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Salinger: New Zealand is drying out, and here’s why Gareth Renowden Oct 14

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In this guest post Jim Salinger (currently working in Italy, but soon to return to these shores), takes a look at the climate influences on last year’s severe New Zealand drought. It first appeared on The Conversation.

Over 2012 and 2013, parts of New Zealand experienced their worst drought in nearly 70 years. Drought is the costliest climate extreme in New Zealand; the 2012-2013 event depressed the country’s GDP by 0.7-0.9%. The drought of 1988-1989 affected 5,500 farms, pushing some farmers to the wall. But what does a climate-changed future hold?

Recent evidence confirms that New Zealand on the whole is getting dryer. And we’re beginning to understand why — increasing greenhouse and ozone-depleting gases are driving changes in the atmosphere, with impacts far beyond New Zealand.

A history of drought

Agricultural drought is occurs when there is not enough moisture in the soil available to support crop and pasture growth. It is usually fairly extensive over significant parts of the country.

In March this year we reported that there is distinct trend towards increased agricultural drought since 1941, in four (80%) out of the five agricultural drought regions. There is a trend toward a summer drying in all of these regions except the west of the North Island. The overall trend for New Zealand agricultural drought is shown in the diagram below.

NZDroughtindex

New Zealand agricultural drought index 1941-2013 averaged over the country. The bars represent individual years, and the straight line shows the 72-year trend. Positive values mean a droughtier year, and negative values mean a wetter year for agriculture.

What’s causing the big dry?

Two recent reports shed light on why drought is increasing in New Zealand.

On 9 September the Geneva based World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a United Nations body, announced that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, propelled by a surge in levels of carbon dioxide during between 2012 and 2013.

Last year the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 142% of the pre-industrial era (1750). Methane levels reached 253% and nitrous oxide 121%. Between 1990 and 2013 there was a 34% increase in radiative forcing — the warming effect on our climate — because of long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide.

These have warmed the climate. Over the last 72 years mean annual global and New Zealand temperatures have increased by 0.6 and 0.7C respectively.

And on September 11 a new report, with Dr Olaf Morgenstern of the NZ National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research as a reviewer recognised the role of ozone depletion in drying parts of southern Australia.

The same link has been established in New Zealand. Ozone depletion affects an atmospheric pattern known as the Southern Annular Mode, or SAM. These changes are particularly pertinent as the spring time stratospheric Antarctic ozone hole peaked this year at 24 million square kilometres on September 11.

SAM describes the movement of the westerly wind belt that circles the Southern Oceans between the South Island of New Zealand and Antarctica.

In its positive phase, SAM causes the belt of strong westerly winds to contract towards Antarctica. There are weaker westerly winds than normal over the South Island with higher pressures, and less cold fronts crossing New Zealand. The opposite occurs in the negative phase of SAM with the westerly wind belt expanded north towards New Zealand and the passage of more westerly cold fronts.

The positive SAM has also been linked to decreasing rainfall in south western Australian, and the recent record-breaking expansion of Antarctic sea ice.

SAMsal

Index of the Southern Annular Mode, 1957 – 2013. Source: British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK.

The graph of SAM over the last 56 years shows a trend towards a more positive index, averaging around -3 at the beginning of the record to +1 in recent years. Several researchers have now shown that this increase in SAM is strongly associated with stratospheric ozone depletion.

Less rain, more evaporation

Recent work has revealed that changes in SAM in New Zealand have resulted in a weakening of moisture laden westerly winds during the summer, and increased high pressures over the North Island with less rain.

The warming trend caused by increasing greenhouse gases has led to more moisture loss to the atmosphere from plants because of increased evapotranspiration. This is where plants “breathe out” into the air moisture that is stored in the soil.

The hotter it is, the more moisture plants pump out into the atmosphere. These two effects — less rainfall and more water loss from the soil have resulted in our climate becoming droughtier for agricultural activities.

Bringing back the rains

The stratospheric ozone layer is now protected by the Montreal Protocol — an international treaty to protect the ozone layer by phasing out production of ozone-depleting substances signed in 1989. Unfortunately it has not prevented some impacts on New Zealand climate — but at least these impacts will be slowed then reversed in coming decades. The Antarctic stratospheric ozone hole peaked in 2006 at around 30 million square kilometres.

