Friday, November 17, 2017

Baby it’s Coal Outside!


Hello and welcome to another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. Yes it's Friday already, Friday, 17th November and somebody told me that it's just over 40 sleeps until Christmas. If you stay awake for the next 20 minutes or so I'm going to talk about COP 23 in Bonn, the future of coal, the Disruptive Innovation Festival, rising levels of CO2 and messages from the Alliance of World Scientists and from the South Pacific.
I'm recruiting researchers to help me produce the Sustainable Futures Report because it does take a lot of time, but I know that a lot of people all over the world like to listen to it regularly. Thank you sincerely for your support. Maybe I'll meet some of you one of these days - at least some of you that I haven't already met. I'll be in Australia in December, so if you live in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth and you’d like to chat about sustainability, do get in touch. And if you don't live in any of those places please get in touch anyway and tell me about the things that you think I ought to be talking about. Eric in Canada got in touch recently. Thanks for the suggestion, Eric, we’ll have an episode on hydrogen very soon.
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All Change
There is no doubt that the world is changing and there is no doubt that a sustainable world will be a different world or at least a world in which we do things differently. The scare stories about wearing sackcloth and living in caves, a favourite of denialists, are pretty thoroughly discredited. Some of the foundations of sustainability, such as renewable energy, are based on the very latest technology. Technology will ensure that we will continue to enjoy a good standard of living, possibly even a better standard of living, as we move towards a low carbon future. That said, don't just assume that technology will work away in the background and everything will be wonderful. There are undoubted challenges, not least the rise in CO2 which I report this week, which demand urgent and international action.
Second Warning
Calling for such action is The Alliance of World Scientists (AWS). They say: 
“The AWS is a new international assembly of scientists, which is independent of both governmental and non-governmental organisations and corporations. We submit, that in order to prevent widespread misery caused by catastrophic damage to the biosphere, humanity must practice more environmentally sustainable alternatives to business-as-usual. Our vital importance and role comes from scientists' unique responsibility as stewards of human knowledge and champions of evidence-based decision-making. The main goal of the AWS is to be a collective international voice of many scientists regarding global climate and environmental trends and how to turn accumulated knowledge into action. Other organisations do laudable work toward this goal, but to our knowledge, AWS is the only independent, grass-roots organisation comprised of scientists from around the world committed to the well-being of humanity and the planet.”
They describe their paper as a Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. It runs to just 1,000 words, can be read in 6 minutes, and outlines some of the world's most pressing environmental concerns. It starts off: 
“Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” These concerned professionals called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.””

In their manifesto, those scientists showed that humans were on a collision course with the natural world, citing a decline in freshwater availability, unsustainable marine fisheries, ocean dead zones, forest losses, dwindling biodiversity, climate change and population growth.

In this latest paper the Alliance of World Scientists concludes:

“To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning. Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day- to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home.”

More than 15,000 signatories from all ends of the Earth have signed this article. As far as is known, this is the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article.

So you’ve been warned. If you have a spare six minutes read the article at You’ll probably be thinking about it for a lot longer than 6 minutes.

Message from Fiji
As you know, COP23, the annual UN climate conference is talking place in Bonn. This year it is being chaired by Fiji, a chain of some 300 islands in the Pacific. This is their message:
“We, the Pacific Climate Warriors, are weary from waiting for world leaders to take the necessary action to create a Fossil Free world. So we are taking matters into our own hands, and we need you with us.
Along with people representing 12 Pacific Island nations, we’ve launched the Pacific Climate Warriors Declaration on Climate Change, outlining what needs to be done to avoid further climate catastrophe. We are asking you and people around the world to show your solidarity with the Pacific by signing our Declaration.
This year, Fiji holds the Presidency of COP23, the UN Climate Talks. So, it is a key time to highlight Pacific leadership on climate action. Rising seas and weather changes are already taking a heavy toll in my region, but Pacific Climate Warriors will be in Bonn to make our message clear: we are not drowning, we are fighting.
Pacific Islanders were some of the leading voices to advocate for the commitment to 1.5 degrees of warming in the Paris Climate Agreement. We know that living up to Paris means countries must keep their fossil fuels in the ground and rapidly transition towards a Fossil Free world where everyone has equal access to renewable energy.
That’s why we Pacific Climate Warriors, representing grassroots, indigenous, and frontline communities across the Pacific region, have penned this Declaration calling for world leaders to end the era of fossil fuels and instead build a 100% renewable future for all.
The Warriors and I will be in Bonn to publicly deliver our Declaration and these key demands at the COP23. You can follow our trip and all the action at COP23 here and help us to amplify our voices as part of the #HaveYourSei campaign. A sei is a flower worn behind the ear, and represents the beauty and resilience of Pacific peoples and cultures in the face of climate change. (…)
#HaveYourSei in the global fight for the climate and support the Warriors in our call for a #FossilFree world.”

