Leaders Preserving Our Future: Pace & Priorities on Climate Change - P2/7 Nov. 3, 2010, United Kingdom    
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MC(m): Chris Williamson is the Shadow Minister for communities and local government, and high among his priorities are measures to combat climate change, including energy efficiency. If you'll put your hands together, please.

Chris Williamson (m): Well, thanks very much indeed for that introduction, Chair. I'm merely a relatively newly elected Member of Parliament, was elected in May this year, and have been, much to my surprise, actually, promoted to the front bench covering local government. But, certainly, I recognize that climate change is the biggest challenge facing the planet, and as politicians, we've absolutely got to grasp that nettle.

The problem is, of course, that politics, given the electoral cycle, is to a large extent based on short term-ism, and it's the next election that people are most concerned about.

And you can have the best policies in the world on climate change, on social justice, on a range of different issues, but if you're not in power to implement those policies, then they are not worth very much in the end. So, for me, I think the key thing has got to be to try and build a cross-party consensus, similar in a way, really, to the cross-party consensus that was developed on the welfare state and on the National Health Service. Even more important that we've got to try and develop that kind of cross-party consensus on this whole agenda.

Now, the governments have said they want to be the greenest government ever. And they've, as you probably know, launched the green paper on the “Green Deal,” and hopefully that will move things forward in terms of taking this agenda on. My background is in local government and I do believe there is a lot that local government can do around climate change, and certainly in my new role as the Shadow Minister for Local Government, I will be promoting the role of local councils to actually do whatever they can to help.

Now, that's not just in terms of local government, getting its own house in order, reducing its carbon emissions, though there's much they can do in that regard, in terms of how they deal with waste and so on and, reducing the need for landfill.

And there is a statutory driver on that, in any event, that obviously local authorities are moving that forward as a consequence. But there's more that they, I think, can do in terms of their whole place shaping agenda. And when I was leader of Derby City Council, we set ourselves a target to make Derby a sustainable city by 2025 - self sufficient in clean, green energy.

We wanted to build a consensus with other public sector organizations, but also most importantly, really, the wider general public and the business community in Derby. And some of the initiatives that we worked on were initiatives that actually helped to win the hearts and minds of businesses in the city, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises, looking at how we could, through energy efficiency measures, for example, improve their bottom line.

But I think we win a lot of people over to what we were trying to achieve. It's also included a radical transformation of public transport in our city. So, there is a big issue that we need to, I think, address there.

We've got to actually tackle this on a cross-party basis, it seems to me. We need to try and build that cross-party consensus. I will continue to do what I can in that regard, but we've also, I think, got to win the hearts and minds of the wider general public, and that means, I think, looking at how we can encourage people to look at lifestyle, how they can encourage people to perhaps eat less meat, given that the livestock industry does contribute to a large extent to climate change emissions.

We've got to find a better way forward, I think, where we can see people's livelihoods, their lifestyles, their standard of living not being diminished over much, that we can try and keep people in employment. And I do think there are some opportunities in that regard, in terms of the whole new green jobs which could be created that will, I think, help to address that conundrum which can be created.

And I do think we are beginning to, as I say, develop that cross-party consensus. Certainly that's what I will be seeking to do and, obviously I'm just a layperson. It's a topic I'm very passionate about. I'm not in the same league as the eminent speakers that have spoken today, but certainly I would be keen to work with people in this audience, on the platform today, to help me actually make the arguments in the House and with colleagues to try And win people over to what I think is the most significant challenge that we face as humankind. So, hopefully we can move things forward and with your support we will make a difference.

MC(m): Thank you, Chris. We're now going to have Professor Simoes. Now, interestingly of course, John Topping in his speech touched on the fact that reducing CO2 alone is not sufficient to address climate change in the near term, and Professor Simões is going to be speaking about the presence of black carbon in Antarctica with its high global warming potential, which is a great concern, and its reduction as an important strategy for reducing global warming. So, we are going to have this speaker, and then Dr. Ester Van der Voet. So, put your hands together please.

Professor Jefferson Simoes (m): Good morning. Thank you for the chance to talk a little bit about the work in Antarctica and the question of black carbon. In some way I may add information to the lecture of Mr. Topping.

Maybe I should begin the presentation with a statement that is becoming clear here. One of the greatest difficulties for the general public to understand climate change has been too much emphasis on the question of greenhouse gases; other important factors are involved, and this is the case of black carbon that I'm going to talk a little bit now. So, what's black carbon? First, it originates from the incomplete burning of biomass, or fossil fuel, and is basically formed by small, high solar-radiation -absorbing particles.

