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Ought of Africa: A report from the U.N. climate conference

Gary Braasch, Gristmill
…in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, officials and observers from around the world gathered for this year’s United Nations summit on climate change. Here, the severity and urgency of global warming should have seemed clearer to delegates than it did at last year’s frigid Montreal summit.

No continent is as vulnerable to climate disruption as Africa, and none harbors more poverty. That’s why it’s been a big deal to African nations that the 12th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change was held for the first time in sub-Saharan Africa. Many African nations sent large delegations. African luminaries like Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan shed light on the plight of Africans in the face of global climate change. Environmental groups presented papers on threats to the continent.

In the end, though, the conference generated the usual flood of words and paper, and a near-drought of immediate action on dealing with climate change.

Denmark and France, along with many international observers, led the way in outlining what this meeting needed to accomplish: the establishment of firm plans to continue past 2012 (when the Kyoto Protocol expires), to reduce emissions in much more significant amounts in years after that, and to ensure that the ongoing process is seamless with current procedures. Financial underwriting and investments which will reach into the hundreds of billions of dollars may be undercut if there is a gap after 2012, not to mention the loss of what little momentum there is on actually solving the huge climate issue. Considering how slowly the negotiation process moves, observers urged strong commitment at this meeting so that a plan could be officially agreed to over the next two conferences.

Late on Friday, the final day, the conference agreed to a 2008 review of the Kyoto Protocol, to allow for its strengthening and continuation. But the 39 nations that are the heaviest polluters within Kyoto could not agree how to set deeper cuts; they will continue talking about it next year, and they promised there would be no gap in commitments after 2012. (Notably missing from this are the U.S. and Australia, which did not ratify the Protocol, and China, which was considered a developing country at the time the Protocol was set up and has no set reduction targets.)

…Politically, however, the greatest buzz came as word spread of the Democratic Party’s gains in the American midterm elections. Speculation was high that there would be an immediate shift in U.S. policy on climate. Misunderstanding of the American system got to the point that Steve Sawyer, Greenpeace’s chief observer, had to explain at a press conference that the U.S. was not a parliamentary democracy, and, no, President Bush was not immediately decamping to Crawford, Texas — he had more than two full years left in his term. Even with Democrats in control of Congress, progress may still be slow, Sawyer and other NGO leaders said, urging the convention to keep working and let the U.S. catch up as the political leadership continues to shift through the next presidential election.

Hopes were further dashed when the chief American negotiator, Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, said the mandate had not changed and continued to list voluntary programs as evidence of U.S. action. The U.S., while not as negative a force at these talks as it was in Montreal, nevertheless reportedly continued to throw up roadblocks within the negotiating rooms to agreement on future mandatory requirements and technology transfer.

Gary Braasch reports from the latest U.N. climate-change convention in Nairobi, Kenya. Braasch has been photographing and reporting on climate change since 1999. His forthcoming book, Earth Under Fire: How Global Warming Is Changing the World, will be published by the University of California Press next year.
(18 Nov 2006)

At stake is nothing less than the survival of human civilisation

Al Gore, Telegraph (UK)
We have the opportunity to become the Greatest Generation, responding to our climate debate – but only if we take urgent action to limit global warming.
A former colleague of mine in the US Senate, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once said: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.” I was reminded of this upon reading the Viscount Monckton of Brenchley’s two submissions to The Sunday Telegraph.

To begin with, there is a reason why new scientific research is peer-reviewed and then published in journals such as Science, Nature, and the Geophysical Research Letters, rather than the broadsheets. The process is designed to ensure that trained scientists review the framing of the questions that are asked, the research and methodologies used to pursue the answers offered and even, in some cases, to monitor the funding of the laboratories – all in order to ensure that errors and biases are detected and corrected before reaching the public.

That level of scrutiny is typically not applied to newspaper columns, of course, but since the stakes are so high in the debate over the climate crisis, I would like to review here just a few of the misleading claims in Viscount Monckton’s submissions to illustrate my belief that readers of The Sunday Telegraph should rely upon more reliable and authoritative sources than the Viscount for information on the latest climate science.
(19 Nov 2006)
EB published links to other articles in the debate.

The truth? ‘Nuclear is not the answer’

Leon Gettler, The Age (Au)
Mr Gore said nuclear power was unlikely to play a significantly bigger role in the climate change battle. “Even if you set aside the problem of long-term waste storage and the danger of operator accident and the vulnerability to terrorist attack, you still have two others that are more difficult,” he said.

The first problem was one of economics. “Nuclear power plants are the costliest to build and they take the longest time and at present they come in only one size — extra large.”

The second was nuclear weapons proliferation. “For eight years when I was in the White House, every problem of weapons proliferation was connected to a reactor program,” he said.

Mr Gore said it was extremely important that Mr Howard had now acknowledged the damage from carbon dioxide emissions.

“Let me say I want to be respectful of the Prime Minister’s change in rhetoric. “It’s not easy to do something like that and … this position might be a way station for him on the real road to Damascus where he actually joins the world community,” he said. “And he may. I don’t know, I can’t look into his heart.” ..
(17 Nov 2006)

Global warming too arcane for currency players

Nick Olivari, Reuters
Global warming is likely to impact economies and currencies but in ways that few can foresee given the phenomenon has not happened before in recent history.

The more immediate effects of global warming, such as hurricanes and mudslides, have not greatly impacted economies and investor returns so far, but all that may be about to change with analysts starting to build climate change into trading models.

“Droughts, flooding and food shortages are consequences that can impact economies, and thus currency prices,” said Michael Woolfolk, currency strategist with Bank of New York, adding the potential disruptions could be huge.

Economic development has tended to concentrate in temperate areas which are free of disease and have fresh water and arable land for agriculture, Woolfolk said.

“If changing climate leads to location changes where these factors naturally occur, you change the location of economic output and population,” he said.
(17 Nov 2006)