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Posts Tagged NZ

National Business Review: last bastion of climate denial in NZ pushes de Freitas tosh Gareth Renowden Nov 18

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The National Business Review — New Zealand’s biggest-selling business weekly — provides a happy media home for climate deniers of all stripes. Columnists like former ACT Party leader Rodney Hide and right wing spin doctor Matthew Hooton1 are given free rein to rant and rave about climate issues, but occasionally editor Nevil Gibson offers its august platform to others so that they can spout fatuous piffle. Last week’s issue featured an opinion column by Chris de Freitas, in which he waxes lyrical about his recent paper on the NZ temperature record — the shonky one that claims to find warming to be only one third of what real experts calculate.

The NBR hides most of its material behind a paywall, so I can’t link directly to the text — but the less scrupulous chaps at the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition2 are happy to host a pdf lifted from the NBR site.

As you might expect, de Freitas doesn’t restrict himself to narrow concepts of truth and factual accuracy. He mentions the cranks’ court case…

The High Court ruled against the trust and ordered it to repay court costs.

… but neglects to point out that the trust has since failed to pay those costs. It has of course been put into receivership, thus allowing the trustees to escape the $90,000-worth of financial consequences of losing their crackpot case.

de Freitas also misrepresents the membership of the trust.

The trust was suspected of hosting global warming sceptics, which was clearly not the case, as the group was not asserting climate warming does not exist. Rather it represented the view of those who are sceptical of alarmist claims that dangerous human-caused global warming is taking place.

The trustees were Bryan Leyland, Terry Dunleavy and Doug Edmeades, with Barry Brill acting as their lawyer. Leyland, Dunleavy and Brill are men with long track records as “global warming sceptics” — not least Leyland, who is on record predicting imminent global cooling.

The rest of de Freitas’s op-ed repeats the misdirections that can be found in the text of his paper, mostly dealt with in my first post on the matter a couple of weeks ago, but there are two I can’t let pass:

The newly published work aimed to apply the method set out by Rhoades and Salinger exactly as they describe, without adjusting it in any way.

dFDB 2014 chooses to interpret the methods suggested by Rhoades and Salinger in a very particular way — one that has the effect of reducing the apparent warming trend. If those methods are properly applied, as in Mullan 2012, the warming reappears3.

de Freitas also attempts to justify the whole farrago:

National temperature trends are widely used for a large number of societal design and planning purposes and it is important that they should be as reliable as modern methods allow.

This is transparent nonsense. Historical temperature trends are interesting, but they play no useful part in future planning. To plan in the face of rapid climate change, we need good regional projections for temperature changes, sea level rise and increases in weather extremes. Those will come from climate models, not temperature records.

de Freitas’s paper is nothing more than a political exercise — a part of the climate cranks long running campaign against NIWA. It’s dressed up as an academic paper — but like the Emperor’s new clothes, the finery is only visible to the cranks themselves.

The NBR, meanwhile, confirms its position as the last bastion of climate denial opinion. As I’ve said before, it could be argued that the business community gets the journalism it deserves. It would appear New Zealand’s business community continues to be in deep, deep trouble.

  1. Hooton’s last column on climate matters appeared two weeks ago, and managed to be a spectacular home goal. But then he’s no stranger to those.
  2. Let’s not forget that they are quite happy to register a charitable trust to bring a court case against NIWA, and then fold it so that the trustees can escape the financial consequences of their actions, so the fact that they are happy to disrespect the NBR’s paywall should come as no surprise.
  3. There will be more on this in future posts at HT on the dFDB 2014 paper and the desperate attempts by the authors to justify their conclusions.

National Business Review: last bastion of climate denial in NZ pushes de Freitas tosh Gareth Renowden Nov 18

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The National Business Review — New Zealand’s biggest-selling business weekly — provides a happy media home for climate deniers of all stripes. Columnists like former ACT Party leader Rodney Hide and right wing spin doctor Matthew Hooton1 are given free rein to rant and rave about climate issues, but occasionally editor Nevil Gibson offers its august platform to others so that they can spout fatuous piffle. Last week’s issue featured an opinion column by Chris de Freitas, in which he waxes lyrical about his recent paper on the NZ temperature record — the shonky one that claims to find warming to be only one third of what real experts calculate.

