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President Obama's cap on carbon emissions sparked much debate this week. But for another country, the climate change debate is more than words and policies – it is a matter, literally, of survival. Kiribati, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean that 100,000 people call home, could be uninhabitable just 30 years from now thanks to rising sea levels. Fareed Zakaria speaks with Kiribati's president, Anote Tong, about what his nation is facing – and what their plans for the future are.
Tell me about your country. Why is it particularly susceptible to climate change?
Well, I think what's important here to understand is the geography of atoll islands. Atolls are very small islands, barely two meters above sea level.
And so, unlike most countries, if the sea level rises, we don't have anywhere to move back toward, we don't have any high ground to move toward. And so we're so vulnerable.
Because you have 33 islands. And nowhere are you more than seven feet above sea level, correct?
By Will Marshall, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Will Marshall is the president of the Progressive Policy Institute. The views expressed are his own.
No country has embraced renewable energy more avidly than Germany. But a host of untoward realities – soaring electricity bills, rising carbon emissions and growing dependence on Russian gas – are intruding rudely on Germany’s green dream.
In response to such worries, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet approved a plan last week to trim subsidies for solar and wind power. The proposed law would also exempt fewer companies from paying a stiff renewable energy surcharge, an exemption that has come under heavy fire in Europe for giving German industry an unfair competitive boost.
In truth, the proposed energy reform law would merely slow down Germany’s drive toward green energy. It doesn’t alter the visionary (some would say utopian) goals of the country’s policy of Energiewende, or energy switchover. Launched in 2000, when Social Democrats ran the government, the Energiewende calls for abolishing nuclear power and envisions renewables providing 80 percent of Germany’s power by mid-century.
By Russ Carnahan and Michael Shank, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Russ Carnahan was a U.S. Representative from Missouri and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He is now a partner at Carnahan Global Consulting, a consultancy that also advises firms in the energy sector. Michael Shank is associate director for legislative affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the advocacy arm of Friends (Quakers) in the U.S. The views expressed are their own.
At the heart of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is the question of energy independence and energy security. We’ve witnessed this before in previous violent conflicts – whether in the Middle East, Central Asia or North Africa. Energy wars are real and they will continue to dominate our geopolitical agenda for the coming years unless the United States and its allies decide to act.
In discussions with our European Union counterparts in Berlin and Warsaw in the past month – as part of a U.S.-E.U. transatlantic dialogue on, among other salient topics, the annexation of Crimea – energy was very clearly at the core of this conflict. There was also consensus that the present moment couldn’t be a more historic opportunity to ensure an energy transition happens – and soon – lest more wars be fought, more territories acquired, or more people literally left out in the cold. The urgency of this effort cannot be overstated.
To be clear, when it comes to energy security and energy independence, anything that’s got a valve on it and has to be transported thousands of miles across borders decreases a country’s capacity for stability. That pipe – whether carrying oil or gas – is a target for acts of sabotage, political and physical. In 2009, for example, Russia turned off the spigot to gas exports to Ukraine, leaving the country out in the cold in the dead of winter. The Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. is proving similar in serving as a political target, whether erroneously or accurately.
By Evan Fraser, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Evan Fraser holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security at the University of Guelph and is the author of Empires of Food. You can visit his website here. The views expressed are his own.
This week’s headlines may have been dominated by the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, but three seemingly unrelated stories that have developed over the past week might have much broader and long lasting implications for the international community.
The first story is that of the terrible drought that is currently affecting large parts of the Middle East. According to U.N. analysts, two thirds of the arable land in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian territories are now extremely dry, and the United Nations is expected to declare the winter of 2013-14 the worst in terms of rainfall in decades. This will almost certainly prompt many countries in the region to turn to international wheat markets as a way of compensating for local production shortfalls.
This leads to the second story, namely the escalating crisis in Ukraine, which is significant for two reasons. First, if tensions between Russia and the West continue, it seems increasingly likely that trade sanctions against Russia will be imposed. Second, the disruption in Crimea could affect Ukraine's ability to export wheat since the Crimean region is a major route by which eastern European grain arrives on international markets.
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By Global Public Square staff
There has been some surprising good news out of China. As you probably know, China's super-speed growth has produced super-high levels of pollution. Indeed, Beijing's poor air quality has popularized the word "air-pocalypse". There are days when you can barely see more than a few feet in front of you. It got so bad that the U.S. embassy in Beijing posted a real-time measure of air quality on its website; Chinese officials, of course, have disputed the American data as propaganda.
So people, mostly Chinese people, have asked for an accurate reading of pollution levels in China. In recent years, environmental groups have pressured Beijing to release official data on air pollution. But the government, notorious for being tight-lipped, secretive and unresponsive, had declined. In fact, few people actually believed that Beijing would ever accede to their demands.
Well, guess what? Beijing has ordered 15,000 factories to report details about their emissions: in public, and in real-time. The decree also calls for details on the release of pollutants like wastewater and heavy metals. This is a real first in China – an unprecedented mandate for transparency.
By Bruce Campbell, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Campbell is the director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, based in Copenhagen. The views expressed are the writers’ own.
Few people expected much concrete progress ahead of the ongoing international climate change talks taking place in Warsaw. Sadly, it seems the doubters were right to be skeptical as negotiators have failed to tackle one of the biggest climate challenges: changing agriculture technologies, practices and policies to make sure the world can feed itself.
When Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded – slammed into the Philippines, the world was given a brutal reminder about the need for urgent action, an urgency given a tearful face when the head of the Philippine delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) made an impassioned plea for action.
Haiyan devastated central Philippines, a mostly agricultural region. But while images of the damage focused on flattened urban areas, the storm also crushed farms and plantations that produce rice, sugar, coconuts, and other key crops. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimated that the typhoon, which struck at the beginning of the rice-planting season, destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of the country’s most important staple.
