Archive 2012

The year the earth bit back: top climate stories of 2012 Gareth Renowden Dec 29

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2012Amidst the blizzard of year-end roundups, here’s one you have to read in full — a joint effort put together by a diverse group of bloggers and scientists: Angela Fritz, Eli Rabett, Emilee Pierce, Greg Laden, Joe Romm, John Abraham, Laurence Lewis, Leo Hickman, Michael Mann, Michael Tobis, Paul Douglas, Scott Mandia, Scott Brophy, Stephan Lewandowsky, Tenney Naumer and yours truly. Lead author Greg Laden explains:

A group of us, all interested in climate science, put together a list of the most notable, often, most worrying, climate-related stories of the year, along with a few links that will allow you to explore the stories in more detail. We did not try to make this a “top ten” list, because it is rather silly to fit the news, or the science, or the stuff the Earth does in a given year into an arbitrary number of events. (What if we had 12 fingers, and “10” was equal to 6+6? Then there would always be 12 things, not 10, on everyone’s list. Makes no sense.) We ended up with 18 items, but note that some of these things are related to each other in a way that would allow us to lump them or split them in different ways. See this post by Joe Romm for a more integrated approach to the year’s events. Also, see what Jeff Masters did here. We only included one non-climate (but related) item to illustrate the larger number of social, cultural, and political things that happened this year. For instance, because of some of the things on this list, Americans are more likely than they were in previous years to accept the possibility that science has something to say about the Earth’s climate and the changes we have experienced or that may be in the future; journalists are starting to take a new look at their own misplaced “objective” stance as well. Also, more politicians are starting to run for office on a pro-science pro-environment platform than has been the case for quite some time.

A failing of this list is that although non-US based people contributed, and it is somewhat global in its scope, it is a bit American based. This is partly because a few of the big stories happened here this year, but also, because the underlying theme really is the realisation that climate change is not something of the future, but rather, something of the present, and key lessons learned in that important area of study happened in the American West (fires) the South and Midwest (droughts, crop failures, closing of river ways) and Northeast (Sandy). But many of the items listed here were indeed global, such as extreme heat and extreme cold caused by meteorological changes linked to warming, and of course, drought is widespread.

1: Super Storm Sandy

Super Storm Sandy, a hybrid of Hurricane Sandy (and very much a true hurricane up to and beyond its landfall in the Greater New York/New Jersey area) was an important event for several reasons. First, the size and strength of the storm bore the hallmarks of global warming enhancement. Second, its very unusual trajectory was caused by a climatic configuration that was almost certainly the result of global warming. The storm would likely not have been as big and powerful as it was, nor would it have likely struck land where it did were it not for the extra greenhouse gasses released by humans over the last century and a half or so.

A third reason Sandy was important is the high storm surge that caused unprecedented and deadly flooding in New York and New Jersey. This surge was made worse by significant global warming caused sea level rise. Sea level rise has been eating away at the coasts for years and has probably caused a lot of flooding that otherwise would not have happened, but this is the first time a major event widely noticed by the mainstream media (even FOX news) involving sea level rise killed a lot of people and did a lot of damage. Fourth, Sandy was an event, but Sandy might also be the “type specimen” for a new kind of storm. It is almost certainly true that global warming Enhanced storms like Sandy will occur more frequently in the future than in the past, but how much more often is not yet known. We will probably have to find out the hard way.

Note that the first few of the links below are to blog posts written by concerned climate scientists, whom the climate change denialists call “alarmists.” You will note that these scientists and writers were saying alarming things as the storm approached. You will also note that what actually happened when Sandy struck was much worse than any of these “alarmists” predicted in one way or another, in some cases, in several ways. This then, is the fifth reason that Sandy is important: The Earth’s weather system (quite unconsciously of course) opened a big huge can of “I told you so” on the climate science denialist world. Sandy washed away many lives, a great deal of property and quite a bit of shoreline. Sandy also washed away a huge portion of what remained of the credibility of the climate science denialist lobby.

Is Mother Nature revving up an October Surprise (w/ human thumbs on the scale)?

Grim Trajectories

Has climate change created a monster?

Ostrich Heads in the Sand(y)? Does your meteorologist break the climate silence?

Climate of Doubt As Superstorm Sandy Crosses US Coast

Are Tropical Storms Getting Larger in Area?

What you need to know about Frankenstorm Sandy

[Fox: Hurricane Sandy Has “Nothing To Do With Global Warming” ]

2: Related to Sandy, the direct effects of sea level rise…

… were blatantly observed and widely acknowledged by the press and the public for the first time

Sea Level Rise … Extreme History, Uncertain Future

Peer Reviewed Research Predicted NYC Subway Flooding by #Sandy

How peer-reviewed material understates likely sea-level rise and examining NY Times interactive graphic relying on this optimistic material.

See WMO summary of year for info on global extremes – especially floods in Africa, India, Pakistan, China

3: The Polar Ice Caps and other ice features experienced extreme melting this year.

This year, Arctic sea ice reached a minimum in both extent (how much of the sea is covered during the Arctic summer) and more importantly, total ice volume, reaching the lowest levels in recorded history.

