Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Copenhagen Accord - a liberal emissions regime for the USA and China

The Copenhagen Accord will maintain the Kyoto divide

The prospects of achieving a consensus agreement in Copenhagen, with nearly two hundred nations having spanned two years arguing word by word over draft texts for a new climate change treaty, were never good. The diversity of perceptions of equity and self interested agendas make it remarkable that the UN process has got as far as it has.

The  proactive move by a group of countries led by the USA and China, whose  leaders agreed between themselves the text of a 'Copenhagen Accord' to be presented to other COP15 parties, led to cries of 'undemocratic' and 'outside the UN process'. These objections sound hollow in relation to the urgency of the need for nations to cooperate to address the threat of climate change, and the slowness of the UN process which has failed to place a draft negotiating text on the table at COP15 after two years of effort.

The worst features of the Copenhagen Accord* are that it contains few of the elements considered to be important for an effective climate deal. There are no quantified emissions reduction targets or timescales for peaking emissions, no reference to a legally binding agreement, and no detail on how targets or actions might be monitored or independently verified. Although finance from developed countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation in developing countries is set at 100 billion US dollars a year by 2020, there is vagueness about the sources of such finance.

The nations that devised the Accord (USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa) are all outside Kyoto Annex 1. In other words they did not take on binding emissions reductions targets under the Kyoto protocol (in the case of the USA as a result of non ratification)

The Accord maintains the Kyoto divide prescribing that Annex1 countries should.... 'commit to implement individually or jointly the quantified economy-wide emissions targets for 2020 to be submitted ...... to the secretariat by 31 January 2010 for compilation', and that 'Non-Annex I Parties ......will implement mitigation actions...' The intention is that national commitments from both groups will be added as appendices to the Accord. 

Thus if the Accord is adopted as a legal agreement, since it incorporates the Kyoto structure  the USA  would need to clarify its status.

The EU and Japan have apparently endorsed the Accord but indicated that it falls far short of the type of agreement that they had hoped would be concluded. Some nations find the Accord unacceptable so the final COP15 session merely 'noted' the Accord.

Where the path from Copenhagen will lead now is uncertain and there must be doubts about whether the UNFCCC process can continue. 

The new grouping of USA, China, India plus Brazil and South Africa includes the worlds' two largest CO2 emitters. Under the Accord, when/if transformed into a legal treaty, the developing nations would undertake 'actions' not binding emissions targets and 'will undertake domestic measurement, reporting and verification' which will be reported under 'guidelines that will ensure that national sovereignty is respected'. The USA might need to ratify Kyoto but potentially could remain outside.

Figure 21.1   Percentage of world CO2 emissions - 'Copenhagen Accord' group of nations

Because the combined CO2 emissions of the 'Accord' group comprising USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa were the source 49% of world emissions in 2008, (excluding land use and forestry emissions LULUCF) their performance in reducing their CO2 emissions under the liberal regime suggested by the wording of the Copenhagen Accord will be the major determinant of the worlds' CO2 emissions trajectory.

The potential effectiveness of the Copenhagen Accord as an instrument for mitigating climate change looks questionable because it does not contain strong constraints that would make the worlds largest CO2 emitters fully accountable. 

*All quotations in italics refer to Copenhagen Accord Draft decision -/CP.15 FCCC/CP/2009/L.7 18 December 2009   

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Cumulative CO2 emissions: the 1,000 Gt budget for limiting global warming to 2C

Almost one quarter of the fifty year CO2 budget for the 2C temperature threshold has been used between 2000 and 2008

The probability of exceeding temperature thresholds as global warming progresses can be related to cumulative CO2 emissions - the year on year sum of CO2 emissions over a defined period of time.

Underlying the negotiations at COP15 is the issue of how to share, between nations, a finite and limited budget of CO2 that can be emitted into the atmosphere over the next fifty years.

Meinshausen et al analysed the probability of exceeding a 2C temperature threshold over the period 2000-2050 in relation to cumulative CO2 emissions and concluded that 

'Limiting cumulative CO2 emissions over 2000–50 to 1,000 Gt CO2 yields a 25% probability of  warming exceeding 2C, and a limit of 1,440 Gt CO2 yields a 50% probability'

If the world is to stay within a 2C warming threshold the cumulative CO2 emissions budget to be shared between all nations over the next fifty years is just 1,000 Gt CO2 or an average of 20 Gt per year. World CO2 emissions in 2008 were 31.6 Gt.

If a 50% risk of exceeding 2C warming is considered acceptable then a budget of 1,440 Gt CO2 could be shared out over the next fifty years.

Emissions of CO2 from the countries with the largest emissions over the period 1990-2008 are shown in Figure 20.1. Cumulative CO2 emissions on a plot of CO2 emissions vs. years can be represented by the 'area under the curve'. For each country the total area up to its trend line, read from the base line, represents the cumulative emissions for the period 1990-2008 and the trend lines show how CO2 emissions have changed over time.

        Figure 20.1 CO2 Emissions: Cumulative emissions landscape 1990-2008  

At present the USA has the largest cumulative emissions area for the period 1990-2008 but China's emissions trend, with annual emissions starting to exceed those of the USA in 2008, means that in future China is likely to become the country with both the largest annual and  largest cumulative CO2 emissions.

Figure 20.2 Cumulative CO2 emissions 2000

Figure 20.2 shows contributions to cumulative CO2 emissions from countries with the largest emissions in the shorter period between 2000and 2008 and that world cumulative CO2 emissions for this eight year period were ~250 Gt.

