Category Archives: Climate

Cut emissions and build resilience


This article was first posted on IRIN

Climate change is part of the planet’s natural cycle, and its citizens have always learned to cope. But the increased global temperatures recorded over the last century point to a future where, without common action, the globe may fall – irreparably – out of kilter.

“What makes this period so challenging is that temperatures are increasing much more rapidly than we’ve ever seen in history, over a short period of time,” explains Michael Marshall, a climate change scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya.

When scientists talk about a surface temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, conventionally adopted as the threshold to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, they refer to a global average. This means that while certain areas of the world may become just slightly warmer in the future, arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel are very likely to get much hotter than the rest of the planet, at worst becoming uninhabitable. Continue reading

What’s Loss and Damage: Negotiating tool or moral compass?

Nakuoro atoll - Credit NASA

Nakuoro atoll – Credit NASA

What is it? Nobody agrees

If you’ve been following the UNFCCC negotiations for a while, chances are you’ve encountered the term ‘loss and damage’. For years, this issue has been one of the most divisive and controversial at the annual sessions of the UNFCCC COP, and COP21 will be no exception. But a quick look at the history of the concept and how it became such a big part of the climate negotiations reveals that the evidence base for the idea is not robust – nor is it really clear what ‘loss and damage’ refers to.

From rising sea levels to exacerbated weather events, climate change is affecting the planet in unpredictable ways. Humans are learning to adapt, but when brought to extremes, these impacts are simply impossible to adapt to. Continue reading

Loss, Damage and Climate Migration in Alaska


Tikigaq is one of the longest continuously inhabited communities on the North American continent. Its people are so ancient that their local language has a word for the woolly mammoth, which shared their small peninsula in northwestern Alaska before it went extinct over 11,000 years ago. In the not-so-distant future, some of these communities may be forced to move, as a result of a warming climate that is destroying their habitat.

Continue reading

How will cheap oil affect clean energy?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to make sense of the debate around falling oil prices. A barrel (159 litres) of Brent crude oil, the main benchmark for oil trading worldwide, fell under 50US$ last month.

I found this infographic (click to open the original) that shows how oil prices, far from being just a matter of availability of the raw material, are regulated by financial, natural and political factors.

oil price

The chart shows the variation of oil prices over the past 30 years, ending in 2014 with 104US$ per barrel. Imagine a decreasing curve even steeper than in 2009, when prices dropped as a result of the financial crisis in 2008.

Now analysts have been wondering what the recent fall may mean for the fossil fuel industry and its stakeholders. For example shale gas, which in the past few years boomed as a cheaper alternative to oil, won’t be as competitive as before. Good news for the environment, as the controversial extraction technique used to produce shale gas, hydraulic fracturing or fracking, is known to have severe environmental impacts.

But cheaper oil also means cheaper petrol, so for example more and bigger cars on the streets.

Also, cheap oil seems to be damaging the clean energy industry, that was just recently starting to catch up with fossil fuels, thanks to subsidies, technological breaktrhoughs and high fossil fuel prices.

Last December, at the UN conference on climate change in Lima, I spoke with a few scientists and members of the private sector about how to promote the transition to a climate friendly economy. All of them stressed the importance of the cooperation between private and public sector. They believe that governments won’t be able to bridge the gap between the current carbon based economy and what’s needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The private sector has to step in with money and capacity for implementation, but a climate friendly industry there is need of an ‘enabling environment’.

In other words, investors won’t go for renewables if they have a cheaper and more profitable option.

But there are other factors playing a part, that are unique to the current socioeconomic context. For example, diesel is today less relevant in the global energy mix, so the development of renewables is not affected as heavily as in the past.

Big oil companies are cutting their investments, and though this could potentially reduce the availability of oil resetting the prices, some say this time recovery could be more difficult, due to the implementation of carbon pricing and incentives for clean energy development.

