SciBlogs

Archive 2012

The Climate Show #31: Doha! Doha! Doha! Gareth Renowden Dec 07

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It’s the run up to Christmas, and the annual ritual repeats. Diplomats gather in Doha to discuss and debate action on climate change, so Glenn and Gareth talk to their correspondent on the spot, New Zealand climate media strategist Cindy Baxter to find out what’s happening in the oil kingdom’s echoing halls. At the Fall AGU meeting in San Francisco, NOAA has published its 2012 Arctic Report Card (grim reading, it has to be said). Plus Gareth talks about truffles as a bellwether for Europe’s changing climate, and the boys get all enthusiastic about nanophotonics and steampunk.

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The Climate Show

Story references

News

The Fall AGU is on in San Francisco.

Today’s hot news: 2012 Arctic report card released: press release.

Graphics and articles: http://www.climatewatch.noaa.gov/article/2012/2012-arctic-report-card

French truffles being affected by heat and drought

http://www.wsl.ch/medien/news/Trueffel_mediterran/index_EN

The bigger picture: European Environment Agency report:

‘Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012′ finds that higher average temperatures have been observed across Europe as well as decreasing precipitation in southern regions and increasing precipitation in northern Europe. The Greenland ice sheet, Arctic sea ice and many glaciers across Europe are melting, snow cover has decreased and most permafrost soils have warmed.

Guest interview:

Special guest NZr Cindy Baxter, a climate media strategist who has attended just about every major international climate meeting over the last 20 years. Veteran of the talks, blogs for Hot Topic. In Doha with climate scientists.

And just to underline Cindy’s comments: NZ’s lacklustre statement to COP 18: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1212/S00118/new-zealand-national-statement-to-cop18.htm

Solutions

Solar steam: Super-Efficient Solar-Energy Technology: ‘Solar Steam’ So Effective It Can Make Steam from Icy Cold Water

The efficiency of solar steam is due to the light-capturing nanoparticles that convert sunlight into heat. When submerged in water and exposed to sunlight, the particles heat up so quickly they instantly vaporize water and create steam. Halas said the solar steam’s overall energy efficiency can probably be increased as the technology is refined.
“We’re going from heating water on the macro scale to heating it at the nanoscale,” Halas said. “Our particles are very small — even smaller than a wavelength of light — which means they have an extremely small surface area to dissipate heat. This intense heating allows us to generate steam locally, right at the surface of the particle, and the idea of generating steam locally is really counterintuitive.”

Steampunk Oamaru

Thanks to our media partners: Idealog Sustain, Sciblogs, and Scoop .

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

Arctic records tumble as ice melts: 2012 Arctic report card released at AGU Gareth Renowden Dec 06

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The latest Arctic Report Card was published yesterday at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco, and it makes grim reading. Apart from last summer’s new record low sea ice minimum, all the indicators of warming are pointing in the wrong direction. The Arctic is making a rapid transition to a new climate state. Highlights of the report (from the press release):

  • Snow cover: A new record low snow extent for the Northern Hemisphere was set in June 2012, and a new record low was reached in May over Eurasia.
  • Sea ice: Minimum Arctic sea ice extent in September 2012 set a new all-time record low.
  • Greenland ice sheet: There was a rare, nearly ice sheet-wide melt event on the Greenland ice sheet in July, covering about 97 percent of the ice sheet on a single day.
  • Vegetation: The tundra is getting greener and there’s more above-ground growth. During the period of 2003-2010, the length of the growing season increased through much of the Arctic.
  • Wildlife & food chain: In northernmost Europe, the Arctic fox is close to extinction and vulnerable to the encroaching Red fox. Massive phytoplankton blooms below the summer sea ice suggest that earlier estimates of biological production at the bottom of the marine food chain may have been ten times lower than was occurring.
  • Ocean: Sea surface temperatures in summer continue to be warmer than the long-term average at the growing ice-free margins, while upper ocean temperature and salinity show significant interannual variability with no clear trends.
  • Weather: Most of the notable weather activity in fall and winter occurred in the sub-Arctic due to a strong positive North Atlantic Oscillation, expressed as the atmospheric pressure difference between weather stations in the Azores and Iceland. There were three extreme weather events including an unusual cold spell in late January to early February 2012 across Eurasia, and two record storms characterized by very low central pressures and strong winds near western Alaska in November 2011 and north of Alaska in August 2012.

