21 April 2017

A three-track strategy for climate mitigation

by Graeme Taylor

The challenge

In his analysis of the Paris Agreement on mitigating climate change, The Guardian’s George Monbiot said: “By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster.” On one hand the outcome was better than predicted as Article 2 states that parties to the agreement will hold global average temperature increases “to well below 2°C” and “pursue efforts” to limit this to 1.5°C.

The "carbon law" for the 2-degree target, from “A roadmap for rapid decarbonization”, Rockström, Gaffney, Rogelj, Meinshausen, Nakicenovic and Schellnhuber, Science 355: 1269-1271, 24 March 2017

01 April 2017

Climate change pushing floods, cyclones to new extremes, with worse to come

 With Australia experiencing the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie and record-breaking rains and severe flooding in south-east Queensland and along the north coast of New South Wales, here’s a look at how global warming has, and will, push floods and cyclones to new extremes.

Flooding extremes

Warm air can be more humid than cold air, that is, it can hold more water vapour in absolute terms. And atmospheric water vapour content increases seven per cent for each 1-degree-Celsius increase in global average temperature, establishing the conditions for more intense rainfall events. 

18 March 2017

Meet Sherri Goodman, who in two words made the military care about climate change

“The Age of Consequences” climate film
and speaking tour

The Buzzfeed story lead says it all: “Meet the woman whose two-word catchphrase made the military care about climate” . That woman is Sherri Goodman, and she will be in Australia in early April. And the film about climate change and the military will be on ABC TV's 4 Corners next Monday night.

The national security dimension of climate change receives little attention in Australia, but is the subject of intense focus overseas, particularly in the United States. Climate change interacts with other pre-existing problems to become an accelerant to instability in unexpected ways. Scarce resources, growing water scarcity, declining crop yields, rising food prices, extreme weather events and health impacts become catalysts for instability and conflict, especially in Asia. This has profound implications for Australia, economically and socially, quite apart from the climate change impact on Australia itself.

17 February 2017

Antarctic tipping points for a multi-metre sea level rise

by David Spratt

First published 23 January 2017; updated 17 February 2017

Read in French


  • The Amundsen Sea sector of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has most likely been destabilized and ice retreat is unstoppable for the current conditions.
  • No further acceleration in climate change is necessary to trigger the collapse of the rest of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, with loss of a significant fraction on a decadal to century time scale.
  • Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea-level rise by 2100.
  • A large fraction of West Antarctic basin ice could be gone within two centuries, causing a 3–5 metre sea level rise.
  • Mechanisms similar to those causing deglaciation in West Antarctica are now also found in East Antarctica.
  • Partial deglaciation of the East Antarctic ice sheet is likely for the current level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, contributing to 10 metres of more of sea level rise in the longer run, and 5 metres in the first 200 years.

13 February 2017

Record-busting heat in eastern Australia as climate warming goes extreme

Projected temperatures across Australia for Sunday 5 February 2017
  • The average maximum temperature across the state of New South Wales broke the record with 42.4C on Friday 10 February, which was then smashed the following day with 44.02C on Saturday 11 February. 
  • On Saturday 11 February, many NSW towns set new benchmarks: Walgett (47.9 C), Taree (45.7C), Port Macquarie (46.5C) and Kempsey (46.4C).
  • All time records were also set in Queensland, including Toowoomba (40.8C), Gatton (45.7), Oakey (42.8C) and Kingaroy (41.6C).
  • In Victoria, Mildura became the first location in the state to record consecutive days above 46C, on 9-10 February.
6 FEBRUARY UPDATE: The Queensland town of Moree has recorded 41 days in a row of temperatures above 35C, absolutely smashing the previous record from 1981-82 of  17 days. 

First posted 5 February 2017

2016 was by far the hottest year in the observation record, with the global average surface temperature 1.24 degrees Celsius (°C) warmer that the late nineteenth century, according to NASA data. This broke the record set just the previous year of 1.12°C, which in turn broke the previous mark set in 2014 of 1.01°C.

11 February 2017

Climate warming unabated, despite media spin

Global average temperature 1880-2016 (NASA)
Climate Nexus

As a result of human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, the planet is warming. Those who deny this fact have pointed to a supposed “pause” in warming to justify opposition to climate action.

In 2015, a study led by NOAA’s Tom Karl was published in Science that flatly refuted the idea of a “pause.” It is one of many. But its high profile made it a target for attack.

28 November 2016

Climate goals abandoned as adaptation gap opens wide

The current climate-making paradigm (top) and the reality of current commitments (bottom)
by David Spratt

Here is a question we need to ask: are climate policy makers actually pursuing the goals they set themselves more than 20 years ago, or have the goals been abandoned, and are we falling fast through an "adaptation gap"?

