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Climate change............. Resource Use...........................
4 6 8
Consequences of Climate Change...........................................
Lead author/editor: Steven Heywood Designer: Romain Oria
Fossil Fuels................................. 10 Sustainanable Energy........ 13
Comments, edits and corrections: Eirwen Harbottle, Sonya Silva, Rosey Simmonds, david Woolcombe
History of Environmental Negotiations......................................... 16
Contributions: Green Patriots Posters With thanks to: Sangita Maharajan, Zhang Wenjie, Edward Morris, Eric Benson
Emissions Targets................................ 18 Clean Development Mechanism.... 20 Carbon Trading................................... 22 REDD..................................................... 24 Where Do We Go From Here......... 27 Youth Action....................................... 29 Glossary............................................... 31
f o r e w o r d
In April 1994, Vice President Al Gore wrote to the young authors of Peace Child International’s first book, Rescue Mission : Planet Earth, congratulating them on a “first-rate job which captures the essence of the agreements signed at the Rio Earth Summit. I attended the Summit and, like you, read through all the agreements: reading your version was considerably more enjoyable! President Clinton and I are forging strong links with young people throughout the world. Together, we can move rapidly towards the sustainable development of our planet’s resources.” 13 years later, Al Gore, Oscar-winning presenter of An Inconvenient Truth, was less upbeat. Accepting his Nobel prize, he said: “We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency. Despite honorable exceptions, too many of today’s leaders are best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler’s threat: “They are decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift.” Today, we dumped another 70 million tons of global-warming pollution into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet, as if it were an open sewer. As a result, the earth has a fever. And the fever is rising. The experts have told us that something basic is wrong. We are what is wrong, and we must make it right.” “In September 2007, a study by US Navy researchers warns that the North Polar ice cap could be completely gone during summer in 7 years. In the last few months, it has been harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter. Major cities in North and South America, Asia and Australia are nearly out of water. Desperate farmers are losing their livelihoods. Peoples on low-lying Pacific islands are planning evacuations of places they have long called home. The very web of life on which we depend is being ripped and frayed as we have begun to wage war on the earth itself.” “It is time to make peace with the planet.” “We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that is seen when nations mobilize for war. Wars are won when leaders find words that release a mighty surge of courage, hope and readiness to sacrifice for a protracted and mortal challenge. Mahatma Gandhi awakened the largest democracy on earth with what he called “Satyagraha” – “truth force.” Truth has the power to unite us. There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We need to go far, quickly. These are the last few years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright future if we do what we must. We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource. So let us renew it, and say together: “We have a purpose. “We are
many. For this purpose we will rise, and we will act.”
e hear a lot about climate change these days, whether watching the television or reading the newspapers, and even in films like “An Inconvenient Truth”. But what is climate change, what’s causing it and what will its effects be? That’s what we aim to find out on these pages. The science of climate change
The Earth is surrounded by a layer of gases known as the atmosphere, which stretches for around 100km into the sky. You wouldn’t be able to breathe the air at that height, but it is still very important to humans. This is because of the greenhouse gases – the most famous of which is carbon dioxide (CO2), while others include methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and water vapour. These gases are important because they trap heat energy from the sun. All of the Earth’s energy comes from the Sun, and without it there would be no life on the planet. The Sun radiates heat energy through space and through the atmosphere, and about half of the energy that reaches us is absorbed by the Earth’s surface. This is turned into infrared radiation which the Earth emits towards space. Greenhouse gases catch this outgoing heat and keep it in the atmosphere, making the planet warmer than it would have been otherwise. Greenhouse gases are not always bad – without them the Earth’s temperature would be -18C and life as we know it would not be possible. The problem is when we have too many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This means extra heat is trapped and the planet warms up, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
To find out much more about climate change you can read the 2007 UN H
Greenhouse gases, particularly CO2, are released by fossil fuels when they are burned – which means the more we use substances like oil, coal and gas, the hotter the planet will become. At the beginning of the industrial revolution the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million, or ppm (this is the way greenhouse gas concentrations are discussed – as the number of greenhouse gas molecules in every million molecules of air). Today it’s around 380ppm, and if we keep polluting at our current rate it will be 550ppm by 2035 and 800ppm by 2100. 800 parts of CO2 for every million molecules in the atmosphere may not sound like much, but anything over 450ppm gives us a 50% chance of the planet warming by more than 2C. We’ll explain the effects of this happening on the next page.
The main culprits are fossil fuels like oil, coal and gas. These contain large amounts of carbon, which is released into the atmosphere as CO2 when burned. The world burns over 82 million barrels of oil every day and many things we take for granted, like cars, planes and electricity are currently based on fossil fuels. Other problems include deforestation and burning wood for fuel (because trees store carbon), and agriculture (because of gases produced by animals or from fertilisers).
What’s heating the planet up?
There are some people who claim that climate change is not happening, or is not caused by humans. However, 97% of scientists who regularly work on climate issues believe in ‘anthropogenic climate change’ – the idea that the climate is changing and human actions are responsible. Meanwhile, the average temperature of the earth has risen by 0.7C since the 18th century, and is continuing to rise by 0.2C every decade.
Is it really happening?
Human Development Report at http://hdr.undp.org/en/reports/global/hdr2007-8/
ncreasing carbon emissions are not the only problem that human beings are creating for themselves – we are also using far too many nonrenewable resources, which is damaging the environment and taking away chances for future generations.
Non-renewable resources are things that nature can only recreate over timescales of thousands (or even millions) of years – for the purposes of human beings, once we have used these resources they are gone forever. Non-renewable resources include those fossil fuels that are releasing so much CO2, like coal, oil and gas, but also metals like iron and nickel that are used in building, transport and electronic products, and nuclear material like uranium. These resources are usually buried deep underground, and mining for them is very destructive of the environment, pollutes the air, and damages nearby communities – and once we’ve dug them all out of the ground there will be no more for future generations to use. Humans extract almost 40 billion tonnes of fossil fuels, metals and minerals every year, and to get to them we have to remove another 40 billion tonnes of rocks that aren’t even valuable to us. However, we are also currently using too much of some of those resources that we think of as renewable – renewable resources are things that exist permanently like energy from the sun, or things that usually replace themselves very quickly, like plants and animals. Many of these things are only renewable if we use them up at a renewable rate – if we use them too quickly we damage nature’s ability to replenish them.
M i l l i o n s
Plants and animals die and sink to the bottom of the ocean.
The sediment covers the layer of dead animals and plants.
Y e a r s
Over time the sediments pile up and compress the plants and animals until they become petroleum. The petroleum comes up through the porous rocks and creates a reservoir.
An excellent example of this is fish – humans are overfishing, taking too many of these creatures from the sea in too short a time, and destroying their breeding patterns. As a result, fish stocks in the ocean are collapsing, and if we carry on some types of fish will potentially face extinction. Land is another resource which is usually renewable, but which humans are overusing at the moment and potentially destroying – through pollution from agricultural chemicals, building on it, or digging it up to get at the non-renewable resources underneath. If land is used too intensively, and with too many chemicals, it can lose its fertility and its ability to grow nutritious food in the future.
Picture by Xenoc
This issue is strongly linked to the climate change that we talked about on the previous pages – not only does the extraction and use of so many resources create the emissions that cause global warming, but the ability of the atmosphere to absorb more and more CO2 and other greenhouse gases can also be seen as a non-renewable resource. We can only release so many emissions before climate change becomes inevitable.
Picture by IN Film
The amount we consume of almost every resource on earth is continually rising – in 2005 humans used almost 60 billion tonnes of resources including fuels, metals and biomass like fish and trees. The average person consumes 44kg of resources every single day – and those of us in rich, industrialised nations consume much more than that.
Picture by Chris Lang
The Consequences of Climate Change
ut what does a 2C (or more) rise in global temperatures mean? It doesn’t sound like a huge amount, and might mean that some of the colder places of the earth might start to get nicer weather, surely? On these pages we look at what the devastating consequences of climate change will actually be…
Once we hit a 2C temperature rise areas of the North and South Poles – the ends of the Earth, usually Picture covered in ice and snow – start to melt rapidly, by U.S Geologic al surve and sea levels could possibly rise by as much y as 7 metres . This would destroy major cities like Bangkok, Shanghai, Amsterdam and Jakarta . Even a one metre sea rise would affect 22 million people in Viet Nam, 18% of Bangladesh, and as much as 80% of the Maldives islands . The Arctic is already showing strong signs of gradual melting.
If we go over 2C of warming, between 20% and 30% of all plant and animal species will be at greater risk of extinction as their habitats are destroyed – this is especially the case for arctic species like polar bears, that live on rapidly melting ice blocks .
eologic U.S G re by Pictu vey al sur
As climate change takes effect, storms and hurricanes will become more and more powerful – recent years have already seen some huge disasters caused by these weather conditions, like Hurricane Katrina in the USA in 2005, and Cyclone Nargis in Burma in 2008.
