BEHCHOKO, Northwest Territories, Canada, Oct 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Daniel T’seleie, an indigenous activist in Canada’s far north, is campaigning to help his people wean themselves from a worrying dependence on imported fuel and food, recover old traditions and win greater autonomy from the government.
In a region with nearly 24 hours of daylight in the summer, one way to help meet his goals seems obvious: more solar power.
“Right now a lot of communities in the Northwest Territories are dependent on diesel-generated electricity, along with store-bought food,” said T’seleie in an open air interview near Behchoko, a clutch of small wooden houses nestled along the shores of Great Slave Lake.
Standing beside spindly jack pine trees growing from thin soil on the hard granite rock that covers much of northern Canada, T’seleie sees renewable energy as the force which could respond to the region’s complex, intertwined challenges.
Canada’s north is particularly vulnerable to global warming, which is making it harder for indigenous people to continue their traditions of hunting and trapping on the land, as ice sheets melt and caribou herds collapse.
And although indigenous people want what they call a “nation to nation” relationship with the Canadian government, they largely depend on it for diesel fuel in order to keep warm.
By harnessing renewable energy, T’seleie believes indigenous communities could gain more freedom from the state and revive ancient cultural practices, while doing their part to combat climate change which is hitting them particularly hard.
“Any way that communities can produce energy at a local level produces independence,” said the 34-year-old, sporting a baseball cap and jeans, the informal dress common in Canada’s rugged north.
The Northwest Territories has seen a surge in the use of solar power over the last five years, after the regional government spent about $50 million to boost renewable energy production and improve efficiency, said Jim Sparling, the territory’s senior climate change manager.
“On a per capita basis, we are second only to Ontario (Canada’s most populous province) for installed solar capacity,” Sparling told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the territorial capital Yellowknife.
The huge and sparsely populated northern territory has fewer than 50,000 residents, about half of whom are indigenous, many from the Dene Nation, a tribal people who traditionally hunt caribou.
Solar power still represents a fairly small part of its energy consumption, though the level is rising, said Sparling.
Private individuals and companies in the territory are also installing solar panels on their own to try and bring down their energy bills and cut dependence on imports, he said.
That combination of rising use of renewable and better energy efficiency has allowed the province to hold its climate-changing emissions stable at 2005 levels despite a rise in the population and a growing economy, Sparling said.
The territorial government plans to be part of a Canadian delegation going to Paris for a U.N. climate summit in December, aimed at reaching a new global agreement on climate change.
Average temperatures in parts of the northern territory have already risen more than 3 degrees from pre-industrial levels, Sparling said.
Scientists say average world temperatures should not rise more 2 degrees if the world is to avoid the worst disasters associated with global warming.
“We have to scale up the ambition,” Sparling said. “We are very vulnerable if this problem gets worse.”
North of the Arctic Circle, the village of Colville Lake, with fewer than 200 residents, is in the midst of a major switch from diesel power to solar.
Last year, the mostly indigenous community faced weekly power outages. But after a new solar power system was set-up, the area is now nearly self sufficient in electricity production during summer months when the sun shines almost round the clock.
It still needs to import fuel for the winter, but officials believe the new investments will lead to a 30 percent drop in diesel consumption, helping the environment and saving money.
Other small northern towns are looking to mimic the project to save cash and allow people to maintain traditional lifestyles by being less dependent on expensive imports.
“In the last 10 to 15 years there has been a huge push from (indigenous) communities to try and support themselves,” said Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, an indigenous studies professor at Cape Breton University and a researcher on climate change impacts.
As global warming leads to the thinning of Arctic sea ice and changes in the habits of northern animals, the region’s indigenous inhabitants are struggling to adapt their lifestyles while holding onto old traditions, she said.
The caribou population has collapsed in parts of the territory in a development experts link to climate change, and melting ice makes it harder for hunters to navigate the land in search of other animals to hunt.
“The north is the fastest changing geography in the world,” Cunsolo Willox said in a phone interview. “There is a lot of concern that traditional knowledge and skills will be lost with climate change.”
