Category Archives: Adaptation

Season of purgatory: the “new Australian summer” revealed in Victoria’s current bushfire emergency

Almost five years to the day after Black Saturday, Victoria finds itself in the grip of another bushfire emergency.

Thankfully there are no reported deaths, however at least 20 homes have been destroyed. The fires have caused major disruption, skirting the northern suburbs and putting the Hazelwood power station at risk.

The Age is providing excellent coverage on their website.

We must now come to terms with the fact that each summer is now a season of purgatory.

Summer is not merely the season to catch the Boxing Day test or escape to the beach. It is now a time to anxiously watch the weather and scan the horizon for the tell-tale signs of a fire.

This is the “New Australian Summer”.

Sure, some summers will be less extreme than others.

But as global temperatures continue to rise (in response to increasing quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere) we can expect the fires to come with greater frequency and ferocity.

As I have noted it is time we began discussions adapting to these changed conditions.

Several strategies come to mind:

  • a phased strategic retreat from at risk areas in the state (or country)
  • a greater investment in emergency services and management
  • changes to planning and development
  • changes to infrastructure.

With little doubt, by the middle of this century our hands will be forced.

Now is the time to start the conversation.

[Image source: The Age]

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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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Inspiring stuff: Melbourne a global leader in sustainabilty, creates jobs and a livable city


Permit me to exhibit a bit of home town pride, but the city of Melbourne has recetnly been recognised as a leader in sustainability:

The City of Melbourne has been recognised as a global leader in cultivating green buildings, receiving a prestigious international award.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was presented with the C40 and Siemens Climate Leadership Award in the category of Energy Efficient Built Environment at a ceremony in London overnight. Berlin and New York were also shortlisted for the award.

“Melbourne, the most liveable city in the world, has now been recognised as having some of the smartest buildings in the world,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We know that sustainability and liveability are inexorably linked. For us to maintain a high standard of living we need to set the highest standards in sustainability.

“Every piece of research tells me that a sustainable city with high quality of life will attract the best and brightest and that’s what drives innovation and economic growth.

“We know that our retrofitting program 1200 Buildings is expected to generate economic uplift of $2 billion and create 8000 jobs. Research  suggests that the Gross Local Product of the City of Melbourne increased from $58 billion in 2008 to $68 billion in 2012. Employment has received a major boost with 50,000 additional jobs created over the same period. The construction and building industries, professional services and downstream real estate services have experienced the largest jobs growth,” he said.

Melbourne’s pioneering efforts to create an energy efficient landscape for retrofitting existing buildings and setting minimum standards for new buildings have led to the highest density of new green buildings in Australia.

“We are providing building owners with the tools and the know-how to reduce energy use, save water and lower carbon emissions. If you need finance to enable a retrofit, we can facilitate it through the Sustainable Melbourne Fund.

“Our unique Environmental Upgrade Finance mechanism, using council rates to provide the security for the loan, has now been replicated in other municipalities in Australia,” the Lord Mayor said.

Environment Portfolio Chair Councillor Arron Wood said the award reflected the commitment Melbourne’s building owners, businesses and residents were making to a sustainable future.

“We couldn’t have received this award without their dedication. Melbourne’s bold and inspirational vision has been recognised internationally and this will spur our innovative businesses to ramp up action for a more sustainable built environment,” Cr Wood said.

“Our work doesn’t stop here. We will continue to work with these key groups to reach new targets and standards to create a truly sustainable Melbourne.”

Other sustainable building initiatives supported by the City of Melbourne include CitySwitch for tenants of office buildings and Smart Blocks for apartment owners.

Who are those people who think the “Green Agenda” is there to destroy the economy and reduce us to living in caves?

Ohhhhh that’s right… the nutters [/wink].

I <heart> Melbounre.

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


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?


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?


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Saving the Great Barrier Reef: is it in our own self interest?

The GBT seen from space (source: NASA)

The GBR seen from space (source: NASA)

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the true wonders of the planet, however thanks to climate change and development it is as risk.

