Alternatives to the Rio Conference… or where do we go from here?
Last week the UN conference talks on Sustainable Development took place; otherwise know as Rio+20. We never had great expectations from these talks however we appear to have reached a new low in the ongoing failure to confront the environmental challenges that lie ahead. Its duration has been cut from two weeks to just a few days and some of the worlds leaders did not even attend: David Cameron (UK) and Barack Obama (US), to name a few. In response to this, and to highlight how much can and needs to be done, several alternative conferences and events have been organised around the world. In this article we will be covering mostly the response in London from events organised by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and Campaign Against Climate Change.
The Alternative Rio Conference in particular covered such an extensive range of topics that despite several of NES’s members attending we could not get to them all! Some of the issues addressed are referred to below:
- Some of the data between 1992 and 2012:
- The global surface temperature has risen by 0.38C.
- The Arctic sea ice has decreased by 2.94 million square kilometres.
- The CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by 35.19 PPM.
- 30 661 900 hectares of Brazilian forest have been lost.
- More than 431,215.08 million tonnes of CO2 have been emitted.
- The amount of CO2 emitted per year has risen from 21,421.45 to 30,398.42 million tonnes (2010).
review by Ion Holban
Despite some relatively successful attempts to reduce the rate of deforestation in recent years by countries such as Brazil, the cold reality is that deforestation and biodiversity loss are now much greater challenges than they were in 1992. The organisers have reported that over 30 million hectares of Brazilian forest have been lost in the last 20 years. To put this into perspective, the entire area of England is only 13 million hectares (DEFRA). RSPB points out that roughly the same 13 million hectares is the amount of tropical forests lost to deforestation worldwide each year. More worriedly Brazil has recently had a review of logging rights and has allowed for amendments to their laws can can allow for more deforestation. More details of the amendments here:
Initiatives such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) have been controversial when considering the main goal of assigning a financial value to the carbon stored in forests. Since then, there have been incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development. Furthermore REDD + attempts to include the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. However most countries simply don’t have the man power or the political will to implement nature conservation laws already in place.
According to their own website REED+ : “deforestation and forest degradation, through agricultural expansion, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, destructive logging, fires etc., account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector”. Environmentalists and indigenous people have therefore raised concerns including the environmental integrity and economic implications of including REDD+ within mechanisms such as carbon markets. There is criticism from several quarters about large money flows leading to misuse, corruption, displacement of poor people and possibly perverse incentives. (odi.org.uk)
The International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) was explicit at the Bali climate negotiations in 2007: “REDD will not benefit Indigenous Peoples, but in fact, it will result in more violations of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. It will increase the violation of our Human Rights, our rights to our lands, territories and resources, steal our land, cause forced evictions, prevent access and threaten indigenous agriculture practices, destroy biodiversity and culture diversity and cause social conflicts.” (forestpeoples.org)
To find out more:
Bio-Energy: the next Great Mistake in the Fight against Climate Change?
Speakers: Deepak Rughani (Biofuelwatch) Clare Coffey (Action Aid)
review by Siobhan Carleton-Green
Bio-fuels have been held up as the answer to our renewable energy needs by politicians and energy companies. In reality this new industry has already caused more harm than good. Land that once fed families in South Africa is now being used to grow crops for Bio-fuels. Already land the size of Germany has been grabbed causing food poverty for the local population. Biomass fuel (wood burning mostly) when grown has the effect of destroying the biodiversity and if we knock out biodiversity reducing out carbon emission will not matter.
Here are some of the facts:
- Plantations hold only 4 to 20% of the carbon that a natural forest can.
- Bio-energy is more 1.5 times more damaging than coal.
