COP 21: No deal on Climate Change without Climate Justice

As the European Climate and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete announced that EU is ready to work day and night for a right climate deal in Paris, it was really out of my control to combine and compare this statement with the EU’s statements and the actions taken for the refugees. "The EU will fight for a very ambitious deal. When you have 196 parties, the easy way out is to agree a minimalistic agreement," Miguel Arias Canete told reporters and he continued "We will work day and night to have an ambitious agreement that is fit for purpose". Clearly the 28 EU member states will be unified and supportive for a new climate deal.

Well, that’s fine but compare this statement with the delayed, completely uncoordinated, sometimes racist and finally ridiculous discussion about the EU refugees’ crisis. As The Guardian recently wrote “Months of European efforts to come up with common policies on mass immigration unraveled on Sunday when Germany led a “coalition of the willing” of nine EU countries taking in most refugees from the Middle East, splitting the union formally on the issues of mandatory refugee-sharing and funding. An unprecedented full EU summit with Turkey agreed a fragile pact aimed at stemming the flow of migrants to Europe via Turkey. But the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, frustrated by the resistance in Europe to her policies, also convened a separate mini-summit with seven other leaders to push a fast-track deal with the Turks and to press ahead with a new policy of taking in and sharing hundreds of thousands of refugees a year directly from Turkey”. So, we are ready for an ambitious climate deal but we are 100% unprepared and (many) unwilling to deal with the stream of refugees that are coming mainly from Syria – so how are we going to deal with the roughly 200 million climate refugees that are expected for the next 20-30 years?

The question is not theoretical at all. Between 2008 and 2013, some 140 million people were displaced by weather-related disasters; meanwhile, gradual displacements, such as those caused by droughts or sea-level rise, affected the lives of countless others. Today’s policies on climate change cast migration as an impending humanitarian catastrophe and as a failure to adapt to changing environments back home. As a result, policies focus on reducing migration, commonly assuming that overwhelming flows of migrants from poor countries will be flooding industrialized countries. But many believe that climate migration is one of the most important ways for climate adaptation.

In the recent report State of the World 2015, it is clear that there are two policy options for climate refugees. The first is to provide migration opportunities for the most vulnerable populations, including improving access to resources, information, and networks to allow them to relocate. The second opportunity lies in adapting destinations, such as urban areas in developing countries, to host and integrate communities of migrants. One of the report’s contributors, Francois Gemenne commented that “The paramount goal of policy responses should be to enable people’s right to choose which adaptation strategy is best suited for their needs. This implies that people should be entitled with both the right to stay and the right to choose.” He also noted “Current adaptation policies tend to focus on the right to stay. Today, governments are aiming to reduce the number of people who are forced to migrate, ignoring those who might in fact prefer to leave but are forced to stay against their will or ability. Extending the migration options of populations…would require a broader development agenda.” Clearly this is a key – issue of the emerging movement for Climate Justice. There are many different definitions of Climate Justice but I prefer this one, as the Global JusticeEcology Project proposed it.

Climate Justice is “The historical responsibility for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions lies with the industrialized countries of the Global North. Even though the primary responsibility of the North to reduce emissions has been recognized in the UN Climate Convention, the production and consumption habits of industrialized countries like the United States continue to threaten the survival of humanity and biodiversity globally. It is imperative that the North urgently shifts to a low carbon economy. At the same time, in order to avoid the damaging carbon intensive model of industrialization, countries of the Global South are entitled to resources and technology to make a transition to a low-carbon economy that does not continue to subject them to crushing poverty. Indigenous Peoples, peasant communities, fisherfolk, and especially women in these communities, have been able to live harmoniously and sustainably with the Earth for millennia. They are now not only the most affected by climate change, but also the most affected by its false solutions, such as agrofuels, mega-dams, genetic modification, tree plantations and carbon-offset schemes”.

As India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed during the 2015 UN General Assembly 
"When we think of climate change, somewhere we try to safeguard our personal interests. But if we talk of climate justice, we spontaneously resolve to keep the poor safe during natural disasters".

