Tag Archives: International Climate Co-operation

Can Christiana Figueres persuade humanity to save itself?

Sometimes personalities matter. What if the ‘hanging chads’ in the Florida vote had been counted differently and Al Gore had become President in 2000 instead of George Bush. It was a sliding doors moment for climate change.

Elizabeth Kolbert takes a look at the state of play in international climate negotiations, and the woman who directs the UN effort to strike a climate agreement in Paris. Continue reading Can Christiana Figueres persuade humanity to save itself?

A game changer? The US-China climate deal

Mother Jones thinks the deal is a game changer, so does Joe Romm at Climate Progress. Climate scientists what agree with some cautions, including the big one that it’s not nearly enough.

In the broad, China has agreed to peak emissions by 2030, the US will reduce emissions by 26 to 28% by 2025, relative to 2005.

Yet China will still be getting 80% of its power from fossil fuels in 2030.

They said China would never do a deal of significance, and the US could not make significant reductions politically while China did nothing. That’s why the deal is a game changer.

Now Republicans are saying that China is doing nothing for 16 years. That’s not true. China will install 800-1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero emission generation capacity by 2030.

Joe Hockey implied that Obama will not deliver, because of an unfriendly Congress. Obama said on Sunday specifically that he is not relying on Congress for anything – he’ll do it without their help. Republicans are freaking out and will no doubt destroy the deal if they reclaim the presidency.

Given the unhelpfulness of Congress Obama’s plan is surprisingly ambitious, roughly doubling the pace of reductions:


The overall impact is portrayed by this graph from Climate Interactive:


That would see emissions in 2100 roughly the same as they are now. According to the recent IPCC Synthesis Report most of the stabilisation scenarios you’d want to follow see zero emissions some time before 2100. You can get a rough idea of what’s required from this graph by Prof Hans Joachim Schellnhuber:

2C trajectories Schellnhuber

That is for a 67% chance of not exceeding 2°C.

With emissions trading that would be modified thus:

Budget approach with emissions trading_cropped_600

I would assume that China is a Group 2 country in this scenario.

At a rough guess, then, I suspect that China and the US are doing no more than half what they really should, if we assume that 2°C is OK, which I don’t.

Mother Jones lists some of the detailed items covered in the agreement:

  • Expanding funding for clean energy technology research at the US-China Clean Energy Research Center, a think tank Obama created in 2009 with Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao.
  • Launching a large-scale pilot project in China to study carbon capture and sequestration.
  • A push to further limit the use of hydroflourocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas found in refrigerants.
  • A federal framework for cities in both countries to share experiences and best practices for low-carbon economic growth and adaptation to the impacts of climate change at the municipal level.
  • A call to boost trade in “green” goods, including energy efficiency technology and resilient infrastructure, kicked off by a tour of China next spring by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

All good stuff. One valid criticism is that the agreement neglects the issue of adaptation, necessary because under the implied scenario warming will continue.

Our government has chosen to be a follower rather than a leader. It is now time to follow. But in doing so they should take a look at Prof Schellnhuber’s graphs to understand their true responsibility – and why buying carbon credits offshore is not such a bad idea.

To take the politics out of the issue they could even flick it to The Climate Change Authority. That’s what it was set up for.

Climate clippings 112

1. Will Australia be to world climate talks what Poland is to Europe?

That’s the question asked by Giles Parkinson.

On the international stage Australia plays a similar role to Poland in Europe. The two countries have much in common: their leaders share a tenuous hold on climate science, a grim determination to extract coal and use it for electricity, don’t like carbon pricing and are trying to keep a lid on renewables.

From what he says, there does seem a difference. Poland gained free carbon permits from the EU negotiations “worth more than $1 billion and promises for funds to help it “modernize” is coal-fired plants after 2020.”

Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said after the summit that the threat of veto was simply a “tool” to get the best conditions for Poland’s economy. “Nobody got compensated like we did,” she boasted after the meeting.

In other words they were out for what they could get.

On the basis of the Abbott Government’s form in the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Warsaw last December and actions since, we can expect Australia to be actively hostile to positive outcomes. Not just lead in the saddle bag, an active saboteur.

2. The prospect of a Republican US Senate

There is a 68% chance that the Republicans will control the US Senate after the mid-term elections. For the climate this could be a disaster.

Certainly they are unlikely to control the 60 votes they would need to avoid a Democrat filibuster, and the President has the power of veto over bills. So anti-climate legislation is not so much the worry.

However, the Republicans could block appropriate appointments to various agency positions and regulatory posts.

Secondly, any treaty coming out of the 2015 UNFCCC talks in Paris next year would need to be legislated. This would be impossible and could affect the tenor of the entire negotiations, with one large lame duck at the table.