Arctic sea ice extent settles at record seasonal minimum

Ice Loss at Poles Is Increasing, Mainly in Greenland

[TV Media Cover Paul Ryan’s Workout 3x More Than Record Sea Ice Loss]

4: Sea Ice Loss Changes Weather …

We also increasingly recognised that loss of Arctic sea ice affects Northern Hemisphere weather patterns, including severe cold outbreaks and storm tracks. This sea ice loss is what set up the weather pattern mentioned above that steered Sandy into the US Northeast, as well as extreme cold last winter in other areas.

Arctic Warming is Altering Weather Patterns, Study Shows

5 and 6: Two major melting events happened in Greenland this summer.

First, the total amount of ice that has melted off this huge continental glacier reached a record high, with evidence that the rate of melting is not only high, but much higher than predicted or expected. This is especially worrying because the models climatologists use to predict ice melting are being proven too optimistic. Second, and less important but still rather spectacular, was the melting of virtually every square inch of the surface of this ice sheet over a short period of a few days during the hottest part of the summer, a phenomenon observed every few hundred years but nevertheless an ominous event considering that it happened just as the aforementioned record ice mass loss was being observed and measured.

Greenland Losing Ice Fast

[Media Turn A Blind Eye To Record Greenland Ice Melt]

7: Massive Ice islands…

…were formed when the Petermann Glacier of northern Greenland calved a massive piece of its floating tongue, and it is likely that the Pine Island Glacier (West Antarctica) will follow suit this Southern Hemisphere summer. Also, this information is just being reported and we await further evaluation. As summer begins to develop in the Southern Hemisphere, there may be record warmth there in Antarctica. That story will likely be part of next year’s roundup of climate-related woes.

8: More Greenhouse Gasses than Ever

Even though the rate of emissions of greenhouse gasses slowed down temporarily for some regions of the world, those gasses stay in the air after they are released, so this year greenhouse gas levels reached new record high levels

United StatesGreenhouse Gas Levels Reach New Record High

World Meteorological Organization: Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Reach New Record

9: It Got Hot

As expected, given the greenhouse gases just mentioned, Record Breaking High Temperatures Continue, 2012 is one of the warmest years since the Age of the Dinosaurs. We’ll wait until the year is totally over to give you a rank, but it is very, very high.

UK Met Office forecasts next year to set new record

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

10: …and that heat brought extreme, killer heat waves

Hot, Very Hot, Extremely Hot Summers

[STUDY: TV Media Ignore Coverage of Climate Change In Coverage Of Record July Heat]

11: For many areas, this was the year without a Spring.

The growing season in temperate zones is longer, causing the USDA in the US to change its planting recommendations.

It’s the Heat of the Night

12: There were widespread, unprecedented and deadly wildfires…

…around the world and in the American West.

[STUDY: Media Avoid Climate Context In Wildfire Coverage]

[STUDY: Media Begin To Connect The Dots Between Climate Change And Wildfires]

13: There was a major drought…

…in the US with numerous negative effects including threats to the food supply

Drought, Water & Energy

What is the link between Global Warming and Drought?

Brutal Droughts, Worsened by Global Warming, Threaten Food Production Around The World

Alarm bells on climate change as extreme weather events sweep the world: CCSOS

The Bacon Shortage

14: River Traffic Stops

A very rare event caused by drought conditions was the closing of the Mississippi River to traffic in mid-summer at two locations. This is part of a larger and growing problem involving drought, increased demands for water, and the importance of river traffic. Expect to hear more about this over the next couple of years.

Drought Closes Mississippi River Traffic in Two Locations

15: Very, very bad storms.

In June, a major and very scary derecho event – a thunderstorm and tornado complex large enough to get its own Wikipedia entry – swept across the country. This was one of several large storm systems that caused damage and death in the US this year. There were also large and unprecedented sandstorms in Asia and the US.

June 2012 North American derecho

16: Widespread Tree Mortality is underway and is expected to worsen.

Dire Drought Ahead, May Lead to Massive Tree Death

17: Biodiversity is mostly down…

We continue to experience, and this will get worse, great Losses in Biodiversity especially in Oceans, much of that due to increased acidification because of the absorption of CO2 in seawater, and overfishing.

Big loss of biodiversity with global warming

18: Unusual Jet Stream Configuration and related changes to general climate patterns…

Many of us who contributed to this list feel that this is potentially the most important of all of the stories, partly because it ties together several other events. Also, it may be that a change in the air currents caused by global warming represents a fundamental yet poorly understood shift in climate patterns. The steering of Hurricane Sandy into the New York and New Jersey metro areas, the extreme killer cold in Eastern Europe and Russia, the “year without a Spring” and the very mild winters, some of the features of drought, and other effects may be “the new normal” owing to a basic shift in how air currents are set up in a high-CO2 world. This December, as we compile this list, this effect has caused extreme cold in Eastern Europe and Russia as well as floods in the UK and unusually warm conditions in France. As of this writing well over 200 people have died in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia from cold conditions. As an ongoing and developing story we are including it provisionally on this list. Two blog posts from midyear of 2011 and 2012 (this one and this one) cover some of this.

The following video provides an excellent overview of this problem:

19: The first climate denial “think” tank to implode as a result of global warming…

… suffered major damage this year. The Heartland Institute, which worked for many years to prove that cigarette smoking was not bad for you, got caught red handed trying to fund an effort explicitly (but secretly) designed to damage science education in public schools. Once caught, they tried to distract attention by equating people who thought the climate science on global warming is based on facts and is not a fraud with well-known serial killers, using large ugly billboards. A large number of Heartland Institute donors backed off after this fiasco and their credibility tanked in the basement. As a result, the Heartland Institute, which never was really that big, is now no longer a factor in the climate change discussion.

