Back in 2001 the IPCC devised the famous Burning embers graph to reflect a broad perspective of risks emanating from climate change. Seventeen scientists have now had another look, original paper here. The graph has been enhanced with more information, which is itself more up to date. Continue reading Climate risks re-examined
John Quiggin has a post Climate change and catastrophe wherein he links to his article in The Economist Why the Paris conference may not be enough. I know from the WordPress software that people are slack in following links, so I’ll try to give a sense of what he said. Continue reading Quiggin on climate risk
The Climate Change Authority has been a thorn in the side for the Abbott Government, as we’ve seen over time. The Abbott government tried to kill the Authority, but was thwarted by the Senate.
Now Bernie Fraser, John Quiggin, David Karoly and other good people have been replaced by a bunch who support Direct Action as a policy and seem less than enthusiastic about renewable energy. If the comment by Larissa Waters at the end of the linked piece is correct the Nationals did a “deal with Malcolm Turnbull to keep Tony Abbott’s woeful climate policies in exchange for support.” Continue reading Climate clippings 154
Is the melting Arctic poised to release catastrophic quantities of methane? Actually, that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about, says Anil Ananthaswamy in a New Scientist article (paywalled). I’ve read the article, and I haven’t quite stopped worrying. Not quite. Continue reading Dealing with the methane time bomb
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He says he’s not a denier or a sceptic, so let’s just call him a fruitcake. In the recent ministerial reshuffle Bob Baldwin has been moved from Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry to Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Minister.
Baldwin told the Chinese that the climate had been changing for millions of years and we wouldn’t have coal, oil or gas without climate change. That’s a typical denialist tack. Elsewhere he quoted that well-known authority on everything, Queensland radio shock-jock Michael Smith. If the atmosphere was a bridge a kilometre long, he said, the first 770 metres would be nitrogen, the next 210 metres oxygen, and so on until you come to CO2. Australia’s contribution of CO2 is the equivalent to 0.18 millimetres, the width of a human hair.
2. Bernie Fraser sends a Christmas message to Abbott
Basically, keep the Renewable Energy Target (RET), it all you’ve got, and the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) may not meet its initial target of 5% emissions reductions by 2020. In any case it is not scalable to meet the targets we are likely to be committed to post 2020.
The Climate Change Authority has just completed its review of the RET and a review of the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), as mandated in the establishing legislation. I’d recommend reading Bernie’s Chairman’s Statement.
The CCA recommends extending the achievement date of the RET by up to three years, but this is the big picture:
The Authority has argued consistently throughout its short life that an effective policy response to the risks of climate change requires favourable winds on at least two fronts:
• first, a broad community consensus that climate change poses real risks to the community; and
• secondly, a well-stocked toolbox to be able to tap into opportunities to reduce emissions wherever they occur.
Neither exists today. The earlier broad political consensus has ruptured in recent years, and no early repair is in prospect. And the tool box is feeling less weighty, with the removal of the carbon pricing mechanism, an unproven ERF, and an uncertain outlook for the RET.
Before Christmas when Tony Abbott was asked what he’d achieved as Minister for Women he nominated dumping the carbon tax. At the same time the Canadian PM Stephen Harper, Abbott’s soul-mate on climate policy, suggested that he was open to a country-wide carbon pricing scheme similar to the one implemented in Alberta.
In Alberta, energy heavy polluting companies are required to reduce their energy intensity, or improve their energy efficiency, annually. If they don’t, they must contribute to a technology fund at $15 a tonne for carbon emissions.
“I think it’s a model on which you could, on which you could go broader,” Harper said in Wednesday’s interview.
Tesla is opening a battery swap station between Los Angeles and San Francisco on a pilot basis to see whether the idea goes anywhere. Zachary Shahan, the author of the linked piece, suggests perhaps not. The swap must be done by appointment and although it may be completed in less than a minute it would cost almost as much as a tank of premium. The alternative is free Supercharging for Tesla owners.
5. Technology on the move
In the same issue of RenewEconomy as the Tesla battery swap item above were three other technology announcements.
First, the ASX listed company Algae.Tec has issued rights to raise capital to build an algae biofuel plant in India.
Second, the ADF is looking to replace diesel generation with renewable energy to power Bathurst Island, north of Darwin, probably wind and solar.
Third, a solar plant that floats on water is being launched in South Korea.
The large investor Australian Super has been asking banks about their climate change risk policies. It sounds as though banks are pretending to be more active than they really are, but it is clear that the investment landscape has changed forever. If the banks have not been actively concerned, they soon will.
Former Coalition opposition leader John Hewson, who chairs the Asset Owners Disclosure Project
is considering “naming and shaming” how the world’s 1000 biggest banks are responding to carbon risk, something it already does for pension funds.
