 2050, causing more water to flow in spring followed by what is expected to be a disastrous decline of river flow in most rivers. In Peru, temperature increases have led to a 22% reduction in the total area of its glaciers in the last 35 years.
The developing nations on the climate frontline will argue strongly in Poznan that rich countries should pay to help them adapt to climate change. But development groups such as Oxfam and Tearfund say that almost all the money pledged so far has come out of existing aid funds. With a worldwide recession, many analysts expect rich countries to resist paying more.
The UN has established two funds - the Least Developed Countries and Special Climate Change funds - to raise money for the poorest countries to adapt, but the G8 countries have only pledged $6bn (£4bn). All the money is to be diverted from existing aid money.
"Every [official development assistance] dollar that goes to climate adaptation would mean a dollar less for health and education [programmes] in developing countries," said Antonio Hill, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam.
The scale of what is needed for adaptation is immense. Bangladesh says it needs £250m over three years to adapt, Ethiopia £450m, and other countries similar amounts. Development groups estimate that a minimum $50bn a year is needed worldwide.
"The resources currently available for adaptation are grossly inadequate to meet the needs of the least developed countries who bear the brunt of increased climate variability and unpredictability resulting from climate change," said Bangladesh's finance minister, Mirza Azizul Islam.
Back in north-east Brazil, the Pernambuco state environment minister, Aloysio Coasta, says: "In 20 years' time we could be a desert region. In some communities there are no young people left at all. This is an emergency. Food production is going down in many areas."
Joao da Antonio's wife, Luiza, is resigned to becoming a "drought widow". Clearly distressed, she says: "If there is no water, then he must leave."

As coal comes back into fashion, how serious are we about carbon reduction?

The Times
December 10, 2008
Carl Mortished: World business briefing

Peering nervously into the dark tunnel of climate change policy, Europe’s political leaders hesitate. Gordon Brown says he can see a chink of light in the distance and he stumbles into the gloom. Silvio Berlusconi says the British are silly and declines to follow. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, says she can see the dim glow but wonders whether it might be a train.
She is right; the light at the end of the tunnel is a coal train, a diesel juggernaut pulling 100 wagons laden with dusty, carbon-rich but very cheap fuel. Even as European Union leaders were preparing to meet in Brussels on Thursday for talks on cutting carbon emissions, the world’s energy marketplace was rushing towards them, pistons pumping and whistle blowing.
Can they hear it? Europe’s CO2 emissions are falling. Deutsche Bank is forecasting a 10 per cent fall in emissions in 2009 against last year’s level. The price of coal, gas and oil is cheaper by the day and, even more embarrassing, the price of a permit to emit a tonne of carbon has collapsed on Europe’s emissions trading system.
With fuel prices as they are, the margin from burning coal is unbeatable, even after adding the cost of buying carbon allowances at €14 a tonne. According to Deutsche Bank’s calculations, a fuel switch from dirty coal to cleaner natural gas would require a carbon price of between €25 and €30 a tonne. Estimates of the long-running carbon price needed to justify investment in carbon capture and storage technology vary between €40 and €50 a tonne.
Forget it. This much-lauded technology of stripping out CO2 and pumping it into spent oil wells is at the heart of many cherished plans and projections, but where is the full-scale demonstration plant? Where are the wagons of cheap coal being transformed economically into kilowatt hours with carbon dioxide piped harmlessly into subterranean pits?
For the next two or three decades, the picture is emerging of coal for the poor, more expensive gas and nuclear power for those on middle incomes and wind turbines for the super-wealthy. Wind is a fringe benefit for Britain: it works at the margins but it is too unreliable and expensive to replace the 22 gigawatts of baseload power that this country needs if it is to replace elderly power stations over the next 15 years. Nuclear will fill some of the gap but Europe’s nuclear industry is just recovering after decades of ruinous neglect. For an electricity generator, the market signal is absolutely clear: burn coal, make cheap power and speed the economic recovery.
The market wants to go with coal and there is the rub. Having erected this fantastic mechanism – the emissions trading system – and puffed its merit on political platforms worldwide, Europe’s leaders are now embarrassed, frantically brushing the coal dust off their cuffs. The original idea behind the scheme was that it puts a price on carbon by enabling companies to trade permits, known as EU allowances to emit CO2. These allowances were issued free by governments in the early stages of the ETS. Too many were issued and falling industrial output now means that companies need fewer of them. Unless governments drastically curtail the number of permits in the future by forcing companies to pay for them, the cost of carbon pollution will continue to fall. Deutsche Bank reckons a decline to less than €12 a tonne is possible. but the auctioning of permits will push up power prices as the recession deepens. A politically dangerous strategy.
The air is now fetid with antimarket sentiment. Poland wants the carbon price to be collared with a cap and a floor. Ed Miliband, Britain’s new Energy and Climate Change Secretary, was last month asking energy bosses about their plans for price reductions and yesterday he spoke of a “strategic role for government” in energy policy. The Government would take responsibility in “setting the carbon price”, he said. Why bother?
Carbon is now central to the pricing of energy, if we are to believe the EU target of reducing emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. So, when the minister talks of setting a carbon price he is talking about setting energy prices. Why not go all the way and regulate energy prices? Why not bring back the Central Electricity Generating Board?
It is easy to see where Mr Miliband’s thoughts are drifting. The carbon price is becoming an irritation rather than a useful tool by which the cost of pollution is calculated and priced into the cost of fuels. However, carbon is not a real market. No one wants carbon; it is not a commodity, like wheat or gold, to be hoarded or consumed. If its price is falling precipitously, it is because companies denied credit from banks and desperate for funds are selling their carbon permits for a bit of free cash.
Politicians invented the carbon market, but it is only a tax like any other. Instead of fiddling with carbon permits, Europe’s leaders should take a deep breath and make up their minds. Do they want cheap energy and a rapid recovery from this grim recession? If so, take the coal train and use the profits of recovery to build civil defences against climate change.
Or, are we sincere about carbon reduction? That road is harsh: it means taxing all hydrocarbons, doubling road fuel duty and raising domestic electricity bills as recession deepens. It’s a policy of more pain now in return for less pain tomorrow. It requires enormous political courage, a commodity that has been taxed almost to extinction.

