Friday, June 27, 2014

What's In and Out of Palmer's Climate Strategy

Coal power plant in Datteln (Germany) at the D...
Coal power plant, Germany (Wikipedia)
by James Whitmore, The Conversation

In a surprising announcement last night Clive Palmer promised to abolish Australia’s current carbon price, and block the coalition’s Direct Action policy.

But Palmer has said he will vote to retain the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Climate Change Authority, and the Renewable Energy Target in its current form - all currently on the coalition’s chopping block.

You can listen to Professor Michael Raupach assess Palmer’s climate policies below.

But first, this is what they mean for Australia’s climate action:

What’s Out … 

Carbon pricing

Palmer will vote to abolish the current fixed price on carbon. Under Australia’s carbon pricing scheme, polluters (including industry, electricity and waste) are charged per tonne of CO2 emitted.

Currently set at AU$24.15 per tonne of CO2, polluters are not charged for the majority of their emissions. The scheme is scheduled to move to an emissions trading scheme, with a floating price, from July next year.

Direct Action

Palmer has vowed to block the coalition’s Direct Action scheme. Direct Action is the coalition’s voluntary scheme to reduce carbon emissions.

Under the scheme, polluters makes bid into an Emission Reduction Fund (currently AU$2.55 billion until 2018) on emissions reductions - such as improving farming techniques to store carbon. The government will then distribute funding to the “lowest cost” method of reducing emissions.

Many commentators have argued the scheme is flawed because it will not provide enough funding, will not set a baseline on emissions, and will not punish polluters for exceeding baselines.

… and What’s In 

Renewable Energy Target

Palmer will not support any change to the RET before 2016. The Renewable Energy Target, currently under review, rules that 20% of Australia’s electricity supply must come from renewable sources by 2020. According to recent modelling, the scheme will increase household power bills until 2020, with savings forecast after.

Clean Energy Finance Corporation

Palmer will vote against abolishing the CEFC. The CEFC is a “green bank", with AU$10 billion available to finance "clean energy” - half is reserved for renewable energy. The corporation has already attracted more than AU$1 billion in external funding.

Climate Change Authority

Palmer will vote against abolishing the Climate Change Authority. The authority reviews and advises on Australia’s climate policies. This year it recommended Australia increase its emissions reduction target from 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 to 19% below 2000 levels by 2020.

Emissions trading scheme?

Palmer said he will introduce an amendment for a emissions trading scheme, with no price until it is linked with key trading partners - China, Japan, Korea, the US and the EU.

In an interview with The Conversation, Professor Michael Raupach, Director of the Australian National University Climate Change Institute said Palmer’s policy is “step back, and a couple of small steps forward”.

The Conversation

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

China's Plan to Combat Pollution Will Fight Climate Change Too

Beijing, China 中国,北京
Beijing, China (Photo credit: Andy*Enero)
by Peter Sheehan, Victoria University

Last month was the hottest May in terms of global surface temperature in a historical record that extends back 130 years, according to NASA, and with an El Niño forecast for the end of the year, we could see more records fall.

But there are some more hopeful signs about the longer term.

CO2 emissions fell by about 12% in both USA and EU between 2007 and 2012, for reasons including the global recession, rising gas use and a shift to renewable energy sources.

President Obama’s recent announcement of pollution controls on coal-fired power generation is also an important step.

By 2012, China had far surpassed other nations on greenhouse gas emissions. Trends in Global CO2 Emissions: 2013 Report (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and European Commission Joint Research Centre, 2013)

But by far the most important may well be the accelerated changes in energy structure - from coal and oil to renewable, nuclear and natural gas - that China is seeking to bring about, in response to really serious levels of air pollution in most of China’s cities. I and other colleagues recently discussed the issue in an article in Nature Climate Change.

Deadly air

China has long had severe air pollution, but during 2013 it escalated to a major economic and social issue across the country. In January 2013 thick smog blanketed Beijing and northern China, covering 2.7 million square kilometres and affecting more than 600 million people.

While varying with weather and other factors, air pollution remained high in many parts of China through 2013.

Many cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, experienced a return of heavy air pollution in January and February 2014. You can keep track of pollution levels in China’s cities in real time here.

PM2.5 emissions from fuels over their lifetime (grams per kilowatt hour) Sathaye, J. et al. IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Ch. 9 (Cambridge University Press, 2011).

Greenhouse gas emissions from fuels over their lifetime (grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour)“ source= Sathaye, J. et al. IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Ch. 9

The central concern is with fine particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5). These pose the greatest health risks, lodging deeply into the lungs and leading to increased risk of pulmonary and cardiovascular disease and cancer.