My conclusions so far somehow overlap with the starting point of this video (strongly recommended, very clear and informative) . The volatility of oil price affects the global economy in a such a complex way that drawing an ultimate conclusion on the benefit or damages of a new age of cheap oil would be misleading.

How this will affect clean energy progress will also depend on how long the prices will stay low, what type of incentives the international community will put in place globally as well as locally, what sanctions will be issued to discourage countries from relying on fossil fuels.

News from Poland


Disclaimer – this post was written on Friday.

The first two months of my new job at SciDev.Net have been great, more than I dared to expect. The first day ended up boozing at an Italian restaurant, and after a brief research trip to France I am now blogging from Warsaw, in Poland, where I’ve been following the climate negotiations of the UNFCCC (COP19).

I know I’ll miss the vibe of these two weeks, but I can’t stay away from London for long without being homesick. So my flight back will be bittersweet, and Sunday will mark the first day of a reflection on the profession, on my personal goals and on international politics.

For now, I want to record an interesting discussion that took place yesterday over an oversize Polish beer and a plate of salmon. During the day, the EU spokesperson showed up at the media center to brief the journalists off-the-record. Counterintuitively, I recorded the conversation, though for my own use.

Then, discussing with my new friends it turns out that one of us is firmly against the off-the-record as well as the politics of embargo on press releases. Interestingly, he maintains that the embargo is a way for PR of controlling the journalist. He also thinks that the off-the-record shouldn’t exist as if a piece of information matters it should be immediately made public.

I appreciate the beauty of the ideal, radical transparency, but I don’t really think it can work in the long term. Some information needs to remain in the background, or it could not only be damaging for the subjects involved, source and journalists, but also be ultimately misleading.

That said, of course one needs to judge case by case depending on what’s at stake, but try to think about an ugly beast such as the climate negotiations. It’s an issue that looks pretty tangled and I promise, seen from inside it is even worse. Would it be of any good to disclose every word that you hear from a politician? I think it wouldn’t improve your reporting nor the public understanding of what’s really going on.

Giving to politicians and NGOs representatives the possibility of talking freely provides you with perspective and enables you to ask critical questions.

Though skilled sources will try to feed to you the questions they want you to ask their opponents, I think that a good journalist may take advange of off-the-record information more often than not.

What do you think?

Skeptical Science: how do they do

I am truly in love with this absolutely brilliant website, which invites its readers

to get skeptical about global warming skepticism.

In particular, I find hilarious the way they explain serious scientific matters in an ironic way, which ends up in mocking the sceptical approach to scientific method.

However, it’s important to clarify why in this case mockery is fully justifiable. Normally, in a scientific debate one should always respect the opponent, recognising his intellectual honesty.

But within the climate debate we face a plainly dishonest and  clumsy data manipulation. Although it is often effective in addressing the public opinion, this practice is based on bad science. Sceptical science commits brutal mistakes in terms of scale and moreover, when presenting figures describing climate change trends,

it uses a cherry picking strategy.

What is cherry picking then. Firstly, here is a picture which tells more than a thousand words:

from Skeptical Science

Basically, what they do is considering a small bit of the available data to describe an entire scenario. As you can see in the graph, since the ocean heating is a massive phenomenon, which contradicts the sceptical claim about climate change being a minor problem, they just don’t take it into account.

The same is done, an this is definitely more worrying, with the calculation of the global warming trends. You might have heard that climate change is a hoax, because rise of global atmospheric mean temperatures is so small as to be irrelevant. Sometimes you will find such claims supported by graphs and figures.

Skeptical Science explains how do they obtain their numbers. Introducing the Escalator!Here you can see how sceptic scientists view global warming:

Below, how realists calculate it:

And here, both frames together:

This last graph shows what does “cherry picking” means: looking only one bit at a time, you’ll notice that the the mean temperature’s trend seems to remain the same and in some cases even dwindles.

