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On the banks of the blue Danube

It has been a busy few days in Budapest.I have posted some more about my stay here on the Global Ideas Blog, which is all about smart ideas for tackling climate change.
Forgive me if I direct you straight there for now. This trip is all about saving resources and sharing, so some thoughts on the Blue Danube are there.
More soon.

Date

March 26, 2011 | 1:40 pm

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Climate networking in Budapest

I am in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, which currently holds the EU Presidency. An attractive city, these give a brief impression, taken during my coffee break.

The European Journalism Centre on behalf of the European Commission is holding a conference for journalists here. Today we were focusing on energy and climate and in particular the EU’s new road map for “moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050″, which was released last week.
It’s really interesting to meet and network here with so many journalists from eastern and central European countries and to hear their different perspectives on climate change and communicating it. Both informally on the sidelines and during the sessions, the huge differences in living standards and finances between some countries become available. One colleague said it was impossible to persuade poor farmers or other rural residents in Roumania to invest in insulating their houses to make them more “climate friendly“ when they didn’t even have the money to buy fuel to heat their homes in the first place.
So when it comes to the EU’s proposed road map for reducing fuel consumption, clearly the views in different regions are going to be very different. So are the media and attitudes towards environmental issues in general.
Artur Runge-Metzger is the Director of the DG Climate Action for the European Commission. He presented the new plan, which he stresses is in no way binding, but designed to provoke debate.

It sets out ways key economic sectors could achieve an overall 80% reduction in the EU’s emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990). The member states will be discussing and evaluating it between now and June.It will also be interesting to see how different industries and businesses react. The positive thing is, I find, it stresses that it is possible to be competitive while still reducing emissions (admittedly using some technologies not everybody would accept as safe and clean, more later)
WWF’s Director of Global Energy Stephan Singer is also here. He welcomed the road map as a good start but (as you might expect) said it was “too timid”. He sees it as positive that the EU has come out with a document like this at all and that it focuses on domestic measures to reduce emissions.
The EU’s figures of course include nuclear and were published just before the Japanese reactor accidents. I had to ask the question of how the disaster is affecting the EU’s approach. At fist Mr Runge-Metzger was reluctant to answer, saying the Commission respects the member states’ individual policies on this. But later he told me of course the accident was putting a new spotlight on nuclear and might well influence some countries to change their minds. It clearly changes the situation.
In a talk with my colleague Pavel Antonov, a Bulgarian journalist now researching into climate change and the media, he drew my attention to a comment in the Guardian by George Monbiot. I was flabbergasted when I read it. He has changed tack and says he is now for nuclear because the side-effects of the disaster have not been too bad, considering. I find that unbelievable and I think it is too early to come out with that. Or are you just trying to provoke us George? The latest press release I just received from Greenpeace expresses deep concern about the radioactive contamination of Tokyo’s drinking water and the official information policy surrounding the accident. These are very difficult times all round. More tomorrow. Tonight we have a discussion on covering climate change in the media and differences in different media, different countries, etc.

Date

March 23, 2011 | 5:10 pm

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Chernobyl , Fukushima and “climate-friendly” energy

It’s hard to concentrate on other things with a potentially major nuclear catastrophe on the horizon in Japan. I interviewed the head of a Greenpeace team of experts who were in Chernobyl looking into the lasting after-effects of the disaster 25 years ago when the news started to come in from Japan. She described the looks on people’s faces as they heard it and says their expressions told her “we know what that area of Japan will look like in 25 years time.” Deformed children, contaminated foodstuffs…
You would think this latest disaster would really put governments off nuclear power, which of course the pro-atomic lobby has been selling as “climate-friendly”. Germany’s current government had upturned the previous government’s momentous decision to phase out nuclear power and extended the life of a lot of old reactors. Now Chancellor Merkel has had to partially abandon her policy, declaring a three-month moratorium on the extension… Sounds complicated? (More background on the dw website)There’s a huge debate going on here on whether Germany should go it alone on abandoning nuclear. It reminds me of a conversation I had with Professor Carlos Duarte, a leading scientist involved in he EU\’s “Arctic Tipping Points” programme. (Listen to the story on how the Arctic is setting off alarm bells for the global climate on Living Planet.) When it comes to halting climate change, he told me the time for governments to wait and see who will make the first move is over, somebody needs to go ahead unilaterally and take the first steps. I\’d say the same applies to nuclear power. I wonder how some of the key figures who shifted from an anti- to a pro-nuclear stance because of the urgency of climate change are feeling now?
I hope this latest catastrophe will push support for renewables. But of course there is the danger that countries opting out of nuclear will burn more fossil fuels. We seem to be caught in a very vicious circle…

Date

March 18, 2011 | 11:41 am

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Nuclear catastrophe and the climate

I have been following with increasing concern the developments in Japan. In between trying to keep up with what’s happening and interviewing experts, I went to the studio to record a story planned earlier for this week’s Living Planet programme on how the Arctic can be seen as an early warning system for the global climate. Clearly, the risk of a huge radiation disaster is overshadowing everything else at the moment – including a worrying press release I received from the Alfred Wegener Institute for polar and marine research about a huge ozone hole over the Arctic.
I find myself wondering what effect events in Japan will have on the ever-pressing need to reduce emissions to try to slow down climate change. The engineeer working with me in the studio on the Arctic piece surprised me by saying “the disaster in Japan should make sure there is more attention put on these climate stories”. I had been thinking to myself it would probably distract attention from the climate debate, although it could have one positive side-effect if it means more resources going into safe alternative sources of energy. Maybe I have been getting caught up too much in technical details. For the young man in the studio, climate change and a nuclear disaster have one thing in common: they pose a threat to the future of the planet. Good food for thought. Thanks PK4 this pm.

Date

March 15, 2011 | 4:52 pm

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Global warming or climate change? Get the term right!


(Glacier covered to prevent melting in Switzerland, 2010)

I came across some interesting research results about how people’s scepticism about climate change relates to what term is used to describe it.
A study conducted by the University of Michigan says a lot of Americans are sceptical about “global warming”, but fewer of them are sceptical about “climate change”. “Wording matters” is the message from the lead author Jonathon Schuldt from the UM Dept. of Psychology. The results indicate that 74% of people though the problem was real if asked about the world’s temperature changing and a “phenomenon called climate change”. But the percentage was reduced to 68 when it was referred to as “global warming”.
This seems very plausible to me. A lot of people will make comments about a “lack of global warming” if you talk to them during an extremely cold period. But the more neutral expression “climate change” also describes cold spells or increased extreme weather events as a result of the overall changes to the planet.
The study also has some interesting conclusions about differences between Democrats and Republicans in terms of use of language and response to different terms. You can read the abstract for yourselves online in the Public Opinion Quarterly.
Let me just give you one encouraging conclusion.
“The good news is that Americans may not be as polarized on the issue as previously though. The extent of the partisan divide on this issues depends heavily on question wording”, says one of the authors, Norbert Schwarz.

Date

March 10, 2011 | 11:49 am

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