Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

China’s polar ambitions cause anxiety

February 20, 2018

It’s set to expand presence in Antarctica and the Arctic in positioning itself as a polar power

Chinese tourists going abroad must be used to it by now – the lists of dos and don’ts to prevent them from tarnishing their country’s image.

“Do not spit phlegm or gum” and “don’t take a long time using public toilets” are just two of the exhortations in a 2013 pamphlet from the National Tourism Administration.

But the latest set of regulations is different, with rules against collecting soil, rocks and animals, carrying toxic objects and leaving behind solid waste. They are meant to protect Antarctica’s environment and promote sustainable development of China’s activities in the region, said the China Arctic and Antarctic Administration.

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The rules – released by the State Oceanic Administration earlier this month – include a ban on violators from the area for three years.

They come at a time when the number of Chinese tourists to Antarctica and the Arctic has spiked. Antarctica attracted 5,289 Chinese visitors last year – making up 12 per cent of visitors – overtaking Australians as the second-largest group of travellers there.

Up in the Arctic, Chinese tourists going to the Russian Arctic National Park and the Finnish Lapland have risen as well.

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The regulations also come amid closer scrutiny of China’s expanding polar activities.

 

CLEAR STATEMENTS NEEDED

China needs to clearly signal its intentions and strategic interests in the Antarctic, as other Antarctic states have done before them.

PROFESSOR ANNE-MARIE BRADY, of Canterbury University in New Zealand, on China’s ambitions in the Antarctic.

COLLABORATIVE DIPLOMACY

Chinese diplomacy in the polar regions can be collaborative and cooperative, rather than provocative and challenging.

DR LIU NENGYE, of Adelaide University in Australia, on how China’s interest in the polar regions differs from its areas of core interests such as Taiwan and the South China Sea.

Tourists are the most visible signs of the growing Chinese presence in the polar regions, which now feature mainly scientific research activities, but will increasingly include economic activities.

This is occurring as global warming causes ice melt in the polar regions, leading to possibilities in shipping and the exploitation of natural resources there.

This increasing Chinese presence in the poles has drawn mixed responses from other parties, whether those with direct stakes like the Arctic states and claimant states to Antarctica, or those with no direct claims but which want a piece of the action.

China is set to expand its activities as it positions itself as a polar power, in line with its foreign policy to be a global presence. As early as 2014, then director of the State Oceanic Administration Liu Cigui wrote: “Today, we are already standing at the starting point of a brand-new historical era, of striding towards becoming a polar-region power.”

Its 13th five-year development plan of 2016-2020 includes a major programme to explore the polar regions. China’s polar ambitions are a function of its rise, said Dr Liu Nengye of Adelaide University.

“China is now able to reach remote parts of the world, be it the Arctic, Antarctica, deep seabed or outer space,” he said in an e-mail interview. He added that economic interests are key, but there are geopolitical reasons as well.

The rest of the world, particularly nations that have been driving polar policies, “may be worried that they will no longer play leading roles in the international decision-making process or at least (are) not as comfortable as they used to be”, he added.

ARCTIC INTERESTS

A key foreign relations moment for China this year was the publication of its first White Paper on its Arctic policy last month. Dr Liu said it was well crafted, adding: “It clearly explains China’s objectives in the Arctic and reaffirms China’s full support of the existing Arctic international legal regime.”

The sovereignty of the Arctic states – those that ring the Arctic Circle like Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States – is also respected, he noted.

China positions itself as an important stakeholder as a “near-Arctic state” whose climate and environment are affected by changes there.

While scientific and environmental research is talked about in the policy paper, economic activities also figure strongly. China wants to take part in the development of Arctic shipping routes.

It wants to develop a Polar Silk Road to link with its Belt and Road Initiative  to build infrastructure along land and sea routes that link China to Africa and Europe.

Beijing is keen on the Polar Silk Road because it not only cuts by about a third the travel time from China to Europe, compared with the route via the South China Sea and Indian Ocean now, but also runs through an area free of pirates.

