Month: October 2016

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Company directors to face penalties for ignoring climate change #auspol

Australia’s fall from grace as a global leader in the fight against dangerous climate change was rapid and inglorious.

But any Australian business leaders who think they got away with sticking their heads in the sand should think again.

New legal advice by senior Sydney silk Noel Hutley being released on Monday, suggests it is almost certain that directors of an Australian company will one day face legal action for neglecting to properly account for the potential impact of climate change on their business.
“It is likely to be only a matter of time before we see litigation against a director who has failed to perceive, disclose or take steps in relation to a foreseeable climate-related risk that can be demonstrated to have caused harm to a company (including, perhaps, reputational harm),” the advice, commissioned by the Centre for Policy Development and the Future Business Council, titled “Climate Change and Directors Duties” concludes.

Politicians who fail in their endeavours to combat climate change can simply retire on a taxpayer-funded scheme.
For company directors who fail in their duties, the penalties are much more severe, including fines of up to $200,000 and disqualification from holding directorships.

Under the Corporations Act, directors have a duty to apply care and diligence in considering all the risks that might apply to their company.
They are required to take into account all “foreseeable” risks.
Given the weight of scientific evidence of climate change, Hutley’s advice is that it will not be sufficient for company directors to argue they could not reasonably have believed that climate change was real or human induced.
In considering the risks posed by climate change, directors are not required to become green-caped climate change crusaders.
But many are failing in their most basic duty to consider and disclose the potential risks or to form a business case about whether action is needed to protect their company.
There are two classes of risk posed to Australian companies by climate change.
First, there is physical risk. Rising sea levels, for example, make writing mortgages on coastal properties a riskier business for banks. Rising incidence of severe weather events makes writing insurance products riskier. In a more recent example, power outages resulting from severe weather may affect power supply to all sorts of businesses. Companies that fail to take into account these risks will suffer lower profits.
But the risks are even greater than that.
There is also “transition risk” that must be taken into account. As the world inevitably moves to a lower emissions footprint, governments are likely to make sudden rule changes that will adversely affect firms. Consumers will also dictate the pace of change. It depends what question you ask them, but citizens are demonstrating a greater preference for more sustainable “green” products.
If this means less demand for emissions-intense products, company directors who fail to take account of this would be failing in their duty to protect their company into the future.
Diligent directors can still make a “business judgment” that their company is still best served by continuing with potentially risky activities. But they must at least consider it.
Many people are rightly disappointed by the inadequacy of the Australian government’s current policies to reduce emissions.
But regardless of what actions policymakers take, this new legal perspective leaves some hope.
Rather than a top-down approach by government, company directors facing legal action if they fail to plan for the risks of climate change should help drive bottom-up reforms to Australian business that will assist in the transition to a lower emissions economy.
If they don’t, they will be sued. Already actions are being brought against US firms, such as Peabody Coal, for failing to take into account the risks of climate change to business as usual.
Company directors looking to avoid a similar fate need to act now.
“To consider climate change risks actively, and disclose them properly, will reduce exposure to liability, and maximise the potential for activating the ‘business judgment’ rule,” the legal advice states.
The penalties for a breach of fiduciary duties are listed in the Corporations Act and include a maximum penalty for individuals of $200,000, potential disqualification from being a director and payment of compensation to a corporation for damage suffered.
Mark Joiner was the chief financial officer of NAB when it was subject to several class actions. He is now a director on a number of boards and agrees it’s only a matter of time before an Australian firm is sued for failing to take climate change into account.
“Australia hasn’t found a way to advance the progressive values of business. You have got to realise that social values are changing all the time.”
It is no longer good enough for companies to make money and spend some of it on progressive issues, like charities. Companies today must earn their “social licence” by finding a purpose that fits with societal values.
The Paris Agreement will enter force on November 4. Current policies are inadequate to achieve even the modest emissions reduction target pledged under the Paris agreement.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney has warned this presents serious “transition risk” for companies as it brings forward the need for action to meet targets.
Australian companies are highly exposed to climate change risk.
It’s time Australian company directors realised they are too.

Press link for more: Jessica Irvine smh.com.au

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Watch National Geographic’s stunning climate-change documentary starring Leonardo DiCaprio #auspol 

You have to admit, it doesn’t sound like must-watch TV: a National Geographic Channel documentary about climate change starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Mixing together the science of our damaged planet and the guy who fought the bear in the movie “The Revenant” seems like a bit of an odd choice.
But the combination works. DiCaprio steps into the role of science journalist, interviewing researchers, innovators, and people living in parts of the world where severe impacts of climate change are already being felt. The film trades in charts and jargon for stunning images of climate catastrophes already underway.
“Before the Flood” is so powerful because it presents climate change as it a really is: a global threat that links together people separated by class and geography.
The film was directed by the Academy Award-winning documentarian Fisher Stevens (of “The Cove”).
Stevens told Business Insider that he isn’t trying to change the minds of people who are convinced of the myth that climate change is part of some strange global hoax. Rather, he wants to offer children and young people access to science, and give them the tools to fight to protect the planet.
“Before the Flood” will air on the National Geographic Channel at 9 pm ET Sunday, and is available in full on YouTube below.