Concerted efforts will be needed to limit warming to 2C

Using Meinshausen's criterion of 1,000 Gt CO2 emitted between 2000 and 2050 corresponding to a 25% probability of staying below 2C, we find that because ~250 Gt CO2 has already been emitted between 2000 and 2008, all countries of the world, during the next forty or so years, should budget to emit no more than ~750 Gt CO2

In relation to the planet's fifty year 1,000 Gt CO2 'budget', that almost 250 Gt has already been emitted in the first eight years is staggering.

On this analysis one quarter of the fifty-year CO2 budget has already been used up in the last eight years, so radical change is needed if the world is not to go beyond the 2C warming threshold.

An unprecedented agreement at the COP15 Copenhagen summit, which sets aside national self interest and leads to concerted efforts from the all the world's nations, will be needed to stay within a global 1,000 Gt CO2  'budget' and limit warming to 2C.


Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2°C
Meinshausen M et al.  Nature 458, 1158-1162 (30 April 2009)
BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2009

Note i) One giga tonne Gt = one thousand million tonnes
Note ii) The data used here, from the 2009 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, differ slightly from data used by Meinshausen who took world CO2 emissions for the period 2000-2006 to be 234 Gt CO2.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Stolen e-mails - the Climate Science Luddites

Internet and the media are being used to try to undermine public confidence in climate science

Climate scientists' emails, stolen from a server in the UK, are being used by 'climate science luddites' in an attempt to heighten climate scepticism in the run up to the Copenhagen climate change summit COP15.

The Luddites were a group of workers who, in the early 1800's, destroyed textile machinery in Britain in the belief that use of machines would lead to unemployment. Their attitudes were rooted in fear of the unknown and fear of change. The term Luddite latterly came to mean those opposed to technological change or innovation.

Climate science luddites oppose the scientific consensus that says that the climate of the Earth is changing and they consider the scientific evidence supporting human induced climate change to be part of a hoax or conspiracy. Rather than wrecking machines they seek to destroy scientists' reputations and public confidence in climate science.

The climate science luddites are using the internet and the media in an attempt to discredit professional climate scientists and the scientific evidence for human induced climate change, and they are attracting considerable attention. However the climate luddites provide no valid evidence of their own to support their contention that human induced climate change is not happening.

They have recently resorted to trying to make a case by

• stealing e-mails sent between climate scientists, posting them on the web,
and attempting to present them as evidence of a climate change conspiracy

• demanding release of scientific data and implying that it has been falsified

Stealing e-mails is unacceptable, illegal and marks a lack of substance in the arguments of those who need to resort to such actions to try to justify their position.

It is also fair to say that much of the relevant science data demanded by the luddites was already available on the web, as are relevant peer reviewed papers and reports.

Web traffic on the luddites' websites is 'debate' for example about the 'hockey stick' graph or how proxy climate change data was presented, and is often combative in tone. Their treatment of the stolen e-mails (some of which include poor choice of words and display some questionable attitudes, but do NOT represent evidence of a global conspiracy) is characterised by gleeful cherry picking of comments to confirm preconceived conclusions that a conspiracy to falsify climate change data exists.

Attacking the climate change consensus

The results of peer reviewed science from a wide range of scientific disciplines and thousands of different researchers all point to the same conclusion- that climate change is happening and that it is caused by the actions of humans, particularly in relation to burning fossil fuels and land use change.

Recent evidence shows that the process of global warming is happening faster than predicted a few years ago. Physical evidence for the accelerated effects of climate change over the past few years includes rapid melting of ice-sheets, glaciers and ice-caps, higher than predicted sea level rise and continuing expansion of deserts.

If the climate science luddites are to influence or change the current scientific consensus that climate change is happening, they need to provide new scientific facts, new data, evidence or analysis to refute current theories and predictions.

Arguments about combining data sets to give a paleo-climate perspective notwithstanding, visibly receding glaciers and rapidly diminishing ice sheets provide evidence of warming that is comprehensible to the most uninformed layman.

Trying in Luddite fashion, to discredit the very wide body of accrued scientific knowledge which supports climate change, will not alter the physics that underlies these changes. Nor will the consequences of a warming climate be affected by what the climate science luddites choose to believe

Their use of the media and internet to sow doubts in the minds of the public about the reality of climate change without providing valid supporting evidence is not ethical. Merely criticizing or 'auditing' others work is not sufficient. Opinion about something with consequences as serious as those of climate change needs to be based on evidence.

The scientific evidence supporting the reality of human induced climate change is extensive and compelling.... but even if it were less convincing, actions to address climate change threats would still be rational on the basis of the precautionary principle.

For the climate science luddites to attempt to persuade the public that climate change is a merely a conspiracy is disingenuous.


Ego, ignorance or self interest.... whatever their motives, the beliefs of climate science luddites are unsubstantiated by the current scientific evidence which shows that the climate is changing rapidly.

In seeking to discredit climate science in order to cause confusion in public opinion, the climate science luddites will cause damage. Public understanding of the issues and firm support for policies are needed so that urgent actions to combat climate change can be implemented.

Public confusion resulting in delayed action to address climate change implies higher impacts from the ongoing warming which will profoundly affect the lives of millions - impacts on food production and water availability, increased frequency of droughts, coastal flooding due to sea level rise, health impacts.....

