Climate loans threaten rerun of Copenhagen

UK loans to low income countries will make the poor pay twice for climate change

On Thursday, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell promised to stump up funds to ensure developing countries are better heard in climate negotiations. But it is difficult to see how those countries could be any clearer than they were last year at the disastrous Copenhagen climate summit - the problem is that the British government isn't listening.

At the end of next week, delegates from across the world will start arriving in Cancun for the follow-up to Copenhagen. They do so in the shadow of the World Bank's announcement of $270 million for three countries - Bangladesh, Niger and Tajikistan - to help them cope with the effects of climate change, for instance by protecting coastlines and planting crops more resilient to flooding.

These funds will be enhanced by others and ultimately the money comes from developed country governments like that of the UK. The problem is that much of the money will come not in the form of grants but low-interest loans. The total package given to Bangladesh, for instance, is $624 million, of which 92% comes in the form of loans. $60 million of these loans have come from the UK Government.

Why is this a problem? Because it contradicts the main principle which developing countries are fighting for in climate negotiations - that rich countries must not only reduce their emissions substantially but they must pay for poorer countries to clean up the devastation caused by climate change, not to mention helping those countries to develop in a more sustainable manner now they are denied the 'cheap development' which has fuelled wealth in the West.

Instead, offering loans attempts to make developing countries pay twice - first because they are suffering the worst consequences of climate change, but second because they now have to pick up the tab for that chaos when they repay their loans. That's why developing countries and campaign groups are united that these loans are completely unacceptable.

The developing countries involved in this first tranche of funding cannot be regarded as anything other than very poor. All are defined as low income. Bangladesh already has a high debt - $23.6 billion and rising, despite the country paying over $1billion a year servicing that debt.

Niger owes much less - but only because it received over $1 billion of debt relief in 2004 after struggling with unjust debts for over a decade. Meanwhile Tajikistan is already at high risk of a debt crisis according to the International Monetary Fund.

Forcing these countries to pay for their own clean-up is rather like breaking into your neighbour's house, causing devastation, and lending them money to get the cleaners in.

UK funds are all channelled through the World Bank, rather than a special United Nations fund which has been created through international agreement. This too is contentious. The UN Fund has a unique bottom-up approach to finance - any country can apply to it, and that country retains a good deal of control over how the project is implemented.

The World Bank, on the other hand, is top-down - selecting which countries should receive climate financing - and hypocritically remains one of the world's largest supporters of fossil fuel projects. In fact the UK has made the World Bank's funding even worse than it otherwise would have been; the Bank says that the only reason it is giving loans is because the UK has provided its money as capital rather than a grant.

None of this sits well with the pre-election commitments of the governing parties. Liberal Democrat party policy is to "support the UN Adaptation Fund" and to provide "grants for communities vulnerable to the impact of climate change without increasing the burden on indebted countries". Conservative party policy is to "continue, as far as possible, to give aid as grants not loans" and to "encourage other donors" to do the same.

Perhaps it's little wonder that expectations are being vigorously managed ahead of Cancun. But let's not pretend it's because developing countries can't be heard. Any progress towards a just climate solution depends on rich countries starting to listen pretty quickly.

Nick Dearden is the director of Jubilee Debt Campaign

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.