Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Here's a hot tip, it's time for global warming's just deserts

Tom Arup  
The Age, December 26, 2012

[Professor Auty's report can be downloaded (in 3 Parts) here - http://www.ces.vic.gov.au/publications-and-media-releases/state-of-environment-report ]

VICTORIA will be a hotter and drier place by mid-century, with more desert and fewer temperate regions because of the impacts of global warming, new scientific analysis has found.

In a major report, Victoria's Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, Kate Auty, warns the changes will put infrastructure and biodiversity at risk, and leave agriculture and endangered species exposed.

New climate modelling and analysis by the CSIRO and the Bureau of the Meteorology was carried out for the report using the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's scenarios on future global greenhouse gas emissions.

The report says the best CSIRO estimates project a 1.37-degree rise in temperatures by 2050 for Victoria - potentially as high as 1.93 degrees - under a scenario of rapid economic growth and an energy mix of fossil fuels and renewables.

Under the same scenario, rainfall is projected to decline by 6 per cent by 2050, with the reduction potentially as high as 14 per cent. The highest 1 per cent of rainfall events will become more intense.

When natural variability is considered along with human-induced changes, the decline in rainfall is found to be as high as 17 per cent, but could also increase by 5 per cent under some scenarios.

As temperatures rise and rainfall declines, the types of local climate will begin to change across the state, with more areas of desert emerging and temperate regions disappearing as climatic conditions shift south.

In Mildura, the warm grassland climate is most likely to move to hot desert by 2050 under several of the emissions scenarios. In Avalon, the temperate climate is most likely to shift to persistently dry warm grassland.

In Melbourne, the increasing impact of the urban heat island effect - dense city infrastructure increasing temperatures - will create a climate class that is observably warmer than surrounding areas.

Under the hottest and driest outcomes modelled for a longer-term warming of four degrees by 2080, Melbourne would experience the same climate as Leeton, in central-west New South Wales, does now.

The report also said an analysis of daily and season fire danger indexes suggested ''serious'' and ''major'' fire seasons were becoming more common and non-significant seasons had become rarer, with bushfire impacts to worsen.

The changes would have major implications for the state's environment and infrastructure, Professor Auty's report said, requiring preparation for more intense bushfires and increased inundation of coastal areas.

Victoria's natural world will also be affected. As warming occurs and landscapes change, species may need to migrate to more suitable areas. But Victoria's fragmented natural habitat will limit migration for less-mobile species, such as those in high-altitude or southerly region, it says.

Professor Auty writes that to read the impacts of climate change on Victoria outlined in the analysis ''is to be deeply concerned. Calls have been made for 'aggressive' intervention. The situation we confront clearly warrants such a response across all tiers of government, industry sectors and the broader community.''

The report is one of three ''foundation papers'' being prepared by the commissioner's office before the release of the Victorian State of the Environment assessment due late next year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Next year looms as hottest ever

Ben Cubby, Dijana Damjanovic
The Age, December 22, 2012    

NEXT year is expected to be the hottest, or at least one of the hottest, ever recorded, the British Meteorological Office says.

The office predicts next year will be 0.43 degrees to 0.71 degrees warmer globally than the average temperature between 1961 and 1990, with a ''best fit'' of 0.57 degrees warmer. If the best fit prediction holds true, that would make next year the hottest year since instrumental records began.

So far, the warmest years on record are 2010 and 2005, both of which were 0.54 degrees above the late 20th century average of about 14 degrees. 
They are followed by 1998, which was 0.51 degrees above the 1961-90 average as a result of a strong El Nino phase, which enhanced warming. This year is ranked as the ninth warmest year on record.

''Taking into account the range of uncertainty in the forecast and observations, it is very likely that 2013 will be one of the warmest 10 years in the record, which goes back to 1850, and it is likely to be warmer than 2012,'' the office said in a statement.

While local temperatures vary, on a global scale it has been 27 years since the world experienced a month that was colder than average.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

It's the end of the world as we know it

There are papers that should come with a warning: 'do not read this if you are depressed', or 'please have a stiff drink handy as you read this'. [This] paper is one such example.
Ben Cubby, Environment Editor 
THE world is on track to see "an unrecognisable planet" that is between 4 and 6 degrees hotter by the end of this century, according to new data on greenhouse gas emissions.
As United Nations climate negotiations enter their second week in Doha, Qatar, an Australian-based international research effort that tracks greenhouse gas output will release its annual findings on Monday, showing emissions climbing too quickly to stave off the effects of dangerous climate change.
The new forecast does not include recent revelations about the effects of thawing permafrost, which is starting to release large amounts of methane from the Arctic. This process makes cutting human emissions of fossil fuels even more urgent, scientists say.
The new data from the Global Carbon Project found greenhouse gas emissions are expected to have risen 2.6 per cent by the end of this year, on top of a 3 per cent rise in 2011. Since 1990, the reference year for the Kyoto Protocol, emissions have increased 54 per cent.

