Archive for December, 2010

Huge Problems, Including Climate Change, Loom For The Great Serengeti Plains, Why Are We Even Waisting Our Breath On A Highway Their

December 31, 2010

The great Serengeti plains of Tanzania and Kenya, Africa are home to the worlds largest remaining wildlife migrations. Wildebeast, zebras and Thompson’s Gazelles, almost 2 million strong, migrate in these plains. Predators like the Nile Crocodile, African Lion, spotted hyena, hunting dog and so on, do kill their share of these animals as they migrate and each year many tourists will see this amazing vestage of the earth.
The area has many problems now like deforestation of headwater forests, but climate change will devistate what is left of this area and its migrating wildlife. The Tanzania government wants to punch a highway through the northern Serengeti…what a waist of scarce funding…so misguided and not at all needed.
Rivers like the Mara and Grumeti might stop flowing and numerouse wildlife, I mean numerous might die as a result of dried rivers resulting from a warming climate.
The Serengeti is already a warm place with a warmer climate meaning choked off for us and the wildlife that lives their now and is visited every year by a thriving tourist trade that wants to see great migating herds of wildlife that are no longer seen on our earth..a highway through this…not with so many huge problems for this area on the horizon.
Matt

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This Year’s Christmas Birds

December 30, 2010

I have been gone but I am back. This time I want to write about a Christmas bird count, sponsored by Sacajewea Audubon, the bird club based in Bozeman, Montana; bird count number 10 for me.
These birds that we observe are considered a part of the citizens science initiative and they are telling us if certain bird species have extended their range, usually to the north and these range extensions are showing us troubling correlations between timing and birds…a potentially global climate related trouble spot for birds.
Most recently (December 18th) I went on a count led by former Sacajewea president Peter Norlander, a good guy with simular birding interests to this author.
We saw a lot of birds of prey, a favorite of mine…
We saw about 20 Red-tailed Hawks, including Harlan’s phas and the Krider’s phase. We saw about 30 Rough-legged Hawks. 10 Bald Eagles, 1 Golden Eagle, 3 Merlins, and a Cooper’s Hawk. Also of interest to me were wild Turkey’s, Wood Duck and a Northern Shrike.
We joked about how cold it was and so forth…what a fun day and we saw a lot of hawks so I was happy…I usually am when in nature…

Cancun Climate Talks on last day of negotiation, December 10, 2010

December 10, 2010

Thank you for the update NRDC staffer.
Matt

Negotiators at the COP 16 Climate Talks in Cancun have been working furiously to refine the final package. Now, as of noon on the final day of the two week meeting we are waiting for the newest version of the text to be released. Last night country delegates hovered over the text discussing the fine points of the potential outcome throughout the night. The lucky people like me made it home around 1 am. But the country delegates were too busy to sleep at all. They were working on all of the elements: clean technology, building resilience to climate impacts, and recording emissions reductions pledges to encourage further ambition. Emissions reductions and monitoring those actions remain central to the discussions but another crucial element is the Global Climate Fund which will be essential for the balanced package.

Gradual Climate Change

December 10, 2010

I am interesred in the changing landscapes as climate change sets in…this goes hand in hand with the concept of gradualism which lets the naysayer’s nay.
As an example you have shorelines that are going to disappear, but over a long period. It does not happen in an instant as you might see in a popular movie…nature is usually gradual, not dramatic, but we are talking fast in natural time.
I look at things like a dying food source for grizzly bears or a change in wildfire regimes or changes in perciitation, I am reading now in OnEarth magazine in an article about Peru’s percircipitation, in my area it may come in the form of snowpack or groundwater. There are noticed changes in bird migrations but none of this happens overnight…did I say gradualusm…I sure ment to. Natural changes in climate are occurring fast, though gradually over time.
Matt

The Coming Age Of Slaughter, By Timothy Snyder

December 9, 2010

Food for thought, climate change activist. Thank you NRDC staffer.
Matt
The age of mass killing, the 1930s and 1940s, was also a moment of environmental panic. World War I had disrupted free trade, and the new Europe was divided between those who needed food and those who controlled it. By the 1960s, improvements in seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides would make surpluses rather than shortages the problem. But, during the crucial 1930s and 1940s, when the decisions were made that sealed the fate of millions, European leaders such as Hitler and Stalin were preoccupied with mastering fertile soil and the people who farmed it.