Whitout the red line clarifying that in a span of about 40 years the mean temperatures of the global surface have spiked, you wouldn’t understand why scientific community and policy makers around the world are so worried.

In science there are no certainties, but there are fields in which bad faith is so crystal clear that a little irony is definitely allowed.

tweet climate

Fifty months to go

The clock is ticking. This alarming claim reminds of a even more disturbing figure: fifty months to the climate tipping point, after which, according to climate change experts, the world will pass the fatal threshold of 2° Celsius of global temperature increase.

Fifty months are the half term of the One Hundred Months campaign launched in 2008 by New Economics Foundation (NEF), to address climate change by involving all the different components of society. Politicians, businessmen, think thank representatives, and citizens are invited to take part in this extreme attempt to stop the slippery slope of global warming.

According to the climatologists of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) the limit of 2° is the maximum acceptable figure beyond which negative fallouts will be unmanageable. If the concentration of greenhouse gases would exceed 400 parts per million (ppm), laying to a global warming of 2° Celsius, we wouldn’t be able to stabilise the global mean surface temperature, which is still possible if we act now.

The hundred-month figure is probably more marketing than actual science, as the fact checking blog Carbon Brief points out; in fact, climate forecasting is normally done on a larger scale. Thus, there is probably a gap between facts and campaign claim, though pretty small.

However, the idea of a countdown is effective and the entire campaign, based on viral communication strategy, portraits the aim of involving people with different backgrounds and lifestyles. In general, I really like this project’s smart use of the internet as a mash up tool, capable of creating communities both online and in the streets. The Guardian covered the campaign as well, since its start in 2008, and recently provided a number of features and interactive tools about it.

I admit I don’t particularly appreciate the constant ticking sound in the official website. It’s impossible to turn it off, to netiquette’s dismay. Anyway, I think it was done on purpose to put a little pressure on users.

In these days, London was the scene of several initiatives within the campaign’s half term. In Southbank, on the 1st of October, the Southbank Centre hosted a 5×15 event: five speakers give a talk of 15 minutes each. The format, which echoes a TED talk, made this event particularly attractive for a large public. I was there for Monbiot, but I actually enjoyed all the talks.

Protagonists of the night were Giles Fraser, former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Guardian columnist George Monbiot, Prof Kevin Anderson, Head of Climate Change & Energy Research and Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, as well as Saci Lloyd, author of ‘The Carbon Diaries’.

Here you can see some highlights of the event.

La città più verde d’Europa

Si chiama Växjö, si trova nella provincia dello Småland, in Svezia, ed è stata raccontata dai media di tutto il mondo come “la città più verde d’Europa”. Un modello di progettazione urbana ecologica che desta l’interesse di amministratori locali, politici, industriali e giornalisti.

Gli obiettivi sono ambiziosi: raggiungere l’indipendenza energetica entro il 2030 e la riduzione del 55% di emissioni pro capite rispetto al 1993.

Visitare queste terre affascinanti, così diverse dalla nostra cultura e dai nostri paesaggi abituali, è un’esperienza intellettuale, emotiva e sensoriale unica.

Qui la storia che ho raccontato.

Last Call

“C’era una volta un uomo che inventò gli scacchi. Il re ne fu così entusiasta che gli offrì un premio.

L’uomo, che era molto saggio, disse al re che avrebbe voluto solo un granello di riso per il primo quadrato della scacchiera, due per il secondo, quattro per il terzo e così via, raddoppiando la quantità di granelli per ogni quadrato della scacchiera.

Il re acconsentì, ma alla fine del gioco dovette abdicare perché non c’era abbastanza riso nell’intero regno. Questa è la natura della crescita esponenziale, e la nostra scacchiera è il Pianeta Terra“.

La crisi globale a cui stiamo assistendo dà ragione allo scenario descritto nel 1972 dal rapporto Limits To Growth. Oggi questa storia la racconta un film, Last Call, presentato in anteprima al Festival Cinemambiente di Torino.