PM2.5 levels are measured in micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organisation guideline for the maximum safe level is 25 micrograms per cubic meter for a 24 hour period and 10 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over a year.

Readings in excess of 500 micrograms per cubic meter, twenty times the recommended WHO 24-hour level, have become common in many Chinese cities in periods of heavy pollution, with higher spikes on some days.

According to official data, average PM2.5 levels for 2013 were more than five times the WHO annual maximum level in 58 Chinese cities. On many days in many Chinese cities, PM2.5 levels reach or exceed those in Morwell in Victoria in the height of the bushfires in February 2014.

Pollution revolution?

While this pollution is very serious in itself, the reason that it matters for the climate is the strong overlap between the sources of PM2.5 emissions and greenhouse gas emissions.

The main sources of PM2.5 emissions are coal and oil, which are also the dominant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas is clean from the PM2.5 point of view, but remains a fossil fuel source with emissions on average half that of coal use.

To that end the Chinese government is targeting a reduction in the coal share of energy use, which was 70.4% in 2009, to 60% by 2020 and to below 50% by 2030, through policies that shift energy away from coal and oil to renewables, nuclear and gas.

China has internationally promised to reduce emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% of 2005 levels by 2020 - but this really just means a continuing increase in absolute emissions.

While it is increasingly likely that China will adopt an absolute cap on emissions, China’s air pollution policies already go much further than its international commitment.

This is not just another promise by one country to other countries to achieve a given target. It is an internal imperative for China, driven by the demands of the people for clean air to breathe, and not by any external target.

If the government does not achieve substantial progress in terms of cleaner air it will answer to China’s people, not to some international climate body.

Some of these policies are already happening on the ground. China has closed coal-fired power stations in favour of gas, and small, dirty coal mines; signed a massive new gas contract with Russia; and rapidly expanded of wind, nuclear and solar energy.

In May 2014 China’s central economic oversight body, the National Development and Reform Commission, announced even more ambitious targets for gas and renewables. There are some signs in the recent data that progress is being made.

In the first five months of 2014, power generation from hydro grew by 14.1%, from nuclear by 17.5% and from wind by 14%, while that from coal and gas grew by 5.4%.

But China has many competing priorities and faces many other challenges. Powerful vested interests - such as private and state-owned enterprises in coal and oil producing and using industries and provinces - which support coal and oil.

Many difficult adjustments are also taking place in China’s industrial, property and finance sectors. While the Government is determined on the path of change, what it will actually be able to achieve, over what time frame, remains to be seen.

A gradual process to halt the rise in China’s emissions by 2030 will alone add over 10% to the already high global level of greenhouse emissions from energy use in 2012.

But a more abrupt process of change, perhaps leading China’s greenhouse gas emissions to peak about 2020 and then fall significantly, would be a massive boost to our chances of holding global warming to less than 2°C.
The Conversation

Peter Sheehan 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.

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Tasmania's Forests to Remain Under World Heritage

The Franklin River is in the Tasmanian Wildern...
Franklin River in the Heritage Area (Wikipedia)
by Tom Fairman, University of Melbourne and Rod Keenan, University of Melbourne

The 74,000 hectares of Tasmania’s controversial World Heritage extension will not be delisted as requested by the Tasmanian and federal governments.

At the meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Doha, the decision to reject the proposal was made in under ten minutes late on Monday (overnight Australian time), with reportedly no objections from any members of the Committee to retain the areas in World Heritage.

In rejecting the move, Portugal condemned Australia’s request as “feeble”.

Tasmania’s World Heritage Area and extension. Screenshot from Department of Environment

The story so far

Under the previous state and federal Labor governments, 172,000 hectares were added to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area as a “minor boundary modification” under the Tasmanian forest peace deal.

The extension was accepted into World Heritage at a meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in June last year. The decision included a request that Australia undertake more study of cultural heritage values, in consultation with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

There was some concern in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature that the size of the extension (more than a 10% increase in the area) was not “minor” and required more time and resources for a complete assessment.

In the lead-up to the 2013 election, the current federal government sought to have 74,000 hectares of the area delisted, on grounds that it includes degraded forests unworthy of World Heritage.

While debate has centred on forests, the extension may also satisfy a suite of other criteria for inclusion in World Heritage, including unique geology and important indigenous cultural sites.

New information on degraded forests

Previously on The Conversation, Tom Fairman examined just how much of the area to be delisted contained “degraded”, previously logged, or plantation forest.

At the time we only had so much information - primarily the amount of eucalyptus and pine plantation in the World Heritage area, which turned out to be less than 1% of the area proposed to be excised.