The NBR hides most of its material behind a paywall, so I can’t link directly to the text — but the less scrupulous chaps at the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition2 are happy to host a pdf lifted from the NBR site.

As you might expect, de Freitas doesn’t restrict himself to narrow concepts of truth and factual accuracy. He mentions the cranks’ court case…

The High Court ruled against the trust and ordered it to repay court costs.

… but neglects to point out that the trust has since failed to pay those costs. It has of course been put into receivership, thus allowing the trustees to escape the $90,000-worth of financial consequences of losing their crackpot case.

de Freitas also misrepresents the membership of the trust.

The trust was suspected of hosting global warming sceptics, which was clearly not the case, as the group was not asserting climate warming does not exist. Rather it represented the view of those who are sceptical of alarmist claims that dangerous human-caused global warming is taking place.

The trustees were Bryan Leyland, Terry Dunleavy and Doug Edmeades, with Barry Brill acting as their lawyer. Leyland, Dunleavy and Brill are men with long track records as “global warming sceptics” — not least Leyland, who is on record predicting imminent global cooling.

The rest of de Freitas’s op-ed repeats the misdirections that can be found in the text of his paper, mostly dealt with in my first post on the matter a couple of weeks ago, but there are two I can’t let pass:

The newly published work aimed to apply the method set out by Rhoades and Salinger exactly as they describe, without adjusting it in any way.

dFDB 2014 chooses to interpret the methods suggested by Rhoades and Salinger in a very particular way — one that has the effect of reducing the apparent warming trend. If those methods are properly applied, as in Mullan 2012, the warming reappears3.

de Freitas also attempts to justify the whole farrago:

National temperature trends are widely used for a large number of societal design and planning purposes and it is important that they should be as reliable as modern methods allow.

This is transparent nonsense. Historical temperature trends are interesting, but they play no useful part in future planning. To plan in the face of rapid climate change, we need good regional projections for temperature changes, sea level rise and increases in weather extremes. Those will come from climate models, not temperature records.

de Freitas’s paper is nothing more than a political exercise — a part of the climate cranks long running campaign against NIWA. It’s dressed up as an academic paper — but like the Emperor’s new clothes, the finery is only visible to the cranks themselves.

The NBR, meanwhile, confirms its position as the last bastion of climate denial opinion. As I’ve said before, it could be argued that the business community gets the journalism it deserves. It would appear New Zealand’s business community continues to be in deep, deep trouble.

  1. Hooton’s last column on climate matters appeared two weeks ago, and managed to be a spectacular home goal. But then he’s no stranger to those.
  2. Let’s not forget that they are quite happy to register a charitable trust to bring a court case against NIWA, and then fold it so that the trustees can escape the financial consequences of their actions, so the fact that they are happy to disrespect the NBR’s paywall should come as no surprise.
  3. There will be more on this in future posts at HT on the dFDB 2014 paper and the desperate attempts by the authors to justify their conclusions.

China and US reach emissions deal, NZ govt warned its policies are failing Gareth Renowden Nov 13

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Today’s news that the US and China have agreed a long term policy to reduce carbon emissions is being hailed as a “game-changer” in international climate negotiations. China has agreed to cap its emissions in 2030 — the first time it has committed to anything more than a reduction in the carbon intensity of its emissions, while the US will aim to cut emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025, up from its current target of 17% by 2020. [BBC, Guardian, Climate Progress.] Meanwhile, NZ’s third term National government is being warned by its own civil servants that its current emissions policy settings commit the country to substantial emissions increases over the same time frame.

With the world’s two largest emitters — between them they account for 45% of total emissions — agreeing to work together for the first time, prospects for a global deal in Paris next year look brighter than before. However, the cuts on the table do not look like enough to keep the planet on a trajectory to 2 degrees of warming or less. Associate professor Peter Christoff of the University of Melbourne explains (via The Conversation):

These commitments will frame the levels of ambition required of other states at Paris next year. Climate modellers will no doubt now be rushing to determine what these new commitments, if delivered successfully, will mean for combating global warming.

The US and Chinese cuts, significant though they are, will not be enough to limit the total increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide unless other states engage in truly radical reductions.