It means that the goal of the Doha talks – to hold global temperature rise to 2 degrees – is almost out of reach. That goal requires that emissions peak now and start falling significantly within eight years.
"Unless we change current emissions trends, this year is set to reach 36 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels, we are on the way to an unrecognisable planet of 4 to 6 degrees warmer by the end of this century," said the executive director of the Global Carbon Project, Dr Pep Canadell.
"Unless the negotiators in Doha wake up tomorrow and embrace a new green industrial revolution to rapidly change our energy systems, chances to stay below global warming of 2 degrees Celsius are vanishing very fast, if they are not already gone."
Emissions are growing in line with the most extreme climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to a paper in the journal Nature Climate Change that explains the Global Carbon Project's findings.
The trajectory means a temperature range of between 3.5 and 6.2 degrees by the year 2100, with a "most likely" range of between 4.2 and 5 degrees.
Although the climate has changed due to natural influences in the past, human emissions superimposed on top of natural variation is now driving change 20 times faster, according to NASA estimates. Civilisation evolved in a more moderate environment.
The new data is beginning to confirm what scientists had been warning people about for decades, said Andy Pitman, director of the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of NSW.
"There are papers that should come with a warning: 'do not read this if you are depressed', or 'please have a stiff drink handy as you read this'. [This] paper is one such example," Professor Pitman said.
The greenhouse gas emissions path the world is taking "is not a tenable future for the planet – we cannot be that stupid as a species," he said.
Matthew England, a colleague of Professor Pitman and fellow author of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, said: "While the science is clear that emissions reductions are required urgently, each year we are emitting more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This is like a smoker ramping up the number of cigarettes smoked each day despite grave warnings to stop smoking altogether – sooner or later this catches up with you."

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/environment/climate-change/its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-20121202-2ap4l.html#ixzz2DwJnB2V4

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Emissions drive falls behind

Tom Arup   
The Age, November 22, 2012 

A MASSIVE gap exists between pledges by nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and the cuts needed to limit climate change to safe levels, the world's leading environmental agency has warned.

In a report released just days before the next round of international climate talks in Doha, the United Nations Environment Program says countries must rapidly ramp up efforts to cut emissions if global warming is to be kept to two degrees, the scientifically recognised safe level.

The UN's Emissions Gap Report finds annual emissions are already about 14 per cent higher than the 44 billion tonnes that can be emitted in 2020 for the world to have a good chance of hitting the two degree target, and are continuing to rise.

UN environment program executive director, Achim Steiner, said: ''The sobering fact remains that a transition to a low carbon, inclusive green economy is happening far too slowly and the opportunity for meeting the 44 gigatonne target is narrowing annually.''

Australia has pledged to cut its emissions by 5 to 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, depending on the strength of a global treaty on climate change.

The report says even if all countries accept the top end of these target ranges, and adopt tough rules on how emissions are accounted, the world will still be emitting 8 billion tonnes more than it should in 2020.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

World greenhouse gas levels hit fresh records

The Age, November 21, 2012 

WMO GHG Bulletin No. 8 is available for download, here - http://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/index_en.html#greenhouse

Atmospheric volumes of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change hit a new record in 2011, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin on Tuesday.

The volume of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas emitted by human activities, grew at a similar rate to the previous decade and reached 390.9 parts per million (ppm), 40 percent above the pre-industrial level, the survey said.

It has increased by an average of 2 ppm for the past 10 years.

Fossil fuels are the primary source of about 375 billion tonnes of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere since the industrial era began in 1750, the WMO said.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said the billions of tonnes of extra carbon dioxide would stay in the atmosphere for centuries, causing the planet to warm further.

"We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs," he said in a statement.

Levels of methane, another long-lived greenhouse gas, have risen steadily for the past three years after levelling off for about seven years. The reasons for that evening out are unclear.

Growth in volumes of a third gas, nitrous oxide, quickened in 2011. It has a long-term climate impact that is 298 times greater than carbon dioxide.

The WMO, the United Nations' weather agency, said the three gases, which are closely linked to human activities such as fossil fuel use, deforestation and intensive agriculture, had increased the warming effect on the climate by 30 per cent between 1990 and 2011.

The prevalence of several less abundant greenhouse gases was also growing fast, it said.

Sulphur hexafluoride, used as an electrical insulator in power distribution equipment, had doubled in volume since the mid-1990s, while hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) were growing at a rapid rate from a low base.

But chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and most halons were decreasing, it said.


Monday, November 19, 2012

All nations will suffer effects of climate change, warns World Bank

Guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 November 2012

The devastating impact of a world warmed by 4C will be felt by all countries, but the poorest nations will be hardest hit 

See also: Degrees of devastation: major report warns of drastically hotter planet, The Age, November 19,  2012, Tom Arup

and, Shocking World Bank Climate Report: 'A 4°C [7°F] World Can,  And Must,  Be Avoided' To Avert 'Devastating' Impacts, By Joe Romm, Climate Progress, Nov 19,  2012

The World Bank Report is available for download here.

All nations will suffer the effects of a world 4C hotter, but it is the world's poorest countries that will be hit hardest by food shortages, rising sea levels, cyclones and drought, the World Bank said in a report published on Monday on climate change.

Under the new World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, the global development lender has launched a more aggressive stance to integrate climate change into development.

"We will never end poverty if we don't tackle climate change. It is one of the single biggest challenges to social justice today," Kim told reporters on a conference call on Friday.

The report, called Turn Down the Heat, highlights the devastating impact of a world hotter by 4C by the end of the century, a likely scenario under current policies, it said.

Climate change is already having an effect: Arctic sea ice reached a record minimum in September, and extreme heat waves and drought in the last decade have hit places like the United States and Russia more often than would be expected from historical records, the report said.

Such extreme weather is likely to become the "new normal" if the temperature rises by 4C, according to the World Bank report. This is likely to happen if not all countries comply with pledges they have made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even assuming full compliance, the world will warm by more than 3C by 2100.

In this hotter climate, the level of the sea would rise by up to 3ft, flooding cities in places such as Vietnam and Bangladesh. Water scarcity and falling crop yields would exacerbate hunger and poverty.

Extreme heat waves would devastate broad swaths of the Earth's land, from the middle east to the United States, the report says. The warmest July in the Mediterranean could be 9C hotter than it is today – akin to temperatures seen in the Libyan desert.

The combined effect of all these changes could be even worse, with unpredictable effects that people may not be able to adapt to, said John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, which along with Climate Analytics prepared the report for the World Bank.

"If you look at all these things together, like organs co-operating in a human body, you can think about acceleration of this dilemma," said Schellnhuber, who studied chaos theory as a physicist. "The picture reads that this is not where we want the world to go."

As the first scientist to head the World Bank, Kim has pointed to "unequivocal" scientific evidence for man-made climate change to urge countries to do more.

Kim said 97% of scientists agree on the reality of climate change. "It is my hope that this report shocks us into action," Kim, writes in the report.

Scientists are convinced that global warming in the past century is caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. These findings by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were recognized by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations in a joint statement in 2010.

Kim said the World Bank plans to further meld climate change with development in its programs.

Last year, the bank doubled its funding for countries seeking to adapt to climate change, and now operates $7.2bn in climate investment funds in 48 countries.

The World Bank study comes as almost 200 nations will meet in Doha,Qatar, from 26 November to 7 December to try to extend the Kyoto protocol, the existing plan for curbing greenhouse gas emissions by developed nations that runs to the end of the year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

100 million to die by 2030 if climate action fails: report

The Age, Date September 26, 2012 

More than 100 million people will die and global economic growth will be cut by 3.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030 if the world fails to tackle climate change, a report commissioned by 20 governments said on Wednesday.

As global average temperatures rise due to greenhouse gas emissions, the effects on the planet, such as melting ice caps, extreme weather, drought and rising sea levels, will threaten populations and livelihoods, said the report conducted by humanitarian organisation DARA.

It calculated that five million deaths occur each year from air pollution, hunger and disease as a result of climate change and carbon-intensive economies, and that toll would likely rise to six million a year by 2030 if current patterns of fossil fuel use continue.

More than 90 per cent of those deaths will occur in developing countries, said the report that calculated the human and economic impact of climate change on 184 countries in 2010 and 2030. It was commissioned by the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a partnership of 20 developing countries threatened by climate change.

"A combined climate-carbon crisis is estimated to claim 100 million lives between now and the end of the next decade," the report said.

It said the effects of climate change had lowered global output by 1.6 per cent of world GDP, or by about $US1.2 trillion a year, and losses could double to 3.2 per cent of global GDP by 2030 if global temperatures are allowed to rise, surpassing 10 per cent before 2100.

It estimated the cost of moving the world to a low-carbon economy at about 0.5 per cent of GDP this decade.

Counting the cost

British economist Nicholas Stern told Reuters earlier this year investment equivalent to 2 per cent of global GDP was needed to limit, prevent and adapt to climate change. His report on the economics of climate change in 2006 said an average global temperature rise of 2-3 degrees Celsius in the next 50 years could reduce global consumption per head by up to 20 per cent.

