How 2015’s record-breaking El Niño emerged on a warming planet #Auspol #EarthToParis #COP21

Between the official arrival of El Niño in March and NOAA’s November update, the scope of the long-awaited global phenomenon is becoming clear: the 2015 El Niño is already setting records and is on track to becoming the strongest event ever recorded.The official classification will wait for three months of data, but model estimates suggest the 2015 event will grow even stronger and could top the high mark set by the 1997-98 event.
During the week of November 8 through 14, El Niño set a new record high for sea surface temperature in the central eastern Pacific, the most closely tracked indicator for measuring the strength of El Niño/La Niña events. At 5.4°F (3.0˚C), the weekly anomaly was 7 percent higher than the 5.0°F (2.8˚C) anomaly for the week prior, a reading that in turn had tied the high mark set by the 1997 El Niño.
The various factors that scientists watch to forecast the near-term future of these events, including Kelvin waves and westerly wind bursts, suggest that ­the current El Niño will grow stronger. The model estimates th­at have most closely tracked the progress of this El Niño suggest that it will become the strongest on record when measured against the traditional three-month yardstick.
While this El Niño is unprecedented, it is not wholly unexpected. For several years now the oceans have been swallowing and drawing down much of the heat that has been accumulating in the atmosphere, including the extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by the growing blanket of carbon pollution. That heat is now reemerging.
Predicting how El Niños evolve in a warming planet is extremely challenging. The factors involved are far from well understood. However, the most recent model projections tell us that we may expect extreme El Niños (and La Niñas) to happen more frequently. Records tend to be broken when natural variation runs in the same direction as climate change, and this El Niño is moving along on a record-breaking path.
Extreme El Niño Impacts 
 Global warming has already amplified this El Niño. Together, these forces instigated the third-ever global coral bleaching event, which scientists expect will damage almost 95 percent of US coral reefs by the end of 2015. Global warming also supercharged this El Niño to drive a record-breaking storm season, with 23 Category 4 and 5 storms in the Northern hemisphere, far above the old record of 18 set in 1997 and 2004. Hurricane Patricia was the strongest hurricane ever measured, by some measurements.
Predicting exactly what this El Niño will do to extreme weather in the United States is challenging. We are now in uncharted territory. This El Niño is not only warmer where it counts, but its effect appears to be reaching much further west than El Niños in the past. It may also be connected to the record-breaking ocean temperatures along the west coast of Baja and further north.
There are also other extremely odd features in the climate system this year that can throw a curve ball into the complex work behind predicting El Niño-driven global weather patterns. One such example is the “the cold blob” in the north Atlantic that appears to be caused by ice water running off the melting Greenland ice sheet and is affecting ocean currents.

“Our scientific understanding of El Niño has increased greatly in recent years. However, this event is playing out in uncharted territory. Our planet has altered dramatically because of climate change […] So this naturally occurring El Niño event and human induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways which we have never before experienced. Even before the onset of El Niño, global average surface temperatures had reached new records. El Niño is turning up the heat even further.”

-World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. 

While the exact course of the extreme rains driven by this El Niño are difficult to predict with confidence, those rains are likely to be charged with extra precipitation added in by global warming. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, and just as a bigger bucket dumps more water when it empties, climate models project that El Niño rains are likely to dump more water wherever they ultimately fall.
For many other areas of the world, however, El Niño means drought. And here, too, climate change is likely to intensify the event, bringing hotter temperatures that dry out soils and melt snow packs. In California, the impact of higher temperatures on the state’s critical Sierra Nevada snowpack might offset some of the hoped-for precipitation brought by El Niño.
The regional features of our climate system are becoming harder to predict due to climate change. Disaster usually strikes when a threshold is crossed. Our economic infrastructure has been built to withstand the known historical extremes; similarly, our natural ecosystems have evolved to cope with those same extremes. When faced with new extremes, however, these systems often collapse. The rising unpredictability of regional changes like El Niño magnifies the risks we face from extreme events.

Press link for more: Climate Code Red

In Greenland, another major glacier comes undone#Auspol #EarthToParis #COP21

It’s big. It’s cold. And it’s melting into the world’s ocean.

It’s Zachariae Isstrom, the latest in a string of Greenland glaciers to undergo rapid change in our warming world. A new NASA-funded study published today in the journal Science finds that Zachariae Isstrom broke loose from a glaciologically stable position in 2012 and entered a phase of accelerated retreat. Theconsequences will be felt for decades to come.