In other words, global emissions are likely to continue to grow, probably until 2030, which will make it impossible to hold global warming below the world’s agreed limit of 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.

In New Zealand the briefings for incoming ministers in the new government — same as the old lot, in climate relevant ministries — have been remarkably blunt in their assessment of the task the country faces.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) Briefing to Incoming Ministers (BIM)1 is blunt about the importance of dealing with climate change (pdf here):

Climate change and resource scarcity are challenging core elements of the global ecosystem. Climate change is the most urgent and far-reaching threat we face, and the current negotiations on climate change are the most important multilateral negotiation now under way. Positions taken by countries on climate change and their readiness to contribute to global solutions will increasingly define the way that others perceive them politically and economically.

The Ministry for the Environment BIM2 points out the huge gulf between fine words and inadequate policy settings:

…We have an established price on emissions and market infrastructure in place through the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS), although current settings are not driving meaningful emissions reductions. In 2015 the NZ ETS is scheduled to be reviewed to assess whether the settings remain suitable for delivering on government objectives.

That ETS review will have to consider the reality shown in this graph from p22 of the MfE BIM.

NZemissionsMFEbriefing

The only way the government can reach its unconditional target of a 5% cut on 1990 levels by 2020 is by using carried forward emissions reductions from the first Kyoto commitment period (even though it subsequently withdrew from CP2) and by buying emissions units from overseas. Real cuts in emissions in the following decade will require a real carbon price — not an ETS that rewards polluters for their pollution.

If NZ is to table emissions cuts that parallel those from the USA, then emissions policy settings are going to need an urgent and dramatic revamp. The good news is that the China and US initiative on emissions means that NZ’s government can no longer point to international failure to cooperate as a reason why NZ should do little or nothing.

PM John Key has said in the past that he wants NZ to be a “fast follower” of the world leaders on emissions reductions. Now is the time to show just how fast a follower he intends to be. We can only hope it’s pretty damn speedy.

  1. The incoming ministers are Murray McCulley (Foreign Affairs), and Tim Groser (Trade and Climate Change Issues), full ministerial list here.
  2. Incoming minister is Nick Smith, same as the outgoing one.

Danger Dedekind! Heartbreak Ahead (still wrong, still digging, NZ still warming fast) Gareth Renowden Nov 05

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Over last weekend, my post criticising the new paper by Chris de Freitas, Manfred “Bob” Dedekind and Barry Brill that claims warming in New Zealand’s temperature records is only one third of that calculated by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) attracted a flurry of attempted ripostes at Richard Treadgold’s Climate Conversation blog. One — by Bob Dedekind — sets out to be a rebuttal of my original post. Sadly for Bob and his co-authors, he has only managed to dig himself into an even deeper hole.

For the sake of the record, therefore, I have taken the time and trouble to deal with each of his points in detail. The results of my researches do not make pretty reading for De Freitas, Dedekind, Brill, or the editorial team, reviewers and publishers of Environmental Modelling and Assessment.

Pal review

Dedekind kicks off his attempt to deal with my criticisms by repeating the silly claim — made on the basis of a very selective parsing of some emails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in 2009 — that climate scientists had colluded to get an innocent Chris de Freitas fired from his position as an editor at Climate Research in 2003.

Unfortunately for Dedekind, the truth of the matter — extensively documented by John Mashey in his 2011 Pal Review document — is that de Freitas spent years abusing his position at the journal by ushering poor papers by his climate sceptic mates, notably Patrick Michaels, through to publication by subjecting them to weak or inadequate peer review. CdF’s behaviour eventually led to a mass resignation by other editors, and ultimately his own resignation. Here are the main points uncovered by Mashey’s diligent research:

  • From 1990 to 1996, Climate Research published no papers by any of the following sceptic “pals”:

    Sallie Baliunas, Robert Balling, John Christy, Robert Davis, David Douglass, Vincent Gray, Sherwood Idso, PJ Knappenberger, Ross McKitrick, Pat Michaels, Eric Posmentier, Arthur Robinson, Willie Soon, and Gerd-Rainer Weber.

