Monday, August 31, 2009

Polluters win no matter who is in power

Kenneth Davidson

Labor's policies to tackle climate change pander to big business.

POLITICS is far too often about the sizzle rather than the sausage. The latest example is the claim made by coal and de facto climate change minister Martin Ferguson that before Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull joined the Liberal Party he hawked himself around the powerbrokers in the ALP for a winnable seat.

The objective of Ferguson's tittle-tattle was to show that Turnbull was a political opportunist who would do whatever it takes to get into Parliament.

Hello? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Ferguson was bumped into Parliament by his fellow factional oligarchs. Turnbull won his seat in a genuine preselection battle - a process that died out in the ALP at least two decades earlier.

The ALP as a democratic institution with real rank-and-file policy input through state and federal conference has atrophied to the point where Coalition party members have more say over who represents them in Parliament than those from the ALP.

In government, Rudd Labor has shifted the loci of power from caucus and even full cabinet. It mimics the top-down structure of the Howard government, where policy is developed between key ministers and industry lobbyists representing mining, private heath insurance, religious and independent schools and employer groups. It is not surprising its policies on climate change, education and health are a continuation of the Howard government's policies.

Apologists for Rudd Labor argue that the adoption of the previous government's policies is the price Labor must pay to retain office. The reasons may be more profoundly related to the party structure, which has allowed the professionals - whose interests are primarily gaining and holding power - to divorce themselves from members who see the party as a vehicle to implement progressive policies.

In policy terms, Labor parliamentarians may have more in common with their Liberal opponents, something they disguise by increasingly vitriolic personal attacks or, in Labor's case, by symbolic gestures such as saying sorry to Aborigines or signing Kyoto. It is clear that the Rudd Government is not prepared to undertake reforms to reverse the Howard government's policies, which created two-tier health and education systems where access is largely determined by income and reinforced by fiscal policy.

This Liberal/Labor policy bipartisanship is most clearly on display in measures to deal with global warming. Both sides support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). The political rhetoric serves to disguise the fact that it isn't any such thing. Cap-and-trade schemes ostensibly designed to reduce emissions haven't worked anywhere else in the world and the Australian scheme won't work here.

The National Party is right. It is a disguised carbon tax that will affect the price of everything - although nowhere near as much as senators Joyce and Boswell and an army of lobbyists are claiming in order to maximise offsets and minimise the tax's cost to their constituents.

The CPRS is structured so that most of the revenue it raises will be recycled back to Australia's largest polluters rather than used to finance the massive increase in investment in renewable energy needed if Australia is to cut its emissions and maintain its living standards. Worse, even as the cap on emissions is lowered, the big polluters will be able to meet their lower targets by buying dodgy emission permits offsets from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia so that, according to Treasury forecasts, actual emissions by Australia's biggest polluters will be above 1990 levels until after 2035.

In other words, the CPRS, like similar schemes in Europe, is designed to slow down the structural change necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. Simultaneously, it will create a new field of innovation for the financial industry, which led to the global economic crisis.

According to David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red, ''the debate in Australia (and elsewhere) is deeply delusional and getting worse. As the evidence becomes overwhelming that we are heading for a climate apocalypse if we go on as we are for even another five years, the level of cognitive dissonance increases in proportion.''

Last week the Coalition joined the Government to pass the Renewable Energy Target (RET), which will increase the proportion of electricity being generated from renewable energy from 10 to 20 per cent, but only after the number of energy-intensive industries eligible for exemption from the flow-through into higher electricity prices was increased from three to 40.

The Greens, who are the only political party serious about climate change, have been effectively shut out of negotiations to improve these climate change measures.

The political correspondent of Crikey, commenting on the passage of the RET last week, said the capacity of the Australian Parliament to bastardise good policy and turn it into a feeding trough for rent seekers and other parasites is remarkable. This is the real story: how Australia's two major political parties have become as one in the service of Australia's major polluters.

Kenneth Davidson is a contributor. His column will appear every Monday.