It also wants to take part in the exploration and exploitation of oil, gas and mineral resources, utilise fisheries and other living resources and develop tourism in the Arctic.

In addition, it wants to take part in shaping its governance.

Response to the White Paper has been mixed among Arctic states.

Canadian analysts worry about its ambiguity on Canadian jurisdiction over the North-west Passage that runs through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. While the White Paper acknowledges the sovereignty of Arctic states, it also says international law needs to be observed.

“We don’t know how China places the hierarchy between Arctic states and international law,” Universite Laval professor Frederic Lasserre told CBC News.

He found the ambiguity over what China wants to do in the Arctic “a bit troubling”.

But the Russians have welcomed China’s engagement in the Arctic. China National Petroleum Corporation has a 20 per cent stake in the Yamal liquefied natural gas project in Siberia, and the two nations are looking to cooperate on developing rail and port facilities at Arkhangelsk city near the Arctic Circle.

China has also cooperated with Nordic state, including Iceland, on scientific research. What worries the West is that China and Russia appear to be stepping up military cooperation, having held naval drills in the Baltic Sea last year.

Chinese naval vessels have also at times operated close to the Arctic waters, noted Dr Marc Lanteigne of Massey University in New Zealand.

However, he added: “There is little sign that Beijing has any interest in sending military vessels to the Arctic on a regular basis, especially since doing so would likely prompt a strong reaction from both Russia and the United States.”

ANTARCTIC ANXIETIES

In Antarctica, China’s activities are also coming under greater scrutiny.

China runs four research stations there and is building a fifth that is expected to be completed in 2022.

Antarctica is not governed by any one country but by the Antarctica Treaty signed in 1959. China is one of 29 consultative nations of the treaty that govern the territory.

One of the treaty’s objectives is to keep Antarctica demilitarised and nuclear-free, and ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only.

China published a White Paper on its Antarctic activities last May that focused heavily on its scientific concerns and interest in cooperating with other states on projects related to the environment and climate, noted Dr Lanteigne.

However, a report published last August by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said China “has conducted undeclared military activities in Antarctica, is building a territorial claim, and is engaging in military exploration there”.

It also said China is looking for resources, including minerals, hydrocarbons and fish.

All territorial claims have been suspended since the Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961, while the Madrid Protocol forbids any activity related to mineral resources other than for scientific research. This protocol is up for review in 2048.

The report said that for the Chinese, the protocol simply postpones what they believe is the inevitable opening up of Antarctic resources. It suggests that China should be encouraged to issue an official Antarctic strategy.

Professor Anne-Marie Brady of Canterbury University in New Zealand, who wrote the report, said in an e-mail: “China needs to clearly signal its intentions and strategic interests in the Antarctic, as other Antarctic states have done before them.”

As a consultative nation, China is entitled to help shape the evolution of Antarctic governance, she added.

As a non-Arctic state and non-claimant to Antarctica, China is seeking to walk a fine line between avoiding being seen as a “gatecrasher” and not being marginalised, said Dr Lanteigne.

Dr Liu thinks that China’s interest in the polar regions differs from its areas of core interests such as Taiwan and the South China Sea. Thus “Chinese diplomacy in the polar regions can be collaborative and cooperative, rather than provocative and challenging”, he added.

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Leaders needed to fix global ‘mess’, says Kofi Annan

December 12, 2017

AFP

© AFP | “Honestly speaking, we are in a mess,” UN chiefs Kofi Annan told AFP in an exclusive interview ahead of Tuesday’s climate talks in Paris.

PARIS (AFP) – 

Former UN chiefs Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon have lashed out at the state of global leadership in the age of Donald Trump, warning a nuclear war could be triggered by accident.

“Honestly speaking, we are in a mess,” Annan told AFP in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s climate talks in Paris.

“In the past when we went through this sort of crisis, you had leaders who had the courage and the vision to want to take action, to understand that they needed to work with others,” he said.

At a time of growing US isolationism — Trump has announced plans to leave the Paris climate deal agreed two years ago on this day — Annan urged leaders to cooperate better on fighting terrorism, migration and global warming.

