Time to stop waffling about degrees of climate danger

7 12 2013

The Conversation

by Peter Christoff

Associate Professor at University of Melbourne

Peter Christoff is the editor of the 30-author book, Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a Hot World. The profits from this book will be donated to The Climate Council.

“Erratic”, “inconsistent”, “highly political” and “lacking in direction”. That’s the unvarnished verdict on Australia’s climate policy, according to experts within our own Parliament House.

It wasn’t a statement from the government or even the opposition. Instead, it came from the well-respected Parliamentary Library, which this week quietly released a helpful timeline of Australian climate change policy since the 1970s.

By chance, that timeline came out just ahead of an important new paper by a team of global experts, and a new book here in Australia.

Both highlight how little the world has done to tackle climate change in all that time. But they also point to some clear solutions that could help us avoid a dangerously hot future, including: tougher emissions targets, putting a price on carbon emissions, rapidly reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, and – in Australia’s case – ending its insupportable boom in coal and gas exports.

Two degrees is one too many

It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here. – NASA scientist Dr James Hansen, June 1988.

Twenty-five years ago James Hansen warned a US Congress hearing that global warming was a problem they could no longer afford to ignore.

His latest research, published yesterday, warns that the widely-supported international target of stopping the average global temperature from rising to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above the pre-industrial level would have “disastrous consequences”.

Co-written with a high-profile global team including US economist Jeffrey Sachs and Australian coral expert Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, their Assessing Dangerous Climate Change paper finds:

some climate extremes are already increasing in response to warming of several tenths of a degree in recent decades. These extremes would likely be much enhanced with warming of 2°C or more.

Critically, the authors argue that it would be “exceedingly difficult… yet still conceivable” to limit human-induced warming to about 1°C (1.8°F) with strong action.

They support a carbon tax, which they say is simpler and easier than an international emissions trading scheme; greater investment in technology development; and cutting energy subsidies, including “large direct and indirect subsidies” for fossil fuels.

But to achieve their aim of about 1°C of warming, current global emissions would need to be cut by 6% per year starting from this year – when in fact, emissions are continuing to rise.

Extreme risks for Australia

Based on existing emissions trends and insufficient national mitigation pledges, we’re actually on track to see average global warming of around 4°C by the end of this century, if not earlier.

Released last night, the book Four Degrees of Global Warming: Australia in a Hot World – of which I am the editor – reports the latest research on what 4°C of warming would do to Australia’s environment, society and economy.

Given current trends, by the end of this century Australia will be a continent under assault: hotter, subject to greater extremes of weather such as bushfires, floods, storms, droughts, possibly hungrier, poorer and more insecure.

For instance, increasing temperature and declining rainfall could undermine agricultural production. By the end of the century, Australia could go from exporting its surplus food to struggling to feed its larger domestic population.

Other significant contributors to Australia’s economy – tourism, fisheries and mining – would be substantially transformed and severely affected.

A 4°C world would batter Australia’s environment. Extreme events and rising temperatures would force more Australian species to extinction. The Great Barrier Reef would be devastated by gradual warming, high-heat bleaching events, and ocean acidification. The A$6.4 billion tourism industry it supports would likely collapse.

Pressures on the national economy would be compounded as governments and communities struggle to deal with the rising costs of adaptation and remediation in the face of extreme events. Basic services like public transport and housing, water, sewerage, health and communications would be under increasing stress.

By the end of the century living in Melbourne could become climatically like living in southern NSW, Sydney like Rockhampton, and Alice Springs like the Sudan. In Darwin, the number of days over 35°C is projected to rise from an average of 10 a year now to more than 300 – which would be like nowhere on Earth today.

What we can do

Assessed against these threats and their costs to Australian communities and ecosystems, the weakness of current policies and targets becomes starkly evident.

To avoid this scenario, Australia – as well as other countries, particularly those that contributed the most cumulative emissions over the years (see charts below) – must dramatically step up its efforts in this critical decade.

Fossil fuel CO2 emissions. Pie chart (A) shows 2012 emissions by source region, while (B) shows the cumulative emissions from 1751 to 2012. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081648.g011

We have to change our emissions reduction target, from aiming to cut emissions 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 to, at minimum, aiming for a 38% reduction by 2020.

That target is appropriate given what climate science is telling us: it’s the necessary contribution Australia has to make to bridging the emissions gap between a 4°C world and a path to warming closer to 1.5°C.