A very Green Christmas Gareth Renowden Dec 25

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If only all Christmas music was as good as this. The finest voice in soul, and a Green with it, reminds us what today should feel like. Compliments of whatever shakes your tree from Gareth and all the writers who have contributed to Hot Topic over the past year. Should Al pall, then spend a few minutes pondering the energy problems confronted by a Glasgow legend during the festive season. Nadolig llawen.

A new world record(?) Gareth Renowden Dec 23

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Last week the UK Meteorological Office issued its annual forecast for the global average temperature for the year ahead. They’re expecting a warm year, but very few people seemed to notice just how hot. Here’s what the press release had to say:

2013 is expected to be between 0.43 °C and 0.71 °C warmer than the long-term (1961-1990) global average of 14.0 °C, with a best estimate of around 0.57 °C, according to the Met Office annual global temperature forecast.

Taking into account the range of uncertainty in the forecast and observations, it is very likely that 2013 will be one of the warmest ten years in the record which goes back to 1850, and it is likely to be warmer than 2012.

Most press coverage ran with the “one of the warmest years” line, a simple elaboration of the press release, but few noticed that the Met Office were actually predicting a new global temperature record — perhaps because the Met Office wasn’t exactly trumpeting the fact from the rooftops. Admirable caution, you might say.

The Met Office “best estimate” for 2013 is that global average temperature will be 0.57ºC above the long term average (1961-1990), and that’s a comfortable 0.03ºC above the previous record years of 2005 and 2010. Take a look at the graph above. I’ve plotted global temperatures from 1993 to 2012 (data here), and added a line showing the linear trend over that period. The Met Office’s projection is just above an extension of the trend line. The grey “whiskers” on 2012 and 2013 show the full range covered by the projections. 2012 came in 0.03ºC below the December 2011 forecast.

2012 will end up as the ninth warmest year in the long term record, mainly because the year started out with a strong La Niña (which has a cooling effect on global temperature, with a six to nine month lag), and the El Niño (warming effect) which seemed to be on the way in mid year has all but fizzled out. Nevertheless, 2013 will start without a La Nina, and unless a strong one develops early in the year, the Met Office are clearly expecting that the long term warming trend will exert itself.

It’s a bold forecast — but one that’s in line with the warming of the last 20 years. Carbon dioxide continues to accumulate in the atmosphere, and energy continues to pile up in the climate system. New high temperature records are inevitable and unavoidable until the climate gets back into energy balance, and that isn’t going to happen any time soon1. We ain’t seen nothing yet, and that’s not good news.


  1. 30 years is the usual period estimated to allow the upper layers of the ocean to “catch up” with warming

New Zealand’s double dealing and special pleading over the second Kyoto period: part the second Mr February Dec 22

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USD or NZD? so confusing!

USD or NZD? so confusing!

Is Tim Groser a Kyoto pariah? Or a Kyoto visonary? A global emissions reduction emissary or is he tar-sanded with a Canadian brush? I once more try to make sense of New Zealand’s double dealing and special pleading over the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period and the Doha hooha. This time with the aid of Tim Groser, who has written an opinion editorial in the Herald.

Tim Groser, New Zealand’s most forthright Minister for Climate Changes, contributed a shocker of an Op Ed to the NZ Herald this week. When I first read it, I wrote down my responses to what seemed the most misleading claims. The headline shocker is that either Tim Groser is so out of touch with his portfolio that he has no idea what the current price of carbon in New Zealand, or he is so incompetent that he can’t tell US dollars from NZ dollars.

But there are shockers for all of us.

I present Groser’s words in italics and in indented blockquote format, followed by my response in plain text and no indents.

TG: “It’s time to move past Kyoto agreement”

Canada, O Canada. Groser is channelling Canadian Minister of Environment Peter Kent “Kyoto for Canada is in the past.”

TG: “The unrelenting emphasis (on Kyoto) has sucked energy out of debate, diverting attention from the real problem.”

This is the classic PR spin tactic: diversion. Groser wishes to divert attention towards the USA, China and India and away from New Zealand’s double dealing.

TG “The science, as I interpret it, remains pretty clear”

Yes, Tim Groser does not deny the science, it’s just that National and Mr Groser have no intention acting domestically in any way consistent with the science. Perhaps that makes him a ‘policy denier’

TG “The international community needs to develop a more robust approach involving far more of the major emitting countries. Whatever New Zealand does will be completely irrelevant unless the major emitters participate.”

Canada, O Canada (first reprise): “We support a new international climate change agreement that includes commitments from all major emitters. That is the only way we are going to achieve real reductions and real results” Canadian Minister of Environment Peter Kent.

TG “some of the confusion has been deliberate”

Ah the old fifth column within, the extreme green economic traitors, those awkward truth telling ecologists like Mike Joy, Ha, I can just find some others with more comfortable opinions.