The United Nations has let the Australian Federal and Queensland State government know that they plan to list it as an endangered world heritage site:

The United Nations has put the Queensland and federal governments on notice that the Great Barrier Reef could be added to a list of endangered world heritage sites. 

In a draft decision released Friday night, expected to be adopted when UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee meets in Cambodia next month, it will be recommended the Great Barrier Reef be included in the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2014 ‘‘in the absence of a firm and demonstrable commitment’’ from the state and federal governments to take action…

Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said it was worrying that Australia was on the brink of joining the ‘‘list of shame’’ as a country that could not manage its world heritage sites.

‘‘Australia would be the only developed country in the world to have a world heritage site on endangered list. It would be a huge international embarrassment and it would be a big blow to our tourism industry,’’ she said.

‘‘We’ve got 54,000 people who rely on a healthy reef and a thriving tourism industry and those jobs would be at risk if international tourists think, ‘Oh, the reef’s on the endangered list, gee it must be completely trashed, we won’t bother coming to visit’.‘‘It would be a massive blow to the tourism industry, which is about $5 billion a year in revenue and that’s revenue we could have for years to come – it’s not just a one-off mining boom.’’

I’ve only visited the reef once but count it as one of the most memorable experiences of my life. It is a place of extraordinary beauty. It also provides many Australians with a livelihood, supporting a $5 billion a year industry.

But is that only way we should we value the reef? Should we consider its own intrinsic value – and those of the myriad of species that live among it – or do we value it in purely economic terms and the aesthetic value it provides to us?

Do we simply sweep aside any concerns about environmental degradation and species loss and place the interests of humanity – and the economy – first?

Should we save the Great Barrier Reef?

The interests of humanity, other species and ecosystems  are not mutually exclusive: there is a relatedness between all species and environments. This includes not only natural environments, but urban ones as well.

Humanity is not separate to nature: our civilisation has become a geologic force of nature by ushering in the Anthropocene.  No part of the planet has escaped the impact of our footfall.

So, let us think of the planet as a continuum of environments: from the great cities of the world to the frozen wilds of Antarctica. At risk environments such as the GBR demand our attention because they are at risk: they are fragile, and the loss of the reef would impact both species and the people whose livelihood depend upon it.

Thus – put crudely – in protecting the GBR the interests of humanity, the reef and the many species it hosts converge.

In preserving the reef we save a place of extraordinary natural beauty, maintain a $5 billion a year industry and – just as importantly – help sustain an ecosystem that supports countless species.

The continuum of urban, natural and at risk environments: managing the planet

[Warning: speculation ahead!]

Now extend this kind of thinking to the continuum of both urban and natural environments. Every part of the planet is inter-related: from the atmosphere, to the oceans, farmlands, cities, the suburbs and remaining wild spaces.

The Earth is now a system of both anthropogenic and natural systems – each impacting the other. The system we call the economy is embedded within and impacts systems such as the carbon cycle. A warming planet will impact our economic system in the form of increased weather extremes and the destruction of property. Likewise there will be increased economic opportunities driven by a warming planet – investment in alternative energy and the redistribution of agricultural production to more benign parts of the globe.

This kind of systems approach does not distinguish between natural and man-made systems – such distinctions are now meaningless.

What defines humanity: our intelligence as a species or our impact on the planet? 

Planetary boundaries: how we impact the planet

We presently view the Anthropocene as a tragedy: the sixth great extinction and a period of immanent environmental collapse.

At the same time we are continually urged to “save the planet”, however I don’t see it that way: calls to save abstract notions as “the environment” fall in deaf ears. And for good reason.

I take an exception to those environmentalists who believe we can return the world to a pristine state: there is no going back to some romanticized pre-civilisational Eden. There are billions who still live in poverty who need to be lifted from the conditions that prevent their flourishing. We cannot overlook the need to redress such inequality.

And yet, to return to my original point, the interests of humanity and other species converge.

Climate sceptics deny we’re having such an impact on the planet. And yet many environmentalists deny the end of nature. Ironically both sceptics and environmentalists deny the role our species has to play in actively managing the planet.

Our environmental policies, governance arrangements and crucially how we view ourselves need to change: what defines us as a species is not our intelligence, societal structure, economic system or even the constitution of our genes.

