by Judith Curry
This past week, there have been a number of articles describing a range of responses to climate change from different countries.
The most dramatic news is from Mexico. As summarized in an article at nature.com:
The Mexican legislature passed one of the strongest national climate-change laws so far on 19 April. Mexico, which ranks 11th in the world for both the size of its economy and its level of carbon emissions, joins the United Kingdom in having legally binding emissions goals aimed at stemming the effects of climate change.
After three years of debate and revisions, the bill passed in Mexico’s lower house with a vote of 128 for and 10 against, and was later passed unanimously by the Senate. The new law contains many sweeping provisions to mitigate climate change, including a mandate to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 30% below business-as-usual levels by 2020, and by 50% below 2000 levels by 2050.
Furthermore, it stipulates that 35% of the country’s energy should come from renewable sources by 2024, and requires mandatory emissions reporting by the country’s largest polluters. The act also establishes a commission to oversee implementation, and encourages development of a carbon-trading scheme. Although there was initial resistance from Mexico’s steel and cement industries, the bill passed with bipartisan support.
The targets look pretty demanding at first sight – especially for a country where the population is growing and the economy expanding, and where oil makes a significant contribution to the national coffers.
So why is it taking steps that to the eyes of many will probably look like economic suicide?
For Mr Bellizia Aboaf, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which despite its name is considered more of a centrist party these days, it was more about practical issues.
“My state of Tabasco has suffered quite heavily the consequences of climate change,” he said. Low-lying Tabasco has traditionally suffered from flooding but the events of 2007, when water covered 80% of the state, were especially severe. Yet Tabasco also has nearly 1,000 oil and gas wells in operation – a microcosm of Mexico in general, which is the sixth largest oil exporter in the world.
Traditionally, big hydrocarbon-producing countries have fought tooth and nail against action on climate change; and Mr Rubio Barthell, also of the PRI, said Middle Eastern oil-exporting countries have repeatedly asked Mexico to take this stance too.
But as the country has developed, oil and gas have become progressively less important to the economy as a whole. That’s why a more green economic vision makes sense for a number of politicians.
“I personally think this climate change topic should be an economic and energy issue, not an ecological issue, though I recognise that opinions are divided on this,” said Mr Rubio Barthell.
“Mexico is aware this is the end of the oil era, so we need to implement this fiscal reform – and if we go through it, we’ll be able to do without this oil,” he said. Solar energy, hydro-electricity, geothermal, biofuels and nuclear are options that are going to be explored.
The irony is, of course, that Mexico has traditionally been a younger and poorer cousin of the giant to its north, the United States, which has repeatedly declined to establish legislation of anything like this strength, citing impacts on economic growth.
Mr Bellizia Aboaf cited the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government and monitors its actions, and the Carbon Trust that promotes low-carbon technologies, as bodies of interest, and also the UK experience with public-private funding models.
There are two big differences between the two nations’ laws.
- Firstly, as a developing country, Mexico isn’t cutting emissions but cutting the rate at which they’ll rise.
- Secondly, it will require international financial support to deliver its targets – as is mandated in the UN climate convention.
Tourism (particularly of the eco-tourism variety) is becoming a strong motivator for countries in the Caribbean Basin, which includes sustainable use of its natural resources and fighting climate change. Two recent articles have appeared on this:
An article on Lagos is entitled Climate Change: Summit Canvasses Synergy Among Stakeholders. Excerpts:
Participants at the just concluded 4th Lagos State Climate Change Summit have called on the Federal Government to integrate the states into its efforts to combat the challenges of climate change.
At the end, the participants recommended that Lagos State should strengthen its research capacity to gather, analyse and disseminate climate related data such as high resolution digital elevation land-use patterns, and meteorological and oceanographic data to facilitate the determination of climate change risks, impacts and adaptation planning.
The state, according to the communiqué, needs to develop a comprehensive coastal adaptation strategy, identifying cost effective and appropriate adaptation options for different areas and infrastructure at risk.
It noted that the capacities of local governments should be enhanced in order to enable them lead the way in climate change adaptation, while the state should adopt a bottom-up approach to climate change adaptation and partner effectively with private sector operators and civil society organisations.
“A comprehensive response approach that will include climate change information system, flood risk analysis and operational adaptation strategy, with emphasis on increasing people’s resilience, should be put in place.”
The state was also urged to continue to develop and improve its early warning systems in respect of severe and extreme weather events and ensure that the warnings reach potentially affected populations on time to enable them address climate change impacts in agriculture, health, water resources etc.
The water challenges facing Southern Africa are described in this article Zimbabwe: Irrigation Solution to Climate Change Effects. Excerpts:
The continent is experiencing severe drought conditions with massive food shortages reported in Kenya, Somalia, the Niger and in southern Africa.
Africa now has situations whereby nations that were known for being major exporters of grain have now turned to imports to avert food shortages.
Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister, Joseph Made, said climate change was a reality and there was need for all agricultural technical departments to work towards finding an appropriate response to related challenges.
“Because of global warming we need to focus on mitigating measures that will help rebuild the food reserves. These include plant breeding focusing on high yielding varieties and drought resistant varieties, complemented by the development of small grain varieties, tubers and pulses,” he said.
In order to mitigate the effects of climate change, Zimbabwe needs to rehabilitate and develop new irrigation infrastructure especially in drought prone areas. Not much is being done in this area due to inadequate funding.
Private players in the agricultural sector are currently exploring a number of initiatives to mitigate the effects of climate change.
For example, Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed Seed Co recently launched two new maize varieties -SC727 and SC637 — that can yield up to 18 tonnes per hectare and yielding 17,5 tonnes per hectare respectively. And with irrigation, these two varieties can be produced in areas of less rainfall but if the rainfall gets lesser and lesser these drought tolerant crops would require irrigation.
There are also calls for Zimbabwe to adopt genetically modified (GM) species to mitigate the effects of climate change but the government is resistant to GMOs.
“We need to identify a response mechanism and this can be done through research and extension including the promotion of drought tolerant varieties such as mukadzi usaende, which are available in the gene banks all over.” Mpande said.
Mpande urged researchers to also focus on the country’s ecosystem, which has been destroyed by man-made activities.
The ecosystems that helped sustain agriculture in the past have been destroyed. These include rivers and wetlands on which farmers could practice crop production throughout the year.
“These need to be resuscitated. For example, human activities have destroyed the Mazowe Dam ecosystem. Save River is no longer flowing because it is heavily silted because of human actions,” he said.
A different approach and set of concerns from the oil rich middle east is described in this article How can the Arab World benefit from the climate negotiations in Qatar? Some excerpts:
The irony is great: Climate Change negotiation in Qatar will take place atop vast natural gas deposits and in a country with the highest per-capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world, almost three times those of the United States.
As we all know, Qatar’s economy relies heavily on its oil resources, so finding solutions to climate change mitigations is an important goal for Qatar and other Gulf states too. No doubt the meeting will be an opportunity to commercialize ideas (such as carbon capture and storage) that mitigate carbon emissions from oil.
However the risk is that Gulf state constituencies may drown out other frameworks and issues that are more relevant to a larger majority of non-oil rich countries from the MENA such as the alternative energy sector in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt , Tunisa, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Mauritania, Morocco and Israel. If this were to happen, COP18 would become counterproductive for the advancement of climate change mitigation practices in the MENA region as a whole. The Middle East and North Africa must present themselves as a diverse economic region moving away from the aggregating stereotype of an oil rich region.
JC comment: The selection of Qatar as the location for the next round of climate talks is an interesting one (see here for more discussion). This selection of articles provides a preview of the diversity of perspectives and challenges facing the next round of climate change negotiations.