About Tan Copsey
Tan Copsey is Development Manager of www.chinadialogue.net and a former employee of openDemocracy.
Articles by Tan Copsey
As part of a series for chinadialogue that examines the
environmental and political arguments around geoengineering, Tan Copsey spoke
Caldeira, senior scientist at the Department of Global Ecology at
the Carnegie Institution and a leading expert in "climate emergency response
research". Caldeira is a contributor to the study published today by the Royal
Society, Geoengineering the Climate:
Science, Governance and Uncertainty, which asks whether planetary-scale
geoengineering schemes could play a role in preventing the worst effects of
Ken Caldeira is senior
scientist at the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution. Tan Copsey is development manager at chinadialogue.
Tan Copsey (TC): What geoengineering ideas do you think are being considered seriously by scientists?
Ken Caldeira (KC): I think it is useful to approach this question by asking what problems are we trying to solve. If we are trying to solve the problem of increasing climate risk and climate damage, then we need to consider transforming our energy system first. If we are concerned with catastrophic climate change, then that pushes us towards other techniques.
If we look at the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] predictions for global temperature over the century, in every scenario the world continues to warm. So the question is: if rainfall patterns shift such that we are no longer able to grow food properly for the world, or Greenland starts sliding into the sea, raising sea levels rapidly, or if methane starts catastrophically re-gassing from the Siberian frozen grounds, what would we do? This leads us to think about options that could be deployed very rapidly to cool the earth.
I think the leading candidate is to emulate what major volcanoes do, which is to put huge amounts of small particles into the stratosphere, where they can deflect sunlight back into space. We know this works, because after Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the earth cooled about half a degree Celsius. It would have probably cooled three, four, or maybe five degrees had that amount of material been maintained in the stratosphere. While these are very risky types of things to do, I think that in a climate emergency situation we might have to deal with those risks.
There are other options that make some sense: one of them is the idea of whitening clouds by spraying sea water through the air. This forms tiny little salt particles that increase the whiteness of marine clouds [reflecting light back into space].
I think these are really the two options that have the most plausibility. Most other options are either too difficult or expensive - like the idea of putting satellites into space between the earth and the sun, which would be a huge and difficult engineering undertaking.
TC: Do you think that someone will need to deploy forms of geoengineering in our lifetime?
KC: I am uncertain about how bad climate change is going to be for humans. I think it is pretty clear that if you are a polar bear or a coral reef, your days are numbered unless we radically change our emission patterns very soon.
Climate change is clearly an issue for some ecosystems and it is probably an existential issue for some people who are already at the margins, where climate change could push them over the edge. But what climate change will mean for middle-class people, both in the developing and the developed world, I think is highly uncertain. There are some people, like Jim Lovelock, who think society is like a house of cards - climate change will shake the bottom of it and the whole thing might tumble down. With the recent economic crisis, we see some mortgage defaults in the United States leading to a worldwide economic downturn, so it may be that small disruptions will be amplified to have dramatic social consequences. On the other hand, society might be resilient, and humans might be adaptable, like rats and cockroaches.
Although I don't know how bad climate change is going to be for humans, I do know that there is at least the possibility of devastating consequences - so it just seems to me it makes sense that we have an insurance policy. We should be thinking about these outcomes, what might happen - and if they do happen, what might we do about them.
TC: Do you think there is a risk in talking about geoengineering as a solution - or part of a solution - to climate change, because it reduces the pressure on governments to act to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions?
KC: In this area of climate engineering, or climate intervention, there are at least two political threads. There are people who say if we reduce the risks associated with climate change, then we reduce the incentive to do something about emissions. And there are people who advocate these options in the hope that it will deflate pressure to reduce emissions. But there are other people, such as myself, who think that we need to take the threat of a climate crisis seriously. If you take that threat seriously, then you will think that we need to do what we can to reduce that risk by reducing emissions. But that's not going to reduce the risk to zero.
TC: Climate change is a global problem and its effects will be unevenly distributed across the world. Could action by a single nation ever be countenanced?