Since then a Senate Inquiry, headed up by Labor and the Greens, allowed some numbers to be put on the extent of forest resulting from former logging and other activities. The data was drawn from environmental groups, state and federal authorities.

This information was relayed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature brief to the World Heritage Committee.

IUCN advised against delisting, indicating that of the 74,000 hectares, approximately 10% had been logged since the 1960s (when reliable records began). However, 44% of the area is considered to be old-growth forest - that is, ecologically mature forest where the effects of disturbances are now negligible.

The remainder of the 74,000 hectares is a mix of:
  • unlogged, but not old-growth, native forest - like regrowth from bushfires (15%);
  • forest potentially logged more than 50 years ago (6%);
  • rainforest (8%); and
  • grasslands and non-forest (17%).
The International Council on Monuments and Sites advises the World Heritage Committee on cultural properties, landscapes and archaeological values. They advised against the listing until assessment of cultural values in the proposed extension.

This led to the World Heritage Committee to release a draft decision in May rejecting the proposed boundary modification, and it was this decision the Committee adhered to.

What does the decision mean for Tasmania and its forests?

Forests in Tasmania’s Florentine Valley. ToniFish/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

The decision to support retention of the World Heritage extension will come as relief to the conservation groups that have campaigned for the area to be protected for many decades.

It is expected that the additions will remain as “Future Reserve Land” tenure until they are formally reserved, as was the case with the extension in 2013. However, the creation of new reserves is pending management plans and consultation with communities.

But here are other considerations now that these areas remain World Heritage. For instance, World Heritage protection does not necessarily guarantee the forests are “locked up” from all forms of development.

For example, the Great Barrier Reef was recognised as World Heritage over three decades ago, and is managed for commercial activities such as fishing, tourism and shipping under regulated conditions that should maintain its World Heritage values.

At the meeting in Doha, a decision over whether to list the Reef as World Heritage “In Danger” due to port developments was delayed until 2015.

It has not been done in the past, but in Tasmania, timber harvesting could occur in these areas if undertaken in a manner which maintains their World Heritage values.

This will be an area to watch in coming years, though statements from the federal and Tasmanian governments indicate that they will respect the World Heritage decision despite the forest policy landscape having shifted substantially since the last Tasmanian election.

It is also important to remember that placing forests in a certain conservation land tenure does not necessarily protect them from catastrophic wildfires, invasive pests or diseases which may be made worse by climate change.

For example, in other parts of Australia, we have seen some of our most treasured National Parks suffer serious biodiversity loss and repeated bushfire damage.

Therefore, even without timber extraction, these forests will need active management to ensure their resilience to a changing future. This does not always come cheap - the cost of management tends to be overlooked in decisions to change conservation status.

In fact, park management agencies are having to manage larger areas with fewer resources, an alarming trend that has been identified for some time.

So while the battle to protect these forests in World Heritage may be won to the relief of many, it is by no means the end of ensuring the protection and future security, in perpetuity, of these forests.

The authors would like to thank environment and heritage consultant Peter Hitchcock AM for providing updates on the proceedings and decisions from the World Heritage meeting at Doha.
The Conversation

Tom Fairman receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the Australian Postgraduate Award.

Rod Keenan 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.

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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Three Simple Reasons Why Climate Change is Real, and Humans are Causing It

National Climate Assessment Released
National Climate Assessment Released (NASA Goddard Photo and Video)
by David Waltham, Royal Holloway

Dire warnings of imminent human-induced climate disaster are constantly in the news but predictions of the end of the world have been made throughout history and have never yet come true.

Even in the brief period of recorded history, natural climate change has always been with us - whether it is the volcanically induced crop failures that helped precipitate the French Revolution or the Medieval Warm Period that allowed Vikings to colonise Greenland.

So how can we trust that the computer models scientists use to make predictions are reliable?

There is sometimes reluctance to take experts' words for anything and so we would like to be shown the evidence.

Unfortunately, that is difficult when the details are buried under hundreds of thousands of lines of computer code which implement mathematical algorithms of mind-numbing complexity.

There is, however, one branch of science that can reliably give an answer that is easy to understand and hard not to believe.

1. Evidence written in stone

Paleoclimatology - the study of Earth’s past climates - has used fossils to show links between global temperatures and carbon-dioxide levels. This record is written in stone.

There are fossil plant-leaves from 55m years ago that have a microscopic structure which can be accurately reproduced in modern plants only when grown in a carbon-dioxide-rich atmosphere. Is it a coincidence that, at the time, it was so warm that crocodiles were living within the Arctic circle?