Like the United Nations, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Conference of the Parties (COP) are diplomatic fora, populated by professional representatives of national ruling elites, and subject to the diplomatic processes of negotiation, trade-offs and deals. Civil society sectors are excluded from formal decision-making.

16 November 2016

From White House to madhouse: climate denial in the era of Donald Trump

by David Spratt

It was appropriate, if disconcerting, that I sat down to read “The Madhouse effect: How climate change denial is threatening our planet, destroying our politics and driving us crazy” (Columbia University Press, New York, 2016) on the day of the US presidential election.

The book, by the eminent American climate scientist Prof. Michael E Mann and Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, is a short (150 pages plus notes), very readable overview of the climate denial and disinformation machine in the USA that is funded by the fossil fuel industry, with dark tentacles reaching into the highest level of politics, abetted by the conservative media and agents for hire who have peddled their denial across several industries and many decades.

23 September 2016

Why is emergency-scale action necessary?

The world now faces a climate emergency. Our scientists tell us. We know it. Slowly the political elite are realising that the current international climate policy-making paradigm is dying of failure. Recognition of the climate emergency is now written into the platform for the Democratic Party for the 2016 US presidential election.

So how does our scientific understanding guide as to constructing a new way of looking at the challenge, as to what is happening, what is safe, and how we should respond? The Victorian Climate Action Network held a workshop on these questions on 11 September 2016. The slides below were the contribution by David Spratt to the first session, which asked the question ‘Why is emergency-scale action necessary?’

09 September 2016

Unravelling the myth of a "carbon budget" for 1.5C

by David Spratt
  • The carbon budget concept carries several and significant uncertainties, many of which are not fully appreciated, and which limit the political usefulness of the method.
  • The published 1.5°C carbon budgets all have an unacceptably high risk — of a one-in-three or greater chance — of exceeding the target temperature. Scenarios with a 50% chance of not exceeding the 1.5°C target have a 33% chance of exceeding 2°C of warming, and a 10% chance of exceeding 3°C of warming.
  • All published 1.5°C emissions-reduction scenarios for this century involve significantly “overshooting” the target for several decades (up to 1.8°C of warming) before returning to the target figure by 2100. 
  • From a sensible risk-management viewpoint, there is no carbon budget available for the 1.5°C target. Thus, achieving 1.5°C in the medium term means drawing down every ton of carbon dioxide emitted from now on.
  • The damage that will eventually be caused by the current level of warming of 1°C is beyond adaptation for many nations and peoples. 1.5°C is not a safe target.

17 August 2016

McKibben: It's time to declare war on climate change

By Jon Queally, EcoWatch

We're under attack, said author and climate campaigner Bill McKibben, and the only way to defeat the enemy is to declare a global war against the destructive practices that threaten the world's imperiled ecosystems and human civilization as we know it.

In a new piece published Monday in The New Republic, the co-founder of the global climate action group 350.org said there is simply no more time to waste and that a full-scale mobilization, like the one orchestrated by the U.S. government during World War II, is now necessary if the adversary—human-caused global warming and the climate change that results—is to be vanquished.

"World War III is well and truly underway," McKibben wrote. "And we are losing."

10 August 2016

How climate change will sink China’s manufacturing heartland

Shenzhen in 2015 (population 10.7 million) at left; and in 1980 (population 58,000). Image: Guardian/David McLeod/Lucien Long
by David Spratt and Shane White

Climate change-driven rising sea levels will inundate China’s key industrial zone on the Zhujiang River Delta/Pearl River Delta (PRD) as the world’s largest and fastest growing urban area draws tens of millions of people into a special economic zone built on soft, unstable land.

Researchers say that by 2050, regional sea-level rises in China’s three most vulnerable regions including the PRD will be half to one metre, and “large areas and a great number of cities…will be beneath the sea water despite of all the present tide-and-flood control facilities”. And that will include China's manufacturing heartland, which is responsible for 40% of the nation's exports.

The PRD, adjacent to Hong Kong and Macau, has been the subject of rapid urban expansion over recent decades, transforming mainly agricultural land into the manufacturing heartland of a global economic superpower.  It is also one of China’s wealthiest areas, and barely above sea level.

02 August 2016

Climate heating is an emergency and an existential threat to human civilisation

In mid-2015, I was one of several people who were interviewed by filmmakers Jordan Osmond and Samuel Alexander for their documentary "A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity". Now the film-makers have kindly made the full interview available....

The interview covers the scientific character of the climate challenge, why it must now be understood as constituting a global emergency, and what that means for the actions we need to take.

