Articles Posted in the Green News, Lead category

350: Saturday’s climate change number

October 23, 2009
Posted in Green News, Lead

4017582490_99c5b0a97a_b350. It’s the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists believe is the safe upper limit for our planet. It’s also the name of a global movement that is mobilising the world to take action on Saturday October 24, the International Global Day of Climate Action. The day of action will include actions from almost every country in the world and will call on all governments to take action to reach achieve an “ambitious, fair, and binding global climate deal”.

Two years ago scientists issued a series of studies showing that a carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere of more than 350 parts per million (ppm) would be disastrous for life on earth. Right now the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 390ppm and the 350 campaign on Saturday will be to call on leaders to set goals to reduce this to under the 350ppm threshold.

Around South Africa there will be a series of events celebrating the 350 declaration. Johannesburg celebrations will include the Jozi 350 Climate Action Day at Emmerentia Dam, and the Tree planting for carbon offset. Cape Town events will include the Human 350 on Table Mountain and the 350 melting iceblocks on Muizenberg beach.

The campaign has also attracted support from a number of prominent people including Bishop Desmond Tutu, who penned an article in support of which has been published in major US newspapers. In Unity doomed apartheid. Next up: climate change, Tutu wrtites: “In South Africa, we showed that if we act on the side of justice, we have the power to turn tides. Worldwide, we have a chance to start turning the tide of climate change with just such a concerted effort today.”

A full list of SA events can be found on the website.

Week that was: April 3 2009

April 3, 2009
Posted in Green News


Environmentalist protestors at the G20 summit in London by celesteh licensed under Creative Commons

  • LEADING BY EXAMPLE: The G20 summit disappointingly didn’t produce a green recovery package, but US President Barack Obama did say that the United States would lead by example in combating climate change. “If China and India with their populations had the same energy usage as the average American then we would all have melted by now,” he told a news conference. “China and India … justifiably chafe at the idea that they should somehow sacrifice their development for our efforts to control climate change.”
  • IT’S NOT ENOUGH: Draft climate legislation unveiled in the US this week was reportedly welcomed by green groups at the UN climate talks  in Bonn. The law calls for a cut of 3 percent from 2005 levels in greenhouse emissions by 2012, 20 percent by 2020, 42 percent by 2030 and 83 percent by 2050. The European Union has agreed cuts of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and of 30 percent if other developed nations followed suit. Obama’s cuts would to only take emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, say reports. The UN climate panel says developed countries would have to cut emissions by between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid the worst of climate change.
  • IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS: Scientists have trained a genetically engineered virus to make a more efficient and powerful lithium battery. More on and BBC
  • yellow-maize

  • GM MAIZE PROBLEM: Of the 1,000 South African farmers who planted Monsanto’s GM-maize this year, 280 suffered extensive crop failure, writes Rapport. The plants, grown from three varieties of GM maize, apparently looked healthy but failed to produce seeds. According to the report, Monsanto said a mistake had been made in the laboratory and the company immediately offered to compensate farmers in Mpumalanga, Free State and North West. Marian Mayet, director of the anti-GM Africa Centre for Biosecurity, called for an urgent government investigation and an immediate ban on all GM-foods.
  • COTTONING ON TO ORGANIC: Global sales of organic cotton clothing and home textile products rose by 63 percent last year to $3.2 billion, according to the Organic Cotton Market Report. The amount of organic cotton farmers grew worldwide in 2007/08 increased by 152 percent. Organic cotton is grown without the use of fertilisers, pesticides or genetically modified seeds. (Reuters)
  • FISH OIL AND FLATULENCE: Researchers at an Irish university have found that adding fish oil to the diet of cattle reduces the methane emissions they emit via flatulence. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. More than a third of all methane emissions, about 900 billion tonnes every year, are produced by  bacteria in the digestive systems of ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats, the researchers say. (Science Daily)
  • DOLPHINS: THE GOOD NEWS: A stronghold of rare Irrawaddy fresh-water dolphins, numbering nearly 6,000 individuals, has been found in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans mangrove forest by researchers from the World Conservation Society. Last year the dolphins were listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list.
  • ... AND THE NOT SO GOOD NEWS: Mass dolphin and whale beachings could become more frequent because of climate change, say researchers in Australia. More than 500 whales and dolphins have beached in southern Australia in the past four months. Scientists say that changing ocean current cycles are at the root of the beachings. (AFP)
  • SASOL CDM PROJECT GETS A NO: A United Nations panel has rejected a Clean Development Mechanism application for a Sasol project to replace coal with natural gas piped from Mozambique as a feedstock for its Secunda synthetic fuel plant. Sasol had argued that the project would result in a significant reduction of greenhouse gases. (Engineering News)
  • SA SETS CARBON CAPTURE TARGET: South Africa expects to build its first carbon capture and storage pilot by 2020, Bulyelwa Sonjica, the minister of minerals and energy, was reported as saying at the launch of a new carbon capture and storage centre. Sasol and Eskom, the country’s biggest emitters, Anglo American’s coal unit, Exxaro, Xstrata Coal and the British and Norwegian governments are all part of the project. The centre has R25-million in funds. (Reuters)

April 1 is Fossil Fools Day

March 31, 2009
Posted in Green News

Fancy yourself as a bit of an activist? Well, why not join in Fossil Fools Day? Tomorrow from 12pm to 2pm environmental activists will be marking April 1 by handing over this year’s South African Fossil Fool of 2009 Award to Sasol at their head office in Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg.

