Category Archives: CO2

Uncertainty is not our friend: leaked IPCC report confirms climate change still dangerous

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There has been a rash of articles of late claiming the next IPCC report (AR5) will revise the temperature response to increased levels of atmospheric CO2 downwards. Turns out this is not the case, but more on that soon.

This is what I like to call “The Great Climate Sensitivity Debate of 2013″ in which we all rushed out to understand what this once obscure branch of science was about.

The message from the deniers and some sections of the media was that the silly scientists had gotten it wrong, and that the consensus was shifting towards “Things aren’t as bad as we once thought.”

Perhaps the most notorious example of this “bright siding” was this article from the The Economist

Silly, silly scientists!

Panicking us for 30 years only to say “Oops sorry guys we waz wrong! So sorry – our bad!”

Seems this whole flap over climate sensitivity was a pointless distraction, as New Scientist notes:

Can we all stop worrying about global warming? According to a recent rash of stories in the media, the “climate sensitivity” – the extent to which temperatures respond to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – is lower than expected, and thus that the world won’t get as hot as predicted. One story, in The Economist, based on leaked information from a draft of the next assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claims the IPCC will revise its sensitivity estimate downwards when they release their official report this September.

Turns out climate change is still dangerous and something we may wish to prevent:

The bottom line is that there is no new consensus that climate sensitivity is lower than previously thought, says Knutti. The observed trend points to lower values because of the recent slowdown, but other evidence continues to support higher values.

The last IPCC report stated that equilibrium climate sensitivity was between 2 and 4.5 °C, mostly likely 3 °C. The Economist claims the IPCC’s next report will give a figure between 1.5 and 4.5 °C, with no most likely value. The IPCC won’t confirm or deny it, but it’s not a huge change if it is true.

“What matters for avoiding dangerous climate change is the upper end, and that hasn’t changed,” says Knutti. Ward makes the same point. “We can’t afford to gamble on sensitivity definitely being low,” he says.

But will it all be a huge waste if sensitivity does turn out to be low? Far from it. If we don’t cut emissions, Knutti points out, all low sensitivity means is that it will take a decade or two longer for the planet to warm as much as it would if sensitivity was high. “It doesn’t get away from the fact that emissions have to be reduced,” he says.

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The death of coal: World Bank kicking coal habit but will the world follow?

Still on a semi-sabbatical, however this article is worth noting from The Conversation:

By Colin Hunt

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim recently announced that the Bank would cut coal from its portfolio of investment projects.

New coal powered generation will now receive financial support only in “rare circumstances”. Gas will remain in the Bank’s investment mix but as a transitional fuel. But will this decision change anything?

The World Bank has led international development banks in its embrace of coal over the last five years, according to Oil Change International. The overall portfolios of the major development banks as well as the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, have been heavily weighted towards fossil fuel development rather than renewables.

The World Bank’s change in focus favouring renewable energy won’t have a great impact on the spending priorities in the near future because its last loan to a coal-fired plant was in 2010. Much larger will be the impact on other lending institutions. A reasonable expectation is that the decision to spurn coal will also permeate the domestic policies of countries continuing to build coal-fired power plants.

The new president Dr Kim has managed to get the no coal policy through the Bank’s board. In the past the strategy has been blocked by China, India, and Saudi Arabia.

Civil society has been pressing for change. No doubt the bank’s board was also influenced by the late 2012 report it commissioned from the Potsdam Institute. This describes what the world would be like if it warmed by 4°C – an almost unanimous prediction by scientists by the end of the century without serious policy changes: “The lack of action on climate change not only risks putting prosperity out of reach of millions of people in the developing world, it threatens to roll back decades of sustainable development.”

Nighttime from space. Only about 30% of households in Sub-Sahara Africa and northern India have electricity and outages are frequent. However solar power is changing that. NOAA

The International Energy Agency might also have been influential in the Bank’s change. The agency is emphasising the need to keep most coal in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming.

Electricity for developing nations

Lack of electricity is the major barrier to global poverty alleviation and the development of private enterprise. The marriage of the Bank’s focus on the poor with the delivery of cost-effective sustainable energy systems is now much more feasible.

While electricity grids are absent in remote areas, off-grid renewable energy systems are now bankable. The cost of solar power in particular has plummeted. The Bank gives the example of the cost of photovoltaic modules falling from US$3.40 per watt in 2008 to US$1.30 in 2011.

The three goals of the World Bank by 2030 are:

  • universal access to electricity
  • double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency
  • double the rate of uptake of renewable energy.

The Bank’s annual present rate of investment in these goals is US$8 billion. This compares with the required annual investment rate for achieving these goals of $US600-800 billion – a doubling or tripling of present total financial flows. However the institution’s role is much greater than indicated by its scale of direct lending.

The Bank also leverages other lenders into the mix and fosters private-public partnerships. It advises electricity utilities on how to apply and raise finance. And it provides advice on reducing fossil fuel subsidies (which put government budgets in the red and deter investment in renewables) and on how tariffs can be set to be economically sustainable and manage demand. Raising awareness of energy efficiency – the least sexy and most under-exploited of initiatives – is also key.

