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The energy revolution is in reverse

April 18, 2014 in Climate, Emissions reductions, Energy, Fossil fuels, Greenhouse Gases, IPCC, Mitigation, Nuclear power, Policy, Shale Gas, Subsidies, Warming

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Not-so-calm waters ahead: The IPCC urges a move away from business as usual Image: Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia Commons

Not-so-calm waters ahead: The IPCC urges a move away from business as usual
Image: Walter Siegmund via Wikimedia Commons

By Henner Weithöner

The UN climate panel’s prescription for tackling climate change is admirably clear. The problem is that the world is heading in precisely the opposite direction.

BERLIN, 18 April – Keeping the rise in global average temperatures to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels will not be prohibitively expensive, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says, though it won’t be easy.

There’s just one problem: the atmospheric facts show that the world is not simply ignoring the IPCC. It’s moving smartly away from the clean energy future that the Panel says is attainable towards an inexorably hotter and more risky future.

Reaching the target will mean cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70% over 2010 levels by mid-century, the IPCC report says. Yet what is happening at the moment is the exact opposite: average global emissions rose by a billion tonnes a year between 2000 and 2010, faster than ever before.

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change as cheaply as possible, the report urges an energy revolution to end the dominance of fossil fuels. The IPCC says  investments in renewable energy need to triple, with subsidies to fossil fuels declining and a switch to natural gas to help countries to get rid of coal.

The path to lower emissions may cost the energy giants dear, the IPCC acknowledges. “Mitigation policy could devalue fossil fuel assets and reduce revenues for fossil fuel exporters,” Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, which produced the report, told a public meeting here. “To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.”

‘Negligible’ cost

Another controversial point is the report’s inclusion of nuclear power as a low-carbon option (it acknowledges that it has declined globally since 1993 and faces safety, financial and waste-management concerns). The report also advocates carbon capture and storage (CCS), noting that it remains untested on a large scale.

But the IPCC insists that diverting hundreds of billions of dollars from fossil fuels into renewable energy and cutting energy waste would shave just 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3%. “Statistically you won’t notice,” said Dr Ryer Gerlagh, a co-ordinating lead author on the economics chapter of the report.

Li Shuo of Greenpeace China said: “Science has spoken: climate action is no burden, it’s an opportunity. As renewable energies are growing bigger, better and cheaper every day, the age of dangerous and polluting coal, oil and gas is over. The only rational response to this report is to start the phase-out of fossil fuels immediately.”

Wrong direction

Global temperatures have risen about 0.8°C since record-keeping started in 1850. Current pledges by governments to reduce emissions by 2020 have set the world on a path to between 3 and 5°C of warming by 2100, the IPCC says.

The Working Group III contribution to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is intended to provide a comprehensive assessment of the options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions. It may have shown that those options exist and are affordable. But that is very far from showing that governments can be persuaded to use them. – Climate News Network

Henner Weithöner is a freelance journalist in Berlin specialising in renewable energy and climate change.

IPCC tries a gamble with shale gas

April 14, 2014 in Adaptation, Coal, Energy, Fracking, Greenhouse Gases, IPCC, Methane, Nuclear power, Renewables, Shale Gas, Solar energy, Wind power

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Non merci: A French protest against drilling for shale gas Image: Camster via Wikimedia Commons

Non merci: A French protest against drilling for shale gas
Image: Camster via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

The latest IPCC report urges a dash for gas to allow us to reduce the burning of coal. And it accepts the use of shale gas, which threatens to be far more polluting than originally thought.

LONDON, 14 April – If you support fracking, you should be pleased with the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC). It’s given the green light to the use of shale gas as a short-term way to slow climate change.

The report is the third and final part of the latest IPCC assessment on climate change (known as AR5). While it puts considerable emphasis on the need for more renewable energy – including solar, wind and hydropower – it says emissions of greenhouse gases can be cut in the medium term by replacing coal with less-polluting gas, though the gas will itself ultimately have to be phased out.

On shale gas, obtained by the controversial fracking process, Ottmar Edenhofer - co-chair of the working group that produced the report – said it was quite clear that the fuel “can be very consistent with low carbon development and decarbonisation”.

