Saturday, December 29, 2012

The 2012 Doha Climate Change Conference: The “Promise” Conference?

Despite having no new ground broken on how to comprehensively reduce our current greenhouse gas emissions, does the 2012 Doha Climate Change Conference only “promises” to do so?

By: Ringo Bones

Ah, the 2012 Doha Climate Change Conference – as in Doha 2012 United Nations Climate Change Conference/COP18/CMP8 – could only be defined as a “success” if you consider “promises” of the richest industrialized countries would really translate to a guaranteed effort to reduce preventable greenhouse gas emissions before some set date far off into the future. Well, even the incumbent U.S. President Obama and his challenger Romney never even mentioned the topic of climate change during their debates during the 2012 US Presidential Elections so if the very act of other group of rich and powerful countries “promising” to reduce their preventable greenhouse gas emissions makes you seem a tad hopeful about the future, then good luck to you. 

But the “game changer” of the 2012 Doha Climate Change Conference  was the devastation brought by Typhoon Bopha to the Philippine shores back in December 3, 2012 that reignited the very idea of climate change compensation or “Climate Change Aid” dominated the second week of the Doha Climate Change Conference. This is where poor or developing countries will be promised compensation by the rich or developed countries for the damages caused by climate change. 

The very idea of “Climate Change Aid” or “Climate Change Compensation” has been around since the early 1990s when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was negotiated. In Doha during the 2012 UN Climate Change Conference, a coalition of countries – including The People’s Republic of China, The Alliance of Small Island States and the G77 Group of Developing Countries pushed for it to be viewed. 

They proposed a scheme that would decide when countries had suffered climate harms and compensate them. It would be a form of insurance (or derivatives – whichever is promised) and the greatest international aid scheme ever. The idea eventually gained momentum during the second week of the Doha Climate Change Conference after Typhoon Bopha struck the Philippines back in December 3, 2012 and that country’s negotiator – Narderev “Yeb” Saño – broke down in tears during a speech. And although developed nations had little incentive to agree, the conference concluded with a promise to set something up next year. 

Compensation poses a fundamental challenge to climate science – which still struggles to work out of trends and events are caused by man-made preventable greenhouse gas emissions or would have happened anyway. “We can’t say that an individual event was caused by climate change”, says Nigel Arnell of the University of Reading, UK. “What we can do is say that the chance of it happening was greater”.  Sadly, this very loophole of climate science not yet catching up with geopolitical procedural rigmarole will be exploited by affluent countries to avoid compensating - make that paying for climate change aid - the climate change related events causing untold suffering in poorer countries. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Weather Derivatives: Merely Making Money From Climate Change?

Even though they’ve been traded for over a decade now on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, are weather derivatives nothing more than a way to merely make money off climate change?

By: Ringo Bones

As many of us already know, weather derivatives are nothing more than financial instruments that can be used by organizations / business groups or individuals as part of a risk management strategy to reduce risks associated with adverse or unexpected weather conditions. The difference from other forms of tradable derivatives is that the underlying asset – rain / temperature / snow as in weather phenomena – has no direct value to price the weather derivative. Thus make it to be classified under “exotic derivatives”.

Weather derivatives differ from bona fide insurance policies which generally provide protection for low possibility big catastrophic events like hurricanes and tornadoes, weather derivatives can cover more mundane weather events like a heating oil company hedging against having a warmer-than-expected weather. For all intents and purposes, a weather derivative is a financial instrument that seems like an insurance policy for climate change risk insurance but is more like an option. Most weather derivatives are based on how much the temperature goes above or below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but weather derivatives can also be based on any measurable meteorological phenomena.