Third, the US contributions to the IPCC and the UNFCCC could be pulled, making life for those bodies impossible.


a GOP majority in that house of Congress would flip several key committees into Republican hands. In particular, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is up to take over the Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) would head the Subcommittee on Science and Space, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is in line to take control of the Homeland Security and Governmental Reform Committee, and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) would head up the Budget Committee.

All except Enzi are avowed climate denialists.

Then there’s scary budget negotiations, and more.

3. Global groundwater crisis


A NASA study has found that major groundwater aquifers are being depleted faster than the rate of replenishment, threatening food supplies and security.

The groundwater at some of the world’s largest aquifers — in the U.S. High Plains, California’s Central Valley, China, India, and elsewhere — is being pumped out “at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished.”

The most worrisome fact: “nearly all of these underlie the word’s great agricultural regions and are primarily responsible for their high productivity.”

4. Geoff Cousins heads the ACF

You’ll probably recognise the gravel-voiced tones of Geoff Cousins from his campaign against the Gunns paper mill. He used 20,000 signatures from ANZ customers to pressure the bank to withdraw the project’s funds.

From the SMH:

His business credentials include heading the country’s largest advertising company and heading Optus Vision when it slugged it out with News Ltd over rugby league broadcasting rights. He is a director of the Telstra board.

He is now President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, so expect to hear more from him. Now he’s lashed out at the Direct Action legislation and given the BCA (Business Council of Australia) a whack around the ears for supporting the legislation which he says individual companies would have rejected.

If somebody had brought a business case to the boards of one of those public companies for this program, no responsible board would have given it the time of day.

You would have asked first of all how cost efficient it was, you would have asked what was world’s best practice in all of these areas, these sorts of questions, and none of them would have been able to be answered positively in regard to this program.

The ACF are now embarking on a public education campaign about the legislation.

5. Food, Fossil Fuels and Filthy Finance

That’s the title of a report from Oxfam, summarised at Hot Topic.

On current trends, the world will be 4–6ºC hotter by the end of the century, exceeding 2ºC within the lifetimes of most people reading this report. This could put up to 400 million people in some of the poorest countries at risk of severe food and water shortages by the middle of the century.

This paper shows how, despite some steps in the right direction to tackle climate change, a ‘toxic triangle’ of political inertia, financial short-termism and vested fossil fuel interests is blocking the transition that is needed. To help break this, governments must commit to phase out fossil fuel emissions by early in the second half of this century, with rich countries leading the way.

In 2012 fossil fuel companies spent $674bn on exploration and development projects. The industry is supported by $1.9 trillion of subsidies public finance, incentives and tax breaks, including the costs of paying for its widespread damage.

Quite simply, most of the stuff should be left in the ground:

Fossil fuel reserves_cropped_600

In truth, that’s generous!

Climate mitigation costs and strategies

Val at fairgreenplanet perceived two contrasting approaches to climate mitigation at the recent Australian Climate Action Summit:

  • technology can get us there, with a bit of political will


  • we have to change the way we live, starting from the local level

In relation to the first she also cited a recent post by John Quiggin who cites four major reports, all making the same point:

decarbonizing the world economy will involve economic costs that are
(a) small; and
(b) far outweighed by the benefits

So that’s a net gain of considerable dimensions.

This is supported at the country level by a recent report in the UK:

if the UK cut its carbon emissions by 60 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, as it has promised, its GDP would be 1.1 per cent bigger than if it stuck with fossil fuels, says a study by consultants at Cambridge Econometrics.

About half the gain would come from cheap running costs for fuel-efficient cars, with 190,000 new green jobs and higher wages also helping. The average household would be £565 a year better off.

The four reports cited by Quiggin are as follows:

First, there’s Pathways to Deep Decarbonization an international collaborative project under the auspices of the UN.

Second, the Better Growth Better Climate report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate

Third, this report on Green Growth from the Center for American Progress (covers the US only)

And, most strikingly, this report from staffers at the International Monetary Fund, long the guardian of fiscal rectitude has concluded that for most countries, the local side benefits of reducing pollution would be sufficient to offset the costs for carbon prices up to $50/tonne.

I find each report has limitations in its own way, so at the end I remain agnostic.

The fourth, the IMF study, looks at carbon pricing in the top 20 emitters. As far as I can make out it comes up with two propositions. First, each country can act on its own, with benefit, no-one has to wait for the world to act. Secondly, it identifies a sweet spot, which varies quite a lot from one country to the next, where net benefits accrue from carbon pricing. In Australia’s case it’s only $11.50 per tonne.

This is all very promising but is not as such a plan for climate stabilisation at safe levels.

The third, the American study, finds the aim of reducing emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2035 doable and beneficial. The problem here is in the task identification. The study assumes that the US should decarbonise at the same rate as the rest of the world. It ignores the ‘carbon budgeting approach’ whereby high per capita emitters need to decarbonise rapidly to make space for developing countries to grow their economies. See Figure 5 of this post on the IPCC report. The United States is a Group 1 country, which must decarbonise rapidly:

Figure 5: The climate budget approach
Figure 5: The climate budget approach

As we saw in this post, two thirds of increased emissions are now coming from emerging and less developed countries. In other words in reality increases from Group 2 and 3 countries are not being offset by cuts in Group 1 countries. Until we get our heads around this issue and address it we’ll stumble along on the road to perdition!

