COP25 climate summit: what happened during the first week?

Activists were left frustrated by the lack of urgency inside negotiating rooms in Madrid


Extinction Rebellion activists stage a rally in solidarity with Amazon indigenous groups outside the COP25 summit in Madrid. Photograph: Rodrigo Jimenez/EPA

What happened in week one?

The COP25 climate talks in Madrid may have officially opened on Monday 2 December, but they only really started on Friday evening. That was when Greta Thunberg arrived to join a 500,000-strong march through the centre of Madrid, demanding that world leaders listen.

The young activist said that she, and the millions who have marched and protested around the world in the last two years, had “achieved nothing” because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. Her stark message summed up the disjunction that scientists, campaigners and some politicians have despaired of at these talks: that the sense of urgency scientists have warned is needed, and that is felt in the outside world among those worst affected by climate breakdown, is still missing from these negotiating rooms.

Notable developments

Earlier in the week, a report on the world’s “carbon budget” revealed how far the world is from meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Greenhouse gas emissions rose by 0.6% last year – less than in recent years, but not enough to turn the corner. Johan Rockström, the joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “We must bend the curve [from increasing carbon to falling emissions] in the next year.”

What governments did – or didn’t – do

Meanwhile, negotiators finally managed over the weekend to put out a text on the future of carbon markets. It is only a first step and there are still major disagreements over how carbon credits should be counted and how countries’ success in meeting previous carbon targets should be allowed to count towards their future targets.

There is still no guarantee of any resolution to the disputes over carbon markets – the so-called article 6 talks, named after the section of the Paris agreement that they are aimed at clarifying. If this issue is not resolved, this technical question will hang over next year’s talks too, getting in the way of the substantive issue: the fact that by next year at the latest, countries are supposed to realign their emissions-cutting targets with scientific advice on staying within 2C (and hopefully 1.5C) of global heating above pre-industrial levels.

Chile to Madrid

These talks were supposed to take place in Chile, but were relocated after political unrest in Santiago. There are reminders everywhere that Chile is still technically the host – in the logo and signs; in the leadership of the Chilean COP president, Carolina Schmidt, at every important meeting; the conference rooms named after Chilean landmarks, rivers and natural features; and in the protests outside the conference centre by Chilean democracy and social justice campaigners, who say they are being silenced and ignored.

Blue COP

Oceans campaigners have also struggled to be heard at these talks, which were meant to highlight the plight of the oceans and the vital but often overlooked part they play in the Earth’s climate. The key message from campaigners is that protecting marine life – stopping overfishing, stemming the plastic tide of pollution and the flow of fertilisers and chemicals that is suffocating fish – is not just vital to biodiversity, and healthy fisheries for the more than 1 billion people who depend on the oceans, but also to regulate the climate. Healthy oceans absorb carbon and provide a buffer against climate chaos, so damage to them is damage to the climate, and vice versa.

Campaigners took advantage of the move to Madrid by drawing some of the Spanish capital’s cultural icons into the climate fight. The Prado art gallery, in conjunction with WWF, has updated some of its most famous paintings to show how they might reflect a warming world, with Goya now depicting climate refugees and a Velázquez painting of Felipe IV showing the Spanish king up to his horse’s neck in flood water. Which makes participants wonder what other Spanish artists might have made of the talks. The tortured technicalities of article 6 would test the skills of a Picasso – though the surrealism of Dalí might be more appropriate. Melting watches could stand for how negotiating time seems to have stopped, while poles and glaciers liquefy.

What to expect in week two

Youth has taken over for the start of the second week, with activists making their presence felt at the conference centre on Monday, fresh from the weekend’s marches and protests.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, environment ministers and finance ministers will arrive to give directions for their officials, meaning the “high-level segment” of the talks can start and with it the actual decision-making needed to give these talks a concrete outcome, in the form of resolutions on key issues.

The EU is also expected to galvanise the talks with its green new deal proposals from the European commission on Wednesday. In normal circumstances the UK, as the host of next year’s COP, which marks the deadline for countries to update their Paris commitments, would be expected to play a key role here. But the its delegation has been hobbled by the general election, which means officials and the next COP president, the former UK climate minister Claire Perry O’Neill, are in purdah and cannot speak on the record. Perhaps by Friday, when the UK’s votes have been counted, there may be some much-needed clarity. SOURCE

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As Western premiers blow smoke on carbon tax, youth organize for climate justice

Image: Spence Mann
Image: Spence Mann

Justin Trudeau’s re-election has unleashed political outrage in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is talking about Alberta’s being “betrayed” while Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe sent a letter to Trudeau demanding the cancellaiton of the federal carbon tax, support for various pipelines, and a renegotiation of the formula for equalization payments.

