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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #17B

Posted on 25 April 2015 by John Hartz

Australia 'public enemy number one' of UN climate talks, says Nobel laureate

Australia is emerging as “public enemy number one” of the United Nations climate change negotiations to be held in Paris in December, according to a Nobel laureate of medicine speaking from a sustainability symposium in Hong Kong.

Prof Peter Doherty is representing Australia at the symposium, held every three years and which is being attended by 11 other laureates from around the world, who will sign a memorandum detailing their recommendations for making major cities sustainable.

The four-day symposium ends on Saturday afternoon, and Doherty said a clear message had emerged from his peers, who hold expertise across specialities including climate, economics and business.

“People are saying informally that Australia and Canada are emerging as public enemy number one for the Paris talks on climate,” Doherty said.

“No other names are being mentioned. Australia is seen as very much out of touch and out of sync with what’s happening globally.” 

Australia 'public enemy number one' of UN climate talks, says Nobel laureate by Melissa Davis, The Guardian, Apr 24, 2015

Australia should 'get off sidelines' with 30 per cent emissions cut by 2025

Australia has been urged to rapidly accelerate its cuts to greenhouse gases, with the independent Climate Change Authority recommending the Abbott government adopt an ambitious 30 per cent reduction target on 2000 levels by 2025.

In a report to be published on Wednesday, the authority has also declared Australia is falling far short of the task required to cut emissions by 2020 if it wants to match the efforts of other countries to halt global warming.

It comes as the world's biggest emitters, including the US and China, were revealed this week to have questioned the credibility of Australia's climate change targets and the Abbott government's direct action policy to pay polluters to reduce emissions.

Australia should 'get off sidelines' with 30 per cent emissions cut by 2025: report by Lisa Cox & Tom Arup, Sydney Morning Herald, Apr 22, 2015

Australian taxpayers funding climate contrarian's methods with $4m Bjørn Lomborg centre

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott says “coal is good for humanity” and there are more pressing problems in the world than climate change, which he once described as “crap” but now says he accepts.

So it’s not surprising then that the latter should furnish the former with $4 million of taxpayer funds to start an Australian arm of Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre (CCC) at the University of Western Australia’s business school.

The CCC has consistently said that targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions are too expensive and money should be spent elsewhere

Australian taxpayers funding climate contrarian's methods with $4m Bjørn Lomborg centre by Graham Readfearn, Planet Oz, The Guardian, Apr 23, 2015

Changes in water vapor and clouds are amplifying global warming

very new paper currently in press shines light on climate feedbacks and the balance of energy flows to and from the Earth. The paper was published by Kevin TrenberthYongxin ZhangJohn Fasullo, and Shoichi Taguchi. In this study, the authors ask and answer a number of challenging questions. Their findings move us a big step forward in understanding what is happening to the planet now, and how the climate will evolve into the future.

So, what did the scientists do? First, they used measurements at the top of the Earth atmosphere to count the energy coming into the Earth system and the energy leaving the planet. The measurements were made by satellites as part of the Clouds and Earth’s Radiant Energy System project (CERES for short). By subtracting one energy flow from the other, they found what is called the Earth’s energy imbalance. Most studies show that the energy imbalance is in the range of 0.5 to 1 Watt per square meter of surface area, which is causing ongoing global warming.

What the authors then asked is, how does this imbalance change? It turns out, the imbalance changes a lot over time. On a monthly basis the balance might change 1 Watt per square meter of surface area. The changes are caused principally by changes to clouds and water vapor, and other short-term weather patterns. Clouds have the ability to reflect sunlight back to space; however, clouds also have the ability to trap more heat within the Earth’s atmosphere. So, short-term fluctuations in clouds have large impacts on the net rate of heat gain by the Earth.

Changes in water vapor and clouds are amplifying global warming by John Abraham, Climate Consensus - the 97%, The Guardian, Apr 23, 2015

Climate change impacts people who are not born yet

Experts have already warned about the consequences for Latin America and the Caribbean of a 4 degree increase in the average global temperature: there would be 20% more droughts, 80% more tropical cyclones and the Andean glaciers would almost disappear, according to the report Turn Down the Heat by the World Bank.

However, not a lot is known about the effects that might already be felt in the health of the new generations. A recent study on extreme climate events in Colombia revealed that the health of pregnant women and of their newborn babies are affected by these phenomena. A month long heat wave for example can increase the possibility of premature births with the consequences that this can have on the future development of babies.

The effects that the study found aren’t very big: the probability to be born at full term is reduced by 0.5 percentage points and the probability to be born healthy by 0.4 percentage points. But the worrying part, according to the study, is that climate change will provoke more heat waves, in Colombia like in the rest of the world. So it is probable that the negative effects also increase.

