The Conversation – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 30 Nov 2022 04:18:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Headwear and Hegemony: how ‘Turban Tossing’ Protests are threatening Iran’s ruling Clergy Wed, 30 Nov 2022 05:04:46 +0000 By Negar Partow, Massey University | –

(The Conversation) – The ongoing protests in Iran over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the country’s “Guidance Patrol” (or morality police) have made world headlines. But there is another form of protest that has received less mainstream attention in Western media.

Whereas Amini was arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab “improperly”, thereby violating Iran’s mandatory hijab law, this new protest campaign involves another form of headwear – the amameh, or turban, worn by Shi’a clergy. Protesters have been deliberately knocking amameh off the heads of passing clerics.

The movement, known as “amameh parani”, has spread across Iran since early November. It has become particularly popular with young Iranians. Videos posted on twitter under #TurbanTossing and عمامه_پرانی# show amameh being knocked off in streets, cars, buses, metro stations and almost everywhere clergy appear in public.

In less than a month, amameh parani has become the symbol of a national satirical mockery of Shi’a clergy and their legitimacy in Iran, and another face of the global protests against the death of Mahsa Amini.

Clerical rule

By focusing on the significance, symbolism and function of the amameh, the campaign explicitly targets the hegemony of Shi’a clergy over Iranian politics and society.

Clerical attire is composed of three pieces: the amameh, a turban made of 11 metres of thin white or black cotton material; a long cotton garment called a qabā; and the abā, the long open robe worn over it.

Students at Shi’a seminaries are ceremonially crowned with an amameh upon completing the first stage of their theological studies, which typically take three to five years.

Iranian clergy and their institutions view the amameh as sacred. They even use its colours to signify the lineage of a cleric, creating a class-based system both within and outside the clerical institutions. In its contemporary usage, for instance, a black amameh signifies a cleric’s claim of direct lineage to the prophet.

Because of this, the amameh is the source of religious legitimacy and implies a sense of infallibility inherent in Shi’a theology. The Islamic Republic has translated this theological model systematically into politics.

The amameh is the only source of political authority in the Islamic Republic. The clergy occupy all positions of power and authority. They have established and protected an exclusive political and economic system.

Iran’s parliament, government, judiciary, military, economy and education system are either directly ruled by a cleric or by a clerical assembly. Candidates in Iran’s elections must be approved by the Guardian Council. The council also warrants all laws passed by the parliament in accordance with Shi’a Shari’a law.

The amameh is no longer a mere sign of religious learning or social status. Rather, it is the symbol of a hegemonic political power. Like defrocking in Christian churches, removing an amameh is synonymous with the removal of its associated rights, authority and prestige.

Crisis of legitimacy

Prior to the Mahsa Amini protests, amameh parani was typically a deliberate cross-party attack at a perceived political opponent. It was typically performed by zealous followers of the conservatives, based on an edict from one of Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolutionary sermons in 1969 to toss the turbans of clergy deemed corrupt.

The current amameh parani campaign employs the same tactic for a different end. Dislodging an amameh in public is a sign of great irreverence and ridicule. It attacks what the attire represents: the Islamic Republic regime.

Hand in hand with slogans such as “Clerics get lost!”, it’s a form of resistance against discrimination and exclusion, and represents the rejection of clericalism. It is a symbolic act against the entanglement of religion and politics in Iran.

The campaign is also about gender politics and the violent and discriminatory way clothing is used against women. It is common for clergy to verbally abuse women and girls in public for their “inappropriate” hijab . The death of Mahsa Amini highlighted the kind of gender-based abuse Iranian women have been subject to for more than four decades.

From Iranian clergy in parliament saying that tossing the amameh is “playing with the lion’s tail”, to Iraqi Shi’a Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr warning against the spread of amameh parani across the border, it’s clear the symbolic meaning of the act is being felt.

The reaction to protest in general has been typically harsh and violent, including calls for the execution of protesters. Courts have already imposed the death sentence on some. These threats can extend to those who live outside Iran, including the co-author of this article, who has decided to remain anonymous.

Had any influential cleric opposed the killing of Mahsa Amini or other peaceful protesters, campaigns like amameh parani might not have taken off. But the regime’s demand for more brutality and violence has only further angered the public.

The Iranian clergy face a crisis of legitimacy beyond politics. Their challenge is no longer about maintaining hegemony over the country, but whether they will retain the legitimacy to perform their traditional religious roles.The Conversation

Negar Partow, Senior Lecturer in Security Studies, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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To fight the Climate Crisis, We need to stop expanding Offshore Drilling for Oil and Gas Tue, 29 Nov 2022 05:04:31 +0000 By Daniel Skerritt, University of British Columbia and Claire Huang, Duke University | –

Environmental disaster struck the shores of Peru on Jan. 15, 2022, when Spanish energy company Repsol spilled 12,000 barrels of crude oil into the Bay of Lima after its tanker ruptured. The spill endangered 180,000 birds and destroyed the livelihoods of 5,000 families.

Via Pixabay.

Although this disaster was the largest-ever oil spill in Peru, it is only the most recent of the dozens of large spills that occurred worldwide. In fact, 39 million litres of oil from offshore drilling — enough to fill 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools — pollute our seas every year.

Time and time again, offshore oil and gas activities have jeopardized coastal environments, human health and local economies. At the same time, global reliance on fossil fuels — 30 per cent of which is extracted from beneath the seabed — continues to drive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions towards the planetary tipping point.

A way out of this mess, according to new analysis conducted by conservation non-profit Oceana, is to halt the expansion of offshore oil and gas extraction, while ramping down future production. This is a critical step towards reducing global emissions.

