I was graded as a journalist in 1986. Upon my grading, I thought it would be a good idea to look up the meaning of the word “news”. I mean, that’s what the job is all about. The definition I found was along the lines of - something unknown to someone. I have kept that in mind for the subsequent 30 years. Why am I saying this? Well, this week’s main “news” on climate change is “news” but doesn’t fit that definition. The news is that we’re heading for the hottest year ever. Well, we sort of knew that.
The Guardian reported last month was the hottest April on record globally – the seventh month in a row that has broken the monthly record. “The latest figures smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded. It makes three months in a row that the monthly record has been broken by the largest margin ever, and seven months in a row that are at least 1C above the 1951-80 mean for that month. When the string of record-smashing months started in February, scientists began talking about a “climate emergency”. Figures released by NASA over the weekend show the global temperature of land and sea was 1.11C warmer in April than the average temperature for April during the period 1951-1980. It all but assures that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, and probably by the largest margin ever,” the Guardian reported.
Sticking with numbers, MSN reported looked at an upcoming eerie coincidence. “6.6.16 is almost the devil's number, but it might be much more than that if a leading scientist's prediction on climate change is correct. CSIRO fellow Dr Paul Fraser has earmarked June 6 ("plus or minus a week") as the day when carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere will hit 400 parts per million (ppm). The atmospheric measuring station at Cape Grim in Tasmania has recorded the current C02 levels in the atmosphere at 399.9ppm. Dr Fraser said the difference between 399 and 400ppm was trivial, but when it does hit 400ppm mark it would be a "psychological tipping point,” MSN reported. "Once it reaches 400ppm at Cape Grim it's very unlikely to drop below 400 again," Dr Fraser told ninemsn. “In the days when I started measuring CO2 in the atmosphere in the 1970s all the texts would say that the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere was 300ppm or 0.03%, the concentration is now 0.04%. It was rising at just over a part per million a year, it's now rising at about 3 parts per million a year. It's certainly going up quicker than we thought it would."
Going now a little further down from Tasmania, the Washington Post reports on the melting of ice at the South Pole. “Scientists ringing alarm bells about the melting of Antarctica have focused most of their attention, so far, on the smaller West Antarctic ice sheet, which is grounded deep below sea level and highly exposed to the influence of warming seas. But new research published in the journal Nature Wednesday reaffirms that there’s a possibly even bigger — if slower moving — threat in the much larger ice mass of East Antarctica. The Totten Glacier holds back more ice than any other in East Antarctica, which is itself the biggest ice mass in the world by far. Totten, which lies due south of Western Australia, currently reaches the ocean in the form of a floating shelf of ice that’s 90 miles by 22 miles in area. But the entire region, or what scientists call a “catchment,” that could someday flow into the sea in this area is over 200,000 square miles in size — bigger than California. Warmer waters in this area could, therefore, ultimately be even more damaging than what’s happening in West Antarctica — and the total amount of ice that could someday be lost would raise sea levels by as much as 13 feet.” the Washington Post reported.
The Guardian reports on new evidence that poorer countries will suffer the worst effects of climate change has shown that the number of hot days in tropical developing countries is likely to increase markedly as global warming takes hold. “Those living in the poorest countries also have the most to lose, as so many depend on agriculture, which is likely to be badly affected by temperature rises and an increase in droughts, heatwaves and potential changes to rainfall that may lead to recurrent patterns of floods, droughts and higher intensity storms.The study, led by the University of East Anglia, is the first to examine the link between cumulative carbon dioxide emissions and more frequent hot days.
Some good news. Renew Economy reports Australia’s leading solar research scientists have achieved another significant milestone, reporting a huge leap in solar cell efficiency that could in time lead to a quantum reduction in solar power costs. “A University of NSW team led by the renowned Professor Martin Green and Dr Mark Keevers has reported a new world efficiency record for solar cells using unfocussed sunlight, the sort of light that falls on the rooftop solar modules on homes and businesses. The striking part of the new record is that it is so far ahead of previous achievements – 34.5 per cent instead of 24 per cent – and is edging closer to the theoretical limits of sunlight to electricity conversion – and more than three decades before recent predictions. (Disclosure: This author is a post graduate masters student at UNSW),
In Brazil, there could be implications for climate change policy with the political upheaval generated by the suspension of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Think Progress reports environmentalists in Latin America’s largest ailing economy worry that powers in the new administration favor infrastructure development and financial recovery over environmental laws. “As it is now customary in multiple countries, Brazil requires environmental assessments prior to construction projects. But the Senate is now considering a bill that would give fast-track status to projects like roads, dams or ports deemed in the national interest by the president. That would allow developers to move forward simply by saying an environmental impact study is in the works, but bar agencies from halting the project once construction begins. Moreover, there is a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate environmental licensing altogether. These proposals aren’t new, but their political backing could get a push within Brazil’s new interim government,” Think Progress reported.
To the Australian election, the Sydney Morning Herald reports strong climate change policy is a vote-changing matter for a majority of Australians, a new poll shows, establishing the issue as an important battleground one week into the election campaign. “According to the ReachTEL survey of 2400 people, conducted for a coalition of environmental groups, 64 per cent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for a party seeking 100 per cent renewable energy in 20 years and 48 per cent said they would be more likely to support a party reducing Australia's net carbon emissions to zero by 2050,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported. This week, there was also a debate between the government and opposition environmental and climate change spokespeople. Renew Economy summed up the debate this way: “Emissions reduction, renewable energy and the Paris climate pact were just some of the topics du jour at the National Press Club on Wednesday.”
According to the Guardian, the 2016 Australian election is the last opportunity to save the Great Barrier Reef, the authors of a new scientific paper have warned. “The government needs to commit to $1bn a year for 10 years to reduce water pollution, which would give the reef a chance to survive the impacts of climate change,” the Guardian reported. There’s plenty more on the Australian election in Weekend Reading on Climate Change.
Let’s end on some positive news. In recent weeks, there have been reports of England and Germany running on renewables for a period of time. Portugal joined the club this week. According to Zero.ong, and brought to our attention by SolarCrunch, Portugal ran on renewable energy alone for 4 straight days last week. This 100% was preceded by more than 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources of energy during the first quarter of 2013, and 63% for all of 2014. Portugal stopped burning coal in 1994.
Portugal looks like a quiet achiever in the renewable energy revolution.
CLIMATE COMMUNICATION PUBLICATIONS
About me: I help marketing, advertising, communications, corporate affairs and sponsorship leaders do business in the age of climate change.http://www.cosmolingua-taalreizen.be/public/uploads/images/steden/faro/portugal_flag_large.jpg
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