World greenhouse gas levels made unprecedented leap in 2016



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Human activity, along with a strong El Nino, drove 2016 greenhouse gas levels to new heights.
AAP Image/Dave Hunt

Paul Fraser, CSIRO; Paul Krummel, CSIRO, and Zoe Loh, CSIRO

Global average carbon dioxide concentrations rose by 0.8% during 2016, the largest annual increase ever observed. According to figures released overnight by the World Meteorological Organisation, atmospheric CO₂ concentrations reached 403.3 parts per million. This is the highest level for at least 3 million years, having climbed by 3.3 ppm relative to the 2015 average.

The unprecedented rise is due to carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and the strong 2015-16 El Niño event, which reduced the capacity of forests, grasslands and oceans to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Greenhouse gas levels are unprecedented in modern times.
WMO

The figures appear in the WMO’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. This is the authoritative source for tracking trends in greenhouse gases that, together with temperature-induced increases in atmospheric water vapour, are the major drivers of current climate change.


Read more: Southern hemisphere joins north in breaching carbon dioxide milestone


Laboratories around the world, including at CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia, measure atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at more than 120 locations. The gases include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, as well as synthetic gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

At Cape Grim in Tasmania, we observed a corresponding increase during 2016 of 3.2 ppm, also the highest ever observed.

For 2017 so far, Cape Grim has recorded a smaller increase of 1.9 ppm. This possibly reflects a reduced impact of El Niño on atmospheric carbon dioxide growth rates this year.

Long-term record of background carbon dioxide from Cape Grim, located at the northwest tip of Tasmania.
CSIRO/BoM

For roughly 800,000 years before industrialisation began (in around the year 1750), carbon dioxide levels remained below 280 parts per million, as measured by air trapped in Antarctic ice. Geological records suggest that the last time atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide were similar to current levels was 3-5 million years ago. At that time, the climate was 2-3℃ warmer than today’s average, and sea levels were 10 to 20 metres higher than current levels.

Human-driven change

The extraordinarily rapid accumulation of CO₂ in the atmosphere over the past 150 years is overwhelmingly and unequivocally due to human activity.

Methane is the second-most-important long-lived greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, with 40% coming from natural sources such as wetlands and termites and the remaining 60% from human activities including agriculture, fossil fuel use, landfills and biomass burning.

In 2016, global atmospheric methane also hit record levels, reaching 1,853 parts per billion, an increase of 9 ppb or 0.5% above 2015 levels. At Cape Grim, methane levels climbed by 6 ppb in 2016, or 0.3% above 2015 levels.

Nitrous oxide is the third-most-important greenhouse gas, of which [around 60% comes from natural sources such as oceans and soils], and 40% from fertilisers, industrial processes and biomass burning.

In 2016, global atmospheric nitrous oxide hit a record 328.9 ppb, having climbed by 0.8 ppb (0.2%) above 2015 levels. At Cape Grim, we observed the same annual increase of 0.8 ppb.


Read more: The three-minute story of 800,000 years of climate change with a sting in the tail


If we represent the climate change impact of all greenhouse gases in terms of the equivalent amount of CO₂, then this “CO₂-e” concentration in the atmosphere in 2016 would be 489 ppm. This is fast approaching the symbolic milestone of 500 ppm.

These record greenhouse gas levels are consistent with the observed rise in global average temperatures, which also hit record levels in 2016.

The only way to reduce the impact is to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol and the subsequent Paris Agreement are important first steps in a long and challenging process to reduce such emissions. Their immediate success and ultimate strengthening will be crucial in keeping our future climate in check.


The ConversationThe authors thank Dr David Etheridge for his advice on the use of proxy measurements to infer carbon dioxide levels in past atmospheres.

Paul Fraser, Honorary Fellow, CSIRO; Paul Krummel, Research Group Leader, CSIRO, and Zoe Loh, Research Scientist, CSIRO

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

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Galapagos species are threatened by the very tourists who flock to see them



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Life’s not such a beach for Galapagos native species these days.
shacharf/shutterstock

Veronica Toral-Granda, Charles Darwin University and Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin University

Native species are particularly vulnerable on islands, because when invaders such as rats arrive, the native species have nowhere else to go and may lack the ability to fend them off.

