Wacky racers rally to raise £1million for Asian elephant

A convoy of adventurers including actor Joshua Jackson, actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia, politician and former editor of The Ecologist Zac Goldsmith and philanthropist Ben Elliot has set off on a charity race across India to raise money for the endangered Asian elephant.

They have been joined by more than 80 explorers, wildlife lovers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists from countries including Peru, Bulgaria, Turkey, Australia, Lebanon the UK and USA. Each has paid £6,000 to enter the race, and has a fundraising target of the same amount.

The drivers are covering up to 170km per day in a variety of vehicles such as Royal Enfield motorbikes, Gujarati chagdas, Mahindra jeeps, rickshaws and vintage cars. According to the organisers, the race is more a test of “agility, wit and character” than speed.

Taking their toll

The race, from Jodhpur to Jaipur, was inspired by the adventures of the late Mark Shand, who in 1988 rescued an elephant called Tara from begging on the streets of India. Shand, who was the brother of the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles, then travelled 1600km across India with Tara, which he documented in his book Travels on My Elephant.

Tara inspired him to co-found charity the Elephant Family, which aims to protect the Asian elephant from extinction by reconnecting forest areas and re-establishing migratory routes.

Habitat loss and fragmentation, illegal wildlife trade and conflict with humans are all taking their toll on the Asian elephant, which has seen numbers halved in the past 60-75 years, according to conservation organisation WWF.

Private collection

Along the route, the rally drivers will visit local communities and take part in a cricket match against a local team. India’s leading conservationists will speak about the conservation projects being powered by the event at different points along the way.

Local dignitaries are lending support, with prince Yuvraj Shivraj Singhji Sahib of Marwar of Jodhpur flagging racers off at Mehrangarh Fort, and the HH Gajendra Singh Khimsar Ji opening up his private collection of classic cars and motorbikes for the group. HH Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh Ji Bahadur of Jaipur will host the post-race dinner.

Racers and backers of a previous rally for the charity include TRH the prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, HRH princess Eugenie of York, Tom Parker Bowles, and actor Goldie Hawn.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.


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A message for the planet: beware the urgency gap

There are two distinct, and physically separate parts of the COP climate talks in Bonn. One, known as the Bulla zone, is mainly housed in a grand conference centre. The other, the Bonn zone, is in a giant tent complex, beside a funfair.

They are considerably more than the officially claimed “10-minute walk” apart (although there is a free bicycle option) – but sometimes it seems like the distance between them is more of an unbridgeable chasm.

The Bulla zone is where the official talks and plenaries take place, and it is full of people in suits, and many contributions from the floor start with long flowery paragraphs along the lines of: “I compliment madam cofacilitator and her committee on their excellent work on paragraph 3 (b), clause seven…”

Campaigning youth

Suits are not de rigeur, but one Greenpeace campaigner at a session I was at yesterday did feel obliged to apologise for his T-shirt.

The Bonn zone by contrast is at its cultural heart the non-governmental and campaigning organisations centre (although there are also national pavilions and scientific institutions here – and some companies), with most of the meetings run by the NGOs.

Even some of the national pavilions pretty well hand over to them: at the Cities and Regions Pavilion yesterday I attended an event on inter-generational justice with campaigning youth organisations.

But the chasm isn’t just in wardrobe or language. Perhaps the most striking – and disturbing – gap is in the level of urgency.

People do move between the two sites, and press conference room two is one of the places where the Bonn side gets to try to deliver its messages to Bulla, and the world.

Propeller polishing

It was there yesterday that Yamide Dagnet from the World Resources Institute said we have a “window of the next two years” to stop runaway climate change. “We can’t wait until 2023 for ‘global stocktake’ on climate change emissions. ‘Enhanced ambition’ can’t wait until 2020.”

Nisreen A.H. Elsaim, a young woman speaking at a Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance press conference, passionately called for action: “it is the youth who will suffer most if we don’t act now.”

A speaker at the same event from Tanzania said the human cost of climate change was already threatening the lives of millions of her people: “our livelihood is at stake if we don’t act now”.

By contrast, at an event in the Bonn zone on aviation and shipping, the International Maritime Organisation, the UN agency overseeing global shipping, explained that any change in environmental regulations would take a minimum of 22 months to bring into effect.

But we were reassured, new environmental regulations had come in for ships, covering incremental improvements such as “propeller polishing, hull cleaning and LED lighting”. 

A five-year cycle

The aviation industry was even worse: it has committed to take extremely limited action from 2020 – but only to offset increases in emissions, even though it’s generally agreed that all the cuts we can make need to be just that, not trade-offs for increases elsewhere. It appeared that for the International Civil Aviation Organization, anything faster wasn’t even on the horizon.

The timetables for the global stocktake that Ms Dagnet was referring to is what’s generally accepted in the Bonn zone, as is the “enhanced ambition” schedule.

That refers to the fact that the Paris talks two years ago, although states (to the surprise and delight of campaigners) agreed to have an ambition of stopping climate change at 1.5 degrees (and we’re two-thirds of the way there now), only assembled offers of national contributions at about 3.4 degrees.