In the post A choice of catastrophes: the IPCC budget approach I explained the socalled ‘carbon budget approach’ in some detail. In general terms:
- In a warming world what matters is the total quantum of CO2 in the atmosphere. The ‘climate budget approach’ identifies the total anthropogenic CO2 emitted to cause warming of 2°C. For a 66% chance of staying under 2°C the total CO2 emitted must not exceed 1000Gt, according to calculations done by Malte Meinshausen and others back in 2009. The later we leave cutting the harder we have to cut.
Rahmstorf’s budget was about 1000Gt of CO2 or about 1500GT of CO2 equivalent with other greenhouse gases for a 25% chance of staying within 2°C. Then
- as Giles Parkinson reports, the carbon budget figures have taken a haircut to become 800Gt for a 66% chance of 2°C when “accounting for non-CO2 forcings”. Problem is we’d already used up 543Gt of the budget by 2011.
In late February the Climate Change Authority published a Draft Report of its Targets and Progress Review.
The full draft report (all 265 pages) is downloadable from the first link above. Unfortunately I don’t have time to read all of it. Clive Hamilton at The Conversation has written an excellent overview.
I’ve reproduced below the summary from the Executive Summary provided by the Authority, with some slight enhancements.
This Review can inform upcoming decisions on international commitments, guide long-term investment decision-making and inform the design of the Government’s Direct Action Plan.
The Authority’s views are grounded in science which says the world needs a long-term limit on emissions to stay below 2 degrees of warming and reduce risks of dangerous climate change. Australia also needs to take a long term view of emissions and set a 2050 emissions budget.
The Authority has also considered international action on climate change which shows a clear trend towards more ambitious action, although all countries need to do more.
The Authority has considered the economic implications of stronger targets and has concluded that it is possible to move to stronger targets at relatively small cost to the economy. The Authority’s draft recommendations seek to balance short term clarity and stability with longer term flexibility by recommending a single 2020 target and a trajectory range to 2030.
The Authority considers a 5 per cent target for 2020 to be inadequate because the Government’s [own] conditions [for moving beyond 5 per cent appear to have been met] and the pace of international action justifies us going further. [It] is inconsistent with action towards the 2 degrees goal and more ambitious targets might now be easier to achieve than earlier thought.
The Authority presents two targets for 2020 – 15 per cent and 25 per cent, with different trajectory ranges to 2030 [35 to 50 per cent and 40 to 50 per cent respectively].
Compared with 25 per cent, 15 per cent would require faster reductions later, and would use up more of the [carbon] budget sooner. [It] would place us in the middle of the pack on climate change action and would cost slightly less in the short term.
Australia can use international emissions reductions to help meet its target. While we have many domestic opportunities to reduce emissions, allowing international emissions reductions to be part of the mix can help lower costs. The Government should consider allowing the use of international emissions reductions to go beyond 5 per cent.
The Authority seeks feedback on this Draft report to inform its deliberations on final recommendations.(Emphasis added)
Clearly the Abbott Government will take no notice of the Review. In fact they have specifically reneged on the extended 5 to 25% range which had been bipartisan policy since 2009.
In fact we may achieve better than 5% without too much government effort. In the Executive Summary (page 4 on the counter) we are told that during the 2008-2012 period we accrued 91MT CO2-e in credits under the Kyoto Protocol which can be carried forward. Then this:
Official projections made in 2012 indicated that 754 Mt CO2-e of emissions reductions were required in the period to 2020 to deliver the 5 per cent reduction target. On current estimates, the same level of emissions reductions would be equivalent to an 11 per cent reduction. Taking into account the Kyoto ‘carry over’ equivalent to 91 Mt CO2-e, this would imply a 14 per cent reduction by 2020.
The Authority appears to favour the 25% option, which yields a smoother path. It costs only $2.7 billion pa more (0.16% of GDP). With 15% you need accelerated effort after 2020.
My impression of the report is very favourable. Scientifically it appears sound. Economically they appear to have covered all bases, including trade implications.
The progress made to date has been because of changes in the balance within the economy from heavy manufacturing to services, a diminution in land clearing, and the impact of renewables and other factors in the electricity sector. Since 1990 our GDP has doubled while emissions have remained pretty much the same.
The authority understands that there is considerable risk inherent in the 2% target stabilisation scenario and contemplated moving to 1.5°C. They stayed with 2°C because that is where the action is internationally. On page 42 they published this wondrous graph:
The source has Malte Meinshausen’s name on it, so it’s got to be OK.
The y axis gives stabilisation targets in terms of CO2 equivalent stabilisation. The x axis shows the matching probability of staying below any particular temperature rise. For inexplicable reasons the line is drawn at 415. In terms of CO2 equivalents we are now at 480. This gives us less than 33% chance of staying below 2°C and about a 10% chance of exceeding a civilisation threatening 4°C.
Moreover the climate sensitivity model used to create this graph is almost certainly conservative on the low side. Recent research indicates that the climate may be more sensitive to greenhouse gases than previously thought. As it stands the yellow band represents, I think, the extent of the compromise between rational science and science that makes concessions to politics.