The reason? Zachariae Isstrom is big. It drains ice from an area of 35,440 square miles (91,780 square kilometers). That’s about 5 percent of the Greenland Ice Sheet. All by itself, it holds enough water to raise global sea level by more than 18 inches (46 centimeters) if it were to melt completely. And now it’s on a crash diet, losing 5 billion tons of mass every year. All that ice is crumbling into the North Atlantic Ocean.

North Greenland glaciers are changing rapidly,” said lead author Jeremie Mouginot, an assistant researcher in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine. “The shape and dynamics of Zachariae Isstrom have changed dramatically over the last few years. The glacier is now breaking up and calving high volumes of icebergs into the ocean, which will result in rising sea levels for decades to come.”

Mouginot and his colleagues from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California; and the University of Kansas, Lawrence, set out to study the changes taking place at Zachariae Isstrom.

The team used data from aerial surveys conducted by NASA’s Operation IceBridge and satellite-based observations acquired by multiple international space agencies (NASA, ESA, CSA, DLR, JAXA and ASI) coordinated by the Polar Space Task Group. The NASA satellite data used are from the joint NASA/USGS Landsat program. The various tools used — including a highly sensitive radar sounder, gravimeter and laser profiling systems, coupled with radar and optical images from space — monitor and record changes in the shape, size and position of glacial ice over long time periods, providing precise data on the state of Earth’s polar regions.

The scientists determined the bottom of Zachariae Isstrom is being rapidly eroded by warmer ocean water mixed with growing amounts of meltwater from the ice sheet surface. “Ocean warming has likely played a major role in triggering [the glacier’s] retreat,” Mouginot said, “but we need more oceanographic observations in this critical sector of Greenland to determine its future.”
“Zachariae Isstrom is being hit from above and below,” said the study’s senior author Eric Rignot, Chancellor’s Professor of Earth system science at UCI, and Joint Faculty Appointee at JPL. “The top of the glacier is melting away as a result of decades of steadily increasing air temperatures, while its underside is compromised by currents carrying warmer ocean water, and the glacier is now breaking away into bits and pieces and retreating into deeper ground.”
Adjacent to Zachariae Isstrom is another large glacier, Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden, which is also melting rapidly but is receding at a slower rate because it’s protected by an inland hill. The two glaciers make up 12 percent of the Greenland ice sheet and would boost global sea levels by more than 39 inches (99 centimeters) if they fully collapsed.
The sector where these two glaciers reside is one of three major marine-based basins in Greenland, along with Jakobshavn Isbrae in central west Greenland and the Petermann-Humboldt sector in central north Greenland. The latter two sectors hold enough water to raise global sea level by 2 feet (0.6 meters) each, and both are also undergoing significant changes at present. The authors conclude it is likely that Nioghalvfjerdsfjorden and Petermann-Humboldt glaciers will lose their ice shelves in coming years, further increasing Greenland’s future contributions to global sea level rise.
“Not long ago, we wondered about the effect on sea levels if Earth’s major glaciers in the polar regions were to start retreating,” Rignot noted. “We no longer need to wonder; for a couple of decades now, we’ve been able to directly observe the results of climate warming on polar glaciers. The changes are staggering and are now affecting the four corners of Greenland.”
In 2015, NASA kicked off a new six-year field campaign, Oceans Melting Greenland, which will examine ocean conditions around Greenland affecting the Ice Sheet. For more information on OMG, visit
Ongoing research into the health of ice sheets and glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica is supported by funding from NASA’s Cryospheric Sciences Program.
For more information on the study, visit

Press link for more:

Veterans Day 2030 Could Look Like Syria Today, Thanks To Climate Change #Auspol #COP21

The Syrian conflict has triggered the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II,” reports the European Commission. And a major 2015 study confirmed what Climate Progress has been reporting for years: “Human-caused climate change was a major trigger of Syria’s brutal civil war.

Now half of Syria’s population has fled their homes and the massive influx of refugees is taking a toll on other nations in the Middle East and Europe. The chaos has even prompted the United States to deploy troops to the decimated country.

We will have to work as hard as possible to make sure we don’t leave a world of wars to our children.

That means avoiding decades, if not centuries, of strife and conflict from catastrophic climate change, from the synergistic effect of soaring temperatures or Dust-Bowlification and extreme weather and sea level rise and super-charged storm surges, which will create the kind of food insecurity that drives war, conflict, and the competition for arable and/or habitable land.