However there is no such robust agreement to curb the growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The World Meteorological Organisation has called for even greater urgency for concerted international action against accelerating and potentially devastating climate change.

Any future New Zealand government must front up to New Zealand taking full leadership in any international agreements to rapidly halt and reverse the growth of greenhouse gases, as the country did with the Montreal Protection to protect the stratospheric ozone layer twenty five years ago. After all, these trends are now affecting the country’s land-based industries vital for its wealth.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Carbon News 13/10/14: foresters in firing line Gareth Renowden Oct 14

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Anxious foresters await review of foreign credits ban

A controversial decision to make foresters the only emitters banned from using cheap foreign carbon credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions is under review. The provision was slipped through without warning as part of the Government’s Budget in May, and came into effect immediately.

Business poser: are you creating value, or destroying it?

New Zealand is leading the world on integrated reporting but our business leaders are still not taking it seriously enough, latest data shows.

Beehive stays silent on emissions target

The Government remains mum on New Zealand’s 2030 emissions reduction target. New Zealand did not make any mention of its 2030 target at last month’s Climate Summit in New York, at which United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asked world leaders to give an indication of the commitments they would make at international climate change negotiations in Paris in December.

New Zealand is drying out … and here’s why

Over 2012 and 2013, parts of New Zealand experienced their worst drought in nearly 70 years.

Australia’s big emitters might yet be billed

Australian companies could yet face a financial penalty for excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

‘Business as usual’ no way to run our rivers

If, as delegates to the 17th International Rivers Symposium agreed, that river restoration is “the hottest topic on the planet” then the insistence by governments world-wide to ignore it is the issue.

Landcorp bio-generation scheme runs out of gas

Landcorp’s pulling of the plug on its BioGenCool manure-powered electricity generation ends the first, large-scale experiment in using milking shed cow dung to drive the milking shed itself.

Voila! a simple new way to put a price on global carbon

A team of French academics has proposed an international carbon trading system, whereby countries with the highest average CO2 emissions pay the most.

Fish heading south big worry for tropic zone

Fish stocks could migrate up to 26 kilometres a decade as the world’s ocean warm.

Wanted: $44 trillion to switch to clean energy

In a world wrestling with climate change and the need to phase out fossil fuels, nothing is more critical than making sure there are reliable and cost-effective clean energy technologies ready to fill the void.

On the web: why is antarctic sea ice at record levels despite global warming?

  • Australian Labor Party leader rules out carbon tax return
  • European businesses split over urgency of EU carbon market fix
  • Canadian watchdog castigates government climate strategy
  • Walmart owners backing campaigns to limit rooftop solar power
  • 25 Devastating Effects Of Climate Change
  • Climate consensus: scientists and sceptics suspend hostilities

Sick seas could cost us billions, UN warns

The global economy could be losing as much as $1 trillion annually by the end of the century if countries do not take urgent steps to stop ocean acidification, says a new report.

World of clean energy ‘feasible’ by mid-century

A global low-carbon energy economy is not only feasible, it could double electricity supply by 2050 while actually reducing air and water pollution, according to new research.

Shift to low-carbon economy could free up $1.8 trillion

Decarbonising the electricity system worldwide would save $1.8 trillion over the coming two decades by avoiding the high operating costs of using fossil fuels, a new study finds.

Europe throws nuclear power a state-aid lifeline

The European Commission has now agreed that Britain can subsidise the building of the world’s most expensive nuclear power station – despite previously believing that the deal breaks the European Union’s rules on state aid.

China’s mythical coal habit is no excuse for climate inaction

By Marek Kubic: I’ve heard it many a time, and you probably have, too. It’s supposedly the trump card to any argument on addressing climate change globally: “Yeah, but what’s the point? Isn’t China building a new coal plant every week?”

Wanganui firm has place among bio pioneers

Calls for New Zealand firms to get into bio-manufacturing omit to mention the fact that we have already been there.

VUW researchers work on better solar systems

Victoria University of Wellington researchers are part of a worldwide effort to design cheaper and more efficient solar energy materials.

Week ends quietly at $4.40

It was a quiet end to the week, with the market for spot NZUs on CommTrade closing unchanged at $4.40, OMFinancial reports.