  • de Freitas became an editor at CR in 1997 and then accepted 14 papers in the period up to 2003 from authors with whom he had close ties via US far right lobby groups and climate denial organisations.
  • Papers from the “pals” accounted for half of his editorial workload.
  • de Freitas acted as editor on seven papers by Patrick Michaels, half of Michaels’ publication record over the period. Mashey describes Michaels as “king of the pals”.
  • After de Freitas resigned his editorial role in 2003, publications from the pals stopped appearing in Climate Research.

Given de Freitas’ track record, it is unsurprising that I queried the peer review process at Environmental Modelling and Assessment. Dedekind may choose to live in a parallel universe where white is in fact black, but the rest of us will accept the colours we see at face value.

Source of 7SS

One of the straightforward falsehoods in dFDB 2014 that I pointed out in my original post is this, from the abstract:

Current New Zealand century-long climatology based on 1981 methods produces a trend of 0.91 °C per century. Our analysis, which uses updated measurement techniques and corrects for shelter-contaminated data, produces a trend of 0.28 °C per century.

Dedekind fulminates:

Suffice it to say that there is zero evidence to show that the pre-2010 7SS was ever based on a correct application of RS93, apart from the assertions of some at NIWA.

Let me pose a question. What does Dedekind think Rhoades and Salinger were doing in their 1993 paper? Indulging in a purely theoretical exercise? In fact, they developed their techniques by working on what became the Seven Station Series (7SS), and from 1992 onwards the 7SS was compiled using RS93 methods properly applied.

At least one of the authors of dFDB 2014 should be aware of that simple fact. During the discovery process before the High Court proceedings, Barry Brill and Vincent Gray examined a set of storage boxes at NIWA — dubbed the “Salinger recall storage boxes” — that contained (amongst other things) all of Jim Salinger’s original calculations for the 1992 reworking of the 7SS.

Perhaps Brill and Gray didn’t look at Salinger’s calculations, or if they did, didn’t realise what they showed.

Two other critical references that prove that between 1992 and 2009 the 7SS was based on RS93 properly applied, are given below in the section on “Periods for comparison”.

Ignoring NIWA’s work

Here Dedekind goes completely off the rails:

Difficult to untangle the confusion apparent on this one. Firstly, the current 7SS uses the old technique, based on Salinger’s 1981 thesis. We applied a new technique (RS93) to it for the first time.

As I’ve just shown, that simply isn’t true, and Dedekind and his co-authors should be aware of that fact because they were given access to the “Salinger recall storage boxes” and should have read and understood the papers referring to the RS93 method’s application to the 7SS post 1992.

Further proof that dFDB 2014’s authors should have known that the latest 7SS does not use “old” techniques comes from the “Technical Notes” behind each station report prepared by NIWA’s scientists. These are not secret, but they are very technical and NIWA has judged them not suitable for putting on its website — but they were all supplied to Barry Brill in July 20111. The Technical Notes are basically just tables of intermediate calculations with very little contextual explanation, but they show without any doubt that:

  • Shifts to maximum and minimum temperatures were calculated by NIWA for the 2010 Review;
  • The statistical significance of all shifts was calculated too. The significance tests were done relative to each comparison (reference) site, rather than evaluating an overall significance level after combining sites as RS93 did.

The Technical Notes were also supplied to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology climate team in 2010 as part of the peer review process and BOM’s scientists would have had no trouble understanding them. The same may not be true for the authors of dFDB 2014.

Dedekind should, therefore, be well aware that NIWA did not use “old” techniques for the new 7SS, and that they calculated adjustments for maximum and minimum temperatures as well as mean temperatures. If Dedekind has not seen these Technical Notes, then he should ask his co-author Barry Brill why these inconvenient truths were withheld from him.

Workings or SI

I shall bow to the views of Steve McIntyre (yes, that Steve) at Bishop Hill2 on dFDB 2014’s lacklustre support for anyone wishing to reproduce their results:

I strongly recommend that the authors provide turnkey code showing their results.

[…]

Some readers, if not most readers, are only semi-interested in the controversy, but insufficiently interested to try to code the results and figure out how to access the data from NIWA. The authors should place the NIWA versions as used in their own FTP location and provide the code by which they obtained their results. The advantage of placing the code online is that interested readers can see exactly what was done without having to parse and interpret the methodology in the article – though clear methodology is equally important in seeing what was done.

