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WikiLeaks cables: Dalai Lama called for focus on climate, not politics, in Tibet

Jason Burke, Guardian
The Dalai Lama told US diplomats last year that the international community should focus on climate change rather than politics in Tibet because environmental problems were more urgent, secret American cables reveal.

The exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader told Timothy Roemer, the US ambassador to India, that the “political agenda should be sidelined for five to 10 years and the international community should shift its focus to climate change on the Tibetan plateau” during a meeting in Delhi last August.

“Melting glaciers, deforestation and increasingly polluted water from mining projects were problems that ‘cannot wait’, but the Tibetans could wait five to 10 years for a political solution,” he was reported as saying.
(16 December 2010)

Desertification is greatest threat to planet, expert warns

Damian Carrington, Guardian
UN’s top drylands official says people must be paid via global carbon markets for preserving the soil

Desertification and land degradation is “the greatest environmental challenge of our time” and “a threat to global wellbeing”, according to the UN’s top drylands official, Luc Gnacadja, who says people must be paid via global carbon markets for preserving the soil. The executive secretary of UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), will today launch the UN decade for the fight against desertification in London.

“The top 20cm of soil is all that stands between us and extinction,” he told the Guardian. Conflicts and food price crises all stem from the degradation of land, he added
(16 December 2010)

Fox News chief enforced climate change scepticism – leaked email

Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian
Journalists at Fox News were under orders to cast doubt on any on-air mention of climate change, a leaked email obtained by a media monitoring group revealed today.

According to the email, obtained by Media Matters, Fox News’s Washington bureau chief, Bill Sammon, imposed an order to make time for climate sceptics within 15 minutes of the airing of a story about a scientific report showing that 2000-2009 was on track to be the hottest decade on record.

Media Matters said the bureau chief’s response to the report exhibited a pattern of bias by Fox News in its coverage of climate change.
(15 December 2010)

Graphics: who’s emitting?
Talks continue, emissions rise

Patterson Clark and Dan Keating, The Washington Post
The three most populous countries also are the three biggest carbon polluters. While the populations of China and India dwarf that of the United States, the amount of carbon emitted by the average person in the United States far outweighs the emissions generated by the average person from China or India.
(10 December 2010)
Great graphics — use the tabs to see both “Total emissions” and “Per person.” -BA

Climate Clash in Cancún
(China vs US)
Lucia Green-Weiskel, The Nation
… A key question about Cancún was whether the world’s biggest emitters, the United States and China, would come any closer to a common understanding on who is responsible for the climate problem and what to do about it. The two countries together account for 30 percent of the world’s economic output and 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. The US and Chinese negotiators at Cancún were crafty and subtle. Both teams used cautious language that on the surface appeared to present similar positions. Both wanted a deal and both wanted to be seen as playing a constructive role—but each saw the other as an obstruction to progress.

When Dr. Yang Fuqiang, director of Global Climate Solutions for WWF International, arrived in Cancún, his hopes were dim that the United States and China would reach a meaningful agreement on reductions. With more than thirty years of experience working on energy and environmental issues in China, Yang has attended the three most recent of the UN’s sixteen rounds of climate negotiations. China, he said, would only accept an agreement that allowed exemptions for developing countries—the concept known as “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which is the bedrock of the Kyoto Protocol. In this claim, China is aligned with Article 3.1 of the UNFCCC charter, which states, “The developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.”

Throughout the meetings, the US deputy special envoy for climate change, Jonathan Pershing, expressed plans to scrap Kyoto—not surprising, since the United States is the only developed country that has not signed it. Washington wanted to draft a new agreement that has “symmetry”—one that is legally binding for developed and developing countries. As Pershing explained in a briefing to NGOs, the Obama administration can’t sell a package in Congress that doesn’t include specific requirements for developing countries like China.

By the end of the conference, it was clear that both delegations were oriented toward domestic regulators more than anything else.