To me the graph confirms the merits of the 350.org campaign, which gives an almost 95% chance of staying below 2°C. The Authority is aware that net negative emissions will probably be necessary later in this century.
Abbott and company are becoming quite annoying in suggesting that there is no action internationally. The Authority noted that there were 99 countries with ‘Copenhagen’ commitments covering over 80% of the planet’s emissions. This map shows the extent:
Then this graph shows how our targets fit with those of some of a selection of relevant countries.
Sorry I can’t get a clearer image. It’s on page 65 of the report. The y axis shows annual per capita CO2 equivalent emissions. The dots show the per capita emissions at 2005 levels. Notice that both China and India will increase per capita emissions. We are the clear outliers historically and in terms of where our targets will get us. Even at 25% we are only thereabouts with the US and Canada and well behind the pack.
The carbon budget approach
Especially pleasing was the Authority’s use of the carbon budget approach. They determined Australia’s budget as 10,100 MT CO2e for the period 2013 to 2150. A 15% target would use 4,324 MT by 2020, leaving only 5776 MT for the following 30 years. If we were really serious we would be going for 45 to 50% by 2020.
The review will have two values beyond the academic, in my view. Firstly, it should provide guidance for Labor and the Greens, looking forward to the time when the adults are back in charge. Secondly, I think other countries could look at the Authority’s use of the carbon budget approach. Its methodology is good although its level of ambition is still ordinary. Certainly it could stimulate other countries’ thinking about how to plan stabilisation of emissions.
Ben Eltham at New Matilda tells us that the LNP have responded with a press release from Greg Hunt containing a pack of lies. The could have used the report to
axe the carbon price, keep Direct Action, triple our emissions reductions and change the carbon debate forever.
How would it do so? By buying carbon reductions on global markets. Because of the collapse of the European carbon market, credible carbon reductions are now for sale on international markets for as little 50 cents a tonne. The report thinks that Australia could buy the roughly 427 million tonnes of carbon reductions necessary to raise the target to 15 per cent for “between $210 and $850 million.”
Firstly, Labor climate change spokesman Mark Butler has supported increasing the targets, has supported the CCA and it appears that Labor is willing to go to the 2016 election supporting a price on carbon.
Secondly, (actually from last year) research by the Climate Institute finds that emissions cuts of 11 to 19% will be achieved if the current laws are not changed.
These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as an open thread. Again I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.
This edition contains items, exclusively, I think, in climate science and impacts. The thread is meant to function also as a roundtable to share information and ideas.
1. Climate change picked the crops we eat today
The New Scientist carries a story about how some cereals we know today were changed by the climate as we came out of the last ice age. Researchers at the University of Sheffield, UK took seeds of precursors of modern wheat and barley found with human remains in a 23,000-year-old archaeological site in Israel. They grew these together with four wild grass species that aren’t eaten today, but were also known to grow in the region at that time, and grew them under conditions replicating levels of CO2 then and also the higher levels when farming first arose 10,000 years ago.
All the plants grew larger under the higher levels of CO2, but the relatives of wheat and barley grew twice as large and produced double the seeds. This suggests the species are especially sensitive to high levels of CO2, making them the best choice for cultivation after the last ice age.
The team plan to look at whether other food staples around the world are similarly affected by elevated CO2 levels, for example millet grown in Asia and maize in North America. They also plan to compare the effects of CO2 on legumes such as peas. Continue reading Climate clippings 83
This is serious!
First we were told that rising temperatures would make it difficult to grow tea in
Uganda and in Kenya, then it was going to become too hot for chocolate. Now Starbucks is warning that climate change will threaten the world supply of coffee.
2010 possibly the worst ever for extreme weather
That’s according to über-meteorologist Jeff Masters posting at Climate Progress.
The year was extraordinary, featuring the hottest year on record equalling 2005, the most extreme winter Arctic atmospheric circulation on record, the warmest and driest winter on record for North America-Canada, the lowest volume of Arctic sea ice on record and 3rd lowest in extent, a record melting in Greenland, the second most extreme shift from El Niño to La Niña, the second worst coral bleaching year, the wettest year over land, the Amazon rainforest experienced its 2nd 100-year drought in 5 years and, it must be said, we had the lowest global tropical cyclone activity on record. Here’s the precipitation graph: Continue reading Climate clippings 33
The little ice age cometh – not!
You may have seen the headlines:
“Three different lines of evidence suggest that the sun, which is expected to reach its maximum sunspot and magnetic activity in the current cycle in 2013, might even be entering a prolonged quiet period similar to the so-called Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period from 1645 to 1715 in which virtually no sunspots were observed.”
While the SMH was quite responsible, Fox News maxed it up:
The New Scientist tells us that last year:
researchers modelled what would happen to global temperatures if a grand minimum started now and continued until 2100. They found that it would lower temperatures by 0.3 °C at most.
That isn’t a new ice age: it’s a slightly less severe heatwave.
Skeptical Science has more, including this graph: