Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why six Britons went to eco war

When six activists, protesting against climate pollution, scaled a tower at a coal-fired power station in 2007 the resulting court case drew support from the world's leading scientists. Their subsequent acquittal proved historic and changed government policy. Here, the 'Kingsnorth Six' tell their story

Nick Broomfield's documentary about the Kingsnorth protests, A Time Comes Link to this video

Six ordinary people. One extraordinary feat of courage and endurance. Twenty thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide belched into the atmosphere in a single day. Twelve members of a jury, reaching a verdict that could change the future of the planet. From these ingredients, Nick Broomfield has fashioned a film that tells the gripping and (the description is unusually literal) life-changing story of the Kingsnorth Six.

A free download of Nick Laird-Clowes and Dave Gilmour's Mayday, written for Nick Broomfield's film Link to this audio

When a demonstration at the Kingsnorth power station in north-east Kent in late 2007 led to the arrest of six climate change activists, what had until then seemed a rather dry local planning issue exploded into a story of national and international concern. The verdict at their trial turned out to have far-reaching implications for activism, the future of coal, even the planet.

Now a 20-minute film, A Time Comes, by the much-admired documentary-maker Nick Broomfield, cuts police and Greenpeace footage of the occupation together with news clips and interviews with the activists. What emerges is how ordinary the Kingsnorth Six are - they could be the bloke next door or the woman across the office - but also how brave and tenacious. The film is released just as the government's review of its coal policy is expected and campaigners hope and expect the review will define a seismic shift in official attitudes to carbon emissions.

"I was attracted to making a film about the Kingsnorth Six because they're such everyday people," Broomfield says. "You tend to think of environmental activists as super-fit professionals, but they are modest and understated. I admire the way they were prepared to see it through - to take action for what they believed and take the consequences - and I wanted to make the film immediate, personal, anecdotal.

"I loved the footage of them struggling up a chimney as if in Dante's Inferno. Their story is just a very human one of great courage and great love and belief, which is, I suppose, what all great stories are about."

It is a story that began in October 2007 when a coal-fired power station at the mouth of the river Medway was nearing the end of its natural life. E.On, the German company that owns and operates it, had applied the previous year for planning permission to build a replacement on the site. This would be the first new coal-fired power station in Britain for 30 years, but a string of similar applications was lined up behind. If Kingsnorth went ahead, it was reasonable to assume coal-fired power stations would be built across the country. The government gave every indication it was intending to give permission, though it is widely acknowledged that coal is the single greatest threat to the climate, responsible for about half the fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. The average Briton emits 11 tonnes of carbon a year; it would take this one hypothetical Brit 1,800 years to emit the equivalent of a day's emissions at Kingsnorth.

So, at 5am on the morning of 8 October, protesters waving placards jostled noisily at the front gates of the power station. While the plant's security guards were distracted, another group of about 30 activists made its way quietly along the sea defences at the rear, cut a padlock and sneaked onto the site. "A security truck with a couple of guys tore up," says Ben Stewart, who was there. "We said we were Greenpeace and we had to shut down the power station because of climate change. They said, 'Good luck. Do it safely.'"

Once inside, the activists scattered in the darkness - some to the pump house, 18 to occupy the conveyor belts that carry the coal to the furnace, five to the chimney that towers 220 metres above the hulking mass of the power station. This last group walked inside, closed a metal roller-door behind them and cut the electricity. Two of them - Stewart and Huw Williams, an experienced caver - had been up the inside of a tower at Didcot power station and they expected to find a similar spiral staircase here. Instead, there was a metal ladder fixed to a wall. The wall and the ladder were almost the height of Canary Wharf.

The five were each carrying 50kg bags holding their supplies, which included climbing ropes, paint, food (pasta, pesto, tinned tomatoes, bread, water, coffee, and a cafetiere - "No instant shit for us," Stewart says) and they'd estimated beforehand that it would take them two-and-a-half hours to reach the top. Without a staircase, it was to take them nine.

"It was the most physically exhausting thing I have ever done," Stewart recalls. 'We were climbing up between the four flues. The CO2 goes up at a temperature of 120 degrees and it was like climbing through a huge radiator - the hottest, dirtiest place you could imagine."

The ladder had a "back-scratcher" - a rudimentary metal cage designed to prevent falls - which meant the space was too narrow for their bags. They had to pull up their kit on ropes, using their body weight to haul them between the five platforms. "Imagine the most tired and in pain you've ever been in and multiply that by a million," says Will Rose, a press photographer, who shot much of the footage Broomfield used in his film.

"We hadn't slept much the night before because we were nervous and in a strange place with a lot of other activists, and after a few hours of climbing, any adrenaline had worn off and we were dehydrated and exhausted. I felt as though I was going to collapse. My arms were aching from pulling on the ropes and my legs were aching from taking the strain. You'd get to a platform and rest for a minute and then have to pull up the bags. You can't stop because you can't let down the rest of the team."

The smokestack was filthy. They had coal dust in their mouths, up their noses. They had to scrape it off like tar. After hours of struggle - "I'm told it was nine but it felt like 12," Stewart says, "a dusty, dark, carcinogenic, hot, horrible experience for hours and hours and hours" - they saw light at the top. They were running at least six hours late. They rested briefly to recover some strength, aware that if they stopped for too long it would get dark. Williams rigged up ropes. Emily Hall, who works for Greenpeace in logistics, mixed paint. Rose shot photographs and film. Stewart spoke to the outside world, including his parents. "You might see me on the news on top of a power station chimney," he warned them. "They said, 'Are you sure that's wise?'"

At 6pm, Kevin Drake, an experienced climber and freelance industrial rope access safety supervisor, went over the side of the smokestack with Hall, who had only been climbing a couple of years, "sporadically". Rose's footage, if you are at all anxious about heights, is sickening: a vertiginous drop down a brick tower, Drake and Hall dangling, tiny figures in dizzying mid-air in the growing gloom.