The award is Earthlife Africa’s way of highlighting the role Sasol plays in warming our planet.

It takes hard work, years of application, and significant capital investment to win a Fossil Fool Award, says Earthlife.

Sasol has been chosen as this year’s winner  because:

  • It produces 72.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually; total annual greenhouse gas emissions for South Africa are 446-million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent.
  • It’s planning to build a new 80,000 barrels/day coal-to-liquids plant in South Africa. This would add an estimated 23-million to 37-million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere on an annual basis.
  • And it fixed prices of its goods, both in South Africa and Europe.

Click here for more on Fossil Fools Day globally

Coastal cities under threat from rising sea levels

March 11, 2009
Posted in Green News

Image: Greeland glacier, Nasa/Wallops

Sea level could rise by a metre or more by the end of the century, according new science presented yesterday at the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in Copenhagen. This has disastrous implications for the 10 percent of the world’s population, or 600-million people, living in low-lying areas in danger of being flooded.

The new estimates are higher than those in the 2007 assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which projected a sea level rise of 18 to 59 centimetres. Scientists at the Copenhagen meeting said that it looked increasingly unlikely that sea level rise would be much less than 50cm by 2100.

Rob Bailey, Oxfam’s climate change policy advisor, said: “These startling new predictions on sea level rise spell disaster for millions of the world’s poorest people. Poor coastal communities in countries such as Bangladesh are already struggling to cope with a changing climate and it can only get worse.

“This must be a wake-up call for rich countries are not doing anywhere near enough to prevent these cataclysmic predictions becoming a reality. Rich countries, who created the climate crisis, must cut their emissions from 1990 levels by at least 40 percent by 2020 and provide the $50-billion that is the minimum needed each year to help the world’s poorest people adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change,” said Bailey.

Dr John Church of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, told the Copenhagen conference: “The most recent satellite and ground-based observations show that sea-level rise is continuing to rise at 3mm/yr or more since 1993, a rate well above the 20th-century average. The oceans are continuing to warm and expand, the melting of mountain glacier has increased and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are also contributing to sea level rise.”

“Unless we undertake urgent and significant mitigation actions, the climate could cross a threshold during the 21st century committing the world to a sea level rise of metres,” said Dr Church.

Eric Rignot, professor of earth system science at the University of California Irvine and senior research scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “The numbers from the last IPCC are a lower bound because it was recognised at the time that there was a lot of uncertainty about ice sheets. The numerical models used at the time did not have a complete representation of outlet glaciers and their interactions with the ocean. The results gathered in the last two to three years show that these are fundamental aspects that cannot be overlooked. As a result of the acceleration of outlet glaciers over large regions, the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are already contributing more and faster to sea level rise than anticipated. If this trend continues, we are likely to witness sea level rise one metre or more by year 2100.”

Measurements around the world show that sea level has risen almost 20 centimetres since 1880, said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. These data also show that the rate of sea level rise is closely linked to temperature: sea level rises faster the warmer it gets.

“If sea level keeps rising at a constant pace, we will end up in the middle of that 18-59 cm IPCC range by 2100,” said Prof Rahmstorf. “But based on past experience I expect that sea level rise will accelerate as the planet gets hotter.”

According to Dr Church, “Sea level is currently rising at a rate that is above any of the model projections of 18 to 59 cm.”

“Different groups may come to slightly different projections, but differences in the details of the projections should not cloud the overall picture where even the lower end of the projections looks to have very serious effects,” says Konrad Steffen, director of the Co-operative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

And South Africa?

Last year the City of Cape Town announced that it had commissioned an in-depth study of the implications of sea-level rise on the city. With 307km of coastline the city is particularly vulnerable to a rise in sea level and an increase in the frequency of storm events predicted as a result of climate change.

According to Gregg Oelofse of the city’s strategy and planning department: “Impacts will be experienced across key service infrastructure such as wastewater treatment works, stormwater pipelines, electricity grids and substations as well as roads and rail routes. In addition, residential property and recreational amenities located in the coastal areas are particularly vulnerable.”