I’ll withhold detailed comment on equalization payments, other than to say that for many years, Saskatchewan was a “have-not” province that relied heavily upon them. But let’s look more closely at Moe’s letter as it relates to the carbon tax and pipelines. Moe’s strident demands are likely based upon the election results in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where the Conservatives won 47 of 48 seats. On the other hand, parties supporting a carbon levy won almost two-thirds of the seats and popular vote across Canada.

It is significant, too, that the results in Alberta and Saskatchewan were not monolithic. In Alberta, 28 per cent of those casting ballots voted for the Liberals, NDP or Greens, and these parties all support a carbon tax. In Saskatchewan, 34 per cent of the electors voted for those three parties. If we had purely proportional representation rather than our flawed first-past-the-post electoral system, parties other than the Conservatives would have 10 seats in Alberta and five in Saskatchewan. So Kenney and Moe cannot say that they are speaking on behalf of all their constituents.

 Carbon tax haters are delayers and deniers

Kenney, Moe and others constantly repeat the mantra that the carbon tax will be a “job killer” and according to Doug Ford will lead to a recession. But these claims have been challenged. In a February, three independent experts, including the highly respected Don Drummond, concluded: “Economists are virtually unanimous in the view that carbon pricing reduces greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy.” British Columbia, Quebec and California are all using some form of carbon tax and their economies are humming along.

If Moe and others are opposed to a carbon tax, what is their suggestion, if any, for a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? There’s the rub. While Moe, Kenney, Ford and Andrew Scheer rail against the carbon tax, or demand that various pipelines be built, they usually avoid any mention of the climate crisis.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes the world’s best climate scientists, has been issuing reports for years. The IPCC reports of late are increasingly urgent in tone. The IPCC now says that global carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall by 45 per cent in 2030, and to reach a net of zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophic damage.

The Trudeau government — implausibly, many suggest — has promised that it is on course to meet those targets and that a carbon tax is the rightful centerpiece of that effort. Ottawa believes the tax will encourage a market shift away from fossil fuels toward renewable sources of energy.

The strategy of the tax’s opponents has shifted from denying the reality of climate change, which is no longer credible, to tactics of delay. During the election campaign, Conservatives said they would require large polluters to pay into a research and development fund for green technology. That plan appeared suspiciously akin to what was being proposed by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the oil industry’s main lobby, which has a close relationship with Andrew Scheer. Tellingly, the proposal contained no associated targets or timetables for reducing emissions, and was described by one analyst as simply “a plan to expand fossil fuel production.”

Support on the street

While premiers Moe and Kenney attempt to delay, there is growing support on the street for climate action. On September 27, hundreds of thousands of people — 500,000 in Montreal alone — marched in climate strikes that took place in 200 Canadian cities and towns. Many of the organizers were youth, and they were participating in a global day of action to demand that our political leaders do more to confront the climate crisis. These youth organizers are looking to the future. Premiers Moe and Kenney are staring into the rear-view mirror. SOURCE

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European Investment Bank to end fossil fuel funding

The EU’s investment arm will cease its support for coal, oil or gas projects after 2021

Image result for positive news: European Investment Bank to end fossil fuel funding
Image: Appolinary Kalashnikova

The European Investment Bank has pledged to phase out its multibillion-euro funding of fossil fuel projects over the next two years.

After 2021, the EU’s lending arm will no longer bankroll coal, oil or gas projects, and will instead make lending decisions that are in line with the Paris climate accord.

The bank has announced that will invest €1trn towards climate-focused and sustainability projects over the next decade. EIB’s president, Werner Hoyer, described the shift in strategy as “a quantum leap in its ambition.”

“The EU bank has been Europe’s climate bank for many years. We will stop financing fossil fuels and we will launch the most ambitious climate investment strategy of any public financial institution anywhere,” he said.