KC: I think this is a difficult question. It's easy to say that nobody should ever deploy one of these systems without getting global consensus - and in measured times that is what we would do. But let's say we had a situation where climate change was causing massive crop failure in China: what if Chinese scientists figured that if they intervened in the climate system by putting particles in the stratosphere, and this would likely restore the rains to China and allow China to feed its people once again? If the Chinese leaders thought that they would be saving many millions of lives by putting particles in the stratosphere, it's hard to imagine that a Chinese leader would say: "No, I'm going to let my people starve because I can't achieve international consensus." I think in the case of an emergency, where a political leader thinks it could potentially save many millions of lives, it's hard to see how that leader could allow their people to starve or die. I could envision a situation where political leaders might deploy these systems in the absence of a worldwide consensus.
That said, I think that it's important for us to get our governments to start discussing these issues and develop governance and regulation over these technologies to try to make sure that as much as possible there are international controls and consensus over how these tools are used. But I think when push comes to shove and a political leader has their back against the wall, they may feel compelled to deploy these things unilaterally.
TC: But surely ending a drought in one country - in China, for instance - by putting particles in the stratosphere might increase the adaptation burden in another country, such as India.
KC: Yes. In fact after the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991, the Ganges River had its lowest flow rates on record - and so we could very easily imagine that putting a bunch of aerosols into the atmosphere might affect the rains in the Ganges River basin. I think it's possible that if one country or region is in crisis, and one of these systems is deployed, then another region could very well be damaged. We don't know enough yet to be able to predict "who and when and how", but this kind of scenario seems likely. The idea that everybody is going to uniformly benefit from the application of these approaches is not at all clear.
This gets back to the governance issue: would whoever did this be liable for compensating people who were affected? There is a parallel to storm modification research in the United States in the 1960s: scientists were looking at steering hurricanes away from major cities. They eventually stopped the research for fear of liability issues - if you directed a hurricane away from a major city and hit some rural area instead, then even though you might have reduced damage overall, the people you did hit with the hurricane would sue you for damages, especially in the US, where we are very litigious. So I think these kinds of issues could occur on a larger scale.
TC: It sounds like this would make it even more difficult for anyone to reach a global decision on geoengineering. How would you come to an agreement? Is it possible?
KC: I think that these things will not be used except in times of extreme emergency. The idea that you would use these options instead of emissions reduction does not make sense given how great all these political, legal and risk factors are. We just wouldn't be able to deploy these systems in the normal course of policy or get international agreements that it's a good thing to do. But I think if Jim Lovelock's vision of climate change turns out to be right, then I think people might be more eager for something that could cool things off rapidly.
TC: Do you see geoengineering as an expanding discipline? Is there funding to pursue this kind of research?
KC: There are no programmes yet in any country to fund this research. I think we may need to re-conceptualise what the field of research is, away from focusing on specific tools and more onto climate emergency response research - and to say that if the worst did happen, what would we do? We shouldn't get into a situation where we only have a bunch of people developing technologies just for the sake of it.
Geoengineering the Climate: Science, Governance and Uncertainty, a policy report from the Royal Society, is published today.
The article originally appeared in chinadialogue.
United Nations-led talks in Poznan, Poland – which start today – will mark the half-way stage of negotiations to form a new global agreement to prevent dangerous climate change. The process began last year at a conference in Bali, Indonesia and will end in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009. The agreement will succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Yvo De Boer, executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), called it “one of the most complicated negotiating processes the international community has ever seen.” It is also one of the most important.
Like last year's meeting in Bali, Poznan will play host to a vast array of national representatives, as well as intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental groups and the world’s media. This assessment comes to us from chinadialogue's “Bali to Copenhagen” project.
Why does it matter?
The conference will be an opportunity to push forward a difficult negotiating process: after a year of exploration and consideration of new ideas, the UNFCCC will circulate at Poznan the first draft of a new global agreement. This text will be considered, argued over and redrafted in the coming year, before, hopefully, being finalised at the Copenhagen conference.
However, with global economic conditions in a state of flux, there is also the fear that negotiations could lose crucial momentum. It doesn’t help, either, that Poznan will mark the last gasp of the uncooperative Bush administration of the United States, or that the conference will be hosted by Poland, a country unsure if its interests are compatible with significant reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions. Poznan may only be a step along the way to Copenhagen, but if things go badly it could be a serious roadblock, ruining chances of any serious agreement being reached next year.
What issues are on the table?
The key to any new agreement will be the level of commitment taken on by developed countries. They, in turn, will need firmer commitments from the largest developing countries. Poznan will see some discussion of the form these commitments could take: it is generally accepted that rich nations will take on deeper emissions cuts in exchange for voluntary reductions from their developing counterparts. Crucial to any new agreement will be how to make emissions reductions measurable, reportable and verifiable. This issue, however, is likely to be deferred until the Copenhagen meeting.
A lot can be achieved at Poznan if things go smoothly. The conference is not only about the next global agreement, but also what can be done now to improve the Kyoto Protocol until it expires. The UN will also be putting some firm measures in place, including a global adaptation fund to help poorer countries already feeling the impacts of climate change. The fund will draw revenues from a levy on the global emissions scheme, the Clean Development Mechanism.
There will be serious discussion of how to effectively finance low-carbon development and how to facilitate the transfer of clean technologies. Other issues on the table include reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and reform of the Clean Development Mechanism.
Who are the major players?
The European Union and the US are the crucial players in the developed world. China and India are the most important developing nations. As well as being major emitters, together they hold the key to forming a new agreement.
Will the US change its position?
There will only be one US delegation at the conference and it will be led by representatives of the Bush administration. This means significant changes to the American position are unlikely at Poznan. However, many nations are already beginning to informally seek the opinion of president-elect Barack Obama and his transition team, and members of Congress attending the conference will report back to Obama, who has sent a strong signal by promising that when he becomes president “the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”
What about China?
China is now seeking significant technological assistance and financial support as part of a new global deal. Tang Xuepeng writes on chinadialogue that the Chinese government supports a proposal for developed nations to contribute 1% of their GDP to aid the transfer of clean energy technologies to developing nations. Some experts argue that China already possesses most of the relevant technology and expertise, and that calls for further assistance are a delaying tactic to stave off calls, from the EU and others, that China take on emissions reductions signficantly below business-as-usual levels as part of a global deal.
Who else should I watch?
Observers will also be following Canada and Japan closely. Both countries have had significant problems meeting their Kyoto targets and could alter long-held positions: though neither is likely to opt out of the process entirely, they are unlikely to push for stringent reduction targets. There are also dissenting voices within Europe. For instance, Italy has been voicing concerns about far-reaching EU targets.
What about the hosts?
Despite its membership of the EU, Polish concerns are closer to those of economies in transition, such as Russia, and advanced developing countries like China. Many in Poland are concerned about the country’s ability to meet its EU-mandated targets while continuing to grow and rebuild its industry. Poland has a power sector dominated by carbon-intensive coal-fired power plants, and large coal reserves. At the Kyoto conference in 1997, host nation Japan took on considerable emissions reduction commitments as a means of securing a global agreement. In contrast, Poland is unlikely to seek to promote far-reaching commitments that might negatively impact its economy.
How will the global financial crisis affect the talks?
The economic downturn will have implications for these talks. Considering the state of the markets, it is “fortunate that a deal does not have to be done in Poznan” De Boer remarked recently. However, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has argued that the global financial meltdown can actually provide an opportunity to address global warming. In a joint statement with the leaders of Indonesia, Poland and Denmark he asserted that nations need to find “common solutions to the grave challenges facing us. And when it comes to two of the most serious -- the financial crisis and climate change -- that answer is the green economy.”
Poznan may be marked by difficult, complex negotiations, but it is an important step on the road to Copenhagen and a new global deal that will determine our common futures.
Tan Copsey is development manager at chinadialogue.
Kentucky's Republican senator Mitch McConnell has come out strongly against proposed climate change legislation at a time when real progress on the issue in Congress seems probable. In a piece written for The Hill he argues that:
Now is the time to be considering, and approving, legislation that would allow Americans to increase energy production within our own borders, and to accelerate the process of moving to clean nuclear energy. Now is the time to do something about $4.00 a gallon gasoline, not something that would cost us $6.00 a gallon gas down the road.
McConnell’s objections are interesting not only because they appeal to populist resentment about gas prices and job-losses, but because as an Appalachian Republican senator up for re-election, McConnell must grapple with the many new challenges facing American lawmakers as they seek to act on this issue.