"It was OK going over," Hall says. "I'd been asked to do it two weeks before so I'd had time to prepare myself mentally. It was later on that it didn't feel so nice, when it was getting dark and starting to rain. I could see the people on the conveyor belts being led away by the police below and that was disheartening. The ropes were really heavy, because they had to be so long, plus we were carrying paint on our backs. Our muscles were already sore from the climb."

It is hard to imagine any of them being in trouble with the law under any other circumstances and for Rose, too, the numbers of police were alarming. "It was cold and windy up there, but the thing that scared me most was the police helicopter that was circling us and the police vans below, with all these little black dots. I've got a huge amount of respect for the police, but it was alarming to think that sooner or later we'd have to come down and face them."

The plan was for Drake and Hall to paint "Gordon Bin It" down the side of the chimney. Drake's main worry was that he was "a bit dyslexic" and may make a spelling mistake. They judged the letter size with a length of knotted rope and from a distance the paint job looks surprisingly professional. "It didn't look so good from close up," Hall says.

They only managed to get as far as "Gordon". By 8pm, the light was failing and they were worried about the climb back up. Tim Hewke, who was co-ordinating from a van on the ground and would eventually be arrested and charged as the sixth member of the team, radioed, urging them to return to the top.

For Hall, getting back up the chimney "was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was a really hard slog, pulling on a rope, and my muscles were exhausted from pulling on ropes all day. I was emotionally drained. My hands were raw from climbing the metal ladder. But Kevin stayed with me. I swore a lot and he whistled and sang a bit and told me I was fine. I knew they were cooking pasta at the top, and I was going to Paris on holiday in a couple of weeks, so I kept repeating to myself, 'Pasta, Paris. Pasta, Paris.' And I knew that not making it wasn't an option".

The pasta and pesto was, by general agreement, one of the best meals anyone had ever eaten. Drake and Hall had intended to go back over the edge the following morning to complete their sign writing, but it turned out that the police in the helicopter, who had been shouting something inaudible at them through a megaphone, were warning that E.On had obtained a high court injunction. They would have to come down.

They decided they were too exhausted to get back safely that night, so they went inside the chimney and slept in the heat and coal dust until 6am. After a breakfast of tinned tomatoes, bread and coffee, they packed up and started back. "It felt OK to come down then," Stewart says. "We felt we'd done something important."

Emerging from the chimney, Hall "felt really proud. So many people had been involved, there had been so much planning and investment, and it was great to be part of it. There was an amazing sense of fulfilment".

The five activists emerged at around 1pm. The police - very pleasant, they all make a point of saying - took them away to their vans, swabbed them for DNA and fingerprinted them. Eventually, they took them to Gillingham police station. "I had to shower naked in front of two policemen," Rose says, "but it was so amazing having a shower, I didn't really care."

All the protesters who had been occupying the conveyor belts had also been arrested. They were charged with aggravated trespass; the six learned that they would also face charges of criminal damage. Hall and Williams were released "by a fluke" that evening with the conveyor belt team. The other four were held in custody for 24 hours.

They had discussed beforehand the possible consequences of the action. "It was unlikely we'd be let off with a parking ticket," Stewart says. Even so, they were surprised by the extent of the criminal damage - £30,000 - said to be the cost of cleaning the tower. "We left absolutely nothing up there," Hall says, "and all they did to clean it up was to paint white boxes over our lettering."

Perhaps, though, they weren't entirely dismayed. Any criminal damage charge for more than £5,000 has to be tried by a jury. "My first thought was, 'I'm going to go to jail,'" Stewart says. "My second was, 'But I'm going to get a jury trial.'" It would be an opportunity to put the climate change case in public.

The months of waiting for the court case were difficult. Criminal damage cases involving similar sums had resulted in prison sentences. "Some days, I felt we'd done the right thing and people would see that and we'd be absolutely fine," Rose says. "On other days, I'd think, 'Oh my God, I'm going to prison for this.' You can see what I look like. I wouldn't last five minutes in prison."

The eminent barrister hired to defend them, Keir Starmer, was made director of public prosecutions a month before the trial, leaving them without a lawyer. Michael Wolkind QC stepped in. "We had a meeting with him," Stewart says, "and asked who else he'd represented. He said, 'The nail bomber, Tony Martin and the 7/7 bombers.' We said, 'Have you ever represented anyone who's not a fascist? And have you ever won a case?'"

The trial opened at Maidstone Crown Court (in Ann Widdecombe's constituency, perhaps not the first place a climate change activist would choose) on 1 September 2008. "Michael Wolkind prepared really diligently," Stewart says, "but his first line to the jury was, 'They care about Tuvalu. Do you too?' And I thought, 'That's it, I'm going down.'"

The standard defence against criminal damage is that by committing the crime, the defendant prevents damage to more valuable property - so it's acceptable to kick down the door of a burning house if you thereby prevent its complete destruction. The argument Wolkind and his team had to make was that shutting down Kingsnorth for 24 hours was a significant contribution to retarding carbon emissions, preventing the worse harm of climate change. They also had to establish that there had been no legal options.

To everyone's surprise, one of the world's leading climate change scientists, Professor James Hansen, responded to an email from Joss Garman, Greenpeace's coal campaigner, by saying he would testify on behalf of the Six. Hansen, whom Garman describes as "a rock star of climate change", has been director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies for the past 20 years, an adviser to US presidents, and was the first person to testify to Congress on the seriousness of climate change. While in the UK, he met the prime minister and the foreign secretary, because that is the kind of person he is, but his reason for coming was to testify in a small courtroom in Kent. The nub of his argument was that every tonne of carbon counts, so that while it may not be possible to pinpoint the extinction of one species to a particular molecule of carbon, it is reasonable to assert that Kingsnorth alone would lead to the extinction of 400 species over its lifetime.