And this is not an isolated case. A sedimentary record covering half a billion years shows us exactly what we would expect to see if climate modellers have done their sums right.

Fossil and chemical traces in rocks indicate that warm periods in Earth’s history are associated with higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and quantitative studies show that this correlation is, if anything, even stronger than predicted.

2. Simple calculations

Those 55m year-old leaves suggest that carbon dioxide concentrations were about four times the present-day levels and back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate that global mean temperatures were around 7°C higher.

For comparison, the largely computer-based predictions published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change imply that quadrupling carbon-dioxide concentrations should increase temperatures by between 3°C and 9°C.

The simple paleoclimate example may not nail the case for a worryingly strong link between carbon dioxide and temperature, but it is good supporting data. What is most important, however, is that this evidence is hard to refute.

3. Counter arguments are unconvincing

There is little doubt that the recent rapid increase in carbon dioxide is linked to human activities such as burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. But does the paleoclimate evidence really tell us that increased carbon dioxide must mean increased temperatures?

One objection might be that ancient climate change is really evidence for varying solar brightness. Fluctuating carbon dioxide levels are then a response to climate variation rather than the cause.

However, solar physics tells us that the sun was fainter 55m years ago rather than brighter, as would be needed for higher temperature.

Another concern is that some important processes, such as ice-sheet disintegration, only affect climate very slowly. Our warming ice sheets may take centuries to disappear completely but, when they do, the replacement of reflective-ice by heat-absorbing rock will warm our planet yet further.

The existence of potential complications like these makes comparisons between paleoclimate change and modern climate change difficult but it is also one of the reasons why multiple approaches are needed.

If different researchers using different methods nevertheless come up with more or less the same answer, perhaps they are onto something.

Climate change deniers also confuse the argument by suggesting there is nothing we can do anyway. China and other rapidly developing countries will dominate carbon dioxide output in the 21st century.

But that is irrelevant if we are simply asking: “Will increased carbon dioxide levels change our climate?”

The fact that political and technical problems are massively more complex than anything in climatology is not a reason to stick our heads in the sand. Widespread agreement that man-made global warming is highly likely would be progress.

Next, read this: Establishing consensus on climate change is vital for action
The Conversation

David Waltham 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.

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

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Fighting for Their Country: Inside the Battle for Cape York

English: Map of Cape York Peninsula in Far Nor...
Cape York Peninsula in Queensland (Wikipedia)
by Gregory McIntyre

This week’s Federal Court ruling that the Wild Rivers declarations introduced by the former Queensland Labor Government were rushed and invalid was the long-awaited result many Cape York Indigenous groups had been hoping for.

Justice Andrew Greenwood concluded that in 2009, the Bligh Government made procedural errors in declaring the Archer Basin, Lockhart Basin and Stewart Basin as “Wild Rivers”, banning development within a kilometre of the banks of the rivers under the Wild Rivers Act 2005.

Within hours of the ruling, the current Queensland government announced that it would repeal all of the state’s Wild Rivers declarations when parliament returns in August.

That was not necessary for the rivers affected by the Federal Court’s decision, but it will effectively mean it’s back to the drawing board for development rules over north and western Queensland river regions.

The Queensland government already has a Cape York Regional Plan consultation process underway, which was due to be finalised by the middle of 2014.

That process - being less rushed than the Wild Rivers Declarations - has some prospect of being a result that takes into account the concerns of Cape York residents, and provides a better balance between conservation and reasonable opportunities for economic activity for Aboriginal communities on Cape York.

So what was the Federal Court challenge all about? And how will it affect future development in Cape York?

The story behind the case

This court challenge was led by Martha Koowarta on behalf of the Wik people of Aurukun, the Umpila of Lockhart River and the Lama Lama People of the Stewart River.

I first became involved in advising on this issue in 2009-2010, after meeting Martha at James Cook University in Cairns. In recent years I have continued to provide commentary on the issue to Parliamentary inquiries and the media, and in conference presentations and debates, including one with the Wilderness Society.

I had represented her late husband John Koowarta – sometimes called “the Mabo of the mainland” - in the case of Koowarta v Bjelke-Petersen, in which he fought Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland government for more than 10 years in a battle for Indigenous land rights and to have the Wik claim recognised.

The case was decided in the High Court of Australia in 1982, and concerned the constitutional validity of parts of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and the discriminatory acts of the Queensland government in blocking Koowarta and other local Aboriginal people from buying land in their own traditional country in northern Queensland.

It became a test case for federal anti-discrimination laws, without which there could have been no landmark Mabo ruling in 1992, which extinguished the notion of terra nullius: that Australia was unoccupied before British colonisation.

