INTERACADEMY COUNCIL REPORT RECOMMENDS FUNDAMENTAL REFORM OF IPCC MANAGEMENT STRUCTURE

The long-awaited review of the IPCC has been delivered by the InterAcademy Council (an Amsterdam-based organization of the world’s science academies).  Contrary to the misguided expectations of the denialist community, the Inter-Academy Council has concluded that the periodic assessment reports of the IPCC have been successful overall.  There is some need, however, for improving some of the reporting process and for developing a better set of processes to deal with the growing scientific and political complexity of the climate change issue.

Here is the press release posted today by the InterAcademy Council (IAC).

UNITED NATIONS — The process used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to produce its periodic assessment reports has been successful overall, but IPCC needs to fundamentally reform its management structure and strengthen its procedures to handle ever larger and increasingly complex climate assessments as well as the more intense public scrutiny coming from a world grappling with how best to respond to climate change, says a new report from the InterAcademy Council (IAC), an Amsterdam-based organization of the world’s science academies.

“Operating under the public microscope the way IPCC does requires strong leadership, the continued and enthusiastic participation of distinguished scientists, an ability to adapt, and a commitment to openness if the value of these assessments to society is to be maintained,” said Harold T. Shapiro, president emeritus and professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University in the United States and chair of the committee that wrote the report. Roseanne Diab, executive officer of the Academy of Science of South Africa and professor emeritus of environmental sciences and honorary senior research associate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, served as vice chair of the committee, which included experts from several countries and a variety of disciplines.

The IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme to inform policy decisions through periodic assessments of what is known about the physical scientific aspects of climate change, its global and regional impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation. Representatives of 194 participating governments make up the Panel, which sets the scope of the assessments, elects the Bureau that oversees them, and approves the Summaries for Policymakers that accompany the massive assessment reports themselves, which are prepared by thousands of scientists who volunteer for three Working Groups.

These assessment reports have gained IPCC much respect including a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. However, amid an increasingly intense public debate about the science of climate change and costs of curbing it, IPCC has come under closer scrutiny, and controversies have erupted over its perceived impartiality toward climate policy and the accuracy of its reports. This prompted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and IPCC chair Rajendra K. Pachauri to issue a letter on March 10 this year requesting that the IAC review IPCC and recommend ways to strengthen the processes and procedures by which future assessments are prepared.

The IAC report makes several recommendations to fortify IPCC’s management structure, including establishing an executive committee to act on the Panel’s behalf and ensure that an ongoing decision-making capability is maintained. To enhance its credibility and independence, the executive committee should include individuals from outside the IPCC or even outside the climate science community. IPCC also should appoint an executive director — with the status of a senior scientist equal to that of the Working Group co-chairs — to lead the Secretariat, handle day-to-day operations, and speak on behalf of the organization. The current position of the IPCC secretary does not carry a level of autonomy or responsibility equivalent to that of executive directors at other organizations, the IAC committee found.

The part-time nature and fixed term of the IPCC chair’s position has many advantages, the committee said, but the current limit of two six-year terms is too long. The IPCC chair and the proposed executive director, as well as the Working Group co-chairs, should be limited to the term of one assessment in order to maintain a variety of perspectives and fresh approach to each assessment. Formal qualifications for the chair and all other Bureau members need to be developed, as should a rigorous conflict-of-interest policy to be applied to senior IPCC leadership and all authors, review editors, and staff responsible for report content, the committee added.

Given that the IAC report was prompted in part by the revelation of errors in the last assessment, the committee examined IPCC’s review process as well. It concluded that the process is thorough, but stronger enforcement of existing IPCC review procedures could minimize the number of errors. To that end, IPCC should encourage review editors to fully exercise their authority to ensure that all review comments are adequately considered. Review editors should also ensure that genuine controversies are reflected in the report and be satisfied that due consideration was given to properly documented alternative views. Lead authors should explicitly document that the full range of thoughtful scientific views has been considered.

The use of so-called gray literature from unpublished or non-peer-reviewed sources has been controversial, although often such sources of information and data are relevant and appropriate for inclusion in the assessment reports. Problems occur because authors do not follow IPCC’s guidelines for evaluating such sources and because the guidelines themselves are too vague, the committee said. It recommended that these guidelines be made more specific — including adding guidelines on what types of literature are unacceptable — and strictly enforced to ensure that unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature is appropriately flagged.