And by now I'm going to show the evidence. We know that they are spread from the Arctic to Antarctica, elsewhere in the world. They are very tiny particles between 0.01 to 1 micron in the atmosphere. As Mr. Topping told you, it stays in the atmosphere just a couple of weeks but is available to disperse at longer ranges.

BC, or black carbon, belongs to short-lived pollutants. And then comes the most important point: it's the second most important contributor to global warming. In fact, the potential of black carbon is estimated to have a 55% of the radioactive forcing effect of carbon dioxide.

And in short, BC, absorbs light and heats the atmosphere. So, along the 20th century, as we have the increase of black carbon production due to the consumption of fossil fuel, developed countries have improved the efficiency of that burning and reducing it by the end of the 20th century; but it's not as true in a lot of countries that are industrialized at the moment.

So, the thing that we have in this picture here is the main places that we have biomass burning at the moment in the year 2009. As you can see, mainly in the subtropical and tropics, not only in South America, but also in Africa and Australia and some countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and others in Southeast Asia. So, we can pose the following question: How can this kind of material be transported to Antarctica?

It seems a long way. For the last 10 years, we have changed our idea about the transport of air masses from South America, or from the tropics of South America, to Antarctica. By now we know that cyclonic activity is able to transport materials in a short time, in a week or so, from the main areas of biomass burning, to the south and then mainly to the northernmost part of Antarctica, that is the Antarctica Peninsula. Interestingly enough is to know that

as the air masses are coming south to here, we have cold air masses going to the north, up to the south of the Amazon, of course to balance the energy budget of the Earth.

So, it's a two-way movement. And here, I would like to do a point about the impact about the places that it is really happening, this kind of biomass burning and transport into the south. It's a myth that it is in the middle of the Amazon that we have biomass burning. It's happening, in fact, in the Brazilian Savannah, Northwest Cerrado and in the frontier between the Savannah and the Amazon forest.

It's really related to the expansion of cash crops and cattle farms, a point that should be considered in the discussions this afternoon.

So, cold air goes to the Amazon forest, and biomass burning products to Antarctica. Do we have some evidence? That's our research results for the last couple of years where we had, at the same time, atmospheric measurements and ice core - we collect cores to measure black carbon in the northmost part of Antarctica.

And what you can see in that graph, you have the red curve that are the number of fires reported in the Amazon forest or in the south part of the Amazon forest, and at the same time - and the same is known by samples - we have the concentration of black carbon.

And it really goes together. We are having the transport of black carbon to Antarctica. Important - in the Himalayas, the increase is much higher, threefold increase in black carbon from 1860 to 2000.

The same thing has been observed in the Swiss Alps. Why it's important? Because black carbon impacts the surface of the snow ice mass, as it reduces the surface albedo, the proportion of energy that's reflected by the surface. It increases melting, triggers albedo feedback, changes the glacier mass balance, and contributes to glacier retreat. In short, black carbon is as important as atmospheric warming for melting the surface of the glaciers. Thank you for the attention.

MC(m): Thank you. And our final speaker of this session is Dr. Ester van der Voet. This summer, the UN Environment Program issued the report, “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Production and Consumption,” and we are delighted to welcome today one of the report's lead authors to talk about why a substantial global diet change is the only way to reduce one of the most important drivers of environmental pressures.

Dr. Ester van derVoet (f): Well, thank you very much. Actually, I work at Leiden University, the Institute of Environmental Sciences, but as the Chair said, I'm one of the authors of the UNEP report.

The UNEP Resource Panel produced a report called, “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Production and Consumption.” Edgar Hertwich was actually the lead author of that. I was one of the co-authors. In this report, we looked at the various worldwide categories of consumption sectors and also resources and materials, to see which one contributes most to environmental impacts.

And the conclusion out of this report really was - and I will go into that a bit later - is that agriculture and food are really important contributors to environmental impacts including, but not limited to, greenhouse gas emissions. While options to reduce this were not really the topic of this report, the next report will go into that in more detail.

And of those options, a diet change seems to be the most effective one. So, this is, in brief, the topic of my talk. In view of the topic of this event, the non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture's especially a relevant sector, because methane is a greenhouse gas that's emitted in large quantities from cattle and the climate-forcing potential of methane is a lot stronger than that of CO2.

Same for laughing gas, N2O, that's emitted from soils. It's a product of incomplete denitrification of fertilizer and manure, and that's an even stronger climate-forcing gas, and is connected especially to agriculture.

That does not mean that agriculture is not associated with CO2 emissions. It is, and especially via the energy input in the agricultural chain, like, for example via fertilizer. Agriculture is also associated with other environmental impacts, and the ones to name especially are land use and water use.