The problem facing Group 1 countries is impossible. The way around it lies in emissions trading between rich and poor countries, as per Figure 6 in that post. This would entail considerable wealth transfer, which could be mandated to be used in greening developing country economies.

Also 40% by 2035 overall is not a recipe for a safe climate, as shown below.

The first study, has two limitations. Firstly it simply does not address the issues of economic costs and social implications. Secondly, it simply accepts the stabilisation pathway for a 2°C temperature increase which sees zero worldwide emissions about 2070. In looking at the IPCC report (same as linked above), I developed this table to relate concentrations to temperature rise. RCPs are Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) which are expressed in terms of watts per square metre of radiative forcing (W m-2). Roughly, RCP2.6 represents the 2°C pathway, while RCP8.5 represents our present path.

Figure 1: RCP temperature scenarios
Figure 1: RCP temperature scenarios

Green indicates a comparatively ‘safe’ climate, orange indicates the increasingly contested zone which clearly carries some danger, and red to indicate breaching the 2°C guardrail which everyone with half a brain accepts as dangerous.

Strictly speaking the green box should be orange, because it sits on top of ‘now’ which is an 0.6°C increase, and the orange box below it should be red, for the same reason.

On the orange zone, the Climate Change Authority in its Review published this wondrous graph, showing that they were well aware of the inadequacies of a 2°C target:

Stabilisation probabilities_croppedb_580

As I said then, 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. These odds are unacceptable. We are already in an overshoot situation.

This is old information – very old. James Hansen told us at an American Physical Union meeting in December 2007 that we needed to aim for 350ppm in the first instance and then decide where we go from there.

The RCP2.6 path involves a 33% chance of ending up with more than 2°C, odds that should be completely unacceptable.

Turning to the third report, which specifically addresses the financial implications, it too is on 2°C path. The costs numbers when taken in isolation look large (US$45 trillion will be required in 2015–2030 for key categories of energy infrastructure), but in context are trivial:

costs of this magnitude look like “background noise” when compared with the strong underlying growth that the global economy is likely to experience.

These costs will go up if mitigation is delayed:

Costs are also likely to rise sharply with delay. If global action to reduce emissions is delayed until 2030, global CO2 emissions would have to decrease by 6-7% per year between 2030 and 2050 in order to have a reasonable chance of staying on a 2°C path. Such rates of reduction are unprecedented historically and are likely to be expensive (estimates of delay suggest an average annual consumption growth loss of around 0.3% in the decade 2030 to 2040, compared to a loss of less than 0.1% over the same period if we act now).

Fine, and perhaps not yet serious, but I’m afraid completely out of date. In 2011 the Climate Commission published this graph to illustrate the implications of delay:

Figure 4: Emissions reduction options
Figure 4: Emissions reduction options

Under the ‘climate budget approach’ the area under the line must remain constant.

That too would have been based on a 2°C target, but it illustrates that if we delay peaking emissions worldwide, even to 2020, we’ll be in completely uncharted territory.

Chapter Five of the third report gives enormous detail of the policy work that needs to be done. It may be summarised as strong leadership, consistent policy over decades, structural change and perhaps unprecedented international co-operation, even if we start now on a task that is eminently doable and inexpensive; so more than “a bit of political will” is required.

Frankly, our best hope lies in the prospect that solar technology with storage will simply become the cheapest form of new energy, and has the advantage that it doesn’t need a large grid. Nevertheless there will be residual problems – land use and agriculture, transport, ocean acidification etc. Zero emissions transport will require planning and subsidies.

One thing we should realise, however, is that further out our future will be energy rich, not energy-constrained. Saving energy is not a reason for localism and changing the way we live.

So where does that leave Val’s second option?

Firstly, concerted long-term action and international co-operation of the kind we need is not in our DNA. We are designed to co-operate in bands of up to 150 people, the number that our big brains can cope with in terms of knowing in any detail. We are told Fukuyama, Harari for example that bands were relatively egalitarian with a leader answerable to the people. Beyond that we can co-operate in amazing ways, but at the price of setting up hierarchies and privileges, coercive elites. This occurred in general with agriculture and owning stuff, even herds. These problems can be ameliorated in a modern democratic nation-state, with it’s formal mechanisms for election, administration, justice and accountability, but we are still apt to act in the self-interest of that larger entity.

What we need is an infusion of new values and ways of perceiving, thinking and feeling. While not sacrificing individualism we need to feel and act as social beings. We also need to revalue ourselves in relation to the biological and physical systems of the planet, so that we stop acting like the top rapacious predator, the one that has decimated the wild animal kingdom by 52% since 1970. Along the way, we need to challenge a Chain of Being, that sees elite mostly European males as next to the gods and women, children, other races, other social classes, slaves, asylum seekers etc in subordinate positions.