Nasa y U.S ure b t
P U.S e by ictur eutro phic &hy ation phox ia
Crops like rice feed enormous amounts of people across the world, but need a lot of water to grow and could be heavily affected by droughts – rice production in Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries, could drop by up to 30%, and crops in southern Africa that require a lot of rain by as much as 50%. Over half the population of south and east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are involved in agricultural production, and these developments could leave them with no livelihood and no food.
While causing floods of undrinkable sea water in coastal areas, climate change will also cause droughts of drinking water for billions of people. In particular, the Tibetan glaciers, which provide water for drinking and growing food to two billion people, are at risk of melting. Seven of Earth’s biggest rivers – including the Mekong, the Yangtze and the Ganges – start on the Tibetan plateau . In other areas of the world, rising temperatures will affect rainfall patterns and increase the size of deserts.
s we have seen on previous pages, fossil fuels are one of the main contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. But that isn’t the only problem with fossil fuels – they’re also linked to inequality, exploitation, and they’re running out despite our economies being based around them.
The fossil fuel that is most important to the world economy is oil. Oil is used in cars, in planes, in power stations that generate electricity, and even in making plastic. It’s so valuable to the world economy that it is often called black gold. Worldwide, over 83 million barrels of oil are used every single day, almost a quarter of it in the USA .
United States 18.69m bbl/day
Oil Consumption and Inequality.
China 8.2m bbl/ day
India 2.98m bbl/ day
Some countries consume much more oil than others. Figures from the CIA World Factbook.
United Kingdom 1.669m bbl/day
Turkey 579,500 bbl/day
Bangladesh 96,000 bbl/day
Laos 1,918 bbl/day
As well as its environmental impacts, oil also has a lot of negative effects on human beings. Many countries that have a lot of oil under their soil are run by dictatorships or other undemocratic governments, and these regimes are not challenged or criticised by other countries because they control such a valuable resource. It is often the case that countries with oil suffer much more political repression, corruption, violence and war than nearby countries with less resources - a phenomena known as the resource curse.
The enormous amount of oil under Nigeria’s soil seems like a blessing, allowing the country to make huge amounts of money and grow its economy through selling oil. But it has actually turned out to be a curse, leading to decades of military dictatorships and ruthless western oil corporations that want to keep all the money to themselves. The Niger Delta, where much of the oil is located, is now full of gas flaring (a process where extra gas used in the process of pumping the oil is wastefully burned) and oil contamination. The local people, the Ogoni, have been peacefully resisting these activities for two decades now, and have seen their leaders, like Ken Saro-Wiwa, arrested and executed by the Nigerian government, but they have refused to give up in their attempts to regain control of their own lands. This pattern has been repeated throughout Africa and the world – a pattern of abundant resources that should bring wealth and happiness to a country, but actually bring almost nothing but pain and suffering.
Case Study – Nigeria’s Resource Curse
Oil in Africa.
Despite the huge amounts of money that oil can draw into a country, some of Africa’s biggest oil producing states have made very little progress in human development in recent years. Figures from UN Human Development Report 2010 and CIA World Factbook.
Barrels HDI produced/ 2000 day
Another problem with oil is Angola 1,948m 0.349 0.376 0.403 that, as a non-renewable resource, it is going to run Sudan 486,700 0.336 0.360 0.379 out -once we use it up it is essentially gone forever. At some point, worldwide DR 274,000 0.201 0.223 0.239 production of oil will start now Congo to fall, and this point is known as ‘peak oil’. Right now for every four barrels of oil that are used, only one barrel of new oil is discovered . This is a big problem - unless we reform our economies so they are not as dependent on oil for lectricity and fuel, we will be very badly affected when it starts to run out, with rising prices and even wars for control of oil reserves. This rapid depletion of oil reserves is leading energy companies to look for oil in deeper and harder-to-reach places. These are known as ‘marginal reserves’ because they are currently the extremes of oil production, but as ‘conventional’ oil runs out they could become more and more important. Some companies are testing the possibilities for oil drilling in the Arctic Circle, which could endanger this important but fragile ecosystem, and where any oil spill could be disastrous.
