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.


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.