“Today, leaders are going in the wrong direction,” he said. “Leaders are withdrawing.”

He expressed particular concern over escalating tensions with North Korea, warning: “One miscalculation, one mistake and we are all victims”.

“It may not be a deliberate decision to start a nuclear war,” he added, adding that inflammatory rhetoric — without mentioning Trump or North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un by name — was not helping.

Ban, who like Annan spoke to AFP as part of The Elders group of senior statesmen and women, blasted Trump’s climate stance as “politically short-sighted and misguided”.

“The richest and most powerful country” in the world is disengaging from a historic deal that “even countries like Syria” have signed, Ban said.

“We are seeing more and more troubles and conflicts still continuing, because of the lack of global commitment and global vision,” he added.

– Step forward, Macron? –

Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN Syria envoy who joined the interview with former Irish president Mary Robinson and Norway’s first female premier Gro Harlem Brundtland, said Europe could step into the bigger global role vacated by Trump — at least in the Middle East.

French President Emmanuel Macron in particular, he suggested, appears willing to shoulder more responsibility: this week’s climate talks are his latest bid to play a lead role in global affairs.

“I think Europe certainly has a role and a capacity to play a role, and the important leaders in Europe. Definitely one of them is President Macron,” Brahimi told AFP.

The United States has “absolutely” disqualified itself as a broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he added.

“They have now announced with this statement ‘We are not going to mediate anymore’. And the thing is, I think someone should step in because this problem is not going to go away.”

As a new round of peace talks gets under way in Geneva this week, Brahimi — who like Annan quit as the UN’s Syria envoy in frustration over years of deadlock — said he hoped this time things might be different.

“I think we have come now much closer to the realisation that indeed there is no military solution. There is some hope there,” he said.

“The other thing is that there was fear that Syria would break up as a country. It does seem that the unity of Syria can be preserved if people really start working for a political solution.”

Macron is ‘pretty sure Trump will change his mind’ on Paris climate pact

December 12, 2017

AFP

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© Screengrab | French President Emmanuel Macron during his interview on CBS

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-12-12

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday reminded his US counterpart Donald Trump of his responsibility to history over his decision to quit the Paris climate change agreement, in an interview aired on CBS.

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Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump appeared together in France last July.  Reuters

Speaking on the eve of the One Planet Summit, two years to the day since 195 nations adopted the climate planMacron rejected the idea that Trump could negotiate a fresh deal and termed his withdrawal an “aggressive” maneuver.

The French president said: “I’m sorry to say that, it doesn’t fly, so, so sorry but I think it is a big responsibility in front of the history, and I’m pretty sure that my friend President Trump will change his mind in the coming months or years, I do hope.”

He added: “It’s extremely aggressive to decide on its own just to leave, and no way to push the others to renegotiate because one decided to leave the floor.

“I’m not ready to renegotiate but I’m ready to welcome him if he decides to come back.”

Asked about his relationship with the US president, Macron characterized it as “very direct,” adding he had been frank about his opposition to Washington recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Two years on from the Paris Agreement, Macron will meet with world leaders on Tuesday, this time to talk about money.

Without trillions of dollars of investment in clean energy, the pact’s goal to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels will remain a pipedream, observers and participants have warned.

(AFP)

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Leaders join France’s Macron to discuss climate cash crunch

December 12, 2017

AFP

© POOL/AFP/File / by Mariëtte Le Roux | French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with world leaders on Tuesday, two years to the day since 195 nations adopted the climate-rescue Paris Agreement

PARIS (AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron will meet with world leaders on Tuesday, two years to the day since 195 nations adopted the climate-rescue Paris Agreement — this time to talk about money.Without trillions of dollars of investment in clean energy, the pact’s goal to keep global warming below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels will remain a pipedream, observers and participants warned on the eve of the Paris summit.

Political action “will not be enough if we do not update and reset the global finance architecture and make all development low-emission, resilient, and sustainable,” UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa said.

“We see some movement… but climate consideration must now be part of all private sector decisions,” she said.

