Live from Lima….Ed Davey writes from the Climate Change Talks

I’m half way through my third day at the Lima UN climate change talks and the negotiations look set to go to the wire this weekend.

But that’s not because there’s some crisis in the global talks – it’s because these are the most technically complex and politically challenging global negotiations ever. To make global agreements on how we move our carbon world to a low carbon world is an extraordinary task.

And the good news is that – thanks to Liberal Democrats in government – we come to the talks with a good story to tell – one of leading through example.  Of walking the walk, and unlike some, not just talking the green talk.  You may have read that Michael Gove prevented the Tory Climate Change Minister from attending the talks and I will leave it to him to explain his actions.

Our record is impressing many. Since 2010 we’ve more than doubled the amount of electricity generated from renewables. The UK led the way on securing a challenging EU-wide target to reduce emissions.  And the UK’s long planned pledge of £720 million towards the Green Climate Fund will help developing countries adapt to climate change and decarbonise.

Overall the main objective of these talks is to ‘keep the eye on the prize’.  The prize is a global and legally binding emissions reduction target at next year’s Paris talks.  So what needs to happen over the next few days is momentum, with the building blocks being put in place to show we’re still firmly on track for next year.

For the Lima talks, that means 3 things.  First we need an agreement that allows us to compare apples with apples.  The bottom line is we need countries to come forward with information about their plans to reduce emissions so that all commitments can be compared, then monitored and verified.  Second, we need to see pen put to paper and agree the draft elements of text to start the detailed negotiations necessary ahead of the 2015 Paris summit.  Lastly as a new deal would only take effect in 2020 we need to hear more from some countries about upping their carbon cut commitments before then.

With 195 countries involved, that’s easier said than done.  So the next few days will see tough negotiations on text. I’ll keep you updated with the progress that we’re making, and for an hour tomorrow I’ll be on Twitter answering any questions you may have.  The session starts at 3:30pm UK time and you can submit questions before or during the session using #BackClimateAction

* Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston & Surbiton and Leader of the Liberal Democrats

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16 Comments

  • Our base for renewables was pretty low compared with quite a few other countries. I shouldn’t think our record on taking up nuclear again after a long gap would be impressing anyone! If it so wonderful, why are so few copying our actions? And how do we justify going that road when delays, price hikes, and a recent series of potentially dangerous incidents is the recent record around the world.

  • Ray Cobbett 11th Dec '14 - 5:34pm

    I wish Davy luck with his work in Lima but remain deeply pessimistic that anything really bankable will emerge from the haggling. Until politician recognise that the old growth model is broke and that infinite expansion in a finite world is a no-brainer then it’s all just green talk.

  • Creating uncompetitive industry, fuel poverty and a third world energy industry in such a short time really is impressive.

  • Tsar Nicolas 11th Dec '14 - 7:09pm

    I wish Ed Davey well, but there really has been little or no progress on this by anyone in any country over the past few decades. We are at around 400ppm in terms of atmospheric CO2 and there is a 2 degree centigrade rise already built into the atmospheric system.

    Many commentators think that IPCC is too conservative, being a huge body of scientists that need to reach a consensus, and that IPCC largely ignores the non-linear trends such as ice sheet collapse in Greenland, and self-reinforcing feedback loops – like a possible runaway greenhouse effect.

    In fact, one of the most disturbing things about recent developments surrounding climate is the beginning of large scale methane releases in the Arctic.

    I have linked below to a site called Arctic News which asks the question as to whether the conservativism of the IPCC is masking the fact of human extinction within two decades. If you think that is unduly pessimistic consider this: humans have not lived on this planet at any time where the global average temperature was 3.5 degrees centigrade above the pre-industrial base level. 2 degrees takes us more than half-way there (that’s guaranteed since warming today comes from stuff dumped into the atmosphere in the 1970s) and cutting industrial emissions would actually have a paradoxical effect, since as well as cutting CO2 levels, it would cut other particulates such as sulphates which help reflect sunlight back into space and cool the planet (global dimming).

    http://arctic-news.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/methane-erupting-from-east-siberian-arctic-shelf.html

    http://arctic-news.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/methane-erupting-from-east-siberian-arctic-shelf.html

  • @ Tsar Nicolas

    I doubt if many commentators think that the IPCC is too conservative, though it is true that there is now a trend established whereby they reduce their projections in recognition that the climate sensitivity to atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is much less than originally thought. There will almost certainly be very modest warming and the actions taken by Mr Davey will prove to be unnecessary and pointless.

    The warming that you describe is based on climate models. There is no model that correctly predicted the hiatus and no model that correctly predicted the actual observed temperatures for this century. As you are probably aware, falsification of a model depends on its failure to predict reality.

    Your further comments imply that you believe that the current temperature hiatus is some sort of delay in the warming mechanism as opposed to being a negative feedback. There is no evidence for such a delay though it is true that much of the global warming industry is waiting anxiously to see a significant upturn in global temperatures. The number of papers proposing reasons for such a delay has reached 59 though none so far has any credibility or convincing evidence.

