Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Solutions for Our 'Broken' Oceans

Atlantic (Photo credit: geodesic)
by Peter Bridgewater, United Nations University and Robert Blasiak, University of Tokyo

We’ve heard quite a bit about the health of our oceans lately.

Australian yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen recently retraced his oceanic voyage of ten years ago from Melbourne to Japan, finding an absence of sea birds and an ocean of junk.

A recent paper shows the pervasiveness of plastic in even the smallest ocean animals. It’s clear our oceans face many problems. But the good news is we’ve started to work out solutions.

Many problems
Life on our Planet is dependent upon the oceans (yet) in the space of a only a few decades the oceans have become the setting for an expanding list of problems.
So began the report of the Independent World Commission on the Oceans some 15 years ago, highlighting changes people have unleashed on this watery 70% of the planet.

Today we’ve moved from asking whether we can change the oceans, to if we can stop changing them.
Often our focus naturally falls on visible and immediately tangible changes, like the virtual collapse of the northwest Atlantic cod industry, the damage being done to the Great Barrier Reef from land-based pollution, or the impact of lionfish on Caribbean reefs.

Such challenges may suggest seductively simple solutions: introduction of perfectly calculated quotas; tighter regulations on land-based activities; control of invasive species? Problem solved.

Unfortunately, some of the least visible changes are also the most threatening, difficult to communicate and hardest to solve. Ocean acidification is a good example, recently highlighted in The Conversation.

Researchers have found that the oceans act as the world’s largest carbon sink, soaking up approximately one-third of the carbon emissions generated due to human activities over the past 200 years, altering ocean chemistry and causing acidity levels to rise to their highest levels in at least 800,000 years.

Increased acidity is causing a drop in the availability of carbonate ions, which are a crucial component of the skeletons of many marine organisms - from algae to coral reefs, from lobsters to scallops - all important to marine food chains.

With an estimated 2.6 billion people relying on the ocean for their primary source of protein, both the poor and the gourmands could feel the impacts.

We need to think beyond marine parks

Many of the world’s key practitioners for developing and managing marine protected areas just met in Marseilles. The discussions there focused, as usual, on the number, size, and location of protected areas, as well as how rapidly they can be created.

But it is just this sort of simplistic thinking that led to the creation of the large “no-take” protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory in 2010. Hurriedly declared in the heat of an election, this area lacked an effective understanding of the socio-cultural context of the region.

And while ensuring monitoring and prevention of fishing in the short term, there is no sustainable plan into the future. All in all, it was like applying a 1960s paradigm in the 21st century.

We need to have protected areas in national waters (and on the high seas), but not as we currently know them. They need to be designed to respond to the three-dimensional nature of the oceans, and with sustainable management in mind.

Management needs of the ocean floor might be different from those of the mid-water column, and different again from those of surface waters. This means managing a range of ecosystems in all their complexity.

Problems with complex adaptive systems, like oceans, require complex solutions. The NEOPS research program at the University of Tokyo is attempting just that.

First it has to define ocean provinces based on assessment of material cycles and ecosystem functions. Second, it will evaluate the bundle of ecosystem functions, and ultimately services, that are provided from these provinces.

A crucial third step bridges the science-policy divide by proposing governance mechanisms to sustainably manage these dynamic systems. Without such integrated research, understanding of complex processes will remain piecemeal, and largely removed from global policy and decision-making.

Ocean governance and management is a complex issue, especially on the high seas beyond the reach of national territories. Recently the UN General Assembly, and the Convention on Biological Diversity, have confirmed support for a conservation strategy for the high seas.

While identifying important areas is fine, the question is how should they be managed? Since 1998, the convention has been elaborating the Ecosystem Approach which has 12 principles.

These principles work on land and sea to help manage biodiversity and deliver ecosystem services. This approach provides an excellent basis for good management practises in the oceans, from surface to abyss.

Embarking on the three tracks of good management design for the oceans, set in an effective governance framework, and backed up by innovative and broadly-focused research (such as NEOPS) can deliver healthier oceans into the future, even in the face of the sustained onslaught we have unleashed on this vital ecosystem.

Oh, and by the way - that lionfish invasion in the Caribbean? Turns out one way to deal with the problem is to eat them

Peter Bridgewater is Chair of the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Robert Blasiak works with the Laboratory of Global Fisheries Science at the University of Tokyo.

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Nuclear is a Lose-Lose Situation for Britain

Western End of Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station
Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station (Wikipedia)
by Matthias Reeg, German Aerospace Center

The first new nuclear power station in Britain in nearly 20 years is to be built, an announcement that comes only two and a half years after the disaster at Fukushima focused the world’s attention the drawbacks of nuclear power.

At first glance it looks like the nuclear industry is back in business in Europe.

The deal between French energy giant EDF, which operates Britain’s existing nuclear power plants, and the planned Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset, and the British government was pitched as a win-win situation for everybody.

The consumers are assured of their electricity supply, the government invests in jobs and bolsters a “cutting-edge” low carbon technology that will help Britain hit it’s CO2 emissions targets, and EDF secures a profit margin of 10%.

The deal guarantees EDF a price of £92.50 (about €110) per megawatt hour (MWh) for 35 years from the time the plant starts generating, inflation linked to the consumer price index.

The UK government, in its overflowing generosity, has also agreed to underwrite 65% of the £16 billion cost of building the plant.

But looking at the numbers more closely reveals a different picture. A picture, in fact, that is entirely the opposite. The deal is a confession in public, a statement of failure of a technology that was never and probably will never be built and operated at competitive cost.

This becomes clear when comparing nuclear power with other options that society has at its disposal to replace fossil fuel energy, tackle climate change, and foster energy independence.

In Germany, Energiewende, or energy transition, a grand project to de-carbonise energy generation, had already begun in 2000 when a feed-in-tariff scheme was introduced to help ease renewable energy sources such as wind and solar into the market.

Back then, the total share of electricity generated from renewable energy was about 6.5%, with about 4% accounted for by hydroelectric power. That has increased to almost 25% in 2013, with solar, onshore wind and biomass power contributing the most.

By installing a lot of capacity and therefore scaling the learning curve quickly, Germany has made big advances in cost reduction.

The idea of a “learning curve” comes from business production and innovation research. It holds - and this can be empirically proven by examining the falling costs of technology in the past - that a new technology’s production cost falls by 20-40% with each doubling of the cumulative produced capacity, assuming a 70-80% learning rate.

So new technologies coming to the market initially benefit from a greater decline in costs as doubling the capacity comes more quickly with a small installed base. Mature technologies, like nuclear which is over 60 years old, have already plateaued, making further cost reduction much more difficult.

In Germany, the current feed-in-tariffs of 2013 for different energy technologies are derived from the levelised cost of energy. That is, it incorporates the capital cost of building power plants or turbines, the discounted rate, and the running costs of continuous operation, fuel, and maintenance.

