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By Andy Rowell
In the fallout from the Durban, South Africa climate talks, one of the things I have heard people debating about is what keeping global warming to 2 degrees means, rather than letting warming increase to 3 degrees or even 4 degrees.
One of the answers was that if warming goes above 2 degrees, the chances of a runaway greenhouse effect happening increases. And one way this happens is through the kicking in of positive feedback mechanisms.
And one of these regards the potent greenhouse gas methane (which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide), and what lies beneath the Arctic permafrost, or frozen soil.
For years scientists have warned of a ticking “methane timebomb” in the Arctic. At the end of last month, in an article published in the journal Nature, a survey of 41 international experts led by University of Florida ecologist Edward Schuur revealed that models created to estimate global warming may have underestimated the magnitude of carbon emissions from permafrost over the next century.
The scientists argued that the effect on climate change is projected to be 2.5 times greater than models currently predicted, partly because of the amount of methane released in permafrost.
“We’re talking about carbon that’s in soil, just like in your garden where there’s compost containing carbon slowly breaking down, but in permafrost it’s almost stopped because the soil is frozen,” Schuur said at the time. “As that soil warms up, that carbon can be broken down by bacteria and fungi, and as they metabolize, they are releasing carbon and methane, greenhouse gases that cause warmer temperatures.”
The scientists estimated that the permafrost is distributed across 11.7 million square miles of land—an amount that is more than three times larger than previously estimated.
But what about methane trapped under the oceans? A Dec. 13 article in the Independent makes alarming reading. The paper reports that “Dramatic and unprecedented plumes” of methane have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.
The scale and volume of the methane release has “astonished” the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.
Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the Independent that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.
“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr. Semiletov said. “I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them.”
Dr. Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
What his findings show is that the need for a comprehensive radical deal on climate change is ever more urgent.
Someone should tell the Canadians that.
For more information, click here.
Civil society organizations from around the world released a report Nov. 29 at the Durban, South Africa climate talks that highlights the contradictions inherent in the World Bank Group’s (WBG) presence. While the WBG seeks a leading role in climate finance, it has been unable to finalize an energy strategy and continues to finance dirty energy projects.
Just a year after the WBG heavily criticized a US$3 billion loan for one of the world’s largest coal plants in South Africa, the institution is considering supporting a new coal plant in Kosovo.
The report, Unclear on the Concept: How Can the World Bank Group Lead on Climate Finance without an Energy Strategy?, finds that “in spite of its climate-friendly rhetoric, the WBG continues to disproportionately fund dirty energy projects. In fact, nearly half of energy lending—more than US$15 billion—went to fossil fuels over the past four years.”
The report includes data from the Shift the Subsidies database, which tracks multilateral development bank energy lending. It demonstrates how the WBG is experiencing clear difficulties in synching its core lending with climate goals. Given the difficulties and contradictions, the institution should focus on cleaning up its own act before making further forays into climate finance initiatives.
Civil society advocates claim this lending directly undermines the institutions credibility as a leading institution in climate finance. “The bank should put its money where its mouth is and stop financing dirty energy,” said Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth.
Worse, the WBG is unable to finalize its own energy strategy—a document that will guide lending at the institution for the next decade. “How can the bank guide the world into a clean energy future when it can’t guide itself over the next decade?” asks Justin Guay from the Sierra Club.
Without an energy strategy, the bank is risking its institutional credibility with its current consideration of a new coal project in Kosovo. The project will provide public financing for the most heavily polluting form of coal (lignite) and comes on the heels of the WBG decision last year to lend more than US$3 billion to help build the Medupi coal plant in South Africa. “The lignite project will be a huge burden for the people of Kosovo,” says Nezir Sinani, a member of Kosovan civil society. “It will severely impact our health and we will pay higher energy prices.”
The institution’s actions– its core energy lending, its inability to pass a forward-looking energy strategy, and its mixed involvement in climate-related initiatives—demonstrate that the WBG does not take climate change impacts nearly seriously enough.
In order to change course and support developing countries in a transition to truly clean energy, the report calls upon the WBG to:
- Stop funding dirty energy projects, either directly or indirectly, and
- Pass an energy strategy that promotes truly clean energy and energy access.
For a copy of the report, click here.
For more information, click here.