Posted by: carbonara | November 29, 2015

COP21: Paris closes road system in emissions offset gesture


“The road to Paris” was the tired cliché tirelessly rolled out again and again by journalists and climate wonks in the run up to this week’s COP21 climate conference. But that road is now officially closed. And the metro train to Paris isn’t faring much better.

With COP21 finally upon us, France has announced an innovative means of offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the conference: getting the Paris region’s 12 million residents to sit at home and avoid driving for a couple of days.

A spokesperson for the conference said that the emissions generated by the conference – including flights, on-site energy use and production of several million croissants – would be precisely offset by closing two major motorways into the city, half of the peripherique ring-road and a handful of major roads through the city centre. When challenged that this might not be quite enough to offset all the emissions generated from extra cheese consumption during the fortnight, the authorities decided to throw in public transport too, heavily encouraging all the capital region’s residents to neither take their car nor hop on the metro. In a classically gallic communications mix-up one official was announcing that public transport would be free during the road closures while another was imploring people not to take it.   The irony that this is rather similar to the way that all governments of the world continue to subsidise fossil fuels while at the same time calling for emissions reductions, was not lost on seasoned observers.

traffic map

C’est le bordel: map of road closures involved in the offsetting scheme

In some cases the authorities have taken draconian measures to enforce this planned avoidance of emissions, for example by placing a number of key climate activists under house arrest. With Paris’s law enforcement stretched to breaking point this weekend, the use of scant resources to protect a few pacifist greenies seems extraordinarily heavy-handed*.

And as Chinese president Xi Jinping touches down in Paris, it appears his government is showing a sign of goodwill by adopting a similar measure at home – insisting that Beijing residents stay inside to avoid the suffocating smog.

So with the French and Chinese capitals’ residents holed up at home doing their bit for avoided emissions, the world’s heads of state will start to roll in and enjoy the unprecedented spectacle of driving around the peripherique without being aggressively klaxoned off the road or even stuck in traffic.  Interviewed on arrival in Paris, one world leader was asked how good were the chances of a strong climate deal. “Climate?” he said “What a strange question. We’re not here for that. We’re here to talk about terrorism and the middle-east, and to show that we’re not afraid of Kalashnikov-waving barbarians, nor of Vladimir Putin”. When pressed on the issue, he conceded that there might also be some climate discussion but that “most of that negotiation’s already happened” and “we’ll fly out on Monday and leave it to the little people to thrash out a few details on financing for developing countries and how often we purportedly promise to revise our targets”.

shoes republique

Pooh shoes: the source of the strange odour around République has yet to be identified

Meanwhile in another part of Paris locals have started to complain of a different sort of emissions problem. During the small hours of Sunday morning a cheesy odour began to emanate from the hallowed cobbles of the Place de la République.  Interviewed on local TV this morning, resident Jacinthe LeFromage noted “At first I thought it was just the usual camembert aroma from the Sunday market but quickly it became unbearable”. Links to the installation of thousands of pairs of Parisians’ shoes at République are so far unconfirmed. But by lunchtime the statue of the Madeleine was said to be visibly wrinkling up her nose.




[*But, that said, what were these people thinking? The blood stains  on Paris’s streets are barely dry and yet they moan about political conspiracy and having their voices silenced, simply because the government doesn’t want to risk more people being unnecessarily gunned down in the streets of the city of love? Yes public pressure on climate change is hugely important and has been massively influential this year (think Keystone XL and the Chinese government running scared over air pollution). But one more march, miles away from the conference centre and the heads of state, is not going to make much difference. Especially with gun-toting crazies seemingly still ready to strike at any moment. If we need one thing from COP21 above all else, it’s for no more blood to be spilt on these ancient streets.]

Marty McFly approaching the UN conference hall

Marty McFly approaching the UN conference hall

As the world’s climate negotiators reconvened in Bonn this week it quickly became apparent that the dates of this session had been deliberately chosen to coincide with so-called “Back to the Future day“.