EU carbon trading system brings windfalls for some, with little benefit to climate

By James Kanter
Published: December 9, 2008
An RWE power plant near Düsseldorf. The company was accused in 2006 of engaging in "abusive pricing" in charges to customers for the cost of emission credits. RWE is the biggest carbon dioxide emitter in Europe.

BRUSSELS: The European Union started with the most high-minded of ecological goals: to create a market that would encourage companies to reduce greenhouse gases by making them pay for each ton emitted into the atmosphere.
Four years later, the carbon trading system has created a multibillion-euro windfall for some of the continent's biggest polluters, with little or no noticeable benefit to the environment so far.
The lessons learned are coming under fresh scrutiny now, both in Europe and abroad. EU leaders will meet Thursday and Friday to work on the next phase of their system, seeking, they say, both to extend its scope and correct its flaws. And in the United States, President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to move quickly on a similar program.
As originally envisioned in Europe, companies would buy most if not all of the permits needed to cover their projected carbon dioxide emissions for a year, one permit good for each metric ton of CO2, the main greenhouse gas. If they produced more gases than expected, they would have to buy more permits; if they came in below target, they would be able to profit by selling their extra permits to companies that were polluting over their limit.
The initiative also included another, quieter goal: to raise the price of electricity by letting utilities pass along permit costs, thereby encouraging energy efficiency and innovation among customers as well.
But the system that emerged was far from that model.
After heavy lobbying by giant utilities and smokestack industries, who argued their competitiveness could be impaired, the EU all but scrapped the idea of selling permits. It gave them out for free, in such quantities that the market came close to collapsing because of a glut.
But in line with the original strategy, utilities in countries from Spain to Britain to Poland still put a "market value" on their books for the permits and added some of that putative cost to the prices they charged industrial customers for electricity. And they did not stop there. In one particularly contentious case, regulators in Germany accused utilities of charging customers for far more permits than they were entitled to.
Nowhere was this behavior more evident than at RWE, a major German power company, which has acknowledged that it is the biggest carbon dioxide emitter in Europe. Bank analysts and environmental advocates estimate RWE had received a windfall of roughly €5 billion, or $6.5 billion at current exchange rates, in the first three years of the system, concluding in 2007 - more than any other company in Europe.
In a confidential summary of its findings, obtained by the International Herald Tribune, the German cartel office in late 2006 accused RWE of engaging in "abusive pricing," piling on costs for industrial clients that were "completely out of proportion" with its own costs. It called for cuts of up to 75 percent.
RWE settled the case last year while denying any wrongdoing. It says price increases from 2005 to 2007 predominantly reflected higher costs for hard coal and natural gas.
Europe's overall experience with carbon trading has been a sobering one.
Its implementation has been marked by maneuvers and adjustments to the original framework that have yielded significant cost benefits to many of the continent's biggest polluting industries. Meanwhile, the amount of CO2 emitted by plants and factories participating in the system rose 0.4 percent in 2006 and an additional 0.7 percent in 2007.
The United States is now considering a system of its own, with Obama proposing to make industries buy all of their permits. He has said he would devote $150 billion from the sale of those permits over 10 years to energy efficiency and alternative energy projects.
Many of the framers of the European plan, meanwhile, have thought hard about the way the legislation evolved as they prepare to take up the next phase. But they face the prospect of trying to close numerous lucrative loopholes while confronting the same tug of war between lofty environmental goals and their immediate economic costs - a challenge made even more difficult by the onset of recession.Lofty goals at the outset for curbing CO2 emissions
During long negotiations on the landmark Kyoto climate treaty more than a decade ago, the United States, through the administration of Bill Clinton, was the loudest in insisting on including a reference to "emissions trading" in the treaty.
Americans had pioneered such markets in the 1970s and used them on a broader scale during the 1990s to reduce emissions from power plants blamed for acid rain.
U.S. officials argued that markets were the most effective way of encouraging innovative, emission-reducing technologies.