The move is part of a wider European strategy to become carbon neutral by 2050. The announcement was welcomed by environmental campaigners, however critics have highlighted loopholes in the legislation. SOURCE

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‘The Best Thing You Can Do Is Not Buy More Stuff,’ Says ‘Secondhand’ Expert

Author Adam Minter estimates that the average U.S. thrift store is able to sell only about one-third of its inventory. In his new book, Secondhand, he finds out what happens to the other two-thirds. Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Author Adam Minter remembers two periods of grief after his mother died in 2015: the intense sadness of her death, followed by the challenge of sorting through what he calls “the material legacy of her life.”

Over the course of a year, Minter and his sister worked through their mother’s possessions until only her beloved china was left. Neither one of them wanted to take the china — but neither could bear to throw it out. Instead, they decided to donate it.

Waiting in the donation line at Goodwill, Minter began wondering what would happen to the dishes: “It occurred to me this is a very interesting subject,” he says. “Nobody really knew what happened beyond the donation door at Goodwill.”

Minter had spent nearly two decades reporting on the waste and recycling industries. Now he began looking into the market for secondhand goods, both domestically and in Africa and Asia.

“Your average thrift store in the United States only sells about one-third of the stuff that ends up on its shelves,” he says. “The rest of the stuff ends up somewhere else.”

Minter visited Goodwill donation centers in the U.S. and watched as employees engaged in a sophisticated sorting and pricing system. He noted that while designer clothes might be set aside as “boutique” items, other products — including heavy wooden furniture and outdated exercise equipment — were often destined for the dump.

“A 300-pound oak dining room table … becomes a problem,” he says. “You will see some of this very nice oak furniture, if it can’t be sold, it will end up in the landfill.”

…A “life cycle assessment” is basically where somebody goes and looks at the full environmental impact of a product — say a smartphone — from manufacturing to disposal and looks at what the air pollution impacts are, the mining impacts, the carbon impacts. The one thing we do know is that the biggest impact of most products is the manufacturing side. So if you want to reduce the environmental impact of your consumption, the best way to do that is to not manufacture more stuff. In that sense, the best thing you can do is not buy more stuff.

The longer that your product lasts, the longer that you use that smartphone, the less likely it is that you’re going to be buying a new one. So the goal really should be to keep your stuff in use for as long as possible, whether it’s by you or somebody in Ghana or somebody in Cambodia. So in that sense, it’s a really good thing, because if somebody in Cambodia is using your phone, they’re probably not buying a new cheap handset there.

  MORE

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Landmark study shows how to change the building sector from a major carbon emitter to a major carbon sink

Carbon capture
© Builders for Climate Action

When made from the right materials, buildings can be a solution, not a problem.

We recently called Chris Magwood a TreeHugger hero for his work on the embodied carbon of building materials. He has been a voice in the wilderness about the subject for a while, and just completed his university thesis on the subject. Now he has put his thesis into an accessible graphic form, which is available through a new organization, Builders for Climate Action.

Chris Magwood at the Green Building ShowChris Magwood at the Green Building Show/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The study complains that “the response to building-related emissions has been to focus solely on energy efficiency, but this may result in initiatives and policies that will raise emissions rather than lower them.” We have covered Magwood’s work on this before, but it has never been more clear: Building a highly energy-efficient structure can actually produce more greenhouse gases than a basic code-compliant one if carbon-intensive materials are used.When in fact, if designed out of the right materials, “we can feasibly and affordably capture and store vast amounts of carbon in buildings, transforming the sector from a major emitter to a major carbon sink.”

The first, very important lesson is that we have to stop equating energy with carbon. So where now we have people talking about net-zero energy buildings or net-zero carbon, they are very different things. You can build a net-zero energy building that still puts out a lot of carbon, either upfront or through operating energy if it uses natural gas for heating.

time and carbon© Builders for Climate Action

 

So we used to talk about embodied energy, but now we call it embodied carbon. And like me, Chris doesn’t like that term; I use Upfront Carbon emissions (UCE), while he uses up-front embodied emissions (UEC). And where people never paid much attention to this, it’s now a very big deal. If we are going to keep the temperature rise below 1.5°C, we have to stop building out of materials with high UEC right now. I am not crazy about this graph he used where the upfront emissions in gold are shown as not increasing (they do, because we build more buildings each year) but the point made is still true- between now and 2030, the vast majority of CO2 emissions from new buildings is from upfront carbon, not operating emissions.

low rise buildings different materials© Builders for Climate Action

That means building out of low-carbon materials at higher densities; Magwood’s sweet spot is a four storey multifamily building, which could be built out of materials that store carbon rather than emit it- straw, wood, linoleum, cedar.

what a difference it would make© Builders for Climate Action

If you look at the volume of residential construction from 2017 and compare your standard residential construction to carbon storing building, there is an incredible difference.