The Pentagon itself made the climate/security link explicit in a 2014 report warning that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” has impacts that can “intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict” and will probably lead to “food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources.”

The world’s leading scientists and governments came to the same conclusion after reviewing the scientific literature. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned last year that climate change will “prolong existing, and create new, poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger.” And it will “increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence.”

That same year, Tom Friedman wrote a column, “Memorial Day 2050,” which begins by quoting Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington State who observed: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.” He concludes that the fight against climate change is our most important “fight for freedom” today, and ends “Let’s act so the next generation will want to honor us with a Memorial Day, the way we honor the sacrifice of previous generations.”

Previously, Friedman had described how warming-worsened drought has exacerbated political instability even now in Syria. His piece “Without Water, Revolution” explained that while the drought didn’t “cause” the civil war, it made the Fertile Crescent fertile grounds for one:

… between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said [Syrian economist Samir] Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”

Friedman concludes, “Young people and farmers starved for jobs — and land starved for water — were a prescription for revolution.” You can watch Friedman enter Syria during the civil war to learn more about the climate change connection here.

Now, large swaths of Syria and Iraq are being overrun and terrorized by the extremist group ISIS, which was able to gain its original foothold in Syria because of the corrupt regime’s misgovernance and the subsequent civil war.

The 2015 study, “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” found that global warming made Syria’s 2006 to 2010 drought two to three times more likely. “While we’re not saying the drought caused the war,” lead author Dr. Colin Kelley explained. “We are saying that it certainly contributed to other factors — agricultural collapse and mass migration among them — that caused the uprising.”

Ultimately, the poorer a country is — and the worse it is governed — the more warming-worsened drought is likely to drive instability.

The New York Times reported in 2009 that “climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.”

That’s a key reason 33 generals and admirals supported the comprehensive climate and clean energy jobs bill in 2010, asserting “Climate change is making the world a more dangerous place” and “threatening America’s security.”

Even with the climate pledges made in the lead up to Paris, we are headed well past the 2°C “defense line” against catastrophic climate change, where we cross carbon cycle tipping points create a world of rapid warming and a ruined climate far outside the bounds of any human experience.

It is a world with dozens of Syrias and Darfurs and Pakistani mega-floods, of countless environmental refugees — hundreds of millions in the second half of this century — all clamoring to occupy the parts of the developed world that aren’t flooded or Dust-Bowlified.

It would be a world where everyone eventually becomes a veteran. And if we don’t act swiftly and strongly to stop it, the IPCC warned in 2014 that the worst impacts were irreversible on a time scale of centuries if not millennia.

So when does this start to happen on a grand scale?

Back in 2008, Thomas Fingar, then “the U.S. intelligence community’s top analyst,” sees it happening by the mid-2020s:

By 2025, droughts, food shortages and scarcity of fresh water will plague large swaths of the globe, from northern China to the Horn of Africa.

For poorer countries, climate change “could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Fingar said, while the United States will face “Dust Bowl” conditions in the parched Southwest.

…Floods and droughts will trigger mass migrations and political upheaval in many parts of the developing world.

We’ve already seen that even areas expected to become wetter can experience an extreme heat wave so unprecedented that it forces the entire country to suspend grain exports, as happened in Russia in 2010.

The U.K. government’s chief scientist, Professor John Beddington, laid out a scenario similar to Fingar’s in a 2009 speech. He warned that by 2030, “A ‘perfect storm’ of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration as people flee from the worst-affected regions,” as the UK’s Guardian put it.

And we are not just talking about upheaval overseas. If we don’t take far stronger action on climate change, then here is what a 2015 NASA study projected the normal climate of North America will look like. The darkest areas have soil moisture comparable to that seen during the 1930s Dust Bowl.

Press link for more: Joe Romm |

We care about the destruction of society, not the natural world. #Auspol #EarthToParis #COP21

The first threat is that of the destruction of human society by global warming; the second is that of the destruction of nature by human society. They will do equal damage to the globe, but the international community cares only about the former.