The European Union initially opposed emissions trading in favor of direct taxes on polluting industries, but later agreed to trading as the price for ratification.
The United States, however, ended up failing to either ratify Kyoto or to require U.S. companies to enter a carbon trading market outside of the Kyoto accord. But the European Commission, the EU executive body, began working on plans to start such a system in Europe.
"We ourselves had invested so much in the Kyoto Protocol in choosing a global deal," Margot Wallstrom, who was the European Union environment commissioner at the time, said during a recent interview. "I was eager to put it in place as soon as possible."
Today, the EU system represents about 75 percent of global carbon trading - a market worth about €60 billion in 2008, according to Andreas Arvanitakis, an analyst with Point Carbon, a research company.
Yet from the start, Wallstrom, who is now a vice president of the European Commission, said she was lobbied heavily by governments and by companies, seeking to limit the financial burden. She would not comment on any specific contacts. But Eurelectric, the main electricity industry lobby group, and its German affiliate met often with EU environment officials to discuss the shape of the emissions trading system.
A decision was made to limit the initial scope to some of the most energy-intensive sectors of the economy: electricity, glass, steel, cement, and pulp and paper. They were chosen primarily because their stationary factories were easier to regulate quickly than moving targets like transport or aviation.
The original idea of charging for all or even most of the permits never gained traction.
Many politicians said they feared that burdening European industries would undercut their global competitiveness, since rivals in Asia or the United States would not have such extra costs imposed on them.
In addition, Europe's energy market for industrial customers was opening to cross-border competition almost simultaneously.
Wallstrom and other at the commission describe the decision to give away the vast majority of permits as having been a necessary concession to get all the players in Europe on board - especially at a time when the Kyoto climate treaty was under attack from the administration of President George W. Bush.
Still, lawmakers at the European Parliament initially sought to require industry to pay for at least 30 percent of its permits, then 15 percent. (The actual trading price on the futures market at the time ranged from €5 to €13.)
But after long negotiations with EU governments, the Parliament enacted a law on July 2, 2003, allowing up to 100 percent of permits to be given away until 2013. Governments could sell some of the permits, up to 5 percent, but only Denmark, Ireland, Lithuania and Hungary did.
Denmark sold the full 5 percent, earning 226 million Danish kroner, or more than €30 million at current exchange rates. Had all the Danish permits been sold at the same price, the government could have reaped more than €600 million for the national budget.Debate turns to arguments of jobs vs. the environment
The EU system is highly decentralized, reflecting the political reality of a bloc that now numbers 27 countries. Thus, the lobbying did not stop in Brussels, but moved on to national capitals, where governments were left in charge of setting emissions levels and distributing the permits to companies within their borders, often with deep political connections.
Germany provided a stark example of what happened next. The cross-fire between environmental advocates and politicians who expressed concern about German competitiveness - and jobs - only intensified. The Greens, a political party, was in the federal government for the first time, as junior partner with the Social Democrats of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. But the issues were resolved in an arena where energy companies have long wielded enormous political clout, and here they benefited greatly.
After World War II, German energy companies were largely state-controlled. Today, following years of privatization and consolidation, the four energy giants, E.ON, RWE, Energie Baden-Württemberg and Vattenfall, own 70 percent of German capacity and produce an even greater share of the electricity.
Jürgen Trittin, a former Greens leader who was environment minister from 1998 to 2005, recalled being heavily lobbied by executives from power companies, and by politicians from eastern Germany seeking special treatment for burning lignite, a soft brown coal that is common around central Europe and which is highly polluting.
The EU system put the government in the position of behaving like "a grandfather with a large family deciding what to give his favorite grandchildren for Christmas," Trittin said by telephone.

