Tag Archives: Arctic sea ice

Climate clippings 130

1. Manicured lawns produce more greenhouse gases than they soak up


Researchers found:

that a hectare of lawn in Nashville, Tennessee, produced greenhouse gases equivalent to 697 to 2,443kg of carbon dioxide a year. The higher figure is equivalent to a flight more than halfway around the world.

If you use a mulching mower, don’t fertilise, limit cutting and watering, you might tip the balance in favour of the planet. But then your lawn might not be as lush.

2. Risk of extreme climate outcomes

Across the ditch Hot Topic takes a look at a new book by economists Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman called Climate Shock: The Economic Consequences of a Hotter Planet. They start with the notion that climate stabilisation forecasts regularly show that there is a 10% chance of warming reaching 6°C or more. Although not talked about much, this is standard fare and can be read off this graph I have posted multiple times:

Stabilisation probabilities_cropped_600

The 10% chance of reaching 6°C comes with greenhouse gases (CO2e) at around 580 ppm. We are currently at 480 ppm.

The whole insurance industry is predicated on probabilities of considerably less than 10%. The authors are suggesting that low probability extreme events should be taken seriously by governments. A 10% chance of climate Armageddon is not particularly low.

Weitzman was on the case back in 2008, when I did a post on him at LP, unfortunately in a gap in the archive. Peter Wood did a submission to the Garnaut Report on the subject. Garnaut, it must be said, looked the other way.

3. Arctic sea ice excitement

There has been some excitement over Arctic sea ice extent. As of now, unless there is a peak in late March, which is possible, the winter maximum is looking like a record low. This picture simplifies the story:

Sea ice Mr 15_cropped_600

It shows 2012 and 2015 ice extent against the 1981-2010 average. In the short term ice can be compacted by storms, or flushed out through Fram Strait. A cold snap can extend the ice with a thin cover. Also, as we see in 2012, winter maximums tell you nothing about summer minimums.

That’s the short story. You can read more here, here, here and here.

4. Greenland melting speeds up

As scientists upgrade their models of ice sheet decay, Greenland has a habit of exceeding their expectations.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Greenland ice loss has increased a phenomenal 632 percent since 2001. (14) This increase is coming from melt, sublimation (ice evaporating directly without melting first), melt penetrating to the bottom of the ice sheet through crevasses and moulins, and from rapidly warming Arctic Ocean waters penetrating beneath floating outlet glaciers, destabilizing these glaciers and increasing their flow.

Massive gorges have been found beneath the ice where rapidly warming seawater has the chance to circulate deep beneath the ice sheet.

A large aquifer has been found under the ice above sea level.

Soot forms on the ice from as far away as Siberia. As the ice sublimates, that is evaporates directly into the air, the soot remains to further decrease reflectivity.


The knowns and the known unknowns add up to a pretty grim picture.

5. EU progress on renewables

Commendable progress is being made on renewable energy in Europe.

Renewables contribute 26% of EU electricity, 17% of heating and cooling and 5% of transport, … It’s generally thought to be easier to decarbonise the electricity sector than heating or transport, where oil and gas continue to dominate.

This chart refers to electricity:


Apart from hydro, wind (light blue) easily eclipses solar (yellow).

When heating and transport are included, renewables comprise 20% of all energy, and the composition changes dramatically:


An old technology, renewable wood, easily dominates through selective forestry.

In recent times energy usage has fallen, with the EU now using as much energy as it did in 1990.

The UK is the biggest laggard in meeting individual country targets. Four countries, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania and Bulgaria, are ahead of target.

Wind has the momentum in the US with forecasts that it could supply 35% of electricity by 2050, or even as much as 41%. Within 10 years wind could be cheaper than existing coal.

6. 90% of Australian coal plants ‘at risk’ of being stranded assets

Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment has compiled a Stranded Assets Programme report.

It is food for thought for Australia, then, that the Oxford report has declared it owner of “by far” the most carbon-intensive sub-critical fleet in the world (followed by India and Indonesia), with a whopping 90 per cent of its total 29GW of coal-fired generation capacity coming from 23 subcritical plants.

From The Guardian:

Coal currently provides 40% of the world’s electricity and three-quarters of this is produced by the most-polluting, least-efficient and oldest “sub-critical” coal-fired power stations. The International Energy Agency calculates that one in four of these sub-critical plants must close within five years, if the world’s governments are to keep their pledge to limit global warming to 2C.

Help is at hand, according to a group of Queensland engineers.

The Callide Oxyfuel Project is one of just a few low-emission coal projects in the world, and demonstrates how carbon capture technology can be retrofitted to existing power stations.

The technique has been on trial at CS Energy’s Callide A coal-fired power station at Biloela, in a project worth $245 million.

They reckon they’ve done it on a 30-megawatt plant and now need to scale it up. Predictably, not everyone agrees it’s worthwhile.

7. CO2 emissions flat in 2014

Global energy-related CO2 emissions flatlined last year, according to the IEA.

Following an announcement earlier this week that China’s CO2 emissions fell 2 percent in 2014, the IEA is crediting 2014’s progress to China using more solar, wind and hydropower while burning less coal. Western Europe’s focus on sustainable growth, energy efficiency and renewables has shown that emissions from energy consumption can fall even as economies grow globally, according to the IEA.

Global CO2 emissions stalled or fell in the early 1980s, 1992 and 2009, each time correlating with a faltering global economy. In 2014, the economy grew 3 percent worldwide.

The story is about energy efficiency as well as growth of renewables. Cheaper fossil fuels could lead to a resumption of fossil fuel growth in 2015, however.

Climate clippings 107

1. No more pauses in global warming

Temperatures are likely to rise dynamically for the rest of the century, according to two separate studies.

Masahiro Watanabe of the University of Tokyo colleagues found that over the past three decades natural influences are diminishing.

In the 1980s, natural variability accounted for almost half of the temperature changes seen. That fell to 38 per cent in the 1990s and just 27 per cent in the 2000s.

The implication is that temperature rises will respond more directly to emissions with fewer pauses.

Matthew England and associates used 31 climate models to chart future temperatures. He found that if emissions keep rising the chances of a pause of 10 years or more fall to practically zero. If emissions peak by 2040 we might get a pause by the end of the century.

If we wait until 2040 for peak emissions we’ll be cooked.

2. Rockefeller family moves from fossil fuels to clean energy

The Rockefeller family is turning its back on the industry that made it its vast fortune.

As more than 120 heads of state gather in New York for a UN summit on climate change, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund is pledging to move $50 billion worth of investment in fossil fuels into clean energy.

3. War and Peace revisited

At Fair Green Planet Val has reproduced her talk at the Australian Climate Action Summit 2014. It’s about organisational form in relation to climate change action and sustainability. Val suggests we need to change from forms based on competition, hierarchy and exploitation to forms based on co-operation, egalitarianism and sustainability:

From both my research and my lived experience, it seems clear to me that the approach we need to address climate change will not be produced by the hierarchical, top down, unequal organisations that are dominant in society today – but rather by an approach like this:

team earth

These “Team Earth” posters were of course produced in response to Tony Abbott’s “Team Australia”. The posters express to me the values we really need to address climate change: a recognition that we’re all in it together, and an inclusive approach.

We need:

to go beyond climate change and live in sustainable communities – communities that are flatter, networked, egalitarian and inclusive, and recognise themselves as part of an ecosystem.

In other words, we need to change ourselves.

4. Arctic sea ice report

Arctic sea ice melting has now reached its maximum extent. This year was almost exactly the same as 2013, and the sixth lowest on record.

Sea ice Sept_cropped_600

The black line is the 1981-2010 average, the dotted line the 2012 record and the blue line the former 2007 record. Shading represents plus or minus 2 standard deviations.

Volume was also up a bit but still in trend decline.

What this masks is a continued decline in the proportion of older, thicker ice. An increasing proportion is first year ice. At Carbon Brief:

During the 1980s or 1990s, in an average year, around 54 to 58 per cent of ice in the Arctic would be first-year ice. Last year it was 77 per cent.

5. New York UN meeting

Last week some 125 leaders met with the UN Secretary General and each other in New York to indicate what their post 2020 emissions reduction targets might be. I reported on the outcomes here, but it seems that readers of this blog are put off by titles like the one I used.

Problem is, the bad news is getting worse and is not being addressed sufficiently by world leaders. Emissions increased by 2.5% in 2013. Every year the emissions increase the harder the problem becomes. It’s not a case that action is just delayed; we are using up a carbon budget that by some estimates is already in the red.

Of the major emitters only the EU was specific, nominating 40% by 2030, subject to confirmation. Not enough. There were indications that China will give concrete numbers when formal proposals are submitted next March. However, their current rate of increase is quite dramatic, as this graph shows:


My expectation is that at best, when the bids are in, our path will match the RCP4.5 scenario (the scenarios are numbered according to the climate forcing pertaining to CO2 levels with the forcing expressed in watts per square metre).


A new report puts the situation this way:

Nevertheless, the report said there is still a “gigatonne gap” between governments’ current carbon-reduction pledges and what will be needed to limit overall warming to 2C.

Delivering on current policies would only succeed in reining warming back from 4C to 3C, it predicted. The United Nations’ New York 2014 and Paris 2015 climate summits will be crucial in securing an improved deal, the report said. (Emphasis added)

Indeed. In New York on our behalf Ms J Bishop said the Government would consider what post-2020 emissions might be, but consistent with the need for economic growth. I think in her mind this means banking on cheap coal as our dominant power source.

For another view, see Christine Milne at the National Press Club:

I believe that Australia should put on the table for the 2015 negotiations a trajectory of 40 to 60 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030 and net carbon zero by 2050.

Arctic sea ice extent minimum for 2013

The summer melt of the Arctic appears to have reached it’s limit with the sea ice extent at 5.1 million km2 (cf. the 3.41 million km2 record in 2012) as shown on this graph from the NSIDC’s Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis site:


The black line is the 1981-2010 average, plus and minus two standard deviations. The blue is 2007 and the dotted line represents the 2012 record. This year is the sixth lowest on record as this graph from Skeptical Science shows: Continue reading Arctic sea ice extent minimum for 2013