Warning and Disclaimer

So this is just a blog I'm using to upload a bunch of the essays and assessment tasks I wrote for my various uni degrees. Basically I put a lot of effort into some of these and it seems a waste for them to only be read once... so I figured upload them onto the web and see if anyone looks at them.

did ok at most of my essays, some better than others so copy the ideas at your own risk... Given the slow increase in my marks over the years clearly it took me a while to get started. You can probably work out when I wrote each assessment based on the length of the reference list (and there's probably a correlation with the marks I received for that assessment too)

I had a glance over the cover sheets and don't think there's anything stopping me uploading them as I don't think the uni claims ownership over them. You sign off saying that the work has never been submitted before, not that you won't do anything with it later.

That all being said, if you do find these useful for your own uni work... DON'T copy them (not because I care about you copying them) but because you WILL get done for plagarism yourself... Take some of the main points if you want, definitely steal my reference lists, but don't copy text from the essay because you will get done...

So yeah, read on if you're interested, follow up the references... but don't copy if you know what's good for you

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Climate Change and Sustainable Development

Two of the most topical political and environmental issues in the world today are Sustainable Development and Climate Change. A search of the internet gives approximately 30,200,000 results for Sustainable Development and 58,300,000 results for Climate Change. Comparative search data displayed in graph 1 shows that as a topic Climate Change is twice as searched for as Sustainable development (google, 2009).
Graph One (not included here)- Search Trend Data

Climate change is responsible for some of the most destructive mass extinction events in the Earth’s history. The extinction of the Pleistocene megafauna between 11 and 20 thousand years ago has been linked to the transition of the planet from the last glacial maximum and the current interglacial period. An even more dramatic mass extinction linked to global climate change is the Permo-Triassic extinction event that resulted in the loss of 96% of marine species and 80% of the marine genera at the time and occurred relatively rapidly on a geological time scale, taking between 165,000 years and as little as 10,000 years with global climate change the most likely culprit (Prothero, 2004).

Anthropogenic climate change has become an increasingly important issue in the world since it was first recognized as a problem in 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (van der Gaast, 2008). The most important aspect of human induced climate change has been the changes caused by the emission of Greenhouse Gasses. Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Water Vapour are all found naturally in Earth’s atmosphere and provide a natural greenhouse effect (Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2001). The amount of these gasses in the atmosphere has increased since the industrialisation of human society with their effect on the global environment evident since the mid twentieth century (Steffen, Crutzen & McNeill, 2007). Evidence that these gasses that are causing an advanced human induced greenhouse effect that is the responsible for much of the observed climate change in the world is unequivocal (Runnalls, 2008), global warming is already changing the world in ways that researchers can measure and quantify (UNEP, 2003). In recent years the has been a shift in debate away from whether or not the change is occurring and if human activities are to blame towards the best means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and how to adapt to the inevitable climate change (Wilkenfeld, Hamilton & Saddler, 2007).

When contrasted with the international debate on Climate Change, Sustainable development has been discussed internationally for much longer. The Brundtland report (United Nations, 1987) which has been widely recognised as giving the first and most widely used definition of sustainable development gave very little attention to greenhouse gasses and climate change specifically, especially when compared to the attention that Greenhouse Gas emissions and anthropogenic Climate Change has received since the Kyoto Protocol of 1998. Fossil fuels were mentioned in the sense that the use of them prevents future generations from the opportunity to use them, but the consequence of their use on the atmosphere is not covered by the report.

Despite this Climate Change has become increasingly linked into the Sustainable Development agenda and is recognised as a Sustainable Development issue (UN, 2008). Sustainable development has three main pillars that need to be equally balanced, environmental protection, economic development and social equity. Global climate change affects all three of these pillars.

