Monday, December 26, 2011

South Africans enjoy getting into hot water and saving money

DURBAN, South Africa (AlertNet) - At the recent U.N. climate conference in Durban, the South African government promoted its solar water heating programme as a way to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. But for poor local families, the benefits are much more personal.

“I am very happy that I can bathe in warm water, like other people,” said Lhle Mbele, 15, whose house has been equipped with a free solar-powered water heater.

Lhle, his 14 siblings and his parents live in a 20 square metre (220 square foot) house in the Kingsburgh district of Durban. Lhle’s father is unemployed and his mother earns a living as a domestic worker in an elite area of the city. Hot water for washing is a luxury the family could not previously afford.

South Africa is responsible for 70 percent of Africa’s carbon emissions. As the host of the two-week U.N. climate talks, which ended on Dec. 11, the country has been eager to demonstrate its commitment to low-carbon technology.

The government has committed to producing 10,000 gigawatt hours of electricity through renewable energy by 2013, and solar power for heating water is slated to account for 23 percent of this.

Since December 2010, more than 75,000 solar water heaters have been installed by the Gauteng-based Solar Academy of Subsaharan Africa (SASSA), a private company working for the government, in neighbourhoods whose residents cannot normally afford hot water. The programme includes cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria. More


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Polly Higgins: Let's stand up for climate justice (and Survival)

Polly Higgins: Let's stand up for climate justice (and Survival)

When David stands up to Goliath it is exciting to watch. And this is exactly what we saw at the Durban climate talks this week when six Canadian youth delegates thumbed their noses at Peter Kent, Canadian Environment Minister. Kent was speaking about Canada’s decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol when the youths stood up, swiveled, and turned their backs on him.

Their t-shirts read “People before Polluters”, and one of the courageous six said “It’s time to leave Canada behind” – but no words could speak louder than the gesture. The young people received a standing ovation from those who witnessed their protest. 

These youths turned their backs in disgust not only on an intransigent government and a powerful fossil fuel industry lobby, but on the process of the climate talks themselves. The climate talks have created a growing industry of negotiators: 9,000 at Durban. But still they failed to agree any legally binding cuts to emissions that would prevent runaway climate change and benefit those most at risk from its adverse impacts.

Next up – literally – was Abigail Borah. A student at Middlebury College and a youth delegate for the US, she rose in front of the hall of delegates to protest that the US negotiators “cannot speak on behalf of the United States of America.”

What Borah went on to say stopped many in their tracks; not because it was radical but because it rang absolutely true. “The obstructionist Congress has shackled a just agreement and delayed ambition for far too long,” she said, “2020 is too late to wait.”

For stating plainly what the vast majority of negotiators were thinking, and climate scientists have been warning, Borah was unceremoniously marched out and ejected from the process – but not before she received the applause of representatives from around the world. 

Anjali Appaduri, representing youth at COP17, also impressed with her rousing speech, ending “Deep cuts now! Get it done!”

I am full of admiration for these young leaders protesting for what is right at the Durban climate talks. Climate scientists say we need to keep global warming below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels to prevent catastrophic climate change, and emissions need to peak in 2020. But the deal made in Durban is vague about action that must be taken within the next five years. Therefore, we need hundreds, thousands, millions more of us around the world to choose to stand up to our governments and advocate for what is right: climate justice.

It is not right that that some countries are evading their global responsibilities to stop climate change in its tracks, while others are pleading for help. The Environment Minister of the small island nation Tuvalu described at Durban how their entire nation is in danger of flooding. This is sad, but sadder still is that as the law currently stands, no country is legally obliged to help another country in trouble.

Without law to impose a duty of care upon those who run companies and countries, profit will continue to be placed over and above people and planet. To change this we need “bold, courageous and moral leadership” in the words of Previn Gordhan, the Finance Minister of South Africa at the World Business Climate Summit this week.

Earlier this year we staged a mock trial at the Supreme Court in London, England to test one bold, courageous solution. A judge, jury and top QCs tried a new international law of Ecocide - under which heads of corporations would have to take personal responsibility for destruction of the environment. The jury unanimously found the CEOs of fictional energy companies exploiting the tar sands guilty of Ecocide.

An international crime of Ecocide is a way that we can seek climate justice. Making Ecocide law has been advocated at Durban by some of the most important names in environmentalism, including Nnimo Bassey, the chair of Friends of the Earth and Pablo Sólon, the former chief climate negotiator for Bolivia. "This Ecocide law may be the only way to make climate criminals rethink their crimes of commission and omission,” said Bassey.

Ecocide is the big idea that is being discussed as an alternative solution to the failing Kyoto Protocol. An international law of Ecocide would put in place the absent legislative framework that business needs. It may be the only thing that can enable governments, banks and corporations to change course in time.

About Polly Higgins
Polly Higgins is the lawyer who has proposed to the UN the law of Ecocide. During war it is a crime to destroy vast tracts of land, but during peace-time there is no crime against it. This anomaly in the law has allowed the damage and destruction of the planet to reach unprecedented levels which the UN say could trigger ecosystem collapse.

Over the past 7 years Higgins has become an expert in Earth law and has authored the book: "Eradicating Ecocide: Laws and Governance to Prevent the Destruction of our Planet".  Her book was accoladed 'Winner of the Peoples Book Prize 2011' for non-fiction.

Higgins has mounted a global campaign to have Ecocide recognised as the 5th Crime Against Peace at the 2012 Earth Summit.

More information: Eradicating Ecocide

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Energy giants lay out climate resilience plans: Should Cayman do the same?

Defra releases new reports detailing Big Six plans to bolster climate adaptation efforts

Just days after storms swept across the north of Scotland, bringing down power cables and felling two wind turbines, the government will this morning release climate adaptation plans from the UK’s largest energy companies, detailing how they intend to make energy infrastructure more resilient to climatic impacts, including increasingly frequent winter storms.

The reports, which were requested by Defra, confirm that the Big Six energy firms are making “good progress” preparing for rising climate risks such as flooding, heat waves and extreme storms. However, it warns that more investment will be required over the coming years to adapt the UK’s energy infrastructure to cope with inevitable climate change that scientists predict will result in hotter, drier summers and milder, wetter winters.

Speaking on a visit yesterday to an E.ON power station in Enfield, Defra minister Lord Taylor urged utilities to bolster their climate change adaptation plans and take specific steps to improve their resilience. More

New NASA research into Earth's paleoclimate history foreshadows rapid climate change.

New research into the Earth's paleoclimate history by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies director James E. Hansen suggests the potential for rapid climate changes this century, including multiple meters of sea level rise, if global warming is not abated. In the new research, Hansen and co-author Makiko Sato, also of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, compared the climate of today, the Holocene, with previous similar "interglacial" epochs – periods when polar ice caps existed but the world was not dominated by glaciers.

In studying cores drilled from both ice sheets and deep ocean sediments, Hansen found that global mean temperatures during the Eemian period, which began about 130,000 years ago and lasted about 15,000 years, were less than 1 degree Celsius warmer than today. If temperatures were to rise 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times, global mean temperature would far exceed that of the Eemian, when sea level was four to six meters higher than today, Hansen said. 

"The paleoclimate record reveals a more sensitive climate than thought, even as of a few years ago. Limiting human-caused warming to 2 degrees is not sufficient," Hansen said. "It would be a prescription for disaster." More