Among the objections to fracking is the fact the process releases quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas often reckoned to be at least 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere. That is the comparison we have often used in the Network’s reporting. It’s right, so far as it goes. But by some calculations it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Own goal

Recently an observant reader pointed out that methane is 20 times more potent than CO2 when its impact is measured over a century. But in the short term it is a far greater problem. Over the space of two decades it is estimated to be at least 84 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

Robert Howarth is professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University. He and his colleague Drew Shindell of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have predicted that unless emissions of methane (and black carbon) are reduced immediately, the Earth will warm by 1.5°C by 2030 and by 2.0°C by between 2045 and 2050, whether or not carbon dioxide emissions are reduced.

Professor Howarth puts the global warming potential of methane higher still. He has written: “At the time scale of 20 years following emission, methane’s global warming potential is more than 100-fold greater than for carbon dioxide (Shindell et al. 2009).”

Some critics will conclude that the IPCC’s search for a bridging strategy to move us rapidly to a world of clean energy has scored an own goal by failing to rule out a fuel which entails a large and avoidable increase in greenhouse emissions. The cost of the infrastructure needed to exploit shale gas on a large scale may also work to prolong its use.

Affordable transformation

Ironically, the clean energy world the IPCC seeks need be no more than 15 years away, according to one US expert. Mark Z Jacobson is professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, California, and director of its atmosphere and energy program. He believes that wind, water and solar power can be scaled up cost-effectively to meet the world’s energy demands, ending dependence on both fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Professor Jacobson described in Energy Policy in 2010 how he and a colleague had analysed “the feasibility of providing worldwide energy for all purposes (electric power, transportation, heating/cooling, etc.) from wind, water, and sunlight (WWS)”.

He continued: “We suggest producing all new energy with WWS by 2030 and replacing the pre-existing energy by 2050. Barriers to the plan are primarily social and political, not technological or economic. The energy cost in a WWS world should be similar to that today.”

It sounds like a less risky path to a world of clean energy than the IPCC is urging. Fifteen years to build a different way of fuelling society, or 20 years of watching spiralling methane emissions, seems a no-brainer. – Climate News Network

‘Forget the cost – tackle climate anyway’

April 3, 2014 in Climate finance, Integrated Assessment Models, IPCC, Mitigation, Policy

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Devastation surrounds Table Mountain: "Act on climate change at any cost to keep a habitable world" Image: Dewet via Wikimedia Commons

Devastation surrounds Table Mountain: “Act on climate change at any cost to keep a habitable world”
Image: Dewet via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

Forget the cost of mitigating climate change, say two researchers. It’s impossible to work out how much it will be – and whatever it is, we should do it anyway.

LONDON, 3 April – Two researchers who tried to work out the economics of  reducing global climate change to a tolerable level have come up with a perhaps surprising answer: essentially, we do not and cannot know what it would cost.

Even more surprising, probably, is their conclusion: not knowing is no excuse for not acting. “Mitigating climate change must proceed regardless of long-run economic analyses”, they conclude, “or risk making the world uninhabitable.”

Their report, entitled The economics of mitigating climate change: What can we know?,is published online in Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

The pair are Dr Rich Rosen, who specialises in energy system planning and is a senior fellow of the Tellus Institute, based in Boston, Massachusetts, and Edeltraud Guenther, professor of environmental management and accounting at Dresden University of Technology in Germany.

In a densely-argued analysis of the long-term economics of mitigating climate change they say various kinds of uncertainties raise serious questions about whether or not the net costs and benefits of mitigation over periods as long as 50 years or a century can be known accurately enough to be useful to policymakers and citizens.

Crisis ‘trumps uncertainty’

Technological change, especially for energy efficiency technologies, is a key factor in making the net economic results of mitigation unknowable over the long term, they argue. So policymakers should not base mitigation policy on the estimated net economic impacts computed by integrated assessment models (IAM – models which combine scientific and economic insights).

Instead, “mitigation policies must be forcefully implemented anyway given the actual physical climate change crisis, in spite of the many uncertainties involved in trying to predict the net economics of doing so”.

This argument directly challenges the many politicians and others who insist that governments should adopt policies designed to limit climate change only if they can make a strong economic case for doing so. Essentially, it shifts the ground of the debate from “what is affordable?” to “what is survivable?”

The authors say economic analyses of mitigating climate change rely on flawed sets of IAM results, which are invalidated by uncertainty over future technologies and their costs. They also believe changes in production and consumption patterns will affect mitigation costs.