Fans of the 1989 film Back to the Future II will remember that the intrepid time traveller Marty McFly leapt forward in time to the precise date of 21 October, 2015.  In a little-known scene that did not make the final cut of the movie, a bemused McFly accidentally rides his hover-board into a stuffy UN conference hall in the middle of climate negotiations.  At first shocked by the paucity of the wifi signal of the future, he soon becomes agog to discover that in 2015, over 25 years since the world woke-up to the dangers of climate change, negotiators were still banging on with the same old entrenched positions and flimsy national excuses for non-action.

On day 2 of the negotiations in Bonn this week negotiators decided to re-enact the scene as a mark of respect to this great landmark of cinematic culture.  Although the planned entrance of Christiana Figueres on a hoverboard dressed as McFly had to be cancelled due to technical issues, the rest of the reenactment went ahead more-or-less as scheduled. Many Parties chose to react to the succinct and progressive draft negotiating text by returning to long-held positions and clinging on to ancient ideologies around national interest. They also insisted on taking most of the negotiations back into confidential sessions, closed to observers. This caused consternation among the ranks of NGO representatives, many of whom had worked hard to justify their essential trip to Bonn but now found themselves with little more to do than try out the World Conference Centre’s very scarce coffee facilities.

Meanwhile, the build-up to COP21 grinds on, the hype and tensions rising everyday in a seemingly endless and excruciatingly drawn-out media circus.  The length and breadth of the COP build-up is matched only by the interminable length of the Rugby World Cup, an event so extreme in its long-and-drawn-outedness that pundits are starting to wonder whether the current tournament will be finished before the next World Cup begins in four years’ time.

Posted by: carbonara | October 9, 2015

World “discovers” that diesel cars are dirty as muck

vwThe unfolding VW exhaust emissions scandal has not caused widespread astonishment across the car industry as the world doesn’t discover for the first time that diesel cars spew out horrible smelly pollution, just like they always have done.  As the world’s media gleefully “revealed” the extent of diesel’s muckiness, the non-finding was quickly confirmed by transport experts as well as millions of ordinary people who have happened to find themselves standing behind a diesel car at traffic lights at some point in their lives.

Regulators world-wide are now scrambling to catch up and to develop new testing measures to beat the cheats. The European Commission quickly came out with the new “olfactory nose-related testing cycle” where volunteers with big noses are asked to stand behind cars and say if they smell horrible. If they do, the car fails its NOx and particulate emissions tests.

In the meantime everyone on TV has suddenly become an expert on car emissions.  Commentators on TV and radio were soon spouting nearly as much rubbish as a VW tailpipe, merrily mixing their NOx with their N2O with their GHG with their BMW.  Other facets of the story were seemingly too good to be true. A member of the VW board really is called Mr Olaf Lies (though rumours that his middle name is Damned and that his wife is called Statistics  are as yet unconfirmed).

It remains to be seen whether the impact on car buyers will be felt. Speaking from a gas station forecourt in Texas, one potential car buyer say “Why’s everyone going about Nox? I think they mean the Red Nox. That’s a European baseball team”. Others conceded that they had heard about this pollution thing but it didn’t matter because they’ll be sitting inside the car and not outside of it, so why should they care?   Back in Europe a poll of average first-time car buyers ranked “tailpipe emissions” as the 98th most important criterion out of 100 when buying a car, squeaking in just above the colour of the bolts holding the chassis together and the waxiness of the salesman’s moustache.

In other news, it has been rumoured that the England rugby team has also been fitted with a so-called “defeat device”, said to self-activate under any high-pressure world cup match scenario.

[In all seriousness, experts ranging from the stuffy bureaucracy of the OECD to the agile NGO Transport and Environment have been banging on for years about the lunacy of giving tax breaks to drivers of diesel cars. Perhaps now somebody will listen]

Years of delicate negotiations on sustainable development culminated in the rapturous adoption of the world’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the UN General Assembly last week. Politicians, activists and even the Pope were quick to applaud the breadth and depth of this exhaustive pantheon of 17 goals and 169 targets. But following the summit it has been revealed that the list of goals and accompanying targets is so long and drawn-out that merely printing the full list once over will require a sizeable chunk of Amazon rainforest to be converted to paper. Speaking to journalists while heaving a pallet loaded with office paper towards an overheating printer unit, one UN bureaucrat said that while the final SDG document is approximately the same length as the Koran, the Bible and the Torah put together, it contains more commandments and moral guidance than all three combined.