After the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015 to cheers and champagne, helped over the finish line by then US president Barack Obama, his successor Donald Trump has cast a long shadow over the process, withdrawing political support and finance.

Money has long been a sore point in the UN climate process, with developing nations insisting on financial assistance to help them make the costly move to less-polluting energy sources, and to shore up defences against climate change-induced superstorms, mega-droughts and land-gobbling sea level rise.

Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax”, announced in June that the United States would pull out of the Paris pact, which had taken nearly 200 nations more than two decades to negotiate.

The US is the only country to reject the agreement.

Trump has also asked Congress to slash the climate research budgets of federal agencies — threatening a loss of billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

The Trump administration would also not fulfil US climate finance commitments, including an outstanding $2 billion out of $3 billion it had pledged towards the Green Climate Fund.

“The missing piece of the jigsaw is the funding to help the world?s poorer countries access clean energy so they don’t follow the fossil fuel-powered path of the rich world,” said Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which represents poor country interests at the UN climate forum.

– ‘Don’t worry’ –

“This is the missing piece that the One Planet Summit needs to begin to put into place.”

In the absence of former climate champion Obama, American businesses, regions and local government leaders have reiterated their commitment to decarbonisation.

“It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump backed out of the Paris Agreement, because the private sector didn’t drop out, the public sector didn’t drop out, universities didn’t drop out, no one dropped out,” former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, now the face of the R20 network of sub-national climate actors, said in Paris.

“Don’t worry about any of that, we are the subnational level, we’re going to pick up the slack,” he said.

On the eve of the summit, the heads of many of world’s space agencies proposed the creation of a space climate observatory to pool acquired data to share with scientists around the globe, according to a declaration they adopted at their meeting in Paris.

Among the leaders in attendance at Tuesday’s summit will be UN chief Antonio Guterres, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto, Theresa May of Britain, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Trump was not invited to Tuesday’s gathering, and the US — the world’s biggest historical emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gases — will be represented by an embassy official.

Also absent will be the leaders of major polluters China, India, Brazil, Russia and Canada, as well as Germany’s Angela Merkel among EU members.

Rich nations pledged in 2009 to muster $100 billion per year in climate finance for developing nations from 2020.

On 2015 trends, total public financing would reach about $67 billion by that date, according to a report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The International Energy Agency estimates that investments of some $3.5 trillion per year in the energy sector will be needed to 2050 to stay under the 2 C limit — double current spending.

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by Mariëtte Le Roux

Fast-melting Arctic sign of bad global warming

August 14, 2017

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By SETH BORENSTEIN

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of the coldest places on Earth is so hot it’s melting.

Glaciers, sea ice and a massive ice sheet in the Arctic are thawing from toasty air above and warm water below. The northern polar region is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the planet and that’s setting off alarm bells.

“The melting of the Arctic will come to haunt us all,” said German climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf.

While global leaders set a goal of preventing 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of man-made warming since pre-industrial times, the Arctic has already hit that dangerous mark. Last year, the Arctic Circle was about 3.6 degrees (6.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal.

CAUSES OF WARMING

Earth is getting hotter because of the buildup of heat-trapping gases spewed into the air by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas, according to decades of peer-reviewed research. Scientists have long predicted the Arctic would warm first and faster than the rest of the globe. Real-time measurements are proving them right.

The Arctic is mostly ocean covered with a layer of ice; changes from ice to water often kick in a cycle that contributes to global warming.

An AP animation shows how sea ice coverage has dropped an average of 34,000 square miles per year.

Sea ice is white and it reflects the sun’s heat back into space. But when it melts, it’s replaced with dark ocean that strongly absorbs it, said former NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati, who heads the environmental research program at the University of Colorado.

That heat gets transferred back up to the atmosphere in the fall and winter. As that happens, water vapor — a greenhouse gas — hangs around, trapping more heat. More clouds form around that time, also acting as a blanket, said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

ROLE OF WINTER

Winter is crucial. Three times in the past two cold seasons, air temperatures near the North Pole were near or even a shade above freezing. That’s about 50 degrees warmer than it should be. From last November through February, Barrow, Alaska — the northernmost U.S. city — was 7 degrees Celsius (13 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the 20th century average, and much of the Atlantic Arctic off Norway and Greenland was as hot.