‘Meaningless’ results

They write: “Since the Western lifestyle can probably not serve as a role model for the life styles of the nine billion people likely to inhabit our planet by 2050, significant but unpredictable changes to consumption and production patterns not incorporated in existing IAMs are likely to occur, adding another layer of uncertainty to the economic calculations made by these IAMs for the net costs and benefits of mitigating climate change.”

“The IPCC and other scientific bodies should no longer report attempts at calculating the net economic impacts of mitigating climate change…”

The authors do not hide their scorn for the results provided by existing IAM scenarios. These, they write, are “not useful because even the simplest comparison of model results yields meaningless results — the uncertainties are too profound.”

They end by posing a question: “Should these findings and conclusions about the inadequacies of current IAMs really matter to policymakers who are trying to figure out when, and to what extent, to implement effective climate change mitigation policies?

Their response is terse: “Our answer is ‘no’, because humanity would be wise to mitigate climate change as quickly as possible without being constrained by existing economic systems and institutions, or risk making the world uninhabitable.” – Climate News Network

Climate change ‘makes violence likelier’

March 31, 2014 in Adaptation, Climate risk, Conflict, El Niño, IPCC, Warming

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A UN peacekeeper chats to local youths in Darfur: Many governments now give high priority to climate change as a security issue Image: © UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

A UN peacekeeper chats to local youths in Darfur: Many governments now regard climate change as a security issue
Image: © UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

By Alex Kirby

Scientists say there is a direct link between changing climate and an increase in violence, reinforcing a key finding of the latest IPCC report.

LONDON, 31 March – US scientists say there is evidence that a warming climate is closely related to political and social instability and a higher risk of conflict.

Professor Solomon Hsiang and colleagues  described in the journal Nature in 2011 how they had investigated whether anything linked “planetary-scale climate changes with global patterns of civil conflict”.

They examined evidence of a possible link between El Niño, the periodic weather disruption off the Pacific coast of South America, which affects the weather and causes higher temperatures across much of the world, and its partner, the cooler La Niña phenomenon, with outbreaks of unrest.

After analysing data from 1950 to 2004, they found that “the probability of new civil conflicts arising throughout the tropics doubles during El Niño years relative to La Niña years.”

They wrote: “This result, which indicates that ENSO may have had a role in 21% of all civil conflicts since 1950, is the first demonstration that the stability of modern societies relates strongly to the global climate” (ENSO, the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, is the scientific term for the cycle of alternating warmer and cooler years).

“Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence”

The work of Professor Hsiang and his colleagues predates one of the key conclusions of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, entitled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, from the IPCC’s Working Group II.

This details the impacts of climate change so far, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce the risks.

The report says: “Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence.” It does not however argue that there is a direct link between climate change and conflict.

Professor Hsiang’s study is cited in a report by a London-based group, the Environmental Justice Foundation, which works to protect the environment and to defend human rights. Its report, The Gathering Storm: Climate Change, Security and Conflict, says the world’s major military powers increasingly regard climate change as a significant threat.

The EJF says: “In 2012, one person every second was displaced by a climate or weather-related natural disaster.

“With millions of people forced to move each year by rapid-onset climate-related hazards and slow-onset environmental degradation, social wellbeing, human rights, economies and even state stability are at risk…at the highest level, climate change is being assessed as a risk to national security and potentially to global stability.”

It identifies several points of concern, including the shrinking of Arctic ice; competition over water resources in Central Asia; sea-level rises and small island developing states; and climate change-induced migration in the Sahel region of Africa.

“We find strong causal evidence linking climatic events to human conflict… across all major regions of the world”

The EJF report says that while climate change may not be the sole cause of conflict in future, it will play an increasingly significant role as “a threat multiplier”.

It cites a 2013 study by Professor Hsiang and others published in Science, an analysis of data drawn from archaeology, criminology, economics, geography, history, political science, and psychology.

The authors write: “We find strong causal evidence linking climatic events to human conflict across a range of spatial and temporal scales and across all major regions of the world.”

They say every 1°C rise in temperature has been estimated to cause a 14% increase of intergroup conflict and a 4% increase of interpersonal violence.

With the possibility of global average temperatures rising by 2-4°C this century, they conclude: “Amplified rates of human conflict could represent a large and critical impact of anthropogenic climate change.”