World War I, in which both Hitler and Stalin played a role, had seemed to show that conquest of cropland meant security and power. It ended in 1918 during a failed German attempt to colonize Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe. To us, the “Ukrainian breadbasket” is a strange notion—perhaps as strange as the concept of “Saudi oil fields” will be 70 years from now. In the 1930s, however, it was at the center of strategic discussions in Moscow and Berlin. The Soviets held Ukraine and wanted to exploit its black earth; the Nazi leadership, ruling a country that was not self-sufficient in food, wanted to take it back.

Both Hitler’s Holocaust and Stalin’s Terror took place during an interval of environmental risk: between the identification of a critical environmental problem and the introduction of the technologies that would solve it. National Socialism and Stalinism both identified enemies to be eliminated, of course; and today, when we talk about Nazism and Stalinism, we understandably emphasize the hatred—the racial hatred of Hitler and the class hatred of Stalin. But there was an economic and environmental side to their ideologies as well: Both Hitler and Stalin made killing seem to serve a vision of economic development that would overcome environmental limitations. Perhaps we today tend to ignore this dimension because noting environmental limitations smacks of making excuses for horror. Or perhaps we see the economy as a realm of rationality and so assume that economic thought must not be implicated in apparently emotional projects such as mass killing. Or perhaps we have simply forgotten the environmental constraints of an earlier period, so different from those of our time.

We face our own environmental limitations and so have very good reason to recover this history. We have entered a new interval of environmental risk, an era in which we know that global warming is taking place but do not yet have the means to slow it. We Americans tend to see events of great importance as unique and the end of history around every corner. Of course global warming is an unprecedented challenge, and of course the Holocaust was an unparalleled tragedy. Yet the relationship is not as distant as we may think. We must use what we know of the dire environmental politics of the past to prepare for the calamities yet to come. We can recall that the most dangerous of ideologies were those that unified a promise of environmental mastery with the demonization of the group that seemed to stand in the way. Perhaps, by recalling this history, we can prevent a new age of mass murder.

Stalin adapted Marxism to a country where peasants were the bulk of the population and the grain they produced was a valuable resource. The peasants stood between utopia and its realization. They controlled the grain that could be used to finance the crash industrialization that would bring about Stalin’s vision of socialism. Food was valuable on international markets because it was scarce, whereas peasants were worthless in the communist schema because their historical moment had passed.

The more prosperous peasants, said Stalin in 1930, should be “liquidated as a class.” In a policy of “collectivization,” Soviet authorities used taxes, intimidation, deportation, shootings, and, finally, hunger to transform agriculture into a state concern. When famine followed, Stalin and his allies decided who would starve, even as grain was exported. More than five million people died of starvation in the early ’30s in Soviet Ukraine, Soviet Kazakhstan, and Soviet Russia. Stalin claimed to have discovered conspiracies of “Ukrainian demobilizers” and requisitioned food in Ukraine in late 1932 and early 1933, knowing that this would bring millions of deaths. In the fever of belief, communists in Ukraine convinced themselves that the dying were class enemies deliberately starving themselves, as one communist party member put it, “in order to spoil our optimism.”

Even as millions of Soviet peasants starved, millions more were sent to concentration camps to labor in mines, canals, and forests. When the condemned peasants returned to their homes after five years in the Gulag, Stalin worried that they would agitate against his regime. Although his Great Terror is remembered for the show trials of prominent communists, its major target was the peasantry. The largest shooting action of the Terror, claiming nearly 400,000 lives in 1937 and 1938, was directed chiefly against “kulaks,” people categorized as prosperous peasants. The starvation, the forced labor, and the mass shooting were elements of an ideological campaign for physical control of the countryside. Stalin saw food as the critical resource that would make the state invulnerable to challenges. It would be wrong to see his “war against the peasantry,” as the Italian historian Andrea Graziosi aptly called it, as a matter only of inhumanity or only of economics. That is a false choice. Stalinism brought the two together.