The committee also called for more consistency in how the Working Groups characterize uncertainty. In the last assessment, each Working Group used a different variation of IPCC’s uncertainty guidelines, and the committee found that the guidance is not always followed. The Working Group II report, for example, contains some statements that were assigned high confidence but for which there is little evidence. In future assessments, all Working Groups should qualify their understanding of a topic by describing the amount of evidence available and the degree of agreement among experts; this is known as the level of understanding scale. And all Working Groups should use a probability scale to quantify the likelihood of a particular event occurring, but only when there is sufficient evidence to do so.

IPCC’s slow and inadequate response to revelations of errors in the last assessment, as well as complaints that its leaders have gone beyond IPCC’s mandate to be “policy relevant, not policy prescriptive” in their public comments, have made communications a critical issue. The IAC report recommends that IPCC complete and implement a communications strategy now in development. The strategy should emphasize transparency and include a plan for rapid but thoughtful response to crises. The relevance of the assessments to stakeholders also needs to be considered, which may require more derivative products that are carefully crafted to ensure consistency with the underlying assessments. Guidelines are also needed on who can speak on behalf of IPCC and how to do so while remaining within the bounds of IPCC reports and mandates.

The IAC committee credited IPCC with having proved its adaptability, and urged it to be even more creative in maintaining flexibility in the character and structure of assessments, including possibly releasing the Working Group I report, which examines the physical scientific aspects of climate change, a few years ahead so the other Working Groups can take advantage of the results.

The committee emphasized that in the end the quality of the assessment process and results depends on the quality of the leadership at all levels: “It is only by engaging the energy and expertise of a large cadre of distinguished scholars as well as the thoughtful participation of government representatives that high standards are maintained and that truly authoritative assessments continue to be produced.” It also stressed that because intense scrutiny from policymakers and the public is likely to continue, IPCC needs to be as transparent as possible in detailing its processes, particularly its criteria for selecting participants and the type of scientific and technical information to be assessed.

The committee’s report was informed by public meetings where presentations were made by IPCC and U.N. officials as well as experts with different perspectives of IPCC processes and procedures. The committee also gathered input from experts and groups via interviews and a widely circulated questionnaire that was posted on the web so the public could comment.

The IAC report is expected to be considered at the 32nd Plenary Session of the IPCC in Busan, South Korea, Oct. 11-14. The report was sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme. A committee roster follows. The report is available online at http://reviewipcc.interacademycouncil.net/.

Founded in 2000, the IAC was created to mobilize top scientists and engineers around the world to provide evidence-based advice to international bodies such as the United Nations and World Bank — including preparing expert, peer-reviewed studies upon request. It is co-chaired by Robbert Dijkgraaf, president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Lu Yongxiang, president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The IAC Secretariat is hosted by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam.

Massive Coral Mortality Following Bleaching in Indonesia

Coral bleaching in Indonesia takes a turn for the worst:

The Wildlife Conservation Society has released initial field observations that indicate that a dramatic rise in the surface temperature in Indonesian waters has resulted in a large-scale bleaching event that has devastated coral populations. The initial survey carried out by the team revealed that over 60 percent of corals were bleached.

“Bleaching” — a whitening of corals that occurs when algae living within coral tissues are expelled — is an indication of stress caused by environmental triggers such as sea surface temperature fluctuations. Depending on many factors, bleached coral may recover over time or die.

The event is the result of a rise in sea surface temperatures in the Andaman Sea — an area that includes the coasts of Myanmar, Thailand, the Andaman and Nicobar Island, and northwestern Indonesia. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Hotspots website, temperatures in the region peaked in late May of 2010, when the temperature reached 34 degrees Celsius — 4 degrees Celsius higher than long term averages for the area.

“This is a tragedy not only for some of the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs, but also for people in the region, many of whom are extremely impoverished and depend on these reefs for their food and livelihoods,” said WCS-Marine Program Director Dr. Caleb McClennen. “It is another unfortunate reminder that international efforts to curb the causes and effects of climate change must be made if these sensitive ecosystems and the vulnerable human communities around the world that depend on them are to adapt and endure.”

(read more over at Science Daily and the Wildlife Conservation Society)

KPMG review finds IPCC chief Pachauri innocent – UK Telegraph apologizes.

