A Letter

My Dad get’s a bit pissed off, as I do, with the inadequacies of the UK Government. But instead of moaning about them on a website like I do, he writes letters to newspapers (amongst other things) – and every now and then he writes a good one.

Below is a recent ‘good one’……..


The three main political parties appear to be agreed on the importance of addressing the vital issue of climate change.The bill presently proceeding through the House of Lords will shortly arrive at the House Of Commons where all Parties could set aside party politics and unite on this issue for the benefit of the residents of the British Isles and provide some leadership globally.
Everyone realises that if climate change is to be addressed effectively it will involve actions across the board – Housing, Transport, Planning, Education, in Local Authorities etc. It is not just a problem for the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Most people also realise that unless we are told what to do we are unlikely to act, as many changes in lifestyle will be required; – this will be challenging for any one Party to introduce, for fear of losing votes.
The current bill provides for a committee to advise the Sec. of State. Why not collectively agree to reverse this traditional approach? On this issue of national importance expand the committee into a Commission by including seats for all three parties and representatives of all the regions of the British Isles (not just the Devolved Countries) as well as the experts already provided for in the bill. Thereby creating an entity with national credibility. This body would be responsible for long term Strategy,reviewed on a regular basis in the light of Scientific research and report to Parliament every two years on the progress being made by the Government which was in office.
This would provide for a consistent strategy, avoid Ministerial ‘initiatives’ and hold all governments to account for their progress, or lack of it.
Do the leaders of the three parties have the courage and leadership to take a step forward for the benefit of us all? And if not – why not?

Six Degrees

The IPCC’s third assessment in 2001 predicted a temperature rise of between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees worldwide by the end of this century depending upon how the world responds to the threat of climate change over the coming years (1).

Mark Lynas decided to try and understand what this would actually mean. What would a temperature change of six degrees change around the world? How serious would the consequences be? Over a period of two years he did his best to find out, by reading hundreds of peer-reviewed science papers and collating them, degree by degree, into chapters for his book ‘Six Degrees’ (2).

The information in his book can largely be grouped into two types. It is either formed through computer modelling to make predictions of future conditions and knock-on effects of warming, or through examinations of what life was like on the earth previously when global temperatures were different than they are today.

The findings are, understandably, very alarming. Instead of listing some of them here, I will direct you instead to Lynas’ website (click here), where there are short videos of the findings, degree by degree, detailing the increased natural disasters, rising sea levels and increased desertification, amongst other things. These videos are taken from an adaptation of the book’s findings, made by National Geographic and broadcast in the U.S. recently (3).

Realclimate.org, the climate change site run by a collection of climate scientists, gave the book a good review (4), as did many other people, including the journalist Johann Hari (5).

Unlike other books that have been written about climate change recently, such as ‘Heat’ (George Monbiot) or ‘The Hot Topic’ (Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King), Six Degrees does not examine how we can combat the problem, but instead lays it out in front of us to explain the severity of the problem.

This is a crucially important aspect of the book, because the more that the general public hears about global warming, the more they will wonder what all the fuss is about if the potential consequences are not explained to them beyond polar bears and hosepipe bans.

In ‘Heat’ George Monbiot packs in a huge amount of science, as well as practical observations on what can be done to combat the problem and also, importantly, what shouldn’t be done (6). However, ‘The Hot Topic’ will benefit from having Sir David King (ex-chief scientific advisor to the UK Government) as an author (7), as he may be viewed by some people as more of a ‘qualified’ writer on the topic than either Monbiot or Lynas. Unfortunately, what King’s book has in ‘qualification’ it lacks in urgency, which both ‘Heat’ and ‘Six Degrees’ have in spades.

At a talk by Sir David King this week, I asked him what the Government is planning to do to educate the ‘general public’ on climate change. He responded by saying that that was exactly why he had written his book, and alas they had not allowed him to write it while he was in Government. I was going to ask if therefore he was planning on giving a copy to every man, woman and child in the country, but I didn’t get a chance. I suspect he isn’t going to.

He also said that not only do we have to educate the ‘general public’, but also the academics and “you and me” – which led me to wonder why academics and I were no longer members of the general public ourselves. People such as Sir David King should be combining their privileged position and knowledge of the science, with the urgency that they know the issue requires, in order to educate and include the ‘general public’ (and everyone else!) in the solution to the problem. Presently, the issue is being tackled most seriously by journalists and activists such as Monbiot and Lynas, but in order to reach more people we need those in positions of authority to be making the same kind of noise about the problem we face.

