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    Archive for December, 2023

    With so far to go, two words give hope for future climate negotiations 

    “As a blind man, lifting a curtain, knows it is morning,
    I know this change:
    On one side of silence there is no smile;
    But when I breathe with the birds,
    The spirit of wrath becomes the spirit of blessing,
    And the dead begin from their dark to sing in my sleep.”

    from “Journey to the Interior” by Theodore Roethke

    “The wording of the final text from COP doesn’t match with the science and there is real concern we will miss targets.”

    Chloe Brimicombe, climate scientist, Wegener Center for Climate and Global Change

    The fact that the words “fossil fuels” are included in the final UN COP28 agreement appears to some observers to be a small miracle, considering how divided delegates to the conference were just days before. After two years of accelerating climate and biodiversity disasters, one would think that two other words, “phase out,” might have made greater headway; they did not.

    As some commentators stressed, without a fair transition to renewable sources of energy, which notably includes a massive financial commitment from the so-called developed nations, phasing out fossil fuels will fail. For example, in Canada there has been much talk by the Trudeau government of helping petroleum workers to find new skills to enable them to transition to other energy jobs, but this goal has stagnated. Why? Probably because the oil lobby doesn’t want it to succeed.

    So “transitioning away” from fossil fuels was as good as almost 200 countries could get to, but tragically not far enough to save us from untold grief, unless there is a radically different shift away from the plutocracies that rule the world’s response to climate, social justice and biodiversity. “Whether you like it or not, fossil fuel phase-out is inevitable. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late,” remarked the UN secretary-general, António Guterres. 

    Although the COP agreement is by the consensus of all nations, the Small Island Developing States weren’t included, because they were still formulating their submission to the discussion and were out of the room. No one told these 39 delegates to return for the vote. Everyone knew that those island nations were disappointed with how negotiations were going; appearances may be deceiving, but the final vote may well have deliberately been set up at the moment they were holding a conference elsewhere. In the end they decided not to block the deal.

    Around 2,500 oil lobbyists (of whom more were present than had been at any other climate conference), including a large number from Alberta, had a grossly oversized influence at the United Arab Emirates COP28 meeting. Nowhere in the 21-page document agreement can the words “oil” or “gas” be found; nor is methane mentioned. To be fair, those words haven’t been included in any of the previous failed 27 conferences either. Concerned scientists and citizens no longer shake their heads in disbelief. Climate criminals rule. Extinction Rebellion scientists put it this way:

    Cutting these lobbyists out of the conference would give most of us some confidence that progress can be achieved at these meetings. Pictures of all those private jets at airports for UN summits could become a thing of the past. After all, would armaments industries be allowed to attend a peace conference? On December 13, a day added to the conference to enable the parties to come to an agreement, Saudi Arabia’s delegate was already boasting that the agreements “do not affect our exports, do not affect our ability to sell.”

    Climate scientists speak about “baby steps” being taken to achieve a phase-out of fossil fuels. Aspirational statements and “signals” that proclaim a new direction are clearly insufficient. The world is now beyond those lies. “Rich countries have worked hard to try to get a hollow headline on fossil fuels out of this COP. They are like emperors with no clothes,” wrote Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want, in The Guardian. 

    At a press briefing organized by UNICEF, Francisco Vera, a 14-year-old Colombian climate justice advocate, brought up an issue many have refused to discuss: “All the money being invested in the war on Gaza, but they say there isn’t money to fight climate change. What is happening to our humanity? If we want climate justice, we have to end war.”

    Billions are spent on killing each other. That money should be spent on helping the global south countries to prepare for what the global north has created: accelerated climate heating in 160 years. It is not only the financing to enable countries to adapt to the ravages of climate chaos that is needed, but western nations also need to move forward by embracing a systemic adaptation that looks to ultimately moving away from a capitalist unending growth mindset where war plays a major role in sustaining its momentum. 