It’s well worth digging down beyond the executive summary to look at the individual reports for key elements in the Arctic — there’s a lot of detail to digest, all of it fascinating, much of it sobering, if not downright scary. This is rapid climate change, happening now. I wonder if anyone in Doha will notice?

2° be or not 2° be: the choices we face cindy Dec 05

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Time to walk away from the goal of limiting warming to 2degC?

There’s been much talk in recent weeks about the 2degC global warming limit: agreed in Copenhagen, confirmed in Cancun. It has been questioned by many, including Kevin Anderson in a post on this blog, and by US Climate Envoy Todd Stern.

The scientists I’m working with in Doha, from the Climate Action Tracker, gave a press conference last Friday to outline what they think about this “goal” (I put it in quotes because I am a little tired of people saying it’s a “goal”.  A goal is something you strive for, but personally I’d rather we didn’t reach it).

But despite what Kevin Anderson and others are saying, these guys, from Climate Analytics, the Pik Potsdam Institute and Ecofys, have done probably the most substantive data crunching and modeling on this issue, the most definitive to date on the subject. Indeed, they did the core work on UNEP’s three Emissions Gap reports.

Their topline is that physically, technically and economically, it’s absolutely feasible. And without having to jump through crazy CCS or bio-energy hoops or any other such negative emissions.

There are many scenarios that show that the order of magnitude of the cost of staying below 2°C can be less than 1% of global GDP, if the investments are spread over time.  But this means starting now.

From today’s levels, emissions would have to drop 15% by 2020 to keep below 2degC temperature rise (well, to have a greater than 66% chance of doing that). “Coordinated early action.”  We can do it without CCS but with a lot of energy efficiency.

The IEA’s “efficient world scenario” says we can do it and that we would be economically far better off – none of those costs of hideous climate impacts to deal with either.  You know, those storms and extreme weather events that seem to cost us more each year.

The longer we wait the more expensive it gets.  The problem is that there have been a number of statements here in Doha, including two press conferences from the US, where it’s clear that many don’t intend doing anything beyond their Copenhagen pledges until 2020.

The next global agreement on climate is expected to be done by 2015 and coming into force by 2020.  This is the agreement that will have all the big emitters like China and India in it, and which Tim Groser tells us he will throw his weight into getting.

 A matter of choices

The problem with this is that if we wait until we get to this magic 2020 date to take any more action beyond the current pledges, then it’s going to get pretty tricky to stay below 2degC.

It’s still possible, but that’s when our choices start to narrow.  Big Time. If you don’t like nuclear energy: tough.  If you don’t like Carbon Capture and Storage: tough.  If you don’t like the idea of bio-energy on a massive scale: tough.

Because if we want to keep below 2degC, those are the types of technologies we’ll have to employ to stay there, if we do nothing more until 2020.

Clearly, we’re heading in the wrong direction, confirmed this week by the Global Carbon Project’s latest figures that show we’re continuing to average a 3% rise in global emissions each year.

These are the choices:

1.  We could act now, stay below 2degC temp rise, deal with the inevitable impacts that we’ve already got coming, but spend the least amount of money.

2.  We could wait til 2020 and face a nuclear waste and technofix nightmare (even more worrying if CCS continues to be the money-waster and not-quite-ready technology it is now).  And still probably risk breaching 2degC.

3.  We could continue with the political foot-dragging personified by Tim Groser: a 4degC world in 2100.  That’s the world painted by the Climate Action Tracker team – whose Director, Bill Hare, was lead author for the World Bank 4degC report, out a couple of weeks ago.  Here’s some of the highlighted impacts:

  • A warming of 4°C or more by 2100 would correspond to a CO2 concentration above 800 ppm and an increase of about 150 percent in acidity of the ocean.  At that rate, ocean acidification will rise at levels higher than ever known in  Earth’s history, leading to regional extinction of entire coral reef ecosystems.
  • New results suggest a rapidly rising risk of crop yield reductions as the world warms. Large negative effects have been observed at high and extreme temperatures in several regions including India, Africa, the United States, and Australia.
  • Given the massive threat to the living conditions of mankind, there is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible.

Cheery stuff.

Gareth tells me we’re not allowed to re-publish a New Yorker cartoon without paying out an awful lot of money,  but here’s the link to it.  The caption says it all:

 “Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time, we created a lot of value for shareholders.”