Through intensive early investment in promising new technologies, the current level of feed-in-tariff for onshore wind is £70-80/MWh, and for solar power is between £85/MWh for open area and £120/MWh for roof-top panels, guaranteed to recoup their capital in 20 years without any inflation-adjustment.

The nuclear “strike price” for Hinkley Point C included in the UK Energy Bill’s Contracts for Difference - essentially comparable to Germany’s feed-in-tariffs - is around £90/MWh, inflation-adjusted and guaranteed for 35 years.

In order to make these figures directly comparable we need to make assumptions on what inflation will be over the next 45 years (including ten years to build and come on-stream), and calculate what costs are recouped over 20 years, as the German feed-in-tariffs were designed to do.

Assuming an inflation rate of only 2% per year (an average rate since the financial crisis, but historically low), this works out as £290/MWh (calculations, publication forthcoming, provided by Carsten Pfeifer and Björn Pieprzyk from the German Renewable Energy Federation BEE (Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energie).

We might allow that wind and solar power varies with conditions, and that they require either energy storage systems or flexible conventional power station capacity as a back-up.

But even taking this into account, the current subsidies in Britain through Contracts for Difference, at £105-155/MWh for biomass, £100/MWh for onshore wind, £155/MWh for offshore wind, and £125/MWh for large solar power installations guaranteed for 15 years, it is very clear that the economies of nuclear power make no sense at all.

And of course the huge build costs - £16 billion - are at the moment merely theoretical. Areva, the French firm who will build the Hinkley Point plant, is currently building a similar plant at Olkiluoto in Finland, where costs have risen by 60% during construction, from £2.7 to £5.5 billion.

Other big infrastructure projects worldwide - and particularly in Britain - show that final project costs are never close to those calculated initially.

And what will the cost be to taxpayers of the future to deal with the waste generated by another generation of nuclear plants, in addition to the costs of those of the last 50 years? It is probably another bottomless pit.

Costs for renewables, on the other hand, are expected to drop further - the world-wide boom in investing in these technologies has just begun.

And, in contrast to uranium, the “fuel” for wind and solar power is locally sourced and abundant in Britain, driving towards a more energy secure and independent country - the real win-win situation for everybody.

Matthias Reeg writes for The Conversation in a personal capacity, and his views do not represent those of his institution.

Matthias Reeg receives funding from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Savety as well as fundings form the Research Programms of the European Union.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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New Zealand's Environmental Approvals: Best in the World?

New Zealand's Milford Sound. Milford Sound, on...
New Zealand's Milford Sound (Wikipedia)
by Christine Cheyne, Massey University

In Australia, Queensland and New South Wales will soon have a “one stop shop” for environmental approvals and assessment, including a 12-month limit on the assessment process.

The reforms, according to environment minister Greg Hunt, are a step towards the environmental approval process in New Zealand, which Hunt has called “one of the best systems in the world”.

But evidence from across the Tasman Sea shows Australia shouldn’t be leaping to emulate its neighbour.

How does New Zealand’s environmental assessment work?

New Zealand’s key environmental planning legislation is the Resource Management Act. The key difference with other environmental legislation around the world is that New Zealand has made environmental impact assessment an integral part of the whole planning and approval process.

In Australia the process is different. Environmental impact is assessed separately under a different piece of legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The rationale for keeping assessment in one place was reducing the scope for government intervention.

The Resource Management Act was internationally lauded at its inception in 1991, thanks to this inclusion. It was seen as very progressive, achieving a difficult balance between economic development and environmental protection.

But 20 years on from the creation of the Resource Management Act, reforms are threatening its world-class status.

Right from the start resource management faced substantial opposition from landowners and resource developers, who saw the act as constraining private property rights, and imposing unreasonable costs and delays.

The Resource Management Act was seen as an unnecessary and inappropriate intervention in markets.

This is despite good environmental outcomes benefiting businesses. Environmental protection such as that provided in the Resource Management Act underpinned New Zealand’s “100% Pure NZ” tourism brand.

In 2008 a centre-right National-led government was elected, significantly boosting the campaign against the Resource Management Act. The incoming government made resource management reform a key priority for the “first 100 days”.

The reforms included the creation of a new national approval process. A new agency, the Environmental Protection Authority, was created to oversee the process.

Key among the changes was a nine-month limit on environmental approvals. In the past three years a growing number of projects have been pushed through these streamlined approvals.

The overall aim is to facilitate resource development including new onshore and offshore, oil and mineral wealth exploitation. Any project deemed to be of national significance can be subject to the streamlined approvals process.

To date, these have included road building, aquaculture industry expansion, and water storage (for the booming dairy industry in particular).

What do these changes mean for us?

Fast-tracking and streamlining environmental approvals undermines the role of communities in environmental decision-making. The reforms sharply curtail scope for public participation.

The very tight timeframe, costs of participation and the highly formal quasi-judicial processes used are among many aspects of the national consenting processes that are daunting and discouraging for public submissions.

Research shows that the public’s views tend to have much less weight than other stakeholders.

Recently an association of highly respected independent environmental law specialists took the unprecedented step of publicly raising “serious and compelling concerns” about the reforms. According to these experts:
It is a process that seems designed to facilitate the applicant getting consents and the plan change getting approved unchanged. It is a process that appears designed to implement the government’s growth agenda at all costs - and to ride roughshod over serious and legitimate public interest and environmental concerns.
In the past New Zealand’s integrated resource management and environmental assessment could have been held as an example for other environmental approvals. But now New Zealand needs much more scrutiny, especially before the model is exported overseas.

Christine Cheyne does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Oil Companies in North Dakota Fail to Report Almost 300 Oil Spills Since 2012

Oil rig (Shutterstock)by Scott Kaufman, The Raw Story:

According to the Associated Press, the nation’s second largest oil-producing state, North Dakota, failed to inform the public of almost 300 oil pipeline spills in the last two years.

Even though many of the spills were small, “[t]he public really should know about these,” Don Morrison, the director of the Dakota Resource Council, told the AP.

“If there is a spill, sometimes a landowner may not even know about it. And if they do, people think it’s an isolated incident that’s only happening to them.”

Reporting such spills is significant, because even a barrel of oil could ruin water supplies, which would ruin countless acres of arable soil.

The director of the Department of Mineral Resources, Lynn Helms, told the Associated Press that companies are worried about “over-reporting” spills. The state is trying to strike a balance so that “the public is aware of what’s happening, but not overwhelmed by little incidents.”

One wheat farmer told the AP that he’s in favor of receiving information about every incident, since his livelihood depends on his land. He’s worried because the policy at the moment is “[w]hat you don’t know, nobody’s going to tell you.”

