Climate Change Archives

March 16, 2005

Goodbye, Kilimanjaro

For most of us in the west, the African mountain Kilimanjaro is known for two things: its summit is the point on the planet at which one can see more surface area of Earth than from any other location (the North American champ for that is Mount Diablo, which I can see from my back window); and, although it sits close to the equator, its summit is perpetually shrouded in snow, a fact immortalized by Ernest Hemingway's 1938 short story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Make that, "was perpetually shrouded."

In 2000, images from Landsat, one of the various Earth-observing satellites, took an alarming picture, showing that much of the snow and glaciation at the Kilimanjaro summit had disappeared in just ten years. The 1990 and 2000 photos are shown to the right; click them for larger versions at NASA. At the time, scientists estimated that the remainder of the ice and snow would be gone by 2015.

They now have to revise their estimates. Recent photos (small version to the left, click for larger) show that very little of the mountain's snow remains; what's left will probably be gone in a just a few more years. Before the decade is out, Kilimanjaro will lose the snow which covered it for the last 11,000 years -- the snow which fascinated travelers, inspired artists, and gave it the name "shining mountain." Global warming and deforestation are both culprits; the relative balance between the two is still subject to debate (see comments for links). We've linked to other before/after images showing the effect of climate disruption, but there's something deeply symbolic about this particular example.

The 2004 image is part of a collection called NorthSouthEastWest: A 360° View of Climate Change, given to the attendees of this week's G8 energy and environment summit. The UK, which becomes the head of the G8 this year, has already stated that it will try to make climate disruption the top agenda item for the organization. Pictures like these are useful for making visceral the often-academic discussions of carbon and timelines, and for driving home the point that global warming isn't a problem off in the future, but is happening -- and having serious consequences -- right now.

December 6, 2005

Climate Accounting

ghgprojectaccounting.jpgThe first officially-recognized Clean Development Mechanism projects, in Honduras and India, have finally their carbon credits. One reason why the pace of CDM project certification is slow turns out to be a lack of standardization of greenhouse gas accounting processes. Although counting the greenhouse gases mitigated by clean development projects is well-understood in principle, just how the details are counted can vary from organization to organization. This lack of consistency -- and, occasionally, transparency -- prompted the World Resource Institute, working with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, to assemble a standardized methodology for climate change mitigation accounting.

The GHG Protocol for Project Accounting (PDF) may sound like boring wonkery, but it provides a useful insight into the practical aspects of figuring out how to reduce our carbon footprints, and (just as importantly) to know for certain that we've done so.

The Project Protocol’s procedures are compatible with existing Clean Development Mechanism methodologies. However, the Project Protocol brings together in one place the key concepts, principles, and methods to account for GHG emission reductions from any type of GHG project. It provides detailed instructions for developing a GHG emission “baseline” using the two major approaches developed by climate policy experts [...]. It also explains how to account for the unintended changes in GHG emissions a project might cause, and how to report GHG emission reductions for maximum transparency.

The Project Protocol (which has its own website at is not intended to replace existing accounting mechanisms, but to supplement and translate between them, so that everyone is on the same figurative page regarding each project.

None of the six key principles embodied by the Project Protocol are terribly surprising, as each (relevance, completeness, consistency, transparency, accuracy, conservativeness) is typical of good accounting practices in general. What's notable is the effort the Project Protocol goes to in order to ensure the testable reliability of the results. This strikes me as enormously encouraging; the last thing an international effort to combine climate mitigation and global development needs is an accusation of fraud or accounting malfeasance.

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