Rudd unveils new cabinet

Reuters, November 29th


Australian Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd unveiled his ministerial team on Thursday, naming four women and a former rock star to the centre-left cabinet, and making close collaborator Julia Gillard his deputy.



Penny Wong becomes Australia’s first Asian-born minister. Taking on the new climate change portfolio, she will be in charge of carrying out Labor’s pledge to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Wong, 39, arrived in Australia from her native Malaysia as a child in 1977 and worked as a lawyer and barrister before entering parliament as a senator in 2002.

Peter Garrett, former lead singer with Midnight Oil, becomes environment, heritage and arts minister, but loses his hold on climate change after embarrassing his leader with policy gaffes during the campaign.

Rudd, 50, swept to power in Saturday’s election on a promise of generational change after more than 11 years of conservative rule under Prime Minister John Howard, 68.

Rudd and his ministers, forming what he called a rejuvenated government with fresh ideas, will be officially sworn in on Monday. (Read More)

The challenge: to go from climate laggard to climate leader

The Age, 27th November

LABOR’S exceptional victory is built on its core promises, and tackling climate change is one of them. Kevin Rudd has promised that one of his first acts in government will be to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This will come as a welcome relief to most Australians. We have been suffering from deferred ratification for a long time, and the move is 10 years overdue.

However, while in the conservative context of Australian climate politics ratification may seem like one giant leap for Australians, it is now only a modest step for mankind (and other species).

The annual meeting of parties of the UN Climate Change Convention begins in Bali next Monday. For the first time in a decade, Australia — with its delegation led by our prime minister — will sit as a credible participant in debates over the Earth’s climate future. What positions and targets will we support?

The only serious proposition on the table at Bali comes from the European Union. The EU has proposed a target for developed countries to cut their collective emissions by 30% below 1990 levels by 2020. Although this target is conservative, it is still well beyond what has been acceptable in Australia to date. How will we respond?

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Coral reefs bursting to go

Courier Mail, November 22nd

HERE is a chance for you to experience one of the planet’s most spellbinding natural spectacles. Within a few days, in the reefs around the Keppels, off Rockhampton and in the Capricorn Cays of the southern Great Barrier Reef, the annual spawning of coral is expected to take place.

After the bleaching of the corals in January and February in 2006, last summer’s spawning effort was half-hearted. “This year. they’re bursting to go,” said Central Queensland University coral ecologist Alison Jones. “If people can get to a reef and in the water between the 24th (tomorrow) and the 28th, about 7pm-7.30pm, they’ll have a good chance of seeing it happen.”

In a synchronised exercise, corals liberate millions of eggs on still nights, after a full moon, when the tides are not so strong, the water temperature is right, and there’s less chance of the eggs being swept away before fertilisation.

As a prelude to the spawning, reef life, little fish and shrimps become wildly agitated. Then, small pink balls can be seen bulging from the polyp mouths of the corals.

“They glow pink,” Jones explained. “Everything around the reef gets very excited and you know it will happen within half an hour.” (Read More)

Facing up to the realities of climate change

Developed countries must ‘show some spine’ on climate change
ABC News, 19th November

Some 2,500 scientists worked on the IPCC’s findings. The UN believes the worst case scenarios of global warming could be avoided if there were sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The economic cost it argues, is minimal compared with the cost of doing nothing.

Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg is the Director of Marine Studies at the University of Queensland and also contributed to the IPCC report. “The report points out that if we are going to avoid those catastrophic scenarios, we actually have to peak our emissions in 2015, which is just around the corner, eight years away,” he said. “Now to do that, we have to have really major efforts to change the way we use energy and we’re going to have to have a range of international treaties in place not in 2012 but literally tomorrow.”

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg says it is imperative that developed nations such as Australia and the US set an example by cutting emissions immediately through reducing energy needs, better insulation and construction standards and use of technology that currently exists, like solar energy. “It’s up to the developed countries to show some spine on this issue and avoid what will be a global catastrophe. It’s relatively cost effective – in fact it’s you know, really quite cheap – to address the issue and achieve that level of stabilisation.

“If we go down the street of trying to stabilise at about 450 parts per million, it will shave only, and this is an upper estimate, only about 0.12 per cent of the average annual growth in GDP.” (Read more)

Oceans fail the Acid Test

Science Alert, 22nd November

Acid oceans are the elephant in the room of global change – an event potentially so massive and profound in its implications for life on Earth that the world media has largely avoided it, governments shunned it and scientists discussed it mostly in muted tones, usually behind closed doors.The acid oceans theory is quite straightforward: the CO2 emitted by human activity dissolves out of the atmosphere into the seas, gradually turning them more acidic. This is largely independent of global warming or other effects. It is a straight equation – about half of all the CO2 produced since the start of the industrial revolution has ended up in the sea, reducing the surface pH by 0.1 (some experiments indicate as much as 0.3 pH).

