Beyond Copenhagen: sub-national solutions are now key

December 22, 2009

Julian Hunt.jpgJulian Hunt is visiting professor at Delft University and formerly director general of the UK meteorological office. Charles Kennel is distinguished professor of atmospheric science, emeritus and senior advisor to the sustainability solutions institute, UCSD. The opinions expressed are their own.

The non-legally binding “deal” agreed at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen among the U.S., China, Brazil, South Africa and India, has brought to a conclusion what has proved an extraordinarily complex set of negotiations.

The outcome has been criticised on numerous grounds and, in U.S. President Barack Obama’s own words, “We have much further to go”.

In effect, the agreement may ultimately amount to no more than a long-term climate change dialogue between Washington and Beijing.  While global action to tackle emissions of carbon dioxide must remain a priority, the fact remains that we may be heading towards a future in which no long-term, comprehensive successor to the Kyoto regime is politically possible.

One of the chief flaws in the Copenhagen negotiations was the fact that the overly-ambitious political deals being discussed were not realistic, nor framed to inspire people to act and collaborate with each other across the world on both a local and regional level.  Going forwards, national governments will need to be more honest about future likely emissions and also of future temperature changes.  In this crucial debate, scientists must be free to state their estimates without political bias.

In the absence of a new global deal, it is now crucial that the centre of gravity of decision-making on how we respond to climate change moves towards the sub-national level.  This may also have the effect of re-energising future global climate change talks as environment diplomacy could certainly be furthered by policies decided at the local and regional level.

The need for such a paradigm shift from a “top-down” to a “bottom-up” approach is becoming clearer by the day.

Over the last decade, records of weather and climate trends have revealed larger and more unusual regional and local variations — some unprecedented since the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago.  Among such warning signs are the disappearing ice fields around the poles and on all mountain ranges, more frequent droughts in Africa and now in wet regions (such as the 2006 drought in Assam India, previously one of the wettest places in the world), floods in dry regions (as recently, the worst floods in 50 years in northwest India), and ice storms in sub-tropical China in 2008 (for the first time in 150 years).

Such extreme events threaten sustainable development around the world, natural environments are destroyed irreversibly, and economic growth is slowed.

One of the most compelling advocates this month at Copenhagen for sub-national solutions for tackling climate change was California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  As the state of California, and legislators in Globe and city governments are putting into practice, adaptation needs to build on existing knowledge and infrastructures in local settings.

Forming loose collaborative networks will enable regional facilitation centres, their experts and decision makers to learn from one another and also draw upon the resources of existing national and international databases and programmes, such as those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) and the growing number of consortia linking major cities, local governments, and the private sector.

Experience shows that this ‘bottom-up’ approach works very effectively as it is only generally when sub-national areas learn how they will be specifically affected by climate change that widespread, grassroots political action can be aroused.

Although regional variations in climate change are approximately predicted by IPCC global climate models, more local measurements and studies are needed for sub-national governments, industry and agriculture to better understand their local climatic situation and develop reliable and effective strategies to deal with all the ways that climate change affects their activities and well being.

Hence, the increasing numbers of regional monitoring centres which, by communicating and interpreting these predictions and uncertainties, are contributing towards local adaptation plans:

•    In China, where provinces require targets for power station construction, regional environmental and climate change centres are now well developed.
•    In the United States, a recent report has highlighted the value of non-official centres, such as a severe storm centre in Oklahoma, which gives independent advice to communities and businesses, while relying on government programmes for much of the data.
•    In Brazil, a regional data centre is providing data and predictions about agriculture and deforestation and informs legislation about policy options.

What this activity points to is the need for a global network of such centres to support national climate initiatives, and to facilitate international funding and technical cooperation in delivering the right information to the right place, at the right time.

Local actions can only be effective if measurements of climate and environment are made regularly and are publicised as well as information about targets, and projections of emissions.  Experience shows that full exposure is needed about what is happening, what is planned, and how every individual can be involved (as the Danes show by their community investment in wind power).

Historically, it is cities that have helped lead the vanguard towards tackling major environmental challenges.

It is therefore unsurprising that it is individual cities that are seeking to adopt some of the most innovative ways of adapting to worsening climate hazards, including showing how to integrate these measures with considerable savings in costs — such as putting windmills on dykes as in Rotterdam.

For instance, a recent “civic exchange” meeting in Hong Kong considered solutions for how major cities in China will strive to reach targets for reductions in emissions as stringent as those in developed countries.  This is a very ambitious objective, since in China the carbon emission per person per year is 6 tons, compared with 10 tons in the EU, and 25 tons in the United States.