In light of this discovery, the UN is expected to issue a formal warning that if all interested parties were to print hard copies of the SDGs, the resulting paper demand would immediately put in danger the goal relating to ending deforestation.  On the plus side, it has been estimated that the multitude of UN-funded consultant contracts likely to flow in the aftermath of SDG adoption could be so numerous as to provide a noticeable boost to both the employment and “reducing poverty” goals. After all, the UN, governments and just about everybody will be trying to figure out exactly what all these goals and targets mean, what should be done about them and whether they will make a real difference.


Posted by: carbonara | September 18, 2015

Back in Bonn: A Tool to save the planet ?

toolClimate negotiators reconvened in Bonn this month for another round of sausages and procedural wrangling, as their December date with destiny and the global spotlight hurtles ever closer. This time all eyes were initially on the newly presented “Tool”. The what?  The Tool put forward by the co-chairs of the main negotiating forum as a means to bridge disagreements in the negotiations. Cleverly disguised as looking like any other 83-page UN document, the Tool quickly whipped up strong options on all sides.

As often happens in the hot-house of multilateral negotiations, cultural misunderstandings about the new device quickly started to take their toll.  Switzerland began the discussion by laying out its resolutely practical suggestion that the tool should be designed to incorporate a seemingly impossible number of smaller tools cleverly folded up inside a neat red case. They stressed that this collection of appendages must always include a strange pointy one with a hooked end, the one that generations of children have not known what to do but which is allegedly intended for removing stones from horses’ hooves.


Getting closer to a Shakespearean tool

The United States quickly took umbrage with the word “tool” due to its negative connotation in their country as slang for an idiot or fool. Despite this reservation, the US delegate stressed that the co-chair’s tool was nevertheless very impressive in its length and form and was a model for others to look up to. At this the United Kingdom delegation disintegrated into fits of uncontrollable giggles, between which they barely recovered enough to explain that their poor American cousins had lost sight of the Shakespearean origins of “tool” as a reference to a sensitive part of the male anatomy. The double mirth of the accidental innuendo and the Americans’ literary shortcomings was simply too much to bear for the usually sardonic Brits.

Having followed this scene with an increasingly confused look, France, incoming COP presidency, took to the floor to note that they had never really understood why the word “tool” had been used at all, given that in their understanding it refers simply to someone of above average height.  After all this a veteran NGO observer took the floor, when finally allowed to do so an hour after the session had been scheduled to finish, and proudly showed off his Tool t-shirt,  remarking that while he appreciated the tribute to his favourite 90s metal band, climate change was a savagely urgent problem that warranted more than bureaucratic bickering over language.

Away from this important tool-related business, other negotiators found themselves being “sent off to preamble”.  Rather than some sort of meditational or philosophical nirvana, this referred simply to a working group aiming to negotiate text on what may become the preamble on the first page of the long-awaited treaty in December. Here there was a surprise for the traditional hard-left axis of the negotiations, the ALBA group, led by Bolivia and Venezuela and a handful of British Corbynistas. Usually the darlings of the NGO fringe at the negotiations, ALBA has always maintained that “Mother Earth” should be front and centre in the negotiations. But this time civil society launched a stinging attack on the flagrant gender bias of this imagery. Why Mother Earth?  Should this not refer to Person Earth? Failing to find agreement on this, the text was duly bracketed to allow for Ministers to take a decision on this important issue:  “[Mother][Father][Person][Single-parent] Earth and humankind’s treatment of [him][her][it]”.