The change in acidity may seem minor but experiments by the Centre’s Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg suggest it could be enough to shut down coral growth and kill the calcareous algae that hold together the fronts of reefs. He has warned that Australia risks losing the Great Barrier Reef if atmospheric CO2 levels rise above 500 parts per million from their current level of 385ppm, as they are currently expected to do by mid-century.

If that were not serious enough, an even more profound impact is likely to occur among calcareous plankton which will be unable to form their chalky skeletons as the water acidifies. The vulnerable corals and plankton make up about a third of all life in the oceans. (Read more)

Analysis of the Australian government response to the IPCC

IPCC report shows Australian targets a sham
By Chris McGrath, Brisbane barrister and Climate Project presenter


Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Garrett both claim vindication on climate change from the synthesis report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Both are wrong.

Labor has a policy of reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050 compared with year 2000 emissions.


The Liberals have attacked this target as “likely to damage the economy”. They refuse to state their own target for emissions but this must logically be less onerous than Labor’s.


The central difficulty for both Labor and the Liberals in claiming vindication from the latest IPCC report is it indicates a 60% reduction in emissions by 2050 will be inadequate to protect our most valuable environmental assets such as the Great Barrier Reef.

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“Failing to act on climate change is criminally irresponsible.”

The Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released overnight in Valencia, Spain. If there is one thing that you are going to read from the IPCC, then it should be this document.

This is the final phase of the 4th Assessment report. The SPM draws together the evidence, discussion and conclusions of the 3 IPCC working groups from the fourth assessment report and provide it as a no-nonsense, on-partisan digest for policy makers.

Summarizing most the conclusions that fall into the IPCC’s ‘likely’ to ‘almost certain’ categories, the following seems to true for climate change. We are now in a rapidly warming climate that is changing natural and human systems. The burning of fossil fuels and land-use change by humans is driving these changes. Ice is disappearing from our glaciers and snow fields, water supplies are drying up and food production is being threatened. Natural ecosystems from rainforest to the southern ocean are changing rapidly. Millions of lives are threatened by the combination of a hot house future, with rising sea levels and intensifying natural disasters.

The synthesis highlights several growing certainties. These are that our current trajectory will put us into a world which is described at the upper end of the IPCC trajectories. “There is high agreement and much evidence that with current climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, global GHG (Green House Gas) emissions will continue to grow over the next few decades.“

Specifically, this will involve the loss of water supplies to hundreds of millions, the loss of coral reefs, rainforests and other significant global assets, the loss of 50% or more of species, increasing crop failures at low latitudes, inundation of coastal areas, and a rapidly rising death toll from disease, flooding and heat waves. The kicker is that many of these impacts, while serious at high latitudes will be greatest for developing nations which are mostly clustered at low latitudes.

The worst impacts will be on those people who least can afford to respond. Hence, in the words of Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “Failing to recognize the urgency of this message and acting on it would be nothing less than criminally irresponsible.”

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IPCC release “Climate Change 2007” – the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one of the most rigorous scientific processes of modern times. In the synthesis report released today in Valencia, Spain, it has reasserts the undeniable evidence that the earth is warming rapidly due the rise of anthropogenic generated greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. These changes are being driven by the burning of fossil fuels and the massive destruction of nature landscapes such as forests.

The changes that we are seeing are unprecedented in the last several million years. Events thought to be unlikely, such as the breakup of the polar and Greenland ice sheets are now happening. The report indicates that natural ecosystems are changing rapidly, water availability is diminishing and that impacts on food supply for many countries will continue to grow. This report is yet another wake-up call to the seriousness of anthropogenic climate change.

Coral reefs are indicative of the changes that are occurring in natural ecosystems. Worldwide coral reefs are responsible for supporting the subsistence food supply for it leased 100 million people. It coral reefs disappear, as the IPCC report warns, there would be catastrophic consequences for many societies throughout the tropics and sub-tropics. For Australia, a loss of coral reefs would have serious economic consequences for boom economy states like Queensland. At present, the second-largest industry in Queensland is the tourist industry generated by the beauty and ecologically pristine nature of the Great Barrier Reef. Without the Great Barrier Reef, this $6 billion per year industry would dwindle.

The IPCC synthesis report also provides the very strong case that the consequences for human societies everywhere will be catastrophic if we don’t act right now. Decisive, non-partisan action is required. This action must listen to the science and the seriousness of the problem. It must act on that science. Anything less is foolhardy.