TG “First, the ETS has not been “gutted” by the changes passed recently in Parliament”

No, because the NZETS was “gutless” from day 1, as it has no cap, and it always allowed unlimited importing of international units. In 2012, National did defer indefinitely agriculture’s entry and extend indefinitely the provisions for half-price emissions for emitters (2-for-1 deal).

TG “No New Zealander – no household, no company – has to pay more, or subsidise anyone because of this decision”

Except New Zealand Aluminium Smelters Limited and Norske-Skog Tasman.

TG “Our top priority is to strengthen the recovery in extremely difficult international economic times.”

That really means Groser’s top priority always was to have an emissions trading scheme with a more-or-less zero carbon price.

TG “the (NZETS) legislation was, in effect a , a one-way bet taken on the last day of the Labour Government’s life in 2008 that the 2009 Copenhagen Summit would deliver a ‘single, comprehensive and ratifiable climate change agreement’ (the political mantra of the day).”

That statement is a totally revisionist Chairman Mao-like rewrite of history to suit a political agenda. The staggered entry of sectors dates back to Helen Clark’s MOU with agriculture signed after the Belch Tax debacle. It also reflects political lobbying by Business NZ and the need to find votes of support from Peter Dunne to get the legislation passed.

TG “We no longer have to pass amending legislation to avoid an automatic ramping up of the scheme, irrespective of either economic conditions or international progress.”

By saying this Groser lets us know that for National the delayed entry dates and the apparent all-sectors design were a “Potemkin village”. National never had any intention of bringing agriculture into the NZETS.

TG “At current low international carbon prices – they move around but they are clustered around $5 – there is indeed little petrol in the ETS tank. But that is exactly the way it was designed – to be aligned to world prices, whatever world prices are, up to a cap”

To me this is so gobsmacking it’s…Hekia Parata. Groser has no idea what the current NZ carbon price is! Groser can’t even read the price of a New Zealand unit (NZU) off the Bloomberg website without confusing US dollars and NZ dollars. What an idiot!

Bloomberg's NZ carbon price chart that Tim Groser can't read

Bloomberg’s NZ carbon price chart that Tim Groser can’t read

The NZU price is NOT “around $5″ Its around $NZ2.50/tonne

So Tim Groser says the NZETS is designed to import the international carbon price and that is a good thing. If it is so good being wedded to international prices, why has he taken us out of the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period?

TG “The domestic political debate has confused the structure of the policy with the international drivers of the carbon price.”

Thats just adding insult to financial injury to the Kyoto forestry sector where some have has lost 80% of the value of the post-1989 Kyoto forests. It’s a double blow, as the Government is keeping forestry removal units (earned for the same forests) to itself to fudge the Kyoto net position.

TG “watch what happens to the carbon price when the international recession is over and the EU moves to strengthen carbon markets and, hopefully, more countries start adopting carbon policies. You will then hear, no doubt, the exact opposite of the current political debate. Foresters will be happier as the carbon they sequester becomes more valuable (paper profits unless they sell them) and emitters will be less happy as they pay a higher carbon price.”

Thanks for lecture on prices, Tim. By the time the Eurozone has dealt with the over-allocation their carbon markets, and if they ever do, it will be way past 2015 or 2016, and New Zealand won’t even be in Kyoto’s second commitment period and Tim Groser will probably have canned the NZETS by then anyway!

TG “NZ continues to make remarkable progress in increasing the share of our electricity coming from renewable energy – it is 77 per cent and climbing.”

Tim Groser is taking credit for past Ministry of Works hydro projects. Does he really think the public are so stupid as to see that argument as in any way relevant to climate change mitigation? Meanwhile the younger generation are calling for the power shift to 100% renewable electricity. How long before Groser calls them ‘extreme greens’?

TG “So is this a great time to put new costs on our major exporting industry when we have a huge need to increase our exports?”

I could say how else could a carbon price work if it is not a real cost? How can any NZ carbon price policy be effective if half the economy is out? This is Groser’s and National’s real policy bottom-line. Exports uber alles! Exports above all else! National truly and obviously have no intention of pricing New Zealand’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

TG “Our agriculture sector is, by and large, the most carbon efficient agriculture sector in the world.”

Thats very Bruce Wills of him. So agriculture will be fine with a no-exceptions emissions trading scheme or carbon tax.

TG “This is the Global Research Alliance on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, which we lead.”

Great but what pays for it? Thats right, taxpayers. So that’s a subsidy, then. Having agriculture in the emissions trading scheme would help pay for it.

TG “A few days ago we joined another international initiative on climate change – the Climate and Clean Air Coalition”

Great! so now we mitigate climate change by friending someone’s Facebook page. I think I will let William Nordhaus know he doesn’t need to run carbon pricing on the DICE global model anymore as it’s all on Facebook.

TG “It is time to move beyond Kyoto and find a solution that can have a real environmental impact.”

Canada, O Canada (second reprise). “Kyoto for Canada is in the past..”,”Copenhagen and Cancun agreements, which were negotiated in 2009 and 2010 as the world stared down the end of Kyoto, are the future.” Peter Kent, Canadian Minister of Environment.

TG “We are on track to meet or exceed our Kyoto commitment to 2012.”

Only because of the “Kyoto escalator” of the gross 1990 baseline for the net target forest fudge.

From 1990 to 2010, New Zealand’s gross emissions grew by 20%, from 60 million tonnes (mt) to 72mt. Net emissions grew by 59% (from 32mt to to 52mt (data New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2010) So both gross and net greenhouse gas time series show a relentless upward trend.

