Keeping global warming to 1.5C, not 2C, will make a crucial difference to Australia, report says

27 08 2016

James Whitmore, The Conversation and Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

Australia could avoid punishingly long heatwaves and boost the Great Barrier Reef’s chances of survival by helping to limit global warming to 1.5℃ rather than 2℃, according to a report released by the Climate Institute today.

Australia, along with 179 other countries, has formally signed the Paris climate agreement. The deal, which has not yet come into force, commits nations to limit Earth’s warming to “well below 2℃” and to aim for 1.5℃ beyond pre-industrial temperatures.

The new research, compiled by the international agency Climate Analytics, suggests that limiting global warming to 1.5℃ rather than letting it reach 2℃ could make a significant difference to the severity of extreme weather events in Australia. Heatwaves in southern Australia would be an average of five days shorter, and the hottest days a degree cooler. In the north, hot spells would be 20-30 days shorter than the 60-day heatwaves potentially in store if warming hits 2℃.

Under 2℃ warming, the world’s coral reefs would have a “very limited chance” of survival, whereas limiting warming to 1.5℃ would allow “some chance for a fraction of the world’s coral reefs to survive”, the report says.

Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, a climate researcher at UNSW Australia, said that while the 0.5℃ difference between the two targets might not sound like a lot, it would lead to “clearly noticeable” differences in regional climates, including Australia’s.

“This is particularly true for extreme events, where just a small change in average temperature corresponds to larger changes in events like temperature extremes, especially in their frequency and duration,” she said.

Protesters at December’s Paris climate summit make their feelings clear about the 1.5-degree goal.
Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

University of Melbourne researcher Andrew King, who studies climate extremes, said the report “paints a grim picture for the future”, given that Australia is already experiencing climate-driven events such as this year’s unprecedented bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

“There are many benefits if warming could be limited to 1.5℃, with less frequent and intense extreme weather. On the other hand, we are entering the unknown if we allow warming to surpass 2℃, as tipping points in the Earth’s climate system make accurate predictions difficult to make,” Dr King said.

The report predicts that half of the world’s identified tipping points – such as the collapse of polar ice sheets and the drying out of the Amazon rainforest – would be crossed under 2℃ warming, compared with 20% of them at 1.5℃.

Tall order

The problem is that keeping warming to 1.5℃ is now a very onerous, if not impossible, task. It would require the world to peak its emissions by the end of this decade, with a future “carbon budget” of just 250 billion tonnes of CO₂. To put that in context, global carbon emissions in 2014 were 36 billion tonnes.

Given the low probability of reducing emissions at the speed required, the report argues that untested “negative emissions” technologies (removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere) will be needed after 2030.

However, Kate Dooley, a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, questioned the report’s suggested reliance on negative emissions.

“Assuming carbon can be removed from the atmosphere on a large scale later in the century is a bad strategy for climate mitigation. Relying on negative emissions to “undo” earlier emissions may lock us into higher levels of warming if the expected technologies do not materialise or pose unacceptable social and ecological risk,” she said.

Stronger targets

In a separate report, the Climate Institute recommends that Australia adopt greenhouse gas targets of 45% below 2005 levels by 2025, and 65% by 2030, if it is to do its fair share in achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals.

The institute also recommended that Australia phase out coal-fired electricity generation by 2025, increase renewable generation to 50% by 2030, and double energy productivity by 2030.

It argues for a carbon price, and urges politicians to factor the costs and benefits of climate change and climate action formally into all policy decisions.

Australia’s current climate target under the Paris Agreement is 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has proposed a 45% target, and the Greens zero or negative emissions within a generation.

Australia will review its climate policies in 2017, ahead of the first global stocktake of nations’ Paris Agreement targets in 2018.

Dooley said that ultimately “we have left climate action so late that some level of carbon removals will be required due to historical emissions already in the atmosphere. Assuming negative emissions will only be available at very low levels will force us to re-examine what is possible in terms of dramatic emission reductions.”

Dr King said the results “highlight the pressing need to take immediate and drastic action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions”. In a recent Conversation article, he and his colleague Ben Henley explained that the world is already closing in fast on the 1.5℃ warming target.

“We know that we will go past 1.5℃ in the near future and we would need large-scale negative emissions schemes to bring the world back down to 1.5℃ warming. Such big schemes are prohibitively expensive and impractical with current technologies, so it would be better to act now rather than later,” he said.

Dr Perkins-Kirkpatrick added that “we need to work as a global community to reduce our emissions as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that regional changes and their impacts are minimised.”