Since Nazi Germany was not self-sufficient in food, Hitler wanted what Stalin had. In Mein Kampf, Hitler had portrayed war in Eastern Europe as the resolution of Germany’s environmental predicament. The destruction of the Soviet Union (and Poland, which was in the way) would bring the Ukrainian breadbasket under German control. Hitler concluded that control of Soviet grain would make Germany “unassailable.” German economic planners foresaw that 30 million Soviet citizens would starve to death in the first winter after the invasion of the Soviet Union. Then, according to the long-term colonial blueprint, the western Soviet Union would become an agrarian colony dominated by Germans. This would require the murder, displacement, assimilation, or enslavement of 40 million or so people. The starvation of Soviet prisoners of war began immediately after the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. The concurrent shooting of Jewish men was meant to hasten the destruction of the Soviet state, which the Nazis claimed was largely directed by Jews. For the Nazis, the Jews were among the gatekeepers to the eastern pastoral paradise that Hitler called “the Garden of Eden.”

Hitler believed that Germany would secure Ukrainian food (and Caucasian oil) in a matter of weeks. The invasion of the Soviet Union, he thought, would be “child’s play.” When the war consumed rather than delivered resources, Jews were blamed, and Jews were killed. When Soviet power did not collapse in summer 1941, the Germans began to exterminate entire Jewish communities in occupied Ukraine. After having murdered Jewish men, the Nazis called Jewish women and children “useless eaters.” These words captured the two sides of Nazi ideology: the racial contempt and the obsession with resources. By late 1941, Soviet Jews were being asphyxiated in gas vans. The technology of death by carbon monoxide was then extended westward to occupied Poland. The death factory at Bełżec began operations in spring 1942. Its simple innovation was the attachment of an internal combustion engine to an airtight building. (We hardly ever remember that the internal combustion engines that today warm the atmosphere are the very technology used to gas Jews at Bełżec and other death factories.) In summer 1942, German occupation authorities in Poland used food shortages as an argument to hasten the deportation of Warsaw Jews to Treblinka, a larger death factory built on the same model.

It was Hitler’s anti-Semitism, and that of his henchmen and many supporters, that made Jews the primary enemy of the war. But without the Germans’ colonial expansion eastward through the main Jewish homelands, the Holocaust would have been impossible. When the war began, about 3 percent of the Jews of Europe were under Hitler’s control. Only the occupation of Poland and the western Soviet Union brought Europe’s major Jewish populations under German rule.

We are today in the midst of another interval of environmental uncertainty. We have recognized the reality of global warming, but we have not invested sufficiently in possible technical solutions. It seems reasonable to expect that global warming will prove to be at least as frightening to leaders and populations as food shortages—the more so since, among other consequences, it can lead to food shortages. This summer’s fires in Russia, made more likely by global warming, raised food prices. The fields of Pakistan are underwater as a result of typhoons, which are also made more likely by global warming.

A number of worrisome scenarios involve China. As Jared Diamond points out, the earth’s most populous country has just half the world average of fertile cropland per capita and one-quarter the world average of potable water per capita. As we saw this summer, China’s croplands are vulnerable to the typhoons that China’s industrialization makes more likely. Much of China’s potable water comes from glaciers that are now melting. China is still governed by a communist party that oversaw the starvation of 30 million people between 1958 and 1961 and killed hundreds of thousands during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. It is far from inconceivable that the Chinese leadership could, at some future point, look north to Siberian Russia for the water and cropland that will soon be in very short supply.

Meanwhile, Beijing is leading the charge to purchase cropland in Africa, thereby reducing its availability to Africans. One risk is that pressure from the outside will exacerbate tensions within Africa itself. In Darfur, desertification, brought on by climate change, intensified the competition for arable land and laid some of the groundwork for mass murder.

There now seems to be a consensus among national security experts that we can expect more of the same in the years to come. A report by retired American generals on global warming and U.S. national security, published by the CNA Corporation, speaks of failed states, ungoverned spaces, and widespread war. A report by experts on science and national security, brought together by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security, speaks of mass migration, resource wars, and “geopolitical reordering”—and that’s the best-case scenario. In the other scenarios, the authors forecast significantly increased risks of nuclear war and worldwide terrorism.