For my conclusion, I might just recycle some from a previous post. But with one difference.

• When we hear Tim Groser talking of focusing on a global climate solution that involves 86% of the emitters that can have a real environmental impact, we now know he is just recycling speech notes from Canadian Minister Peter Kent and diverting attention from New Zealand’s policy shambles.

• Tim Groser and National have absolutely no intention of doing anything domestically to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

• Tim Groser and National also have absolutely no intention of imposing any real carbon price on New Zealand’s industrial and agricultural emitters.

New Zealand’s double dealing and special pleading over Kyoto 2: part the first Mr February Dec 20

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Net emissions to 2020

The 2020 target and Net emissions to 2020

Is Tim Groser a Kyoto pariah? Or a Kyoto visonary? A global emissions reduction emissary or is he tar-sanded with a Canadian brush? I try to make sense of New Zealand’s double dealing and special pleading over the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period and the Doha climate change talks hooha.

I am very confused about New Zealand’s climate change policy since the Doha international climate change talks (COP18) and New Zealand’s announcement that it would opt out of a second period of the Kyoto Protocol back on 9 November 2012.

The Kyoto opt-out has been described as a shambles and a disgrace and as a lose-lose decision that shuts New Zealand out of the international carbon markets. Tim Groser’s Herald Op Ed today just confuses me more.

So I have a question for all Hot Topic readers.

If Minister of Climate Change Tim Groser is serious about New Zealand’s 2020 greenhouse gas target, why would he forego formally lodging the 2020 target into the existing Kyoto Protocol framework (where the national institutions and arrangements are already up and running), in favour of pledging to meet the target on a voluntary basis in terms of a yet to be negotiated treaty?

Let me break that question down into several parts.

  1. Imagine you are the Minister for Climate Change in the government of a small developed country.
  2. This small gutsy quirky country as well as having exported comedians like Rhys Darby has signed an international treaty with a few other nations which states a short-term national target for emissions of greenhouse gases.
  3. This nation enacts the treaty by creating some new institutions; a national register for emissions units, national inventories of GHG emissions, national surveys of afforestation, and public servants to report the predicted progress towards the national target.
  4. The nation has adopted several policies relying on the treaty institutions; an emissions trading scheme, forest sink schemes, research alliances, and international trading of emissions units.
  5. The nation has a second publicly stated medium-term target for greenhouse gas emissions for the years following the expiry of the first target. It is to reduce net emissions between 10 and 20% from the gross 1990 baseline.

If you are serious about that second emissions target, why would you pledge the target on a voluntary basis, when you could have formally lodged your target into an existing treaty (where the national institutions and arrangements have already been set up)?

Any answers? Anyone? Would you like to phone a friend?

Okay, here’s a hint. Tim Groser says in his op ed

“So is this a great time to put new costs on our major exporting industry when we have a huge need to increase our exports?”


“Our top priority is to strengthen the recovery in extremely difficult international economic times.”

Here’s another hint. The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright has said that we are on track to exceed the 1990 emissions baseline by 30% rather than meet the 2020 target of reducing emissions by 10 to 20% compared to 1990.

Net emissions to 2020

Net emissions to 2020

Now just because New Zealand’s net emissions are likely to consistently increase through to 2020 doesn’t automatically mean New Zealand would not meet the 2020 target if translated into a Kyoto second commitment period target. We could just buy extra emissions units from the international Kyoto carbon markets.

That is, if there was a sensibly designed emissions trading scheme that passed the carbon price to emitters. Such a scheme would be 100% “emitter pays”, with emitters making their own market-based decisions to either reduce emissions or to buy the emissions units. Well we certainly don’t have that.

So my conclusion is that it is not just that Tim Groser has absolutely no intention doing anything domestically to achieve the 2020 target of a 10 to 20% reduction in GHGs.
Groser and National also have absolutely no intention of imposing any real carbon price on New Zealand’s industrial and agricultural emitters.

NZ’s climate policy omnishambles – gerry brownlee’s anti-carbon tax Mr February Dec 19

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Gerry Brownlee, formerly a minister of energy and fossil fuel, and currently the Minister for Transport and for bulldozing democracy, heritage and social order in Christchurch, today announced that petrol duty will be increasing by 3 cents a litre annually for the next 3 years to fund new roads.

Specifically mentioned are the Rangiriri and Tamahere-Cambridge sections of the Waikato Expressway, the Mackays to Peka Peka section of the Wellington Northern Corridor and the four-laning of the Groynes to Sawyers Arms (Johns Road) section of the Western Corridor in Christchurch.

The reason given for this policy is that the funding is needed for the Roads of National Significance programme and some upper North Island transport projects. I guess that means more spaghetti motorway in Auckland.

This is crazy policy.

The first level of craziness of the petrol duty hike is that it will affect the benefit-cost analysis (BCA) of each Roads of National Significance (RONS) project. Projects like Transmission Gully Expressway, have already been justified to hearings before the Environment Protection Authority on very marginal benefit/cost ratios. Julie-Anne Genter of the Greens said the benefit/cost ratio of Transmission Gully was 0.6. The RONS don’t even break even in BCA terms.

