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Climate Change in the Arctic & around the globe

Optimism, despair or business as usual?


(Thinking hard, walking on the Chukchi Sea, Alaska, 2008)

Do you ever find yourself in the situation where somebody talks about a meeting you’ve been to – and you wonder whether you were really in the same room? People’s subjective perceptions of what was said can be so different.
Well, at least with international climate meetings there is no shortage of documentation in black and white. But there’s plenty of room to disagree in assessing it.
Following my own conclusion (based admittedly on reading mostly German media, but across the political spectrum from left to right or vice versa)that it was being viewed positively because expectations had been talked down to a minimum beforehand, I was interested to read a comment in the British Guardian from Michael Jacobs, a climate and environment expert currently at the London School of Economics, saying reactions to Cancun had been “almost universally downbeat”. He also quotes Friends of the Earth International as calling it a “slap in the face”.
Well, I suppose it comes back to the old idea of the glass being half-full or half-empty. There’s one idea which pops up in English and German in various comments from journalists and ngos,though, which is that Cancun saved the talks – but not, by a long chalk, the climate. The show is on the road, but there’s a long way to go. And who knows if we can make it in time?
Jacobs himself says Cancun gives us hope. His ideas are worth a read. “The real danger is that pessimism becomes self-fulfilling”. He’s got a point there. “Optimism”, he says, “is not just an essential psychological condition; it’s a vital political posture”. Food for thought?

Date

December 16, 2010 | 10:43 am

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Cancun breakthrough? Everything’s relative


(Melting ice, Svalbard 2010)

Somehow I find it hard to jump up and down and rejoice about the package that’s being hailed as the big success of the Cancun climate conference. Sure, it’s great that there has been some progress on funding adaptation for vulnerable countries, forest protection, technology transfer and monitoring and verification. But what is actually going to be monitored? The Cancun package includes agreement that we need to stay below a two-degree rise in temperature. But there is widespread agreement that the emissions reductions pledged so far will not get us anywhere near that, but rather somewhere between 3 and 4 degrees. By 2015, the agreement says, this should be monitored and corrected. I wonder what is supposed to happen between now and then to make especially the big emitters USA and China “up” their commitments so radically?
There was a lot of effort put into reducing expectations ahead of the Cancun meeting. If you don’t expect too much, every little appears like a bonus. After the Copenhagen fiasco, there had to be a package coming out of Cancun which would keep the talks “on the road”. But it’s still a long, long road to go. The fact that ngos like IUCN, Germanwatch or WWF are welcoming the Cancun outcome almost make me wonder if I am being too pessimistic. They probably assume there is just no alternative, and it’s better to keep countries around the negotiating table. But although I see myself as a “born optimist”, I find it hard to feel confident that we will see emissions peak by 2020 and then be reduced steadily afterwards to get to the 2 degree limit which many scientists say is already too high.

Date

December 13, 2010 | 1:02 pm

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Climate change in pictures while you wait…

Alaska and south America are the regions where the glaciers are currently melting fastest, according to a report released in Cancun. I experienced that first-hand in Alaska in 2008, when I started the ice blog.

This is one of the pictures taken from the Begich Boggs glacier visitors centre. There’s a visiting centre purpose built to see the Portage glacier – but where the glacier has retreated so far it’s no longer visible from this point at all.In 2008, we were told it had receded more than 2 miles in 70 years.
On the last official day of Cancun, the wrangling is still going on – same procedure as every year? A freelance colleague dropped in just now . “There doesn’t seem to be anything happening in Cancun”.. he said. Yeah, that seems to be the feeling. My colleague Nathan Witkop from the Living Planet programme is there. You might like to read
his latest summary while you’re waiting.
I’ve also been keeping an eye on the Global Ideas blog You might enjoy a look at that.
And if you are interested in watching some more pictures and video and reading/hearing from some researchers in the field, have a look at these pictures from Lars Hansen who took some great shots at the Zackenberg Monitoring Station in Greenland.
That will all help pass the time waiting for the Cancun closer…

Date

December 10, 2010 | 2:31 pm

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Germs under the permafrost: too scary?