Both Geoff Meaden, professor of geography at Canterbury Christ Church University, and Hansen produced maps showing the impact of rising sea levels on the Kent coastline, the world's leading climate scientist giving a private seminar to the jury about the future of their area. Inuit leader Aqqaluk Lynge described the melting of polar ice and its impact on Inuit homes and food supplies.

Gordon Brown had just changed his mind about an autumn election; Zac Goldsmith argued that this had closed the normal democratic channels, especially given that it had recently been estimated that the world was a mere 100 months away from a climate tipping point. Jennifer Morgan, a former adviser to Tony Blair and an expert on international climate negotiations, said the G8 had failed to deliver significant progress in preventing catastrophic change.

The defence's arguments were given a boost by the 2006 Stern review for the British government, which put a price on climate change for the first time, calculating that each tonne of carbon causes $85 worth of damage. This means that shutting down Kingsnorth for one day may have prevented around £1m of damage.

Each of the defendants had prevented 3,300 tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere (their share of a normal Kingsnorth day's output). It would have taken them 300 years of zero-carbon living apiece to have had an equivalent impact.

They all had to give evidence. "It was petrifying," Stewart says. "I kept thinking if I buggered it up I'd be letting down my fellow defendants and ruining the chances of making this important statement. As the case went on and the evidence piled up, and it was such a compelling story, so emotional, I began to think we might get three of the jury not to convict - which, of course, would get us off. I started to think we might even get five."

The jury was discharged at 10am on Tuesday 9 September. They did not return their verdict that day and it was difficult for the Six to sleep that night. "I managed to get through the trial fairly well, to hold my composure," Rose says. "Then about an hour before the verdict on Wednesday, I almost had a blackout. I was shaking, my heart was racing, my breath was short. I kept going back over everything, all the evidence. It was like seeing your life before you die."

"So much depended on that first utterance - 'N' for not guilty or 'G' for guilty," Stewart says. "As soon as the foreman went 'N', the court erupted." His mother, in the public gallery, burst into tears. So did Hall. There was elation in the Greenpeace offices, where everyone was gathered round director John Sauven's phone, waiting for Stewart's text; and in New Zealand, where Hall is from; in the Northumbrian coal mining village where Rose grew up; and especially among all the other activists who had been at Kingsnorth.

That night, the 10 o'clock news reported that a government decision on the future of Kingsnorth had been postponed. That this was a U-turn is not in doubt. E.On had already gone out to tender for construction of the new plant. Exchanges between the company and the civil servants in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), obtained by Greenpeace under Freedom of Information legislation, prove that the government had been drawing up conditions for approval of Kingsnorth and was prepared to be conciliatory about how far these related to climate change.

Within a month of the verdict, business secretary John Hutton was reshuffled and responsibility for energy moved from BERR to the new Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which put energy where it belongs, not with business, but with the environment. The new secretary of state was Ed Miliband who, with David Miliband and Hilary Benn, had previously opposed a new Kingsnorth in cabinet.

The government's previous position had been that the new plant would have to be "carbon capture and storage [CCS]-ready". In other words, whenever technology to capture and bury carbon emissions became feasible, Kingsnorth must be able to plug it in. For Greenpeace, this was meaningless - "It's like saying my garage is Ferrari-ready," Stewart says. CCS technology does exist, but has never been tried at scale. It may not work. It certainly may not be financially viable for a huge power plant.

The new policy, as articulated by Ed Miliband in April, complete with a neat soundbite - "The era of new unabated coal has come to an end" - is that no new coal-fired power station will be allowed unless it captures the carbon from 400 megawatts straight away. In the case of Kingsnorth, this would represent about a quarter of its output. And by 2025, Kingsnorth would have to have CCS technology for its entire output.

Many questions remain to be answered. The power companies are now lobbying fiercely, arguing that it makes no sense for them to build power plants that could be inoperable after 2025 if the technology doesn't work or proves to be unaffordable. They have the support of some of the civil servants who moved across from BERR and some members of the cabinet. Greenpeace, meanwhile, doesn't want to see a new plant that guarantees only that a quarter of emissions will be captured; it would rather the CCS experiment was tried on an existing plant.

Results of a consultation on a new coal policy are due from DECC imminently. Miliband will have to decide whether CCS is a promising enough technology to justify public investment and, if so, what form it will take. Carbon can be captured before combustion, which is a cleaner method, or after, which has the advantage that the technology can be fitted to existing power stations and potentially sold abroad.

Greenpeace's position is that there should be limits on carbon emissions for all power stations (which it would set currently at 350g of CO2 per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated and reduce in time as the technology develops). While CCS, certainly pre-combustion, would meet that proposed standard, the technology is not proven and Greenpeace would prefer to rely on renewables.

These are highly technical questions. What is clear, even to those of us who are clueless about the science of carbon capture or unqualified to judge whether the energy gap can be bridged without coal, is that Kingsnorth is now unlikely to go ahead without offering some hope for climate change. The publicity generated at the plant in October 2007 and the subsequent verdict has almost certainly (as long as Miliband doesn't crack) paved the way to a more thoughtful energy policy which has climate change at its heart rather than as bolt-on, entirely dispensable rhetoric.

In this, the bravery of the Kingsnorth Six was vital. What they have shown is that direct action can be a legitimate form of political action. Properly carried out, it can muster public support and change people's minds. It can even shift government policy. In years to come, we may have cause to thank these sympathetic, courageous and ordinary individuals. It's not a bad result from a day and night up a dirty chimney. They all think now that the climb was worth it.