 …which brings me to a natural segue to an update on our lovely Government in Doha.

They continue to be showered with awards.  Five “fossil of the day” prizes so far.  We’re even ahead of Canada in the Doha tally.  Yesterday’s fossil was for “being worse than Canada.”

Greens MP Kennedy Graham, myself and seven NZ Youth delegates are the only Kiwis here.   Kennedy and I agreed this morning that being from New Zealand in Doha means a lot of apologizing.  Embarrassing. And more to come, by the sound of it.

Groser’s belligerent statements as he left the country for Doha at the weekend beggared belief.  He said it was “time the developing countries got on the mitigation bus.” That would be the bus you just got off,  Mr Groser.

Leyland joins the über cranks: signs up with serial liar O’Sullivan’s vanity “science” group Gareth Renowden Dec 04

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Bryan “the cooling is comingLeyland, energy and economics spokesman for the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition, affiliate of various other coalitions, and a man with a penchant for writing to the UN Secretary General1, has joined Principia Scientific International, the internet home for the bewildered and deluded set up by John O’Sullivan, and chaired by Canadian crank Tim Ball. Vincent Gray, another NZ C”S”C luminary, has also joined the group.

Regular readers will recall that O’Sullivan has a long track record2 of misrepresenting his background and making stupid errors of fact in his blog posts, so it is at least within the bounds of possibility that he is making all this up — but if we take what O’Sullivan writes at face value, then Leyland is now a member of an organisation that exists to deny the greenhouse effect. Just look at the titles of the two most recent articles posted to the PSI web site: Greenhouse Effect Refutation, and Absence of a Measurable Greenhouse Effect. But then as Leyland’s web site includes this chilling little observation

The last sunspot cycle was 12.5 years and the previous one was 9.5 years. The evidence tells us that a 3 year increase in cycle length will result in cooling of at least 1°C. As the total amount of warming that has occurred since the early 1900s is 0.7°C, this is potentially very serious. We could be returning to the conditions in the little ice age.

…perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he has chosen to throw in his lot with the physics deniers O’Sullivan has gathered around himself. Not a good look, however, for someone who still pretends to have a grasp on reality. I wonder if the NZ media, ever prone to giving Leyland’s thoughts on climate an airing, will notice his retreat from the real world?

  1. As I suggested, his fingerprints were all over the text.
  2. His PSI bio still includes the claim that he has written for the National Review, China Daily, and India Times, despite my pointing out this was a lie 18 months ago.

Dear Negotiators… cindy Nov 30

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Guest Post by Sam Sharp, a member of the NZ Youth Delegation in Doha 

This morning I stood with 40 other youth from all around the world to represent the voices of 1.5 billion youth who are not directly represented here at the climate change negotiations in Doha.

We stood for one and a half hours, while thousands of negotiators and NGO’s passed us on their way to the negotiations. The response was pretty overwhelming.

Between us in NZYD, we were interviewed by eight different international journalists. Youth that I had never met in my life came and stood next to me to hold up the boards with our message

”Dear Negotiators, 1.5 billion youth are not directly represented here at COP18. Your decisions must reflect their demands”.  

The Irish ex-president and nobel peace prize winner , Mary Robinson, shook our hands. Thousands of photos were taken, iPhones and cameras left right and centre.

But to me, this international media attention was not what made this experience so special.

What blew me away, was the exchanges of smiles from a select few negotiators and this huge sense of pride I felt from standing with youth from all over the world  who are fighting for action on climate change.

Negotiators who looked us in the eye, acknowledging our message and saying “We are with you” have given me this new sense of hope among  this place full of cold stares and pressed business suits. In particular, it was the negotiators from the developing countries that really stopped to acknowledge what we were doing, as many of their youth are un-represented here at COP.

I have learnt this morning, that as youth we can give such a powerful message to the world, simply by standing together to show that regardless of our nationalities, we are all here for the same reason.

We are here to be heard, and we are here to show that we already doing what we can to make sure that our generations actions make a positive, lasting change. Regardless of the amount of negotiators that gave us a smile, it is us – today’s youth – that have shown that we have the strength in numbers and unity to actually make change.