EJF is campaigning for the recognition of climate change as not simply an environmental problem, but as a human rights issue as well. It wants the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to establish a special rapporteur on human rights and climate change. – Climate News Network

AAAS: Climate risks irreversible change

March 18, 2014 in AAAS, Child Malnutrition, Climate risk, Coastal Threats, Extreme weather, Flooding, Food security, IPCC, Weather

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By Alex Kirby

In a highly unusual intervention in the debate over climate policy, US scientists say the evidence that the world is warming is as conclusive as that which links smoking and lung cancer.

LONDON, 18 March – The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) says there is a “small but real” chance that a warming climate will cause sudden and possibly unalterable changes to the planet.

This echoes the words used in its 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said climate change might bring “abrupt and irreversible” impacts.

A child with kwasiorkor, caused by evere protein deficiency: Child malnutrition may rise by about a fifth Image: Dr Lyle Conrad via Wikimedia Commons

A child with kwashiorkor, caused by evere protein deficiency: Child malnutrition may rise by about a fifth
Image: Dr Lyle Conrad, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, via Wikimedia Commons

In a report, What We Know, the AAAS makes an infrequent foray into the climate debate. The report’s significance lies not in what it says, which covers familiar ground, but in who is saying it: the world’s largest general scientific body, and one of its most knowledgeable.

The AAAS says: “The evidence is overwhelming: levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising. Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying.

“The science linking human activities to climate change is analogous to the science linking smoking to lung and cardiovascular diseases. Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all agree smoking causes cancer.

Few dissenters

“And this consensus among the health community has convinced most Americans that the health risks from smoking are real. A similar consensus now exists among climate scientists, a consensus that maintains climate change is happening, and human activity is the cause.”

The report’s headline messages are unambiguous. It says climate change is occurring here and now: “Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.

“This agreement is documented not just by a single study, but by a converging stream of evidence over the past two decades from surveys of scientists, content analyses of peer-reviewed studies, and public statements issued by virtually every membership organization of experts in this field.

“We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts…Disturbingly, scientists do not know how much warming is required to trigger such changes to the climate system.

Expensive to delay

“The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do…as emissions continue and warming increases, the risk increases”.

The AAAS says there is scarcely any precedent for the speed at which this is happening: “The rate of climate change now may be as fast as any extended warming period over the past 65 million years, and it is projected to accelerate in the coming decades.”

Historically rare extreme weather like once-in-a-century floods, droughts and heat waves could become almost annual occurrences, it says, and there could be large-scale collapses of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, and of part of the Gulf Stream, loss of the Amazon rain forest, die-off of coral reefs, and mass extinctions.

The authors acknowledge that what the AAAS is doing is unusual: “As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do or must believe about the rising threat of climate change.

“But we consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening…”

More child malnutrition

At the end of March the IPCC, the UN’s voice on climate science, is due to release a summary of the report of its Working Group II, on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability to climate change.

The London daily The Independent, which says it has seen a draft of the report’s final version, says it will spell out a prospect of “enormous strain, forcing mass migration, especially in Asia, and increasing the risk of violent conflict.”

The newspaper says the report predicts that climate change “will reduce median crop yields by 2% per decade for the rest of the century”, against a backdrop of rising demand set to increase by 14% per decade until 2050. “This will in turn push up malnutrition in children by about a fifth”, it adds.

Other predictions in the draft, The Independent says, include possible global aggregate economic losses of between 0.2 and 2.0%; more competition for fresh water; and by 2100 hundreds of millions of people affected by coastal flooding and displaced by land loss, mainly in Asia. – Climate News Network

Climate scientists 3 Economists 0

March 14, 2014 in Climate deniers, Climate risk, Economy, Energy, Forecasting, IPCC, Journalism, Population

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Climate scientists are much better at the forecasting game than economists says a new study Image: Eileen Sanda via Wikimedia Commons

Climate scientists are much better at the forecasting game than economists says a new study
Image: Eileen Sanda via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Hold up the trophy. Open the champagne. Climate scientists have easily won the game. According to a recent study, when it comes to the accuracy of forecasts and projections, the climate side is much better at the game  than the economists’ team.

London, 14 March – The study, by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), a UK based independent think-tank, examines the accuracy and precision of projections made by both climate scientists and economists over the past 20 years.

First, the economists. The study looked at measures commonly used in long term UK government economic modelling and decision making, using 1995 as a baseline: the population forecast for England and the forecast for the UK Treasury’s  debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio.

