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Posts Tagged Climate science

Lip service: it’s all climate action ever gets from Key & Co Gareth Renowden Apr 16

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As expected, the New Zealand government’s response to the IPCC’s Working Group 3 report on mitigating climate change pays lip service to the science, while maintaining that NZ is doing all that can be expected. Climate change minister Tim Groser’s press release said that the IPCC report’s call for intentional cooperation meant that NZ is “on the right track in pressing for a binding international agreement on emissions beyond 2020″ but failed to note the urgency explicit in the report.

Groser also repeated the government’s standard response when challenged on government inaction on climate policy:

“New Zealand is doing its fair share on climate change, taking into account our unique national circumstances, both to restrict our own emissions and support the global efforts needed to make the cuts that will limit warming.”

Groser’s response to the WG2 and WG3 reports so angered Pure Advantage founder Phillip Mills that he announced he would make a $125,000 donation to the Labour and Green parties. Mills, who has been working behind the scenes for the last five years, lobbying cabinet ministers and National MPs to build a business case for climate action and clean, green business growth, told the NZ Herald:

I’ve been trying impartially to deal with National. I’ve met with John Key around this a number of times … and really I held the hope that I and groups that I’ve been involved with would be able to get National to see sense.

NZ scientists who contributed to the IPCC reports were also critical of NZ’s perceived inaction. The Science Media Centre collated some of their responses.

Prof Ralph Sims, Sustainable Energy, School of Engineering and Advanced Technology, Massey University, WG3 lead author:

…each New Zealander is responsible for emitting around eight tonnes of carbon dioxide a year … we are now the fourth highest emitters per person in the world, behind Australia, the United States, and Canada. New Zealand has set a modest target to reduce our total greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent below the 1990 gross emission level in just six years time, yet no one knows how we will achieve this…

Bob Lloyd, Associate Professor and Director of Energy Studies, Physics Department, University of Otago:

in international climate change negotiations NZ is regarded as a particularly ‘tough’ negotiator. By ‘tough’ read ‘selfish’. … To get global buy-in NZ must act as a global leader in emissions reductions not a selfish backwater.

Prof Susan Krumdieck, Dept of Mechanical Engineering, University of Canterbury:

There aren’t any responsible leaders, competent engineers, or sensible people who would suggest we should exceed safety limits. Who in the world would say that as a matter of convenience, we should push essential systems to collapse? There is also no way to mitigate the impacts of a catastrophic failure.

The only option now is for all responsible, competent and sensible people to demand action from engineers, planners and business leaders to change every system that produces and uses climate affecting materials so dramatically reduce the production and use of fossil fuels and reduce the emissions of other greenhouse gasses.

Tasked with these comments by Green climate spokesman Kennedy Graham, Groser’s response was the scientists should “stick to their knitting” and leave the decision-making to him. Such obvious contempt for expertise seems to be a hallmark of Groser and his colleagues: when the message is inconvenient, how much easier to belittle the messenger than to address the issue.

That’s the real problem: the heart of the National government, from John Key repeating Groser’s mantra at Question Time, to Steven Joyce’s blind spot on green business initiatives, simply cannot pay anything other than lip service to the evidence in the IPCC reports, because if they did they would be forced to recognise that they have their policy settings all wrong.

For Tim Groser, climate change is an international relations problem, to be solved by tough negotiation where New Zealand’s interests — as defined by Key & Co — are paramount. For John Key, climate change is a political problem. If the other side thinks it’s important, then by definition his party has to say it’s less important. Such is the nature of parliamentary party politics, as played by shallow people who don’t understand the breadth of the problem they are supposed to confront.

Of course, the climate problem is an international relations issue, and a domestic political issue, but those are just component parts of a far bigger and much more serious problem. The IPCC reports make it clear that we are already changing the climate, and that we’re currently on course for 3 to 4ºC of warming this century — well beyond any safe limit. Action to reduce emissions now will limit future damage, and be surprisingly affordable, but the window to act is closing fast.

What Key & Co do not appear to understand are the dire consequences of inaction. Nor do they appreciate what risk management means when you don’t know how bad things are really going to get. It might be expedient to punt the problem to future parliaments, while trying to save face in the here and now, but inaction is actively increasing the risk of future damage, and the costs of adapting to it. As Susan Krumdieck points out, “there is [...] no way to mitigate the impacts of a catastrophic failure”.