Manure major source of greenhouse gas

By Nicky Phillips

ABC News Online, Mon Aug 31, 2009

The research, published in today's edition ofNature Geoscience, adds to the growing debate over how best to estimate the increase in human-induced nitrous oxide (N2O) levels since the industrial revolution.
A new study has found manure is the major driver behind a rise in atmospheric nitrous oxide levels since the beginning of last century.
Soil scientist and study author Dr Eric Davidson, of the Woods Hole Research Centrein Massachusetts, says the findings have important implications for N2O mitigation strategies.
N2O, a potent greenhouse gas, is produced both naturally and by human activities such as primarily agriculture.
Davidson says past studies have focused mainly on the contribution nitrogen fertilisers made to increasing N2O levels.
"[Fertilisers] are extremely important, but that's only part of the story," says Davidson.
He says nitrous oxide levels started increasing in the late 19th century "long before we started using nitrogen fertilisers in the 1960's."

'Double whamy'

Davidson realised there was another source not being accounted for.
Using historical records of fertiliser and manure production, Davidson was able to account for nitrous oxide levels in the atmosphere from 1860 to 2005.
"Manure production was, and presumably still is today, an important source of [N2O]," he says.
Davidson says as meat consumption continues to increase this will become a growing problem.
"The more we choose a carnivorous diet, as more and more people around the world are, there will be more demand to divert food crops to animal feed."
Davidson says the combination of increased fertiliser use for animal feed and the increase in manure is a "double whamy" for N2O levels.
"More attention should be paid on how to dispose of manure from livestock operations," he says.

Ozone effected

Davidson's study comes just days after scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report into nitrous oxide and its effect on the environment.
They found nitrous oxide has become the main human-produced substance damaging the planet's protective ozone layer and is likely to remain so throughout the century.
"Nitrous oxide emission currently is the single most important ozone-depleting substance emission and is expected to remain the largest throughout the 21st century," the scientists wrote in the journal Science.
Scientists have called for tighter limits on N2O emissions, as it would be a "win-win for both ozone and climate."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Annual cost of climate change 'will be £190bn'

UN has underestimated financial burden of global warming, study finds

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

The Independent, Friday, 28 August 2009

The true global cost of adapting to climate change is likely to be many times greater than official United Nations' estimates: in 2030 alone, the world could be spending more than three times the annual budget of the NHS, a study has found.

A team of British experts has discovered that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has seriously underestimated the expected annual cost of dealing with climate impacts. It suggests that the true cost could be at least two or three-fold greater, and possibly much more if other hidden factors are taken into account.

Estimates of how much the world will have to spend annually on adapting to some of the worst impacts of climate change have varied widely, but the UNFCCC has suggested that typically it could be about $70bn or $100bn (£44bn and £63bn) by 2030, the cost of about three Beijing Olympics. But other scientists have now suggested that the true annual cost could easily reach $300bn or more.

"Just looking in depth at the sectors the UNFCCC did study, we estimate adaptation costs to be two to three times higher, and when you include sectors the UNFCCC left out, the true cost is probably much greater," said Professor Martin Parry, the lead author of the report, Assessing the Cost of Adaptation to Climate Change. "The amount of money on the table at Copenhagen is one of the key factors that will determine whether we achieve a climate-change agreement. But previous estimates of adaptation costs have substantially misjudged the scale of funds needed," added the professor, a visiting fellow at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

Adaptations to climate change include the additional spending needed to improve measures such as building new flood defences and transporting water for agriculture, treating an increase in the range and severity of diseases, and replacing buildings and other infrastructure affected by rising temperatures or water levels.
The UNFCCC had commissioned a series of studies to address the estimated costs of several adaptation measures but it was under pressure to produce results in a short time period and the studies were not fully reviewed by outside experts, Professor Parry said.
"Many of the previous estimates, it would be fair to say, were based on back-of-the-envelope calculations. In fact, one person said they were written on the back of a metro ticket. We think these numbers are underestimates... they don't stack up," Professor Parry said.
The authors of the report said that the costs of adapting to climate change begin to soar aftere other sectors of the economy not dealt with by the UNFCCC are taken into consideration. They includes tourism, energy and manufacturing. The sectors the UNFCCC did deal with were treated in only a partial manner, the report says.
One of the biggest underestimates is the additional cost of building new homes, offices, roads and other infrastructure affected by climate change. This cost alone could be many times higher than previous estimates.

TckTckTck: It's not too late to build a safer world

An unprecedented alliance of organisations have come together under the TckTckTck campaign for a good deal in Copenhagen

This December – just 100 days from now – the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen will begin. There's a lot of expectation around this meeting because world leaders have committed to agreeing a historic treaty to tackle the biggest crisis facing humanity.