…While US green ambitions are shrinking, China is reorienting its economy toward sustainability and renewable energy in a way that is nothing short of revolutionary. It has invested billions in renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transportation (the Chinese bullet train made headlines by reaching a record 300 mph during the Cancún talks) and developing standards for products, buildings, vehicles and fuels. In July Xie announced that a cap-and-trade system would be included in China’s twelfth five-year plan (2011–15). In September China’s most powerful agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, announced that China was setting up low-carbon pilot sites in five provinces and eight cities. One focus is to implement methods to measure, report and verify emissions. These events are an indication that China’s lead over the United States in green technology will likely increase in the coming years.

Green technology is still a boutique industry in the United States, while China is producing it on a massive scale. Through aggressive government investment and central planning, Beijing has become a leader in solar panel technology, wind turbines and electric vehicle manufacturing. In fact, it is emerging as the only country in the world capable of driving down the price of green technology so that it can become affordable in poor countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

However, China’s government-led policies have met with hostility in the United States.

Lucia Green-Weiskel is a project manager of the climate change program at the Beijing-based Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation.
(16 December 2010)

On Precaution
(transcript and perhaps video)
Naomi Klein, TED Talk via Znet
Naomi gave the following talk at the first-ever TEDWomen conference on December 8, 2010, in Washington, DC. We have included a few of the slides that accompanied the talk, and we will add video as soon as TED posts it online.
– ZNet editor

I just did something I’ve never done before. I spent a week at sea on a research vessel. I’m not a scientist but I was accompanying a remarkable scientific team from the University of South Florida that has been tracking BP’s oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

The scientists I was with are not studying the effects of the oil and dispersants on the big stuff—birds, turtles, dolphins.

They are looking at the really little stuff, which gets eaten by slightly less little stuff, which gets eaten by the big stuff.

What they found is that water with even trace amounts of oil and dispersants can be highly toxic to phytoplankton—which is a serious problem because so much life depends on it. So contrary to those reports we heard back in August about how 75 per cent of the oil has sort of disappeared, this disaster is still unfolding, still working its way up the food chain.

… After telling ourselves for so long that our tools and technology can control nature, suddenly we were face to face with our weakness, with our lack of control, as the oil burst out of every attempt to contain it: top hats, top kills and, most memorably, the junk shot, the bright idea of firing old tires and golf balls down that hole in the world.

But even more striking than the ferocious power emanating from the well, was the recklessness with which that power was unleashed

… We have to figure out why we keep letting this happen because we are in the midst of our highest stakes gamble of all: deciding what to do—or not to do—about climate change.

As we all know, a great deal of time is spent in the climate debate on the question: “What if the IPCC scientists are all wrong?” The far more relevant question, as MIT physicist Evelyn Fox Keller puts it, is: “What if those scientists are right?”

Given the stakes, the climate crisis clearly calls for us to act based on the Precautionary Principle, the theory that holds that when human health and the environment are significantly at risk, and when the potential damage is irreversible, we cannot afford to wait for perfect scientific certainty. Better to err on the side of caution. Moreover the burden of proving that a practice is safe should not be placed on the public that could be harmed, but rather on the industry that stands to profit.

Yet climate policy in the wealthy world—to the extent that such a thing exists—is not made based on precaution but rather on cost-benefit analysis: finding the course of action that economists believe will have the least impact on GDP. So rather than asking, as precaution would demand: “How can we act as quickly as possible to avert catastrophe,” we ask bizarre questions like: What is the latest possible moment we can wait before we begin seriously lowering emissions? 2020? 2050? Or, how much hotter can we let the planet get and still survive? 2 degrees Celsius? 3? 4—what we are heading for right now?

And this last question is interesting because the assumption that we can safely control the Earth’s awesomely complex climate system as if it had a thermostat—making the planet not too hot and not too cold but just right, Goldilocks style—is pure fantasy. And it isn’t coming from climate scientists, it’s coming from economists imposing their mechanistic thinking on the science. The fact is that we simply don’t know when the warming we create will be utterly overwhelmed by feedback loops.
(16 December 2010)