Check out the NZYD Doha Blog 

Signing up to nonsense: denialists plot letter to UN secretary general Gareth Renowden Nov 29

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People send me stuff. Imagine my surprise when this morning’s mail included the text of a round robin email from Tom Harris — the Canadian PR man who heads the Heartland-funded denialist lobby group the International Climate Science Coalition [full text here]. It gives an interesting insight to how these groups work behind the scenes. Here’s Harris appealing for signatures to a letter to UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon:

Time is short if we are to mount a significant counterpoint to the scientifically invalid assertions already being broadcast by the 1,500 journalists and 7,000 environmentalists attending the UN climate conference now underway in Qatar.

Please find below our “Open Letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations” to which we are inviting your endorsement. We have 61 qualified endorsers as of 9 pm EST, about 19 hours after we started to ask people.

Because we have an agreement with a major media outlet to publish the open letter on Thursday, I will need to know of your support within the next day if possible, please.

The denialist spin machine in action. The usual suspects queuing to sign up to a letter that’s going to be published — where? My guess would be the Wall Street Journal. Even more interesting is the nonsense these luminaries are so keen to endorse…

It’s worth noting that Harris is not giving anyone the chance to change his proposed letter. The usual suspects are expected to sign up without quibbling about wording. And they’re signing up to a thoroughly modern catechism of climate crank disinformation. Here are the key claims in the letter:

UK Met Office data shows “there has been no statistically significant global warming for almost 16 years”.

This is nonsense, based on a beat-up published by the Daily Mail a few months ago. Warming continues, as the World Meteorological Organisation points out.

Global warming that has not occurred cannot have caused the extreme weather of the past few years. Whether, when and how warming will resume is unknown. The science is unclear. Some scientists point out that near-term natural cooling, linked to variations in solar output, is also a distinct possibility.

“Some scientists”? I suspect only the signatories to Harris’s letter expect a “near-term natural cooling” caused by the sun1.

The “even larger climate shocks” you have mentioned would be worse if the world cooled than if it warmed.

A remarkable (and unsupportable) assertion. I will allow that an ice age might be an inconvenience, but as our emissions have effectively postponed the next one for the foreseeable future, that’s the least of our worries.

The incidence and severity of extreme weather has not increased. There is little evidence that dangerous weather-related events will occur more often in future.

The letter goes on to quote from last year’s IPCC special report on climate extremes (SREX), but ignores the key findings of that report: that increased extremes of hot weather and rainfall are being recorded, and are “virtually certain” to continue as the climate warms.

We also ask that you acknowledge that policy actions by the UN, or by the signatory nations to the UNFCCC, that aim to reduce CO2 emissions are unlikely to exercise any significant influence on future climate.

Harris and his tame signatories can ask, but to expect the UN secretary general to reject the advice of his own organisation and the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists on the basis of an error-ridden screed put together as a stunt by PR flacks for fossil fuel interests is a bit of stretch, I’d have thought. Harris’s letter will be just as effective as all the other letters he’s sent to UN secretary generals at climate conferences, and that is not at all.

  1. The phrasing recalls similar pronouncements by NZ’s very own Bryan Leyland, a veteran of several climate science coalitions. I wonder if by any chance he had a hand in the letter?

Doha notes: Random thoughts from the Middle East cindy Nov 29

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Shelob

Shelob/Maman lurks over Doha delegates.

Every time I walk into a press conference it seems there’s more ‘cheery’ news. Yesterday it was UNEP releasing a science report on melting permafrost. Scary stuff. So scary that The Age in Melbourne gave it most of the front page and even some on the back page. (Meanwhile the NZ media was all about Hobbits).

According to the report, if the permafrost keeps melting like it has been, the gases it releases will make up 39% of emissions in 2100 (a combination of release of trapped methane and C02 from decomposing matter).

Then today it was the World Meteorological Organisation’s State of the Climate provisional report. 2012 was no exception to the trend of rising temperatures. “Global warming isn’t a future threat: it’s happening now,” intoned the official, pointing to this year’s Arctic melt as evidence.

These organisations save this stuff up for the climate talks, but sometimes one has to wonder why. I heard a UN official telling a newbie to the process that none of this would have any effect on the delegates at the talks. “They’re in a bubble – they’re totally immune to this stuff,” he said. And he’s right.

Some of these officials have been coming to the climate talks for more than 20 years and they don’t see anything beyond their negotiating tables. What might have an impact would be if they get home and their kids, having seen the permafrost or WMO stories, start giving them hell about it. I hope they do.