Power to the people
They came, they climbed, they conquered

December 2006
German company E.On applies for planning permission to replace the existing plant at Kingsnorth in Kent with the first new coal-fired station in Britain for 30 years. The plant would produce an estimated 19,800 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every day.

October 2007
Environmental activists hold a demonstration at Kingsnorth. Around 30 get on site and shut down the plant; five scale the inside of the towers and paint a giant message on the outside. All are arrested. The five who scaled the tower and the activist who coordinated the ascent from the ground are charged with causing criminal damage of £30,000.

January 2008
Medway council votes to allow building to go ahead at Kingsnorth but recommends a public inquiry.

The Royal Society criticises the government policy on coal, saying that any new coal-fired power stations unable to capture and bury 90% of its carbon emissions by 2020 s hould be closed.

The head of the government's sustainable development commission, Sir Jonathon Porritt, tells the secretary of state that a new generation of coal plants would "destroy the overall credibility of the government's climate change programme".

Environmental activists hold a climate camp outside Kingsnorth for 10 days. Hundreds are arrested while taking direct action against the plant.

The trial of the Kingsnorth Six - those involved in the scaling of the tower - takes place. Professor James Hansen, director of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the first person to testify to Congress about the threat of climate change, gives evidence on their behalf. All are acquitted.

The committee on climate change finds that coal stations should be expected to capture and bury all of their carbon emissions by the early 2020s.

April 2009
Ed Miliband, secretary of state for the newly created Department of Energy and Climate Change, announces a change of policy on coal, ruling out unabated coal stations.
Ally Carnwath

The Kingsnorth Six

Kevin Drake
Kevin Drake, 44, lives in a Wiltshire village with his wife and daughter. He works as a rope access safety supervisor and loves the outdoor life, including caving, camping, rock climbing and body boarding. He has been volunteering for Greenpeace for 10 years.

Huw Williams
Williams, 41, is a former shepherd and sign writer from Northamptonshire, and is a keen caver, touring cyclist and narrowboat owner. He has been volunteering with Greenpeace for 15 years and his interests include rural crafts and wildlife watching. He is now cycling to Namibia with his partner and is somewhere outside Tangier.

Emily Hall

Born in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, Hall left home to travel in 1996. She lives in London, works for Greenpeace in logistics and learnt to climb in order to get more involved in direct action. "My mum was incredibly worried throughout the trial. I rang to tell her the verdict straight away. I also rang my boyfriend, who was relieved because he had been worried that he'd have to bust me out of jail."

Tim Hewke
Tim Hewke co-ordinated the Kingsnorth action from the ground. He is in his 40s and has worked for Greenpeace for 13 years as a researcher. He lives in Harrietsham, Kent, and likes "wining and dining, photography and growing vegetables - and recently won the prize for the tallest sunflower in Chegworth.

Ben Stewart
Stewart, 35, is a law graduate from Lyminge, near Canterbury. He is head of media at Greenpeace UK, and a former Guardian Young Journalist of the Year for an interview he conducted with Michael Howard. The then-home secretary lost his temper and threw Stewart out of his office after a question about the Criminal Justice Bill. He has met Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to discuss green issues.

Will Rose
Rose, 29, grew up in Ashington, Northumberland. "The town was completely supported by coal. My grandfathers worked down the pits and my father was an engineer in the industry. It was a big thing for me to find out that coal was a bad thing." A press photographer, he now lives in London and works for Greenpeace and other NGOs: "I wanted to use my skills for something I believe in."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Global warming causes 300,000 deaths a year

Global warming causes 300,000 deaths a year, says Kofi Annan thinktank

Climate change is greatest humanitarian challenge facing the world as heatwaves, floods and forest fires become more severe

Climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and is affecting 300m people, according to the first comprehensive study of the human impact of global warming.

It projects that increasingly severe heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires will be responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths a year by 2030, making it the greatest humanitarian challenge the world faces.

Economic losses due to climate change today amount to more than $125bn a year — more than all the present world aid. The report comes from former UN secretary general Kofi Annan's thinktank, the Global Humanitarian Forum. By 2030, the report says, climate change could cost $600bn a year.

Civil unrest may also increase because of weather-related events, the report says: "Four billion people are vulnerable now and 500m are now at extreme risk. Weather-related disasters ... bring hunger, disease, poverty and lost livelihoods. They pose a threat to social and political stability".

If emissions are not brought under control, within 25 years, the report states:

• 310m more people will suffer adverse health consequences related to temperature increases

• 20m more people will fall into poverty

• 75m extra people will be displaced by climate change.

Climate change is expected to have the most severe impact on water supplies . "Shortages in future are likely to threaten food production, reduce sanitation, hinder economic development and damage ecosystems. It causes more violent swings between floods and droughts. Hundreds of millions of people are expected to become water stressed by climate change by the 2030. ".

The study says it is impossible to be certain who will be displaced by 2030, but that tens of millions of people "will be driven from their homelands by weather disasters or gradual environmental degradation. The problem is most severe in Africa, Bangladesh, Egypt, coastal zones and forest areas. ."

The study compares for the first time the number of people affected by climate change in rich and poor countries. Nearly 98% of the people seriously affected, 99% of all deaths from weather-related disasters and 90% of the total economic losses are now borne by developing countries. The populations most at risk it says, are in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, south Asia and the small island states of the Pacific.

But of the 12 countries considered least at risk, including Britain, all but one are industrially developed. Together they have made nearly $72bn available to adapt themselves to climate change but have pledged only $400m to help poor countries. "This is less than one state in Germany is spending on improving its flood defences," says the report.

The study comes as diplomats from 192 countries prepare to meet in Bonn next week for UN climate change talks aimed at reaching a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in December in Copenhagen. "The world is at a crossroads. We can no longer afford to ignore the human impact of climate change. This is a call to the negotiators to come to the most ambitious agreement ever negotiated or to continue to accept mass starvartion, mass sickness and mass migration on an ever growing scale," said Kofi Annan, who launched the report today in London.