“It would tell me if there is enough oversight and why these accidents happen and if they could have been avoided,” he said. “Right now, you don’t know if there is a spill unless you find it yourself.”

Earlier this month, one of Kuster’s neighbors did just that, but North Dakota officials never informed him why truckloads of oil-stricken dirt were being removed from his neighbor’s farm.

“We have no idea how big the spill is and why it happened,” he said. “I’d try to get more information from the state but I’m too busy getting my harvest in.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Why the Climate Movement Should Have No "Keystone"

Keystone XL demonstration, White House,8-23-20...
Keystone XL demonstration (Wikipedia)
by , , , : Yes! magazine:

In architecture, a keystone is the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place.

Without the keystone, the building blocks of an archway will tumble and fall, with no support system for the weight of the arch.

Much of the United States climate movement right now is structured like an archway, with all of its blocks resting on a keystone - President Obama's decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Once Barack Obama makes his decision on the pipeline, be it approval or rejection, the keystone will disappear. Without this piece, we could see the weight of the arch tumble down, potentially losing throngs of newly inspired climate activists.

As members of Rising Tide North America, a continental network of grassroots groups taking direct action and finding community-based solutions to the root causes of the climate crisis, we believe that to build the climate justice movement we need, we can have no keystone - no singular solution, campaign, project, or decision-maker.

The Keystone XL fight was constructed around picking one proposed project to focus on with a clear elected decider, who had campaigned on addressing climate change.

The strategy of D.C.-focused green groups has been to pressure President Obama to say "no" to Keystone by raising as many controversies as possible about the pipeline and by bringing increased scrutiny to Keystone XL through arrestable demonstrations.

Similarly, in Canada, the fight over Enbridge's Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline has unfolded in much the same way, with green groups appealing to politicians to reject Northern Gateway.

However, the mainstream Keystone XL and Northern Gateway campaigns operate on a flawed assumption that the climate movement can compel our elected leaders to respond to the climate crisis with nothing more than an effective communications strategy.

Mainstream political parties in both the United States and Canada are tied to and dependent on the fossil fuel industry and corporate capitalism.

As seen in similar campaigns in 2009 to pass a climate bill in the United States and to ratify an international climate treaty in Copenhagen, the system is rigged against us.

Putting Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the keystone of the archway creates a flawed narrative that if we, as grassroots groups, work hard enough to stack the building blocks correctly to support them, then elected officials will do what we want.

Social change happens when local communities lead, and only then will politicians follow. While we must name and acknowledge power holders like Obama, our movement must empower local communities to make decisions and take action on the causes of the climate crisis in their backyards.

Because of the assumption that the climate movement can trust even "sympathetic" politicians like Obama, these campaigns rely on lifting up one project above all else.

Certain language used has made it seem like Keystone XL is an extreme project, with unusual fraud and other injustices associated with it. Indeed the Keystone XL project is extreme and unjust, as is every fossil fuel project and every piece of the extraction economy.

While, for example, the conflict of interests between the State Department, TransCanada, and Environmental Resources Management in the United States, and between Enbridge and federal politicians in Canada, must be publicized, it should be clear that this government/industry relationship is the norm, not the exception.

The "game over for climate" narrative is also problematic. With both the Keystone and Northern Gateway campaigns, it automatically sets up a hierarchy of projects and extractive types that will inevitably pit communities against each other.

Our movement can never question if Keystone XL is worse than Flanagan South (an Enbridge pipeline running from Illinois to Oklahoma), or whether tar sands, fracking, or mountaintop removal coal mining is worse.

We must reject all these forms of extreme energy for their effects on the climate and the injustices they bring to the people at every stage of the extraction process.

Our work must be broad so as to connect fights across the continent into a movement that truly addresses the root causes of social, economic, and climate injustice. We must call for what we really need - an end to all new fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction.

The pipeline placed yesterday in British Columbia, the most recent drag lines added in Wyoming, and the fracking wells built in Pennsylvania need to be the last ones ever built. And we should say that.

This narrative has additionally set up a make-or-break attitude about these pipeline fights that risks that the movement will contract and lose people regardless of the decision on them.

The Keystone XL and Northern Gateway fights have engaged hundreds of thousands of people, with many embracing direct action and civil disobedience tactics for the first time. This escalation and level of engagement is inspiring. But the absolutist "game over" language chances to lose many of them.

If Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline, what's to stop many from thinking that this is in fact "game over" for the climate? And if Obama rejects Keystone XL, what's to stop many from thinking that the climate crisis is therefore solved?

We need those using the "game over" rhetoric to lay out the climate crisis' root causes - because just as one project is not the end of humanity, stopping one project will not stop runaway climate change.

The fights over Keystone XL and Northern Gateway have undoubtedly been inspiring. We are seeing the beginnings of the escalation necessary to end extreme energy extraction, stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis, and make a just transition to equitable societies.

Grassroots groups engaging in and training for direct action, such as the Tar Sands Blockade, Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, the Unist'ot'en Camp, and Moccasins on the Ground have shown us how direct action can empower local communities and push establishment green groups to embrace bolder tactics.

Our movement is indeed growing, and people are willing to put their bodies on the line; an April poll by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found one in eight Americans would engage in civil disobedience around global warming.

However, before the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway mainstream campaigns come to an end, we all must recognize the dangers of having an archway approach to movement building.

It is the danger of relying on political power-holders, cutting too narrow campaigns, excluding a systemic analysis of root causes, and, ultimately, failing to create a broad-based movement.

We must begin to discuss and develop how we should shift our strategy, realign priorities, escalate direct action, support local groups and campaigns, and keep as many new activists involved as possible.

We are up against the world's largest corporations, who are attempting to extract, transport, and burn fossil fuels at an unprecedented rate, all as the climate crisis spins out of control.

The climate justice movement should have no keystone because we must match them everywhere they are - and they are everywhere.

To match them, we need a movement of communities all across the continent and the world taking direct action to stop the extraction industry, finding community-based solutions, and addressing the root causes of the climate crisis.

This article appears through a collaboration between Waging Nonviolence and Earth Island Journal and was originally published jointly at their websites.

Arielle Klagsbrun is an organizer with Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment and Rising Tide North America, and is a 2013 Brower Youth Award winner. 

David Osborn is climate organizer with Portland Rising Tide and Rising Tide North America. He is also a faculty member at Portland State University.

Maryam Adrangi is a campaigner with the Council of Canadians and an organizer with Rising Tide Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. 

Kirby Spangler works with the Castle Mountain Coalition and Alaska Rising Ride.
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Friday, October 25, 2013

Bushfires and Global Warming: Where the Responsibility Will Lie

Global Warming 1/2
Global Warming 1/2 (Photo credit: lamazone)
by John Coulter, Online Opinion:

For more than thirty years scientists have been warning that one of the prominent features of climate change, apart from warming, will be increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events.