The Conversation

James Whitmore, Editor, Environment & Energy, The Conversation and Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Mud, glorious mud…………

26 08 2016

Three months ago, just as the wettest quarter in Tasmania’s history started, an excavator arrived on our block to dig the house pad. It promptly broke down, three times, and was eventually removed for repairs. Then I was tasked with going to Queensland for a month, eventually driving back in a rusty old 4WD ute I decided I needed to get around to do the work on the farm when it pours and the whole place turns into a quagmire. When I finally arrived back, I was sick as a dog, and thus another six weeks just vanished from the Tasmania Project…… I am very pleased to say, that task is now finished….. and what a monster task it turned out to be, bigger than Ben Hur.


Mountains of dirt….

Everyone I know in Tasmania is complaining about how waterlogged the place has become. At least, I am assured, I now know this is not normal, though as the climate goes pear shaped, who can predict what the new normal will be in the future. Needless to say, all this damp did not make the excavating any easier….. it did, however, show me what the worst case scenario looks like, and how best to design the drainage to ensure we stay nice and dry no matter what. I am now very tempted to double up on the engineer’s drainage, what’s another $400 at this stage?

As we dug our way into the unknown, speaking of drainage, we discovered five metres of 300mm concrete pipe smack bang in the middle of the house site. I knew I had selected a challenging place to build our house, after all, right above it were two natural gullies falling towards the dam, and I basically want to block those off with a dam of my own, made of concrete, and also known as a retaining wall. Two drainage pipes designed to capture excess rainwater from the original apple orchard that existed there some 12 to 15 years ago fed runoff into these pipes, and yes, they were working very well!


Road drainage

I then decided that while I had the excavator here, I may as well attack the drainage problem there and then rather than bring the machine back later… The access road was designed as an all weather affair years ago, but since the apple trees were removed, cattle had used the road and that section of the house apron closer to the trees I cut down as shelter from the Summer sun. As a consequence, their droppings over the years had accumulated over quite some area, turning into the slipperiest black soil know to mankind. There were times my 2WD utes simply would not go beyond this patch, and in any case, beautiful rich soil like that was wasted on a road, it belonged on the paddock I will eventually turn into my market garden. So it was all scraped off (all three tonnes of it) and loaded on the new 4WD ute and moved 50 metres uphill, joining all the topsoil Trev was scraping off all over the site for later use to re-cover all the clay moved uphill….. Underneath the black soil, we did indeed find road base. However, so much water was coming down the hill, affecting the road, it was decided to put a proper drain beside the road to ensure it remains dry in all weather.

This worked immediately, and if the rest of this project works out as successfully, I will be more than delighted! The drain goes as far uphill as where the Eastern water tank will reside and also drains part of the house pad. The concrete pipes found in the cut were relocated to this drain and used as a culvert where cars (and likely trucks) will be driven further up past the house.


Attacking the stumps


It’s interesting how things I hadn’t considered in the search for level ground popped up…… like it never occurred to me that some of the tree stumps would be higher than the apron. So about eight of them had to be removed, with a claw that looked like it belonged from a Tyrannosaurus Rex!

As the task at hand was growing and growing, I was half expecting Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs fame to walk up the drive to ask me how my budget was going, and did I still believe I’d be in by Christmas!

Eventually, the two gullies above the house were filled with clay and subsoil, also getting


Powerline being buried


rid of those pesky windrows left over from the days this place was part of a gigantic orchard… and the powerline from the power station is now buried too, after months and months of laying above ground in the weather.

One of the unintended consequences of all this work is that the whole area is now covered with twice as much topsoil as we started with…… and as even Trev himself said as he was digging, it looks good enough to grow babies in!

Now that I have a good quarter acre of bare topsoil, I must decide what to quickly plant in it (preferably a green manure crop) before the spring weeds take over.

To say I am delighted with the end product would be an understatement. Yes the budget took a hit, but it was worth it. And as Geoff Lawton always says, earthworks are the best way to spend fossil fuels…. Hopefully it will all dry out soon enough, and planning for the concrete foundations will be the next big task.


Viewed from across the valley


Peace and quiet back……. listen to the frogs!!

Fossil fuels in deep trouble…..

19 08 2016

Recently, a handful of Germany’s top scientists argued that “controlled implosion of fossil industries and explosive renewables development” might be able to deliver on the targets in the Paris agreement on climate change.

Even if we accept this notion at face value, and ignoring that many other factors might also be in play, the recent course of events does not offer much hope that “controlled” is the correct word to apply to the predicaments currently battering the energy sector. And while the renewable energy sector might be continuing to make progress, it is clearly not “exploding” as fast as some might wish……. Could it be, by any chance, that the ongoing collapse of the fossil fuel industries will happen at a much faster pace than the wishful explosive transition to ‘solutions’?