What’s needed is for them to considerable increase their offers – but the significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions are all waiting for each other to act. Many of the events in the Bonn zone are offering suggestions of what they could do – but what there’s yet to be any signs of are solid promises to act.

It isn’t that there isn’t discussion in the Bonn zone about this. One of the terms covering it is “the near-term agenda” (referring to actions before the next big scheduled meeting in 2020 – the talks operating on a five-year cycle of decision then implementation).

Truly essential

It had been hoped the formal talks would start with some agreement on that. It hasn’t happened, not yet anyway.  And that aviation and maritime meeting, even though not part of the main agenda, with jam-packed, with three times as many people in the room as seats. And almost no one left despite the rising heat.

One of the key events of day one of COP was the International Meterological Organization announcement of its latest climate calculations – and they were all bad news. It said 2017 is set to be the third-warmest on record (higher than had been expected after the end of the El Nino weather phenomenon, which has lifted temperatures in the last couple of years).

The report is of rising sea levels, a shrinking cryosphere and between 2000 and 2016 the number of people vulnerable to extreme heatwaves rising by 125 million. 

In the division of urgency between the states and the campaigners, there’s no doubt on which side the scientists are on. And that should be taken as a clear and urgent message for the states.

Listen to the campaigners, and the scientists, and bridge that urgency gap. It is truly essential you do it now. A few years’ time is too late.

This Author

Natalie Bennett is the former co-leader of the Green party. She is in Bonn with the Green Economics Institute. She tweets at @natalieben



Typhoon Haiyan four years later: “Everything was taken away by that storm.”

Joanna Sustento still vividly remembers the horrors that unfolded in Novemner four years ago. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, unleashed death and destruction on Eastern Visayas and the central Philippines.

A day before the typhoon hit, Sustento says it was very hot in Tacloban City, Leyte. She could not believe that there was a storm brewing. “It was a hot and sunny day, how can there be a storm?” she recalls.

But at 5 a.m. the next day, she woke up to howling winds that sent their home vibrating as an unimaginable amount of rain pounded down. “There was a ringing in my ears,” she says.

In a matter of minutes, dark water had filled their house. They clung desperately to metal window grills as they exited, fighting to keep from being carried away by the strong currents.

One by one

Sustento’s sister-in-law Geo was the first casualty. A snake bit Geo and, as she weakened, she began saying her goodbyes even as she tried to hold on to her three-year old son Tarin. She eventually lost consciousness and floated away.

Despite wearing a life jacket, Tarin, who had autism, began drowning. Sustento’s eldest brother, the boy’s father, tried to save him but the current was too strong and he, too, was gone.

Sustento cried to her father as they tried to fight the rushing waters. “I was always confident that my father would have the answers but that day he had none. I will never forget the defeated look on his face. I could not do anything.”

As the family was swept away, her father slipped from the log they were clinging to and was gone. Sustento and her mother managed to hang onto the trusses of a building near their house. “The water was like a washing machine. It was turbulent,” she says.

Exhausted and devastated, Sustento says she was ready to die right then and there. “But then my mother shouted at me. Her voice pulled me out of the turbulence.”

Sustento forced herself to hang onto a door that was floating past. She swam to save her mother. “I could still see there was still some life in her,” she says. But her mother was already too weak and the strong current forced them apart.

On that day, Sustento lost her mother, father, eldest brother, sister-in-law and nephew. The body of her father was never found and she is uncertain if Tarin, who remains missing, is alive or dead. “Everything was taken away by that storm.”

Deadliest storm

Officially, Haiyan killed more than 6,300 people, making it the deadliest storm to ever hit landfall in the Philippines. More than 1,000 are still missing and four million were affected by the disaster.

The supertyphoon, packing winds of up to 315 kilometers per hour, generated powerful storm surges that destroyed entire communities as it made landfall in the provinces of Leyte and Samar early in the morning of November 8, 2013.

Aside from the deaths, it is estimated to have caused as much as US$2 billion in damage to property.

Slow recovery

Four years after, the quest for justice for the thousands of lives lost and unspeakable damage remains. The slow rehabilitation and reconstruction of Tacloban City, in particular, has been the subject of much government criticism.

Former President Benigno Aquino III promised to build as many as 250,000 houses and relocate those living in coastal areas, the most vulnerable to storm surges. But a report by the Housing and Urban Development Council in 2016 said only 25,000 of the promised units were completed. Of these, only 2,500 had been occupied.

In the aftermath of the disaster, as much as P41.8 billion (US $818 billion)  in foreign aid poured into the country, according to the United Nations Office for Coordination. However, slow disbursement of funds hampered recovery for many affected residents.

A Commission of Audit report released in November 2015 said more than P364 million (US $7.1 million) in foreign donations – meant to be distributed to Haiyan-affected communities to help them rebuild their lives – was sitting in the bank account of the implementing arm of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, which is the agency in charge of the funds. 

Impassioned plea

As the horrors of Typhoon Haiyan was slowly unfolding, Yeb Saño, then the Philippines’ lead negotiator at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change high-level talks in Warsaw, Poland, which took place as Haiyan struck, delivered an emotional appeal for the world to respond to the massive devastation in the Philippines.

“What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness,” he said. Saño himself had relatives who were victims of Haiyan.

As a result of the horrific images from Haiyan, the COP 19 in Warsaw developed the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change. The mechanism is meant to promote approaches to minimize loss and damage – irreparable impacts of climate change such as loss of lives in extreme weather events and sinking of islands due to rising sea levels.

However, it remains to be a controversial topic in climate negotiations as developed countries are averse to questions of accountability and liability.

The Paris Agreement

In 2015, the UNFCCC forged the Paris Agreement, a landmark climate treaty that was signed by 195 countries. The climate accord pushes to keep global temperatures well below two degrees Celsius as well as mitigation of greenhouse gases, adaptation practices and climate financing.

In addition to these, it also includes a provision for ‘loss and damage.’ The provision includes enhancing action and support, especially financing, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.

However, specific rules on its implementation have stalled, as developed countries are wary of touching on the issue of liability. Acknowledging liability would mean that those who have historically contributed more to the causes of climate change must pay for the cost of loss and damage.

‘An insurance system’

Manila Observatory chair and veteran climate negotiator Antonio La Viña says that the loss and damage mechanism is akin to an insurance system where countries make contributions to a global fund. It will be used in the event of an extreme weather event or slow onset events to compensate countries for damages.

“It advanced in Warsaw because of Haiyan but we don’t want another Haiyan to happen for this to advance further,” La Viña says.

Emmanuel de Guzman, secretary of the Climate Change Commission and head of the Philippine delegation to COP 23, says that the delegation will be pushing for more support for adaptation measures and the immediate action of development and implementation of the Paris Agreement.

He adds that loss and damage is still an issue but did not elaborate on the specific plans of the delegation to push for it.

According to De Guzman, President Rodrigo Duterte’s message is of climate justice. “We are an insignificant emitter. We should be on the receiving end of finance and support.”

When asked if this is the directive of the President, despite his prior reluctance to ratify the Paris Agreement, De Guzman said Duterte had always wanted to sign the agreement but had a few questions on the matter such as its legal implications.

Battleground for justice

As the world braces for the ‘new normal’ of increasing occurrences of extreme weather events, Saño, now the executive director of Greenpeace Philippines, is calling on the negotiations to steer the world from its reliance on fossil fuels.

“Fossil fuels must stay in the ground. Government delegations meeting in Bonn must stand up and propel climate action forward or be held accountable for their inaction,” he said in a press statement.

With the implementation of the Paris Agreement set to start in 2023, Bonn, Germany will be the staging ground of the rulebook for the treaty, which must be finished by 2018. It remains to be seen if loss and damage will be given a significant push in the negotiations.

Changing climate

For many Yolanda victims, the inclusion of loss and damage in the agenda of the Paris Agreement presents an opportunity to deliver climate justice to the most vulnerable people to climate change. Sustento says that she remains traumatized by Yolanda.

Many survivors, she says, feel that those who died in the storm were luckier because they no longer have to think about the future. Sometimes she wonders if life is still worth living after losing seven family members, including both her parents.

In the years following her trauma, Sustento turned to activism. She is part of a movement that calls on rich countries to be accountable to their contributions in accelerating the effects of climate change and provide financing for concrete adaptation and mitigation measures.

“Our lives are not less than yours.”

This Author

Alanah Torralba is an independent journalist and photographer from Manila, Philippines. She is currently in Bonn, Germany to attend the COP23 as a fellow of Climate Tracker. This article is adapted from an earlier publication


James Hansen at COP23: The voice of dissent

Nick Breeze (NB): Can you rate the progress that the Paris Agreement has achieved since COP21?

James Hansen (JH): I would say there is very little progress because there is no reductions in global emissions of carbon dioxide. If you look at the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and methane in the atmosphere, it is actually growing more rapidly than it was two years ago.

NB: Is this what you expected?

JH: I expected very little from the Paris Agreement. It is analogous to the Kyoto Protocol. There politicians agreed that climate was a problem and that nations would try to reduce their emissions; in fact the emissions accelerated. The rate of growth increased.

If you look at developed countries their emissions peaked in 1980 and since then have been flat. There is no evidence of an impact of the Kyoto Protocol or the framework convention in the 1990’s. 

Now we got to 2015 and we have the Paris Protocol, all the politicians clapping each other on the back as if something had been accomplished but there is not going to be a reduction in fossil fuel use as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy. And that’s the situation.

We have to make fossil fuels include their cost to society. That means the air pollution cost, the water pollution cost, the climate change cost. So we have to add a carbon fee, a carbon tax, which has to be across the board: oil, gas and coal. Not some cap and trade gimmick which does almost nothing.

There is no realisation of the politicians that they have not taken the needed actions, so in that sense there has been no progress.

NB: Do you speak to leading figures from the UNFCCC or government officials?

JH: I have gone to different countries and tried to make this case and they do not really change their approach. I tried to persuade them that cap and trade with offsets is really not doing anything. And they have to admit that!

I met with the science advisor to the European Commission and she agreed that cap and trade is not working and what you need is an across the board carbon tax or carbon fee. But, she says, you have to persuade them, the bureaucrats in Brussels. 

Well that is hard to do because there are all these deals and as yet, these politicians are working more for the fossil fuel industry than they are for the public.

When you see words like “ambition” – a word tied very closely to the COP – how do you interpret that and what do you think?

JH: Yeah, that is just a hoax in my opinion! They say that they are going to try to do something but it won’t work. As long as fossil fuels are allowed to be the cheapest energy someone will burn them.

Some countries will try real hard and they’ll reduce their emissions by twenty percent, or by thirty percent but look at the global emissions. They are still staying at least the same, if not increasing and that is going to be true as long as fossil fuels are allowed to be the cheapest energy.

NB: Could you summarise what you’d prescribe as a course of action?

JH: Yeah, the course of action should be to collect a fee from the fossil fuel companies at the domestic mines and the ports of entry and give the money to the public; an equal amount to all legal residents. 

That way the person that does better than average in limiting their carbon footprint will make much more money. In fact, if you look at the distribution of energy use by the public, about 70% of the people could make money with the present distribution.

Wealthy people would lose money but they can afford that. They have a bigger carbon footprint because they travel more and they live in bigger houses, but this would be a big incentive for people to pay attention to what they are buying.

As the carbon fee rises, products that are made with fossil fuels will become more expensive. So people will tend to buy other products and this will move us off of fossil fuels. Economists all agree: this is the way to do it, let the market help you solve the problem. You can’t do it by regulations, and by subsidising solar panels. It does very little good because we’re getting less than 1% of solar energy from solar panels.

NB: When you look across the political spectrum today, do you feel that we could go in the direction you are prescribing?

JH: I think we will go in that direction because China will eventually go in that direction. They are already beginning to have internal carbon price and carbon tax and they have a few hundred million people living near sea-level.

They do not deny the science, they understand it and they want to go to clean energy because their pollution is so bad. So they are going to move in that direction and as their economy continues to grow, relative to the rest of the world, they may be in a position where they could virtually impose this.

You see, either the United States, or China, or the European Union has to decide that ‘we are going to have a carbon fee or a carbon tax’. None of them have done that yet. But if just one of them would do it they could practically impose it by means of border duties on products from countries that do not have an equivalent carbon fee. That then is a big incentive for other countries to have their own carbon fee so they can collect the money themselves.

The World Trade Association agrees that such a border duty would be justified and that is what we need but we haven’t got any one of these three economic powers to agree to do it yet.

NB: Why is this view not being considered as part of the roadmap to 1.5 or 2 degrees?

JH: The reason that we are not doing what every economist says we should do and have a carbon tax, is that the fossil fuel industry is too damn powerful in capitals all around the world. In Washington DC and in other capitals.

I thought that the U.S. was worse than the rest of the world and in some ways at the moment it is but I went to about a dozen countries and I found that the fossil fuel industry is very powerful in very capital.

NB: So are you hopeful we will turn this situation around?

JH: I think we’ll turn it around but we better do it pretty soon because the fundamental difficulty is the delayed response of the climate system. We have only witnessed about half of the change for the gasses that are already in the atmosphere just because the ocean has so much inertia. It doesn’t warm up quickly. There is more energy coming into the planet than there is going out. 

Therefore the oceans are going to continue to rise even if we stabilised atmospheric CO2 today. Then the ice-sheets also have great inertia. So they are beginning to melt but sea-level is only going up at a rate that if it continues a hundreds years is only [~40cm’s] but that rate has doubled a few times in the last hundred years and if it doubles a few more times then you are talking about metres.

Then we would lose all coastal cities if we stay on that path. So we really need to begin to stabilise atmospheric composition and that means reduce fossil fuel use rapidly over the next few decades. We should be off fossil fuels by the middle of the century if we want to stabilise climate.

NB: But even if we stabilise, what you are saying is that we are still going to see the impacts?

JH: Well, if we would reduce emissions a few percent each year, which economists say you could easily do if you had a rising price on carbon, then the maximum temperature rise would be 1.5 degrees [Celsius]. It is already a little more than 1 degree and it might still go up for a few decades but it would peak at about 1.5 and then begin to go down.

We would also, in addition to reducing emissions a few percent a year, need to store more carbon in the soil and biosphere. But that is possible and has other advantages with improved agricultural and forestry practises the soil can contain more carbon and become more fertile in the process. And we can do that.

NB: This is a hope story in a way?

JH: It’s plausible. Economic studies show that if you had a reasonable rising carbon fee then emissions would go down by a few percent a year, so it’s feasible but not without a carbon price.

This Author

Nick Breeze is a climate interviewer posting regularly at: http://envisonation.co.uk and http://climateseries.com 



Wake up and smell the methane: Europe has nine years left of its carbon budget

The ubiquitous power of money is no secret. Its touch has been etched into elections, wars and institutions, and all too often has it suffocated environmental debates.

