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by Alyssa Gilbert, Head of Policy and Translation, Grantham Institute
It is just like some colossally awful house-bidding process. Only here it is not just an attractive three-bed semi-detached residence that is at stake. In the run up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference in Paris in December, each country is submitting its bargaining chip, a so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC).
The levels that countries put forward is part of the complex international climate negotiations – countries are keen to show genuine commitments to climate change action, but very few are willing to rush ahead of other nations.
The recently published 2015 Global Peace Index, produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace, said that although OECD countries became more peaceful in 2014, there has been substantial increase in annual war-related deaths since 2010, and there are now more refugees than at any time since the Second World War. It is currently difficult to give a definitive answer as to whether climate change could exacerbate these problems.
Climate change is likely to exacerbate a range of environmental problems including heat waves, water shortages, and extreme weather and flooding, but whether or not this will lead to increased rates of armed conflict is still the subject of research.
Today the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate announced the release of their new report “2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change: Policy Responses to Protect Public Health”.
Following a first report released in 2009, which concluded that “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”, today’s report has a proactive, positive take-home: “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”
Strategically released following the 68th World Health Assembly held last month and in the lead up to the UNFCCC’s COP21, to be held in Paris later this year, the report is the culmination of a second international (predominantly Chinese-European) working group assembled to assess the health impacts of climate change and to identify and accelerate effective mitigation and adaptation policies over the next 5 years.
Building resilience to extreme weather needs a systems approach, including institutional ‘software’ as well as technical, financial, and physical infrastructure – or ‘hardware’. Designing, financing, achieving and evaluating success in the intangible aspects of resilience is challenging. Illustrating the systems approach to this challenge, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has been supporting the government of Kenya to invest in social software as a means to manage variable resource availability in the northern drylands.
The term ‘sustainable development’ was first coined in 1987 in the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development report, Our Common Future. Almost 30 years later, the concept of sustainable development is more relevant than ever.
The definition given in the report is, to this date, the most widely accepted modern definition of the term: ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ Climate and society, energy, water, ecosystem health and monitoring, global health, poverty, urbanization, natural disasters, food, ecology and nutrition – these are some of the main problems that need to be tackled when discussing the possibility of sustainable development.
I have just found a seat on the train from Lucerne to Zurich airport. It is absolutely packed, I suppose, with people going away for the weekend. Staring through the window at the snow-capped mountains, and having spent the day at an inspirational conference set by the beautiful lake, I am wondering quite why anyone would want to leave.
I have been at a meeting of the Climate Parliament. I only learned of this organisation recently but it is rather splendid – a group of legislators from across the world who are concerned about climate change and looking to influence governments to act.
Our oceans are filthy with plastic. Most attention so far has focused on the bottles, carrier bags and other junk floating in the middle of our oceans. Some say that we ought to go out there and clean the stuff up. But a series of recent high-profile studies suggest that this stuff is only 1% of all the plastic in our oceans. The question on this World Oceans Day 2015 is, where is the other 99%?
It’s hard to imagine a life without plastics, and this awesome material has greatly advanced our standard of living.
Our planet is ill. Ongoing loss and endangerment of species, degradation of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and their services, and manmade changes to the global climate are dramatic symptoms of a major decline in the planet’s environmental health.
In glaring contrast, human health has improved, in some cases radically. Decreases in malnutrition, mortality due to infectious diseases and infant mortality rates, accompanied by substantial increases in life expectancy, can be observed in every major region of the world.
So why is health winning a war, while the environment is losing one?
The marine renewable energy sector is poised and ready, waiting to harness the power of tides and waves with underwater tidal turbines and floating wave energy converters. A shift to renewable energy sources is essential to reducing global carbon emissions, but what are the consequences of these new technologies? Are we prepared for the effects of filling our already fragile oceans with rows of large, moving structures? Will we cause irreparable damage? Or might there even be some positive effects?
These are all questions relevant to my thesis and so, for two weeks, I attended a course on Marine Renewables and the Environment held at SAMS (the Scottish Association of Marine Science).
Although both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have pledged to decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030, climate change is unlikely to be a key issue in the run up to the May general election. This reflects a long term decline in political engagement with the problem since the Copenhagen conference in 2009. Although Copenhagen was held in the immediate wake of the global financial crisis, the ongoing recession and drop in living standards have shifted priorities away from tackling climate change. The increasing cost of energy might also have hardened attitudes towards green policies.
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China’s Energy Research Institute (ERI) releases an interesting analysis of the prospects for China’s energy production and consumption and CO2 emissions to 2050
Last November’s joint announcement of national climate targets by President Barack Obama and President of China Xi Jinping has framed the preparations for this December’s crucial Paris summit. The US is aiming to reduce its emissions by 26-28% below the 2005 level in 2025. China intends that its CO2 emissions will peak around 2030 and will use best efforts to bring that date forward.
On 9 March a group of students, accompanied by innovation and system thinking coaches, embarked on a Business Innovation Journey organised by NERC and the Grantham Institute. Aiming to tackle NERC’s key challenges through the means of innovation and entrepreneurship, the first week involved visits to the UK’s Catapult centres which take inventions from academia and to turn them into innovations – the perfect space to get inspired.
On Monday, the students were introduced to the challenges lying ahead of them: the creation of business ideas which would then be presented to an expert panel at the end of the second week.
This week, the next round of UN negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are under way in New York. The SDGs aim to coordinate and promote development across the world in critical areas, including health, education, governance, and environment amongst others. Imperial College PhDs (myself included) recently exchanged ideas with David Hallam from the Department for International Development about his current work on the SDGs to be agreed later this year. The talk centred on how this ambitious global development effort could be successful and, very broadly, what role science and the environmental research being conducted at Imperial can play.
The Climate and Environment at Imperial blog has moved. View this post on our new blog
by Dr Karl Smith, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Every waking hour, I ingest water. Not always in its purest form, but near enough. Energy is important and right now (and rightly so), carbon is capturing headlines. But water is fundamental to our livelihoods.
The UN has designated 22 March World Water Day: “a day to celebrate water”. And why not? Never mind that it’s essential to all life forms. For modern living, it’s a necessity: we need 10 litres of water to make one sheet of paper; 182 litres to make a kilo of plastic.