Now with the added petrol duty, the marginal benefit/cost ratio would be even worse. However, I bet that won’t make Gerry Brownlee or Steven Joyce any less obsessed with them.

The second level of craziness with the petrol duty increase is the Government’s complete failure to understand carbon pricing (which is what a petrol duty is) and to anchor their transport, energy and infrastructure policy with effective carbon pricing.

I have no problem with the price of petrol or diesel increasing. Road transport has many externalities that are not priced. It is “elephant in the room” obvious that the most important unpriced externality of liquid fossil fuels is global warming. And not a lack of four-lane expressways.

“But we have an emissions trading scheme!” I hear some one say. “Surely, road transport fuels are included in the NZETS?”

Yes we sort of have an emissions trading scheme which includes liquid fossil fuels which sort of prices carbon. But NZ carbon prices have crashed 72% in 2012.

According to estimates by the Energy and Data part of Steven Joyce’s mega-ministry MoBIE, in the three months ended on 30 September 2012, the NZ emissions trading scheme probably accounted for 0.93 cents out of the regular petrol price of $2.09 per litre.

So we may describe New Zealand’s petrol pricing policy as having two mutually conflicting parts. The price includes a component for revenue gathering for unneeded four-lane RONS expressways (3 cents/litre). The price also includes a component for the NZETS carbon price (0.93 cents/litre).

And the four-lane expressways part exceeds the carbon-pricing ETS part by a factor of 3.

This is the complete opposite of effective carbon pricing. Brownlees’s petrol duty, to coin an expression, is an anti-carbon tax. What a shambles!

NZ climate policy shambles, and other summer reading Gareth Renowden Dec 17

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It’s summer down south, and New Zealand’s politicians have embarked on their summer break. It’s summer in Waipara too, and with yesterday topping 30ºC and today heading in the same direction, your blogger has immediate climate concerns of an irrigation and vine management nature to attend to. So, with apologies for what may turn out to be less frequent posting over the next few weeks, here’s a quick round-up of stuff worth reading.

The NZ government will be relieved to be heading to the beaches after being battered by a hail of criticism for their climate policies over the last week. Brian Fallow, the NZ Herald‘s economics editor, was especially direct in his dissection of NZ’s climate policy settings post-Doha:

The Government’s climate change policy is a shambles and a disgrace. Unless, that is, you are happy for the costs of the inevitable adjustment to a low-carbon future to be needlessly increased and pushed onto the young, in which case it is doing a great job.

Gareth Morgan joined in, calling for the government to come clean about what its policies really mean:

National really should be proud of its pragmatic judgement that capping emissions is beyond us. At least then New Zealanders would be faced with that fact and could begin to think about our future. With a dairy industry that has raised the number of cows from 2 to 4.5million and is incentivised to keep expanding those numbers ad infinitum, there is no chance emissions will be capped. Isn’t the relevant question then whether that’s the sort of industry we wish to underwrite?

Bear in mind that the average industrial dairy unit in Canterbury produces as much raw sewage as a small town, NZ’s rivers and lakes are being polluted by agricultural run-off, and that dairy farmers and their business arm Fonterra appear to have a stranglehold on agricultural policy. If Morgan’s question was put to the general population — the population that is paying taxes to subsidise agricultural emissions, seemingly in perpetuity — then there would be only one answer.

All of this is proving frustrating for sustainable business expert David Thompson, writing in Idealog:

The scientists aren’t wrong about the threat, I’m not wrong about our capability and the last I heard, the Flying Spaghetti Monster was unable to fit us into his busy schedule. So unless someone can give me a really good argument why we’re better off doing nothing, let’s take control. Now.

That call to action is echoed (on a somewhat bigger stage) by Naomi Klein, in an interview at The Phoenix where she discusses her involvement with Bill McKibben’s Do The Math campaign, and her decision to have a child:

If anything, the experience has made Klein all the more a fighter. She now believes that denying her desire to have a child, because of the mess being made by those willing to destroy the planet for profit, would be a form of surrender.

“I guess what I want to say is, I don’t want to give them that power,” she told me. “I’d rather fight like hell than give these evil motherfuckers the power to extinguish the desire to create life.”

Klein’s views on how to approach the emissions problem — nationalise the oil companies — are hardly likely to enter the mainstream any time soon, but we need people like her articulating approaches that go beyond the business as usual approach that created the mess — both economic and climate-related — that we have to start cleaning up. And it’s getting more and more difficult the longer we allow the people who claim to be our leaders to do nothing.

The Doha Gateway: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair cindy Dec 11

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Where we are, where we should be and the consequences. Climate Action Tracker’s graphic on our future choices.

And so. Another set of climate talks done, this year dusted with Doha sand and labeled the “Doha Gateway”.  I’m not sure what they’re a gateway to,  certainly no immediate improvement to the climate. The final hours were bizarre, to say the least.  We began the day on Saturday with a text much improved from the day before, but with some major issues outstanding.  Ministers wrangled behind closed doors for most of the day, changing bits of text here and there.

We were preparing for Russia who, with Kazakhstan, Belarus and the Ukraine, were set to continue the talks way into Saturday night.   They were holding out in the informals, furious about the discussions on hot air.

Hot air

The “Russian factor” is one those of us who’ve been involved for a few years are all too familiar with. Just when you think there’s general agreement, in come the Russians who manage to drag the talks on for hours.

