Obama Hiroshima visit and hopes for a nuke-free world

Following the April trip to Hiroshima by John Kerry, the scene is set for the first visit of a US President to the sites where America dropped the bomb in August 1945. Having taken the world into the atomic age, America has a special obligation to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

2B1BDF6F00000578-0-image-m-45_1438771097176Tomorrow’s visit (May 27) will be a side-trip to the G7 summit hosted by Japan and is already perceived as a major success for the Japanese Prime Minister and a show of strength of Japanese-American relations in the face of an increasingly assertive Chinese presence in the region. Surely, it will do nothing to appease the Chinese and South Korean grievances for Japanese atrocities inflicted on them in the first half of the 20th century.

In 2009 already, Obama said that achieving a world without nuclear weapons is fundamental for American security and for peace in the world. During the cold war nukes could have erased the world as we know it in a flash of light. Today the cold war is over but the legacy of thousands of nuclear weapons remains with the paradox of a higher risk of a nuclear attack occurring. With the proliferation of nuclear secrets and technology, more countries have nuclear weapons and it is easier for terrorist groups to gain access to them.

President Obama is right that global peace and security demands ridding the world of nuclear weapons and that America has a moral responsibility to lead. How much can be achieved without inflaming existing tensions remains to be seen. Obama’s legacy on peace could be in the making here. With much criticism already voiced back home and more coming from North Korea, we will find out soon enough.

Links of Interest:

Lawyers for a Nuclear Free World

States with Nuclear Weapons

Of Science and Human Values in the Nuclear Age

Parliamentarians for Nuclear Disarmament

UNFOLD ZERO

Huffington Post: Time To Engage In Nuclear Disarmament

 

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson (September 1962)

SilentSpring

Young people, my interns or students attending my talks regularly ask for book recommendations. With no hesitation my first suggestion is “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. Called by some as one of the most important books ever, “Silent Spring” got the American environmental movement started. Al Gore describes it as the inspiration behind his involvement in climate change while Canadian geneticist turned activist David Suzuki reminds us that prior to “Silent Spring” there was not a single country with a ministry of the environment. Within 10 years, the United Nations Environmental Programme was created and the first global conference on the environment took place in Stockholm (Sweden). During the following two decades the environment became a key topic on the global agenda leading up to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

Rachel Carson had been concerned about the negative effects of pesticides since the 1940’s. She finally decided to write “Silent Spring” after receiving a letter from a friend describing how birds in Boston were dying from the effects of DDT and other pesticides. The title conveyed the idea of a morbid spring with no birds singing. It was and remains controversial. It resulted in virulent attacks against her. She was called a hysterical woman that wanted to return humanity to the “dark ages” and that restrictions on the use of DDT caused the unnecessary death of millions. Rarely do critics mention that in most countries the use of DDT is still allowed for mosquito eradication but that growing  resistance to DDT has reduced its effectiveness. President John F Kennedy ordered an investigation by the Science Advisory Committee which resulted in increased oversight and regulation of pesticides.

RachelCarson

In “Silent Spring” Rachel Carson thought us that everything in nature is connected and that all our actions have consequences – most of them unintended. At a time when it was hoped that science and technology would allow humanity to dominate nature this book helped us realize how little we knew. This lesson is just as relevant today as it was in 1962. “Silent Spring” should be a mandatory read for all students and for anyone interested in the environment.

Additional suggested reading: Science and Human Values by Jacob Bronowski

Reinventing Energy Services with Scott Foster

What would we do without energy? from smartphones to transportation our way of life runs on energy. But faced with the realities of climate change and 1.3 billion who lack access to modern energy, Scott Foster from the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) argues that we have got the energy equation seriously wrong and need to change the way we think about energy.

Energy as a Service

We can meet the challenges of sustainable development and climate change if we think of energy as a service instead of a commodity. Scott argues that we want hot showers and cold beers not barrels of oil or kilowatt-hours of electricity. Fostering this revolution to think in terms of services and obtaining this value most efficiently will radically reduce waste, improve efficiency and help address climate change and energy poverty.     hot shower cold beer

Transforming Energy Utilities

There is a compelling business case for transforming energy utilities into service providers because they have the financial capacity, the expertise and the business partners to make it happen. Most importantly, we know it works! The successful experience of California where it was  implemented after the oil crisis in 1978 for gas and 1982 for electricity shows has been replicated in 15 other American states for electricity and 23 for gas, with legislation pending for 12 other states.

