Politics of climate change in Australia

It’s been a busy few weeks in the media. Hilary Clinton and her climate change envoy met with officials in China, Obama says that the upcoming climate bill is needed to ‘save our planet’, the ‘danger threat’ of global warming was increased, Dr Hansen took the final leap from scientist to activist, and NASA’s newly launched carbon tracking satellite came to an abrupt end as it crashed into the Pacific Ocean.

However, nothing seems to beat news from home soil. In a week where the Australian government announced the emissions trading scheme (which plans to reduce emissions by 5 to 15 per cent before 2020) is full steam ahead, Australian Liberal Member of Parliament Dr Dennis Jensen (a well known climate skeptic, who holds a PhD in the physics of ceramics) managed to violate Godwin’s law by pointing to Adolf Hitler as a classic example of how scientists (and therefore climate change) can be wrong.

“Albert Einstein was very much criticised by Hitler, and Hitler actually had a group of 100 top scientists in Germany write a book called 100 scientists against Einstein,” Dr Jensen told reporters in Canberra.

“Einstein was asked: ‘Doesn’t it bother you Dr Einstein that you’ve got so many scientists against you?’

“And he said: `It doesn’t take 100 scientists to prove me wrong, it takes a single fact’.”

News Roundup

BIODIVERSITY: The Twilight Age of Coral Reefs

Coral reefs will be the first global ecosystem to collapse in our lifetimes. The one-two punch of climate change that is warming ocean temperatures and increasing acidification is making the oceans uninhabitable for corals and other marine species, researchers said at a scientific symposium in Spain. And now other regions are being affected. Acidic or corrosive waters have been detected for the first time on the continental shelf of the west coast of North America, posing a serious threat to fisheries, Richard Feely, an oceanographer with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told attendees in Gijon, Spain Wednesday. More than 450 scientists from over 60 countries are participating in the “Effects of Climate Change on the World’s Oceans” symposium. (Link to IPS article)

‘Record greenhouse gas fall’

Greenhouse gas emissions by all the Group of Eight industrial nations except Russia fell in 2006 in the broadest dip since the world started trying to slow climate change in 1990, a Reuters survey showed today. Rising oil prices, some measures to curb global warming and a milder winter in the United States in 2006 that depressed energy demand for heating all contributed to an overall 0.6 per cent dip in G8 emissions in 2006 from 2005. “It is an encouraging sign that emissions decreased in 2006 in some major developed economies,” Michael Raupach, leader of the Earth Observation Centre in Canberra, said. “However, we have scarcely begun,” he said, adding that the world would need far tougher action to stabilise emissions at levels to avert “dangerous” climate changes of ever more heatwaves, food shortages, floods, droughts and rising seas. (Link to News.com.au article)

Climate change: ‘Mutiny’ needed against government inaction

Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) president Professor Ian Lowe called on Australians to “mutiny” against government inaction on climate change, at a public forum on May 17. Forty people attended the event organised by Friends of the Earth (FoE). “In ecological terms, there can be little doubt that we are booked on the Titanic and steaming towards the iceberg of runaway climate change”, Lowe said.“The people who should know better are still in the first-class bar ordering smoked salmon and the best vintage champagne, secure in the knowledge that their cheque will not reach the bank. “The apathetic approach is [to assume] that the crew must know what they are doing. But the activist approach, my view, is that, if the crew on the bridge won’t change course, we should organise a mutiny”, Lowe urged a cheering audience. (Link to GreenLeft article)

A Stinging analysis

This year’s surveyed beekeepers reported a total loss of 36.1 percent of their honey bee colonies, up 13.5 percent from the previous year. The crisis of the vanishing bees is worse and proceeding faster than anyone imagined it might. Our emission of the hundreds of billions of tonnes of CO2 from burning of fossil fuels has filled our and the bees atmosphere with a concentration of CO2 40% higher than in the previous century. Every feature of form and function in bees focuses their evolution on living and managing with a slightly high CO2 level common to their hives — but not so high as our present air. Bees manage their social lives around CO2 in their colonies; and, when CO2 rises just a few percent above normal levels they exhibit what had, until now, been a workable and wonderful response. (Link to Responsible Nanotechnology blog)