What defines humanity is the act of geoengineering. 

So its good-bye homo sapiens and hello homo ingeniare. 

I say this somewhat facetiously – but to make a point. How we see ourselves and the world matters.

For thousands of years we have been accidental geoengineers: at this point in history the future of our species and all others depends on us accepting the role of self conscious planetary engineers.  

After all, it is in our own self-interest.

Sunday morning musings

….hopefully the above makes some sense. Treat this post as my Sunday morning musings over coffee.

My thinking has been shaped by environmental philosopher Bryan Norton and his “convergence hypothesis” outlined in his 1991 book Towards unity among environmentalists. I’m also interested in the writings of Anthony Weston who has written on environmental pragmatism. Also consider Eaarth by Bill McKibbon; The God Species by Mark Lynas; The New Nature by Tim Low; Here on Earth by Tim Flannery; Earth Masters by Clive Hamilton; and Al Gore’s The Future. In addition concepts such as planetary boundaries.

There is a great deal of literature on this subject, and I appreciate I’m not doing it justice – or my own thoughts.

Being somewhat overwhelmed at work I have little time to write – thus the sparsity of posts. So feel free to agree, argue or pass over these musings.


Mike @ WtD

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Climate change: is victory at hand?

Author Paul Gilding (who I very much admire) has written an interesting post, claiming that victory is at hand:

There are signs the climate movement could be on the verge of a remarkable and surprising victory. If we read the current context correctly, and if the movement can adjust its strategy to capture the opportunity presented, it could usher in the fastest and most dramatic economic transformation in history. This would include the removal of the oil, coal and gas industries from the economy in just a few decades and their replacement with new industries and, for the most part, entirely new companies. It would be the greatest transfer of wealth and power between industries and countries the world has ever seen.

Gilding suggests that we saw a significant shift in the public debate last year, and that this will lead to a profound shift in both the debate and official responses:

I have come to this conclusion after reflecting on a year when an avalanche of new knowledge and indicators made both tipping points clear. The first and perhaps the best understood is the rapid acceleration in climate impacts, reinforcing the view many hold that the scientific consensus on climate has badly underestimated the timing and scale of climate impacts. The melting of the Arctic Sea Ice, decades before expected, was the poster child of this but extreme weather and temperature records across the world, notably in the USA, suggested this Arctic melting is a symptom of accelerating system change. 

It also became clear that this was literally just the “warm up” act – that we are currently heading for a global temperature increase of 4°C or more, double the agreed target. 

In response came a series of increasingly dire warnings from conservative bodies like the International Energy Agency, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Perhaps most colourfully, the IMF chief and former conservative French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, said that without strong action “future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled”. The World Bank was similarly blunt about the economic consequences of our current path: “there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.”

I’m less sanguine: I agree, last year we saw a shift in the debate with greater numbers of the public accepting the science. However, public acceptance of the science is notoriously fickle.

The real question is how fast our civilisation responds.

Time may be against us.

At this point it is very much a race against tipping points.

Will the coalition direct plan work? Not likely… (reprint)

Tim from New Anthropocene (and a researcher at Monash University) has a great piece up on The Conversation on the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan (DAP). The question is – will it work? Most likely not. In order to be effective, we’d need to plant trees in an area twice the size of Sydney by 2020. Congratulations Tim – a great piece. And good to see his work getting the audience it deserves.

By Tim Lubcke, Monash University

The Coalition has promised that if it takes government in September, it will get rid of the price on carbon emissions established by the Australian Labor Party. In its place, the party will implement a Direct Action Plan, its way of reducing emissions. This plan relies mainly on carbon sequestration and funding industrial improvements through taxpayer-funded initiatives.

While the Direct Action Plan outline has been removed from the Coalition website, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and the shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage, Greg Hunt, continue to state the plan is their climate initiative.

What does the Direct Action Plan promise to do?

The plan says:

The single largest opportunity for CO2 emissions reduction in Australia is through bio-sequestration in general, and in particular, the replenishment of our soil carbons. It is also the lowest cost CO2 emissions reduction available in Australia on a large scale.