Annan blamed politians for the current impasse in the negotiations and widespread ignorance in many countries. "Weak leadership, as evident today, is alarming. If leaders cannot assume responsibility they will fail humanity. Agreement is in the interests of every human being."

Barbara Stocking, head of Oxfam said: "Adaptation efforts need to be scaled up dramatically.The world's poorest are the hardest hit, but they have done the least to cause it.

Nobel peace prizewinner Wangari Maathai, said: "Climate change is life or death. It is the new global battlefield. It is being presented as if it is the problem of the developing world. But it's the developed world that has precipitated global warming."

Calculations for the report are based on data provided by the World Bank, the World Health organisation, the UN, the Potsdam Insitute For Climate Impact Research, and others, including leading insurance companies and Oxfam. However, the authors accept that the estimates are uncertain and could be higher or lower. The paper was reviewed by 10 of the world's leading experts incluing Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, Jeffrey Sachs, of Columbia University and Margareta Wahlström, assistant UN secretary general for disaster risk reduction.

Climate crisis equal to nuclear arms threat

By Emily Beament

The Independent, Friday, 29 May 2009

Climate change poses as great a threat to the world as the nuclear arms race, scientists warned yesterday as they called on leaders to take urgent action to tackle the problem.

The scientists and Nobel laureates attending a three-day conference hosted by St James's Palace drew up a memorandum calling for global greenhouse gas emissions to peak by 2015. The memorandum from the experts, who included the US energy secretary Steven Chu, said a new global deal on emissions expected at the UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen in December was urgently needed.

It must undertake to cut greenhouse gases by half by 2050, the document urged. And while developed countries should take the lead, with cuts of 25 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020, every nation must act, on the "firm assumption that all others will also act".

Professor Hans Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said that with "probably the biggest concentration of brains on the planet" drawing up the memorandum, it could be more vital than many mass protests on climate change. "We are in a crisis as deep as the times of the arms race," he added.

The memorandum from the conference said that without protecting tropical forests, there was no solution to tackling climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), warned that the impacts of climate change could cause havoc in many of the poorest places in the world.

The experts' memorandum called for resources being used to aid economic recovery to put the world on to a path towards a low-carbon economy.

Hard road to Copenhagen

Adam Morton
The Age, May 30, 2009

Other related coverage

The world is starting to get its act together on emissions cuts, but time is running out.

HAVING served as ambassador there in the late 1980s — when he was boss to a young diplomat named Kevin Rudd — Ross Garnaut knows China. And while his links with the Australian Parliament may have diminished of late (savaging a government for ignoring your advice can do that to you), the former Rudd climate adviser has close academic and business ties with the waking Asian giant and returns regularly.

When he does, he sees a country taking much greater strides in limiting greenhouse emissions than many in the West realise.

Speaking recently in Melbourne, the professor listed a string of environmentally friendly steps being taken in Beijing: taxes on energy-guzzling industries such as cement, aluminium and steel and world's-best investment in low-emissions energy — nuclear, solar, wind and biomass.

To this he could have added adoption of targets to dramatically cut the amount of energy used per $1 of GDP generated and ensure that a 10th of energy comes from renewable sources by next year.

Garnaut believes China is discouraging energy-hungry industries to "an extent that it would be very difficult, politically, in Australia".

"I think most Australians would be surprised at the emphasis in China on making sure that future growth is not like past growth," he says.

One of the major questions that must be answered this year is: can China, now producing more greenhouse gas than any other country, be persuaded to convert this willingness to act into taking on a formal target?

It is one of the challenges that must be addressed over the next six months to pull off a significant deal at the key summit at Copenhagen in December aimed at avoiding catastrophic climate change.

Whether there is any hope of finding common ground should become clearer over the next six weeks. Next week the latest round of United Nations-sponsored talks starts in Bonn, Germany, where for the first time the bureaucratic bluster will be focused on specifics — the newly released negotiating text that must form the basis of a new climate treaty. The talks will be followed in July by a meeting in Italy of the leaders of 17 of the biggest emitting nations, at the Major Economies Forum called by US President Barack Obama. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will be there.

Western nations have conceded that, as they are responsible for about three-quarters of the historic emissions that put the world in this position, they must act first to get developing nations on board. Much of the focus of the UN talks will be on working out how much action the rich must agree to take before China and other emerging nations agree to restrain their emissions.

While its investment in clean energy is immense, China is also spending up big on coal-fired electricity as it pulls itself out of poverty. Garnaut projects that if the world keeps to its current path, 90 per cent of emissions growth over the next two decades will come from developing nations.

The UN negotiating text, essentially a list of ambit claims, suggests the haves and the have-nots are no closer to agreement.

The nominated target for rich nations to do their bit has long been a 25-40 per cent cut below 1990 emissions levels by 2020. Alarmed by worsening climate science predictions, many developing countries are now increasing their demands. China and South Africa say they want the rich to cut emissions by 40 per cent.

Which poses a problem. According to Australian National University professor Stephen Howes, a former World Bank lead economist, likely commitments from rich nations add up to an overall commitment to cut somewhere between 10 and 20 per cent.

And there is no agreement on how to drum up the tens of billions of dollars needed to help the poor fight climate change and cope with the changes already locked in.

Erwin Jackson, policy director with Australian think tank the Climate Institute, says there is little time left to resolve these issues.

"If by September we haven't seen real progress on financing and real progress by developed countries putting on the table real, ambitious targets, then Copenhagen will be in real trouble," he says.

Despite this, close observers of the talks says there is some reason for optimism — certainly more than six months ago.

China and the US — the G2, responsible for about 40 per cent of global emissions — are both showing signs of progress.