The main characteristic of an island is its isolation. Whether just off the coast or hundreds of kilometres from the nearest land, they stand on their own. Because of their isolation, islands generally have a unique array of plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else. And that makes all islands one of a kind.

However, islands, despite being geographically isolated, are now part of a network. They are globally connected to the outside world by planes, boats and people. Their isolation has been breached, offering a pathway for introduced species to invade.

The Galapagos Islands, 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador, provide a great example. So far, 1,579 introduced species have been documented on the Galapagos Islands, of which 98% arrived with humans, either intentionally or accidentally.

More than 70% of these species have arrived since the 1970s – when Galapagos first became a tourist destination – an average of 27 introduced species per year for the past 40 years.

New arrivals

Introduced species – plants or animals that have been artificially brought to a new location, often by humans – can damage native fauna and flora. They are among the top threats to biodiversity worldwide, and one of the most important threats to oceanic islands. The Convention on Biological Diversity has a dedicated target to help deal with them and their means of arrival. The target states that:

by 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritised, priority species are controlled or eradicated and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment.

The Galapagos Islands are home to giant tortoises, flightless cormorants, and the iconic Darwin’s finches – species that have evolved in isolation and according to the differing characteristics of each of the islands.

However, the Galapagos’ natural attributes have also made these islands a top tourist destination. Ironically enough, this threatens the survival of many of the species that make this place so unique.

Humans on the rise

In 1950 the Galapagos Islands had just 1,346 residents, and no tourists. In 2015 more than 220,000 visitors travelled to the islands. These tourists, along with the 25,000 local residents, need to have most of their food and other goods shipped from mainland Ecuador.

These strengthening links between Galapagos and the mainland have opened up pathways for the arrival and spread of introduced species to the archipelago, and between its various islands.

Major species transport routes into and between the Galapagos Islands.
PLoS ONE
More and more alien species are finding their way to the Galapagos Islands.
PLoS ONE

Plants were the most common type of introduced species, followed by insects. The most common pathway for species introduction unintentionally was as a contaminant on plants. A few vertebrates have also been recorded as stowaways in transport vehicles, including snakes and opossums; whilst others have been deliberately introduced in the last decade (such as Tilapia, dog breeds and goldfishes).

The number, frequency and geographic origin of alien invasion pathways to Galapagos have increased through time. Our research shows a tight relationship between the number of pathways and the ongoing increase in human population in Galapagos, from both residents and tourists.

For instance, the number of flights has increased from 74 flights a week in 2010 to 107 in 2015; the number of airplane passengers has also increased through time with about 40% being tourists, the remainder being Galapagos residents or transient workers.

Global connections between Galapagos and the outside world have also increased, receiving visitors from 93 countries in 2010 to 158 in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency intercepted more than 14,000 banned items, almost 70% of which were brought in by tourists.

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We think it likely that intentional introductions of alien species will decline when biosecurity is strengthened. However, with tourists as known vectors for introduced species and with tourism much the largest and fastest growing sector of the local economy, unintentional introductions to Galapagos will almost certainly increase further.

The ConversationIf islands are to be kept as islands, isolated in the full sense of the word, it is of high priority to manage their invasion pathways. Our research aims to provide technical input to local decision makers, managers and conservation bodies working in Galapagos in order to minimise a further increase on the number of available pathways to Galapagos and the probable likelihood of new arrivals. Our next step is to evaluate how local tourism boats are connecting the once isolated islands within Galapagos, as a way to minimise further spread of harmful introduced species to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Veronica Toral-Granda, PhD candidate, Charles Darwin University and Stephen Garnett, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University

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

Technique developed in Kenya offers a refined way to map tree cover



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Each year satellite images and maps show patterns linked to land use/cover change.
Flickr/NASA

Michael Marshall, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)

Scientists at the World Agroforestry Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, recently pioneered a new approach which uses satellite images and maps to show patterns linked to land use and cover change on a yearly basis. Though the technique was developed in Kenya, it can be used regionally and potentially across the world.

“Land use and cover change” are terms used by scientists to define changes to the earth’s surface. This can be due to natural causes or because of the way in which land is put to use by people. Land use refers to what’s being done on it, for example mechanised farming, while land cover refers to what is physically on the land, for example what crops are being grown.