Through the Emissions Reduction Fund a Coalition Government will commit to a “once in a century” replenishment of our national soils and farmlands.

Through the Fund we will support up to 85 million tonnes per annum of CO2 abatement through soil carbons by 2020 – and reserve the right to increase this, subject to progress and evaluation.

The favoured sequestration strategy is soil carbon storage. This methodology is still controversial, and a review by CSIRO demonstrates the large uncertainties involved in long term storage of carbon in soil.

Because of these difficulties, the Coalition may need to supplement soil sequestration at least in part, if not entirely, with more certain sequestration methodologies, namely tree plantation, if it is to have any impact on Australia’s net CO2 emissions.

The plan does include forestry measures. And on February 5, 2013, Greg Hunt confirmed on ABC News Breakfast that tree plantation would make up part of the plan.

I analysed the sequestration component of the plan to test its viability. To ensure the plan was given the best chance for success within this analysis, the selected assumptions were purposely designed in its favour.

This largely involved assuming soil sequestration would work and that, if not, the best quality plantations could be established and that the necessary high quality land could be sourced.

The species I selected as sequesters were the Tasmanian Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus) and Shining Gum (E. nitens), with optimum wood density of 600kg per cubic metre and an annual yield of 30 to 35 cubic metres of wood per hectare.

Can it be done?

A relatively modest reduction of 5% below the Australian emissions of CO2 in 1990 yielded a sequestration target of around 77 million m3 of wood per annum.

Sequestration within biomass accounts for around 50% of that biomass’ dry weight. For this reason, sequestration becomes a major project if expected to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions on the order of many millions of tonnes.

To achieve the pledged return of an annual 85 million tonnes of CO2, Australian wood production would need to be around four times what it currently is by 2020. The minimum land requirements for this additional wood production would be close to two times the size of Sydney by 2020.

As my analysis relied upon the most optimistic assumptions, real-world limits to tree plantation were ignored and optimal yield was used. The real scale of the Direct Action Plan would be much larger physically, in management and in cost, with real world conditions.

If tree plantation becomes the favoured option, this also presents the additional land and fire management requirements of such a large project.

Sequestration will play a role in mitigation of anthropogenic climate change. However, it would need to be of an immense size, spatially and financially, if it is considered a primary activity, rather than complementary.

In short, while sequestration is of value, to rely upon it at this magnitude is unlikely to be viable, especially by 2020.

Is it cost-effective?

Sequestration is of value, but the scale the Direct Action Plan calls for appears unlikely to be viable, especially by 2020, and is likely to become very expensive as the scale is adjusted over time to deal with increasing emissions reduction targets.

It is unfeasible to imagine that any sequestration initiative of the magnitude required can be achieved without significant additional expense.

Placing this hand-in-hand with funding improvements to industrial efficiency increases the cost to the taxpayer. In the case of the latter, this would be to the benefit of polluters. The Coalition has stated that this will be achieved without further taxes. The only other option is a retraction of standing public services.

The ultimate goal will necessarily be to achieve carbon neutrality. In this case, soil sequestration simply could not fulfil such obligations without major shifts away from a carbon driven economy – we will have to reduce emissions if we hope to sequester all we create.

The Direct Action Plan seems unlikely to be a viable counter pathway to the established price on carbon, because a carbon price has intrinsic market-based motivators to decouple carbon emissions from economic growth.

Ultimately, a quick analysis demonstrates the plan is very unlikely to provide the returns promised by the Coalition and is most likely to increase in cost beyond what has been promised by the Coalition. This is especially true if the Coalition eventually plans to scale up to meet future reduction targets or if it becomes necessary to scale up, simply due to returns failing to meet current targets.

The full report, A Review of the Viability of the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, can be downloaded here.

Tim Lubcke 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.


Obama “trust the science” while talk of an Amercian carbon tax begins: the ground is shifting

Reasons for some optimism perhaps. Firstly, Obama made climate change the centre piece of his State of the Union Address:

In a soaring inaugural speech, Obama defined the climate crisis as a moral issue for the generations. For his follow-up act, the president must persuade Americans that climate change is a clear and present threat to their daily lives and their livelihoods, requiring action now, said Paul Bledsoe, who directed the White House climate change taskforce under Bill Clinton. 