Temperatures have already risen by about 0.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Almost 200 nations agreed in 2010 to limit the global average temperature rise to below 2C (3.6 Fahrenheit) to avoid dangerous impacts from climate change.

But climate scientists have warned that the chance of limiting the rise to below 2C is getting smaller as global greenhouse gas emissions rise due to burning fossil fuels.

The world's poorest nations are the most vulnerable as they face increased risk of drought, water shortages, crop failure, poverty and disease. On average, they could see an 11 per cent loss in GDP by 2030 due to climate change, DARA said.

"One degree Celsius rise in temperature is associated with 10 per cent productivity loss in farming. For us, it means losing about 4 million metric tonnes of food grain, amounting to about $US2.5 billion. That is about 2 per cent of our GDP," Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in response to the report.

"Adding up the damages to property and other losses, we are faced with a total loss of about 3-4 per cent of GDP."

Even the biggest and most rapidly developing economies will not escape unscathed. The United States and China could see a 2.1 per cent reduction in their respective GDPs by 2030, while India could experience a more than 5 per cent loss.

The full report is available at: http://daraint.org/


Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/environment/climate-change/100m-to-die-by-2030-if-climate-action-fails-report-20120926-26k4d.html#ixzz27WqMtLti

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tipping into new climate territory as scientists put fears on ice

Ben Cubby, Environment Editor
Sunday Age, September 23, 2012
Earth may be approaching its points of no return.

AS ARCTIC sea ice hits a record low, focus is turning to climate ''tipping points'' - a threshold that, once crossed, cannot be reversed and will create fundamental changes to other areas.
''It's a trigger that leads to more warming at a regional level, but also leads to flow-on effects through other systems,'' said Will Steffen, the chief adviser on global warming science to Australia's Climate Commission.
There are about 14 known ''tipping elements'', according to a paper published by the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In the case of the Arctic ice cap, less ice means less white surface to reflect heat and more dark water to soak it up. This, in turn, leads to higher temperatures, which scientists say will unlock more ancient greenhouse gases frozen into ocean depths and permafrost, speeding climate change, interfering with ocean currents, rainfall patterns and weather.
Next to the Arctic ice cap, Greenland experienced melting across 97 per cent of its surface in June and July. It is unclear what the tipping point is for the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, and melts similar to this year's seem to occur every century or so. What is known is that if temperatures keep rising as they are, the ice sheet will start to disintegrate on a massive scale some time in the second half of this century. Tentative estimates from Australian and international studies say that another 1.5 degrees of warming would push Greenland across the threshold into irreversible melt, a process that would continue for centuries. There is enough ice in Greenland alone to raise sea levels off NSW and Victoria by four-to-nine metres.
Frozen methane trapped in pockets around the Arctic circle is also seen as a critical tipping element. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and as frozen earth thaws, more is leaking out. There are no exact measurements on the rate of leakage. Rough estimates suggest 30 to 60 billion tonnes of methane may leak by 2070.
Other potential tipping elements include monsoon patterns and the El Nino-Southern Oscillation cycle, which scientists expect will start to shift quite suddenly in response to global warming.
Changes in tree cover, especially in giant forests like the Amazon, are also expected in response to changing rainfall and more heat - and this would have the effect of amplifying global warming because fewer trees would mean less carbon dioxide was being soaked up out of the air.
As the polar ice cap shrivelled at unforeseen speed, Professor Steffen said he had changed his mind about the Arctic tipping point in past weeks. Existing predictions of an ice-free North Pole by 2050 were looking hopelessly wrong. ''I would say that, certainly, it is looking like 2050 would be an outlier now - I'm pretty certain that we have now passed the tipping point for Arctic sea ice.''
Sea ice reached a minimum size of 3.41 million square kilometres, down from an average of 7.4 million in the 1980s, 6.8 million in the 1990s and 5.7 million last decade. Professor Steffen believes that ''the most radical projection is about 2016, and probably the most conservative projection is about 2030, for when it will be ice free.''
The speed of events is why scientists are getting so worried. The only known way to stop these thresholds being crossed is to cut the human greenhouse emissions triggering these changes, and there are few signs of that taking place.
''Australians should see the vanishing Arctic sea ice as a warning sign that stronger action to cut greenhouse gas emissions is needed,'' the commission's chief, Tim Flannery, said this week. ''This is absolutely the critical decade for action. We're only seeing the beginning of rising sea levels; the real question is the rate - how fast will sea level rise? This poses risks for coastal communities, infrastructure and ecosystems right around the world including in Australia.''