More  CO2
Carbon emissions are the big issue, of course, as far as climate change is concerned. I reported last week that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached record levels but you may remember that Martin Baxter from IEMA pointed out that if we continue to emit carbon dioxide year on year inevitably the concentration will rise. The worrying news this week is that the annual global emissions are likely to be some 2% higher for 2017 than for the three preceding years. It seemed as though the level of emissions had reached a plateau and would start to decline. Not so. 
According to Carbon Brief the major emitters are China, India, the US and the EU, and the increase in the global emissions is clearly linked to increasing emissions from China. China is still a major user of coal for generating electricity and when economic activity increases China's emissions increase as well. Denialists sometimes say that if China is opening a new coal-fired power station every week then anything we do to cut emissions is a waste of time because we will be totally out-polluted. That's no longer strictly true. Yes, China does use a lot of coal and is now the biggest GHG emitter in the world. However it is also the biggest user of renewable energy in the form of wind and solar power, and this is increasing. China intends to phase out coal, but in a vast country where many people still live in poverty, economic growth is a constant imperative. At least the Beijing smogs are a constant reminder to the government that change is vital.
COP 23 - more coal?
COP 23, the United Nations climate summit currently running in Bonn, is a vast event with a wide range of speakers and topics from all over the world. This last Monday, for example, there were 48 separate side events. During the week topics included Enough is enough: Stopping the Violence Against Environmental Defenders; A transformative response to climate change: Applying the principles of Laudato Si’ (that’s the Pope’s encyclical - his statement to the faithful about climate change); Time for a diet shift: Plant based diet for climate change mitigation; and hundreds of others. One that caused controversy was The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation. This was the Trump administration using its only public forum at COP 23 to promote fossil fuels and nuclear energy. 
"This panel is only controversial if we choose to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the realities of the global energy system," David Barks, special assistant for the White House, said in his opening speech.
The theme of the presentation was that we are likely to be dependent on coal for some time yet, so let’s look at clean coal and ways of minimising its impact. Preferred option is carbon capture and storage (CCS), which involves extracting the CO2 from power station emissions and pumping it away into permanent storage under the sea or into exhausted oil wells. The problems with this are twofold. First, no-one has yet made CCS work on a commercial scale. The second problem is that the extraction and pumping process will require significant amounts of energy, reducing the efficiency of the generating plant and increasing the cost of energy to users.
There was certainly a lot of scepticism at the session. Some protestors were thrown out of the meeting while former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg compared it to a tobacco company addressing a cancer conference.  California governor Jerry Brown, found it simply ridiculous.
"I think the federal government is treading water. They've kind of become like Saturday Night Live, or a comedy programme," he said.
"They're bringing in a coal company to teach the Europeans how to clean up the environment.” 
Meanwhile, a report released on Monday from the California Public Utilities Commission shows that California will get half of its electricity from renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, by 2020, a full decade ahead of schedule.

Michael Bloomberg - less coal?
Michael Bloomberg, who is now UN special envoy on climate change, this week announced a $50 million fund to extend the battle against coal to Europe. He has already invested more than $164 million to fight coal in the US since 2010, especially through Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. The European campaign will be administered by the European Climate Foundation, which is led by Laurence Tubiana, France’s climate change ambassador during the COP21 negotiations in Paris. Mrs. Tubiana commented: “Europe still relies significantly on coal for power generation, but the rapid pace of development in cheap renewables offers a great opportunity”.
“Together with Bloomberg Philanthropies, we can help change the course of history and drive Europe’s shift to a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future”.
Bloomberg told The Guardian: “Coal is the single biggest polluter. If you could just replace coal with any other fuel, you would make an enormous difference in the outlook for climate change”.
Michael Bloomberg also revealed that he is eager to expand the campaign against coal to Asia and that he is currently seeking for partners to proceed. Let’s hope he can make a friend of Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China.
I said earlier that a sustainable future implies change and doing things differently. Once again the Ellen MacArthur foundation is promoting the annual Disruptive Innovation Festival. It runs for three weeks and has already covered things like Furniture That Changes to Fit Your LifeHow The Circular Economy Can Disrupt the Development Paradigm, New Definitions of Food Packaging in the Circular Economy and Will Automation Spell the End of Education As We Know It?  There are links to all of these on the blog at

The Disruptive Innovation Festival runs until the end of next week and you can catch it live or find the archive on the DIF website [ DIF on Demand. ]
And Finally…
And that is it's for this week. I’m Anthony Day and that was the Sustainable Futures Report. There will be another next week. I aim to make every episode new and interesting so please get in touch and tell me what interests you. As I said to start with, I'm now using researchers to help me prepare these episodes and that should allow me to go into greater depth on the topics I cover. Wait and see if you can tell the difference. The main difference to me is that it will cost, so if you've not already signed up at then I’ll be delighted if you do so because your contribution will help defray my expenses.
Once again, thank you for listening wherever you are in the world. Let's work together to protect that world, to make our political leaders are aware of the urgent fragility of our world and the need to protect it not just for our great-grandchildren, our grandchildren and our children, but for ourselves too.
Have a good week, and if Thanksgiving is something you celebrate have a really good one this year.
I'm Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
Bye for now-.

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