“Hot air” has been major problem with the Kyoto Protocol for years.  Somehow, the Russians managed to get the Kyoto negotiators to agree to a baseline of 1990, before the collapse of the former Soviet Union, which meant millions of tonnes of carbon credits ended up in the hands of Eastern European countries, bringing them a handy income, and other countries an easy and cheap option to do nothing at home and buy cheap hot air.  Russia has 6Gt of hot air – that’s how much it’s been cheating the atmosphere.

In Durban and Doha, New Zealand has sided with this team against the wish of the rest of the world to make sure that this “hot air” didn’t get carried over into Kyoto’s second commitment period (CP2).

A report released last week by Climate Analytics showed that if this hot air was allowed, governments could meet their pledges, buy hot air and continue emitting on a business as usual pathway to 2026.  The Ukraine argued that they needed their hot air credits as their economy was growing, but the report showed that they would have to have an amazing 11.6% annual growth in GDP to do so. I don’t think anyone expects Ukraine to have such a boom economy.

In practice there are few who can benefit from their hot air surplus carried over from CP1 to CP2 are not many: Australia, Norway and the Ukraine.  New Zealand would have had some too, from our Kyoto forests, but we’re not in CP2 so we can’t use them anyway. At the end of the day, while the carry-over from CP1 to CP2 was allowed, many governments signed a political declaration as part of the agreement that they wouldn’t buy this hot air anyway. Even Japan signed it – but of course NZ didn’t.

The killer for Russia and New Zealand were the “elegibility” rules, where it was decided that governments outside Kyoto would not be allowed access to the carbon markets it set up. The New Zealand delegation was at the heart of the earlier draft of the text seen on Friday morning that had every government and its dog allowed access to Kyoto’s Flexible Mechanisms.

But overnight on Friday night that the Ministers put a stop to that, so NZ was left out in the cold.  While we could, on the face of it, continue to trade hot air to meet our “target”, we run the risk that the credits may well not be eligible for emissions under the post 2020 global agreement as the rules for that haven’t yet been settled.

When the final plenary began, to everyone’s surprise, the somewhat flambouyant Qatari Minister Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah gaveled it all through.  Watch the beginning of the webcast – it was quite something.  He ignored the Russian flag being pounded on their table and simply declared the Doha Gateway agreed.  It was the first bold move this former OPEC president had made throughout the entire talks – if he’d bashed heads together a bit earlier we could have achieved a lot more.

Russia was furious, and the US made reservations, but they were simply told that all of it would be noted in the report.  There are precedents for such action, such as with Bolivia in Cancun. In 1992 the chair ignored the Saudis and gaveled the UNFCCC itself through when the Saudi flag was still clearly up.

Ratching up emissions cuts

Another vaguely positive outcome for the Kyoto Protocol CP2 agreement was the review by April next year of the adequacy of commitments under the IPCC’s 25-40% recommendation.  This leaves open the option of Europe finally agreeing to go to 30%, something it can easily do.

Of course Kyoto, as Tim Groser argues, doesn’t cover many countries at all, and certainly a small chunk of global emissions.   The global deal is on track to be agreed by 2015, but won’t come into effect until 2020. All the hot air from Groser about working on a global deal essentially means we’re off the hook until 2020, apart from our meagre pledge that remains “conditional” on a global deal.  As I’ve said before, the best thing Groser could have done to help that global deal get through was to sign up to Kyoto’s CP2 to show good faith.

 Finance, loss and damage

The most disappointing part of the Doha was the decision to simply keep talking on the major issue of Finance.  Governments agreed in 2009 to, by 2020, contribute a total of $100bn a year to help the developing world develop clean energy and adapt to climate change, but the money is still not forthcoming.  Indeed at the beginning of Doha there wasn’t enough money to pay the secretariat for another year.

The trade-off here was the inclusion of the “loss and damage” terminology in the final text, where the US had been fighting to keep it off the table.  While again, like the finance section, the agreement is to simply keep talking about what to do on Loss and Damage, this was a blow to the US.

To sum up, nothing was done in Doha that will immediately stop the relentless rise of global emissions.  There were some agreements to agree sometime in the future.   The meeting was never going to achieve much, but to get Kyoto’s CP2 done, and blocking the “cheaters” like NZ and Russia out of carbon trading without an emissions target was the biggest win.

For us, no doubt John Key and his pals will be happy with the fact that there’s little to change our somewhat dubious status of having the sixth fastest growing emissions in the OECD.

Our government’s “drill it mine it frack it” policy can continue unabated, our foresters can continue to replace plantations with dairy and we don’t really face any pesky global rules that will make us increase our targets before 2020.  How our ETS will look after 2015 remains to be seen, as we won’t be able to trade our way through it.