Press to watch: sBefore The Flood

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What does peace have to do with climate change? #auspol 

Canadian author, journalist and activist Naomi Klein has been selected as the recipient of the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize for, as the Sydney Peace Prize Jury put it, “exposing the structural causes and responsibility for the climate crisis, for inspiring us to stand up locally, nationally and internationally to promote a new agenda for sharing the planet that respects human rights and equality, and for reminding us of the power of authentic democracy to achieve transformative change and justice.”
Climate change is not only a threat to the planet, but also to any hope of achieving a lasting peace.

 In her latest book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, Klein skilfully articulates how today’s economic system preserves devastating forms of structural violence.
Attitudes ingrained throughout history have caused certain communities to be disproportionately impacted by out of control carbon emissions and the destruction of extractive industries. Klein refers to these communities as “sacrificial zones.” These remote places are generally home to residents without a great deal of political power and who lack the resources to prepare for and withstand the impacts bestowed upon them by the developed world.
Klein also points out that as extreme weather events will cause resource scarcity, they will also intensify conflict and socio-economic inequalities. 
Between 2008 and 2014 alone, more than 150 million people were displaced as a result of climate change, moving within countries and across international borders. If we are horrified by reactions to the current waves of people seeking asylum in Australia and elsewhere, just imagine what this response would look like in the future, when weather patterns become increasingly erratic and patches of land become less and less inhabitable.
It is not difficult to imagine that the impacts of climate change will exacerbate existing tensions and injustices, such as inequality and racism. “Make no mistake about it,” Klein says, “it’s not just about things getting hotter and wetter, it’s about things getting a lot meaner.”
Although this outlook might sound bleak, Klein’s message is inspiring. She positions climate change as the great unifier, an opportunity to right the wrongs that have been committed in the name of the economy.
She inspires people power and encourages everyone to stand up and work together to promote a new agenda for sharing the planet. Klein argues we must “change or be changed”, because science gives us a firm deadline, the climate crisis forces us to decide what kind of societies we want. This movement is not just about climate change, it is about climate justice and it is powerful.
Through awarding Klein the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize, the Sydney Peace Foundation hopes to make clear the links between climate change and peace with justice, and offers Sydney a platform from which to start discussions about systemic injustice.
Although our elected representatives would have you think differently, climate change is real, it is happening and it has broader implications than just a bit of a warmer summer this year.
Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, denying the indiscriminate nature of climate change will only result in more widespread and more severe damage; not only to the planet, but also to community cohesion, human rights and any semblance of social justice.

Lisa Fennis & Katie Gabriel 

[Lisa Fennis is the director of the Sydney Peace Foundation. Katie Gabriel is the executive officer of the Sydney Peace Foundation.]

Press link for more: greenleft.org.au

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Climate change to hit state hard, West Australians concerned about global warming

SCIENTISTS have warned WA will be one of Australia’s hardest hit regions by global warming over the next 30 years.
Almost 80 per cent of people in the WA Speaks survey were concerned about climate change. And despite the issue falling out of public discussion in recent months, nearly a quarter said they were “extremely concerned”.
The CSIRO’s latest State of the Climate report, released this week, predicted WA would see more hot days and more extreme weather in coming decades.
Current projections show the state could have as many as 72 days hotter than 35C each year by 2090 if greenhouse gas emissions remain high.
The number of days more than 40C could jump to about 20 each year, from an average of four.

CSIRO Climate Science Centre interim research director Kevin Hennessy said some effects from global warming were guaranteed over the next 30 years.
“Our projections indicate for South West WA we would expect further warming, further reductions in rainfall and more sea level rise as well as an increase in severe fire weather,” Dr Hennessy said.
Rainfall in the South West had already dropped by 19 per cent in May-July since the 1970s, he said.

Five months ahead of the state election, WA Greens MP Robin Chapple said the issue was so crucial a new Cabinet position and an independent authority must be established to focus on how WA would respond to global warming.
He said the State Government could not let this issue be entirely a federal responsibility.
“Globally, it’s the most significant problem we are facing aside from World War III,” Mr Chapple said.
Dr Hennessy said there were two basic solutions for global warming: adapt to some unavoidable amount of climate change and try to slow it by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Press link for more: Claire Bickers : perthnow.com

New research confirms feasibility of 1.5°C #climatechange #auspol


Wind farm and high voltage power lines in Australia. ©David Clarke, Flickr

At COP 21 in Paris, governments agreed to “hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”.

 The inclusion of the 1.5°C temperature limit in the Paris Agreement has taken some researchers by surprise and revealed a substantial research gap: at that time a range of 1.5°C emission pathways was available for assessment by the IPCC, but from only two energy-economic models. Researchers are now filling this gap, by working on more pathways consistent with the long-term goal of the Paris Agreement.
A research conference on October 24 in Brussels revealed for the first time a range of 1.5°C scenarios derived from a larger variety of models. 

These results are an important milestone in light of the implementation of the Paris Agreement that enters into force on November 4.
The meeting was the culmination of a three-year cooperation between fourteen European research institutions – the ADVANCE project – to develop a new generation of scenarios from Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs), including several improvements to these models.
The conclusion from the ADVANCE Project conference was quite clear: to meet the long term goal of the Paris Agreement, net emissions would need to reach zero by 2050, and then go below zero in the second half of the century. This reinforces the results of earlier Integrated Assessment Models.
Most efforts in the short term should focus on the power sector, which should become carbon free no later than 2050. 

