A landmark report confirms Australia is girt by hotter, higher seas. But there’s still time to act



Aerial imagery revealing the extent of storm damage in Dee Why on Sydney’s Northern Beaches in 2016 following wild weather.
NEARMAP/AAP

Jess Melbourne-Thomas, CSIRO; Kathleen McInnes, CSIRO; Nathan Bindoff, University of Tasmania, and Nerilie Abram, Australian National University

A landmark scientific report has confirmed that climate change is altering the world’s seas and ice at an unprecedented rate. Australia depends on the ocean that surrounds us for our health and prosperity. So what does this mean for us, and life on Earth?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings were launched in Monaco on Wednesday night. They provide the most definitive scientific evidence yet of warmer, more acidic and less productive seas. Glaciers and ice sheets are melting, causing sea level to rise at an accelerating rate.

The implications for Australia are serious. Extreme sea level events that used to hit once a century will occur once a year in many of the world’s coastal places by 2050. This situation is inevitable, even if greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically curbed.

The findings, titled the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, strengthen the already compelling case for countries to meet their emission reduction goals under the 2015 Paris agreement.

Beachgoers cool off in the water at Bondi Beach in Sydney, February 2019. Australia’s coast dwellers must adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change.
Joel Carrett/AAP



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A rapid and dramatic cut in greenhouse gas emissions would prevent the most catastrophic damage to the ocean and cryosphere (frozen polar and mountain regions). This would help protect the ecosystems and people that rely on them.

The report entailed two years of work by 104 authors and review editors from 36 countries, who assessed nearly 7,000 scientific papers and responded to more than 30,000 review comments.

The picture is worse than we thought

Mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets are shrinking and, together with expansion of the warming ocean, are contributing to an increasing rate of sea level rise.

During the last century, global sea levels rose about 15cm. Seas are now rising more than twice as fast – 3.6mm per year – and accelerating, the report shows.

The IPCC’s projections are more dire than in its 2014 oceans report. It has revised upwards by 10% the effect of the melting Antarctic ice sheet on sea level rise by 2100. Antarctica appears to be changing more rapidly than was thought possible even five years ago, and further work is needed to understand just how quickly ice will be lost from Antarctica in future.

Key components and changes of the ocean and cryosphere, and their linkages in the Earth system.
IPCC, 2019

If you live near the Australian coast, change is coming

By 2050, more than one billion of the world’s people will live on coastal land less than 10 metres above sea level. They will be exposed to combinations of sea level rise, extreme winds, waves, storm surges and flooding from intensified storms and tropical cyclones.

Many of Australia’s coastal cities and communities can expect to experience what was previously a once-in-a-century extreme coastal flooding event at least once every year by the middle of this century.

Our island neighbours in Indonesia and the Pacific will also be hit hard. The report warns that some island nations are likely to become uninhabitable – although the extent of this is hard to assess accurately.

Some change is inevitable and we will have to adapt. But the report also delivered a strong message about the choices that still remain. In the case of extreme sea level events around Australia, we believe a marked global reduction in greenhouse as emissions would buy us more than 10 years of extra time, in some places, to protect our coastal communities and infrastructure from the rising ocean.

Indonesian residents wade through flood water in Jakarta. The northwestern part of Jakarta is rapidly sinking.
MAST IRHAM/EPA

More frequent extreme events are often occurring at the same time or in quick succession. Tasmania’s summer of 2015-16 is a good example. The state experienced record-breaking drought which worsened the fire threat in the highlands. An unprecedented marine heatwave along the east coast damaged kelp forests and caused disease and death of shellfish, and the state’s northeast suffered severe flooding.

This string of events stretched emergency services, energy supplies and the aquaculture and manufacturing industries. The total economic cost to the state government was an estimated A$445 million. The impacts on the food, energy and manufacturing sectors cut Tasmania’s anticipated economic growth by about half.