What is at stake is much more important than stolen e-mails. There is no climate change conspiracy but there are negative consequences from generating spurious uncertainty in the public mind about the threats posed by climate change.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Act on CO2, Public Opinion and the 'Bed Time Story' Video

Reframing Climate Change - ASA complaints and YouTube comments

As part of its £6 million 'Act on CO2' climate change public information campaign the UK government, in early October, released a video which aimed to raise the level of public awareness about the seriousness of climate change and to promote lifestyle change.

The video features a father reading a bedtime story about climate change to his young daughter from a story book which has cartoon style images.

The 'Bed Time Story' video has generated 700 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which has banned it from being screened before 9pm and is launching a full investigation into the complaints. The derisive comments from the audience who viewed the video on YouTube also testify to its negative impact.

UK public sceptical about climate change

Online research* conducted for the UK government just prior to the 'Bed Time Story' video release showed that over half of the people questioned believed that climate change would not affect them, and that only one in five people (18%) thought that climate change would show effects during their children’s lifetime.

The UK public is among the most sceptical about climate change in Europe. An Ipsos Mori poll (2008) showed that 60% doubt there is scientific consensus about the causes of climate change, and in the 2009 Eurobarometer survey only 47% of UK citizens ranked climate change as the world's most serious problem, placing the UK 19th out of 27 EU nations in this respect.

* YOUGOV 1039 GB adults; data weighted to be representative of the GB population; fieldwork 6th to 7th October 2009

Reframing climate change

The problem for the UK government is how to get the public to think about climate change in such a way that they see government policies as providing solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Current policies do not appear either to evoke positive public response or willingness to modify lifestyles.

According to Nisbet messages about climate change need to be framed - 'tailored to a specific medium and audience, using carefully researched metaphors, allusions, and examples that trigger a new way of thinking about the personal relevance of climate change'.

In communicating issues to the public frames are used to organize central ideas, to help convey why an issue might be a problem, who or what might be responsible, and what should be done. These need to link with the internalised personal frames of the audience.

To make sense of complex issues people use mental short cuts which rely on personal frames - small sets of internalised concepts and values - into which new information can be fitted.

The Act on CO2 campaign 'Bed Time Story' video is an attempt to reframe climate change issues for the public.

Energy and Climate Change Minister, Joan Ruddock is quoted as saying that "The ad is directed at adults, but we know that the proposition to 'protect the next generation' is a motivating one"

The 'protecting children' frame for climate change

The UK government 'Act on CO2' video places climate change in a new 'protecting children' frame which aims to change public perspectives of the issue. The frame, which resonates with the British public in other domains such as child abuse, delivers a message about climate change through a 'Bed Time Story'.

The following reactions are those of the author

The 'Bed Time Story' video images set the scene as a warm safe bedtime story - a strong, personal, emotive, child protective frame. But when the message in the story turns out to be frightening to children (not warm and relaxing as expected) it provokes an instant emotional response to protect children from the scary story.

The personal 'protecting children' frame seems to overwhelm the climate change message in the video which is hardly registered at all.

The message taken from the video is that the story is inappropriately scary for children in the context of bedtime (leading to the ASA banning it on early evening TV). The climate change message is lost.

A further reaction is that the video is just propaganda, and as such the climate change message is dismissed.

Public response - ASA complaints, YouTube comments and climate change denial

A full unbiased picture of public response to the video would require careful surveys using sound statistical techniques and psychologists' analysis; such studies are not yet available. However two sources showing public reaction to the 'Bed Time Story' video are accessible - the complaints listed by the ASA and comments from those who viewed the video on YouTube. These provide a flavour of public response.

The complaints to the ASA about the 'Bed Time Story' video (700 are under formal investigation at time of writing) were of three types relating to

- unsuitability for children

- misleading content

- political advert which should not be shown

The comments on YouTube about the 'Bed Time Story' video reflected similar concerns, but many saw the video as government propaganda trying to scare people into action on climate change. The tenor of most of the YouTube comments (239 at time of writing) was very negative.

Consideration of responses from both sources in the three categories leads to the following:-

-In relation unsuitability for children

The government say that the video is designed for adults so it is not surprising that the 'theme and content of the ad could be distressing for children' and that it was inappropriate screened at times when children might be watching.

-In relation to political propaganda

Two of the more polite YouTube comments -

'What a shameful piece of emotive propaganda. Just who are they trying to kid?'

'This video is propaganda at its worst -use of children, use of grossly incorrect science information and use of tax payers' money on top of it all.'

-In relation to misleading content

There were complaints to the ASA about representation of CO2 as a dark cloud, the % CO2 from everyday things and assertions about impacts of global warming.

Of greater concern is that in both areas of public response there was a thread of climate change denial. Some people feel that climate change is not scientifically proven.

Complaints to the ASA '....misleading because it presents human induced climate change as a fact, when there is division amongst the scientific community on that point'.

Two more Comments from YouTube viewers -

'Based on very dubious pseudo-science. There is no proof that either the earth
is warming or that CO2 is a problem'.

'Propaganda. There is still no absolute proof of man-made GW.
Man-made GW is a belief, not a fact'

Why didn't the climate change message get across?

It seems that the Act on CO2 campaign got the framing of the video seriously wrong. The 'Bed Time Story' about climate change generated a significant volume of complaints and controversy. Quite an achievement for the Blair-Brown government which was considered to be a master of spin!

This episode is an object lesson on how difficult it is to convey the issues surrounding the dangers of climate change effectively to the public. The framing appears deficient in a number of ways

- The personal internal 'protecting children' frame engendered by the visual context seems to overwhelm the climate change message which is barely conveyed at all.