Others are extracting a different kind of oil from Canada, called tar sands. Tar sands are sticky, solid oil deposits that need to be mined from the soil using huge diggers, then melted by very high temperature steam pumps before they can be extracted. Because of the energy needed to extract them, tar sands release 74kg of greenhouse gases for every barrel used. The tar sands fields in Alberta province, Canada, have been called the world’s most destructive project. Oil is not the only fossil fuel though. In fact, until the beginning of the 20th century, coal was used much more than oil. As peak oil approaches, coal is becoming more popular again, with proposals for new coal-based power stations being tabled across Europe. China is the world’s largest coal consumer, using almost 3.5 billion tonnes of coal in 2009 and releasing well over 6 billion tonnes of CO2 in the process. Many of the new coal power plants being built will be more environmentally friendly and energy efficient than the existing ones, but they are still burning unsustainable fossil fuels and standing in the way of some of the alternative energy sources we will look at in the next few pages. A third type of fossil fuel is natural gas. This is a much cleaner fuel than oil and coal, releasing only 71% as much CO2 as oil, and 56% as much as coal . Gas is not the only answer to our energy problems, but it could be used alongside other technologies to provide environmentally friendly power in the future.
Picture by Adam Cohn
Picture by Sirdie
“Within six hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consume within one year”, Dr. Gerard Knies
Picture by Schristia
e have seen the damage that fossil fuels are doing to our environment, but we still need some way of generating energy to keep our societies and economies going. Luckily, alternatives to oil and coal are all around us, and these pages look at some of our options, and the impacts they could have.
Solar panels use the most powerful energy source we have - the Sun. Solar panels convert the rays of the Sun into electricity, and as technology advances they are cheaper. They even work in cloudy northern smaller and becoming countries, but perhaps the best effects can be gained from Concentrated Solar Power, or CSP. For this, hundreds of mirrors in hot desert regions like the Sahara concentrate the Sun’s rays to heat water, which turns a turbine and generates power. Covering just 1% of the world’s deserts with CSP could potentially produce enough electricity for the entire planet .
Environmental score 5/5
Human Score 5/5
with the tall, Wind power is the most iconic form of renewable energy, associated and western gently rotating windmills that now dot the landscapes of northern s, Europe . Wind turbines work very simply - the wind turns the blade and the motion produces electricity. Groups of wind turbines, or ‘wind farms’, can be built on the land in blustery countries like Scotland, or can be placed out at sea, where the wind is stronger. Wind power currently makes up around 10% of Europe’s energy, and this could rise to 37% by 2030 .
re l sco Human Score a nment Enviro 5/5 5/5
There are various technologies now available that use the power of the tides and waves as they rise and fall to create energy. These projects are located out at sea, minimising the human impact, and use a very reliable energy source - the sun may not always shine, and the wind may not always blow, but the tides always rise and fall every day. However, they can have some negative impacts on marine life, and they are relatively untested .
Tidal and Wave Power
Environmental score 4/5
Human Score 5/5
to produce electricity. As wer of rivers and streams po Hydropower harnesses the in the water and produces m it turns turbines placed ver, the water flows downstrea on a small scale, it is. Howe good thing, and when done power. This sounds like a ojects, such as the Three es massive dam-building pr dam, the biggest hydropower often involv Gorges Dam in China. This rth, flooded 13 hydropower project on ea es, forcing 1.2 cities and over 1,000 villag m their homes million people to move fro technology . Hydropower is a conflicted , but also very that can be very beneficial destructive.
Environmental score 3/5 Human Score 2.5/5
r and drive steam generators. It Nuclear power uses radioactive uranium to heat wate s (Fukishima. Chernobyl), it can divides people because some say, rightly, it’s dangerou is incredibly dangerous for be used to create nuclear bombs, and mining uranium chief scientific adviser the miners. But, David McKay, the UK government’s te could on energy says that the UK’s stockpile of nuclear was this be used to generate enough low-carbon energy to run (IFR). country for 500 years using the Integral Fast Reactor gy Older nuclear power plants use just 0.6% of the ener ear contained in the uranium they use. IFRs, using nucl g waste, can keep recycling it until none is left, producin energy as they do so.
n Environmental uma H score core S 2/5 2/5
Agrofuel is a similar substance to oil, created from plants, an d used in vehicles in place of petrol. Growing agrofuels is suppos ed to absorb as much CO2 from the atmosphere as burning them releases, making them carbon neutral. However, to gro w enough palm crops to create enough oil to meet global demand would require using 10 million hectares , an area the size of South Korea. Instea d of using this land to grow fue l for cars, we could be using it to grow food for people at a time when almost a billion people are going hungry . Biofuels ha ve also been associated with lan d grabs, where families and sm all farmers are forced off their lan d to make way for corporation s to grow fuel crops .
