Showing posts with label climate change. Show all posts
Showing posts with label climate change. Show all posts

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dash for gas or low carbon investment?

The UK Committee for Climate Change released a report today on electricity market reform. It specifically highlights that in the long term, low-carbon energy will cost less than gas. This will be better for consumers and in addressing the impacts of climate change. The report is available here.

In a previous post on Sustainable Seas, we highlighted research on the 'carbon bubble' - if we are to stay below the 2C warming limit, the global economy has a budget of than 565 gigatons of CO2 - but fossil fuel companies have reserves of fossil fuels of almost 3000 gigatons. These reserves lose considerable value if they stay in the ground - and potentially unleashing a financial crisis.  It highlights, as does this report, that we urgently need to make the case, and keep building the case, of the merits of a low carbon economy.

Further comment soon once I digest the contents!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Changing of the Guard... Outcomes from the 2013 Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting

As the impact of climate change intensifies in the Arctic, and the issues move from a regional to global stage, the Arctic Council faces substantial challenges to ensure a sustainable future for the North. 'Ive been fortunate to attend the Arctic Council ministerial summit in Kiruna, Sweden representing the Advisory Committee for the Protection of the Sea (ACOPS). This meeting sees a transition from Swedish to Canadian leadership of the Council and a new set of priorities and challenges emerge for Arctic governance.

The challenges for the Arctic are environmental, social and economic and are deeply entwined. While this is not new, specific recognition of their inter-related nature is relatively recent. The warning signs are increasingly there… disappearing summer sea ice, acidification of polar seas, shifting patterns of biodiversity as species shift their ranges northwards and habitats change due to climatic stress – all driven by human induced climate change. At the same time the Arctic is ‘open for business’ and while the reality of resource extraction is still in its infancy, the seriousness of the situation and the grave consequences of an oil spill are recognised. The Arctic Council was certainly saying the right words… Senator John Kerry, the US Secretary of State railed against the lack of international and domestic action on climate change and pressed for a global agreement with China…. But can the Arctic Council and its members deliver meaningful action and influence global outcomes?

The tone of the summit today was one where the immense challenges are recognised, and there seems to be real effort in negotiating the issues and moving forward. Don’t forget that this is really quite a difficult thing where eight countries (US, Russia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark – Greenland, Finland, Iceland) and 6 indigenous permanent members are pushing for their view of a sustainable Arctic. Not to mention the hustle from new observers all vying for their vision of the Arctic.

Today saw some noteworthy outcomes that indicate positive steps. The Ministers signed off on a legally binding agreement on oil pollution preparedness and response. This, while not perfect, will build capacity across the Arctic states to prevent spills from occurring and to coordinate in the case of (a disastrous) spill. There is some way to go to develop this capacity across the region and I’m sympathetic for calls for oil and gas development moratoriums until the regime is firmly in place. However, this is essentially happening in several areas… the US has pulled back from oil exploration off the Alaskan coast, Greenland has put in place new regulations and is limiting exploration, and Norway is exercising a very cautious approach. Russia is the wildcard and it is calling in partnerships from oil and gas companies (e.g. Shell, BP and Dong Energy) to develop the technical capability. However, exploration is risky, technically difficult and overtly expensive – major risks to any project and several (such as the Russian gas development Shtokman) have been delayed by several years.

The Arctic Council appears to be embracing its role as a policy making rather than policy shaping organisation. This was the 2nd legally binding agreement out of the Council (the 1st being a Search and Rescue treaty) and there are moves to develop a task force and agreement on addressing black carbon. This appears to be a sensitive subject with the Russian Foreign minister accused by Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North for delaying progress on the issue. A permanent secretariat now exists in Norway for the Arctic council and there is a clear mandate for the Arctic Council to be more aggressive on the international stage, in particular with a commitment for all Arctic states to work together with other countries for a legal agreement on climate change no later than 2015. Time will tell….

Finally… in a significant development in the history of the council, China, Japan, Korea, India, and Italy have been awarded permanent observer status. The decision on the EU, again, has been delayed to next year, but rumours suggest it will eventually succeed. Although not widely discussed, I also heard Greenpeace was not successful in its application to be an observer. The observer tent is now considerably large – over 300 people attended today – and represents States, non-government  and indigenous groups….a question is will the Council be able to cope with this influx of interests. One thing that appears certain is that the Arctic is now a global issue and spreads beyond the borders of the Arctic states.

Canada now takes over the helm. Its objective is to focus on the human dimensions of the Arctic and improve conditions for indigenous residents, open up economic opportunities, and place indigenous knowledge alongside scientific information in making assessments. The spotlight is firmly on Canada and the Arctic Council to ensure that development does not undermine the ecological or cultural values of the Arctic… summed up beautifully by the Saami Council representative:

‘Energy security is only valid when underpinned by ecological security’.

A valid and insightful comment. More from Sustainable Seas soon. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Carbon Bubble... Financial Crisis or Creative Destruction?