    So, at the end of two weeks, can the world find any solace in this conference’s resolutions? There was talk of a Global Stocktake, which looks at everything we have achieved and what the world’s governments have so far failed to achieve—the gaps in our knowledge or political will, perhaps, that impede our ability to take action—and now we must work diligently to find solutions.

    This Stocktake refers to the agreements made at COP21 in Paris in 2015. COP28 in Dubai was meant to assess where we are in stopping climate catastrophe, and to see how far we have come in implementing the goals of the Paris conference. It is an essential tool for ramping up climate action. For example, more money needs to be dedicated to health issues that arise from climate breakdown.

    How do we help each other attain that goal? Although it appears nearly impossible to achieve, nations want to keep the limit of a 1.5 Celsius increase from preindustrial temperatures alive and within their sights as they look at their policies. There is a pledge to triple the production of renewable energy, and a little more financing has been given to the “loss and damage” restitution that the global south has so keenly sought from the industrial world. The Global Stocktake is a way to figure out the impediments to taking action and implement successfully the climate goals first spoken of in Paris.

    At this time last year, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity was being held in Montreal. When oil is not a subject, the delegates for the most part come together to protect the planet, and actions, financial and otherwise, continue to make progress. Remember that the agreement demands that deforestation be halted and that 30% of land and oceans be protected by 2030. Nature gives us the gift of sequestering carbon. Next year’s biodiversity conference will probably take place in Colombia. A good choice, as Colombia is one of the most biodiversity rich countries on the planet.

    Let’s see what happens at the UN climate conference in Azerbaijan in 2024. Next year is set to be as hot as 2023, which of course forebodes more climate disasters. Will the world’s “leaders” ever get past politics and venture to guarantee a liveable planet for our children? The British writer George Monbiot has said that the whole COP process is fraught with loopholes to allow important decisions to be made. He suggests that we look to treaties instead:

    From leaf blowers to the biodiversity/climate crisis – and help to navigate the horrors

     “The UN Emissions Gap Report shows that the emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon. A canyon littered with broken promises, broken lives, and broken records. All of this is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable, and a massive missed opportunity.”

    U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres responds to

    “Less than an hour. That’s only what Canada’s new pledge of US$11.6 million will cover as the damage caused by the climate crisis through extreme weather has cost $16 million an hour for the past 20 years, according to a recent report.”

    André-Yanne Parent, executive director of Climate Reality Canada.

    The 28th UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) is now more than half over. A further article will explore the outcome of talks that brought 70,000 people to the oil kingdom of United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is highly unlikely that the infamous distinction that 2023 has as the warmest year since observational records were first kept 174 years ago will spur on the 197 countries that are represented at COP28 to finally phase out fossil fuel production; all governments in the global north are corrupt.

    It was encouraging at the beginning of the conference to have over US$400 million pledged for the loss and damage fund that helps the global south cope with adaptation and health, but the US was severely criticized for contributing only US$17.5 million. Remember that country is historically the largest greenhouse gas polluter in the world. Billions have been given to subsidize the fossil fuel industry by both Canada and the US. And, to put this in perspective, almost US$900 billion was given this year to the US military, which is the largest institutional carbon emitter in the world.

    Although Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, president of COP28, vehemently denied that oil and gas deals were to be discussed there, this clearly is not the case. Furthermore, he has been implicated in other controversies such as continuing unabated methane flaring despite the UAE’s assertion that the highly dangerous pollutants from this practice were banned years ago, and his refusal to accept the scientific consensus that the phasing out of fossil fuels is essential. “They went too far in naming the CEO of one of the largest—and by many measures one of the dirtiest—oil companies on the planet as the president of the UN Conference on Climate this year,” former US vice president Al Gore said.

    Besides UAE’s oil deals being in the media, Saudi Arabia’s push to lock in oil exports to Africa would stop those countries from pursuing renewable energy later on as the cost for solar and wind power continues to plummet. The only good news to come of this is Al-Jaber’s desire to salvage his reputation and ban closed-room oil deals. Oil lobbyists have been omnipresent at these meetings, and that must stop!