In the US, the forecasts on oil prices over the period made by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) were also examined.

Economic inaccuracies

The NEF finds the economists’ projections both inaccurate and imprecise in all three areas.  The economists saw the population of England growing at a fairly modest level from 1995 to the present – from around 49 million 20 years ago to 51.5 million now.

In fact England’s population has risen steeply, particularly over the past 10 years and is now approaching 54 million.  The UK Treasury’s forecasts on the GDP to forecasts on the debt to GDP ratio fared no better, displaying “a bias towards optimism in government economic forecasts” says the study.

Meanwhile the crystal ball gazing of economists at the EIA was a miserable failure: they predicted oil prices rising on a gentle curve in the 15 years 1995 to 2010. In fact prices have been extremely volatile, rising at some points by more than five times the predicted figure.

And of course, the most damning judgement of the financial boffins forecasting skills is the failure of nearly all economic pundits to predict the 2008 recession.

Better projections

Contrast this with predictions made by climate scientists over the past 20 years, in particular those made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Again the NEF looks at three specific areas of projection – carbon concentration in the atmosphere, the temperature anomaly and forecasts since 1995 of sea level rise.  There can be no doubt of the result, says the study.

“Climate models outperform major economic forecasts on accuracy… global temperature, sea level and carbon concentration have all risen within the ranges originally forecast (by the IPCC) in 1995.”

While on one level this can be looked at as a bit of amusing sparring between two academic disciplines, there is serious business going on here.

The NEF makes the point that despite the dubious track record of economic forecasting, many government policy decisions are based on the data offered up.

Devious deniers

Meanwhile the climate deniers have succeeded in highlighting the narrow bands of uncertainty in the work of climate scientists – stalling action on the issue. Sections of the media collude in this process.

“This emphasis on uncertainty has a negative impact on climate progress” says the report. “It slows down environmental policy and corrodes the public will to act.”

The NEF draws attention to the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report and its revised estimate of certainty – up to 95% – that humans have been the main cause of global warming from 1950 to the present.

“This 95% has a precise scientific meaning. It is higher than the certainty that vitamins are good for your health and equivalent to the certainty that cigarettes cause lung cancer.”

Despite this, the climate denial bandwagon continues to roll along.

“We often hear the argument that climate models are too uncertain to bother taking action, but this is not borne out by the facts” says Aniol Esteban, the head of environmental economics at the NEF.

“We can’t go on making huge policy and investment decisions based on financial advice no more reliable than a coin flip, while at the same time discrediting climate models with a 20 year track record of accuracy. The double standard has to end now.” – Climate News Network

It’s getting hotter in Oz

January 5, 2014 in Australia, Bushfires, Climate deniers, El Niño, Extreme weather, Heatwave, IPCC, Ocean Warming, Temperature Increase

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Drought leaves its mark on Australia - as here in 2010, and in subsequent years Image: Philip Capper, of Wellington, New Zealand, via Wikimedia Commons

Drought leaves its mark on Australia – as here in 2010, and in subsequent years
Image: Philip Capper, of Wellington, New Zealand, via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

As happened in January last year, much of Australia has been enduring a sweltering heatwave over the first days of 2014, with temperatures in excess of 40°C in many areas. Meanwhile 2013 has been confirmed as the country’s hottest year on record.

LONDON, 5 January – It’s official – Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology says 2013 ranked as the country’s warmest year since records began more than a century ago, with the annual national mean temperature 1.2°C above the average.

Along the way, several new temperature records were set: the summer was the warmest on record as was Australia’s spring, while winter was ranked third in the historical warming stakes.

“The past year was characterized by persistent and widespread warmth”, says the Bureau.

“Mean temperatures across Australia have generally been well above average since September 2012. Long periods of warmer than average days have been common, with a distinct lack of cold weather.”

January 7th last year ranks as the hottest single day on record across the country, when the national daily average maximum temperature reached 40.3°C.

Later that month Sydney — usually relatively cool compared with inland areas and cities such as Darwin in the Northern Territory – smashed its own temperature record with the mercury climbing to 45.8°C.  Meanwhile 31 August was the warmest winter day on record across the country.

Denying climate reality

The impact of the warming weather has been clear: though rainfall was above average in some areas and below in others, high temperatures meant devastating bush fires caught hold in many regions over the past 12 months. There were also cyclones and fierce floods with lives lost, homes destroyed and many millions of dollars of damage caused.

