Monday, November 30, 2009

Copenhagen: The era of climate stability is coming to an end

Fred Pearce

The Guardian, Monday 30 November 2009

For about 10,000 years, our climate on Earth has been stable. Remarkably stable, in fact. Since the end of the last ice age, we humans have spent 400 generations taking advantage of this stability to build our civilisation.

We have had warm periods and little ice ages; but the changes have been small. We have always known pretty much when it will rain, what the temperature will be each summer and winter, and how high the rivers will flow.

This benign climate is arguably the main reason why our species has been able to progress. Why, within 400 generations, we have gone from the scattered tribes of spear-carriers and fire-raisers who emerged from their caves at the end of the ice age to become the first farmers, metallurgists, urbanists, industrialists and now the seven billion inhabitants of a digitised, globalised world.

Our massively complex society relies on the ability to plant crops knowing that they will grow, and build cities and infrastructure in places that won't be flooded by incoming tides or washed away by torrential rains.

Without these certainties, Homo sapiens would still be living in caves. When they fail even briefly – during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, say, or in Cumbria just last month – we know the consequences. What if these certainties failed more, or even most, of the time? We are more vulnerable than we think.

Global leaders need to think about this lack of certainty as they gather in Copenhagen to discuss what to do about climate change. For, as we fill the atmosphere with heat-trapping greenhouse gases, the blunt truth is that the good times are over. That era of climate stability is coming to an end.

In some ways, it is remarkable how far today's politicians have come in addressing what seems destined to be the defining global problem of the 21st century. Seventeen years ago, at the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro, their predecessors signed the UN climate change convention that promised to prevent "dangerous climate change".

That led to the Kyoto protocol in 1997 – a rather feeble first step to fulfilling that promise. But now, in Copenhagen, they may finally agree on a definition of that term "dangerous", when they discuss halting global warming at 2C.

Many now realise that the fossil fuels which have powered our world through two centuries of unprecedented growth in both population and wealth have to be largely phased out within the next half century.

In the 17 years since the Rio meeting, scientists' understanding of what climate change could do to us has moved on too. At every step, the science becomes more worrying: our move away from a world of stable climate will not be gradual, it could be sudden and violent.

Runaway warming

The reassuringly smooth lines on the graphs produced by climate modellers may not, as the sceptics have argued, be how things turn out. The problem is that things may not be less dramatic than the models predict. They may instead be a great deal worse.

The talk now in the climate labs — in the tea rooms and, yes, in their private emails — is of tipping points and runaway warming. The fear is that beyond 2C or so, warming and rising sea levels may be impossible to halt. Even if we cut our emissions to zero.

The concerns are many. Some studies suggest that the acceleration of melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica could soon destabilise their great ice sheets — causing sea levels to rise by several metres over a few decades.

Other research shows that frozen methane (a potent greenhouse gas) may bubble up out of the melting Siberian permafrost in volumes that would raise global temperatures by several degrees. And that melting ice could interrupt the north Atlantic ocean circulation, which would alter global weather patterns and ultimately switch off the Asian monsoon season.-

Alarmist? Well, these are not firm predictions right now, just concerns. Racing tipsters among the scientists say the odds might be five-to-one or even ten-to-one against some of these potential disasters.

The often repeated question is: would you get into a plane if someone told you there was a ten-to-one chance it would crash?

Of course you wouldn't. So why take that chance with the planet?

And here is perhaps the most persuasive evidence that they are right to be worried. It's happened before. Nature has a track record on tipping points.

Before the long balmy era we have enjoyed over the past 10,000 years, climate was often much more tempestuous. The climate system does not generally do gradual change. It does big jumps based on tipping points.

Take events during the final few centuries of the last ice age. We now know that, as ice sheets collapsed, sea levels rose 20 metres – enough to drown much of eastern England — in less than 400 years. That is an average of 20 times faster than now.

The ice sheets collapsed because the climate warmed quickly. Around then, average temperatures in much of the northern hemisphere rose by around 10C within a decade. Researchers can measure that change in the bubbles of ice left behind in ice cores in Greenland.

Before that, temperatures had lurched in the other direction. Research published just last month shows that some 12,800 years ago, the world plunged into a thousand-year deep freeze in a single year, with average temperatures crashing by 16C.

