A non-partisan campaign to put action on climate change at the centre of the coming election campaign was launched at the weekend (NZ Herald, RNZ). Climate Voter, a joint initiative by Forest & Bird, Generation Zero, 350 Aoteoroa, Greenpeace, Oxfam and WWF, is using social media to drive the campaign, and will host a debate on climate policy between the leaders of the top six polling parties in September. At the time of writing over 10,000 people had signed up to the campaign — including me. It’s a very worthwhile effort and one I’m very happy to support, because as long as politicians are allowed to get away with mismanaging or ignoring climate policy, NZ will remain on the wrong path. The laws of physics don’t care what your politics are, but they will make people who ignore them pay a high price.
Posts Tagged WWF
The WWF report this week on how New Zealand has handled its responsibilities since the first Earth Summit 20 years ago is damning on the matter of greenhouse gas emissions. We have failed to measure up to our undertakings given back in 1992 and again in 2002. New Zealand signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on the first day of the that Rio meeting, and subsequently ratified it. We committed in Article 4 to:
“Adopt national policies and take corresponding measures on the mitigation of climate change, by limiting its anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting and enhancing its greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs. These policies and measures will demonstrate that developed countries are taking the lead.”
The WWF report points out that nothing happened here for the next fourteen years and the country’s greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase. They flattened off after 2007, but that was mainly due to a major drought affecting agriculture and then the subsequent recession. The report considers the Emissions Trading Scheme enacted in 2008 and weakened in 2009 has had limited impact on emissions.
We have clearly failed to set emissions on a downward trajectory.
Transport is selected as an obvious example of New Zealand’s lack of action. At the 2002 Earth Summit, along with other governments we undertook to:
“Implement transport strategies for sustainable development…so as to improve the affordability, efficiency and convenience of transportation, as well as improving urban air quality and health, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
But since the 2002 commitment transport emissions have continued to rise, except during the recent oil spike, and are projected to continue climbing between now and 2020. Emissions have also increased in the agriculture and industry sectors. They rose dramatically in the electricity sector for some years due to an increase in coal and gas-fired generation, but have now dropped back closer to the 1992 level, albeit still 7.5 per cent higher.
The report sees no relief in the projections for emissions forward to 2020. The Government’s own projections show a modest increase in gross emissions during these years, and a larger increase in net emissions (which include forestry and other land use changes). Net emissions are bound to fluctuate over time due to the structure of New Zealand’s plantation forests estate and the report sees gross emissions as the figure we should pay most attention to. It is the gross emissions figure which tells us whether or not we are making the transition to a low carbon economy across the different sectors of energy, transport, industry and agriculture.
The projection of a modest increase in gross emissions looks highly optimistic anyway. Current policy directions don’t support it, the report points out, evidencing plans to expand oil drilling, a major road building programme, facilitating the expansion of dairy farming and encouraging the exploitation of lignite, the dirtiest form of coal. Indeed the proposed industrial facilities to convert lignite into urea and diesel could alone increase New Zealand’s gross emissions by 10 per cent beyond the projection.
The report is suspicious of the Government’s position on carbon accounting. WWF’s analysis strongly suggests that the intention is to create a system of calculating emissions reduction commitments up to 2020 that will enable New Zealand to continue with business as usual – which means steadily rising emissions rather than emissions reductions.
It’s a dismal picture the report paints, suggesting that the Government in fact has no intention of making good on its promises of twenty years ago, thus both contributing to the climate crisis and also damaging the economy by not pursuing low carbon development.
There’s little likelihood that the Government will be moved by WWF’s analysis. The Minister for the Environment Amy Adams claims New Zealand has reason to be proud of its record on the environmental issues raised at Rio:
“I think in terms of other countries and the work that we have done … we can hold our heads very high.”
Pesky organisations like WWF are selling the country short:
“The work isn’t done, we still have more to do, but there are always going to be groups that want to go around bringing down New Zealand’s reputation and I think that’s unfortunate.”
Ministerial bluster is no substitute for the truth of the matter. The accusation that WWF wants to bring down New Zealand’s reputation is contemptible. Government gives no sign that it is serious about emissions reduction. It says it accepts the science, but its efforts, such as they are, appear to be confined to offsetting emissions by tree planting, a good thing in its own right but a temporary expedient in terms of fighting climate change. There can be no substitute for gross emissions reduction. The Government will no doubt trumpet that we have met our Kyoto obligation on net emissions, but that is a smoke and mirrors illusion: our emissions are considerably higher than they were in 1990.