Offshore drilling’s immense carbon footprint

Offshore oil and gas emits vast amounts of GHG, starting during the exploration and extraction below the seabed, continuing through intensive processing and refining onshore, and right up until the fuels are finally burned.

Drilling operations are dirty too. Oil extraction vents unusable and wasted gas that must be burned on the spot. This intentional flaring — burning of gas — blasts not only methane and carbon dioxide (CO2), but also toxic air pollutants into the atmosphere.

At the current rate, these lifecycle-emissions from offshore oil and gas are estimated to reach 8.4 billion tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e, which includes CO2 and other GHG) by 2050.

Ocean solutions are climate solutions

Ocean-based climate solutions envision a healthy ocean that provides both nature- and technology-based opportunities to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

Simply by existing, the ocean acts as a buffer against the impacts of climate change. It absorbs more than two-thirds of human-produced CO2 and 90 per cent of the excess heat trapped by GHG pollution. Connecting science with concrete policy actions, however, is needed to drastically cut emissions and achieve global climate targets.

Experts previously examined the potential of five ocean-based solutions — ocean-based renewable energy, ocean-based transport, coastal and marine ecosystems, fisheries and marine aquaculture and seabed carbon storage — to mitigate global emissions.

Scaling up offshore renewable energy could significantly cut the need to burn coal for electricity. Meanwhile, co-ordinated efforts are already underway to decarbonize global shipping fleets. Seabed carbon injection remains a contested option to directly capture CO2, as concerns about its risks and scalability persist.

The nature-based solutions hold promise as well. Protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems like mangroves, seagrasses and saltmarshes will amplify their ability to drawdown and lock carbon away. Replacing emissions-intensive food options with climate-smart seafood protein ensures better climate and nutrition outcomes.

Ocean-based solutions can cut emissions

For the first time in UN Climate Conference history, earlier this month, leaders at COP27 in Egypt were mandated to prioritize national ocean climate actions under the Paris Agreement.

But after a week of negotiations, COP27 ended with a whimper as delegates failed to agree to a phase down of fossil fuels. In fact, fossil fuel industry delegates in Egypt outnumbered those from the ten countries most affected by climate change. Without collective opposition, fossil fuel interests will continue to deliberately thwart policy plans to reduce emissions.

The Oceana study put a number on GHG emissions that could be averted if countries cancelled their inactive offshore drilling leases and prevented tapping into any new fields. Instead of continuing investments in dirty and dangerous offshore oil and gas, their funds should support renewable energy development to meet our future energy demands.

The International Energy Agency modelled future oil and gas production under exactly those conditions. The net-zero emissions by 2050 scenario predicts that ambitious investments in renewable energy will go hand-in-hand with the gradually declining offshore fossil fuel production. By 2050, the annual emissions averted — 6.3 billion tons of CO2e — would be equivalent to taking 1.4 billion cars off the road.

A graph of six ocean-based solutions that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.
Six ocean-based solutions that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
(Oceana 2022), Author provided

Combined with the other ocean climate solutions, stopping new offshore drilling would close nearly 40 per cent of the emissions gap needed to meet the Paris Agreement.

But without immediate policy interventions, more untouched oil and gas reserves from the sea will be extracted, burned and generate planet-warming CO2.

When ocean conservation meets climate priorities

So is it actually feasible to halt expansion of all new offshore drilling?

Currently, only 10 countries dominate 65 per cent of the offshore oil and gas market. By 2025, around 355 new offshore oil and gas projects across 48 countries are slated to start operating. At COP27, some coastal African nations expressed intentions to tap into fossil fuels to improve energy access.

But locking in more offshore drilling leases will not ensure energy security or necessarily lower fuel prices. Oil companies continue to rake in record profits. New drilling will, however, trap coastal communities in an unsustainable industry that threatens to pollute waters, harm their health and heat our planet.

Several countries are already taking the lead in plugging this pipeline for good. Since 2017, countries like Costa Rica, Belize, Denmark, Ireland and New Zealand have stopped granting licenses for offshore oil and gas exploration.

Others pledged to ban extraction altogether, while the European Union, India and multiple island nations called for a phase down of all fossil fuel production in this year’s UN climate agreement. A new global emissions data tool released at COP27 can further help governments hold the biggest fossil fuel polluters accountable.

We are also seeing benefits of regional transitions to clean energy. In the U.S., for instance, the offshore wind industry could support 80,000 new jobs by 2030. And new markets in the Global South, like Vietnam and India, are also shifting away from offshore oil and gas.

The outcomes of COP27 fell short of the ambition needed to limit emissions on track with our climate goals. More than ever, we need our nations’ leaders to prioritize the well-being of their citizens over the wallets of the fossil fuel industry. A future with less offshore drilling is the only future compatible with clean energy access, a healthy ocean and liveable climate for all.The Conversation

Daniel Skerritt, Affiliated Researcher, Fisheries Economics Research Unit, University of British Columbia and Claire Huang, Master of Environmental Management, Duke University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Just Stop Oil: Research shows how Activists and Politicians talk differently about Climate Change Sun, 27 Nov 2022 05:02:37 +0000 By Clare Cunningham, York St John University | –

The environmental activist group Just Stop Oil has grasped public attention with a series of “art action” stunts targeting famous paintings and buildings with cans of soup and paint. They have climbed motorway gantries, blocking drivers on the M25. Their message has been loud, but has it been clear?

Critics, including Labour leader Keir Starmer, have denounced their actions: “I think it’s arrogant [of them] to think they’re the only people that have got the answer to this.” The uproar over Just Stop Oil shows that, regardless of any widespread agreement on the dangers of climate change, there is a disconnect between activists and politicians about how to address it. Our new research shows that this appears even in the way these groups talk about environmental action.