Warm winters weaken sea ice, which floats on the ocean surface. It’s supposed to recover, spread more across the Arctic and get thicker in the winter so it can withstand the warmth of the summer. But a warmer winter means less protection when the heat hits.

In September 2016, the time of year the spread of ice across the Arctic is at its lowest, Arctic sea ice was the second lowest day on record, about 40 percent below the lowest day measured in 1979 when satellite records started. Between those two days 37 years apart, the Arctic lost enough sea ice to cover Alaska, Texas and California combined.

Then it didn’t grow back that much this winter, setting record low amounts from November through March, when sea ice reaches its peak spread.

BEYOND THE ARCTIC

Of all the global warming warning signs in the Arctic, “it is the sea ice that is screaming the loudest,” Serreze said.

That’s a problem because a growing body of studies connects dwindling sea ice to wild weather. The reduced winter sea ice interacts with warmer oceans to change conditions in the air that then triggers a potent noticeable shift in the jet stream, the giant atmospheric river that controls much of our weather, said Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. This theory is still debated by scientists, but increasingly more researchers are agreeing with Francis.

It’s not just sea ice on the decline. Glaciers in the Arctic are shrinking. And the massive Greenland ice sheet is slowly but steadily melting and that can add a big dose to sea level rise. Since 2002, it has lost 4,400 billion tons (4,000 billion metric tons) of ice.

Then there’s the Arctic carbon bomb. Carbon dioxide and methane — which traps even more heat — are stuck in the permafrost in places like Alaska and Siberia.

“Roast the Arctic and you create a mess everywhere on Earth,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer.

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears. His work can be found here .

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This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Jellyfish Invasion Stirs Debate Over Egypt’s Suez Canal — “They are like the the plague.”

July 6, 2017

CAIRO — Swarms of jellyfish have descended on Egypt’s northern coast, keeping vacationers out of the water and stirring debate over a recent expansion of the Suez Canal.

The nomad jellyfish, Rhopilema nomadica, is native to the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea but has been turning up in the Mediterranean in growing numbers in recent years.

Image result for Mediterranean, jellyfish, egypt, photos

Red Sea jellyfish ‘invading’ Mediterranean through Suez Canal

This year was the worst in recent memory. Wary bathers largely avoided the sea during the long Eid al-Fitr holiday last month, and social media was awash with pictures of the purple swarms and advice on how to treat stings.

The jellyfish have come through the Suez Canal, which was first built in 1869. It has been expanded on a number of occasions, most recently in 2015, through a multi-billion-dollar project that the government touted as an historic achievement.

Egyptian officials deny the recent expansion is to blame, noting that the jellyfish turned up in the Mediterranean as early as the 1970s.

“It is not the first time it appears on Egypt’s north coast. This time the number was just larger than previous years,” said Mostafa Fouda, an adviser to the Environment Minister.

The ministry said it has set up an investigative committee to look into the “unprecedented phenomenon.” But it said the invasion was likely caused by an abundance of food, an increase in organic pollutants and a decline in natural predators. It said global warming might also be a factor.

Experts interviewed this week said it was too soon to speculate on the impact of the latest Suez Canal expansion, but that a wider waterway would allow more jellyfish, and the organic matter they feed on, to flow from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.

“The primary cause of the invasion of jellyfish is the Suez Canal,” said Jason Hall-Spencer, a marine biologist at Britain’s Plymouth University. “Other ecosystem stressors have allowed them to thrive and become a plague.”

Bella Galil, a scientist with the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv, also blamed the canal. She said pollution and global warming occur in much of the Mediterranean, but that only the Levant Basin — off the shores of Egypt, Israel and Lebanon — has five species of alien jellyfish.