This would enable further emission reductions in the industry, building and transport sector via accelerated electrification. Enhanced efficiency is a key element of all 1.5°C scenarios to reduce primary energy demand while meeting the growing demand for energy services.
As in the earlier available scenarios, the new scenarios deploy carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies in the second half of the century, to compensate for the lack of climate action in the past. Among CDR technologies, models mostly rely on BECCS (bioenergy + carbon capture and storage) to achieve negative emissions. Those technologies, though, are currently available only at pilot scale.
As witnessed in the rapid growth of renewables in the last ten years, policies can provide strong incentives to the private sector to deploy BECCS at large scale, which in the scenarios is phased in by the 2030s. A range of social, legal and legislative challenges related to BECCS however await solutions.
The most important challenge now is implementing the Paris Agreement at the country (local) level. Meeting the Paris Agreement’s 1.5° temperature limit requires increased ambition compared to the earlier 2°C goal, which for example guided policy settings in Europe now for nearly 20 years. Papers are beginning to appear analysing what this means.
One example is an analysis by Climate Analytics, funded by the Finnish SITRA program, which looked at how much the EU and Finland must cut emissions and speed up introducing renewables into the energy mix to be in line with the 1.5°C warming limit in the Paris Agreement.
Research takes time but mitigation actions can’t wait.

 A new generation of Integrated Assessment Models developed by the ADVANCE project show that the energy sector would emit about 1000 GtCO2 of emissions from 2011 until 2100, which is more than twice the allowable carbon budget for a 1.5°C emission pathway. 

To reconcile this gap, the CDR technologies mentioned above would need remove at least 500 GtCO2 from the atmosphere over the course of the century.
This means that, on average, at least half of each ton of CO2 emitted between now and 2100 would need to be removed from the atmosphere using CDR technologies. 

This burden adds to the impacts of present emissions and future global warming on future generations, which are already being felt today in vulnerable countries and are likely to get much worse after 2050.
The results of the ADVANCE project reinforce earlier findings that a further delay in implementing stringent climate policies is something the world cannot afford.

 A simple step in this direction is to remove fossil fuel subsidies, to avoid wasteful consumption of energy. In oil and coal exporting countries this policy would achieve deeper emission reductions than they pledged in their INDC. To enhance this, “indirect” subsidies should be removed as well. 

This means that environmental and socio-economic damages (like health) associated with fossil fuel combustion and extraction would be accounted for in the legislative and taxation environment of coal-fired power plants, for instance.
Globally, though, removing fossil fuel subsidies alone is highly insufficient to reach a 1.5°C scenario and a wider set of policies is required. 

It is critical to phase out coal power plants as soon as possible and to reach 100% renewables by 2050. It is also essential to move towards zero emissions from transport by introducing electric vehicles and through a shift in transport modes towards public transport.
There is no universal recipe for policies to reach these goals. However, lessons can be learned from countries and states that can be seen as climate leaders. 

Norway and California, for example, are pioneering the transition towards low carbon mobility by introducing subsidies and low carbon quotas.
Introducing a carbon price in the economy would provide a strong long-term signal to the private sector. This can be achieved trough carbon taxes or emission trading schemes. Major emitters like the EU need to reform and strengthen their current emission trading schemes to overcome the low carbon prices due to economic crises and over allocation of emission quotas.
Current policies determine future emissions – and warming, which is heading towards 3.5°C with present policy settings. In Marrakesh negotiations on implementing the Paris Agreement – and thus fundamentally changing this trajectory – will continue.
Important issues include preparation for the examination of the collective ambition of NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) in 2018 – how far they are from the 1.5°C emission pathway and what needs to be done to close the gap. The 2018 process is known as the Facilitative Dialogue, and will be supported by an IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C impacts and mitigation. Based on this, governments are meant to submit improved NDCs by 2020.
The results of the ADVANCE Project are a very important scientific input into this process. Bending the curve of global emissions downwards is urgently needed. Let it be sooner rather than later.

Fabio Sferra


Fabio Sferra is a climate policy analyst and contributes his expertise in the field of integrated assessment modelling and mitigation policies chiefly to the Climate Action Tracker project. His recent work focuses on the efficiency of fragmented climate agreements and related financial transfers. Fabio has also investigated the optimal energy investments in a low-carbon world. His main research interests involve energy and climate change modelling.

Press link for more: climateanalytics.org

7 Solutions to the Climate Crisis #Auspol #ClimateChange

It’s no secret – in the U.S., there’s an election coming up. It’s soon. It’s a big decision for American voters. And it’s a big deal.
It’s also not the only decision with global consequences. 

Because at the same time the U.S. campaign season was getting into the business end of things, more and more leaders all around the world were deciding to stand up to climate change and sign on to the historic Paris Agreement. 

In fact, 86 parties (representing over 61 percent of global emissions) have already joined this landmark agreement—which will now go into effect on Nov. 4, four days before the U.S. votes. Interesting timing, don’t you think?

Coincidence or not, the timing of the two events highlights what’s at stake for our planet in these decisions and why—we’ve learned anything after months and months of way too many ads, speeches and debates, it’s that politicians go where the voters tell them.

 So let’s make the climate issue their issue, the one they can’t afford to ignore. And not just this year, but in every year that follows.
Why now? Because with the Paris Agreement becoming official, we finally have the framework to fight climate change together as one planet in a way we never have before. 

