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“Poles apart” on the Arctic?

Melting Ice off Greenland.

Intrigued by a tweet from the British Guardian, “Arctic melt means more pirate chases, say Polish climate hosts”, I clicked on to the website of the organisers of this year’s UN climate talks, to be held in the Polish capital Warsaw next month. Alas, the blog where the offending entry had been posted has been temporarily closed, leaving only this message:

“For the time being we decided to take some time away from our blog. Our idea was to focus attention on important issues that need good solutions and spark discussions on those.  We did not foresee that some readers would take the presented texts literally as the official Polish position. Notwithstanding we would like to express regret as some of you found the text to be inappropriate. We acknowledge these criticisms. It was certainly not our aim to offend anybody. We will take due care  that all new articles and posts on this website are written in a clear and sensitive manner so as to avoid misunderstandings. Stay tuned for more ideas.”

Unbelievable. The people responsible for the COP19 website have not felt obliged to write carefully up to now? People have been able to put their own “non-official” views on there? Well, the aim of “sparking discussions” has certainly been achieved, if not in the way the conference organisers intended. I will have to refer you to the Guardian if your curiosity is aroused as to what was actually on the blog before it was closed. Let it suffice here to quote the possibility mentioned there of “chasing the pirates, terrorists and ecologists that will come to hang around…” in the developing Arctic. No wonder Greenpeace and WWF amongst others called for the post to be removed. “Pirates, terrorists and ecologists”?

Greenpeace Arctic protest in Bonn

Poland’s hosting of the conference is in itself controversial, given that the country receives almost all its electricity from coal. The conference partners listed on the website include PGE, the Polish Energy Group which runs several coal power plants in the country, including the largest coal-fuelled thermal power plant in Europe, Belchatow.

Poland, you will have to smarten up your act and drastically improve your communications in the run-up to a key conference that should pave the way for emissions reductions in the interest of the Arctic and the rest of the planet. Assuming you are taking this issue seriously?

Date

October 11, 2013 | 9:55 am

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Arctic Council disappoints Greenpeace,WWF

Iceblogger Irene Quaile

 

Environment ngos have expressed disappointment at the outcome of the Arctic Council meeting in Kiruna on May 15th. Too little action and too slow, seems to be the consensus.

Alexander Shestakov, Director of WWF’s Global Arctic Programme said: “We are disappointed that the Council is not moving faster to address such urgent issues as preventing oil spills, and reducing the impacts of regional and global climate change.” Shestakov says the issues have been placed on the “back burner” for two years, and “the pace of change in the Arctic does not allow for a two year time-out.”

Greenpeace International senior policy advisor Ruth Davis said: “Throughout this meeting, the evidence from scientists and Indigenous Peoples has highlighted the devastating impacts of our fossil fuel addiction on the Arctic. Yet the Council seems in the thrall of business interests wishing to extract more oil and gas, whatever the costs to local people, wildlife and the future health of the planet”.

Endangered species

 

Oil spill response

An oil spill response agreement was officially signed at the Kiruna meeting. WWF has official observer status and was involved in drafting the agreement. The organisation says it “will be watching to ensure that the agreement is effectively implemented”.

Greenpeace (whose request for observer status was turned down at the meeting) is highly critical of the “Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic Agreement”, signed in Kiruna. Greenpeace says “it includes no specific practical minimum standards that governments must adhere to, and has no provisions to hold companies liable for the full costs and damages of a spill should one occur”. Greenpeace had leaked the draft document back in February, saying it was “disappointingly weak”.

Black carbon

The other key issue environmentalists would like to have seen progress on is black carbon or soot. WWF says Russia blocked negotiations on an agreement to tackle black carbon, which is produced by burning diesel and other fuels and is blamed for increasing the melting of Arctic ice and snow.

Greenpeace sees a wide gap between the “firm recommendations from its (Arctic Council’s) own scientists based on the Council-commissioned reports on ocean acidification and the impact of climate change on biodiversity”, and the “lack of any meaningful action”.  That gap between evidence and recommendations from scientists and real political action, it seems to me, becomes even clearer looking at the wider cause of climate change in the Arctic and around the globe – human-made emissions of greenhouse gases. Without rapid action from the main emitters (one is a member of the Arctic Council, another has just been given observer status), it seems more than likely the Arctic as we know it will not exist for much longer. As I have written here before – “you can’t have your ice and melt it“. Can you?