- The presentation did not communicate optimism that there are solutions to climate change, indeed the 'Bed Time Story' ends on a negative note with the phrase

'.... if they (the adults) made less CO2, maybe they could save the land for the children'.

BUT HOW? No practical solutions or steps are suggested

The video concludes with a voice over

'...It’s up to us how the story ends. See what you can do...'

BUT People are not told explicitly how they can help, just pointed to the 'Act on CO2' website
to 'Change how the story ends'

- The responsibility for causing climate change is placed on 'the grownups'. CO2 emissions appear to be a problem for individuals to solve, not for collective cooperative action or government policy (hints at dire consequences - flooding, drought if individuals do not act).

- A significant number of the intended audience doubt climate change science.
The context of the video appears to be badly framed for them as they perceive the message (and internalise it) as scary climate change propaganda.

Negative Impact?

From the limited evidence available the impact of the Act on CO2 'Bed Time Story' video on influencing public opinion on climate change seems to be substantially negative. It has generated a significant number of complaints to the ASA and mostly negative comments from YouTube viewers

The framing of the video does not seem likely to be effective in increasing the understanding of a sceptical public about the serious threats from climate change, nor to motivate them to become involved in mitigation actions.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Will the European Council be decisive? - Financing developing countries climate change needs

The outcome of the EU leaders meeting is critical to success in Copenhagen

Finance for developing countries is seen as the key issue for successful climate change negotiations at COP15 in Copenhagen.

The European Commission has estimated that poorer countries will need finance of the order of 100 billion euros per annum from the developed world by 2020.

However the EU finance ministers (ECOFIN) have been unable to agree an internal finance framework for EU Member States contributions, an issue which has already been deferred from earlier meetings.

Poland is reported to have taken the lead in asserting that Eastern European nations would not support 'unfair' proposals that they should contribute to funding climate change mitigation for developing countries; it should come from richer EU members.

Despite this position Poland and a number of other eastern and central European EU members are high CO2 emitting, coal dependent economies; Poland and the Czech Republic are amongst the top ten CO2 emitters in Europe. Some responsibility for climate change issues seems inescapable for them.

As a result of dissent the issue of climate change finance for developing countries was referred, once more unresolved by the European Finance ministers, for heads of state to discuss in the upcoming meeting of the European Council at the end of October. The text of 29-30 October European Council agenda item on climate change reads as follows

II. Climate change

The European Council will take stock of preparations for the Copenhagen conference on climate change in particular on the basis of the preparatory work conducted by the ECOFIN
and Environment Councils of 20 and 21 October. It will take the appropriate decisions,
including on all aspects of financing, required to ensure a successful outcome in Copenhagen.

'Appropriate decisions .....' Yes, decisions are needed.

A wider perspective

Poland's perception of the relative wealth of eastern European EU nations is entirely regional.In a global context their GDP per capita is too high (and their CO2 emissions too substantial) to be used as an excuse to opt of supporting developing nations vulnerable to climate change.

The World Bank International Comparison Programme looked at relative wealth of all countries in terms of a purchasing power parity GDP/capita index on scale in which the world average is taken as 100. Figure 17.1

Although the world financial hiatus will have altered some of the detail it nevertheless provides an indicator of relative wealth.

Figure17.1 'Relative wealth' of new EU Member States
(ICP GDP/capita ppp index with world average = 100)
(click image to enlarge)

All EU countries, including new member states are above the world average GDP/capita ppp index which is set at 100.

Many developing countries have Indices less than 30% of those of the least wealthy EU nations.

It is hard to see why solidarity among EU members should not prevail in order to help developing nations address their needs in relation to climate change.

Unraveling EU climate change policies

However other aspects of EU policies on climate change have been unraveling as a result of pressure from new EU member states.

Recently Poland and the Czech Republic were successful in persuading the European Court of the First Instance that the European Commission had exceeded its powers when reviewing the countries CO2 emission allowances for 2008-2012 trading period of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS)

This decision places the whole of EU ETS in jeopardy since a planned and progressive scarcity of allowances is necessary for a viable 'carbon market' to function.

Since emissions trading, and eventually a global carbon market, is a major plank in EU policy for reducing CO2 emissions and addressing climate change, further weakening of EU ETS would represent a major setback to the EU position and perhaps require reshaped policies.

While styling itself as a world leader in combating climate change the EU may be revealed as having feet of clay if it lacks internal support for its key climate change policies.

Agreeing a finance package to help developing countries seems to be a prerequisite for EU credibility in Copenhagen and the support of all EU members is needed. Within the EU equity can be served by each country contributing to the finance package according to their means.

It is important that that the leaders of European nations are decisive in the European Council and agree a finance package for developing countries climate change needs.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Climate Change Threats and Public Response

Humans are not well prepared to respond to dangers that require forethought

A potential explanation for the muted response of the public to the threats posed by climate change is put forward in an article 'When Our Brains Short-Circuit' by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. The ideas he puts forward amplify those expressed in my post 'A Failure of Public Response to Climate Change'.

Kristof suggests that humans' perceptions of risk, and their response to threats, are not tuned to the gradual development of large scale threats so that dangers such as climate change do not evoke an instinctive reaction of fear or engender action.

Quoting evidence from eminent psychologists Kristof postulates that the human brain still retains programs, laid down early in human evolution, which respond to the types of threat that were extant for most of the millions of years that humans have existed on earth. In hunter gatherer groups threat categories took the form of 'snakes or enemies with clubs'.

Such threats are in nature personal, imminent and require immediate response.