RWE was a special case, he said. The company was "perfectly integrated into the Ministry of Economy, with no clear border," Trittin said.
Wolfgang Clement, the economics minister from 2002 to 2005, had, since 1998, been premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, where RWE is based. He joined the supervisory board of RWE Power in 2006.
His deputy, Georg Wilhelm Adamowitsch, was, from 1996 to 1999, the representative for federal and European affairs at another energy company, VEW, which in 2000 merged with RWE. At least three other top government officials, including Schröder himself, went to work for energy companies after leaving office.
Trittin recalled a five-hour "showdown" with Clement on the night of March 29, 2004, in which he lost a battle to lower the overall limit on emissions from plants and factories to 488 million tons of CO2 each year, from the level then in force of 501 million tons. Trittin said he was overruled by Clement, who, with Schröder's backing, secured a reduction of just two million tons, to 499 million.
Trittin said Clement accused him of "wanting to de-industrialize Germany."
Environmental groups were disappointed, but industry leaders were relieved. "With this compromise, steel makers can apparently now continue to sustainably produce steel in Germany," Dieter Ameling, the president of the German steel makers' association WV Stahl, was quoted at the time as saying. "The steel industry thanks minister Clement for his input."
The Federation of German Electricity Companies, representing utilities like RWE, expressed its "relief"' as well. "Good sense triumphed in the end," the federation chief, Eberhard Meller, was quoted as saying.
In a recent e-mail message, Clement did not challenge Trittin's account of the meeting, but called his claims of industry influence on the ministry "just nonsense."
Clement said that, during his time in government, he had "many very serious and complicated discussions" with Trittin and other Greens politicians about climate change and the economic costs of fighting it. "I reproached them - and I'm doing this still today - that at the end of their policy there is the de-industrialization of Germany," Clement reiterated. "That's our conflict."
Adamowitsch said by phone that he was not an "ambassador for the German energy industry" while in government or at VEW.
Now an independent consultant working with the Austrian government and the European Commission, Adamowitsch said that the EU emissions system had meant much greater burden for industrial companies making products like cement, where up to one-fifth of the final cost is for energy.
"We are in an industrial battle in the middle of a period of globalization and high energy prices mean we have a real problem in Germany," he said.
Schröder declined to comment for this article.Big winners emerge in ranks of German power companies
The benefits won by German industry were substantial. Under the German national plan, electricity companies were supposed to receive 3 percent fewer permits than they needed to cover their total emissions from 2005 to 2007. The aim was to encourage them to make technical improvements that would reduce emissions and help the country meet its commitment under the Kyoto treaty.
Instead, the companies got about 103 percent of their annual needs, according to the German Emissions Trading Authority, which oversees the system in Germany. That surplus could have been sold for about €290 million at the peak of the market.
German lawmakers also approved scores of combinations of exemptions and bonuses allowing companies to gain additional free permits for things they had done years earlier, or that might only be done in the future. Among them:
Utilities could base their claim for permits at coal and gas-fired plants on emissions levels from as far back as 1994, even if improvements had been made to the plants since then.
Utilities were guaranteed free permits for 18 years to cover any newly built coal or gas plants (a perk that provoked such a reproach from Brussels that it was later revoked).
Utilities could forecast how many permits they needed for each of their plants, despite a history of conflict with regulators over projections used to set tariffs.
"It was lobbying by industry, including the electricity companies, that was to blame for all these exceptional rules," said Hans-Jürgen Nantke, the director of the German trading authority, which is part of the Federal Environment Agency. The exemptions "enabled companies to get allowances that did not reflect the real situation of their emissions."
Jürgen Frech, chief spokesman for RWE, said that policy makers had sought input from all parties affected in creating what was an unprecedented system, and that all the national plans had to be subsequently approved by the European Commission in Brussels. "For industries like electricity production with long investment cycles, it is crucial to have a stable regulatory environment," he added.

RWE received 30 percent of all the permits given out, more than any other company in Germany.
The company said it transferred some of them among its plants - including those in other EU countries - but still found itself running short, and thus did not sell any.
But there was even greater revenue to be found elsewhere.Outrage from customers as electrical bills shot up
Major power consumers in Germany began receiving bigger electricity bills shortly after the system officially started in 2005, amounting to increases of about 5 percent each year. The biggest effect was on heavy users of power in industries like steel that - unlike households - buy power wholesale at prices that are less regulated.
Those customers were enraged, and they asked the German cartel office to investigate.