Those were violent times. They could happen again.

Forces within our control

How did such changes come about? They were started by slow and subtle shifts in the orbit of the Earth that changed the amount and distribution of radiation reaching us from the sun. But this small effect was amplified by events on Earth — apparent tipping points in the climate system.

First, there were sudden movements of hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into and out of the atmosphere. During warming, the gas burped into the atmosphere from natural reservoirs, or "carbon sinks", such as permafrost and the oceans. And it rapidly left again during cooling.

Second, there were rapid changes in the ocean circulation system, switching the Gulf stream on and off. Exactly how the planetary wobbles and the carbon dioxide movements and the ocean changes fitted together is far from clear. But they did so to devastating effect.

And what is unnerving today is that the key element, the trigger for the sudden change, appears to have been carbon dioxide. The very gas we are busy pumping into the air at the rate of 30bn tonnes a year, mostly by burning fossil fuels.

Even nature would find hard to match that rate. Our carbon-based fuels — coal, oil and natural gas — are the fossilised remains of swamp vegetation, buried over hundreds of millions of years. Every year we burn what nature laid down over a million years.

So when sceptics tell me not to worry about climate change, I don't buy it. We are interfering with major geological forces. Carbon dioxide is the planet's thermostat. Nature has flicked the carbon switch before. Now we are flicking the switch again. We are interfering with the planet's life support systems.

And, whatever happens to nature, it is our own highly complex interconnected society, built on a lucky period of stable climate during a tiny sliver of planetary time, that looks most at risk.

That's the bad news. But here is the good news. It doesn't have to be like this. We are still in charge of our own destiny. We have the technology to end our dangerous dependence on carbon-based fuels. We can take our pick of alternative energy sources: wind and solar; geothermal; tides and waves; nuclear if we must. And we have the technology to use dramatically less energy, too.

Kicking the carbon habit need not be expensive — small change compared to the price of bailing out the banks. It would be a lot easier to arrange if we changed our lifestyles to ones based on quality of life rather than consumption, measured by a happiness index rather than GDP.

But the hair shirt is not the critical technology. And the real issue is whether we have the political will to make the change.

Lesson from history

The best news is that, like nature, our society itself has tipping points. And some of them are positive. Look at how we gave up smoking in bars and restaurants. Five years ago, I would not have believed it could happen so easily and painlessly.

Or how half a century ago, we banished the great smogs. After the Great Smog of 1952, which left around 10,000 dead, industrialists said two things. First: "It's only nature, we've always had smogs, what's the big deal?" And second: "Anyway, the problem is far too expensive to deal with."

That, albeit on a much bigger scale, is the task the world faces in Copenhagen. To cry "enough". To cross our own tipping point and decide to embrace a future carbon-free world.

Can we reach our tipping point before nature reaches one of its tipping points? That is, probably, unknowable right now.

But we should know a great deal more about our chances before the month is out.

Fred Pearce is author of The Last Generation: How nature will take her revenge for climate change (Eden Project Books) and writes a weekly greenwash column for

Copenhagen climate conference: Emission impossible

Two of the top thinkers on climate change explain why the most important political gathering of our time will succeed or fail

Nicholas Stern and George Monbiot

The Guardian, Monday 30 November 2009

Nicholas Stern

The two defining challenges of our century are managing climate change and overcoming poverty. And if we fail on one we will fail on the other. So the world faces a stark choice at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Do we collaborate and act to reach a strong political agreement that both decisively cuts the devastating risks posed by climate change, and rapidly opens up the opportunities offered by low-carbon economic growth? Do we in that way set ourselves to overcome poverty and promote prosperity? Or, do we give way to narrow, short-term interests, quarrelling, lack of ambition and delay, thus allowing the risks to the climate to grow to dangerous levels which will derail development in both rich and poor countries?

Given what is at stake, essentially the future peace and prosperity of the planet, world leaders must now recognise that Copenhagen is the most important international gathering of our time. A strong political agreement can and must be reached in Copenhagen. There can be no excuses for failure.