In contrast, the modern dangers embodied in climate change appear diffuse and remote. For many people the threats from climate change do not have locally discoverable, visible effects; knowledge of them originates from distant sources and is couched in scientific rather than everyday language.

Climate change threats are complex, are long term rather than about immediate personal danger, and will probably affect people in remote lands rather than family first,..... so they do not 'activate our warning system', they 'sneak in under the brain’s radar', consequently action seems to be unnecessary.

Hedgehogs, programed to respond to threats by rolling into a ball, are unable to distinguish between the immediate threat from a fox and the danger signaled by the headlights of a distant lorry. Their inbuilt response is inappropriate to modern conditions.

In a similar way, despite acknowledging the scientific evidence, humans may discount or deny the threats of climate change which seem too complex, long term and large to fully comprehend because the ancient programs in their brains for response to threats are social, immediate and local in scale.

Humans are not well prepared to respond to dangers needing forethought.

In my earlier post the concept of 'socially organised denial' of climate change was discussed, where climate change information is known in the abstract but 'people work to avoid acknowledging disturbing information'.

It may be that lack of public response to the dangers of climate change is caused by a very deep seated psychological phenomenon due to ancient internalised response patterns, and that societies will need to make great efforts to overcome these primeval predispositions which inhibit human response to threats perceived as complex and remote.

Comments to

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Climate Emergency - Countries with High CO2 Emissions must act together

A unified world vision, not developed vs. developing nation division, is vital for the new climate change treaty

The world is experiencing an unprecedented and potentially catastrophic climate emergency that needs decisive and swift action by all nations; nations that have the capability to make the most impact on the problem are those with high GHG emissions.

Recent reports from the UNFCCC climate change talks in Bangkok indicate scant progress and a deepening divide between developed and developing nations, with high emission developing nations arguing for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol (under which they need not make binding emissions reduction commitments) and the G77 critical of emission cuts and financing offered by developed nations.

A new agreement on climate change in Copenhagen will be ineffective unless it includes a clear commitment by all the world's largest GHG emitters to reduce their emissions. China (23.9%), USA (18 %), Russia, (5.3%) India (5%), Japan (4.1%) are the highest emitters contributing over half of all anthropogenic CO2 (Figure 15.1)
Figure 15.1 Countries with the highest percentages of World CO2 emissions in 2008
(click image to enlarge)

The big emitters are now a mix of developed and developing nations with China's CO2 emissions having surpassed those of the USA. So, in the context of emissions mitigation, taking 'developed and developing' as primary categories is inappropriate.

Countries may have been distinguished in this way under Kyoto but significant changes have occurred since1990 (Figure 15.2).

It needs to be said that nations that industrialised long ago did so in ignorance of the impact of their emissions on the climate. That cannot be said of nations now in the course of industrialising who are not ignorant of the effects of their GHG emissions on world climate systems.

Developing nations share of global CO2 emissions in 2008 (50.3%) exceeded that of industrialised countries (46.6%).

Figure 15.2 Change in CO2 emissions since 1990 (click image to enlarge)

Contracting time scales for action to combat climate change are indicated by the latest evidence from climate science. Responsibility for addressing the climate emergency falls on all nations, because it affects all nations.

Action is needed from all countries with high GHG emissions

It is the emissions reduction actions of high GHG emitting nations, whether developed or developing, that will have the most impact on the climate emergency.

The USA stood aside from the Kyoto Protocol because high emitting developing countries would not undertake emissions reduction targets. The world cannot afford large GHG emitters to stay outside a new climate treaty.

In the future public opinion will judge harshly those who failed to engage to address the universal threat to humanity posed by climate change. An effective new agreement in Copenhagen particularly needs both of the mega-emitters, China and the USA to commit to realistic, deliverable emission reductions.

Undoubtedly a new climate change agreement will retain elements of the Kyoto protocol. But Kyoto has not been an effective tool; emissions have risen significantly since1990. A unified 'one world' vision, not developed vs. developing division, is needed for the new climate change treaty.

Yes - developed nations must curb their emissions and change to low carbon lifestyles

Yes - developed nations will need to provide finance and technology to help developing nations on to the path to low carbon development and adaptation. That is how they can address international equity in relation to emissions due to their early industrialisation.

And Yes - high emitting developing nations also need to curb their emissions. They cannot put GHG into the atmosphere to match historical emissions because the world is already beyond the limit of the GHG concentrations that can be accommodated without immense damage to the environment.

A unified vision for a new climate change treaty is vital

Yvo de Boer said in Bangkok 'What we must do now is to hold back from self interest and let the common interest prevail '

The common interest of all the peoples of the world lies in collaboration to tackle the climate emergency effectively. A unified 'one world' vision, not developed vs. developing division, is needed for the new climate change treaty.

Footnote Data in the tables are taken from a collation by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). In this post only CO2, not other GHG and LULUCF, is considered but the PBL data includes CO2 from cement manufacture

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Climate Change - China and the USA must show leadership

The public are impatient with blame-game climate change politics

Achieving any practical agreement in COP15 Copenhagen is really down to down to what commitments are made by China and USA; its effectiveness in mitigating global warming will depend on their actions thereafter.

The example set by China and the USA will be the most important element in persuading others to act.

China and the USA are the world's largest CO2 emitters so their emissions reductions will have the most impact.

The developed /developing country climate change impasse is evident again with China accusing developed countries of being the cause of a lack of progress in Bangkok. Yu Qingtai is reported to have suggested 'a lack of political will on the part of Annex 1 countries'

This type of developed /developing accusatory rhetoric is unhelpful, whatever its origin.