The meeting is expected to draft and ratify a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which will expire in 2012. Simply put, the outcome of these talks will determine the future of our planet.

We are already experiencing climate change. Floods, droughts, hurricanes, sea-level rise, and seasonal unpredictability – hallmarks of climate change – are affecting people's rights to life, security, food, water, health, shelter and culture in all corners of the world today. Already – with an average temperature rise of less than 1C – climate change kills more than 300,000 people each year.

With this in mind, the clear reason for the expectation around Copenhagen is that if the right deal is struck, we can halt the worst of climate change before everybody is affected. Plus, we can fight the downturn by creating green jobs and building access to renewable energy for all. We can improve the world we live in, instead of consigning millions to homelessness and poverty – or worse.

Because of the potential of this deal, an unprecedented alliance of organisations – including faith and youth groups, unions, environmental and development NGOs, such as WWF, Oxfam International, Consumers International and Kofi Annan's Global Humanitarian Forum, plus a number of high-profile supporters– have come together under the TckTckTck campaign. We believe that only by working together in a broad alliance will we have the size, power and influence to ensure a good deal in Copenhagen.

Now is the time for world leaders to give this crisis their attention. They must commit now to attending the talks in Copenhagen where they must sign a deal that is fair, ambitious and binding and that reflects the latest science. Governments must get behind a treaty that reduces developed country emissions by at least 40% by 2020.

Tackling climate change is an issue of justice. Rich countries have been responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions and therefore must take responsibility for dealing with crisis in a fair and equitable way. The deal must therefore enable and support poor countries to adapt to the worst consequences of the climate crisis, as well as reducing their emissions. The deal must protect marginalised communities in rich and poor countries.

The Copenhagen deal should be ambitious and ensure that global greenhouse emissions peak no later than 2017. It must create a pathway to clean jobs and clean energy for all and establish necessary conditions for a sustainable and prosperous future for people, flora and fauna. It must be binding and must be able to be verified and enforced.

With just 100 days to go until the meeting begins, and with climate scientists painting a bleaker future at even 2C of warming, time is running out.

But it is not yet too late. There is still time to build a greener safer world, but the clock is ticking.

• Kumi Naidoo chairs TckTckTck and is honorary president of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

Latrobe Valley forum focuses on climate change

ABC News Online, Fri Aug 28, 2009

The Victorian Climate Change Minister, Gavin Jennings, is addressing the latest in a series of regional forums on global warming at Kernot Hall in the Latrobe Valley today.

The valley's electricity and coal industries will be among the hardest hit by the effects of climate change and an emissions trading scheme.

Mr Jennings says as well as the downside effects, climate change will present opportunities for Gippsland.

He says the Government is exploring the possibilities of solar, wind, geothermal, tidal and other forms of renewable energy.

"Within all of that diversity of our energy sources, there are a lot of job opportunities, so a lot of people immediately jump to say that when change happens it adversely impacts on job opportunities," he said.

"But the Victorian Government wants to drive an agenda where there are a lot of jobs coming in this transformation."


Meanwhile, a prominent climate change campaigner says developing the Latrobe Valley's manufacturing sector will help the transition to an emissions trading scheme.

Matt Wright represents the climate change think tank Beyond Zero Emissions and was in Gippsland yesterday.

Mr Wright says state and federal governments are relying too heavily on the coal industry when looking at future power options.

He says he is confident renewables can provide enough power, while preserving and creating jobs in the valley.

"People in the Latrobe Valley want a future for their community and there's a perfect opportunity now with the renewable energy revolution ... to provide the manufacturing and components," he said.

"We've got a rail infrastructure here, so we can ship anything we manufacture out of the Valley, we've got the capacity to manufacture, there's the warehousing space and we can tool up and we can do that, but the point is we need to get it up and running now."

Sea rise 'will exceed forecast'

Sunday Age, August 29, 2009

CLIMATE change is likely to lead to sea level rises above the State Government's previous expectation of 80 centimetres by 2100, a new report says.

A Government report on Victoria's ports warns that sea level rises are ''tracking near the upper limit'' of projections and that ''higher changes are likely''.