Recent weeks and months have shown country after country raising their ambitions on controlling emissions. It is now clear that if countries move together and they find ways to extend their action we could set the world on a responsible path. We can now see that it is possible to achieve an agreement that is effective, efficient and equitable. It will allow us to avoid the biggest risks of climate change, to overcome poverty worldwide and to usher in an exciting new era of prosperity based on a much more attractive and stronger form of economic growth – sustainable low-carbon growth.

Through innovation and investment in greener and more energy efficient technologies in the next two or three decades, the transition to the low-carbon economy can be the most dynamic period of growth in economic history. And the low-carbon world we can create will also be quieter, cleaner, more energy-secure and more biologically diverse.

For this to happen, there is a fierce urgency for leadership. The developed world in particular must face up to its responsibilities on both development and climate change. It will require radical change and significant resources. I believe we are now seeing strong momentum towards an agreement. Increasingly ambitions are being raised and shared. The developing world, if the rich world plays its part, will accelerate its actions and we can create an international collaboration which can transform the way the world works together.

Three issues hold the key to agreeing an effective and equitable framework in Copenhagen. First, to have a reasonable – around 50% – chance of avoiding an increase in global average temperature of more than 2C above preindustrial levels, we must reduce annual worldwide emissions from the present level of just under 50bn tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent to 44bn tonnes in 2020, much less than 35bn tonnes in 2030 and well below 20bn tonnes by 2050 – or as sometimes expressed, at least 50% below 1990 levels.

Second, the need for national targets both to add up and to be fair means that the European Union, Japan and the US, should achieve emissions reductions of at least 80% by 2050, compared with 1990. Developing countries, including China and India, also need to limit the growth of, and then start to decrease, their emissions, but in ways that are consistent with their ambitions for continued economic growth and the reduction of poverty.

Third, given the relative wealth of rich and poor countries, the rich countries responsibility for the bulk of past emissions, and the urgent need for action, developing countries must receive reliable and substantial support from the rich nations for their climate action plans. This is necessary both for their plans to reduce emissions and also to overcome the additional challenges that climate change will pose for their efforts to tackle poverty.

Developed countries should show the extent of their commitment by providing $50bn per year by 2015, rising to $100bn in 2020, and progressing to around $200bn during the 2020s as effective low-carbon and adaptation programmes are developed and implemented.

Crucially, financial support should be additional, beyond existing official development assistance. While these might sound like large sums, $50bn is around 0.1% of the likely gross domestic product of the rich countries in 2015, and is very small compared to the costs we will face if we do not secure a strong international agreement to tackle climate change. The immediate priorities for spending should be halting deforestation, supporting adaptation in Africa and other vulnerable nations, and supporting technological change throughout the developing world.

We are seeking at Copenhagen an organisational framework with strong political commitment rather than a formal treaty. A formal treaty can follow in 2010 if the political framework is clear. But without such a framework, settled at the highest level, progress on a treaty or similar agreement will be impossible. Now is the time for heads of government to take charge – only they can forge such an agreement.

Let us not allow mistrust, pessimism and lack of ambition to take us stumbling into profound dangers. Instead let us have real vision and leadership in both developing and developed countries which seize the opportunities offered by Copenhagen, for us, our children and future generations.

George Monbiot

"To be truly radical," Raymond Williams wrote, "is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing".

Believe me I'm trying, but at the moment hope is hard to come by.

A legally binding deal cannot now be struck at Copenhagen. The best that can happen is an outline agreement, which is firmed up next year. Even this would depend on the compliance of the US Senate. So far it has been hostile towards anything resembling an effective deal. As I write, Barack Obama still hasn't proposed a number for US emissions cuts. He can't make any firm commitment until the Senate sings, and the Senate won't approve a climate change bill until the spring, if at all. I concentrate on the role of the US not because it is the only obstacle to a strong climate agreement (you should see what Canada has been up to) but because it has so far done more than any other nation to prevent global action from taking place. The Kyoto negotiations in 1997 were comprehensively trashed by a US delegation led by Al Gore.

The EU had proposed a 15% cut against 1990 emissions levels by 2010. The US ensured that this was knocked down to 5.2% by 2012, with enough get-out clauses (emissions trading, joint implementation, the clean development mechanism) to render even that feeble target pretty well meaningless. After wrecking the treaty for everyone else, the Clinton government failed to ratify it, and George Bush later pulled out altogether.