While two senior Chinese climate officials recently told The Age they were disappointed with proposals put forward by the US and Australia, insiders say the public positioning does not fully reflect the shifting negotiations.

John Kerry, chairman of the powerful US Senate foreign relations committee, called the talks between China and the US in Beijing this week the most constructive on climate change in 20 years.

Howes says reports from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and in state-owned media suggest China is preparing to take on an ambitious target — perhaps to reduce emissions per $1 of GDP by 20 per cent.

Similarly, the US is ahead of where many expected it to be. Four months after Obama was sworn in, the country has a proposed emissions trading scheme ready to go before Congress in August.

Unlike the Australian emissions trading proposal, the Waxman-Markey bill — named after the powerful Democrats behind it — includes provisions to finance the fight against climate change in the developing world. Including credits for stopping deforestation in the tropics, it could cut emissions by about 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. US climate envoy Todd Stern acknowledged this did not meet the demands of other nations, but said the superpower was "jumping as high as the political system will tolerate".

So how to bridge the gap? Insiders suggest it will involve not only compromise, but a shifting of the goal posts. Where the Kyoto Protocol compared emissions to 1990 levels, a new treaty is likely to have to bring this forward to 2000 or 2005 to better reflect where countries are today. The US proposal, for instance, looks relatively insignificant when placed on a 1990 baseline. Compared to 2005, its target becomes a 30 per cent cut.

Elsewhere, some of the biggest strides are coming from countries on the cusp of development. Mexico, for instance, has pledged to halve emissions by 2050 and is considering an emissions trading scheme. On the other side of the coin is India, which is less inclined to forgive the lack of action to date from the West and is likely to have to be treated differently to China under a new deal, due to the depth of its poverty.

And Australia? The recent announcement that it may accept a 25 per cent reduction target, albeit it only under a strong global deal, has been warmly received internationally. But experts warn that the lack of finalised emissions trading legislation, likely given the opposition in the Senate, would make the target seem hollow to some developing nations. Even if it is passed, analysts here and overseas note it will count for little unless the Federal Government comes up with concrete proposals on financing.

While observers are increasingly optimistic about a treaty arising from Copenhagen, the bigger question is whether it will do what it needs to — give the world a chance of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees. Analyses of the proposals currently on the table suggest the answer is no.

As the Climate Institute's Erwin Jackson says, countries are moving. "The question is whether they are moving fast enough."

Adam Morton is environment reporter.

Tony Wright is on leave.

Time to take the lead

Australia, with its abundance of energy sources, has no excuse for political inaction.

THE main players in the Senate's political stand-off over the Rudd Government's emissions trading scheme seem to have lost sight of what is at stake in the climate negotiations scheduled for Copenhagen in December. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in 2007 that global aggregate emissions must peak by 2015 and thereafter rapidly decline to reduce the risk of dangerous warming above two degrees. Any delay will considerably increase the risk of species extinction, water scarcity, food shortages, extreme weather, major health risks and swelling numbers of climate refugees.

The commitment period after Kyoto of 2013 to 2020 provides the crucial window to prevent dangerous climate change. The interim 2020 targets will therefore determine our climate future and the panel has recommended that developed countries aim for emissions reductions of between 25 and 40 per cent by 2020 from a 1990 baseline.

The official negotiating position of China and the G77 at Copenhagen is that developed countries must accept targets of minus 40 per cent. Major emerging emitters in the developing world acknowledge the need to stem their future growth in emissions, but action on their part is conditional on leadership by the developed world in the form of strong targets, technology transfer and financial assistance. Anything less is seen as tantamount to the rich "kicking the ladder down" for the poor.

The European Union is pushing for a 30 per cent reduction in emissions and committing to an unconditional reduction of 20 per cent from 1990 levels. Germany is the climate leader, with a 2020 target of minus 40 per cent while Britain has committed to minus 32 per cent. Both enjoy bipartisan support in countries. The EU will lose any modest leverage it has with China if other developed countries fail to step up to the plate.

Against this background, the tiny margin of bipartisan agreement between Labor and the Coalition for an unconditional target of minus 5 per cent (from a 2000 rather than 1990 baseline) is pitiful. While sceptics make much of the fact Australia's aggregate emissions are small compared with, say, China and the US, we are still in the league of top 20 aggregate emitters and among the world's highest per capita emitters. The Coalition's wait-and-see climate policy is a case of weak "followership" trumping strong leadership.

We don't need to wait for the US. The world already knows that President Barack Obama is seeking at least a stabilisation of US emissions at 1990 levels by 2020, which translates into a cut of 14 per cent from 2005 levels. This still may not be enough to satisfy China.

Climate change politics represents a classic case of double-edged diplomacy, which requires considerable creativity on the part of governments. The international community is expecting the Rudd Government to show leadership as one of the most affluent countries in the world, but the Government must be able to win sufficient domestic political support to enact its climate policy. It could have used the high stakes at Copenhagen as leverage for building domestic support for a strong national climate policy. Instead, it has played to the local opposition.

In fashioning its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the Government initially tried to steer a course between the Greens and the Coalition; this has ended up pleasing none of the non-Labor senators. As the Government has attempted to woo the Coalition and industry, the scheme has now moved further away from the recommendations of the Garnaut review. The introduction of the emissions trading scheme has been postponed until 2011 and further flexibility and huge assistance have been offered to energy-intensive industry.

The review should have allowed the Government to go on a climate offensive, by highlighting the costs of inaction and the economic and environmental benefits of early action. To fulfil its election promises and retain international credibility, the Government must now woo the Greens and independents. Given the distance between the Greens and senators Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon, this is a tall order. If the redesigned bill fails to pass the Senate twice in three months, a double dissolution of Parliament will be triggered. The big winners will be the minor parties, who generally fare better in a full Senate election than a half-Senate election.

