10 December 2018

Big oil and gas nations sideline the science at Katowice, even as emissions rise and warming accelerates

By David Spratt

Delegates at COP24, Katowice. Credit: IISD/ENB - Kiara Worth
Just as four big oil and gas producers block the UN climate policymaking conference in Katowice, Poland from welcoming a report on the science of the 1.5 degree Celsius (°C) target which it had commissioned three years earlier in Paris, new evidence has emerged of the striking contradiction between word and deed at the 24th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP24).

In a deadly diplomatic strike, big fossil fuel nations took a key scientific report out of the Katowice text, replacing acknowledgement of the report’s compelling case for accelerated action, with a more ambiguous formulation which merely notes the report’s existence.

Objections from Saudi Arabia, the US, Kuwait and Russia to wording to "welcome" the 1.5°C report was enough to sideline it, with Saudi Arabia threatening to disrupt the last stretch of negotiations between ministers this week if the word “welcome” was not replaced by “note”.

20 November 2018

Blue Carbon: an effective climate mitigation and drawdown tool?

by Alia Armistead

Blue carbon is increasingly being championed by organisations and governments as a tool for climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as addressing multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What is blue carbon, how much potential does it actually have, and how could we use it?

22 October 2018

World acknowledges unprecedented climate challenge, so what should a Labor federal government do?

by David Spratt,  published at RenewEconomy

Quite suddenly, in the wake of the recent IPCC report, it's become commonplace to talk about a global climate emergency. Al Gore told PBS on 12 October: “We have a global emergency. You use a phrase like that and some people immediately say, ‘okay calm down, it can’t be that bad.’ But it it is."

On 9 October, a stunning editorial was published in the UK. “The Guardian view on climate change: a global emergency” opened with the sentence: “Climate change is an existential to the human race.” A year ago, that would have been extraordinary, but no longer. (An existential risk is one that poses permanent large negative consequences to humanity which can never be undone, or an adverse outcome that would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential.)

15 October 2018

New IPCC climate report actually understates threat, researchers say

Aftermath of Hurricane Michael, Florida, October 2018
By Scott Waldman, first published at E&E News

The United Nations climate report released this week had some stunning revelations, claiming that the 2020s could be one of humanity's last chances to avert devastating impacts. But some say its authors were being too cautious.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states in plain language that averting a climate crisis will require a wholesale reinvention of the global economy. By 2040, the report predicts, there could be global food shortages, the inundation of coastal cities and a refugee crisis unlike the world has ever seen.

10 October 2018

The UN chief calls for emergency climate action, but what does that actually mean in practice?

by David Spratt

Download guide as PDF
“We face a direct existential threat” on climate for “the emergency we face”, UN Secretary General António Guterres told the world on 10 September. This was a most powerful voice in the rising chorus of recognition that existential climate risks requiring a global emergency response.

But what does an emergency response mean in practice?

The Melbourne-based Breakthrough - National Centre for Climate Restoration has just published a short guide to answer that question. Here is what is says.

Understanding climate emergency mode

Many of us have experienced emergency situations such as bushfires, floods or cyclones where, for the duration, nothing else matters as much as responding to the crisis. If we want to survive, or help others effectively, we don’t rush thoughtlessly in, but focus on a plan of action, implemented with thought and all possible care and speed to protect others and get to safety. Everyone chips in, with all hands on deck.

03 October 2018

How to communicate the climate emergency

Download guide as PDF
What are effective ways of engaging people in conversation about the gathering climate crisis and the need for an emergency response? Let's start with some key content:

1. Urgency and courage   

The Earth is already too hot: we are in danger now, not just in the future. Warming will accelerate, and 1.5°C is only a decade away, yet annual emissions are still growing and the current, post-Paris emissions trajectory will result in catastrophic warming. The Great Barrier Reef and other coral systems are dying. We are greatly exceeding Earth’s limits, and food and water shortages are contributing to conflicts and forced migration.

19 September 2018

IPCC's political fix on 1.5°C will undermine its credibility

by David Spratt

[updated 19 September 2018]

The forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on 1.5°C will suggest a significant "carbon budget" for the 1.5°C climate warming target, in a political fix that will further undermine the organisation's credibility.

The report will use unwisely low assumptions about the Earth's climate sensitivity to pull a rabbit out of a hat: a carbon budget that from any sensible risk-management perspective simply does not exist. The political effect will be to say that the climate crisis is less bad than it is, and that we can "allow" more fossil fuel emissions.

In fact, recent research shows that climate sensitivity is higher that the median used in recent IPCC reports, but now the 1.5°C report will go in the opposite direction. The final report will likely have an even higher 1.5°C "carbon budget" figure than in the drafts leaked in recent months.

This is a scandalous outcome that may finish the IPCC as a credible and dispassionate compiler of climate science research.   A report released on 20 August, What Lies Beneath: The understatement of existential climate risk, shows that IPCC reports tend toward reticence and caution, erring on the side of “least drama”, exhibiting a preference for conservative projections and scholarly reticence, and downplaying the more extreme and more damaging outcomes, such they are now becoming dangerously misleading with the acceleration of climate impacts globally.

13 September 2018

When we look at the crisis rationally, the only logical response is to declare a climate emergency

Participants in this week's Darebin Climate Emergency conference in Melboure.
Photo: John Englart
by Paul Gilding

People engaged in the climate debate are often bewildered by society’s lack of response. How can we ignore such overwhelming evidence of an existential threat to social and economic stability?

Given human history, we should never have expected anything else. Humans have a consistent tendency that when change is uncomfortable we delay action until a threat becomes a crisis. The scale of the threat or the existence of powerful evidence makes little difference.

There are countless examples – personal health issues, a business’ declining success, or global financial and credit risks. Historically, though, World War Two (WWII ) remains the best analogy.

20 August 2018

Take unprecedented action or bear the consequences, says eminent scientist and advisor

By David Spratt and Ian Dunlop

“Climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.”

Those are the challenging words from Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, for twenty years the head of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and a senior advisor to Pope Francis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Union.  In the foreword to a new report, Schellnhuber says the issue now "is the very survival of our civilisation, where conventional means of analysis may become useless”.

The report, What Lies Beneath: The understatement of existential climate risk, is released today by the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration.

02 August 2018

This northern summer’s heat waves could be the strongest climate signal yet

In El Salvador, many farmers have lost their lost corn crops to drought this summer. Agriculture is suffering in the high heat and dry conditions in several parts of the world. Credit: Oscar Rivera/AFP/Getty Images
 by Bob Berwyn, Inside Climate News

Earth's global warming fever spiked to deadly new highs across the Northern Hemisphere this summer, and we're feeling the results—extreme heat is now blamed for hundreds of deaths, droughts threaten food supplies, wildfires have raced through neighborhoods in the western United States, Greece and as far north as the Arctic Circle.

At sea, record and near-record warm oceans have sent soggy masses of air surging landward, fueling extreme rainfall and flooding in Japan and the eastern U.S. In Europe, the Baltic Sea is so warm that potentially toxic blue-green algae is spreading across its surface.

23 July 2018

Minerals Council still dangerously wrong on coal and climate, says former senior coal executive

by Ian Dunlop, first posted at RenewEconomy

After 30 years of inaction, the focus on climate risk is accelerating as the physical impact of climate change worsens and the transition risks to a low-carbon world intensify. Despite effusive official rhetoric, nothing has been done to seriously address climate change, notwithstanding increasingly urgent warnings.

To prevent temperatures rising above the upper 2C limit of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, it is no longer possible to follow a gradual, incrementalist glide path. We have left it too late; emergency action, akin to wartime regulation, is inevitable, which further increases the transition risk. Market-based measures alone are insufficient.

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.


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.