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An Update on Climate Change Legislation

This week the organisation known as GLOBE (The Global Legislators’ Organisation supports national parliamentarians to develop and agree common legislative responses to the major challenges posed by sustainable development) met in London and launched its biannual review of national climate change legislation. The GLOBE Climate Legislation Study is up to its third edition and covers the ongoing efforts in 33 countries. Of these, GLOBE claims that 18 countries have made substantial progress, 14 have made limited progress and one country has been singled out for taking a backwards step, Canada, but more on that later.

In their press release, GLOBE state that:

“The tide is beginning to turn decisively on tackling climate change, the defining material challenge of this century. In the past year alone, as described in this latest study by GLOBE International and the Grantham Research Institute, 32 out of 33 surveyed countries have introduced or are progressing significant climate-related legislation. In 2012 alone, 18 of the 33 countries made significant progress. This is a game-changing development, driven by emerging economies, but taking place across each and every continent. Most importantly it challenges how governments look at the international negotiations up to 2015 requiring much greater focus by governments to support national legislation.”

The report is a substantial piece of work and it steps through the programmes in each country in considerable detail, although the pages of tables raise the question as to what exactly is “climate change legislation”. Legislation is categorised under the headings “Pricing carbon”, “Energy Demand”, “Energy Supply”, “Forests/Land Use”, “Adaptation” and so on. Of these, “Energy Demand” is largely energy efficiency measures and “Energy Supply” focuses principally on renewables (and nuclear in some countries). These two categories alone cover all but one of the countries (Nepal) surveyed, yet for the most part none of this is “climate legislation”. Rather, this is legislation that impacts the energy mix, but this does not necessarily translate into a reduction in emissions on a global basis and in many instances does not even lower national emissions. It simply augments the energy mix or lowers the energy and CO2 intensity of certain processes, which in turn can lead to greater overall use of energy and therefore increased emissions over the longer term. I have explored both these issues in previous postings, here and here.

This is not the case for the carbon pricing category, which GLOBE link to 11 of the 33 countries covered. But 4 of these are part of the EU and of the remaining countries only Australia has actually implemented the carbon price (arguably so has Japan, but the level is close to insignificant at about $1.50 per tonne). GLOBE also claim India has carbon pricing, but there is no such mechanism within the economy (there is a heavy focus on efficiency and a certificate trading system to drive it). Others include Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and China, all of which are in various stages of developing carbon pricing but none actually have.

Finally, there is the story around Canada. They are singled out as the only country to take a step backwards because of their decision to abandon the Kyoto Protocol (the same treatment is not given to Japan and Russia though) and the absence of a nationally implemented policy framework. Perversely, Canada is one country that made real and tangible advances last year, although emissions continue to rise in this resource rich economy. Quebec implemented its cap-and-trade system, carbon pricing continued in British Columbia and Alberta and the Federal Government did introduce its carbon standards for power stations, which will mean no new coal plants (without CCS) –  even the EU cannot claim such an achievement. Most importantly, Canada managed to get a large scale CCS project approved and construction started – similar attempts in the EU failed disastrously in 2012. This point is worthy of note, although GLOBE don’t mention it, given the critical role that CCS needs to play in mitigating emissions throughout this century.

The steps being taken in many countries to better manage energy supply, demand and mix are welcome, but to argue that this marks a “decisive turn” on tackling climate change and is “game changing” seems to be overly optimistic. BP released their latest Energy Outlook 2030 this week as well, which sees CO2 emissions rising sharply to 42 billion tonnes per annum by 2030, this despite non-hydro renewable energy nearly quadrupling over that time period. In total, nuclear/hydro/renewables/bio moves from 16% to 23% of the energy mix.

Finally, a P.S. to my previous post on the observation by many that “global warming has stopped”. James Hansen has just published a good analysis of this  and finds that a number of factors are contributing to the lack of change in overall global average temperature. This includes the behaviour of the El Nino/La Nina system (ENSO) and aerosol loading in the atmosphere. But he also concludes that natural variability must be playing a role. Worth a read.

David Hone's picture

Thank David for the Post!

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Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Jan 20, 2013 4:43 pm GMT

David,

"Global Warming Has Stopped"?? Really? I don't think so. A brief localized respite is not a global stop. Sadly, at this point, all the 'legislation' in the world is not going to solve the problem. "Climate change" is soon to become "Climate Chaos". With the warming to date having started several positive feedback loops, the most important being the massive release of methane in the arctic regions, we are, according to Malcolm Light, now headed for extinction by mid century if we don't address this issue and do it NOW.