John McCain, it seems, can’t stay out of trouble. After enraging most of the Republican blogosphere with his radical (for a Republican) proposals to fight climate change, he has now succeeded in also angering China.
chinadialogue.net last week translated and published McCain’s remarks and have since had to deal with an upset response. Readers have suggested that these policies are indicative of "anti-Chinese sentiment coming from the West" and that China and other developing countries are far from the "chief culprits" when it comes to climate change.
John McCain today set out his plan for tackling climate change, proposing to cut US greenhouse gas emissions 60% by 2050. McCain asserted his independence from the President Bush’s legacy of inaction and suggested that he would reclaim a position of leadership for the United States.
Most strikingly, he stated that:
"If the efforts to negotiate an international solution that includes China and India do not succeed, we still have an obligation to act."
This is a bold move by a Republican presidential candidate – Bush has for the last eight years made US participation in international efforts to reduce emissions contingent on the involvement of these countries. Obama and Clinton both propose larger cuts, as do Senators Warner and Lieberman, but it is striking that there is a firming cross-party consensus on the importance of acting on climate change.
Forget Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia. Say goodbye to primaries in Puerto Rico. A new poll has revealed that 47 per cent of New Zealand wants Obama! OK, the support of my countrymen and women is unlikely to shift those last few super-delegates Barack’s way. Still, it is oddly indicative of how popular he is around the world. He easily won the Democrats abroad caucus and his candidacy has inspired global excitement – from hard-steppin’ reggae to my quiet street in sunny north-London, where a number of houses are decorated with Obama 08 posters.
Of course, were global popularity to mean anything, I have a funny feeling that the US would have a different President right now. Doesn’t stop us singing though - altogether now – "we need Barack…".
The race for the democratic nomination continued today after Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seemingly stumbled to yet another bloody draw. However, upon closer inspection the result significantly favoured Obama. A much greater margin of victory in North Carolina means that his lead over Clinton increases. With the finish line fast approaching and the candidates likely to halve the six states that are yet to go to the polls, Clinton needs something approaching a miracle, or at least an Obama slip-up that dwarfs the controversy provoked by the comments of his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.
Clinton is still likely to notch up massive wins in Kentucky, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. But Obama should be able to minimise the damage by gaining slightly smaller victories in Oregon, Montana and South Dakota. Clinton will likely need to win more than 80% of the delegates still in play to regain the lead. In the meantime, Obama will continue to unleash newly pledged super-delegates, demonstrating he has momentum within the party as well as the electorate.
From a faux Moorish castle in Indianapolis, Clinton still declared victory and referenced her one remaining real hope for the nomination - that delegations from Michigan and Florida be seated at the Democratic convention. Elections in these states have been declared void and Obama did not contest them, so such an outcome would seem more than a little undemocratic. Gaining the nomination like this would also damage the chances of Clinton actually being elected president.
So, advantage Obama, but this never-ending election will continue.
The world wakes today to exciting news: US President George W. Bush has set a new national climate target. While others seek to reduce emissions, the US will now look to at least stop increasing them. By 2025.
As the clock winds down on the Bush era, it is worth considering the consequences of his decision to stand still on climate change. America is now at least eight years behind the rest of the world. It will take a long time and a lot of work to catch up and there is, as yet, little evidence to suggest that the next president can do enough.
by Tan Copsey
Ignore Jess. Here is the real deal.
Why you ask? Well I have the services of the world’s only Iranian comedian Omid Djalili.
I have Mormons, who are always funny. Mmmm caffeinated drinks – enough to make you pee your magic pants.
I have Kanishk Tharoor and a little Russian nastiness, I remember when Pravda was a proper source of Party information (actually no I don’t). On the Pravda vibe, I also have Octopig.
I have a little off-duty street magic in Iraq (from Arrested Development).
And finally, I have a desperate last ditch attempt to trump Jess using a Weapon of Mass Comedic Destruction - Bill Hicks.
by Tan Copsey
After a week of apparently intense negotiation the G8 has reached a deal on climate change. The G8 boldly delared that they were:
'committed to taking strong and early action to tackle climate change in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system'.