Climate change 2007 – a year in review

A somewhat belated happy new years to everyone reading – welcome back after the Christmas break. Not only has 2007 been quite a year in the politics of climate change (more on this from me later), there have been quite a few climatic extremes – see the article below from the Associated Press. As skeptics have been all too eager to point out, there have been plenty of examples of cold weather in 2007 (and hence global warming must be false). However, as the article clearly states: “Individual weather extremes can’t be attributed to global warming, scientists always say. However, it’s the run of them and the different locations‘ that have the mark of man-made climate change, said top European climate expert Phil Jones, director of the climate research unit at the University of East Anglia in England.” After all, a single heatwave doesn’t prove global warming to be ‘true’.

2007 – A Year of Climate Surprises

Associated Press (1st January 2008)

When the calendar turned to 2007, the heat went on and the weather just got weirder.

January was the warmest first month on record worldwide — 1.53 degrees above normal. It was the first time since record-keeping began in 1880 that the globe’s average temperature has been so far above the norm for any month of the year.

And as 2007 drew to a close, it was also shaping up to be the hottest year on record in the Northern Hemisphere.

Continue reading

Australia ratifies Kyoto

As Ecolog reports that green house gas emissions reach near-record level highs, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has broken the stalemate and ratified kyoto just weeks after coming into power on his first day in office. Senator Penny Wong, the newly instated Minister for Climate Change, was quoted to say that the decision sets Australia up for a leadership role at the United Nations Climate Change conference in Bali later this month.

“Ratifying the Kyoto Protocol puts Australia back on the map,” she said.

“The world now knows that this nation is prepared to do its bit and be part of the global solution to climate change. This gives us an impetus to go into the Bali conference to set that leadership role. The purpose of the Bali conference is to set out the road map for what happens post the Kyoto period. We want to ensure that what we agree in Bali gives Australia and the world the best chance to moving towards a solution on climate change.”

Rudd’s decision has run into some interesting commentary in the news. Despite previous concern of greenhouse gas emissions from India and China, The India Times ran with the headline “India to gain as Australia signs Kyoto“, quoting “India smiled from the sidelines knowing that, in the least, it would augur well for Indian industry and, at best, would push its case in global negotiations. Meanwhile, Germany’s Environment Minister has called for an international market in carbon dioxide emissions to combat climate change, with a stronger focus on emission reduction from G8 countries and emerging nations. A joint statement released at the 10th China – European Union Leaders meeting has further stressed the importance of climate change and the willingness to cooperate in stabilising and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As one astute commentator summarised, “No continent is an island“, but all this leaves the ABC news wondering “Can climate progress succeed without the US?

More commentary from me on this during the lead up to Bali.

News roundup

“And now for Australia’s next great challenge — saving our environment”

Australia’s vast oceans cover twice as much area as our land. They include some of the world’s most significant marine ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo Reef, Shark Bay and the Great Australian Bight. More than 80 per cent of plants and animals living in our southern ocean waters are found nowhere else. Establishing Australia’s first Ocean Act would provide a legal foundation for the good management of our oceans.This should be backed by a national network of marine national parks and an Australian Oceans Fund. This fund could help urban and regional coastal communities better protect their local environments and would improve the management of estuary and marine environments. (Link to The Age article)

“UN scientists to hammer out final climate change report”The UN’s top climate scientists gathered in the Spanish port city of Valencia Monday to boil down their landmark report on global warming into a summary version for policymakers. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, has warned of dire consequences unless rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gases are held in check. The document to be issued in Valencia next Saturday distills its 2,500-page, three-volume assessment — the first since 2001 — into a 25-page synthesis designed to guide government decisions on how to best accomplish this.

The more forceful the panel’s conclusions, the more pressure it will put on policymakers to adopt measures — some of them politically costly — ranging from carbon taxes and mandatory caps on CO2 emissions to huge investment in renewable energy. But even as it basks in the limelight of the Nobel Prize, the IPCC has been criticized for being too conservative in the face of mounting evidence of a global crisis. (Link to AFP article)

“Scientists strive to pinpoint warming forecasts”Moving on from the risk of global warming, scientists are now looking for ways to pinpoint the areas set to be affected by climate change, to help countries plan everything from new crops to hydropower dams. Billion-dollar investments, ranging from irrigation and flood defences to the site of wind farms or ski resorts, could hinge on assessments about how much drier, wetter, windier or warmer a particular area will become. (Link to Reuters article)

Ocean acidification blog

Jean-Pierre Gattuso, a senior research scientist at theLaboratoire d’Océanographie over in France has started a coral & ocean-acidification related blog entitled “Ocean acidification: An information outlet on ocean acidification“. His site is well worth reading (see Corals May Have Defense Against Global Warming, Acidic oceans may threaten fisheries) as an upto date resource on global warming and the impacts upon the worlds oceans.