And with all the incredible progress we’re seeing in renewables and other areas of solutions, we finally have the tools and technology to make a global shift from fossil fuels to clean energy, affordably and effectively. Want proof? Here are seven reasons we’re hopeful for the future, because the solutions are out there:
1. Renewables are growing and getting cheaper


Due to declining costs and improvements in renewable technologies, solar and wind projects are being built in more places around the globe more cheaply than any time in history. On top of that, if the price of photovoltaic cells continues to drop as rapidly as it has over the past 10 years, solar power could be as cheap as coal almost everywhere by as early as 2017!

According to some studies, almost 100 percent of the world’s energy needs could be met with renewable sources by mid-century—as long as the right supportive public policies are put in place to help implement them. That’s where our elected leaders come in—and where you come in too.
2. Cost of rooftop solar is competitive


In many places across the U.S., not only is solar power becoming more affordable than ever before, it’s actually becoming cost competitive with most utility rates for energy from fossil fuel. 

When solar power costs the same (or less!) as purchasing power from the grid, it’s called solar grid parity, and it’s an important milestone in demonstrating the cost-effectiveness of harnessing the power of the sun. 

The U.S. is well on the way to achieving the SunShot Initiative’s 2020 goal of solar grid parity—with several major regions following suit.
3. Remarkable progress in Energy Storage

How we create energy with renewables is important.

 How we store this energy—so we can use it when needed—is just as critical. 

That’s because the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day every day, nor is it always windy. 

The good news is this: we’re seeing incredible progress in energy storage. For example, a bill for California’s energy storage mandate passed unanimously, instructing the state’s investor-owned utilities to greatly expand electricity storage capacity. And since then, the state has expanded the mandate to allow even more energy storage. Similar policies in Japan and Germany are spurring similar growth in energy storage overseas.
4. The electric grid is evolving

Just like energy storage is important for renewable energy to thrive, a smarter and more flexible electric grid is critical too. Smart grids improve energy efficiency, save money, and can improve reliability—all great reasons to move away from fossil fuels towards cleaner sources of energy. And since the grid is evolving and more renewables are being introduced, there is huge potential to revolutionize the energy market—for the benefit of the environment and economy.
5. The electric vehicle market is booming

Sure, the news that Tesla was releasing its cheapest electric car yet threatened to break one corner of the internet, but that’s not the only sign the electric vehicle industry and market are booming.

Just look at China: the government has expanded incentives for electric vehicles, waiving or even cutting sales taxes. And plug-in cars are even changing the face of auto racing! 

Just last year, Miami hosted a Formula E race, where all the race cars were electric. How cool is that?

6. Transportation is more efficient and public transit is growing

A recent survey by Consumer Reports found that the overwhelming majority of Americans (84 percent, in fact) believe automakers should keep making cars and trucks more and more fuel efficient. 

And automakers are listening—and not just in the US. 

At the same time use of public and mass transportation is growing rapidly. 

Technical improvements for new vehicles could avoid about 1.4 gigatons of CO2 annually by 2030, several countries are implementing eco-driving programs, and emissions mandates on cars in the US and EU are saving drivers at the pump in a big way. 

Meanwhile, huge investments in public transportation in countries like India and Colombia are helping contribute to energy conservation, land preservation, reduced air pollution, and so much more.
7. Energy efficiency is improving and saving you money

The more efficient you are at a task, you’re wasting less time to complete it, right? 

It works the same way with energy: the more efficient energy is, the less you’ll waste. 

Listen to this: a study across certain countries showed in just five years, energy efficiency measures avoided the consumption of 570 million tons of dirty energy. 

In other words, without these measures, energy use across these countries would have actually increased by 5 percent.
Help Make Climate Solutions a Reality
There you have it. Solutions to the climate crisis undoubtedly exist, and for the first time in history, our leaders have the framework to make it happen. 

Press link for more ecowatch.com

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Political era of #climate #refugees #auspol 