We need to live in nature, not over nature.

While localism and social participation are necessary, the required cultural and existential changes are hard work will happen over generations if at all. The planet can’t wait. That last reference tells us:

Efforts have been made to economically quantify the world’s “stock” of natural capital and the yearly “flow” of ecosystem services they provide. The latest numbers are $142.7 trillion and $48.7 trillion, respectively. By comparison, the flow of incomes through the global economy is currently about $71.8 trillion per year. The research suggests that by 2013 we were eliminating that stock of natural capital at a rate of about $7.3 trillion per year, and that the flow of ecosystem services would be $23 trillion higher if not for human practices like deforestation, burning fossil fuels, and the like.

And underneath all this, there is the point that these creatures and the ecologies they inhabitant have an intrinsic moral worth irrespective of the dollar sign that markets can place on them. “Wildlife is and should be useless in the same way art, music, poetry and even sports are useless,” author Richard Coniff recently wrote in the New York Times.

And the climate can’t wait.

We need hierarchies to get things done, a collective will not build a battleship, but we need to civilise them and render them accountable. We even need coercive powers, to counter the selfishness of states. The only supra-national entity that the major powers take notice of is the World Trade Organisation, not the UN. We need it to police international agreements, to oversee international carbon trading, and what Quiggin’s third report calls “border carbon adjustments”.

I never thought I’d say that!

The bottom line is that we must act if we want a future for our grandchildren, and cost, the only certain Armageddon is if we do nothing or not enough. We are heading into uncharted territory but indications are that there will be benefits and the net costs are unlikely to be as bad as pessimists might think. We just don’t know. And the groupie, local stuff, well there are reasons for doing that, but it won’t solve climate change as such.

The road to Perdition

Six years ago I penned a post Last exit on the road to Perdition. It began like this:

    “Damn! I think we just passed the last exit for the Holocene!”

    “I’m sorry, honey, I wasn’t looking.”

    “We have to get off this highway. What’s the next exit?”

    “It’s a long way ahead. Goes to somewhere called Perdition.”

Those words were from a column by Gwynne Dyer, who had just spent a couple of months talking to leading climate scientists and security officials for his book Climate Wars (2009). He saw no happy outcomes.

Unfortunately the post falls in a gap in the Larvatus Prodeo record in 2008, but I was reminded of the analogy when I saw this graph from the Global Carbon Budget 2014 report (thanks to John D for the heads-up at Saturday Salon; there are articles by Canadell and Raupach at The Conversation and by Mat Hope at Carbon Brief):


Armageddon is RCP8.5 and a 4°C climate. That’s where civilisation as we know it is in play. Also there is nothing to suggest that the climate would stabilise at that level. Vast beds of methane could be released, the tropical forests would likely burn off, fertile river deltas would be flooded, corals could disappear for a few million years and climate could head for 6°C or more.

Canadell and Raupach say that

    economic models can still come up with scenarios in which global warming is kept within 2C by 2100, while both population and per capita wealth continue to grow.

2°C is still attainable, which is at best borderline dangerous, but would require beyond zero emissions, that is:

    the deployment of “negative emissions” technologies during the second half of this century, which will be needed to mop up the overshoot of emissions between now and mid-century. This will involve removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it in safe places such as saline aquifers.

    These technologies are largely unavailable at present.

If we keep on growing emissions at 2.5% per annum for a few more years, the best on offer will be peaking by 2040, in other words RCP4.5. That’s the road to Perdition. On current form I suspect that’s where we are heading. The following graph shows that the EU was the only major emitter to reduce emissions in 2013:


In per capita terms China has now surpassed the EU:


Please note the y-axis is calibrated in tonnes of carbon. For CO2 multiply be 3.67.

As John D pointed out:

    There have been other striking changes in emissions profiles since climate negotiations began. In 1990, about two-thirds of CO2 emissions came from developed countries including the United States, Japan, Russia and the European Union (EU) nations. Today, only one-third of world emissions are from these countries; the rest come from the emerging economies and less-developed countries that account for 80% of the global population, suggesting a large potential further emissions growth.

    Continuation of current trends over the next five years alone will lead to a new world order on greenhouse gas emissions, with China emitting as much as the United States, Europe and India together.

For a couple of years now, the world had decided that we will make up our minds about what post-2020 targets we will aim for by Paris in December 2015, but the implementation phase does not begin until 2020. Kyoto was a top-down mitigation strategy. This time it will be bottom-up. Every country will set it’s own pace within a framework of “common and differentiated responsibility”. The worry is that the national interest trumps the common good. The UN meeting in New York gave some idea of the early form.

