Russia’s key role in resolving climate change

New Scientist magazine (5 October 2013, page 17) reported that the collapse of the USSR resulted in the largest ever human-made carbon sink.

When the USSR split into separate republics in 1991, the loss of government subsidies and privatisation of land resulted in 455,000 square kilometres of farmland being abandoned.

As plants reclaimed the land, 42.6 million tonnes of carbon have been locked away every year since 1990 – equivalent to storing 10% of Russia’s annual carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel.

More recently, The Age reported that Russian villages are disappearing as the population declines.  As a result of some villages and hamlets becoming deserted, trees grow up through the old roads, making them impassable (July 31, 2017, reproduced from the New York Times).

This is a good situation for mitigating climate change, even if it is not a deliberate strategy.  A smaller population, assuming that carbon dioxide emissions per capita are not growing, means a fall in total emissions.  And an increase in the number of trees means more absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

United Nations population projections are for Russia’s population to decline from a figure of 144 million in 2017 to 133 million in 2050 and 124 million in 2100 (World Population Prospects, 2017 Revision).

Russia’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising after a large drop in the 1990’s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Russia’s plans for emissions reductions are not ambitious and it is not clear that President Putin is convinced of the need for reductions (http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/russianfederation.html, accessed 6 September 2017).

It is just as well that new trees are growing – Russia is a relatively large emitter of greenhouse gasses.

Russia is important to resolving climate change in another way.  It has vast forests, greater than the Amazon.  It has approximately one-fifth of the world’s forest areas.  Significant clearing would release vast amounts of carbon dioxide, so it is vital that these forests are protected.

With a better commitment and strategy, Russia has the potential to make a major contribution to a global reduction in net emissions.

Fallout from the Trump Paris Pullout

US President Donald Trump dumped America’s involvement in the 2015 Paris climate accord on 1 June 2017.  In doing so, he fulfilled an election pledge but also sealed the fate on a global climate change strategy.  We have been trying to achieve one since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit without a lasting agreement involving all major emitters.

His pullout is unlikely to result in more coal jobs in America, nor will it stop America’s progress towards a lower carbon dioxide intensity economy.  It is likely. However, that progress will be slower and it is possible that other countries will follow suit.

In May, the US Energy Information Administration reported that carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation was the lowest in 2015 since 1993 – and 21% below the 2005 level.  The amount of electricity generated from coal powered stations peaked in 2005, displaced by natural gas (which emits 60% less carbon dioxide per kilowatthour of electricity) and renewables.   In 2015, coal provided 34% of total electricity generated, natural gas 32%, nuclear 20%, and renewables 13% (up from 8% in 2005).

Of more concern is the possible return to the debate about whether the climate is changing and whether we should do anything at all about it.  The re-emergence of anthropogenic climate change denial may slow progress and in particular, prevent bipartisan agreements on government strategy in countries like Australia.  This appears to be happening, threatening a repeat of bitter political fighting over the issue of emissions trading in the US and Australia in 2009 which resulted in an absence of effective long-term national strategy in both countries.

While we should continue to achieve a global accord, we need to increase efforts aimed at resolving the issue of climate change in the absence of one.  Indeed, other governments (federal, state, and local), companies, and individuals will need to step up their efforts to reduce emissions.  There is some evidence that this is happening.

This is a short extract from a book I am writing about how we can effectively deal with climate change, even in the absence of an international agreement – or in the case of Australia and the USA, without even a national agreement.

 

Orangutans in Sumatra

Report to supporters

Gail and Charlie’s field trip to Sumatra, May 2017

We had a very successful trip, which was both enjoyable and informative.  It also presented a few challenges.  We are in no doubt that the work of The Orangutan Project (TOP) in re-establishing a viable orangutan population is successful and worthy of support.  TOP also has projects elsewhere in Sumatra and in Borneo.  Details are available on their website.