Reefs and fish stocks are suffering

The ocean has taken a huge hit from climate change – taking up heat, absorbing carbon dioxide that makes the water more acidic, and losing oxygen. It will bring ocean conditions unlike anything we have seen before.

Marine ecosystems and fisheries around the world are under pressure from this barrage of stressors. Overall, the fisheries potential around Australia’s coasts is expected to decline during this century.

Heat build-up in the surface ocean has already triggered a marked rise in the intensity, frequency and duration of marine heatwaves. Ocean heatwaves are expected to become between four and ten times more common this century, depending on how rapidly global warming continues.

The report said coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, are already at very high risk from climate change and are expected to suffer significant losses and local extinctions. This would occur even if global warming is limited to 1.5℃ – a threshold the world is set to overshoot by a wide margin.




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Our choices now are critical for the future

This report reinforces the findings of earlier reports on the importance of limiting global warming warming to 1.5℃ if we are to avoid major impacts on the land, the ocean and frozen areas.

Even if we act now to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some damage is already locked in and our ocean and frozen regions will continue to change for decades to centuries to come.

Mertz Glacier in east Antarctica. IPCC scientists say the expected effect of melting Antarctic ice on sea level rise is worse than projected five years ago.
Australian Antarctic Division

In Australia, we will need to adapt our coastal cities and communities to unavoidable sea level rise. There are a range of possible options, from building barriers to planned relocation, to protecting the coral reefs and mangroves that provide natural coastal defences.

But if we want to give adaptation the best chance of working, the clear message of this new report is that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible.The Conversation

Jess Melbourne-Thomas, Transdisciplinary Researcher & Knowledge Broker, CSIRO; Kathleen McInnes, Senior research scientist, CSIRO; Nathan Bindoff, Professor of Physical Oceanography, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, and Nerilie Abram, ARC Future Fellow, Research School of Earth Sciences; Chief Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Defiant Scott Morrison tells the world Australia is ‘doing our bit’ on climate change


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison has used his address to the United Nations to strongly defend the government’s performance on climate change, declaring defiantly Australia was “doing our bit” and “we reject any suggestion to the contrary”.

In a speech concentrating on Australia’s response to “the great global environmental challenges” Morrison emphasised dealing with plastic waste.

“To protect our oceans, Australia is committed to leading urgent action to combat plastic pollution choking our oceans, tackle over-exploitation of our fisheries, prevent ocean habitat destruction and take action on climate change,” he said.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released on Wednesday, calls for urgent climate change action “to address unprecedented and enduring changes in the ocean and cryosphere”.

The IPCC says that with the increase in temperature that has already occurred “the ocean is warmer, more acidic and less productive. Melting glaciers and ice sheets are causing sea level rise, and coastal extreme events are becoming more severe”.

With much international attention on the Great Barrier Reef, Morrison declared the reef was “vibrant and resilient and protected under the world’s most comprehensive reef management plan”.

He said that on climate change Australia was “taking real action … and getting results”, and attacked critics.

“We are successfully balancing our global responsibilities with sensible and practical policies to secure our environmental and economic future.

“Australia’s internal and global critics on climate change willingly overlook or ignore our achievements, as the facts simply don’t fit the narrative they wish to project about our contribution.”




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Morrison’s speech came in the wake of considerable criticism of his failing to attend the UN leaders summit on climate at the start of the week.

Reeling off facts and figures on Australia’s performance, the Prime Minister told the General Assembly, “this is a credible, fair, responsible and achievable contribution to global climate change action. It represents a halving of emissions per person in Australia, or a two thirds reduction in emissions per unit of GDP”.

Australia had the world’s highest per capita investment in clean energy technologies, he said, and one in five households had rooftop solar systems.

Referring to the Australian government’s decision not to put more money into the Global Green Climate Fund, Morrison said it preferred to invest directly, targeting Pacific island countries.