What’s important about the new approach is that the maps consist of an array of both physical and human geographic data to explain changes. It can also be used in combination with large-scale climate models, for example to understand how changes in vegetation in East Africa might be affecting climate in other regions of Africa.

In Kenya’s case, the system mapped changes in agriculture and natural vegetation with information from over a 30-year period. Using a series of aerial photographic surveys – which could be used to distinguish specific crops or natural vegetation – and freely-available spatial data such as rainfall, and population density, interpreters were able to classify Kenya’s land use and cover change. They were then able to construct maps of this change on a yearly basis without extensive and costly field visits typically used when mapping change.

Understanding land use and cover change is important because they both affect how land responds to the environment. Many of the changes are human-induced – for example the way that people use the land can lead to habitat loss, increase the stress of life that the land supports, affect greenhouse gas emissions and storage, modify runoff and ground water storage, or alter the climate.

Deforestation, perhaps the most well-known type of land use and cover change, comes about primarily from agriculture and logging. It has an impact on the world’s climate because trees store huge amounts of carbon that would otherwise be in the air trapping heat. The absence of trees therefore contributes to global warming.

Deforestation also affects people locally, particularly in the global south. Forests help regulate rainfall and water storage, and the help maintain a high level of biodiversity.

Much of the global north has seen an increase in tree cover in recent years. But much of the global south continues to show declines due to population growth, weak institutions and other social and ecological factors.

Mapping deforestation

To understand the drivers as well as the effects of deforestation, geographers use various tools that map the extent and density of tree cover. These include aerial photos, satellite images and other spatial data through time.

The World Agroforestry Centre’s approach takes this a number of steps further. It also uses demographic data, such as population density, which is often bypassed by scientists when mapping change.

The new approach suggests that physical drivers, like rainfall, may not be as important as previously thought.

Finally, the new technique provides a way forward for scientists interested in understanding what drives land use and cover change. It allows them to look at how this process interacts with processes like climate change over large areas and long periods of time.

From a scientific perspective, this helps us better to understand the environment and how humans may be modifying it. This in turn will help those designing land management strategies.

Kenyan case

Our research in Kenya shows that the most important predictor of land use and cover change was population density. Kenya is part of the East African Horn region. Like many other countries in Africa, its population is growing rapidly and is largely devoted to rain-fed subsistence agriculture and pastoralism.

Population growth occurred more rapidly in fertile areas, so the conversion of natural vegetation to agriculture was much higher. In less fertile areas, population growth was much slower, so the conversion was less.

Kenyan farmers and pastoralists are largely unable to acquire new land and are instead forced to intensify their practices on subdivided land.

We were able to detect that as the number of people per square kilometre increased, the amount of natural vegetation declined, because it was being replaced by farm or grazing land.

Climate predictors, such as rainfall and air temperature, were also correlated with the conversion of natural vegetation to agriculture, but less so compared to population density.

The ConversationAs seen in the Kenya case, the growing demand for food in Africa must be met with effective land tenure reform. By mapping changes in our environment continuously over long time periods, farmers and policymakers can understand underlying mechanisms and explore opportunities for reform.

Michael Marshall, Climate Change Scientist, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)

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

The attempt to replenish Lake Chad’s water may fail again. Here’s why


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Presidents Issoufou, Yayi, Deby and Buhari at a meeting of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, the body in charge of the lake replenishment project
REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Adegboyega Adeniran, Australian National University and Katherine Daniell, Australian National University

The Transaqua Project is a big, ambitious initiative to replenish the waters of Lake Chad, a fresh water inland lake in Central Africa.

It involves 12 countries working together to build a 2 400 km canal to move about 100 billion cubic metres of water from the River Congo to the lake every year. The Lake Chad basin supports more than 20 million people.

If accomplished, the Transaqua Project will change the face of Africa – for better or for worse. But like other regional or transnational projects on the continent, it may be delayed or abandoned if national politics are ignored.

The replenishment project, mooted over 30 years ago, involves building several dams along the length of the canal.

The dams will potentially generate 15 to 25 thousand million KWh of hydroelectricity and irrigate 50 000 to 70 000 km2 of land in the Sahel zone. This will stimulate development in agriculture, industry, transport and electricity for up to 12 African countries.

But the project is not immune from criticism. Some argue that claims that the lake is shrinking are exaggerated. Others argue that the plan poses serious environmental risks.