OLD TRADITIONS, NEW TECHNOLOGIES
Building greater self sufficiency - including by adapting cleaner, cheaper energy - may be a strategy for holding onto the old ways, activists say.
T’seleie, a law school graduate, said he previously tried to work through Canada’s court system and treaty negotiations to win greater autonomy for his people, after what he considers years of colonial abuses.
In the 1920s, Canadian colonial administrators declared the government’s aim was to “get rid of the Indian problem” by ending indigenous cultural practices, corralling the population into reserves and forcing aboriginal children into grim residential schools.
Canada’s government signed treaties with many indigenous groups, often in return for political support during periods of conflict, granting them access to parts of the land they once controlled and other benefits.
But many legal scholars and historians say the government did not honor those agreements in good faith.
After becoming disillusioned with the legal process, T’seleie decided working towards greater self-sufficiency in food and energy was the best way forward.
T’seleie is part of the first generation of indigenous people not forced to attend residential schools usually run by religious groups in other parts of Canada which took children from their parents, and forced them to speak English rather than native languages as a means of assimilation.
Sexual and physical abuse were rife at the institutions, the government now admits following years of litigation.
Health experts and indigenous leaders believe the legacy from these schools - including that many parents never learned how to raise children, as they were taken from their own parents - partially explain high rates of substance abuse, family violence and poverty in some indigenous communities.
Allowing people to stay on their ancestral land, continuing hunting and trapping practices, and learning stories and traditions from community elders are key to overcoming these problems, said Cunsolo Willox.
To support traditional practices and allow indigenous communities to live off the land as they have done for centuries, they need access to renewable energy, T’seleie said.
“A huge aspect of our lives, culture and language is lost when we can’t be on the land,” he said. “For me, that’s one of the biggest threats of climate change.” More
Russian military intervention in Syria has expanded considerably over the past month and may accelerate further if the destruction of Metrojet Flight 9628 over Sinai is proved to be the work of Islamic State (IS).
|Russian and American representatives meet to discuss the situation in Syria on September 29, 2015|
The US-led coalition against IS in Syria is meanwhile steadily losing its active members, even as the US escalates its bombing campaign and declares a greater willingness to deploy Special Forces units inside Syria. While the UK prevaricates on its involvement within Syria, Israel has launched new attacks on Hezbollah there and Turkey pursues its own interests against IS and Kurdish factions alike. The risks of accidental escalation between these disparate actors is rising as the complexity of the war grows.
The October briefing reported a number of developments in the war in Syria, including the Russian intervention, a likely extension of the US-led air war and a change in US strategy towards arming opposition groups in preference to training them. Perhaps most significantly there were revised US intelligence estimates indicating that Islamic State (IS) was gaining new recruits in Syria and Iraq at a rate more than compensating for the heavy losses caused by the air strikes in both countries.
This briefing provides an updated analysis based on developments since mid-October as they apply to Syria in particular. Its main focus is on two developments early in November. One was the criticism of UK policy towards Syria by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, who argued that the UK was letting its allies down by not joining in the air strikes against IS in Syria. The second was the destruction on 31 October of a Russian charter airliner shortly after it began a flight from Sharm el-Sheikh in southern Sinai to St Petersburg, killing all 224 passengers and crew.
The comments of General Houghton caused some concern as they were paralleled by a more controversial expression of opposition to the views of the new Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, over the Trident nuclear weapons system. There has been concern that General Houghton has strayed too far into the political dimension with his Trident-related comments, but this has been less the case in relation to his views on attacking Syria in that there is already cross-party opposition to that policy.
What General Houghton’s comments have done is to focus attention on the nature of the air war in Syria which has involved nine coalition partners: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Morocco, Jordan, Canada and the United States plus, since September, Australia and France. Although the US has carried out around 95% of the attacks, the presence of a range of other countries has added weight to the idea of a united, broadly based and multinational coalition opposing IS in Syria.
