Marketing the climate summit by ‘greening’ the Eiffel Tower


David Holmes, Monash University

Just over 100 years before the Paris climate summit, the Eiffel Tower was the site of modern globalisation’s defining moment. On July 1, 1913, the first wireless transmission of a time signal integrated all time zones on earth. Not only did it create a world standard time, but it showed for the first time the global possibilities of instantaneous communication and electronic broadcasting.

It also made possible the idea of a global “event” that could become a shared experience on a scale never before possible.

A century on and the French are at it again, with another world-first from the tower on the eve of the climate summit. To mark the summit and the arrival of 130 world leaders, images of forests have been projected onto the tower using 3D mapping techniques.

The artwork is interactive – it is accompanied by a smartphone app that allows you to produce a unique tree with your heartrate and project it live onto the Eiffel Tower, using 3D video projectors. In the process, participants also reserve a tree to be planted in real life.

The installation, known as One Heart One Tree, is the work of artist Naziha Mestaoui. She was commissioned to inspire reforestation projects and mass global support for a transition to 100% renewable energy.

The installation is drawing on a history of event marketing usually only reserved for global sport finals and the Olympics. The iconic place marketing of Paris through the Eiffel Tower is drawn on to maximise these images’ impact, which can turn the cultural importance of the tourist gaze toward climate in an unprecedented way.

For some, there is a latent irony to this publicity for COP21. It is marketing that helped get us into the climate crisis in the first place.

The reforestation message and clean energy will feature heavily in the first week of the conference, with a series of further publicity events events in support of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda.

This agenda alone involves 6914 pledges at mostly intra-national levels. That is, instead of just asking each nation to commit to climate mitigation, the agenda has secured commitment from 2255 cities, 150 regions, 2025 companies and 424 investors in diverse areas, such as:

  • less polluting transportation (11 programs);

  • renewable development (nine);

  • increasing energy efficiency (eight);

  • forest protection (six);

  • subnational local action (six);

  • business and innovation (seven);

  • agriculture (five);

  • financial mobilisation (five);

  • climate-friendly building (three); and

  • short-term pollutants (four).

Tomorrow, ministers from Indonesia, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, Prince Charles, the former Mexican president, indigenous leaders and CEOs from multinationals will be giving a press briefing to address pressing forest issues. I will be particularly interested to hear what the Indonesian minister has to say about the disastrous Indonesian fires, which have emitted so much carbon in past three months as to surpass Brazil’s annual C₀2 emissions.

Certainly, the focus on forests is critical. Forests account for nearly 30% of the earth’s carbon sinks. This makes forest preservation in a sense more important that carbon abatement.

A study of the Amazon, reported on in April, suggested that deforestation and drought are pushing the Amazon toward destruction by fire. Described at the Rio summit back in 1992 as the “lungs of the earth”, researchers are now concerned the Amazon could flip, becoming a net carbon emitter instead of a carbon sink.

Past studies have also shown that plantation forests are also not nearly as effective at being carbon sinks as old growth.

Then there is the supervening context for the merits of reforestation. The current commitments from the 177 nations that have submitted their “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) are nevertheless putting the world on a path to 2.7℃ by 2100.

If this is the best that can be negotiated, then the planet is being committed to a climate path not compatible with human habitation and possibly not trees also. If the “Amazon flip” is generalised, planting more trees may amount to no more than providing more biofuel for future conflagrations.

Australia has already seen what record-breaking global temperatures mean for the extreme fire behaviours we have witnessed in recent years. For that reason alone, Australia has a heightened obligation to rectify its abatement policies. With the highest per capita emissions in the OECD, Australia’s current targets are wanting.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s recent pronouncements about meeting targets that are themselves so far behind our per capita responsibilities will not go down well at the conference. Not only are Australia’s per capita emissions twice that of the OECD countries, they are actually rising.

It is a curious irony that it was the French who solved the problem of the relativities of time zones by that fateful transmission 100 years ago. This time, they need to solve a more difficult set of relativities – chaotically unequal emissions targets, which is the one area likely to cause the most friction at this conference.

The Conversation

David Holmes, Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Paris has already given us a modest climate deal – now to ramp it up


Peter Christoff, University of Melbourne

Today, in a renovated aircraft hanger in northern Paris, climate negotiators representing some 195 countries start to hammer out a new international climate deal.