It wasn't Gore's fault: the Senate had already voted 95-0 to torpedo any treaty that failed to impose the same conditions on developing countries as it imposed on rich ones. The senators knew this was impossible for poorer countries to accept – in fact that was the point. The political impediments that made a deal with the US impossible in 1997 have scarcely changed.

Until there is comprehensive campaign finance reform in the United States, almost any progressive measure remains out of reach. The US Senate is one of the most corrupt institutions of any democratic nation: most of the incumbents owe their seats to massive corporate funding; in return they must deliver the political goods to their sponsors. These are hopeless conditions in which to broker an agreement which has to defeat vested interests.

Even if a legally binding treaty were to have been agreed at Copenhagen, getting it ratified and implemented before the Kyoto protocol runs out at the end of 2012 would have been a stretch. If it's delayed until next year or beyond, the timetable becomes extremely tight. If world leaders can't strike a deal this year, despite a massive build-up and intensive diplomatic activity, why should we expect them to be able to do so next year?

I fear that the climate negotiations could go the same way as the Doha round of trade talks. These began in 2001. Eight years later there's still no prospect of resolution. When the initial deadline had been missed and the red carpets were rolled up, governments lost interest and let the process drift. Delegates are already talking of moving the climate talks to Mexico next December after they fail in Copenhagen.

This is what happened at Doha: the negotiations were reconvened at CancĂșn on the Mexican coast and vanished into thin air thereafter. Is "moving to Mexico" a diplomatic euphemism for abandonment?

And there's a more important deadline which looks ever more likely to be missed. The narrow window in which we could prevent more than 2C of global warming is closing fast. The longer a comprehensive agreement is delayed, the steeper the emissions cuts will have to be if we are to avoid climate breakdown. Beyond a certain point the scale of the cuts becomes politically, economically and technologically infeasible. That point must already be close.

The postponement has an immediate consequence: no one will invest in low-carbon technologies unless they believe there's a secure market. And no one will disinvest from fossil fuels unless they believe that they'll cease to be profitable. If investors think the Kyoto protocol will run out before a new agreement begins, the bottom will fall out of the market for energy conservation and alternative technologies, setting the necessary transition back by years.

So is there any hope that world leaders could regain their sense of urgency? If the prospect of a climate crash doesn't motivate them, can anything? Perhaps there is one straw to cling to. In its new World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency (IEA) maintains that, to meet new demand and replace old equipment and exhausted reserves, the world will have to invest $25.6tn in energy supply infrastructure between now and 2030. The industrialised nations would also need to pay a fortune to the Opec countries to maintain their oil and gas supplies: the IEA predicts that the oil producers' income will rise fivefold in this period, to $30tn. These costs will be much higher if oil supplies peak.

If moving to a low-carbon economy looks implausible, so does maintaining the high-carbon economy. Whichever route is taken, staggering amounts of money need to be spent. As resources become harder to extract and concentrated in fewer countries, it shouldn't be too difficult to persuade world leaders that the money might as well be spent on exploiting ambient energy, which will neither run out nor allow us to be held to ransom.

That is the best I can do. Sorry.

How global warming is having an impact

Relax News

From cautiously advising that man-made, heat-trapping carbon gases would disrupt Earth's climate system, mainstream scientists are increasingly convinced that the first signs of change are already here. Following are the main indicators, reported in the scientific press over past three years:

RISING SEAS: Sea levels have risen in tandem with global warming, according to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The global average sea level has risen since 1961 at an average rate of 1.8mm (0.07 inches) per year, but accelerated from 1991 to 3.1mm (0.12 inches) per year. The IPCC estimated sea levels would rise 18-59 centimetres (7.2-23.2 inches) by 2100. But added runoff from melting land ice is accelerating. According to Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the global sea level is likely to rise at least twice as much as projected. If emissions are not curbed, "it may well exceed one metre (3.25 feet)."

SHRINKING GLACIERS: Mountain glaciers and snow cover in both hemispheres have widely retreated in the past few decades. One of the most closely-observed sites, the Cook glacier on the southern Indian Ocean island of Kerguelen, has shrunk by a fifth in 40 years. Around 1.3 billion people depend on the water that flows down from Himalayan glaciers, which in some places are falling back at up to 70 metres (230 feet) per year. The snows capping Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest peak, could vanish entirely in 20 years, US experts reported this month.