As I left Doha, contemplating the 3-4degC world the next generations will face unless more action is taken, I was reminded of Percy Bysse Shelley’s famous “Ozymandius” which somehow seems apt:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

Stuff and nonsense (ministerial condescension and media fossil fools) Gareth Renowden Dec 11

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A select few politicians have the ability to make me (and others) shout at the radio. New Zealand’s minister of climate change issues Tim Groser is one such. On Radio New Zealand National’s Morning Report this morning he gave vent to his feelings on NZ’s Colossal Fossil winning performance at Doha. It was an “absurd and juvenile prank”, apparently, put together by “extreme greens and youth groups”. He definitely had it in for the youth groups, referring to them twice. His extreme condescension to young people who think that his policies are at best wrong-headed, at worst disastrous for the country they will inherit, caused me to interrupt my tea making to shout at the radio, much to the dog’s surprise. Hear the full interview here, and see if you are immune to Groser’s aggressively smug assumption that only he holds the key to climate action:

Tim Groser on Morning Report

And then, over the now brewed cup of tea, Google’s morning newspaper presented me with a news item from the Dominion Post (via Stuff) about a new paper in Nature Climate Change co-authored by Dave Frame of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute. The basic news item’s straightforward enough: Frame and co-author Daithi Stone, from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have looked back to the IPCC’s 1990 projections, and found that they were remarkably close to what has actually happened over the last 20 years — bad news for climate deniers who insist that model projections have failed and that warming has stopped. (See also VUW press release,, The Conversation). Perhaps that’s why the journalist, one Tom Hunt, chose to close his piece with a quote from physics denier Bryan Leyland (cue coughing and spluttering):

But Bryan Leyland, from the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, said science had shown global temperatures had not risen in 16 years and the world was more likely to get cooler.

Leyland, as we discussed at Hot Topic recently, is now happy to align himself with the über cranks who deny the reality of the greenhouse effect. Quoting him on climate research is about as meaningful as seeking the flat earth society’s opinion on orbital mechanics.

For that stupid piece of false balance, Tom Hunt and the Dom Post win my inaugural Media Fossil Fool award. Anyone care to design a nice badge they can wear with shame?

Lost and damaged cindy Dec 08

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New Zealand Youth Delegate Simon Tapp with our golden prize: a Colossal Fossil, shared with Canada.

At the end of every UNFCCC meeting, on the last day, there’s a grand prize: the Colossal Fossil. So proud:  New Zealand took top prize for the first time, shared with Canada.

For a country whose emissions are similar in scale to the Canadian tar sands, New Zealand has demonstrated exceptional blindness to scientific and political realities. Surprising many and disappointing all, New Zealand has fought hard to unseat 5-time Colossal Fossil winner, Canada, in a campaign of extreme selfishness and irresponsibility.

While New Zealand may have helped drown the talks for another year, New Zealand’s small and vulnerable Pacific neighbours should take heart that they have not been forgotten – New Zealand intends to drown them too.

I don’t think I can add much to this, except to say that for a small country, we sure manage to punch above our weight at these talks, upsetting more governments and people than is warranted for our small size.   Sam from the Youth Delegation has summed it up nicely over on the youth blog. It’s all about trust.

I was going to write a light-hearted blog today, poking fun at Lord Christopher Monckton’s appearance in Doha, in his Arabic dress and antics in the plenary. But I thought about it overnight and woke this morning more angry about it than amused.Monckton turned up on Wednesday dressed in full Arab regalia –  the long, white kheffiyeh that the majority of Qatari men wear every day.   He held a press conference the next day with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow and a Texan tea party group, with Republican Senator James Inhofe joining by video.

But this week saw a massive typhoon in the Philippines that has so far killed more than 500 people – and counting. The southernmost super-typhoon ever seen in the country.  It nearly wiped out Palau altogether.

The Philippine delegate, in tears, appealed to the meeting to take action, to get agreement:  “If not us, then who; if not now, then when; if not here then where?”

Later, Monckton later took the floor in the plenary, posing as a delegate for Burma, who don’t have a delegation here, and told the meeting that there had been no warming in 16 years.   The whole plenary booed him.   He had his badge taken off him, and was ejected (he was leaving anyway). The Guardian Liveblog covered it here, if you feel you must watch (another rant from me there too).

I got an email from the UN telling me: “Lord Monckton has been permanently barred from the UNFCCC process.”

So that’s it.  Never again will I see the Viscount of Brenchley, Lord Christopher Monckton at a climate talks.  Good riddance.   He’s already trying to spin that he was thrown out because he was talking about no warming for 16 years, when in fact he was rightfully thrown out for  speaking on the floor as Burma when he wasn’t entitled to do that.

Midnight oil

Right now, it’s after 2 am and I’ve left the negotiations to get some sleep.  There’s big deadlocks around a lot of the detail, with much focus on an incredibly weak Kyoto Protocol text. Who’s in, who’s out?  Our government has been right in there, weakening rules around trading to the point that they’re actually weaker than they were in the early 1990’s.

Then there’s the issue of “loss and damage,” new to the discussions from last year. The key sticking point is over whether there is an international mechanism set up to help distribute money for the poorest countries to pay for the loss and damage from climate impacts.  It’s about the industrialized world paying for the damage it’s now wreaking on the poorest.

As Seychelles Ambassador Ronny Jumeau told a press conference earlier this week:

“If we had had more [emissions cuts], we would not have to ask for so much for adapatation.  If there had been more money for adaptation, we would not be looking for money for loss and damge. What’s next? The loss of our islands?”

This isn’t going to finish any time soon.  What we’ll get tomorrow is up in the air, but what we do know is  that air will continue to be filled with increasing amounts of C02 – and nothing that’s happening here is going to slow it any time soon.

I’ll know more in the morning, but bets are on that it’s going to last through to late Saturday.




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