During intervals of environmental panic, fear itself is the crucial factor, as states and groups are tempted to seize resources for themselves before the crisis worsens. If leaders do not support technical solutions that are feasible in a timely fashion, they may later be tempted by economic preemption through violent means. The longer the interval is expected to last, the greater will be the temptation, in the meantime, to preempt. And when the purpose of conflict is to secure a scarce resource, ideologies can sometimes be found to deny claimants to the resource their humanity. Then comes the spiral of death.

The Holocaust was an unprecedented crime. But, as the Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer likes to say, just because a historical event was unprecedented does not mean that something similar cannot happen in the future. If new ideologies were to unite contempt for others with plans for economic security in conditions of environmental threat, the mass killing of the last century could repeat itself. No one, of course, can predict when or where such ideologies will emerge. But awareness of the past gives us the capacity to make choices that will decrease the likelihood of future tragedy.

We must invest in the technical solutions that will make our current interval of environmental panic as brief as possible. One candidate is fusion; and, to give the Chinese credit, China has made fusion a higher priority than the United States. Other candidates are advanced fission, photovoltaics, electric vehicles, and biofuels. Had food been bountiful in Europe slightly earlier, had seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides been as good in the 1920s as they were by the 1960s, it is exceedingly unlikely that the Nazi and Stalinist regimes would have taken the forms they did. If we find a way to a renewable energy economy in the 2020s rather than the 2060s, we can perhaps spare ourselves not only environmental collapse, but also ideologies of mass murder that will tempt leaders with violent solutions to environmental problems.

Those who follow such ideologies will be responsible for their deeds. But we are all responsible for the environment.

Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University. He is the author, most recently, of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. This piece ran in the October 28, 2010, issue of the

Sprawl, climate change, carp control hinder Chicago sewer overflow control, By Karl Linderson

December 9, 2010

More On Carp. Thank you NRDC.
Matt
Adopting Comprehensive Regional Solutions to the Invasive Species Crisis

In response to a public health emergency more than 100 years ago, engineers reversed the Chicago River and built the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to carry wastewater away from Lake Michigan, the city’s source of drinking water. The canal also provides a shipping link between the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes, opening navigation not only to recreational boats and commercial barges, but also to invasive species, and it diverts massive amounts of water from Lake Michigan. The unfolding Asian carp crisis reveals more than just the challenges faced by local, state, and federal agencies in stopping invasive species from entering the Great Lakes. It also exposes critical infrastructure deficiencies in the region’s wastewater, stormwater, and transportation systems.

WCPN Cleveland Public Radio, “Alternatives Proposed To Slowing Carp”, By Rick Jackson

December 9, 2010

From NRDC in the News, thank you. I am watching this potential fiasco closely.
Matt

An environmental watchdog is calling for additional federal resources, and a new plan to keep the potentially ruinous Asian Carp, out of the Great Lakes. Ideastream’s Rick Jackson reports.

The Asian Carp issue pits environmentalists and the sport fishing industry largely against the shipping industry, with the U-S Army Corps of Engineers included in the legal fray because it is would be the Corps’ responsibility to stop Asian carp from migrating from the Mississippi River system into Lake Michigan.

A U-S District Judge last week denied the Great Lakes states request to temporarily close Chicago’s navigational locks, which environmentalists say provide a clear path for the voracious fish to the lake from the Chicago River.

Judge Robert Dow ruled that Ohio and four other suing states failed to show the imminent harm that would require compelling the Corps of Engineers to act.

Now, The Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, is pursuing another option.

HENRY HENDERSON:
“A quick solution in terms of a separation is available….”

Separation ….meaning the rivers in question would no longer connect to Lake Michigan.
NRDC’s Henry Henderson says the `separation’ would involve installing earthen dams – with pumps for moving water, but not fish – from rivers into Lake Michigan. The estimated one time cost is $80-120 million.

That’s far more than the $25 million that the Army Corp of Engineers has budgeted to study the matter over the next seven years. But Henderson says that’s far too long to wait while the Asian carp remains a threat.

HENRY HENDERSON:

“If we don’t stop these, we have sold away a unique opportunity to stop an invasion before it becomes an in-habitation within the Great Lakes.”

NRDC’s Josh Mogerman says even the `best’ study… puts no defenses into the water. Nor, he says, has the Corps introduced any viable option.