Their attention is focused on a 54-page draft document, produced in Bonn last month ahead of this summit. This key paper contains a forest of bracketed text which captures states’ competing aspirations. These differences have to be resolved over the next fortnight if a final climate deal is to appear.

Targets, money and rules

Three clusters of key issues – around targets, finance and legal form – will dominate the talks.

The new agreement will aim to hold average global warming below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, although this goal is itself contentious. Such warming will lead to devastating longer-term impacts, is especially dangerous for least developed countries, and constitutes a death knell for low-lying island states which are arguing for 1.5℃ or less.

With this in mind, two years ago parties agreed to submit their voluntary 2030 targets ahead of the Paris meeting. So far 177 countries, including all the major emitters, have done so. Their pledges – made in the form of non-binding “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) – cover some 94% of global emissions.

This conference will accept these INDCs but will also determine a process for regularly reviewing them, probably every five years. Given the urgency of emissions reduction, an effective review will not only look at progress towards meeting pledges, but also increasing effort.

The summit will probably also agree to a generic statement about the long-term goal of decarbonising the global economy.

Second, there is the matter of climate finance – meeting the costs of mitigation and adaptation, and loss and damage, for poor countries. In 2009, the Copenhagen conference was partly saved from collapse by the rich countries pledging to find US$100 billion each year, by 2020, for poor countries to build resilience against the impacts of global warming. A Green Climate Fund was created for this purpose.

So far, according to the OECD and the Climate Policy Initiative, developed countries collectively provided US$52.2 billion in 2013 and US$61.8 billion in 2014. Without more progress in Paris, the COP is in danger of collapse. There is an expectation that Australia, which has just become a co-chair of the Climate Fund, will increase its own contribution; others will hopefully follow suit.

Last, there is the matter of legal form – the question about whether the final agreement will be a legally binding treaty, or an agreement with legal force, or some hybrid of these two. While this was a vital issue some years ago, there seems to be less interest in it now – perhaps in recognition that any attempt to create a binding agreement will likely have a chilling effect on the cooperation of big players such as the United States and China.

Why Paris is not Copenhagen

The long shadow of the Copenhagen climate talks still falls across the Paris meeting. The failures in 2009 have already disciplined these negotiations, which are an attempt to finish the business of that earlier conference.

Copenhagen was marked by stratospheric hopes and then profound disappointment. A flock of national leaders went to bask in the outcome of a tough, comprehensive, legally binding deal. The talks stalled and almost collapsed, only to be rescued by some deft drafting by the leaders of China, Brazil, India and the United States. The experience almost destroyed the climate treaty itself.

Expectations have been greatly and deliberately lowered for Paris. The biggest shift has been away from the search for a rigid, legally binding treaty with “top-down” targets and solutions like those featured in the Kyoto Protocol. The outcome rescued from Copenhagen was an approach that is voluntarily cooperative, defined by a “bottom-up” approach in which countries determine their own targets, submitted to the conference but no longer dependent on an international legally binding agreement.

Critically, this approach has breached the previously impermeable divide between developed and developing countries, allowing major emitters in both camps to engage in ways that reflect their own capabilities and circumstances.

This is most visible in the collaboration between the United States and China, which together account for some 40% of global emissions. Joint US-Chinese climate announcements, made while developing their own national positions in 2014 and 2015, have sent a powerful message about their commitment to an outcome at Paris. This contrasts with the standoff between the two carbon titans which almost broke the Copenhagen talks.

Can it all go wrong?

Together, these developments – and the prefabricated result built into the INDCs – promise that, at a minimum, the Paris summit will package the pledges and sell them as a positive step forward.

So can it still all go wrong? There are still pitfalls. Unlike in the early days of the UN climate treaty, some two decades ago, there are now multiple states and blocs with their own agendas and ambitions. The least developed countries, small island states, and importantly India, may yet cause turbulence over climate finance and mitigation processes.

Rather than outright failure, we face the problem of dangerously lukewarm success. Being the result of an uncoordinated, unnegotiated effort, the aggregate outcome of these current INDCs – if they are in fact achieved – will still lead to global warming of at least 2.7℃ by 2100.