Climate scientists and activists have been campaigning for years about the stark situation facing humanity. They may think their message is clear, but it has yet to galvanise politicians into taking meaningful action to prevent climate catastrophe.

My colleagues and I decided that we needed to look more closely at the way activist groups and politicians talk about the climate emergency. In a recently published article, we investigated what we called the “divergent discourses” of these two groups. We created two corpora – bodies, or collections of words. One curated politicians’ talk about the climate from the House of Commons from 2013-20. The other captured activists’ language in YouTube videos from 2019-20. This made sure that the corpora were around 30,000 words each.

Keywords and priorities

As part of our analysis we used software to compile lists of keywords. These are words that occur in a corpus more often than they appear in general use. We compared our corpora to the English Web 2018 corpus, a collection of 36 billion words representative of all the text on the internet.

We then grouped the resulting keywords thematically. When we did this with the single keywords, we found that the activists’ talk was focused on ecological and social justice, using words like rights (as in human rights) and indigenous. Their communications often focused on human culpability when it comes to climate change, with keywords like holocene (the geological era corresponding with the rise of human civilisation) and rewilding (an environmental movement about stopping human intervention in nature).

Politicians’ talk focused more on topics like industry, finance, politics and economy, with keywords like decarbonise, underinvestment and constituent. Notably absent were words that referenced the human role in climate change.

The analysis with multiple keyword phrases was particularly interesting. In the activists’ talk, we found that phrases appearing disproportionately frequently fell into categories of:

  • activism and action (climate justice, climate activist, climate action, creating awareness)
  • nature (mother Earth, sacred water, natural world, mimicking nature)
  • types of people (celebrity culture, indigenous community)
  • human rights (clean drinking, basic human right)
  • negative effects relating to climate change (climate crisis, causing desertification, tipping point, wasting plastic).

Via Pixabay..

The politicians placed a much greater emphasis on finance, economy and the energy industry:

  • energy (fuel poverty, renewable heat, energy security, onshore wind, energy market, offshore wind, low carbon, big energy, carbon budget, solar industry)
  • action for renewability (renewable heat incentive, renewable target, climate change act)
  • finance and economy (capacity market, price freeze, energy bill, energy company, bill payer).

Alongside the focus on energy, fuel and money, people and nature hardly featured at all in the politicians’ speeches. People are, in fact, only present in the top 25 keywords in the role of “bill payer”.

Climate change conversation

The phrase “climate change” itself was something we then looked at more closely in a concordance analysis, where we looked at how each instance of the phrase is used in context. While both politicians and activists used the phrase negatively – it’s something bad that we need to tackle – there were differences.

Human responsibility was writ large in the activist corpus, for example, and frequent present-tense constructions communicated urgency. Politicians used more passive constructions, which distance them from the problem. Their corpus also contained more frequent use of future constructions, pushing any required solutions further down the road.

Just Stop Oil and other activists are desperate to make clear that climate change is an issue caused by and impacting humans’ way of life. Meanwhile, our findings suggest that politicians – at least in parliament where they can ostensibly make important policy decisions – are focused more on the economic and industry side of the environment, not the human cost. Both groups have work to do to improve communication and align their message if we have any hope of tackling the urgent task ahead of us.The Conversation

Clare Cunningham, Associate Professor in English Language and Linguistics, York St John University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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COP27: how the Fossil Fuel Lobby Crowded out Calls for Climate Justice Sat, 26 Nov 2022 05:02:09 +0000 By Alix Dietzel, University of Bristol | –

COP27 has just wrapped up. Despite much excitement over a new fund to address “loss and damage” caused by climate change, there is also anger about perceived backsliding on commitments to lower emissions and phase out fossil fuels.

As an academic expert in climate justice who went along this year, hoping to make a difference, I share this anger.

“Together for Implementation” was the message as COP27 got underway on November 6 and some 30,000 people descended on the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheik. The UNFCCC strictly regulates who can attend negotiations. Parties (country negotiation teams), the media and observers (NGOs, IGOs and UN special agencies) must all be pre-approved.

I went along as an NGO observer, to represent the University of Bristol Cabot Institute for the Environment. Observers have access to the main plenaries and ceremonies, the pavilion exhibition spaces and side events. The negotiation rooms, however, are largely off limits. Most of the day is spent listening to speeches, networking and asking questions at side-events.

Woman sits in large conference room
The author at the COP27 opening plenary.
Colin Nolden, Author provided

The main role of observers, then, is to apply indirect pressure on negotiators, report on what is happening and network. Meaningful impact on and participation in negotiations seems out of reach for many of the passionate people I met.

Who does – and doesn’t – get a say

It has long been known that who gets a say in climate change governance is skewed. As someone working on fair decision making as part of a just transition to less carbon-intensive lifestyles and a climate change-adapted society, it is clear that only the most powerful voices are reflected in treaties such as the Paris Agreement. At last year’s COP26, men spoke 74% of the time, indigenous communities faced language barriers and racism and those who could not obtain visas were excluded entirely.

Despite being advertised as “Africa’s COP”, COP27 further hampered inclusion. The run up was dogged by accusations of inflated hotel prices and concerns over surveillance, and warnings about Egypt’s brutal police state. The right to protest was limited, with campaigners complaining of intimidation and censorship.

Conference area with 'AfricaCOP27' sign
Africa’s COP?
Alix Dietzel, Author provided

Arriving in Sharm El Sheik, there was an air of intimidation starting at the airport, where military personnel scrutinised passports. Police roadblocks featured heavily on our way to the hotel and military officials surrounded the COP venue the next morning.

Inside the venue, there were rumours we were being watched and observers were urged not to download the official app. More minor issues included voices literally not being heard due to unreliable microphones and the constant drone of aeroplanes overhead, and a scarcity of food with queues sometimes taking an hour or more. Sponsored by Coca Cola, it was also difficult to access water to refill our bottles. We were sold soft drinks instead.