In sum, Australia was taking “significant and comprehensive action … in response to the world’s greatest environmental challenges”.

On the push by young people on climate issues – highlighted last week by the school strikes and this week by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s much publicised address to the summit – Morrison said that like other leaders he received many letters from children about their future.

“I deeply respect their concerns and indeed I welcome their passion, especially when it comes to the environment.

“My impulse is always to seek to respond positively and to encourage them. To provide context, perspective and particularly to generate hope.

“To focus their minds and direct their energies to practical solutions and positive behaviour that will deliver enduring results for them.

“To encourage them to learn more about science, technology, engineering and maths – because it’s through research, innovation and enterprise that the practical work of successfully managing our very real environmental challenges is achieved.”




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Here is a global solution to the plastic waste crisis – and A$443 million to get it started


The passion and aspiration of the young must be respected and harnessed, he said. At the same time “we must guard against others who would seek to compound or, worse, facelessly exploit their anxiety for their own agendas. We must similarly not allow their concerns to be dismissed or diminished as this can also increase their anxiety.

“Our children have a right not just to their future but to their optimism.

“Above all, we should let our children be children, let our kids be kids, let our teenagers be teenagers – while we work positively together to deliver the practical solutions for them and their future.”

Before delivering his speech Morrison visited an Australian company’s recycling facility in New York.

At a press conference there, he told reporters his talks had reinforced the fact “that we’ve just got to keep working hard to get our energy costs down” so they could compete globally.

“I keep coming back to this issue of gas and looking at all the alternatives on the table.” he said.

There was more work to be done on dealing with electricity prices.

“It’s a constant challenge”, he said, while shifting a lot of the weight to the state governments.

The federal government wasn’t the primary government with the impact on electricity prices, he said.

“We all know that it’s the state governments who basically are in charge of the assets and resources access that principally determines these costs and the cost of the system and the utilities.

“They also determine whether you can get gas out from under people’s feet. Now the reason electricity prices are as low as they are in the United States, and particularly down south, is because of access to gas. We’ve got heaps of gas and it’s being kept under people’s feet. So that’s something we’ve got to change,” he said. The states needed to change the rules.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

When it comes to climate change, Australia’s mining giants are an accessory to the crime



Australia’s major mining companies are significant contributors to global emissions.
Global Warming Images

Jeremy Moss, UNSW

There are many reasons for Australia’s absence from the podium of the the United Nations Climate Action Summit this week. No doubt it would send a poor message if emission reduction laggards such as Australia had taken centre stage.

But Australia is also the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquified natural gas. And by providing fossil fuel subsidies and exploration rights, the Australia federal government encourages its major mining companies to export more. This situation is now profoundly hostile to action on climate change.




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The emissions produced from the fossil fuels extracted by Australia’s major gas, coal and oil producing companies – our “carbon majors” – such as BHP, Glencore and Yancoal, are now larger than all Australia’s domestic emissions.

While these companies, and Australia itself, have no legal responsibility for these “exported” emissions, morally it is comparable to selling uranium to a failed state or dumping medical waste unsafely. We understand the harm our exports cause, and are therefore at least partially culpable for the harms they cause.

We think in nations, not companies

Why aren’t Australian carbon majors considered to be responsible for addressing their emissions and their consequences? One reason is when we think about reducing emissions, we typically focus on the role of nations.

After all, it is nations that negotiate climate agreements, and their policies are substantially responsible for the contribution their citizens make to the problem of climate change.

But the impact of carbon majors is now so large, we must make the case for holding them responsible for the consequences.

In 2018 alone, BHP’s global fossil fuel production led to the emissions of the equivalent of 596 megatonnes (Mt) of CO₂-equivalent . Over the last 15 years BHP’s Australian coal operations have produced 1,863Mt of CO₂-e.

These figures would be significantly higher still if we included the remainder of the emissions since 1990, when the first major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed the risks of climate change and the consequences of emissions.