''Extreme sea level events are likely to occur more frequently and with greater severity as weather patterns change with climate change,'' it says. It also says port infrastructure ''may need to be ready to withstand sea level rises and increased severity and frequency of storm surge events and rising levels''.

The report was one of a series released by Ports Minister Tim Pallas as part of planning for Melbourne ports, including plans to expand the Port of Hastings, for which the Government will begin investigating road and rail corridor options.


It's not drought, it's climate change, say scientists


Sunday Age, August 30, 2009

SCIENTISTS studying Victoria's crippling drought have, for the first time, proved the link between rising levels of greenhouse gases and the state's dramatic decline in rainfall.

A three-year collaboration between the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO has confirmed what many scientists long suspected: that the 13-year drought is not just a natural dry stretch but a shift related to climate change.

Scientists working on the $7 million South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative say the rain has dropped away because the subtropical ridge - a band of high pressure systems that sits over the country's south - has strengthened over the past 13 years.

These dry, high pressure systems have become stronger, bigger and more frequent and this intensification over the past century is closely linked to rising global temperatures, they found.

Climate data from across the past century shows the subtropical ridge has peaked and waned, often in line with rising global temperatures.

But to see what role greenhouse gases played in the recent intensification, the scientists used sophisticated American computer climate models.

When they ran simulations with only the ''natural'' influences on temperature, such as changing levels of solar activity, they found there was no intensification of the subtropical ridge and no decline in rainfall.

But when they added human influences, such as greenhouse gases, aerosols and ozone depletion, the models mimicked what has occurred in south-east Australia - the high pressure systems strengthened, causing a significant drop in rainfall.

''It's reasonable to say that a lot of the current drought of the last 12 to 13 years is due to ongoing global warming,'' said the bureau's Bertrand Timbal.

''In the minds of a lot of people, the rainfall we had in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was a benchmark. A lot of our [water and agriculture] planning was done during that time. But we are just not going to have that sort of good rain again as long as the system is warming up.''

But not all experts agree. Murray-Darling Basin Authority chief Rob Freeman told a water summit in Melbourne last week he believed the extreme climate patterns that have dried out south-east Australia would not prove to be permanent.

''Some commentators say this is the new future. I think that is an extreme position and probably a position that's not helpful to take,'' he said, expressing confidence that wetter times would return.

Dr Timbal believes 80 per cent of the rain loss in south-east Australia can be attributed to the intensification of the subtropical ridge. If the next phase of the study is approved, the scientists hope to work out exactly how rising temperatures result in a stronger subtropical ridge.

The research program, supported by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the federal Department of Climate Change and the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment, was set up in 2006 to solve the puzzle of why south-east Australia had experienced such a dramatic loss of rain.

The program covers the Murray-Darling Basin, Victoria and parts of South Australia.

Monash University's Neville Nicholls, a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who has also published on the subtropical ridge, said he believed the program's results were right.

''We did think that the loss of rain was simply due to the [rain-bearing] storms shifting south, off the continent,'' Professor Nicholls said.

''Now we know the reason they have slipped south is that the subtropical ridge has become more intense. It is getting bigger and stronger and that is pushing the rainstorms further south.''

The scientific results have implications for many state government water programs and drought funding, some of which factor in climate change. Projections for the water coming to Melbourne in the north-south pipeline are based on the assumption that Victoria will return to rainfall levels of last century.

Melbourne's dams get roughly a third less water than they did before the drought began in 1996.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rich countries must be prepared to make deeper cuts in emissions: Prescott

Former deputy prime minister launches climate change campaign and calls for equalisation of emissions per capita

Developed countries will have to take the lead in fighting climate change by carrying a greater share of the burden of reducing emissions, John Prescott will say today.

Securing a deal at Copenhagen later this year "will be 10 times more difficult than Kyoto", said Prescott, the Council of Europe's "rapporteur" on climate change, and a Kyoto protocol negotiator.

The former deputy prime minister will say at the launch in east London of a new climate change campaign called "New Earth Deal":

"Securing a deal at Copenhagen will be 10 times more difficult than Kyoto.

"We believe that any deal negotiated must consider the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

"That means that social justice and the reduction of poverty must be at the very heart of any agreement. It also means equalising greenhouse gas emissions per head in each country.

"The climate change we're experiencing across the world has been caused by the richer developed countries. They must now recognise the central principle that the polluter pays.