Grounds to challenge

Having fought alongside her late husband against the Bjelke-Petersen government’s discriminatory policies - which eventually led to an historic land hand-back in 2012 - Martha and other Wik residents of Aurukun challenged the Wild Rivers Declaration out of concern that it would limit their capacity to exercise their hard-won native title rights over the Archer Bend area.

In particular, a number of Cape York Aboriginal communities were concerned that:
  • the Wild River declarations were made without adequate consultation with local people;
  • they covered enormous flood plains of entire river basins; and
  • they imposed on those areas a highly complex raft of legislative procedures that had to be complied with.
The effect of a declaration under the Wild Rivers Act was to take away the native title right of the Wik People to control access to their land and waters. It was a “future act” under the Native Title Act, and had not gone through the “right to negotiate” procedures under that Act.

The Federal Court in this week’s ruling did not need consider that issue, instead deciding it on a preliminary issue of improper procedures.

Rushing through big changes

This decision is part of a much broader campaign challenging the declaration of Wild Rivers on Cape York.

In the lead up to the 2009 state election, an environment group The Wilderness Society mounted a campaign to have Wild Rivers declared in Queensland. The Bligh government embraced the Wilderness Society campaign, promising to declare wild rivers if elected.

The government identified 22 river basins, which included 50 rivers as wild rivers. The Lockhart River declaration alone included 5 rivers. The community consultation required under the Wild Rivers Act was effectively managed by the Wilderness Society on behalf of the Bligh government.

Aboriginal groups on Cape York protested to the government that inadequate time had been allowed to effectively consult with remote communities.

The ruling

This week, Justice Greenwood was able to reach his conclusion on the basis of procedural errors. The Minister had a statutory obligation to personally consider the results of community consultation and all submissions.

Former Queensland Natural Resources Minister Stephen Robertson leaving the Federal Court in Brisbane in late 2013. AAP Image/Dan Peled

The court found that the Natural Resources Minister at the time, Stephen Robertson, was told by then Premier Anna Bligh that she wanted the decisions progressed with urgency, following the government’s re-election on 21 March 2009.

Robertson decided to approve the Declarations on 31 March 2009. However, the decision was made without the minister having considered the submissions made to him, and so contrary to the requirements of the Wild Rivers Act.

The Wilderness Society campaign and actions of the former Queensland government caused a rift between Aboriginal groups on Cape York and groups around the Gulf of Carpentaria.

While Cape York groups led by Noel Pearson were critical of Wild Rivers declarations as stifling economic development for Aboriginal groups on the Cape, Murrandoo Yanner, speaking for Gulf communities, backed the declarations as a way of maintaining healthy rivers that had fed and sustained people for thousands of years.

A case with long-term lessons

Embraced by her granddaughter Christine outside the Federal Court in Brisbane on Tuesday, a delighted Martha Koowarta declared:
They stole our voice. But this now is a great victory for our people.
Hope Vale-based campaigner Tracey Ludwick said she hoped to see new development go ahead for her people, including “a lot more of eco-tourism and different types of things like that up in Cape York”.

But as The Australian’s Graham Lloyd commented after the judgement, eco-tourism projects were never ruled out by Wild Rivers declarations. In his view:
Rather than guesthouses, it is more likely dam builders and miners will be beating a path to the once wild and protected areas. … The decision sends an ominous warning for current governments, and industry, that taking short cuts on process can lead to tears. Environment groups have already signalled a new era of litigation in response to the federal government’s decision to hand environmental powers to the states.
Clearly, this court decision will have a major impact on what happens in years to come across north and western Queensland.

We can only hope that governments, industry and environmental groups all learn the lessons of this case: not to ignore and override the wishes of traditional owners, who shouldn’t have to spend years of their lives in and out of court, fighting to have their basic legal rights respected.
The Conversation

Gregory McIntyre has advised the Wik people on this and other issues in the past, but not since 2010. In recent years, he has continued to provide commentary on the issue to Parliamentary inquiries and the media, and in conference presentations and debates, including one with the Wilderness Society.

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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Other World Game: Reporting From International Climate Talks

Carbon emissions from various global regions d...
Carbon emissions from 1800–2000 AD (Wikipedia)
by Don Henry, University of Melbourne

Over the weekend the latest round of international climate negotiations concluded in Bonn, Germany.

Offering some encouragement, the talks are inching towards a new global agreement in Paris 2015 for global action to tackle climate change.

The talks reported for the first time that developed nations within the Kyoto Protocol (Europe, Australia etc) have met and in fact overachieved on emissions reductions, and that the same nations have seen strong economic growth while reducing emissions.