By Robert Hunziker

Global warming/climate change is one of the most potent agents of political and economic change in history. Its impact is like Atilla the Hun in modern times, who back in the day struck terror into the hearts of the Roman Empire.
As of recent, Europe has been inundated with refugees from Middle Eastern wars as well as refugees from ecosystem collapse all across the southern Mediterranean region. The refugee impact is felt far and wide, including Brexit and a concomitant rise of xenophobia throughout the West whilst altering politics towards antagonism, hatred, and malevolence. The world is turning mad, and madness turns to madman leaders, like Attila the Hun. In point of fact, world history is filled with examples of madmen leading countries, ultimately to demise. They prey upon foreign threats of change to lifestyle and work to motivate people. Climate change is providing plenty of material to work with by displacing millions.
Yet, the massive European immigrant problem of today is only a small taste of what the future holds as millions upon millions of people become climate refugees. It’s an open question whether politics turn evermore ugly hate-filled as the world boils over with too much heat, too much sea, too much desertification, too much drought, too much friction.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development committed to America’s first ever grant for climate refugees, allocating $48 million for Isle de Jean Charles in southeastern Louisiana out of total grants of $1 billion for 13 states to build levees, dams, and drainage systems to fight back against anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change.
Isle de Jean Charles is the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community of climate refugees. In the 1950s the isle was 11 miles long by 5 miles wide. Today, it is a quarter/mile wide by 2 miles long. The community must move to higher ground.
According to Marine Franck of the UN’s refugee agency, “One person is displaced every second by a natural disaster. The numbers are huge,” (Amy Lieberman, Where Will the Climate Refugees Go? Aljazeera, Dec. 22, 2015).
Climate refugees are becoming a worldwide phenomenon of epic proportions, e.g., 200,000 Bangladeshis become homeless every year due to erosion. Globally, “desertification—climate change-triggered degradation of land ecosystems—might, in a decade, create 50 million refugees, the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD), a global initiative led by 30 different research groups, warned in a new study….” (Avaneesh Pandey, Land Degradation, Desertification Might Create 50 Million Climate Refuges Within A Decade, International Business Times, Sept. 15, 2015).
The operative question is: Where will 50 million refugees go over the next 10 years? Will they roam the countryside, similar to bands of medieval wanderers that raided castle fortifications? Back in the day, they learned to scale walls, which only serve to entice outsiders, knowing something of value must be stored inside.
Rampant drought is believed to have played a role in Syria’s civil war. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences claims unprecedented drought in Syria between 2007-2010 triggered an exodus of 1.5 million farmers to cities in search of food and work, a contributing factor to the civil war as these restless able-bodied met a mean-spirited, heartless fate.
“Climatologists say Syria is a grim preview of what could be in store for the larger Middle East, the Mediterranean and other parts of the world… The Fertile Crescent—the birthplace of agriculture some 12,000 years ago— is drying out” (John Wendle, The Ominous Story of Syria’s Climate Refugees, Scientific American, Dec. 17, 2015). When interviewed, Syrian refugees in a Turkish camp spoke of the horrendous drought conditions that fueled social turmoil leading to civil war.
According to Dr. James Hansen (Columbia University), heat waves and drought conditions worldwide are more than three standard deviations outside of the norm, or looked at another way, 50 years ago such anomalies only covered 0.02% of land area. Now, because of global warming, the anomalies cover 10% or an increase of 50 times in 50 years. This exponential growth will ultimately serve to pressure massive movements of climate refugees, likely fostering pockets of war zones spreading like infectious diseases.
In China, which is now 20% desert, spreading at the rate of 1,300 square miles annually, three deserts are merging into one vast sea of sand. Recently, because of creeping desertification, the Chinese government relocated 30,000 people referred to as “ecological migrants,” (Josh Haner, et al, Living in China’s Expanding Deserts, New York Times, October 23, 2016).
In America, climate refugees are on the move, but they are not yet smack dab in the public eye. In Newtok, Alaska, the highest point in town, the school building, will be under water in 2017. Climate change is not just hotter temperatures for the residents of Alaska, it is happening under their feet as shoreline erosion is forcing the entire community to move inland. “In Alaska alone, climate change flooding and shoreline erosion already affects more than 180 villages,” (Victoria Herrmann, America’s Climate Refugee Crisis Has Already Begun, The LA Times, January 25, 2016).
In the years to come, thousands upon thousands from along America’s most fragile shorelines will embark on a great migration inland. In the Chesapeake Bay, Tangier Island’s shoreline recedes by 14 feet per year. On Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the Quinault Nation relies upon a 2,000-foot seawall to hold water until they move uphill. In North Carolina’s Outer Bank with its 50,000 permanent residents, portions of the island complex are down to 25% original width. Miami Beach is physically raising roadways because of persistent high water.
As it happens, America’s climate refugee problem is only starting, but it is very real and likely a political tinderbox as Americans register sourpuss displeasure with any kind of migrant behavior evidenced by support for political candidates like Donald Trump, who uses the hopelessness of the forlorn as political fodder, eerily similar to Attila the Hun’s rise to power. On a purely political basis, immigrant finger-pointing pays off in votes for candidates who offer solutions to the invasion of “others” that threaten constituent jobs and lifestyle.
Germany provides a window to how migrant issues influence politics. “A year after German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s doors to tens of thousands of refugees… she’s fighting for her political life. Her popularity has sunk to a five-year low. The far right is ascendant,” (Paul Hockenos, The Political Price of Merkel’s Migrant Policy, The Atlantic, Sept. 14, 2016).
Meanwhile, Austria militarized its borders.
People Up In Arms is how migrants are met at some foreign shores. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he will tour European capitals to recruit allies for his “war against Brussels” and the Union’s pro-migrant policies as “people in Brussels are ‘plotting to move and settle these aliens among us as soon as possible,” (Viktor Orbán’s Speech: War Against the World, Hungarian Spectrum.org, March 16, 2016).
“Where will 50 million climate refugees go over the next 10 years” is a fair question to ponder, but what if the scientists that predict rising seas and devastating droughts are too conservative, and what if global warming is already way ahead of the science, as some scientists believe true, will 200 or 500 million climate refugees seek shelter and food, or how about one billion?
The politics surrounding the climate refugee issues too often come to surface dressed in warriors’ garb. “When the Pentagon begins to think about what might happen, that’s a clear indication that we have to start taking something seriously,” is the forewarning mentioned in the award-winning documentary Climate Refugees (2010) (watch the trailer here).
Never before in American political history has an election carried as much weight for the prospects for the climate as the current presidential election in America. The issue of climate change front and center is a non-issue, a dead issue. However, Trump will reverse any and all progress made by the federal government, including disruption of the Paris Agreement of 2015, if at all possible. That message would be a devastating blow to worldwide efforts to control climate change.
Meanwhile, the climate refugee conundrum will turn very ugly much more quickly.

Press for more: counterpunch.org

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World on track to lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020, major report warns #auspol

The number of wild animals living on Earth is set to fall by two-thirds by 2020, according to a new report, part of a mass extinction that is destroying the natural world upon which humanity depends.
The analysis, the most comprehensive to date, indicates that animal populations plummeted by 58% between 1970 and 2012, with losses on track to reach 67% by 2020. 