Environmental consequences of global climate change are the most obvious and severe. Climate induced changes have been documented in 100 physical and 450 biological processes (UNEP, 2003). Climate Change will affect agriculture, biodiversity, coastlines, forests, settlements and water resources. Climate change influences and is influenced by agricultural systems (Commission on Sustainable Development, 2008). Agriculture will be affected both directly and indirectly in very complex ways, ranging from heat stress on livestock and decreases in rainfall, increases in severe weather events to exacerbating other natural resource management challenges like soil erosion and weed management (Department of Climate Change, 2008).

There is evidence that climate change has already had an affect on biodiversity in Australia. It affects distributions, abundance, life cycles and physiology of plants and animals. It has been linked to increases in coral bleaching, increased numbers of snow gums in alpine meadows and mangrove intrusions into freshwater swamps (Department of Climate Change, 2008). Despite this the greatest stress on wildlife is still the conversion or degradation of habitat and some species may prosper in a climate changed world (UNEP, 2003).

The coastal environment and dune system has naturally been able to adapt to changes in climate and sea level over long time periods. The forecasted change however is expected to be much faster than has been seen before and with development on the dune system preventing the landward movement of the coastal dune system means that climate change is a major coastal management problem (Department of Climate Change, 2008). Sea level rise is predicted to be between 18 and 59cm by 2099 and the shoreline retreat from this could be between 50-200 times the vertical sea level rise, dependant on coastal geomorphology (Australian Greenhouse Office, 2007). Sea level rise will also have a severe effect on coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland (UNEP, 2003).

The effect of climate change on forests has the potential to be both positive and negative. Increases in Carbon Dioxide may be beneficial to forest growth, however potential decreases in water availability and nutrients could limit this growth. The speed of the climate change may also be faster than some species are able to adapt to, leading to changes in biodiversity (Department of Climate Change, 2008).

The physical effects of climate change on Australian settlements are centred around water supply to population centres, severe weather events, particularly on the coast where the majority of the Australian population lives and possible increases in the range of vector and food borne diseases. There will be considerable variation in the effect of climate change on settlements in Australia because of the different locations and sizes of settlements (Department of Climate Change, 2008). In addition water quality in coastal aquifers and estuaries is expected to decline as salt water finds its way in these locations due to sea level rise (UNEP, 2003).

The most severe physical effect of climate change on the Australian environment will be on Australia’s water resources, with any water shortage also potentially affecting food production (UNEP, 2003). Evaporation rates are likely to increase due to higher temperatures and with reduced stream flow across most of the country there will be a decrease in the national moisture balance and greater water stress (Australian Greenhouse Office, 2007). Australia is the driest inhabited continent water and is already a scarce and often over utilised resource. Added pressure due to climate change will have severe effects anywhere in Australian where this occurs (Department of Climate Change, 2008).

The economic effects of climate change are less obvious at a first glance, but are just as severe as the environmental effects. The effects of climate change will be felt on all industries from smokestack industries to investment banking and even sceptical industries and businesses need to be concerned about climate change, because so many people are concerned with it and this in itself has wide ranging implications. Even in countries like the United States who have been traditionally slow at regulating and controlling greenhouse gas emissions there is a slow shift in debate from whether climate change legislation is needed to when does it need to be enacted and in what form. Any company that can mitigate its exposure to climate change risks and take advantage of the new opportunities that arise will gain an advantage over their competitors despite scepticism over climate change (Lash & Wellington, 2007). The unexpectedly high growth of the world economy in the early twenty-first century and the energy requirements of that growth has put extra urgency on the need for action regarding climate change (Garnaut, 2008).

The economic impacts of climate change will occur throughout all countries, unevenly distributed across regions and within society and economies. While there will be some positive effects of climate change for the economy, negative effects will outweigh the benefits for the sectors providing essential goods and services to societies. Budgets in the public sector will be stretched and secondary effects on the economy from climate change will include higher prices, reduced incomes and potential job losses (CIER, 2007).

In businesses, environmental risk is generally managed as a problem of regulatory compliance, potential liability and pollutant release mitigation. For business the main distinctions to be made when considering environmental risk is not distinguishing between sectors but between companies in those sectors, as these strategies can create a competitive advantage for the company (Lash & Wellington, 2007).