In writing this book Mark Lynas has done us a great service. He has written a review of the scientific literature, but unlike the majority of scientific reviews he has focused on how this science will help the general public. The result is a book that effortlessly informs the reader of the present scientific understanding, with an emphasis on the consequences of the findings, and not on the science itself. In doing so, Lynas has bridged the gap between scientific research and ‘everyday life’, which means that his book stands up to scientific interrogation, whilst still providing an easy to understand warning to the reader of the likely consequences if we do not tackle climate change as best we can.

It is this kind of interface between science and the general public that will be of increasing importance over the coming years. The global nature of the problem means that everyone will become a climate change expert in their own eyes, but only a small number will remain experts in the science of climate change, and it is these people to whom we have to listen.


1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group 1, Third Assessment Report, Figure 5(d). This can be found here.

2. ‘Six Degrees – Our Future on a Hotter Planet’ – Mark Lynas, Fourth Estate, 2007.

3. http://www.marklynas.org, ‘Six Degrees’ section.

4. Realclimate.org, November 2007. Review can be found here.

5. ‘It’s Getting Hot in Here’ – Johann Hari, New Statesman, 2nd April 2007.

6.’Heat – How to stop the planet burning’ – George Monbiot, Allen Lane, 2006.

7.’The Hot Topic – How to tackle global warming and still keep the lights on’ – Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King, Bloomsbury, 2008.

Wind. Great stuff. It blows around here and there (especially around the British Isles) and just waits for someone to come along and make electricity out of it. Brilliant.

But in the recent past we haven’t really been that bothered. Hans-Josef Fell (a German MP who was a driving force behind Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Law) has a great little graph that he likes to show British audiences, which compares wind power in the UK and Germany from 1990-2003. Here it is………..


Of course, the British audience being British, usually respond by laughing loudly and exclaiming things like ‘Ha ha! – aren’t we crap! Oh we’re SO crap.’ Or ‘Well those sensible Germans would have done that wouldn’t they.’
And they’d be right. We are pretty bad at wind power. In fact, we’re pretty bad at all renewable sources of power here in Britain – only 5% of our electricity comes from renewable sources(1).

The EU has recently been telling its members what is required of them in terms of carbon emission cuts and renewable energy increases, as part of its plans to tackle climate change (2). So what does this mean for us in the UK? Well, we have to increase the percentage of total energy demand (including transport and heating) coming from renewables to 15% (we are currently at 1.3% according to The Independent (1)). It is likely that electricity generation will have to come up with a large proportion of this percentage, and therefore we will require around 40% of electricity to come from renewables. And remember, at the moment we are at 5%. We’ve got 12 years and counting.

According to the British Wind Energy Association these requirements will mean we have to build 7,350 new offshore, and 3,000 new land based wind farms(1). We’d better get going then. As a result there is going to be a huge number of arguments between planners and local environmentalists, as there have already been in several areas (3,4). A lot of very careful planning is required to ensure that the best solution is found, providing the maximum power generation with the minimum of immediate environmental cost.

However, if even this approach results in a direct decision between local ecology and turbine construction, the decision should surely be in favour of the turbine. Unfortunately some sacrifices will need to be made locally in order for the global environment to ultimately benefit. Keep this in mind if someone plans to build a turbine in your area. If it’s the local bird species you are worried about then don’t worry – climate change that is already in the pipeline will probably cause them to migrate north anyway. So either way it’s bye bye birdies.

It would logically follow that the best plan might be to build all the new turbines offshore so that these problems don’t arise – but I am sure there are corresponding problems at sea, and as always it will be a trade-off with other issues, such as cost.

But the real issue here shouldn’t be the windmills. It should be the target. Although the EU is rightly being commended internationally for discussing, and now enforcing, these targets, the world still needs to realise that a 20% reduction is too small. Much too small. And as I have said previously about the UK Government’s targeted reductions, they are easy to set, but a lot harder to meet – assuming that you want to meet them in the first place(5). These targets are a very significant step, but they are only the start of a very long and difficult process.

The UK MEP Graham Watson said as much in his response to the proposals – “….the Commission’s proposals while a welcome – and, by today’s standards, radical – departure from short term economic thinking are still only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling climate change”(2). The tip of the iceberg indeed. A slightly unfortunate choice of metaphor.

But even these little targets are already too much for some people. I find it incredibly frustrating when spokespersons and people in positions of huge responsibility start to add to the resistance instead of logically attacking the problem we face. The latest on this list is Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI (Confederation of British industry), who said this week “It can be done but it will cost a hell of a lot of money,” – “I think it is not realistic.” (6).

