Last week school children of Australia marked the card of the Morrison government on climate change and gave it a fail. Was this too harsh?
On Q&A last Monday a Melbourne boy called Marco asked the panel:
- “I’m greatly concerned about my future and the future of children all around the world who will suffer the consequences of climate change more than anyone else,” Marco said.
“A few days ago thousands of students from around Australia, like me, went on strike from school to demand that the Government acts on climate change.
“When will the Government start to care about my future and children around the world by acting on climate change and create a strong climate policy?”
Q&A panelist, former South Australian Liberal senator Amanda Vanstone, said she was saddened by Marco’s perspective.
“It makes me sad to hear a young person say ‘people don’t care about my future’,” Ms Vanstone said.
“Both the major parties have got policies. They disagree about them. They both have policies. Emissions are coming down. Some people want them faster. But to just give the impression to young people that nobody cares I think is a bad thing.”
Marco was clearly not impressed. Nor should he be. Here’s the trend in emissions from the latest Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: June 2018:
Up since Abbott junked the emissions trading scheme introduced by the Gillard government. And here’s the growth rate:
That’s the biggest increase for a very long time.
The Australia Institute have been doing a regular audit of our greenhouse emissions. Their latest Stay on target – Update, Nov, 2018 tells another story about Australia’s perfidy. First I’ll give you the graphs.
This is Australia’s longer term emissions story without LULUCF:
LULUCF is about land use and forestry. In Australia the biggest factor is vegetation management practices and legislation in Queensland. Here’s the graph with LULUCF included:
- During the negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol, while all other developed countries committed to reduce emissions, Australia – through a special deal negotiated by the Howard Government – was allowed to increase emissions by eight per cent over the period of 2008–2012 on 1990 levels.
The Howard Government also had an article inserted into the protocol that became known as the “Australia clause”, which allowed Australia to include carbon emissions from land clearing. This meant that Australia met its first Kyoto commitment by making small changes to land clearing laws. If we exclude changes from land clearing and land use emissions, over the first Kyoto period Australia’s emissions increased by 28 per cent.
I’m not sure I’d call the changes to land clearing laws “small”. Queensland farmers and pastoralists have a different story. To continue:
- Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries that beat their first commitment were able to bank and use those excess credits to meet their second commitment. With its special clause Australia easily reached its first commitment and was therefore granted these credits. At the Paris climate conference in 2015, almost all other nations, including the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, cancelled those credits accrued from the first period – to send a positive signal of support for an ambitious climate agreement.
However the current Coalition Government did not cancel their credits and instead is using them to meet their second commitment target. Australia’s second commitment was to reduce emissions by five per cent on 2000 levels in 2020. With special credits from the first commitment, Australia is currently on track to meet that target.
According to the Government’s own emissions projections, emissions in 2020 will be the same as its emissions in 2000. This means that the entire five per cent decrease will be achieved from the credits received from beating the first Kyoto commitment. Those credits in turn were achieved not through reducing emissions, but through special deals that saw Australia achieve the target without any real changes and while increasing emissions over that period by 28 per cent.
Apart from the Rudd-Gillard years, Australia has put in a very determined effort to avoid its responsibilities. In relation to the Paris Agreement our commitment of 26-28% reductions by 2030 are pathetic considering our emissions per capita are more than double many OECD countries.
The government’s own Department of the Environment and Energy has done a projection of our expected performance in relation to our pathetic target. It shows that emissions will continue to increase, and by 2030 will be 128 million tonnes per annum above target. Here’s the graph:
In truth, either they are asleep at the wheel, or they just don’t care. I’d suggest it’s the latter. From another angle, the Coalition have been acting like dishonest climate denialists. They pretend to care about climate change, but act as though it is no problem at all. And we are fooling no-one. Since Abbott became PM we’ve been champs at the ‘Fossil of the Day” awards handed out at the annual UNFCCC COP conferences (2018 currently underway):
The one achievement the Australian government can claim since the election of the Coalition government in 2013 is a virtual mortgage of the Fossil of the Day awards at the annual UN-sponsored climate talks.
The awards – handed out by NGOs united under the Climate Action Network-International banner, are handed out on a daily basis during the two-week negotiations, which in 2015 culminated in the Paris climate treaty, aiming to keep average global warming well below 2°C.
Australia has dominated the awards at the last few COPs (conference of the parties) ever since the Warsaw COP when then prime minister Tony Abbott ordered the Australia delegation to do an about-face on its previous negotiating stances.
However, looking abroad to see how the rest of the world is performing gives little comfort. Michael Davies-Venn takes a look at the state of play in The “Klimakanzlerin” Takes A Bow And Leaves A Vacuum now that Angela Merkel is winding back her role, not even attending the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) in Poland.
Merkel, new in her job in 2007, scored when she got George W Bush on board at least paying lip service and participating in a multinational effort at the Heiligendamm meeting of the G7. Around the same time she performed the impossible in herding cats to get the EU to adopt meaningful targets. However, the reaction to the Fukushima nuclear meltdown was a serious misstep when she acceded to pressure from the Greens to elevate replacing Germany’s nuclear power stations to top priority. Hence:
Germany continues to burn coal with Merkel as chancellor. 20.68 Gigawatt (GW) of brown coal and 27.64 GW of hard coal were being burnt when she took office. Today, 21.20 GW and 25.05 GW respectively are still being burnt.
From this graph we can see that German electricity generation has been increasing by means of renewables, but so far, emissions from fossil fuels remain about the same:
Davies-Venn’s summary of what other countries are doing reveal an alarming lack of effectiveness.
- It is still possible to keep global warming below 2°C, but the technical feasibility of bridging the 1.5°C gap is dwindling.