With regards to the economy and climate change the obvious area of impact will be related to the regulation of greenhouse emissions by products or the processes required to make those products. There can also be a regulatory affect upon supply chains for a company whilst there may be opportunities created for new climate friendly products and technology (Lash & Wellington, 2007).

Greenhouse gasses arise from almost every conceivable economic activity due to the use of fossil fuel based energy or changes in land use (Kok & de Coninck, 2007). For companies producing significant amounts of greenhouse gasses there is the potential threat of lawsuits, similar to what has occurred in the tobacco, asbestos and pharmaceutical industries. While a less obvious cost can be the impact on a companies’ reputation, this is especially severe in industries where brand loyalty is an important attribute and asset.

Finally the physical effects of climate change and the associated extreme weather events will have an economic affect, both in physically affecting locations and industries but also through raised costs of insurance (Lash & Wellington, 2007). Developing countries are most vulnerable to natural disasters and their associated costs and a rise in disaster costs in the last decades can be explained with the explosive growth in human population (UNEP, 2003).

It is felt that the economic effect of climate change on the world can be significantly increased by inaction on this issue (CIER, 2007). For this issue delayed action is just as dangerous as inaction as there are potentially unknown thresholds that may be crossed. The dominant approach to climate change adaptation options is to calculate the cost and benefits of the adaptations incrementally and finding the optimum level at the point the benefits of adaption are equal to the costs of the adaption. It may be more appropriate however to view these adaptation costs as investments in natural, human and social capital aimed at maintaining or enhancing the services provided (CIER, 2007).

The least studied effect of global climate change on the pillars of sustainable development is the effect it will have on social equity. One of the major causes for the growth in greenhouse gas emissions is due to the growth in affluence of countries worldwide (Saikku, Rautiainen & Kauppi, 2008). It is neither justifiable nor feasible to remove environmental pressures by limiting the world economy to a steady state zero growth economy. By doing so we are trapping people in the developing world to a socially inequitable situation with the unjust distribution of resources and no hope of improving the quality of their lives or their material standards of living (Garnaut, 2008 and Hattingh, 2002). Social equity concerns in developed countries often revolve around the effect of emission reduction targets and their effect on vulnerable citizens and groups, such as lower income citizens and small business. These groups are seen as being vulnerable if National governments are penalised for missing targets or need to raise taxes to avoid penalties (DEFRA, 2007).

Climate change can also be seen as an international human rights issue, which closely aligns it with the social equity pillar of sustainable development. As a human rights issue climate change is most often linked with small island states, which are almost entirely developing countries and the fact that climate change will have severe effects on the populations of these islands. The human rights of these environmentally displaced people are the first to be severely affected on a mass scale by climate change but it will eventually impact on the human rights of almost the entire population of the planet to varying degrees (Knox, 2008).

All estimates are that sea levels will rise due to climate change, which will have a severe effect on low lying islands like the Maldives. Rising waters will increase sea and storm surges, affecting flooding risk and severity. These rising waters will also affect peoples’ rights to life, property, health and adequate standards of living. The size of these states also means that they are unable to protect their population from climate change as if they stopped producing greenhouse gasses entirely it would have no discernable impact on global warming. In the face of this human rights law requires states to cooperate with each other to address climate change, both to reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere but also to assist states affected by changes that cannot be avoided and will affect the rights of their population (Knox, 2008).

Human health will be directly affected by new patterns of extreme weather events, cold snaps, heat waves, floods, droughts, local pollution and allergens. Indirect changes to infectious disease, freshwater supply, food production, population movement and economic activities will also affect human health. Climate change will affect air quality and combined with increased frequency and intensity of heat waves will have an especially strong effect on the elderly and urban poor (UNEP, 2003).