Outside of the venue, unless I was with a male colleague, I faced near constant sexual harassment, hampering my ability to come and go from the summit. All these issues, major and minor, affect who is able to contribute at COP.

Fossil fuel interests dominated

In terms of numbers, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) registered the largest party delegation with more than 1,000 people. The oil and gas-rich nation of just 9 million people had a delegation almost twice the size of the next biggest, Brazil. More troublingly, the oil and gas lobby representatives were registered in the national delegations of 29 different countries and were larger than any single national delegation (outside of the UAE). According to one NGO, at least 636 of those attending COP27 were lobbyists for the fossil-fuel industry.

Despite the promise that COP27 would foreground African interests, the fossil lobby outnumbers any delegation from Africa. These numbers give a sense of who has power and say at these negotiations, and who does not.

Protecting the petrostates

The main outcomes of COP27 are a good illustration of the power dynamics at play. There is some good news on loss and damage, which was added to the agenda at the last moment. Nearly 200 countries agreed that a fund for loss and damage, which would pay out to rescue and rebuild the physical and social infrastructure of countries ravaged by extreme weather events, should be set up within the next year. However, there is no agreement yet on how much money should be paid in, by whom, and on what basis.

Much more worryingly, there had been a push to phase out all fossil fuels by countries including some of the biggest producers: the EU, Australia, India, Canada, the US and Norway. However, with China, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Iran pushing back, several commitments made at COP26 in Glasgow were dropped, including a target for global emissions to peak by 2025. The outcome was widely judged a failure on efforts to cut emissions: the final agreed text from the summit makes no mention of phasing out fossil fuels and scant reference to the 1.5℃ target.

Laurence Tubiana, one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, blamed the host country, Egypt, for allowing its regional alliances to sway the final decision, producing a text that clearly protects oil and gas petrostates and the fossil fuel industries.

The final outcomes demonstrate that, despite the thousands who were there to advocate for climate justice, it was the fossil fuel lobby that had most influence. As a climate justice scholar, I am deeply worried about the processes at COPs, especially given next year’s destination: Dubai. It remains to be seen what happens with the loss and damage fund, but time is running out and watered down commitments on emissions are at this stage deeply unjust and frankly dangerous.

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The Conversation

Alix Dietzel, Senior Lecturer in Climate Justice, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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COP27 flinched on phasing out ‘All Fossil Fuels’. What’s next for the Fight to keep them in the Ground? Fri, 25 Nov 2022 05:02:32 +0000 By Fergus Green, UCL and Harro van Asselt, Stockholm Environment Institute | –

(The Conversation) – The latest UN climate change summit (COP27) concluded, once again, with a tussle over the place of fossil fuels in the global economy.

An agreement by the world’s governments to phase out all fossil fuels would have been a welcome progression from last year’s Glasgow climate pact. It called on countries to “[accelerate] efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”, making it the first UN treaty to acknowledge the need to do something about the main source of greenhouse gas emissions.

But at COP27, widespread anxieties about the cost and availability of energy made many governments cautious about expressing a clear intention to phase out all fossil fuels in the resulting agreement. The COP27 text reiterated the COP26 decision but failed to broaden it to encompass oil and gas, despite a proposal by India to that end (a move that would have helped take the emphasis off coal, of which it is a major consumer).

Still, growing support for such an extension is evident. More than 80 countries (including the EU and US) supported India’s proposal. Many nations are building international agreements outside of the UN negotiation process. After the failure of COP27, the question is what should happen next in the fight against continued fossil fuel use.

There is no doubt that, to preserve a liveable climate, the extraction and burning of coal, oil and gas must be rapidly reduced and, depending on how optimistic you are about carbon capture technologies, phased out altogether.

Despite large planned increases in fossil fuel production, recent research (released just before COP27) found, for the first time, that global demand for each of the fossil fuels will peak or plateau in all scenarios within 15 years. This is partly due to attempts to reduce energy use and increase renewables in the wake of the gas shortage created by sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

As the dangers of extracting and burning fossil fuels have become increasingly apparent, many experts, campaigners, international organisations and, increasingly, governments have contested the moral legitimacy of these activities. In a recent journal article, we argued that the Glasgow agreement represented a breakthrough (albeit a modest one) in the emergence of international anti-fossil fuel norms.

An international norm is a morally appropriate standard of behaviour among states (for example, prevailing norms prohibit foreign aggression, piracy, or the testing and use of nuclear weapons). International conferences such as COP27 catalyse emerging norms by specifying them in formal declarations.

COP decisions are not binding and the language on fossil fuels at COP26 was watered down during negotiations. But the Glasgow text reflected a growing sense among governments that certain activities relating to fossil fuels (like generating electricity from coal without capturing the CO₂ and policies which make fossil fuels cheaper to extract and consume) are becoming illegitimate.

The lack of progress on fossil fuels reflects the upheavals in the energy sector as well as the constraints of the climate negotiations themselves, which operate by consensus. This often produces decisions that reflect the lowest common denominator among nearly 200 countries with diverse energy profiles and interests, and COP27 was no exception.

Large oil and gas producers are profiting handsomely from current market prices and have lobbied governments to permit them to explore and drill for yet more oil and gas. At COP27, there were more oil and gas industry lobbyists than the combined number of delegates from the ten countries most affected by climate change. Little wonder COP27 did not yield consensus on phasing down all fossil fuels.

Other international initiatives are not bound by such procedural constraints, and there was more progress on the sidelines of COP27. The Beyond Oil & Gas Alliance (Boga), an initiative launched around the time of COP26 by Denmark and Costa Rica that aims to phase out oil and gas production,
attracted new members Chile, Fiji and the US state of Washington, with Portugal upgraded to “core member” status.

