Climate change caused an avalanche this week - an avalanche of news, statements, public opinion research and technical reports - as the world enters the home straight to the Paris conference with a sense of optimism about a deal but a realisation that’s what’s proposed is not good enough to keep temperatures below two degrees.
The United Nations last Friday revealed what all of the emissions reductions pledges put forward by nations mean. The Washington Post reports “the upshot is both that countries have raised their climate ambitions greatly, but also that even by 2025 or 2030, global emissions are expected to still be rising despite their best efforts. What does it all add up to? The pledges have the potential to hold warming to 2.7 degrees Celsius, perhaps, but not 2 degrees without further steps, the United Nations said”. “Much greater emission reductions effort than those associated with the INDCs will be required in the period after 2025 and 2030 to hold the temperature rise below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels,” the new report from the UN concludes. Climate Change News reports countries could agree to review their national greenhouse gas slashing goals as early as 2018, under proposals outlined in a draft UN climate agreement.
The United Nations put a positive spin on the numbers. “These INDCs–or national climate action plans–represent a clear and determined down-payment on a new era of climate ambition from the global community of nations. Governments from all corners of the Earth have signalled through their INDCs that they are determined to play their part according to their national circumstances and capabilities,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). “Fully implemented these plans together begin to make a significant dent in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions: as a floor they provide a foundation upon which ever higher ambition can be built. I am confident that these INDCs are not the final word in what countries are ready to do and achieve over time–the journey to a climate safe-future is underway and the Paris agreement to be inked in Paris can confirm, and catalyze that transition,” she added.
The Australian Government’s new “we’re changing our language but not our approach” policy went up a notch this week when Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, spoke at a conference in Shanghai, China. The Sydney Morning Herald reports the Minister told a business audience that a flourishing environment and a strong economy can co-exist and Australia intends to escalate efforts to tackle climate change. The SMH reported Mr Hunt emphasised Australia's "positive agenda" to harness energy innovation, support renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions, in a speech that overturns the message implied by the former Abbott government that strong climate change action is a threat to economic growth. "Underpinning our climate change and broader environment policy is the notion that a clean and healthy environment and a strong economy are equally important. They are not mutually exclusive – we do not have to choose one over the other. We can have both," Mr Hunt said.
Renew Economy picked up on other comments by the Minister in China. It says Mr Hunt hinted that prime minister Malcolm Turnbull will make a significant announcement on the first day of the Paris climate talks later this month. “Turnbull has been confirmed as one of 80 world leaders that will attend the first day of the summit, in hope that they can break any lingering political barriers and, hopefully, announce new initiatives beyond the country-by country pledges known as INDCs. Hunt, interviewed at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in Shangai, said Turnbull will have some important things to say at the meeting. “The Prime Minister will attend day one which is the leaders’ summit, and may have some very prospective and constructive things to propose on the day,” Mr Hunt said.
In the final dispatch from Shanghai, Renew Economy reported Mr Hunt flagged a push towards investment “of a grand scale” in offshore wind in Australia – even though the technology is thought to be twice the price of onshore wind. “Hunt’s comments came during an interview at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in Shanghai, when he was asked about the prospects for onshore wind in Australia, which has pretty much ground to a halt following the Abbott regime’s attack on the technology. Hunt was asked about the outlook for wind energy, in clear reference to the dislike of wind farms by Abbott, former treasurer Joe Hockey and others in the Coalition, and the push by cross-bench Senators to stop the industry in its tracks,” Renew Economy said. “Look wind – my approach to wind has always been there are no moral qualities either way in different forms of energy and electricity. They all have different capacities, some may be lower cost, some may be lower emissions, and as I’ve said in Australia beauty is in the eye of the beholder. “We’re likely to see, however, a move to offshore wind,” Mr Hunt said.
Mr Hunt’s comments coincided with the release of the according the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s Annual Report which said that uncertainty over the future of Australia’s renewable energy target under the Abbott government precipitated a 31 per cent drop in clean energy investment in Australia. The Guardian reported the CEFC’s chair, banker Jillian Broadbent, noted in a foreword to the report that the 2014-15 financial year “saw an all-time record of around US$320bn of global investment in clean energy”. By contrast, “Australian clean energy investment fell by 31 per cent”. “Uncertainty regarding the renewable energy target (RET) has negatively impacted investment in large utility-scale energy projects,” Broadbent said in the annual report.
There was lots of public policy and research news around this week too. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the political dynamics of climate change in Australia, thanks to a CSIRO report, which summarised the findings of five surveys of Australian attitudes to the issue from 2010 to 2014 before the program was axed earlier this year. “Barely one in four Coalition voters accepts climate change is mostly caused by humans, with more than half of Liberal voters believing changes to global temperatures are natural. As in previous years, just under 80 per cent of respondents accepted the climate was changing, with human activity viewed as accounting for 62 per cent of the change. The findings may be an indication of the challenge the Turnbull government faces convincing its supporters to ramp up action to tackle climate change.” The Sydney Morning Herald also reported six out of 10 voters in Malcolm Turnbull’s inner-Sydney seat of Wentworth would back a global ban on new or expanded coal mines, according to the first survey of voters in the electorate since their local MP became the PM. Finally, The Conversation carried a piece by the CSIRO indicating Australians can be sustainable without sacrificing lifestyle or economy. “We found that collective policy choices are crucial, and that Australia could make great progress to sustainability without any changes in social values,” the CSIRO said.
Climate Change News reported India is inviting African nations to join a solar power alliance. Speaking in Africa, Prime Minister Nehendra Modi, outlined common ground between nations representing a third of the world’s population. “When the sun sets, tens of millions of homes in India and Africa become dark. We want to light up lives of our people and power their future. But, we want to do it in a way that the snow on Kilimanjaro does not disappear, the glacier that feeds the River Ganga does not retreat and our islands are not doomed. No one has done less to contribute to global warming than India and Africa. No one can be more conscious of climate change than Indians and Africans.” Climate Change News also reported the International Monetary Fund is to start factoring in climate change to its macroeconomic models from next year.
Finally in science research this week, the Guardian reports a key area of ice in west Antarctica may already be unstable enough to cause global sea levels to rise by three metres of ocean rise. Researchers at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research pointed to the long-term impacts of the crucial Amundsen Sea sector of west Antarctica, which they said “has most likely been destabilized”. They used computer models to project the effects of 60 more years of melting at the current rate. This “would drive the west Antarctic ice sheet past a critical threshold beyond which a complete, long-term disintegration would occur.” In other words, “the entire marine ice sheet will discharge into the ocean, causing a global sea level rise of about three meters,” the authors wrote. “If the destabilisation has begun, a three-meter increase in sea level over the next several centuries to millennia may be unavoidable.” Even just a few decades of ocean warming can unleash a melting spree that lasts for hundreds to thousands of years.
The science is simply chilling.
A selection of great reading on climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm and www.climatecommunication.net
350.org: With Abbott and Harper Gone, Will Australia and Canada Clean Up Their Climate Mess?
The Age: It's not too late for Australia to rejoin the world's enlightened countries
ABC News: South Australian company to launch country's first 100 per cent renewable energy utility provider
ABC Radio National: Is this the beginning of the end of coal?
Breitbart: Bill Gates: Only Socialism Can Save Us From Climate Change
Business Spectator: Climate change will stretch Australian defence capability
The Climate Institute: What did the Bonn climate negotiations indicate about Paris?
The Conversation: Why do we tax goods and services at the same rate, when goods are so much less sustainable?
Climate Communication: Climate Change for Brands and Reputation - Responsibility Plus Bulletin #053 for 3 November 2015
Environmental Justice Australia: Ministers in lockdown ahead of clean air decision
Guardian: Prince Charles calls for focus on deforestation ahead of Paris climate talks
Guardian: Q&A: mining will turn Australia into a third-world country, says ecologist Paul Ehrlich
Greenpeace: More meat threatens the planet
Huffington Post: Buddhist Leaders Call For Climate Change Action At Paris Talks
The Nation: The Future of Climate Change Is Widespread Civil War
New York Times: Gore Calls for Exxon Mobil Inquiry on Climate Change
Public Radio International: Climate change takes center stage among the Democratic presidential candidates
Renew Economy: Turnbull’s Direct Action plan may be multi-billon dollar boondoggle
Renew Economy: Huge response to ARENA, CEFC, Queensland big solar tenders
Renew Economy: Networks to spend another $50bn on Australia’s dumb and dumber grid
Renew Economy: Big Coal faces oblivion with strong 2°C climate deal in Paris
SBS Australia: Doctors urge climate action
Sustainable Brands: Report: Higher CO2 Levels Directly Affect Human Cognition
Sydney Morning Herald: Malcolm Turnbull's five mistakes about coal
Telegraph (UK): Paris climate deal to ignite a $90 trillion energy revolution
Weekend Reads Flipboard Editions are at Climate Communication
This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm