Category Archives: Academic Notes

Utility Companies Need to Evolve as The Energy Market Does

Utility Companies Need to Evolve as The Energy Market Does Solar energy continues to grow at a record-breaking pace, reaching a total installed capacity enough to power 5 million American homes in 2015. While solar supporters celebrate the growth, utility companies lament that increased solar energy production is causing them to lose revenue due to reduced energy demand. At the center of this debate is Net Metering (NM), a key policy behind the solar energy growth. Under NM policy, a customer is only billed for net energy consumption, the difference between energy s/he generates and consumes in a given period of time (see NM map below).

Net Metering Summary Map

If a customer nets out to zero energy consumption, s/he pays nothing to the utility. Given the variability of solar energy source, utility companies are quick to point out that solar customers still rely on the electric grid and insist them to pay fees accordingly. Solar-induced “disruptive challenges” causes utility companies to lose revenue and leaves them with a shrinking pool of customers to recover their costs from. The resultant increased rate, utility companies argue, drives more customers to adopt solar and puts utility companies on a perilous death spiral (see the figure from EEI’s report).

Utility Death Spiral

(Source: EEI http://bit.ly/1kkTiRB)

Solar supporters, however, point out a slew of values solar brings to the grid. The values include avoided cost to develop more power plant capacity in order to meet hours of highest energy demand; reduced wear and tear on the grid system, and avoided environmental costs. If these benefits are integrated into the valuation, the benefits of solar energy outweigh its costs to the electric grid. Solar energy supporters believe “NM is a fair way to compensate solar owners for the value they provide.”

VOS

While the NM debate continues, it’s of paramount importance that utility companies do not impede solar energy growth. First, the imperative of low-carbon mandates continued solar energy generation. A new study points out just last week that we can emit far less carbon than previously estimated in order to have any chance of keeping the global warming within 2C. Second, NM is an important driving force for distributed solar energy growth, which in turn helps wildlife conservation. Distributed solar prevents wildlife falling victim to more oil and gas spills and incidents, and keeps energy production out of undisturbed or only partially disturbed lands. Reduced transmission lines also avoid disturbance and fragmentation of habitat in a variety of ecosystems.

Monkey

(A monkey electrocuted while crossing a high-tension wire. Photo credit: indiaendangered.com)

Third, the traditional government-guaranteed return on investment utility business model no longer suffices the nuanced energy market needs. It’s long overdue that utility companies and their regulators allow the invisible hand to drive market innovation.

To serve as an aggregator and a trading platform for reliable and equitable energy of the future, utility companies need to evolve as the market does. It’s either that they be part of the clean energy revolution or left behind with the energy of the past.

The New U.S.-China Climate Accord: Game Changing Agreement Offers Real Hope for Climate Progress

Next week the nations of the world will come together in Lima Peru in an effort to build momentum for a binding global climate accord.  The negotiations come on the heels of the November 12 announcement of a landmark climate agreement between the U.S. and China at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Beijing. The world’s largest two economies and emitters of carbon dioxide agreed to curtail and contain their carbon emissions before the end of next decade.  During the upcoming two weeks of climate negotiations in Lima, China will host a forum with the state of California sharing some of the early initiatives designed to drive implementation of the accord, a forum where ICLEI and partners will highlight the key role of local government action in achieving the agreement’s ambitious goals.

To fully implement the new climate accord between the two countries, the U.S. has committed to emitting 26 percent to 28 percent less than it did in 2005. This is double the current pace of emissions reduction from an average of 1.2 percent per year during the period from 2005 – 2020 to 2.3-2.8 percent between 2020 and 2025.  China pledges to reach peak emissions or cap its total emissions by 2030, if not sooner. To reach that goal, China’s President Xi pledged to generate 20% of the country’s total energy consumption from clean energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, by 2030.

This new climate accord between the world’s two largest economies, consumers of energy, and emitters of greenhouse gases fundamentally reshapes the geo-politics of climate negotiations.  It makes a global climate agreement at the climate summit in Paris 2015 a very real possibility, accelerates global clean energy deployment and associated economic growth, and prevents an estimated 640 gigatons of CO2 from entering the already carbon-thick atmosphere.

 

No More Fossil Fuel Falsehoods

First, this new climate deal eviscerates climate obstructionists’ “China won’t engage, and we can’t do it alone” mantra. For years, the fossil fuel industry has deployed an army of supporters to try to drive a wedge between developed and developing countries and keep the world from reaching a globally binding agreeement.  In particular they pitted the U.S. against China and portrayed them as the leaders of two opposite camps when it comes to combating climate change.

These climate obstructionists would often assert that “they – [namely China and India] won’t be engaging and reducing their own emissions.” The obstructionists have long argued that China, as the world’s number one emitter since 2006, does not and will not engage in ambitious emissions reduction efforts, and the U.S. cannot save the world alone, claiming these facts effectively tie the hands of the U.S. from pushing forward climate action.  The argument continued that any unilateral attempt to abate emissions would not save the world, but rather ‘harm’ one country’s economy, while benefiting the economy of the other.  Such “economic scare tactics” as Paul Krugman has called it, effectively prevented the U.S. from ratifying the Kyoto Agreement, the world’s first climate change treaty adopted in December 1997. However, after Wednesday’s announcement of the historic climate change deal between the two countries, it is no longer credible to cite China as the reason for inaction by the U.S. or the rest of the world.

 

Moving Closer to a Global Climate Agreement

Second, the climate agreement between the U.S. and China offers the world renewed hope for reaching a meaningful international climate agreement at the twentieth session of the Conference of the Parties(COP20). These sessions, often referred to as COPs, serve as the yearly meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For the past nineteen sessions, negotiations often came to a screeching halt, because of the perceived chasm and division between developed and developing countries. That division was further exacerbated by the heated debate on cumulative emissions versus per capita emission.  The culmulative vs. per capita debate has led to  nations are more responsible for carbon emissions, and therefore should be more responsible for emissions reductions. Different ways of reporting global emissions by countries generates different lines of countries as the leading emitters. For example, if you examine cumulative, or total, emissions China leads the world as the number one emitter since 2006. It was responsible for 27% of global emissions in 2012 and thus is often portrayed as the ‘climate villain’.  However, looking at per capita emissions, or dividing the total emissions of a country by its population, there is a very different distribution of global emissions. The U.S. leads the world with more than twice the amount of per capita emissions of the next biggest polluter (See Figure 1).

Figure 1. Global Emissions: Cumulative v. Per Capita

These two different frames often lead to an unfortunate and seemingly unresolvable climate tug-of-war between developed and developing countries.

Representatives from developing countries often enter international climate negotiations pointing out that per capita cumulative emissions of the developed countries have exceeded their fair share. As a result, the only fair way to climate equity would be to require developed countries to make deeper emissions reduction and compensate for their historical responsibilities. On the other hand, developed countries often argue that developing countries, led by China and India, now represent the lion’s share of global carbon emissions. Without a commitment from China and India, developed countries often refuse to sign any global climate deal. However, with the new joint plan to curb emissions, the U.S. and China –often portrayed as the leaders of developed and developing countries, respectively –sent a strong signal to the world that it is time to move past this deadlock because attacking climate change is a truly a common cause of humanity.

Combined with the European Union’s pledge to cut its emission 40 percent by 2030, we now have commitments from more than half of the world’s total emissions (see figure 2). As many analysts point out, this new climate deal will undoubtedly increase the chance of reaching a meaningful global climate agreement in Paris in December 2015. It will also encourage other nations to follow suit and put forward their emissions reduction targets, as Denmark did by committing to go 100% renewable by 2050. The new climate deal helps put the global community much more firmly on a path towards real emissions reduction.  It helps delay, if not avert, the Years of Living Dangerously.

Figure 2 U.S. and China’s Share of World Carbon Emissions

(Source: Energy Information Administration, 2014)

 

Driving the Clean Energy Economy

Third, the climate deal between China and the U.S. is also positively game-changing for the global clean energy economy. In order to cap its emissions no later than 2030, China has pledged to increase its use of energy from zero-emission sources such as renewable energy and nuclear energy to 20% of its energy consumption by 2030 (see figure 3).

Figure 3 China’s Clean Energy Pledge

(Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2014)

In doing so China is pledging to develop an additional “800 – 1000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emissions generation capacity” within the next 15 years or sooner. Renewable energy already represents 19% of global final energy consumption in 2012, and it continued to grow in 2013. This newly pledged energy capacity from zero-emissions sources of energy by China, which is “more than all the existing coal-fired power plants in China and close to the total electricity generation capacity in the US”, will indisputably further accelerate the already dramatic cost reduction and explosive expansion of global clean energy development.

Next, if we take a step back, and convert the new climate deal to gigatons of carbon emissions prevented from entering the atmosphere, Climate Interactive and MIT’s Climate Rapid Overview and Decision Support (C-ROADS) simulator estimates that, if fully implemented, a total of 640 gigatons of carbon emissions or more will be kept from being emitted into the atmosphere (see figure 4).

Figure 4 U.S. – China Climate Accord in Emissions Reduction

 

Critics are quick to point out that many of the above-mentioned impacts will only materialize if the new climate deal is fully implemented. But those critics understate the drivers of implementation.  Regardless of the reasons the parties reached the agreement, China and the U.S., each have compelling economic and political reasons to pursue aggressive emissions reduction and clean energy development. These benefits include economic growth, new jobs, enhanced energy security, healthier living environments, and global leadership, among others.