We talked to Carlos Rodriguez-Castelan, co-author of the report and World Bank economist.

Climate change impacts people who are not born yet World Bank News, Apr 21, 2015

Kerry, on eve of Arctic summit, calls for citizen pressure on climate change

Acknowledging that governments may not be moving fast enough to avert a climate disaster, Secretary of State John F. Kerry is pushing for a bigger role for cities, universities and other institutions in achieving rapid cuts in ­greenhouse-gas emissions.

Kerry said in an interview with The Washington Post on Thursday that he wants this year’s international climate talks in Paris to include a forum in which non-state actors can commit to reducing carbon pollution blamed for the planet’s warming. Kerry said that a groundswell of citizen support is needed to prod world leaders into making the difficult choices necessary to protect Earth’s climate.

“A lot of mayors around the world are ahead of their national governments, and a lot of local citizens are well ahead of their elected leaders,” Kerry said. “I think we need to find a way to highlight that.”

Kerry, on eve of Arctic summit, calls for citizen pressure on climate change by Joby Warrick, Health & Science, Washington Post, Apr 23, 2015

Obama visits Everglades to call for action on climate change

PResident Barack Obama used an Earth Day visit to the Everglades to make South Florida the poster child for fighting climate change.

In his first trip to Florida's famed River of Grass, the president Wednesday tried to build national support for cutting air pollution and other conservation efforts to lessen global warming and rising seas. The low-lying Everglades is at risk from sea-level rise, which could erode shorelines and push salty water further inland — hurting wildlife habitat and fouling South Florida drinking water supplies.

"Climate change is threatening this treasure and the communities that depend on it," Obama said, standing at the edge of a sawgrass prairie near the entrance to Everglades National Park in Miami-Dade County. "If we don't act, there may not be an Everglades as we know it." 

Obama visits Everglades to call for action on climate change by Andy Reid and William E. Gibson, Sun Sentinel, Apr 22, 2015

Obama visits the Everglades to talk about climate change — and goad Republicans to do the same

President Obama will visit an ecologically sensitive national park on Wednesday in a politically sensitive state.

Obama’s Earth Day trip to the Florida Everglades will be accompanied by historical dedications — the Miami home of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who famously called the Everglades a “river of grass” — and much talk of the value of national parks — a new National Parks Service report documents their value to the economy.

But the political context is unmistakable: Obama’s climate change-focused trip will likely goad Florida Republicans — including Gov. Rick Scott and two presidential contenders, former governor Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio — to engage him on the issue. 

Obama visits the Everglades to talk about climate change — and goad Republicans to do the same by Chris Mooney and David Nakamura, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Apr 22, 2015

Shift to renewables seems inevitable, but is it fast enough?

Climate change may be one of the most divisive issues in the U.S. Congress today, but despite the staunch denialism of Republicans, experts say the global transition from fossil fuels to renewables is already well underway.

new book published by the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute finds that a steep decline in the price of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels (by three-fourths between 2009 and 2014, to less than 70 cents a watt) has helped the industry grow 50 percent per year.

Wind power capacity grew more than 20 percent a year for the last decade, now totalling 369,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 90 million U.S. homes.

Shift to Renewables Seems Inevitable, But Is It Fast Enough? by Kitty Stapp, Inter Press Service (IPS), Apr 21, 2015

The age of wind and solar is closer than you think

That day will come: the life-changing moment when renewable energy—wind, solar, geothermal and others still in development—replace fossil fuels as the principal source of world energy. Most analysts insist, however, that this day will not arrive for many decades to come—certainly well past the middle of the century. Fossil fuels are too entrenched, it is said, and renewables too costly or impractical to usurp existing systems. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the share of global energy provided by renewables—a mere 14 percent in 2012—will increase only slightly between now and 2040, rising to just 19 percent. But there are good reasons to believe that the transition to renewables will occur much faster than previously assumed, pushing that percentage higher and higher. Indeed, recent increases in wind and solar installations have been running at nearly twice the rate of the IEA’s projections for long-term capacity growth, suggesting that its projections of renewables’ share of global energy are much too low.

The age of wind and solar is closer than you think by Michael T. Klare, SA Forum, Scientific American, April 22, 2015

The Bjorn supremacy – is Australia getting the climate advice it deserves?

As tabloid news outlets invite us to feast on the “craziest” and most “insane” images of the Sydney storms this week from social media, University of Western Australia vice-chancellor Paul Johnson has called for calm over Bjorn Lomborg’s appointment to be his fellow advisory board co-chair of a new “Australia Consensus Centre” at UWA. Lomborg will play a key role at the centre.