A concentrating solar thermal project at Ouarzazate, a city of 1.5 million in Morocco, will provide 24-hour power. World Bank

The daunting challenges facing developing countries in integrating renewables into the energy mix will be appreciated by Australians who have been following the exciting efforts to pave the way for 100% renewables in this country, such as this report by the Australian Energy Market Operator, and this by the Global Change Institute at University of Queensland.

There are a number of ways in which renewables can contribute to a reliable electricity supply: concentrating solar, geothermal, biomass and hydro. The latter is a key in that is can be readily switched on or off to fill the troughs in supply or the peaks in demand; a reason why investment in hydro power is thought important in developing countries that have untapped water resources. While the social and environmental impacts of large water storages have been well documented, the Bank says it has learned many lessons from past experience.

Many countries do not need development banks to fund their energy investments and some are still investing heavily in coal-fired plants. China is an example. While massive investment in energy efficiency has halved power per unit of GDP in 17 years, the demand for coal will increase. This is due to the idiosyncrasies of the country’s electricity network together with a tripling of demand for energy by 2030.

It is easy to fall into pessimism about the chances of timely transformation of world energy supplies. But the policy shift by the World Bank is another domino fallen. Greater appreciation of the risks of climate inaction, the successful application of renewables, combined with global knowledge transfer, will surely see many more dominoes go down in the near future.

Colin Hunt does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

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

Desperately seeking paradigm shifts: sceptics looking for new ways to attack consensus

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Paradigm shift, really?

Anti-science movements evolve: new sceptic lines of attack

The recent paper by John Cook et.al. clearly showing 97% consensus among scientists that the globe has warmed in response to human activities over the last 150 years seems to have rattled large parts of the sceptic movement.

And while they have been bitterly complaining about the paper, their criticisms have failed to spill over into the mainstream media. Their counter arguments remain firmly lodged within the alternative knowledge sphere they have constructed for themselves.

Failing to gain any real traction in undermining the Cook paper, their tactics are now shifting.

The new line of attack is to undermine the idea that a scientific consensus is stable. Drawing on popular notions of the lone scientific genius (aka The Galileo Gambit) and the history of science, they are beginning to stress the instability of scientific consensus.

How effective that is remains to be seen. It may not be enough to dissuade the public from their growing appreciation a scientific consensus exists, but they’re going to give it a good try.

The hullabaloo over Lu

This may explain why of late sceptics and papers such as The Australian have latched onto the deeply flawed paper by Qin Bin Lu claiming CFCs are to blame for global warming, not CO2. Their strategy is simple:

  • Claim the Lu paper has overturned the 97% consensus
  • Suggest that even if the Lu paper has not overturned the 97% consensus, then consensus can be changed at a moments notice
  • Therefore it would be foolish to act on climate change given these scientific uncertainties.

Whether they continue to champion Lu’s paper or not is besides the point. The tactic is designed to achieve two outcomes. Firstly, continue to undermine the public’s understanding a consensus exists. Secondly, undermine the idea of a stable and enduring consensus on any issue.

This in fact may be even more dangerous than previous lines of attack if one considers the implications of such thinking.

If the public understands there is consensus, they’re more ready to accept the science

While the public has mistakenly thought a debate between scientists has existed this is starting to change. That their attitudes can shift matters.

A study published last year in Nature Climate Change demonstrated that if informed a scientific consensus exists, the average member of the public is more likely to accept the science of climate change:

Although most experts agree that CO2 emissions are causing anthropogenic global warming (AGW), public concern has been declining. One reason for this decline is the ‘manufacture of doubt’ by political and vested interests, which often challenge the existence of the scientific consensus. The role of perceived consensus in shaping public opinion is therefore of considerable interest: in particular, it is unknown whether consensus determines people’s beliefs causally. It is also unclear whether perception of consensus can override people’s ‘worldviews’, which are known to foster rejection of AGW. Study 1 shows that acceptance of several scientific propositions—from HIV/AIDS to AGW—is captured by a common factor that is correlated with another factor that captures perceived scientific consensus. Study 2 reveals a causal role of perceived consensus by showing that acceptance of AGW increases when consensus is highlighted. Consensus information also neutralizes the effect of worldview.

Such acceptance cuts across the left-right political spectrum. For obvious reasons, the very idea of a consensus is considered anathema to the sceptics.

But if the average person can be primed to accept the science in response to understanding a consensus exists, what lines of attack can we expect from the sceptics?

Enter Lu and the idea of consensus being inherently unstable.

The would-be paradigm shifter: Lu at Waterloo

For those unfamiliar with this weeks drama in climate science, Qing Bin Lu at the University of Waterloo (NZ) claims to have overturned the scientific consensus on global warming.

It is CFCs, not CO2 to blame. As noted, this theory has long been discredited.

