A while ago, we told you how the ancient Nasca civilization of Peru (which created the famous Nazca Lines) fell because of bad water management. Just like the ancient builders of the Moai on Easter Island. Now, there is scientific evidence that a similar fate befell Angkor, the great religious city of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia.
It wasn’t their fault, though: this immense spiritual metropolis (pop. 1 million, the largest city in the world 1,000 years ago) was a “Hydraulic City” carefully designed to collect water – with miles of dikes, irrigation canals, reservoirs, and diverted rivers. Tree-ring analysis of immense banyans like the one above has shown, however, that even the most advanced schemes are under the thumb of Mother Nature. Two huge droughts (in the 13th-14th centuries and in the 15th-16th centuries) alternated with vicious monsoon backlashes. The combination destroyed the infrastructure. The full story is available at Discover Magazine‘s superb Not Exactly Rocket Science blog.
Water catastrophes didn’t completely seal Angkor’s fate – “by the time the droughts kicked in,” says Not Exactly Rocket Science, “the city was already weakened by social, economic and political strife.” It’s clear, though, that in the recent revelations about Easter Island, the Nazca, and Angkor as well, science is revealing history we need to learn: that social values and cultural practices, in combination with natural-resource management and climate, is what makes civilizations – and what breaks them too.
An exquisitely beautiful video about deforestation by Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.
MARIANNE LAVELLE & M.B. PELL write for Politico
The next round of the battle over climate change policy on Capitol Hill will involve more than the usual suspects — way more.
Watch soup makers face off against steel companies. Witness the folks who pump gas from the ground fight back against those who dig up rock. And watch the venture capitalists who have money riding on new technology try to gain advantage in a game that so far has been deftly controlled by the old machine.
An analysis of the latest federal records by the Center for Public Integrity shows that the overall number of businesses and groups lobbying on climate legislation has essentially held steady at about 1,160, thanks in part to a variety of interests that have left the fray. But a close look at the 140 or so interests that jumped into the debate for the first time in the third quarter shows a marked trend: Companies and organizations that feel they’ve been overlooked are fighting for a place at the table.
The amount of money involved quite likely rose as well. Although amounts spent on lobbying by issue are not disclosed, if the groups involved spent just 10 percent of their lobbying budgets on climate issues, they shelled out $30.5 million in the third quarter — up nearly 13 percent over the previous quarter.
Of course, the framework for climate change legislation developed by a trio of senators — Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman — already makes clear that the climate debate will expand into new realms. Incentives for nuclear power construction and more offshore oil and gas production are key proposals they’ve floated for gaining Republican and moderate Democratic votes for a climate change package. But beyond what are sure to be high-profile battles over those issues, the lobbying records also reveal that a host of smaller battles are brewing — sure to greatly complicate the already immense challenge of writing a successful bill. It’s one of the reasons that — despite the pledge by President Barack Obama and other world leaders to exhibit “strong political will” on climate — it most likely will be months before the Senate moves on a measure to curb fossil fuel emissions.
The White House announced the deal – this is supposed to be a UN convention, remember – and President Obama has gone live on US television telling viewers what it contains before many delegations in the UN conference even had a chance to look at the text.
It’s not clear how those outside the little cabal of nations are going to play this.
The African Union is officially in favour so far, but they’re having a closed door meeting that I understand is lively, with Senegal among countries opposing.
I’ve been told that some of the small island developing states have been “told” to sign up, but others are fuming and determined to oppose – especially as their key demand, inclusion of at least the indication that the world could eventually look at 1.5C as a target for temperature rise, was excised at the last minute.
Ask who the “villain” is, and – as I mentioned in my previous post – “China, China, China” is the refrain.
But there is considerable anger towards the US, too, as I indicated before.
The fact that the EU hasn’t endorsed this “deal” yet it absolutely significant, as European leaders have until now been prepared to work with the US, though wishing it were in a position to pledge more.
Procedurally, there’s no precedent. Asked how things stood, one observer replied with a six-letter word unprintable on a BBC webpage – it begins with an f.
Jeffrey Ball, Stephen Power, and Guy Chazan write for the Wall Street Journal,
COPENHAGEN — Negotiators at the United Nations climate summit scrambled Wednesday to bridge multibillion-dollar disagreements as President Barack Obama and other world leaders prepared to descend on the Danish capital Friday.
As night fell in Copenhagen Wednesday, it appeared that the leaders could arrive for the summit’s final sessions with significant work to do to achieve Mr. Obama’s goal of a “meaningful” climate agreement.
Mr. Obama has gotten personally involved in a last-ditch lobbying effort, calling large and small nations seen as pivotal to breaking an impasse. Failure to ink even a nonbinding political deal in Copenhagen would be an embarrassment to Mr. Obama, who has made attacking climate change a centerpiece of his agenda.
Mr. Obama has telephoned leaders in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Brazil, Grenada, France, Germany and the U.K. as U.S., European Union and Australian negotiators lobby others in the so-called G-77 group of poorer nations “who know it’s in their strategic interest…not to go along with the others,” said one official involved in the talks. In some cases, negotiators for G-77 nations approached their bigger Western interlocutors, offering input as they tried to hash out a deal.
The White House said Wednesday that the talks were deadlocked.
Danish negotiators talked Wednesday with officials from a number of delegations to try to hash out elements of a potential agreement. Ideas under discussion include calling on nations to make emission cuts by 2020 that they have already promised, outline cumulative emission limits the developed world should meet by 2030, and include a target for a cumulative emission limit by 2050 for the entire world. None of these would be binding.
Also under discussion is the creation of a fund of about $30 billion that developed countries would offer to pay for emission-reduction efforts in developing countries through 2012.
One element of a potential Copenhagen result emerged Wednesday as the U.S., Britain, France, Australia, Japan and Norway pledged $3.5 billion Wednesday toward slowing the cutting of forests in developing countries. But that offer depends on a broader agreement.
In addition, negotiators are looking at a way to resolve a dispute over how nations would verify that other countries are making promised emission cuts. Under discussion is a proposal that would set minimum standards of information sharing.
Robin Williams preaches progress for ABC’s first Earth Day special, 1990. It goes weird from there.
John Vidal writes for the Guardian.
The head of the African group of nations at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen has proposed a finance deal where rich countries would pay for schemes to help poor states adapt to climate change and develop their economies using clean technology.
The proposal, from the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, of $50bn (£44bn) a year for poor countries by 2015 and $100bn (£89bn) by 2020, is far less than many developing nations had been calling for, but is roughly in line with a proposal in June by the UK prime minister, Gordon Brown, and an offer agreed by the EU in October.
Control over the funds would lie with the countries receiving the money. The G77 group of 130 countries, backed by the least developed countries and small island states, has long proposed that $400bn (£356bn) a year, or 1% of rich countries’ GDP, would be the appropriate figure.
Meles also proposed that 50% of the fund created should be allocated to vulnerable and poor countries as well as “regions such as Africa and small island states”.
In addition, he suggested that a group of high level financial experts investigate and report back within six months on possible “innovative” ways to raise the money. IMF special drawing rights, as proposed by the G77 and financier George Soros, a carbon tax, a possible “Tobin tax” on all financial transactions and even taxes on flights and shipping would all be assessed. His proposal is likely to have been largely agreed by rich countries following intense talks in the last 24 hours between Meles, Gordon Brown and other world leaders.
Meles admitted that many Africans would not be happy: “I know my proposal will disappoint those Africans who … have asked for full compensation … for damage done to our development prospects. My proposal dramatically scales back our expectation of the level of funding in return for more reliable funding and a seat at the table in the management of such fund.”
“Because we stand to lose more than others we have to be flexible,” he said, adding that there was a danger that no deal would be done. “That is not an idle threat but a solemn promise by Africa that we will strive for a fair and just deal,” he said.
ELISABETH ROSENTHAL writes for the New York Times,
COPENHAGEN — Negotiators have all but completed a sweeping deal that would compensate countries for preserving forests, and in some cases, other natural landscapes like peat soils, swamps and fields that play a crucial role in curbing climate change.
Environmental groups have long advocated such a compensation program because forests are efficient absorbers of carbon dioxide, the primary heat-trapping gas linked to global warming. Rain forest destruction, which releases the carbon dioxide stored in trees, is estimated to account for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally.
The agreement for the program, if signed as expected, may turn out to be the most significant achievement to come out of the Copenhagen climate talks, providing a system through which countries can be paid for conserving disappearing natural assets based on their contribution to reducing emissions.
A final draft of the agreement for the compensation program, called Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD, is to be given on Wednesday to ministers of the nearly 200 countries represented here to hammer out a framework for a global climate treaty. Negotiators and other participants said that though some details remained to be worked out, all major points of disagreement — how to address the rights of indigenous people living on forest land and what is defined as forest, for example — had been resolved through compromise.
A final agreement on the program may not be announced until the end of the week, when President Obama and other world leaders arrive — in part because there has been so little progress on other issues at the climate summit meeting, sponsored by the United Nations.
“It is likely to be the most concrete thing that comes out of Copenhagen — and it is a very big thing,” said Fred Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund.
For poorer countries, the payments will provide a much-needed new income stream. For richer nations, the lure of the program is not cash but carbon credits that can be used to cancel out, in part, their industrial emissions under a carbon trading system, like the cap-and-trade plan currently under consideration by Congress.
Forests “have become a pot of money or a get out of jail free card,” said Peg Putt, a consultant to the Wilderness Society. “Either way, there’s the prospect of financial benefit now, as opposed to just being told, ‘Do the right thing,’ like it was two years ago.”
JEROME CARTILLIER writes for the Mail & Guardian Online,
Africa’s frustration at the United Nations climate summit boiled over on Monday as delegates walked out of key talks and continental giant Nigeria warned the negotiations were now on red alert.
Sources at the marathon talks said Africa led a five-hour boycott of working groups, with the backing of the Group of 77 developing nations, and only returned after securing guarantees that the summit would not sideline talks about the future of the Kyoto Protocol.
The Kyoto Protocol ties rich countries — but not developing countries — that have ratified it to legally binding emissions curbs.
It also has an important mechanism enabling the transfer of clean-energy technology to poorer nations.
Yet it does not include the United States, which says the Protocol is unfair as the binding targets do not apply to developing giants that are already huge emitters of greenhouse gases.
Algeria, speaking at a press briefing on behalf of the 53-member African Union, demanded that there should be a special plenary session devoted to Kyoto.
“Otherwise we are going to lose everything,” Algeria’s chief negotiator Kemal Djemouia told reporters.
Asked about the state of negotiations, Nigeria’s pointman rang the alarm bell.
“It is ‘climate code red’ right now, we are in code red right now, we stand at the crossroads of either hope for Africa or hope dashed in ‘Hopenhagen’,” Victor Ayodeji Fodeke told Agence France-Presse.
Jim Tankersley writes for the Los Angeles Times,
Reporting from Copenhagen – International negotiators are quietly making progress here on steps to reduce “stealth” pollutants that contribute to climate change, including soot, refrigerants and methane gas, which together account for nearly as much greenhouse gas pollution as carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide, of course, is the poster gas for global warming. Disagreements over how to reduce its emission from cars, factories and power plants have dominated the Copenhagen climate talks so far.
But carbon dioxide accounts for only half the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And while top leaders postured and negotiated over a host of issues related to carbon emissions in the first week of the summit here, behind the scenes diplomats have worked toward compromises on a few simple strategies to reduce the other pollutants that cause global warming.
Those sources include so-called black carbon, soot from incompletely burned fossil fuels and biomass, including that produced by ships and cooking stoves that collects in the atmosphere and on ice and prevents sunlight from being reflected back into space; hydrofluorocarbon chemicals, known as HFCs, used in refrigerators and air conditioners worldwide; and methane, which emanates from coal mines and landfills.
Many scientists and environmentalists say reducing the “forgotten 50%” of pollutants will be faster, easier and substantially cheaper than cutting carbon dioxide, and could buy the world time in its climate clock race.
“We can eliminate — not just cut — one of the six greenhouse gases this week,” said Durwood Zaelke, a longtime environmental lawyer who is president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. “This can buy us more than a decade of delay” against the worst effects of climate change, he said.
John Vidal, Jonathan Watts and Suzanne Goldenberg write for the Guardian,
The Copenhagen climate talks hit trouble tonight as a number of African countries indicated their leaders would refuse to take part in the final summit unless significant progress was made in the next three days.
The showdown between rich and poor countries came as ministers began arriving in Copenhagen to take over negotiations. However, negotiators failed to reach agreement in key areas such as emission cuts, long-term finance and when poor countries should start to reduce emissions.
More than 110 heads of state, mainly from developing countries, are due to begin arriving on Thursday for an intense 24 hours of final negotiations.
Delegates hope for a deal on Friday that will ensure temperatures do not rise by more than 2C, and that hundreds of billions of pounds is pledged to help poor countries adapt to climate change. But tonight it appeared that many did not want to risk being pressured into signing an agreement they believe would be against their national interests.
“The industrialised countries want to hammer out a large part of the deal on the last day, when the heads of state arrive,” one senior African negotiator told the Guardian on the condition of anonymity. “It’s a ploy to slip through provisions that are not amenable to developing country efforts. It’s playing dirty.”
One added: “It is as serious a situation as it ever has been. It is more than probable many heads of state will not come if the negotiations are not complete. Why should a head of state come to sign an agreement that is basically a non-agreement?”
High level Chinese and Indian representatives indicated they would be in Copenhagen, but they made clear they wanted key points agreed before they arrive. They also appear desperate to avoid a situation where western leaders jet in and steamroller the main points on the last day of the conference.
John Vidal in Copenhagen writes for The Gaurdian,
The US president, Barack Obama, made his first public intervention in the Copenhagen climate summitNorway and Brazil which would protect the world’s rainforests today by backing a plan put forward by with funding from rich countries that cannot meet their commitments to cut emissions domestically.
Speaking after he accepted the Nobel peace prize in Oslo, Norway, Obama said: “I am very impressed with the model that has been built between Norway and Brazil that allows for effective monitoring and ensures that we are making progress in avoiding deforestation of the Amazon.
“It’s probably the most cost-effective way for us to address the issue of climate change – having an effective set of mechanisms in place to avoid further deforestation and hopefully to plant new trees.”
The president is not due at the conference for another week but his intervention comes at a critical time in the summit where negotiations on deforestation are moving rapidly.
The scheme is seen as attractive because pilot studies have shown it to be effective and has the backing of Prince Charles’s Rainforest Project.
Countries are more or less unanimously behind finding a way to reduce deforestation, which accounts for 16% of world greenhouse gas emissions, but are encountering sticking points which require the intervention of heads of state.
At least 20 different plans for Reduced deforestation and degradation (Redd) plans have been put forward by many different countries, but talks are in the balance over the rights and safeguards for people who live in or depend on the forests; how the money can be prevented from falling prey to corruption; how to measure and verify claims of protection and the future of existing forest industries.