SHIFTING SEASONS: Some species of birds and fish are shifting habitat in response to warmer temperatures. The range of 105 bird species in France moved north, on average, 91 kilometres (56.5 miles) from 1989 to 2006. Average temperatures, however, shifted northward 273 kilometres (170 miles) over the same period, nearly three times farther. Twenty-one out of 36 species of fish in the North Sea migrated northwards between 1962 and 2001 in search of cooler waters. Anecdotal evidence from commercial fishermen says once-exotic species of fish from warmer latitudes now inhabit southern British waters.

OCEAN ACIDIFICATION: The acidity of the seas is rising as oceans absorb more carbon dioxide (CO2), with an impact on coral and micro-organisms, marine biologists say. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the protective calcium shell of amoeba-like organisms living in the Southern Ocean called foraminifera, a vital link in the food chain, has fallen in weight by a third. "Within decades," acidification could severely affect biodiversity and fisheries, 150 marine scientists jointly warned last January.

ARCTIC ICE: The Greenland ice sheet has lost 1,500 billion tonnes of ice since 2000, contributing 0.75 mm (0.03 inch) annually to sea levels, according to a study published this month. In 2009, the Arctic summer sea ice pack thawed to its third smallest size on record, confirming a shrinkage trend seen over the past 30 years. Some experts believe the Arctic ice cap will disappear completely in summer months within 20 to 30 years.

ANTARCTIC WARMING: The Antarctic peninsula has warmed by 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in the last 50 years, around six times the global average. In the past 20 years, Antarctica has lost seven ice shelves - huge floating ledges of ice, attached to the shore, that are fed by glaciers.

PERMAFROST RETREAT: Emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane were found to be soaring at sites investigated in 2006 by University of Alaska scientists at lakes in northern Siberia. The reason is thawing of the permafrost, causing the warmed soil to release gas that had been stored for thousands of years. Billions of tonnes of methane, which comes from natural sources such as decomposing vegetation and marshland, are stored in the frozen lands of Siberia, Canada and Alaska.

CHANGED PRECIPITATION: Patterns of rainfall or snowfall increased "significantly" from 1900-2005 in eastern parts of North and South America, northern Europe and northern and central Asia but declined in the Sahel, southern Africa and parts of southern Asia, says the IPCC. "Globally, the area affected by drought has likely increased since the 1970s," it adds.

STORMS: A mooted link between climate change and extreme events has little scientific consensus. A 2008 study by the Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre at University College London found that warmer seas accounted for 40 percent of a large increase (from six a year to eight a year) in the number of Atlantic hurricanes from 1996-2005. Other scientists say it is hard to say whether a drought, flood or cyclone is part of the longer trend which is climate change or simply just a one-off event, or series of them.

SOURCES: IPCC 4th Assessment Report (2007); Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Center (Australia); Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK); Nature; Science; Nature Geoscience; Laboratory for Studying Geophysics and Space Oceanography (France); French National Museum of Natural History; Pen Hadow Arctic expedition; US National Snow and Ice Data Center; British Antarctic Survey (BAS); University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nepal's government to meet on Mt Everest

ABC News Online, 30 November 2009 

Nepal's cabinet will meet in the shadow of Mount Everest next week to highlight the impact of global warming on the Himalayas ahead of UN climate talks in Copenhagen, officials said.
Twenty-six ministers, together with staff, will travel to the town of Gorakshep, high up in the foothills of Everest, for the special climate-themed meeting, said Bishnu Rijal, press adviser to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.
"We're going to host a ministerial level cabinet meeting on Friday, December 4 at Gorakshep to draw the attention of the whole world" to the effects of global warming on the Himalayas he said.
"Our glaciers are melting and glacial lakes are growing and are on the verge of overflowing. That will create a Himalayan tsunami. Even though we do not contribute to global warming, our country is highly vulnerable."
The UN talks, aimed at setting targets to curb greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, take place December 7-18.
Gorakshep, a sandy plateau 5,165 metres above sea level, is the last village before the Everest base camp and the place from where mountaineers seeking to climb the celebrated peak set out.
Originally the cabinet planned to meet at the base camp itself, a little higher at 5,360 metres.
But the venue was changed as it was too difficult to get all the ministers and officials there by helicopter, Mr Rijal said.
In October the Maldives held its own publicity-grabbing underwater cabinet meeting to draw attention to rising sea levels that threaten to submerge the island nation.
Around 1.3 billion people depend on the water that flows from the Himalayan glaciers, which experts say are melting at an alarming rate, threatening to bring floods and later drought to Nepal, India and Pakistan.
Campaigners say that while the effects of climate change on low-lying South Asian countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives are now well-known, there is little international awareness of the vulnerability of the Himalayan region.
"Our motive is to draw the attention of global leaders to commit and work towards lowering the greenhouse gas emissions and also provide compensation mechanisms to vulnerable countries like us," said Rijal.
"The Western countries should also think about preventive measures for country like ours where people live under the constant threat" of climate change, he said.
"Climate change has hit the Himalayas in general and Nepal in particular."