Lu’s paper has been championed by The Australian, other sections of the conservative press and politicians as evidence the scientific paradigm on global warming has been “overturned”.

His claims have been examined and dismissed numerous times, yet Lu persists promoting his discredited theory [for good commentary see Eli Rabett here and here].

I suspect it’s revival and championing by sceptics has something do with the success of the Cook et.al paper and shifting public attitudes. 

Luntz Mark II: desperate attempts to keep the debate going

For those with long memories or an appreciation of the history of the climate debate, maintaining public confusion was one of the central strategies suggested in the notorious Frank Luntz memo.

Luntz, a Republican operative during the Bush years suggested Republican politicians push the idea the scientific debate remained open. In 2002 Frank Luntz instructed Republican politicians to question the scientific consensus:

Luntz

Thus, if the public comes to understand there is a 97% consensus, their views on global warming and the policy options available to them will change. Right? We crack what is the hardest nut in the debate. 

But the merchants of doubt have a new product. With the Lu paper they are attacking the idea of a stable scientific consensus. They are tweaking their long running strategy of claiming scientific issues (not merely the consensus) remains open

It is Luntz Mark II.

Consensus: a stable ground for policy formation, or not?

The climate debate in the public sphere is not about the science: it is about policy formation.

Policies designed to mitigate climate change have been effectively stalled for decades in large parts of the world at the global level.

The sceptic position, unlike that of the IPCC or scientists is not policy neutral. In fact, sceptics and their backers are specific on policy: keep taxes on industry low, constrain or dilute environmental regulations and ensure markets remain “free”.

But if the public, and by extension politicians, accept the consensus then movement within the policy arena shifts from inaction to action.

So what are the sceptics doing in response to this perceived shift in opinion?

Shifting the debate from being about the percentages of scientists accepting a theory to that of a consensus position being insufficiently stable to form the basis of policy formulation. 

It is well-known scientific uncertainty is a problem within the policy making sphere. One just has to look at how delayed the social response and regulation over the risks of tobacco smoking significantly lagged the scientific consensus.

Thus the sceptics are re-formulating their line of attack to influence both public perception and the policy sphere with this new wedge strategy.

Lone-genius-scientific-paradigm-busting-superstar: re-framing the question of scientific uncertainty and consensus 

Rather than suggesting the scientists are at odds over the science, they’ve taken it a step further. They are now re-framing the question of how stable a scientific consensus can ever be

It is the Galileo Gambit, the idea that all it takes is one individual (or one paper) to radically transform our understanding of the world.

Lu is this weeks would-be climate sceptic Galileo. Next week, next month it will be some other obscure scientist with an equally improbable hypothesis.

They’re looking for someone – anyone – to shift the scientific paradigm. Because if the paradigm “shifts’ (or has the possibility of shifting) then climate change is “not real”. Then the sceptics can continue to argue the debate is not over.

This new line of attack needs to be given consideration.

Anti-science movements don’t fade away they evolve: the long debate has barely begun

The_cow_pock

The vaccine debate is 200 years old

I appreciate not everyone will find the following prognosis cheery, but I think there is some validity to it.

Anti-science movements never truly fade away, their popularity ebbs and flows. Their arguments and tactics evolve and adapt.

They are long-lasting, multi-generational movements that sometimes fade into obscurity (as far as official keepers of knowledge are concerned) and re-emerge in periods of crisis.

Take vaccination as but one example.

The above cartoon by James Gillray from 1802 captures the fear that inoculation against cowpox would lead to cow like appendages sprouting from a person’s body. Indeed, it was produced for the anti-vaccination movement of the day.

Two centuries later, despite the obvious benefits and success of mass vaccination, serious doubt has crept into the public’s consciousness. We are now seeing a resurgence of diseases such as measles and whooping-cough once thought under control. As fewer people vaccinate their children, herd immunity decreases and we’re faced with resurgent pathogens. Children die.

Let us consider another example.

The Creationist movement of the 1920s started out with a very primitive set of arguments against evolution derived from criticisms stemming from the mid-to-late 19th century opposition to Darwin. The Scopes Monkey trial of the 1920s saw them suffer a setback.

The movement was dormant for several decades, as it faded into the background, a tenant of a variety of Evangelical churches in the United States. But slowly in the 1950s it began to re-emerge. In the 1970s advocates renamed Creationism “Creation Science” and gained success in promoting it as an alternative theory to the Evolutionary consensus.

Suffering a number of setbacks in a series of court tussles, creationists again reformulated the basic tenants of creationism and labelled it Intelligent Design.

The climate sceptic movement is no different. They will adapt and reformulate their lines of attack.

This broad trend needs to be given consideration.

 

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Stopped clocks, bad debts and climate sceptics: or why the latest paper on climate sensitivity does not vindicate the sceptics (nor suggests complacency)

clock_broke

For those who pay attention to minutiae of the climate debate, you may have noticed the denial-blog-sphere is all-a-flutter with claims of “Sceptics proven right.”