Environmental score 2/5
Human Score 0/5
e now know the effects of climate change, and we know that to avoid them we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But by how much? These pages will look at the various positions on this question, and the responsibilities of countries around the world.
Generally it is assumed that we need to avoid more than 2C of warming in order to escape the worst consequences of climate changes (and as we have seen from previous pages, even that much warming will have many negative effects). The United Nations position is that the carbon dioxide in the air should not exceed 450 parts per million – and we’re currently at 380ppm. This, however, would only give us a 50% chance of avoiding 2C; to have a 70% chance, we need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the air to 350ppm.
At the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 several countries, led by small island states like Tuvalu, called on the international community to ensure the temperature did not rise by more than 1.5C – an aim that would definitely require a target of 350ppm. The highest point in all of Tuvalu is only 4.5 metres above sea level, so any serous sea level rise could lead to the whole country becoming uninhabitable. Despite this, and the campaigns of environmentalist groups around the world, the call for a 1.5C target has been ignored by world leaders.
Tuvalu in 1909
460 cm above the sea level
Is 2C enough?
Tuvalu in 2009
450cm above the sea level
Tuvalu in 2099
150cm over the sea level
To keep our levels of CO2 this low we will all need to reduce the amount of emissions we produce. But some countries have a historically greater responsibility to do this than others – over the course of history, the vast majority of all the CO2 released into the atmosphere was put there by developed nations like the UK, USA and Germany. These countries are now rich and have high human development scores, while the rest of the world, which has not used so much CO2, tries to catch up. Even today, fast-developing countries like China and India release less CO2 per person than many European and North American states, even though (in the case of China) their much higher population means they create more emissions overall.
Because our responsibilities for creating the problem are so different, our responsibilities for dealing with it are also different – and it is important that rich, developed nations show that they mean business by giving themselves serious targets for reducing their emissions and sticking to them, while helping poorer countries to reduce their own emissions. The UN calls this ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ – that is, we all have to reduce our emissions, but some of us need to do it quicker than others.
China and India are now two of the top three emitters in the world, but if we divide the amount of CO2 emitted by the number of people in each country – to find the CO2 emissions per capita – the numbers look very different.
Annual emissions, in millions of tonnes of CO2
In the international treaty on emissions reductions, the Kyoto Protocol, most developed countries agreed to reduce their emissions to around 92% of the level they were at in 1990. This is not a huge reduction, but it is still not being achieved by most countries.
Annual emissions, in tonnes of CO2 per person Saudi Arabia- 13,6
South Korea- 11,5
Clean Development Mechanism
s well as encouraging countries to reduce their use of energy and fuel, the UN allows richer nations to reduce their carbon emissions by helping developing countries green their economies – by funding emissions reductions in developing nations, rich countries can claim them as their own through the Clean Development Mechanism.
The idea behind the Clean Development Mechanism, or CDM, initially seems like a good one – corporations in rich countries use some of their massive profits to pay for clean energy or pollutionreduction measures in poorer countries. The developing nations get cleaner technology, and the companies get to claim the CO2 reductions as their own. In practice, however, there are numerous problems with the CDM… You win 10,000 $
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Guessing the Future
A further problem with the scheme is that the amount of permits a company gets for reducing emissions is based on guessing what would have happened without their CDM project. In this sense, the carbon permits from the CDM are created “by deducting what you hope happens from what you guess would have happened ”. This is not a very scientific way to go about things, especially when the future of the planet is at stake. You lose 100,000 $
The biggest problem is that companies do not just claim these emissions reductions as their own. Instead, they are given ‘carbon credits’ for the amount of CO2 they saved. They can then use these credits themselves to pollute above any limit that governments put on them, or they can sell them to other companies to allow them to pollute more. In this way, overall emissions are not actually reduced, they are simply reduced in developing countries and increased in developed ones.