Both China and USA have immense political problems in persuading their citizens that action to mitigate climate change is absolutely necessary. In consequence both should acknowledge that they share the same difficulties, focus on the political essentials and move ahead.

The public are fed up with Yah-Boo blame-game climate change politics.

There is only one world, and we all share it.
Inaction on climate change is not an option; China and the USA must show leadership.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

European Union attitudes to climate change - discourse in key EU climate change documents

Ban Ki-Moon's climate change locomotive

UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon, at a news conference on October 1st with Swedish Prime Minister Reinfeldt, said that he was 'counting on the leadership of Mr. Reinfeldt and his European Union counterparts in meeting global challenges including climate change'

Mr. Ban said that 'the EU's role will be critically important' and coined a memorable phrase by saying that the EU could 'act as a locomotive' for the Copenhagen COP15 talks.

But Mr. Ban my not have given close attention to details of the EU stance on climate change, as the discourse in EU official documents, if read carefully, reveals EU attitudes that can be self congratulatory and prescriptive, particularly in relation to what developing countries should do.

Leadership at the Copenhagen meeting will require skills of diplomacy and persuasion, a willingness to see others points of view and flexibility in responding to them. In its official documents at least, the EU does not convey the impression that these are qualities that it can bring to the table.

The European Union position on climate change

The EU position on climate change is set out in two key EU official 'Communications' from the European Commission.

These are 'Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius-The way ahead for 2020 and beyond', part of a package of measures published in January 2007 and 'Towards a comprehensive climate change agreement in Copenhagen', published in January 2009.

The Communications are turgid EU documents with nuggets of interest embedded in reams of eurospeak.

Luckily the EU does provide the key points in more digestible form as information for its citizens in Memos that accompany the Communications. 2007 MEMO/07/17 and 2009 MEMO/09/34.

The Memos, in Q&A format, provide answers to questions that the EU thinks its citizens might like to ask (!) about the Communications.

The Memos are an interesting read in relation to what they convey about EU attitudes as much as for their content.

Some insights about the EU attitudes and preoccupations about climate change implicit in the language and content of the Memos are highlighted here.

MEMO/07/17, if considered critically conveys a message that EU perceives itself to be a (self appointed) leader in relation to climate change, that the EU has set an example on emissions reduction that other developed countries should follow and that developing countries should follow EU prescriptions of what they should do about climate change.

The lofty tone visible at times in the rhetoric, neither acknowledges that others may have knowledge and understanding about climate change equivalent to that of the EU, nor that they may have their own valid plans for combating it e.g....

'The EU cannot win the battle against climate change on its own but it can show leadership by setting a convincing example'

(vis. Emulate the unilateral EU 20% emissions cut by 2020,and 30% if a satisfactory international agreement is concluded)

'Developing countries should .... reduce emissions in absolute terms from 2020 onwards'

Re 'Towards a comprehensive climate change agreement in Copenhagen' 2009 MEMO/09/34

Two years on the EU position leading up to COP15 seems to have toughened. The 2009 MEMO/09/34 says that the Communication sets out 'concrete proposals for action by the EU and the rest of the international community'.

This could be construed as the EU setting out its vision for a climate change agreement but the tone of Memo/09/34 is very authoritarian. What the EU considers developed and developing countries 'should do' is emphasised e.g.

...30% by 2020 emissions targets for developed countries, differentiated on four criteria proposed by the EU ....national low carbon development strategies for all countries...extension of carbon markets registration for developing country actions... reform of CDM.... and more..

The phrase, 'developing countries should...' and words 'should', 'necessary' and 'essential' are prominent.

The tone is often quite haughty e.g.

'To ensure an appropriate and effective contribution by developing countries...'

'Many policy options are available to developing countries where long term benefits can outweigh the costs...'

'Developing countries will increasingly be required to reduce the growth in their emissions using their domestic resources.....

Will Ban Ki Moon's EU locomotive leave the station?

The Memos convey that the EU sees itself as a leader, and as setting an example to others. They present a strong EU perspective that developing countries should contribute to the global effort and a preoccupation with, and drive to, extend carbon emissions trading; even in respect of developing economies e.g. 'financial assistance should be linked through carbon trading mechanisms'.

Whether others will see the EU as having a leadership role, or agree with the EU propositions about how climate change should be addressed, or be willing to follow the 'EU example' or its prescriptions for action, is questionable. It may well be that Ban Ki Moon's locomotive never leaves the station.

Approaching negotiations like a steamroller is not likely to lead to agreement. The EU will need to examine its self perceptions, be willing to accept other viewpoints, to compromise on its own ideas of how climate change should be addressed and perhaps be somewhat humble if it is to be an effective broker of a climate change agreement and become Ban Ki Moon's 'locomotive' for COP15.


Limiting Global Climate Change to 2 degrees Celsius The way ahead for 2020 and beyond

COM (2007) 2 final Brussels, 10.1.2007

Questions and Answers on the Commission Communication 'Limiting Global Climate Change to 2°C' Brussels, 10 January 2007

Towards a comprehensive climate change agreement in Copenhagen

COM (2009) 39 final Brussels, 28.1.2009

Questions and Answers on the Communication 'Towards a comprehensive climate change agreement in Copenhagen' EC Brussels 28.1.2009


The choice of language used in all discourse carries with it perspectives and underlying assumptions reflecting the (unspoken) world views of both the writer and the reader and what they think is important, valuable or desirable. The quotes above are selected to highlight attitudes which strike this reader as underlying the EU position on climate change in the Memos. They do not necessarily correspond to interpretations made by other readers. References and links are provided to allow easy access to the documents in question.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Major Economies (MEF) emit nearly three quarters of world CO2

Some facts about MEF nations CO2 emissions

In October the UK is to host the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) meeting of 'leader's representatives'.The MEF was set up by US President Barack Obama to facilitate discussions between developed and developing nations about climate change.