Even though the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has been trading the first exchange-traded weather futures contracts – and their corresponding options – since 1999, I might not be the only one who is skeptical about the long-term economic viability of weather derivatives and related financial instruments. Unlike fire insurance companies that – since their establishment - has been supporting the Underwriters’ Laboratories or similar research and development organizations actually doing something to reduce fire losses and spur fire prevention, business groups involved in weather derivatives trading or climate change risk insurance underwriters seems to have little or no involvement in supporting research and development organizations developing ways to make the industrialized world to move away from intensive carbon burning activities and preventable greenhouse gas dumping into the Earth’s atmosphere. Would weather derivative underwriters still willing to cough up the money if their heating degree days (HDD) and cooling degree days (CDD) payouts will become unsustainable due to the wild temperature swings brought about by climate change?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Hurricane Sandy “Frankenstorm”: Proof of Climate Change?

Given that President Obama and Governor Romney never discussed about climate change and global warming during three of their 2012 US Presidential Debates, will “Frankenstorm” Sandy cramp their respective plans for the presidency?

By: Ringo Bones

If you are still “relatively young” or who have kids who are currently between the ages of 5 and 8, chances are you’ll going to be concerned about the state of the Earth’s climate by the time when you or your kids turn 65. But is the decision of the two political parties of the 2012 US Presidential Election candidates not to discuss global warming and climate change related issues already start to bother you?

As news of Hurricane Sandy – after the devastation it caused around the Caribbean – as it prepares to pounce on Florida now start to make everyone wonder if global warming and climate change factors have contributed into this hurricane being dubbed as a “Frankenstorm” by the press, it already placed a damper on the West Coast presidential campaign trail schedules for both Democrats and Republican parties. Though Hurricane Sandy is still classified as a Category I storm as of October 26, many residents in the Florida panhandle are already concerned of it becoming a repeat of Hurricane Katrina.

Ever since as far back as the days of US President Ronald Reagan, climate change and global warming issues had always been a politically contentious one since if most incumbent leaders in the industrialized West chose a more carbon neutral path of energy generation and transportation technology and infrastructure, it would put a serious dent on the profit earnings potential of multinational crude oil extraction companies. Sadly, the world’s biggest multinational crude oil extraction companies are also the main campaign underwriters of politicians – not just in the United States – but also in the rest of the industrialized West. Thus making a less carbon intensive future for the rest of us nothing more than a pipe dream as “Big Oil” chose to spend millions on suppressing scientific findings that climate change and global warming are primarily caused by dirty coal and crude oil burning.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shell On The Dock In The Hague: Victory For Environmentalism?

As the “famed” crude oil company Royal Dutch Shell being on the dock in a judicial venue normally reserved for war criminals, does this signify a victory for the global environmentalism movement?

By: Ringo Bones

Thanks to the support of high-profile environmentalists, like Friends of the earth’s Geert Ritsema, the “famed” crude oil company Royal Dutch Shell is finally on the dock in The Hague after 4 Nigerian famers lead by plaintiff Eric Dooh and scores of Nigerian fishermen sued Shell for compensation after the oil company’s crude oil wells and pipelines in the environmentally sensitive Niger Delta region started an oil spill due to lack of maintenance between the years 2004 to 2007 that ruined the primary livelihoods of the nearby locals. Given that both compensation seeking plaintiffs and environmentalists finally brought Shell to a court normally reserved for notorious war criminals for a mere “compensation case proceedings”, does this mean victory at last for victims of the negative environmental impact of crude oil extraction and for the environmentalists around the world fighting for their struggle?

According to a representative from Royal Dutch Shell, the oil spills in the ecologically sensitive Niger Delta region is largely due to local organized criminal gangs stealing crude oil from Shell owned pipelines to be sold off at a profit. Though Shell’s defense may be reasonably sound, the common person on the street who knows the basics of how multinational crude oil companies work only see their reasoning as nothing more than “environmental hooey” because if only Shell stop spending countless millions on their PR advertising on TV and other media outlets, the funds could be better spent in maintaining the safety of their crude oil extracting operations around the world. To add insult to injury, Shell’s PR representatives often use the appalling security conditions in the Niger Delta region both as an alibi and as an excuse for not being able to maintain their crude oil pipelines in that part of the world.