"But since climate change affects all nations whatever their size, wealth or population, a consensus is absolutely necessary for a binding and sustainable agreement.

"Failure is not an option at Copenhagen and that's why our Europe-wide campaign will be galvanising public opinion to lobby governments to make that deal."

The campaign will include a Road to Copenhagen Climate Change Conference to be held at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg in September.

It will be attended by politicians and environmentalists from more than 60 countries, and will be opened by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chair Rajendra Pachauri and feature a contribution from former US vice president Al Gore.

There will also be a social networking website where people can learn about the issues, follow the campaign on Twitter and Facebook, do their own climate change deal and have it automatically sent to their Council of Europe politician and the environment minister for their own countries.

The campaign will also feature a tour of schools and educational establishments where Prescott and other members of the Council of Europe assembly will deliver a presentation on climate change and listen to young people's concerns.

On Sunday, Prescott risked the wrath of green campaigners by warning a "plan B" may be necessary if agreement is not reached between the main parties. "A lot of people fear that if you moved away from those [2020 and 2050] targets you would get the NGOs screaming and shouting, 'you have sold out', but I had to ignore them to get the deal at Kyoto'," he said.

Pachauri's call for 350ppm is breakthrough moment for climate movement

UN's top climate scientist says he supports goal of keeping atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations below 350ppm. From Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Amazing news just arrived at headquarters.

Rajendra Pachauri is the U.N.'s top climate scientist. He leads the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which every five years produces the authoritative assessment of climate science. Its last report, in 2007, helped set the target of 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a target that many environmental groups and national governments have adopted as their goal for Copenhagen.

As many of you know, that number is out of date. When Jim Hansen and other scientists looked at phenomena like the Arctic ice melt of the last two summers, they produced new data demonstrating that 350 ppm is the bottom line. But it's been hard to get that news out to the powers that be. So today it comes as enormous and welcome news that Pachauri, from his New Delhi office, said that 350 was the number.

"As chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, I cannot take a position because we do not make recommendations," said Rajendra Pachauri when asked if he supported calls to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations below 350 ppm. "But as a human being I am fully supportive of that goal. What is happening, and what is likely to happen, convinces me that the world must be really ambitious and very determined at moving toward a 350 target," he told Agence France-Presse in an interview.

Many national governments (and even some environmental groups) have stuck to a 450 ppm target—it seems politically "realistic." But Pachauri has taken away that gray area, and laid down the real bottom line. Physics and chemistry say 350, and that's that.

Pachauri cited the decision of the small island nations and less developed countries to endorse the 350 target. "I think this is a good development," he said. "Now people—including some scientists—see the seriousness of the impacts of climate change, and the fact that things are going to get substantially worse than what we had anticipated."

This news makes it much easier for all of us to push hard leading up to the 24 Oct "Day of Action" and the December Copenhagen climate talks. It's clear now that science is powerfully on the side of 350. Now we need the political world to follow suit.

• Bill McKibben, a scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College, is the author of a dozen books, most recently The Bill McKibben Reader. He serves on Grist's board of directors and is cofounder of

Gas developers' plan to save world a load of hot air

Marian Wilkinson Environment Editor

Sydney Morning Herald, August 27, 2009

DURING the Vietnam War the apocryphal order, ''we have to burn the village to save it'', became shorthand for the flawed thinking of commanders.

The Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, might well contemplate this after yesterday giving his conditional approval to clear the way for the unique nature reserve on Barrow Island to become a massive processing hub for the Gorgon gas project. In Canberra, the justification for sacrificing Barrow, a refuge for animals rare or extinct elsewhere, is that the developers, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell, want to help save the planet.

The companies argue that 2.5 kilometres beneath Barrow Island is a geological formation where they can bury the greenhouse gas emissions that will be released during the extraction of the vast natural gas reserves.

The Gorgon reserves are far heavier in carbon dioxide than many so dealing with the huge greenhouse footprint was a stumbling block for the project. But politicians on both sides, state and federal, ''crawled over cut glass'', as WWF's Paul Gamblin puts it, to ensure the $50 billion development could go ahead.

Gorgon was cheered on by WA's politicians even though the state's Environmental Protection Authority emphatically opposed it. WWF and other environment groups pleaded for the processing hub to be moved to the mainland. But the Howard government and then federal Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, endorsed the original proposal.