- Using food for fuel causes food prices to increase already by 36%
Arctic Methane Emergency
Speakers: John Nissen (Arctic Methane Emergency Group), Prof Peter Wadhams (Polar Oceans Physics Group Un
review by Siobhan Carleton-Green
The melting of the sea ice in the Artic is an issue that has been brought up time and time again especially when it comes to the wildlife that depends on it. What has not had as much coverage if any is how fast that ice is disappearing and the hidden threat that lies beneath it. The Arctic summer sea ice is in a rapid, extremely dangerous meltdown process. The Arctic summer ice albedo loss feedback (i.e., open sea absorbs more heat than ice, which reflects much of it) passed its tipping point in 2007 – many decades earlier than models projected, and scientists now agree the Arctic will be ice free during the summer by 2030. Models of sea ice volume indicate a seasonally ice-free Arctic likely by 2015 and possibly as soon as the summer of 2013.
Once the ice has melted enough the methane hydrates frozen beneath will begin to thaw releasing tons of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is over 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide for 20 years after emission. This release of methane could trigger runaway climate change if it is not stopped.
Unfortunately governments and some scientific establishments are denying the danger and are arguing the data “credible”. Some also argue that the current methane emissions are too slow to be off concern. What is also difficult is that the only possible solution currently being recommended is Geoengineering which some consider as being an unacceptable solution.
To find out more: www.ameg.me
Law: New Frameworks and Concepts for a New Era of Environmental Progress and Justice
Speakers: Melanie Strickland (Wild Law, Occupy), Ian Mason (Wild Law), Eradicating Ecocide Campaign
review by Siobhan Carleton-Green
Laws need to be developed for the Earth and the Environment and not against it. But to achieve this, the legal system must radically move from being anthropocentric to being eco-centric in its laws. Nature has inherent value and if we are to bring about Earth Justice, our legal systems must recognise the rights of Nature.
This is possibly the only way that we can make sure that the planet’s eco-systems are protected from being destroyed and those that are responsible for destruction are held to account. The Eradicating Ecocide campaign is aiming for ecocide to become the 5th crime against peace along with Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Crimes of Aggression. It is already a crime to destroy environments during war time now we need to make it a crime during peace time too.
Oceans: the world’s junkyard
review by Ciprian Diaconita
Covering 71% of our planet’s surface and containing 97% of it’s water, our oceans play a major role in our climate and weather control, are home to more than a quarter of all recorded species and represent the biggest and most effective carbon sinks on earth. Yet our oceans and their vital role have been largely ignored and their resources abused around the world to the point of collapse. With Rio+20 ending without any concrete plan of action, we analyse the importance of oceans to our planet’s future and how world leaders have put a blind eye to its degradation and protection.
At the Alternative Rio+20 Conference organised by Campaign against Climate Change that took part last week, Peter Challoner from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton and Elisabeth Whitebread from the Global Ocean Legacy as well as The Green Party discussed the importance of oceans and the threats they face.
So why are our oceans this important? Quite simple without oceans life as we know it wouldn’t exist.
Oceans have constantly influenced our climate and weather, acting as a thermostat to our planet, storing the sun’s energy in the form of heat, then circulating it through global currents shaping our weather systems and the ecology of our planet. Oceans are also important in sequestrating carbon dioxide, as well as a great source of oxygen. They release more than half the oxygen that humans and other animals need to survive; meanwhile about 55% of all biological carbon is sequestrated by marine organisms, mangrove forests, salt-marshes and sea-grass meadows. With a biomass of only 0.05% that of land forests, oceans prove a very effective carbon sink.
When taking into consideration that more than 40% of world population are living near coastal areas, oceans also provide food security through fisheries and shipping routes (about 90% of world trade uses oceans as a mean of transport).
So in short description, oceans keep our climate in balance, provide us with almost half the oxygen, sink at least as much carbon, are a source of food and help us transport goods around the world in huge quantities, while incorporating a vast biodiversity that is yet to have been fully discovered. Keeping this in mind one would think that oceans should top all agendas related to climate change and environmental degradation. But it doesn’t. Our oceans are hanging by a very thin thread and time is running out.