Read also:

Red Sea jellyfish ‘invading’ Mediterranean through Suez Canal

http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/30/middleeast/jellyfish-invading-mediterranean-through-suez/index.html

Portugal is likely to see more massive forest fires

June 19, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Laurence COUSTAL | Heat waves have become more frequent in Portugal, say experts

PARIS (AFP) – Highly exposed to global warming’s climate-altering impacts, Portugal is likely to see more massive forest fires such as the one — still raging — that has killed at least 60 people this weekend, experts say.- Why Portugal, why now? –

The Iberian peninsula encompassing Portugal and Spain is experiencing a warmer, drier June than usual, explains Thomas Curt, a researcher at France’s Irstea climate and agriculture research institute.

Added to that, the country has vast expanses of highly inflammable plants, including forests of pine and eucalyptus trees.

“Hotter air is synonymous with drier and more inflammable vegetation,” said Curt. “The more the mercury climbs, so does the risk of fires and their intensity.”

Temperatures in the region have warmed by more than the global average over the past half century, according to a 2014 review of climate change impacts on Portugal.

Heat waves have become more frequent, and annual rainfall slightly less, said the review published in the journal WIREs Climate Change.

More frequent and pronounced heat waves are expected in future, accompanied by a “substantial increase” in fire risk — “both in severity and in length of the fire season,” it said.

– Does global warming boost forest fire risk? –

“It is certain — we are experiencing a rise in temperatures,” said Curt.

The Northern hemisphere summer has lengthened over the past 50 years from July-to-August, to June-to-October now — meaning a longer fire risk season.

There has been an increase in major fires of more than 100 hectares, and so-called “megafires” of more than 1,000 hectares, the researcher added.

“It is truly a growing problem everywhere in the world, and notably in Mediterranean Europe.”

These mega blazes remain rare — only about 2-3 percent of all fires — but are responsible for about three-quarters of all surface burnt.

“Many analyses of climate change show that these major fires will become more and more likely,” said Curt.

– What to do? –

In the short term, reinforce firefighting capacity, deploy patrols, set up watchtowers to raise the alarm, and ban fire-making everywhere.

Over the longer term, human settlements and green areas will need to be substantially redesigned, experts say.

Some forest will have to be cut back, undergrowth cleared, and residential areas moved further from scrubland and forest borders, to reduce the risk to life and property.

“The focus of efforts should shift from combating forest fires as they arise to preventing them from existing, through responsible long-term forest management,” green group WWF said.

“Responsible forest management is more effective and financially more efficient than financing the giant firefighting mechanisms that are employed every year.”

In the yet longer term, added Curt, “of course, we need to curtail global warming itself.”

by Laurence COUSTAL

Beijing: U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry calls for cooperation on clean energy between U.S. and China

June 8, 2017

AFP

© POOL/AFP | US Energy Secretary Rick Perry (left) shakes hands with China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli in Beijing on June 8, 2017

BEIJING (AFP) – 

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry called for Sino-US cooperation on clean energy during a visit to Beijing Thursday, a week after President Donald Trump’s much-criticised withdrawal from the Paris climate pact.

Trump’s decision has jolted the international community and could put China, the world’s top carbon emitter, in a position to fill the leadership void on curbing global warming.

But Perry said the United States was still eager to work with China on developing clean energy technology such as liquefied natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power.

“We have extraordinary opportunities to be partners to work on clean energy issues,” Perry said during a meeting with China’s number seven, Zhang Gaoli, on the sidelines of a ministerial-level clean energy meeting in Beijing.

The relatively low-level reception was a contrast to the red carpet Beijing rolled out for California governor Jerry Brown earlier this week.

Brown met for almost an hour with Chinese President Xi Jinping and they signed a memorandum of understanding on developing clean energy.

Brown has vowed to step into the vacuum left by Trump’s exit from the Paris accords, and has mounted a vigorous PR campaign on behalf of his state’s leadership on environmental issues during his week long tour of China.

Beijing has said it will stick with the agreement despite the US withdrawal and is seeking to reach out to American states that share its determination.