Climate results from a very complex interaction of many factors making it impossible to tie any single event such as the present NSW bushfires to human generated carbon emissions.

However, the bushfires are consistent with the models which have been the basis of the warnings for thirty years.

It would be harder for deniers like our PM to prove that the severity of the fires is not linked to human induced climate change.

It would be wise to accept that the severity of the fires is linked to climate change and that continuing and exacerbating this change will make the situation ever more hazardous. What then do these fires indicate for longer term strategies?

Large amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases have already been emitted into the atmosphere leading to a general warming. But there is a considerable latency in the climate system.

The CO2 already there will not exert its full warming potential for many decades. Humanity has committed itself to further warming even if emissions were stopped today.

The only safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere that we know of lies between 180 and 300 ppm, the levels between which CO2 fluctuated during the whole 6 million years of human evolution from our last common ancestor.

Humans, through the burning of fossil fuels, have pushed this to ~400 ppm, right outside this range. It is unlikely that any increase outside this 6 million year range will be benign. More additional CO2 will be more damaging than less.

Bearing this in mind the IPCC and other scientists have suggested that a 2⁰C rise in temperature marks a limit beyond which it is unsafe to venture. Not that this is a ‘safe limit’.

Indeed Professor Kevin Anderson has described 2⁰C  as ‘the threshold between dangerous and extremely dangerous’. Some have suggested a lower limit of 1.5⁰C which relates to lower allowable levels of CO2 such as 350 ppm.

For example, to have a 93% chance of staying below 2⁰C CO2 levels should stay below 350 ppm. 

These figures have important policy implications very relevant to Australia. For Australia is amongst the world’s highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases and also one of the world’s largest coal exporters.

The IPCC and other scientists have calculated the total amount of CO2 that could be put into the atmosphere and still have eventual warming below an average of either 2⁰C or 1.5⁰C.

When one subtracts from this the amount that has already been poured into the atmosphere one is left with the potential additional amount that humanity could emit from now into the far future and still stay below these limits.

Estimates of this amount vary from zero to 500 Gigatonnes, the lower figure being predicated on a view that 2⁰C of warming may still have unacceptable and serious consequences.

Whichever figure is taken the conclusion for humanity is clear. A rapid phase-out in fossil fuel use is imperative. It is not possible to run up to a carbon emission limit and then suddenly stop.

There is more than enough known sources of fossil fuels to exceed these limits. The phase-out applies to three areas.

We must desist from any further exploration for more fossil (carbon based) energy.

The recently announced expanded exploration for oil in the Great Australian Bight or for gas in the Cooper basin is not only a foreseeable crime, both represent an enormous waste of financial and material resources that should be directed elsewhere.

Those who pursue this exploration and governments that allow it, encourage it or licence it, are guilty of a serious crime against their fellow humans. Those who have lost homes and loved ones in recent fires take note!

The issue of use of material resources mentioned in the previous paragraph is important for one of the critical resources is fossil fuels. We currently live in an economy dominated by dependence on fossil fuels. As we have seen the amount of these that can still be burnt is very limited.

We should not be expending any of this precious energy looking for more but rather for building the alternative and renewable sources needed to sustain civilisation.

Secondly, we should stop any exploitation of known fossil fuel reserves that have not yet been mined. They should be left in the ground.

Thirdly, we should then move on to phasing out exploitation of those fossil fuel resources already being mined reserving what is mined for the purposes of the transition to renewable energy sources.

Only through a rapid phase-out in the use of fossil energy, meanwhile building renewable sources of energy can we stay within even the upper limit.

These strategies have become inevitable. Those who fail to admit this fact and continue to pursue policies that serve their own short-term selfish interests must be held legally liable.
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Thursday, October 24, 2013

What Firefighters Say About Climate Change

English: Lake Mountain toboggan run after 2009...
2009 Black Saturday bushfires (Wikipedia)
by Michael Howes, Griffith University
You do not find many climate change sceptics on the end of [fire] hoses anymore … they are dealing with increasing numbers of fires, increasing rainfall events, increasing storm events - A senior Victorian fire officer, interviewed in 2012 for a recent National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility report.
There have been fierce arguments this week about whether it’s opportunistic to discuss climate change in connection to the devastating New South Wales fires.

Amid all the bluster, it’s surprising that we’ve heard so little from one group of experts: frontline emergency service workers, including the firefighters risking their lives for the rest of us.

Yet if you do ask for their opinion - as we did for a study released in June this year - many, like the senior fire officer quoted above, are not reluctant to talk about climate change.

In fact, quite a few of the emergency workers and planners we interviewed said we should be talking about it more, if our communities are to be better prepared for disasters like the one unfolding in NSW right now.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best

In 2012-13, I led a joint research team from Griffith and RMIT to prepare a report for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) on disaster risk management and climate change.

To do so, we compared the emergency responses to Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, the 2011 Perth hills bushfires, and the 2011 Brisbane floods.

We started by comparing the official inquiry reports into these events to the relevant research on disaster risk management.

This was followed up by interviews with 22 experts from Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane, including nine fire officers, five emergency services workers, and eight assorted planners or policy officers. The proposals that emerged were then reviewed at a set of workshops.

One of the most interesting things we found in talking to the emergency service workers was an overwhelming acceptance and concern that climate change was already affecting Australia, based on their personal experiences with disasters.

As a Western Australian fire officer told our research team, we need to “get the scientists, who have a lot to share about climate change and climate change adaptation, talking to the operational people” - a suggestion backed by many of our interviewees.

Preventing future emergencies

Our report was not the first time that firefighters and other emergency workers have spoken out about climate change.

For instance, earlier this year it was reported that the United Firefighters Union released research by the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research that found almost 2 million Australians were relying largely on volunteer fire brigades to protect them and A$500 billion in assets.

The same article referred to research from the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, a collaboration between the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology, on how the fire season across much of south-eastern Australia appeared to be going on for longer.

Australian emergency services workers explain why they joined Run for a Safe Climate.

In November 2009, 25 firefighters, paramedics, police, military and emergency services workers spent nearly a month running 6000 kilometres from Cooktown in Queensland to Adelaide and back to Melbourne, speaking to communities along the way about their concerns about climate change.

Many of them had worked in the Black Saturday firestorm, in which 173 people died, as well as the record-breaking heatwave beforehand that health experts estimated killed more than twice as many people as the fires.

In the same year, the United Firefighters Union’s national secretary wrote to then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:
On behalf of more than 13,000 firefighters and support staff in Australia, I write this open letter to request a review of Australia’s fire risk … as we battle blazes here in Victoria, firefighters are busy rescuing people from floods in Queensland. Without a massive turnaround in policies, aside from the tragic loss of life and property, we will be asking firefighters to put themselves at an unacceptable risk. Firefighters know that it is better to prevent an emergency than to have to rescue people from it, and we urge state and federal governments to follow scientific advice and keep firefighters and the community safe by halving the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.