Today, it jeopardizes the progression of a clean, fair future, as fossil fuel interests continue their war of attrition to undermine action on climate change.

Historically, to defend business-as-usual, lobbyist ammunition was climate change denial. However, with shifting energy politics, their latest weapon is packaging fossil gas as ‘green’ and a ‘transitional fuel’.

Infrastructure and investment

The giant PR wheel is spinning, and the ‘clean gas’ memo is subsequently being woven into policy briefs, negotiation spaces and contemporary narratives.

Seeking to unstitch these fallacies, Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned a study from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and the Teesside University entitled ‘Natural gas and climate change.’

Its content sheds light on the true climate impacts of fossil gas, its place in a zero-emission future, and where our current gas addiction could take us.

The authors, Professor Kevin Anderson and Doctor John Broderick, shockingly conclude that if we continue down this natural gas trajectory, the EU will use up its 2°C energy-only carbon budget in just nine years.

If we are to limit average global temperature rises to 2°C as in the terms of the Paris Agreement things need to change, and fast. Pillared by false assumptions, gas has become politically palatable, with consumer demand, infrastructure and investment all set to increase.

Gas lifecycle

In fact, the International Energy Agency predicts a 50 percent increase in gas demand by 2040.

A powerful PR campaign has re-birthed gas as the ‘cleanest fossil fuel’, shifting policy imperatives away from coal and oil, towards gas as a ‘bridge to a clean energy future.’ This is a fallacy (take note Obama!).

Whilst it’s true that CO2 emissions during combustion of fossil gas are lower than that of coal and oil, this industry catch-phrase is only one facet of this climactic picture, devoid of considerations of methane emissions or the entire life-cycle emissions of the gas supply chain.

So-called ‘natural gas’ is primarily composed of methane, which has 86 times more Global Warming Potential (GWP) than CO2 in a 20 year time period.

Methane leaks directly into the atmosphere intentionally and accidentally all along the gas lifecycle.

Additional emissions 

Whilst the invisibility of gas leaks creates ambiguity in quantifying total gas emissions, recent peer-reviewed studies estimate U.S. gas industry emissions 50 to 60 percent higher than official numbers published by the U.S. administration.

Even with this uncertainty in mind, Anderson and Broderick find that overall methane emissions are at dangerously high levels, in line with the most pessimistic end of scenarios as postulated by the International Panel on Climate Change.

They find that all the man-made methane emissions, including these gas leaks, are likely to add 0.6°C global warming. To me, this does not sound ‘clean’ or ‘green’. But that’s not all.

The revival of the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) sector has brought with it a huge carbon footprint. LNG is fossil gas that has been cooled to -160°C into a liquid to shrink its volume by 600 times. It is then stored and transported across the globe via ships, and turned back into gas at regasification terminals.

Anderson and Broderick find that ‘the additional emissions of LNG and long distance pipelines are approximately double those of short distance conventional production’.

Shifting impetus

The additional emissions from LNG mean that its lifecycle emissions can be as high as 134 percent of the end use combustion of CO2.’

Clearly, focus from lobbyists on end combustion has distracted from the much wider and larger life-cycle emissions of gas, including methane leaks and LNG.

These figures are unsurprisingly seldom referenced by industrialists, who have capitalized on the fallacy of gas being clean and expanded production accordingly.

For example, Total’s natural gas production accounted for just a third of its output ten years ago. In 2016, it accounted for over 48 percent, which it justifies as a strategic decision in response ‘to concerns about climate change’.

More importantly than this, these dangerous narratives on gas are leaking into the policy sphere, with shifting impetus on gas infrastructure creating an energy lock-in (pipelines are typically designed to have a useful life of about 50 years!).

Gas is becoming a central component of EU’s energy policy, with new gas projects, like the Southern Gas Corridor from Azerbaijan to Italy, and extraction of new sources, like shale gas, being presented as important contributions to the energy transition.

Clean energy future

But gas is not a companion to a renewable energy future, it is competition. We must move forward carrying the message of Anderson and Broderick; ‘In delivering a mitigation programme for 2°C, there is categorically no role for bringing additional fossil fuel reserves, including gas, into production.’

Instead, they specify a reduction of energy-only carbon emissions of 95 percent by 2035, meaning that more than 2/3 of reserves need to remain in the ground.

The EU must reflect seriously on the findings of this study. If our gas frenzy continues, we risk devastating temperature rises which will confront nations with the lowest gross-emissions with the fiercest impacts.

And who will bear the brunt of this disaster? My generation. I wish not to reside in a world where geopolitics and money gain more traction that equity and sustainability.

If our planet has any hope of establishing parameters of justice, then Europe needs to relinquish its addiction to gas. Gas is not a bridge to a clean energy future. It is a dead-end.

This Author

Katie Hodgetts is a member of the Economic Justice Team at Friends of the Earth Europe. Katie Tweets at @katiehodgettssx. FOE Europe can be followed on Twitter, at @foeeurope.