blog-decoupling-map

Incentives for the market to work

The winning formula is to share part of the savings between the end users and the utility so that the energy provider works for its customers to lower energy consumption and reduce energy bills. Sharing savings turns out to be more profitable then selling more energy which aligns the interests of all parties in a win-win relationship. A far cry from the traditional model of selling ever more energy that has fostered massive investment in efficiency, renewables and innovation while creating jobs, growing the economy with the added benefits of lower carbon and environmental and footprints. It is high time we put this experience to test in Europe other parts of the world…

 

International Day of Sport for Development and Peace

In his message to celebrate the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace ‪#‎idsdp2016‬, UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said that: “To reach the ‪#‎SDGs‬, we must engage all sectors of society, everywhere. Sport has an essential role to play. It empowers, inspires and unites.” Read more                    UN Photo/Mark Garten

12931277_978050618945911_6313425883658865465_nFew realise the powerful role that sport can play in building bridges for peace and in promoting human progress around the world. This is why the United Nations have an office dedicated to Sport for Development and Peace (UNOSDP) and the reason for the success of its Youth Leadership Programme that helps young people to develop skills to address important social issues in their communities through sport.

For more information:

UNOSDP Office

Mr. Lemke visits Krakow

The power of sport to share the leaders of tomorrow

Powering Forward, by Bill Ritter, JR.

PoweringForwardAs “Powering Forward: What Every American Should Know about the Energy Revolution” becomes available for sale today, I am grateful to Bill Ritter, his team at the “Center for the New Energy Economy” (CNEE) at Colorado State University and to Fulcrum Books for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Bill Ritter Jr. knows a thing or two about the energy revolution and the sun that is setting on the fossil fuel industry. As Governor of Colorado, he turned the State into a leader in clean energy and then launched the “Center for the New Energy Economy” (CNEE) to help other states accelerate their transition to a clean-energy future.

Having hosted Gov. Ritter at the Geneva “Green and Inclusive Economy” Conference ahead of the Paris climate summit, I was familiar with his work as governor and at the CNEE including the need to address climate change, the cost of clean versus fossil energy and green jobs. All are well covered, as one would expect in such a book. But “Powering Forward” is different in that it goes much further to address the role of science and education, the need for well informed citizens for a functioning democracy and how biased and misleading media coverage has helped the climate denial industry. But his most important contribution is to shed some light on the government intervention versus the free-market myth and his attempt to turn a divisive energy debate into a consensual and bi-partisan quest for a better future.

The Myth of the Invisible Hand

For many, government intervention amounts to “corporate welfare” and invariably drives up costs for consumers. It may therefore come as a surprise that fossil fuels have been subsidized since 1916 and that American energy utilities have been run as quasi monopolies with no competition. While most will agree that governments should not pick winners or losers, thinking that energy markets are “free” is a misinformed illusion. The reality is that government still largely favours fossil fuels with obsolete policies from the carbon age that are slowing down innovation, artificially restricting consumer choice and undermining American energy security.

The Tea Party Turns Green in Georgia

A good example comes from Georgia where the Sierra Club and the local Tea Party took on the monopolistic energy structure. It did not sit well with them that people could not choose where they get their electricity from and they forced a change in law to allow customers the ability to generate their own electricity and sell it back to the grid.

Consensual and Bi-Partisan

Business as usual is no longer an option. We are at the crossroad and must now decide if we will become the victims of our future or its architects. By working together and reconciling our differences we can turn scarcity into abundance and crisis into opportunity. This is the key contribution of Powering Forward.

Powering Forward Energy Facts: 

– Scientists understood the link between CO2 and the greenhouse effect in the late 1800s

– Lyndon Johnson is the first US president to raise the climate alert in 1965

– In 2006, Colorado College warned there would be no more skiing in the state by 2050

– On windy days 60% of the electricity in Colorado comes from wind

– At $25 per megawatt hour, wind power is over 20% cheaper then natural gas

Centralized power wastes up to 2/3 of the primary energy put into the system

Americans prefer energy conservation to energy production

– 87% of Americans think the US government should act about climate change

– The US Department of Defense sees climate change as a threat multiplier

– The IMF estimates fossil fuel subsidies at nearly $2 trillion including external costs. Most of the income is received by the wealthiest according to the IEA

US fossil subsidies amount to $2,180 for each man, woman and child annually

– The true cost of coal-fired power amounts to some $0.27/kWh

6 of the top 10 solar manufacturers are Chinese

9 of the top 10 wind manufacturers are non-US

Warren Buffet is buying solar power for $0.038/kWh (the avg. price paid by US households is close to $0.12/kWh)

– Arizona’s energy utility installs free solar panels and pays its customers $30/ month for 20 years to feed power into the grid

Renewables in the Post-COP21 Agenda

Transformation of the global energy system forms the backbone of climate action. Without significant movement towards decarbonisation, the chances of keeping global temperature rise below two degrees celsius are low if not impossible. For Energy Day at the UN climate change talks in Paris, IRENA brought together scientists, policy-makers, business leaders and civil society to explore the future of renewable energy.