Lessons to be learnt

So what can we learn from listening to firefighters and other emergency services workers about how to be better prepared for future disasters?

Our study’s main aim was to come up with a set of practical changes based on those expert views on how to better integrate climate change adaptation into disaster management programs.

One suggestion was to set up a permanent fund, based on the success of Landcare. Anyone from government or the community might form a group and bid for money to tackle a particular issue, such as replanting local wetlands to reduce the impacts of flooding.

Another proposal was to set aside some local government funding to set up community resilience grants.

Residents would be able to apply to their local council to fund projects, such as creating a network of people ready to assist elderly neighbours in times of bushfires or floods. Locals could even vote in town hall meetings on which proposals their council should fund.

Whatever we do, if we want to handle disasters better in the future, our frontline emergency workers have plenty of ideas to offer - if we’re ready to listen to what they say.

Michael Howes received funding from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility in 2012.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fire and Climate Change: Don't Expect a Smooth Ride

Bushfire australia
Bushfire Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Roger Jones, Victoria University

With fires still burning across New South Wales, it’s time to have a look at the role climate change might have played.

Are the conditions we’re seeing natural variation, or part of a long term trend? In fact, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Has bushfire risk increased due to climate change?

In research I did with colleagues earlier this year we looked at the Fire Danger Index calculated by the Bureau of Meteorology, and compared how it changed compared to temperature over time in Victoria.

South-east Australia saw a temperature change of about 0.8C when we compared temperatures before 1996 and after 1997. We know that it got drier after 1997 too.

We then compared this data to the Forest Fire Danger Index, to see if it showed the same pattern. We analysed fire data from nine stations in Victoria and did a non-linear analysis.

We found that fire danger in Victoria increased by over a third after 1996, compared to 1972-1996. The current level of fire danger is equivalent to the worst case projected for 2050, from an earlier analysis for the Climate Institute.

While it’s impossible to say categorically that the situation is the same in NSW, we know that these changes are generally applicable across south-east Australia. So it’s likely to be a similar case: fire and climate change are linked.

What is “non-linear” change?

Climate science has been playing with a paradigm that long-term changes are gradual, and that short-term changes are simply natural climate variability. But there’s another hypothesis that climate change and climate variability actually combine.

When you analyse long historical time series of temperature, plus climate change from modelled data, it actually goes up like a staircase. The “El Niño of the century” we saw in 1997-98 was one of these steps in the staircase.

It’s physically impossible for climate change to be entirely gradual, and for natural variability to act independently of that. That’s like saying that some of the heat in the atmosphere is climate change heat, and some is variability heat, and that they behave differently.

This also relates to the so-called hiatus. This hiatus is normal, and what we’d expect from a climate that evolves in a non-linear manner.

The models do predict these steps, even if some people claim they don’t. Model data shows periods up to 20 years when there is little or no increase in warming.

What’s happened to temperature and rainfall in south east Australia?

Temperature can also be analysed through step changes. Before and after 1996, maximum temperatures went up 0.8C. We can actually date the change to October 1996, when the El Niño started.

Minimum temperatures have changed in a couple of periods. The first is the late 1960s early 1970s, then again in 1996-1997. In fact global temperatures went up in that period too, by about 0.3C at the same time.

Rainfall decreased in south-east Australia, and this decrease continued until 2009-2010. Then we got a massive negative Indian Ocean Dipole and La Niña, resulting in record rainfall and flooding.

In southern Victoria it’s been quite moist since, but north of the Great Dividing Range it’s dried out very quickly.

These changes in rainfall and temperature are interrelated. It’s a combination of climate change and climate variability. The warming component, which is non-linear, is climate change.

What about the weather?

We can only blame weather conditions on climate change if they are part of a statistically significant pattern. If we see anomalously high temperatures - knowing that there is an anthropogenic component to temperature increases - then there’s definitely an anthropogenic warming component in that.

Because the damages tend to be non-linear as well, it means the risk is magnified. So the anthropogenic component of the temperature increase magnifies the impacts or the severity of the impacts.

Why are we so reluctant to talk about climate change?

This isn’t my line, but someone said on Monday, “there’s never a good time to talk about gun control”.

Of course when people are hurting and in strife you’ve got to be sensitive to their needs. But after these events we have to seriously think about how we’re going to manage them in the future.

We can’t consider severe fires as one-offs that happen every few decades. If they’re becoming a systemic part of our environment we have to consider this really seriously. There will be a financial cost and a human cost, and we will see it repeated, if we don’t plan ahead.

Roger Jones is currently shortlisted and seeking funding from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre.
The Conversation

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Monday, October 21, 2013

We Need to Talk About Climate Now

Temperature predictions from some climate mode...
Temperature predictions from some climate models assuming the SRES A2 emissions scenario (Wikipedia)
by Lyn Bender, Online Opinion:

Lyn Bender is a psychologist in private practice. She is a former manager of Lifeline Melbourne and is working on her first novel.

Even in our current environment of avoidance and reluctance to discuss the reality of climate change, it's hard to ignore the climate when NSW is on fire.

The Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt, proposes that it is unseemly and insensitive to speak about climate change at a time like this.

With no hint of sardonic wit, Hunt condemns the 'politicisation' of tragedy, when after all climate change is the most politicised issue in the country alongside the tragedy of refugees, arriving by boat.

It seems that no time is the right time to discuss global warming, even as people are suffering from our failure to address climate change, or to prepare for its current manifestation.

There is no doubt that many people in NSW are suffering trauma and are in shock from the mega fires that are still raging.

This tragedy brings home the kind of suffering and horror that may become commonplace in a warming world. It is a horror movie right there on our big plasma screens.

Pyromaniacs, accidents and carelessness can start fires. But they only take hold in optimum conditions. That is why there is a declared fire season and warnings are issued.

How many right now, like Wendy Harmer in Sydney, are listening to their children coughing from the smoke at night and calculating how old they will be when the proverbial really hits the fan around 2050?

I have been kept awake at night for several years now with exactly those thoughts and calculations.

Recently my GP sought to identify a cluster of symptoms I reported to him, as being due to depression. But there is no DSM-V category for despair about climate change inaction.
In Victoria in 2009 we have had the harsh lesson of the Black Saturday fires.

A close member of my family, who is a fireman in Victoria, tells me that the Victorian Fire Service understands well, the link between catastrophe and climate change.

After Black Saturday, a new category; catastrophic fire conditions, came into the lexicon. Stay and defend, or go, included urgent advice to evacuate.

But understanding what lies ahead exacts a heavy emotional toll.