The Project

Orangutans have been extinct in central Sumatra for over a century.  The project, led by Leif Cocks as chief of TOP, has been running for 15 years and is based on 38,000 hectares of concession bordering a national park of 144,000 hectares.  They hope to take over another concession of 20,000 hectares.

A population of over 170 orangutans has been established.  These are mostly formerly captive animals who TOP staff have schooled in how to live in the wild.  The objective is to increase the population to 500 so that there is sufficient genetic diversity to support natural growth to 2,000.

There are also 150 elephants, about 40 tigers, some sun bears, and many other animals.  The Sumatran tiger is nearly extinct and this represents perhaps one-third of the total population left.  The elephants are tracked to minimise the risks to them and to minimise conflicts with local villagers.

They employ 200 staff working in a wide range of activities, including security.

Our activities

There was no vehicle access to the Bukit Tigapuluh camp because heavy rain had caused some bridges to be damaged.  So after our six hour trip by car from Jambi, we had a four hour walk, carrying our backpacks, over a very muddy track and wading rivers.  It was hot and humid, plus we had been out of bed since 3am to fly from Jakarta to Jambi.  We were all tired by the time we got to bed.

We went out with technicians to observe recently released orangutans.  They use telemetry, which is enabled by a small transmitter attached to the orangutans, to track them.  This process goes on for three years after release, to ensure that they are thriving.  We saw several orangutans, including some who were no longer being tracked but came to observe us!

We were attacked by leeches from the forest floor, so we lost some blood.

Three days later, we had the four hour walk out so that we could be transported to the orangutan sanctuary where jungle school is conducted, on the other side of the national park.  This is where orangutans are taught how to live in the jungle.  They are kept in cages and fed what they will eat in the wild, but they are released for several hours a day to learn about the jungle.  They are monitored by observers during this time.  They are also provided with enrichment, which develops their problem solving skills.

This photo shows construction of one enrichment activity, which hides fruit and bush honey in amongst leaves within a section of fire hose,  Many other enrichment designs are deployed.

In the evenings, Leif Cocks provided interesting talks on the various aspects of the project.

A thief in the night

One night, at 12.30 am, Charlie heard something shuffling across the porch outside our hut.  Then there was something banging a short distance away.  It was a clear night with a full moon.  In the shadows of the trees, an animal was banging something onto the ground.  It looked like an orangutan so Charlie woke Gail to have a look.  She thought it unlikely that it was an orangutan because they sleep in their nests in the trees at night.

A short while later, there were more noises outside and the animal was closer and not shaded by the trees.  It was carrying a sheet of some material in one of its feet.  Charlie called Gail again and it was agreed that it was an orangutan.

Next morning, we found one of our neighbour’s boots on the track and Gail’s poncho also, that was what it had been dragging along.  We had left waterlogged boots and clothes on the porch to dry.  We had also left small containers of sunscreen and insect repellent.  These too were on the track – they had been opened and a finger had clearly explored the contents.

Coming back from breakfast, we noticed a muddy handprint on our neighbour’s door.  It was clearly left by an orangutan.  The doors were not locked.

The full moon plus a clear sky had provided an opportunity for exploration and mischief.

Our learnings

The establishment of a new orangutan population is the best way to release captive animals.  In other areas we have visited, they have been released into areas with existing populations – this may limit the opportunity for growth of existing populations despite being a good thing for the released animals.

Palm oil plantations are destroying what little forest is left.  We knew this, but did not know that plantations for paper are also increasing rapidly.  This means we must reduce demand for both palm oil and paper.  About 80% of the Sumatran forest has been lost to plantations and (mostly illegal) logging.

Leif Cocks is looking to establish rainforest shade grown coffee so that locals can make money from the forest while orangutans can still live in it.

There are rubber plantations and orangutans can survive in these, so long as a range of food trees are also established (green rubber?).

This visit confirmed that orangutans are our closest cousins.  They are very intelligent and capable of learning at all ages.