The rains finally came to Kalimantan, which the Indonesians call Borneo, on 26 October and at last began to damp down the terrible fires in its forests and peatlands which, for the past three months, have covered much of Indonesia and its neighbouring states in a pall of smoke so big it could be seen clearly from space. 
Set deliberately to clear virgin land for palm oil plantations, Indonesia’s fires have been the major environmental disaster of 2015. According to the Global Fire Emissions Database at the Free University of Amsterdam, by 6 October no fewer than 120,857 of them had been detected by satellites across Sumatra as well as Kalimantan. Think about that.
If we have a big wildfire in Britain – the July 2006 fire at Thursley Common in Surrey springs to mind – it is front-page news. So imagine if we had 1,000 of them, all burning at once. 

You can’t; it’s unimaginable. Yet Indonesia has just had that, 120 times over, and the endless conflagrations have destroyed thousands of hectares of pristine rainforest, killed countless wild creatures, notably orang-utans, and have emitted more carbon dioxide on a daily basis than the United States. But does anybody care? Or, to refine the question somewhat: does the international community care? 

I think the answer is no. Not really. And the Indonesian fires of 2015 show up a great and tragic contrast between how we regard the two great environmental challenges facing the planet.
One of those challenges is climate change; the other is the ruin of the natural world. 

Let us be more precise: the first threat is that of the destruction of human society by global warming; the second is that of the destruction of nature by human society. They will do equal damage to the globe, but the international community cares only about the former. 

And it certainly cares about climate change. The British Met Office warns that record temperatures measured in the first nine months of 2014 mean we are halfway to reaching the climate change “threshold” of 2C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which catastrophe is predicted. The World Meteorological Organisation says the world is heading into uncharted territory at “frightening speed”. I wrote last week about the forthcoming UN climate conference in Paris, which will attempt to put together a new climate treaty to curb the expected warming of the atmosphere from our emissions of greenhouse gases. All the major world leaders will attend and, before the meeting finishes in mid-December, millions more words will be written about it.
So climate change has now become accepted as one of the great political causes of liberal democracy, yet the destruction of nature – or, as we are supposed to call it now, biodiversity – has not. Even though it was the killing of the great whales and the destruction of the rainforests which sparked the environmental movement in the first place, these concerns have not galvanised the international community in the way that climate change has.

Consider: just as there is a UN climate convention, so there is a UN convention on biological diversity, the CBD – but comparatively few people have heard of it. And just as the meeting of the climate convention in Paris, which begins this month, will try to draw up a plan to halt global warming, so the biodiversity convention (which met in Nagoya, Japan, in 2011) did draw up a plan to curb world wildlife destruction. It set out a series of ambitious aims, known as the “Aichi targets”, to halt biodiversity loss around the world by 2020 – but I bet that, unless you’re a specialist, you’ve never heard of them. And I further bet that unless once again you’re a specialist, you’re not aware that the Global Biodiversity Outlook of the United Nations Environment Programme stated baldly last year that the Aichi targets were not going to be met.

Because the world community doesn’t care. It pays lip service, of course, to the idea of halting the destruction of the natural world, and leaders make appropriate noises. But the American and Chinese presidents are not going to turn up at any biodiversity conference any time soon, though they will both be present at the climate change conference in Paris. This year’s Indonesian fires, and the world community’s lack of concern for them, show it clearly: there are two great environmental challenges facing the planet, but only one is being taken seriously.

Press link for more: Michael McCarthy |

4C warming equates to 9 Metres rise in sea levels. #Auspol #EarthToParis #COP21

Global warming of 4C above pre-industrial levels would raise sea levels by nearly nine metres, enough to submerge land currently home to more than half a billion people worldwide.
This comes from a new report by Climate Central, looking at what it would mean for different parts of the world if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the speed we currently are.
This is a middle estimate for 4C – the amount of sea level rise that level of warming would lock us into could be high as 10.8 metres or as low as 6.9 metres, the report says.
It would be a steady climb, with sea levels taking centuries to rise this far. But our unrestrained emissions would mean we’re effectively locked in, making the rise unavoidable.
If emissions are kept in check, however, and we achieve the international goal of limiting warming to 2C, the risks don’t disappear, but they do come down a lot. The number of people worldwide living on land that would eventually become submerged could drop as low as 130m.
Today’s report is a global update to a paper published last month, which looked at sea level rise in the US. Ahead of the Paris climate talks, it’s meant as a demonstration of what’s at stake.
Have a go yourself. Below is an interactive map the scientists created. The left-hand side shows how the city of London would look with 4C of warming, while the right shows the same under 2C.
Click on the full version to select a location and see how sea level rise compares around the globe with 2C or 4C of warming..