Leading economists such as Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut agree that early and effective action will be less expensive and more effective than delay. If countries like Australia stopped being so erratic on climate policy, and finally committed to long-term, serious emissions reductions, we would be providing the international leadership needed to start making the “exceedingly difficult… yet still conceivable” changes proposed by Hansen and his co-authors.

No regrets

But the grounds for hope in Australia are presently thin; the political climate is, euphemistically, challenging.

As the Parliamentary Library’s timeline reminds us, back in the 1980s Australia adopted a national target of cutting emissions 20% on 1988 levels by 2005 – but only as a “no regrets” strategy. The loophole was that any reduction would not be “at the expense of the economy”.

Similar short-termism has largely won out in decades that followed – and it looks like it could prevail again with the Coalition government’s push to repeal Australia’s carbon price.

Australian efforts and international negotiations are increasingly at odds with the scientific evidence on the need for urgent, substantial emissions cuts.

Unless we can break from this pattern of political and policy neglect, Australia will reap a 4°C future. In what way is that a “no regrets” strategy?




15 responses

7 12 2013
Ross Chester-Master

People don’t react to the ‘fear’ scenarios anymore. World wide, how many really understand basic physics when most lawyers, accountants and even medicos and all the wannabes of politics and the oligarchy refuse to learn and understand of the real science …. http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/energy-budget.html …. but, then again, as an old timer, I care little these days…. preaching and teaching and researching carbon abatement, when the likes of the host of this site was flying around the world not giving a shit, and the greenies even missing the point ( it was never about a patch of forest or the pink mafia, it was always and primarily about the abuse of fossil fuels) was a waste of time and effort. But then again, surfing the Antarctic peninsula and the Gold Coast wiped of the map has a certain appeal … Anyhow, all the new technology ( Tesla cars with a base suitable for tractors, solar, wind, tidal et, al energy collection systems, and futuristic greenhouses for food) is up and running, so we see who wins , time permitting, the political-economic battle or the excrement hits the fan and the system is forced to move on or collapse….. own nothing, easier to evacuate, keep a viable potato in your pocket … tell the western powers Russia wins in the ‘hot war’ …might stir them to action … lol

8 12 2013

> Based on existing emissions trends and insufficient national mitigation pledges, we’re actually on track to see average global warming of around 4°C by the end of this century, if not earlier.

“BASED ON EXISTING EMISSIONS TRENDS …”, yes, but you don’t believe those trends will actually happen, do you? Those trends ignore Peak Oil, Coal and Gas, and they ignore the inevitable economic/industrial implosion due to the onset of Peak Oil decline.

Why are you still posting articles which are based on a prediction that the future will be like the past, when you know it won’t be?

8 12 2013

What about the methane Dave……… we may even be past the tipping point the way the Arctic’s melting…

9 12 2013

Actually Dave, looking back through the comments here, I am seriously worried that when people can no longer access fossil fuels……. they will simply cut the remaining forests down.

8 12 2013

The IPCC forecasts of fossil fuels emissions are wrong, that’s the first thing to accept. The mechanism of Arctic melting is fairly well established, but forecasting the rate is not really possible based on current knowledge. The best guess is what is already factored in.

Of course if all you want to do is frighten people with what MIGHT happen, then by all means make it up, but Peak Oil is going to get us first anyway.

9 12 2013

Oh but it is NOT factored in……. otherwise, why would the ice completely disappear SEVENTY YEARS ahead of iPCC’s forecasts?

Have you watched https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/arctic-death-spiral-and-the-methane-time-bomb/ yet..?

9 12 2013

But it IS factored in – as well as can be. It was factored in in AR4 (2007), and it is factored in in AR5 (2014, in preparation). Of course knowledge has advanced in the interim, so the predicted date of an ice-free summer has changed,. The Arctic ice has not disappeared. 2012 was the record minimum at 3.41 million square kilometers, and in 2013 the minimum was 5.10 million square kilometers, which is within the “normal variability” of the measurement.

What is the basic for your assertion of a 70 year difference in forecasts? Whose forecast (and when) as against IPCC’s forecast, and when ? Are those forecasts based on continuing to burn fossil fuels at a rate which won’t happen because of Peak Oil?

This will require you actually do some research to back up your argument, instead of making erroneous claims and linking to a 71 minute video.

9 12 2013

“Of course knowledge has advanced in the interim”

You mean…… like the staggering melting?!

