09 July 2018

The straight-forward climate question Josh Frydenberg will not answer

by David Spratt

Climate warming has been a factor in the Darfur crisis. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farra

Is climate change an existential risk to Australian society and the world community? It's not a difficult question, but one that climate minister Frydenberg has failed to answer.

The response should not be too challenging. An Australian Senate report released on 17 May this year, after an inquiry into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security, found that climate change is “a current and existential national security risk”. It says an existential risk is “one that threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development”.

17 June 2018

Our energy challenge in 6 eye-popping charts

Renewable energy is winning and coal is on the skids. Disruption of the fossil fuel industry is well under way, and the global energy system is being decarbonised. We’re right on track, right?

To avoid dramatic climate system tipping points, the world needs to decarbonise very quickly and start drawing down the level of carbon in the atmosphere, because it’s already unsafe. As one dramatic example, in past periods when greenhouse levels were similar to the current level, temperatures were 3–6°C higher and sea levels around 25–40 metres higher than in 1900.

17 May 2018

Senate report recognises climate change as existential risk, but fails to draw the obvious conclusions

Download the Breakthrough report
on climate and security risks
by David Spratt

Climate change is “a current and existential national security risk”, according to an Australian Senate report released on Thursday 17 May. It says an existential risk is “one that threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development”. These are strong words.

The report by the Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee follows an Inquiry into the Implications of Climate Change for Australia’s National Security. Whilst many of the findings accord with the growing international recognition of climate change as a “threat multiplier” or an “accelerant to instability”, the inquiry’s recommendations lack a sense of urgency, especially since the “current existential risk” is being triggered today by the Australian Government’s insistence on  expanding the use of fossil fuels.

10 May 2018

What goes up must come down: It's time for a carbon drawdown budget


  by David Spratt

There is no carbon budget left for 1.5°C climate warming target, which means that to achieve this outcome every tonne of emissions must be matched by a tonne of drawdown of atmospheric carbon from now on. For that reason, carbon budgets and emissions target should be complemented by a carbon drawdown budget and target.

That's the proposal made by Breakthrough, the Melbourne-based National Centre for Climate Restoration, to the Victorian climate change targets 2021-2030 expert panel, last week.

30 April 2018

The fiduciary responsibility of politicians and bureaucrats in the era of existential climate risks

by Ian Dunlop

First published at Renew Economy 
“Fiduciary: a person to whom power is entrusted for the benefit of another”“Power is reposed in members of Parliament by the public for exercise in the interests of the public and not primarily for the interests of members or the parties to which they belong. The cry ‘whatever it takes’ is not consistent with the performance of fiduciary duty”
— Sir Gerard Brennan AC, KBE, QC
Ian Dunlop
After three decades of global inaction, none more so than in Australia, human-induced climate change is now an existential risk to humanity. That is, a risk posing large negative consequences which will be irreversible, resulting inter alia in major reductions in global and national population, species extinction, disruption of economies and social chaos, unless carbon emissions are reduced on an emergency basis.

The risk is immediate in that it is being locked in today by our insistence on expanding the use of fossil fuels when the carbon budget to stay below sensible temperature increase limits is already exhausted.

05 April 2018

1.5°C of warming is closer than we imagine, just a decade away

by David Spratt, first published at Renew Economy

Also available in French

Updated 16 April 2018

Global warming of 1.5°C is imminent, likely in just a decade from now. That’s the stunning conclusion to be drawn from a number of recent studies, surveyed below.

Paris Commitments now put the
world on a path of 3.4°C of
warming by 2100
(Climate Action Tracker)
So how does hitting warming of 1.5°C a decade from now square with the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”? In two words, it doesn’t.

The Paris text was a political fix in which grand words masked inadequate deeds. The voluntary national emission reduction commitments since Paris now put the world on a path of 3.4°C of warming by 2100 (as illustrated), and more than 5°C if high-end risks including carbon-cycle feedbacks are taken into account.