The new climate deal promises to further open up vast new clean energy markets.  Although this new economic sector is still in the early stages of development, renewable energy jobs already reached 6.5 million in 2013, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.  China and the U.S. were two of the leading countries with the largest number of renewable jobs – 2,640,000 and 625,000 renewable energy jobs (see figure 5). The total investment in renewable energy and fuels, excluding large hydro-electric projects, totaled at $214 billion worldwide.

Figure 5 Global Renewable Energy Jobs

 

(Source: EcoWatch, 2014)

 

The new climate deal also offers real political benefits to both countries.  For China, with its choking toxic air pollution, severe water pollution challenges, and serious environmental and health concerns in many parts of the rural countryside in combination with growing demands for more environmentally friendly practices and greener products, the U.S.-China Climate Accord is both timely and strategic.

President Obama and the Administration have made another big step forward in delivering on his plan – one of three key components of the President’s Climate Action Plan to “lead international effort to combat global climate change and prepare for its impacts.”  By publically shaking hands with President Xi on this new climate deal, President Obama made it even more difficult for climate deniers in Congress to undermine this climate agreement.  Any attempt to stop implementation of the new climate deal would mean not only opposing the President, but also China – the U.S.’s most important trading partner.

Providing Strong Framework for Cross-Border Climate Collaborations

The landmark U.S. – China Climate Accord elevates the importance and urgency of local and state/provincial governments’ climate engagement. It also provides an ideal framework and political backdrop for bilateral initiatives aimed at facilitating and accelerating mutually beneficial climate collaborations such as the California-China Urban Climate Collaborative (CCUCC) – a dynamic and long-term exchange between cities in California and China seeking to mitigate carbon emissions, alleviate air pollution, and advance clean energy economy.

The CCUCC is designed to advance the work of California Governor Brown to engage China to jointly address the global threat of climate change. “I see the partnership between China, between provinces in China, and the state of California as a catalyst and as a lever to change policies in the United States and ultimately change policies throughout the world,” said Governor Brown signing a first-of-its-kind agreement on climate change between China’s National Development and Reform Commission and the State of California in September 2013.

Through the California-China Urban Climate Collaborative, ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA, in partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the California-China Office of Trade and Investment, the Bay Area Council and the Asia Society, will provide participating Californian and Chinese local government staffs with tools, resources, and training around ICLEI USA’s Five Milestones of Climate Action Planning – conducting a baseline emission inventory and forecast, adopting an emissions reduction target, developing a local Climate Action Plan, implementing policies and measures, and monitoring and verifying results.

The Collaborative also connects cities with subject matter experts from both countries to identify and address their unique challenges such as emissions reduction, air quality, transportation, water conservation, infrastructure resource and energy efficiency, waste management, among many other topic areas. Most importantly, the CCUCC is designed as the first step of a collaborative process that will set U.S. and Chinese cities on a sustainable and replicable pathway towards a long-term and effective city-to-city urban climate collaboration.

In short, the U.S.-China Climate Accord fundamentally reshapes the politics of global climate change for the better. It silences climate obstructionists, advances a cleaner global energy economy, and sets the world on a path towards realizing a more promising climate future. What’s more? Both the U.S. and China have major economic, social, and political incentives to uphold their promises and honor the full implementation of the agreement for a cleaner economy, healthier population, and safer climate for the generations yet to come.

Hydraulic Fracturing

gasland-what-is-hydraulic-fracturing(Source:gaslandthemovie.com)

One of the most heated environmental debates has recently centered on the costs and benefits of shale gas extraction, namely through an unconventional gas exploration technique known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The fossil fuel industry lauds the opportunities that shale gas and its production can bring. To the proponents of gas drilling, shale gas production means job creation, economic growth, and energy independence. On the other hand, environmentally and socially minded people highlight the much greater cost that fracking imposes on the environment and the human health. 

Contrary to the stories that gas companies spin, shale gas development is never and cannot be about environmental protection, energy independence, or any other deceptive charms the companies have advertised.  It is purely about profits for the gas companies regardless of all the harms shale gas production and consumption imposes on the nation and its citizens. It is important to not fall prey to the rhetoric of the gas industry.

Hydraulic fracturing, as the name suggests, is an extremely water-intensive energy production practice. It involves injecting large quantity of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals into wells in order to extract natural gas. The process imposes dire risk of groundwater and surface water contamination. A recent study from Duke University found that fracking contaminated groundwater the majority of the time. Fracking has been linked to over 1,000 confirmed cases of groundwater contamination nationwide. It is estimated that 65 to 91 percent of the chemically treated fluids with toxins including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene remain underground. These chemicals, along with methane gas, will migrate into waterways through fissures and cracks. Additionally, spillages prior injection of chemically treated water or during the recovery, transportation, and disposal of millions of barrels of toxic wastewater can directly find their ways to rivers, lakes, and drinking water systems. Even if we put the water contamination aside, hydraulic fracturing still imposes major threat to water resources by using millions of gallons of water per gas well, and pumping aquifers dry in regions where lingering droughts have already made water scarce.

Then there is the industry’s favorite argument, which goes that “the environmental footprint of shale gas can be far more easily ameliorated than that of coal and other fossil fuels” (Jaffe, 2013). Dr. Ingraffea of Cornell University, who has studied fracking since 1982, points out that “producing and burning natural gas could do more to aggravate global warming than coal” (Cornell, 06/27/12). His study found that certain degrees of methane leakage are inevitable due to the failure in casing and cement. Not only would methane leakage contaminate underground sources of drinking water, but also damage air quality. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms high methane leakage rate up to 9% from gas field (Think Progress, 01/02/2013).  It is also important to point out that methane, as a greenhouse gas, methane is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time scale  (Think Progress, 10/02/2013). Consequently, the production and burning of shale gas is likely to have a greater greenhouse effect than conventional gas or other fossil fuels. Researchers from NOAA point out that if methane leakage is replicated elsewhere, the methane emission will utterly vitiate any climate benefit of natural gas.

Hydraulic fracturing also imposes unparalleled level of harm to human health, natural landscape, and public infrastructure, to name but a few. With all the environmental and social costs, we are still debating about fracking.  Do we not have any legitimate alternatives? The answer is definitely yes. Renewable sources of energy, higher energy efficiency, and better end-user behaviors are only a few of the many choices we have.

Despite that gas companies have been belittling renewable sources of energy, the booming industry of renewable energy has made great strides, and with the right policies it can become a major source of our power. The potential of renewable energy is limitless. A 2003 factsheet by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory noted that a “100-by-100 mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity” and that much of this electricity could come from abandoned industrial sites. Energy Information Administration concludes, “covering 4% of the world’s desert area with PV could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity” (EIA, 12/19/11).  Internationally, German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour, equaling to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity last May (Reuters, 05/26/12). In Spain, wind power exceeded 6 terawatt hours, enough energy to light almost all the homes in the country (World Future Society, 02/13/13). According to the Global Wind Energy Council (2013), wind power capacity increased tenfold over the last decade. 

Even if we put all the environmental and human concerns with fracking aside, and entertain the gas companies with their drilling, the hard fact is that shale gas, like all fossil fuels, is finite and we will run out. What then? We have to turn to renewable energy sooner or later. Why not sooner and to avoid dangerous impact of a warming planet?

Let’s also entertain the gas companies by saying that natural gas “will” phase out oil and coal. Even then, even if we switch to gas entirely, the International Energy Agency estimates an increase of 3.5 oC in average global temperature, which is far higher than the 2-degree target set by the United Nations.

In closing, despite all the gas companies promises of job creation, bridge to clean energy, and energy independence, it is of paramount importance to recognize and to internalize the fact that the dirty fuels of the past have no place in a sustainable future.

02/18/13 Tupgon

Control Gun, Now!

 
Bang. Bang. Bang.

On university campus in Virginia, in a cinema in Aurora, in a high school in Columbine, and now at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, bullets are flying across U.S. states, striking innocent people as they fly, taking young lives, turning holiday into tragedy.

Every single time, the media follows, police storms, and people outcry. However, as soon as the news fade, campus reopened, and vigils held, we tend to resume our lives and the topic disappears all together until another tragedy strikes.

Once again when twenty some people gone cold instead of getting ready to unwrap what Santa Claus has in stock for them under the colorful Christmas Tree, people outcries: it is time to debate gun control. May be they will? Or may be their ears will prefer the holiday season jingle bell to an aged debate—Gun Control.

“It’s about democracy. It’s about people empowerment,” says one of my friends. Her views echo what has been the debate on gun control. You cannot take away people’s basic right to own guns, we hear. It is written in the U.S. constitution, some reason. However, what about the lives lost during these coldblooded carnages? What about the bullets sunk into innocent lives and cut them prematurely short? Others question.

I do not pretend to have the perfect answers for these questions. These questions, nonetheless, are essential for people to bear in mind, continue to debate, and find policy solutions for, not as an emotional reaction to an unforeseen tragedy, but as a proactive and preventive measure to take. Now, more than ever, is time to debate and implement gun control.

Control does not mean or equal to outlaw. Therefore, by controlling the government is not taking away its citizens’ constitutional right to own guns, but to tighten relevant rules and regulations, so that no more innocent lives will be lost as a cost to the delayed implementation.

Control gun, now.