“Whose forecast (and when) as against IPCC’s forecast”

YOU haven’t watched the film have you Dave……??

IN FACT, the IPCC forecast total Arctic loss between 2077 and 2100 WITH fossil fuels as usual…..

BTW, here we are, eight years past Peak Oil, and emissions are STILL going up exponentially……

The video has credible climate scientists speaking in it. The IPCC is way too conservative.

9 12 2013

Here is a chart I have produced of Arctic sea-ice minimum since 1999:

Note that there are only 14 data points.
Note the trend-line is a linear one, but there is no reason to think that the change IS linear, and methane positive feedback would make it non-linear (but no one knows how non-linear).
Note the goodness of fit is only 0.67, which makes projecting forward very risky.
Note the linear trend predicts ice-free in 2040.

9 12 2013

Well……… don’t know where you get your data, but THIS is what I’m going from…


9 12 2013

No, I haven’t watched the video past the intro – it didn’t say at the beginning who made it. I could give you 1,000 URLs and complain that you haven’t watched all them, so you are not qualified to talk. This is arguing by overwhelming with “evidence”. Just answer the question “Whose forecast (and when) as against IPCC’s forecast, AND WHEN”. There is no point in saying the IPCC was wrong in 2007 when there is AR5 in prep.

Then google “arctic ice-free forecast” and you will see forecasts by “respectable scientists” that said in 2012 we could be ice-free in 2013. Great for making headlines, but not correct, and was never likely to be correct.

Any forecast out as far as 2040 will be strongly influenced by Peak Fossils. Even 2020 will be. The emissions from Crude Oil has definitely been going down, because Crude Oil production has been going down. This has so far been hidden by the trick of combining Crude and Condensate in all the statistics, as if they were the same thing, which they are not.

We’ve been through this many times, yet you still want to worry about climate change.

9 12 2013

Did you read the death spiral article by Mark Cochrane, a climate scientist I met on CMdotcom? We’re not talking 40 years ahead. We’re talking ice free arctic within FIVE YEARS!

You have to remember that when the ice AREA shrinks to 25%, and the thickness to 50%, then the total ice volume has actually shrunk to 12.5% of the original.

Last year, the ice N of Alaska was so thin, it was broken up by a ‘cyclone’

“NSIDC Director Mark Serreze said, “It looks like the spring ice cover is so thin now that large areas melt out in summer, even without persistent extreme weather patterns.” A storm that tracked through the Arctic in August helped break up the weakened ice pack.” http://climate.nasa.gov/news/789

9 12 2013

It says on my chart where the data comes from – http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldOfChange/sea_ice.php
Note that is area data.

I have read the Cochrane article. The chart is deceptive as a polar diagram – it visually makes the centre (lower figures) look smaller than the large figures – a standard trick if you want to accentuate the smallness. What’s wrong with doing it in a normal chart? Note that this is volume data.

The melting rate is influenced by ice area and by ice volume (in different ways). To untangle that you need to work out trends for both. Each will have its own goodness of fit to its trend. Lack of a good fit means that rather than being able to forecast a single year when “something happens” (e.g. ice-free), you have to give a range for which you can expect to be right 90% of the time (P90). Then you have to combine the two trends, and that MULTIPLIES the uncertainty, so the P90 range gets much wider.

I expect that if you do that the answer will be “it will be ice-free in 3 – 40 years (P90) “, which doesn’t say much at all.

9 12 2013

Note that this is volume data.

Note that this is the IMPORTANT data…….. One the volume’s gone….. so is the area!!

Also,the thinner he ice, the more prone it is to disintegrate due to wave and wind action.

9 12 2013

Here’s a highly technical presentation of how the weather patterns in the Nth Hemisphere are being trashed by the ice melting…

Jennifer Francis, Rutgers University (http://marine.rutgers.edu/~francis/)

25 January 2012.

The “Arctic Paradox” was coined during recent winters when speculations arose that the dramatic changes in the Arctic may be linked to severe snowstorms and cold temperatures in mid-latitudes, particularly along the U.S. east coast and in Europe. Recent studies have illuminated these linkages. Evidence is presented for a physical mechanism connecting Arctic Amplification — the enhanced warming in high northern latitudes relative to the northern hemisphere — with the frequency and intensity of several types of extreme weather events in mid-latitudes, such as droughts, floods, heat waves, and cold spells.

Also check out Dr. Francis’ full presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtRvc

and the related paper: http://marine.rutgers.edu/~francis/pr

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