Cost hell of a lot of money??!?!! Of course it is Mr.Lambert! Not realistic?!? As leader of the CBI it’s partly your job to make it realistic. Now are you going to help us deal with it or are you going to continue adding to the problem?

1. Britain will need 12,500 wind farms to satisfy EU targets – Michael McCarthy, 24th January 2008.
2. MEPs give first reactions to climate change and energy package – 23RD Jan 2008. European Parliament Online.
3. How Whinash saw off the turbines – The Independent Online, Emily Dugan, 26th January 2008.
4. Wind farm plan is blown off course – The Independent Online, Michael McCarthy and Mark Hughes, 26th January 2008.
5. See ‘Targets’ on this site from September 2007.
6. CBI director says emissions target unrealistic and not cost-effective – Guardian Online, Ian Traynor, 30th Jan 2008.

Recently the Environmental Audit Committee group of MPs, led by the Conservative MP Tim Yeo, produced their report ‘Are Biofuels Sustainable?’ in which they tried to find out the answer to the title (1). Their conclusion? That there should be a moratorium on biofuels until “technology improves, robust mechanisms to prevent damaging land use change are developed, and international sustainability standards are agreed”(1).

Regular worshippers at the church of George Monbiot – activist and sensible person generally – will know that he suggested this should be the answer to the problem of biofuels nearly a year ago (2) and this was also suggested more recently by the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, who got a lot of press for saying that biofuels were “a crime against humanity”(3)

The word biofuel is a broad term used for a renewable fuel produced through biological reactions using the suns energy and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They include fuels that are designed for use in conventional combustion engines such as ‘bioethanol’ and ‘biodiesel’ (this is the main appeal of biofuels – it gives Governments an apparent ‘get out of jail free card’ meaning they can appear to be combating climate change while causing minimal annoyance to the general public) as well as things like normal firewood.

Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when biofuels are burnt is offset by the carbon dioxide taken in to produce the fuel, and this is the basis for excitement about them.

So far so good, but clearly that is only half the story. There are two main problems with biofuels at the moment, each of which makes them potentially disastrous for the globe.

Firstly, the processes involved in much of biofuel production are large net producers of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases due to pesticides, harvesting and processing requirements – all of which requires more energy, which at the moment comes from burning fossil fuels. Overall many biofuels may actually cause more harm to the environment than fossil fuels do(4).

Secondly there is the link to food prices. As more and more farmers across the world begin to produce biofuels instead of basic food crops, the price of food will escalate and the global poor will suffer as a result (5), especially as the farmers likely to be paid to convert to these crops are in lesser developed countries.

There is also the problem of energy density. A very large amount of a biofuel crop (and therefore a large land area to grow it) is required to produce a relatively small amount of usable energy compared to the fossil fuels we are used to using. In a study by LMC International on biofuels and agriculture in 2006 (widely referenced since) it was found that in order to make 5% of fuel worldwide biofuels by 2015, we would need 15% more land for agriculture worldwide (6). That means saying goodbye to forests and rainforests (closely averted recently in Uganda (7)) as well as inevitable switching from food to fuel production. That would mean game over for trying to restrict climate change – and that’s just for 5%!

In 2007 the EU agreed to a target of 10% of transport fuel in Europe to come from biofuels by 2020(8). Less than a year later the EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas admitted that they had not foreseen the problems that this target would present(9) and that it would be reviewed, but as far as I am aware at the time of writing the target still stands.

So if biofuels are so bad why are there calls for a 5-year moratorium and not an all-out ban? The thinking behind this is that so-called ‘second-generation’ biofuels (which would demand another entire piece like this one to explain), with carefully controlled production, may still be able to provide renewable and ethical sources of energy in the future (although these are not likely to be viable according to the campaign group Biofuelwatch (www.biofuelwatch.org.uk)(10). Also, calculations on land requirements for biofuel production in the UK may not always take into account that many biofuel crops grown are dual purpose, and may simultaneously produce animal feed, possibly reducing required imports presently (according to the NFU – ref.11).

It remains to be seen whether these ‘second generation’ promises materialise, but whatever happens one thing is for sure – we can’t rely on biofuels to solve the problem of climate change.

The consequences of pursuing the use of the presently available biofuels are obvious and are already starting to take effect. Governments and International bodies need to discard their biofuel targets before they make the problem any worse. Pleading unfortunate ignorance of the consequences is not acceptable.