RWE justified its prices to the cartel office by saying the permits, although received for free, had a value in the marketplace. By not selling them and producing electricity instead, the argument went, it was losing an opportunity for revenue that should be charged to its customers.
In a summary of its preliminary findings, sent to RWE lawyers in December 2006, the cartel office agreed that the company was justified in passing through genuine "opportunity costs." But it accused RWE of charging for more permits than it should have - and suggested that this had been done at a third of all power plants in Germany.
This was what led the cartel office to accuse RWE of "abusive pricing." Investigators said RWE lacked any real opportunity to sell many of its permits because it already had committed to providing substantial amounts of electricity. And they said RWE admitted as much at a closed-door hearing.
Frech, at RWE, said that putting a price on the carbon permits - thereby encouraging everyone to be more efficient - was "beyond reproach."
The company said it was "unable to quantitatively estimate what proportion of the end customer price" was attributable to the carbon permits, mainly because the final price was determined in part by supply and demand.
But the cartel office said RWE should reduce the amount it charged for the permits by 75 percent. At this point the case could have moved toward litigation. The company, however, agreed to a settlement involving auctions that should provide industrial customers in Germany with lower electricity costs from 2009 through 2012.
"Customers will have the CO2 allowances RWE receives for the auctioned product credited to them free of charge," the company said, referring to its permits. "This newfound understanding is preferable to protracted legal battles through several courts."
Selling power without the cost of the CO2 permits also has a downside, however. It undermines the EU goal of curbing emissions and encouraging conservation by raising the cost of electricity to consumers.No smooth path for overhaul as EU economies deteriorate
RWE's net profit jumped 73 percent, to €3.85 billion, in 2005, the first year of the system. RWE does not detail in its financial statements what percentage of net profits is attributable to the carbon system, and the company said it was not able to do so.
Seb Walhain, the global head of environmental markets at Fortis, said that RWE earned up to €5 billion from 2005 to 2007 from the EU system. Felix Matthes at the Institute for Applied Ecology, a German environmental research group, estimated that RWE benefited from windfall profits of €2.2 billion to €3.3 billion annually in 2005 and 2006. Matthes and Walhain said very little, or no, windfall profits occurred in 2007 as a result of the EU system because the price of CO2 permits had fallen virtually to zero.
But emissions have risen steadily at the German operations of RWE since the trading system began. RWE was responsible for nearly 158 million tons of CO2 in 2007, compared with about 147 million tons in 2006 and 120 million tons in 2005, according to its annual reports.
Frech said emissions rose "slightly" in 2007 in part because one of its nuclear power stations "was off line for quite a while." Nuclear-fueled power plants emit no carbon dioxide.
The company also said it was investing €32 billion over the next five years in projects including renewable energy and developing cleaner techniques for generating electricity from hard coal and lignite, which RWE mines in Germany.

"Every investment we make is linked to climate protection," Frech said.
Yet so far there are few signs the system is cutting emissions. The amount of CO2 emitted by plants and factories participating in the system rose marginally in 2006 and 2007, according to the European Environment Agency. (Neither it nor the European Commission made any forecast before the system started about how it would perform.)
Even so, the EU environment commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said in May that emissions would "most likely have been significantly higher" without the carbon trading system.
He called the 2005 to 2007 period a "learning by doing" phase, and noted that limits on emissions have been tightened for the 2008 to 2012 trading period, and the glut of free permits lessened, meaning the price should rise.
But negotiations on how to meet even more ambitious targets after 2012 are in danger of coming undone as the economy worsens.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy has led the assault on the package, saying that he was not in office last year when it was agreed on. "We don't think this is the moment to push forward on our own like Don Quixote," he said at a summit meeting in October. "We have time."
Poland - which depends on coal-fired plants for 95 percent of its electricity - has threatened to block the package at another summit meeting Thursday and Friday if a compromise is not found to lessen the burden on its energy sector.
RWE, meanwhile, insists that having to pay for all its permits, starting in 2013, with no phase-in period, would distort competition across Europe, which has recently opened up to cross-border energy sales. "Companies such as ours that are giving coal a future and rely on coal-powered generation will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage vis-à-vis companies like Électricité de France, which rely solely on nuclear and have virtually no CO2 to deal with," Frech said.
Industrial customers in Germany are issuing dire warnings of ballooning electricity prices they say are sure to come if utilities try to maintain their profit margins while complying with costly new rules.
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is leading the political horse trading, continues to push for an agreement. "Europe must be an example for others," he was quoted as saying Saturday in Poznan, Poland.
Nicholas Stern, one of the world's foremost authorities on the economics of climate change since presenting a report for the British government in 2006, said during a recent interview that the United States should draw lessons from Europe's example. He recommended that Obama move quickly toward charging industry for the permits, to avoid such repeated, drawn-out battles.
"Everybody will fight their own corner," he said. "That's why it's so important to have a clear conception from the start."
Paul Geitner contributed reporting from Paris.