Climate-news roundup

Track records speak for themselves: Australian Government on climate change

As I have posted here on Climate Shifts recently, a meeting scheduled in Bali, Indonesia, for December is aimed at jump-starting talks to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. As it was, the Kyoto Protocol was designed as the first of a series of steps to set the world on the pathway toward controlling and eventually reducing emissions (or would have been, if Bush and Howard would have ratified the treaty). Now the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer says that the Australian government is ready to discuss climate change. To quote the Minister, “This is a discussion about what to do post 2012. And we are fully able to participate and to vote.” I guess that sounds a little hollow doesn’t it given track records so far! (Link to ABC Article)

“Sea change in the response to climate change”

“U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a one-day high-level meeting on climate change on Monday was a turning point in the battle against global warming. “What I heard today is a major political commitment for a breakthrough in climate change in Bali,” Ban said. A meeting scheduled in Bali, Indonesia, for December is aimed at jump-starting talks to find a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to curb climate-warming emissions. “Science has spoken clearly,” Ban said at a final news conference. “Now we need a political answer.” (Link to Reuters Article)

“Climate change biggest security risk”

“Climate change poses this century’s biggest security threat, possibly forcing the migration of millions of people from countries such as China, Australia’s top policeman has warned. Water and food shortages could send waves of migrants across oceans and borders in the Asia-Pacific region, causing social disruption and unrest, said Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty. “The potential security issues are enormous and should not be underestimated.” Even if only some of the predictions of catastrophic change wrought by global warming materialised, “climate change is going to be the security issue of the 21st century,” Keelty said.”(Link to AFP Article)

APEC Constitution round-up

It’s been pretty hard to avoid the extensive media coverage of the APEC meeting in Sydney over the last week, particularly the outcome of the “Sydney Declaration on Climate Change and Energy” (read more here)

Some interesting asides for the regions coral reefs:

“We (the ministers) look forward to future work that will help to conserve marine and coastal resources, including the safeguarding of coral reefs” (link)

President G.W. Bush commits to supporting Indonesia’s reforestation program with $20 million USD :

The Indonesian leader thanked the US administration for giving assistance and attention to Indonesia`s efforts to protect the environment, especially those to address climate change and coral reef destruction” (link)

… and an excerpt from the declaration itself:

Improved dialogue and policy and technical co-operation is valuable in underpinning our efforts. We … welcome the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security which is aimed at enhancing the conservation of marine biological resources (link)

More on this from me in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the more cynical might enjoy the following blogged over at ZDnet:

They talked global warming down in Australia. All those leaders from the U.S., China, Japan, Russia, host-nation Australia, Indonesia and fifteen other nations agreed that they aspire to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Boy, that’s reassuring. These leaders didn’t do anything radical, like promise to do anything. Good intentions and high aspirations, that’s the ticket.

Temporarily offline

Apologies for Climate Shifts being off the air since the weekend – a few minor modifications caused quite a few major problems somewhere behind the scenes and caused the site to go down albeit temporarily. I now have a team of people helping me behind the scenes with the technical side Climate Shifts in light of mishaps like these. I am assured everything is back up and running in good working order! Meanwhile expect to see some changes to Climate Shifts over the coming weeks – please feel free to send your suggestions and comments to climateshifts@gmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Climate shifts news round-up

  • Reporting in Nature, researchers from Canada show that: “… anthropogenic forcing has had a detectable influence on observed changes in average precipitation within latitudinal bands, and that these changes cannot be explained by internal climate variability or natural forcing.” Whilst no-one wants to be quoted on record that the current flooding across Europe and England is related to climate change (although see some media sources), a Reuters article states an inconvenient truth: “floods force many to face climate change reality“.