There are many obstacles to addressing climate change effectively in the world. The main obstacle is that climate change will not affect all industries equally and this means that the potential losers will fight to retain their advantages and privileges. Some companies even seek to profit from ineffective or counter productive solutions. Misinformation spread both deliberately and accidentally can affect public opinion and even government policy (Wilkenfeld, Hamilton & Saddler, 2007).

Programs like the Clean Development Mechanism face problems in achieving a distribution worldwide. The design of programs like this as voluntary market based mechanisms means that the investment activities tends to concentrate where opportunities are high and the cost of transactions and the risk is low. These financial factors can limit project development and implementation in Less Developed Countries (Sieghart, 2008).

The market based solutions prioritised by organisations like the World Bank as methods for dealing with problems of climate change in developing countries have been criticised as the market exacts no penalty from the producers of the greenhouse gasses transforming the climate. This means that the projects do nothing to keep pollution in check as economies grow. These flexible mechanisms can be seen by developing countries as ways for the developed world to avoid or delay reducing the greenhouse gas emissions (Shamsuddoha & Chowdhury, 2008).

Barriers to changes in individuals’ behaviours can also be seen as obstacles to effective action on climate change. Cost both monetary and time, confusion and lack of information and the difficulty of changing other members of their households behaviour are all seen as barriers to beneficial behaviour change, despite an eagerness for people to do their bit (DEFRA, 2007). Addressing the underlying social causes of problems such as motor vehicle use in developed countries is difficult, technological fixes often just shift the problem elsewhere. Powerful interest groups often resist attempts to change behaviour and combined with the convenience of personal car use limiting the use of motor vehicles is a very difficult change to bring about (Beder, 1996).

Attempts by countries to determine responsibility for climate change are also an obstacle. A variety of methods can be tried most often pitting the developed world or Annex 1 countries against the developing world. A method of allocating reductions of greenhouse emissions based on cumulative historical emissions was proposed but not accepted at the Kyoto protocol negotiations, many developing countries favoured this method but developed countries that would share the burden of this proposal understandably were not in favour (Muller, Hohne & Ellermann, 2007). These blame shifting debates clearly affect the ability of the world to address climate change effectively.

The opportunities that climate change presents for sustainability are limited when compared to the obstacles and challenges. One opportunity in tropical regions is the using tropical forests as carbon sinks to help combat both climate change and deforestation (Canadell & Raupach, 2008). Other ways of combating climate change that connect to other policies beneficial to climate change include through health and air quality policies, poverty reduction, agricultural production and risk prevention (Kok & de Coninck, 2007). Opportunities may also arise with new climate friendly industries and products or by an individual company gaining a competitive advantage by adopting climate sensitive policies (Lash & Wellington, 2007).

The Kyoto protocol was the first concrete global agreement to combat climate change in 1997. 9 years later it came into force when enough countries ratified it, with developing countries being exempted from commitments to limit emission reduction. Since then there have been negotiations for a post Kyoto protocol but the Kyoto protocol is still currently the most important agreement relating to climate change worldwide. Without a supranational government able to decide on commitments, policies and enforcement regimes global climate policy making is complex. It is a long term global problem with no single sector responsible and seen as a difficult and less urgent problem by many politicians (van der Gaast, 2008). Gasses listed in the protocol as Greenhouse gasses were Carbon dioxide, Methane, Nitrous oxide, Hydrofluorocarbons, Perfluorocarbons and Sulphur hexafluoride with the main source categories listed as energy, industrial processes, agriculture, waste and solvent and other product use (United Nations, 1998).

The successes and failures of the Kyoto protocol have received much scrutiny. Greenhouse Gas emissions from Annex 1 countries decreased, but this was largely due to lower emissions from economies in transition. Some countries such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia managed to make large reductions of up to nearly 80% of their emissions; however other countries such as Monaco, Finland and Canada had their emissions increase by up to nearly 60% in the same time frame (United Nations, 2006). Data has shown however that the 4.7% decrease over all has been reduced as Annex 1 country emissions have grown by 2.3% since the year 2000 (van der Gaast, 2008). Transport has the fastest growing level of emissions of any sector with North American and Developing Asia increasing their emissions rapidly. However the growth emissions in the emerging economies of Asia were slower than their economic growth (United Nations, 2006). The mixed results of this agreement therefore show that new action is needed to significantly address climate change and its effect on sustainable development.