The reality is actually quite different as six of the nine coalition partners have ceased undertaking air strikes in the past nine months, although some may still be involved in support operations. Bahrain ceased air strike operations nine months ago, the UAE and Morocco eight months ago, Jordan three months ago and Saudi Arabia just two months ago. These countries are all now more actively involved in their war in Yemen. The fifth country, Canada, under new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is withdrawing from all air strike operations over Syria and Iraq.
Of the remaining coalition partners, France is reported to have carried out just two air strikes over Syria with all of the rest of the 270 attacks being over Iraq. Finally, Australia’s air force has undertaken 434 air strikes but up to 2 October had only undertaken two attacks in Syria before pausing in its operations when Russia started its intervention. Belgium and Denmark also pulled out their fighter-bombers from operations over Iraq in July and September respectively.
To all intents and purposes, the air war that has evolved over Syria is now a US operation with minimal involvement from western allies and no operations being undertaken by regional allies. There certainly is an increased intensity of air strikes against IS in Syria but this is entirely down to increased US operations, especially from the Turkish base at Incirlik, less than 30 minutes flight from IS-controlled territory in northern Syria. It is thus fast becoming an American war and this may explain General Houghton’s concern, bearing in mind that it makes it far easier for IS propagandists to portray their role as being the guardians of Islam under persistent attack by the “far enemy” of the United States and its western allies.
Meanwhile, Russian air operations continue although at a lower level than those of the United States. The great majority continue to be against the opponents of the Assad regime and are serving to ensure that those areas of north west Syria that are strongly supportive of the regime are secure from opponents. There are occasional Russian air strikes against IS targets and, while these are of little military consequence, their political significance could be considerable following the destruction of the Russian airliner over Sinai. More
While much of the attention on a historic Paris climate meeting in the coming weeks will focus on the confounding task of trying to keep global warming below 2°C, or 3.6°F, a battle over another goal — one that has been forgotten by many — will be playing out in the negotiating halls.
|SIDS are at risk from SLR|
Delegates representing island states and others whose homelands are most threatened by rising seas will be pushing for the formal adoption of a long-overlooked goal, one that limits warming to less than 1.5°C, or 2.7°F.
Such a goal would be an ambitious one. Some negotiators and onlookers already seem to have given up hope of limiting warming to less than 2°C, much less 1.5°C. Fossil fuel burning, deforestation and other climate-changing hallmarks of industrialization have elevated temperatures 1°C since the 19th century, pushing tides up more than 8 inches. Pledges submitted by nations ahead of the meeting to take steps to slow climate change could yet allow warming to soar to 3°C or more.
The longing by low-lying nations to limit warming to 1.5°C has been overshadowed since 2010 by a preoccupation by many with the less ambitious goal. On Wednesday, the U.N. released the latest report to confirm that goal — to limit warming to 2°C, compared with preindustrial times — could be reached through massive globally cooperative efforts that overhaul energy supply chains and reform farming and forest management.
“We definitely think that staying below 2 degrees is still very possible,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, told reporters as the report was released. “Getting down to the range of 1.5 should not be taken off the table either.”
When climate delegates agreed during meetings in Copenhagen in 2009 that “the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius,” they also agreed that a study would be completed by 2015 comparing the effects of that goal with an alternative one of curbing temperature rises to 1.5°C. During talks a year later, negotiators agreed to consider tightening the 2°C goal to 1.5°C in the “near future.”
Ahead of what could be history’s most highly anticipated round of climate negotiations, the governments of the countries that are most vulnerable to sea level rise believe that future time has arrived.
The study called for in Copenhagen was published by the U.N. in May, based on interviews with some 70 experts. It concluded that adopting the 1.5°C alternative would be technically feasible, and that meeting it would come with a “high likelihood of meaningful differences” compared with allowing earth to warm by 2°C.
“The scientific finding is that 2 degrees is not enough,” said Ronny Jumeau, a U.N. ambassador from the Seychelles who will negotiate on behalf of small island states during the two-week round of Paris talks, which begin in two weeks. “1.5 is what the low-lying, small island developing states need for their survival.”