Researchers from WWF and the Zoological Society of London compiled the report from scientific data and found that the destruction of wild habitats, hunting and pollution were to blame.

The creatures being lost range from mountains to forests to rivers and the seas and include well-known endangered species such as elephants and gorillas and lesser known creatures such as vultures and salamanders.
The collapse of wildlife is, with climate change, the most striking sign of the Anthropocene, a proposed new geological era in which humans dominate the planet. “We are no longer a small world on a big planet. We are now a big world on a small planet, where we have reached a saturation point,” said Prof Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, in a foreword for the report.
Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF, said: “The richness and diversity of life on Earth is fundamental to the complex life systems that underpin it. Life supports life itself and we are part of the same equation. Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems, as we know them today, will collapse.”
He said humanity was completely dependent on nature for clean air and water, food and materials, as well as inspiration and happiness.
The report analysed the changing abundance of more than 14,000 monitored populations of the 3,700 vertebrate species for which good data is available. This produced a measure akin to a stock market index that indicates the state of the world’s 64,000 animal species and is used by scientists to measure the progress of conservation efforts.
The biggest cause of tumbling animal numbers is the destruction of wild areas for farming and logging: the majority of the Earth’s land area has now been impacted by humans, with just 15% protected for nature. Poaching and exploitation for food is another major factor, due to unsustainable fishing and hunting: more than 300 mammal species are being eaten into extinction, according to recent research.

Pollution is also a significant problem with, for example, killer whales and dolphins in European seas being seriously harmed by long-lived industrial pollutants. 

Vultures in south-east Asia have been decimated over the last 20 years, dying after eating the carcasses of cattle dosed with an anti-inflammatory drug. 

Amphibians have suffered one of the greatest declines of all animals due to a fungal disease thought to be spread around the world by the trade in frogs and newts.
Rivers and lakes are the hardest hit habitats, with animals populations down by 81% since 1970, due to excessive water extraction, pollution and dams. All the pressures are magnified by global warming, which shifts the ranges in which animals are able to live, said WWF’s director of science, Mike Barrett.
Some researchers have reservations about the report’s approach, which summarises many different studies into a headline number. “It is broadly right, but the whole is less than the sum of the parts,” said Prof Stuart Pimm, at Duke University in the US, adding that looking at particular groups, such as birds, is more precise.
The report warns that losses of wildlife will impact on people and could even provoke conflicts: “Increased human pressure threatens the natural resources that humanity depends upon, increasing the risk of water and food insecurity and competition over natural resources.”
However, some species are starting to recover, suggesting swift action could tackle the crisis. Tiger numbers are thought to be increasing and the giant panda has recently been removed from the list of endangered species.
In Europe, protection of the habitat of the Eurasian lynx and controls on hunting have seen its population rise fivefold since the 1960s. A recent global wildlife summit also introduced new protection for pangolins, the world’s most trafficked mammals, and rosewoods, the most trafficked wild product of all.
But stemming the overall losses of animals and habitats requires systemic change in how society consumes resources, said Barrett. People can choose to eat less meat, which is often fed on grain grown on deforested land, and businesses should ensure their supply chains, such as for timber, are sustainable, he said.
“You’d like to think that was a no-brainer in that if a business is consuming the raw materials for its products in a way that is not sustainable, then inevitably it will eventually put itself out of business,” Barrett said. Politicians must also ensure all their policies – not just environmental ones – are sustainable, he added.
“The report is certainly a pretty shocking snapshot of where we are,” said Barrett. “My hope though is that we don’t throw our hands up in despair – there is no time for despair, we have to crack on and act. I do remain convinced we can find our sustainable course through the Anthropocene, but the will has to be there to do it.”

press link for more: Damian Carrington theguardian.com

As Arctic Ocean Ice Disappears, The Global Climate Impacts Intensify #Auspol

Arctic Ocean sea ice melt as seen from the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Cutter Healy.
The top of the world is turning from white to blue in summer as the ice that has long covered the north polar seas melts away. This monumental change is triggering a cascade of effects that will amplify global warming and could destabilize the global climate system. 
BY PETER WADHAMS 
The news last week that summer ice covering the Arctic Ocean was tied for the second-lowest extent on record is a sobering reminder that the planet is swiftly heading toward a largely ice-free Arctic in the warmer months, possibly as early as 2020.


author Peter Wadhams ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Wadhams, professor emeritus of ocean physics at Cambridge University, is a sea ice specialist with 46 years of research on sea ice and ocean processes in the Arctic and Antarctic. In more than 50 expeditions to both polar regions, he has worked from ice camps, icebreakers, and aircraft. He also has traveled six times on Royal Navy submarines under frozen north polar seas to conduct research. His new book is A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic. 

After that, we can expect the ice-free period in the Arctic basin to expand to three to four months a year, and eventually to five months or more. 

Since my days measuring the thickness of Arctic Ocean ice from British nuclear submarines in the early 1970s, I have witnessed a stunning decline in the sea ice covering the northern polar regions — a more than 50 percent drop in extent in summer, and an even steeper reduction in ice volume. 

Just a few decades ago, ice 10 to 12 feet thick covered the North Pole, with sub-surface ice ridges in some parts of the Arctic extending down to 150 feet. 