So how do we persuade the present government to take its responsibilities seriously? One obvious route is via the ballot box, by making climate action a central issue in September’s general election and voting for parties with a commitment to urgent action. But there is another way, and one for which there may be some signs of a groundswell developing — and which will be the only route open if the National Party leads the next government.

The Wise Response group has delivered its petition to parliament, calling on the government to take climate action and green growth seriously. The Royal Society of NZ has also called for a change in direction towards a low emissions, green economy. With influential groups consistently knocking on the door, and with climate impacts in the news and increasingly undeniable, is it too much to hope that Key & Co might accept the need for urgent action and set NZ back on the right road?

[Update 17/4: Peter Griffin at Sciblogs fact checks Groser's comments about Ralph Sims, and finds that the Minister was 100% wrong to suggest that Sims was "palpably wrong on multiple levels".]

[Elvis. The other one.]

IPCC WG3: it does not cost the world to save the planet Gareth Renowden Apr 13

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The IPCC has just released the summary for policymakers of the Working Group 3 report on mitigating climate change. It makes clear that the world has to act quickly to restrict carbon emissions to have a reasonable chance of restricting warming to 2ºC by the end of the century, but establishes that the costs of action are affordable.

A few key points:

  • Annual greenhouse gas emissions have risen 10 GtCO2eq between 2000 and 2010, and half of all emissions since 1750 have occurred in the last 40 years
  • If no further actions are taken to reduce emissions global mean surface temperature in 2100 will increase by 3.7 to 4.8°C compared to pre‐industrial levels
  • To have a reasonable chance of staying under 2ºC of warming in 2100 means restricting greenhouse gases to 450 ppm CO2eq
  • Hitting 450 ppm CO2eq will mean “substantial cuts in anthropogenic GHG emissions by mid‐century through large‐scale changes in energy systems and potentially land use”
  • Typical 450 ppm CO2eq scenarios include overshooting the target and then removal of CO2 by bionenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), though “carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies and methods are uncertain and CDR technologies and methods are, to varying degrees, associated with challenges and risks”
  • The Cancun pledges are not consistent with cost-effective efforts to hit 2ºC, and are more likely to commit the world to 3ºC of warming
  • The sooner we act, the cheaper overall mitigation will be – as little as 0.06% of annual GDP growth to hit 450 ppm CO2eq

Commenting on the report for the Science Media Centre, VUW climate scientist Jim Renwick said:

The WGIII report charts many possible futures where we cap the warming at 2 degrees. Action, such as moving to 100% renewable electricity generation, needs to start immediately. New Zealand is as well-placed as any nation to lead the world on this, provided we have the political will. That appears to be lacking right now – there’s plenty of talk about emissions reductions targets, while at the same time we’re opening the country up to more oil drilling and coal mining. The latest MfE report shows New Zealand’s emissions have gone up 25% since 1990, and they are on track to keep rising.

Per head of population, we are some of the biggest emitters on the planet. Clean and green? 100% pure? Right now – I don’t think so.

Read more at The Guardian and BBC. I’ll have a post with more NZ reaction in due course.

Summary for policymakers (pdf)

Full report (available from April 15th)

Life at 400ppm: catching up with a Pliocene atmosphere Gareth Renowden Apr 10

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With global atmospheric carbon dioxide bumping along just under 400ppm, and sure to break through to higher levels in the near future, it’s worth taking a long hard look at what the climate system was like the last time CO2 was at these levels — the Pliocene period 3-5 million years ago. Professor Maureen Raymo of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is a paleoclimate expert, and in this new video by Peter Sinclair for the Yale Climate Forum she explains how we can find out what might be in store when the planet finally catches up with its atmosphere. Not good news, especially if you consider that we’re certain to blow well past 400 ppm in coming decades, unless dramatic action is taken to reduce carbon emissions.

TDB Today: Ragged right caught in reality’s shit sandwich Gareth Renowden Apr 09

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This week’s Daily Blog post takes a further look at NZ political responses to the release of the of the second part of the IPCC’s Fifth Report, and ponders how everyone who has gleefully claimed that adaptation is all we need to do will react when the third report — on mitigating carbon emissions — is released next week. Good risk management would mean planning to adapt to four degrees of warming, while aiming at emissions reductions that would restrict warming to two degrees…

Roughan’s relaxed, world drowns Bryan Walker Apr 07

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rising seaInsouciance is the new face of climate change denial. John Roughan’s column in Saturday’s New Zealand Herald was a typical example. Half a metre sea level rise by the end of the century? What’s there to be concerned about in that, he scoffs. A bach at the water’s edge might no longer be a good idea, but that’s about all it amounts to.