Let’s start with coal. The future for this bankruptcy-riddled industry dramatically worsened in July 2016. It increasingly looks as though the Chinese government’s recent retreat from coal is biting hard, and that Chinese coal peak coal production occurred in 2014. Prof Nick Stern, among others, including Chinese collaborators, argued that we are witnessing “a turning point in the climate change battle”. The latest Chinese announcement is a ban on the development of coal projects, until 2018. The staggering air pollution driving this change is proving difficult to beat… and the same is true of India.  NASA data showed toxic air choking huge areas of the Indian subcontinent, most of which the obvious result of fossil fuel combustion. In the face of all this, even Deutsche Bank has stopped financing the coal mining sector.

Investment continues to wane from fossil fuels as a result of divestment campaigns. Swedish pension fund AP4 made the biggest divestment move of any institution to date. The $35billion scheme will decarbonise its $14.7billion global equity portfolio by 2020, switching to passive investment tracking low carbon benchmarks.

Furthermore, the oil and gas industry’s hopes for a return to high oil prices have yet to occur, and as a result its already teetering state is deteriorating. A study of 365 oil and gas megaprojects by Ernst and Young shows 64% with cost overruns, and 73% behind schedule. This dismal record is combining with low oil prices to create a mortal squeeze on profitability.

US drillers have hit an all time high with junk bond defaults: $28.8 billion so far this year, according to Fitch Ratings. With $500 billion+ outstanding,  more bankruptcies can be expected. Some of these companies are even trying to buy time by paying debt interest with more debt. Desperate times require desperate actions I guess…….

Global oil breakeven costs have fallen by $19 to a current average of $51 since the oil price began falling in 2014. Trouble is, the oil price is still hovering around $40 and most of the industry’s targets are totally uneconomic.

“Oil giants find there’s nowhere to hide from doomsday market”, read a Bloomberg headline. “The industry cannot survive on current oil prices,” veteran analyst Fadel Gheit declared. The bankruptcy count so far this year stands at more than 80 companies.

So will the oil price rise, and offer some relief…? Not according to analysts. Morgan Stanley expects oil to fall to $35. (The price is around $40 as I write). The main concern is excessive production of petrol/gasoline by refineries (= less crude imported). As always, some of course disagree. Core Laboratories point to the net worldwide annual crude oil production decline rate of ~3.3%, and expect US production to continue dropping, which they hope will bring tighter supply, and rising prices.

Even if the oil price does indeed rise again, problems are not going away…… The industry faces a huge shortage of workers. 350,000 have apparently been laid off since the oil price began falling in 2014. 60% of the fracking workforce has been laid off, 70% of fracking equipment has been idled. It will be nigh impossible to turn the taps back on, as even some of the industry’s own bosses now point out. And if the price rises back above $90, the global economy will tank……

Glutton for punishment

9 08 2016

Having bogged both my utes on several occasions in the Tasmanian winter quagmires, made worse by the wettest winter quarter on record, I had been thinking of replacing the two wheel drives with a four wheel drive for a while. Four wheel drive one tonne utes are a bit on the scarce side.  Most 4×4 utes tend to be four door versions with a smaller tray that is of not much use if wanting to carry 2.4m long building materials.  I looked at one in Hobart that was an extended cab (still two doors, but with folding seats in the back for very occasional passengers shaped like sardines…. its tray was a foot shorter, and it was a dog to boot…… no way was I going to buy a vehicle needing over a thousand dollars spent on it with the possibility that the whining transmission may be on the way out, needing expensive replacement in the future.  Low oil levels on the dipstick and invisible coolant in the radiator sealed it for me.  And the asking price was just ridiculous.

Then both my favorite neighbour and my old mate Dean in Cooran seeded the idea that while in Queensland on mother in law sitting duties and marital visitation, I might be able to find a suitable vehicle and drive it back….. it’s not like I hadn’t done it before!

I wasn’t really taking the idea too seriously; after all, the thought of driving a four wheel drive 2,500km to Tasmania didn’t exactly fill me with glee; all the same, I started visiting Gumtree, ‘just in case’.  The rest as they say…………..


Ute III having its preflight checks

In retrospect, buying a 26 year old 4×4 in Queensland where the favorite pastime is driving on beaches through salt water was not perhaps my best idea.  But there it was, generally sound and driving rather better than I had expected.  The asking price was $2700, and I got it for $2000.  Sounds like a bargain, but only time will tell…. and did I mention the rust was free…?