Monbiot: “A scrupulously honest man has been much maligned”

CLIMATE PROGRESS, August 26, 2010

No evidence was found that indicated personal fiduciary benefits accruing to Pachauri from his various advisory roles that would have led to a conflict of interest.

That’s the finding of a detailed report by KPMG on the finances of Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A great many U.S. reporters and bloggers owe an apology to Pachauri (see “N.Y. Times and Elisabeth Rosenthal Face Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage“).

Let’s see if they own up to it as the UK’s Telegraph finally did:

On 20 December 2009 we published an article about Dr Pachauri and his business interests. It was not intended to suggest that Dr Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position as head of the IPCC and we accept KPMG found Dr Pachauri had not made “millions of dollars” in recent years. We apologise to Dr Pachauri for any embarrassment caused.

In fact, suggesting Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position was the whole point of the story, which has been removed from their website but which you can easily find on right-wing websites by googling the title:  “Questions over business deals of UN climate change guru Dr Rajendra Pachauri” by Christopher Booker and Richard North.

This whole smear against Pachauri was so outrageous, but so eagerly parroted by U.S. disinformers and so willingly lapped up by the U.S. media that I’m going to reprint below in its entirety, George Monbiot’s piece for the UK Guardian.  I hope others will echo this far and wide:

Has anyone been as badly maligned as Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?

In December, the Sunday Telegraph carried a long and prominent feature written by Christopher Booker and Richard North, titled: Questions over business deals of UN climate change guru Dr Rajendra Pachauri.

The subtitle alleged that Pachauri has been “making a fortune from his links with ‘carbon trading’ companies”. The article maintained that the money made by Pachauri while working for other organisations “must run into millions of dollars”.

It described his outside interests as “highly lucrative commercial jobs”. It proposed that these payments caused a “conflict of interest” with his IPCC role. It also complained that we don’t know “how much we all pay him” as chairman of the IPCC.

The story (which has subsequently been removed from the Sunday Telegraph’s website) immediately travelled around the world. It was reproduced on hundreds of blogs. The allegations it contained were widely aired in the media and generally believed. For a while, no discussion of climate change or the IPCC appeared complete without reference to Pachauri’s “dodgy” business dealings and alleged conflicts of interest.

There was just one problem: the story was untrue.

It’s not just that Pachauri hadn’t been profiting from the help he has given to charities, businesses and institutions, his accounts show that he is scrupulous to the point of self-denial. After the Sunday Telegraph published its story, the organisation for which Pachauri works – a charity called The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) – asked the auditors KPMG to review his financial relationships. Today, for the first time, the Guardian is publishing KPMG’s report.

KPMG studied all Pachauri’s financial records, accounts and tax returns, as well as TERI’s accounts, for the period 1 April 2008 – 31 December 2009. It found that any money paid as a result of the work that Pachauri had done for other organisations went not to him but to TERI. None of the money was paid back to him by TERI: he received only his annual salary, which is £45,000.

His total additional income over the 20 months reviewed by KPMG amounted to the following:

• A payment of 20,000 rupees (£278) from two national power commissions in India, on which he serves as director;

• 35,880 rupees (£498) for articles he has written and lectures he has given;

• A maximum of 100,000 rupees – or £1,389 – in the form of royalties from his books and awards.

In other words, he made £45,000 as his salary at TERI, and a maximum of £2,174 in outside earnings. So much for Pachauri’s “highly lucrative commercial jobs” amounting to “millions of dollars”.

Amazingly, the accounts also show that Pachauri transferred a lifetime achievement award he was given by the Environment Partnership Summit – 200,000 rupees – to TERI. In other words, he did not even keep money to which he was plainly entitled, let alone any money to which he was not.

As for “how much we all pay him” as chairman of the IPCC, here is the full sum:

£0.

It wouldn’t have been difficult for the Sunday Telegraph to have discovered this. It’s well known that the IPCC does not pay its chairmen. His job at TERI is not a “sideline”, as many of his opponents maintain. It is his livelihood.

This is a reflection of the lack of support given by governments to the IPCC. Its opponents like to create the impression that it’s an all-powerful body on the verge of creating a communist/fascist world government. In reality it’s a tiny, underfunded organisation which can’t even pay its own chairman.

Compare Pachauri’s total earnings to the kind of money made by the head of any of the UN agencies, or of the World Bank or the IMF, and you’ll see that he receives one-fifth or one-tenth of the cash raked in by his peers.