At a century off, the predicted disaster of climate change is a slow burn.

“It is plenty long enough for people to move if necessary, for crops to change, fresh water to be managed much more efficiently. Human life will adapt if it has to…”

It’s hard to credit the nonchalance, let alone the implicit inhumanity. Roughan settles for the lower sea level rise estimates, I notice.  No mention of the metre or more which is now commonly advanced by scientists. But there’s not much need to be too closely acquainted with the science if you can brush it all away with the assertion that humans will adapt if they have to.

There’s no acknowledgement that sea level rise will continue to catastrophic levels in succeeding centuries if we take no notice of the urgent need to constrain emissions. No recognition of what a metre of sea level rise will mean for many small island states, or for the dense populations of low-lying coasts and the great river deltas. No appreciation of the precariousness of the lives of the hundreds of millions of poorer people whose subsistence is closely tied to a relatively dependable climate pattern. Does he advise them to be “sensibly relaxed about the risk of climate catastrophe”, as he praises the New Zealand government for being?

He appears as dismissive of technologies to address climate change as he is of the magnitude of the risks it carries. He contemptuously suggests that the alternative to adapting to climate change is returning “to some pre-industrial age of bicycles and village crafts.”  I think of books like Al Gore’s Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis which grew out of many lengthy and intensive “Solution Summits” he organised to enable leading experts from round the world to share their knowledge. The kind of technological expertise they represent is apparently not worth Roughan’s bothering to acquaint himself with.

Roughan’s trivialising may not be denial of the science, but it is denial of the science’s import. It effectively claims that climate change can’t be as bad for humanity as the science warns it will be. It pours scorn on those who allow themselves to be thoroughly alarmed at the prospect. It undermines urgent mitigation measures and misrepresents what those measures might be.

Roughan is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Herald. Of late the paper has carried a number of accurate and well-assembled news reports about climate change matters, albeit at some distance from the front pages.  It also hosts occasional opinion pieces which set out the seriousness of the issue. And a couple of days ago it at long last tackled the question in a thoughtful editorial critical of the lack of urgency in the government’s approach to climate change.

It’s disappointing, to say the least, to find one of its senior journalists so blasé on such a serious matter.

 

Climate crisis? What Crisis? NZ right ignore IPCC call for action Gareth Renowden Apr 01

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New Zealand political reaction to the IPCC’s WG2 report has divided along expected lines: the Green Party and Labour used the findings to call for more action, the National-led government “welcomed” the report but said it is already doing enough, while the fringe right wing ACT party issued a press release making the abolition of the emissions trading scheme a condition of its support for any future National government. If the Scoop web site is to be believed, none of the other political parties with seats in parliament or hopes of election could be bothered to issue a press release in response to a report that makes it plain that climate change is here now, and set to get very much worse in future.

Climate change minister Tim Groser’s press release is a little more measured than a comment he made to TVNZ News in a story foreshadowing the WG2 release:

Grocer (sic) says the environment will determine what action will need to be taken.

“We’re not playing God on this. That natural process will determine what happens to adaptation of human beings and other mammals and species,” he said.

Survival of the fittest, or survival of the richest perhaps? That sounds almost as hands-off as new ACT leader Jamie Whyte’s policy proposals on TVNZ’s Q+A on Sunday morning. He was interviewed head to head with Green Party co-leader Russel Norman, apparently because the National Party refused to front up for a discussion on climate change1. The video’s here.

Whyte, a former management consultant, foreign currency trader and philosophy lecturer who recently became leader of the ACT Party2, looked to have a very poor grasp of the subject when he advocated a strict do-nothing approach to dealing with climate change. Action to reduce emissions was “irresponsible moral exhibitionism”, he said, because money would be better spent on adapting to climate changes. Global action on emissions reduction, he asserted, should be lead by the worst affected countries:

It’s for these poorer countries to lead the way because the trade off is harder for them.

The moral and intellectual bankruptcy on display in Whyte’s statement is breathtaking, and his argument so fatuous that it beggars belief that anyone with half a brain would advance it in public. As Green Party climate spokesman Kennedy Graham pointed out:

Mr Whyte needs to demonstrate his talents in the next few months describing ACT’s policies for a world adapting to a temperature rise of 2ºC to 4ºC. That is described by World Bank consultants as exceeding ‘dangerous’ climate change and entering the realm of ‘catastrophic’. What we see around us today by way of impact – overseas, and even here in New Zealand, is on the strength of 0.8ºC to date.