Good news from the US and China too - after a decade of inaction, both are now supporting and urging global agreement.

But commitments still lag behind what the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say are needed to prevent dangerous climate change. And while the first period of the Kyoto Protocol for 2008-2012 was successful for those who ratified, we still need an agreement up to 2020, and a long-term agreement after.

The Bonn negotiations and a second round in Lima, Peru, in December this year are tracking to final negotiations in Paris, December 2015.

I sat in on Ministerial Roundtables at the Bonn talks as an official observer. With apologies to World Cup fans, what’s the score at this “semi-final” stage? Who has form? And what about the final?

Meeting emissions targets

Under the first period of the Kyoto Protocol, developed nations agreed to reduce emissions collectively by 5.2% of 1990 levels by 2008-2012. Each nation negotiated its own target, and some were allowed to increase emissions. This year it was revealed that Australia comfortably passed its own target of 108% of 1990 emissions.

While the US didn’t ratify this first period, a significant number of countries that did reported current emissions are below or well below targeted reductions. Collectively, the developed nations that ratified reduced emissions by 22.6% of 1990 levels.

This “overachievement” builds confidence that most developed countries, which generated much of the historical emissions affecting today’s climate, are prepared and able to act, and to act more.

Emission reductions and economic growth

Developed nations have also reported a successful decoupling of emissions from economic growth. In the Ministerial roundtables that I sat in on at Bonn, Germany reported substantially cutting its carbon pollution and dramatically growing its industrial output and economy since the Kyoto baseline year of 1990.

As the “largest exporter of manufactured goods”, Germany reported it was “on track to cut emissions by 80 to 95% by 2050”.

Sweden reported “cutting emissions by 40% alongside 60% economic growth since 1990”. Switzerland grew its industrial productivity by 54% and cut carbon pollution 8% below 1990 levels.

The UK reported it “was proud of significant overachievement with emission reduction targets, and was on track to cut emissions by 34% by 2020 on 1990 levels” while substantially growing its economy, and “becoming one of the most energy efficient group of counties on earth”.

Movement in the US and China

For many years of climate negotiations, the US and China have held back efforts for a global agreement. As the world’s two biggest carbon polluters this has stymied effective global action and provided cover for other nations that don’t want to act.

Following President Barack Obama’s recent “Clean Power Plan” announcements, the US delegation was on the front foot in Bonn, saying this is “a new era in which the US is taking action to cut emissions by 17% by 2020 on a 2005 baseline”.

They noted that the US is “committed to achieve an ambitious and effective agreement that can be finalised in Paris”.

China said that it “is willing to work with all parties” on a agreement to reduce emissions before 2020. It also said that to achieve the mutual trust of all countries for new agreements, developed countries needed “to enhance their ambition to cut emissions and ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.”

China said that “it was a gentleman’s agreement that developed countries should ratify Kyoto 2 and then countries like China and others would enter a new global agreement”.

All roads lead to Paris

All countries, including the US and China have made commitments to act on carbon pollution and agree to a legally binding global instrument in Paris in 2015.

But there is a major problem remaining: the commitments to reduce emissions fall significantly short of what the science is saying is required to avert dangerous climate change.

Ratifying the second period of the Kyoto Protocol (on reducing emissions up to 2020) is important, as is increasing ambition in emissions reduction to 2020. And of course support is needed for adaptation, finance, technology, and capacity building, and even the loss and damage that the most vulnerable are now suffering.

We also need to be thinking about reducing emissions beyond 2020. At Bonn, Germany floated a global mid-century carbon neutral goal in Bonn (similar to what NewsCorp, NAB, and Melbourne City Council have achieved or are committed to by 2020), and others canvassed short commitment periods to build confidence and ratchet up action post 2020.

So what’s the score? With so many countries involved, climate negotiations can end up being reduced to the lowest common denominator. But they do provide a bottom line to build further ambition.
The Conversation

Don Henry receives funding from the Australian Conservation Foundation. He is a former CEO of the Foundation.

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Missteps on Climate Change Could Cost Australian Diplomacy Dearly

George W. Bush
Cover of George W. Bush
by Christian Downie

Tony Abbott will arrive in the US this week for his first face-to-face meeting with US president Barack Obama in Washington since becoming prime minister.

It comes at an important time: Australia is to host the G20 summit at the end of the year.

But given his government’s rocky start to international relations, Abbott’s handling of sensitive diplomatic issues such as climate change could result in the same type of missteps that caused a stir with Indonesia and China.