Councils in UK invest £16.1 billion in fossil fuels

Councils across Britain invest £16.1 billion of their workers’ pensions into companies that extract coal, oil and gas, fueling dangerous climate change, according to research published today.

The new data reveals that UK local government pensions are financially invested in the industry most responsible for climate change. It has been released to conincide with the COP23 United Nations meeting in Bonn held to discuss progress on Paris Agreement climate goals.

The data and online map released by 350.org, Platform, Energy Democracy Project, and Friends of the Earth ranks councils by their fossil fuel investments, and allows residents to see every company or fund their local council has invested into.

Divest their pensions

Investments in fossil fuels have gone up in real terms (from £14bn) and did not change significantly in proportion to the size of the pension funds, when compared to 2015 data.

These figures show that councils have not made any significant changes to their investments in response to calls from the climate movement, governments, and shareholders to take climate risk into account, in the two years since the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Jane Thewlis, West Yorkshire Pension Fund member and divestment campaigner, said: “Our pensions are investing in the companies responsible for the climate crisis. This flies in the face of the Paris Agreement, and of all the efforts being made locally to reduce emissions and combat climate change. It’s time to divest.”

George Guivalu Nacewa, Fiji Climate Warrior attending the COP23 talks in Bonn, said: “In the Pacific, the impacts of climate change are not a debate, it is our reality. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. We no longer have time to talk. Now is the time to act.”

Several councils have already committed to divest their pensions from fossil fuels, among them Waltham Forest.

Solar farm

Councillor Simon Miller, the cabinet member for economic growth and previously of the pension fund, said: “I am proud that Waltham Forest has committed to divest from fossil fuels.

“Given current pressures on Local Authority budgets, our pension funds have a key role to play, not only in making our economy greener and our communities healthier, but as driver of sustainable, future focused investment in local areas.

Furhter, Strathclyde Pension Fund has invested £10 million in Albion Community Power, who own hydro stations with capacity to power 4,000 homes.

Falkirk Pension Fund has provided £30 million for a major programme of 190 new homes, including council housing, in the Forth Valley.

Lancashire County Council has invested £12 million into Westmill Solar Co-operative, a community owned solar farm.

Cleaner, safer future

Unison is represented on the boards of a number of the council pension funds. In June this year the largest trade union representing local government workers in the country passed policy to “seek divestment of Local Government Pension Schemes from fossil fuels over five years giving due regard to fiduciary duty”. 

Sarah Shoraka, a Platform campaigner said: “Local councils are gambling with our future. By continuing to heavily invest in companies like BP and Shell, local authorities are risking the future of our pensions and our climate.

Syria announces it will sign the Paris Agreement – leaving US isolated

The Syrian Arab Republic has announced this morning that will sign the Paris Agreement, leaving the United States as the only country not pledging to climate action.

A negotiating member close to the Syrian delegation commented: “The assessment of the impact of a commitment such as the Paris Accord on the economy of a country at war takes time.

“The decision whether or not to join the Agreement and its impacts were being discussed in recent months. Syria was convinced by partners that this was the best way forward”.

Clear commitment

When asked if the ‘partners’ mentioned referred to Syria’s close ally Russia, the source refused to comment.

An observing member at the UNFCCC that wished to stay anonymous stated: “We should celebrate that the US is being completely isolated, and the Syrian delegation made the right choice.

“We should, however, not glorify the Syrian delegation because they still represent Al-asaad.”

Out of 197 parties in the United Nations, 196 have signed the Paris Agreement already, making it the fastest international treaty to enter into force, and demonstrating a clear commitment within the global community to tackle climate change.

Of these countries, 169 have also ratified the agreement, leaving only 28 countries left that still need to pledge the inclusion of the international Paris Agreement into their resective national law systems.

Already suffering

In the plenary of the 2nd day of COP23 in Bonn, Germany, Syria announced their intention the sign the Agreement.

Due to the heavy civil war that has terrorised the country since 2011, Syria did not commit to signing the Paris Agreement. Until now that is.

Since it was the last remaining country to sign the agreement, Syria’s promise brings the whole world together in a strong stance against climate change.

That would leave the United States, which intends to leave the Agreement, as the only country in the world not committed to take climate action, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions or adapting to the impacts that the country is already suffering.



Leaders must look to Pacific Islands to understand the importance of building water resilience

COP21 will be remembered for the historic Paris Agreement that saw an important step towards global action on climate change. For observers of this year’s global gathering in Bonn, I recommend keeping an eye on discussions about water resilience.

Too little or too much – climate change will be felt most through its impact on the water cycle. I’m at COP23 to work with colleagues from around the world to continue to push for water to become an even greater priority.

Addressing water issues across the water cycle is key to adapting to climate change and reducing the impact of water-related disasters.

Voice the vulnerabilities

Climate change increases the intensity and frequency of natural disasters and water-related crises, including unpredictable rainfall, floods and droughts.

In addition, water is critical to successful climate change mitigation, since many efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions depend on reliable access to water resources.

Governments must make water figure prominently within their Nationally Determined Contributions, their National Adaptation Plans and other UNFCCC programs and mechanisms.

