MAC: Mines and Communities

Lancing the boil of climate change

Published by MAC on 2015-07-06
Source: Common Dreams, Planet Ark, Climate Spectator

But are China and Australia on the same page?

Human-caused global warming has put at risk some of the world's most impressive health gains over the last half century.

That's the damning conclusion of a new report by a Commission set up by the highly-authorative medical journal, The Lancet.

What's more, it says, continued use of fossil fuels is leading to an increase in infectious disease, air pollution, food insecurity and malnutrition, involuntary migration and displacement, water scarcity, and violent conflicts.

But, according to Anthony Costello, co-chair of the Commission, the cloud does a have a silver lining: "Human health would vastly improve in a less-polluted world free from fossil fuels. Virtually everything that you want to do to tackle climate change has health benefits . We're going to cut heart attacks, strokes, diabetes."

New Chinese plan?

In its own way, the Chinese government has digested some of the lessons of this report in its latest climate plan, which is to be financed from the domestic budget without relying on external financial aid.

However, so far there's no fine detail as to just how the regime will fulfil its noble intentions of "reconfiguring" its current coal-dependent energy mix, except to "develop new energy sources" - which it has in any case been doing for some years, having already become the world's most ambitious and successful practitioner of so-called green power.

But it hasn't forsaken uranium-fuelled (nuclear) power - on the contrary. And it has announced a partership with the United States, to "develop two new carbon-capture, utilization and storage projects to help commercialize the technology".

This means that both countries will try selling Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) methodologies to other countries that are still wedded to coal (probably thus partly gaining income to support China's US$ 6 trillion climate protection gambit).

Given the abject failure to commercially develop such technology to date , this part of the plan would appear to be a hopeless non-starter..

Down under

Per capita, Australian citizens are among the most egregious greenhouse gas emitters on our planet.

So, we should surely welcome a new initiative which  sees business groups, representative of some of the country's worst polluters, engaging with social and environmental groups to combat adverse climate change.

Especially if groups like the Australian Council of Trade Unions , WWF, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the country's Council of Social Service, now find themselves in the same boat as the Business Council of Australia and the Alumininum Council (sic).

"Why on earth are these business groups even bothering to engage with environmental groups?", asks Tristan Edis, a correspondent for Australia's Climate Spectator.

He has a plausible explanation:" They don’t think such a hold-out position is likely to last is why".


The Lancet: Fossil Fuels Are Killing Us... Quitting Them Can Save Us

Comparing coal, oil, and gas addiction to the last generation's effort to kick the tobacco habit, doctors say that quitting would be the best thing humanity can do for its long-term health

by Jon Queally, staff writer

Common Dreams

23 June 2015

The bad news is very bad, indeed. But first, the good news: "Responding to climate change could be the biggest global health opportunity of this century."

That message is the silver lining contained in a comprehensive newly published report by The Lancet, the UK-based medical journal, which explores the complex intersection between global human health and climate change.

The wide-ranging and peer-reviewed report—titled Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health—declares that the negative impacts of human-caused global warming have put at risk some of the world's most impressive health gains over the last half century. What's more, it says, continued use of fossil fuels is leading humanity to a future in which infectious disease patterns, air pollution, food insecurity and malnutrition, involuntary migration, displacement, and violent conflict will all be made made worse.

"Climate change," said commission co-chairman Dr. Anthony Costello, a pediatrician and director of the Global Health Institute at the University College of London, "has the potential to reverse the health gains from economic development that have been made in recent decades – not just through the direct effects on health from a changing and more unstable climate, but through indirect means such as increased migration and reduced social stability. Our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate change we can also benefit health. Tackling climate change represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come."

Put together by the newly formed Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change—described as a major new collaboration between international climate scientists and geographers, social and environmental scientists, biodiversity experts, engineers and energy policy experts, economists, political scientists and public policy experts, and health professionals—the report is the most up-to date and comprehensive of its kind. Though many studies have been performed on the subject, the commission argues the "catastrophic risk to human health posed by climate change" has been grossly "underestimated" by others.

The four key findings of the report include:

1. The effects of climate change threaten to undermine the last half-century of gains in development and global health. The impacts are being felt today, and future projections represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health.

2. Tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.

3. Achieving a decarbonized global economy and securing the public health benefits it offers is no longer primarily a technological or economic question – it is now a political one.

4. Climate change is fundamentally an issue of human health, and health professionals have a vital role to play in accelerating progress on mitigation and adaptation policies.