“I think he has to frame climate change as an issue here, now, and as a threat. I think he has to frame it as a domestic issue – not a global issue,” he said. “The challenge is to frame climate change as an issue with large costs that are only going to grow. That is his biggest opportunity. That is what he has to do.” 

Obama does something that many politicians have failed to do: state emphatically there is good reason to “trust the science”:

Great quote: “If congress won’t act to protect future generations, I will”

But Obama also promises to open up more oil and gas permits.

Just as interesting, but overlooked so far, are recent moves to introduce a tax on carbon in the United States. The following article in The Nation explains:

Only an hour before President Obama is expected to deliver his State of the Union address—in which he might “go big” on the issue of combating climate change—two Senators announced they will introduce comprehensive climate change legislation this week, presenting a possible vehicle in the Senate for Obama’s ambitions.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer will outline the legislation on Thursday morning. Details are scant, though it’s being billed as “major” and “comprehensive” legislation, and will have a carbon tax…

As many know, the Waxman-Markey “cap-and-trade” bill introduced in 2009 but was abandoned. It was regarded as a victory for fossil fuel and polluting interests.

However, such legislation was always going to resurface – the efforts of vested interests and the denial machine are merely rearguard actions designed to delay such initiatives.

Like Big Tobacco their intent was to stall the inevitable.

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Death, taxes and climate change: the three things now inevitable – or what does the insurance industry have to say about climate?

The tragic fires in Tasmania remind us of the profound impacts a disaster can have on individuals and communities.

As I’ve stated many times I view climate change through a risk management prism: increasing levels of CO2 and other green houses gases lead to higher temperatures as more heat is trapped in our atmosphere – this changes the climate system, raising the number of extreme events. These events can shatter lives, property and communities.

Of course I’m not alone in this view: for many years the insurance industry has been alert to the risks posed by climate change.

The above graph clearly shows an increase in climate, meteorological and hydro-logical related catastrophes in North America since 1980: note these are contrasted to geophysical events which remain relatively steady for the same period.

It looks like a pattern to me.

What do you think?

Cue the sceptics excuses and hand waving…

That hot bed of socialism and advocates for the New World Order, the Insurance Council of Australia published a paper on the issue of climate change in 2008. It provides an insight into how that industry perceives the risks associated with climate change:

In Australia 19 of the 20 largest property losses in the previous 40 years have been weather related. It is in this context that general insurance products provide essential risk cover for Australians. The industry provides a financial recovery mechanism from weather related catastrophes by evaluating, pricing and spreading the risk of such events, and then paying claims when they arise.

The general insurance industry therefore has a heightened awareness of climate change driven by predictions of an increasing number of extreme weather events.

For some decades the global industry has been involved in research concerning the impacts of extreme weather events on communities and has keenly followed the results of climate change research as it has been matured by the scientific community.

There is agreement in the scientific community that a level of climate change can now be described as ‘locked in’ or as ‘unavoidable’. This is regardless of even the most aggressive of mitigation and greenhouse reduction proposals. 

These ‘locked in’ changes will arrive on the back of an Australian environment that already has a rich history of weather related natural disasters. On this basis there is a strong need to adapt human behavior to not only predicted increases in extremes but to the current level of extreme weather events that occur in Australia.

The focus for the general insurance industry is to assist in increasing community resilience to extreme weather events as they manifest now and how they may manifest into the future.

Climate change is not a belief or a religion. It is not a hoax cooked up by scientists, or part of a decades long plan by the Illuminati to take over the world.

It is a risk to business, personal property and communities.

It’s that simple. 

Climate sceptics are like uninsured home owners pretending there aren’t any risks and that all that talk about burglaries, house fires or personal illness are phantom menaces cooked up by the greedy insurance industry. It is not merely folly, but a fantasy version of reality.

In life three things are now inevitable, of which none will escape: death, taxes and climate change.

For those with the clarity of vision and courage to embrace this truth it is time to plan and adapt to this reality.

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 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:


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:


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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