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Shell’s promise of a bright future turns out to be yet another false dawn

Fred Pearce, the guardian
Editors must love Shell. Almost whatever I have read about climate change and the UN talks in Copenhagen in recent weeks, it has been flanked by the familiar Shell logo somewhere in the background.

From geeky titles like New Scientist to politico mags such as Prospect and New Statesman; and newspapers like the Guardian, the world’s second largest corporation has been splashing out – filling screens and newsprint with adverts and underwriting special supplements. Shell also sponsored a major research project by the Economist Intelligence Unit, called Countdown to Copenhagen, launched early this year at a Shell-sponsored “sustainability summit”.

Nobody is suggesting that Shell is writing the copy. And surely only the most craven editor would leave out criticism of oil companies like Shell. But the unmistakeable message is that Shell is going green.

It’s not just a subliminal message, either. The ads are all about Shell developing new low-carbon technologies, like carbon-capture, biofuels and “helping our customers use energy more efficiently”. They have pretty images, like a butterfly net catching CO2, and a pocket calculator with a button marked “less CO2″…
(17 Dec 2009)

Dramatic American intervention brings climate deal closer

Philippe Naughton and Ben Webster in Copenhagen, Times online
Hillary Clinton made a potentially game-changing intervention at the UN climate summit today when she pledged US support for a $100 billion a year fund to help developing nations cope with global warming.

The US Secretary of State flew into Copenhagen 24 hours before her boss, Barack Obama, is due in to sign a 193-nation climate pact and, despite a lack of detail, her offer of long-term funding was welcomed by all sides after 12 days of negotiating deadlock.

The move could yet be enough to clinch a global deal just as the summit appeared to be heading for failure.

“I think it is very important because Europe and America can now say that the finance will be available over the long term as well as the short term,” Gordon Brown said of the US offer after hearing the reaction of other world leaders at the summit.

“I believe the response I have just heard from developing countries, from forest countries, from island states, from Bangladesh and other countries like that, is very positive indeed.”

Ms Clinton attached some clear conditions to the offer, particularly that China – the world’s biggest polluter – and other large emerging economies accept independent scrutiny of the commitments to limit their emissions over the coming decade.
(17 Dec 2009)

Greenland Glaciers: Water Flowing Beneath Ice Plays More Complex Role

Ohio State University, ScienceDaily
Scientists who study the melting of Greenland’s glaciers are discovering that water flowing beneath the ice plays a much more complex role than they previously imagined.

Researchers previously thought that meltwater simply lubricated ice against the bedrock, speeding the flow of glaciers out to sea.

Now, new studies have revealed that the effect of meltwater on acceleration and ice loss — through fast-moving outlet glaciers that connect the inland ice sheet to the ocean — is much more complex. This is because a kind of plumbing system evolves over time at the base of the ice, expanding and shrinking with the volume of meltwater.

Researchers are now developing new low-cost technologies to track the flow of glaciers and get a glimpse of what lies beneath the ice.

As ice melts, water trickles down into the glacier through crevices large and small, and eventually forms vast rivers and lakes under the ice, explained Ian Howat, assistant professor of earth sciences at Ohio State University. Researchers once thought that this sub-glacial water was to blame for sudden speed-ups of outlet glaciers along the Greenland coasts…
(16 Dec 2009)

Chimerica Against the World

Christian Schwägerl in Copenhagen, Spiegel online
China and the United States are playing a decisive role in Copenhagen. Both major powers are accusing each other of doing too little to stop the climate disaster. Europeans and developing nations are demanding the two agree to greater reductions in CO2 emissions. Will ‘Chimerica’ derail a real deal in Copenhagen?

In Yvo de Boer’s mind, it was meant to be simple. “The Americans want the Chinese to do more and the Chinese want the Americans to do more,” the UN climate chief said. “So why don’t both just do more?” He was talking about reducing CO2 emissions, of course. The goal is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

This will require drastic cuts in the use of oil, coal and natural gas. The numbers tell the story: Together, the United States and China are responsible for around 40 percent of global CO2 emissions. A solution in Copenhagen is unimaginable without the participation of both countries. The average volume of CO2 emitted by each person in the US every year is around 20 tons — four times greater than the per capita amount in China. In overall terms, the absolute amount of CO2 emitted by the Chinese now exceeds that of the United States, but a good deal of the carbon dioxide generated in China comes from products for the US market.
US negotiators like to argue that the Chinese would still cause a rise in global warming even if the United States ceased to emit greenhouse gases. “It is high time for China and America to do a lot more and to put their proposals on the table,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday night. The presumption is that the two countries have opposing interests and that they are pulling in opposite directions.

Neither country, according to this reading, wants its own production to become more expensive, particularly given that some countries will only be required to make relatively small emissions reductions, if any at all. And the tense back and forth between Chinese and American negotiators in Copenhagen fosters the impression of unbridgeable differences. In the run-up to the summit, China spoke little of the world’s poorest countries — but in the final stage of talks, it is now trying to position itself as their champion.

But what if the US and China had more common interests than Yvo de Boer would like to believe?…
(17 Dec 2009)

Clinton Promises Climate Aid; Leaked UN Report Sees 3 C of Warming

yale environment 360 copenhagen coverage
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton injected new life into the Copenhagen summit Thursday as she told delegates that the U.S. would contribute to a fund designed to raise $100 billion by 2020 to help developing nations adapt to climate change. But Clinton said the U.S. offer was contingent on forging a global climate treaty that requires developing nations to slow the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions and to submit to verification of emissions reporting.

Later in the day, reporters obtained a confidential UN analysis stating that current emissions-cut pledges now being proposed at Copenhagen would lead to a temperature rise this century of 3 degrees C (5.4 F), surpassing the 2 degree C (3.6 F) target that negotiators set as an acceptable limit to global warming. The report by the UN Climate Change Secretariat said the current emissions reductions offered by the U.S., the European Union, China, Japan, Australia, and other nations would mean pouring up to 4 billion tons more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2020 than the level needed to hold temperature increases to 2 C. That increased amount of CO2, coupled with significant levels of carbon dioxide emitted in later decades, would mean that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 could rise from the current 387 parts per million to roughly 550 parts per million in a century or so. Those concentrations would likely lead to a 3 C rise, the UN report said.

Climate activists said the UN analysis shows what climate scientists have been maintaining for several years — that nations must be willing to make far more ambitious cuts in CO2 if the world hopes to avoid dangerous warming. “The UN MORE FROM COPENHAGEN:
Bill McKibben reports from the climate talks for e360. itself knows that it’s going to (be) at least 50 percent hotter than they’re pretending,” said environmental writer Bill McKibben, whose group,, is campaigning to roll back atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 350 parts per million. While the U.S. is only offering an emissions cut of 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and the European Union is offering a 20 percent cut, climate scientists contend that a far more aggressive cut is needed — 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and even steeper cuts after that.

Clinton’s appearance at the talks Thursday came on a day when the mood among delegates swung wildly between pessimism that a substantive climate agreement could not be forged by Friday — the final day of the conference — and hope that an accord was till within reach. Pessimism was heightened Wednesday evening when Chinese officials expressed skepticism that a treaty would be signed in Copenhagen, suggesting that the best outcome would be a brief political declaration that pushes major issues — including pledges of firm emissions cuts by individual nations — into 2010. On Thursday morning, Su Wei, China’s lead climate negotiator, said China hopes that Copenhagen can lay the groundwork for a possible final deal “by the middle of next year, if possible, or, if not, by the end of the year.”
(17 Dec 2009)