The Paris outcome is an emissions path continuing to rise for another fifteen years, even though it is clear that “if the 1.5°C limit should not be breached in any given year, the budget (is) already overspent today”. Two years ago, Prof. Michael E. Mann noted: “And what about 1.5°C stabilisation? We’re already overdrawn.”

25 February 2018

What is happening in the Arctic is now beyond words, so here are the pictures

In the depths of the northern winter, and with 24-hour darkness at the North Pole, an extraordinary climate warming event is happening. And for many scientists it is now beyond words. So here from Zack Labe (@ZLabe) are some images which tell the story of the recording-smashing warming and sea-ice melting occurring right now high in the Arctic.

12 February 2018

Do we have the capability to reverse global warming within a meaningful timeframe?

"Do we have the capability to reverse global warming within a meaningful timeframe?" was the topic for discussion at the Sustainable Living Festival's Great Debate on 9 February 2018. The contributions to the discussion by David Spratt and Ian Dunlop are reproduced here. Ian and David are also the authors of the recent reports What Lies Beneath: the scientific understatement of climate risks and Disaster Alley: Climate change, conflict and risk.

DAVID SPRATT

The present 1°C of climate warming is already dangerous because critical tippings points have already been crossed. In 2014 glaciologist Eric Rignot said ice retreat in parts of West Antarctica was already “unstoppable”, with the “likely collapse of the rest of the ice sheet, and a 3-5 metre sea level rise”. That is, unstoppable unless temperatures decline below 1°C to the 1970s level.
In Paris in 2015, the rhetoric was of 1.5°C and 2°C, even as the voluntary, unenforceable agreements put warming on a path to 3°C, and perhaps 4°C.

But 1.5°C is far from safe. A safe climate would be well less than the current warming, unless you think it is OK to destroy the Arctic ecosystem, tip West West Antarctic glaciers into a self-accelerating melt, and lose the world’s coral reefs, just for starters.

01 February 2018

Quantifying our Faustian bargain with fossil fuels

Our Faustian bargain: the byproduct of burning dirty
fossil fuels are short-lived atmospheric aerosols
which provide temporary cooling
by David Spratt

The climate system will heat well past 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) and perhaps up to 2°C without any further fossil fuel emissions. That’s the conclusion to be drawn from new research which should also help demystify the rhetoric from the 2015 Paris climate talks of keeping warming to below 1.5°C .

It’s not that 1.5°C isn’t dangerous: in fact, at just 1–1.1°C of warming to date, climate change is already dangerous. A safe climate would be well below the present level of warming, unless you think it is OK to destroy the Arctic ecosystem, tip West West Antarctic glaciers into a self-accelerating melt, and lose the world’s coral reefs, just for starters.

The new research quantifies the effect of losing the very temporary planetary cooling provided by atmospheric aerosols.

22 January 2018

New study on climate sensitivity not what poor media headlines, deniers are saying

Courtesy Skeptical Science
One swallow doesn't make a spring, and nor does one scientific paper change a whole body of evidence. But you could be mistaken for thinking so after the poor media coverage last week of a new piece of climate research.

A study published last week in Nature ("Emergent constraint on equilibrium climate sensitivity from global temperature variability") claims to tighten the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), range for (short-term) Estimated Climate Sensitivity (ECS), the amount of warming to be expected from a doubling of carbon dioxide  (CO2) in the atmosphere.

19 January 2018

Displacing coal with wood for power generation will worsen climate change, say researchers

The Drax facility in North Yorkshire has transitioned some of its coal power generation capacity to wood pellets with the support of UK government subsidies
New research has challenged the view that wood bioenergy is carbon neutral, and shows that wood pellets burned in European and UK power plants actually emit more carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilowatt hour than that generated by coal.

This is because wood is both less efficient at the point of combustion and has larger processing and supply chain emissions than coal. Their research shows that using wood instead of coal in power generation increases the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, worsening climate change until—and only if—the harvested forests regrow.