Press link for more:

Nothing can compete with renewable energy, says top climate scientist #Auspol

Prof John Schellnhuber says that if countries implement their pledges made for Paris climate summit it will give huge boost to wind, tidal and solar power.

Catastrophic global warming can be avoided with a deal at a crunch UN climate change summit in Paris this December because “ultimately nothing can compete with renewables”, according to one of the world’s most influential climate scientists.
Most countries have already made voluntary pledges to roll out clean energy and cut carbon emissions, and Prof John Schellnhuber said the best hope of making nations keep their promises was moral pressure.
Schellnhuber is a key member of the German delegation attending the Paris summit and has advised Angela Merkel and Pope Francis on climate change.
He said there was reason for optimism about the Paris talks, where at least 80 heads of state are expected. “That is a very telling thing – a sign of hope – because people at the top level do not want to be tainted by failure,” he said.
If a critical mass of big countries implement their pledges, he said in an interview with the Guardian, the move towards a global low-carbon economy would gain unstoppable momentum.

“If some countries really honour their pledges, including China, Brazil, South Africa, US and Europe, I think we will get a dynamic that will transform the development of the century. This is not sheer optimism – it is based on analysis of how incumbent systems implode.”
In July, Schellnhuber told a science conference in Paris that the world needed “an induced implosion of the carbon economy over the next 20-30 years. Otherwise we have no chance of avoiding dangerous, perhaps disastrous, climate change.”

The avalanche will start because ultimately nothing can compete with renewables,” he told the Guardian. “If you invest at [large] scale, inevitably we will end up with much cheaper, much more reliable, much safer technologies in the energy system: wind, solar, biomass, tidal, hydropower. It is really a no-brainer, if you take away all the ideological debris and lobbying.”
India, for example, aims to deliver 350GW of renewable energy in the next 10 years, the equivalent to 300 nuclear power stations, he said. “That is mind boggling and would be the final nail in the coffin of coal-fired power stations,” Schellnhuber said. “If India delivers on that pledge, it will be a tipping point for that country.”
He said the approach taken for the Paris talks, asking each nation to put forward a pledge, had resulted in half the emissions cuts needed to avoid more than 2C in warming, the level widely considered as dangerous. “These are pledges only, but nevertheless this bottom-up approach is driving change, and that is amazing as it is the weakest approach,” Schellnhuber said.
The key, he said, was that these pledges are honoured and future reviews deliver the rest of the cuts needed. But he warned there will be no international force to check and enforce carbon cuts, as nations would not allow such a challenge to their sovereignty.

“The verification will not be delivered by an international scheme,” he said. “You will not send in emissions inspectors like people wanted to send to Iran [for nuclear technology inspections].” Instead, he said: “It is prestige, it is image, it is a moral issue, it is how you appear to the world. If the Chinese, for example, make a pledge, they want to keep it. They do not want to lose face.”

Public pressure is “really holding the key to this”, said Schellnhuber, who has attended most of the 20 previous UN climate summits. “The last, best hope we have is moral argument.” He said that Germany’s aim to cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 was a tall order, because dealing with its lignite coal-fired power stations will be “very expensive and difficult”. But he said: “Merkel will do everything to achieve this or it will be seen as a national failure.”
The biggest danger for the Paris summit, he said, was the $100bn a year from 2020 promised by rich nations help poorer countries cope with climate change, which has yet to be delivered. He said the sum was “peanuts” in the context of global investment flows, but that a failure to deliver would “make countries in the global south very angry”.
“We can afford $100bn across the world, but it seems the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries are still very reluctant,” Schellnhuber said. “It will divert attention from the serious work – making sure the pledges are honoured.”

Press link for more: Damian Carrington |

Megacities like New York ‘will slip under the waves’ with 2C warming. #Auspol #ClimateChange

Large parts of New York, Shanghai, Mumbai and other cities will slip under the waves even if an upcoming climate summit limits global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, scientists say.
A 2C spike in Earth’s temperature would submerge land currently occupied by 280 million people, according to a study published by US-based research group Climate Central.
An increase of 4C — humanity’s current trajectory — would cover areas lived on by more than 600 million people, the study said.
The study’s lead author, Ben Strauss, said the 2C temperature rise will pose a “long-term, existential danger to many great coastal cities and regions”.
Sea level rises corresponding to these 2C or 4C scenarios could unfold in two hundred years, but would more likely happen over many centuries, perhaps as long as 2,000 years, the study said.

Capping the rise in Earth’s temperatures to 2C above pre-industrial levels is the core goal of the 195-nation UN climate summit in Paris from November 30 to December 11.
The most effective way to slow global warming is to slash the output of the greenhouse gases which drive it.
But even if emissions reduction pledges submitted by 150 nations ahead of the Paris summit are fulfilled, it would still put us on a pathway for a 3C world, the United Nations has warned.

Achieving the two-degree goal remains a serious challenge.
Mr Strauss and colleagues apply on a global scale the same methodology they used for a recent study that focused on temperature-linked sea level rise in the United States, published in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That study concluded that both Miami and New Orleans are doomed to crippling impacts.
Chinese cities among most vulnerable
In the new report, the country hit hardest by sea level rise under a 4C scenario is China.
Some 145 million people live in Chinese cities and coastal areas that would eventually become ocean were temperatures to climb that high.
Four of the 10 most devastated megacities would be Chinese: land occupied today by 44 million people in Shanghai, Tianjin, Hong Kong and Taizhou would be underwater.
India, Vietnam and Bangladesh do not fare much better. Asia is home to 75 per cent of the populations that today reside in zones that would no longer be classified as land in a climate-altered future.
Thirty-four million people in Japan, 25 million the United States, 20 million in the Philippines, 19 million Egypt and 16 million in Brazil are also in future 4C seascapes.
While the 2C scenario is also grim, limiting warming to that extent would spare China and other nations much misery, Mr Strauss said.
“There is a world of difference between 2C and 4C, which threatens more than double the damage,” he said.
The sea level rise corresponding to 2C would eventually be 4.7 metres, and for 4C almost double that, the study found.
The projections are based on climate models taking into account the expansion of ocean water as it warms, the melting of glaciers, and the decay of both the Greenland and West Antarctic icesheets.

Press link for more:

Australia can go green and have economic growth – #Auspol #EarthtoParis #COP21

Negative emissions, as well as economic growth and improved biodiversity: Australia could have it all.
According to a huge modelling study, Australia can continue to grow its economy by relying heavily on agriculture and mining, while also slashing emissions and improving the natural environment. But smart government policies will be key.
In the first of what will be a regular series of Australian National Outlook reports, researchers at CSIRO, Australia’s government scientific research agency, combined nine different economic and environmental models to examine 20 possible paths to 2050.

They found that strong international action on climate change would benefit the Australian economy, even ignoring the accompanying benefits of reduced climate impacts. Australia’s economic future looked brightest in scenarios where stronger climate action was taken, and the financial benefits could even kick in before 2050.
Although such decisive action would weaken demand for its coal, the country would enjoy increased demand for its gas, uranium and agricultural produce – all things Australia can export in spades.
Trees are key

Even in scenarios where Australia achieved negative emissions as early as 2040, GDP still grows strongly in the models.
Planting forests turns out to be crucial for Australia to reduce its emissions, accounting for up to 40 per cent of reductions. This could be encouraged simply by introducing a market mechanism, such as carbon pricing, that would pay farmers about $50 for each tonne of CO2 sequestered by planting new trees. Because much of that can be done using native plants, such a measure would also improve biodiversity.
“Overall it is a very positive message that we can have growth and a sustainable environment at the same time,” says Alex Wonhas from CSIRO, who led the report. “But it’s not necessarily given. There will be choices,” he says. Investment will have to be made in water resources and agricultural efficiency, and incentives would have to be created for emissions reductions and energy efficiency.
Best case scenario

“Australia has seen rapid expansion in mining and agriculture, with tremendous pressure on its ecological systems and sky-high greenhouse gas emissions,” says Frank Jotzo at the Australian National University in Canberra. If Australia sees rapid economic growth in coming decades while also easing this environmental pressure, the same could be true for many other countries, he says.
The most positive scenarios for Australia’s growth and climate are ones where carbon capture and storage (CSS) becomes commercially viable. Australia is one of the world’s biggest producers of coal and CCS would allow coal use to increase, while decreasing emissions. Should coal be phased out, CCS could be used in combination with biofuels, to create negative emissions, reducing the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.
“This is a landmark study,” says Jotzo. “Their findings should give Australia’s politicians resolve to face up to the big questions of environmental sustainability,” he says.
Journal Reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature16065