"When health professionals shout 'emergency' politicians everywhere should listen." —Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth"Climate Change is a medical emergency," said Dr. Hugh Montgomery, commission co-chair and director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance. "It thus demands an emergency response."

With rising global temperatures fueling increasing extreme weather events, crop failures, water scarcity, and other crises, Montgomery says the report is an attempt to make it clear that drastic and immediate actions should be taken. "Under such circumstances," he said, "no doctor would consider a series of annual case discussions and aspirations adequate, yet this is exactly how the global response to climate change is proceeding."

In a companion paper published alongside the larger report, commission members Helena Wang and Richard Horton explained why human health impacts are an important part of the larger argument regarding climate change:

When climate change is framed as a health issue, rather than purely as an environmental, economic, or technological challenge, it becomes clear that we are facing a predicament that strikes at the heart of humanity. Health puts a human face on what can sometimes seem to be a distant threat. By making the case for climate change as a health issue, we hope that the civilizational crisis we face will achieve greater public resonance. Public concerns about the health effects of climate change, such as undernutrition and food insecurity, have the potential to accelerate political action in ways that attention to carbon dioxide emissions alone do not.

Responding to the findings and warnings contained in the report, Mike Childs, the head of policy for the Friends of the Earth-UK, said the message from one of the world's foremost institutions on public health has given powerful new evidence to the argument that "radical action is urgently required" to avoid further climate catastrophe.

"When health professionals shout 'emergency'," Childs said, "politicians everywhere should listen."

Going from diagnosis to prescribing a remedy, the doctors and scientists involved with the report—who equated the human health emergency of climate change with previous physician-led fights against tobacco use and HIV/AIDS—argue the crisis of anthropogenic climate change demands—as a matter of "medical necessity"—the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels (with special emphasis on coal) from the global energy mix. In addition, the authors say their data on global human health support a recommendation for an international carbon price.

"The health community has responded to many grave threats to health in the past," said another commission co-chair, Professor Peng Gong of Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. "It took on entrenched interests such as the tobacco industry and led the fight against HIV/AIDS.  Now is the time for us to lead the way in responding to another great threat to human and environmental health."

The Commission argues that human health would vastly improve in a less-polluted world free from fossil fuels. "Virtually everything that you want to do to tackle climate change has health benefits ," said Dr. Costello. "We're going to cut heart attacks, strokes, diabetes ."

The video, produced by the Commission and released alongside the report, also explains:

As Wang and Horton conclude in their remarks, "Climate change is the defining challenge of our generation. Health professionals must mobilize now to address this challenge and protect the health and well-being of future generations."

China puts $6 trillion price tag on its climate plan

By Valerie Volcovici and David Brunnstrom


23 June 2015
WASHINGTON - It will cost China over $6.6 trillion (41 trillion yuan) to meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals it will lay out later this month in its strategy for United Nations climate negotiations, the country's lead negotiator for the talks said Tuesday.

Xie Zhenhua, special representative for climate change affairs at China's National Development and Reform Commission, said the objectives China will outline by the end of June will be "quite ambitious".

Xie was participating in a three-day Strategic and Economic Dialogue forum in Washington where he met with counterparts in the Obama administration, including U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

To meet its objectives, China, the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, must reconfigure its coal-dependent energy mix and develop new energy sources, Xie said.

"We will need to carry out international cooperation and research and development to reduce the costs of relevant technologies and to innovate so that we can reach our objectives," he told reporters at a State Department briefing.

The United States and China announced on Monday they will partner on two new carbon-capture, utilization and storage projects to help commercialize the technology.

While key details of China's plan are not yet known, it is expected to include targets announced in November, when it reached a key climate change deal with Washington to cap its emissions by 2030 and fill 20 percent of its energy needs from zero-carbon sources.

Earlier this month, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reaffirmed the government's commitment to hit a carbon emissions peak by "around 2030". The country's coal consumption decreased for the first time in years in 2014, however, leading some to speculate that its emissions could reach their peak sooner.

Stern, the U.S. climate change envoy, told reporters the plans China has already announced with Washington were "a quite strong contribution".

But he said he hopes a final agreement of all countries at this December's key UN climate change conference in Paris contains "a strong set of...contributions, which are updated periodically" to ensure more ambitious targets.

Stern said China does not expect public finance to support its climate goals and that it is likely to attract investment as it adopts new technologies.