Taken overall, the cumulative effect of such sub-national actions may well determine the speed and effectiveness of global responses to climate change.  The message is clear.  ‘Localisation of action and data’ must be the post-Copenhagen priority if we are to tackle the global warming menace.Julian Hunt.jpg


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Posted by uberVU – social comments | Report as abusive

Scientists must be free to state… OH yes yes yes Correct Freedom is where its all at. YOU say In effect, the agreement may ultimately amount to no more than a long-term climate change dialogue between Washington and Beijing. THE facts are that while the world and yourself are talking about it China has been for many years flat out reducing emissions. THE REASONS EMICTIONS are high today on this planet is because of STUPIDITY of national Governments and their Fawning councils. FOR the last 100 years all attempts by citizens to fix the problem have been mercilessly crushed by these entities. AND threatened with incarceration. Some years ago in England farmers made petrol. They had Queues of 1000 cars per day visiting and buying cheap fuel. The heavy BOOT of these above mentioned authorised entities kicked and killed the green shoots of citizens who believed they had human rights. Never mind your centre of gravity euphemism instead what about the centre of Stupidity in actuality. And your chuckle scientists must be free to state.. gravitation matters. China has already said that the agreement is a Differential agreement so that should help you in your understanding of what the agreement amounts to and end your supposition that long term dialogue is an essential ingredient. AS to cities and the insane juxtaposition of facilities which are all lovingly erected in the exact wrong places by these lunatic entities words fail me. The words Stupid bankers comes to mind with a W instead of B.

Posted by Eden and Apple | Report as abusive

It is a matter of enormous satisfaction to many people that this juggernaut of dubious science, commercial interest and politics has hit a stumbling block. As a scientist and the owner of a scientific software company I have been appalled by the grandiosity of the ‘colleagues’ who have used every dirty trick known to bad science to promote themselves, damage their opponents and pull the wool over the eyes of the public.

The world has gigantic problems which need to be addressed directly: the population explosion, general pollution, the shortage of clean water, grinding poverty, lack of medical care etc. Money needs to be spent on these and not channelled into the pockets of the carbon kleptocrats.

Posted by John Lamble | Report as abusive

Can we now get talking about the real problem namely overpopulation. China has done something about it, how about the rest of the world following their example, one child per family. Not a hope!!!

Posted by Tonyp | Report as abusive

The failure to reach any binding COP15 agreement was easily predictable by anybody who had been paying attention to the WTO Doha round over the past decade. And I can’t help thinking that it is ultimately a good thing. Even Mr (Dr? Prof?) Hunt’s column is full of sentences which read as if catastrophic climate change were a governmental problem, to be solved by governments (albeit regional and city governments now).

It isn’t. I’d go as far as to say it never was. It’s a people problem, to be solved by people. The mistake I believe the scientists made was that when the people didn’t listen to them, they started talking to the politicians instead. That had two terrible consequences. Firstly, it let the people off the hook – our airwaves and press are full of people blaming the government for its failure to tackle this even as they jet off to their third city-break of the year. Secondly, by politicising the question, it led to the current schism between “affirmers” and “deniers’ (shouldn’t we all just be concentrating on improving the models?), and both bandwagons are now groaning under the weight of journalists who have no interest in climate change beyond whether they can build a career out of it.

At least the COP15 failure means that people now know it’s not enough to carry on as before and rely on the government to dig them out of their hole. We will, collectively, get the future we deserve, whatever that is.

Posted by Ian Kemmish | Report as abusive

You vaguely mention political grandisosity and skirt the fact Copenhagen was a huge attempted money grab. It was extortion as art. Many of us who do not believe ‘proof’ of global warming (especially when the raw, empirical data is not shared) still support moving to power-generating methods using nuclear, wind, water, and solar as a means of reducing emissions. But the idiocy of many outspoken supporters of Copenhagen in bringing forward agendas wedded to other causes (anti-livestock farming vegetarians, anti-nuclear-power-generation eco-enthusiasts, anti-anyhting-US zealots) has undermined our support for anything recommended by the Conference. Finally, if anyone wishes to represent themselves as caring about the catastrophies that might be visited on their fellow citizens, they should learn the lesson that you cannot regulate, fine, and imprison those you wish to help as the method to help them. That works for grabbing dominion over people, not helping them.

Posted by John Pitcher | Report as abusive

[…] Sources: 2009/12/15/change-must-start-from-grassr oots-schwarzenegger-tells-cop15/ francisco-launches-sustainable-financing  / =3089  /2009/12/22/beyond-copenhagen-sub-natio nal-solutions-are-no… […]

Posted by Subnational Climate Action: Guv, Gav, and Grassroots Greening « Solar World by RPS | Report as abusive

The way forward may also be the the way back; the hinterlands of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are models of population control and low emissions.

Posted by Jimmer XXX | Report as abusive

If you believe that you still have an open mind about the cause(s) of climate change please keep reading. Since the end of 2007 the theory of Earth’s climate being driven by the Sun has become something that can be tested against current climate activity. Having entered a prolonged period of ‘solar minimum’ activity two years ago, the theory holds that our planet will now cool year on year as the collapsing heliosphere allows more cosmic rays to increase our global cloud cover. While it takes more than two years to prove a theory, my example of the UK has had its two worst winters in 08 and 09 since the late 80’s, something that MUST continue to get worse in the years to come (assuming the Sun remains the same) to prove the connection. To see what the Sun is doing on a daily basis, search for the SOHO telescope which takes various images on different wavelengths.

Posted by john moseley | Report as abusive