By Jessica Gutteridge
Editor’s note: Jessica Gutteridge is an associate producer with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. The views expressed are her own.
Millions of people across the Middle East and Europe turned back their clocks last weekend, and many Americans will follow suit when Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday.
As winter approaches and the days grow shorter, the idea of darker evenings can be depressing. But before complaining too loudly, imagine if you couldn’t feel the sun on your face for half of the year. That’s how it is for the Norwegian town of Rjukan, where residents have had to get used to long, dark winters. Nestled in a valley of the Gaustatoppen Mountains, the town is shielded from direct sunlight for 5 to 6 months of the year. Or at least it has been until later this week.
For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Global Public Square staff
China has brought us a new English word: "Airpocalypse."
The northeastern city of Harbin was paralyzed last week by terrible smog and air pollution. Visibility was down to just a few meters. Highways and schools were closed, the airport was shut down. Pedestrians could barely get around. The images are a vivid reminder of the impacts of industrial growth, especially when powered by dirty fuels like coal, which accelerates not only pollution but also climate change.
The latest report from the United Nation’s scientific panel says it is “extremely likely” – more than a 95 percent probability – that human activity was the dominant cause of the temperature increases of the last few decades. Another study, published in Nature, showed that we are on track to reach unprecedented highs of temperature by 2047. Findings showed the coldest year in the future would be warmer than the hottest year of the past.
So, if the science is not really in dispute, why is it so difficult for us to actually do something about it? There’s a clever explanation. To understand it, we need to tell you about one more study. This one is a game –but one played with real money.
By Richard Wike, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Richard Wike is Director of Global Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter @RichardWike. The views expressed are his own.
After a remarkable run of economic expansion that has lifted tens of millions out of poverty, the Chinese public is waking up to the side effects of progress. True, much of the growing middle class is pleased to have achieved some degree of material comfort. But that same middle class is increasingly asking tough questions about the costs of economic growth and the fairness of the system that produced it. And the record setting levels of pollution this week in the northeastern city of Harbin, where schools and the airport have been shut, will only intensify scrutiny of President Xi Jinping’s government in the run up to next month’s meeting of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee.
Harbin, a city of 11 million people, was essentially closed Monday and Tuesday as thick smog raised concentrations of PM2.5, the most dangerous airborne particles for health, to more than 30 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization. Air pollution tends to be worse in the winter, and many now fear a repeat of last January’s “airpocalypse,” which brought impenetrable smog and record breaking toxicity levels to Beijing and other major cities.
And air pollution wasn’t the only thing on Chinese minds this year – water pollution generated some grisly headlines throughout the country – and around the world – as thousands of pig carcasses floated down the Huangpu River, through the center of Shanghai, threatening the city’s water supply. Factor in the fact that China has had more than its share of highly publicized food safety issues, including Chinese food producers implicated in scandals involving poisonous infant formula, toxic rice and rat meat disguised as mutton, and it is easy to see why public concern is growing.
By Michael Barr and Joy Y. Zhang, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Barr is lecturer in International Politics at Newcastle University. Joy Zhang is lecturer in Sociology at the University of Kent. They are the authors of Green Politics in China: Environmental Governance and State-Society Relations. The views expressed are their own.
Recent images of top golfers and spectators donning protective masks at the LPGA in Beijing has once again raised questions about air quality in China. During the event, pollution reached “hazardous” levels, as determined by the U.S. Embassy and Beijing's own air quality monitors. Such a reading carries the warning that all people should avoid outdoor exertion and that the elderly, children and those with respiratory or heart disease should remain completely indoors.
There is no doubt that China has paid a heavy environmental price for its rapid development. One study determined that in four cities alone (Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Beijing) in 2012 over 8,500 people died prematurely because of pollution. The report also indicated that those cities suffered a combined economic loss of $1.09 billion.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, as well as the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, there seemed a glimmer of hope that air quality would improve. But one of the sad facts of the LPGA tournament is that beneath the headlines of big name athletes struggling to breathe, there lies over 20 million people who live in Beijing every day and have to endure the suffocating side effects of rapid industrialization, including a heavy reliance on coal power, and a dramatic increase in car ownership.
By Michael Brune, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club. The views expressed are his own.
Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced the first-ever standards to protect Americans from the climate-disrupting carbon pollution pumped out of new power plants. One week later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that we need that action – and more – if we are going to curb the pollution that is making our kids sick and fueling the extreme weather that’s resulting in record temperatures, record storms, record droughts, and record wildfires.
The U.N. established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988 to collect and disseminate the current best science from around the globe on climate disruption. Since then, it has issued four critically important reports that have helped us understand just how serious the threat of the climate crisis is. And, on Friday, the release of data from the fifth report made it clear that this threat is now a dangerous new reality.
There’s a lot of information in the report, and so far, we’ve just seen a “summary for policymakers.” But what has been released is eye opening about our need to act and act now. As Secretary of State John Kerry said: “If this isn’t an alarm bell, then I don’t know what one is.”
By Junjie Zhang, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Junjie Zhang is a senior advisor at Asia Society and assistant professor of Environmental Economics in the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
The announcement at this month’s G20 summit that the U.S. and China plan to form a contact group to tackle the rapidly rising use of a key ozone-depleting chemical came on the heels of a June summit in which Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping agreed to work together to reduce the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
That agreement was itself followed by a report submitted by the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group in July to the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue proposing five new action initiatives involving transportation; smart grids; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; energy efficiency; and data transparency.
Taken together, these developments have raised hopes that the so-called Group of Two is finally getting serious about climate change and low carbon development. But are they really?