Emulating a deal between South Africa and several wealthy countries from a year earlier, a new just energy transition partnership was launched between Indonesia and Japan, Canada, the US, Denmark and others, to help Indonesia transition from coal to renewables.

What more can be done?

In the coming years, there will be growing civil society and diplomatic pressure for a phase-out of all fossil fuels in a COP decision. But independent initiatives among states, like Boga, must be nurtured in parallel, and the high-level pledges made in these initiatives must be implemented.

For instance, a group of nations pledged at COP26 to end public finance for fossil fuels by the end of 2022. While some countries are on track to meet this goal, others are not following through.

Countries should also develop an international agreement to restrict and phase out fossil fuels. Building on a global campaign for such an agreement, the small island nations of Tuvalu and Vanuatu have called for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. We suggest two ways to advance these efforts which draw on our recent research.

First, Tuvalu and Vanuatu could encourage their Pacific Island counterparts to create a regional fossil free zone treaty that prohibits the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels throughout the territories and territorial waters of members.

Second, more must be done to name and shame governments, especially rich ones, who are expanding how much fossil fuel they extract and burn. This effort demands greater transparency around government activities. A new global registry of fossil fuels is helping to catalogue this information. But governments should also disclose all fossil fuel infrastructure that is being planned or considered on their territory, or with their support.

The COP27 outcome is a timely reminder that curbing the growth in fossil fuels will not come about through consensus-oriented negotiations among governments that include those corrupted by the fossil fuel industry. It will require social movements pressuring leaders to legislate a managed phase out of fossil fuels, while ensuring a just transition for affected workers and communities. And it will require pioneering governments to work together internationally to forge new alliances that accelerate this goal.

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Fergus Green, Lecturer in Political Theory and Public Policy, UCL and Harro van Asselt, Professor of Climate Law and Policy, University of Eastern Finland, Visiting Researcher, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University & Affiliated Researcher, Stockholm Environment Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From Sponge Cities to Early Wildfire Detection Systems: Top 4 Ways Climate-fuelled Disasters can be Thwarted Thu, 24 Nov 2022 05:02:05 +0000 By Roslyn Prinsley, Australian National University | –

Climate change is driving a worldwide increase in extreme events. The latest State of the Climate report confirms the risks of disasters are rising in Australia.

Repeated floods have devastated our east coast. Other extreme events are getting worse too. Since 1987 bushfires have burnt increasing areas, peaking in 2019.

This is in Australia – one of the world’s wealthiest countries. In developing countries such as Pakistan, which has been devastated by floods, the situation is much worse. COP27 ended with an agreement on “loss and damage” funding for these vulnerable countries.

Yet the scale of climate-fuelled disasters is far greater than any such fund can cover. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction predicts the world will face 560 disasters per year by 2030. Reducing emissions is a priority, of course, but even under the best-case scenarios we face compounding impacts on cities, infrastructure and services.

Graph showing increase in disaster events from 1970 to 2020 and projected increase to 2030
Number of disaster events from 1970 to 2020 and projected increase, 2021-2030.
Source: Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2022/UNDRR, CC BY-NC

Incremental approaches to disaster management cannot keep up. We must plan for the worst bushfire, the worst flood, the worst drought.

This article offers four examples of potential solutions that are being developed to stop bushfires, storms and floods in their tracks.

Although ambitious, it’s the best way to prevent deaths and destruction. Only when that’s not possible should we pour all efforts into keeping people safe and minimising damage.

Putting out fires before they spread

In the Black Summer of 2019-20, prolonged drought, high temperatures and strong winds created catastrophic bushfires that overwhelmed firefighting capabilities. Globally, dangerous fire weather days and bushfires are set to increase by 50% by 2100. This calls for a radical change in fire management.

The area burnt each year by bushfires in Australia has been increasing.
Canadell et al 2021/Nature Communications, CC BY
A prototype of the water glider designed to put out a small fire.
ANU, Author provided

In 2019–20 vast areas were burnt – mainly because of an inability to detect and put out fires starting in remote areas before they spread and became uncontrollable. The Australian National University Bushfire Initiative is working on a new approach. It has the ambitious goal of detecting a fire starting in remote bushland within one minute and putting it out within five. We are developing GPS-guided water gliders to suppress small fires.

The ANU-Optus Bushfire Research Centre of Excellence’s high-tech solutions will include:

  • networks of scout drones to rapidly locate newly started fires
  • automated detection using artificial intelligence and cameras on towers
  • ground-based wireless sensors to detect fires.
Artist Elena McNee’s impression of the ANU Bushfire Initiative.

Working to suppress hailstorms

Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severity of hailstorms.

In Australia, we’re warned shortly before a severe hailstorm to put our cars under cover. Yet such warnings did not prevent damage to cars and property in January 2020, when 4-5cm hailstones caused $1.625 billion in insurance claims across south-eastern Australia.

So can we stop hailstorms? Hail suppression strategies do exist. They include cloud seeding, anti-hail guns, photovoltaics and nanomaterials.

These efforts started in 1896 with the invention by Austrian winegrower Albert Stiger of “hail cannons” – shockwave generators to disrupt hailstone formation. As recently as 2018, a factory in Mexico used hail cannons to protect cars.

Today, however, the most common intervention is cloud seeding with an aerosol of silver iodide particles. The idea is that these particles cause many smaller, harmless hailstones to form around additional ice nuclei. A 2016 review found these interactions are still not well understood.

Because we haven’t worked out how to apply the technology with consistent results, it’s hard to attract financing. Supporting the industry to scale up would help advance the technology and build investor confidence.