20 July 2016

Finding the courage to face the climate emergency: Democratic Party platform recognises crisis

Image: Pixabay/CC0
by Russell Greene

Last weekend in Orlando the platform committee of the Democratic Party added language into their platform acknowledging the official position of the Democratic Party to be that we are in a global climate emergency.  

Further, the platform  acknowledges the scale of the threat to be so large that it will require a leadership response from our country on the scale of our national mobilization to confront the threat of fascism during WWII.  The platform language I offered through an amendment entitled, "Global Climate Leadership", explicitly acknowledges that anything short of that will bring catastrophic consequences to civilization:

17 July 2016

Emergency action is only sane response to escalating climate impacts

Climate emergenecy statement published in "The Age" 23 June 2016. Click to enlarge.

by David Spratt

In 2010, Malcolm Turnbull said: "Our efforts to deal with climate change have been betrayed by a lack of leadership, a political cowardice, the like of which I have never seen...". Nothing has changed. Turnbull has betrayed his own words.

Australians understand an emergency: a situation of threat or escalating threat with severe consequences for life and property that requires urgent preventive intervention.

04 July 2016

What Brexit teaches us about climate change communications

by George Marshall, Climate Outreach

The Remain campaign was an object case in bad communications, one from which there is much to learn. The tragedy for the Remain campaigners is that the principles of good engagement were already well known, not least from the field of climate change communications.  Mistakes are forgivable, but there is no excuse for stumbling down a path that is already littered with the wreckage of previous attempts to motivate public opinion- or then, as your support haemorrhages, doubling down on a losing strategy.

There are many curious parallels between the climate change and referendum debates.  Following the language of social theorist Horst Rittel both issues are "wicked" problems: complex, multifactoral, and contradictory. Both issues struggle through the same cognitive landscape of bias, fear and group loyalty. And campaigners for both issues  have failed to understand the way that people form their opinions.

23 June 2016

Scientists, business leaders and prominent Australians call for emergency climate action

Climate emergenecy statement published in "The Age" 23 June 2016. Click to enlarge.

More than 20 prominent Australians have called for emergency-scale action on climate change in an open letter to the new parliament, published in "The Age" on 23 June.

Signatories run across the political spectrum, and include business leaders, scientists, a former Australian of the Year and a Nobel Laureate.

31 May 2016

"Saving the Reef": The triumph of politics over science?

by David Spratt

The Great Barrier Reef is an election issue.  Labor has just promised $400 million for the Reef. The government had previously committed $170 million, but one of Australia's leading coral researchers says that "Australia's plan for protecting Great Barrier Reef tourism is to pretend climate change isn't it's biggest threat."

Neither of the major parties are opposed to the expansion of coal mining in Australia. The question is whether the policies of either major party will actually "Save the Reef," or is this a case of politics triumphing over science?

09 May 2016

After record, mind-numbing coral bleaching, what would it take to "Save the Reef"?

Charlie Veron has identified a third of all known coral species
by David Spratt

Global warming impacts right now are beyond some of the worst scientific predictions, so what does that mean for aspirations to save the Great Barrier Reef?

On 6 July 2009, Australian Dr Charlie Veron — who has discovered, described and identified about a third of all known coral species — addressed the Royal Society in London and asked: "Is the Great Barrier Reef on death row?" His response: "The answer must be yes… a close look at this question from any rational perspective arrives at the same bottom line: the Great Barrier Reef can indeed be utterly destroyed, and this could easily happen in the lifetime of my children."

It is a devastating answer because corals have been around for almost 500 million years and have formed more fossils than any other species, they are home to one-quarter of marine fish species, and tens of millions of people depend on reef ecosystems for protein and other services. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is home to 600 different types of corals, and is more biodiverse that any other UNESCO World Heritage site.

03 May 2016

Arctic sea ice is falling off a cliff and it may not survive the summer

Note: Thanks to robertscribbler.com for this excellent post on the eye-popping circumstances of Arctic sea-ice this melt season.
Near zero sea ice by the end of melt season. The dreaded Blue Ocean Event. Something that appears more and more likely to happen during 2016 with each passing day.

These are the kinds of climate-wrecking phase changes in the Arctic people have been worrying about since sea ice extent, area, and volume achieved gut-wrenching plunges during 2007 and 2012. Plunges that were far faster than sea ice melt rates predicted by model runs and by the then scientific consensus on how the Arctic Ocean ice would respond to human-forced warming this Century. For back during the first decade of the the 21st Century the mainstream scientific view was that Arctic sea ice would be about in the range that it is today by around 2070 or 2080. And that we wouldn’t be contemplating the possibility of zero or near zero sea ice until the end of this Century.