Mostly bad news about slowing the planet’s warming

Financial worries, blatant greed and misinformation seem to have derailed attempts to mitigate global warming. But the ‘New York City approach’ and agroforestry offer some hope, says Craig Jamieson


For scientists, our work is often full of bad news. Sometimes efforts to stem the greenhouse gas flow seem forlorn. For example, in May 2013 we saw global carbon dioxide levels rise to above 400 ppm for the first time in human history. It seems economic concerns rising from the financial crisis have put climate change out of focus for many in the West, while for most in developing countries those economic concerns have never left them. According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy, if we lack basic necessities—like money to buy food and pay our bills—our attention is often drawn to satisfying them before considering things higher up the hierarchy (like the future of the planet).

Of course, there is also blatant greed. There are many vested interests who want to try to maintain the status quo even if it literally costs the Earth. Recently, President Obama made a strong speech about the need to tackle climate change but was immediately attacked even more strongly by fossil-fuel lobby groups. These vested interests continue to do a good job of confusing the public on the science of climate change even though more than 95% of peer-reviewed scientific papers take the position that it is primarily caused by human activities. At the recent Asia Clean Energy Forum, I heard one of the discouraged speakers concede that only academics and a small group of other intellectuals are even talking about climate-change mitigation.

Multifunctional landscape, Bac Kan, Viet Nam, bio-energy

Multifunctional landscapes, such as this one in Bac Kan, Viet Nam, are potential sources of bio-energy

However, there are some good news stories in the world. While inspiring action to mitigate climate change may feel like flogging a dead horse, it may be possible to achieve the same goal from a different angle. Last month, New York City announced it is going to spend USD 20 billion to adapt to climate change and protect its property. It seems people are more likely to protect their own backyards than the whole planet and consider this a ‘no regrets’ strategy.

This approach can help us in our work to promote agroforestry—since the tree-based systems we know and love can be an effective way of adapting to the impact of a changing climate while also helping to mitigate the changes—especially if the by-products are used for bioenergy production. The point is, we have to sell agroforestry as adaptation first; mitigation is a bonus.

In the same way, renewable energy is vital for mitigation but to attract funding I suspect it’s going to have to be ‘sold’ primarily as a solution to energy-security issues. The fact that it’s clean is a feel-good factor but not the main focus.

Crucially, renewables are increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels as one goes up in price and the other comes down. For the past three years, global investments in renewables have outstripped investments in fossil fuels. This is a beginning and there’s so much more to be done, but it’s a reason to take some encouragement.

I also heard recently that the Philippines is about to pioneer Asia’s first ocean thermal power plant. For those of us who live and work in the Philippines, it’s really exciting to see Filipino innovation leading the way again!

As well, meetings are taking place to set a strategy for the Philippines to convert its electricity production to 100% renewables in ten year’s time. The country is already a pioneer in geothermal and hydropower. Let’s hope these exploratory talks with Government will be backed by commitment and the necessary resources.

In short, just like we have to adapt to climate change, scientists have to adapt to its political psychology, too. There is good news about people taking action.

We must continue to deepen and expand our research and produce evidence that gives hope for the opportunities and benefits of a cleaner future.


Edited by Robert Finlayson





Mitigating and adapting to climate change is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry



Rob Finlayson

Robert Finlayson is the Southeast Asia program's regional communications specialist. As well as writing stories for the Centre's website, he devises and supervises strategies for projects and the countries in the Southeast Asia region, including scripting and producing videos, supervising editors and translators and also assisting with resource mobilization.

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