Smart grids in the spotlight

Using Smart Grid technology to empower electricity consumers was the subject of a talk at Auckland University yesterday.

Special offer for Hot Topic readers: Carbon News has kindly agreed to offer Hot Topic readers personal (ie single user) subscriptions to their news service — and full access to the CN database of over 7,500 stories published since 2008 — at a substantial discount to normal pricing. Three month subs are $110 (code HT3), six month subs $200 (code HT6), and full year subs $360 (code HT12) – a saving of $140 on standard pricing. If you want to take advantage of these prices, register at Carbon News and enter the relevant code when signing up. This offer will expire at the end of the year.

Extremes report 2013: NZ drought and record Aussie heat made worse by warming Gareth Renowden Oct 01

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The latest climate extremes report finds that 9 out of 16 extreme weather events from last year were influenced by climate change. In particular, the conditions that led to New Zealand’s severe North Island drought — the worst for 41 years, estimated to have cost the economy NZ$1.3 billion — were made more likely by the effects of continued warming. Australia’s hottest ever year and run of record-breaking heatwaves also had humanity’s fingerprints all over it. The new research — Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective [pdf] — published as a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is the latest in a series of reports designed to look at weather extremes soon after they happen, and look for signs of the influence of climate change.

The NZ paper, The role of anthropogenic climate change in the 2013 drought over North Island, New Zealand by Luke Harrington, Suzanne Rosier, Sam M. Dean, Stephen Stuart, and Alice Scahill (page s45 in the pdf), finds that a long term trend towards increasing summer high pressure systems over the North Island — seen in climate models as the system warms — has increased the risk of drought substantially.

No fewer than 5 studies in the new report found clear links between Australia’s record-breaking 2013 heat and the influence of human-induced warming, as explained by The Conversation here.

Climate change is already increasing the likelihood of heatwaves occurring in Australia and the temperatures we experience during these heatwaves. Extremely hot months, seasons and years are already more likely in Australia.

This human handprint will likely increase the future risk of extremely warm days, months, season and years in Australia. We will likely also see an increase in the risk of heatwaves and dry conditions acting in combination with heat to produce drought.

A summary of the report’s contents is available from NOAA, Climate Central has a very nice timeline, and The Guardian does it with pictures. Strangely, given the subject matter, only TV3 picked up on the NZ drought link (basing their story on a press release from the Green Party), while the NZ Herald chose to run an AFP story that led with the Aussie heatwaves and only mentioned the NZ drought in passing. Neither NIWA nor VUW chose to issue press releases about the study, despite its obvious newsworthiness and relevance to the NZ agricultural community.

Extremes report 2013: NZ drought and record Aussie heat made worse by warming Gareth Renowden Oct 01

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

The latest climate extremes report finds that 9 out of 16 extreme weather events from last year were influenced by climate change. In particular, the conditions that led to New Zealand’s severe North Island drought — the worst for 41 years, estimated to have cost the economy NZ$1.3 billion — were made more likely by the effects of continued warming. Australia’s hottest ever year and run of record-breaking heatwaves also had humanity’s fingerprints all over it. The new research — Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective [pdf] — published as a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, is the latest in a series of reports designed to look at weather extremes soon after they happen, and look for signs of the influence of climate change.

The NZ paper, The role of anthropogenic climate change in the 2013 drought over North Island, New Zealand by Luke Harrington, Suzanne Rosier, Sam M. Dean, Stephen Stuart, and Alice Scahill (page s45 in the pdf), finds that a long term trend towards increasing summer high pressure systems over the North Island — seen in climate models as the system warms — has increased the risk of drought substantially.

No fewer than 5 studies in the new report found clear links between Australia’s record-breaking 2013 heat and the influence of human-induced warming, as explained by The Conversation here.

Climate change is already increasing the likelihood of heatwaves occurring in Australia and the temperatures we experience during these heatwaves. Extremely hot months, seasons and years are already more likely in Australia.

This human handprint will likely increase the future risk of extremely warm days, months, season and years in Australia. We will likely also see an increase in the risk of heatwaves and dry conditions acting in combination with heat to produce drought.