To put that in perspective, in 2018 BHP’s emissions from its global fossil fuel operations alone were more than the whole of Australia’s domestic emissions (534Mt CO₂-e) for 2018. If BHP were a country, the products it produces would cause emissions greater than those emitted by 25 million Australians.

As well as their current levels of production, many of the carbon majors hold vast reserves to be extracted in the future as well as new fossil fuel projects. Glencore, the largest coal mining company in Australia, reported in 2018 that they have 6,765Mt of measured metallurgic coal resources, and 1,565Mt of thermal coal in proved marketable reserves. Together, that’s the equivalent of 18,202Mt of CO₂, more than 34 times Australia’s 2018 carbon emissions.

Moral responsibility

But why should we hold the companies themselves responsible for these emissions? After all, except for the emissions created during the extraction process, they don’t themselves directly produce these emissions. For the most part, carbon majors contribute by being producers and suppliers of fossil fuels.

Like nations, carbon majors are seen as having responsibility only for emissions they have produced directly in operating a mine or transporting their commodities to port. This is the “territorial” model of emissions attribution.

Yet the responsibility of carbon majors is much greater than this territorial model suggests. To see how this might be the case, it is useful to draw on some basic moral and legal theory.




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For example, a murderer or thief is directly responsible for the harm they cause their victim. They pulled a trigger or absconded with the money, and no-one else shares that direct blame.

But in the case where a person intends to shoot another person and I announce that I will sell them a gun — knowing full well what it will be used for — the responsibility for the murder no longer falls solely on the person who pulls the trigger. Given I sold the gun knowing that someone would be harmed, I am now an accomplice to the crime and should share at least some of the blame.

In this case, there is a relationship between my actions and the murder that ought to make me at least partially responsible.

In the case of carbon majors, by producing and selling fossil fuels which are, in turn, consumed in another country, they are complicit in the harm directly caused by their customer: the releasing of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere by consuming the fuel.

Australia’s carbon majors are accessories to the wrongful harm of climate change.

Shared blame

These companies of course point out they are not wholly responsible – other companies and people actually use the fossil fuels overseas, where the emissions count towards another country’s tally. But accepting even some fault for the effect of their exports is a huge increase in a company’s moral responsibility over what they currently admit.

What does this mean in practice? First of all, it means that they have a strong moral reason to stop contributing to the harm by appropriately cutting their fossil fuel operations in line with IPCC timeframes and take a fair share of their climate-related liabilities. They should also stop seeking support for fossil fuels through lobbyists, politicians, “think tanks” and industry groups.

It will be argued that such actions will be costly to the carbon majors. But unless we are willing to concede that it is acceptable to harm others without sanction or an end it sight, this is not a convincing response.




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However as citizens, we also need to move beyond reducing our domestic emissions. As voters, investors and consumers, we share a responsibility for our exported emissions. Ending state and institutional support for carbon majors should now be a major focus of climate action.The Conversation

Jeremy Moss, Professor of Political Philosophy, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Here is a global solution to the plastic waste crisis – and A$443 million to get it started



Informal settlments line a plastic-choked river in Manila, Philippines.
newsinfo.inquirer.net

Andrew Forrest, University of Western Australia; David Tickler, University of Western Australia, and Jessica Meeuwig, University of Western Australia

Since the mass production of plastic began, almost six billion tonnes of it – approximately 91% – has remained in our air, land and water. Plastic production and use is embedded in the global economy, and in our natural environment. This culture of waste is clearly perilous and unsustainable.

Our paper, published today in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, argues that only a global, market-driven intervention can stop the plastic tide.

It is backed by a commitment by the Minderoo Foundation, chaired by the lead author, of up to US$300 million (A$443 million) to help establish the scheme and ensure its integrity.

The paper argues that the intervention – a voluntary financial contribution paid by global manufacturers of fossil fuel-based plastic – would drive a system-wide transition to recycled plastic. Our modelling shows that this would lead to a dramatic slowdown in the production of new plastic – creating huge benefits for marine life and human health.