The May report warned of the “high” risks that would accompany 2°C of warming, including crop failures, floods, extreme weather events that jeopardize health, and “mass coral bleaching.” But it also pointed out that “there would be significant residual impacts even with 1.5°C of warming.”
It concluded that “most” species would be able to keep up with climate change if warming is kept below 1.5°C. It found, bleakly optimistically, that “up to half of coral reefs may remain” if the planet warms 1.5°C, that sea level rise “may remain below” 3.3 feet, ocean acidification impacts “would stay at moderate levels,” and that it would be easier for communities to adapt to climate change — especially farmers.
Strategies for limiting warming to 1.5°C by century’s end “are similar to those limiting warming to 2°C,” the report noted. It concluded that such strategies would involve “more immediate” actions and “an additional scaling-up” of clean energy and of any technology that captures and stores carbon dioxide pollution, such as at coal power plants.
The conclusions from the May report were consistent with the views of leading scientists.
“To limit warming to 1.5°C, we would not only have to bring carbon emissions down dramatically, but likely would need to employ expensive carbon capture technology,” Penn State meteorology professor Michael Mann said. “Even the deployment of this technology would be cheaper than allowing the damages of allowing global warming to proceed.”
Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University professor whose research focuses on clean energy, said that a radical enough global switch from fossil fuels to clean energy alternatives could be enough to limit warming to less than 1.5°C — even without the need for carbon capture or nuclear power technologies.
Still, the islanders’ quest to adopt the forgotten temperature goal at global climate talks is coinciding with a growing fatigue among some experts over what they see as an overemphasis on the 2°C goal. The goal is an oblique one, since rising temperatures are one of the long-term knock-on effects of rising levels of greenhouse gas pollution.
“There’s too much talk about goals,” said Harvard University economics professor Robert Stavins, who follows the climate talks. He said it would be better to focus on how to increase the ambition of more than 100 national climate pledges under the hoped-for Paris agreement.
But Jumeau of the Seychelles pointed out that a 1.5°C goal would be achievable, and that adopting and meeting it would benefit rich coastal nations as well as those whose existences may be threatened by rising seas.
“It’s not just about the islands, it’s about New York, it’s about New Orleans, it’s about London, it’s about Venice,” Jumeau said. “There is no way we can compromise on 1.5.” More
The rumblings of revolt against Saudi Arabia and the Opec Gulf states are growing louder as half a trillion dollars goes up in smoke, and each month that goes by fails to bring about the long-awaited killer blow against the US shale industry.
Algeria’s former energy minister, Nordine Aït-Laoussine, says the time has come to consider suspending his country’s Opec membership if the cartel is unwilling to defend oil prices and merely serves as the tool of a Saudi regime pursuing its own self-interest. “Why remain in an organisation that no longer serves any purpose?” he asked.
Saudi Arabia can, of course, do whatever it wants at the Opec summit in Vienna on December 4. As the cartel hegemon, it can continue to flood the global market with crude oil and hold prices below $50.
It can ignore desperate pleas from Venezuela, Ecuador and Algeria, among others, for concerted cuts in output in order to soak the world glut of 2m barrels a day, and lift prices to around $75. But to do so is to violate the Opec charter safeguarding the welfare of all member states.
“Saudi Arabia is acting directly against the interests of half the cartel and is running Opec over a cliff. There could be a total blow-out in Vienna,” said Helima Croft, a former oil analyst at the US Central Intelligence Agency and now at RBC Capital Markets
The Saudis need Opec. It is the instrument through which they leverage their global power and influence, much as Germany attains world rank through the amplification effect of the EU.