KPMG concluded:

No evidence was found that indicated personal fiduciary benefits accruing to Pachauri from his various advisory roles that would have led to a conflict of interest.

The Sunday Telegraph, in other words, maligned a scrupulously honest man.

How could the newspaper have got it so wrong? Was it because neither the journalists, nor anyone else at the paper, contacted Pachauri to check their claims?

When Pachauri approached the Sunday Telegraph, asking for a retraction, he was rebuffed. Far worse, the journalists pursued the attack in a series of further articles and blogposts. To me it looks as if Richard North was pursuing a vendetta against the IPCC chair. In a post in February, he wrote:

Pachauri is on the ropes but he ain’t down yet. The view is it will take one more ‘killer blow’ to fell him .. and it looks as if its been found! … R K Pachauri needs to be acquainted with the first rule of politics – DFWN … since it is a family blog, you’ll have to work it out for yourselves.

The abbreviation stands for “Don’t fuck with North”. In truth Pachauri had done no such thing: he had merely asked, politely and mildly, for the false allegations to be corrected.

Repeatedly stonewalled when he tried to clear his name, Pachauri found he had no option but to instruct a firm of libel lawyers. Now, after months of refusing to back down, the Sunday Telegraph accepted the KPMG finding that Pachauri has not made “millions of dollars” in recent years and has apologised to him.

Because the issue took so long to resolve, the total legal costs for the paper – the fees for its own lawyers and Pachauri’s – run into six figures.

Has the Sunday Telegraph’s apology solved the problem? Some hope.

North has reacted to it with a new blogpost, also widely reproduced on the web, in which he refers to the Sunday Telegraph apology as a “non-apology”. He claims: “the article was sound, all the substantive facts are correct and the paper stands by them.”

He goes on to suggest that Pachauri was indeed “corrupt or abusing his position as head of the IPCC” and maintains that the accusation that Pachauri has made millions of dollars “stands uncorrected”. North fails to provide any evidence to support this falsified claim.

North also suggests that Pachauri’s hiring of a firm of libel lawyers in order to obtain this apology “tells you all you need to know” about him. In reality it tells you that Pachauri had exhausted his other options. He was desperate to put the record straight, but despite the incontrovertible evidence he provided, which showed that the story was false, the paper had refused to published a retraction. Pachauri threatened legal proceedings as a last resort.

So what can Pachauri do? There is now a large community of people – those who deny that man-made climate change is taking place – who appear to be out to get him. His crime is being chairman of the IPCC. That, as far as they are concerned, makes him guilty of any charge they wish to throw at him. They appear determined to keep repeating the falsehoods they have been circulating since December. We can expect this smear campaign to continue, and to become ever more lurid as new charges are invented.

The best we can do is to set out the facts and appeal to whatever decency the people spreading these lies might have, and ask them to consider the impact of what they have done to an innocent man. Will it work? I wouldn’t bet on it. As we have seen in the United States, where some people (often the same people) continue to insist that Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born abroad, certain views are impervious to evidence.

Russia’s Agony a “Wake-Up Call” to the World

By Stephen Leahy

VIENNA, Aug 11, 2010 (IPS) – A wind turbine on an acre of northern Iowa farmland could generate 300,000 dollars worth of greenhouse-gas-free electricity a year. Instead, the U.S. government pays out billions of dollars to subsidise grain for ethanol fuel that has little if any impact on global warming, according to Lester Brown.
“The smartest thing the U.S. could do is phase out ethanol subsidies,” says Brown, the founder of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, in reference to rising food prices resulting from the unprecedented heat wave in western Russia that has decimated crops and killed at least 15,000 people.

“The lesson here is that we must take climate change far more seriously, make major cuts in emissions and fast before climate change is out of control,” Brown, one of the world’s leading experts on agriculture and food, told IPS.

Average temperatures during the month of July were eight degrees Celsius above normal in Moscow, he said, noting that “such a huge increase in temperature over an entire month is just unheard of.”

On Monday, Moscow reached 37 C when the normal temperature for August is 21 C. It was the 28th day in a row that temperatures exceeded 30 C.

Soil moisture has fallen to levels seen only once in 500 years, says Brown. Wheat and other grain yields are expected to decline by 40 percent or more in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine – regions that provide 25 percent of the world’s wheat exports. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced a few days ago that Russia would ban all grain exports.