Carbon Brief tried to pick the eyes out of the announcements. Here’s a selection:

  • The US has directed federal agencies to consider climate resilience when designing programmes and allocating funds, and will share data from NASA and NOAA and help train developing countries’ scientists. Oxfam says it’s not revolutionary.
  • China will peak emissions “as early as possible”. That’s new for official language, perhaps they’ll put a date on it next year.
  • The EU will aim to cut emissions by 40% by 2030, subject to confirmation by the European Commission.
  • The Netherlands and Belgium both pledged to cut emissions in line with the EU’s regional goal of cutting emissions by 80 to 95 per cent by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. Denmark reminded the conference it aims to be fossil fuel free by 2050.
  • India did the usual – called on developed countries to show more leadership, said it would act on climate change, but on its own terms. It aims to double the amount of energy from wind and solar by 2020, they’ve said that before.
  • Indonesia said it will cut emissions by 26% by 2020, rising to 40% if it gets international help to do so.
  • Malaysia said it has a target to reduce emissions by 40% by 2020, and was on track to do so. Ethiopia said it was still committed to making its economy zero carbon by 2025.
  • Some money is flowing into the UN’s Green Climate Fund to help developing countries. France pledged $1 billion, Denmark $70 million, South Korea $100 million, Norway $33 million, Switzerland $100 million, Czech Republic $5.5 million and Mexico $10 million and Luxembourg $6.4 million. Before the summit, Germany had pledged $960m. The EU also announced it would channel $2.5 billion to developing countries during 2014-2015, with a focus on adaptation and mitigation.
  • One of the big announcements at the summit was the New York declaration on forests, signed by 27 nations, eight regional governments, 34 multinational corporations, 16 indigenous peoples’ groups and 45 NGOs. It builds on a range of existing agreements including the Warsaw framework for reduced deforestation agreed last year.

    The declaration is a voluntary commitment to “at least halve” loss of natural forest by 2020 and “strive to” end it by 2030. It is not legally binding and Brazil, one of the world’s largest rainforest nations, is not a signatory.

All that is fine and good, but frankly underwhelming. As I have already quoted David Spratt:

    We have to come to terms with two key facts: practically speaking, there is no longer a “carbon budget” for burning fossil fuels while still achieving a two-degree Celsius (2°C) future; and the 2°C cap is now known to be dangerously too high.

We dawdle towards 2015 and 2020 while options close off or become harder. Perdition looms.

Who voted for this man?


T. Abbott, our illustrious PM, continues to embarrass us all.

On the Scottish independence referendum first he said he would not presume to tell Scottish voters which way they should vote. Then he said this:

“As a friend of Britain, as an observer from afar, it’s hard to see how the world would be helped by an independent Scotland.

“I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom, and the countries that would cheer at the prospect … are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.”

No doubt we should invade Scotland, or bomb them into submission!

That was last month. Next Tuesday 125 world leaders including US president Barack Obama and UK prime minister David Cameron will attend the UN secretary-general’s Climate Summit in New York. Tony Abbott will not be one of them. Yet the very next day he will be in New York to attend a UN Security Council meeting. He says he has more important things to do in the Australian parliament early next week.

While the New York meeting has no formal part of the climate talks leading up to the preliminary commitments countries will be asked to make by next March leading to the formal renegotiation of the Kyoto treaty in Paris in December next year, when the UN Secretary General says, “Come to New York, the planet is in trouble and needs you”, normally you would go, unless you want to make a statement about how you view the talks. In this regard Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate supremo, said:

“At least 125 heads of state have sent a strong signal to the rest of the world that … climate change is important, and they know they have a role to play and a responsibility to take in order for the world to address climate change.

“I do not know what the reasons would be behind it, but, of course, the world will interpret who is showing up and who will not be showing up.

“So that’s for your Prime Minister and your government to decide, what kind of profile they want in this.”

Hedegaard counsels us not to make too much of the fact that the Indian and Chinese leaders won’t be there. We know they are taking climate change seriously. We know, however, that Stephen Harper of Canada, Abbott’s ideological soul mate, has similar views to Abbott’s and also won’t be there although he too will be in New York a couple of days later. We know that Abbott is smugly satisfied with our pathetic 5% reduction target by 2020. He doesn’t appear to understand that this is about post 2020. His vision is clouded by denialism and the coal lobby.

The Pedestrian laments the fact that we are not the slightest bit surprised – Abbott is running true to form.


Bernard Keane at Crikey finds that Abbott’s form is changing. He’s shedding the carefully scripted, softer-spoken persona he presented before the election and is returning to the more pugilistic Abbott of the Gillard years.

If you are not a Crikey subscriber but are on Facebook you might be able to read the piece here, courtesy of Mark. It begins:

“Tony Abbott is a man in a hurry. There’s a blue on, and he wants in. The Prime Minister has regressed from statesman to pugilist. He’s back to Punchy Tony, the Rocky of the Right, a bloke who’s up for any fight, even if he has to start it himself, the former boxing “blue” and front rower ready to deck anyone (including a young Joe Hockey), if they get in his way. Or even if they don’t.