Few doubt that Abbott knows how to play domestic politics - although some may be reconsidering this assessment after the budget - but questions remain about his performances on the international stage.

Last October, Abbott succeeded in offending more than just China in one of his first foreign forays. On a trip to Japan, he declared:
Japan is Australia’s best friend in Asia.
This comment not only upset China and South Korea, but it was unnecessary. In international relations, at times it is necessary to stand up to friends to defend your country’s values and interests. Here, there was no reason to take sides and start “ranking” Australia’s Asian friends.

A month later, Abbott exacerbated tensions with Indonesia by failing to offer any explanation following revelations that Australian surveillance targeted the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, his wife and his inner circle.

Whether an apology was in order is one thing, and intelligence issues always require careful language, but no prompt explanation? No attempt to reach out and reassure Yudhoyono about Australia’s relationship with Indonesia in the immediate aftermath was quite another.

So, after a fractious start with China and Indonesia - two of our most critical relationships - the risk is that the US could be next.

Following Obama’s historic announcement last week to cut pollution from power plants, it seems almost certain that climate change will be on the agenda when he meets Abbott. The US is likely to continue to push for its inclusion on the G20 agenda as well.

This is clearly not one of Abbott’s priorities if his domestic agenda is anything to go by. But this is not Australian politics. He can’t simply blame Labor, claim a mandate to remove the carbon price, and move on.

Instead, Abbott must handle the issue differently. He would do well to learn the lessons of the previous US president, George W. Bush, on climate change.

In 2001, Bush walked away from the Kyoto Protocol, the global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The announcement sent shockwaves around the world including in Australia. However, perhaps the biggest shock was to the Bush administration itself, which had not anticipated the scale of the reaction.

The problem was not just the announcement but the handling of it. There were no phone calls to European governments to warn them ahead of the announcement, or to Asian leaders - or any others for that matter - who had invested significant political capital in the agreement. Instead, Bush announced his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol in a private letter to four US senators.

As former diplomatic advisors to Bush will tell you, it was a major diplomatic bungle and one they regret. They failed to realise the seriousness with which the rest of the world saw the issue and underestimated the blowback.

The Bush administration’s climate diplomacy never recovered. Bush was still trying to make up ground six years later when he established the Major Economies Process on Energy Security and Climate Change as a supplement to the UN negotiations.

Bush’s handling of the announcement in his first months in office unnecessarily sullied his administration’s international reputation on climate change.

The Abbott government is at risk of doing the same if it fails to acknowledge the seriousness with which other global leaders treat the issue. This will surely be apparent when Abbott meets a US president who is determined to make climate change a legacy issue of his administration.

If Abbott doesn’t learn from the past, Australia may well have another diplomatic bungle on its hands - one that is completely unnecessary and could take many years to recover from.
The Conversation

Christian Downie 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.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

To Get People Out of Cars, We Need to Know Why They Drive

Automobile Association c.1959
Automobile Association c.1959 (brizzle born and bred)
by Jennifer Kent

Cars are still the favoured mode of transport in Australia, despite their known environmental and health impacts.

We know that alternatives exist - walking, riding, and public transport - that can get us around in the same time.

But recent research shows that travel time isn’t necessarily the priority for car commuters.

In Sydney, for example, travel by car continues to dominate mode-share for all trip purposes.

In 2011, 68.1% of trips were made by private vehicles. For the commute to work, 62.8% of all journeys were made by car.

Perhaps even more telling is that the average Sydney household owns 1.54 cars, and for the first time in 2011 the number of Sydney households with three or more cars exceeded those without a car.

It is true that there are rumblings of change. Transport planners are perpetually keen to point out recent increases in the uptake of active and public transport. The data, however, suggests this change is specific to particular demographics and areas.

Sydney’s inner-urban residents, for example, use the car for 56% of trips, compared to their suburban counterparts who complete 74% of journeys by car.

In short, despite the impossibilities of ongoing private car use, the rising costs and increased political and cultural focus on the need to change, car driving endures.

Need for speed?

There are many reasons thrown around for our ongoing attachment to private cars. Perhaps the most persuasive is that the car’s comparative speed, ability to cover distance and, by implication, time-saving capacity prevents the uptake of alternative transport use.

In this argument, people drive simply because it is the fastest way for them to get from A to B. But what if people could get to the same place in the same time using another mode of transport?

To answer this question, I tracked down a group of people working in outer suburban Sydney who could travel to work using alternative transport modes in the same amount of time as it currently takes them to drive.

I spoke to them about why they commute the way they do. I did their proposed alternative transport trip myself, firstly to prove that my method of trip substitution analysis was correct and secondly so I could speak with confidence when describing the trip to my study participants.