The MEF comprises seventeen major economies - Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the EU, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the UK, and the United States.

The MEF meeting in London
provides a forum for informal dialogue to help prepare the ground for COP15. National representatives, together with Sweden representing the EU and Denmark in its role as host of the COP15 Copenhagen meeting plus UNFCCC representatives, will take part.

Some facts about CO2 emissions from MEF nations are presented and discussed here. Charts in this post show the percentage of world CO2 emissions attributable to MEF nations (Fig 11.1), and also their rate of increase (Fig 11.2) since 1990 when the Kyoto protocol was negotiated.

The MEF nations were responsible for 74% of world emissions of CO2 in 2006 and their contribution has been rising since then.

Two MEF nations, the USA and China, are by far the worlds largest emitters of CO2 each exceeding 20% of the world total in 2006. The USA and China are both large users of coal, and have considerable coal reserves. Combustion of coal is a major source of CO2 emissions and atmospheric pollutants.

Figure 11.1 MEF Countries % of World CO2 Emissions (click image to enlarge)

For the negotiations in Copenhagen to be meaningful both USA and China will need to agree to large cuts in their annual CO2 emissions or undertake equivalent commitments. Rising emission trends are also a concern since carbon intensive infrastructure (for example power and industrial plant) once in place, has long lifetimes.

Figure11.2 MEF Countries CO2 Emission Trends (click image to enlarge)

Commitments made by USA and China at COP15 will have a major influence on what other nations decide to do, but Copenhagen marks only the beginning of a long process in which all nations must become low carbon economies.

For example, in the future, to avoid dangerous levels of global warming, both USA and China will need to move to a position where they can leave their remaining coal reserves in the ground. Persuading their citizens of the necessity for this will be a massive challenge since it implies momentous changes in lifestyles, technologies and energy use.

US citizens are already very resistant to changes that affect their high energy lifestyle, so the political difficulties are significant. In China the lifestyle aspirations of the population will need to be addressed against a backdrop of environmental impacts due to climate change and population growth.

Such concerns will sit in the background, but shape the national positions taken, in the negotiations at COP15 in December.

Crafting a Copenhagen climate treaty to provide a post-2012 GHG mitigation framework is probably the most difficult diplomatic task that mankind has ever faced. Understanding the issues affecting other nations is important in negotiating an agreement. Less formal meetings such as the MEF meeting to take place in London can help mutual understanding.

While all nations will look at the commitments made by the two largest CO2 emitters with great care, they will also look at other high emitters (Fig.11.1). Russia, India, Japan, Germany, Canada and the UK contributed, as a group, 22% of world CO2 emissions in 2006 and coal dependence is evident as an issue for several MEF nations including Russia and India.

The EU, which includes Germany, the UK and Italy, but participates in the MEF as a single entity representing the 27 EU nations, is also a significant emitter of CO2. EU countries include coal dependent economies such as Poland.

The EU has already unilaterally committed to 20% GHG emissions cuts by 2020 and will extend this to 30% if other nations take on similar targets.

Without a doubt the example set by nations with large CO2 emissions, developed or developing, will influence the response of others.

Since MEF nations contribute nearly three quarters of world CO2 emissions the commitments that MEF nations make to climate change mitigation in Copenhagen will be critical to success or failure.

It is to be hoped that the discussions of MEF 'leaders representatives' in London will help to generate mutual understanding prior to Copenhagen and will aid the process of reaching agreement at COP15.

Monday, 28 September 2009

A Failure of Public Response to Climate Change?

Public Opinion and Climate Change Information

The latest Eurobarometer survey (2009) of Europeans’ attitudes towards climate change showed that Europeans generally feel well informed about global warming issues. Nevertheless climate change now ranks only third amongst what Europeans consider to be the world's most serious problems.

In July 2009 50% of Europeans saw climate change as the world's greatest problem but this represents a decline in importance compared with the 2008 EU survey when 62% of Europeans expressed that view. It is suggested that the world financial crisis being the top news issue in late 2008-9 may have affected the public perception of important world issues including climate change; however there may be other factors underlying the apparent decline in interest.

Measuring opinion about how the public view climate change is difficult, but public support is necessary if effective policies to combat climate change are to be implemented.

In a World Bank Working Paper 4940 (2009) Norgaard reviews the literature on levels of public knowledge about climate change, and citizens degree of concern about it, and provides analysis and policy suggestions.

The author suggests that there has been a 'worldwide failure of public response' to climate change and 'despite scientific evidence that climate change is serious problem having been available over the last 20 years, there has been a decline in public interest and concern about global warming'.

Public Opinion and Climate Change Information

From the literature review in the working paper a number of notable findings were adduced, and of particular interest are those related to information provision about climate change and public opinion.

- 'an almost universal finding worldwide' is the lack of understanding by the public of the basics of climate science

but also that

- a thorough understanding of climate change information is not a pre-requisite for people to show concern

and, interestingly, that

- public access to information about climate change does not necessarily result in public concern or actions to mitigate climate change

That having access to information about climate change does not lead to public concern seems counter intuitive given the serious nature of the evidence from climate science.