Mary Robinson: Climate change is an issue of human rights

These principles must be put at the heart of any deal on global warming
Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Sixty years ago today, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the cornerstone document created in the aftermath of unimaginable atrocities. This declaration, and the legal documents that stemmed from it, have helped us combat torture, discrimination and hunger. And now, this venerable document should guide us in the fight against one of the greatest challenges ever to face humankind: climate change.
As representatives from virtually every country are sitting at the negotiating table in Poznan, Poland, for the UN Conference on Climate Change, poor people are already coping with the impacts of global warming. From increasing droughts to increasing floods, from lower agricultural productivity to more frequent and severe storms, many rightly fear that things will only get worse. Their human rights – to security, health and sustainable livelihoods – are increasingly being threatened by changes to the earth's climate.
Indeed, the poorest who contributed the least to the problem of climate change are now bearing the brunt of the impacts. Ninety-seven per cent of deaths related to natural disasters already take place in developing countries. In South Asia, the 17 million people living on sandbanks in the river basins of Bangladesh could be homeless by 2030 as increasing Himalayan meltwater floods their homes. In Niger, changing rainfall patterns are contributing to increased desertification which, for the Tuareg and Wodaabe people, has caused massive losses of livestock and food insecurity. In South America, a loss of snow in the Andes in the next 15 to 20 years will pose a serious risk to the more than nine million people living in Lima, Peru's largest city.
But, as a new report by the International Council on Human Rights Policy on the links between climate change and human rights makes clear, the negative impacts on people of changes in climate do not always involve horrific headlines and images of hurricanes, floods or refugee camps. More commonly, they will be cumulative and unspectacular.
Those who are already poor and vulnerable are and will continue to be disproportionately affected. Incrementally, land will become too dry to till, crops will wither, rising sea levels will undermine coastal dwellings and spoil freshwater, livelihoods will vanish. Carbon emissions from industrialised countries have human and environmental consequences. As a result, global warming has already begun to affect the fulfillment of human rights, and to the extent that polluting greenhouse gases continue to be released by large industrial countries, the basic human rights of millions of the world's poor to life, security, food, health and shelter will continue to be violated.
Our shared human rights framework provides a basis for impoverished communities to claim protection of these rights. We must not lose sight of existing human rights principles in the tug and push of international climate change negotiations. A human rights lens reminds us there are reasons beyond economics and enlightened self-interest for states to act on climate change.
Because climate change presents a new and unprecedented threat to the human rights of millions, international human rights law and institutions must evolve to protect the rights of these peoples. But, most importantly, states must take urgent action to avoid more serious and actionable violations of human rights.
The principles of human rights provide a strong foundation for policy-making and these principles must be put at the heart of a global deal to tackle global climate change. Urgently cutting emissions must be done in order to respect and protect human rights from being violated by the future impacts of climate change, while supporting the poorest communities to adapt to already occurring climate impacts is the only remedy for those whose human rights have already been violated.
As we mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is worth remembering that climate change violates the declaration's affirmation that "everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which [their] rights and freedoms...can be realised".
We must now grasp the opportunity to create the kind of international order that the framers of the UDHR dreamed of – even in a radically changed global context they never imagined.
Mary Robinson is a former Irish president, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and an honorary president of Oxfam International

Climate change: A battle for the planet

The Polish city of Poznan, host of this week's vital climate change summit, may become known as the place where the Earth was saved – or doomed