In preparing for an election campaign on climate change, the Government should not simply revamp its emissions trading scheme, but also offer a wide suite of complementary policy measures to usher in a low-carbon Australian economy. Its renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020 is is not enough to drive the necessary technological revolution. The planet will only be saved when renewable energy is cheaper than the price of coal in China. This requires a huge government-sponsored effort so that renewable energy is readily available and affordable; it is not enough to simply raise the price of fossil fuel through an emissions trading scheme.

Australia is blessed with plenty of sun, wind, big tides and geothermal energy and so is well positioned to lead this revolution. Yet in this month's budget, $2 billion of its $3.5 billion clean-energy infrastructure fund has been committed to so-called clean coal, and only $1.5 billion to the solar flagship program (the equivalent of one coal-fired plant).

The climate change debate during the last election campaign was dominated by the narrow issue of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. Next time around, let us hope that there is a debate about what's really at stake.

Professor Robyn Eckersley is head of political science at the University of Melbourne.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rudd will not do anything: China

  • John Garnaut and Tom Arup
  • The Age, May 28, 2009

A LEADING Chinese strategist on climate change has belittled the latest carbon-reduction proposals by the Rudd Government and the Obama Administration.

Professor Pan Jiahua, one of China's top advisers on climate change diplomacy and economics, dismissed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's revised proposal to cut emissions by up to 25 per cent if a global agreement is forged.

"It makes no difference because it comes with so many conditions. Those conditions won't be met and he'll end up saying he won't do anything at all," said Professor Pan.

"Compare this with China, which says no conditions at all, just do it."

British climate expert Nicholas Stern said last night Australia would not be taken seriously at December's Copenhagen conference unless it stuck to 25 per cent or thereabouts.

Professor Pan's criticism came as parliamentary secretary for climate change Greg Combet put the heat on business leaders over the Government's plans for a carbon trading scheme.

He warned the Minerals Council of Australia conference that industry could get less compensation under the scheme if the legislation was blocked. The legislation is set to be voted down next month in the Senate.

"If we have to go back to the drawing board, everyone involved will have to run the gauntlet of the political process, something we know cannot guarantee certainty," Mr Combet told resources executives.

"This is something that all industries receiving assistance should think very carefully about when they consider their approach to proposals to delay the scheme. Billions of dollars worth of assistance are involved."

Mr Combet also seemed to rule out extra assistance to the coal industry.

In China, Professor Pan was as dismissive of US proposals as he was of the Rudd plan.

"China is not at all impressed with Obama," Professor Pan said. "Obama's statements are certainly insufficient and his demands for developing countries are unrealistic."

Last week China laid out its initial ambit claim for Copenhagen, calling for rich countries to slash greenhouse emissions by 40 per cent while also giving 1 per cent of GDP to help poorer nations fight climate change.

President Barack Obama is pushing legislation that would cut carbon emissions by 17 per cent in 2020 from 2005 levels.

The US has sent a caravan of top officials to Beijing to secure a deal with China.

China has never committed to a greenhouse gas emissions target but has initiated policies to cut energy consumption and pollution and indirectly curb emissions.

China is the world's biggest greenhouse emitter, but its emissions per person are a small fraction of Australia's.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rudd no to delay on climate bill

Michelle Grattan and Tom Arup 
The Age, May 27, 2009

THE Government has rejected the Coalition's demand to delay the emissions trading legislation, dooming it to almost certain defeat.

The Coalition parties backed a policy that urges delay, embraces the Government's 5-25 per cent emissions reduction target for the December Copenhagen climate talks, proposes an interim voluntary carbon market and advocates a Productivity Commission inquiry into the trading scheme.

The Government refusal dares the Opposition to risk going down the path towards a double dissolution trigger.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said the legislation should be deferred until after the Copenhagen talks and until proposed US legislation now before Congress was clear. The Coalition will vote against the scheme if it can't get its deferral.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, who is in Paris, said, "we are determined to press on with this legislation". She said the question for MPs was: "Do you really want to go to the Australian people and say, 'I voted down action on climate change'?"

The Senate is due to vote on the legislation next month. Independent senator Nick Xenophon, Family First senator Steve Fielding and the Greens oppose it in its current form.

The Coalition almost certainly cannot get the needed two extra votes for its long-term deferral proposal. But Senator Xenophon is proposing a delay until August or September, which could yet win support from the Opposition and Senator Fielding as a fallback.

To be used as a double dissolution trigger, legislation has to be rejected twice, with a three-month interval.

Mr Turnbull said the only reason Australia was rushing to finalise the legislation before Copenhagen was Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's "vanity".

"He wants to go to Copenhagen and say, 'Aha, I have this scheme passed through the Parliament.' "

Mr Rudd told Parliament that Mr Turnbull's moral authority had been "shredded once and for all" in yesterday's Coalition parties meeting — under the shadow of Peter Costello's hard line, which had been spelled out some weeks ago. "The self-proclaimed climate change champion (has been ) rolled by the climate change sceptics."

The Nationals have said they will never vote for the legislation.

The Climate Institute and the Australian Conservation Foundation welcomed the bipartisan support for the maximum 25 per cent 2020 emissions reduction target, but strongly rejected the deferral move.

Two of the biggest business backers of the scheme, the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group, were yesterday considering their position on a deferral.

A vocal opponent of the scheme, Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitch Hooke, said Australia's scheme should be "aligned with comparable schemes around the world", such as the US program.

As part of its promised alternative policy, the Opposition proposes a voluntary carbon trading system to begin at the start of next year. Under it, industry would be able to voluntarily buy carbon credits, which could be banked and used in any later scheme.