- Global CO2 emissions increased in 2017, after a three-year period of stabilization.
- If the emissions gap is not closed by 2030, it is extremely unlikely that the 2°C temperature goal can still be reached.
This is how the yawning gap looks:
Here’s what the biggest emitters have been doing:
But it’s not just them. UNEP found that by 2020 some 53 countries, representing 40 percent of global emissions, will have peaked, if commitments are fulfilled.
By 2030 up to 57 countries only, representing 60 percent of global emissions, will have peaked.
If 2°C is to be achieved countries must raise their ambition by 3 times. To achieve 1.5°C, make it 5 times.
The biggest problem, though, is that as I explained in IPCC on 1.5°C: the target is wrong, but we have a strong wake-up call 1.5°C is the wrong goal. We don’t know what will happen when the temperature increases by 1.5°C. We know that the climate is already dangerous, and that sea level rise will continue for millennia. (See also Ice sheet decay spells danger from sea level rise.) We knew back in 2014 that the Game is up, there is no burnable carbon if we want a safe climate. In 2013 David Spratt warned that
“preserving more than 10 per cent of coral reefs worldwide would require limiting warming to below +1.5°C (atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) range: 1.3–1.8°C) relative to pre-industrial levels”.
That is, with +1.5°C about 90% of reefs worldwide may well be gone. Do we seriously want to save the Great Barrier Reef?
James Hansen says we should turn the heat dial down to 350 ppm, that is 350 parts per million of CO2, and that assumes that other greenhouse gases will by neutralised. In effect, since additional greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide are equivalent to about about a quarter of CO2, or a fifth of the whole, he is saying, turn the dial down to 280ppm which is where it was before the industrial age.
So if you want to know how well the world is doing, check the graph at NASA:
In October 2018 CO2 levels were at 409 with no sign that they had been stable for several years before 2017 as asserted by UNEP.
The point here is that UNEP calculate emissions by adding up reports from countries, which, if you check the actual atmosphere, turn out to be an underestimate. This is a problem no-one seems to be bothering about.
Another graph worth watching is ocean heat content, which I looked at in Climate clippings 226.
Upwards of 90% of the heat trapped by human-emitted greenhouse gases goes into the oceans, so this is one of the graphs that must flatten if we are going to have any luck in containing global warming:
Unfortunately no evidence of progress yet. Heat from the ocean can be transferred to the atmosphere, especially in El Niño years.
An increase in ocean heat content will result in surface temperature increase over the medium to longer term, but not in a strict linear correlation. However, the overall relation of emissions to temperature is very strong, as this older Pew Centre graph shows:
Temperature has progressed from there:
That’s NASA GISS 2017. 2018 is shaping as the fourth hottest on record globally. The 20 hottest years have fallen in the last 22 years. Anyone 32 years old has not experienced a single month below the long-term average.
All we can say is that things would be worse if we did nothing, but what we have done is not making a noticeable dent in the problem.
Back in 2014 in a post The road to perdition I said:
- We dawdle towards 2015 and 2020 while options close off or become harder. Perdition looms.
Recently when the Club of Rome launched its Climate Emergency Plan Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, professor and leading climate scientist, director emeritus of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a Club of Rome member said:
- “Climate change is now reaching an end-game scenario, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.”
Frequently people who understand our predicament call for climate change to be tackled with the urgency countries adopted during the world wars. Recently David Spratt looked at what emergency mode climate action would look like. This is what happened in World War 2:
- A “whatever it takes” attitude means that government plans and directs the nation’s resources and capacity towards building up the war effort. This can be done at amazing speed. After the surprise Japanese attack on the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US economy was transformed from the world’s largest producer of consumer goods to world’s largest producer of military goods in a year. Government directed the whole war effort, but business boomed as the national economy grew quickly. The proportions of national economies dedicated to the effort in World War II were staggering. Military outlays in 1943 as proportion of total economy were: USA 42%; UK 55%; Germany 70%; and Japan 43%. Japan’s percentage reached about 70% in 1945.
That is probably 10 times what we need to tackle climate change in a fair dinkum way.
We have the technology and the resources, what we lack is leadership and political will. The children are right:
Update: The Global Carbon Project has issued its annual report finding that emissions from fossil fuels and industry have increased by around 2.7% in 2018, the largest increase in seven years. They identify major changes within countries, such as that the rise in Chinese emissions in 2018 was primarily driven by “government stimulus in the construction industry”, a sector which “emits lots of CO2”.
- Despite record sales of electric vehicle in the US – the total number just hit the 1m mark – there are nearly 12m more cars with internal combustion engines in the country than there were in 2008.
This is their scenario of where they think we need to go:
This appears to relate to fossil sources only, as the current total is less that 40Gt. The UNEP Emissions Gap report put greenhouse emissions at a record of 53.5 GtCO2e.
Elsewhere the UK Met Office Hadley Centre has done an attribution study on the summer heatwave, finding that global warming made the event 30 times more likely. So what would have been a 1 in 245 year event became a 1 in 12 year event. By 2050 they suggest the odds will be 1 in 2.
James Hansen once said we would take notice of climate change when we could see it by looking out our window. We can see it now, if we look. We should have listened to him back in 1988 when he told the US Senate. He got it right then, and got it right in 2007 when he answered Bill McKibben’s question by saying we should aim for 350ppm CO2e for a safe climate. It was galling to hear The Science Show talk of 1.5°C as the “ideal” scenario.
Finally, I forgot to mention what Paul Ehrlich said back in March:
A shattering collapse of civilisation is a “near certainty” in the next few decades due to humanity’s continuing destruction of the natural world that sustains all life on Earth, according to biologist Prof Paul Ehrlich.
He thinks the earth’s true carrying capacity is roughly 1.5 to two billion.