Dr James Renwick, principal climate scientist, NIWA, offers straight talk in his comment on the report for the Science Media Centre:
“The report notes, quite rightly, that New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions have climbed significantly since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary. Like most nations on earth, we have talked the talk but we have yet to really walk the walk. Instead of tackling the problem, we have squandered the last 20 years and are now in a very difficult position, as a global community. To have any chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees (as promised in Copenhagen and elsewhere), developed countries need to achieve 50% reductions in emissions this decade, and 80-90% by 2050.
“New Zealand is better placed than most countries to achieve this, which represents a massive opportunity for New Zealand businesses and industry. Failure to act is likely to commit the globe to a climate not seen for millions of years, with grave consequences for global food production and economic stability.”
The climate change section of the report ends by urging the Government to develop a low carbon development plan. Along with other nations we made a commitment at Cancun to draw up such a plan, but WWF says we have since reneged on it, claiming it was not a binding promise. The report points to other countries which have moved ahead in developing their strategies and plans for achieving low carbon economies, including Brazil, Germany, Mexico, Scotland, South Africa and the UK. Whether such plans survive such pressures as the excitements of natural gas fracking remains to be seen. According to George Monbiot the UK has already abandoned its coal and gas emission targets. (Denied by Secretary of State Edward Davey.)
Nevertheless making a plan at least forces a government to work out what a realistic process of reduction would involve, which is presumably why the New Zealand Government doesn’t want to do it. It would show up the inadequacy of our response to date and make it more difficult for the Government to fall back on propagandist assurances. All the more reason to undertake the preparation of a plan. It could bring some clarity and honesty into a currently murky scene.
Highlight of this week’s show is a fascinating — and sobering — interview with Greenland expert Professor Jason Box. His perspective on current events in the Arctic — from the dangers of permafrost methane, through rapid warming over Greenland and the potential impacts on sea level is essential listening and viewing. And he can surf, too. Glenn and Gareth discuss warm weather in New Zealand during a La NiÃ±a summer, drought in the Amazon and the complex interactions between climate and weather extremes, food production and political stability. John Cook from Skeptical Science debunks the favourite sceptic arguments about ice at both poles, and in the solutions segment we discuss the recent WWF report on renewable energy, and the new all-electric Porsche Boxster.
Show notes below the fold.
News & commentary:
Russian roulette with a rainforest — Amazon suffers another severe drought, could have dire consequences for atmospheric carbon.
From The Guardian: The World Bank has given a stark warning of the impact of the rising cost of food, saying an estimated 44 million people had been pushed into poverty since last summer by soaring commodity prices. Robert Zoellick, the Bank’s president, said food prices had risen by almost 30% in the past year and were within striking distance of the record levels reached during 2008.
Graph of the FAO food price index from a story at Daily Kos.
Feature interview: One the world’s leading experts on Greenland and its ice sheet: Jason Box, Assoc. Prof., Department of Geography, Byrd Polar Research Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA, currently on sabbatical as a visiting professor, University of California, Santa Cruz. We’re talking to him a few weeks before he makes his first trip of the year to Greenland.
Arctic sea ice has recovered? Harrison Schmitt: ’Artic (sic) sea ice has returned to 1989 levels of coverage’ Heartland: ’in April 2009, Arctic sea ice extent had indeed returned to and surpassed 1989 levels.”
(No it hasn’t)
Plus: an excellent overview of the world’s melting ice.
More than a metre Sep 10Join the conversation at Hot Topic
Sea level will rise by more than a metre by 2100 according to the authors of the third chapter in the World Wide Fund for Nature’s new Arctic report, introduced by Gareth a few days ago. Eric Rignot, one of the two authors of the chapter, is principal scientist for the Radar Science and Engineering Section at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The other author, Anny Cazenave, is an internationally renowned research scientist from France’s national centre for space studies.
The value of the chapter is that it draws together, authoritatively and coherently, the evidence that points to considerably more sea-level rise over this century than projected in the 2007 IPCC Fourth Report (AR4). Happily politicians are taking IPCC reports much more seriously than in the past, but they should not rest on them. Their responsibility is to be up to date with what the science is saying now. The WWF report assesses the most recent science, and finds that the impacts of warming will be more severe than indicated by the IPCC.