15 January 2018

What we learned about the climate system in 2017 that should send shivers down the spines of policy makers

by David Spratt

Much of what happened in 2017 was predictable: news of climate extremes became, how can I put it … almost the norm. There was record-breaking heat on several continents, California’s biggest wildfire (extraordinarily in the middle of winter), an ex-tropical cyclone hitting Ireland (yes, Ireland) in October, and the unprecedented Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that swept through the Atlantic in August. The US government agency, the NOAA, reported that there were 16 catastrophic billion-dollar weather/climate events in the USA during 2017.

And 2017 “marks the first time some of the (scientific) papers concluded that an event could not have occurred — like, at all — in a world where global warming did not exist. The studies suggested that the record-breaking global temperatures in 2016, an extreme heat wave in Asia and a patch of unusually warm water in the Alaskan Gulf were only possible because of human-caused climate change”, Reuters reported.

22 November 2017

Ice Apocalypse: How the rapid collapse of Antarctic glaciers could flood coastal cities by the end of this century

by Eric Holthaus, Grist

Pine Island Glacier shelf edge. Jeremy Harbeck
In a remote region of Antarctica known as Pine Island Bay, 2,500 miles from the tip of South America, two glaciers hold human civilization hostage.

Stretching across a frozen plain more than 150 miles long, these glaciers, named Pine Island and Thwaites, have marched steadily for millennia toward the Amundsen Sea, part of the vast Southern Ocean. Further inland, the glaciers widen into a two-mile-thick reserve of ice covering an area the size of Texas.

There’s no doubt this ice will melt as the world warms. The vital question is when.

The glaciers of Pine Island Bay are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica. (A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites “The Doomsday Glacier.”) Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour 11 feet of sea-level rise into the world’s oceans — an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.


02 October 2017

Policymakers need to look at the real climate risks

By David Spratt and Ian Dunlop
This blog is an extract from What Lies Beneath: The scientific understatement of climate risks, just published by Breakthrough, the National Centre for Climate Restoration.
Download report
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are the twin climate processes of the United Nations.

Conferences of the Parties (COPs) under the UNFCCC are political fora, populated by professional representatives of national governments, and subject to the diplomatic processes of negotiation, trade-offs and deals. In this sense, the COPs are similar in process to that of the IPCC by which the Summary for Policymakers is agreed. The decision-making is
inclusive (by consensus), making outcomes hostage to national interests and lowest-common-denominator politics.

The COP 21 Paris Agreement is almost devoid of substantive language on the cause of human-induced climate change and contains no reference to “coal”, “oil”, “fracking”, “shale oil”, “fossil fuel” or “carbon dioxide”, nor to the words “zero”, “ban”, “prohibit” or “stop”. By way of comparison, the term “adaptation” occurs more than eighty times in 31 pages, though responsibility for forcing others to adapt is not mentioned, and both liability and compensation are explicitly excluded. The Agreement has a goal but no firm action plan, and bureaucratic jargon abounds, including the terms “enhance” and “capacity” appearing more than fifty times each.

09 September 2017

The climate factor in Syrian instability

by Caitlin Werrell and Francesco Femia, first posted at the Center for Climate and Security

Observed change in cold season precipitation
for the period 1971–2010 minus 1902–70
(Hoerling et al., 2012).
A recently-released study by Jan Selby and colleagues analyzes existing research on the intersection of climate change and conflict in Syria. The article, published in the Journal of Political Geography, includes a critique of a 2015 study published by the Center for Climate and Security’s (CCS) Caitlin Werrell, Francesco Femia and Troy Sternberg (and a short briefer by CCS from 2012), as well as two other studies by Colin Kelly et al (2015) and Peter Gleick (2014). More research into the climate-conflict nexus in pre-civil war Syria is certainly welcome for better understanding the risks and informing future policies for addressing them. In this study, Selby et al. point to some important gaps in the data on the connection between displaced peoples and social and political unrest, and the possible role of market liberalization in the Syrian conflict. However, the study does nothing to refute the role of climate change in Syrian instability in the years before the war, while muddying the waters on the subject through a few mischaracterizations that are worth addressing at some length.