The Bureau of Meteorology says that overall Australia’s temperatures have gone up by 1°C over the last century, with the majority of warming occurring since 1950. It says Australia has experienced just one cooler than average year – 2011 — over the last decade: the 10-year mean temperature for 2004-2013 was 0.5°C above average.

The Bureau says sea temperatures have shown a similar increase, with sea surface temperatures in waters around Australia being half a degree Celsius above normal in 2013.

What puzzles scientists is that last year’s warming came when the El Niño weather pattern over the Pacific, usually deemed responsible for heating up eastern areas of Australia in particular, was in a neutral or inactive phase.

Australia is considered by climatologists as being particularly susceptible to global warming. But while the country heats up, many politicians in the conservative Coalition-led government elected to power in September 2013 are intent on rolling back measures aimed at tackling climate change.

Backing from professionals

Tony Abbott, the newly installed prime minister, has insisted he’ll scrap a Clean Energy Bill – dubbed a carbon tax by its critics – which requires polluters such as energy companies to pay for their emissions of greenhouse gases.

The new Government is also encouraging a number of massive coal and other mining projects and repealing taxes on mining company profits. Maurice Newman, a climate change sceptic who has accused the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of “dishonesty and deceit”, has been appointed as chairman of the prime minister’s new Business Advisory Council.

Australia, described by some as “Asia’s quarry” for its mineral export trade, has CO2 emissions of 18.4 tonnes per capita – a figure higher than in the US and almost three times that in the UK.

At the most recent international climate conference in Warsaw, Poland, in November 2013, Australia was accused by a large number of non-governmental organisations and others of not taking the UN’s climate process seriously.

However Australia’s own meteorologists would seem to have no doubts about the IPCC’s work.

“As summarized in the recent IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, recent warming trends have been dominated by the influence of increasing greenhouse gases and the enhanced greenhouse effect”, says the Bureau of Meteorology. – Climate News Network

Earth ‘may be doubly sensitive’ to CO2

December 11, 2013 in Arctic, Climate Sensitivity, IPCC, Ocean acidification, Palaeoclimatology

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Bad news for bears - snd for us: Geological proof as well as models show rising CO2 is melting polar ice Image:Alastair Rae via Wikimedia Commons

Bad news for bears – snd for us: Geological evidence as well as models prove rising CO2 is melting polar ice
Image: Alastair Rae via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

The sensitivity of the Earth system to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide may be twice as great as scientists had thought, new climate records from the distant past suggest.

LONDON, 11 December – You may think the prospect of climate change is alarming, a call to action to slow down our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

You’re almost certainly right. But some scientists are now suggesting you should be much more concerned than you are, because they think we may be seriously underestimating the problem.

The Geological Society of London (GSL) says the sensitivity of the Earth’s climate to CO2 could be double earlier estimates.

The Society has published an addition to a report by a GSL working party in 2010, which was entitled Climate change: Evidence from the Geological Record.
The addition says many climate models typically look at short term, rapid factors when calculating the Earth’s climate sensitivity, which is defined as the average global temperature increase brought about by a doubling of CO2  in the atmosphere.

Scientists agree that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels could result in temperature increases of between 1.5 and 4.5°C, caused by rapid changes such as snow and ice melt, and the behaviour of clouds and water vapour.

But what the GSL now says is that geological evidence from palaeoclimatology (studies of past climate change) suggests that if longer-term factors are taken into account, such as the decay of large ice sheets, the Earth’s sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 could itself be double that predicted by most climate models.

CO2′s significance

Dr Colin Summerhayes, who led the statement’s working group, says: “The climate sensitivity suggested by modern climate models may be fine for the short term, but does not encompass the full range of change expected in the long term…”

But he cautions that there are really two “sensitivities” involved: “Climate sensitivity is what happens in the short term in response to a doubling of CO2. But the Earth system sensitivity is what happens in the longer time frame as ice sheets slowly melt, and as sea level slowly rises.

“…The IPCC focuses on… the climate sensitivity – what will happen in the next 100 years. Earth system sensitivity tells you what happens in the next couple of hundred years after that.”

The GSL’s addition also reports new data showing that temperature and CO2 levels recorded in Antarctic ice cores increase at the same time. This, says Summerhayes, “makes the role of CO2 in changing Ice Age climate highly significant.”