Elsewhere in the negotiations, the traditional Youth constituency’s  opposition to corporate influence in the negotiation process seemed to temporarily melt away as the UNFCCC’s latest corporate sponsor was rolled out complete with new greenwash flavour ice-cream. With delegates and observers tucking into side-by-side sundaes, the atmosphere turned rather festive.  But with only a handful of negotiating days left before Paris, ce n’est pas gagné

Sundae negotiations in Bonn. Photo by IISD/ENB

June was a frenetic month for the UN climate negotiations with both Heaven and the People’s Republic of China coming forward with unexpectedly strong “contributions”. This coincidence of statements from the Celestial and Middle Kingdoms left liberal climate policy wonks in information overload and unsure about whether it was ok to praise the Pope and the Chinese regime.

The contributions were delivered by the second-most senior representative of each jurisdiction, namely Premier Li Keqiang and Pope Francis. Critics were quick to suggest that the lack of appearance of the top-dogs themselves shows a lack of respect for the issue and faltering political will at the highest level. Both God and President Xi Jinping were unavailable for comment, though some observers have pointed to the recent onslaught of hurricanes, heat-waves and other extreme weather events as an ominous indication of the Former’s view on the climate change matter.

Holy messenger holds up an excerpt from the Heavenly contribution on 4G-enabled tablets

Holy messenger holds up an excerpt from the Heavenly contribution on 4G-enabled tablets

Heaven’s contribution was revealed after the Pope went up a mountain and came down remarking that there really wasn’t much snow up there anymore and by the way here’s a statement inscribed on nearly 200 iStone tablets.  Much of the opus demonstrated a remarkable and inspiring overview of the moral and scientific imperative for all of humanity to act on climate change. Only occasionally did it lapse into quoting from Genesis as though it actually happened.

Buried in the heavenly text was a clear message against the purchasing of carbon offsets as a means to solve the climate problem. This caused consternation among some Catholics shocked at such a clear departure from the centuries-old Catholic practice of quietly buying indulgences for the remission of sins. Carbon market investors were also perturbed. “This is a disaster. Since the bottom dropped out of the EU compliance market a few years back we’ve been relying on selling low-quality offset credits to guilt-ridden Catholics. If they are going to turn their backs on us, who are we going to flog them to next? Unsuspecting pensioners?” lamented one forlorn project developer.

China’s contribution goes beyond its previously announced vague promise that its CO2 emissions would peak sometime around 2030 (a.k.a the “Pek-ing” plan). The new version adds a precisely worded commitment about reducing emissions intensity by 60-65%, along with a lengthy shopping list of actions and targets that almost rivals the Pope for sheer verbosity.  The admirable but hard-to-measure intensity target sent analysts into a frenzy of plotting and re-plotting pie-in-the-sky economic projections in exactly the same way as they did in 2009 when the previous 40-45% target was announced. In the intervening years we’ve learnt that nobody really knows how to measure Chinese emissions and economic output in China. But boy are we all happy to hear them making commitments about it.

An intensity target is naturally easier to reconcile with strong economic growth than an absolute emissions reduction target, such as the 40% target recently announced by the European Union after months of undignified internal bickering. The Europeans did though also see ambitious domestic action on climate change in June as one of the EU’s proudest member states selflessly stepped forward and offered complete economic collapse as its contribution to the EU’s climate plan.  Jean-Claude Juncker said, “Just the other day someone told me about this climate change thing and said that we should do something about it. I’m now glad to report that our plan for the annihilation of the Greek economy is coming to fruition and with it excellent progress on total EU emissions reductions”.

The high-profile contributions from China and the People’s Republic of Heaven have upped the pressure on other major negotiating parties who are yet to announce contributions, such as India and Hell.   Hell is said to be considering commitments related to energy efficiency in its thermal sector, notably by reducing operating temperature by a few degrees, as well as converting its furnaces to run on a new “anthropologic” biomass fuel. Previous hopes that the Kingdom of Hell would be able to further decrease emissions by reducing its population have been dashed as humanity shows never-ending enthusiasm for qualifying itself for entry to the fiery underworld. Not least those otherwise devout Catholics who ruined everything by dabbling in carbon credits.