A high certainty of holding warming to 1.5℃ or less – a target still not on the agenda – would require a rapid decline of emissions from 2020 at the latest.

There is also no clear commitment to global economic decarbonization at the scale and intensity, and within the timeframe, required to avoid dangerous climate change.

While China, Brazil and South Africa have committed to seeing their emissions peak by 2030, India remains a wild card in this pack of major industrializing states. A weak INDC review process and poor coordination of national efforts may see global emissions continue to rise substantially until and even beyond that date.

Small island states and least-developed countries in particular are increasingly fraught about the consequences of this lack of ambition. They talk about the 2℃ global goal as a suicide pact, and are less and less inclined to accept deals – including finance – that will lead to their extinction.

Climate finance itself is a major hurdle. The lack of a beefed-up finance deal could conceivably scupper the entire talks. However the associated discussion about rich countries paying poor countries for climate-related loss and damage will probably be deferred, as will the hot-button issue of compensation.

Last, there is the problem of domestic implementation. Already Republicans in the US Congress – who almost derailed the UN climate process in 1997 by refusing to allow ratification of the Kyoto Protocol – are talking about blocking US contributions to the Green Climate Fund. If a Republican wins the White House next year, this could lead the world back to the arid space of parallel negotiations, and stalling and wrecking, which marked the tenure of President George W. Bush.

It is against the strength of commitment to push past insufficient and inequitable INDCs and to engage in mitigation and fund adaptation in the next five years, that Paris should be judged.

A triumphant conclusion would be strong commitments to tighten targets, fund climate resilience, and decarbonise the global economy before 2050.

With time running out and the planet’s carbon budget almost exhausted, this meeting is one of our final chances to tackle the extraordinary dangers of global warming.

The Conversation

Peter Christoff, Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Massive road and rail projects could be Africa’s greatest environmental challenge


Bill Laurance, James Cook University

Africa’s natural environments and spectacular wildlife are about to face their biggest challenge ever. In a paper published today in Current Biology, my colleagues and I assess the dramatic environmental changes that will be driven by an infrastructure-expansion scheme so sweeping in scope, it is dwarfing anything the Earth’s biggest continent has ever been forced to endure.

People, food and mining

Africa’s population is exploding – expected nearly to quadruple this century, according to the United Nations. With that, comes an escalating need to improve food production and food security.

In addition, Africa today is experiencing a frenzy of mining activity, with most of the investment coming from overseas. China, for instance, is investing over US$100 billion annually, with India, Brazil, Canada and Australia also being big foreign investors.

To feed its growing population and move its minerals to shipping ports for export, Africa needs better roads and railroads. When located in the right places, improved transportation can do a lot of good. It makes it easier for farmers to get access to fertiliser and new farming technologies, and cheaper to get crops to urban markets with less spoilage. It can also encourage rural investment while improving livelihoods, access to health services, and education for local residents.

Improved transportation is especially important for Africa’s agriculture, which is badly under-performing. In many areas, large “yield gaps” exist between what could be produced under ideal conditions and what is actually being produced. With better farming, Africa’s yields could be doubled or even tripled without clearing one more hectare of land.

Using rudimentary methods, small-scale farmers eke out a living in Gabon.
William Laurance

Pandora’s box

However, there is another side to new transportation projects — a dark side, especially for the environment. When located in areas with high environmental values, new roads or railroads can open a Pandora’s box of problems.

Roads slicing into remote areas can lead to range of legal and illegal human land uses. For instance, in the Amazon, 95% of all deforestation occurs within five kilometres of a road; and for every kilometre of legal road there are three kilometres of illegal roads. In the Congo Basin, forest elephants decline sharply, and signs of hunters and poachers increase, up to 50 kilometres from roads.

A forest elephant shot by poachers.
Ralph Buij

In the wrong places, roads can facilitate invasions of natural areas by illegal miners, colonists, loggers and land speculators. In my view, the explosive expansion of roads today is probably the greatest single peril to the world’s natural environments and wildlife.

Africa’s ‘development corridors’

Earlier studies that my colleagues and I conducted, including a major study published in Nature last year, suggest Africa is likely to be a global epicentre of environmental conflict. A key reason: an unprecedented scheme to dramatically expand African roads, railroads and energy infrastructure.

In total, we have identified 33 massive “development corridors” that are being proposed or are underway. At the heart of each corridor is a road or railroad, sometimes accompanied by a pipeline or power line.

The 33 development corridors that are being proposed or constructed in sub-Saharan Afirca.
William F. Laurance et al. (2015) Current Biology.

The projects have a variety of proponents, including the African Development Bank, national governments, international donors and lenders, and commercial agricultural and mining interests. They’re intended to promote large-scale development and their scope is breathtaking.

If completed in their entirety, the corridors will total over 53,000 kilometres in length, crisscrossing the African continent. Some individual corridors are over 4,000 kilometres long.

Will these corridors generate key social and economic benefits, or will they cause great environmental harm? To address this question, we looked at three factors, focusing on a 50-kilometre-wide band laid over the top of each corridor.

First, we assessed the “natural values” of each corridor, by combining data on its biodiversity, endangered species, critical habitats for wildlife, and the carbon storage and climate-regulating benefits of its native vegetation.

Second, we mapped human populations near each corridor, using satellite data to detect nightlights from human settlements (to avoid lands that were simply being burned, we included only places with “persistent” nightlights). We then combined the natural-value and population data to generate a conservation-value score for each corridor, reasoning that sparsely populated areas with high natural values have the greatest overall conservation value.

Finally, we estimated the potential for new roads or railroads to increase food production. Areas that scored highly had soils and climates suitable for farming but large yield gaps, were within several hours’ drive of a city or port, and were projected to see large future increases in food demand.

Costs versus benefits

When we compared the conservation value of each corridor with its potential agricultural benefits, we found huge variation among the corridors.

A two-minute video summary of our study’s main findings

A half dozen of the corridors look like a really good idea, with large benefits and limited environmental costs. However, another half dozen seem like a really bad idea, in that they’d damage critical environments, especially rainforests of the Congo Basin and West Africa and biologically rich equatorial savanna regions.

In the middle, there are 20 or so corridors that appear “marginal”. These tend to have high environmental values and high potential agricultural benefits, or vice versa.

We argue that these marginal projects should be evaluated in detail, on a case-by-case basis. If they do proceed, it should only happen under the most stringent conditions, with careful environmental assessment and land-use planning, and with specific measures in place (such as new protected areas) to limit or mitigate their impacts.

Dangers for Africa

There’s no such thing as a free ride. For Africa, the dangers of the development corridors are profound. Even if well executed, we estimate that the current avalanche of corridors would slice through over 400 protected areas and could easily degrade another 2,000 or so. This bodes poorly for Africa’s wildlife and biodiversity generally.

Wild zebras in the Serengeti.
William Laurance

Beyond this, the corridors will encourage human migration into many sparsely populated areas with high environmental values. The wild card in all this is the hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign investments pouring into Africa each year for mining. Even if a corridor is likely to yield only modest benefits for food production, it may be very difficult for governments and decision makers to say no to big mining investors.

The bottom line: it could be a fraught battle to stop even ill-advised development corridors, though not impossible. If we shine a bright light on the corridors and argue strongly that those with limited benefits and large costs are a bad idea, we may succeed in stopping or at least delaying some of the worst of them.

This is unquestionably a vital endeavour. Africa is changing faster than any continent has ever changed in human history, and it is facing unprecedented socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

The next few decades will be crucial. We could promote relatively sustainable and equitable development — or end up with an impoverished continent whose iconic natural values and wildlife have been irretrievably lost.

The Conversation

Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia should back calls to end coal and save its drowning neighbours


Peter C. Doherty, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

While all of us of will experience the effects of climate change most are not facing the inevitable disappearance of our country. Yet that is the case for the 92,000 inhabitants of Kiribati, as well as other low-lying island states across the planet.

With its nation dispersed over more than 20 islands, some increasingly subject to ocean flooding, the Kiribati government has purchased land in Fiji to relocate some of its inhabitants. Over the coming century Kiribati, along with every other maritime region, faces rising seas driven by oceans expanding as they warm, and by melting ice sheets and glaciers.

Ahead of the Paris climate conference, which begins on November 30, Kiribati’s president Anote Tong has issued a call for a moratorium on new coal mines. On his recent visit to Melbourne I spoke to President Tong about the prospects for Kiribati in a warming world, and efforts to mitigate the worst impacts.