Now, that ice is long gone, while the total volume of Arctic sea ice in late summer has declined, according to two estimates, by 75 percent in half a century. 
The great white cap that once covered the top of the world is now turning blue — a change that represents humanity’s most dramatic step in reshaping the face of our planet. And with the steady disappearance of the polar ice cover, we are losing a vast air conditioning system that has helped regulate and stabilize earth’s climate system for thousands of years. 


Few people understand that the Arctic sea ice “death spiral” represents more than just a major ecological upheaval in the world’s Far North. The decline of Arctic sea ice also has profound global climatic effects, or feedbacks, that are already intensifying global warming and have the potential to destabilize the climate system. 

Indeed, we are not far from the moment when the feedbacks themselves will be driving the change every bit as much as our continuing emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide annually. 

So what are these feedbacks, and how do they interact? The most basic stem from turning the Arctic Ocean from white to blue, which changes the region’s albedo — the amount of solar radiation reflected off a surface. Sea ice, in summer, reflects roughly 50 percent of incoming radiation back into space. Its replacement with open water — which reflects roughly 10 percent of incoming solar radiation — is causing a high albedo-driven warming across the Arctic. 
When covered almost entirely by ice in summer — which the Arctic was for tens of thousands of years — water temperatures there didn’t generally rise above freezing. Now, as the open Arctic Ocean absorbs huge amounts of solar radiation in summer, water temperatures are climbing by several degrees Fahrenheit, with some areas showing increases of 7 degrees F above the long-term average. 
Such changes mean that a system that was once a vast air conditioner has started to turn into a heater. Just how much extra heat are the dark waters of Arctic Ocean in summer adding to the planet? One recent study estimates that it’s equivalent to adding another 25 percent to global greenhouse emissions. 

To appreciate the complexity of these feedbacks and interactions, one need only look at the growing role played by waves and storms in the melting Arctic. 

With more of the Arctic Ocean becoming ice-free in summer, more waves are being generated. 

In summer, this increased wave action breaks up large ice floes into smaller fragments and hastens their melt. Then, in autumn, larger storms fed by open water cause wave-induced mixing of the Arctic Ocean, which brings up heat absorbed during the summer. This warms the water, making it harder for ice to form in the fall. 

I observed this phenomenon last September and October aboard the University of Alaska research vessel Sikuliaq in the western Arctic Ocean. 

After the warm summer of 2015, the advance of winter ice was slow and sporadic, apparently held back by the quantity of heat in the water column. 

Yet another Albedo- related effect with important global climatic repercussions is now unfolding in the Arctic. As ice-free Arctic waters have warmed, in turn warming the air above them, these rising temperatures have spread over land. This is an important factor in the increased melting of snow in Arctic terrestrial regions. Today, in midsummer, the Arctic land area covered by snow has decreased by several million square miles compared to five decades ago. These now-dark lands absorb more heat and further warm the Arctic — and the planet. 
Also, as the tundra and boreal forests heat up, runoff from snowmelt and waterways runs through warmer land, increasing the temperature of the great Arctic rivers such as the Mackenzie in Canada and the Ob, Lena, and Yenisei in Siberia. The warmer waters of these north-flowing rivers discharge into the Arctic basin, injecting more heat into the polar ocean. 
By my calculations, the terrestrial warming in the Arctic is roughly equivalent to a 25 percent boost in global CO2 emissions. 

This, combined with the warming caused by the loss of Arctic sea ice, means that the overall ice/snow albedo effect in the Arctic could add as much as 50 percent to the direct global heating effect of CO2. 

Scientists can debate the potential magnitude of such increases. But there is no doubt that they will be significant — vividly illustrating how the Arctic can become a driver of, rather than just a responder to, global climate change. 

What I am trying to offer in this tale of apparently unremitting gloom is a wake-up call rather than a statement of despair. What is taking place in the Arctic reinforces the conclusion of many scientists that last year’s Paris agreement to limit global warming to 2 degrees C is unrealistic so long as it only involves the reduction of CO2 emissions. As the various Arctic climate feedbacks show, we are fast approaching the stage when climate change will be playing the tune for us while we stand by and watch helplessly, with our reductions in CO2 emissions having no effect in the face of, say, runaway emissions of methane. 
What is needed today is a widespread global campaign to actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using techniques like direct air capture. In my view, initiatives to devise economically acceptable methods for carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere should be the most important concern of science and technology. The success of these efforts will mean the difference between the prospect of a positive future for mankind and the certainty of a descent towards climate-driven chaos. 
In my professional lifetime, I have witnessed the transformation of the top of the world from a beautiful ice-bound expanse of wilderness to a region now characterized by warming and melting on all fronts. These changes represent a spiritual impoverishment of the earth, as well as a practical catastrophe for humanity. The time for action has long since passed. 

Press link for more: e360.yale.edu

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Energy poverty is a real problem. Coal is a bogus solution. #auspol 

Coal only makes global poverty worse.
Some 1.2 billion people around the world lack access to electricity. 2.8 billion burn charcoal, wood, or other biomass to cook and heat their homes. Lack of access to clean, reliable energy services, or “energy poverty,” is a terrible problem for those who face it, leading to hours of drudgery gathering fuels and high mortality from indoor pollution (which kills around 4 million people a year).
Energy poverty stands in the way of better health, better education, and better jobs. 

Development experts increasingly agree that there is no way to end extreme poverty without making energy access universal. 