1. Are Biofuels Sustainable? – Environmental Audit Committee, First Report of Session 2007–08. Available from http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmenvaud.htm#reports.
2. A Lethal Solution – George Monbiot, 27th March 2007.
3. UN independent rights expert calls for five-year freeze on biofuel production – UN News Centre, 26 October 2007.
4. How Green Are Biofuels? – Jörn Scharlemann and William Laurance, Science Vol. 319. no. 5859, pp. 43 – 44.
5. IMF concerned by impact of biofuels on food prices – AFP, October 17, 2007.
6. A Strategic Assessment of the Impact of Biofuel Demand for Agricultural Commodities – LMC International (2006).
7. Uganda ‘averts tragedy’ with reversal of decision to clear virgin forest for biofuel – Xan Rice, The Guardian, October 29, 2007.
8. EU ministers agree biofuel target – bbc.co.uk, 15th February 2007.
9. EU rethinks biofuels guidelines – Roger Harrabin, bbc.co.uk, 14 January 2008.
10. ‘Second Generation Biofuels: An Unproven Future Technology with Unknown Risks’ – Helena Paul and Almuth Ernsting, biofuelwatch.org.uk. Click here to download.
11. ‘UK biofuels – land required to meet RTFO 2010’ – National Farmers’ Union Online, 10 August 2006.

The challenge of overcoming climate change has been likened to the challenge of the second world war by Gordon Brown(1), or war more generally by others(2). It is easy to see why this comparison has been used. Everyone in the country knows what a huge challenge the Second World War was, and the sacrifices that each and every person had to make to help the cause, as well as in the work required to rebuild after it was over. It is hoped that comparing this with the challenge of minimising global warming will make people understand the size of the problem we are facing, and persuade them that they will have to help.

In trying (but not trying very hard, it must be said, – and certainly not leading by example) to explain to the British public that dealing with climate change may require sacrificing a few creature comforts, Mr. Brown is indicating that he’s finally starting to realise the gravity of the problem, and the scale of the required solutions.

However, if he takes a few moments to think about the World War 2 comparison, he will realise that persuading the public this time is going to be infinitely harder than it was for Winston Churchill. There are a few main reasons for this –

Reason 1. – You can’t see carbon dioxide.
In the Second World War you could see the enemy. It was a nasty man in Germany with lots of weapons and a big army. Showing people what they were up against was nice and easy, and it made it a lot easier to convince people that they all needed to do their bit and be prepared to make a few sacrifices in the war effort.
You can’t see carbon dioxide (or other greenhouse gases) in the air. They float around menacingly and gradually increase the temperature of the globe bit by bit until it’s too late, and we are committed to runaway climate change regardless of what we do. Before long the price of food will rocket, diseases will spread, etc. etc. and if that wasn’t enough the poor middle-Englanders will suffer from the mother of all hosepipe bans. At the moment it is difficult for many people to see the connection between flying across the world on holiday and millions of people suffering in extreme weather a few years later. If we could see the whole process it would make it a lot easier to convince people. But unfortunately we can’t.

Reason 2. – The general public don’t see it as their problem.
This follows on from problem one. Everyone could see the horrible things that were going to happen to them if we didn’t fight the war, and that made them want to fight it. This was mainly because the nasty things were going to happen to them.At the moment the British Public seems to think that climate change isn’t really going to harm them much, and therefore it isn’t at the top of their to-do list. There are a few reasons for this.

First is what I call the polar bear problem. Yes, polar bears are facing extinction due to climate change. Yes, that is a terrible thing. But the more that polar bears are used as the representative image of climate change the less the average person is going to want to do anything about it, because polar bears come a very long way down the list of peoples priorities in life.
Secondly, most people that know anything about climate change realise that the developing countries are going to be hit much harder than us in the developed world (3). What they may not realise is that a) this is likely to be less and less evident the more that temperatures rise and b) the entire scale is serious – we might not have as many problems as in the developing world, but the ones we do have are going to be more than enough to try and deal with.
Thirdly, nobody wants to fight this war because they are completely dependent on the cause of the problem.

Adding to all of this is the fact that the Governments own actions are confusing the general public – with concerned, proactive rhetoric on climate change, and simultaneous contradictory actions building more coal power plants and expanding airports (see previous post 22nd Nov. 2007). They are effectively saying “We need to go to war…….errrr…….but some of us are going to welcome the enemy with open arms and help them to win…….okay?”