By Michael McCarthyWednesday, 10 December 2008

The international community will meet to try to agree a new global deal to cut rising emissions of greenhouse gases - the waste gases from industry and transport, principally carbon dioxide, which are retaining the sun's heat in the atmosphere and causing temperatures to rise
Summing up what many scientists, environmentalists and politicians now think about the threat of climate change is simple: the world is drinking in the last chance saloon.
Time is still available to tackle the warming of the atmosphere, which every government (including that of George Bush) today accepts is real, and being caused by human actions. But the window of opportunity is rapidly closing, and the last chance for the world to act in concert to bring the process under control is clearly visible: it is the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen scheduled for December 2009.
The international community will meet to try to agree a new global deal to cut rising emissions of greenhouse gases – the waste gases from industry and transport, principally carbon dioxide, which are retaining the sun's heat in the atmosphere and causing temperatures to rise.
But, if such a deal is not achieved in Denmark, many observers feel it will be too late subsequently to stop climate change causing devastating problems for the world in general and human society in particular, from the widespread failure of agriculture to the swamping of low-lying countries by sea-level rise.
This week, in the Polish industrial city of Poznan, a dress rehearsal for Copenhagen is taking place. Diplomats and officials from every member state of the United Nations have come together to shape the outline of next December's agreement – or at least, to try. For it would be difficult enough to get 150-plus delegations, each with its own domestic pressures and national interests, to agree on the colour of an orange, never mind what, if it is successfully negotiated, will probably be the most complex treaty the world has seen.
Who is to do what? That's the simple, but fantastically difficult question at the heart of everything. Most of the excess CO2 (above normal historical levels) currently in the atmosphere was put there by the rich developed countries such as the US, Britain, Germany and Japan, in the two centuries since industrialisation began, and particularly in the years since the end of the Second World War when economic growth shot forward so dramatically. But developing countries such as China, India, Indonesia and Brazil are rapidly catching up, and it is probable that China, for example, with its exploding economy growing at 10 per cent a year, has overtaken the US to become the largest CO2 emitter in the world.
So who is more to blame? How are we to balance what is known in the jargon as the burden-sharing? How are we to divide up the pain? (For cutting carbon emissions out of your economy is costly and may restrict your economic growth.) Can China cut less CO2 than the US, even if it is emitting more? Will the US even be willing to make cuts under those circumstances?
The first world climate treaty, the Kyoto protocol, signed in 1997, recognised that nations had "common but differentiated" responsibilities and so it committed the industrialised countries, including Britain and the rest of the European Union, the US and Japan, to making fairly modest reductions in their CO2 by 2010, while the developing countries, led by China, began to monitor their emissions, but were not obliged to cut them. But Kyoto ran aground. Never mind that few nations (Britain being a rare exception) will meet their modest Kyoto targets. George Bush withdrew the US in 2001 and robbed it of its significance; without the world's biggest polluter involved, Kyoto ceased to mean anything.
What is to be negotiated at Copenhagen is a successor treaty to Kyoto, and it is clear what that must involve, if it is to succeed. Firstly, all the major industrialised countries, including America, must agree a programme of deep cuts in their emissions. They have to lead the way.
Secondly, the developing countries, led by China, have to do something in terms of reducing their emissions; they cannot simply continue with business as usual.
Thirdly, there will have to be new flows of funds from the rich nations to the developing countries, to help them take action, both to cut their emissions, and to protect themselves againstthe effects of climate change which will be unavoidable, such as sea-level rise.
And fourthly, there may have to be a special agreement to protect the world's forests, which lock up a vast amount of the Earth's carbon.
If such a deal is eventually done, it will be close to the wire; it will be behind closed doors in Denmark, brokered at the last minute between pragmatic and powerful people. The original Kyoto agreement was reached in this way, in the early hours of the morning. An important player was Al Gore, who was then the US Vice-President (and who has since gone on to become, with his film An Inconvenient Truth, the world's single most influential voice on climate change). Another was Britain's John Prescott, who then combined the jobs of Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Secretary – Kyoto was probably his finest hour. Perhaps the key player was the Argentine Raul Estrada, chairman of the central negotiating committee, who rescued the talks when they seemed on the brink of collapse.
Such figures will be necessary in Copenhagen. One of them will almost certainly have to be Chinese. But, towering above them all is one new figure: Barack Obama. The President-elect has already made it clear he sees tackling global warming as a priority, and he will reverse George Bush's obstructionism and fully re-engage with the talks. The election of Mr Obama was like an electric shock: it changed the dynamic and meant a deal was possible; if the US were to take a leading role, it would mean it was very possible. Britain's new Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, who is taking part in the Poznan talks this week, wants a leading role for Britain, although the UK position, of course, is part of the position of the EU.
Therein lies a difficulty, as this week the EU is trying to finalise its own energy and climate package – with some difficulty. This aims ambitiously at member states providing 20 per cent of their energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020, and cutting 20 per cent of EU carbon emissions by the same date, if no global climate deal is achieved at Copenhagen – and 30 per cent if a global deal is achieved. Some member countries, principally Poland, Italy and the Czech Republic, are unhappy with this, and it is possible that European heads of government (including Gordon Brown), who will try to complete the deal tomorrow and on Friday, may have to secure their adhesion by watering it down.
This possibility worries environmentalists and other observers in Poznan, who were hoping that if the EU set a forceful example, a very positive statement about the way forward to Copenhagen might be agreed by the end of the week. Another worry is that the Obama effect is not yet being felt: remember that it remains the Bush administration until the new president is inaugurated on 20 January. It is possible that the Poznan declaration may not be as positive as many would like.
But what cannot be disregarded is the pressure of the science, which gets more ominous. "The world desperately needs an effective equitable global deal to be secured in Copenhagen next year, and Poznan fires the starting gun on that process," said Robin Oakley, head of climate and energy for Greenpeace UK. "At the moment, we are heading for something like four degrees of temperature rise, which would be catastrophic," said Ed Matthew, head of climate change for Friends of the Earth. "We are running out of time."