A summary of the report’s contents is available from NOAA, Climate Central has a very nice timeline, and The Guardian does it with pictures. Strangely, given the subject matter, only TV3 picked up on the NZ drought link (basing their story on a press release from the Green Party), while the NZ Herald chose to run an AFP story that led with the Aussie heatwaves and only mentioned the NZ drought in passing. Neither NIWA nor VUW chose to issue press releases about the study, despite its obvious newsworthiness and relevance to the NZ agricultural community.

[Update 2/10: Stuff.co.nz finally covers the story, with quotes from NIWA's Sam Dean.]

Where do we go but nowhere? Gareth Renowden Sep 26

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New Zealand’s general election is over. The National Party has won itself another three years in government. With a probable overall majority and the support of three fringe MPs, prime minister John Key and his cabinet will be able to do more or less what they like. Given the government’s performance on climate matters over the last six years — turning the Emissions Trading Scheme into little more than a corporate welfare handout while senior cabinet ministers flirt with outright climate denial — and with signals that they intend to modify the Resource Management Act to make it easier to drill, mine and pollute, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the next three years are going to see New Zealand’s climate policies slip even further out of touch with what’s really necessary.

I don’t want to get into a discussion of why opposition parties were unable to persuade voters to unseat Key & Co: that’s being widely canvassed. I do want to consider what might be done to prevent the next three years being as bad as the last six from a climate policy perspective.

One thing is very clear: the climate issue is not going away. While carbon emissions hit new records, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has been trying to galvanise world leaders to take the issue seriously. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens have taken part in people’s climate marches around the world. And the climate news remains, as ever, gloomy. Ice melts, floods surge and sea levels continue to rise. “Business as usual” continues, but is being challenged on many levels.

Gareth Morgan, the motorbike adventurer, philanthropist and prolific author, is no stranger to the climate debate. He understands the issue in the way only someone who has written a book on the subject can ( ;-) ). In a recent blog post, Morgan looked at what it might take to get climate action in the current New Zealand political climate. His conclusion? That we need a new “bluegreen” political party.

But for me, the most frustrating aspect of the election result is the entrenched inability of the Green Party to grasp that the environmental message is something that appeals to middle-of-the-road New Zealanders, not just Lefties.

Sadly the Green Party’s policies for environmental sustainability have always come with a nasty fishhook – the out-dated edict that social justice can only be achieved by rehashed socialism. This has rendered the Green Party a real melon to mainstream New Zealand – a watermelon to be precise, far too red on the inside for middle New Zealand to stomach.

For me, the frustrating thing is that the other Gareth’s1 political analysis completely misreads what’s going on at the same time as his analysis of National government’s performance on climate over the last six years is absolutely spot on….

Morgan’s view of the Green Party is common enough, and his bluegreen blog post has certainly attracted a fair bit of social media support. The “watermelon” trope is an accusation that’s been levelled at green parties and environmental activists around the world since at least the 1970s, and has its roots in the further reaches of far right US ideology. It’s a cheap shot, and not helpful to getting climate action, mainly because the NZ Green Party is what the Green Party is — an environmentally conscious party with deep roots in social justice campaigns going back 40 years.

The Green Party is what it is because that’s what its members want it to be, and as it is arguably the party most accountable to its membership for policy development and candidate selection, that’s entirely appropriate2.

Morgan’s misrepresentation of the Greens buys into the very message extreme right wingers are trying to reinforce in order to prevent climate and environment action. By doing that he also completely misreads what needs to be done if we are to get serious climate policy enacted by a centre-right government in New Zealand.

The last thing we need is a new and poorly defined political party: right of centre on economics and social issues, but reality-based when it comes to climate and the environment. How long would such a party take to build? How long before it could hold the balance of power in post-election negotiations. Six years? Nine years? Too long, by far, even if it could be put together in the first place.

Climate and environment issues do not sit on a left-right political spectrum, however hard the right might want it to seem so. They are external to party politics — challenges that all parties, whatever their ideology, have to come to terms with.

In order to endure, climate policy needs to develop out of a broad policy consensus and a shared assessment of the risk NZ (and the world) faces as a result of continuing warming.

The big question for the next three years is not so much about building a policy consensus — we (arguably) have one in the continued existence of an emissions trading scheme3 — but in communicating a realistic assessment of the climate risks NZ faces.