This is one of the results out of the UNEP report. Here you can see the contribution of the various consumption categories to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. And here you can see the green part - that's food. It does not just include the agricultural sector, but also the up chain, the production of fertilizer, the production of other agro-chemicals, the agriculture practice like driving around in tractors - that's all included, also the food processing, in those percentages. So, it's significant.

Another angle to take is resources or materials, and that's where these pictures come from. They're not for the world, but for the EU countries. You can see the leftmost bar represents just kilograms of consumption, and the largest part is minerals for construction, so it's sand and gravel basically.

Agricultural materials you can see in the red and orange, a little higher, the red one being the crops, and the orange the animal products. But if you calculate not just the kilograms but the environmental impact connected to it, you can see the size of those different contributions of the materials change.

For the global warming potential, you can see that the sand and gravel contributes almost nothing, but for agriculture, the bars are a bit bigger than in the kilogram ones. Land use competition, of course, agriculture dominates since it's by far the largest land user of the sectors.

And then there's human toxicity bar. And in the end, the rightmost bar represents all environmental impacts added to each other. And here, you can see that agriculture and especially animal products contribute a lot.

Now, if you look a little below that, this picture represents greenhouse gas emissions of agricultural products in kilograms, CO2 equivalent per kilogram. So, on the left you see a lot of different crops, while on the right, you see the animal products.

And if you just look at it through your eyelashes you can see that the greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram are a lot higher for these animal products than they are for the crops. And also you can see that there are a lot of differences, so one animal product is not equal to another one. These two pictures, the leftmost represents the worldwide consumption of different agricultural product groups.

You can see the cereals on the left and the vegetables and fruit and then the oil crops, and on the right, you have the animal products: meat, fish and dairy. In kilograms the consumption is high for the vegetable products, but if you multiply that with the greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram, you can see that they are almost equal.

So although in kilograms the consumption of meat and dairy is less, in terms of their greenhouse gas emissions it's equal. How come? Well, one of the reasons for that is that in these calculations the “up chain” is included, so the greenhouse gas emissions for animal products are not just caused by the animal production sector, but they also include production of animal feed and all the “up chain” processes that come before that.

Well, summing up the evidence, so to say, we can see that agriculture is a large contributor to global environmental impacts, including but not limited to greenhouse gas emissions, and that the share of animal products in this is important and also is increasing.

These are differences between regions in the world in food consumption. You can see that the OECD countries, the rich countries, they consume the most animal products. It's the brown and the blue bar, it's the meat and the milk; it's about half of the diet.

In Russia and former Eastern European countries, also a lot of meat is consumed. But if you look at Asia, it's a lot less; the contribution to the total food package of milk and meat is a lot less. Partly this has to do with welfare, with how rich people are, but not completely.

If you look at this one, you see that within those regions in the world there is a huge variety in the amount of meat that's actually eaten. Even in the OECD countries, it varies from 140 kilograms per capita to 20 kilograms per capita.

So this is a huge difference, and you can see similar differences in the other regions of the world. So, on the one hand, it shows that diets are really sort of independent of income, of welfare. On the other hand, it also gives the message that you can be rich and have a lot of welfare without eating a lot of meat.

And you can see also in the richer countries that it becomes fashionable to have more vegetarian aspects in your diet. So that gives some hope that actually something can be done about it. Thank you.

MC (m): We've already heard about what shorter-lived climate forcers are, and our next speaker is Dr. Hsien Hui Khoo, co-founder of the World Preservation Foundation, and a renowned chemical and engineering sciences researcher based in Singapore.

Dr. Khoo's main research areas are “Life Cycle Assessment of Greenhouse Gases” and “The Carbon Footprint of Food, Bio Energy and Strategies to Reduce Global Warming.” Today she'll be talking about the structural causes of non-CO2 shorter-lived climate forcers. Please, would you put your hands together whilst holding your cups for our next speaker.

Dr Hsien Hui Khoo (f): This year the world watched in shock and sympathy as we witnessed Russia try to put out massive fires and as a fifth of Pakistan was submerged under water. Many of the world's developing nations, who are the most vulnerable to climate change, have been calling for global average temperature increase to be no more than 1.5 degrees.

We need some urgent solutions to stop the trend of mean rising temperatures and prevent any further climate related disasters. We also now realize that reductions in carbon dioxide, which was, at first, all the efforts put to stop climate change, will not create cooling in time.

Researchers and engineers, including myself, have carried out extensive research on carbon capture and sequestration technologies for more than a decade. I can confidently conclude that we are far from having a technology that is advanced enough, or that is affordable enough, to even start to bring us towards a carbon neutral economy.

And supposing, just supposing, we are able to create such an advanced system, one that can extract all the carbon dioxide out of the air right now, we have only just solved part of the problem.