Threats to our oceans include:
Melting of Arctic ice
Naturally arctic ice melts and refreezes on an annual basis. But with increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere temperatures in the arctic have risen twice as fast as the global average resulting in significant reductions in sea ice. This leads to a diminished albedo effect with more radiation being absorbed by the oceans increasing global warming and sea level rise, also carrying unknown consequences to ocean currents and weather events.
With more and more CO2 released in the atmosphere the oceans absorption capability is stretched to the limits. This increase causes a decline in PH and calcium carbonate saturation levels, affecting a variety of species such as phytoplankton and ecosystems such as coral reefs. Phytoplankton represent one of the most important building blocks, responsible for photosynthesis and a main source of nutrition to huge variety of species.
Plastics are just some of the hundreds of pollutants we put in our aquatic environments. Rivers, streams and coastal areas act like a collector which eventually ends up in our oceans, making them a marine dump site. The resulting plastic pollution is causing high mortality within the marine fauna affecting marine mammal, bird and reptile species.
Such is the scale that an “island” of floating trash, mostly plastics, formed in the Pacific Ocean. Called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it stretches over hundreds of km between California and Hawaii. As plastic can take hundreds of years to bio-degrade, it survives for a long time in the oceans. One of the few processes breaking it down is photo-degradation by sunlight which makes matters even worse. The plastic is broken into smaller and smaller pieces entering the very basis of the food chain affecting everything from small organisms to birds and large mammals.
With more than 70% of our world’s fish stocks over exploited or depleted, overfishing represents one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems and biodiversity.
Our oceans are overfished; there is a huge fishing industry that operates mostly unregulated and uncontrolled, resulting in our oceans are being fished at an industrial scale. And as the industry is seeking large fish species, such as tuna or cod, the affected species are fished to dangerous levels. To make matters worse the bycatch policy in place means that fish captured not part of a quota gets thrown back at sea dead, making the industry extremely wasteful.
Loss of habitat
Known as blue carbon sinks, mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and salt marshes play a key role in sinking carbon from the atmosphere as well as their capacity to restore fish stocks, protect the shoreline from extreme weather events and sea level rise. However according to UNEP these coastal ecosystems are disappearing at an alarming rate losing half of their sink capacity since the 1940s mainly due to deforestation, uncontrolled coastal development, pollution by plastics and chemicals, overfishing, exploitation and loss of biodiversity.
So what can be done in protecting our oceans?
One important step must be the establishment of large marine reserves protecting oceans from overfishing, mining and waste disposal. A first step has been taken by Australia which recently created the largest network of marine reserves in the world. Although debated in terms of efficiency and implementation this example should be followed, especially by the United Kingdom. Adding all 14 UK Overseas Territories and their surrounding water to the existing ones around it, UK ranks fifth in the world in areas of ocean, a huge potential for creating marine reserves which has been bypassed. Reserves have already been created around Chagos, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Bermuda and Pitcairn but much more can be done. At the moment marine protected areas cover less than 2% of the entire ocean surface, with fully protected areas at less than 1% (http://www.marinereservescoalition.org/conservation/uk-overseas-territories/). These figures create a picture of a global disregard towards the safekeeping of our oceans.
By protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems we are rebuilding their carbon sink capacity while also increasing biodiversity and the capacity to adapt to climatic changes, one example is how salt marshes can prove a much better solution in adapting to sea level rise as opposite to hard defences.
So how did the protection of our oceans fair in the Rio+20 agenda? As it happens the importance and potential of our oceans has been marginalised. Greenpeace described this failure to take action as a final straw towards a “war footing”.
Present almost since the formation of Earth itself with studies putting the existence of oceans back to the hellish Hadean era, and possibly linked to the formation of life itself as recent studies into zircon show, it is amazing and utterly dismaying how we can destroy its basic role in just under 100 years.
Green Party Marine and Costal Policy
Mother Nature Network: What is the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch?
The Guardian: Furious Greenpeace moves to ‘war footing’ at Rio+20
Marine Reserves Coalition: UK Overseas Territories
Alternative Conference for the Rio Summit