COPs With Procrastinator’s Syndrome


United Nations’ Climate Talk, the Conference of Parties (COP), has recently been diagnosed with chronic Procrastinator’s Syndrome. The illness exacerbates in environment, where there is higher presence of atmospheric GHGs concentration. Its symptoms include willingness to trade current actions with distant visions, fear of any SMART (specific, measureable, accountable, reasonable, and time-bound) plans and commitments, and discordance between one’s believe and behavior. Patients of chronic Procrastinator’s Syndrome often die of a combination of hyperpyrexia, hydrocephalus/hydropenia, and disorders of blood circulation.

COP18 comes and goes, as its predecessors have, leaving little achievement as how to curb the rising global emissions. The COPs have become somewhat of fading echoes of one another. The perpetrator vs. victim debate continues. Environmental protection is once again pitted against economic growth. A grand, but distance, vision yet again replaces current intervention—clear symptom of chronic procrastinator’s syndrome. Industrialized nations once again shy away from any substantial commitment, because according to them warming continues without China and India on board.

In 2012, COP suffered from unprecedented high fever or what is known medically as hyperpyrexia, according to Dr. NOAA and Dr. NCDC (visit Samenow’s article on Warmest period in U.S. records carries on). In July 2012, COP undergone “some of the hottest temperature occurred in the Plains … a full 4 degrees above average,” (Samenow, 2012).

(Source: The Washington Post, 2012)

COP has also shown strong symptoms of hydrocephalus/hydropenia and that is to say suffering from too much or too little water. Yunnan in southwest China, celebrated as the third national water-rich province, suffered from three consecutive years’ drought—2009 to 2011. Cracked lands and withered crops stretched across the province. (For a brief report on Yunnan’s drought, please visit my earlier post on Yunnan Drought Report ). While some suffer from lack of water, others float in flood.

(Source: Global Development, 2012)

Most recently Typhoon Bopha, “the strongest tropical cyclone to ever hit island of Mindanao,” (The Atlantic, 2012) wiped through southern Philippines, and left 650 dead, near 800 missing, and over 400,000 displaced.

(Source: The Atlantic, 2012)
Super Storm Sandy wreaked havoc parts of the U.S. east coast after tearing through the Caribbean. Sandy killed reportedly 125 people in the U.S., and caused about $62 billion in damage and other losses (Las Vegas Sun, 2012).

(Source: Chicago Tribune, 2012)

As the atmospheric concentration of Greenhouse Gases hit record highs in 2011 (i.e., Carbon dioxide at 390.9 parts per million, Methane at 1813 parts per billion, and nitrous oxide at 324.2 parts per billion), COP’s Procrastinator’s Syndrome worsens.

COP18 in Doha hardly made any progress. Connie Hedgaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, lauded: “In Doha, we have crossed the bridge from the old climate regime to the new system. We are now on our way to the 2015 global deal,” (Europa, 2012).

We seem always “on our way to” a future deal. COP’s future deals are like chasing the end of a rainbow. The distance seems never to be scaled. We assure ourselves it’s there, but we can never really get there.

COP continues to suffer from severe chronic procrastinator’s syndrome. During COP18 in Doha, developed countries pledged to secure $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries cope with climate change, but no plan as what to do before then and how to fulfill the pledge.

Climatic negotiations have shifted from previous prevention-oriented talks to compensations for loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change. World Bank report suggests that “the world [is] on a trajectory for a global mean warming of well over 3 degree Celsius,” (The Washington Post, 2012).

(Source: The Washington Post, 2012)

Is COP nearing its end? What are the key issues to focus? 1. Ambition: how much emissions to reduce in order to meet the 2-degree target (e.g., to address the gap between pledged emissions reduction & 2-degree-required reduction); 2. Means to materialize the climate ambition (e.g., Finance: Renewal of the Fast Start Finance, Plans for The New Green Climate Fund; Mechanism: Promotion of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Transparency and Accountability for Emissions Accounting, and adoption of effective emissions mitigation measures); 3. Collective Action (e.g., Plans for the Kyoto Protocol Second Commitment Period, Path to the 2015 Agreement and beyond), 4. Equity (e.g., poor countries are supported and not punished for the developed countries’ historical emissions), and 5. Adaptation (e.g., concrete measures to adapt to the new climatic norms).

While a global framework and legally binding agreement is the key to achieve meaningful emissions reduction within a “hopefully” reasonable timetable. However, we are indisputably running out of time. Consequently, it is vital to draw comprehensive long-term plans, but at the same time not lose sight of the valuable immediate actions (i.e., carbon club, sector-specific reduction target, national and regional efforts/strategies, etc.).

Addressing the loss and damage associate with negative impact from global climate change is a must, but it should by no means be a reason for delayed intervention or substitution for immediate action, because lives lost can never be fully compensated. The very attempt to use monetary means to recompense human lives lost is offensive not only to families affected, but also to all the institutions (like hospitals), and social movements (i.e., fighting against global hunger, capital punishment, and death), whose very existences are conceived upon and sustained by the value of human lives.

As the Philippine Climate Change Commissioner, Naderev M. Sano, appealed to his fellow negotiators in Doha, the outcome of COPs is not and should never be about what political masters want. It is about the survival of humanity.

As COPs continue to suffer from Procrastinator’s Syndrome, it is not only COPs’ life on the line, but that of the fishermen lost at sea in the Philippines, the farmers whose livelihoods parched with lingering drought in southwest China, residents whose homes lost to the wrath of increasing wildfires in the U.S., and Islanders whose worlds disappearing due to the rising sea level.

It is time to cure COP’s Procrastinator’s Syndrome, and curb global emissions now.

12/10/12 Tupgon T.

What Type of Climatic Legacy to Leave Behind

Talks in Doha continue, without making any concrete progress. Folks hit the streets—streets that are only too familiar with demonstration to notice a peaceful walk. As nations defend their emissions records, rights to pollute, and excuses for inaction, fortnight of get-together almost comes to an end.

We are unfortunately too accustomed to UN’s climatic conventions. Delegates circumambulate old debates (developed vs. developing; emissions reduction vs. economic growth, etc.) more than Buddhists do of their stupas. While the latter seek accumulation of merits, the former forgo further atmospheric thickening of GHGs. While the latter seek path to heaven, the former headed to climatic hell.

An evermore frequent climatic extremes in the past year or two have taught many deniers that human induced climate change is no longer a distant theoretic debate, but a living reality. However, as we wait for more people, regions, and nations to come aboard, we are literally running out of time.

An increasing body of scientific reports warns that the world is unlikely to meet the 2-degree target even if all current pledges were fully delivered. To top thing off, many of the natural feedbacks, namely emissions from thawing permafrost, haven’t become a part of the climatic conversation until recent months.

As the Kyoto protocol is about to expire, and the promise by rich nations to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to help more vulnerable states is nowhere near to fulfill, not even a comprehensive plan in place.

Climatic Skeptics

Climatic skeptics repeat the same old question. “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” They suspect. I wish it were a giant hoax. I wish the climate skeptics were right. I wish the melting arctic, the expanding tropics, and the acidifying oceans have nothing to do with our emissions. I wish a planet increasingly raked by winds, strafed by storms, and scorched by heat has nothing to do with the thickening of atmospheric concentration of heat-trapping gases. I wish the floods in Pakistan, the wildfires in the U.S. West, and the lingering drought in Yunnan Province in China does not share the same root cause. I wish NASA scientist James Hansen’s testimony before Congress in June 1988 meant nothing. I wish the scientists’ discovery of steady rise in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in Mauna Loa in 1950s had nothing to do with our unbridled economic growth and resource exploitation. I wish the world’s leading scientists at U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and their reports were all wrong. But then again, what if science trumps ideology? What if emissions do derail the earth’s energy balance? What if we are exhausting many of the earth’s resources and ecological carrying capacity? What if our kids, grandkids, and the many more generations yet to come will not be able to enjoy the oasis generation come before them have? What if we can no longer afford to linger but to act?

Holistic and Systemic Evaluation

It’s time for us all to be real, and stop the nonsensical bickering about who should act, because we all have to.

When a nation is applauded for its greenness, let’s not be shy to shed a light on the sources of its food, the factories where its good are manufactured. If Brazilian produces feed them, and made-in-China supports them, then are they really that green? It is their appetites for goods that have caused international pollution leakage, and driven the pollution bars up on the developing countries charts. The Guardian’s Duncan Clark reports change in CO2 emissions from 1990 to 2011, and to no one’s surprise China’s pollution outgrows everyone else’s and India is right behind China. Countries like Russia and EU 15  (-0.305 GT) showed some gains.

Russia’s emissions plummeted largely because of the breakups of the Soviet Union and collapse of its heavy industries. However, recent study found that E.U. emissions have actually gone up by 7 percent rather than the reported gain of 0.305 GT. So, who is right and who is wrong? It’s where trade comes in. In an evermore interdependent and interconnected global web, we can no longer view a nation and/or a region’s emissions solely according to its geographic boundaries. We have to examine and evaluate emissions from a more holistic, systemic, and life-cycle point of view. We have to evaluate the amount of emissions and resource consumption that are embedded in commodities that are exported or imported.

With a more holistic and inclusive global emissions reduction formula, nations may find it easier to move on from the current developed vs. developing debate, and take initiatives. To certain extent, China emits because the world demands made-in-China produces, which consumes energy and emits GHGs. Developed nations find it hard to make legally binding commitments without marching along the developing nations, because they are not fully realizing that their factories and pollutions are often exported into the very nations they blame as cheap polluters.

