Monday, 31 March 2008

Climate Change (book review)

by Melanie Jarman, (Pluto Press 2007) from the Oxfam series Small Guides to Big Issues. Reviewed by Anne Adams.

I have read a lot on climate change, but this book depressed and angered me more than any other. Its subject is the effect on developing countries of climate change and it is extremely hard-hitting in its conclusions. It is illustrated by clear graphs and tables, and includes quotations from a range of authorities. The author has done a great deal of research, and provides a long list of resources and references. The general conclusions are:
• Climate change will affect developing countries a great deal more than it will affect those which are rich and industrialised
• The latter group has the power and the responsibility to take urgent action
• Actions being taken are slow, weak, inadequate and sometimes counterproductive. Every one of the eight ‘Millennium Development Goals’ laid down by the UN in 2000 is adversely affected by climate change and they are already at risk of not being met. They include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, improving health services, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.

The book describes some of the efforts by richer countries to help the poorer, such as the ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ (CDM). This enables rich countries which cannot meet their emissions targets to gain emission credits by funding projects aimed at reducing emissions in developing countries. These credits are based on the difference between the emissions which would have been produced if the developing country hosting the project had followed a more traditional path and the amount generated when the country follows the low emissions path enabled by the funding. This scheme is fraught with problems:
• It has conflicting goals—to allow industrialised countries to emit more and to increase
• The regulations make setting up small projects almost prohibitive
• It is extremely difficult to assess the amount of emissions saved by the project
• Many of the projects that have been undertaken are actually detrimental to people and the environment.
• Countries benefiting from these projects are mostly larger rapidly developing countries such as China, Brazil, Chile, India and Mexico. Bolivia, Cambodia, Jamaica, Nicaragua and
Uganda have very few.
• Planting trees is popular with rich countries, but can result in clearing natural vegetation in favour of eucalyptus or palm oil and depriving the original inhabitants of their livelihood.
‘Carbon colonisation’ is a new term coined for this type of emissions trading.

The chapter on the World Bank upset me most. The World Bank has enormous power and could be a very influential body in reducing climate change. In fact its Extractive Industries Review, commissioned by the Bank in 2000, recommended that it should phase out all investments in oil production by 2008 and concentrate on investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and similar projects that delink energy use from greenhouse gas emissions. However the management totally ignored this, deciding that more of the same was needed, resulting in funding of fossil fuel extraction and transport. An example is tremendous pressure put on Bangladesh by the World Bank to develop its gas reserves for export, to help repay its debts, thereby adding to the emissions which will cause rise in sea level and potential disaster for Bangladesh.

A table in the book compares the finance for CDMs with that for fossil fuel projects by the World Bank. There is simply no comparison, the vast amounts from the World Bank for fossil fuel projects dwarfing the pathetic sums for the CDM. There is a chapter on the suggestions by other bodies for meeting the challenge, including Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Contraction and Convergence is described as a just and practical possibility. This requires developed countries to adjust their economies accordingly, but political agreement would be difficult to get. If implemented it would include individual carbon rationing, such as domestic tradable quotas. Another suggestion is the Greenhouse Development Rights, which takes account of the fact the already industrialised countries have more capacity to adapt than those still developing.

A table giving projections for amounts of global renewable energy up to 2050 shows how much could be produced (over 7 million megawatts compared with 815,000 in 2003) if the will was there — wind, PV and hydro being the greatest resources. There is a short piece near the end about individual action, pointing out that though it may make little difference on its own, the combination of cutting down one’s own emissions, campaigning, writing letters and joining with others can have a wider influence. Emotional involvement is key, and the work of Joanna Macy is mentioned. It is our grandchildren who will bear the cost of our apathy and selfishness.
from Earthquaker Feb 2008 newsletter of Living Witness UK

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