Earlier on Tuesday, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang told a panel moderated by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson that 750,000 electric vehicles were sold in China last year, three times more than the year before, "giving great opportunities and profit to companies like Tesla and BYD (Auto) ".

"To tackle climate change is both a challenge and an opportunity ," Wang said.

Ahead of the UN's climate change conference in Paris, countries are required to submit national plans, which will serve as the building blocks of a final agreement.

So far, 11 countries, including the United States and Mexico, as well as the European Union have submitted theirs.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Peter Galloway)

With Abbott in charge, why are business lobby groups worried about climate policy?

Tristan Edis

Climate Spectator

29 June 2015

A rather unusual coalition of major business groups -- the union movement, institutional investors, environmental activist organisations, and a social justice group -- have come together to issue a joint statement calling for a meaningful and stable carbon emission reduction government policy framework.

The coalition, calling themselves the Australian Climate Roundtable, involves:

The statement sets out that: "Unconstrained climate change would have serious economic, environmental and social impacts on Australia. These costs underpin our assessment of the need for action. We recognise the major parties’ bipartisan goal of limiting global warming to less than 2°C above preindustrial levels. Our overarching aim is for Australia to play its fair part in international efforts to achieve this while maintaining and increasing its prosperity. Achieving this goal will require deep global emissions reductions, with most countries including Australia eventually reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero or below.

This is all relatively uncontroversial, although it might shock some senior members of the Abbott Government and sections of the business community to hear it. Business groups are always happy to say they think climate change is real; the problem is more about getting them to agree to government implementing something real to address it.

In addition, the coalition of interest groups’ policy prescriptions for how to address the issue are sufficiently vague and well-meaning that you’d find it hard for anyone to disagree with them.  

For example, they say the policy framework should:

Yep, all good stuff. But lurking within such broad principles are details that could fuel a frenzied opposition onslaught of lobbying and scare campaigns.

After all, the carbon pricing scheme gave most trade exposed businesses with significant levels of emissions more than 90 per cent of their permits for free. It also gave coal generators a few billion dollars in compensation even though they recovered almost 100 per cent of the cost through increased power prices. Yet these businesses still suggested the sky was about to fall in.

So, should we really care?

Yes, in that such a group felt it worthwhile to get together and thrash out room for common ground on climate policy.

The roundtable pretty much captures all the main stakeholders in any government deliberations around climate change policy, even if it misses the typical recalcitrant holdouts in the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. All those businesses that are significantly affected by carbon reduction policy sit within the groups represented.

Most mining processes aren’t all that emissions-intensive. Also, who exactly does ACCI represent?  It doesn't have any companies as members and almost all of the emissions-intensive businesses in Australia have direct membership in either the BCA, ESAA or AiG. The aluminium sector, which is the most deeply exposed to loss of trade competitiveness, has specific representation via the Aluminium Council.

At the same time, you have the three big-hitter environmental NGOs involved, which tend to get involved not just in protesting, but also policy development.

Why on earth are these business groups representing major polluters even bothering to engage with environmental groups? They don’t think such a hold-out position is likely to last is why.

The Abbott Government has removed any obligation for polluters to pay for emitting greenhouse gases and instead will have taxpayers pay them to reduce emissions. In addition, the Prime Minister said in recent days he’d prefer that the next most significant emission reduction policy, the Renewable Energy Target, never existed.

The most insightful thing in the four-page statement was this single sentence: "Delayed, unpredictable and piecemeal action will increase the costs and challenge of achieving the goal [containing global warming to 2 degrees]”.

Enough of the electorate and the international community are concerned about the effects of climate change that it’s not possible to ignore the issue for long.

The entire pitched battle over the Renewable Energy Target is vivid evidence of this reality. Even with a Prime Minister who wanted the scheme gone, he had to instead settle for targets that should see solar PV and wind capacity more than double. In the meantime, though, he made life far more difficult for businesses and investors as they had to grapple with a wide array of potential outcomes.

In addition, state governments are re-entering the climate policy space, keen to fill the vacuum left by the Abbott Government.

Refusing to accept and constructively engage on how we’ll drive emissions down progressively to zero will mean pressure will build-up for action. Eventually this pressure will find an outlet.

It could come out via lots of unpredictable small fissures of weird and wacky policies that are a bit like a lottery leaving some businesses untouched while others are hammered.

Or it could come out in one big gush all of a sudden that leaves no chance to prepare and adapt.

In the end, it’s far better to relieve the pressure via a planned and deliberate long-term strategy than an uncontrolled geyser.

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