Hidden among the tragic stories from Boston a week ago was a story that should probably have been on the front page. This story really grabbed my attention and has fundamental implications for the future of the planet and the structure and direction of the global economy. In a recent and fascinating piece of research, the group Carbon Tracker released a report highlight the implications of a global carbon emissions agreement, that minimizes the chance of a 2 degrees warming and essentially keeps fossil fuel reserves in the ground (as opposed to going up the pipe). 

(click to maximise picture)

The idea of a 'carbon bubble' is the result of over valuing and investing in the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuel reserves (ie. coal, oil and gas). According to the report in 2011, the world has already used over a third of its 50-year carbon budget of 886 GtCO2. The report starkly calculates that the fossil fuel reserves owned by private industry and government equates to 2,860bn tonnes of carbon dioxide - well and truly over the safe amount of carbon that can be burned. Just 31% could be burned for an 80% chance of keeping below a 2C temperature rise. If we want to push the odds - for a 50% chance of 2C or less - just 38% could be burned. The message is here that 2/3 of fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground.

Up to $6tr of oil and gas assets could be left stranded over the next decade, throwing investments into disarray and potentially unleashing a new financial crisis - should international climate agreements hold firm. Fossil fuel companies are betting on the markets continuing to push for extraction and the failure of an international agreement to curb carbon pollution. We can see this by the investment figures... far from reducing efforts to develop fossil fuels, the top 200 companies spent $674bn in 2012 to find and exploit even more new resources, a sum equivalent to 1% of global GDP. Ironically the 2006 Stern review on the economics of climate change identified that 1% of GDP would fund the transition to a clean, green, renewable economy. It seems that despite the rhetoric - we are heading in the opposite direction.

Media reports from outlets such as the Guardian and BusinessGreen highlight the warning is supported by organisations including HSBC, Citi, Standard and Poor's and the International Energy Agency recognising that a collapse in the value of oil, gas and coal assets as nations tackle global warming is a major risk to the international economy. While the markets at present are living in a fantasy world, hedging bets on a continuation of infinite fossil fuel development and hence inflating the bubble, the likely future is one that will see massive loss of value for fossil fuel assets if a global agreement is reached in 2015. Investors are starting to see this as a risky investment choice... not only in terms of a loss of value as reserves will be locked up in the ground with an excessively overcaptialised industry; but also from the perspective of using said reserves will cook the planet and cause enormous impact on human civilization and the ecosystems that we depend on.

Investors need to act now and take the risk seriously and incorporate climate change and carbon risk into their investment strategies. This potential crisis could be avoided if renewable and cleaner alternatives are ramped up economy wide and to a scale equivalent to the capitalisation of the fossil fuel industry. This requires an enormous change and about face in the behavior of the markets, of investors, of governments and most importantly the public. While the threat of a new financial crisis is ominous... it is one that could be avoided since we have prior knowledge and recognition of the true costs. The choices are stark.... address climate change and bring in a financial crisis, or take the difficult step of investing in innovation across a low carbon economy... not in 50 years, not in 20 years... but now.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Blogging from Svalbard: The Arctic in a time of change...

I'm fortunate to be spending this week at the University institute of Svalbard (UNIS - pictured) where I am teaching the undergraduate program on environmental management. It is my 5th trip to Svalbard, a magic part of the word, located remotely 1000 miles north of Norway and parallel to the northern tip of Greenland. It is an amazing place, home to the small settlement of Longyearbyen with a population of 2000 people where I am based for the week. I'm here in the busy tourist season where daily flights bring in hundreds of tourists for polar activities including dog sledging, snow mobile tours, and wildlife watching including polar bears, reindeer, and sea birds. Longyearbyen is also home to a resident international student population (including students from SAMS) at UNIS that teaches different aspects of Arctic polar science.

As I flew in late Sunday night, I saw a snapshot of the sea ice around the archipelago as it begins to fracture and retreat northwards. Miles above the ocean and in the clear Arctic air, you get perspective of the expanse of this region combined with its stunning beauty and fragility. With the recent return of 24 hour daylight the Arctic is thawing and the cycles are moving from winter to spring with the annual retreat of the sea ice  underway. I'm currently at the southern edge of the March distribution and as the sea ice moves through its peak to the summer minimum I wonder what changes this year will bring to the Arctic.

As shown by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre) Arctic Sea Ice update, the region is one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet. CO2 emissions and associated warming is shifting the region into a new and unpredictable territory characterised by huge reductions in summer sea ice extent and thickness, snow cover, and extensive melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Recent reports from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Arctic Report Card highlight the concerning trends. 2012 highlighted on ongoing downward trend in summer sea ice, and was itself a new record with the lowest seasonal minimum extent in the satellite record since 1979.

The retreat of the ice is driving a frenzy of political, economic and environmental interest not just from the Arctic States themselves but from the global community. The Arctic is well and truly a global issue, from an international action on curbing CO2 and implementing a low carbon economy, to debates over biodiversity conservation and international shipping. The global economic system inherently affects the Arctic through demands for resources and energy which can stimulate Arctic development or steer away from the inherently risky and expensive operations in ice covered areas. While the Arctic states are responsible for management of the region and ultimately decide over the nature of Arctic development, the international community, and we as citizens have an important role to play in influencing the development path. Over the coming days Ill add some substance to this picture, focusing on the links between the Arctic and the rest of the planet.