The study aimed to identify the risks so the city could begin to plan adaptation and mitigation strategies to minimise the implications of climate change. What did arise from the study was that if the City of Cape Town did not proactively address climate change the consequences could be severe.

According to a report in the Sunday Times last year, Durban has initiated a climate change programme and other South African coastal cities such as Port Elizabeth and East London may also.

Sources: University of Copenhagen, Oxfam, City of Cape Town, The Times.

Footage of Greenland ice melt

March 11, 2009
Posted in Green News

This amazing footage of meltwater gushing down into a bottomless pit in a glacier in Greeland was shot for a Discovery Channel series called Ways to Save the Planet. Dr Jason Box, a glaciologist, and a colleague are seen risking their lives to measure the flow of water into the moulin – another name for a hole or crevasse in a glacier into which water from the surface flows. Box and his team found that 42-million litres of water a day drained down this particular moulin. Glaciers are the epicentre of global warming, he says.


Climate change and economic recovery – an interview with Nicholas Stern

March 8, 2009
Posted in Business

We are living in the year of crisis – the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s and a climate change crisis that potentially has even greater, more dangerous consequences. But it also a time of great opportunity if we act to solve the two crises together, says economist Nicholas Stern (he of the Stern Review) in an interview for the McKinsey Quarterly.

He says we need to overcome the idea that the economic crisis takes precedence over the climate crisis because there are great returns to be had from handling the two together. We can actually be excited about the future, he says, because we have “the biggest technological opportunity that we’ve had for a very long time: as big as the railways, as big as electricity, as big as the motorcar, and, most recently, information technology. It’s the opportunity to go for low-carbon growth.”

The real challenge is to move that change fast enough, he says.

Read the full transcript of the interview at McKinsey Quarterly

Climate change an opportunity for sustainable green growth, says President Motlanthe

March 4, 2009
Posted in Green News


Klipheuwel wind farm in the Western Cape. Pic by Warrenski licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

Acting now on climate change is an opportunity to overcome the global economic crisis by creating pro-poor jobs and sustainable green growth, South Africa’s President Kgalema Motlanthe said in his opening address at the government’s Climate Change Summit 2009 in Midrand yesterday.

The four-day summit in Midrand is an opportunity for key stakeholders to discuss and agree the framework for a national climate change response strategy.

The climate change challenge in South Africa is ultimately about combating poverty, sustainable development and energy supply, the president said. It is poor communities who have contributed the least to climate change that will bear the brunt of the impacts, he said. The policy frameworks for a transition to a low-carbon economy are an insurance policy against the worst impacts of climate change.

The country’s emissions need to peak between 2020 and 2025, stabilise for the next decade and then start to decrease from mid-century but to do this the country needs a coherent strategy.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the minister of environmental affairs and tourism, said: “We cannot allow ourselves to dither at the point when action and implementation are most critical.”

Describing how much had changed since South Africa’s first national climate change summit four years ago, he said that although a great deal of progress had been made, the challenges had become more urgent.

Climate change is now one of the government’s foremost priorities and internationally the message is resounding that climate change is happening now and will get far worse unless we substantially reduce our greenhouse gas emissions immediately.

Action on climate change needs to be seen as an investment in the future, he said. The development of clean and renewable technologies is imperative and holds many opportunities for green investment and green jobs. “Today we know that if we continue without a carbon constraint we face the threat of border tax adjustments or trade sanctions from key trading partners and the destruction of thousands of jobs in the high-emitting trade exposed sectors.”

Thanks to the Long Term Mitigation Scenarios study released last year, South Africa is now aware that if the country does nothing to reduce its carbon emissions and continues on a business-as-usual path, its emissions, which are already relatively high by international standards, will quadruple by 2050 with potentially dire consequences.

He said that local industry must be prepared for a new era in which mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions will become part of the regulatory landscape. The department of environment affairs and tourism “has initiated a process of developing greenhouse gas measurement monitoring and reporting regulations that will shift our work in this regard from a voluntary to a mandatory level”.

He said South Africa is willing to substantially deviate from its business-as-usual emissions trajectories, but the rich countries of the north must take the first steps with deep emissions cuts and financial and technical support for developing countries.

The world needs a strong, innovative, multilateral solution to climate change, said Beki Ntshalintshali, the deputy general secretary of Cosatu. Without that “the main victims of climate change will be the poor (as we have seen in the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal and Soweto) and workers, particularly in developing countries.”

The challenges of poverty and climate change have to be tackled in a mutally reinforcing manner, he said.

Imports, exports and emissions

February 25, 2009
Posted in Green News

China may have overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest carbon emitter, but a significant amount of its emissions are a result of producing goods for consumers in western countries.

China’s carbon dioxide emissions increased by 45 percent from 2002 to 2005, but half was due to the production of exports, 60 percent of which went to western countries, according to a new report, “Journey to world top emitter”, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Electronic products, metals, chemicals, and machinery were the export products contributing largely to the increase.