Keane is speaking of Abbott’s statements hyping the terrorist threats:

But they also reflect Tony Abbott’s aggression, a trait he laboured hard to keep under wraps as opposition leader and harder still in his early days as Prime Minister—remember that parliamentary transition to the soft-voiced Prime Minister from the often shrill Abbott of the Gillard years.

But bit by bit it has re-emerged—the boyish grin sitting in the cockpit of a mocked-up F-35 (appropriately, on the ground, where the F-35s spend all of their time), the near-hysterical rhetoric about the threat of Islamic militants, and now dispatching tonnes of military hardware and some of our best troops to the United Arab Emirates, there to await whatever America wants them to do.

For a truly scathing assessment of the first year of the Abbott government, however, take a look at Nick Feik, the editor of The Monthly.

Feik says he’s passed six pieces of legislation and

After almost a year, the Abbott government has repealed one tax, a move that left the nation without a climate-change policy but had no discernible impact on prices, and implemented an increasingly inhumane, secretive and quite possibly illegal asylum-seeker regime designed in large part by the ALP.

And it has been good at undoing things:

It has cut funding to social, educational, health, research and advisory bodies. Any and every environmental action, movement, organisation or legislation has been made a permanent target.

Feik sees incompetence and incoherence everywhere. He concludes:

Beyond the budget, it’s unclear whether the government has a legislative agenda of any kind. Perhaps this explains recent efforts to reposition Abbott as an international statesman, in charge of keeping Islamic terrorism, Russian tyranny and Scottish independence at bay. He needs to be above the fray, because domestically his troops are stuck in the trenches, and they’re starting to turn on one another. They must be relieved the Opposition is showing no stomach for a fight.

I’ve used the cover image from The Monthly as the featured image on the home page.

Planetary guardrails for sustainable development

The United Nations often gets accused of talk and no action. Perhaps, however, it is necessary to do a lot of talking before action, in order to clarify both purpose and means and to achieve genuine consensus. The UN does have a consensus model of decision-making, where one vote can be a veto. This being so, lots of talk is inescapable.

Two years ago the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) was highly critical of the leaderless talkfest on development issues. Now two years later, as decisions are soon to be made after tsunami of talking, they have entered the debate with I think an important contribution about the need for planetary guardrails for development.

Civil society groups were scathing.

George Monbiot describes it as 283 paragraphs of fluff.

That’s how I began my post on Rio+20, written in October 2012, when Larvatus Prodeo was in hiatus and Climate Plus did not yet exist, so it has never been on the front page and no doubt has had a very small audience. I commend it to you.

Highly critical too was the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), a body set up in in 1992 to advise the German Government prior to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and remains the official advisory body on climate change. The WBGU has a brief which goes beyond climate change and indeed the environment to change generally.


However, climate change is always front of mind, because one Hans Joachim (John) Schellnhuber co-chairs the WBGU and is also Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Schellnhuber perhaps is to European climate science what James Hansen is or was to American climate science, but not held at arms length by government actors. He has personal and official access to the president of the European Union and the German chancellor Angela Merkel. No doubt it helps that Merkel has a background as a research scientist in a similar discipline to Schellnhuber’s PhD, and was minister for the environment in Helmut Kohl’s government.

WBGU saw the verbiage at Rio+20 as exemplifying

an international crisis of leadership and confidence, a “G-Zero World” in which no leading power effectively is taking the initiative and no coalitions capable of taking action are emerging.

Many think this may have now changed with recent decisions made by the US and China and co-operation between the two.

Rio+20 made one significant ‘decision’. The Millennium Development Goals process comes to a natural end in 2015. Obviously it should be replaced by something to continue the work, so Rio+20 decided that there should be a new process to establish a new set of ‘sustainable development goals’ (SDGs).

The cynic in me suggests that this was the outcome planned by bureaucrats before the conference started and the purpose of the pointless verbiage was to ensure that the conference did not stray into inconvenient areas. But as I said in 2012:

The WBGU press release commented favourably on the supporting program, which “showed that the transformation towards sustainability is already in full swing”. The conference site registered over 500 on-site side events over 10 days. In Rio+20 in numbers they suggest there were thousands if you count those off-site as well. In a sense the official summit was a side-show.

At the conference there would have been plenty of bookable rooms like this:


On the official level, having been given a head of power, the UN machine then swung into action, meaning more talk, in spades. It generated a high level panel of eminent persons (you can bet Schellnhuber was there), an Open Working Group withy the main carriage of ‘doing something’ and a UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda to undertake thematic and regional consultations. There is also a Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), led by Jeffrey Sachs, economist and advisor to Ban Ki-moon on development issues.

More talk too on the unofficial side. In Melbourne on 20-21 June there will be a C20 Summit of civil society leaders to make recommendations to the November G20 meeting, if Abbott extends the agenda to such trivia.

