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