Only 7 percent of the emissions increase was triggered by household consumption in China, researchers from the University of Cambridge, the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo (CICERO), Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Leeds found.

Rich countries are contributing to the emission increases in developing nations, but this is not accounted for in international negotiations, CICERO says in a statement.

International climate agreements do not account for how emissions cross national borders because of imports and exports. In the Kyoto Protocol, every country is responsible for emissions on its own territory, it adds.

“It is important to take at least some responsibility for problems that we cause indirectly in other countries,” says Glen Peters, a researcher at CICERO.

“We do not need to completely redesign Kyoto, but we could include incremental changes that address carbon leakage [the process where a country reduces emissions on its own territory but increases imports] and competitiveness concerns.

“Climate policy could be designed in similar ways to existing tax policy. For example, we could design carbon taxes in a similar way to value-added taxation which covers imported products. In that way the consumer would pay for the emissions caused by his or her consumption,” says Peters.

Source: CICERO

Stern’s warning: Act now or consequences could be disastrous

February 23, 2009
Posted in Green News

What do you do if bad weather leaves you stranded in a Cape Town hotel? You discuss climate change, obviously. Well that seems to be what Sir Nicholas Stern, the former World Bank economist and author of the British government’s oft-cited Stern Review – on the economics of climate change – and a select group of environment ministers, climate negotiators and experts from 16 countries did this weekend while they waited for their flight to Antarctica to get the go-ahead.

According to AP, Stern told the party that if the world doesn’t deal with climate change decisively we could be looking at an “extended world war”.

He said that if global average temperature rise is to be contained to 2 degrees Celsius this century country’s needed to act responsibly and … to quote the AP report …

… achieve “zero-carbon” electricity production and zero-carbon road transport by 2050 – by replacing coal power plants with wind, solar or other energy sources that emit no carbon dioxide, and fossil fuel-burning vehicles with cars running on electric or other “clean” energy.

But if emissions reductions are not made soon and deep, the severe climate shifts and sea-level rises projected by scientists would be “disastrous.”

It would “transform where people can live,” Stern said. “People would move on a massive scale. Hundreds of millions, probably billions of people would have to move if you talk about 4-, 5-, 6-degree increases”. And that would mean extended global conflict, “because there’s no way the world can handle that kind of population move in the time period in which it would take place.”

Stern and the group were reportedly scheduled to fly to Antarctica to learn what melting polar ice might do to the world’s sea-levels. Read full report here

[Via Huffington Post]

Climate change: snow, fish, flights and food crops

February 13, 2009
Posted in Green News


A garden in London in early February

If you’re wondering how there can possibly be “gobal warming” when you see images on the news of snow storms in Britain and we’ve hardly seen the sun in Jo’burg for what seems like weeks, well, it’s probably La Niña’s fault, say the experts. But read this article on Scientific American for an explantation of what global warming means.


Warming seas at the tropics will cause fish stocks to move towards the poles in the next 50 years, a study of more than 1,000 fish species projects. The fish are likely to swim an average of about 200km either north or south to escape warmer water, the study says. Countries in the tropics are likely to suffer the most from reduced catches, William Cheung, the lead author of the study, from the University of British Columbia and the University of East Anglia, was reported as saying. But, he said, it would be more a “reshuffling” of the fish catches in the world’s oceans, the total fish catches would be little changed. Species at high risk of extinction would be those that thrive in cold waters that would have no where to go. [Reuters via Planet Ark]

Four airlines – Air France/KLM, Cathay Pacific, BA and Virgin Atlantic – have called for airline pollution to be included in the broader climate change treaty that is being negotiated to replace the Kyoto Protocol, Reuters reports. This is the first time airlines have moved to join the debate and it is a bid to try and steer the debate on an emissions deal rather than having one imposed on them, the report says. The aviation industry contributes about 2 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions. [Reuters via Planet Ark]

A study on the impact of climate change on crop yield and undernutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa has identified regional hotspots where early intervention may avert future hunger and improve food security. The study indicates that while some regions may be able to withstand the most severe impacts of climate change – and South Africa, Uganda and Ghana, may experience increased crop yields – most sub-Saharan countries will continue to experience a decline in per capita food availability. It is critically important that adaptation strategies be developed and implemented soon, particularly in the area of improved crop selection, extending crop area and increasing yield through improved water and fertiliser management, the study says. It suggests that countries such as Congo, Gabon, Botswana, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and Sudan may suffer from lower crop yields. But the most important conclusion from this study, says Dr Steffen Fritz of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, is that “although overall crop yields may not decline, due to the projected increase in population and stagnating purchasing power, hunger will remain or even worsen if no drastic adaptation measures are taken”. The research was published in the recent Special Issue of Global and Planetary Change. [Via :: Polity]

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