All Whyte had to offer on Sunday was a glib “I would do absolutely nothing”, which is not a million miles away from present government policy.

It’s tempting to demonise Whyte — it looks to be all too easy, in this election year, to show him to be an ideologue living in la la land — but the real villains of the piece are Tim Groser and his National Party colleagues. They have presided over a deliberate dilution of the climate policies they inherited from the last Labour-led government, and now have policies set to increase NZ emissions over the long term. A senior NZ climate scientist told me that their attitude to the whole complex climate issue was “active indifference”.

To accept the science, as Groser and co do in public, but then to ignore the need for urgent action is hypocritical in the extreme, grossly irresponsible, and a very long way from the best interests of the people of New Zealand, now and for all the generations to come. Riding out all that climate change is going to throw at us is a matter of survival. If we are to do that, New Zealand needs real leadership, not glib assurances that we’re doing all we can when the opposite is true.

  1. According to Norman on Facebook.
  2. At a meeting held at long-time party funder and committed climate denialist Alan Gibbs’ house.

IPCC WG2 impacts report released: fire, floods and rising seas in all our futures Gareth Renowden Mar 31

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After the usual run of late nights and argument, the IPCC has released the second part of its fifth report — the Working Group 2 report on climate impacts and risks management. Commenting on the report, VUW climate scientist Professor Tim Naish said “this latest report makes it quite clear that New Zealand is under-prepared and faces a significant ‘adaptation deficit’ in the context of the projected impacts and risks from global average warming of +2 to 4°C by the end of the century.”

The IPCC identifies eight key regional risks for New Zealand and Australia:

  • significant impacts on coral reefs in Australia as oceans warm and acidify
  • loss of montane ecosystems in Australia, as climate warms and snow lines rise
  • increased frequency of and intensity of flooding in NZ and Australia
  • water resources in Southern Australia will be under increased pressure
  • more intense heatwaves will bring increased death rates and infrastructure damage
  • increasing risks of damaging wildfires in New Zealand and southern Australia
  • increased risks to coastal infrastructure and ecosystems from sea level rise
  • risk of severe drying in parts of Australia could hit agricultural production

For New Zealand, extreme weather events such as flooding and heatwaves are expected to increase in frequency and severity, and rainfall is expected to increase on the already wet west coast and decrease in the east and north east. Sea level rise of up to one metre is expected to cause significant problems for coastal communities.

VUW’s Jim Renwick points to sea level rise as a big issue:

Every 10cm of rise triples the risk of a given inundation event, and we are expecting something like a metre of rise this century. That would mean today’s 1-in-100 year event occurs at least annually at many New Zealand coastal locations. New Zealand has a great deal of valuable property and infrastructure close to the coast that will be increasingly at risk as time goes on.

The Summary for Policymakers of the WG2 report is available here (pdf), and the final draft of the full report can be downloaded from this page. The Australia and New Zealand chapter (25) is here (pdf) and the Small Islands (Ch 29) here (pdf).

A huge amount of coverage of the report’s findings has already hit the net, and there will be more to come. Check out The Guardian‘s take on the five key points in the report, The Conversation’s examination of climate health risks, Graham Readfearn’s commentary on 25 years of IPCC warnings, and Peter Griffin’s look at the prospects for agriculture. I’ll have a post about the NZ political response to the report tomorrow.

Climate modelling on your PC: weather@home comes to NZ and Australia Gareth Renowden Mar 27

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Climateprediction

That’s a climate model running on my iMac, thanks to BOINC, Climateprediction.net, and the new New Zealand and Australia modelling experiment launched yesterday. In this guest post, Dr Suzanne Rosier of NIWA explains what it’s all about…

A new citizen science experiment in which scientists will address possible links between climate change and extreme weather in Australia and New Zealand was launched on Wednesday. ANZ runs as part of the highly successful climateprediction.net project based at the University of Oxford, which makes state-of-the-art climate models available for anyone with a PC and an Internet connection to download and run on their computer. The global model contains within it a much more detailed model of the Australia/New Zealand region, detailed enough to model weather events properly, and the ‘2-in-1’ model needs to be run many thousands of times if scientists are to have a chance of capturing the very rarest weather events. This takes a huge amount of computing power – and you can help by volunteering your computer.