The bigger and more urgent magnitude of climate change lies in reducing shorter-lived greenhouse gases. Our understanding of climate science has evolved in the past few years, perhaps the best solution suggested by scientists for the fastest recovery of the climate is to reduce shorter-term climate forcers: methane, black carbon, and ground level ozone. These gases exist in the atmosphere for shorter periods of time than carbon dioxide.

Ground level ozone lasts for about 22 days, black carbon for about months, and methane, 12 years. Reducing these shorter-lived climate forcers can lead to immediate climate benefits, because the Earth's climate system responds quickly when these pollutants are removed from the air.

And one of the most powerful ways of bringing these emissions down is through dietary changes. According to the UN, the primary source of human-caused methane is livestock. From these charts, we can see that in the United Kingdom, 43% of methane emissions come from livestock, and in Brazil, 75%.

There are suggestions to capture methane and convert the gas into bio-energy. Unfortunately, this approach has to be applied in closed factory farms to make it easier to capture the gas from animal waste.

This suggestion will only create another problem, since closed space factory farms are breeding grounds for all sorts of diseases and illnesses. They also do not address the other environmental challenges created by animal proteins, including land use change, high water usage, deforestation, nitrous oxides, and biodiversity loss.

From a lifecycle food chain perspective, such approach is known as shifting the environmental burden from one compartment to another, or from one type of pollution to another. Around 50% of the black carbon that was deposited around Antarctica was from the biomass burning found in South America.

When black carbon is deposited on ice and snow, it absorbs solar energy and accelerates the melting of glaciers. This further adds to the warming of the planet. Large amounts of black carbon, carbon dioxide and methane gases are released from the burning of forests or, rather, from the destroying of what's considered the precious lungs of the planet.

And the reason for deforestation: to create land for cattle grazing and for growing soya directed to feeding these animals. It has been estimated that cattle ranching is the cause of between 70 to 80% of deforestation in the Amazon.

We can clearly see by now that the livestock sector and dietary patterns are key contributors to a range of critical environmental problems we face today. If these non-carbon dioxide gases continue to be emitted, the ecosystem of this planet that has supported life for eons of years is on the brink of spinning out of control.

The logical, simple and practical solution to reduce methane, black carbon soot, and ground level ozone pollution is to shift away from animal farming, or to shift away from meat-based diet to an entirely plant-based diet. Plant-based proteins offer a wide range of environmental benefits from every angle of this lifecycle perspective, from farm to food. A single level food chain in place of a double level food chain has the advantages to reduce pollution, free up land for restoring the forest, offer health benefits and ensure food security.

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency reported that, based on a diet with no ruminant animals, the cost of climate change can be reduced by 50%. However, by switching to a diet with completely no animal products, including no fish, the cost of mitigating climate change will drop by more than 80%.

We are facing a whole spectrum of problems caused by climate change, from atmospheric emissions to water stress and contamination, and from food shortage to rising health costs. Solving each and every one of these individually will cost a lot of time and a lot of money.

One simple step solution that is affordable to everyone, and doable, is to switch from a meat-based to a plant-based diet. That will in turn resolve many of the other associated problems at hand. Each and every one of us contributes to climate change, including myself, but we can also be the ones who control climate change. Eating plant-based foods is something that is easy to do and have a very significant, positive effect.

The World Preservation Foundation is calling for the support of everyone to control climate change by increasing plant-based meals in our diet.
Thank you.

Georgina Fitzalan-oward Duchess of NorfolkGeorgina (f): The thing I didn't realize is that dairy and cheese aren't particularly very good

for your health either; I have kind of had known before about the meat production being un-environmental. It would have a huge impact if more people went vegetarian. I mean, everyone would be lighter and happier, and they wouldn't need so much medication, wouldn't need such huge health care.

There are huge implications. And I think that the lady from America, Lisa Bloom, she is so beautiful and thin and lives on a vegan diet, if you've got a walking advert like that, it's “Wow!”

Dr. Pat Brown (Vegan)Biochemist, Stanford University, USASupreme Master TV(f): Your goal is to end all animal farming, why do you believe this is needed and how do we go about doing it?

PB(m): A more compelling reason, and I think one that really should drive the political decisions, is that it is by far the most environmentally destructive activity that humans are engaged in. And, of course, there's the methane emissions associated with farming and all the other sorts of greenhouse gas emissions associated with it, but it's a huge opportunity to deal with this looming climate catastrophe basically, and I think by far the easiest way to do it. It's animal farming, period - the whole shebang.

You don't solve the problem by saying, “Okay, we'll all just have this little, idyllic farm where the cows are wandering around eating grass and their manure is fertilizing the plants,” all that kind of stuff - that doesn't solve the problem.
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