It is significant that Fiji is presiding over the 23rd session of the COP being held in Bonn. Fiji is the first Small Island Developing State (SIDS) to assume the Presidency of the UNFCCC COP process.

This represents an opportunity to voice the vulnerabilities and challenges facing SIDS and other low-lying coastal areas.

Human health

It is crucial for the world to fully realize that the climate is changing around the world, although not at the same rate.

For example, sea level rise in areas of the Pacific Ocean is currently four times the global average, coupled with enhanced storm-surge, this is potentially devastating.

Many atolls, homes to thousands, are less than five metres above sea level. The changing climate may have a catastrophic effect on such local communities, damaging their physical environment, customs and culture.

To help decision makers understand the impact, Arup has developed a resilience index to focus action and support on improving the resilience of low lying Pacific Island Nations to sea level rise.

Most Pacific islands are already suffering from the impact of climate change on communities, infrastructure, water supply, ecosystems, food security and human health.

Prosperous communities

Rising sea levels and enhanced storm surges are an immediate existential threat. Five low-lying Solomon Island archipelagos have already been submerged.

Understanding the potential impact on communities and livelihoods is essential to building resilience for the islands. In the words of Enele Sosene Sopoange, Prime Minister of Tuvalu, “If we save Tuvalu, we save the world”.

Cities around the world also need to adapt to changes across the water cycle. At Water Action Day, I’ll be joining a panel discussing the responsibility cities have in developing the world’s resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Because of the rapid expansion of cities, water resources are already under increasing stress. Moreover, local authorities need to safeguard their citizens from climate-related risks, arising from either too much, too little or contaminated water, and build-in greater resilience.

Investing in both infrastructure and capacity development to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation and increase water-related disaster preparedness will lead to healthier and more prosperous communities.

Global action

It will enable cities to bounce back more quickly and cope better when disaster does strike. However, national and local governments need to enhance their collaboration to implement national climate and water policies on the ground, closest to where water can be effectively managed.

Looking through a climate change lens at the Pacific Island Nations we can appreciate how this global challenge will be felt locally, how communities and cultures are facing overwhelming odds and how we need to build momentum in our global action to do something about it. 

This Author

Mark Fletcher is global water leader at Arup, an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists, working across every aspect of today’s built environment.


No BBC science reporting course since 2012, documents reveal

Just one year after an independent review recommended the BBC take “an active approach” to engaging with scientists, the corporation stopped running science reporting courses for its journalists, DeSmog UK can reveal.

The news comes just weeks after producers of the BBC’s flagship news programme issued an apology for an interview with Lord Nigel Lawson, admitting that his infamous climate science denial “should have been challenged”.

A document seen by DeSmog UK, obtained through a freedom of information request submitted by nonprofit Request Initiative, stated that the ‘Reporting Science’ course “ceased running” at the beginning of 2013. “No document exists to explain why the decision to stop running the course was taken,” it said.

Prevailing consensus

The BBC implemented the course as a response to a review in 2011 by UCL professor Steve Jones into the “impartiality and accuracy” of the corporation’s science reporting.

The report criticised the BBC for allowing “an adversarial attitude to science which allows minority, or even contrarian, views an undue place”. It concluded that, “there should be no attempt to give equal weight to opinion and to evidence”.

On being told the courses had stopped, Jones told DeSmog UK: “I did not know that they had been discontinued; but I do know that BBC journalists do not like these compulsory courses as they are busy as hell anyway and the courses tend to fade away. 

“The problem is not factual errors most of the time, but an unwillingness to accept that there is a consensus about a scientific issue, because of the constant desire to report controversy.”

The BBC’s editorial guidelines state that “minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus. Nevertheless, the omission of an important perspective, in a particular context, may jeopardise perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality.”

Peer-reviewed research

Regarding the difficulty of ensuring science reporting is balanced and impartial, Jones said: “I have some sympathy with them [the BBC], but I do think that some of the problems mentioned in my review remain, particularly in radio news. 

“The recent Lawson affair was a fiasco; I spoke about it on Today the following day and was berated by John Humphries for calling Lawson’s followers ‘deniers’ of anthropogenic climate change. That, he said, was a theological term rather than a scientific one. I don’t see that; I deny that the world is flat because, in fact, it is spherical.”

Dr Emily Shuckburgh, an oceanographer with the British Antarctic Survey who recently co-authored a ladybird book on climate change with the Prince of Wales, told DeSmog UK that it remains imperative that the BBC continues to consult experts when covering scientific issues.

“Accurate broadcast coverage of science is especially important for topics such as climate change where policy decisions are informed by this evidence, as was highlighted by the 2011 Jones review of BBC output,” she said.

“Many scientists are proactive in working with BBC science editors and reporters to ensure they have the best access to peer-reviewed research outcomes and plain-language briefings, in addition to providing broadcast interviews. We would welcome any opportunity to engage further, including through input to training courses or other forms of briefing for a wider range of BBC staff.”