Atmospheric carbon levels are currently just below 400 parts per million (ppm) – a figure last seen  between 5.3 and 2.6 million years ago. Global temperatures were then 2-3°C higher than today, and sea levels were several metres higher, due to partial melting of the Antarctic ice sheet.

If the current rate of increase (2 ppm per year) continues, CO2 levels could reach 600 ppm by the end of this century; levels which, says Summerhayes, “have not been seen for 24 million years”.

Models match palaeoclimate

The new GSL statement outlines evidence that a relatively modest rise in atmospheric CO2 levels and temperature leads to significant sea level rise, with oceans more acidic and less oxygenated. Previous such events caused marine crises and extinctions, with the Earth system taking around 100,000 years to recover.

Dr Summerhayes said: “We now have even more confidence from the geological record that the only plausible explanation for current warming is the unprecedented exponential rise in CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

“Recent compilations of past climate data, along with astronomical calculations, show that changes in the Earth’s orbit and axis cooled the world over the past 10,000 years. This cooling would normally be expected to continue for at least another 1,000 years.

“And yet Arctic palaeoclimate records show that the period 1950-2000 was the warmest 50 year interval for 2,000 years. We should be cool, but we’re not.”

He told Climate News Network: “The main implication from my perspective is that the geological record tells us that increasing CO2 increases temperature, melts ice, and raises sea level. This we know independently of any fancy numerical model run by climate scientists.

“However, those climate scientists’ models happen to come up with about the same answer as we get from the geological record, which suggests that the modellers  are likely to be on the right track.” – Climate News Network

Warsaw – Day 7: World ‘neglects climate impact on food’

November 17, 2013 in Adaptation, Development Issues, Food security, IPCC, UNFCCC

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Harvesting beans in Ethiopia: Small farmers hold the keys to resilience Image: USAID Africa Bureau via Wikimedia Commons

Harvesting beans in Ethiopia: Small farmers hold the keys to resilience
Image: USAID Africa Bureau via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

With the UN climate talks in Warsaw at their mid-point, a fringe meeting is debating the future of agriculture in a warming world. A senior scientist tells the Climate News Network of her deep misgivings for the future.

LONDON, 17 November – Global leaders are failing to respond to the threat posed by climate change to the growing challenge of feeding the world, a leading agricultural researcher says.

They do not treat the problem seriously, and they are ignoring the warnings of science about what is liable to happen.

Yet, she says, there is much more evidence available than there was a few years ago, and the future it describes is cause for great concern.

The criticism comes from Dr Sonja Vermeulen, who heads the CGIAR research programme on climate change, agriculture and food security (CCAFS).

She was speaking to the Climate News Network as the UN climate negotiations – the 19th conference of the parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, COP 19 – got under way in the Polish capital, Warsaw.

Unsettling prospect

Dr Vermeulen said: “I think the COPs are moving too slowly, and global leaders are not taking the problem of food security under climate change seriously enough.

“They’re not sitting up and taking notice of Working Group II of the IPCC. I know that what we’ll get from that this time is a much larger body of evidence than in 2007 on food production – and the picture is not rosy.”

The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released the first part of its Fifth Assessment Report, AR5, two months ago. The second part to be published will be a summary for policy makers of a report by the Panel’s Working Group II, on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability to climate change. It is due to be published in early 2014.

A draft copy of the summary was leaked before the Warsaw COP began. It is liable to amendment before publication. The draft says that “climate change will reduce median yields [of the major crops, wheat, rice and maize] by 0 to 2% per decade for the rest of the century…in a context of rising crop demand projected to increase by about 14% per decade until 2050″.

Dr Vermeulen said some low-income countries now saw less hope of financial flows from richer countries through the Climate Convention process to help them to adapt to climate change. But CCAFS had published a report describing the success some of them had achieved in adapting by their own and their partners’ efforts.

“I believe a certain amount can be achieved by going it alone in this way”, she said. “But we do need to reduce emissions, otherwise there will always be a temptation, without an international agreement, to freeload on others’ actions.

Selective science

“We still hope the UNFCCC process will come up with a programme on agriculture. We need that guidance globally, and some areas – like the food trade – just can’t be tackled at a national level.
“I’m trying all the time to be optimistic. There are some international funds available for smallholders, for example through the International Fund for Agricultural Development. It’s about US$300 m – not a lot, but there’s something there.