Some countries are already doing this. China is rapidly expanding its weather modification service to include hail suppression over an area more than one-and-a-half times the size of India. It plans a fivefold increase in the world’s biggest cloud-seeding operation.

Australia’s cloud-seeding research is focused on increasing rain and snow, but could be scaled up through collaboration with other countries.

Sponge cities and nature-based solutions to manage floods

We can’t completely stop all floods, but can we reduce their intensity? Peking University Professor Kongjian Yu developed the concept of sponge cities that use natural wetlands to absorb water before it can flow into city streets, reducing flooding.

In 2013, China launched a national sponge city initiative to transform greywater-based urban systems into more resilient nature-based water systems that retain and clean stormwater, making it available for reuse.

Nevertheless, last year the city of Zhengzhou suffered severe flooding and deaths, despite having the wetlands in place. Absorbing heavy rainfall in the city alone was not enough to avert disaster.

Could We Turn Cities Threatened by Floods Into Sponges? | Mashable

To solve urban flooding, upstream catchments must cope with a variety of extreme floods. Nature-based solutions contribute to a robust system. They can slow down flows and give rivers room to flood safely by:

  • reconnecting rivers to floodplain wetlands

  • relocating or raising houses and other infrastructure

  • changing land use on floodplains

  • reinstating ancient river channels

  • enhancing buffer strips along rivers.

In partnership with local councils and communities, ANU researchers are developing an Australian evidence base and guidelines for nature-based solutions to flood risk. Government agencies, insurers and NGOs will work with us to develop financial incentives.

Creating buildings that float

When we build back better after floods, we may put houses on stilts or use materials that are not easily damaged by floodwaters. However, there is another solution to higher-than-expected flood levels as a result of climate change: floating houses.

The Buoyant Foundation designs and promotes floating homes attached to flexible mooring posts, which rest on concrete foundations. If the water rises, the house can float above it.

Can you imagine how different the impacts of floods in Pakistan would have been if every family had their own floating house?

A time for transformational solutions

Traditional solutions to disasters are not working. We need to expect the worst and find new solutions.

There’s a lot of work to be done before some of these solutions are ready for broad adoption. Large collaborative research missions are needed to deliver large-scale solutions to avert the impacts of intensifying extreme events.

There is a lot of inertia in current approaches to disasters. We need to recognise the scale of the threat and develop transformational solutions that keep pace with climate change.The Conversation

Roslyn Prinsley, Head, Disaster Solutions, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After Failures of COP27, only a Radical Effort to Slash CO2 can keep Climate from Going Chaotic Wed, 23 Nov 2022 05:04:34 +0000 By Peter Schlosser, Arizona State University | –

The world could still, theoretically, meet its goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, a level many scientists consider a dangerous threshold. Realistically, that’s unlikely to happen.

Part of the problem was evident at COP27, the United Nations climate conference in Egypt.

While nations’ climate negotiators were successfully fighting to “keep 1.5 alive” as the global goal in the official agreement, reached Nov. 20, 2022, some of their countries were negotiating new fossil fuel deals, driven in part by the global energy crisis. Any expansion of fossil fuels – the primary driver of climate change – makes keeping warming under 1.5 C (2.7 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times much harder.

Attempts at the climate talks to get all countries to agree to phase out coal, oil, natural gas and all fossil fuel subsidies failed. And countries have done little to strengthen their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the past year.

There have been positive moves, including advances in technology, falling prices for renewable energy and countries committing to cut their methane emissions.

But all signs now point toward a scenario in which the world will overshoot the 1.5 C limit, likely by a large amount. The World Meteorological Organization estimates global temperatures have a 50-50 chance of reaching 1.5C of warming, at least temporarily, in the next five years.

That doesn’t mean humanity can just give up.

Why 1.5 degrees?

During the last quarter of the 20th century, climate change due to human activities became an issue of survival for the future of life on the planet. Since at least the 1980s, scientific evidence for global warming has been increasingly firm , and scientists have established limits of global warming that cannot be exceeded to avoid moving from a global climate crisis to a planetary-scale climate catastrophe.

There is consensus among climate scientists, myself included, that 1.5 C of global warming is a threshold beyond which humankind would dangerously interfere with the climate system.

We know from the reconstruction of historical climate records that, over the past 12,000 years, life was able to thrive on Earth at a global annual average temperature of around 14 C (57 F). As one would expect from the behavior of a complex system, the temperatures varied, but they never warmed by more than about 1.5 C during this relatively stable climate regime.

Today, with the world 1.2 C warmer than pre-industrial times, people are already experiencing the effects of climate change in more locations, more forms and at higher frequencies and amplitudes.

Climate model projections clearly show that warming beyond 1.5 C will dramatically increase the risk of extreme weather events, more frequent wildfires with higher intensity, sea level rise, and changes in flood and drought patterns with implications for food systems collapse, among other adverse impacts. And there can be abrupt transitions, the impacts of which will result in major challenges on local to global scales.

PBS NewsHour: “Melting of the Thwaites Glacier could rewrite the global coastline”

Steep reductions and negative emissions

Meeting the 1.5 goal at this point will require steep reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, but that alone isn’t enough. It will also require “negative emissions” to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide that human activities have already put into the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for decades to centuries, so just stopping emissions doesn’t stop its warming effect. Technology exists that can pull carbon dioxide out of the air and lock it away. It’s still only operating at a very small scale, but corporate agreements like Microsoft’s 10-year commitment to pay for carbon removed could help scale it up.

A report in 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change determined that meeting the 1.5 C goal would require cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 50% globally by 2030 – plus significant negative emissions from both technology and natural sources by 2050 up to about half of present-day emissions.

A direct air capture project in Iceland stores captured carbon dioxide underground in basalt formations, where chemical reactions mineralize it.