The 29-year-old deputy crown prince now running Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, has to tread with care. He may have inherited the steel will and vaulting ambitions of his grandfather, the terrifying Ibn Saud, but he has ruffled many feathers and cannot lightly detonate a crisis within Opec just months after entangling his country in a calamitous war in Yemen. “It would fuel discontent in the Kingdom and play to the sense that they don’t know what they are doing,” she said.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the oil price crash has cut Opec revenues from $1 trillion a year to $550bn, setting off a fiscal crisis that has already been going on long enough to mutate into a bigger geostrategic crisis.
Mohammed Bin Hamad Al Rumhy, Oman’s (non-Opec) oil minister, said the Saudi bloc has blundered into a trap of their own making - a view shared by many within Saudi Arabia itself.
“If you have 1m barrels a day extra in the market, you just destroy the market. We are feeling the pain and we’re taking it like a God-driven crisis. Sorry, I don’t buy this, I think we’ve created it ourselves,” he said.
The Saudis tell us with a straight face that they are letting the market set prices, a claim that brings a wry smile to energy veterans. One might legitimately suspect that they will revert to cartel practices when they have smashed their rivals, if they succeed in doing so.
One might also suspect that part of their game is to check the advance of solar and wind power in a last-ditch effort to stop the renewable juggernaut and win another reprieve for the status quo. If so, they are too late. That error was made five or six years ago when they allowed oil prices to stay above $100 for too long. But Opec can throw sand in the wheels. More
The Arctic may be seen as geographically isolated from the rest of the world, yet the Inuit hunter who falls through the thinning sea ice is connected to melting glaciers in the Andes and the Himalayas and to the flooding of low-lying and small island states.
What happens in foreign capitals and in temperate and tropical countries affects us dramatically in the North. Many of the economic and environmental challenges we face result from activities well to the south of our homelands; and what is happening in the far North will affect what is happening in the South.
Inuit are experiencing firsthand the adverse effects of global environmental changes. But we are not powerless victims. We are determined to remain connected to the land, and sufficiently resilient to adapt to changing natural forces as we have for centuries.
Discussion of climate change frequently tends to focus on political, economic and technical issues rather than human impacts and consequences. We need to be aware of the dramatic social and cultural impacts indigenous peoples face in coming years.
For generations Inuit have observed the environment and have accurately predicted weather and sea-ice conditions, enabling us to travel safely on the sea ice to hunt seals, whales, walrus and polar bears. Talk to hunters across the North, and they will tell you the same story: the weather is increasingly unpredictable. The look and feel of the land is different. The sea ice is changing. Hunters are having difficulty navigating and traveling safely. We have even lost experienced hunters through the ice in areas that, traditionally, were safe. As a result of melting glaciers it is now difficult, sometimes even dangerous, for us to travel to many of our traditional hunting and harvesting sites.
|A young woman from Cape Dorset, Nunavut|
Several Inuit villages have already been so damaged by global warming that relocation, at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, is now their only option. Melting sea ice and thawing permafrost have caused damage to houses, roads, airports and pipelines; erosion, slope instability and landslides; contamination of drinking water; coastal losses to erosion of up to 30 meters per year; and melting of natural ice cellars for food storage.
For instance, residents of Sachs Harbour, a tiny community in the Canadian Beaufort Sea region, report melting permafrost causing beach slumping and increased erosion; increased snowfall; longer sea-ice-free seasons; new species of birds and owls, robins, pin-tailed ducks and salmon invading the region; and an onslaught of mosquitoes and black flies.
Plans are well under way to relocate certain Arctic communities. Climate change is not just a theory to us in the Arctic; it is a stark and dangerous reality. Climate change is undermining the ecosystem upon which Inuit depend for their physical and cultural survival.
The Arctic is of vital importance in the global debate on how to deal with climate change because the Arctic is the barometer of the globe’s environmental health. We are indeed the canary in the global coal mine.
The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment projects dramatic and drastic depletion of sea ice. In the next few decades year-round sea ice may be limited to a small portion of the Arctic Ocean around the North Pole. The rest of the Arctic will be ice-free in summer.