When the developers pushed for a bigger processing hub on Barrow, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd hailed it as a godsend for the economy before Garrett could even bring down his assessment on the new proposal. Garrett's limited intervention yesterday was largely to call for better monitoring of the fragile wildlife on the island.

But there are doubts that the companies' climate-friendly plan to bury its greenhouse gases under Barrow will be successful. An expert panel found that some leakage of carbon dioxide is possible. And even if the plan meets expectations, it will still only reduce the project's overall emissions by 40 per cent. It's estimated 5.45 million tonnes of carbon pollution will still be released by the Gorgon project each year helping to make WA one of the most carbon intensive states in the world.

Abnormal weather a hot August blight

Sydney Morning Herald, August 27, 2009
The BoM Special Statement can be downloaded at -

IF YOU thought it has been unseasonably warm lately, you are correct - the Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed that this is almost certainly going to be the hottest August on record by a big margin.

Temperature records across NSW and Queensland were smashed by three degrees or more this week.

The winter heatwave is ''highly abnormal'', according to a special climate statement released by the bureau yesterday.

Hot, stagnant air in central Australia, which accumulated over the past few weeks because no southerly winds emerged to blow it away, is the cause of the record highs on the coast.

''We would normally see these surges of cooler air coming through to disperse it, but that has not been happening this year,'' said Dr Blair Trewin of the National Climate Centre. ''Then … a westerly was dragging the hot air to the coast.''

A new NSW August record of 36.3 degrees, set at Mungindi, near Moree, on Monday, was broken in the same town the next day, when the thermometer tipped 37.8 degrees.

Ben Cubby

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Africa demands compo for climate chaos

By Bronwyn Herbert for The World Today

ABC News Online, Tue Aug 25, 2009 

The African Union has drafted a provocative resolution to take to the international climate change talks in Copenhagen later this year, asking for compensation.

Africa contributes very little to the pollution blamed for global warming but its people are likely to be among the hardest hit by droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

African leaders have put a $67 billion price tag on the cost of climate change on their continent.

Leaders from 10 African nations have gathered in Ethiopia to work out a united position to take to the climate change talks.

Their resolution calls for a 40 per cent cut in emissions by rich nations by 2020 and for the developed world to pay $67 billion a year to counter the impacts of drought and rising sea levels.

Professor Frank Jotzo is the deputy director of the ANU climate change institute.

"It's really Africa that stands to lose most in terms of climate change impacts, but Africa has contributed so little to the problem," he said.

"Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, for instance, has about 12 per cent of the global population at the moment, but has contributed only around 2 per cent of the greenhouse gases from human activities that are currently in the atmosphere."

The African Union resolution comes from environment and agriculture ministers including the power-house nations of South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

Roland Schulze is an emeritus professor of hydrology at the University of Kwazulu in South Africa.

"We are expecting anything between one-and-a-half and three degrees temperature increase in the next 40 years and up to five and six degrees in the next 80 or so years," he said.

"At the same time the rainfall patterns are expected to change. These changes are likely to impact on the agricultural sector in a number of ways.

"On the one hand, African politicians are quite correct in saying that climate change is not an environmental issue that has been caused by the continent of Africa, but rather by the more developed nations.

"On the other hand, putting a price tag like $67 billion compensation to adaptation issues may also be a bit of politics."

A professor of population security at the University of Sydney, Peter Curson, says another fall-out of climate change is maintaining enough food and water.

"Currently probably one in three people in sub-Saharan Africa are what could be called chronically hungry - that's about 300 million," he said.

"And that's likely to increase dramatically with even a moderate change in climatic factors."

Professor Curson says it is a great irony that Africa is selling its agricultural land.

"Many Asian countries are in fact land-grabbing or buying up land in Africa simply to establish food production systems for their own countries," he said.

"This is one of the really interesting developments where countries that can't even produce enough food for themselves are selling up their best land to countries like China, India, South Korea and some of the gulf states to actually produce food for their own nations."

The draft resolution still needs to be approved by all ten African leaders before the Copenhagen talks in December.