-Monitoring the permafrost and emissions from it at Zackenberg Station, Greenland, I took the photo in 2009-

„I hope I wasn’t too scary“, said Professor Andrej Grjbovski to me after our panel discussion in Bonn the other night. He works with the Norwegian School of Public Health in Oslo and the Northern State Medical University in his native Arkhangelsk in Russia.
Well I’m not for panic-mongering, but given some of the information our experts were coming out with, maybe you can’t be too scary.
Prof. G. was in Bonn both for the conference at the environment ministry and the public panel discussion. (See links on the Ice Blog 30.11.2010). Amongst other things, he’s involved in a WHO project to monitor the effects of climate change on health in a region of northern Russia.
He was referring in particular to the health dangers from melting permafrost. There are all sorts of dangerous things buried in the permafrost, which come to the surface as it melts. Not for nothing do some people refer to a “timebomb” in the Arctic. After outbreaks of diseases like anthrax, for instance, animals were buried in mass graves. The anthrax spores can survive in there and pose a new threat to health as they emerge again. Yes, Professor, that is definitely in the “scary” category.
But a changing climate poses all sorts of less “spectacular” but nonetheless crucial challenges to health care around the globe. The WHO says the 2003 heatwave killed 70,000 people in Europe. Heatstroke and heart attacks can be fatal to the particularly vulnerable, especially older people. Children and the homeless were also mentioned as amongst the vulnerable population groups.
Floods are another example. Apart from deaths from drowning, there’s the water pollution and fungus left over in the aftermath, which can result in the spread of infectious diseases, respiratory and digestive problems etc.
And of course species are moving to different areas – including, for instance, the mosquito types that are bringing illnesses like Dengue to Europe.
Needless to say – but I’m doing it anyway, sometimes we have to keep reminding ourselves of the obvious – it’s the people in poorer countries or areas who suffer most from the higher health risks through climate change. Germany has an adaptation strategy involving early warning systems for extreme weather events or the spread of infections and flood protection systems. The deputy director of the German meteorology office the DWD Paul Becker told me in an interview capacity building and passing on the necessary expertise to adapt to the health risks posed by a changing climate were the key issues in helping the developing world, whereby finding the necessary funding was probably the main challenge.
Incidentally, on the sidelines of the Cancun talks, Germanwatch published its latest Climate Risk Index. It says more than 650,000 people died in around 14,000 extreme weather events over the last two decades.

Date

December 7, 2010 | 11:48 am

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Climate change – bad for your health?


As the negotiations kick off in Cancun (and the opening speeches seem to repeat the message of low expectations and going for partial compromises discussed in the last blog), I’m looking at this flyer, lying on my desk . The possible impact of climate change and extreme weather events caused by climate change on health is an “in” topic in Bonn this week. The German Environment Ministry, Federal Environment agency, German Meterological Office DWD and the European Office of the WHO are holding a joint two-day symposium. I went to the opening press conference at the Ministry yesterday. There’s more information on the background and the issue of health implications here:
Extreme weather events require precautions and adaptation
Tonight I am chairing a panel discussion here at Deutsche Welle on the same topic, that\’s why the flyer is on my desk. The floods in Pakistan this year and the fires in Russia are amongst the examples being discussed of the type of extreme weather events and disasters likely to be on the increase with a changing climate. Obviously, they have an impact on human health. The spread of diseases to areas where they haven’t been prevalent before, like Dengue fever in Europe, will also be on the agenda.
The discussion is the eighth in a series called the Bonn Dialogues. The city of Bonn is active in the network of cities working to combat climate change. It’s also of course the home of the UNFCCC, now busy in Cancun. And it houses the United Nations University UNU-EHS, the IHDP, International human dimensions programme on global environment change, and the DKKV, that’s the German catastrophe prevention organisation, who are organising the conference. I’ll be interested to hear what our panelists have to say. I’ll keep you posted.

Date

November 30, 2010 | 12:59 pm

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