It turns out I shouldn’t have bothered - my participants already knew they had alternatives to their car journey that would take the same time. They just liked driving.

They used the car for many purposes. Many of these can be conceptualised as traditionally utilitarian: ferrying children and carting groceries, as well as micromanaging multiple time commitments to family, sport, study and secondary employment.

Drivers found the car comfortable and cited the air-conditioning, aural concealment and protection from rain, wind, heat and darkness as the key motivators for using cars.

Emotional attachment

Reasons for driving, however, were also emotional. My study participants used the car as a place to keep in touch with the world via the radio, make confidential phone calls to family, friends and colleagues, listen to personal pieces of music otherwise deemed unacceptable by peers, as well as simply etch out time alone and still in lives shaped by rush and publicness.

This was reinforced by drivers' underlying belief that to be comfortable, protected and autonomously mobile is a very basic right in modern society. Why? Perhaps these demands for privacy and comfort in the way we travel reflects perceived threats to these rights.

In the shift to higher density living, (a product of the need to accommodate more people in our cities), we are constantly challenged to share space.

We share our footpaths and open spaces, our backyards and front foyers. We share our office space, and, for those working at a hot desk, even our office chair. The privacy and time-out afforded by the private car takes on new meaning when it is the last bastion of privacy in modern life.

Transport is more than getting from A to B

This qualitative research, recently published in the Journal of Transportation Research A, suggests people are not as interested in saving time as they are in being comfortable, cocooned in privacy and able to keep up with the requirements of their flexible and busy lives.

But transport planners continue to prioritise rational motives over more emotional reasons for driving. Perhaps this is because it is easier to explain our aversion to other forms of transport as due to time.

The findings of this study suggest that commuters are unlikely to sacrifice the comfort of the private car for a minor time saving. To stand for 35 minutes on a crowded train or bus twice daily, or to ride a bike in the wind and rain, is, for some people at least, physically unpleasant.

And to willingly endure such discomfort threatens deeply embedded cultural notions of freedom and autonomy. If we’re going to get more people out of cars, we’ll need to balance rational motives such as time with more emotional concerns.
The Conversation

Jennifer Kent 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.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Scientists Create a Pesticide That Won't Kill the Bees - and It's All Natural

(Photo: Don Farrall/Getty Images)
b, Take

Kristine Wong is a regular contributor to TakePart and a multimedia journalist who reports on energy, the environment, sustainable business, and food. full bio

There's finally some good news about the plight of the honeybees, which pollinate a third of our food but whose populations have been crashing over the past eight years.

Scientific studies have implicated a class of agricultural pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics, along with other factors such as poor nutrition.

Now researchers in the United Kingdom have created a nontoxic biopesticide made from spider venom and a plant protein.

The substance, called Hv1a/GNA, is experimental, and its effectiveness in killing agricultural pests remains unproved. But it’s one indication that biopesticides could one day serve as an alternative to bee-killing chemicals.

“Our findings suggest that Hv1a/GNA is unlikely to cause any detrimental effects on honeybees,” said Newcastle University professor Angharad Gatehouse about the biopesticide, which combines an Australian funnel-web spider’s venom and snowdrop lectin protein, which is found in potatoes, rice, and other plants.

In the study, published this week in Proceedings B, the Royal Society's biology research journal, the scientists found that the survival of honeybees exposed to a variety of doses of the biopesticide for more than a week was only “slightly” affected.

The biopesticide also had no measurable impact on their learning and memory. That’s important because bees memorize the route to a food source and communicate it to the hive.

Lead study author Erich Nakasu believes that because the honeybees’ learning and memory capacity did not change, the biopesticide does not interact with the insects’ calcium channels, which are linked to those characteristics.

Hv1a/GNA has to be ingested by the honeybees, such as when they eat pollen, to have any effect, and thus it cannot be absorbed via routine body contact with plants during pollination, he added.

Researchers said that it also did not affect the larvae, as the developing honeybees were able to break down the biopesticide in their guts.

In addition to U.S. agriculture - which is a big consumer of neonicotinoid pesticides, especially for genetically modified corn - the research has implications for Canada, another large pesticide user.

Citing high risks for honeybees, the European Union last year imposed a two-year ban on the use of three types of neonicotinoids - clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam.

Yet despite Hv1a/GNA’s potential as an alternative, Gatehouse warns that a range of strategies must be used to keep bees alive.

“There isn’t going to be one silver bullet,” she said. “What we need is an integrated pest management strategy, and insect-specific pesticides will be just one part of that."