Problem 3. – It isn’t going to be easy to see the outcome.
It was obvious when the war had been won. Well done everyone, we did it. We succeeded. Now we can start to pick up the pieces and not have to worry about that again for a while. That’s not going to happen with climate change. It takes a very long time for the atmosphere to sort itself out and come to a new balance, and it isn’t going to be obvious when it has. If the end is clear, then it will mean we have lost this war.

The World War 2 comparison is a good one, because everyone knows the huge effort required then, which will help them to understand what is required now. At the moment it isn’t obvious to the general public why this needs to happen – and therefore they won’t be very understanding when someone says they can’t fly across the world for their holiday, or they have to stop using their car.

People do not care about polar bears enough to make them stop flying. We need to make it clear that climate change is going to affect them – and it could make their lives a lot more miserable than it will be if they have to walk to work and not fly to Thailand on holiday.

At the rate we are going, by the time people realise we are at war we will have already lost. We cannot allow this to happen.

1. Gordon Brown speech on 19th November 2007 at the WWF.
2. Climate change is like ‘World War Three’ – Telegraph.co.uk, 5th Nov. 2007.
3. Discussed briefly in the UN Human Development Report 2007/08.

The China Excuse

It has to be one of the most common things people say when discussing climate change issues. “But what about China? How can we really do anything about global warming when they are building twenty million new coal power stations a minute?”

Okay, I exaggerated slightly to make a point there, but we’ve all heard the argument.

The first thing to point out is that we all know (or think we know) about the huge number of power plants they are building in China, and the surge in pollution that will inevitably go along with their huge economic growth, but nobody has stopped to ask if they are doing anything to prevent global warming. This was a point that Jonathon Porritt picked up on recently –

“One new coal-fired power station a week (though you never hear about how many power stations they are closing down), two new nuclear reactors a year (the fastest ever nuclear build programme), vast new investments in renewables (wind, PV, hydro etc) and serious efforts (at long last!) to push energy efficiency throughout the economy.” (1).

At the conference in London a few weeks ago (see previous post – ‘Be The Change, Not the Conversation’) Professor CS Kiang, an expert in air quality and advisor to the Chinese Government, was under no illusions about China’s massive increase in pollution in connection with their growth. However he also discussed what the Chinese are doing, including Chongming Island near Shanghai which is home to almost a million people with sustainability as a core principle of it’s development (2).

The Chinese are also keen to tell the world how much they have invested in renewables this year (£9.7bn), as they hope this will help persuade more developed nations that they are taking the problem seriously (3).

The second, more important point (in this context at least), is that it is not total amounts of emissions that matter most – it is the per capita amount that is more important. China may have recently ‘overtaken’ the US as the world’s largest emitter (according to a study by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (4)), and if it hasn’t it soon will. Either way, the per capita emissions of the US (and many other countries including the UK) are still considerably higher than that of China. According to a the UN’s Human Development Report 2007/08 in 2004 the per capita CO2 emissions of the US and China were 20.6 and 3.8 tonnes of CO2 respectively(5).

If it was a game of ‘Preventing-Climate-Change Top Trumps’ then I can’t see the US winning. So who’s the naughty one eh?

Each person on the earth has an equal right to pollute the planet, and an equal responsibility not to. With that in mind, surely per capita emissions is the important measure here – and if that’s true, then we can all see who the ‘bad guys’ are.

And the US certainly aren’t doing themselves any favours. At the UN conference on climate change in Bali, the US’ resistance to agreeing defined targets – specifically a 40% reduction in emissions of the developed countries – has become increasingly apparent in the press, despite the Chinese, UK and EU being prepared to see this through (6,7,8). (The US are not completely alone in this position, with Japan and Canada indicating that they would prefer more emphasis on inclusion of China and India in UN proposals (8)). The main sticking point for the US is any kind of specific target. How can you have targets without a target?!?! This definitely makes the US the bad guys in Bali.

But the reality is that it doesn’t matter who the bad guys are. Everyone has to do everything in their power to prevent catastrophic climate change. If China and the US both started pumping out as much CO2 as they possibly could (some would argue they already are) then that doesn’t excuse us not doing everything we can in the UK.

Each and every country can say the same thing. We can all complain and wait for other countries to move, but the more countries take a step in the right direction the harder it is for the remaining ones to resist with the ‘but look at them!’ argument.

If, in fifty years time, we have done all we can in the UK, and we achieve a zero-carbon country, and the US and China are still pumping out CO2 emissions, then as the sea level rises and the storms and droughts wreak havoc on the world, we will be able to complain about it. But we have a hell of a long way to go in this country before we can claim that we are doing everything possible to avoid the climate crisis staring us in the face.