This source of this self-congratulation among the sceptics is a recently published paper in Nature Geoscience titled Energy budget constraints on climate response by Alexander Otto et al [doi:10.1038/ngeo1836].

I was able to source a copy of the paper and took the time to appraise how it could possibly be the source of so much sceptic excitement.

Let me quote from the paper so that you may judge whether-or-not the sceptics have been vindicated:  

“The rate of global mean warming has been lower over the past decade than previously. It has been argued that this observation might require a downwards revision of estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity, that is, the long-term (equilibrium) temperature response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations…”

The paper notes:

“The most likely value of equilibrium climate sensitivity based on the energy budget of the most recent decade is 2.0 °C, with a 5–95% confidence interval of 1.2–3.9 °C…”

From this, sceptics have claimed the death knell of climate science. Having read it, the take home points are for me are:

  • the oceans have been sequestering a great deal of heat – much more and much more rapidly than we thought 
  • that will come to an end at some point in the future, with the heat coming back out as the climate system tries to reach a point of equilibrium (note: as the atmosphere and oceans exchange heat)
  • the rate of warming for the last decade has been at the lower end of model projections
  • thus in the short-term the climate may warm 20% more slowly than previously expected (i.e. transient climate response)
  • even though we may not see some of the extremes predicted in earlier models, a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration opens the door for an average temperature increase of +/- 4.0C.

Good news story and the death knell of the climate conspiracy?

Hardly.

The research is not that a radical departure from the results of climate science, but consistent with other work within the field.

It is also worth noting the paper does not take into consideration tipping points or other anticipated positive feedback mechanisms such as increased methane emissions – the release of vast quantities of this most potent greenhouse gas from beneath the Arctic tundra due to warming.

A small and maybe irrelevant point? Must likely not.

Indeed there are a quite few nasty surprises like methane out-gassing lurking out there – things known but generally avoided in many models (the planets decreasing albedo effect as the extent of the Arctic ice decreases anyone – anyone?).

It will be worth watching the research on climate sensitivity over the coming years: at least form the perspective of how policy makers, sceptics and the public react to this informaiton.

Just how fast, and how extreme, will the warming be?

A very interesting question indeed.  

Bad “climate” debts accumulating: no time for complacency

A 2.0C-4.0C increase in average temperatures will have a significant impact on large parts of the globe, if not devastating large swathes of it.

As the oceans draw down heat it will fuel their thermal expansion, a major driver of projected sea level rise. Nor will the oceans continue to do humanity a favour by acting as endless sink for the additional heat we’re adding to the climate system.

Crop production around the mid-latitudes is going to be hit hard, which incidentally is where most of humanity resides. Remember the aforementioned sea level rise? Many millions in the mid-latitudes will be forced to relocate.

But hey, wheat production will increasingly shift to Canada and the Arctic circle. You win some, lose some right?

Like avoiding a bad debt by taking out another high interest credit card to cover your repayments, this warming is going to raise its ugly head in the future. One may avoid paying your debts in the short-term, but at some point the Sheriff will come a-knocking and take the keys to your car and what personal property you have.

Likewise, the climate will come and “ask” us for the debt we “owe it”.

Things like coastal cities and productive farmlands will be the collateral confiscated to service the “warming debt” our species is accumulating.

Perhaps we’ve gained a little extra time – a tiny window of opportunity really – to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps we have more time to plan adaptation measures.

Whatever the case, the window for action is still narrow: this research is not cause for complacency.

Sadly I fear laggard policy makers and the mischievous will see it as such, and continue to push the cause of inaction.

Deep time, deep history, climate change and living through interesting times

Let’s also place this “pause in warming” in context.

In geologic terms, the rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 and the warming trend is unprecedented in the planet’s history.

It is vital we stop thinking in terms of a climate change as the up-or-down temperature swings of a particular decade. We accuse sceptics of cherry picking; likewise we need to remove our own myopic filters.

We need to pay far closer attention to the paleoclimate record: as James Hansen has recently argued, we cannot fully appreciate the profound changes the planet is undergoing without drawing on the lessons of the geologic past.

Nor should we disregard the warming oceans, the decline of Arctic sea ice and the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere – and the many other metrics – all point to the same conclusion: warming has not stopped.

Perhaps it is the own cognitive limitations and the transient nature of how we experience time that creates such a short-sighted and myopic view of climate change.

I suggest we think in terms of both deep time and deep history.

2.5 billion years from now, should our descendants or a successor species of comparable intelligence dig into the Earth’s crust they’ll find evidence of our civilisation: but not in artifacts or fossils.

Instead they will note the abrupt disappearance of species in the fossil record (evidence of a mass extinction event) and the changed chemical composition of ocean floor and terrestrial sediments.

The evidence will point to a warmer world relative to other periods within geologic history. Billions of years into the future, a faint but still distinguishable trace of humanity’s impact will be evident. 

That’s how profound and long-lasting the changes humanity has wrought are.