“Science does inform discussion at the COPs, but when politicians debate they cherry-pick what parts of the science to talk about.”

Delegates to the Warsaw conference, now in its second and final week, have expressed dismay at the failure to include agriculture and forestry in the current climate change negotiations.

They want people to move out of their silos of climate change, agriculture, forestry and urban land use and to address the question of how the world can produce enough food for nine billion people by 2050 without destroying the Earth’s forests and accelerating climate change. – Climate News Network

Warsaw – Day 6: Prepare now for 4°C rise

November 16, 2013 in Australia, Climate, Health, IPCC, UNFCCC, Warming

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Floods in Australia: Parts of the country could soon be uninhabitable because of rising heat Image: Roderick Breis via Wikimedia Commons

Floods in Australia: Rising heat could make parts of the country uninhabitable
Image: Roderick Breis via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown in Warsaw

Paul Brown, a Climate News Network editor, is in the Polish capital, host of the UN climate talks – the 19th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Continuing his coverage of COP 19, he reports on the warning of heat to come given by a scientist to a fringe meeting.

UN bodies and health authorities are being advised to prepare for a world temperature rise of 4°C because scientists no longer believe that politicians are capable of holding the temperature rise below the internationally agreed limit, 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Mark Maslin, professor of climatology at University College in London, was speaking at a conference here which also heard that some parts of the world were already in danger of becoming too hot for humans to inhabit.

Science and health professionals were invited by the Global Climate and Health Alliance to assess this bleak future for the human race at the end of the first week of climate talks, where little progress has been made to slow global warming.

Wrong kind of politicians

Professor Maslin said: “We are already planning for a 4°C world because that is where we are heading. I do not know of any scientists who do not believe that. We are just not tackling the enormity of the task we face to keep it below the agreed 2°C danger threshold.

“If we had the kind of politicians we really need we could still put in place policies that can save the planet from going over the danger level. But there is no evidence at the moment that we have that quality of politicians, so we all have to be prepared for the most likely scenario, which is a 4°C rise in temperature. If we do not prepare to adapt we simply won’t be able to.”

Professor Maslin said that scientists were in a Catch 22 situation. They wanted to tell politicians that it was still possible to save the planet and had shown how to do it in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released in September. At the same time scientists were aware that there was not the political appetite to deal with the problem.

He said all UN bodies were now being advised to prepare for a rise of 4°C, because there is no evidence to show that the world is prepared to turn away from the present pathway of rising carbon emissions.

Currently the temperature has risen 0.8°C on pre-industrial levels, and with the increase this year to 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it will rise further towards the 2°C threshold.

Professor Maslin said: “I think everybody outside the scientific arena has underestimated the size of the problem.”  The average American emits 16 tons of carbon dioxide a year, the average UK citizen 8 tons and the average Chinese 5 tons.

Every country, he said, had to reduce their citizens’ emissions to 2 tons per person to avoid dangerous climate change. “That is a big ask, particularly for a country like China which is still growing fast.”

Dr. Liz Hanna, from the Australian National University’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said parts of her country were already reaching the threshold° where it was impossible for normal life to continue because of the heat.

Killing their workers

She said the Australian Government was ignoring climate change and still expecting places like Darwin to expand. But that was unlikely because they would soon become untenable.  “If employers ask people to continue to work in temperatures above 37°C, they will be killing them in increasing numbers,” she said.

Dr Hanna said humans were well suited to living in cool conditions and felt comfortable in temperatures between 20°C and 23°C because their muscles produced heat from within.

But in parts of Arizona, Australia and India temperatures were reaching – and for days staying above – the thermal maximum of endurance, which was around 37°C, the core heat of the human body.  Above that temperature, and sometimes below, depending on the combination of heat, humidity and air speed, keeping cool put too much strain on the heart and people began to die.

She said that she was studying how human societies could survive such daytime temperatures and continue to work. “There could be some night working, or people could work, rest in cool rooms, and then work again, but their productivity would drop and it would be economically unviable to have factories or farms in such conditions.”

Her researches were focusing on how to keep essential services like farming, police, ambulance, district nurses, construction and mining going in a warming world. “Obviously these people will be risking their lives if they continue to try and work outside when the ambient temperature is above 37°C,” she said. – Climate News Network