Most public information about climate change originates from news media and comes in a variety of forms. If news media are the primary source of public information about climate change then the absence or presence of the topic, and its depiction, provides the public with a measure of its relative importance.

Amongst other content, the World Bank working paper includes an analysis of climate change discourse in the media and Norgaard suggests that if news media are to be 'an effective agent of change' then three criteria should be fulfilled. The news media need to

- represent climate change as a serious problem

- send a clear message that the problem can be solved

- provide correct information about responses to climate change

Socially Organised Denial of Climate Change

There would appear to be a failure in the communication process such that climate change information does not transfer through public awareness into personal response or support for public policy.

The working paper analyses existing explanations for the lack of public response to climate change and suggests that public reaction could be understood in terms of a concept of 'socially organised denial' which draws on both sociological and psychological perspectives.

It is suggested that climate change information is known in the abstract but 'people work to avoid acknowledging disturbing information' and that people consider problems as serious only if they can see actions that can be taken to provide a solution.

Changing European Attitudes

The 2009 EU survey shows that more than half of Europeans feel well informed about the cause, consequences and methods of fighting climate change, although there are quite wide national variations. Around two thirds of citizens say that they have taken personal actions to combat climate change (these are most likely to be people saying that they are well-informed about climate change and those who think that climate change is a very serious problem).

Nevertheless there seems to have been a decline in interest in climate change since the Eurobarometer environment survey of 2007 which reported that 'Europeans are very concerned by global warming and a very large majority of them (89%) are in favour of the European Union taking urgent action'.

Questions remain about whether climate change information is being communicated in a way which engages the public,whether the information presented raises public concern and whether that concern is translated into individual actions and support for climate change mitigation policies.

Europeans, with a relatively high literacy rate and good access to information, seem to regard climate change as a serious issue. However in the period preceding the COP15 negotiations, they apparently feel climate change is less important than they did two years previously.

Using the three criteria cited above we may ask-

Is this due to a failure to communicate climate change as a serious problem?

Probably not.

The 2009 Eurobarometer survey suggests that EU citizens feel well informed about climate change and are concerned.

Has the public been given a clear message that climate change is a solvable problem?

Probably not.

The media discourse not been very coherent, providing a mix of information about threats and consequences, has conveyed the impression that there is much discord between nations, and has been pessimistic about the prospects of an agreement at COP15. That controlling CO2 emissions is important has probably been communicated, but how this delivers a solution to climate change has not.

Is the European public subject to the 'socially organised denial' suggested by Norgaard?


The climate change discourse in the media has, in the run up to the COP15 negotiations, been fairly negative, expressed in terms of disagreements between nations about emissions mitigation, and the evidence and predictions from climate science have been portrayed as more serious than previously thought, and with more dire consequences. Optimism about climate change solutions has been lacking.

In contrast, the recent world banking crisis has been portrayed as a critical world issue but one with actions already being taken to tackle it, implying it is a solvable problem.

More Effective Messages about Climate Change are needed

While Europeans profess concern about climate change it now ranks only third in their estimation of the world's most serious problems. This might suggest that the messages about climate change in the media have been ineffective in fully engaging public opinion

Are the public failing to respond to climate change by avoiding acknowledging disturbing information (socially organised denial) or are they genuinely losing interest?

The effectiveness of communications about climate change to the public may need to be reconsidered if post-2012 policy and actions to combat climate change are to command public support.


European Commission (2009) Special Eurobarometer 313. Europeans’ attitudes towards
climate change.

European Commission (2008) Special Eurobarometer 300. Europeans’ attitudes towards
climate change.

European Commission (2007) Attitudes of European citizens towards the environment

The World Bank Norgaard K M
(May 2009)Policy Research Working Paper 4940
Cognitive and Behavioral Challenges
in Responding to Climate Change.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Upcoming posts

My apologies for there being no posts recently - my hard disc died.

New posts coming soon about

- the importance of using cumulative CO2 emissions when setting global CO2 emissions targets

- why public awareness of climate change issues does not necessarily lead to action to
reduce its impacts PC97GHKVVYND


Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Climate Camp in London

Raising awareness about human induced climate change

Icenian, new to the idea of a climate camp, visited the London Climate Camp at Blackheath. The people were friendly, visitors were welcomed and the aims and ethos of camp were explained - essentially building a grass roots movement to combat climate change.

Camp decision making was by consensus and all shared in the work needed to keep the camp operating smoothly.
There was a programme of workshops open to all, and in attending some of them, it was clear that the facilitators were knowledgeable about climate science and politics.

People attending the workshops, while coming to climate change issues from a diverse range of perspectives, respected the views of others, and discussion was lively.

The London Climate Camp was peaceful with the police mainly represented by a camera overlooking the camp from a tall crane well outside the perimeter.

Climate Camp Blackheath London 2009. Canary Wharf corporate buildings in the background

The climate camp members, young and old and from all social backgrounds, are working to raise public awareness about the effects of human induced climate change, which will have massive impacts on all countries in the world (impacts that include expanding deserts, water and food shortages, sea level rise, storms and flooding, mass migration...) unless the causes of climate change are addressed with great urgency the next few years.

The climate camp movement is trying to draw the attention of politicians and business leaders to the unique and unprecedented dangers posed by human induced climate change, circumstances which need an entirely different scale of political response from governments.

Business as usual is not an effective way forward if the most serious impacts of climate change are to be avoided. The introduction within the next few years, of radical and effective policy measures
to combat climate change, developed with worldwide co-operation, is absolutely necessary.

Views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of climate camp as a whole