Food prices will rise but how much is not known at this point, says Brown. “What we do know, however, is that the prices of wheat, corn, and soybeans are actually somewhat higher in early August 2010 than they were in early August 2007, when the record-breaking 2007-08 run-up in grain prices began.”

Emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2 from burning fossil fuels trap more of the sun’s energy. Climate experts expected the number and intensity of heat waves and droughts to increase as a result. In 2009, heat and fire killed hundreds in Australia during the worst drought in more than century, which devastated the country’s agriculture sector. In 2003, a European heat wave killed 53,000 people but as it occurred late in the summer crop, yields were not badly affected.

If a heat wave like Russia’s were centred around the grain- producing regions near Chicago or Beijing, the impacts could be many times worse because each of these regions produce five times the amount of grain as Russia does, says Brown. Such an event could result in the loss of 100 to 200 million tonnes of grain with unimaginable affects on the world’s food supply.

“Russia’s heat wave is a wake-up call to the world regarding the vulnerability of the global food supply,” he said.

The global climate is warming and most food crops are both heat and drought sensitive. Rice yield growth rates have already fallen by 10-20 percent over the last 25 years in parts of Thailand, Vietnam, India and China due to global warming, new research has shown. Data from 227 fully- irrigated farms that grow “green revolution” crops are suffering significant yield declines due to warming temperatures at night, researchers found.

“As nights get hotter, rice yields drop,” reported Jarrod Welch of the University of California at San Diego and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Aug. 9. Previous studies have shown this result in experimental plots, but this is the first under widespread, real-world conditions.

With such pressures on the world’s food supply it is simply wrong-headed to use 25 percent of U.S. grain for ethanol as a fuel for cars, said Brown.

“Ethanol subsidies must be phased out and real cuts in carbon emissions made and urgently,” he said.

Running into ecological debt – Earth Overshoot Day 2010

Apart from playing host to one of the most unconventional election days in Australia’s history, August 21st also marked a rather unfortunate milestone – when humanity consumed all of the renewable resources that nature has been able to generate during this year.

Earth Overshoot Day is an initiative of the new economics foundation and the Global Footprint Network, and signifies the day in which human demand has outstripped the annual biocapacity of the Earth. Since the first Earth Overshoot Day in 1987, human consumption has been continuously growing beyond the sustainable limits of the planet –  it now takes one year and five months to generate the resources and the CO2  absorption capacity to meet that our annual requirements.

This year’s global overshoot milestone has come a full month earlier compared to last year – meaning the rate of resource depletion is becoming more rapid, and our ecological debt is worsening. It’s been known for some time that we are living beyond our means, but the growth in global consumption shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Indeed, continued economic growth (measured by the production and consumption of goods and services, or GDP) is necessary to keep our current global economy afloat. How can the maintenance of the economy be reconciled with the very obvious need to preserve our biosphere? This is clearly a dilemma, as the key issues facing humanity are really the symptoms of global overconsumption:

Climate change, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water and food shortages — these are all clear signs that we can no longer finance our consumption on credit. Nature is foreclosing.

Technological advancement is often cited as a way to consume resources more efficiently, leading to a relative decoupling of economic growth from consumption. But even if growth occurred at a slower pace, is it possible for the economy to grow continuously on a finite planet?

The folks at the new economics foundation and a growing number of other organisations and  individuals think that an alternative is possible – an economy which grows in quality, rather than quantity. A steady state economy is defined as one which remains within the biophysical limits of the planet – and is measured by indicators other than GDP, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator.

Advocates of the model such as Herman Daly and Tim Jackson think that a steady state economy is not only possible, but necessary in order to transition to a more sustainable, equitable, and happier society. Such a grand transition seems unthinkable in a world which is hooked on growth, and would be vigorously opposed by those with vested interests – working towards action on climate change is difficult enough! But perhaps the prospect of questioning growth is not quite as crazy as initially thought:

It has often been said that the lack of immediacy is the climate movement’s major handicap. The economic crisis we just faced certainly didn’t lack immediacy. There’s nothing more immediate than losing your house, your job, your livelihood, as so many did when the housing bubble burst.

Moreover, people weren’t oblivious to the fact that the crisis was caused by a bubble – by unsustainable growth in a certain sector of the economy. Public confidence in our economic model has already been shaken. To help precipitate its collapse, we need to start connecting the dots between the housing bubble and the much larger bubble that’s bound to burst when it collides in the very near future with the very sharp reality of a devastated planet.