We’ve not seen this level of CO2 in the atmosphere in millions of years: most recently during the mid-Pliocene (5.3-2.5 million years ago).

At that point the average temperature was 3.0C-4.0C higher, while sea levels were 25 meters higher.

However, we won’t have the luxury of billions of years of perspective to ponder what happened: we’ll be living through those profound planet-shaping and epoch-defining changes.

Actually, we are living through those planet-shaping and epoch-defining changes.

Of stopped clocks and claims the planet is no longer warming

What also interests me is the sceptic response.

As anticipated, they’ve misinterpreted the paper and claimed it as vindication of their views.

My response to that is even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day.

It’s well understood the rate of temperature change has varied over the last 150 years: to claim such a pause is evidence against warming is to merely be right by chance, and not for the reasons the sceptics likes to claim.

The sceptics are in no way vindicated: a slower rise in land temperatures does not imply climate change has stopped, or was “exaggerated”.

Indeed, lead author of the paper Alexander Otto makes that point in an interview with The Guardian:

“Otto said that this most recent pattern could not be taken as evidence that climate change has stopped. “Given the noise in the climate and temperature system, you would need to see a much longer period of any pause in order to draw the conclusion that global warming was not occurring,” he said. Such a period could be as long as 40 years of the climate record, he said…”

Sage advice the sceptics are won’t to ignore.

Which of course they do…

Perth’s resident climate sceptic and conspiracy theorist Jo Nova is the most self-congratulatory, breathlessly announcing they (sceptics) where right all along:

I think the climate sensitivity figure is still too high but it’s good to see estimates being revised in the right direction. Reality bites back. The deniers were ahead of the climate experts. We said the models were exaggerating and we were right.

Andrew Bolt in his usual fashion is not even close to being wrong claiming “alarmists” have finally admitted defeat:

Sure, warmists exaggerated the temperature rise so far, The Age finally admits. But we still have to believe they’ll be right about the apocalypse to come:

The rate of global warming caused by rising greenhouse gas levels could be slower than previously thought, but will still result in the same eventual higher temperatures as earlier forecast, new research has found.

Note also the story suggests there has been a “rate of global warming” over the past decade, without actually telling you what it is. If the reporter did, he’d have to admit there’s been no warming at all…

Bolt completely misrepresents the results of this paper; his view that there has been no warming is completely contradicted by Otto’s statements – whose work Bolt seeks to misappropriate to support his fallacious argument.

Bolt also gets it spectacularly wrong in his first sentence: no one is revising historical temperature increases down (as his wording implies), they are revising the short-term (i.e. transient) rise in the global temperature average slightly down over the coming decades.

Global warming has not stopped; it just may have hit a very small and minor speed bump. It is virtually certain to pick up speed again. 

Thus it would seem Mr. Bolt is struggling with such basic concepts as the past and future. But, hey like whatever Andrew: us warmists have always got it wrong.

I’m sure he got his “facts” from Watts up with That? or some other climate sceptic blog and they fitted nicely with his prejudices – he tags the post “Dud predictions” without fully appreciating what he is posting.  

Sorry to disappoint Andrew, but we’re still heading towards a much warmer world.

The sceptic response: the enemy of my enemy is the fact we can cherry pick

What’s remarkable here is not the paper itself, but the sceptic response. Indeed, their response is ripe with irony.

For decades sceptics have claimed the models constructed by climate scientists are unreliable and not to be trusted.

And yet, when a model or a piece of research shares the barest hint of concordance with their views they proclaim it as a victory for sceptics.

It seems the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” applies. 

To paraphrase in sceptic terms, “the enemy of my enemy is the facts I can cherry pick”.

Sceptic victory?

Hardly.

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C02 reaches 400ppm, highest level in 3 million years: back then planet 2-3c warmer, sea levels 25m higher

Sometime last night while many of us slept, humanity past a milestone.

The concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million – the highest concentration of CO2 in millions of years. The last time CO2 was at this level was roughly 3 million years during  the mid-Pliocene. At that point the plant was at least 3-3 degrees warmer and sea levels 25 meters higher.

Reports coming in:

  • From the ABC – “Global greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached an ominous milestone that is unprecedented in human history. The world’s longest measure of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million (PPM) for the first time in three million years…”
  • The Scripps Institution of Oceanography is reporting slightly under 400ppm, but NOAA reports 400ppm.

Who know’s were we will be by centuries end: at this point with a lack of concentrated global effort, 600ppm looks likely.

We’re well on the way to doubling the level of C02 since the mid-nineteenth century (roughly 280ppm back then).

Welcome to the Anthropocene.

I’ll post thoughts on this later.

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Gang of four: can developed and developing countries act in concert to avoid a world of 2ºC plus?

A recent article in Nature: climate change highlights the growing consensus that if action isn’t urgently taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) humanity we will fail to keep global average temperatures below 2ºC:

On going climate negotiations have recognized a “significant gap” between the current trajectory of global greenhouse-gas emissions and the “likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”.

