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Arctic landscape

Welcome to my page. This is a space to discuss issues relating to the environment.

Surely you remember it? It's the thing we thought we cared about before the recession came along.

While the downturn has meant that environment issues have slipped down the priority list, we still hear much pious blather from politicians and others about the importance of the environment, how everything is ultimately connected.

Well it is true, but not always in the way you think.

Right now negotiators are sitting in the air-conditioned comfort of the convention centre in Doha trying to inch forward global negotiations on a new climate treaty. They believe they are fully connected to the issues and are the best path to a solution to global warming.

A general view shows the logo of the 18th UN Convention on Climate Change in Doha

They will be poring over their non-papers at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in the slightly ironic setting of Qatar, one of the world's biggest exporters of fossil fuels. Especially gas.

But a few thousand km to the east, gas is also at the centre of an event that shows how the realities of climate change are very disconnected from the negotiating process.

Global warming is making the Arctic much more accessible to shipping. Very shortly, a tanker will arrive in Japan having traversed the northern sea route laden with liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Norway.

The Japanese government is desperately trying to find alternatives to nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima. They are very keen on gas, if only it could be delivered in a timely and cost-effective way.

Enter the Norwegians. A few years ago they built a gas plant at Hammerfest to process the fuel extracted from the Snow White field. They had planned on shipping it to the US, one of the world's biggest importers of LNG at the time.

But something strange happened. Thanks to the development of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the US has been able to exploit a massive and hitherto unknown resource.

And the gas is having a dramatic impact on the energy and emissions landscape in the US.

And a quiet milestone was passed earlier this year when gas equalled coal as the most widely used fuel for the generation of electricity. US emissions of CO2 are now as low as they were in 1992.

In fact shale gas and the recession have helped the US to double the cuts in carbon compared to what the European Union has achieved through the Kyoto Protocol.

Meanwhile the negotiators chilling in gas-rich Qatar are unlikely to make much progress. One participant, Jennifer Morgan from the World Resources Institute told me there was likely to be more heat than light in Doha.

"It is less of a big bang COP, more of a finishing unfinished business COP- one would hope for new political signals coming in but the big decisions will be taken a ways off."

Yes there are lots of curious and ironic connections in the environment - but lots of disconnect as well.