Whatever the case may be, there is a lot of work to be done if we ever plan on living sustainably on the one planet we have – that is, not unless we depart for space within the next century.

New ocean life discovered at the ‘Hadal Zone’ – 11,000 meters deep, and pressure rises to 1,000 bar (or a ton per square centimeter)


The hadal zone: deep sea trenches over 11,000 meter deep (deeper than Mount Everest is high), the pressure rises to 1,000 bar, there is no light and food is scarce.

It (the Hadal zone) offers a glimpse of what life on Jupiter’s moon, Europa, might look like. A new species of archaebacteria, Pyrococcus CH1,was recently discovered thriving on a mid-Atlantic ridge within a temperature range of 80 to 105°C and able to divide itself up to a hydrostatic pressure of 120 Mpa (1000 times higher than the atmospheric pressure). Excedrin Migraine won’t help down there.

This discovery was made by an international team of microbiologists of the Microbiology of Extreme Environments Laboratory in partnership with the Institute of Oceanography of Xiamen (China) and the Earth Science Laboratory. This archaebacteria had been isolated from samples by a Franco-Russian team that explored the mid-Atlantic ridge for six weeks searching for new hydrothermal vents.

The piezophilic microorganisms constitute a subgroup of extremophiles. Discovered on the site “Ashadze”(2) at 4100 meters depth, the deepest vent field explored so far, the CH1 strain was successfully isolated and assigned to the genus Pyrococcus, within the Euryarchaeota lineage of the Archae domain. The discovery extends the known physical and chemical limits of life on Earth.

The reason scientists believed for so long that life did not exist in the deepest parts of the sea is because the oxygen that filters down is centuries old, having formed near the surface through photosynthesis by microscopic plants known as phytoplankton.

(link to full text)

How health is a climate change issue

Climate change certainly appears to a topic that both leaders would prefer not to discuss in much detail during the current election campaign.  Ignoring for a moment that the policies put forth are expected to lead to an increase in Australia’s emissions (according to the Climate Institute’s Pollute O Meter), Tony Abbott has this week barely concealed his skepticism of human induced climate change, and Julia Gillard devoted just 0.2% of her campaign launch speech to the topic.

While climate change seems to be the elephant in the room being ignored (but who just won’t go away), health has been a major topic of discussion for our political leaders in the past few weeks. The state of public health is obviously an issue that touches everyone, and has far more tangiable and immediate impacts on the nation that outweigh thoughts on what may be occurring in the Pacific Islands, the Arctic or in Australia more than 3 years into the future.

What our leaders have so far failed to recognise is the ever greater prominance of climate change as  a significant human health issue.  Last month, the Australian Medical Association called on the federal government to set up a national climate change and health strategy, given the expected impacts of unabated climate change upon public health.

Eugenie Kayak from Doctors for the Environment Australia has said:

As a modern society we have often failed to recognise, or conveniently forgotten, the absolute dependence of human health on stable, productive, healthy, natural environments. Nearly all the adverse environmental effects of climate change threaten human health and humanity possibly to catastrophic levels and probably sooner than many realise.

These are not extreme views but rather follow what has been expressed by respected international health journals and organisations concerning the relationship between climate change and human health. For example, in 2009, leading international medical journal, the Lancet, published that, “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan stated that, “The real bottom-line of climate change is its risk to human health and quality of life”.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said, “Climate change threatens all our goals for development and social progress” and “it is a true existential threat to the planet”.

Make sure to the rest of the article on ABC News.

When ethics and resources combine …

Bill Gates

By Ian Wylie

Financial Times Published: August 9 2010 23:35 | Last updated: August 9 2010 23:35

The cold call asking you to pledge money to a charity is an uncomfortable conversation at the best of times. But what if the person on the other end of the line happens to be the third-richest man in the world?

It seems Warren Buffett, who has been calling up fellow American billionaires to ask them to donate at least half their wealth to charitable causes, also knows an evasive answer when he hears one. “Sometimes they’re just trying to get you off the phone,” he said last week. “A few people had dynastic ideas about wealth because they had inherited their wealth themselves. And then there were others who said they had a plane to catch.”

But, like the best charity street “chuggers”, Mr Buffett – who has already pledged to give away 99 per cent of his $47bn fortune – and his “Giving Pledge” partners Bill and Melinda Gates plan to keep asking, working their way through the Forbes 400 rich list.