Stay tuned to Sustainable Seas.

Friday, February 15, 2013

MPAs and Climate Change - Charlotte Hopkins Blog

Getting the blog up and running- firstly a little background to the project:

With the Scottish Marine Protected Area (MPA) Project firmly underway it will become increasingly important to understand how marine protected areas will perform in future scenarios of climate change. How will climate change affect MPAs and are we planning for it? 

Impacts on the oceans from climate change, such as melting sea ice and the plight of polar bears, or rising sea temperatures and coral bleaching, are well publicised. However, climate change is also affecting the functioning of marine ecosystems in other ways; sea level rise, changes in weather patterns and changes in ocean currents are also altering ocean conditions. Species shifting their distribution in response to these changes may not be protected by traditional marine protected areas.

Although marine protected areas cannot guard against alterations in sea temperature for example, through reducing other stressors such as overfishing MPAs may mitigate the effects of climate change and are still an important long-term conservation tool.

 Questions about marine protected areas and climate change are only just being addressed and current planning and management regimes may not be able to cope with the pressures of climate change. Managers will need to think strategically with carefully designed socioeconomic and conservation goals. Monitoring and adaptive management will be key facets in promoting climate change resilience and ecological integrity.

As a PhD student I will be aiming to answer some of the important management and policy questions of marine protected areas in the context of climate change. MPAs have been delivering results worldwide and using the vast experience from international examples will be key to understanding how climate change considerations can be applied to the Scottish process.

 This PhD will be supported by Climate XChange (CXC) to provide timely information relating to MPAs and climate change. I am working closely with Tavis Potts at the Centre for Sustainable Coasts, a joint initiative between the James Hutton Institute (JHI) and SAMS addressing marine policy in Scotland.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What do individuals, communities and nations think of marine issues?

A wonderful happy new year to all of our readers on Sustainable Seas! 2012 promises to be the biggest yet for the blog with plans for further expansion and coverage of sustainable marine and coastal issues around the world.

We're starting the new year with a bang.

One of the huge gaps in marine policy research is understanding the views of the public when it comes to valuing and managing the marine environment. While as engaged researchers or activists we naturally place the marine environment high within our own values - but are the the views of the public substantially different? What is the importance of public discourse?

This recent report by the European Knowseas project charts public opinion of 7000 people across 7 European countries concerning marine values and management approaches. The results highlight that while the oceans are generally low in public opinion, there is a strong call for more civil society involvement in governance. Approaches such as MPAs and marine spatial planning, while in early development, are strongly supported by the public. Views across countries differed dramatically with countries such as the UK, despite a strong maritime heritage, displaying a disconnect from the sea whereas countries such as Portugal and Spain showed a strong connection. The emerging 'ecosystem approach' was important with the public highlighting that non-economic values are as important as traditional economic outputs.

The results raise several interesting questions and consequences - notably the demand for more co-management, public involvement and democratic accountability in the governance of the coasts and seas.

We have a NEW LINK to download the report.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Geoengineering in the Arctic

A recent commentary in New Scientist 'Call for Arctic geoengineering as soon as possible' discusses the perspective that  a climate "tipping point" has been reached in the Arctic and that geoengineering is urgently required to turn around the deterioration of Arctic sea ice. The suggestion is for using stratospheric aerosols to cool the surface and subsurface below, or increasing the reflectance of low-level clouds by pumping a fine spray of salt water into them, and therefore cooling the ocean-atmosphere system. 

In highlighting the geoengineering solution, there is  an assumption that there is a crisis in Arctic summer sea ice, driven by human influenced climate change. Looking a the past records of summer sea from from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre ice extent for September 2011 was the second lowest in the satellite record. The last five years (2007 to 2011) have had the five lowest September extents in the satellite record with the rate of decline now -84,700 square kilometers (-32,700 square miles) per year, or -12% per decade relative to the 1979 to 2000 average.

Clearly something is going on in the system and the evidence points to human induced climate change from GHG emissions as the key player. Natural variability is still an issue, and this is underpinned by considerable uncertainty about how the system will react in the future to a warming planet and where the tipping points for irreversible change lie. The only clear message is that it is unclear and that human pressures and natural variability have combined to create a state change in the Arctic.

In term of geoengineering, I'm pessimistic about it's application in the region, and more importantly its potential effects. However, despite the uncertainty about the impacts of geoengineering on the marine environment and the hair raising implications of it as a final 'last gasp' solution to climate change, we must still continue to investigate its applications, its impacts and its opportunities. But geoengingeering (at least to me) and as pointed out in a recent Guardian article feels like failure of political process to get agreement of binding international cuts and a failure to turn society around towards a low carbon economy. It is the last straw and one that will hopefully not be required in lieu of poor progress on international action to reduce emissions. 

What is your perspective?