Climate sceptic welcomes U-turn on data

The Age, November 30, 2009
LEADING British scientists at the University of East Anglia, who were accused of manipulating climate change data, have agreed to publish their figures in full.
The U-turn by the university follows a week of controversy after the emergence of hundreds of leaked emails, ''stolen'' by hackers and published online, triggered claims that the academics had massaged statistics.
In a statement welcomed by climate change sceptics, the university said it would make all the data accessible as soon as possible, once its Climatic Research Unit (CRU) had negotiated its release from a range of non-publication agreements.
The full data, when disclosed, is certain to be scrutinised by both sides in the fierce debate.
A man with training in electrical engineering dating back more than 40 years emerged from the leaked emails as a leading climate sceptic trying to bring down the scientific establishment on global warming.
David Holland, who describes himself as a David taking on the Goliath that is the prevailing scientific consensus, is seeking prosecutions against some of Britain's most eminent academics for allegedly holding back information in breach of disclosure laws.
Mr Holland complained to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) after the leaked emails included several freedom-of-information requests he had submitted to the CRU, and scientists' private responses to them.
Within hours, a senior complaints officer in the ICO wrote back by email: ''I have started to examine the issues that you have raised in your letter and I am currently liaising with colleagues in our Enforcement and Data Protection teams as to what steps to take next.''
The official also promised to investigate other universities linked to the CRU, which is one of the world's leading authorities on temperature levels and has helped to prove that man-made global warming not only exists but will have catastrophic consequences if not tackled urgently.
Mr Holland is convinced the threat has been greatly exaggerated.
Mr Holland, who graduated with an external degree in electrical engineering from London University in 1966, said: ''These guys called climate scientists have not done any more physics or chemistry than I did.''
Professor Trevor Davies, the university's pro-vice-chancellor, research enterprise and engagement, said: ''CRU's full data will be published in the interests of research transparency when we have the necessary agreements.''

Record month of heat and rain

The Age, November 30, 2009
MELBOURNE is all but guaranteed to post its hottest November on record, in a month of strange weather that has produced above-average rainfall.
With one day remaining of spring, the city's average maximum temperature was 27.6 degrees to Saturday, besting the 1862 record of 25.5 degrees for the whole of November.
While the weather cooled on the weekend, 10 consecutive days over 30 degrees at the start of the month set the pattern for the monthly record to fall.
Melbourne's November rainfall to date was 90.2 millimetres, well above the monthly average of 59.7 millimetres and the wettest November since 2004.
Senior weather bureau forecaster Terry Ryan said it was unusual to have the combination of the hottest November and above-average rainfall.
''This is another statistic that says the Earth appears to be getting warmer,'' he said.
Mr Ryan said the November rain had eased the immediate bushfire threat but would increase growth, especially of grasslands, increasing fire risk if high summer temperatures dry out the countryside.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Brumby urged to clear cloud over solar plant