Press link for more:

Why we should go it alone on climate change.#Auspol #EarthtoParis #COP21

What if the negotiations in Paris later this month matter less than we think? There are lots of good reasons unilateral action to combat climate change might be a better option. Christian Downie and Peter Drahos write.
In less than a month world leaders will gather in Paris in the latest attempt to address climate change. But what if the negotiations matter less than we think? What if all the hype and expectation misses the fact that states are going it alone on climate change? And not only that, given the urgency of the problem, unilateral action could be our best bet to halt rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Traditionally, we tend to think of climate change as a global collective action problem. The climate is a global public good that requires all nations to act together to protect it. The standard logic is that public goods will be undersupplied because all nations have an incentive to free ride on the efforts of others. For example, Australia can sit back, do nothing and let the US and China reduce emissions. That way we get all the benefits of a better environment, but we incur none of the costs.
Of course, if all countries take this position there will be no environment to enjoy. Which is why the countries have spent the last two decades negotiating. The only way we can protect the climate is to coordinate our actions together. For example, the US only promises to act if China and India reciprocate.
It is this logic of reciprocity that has driven the international climate negotiations since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. There have been some huge successes such as the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which set legally binding emissions targets for many countries including Australia. But even with the Protocol global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise.
In this context, it may seem irrational to argue for countries to take unilateral actions. In other words, to take actions to reduce emissions that are not contingent on other countries reciprocating and actions that are voluntary in so far as they are being undertaken without a threat of any kind.

A state that acts ahead of time is more likely to be able to shape events than be shaped by them.

Why should Australia reduce emissions if other countries have not signed onto a legally binding agreement to do the same? Why should we incur the costs?
We argue that there are three good reasons for nations to act unilaterally. What’s more, many already are. As an example take the US and China, the two largest emitters in the world that together contribute around 44 per cent of global emissions. Neither country is under any internationally legally binding obligation to act, but they are moving and with increasing swiftness.
For example, in 2013, President Obama outlined his Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions from the power sector by 30 percent by 2030. This follows similar measures, targeting the transport, building and land sectors.
China has also taken a unilateral path. Its 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015) has set nation-wide targets to improve energy intensity, carbon intensity, the share of non-fossil fuels in the economy, not to mention a series of pilot emissions trading schemes, all aimed at drastically reducing its contribution to climate change.
This is not to say that the US and China have not been spurring each other on. After all, President Obama and President Xi jointly announced new targets for addressing climate change in 2014. Yet their actions are not being taken on the condition of direct reciprocity. Neither country is under any internationally binding obligation to act. In short, they are acting unilaterally.
So what are the reasons for acting unilaterally?
First, it can be economically rational. Applying free-rider logic implies that it is rational to find enforceable ways to share the economic costs of reducing emissions. Acting alone is therefore irrational. But is this true? In the trade regime many countries in recent decades have opted for unilateral tariff reduction in order to increase their competitive advantage in the value chains that now straddle the global economy.
Further, a unilateral approach may provide a nation with a significant competitive advantage in international markets. There is good economic evidence to show that when nations implement environmental standards ahead of the pack, like Germany did in the 1990s, they give a nation’s companies an early mover advantage in international markets. With many nations beginning to move on climate change, those that move first, second, third and so on are likely to reap the biggest gains. The global low carbon economy will be dominated by technical standard-setting processes that will cause profound restructuring of national economies. As most companies know it is better to be leader than a laggard in standard setting processes.
Unilateral action is also a prudent geopolitical strategy. Climate change will lead to crisis events, as the US Department of Defence has warned, and will threaten the survival of states themselves, including small island states in our region. Where survival is a dominant motive of states unilateralism is geopolitically rational and something of an imperative. And, a state that acts ahead of time is more likely to be able to shape events than be shaped by them. It is better to lead with ideas and regulatory models than to have them imposed.
Third, it is the right thing to do. To the extent that a unilateral reduction in emissions by any nation reduces the number of deaths and incidence of disease caused by climate change, it is morally superior to act than not to. The claim by some that the actions of one nation will make little difference is not justified. This line of argument confuses the moral correctness of an action with its scale effects. We do not, for example, question the moral correctness of actions by a few brave individuals that have saved only a small number of people from death in concentration camps.
To be clear, we are not arguing for nations to abandon the international climate change negotiations in Paris at the end of the year; far from it. They provide critical momentum to climate change action. But we should not wait for them either. It is in our economic and geopolitical interests to act now; others already are. It is also the right thing to do.
Christian Downie is Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Vice Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of New South Wales.
Peter Drahos is a professor in the Regulatory Institutions Network at the Australian National University and holds a chair in intellectual property at Queen Mary, University of London.