The key to that lies in persuading the leadership of the National Party that they can’t just leave climate policy on the back burner, a plaything for diplomats and Tim Groser. John Key, Bill English, Steven Joyce, and Gerry Brownlee need to be persuaded to accept that climate change represents a clear strategic and physical risk to the economic and social well-being of all New Zealanders — including all the people who voted for them, and all the financial backers who funded their re-election.

This will not be easy. Philip Mills, one of the founders of the Pure Advantage and 100% Plan lobby groups, gave up his efforts to lobby Key & Co earlier this year. The NZ Herald reported on his frustration:

Mr Mills, son of Les Mills and a former New Zealand athlete, said he had been personally lobbying Prime Minister John Key and his Government for five years to make a meaningful response to the threats posed by a warming atmosphere.

[...] “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.”

[...] Climate Change Minister Tim Groser said New Zealand was doing its fair share to reduce emissions and that the onus was on local councils to respond to the effects of climate change such as sea level rise.

Mr Mills said: “For me that was the end. I thought ‘I’ve got to stand up and be counted now’.

“I think that it is morally reprehensible for any country to shirk its responsibilities in this area.

“Furthermore I think it makes no economic sense as we know green industry will be one of the biggest growth opportunities of our time.”

So how do we succeed in motivating Key & Co to act, when years of effort by Mills and others has been rebuffed? There are three potential approaches.

The first is to recognise that there are genuine bluegreens already present in the National caucus and the wider party. The Bluegreen brand is a National brand, presented as the party’s “advisory group on environmental issues”. However, if you look at Bluegreen activities over the last few years you will find it hard to view them as anything other than a fig leaf, at best a rubber stamp for policy made elsewhere.

But there are National MPs and party members who really are green as well as blue, who do “get” the climate issue and understand the real risks the country faces. They need to be cultivated — encouraged to push the issue in the corridors of power, even if confronted by the same intransigence that Philip Mills encountered. Bluegreen MPs have to feel empowered within their caucus.

If they are to do that then they will need support. That will have to come in two forms.

The first is already under way, albeit in a rather low key manner. Alan Mark and the Wise Response initiative have shown the way. It’s time for the scientists and public intellectuals of New Zealand to knock on John Key’s door and refuse to take no for an answer. The Royal Society of NZ, the Prime Minister’s science adviser, the universities, and business leaders like Philip Mills now have to redouble their efforts. NZ’s intellectual leadership needs to stand up and make a powerful case for the cabinet to base climate policy on a realistic assessment of the risks. The lazy demonisation of all things green by senior National figures has to be countered by relentless rationality from those best equipped to deliver it.

Ultimately, it is voters who decide the future governments of NZ. Public opinion on the importance of climate policy will depend on both the leadership given by political parties — including National — and on the development of grass roots support for action. The Climate Voter initiative may not have had much impact on the final vote in this election, but it did provide a powerful demonstration of how the issue could be made to gain traction despite political and media indifference.

To make progress on climate issues there must be a concerted and non-partisan effort to put climate action high up on the political agenda. We have to move Key, English and Joyce from their pernicious “fast follower” stance into at least a middle of the (international) road position on emissions reductions, achieved through an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax which actually incentivises real reductions in NZ, the creation of carbon offsets through tree planting and land use change, and a serious effort to prepare the country to adapt to the warming, weather extremes and sea level rise that are now completely unavoidable.

[What, lugubrious? Nick Cave? Never. Well, perhaps not never. Sometimes, certainly.]

  1. No, not that other Gareth. This one.
  2. Disclosure: I am not a member of the Green Party, but have party voted for them in recent elections because I regard their climate and environment policies as the best on offer, and I have no problems with their stance on social justice issues. For the record, I have also voted for Labour and National on occasion over the last 18 years.
  3. When I discussed climate issues with a (largely sympathetic) National MP a couple of years ago, the response to my criticism of the gutting of the ETS was “well, we could have got rid of it…”

Things you can do about global warming now we have a new do-nothing government (same as the old one) Gareth Renowden Sep 22

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Australia’s brilliant First Dog On The Moon on climate action (courtesy of The Tree), deemed by me to be relevant in the aftermath of an election that has delivered New Zealand another three years of National-led government, and therefore little prospect of serious action on climate matters. I’ll have a slightly less amusing reaction to the result in due course…

Memo to Labour: Calling fossil fuels “transition fuels” doesn’t make the carbon go away Mr February Sep 09

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The New Zealand Labour Party announced their climate change policy on 24 August; the Sunday before last Sunday.