The vehicle wasn’t short of things needing fixing mind you….. it was an educated guess. The leaking radiator had to go, as did the monster truck sand tyres that would keep the dead awake at highway speed. It also needed a new brake master cylinder (I find good brakes reassuring…!) and other odds and ends, not least a full service on the engine, gearbox, and both diffs.  The driver side seatbelt was so frayed, there was no way I would drive all that way hoping it might not break in the event of a serious collision.  $2700 later……… and the rust was still not fixed. Andrew who checked the car out told me the rust would need fixing, but it wasn’t structural, and he would happily give it a roadworthiness certificate.

Confident the car would be fine, I took off from the Sunshine Coast Monday night, only going as far as my sister’s place in Brisbane.  Unlike last time I did this, leaving Glenda behind was rather more heart wrenching… the last trip seemed far more exciting and adventurous, there was so much to do, and I was, after all, moving to Tassie.  This time, however, the reality of another separation was impossible to ignore, and there were a few tears….

I was also coming down with a horrible virus that made my throat feel like I was swallowing razor blades with every gulp, and it got worse and worse the further south I drove.

I filled up before Leaving Brisbane, and the car returned 13L/100km, due to only half a tank of 98, the monster tyres I drove up the coast with, and the god awful ugly ladder racks I removed before leaving. When I filled up again in Coffs Harbour, the numbers had dwindled to 10.8L/100km, and again in Newcastle, it was 10.6L/100km…. quite remarkable really, barely 10% more than the two wheel drives.

In Newcastle, my darling daughter introduced me to Lemsip which is like a lemon tea filled with drugs that was the only remedy I found that had any impact on my debilitating throat….

All in all, the car just purred along, and as Andrew the mechanic had told me, filling the gearbox with synthetic gear oil did fix the slow crunchy gear changes. All the way down the Hume the car faced a very strong headwind that even managed to blow off the trim at the bottom of the door glass that stops rain getting into the door….. it’s what happens with old cars, rubbers just perish. And the wind increased my consumption to 12L/100km. I made it to Victoria that night, discovering that during the day one of my low beams had blown; I stayed in a caravan park near Bonegilla for a well earned rest and somewhere to attempt to sleep off this virus…..


It was almost exactly 53 years to the day since our family arrived from Europe to the migrant camp called Bonegilla. I had wanted to visit on the way through during both of the last trips, but time constraints didn’t allow it. As this was my last chance, I made the time.

20160728_105702Built during the war (and I mean WWII), what is left of the camp is sure showing its age… and yet, I’m certain that all the refugees who escaped the ruins of post war Europe would have thought the whole place was palatial. How we even slept on those beds beggars belief. My parents of course had no plan to stay very long, and we were only there for about a month. I still remember going to the pictures to see old black and white movies, after standing for God save the Queen……. which to us was a totally weird concept!

It’s now been turned into a museum of sorts, and without the throngs of multilingual 20160728_110702immigrants, it felt like a sad old place. How all our combined lifestyles have changed in 50 years…

The lady at the reception got onto the computer, and I have arranged to have my ID card (which were never given out to their owners at the time) extracted from the Canberra archives, and hopefully sent to me for a reasonable fee.

A couple of hours there was quite enough, especially as the dreaded lurgy I left Queensland with was starting to really take hold of my system…. how I managed to drive all that way, on my own, and feeling sick, still puzzles me.  there’s nothing like determination I suppose…. and drugs!  That night I arrived in Melbourne where I stayed with Ernest, the owner of Solazone for whom I worked way back in 2010. It was good to catch up.

I spent the following day in Melbourne stocking up on more drugs, buying a new headlight for the ute, and found the bargain centre in Kilsyth where I bought the bidets, basins, and taps last year, this time walking away with a brand new stylish $50 kitchen sink and handfuls of useful hardware… That night I was on the ferry for my fifth (and definitely last!) crossing of Bass Strait. There are jokes in the family about the ‘next ute’, but you better believe it, this is not ever going to happen.


First day in Tassie, snow on the Western Tiers

When I disembarked in Devonport the next morning, it was absolutely freezing, so much so, the engine refused to warm up. I’d suspected the new thermostat Andrew had put in the ute wasn’t working properly, but this was beyond the pale, as I couldn’t even get much heat out of the heater. All the way to Geoff’s place in Chudleigh, there was frost everywhere. After a warming coffee, Geoff gave me a piece of cardboard to wedge in front of the radiator, and the temperature behaved itself all the way to Geeveston.


Yes, that is the exhaust pipe you can see through the floor….

I sent the plates back to the original owner, and now uteIII is deregistsred. I took it for a safety certificate, but it failed miserably…. unless I get the rust fixed, they won’t pass it. It also turns out the fuel lines near the fuel tank are leaking, explaining why the consumption got worse as I drove further and further south. I think. Time will tell. I’m not bothered, the main thing is that I can drive anywhere on the farm without getting bogged, and I’ll fix the car when I feel like it.