Leave It in the Ground, Climate Activists Demand

The following article is reprinted by permission of its author, Stephen Leahy, who writes for the Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency. To access the article as posted on the IPS website, click here.

Photo of mining of tar sands bitumen in Canada

Mining tar sands bitumen in Canada. Credit: Chris Arsenault/IPS

XBRIDGE, Canada, Apr 28 2013 (IPS) - Nearly 70 percent of known reserves of oil, gas and coal must remain in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change. So why did the energy industry spend 674 billion dollars in 2012 looking for more?

A moratorium on investments new fossil fuel infrastructure is the obvious thing to do about this, said Asad Rehman, head of international climate at Friends of the Earth in the UK.

The United Nations is the place to get countries to begin a serious conversation about imposing such a moratorium starting Monday in Bonn, Germany, Rehman told IPS.

The 195 parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are meeting next week in Bonn on a new climate treaty that would go into force in 2020 and discuss ways reduce emissions from fossil fuels prior to 2020.

The World Bank, International Energy Agency and a new report from economist Lord Nicholas Stern all say that close to 70 percent of known reserves of fossil fuels are “unburnable” to have a chance of global warming staying below two degrees C.

The global average temperature has already risen 0.8C, leading to the loss of most of the sea ice in the Arctic, extreme weather events around the world, rising sea levels and oceans that are 30 percent more acidic.

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will likely hit 400 parts per million (ppm) this May. That will be the first time in at least three million years.

All nations have agreed under the UNFCCC to keep temperatures below two degrees C, which is by no means a safe level of warming. However, scientists say we are on a path to at least three degrees C, which will trigger irreversible feedbacks leading to much higher temperatures and far worse impacts.

It’s illogical to be making new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure,” Rehmand said.

The Carbon Tracker agrees. It’s a thinktank whose supporters include the big banks, Standard and Poor’s and the International Energy Agency. It co-authored the “Unburnable Carbon 2013″ report with Lord Stern.

The Carbon Tracker says investments in fossil fuel are foolish and continuing them will inevitably crash the global economy because countries will be forced to severely limit how much fossil fuel is burned.

“The scale of ‘listed’ unburnable carbon revealed in this report is astonishing,” said Paul Spedding, an oil and gas analyst at HSBC.

“This report makes it clear that ‘business as usual’ is not a viable option for the fossil fuel industry in the long term,” Speeding said in statement.

While banks and investors are finally waking up to the carbon-climate problem, countries have struggled for two decades under the UNFCCC to construct a global treaty to reduce carbon emissions enough to stay below two degrees C. Perversely, those same countries are pumping 1.9 trillion of their taxpayer’s money each year into subsidising the fossil fuel industry, reported the International Monetary Fund last month. (1.9. trillion seconds is about 60,000 years.)

Countries have promised to reduce these subsidies for the world’s richest industry, but few have acted.

“It’s bipolar…there is a complete lack of leadership,” said Alden Meyer, Union of Concerned Scientists’ director of strategy and policy.

The result is that global carbon emissions rise ever higher each year when they need to begin to decline. The gap between where we are and where we need to go is getting wider every year, Meyer said at a press conference last week.

The UNFCCC meeting in Bonn Apr. 29 to May 3 is one of several weeks of meetings before the annual Convention of the Parties (COP 19) negotiations in Poland this November. The main issues, as always, will be deciding how big the emissions cuts will be, the timing of those cuts and what the contribution should be for each country.

“There are two things to tackle in Bonn: how developed countries fulfill their promises to cut emissions deep and meet their financial commitments to enable developing countries to address climate change now,” said Meena Raman, negotiation expert at the Third World Network.

Developed countries and blocs like the U.S., Canada and the European Union do not appear ready to increase their promised emission cuts even though they are insufficient to achieve the two-degree C target and are collectively less than those from developing countries, as previously reported by IPS.

China is now the world’s biggest carbon emitter but it will be many years yet before the carbon molecules in the atmosphere with little Chinese flags on them will match those with U.S. flags. Since CO2 resides in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, emissions of 50 years ago have the same impact on the climate as those emitted today.

“It’s not hard to figure out the total amount of CO2 from the U.S. and other developed countries already in the atmosphere,” said Sivan Kartha, Senior Scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute’s US Center.

“Taking responsibility for the mess you made is a widely-accepted principle,” Kartha told IPS.

This politically thorny issue is known as “historical emissions” and it pits the South against the North. More recently, countries in the North have been pushing the concept of “mitigation potential” suggesting that it is harder for the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions because of existing infrastructure than it is for poor countries like India who haven’t built them yet, he said.

While “moratorium” will only be whispered about, “equity” will be the buzzword in play in Bonn this week, Kartha said.

Positive developments on climate are largely found outside the UNFCCC process. China and the U.S. recently signed a landmark agreement on climate and clean energy. Both countries agreed climate change poses a serious risk and have agreed to take a global leadership position, said Alden Myer.

“I take this a very positive sign,” but it remains to be seen if this translates into action, Meyer said.


Posted by John Hartz on Tuesday, 30 April, 2013

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