I find the developing countries’ argument about “you polluted and become developed, and now it’s our term,” is naively silly at best. After all whether the atmosphere holds an equal amount of emissions from every nation or not, the new climatic norms—I am talking about lingering drought, flash floods, stronger storms, encroaching desertification, rising sea level, and much more—will hit us all. It is the impoverished populations of developing countries, who will find themselves hopeless and helpless, if we don’t join hands and act now.

Long-term vision vs. Short-term goals

We need a long-term framework, call it policy vision, if you will, with enough purpose and strategy to it, so that it doesn’t rely on short-term government changes or social fluctuation.

We need short-term goals that will collectively materialize the long-term climatic vision. We need to act rather than waiting for someone else to act. When nations deliver their emissions reduction pledges earlier than agreed, it is time to thank them for their excellent work rather than choking them harder with higher targets.

It is time to collectively hold a firm ground for the protection of ecosystems, upon whose services our livelihoods depend. It is time to safeguard and conserve our shared natural heritage for the many more generations yet to come.

Dec. 4th, 2012

Tupgon T.

 

A Corpulent Few Means A Skinny Bunch

China is set to build a huge eco-city from scratch, where none of the estimated 80,000 residents will need to drive. The master planning of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture envisages a romantic eco-space, in which homes nest amidst public green spaces. Eco-parks filter and purify wastewater like Mother Nature does. Automobiles are no longer part and parcel of the eco-landscape.

In this grand new eco-city of 78 million square foot area, humans reside in harmony with nature. “Land outside the city will be reserved for farming.” Every morning, as farm chickens crow the city awake from a long undisturbed night of rest. The city runs on renewable and waste-generated energy, and the residents regale on organic products right off the local farms. In the evenings, sheep baas the city off to sleep, and the last bark of a guard dog fades into the depth of tranquil nights.

However fictitiously romantic and futuristic it may sound, a grand political vision often waters down into mere writing as time passes by and more hands get involved. At the suffocating grips of severe corruption, no design seems to fully translate into construction and meaningful post-construction operation.

It is not only the construction of the city, or piecing together the hardware, raises serious socio-environmental concerns, but also the installation of software (e.g., residents, and post-construction operation and management systems) that demands a closer look into the proposed project’s overall value and feasibility.

Even if some political miracles happen, and the project does survive all the usual embezzlement, material substitution, and construction challenges, the question remains about post-construction end-user behavior. What if the residents of this grand eco-city won’t or do not know how to operate the city as it is designed? What if the building managers are not fully capable of grasping, let along handling, such cutting edge new builds? Remember, long-term success in energy saving and emissions reduction depend more on green practices rather than green designs.

As one of my friends used to say, eco-friendliness is a lived process rather than a set of patterns. How will the project designers, contactors, and managers address the inevitable knowledge gap among the invested parties? How will they ensure that eco-friendly designs and constructions will translate into meaningful environmentally friendly practices? Who will be living in this city when and if it gets built? Will it be an eco-city for all or a holiday resort for the few?

The scale of the proposed project also raises other concerns, such as land use change, cost concerns (not only financial, but social and environmental). Where will China build this city? What about the site’s residents and biodiversity? What about the environmental footprint of implementing such a massive project?

I am also concerned about the fact that allocating unreasonable large sum of fund and political preference to a few obnoxiously giant projects will only end up starving a greater number of competing projects, disrupting many ongoing smaller, but essential green efforts, and creating false GDP figures that reflect more of money wasted on unsustainable construction projects, rather than living conditions improved.

The speed of today’s development and innovation forbids any rigid and long-term green prescriptions. What may seem eco-friendly and energy-saving today may no longer hold true five or ten years down the line. The author of this news piece puts forward the ultimate question, which asks if this project will “stand the test of time.”

In short, feeding a few unreasonably fat will only leave the majority undernourished.

11/05/12
Chad T.

A Brief Report on Yunnan Drought

Just a month ago the southwest China’s Yunnan Province was in the grip of persisting drought. Cracked lands and withered crops stretched across the province. Thirsty local residents and livestock rose into 8 millions and 1.5 millions respectively. 1, 6, 7 & 9 What came to known locally as “the great drought” has also dried up over 273 rivers and 413 small reservoirs in the region. 6, 7 &  9  The sustained aridity has reportedly cost Yunnan $1.6 billion dollars9 in failed crops and severely crippled key industries like flower, tobacco, and hydropower generation, to name but a few. As I write this drought report, however, heavy rains wreaked havoc many places across China including many parts in Yunnan. Weather is like that, as Paul Krugman points out in his recent article Loading the Climate Dice, it fluctuates.

It is also this very observation that “dooms us to climate catastrophe,” argues Krugman. It is the variability in rainfalls from season to season and year-to-year that makes it “easy to miss, ignore or obscure the longer-term trend.”22 It is easy for people to miss the big picture in the presence of short-run fluctuations.

At the beginning of August 2012, Climate Change and Energy Consul Bob Easton and I took a fieldtrip to Yunnan. We have called on relevant governmental departments, research institutes, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and visited local villages (Please see Annex 1 for the complete list of departments, organizations, and villages we have visited). 

Based on findings from literature review and in person interviews with relevant organizations and individuals, the current report provides an overview and preliminary analysis of Yunnan’s drought, its impact assessment, causal factors, adaptation measures, political debates, and potential opportunities for enhancing Sino-UK water collaboration.

I. Rich in Water Resources, but Susceptibility to Drought 

Yunnan is celebrated as the third national water-rich province in China right after Tibet and Sichuan province. However, its provincial capital Kunming is one of the 14 cities in China with the lowest water resources.15

Uneven distribution of regional water resources withholds Yunnan’s development and utilization of its water only at 7%, which is less than a third of the national average of 22%.15Temporally, rainy season normally spins from May to October and brings approximately 85% of the total annual rainfall. The remaining of the year is considered as dry season and only contributes about 15% of annual rainfall.

Geographically, 94% of the provincial terrain is mountainous, and only about 6% of the region lies flat. The region’s flat plains (6% of the total area) accommodate 2/3 of the population and 1/3 of the total farmland, but only have access to 7% of total water resources. In the absence of adaptive water resource management and efficient water infrastructures, rivers in the depth of low-lying valleys hardly contribute much water to the upper level of the highland. 

Yunnanese enjoyed four times more per capita water resource than the national average. Six major river systems, including Yangtze River (Jinsha River), the Pearl River, the Mekong (Lancang), the Red River (Honghe), the Salween (Nu River) and the Irrawaddy (i.e., tributaries like Dulong River), either originate or run through Yunnan Province. However, the region has suffered from three consecutive years’ drought—2009 to 2011. Whether 2012 will sustain the Great Drought into a fourth year is still open to discussion. The sustained drought in a region celebrated for its rich water resources begs the questions of what have induced the persisting drought and why the impact is so severe.

II. The Great Drought: An Overview

Since July 2009, a lingering drought for more than three years left Yunnan’s land parched and populations desperate. River flows decreased, water levels in lakes and other impoundments dropped to record low. Cracked riverbeds and withered plants upset the natural abundances, which were once celebrated as an epicentre of Chinese biodiversity.21 Concerns over drought induced disruption of social harmony7 and economic loss22 saturated headlines of the Chinese media.  

The occurrence and severity of the Great Drought is uncontested. Sustained precipitation reduction reset the lowest rainfall record in decades. In 2011, annual rainfall in 60 cities and counties across Yunnan province hit the lowest in 20 years. 41 of which suffered from the lowest annual rainfall in past 50 plus years11. Counties like Fumin have undergone three years’ consecutive drought, according to Yunnan official data Fumin county’s annual rainfalls in 2009, 2010, and 2011 were 558, 652, and 530 mm, which are much lower than its annual average of 853mm. Comparing to the annual average, Fumin’s precipitation in these three years decreased by 35%, 23% and 38% , respectively.11

Reduction in annual rainfall led to abnormally low river inflow across Yunnan Province. From January to May 2012, average inflow of Yunnan watersheds is 32% lower than the averages in corresponding time periods in previous years. In May, average water level is 40% lower than the averages in similar time periods. Figure 1 shows Yunnan’s six major watersheds and their main tributaries’ water level in comparison with historical average over many years.12

Figure 1:

Figure 1 Jan – May Yunnan Watersheds’ Average Water Level in Comparison with its Temporal Corresponding Historical Average (Yunnan Water Resource Bureau, 2012)

Impact of the Drought

Millions of people and animals suffered from shortage of drinking water.  In 2010, reportedly 18% of the provincial population were short of drinking water and suffered over $2.5 billion worth of crop failure.1 

Over 130-thousand hectares of forests and 520-thousand hectares of croplands were at the mercy of drought induced wildfire.22

Competition over scarce water resources ignited sporadic disruption of social harmony.7 Quarrels and outright fights broke out among desperate farmers as they struggled to meet their water needs. There were reportedly over 1,500 cases of disputes where officials had to step in.7

The booming hydropower generation has also slow down into an infinite halt. According to personal communications with Yunnan provincial development and reform commission, the sustained drought has decreased more than half of the electricity generation from the hydropower stations in the region. There is no way of knowing when it will resume normal production.