The article by Glen Peters, Robbie Andrews et.al titled The challenge to keep global warming below 2ºC examined looks at historical GHG emission levels and compares those to the emissions scenarios used in all previous four IPCC reports:

Long-term emissions scenarios are designed to represent a range of plausible emission trajectories as input for climate change research. The IPCC process has resulted in four generations of emissions scenarios: Scientific Assessment 1990 (SA90), IPCC Scenarios 1992 (IS92), Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), and the evolving Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) to be used in the upcoming IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.

One merely needs to look at the following graph to see how we are tracking:

 Nautre

Note the black line – historical emissions – and contrast that to the mass of other lines, the alternative emission pathways. For the uninitiated or confused it shows GHG emissions inline with the various “business as usual” (BAU) scenarios developed in the previous four IPCC reports. Each year we are pumping increased levels of CO2 and other GHGs into the atmosphere.

Just in case it isn’t clear this alternative graph from the same paper shows the annual percentage increase in CO2 emissions and how they track against the various scenarios:

 Tracking_pathways

Emissions have been growing at least 2% per annum without pause – exactly what you’d expect to see under BAU scenarios. In the IPCCs Fourth Assessment report these were referred to as the A1 scenarios:

The A1 storyline and scenario family describes a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies.

Within the A1 group of scenarios there are several scary emission pathways you want to avoid if you don’t want to push average global temperatures 2ºC and beyond. In the upcoming fifth assessment report the high emissions path will be referred to as RCP8.5 (there are four RCPs or Representative Concentration Pathways).

Short version?

We’re well on track for a world of 2ºC if we don’t act within the next few years. The authors note we can avoid such a situation but only if we act with a sense of urgency by 2020:

Current emissions are tracking slightly above RCP8.5, and given the growing gap between the other RCPs (Fig. 1), significant emission reductions are needed by 2020 to keep 2 °C as a feasible goal. To follow an emission trend that can keep the temperature increase below 2 °C (RCP3-PD) requires sustained global CO2 mitigation rates of around 3% per year, if global emissions peak before 2020…

To translate “sustained global CO2 mitigation rates” means rapidly decarbonising our economies over a period of many years – decades even. Emission rates need to fall dramatically and sooner rather than later.

It’s worth thinking about this in context of the most recent round of negotiations at Doha (COP18), which like nearly all of its predecessors has delivered underwhelming results.

The Gang of Four and beggar they neighbour: who needs to lead?

The authors note the close cooperation and coordination of four countries (or three countries and one region) will be key to mitigating GHG emissions:

To move below the RCP8.5 scenario — avoiding the worst climate impacts — requires early action and sustained mitigation from the largest emitters such as China, the United States, the European Union and India.

These four regions together account for over half of global CO2 emissions, and have strong and centralized governing bodies capable of co-ordinating such actions. If similar energy transitions are repeated over many decades in a broader range of developed and emerging economies, the current emission trend could be pulled down to make RCP3-PD, RCP4.5 and RCP6 all feasible futures.

They make a key point: the “Gang of Four” account for over 50% of all global GHG emissions and all of them have the capacity to lead the world in implementing solutions to bring down emissions to safe levels.

The developing nations – lead by China and India – have been exhorting the developed nations to make deep cuts to emissions, assist in technology transfer and provide funding for mitigation and adaptation initiatives. Nor should we forget the fact that both China and India have seen profound economic growth over the past several decades: they’re not keen to sacrifice this unless the United States and other developed nations act in concert with them.

The developed nations – the United States chief among them – have been unwilling to undertake the deep cuts or pledges for technology transfer and funding out of self interest. Nor do they wish to surrender their present economic and political advantages to developing nations such as China.

Each of the Gang of Four fears it will be a case of beggar thy neighbour: in making sacrifices they will be taken advantage of.

But really it is a case of the tragedy of the commons: acting unilaterally and out of self interest each party not only beggars the other, but also their own future.  

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AGU Carl Sagan Lecture: “We can look forward to an ice free pole in 20-30 years”

Another great lecture from the AGU conference in San Francisco:

Details here:

Presented by Piers Sellers, NASA/GSFC, Greenbelt, Maryland, USA 

The Planetary Sciences and Biogeosciences Sections of AGU and the Planetary Society jointly sponsor the Sagan lecture. It is presented annually by a prominent scientist at the AGU Fall Meeting who addresses issues in Astrobiology and the development of life on Earth. With the lecture, we honor Carl Sagan as a scientist, educator, and critical thinker who brilliantly combined the disciplines of biology, physics and planetary science in his work, and who inspired countless young people to pursue the study of the Earth and other planets.

Sellers gives us an overview of what has been happening to the planet these past decades in a series of stunning sateliate images; temperature increases, the loss of sea ice, population increase and glacier retreat.

As Sellers notes: “Things are happening faster than the models.”

Note 1: I’ll continue to post the most interesting video presentations from the AGU conference for those interested.