Can we still hold warming to 1.5 C?

Since the Paris climate agreement was signed in 2015, countries have made some progress in their pledges to reduce emissions, but at a pace that is way too slow to keep warming below 1.5 C. Carbon dioxide emissions are still rising, as are carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

A recent report by the United Nations Environment Program highlights the shortfalls. The world is on track to produce 58 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 – more than twice where it should be for the path to 1.5 C. The result would be an average global temperature increase of 2.7 C (4.9 F) in this century, nearly double the 1.5 C target.

Given the gap between countries’ actual commitments and the emissions cuts required to keep temperatures to 1.5 C, it appears practically impossible to stay within the 1.5 C goal.

Global emissions aren’t close to plateauing, and with the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, it is very likely that the world will reach the 1.5 C warming level within the next five to 10 years.

With current policies and pledges, the world will far exceed the 1.5 C goal.
Climate Action Tracker

How large the overshoot will be and for how long it will exist critically hinges on accelerating emissions cuts and scaling up negative emissions solutions, including carbon capture technology.

At this point, nothing short of an extraordinary and unprecedented effort to cut emissions will save the 1.5 C goal. We know what can be done – the question is whether people are ready for a radical and immediate change of the actions that lead to climate change, primarily a transformation away from a fossil fuel-based energy system.The Conversation

Peter Schlosser, Vice President and Vice Provost of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Urban Planning is now on the Front Line of the Climate Crisis. This is What it means for our Cities and Towns Tue, 22 Nov 2022 05:02:19 +0000 By Barbara Norman, University of Canberra |

International climate talks in Egypt known as COP27 are into their second week. Thursday is Solutions Day at the summit. Recognising that urban planning is now a front-line response to climate change, discussions will focus on sustainable cities and transport, green buildings and resilient infrastructure.

The COP26 Glasgow Pact expects countries to update planning at all levels of government to take climate change and adaptations into account. Urban planning is also included in the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Australian Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements similarly reinforced the urgency of planning for climate change. Its report recommended making it mandatory for land-use planning decisions to consider natural disaster risks.

Australian communities have been through a series of recent disasters. We have had extremes of drought, bushfires and now storms and floods. Some towns have been evacuated repeatedly.

Land-use planning needs to be updated to respond to a changing climate. This means working with nature, involving communities and, importantly, including the tools needed to plan for risk and uncertainty. Examples include scenario planning, carbon assessments of developments, water-sensitive urban design and factoring in the latest climate science into everyday decisions on land use.

We can’t avoid the issue of resettlement

Climate-driven resettlement, in my view, will be one of the most significant social challenges of this century. The IPCC estimates that “3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change […] unsustainable development patterns are increasing exposure of ecosystems and people to climate hazards”.

The costs are staggering. The OECD estimates, for example, that in the past two decades alone, the cost of storms reached US$1.4 trillion globally.

In my review of recent climate-induced resettlement around the world, two important lessons are:

  1. it must actively involve the community

  2. it takes time.

The relocation of houses in Grantham, Queensland, is a positive example of resettlement. The repeated floods across eastern Australia – and the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 – show why a national conversation with urban and regional communities on this very challenging issue needs to start very soon.

What are the essential actions for planning?

Based in part on interviews with urban leaders around the world for my new book, Urban Planning for Climate Change, I have put forward ten essential actions. Particularly relevant to Australia are the following actions:

  • map the climate risks and overlay these on existing and future urban zones to identify the “hot spots” – then publicly share the data

  • make it mandatory to consider natural disaster and climate risks in all land-use planning decisions for new development and redevelopment

  • plan for the cumulative impacts of climate change on communities and their consequences – this includes planning resettlement with those at risk

  • provide an inclusive platform for community conversations about carbon-neutral development and adaptation options – such as climate-resilient housing and smart local renewable energy hubs – together with up-to-date, accessible information on predicted climate risks so communities and industry can make informed decisions

  • invest in strategic planning that integrates action on carbon-neutral development and climate adaptation. Do not build housing any more on flood-prone land or areas of extreme fire risk.

The outcome must be that policymakers and the public have a clear understanding of where the risks are, where to build, where not to build, and the range of options in between.

For example, not building on the coastal edge does not mean quarantining that land. It means allowing activities, such as recreation, that can withstand increasing coastal flooding, as well as coastal-dependent uses such as fisheries and coastal landscapes designed to absorb storm surges.

What are the next steps for Australia?

Architects, engineers, planners and builders around the world are working with communities to make development more sustainable. They need support from all levels of government.

To better plan for climate change, we in Australia can take a few key steps:

1. Update the 2011 National Urban Policy

An updated national policy should incorporate the latest climate science, national emission targets, energy policies and adaptation plans. This will help ensure new development, redevelopment and critical infrastructure are designed and built to be carbon-neutral and adapt to a changing climate.

2. Audit planning at all levels to ensure it considers climate change

The federal government should host a meeting of state and territory planning and infrastructure ministers as soon as possible after COP27. Climate change needs to be a mandatory consideration in all future land-use planning. The ministers should commission an audit of all planning legislation and major city and regional centre plans to ensure this happens.

Engagement with wider industry will be important to ensure effective implementation. Partnering in demonstration projects that showcase affordable, climate-resilient urban development can help promote the uptake of leading practice. Examples range from affordable retrofitting of housing with renewable energy solutions to recycled building materials and heat-reducing landscaping.

Extending this approach to whole neighbourhoods and suburbs is the next step.

3. Engage with the region

The federal government should continue its positive first steps on climate change with our regional neighbours, including Indonesia, New Zealand and Pacific Island nations. This long-term work needs to include support for developing climate-resilient towns and cities, as well as for resettlement.