Back to the US of A

An alternative reality was being presented by the US. On Monday I sat through head of the US delegation, Jonathan Pershing’s first press briefing, where he tried to persuade the attendant media that the US had been making “enormous” efforts to tackle climate change. A lot of people here were hoping to see some sort of announcement or some indication that the Obama administration was changing, but Pershing gave us no such thing.

Instead, we were subjected to a list of actions the US was taking, breathlessly described by Pershing as if they were some kind of unprecedented, heroic act. “We’ve acted with enormous urgency and singular purpose,” he told us. Then he went on to list the impacts of climate change that the US had suffered in the last year: the droughts, Hurricane Sandy, etc. And he told us that the US was on its way to meeting its Copenhagen pledge and that it was down to everybody else to step up. The US’s Copenhagen pathetic pledge is 4% cuts by 2020 on 1990 levels.

And the fossils

Meanwhile, our beloved country has been receiving award after award. But not any old award, it’s the “fossil of the day”, awarded by the Climate Action Network, to governments who say or do the most outrageous and anti-climate things at the talks. We seem to be racking ‘em up as our delegates continue to make ridiculous statements in the meetings. On Monday we got two – quite a feat. The first (equal with the US, Russia, Japan and Canada) for “running away from a legally binding, multilateral rules based regime.”

We also gained a second place:

“Unlike its neighbour to the west, New Zealand decided not to put its target into the second commitment period, citing spurious grounds when the reality is that it is just a massive display of irresponsibility.  Its island partners in the Pacific should think again before ever trusting NZ again.”

There was no third place.

And after a brief respite, we got another one today.

“…again, because not only did Wellington deliberately decide not to put its target into the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, but today proposed that access to the CDM should be open to all and should not depend on whether a country is signing up to a second commitment period. To make it clear, New Zealand pointed out that otherwise the Adaptation Fund will not have enough money to keep functioning. Come on Kiwis, forget about the hobbits and think about your neighbors! You have to be serious… if you want to feast on carbon markets you have to work up your targets first!”

Even the European Commission wasn’t amused with us. At the EU press conference today, when asked whether he agreed with the developing country view that those who don’t sign up to Kyoto’s second commitment period should be denied access to the CDM and its “flexible mechanisms” spokesperson Artur Runge-Metger answered:

“What we are asking ourselves is: if you don’t want a budget or a target why the heck should you have credits from somewhere else and how would you account for them?”

Couldn’t agree more.

Tomorrow: we hear what the NZ youth delegation here have been doing.

Tim Groser shuts the stable door after the Mickey Mouse carbon credits have bolted Mr February Nov 28

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Mickey explains over supply in the offsets market

This week the Ministry for the Environment is consulting and seeking submissions on a proposal to ban some of the more ‘Mickey Mouse’ international carbon credits from the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme. Apparently this is because Climate Change Minister Tim Groser “wants to maintain the integrity of the ETS” (New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme).

Thats really too much brazen and intentional cognitive dissonance, especially since Groser said that only five days after he indefinitely excluded agriculture from the ETS and only four days after he announced New Zealand would not sign up for a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol of binding greenhouse gas reductions.

I apologise if you had an extreme reaction to the close conjunction of the terms “Tim Groser”, “emissions trading scheme” and “integrity”. My apologies if you just coughed your coffee/beer/tea over your laptop or punched out your PC monitor.

Assuming you have cleaned up, I should provide the context for Tim Groser’s unintentional irony in claiming to be concerned about the integrity of an emissions trading scheme where emission units trade for less than $3 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent gas.

Here is the quote from Groser about the consultation.

“The Government has considered whether Emission Reduction Units (ERUs) from HFC-23 and N2O destruction projects, and Certified Emission Reduction Units (CERs) and ERUs from large-scale hydroelectricity projects should be ineligible in the ETS. There are legitimate questions about these types of international units and the Government wants to maintain the integrity of the ETS“.

Whoop Dee Doo

The consultation is asking the wrong question. It is ignoring the “elephant in the room” for the NZETS, the rock-bottom price of the international emissions units.

Here is the latest chart of the collapse of the NZ carbon price from OMF Ltd.

