Tag Archives: climate change research

2013 among top 10 warmest years: a civilisational response is urgently required

WarmingCan you see a pause in the warming of the planet?

The World Meteorological Organisation have just released the following press release:

The year 2013 was among the top ten warmest years since modern records began in 1850, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It tied with 2007 as the sixth warmest year, with a global land and ocean surface temperature that was 0.50°C (0.90°F) above the 1961–1990 average and 0.03°C (0.05°F) higher than the most recent 2001–2010 decadal average. 

Thirteen of the 14 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century. The warmest years on record are 2010 and 2005, with global temperatures about 0.55 °C above the long-term average, followed by 1998, which also had an exceptionally strong El Niño event.

At this point many commentators, scientists and bloggers will say “Well look at that. We told you the planet is warming.” Of course those that deny climate change will mutter about conspiracies, the “pause in warming” and such nonsense.

But let us move well beyond that conversation, cherry picking of facts and the finger-pointing that takes place every time a press release such as this comes out.

When I look at this graph I see a planetary and civilisational emergency. I see a looming catastrophe if we don’t begin advanced planning.

What I see is the urgent need to examine how we adapt to a changed climate.

Many hard decisions are before us.

Time to consider our options.

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The Australian: sea rise not linked to warming! Oops our bad, sea rise is linked to warming…

Oz_SLR_Not_Happening
Sea rise not linked to warming…

Despite the fact Australia has been experiencing record-breaking heat waves and catastrophic fires in nearly every state, Chris Mitchell (Editor) and Graham Lloyd (Environment Editor) of News Limited’s The Australian steadfastly choose to remain  locked in a parallel universe in which climate change isn’t happening.

Perhaps they have incredibly effective ideological filters that allows them to block out the reality of extreme heat and horrific bushfires: that or really good air conditioning.

For those of you who had the pleasure of picking up copy of today’s edition you may have been surprised to learn there is no link between climate change and sea level riseLloyd explains:

THE latest science on sea level rises has found no link to global warming and no increase in the rate of glacier melt over the past 100 years.

A paper published last month in Journal of Climate highlights one of the great uncertainties in climate change research – will ocean levels rise by more than the current 3mm a year?

The peer-reviewed article, “20th-century global-mean sea-level rise: is the whole greater than the sum of the parts?” by JM Gregory, sought to explain the factors involved in sea-level rises during the last century. It found that sea-level rises had not accelerated “despite the increasing anthropogenic forcing” or human influence.

Australia’s pre-eminent sea-level scientist, John Church, contributed to the paper, which said it could not link climate change and the rate of sea-level rises in the 20th century.

Australia is at the forefront of global research on sea-level rises, but must double its funding to $10 million a year to match other countries in the search for an answer.

There is no dispute that sea levels are rising and significant concerns about what the recent increased rate of melt of Arctic ice might mean. But the key question is whether the rate of sea-level rise will accelerate and, if so, when and by how much?

The paper in question, Twentieth-century global-mean sea-level rise: is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? was published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate (behind a pay wall).

It is worth noting this paper and the climate sceptics excitement about it has already been discussed over at Real Climate. They address the science issues much better than I ever could so go there, however it is worth quoting part of their post:

The Gregory et al. paper was greeted with enthusiasm in “climate skeptics” circles, since it includes the peculiar sentence:

The implication of our closure of the budget is that a relationship between global climate change and the rate of global-mean sea-level rise is weak or absent in the past.

The abstract culminates in a similar phrase, which can easily be misunderstood as meaning that global warming has not contributed to sea-level rise. That is wrong of course, and the claimed closure of the sea-level budget in this paper is only possible because increasing temperatures are taken into account as the prime driver of 20th Century sea-level rise.

When read in full context, the true meaning of the statement becomes clear: it is intended to discredit semi-empirical sea-level modelling…

So just another blatant example of cherry picking? Without doubt.

However it is worth noting The Australian has a history of being – shall we say – liberal with the facts concerning the science of sea level rise.

Back in 2011 The Australian published a similar front page story questioning the link between climate change and sea level rise:

ONE of Australia’s foremost experts on the relationship between climate change and sea levels has written a peer-reviewed paper concluding that rises in sea levels are “decelerating”.

The analysis, by NSW principal coastal specialist Phil Watson, calls into question one of the key criteria for large-scale inundation around the Australian coast by 2100 — the assumption of an accelerating rise in sea levels because of climate change.

Based on century-long tide gauge records at Fremantle, Western Australia (from 1897 to present), Auckland Harbour in New Zealand (1903 to present), Fort Denison in Sydney Harbour (1914 to present) and Pilot Station at Newcastle (1925 to present), the analysis finds there was a “consistent trend of weak deceleration” from 1940 to 2000.

Mr Watson’s findings, published in the Journal of Coastal Research this year and now attracting broader attention, supports a similar analysis of long-term tide gauges in the US earlier this year. Both raise questions about the CSIRO’s sea-level predictions.

There was only one problem with the story: it misrepresented the actual findings of the scientists. Both Tim Lambert over at Deltoid and the ABC’s Media Watch discuss this falsehood.

Indeed, so egregious was their behaviour it prompted Watson’s employer to write a fairly stern letter stating they fundamentally misrepresented the research and that they should correct the article.

Oops, our bad: The Australian corrects itself

Oz_SLR_Happening
Ok, maybe we got it wrong…

To bring us back to the present day…

The story might have ended there and we all would have shaken our heads in dismay at yet another example of The Australian’s dissociated state of denial.

But less than 24 hours after publishing the article it appears editor Chris Mitchell & Co. have been stricken by a sudden and virulent case of journalistic ethics as they have corrected themselves in a follow-up article:

SCIENTISTS have rejected claims that the latest research on climate change finds no link between global warming and rising sea levels.

CSIRO scientist Dr John Church, regarded as Australia’s leading authority on sea level and climate change, said they were clearly connected.

“It is clearly linked to increases in greenhouse gases,” he said.

“Sea level has already increased the rate of rise from the 18th and 19th century. The instrumental record would indicate an acceleration during the 20th century and the projections will indicate a further acceleration during the 21st century.”

Similarly, Professor Thomas Stocker, co-chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group on the physical science of climate change, said sea level rise had been considered for many decades and the observations of its rise were unequivocal.

John Church has also stated The Australian’s story is simply inaccurate. From denial and misrepresentation to having to back track and quote the actual words of scientists? While recanting such falsehoods is positive I fear the damage has been done.

As Mark Twain noted “a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Once more there can be little doubt The Australian has helped fan the flames of climate scepticism.

As proof of this Lloyd’s story has been picked up by the denial echo chamber. Simon over at Australian Climate Madness approvingly quotes Lloyd’s story:

Two great stories from Graham Lloyd in The Australian today. Firstly, we have – shock horror – the ABC spinning its climate reporting by failing to mention stories, inconvenient to its alarmist editorial agenda.

To paraphrase Twain: a sceptic meme will travel across the entire internet before science even has a chance to respond.

However I am somewhat encouraged by the response that is quickly emerging: Graham Readfearn has written an excellent post on this topic while the comments by John Church are helping to blunt the impact of this recent example of denial from The Oz.

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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:

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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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