That’s what the UN and the World Bank have set out to do by 2030 with the Sustainable Energy for All initiative.
Meanwhile, the coal industry finds its fortunes on the decline in the developed world, losing out to natural gas and renewables. All its hopes for survival, much less growth, rest with the developing world.
So it has glommed on to the surge of interest in energy poverty and is now selling itself as a solution.
For instance, here’s Peabody Energy, calling “advanced coal” a solution to energy poverty:


Here’s the World Coal Association doing the same. Here’s Arch Coal providing energy-poverty talking points to Jeb Bush when he attacked the pope over climate change. Here’s Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray delivering the same talking points on Fox News. Here’s the Daily Caller pushing them, direct from right-wing think tank the Energy & Environment Legal Institute. Here’s Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. And so on.
Are they right? Is coal the key to providing universal energy access?
A new paper, from 12 international poverty and development organizations (led by the Overseas Development Institute), argues no. In fact, the opposite is true: Not only will more coal plants do nothing for energy access, they will impose unnecessary suffering on the poor.
Coal causes climate change, which is bad for the poor

There are some interesting, and not so obvious, reasons why this is true, but the most important reason is also the most self-evident: Coal causes climate change.
Coal is the single biggest contributor to global carbon pollution. It provides about 30 percent of global energy and produces about 44 percent of global carbon emissions.
Climate change is going to be very, very bad for the global poor, for a wide variety of reasons. It threatens to set back decades of development work. As Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, puts it, “if we don’t confront climate change, we won’t end poverty.”
This separate report from the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) puts the threat into perspective. “Of the 30 countries most vulnerable to changes in weather patterns and hazards including climate change,” it says, “26 are among the world’s poorest — that is, ‘least developed’ countries.” Of the populations most vulnerable, four in ten — over 400 million people — already survive at the edge of subsistence, on $1.25 a day. (See also this grim report from the Center for Global Development.)

Pushing global average temperatures past 2 degrees above preindustrial levels threatens the welfare of hundreds of millions of people who are already close to the edge. And all it will take to push temperatures that high (and higher) is one-third of the coal plants already planned in the world.
To limit temperatures beneath 2 degrees, the world will need to leave at least 80 percent of known coal reserves unexploited and two-thirds of planned coal plants unbuilt. That is simply incommensurate with using coal to drive development in poor countries.
Lack of sufficient energy is not the main cause of energy poverty

How can access to energy services be extended to those who lack it?
The coal industry claims the answer is more energy — and that renewables are incapable of providing the quantity needed. They point to China’s decade-long coal binge and its success in lifting people out of poverty.
“No other poverty alleviation strategy in modern history has been more effective than the one implemented by China and driven by an economy fuelled at over 70% by coal,” Milton Catelin, chief executive of the WCA, has said.
The point about China is misleading (more on that in a second), but more importantly, it fundamentally misdiagnoses the problem with the world’s remaining “energy poor.”


The energy poor fall in two basic categories. Around 15 percent of them live in urban areas, in close physical proximity to power grids, but they aren’t reliably hooked up to those grids.
Both technical and political barriers prevent connection. Those households tend to be dispersed and consume very little energy, which means connecting them is a money loser for utilities. And in many poor countries, utilities are not under social pressure to provide universal access; indeed, they are often centers of patronage and corruption.
Building more coal plants and hooking them to those grids won’t help these households at all. Indeed, in countries like India where this is a serious problem, there is already excess coal capacity on the grid, so new plants are likely to sit idle.
Hooking these households to the grid requires better governance, better financing for the upfront costs of connection, and reform of electricity subsidies and tariffs.
The other 85 percent of energy-poor households are rural, distant from any centralized grid, mostly in Africa, India, and the rest of developing Asia. Putting more coal power on those centralized grids is obviously not going to help them.
EAS Sharma, former Indian minster of power, notes that some 6 million urban and 75 million rural Indian households lack electricity access. “These figures have not changed appreciably since 2001,” he writes, “though around 95,000 MW of new largely coal-based electricity generation capacity was added during the intervening decade.”
New coal plants are not targeted to areas with poor electricity access. Why would they be? Those households are poor! There’s no money there. Instead, coal gets built where there’s large-scale commercial or industrial demand. There’s no correlation between coal and energy-access needs, either within a country or, as this chart shows, across countries:

The best, fastest solution to bringing energy access to areas where it is now lacking is distributed energy — solar, biodigesters, batteries, microgrids, and the like. These micro-energy solutions will not offer a level of energy access equal to what’s available on a strong centralized grid, but they are more than enough for energy-poor communities to take the first few steps up the energy-access ladder, which are huge in terms of welfare and health.
Eventually, those microgrids can be linked up and connected to larger (low-carbon) power plants, so these rural areas can have real, industrialized economies. But in the meantime, distributed energy can reach them a hell of a lot faster than larger power plants and central grids.
Coal was not China’s primary anti-poverty tool

What about China’s alleged success using coal to reduce poverty? Shouldn’t other countries have the same opportunity?
However, as the authors of the ODI report point out, that story about China is mostly a myth. It gets the timing wrong:
In China between 1981 and 2004, the number of people living on less than $1 per day declined by 500 million. Two thirds of this progress occurred between 1981 and 1987, prior to China’s industrialisation and large-scale expansion in coal power.

The most impactful anti-poverty tool in China was agricultural reform, which broke up collective farms and gave smallholders an economic stake in their farms. The second was a huge push toward export-led manufacturing. The wave of coal-driven industrialization came along when two-thirds of the work was already done.

Press link for more: Vox.com