Press link for more:

Paris climate deal to ignite a $90 trillion energy revolution #Auspol #EarthtoParis #COP21

The old fossil order is on borrowed time as China and even India join the drive for dramatic cuts in CO2 emissions
The fossil fuel industry has taken a very cavalier bet that China, India and the developing world will continue to block any serious effort to curb greenhouse emissions, and that there is, in any case, no viable alternative to oil, gas or coal for decades to come.

Both assumptions were still credible six years ago when the Copenhagen climate summit ended in acrimony, poisoned by a North-South split over CO2 legacy guilt and the allegedly prohibitive costs of green virtue.

At that point the International Energy Agency (IEA) was still predicting that solar power would struggle to reach 20 gigawatts by now. Few could have foretold that it would in fact explode to 180 gigawatts – over three times Britain’s total power output – as costs plummeted, and that almost half of all new electricity installed in the US in 2013 and 2014 would come from solar.

Taken together, they commit the world to a reduction in fossil fuel demand by 30pc to 40pc over the next 20 years, and this is just the start of a revolutionary shift to net zero emissions by 2080 or thereabouts. “It is unstoppable. No amount of lobbying at this point is going to change the direction,” said Christiana Figueres The UN’s top climate offical.

Yet the energy industry is still banking on ever-rising demand for its products as if nothing has changed. BP is projecting a 43pc increase in fossil fuel use by 2035, Exxon expects 35pc by 2040, Shell 43pc and Opec is clinging valiantly to 55pc. These are pure fiction.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may or may not be correct in arguing that we cannot safely burn more than 800bn tonnes of carbon (two-thirds has been used already) if we are to stop global temperatures rising two degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100. I take no view on the science.

But this is the goal accepted by world leaders. It is solemnly enshrined in international accords, and while it might once have been possible for energy companies to dismiss these utterings as empty pieties, to persist now is to trifle with fate.

“This is a world apart from where we were going into Copenhagen. The centre of gravity has fundamentally and irreversibly shifted,” said Mark Kenber, head of the Climate Group.

China switched sides several years ago, not least because it faces a middle class insurrection that has shaken the Communist Party to its core. An estimated 100m people viewed the anti-pollution video “Under the Dome” in just 24 hours before it was shut down by horrified officials in February.

The IEA says China invested $80bn in renewable energy last year, as much as the US and the EU combined. It is blanketing chunks of the Gobi Desert with solar panels, necessary to absorb the massive surplus production of its own solar companies. The party’s Energy Research Institute has floated the idea of raising the renewable share of electricity to 86pc by 2050.

It is patently obvious that China is not about to sabotage a climate deal. Its submission to the COP21 summit aims for peak greenhouse emissions by 2030, if not before. It plans 200 gigawatts (GW) of wind and 100GW of solar by then, and a reduction in coal use from 2020 onwards. There will be a carbon emissions trading scheme as soon as 2017.

The text makes it very clear that China considers itself “among those countries that are most severely affected by the adverse impacts of climate change” and is pushing for a far-reaching COP21 deal in its own defence. Going green with a vengeance is one way that China wishes to reposition itself as a global “soft power” force, as will become clear during its presidency of the G20 next year.

The last hold-outs are increasingly lonely as China, the US, Europe, Japan and Mexico all flaunt their good intentions. India has shifted safely into the middle ground, dashing the last hopes of those who thought COP21 would wither on the vine.

A Carbon Tracker forum in the City this week was packed with bankers and fund managers itching to find a way into the biggest investment boom of all time

Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official

India invoked “our planet Mother Earth”, Mahatma Gandhi, and the ancient practices of yoga in its poetic submission, pledging to raise renewables to 40pc of power output by 2030 (mostly solar) and to soak up three billion turns of carbon dioxide in new forests.

It plans to cut the energy intensity of GDP by a third from 2005 levels, no easy task for an economy on the cusp of an industrial surge. India’s green think-tank TERI called it an “unprecedented” shift.

Press link for more: Ambrose Evans-Prichard |