There are many findings in this report that are counter-intuitive and that will be controversial.

  • Reducing upfront carbon emissions is more important than increasing building efficiency.”Up-front embodied emissions for buildings materials must be measured and policies enforcing caps developed for fast reductions.”
  • Switching to clean or renewable energy is more important that increasing building efficiency. “Clean energy is critical for the building sector to meaningfully reduce its carbon footprint and policy efforts must be focused on this goal”
  • Net-zero energy codes will not significantly reduce emissions in time. “Policy makers and regulators must aim for true net zero carbon buildings, not net zero energy buildings.”

Others are incredibly positive and give hope that we can actually use buildings for carbon capture and storage.

  • Available, affordable material options can reduce net up-front carbon to zero, eliminating this large source of emissions. “Building sector leaders should be ambitiously move to make buildings with zero up- front emissions.”
  • Material selection is the most impactful intervention at the individual building level, with reductions of up-front emissions of 150%. “Designers and builders can completely transform the carbon footprint of their buildings through carbon-smart material choices”
Carbon use intensity© builders for Climate Action

We also need to stop thinking about energy efficiency on its own; Magwood proposes the term Carbon Use Intensity (CUI) a mix of Upfront Carbon Emissions plus (Energy use intensity X energy source emissions)= CUI

The results of this study demonstrate that we are capable of making low-rise residential buildings with a net zero embodied carbon footprint, and that we can even surpass this threshold and create buildings that actually have net carbon storage rather than net emissions. Plant-based materials STORE more atmospheric carbon than was emitted in harvesting and manufacturing. This opens a whole new category of building materials with CARBON REMOVAL AND STORAGE POTENTIAL!

Combining upfront and operating emissions© Builders for Climate Action

Magwood and his report make it very clear: buildings don’t have to be part of the problem. They don’t even have to be net-zero. They can actually become part of the solution to the climate emergency. They can be seriously carbon negative. There is no reason that we couldn’t build much of our low-rise housing this way; many others have also noted that the “missing middle” housing is the most economical option for building affordable housing quickly.

Next Steps© Builders for Climate Action

Chris Magwood and the Builders for Climate Action have demonstrated a path that can make low-rise, missing middle buildings into a climate change solution. They have laid out the steps that we need to follow. It’s doable, and we have to start right now. Read the entire report and support Builders for Climate Action.

Norway recycles 97% of its plastic bottles: a blueprint for the rest of the world?

The Infinitum bottle deposit hub recycles 97 per cent of Norway’s plastic drinks bottles, almost all to such a high standard that they can be turned back into bottles. Should the world follow suit to help tackle the menace of plastic pollution?

Image result for positive news: Norway recycles 97% of its plastic bottles: a blueprint for the rest of the world?

A six-metre-long whale washed up on the shores of the Norwegian island of Sotra in 2017. Emaciated and in terrible health, zoologists decided it had to be put down. They found 30 plastic objects in the stomach of this Cuvier’s beaked whale, including sweet wrappers and plastic bread bags, with labels written in Danish and English.

Plastic waste kills more than 100,000 sea mammals and a million birds each year globally. It is little surprise because, according to the UN Environment Programme, the world currently produces 480bn new plastic bottles annually. It all has to go somewhere, and the equivalent of a lorry load is dumped into the sea every minute.

To explore a potential solution, I’m in a warehouse on the outskirts of Oslo. It’s home to an organisation called Infinitum, which runs Norway’s collection scheme for plastic bottles and cans. The topic might not carry the pizzazz of rocket science or the wonder of deep sea exploration, but Infinitum means that a startling 97 per cent of all plastic drinks bottles in Norway are recycled – and 92 per cent of these to such a high standard that they are used to make more bottles. Some bottles have been recycled more than 50 times already.