{http://arctic-news.blogspot.co.uk/p/global-extinction-within-one-human.html}

Nothing short of abandonment of fossil fuels will prevent catastrophe even if we are able to buy some time by degrading the methane that has already been vented into the atmosphere. Discussions about carbon taxes or how much we can continue to burn are little more than playing musical chairs on the Titanic. I'm an old man and will be gone but I have grand-kids and this insanity is starting to rankle my nerves. (wanted to use a less polite phrase but this is a public forum)

When are people going to wake up and realize that things are more dire than anyone though until recently?

David Hone's picture
David Hone on Jan 20, 2013 11:27 pm GMT

I wasn't suggesting it has stopped - just following up on my previous post where I disagreed with the claim that it has. However, I also can't accept the view that extinction by mid-century is even a remote possibility. The legislative pathway is feasible, but looking very challenging the actions we see in almost every country. Although numerous countries are starting to act, it may well be too little, too late and without a strong focus on CCS, quite likely the wrong action anyway.

David Hone's picture
David Hone on Jan 20, 2013 11:27 pm GMT

I wasn't suggesting it has stopped - just following up on my previous post where I disagreed with the claim that it has. However, I also can't accept the view that extinction by mid-century is even a remote possibility. The legislative pathway is feasible, but looking very challenging the actions we see in almost every country. Although numerous countries are starting to act, it may well be too little, too late and without a strong focus on CCS, quite likely the wrong action anyway.

Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Jan 21, 2013 3:00 pm GMT

David,

I realized that you weren't suggesting that GW had stopped, but rather commenting on the fact that some people had made that suggestion. It was they to whom my post was directed. Sorry for the miscommunication.

Extinction: you reject "even the remote possibility", based on what? Can you offer some science that proves that it's impossible? Did you read Malcolm Light's assessment and his reasoning? The point that he makes is that several "positive feedback loops" have been initiated and that without a truly concerted effort by several major governments, we are in fact, facing extinction in a few short years. The idea is rejected, mostly on an emotional level, by almost everyone with whom I have discussed the issue. So your assertion is not surprising.

The complexity of the global climate system is poorly understood despite all of the concentrated study that is taking place today. We are, however, making big strides and a picture is beginning to emerge more clearly.

Even if we are able address the Methane issue and avoid "possible extinction" (I'm not 100% convinced of Light's time line but I accept his math) we will still be about where we are in our efforts to abandon fossil fuels. Specifically, waiting on "enlightened" legislation. (I hope that you're not holding your breath) Watching the slow pace of global action, however well meaning, as we ponder, "too little, too late"??.

I simply ask that you do some research on the issue of "non-linear and unpredictable" climate change that the Arctic Methane Emergency Group is so alarmed about. It will certainly change your perspective on our dilemma. It did mine. Then if you're still sanguine that extinction is out of the realm of possibility, just forget I ever brought it up. On the other hand, if you change your mind, you might join in with your writing and try to help avert the possibility. If we (humanity in general) aren't aware that a real problem exists it's unlikely anything will be initiated to address the problem. That's why I write, to help bring awareness to the situation.

I look forward to your next communique.

Regards,

Edward Kerr

David Hone's picture
David Hone on Jan 21, 2013 3:56 pm GMT

Edward,

I must confess that my response was partly emotive, but I also wonder weather the earth/ocean/ice system can change at such a fast rate. Even at elevated temperatures the global ice-pack will take a very long time to melt. Surely that melting will act as a major heat sink for a thousand or more years due to the latent heat of fusion.

In any case, I will have a look at the material you have pointed to.

David

Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Jan 21, 2013 4:51 pm GMT

David,

Thanks for the response. Due to the fact that the gulf stream has  turned northward and is being shunted into the arctic ocean, I think a 1000 years of polar ice is hopeful, at best. The fact that western Europe is again suffering colder than normal weather is a result of the heat that they normally enjoyed is now not there, but further north. Most of the "heavy" polar ice is already gone and some are predicting an ice free polar ocean during the summers as soon as 2015-2020. We will certainly be able to observe that for ourselves if it is to be the case.

What worries me as much as the heat (causing climate chaos) is the fact that the oceans are becoming more acidic due to the formation of carbonic acid from the absorbed CO2. This is already stressing the ocean phytoplankton and doesn't portend well for mankind. 50% of our annual O2 is produced by the ocean micro-flora.

None the less, the next few years will give us a much better understanding of what is likely to come.

Regards,

Ed

 

Edward Kerr's picture
Edward Kerr on Jan 21, 2013 7:10 pm GMT

Jim,

In theory that makes a lot of sense. Since we lack the actual "technical" ability to do so suggests that it might be a trifle difficult. Have you seen any practical way in which that might be accomplished? Plans? Patient applications?

Tropical storms are, as you note, one of the ways that tropical heat is transferred to the polar regions and are simply physics in action. While diverting some of that energy to the deep oceans may slow down the melting of the arctic it won't solve the bigger problem of maintaining a livable earth climate.

The problem is complex and I doubt that a single answer is waiting in the wings.

Ed

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