Arthouros Zervos, Chair of REN21, confirms the upscale in renewable energy deployment around the world and most importantly in developing countries. This is not surprising given the rapid drop in the cost of solar and wind power. According to the latest study by Lazard, a leading financial advisory firm, the cost of solar and wind power have dropped by 82% and 61% in 6 years:

Fossil Fuel Subsidies

One obstacle remains the massive fossil fuel subsidies of some $500 billion (IEA). These figures increase to $5.3 trillion or 6.5% of global GDP if externalities like pollution are included (IMF WP/15/105). In some countries, energy prices are kept artificially low by policies that can cost up to 40% of total government spending. This is why Kuwaitis get to pay $0.22 per liter of gasoline (Feb. 29 2016) and that electricity costs as little as 1 cent per kilowatt-hour in Saudi Arabia.

Private sector and civil society leadership 

ikea-solar-panelFor Peter Agnefjäll, CEO of IKEA, it has become clear that we must grow within the limits of the planet. This positive impact on planet and people is behind IKEA’s decision to invest in renewables with the objective of becoming totally energy independent globally by 2020.

Civil society can help propel this transformation with initiatives for entire sectors of the economy. For Jules Kortenhorst from the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Carbon War Room,  is working on scaling up to reduce costs and accelerate the uptake of renewables  like sustainable jet fuels for the aviation industry, improving the efficiency of maritime shipping and also in buildings, thanks to IT solutions and big data.

Tapping onto geothermal  

Iceland provides a powerful business case for geothermal energy to heat and cool buildings in cities. For President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, such solutions have proven profitable without subsidies and provide a cost-effective path towards lower emissions. In 2010, 24 countries generated electricity thanks to geothermal power while some 70 use it for heating.

COP21 a turning point

AdnanZ-AminAdnan Z Amin, Director-General of IRENA, recognises that ParisClimat2015 represents a decisive moment for renewables. From now on, the connection between clean energy, the de-carbonization agenda and the safe climate imperative are inseparable.

Cooperation between civil society, the private sector and policy makers is key to accelerate this transition.

Other resources: UNECE Sustainable Energy

Happy 85th Birthday Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev!

The book "Gorbachev in Life" is on display at the launch ceremony for a book about former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. Mikhail Gorbachev turns 85 on Wednesday, March 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

The book “Gorbachev in Life” is on display at the launch ceremony for a book about former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, Russia, on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016. Mikhail Gorbachev turns 85 on Wednesday, March 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

A few days ago in Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev launched his latest book, “Gorbachev in Life”, a 700-page collection of memories and documents from him and others about his life experiences and the way his glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reform) policies have transformed the world hoping that the book would help Russians better understand their current history.

The Gorbachev File

As he celebrates his 85th birthday, the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org) has just released this morning a series of previously classified British and American documents with Western assessments of Gorbachev starting before he took office and until end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Manifesto for the Earth

5195AFR1PJL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_But one book that sheds light on Gorbachev’s commitment to the environment and social justice is his “Manifesto for the Earth”. Few would know that when he became Secretary-General of the Soviet Union in 1985, he got access to information about the scale of pollution coming from chemical plants and factories that were poisoning the environment and sickening people. One of the consequences of the glasnost reforms was access to previously classified information. As a result, the soviet people demanded action and over 1,300 of the most polluting plants were closed.

This is how President Gorbachev understood the power of civic engagement and the need to change the relationship and reconcile humanity and nature. Well before the fall of the Berlin Wall he called for the creation of a “Red Cross” for the environment. This idea was then raised during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Given the mounting crises of climate change, environmental degradation and social inequality, civil society leaders called for the creation of a Green Cross and for Gorbachev to lead this effort.

Green Cross International

This is how Green Cross International was launched in 1993. Today, Gorbachev is still at the helm of the organization as its chairman and Green Cross continues to work on addressing the challenges of security, poverty eradication and environmental degradation. With offices in some 30 countries, activities around the world and initiatives like the Earth Charter International and the Earth Dialogues, Gorbachev’s Green Cross story is still in the making.

Through his Manifesto for the Earth, Gorbachev describes how the story began and his quest for peace, social justice and a sustainable future for all.

Happy Birthday President Gorbachev!

Photo by Pavel Palaychenkoi

Photo: Pavel Palazchenko, Earth Dialogues in Geneva (2013)