JOSH MOGERMAN:

“We still haven’t seen that concrete plan that shows as its’ end goal, 100% prevention of Asian Carp getting into Lake Michigan.”

The NRDC has not yet presented its’ plan to Congress.

South America and North America Glaciers melting at a quicker Rate Than Those In Northern Europe, Says New UNEP report

December 8, 2010

Another thing to worry about, thanx for the article from NRDC.
Matt
Cancun, Mexico
Glaciers in Patagonia, which cover parts of Argentina and Chile, followed by those in Alaska and its coastal mountain ranges have overall been losing mass faster and for longer than glaciers in other parts of the world.

These are among the findings of a new report compiled by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in partnership with scientists and research centres from around the world, including the Norwegian Polar Institute and Norut Alta.

The third fastest rate of loss is among glaciers in the northwest United States and southwest Canada followed by ones in the high mountains of Asia, including the Hindu Kush of the Himalayas, the Arctic and the Andes.

Overall Europe’s glaciers have been putting on mass since the mid-1970s but this trend was reversed around the year 2000.

While the overall trend is down, higher levels of precipitation in some places has increased the mass and in some cases the size of glaciers, including in western Norway, New Zealand’s South Island and parts of the Tierra del Fuego in South America.

Some mountain ranges are experiencing apparently contradictory effects. In smaller areas of the Karakoram range in Asia, for example, advancing glaciers have even over-ridden areas that have been ice-free for some 50 years.

Meanwhile, in the Tianshan and Himalayan mountain ranges, glaciers are in fact receding – and some rapidly.

“Accumulation of science shows us a clear general trend of melting glaciers linked to a warming climate and perhaps other impacts, such as the deposit of soot, reducing the reflection of heat back into space”, says UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “This report underlines a global trend, observed over many decades now in some parts of the globe, which has short and long-term implications for considerable numbers of people in terms of water supplies and vulnerability”.

“Without doubt the main driving force behind the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers and formation of the catastrophic Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) is warming due to climate change. The risk to lives and livelihoods in the fragile Hindu Kush Himalayan region is high and getting higher. Immediate action by the global community on launching long-term adaptation and resilience-building programmes is urgently needed,” said Madhav Karki, Deputy Director General, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

“These alarming findings on melting glaciers underline the importance of combating climate change globally. It sends a strong message to us as politicians and climate negotiators in Cancun,” said Norway’s Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim.

Mr. Solheim announced today that Norway will fully fund, with more than US$12 million, the five- year Hindu-Kush-Himalayas Climate Impact Aadaptation and Assessment (HICIA) Programme from 2011.

The initiative will be carried out by the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, ICIMOD and UNEP-Grid Arendal.

“People in the Himalayas must prepare for a tough and unpredictable future. They need our committed support. Therefore, Norway will fully fund the brand new five-year programme. We see this programme as a potent mix of solid climate science, promising intra-regional cooperation and concrete adaptation projects on the ground. We support the programme with great enthusiasm and look forward to continued close cooperation with the programme partners,” said Mr. Solheim.

“ICIMOD is indeed very pleased to acknowledge the generous announcement by the Royal Norwegian Government in taking a major and timely action by announcing a fresh and substantial support in launching the HICIA programme,” said Dr. Karki.

Key Findings from the New UNEP Report

Melting glaciers could, in some places and perhaps in a matter of a few decades, cause a reduction in water availability in dry areas, such as in Central Asia and parts of the Andes, says the report “High Mountain Glaciers and Climate Change – Challenges to Human Livelihoods and Adaptation.”

In dry regions of Central Asia, Chile, Argentina and Peru, where there is little rainfall and precipitation, receding glaciers will have much more impact on the seasonal water availability than in Europe or in parts of Asia, where monsoon rains play a much more prominent role in the water cycle.

The report says that many glaciers may take centuries to fully disappear but underlines that many low-lying, smaller glaciers, which are often crucial water sources in drylands are melting much faster.

“When glaciers disappear, people, livestock, birds and animals will be forced to move,” says Christian Nellemann of the UNEP/GRID-Arendal research centre in Norway. “But ironically, a lot of people die in deserts also from drowning, when increasingly unpredictable rains cause flash floods.”

Most glaciers have been shrinking since the end of the Little Ice Age around 150 years ago. However, since the beginning of the 1980s the rate of ice loss has increased substantially in many regions, concurrent with an increase in global mean air temperatures.

In some regions, it is very likely that glaciers will largely disappear by the end of this century, whereas in others glacier cover will persist but in a reduced form for many centuries to come.

As glaciers melt, lakes held back by walls of mud, soil and stones can form, holding back sometimes millions of tonnes of water which can put at risk villagers and infrastructure, such as power plants.

In the last 40 years, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods – also known as GLOFs – have been increasing, not only in China, Nepal and Bhutan, but also more recently in Patagonia and the Andes.

Five major GLOFs took place in April, October and December 2008 and again in March and September 2009 in the Northern Patagonia Icefield in Chile. On each occasion, the Cachet 2 Lake, dammed by the Colonia Glacier, released around 200 million tonnes of water into the Colonia River. The lake has since rapidly refilled, suggesting high risk of further GLOFs.

There has been a near doubling in the frequency of GLOFs in the Yarkant region of Karakoram, China, from 0.4 times annually between1959 and 1986 to 0.7 times annually from 1997-2006. This has been attributed to a warming climate.

In Bhutan on 7 October 1994, the glacial lake Luggye Tsho in the Lunana region, burst. The ensuing GLOF, which contained an estimated 18 million cubic meters of water, debris and trees, swept downstream killing over 20 people, and travelled over 204 kilometers.

Adaptation

Boosting adaptation, including reducing the risk to people, livestock and infrastructure will be increasingly important in a climate-constrained world.

In respect to melting glaciers and the formation of glacial lakes, siphoning off the water from such lakes is one adaptive action. This has been successfully carried out at lakes in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

Similar projects have been carried out in the Tsho and Thorthormi Glaciers in Nepal and Bhutan but the cost and technical challenges in remote locations can be high.

The Peruvian authorities have had substantial experience in the remediation of glacial lakes, having undertaken the first works in response to the catastrophic inundation of Huaraz in 1941, which resulted in over 5,000 fatalities.

Over 5,000 people are killed in Asia every year by flash floods and hundreds of thousands of people have been impacted in the mountain regions.

The challenge of GLOFs comes against the background of increasing concern over the impacts of extreme weather events such as flash floods on lives and livelihoods. Annually an estimated 100 to 250 million people every year are affected by flooding.

The report also calls for more investment in glacial research and monitoring. Studying and modeling the runoff from glaciers and rivers and analyzing future variability linked with climate change is complex but necessary.

“If the world is to decisively deal with climate change, we must also address the need for programmes targeted towards adaptation strategies to build long-term resilience. Local people are already having to make tough decisions and choices as the climate around them changes. It is time for and governments and the international to step up action on cutting emissions and supporting adaptation. This meeting in Cancun is the next opportunity to fast track a response,” Mr. Steiner added.

Notes to Editors

The report “High Mountain Glaciers and Climate Change – Challenges to Human Livelihoods and Adaptation” can be accessed at http://www.unep.org or at http://www.grida.no/publications/high-mountain-glaciers including high and low resolution graphics for free use in publications.

The report is supported by UNEP’s Polar Research Centre GRID-Arendal and experts from research centres in Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.

The report will be released at 09:30 on 7 December 2010 at the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) in Cancún, Mexico.

For more information, please contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on +254 733 632755 or +41 795 965 737 E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

UNEP Newsdesk/Nairobi on +254 20 7625022 or Email: unepnewsdesk@unep.org

Rocky Mountain Climate Organization Newsletter

December 8, 2010

Have we reached a “tipping point”.
Matt

A global temperature increase of 2° Celsius – 3.6°F to us Americans – beyond the pre-industrial average climate has been suggested as a possible threshold of dangerous climate disruption. The U.S. government’s 2009 national assessment report on climate change, for example, concluded that a variety of research indicates that this level of temperature change “would lead to severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts.” But now scientists at the international climate talks in Cancun are predicting temperature rises of 3°C or 4°C as early as the 2060s (

By JOHN M. BRODER, China and U.S. Narrow Gap in Climate Talks

December 7, 2010

I got thia from NRDC and see this as much needed progress on a thorny topic. Thank you NRDC.
Matt
CANCÛN, Mexico — The United States and China have significantly narrowed their differences on the verification of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, officials say, providing hope that a United Nations conference here on climate change here can achieve some modest success.