Creating New Pollution
On top of this, many of the projects funded by the CDM are not really reducing pollution. A lot of CDM money has gone to fund coal-fired power stations with efficiency measures attached. These power stations are certainly slightly cleaner than existing ones, but building new coal power stations still creates, rather than reduces pollutions. More CDM money needs to go to renewable energy projects to make a real difference to our emissions, rather than subsidising fossil fuels that are only slightly cleaner than normal. You win 1 000,000 $
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You lose a Bribe
The CDM also occasionally creates situations where companies can make more money by increasing the amount of pollution they create! The best example of this is the awarding of carbon credits for destroying the chemical HFC-23. This is a polluting by-product from the making of refrigerants, and manufacturers are given carbon credits for installing technology to capture and destroy it. However, because the HFCdestroying technology is cheap, this has given the companies an incentive to produce more and more of the chemicals simply so they can destroy them and gain carbon credits which they can sell. This does not reduce pollution in real terms, and the additional manufacturing is certainly not good for the environment.
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You have so much money that you can buy another bonus card which permits to pollute as you want
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nother way in which developed countries can claim to be reducing their emissions in line with their targets is through carbon trading, where all companies are given a ‘right’ to create a certain amount of pollution and can increase this allowance by buying more carbon permits.
Carbon trading is also known as ‘cap and trade’, and can be split into those two parts:
• First, emissions are capped – that is, governments decide on a maximum amount that businesses should be allowed to pollute, and give the business ‘carbon permits to that amount. • Then, the emissions that are allowed under the cap can be traded – so a company that reduces its emissions can sell its leftover permits to another company. This allows some companies to pollute more than they are supposed to – but only if they are willing to pay for it. The idea is that the trade aspect means that CO2 reductions are first made by those who can do so the cheapest, while industries that require more money and technological research to reduce their emissions can buy themselves time. Meanwhile, the cap is reduced year-onyear, meaning there are less permits to go round, and overall emissions are reduced. Unfortunately, there are numerous problems with current carbon trading schemes. The amount of permits a company gets is based on their previous emissions – with the assumption that industries that emit more CO2 need more permits. The end result of this is that the companies that have behaved the worst in terms of pollution are treated the most generously when permits are given out.
The EU carbon trading scheme, the most advanced in the world at the moment, has also given out far too many permits – in fact, there have been more permits than emissions, meaning the price of a carbon permit to pollute more has dropped to almost nothing. This generosity came about because of the ‘carbon leakage’ argument – the idea that if the EU treated its companies too harshly, they would simply move to parts of the world without carbon trading schemes and emissions would increase. Unfortunately, by giving polluting companies too many permits the EU is ensuring that emissions don’t get reduced either. One final problem with carbon trading is that it turns greenhouse gases into a tradable commodity and assumes that we can solve the problem of climate change purely through economic means, like trade and finance. This ignores the fact that we need to radically change the way our society operates – reducing our use of energy and our consumption of consumer goods rather than trying to continue with ‘business as usual’.
third UN scheme for reducing emissions is REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation – which aims to value forests and their ecological uses more than they have been in the past. A complementary project is The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, which hopes to show people that protecting the environment can be economically sensible as well as good for people and the planet.
Forests, due to the food, shelter and wood they provide, and the fact that they absorb carbon dioxide from the air, are incredibly important to humans, animals and the environment. Despite this, recent years have seen huge increases in levels of deforestation – the cutting down of trees. Every day an area of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest the size of 86,000 hectares is cut down. This is partly for the increasing amounts of wood and paper that our society needs, but the main cause of deforestation is to create agricultural land to graze cattle so that rich consumers around the world can eat high quality meat. Forests might not seem that important to those who live in big cities, but plants actually breathe in carbon dioxide, keeping it out of the atmosphere and slowing down the effects of global warming. Forests are also important for the people who live in and around them, and use them sustainably for fuel and shelter (using small amounts of wood), food (the fruits and animals within the forest), and even medicine (many of the plants and herbs in the forest have healthgiving properties).
Deforestation in Brazil
Picture by Mara ~earth light~ free potential
The UN’s plan for slowing down deforestation is called REDD – a scheme in which developing country governments are paid for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation – which is what REDD stands for. The idea is that developed country governments, or private companies, will pay to ensure that emissions from cutting down forests are reduced, and will receive additional carbon permits for the CO2 that is saved. The REDD scheme thus has good intentions, but there are still a few problems to be sorted out. Firstly, there needs to be protection put in place for the people who use the forest on a daily basis. If governments start to make money from protecting forests, they may be inclined to remove the people who live in and near the forest to stop them from ‘damaging’ it. In actual fact, these people use the forests sustainably, and have been doing so for thousands of years – their right to their way of life must be protected.