Commission sees through C Pollution Reallocation Scheme

Permits would double money given to business
Tim Colebatch, Canberra 
The Age, May 27, 2009

THE Productivity Commission has attacked the Rudd Government's plans to hand out billions of dollars worth of free emission permits to emission-intensive firms, warning that it would just shift the burden of adjustment to other industries.

In its annual report on government assistance to industry, the Commission says the $8.2 billion hand-outs originally proposed for carbon-intensive firms in 2011-12 would virtually double Federal Government spending on industry support. Even under the Howard government, it says, budget spending and tax breaks for business shot up from $5.1 billion to $8.4 billion in the five years to 2007-08.

The Rudd Government's spending plans for research and development, the car industry and the farm sector would add another $20 billion in coming years, it says. But the emissions trading scheme would put all that in the shade.

The commission says free permits to emission-intensive firms alone would cost taxpayers $6.5 billion in 2011-12 under the original plans — now postponed for two years due to the global financial crisis.

The Government says the free permits are needed to stop firms shifting production to countries without carbon caps — "carbon leakage" — and the Coalition and industry say they are not generous enough. But the Commission says they will be too expensive and wasteful, and make other firms bear the burden of reducing emissions.

"Policies that counteract carbon leakage will most likely transfer the abatement task to other sectors," it warns. "This will impose additional costs on other firms that must buy permits to emit greenhouse gases."

Plans to shield emissions-intensive industries mean other firms will have to do even more so that Australia's emissions reduction targets are met, the commission says. They will have to pay higher prices for the reduced supply of permits, reducing their output and increasing its price.

The commission urged the Government to set up a regular review mechanism to ensure that commitments were kept and targets met, as well as keeping the need for free permits under review.

Overall, the commission estimated that the Government in 2007-08 provided net assistance of $9.4 billion to specific industries, firms and business types: $8.4 billion through the budget and $1 billion in net tariff assistance.

The drought has made agriculture the most protected sector, with 7.5 per cent of farm revenues now due to government assistance, compared with 4.5 per cent in manufacturing.

Of the budget's $8.4 billion of support, $1.25 billion went to drought relief, $2.3 billion to research and development, and $1.36 billion on tax breaks and other support for small business.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Melbourne very warm for May

ABC News Online, Posted Mon May 25, 2009 10:16am AEST

Melbourne has experienced its warmest May night on record.

According to the Bureau of Meterology, the temperature did not drop below 18 degrees.

The previous record was set in 1947, when the low was 17.8 degrees.

Debate over: droughts and floods on the rise

CLIMATE change has already claimed the lives of many thousands of people — and millions more are at risk — as severe weather events rage around the world and staple food crops are wiped out, meteorologists have told a world climate conference.

More extremes of climate are bringing deadly floods, hurricanes, cyclones, droughts and ocean surges that are destroying vital food crops, leading to mass starvation in some countries.

The agro-meteorology chief of the World Meteorological Organisation, Dr Mannava Sivakumar, says debate about whether climate change is occurring or not is obsolete, as the effects of extreme weather incidents are clearly being felt across the globe.

As well as crop failures in both hemispheres, delegates to the conference in Queensland last week were told other examples of climate change included:

-Extreme rainfall leading to deadly flooding in India, as well as more frequent heatwaves over 46 degrees causing mass deaths of people and livestock.

-Severe cyclones in the Pacific Islands, including Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji and the Solomon Islands, have resulted in sea surges completely submerging some islands, forcing villagers to climb palm trees to save themselves.

-Frequent typhoons in Korea are dumping flooding rains that destroy rice crops, the country's main food supply.

-Rising temperatures in the south of France could devastate the winemaking regions of Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux.

-Drought and extreme flooding are wreaking havoc on crops in Ethiopia and other African countries, leading to mass starvation.

"Climate change impacts are going to be most serious in the semi-arid and arid tropics of the world," Dr Sivakumar said. "And unfortunately these are also the regions where the poorest of the poor countries of the world are located."

Dr Sivakumar, who first detected temperature rises in west African countries in 1984 by analysing climate data, says it is the failure of food crops triggered by the effects of global warming that poses the most pressing challenge to global food security.

In Australia, rice production has fallen by at least 90 per cent in the past five to seven years after decades of drought, and in other countries, many of them among the poorest of the world, rice and wheat crops have been completely wiped out by cyclones or droughts.

"If you look at these countries and ask the question, 'how are they going to feed their people in the next 20 to 30 years?', you have to address a number of issues at the same time (including poor governance as well as climate change)," Dr Sivakumar said.

He said there was no longer a question that humans had contributed to global warming; the question now was how they were going to feed the growing population as the effects of climate change ricocheted around the world.

"The International Panel on Climate Change's last four reports have shown … that we are changing the climate because of human activities, which will bring increased temperatures of 2 to 4.5 degrees centigrade to the global average and reduced rain in many parts of the world, especially in the semi-arid tropics, and increased rainfall in some parts," he said.

Dr Sivakumar said the world's population was expected to exceed 9 billion by 2025, presenting a food supply crisis for the world's governments and farmers — and climate change would make the task even more difficult. "It's a double whammy," he said.

Tanzania's principal agro-meteorologist, Deusdedit Kashasha, said more rainfall seasons had been failing since the 1980s, leaving families whose only food comes from subsistence farming to rely on government food hand-outs to survive.

Flaviana Hilario, chief of the Philippines weather service's atmospheric, geophysical and astronomical services administration, said the country had recently experienced its most severe cyclone, with deadly, destructive wind speeds of up to 320km/h. "So far this is the highest. We will see whether in the future this will be the norm or if this was a single event," she said.

Dr Sivakumar said the sharing of information between the delegates — meteorologists and climatologists representing 187 countries — would help nations to make their food supplies more sustainable.

Better communication services must be developed so farmers can access information to help them increase crop production, he said.