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:
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, Phys.org, 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?
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.
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.
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.
Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.
‘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.
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.
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.”
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”.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Here’s Jim Yong Kim, head honcho at the World Bank, writing in the Guardian to mark the launch of a new report on climate change commissioned by the bank:
The question about climate change is no longer whether it is real. The question is what the world is going to look like for our children as they grow up. I have a three-year-old son, and, when he is my age, he could be living in a world that is completely different from ours, largely because of climate change.
Thanks for that wisdom, Mr Jim. I have a 25-year-old son, and I am certain that when he is my age, he will be living in a world that is hugely different to ours because of rampant climate change. If it’s a world that still has the luxury of world bankers, we (or at least bankers) will be doing well. For most, however, that will not be the case.
In Turn down the heat (executive summary here), the World Bank has commissioned the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics in Berlin [Science Daily] to take a look at where current emissions commitments are pointing us, and reaches the unsurprising conclusion that we don’t want to go there. However, there is still good news. The report states:
Warming of 4°C can still be avoided: numerous studies show that there are technically and economically feasible emissions pathways to hold warming likely below 2°C (Figure 1). Thus the level of impacts that developing countries and the rest of the world experience will be a result of government, private sector, and civil society decisions and choices, including, unfortunately, inaction.
As ever, a picture is worth more than a few of my words (Fig 1 in the exec summary):
The bad news is pretty obvious. Avoiding 2ºC is looking ever more difficult to achieve, and the sea level rise consequences of even stabilisation at current CO2 levels are not pretty:
However, even if global warming is limited to 2°C, global mean sea level could continue to rise, with some estimates ranging between 1.5 and 4 meters above present-day levels by the year 2300. Sea-level rise would likely be limited to below 2 meters only if warming were kept to well below 1.5°C.
Sounds pretty optimistic to me. To coin a phrase: remember the Eemian.
The report provides a useful summary of the potential nastiness of a world pushing through the 2ºC “guardrail”.
…there is also no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible. A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today. The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.
Kim Yong Kim preferred to emphasise the positive in his Guardian piece:
On one hand, I hope that the vision of a world that is 4C warmer shocks us into action. On the other hand, I hope that the vision of economic opportunity arising from the need to create a low-carbon world inspires us to create new technologies. It is these technologies that can become drivers of economic growth as well as saviours of our planet from catastrophe.
I also hope the World Bank’s vision shocks us into action. In the run up to COP18 at Doha1, the world’s diplomats need all the encouragement they can get. In the meantime, forgive me for pointing out that the World Bank — while investing heavily in renewables and sustainable development — is still a major investor in coal burning power schemes. I’ll be more impressed when they walk the talk. So will my son and his (future) children.
Hot Topic will have Cindy Baxter reporting from the negotiations.