Note 2: To clarify, we can look forward to an ice-free pole during the summer months in 20-30 years time.

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Rapid warming unavoidable?: Hansen et.al presents on the state we’re in (must watch video)

The American Geophysical Union is currently holding a conference in San Francisco. Over 20,000 people are attending the conference. Fortunately for us, many of the presentations are being posted to YouTube and there is an amazing volume of science available on the site freely available.

James Hansen and others recently presented on the potentional for rapid warming in this 2011 video. It is an important video, and well worth watching:

In a nutshell: we can’t afford to keep burning fossil fuels and releasing them into the atmosphere.

Stephen Lewandowsky gives a good overview:

Science is debate, and the AGU meeting is the biggest annual debate of climate scientists in the world. It is a debate that extends over five days, each filled with 12 hours or more of non-stop science. 

There is, however, one issue that is not being debated: Nowhere is there a debate about the fundamental facts that the globe is rapidly warming and that human greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for that warming. 

That scientific debate ceased decades ago. 

It is only in the fantasy world of climate denial that ignorant chatter about those physical fundamentals continues, to the detriment of the public which would be better served without such distracting noise. 

Among the 20,000 geophysicists and scientists from other disciplines in attendance at the AGU meeting, there is no mention of the denialist troupe of cranks who do “science” by writing letters to the editor. 

With one exception. 

Dr. Jim Hansen, one of the world’s foremost climate scientists, who first alerted the world to the risks from climate change decades ago, gave a presentation on Tuesday night. A patrician figure, he was greeted with a standing ovation even though the message he had to deliver, based on the latest available science, was far from encouraging. Decades ago, Dr. Hansen predicted events such as Hurricane Sandy, and he has been warning about the implications of climate change ever since. 

Dr. Hansen expressed the view that the professional dis-informers who facilitate and encourage climate denial, and who obstruct and delay a solution to the problem at great cost in dollars and human lives in support of their own short-term greed or ideological agenda, ought to be tried for crimes against humanity.

Watch the video to see how science is really done.

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Andrew Bolt: “China has zero intention” of setting up carbon tax? Sorry Andrew, they are

How’s that looking Tony?

Quick update, I’m still working on other materials.

One of the more frequent arguments against limiting carbon emissions via emission trading schemes is the perceived damage this will do to national economies.

Now that Australian example has proved this is not the case, the other “go to” argument for deniers has been “China” is not acting.

If the Chinese are happy to emit and not have an ETS, why should we?

Indeed, earlier this year Herald Sun journalist and climate “sceptic” Andrew Bolt made this very point;

Just follow the money. China is buying access to our coal deposits because it plans to use more coal, not less.

Now consider our stupidity. While China plans to use more Australian coal, Labor and its Greens allies want to force us to ultimately use none, by hitting us with a carbon dioxide tax that China has zero intention of imposing itself.

If it all works out to plan, China will use the cheap Australian coal that Australia will forbid itself.

Sorry Andrew.

Looks like the Chinese will have a national scheme up and running in three years.

China’s move to set up a carbon trading scheme undercuts the most common argument against the Australian ETS and similar schemes: that we’re “doing it alone” and it will hurt the economy:

China’s first steps to build what is destined to be the world’s second-biggest emissions market are boosting the prospects for fledgling programs from Australia to California. 

Four cement makers in China, the world’s biggest emitter, bought 1.3 million pollution permits for 60 yuan ($9) a metric ton last month in Guangdong. The province plans the largest of seven pilot programs for a proposed national market within three years. Exchanges will trade permits to emit an estimated 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases a year by 2015, close to half the volume in the European Union system. 

By setting its own emission limits and allowing polluters to buy and sell permits, China’s domestic market is set to dwarf its own participation in the UN market, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts. 

The country’s commitment may also help break a logjam in global-treaty negotiations and support trade in Australia and the US, where opposition to carbon pricing is unwavering, according to Climate Bridge, which has developed projects in China since 2006. 

“What China is doing with its pilot scheme and ultimately with a national scheme sets a terrific example for the rest of the world,” said Alex Wyatt, the Melbourne-based chief executive officer of Climate Bridge and author of a report released yesterday with the Sydney-based Climate Institute. “Any suggestions by people in the West that China is not acting on climate change aren’t true.”

With each passing month arguments against action are looking increasingly silly:

Governments in California and Australia said they are working together to promote global carbon trading. Australia is also in talks with China, according to Mark Dreyfus, the country’s parliamentary secretary for climate change. Dreyfus said he met in New York last month with China’s National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua. 

“We have been working closely with China over the last year on a range of policy and technical issues to support the development of credible, robust and effective carbon markets,” Dreyfus said in Sept. 28 statement. 

Disagreement on whether developing nations should be forced to reduce emissions has been the “sticking point” in global climate talks, according to Sjardin at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. While a new climate treaty by 2015 remains an “ambitious goal,” negotiators at this year’s summit in Doha may start on “a more hopeful note” than last year, he said. 