At first glance, it sounds refreshingly like a policy that takes anthropogenic global warming seriously. From the announcement:

A Labour Government will put in place a comprehensive climate change strategy focusing on both mitigation and adaptation, establish an independent Climate Commission and implement carbon budgeting, says Labour Climate Change spokesperson Moana Mackey.

“This is about future-proofing our economy. Making the transition to a low-carbon clean technology economy is not a ‘nice to have’ as the current Government would have us believe. It is a transition we must make and the sooner we begin, the easier that transition will be.”

How did the media respond? Well they ignored it. I haven’t seen any reporting of Labour’s climate change policy in the Herald, or Stuff/Fairfax, or Radio NZ or TV1 or TV3. I only stumbled onto it via Scoop a week after the release.

Like the 2011 election, the issue of climate change has been notable for it’s absence (the snake swallowing the elephant in the room).

However, some climate change focused NGOs responded positively to Labour’s policy. Simon Terry at the Sustainability Council said a carbon budget was the single most important reform. Generation Zero and the Iwi Leaders Group and forest owners welcomed the policy. The mainstream media of course also ignored these NGO views.

However, before I get into the detail of Labour’s climate change policy (a topic for another post), it’s important to ask “are the dots connected with Labour’s energy policy?” Unfortunately, the dots are not connected and the energy policy is 180 degrees contrary to the concept of a carbon budget.

Let’s look first at the sixth paragraph of Labour’s energy policy.

“It is internationally agreed that the average global temperature increase must be kept below 2 degrees Celsius if the worst effects of climate change are to be avoided. That means two-thirds of currently identified fossil fuel reserves cannot be consumed before 2050, in the absence of widely-deployed (and still unproven) carbon capture and storage technology.”

This is fantastic, isn’t it? Labour get it! They have read up on the Meinhausen et al Two Degrees Nature paper, the Carbon Tracker Unburnable Carbon Report, Bill McKibbin’s Do the Math and the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report.

They understand that the carbon in existing fossil fuel reserves will when consumed produce significantly more carbon dioxide than the quantity compatible with keeping average global warming to two degrees.

If only that were so. The next sentence tells us that Labour don’t get climate change.

“This does not mean that New Zealand should stop developing its own petroleum resources in a world still heavily dependent on oil. But this will be in the context of transitioning to renewable energy, which New Zealand and the rest of the world needs rapidly to do.”

This is inconsistent and nonsense. Someone else somewhere else must keep their fossil fuel reserves in the ground to avoid dangerous climate change. But not New Zealand. Under Labour’s policy, the private sector will develop New Zealand’s oil and gas reserves and the oil and gas infrastructure, with say a 40 or 50 year life span, over which they will expect to get a market return. Thats a carbon commitment for most of the years until 2100. The very time frame that the IPCC low emissions pathways say we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70%.

What is Labour thinking here? Where does Labour think the carbon dioxide from NZ’s new hydrocarbon reserves will end up? Or maybe if you label the NZ hydrocarbons as “transition” fuels there are fewer carbon atoms? Again this is nonsense.

I can only guess that Labour, in stating that their policy is in “the context of transitioning to renewable energy”, are arguing that oil and gas are now “transition fuels” to renewable energy supplies. That oil and gas are “bridge fuels” to renewables. Again this is nonsense. Are Labour now agreeing with Nick Smith?

I am not the only person to note the inherent contradiction in Labour’s policy. Bryan Walker has already noted that the intellectual hollowness is plain in Labour’s policy. Walker said;

“Political parties and governments which support expanded exploration and development of fossil resources either do not understand the severity of the scientific message or are so consumed by the prospects of economic wealth that they are determined not to heed it.”

Ditto Forest and Bird’s Kevin Hackwell;

“If Labour is taking climate change seriously it would realise that its fossil fuels policy is at odds with the party’s overarching policy statements on sustainability and climate change.”