1. “China Junkie” – Jonathon Porritt, Nov. 27th 2007.
2. Chongming Island
3. “We may not get carbon deal, warns Benn” – David Adam, The Guardian Online, 13th Dec. 2007.
4. ‘China overtakes U.S. as top CO2 emitter: Dutch agency’ – Reuters, 20th June 2007.
5. “Human Development Report 2007/2008 – Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World” – United Nations Development Programme. This can be downloaded from here.
6. “Climate talks progressing despite US opposition to targets, Benn says” – David Adam, Guardian Online, 12th Dec. 2007.
7. “UN calls for 40 per cent cut in emissions by rich countries” – Daniel Howden, The Independent Online, 11th Dec. 2007.
8. “Deadlock Stymies Global Climate Talks” – Thomas Fuller and Peter Gelling, The New York Times Online, 12th Dec. 2007.

Representatives of 180 countries are in Bali at the moment to talk about Climate Change, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference. They’ve got almost two weeks to talk about a “roadmap for a future international agreement on enhanced global action to fight climate change in the period after 2012” (1), in what is the largest Climate Change Conference held to date.

Australia didn’t waste any time after getting rid of John Howard – they announced that they’re signing up to Kyoto at last, as the first official act of the new Government (2). With Kyoto in it’s final stages it’s a largely symbolic move really, but we need them on board just like everyone else, so it’s great news. It leaves the US as the only ‘first-world’ country not to have agreed to sign.

More recently in Bali, the US has been making a few headlines of its own. According to The Guardian, the US representatives at the conference said that a proposal for industrialised nations to reduce their emissions by 25-40% by 2020 was “totally unrealistic” and “unhelpful”, however the idea had been backed by the EU and Britain (3). Japan are also reported to be against the idea.

This is further indication (not that we need one) of US intention to come across as participating in climate change discussion while completely rejecting even a hint of participation in agreed emissions reductions. They have already made it quite clear that they don’t want the Bali conference to discuss actual numbers in relation to cuts. They would love to have goals, but goals that aren’t specified. Clearly they haven’t yet realised the clever idea of the British Government – create and sign up to as many targets and reductions as possible without actually expecting to be able to reach them.

But there does seem to be some good news coming from the across the water. Last Wednesday, the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted to cut emissions by “about 70 per cent by 2050”(4) – a bold decision indeed, and not before time. Despite the fact that this is extremely unlikely to be enough of a cut to prevent two degrees of climate change (and therefore they might as well not bother), this gives the indication that slowly but surely things are starting to happen in the US Government.

But any encouragement that might be gained through this is soon shot to pieces when you discover that they are planning on using biofuels as a large part of their solution to fuelling their nations considerable car fleet. Apparently, half of these will be coming from sources that are not in competition with food production (4) – but that leaves another half that will. Not that it matters to them of course, because their country will be able to afford an escalating food price.

We shouldn’t expect too much from Bali. It should be kept in mind that the main objectives of the conference are “to launch negotiations on a climate change deal for the post-2012 period, to set the agenda for these negotiations and to reach agreement on when these negotiations will have to be concluded”(1). In other words start talking, talk a bit and then talk about when they should finish talking. In fact, listening to Yvo de Boer (the executive secretary) the only thing that seems to be definite so far is that there won’t be any definite new target when the conference ends (5).

Why not? Why not do it now? Take a few more weeks if needs be! Just agree something! As I see it, as long as a new agreed agenda includes scope for adjustment with the science on a regular basis a) it shouldn’t go far wrong and b) everyone can rest assured that they will have plenty of time to negotiate between re-evaluations.

This is a huge opportunity. The majority of countries on Earth are represented at this conference, and time is something we don’t have on our side. Climate change is not going to wait for more extended talks. We need a plan of action and here is a perfect opportunity to develop one.

The International Community needs to start addressing this issue with the drastic measures that it requires and the US needs to stop holding back progress in the misguided belief that it will somehow benefit their country.

1. United Nations Climate Change Conference.
2. Australia signs Kyoto and gets ovation at Bali – Telegraph Online, 3rd Dec. 2007.
3. US balks at Bali carbon targets – Guardian Online, 10th Dec. 2007.
4. US plan to cut greenhouse gases by 70 per cent signals change of heart on climate change – The Independent Online 9th Dec. 2007.
5. Summary of daily press briefing – United Nations Climate Change Conference, 8th Dec. 2007.