Tag Archives: United Nations

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.

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.

The future of emissions trading

While the Senate has not yet passed the bill to repeal the ETS the question arises as to when if ever carbon pricing will return. I’m not a psephologist but I suspect that the Palmer United Party are going to be in a similar position after the next election of having a stake in the balance of power, perhaps more so! Given that Labor appear set on retaining carbon pricing as part of their policy platform and the Greens will sign up to a reasonable scheme, the introduction of carbon pricing appears to depend on either the Liberals growing up or PUP.

Assuming PUP don’t change their mind they have said we won’t have emissions trading until India, China, the USA, Europe, Japan and South Korea do it. So the prospects of carbon pricing appear to depend on the US Tea Party losing a controlling position in the US Senate, or the Australian Tea Party turning into a mature modern party that respects the science.

The most likely to give I think is the PUP. Recall what Bernard Keane said at Crikey:

The key to understanding Palmer is that he’s always about what’s ahead. What’s in the past is irrelevant. The issue of consistency simply doesn’t arise, because Palmer eternally moves forward, toward the next announcement, the next stunt.

Palmer has said that PUP are going to be on the right side of history. The international scene is likely to be somewhat fluid leading up to the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Paris in December 2015 where a legally binding post Kyoto deal will be attempted. Negotiations under the UNFCCC are almost continuous but the next big event is in September 2014 when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to a Climate Summit Catalyzing Action:

This Summit will be a different kind of Climate Summit. It is aimed at catalyzing action by governments, business, finance, industry, and civil society in areas for new commitments and substantial, scalable and replicable contributions to the Summit that will help the world shift toward a low-carbon economy.

In preparation for the summit economist Jeffrey Sachs’s Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project has produced an interim report plotting specific measures for the world’s 15 largest economies “to cut their emissions quickly and deeply enough to meet an international agreed goal of limiting warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels.”

The 15 economies are, in alphabetical order, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, France, Germany, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, the USA.

I’ve highlighted the ones nominated by Palmer.

The report

found that it’s technically possible for Australia to get almost all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050 and to offset the rest by storing carbon in soil or planting more trees.

We can do this while growing our GDP at 2.4% pa.

The importance of Australia’s role in New York in September is possibly two-fold.

Firstly, will Abbott be embarrassing? Will he be negative and disruptive or just irrelevant? It’s extremely unlikely that he will show any vision or learn anything.

I did hear that he was going to be too busy at home destroying Labor’s legacy in climate change to attend. No doubt Julie Bishop will fill in since Greg Hunt is not allowed out alone.

Secondly, and of greater importance, will Palmer as a result of what other leaders say decide that Australia should ride at the head of the peloton and show a bit of leadership without breaking away?

Palmer saves the world!

Clive Palmer Addresses National Press Club

Meanwhile here on the local scene PUP are planning to introduce their ETS on trainer wheels as an amendment to the legislation proposing the demise of the Climate Change Authority.