What has been revealed about the centre is that it will be substantially modelled on Lomborg’s controversial Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) – which is, oddly, based in the US. The CCC is ostensibly a policy thinktank that uses economic modelling to trivialise the importance of addressing climate change to reach long-term development goals.

The CCC does not disclose its donors, and denies receiving funding from fossil-fuel companies. But probing from DeSmogBlog in 2014 uncovered donations from organisations with links to the billionaire Koch brothers, who have funnelled millions to climate-denying thinktanks, and helped foil decarbonisation policy and action in the US.

The UWA centre will receive A$4 million support from the federal government and is looking for A$8 million more from other sources.

The Bjorn supremacy – is Australia getting the climate advice it deserves? by David Holmes, The Conversation, Apr 23, 2015

The climate ‘hiatus’ doesn’t take the heat off global warming

The recent slowdown in the rise of global average air temperatures during the first decade of the 21st century is being used as a touchstone argument for those who deny the science of global warming. But in research published today in Nature Climate Change, I and others show that the “hiatus” is just a blip on the radar compared to the long-term warming we have in store.

The slowdown or “hiatus” in warming refers to the period since 2001, when despite ongoing increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases, Earth’s global average surface air temperature has remained more or less steady, warming by only around 0.1C. This contrasts with the 1990s, when warming reached more than 0.2C.

But by looking at around 200 projections from climate models, and separating those that capture the slowdown from those that do not, we have shown that the slowdown does not affect long-term warming projections in any measurable way.

The climate ‘hiatus’ doesn’t take the heat off global warming by Matthew England, The Conversation, Apr 23, 2015

The return of the iris effect?

When a new scientific hypothesis is published, two questions always occur to me:

  1. Did the authors convincingly show the hypothesis was correct?
  2. If not, is the hypothesis actually correct?

The answers to these two questions may not be the same. A good example is Wegener’s theory of continental drift — his idea was fundamentally correct, but he lacked the data and physical mechanisms to convince the rest of scientific community. It would take several decades before enough data were gathered that the scientific community wholeheartedly endorsed plate tectonics.

In 2001, Prof. Richard Lindzen and colleagues published his “iris hypothesis” (Lindzen et al., 2001). The hypothesis has two parts: First, in a warmer climate, enhanced precipitation efficiency will lead to less cloud being detrained into the troposphere from convection. Second, with less cloud cover, more infrared radiation can escape to space, thereby creating a strong climate-stabilizing negative cloud feedback that prevents significant warming from increasing greenhouse gases.

Within a few years, a number of analyses made clear that the evidence provided by Lindzen et al. had problems [e.g., Hartmann and Michelsen, 2002Lin et al., 2002Lin et al., 2004Su et al., 2008]. Lindzen and colleagues responded to these critiques, but few were convinced by their arguments. By 2006, when I submitted an analysis of tropospheric water vapor that investigated whether there was an iris in that, one of the reviewers pointedly questioned why anyone was still working on this issue. I subsequently withdrew the paper.

The return of the iris effect? by Andrew Dressler, Real Climate, Apr 24, 2015

The state of the Earth in 4 climate trends

What better day to step back and take stock of the planet than Earth Day? Started in 1970 to raise awareness in the U.S. about the environmental state of the planet, Earth Day is now celebrated in more than 190 countries and has led to the creation of legislation in the U.S. aimed at protecting the environment. But one global trend has continued to alter the world — the rise of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, which have led to an ever-rising average global temperature.

It’s easy to get caught up in individual records or wondering what influence climate change has on extreme weather events. But to really understand climate change, the trends are what matter. Here are four that make it clear how our planet is changing.

The state of the Earth in 4 climate trends by Brian Kahn and Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, Apr 22, 2015

What do volcanic eruptions mean for the climate?

Having lain dormant for over 40 years, the Calbuco volcano last night erupted twice within the space of a few hours. The blast sent a huge cloud of ash over southern Chile.

Carbon Brief has asked a number of experts what volcano eruptions mean for the climate, and whether or not we can expect this latest event to have global consequences.

What do volcanic eruptions mean for the climate? by Robert McSweeney & Roz Pidcock, The Carbon Brief, Apr 23, 2015

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Comments 1 to 1:

  1. I would think, given the currently very odd trajectory of Arctic sea ice as of the 24th of April , that more questions would best be avoided by the Abbott Government at this point in time.

    Tony Abbott can't even answer questions about the NBN- how is he going to explain the very odd trajectory of Arctic sea ice undermining his every stammering slogan?

    When do we hear from Lomborg about this Arctic sea ice thing and how best Australian tax-payer dollars are spent on avoiding what looks like a very bad trend from getting worse?

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