The verification issue, which cuts deeply on matters of national sovereignty and international trust, was a major factor in the torpedoing of last year’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen. But in the intervening year, China has significantly softened its position and the United States has moderated its insistence on the issue.

The reduced friction between the two nations has greatly improved the mood here, and envoys from both countries expressed guarded optimism this week that a deal could be reached by the end of the conference on Friday.

“There’s an agreement to be had — I’m quite sure of that,” Todd Stern, the chief American climate change negotiator said on Monday, although he added, “I’m not sure we’re going to get it.”

Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate envoy, also signaled a willingness to sign an accord here, as long as it met Chinese objectives on financial aid to developing countries, transfer of low-emissions technology to poor nations and a continuing of discussions under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. He pointedly did not raise verification or transparency issues as a barrier to the negotiations.

The overall talks are grinding on slowly, and there is some concern that with only three full negotiating days ahead, there will not be enough time to resolve differences on remaining issues like money, technology, adaptation, emissions reductions and forestry programs, the basic agenda of the climate negotiations.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, under whose auspices these annual talks are held, operates on the principle of consensus, meaning that any of the more than 190 participating nations can hold up an agreement.

Last December, a group of nations led by Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and Sudan played the role of spoiler in Copenhagen. This year, Bolivia in particular has raised objections on a number of matters, including plans to compensate landowners for preserving forests. The Bolivian leader, Evo Morales, says this threatens the livelihoods of landless peasants, and he plans to address the conference on this issue this week.

Another issue hanging over the talks is the fate of the Kyoto Protocol, whose emissions targets expire at the end of 2012. Most developing nations are insisting that new targets be set and that money continue to flow to them for projects that reduce the emissions that contribute to global warming.

Japan startled the conference last week by announcing that it would not accept any new targets under the Kyoto Protocol, and Russia, Canada and some other parties to the protocol have also signaled a reluctance to assume new commitments. But language is being drafted here that papers over the issue, leaving it to be resolved at future meetings.

Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s chief of climate policy, complained that the pace of the talks was too slow and that the negotiating documents were full of holes.

“The texts are still much too long,” she said. “There are much too many options. They are still too complicated.”

She urged her counterparts to make compromises or face the prospect of another failed conference. “We can’t leave Cancún empty-handed,” she said.

Despite these disputes, the overall atmosphere of the talks is vastly improved from a year ago in Copenhagen, in large part because the United States and China are not at each other’s throats. Contributing to that more relaxed mood, the delegates are not awaiting the arrival of 140 heads of state, who flew into Copenhagen for the final hours of negotiations and raised the temperature beyond the boiling point.

“There is more camaraderie here, more dialogue, more intensive engagement and less shadow boxing than in Copenhagen, because China has moved on the transparency issue,” Jairam Ramesh, India’s environment minister, said in an interview. “That is very important.”

Mr. Ramesh proposed a plan for bridging the gap between the United State and China on verification, by establishing a voluntary program known as international consultation and analysis. Under the plan, known as I.C.A., countries would declare their emissions reductions targets and provide regular reports on how they were meeting them and gauging their own progress.

There would be no international monitors or inspectors, and no penalties for failing to reach stated targets. Smaller countries would have less frequent and less detailed reporting requirements than major emitters.

Mr. Ramesh’s concept has been broadly accepted here, but there are still disputes over how detailed the agreement should be and how soon the reporting requirements would take effect.

Mr. Stern said he wanted these matters addressed explicitly and not, as he put it, “at the 50,000-foot level.” Other major emitters, including Brazil and South Africa, are balking at providing the kind of detailed reports that the United States is demanding. China’s position is unclear, but Mr. Ramesh said he spent four hours with the Chinese delegation on Sunday and that he was confident that China would not stand in the way of a deal because of the verification issue.

He noted that China has recently leapfrogged over the United States to become the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. “They know the world’s radar is on them,” Mr. Ramesh said. “If transparency becomes the stumbling block, China doesn’t want to be blamed. If China is the only party holding out, they won’t collapse the negotiations.”