A second problem is that REDD only calls for emissions from forests to be reduced, not for forests to be protected. This seems like an odd distinction to make – surely they are the same thing? Actually, we could reduce emissions from forests even while cutting them down, as long as they were replaced with industrial tree farms – where thousands of rows of trees sit neatly, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, but being used by no-one, neither human nor animal. These tree farms would not even need to be in the same place as the original forest in order to reduce emissions. However, it is obvious that such projects would not actually be as useful or as beautiful as a forest, even if they are worth more money. Thirdly, the fact that companies can get extra carbon permits from funding REDD is also problematic, as it means that these companies can continue to pollute in the rich world – this does not lower overall emissions, and the additional permits could make the price of carbon even cheaper (as discussed on the previous page). Some of these problems are now being addressed in an update to the scheme, known as REDD+. This has a much greater focus on preserving existing forests, to try and discourage them being replaced by tree farms. However, there is still very little reference to the people who live in the forests, who are the real owners of them, and who need to be the first beneficiaries of any attempt to save them.
What is a forest worth?
One of the big problems with looking after the environment is that much of our society is run for profit, and there is usually more profit in chopping trees down than in keeping them standing. Projects like REDD are trying to address this, but it’s difficult to say just how much a forest, or any other environmental asset, is worth. This is the aim of a project called TEEB – The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity – which is trying to collate information on the value of natural resources like forests to humans. The project is trying to do this by evaluating the ‘services’ that such resources provide to humans – in the case of forests this could include food, fuel, absorbing CO2, or even tourism. While the forest itself is priceless, these services are all worth money, and can be used to give an economic value to the forest which, it is hoped, will encourage governments to do more to protect them. “You can’t value nature, other than to say it’s priceless, and you’re part of nature and you would not exist were you not; but what we can do is measure the economic value of services that come to you from nature.” Pavan Sukhdev, leader of the TEEB project
Where do we go from Here ?
o, with dangerous levels of climate change approaching faster and faster, and many of the current solutions, like carbon trading, looking like an excuse for business as usual rather than a real opportunity for change, where should environmental negotiations go from here?
The Kyoto protocol expires in 2012. Though governments have been negotiating a stronger replacement for years, a deal seems out of reach. In 2007, COP-13 in Bali set a ‘Road Map’ to a legally binding agreement that would be signed at COP-15 in Copenhagen. (COPs = Conferences of the Parties). But Copenhagen failed miserably. In Durban in 2011, the process started all over again: governments agreed to agree a Road Map by 2015 that would lead to a legally-binding agreement by 2020! The problem is this: because they have been industrialised for longer, rich industrialized countries caused most of the carbon pollution we have now. Newly industrialized countries like China and India think it unfair to be treated the same because, though they emit huge amounts of carbon today, their total is tiny compared with the total emissions of the older industrialized countries over 200 years. Also many of their citizens remain very poor. Clearly, developed nations need to take the lead, reducing their emissions by at least 40% by 2020 . But India and China need to leapfrog old polluting technologies to clean, Green Economy ones: China has made a good start by pledging to increase its energy efficiency by 40% by 2020.
The reductions that countries agree to make need to be real ones, rather than simply rearranging emissions through schemes like carbon trading. They also need to include emissions from airplanes, which are currently not counted, despite being a large contributor to greenhouse gases. Another issue is ‘outsourced’ emissions – these are emissions that are created in developing countries like China or Vietnam in the process of making products for export to developed countries. Both countries get an advantage from these emissions – the developing country gets money for the product, and the developed one gets the product itself – but at the moment only one country is responsible for the emissions. To be fair, these emissions should be shared between countries. To make real reductions will require a much greater level of investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency technology to reduce emissions from generating electricity and manufacturing products. We will also need this technology to be shared fairly and cheaply with developing nations, to ensure their emissions stay low as they develop.
A World Environment Organisation
Another possibility is the creation of a World Environment Organisation (WEO). As well as the Kyoto Protocol, there are currently hundreds of environmental treaties and regulations, which are very difficult to keep track of and enforce – a WEO could combine all these treaties and ensure they are followed. This is one of the main ideas that will be discussed at the Rio+20 summit in Brazil in 2012. Of course, it will not be without problems. A WEO will need a much higher budget than the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which currently does much of this work. This could be funded through a tax on heavily polluting industries perhaps. It will also need to be transparent and democratic, unlike many international organisations; and will need to focus strongly on the needs of vulnerable developing countries who will be most affected by climate change. Most importantly, it must have real power to enforce environmental laws on pollution, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions – without this, it will achieve nothing. None of these steps will be easy to achieve, but they are all possible – if enough people, including young people who are the ones who will face the consequences of climate change in the coming years, call for action from their politicians in 2012 at Rio.