Labour really need to be challenged on this. It’s as if the party has set a compass bearing for the destination and then headed off in the exact opposite direction. If there isn’t an understanding of the limited carbon budget in both your energy policy and your climate change policy, then it’s pretty much a ‘fail’ before even looking at the detail of the climate change policy.

New Zealand’s Southern Alps have lost a third of their ice Gareth Renowden Jul 29

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This article by Jim Salinger, University of Auckland; Blair Fitzharris, University of Otago, and Trevor Chinn, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, was first published at The Conversation. The photo at left shows the calving face of the Tasman Glacier in Dec 2013.

A third of the permanent snow and ice of New Zealand’s Southern Alps has now disappeared, according to our new research based on National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research aerial surveys. Since 1977, the Southern Alps’ ice volume has shrunk by 18.4 km3 or 34%, and those ice losses have been accelerating rapidly in the past 15 years.

The story of the Southern Alps’s disappearing ice has been very dramatic – and when lined up with rapid glacier retreats in many parts of the world, raises serious questions about future sea level rise and coastal climate impacts.

The Southern Alps’ total ice volume (solid line) and annual gains or losses (bars) from 1976 to 2014 in km3 of water equivalent, as calculated from the end-of-summer-snowline monitoring programme.

Glaciers are large-scale, highly sensitive climate instruments, which in an ideal world we would pick up and weigh once a year, because their fluctuations provide one of the clearest signals of climate change.

A glacier is simply the surplus ice that collects above the permanent snowline where the losses to summer melting are less than the gains from winter accumulation. A glacier flows downhill and crosses the permanent snowline from the area of snow gain to the zone of ice loss. The altitude of this permanent snowline is the equilibrium line: it marks the altitude at which snow gain (accumulation) is exactly balanced by melt (ablation) and is represented by the end-of-summer snowline.

Tasman Lake, photographed in March 2011. (Trevor Chinn)

In 1977, one of us (Trevor Chinn) commenced aerial photography to measure the annual end-of-summer snowline for 50 index glaciers throughout the Southern Alps.

These annual end-of-summer surveys have been continued by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). We then use the NIWA results to calculate the annual glacier mass balance and hence volume changes of small to medium sized glaciers in the Southern Alps. Small to medium glaciers respond quickly to annual variability of weather and climate, and are in balance with the current climate.

Not so the twelve largest glaciers: the Tasman, Godley, Murchison, Classen, Mueller, Hooker, Ramsay, Volta/Therma, La Perouse, Balfour, Grey, and Maud glaciers. These have a thick layer of insulating rocks on top of the ice lower down the glaciers trunk. Their response to new snow at the top is subdued, and take many decades to respond.

Up until the 1970s, their surfaces lowered like sinking lids maintaining their original areas. Thereafter, glacial lakes have formed and they have undergone rapid retreat and ice loss.

The Rolleston index glacier in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, showing the accumulation area where fresh clean snow gain occurs above the end-of-summer snowline, and the area of melting ice below. Here, a negative balance year in 2009 shows a higher end-of-summer snowline revealing underlying old snow. (Trevor Chinn)

To come up with our calculations, we have used the snowline survey data plus earlier topographic maps and a GPS survey of the ice levels of the largest glaciers to calculate total ice-volume changes for the Southern Alps up until 2014.

Over that time, ice volume had decreased 34%, from 54.5 km3 to 36.1 km3 in water equivalents. Of that reduction, 40% was from the 12 largest glaciers, and 60% from the small- to medium-sized glaciers.

These New Zealand results mirror trends from mountain glaciers globally. From 1961 to 2005, the thickness of “small” glaciers worldwide decreased approximately 12 metres, the equivalent of more than 9,000 km3 of water.

Global Glacier Thickness Change: This shows average annual and cumulative glacier thickness change of mountain glaciers of the world, measured in vertical metres, for the period 1961 to 2005.(Mark Dyurgerov, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder)

Martin Hoelzle and associates at the World Glacier Monitoring Service have estimated estimate the 1890s extent of ice volume in New Zealand’s Southern Alps was 170 km3, compared to 36.1 km3 now. That disappearance of 75-80% of Southern Alps ice is graphic evidence of the local effects of global warming.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2013

Further large losses of ice in the Southern Alps have been projected by glaciologists Valentina Radic and Regine Hock, suggesting that only 7-12 km3 will remain by the end of the 21st century. This is based on regional warming projections of 1.5°C to 2.5°C. This represents a likely decimation of ice cover of the Southern Alps over two centuries because of global warming.