It's a big call, mourning for loss in a magnitude of billions. Not in mere dollars, although they will be collateral damage, in this war that we have declared on our earth. The billions will be counted in lives, tragedies, suffering and impoverishment.

In the loss of futures, hopes, safety, plants, animal species,ecosystems and of our only home. Many may try to flee, to remaining regions that may sustain life. But sanctuary will be temporary as the earth warms relentlessly .How many of us can Tasmania sustain anyway?

This is what will happen if we continue to ignore the warnings issued by science and the evidence of our senses.

The latest IPCC report leaves no doubt. The science is now absolutely settled, with 95 percent agreement amongst scientists: This is as close as science, committed to probabilities and caution, ever gets.

The world is warming and it is human induced. That's it. What's more its, very very bad news. By 2047 our coolest years will be warmer than our previous hottest years. And this will have set in as normal, our time of departure from the old normal if we continue on our current trajectory.

We face annihilation and because our way of life is geared to the maintenance of our reliance on unsustainable growth and the burning of fossil fuels, we are continuing on our path as surely as the Titanic to its nemesis, the iceberg.

The sinking of the Titanic has provided us with a lasting metaphor regarding the folly and hubris of believing in humanity's indestructability.

Like our fragile civilization, the Titanic sailed forth with its cargo of glitterati and luxury, bathed in willful ignorance of the dangers ahead, and graced with insufficient life boats. There was no plan B.

But it is not just the gullibility of the populace , and its desire to believe in the power of desire, who have brought forth a terrible fate. It's also those who profited from selling the tickets on that voyage , while saving the costs of complying with safety precautions.

I am not the first to note the irony of the unforgettable lesson of the Titanic that we continue to fail to remember. We are still ignoring warnings because the ship, in which we have invested, must sail.

There is a lot at stake and this time its loaded with coal: our planet's black death. This is the stuff that we can't afford to take out of the ground , much less export or burn.

Al Gore warns of a carbon bubble far more devastating than the sub prime mortgage bubble that precipitated the global financial crisis. Gore estimates that there are $7 trillion of oil assets on the books of multi national energy companies, that can never be realized.

It's a big job to mourn any loss.

In the local community rooms in the Edinburgh Gardens I and my fellow prophets of doom, sat contemplating the climate disaster that we are unable to avert.

The seemingly blissfully unaware, frolicked in full view, in the October sunshine. Some were kicking a ball around an oval with exuberant energy, or walking with their dogs, whose tails are optimistically erect, jogging, and emptying bottles and cans into the non recycle bin within our gaze.

We inside are sharing our rage and sorrow and feelings of utter helplessness Outside, life goes on in a boastful cliché, while we in our enclosure, know it won't just go on.

A blond muscled oiled man in glossy shorts, looking as though he belongs on Bondi South surf beach, stood outside the windows shading his eyes against the reflected glare of glass. He peered at us, the participants, seated in rows. He shook his head, then sprinted off into the sunshine.

We also shook our heads, locked inside, interrogating the question: How can psychology and the social sciences help us face the reality of climate change?

The speakers and participants came with the perspectives of psychology, anthropology, sociology, activism, behavioral research and yes an actual climate scientist.

All of us confirmed that we need to talk about climate change. Not in the way that we have till now. Not by arguing for and against the existence of climate change, or hiding behind political agendas that denounce attempts and measures to reduce carbon emissions.

Not by making the economy the cornerstone of all our deliberations, as though the economy is a living entity that can survive ecological collapse.

We need to talk about the hard stuff in order to reduce the worst stuff. While we deny and avoid, stupid maladaptive decisions are enacted. Such as the NSW Premier O'Farrell's $70 million cuts to fire stations at the start of an early and predictably dangerous fire season.

Nor is it congruent to cut clean energy grants or to cut or to remove any credible pathway to the necessary reductions of emissions.

The Abbott Direct Action "plan' to reduce emissions, while ditching a carbon price has been widely criticised as a costly vaguely enunciated sham, or less charitably as a dud.

At that the conference, I didn't find clear answers, except for in this.There can be little effective action, until when we face the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, about climate change.
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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Should we Move Species Threatened by Climate Change?

by Tracy Rout, University of Melbourne; Doug Armstrong, Massey University; Eve McDonald-Madden, CSIRO; Hugh Possingham; Nicola Mitchell, University of Western Australia, and Tara Martin, CSIRO
New Zealand’s ancient tuatara (Flickr/Sheep"R"Us)

Climate change is one of the greatest threats the world’s animals and plants are facing. In fact the world is facing an extinction crisis, which should concern all of us.

The major problem with climate change is not so much that climate is changing, but that it is changing faster than species can move or adapt.

One of the solutions is to move species to places with a more suitable climate.

But the idea of introducing species to areas where they have never occurred before is controversial, because species introduced to somewhere they’ve never lived could have devastating consequences for the species already there. Just think of foxes, lantana, cane toads and other invasive species in Australia.

So how do we weigh up the costs and benefits? In a new study published today in journal PLOS ONE, we developed a way of finding the answer.

Australia’s species at risk

Moving species threatened by climate change isn’t a new idea. In fact we’ve already moved some, while others are being considered.

One of them is the critically endangered Western Swamp Tortoise from Perth in Western Australia - Australia’s rarest reptile. It currently faces extinction thanks to declining seasonal rainfall, which is drying up the swamps the tortoise calls home. To stop the tortoise becoming extinct, scientists have considered potential new sites far to the south of its home range.

Another species facing climate extinction is the Mountain Pygmy-possum, a tiny mammal that currently resides on three snowy mountain tops in Victoria and New South Wales. As temperatures warm the possum is running out of room to move upwards. Snow cover, and the length of time snow stays on the ground, is decreasing rapidly.

This means the possums come out of winter hibernation earlier, and can’t find enough food. The mountains have also seen an influx of feral predators, which previously found the area inaccessible thanks to snow cover.

Weighing up the costs

It’s far from clear cut which species might benefit from this drastic action, and for which it would be a costly and risky mistake. How should wildlife managers approach the decision of whether to move animals into new areas, or leave them in places that may become uninhabitable for them?

In our study we outlined a framework that can quantify whether the benefit of moving a species outweighs the ecological cost.

The benefit of moving a species is based on the likelihood it will go extinct in its original habitat as the local climate becomes hostile, the likelihood that a breeding population can be established at a new site, and the value or importance of the species.

The ecological cost depends on the potential for the species to adversely affect the ecosystem at the new site. Species are considered candidates for re-location only if the benefit of doing so is greater than the ecological cost.

This decision involves both scientific predictions (what’s the likelihood the species will go extinct in its current range?) and subjective judgements (how do we value the conservation of this species compared to species already living at the introduction site?). Our framework separates these questions out.

