Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ready to melt in 45 minutes

The year has barely started and already life seems to be running along at a fast clip. Glaciers that refuse to melt, biodiversity and ecosystems demanding payment, and a hole under the water line of the deforestation agenda. More, too, on PNG.

So the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) messed up and included a bogus fact in its report about melting glaciers. Then it made things worse by not wanting to correct it when it had the chance. Now would be a good time for the IPCC to do a bit of soul searching and confess if there is anything else in its multi-volume tome we might need to know about. The one thing that would kill the IPCC , and the climate consensus dead, would be a damaging drip, drip, drip of stories emerge about legitimate concerns over its reports that were ignored or papered-over. More of this kind of thing and we will see headlines that the IPCC sexed up its reports. With the failure of Copenhagen, and any international action on climate change, that would be bad for any actions to tackle the problem.

For anyone seeking to undermine the current climate change agenda, an obvious line of attack is to steadily undermine the scientific credibility of the evidence and to throw as much mud and confusion that genuine controversy seems to emerge. Then journalists must go back to balancing their stories about climate change (with a climate denier for every climate change scientist). Hacked emails and melting glaciers may only be the start.

My colleague Oliver has composed a fine article on the non-melting glaciers earlier this month.

2010 is a big year for biodiversity. Biodiversity has always been the poor sister of climate change. Always the bridesmaid, and never the bride. But this year it get its shot at the limelight, with a meeting of the biodiversity convention coming up, and it being 'International Year of Biodiversity" as well as the bi-annual CITES meeting in March, we can expect plenty of media coverage of the biodiversity crisis, extinctions and international trade bans.

The Biodiversity Convention is an international treaty that seeks to conserve and make sustainable use of biodiversity, as well as to make sure there is a fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of genetic resource. There is a big meeting of the parties later this year, in Japan.

Practically every country in the world signed up in 1992. The US signed but never ratified. It now keeps company with Andorra and The Vatican as the non-signatories. The question on my mind is whether it would make any difference if the US did ratify? Most of the meeting will likely be taken up with reports documenting the decline of biodiversity around the world, how none of our targets for stemming this decline have been met, and a promise to do better next time. Then everyone will eat some sushi and fly home. Are these big meetings really the answer or should we be addressing the drivers of environmental damage, such as the systematic undervaluation of environmental goods and services?

I published something online this month about ecosystem services (the things that nature provides, like clean water and pollination) and biodiversity. Its about attempts to value the environment are worried about by people who care about biodiversity.

Price fixing: Why it is important to put a price on nature. Jan 18th, 2010.

Deforestation Finally, what has happened to the deforestation agenda? While Copenhagen got agreement on what a global deal on deforestation might look like, and some (but nowhere near enough) money.. it failed to get an agreement to cut emissions, which is what was needed to create demand for slowing the rate of deforestation in the first place.

So the United Nations "REDD" agenda (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) looks to be fatally holed beneath the waterline. But if REDD is dead, it may also be a case of long live REDD.

There is still a lot of activity in various fora, so it is not at all clear where things are and there are still likely going to be huge sums available for various forest-related activities. I'll blog about this a bit this year, with the tidbits I pick up here and there. The bad news is that things are looking messy, which is not what everyone wanted at all. More soon on this. I'd be interested in anyone's thoughts on this.

To those of you who have written, and for whom I have failed to blog particular items or respond, my sincere apologies. I have a day job, and many other responsibilities, and time can be hard to find.

As for Papua New Guinea, I think it is time the government announced what it wants to do about its failed investigation into the Office of Climate Change. Last year, a scandal emerged involving forest carbon credits that appeared to have been endorsed by the government, on behalf of the United Nations, and issued to a private company. Besides reports by Ilya Gridneff and myself, there have been two television documentaries about the carbon cowboys.

A film is being made about deforestation and climate change called Two Degrees, which features PNG.

Everyone has been waiting for the report from this committee, but it looks like it may never come. I understand that all the key documents have vanished.

It is time that the international donors, the Australians, the Norwegians, the British and the World Bank, read PNG the riot act: clean up, or we will move out. If the report never appears, and the previous head of the office of climate change is merely bumped on to a cosy job in some quiet corner somewhere, perhaps in the diplomatic service, then the donors need to be ready to walk away. The point about getting a good deal is that you have to be prepared to walk away if the other side isn't playing by the rules. If there is no credible threat of a deal failing, then there is no chance of a credible deal.