Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The "No We Cant" President and Climate Change

With less than twenty days to go before Copenhagen meeting of world governments to agree a process by which a treaty to replace the Kyoto Accord can be replaced with a legally binding agreement, the rhetoric is now at full volume.

The latest clarion call to action comes from an alarmist scientific model prediction which suggests that average global temperatures will by up to 6C by the end of the century. Such a rise – which would be much higher nearer the poles – would have, say these modellers, cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable and threatening the basis of human civilisation.

This modelling comes from the Global Carbon Project study, led by Professor Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia and the British Antarctic Survey, which found that there has been a 29 per cent increase in global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel between 2000 and 2008, the last year for which figures are available. The results of this modelling activity, which makes assumptions about CO2 staying in the atmosphere longer and about a decline in the ability of the oceans to act as a heat sink, are published in an advanced article in Nature Geoscience entitled Trends in the Sources and Sinks of Carbon Dioxide. The findings are hedged with degrees of uncertainty and are, after all, computer generated `best guesses``.

On the same day, reports appeared that the snows of Kilimanjaro may disappear within the next two decades or sooner, according to researchers from Ohio State University and the National Science Foundation. The researchers are worried not only by the rapid retreat of the ice fields atop Kilimanjaro, but by the ice surface's thinning. They now believe that the volume of ice lost to thinning is equal to that lost by shrinkage, which is occurring on all sides of the famed Tanzanian mountain. While they do not say that global warming is to be blame – the more usual explanation is deforestation – the headline writers have found ways to insinuate that warming is the culprit.

Meantime, on the political front dithering President Obama now appears to have flip-flopped in less than a week in terms of what Copenhagen can achieve. On Saturday he was promoting a two stage process, with Copenhagen offering a political agreement and a legally binding agreement following sometime later. Now, in conjunction with the Chinese, he is saying that Copenhagen should provide the basis for a legally binding agreement for the developed world while others would follow some time later. Confusion. Obama is not in a position to sign a legally binding agreement on climate change without the support of Congress, and that support is not currently there.

According to Joss Garman of Greenpeace writing in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, the US is now seen as a dead hand on the Copenhagen summit. Obama, rather than being a `yes we can`` President, is seen as an ``on and off`` dithering delayer. He is waiting for congress to pass a Bill that, at best, will have no real impact on emissions, offering to cut between 4-7% on 1990 levels. What is needed, according to Garman, is a 50% cut to keep global temperature rises to below the 2C the G20 committed to in the summer. No one involved now takes the US position “of the day” seriously.

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