The Indian government, for its part, is thought to be waiting for a strong commitment from Hell before coming out with a statement. A source close to Delhi reportedly said “We didn’t cause this mess. The historical responsibility lies with the US and Beelzebub. Let us first develop like they have!”

Citizens around the world have been reacting excitedly to the news of a measly compromise struck by their governments at the recent UN climate talks in Warsaw. Delirious from lack of sleep, delegates of the world’s governments agreed in the dying moments of the conference that they will no longer be making commitments to one another about action on climate change but will instead propose “contributions”. Worse, they went on to agree that these “contributions” should be put forward by early 2015, but “only by those Parties who are ready to do so”.  So it’s whatever you want, whenever you want.


Unprecedented mass weddings have been held this week, as couples rush to tie the knot by making “contributions” instead of commitments

Inspired by this agreement, people everywhere have been rushing to apply the new international norm in all aspects of their lives. Many countries have seen a stampede of wedding applications this week, with thousands of young couples finally agreeing to make the leap now that they no longer need to make commitments to one another, choosing instead to propose vows based around contributions.

Governments themselves are even taking advantage of the new trend. For months the British government has been wondering how it can justify its u-turn from its 2010 election commitment to be the “greenest government ever” to its recent alleged efforts to rid itself of “green crap” policies. Easy!  Those weren’t really commitments, you see, just contributions. And the contributions have got a bit smaller. Certainly no more huskies around.

Across the business world, bosses of small firms have been taking the opportunity to rid themselves of lazy staff members without needing to go through termination formalities.  “You have an employment contract, you say? Oh that wasn’t really a commitment, we were just choosing to contribute your salary and now we’ve decided not to”.   Meanwhile, in the corporate stratosphere, Vodafone reacted coolly to the world-wide frenzy. “This doesn’t change anything for us”, said a spokesperson, “we have always considered taxes to be a voluntary contribution, so what’s new?”

Across the pond, however, it seems that even Hollywood has proven fickle to this intercontinental vogue. Tinseltown has been awash with rumours that a remake of the famous 1991 movie about an Irish soul band is now underway, with a release of  “The Contributions” scheduled for next year (but, the producer is said to have added, “only if we are ready”). The new film’s soundtrack is expected to include the hapless Dubliners playing covers of Carole King’s “It’s too late”, REM’s “It’s the end of the world as we know it” and “Here comes the flood” by Peter Gabriel.


The coalition of large developing countries mostly responsible for the wording change pose for a group photo shortly after negotiations concluded in Warsaw

Lofty columns marking the entrance of the ancient site

Seen better days: Lofty columns mark the entrance of the archaeological site, their former glory shrouded from view

A select group of archaeologists gathered last week in Barcelona to explore an ancient site where the remains of a formerly opulent carbon market society have recently been exposed. Although the organisers were expecting a large turn-out of reputed experts at the meeting, the final turn-out was rather smaller than hoped.

Nevertheless, as excavations progressed the diggers began to uncover relics offering fascinating insights into the civilisation that made such a prosperous living out of the thriving carbon market of yesteryear. Shards of glass resembling champagne flutes suggest that the society once had much to celebrate and regularly toasted one another’s success with champagne, something unimaginable in modern times.

Roof fallen in: Columns hint at former splendour of the market

Roof fallen in: Columns hint at ancient splendour of the market

Ancient scraps of papyrus inscribed with curious hieroglyphs known as “emissions reduction purchase agreements” have also been found, featuring astronomical financial figures amounting to €15 or €20 per tonne, or even more. Curiously, everywhere the archaeologists looked they came across vast quantities of semi-preserved remains of strange round articles that vaguely resemble modern-day hamburgers, except that they are far too small.  Dr. Firk Dorrister, former White House archaeologist who is leading the excavations, said “these strange miniature ‘mini macs’ have led us to believe that the people of the former carbon market civilisation were either much smaller than we are today, or that they had really tiny mouths.”