 So let me finalize putting one more question. How is it possible to have a fair climate deal without Climate Justice? Is it possible, at all, to have a successful fight against climate change without a global, coordinated and fair response to the climate refugees? And how about considering climate migration as one of the key-ways for adaptation?

I will come back to those questions very soon, but until then think that we have to change our attitude: mass migration and massive refugees’ streams should not be considered as crisis anymore – they are the new normal reality in the planet we made!


Climate Change is as alarming as Paris Attacks!

We are all aware of the recent Paris Attacks by ISIS that resulted in a massacre. At least 89 people were killed inside the Bataclan concert hall, while at least 29 died at three restaurants. More than 350 were injured and many remain in hospitals. Although we are still shocked, we do hope that Paris will soon recover and become again the city that Ernest Hemingway describes like this “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” But there is another good reason to think on Paris and this is the upcoming COP on Climate Change. And I have a very clear message about it. 
Climate change is going as alarming as the Paris Attacks. 

I suppose that most of us are aware of the climate change impacts and the long-term irreversible problems that will be created. I also suppose that many people, although they do not doubt at all for the core climate change arguments, are thinking that sometimes the impacts and the urgency are somehow exaggerated. Of course, there are climate change deniers (some of them as serious as Donald Trump who recently twitted “This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps, and our GW scientists are stuck in ice”).  And, finally, there is a also a huge grey area of people that are thinking that “the scientific facts are too complex to be understood” or that “this is one more sign of the environmental catastrophe that is often predicted” or simply that “ok, but human are too genius and they will find their way to manage the problem”.

Well, allow me to say something in a very clear way. What we have to do, right here, right now, is to react in a red alarm that is becoming louder and louder, day-by-day. All the recent scientific facts confirm that this is a full-blown crisis. Let me recap some of the ones I went through this summer, with the valuable help of Jeremy Grantham and his great GMO Newsletter.

Visible changes in the climate have been accelerated; many more records than normal of droughts, floods, and, most particularly, heat have been achieved. Last year was the hottest year ever recorded, and this year, 2015, helped by an El Niño, has gotten off to a dreadful start. This year, global average surface temperatures are likely to reach 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), above preindustrial temperatures for the first time, according to the UK Met Office. This puts the world halfway to the internationally agreed warming target of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  Other data, also recently released, shows that 2016 will be the first year in all of human history when the amount of carbon dioxide in the air meets or exceeds 400 parts per million for the entire year. As of 2014, that annual figure was 397.7 parts per million, which is an astonishing increase of 143% from the level in the air prior to the industrial revolution, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). According to the Met Office, the world has already emitted around two-thirds of the carbon dioxide it can put into the atmosphere to have a likely chance (more than 66% chance) of limiting warming to below 2 degrees Celsius.

The World Wildlife Fund, “Living Planet Report,” published in September, 2014, estimates the disastrous decline in total animal life: in general it has halved in the last 40 years, with bird populations down 40%.  The recent report (end of 2014) of the Audubon Society “Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report: A Primer for Practitioners” presents the damage likely to be inflicted on future bird populations by climate change and it highlights that maybe in the next 40-60 years we will have a very limited bird population. The excellent SCIENCE Article, “Marine IceSheet Collapse Potentially Under Way for Thwaites Glacier Basin, WestAntarctica” announces that the Thwaites Glacier4 in the Antarctic has “gone irreversible”. There are also several recent articles that deal with the direct thermodynamic effects of a warming climate, which account for most of the increase in extreme temperature events. In a simplified way they state that climate change may not cause more hurricanes or more droughts, but when they do occur, the higher ocean and air temperatures will guarantee that these events will be worse than they would have been in a lower-temperature world. In a great paper titled “Contrasting futures for ocean and society from differentanthropogenic CO2 emissions scenarios”, published on July 2015, at Science, 22 scientists led by Jean-Pierre Gattuso argue that any new global climate agreement must begin to minimize the mounting toll on the world’s oceans to prevent irreversible damage. They also mention that oceans are not receiving their appropriate share of concern while ocean life is diminishing at the fastest rate since the so-called Great Dying of 250 million years ago.  One of the co-authors, professor Hoegh-Guldberg said “There’s compelling evidence that increases in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are already resulting in fundamental changes to the physical, chemical, and biological properties of our planet”.