This is because the system is strictly controlled: glue, cap and even label materials are checked and a small amount of virgin material is added. As its name suggests, the team at Infinitum wants to create a never-ending loop of plastic reuse.

“We are the world’s most efficient system,” says Sten Nerland, director of logistics and operations. “As an environmental company you might think we should try to avoid plastic, but if you treat it efficiently and recycle it, plastic is one of the best products to use: light, malleable and it’s cheap.”

The main warehouse is a tempestuous ocean of noise. Machines crunch, rattle, squeak and grind 24 hours a day, processing some 1,500 containers – or 160 tonnes of material each day. “It smells like Sunday morning in a student’s bedroom,” Nerland grins, as forklift trucks swarm around carrying cubes of plastic. The chunks are pleasingly arranged into greens, blues and whites.

The Norwegian system – simple yet impressive – relies on two key incentives. First, the more companies recycle, the less tax they have to pay. If they reach a collective nationwide target of more than 95 per cent, then they don’t pay any tax at all – that’s been the case every year since 2011. Second, customers must pay a deposit for each bottle, usually the equivalent of between 10p and 25p. This encourages a fundamental change of thinking in citizens: that, while the product inside is to be consumed, the bottles are on loan and so need to be returned.

Add to the picture the great ease with which bottles can be returned at hundreds of thousands of ‘reverse vending machines’ and you begin to understand Norway’s success on this front.

Compare the country’s plastic bottle recycling rate of more than 97 per cent with 43 per cent in the UK and 28 per cent in the US, and it’s clear how much there is to be learned. International politicians and businesses alike have taken note of what’s happening at Infinitum.

MORE

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Ottawa: Proposed tree bylaw says higher costs will better protect urban forest

It would increase fees and penalties for tree removals


Paul Johanis, chair of the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital, says he wants a moratorium on tree cutting before the ‘teeth’ of the bylaw comes into effect. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Ottawa’s proposed tree protection bylaw strengthens rules protecting individual urban trees and halting deforestation by imposing harsh penalties for breaking them.

The new bylaw — which will go before the environment committee for approval next Tuesday, Dec. 17 — would blend two bylaws that currently deal with trees on municipal land and private property.

“This can’t come soon enough. We’ve already lost so many trees in Ottawa, particularly in the urban areas,” said Coun. Shawn Menard, vice-chair of the committee.

He said he believes Ottawa’s current fines for removing trees without the proper permits are weak.

The proposed bylaw both increases the application fee for removing distinctive trees and ups the fines for developers and homeowners who break municipal law.

2 phases

The bylaw is laid out in two phases.

Phase one maps out protection for certain trees and how much it would cost people to both apply to remove those trees, as well as what they would have to pay if they don’t plant other trees in its place.

The application fee would depend on whether the tree is being removed because of an infill — $500/tree — or smaller-scale projects, like a pool or deck — $150/tree.

An application fee wouldn’t be charged if the tree is dead, poses an immediate danger, or is an ash tree.

Phase two would decrease the diameter of a “distinctive tree” (requiring a permit to cut in some situations) from 50 centimetres to 30, but wouldn’t come into effect until the summer of 2020.

The city is proposing to consolidate its existing two bylaws for municipally owned trees and for trees on private properties. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

The phased implementation already has Paul Johanis worried about pre-emptive chopping of larger trees.

“Trees of that size are very difficult to replace,” said the chair of the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital.

“It takes decades to replace them. You need to plan the replacement over a long period of time and so, if they’re lost right now, there’s no prospect of having them replaced for quite a long time.”

He wants to see a three-month moratorium on tree cutting before phase two comes into effect.

Too much focus on single trees

Meanwhile, at least one developer believes the bylaw contradicts the city’s own official plan, which focuses on intensification.

“There really seems to be a choice of ‘We’re going to choose a tree over densifying on a particular spot’ when we could do so many other things to enhance the overall canopy as opposed to one individual tree,” said Jason Burggraaf.

The application fee to remove a tree will depend on whether it’s being cut down to make way for an infill property or a smaller construction project. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The executive director of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association said the bylaw prioritizes older trees — even as city staff point out some may be nearing the end of their lives and that it may impede the ability to build bigger, multi-unit buildings.

He believes the city should be prioritizing the overall urban forest, with younger trees planted nearby or in other areas of the city that can provide more of a canopy in the future. SOURCE