Overall, we were heartened by the work of TOP.  It is increasing the orangutan population and both protecting and expanding habitat for orangutans and other threatened animals.

The forest is vibrant with a diverse range of flora and fauna living in a symbiotic relationship.

 

Resolving Climate Change

In June 2017, it will be 25 years since the first Rio Earth Summit.  Planning for that event started in 1989 and it was attended by representatives of 172 nations, 108 of whom were heads of state.  Amongst the many resolutions was a United Nations Framework on Climate Change which set out plans for avoiding dangerous climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 and has produced five detailed climate assessments (1990, 1995, 2001, 2007, 2014) each of them containing increasingly certain conclusions that human activity is affecting the climate and that the consequences for future decades are dire.  Thousands of scientists have contributed to these assessments.

Despite all this, not everybody believes that the climate is changing, or if it is, that human activity is responsible.  Not everyone believes the scientists.  In fact, not all scientists believe the majority of scientists.

Accordingly, politicians have not acted with sufficient resolve to implement effective measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The result is that the amount of the main greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, continues to rise and the rate of increase is not decreasing.

International agreements have been too weak and have not been universally supported.  US President Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the 2015 Paris agreement, which came into effect in November 2016.

Federal governments in Australia (under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) and the USA (under President Barak Obama) failed in their efforts to legislate the implementation of emissions trading schemes in 2009.

The trends in measured temperatures globally and the predictions of climate models suggest that we could pass the target of not exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius increase on pre-industrial temperatures within 25 years.

If that is to be avoided, a very different approach to reducing atmospheric greenhouse gasses is urgently needed.

The book I am writing on this problem, Resolving Climate Change, develops a new strategy to address climate change.  I am seeking funding to assist in bringing the book to market.

More information at OzCrowd

The planned chapters of the book include:

·         A review of the empirical and theoretical evidence that human activity is causing climate change.  This includes analysis of trends in temperatures and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Global and Australian data is analysed.

·         A breakdown of the contributing sources of carbon dioxide emissions in Australia and trends over time.

·         Analysis of changes in the levels of belief in climate change and support for action.  This identifies and quantifies the factors driving changing levels of belief and support for action.  Several time series data sets are analysed, from both Australia and the USA, as there are strong parallel trends in these countries.

·         Analysis of the levels of support for several specific types of action to reduce greenhouse gasses.  This is mostly Australian data.

·         Development of strategies to mitigate climate change which are less dependent on the level of belief in climate change amongst the general public and politicians.

As well as seeking donations to cover the costs of additional research, writing, producing, and marketing the book, I will seek the inputs of donors in the form of opinions and assessments of strategic options.  This is optional and opinions will be analysed in total only to guarantee anonymity.  It does not matter whether you believe in climate change or not – your opinions are an important contribution to the resolution of climate change.  Contributors will receive a summary of this survey and first drafts of chapters.

Progress towards the writing and publication of the book can be monitored at www.climatefuture.com.au.  The book will be published anyway if my target level of funding is not achieved, but it will take longer.

I have been monitoring climate change and related opinions of the general public for over a decade.  I am a member of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society and attend their conferences.  I subscribe to Nature Climate Change.  I understand the science and the drivers of belief.

My company, foreseechange (www.foreseechange.com) has been tracking the level of belief in imminent global warming since 2005 – the longest continuous annual survey in Australia.  Analysis of this data, along with data from the Lowy Institute, the Climate Institute, IPSOS, and others in Australia, plus Gallup data from the USA appears in the book.  This data analysis identifies and quantifies the drivers of the level of belief in climate change and support for action.

Prudent risk management requires that we take action to avoid dangerous climate change, whatever our beliefs about its existence and causes.  Fortunately, many actions to minimise the risk bring with them co-benefits and so are worth doing in their own right.  I seek your help to highlight the risks and co-benefits of action.  We cannot afford another 25 years of procrastination.

You can support this project at OzCrowd