Polar bears, walrus, ringed seals and likely other species of seals are projected to virtually disappear. This is not to mention the millions of Arctic seabirds and fish. Our ecosystem will be transformed, with tragic results. Climate change in the Arctic is not just an environmental issue with unwelcome economic consequences. It is a matter of livelihood, food and individual and cultural survival. It is a human issue.
What can Inuit—only 155,000 of us—do about this global situation? First, we refuse to play the role of powerless victim. Responding to climate change has split the nations of the world. Our plight and the Arctic Assessment show the compelling case for global unity and clarity of purpose to forestall a future that is not preordained.
Our rights, our human rights, to live as we do and to enjoy our unique culture as part of the globe’s cultural heritage, are at issue.
Short-term business interests must change, and people must take stock of whether or not a way of life based on consumption is ultimately sustainable. What is happening now to Inuit will happen soon to people in the South. The experience of Inuit in the Arctic is shared by residents of small island states in the Pacific, many people in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
We are working on many fronts to convince the world to take long-term action. Climate change is not about scoring political points. It is about families, parents, children and the lives we lead in our communities throughout the world. More
While filming a project in China, American filmmaker John D. Liu realized that large-scale ecological restoration is not only possible, but may be the path for the development of our humanity. Mr. Liu is currently director of the Environmental Education Media Project and visiting fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology at the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (NIOO/KNAW).
|John D. Liu|
In sacred and protected places on the Earth it is possible to see the magnificence of ancient intact systems—climax forests, grassland systems and the remnants of intact peatlands. The beauty and functionality of these biomes reflect the organization of nature without human interference. These perfect places illustrate that the Earth provides us with air, water, food and energy—all that is needed for life to flourish.
While it is still possible to find perfect systems, the reality is that all these biomes are under threat from human impacts and the majority of the Earth’s natural systems have already been seriously altered. Pollution of all kinds can be found in all parts of the Earth. Human impacts have reduced the habitat of many species on all continents, causing widespread and alarming extinctions. It is now quite clear that human activities are altering the Earth’s hydrological cycle, the weather and the climate. Also today, gunfire pops like a constant drumbeat at the edges of civilization. The screams and bewilderment of traumatized women and children echo through a shared human history of recurrent warfare.
Considering the ravages of history, I began to wonder: “Is it inevitable that we continue to live in violence and degrade the Earth’s landscapes?” This question resonated with me, and after long study, I feel that I know the answer.
In 1995, on assignment for the World Bank, I was introduced to the Loess Plateau in northwest China. This vast plain of approximately 640,000 square kilometers is the cradle of Chinese civilization and the site of one of the earliest agricultural developments on the Earth. When I first went to the Loess Plateau, I was confronted with desperately poor people trying to eke out a living in a dry and dusty ruined landscape. I was there to document the baseline study for the Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Project, and seeing the extent of the degradation, it was hard to imagine that such a ravaged landscape could be restored.
A team of Chinese physical and social scientists, with the help of international experts, analyzed the history of the plateau and identified deforestation, primitive agriculture on slope lands and unrestricted grazing of goats and sheep as the main causes of the degradation. They noted the cycle of flooding, drought and famine that kept the population in poverty. They also studied the costs of sedimentation and found that these were extremely high. They reasoned that if they could reduce sedimentation and the effects of flooding and drought that this caused, the costs of restoration would be small in comparison. Armed with an econometric justification to spend whatever would be required, they began to engage the local people in a monumental task.
They began by explaining to the people why they were banning tree cutting, slope farming and unrestricted herding of goats and sheep, and they offered the people an alternative income for their participation in restoration. With the entire community’s labor and expert management, integrated watershed management was implemented in a project the size of Belgium. Initially, water harvesting methods including terraces, small dams and sediment traps were established. These physical interventions quickly became biophysical as the natural and agricultural vegetation grew. Perennial, diverse and sustainable agriculture replaced annual monocultures. As I continued to study and document the work, it became clear that it is possible to restore large-scale damaged ecosystems and that this knowledge is not just an interesting fact, but a responsibility that can change the course of human history. More