NZ carbon price 2009 to 2012 c/- OMF Ltd

NZ carbon price 2009 to 2012 c/- OMF Ltd

Fiddling and faffing about over the specific attributes of some subset of the allowable international units, when all the international units are over-supplied and under-priced, is just shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

We have already been through one futile cycle of banning a few dodgy international units with Groser’s predecessor Nick Smith. And that didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to the NZ price.

Last December (2011), Nick Smith authorised the Ministry for the Environment to ban certified emissions reduction units (CERs) from the UN Clean Development Mechanism projects destroying HFC-23 and N2O from the NZETS. There is no doubt that the gas-destruction CER units did not represent real removal of greenhouse gases and that the awarding of CERs was incentivising the deliberate extra production of HFC-23 and N2O.

According to Wikipedia at September 2012 about 418 million CERs had been issued for HFC-23 destruction and about 214 million CERs had been issued for N2O destruction. So in theory that took 632 million CER units out of the picture for the NZ market.

However, as of today there are 1,061,399,151 issued CERs. So with 60% of the CERS banned from the NZETS, there were still 429 million (1061m – 632m) that could still be imported to NZ.

In terms of influencing the carbon price in world’s worst ETS and in the world’s smallest and most open carbon market (where 2011 demand from emitters was 16 million units), it makes no difference whether quantity of available CERS is 429 million units, 1 billion units or 10 billion units. The international price will still set the domestic NZ price.

Another day, another potentially eyes-glazing-over carbon credit three letter acronym; the E.R.U. These Emissions Reduction Units, are units from UN Joint Implementation projects located in Kyoto Protocol Annex 1 countries. It’s similar to the less-developed countries Clean Development Mechanism, except that Joint Implementation projects tend to be in the Former Soviet Union countries.

As of today about 250 million units have been issued. About 80 million ERUs (or 32 percent) are for HFC-23 and N2O destruction. So if these gas ERUs were banned from the NZETS, there would still be 172 million under-priced ERUs able to satiate New Zealand’s demand for international units.

The number of CERs issued to large hydroelectricity projects CERS at 1 November was 108 million, or 10% of the 1.061 billion CERs total. Again, this proposed ban would make no real difference to the international over-supply or to the NZ price.

Submissions can be made until 5.00pm this Friday 30 November 2012 and can be can be emailed to or posted to Ministry for the Environment, PO Box 10362, Wellington 6143.

I have not drafted my submission but it will roughly say: the proposal is slamming the stable door after the horse has bolted, and that it ignores the ‘elephant in the room’ – the flawed design of the NZETS which imports the collapsed international carbon price into the New Zealand carbon price. And conclude that NZ should move to a all-sectors no-exceptions no-offsets carbon tax ASAP. The outcome of the consultation will, of course, be to adopt the partial ban.

Things we could only have dreamed of – and all that sand cindy Nov 26

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Flying into Doha yesterday for the next round of international climate negotiations, landing in what seems to be a pile of white sand in the middle of nowhere, with high rise buildings sticking out of it. Is this where we’re going to stop climate change?

In a word, no.  Not by a long shot.  These talks, the 18th conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, signed in 1992, will not stop climate change.

For me, the last few weeks have seen a number of  “things we could only have dreamed of” moments.  Back in 1991 when we were negotiating the UNFCCC, the meetings were peppered with almost daily International Chamber of Commerce press conferences where the likes of climate cranks Fred Singer, Patrick Michaels and Richard Lindzen questioned the science.  Big business and global institutions either ignored the issue – or were working to stop any agreement.

Fast forward to the last few weeks.  First came a report from Price Waterhouse Coopers, warning of warming beyond anything we can control, and expressing concern over inaction on dangerous climate change, calling for governments and business leaders to stop holding back low carbon development and to start thinking about how to adapt to the climate impacts that we’re already committed to.

Next up was a World Bank report on what a 4degC warming world will look like.  Because this is where we’re heading. Gareth has about it.   But I had to pinch myself. This was the World Bank. Yes, the bank stills invests in fossil fuel projects, but it’s going to look increasingly stupid if it’s commissioning this sort of work.

Then the International Energy Agency’s , with these words :  “No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal.”

That’s the IEA doing what Bill McKibben calls the “carbon math”. 

“Almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time.”

This is a massive turnaround for the IEA who, ten years ago, would no more write a report like this than fly to the moon. We used to dread the IEA reports:  they were the fossil fuel industry’s biggest cheerleader and completely ignored the climate reality.

