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Is China Still Committed to UN Climate Process?

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Is China Still Committed to UN Climate Process?

In a major blow to the United Nation's upcoming climate change summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping decided to pull out earlier this week.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pulled out of the UN climate summit in NYC, Sept. 23.

That's according to a Bloomberg article which cites two UN diplomats.

After initially confirming his place, together with U.S. president Barack Obama only two months ago, Xi may now send another top level Chinese delegate to the Sept. 23 gathering instead. It is unclear why Xi himself will not attend.

But, according to a spokesperson from the Beijing government, the change is not necessarily indicative of China's weakening stance on fighting climate change.

The move comes a few weeks after Indian prime minister Narendra Modi decided to snub the gathering.

The news will certainly dash the hopes of UN head Ban Ki-moon who has especially organized this summit in order to build momentum ahead of all important climate talks in Paris next December.

In 2015, world leaders are expected to strike a new deal to rein in emissions, and prevent the catastrophic warming of our planet.

And, although the absence of both Modi and Xi will certainly be felt at this summit, it may not necessarily scupper the negotiation process: the meeting is only a gathering, not a negotiating session.

Striking a solid binding deal couldn't be more pressing.

According to a draft of the UN's latest climate report:

"Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems."

Using stronger language than the previous three reports, it also warns that the "risk of abrupt and irreversible changes" is increasing, overwhelming current political efforts to contain the crisis.

That brutal assessment came eleven months after the Nobel Peace prize winning body revealed that our planet is warming much faster than expected. Temperatures may now breach the two degrees Celsius mark within the next thirty years.

In April, the head of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim said that warming temperatures will usher in conflicts over food and water within the next five to ten years.

"Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy. Denial of the science is malpractice," warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Earlier this year, the U.S. and China pledged to lead the charge against global warming. As the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, commitment by these two economic powerhouses is paramount.

Barack Obama has since taken the largest step of any U.S. president to date by reining in emissions from America's vast fleet of power stations.

And, China has now declared a war on pollution as it maintains its lead in the clean energy race.

According to many observers, the U.S. China relationship is one of the most promising developments in nearly twenty years of failed climate talks.

And, although recent news regarding the Chinese president has lead some people to question China's commitment to the UN process, it is important to remember that Beijing and Washington have been working very closely together over the past year to tackle this issue.

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Toxic air pollution across the world's most populous nation has forced the Chinese leadership to clean up its act, regardless of outside pressure.

After sacrificing the environment for decades to achieve breakneck economic growth, Beijing is now making its fight against pollution one of its key objectives to ensure social stability.

Earlier this year, China's chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua assured: "We should be confident that the Paris meeting will not be another Copenhagen."

In the past, a lack of cooperation between China and the U.S. has sabotaged UN climate talks, including a much hoped for deal in Denmark five years ago. Negotiations collapsed as rich and poor nations clashed over who should bear the brunt of emission cuts.

According to developing countries, industrialized nations should have stepped up to the plate as they are historically responsible for the problem. But, developed economies argued that emerging nations like China and India can not shirk their responsibilities as they now create a huge proportion of today's greenhouse gases.

And, mature economies like the U.S. and Japan will not make their cuts binding unless major polluters like China does too.

"It is an open question whether the world is ready to sign up to something that is adequate in Paris next year," noted EU Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard earlier this year.

Just over a year before that crucial summit begins in Paris, world leaders need to bear in mind one thing. Five years ago, they vowed to limit the warming of our planet to two degrees celsius.

And, in order to keep that promise, according to a recent roadmap presented to the UN, "global net emissions of greenhouse gases will have to approach zero by the second half of this century."

According to the report compiled by experts from 30 international institutions, current emission targets are simply way too conservative: "By and large, national targets are not derived from an assessment of what will be needed to stay within the 2C limit."

It says that in order to meet that target, the world's 15 largest economies will all have to take ambitious strides to move towards a low carbon economy.

That list includes: the U.S., China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Australia, the UK, Germany, France, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa.

Speaking ahead of this month's UN summit, Ban Ki-Moon said:

"Solutions exist and we are already seeing significant changes in government policies. The race is on, and now is the time for leaders to step up and steer the world towards a safer future."

With a steep temperature rise sitting on our collective horizon, let's hope that world leaders find that will before heading to Paris next December, for as Martin Luther King once said: "We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny." And, while the task ahead is certainly challenging, in the words of the late Nelson Mandela: "It always seems impossible until its done."

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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