New recruits

Richard Black, BBC news’ environment correspondent from 2003 to 2012, and now director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit thinktank, said it was “certainly a surprise” the course had ended after such a short period of time. 

“When BBC management responded to the Jones Review back in 2011 they gave no indication that the courses were a temporary thing – they were presented as something that would run and run.

“And that would be logical: Steve Jones identified lack of scientific awareness outside the specialist units as a problem that sometimes led to poor editorial decision-making, and the courses were intended to guard against that.

“It’s not going to magically stop being a problem, especially given staff turnover and resource cuts – and the fact that they acknowledged getting it wrong over the recent Lord Lawson interview, and even more so over ‘What’s the point of the Met Office?’ which was so bad they took it off iPlayer, shows all is not going entirely swimmingly.

“I would have thought it entirely logical now to re-introduce the courses and do what they should have done in 2011, namely to make them mandatory for everyone with editorial responsibility who might include scientific topics in their output, including new recruits.”

Necessary courses

A spokesperson for the BBC told DeSmog UK that the corporation stood by its decision to interview Lawson for the Today programme, while accepting his views should have been better checked. 

They did not say whether the BBC had made efforts to replace the Reporting Science course, or explain how the corporation continued to ensure it met the recommendations of the Jones Review, however.

The spokesperson said: “This was always intended to be a short-term course. As and when necessary courses are re-run. However, we do not accept the suggestion that this had any bearing on the decision to interview Lord Lawson. The finding was clear that it was acceptable to interview him, but that his comments should have been challenged more.”

This Author

Mat Hope is editor of DeSmog UK where this article first appeared. He tweets at @matjhope.


Insect armageddon – the devil is in the detail

Results of a study of insects in protected areas across Germany earned dramatic headlines warning of “ecological Armageddon”.

Insects are vital to humans as well as the birds and mammals that eat them, controlling pests, pollinating crops and recycling organic matter.

The study, published in science journal PLOS One, found an estimated seasonal decline of 76 percent, and mid-summer decline of 82 percent in flying insect biomass over 27 years.

Large taxa

According to the researchers, the decline was apparent regardless of habitat type, and changes in weather, land use, and habitat could not explain the trend.

However, the conclusions of the researchers were more nuanced than media coverage implied, according to other insect specialists.

Importantly, the study did not measure insect populations, as most articles claimed, but insect biomass. In other words, the researchers measured the insects caught in traps by weight, not by number, nor species.

This is a subtle, but important distinction, according to Chris Shortall, an entomologist at Rothamstead Research, which has been surveying insects since 1964.

“This decline could very well have been driven by a decline in one or two relatively large taxa (such as bumblebees and dragonflies) as was demonstrated in our study at Hereford which found one species of (relatively) large fly had declined, while other taxa showed no significant change,” he said.

Recovered then declined

Professor Alexandra Klein, head of nature conservation and landscape ecology at the University of Freiburg in Germany, pointed out that many of the sites were surveyed only once over the 27-year period of the study, and that the areas of land surveyed, despite being designated as protected, were small and degraded.

However, Klein acknowledged that the loss of insect biomass found by the study was extremely high. One conclusion, she said, could be that the areas of land surveyed were not high quality enough to sustain flying insects, and that high-quality habitats need to be brought back to agricultural landscapes.

“If we do not react, this might bring us to an ‘ecological armageddon’ meaning having almost no insects or that insect biomass will be dominated by pest and alien species,” Klein said.

Other research on insect populations have drawn mixed conclusions. A study published in the journal Global Change Biology in 2015 looked at the impact of extreme weather, climate and pesticide use on invertebrates in Sussex cereal fields over 42 years.

It found that populations of 12 insect species declined and two increased. Of the remainder, some recovered then declined. However, overall it identified a 35 percent decline in the total number of insects.

Of four insect traps studied by the scientists at Rothamsted Research, three showed downward trends in insect biomass over 30 years to 2002, but the decline was only significant in one area.

Agricultural chemicals

“So we are really none the wiser; the two studies that focus on a wider range of insect groups do not give us a clear indication of insect decline.

“On the other hand, both studies are limited in their geographic coverage; we do not know how representative the results are of the whole country,” according to Simon Leather, professor of entomology at Harper Adams University, in a blog.

Leather said that more research on insect populations was needed. Use of pesticides should be examined “very closely”, and there should be more emphasis on conservation biological control, where the environment is managed to encourage the presence of natural enemies of pests, he said.

In a blog on the German study, Dr Manu Saunders, an ecologist at the Charles Stuart University in Australia, pointed out similar issues with the research as Professor Klein, and said it was misleading to link the study with collapses in pollinators, or declines in butterflies, as much media coverage had done.

However, she wrote that the study was still an important scientific story: “Yes, insects are in trouble. We know that overuse of agricultural chemicals, particularly pesticides, and intensification of agricultural landscapes have negative effects on non-target insects.

“I hope the story gives much-needed attention to the fact that entomologists and insect ecologists all over the world need more support and funding to answer similar questions in other environments. The only way to identify ‘ecological Armageddon’ is to show that these patterns of decline exist across multiple scales,” she added.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.