Date

May 17, 2013 | 2:29 pm

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“Penguins” ask Berlin to save Antarctic

AOA campaigers at the German Chancellery

 

Today, it seems, is World Penguin Day. If you happened to be in the German capital, Berlin, this would have been drawn to your attention by largish “penguins” visiting the embassies of Russia, China and Norway, as well as the German Agriculture Ministry, which, it may surprise you to know, is responsible for the protection of the Antarctic on behalf of the German government

Activists from “The Antarctic Ocean Alliance“, (AOA) made use of the occasion to draw attention to the need to protect the pristine ice region at the south of the world. The background is that Germany will be host to a meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCALMR) in July this year. The meeting, in Bremerhaven, home of Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for polar and marine research,  will be discussing the possible creation of two Marine Protected areas (MPAs) in the Antarctic. The alliance, made up of WWF, Greenpeace, Deepwave, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) and others, is calling on Germany to play a leading role and on other key countries to support a decision in favour of the protected areas.

Steve Campbell, Campaign Director of the AOA, stressed Germany’s long tradition of scientific polar research and the key role the country could play in Antarctic protection. The alliance stresses that the Southern ocean is under increasing pressure from climate change and resource depletion. The areas the AOA want protected now are described by the campaigners as one of the world’s last wildernesses and an essential “living laboratory” for the planet.

 

Date

April 25, 2013 | 1:35 pm

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Earth Hour, Vancouver and the Arctic

Glaciers – beautiful but highly endangered in a warming climate

WWF has named the City of Vancouver in Canada as the first ever “Global Earth Hour Capital“. The city was awarded the distinction for its “innovative actions on climate change and dedication to create a sustainable, pleasant urban environment for current and future residents.” It is encouraging to see a Canadian city getting this climate award at a time when Canada is about to take over leadership of the Arctic Council and appears to be pushing hard for the economic development of the Arctic region.  At the same time, the country’s glaciers are melting fast.

WWF writes:” Vancouver has been recognised by the jury for its ambition to be global leader on climate-smart urban development in spite of low national ambitions.” Those ambitions refer to the Canadian government’s lack of commitment to binding climate protection targets.

Well done to the City of Vancouver for making its own efforts to promote climate action and to reduce its carbon footprint. The activities include making new buildings carbon-neutral, encouraging people to make more than half their trips on foot, on their bicycles or by public transport. The city also wants to double the number of green jobs.

Date

March 22, 2013 | 10:23 am

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No ban on bear trade

Polar bear in Bonn? Nice poster, Greenpeace!

Reflections of a polar bear? Nice poster Greenpeace, photographed at a stand in Bonn !

The debate over whether the trade in polar bear fur and other body parts should be banned has to have been one of the most confusing conservation and climate issues in the headlines over the last week. The meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok has rejected calls for a ban.

The trouble is that conservationists were divided on the issue. There is widespread agreement that the polar bear population is at risk from habitat loss because of the melting Arctic sea ice, on which it hunts and feeds. The question up for debate at the CITES meeting, though, was whether international trade also puts the bears at risk of extinction. The USA was proposing the ban, arguing that the polar bear population could decline by two-thirds by 2050.

“The continued harvest of polar bears to supply the commercial international trade is not sustainable”, said Dan Ashe, head of the US delegation.  Canada, which has the largest portion of the polar bear population, was against the ban. Canada is also the only country that exports polar bear parts. The country says it needs to preserve the traditions of the Inuit. Clearly, protecting the heritage and traditions of the Inuit or other indigenous peoples is an important issue in our globalised age, where minorities struggle to hold on to their identities. But that argument can be used as an excuse for other activities. Is it justifiable to hunt an animal under threat to sell its fur at a huge profit on the international market? I cannot accept the argument some people put forward that a trade ban would detract attention from the real problem of climate change. Sure, climate change is the biggest threat. That means we have to cut emissions – but don’t we also have to do everything we can to reduce pressure on endangered species in the meantime? My colleague Damian Carrington from the Guardian does not mince words here.  “Politics trumps precaution every time” is the heading of one of his blog posts from Bangkok.

The issue is not an easy one. The EU abstained from the vote because of opposition from Denmark, as bears are hunted by the Inuit population of Greenland, which still belongs to Denmark. Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium were in favour of the ban. Russia was with the USA in calling for a ban to protect its bears from poaching. WWF, normally upfront on bear protection, was opposed to the ban.

Whatever the arguments behind the rejection of the ban – it certainly won’t help the iconic species that has come to symbolise the threat to the Arctic. The only positive thing to come out of this is that world attention has been focussed on polar bears and on climate change in the Arctic – and indirectly on the political and economic interests that make some players less keen than others to do something about it.

Date

March 7, 2013 | 1:34 pm

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