Sunday, November 08, 2009
Water Experts React To Barcelona Negotiations
Water advocates and experts are convening in Barcelona to lobby climate negotiators to recognize intersections of water and climate, and for the inclusion of key water language in the working documents that will form the backbone for high-level meetings in Copenhagen in December. So far, they feel, their efforts have fallen on deaf ears.
The Global Public Policy Network, a group that includes the United Nations’ own water group and other water-related organizations, hosted a “water day” on Monday to coincide with the final build-up conference before the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Conference next month. Water experts say they are are deeply dismayed that all references to water have been stricken from the Non Paper 31—the draft text for Copenhagen. The organizations hope they can convince negotiators to re-instate mention of climate change impacts on water.
“Negotiators’ failure to recognize the role that water has in adapting to climate change could have severe implications for future levels of water security and ensuring more resilient systems for the future—in fact it risks undermining many of the objectives of the adaptation climate change discussions,” said Emily Benson, project manager for the Stakeholder Forum, in an email interview with Circle of Blue.
The forum, an international multi-stakeholder organization working on sustainable development, released a statement Tuesday about water “evaporating” from the climate change talks.
“The way that water is managed in and between countries will be a critical component for the success of any efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change. It will also be a vital consideration for many mitigation activities, including hydropower, agriculture and forestry projects,” the statement said.
“Even with the best mitigation strategies, water-related effects of climate change will come,” said Anders Berntell, executive director of the Stockholm International Water Institute. “The challenge for many nations is, how to adapt. Climate change is in effect water change, since it will be through water that the changes will be realized first and foremost.”
Other experts not at the forum were also worried about the exclusion of water.
“What’s the agenda if they’re not going to mention water?” asked James Workman, author of “Heart of Dryness: How the Last Bushmen Can Help Us Endure the Coming Age of Permanent Drought.”
“I think that’s short-sighted of negotiators, especially when you look at all the links between water and energy. I can’t quite understand where it’s coming from to just pull water out of the negotiating text,” Workman said.
One climate expert, also not at the conference, was surprised that negotiators were failing to mention something as fundamental as water in the treaty, and speculated that the text may have impinged on some ulterior interest.
“That water and climate are connected is not controversial—it’s one of the conclusions of the IPCC. However, the IPCC is strictly prohibited from being policy prescriptive. Contributors can discuss but not endorse specific policy measures,” said Dr. Stephen Schneider, a biological science professor at Standford University.
The IPCC did, however, release a technical report last year on water and climate change. According to the report, “water resource issues have not been adequately addressed in climate change analyses and climate policy formulations.”
As an issue, climate is not faring well in the United States where a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press showed a decline in concern about climate change. According to the poll, 35 percent of Americans “see global warming as a serious problem,” down from 45 percent in April 2008.
Yet data from a Circle of Blue GlobeScan international public opinion survey found that water problems—scarcity and pollution—are the most troubling issue for people world-wide. Climate change has always ranked below water, according to GlobeScan data.
The poll surveyed 1,000 people in each of 25 countries, and probed 500 in each of the following countries on specific questions: Canada, China, India, Mexico, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Ninety-one percent of respondents indicated they think water shortages are a serious or somewhat serious problem. Eighty-seven percent indicated they are worried about increasing global freshwater shortages.
The amount of people concerned about freshwater shortages has increased five percentage points since 2003, when the opinion polling was first done.
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To not include water as part of these negotiations will prove the parties involved are not serious about addressing the climate crisis. Water policy is central to an effective treaty as sea level rise, drought, glacier melt, and wetlands loss are all key to protection from storms, agricultural diversity, and life itself.
Just what are they thinking?
Melting Glaciers Jolt Smokestack China
AS an expedition from Chinese state television worked its way across the remote Tibetan plateau earlier this year, the explorers were amazed by what they found.
The plateau has been called the world’s third largest ice store after the North and South Poles. Yet according to Chinese scientists, the “third pole” is warming up faster than anywhere else on earth.
The TV team found bare rock where glaciers had retreated. Lakes had dried up. Lush grassland had turned to desert. The livestock was dead, the farmers impoverished.