The framework is intended to support the revised “IUCN guidelines for re-introductions and other conservation translocations”, which explicitly calls for structured decision-making frameworks for conservation introductions.

Testing on tuatara

We test drove our new framework using the hypothetical case of the New Zealand tuatara which is being considered for relocation from its home on a number of small offshore islands in the north of NZ to the South Island, outside of its current range. The tuatara is the country’s largest reptile and the only surviving representative of an ancient lineage.

The tuatara faces a peculiar threat from climate change. Like many reptiles, the sex of a tuatara is determined by incubation temperature, with higher temperatures giving rise to males and lower temperatures to females.

The population from North Brother Island in New Zealand’s Cook Strait is already showing signs of too many males. This is expected to worsen as temperatures increase, putting the population at risk of extinction.

We considered an introduction from the North Brother Island population to a hypothetical mainland sanctuary on New Zealand’s South Island.

We used a previously published population model to predict the effect of climate change on the North Brother Island population, and estimated that the current population of 550 tuatara has a 0.43 chance of persisting in 150 years time. If we remove animals to introduce them elsewhere, this slightly decreases the probability to 0.42.

We found that the chance of successfully establishing a new population was good, and that the chance that the new population will impact negatively on the ecosystem was low.

Tuatara show why it’s essential to have a rigorous framework like this to take the gut instinct and guesswork out of the decision, so we can make smarter choices for conserving species under climate change.

Tracy Rout was lead author on the study. The study was funded by: The ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The Environmental Decisions Hub of the National Environmental Research Program, The Climate Adaptation Flagship at CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, The University of Queensland, The University of Melbourne, The University of Western Australia, and Massey University. The same disclosure applies to all other co-authors.

Doug Armstrong received funding as part of the study.

Eve McDonald-Madden received funding as part of the study.

Hugh Possingham received funding as part of the study. He also receives funding from The Australian Research Council, the Department of the Environment (Australian federal government) and a variety of smaller sources. He is affiliated with the University of Queensland (employee), Imperial College London (employee) and World Wide Fund for Nature (Australia - board of governors). He is a member of a variety of community and environmental organisations, and scientific societies.

Nicola Mitchell receives funding from the Australian Research Council and The Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife.

Tara Martin received funding as part of the study.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tasmanian Bushfires: Should we Have Trusted the Models?

Please donate - Tasmanian Bushfire Appeal (see...
Tasmanian Bushfires (Photo: James975)
by David Bowman, University of Tasmania

This week the Tasmanian government released its inquiry into the January 2013 bushfires that destroyed numerous properties on the Tasmanian Peninsula.

A key finding is that modelling predicted fires would reach the town 24-hours before it occurred, but this modelling wasn’t disclosed quickly enough.

But putting excessive faith in bushfire modelling is a mistake, particularly as models are not yet sophisticated enough to ensure accurate warnings.

Bushfires across the island had enormous impact on Tasmania: through extensive property damage and harm to the economic, social and psychological well being of affected communities. So a thorough investigation into the causes and consequences of these fires is to be welcomed.

But the bushfire inquiry’s report and the subsequent media reportage has spread a dangerous idea - that government can provide a very high level and reliable community protection from bushfire threats with bushfire models.

Indeed, a powerful storyline in the report is that the Tasmania Fire Service failed to adequately warn communities of the immediate risk of the fires, by not disclosing findings of a predictive model quickly enough.

However, careful reading of the inquiry report undermines this simplistic interpretation about fire models, and glosses over some very serious operational issues concerning the use of bushfire predictions.

The basis for the finding is a match between the actual extent of the Dunalley fire and a 24-hour prediction of the fire spread using an Australian designed bushfire model. But one accurate prediction doesn’t mean we should trust models every bushfire season.

The inquiry acknowledged that fire behaviour is influenced by numerous local factors. These include terrain, fuel loading, fuel type and moisture, and variation in vegetation and winds. Under some conditions severe fires can also create their own weather.

These factors are not perfectly captured in the current generation of predictive fire models, and in any case, the appropriate data are not always available.

The sole expert witness Dr Jon Marsden-Smedley of the University of Tamania to the inquiry - who gave evidence about fire behaviour modelling - stated that the current generation of predictive fire models are imperfect, and are based on generalized meteorological data rather that local measurements.

He also stressed that fire predictions are susceptible to the effects of atmospheric instability that are not represented in the models yet.

Despite the expert advice, the inquiry found that the modelling from January 3, which predicted the town of Dunalley was at risk, should have been acted upon immediately by the Tasmania Fire Service.

The big concern is that such literal application of modelling will lead to “warning fatigue”. Given the limitations of the models there will be numerous false alarms, and there will be some inevitable failures to predict extreme fires. Over time people will become disconnected from fire warnings.

This is a real concern. On the morning of January 4 local communities were clearly warned that a severe fire situation had developed but many people failed to comprehend what these warnings meant, resulting in significant risks to life.

Better is to use the hard won field experience of fire fighters and rural landowners. Local expertise and field experience are critical for assessing fire risk.

Indeed, one of the recommendations of the inquiry is that the Tasmanian Fire Service should place greater reliance on local knowledge from rural landowners. Putting the emphasis on modelling can take this vital knowledge away.

A key organising principle to the inquiry is that the Tasmanian government is duty bound to provide safety and certainty for citizens. The notion that models can provide perfectly reliable advance warning of threat is an appealing idea.

But this can lead to a dangerous thinking with increasing dependence on the state to eliminate fire risk, including an unrealistic expectation of advanced warnings.

Failure to achieve this ideal invites blame, litigation and more fundamentally, people not accepting the responsibilities associated with living in inherently flammable landscapes.

David Bowman receives funding from ARC, NERP, TERN, and NASA.
The Conversation

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Solar Power is the Only Answer to Light Up Rural Africa

Satellite image of Africa, showing the ecologi...
Ecological break defining sub-Saharan Africa (Wikipedia)
by AbuBakr Bahaj, University of Southampton

It is estimated that around one and a half billion people globally have no access to reliable electricity.

Most live in developing countries where the cost of connecting rural villages to the electricity grid is, and will remain, prohibitively expensive.

This is certainly the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where remote villages lie in huge expanses of territory, far from electrified towns and cities.

The 48 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, comprising 800m people, generate power roughly equivalent to Spain, with a population of 45m.

And, incredibly, this figure is falling. Building infrastructure in Africa is a major challenge, and electrifying the continent is perhaps the biggest of all.

This challenge was the target of the our Energy for Development (E4D) programme.

The aim is to set up and implement easy-to-replicate, sustainable, decentralised, off-grid electricity generation for rural communities, which requires overcoming various scientific, engineering, and policy questions challenges.

A key aim was not just to electrify but to invigorate rural communities and village centres by providing a means to support self-governance, finance and entrepreneurship.