Perspective problem: artist’s reconstruction of how the microscopic burger-like objects would appear next to a modern-day, normal-sized adult hand

“Come to think of it, perhaps this means that only children were involved in the ancient carbon market, and that all this carbon play was but a game”, he added thoughtfully.

As more of the rich seam of artefacts is uncovered, experts are now pointing to signs of a potential resurgence of the ancient civilisation, rising out of its ashes to re-establish itself as a prosperous and exciting market in far-flung lands.

Sky high: The Keeling Curve about to hit 400 ppm

The first round of 2013 UN climate negotiations kicked off this morning with a stirring call to urgent action by UNFCCC Chief Christiana Figueres: the world’s average atmospheric CO2 concentration is on the verge of passing the landmark level of 400ppm, with no sign of a noticeable let-up.  Many scientists have long-since held that 400 and above represents serious danger of disastrous changes to the climate system. The godfather of climate science, James Hansen, has always maintained that 350ppm is the only safe level. Entire movements have been founded on this basis.  Passing 400ppm is a sobering moment indeed.

Faced with this dire warning from scientists transformed into the inspiring oratory of Ms Figueres, the governments of the world duly stepped up and responded by not flocking to Bonn in record numbers. Crowds of excited negotiators could not be seen thronging the corridors of the old West German Parliament building, temporarily hosting the talks to give everyone a break from the ’80s monotone of the nearby Maritim.  Hordes of clamouring journalists were not to be seen generating a near total lack of buzz in the world’s media. The sense of urgency was palpable but only when it was time for lunch. Sometimes it felt as though there were more people in bedroom last night than attending the talks.

Plenary about to kick off at the epicentre of the world’s action on climate change   (photo – )

In fact it was just another day in sleepy Bonn, with the coal barges gurgling past along the Rhine and the thick sausages sizzling in the canteen. Rumours that entire delegations had not been informed about the venue change and are waiting patiently at the Hotel Maritim appear to be unfounded.

And so the UNFCCC  juggernaut rumbles into motion, beginning its 2013 programme of mud slinging, procedural wrangling and communal wringing of hands about the inadequacy of the world’s response. Is this really the world’s best hope to avoid climate catastrophe? Let us hope not.

Shock and dismay were rippling through the Qatar National Convention Centre today after it emerged that an unfortunate translation error is to blame for the Emir of Qatar’s hitherto unexplained  enthusiasm to host the 2012 UN climate talks.

Seemingly, a careless translator mistook “climate change”  for “climate control” which was then translated into Arabic as  “air conditioning”, thereby presenting the Emir with an invitation for bids to host the 2012 United Nations Air Conditioning Conference.  On admitting the error, a senior minister said “we thought we would be welcoming the world’s best air conditioning manufacturers to our sandy shores. That’s something we can really relate to. I can’t believe you guys at the UN didn’t spot the error. What, you really thought we were interested in hosting a major environment conference? Seriously?”

Proposed air-conditioned stadium

Proposed air-conditioned stadium

The Minister went on to explain that whilst Qatar is already a major importer of finest-quality air-conditioning equipment – given its recent construction boom and scorching summer temperatures –  the trade is set to soar as the Emirate prepares to host the 2022 football World Cup. Given mounting fears that not even the Qatari national team (if such a thing exists) will be able to cope with the fierce heat, entire air-conditioned stadia are being planned. With this in mind, he said, the choice to host the 2012 conference was perfectly logical.  On the other hand, the minister explained that they are not really too interested in climate change:  heat, used to that; desertification, been there done that some time ago; water supply, gas-fired desalination galore; sea level rise, only 120,000 citizens and plenty of land and so on ad nauseum.

Rumours that the Qataris mistook the competition to host the 2022 football World Cup for that of the annual desert camel-racing championship are

Training for the 2022 camel race

Training for the 2022 camel race

unfounded. Nevertheless notorious climate sceptic “Lord” Monckton appears to be already in training for that event, where he will be representing Myanmar.

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