They brought back a visual lesson in global warming so stark that censors allowed the programme makers to broadcast a frank exposé. Their film attracted the attention of the Communist party’s leaders and has put climate change at the centre of a remarkably open debate in China ahead of a summit on the issue in Copenhagen next month.
It means that when President Barack Obama arrives in China next weekend he will find his hosts ready to talk about dozens of measures to slow the rate of global warming. He will not find them willing to agree to calls by rich countries for Beijing to accept a binding cap on carbon emissions — a condition that commentaries in the Chinese media have defined as politically unacceptable.
Any compromise might break an international deadlock and allow a treaty to be signed. However, even if that now looks unlikely to happen — and the United Nations official leading the talks accepts this — the fact is that China has woken up to the damage in an unprecedented way.
The speed and scale of change on the Tibetan plateau have made Chinese leaders react to something they understand — a potential threat to the future of China itself.
They are clearly seeking to mould opinion in favour of “greener” policies after decades of a highly polluting dash for economic growth that has poisoned China’s rivers and darkened its skies.
Last month, for example, researchers discovered that levels of black carbon in the ice core of the Tibetan plateau had soared since the 1990s because of smokestack industries and coal fires in millions of homes.
The plateau’s 36,000 glaciers, which once extended for 18,000 square miles, could vanish before mid-century if present rates of warming persist. More than 80% of them are in retreat. The overall area has shrunk by 4.5% in the past 20 years.
Most ominous of all, in the area that Chinese know as Sanjiangyuan, where three mighty rivers rise — the Yangtze, the Yellow and the Mekong — the headwaters run shallow and weak, threatening the water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, here was rich grassland and sheep grazed everywhere, but the weather has become hotter and drier,” a Tibetan herder, Sonarenqin, 39, told the TV crew.
“Five years ago my family had 300 sheep and 30 yaks. Now I have no sheep at all and merely a few yaks,” an 80-year-old Tibetan named Seluo added. “Our life has become so hard that we live on handouts.”
In the past 30 years the thawing of permafrost, a layer of soil that is usually frozen all the year round, has changed the landscape profoundly.
“There were 4,077 lakes and now 3,000 of them have disappeared,” said Xin Hongyuan, a geologist in Qinghai, which shares the huge expanse of plateau with the Tibet autonomous region and the provinces of Sichuan and Gansu.
“The snow is thawing and the snowline has risen from 4,600 metres to 5,300 metres. The Jianggendiru glacier, which is the main water supply of the Yangtze, has been degenerating fast since 1970, and when the glaciers shrink there will be a water crisis in the Yellow and Yangtze rivers.”
The Yellow river, for example, supplies water to a fifth of China’s 1.3 billion population and serves 50 big cities along its 3,395 miles.
In recent years it has sometimes slowed to a trickle. Once it virtually stopped flowing for 226 days, causing urban waterpipes to run dry and confronting downstream provinces with huge financial losses.
Qin Dahe, an eminent scientist and explorer, has been permitted to disclose alarming official assessments of the causes to Xinhua, the state news agency. “Owing to global warming, glaciers on the QinghaiTibet plateau are retreating extensively at a speed faster than in any other part of the world,” he said.
Temperatures on the plateau have risen by an average of 0.32C every 10 years since 1961, about six times as fast as in the rest of China. In Tibet, it is hotter than at any time in the past half century, while in the south and west of Tibet there is between 30% and 80% less rainfall.
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Just as a disclaimer: This is not a defense of China as their coal burning continues to contribute to the climate change we see... However, what will Obama say in China? He will tell them that they must agree to binding carbon emission caps even as they now work to do more to counter their emissions than the US is doing. While the U.S spends billions to build an Alberta Clipper pipeline to truck in dirty carbon laden tarsands crude from Canada, China is taking over the solar market. It is one thing to see the damage you have done and sincerely work to decrease what is contributing to it. Quite another to see it, know it, and yet continue to stall progress all while you are wagging fingers at others. Don't wonder now why the US cannot get global cooperation on necessary carbon emissions cuts. It's called walking the walk.
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