    Methane release in the Arctic is nothing new. A glance at the source you provide does not convince me that this is a significant threat. Some of the contributors have a predilection for rather dramatic views. This is a natural process that follows the multidecadal cycles of oceans and is the consequence the resulting Arctic sea ice melt.

    You do not mention the Antarctic ice extent which has been increasing steadily and is now breaking all previous records.

    I conclude by saying that your warning of the extinction of the human race within two decades being a fact is probably a modest exaggeration. You could probably multiply this timescale by a few hundred thousand years or more to have a more realistic figure.

  • Tsar Nicolas 11th Dec '14 - 9:40pm

    Peter.

    There is no hiatus. The 13 warmest years in recorded history were all in the past 14 years, but keep posting a lie and eventually somebody will believe you.

    I am sorry but the methane release in the Arctic does appear to be related to the rise in the temperatures of the oceans, thus putting at risk the stability of methane clathrates. Methane has been stored in the oceans for millions of years, kept there by a combination of high pressure and low temperatures – since the bulk of planetary warming has been absorbed by the oceans rather than the atmosphere, it is not surprising that we are at a dangerous turning point. You cannot point anywhere to large scale methane releases in earth’s recent history – the last time this appears to have happened was at around 55 Ma when global temperatures spiked and the earth up to 30 degrees north and south become uninhabitable for life.

    I must address the old canard about the meaning of increasing Antarctic ice. The simple fact is that the warmer the air the more moisture it can hold and therefore deposit via snow or rain. At minus forty degrees you get very little water vapour in the air, but at minus ten degrees you get a lot, so more ice and snow actually indicates warming is taking place. You and others like you are using a simple mind trick to link people’s experiences of British weather – where snow is a sign of colder weather – to confuse them as to what is going on in a region where that apparently iron law does not hold true.

    In any event, Antarctica is somewhat isolated from the global climate by the circumpolar winds and ocean currents. The Arctic is far more intimately linked in to the world ocean, and the degree of ice melt there is truly alarming.

    A final word on the conservatism of the IPCC. I base this on their continued preference for linear models and extrapolations. The reality is that certain processes are best explained by exponential processes. Most people are unfamiliar with this, except for the use of compound interest.

  • I have two comments to make about your first paragraph.

    Let us say for the sake of argument that 2001 was the hottest year since records began then the temperature remained unchanged for 13 years. It follows that all of these 13 years were also the hottest years since records began. It does not suggest that it was getting hotter. The temperature was static. This trick is often used by climate activists to fool people into believing that it is getting warmer when in fact temperatures are static.

    The second comment is that globally, most records began less than a century ago so these modern temperature records are not very high in the scheme of things. The Medieval Warming Period was hotter.

  • A quick reading of The Coalition Agreement reminds us that the policy that Chris Huhne and Ed Davey have lumbered us with is neither the one in that agreement, nor the one which Liberal Democrats put to the voters in the 2010 General Election.

    The rush for new nuclear, whatever the cost, however big the subsidy, however you dress up the subsidy, was not Liberal Democrat policy, it was not even Coalition policy. It was and of course stll is Conservative policy.

    When Ed Davey says — “. And the good news is that – thanks to Liberal Democrats in government – we come to the talks with a good story to tell – one of leading through example ” is he talking of the example of rushing for new nuclear?

    It would be interesting if Ed could report back on the reaction of the Iranian government to the example he has set.

  • The hiatus again. Well, the situation remains that decades-scale variations in regional climate cycles sometimes align to amplify the long term trends, and sometimes align so as to dampen them. Several key cycles, notably operating around the Pacific trade winds and the North Atlantic, made the trajectory of warming through the 80s and 90s seem more rapid. Now these cycles are creating the illusion of stability.

    Without separating the greenhouse gas contribution from natural geochemical and atmospheric / oceanic energy cycling effects, predictions will be unhelpful. This does not mean that the link between greenhouse gas emissions and global climate has been invalidated. It just means that the environment can still surprise us on occasion, especially on short term fluctuations. Those predicting the end of the climate as a cause for concern are setting themselves up for a less than entirely pleasant one.

  • T-J, I agree with all of that.

    The rapid rate of warming that you describe was attributed in total to carbon dioxide at the time. We now know, as you say, that natural processes were greatly underestimated. I would say that the climate system is poorly understood and no one really knows whether to expect more warming or cooling. The only thing that is certain is that the hiatus will not last.

    I also agree that GHG theory suggests further warming, but it is clear that the scenarios that were used in the early days to create much alarm are no longer thought to be valid. For example, the positive feedback attributed to water vapour probably creates clouds rather than more greenhouse effect. The clouds reduce the incoming solar radiation leading to cooling. The models cannot adequately simulate cloud behaviour so true simulation of our climate is currently impossible.

    The motivation behind my comments here is that I think we need a more measured approach to climate change and not make policy in a panic. However the subject is politicised and hijacked by a whole range of activists including those who have turned it into a global multi-trillion dollar industry.