The model runs in the background on your machine, taking up any processing power that happens to be spare, but not interfering with your work. When your computer has finished crunching the results are automatically uploaded to a server at the University of Tasmania. If you take part in the project you also have the option to see how the model you are running on your machine is progressing. Many thousands of generous volunteers have already taken part in climateprediction.net, running global models, and , running regional models for other parts of the world. This is your chance to get involved and help scientists to gain a better understanding of what is happening to weather in Australia and New Zealand region as the climate changes.

The experiment launched today will produce many thousands of different simulations of how the weather in 2013 might have been, both with and without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This will enable scientists to put some hard numbers on how the risks of extreme weather events might — or might not — be changing as a result of the human contribution to global climate change. Scientists at NIWA will focus initially on the severe North Island drought of January to March 2013, but later the record-breaking warmth of last year’s winter will also come under scrutiny. Extreme rainfall events, such as that in Golden Bay and Nelson in December 2011 and the recent floods in Christchurch, will also be investigated as the ANZ experiment continues.
The more people who participate, the more science can be done. Please go to ‘weatherathome.net’ – sign up, and start crunching numbers.

Gareth adds: Suzanne does an excellent job of introducing the project in this video:

Read more about the project at Climateprediction.net, The Conversation, and NIWA. If anyone’s interested in running an NZ climate team, let me know. For some background to the difficult statistics of extreme weather events, I highly recommend this recent article by Stefan Rahmstorf at RealClimate. The ANZ models will run (via BOINC, the framework for distributed processing developed at Berkeley and used in a wide variety of distributed computing projects such as or ) on most recent releases of Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

TDB Today: Facing the future – no Bridges too far Gareth Renowden Mar 26

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In my post at The Daily Blog today — Facing the future – no Bridges too far — I take a look at the Royal Society of New Zealand’s latest information paper about the need to move New Zealand to a green economy. There’s a yawning gulf between the rational world view embodied in the RSNZ’s paper and the policy settings adopted by the current government. Which comes as no surprise…

Below the fold I’ve embedded the infographic designed by the RSNZ to accompany its paper. It’s well worth taking a look…

Facing the Future: Towards a Green Economy in New Zealand

by Dumpark.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

WMO 2013 climate summary: laws of physics not negotiable, extremes to be expected on a warming planet Gareth Renowden Mar 25

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The World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) state of the climate report for 2013 was released on Sunday (pdf), and provides a very useful overview of last year’s weather and climate events. It confirms that 2013 was the 6th warmest year in the long term record (tied with 2007), that 13 of the 14 warmest years in that record have occurred this century1, and that the litany of extreme weather events that struck the planet is in line with what would be expected on a warming planet.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said:

There is no standstill in global warming. The warming of our oceans has accelerated, and at lower depths. More than 90 percent of the excess energy trapped by greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans. Levels of these greenhouse gases are at record levels, meaning that our atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm for centuries to come. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.

On extremes, Jarraud was equally direct:

…many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change. We saw heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise – as Typhoon Haiyan so tragically demonstrated in the Philippines.

Here’s the full list of the WMO’s key climate events of 2013:

  • Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall, devastated parts of the central Philippines.
  • Surface air temperatures over land in the Southern Hemisphere were very warm, with widespread heat waves; Australia saw record warmth for the year, and Argentina its second warmest year and New Zealand its third warmest.
  • Frigid polar air plummeted into parts of Europe and the southeast United States.
  • Angola, Botswana and Namibia were gripped by severe drought.
  • Heavy monsoon rains led to severe floods on the India-Nepal border.
  • Heavy rains and floods impacted northeast China and the eastern Russian Federation.
  • Heavy rains and floods affected Sudan and Somalia.
  • Major drought affected southern China.
  • Northeastern Brazil experienced its worst drought in the past 50 years.
  • The widest tornado ever observed struck El Reno, Oklahoma in the United States.
  • Extreme precipitation led to severe floods in Europe’s Alpine region and in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland.
  • Israel, Jordan, and Syria were struck by unprecedented snowfall.
  • Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reached record highs.
  • The global oceans reached new record high sea levels.
  • The Antarctic sea ice extent reached a record daily maximum.

The WMO has published a very nifty interactive map of the year’s notable events here (requires Flash). Clicking on individual events brings up a pop-up with details of what happened. Well worth exploring.

Meanwhile, the prospects for 2014 and 2015 are becoming more “interesting” with each passing week. The chances of the tropical Pacific slipping into El Niño mode are increasing according the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia and NOAA in the US. El Niño years are generally associated with a spike in global temperature and increased extreme weather events.

See also: The Conversation, The Guardian, Climate Progress.

  1. The 15 warmest years have all happened since 1998.