The Kitonyoni village market solar project established in Makueni County, southeast Kenya, involved setting up a community-based, energy supply co-operative. This would operate an electricity mini-grid to distribute solar powered electricity.

The mini-grid was designed to supply power to all buildings in the village centre, including shops, cafes, schools, health centres, and churches.

To ensure the project is economically sustainable, the village community contributes to the co-operative and is responsible for running and maintaining the 13.5kW power plant.

Income is generated by co-op membership fees, electricity sales and share ownership, and this covers all the running and maintenance costs. Surplus is also used to provide micro finance for the community, which helps to earn back the project’s initial capital cost.

Obviously the constant supply of strong sunlight throughout the continent makes solar power ideal to tackle Africa’s power shortfall. But solar power appears most commonly as very small scale systems such as for individual household lighting or water pumping.

Large scale projects are emerging however, for exmample the 250kW system in Kigali, Rwanda, and a 1MW plant due to open in December in Kericho County, Kenya, which will be the largest in East Africa.

Energy policy in African states is variable, and suffers from lack of long term investment. Of the US$269 billion invested in renewable energy projects worldwide, only US$4.5 billion was in Africa. The new Kenyan energy policy issued last year, for example, outlines targets for renewable energy.

But regardless, the high initial costs of equipment and lack of expertise has led solar power to be sidelined, national grids expanded to connect urban areas, and rural settlements overlooked.

This is why one of the key aims of the E4D project was to design a modular system that could be easily delivered and customised to suit different villages, and one that would be viable through electricity charges and membership fees within the community, with no expectation of support from government.

An estimated 3,000 local people will benefit from electricity provided in Kitonyoni.

The school, health centre, and the 40 businesses in the village centre have stable, round-the-clock power supply, which allows them to open longer and provide extra services, such as IT training, tailoring and hair dressing that require electrical equipment.

The canopy of the solar power system also collects rain, and the water is stored and sold by the cooperative year round.

The project has undoubtedly transformed the village centre, the villagers' lives, and has also provided the research team with a year’s data to better gauge the system’s performance.

In a year, land prices have more than doubled, five new buildings have been completed, new businesses started, business income has (in most cases) more than doubled and, most importantly, a new maternity ward has been been electrified.

The challenge now is to reduce capital costs and streamline the process of replicating the project elsewhere. A second project in Kenya and one in Cameroon are underway, with others planned in Mozambique and elsewhere in Africa.

Visitors have come from as far afield as the UK, Japan, Germany, Zambia, and from institutions such as the the World Bank and the private sector.

In most developing countries the cost of connecting the national grid to remote regions is too expensive. For rural areas, self-generation is the only viable option, with renewable off-grid solutions in most cases able to provide cheaper options with no fuel cost and low maintenance.

AbuBakr Bahaj receives funding from Research Councils UK, and DFID. The E4D project consortium comprises the University of Southampton’s Sustainable Energy Research Group and the Centre for Global Health Population Poverty and Policy, Imperial College's Business School, and industrial partners IT Power Ltd and GVEP International.
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Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Key to Fighting Climate Change is in the Land

White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely's Red Gum Grassy ...
White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely's Red Gum Grassy Woodland and Derived Native Grassland Ecological Community (Photo credit: Australian Network for Plant Conservation)
by Penny van Oosterzee, James Cook University

Australia could lead the world in combating climate change. Wouldn’t you like to believe this was true?

Actually though, Australia has a world-beating model to deal with climate change.

But I’m not talking about energy efficiency programs. I’m not even talking about taxes or an emissions trading scheme. I’m talking about the land.

Climate abatement opportunities from the land are second only to abatement from the energy sector. What we might call the ecosystem sector could provide one third of the entire emissions reductions in Australia.

Here are just some examples of how: avoiding land clearing, changing grazing practises across the savannas, growing trees in salted soils, and managing crops by, say, reducing fertiliser use on sugar cane, and managing rice with less irrigation water.

These are opportunities reasonably well known in that they have methods to measure changes.

But there are large emerging opportunities, including growing mangroves as sea levels rise and sequestering carbon through wetland restoration so the sediment doesn’t flow into the Great Barrier Reef.

Ecosystems are the ultimate objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where they are front and centre.

To avoid dangerous climate change, the convention says, the world needs to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations within a timeframe that allows ecosystems to adapt naturally.

Fundamentally this is about how land is managed. Land management is central to our existence; a fact we seem to forget. It is our air and nourishment, our fresh water and shelter. It heals us. And the biodiversity that underpins it all is the context in which we operate.

The thing with climate change is that, worldwide, its impacts are regionally specific. The problems of the Great Barrier Reef are the problems of land management in its river catchments.

These are not the same impacts as those of the salt encrusted catchments running into the Murray Darling, nor the problems of the volatile and feral savanna catchments of the north, or the left-over forests in the catchments of the southeast.

The solutions, too, are regionally specific; which seems obvious. But it is a fact that only in Australia do we have a well developed framework that recognises this. It’s called, regional natural resource management a prosaic term that unfortunately works well at obscuring its great potential.

The regions are based sensibly on Australia’s bioregions, areas with similar ecological characteristics. Funding and grants are distributed to regional bodies which encompass a swathe of organisations, working together, and then on to innumerable projects on the ground.

Importantly, under this framework, the priorities are determined by those at the front line of managing the land’s wicked problems.

Almost incidentally this framework is a good foundation for combating climate change. Landholders could be paid for the ecosystem services they provide.

It’s a simple idea, but the effects could be huge. A pilot study in the Wet Tropics of Queensland, one of the smallest regions in Australia, found the potential carbon dioxide abatement was 1.8 million tons per year.

The pilot study (which incidentally was short-listed for the 2009 Eureka Science Prizes) showed this could be achieved by avoiding deforestation and logging, and reducing nitrogen fertiliser use on sugar cane - the main crop in the region.

It didn’t include reforestation or sustainable grazing, so the estimated carbon abatement is conservative.

If that’s what a small region can do, imagine what the rest of Australia could achieve. There are 55 other regions, and many have much greater potential for carbon abatement than the Wet Tropics.

Theoretically at least it may well be possible to meet Australia’s 5% emissions target by looking after our land and water alone.

But you would need a carbon price that pays landholders for their ecosystem services. The Carbon Farming Initiative is a good framework if it could be streamlined to allow for regional carbon pooling.

Credits generated could ideally be traded within emissions trading schemes, like the one we currently have, or sold to the government under direct action if this action guaranteed an allocation to land management.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests that ecosystems services of our terrestrial ecosystems are worth up to A$325 billion per year. There is a lot riding on this: you don’t just buy emissions, you buy resilient landscapes.

Penny van Oosterzee occasionally consults to regional NRM groups.
The Conversation

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