  • Tsar Nicolas 12th Dec '14 - 5:03pm

    Peter 12th Dec ’14 – 10:39am

    If you look at the stock market during a prolonged bear market, you will see that there is never a universal, continual downward trend. There will be hour-to-hour, day-to-day variations. Some days there may be a rise, the rise may be prolonged over a period of months, but it’s still not something that negates the downward trend. It’s what is called ‘noise in the system.’

    Yes, it’s true that there was no global network of thermometers around at the time of the Medieval Warm Period. That’s true also of the Cretaceous period before 65 million years ago, but we can use proxies to calculate global temperatures. For more recent history that may mean looking at tree rings, it may for deep time involve such measures as the Oxygen 18/Oxygen 16 isotope ratio.

    That way we know the present warming is unprecedented for the time that human beings have been around, and even if it were not, you would have to come up with an explanation to explain why it is is not unprecedented. Deniers can’t do this though, beyond vague references to ‘natural processes.’ The effect of dumping 2,750 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution has, unfortunately, overwhelmed all these natural processes.

    I am not sure whether the majority of deniers argue that there is no such as thing as a greenhouse effect – the fact that there is a greenhouse effect, trapping heat near the ground so that surface temperatures are warmer than they otherwise would be, is what made life possible in the first place. without a greenhouse effect, earth’s global average temperature would be minus fifteen degrees centigrade.

  • Tsar Nicolas 12th Dec '14 - 5:22pm

    Correction re above post – in the first sentence I should have used the word ‘movement’ instead of the word ‘trend’ – and the amount of CO2 burned since the industrial revolution is 250 gigatonnes.

  • It is a scientific fact that molecules that have a dipole such as the normally linear CO2 molecule when it has a bending vibration can absorb and then re-emit photons of a characteristic energy or wavelength. This is the basis of the greenhouse theory as well as infra red spectroscopy. GH gases absorb IR radiation from the earth and then re-emit it in a random direction, some back to the earth. Non-IR active atmospheric gas molecules such a nitrogen would be transparent to the IR radiation allowing it to proceed to space thus achieving a loss of energy resulting in cooling.

    However, this process is not as efficient as my above description implies because in the lower atmosphere the excited CO2 molecule having received its extra energy is much more likely to collide with a non IR active molecule like nitrogen. This will transfer the kinetic energy thus dissipating the heat and lead to convection which carries the heat upwards.

    The rate of collision is more than a thousand times faster than the rate of re-emission of a photon so most of the outgoing radiation just heats the air and produces convection. Colissions are less probable in the upper atmosphere where the air is thinner.

    It is for reasons like this that the greenhouse effect is much smaller than the simple explanations suggest.

    By the way, the word “denier” has deliberate resonance with those who denied the holocaust and is really an unpleasant smear or insult. People who are sceptical about global warming are challenging the exaggeration which is used by those who wish to further their political or financial agendas.

  • Tsar Nicolas 12th Dec '14 - 7:33pm

    Peter 12th Dec ’14 – 1:26pm

    What is the basis for your statement that ‘we now know that natural processes were vastly underestimated.”? we may understand some natural processes better, but the fossil fuel dump into the atmosphere and oceans has overwhelmed natural processes.

    I agree with what you say about some aspects of emission leading to an abating of warming – such as cloud formation you refer to from water vapour. This is known as global dimming. However, it also implies that if industrial civilisation were to collapse, then on top of the 0.85 degrees C that earth has experienced since the pre-industrial age then we would have to add into the mix a further 1. 6 degrees C from extra heating caused by clearer skies. That would take us well over 2 degrees.

    As I posted earlier, we are now seeing methane releases in the Arctic – in particular from the East Siberian shelf. these were not observed at all prior to 2007. NASA detected methane columns bubbling up last year which were 150km in diameter. that is a huge amount. It suggest that we may not be far away from a huge methane burp along the order of 50 gigatonnes. that would be equivalent to 1000 gigatonnes of CO2, four times the current total since pre-industrial levels.

    As also stated previously, humans have not existed on this planet at any temperature 3.5 degrees C above the pre-industrial level. We are headed very fast to a situation where nothing can be done. indeed, I think it is already too late – human extinction in the near future (before 2040) is likely.

  • Peter: your second paragraph looks garbled to me. Convection currents etc. is a red herring; the point is that the heat does not escape the earth’s atmosphere (as EM radiation).

    That is not to say that what happens to the convection currents is uninteresting and unpredictable changes to the redistribution of heat is clearly a potential problem that we may already be beginning to experience.

  • Martin: Convection is a major part of the earth’s energy transport system. It raises the warmed gases away from the surface and transports the heat towards the poles. So rather than the heat remaining close to the surface, mainly in the tropics, it gets spread over the whole atmosphere of the globe. The heat is lost to space by radiation.

    The only way heat can be lost by our planet is by radiation to space so I don’t understand your point.

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