$50b question: Gorgon carbon claims in doubt

Marian Wilkinson and Ben Cubby

Sydney Morning Herald, August 26, 2009

DOUBTS have emerged over whether the giant $50 billion Gorgon gas project can safely bury its greenhouse gas emissions deep beneath the Barrow Island nature reserve off Western Australia, despite the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, backing the plan.

Technical experts working with Gorgon's developers, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil, found it was possible that carbon dioxide could leak from faults in the geological formation under the island which is supposed to act as the burial site. Their findings were disclosed in the developers' response to complaints from the Conservation Council of WA, which argued the plan to bury the gases was highly risky.

The environmental review produced by the Gorgon partners notes a ''significant area of difference'' between it and the expert panel over the the risk of a leak.

But the partners said they accepted the panel's assessment that leakage was possible and would consider how to reduce this likelihood as part of their continuing technical assessment.

Mr Rudd and the WA Premier, Colin Barnett, cleared the way for the project last week by agreeing that taxpayers would accept any long-term liability arising from a failure of the experimental burial plan. Mr Rudd said the project would be ''the world's largest demonstration'' of technology to capture and bury greenhouse gases from an energy project.

But the Gorgon project has been opposed by environmentalists and the WA Environmental Protection Authority, who say Barrow Island is home to 24 species that exist nowhere else. Of particular concern is the flatback marine turtle, which breeds on the island.

The federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, is due to release his assessment this week on whether the companies' plans to protect the turtle and other migratory species are sufficient to allow the project to go ahead under federal law.

A WWF spokeswoman, Gilly Llewellyn, yesterday called on Mr Garrett and all involved to consider ''an alternative safer location'' for the huge project, which includes a liquefied natural gas processing site and port.

The expert panel considered that two fissures beneath Barrow Island, known as the Pluto and Godwit faults, were possible sites where stored gas could escape to the surface. The companies said they were looking at ways to reduce the risk of leakage.

In a statement to the Herald last night, a Gorgon spokeswoman said the rock under the island offered the ''greatest containment certainty'' of any site within reach of the gas fields. She said technical assessments indicated the formation would in effect trap the carbon dioxide, ''making leakage unlikely''.

The companies' plan to bury the huge carbon dioxide releases is one of the key reasons they proposed using Barrow Island for the development, despite environmental concerns.

The EPA said in its final report on the project that if the carbon burial plan proved technically impracticable and did not go ahead ''the decision to permit gas processing on Barrow Island nature reserve should be reconsidered''.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rudd's hostility forces nuclear group to bale out

Phillip Coorey

Sydney Morning Herald, August 25, 2009

SOME of Australia's biggest nuclear power advocates have given up the cause, believing Australia has ''missed the boat'' on embracing the energy source.

A month ago, three businessmen - Ron Walker, the chairman of Fairfax Media; Robert Champion de Crespigny and Hugh Morgan - applied to deregister their company, Australian Nuclear Energy, in recognition of the Government's hostility towards nuclear power.

As the debate about nuclear power refuses to die amid the broader argument of climate change, it is understood that even if the Government changed its mind today, it would be at least 14 years before a plant could be built.

This is because the demand for nuclear power has accelerated worldwide and there is a growing waiting list for the equipment to build a reactor.

The company was established in June 2006 with the aim of building the country's first nuclear power station should the go-ahead be given.

Days later, the then prime minister, John Howard, began pushing nuclear power in earnest by commissioning a review.

The Rudd Government vehemently opposes nuclear power and killed off the process - but the debate has resurfaced.

Last week the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, called for the adoption of nuclear power as part of a low-carbon energy future.

On the weekend, the Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce called for local councils to hold referendums to canvass levels of support for reactors in their jurisdictions. Residents who accepted a reactor could be given cheap power, he said.

The Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, said yesterday it was a worthy debate to have but pointless unless there was broad support. ''You will never have nuclear power in Australia until you have widespread community support and bipartisan political support and we are a very, very long way off having that,'' he said.

The Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, said Senator Joyce should explain where to bury all the radioactive waste.

Electric cars will power up the grid

Andrew Heasley

The Age, August 25, 2009

RATHER than triggering power blackouts, electric cars could help power your house if smart recharging is introduced, a Melbourne scientist said yesterday.

As momentum gathers ahead of the foreshadowed mass adoption of battery-powered electric cars, they could be part of the energy management solution rather than the problem.