Youth Action on Climate Change and the Environment
e don’t have to accept damage to our environment and the onset of dangerous climate change. instead, we can do something to change it, either by protesting against those doing the damage, or by making changes for ourselves. Here are some young people doing just that...
Climate Camp, UK
Climate Camp started in 2006 to protest against the Drax coalfired power station in northern England by attempting to shut it down. Over the next few years this turned into a yearly event, with campers from all over the country bringing their tents and occupying fields around the country for weeks of protest, training and police harassment. Climate Camp targeted the Kingsnorth power station, Heathrow airport, and the Royal Bank of Scotland (which funds many oil and gas projects worldwide) amongst others, and encouraged people around Europe and other parts of the world to set up their own climate camps.
Pictures by Fotdmike
The TUNZA International Youth & Children Conference on the Environment in September 2011 brought 1400 young people together to discuss their roles and inputs to the upcoming Rio+20 conference. Wenjie Zhang, from China Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN) held two workshops at the conference, one for youth and the other for children, to present how Chinese youth are pushing forward the process of Rio+20 and also to inspire and motivate children who are potential leaders of tomorrow to be active and innovative in environmental fields. The workshops looked at the background and history of Rio+20, clarified confusing concepts like the green economy, and raised awareness of the state of our global environment and the need to protect our forests through hand-making interesting artifacts. We want to demonstrate that it is we, the youth, who will lead the new era in effecting change, establishing economic structures and the preservation of our natural environment.
The Small Earth, Nepal
The Small Earth Nepal (SEN) was established in 2001. It was formed by an environmentally conscious community of students, teachers and scientists with an aim of promoting sustainable lifestyles through education and greater awareness of the ways individuals can reduce their adverse impacts on the environment. SEN organized a hiking program entitled “Monks for Moving Planet: Hiking and Pray for Zero Carbon Emission” from Kathmandu to Namo Buddha monastery. The participants were from different universities and organizations of the area. The objective of the program was to create awareness to religious people, disseminate our message and drag the attention of of religious societies and concerned authorities to the climate issue. religious societies and concerned authorities to the climate issue.
Agrofuels – a type of fuel, similar to oil, made from plants. Theoretically it should create less greenhouse gas emissions than oil, but it means growing crops for fuel rather than food, which is controversial. Carbon Permits – a licence to emit a certain amount of pollution, used in carbon trading and Clean Development Mechanism schemes (see below). Carbon Trading – an idea in which emissions are ‘capped’ at a sustainable level and can then be traded – so businesses which reduce their emissions further than the cap can sell their spare emissions to other companies that need or want to pollute further. Clean Development Mechanism – a scheme in which businesses pay for clean technology in developing nations and receive carbon permits for the amount of carbon dioxide saved. Fossil Fuels – non-renewable fuel sources like oil, coal and gas, which were formed over millions of years by the decaying of fossils underground. The world economy is currently very dependent on a constant supply of cheap fossil fuels. Greenhouse Gases – gases like carbon dioxide or methane which trap heat in the atmosphere, causing climate change. The most well-known is carbon dioxide, or CO2, of which there is currently 390 parts per million in the atmosphere, compared to 280 parts per million 200 years ago. Kyoto Protocol – an international treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Most developed countries have agreed to reduce their emissions to 92% of the levels they were at in 1990, but very few have achieved this so far. Peak Oil – the point at which oil begins to be used quicker than it is discovered, meaning our oil reserves reduce and it becomes more expensive – posing a danger to a world economy that is reliant on cheap oil. REDD – Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, a scheme in which developing countries are paid to protect their forests, which absorb and store carbon dioxide, rather than cutting them down for timber ro to make room for farming. Renewable and non-renewable resources – renewable resources are things like the sun, wind and tides, that we can use to generate power but which will not run out. Nonrenewable resources are things like oil, coal and iron, which were formed under the ground over millions of years, and will not be replaced when they run out. There is also a third category, of resources that are renewable if we use them at a reasonable rate, like tress or fish. Tar Sands – a type of thick oil which needs to be mined and melted before it can be used, creating a lot more greenhouse gas emissions in the process. With traditional oil running out, more and more tar sands are being extracted.
Artwork by Eric Benson
Be a Green Patriot - www.greenpatriotposters.org
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