The IEA of 2012 questions how realistic the 2degC warming limit is, given these figures. It also pointed to the 30% rise in fossil fuel subsidies from 2101 – 2011 (a massive US $520 billion) with only $88 billion going to renewable energy.

Lastly came the update which answers the questions on 2degC, saying it IS still possible to do so, but the longer we leave taking hard action, the more costly it will be.

The UNEP report looks at what more we have to do to bring emissions down to a 2degC warming trajectory,  identifying and quantifying the gigatonnes of C02 (equivalent) that we still need to reduce.   And that gap, says UNEP, is getting bigger, not smaller. By a factor of around 30% since last year.  Things aren’t looking too good.  Like the fossil fuel subsidies, we’re going in the wrong direction.

All of this, you’d think, would make Governments wake up.

You’d think.  This is where the “things we could never have dreamed of” begin to turn into “worst nightmares” as we realise the Governments don’t seem to take any notice of these quite daunting warnings.   Perhaps it’s fitting that there’s so much sand here – there’s a lot of heads about to go into it for the next two weeks.

What are we likely to actually get in Doha?

In all likelihood, not very much, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the meeting’s President, Qatari deputy prime minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, has extensive links with the fossil fuel industry: he’s a former OPEC president and was seen earlier this month.

Many  appear to be basing hope on one soundbite in Obama’s election victory speech and his response to a climate question in his first press conference.  Maybe I’m being too cynical about it – and I hope to be proven wrong.

US Climate Envoy Todd Stern has said that the 2degC conversation is making it difficult for the negotiations. Read: the US doesn’t like to have its paltry pledge of 4% cuts at 1990 levels by 2020 put under the spotlight.

Will Stern stop talking down 2degC in light of his President’s apparent gearing up on the issue? Or will there be a signal that things are changing?

Kyoto’s second commitment period will also be a key focus here:  this is the meeting that agrees who’s in, who’s out and how the rules need to be changed and updated from the first commitment period and, indeed, how long that commitment period is.

New Zealand’s exit from Kyoto will not be welcomed by, among others, our Pacific Island neighbours, who stand to fare the worst in the 4degC warming world we’re heading to.  NZ’s backdown is a blow to those who have been waiting 20 years for the industrialised world to take action.

One problem is that there are few New Zealand media who understand the dynamics of these talks, allowing Tim Groser to spin pretty much anything he wants. Take , where Groser says that he wants to push for a global deal.  Sounds great:  he’s up for a Big Game.

Thing is, negotiations for that deal are happening anyway: it’s what was agreed last year in Durban.  If Groser really wanted a global deal, he’d be urging NZ to stay in Kyoto. Because the stronger signal that industrialised countries give to the developing world that they are prepared to put their money where their mouth is, the more it will force the likes of China and India to agree to a global deal.  Pulling out will only prolong a stalemate, and Groser knows that. Shame he’s not being held to account.

New Zealand doesn’t want to be forced to increase our emissions cuts.  Yet we want to let our industry continue with business as usual, and deal with our ridiculously weak ETS by trading the emissions they got for free from the Government in the first place. Heaven help us if we actually had to CUT emissions.  So we’re going to see the Government continuing to try to bend Kyoto rules to suit our needs, so that we can have our cake – and eat it too.

The other key issue is the Green Climate Fund – but right now there appears to be not enough money to pay for the staff to oversee the rules and framework that governments have been working so hard on.  Problem is that it’s much easier to talk about the rules than it is to commit the much-needed funds for the poorest countries to adapt to the already inevitable climate change and switch to clean energy.

So let’s see what happens in the next two weeks.  Will it be a result we could only have dreamed of? Or will those heads be firmly stuck in the sand?

Kevin Anderson and the emperor’s underpants: beyond two degrees now inevitable Gareth Renowden Nov 24

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If you have a spare hour, this lecture is something not to miss. Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester gives this year’s University of Bristol Cabot Institute Annual Lecture, and rips into the comfortable assumption that limiting warming to two degrees is still possible. Can we stay within the “guardrail”? Only if you make a series of heroically unlikely assumptions, Anderson suggests. As we head into the Doha COP18 negotiations, this lecture provides a valuable antidote to the rose-tinted spectacles habitually worn by politicians — and, as Anderson points out — many scientists.