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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #18A

Posted on 1 May 2015 by John Hartz

Abbott’s maligned climate change measures face French scrutiny

Prime Minister Tony Abbott may get a taste of mounting international pressure for Australia to curb its carbon emissions when he meets France’s President Francois Hollande in Paris.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt said he expects Abbott, who last year described coal as “good for humanity,” to defend Australia’s progress in tackling climate change since scrapping a carbon tax on heavy polluters. The government held its first carbon auction this month, giving taxpayer-funded handouts for voluntary cuts to emissions.

“Other countries will increasingly look at the fact that Australia is tackling climate change without a punitive electricity tax and through an incentives-based scheme,” Hunt said in an April 23 interview.

Abbott’s Maligned Climate Change Measures Face French Scrutiny by Jason Scott, Bloomberg News, Apr 26, 2015

Australian Climate Change Authority emissions reduction targets 'too weak', says Milne

Greenhouse gas reduction targets suggested by the independent Climate Change Authority are too weak, according to the Greens, who say Australia should reduce emissions far more quickly, with the aim of net-zero pollution by 2040.

As the battlelines are drawn in the debate over what post-2020 emission reduction targets Australia should promise at a United Nations conference in Paris later this year, the Greens leader Christine Milne says Australia should cut greenhouse gases by between 40% and 50% of 2000 levels by 2025, by 60% to 80% by 2030 and reach “net-zero pollution” by 2040 – in other words, to have sufficient “greenhouse sinks” to compensate for continuing emissions.

Milne says deep cuts could be achieved with policies including an emissions trading scheme, closing the dirtiest coal-fired power stations and refusing to allow new coal mines or coal seam gas wells.

Climate Change Authority emissions reduction targets 'too weak', says Milne by Lenore Taylor, The Guradian, Apr 27, 2015

Climate science and religion are “fully aligned”: Vatican summit calls on Catholics to fight global warming

The Vatican’s made it clear that it accepts the science of man-made climate change — that, in the words of Cardinal Peter Turkson, ”the ever-accelerating burning of fossil fuels…is disrupting the earth’s delicate ecological balance on almost unfathomable scale.” — and that a “moral conversion and change of hearts” is needed to address the threat.

At a summit on climate and poverty Tuesday, leaders called on the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to embrace climate action and reject the continued reliance on fossil fuels. “In our recklessness, we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries,” Turkson warned. “And the lesson from the Garden of Eden still rings true today: pride, hubris, self-centredness are always perilous, indeed destructive. The very technology that has brought great reward is now poised to bring great ruin.”

The conference precedes the Pope’s much-anticipated encyclical on climate action, which is due out this summer. In the lead-up to that, two of the Vatican’s leading bodies released a declaration, “Climate Change and the Common Good,” laying out the moral and ethical case for acting on the science. Here’s how it begins:

Climate science and religion are “fully aligned”: Vatican summit calls on Catholics to fight global warming by Lindsay Abrams, Salon, Apr 28, 2015

Coffee production slipping in Tanzania as temperatures rise

Warmer weather means that Tanzania is producing less coffee as higher temperatures affect yields, hurting both the nation's producers and coffee drinkers who may pay more per cup, a South African university has found.

According to a study conducted by the University of Witwatersrand, researchers have established that higher night-time temperatures are the main factor behind a significant decline in Tanzania's Arabica coffee yields.

Coffee is Tanzania's largest export crop; on average the country produces around 50,000 metric tons each year of which approximately 70 percent is Arabica. Sales generate over $100 million per year, according to data from Tanzania's Coffee Board.

Coffee production slipping in Tanzania as temperatures rise by Kizito Makoye, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Apr 27, 2015

Global warming: 2C rise in temperature could see 5 fold increase in heat extremes

Highlighting major implications of subtle global temperature increases, a new study shows that a 2C warming will spur five times as many hot extremes than today, and two times as many hot extremes as with a 1.5C warming.

It further shows that more than half of the hot extremes worldwide and nearly a fifth of heavy rainfall can be attributed to global warming.

These events are not the direct result of warming, but it increases their frequency. The less common and more extreme of these events can be attributed to man-made warming.

The study published in Nature Climate Change analyses and compares climate model simulations for the pre-industrial era and present-day conditions. 

Global warming: 2C rise in temperature could see 5 fold increase in heat extremes by Jayalakshmi K, International Business Times, Apr 28, 2015

More fatal earthquakes to come, warn climate change scientists

The untold – and terrifying – story behind the earthquake that devastated Nepal last Saturday morning begins with something that sounds quite benign. It’s the ebb and flow of rainwater in the great river deltas of India and Bangladesh, and the pressure that puts on the grinding plates that make up the surface of the planet.

Recently discovered, that causal factor is seen by a growing body of scientists as further proof that climate change can affect the underlying structure of the Earth.

Because of this understanding, a series of life-threatening “extreme geological events” – earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis – is predicted by a group of eminent geologists and geophysicists including University College London’s Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards.

More Fatal Earthquakes to Come, Warn Climate Change Scientists by Alex Renton, Newsweek, Apr 28, 2015

Nearly half of top pension funds gambling on climate change

Almost half the world’s top pension funds are taking an ill-advised gamble on climate change, according to a financial thinktank.

The Asset Owners Disclosure Project’s (AODP) annual index of 500 of the largest global asset owners found that 232 of them had done little or nothing to protect their investments from the financial upheavals predicted due to climate change.

Financial experts, including the president of the World Bank and the governor of the Bank of England, have warned that fossil fuel assets are risky investments because their reserves of coal, oil and gas cannot be burned if the world is to avoid the most extreme impacts of climate change.

Nearly half of top pension funds gambling on climate change by Karl Methiesen, The Guardian, Apr 28, 2015

New York Mayor champions economic justice in sustainability plan

Environmental justice advocates may have found a climate champion in Mayor Bill De Blasio, who this week made income equality the centerpiece of his sweeping sustainability plan for New York City.

The plan, known as OneNYC, is a rebranding and revamping of the city's eight-year-old sustainability agenda PlaNYC, but the emphasis on economic justice came as an unexpected swerve. Urban development and environmental experts told InsideClimate News that OneNYC is the most ambitious strategy in the nation to link the fight against income inequality with climate action and may inspire officials in other municipalities to follow.

De Blasio's plan is a municipal- equivalent to the thorny discussions between rich and poor nations over an international climate deal. There is now growing recognition that a climate deal that fails to lift poor nations out of energy poverty would not succeed. Guaranteeing people access to clean electricity would promote economic development, uplift the lives of the poor—and address the economic justice issues that have plagued climate progress. 

New York Mayor Champions Economic Justice in Sustainability Plan by Katherine Bagley, InsideClimate News, Apr 24, 2015

Obama just burned GOP climate deniers in "Anger Translator" rant

Towards the end of his annual speech to the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in the nation's capital Saturday night, President Obama got "angry." Aided by Luther, his "anger translator" (a character played by Comedy Central's Keegan-Michael Key, from the TV show Key and Peele), President Obama launched into an epic tirade against climate deniers on Capitol Hill.

For those who aren't familiar with the set-up of the skit featured on Key and Peele: "No-drama Obama" (played by Jordan Peele) can't risk getting angry in public, so Luther translates what he's really thinking, behind all the political soft-ball rhetoric. It's quite brilliant.

Obama Just Burned GOP Climate Deniers In "Anger Translator" Rant by James West, Mother Jones, Apr 25, 2015

Pope Francis forces the issue on climate change

High-profile climate researchers, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and church officials will gather at the Vatican next week for a conference on climate change. It’s Pope Francis’s latest effort to raise the profile of the issue among churchgoers, and it’s sure to make some Catholics hot under the collar.

Since taking the helm of the church in 2013, Pope Francis has stated repeatedly that Christians have a moral obligation to lower carbon emissions. He has spoken frankly about how global warming hits poor, marginalized communities hardest. And he’s announced his intentions to issue, as early as June, a teaching document known as an encyclical which is set to merge the science and theology of climate change. He’s done these things in spite of angry rhetoric from conservative-leaning Catholics.

All this to say, dude has some guts. But are the pope’s actions doing more than just stirring up controversy in the church?

Pope Francis forces the issue on climate change by Liz Core, Grist, Apr 24, 2015

Pope summons scientists to shape climate change debate

Pope Francis summoned scientists, government officials and religious leaders to a villa in the manicured Vatican Gardens on Tuesday as he stepped into the heated climate-change debate.

“Climate change is a defining issue of our time,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told attendees at the Vatican conference. “It is a moral issue, it is an issue of social justice, human rights and fundamental ethics.”

The conference, which is being held under the auspices of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, precedes a papal encyclical scheduled for publication in June. The encyclical, a letter to the world’s bishops but with broader resonance because of the pope’s moral and political authority, will aim to influence a UN summit in Paris at the end of the year, at which nations may pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Pope Summons Scientists to Shape Climate Change Debate by John Follain, Bloomberg Business News, Apr 27, 2015

Risk management industry must adjust to climate change loss

Videos produced by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, in which simulated tornadoes and hurricanes tear off rooftops and force structures to collapse, make it easy to understand why climate change might prompt insurance companies to rethink their exposure to property risk.

Yet, in response to the increased frequency and severity of storms and floods, insurers can do more than simply raise their premiums.

Risk management industry must adjust to climate change loss by Sarah Murray, Risk Management/Financial Times, Apr 26, 2015

Strong future forecast for renewable energy

In its forward-looking report for the year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts renewable energy will be the fastest-growing power source through 2040.

New investments in renewable energy rose from $9 billion in the first quarter of 2004 to $50 billion for 2015's first quarter, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and the volume of installed photovoltaic systems in the United States has grown every year since 2000.

The story that renewable energy advocates often share of how their favorite power sources have grown so rapidly over recent years belies the reality that those industries have expanded from small market shares to start.

Strong Future Forecast for Renewable Energy by Benjamin Hulac, ClimateWire/Scientific American, 

Vatican convenes major climate-change meeting

Pope Francis has drawn attention for his progressive teachings on sexuality, contraception and abortion. Now he and the Catholic Church are tackling another contentious issue: climate change.

On 28 April, scientists, religious figures and policymakers will gather at the Vatican to discuss the science of global warming and the danger posed to the world’s poorest people. The meeting comes as Francis prepares an encyclical letter to bishops on climate change for release this summer, ahead of United Nations climate negotiations in December. The Pope’s strong feelings on the matter are apparent: in January he said that people were “mostly” responsible for recent warming and that they have “slapped nature in the face”.

Two scholarly Vatican groups that advise the Pope on scientific issues are organizing the meeting. One, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, has held several related conferences, including a 2011 meeting on melting glaciers and another last year on sustainable development. But the climate gathering this week is the first at the Vatican to include religious leaders as well as scientists.

Vatican Convenes Major Climate-Change Meeting by Edwin Cartlidge, Nature/Scientific American, Apr 27, 2015

World's plants and soils to switch from carbon sink to source by 2100

Every year, trees and plants across the world absorb a vast amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But a new study suggests this massive carbon sink could instead become a source of carbon dioxide by the end of the century.

This means we might not be able to rely on plants soaking up our emissions for much longer, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

World's plants and soils to switch from carbon sink to source by 2100, study shows by Robert McSweeney, The Carbon Brief, Apr 24, 2015

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Comments 1 to 3:

  1. More on the Carbon Reduction Auctions in Australia. Energy Regulator said the contracts were awarded to 43 contractors covering 144 projects.

    “The majority applied under sequestration methods, and landfill and alternative waste treatment methods.”

    I was scratching my head thinking: what sequestration methods, CCS yet to be developped? But govs have explained the detail:

    A$660 million of contracts to deliver more than 47 million metric tons of abatement. It paid an average A$13.95 per ton to companies for projects including capturing methane from pig manure, planting trees and managing fires in savanna grasslands.

    Well, now I understand: my "Carbon Reduction" tax dollars went to the projects that have little (if anything) to do with FF emission reduction. Managing fires have nothing to do with reduction of FF emissions. Those fires consume carbon that's mostly couple decades old (forrest understory) or at most couple 100s y old (if some old trees are burned), while 300-400m y old coal burning continues unabated. No wonder, because coal is "good for humanity". Or pigs' emission sequestrations... Well, our govs are trying to get away with that travesty which amounts for deliberate misleading of taxpayers who don't understand the difference between the fossil fuel emissions (where the money is supposed to go) and pigs' emissions (where the money is going) which as a mitigation effort is just a joke IMO. Someone hopefully will pick it up and duly explain to the australian public, whose money is being wasted.

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  2. Very sad to hear, chriskoz,but sadly no surprise.

    This is not a rhetorical question... Do you think many people seriously believed that TA's direct action was meant to achieve anything?

    I see the right-wing media and a few TA fans playing along with the charade, but I always imagine they know better deep down. After all, TA got into power on a denialist wave, within his own party, around the time of 'Climategate', and he knows that is where his fanbase still is.

    I see scientists and environmental groups declaring Direct Action to be a doomed strategy of paying the polluters to achieve very little. Most Liberal voters could not care less about the scientific details, or they woudln't have let an antiscience prime minister come into power in the first place.

    Are there really people who actively argue with conviction that this is a good idea and that it is going to have a useful effect (on a per capita basis) on global warming? I see it more as a foil with which they can deflect criticisms from the left, as in: "Global warming is rubbish, and even if it turned out to be real, we're doing our bit anyway, so stop complaining.. "

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    Moderator Response:

    [AS] For the benefit of non-Australian readers, "TA" is Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister (I assume). 

  3. Of course I can only speak by relaying the conversations I have with my colleagues who are tertiary educated, have families, are articulate and concerned about what they will leave for their children and grandchildren, but the concensus at my workplace - a school - is that Tony Abbott has it wrong, and that the carbon tax whilst unpalatable was a better bet.

     Of course the mining industry here in OZ - coal and iron ore principally - has a large input to the economy, so one (coal) is a direct fail for Abbott and "direct action", and the other (iron ore) probably drives the downturn in coal (if I read the various indices correctly).

    Just a cheapie from a grandparent, so take it as you will ....


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