Even though Royal Dutch Shell might be currently the biggest multinational crude oil extraction company sued for operational negligence that caused an environmental catastrophe, other well-known crude oil extraction companies are yet to be brought to justice for their notoriety when it comes to their “corporate social responsibility”. BP has not yet fairly compensated people whose livelihoods they’ve ruined during the wake of the disastrous oil spill back in April 2010. And the environmental and social atrocities caused by former US President George W. Bush and former US Vice President Dick Cheney owned crude oil extraction companies seems to pale in comparison the atrocities committed by 1990s era Balkan region war criminals.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Not So Environmentally Friendly Rare Earth Metals Industry

How much can the modern industrialized world compromise established environmental legislations for easier access to rare earth metals?

By: Ringo Bones

A few days ago, the Australian owned Lynas Rare Earth Plant – the biggest rare earth metals processing/refining facility outside of Mainland China – was seeking a permanent permit to stay operational despite of local environmentalists and residents of Kuantan, Malaysia protesting their concerns over doubts of Lynas’ ability to safely dispose the resulting low-level radioactive wastes that results in rare earth metals processing. And there’s a likelihood that the local court judges of Kuantan may side with the environmentalists and residents because 18 years ago, a rare earth metals plant located elsewhere in Malaysia was given a court order to cease operation after its inability to properly dispose off the resulting low level radioactive wastes that contain non-commercially extractable residues of thorium and radon gas that eventually gave cancer to nearby residents. Given its bad environmental track record, is the rare earth industry inherently less than Earth friendly and is hazardous to human health?  

Thanks to the Beijing government’s stranglehold on the global supply of rare earth metals now indispensable to the production of everything from modern computers, wind turbines and environmentally friendly hybrid cars. By the way, Mainland China currently controls 97% of the world’s commercially used rare earth metals supply so doubly bad news to those countries with concerns over the Beijing government’s handling of local pro-democracy activists and the Tibetan freedom issue; Thus making more enlightened nation-states to seek other sources of rare earth metals not tainted by “despotism” and giving green light to mining firms to develop their own rare earth metals mining and refining schemes. Unfortunately, environmental concerns seem to be relegated to the wayside in the search of rare earth metals sources not under the stranglehold of the less-than-friendly Beijing government. 

The Australian owned Lynas has been developing its rare earth metals mining and processing abilities for the past 10 years in order to become the biggest rare earth metals producer outside of Mainland China. Unfortunately, the local court judges at their Kuantan plant eventually bowed to environmental pressures put forth by both the activists and the local residents. Given the current environmental hurdles faced by the rare earth metals industry, will their tenured chemists at their research and development facilities be able to develop a more “Earth-Friendly” way to mine and process rare earth metals?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Global Warming: Politics Over Science?

When a scientist is convinced by his own verifiable scientific data that global warming is real, will this finally mobilize the global community in formulating solutions? 

By: Ringo Bones 

The conservative Evangelical community in America – who has the significant political clout to make the US government somewhat reluctant to join the global community to formulate solutions to move away from coal and crude oil energy use – has always viewed for over a generation now that global warming and greenhouse gasses generated by fossil fuel burning industrial activity does not have a scientifically verifiable connection. With faulty scientific research largely funded by Washington D.C. based focus groups and lobbyists beholden to Big Oil and Dirty Coal based corporations, the conservative Americans even resorted to manipulating organized Christian dogma to discredit any scientific research and anyone pointing to the connection between carbon dioxide rise in our atmosphere and global warming during the Dubya Bush administration. Fortunately for us who believes in reasoned argument over demagoguery, even tenured research scientists beholden to Big Oil and Dirty Coal corporations had finally seen the light. 

A physicist from the University of California in Berkeley and author of Energy For Future Presidents by the name of Professor Richard Muller had finally seen the “scientifically verifiable light” of his results that global warming is caused by the industrialized world’s own greenhouse gas producing industrial activity. Prof. Muller used to be a tenured climate researcher of Charles Koch – a representative of the primarily conservative mouthpiece who will readily use Holy Bible based organized Christian doctrine demagoguery to achieve their own economic and political ends at the expense of our own environmental well being. Prof. Muller recently had a change of heart on his stance on global warming when his very own scientific results proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that human industrial activity that produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses is responsible for global warming. 

As with what former US Vice President Al Gore experienced during his An Inconvenient Truth documentary, Prof. Muller says that it was a shock to me how the carbon dioxide levels rise curve exactly fit – as in correlates – to the temperature rise exactly; As if all this warming over the last 250 years has been caused by carbon dioxide generated by human industrial activity. Muller also says that if current trends continue – as if we humans won’t take steps to move away from dirty coal and crude oil burning industrial activities – temperatures here on Earth will soon be higher than anything experienced by homo sapiens throughout history. Even though Muller has hopes that we can eventually transcend from the problems caused by global warming citing that we humans are an infinitely adaptive species, he also says that adaptation is disruptive and initially hurts – especially to the economically disadvantaged who will, unfortunately be the ones to experience the worst effects of coastal flooding due to sea level rise. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Rio + 20 Environmental Summit: Failed Promises Redux?

An environmental summit expected to reconcile the seemingly disparate needs of environmentalism and economic development in the 21st Century, will the Rio + 20 Environmental Summit will just be a repeat of the failed 1992 UNCED? 

By: Ringo Bones 

There might be some truth to what the Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez said about if the global environment were a bank the world’s leaders would have bailed it out by now. Such is the present appalling state of our global environment at present. And yet the recent Rio + 20 Environmental Summit slated to last from June 20 to June 22, 2012 was “auspiciously” opened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, where almost 200 participating nations are expected to sign a pledge focusing on environmental protection and reducing extreme poverty. More auspicious still was a 175-billion US dollar fund was also set aside for the development of more environmentally-friendly transport systems. 

There was also a slated discussion on the need for the removal of government funded – namely citizens’ taxpayers money – fossil fuel subsidies by the world’s leading industrialized economies. As nations are expected to sign the pledge “The Future We Want” and the discussion of the three main agendas / goals mainly on a) Sustainable Development, b) Protect the Oceans and c) Measure the Well-Being of the People. Lofty goals indeed, but will this all be just a repeat of the failed UNCED – which was also held in Rio de Janeiro back in June 1992? 

Sadly, the Rio + 20 Environmental Summit also failed to reach a binding breakthrough after three days. And the only thing the participating world leaders unanimously settled on is to meet again at a later date – probably somewhere 20 years from now. With even energy efficiency discussed rather superficially, is the Rio + 20 Environmental Summit truly an utter failure? 

Well, it did manage to start the Rio + Social – the social network based alternative to the failed Rio + 20 Environmental Summit. But yet again, most of us – including me – are still doubtful if the concept of “digital inclusion” will be a way forward for a truly effective mass environmental activism. Social networks may mean louder voices and more direct action compared to our elected officials, but even I have doubts whether the “like button” on social networks like Facebook will ever replace the good old ballot box. As I found out first hand back in June 1992 that enforcing existing binding environmental treaties are way much harder than enforcing post-Cold War nuclear disarmament treaties. 

Looking back at the United Nations Conference on Environmental Development (UNCED) which was held in Rio de Janeiro back in June 1992, I noticed that a year after the conference – in June 1993 – the treaties that were signed the previous year have not even been implemented. Money that was pledged during the 1992 UNCED Summit has not been forthcoming. And the group that was established to enforce Agenda 21 – a 40-chapter credo for sustainable development – has not cut its teeth, even 20 years later. 

  The only “nice” outcome of the June 1992 UNCED conference, which was attended by delegates and diplomats from some 178 countries as well as thousands of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), resulted in the creation of a seemingly strong global political will and the endorsement of several important policy documents. Along with the Agenda 21, they include the Rio Declaration – a list of environmental and development concerns that ensures national sovereignty – and a statement about protecting forests. Maybe Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was right all along.