As Yunnan’s altitude ranges from few hundreds to over six thousand meters, its tropical environments and snow-capped mountains support one of the most concentrated and diverse spectrum of flora and fauna species. The topographic range has also created a safe haven for an extremely high degree of endemism. The once-in-a-century drought also imposed serious threat to the very survival of many endemic species whose numbers are small and habitats are highly concentrated.23 

Drought induced alteration in regional species composition will most likely lead to replacement of endemic species by drought resistant ones.24 Zhu Hua, an ecologist at XTBG and his colleagues noted a 10% increase in the abundance of liana species over the past few decades in southwest Yunnan’s tropical forests.1              

The replacement of matured tropic forest with fast growing commercial forest also deprives the ecosystem of its ability to capture moisture and absorb carbon dioxide. Cao Kunfang of XTBG points out, “having more lianas in tropical forest could compromise their function as a carbon sink.”1

In short, the impact of the drought is prevailing and severe. It deprived millions of people and livestock of their drinking water, flora and fauna of their bloodlines, ecosystems of their contents and basic services.    

Causes of the Drought: Anthropogenic and Natural

While government officials and peasants all grieve over the sustained drought, they disagree on the probable causes and corresponding mitigation measures of the drought. The difference in their causal analyses also seems to have induced political sensitivity over the issue.

As our field research in Yunnan has revealed, local NGOs and academicians tended to point to failed governmental policies and ill management of natural resources as a major, if not the only, cause of recent climatic anomalies. Quite the opposite, relevant government officials whom we interviewed attributed the decrease in rainfall and delayed rainy seasons as extreme weathers of the historical distribution. “Climatic disaster is nothing new to Yunnan. As the saying goes ‘no climatic disaster does not constitute a year’,” jokes Chen Jian, the deputy director of Yunnan Water Resource Department (Henceforth abbreviated as Yunnan WRD). 

Deforestation

Large-scale clearance of tropic forest and plantation of commercial trees upset regional microclimate.16, 24 “Natural forests are the key regulator of climate and hydrological processes,” says Xu, China’s representative at the World Agroforestry Centre.1 The deforestation in mountainous Yunnan weakened the region’s ability to retain moisture during rainy seasons and to sustain a myriad of flora and faunas during dry seasons. 

Dr. Liu of Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) also expressed similar concerns with large-scale deforestation, suggesting that forest clearance results in soil erosion, landslides and flash floods. It also “removes the valuable ecological services natural forests provide”1. The impact of deforestation is the most acute during prolonged droughts, whereas, in wetter monsoon seasons there are more floods.

The removal of forest’s ecological services is then compounded with the plantation of water-thirsty commercial trees, namely rubber trees and eucalyptuses.16, 23 By 2010, rubber trees, also locally known as water pumps, cover 20% of Xishuangbanna’s land.1 In Ailao Mountains, where climatically prohibit rubber plantation, fast growing eucalyptus are replacing primary forest to feed the paper industry.1  

Chen at Yunnan Water Resource Department believes Yunnan’s mountainous topography and uneven distribution of water resources make the region vulnerable to drought. He prides Yunnan (~52%) being the third in forest coverage right after Fujian (62%) and Jiangxi (61%). 15,18 Chen argues the negligible percentage of commercial forest in comparison with the overall provincial forest cover does little, if any, damage to the local ecology.

On the other hand, however, experts and NGOs alike depict a quite different picture when it comes to local forestry coverage. They point out forest coverage may remain the same, but the ecological function has severely downgraded. Feng (2007) shared similar concerns with forestry coverage in Fujian and Jiangxi. The large-scale replacement of natural forest with commercial ones does not change the overall coverage, but loses many ecological services, thus Feng (2007) refers to large commercial forest coverage that does little to conserve the ecosystem as “Green Desert” phenomenon. 

Dr. Ou of Yunnan University explains that it is the overemphasis of economic value and negligence of ecological values of trees that have lead to large-scale conversion of tropical rain forest to commercial forest (i.e., rubber and eucalyptus).

The Time Weekly’s senior columnist Yin Hongwei points out that the causes of and corresponding solutions to Yunnan’s persisting drought cannot be sought and prescribed in Yunnan alone. He believes we have to broaden our scope of analysis, look at what is happening in Yunnan’s neighbouring countries and provinces. According to Yin, western countries’ demand for luxury woodwork is a major stimulus for the continued deforestation in Yunnan’s neighbouring places and thus indirectly contributes to the climatic anomalies in Yunnan and beyond. 

Water Management

Poor water management is yet another culprit of inducing regional climate anomalies. Yunnan’s reservoirs are aged and ill-used. Many of Yunnan’s natural lakes are severely polluted and cannot be utilized.1 & 16

Some argue that Yunnan’s drought is as much of a natural drought as it is mismanagement of water resources.16 & 23 Local experts point out water shortage in Yunnan as infrastructural and water quality-relevant.

In the absence of effective water infrastructure, Yunnan’s rich water resource does little to alleviate droughts like the recent one through 2009 to Present. Government’s interpretation of water infrastructure seems rather simplistic, which is to develop reservoirs to store water in rainy seasons to meet water needs during the dry months, and to introduce pipelines to promote irrigation water use efficiency.15 However, as mentioned earlier in the report, experts and farmers alike argue such token measures only address urban drinking water and commercial farming (i.e., tobacco and flower industries), and do little to alleviate water shortage among impoverished farmers scattered over a large mountainous region, nor suffice the ecosystems water needs.

Drought is severe, because Yunnan’s waters suffer from high level of anthropogenic pollution. Among Yunnan’s nine major lakes, only four are useable. Only 40% of all river water in the region is drinkable.16 Chen Jian of Yunnan Provincial Water Resource Department acknowledges the challenges imposed with increasing wastewater from a rapid Urbanization, and sustained reduction in Rainfall in the region.

The government’s mitigation measures, as Chen introduced it, include protection of water resources’ environments, improvement of wastewater treatment, and promotion of water-saving technologies and consumers’ behaviours. However, as he delved into the actual implementations of such measures, he mainly focused on the treatment plants in Kunming.

“There are ten wastewater treatment plants in Kunming,” said Chen, “90% of the city’s wastewater are fully treated.”16 However, Chen’s statement was later fully rejected by academicians at both Yunnan University and Kunming Institute of Geo-botany.

“An illustrative example of such wastewater treatment is the Dianchi Project,” said Dr. Ou of Yunnan University, “repeated water tests show that Dianchi’s water quality is way below any usability, not even for industrial use. It was tested positive for carcinogens.”23 Dr. Ou finds it incomprehensible that the government is considering Dianchi’ water can be purified with some immature treatments. He voices concerns for the population’ s wellbeing over such irrational government measures. 

Climate Change

As leading climatic scientist like James Hansen, director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, confessed that he had been too optimistic to think climate change is a steady process. He wrote he had “failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise [of global average temperature] would drive an increase in extreme weather.”19 

The impact of global climate change is no longer a distant theory or a future phenomenon for residents in Yunnan.   Human induced climate change has been identified as a major cause of the drought across different socio-political sectors.15, 16, 17, 22, 23 Shu at Green Kunming believes that it is perturbed changes in global climate that stress regional climate. Pich Dun, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Mekong Commission, told Xinhua News “the drought in Southwest China including Yunnan province was caused by climate change, or climatic cycles.”8  

Based on the monthly precipitation and temperature data of Yunnan’s 122 stations from 1961-2006, the evolution of Yunnan’s annual average temperature anomaly shares a similar upward trend as the global average temperature. While Yunnan’s microclimate has undergone a 0.2°C/10a rise, the global average temperature has been warming by 0.1°C/10a.13

With the warming trend, Yunnan’s annual utilizable precipitation average has been decreased by -0.8mm. According to Tao et al.’s study (2010), the utilizable precipitation decreased in summer (-1.3mm/a), autumn (-0.3mm/a) and winter (-0.02mm/a).13 Therefore, the decrease was especially severe in summer. As Figure 2 shows, Yunnan’s annual utilizable precipitation has  been decreasing consistently for the last nearly 50 years13.

 

 

Figure 2 Temporal Evolution of annual average temperature anomaly over (a) the globe and (b) Yunnan Province from 1961 to 2006 (Tao et al., 2010)

While local researchers, NGOs, and residents point their fingers to the government, the latter direct its finger to the global climate and nature as the causes of the great drought in Yunnan.16 As we put forward the question of potential causes of the drought, Chen Jian of Yunnan WRD referenced back to the pages he was holding. “Drought is not new to Yunnan. Looking at last hundred-year’s temperature and rainfall data, Yunnan had six sustained droughts, two of which went on for five consecutive years. Drought is not surprise to anyone in Yunnan.”16 However, the drought in past three years can be attributed to “atmospheric pressure irregularities and strong El Nino,” concludes Chen.15

Similarly, according to Wang Gao from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Yunnan’s drought is caused by atmospheric pressure. “Dry and warm airflows from India and Pakistan have controlled the province. The streams are so strong that they prevent the humid currents from the Indian Ocean and South China Sea entering. The two air streams meet over the sky in Thailand and Cambodia, so these regions have plenty rainfalls, while Yunnan always suffers drought.”9

Mitigation and Adaptation of the Drought

Different interpretations of causal analyses have directly resulted in different proposals of mitigation measures to combat drought. Chen of Yunnan WRD prides on the large sum of money the Chinese central government has allocated to accelerate water infrastructure developments in Yunnan. NGOs and researchers, however, criticize such drought mitigation measure as being myopic. Dr. Xu, the director of Kunming Institute of Geo-botany, points out that the construction of reservoirs and big dams can only supply address urban drinking water. It neither guarantees water supply for populations scattered over a large area, nor suffices the need of ecological systems’ water needs.