China’s steps to limit emissions are also undermining arguments against cap and trade in the US and Australia, according to Sjardin. 

“China has long been perceived as a laggard on climate action and used as scapegoat by other countries like Australia to delay action,” Connor said. “But this argument is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to make given China’s recent policies.”

See also Climate Spectator:

China’s emerging schemes can dovetail with other global schemes as a stepping stone towards a global climate change agreement by 2015.

It is important to understand that China’s actions are driven by self interest, not only regarding concern for climate impacts, but for strengthening energy security, developing a low carbon economy with export opportunities and showing international leadership.

This story is mirrored worldwide. Countries have chosen different paths, targeting different industries, depending on their economic makeup and what they perceive as an opportunity for gaining a competitive edge in an increasingly global low carbon economy.

Action at national levels is significant if yet still insufficient to deal with the rising climate challenge.  Tony Windsor also launched The Climate Institute’s new interactive map of global climate action which will be continually updated. Just to prove the point of ongoing changes, Norway yesterday doubled its carbon tax on oil and gas.  

The action in China and globally belies the myth that Australia is acting alone. If we are fair dinkum about doing our fair share, then Australia must ready itself for stronger emissions reductions than the 5 per cent 2020 target that is based on a world of inaction and is not enough to help avoid the risks of the growing climate challenge.

With each passing month, the claims of the deniers look increasingly silly.

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The new normal (part 22): The Great Barrier Reef is dying

Source: The Age

A little over two years ago I took my first trip to north Queensland with the express purpose of seeing the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and the magnificent rain forests of the region. I was motivated by the thought it may be one of those “last chances to see” the GBR before its inevitable decline.

While there I could no help but feel a muted, but still profound, sense of melancholy.

I could not help but recall my child hood experience of watching David Attenborough’s Life on Earth. What I saw was beautiful, complex and fascinating and yet fragile and at risk.

For some time scientists have understood the Great Barrier Reef is at risk – today a report in The Age today confirms that over the past 30 years half of the GBR’s coral has disappeared due to parasites, cyclone damage and coral bleaching:

Half the Great Barrier Reef’s coral has disappeared in the past 27 years and less than a quarter could be left within a decade unless action is taken, a landmark study has found. 

A long-term investigation of the reef by scientists at Townsville’s Australian Institute of Marine Science found coral had been wiped out by intense tropical cyclones, a native species of starfish and coral bleaching. 

Researchers warned that while the World Heritage listed reef was a dynamic system — with coral cover rising and falling over time — if the mass die-off continued less than 25 per cent would exist in 2022. 

“The big concern going forward is that if nothing else changes than within 20 years the reef could be in a perilous state,” said institute senior scientist Peter Doherty. 

At 214 reef sites surveyed, the coral cover halved from 28 to 13.8 per cent between 1985 and 2012.

Two-thirds of the loss occurred since 1998. Only three of the 214 reef sites exhibited no impact. 

“Coral cover is the simplest index of reef health, and the health of the Great Barrier Reef has gone down dramatically,” said institute senior scientist Hugh Sweatman. 

“The coral provides shelter and food for thousands of organisms so you don’t just lose the corals themselves you lose the species that depend on them.” 

The coral damage was most pronounced in the central and southern regions of the 2000-kilometre reef, with the remote northern section remaining largely unaffected.

Tropical cyclones accounted for 48 per cent of the coral die-off across the entire reef, followed by outbreaks of the crown of thorns starfish, which was responsible for 42 per cent of the loss. Bleaching contributed to 10 per cent of loss. 

“You can dive on a coral reef one week when all you can see is living coral, each colony overlapping with its neighbours, but after the passage of a cyclone it looks like a cement road,” said Dr Doherty. 

Global warming models project increases in water temperatures will lead to more intense cyclones.

While crown of thorns starfish were a natural predator of coral — the adult animals feed on tiny polyps inside the coral skeleton — their impact over the past 25 years had been substantial. 

A large outbreak that started around Lizard Island in 1994, spread the length of the reef over 15 years.

Flood waters carrying fertilisers and other agricultural nutrients into the ocean were thought to increase the survival of crown of thorns larvae because the runoff encouraged the growth of algae eaten by the offspring.

 

“The frequency of crown of thorns outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef has likely increased from one in every 50-80 years before European agricultural runoff, to the currently observed frequency of one in about every 15 years,” said the authors. 

Warmer waters were also responsible for coral-bleaching events, where the tiny organisms living inside the coral skeleton “bleached” and died with the rising temperatures. 

“The recent frequency and intensity of mass coral bleaching are of major concern, and are directly attributable to rising atmospheric greenhouse gases,” wrote the authors, whose study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Bleaching mortality will almost certainly increase in the GBR, given the upward trend in temperatures,” they said. 

While the state of the world’s longest reef system appeared bleak, it did have the ability to recover.

“What it needs is a decade or two to do it in,” said Dr Sweatman.

This too shall pass.

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