And where does all this melted glacier ice go? Into the oceans, thus making an important contribution to sea level rise, which poses a serious risk to low-lying islands in the Pacific, and low-lying coastal cities from Miami in the US to Christchurch in NZ.

In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated mountain glacier melt has contributed about 6 to 7 centimetres of sea level rise since 1900, and project a further 10 to 20 cm from this source by 2100.

The disappearing ice story calls for robust effective climate policy to moderate effects on our landscape and coasts, otherwise future generations will have little of New Zealand/Aotearoa’s “long white cloud” alpine ice left to enjoy.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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Hot Air: the sorry tale of climate policy in New Zealand Gareth Renowden Jul 23

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This guest post is by Alister Barry, producer and co-director of the new documentary Hot Air, which will be premiered in Wellington next week. Hot Air is screening in the New Zealand International Film Festival around the country over the next month.

Hot Air is a story of compromise, broken promises and corporate pressure, of misinformation and pseudo-scientific propaganda. It’s also a story of good intentions. The 1989 Labour government under Geoffrey Palmer began to map out the first emissions policy. In the 1990s Simon Upton, the National government’s minister responsible for climate change policy tried to put a carbon tax in place as did his successor Labour’s Pete Hodgson. After 2005 David Parker struggled to pass an emissions trading scheme.

I began work on Hot Air in 2009 thinking it might take a couple of years. I recall one of my partners saying, “You better get it done quickly, because within a few years the film will be out of date. Climate change will have been confronted and dealt with.” No such luck.

I soon found that while there have been some books written about the history of the politics of climate change in the UK, the US and elsewhere, there was no comprehensive account telling the New Zealand story. I spent a lot of time in the National Library doing the basic slog of getting the history down on paper. Then I had to condense it into a documentary script before beginning actually making the film.

One benefit of the long gestation period was the unexpected number of key figures that agreed to be interviewed for the film. Experts from both the environmental and economic fields, newspaper editors, businessmen, and a wide range of political figures including National’s Simon Upton, and Labour’s Pete Hodgson & David Parker, all one-time Ministers of Environment, contributed. Many of the major players (particularly Labour’s ruffled former Minister of Environment, Pete Hodgson) clearly welcomed the opportunity to tell their stories, as well as vent some frustrations!

Editing has taken a couple of years finding and fitting together archive footage with the original interview material and condensing that into an informative, and we hope entertaining film. Co-director and editor Abi King-Jones has done a masterful job creating a film that is a pleasure to watch.

On one level the film attempts to provide an understanding of the political landscape on which those of us who want to see some effective action on climate change will have to fight, on another level it is a case study of the extent to which power in our society has shifted to the corporate elite and away from the rest of us.

Hot Air is screening in the New Zealand International Film Festival around the country beginning on July 31st in Wellington.

Here are all the current screening times.

Auckland

Friday, 1 August — 1:00 p.m, Sky City Cinema

Saturday 2 August — 3:30 p.m, Sky City Cinema

Wellington

Thursday 31 July — 6:15 p.m, Paramount Cinema (World Premiere)

Wednesday 6 August — 11.00 a.m, Paramount Cinema

Dunedin

Friday 8 August — 1:00 pm, Rialto

Sunday 10 August — 1:15pm, Rialto

Christchurch

Mon 11 Aug — 6.00pm, Hoyts Northlands 3

Tues 12 Aug — 11.00am, Hoyts Northlands 3

Bookings and tickets are available at the New Zealand International Film Festival website.

TDB Today: Getting out the climate vote Gareth Renowden Jul 02

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In this week’s article at The Daily BlogGetting Out The Climate Vote — I take a look at the first batch of responses to the Climate Voter question of the week: President Obama calls climate change one of the most significant challenges we face, requiring urgent action by all governments. Do you agree?. No prizes for guessing who laughs in the face of civilisational suicide…

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