California, which has the world’s sixth-largest economy, is one of a handful of American states that have pledged to continue fighting climate change regardless of action at the federal level.

The state — which has some of the worst air pollution in the country — has dramatically slashed its harmful emissions in the last decade.

It has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Before setting off for China, Brown pledged California would resist Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris deal, describing the move as “misguided and insane”.

Don’t Count on China as Next Climate Crusader — Plus China Looks to Capitalize on Clean Energy as U.S. Retreats

June 6, 2017

After the U.S. cajoled Beijing for years to go green, roles have reversed—up to a point

Chinese women wear air-pollution masks in a Beijing park. China has pledged to abide by the Paris accord on climate change as the U.S. prepares to exit.

Chinese women wear air-pollution masks in a Beijing park. China has pledged to abide by the Paris accord on climate change as the U.S. prepares to exit. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

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June 6, 2017 5:30 a.m. ET

BEIJING—For years, a wide spectrum of groups in the U.S. lectured, cajoled and entreated China to go green.

Multinationals and nonprofits teamed up with Chinese environmental groups to promote eco-friendly causes; Coca-Cola restored forests in the upper Yangtze. U.S. labs offered scientific support. Academics collaborated on research. The former Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson, championed China’s disappearing wetlands, a haven for migratory birds.

The well-funded effort amplified voices within China demanding the government take action. It was, says Orville Schell, a longtime China watcher and environmentalist, “the most effective missionary work in the past couple hundred years.”

So it’s an irony of historic proportions how the roles have reversed: China, the world’s worst polluter by far, is now a convert on climate change while the White House under Donald Trump has turned apostate.

In pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate-change agreement, Mr. Trump has repudiated a signal accomplishment of the Obama presidency: persuading Beijing to become a partner in the effort to prevent the planet from heating up to the point of no return. Without China’s support, the Paris deal might have fallen apart.

Mr. Paulson issued a statement saying he was dismayed and disappointed. “We have left a void for others to fill,” he said.

Can China step in?

When it comes to the environment, China is still torn by conflicting priorities. It has installed more solar and wind capacity than any other nation—and plans to invest another $360 billion in renewable energy between now and 2020.

The economy is rebalancing away from heavy industry and manufacturing toward much cleaner services and consumption.

Coal consumption has declined for three straight years. On current trends, many scientists expect that China will reach peak carbon emissions well before its target date of 2030 under the Paris accord.

Yet Beijing remains committed to rapid growth. And coal is still king.

Just ask the residents of Beijing. Whenever economic policy makers set out to boost growth, spending flows to new real-estate and infrastructure projects, the steel mills around the capital fire up their coal furnaces—and commuters reach for their face masks.

This winter was particularly hard on the lungs. A spending splurge meant that Beijing’s average pollution levels last year were double the national standard set by the State Council.

America’s absence from the Paris accord weakens the global fight against climate change, while strengthening China’s position in clean technologies of the future. No doubt, the Chinese heavy-industry lobby—dominated by state enterprises and their growth-hungry local government sponsors—will put pressure on the government to relax green targets. But Beijing seems eager to seize the moral high ground. President Xi Jinping has vowed to “protect” the climate-change agreement.

Li Shuo, a climate and green-energy campaigner for Greenpeace East Asia, thinks that “China will just carry on” with its cleanup measures. In his judgment, it’s not a question of whether Chinese leaders will take the U.S. withdrawal as an excuse to backslide but “how far they will overachieve.”

By 2020, every Chinese coal-fired power station will be required to achieve an efficiency standard so high that not a single U.S. plant could meet it today, according to a report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has scrapped the Obama-era Clean Power Plan to curb power plant emissions.

The divergence on climate change represents a remarkable moment. For much of the past four decades China has pursued go-for-broke industrialization, heedless of the cost in human health. U.S. critics who lamented the damage to the planet often were told off for their imperialist attitudes. One commentator compared Western pressure on poor countries over climate change to the “guns, cannons and warships” of a previous era.

Then Beijing’s political calculus shifted. Urban residents rebelled at the smog, and when protests threatened social stability the government began to embrace a green agenda.