As discussed here the problem with SDGs is that if you try to do everything then effort becomes dissipated. If you narrow the focus too much then important issues may be missed. The Millennium Development Goals were thought to have struck a good balance. They covered the eight areas of poverty alleviation, education, gender equality and empowerment of women, child and maternal health, environmental sustainability, reducing HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases, and building a global partnership for development.

So far the Open Working Group has wrangled the possible goals into 19 focus areas (now said to be 16) in eight clusters:

Cluster 1
– Poverty eradication
– Promote equality

Cluster 2
– Gender equality and women’s empowerment
– Education
– Employment and decent work for all
– Health and population dynamics

Cluster 3
– Water and sanitation
– Sustainable agriculture, food security, and nutrition

Cluster 4
– Economic growth
– Industrialization
– Infrastructure
– Energy

Cluster 5
– Sustainable cities and human settlements
– Promote Sustainable Consumption and Production
– Climate

Cluster 6
– Conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, oceans and seas
– Ecosystems and biodiversity

Cluster 7
– Means of implementation/Global partnership for sustainable development

Cluster 8
– Peaceful and non-violent societies, rule of law and capable institutions

There’s more detail here.

No-one can say there hasn’t been widespread consultation:

Director Well for India examines a map

WBGU have now entered the debate by suggesting that development and environmental protection must be considered together and not contradict one another, the key message of the 1992 Earth Summit. Moreover, human change must operate within planetary guardrails to avoid permanent damage. Accordingly they have suggested adding an SDG entitled ‘safeguarding Earth system services’.

Within that goal they recommend six long-term targets:

1. Climate change: The warming of the climate system should be limited to 2°C. Global CO2 emissions from fossil energy sources should therefore be stopped completely by about 2070.

2. Ocean acidification: In order to protect the oceans, the pH level of the uppermost ocean layer should not fall by more than 0.2 units compared to pre-industrial figures in any major ocean region. CO2 emissions from fossil energy sources should therefore be stopped completely by about 2070 (congruent with Target 1).

3. Loss of biological diversity and ecosystem services: The human-induced loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services must be halted. Its direct anthropogenic drivers, e.g. the conversion of natural ecosystems, should be stopped by 2050 at the latest.

4. Land and soil degradation: Anthropogenic land and soil degradation must be halted. Net land degradation should be stopped by 2030 – world-wide and in all countries.

5. Risks posed by long-lived and harmful anthropogenic substances: The substitutable use of mercury and anthropogenic mercury emissions should be stopped by 2050. The release of plastic waste into the environment should be stopped worldwide by 2050. The production of nuclear fuels for nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors should be stopped by 2070.

6. Loss of phosphorus: Phosphorus is an essential resource for agriculture and therefore also for food security. The release of non-recoverable phosphorus into the environment should be stopped worldwide by 2050, so that its global recycling can be achieved.


the SDGs are not an agenda ‘exclusively for developing countries’; rather, they should apply to all states. Only in this way can curbing global environmental change become a joint task for humankind.

I think you’ll find this mob suggested the 2°C guardrail which took more than a decade to be adopted in 2009. In 2009 they came up with the budget approach to emissions stabilisation, yet to be adopted by international negotiators, although it seems the obvious, rational and equitable way to share the burden. Perhaps they will have better fortune this time! At least their suggestion comes when thinking is fluid.

At least it rescues climate from a mere sub-component of Cluster 5, to an essential part of the frame for the whole exercise, which is as it should be.

Abbott’s climate play: dropping off the back of the peloton


In road cycling terms, Australia’s climate effort is dropping off the back of the peloton. More than that we are now spreading tacks on the road up front.

Abbott, with his soul-mate from “Canadia” Stephen Harper, is proposing to build an alliance of conservative world leaders to block what he calls job-killing carbon pricing.

Dr Robyn Eckersley of Melbourne University who has been conducting research on climate change leadership finds that this would be “a very retrograde step at a very crucial time in international climate negotiations”. She also finds that he may struggle to find partners. The UK under David Cameron are unlikely to join. New Zealand has a conservative leader, and a carbon pricing scheme. Perhaps he’ll enlist the support of Saudi Arabia, who Eckersley sees as the biggest spoiler of all.

Eckersley points out that British Columbia, Quebec and California, one of the biggest economies in the world, have carbon pricing. China is launching seven provincial pilot emissions trading systems.

Abbott claims that the world is moving away from carbon pricing to ‘direct action’ type policies. Sophie Vorrath at RenewEconomy cites the World Bank as saying that carbon pricing is here to stay with more than 60 carbon pricing systems currently in operation or development globally.

At a press conference Abbott said that climate change is “not the only or even the most important problem that the world faces.”

Abbott doesn’t realise that the economy exists within the environment.