It is difficult to determine whether the canal will address why the lake is drying up. And who benefits, and what the benefits will be to each country still remain unknown. It’s also possible that disagreement within and between countries could scuttle the project.

A memorandum of understanding for a feasibility study and the construction of the project was signed in December 2016 by the Lake Chad Basin Commission and PowerChina, the Chinese state engineering and construction firm.

The commission represents the interests of the 12 countries involved in the project and is guided by The Water Charter. This is the main instrument that outlines the mechanisms for dispute settlement.

The Charter, though, focuses on dealing with conflicts between countries rather than within them.

It is therefore worrying that the most important country in the project, Nigeria, faces internal challenges that may affect the project.

The long term nature of the project demands that the participating states are relatively stable in political and economic terms. Nigeria, Cameroon and Libya account for 78% of member contributions to the commission. Libya is currently seen as a failed state, so the focus is on Nigeria to offer political direction for the project.

Nigeria mirrors the challenges

Nigeria plays a powerful role as a regional leader and a major financial member of the Lake Chad Basin. Nigeria also pays 40% of the commission’s membership contributions of €6,275,906.90 (2013 budget).

Three political issues in Nigeria could affect the project.

The first is that President Muhammadu Buhari has had an important influence on its progress. Since he assumed office in May 2015, four milestones have been reached:

  • Nigeria ratified the Water Charter, five years after it was signed.

  • Nigeria signed the Charter for the Lake Chad Basin into law.

  • PowerChina and the Commission signed the memorandum of understanding.

  • PowerChina and Italian firm Bonfica Spa signed a deal to conduct the feasibility study and build the Transaqua project.

If Buhari’s influence wanes, the project could lose momentum.

The second political issue is that Nigerians will go to the polls again in 2019. Buhari’s health challenges, combined with the country’s economic and political challenges, have reduced his approval ratings from 67% when he was elected to 44% in 2016.

The re-organisation and re-emergence of the opposition People’s Democratic Party gives voters a strong alternative, especially in parts of the country without an alternative political party that can compete with their political structure and finances.

That party, which was in power for 16 years, might not be able to meet the financial or security commitments to the water project because of their past history in government.

The third factor relates to institutional politics. The executive secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission, Abdullahi Sanusi Imran, has stated that the Transaqua idea “is much more appropriate for the situation of the Lake Chad than all other alternative solutions.” But an informal conversation with a senior Nigerian government official in the course of research fieldwork expressed concern about the choice of the Transaqua idea over other alternatives.

These alternatives were presented in the National Audit Report of Nigeria as part of the Joint Environmental Audit report on the drying up of Lake Chad: a report prepared by the Supreme Audit Institutions of each of the states for the African Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions. Dissenting positions can create unnecessary friction between government agencies and make it difficult to coordinate actions.

So what should come next?

Amendments to the Water Charter to provide for addressing intra-national political challenges are vital; a task for the African Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions, the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the Supreme Audit Institutions in their respective national domains. States could be required to outline how they might solve potential political challenges in their domains. Expectations and responsibilities should be built into the Charter beyond negotiations and gentleman’s agreements.

The Lake Chad Basin Commission, political office holders and government institutions should work together to make the project’s objectives a key election issue in subsequent elections.

The ConversationIntra-national and national politics cannot be ignored. But the project should also harness local knowledge and experience, and recognise local conditions so that it’s accepted by everyone.

Adegboyega Adeniran, PhD Candidate, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University and Katherine Daniell, Senior Lecturer, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University

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

Drop, bears: chronic stress and habitat loss are flooring koalas


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Koalas are stressed out by a range of pressures, from habitat loss to dog attacks.
Edward Narayan, Author provided

Edward Narayan, Western Sydney University

Koalas are under a lot of stress. Heatwaves, land clearing and even noise pollution are all taking a toll.

Each year, hundreds of koalas are taken to veterinary clinics after being rescued from roadsides or beneath trees, and the incidences increase during the summer months.

Chronic and ongoing pressures such as habitat destruction are overwhelming koalas’ ability to cope with stress. Koalas are nationally listed as vulnerable, so it’s important to understand how they are affected by threats that can reduce life expectancy and their ability to cope with problems.

What is stress?

The term “stress” was coined in 1936 by Hans Sayle after experiments on rats. Sayle demonstrated that the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidney and produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, can swell in response to any noxious stimulus or due to pathological state. In addition, there are changes in the tissues and glands involved in the basic functioning of the immune system, reproduction and growth.


Read more: What happens to your body when you’re stressed


The short-term stress response is not necessarily bad, because it prepares the body to cope with external challenges. For example, tadpoles that are exposed to dragonfly nymphs grow larger and have bigger tail fins than other tadpoles.

However, chronic stress over a long time can seriously affect an animal’s health (humans included) and survival rates.

How do koalas respond to stress?

Koalas release the stress hormone cortisol in response to any unpleasant stimulus like being handled by humans (oddly, males are much more stressed by handling than females, unless the females are lactating).

Koalas have biological feedback mechanisms that can regulate the amount of cortisol they produce, so they can carry on with their day-to-day routine. However, if koalas are continuously stressed by something large and permanent, such as land clearing of their territory, it’s difficult for them to relax from a stressed state.

When this happens, the body undergoes a barrage of sub-lethal chemical changes. The resulting chronic stress can negatively affect the animals’ reproductive hormones and immune system function.

Koalas, like all animals that call Australia home, have basic physiological and behavioural adaptations needed for life in Australia’s often extreme environment. But human-induced threats such as land clearing continue to create ecological imbalances, and chronic stress makes it very difficult for koalas to cope with environmental change.

How much stress can a koala bear?

As my review of the research shows, the most common sources of stress for koalas are heat stress, car impacts and dog attacks. Foetal development of koalas could also be impacted by maternal stress due to lack of adequate food from gum trees in drought periods.

Urban and fringe zones (areas between rural and urban zones) are particularly stressful for koalas, with added pressures like noise pollution and a higher chance of land clearing.

All of these factors create a continual strain on koala physiology. The sight of a koala dead by the road is the distressing culmination of multiple, complex and dynamic environmental influences.

Clinical research has shown that wild koalas are suffering from chronic stress. Koalas are often rescued with signs of trauma, caused by car accidents, burns or dog attacks, which is very difficult to handle in veterinary clinics.

Koalas are a living treasure, the only extant representative of the family Phascolarctidae. They live exclusively on Australia’s east coast, but are considered rare in New South Wales and South Australia.

There are now numerous local dedicated koala conservation centres aimed at safeguarding their habitat and educating the public. Koalas also help increase public awareness of conservation among both young people and adults.

But more research is needed in studying how they respond to the stresses of life in a human-dominated landscape. Techniques such as non-invasive hormone monitoring technology can be used to provide a rapid and reliable index of how our koalas are being affected by stress.

The ConversationSimply put, if land clearing is not reduced now we will continue to add invisible stress on koalas. Our children may one day be more likely to see a koala dead on the road than one happily cuddling their gum tree.

Edward Narayan, Senior Lecturer in Animal Science; Stress and Animal Welfare Biologist, Western Sydney University

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

Why we can’t rely on corporations to save us from climate change



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Managers’ short term incentives mean they can’t follow through on grand climate change programs.
Shutterstock

Christopher Wright, University of Sydney and Daniel Nyberg, University of Newcastle

While businesses have been principal agents in increasing greenhouse gas emissions, they are also seen by many as crucial to tackling climate change.

However, our research shows how corporations’ ambitious pro-climate proposals are systematically degraded by criticism from shareholders, media, governments, other corporations and managers.

This “market critique” reveals the underlying tension between the demands of tackling climate change, and the more basic business imperatives of profit and shareholder value. Managers operate within increasingly short time frames and demanding performance metrics, due to quarterly and semi-annual reporting, and the shrinking tenure of executives.

Our research involved detailed analysis of five major Australian corporations over ten years, from 2005 to 2015. During this period, climate change became a central issue in political and economic debate, giving rise to a range of risks and opportunities for business.

Each of the companies we studied acted at the leading edge of this issue. However, despite operating in different industries (banking, media, insurance, manufacturing and energy) we found a common pattern in which initial statements of climate leadership degenerated over time into more mundane business concerns.

Our study revealed three phases to this transformation.

1. Climate change as a business opportunity

In this first phase, senior executives present tackling climate change as a strategic business decision.

This is epitomised by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, who has claimed that “our only hope to stop climate change is for industry to make money from it”.

The managers in our study associated climate change with words like “innovation”, “opportunity”, “leadership” and “win-win outcomes”. At the same time they ruled out more negative or threatening associations, such as “regulation” or “sacrifice”.

For example, in outlining why his company had embraced the climate issue, the global sustainability manager of one of the world’s largest industrial conglomerates told us:

We’re eliminating the false choice between great economics and the environment. We’re looking for products that will have a positive and powerful impact on the environment and on the economy.

2. Localising climate engagement

These statements of intent are open to criticism from customers, employees, the media and competitors, especially with respect to the substance and relevance of corporate climate action.

Thus, in the second phase, managers sought to make their proposals more concrete through eco-efficiency practices (such as reducing energy consumption, retrofitting lighting, and using renewable energy), “green” products and services, and promoting the need for climate action.

Notably, these are often supplemented with measures of corporate worth to demonstrate a “business case” for climate action (for instance, savings from reduced energy consumption, increased employee satisfaction and engagement, or improved sales figures from green products and services).

Importantly, companies also sought to communicate the benefits of these measures to employees through corporate culture change initiatives, as well as to customers, clients, NGOs and political parties.

As the environment manager at the global media company we studied outlined, these practices were central to creating a climate-conscious culture in his organization:

That inspires others and it gets things done. It’s a fantastic tool. It’s how behavioural change happens on sites.

3. Normalisation and business as usual

Over time, however, climate initiatives attracted renewed criticism from other business groups, shareholders, the media, and politicians.

For instance, the increasingly heated political debate over carbon pricing forced many companies to rethink their public stance on climate change.

As a senior manager at one of the country’s major banks explained:

How we deal with sensitivities within the organisation about taking what can be seen as a partisan position in a highly political environment … that’s the challenge at the moment.

And so, in the third phase we found that climate change initiatives were wound back and market concerns prioritised.

At this stage, the temporary compromise between market and social/environmental discourses was broken and corporate executives sought to realign climate initiatives with the goal of maximising shareholder value.

For example, new chief executives were promoted who advocated “back to basics” strategies. Meanwhile, climate change initiatives were diluted and relegated to broader and less specific “sustainability” and “resilience” programs.

One of our case study companies is a large insurance company. While initially very progressive on the need for climate change action, this changed after a reversal in its financial situation and a change of leadership.

As a senior manager explained:

Look, that was all a nice thing to have in good times but now we’re in hard times. We get back to core stuff.

Where next from here?

These case studies, on top of our previous research, show why corporations are particularly unsuited to tackling a challenge like climate change.

Businesses operate on short-term objectives of profit maximisation and shareholder return. But avoiding dangerous climate change requires the radical decarbonisation of energy, transportation and manufacturing on a scale that is historically unprecedented and probably incompatible with economic growth.

This means going beyond the comfortable assumptions of corporate self-regulation and “market solutions”, and instead accepting regulatory restrictions on carbon emissions and fossil fuel extraction.

It also requires a reconsideration of corporate purpose and the dominance of short-term shareholder value as the pre-eminent criteria in assessing business performance. Alternative models of corporate governance, such as B corporations, offer pathways that better acknowledge environmental and social concerns.

The ConversationIn an era in which neoliberalism still dominates political imaginations around the world, our research shows the folly of depending on corporations and markets to address climate change.

Christopher Wright, Professor of Organisational Studies, University of Sydney and Daniel Nyberg, Professor of Management, Newcastle Business School, University of Newcastle

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

Australia still lags behind in vehicle emissions testing



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Emissions from real-life urban driving can be much higher than advertised.
AMPG/Shutterstock.com

Zoran Ristovski, Queensland University of Technology and Nic Surawski, University of Technology Sydney

Australian cars are using 23% more fuel than advertised, according to a report from the Australian Automobile Association, which also claims that eco-friendly hybrid electric cars emit four times more greenhouse gas than the manufacturers advertise.

The report on real-world (that is, on-road) emission testing was commissioned by consultancy firm ABMARC to test 30 cars twice on Melbourne roads. The method used to measure both the emissions and the fuel consumption was a so-called Portable Emissions Measurement System (PEMS).


Read more: The VW scandal exposes the high tech control of engine emissions


They found that when compared to the laboratory limits, on-road vehicle NOx (a toxic gas pollutant) emissions were exceeded for 11 out of 12 diesel vehicles, and carbon monoxide (also a toxic gas) emissions were exceeded by 27% of tested petrol vehicles.

However, the key consideration here is the phrase “comparison to the laboratory limits” because on-road tests can’t directly be compared to the laboratory test limits, for several key reasons.

How are emissions from vehicles measured?

Australian Design Rules (ADR) stipulate that before introducing a new vehicle model on the market, every car or truck manufacturer in Australia has to test one new car in the laboratory.

This is done by placing the vehicle on a chassis dynamometer, connecting the exhaust to highly accurate emissions-measurement equipment, and driving the vehicle according to a strictly defined routine.

The chassis dynamometer simulates the load conditions that the vehicle would experience if it were driven on a road. In current practice, the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) is used. This defines the speed of the vehicle and rate of acceleration for every second of the 20-minute test.

There is strict control of the testing protocol, with stipulations on how and when the gears should be changed, right down to minute details such as turning off the radio while the headlights are on. This strict control enables testers to compare the performance of different vehicles measured in different laboratories around the world.

However, these highly defined conditions have led to certain manufacturers enabling the car’s engine management system to recognise when it is being tested and to adopt and produce cleaner exhaust emissions. The most famous example of this is the recent VW scandal that affected millions of vehicles worldwide.

Even though the driving cycle has “new” in its name, NEDC was designed in the 1980s and today can be considered outdated.

Real Driving Emissions

To address these challenges, Real Driving Emissions (RDE) tests were developed. RDE tests measure the pollutants emitted by cars while driven on the road. To run a RDE test, cars are fitted with a Portable Emissions Measurement System (PEMS).

A PEMS is a complex piece of equipment that sits in the back of the car and monitors key pollutants emitted by the vehicle in real time as it is driven on the road.

These tests have proved extremely useful in highlighting some of the shortfalls of the laboratory tests. They can be run for much longer periods (several hours as compared with 15-30 minutes in the laboratory) and can give us information on long-term emission performance of the vehicles. They will not replace laboratory tests, but can provide additional information.

RDE requirements will ensure that cars deliver low emissions during on-road conditions. In 2021, Europe will become the first region in the world to introduce such complementary on-road testing for new vehicles.

RDE tests still face several unresolved challenges. The first is that the PEMS are still being developed and are not as accurate as the lab measurement equipment. The second, and more important, is the variability that one encounters while driving in real-world road conditions.

In order to compare the RDE test results with the laboratory-based standards a “conformity factor” is defined as a “not to exceed limit” that takes into account the error of measurements. This error is due to the PEMS equipment being less accurate, the variability in road conditions and driving behaviour, and thus the fact that the RDE tests will not deliver exactly the same results for each run.

A conformity factor of 1.5 would mean that the emissions measured by the PEMS in an RDE test should not exceed the standard NEDC test by more than a factor of 1.5. This is exactly the value that European Union legislators want to introduce – but not before 2021.

Australia is years behind

Australia remains years behind the European Union when it comes to vehicle emission standards.

The Euro emissions standards define the acceptable limits for exhaust emissions of new vehicles sold in the EU. Australia introduced the Euro 5 emission standards in 2016 as compared to Europe, which introduced these in 2009. At that time EU abolished the Euro 5 standard for already new ones in 2015.


Read more: Australia’s weaker emissions standards allow car makers to ‘dump’ polluting cars


Australia needs to upgrade to meet Euro 6 standards in order to provide effective detection of new vehicles. These include measures such as remote sensing as part of a vehicles road-worthiness assessment. This would help to ensure the maintenance status of vehicles and deliver compliance with Euro 6 RDE legislation.

What the Australian Automobile Association report highlights most of all is that the in-use vehicles (whether or not they are hybrid vehicles), many of which fall under the Euro 5 standard (or older), have almost all failed emission tests.

The ConversationUntil Australia updates our vehicle testing regimes to meet international standards, it will remain extremely difficult for Australians who want to buy an energy-efficient vehicle to make an informed purchasing decision.

Zoran Ristovski, Professor, Queensland University of Technology and Nic Surawski, Lecturer – Air Quality/Vehicle Emissions, University of Technology Sydney

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