Gore 'rules out' environment job with Obama

By Leonard Doyle in Washington
Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The former US vice-president Al Gore met Barack Obama in Chicago yesterday as the President-elect prepares to name the next energy secretary and top environment official.
The two men discussed ways in which the next administration's environmental policies could be used to create jobs in a crippled US economy, officials said. But there were denials all round that Mr Gore discussed a job in the new administration. Such an appointment would be cheered by the Democratic Party's liberal wing, which remains furious that he was denied the White House in 2000 despite winning the popular vote.
The party's left wing is also dismayed that Mr Obama has so far appointed centre-right Democrats and Republicans to his cabinet. Democratic officials say Mr Obama is not looking to tap Mr Gore for a cabinet-level post. Nor is Mr Gore interested in such a position, it appears.
"Vice-President Gore feels now that his calling really is to educate Americans about the climate crisis," said his spokeswoman Kalee Kreider. "He served for 30 years in electoral politics in the House, Senate and as vice-president and surely understands the great importance of serving in those types of roles and in public service, but just feels now that his calling is in educating the public and in the roles that he's serving at the Alliance for Climate Protection."
Others remain sceptical. "The Gore trip is for more than just a chat," a friend of Mr Gore told CNN. "He wouldn't burn that much carbon flying to Chicago just to talk."
The meeting came after Mr Obama unveiled a 2.5 million-job creation plan rebuilding infrastructure and using environmentally sustainable technologies and alternative energy sources in the public sector.

The 'Green Jobs' Myth

European workers aren't believers.

From today's Wall Street Journal Europe

The United Nations is huddling in Poznan, Poland, this week to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, but the real news is that part of the global "consensus" on climate change seems to be unraveling. To wit, the myth of "green jobs."
In Brussels last week, some 11,000 metal workers clogged the EU quarter to protest global-warming policies. They worry that their industry could be harmed and their jobs forced overseas; some of them carried coffins as props. Most of the marching workers were from Germany, where auto makers are also still fuming over new emissions standards. Audi and BMW and other carbon-using industries have argued both for shallower emissions cuts and a longer phase-in period.
Meanwhile, Poland is threatening to veto a new EU climate-change accord unless restrictions on its coal use are eased. And Italy's government complains that new green policies could cost its industry up to €20 billion a year over the next decade. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared at Poznan by video, asserting that green measures "will also revive our economies."
But not everyone is buying it. As Stefania Prestigiacomo, Italy's environment minister, has noted, "Some people claim environmental measures are a way to relaunch industry, but we have to be realistic. Resources are limited, and they will be even more so because of the economic crisis."
This is certainly a new tune for the Europeans, who have lectured Americans for more than a decade to sign Kyoto because the planet is in peril. Their happy talk of a painless 20% reduction in emissions by 2020 has been mugged by reality. Carbon emission regulations come at a high price in lost jobs and lost competitiveness.
No wonder, then, that the Europeans are delighted over the pledges by the incoming Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress to adopt similar legislation to tax U.S. industries. The EU members may differ on their own limits. But they all agree that the U.S. should "show leadership" by committing to meet the same target they're setting for themselves -- reducing emissions by 20% to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020. Never mind that most European countries aren't close to meeting their Kyoto goals, and in all likelihood will fall short of any new targets. The point is to impose those same burdens on the Yanks.
China and India, two of the globe's biggest carbon emitters, have even called Mr. Obama's goals for combating climate change "inadequate" and have advised the U.S. to speed up its time table for carbon reductions. And why not? They would be first in line to gobble up the jobs and production lines that the U.S. would lose if energy costs rise sharply in America.
We hope the incoming Obama economics team is paying attention to the worker and industry backlash in Europe. Mr. Obama is still embracing the line from Greenpeace and the Environmental Defense Fund that cap and trade can generate five million "green jobs." If you throw enough tax subsidies at something, you're bound to get some new jobs. But if the money for those subsidies comes from higher energy taxes -- and a cap and trade regime would amount to as much $1.2 trillion of new taxes -- millions of jobs in carbon-using industry are also going to be lost.
The Europeans once believed the "green jobs" myth too. Now, as blue-collar workers take to the streets, they have learned that climate-change legislation means green unemployment.