In this post last November on the outcomes of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Warsaw I referred to a graphic by Climate Tracker:


There is Australia at the back of the peloton. If everyone did what we are doing the world would be toast, and with no economy to speak of. Climate Tracker currently sees Australia’s effort as “inadequate” and getting worse. With our performance the world would be heading towards 600 ppm and 4°C.

Abbott’s Canadian performance was no doubt intended to be one in the eye for Barack Obama, who Abbott sees next. The signal is that Obama would be wasting his time persuading Abbott to put climate change on the G20 agenda.

Laura Tingle, talking to Phillip Adams, opined that addressing climate change in the G20 would be a precedent since the G20 so far has restricted itself to economics. She also said that there was nothing doing in terms of international co-operation, and they were all off doing there own thing.

That would be news to the people currently attending climate talks from 4 to 15 June in Bonn under the auspices of the UNFCCC. In the Warsaw post I laid out the sequence as follows:

The timetable is that leaders will meet with the UN Director General in New York on 23 September 2014 with a show and tell of their thinking on contributions, and no doubt receive some jaw-boning from him in return.

There will be more talking at the 20th COP in Lima from 1-12 December 2014, where a draft new climate agreement will be tabled. Then in April 2015 countries will seriously start putting their “contributions” (rather than “commitments”) on the table “without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions”. These “contributions” might be targets but could be other efforts to keep emissions down.

All this is aimed to get a legally binding agreement which reflects the “common but differentiated responsibility” of each state to be concluded at the Paris COP at the end of 2015 – for implementation in 2020 when the Kyoto Protocol officially expires.

So the leaders meet in September, but then not again before the deal is sealed in Paris in December 2015. In Lima I believe only the ministers will attend, noting that we did not bother to send a minister to Warsaw.

A new climate agreement is mainstream in policy and planning for the economy.

In spreading tacks on the road and trivialising the issue of climate change, Abbott and his government have form. In opposition in 2012 they would not grant Greg Combet a pair to attend the Rio+20 conference. In Warsaw, without a minister (who would have been Julie Bishop, since Greg Hunt is not allowed to conduct international negotiations) the Australian delegation was notorious, earning four “Fossil of the Day” awards and the overall “Colossal Fossil” for the meeting. Civil society groups like Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth, took the unprecedented step of simply walking out with a day still to go, muttering “Australia” as they went.

Being serious about climate change, the last thing Barack Obama would need is that kind of leadership at the G20.

The game is up

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.

David Spratt now tells it straight: Continue reading The game is up

Copping out at COP 19 in Warsaw

Back in 2002 an Earth Summit (World Summit on Sustainable Development) nick-named “Rio + 10” was held in Johannesburg. As I recall there was a big push on to transfer the main carriage for environmental matters from the UN to the WTO. There was dancing in the aisles by environment ministers when the move failed. The mind boggles for those who recall our environment minister at the time, one rather stiff and formal Dr David Kemp.

One wonders, though, whether climate change negotiations would now be in better shape. Probably not. Since Cancún in 2003 the WTO has had its own problems. Not surprising then that there has been a report suggesting a radical rethink of the UNFCCC process. Problem is the UNFCCC would have to agree and that would take at least 20 years.

There is always much talk of ‘pathways’ and ‘stepping stones’ at UNFCCC meetings. Graham Readfearn on the way to this year’s Conference of Parties (COP) in Warsaw asked Will Australia cause a slip on the climate change stepping stones in Warsaw? He suggested that Australia may be there using its elbows to push the process off balance. According to his final report How rich countries dodged the climate change blame game in Warsaw he was on the money: Continue reading Copping out at COP 19 in Warsaw

Crisis or catastrophe? What will the IPCC say?

In sum, the dynamics of the global coupled human-environmental system within the dominant culture precludes management for stable, sustainable pathways and promotes instability.

In other words, we’re f*cked!

That quote was from here, linked from Christopher Wright.

The quote was actually from the abstract of a sober, technical paper by geophysicist Brad Werner. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report will also be sober and technical, based on peer reviewed literature, at least accepted for publication two to three months before the draft of each section is finalised, plus ‘grey’ material, which I take it means reliable sources such as government reports and reports prepared by or for organisations such as the International Energy Association, the World bank and our erstwhile Climate Commission.

There will be three working group reports, each with a summary for policymakers, plus a synthesis report. The working groups are:

    WG1: The Physical Science Basis
    WG2: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
    WG3: Mitigation of Climate Change

It remains to be seen how urgent and dramatic the summaries for policymakers will be. The full import won’t be on view until the publication of WG3 in April next year, but the first should give us an idea of the seriousness of the situation.

Here’s the timetable for releasing the reports:


Here’s the site for WG1. Here’s where the Summary for Policymakers should appear on 27 September. Here are the chapter headings of the report, due on Monday: Continue reading Crisis or catastrophe? What will the IPCC say?

Climate clippings 83

Climate clippings_175These 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