Two things came to a head this week in climate change and environment protection and both have profound long term impacts on environment. If you are reading this Thursday night Australian time (Thursday AM in Europe and the Americas), many world leaders or their representatives are in New York to officially sign up to what was agreed to in Paris last December. The other notable happening this week concerned the global environment movement ringing the alarm bell on the Great Barrier Reef louder than it has ever been rung before. It was deafening. It needed to be. The barrier reef is at risk of death from the climate emergency. The amount of media coverage in the last week has been the greatest since the first week of December last year when the world met to start work on the deal agreed to in Paris. As a result “Weekend Reading in Climate Change” is a bit longer than normal this week.
To New York first. The Guardian reports the US and China are leading a push to bring the Paris climate accord into force much faster than even the most optimistic projections – aided by a typographical glitch in the text of the agreement. “More than 150 governments, including 40 heads of state, are expected at a symbolic signing ceremony for the agreement at the United Nations on 22 April, which is Earth Day. It’s the largest one-day signing of any international agreement, according to the UN. But leaders will really be looking to see which countries go beyond mere ceremony and legally join the agreement, which would bind them to the promises made in Paris last December to keep warming below the agreed target of 2C. So far, the US, China, Canada and a host of other countries have promised to join this year - boosting the hopes of bringing the Paris deal into force before the initial target date of 2020 – possibly as early as 2016 or 2017, according to officials and analysts. That is well before the timeline originally envisaged at Paris. Environment ministers attending the World Bank spring meetings this week said the faster pace indicated serious commitment to dealing with the global challenge.”
Policy makers in New York will have their work cut out for them. According to Grist, a Climate Central analysis shows that the world will have to dramatically accelerate emissions reductions if it wants to meet that goal. The average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48 degrees C, essentially equaling the 1.5 degrees C warming threshold agreed to by COP 21 negotiators in Paris last December. February exceeded the 1.5 degrees C target at 1.55 degrees C, marking the first time the global average temperature has surpassed the sobering milestone in any month. March followed suit checking in at 1.5 degrees C. January’s mark of 1.4 degrees C, put the global average temperature change from early industrial levels for the first three months of 2016 at 1.48 degrees C.
Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, says the government is committed to joining new UN climate deal this year, but rejects calls for Canberra to adopt tougher CO2 targets, reports Climate Change News. Speaking on ABC’s Lateline, Mr Hunt said the process to formally approve the deal would start as soon as he signs the UN treaty in New York on Friday. “We hope to have that ratified as soon as possible and be one of the countries to have that done this year,” he said. Australia would also aim to ratify the 2013-2020 extension to the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that commits developed countries to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Mr Hunt declined to reveal if the government would consider increasing its proposed level of emission reductions of 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2030. “We will meet and beat our 2020 and 2030 targets,” he said. With a general election looming this year, the opposition Labor Party has committed to a 2030 goal of 45% cuts. The full Lateline interview is on the ABC website.
The Climate Institute in the Sydney Morning Herald said, the long-term climate change goals will be missed, and clean energy investment will stagnate, if Australia does not start forcing its dirty coal-fired power plants to close, new analysis has found. “Economic modelling commissioned by the Climate Institute also suggests that putting off closure until after 2030 would force the country into more-extreme measures to meet the longer-term goals of the Paris climate agreement. That could include a hurried closure of more than 80 per cent of existing coal power generation in the five years following 2030, causing significant economic and social disruption, particularly in communities dominated by the industry such as the Latrobe Valley. A smoother transition could be achieved, the Climate Institute argues, by quickly adopting new laws to progressively phase out all high-emitting power plants in the next 20 years. They would sit alongside a carbon price and incentives for cleaner energy alternatives such as renewable and carbon capture and storage technologies.”
If this doesn’t happen, then we start manning the life boats - and now we know where! The Guardian reports Australians now can see on a map how rising sea levels will affect their house just by typing their address into a website. And they’ll soon be able to get an estimate of how much climate change will affect their property prices and insurance premiums, too. “The website Coastal Risk Australia takes Google Maps and combines it with detailed tide and elevation data, as well as future sea level rise projections, allowing users to see whether their house or suburb will be inundated. Coinciding with that is the launch of a beta version of Climate Valuation, a website that gives users an estimate of how much climate change will impact their property value and insurance premiums over the life of their mortgage.”
Others are already acting. Renew Economy reports Australia’s largest superannuation fund – AustralianSuper – has announced that, from next month, it will offer its members an option that will restrict investments in companies with fossil fuel reserves. The decision will see the fund dump between $190m and $235m worth of fossil fuel stocks. “This is welcome news, as AustralianSuper joins the ranks of dozens of funds that are getting out of fossil fuels. But this is still a far cry from serious climate action, as less than 2% of members will have their fossil fuel exposure partially reduced. The fund will combine its three existing sustainable investment options, creating a new option with approximately $2 billion of assets under management.”
Environmentalists in Australia this week were crestfallen with remarks form a senior government figure - Attorney General George Brandis - on climate change science. Renew Economy: “In response to a question from Labor, and on the same day that it was revealed the extent of bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is far worse than thought, Brandis told parliament on Tuesday: “Senator Carr you’re the one who says the science is settled. I don’t. I’m aware that there are a number of views about the two questions of the nature and the causes of climate change. It doesn’t seem to me that the science is settled at all. But I’m not a scientist, and I’m agnostic, really, on that question.” “The remarks were, of course, leapt upon by Federal Labor and the Greens as proof of the hold that the far right and Abbottistas have over the current government. But the real question must be about at what point does ideology and climate denial trump simple maths about jobs and economics,” Renew Economy said.
So to the Barrier Reef. The international and domestic media woke up to the bleaching and long term future of the reef this week and went, well, nuts. Weekend Reading has six stories and they’re just a taste of the coverage. “Scientists say they are fed up with Queensland’s biggest newspaper not covering the worst bleaching event to hit the Great Barrier Reef, so have taken out a full page ad to get the message out,” reports the Guardian. Organised by the Climate Council, the full page ad in the Courier Mail on Thursday contains an open letter signed by 56 scientists. “One of the reasons we placed the ad in the Courier Mail was that we’ve seen very little coverage of the coral bleaching event in that paper and in fact there was a front-page story that said the coral bleaching event had been wildly exaggerated,” said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and one of the signatories of the letter. The letter explains that it is the worst bleaching event in its history, and that it is being driven by climate change. “The Great Barrier Reef is at a crisis point,” the scientists say. “Its future depends on how much and how quickly the world, including Australia, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit ocean warming.” It then calls for Australia to rapidly phase out coal-fired power stations and for no new coalmines.
A local tour operator says on its website: “The Great Barrier Reef first began to grow about 18 million years ago. Since this time, various geological events, such as Ice Ages and low seawater levels have interrupted reef growth. The reefs we see today have grown on top of older reef platforms during the last 8000 years – since the last Ice Age.” And we as a society have set it on a course for death in about 250 years. It is heartbreaking.
Disclaimer: Andrew Woodward is the endorsed Australian Labor Party Candidate for Warringah but contributes this column as a Climate Reality Leader and as such its content is strictly politically non-partisan.
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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