What follows is a summary of the main points made by the chapter.
Sea level has been rising over the past 50 years, and its rate of rise has been accelerating. The rate of rise in the past 15 years is about double that of the previous decades. Since 1993 sea level variations have been accurately measured by satellite altimetry. This 15-plus year data set shows that average global sea level is currently rising at a rate of about 3.3 millimetres per year (plus or minus 0.4 millimetres), roughly twice the average rate recorded by tide gauges over the previous decades.
Three major sources are currently contributing to sea-level rise. Ocean warming, and the resultant thermal expansion of the water, has significantly increased since 1950 and explains about 25% of the observed sea level rise of the last few decades and about 30% over the 1993-2008 period. Glacier melt accounts for another 30% for the 1993-2008 period, one third of that coming from Alaskan glaciers. The ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica account for the rest.
Observations show that the Greenland ice sheet is losing ice mass to the ocean. In 2008 the loss was about 280 gigatonnes. The loss has been increasing over the last 20 years by about 20 gigatonnes per year. One third of this loss is due to increased surface melting or runoff, and the other two thirds to the acceleration of glaciers. It was thought that the acceleration was due to bedrock lubrication from meltwater, but this only accounts for about 20% of the acceleration. The rest is due to the pressure change that occurs near the front of the glacier as a glacier melts. The more rapid melt due to warmer ocean and land temperatures causes the glacier to retreat inland, which reduces the backpressure (or resistance to flow) on the inland ice, meaning the glacier can flow more swiftly into the sea as a wave of acceleration is transmitted upstream over vast distances. These mechanisms of destabilisation in a warmer climate were not sufficiently well understood to inform the forecasts in AR4. The ice sheets will continue to lose mass at an increasing rate in a warmer climate, though predicting those rates remains a serious scientific challenge at present. Glaciers grounded below sea level are the most vulnerable because their frontal regions remain in contact with ocean water during their retreat. If Greenland continues to lose mass at the rate it has been it alone will contribute 31 centimetres to sea level rise this century.
The chapter then reports on Antarctica. In 2008 Antarctica lost nearly as much ice as Greenland, with a 220 gigatonne net loss, and as in Greenland the mass loss is accelerating. The Pine Island Glacier has been thinning more rapidly and its flow rate has been increasing every year for the past 35 years. When it becomes ungrounded from its ice plain, which could be in only a few years, it will begin calving from a much deeper bed and speed up by a factor of 2 or 3. This sector of West Antarctica alone holds enough ice to raise sea level by an additional metre, a contribution to sea level not included in the IPCC’s 2007 predictions.
The AR4 sea-level projections did not take into account the complex ice sheet dynamics by which glaciers flow into the ocean, which have only recently begun to be understood. This is why their projection is likely to be exceeded. Ice sheet losses are currently increasing faster than any other system contributing to sea-level rise. which makes it likely that they will become the primary contributor during this century. Further progress is necessary to better understand and model the mechanisms of destabilisation of glaciers and ice sheets and improve predictions. In the meantime the report notes an alternative approach to predicting sea-level based on a simple 20th century relationship between the observed average rate of global sea-level rise and the observed average global temperature of the Earth. On this basis global average temperature projections can be used to project future global average sea level. The consequent estimate of a 60 to 120 centimetre rise this century the authors find plausible, while acknowledging that future sea level rates may not necessarily follow the past century’s dependence on the average global temperature, especially if ice sheet dynamics play a larger role in the future. They note that sea-level rise won’t stop in 2100.
A big question is what sea-level rise will mean for the 25% of humans who live in low-lying coastal regions. It will give rise to inundation (both temporary and permanent flooding), wetland loss, shoreline erosion, saltwater intrusion into surface water bodies and aquifers, and it will raise water tables. Sediment deposition in river deltas will decrease and there will be changes in coastal waves and currents. An additional factor is the combination of sea-level rise and vertical movement of the ground. Accelerated ground subsidence is reported in many regions because of local groundwater withdrawal or oil and gas extraction. Such sinking amplifies the effect of sea-level rise. It is very difficult to quantify future sea-level rise in specific regions where various factors interact in complex ways.
The chapter offers what struck me as a very restrained conclusion: ’Despite the uncertainties, sea-level rise will almost surely cause significant impacts in coastal regions around the world.’
That’s as far as the scientists take us. The rest is over to us and those we appoint to lead us. What may happen in that arena is still very unclear.