We can learn from each other on this challenging pathway, which will connect us more than ever as a region.

4. Ensure all levels of government work together on strategic funding

Funding is needed to develop climate-resilient plans for communities across Australia. This will help minimise future impacts and ensure we are building back better now and for future generations.

Most of the developments being approved today will still be here in 2050. This means these developments must factor in climate change now.

We now have a national government that is committed to action on climate change, thank goodness. Much is being done on renewable energy and electrification of the transport system. It is time to turn our attention to making our built environment more climate-resilient.The Conversation

Barbara Norman, Emeritus Professor of Urban & Regional Planning, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

COP27 Climate Policy breakthrough as Wealthy Polluters accept the Principle of Climate Reparations: But does it Go far Enough? Mon, 21 Nov 2022 05:04:52 +0000 By Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland | –

For 30 years, developing nations have fought to establish an international fund to pay for the “loss and damage” they suffer as a result of climate change. As the COP27 climate summit in Egypt wrapped up over the weekend, they finally succeeded.

While it’s a historic moment, the agreement of loss and damage financing left many details yet to be sorted out. What’s more, many critics have lamented the overall outcome of COP27, saying it falls well short of a sufficient response to the climate crisis. As Alok Sharma, president of COP26 in Glasgow, noted:

Friends, I said in Glasgow that the pulse of 1.5 degrees was weak. Unfortunately it remains on life support.

But annual conferences aren’t the only way to pursue meaningful action on climate change. Mobilisation from activists, market forces and other sources of momentum mean hope isn’t lost.

One big breakthrough: loss and damage

There were hopes COP27 would lead to new commitments on emissions reduction, renewed commitments for the transfer of resources to the developing world, strong signals for a transition away from fossil fuels, and the establishment of a loss and damage fund.

By any estimation, the big breakthrough of COP27 was the agreement to establish a fund for loss and damage. This would involve wealthy nations compensating developing states for the effects of climate change, especially droughts, floods, cyclones and other disasters.

Most analysts have been quick to point out there’s still a lot yet to clarify in terms of donors, recipients or rules of accessing this fund. It’s not clear where funds will actually come from, or whether countries such as China will contribute, for example. These and other details are yet to be agreed.

We should also acknowledge the potential gaps between promises and money on the table, given the failure of developed states to deliver on US$100 billion per year of climate finance for developing states by 2020. This was committed to in Copenghagen in 2009.

But it was a significant fight to get the issue of loss and damage on the agenda in Egypt at all. So the agreement to establish this fund is clearly a monumental outcome for developing countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change – and least responsible for it.

It was also a win for the Egyptian hosts, who were keen to flag their sensitivity to issues confronting the developing world.

The fund comes 30 years after the measure was first suggested by Vanuatu back in 1991.

Not-so-good news

The loss and damage fund will almost certainly be remembered as the marquee outcome of COP27, but other developments were less promising. Among these were various fights to retain commitments made in Paris in 2015 and Glasgow last year.

In Paris, nations agreed to limit global warming to well below 2℃, and preferably to 1.5℃ this century, compared to pre-industrial levels. So far, the planet has warmed by 1.09℃, and emissions are at record levels.

Temperature trajectories make it increasingly challenging for the world to limit temperature rises to 1.5℃. And the fact keeping this commitment in Egypt was a hard-won fight casts some doubt on the global commitment to mitigation. China in particular had questioned whether the 1.5℃ target was worth retaining, and this became a key contest in the talks.

New Zealand Climate Change Minister James Shaw said a group of countries were undermining decisions made in previous conferences. He added this:

really came to the fore at this COP, and I’m afraid there was just a massive battle which ultimately neither side won.

Perhaps even more worrying was the absence of a renewed commitment to phase out fossil fuels, which had been flagged in Glasgow. Oil-producing countries in particular fought this.

Instead, the final text noted only the need for a “phase down of unabated coal power”, which many viewed as inadequate for the urgency of the challenge.

Likewise, hoped-for rules to stop greenwashing and new restrictions on carbon markets weren’t forthcoming.

Both this outcome, and the failure to develop new commitments to phase out fossil fuels, arguably reflect the power of fossil fuel interests and lobbyists. COP26 President Alok Sharma captured the frustration of countries in the high-ambition coalition, saying:

We joined with many parties to propose a number of measures that would have contributed to [raising ambition].

Emissions peaking before 2025 as the science tells us is necessary. Not in this text. Clear follow through on the phase down of coal. Not in this text. Clear commitments to phase out all fossil fuels. Not in this text. And the energy text weakened in the final minutes.

And as United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres lamented: “Our planet is still in the emergency room”.

Beyond COP27?

In the end, exhausted delegates signed off on an inadequate agreement, but largely avoided the backsliding that looked possible over fraught days of negotiations.

The establishment of a fund for loss and damage is clearly an important outcome of COP27, even with details yet to be fleshed out.

But otherwise, the negotiations can’t be seen as an unambiguously positive outcome for action on the climate crisis – especially with very little progress on mitigating emissions. And while the world dithers, the window of opportunity to respond effectively to the climate crisis continues to close.

It’s important to note, however, that while COPs are clearly significant in the international response to the climate crisis, they’re not the only game in town.

Public mobilisation and activism, market forces, aid and development programs, and legislation at local, state and national levels are all important sites of climate politics – and potentially, significant change.

There are myriad examples. Take the international phenomenon of school climate strikes, or climate activist Mike Cannon-Brookes’ takeover of AGL Energy. They point to the possibility of action on climate change outside formal international climate negotiations.

So if you’re despairing at the limited progress at COP27, remember this: nations and communities determined to wean themselves off fossil fuels will do more to blunt the power of the sector than most international agreements could realistically hope to achieve.The Conversation

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.