University of Melbourne physicist Steven Prawer, who heads the university's Melbourne Materials Institute, is among those who will spearhead research into the many unanswered questions about energy needs and the introduction of electric cars.

The professor's projects were boosted yesterday with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the university and the local arm of fledgling electric car recharging company Better Place.

Better Place has entered a research partnership with the university to explore the challenges that electric cars pose.

''It starts off as a question about batteries, and very quickly derives into questions about policy, optimisation, energy, modelling and education,'' Professor Prawer said.

Foremost is how the electricity network will cope with the added demands of electric car recharging, when already it struggles to cope with the drain posed by air-conditioners on a hot day.

''If you get a million people coming home and plugging in their cars, you blow the grid,'' Professor Prawer said. ''But that's not the way you're going to do it. It can be a highly optimised system. Imagine we have a very hot day in Melbourne … if there are a million [electric car] batteries plugged in, you can suck in energy from those cars [to dwellings] in an emergency.'' The energy transfer could be two-way, he said.

In effect, electric car batteries could form part of the Victorian electricity infrastructure.

And the introduction of electric cars is not that far off. Mitsubishi will introduce its iMiEV plug-in, battery-powered city car here next year. And Nissan is expected to follow in 2012 with its electric hatchback, called the Leaf.

Better Place Australia's chief executive, Evan Thornley, said the university partnership was on the leading edge.

''Things that we might learn here are about battery behaviour, how it interacts with the charge network … modelling grid impact, grid optimisation, utilising the storage capacity of batteries are likely to be world-leading pieces of research,'' he said.

''If you don't have smart charging, you'll have huge problems with the grid.''

The research partnership is initially for 12 months.

''We look forward to a long-term partnership with the university,'' Mr Thornley said, being one of about 20 such partnerships Better Place has signed with universities around the world.

The university would adopt electric cars on their fleet when the cars become commercially available, University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Professor Glyn Davis said.

Records fall as temperatures rise nationwide

Adam Morton

The Age, August 25, 2009

THE north is sweltering and, in historical terms, the south is rarely cold. The result, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, has been a winter of record-breaking warmth across the continent.

Temperatures in Queensland, northern NSW and the Northern Territory pushed up to 15 degrees above average over the past week. Brisbane yesterday reached 35.4 degrees, nearly 3 degrees warmer than the previous August high.

Swing down the eastern seaboard, and Victoria - notwithstanding yesterday's traditional four seasons in 24 hours - is also in the grip of a (relative) heatwave. If the next week holds its ground, it will be the hottest winter experienced since meteorologists started sending weather balloons skyward.

David Jones, the bureau's head of climate analysis, said temperature benchmarks for August had been broken in every state and territory. ''In duration, extent and the magnitude of anomalies it is beyond historical experience and it hasn't finished,'' he said.

No weather event can be attributed to climate change alone, but Dr Jones said he believed it was impossible to divorce the current variability from a long-term warming.

''We've always had heatwaves, we've always had warm spells in winter, but what we're seeing now is this combination of the warming trend and the extremes coming together to see very large and very long-lived records broken and often by substantial margins.''

As of yesterday afternoon, Victoria's average temperature across winter, factoring in the day-time maximum and night-time minimum, was 9.59 degrees - just ahead of the record set in 2005. The long-term average is 8.6.

In Melbourne, the average maximum temperature in August is 16.9, two degrees above the long-term average.

Dr Jones said it was a similar story across much of the country. ''It is still a developing situation, but in all likelihood Australia will have the warmest or second warmest winter on record,'' he said.

At Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens, staff have noticed plants reacting to the unseasonal heat. Gardens director Richard Barley said the golden chalice vine, Solandra maxima, usually started flowering in mid-spring. It was in full bloom yesterday afternoon.

Some records have been broken repeatedly over the past few days. In Alice Springs and the western Queensland town of Birdsville, for instance, the previous maximum temperature was surpassed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Nothing in nature is uniform, of course. In NSW, the heat of the north yesterday contrasted with improving snow at the ski resorts in the south. And by yesterday afternoon, parts of Victoria were being buffeted by rain and gale-force winds.

Bureau duty forecaster Geoff Feren said wintry conditions were expected to continue today, with likely gusts of up to 110 km/h, thunderstorms, hail and snow at low altitudes. The temperature is expected to peak at 14 in Melbourne before an afternoon cool change.