End coal to saving drowning islands

Kiribati is a group of more than 20 islands in the Pacific Ocean.
Wikemedia/TUBS, CC BY-SA

President Tong related that his call for a coalmine moratorium has had a sympathetic hearing from US President Barack Obama. He and former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott talked amiably but (at best) agreed to disagree. As yet, he has been unable to meet with Abbott’s successor Malcolm Turnbull.

What impressed me particularly is that, just as indigenous Australians relate to the land, President Tong was deeply passionate that the islands of Kiribati are the ancient, ancestral home of his people.

President Tong however is under no illusion that anything will happen quickly when it comes to weaning the world off coal. He points out that coal-fired power stations will be needed in the medium-to-long term to heat the colder northern countries.

Finding a coal alternative

There are several hurdles to cross in the transition away from fossil fuels. While 100% renewable energy may be possible, nuclear fission reactors may be needed as part any low carbon, coal free future for Europe, at least in the medium term. Nuclear generation has long dominated the power sector in France. Germany has made enormous efforts with renewables but they are (following the Fukushima disaster) using more coal as a consequence of phasing out nuclear, a move many climate scientists consider to be irresponsible.

China and South Korea are aggressively expanding their capacity for nuclear power generation, though China is also continuing to build coal plants.

Still, some nation states are determined to kick the coal habit as soon as possible. The UK has committed to closing its remaining coal fired plants by 2025 and will, instead look to nuclear, natural gas and renewables. The UK has long used some nuclear power, and there have also been innovative moves towards renewables and the use of domestic waste for the local co-generation of heat and electricity. And, as is the case for us in Australia, their coal-fired plants are old and in need of replacement.

When it comes to renewables, Australia has the advantage of being a massive solar and wind collector, with 23 million electricity–hungry humans versus 63 million in the UK. We have plenty of coal seam gas, although the concern here is that the leakage of methane (CH₄) from poorly-maintained wellheads negates its 50% (in CO₂ emissions) advantage over coal. However piped gas is much more efficient for local, small scale “trigeneration”.

Are we willing (or do we need) to open out the nuclear discussion here? It would be great to see a national debate on energy generation with everything on the table. Hopefully, the national dialogue may improve somewhat when the dust settles following the next federal election.

Coal might to some extent be saved by carbon capture and storage (CCS) but, even if the local geology is right, this is only likely to happen if an appropriate price is placed on carbon emissions. A direct carbon tax may work better than cap and trade schemes though, for political reasons, the latter (or some variation) may now be the only possibility in Australia. And, if there is a realistic versus a token carbon price, how does the economics of CCS rate against renewables and storage?

Accepting responsibility

Talking with President Tong, he had no illusions concerning either the morality of national governments or their independence when it comes to legislating against the perceived self-interest of extraordinarily wealthy, and often globalised, vested interests, particularly fossil fuel companies.

But, as Australian citizens have the enormous privilege of being able to debate and to vote in an open and democratic nation state, shouldn’t we be addressing the issue of possible consequences of our energy consumption and fossil-fuel export economy?

Apart from the possibility of taking the wrong direction and focusing on what will inevitably be stranded assets, what will the liability situation be for the mining companies, the coal exporting nations and their leaders and citizens if the consequences of global warming are as dire as predicted?

BHP Billiton is facing ongoing costs over the collapse of its local joint-owned tailings dam in Brazil. Global warming threatens unprecedented damage on a global scale, including the loss of small, vulnerable countries such as Kiribati. How should we account for the responsibility of rich nations such as Australia? Perhaps we will see accountability similar to the reparations exacted from Germany after the First World War, or even more severe costs.

The concept “think globally, act locally” has been attributed (in 1972) to New York microbiologist René Dubos. That accurately describes the reality of actions that might limit the impact of global warming. One thing we can do locally is vote.

Australia is a basically decent country. Few Australians would surely wish to see themselves as acting against the best interests of future generations. But we are known by our actions. We need a broad and informed debate on what we can do to limit global warming and, in the process, ensure our own longterm well-being. Can we seize the future with all its possibilities, or must we be locked into an ultimately unsustainable pattern of repeating the past?

The Conversation

Peter C. Doherty, Laureate Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.