There are many opinions on what needs to occur next in the international debate on climate change and sustainable development. Most agree that policies need to include adaptation to changes and not just attempts to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gasses. In the transition to sustainability Adams and Jeanrenaud (2008) feel that the first thing that needs to be done is to decarbonise the world economy. Delaying action on climate change is thought to only increase the cost and national policies for immediate action to mitigate emissions combined with efforts to adapt to those impacts that will be unavoidable is the only way to reduce the cost of climate change significantly (CIER, 2007).

In Australia both short term and long term strategies are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Actions that will lock in high levels of emissions for a long term, such as new coal fired power stations and car dependant infrastructure need to be reduced or ceased entirely. A permit system with the emphasis on emission reduction and not just offsets also needs to be put into place along with emission standards for power and efficiency standards for appliances and motor vehicles is also required for Australia to significantly reduce its’ greenhouse gas emissions (Wilkenfeld, Hamilton & Saddler, 2007).

Due to the long lead time needed to develop new technology, better use of existing technology will be crucial with the short term to achieve 2020 emission targets. But even so radical improvements in intensity of use and emission intensity will be required for the ambitious reduction targets like those set by the European Union, the chances of these targets being met are not good currently given a declining trend is yet to begin. For targets to be met the reduction in emissions would need to be between 1.9 and 2.6 times faster than the years 1993 to 2004 (Saikku, Rautiainen & Kauppi, 2007).

In the United States of American mandatory approaches to reduce emissions from major sectors are seen as important, along with flexible approaches to establishing a price signal for carbon with a cap and trade system and finally approaches that create incentives to encourage actions by other countries. These actions are seen as needing to be enacted by decision makers sooner rather than later. A carbon dioxide level of around 450 ppm is needed to prevent drastic climate change and this is the proposed target of both the European Union and United States (USCAP, Date unknown, van der Gaast, 2008).

As it is a global issue climate change needs to be tackled at a global level too. The Commission on Sustainable Development has singled out Climate Change as the most pressing issue of our generation with urgent action needed now and this entails cooperation beyond short term political manoeuvring (CSD, 2007). International agreements on atmospheric pollution have a precedent of being highly effective, concerted global action guided by multilateral agreements have been able to effectively phase out CFCs (United Nations, 2006) so there is no reason to believe that the same would not be possible for greenhouse gas emissions if there was significant political will to make the necessary decisions. One of the most important requirements for an effective climate change action that is connected to this is participation of the United States, for history shows us that ideas on a global scale like this do not move without leadership from the United States (Runnalls, 2008).

Clearly climate change is an issue that receives huge amounts of attention worldwide due to the global effect it will have. It is connected intimately to sustainable development due to the effect it will have environmentally, economically and socially and it is often not even recognised as a aspect of sustainable development but an entirely separate problem. Very limited progress has been made in addressing climate change as an issue with only minor reductions to greenhouse emissions made since the Kyoto protocol and far more drastic measures are needed to prevent large scale climate change. For these measures to occur there needs to be a recognition of how severe this issue is and long term strategies developed on a global and national scale to reduce and mitigate emissions and also to adapt to the unavoidable consequences. These measures will need to be different for developing and developed countries but will need to be made by all nations on Earth before unalterable changes take place.
“When our rivers run dry and our crops cease to grow

When our summers grow longer and our winters won’t snow

From the banks of the ocean and the ice in the hills

To the fight in the desert where progress stands still
When the air that we breathe becomes air that we choke
When the Marsh fever spreads from the swamps to our homes
This is our chance to set things straight
To bend and break rules back into place.”
(Rise Against, 2008)

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