Last but not least, Andy Lee, in his article on July 2015 "The conflict between demographics and water in the Middle East", puts the water stress in Middle East as a cornerstone of the current and the emerging conflicts. He states “Bloomberg recently reported that water levels on the Euphrates River that
flows from Eastern Turkey through Syria to Iraq have fallen more than 50% this year, withering farmers’ crops and raising the risk of a wider regional conflict. Both Iraq and the Islamic State say that Turkey needs to release more water from its dams to replenish the river in the former Fertile Crescent where drought conditions now endanger millions. The situation for Iraq has grown even more acute after Islamic State used a dam captured in Ramadi to cut off water to government areas. The situation will only get worse as Turkey is due to complete the last 6 dams in a 22 dam project on the Euphrates and Tigris next year despite Iraqi protests. As the surrounding soils dry out, less water is absorbed into the ground. The Euphrates and Tigris have the second fastest
rate of groundwater storage loss after India according to Chatham House. A NASA study of the two river basins shows stored freshwater water reserves of 144 cubic kilometers, equal to the Dead Sea or 152% of the two countries’ 2008 annual renewable water resources, were lost over the 7 years through 2009. Soils drying up accounted for about 20% of the loss, with surface water from lakes and reservoirs another 20%, and the rest was depleted from underground aquifers. Meanwhile, demand for freshwater continues to rise. Does this explain some of the fighting in the region, and the low value people put on their own lives? What happens when the aquifers are exhausted as they surely will be in the next few years?”

There is no time left – adaptation and mitigation strategies are going too slow. As many people believe, it seems that we need something like a Marshal Plan for planet Earth. And probably this plan will cost trillions of dollars. But just a minute, let’s think again about the costs. In 2015, the global military expenditures were 1.7 trillion dollars.  For the years 2010 – 2015, the global military expenses were roughly 10 trillion dollars! Each year we spent 75-80 billion dollars for cyber security and 70 billion dollars for pet food. And according the Global Subsidies Initiative “Globally, subsidies to fossil fuels may be on the order of US$ 600 billion per year, of which the GSI estimates about US$ 100 billion is provided to producers. Nobody knows the real number, however, because there is no international framework for regularly monitoring fossil-fuel subsidies”.
So, how much money we need to tackle climate change? What will be the cost of a Marshal Plan for Earth? Many different groups converge to something like 150 – 200 billions dollars per year.  This is just double of the global spending on pet food! It is less than 10% of the global military spending and 25% of the subsidies given to fossil fuels! Recently, Thomas Piketty proposed a flight tax to raise 150 billion dollars climate funds per year. According his proposal, air travel should be taxed to protect the world’s vulnerable from drought, flooding and sea level rise. A €180 ($196/£130) levy on business class tickets and €20 on economy class would raise the estimated €150bn a year needed for climate adaptation.
I am sure that there are many other creative ways to find the, finally, tiny amount of money required every year. So the problem is not the availability of funds.
The problem is that one-tenth of people are responsible for 45% of global emissions. Sunita Narain, the director of the Indian Centre for Science and Environment, recently said "We must put an end toenvironmental colonialism. Individuals have a right to development, whereverthey are…The problem is that the United States will manage to get their total lack of ambition accepted in the Paris agreement, which means Africa and India will have no room for development". As Piketty recently explained in Guardian "the countries of the North should be convinced to finance more adaptation. Climate change adaptation funds currently stand at $10 billion, while the United Nations Environment Programme estimates the need at 200 times this amount". Piketty recalled the fact that the media always present the United States and China as the biggest emitters, responsible for 42% of global CO2 emissions, with Europe far behind at only 10%."But if you factor in the emissions of products consumed, Europe's CO2 emissions are closer to those of the US and China," the economist insisted. Under this calculation, the EU emits 16% of the global total, compared to 21% for both China and the United States.