Nor is it a sufficient reply for the authors to complain about their own prior mistreatment by NIWA. Most of the climate community will be sympathetic to NIWA and unsympathetic to the authors. So they need to go the extra mile.

Quite so. Extraordinary claims — and lets be clear, dFDB 2014’s assertion that warming in NZ is one third of that previously calculated by experts is an extraordinary claim — require extraordinary proof.

Periods for comparison

Dedekind makes the following statements:

Any assertion that makes the claim that RS93 does not use one or two year periods is false. Any assertion that RS93 uses four year periods is false.

Of course, it’s more than likely that Gareth’s vision is somewhat blurry on this point. Perhaps he is confused whether it’s two years before and after a change or four years in total? Who knows? But if he wants to wriggle out via that tunnel, then he should be aware that he would be confirming the two-year approach.

As for the claim that no professional working in the field would use a shorter period, then is Gareth now claiming that Dr Jim Salinger (the co-author of RS93) is not a professional, since he clearly uses it in section 2.4 of RS93? What about Dr David Rhoades? Should we write and tell them that?

Just to be clear, when I said in the original post that the use of one or two year periods is not adequate, I was using the RS93 terminology of k=1 and k=2; that is, k=2 means 2 years before and after a site change (so 4 years in total, but a 2-year difference series which is tested for significance against another 2-year difference series).

Dedekind claims that NIWA never considered k=4. He is wrong, and should know he is wrong, because he has certainly had sight of the following documents:

  • Page 3 in the 1992 NZ Met Service Salinger et al report (single page scan here). The final paragraph clearly states k=2 and k=4 were used. The full paper (pdf here) was available to the NZCSET, but was not amongst the “exhibits” supplied to support their evidence to the High Court. One wonders why not…?
  • Top of page 1508 in Peterson et al 1998: “Homogeneity adjustments of in situ atmospheric climate data: a review”, International J. Climatology, 18: 1493-1517 (pdf here). Clearly states k=1, 2 and 4 were considered. The paper is cited in dFDB 2014. Perhaps the authors didn’t read it.

Direct evidence that calculations based on k=4 were made is also in the “Salinger recall storage boxes” inspected by Brill and Gray.

Minimum and maximum temperatures

As I pointed out in my original post, dFDB 2014’s failure to consider maximum and minimum temperature adjustments is the paper’s most critical flaw. Dedekind — as is becoming all too clear — is simply wrong when he states:

If this is the most critical flaw in our analysis, then why, in NIWA’s Review of the 7SS, did they not do this? Why did they use the mean, as we did? We followed their lead, after all.

By the way, nothing in anything we’ve done precludes NIWA doing their own RS93 analysis. Why have they not done this yet?

As I’ve already shown above Dedekind should be aware that NIWA did consider max and min temperatures — which is essential if you are only going to apply adjustments if they achieve statistical significance. The evidence is there in the Technical Notes supplied to his co-author Barry Brill two years before dFDB 2014 was submitted to EMA. It’s even in the 7SS Review document NIWA produced explaining the process they used to create the latest 7SS. The Review may emphasise the mean temperature shifts but NIWA obviously had to have calculated the max and min shifts for the Review to mention them at all. Mullan (2012) also considers max and min temperatures when applying RS93, and shows why it is important to do so.

Missing data

Dedekind takes issue with my comments on his infilling of missing temperature data for May 1920 in Masterton:

We use the average anomaly from surrounding reference sites to calculate our missing anomaly. So if Gareth wants to criticise our paper’s technique, he criticises NIWA at the same time.

Estimating anomalies is certainly the correct approach in place of using climatology. But it doesn’t appear Dedekind has done this for Masterton in dFDB 2014. Table 3 in the paper shows no adjustment made for the 1920 site move, but if you apply RS93 k=2 — their preferred method — this would change to -0.3ºC and have to be applied because it meets their statistical significance test. Unfortunately this would lead to a doubling of the current NZCSC trend for Masterton and therefore might not be ideologically acceptable.