Without acting right now we will miss the only opportunity to act. Strong leadership is required that sets clear targets that must reduce our emissions to less than 10% within the next three decades. We have not seen that leadership in Australia or elsewhere as yet. Currently, with Australia’s leading the world as the highest emitters of CO2 per person, changing our current disastrous track will require some strong and clever decisions. Given this and the fact that we are wealthy as a nation, we should be leading the world rather than dragging our feet.

While both sides of politics in the recent electoral debates have recognized the issue of climate change as being important, both sides have been reluctant to specify the action that they will take to reduce emissions over the next few decades. This is unfortunate given that we need strong leadership not only to adapt to climate change (which is where most of the money has gone so far) and also to specify strong emission reduction targets that are commensurate with the scale of this global emergency. This decade may be among the last in which we can choose between a future during which humans to continue to prosper in many regions, versus one in which we will continually struggle to survive as the climate becomes more and more hostile, and beyond our control.

UQ Climate Change lab in the news

One of the students in my lab, Josh Meisel (a Fulbright scholar from Stanford University) was interviewed recently by the Brisbane newspaper The Courier Mail about the recent rebuilding following the devastating fire at Heron Island research station earlier this year (see photographs). Construction is well underway on the new aquaria, research buildings and staff accomodation – read below for more details (good work Josh & Dorothea!)


Australia and climate change

“Australians named worst emitters”

BBC News, 14th November 2007

A study of the world’s power stations has shown the extent to which developed countries produce more carbon dioxide per head than emerging economies. Australians were found to be the world’s worst polluters per capita, producing five times as much carbon from generating power as China. The US came second with eight tonnes of carbon per head – 16 times more than that produced by India.The US also produced the most carbon in total, followed by China.The Carbon Monitoring for Action (Carma) website is the first global inventory of emissions and looks at 50,000 power stations.Its data was compiled by the Center for Global Development, a US think-tank. (Read More)

“CSIRO scientist says sign Kyoto”The Age, 15th November 2007

The former head of CSIRO’s atmospheric research unit says Australia should sign the Kyoto Protocol or be left on the sidelines at the United Nations’ climate change talks in Bali next month.

Graeme Pearman, who is now a consultant in the private sector, said Australia will be ”sitting on the sidelines” while world leaders launch serious negotiations on comprehensive post-2012 Kyoto agreement on fighting climate change.

”Frankly, I think we should sign and I don’t say that lightly,” Mr Pearman told AAP after addressing a conference of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in Sydney.

Dr Pearman said he was not a fan of the Kyoto Protocol at the start, as it was not a level playing field. ”I haven’t been a strong supporter, quite honestly, of Kyoto because Kyoto was not based on any level playing field – there are all sorts of political games (that were) being played when the rules were set up,” he said. ”Now is a time to join.”

(Read More)

BBC News reports: The top 10 of climate skepticism

A colleague of mine, Dr John Bruno forwarded me a very well written article from BBC news on the top 10 of climate skepticism (link). Also on BBC News recently: responses to a climate change questionnaire sent to the 61 “accredited experts in climate and related scientific discipline” (of which 14 replied), with such detailed answers as “rising CO2 might help “green” the world, with increases in food supply”. Indeed.

Sceptic Counter
Instruments show there has been some warming of the Earth’s surface since 1979, but the actual value is subject to large errors. Most long-term data comes from surface weather stations. Many of these are in urban centres which have expanded in both size and energy use. When these stations observe a temperature rise, they are simply measuring the “urban heat island effect”. In addition, coverage is patchy, with some regions of the world almost devoid of instruments. Data going back further than a century or two is derived from “proxy” indicators such as tree-rings and stalactites which, again, are subject to large errors. Warming is unequivocal. Weather stations, ocean measurements, decreases in snow cover, reductions in Arctic sea ice, longer growing seasons, balloon measurements, boreholes and satellites all show results consistent with the surface record of warming. The urban heat island effect is real but small; and it has been studied and corrected for. Analyses by Nasa for example use only rural stations to calculate trends. Recently, work has shown that if you analyse long-term global temperature rise for windy days and calm days separately, there is no difference. If the urban heat island effect were large, you would expect to see a bigger trend for calm days when more of the heat stays in the city. Furthermore, the pattern of warming globally doesn’t resemble the pattern of urbanisation, with the greatest warming seen in the Arctic and northern high latitudes. Globally, there is a warming trend of about 0.8C since 1900, more than half of which has occurred since 1979.
Sceptic Counter
Since 1998 – almost a decade – the record, as determined by observations from satellites and balloon radiosondes, shows no warming. 1998 was an exceptionally warm year because of the strong El Nino event. Variability from year to year is expected, and picking a specific warm year to start an analysis is “cherry-picking”; if you picked 1997 or 1999 you would see a sharper rise. Even so, the linear trends since 1998 are still positive.
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