Senior columnist Yin Hongwei of the Time Weekly questions the actual application of government funds to proposed infrastructure projects. “The central government’s allocation is one thing, but the actual delivery of the proposed project is quite a different animal,” says Yin.

Yin’s suspicion seems to resonate among local peasants in two of the villages we visited. In Jizi village, we have visited a reservoir that was built in 1958. Since then it has received a series of repairs, but no additional reservoirs were built in the area. Villagers were also very reluctant to disclose any info at the present of governmental officials.

Despite such distrust and criticism from the general public, the central government has allocated 20 billion yuan to support Yunnan’s water infrastructure development since 2011.15

Government’s other drought mitigation measures include conversion of monoculture to intercropping,1 employment of artificial precipitation,8 and drilling wells.1 The most severely impacted regions have also promoted temporary population relocation in the form of immigrant workers.7

According to Zhu, president of Yunnan Agricultural University, in 2010, 80% of the farmland in Yunnan adopted intercropping.1 Large-scale hillside farmlands were converted into terraced cropland to mitigate soil erosion and landslide.

Over 2000 drought relief workers were reportedly deployed to drill wells around the clock in southwest China in 2010.1 Between Mar 22 and 28 in 2010, a dozen flights were made and nearly 10,000 artillery shells and 1,000 rockets were fired into the atmosphere over southwest China.2

Major water diversion projects were yet another drought adaption strategies mentioned time and again during our visit to Yunnan Water Resource Department. However, concerns over insufficient environmental assessment and associated ecological and social impacts of such large-scale water diversion projects are well registered among local experts, NGOs, and indigenous peasants. The continuation of such ecological alteration is most likely going to upset social and ecological stability in the long run.23  

Political Debate of the Drought

While dried riverbeds and failed crops forbid denial of the occurrence of a severe drought, its causal analyses and mitigation measures seem to become more of a political debate and thus subject to political sensitivity.

One of the top leaders at Tai’an Township, Yulong County in Yunnan, warned us not to talk to any farmers on the subject of drought. “I can tell you what’s happening, because I know it,” said Li, “I am telling you not to speak to any farmer about it, because they don’t know the whole story. If you insist on doing so, I am afraid I will have to call the security to escort you off the village” warned Li.

In response to our question of why drought was a sensitive topic, Li laughed and jokingly stated, “It relates to their survival, very livelihoods. Do you think it is sensitive?”

This level of nervousness seemed rather present among all levels of the relevant government departments. Our appointments with Lijiang Water Resource Department and Lijiang Civil’s Affairs were cancelled at the last minute. To their convenience, Naxi ethnic group’s Bonfire Festival was on same day as our visit. We were told officials from both departments had changes of plan and weren’t available to meet us.

Similarly, the head of Jizi reservoir in Jizi village also refused to speak to us. His presence even quieted otherwise very friendly peasants in the village. 

Such sensitivity begs the question what is there to hide?

The relevant governmental officials prided over the allocation of large sums of emergency aids and grand proposals of mega-water infrastructure projects. However, local farmers and experts alike mourned over the oxymoronic phenomenon, in which much was invested, but little had been achieved.  In Yin Hongwei’s words, “the central government’s allocation is one thing, but the actual delivery of the proposed project is quite a different animal.”

A clear dichotomy was also brought into being, when it came to the drought’s causal analyses. While the government attributed the causes of the great drought to global climate irregularity and the abstract concept of a nature, people uniformly directed their complains toward the government’s failed policies, ill management of natural resources, and preference of economic and political gains to ecological values and environmental protection.

Some even explained the government’s reactive attitude towards one of the worst drought in Yunnan’s recent history as a sign of its gratification in positive publicity and being portrayed as the ultimate savoir at times of natural disasters. “There is no alternative explanation for the government’s token measure employed to mitigate what is clearly a once-in-a-century disaster.”16

References:

  1.  Qiu, J. (2010). China drought highlights future climate threats. Nature, 465, 142-143. doi:10.1038/465142a
  2.  Xinhua. (2010, March 31). Science offers solutions to severe drought. Inkunming. Retrieved from http://en.kunming.cn/index/content/2010-03/31/content_2113535.htm
  3. 黄, 慧君. “2006年云南省盛夏高温干旱成因分析.” Yunnan Geographic Environment Research 21.4 (2009): 83-86.
  4. 刘, 瑜, 尔旭 赵, 玮 黄, 丹 孙, and 建华 琚. “2005 年初夏云南严重干旱的诊断分析.” Journal of Tropical Meteorology 23.1 (2007): 35-40.
  5. Horton, C. (2010, March 22). Yunnan’s drought woes continue. Gokunming. Retrieved from http://www.gokunming.com/en/blog/item/1421/yunnans_drought_woes_continue
  6. Qing, M. (2012, March 02). The great yunnan drought. The Epoch Times. Retrieved from http://www.gokunming.com/en/blog/item/1421/yunnans_drought_woes_continue
  7. Zhang, Z. (2012, July 18). Yunnan’s endless drought. Global Times. Retrieved from http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/721867.shtml
  8. China Daily. (2010, April 1). Reservoirs not cause of drought. China Daily. Retrieved from http://www.china.org.cn/environment/2010-04/01/content_19727336.htm
  9. CNC. (2012, March 19). Yunnan’s endless drought. CNC World. Retrieved from http://www.cncworld.tv/news/v_show/22945_Experts_on_Yunnan_drought.shtml
  10. Kuming Information Harbor. (2012, July 23). 云南全省降雨量比往年少320毫米 [Precipitation in Yunnan Has Reduced by 320mm in Comparison to Previous Years]. Www.km.gov.cn. Retrieved from http://www.km.gov.cn/structure/sylm/kmxwxx_200720_1.htm
  11. Yunnan Xinglong Information Net. (2012, February 27). 云南到底有多旱,监测数据来说话. [How severe is the Yunnan drought? Let the observed data speak.]Yunnan Xinglong Information Net. Retrieved from http://www.ynnw.gov.cn/Modules/Image/Imgtxt.aspx?kid=207972
  12. 云南省水文水资源局. “云南省水情简报.” 1(2012), 23 July 2012.
  13. Tao, Yun, Hua He, Qun He, Changchun Duan, and Juzhang Ren. “Evolutional Characteristics of Utilizable Precipitation over Yunnan Province Form 1961 to 2006.” Advances in Climate Change Research 6.1 (2010): 8-14. Web. 28 July 2012. <http://www.climatechange.cn/CN/abstract/abstract8614.shtml#>.
  14. People’s Net. (2010, March 23). 云南水资源总量全国第三 为何会干旱?[Yunnan’s water resource ranks national third, why the drought?]. Www.people.com.cn. Retrieved from http://society.people.com.cn/GB/1063/11202525.html
  15. Yunnan Water Resources Department, Personal Communication, August 8-9, 2012
  16. Local NGOs in Yunnan, Personal Communication, August 8-12, 2012
  17. Field trip to Tai’an Town and Jizi Village, August 13, 2012
  18. Feng, Y. F. (2007), Environmental Protection, Declare War Against Radical Developmentalism
  19. Hansen, J. E. (2012, August 03). Opinions climate change is here — and worse than we thought. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/climate-change-is-here–and-worse-than-we-thought/2012/08/03/6ae604c2-dd90-11e1-8e43-4a3c4375504a_story.html Jul. 22, 2012
  20.  UNESCO (2010,). Three parallel rivers of Yunnan protected areas. UNESCO.
  21. (2012, February 29). More emergency relief for drought-stricken Yunnan. China Bystander. Retrieved from http://chinabystander.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/more-emergency-relief-for-drought-stricken-yunnan/
  22. X. Ou, Personal communication, August 9, 2012
  23. J. Xu, Personal communication, August 10, 2012
  24. EU. (2012, March 14). China Europe water platform launched. Delegation Of The European Union To China. Retrieved from http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/china/press_corner/all_news/news/2012/20120314_en.htm
  25.  (2012, May 21). China to allocate $79bn to prevent water pollution. Water-technology.net. Retrieved from http://www.water-technology.net/news/newschina-allocating-79bn-to-prevent-water-pollution/
  26. (2003, April 10). Uk firms seek iraq contracts. Water-technology.net. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/2934233.stm

Green Glossary

Adaptation Action that helps cope with the effects of climate change – for example construction of barriers to protect against rising sea levels, or conversion to crops capable of surviving high temperatures and drought.

Adaptation fund A fund for projects and programmes that help developing countries cope with the adverse effects of climate change. It is financed by a share of proceeds from emission-reduction programmes such as the Clean Development Mechanism.

Annex I countries The industrialised countries (and countries in transition to a market economy) which took on obligations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. Their combined emissions, averaged out during the 2008-2012 period, should be 5.2% below 1990 levels.

Annex II Countries which have a special obligation under the Kyoto Protocol to provide financial resources and transfer technology to developing countries. This group is a sub-section of the Annex I countries, excluding those that, in 1992, were in transition from centrally planned to a free market economy.

Anthropogenic climate change Man-made climate change – climate change caused by human activity as opposed to natural processes.

Aosis The Alliance of Small Island States comprises 42 island and coastal states mostly in the Pacific and Caribbean. Members of Aosis are some of the countries likely to be hit hardest by global warming. The very existence of low-lying islands, such as the Maldives and some of the Bahamas, is threatened by rising waters.

AR4 The Fourth Assessment Report produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in 2007. The report assessed and summarised the climate change situation worldwide. It concluded that it was at least 90% likely that the increase of the global average temperature since the mid-20th Century was mainly due to man’s activity.

Atmospheric aerosols Microscopic particles suspended in the lower atmosphere that reflect sunlight back to space. These generally have a cooling affect on the planet and can mask global warming. They play a key role in the formation of clouds, fog, precipitation and ozone depletion in the atmosphere.

B

Bali action plan A plan drawn up at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, in December 2007, forming part of the Bali roadmap. The action plan established a working group to define a long-term global goal for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and a “shared vision for long-term co-operative action” in the areas of mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology.

Bali roadmap A plan drawn up at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, in December 2007, to pave the way for an agreement at Copenhagen in 2009 on further efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol. The roadmap gave deadlines to two working groups, one working on the Bali action plan, and another discussing proposed emission reductions by Annex I countries after 2012.

Baseline for cuts The year against which countries measure their target decrease of emissions. The Kyoto Protocol uses a baseline year of 1990. Some countries prefer to use later baselines. Climate change legislation in the United States, for example, uses a 2005 baseline.

Biofuel A fuel derived from renewable, biological sources, including crops such as maize and sugar cane, and some forms of waste.

Black carbon The soot that results from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass (wood, animal dung, etc.). It is the most potent climate-warming aerosol. Unlike greenhouse gases, which trap infrared radiation that is already in the Earth’s atmosphere, these particles absorb all wavelengths of sunlight and then re-emit this energy as infrared radiation.

Boxer-Kerry bill The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, now in the US Senate, also known as Waxman-Markey from 2007-2009 as it passed through the House of Representatives. This bill aims to reduce emissions by about 20% from a 2005 baseline by 2020. The bill would create a US-wide carbon market, which in time would link up with other carbon markets, like the EU Emission Trading Scheme. The bill is not expected to get Senate approval until 2010.

Business as usual A scenario used for projections of future emissions assuming no action, or no new action, is taken to mitigate the problem. Some countries are pledging not to reduce their emissions but to make reductions compared to a business as usual scenario. Their emissions, therefore, would increase but less than they would have done.

C

Cap and trade An emission trading scheme whereby businesses or countries can buy or sell allowances to emit greenhouse gases via an exchange. The volume of allowances issued adds up to the limit, or cap, imposed by the authorities.

Carbon capture and storage The collection and transport of concentrated carbon dioxide gas from large emission sources, such as power plants. The gases are then injected into deep underground reservoirs. Carbon capture is sometimes referred to as geological sequestration.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) Carbon dioxide is a gas in the Earth’s atmosphere. It occurs naturally and is also a by-product of human activities such as burning fossil fuels. It is the principal greenhouse gas produced by human activity.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent Six greenhouse gases are limited by the Kyoto Protocol and each has a different global warming potential. The overall warming effect of this cocktail of gases is often expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent – the amount of CO2 that would cause the same amount of warming.

Carbon footprint The amount of carbon emitted by an individual or organisation in a given period of time, or the amount of carbon emitted during the manufacture of a product.

Carbon intensity A unit of measure. The amount of carbon emitted by a country per unit of Gross Domestic Product.

Carbon leakage A term used to refer to the problem whereby industry relocates to countries where emission regimes are weaker, or non-existent.

Carbon neutral A process where there is no net release of CO2. For example, growing biomass takes CO2 out of the atmosphere, while burning it releases the gas again. The process would be carbon neutral if the amount taken out and the amount released were identical. A company or country can also achieve carbon neutrality by means of carbon offsetting.

Carbon offsetting A way of compensating for emissions of CO2 by participating in, or funding, efforts to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Offsetting often involves paying another party, somewhere else, to save emissions equivalent to those produced by your activity.

Carbon sequestration The process of storing carbon dioxide. This can happen naturally, as growing trees and plants turn CO2 into biomass (wood, leaves, and so on). It can also refer to the capture and storage of CO2 produced by industry. See Carbon capture and storage.

Carbon sink Any process, activity or mechanism that removes carbon from the atmosphere. The biggest carbon sinks are the world’s oceans and forests, which absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere.

Certified Emission Reduction (CER) A greenhouse gas trading credit, under the UN Clean Development Mechanism programme. A CER may be earned by participating in emission reduction programmes – installing green technology, or planting forests – in developing countries. Each CER is equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide.

CFCs The short name for chlorofluorocarbons – a family of gases that have contributed to stratospheric ozone depletion, but which are also potent greenhouse gases. Emissions of CFCs around the developed world are being phased out due to an international control agreement, the 1989 Montreal Protocol.

Clean coal technology Technology that enables coal to be burned without emitting CO2. Some systems currently being developed remove the CO2 before combustion, others remove it afterwards. Clean coal technology is unlikely to be widely available for at least a decade.

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) A programme that enables developed countries or companies to earn credits by investing in greenhouse gas emission reduction or removal projects in developing countries. These credits can be used to offset emissions and bring the country or company below its mandatory target.

Climate change A pattern of change affecting global or regional climate, as measured by yardsticks such as average temperature and rainfall, or an alteration in frequency of extreme weather conditions. This variation may be caused by both natural processes and human activity. Global warming is one aspect of climate change.

CO2 See carbon dioxide.

Commitment period The time frame given to parties to the Kyoto Protocol to meet their emission reduction commitments. The first Kyoto commitment period runs from 2008-2012, during which industrialised countries are required collectively to reduce emissions to a level 5% below 1990 levels. Some countries would like the Copenhagen conference to prolong the effective life of the Kyoto Protocol by agreeing explicitly on a second commitment period.

COP17 The official title of the Durban conference. Alternatively, it can be called the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Country in transition Broadly speaking, any ex-Soviet bloc state. At the time the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, these countries were on the path from a Communist planned economy to a market economy. Many of them would now be categorised as market economies. Countries in transition to a market economy are grouped with industrialised countries in Annex I of the Kyoto Protocol, so they have emission reduction commitments to meet in the 2008-2012 period. In some cases their industrial base collapsed to such a degree in the early 1990s that they will have no difficulty meeting these commitments.

D

Dangerous climate change A term referring to severe climate change that will have a negative effect on societies, economies, and the environment as a whole. The phrase was introduced by the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which aims to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system.

Deforestation The permanent removal of standing forests that can lead to significant levels of carbon dioxide emissions.

E

Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) A scheme set up to allow the trading of emissions permits between business and/or countries as part of a cap and trade approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The best-developed example is the EU’s trading scheme, launched in 2005. See Cap and trade.

EU Burden-sharing agreement A political agreement that was reached to help the EU reach its emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol (a reduction of 8% during the period 2008-2012, on average, compared with 1990 levels). The 1998 agreement divided the burden unequally amongst member states, taking into account national conditions, including greenhouse gas emissions at the time, the opportunity for reducing them, and countries’ levels of economic development.

F

Feedback loop In a feedback loop, rising temperatures on the Earth change the environment in ways that affect the rate of warming. Feedback loops can be positive (adding to the rate of warming), or negative (reducing it). The melting of Arctic ice provides an example of a positive feedback process. As the ice on the surface of the Arctic Ocean melts away, there is a smaller area of white ice to reflect the Sun’s heat back into space and more open, dark water to absorb it. The less ice there is, the more the water heats up, and the faster the remaining ice melts.

Flexible mechanism Instruments that help countries and companies meet emission reduction targets by paying others to reduce emissions for them. The mechanism in widest use is emissions trading, where companies or countries buy and sell permits to pollute. The Kyoto Protocol establishes two flexible mechanisms enabling rich countries to fund emission reduction projects in developing countries – Joint Implementation (JI) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Fossil fuels Natural resources, such as coal, oil and natural gas, containing hydrocarbons. These fuels are formed in the Earth over millions of years and produce carbon dioxide when burnt.

G

G77 The main negotiating bloc for developing countries, allied with China (G77+China). The G77 comprises 130 countries, including India and Brazil, most African countries, the grouping of small island states (Aosis), the Gulf states and many others, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Geological sequestration The injection of carbon dioxide into underground geological formations. When CO2 is injected into declining oil fields it can help to recover more of the oil.

Global average temperature The mean surface temperature of the Earth measured from three main sources: satellites, monthly readings from a network of over 3,000 surface temperature observation stations and sea surface temperature measurements taken mainly from the fleet of merchant ships, naval ships and data buoys.

Global energy budget The balance between the Earth’s incoming and outgoing energy. The current global climate system must adjust to rising greenhouse gas levels and, in the very long term, the Earth must get rid of energy at the same rate at which it receives energy from the sun.

Global dimming An observed widespread reduction in sunlight at the surface of the Earth, which varies significantly between regions. The most likely cause of global dimming is an interaction between sunlight and microscopic aerosol particles from human activities. In some regions, such as Europe, global dimming no longer occurs, thanks to clean air regulations.

Global warming The steady rise in global average temperature in recent decades, which experts believe is largely caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The long-term trend continues upwards, they suggest, even though the warmest year on record, according to the UK’s Met Office, is 1998.

Global Warming Potential (GWP) A measure of a greenhouse gas’s ability to absorb heat and warm the atmosphere over a given time period. It is measured relative to a similar mass of carbon dioxide, which has a GWP of 1.0. So, for example, methane has a GWP of 25 over 100 years, the metric used in the Kyoto Protocol. It is important to know the timescale, as gases are removed from the atmosphere at different rates.

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) Natural and industrial gases that trap heat from the Earth and warm the surface. The Kyoto Protocol restricts emissions of six greenhouse gases: natural (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane) and industrial (perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride).

Greenhouse effect The insulating effect of certain gases in the atmosphere, which allow solar radiation to warm the earth and then prevent some of the heat from escaping. See also Natural greenhouse effect.

H

Hockey stick The name given to a graph published in 1998 plotting the average temperature in the Northern hemisphere over the last 1,000 years. The line remains roughly flat until the last 100 years, when it bends sharply upwards. The graph has been cited as evidence to support the idea that global warming is a man-made phenomenon, but some scientists have challenged the data and methodology used to estimate historical temperatures. (It is also known as MBH98 after its creators, Michael E. Mann, Raymond S. Bradley and Malcolm K. Hughes.)

I

IPCC The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a scientific body established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic work relevant to climate change, but does not carry out its own research. The IPCC was honoured with the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

J

Joint implementation (JI) An agreement between two parties whereby one party struggling to meet its emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol earns emission reduction units from another party’s emission removal project. The JI is a flexible and cost-efficient way of fulfilling Kyoto agreements while also encouraging foreign investment and technology transfer.

K

Kyoto Protocol A protocol attached to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets legally binding commitments on greenhouse gas emissions. Industrialised countries agreed to reduce their combined emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels during the five-year period 2008-2012. It was agreed by governments at a 1997 UN conference in Kyoto, Japan, but did not legally come into force until 2005.

L

LDCs Least Developed Countries represent the poorest and weakest countries in the world. The current list of LDCs includes 49 countries – 33 in Africa, 15 in Asia and the Pacific, and one in Latin America.

LULUCF This refers to Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry. Activities in LULUCF provide a method of offsetting emissions, either by increasing the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (i.e. by planting trees or managing forests), or by reducing emissions (i.e. by curbing deforestation and the associated burning of wood).

M

Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate A forum established in 2009 by US President Barack Obama to discuss elements of the agreement that will be negotiated at Copenhagen. Its members – Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK and the US – account for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions. The forum is a modification of the Major Economies Meeting started by the former President George Bush, which was seen by some countries as an attempt to undermine UN negotiations.

Methane Methane is the second most important man-made greenhouse gas. Sources include both the natural world (wetlands, termites, wildfires) and human activity (agriculture, waste dumps, leaks from coal mining).

Mitigation Action that will reduce man-made climate change. This includes action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or absorb greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

N

Nairobi work programme The Nairobi work programme on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change is a five year programme (2005-2010) under the UN Framework on Climate Change. Its objective is to assist all parties, in particular developing countries, to improve their understanding and assessment of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change; and to make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions, on a sound scientific, technical and socio-economic basis.

Natural greenhouse effect The natural level of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which keeps the planet about 30C warmer than it would otherwise be – essential for life as we know it. Water vapour is the most important component of the natural greenhouse effect.

Non-annex I countries The group of developing countries that have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol. They do not have binding emission reduction targets.

O

Ocean acidification The ocean absorbs approximately one-fourth of man-made CO2 from the atmosphere, which helps to reduce adverse climate change effects. However, when the CO2 dissolves in seawater, carbonic acid is formed. Carbon emissions in the industrial era have already lowered the pH of seawater by 0.1. Ocean acidification can decrease the ability of marine organisms to build their shells and skeletal structures and kill off coral reefs, with serious effects for people who rely on them as fishing grounds.

P

Per-capita emissions The total amount of greenhouse gas emitted by a country per unit of population.

ppm (350/450) An abbreviation for parts per million, usually used as short for ppmv (parts per million by volume). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested in 2007 that the world should aim to stabilise greenhouse gas levels at 450 ppm CO2 equivalent in order to avert dangerous climate change. Some scientists, and many of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, argue that the safe upper limit is 350ppm. Current levels of CO2 only are about 380ppm.

Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution. These levels are estimated to be about 280 parts per million (by volume). The current level is around 380ppm.

R

Renewable energy Renewable energy is energy created from sources that can be replenished in a short period of time. The five renewable sources used most often are: biomass (such as wood and biogas), the movement of water, geothermal (heat from within the earth), wind, and solar.

REDD Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, a concept that would provide developing countries with a financial incentive to preserve forests. The Copenhagen conference is expected to finalise an international finance mechanism for the post-2012 global climate change framework.

S

Stern review A report on the economics of climate change led by Lord Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank economist. It was published on 30 October 2006 and argued that the cost of dealing with the consequences of climate change in the future would be higher than taking action to mitigate the problem now.

T

Technology transfer The process whereby technological advances are shared between different countries. Developed countries could, for example, share up-to-date renewable energy technologies with developing countries, in an effort to lower global greenhouse gas emissions.

Tipping point A tipping point is a threshold for change, which, when reached, results in a process that is difficult to reverse. Scientists say it is urgent that policy makers halve global carbon dioxide emissions over the next 50 years or risk triggering changes that could be irreversible.

Twenty-twenty-twenty (20-20-20) This refers to a pledge by the European Union to reach three targets by 2020: (a) a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels; (b) an increase in the use of renewable energy to 20% of all energy consumed; and (c) a 20% increase in energy efficiency. The EU says it will reduce emissions by 30%, by 2020, if other developed countries also pledge tough action.

U

UNFCCC The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is one of a series of international agreements on global environmental issues adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The UNFCCC aims to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system. It entered into force on 21 March 1994 and has been ratified by 192 countries.

W

Waxman-Markey bill Another name for the Boxer-Kerry bill, which aims to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions. See Boxer-Kerry bill.

Weather The state of the atmosphere with regard to temperature, cloudiness, rainfall, wind and other meteorological conditions. It is not the same as climate which is the average weather over a much longer period.

 

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11833685

A More Livable Future

As urbanization and industrialization accelerate in China and across the globe, low carbon development and the concept of sustainability seem to attract more attention than they used to. Human induced global climate change has made it impossible for anyone to deny or even question its existence and seriousness. This summer alone has reset many climatic records. To name only a few: New York City suffered from record high temperature in late July and bashed by unprecedented Hurricane in late August. Chongqing Municipality in China has experienced one of the hottest summers in its history.

Even though Chongqing is known as one of the Chinese furnaces, local residents fans with disbelieve of the sustained high temperature. Local primary schools in Chongqing postponed their fall semester by a full week in order to avoid the heat dome.  Those climatic abnormity and subsequent results hit residents without AC and students who are returning to schools in those cities the most.

During and post Hurricane Irene, most of the public transits in New York City were temporarily stopped. The cancellation of flight and train services left many students returning from summer holiday stuck on the road. Those students do not have enough time to return to their home places given the approaching school year. Equally, it is too expensive to assume, even for a short period of time, the role of an airport resident in any part of the world. In clarification, let me reiterate their situation, many students waved their reluctant goodbyes to the caring ones and boarded various flights to continue their academic journey. At the first stop upon departing their home countries, they were told that all flights to NYC were cancelled. To some, like my poor girlfriend, the odyssey didn’t stop there. Her first stop was in Tokyo and she was being told that her flight to JFK was cancelled. So, there was no way that she could continue her journey. She was also told that she couldn’t stay in Japan, because she did not have a proper visa. As a result, she was put on a flight headed to Chicago. To the Japanese, it’s out of country out of their concerns. However, my poor girlfriend had to detour to Chicago. After spending a night there, she was once again put on another flight to DC.

After two more nights in DC, she was compelled to cancel her flight and she switched her travel plan to Amtrak. Tickets purchased, hotel checked out, and she was once again confronted with transit cancellation. Amtrak was not running due to track damages done by Irene. After spending close to a full week on the road, she finally made it to Bard. However, none of the flight companies offered any compensation as they were obligated to.  

Therefore, the inconvenience and damage done by climate change does not limit to or confine within a physical sphere. Climate change also opens up loopholes for moral and political corruption. It adds on to the list of excuses dummies breathe with.  

(To welcome and direct public criticism towards such poor service, it was Continental who refused to cover the additional costs it imposed on those poor students.)

Climate Change associated misfortunes does not limit on the road. Back in Chongqing, the unprecedented heat dome forces many impoverished local residents to crowd in the hall way and aisles of big malls to avoid the heat at the risk of being beaten by the so-called security-guard (http://www.zgkg.com.cn/minsheng/w10153799.asp).

There were news reports about lives being claimed by the historical high temperature. It goes without saying that local hospitals are packed with heat patients. 

It is the helpless residents in Brooklyn, NY; the crowded aisles in Chongqing; China; the victims of increasing climatic calamities and the lives lost at the climatic abnormity that demands better stewardship of our shared and only home planet—earth. It is no longer a mere political rhetoric, nor is it in the future tense. It’s happening as we speak.  

So why low carbon? Why sustainability?

Unprecedented climatic abnormities do not occur without any reason. The thin air hardly gives birth to a warmer planet without additional heat trapping green house gases. In order to minimize climate change related casualties and economic loss, low carbon development/sustainable development seem to be the only path that shall lead us, and many generations of us yet to come, to a more livable future.       

–by Chad Tupgon

2011-09-14