07 September 2017

What lies beneath? The scientific understatement of climate risks

By David Spratt and Ian Dunlop
This blog is the Introduction to What Lies Beneath: The scientific understatement of climate risks, published today by Breakthrough, the National Centre for Climate Restoration.
Download report
Three decades ago, when serious debate on human-induced climate change began at the global level, a great deal of statesmanship was on display. There was a preparedness to recognise that this was an issue transcending nation states, ideologies and political parties which had to be addressed proactively in the long-term interests of humanity as a whole, even if the existential nature of the risk it posed was far less clear cut than it is today. 

As global institutions were established to take up this challenge, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and the extent of change this would demand of the fossil-fuel-dominated world order became clearer, the forces of resistance began to mobilise. Today, as a consequence, and despite the diplomatic triumph of the 2015 Paris Agreement, the debate around climate change policy has never been more dysfunctional, indeed Orwellian.

31 August 2017

Hurricane Harvey: Connecting the dots between climate change and more extreme events

by Climate Nexus

The science of attributing extreme weather to climate change is complicated and developing every day. Here’s a guide of what we know about the links between climate change and Harvey to help unpack the elements that contributed to this historic and unfolding storm. For a complete annotated backgrounder, visit the related events page on Climate Signals.

Warmth

As seas warm, more water evaporates to the atmosphere. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, fueling extreme rainfall and increasing flood risk. Record-breaking rainfall is a classic signature of climate change, and the fingerprint of climate change has been firmly identified in the observed global trend of increasing extreme precipitation.

16 August 2017

Chinese climate impacts will hit Australian economy

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How hard will climate-change impacts in China hit the Australian economy? It’s a question
rarely asked in Australia, but one the current Senate inquiry into the national security
implications of climate change needs to answer. Two vital questions for Australia are the extent to which climate change impacts in China could damage the Australian economy, and the regional strategic consequences should climate impacts in China undermine domestic political stability.

Australia faces severe consequences if China’s economy grows at a significantly lower rate, or falls into recession. China is Australia’s largest trading partner and overseas market for Australian resources, services and agriculture, representing over a quarter of all Australian exports at $85.9 billion in 2015-2016.

27 July 2017

Paris 1.5-2°C target far from safe, say world-leading scientists

by David Spratt, first published at Renew Economy

The Paris climate agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius (ºC) is well above temperatures experienced during the Holocene — period of human settlement over the last 11,700 years — and is far from safe because “if such temperature levels are allowed to long exist they will spur “slow” amplifying feedbacks… which have potential to run out of humanity’s control.”

That’s the message from some of the world best climate scientists, including former NASA climate chief, James Hansen, in a newly paper, “Young people’s burden: requirement of negative CO2 emissions”, published in Earth System Dynamics this month.

BT_WhySafeTargetsMatter copy

24 July 2017

A failure of imagination on climate risks

By Ian Dunlop and David Spratt
This is an extract from Disaster Alley: Climate change, conflict and risk published recently by Breakthrough.
Download the report
Climate change is an existential risk that could abruptly end human civilisation because of a catastrophic “failure of imagination” by global leaders to understand and act on the science and  evidence before them.

At the London School of Economics in 2008, Queen Elizabeth questioned: “Why did no one foresee the timing, extent and severity of the Global Financial Crisis?” The British Academy answered a year later: “A psychology of denial gripped the financial and corporate world… [it was] the failure of the collective imagination of many bright people… to understand the risks to the system as a whole”.

A “failure of imagination” has also been identified as one of the reasons for the breakdown in US intelligence around the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

A similar failure is occurring with climate change today.