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COP21: Prospects dim going in

An intern at, the Australian-based subscription news filter site, offers a rundown of the position of big players on the climate scene as the World Summit opens in Paris (30 November-11 December 2015).

Sheida Danai, a freelance journalist, points out that China plans to double its emissions while the United States Congress is considered unlikely to approve any treaty.

So far only the European Union and Britain have committed to meet the target of a 40 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030," she observes.

Nevertheless, the U.N.'s climate supremo (suprema?) Christiana Figueres, says "China has taken an undisputed leadership" in fighting global warming.

Danai is more impressed by Africa. Faith Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, is quoted by The Guardian (UK) on 11 November 2015 as telling a news conference at the launch of a World Energy Outlook Special Report on energy and climate change: "In Africa, we may well see, for the first time, a region [realising] its economic growth using renewable energy." Guardian writer Anna Leach explains: "The report predicts that nearly 40% of the total power generation capacity in Africa will be from renewables by 2040." The publication is free.

The Paris meeting is known as COP21, meaning the 21st session of the Conference of Parties to the International Framework Convention on Climate Change. The previous session, in Copenhagen (2009), set a goal of keeping global warming down to 2 degrees Celsius more than pre-industrial levels. Author Fred Pearce, writing on Yale's environment 360 site, says the pledges so far "fall far short" of achieving this result.

Optimists can head over to the website of the UNFCC for a report setting out six measures countries can take now that should have an impact on climate change. Its first key message to policymakers is: "Action is urgently needed as current climate pledges fall short."

What to do

Recommendations with "high mitigation potential" include:

  1. Increased use of renewable energy
  2. Energy efficiency
  3. Reduction of transport emissions
  4. Carbon capture and storage
  5. Reduce non-CO2 emissions
  6. New approaches to land-use: "companies could reduce overall emissions in agriculture and forestry by as much as two-thirds over the next five years without having a negative impact on economic growth."

Who's to blame?

For a more pugnacious approach on climate cshange, try Cowspiracy, the film and the site, which uses Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) figures to argue that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse-gas emissions, "more than the combined exhaust from all transportation".

The polemic comes from Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, two U.S. activists, who released an updated version of their film on Netflix in September 2015

Their facts page says:

"Livestock and their byproducts account for...51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions."

"Methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2 on a 20 year time frame."

"Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years."

"Emissions for agriculture projected to increase 80% by 2050."

Their answer is to give up beef as much as possible: "Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent, and one animal's life."

Shielded from scrutiny

The Vegan Society headlines its report: "Animal agriculture: the climate culprit shielded from scrutiny " It is certainly hard to argue with the film's criticism of giving so much of Earth (45% of its land) to animal agriculture or the dreadful impact of methane gas. As Andersen and Kuhn note: eating less beef would have a quick impact on reducing greenhouse gases (the ones that warm up the atmosphere).

But they also conclude that membership-based environmental organizations are reluctant to tackle the issue because the message would not go down well with their steak-fed members.

There has been some debate over how they reached their figures. Or rather, how the original FAO researchers did their calculations. But the NGO New Harvest in June 2015 issued a survey by JD student Andy Vrbicek which is worth your time.

It won't be more of same

What happens if the world -- let alone COP21 -- does nothing about animal agriculture and climate change? Cornell University's Dairy Environmental Systems (DES) group warns: "Projections show an increased frequency of days with extreme heat, meaning increased heat stress. Increased heat stress significantly impacts dairy cow milk production, poultry egg production, and feed conversion of meat animals and birds."

Jennifer Pronto, a research assistant in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, reminds us: "This results in increased cost and decreased farm revenue. Similarly, projected increases in precipitation, especially in heavy precipitation events, mean additional challenges in storing and managing livestock and poultry manures for many farms, not to mention challenges with growing their food."

See also this article by my friend Bill Hinchberger on DevEx

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