The 11SS

Dedekind tries hand wave away the 11SS as having been “thoroughly debunked elsewhere”, but doesn’t link to any debunking. The fact is that the raw station data from rural sites with long records that require no adjustments show strong warming. In other words, the warming seen in the 7SS is not an artefact of site changes or urban warming. That is an important matter, and should have been addressed in dFDB 2014.

Mullan 2012

In my original post, I noted that Brett Mullan’s 2012 paper Applying the Rhoades and Salinger Method to New Zealand’s “Seven Stations” Temperature series (Weather & Climate, 32(1), 24-38) deals with the correct application of the methodology described in Rhoades and Salinger’s 1993 paper. It is not cited in dFDB 2014 — itself a sign of shoddy scholarship in a paper claiming to make the first use of that methodology with respect to the 7SS. In his attempted rebuttal to my post Dedekind makes this odd statement:

“Mullan (2012) is far from a refutation of RS93.”

Well, no, since it is entirely about the proper application of Rhoades and Salinger’s methodology — but it is a direct problem for what dFDB 2014 calls RS93 — a misapplication of that methodology.

At the very least, dFDB 2014 should have addressed the existence of Mullan’s paper, and explained why the application of RS93 in that paper is not preferable to their interpretation of it. Making no reference to the paper is a sign of either not knowing the basic literature of the field in which you are attempting to publish (one of academe’s greatest sins), or it’s a sign of trying to avoid uncomfortable issues. In either case, it is a clear example of how the peer review process at EMA failed. Knowledgeable reviewers would have insisted that the authors address the issues raised in Mullan 2012.

Sea surface temperatures (SST)

Dedekind makes much of the fact that the paper does refer to one paper on SSTs around New Zealand — but skips over the essential point: that the SST evidence confirms that warming is occurring faster than they calculate. A hand wave from the authors to “there is low confidence in the data in the crucial pre-1949 period” is hardly a serious argument — especially given the strong warming shown in the raw station data, and corroborating warming seen on offshore islands and in the loss of ice in the Southern Alps.

Parting shot

Dedekind closes with a little snipe at me for pointing out that he had no publication record. Perhaps I should have added “relevant” or “in the field” to the sentence in my original post, but in making an appraisal of his expertise I was greatly assisted by Justice Venning’s judgement on the matter in NIWA v Cranks:

Mr Dedekind’s general expertise in basic statistical techniques does not extend to any particular specialised experience or qualifications in the specific field of applying statistical techniques in the field of climate science. To that extent, where Mr Dedekind purports to comment or give opinions as to NIWA’s application of statistical techniques in those fields, his evidence is of little assistance to the Court.

Dedekind and Treadgold’s reaction to my criticism of dFDB 2014 — and their whole approach to NIWA and the NZ temperature record — demonstrates just how divorced from reality the climate crank position has become over the five years of their attack on NIWA. Their whole campaign only makes sense in a strange world where New Zealand’s climate scientists have been conspiring to create the impression of warming where none exists. Remember Treadgold’s impassioned bleat when he launched their effort in November 2009?

We have discovered that the warming in New Zealand over the past 156 years was indeed man-made, but it had nothing to do with emissions of CO2—it was created by man-made adjustments of the temperature. It’s a disgrace.

Now that dFDB 2014 has been published, and the NZCSC’s partial and political misapplication of climate statistics has been revealed, the enormous mismatch between the little fantasy world they’ve lived in for the last five years and the harsh reality of a world that’s warming fast has become all too obvious. Such is the nature of cognitive dissonance, however, that we cannot expect reason to prevail in their camp. The deluded will continue in their delusion, and continue to try to twist the world to match their own expectations. And they will continue to fail, miserably.

[The Marvelettes, Danger! Heartbreak Dead Ahead.]

  1. Hint: If anyone wants copies of these Technical Notes, all they have to do is ask. If you want them quickly, ask a NIWA climate scientist, and don’t mention the Official Information Act. I asked, and as an example you can download the Notes for the Dunedin adjustments here [File updated 9-30am, 6/11 with improved formatting.]. If you don’t mind waiting, then ask for them under the OIA — the request will go straight to the lawyers (it’s the legal requirement for Crown Research Institutes).
  2. Comment on Nov 2, 2014 at 12:58 PM.

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.

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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

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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.

[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…

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