I find no better way to close this note with some words written by Naomi Klein, in her emblematic book “This changes everything”. “Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings. The cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions that scientists tell us are necessary in order to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe are treated as nothing more than gentle suggestions, actions that can be put off pretty much indefinitely. Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard facts. But we need not be spectators in all this: politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too…I am convinced that climate change represents a historic opportunity on an even greater scale. As part of the project of getting our emissions down to the levels many scientists recommend, we once again have the chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up. But before any of these changes can happen – before we can believe that climate change can change us – we first have to stop looking away”


Facebook boosts Artificial Intelligence, New York Times goes virtual and Dumpsites are more risky than malaria!

Two recent headlines made me hopeful and desperate too.

First, Facebook just announced that it’s moving fast towards incorporating more advanced Artificial Intelligence (see this for a great summary of what is planned) to its core business. Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer announced a slew of new FAIR research Tuesday, including a system that can analyze photos, determine what they depict, and offer a verbal description—a feature that is particularly valuable for blind people. What an amazing perspective this will be!

Second, The New York Times has taken its first step intovirtual reality, launching a new app and distributing a Google cardboard viewer that offers “a new form of storytelling”. Subscribers can download the mobile app and use it alone, or enhance the experience by using headphones and the special virtual-reality viewer, which “simulates richly immersive scenes” and offers a 360-degree view.

Well, the third industrial revolution goes on much faster than we think. But still, our planet has many faces and the third industrial revolution will change almost all of them. The beautiful and hopeful face: we are capable to identify the quantity and quality of water in March, in a distance which ranges between 35  -100 million km, depending on the orbits of the two planets. The ugly and desperate face: roughly 700 million people (1 to 10) lack access to safe water.

Have an idea of what's coming in recycling and waste management with this video, from my Youtube Chanel 

On the bright side, the third industrial revolution creates new, unimaginable opportunities for making sustainability a cornerstone of each and every industrial sector. Drones, smart sensors, robots, 3D printers and driverless cars will gradually become mainstream, although with different rates. Genetic engineering, industrial biology and emerging biotechnologies will soon create an enormous footprint in our world. The science of materials is promising a plethora of new “fit for purpose” composite materials. Mobile phones, big data systems and digital - social networks have already transformed our daily lives. The circular economy concept is an effort to redefine recycling and waste management during the third industrial revolution. The dialectics are clear: circular economy will never be possible without the technological advances of the third industrial revolution and the third industrial revolution is really driven by the resource challenge. But, as the recent ISWA’s Task Forceon Resources reports highlighted, we have a long distance to travel until we will have clean cycles of selected materials.

On the dark side of the moon, as the recent “Global Waste Management Outlook” (GWMO) report revealed roughly 2-3 billion people lack the most elementary waste services. The recent ISWA’s “Wasted Health: The tragic case of dumpsites” report mentions that the health impacts of dumpsites are worst than malaria in India, Indonesia and Philippines.  Of course, many developing countries have made good progress on collection coverage and controlled disposal since 1990 and some of them have developed good recycling rates. But still, the major problem remains. Due to the rapid urbanization wave (estimated to 250-300,000 people per day) and the gradual increase of the income per capita in the developing world, the waste generation rate runs much faster that our capacity to deliver solutions. A 2010 UNICEF study (Progress on Sanitation & Drinking Water: 2010 Update) shows that urbanization is running at least 30% faster than sanitation delivered and I bet that the gap is really wider for waste management services. 

The reality is that, even now, there are parts of our world that have not been so much affected by the second industrial revolution. So no one expects that the third industrial revolution would soon transform the whole planet. But there are two particularities. The first is the pace of change. The current industrial revolution is based on technologies that follow exponential rather than linear paths of development – practically it means that the change that is coming will be too big and too fast. The second is that with the current shift of power (from global “north” to global “south”) and the continuously growing global interconnectivity, the current industrial revolution will affect mostly the developing world (roughly 40% of the planet’s population). This means that the poorer part of the world will benefit much more than the richer one, for the first time in the history of industrial revolutions.

In this fast changing landscape, where disruption of traditional industries will very soon be the rule and not the exception, the recycling and waste management industry seems unprepared for radical changes. Speaking frankly, what is needed is not a good, even if complicated and expensive, adaptation plan. 

What is coming is a whole new redefinition of what is called waste and how it will be managed. And the ones that will not get it, sooner or later, will be wiped out from the third industrial revolution.