Never has there been such an attempt by a group of the wealthiest people in the world to enrol their peers in such grand scale philanthropy. And in the process Buffett and the Gateses are trying to export their model of “philanthrocapitalism” or “venture capital” to the world.

Mr Gates has previously estimated that just 15 per cent of the super-wealthy give away large chunks of their fortunes, but he thinks this could rise to 70 per cent. After just two months of calls, some 40 billionaires have signed the pledge, including George Lucas, Barry Diller, Michael Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, Pierre Omidyar and Jeffrey Skoll. The pledge is not binding, but a moral commitment to donate more than 50 per cent of their wealth. It does not in volve pooling money or supporting one single cause or organisation. Charitable causes supported by these early signatories range from HIV programmes and the arts to brain research and Middle East peace.

Yet philanthrocapitalism has come under fire from critics who say billionaires are simply buying power and control. Financial Times columnist Christopher Caldwell has warned of their “disruptive effects on democracy”. An editorial in The Lancet in May 2009 expressed “serious anxiety about the transparency of the [Gates] Foundation’s operation” and questioned its “whimsical governance”.

Moreover, donating billions is not as straightforward as it might seem. Many charities are incapable of absorbing large sums of money, and some billionaires’ assets are illiquid.

However, for supporters of philanthrocapitalism, it is the influence and networks as well as the funds that billionaires have at their disposal that make their commitment so important. “What’s remarkable increasingly about billionaire families is that they have not only significant financial resources, but the access, opportunities, relationships and connections to have tremendous impact in very perplexing problems,” says Melissa Berman, chief executive of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Most of the 40 who have signed up to the pledge are already generous givers – yet the pledge is significant, says Michael Green, co-author of Philanthrocapitalism: How The Rich Can Save The World. “To have brought in people like Larry Ellison – who has blown hot and cold on philanthropy over the years – to make public his intention to give away 95 per cent of his wealth, is a big step change,” says Mr Green. “It raises the bar in that super-rich category where the question now is, are you going to sign the Gates/Buffett pledge?”

The timing is significant, as the worlds of business and finance struggle to redeem their reputations. According to one of the pledge signatories, investment banker Tom Steyer, the initiative is “changing the face of American business . . . to my mind it transforms the image of private enterprise from an old-fashioned extractive model where people are taking resources out of the system for their benefit and their families to a more regenerative model of capitalism where they are putting resources back into society.”

Also, in the current climate of budget cuts, indebted governments will be more likely to welcome wealthy philanthropists who share Mr Gates’ and Mr Buffett’s belief in co-funding and leverage – a conviction that, as Mr Buffett puts it, “private philanthropy can make the subsequent expenditure of public monies more effective”. The Gates Foundation, for example, has granted more than $650m in the past couple of years to schools, public agencies and other groups that align with its main education priorities.

Philanthropists using their money as risk capital to help governments spend money better is an emerging theme, says Mr Green: “The most striking thing Gates said when we interviewed him for the book was that the Gates Foundation is ‘just a tiny organisation’. He recognised that to tackle the problems he wants to tackle he can’t do it on his own. He wants to lever government money, and here in the UK there’s scope in this idea of ‘big society’ for that kind of partnership working.”

The pledge is a nudge too for donors to consider giving the money away during their lifetime – “spend down” their endowments within a specified timeframe to meet current needs, rather than have them dribble out grants from a foundation once they are dead. Unlike the philanthropists of former times, many new billionaires are young enough to take a more active role.

The initiative is also an attempt to apply a network effect to philanthropy. The more common it becomes, the more the wealthy will seek to do it, as they share experiences, plot strategies and exchange ideas.

“It’s not just about people pledging success – it is also about inspiring more families to talk about giving and philanthropy,” says Patty Stonesifer, former CEO of the Gates Foundation, who currently advises Bill and Melinda Gates and was present at the May 2009 dinner in New York where the idea of the pledge was hatched.

The agenda includes educating the super-rich on the Buffett/Gates model of “high-engagement philanthropy” and “results-oriented giving”, where the efficiency of the business world is injected into aid – where philanthropists “invest” their donations and use venture capital strategies and research tools and techniques to manage the performance of their “portfolios”.

According to Mr Buffett, pledge signatories will be invited to an annual summit to “spend a day talking about various problems of philanthropy and how better to do it”. And last month the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a $3.7m grant to RPA to publish donor education resources on its website for would-be philanthropists in the US and beyond.

