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Michael Jacobs points to grounds for optimism that a comprehensive emissions-reduction plan can be agreed this year. – Project Syndicate

Michael Jacobs points to grounds for optimism that a comprehensive emissions-reduction plan can be agreed this year. – Project Syndicate.

MAR 7, 2014 1

The Climate-Change Agenda Heats Up

LONDON – For many people around the world this year, the weather has become anything but a topic for small talk. Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, America’s record-breaking freeze, California’s year-long drought, and flooding in Europe have put the long-term dangers of climate change back on the political agenda. In response, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has sent an urgent letter to government, business, civil society, and finance leaders, urging them to attend a special Climate Summit in New York in September.

The event will be the first time that world leaders have met to discuss global warming since the UN’s fateful Copenhagen climate-change summit in 2009. Amid high expectations – and subsequent recriminations – that meeting failed to achieve a comprehensive, legally-binding agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. So, at September’s summit, leaders will be asked to re-boot the diplomatic process. The goal is a new agreement in 2015 to prevent average global temperatures from rising by two degrees Celsius, the level that the international community has deemed “dangerous” to human society.

At first sight, that looks like a hard task. Since Copenhagen, climate change has slipped down the global agenda, as the restoration of economic growth, voter concern about jobs and living standards, and violent conflict in key trouble spots have taken precedence.

But the tide may be turning. More people are grasping the true extent of the dangers ahead. In its latest authoritative assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded last year that scientists are now 95% certain that human activities are the principal cause of rising temperatures. Over the next two months the IPCC will release further reports detailing the human and economic impacts of probable climate change and the costs and benefits of combating it. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently described climate change as “perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,” warning of “a tipping-point of no return.” Few serious commentators now dispute the science.

So the key question now is how the world’s leaders will respond. There are grounds for cautious optimism.

First, New York will not be like Copenhagen. Leaders are not being asked to negotiate a new agreement themselves; that job will remain with their professional negotiators and environment ministers. Moreover, the process will not be concluded this year but at the UN climate conference in Paris in December 2015. That provides plenty of time to translate political commitments made in New York into a legally-binding accord.

Second, the world’s two largest greenhouse-gas emitters, the United States and China, are now more committed to action than they were five years ago. US President Barack Obama has announced a far-reaching plan that authorizes the Environment Protection Agency to take dramatic measures in the next few months to limit power-station emissions, virtually ending coal-fired electricity generation altogether.

In China, worsening air pollution and growing concerns about energy security have led the government to consider a cap on coal use and an absolute reduction in emissions within the next 10-15 years. The government is experimenting with carbon pricing, and investing heavily in low-carbon wind, solar, and nuclear energy.

Further, the two countries are actively cooperating. Last year Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping committed to phase out hydrofluorcarbons, a potent greenhouse gas. In February, they announced their intention to work together on climate policy – a marked contrast to Sino-US tensions over Pacific security and trade issues. With the European Union also preparing to commit to new 2030 climate targets, hopes for a global deal are rising.

A third cause for optimism is the re-appraisal of climate-change economics. Five years ago, policies aimed at cutting greenhouse-gas emissions were seen as a cost burden on the economy. Negotiations were therefore a zero-sum game, with countries seeking to minimize their obligations while asking others to do more.

However, new evidence may be altering the economic calculus. According to research conducted by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, far from hurting the economy, well-designed climate policy may actually boost growth. Chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and comprising former prime ministers, presidents, and finance ministers, the Commission is analyzing how investments in clean-energy infrastructure, agricultural productivity, and urban transport could stimulate sluggish economies. Its conclusions will be presented at September’s summit; if accepted, the Commission’s work could mark a turning point, transforming the way in which climate policy is perceived by the world’s economic policymakers.

None of this guarantees success. Powerful vested interests – not least the world’s fossil-fuel industries – will no doubt seek to limit progress, and most governments are not yet focused on the problem. But one thing is certain: the reality of climate change is making it impossible to ignore.

Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/michael-jacobs-points-to-grounds-for-optimism-that-a-comprehensive-emissions-reduction-plan-can-be-agreed-this-year#wHVjLcSRmu8rQqB0.99

Phillippines storms force thousands of homeless to flee shelters | World news | theguardian.com

Phillippines storms force thousands of homeless to flee shelters | World news | theguardian.com.

Philippines storm Agaton in Butuan city

A view of houses swept away during heavy flooding brought by tropical depression Agaton. Photograph: Erik De Castro/Reuters

Emergency workers have evacuated thousands of people across the southern Philippines, including many already made homeless by a typhoon in November, after three days of rain flooded towns and farmland.

Hundreds of survivors of Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall – were forced to flee by tropical depression Agaton after emergency shelters were damaged or destroyed on the eastern central island of Samar.

Tents collapsed under the weight of the rain and emergency plastic sheets have been torn away, Oxfam said.

An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year with Haiyanslamming into central islands on 8 November, killing more than 6,100 and wiping out entire coastal communities in Leyte and Samar.

More than 200,000 people have been taken to shelters over the past three days as flood waters rose, but hundreds were still marooned on the roofs of their houses on Tuesday, said Eduardo del Rosario, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Del Rosario said 42 people had been killed, 65 had been injured and damage to property and farms had reached 367m pesos (£5m).

“Our troops are trying to reach them and bring them to safer ground,” Del Rosario said.

Nenita Matuda, 45, and her children perched on their neighbours’ roof as she watched the rampaging waters outside Butuan City in the north of Mindanao island.

“Thank God we are safe but we just lost our house,” she said.

A state of calamity has been declared in Agusan del Norte and 15 other towns in the Davao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Sur areas of Mindanao even as the weather bureau lifted alert levels as the storm weakened.

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