That said, among Communist Party leaders the fear of environmental protests is matched by apprehension about the consequences of slower, more planet-friendly development. They have staked their credibility on China catching up to, and overtaking, America.

President Xi proclaims “supply-side reform,” by which he means shutting down overcapacity in heavily polluting state industries.

On the other hand, his monumentally ambitious Silk Road plan to build trading infrastructure from Asia to Europe via the Middle East and Africa will prolong the life of some of the heaviest emitters making steel, glass, aluminum and cement—and export the country’s carbon problem.

Much of the $62 billion that China has pledged to invest in Pakistan is for relatively inefficient coal-fired power plants.

China may be going green, but it’s not there yet. On the environment as in trade, another area where Mr. Trump seems determined to abandon America’s global leadership, don’t look to China to supply the crusading zeal.

Write to Andrew Browne at andrew.browne@wsj.com

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Has Trump sidelined Rex Tillerson?

June 3, 2017

BBC News

Last month when Rex Tillerson tried to translate “America First” into foreign policy terms for a bemused audience of State Department employees, he probably didn’t expect it would come to mean “America Alone.”

The secretary of state was, by all accounts, a member of the “Remain Campaign” lobbying against a US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

So President Trump’s “Climate Brexit” was a blow to him – in an ironic twist the fossil fuel company he used to head supports the accord while the government he now represents does not.

It was also a blow to the State Department, and to diplomacy.

How much of a personal setback is not clear because on this, as on other issues, Tillerson kept a low profile.

Twenty-four hours after the decision, the only comment he’d made was an aside at a photo-opportunity. He declared that the US would continue its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and appealed for partners to keep things “in perspective”.

Tillerson had previously said the US should “maintain its seat at the table” on international climate conversations, a sensible position for the nation’s top diplomat and one that he reportedly maintained in White House debates on the Paris Agreement.

But publicly he showed none of the passion demonstrated by his predecessor, John Kerry, who powered negotiations on the deal. It seems the president’s daughter, Ivanka, took the lead in fighting the corner for the Remainers. And the role of super-engaged interlocutor apparently fell to the climate change sceptic in the administration, Environment Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt, who spoke at the Rose Garden ceremony.

Mr Tillerson did not attend, whether out of resignation or as an everyday-act-of-resistance, we don’t know. A State Department official said only that he was in his office and “maintained his schedule, preparing for his trip today to Australia and New Zealand”.

No doubt Pruitt (and his ally, White House adviser Steve Bannon) had an easier task than Tillerson, given that he was preaching to a president sympathetic to his economic and nationalist arguments.

But the results are another professional blow to the secretary of state. He’s already facing a proposed budget cut that looks to gut his department. And the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has even less diplomatic experience than he does, has forged a parallel foreign policy track from the White House.

Clearly, the Paris withdrawal was also bad news for the State Department, which has yet to issue a statement.

Where it once straddled the front lines of global climate negotiations, it’s now been dropped off the map.

The US does remain a member of the UN framework for climate change issues, the UNFCCC, but those meetings have become mostly about the Paris Agreement.

Finally, it’s a rejection of a monumental diplomatic effort by more than 190 countries over many years to strike all the balances that needed to be struck.

“We have now slapped every country in the world in the face,” says Todd Stern, the US Special Envoy for Climate Change in the Obama administration.

“We’ve said we know this matters to you a lot, we know this is a huge potentially epic issue for the world, we know that some of you are particularly vulnerable, but we drop out. It’s the worst way you could treat other countries.”

To be fair, this is not entirely untravelled ground – remember George W Bush’s decision against ratifying the 1997 Kyoto climate change treaty.

But it is more starkly isolationist, and this is a different Washington – in private chats, international diplomats from across the global spectrum complain that normal channels for getting and giving information at the State Department and White House are still unstaffed. They struggle to find the people who can listen to their concerns or tell them what’s going on.

So while this will not break alliances, it could be more difficult to pick up the pieces and say we can still be friends.

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