Mr Buffett and Mr Gates are taking their model of philanthropy on the road. The pair will travel to China at the end of next month to meet some of its wealthiest business people, followed by a similar trip next March to India, which Mr Gates has already predicted will become second only to the US in its high-end philanthropy.

“Bill, Melinda and Warren started this pledge effort here in the US, in part because they realise that to be successful in any other country the effort will need to be led by local leaders,” says Ms Stonesifer. “That said, the basic idea – that those with great wealth can and should devote that wealth to efforts to leave the world a better place – has resonance around the globe.”

It seems that as Mr Buffett and Mr Gates – the Rockefeller and Carnegie of their day – spin their Rolodexes for yet another cold call, their mood is one of unstoppable momentum

Many Liberal-National Party politicians have trouble understanding climate change.

See ABC Lateline report on survey.  CLICK here for a summary of the survey methods and results.

It’s official: Coalition politicians are less certain than their Labor counterparts that climate change exists and less likely to consider it a serious threat to human existence, a new survey shows.

The inaugural Political Leaders and Climate Change Index (PLCCI) – co-sponsored by the Global Change Institute and the Institute for Social Science Research, both at The University of Queensland – demonstrates that beliefs about climate change diverge dramatically along political lines.

Dr Kelly Fielding, Institute for Social Science Research (http://www.issr.uq.edu.au), said preliminary results from the survey confirmed that Labor politicians have a greater belief and comprehension of climate change and its impacts.

“Liberal/National politicians, on the other hand, are expressing uncertainty about climate change – they aren’t convinced that it is a serious threat to humans or that the current impacts are serious,” Dr Fielding outlined.

The survey of more than 300 federal, state and local government political leaders highlights that the political debate around climate change is based on significantly different levels of knowledge and understanding of the issue.

And Labor and Liberal political leaders are also influenced by different sources. While the results show that scientists generally have the most influence over politicians’ knowledge of climate change, the level of influence varies significantly between politicians on the left and right of the spectrum.

“Labor politicians are more influenced by scientists than Liberal/National politicians – 85% of Labor politicians are highly influenced by this group compared to 44% of Liberal/National politicians,” Dr Fielding said.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Global Change Institute, said he was surprised by the results.

“They suggest that many politicians are not going to the experts for information on this important matter,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.

“The survey confirms suspicions of a great political divide.  On one hand, you have political leaders that are listening to the science on climate change and are taking it extremely seriously.  On the other, you have others who have less regard for the science and appear not to fully understand the serious nature of climate change for Australia and the world.

“It is of great concern that a large number of political leaders do not feel compelled by the overwhelming scientific case for climate change. So the question needs to be asked – where do those political leaders who are not highly-influenced by science get their information on climate change?

“Why they would not be influenced by climate change experts who have spent their careers exploring this critically important issue in a non-biased fashion needs answering.”

In addition to scientists, environmental groups, international figures and constituents were considered as influential sources by all respondents, irrespective of their political persuasion.

Labor politicians are more influenced by environmental groups than their Coalition counterparts with just over one-third of Liberal/National respondents reporting they are not at all influenced by environmental groups on the issue of climate change.

For Coalition politicians their top priority lies with ‘managing a strong economy’, a big bottom line (60.3%), but only 2.7% rank ‘tackling global warming’ as paramount, and 5.5% nominate ‘protecting the environment’.

By comparison, almost one-quarter of Labor politicians highlight ‘tackling poverty and social disadvantage’ as the most important issue (24.7%), followed by ‘managing a strong economy’ (19.6%), on an equal footing as ‘tackling global warming’ (19.6%) and ‘protecting the environment’ (11.3%).

Interestingly, a sample of the general population surveyed on the same issues as part of the PLCCI, highlights that political leaders overall are less likely to believe in climate change, and the need to act, than members of the public.

“What is surprising is that the community remains convinced that climate change is a major challenge and yet some political leaders appear to be denying climate change.  There is a significant political divide on climate change and it would be good politics to rethink this particular issue,” Prof Hoegh-Guldberg said.

Despite this, politicians think that their own belief in the facts that underpin climate change is stronger than their electorate’s beliefs.

“The idea that there might be a disparity between what politicians think the electorate believes about climate change, and what their electorate actually does believe has significant implications for how politicians prioritise climate change as an issue,” Dr Fielding said.