Sunday Age, November 29, 2009
THE State Government is being pressured to step in to ensure Australia's largest solar energy power plant goes ahead at Mildura, with renewable-energy campaigners saying more than 1000 jobs are at stake.
The Abbotsford-based company behind the plant, Solar Systems, was placed in receivership in September after failing to attract additional funding to build the $420 million plant.
More than 100 workers owed $4 million in entitlements were made redundant. A public meeting to be held in Fitzroy on Thursday night will call on the Government to guarantee that the plant is built, or risk losing a further 950 potential jobs.
The ''Renewable is Do-able, Green Jobs for Victoria'' campaign was launched when Solar Systems went into receivership. The company needs $50 million to $100 million to make the Mildura solar plant operational. When it was launched, the Federal and State governments pledged $125 million in grants, only a fraction of which have been delivered.
Solar Systems administrator Stephen Longley, of PricewaterhouseCoopers, said a decision on whether the company would be sold or go into liquidation would be made tomorrow week at a second creditors' meeting.
''Save Solar Systems'' campaign spokesman Chris Breen said organisers wanted the Government to immediately intervene to guarantee that the company's Abbotsford factory would remain open, the redundant workers reinstated and the solar power plant built.
''We want the Government to step in and do whatever it takes to make the Mildura solar power plant happen,'' Mr Breen said.
''If Solar Systems folds, no other company in Australia currently has the technological capability to build the plant. If we don't get large-scale renewable energy there, then when and where will we get it?''
One sacked worker, Diamond Creek engineer David Turner, is relying on the Government to ensure the plant goes ahead so he can get his job back. ''We knew the company was trying to raise money but we didn't think the situation was so dire,'' he said. ''The point is the technology is here and we just need a bit more willpower to get it over the line.''
The collapse of Solar Systems, which has been blamed on the global financial crisis, is a significant blow for the renewable energy industry and has cast doubts on a $50 million State Government grant and a $75 million Commonwealth grant earmarked for the project.
The State Government has handed over only $500,000 of its grant to Solar Systems, and none of the federal funding has been delivered.
A spokeswoman for Energy and Resources Minister Peter Batchelor said the Government was working closely with administrators to sell the business.
''Our $50 million was provided to build the solar power station, not for the operation of the company, and the operational matters will be determined by the administration,'' she said.
''The Government is still keen to see a solar power station built.''
The 154-megawatt solar plant was to have produced enough energy to power 45,000 homes, create 950 jobs and save an estimated 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas a year.
Solar Systems planned to use photovoltaic solar cells to concentrate the sun's power by 500 times and feed the energy into the national power grid by 2013.
A pilot plant to demonstrate the technology has been completed at Bridgewater, central Victoria, but construction has not begun on the main project.
The project ran into trouble in July when Hong Kong-based energy company China Light & Power (CLP) refused to provide additional funding unless another company stepped in to share the risks. CLP announced a month later that it would write off its $53 million investment in Solar Systems.
Solar Systems investors who could face big losses include tennis great Ken Rosewall, millionaire playboy Adrian Valmorbida, and political and media identities John and Janet Calvert-Jones.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Marine scientists issue call to arms after devastating report

The Age, November 28, 2009
MORE than 70 Australian marine scientists have called for immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after the release of the first report card on the impact of climate change on the marine environment.
Oceans around the continent have warmed and become more acidic and the East Australian Current has strengthened, bringing hotter, saltier water 350 kilometres further south than 60 years ago.
This has caused coral bleaching and is the likely cause of a 10 per cent reduction in growth rates of corals on the Great Barrier Reef, according to the report, Marine Climate Change in Australia, 2009 Report Card.
Other effects include a spread of destructive sea urchins in Tasmania, the death of sea turtles in Queensland and the spread of mangroves into freshwater wetlands in northern Australia.
The report, by scientists from universities, state and territory environmental agencies, the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, warns that two degrees of further warming is already unavoidable. ''A delay in reducing human-related emissions will result in even greater levels of climate change and subsequent impacts on marine species and habitats,'' it concludes.
Elvira Poloczanska, of the CSIRO Climate Change Adaptation Flagship, said ocean warming also meant some subtropical plants and animals were moving south into temperate waters. This had already severely affected giant kelp forests in Tasmania.
The report card, which is to be updated every two years, identifies where impacts have occurred, the predicted effects of climate change by 2030 and 2100, and scientific confidence levels in those predictions. It also outlines strategies for adapting to climate change, such as removing sea walls, increased surveillance for harmful algal blooms and managing the breeding habitats for sea birds better. A University of Wollongong researcher, Helen McGregor, said it was a ''call to arms'' for scientists, policymakers and the public to do everything possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.