    After COP28 ends on December 12 let us see what it has achieved; there is much talk about phasing out coal in the US, and for tripling nuclear power plants—in my opinion a ridiculous idea, as it takes generally 12 to 15 years from design to energy production, with huge costs always inflating the final price tag, while clearly there are sources of inexpensive and far less dangerous sources of electricity immediately available. And on top of this and the obvious and ever present waste disposal conundrum and uranium mining injustices, climate change has already shut down nuclear energy production because the rivers that supply the water needed for cooling are increasingly at risk of experiencing low levels. The war in Ukraine has also put into focus the ever-present risk of other catastrophic consequences.

    For now COP28 is skating on a slick of oil that threatens to upend any meaningful agreement, but as governments appear ready to confront methane emissions perhaps at least something can emerge from these discussions.

    For many years I have read books and articles by James Gustave Speth, an experienced and thoughtful writer on Nature. A new article examines what he calls “the Big Mistake of climate catastrophe”—the ideas and misguided actions that have accelerated the climate emergency—but he also looks to the future and encourages us to change. “The most fundamental flaw leading to the Great Mistake is a set of dominant cultural values and habits of thought—an outmoded and now dangerous consciousness. Today’s values have allowed us to totally miss the point that the climate crisis is a moral failing… Today’s individualism wars against community and social solidarity. The habit of focusing on the present and discounting the future leads away from a thoughtful appraisal of long-term consequences, as has happened in economists’ models of the future costs of climate change. Future generations? What have they done for us?” Speth believes not only that on-the-ground adaptation as a result of climate upheaval is necessary, but also that systemic adaptation can put community and the planet first and rectify huge mistakes.

    I have always detested gasoline leaf blowers and fortunately I am not alone. They are a perfect example of how an entitled western society’s flair for exceptionalism has brought the world down to its knees in the face of biodiversity loss and climate chaos. Hyperbole and hysteria, you say? One of these monstrosities emits the same amount of nitrogen oxide in an hour as driving a Toyota Camry 1,600 kilometres. I am not surprised by this, as gas lawn mowers are equally guilty of not passing any air pollution test, but leaf blowers exceed the damage they cause. I was therefore eager to read the article “The Gasoline-Powered Leaf Blower as a Metaphor for Industrial Society” by Richard Heinberg. For such a world-renowned and prolific author who focuses on the need to move away from fossil fuels to spend his time reporting on these grotesquely noisy and air-polluting two-stroke machines was refreshing. After all, we all have had the occasion to suffer being close to them.

    What I cannot understand is why each autumn and spring their blast of pollution invades university campuses when students are trying to study. Heinberg says: “Unlike most other loud machines, leaf blowers produce low-frequency noise that travels long distances and penetrates building walls. That’s why a single leaf blower can annoy an entire neighborhood… The noxious stew of gases released by leaf blowers—including cancer-causing benzene, volatile organic compounds, ozone, and nitrogen oxides—is a health hazard for workers and bystanders alike.” Often low-paid landscape workers don’t wear ear protection and definitely not masks, even if their supervisors ask them to do so from time to time.

    So much for the branding of enlightened, compassionate and “green” universities and corporations.  Perhaps leaf blowing humans can look to leaf cutting ants as an example of resilience and cooperation, so often lacking in our own species.  Another title for Heinberg’s article might have been “The Epitome and Anatomy of Stupidity: How the Leaf Blower Sums up the Capitalist World.”

    To help us navigate the distressing global situations we find ourselves in, The Pocket Project is giving us the opportunity to listen to many Nature-engaged people during the COP28 conference until December 12.Please listen free of charge to the conversations at the Climate Consciousness Summit and take solace and action. “The 10-day event will address climate grief and listen to climate solution holders and communities on the frontlines. For every sign up, we plant a tree! Join us…”