We must turn off the tap

Plastic takes so long to break down that every piece produced since its inception in 1856 still exists today, except the small share we’ve burned into poisonous gases.

Many strategies to address the plastic problem have been proposed to date, and efforts have been commendable. But we are bailing out a bathtub with a thimble – while the tap is running.

We have identified a simple solution: a voluntary industry contribution for new fossil fuel-based plastic production.

We believe this technical and financial initiative would level the playing field by making recycled plastic more competitively priced, establishing the right market conditions for a circular plastics economy.

We know from our discussions with industry that this would release technology, in particular chemical or ‘polymer-to-polymer’ recycling, that is proven today but cannot yet compete economically with new fossil fuel-derived plastic. Increased demand from recyclers would transform plastic waste into a commodity, driving plastic recovery and creating incentives for industry to invest and transition. This is already true for materials like aluminium cans, which are highly recycled because the metal has an inherent value.

Ascension Island is thousands of miles from land, yet even there oceanic wildlife can’t escape plastic waste.
University of Western Australia – Marine Futures Lab / Ascension Island Government

By mobilising new technology to increase recycling rates, plastic flows to the ocean and the broader environment would slow, and hopefully cease altogether. A circular plastics economy would also significantly reduce carbon emissions created through new plastic production.




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Our relationship with plastic is broken

The vast majority of plastics produced to date are derived from fossil fuels. Plastics are made from polymers – long molecular chains comprising smaller carbon-based molecules. Oil and gas are the cheapest materials from which to produce raw polymer resin. This resin is then made into plastic by adding dyes, plasticizers and other chemicals.

Fossil fuel-based plastic has countless uses and is produced very cheaply. Plastic recycling has largely been overlooked because, in the developed world at least, our waste is carted away from our homes and often shipped overseas. This leaves little incentive to tackle our plastic addiction.

But our “out of sight, out of mind” mentality cannot persist.

In 2017, China banned imports of 24 types of solid waste, mainly plastics. This revealed the extent to which developed countries had been sending their waste problem elsewhere. In Australia this led to recyclables being stockpiled, landfilled or sent to countries ill-equipped to handle them.




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Media coverage is also increasingly highlighting the environmental impact of our throwaway culture: plastic washed up on beaches, filling the guts of endangered marine animals and accumulating en masse in circular ocean currents.

This is an abhorrent market failure, which conservatively costs US$ 2.2 trillion (A$3.25 trillion) each year in environmental and socioeconomic damages not taken into account by business or the consumer.

A turtle with a plastic bag fragment in its mouth. Plastic waste in the world’s oceans is devastating some marine life.
Melbourne Zoo

The Sea The Future initiative

We propose an initiative led by global manufacturers in which they make a voluntary financial contribution for each unit of new fossil fuel-based plastic produced. We have dubbed the initiative “Sea The Future”.

Placing a value on plastic both drives its collection and diverts new production away from fossil fuels. The contribution, estimated in our paper as averaging US$500 (A$738) per tonne, would be key to encouraging the small number of global resin producers to choose recycled plastic over fossil fuel as their raw material.

The cost would be passed onto consumers via trillions of individual plastic items. The impact would be negligible – say, a few cents on a cup of coffee – and so is likely to gain broad public acceptance.

Anticipating the concerns of regulators that such a move could be perceived as anti-competitive, the lead author has engaged with global law firms to ensure that the initiative is compatible with free market competition law in countries across the world.

The contribution turns plastic waste into a cashable commodity, feeding the circular economy.

The estimated US$20 billion (A$29.5 billion) per year raised through the initiative would be used to help establish recycling infrastructure, aid industry transition and remediate the environment. Increased demand and a higher price for recycled material also promises to significantly improve the livelihoods of waste pickers – hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people who currently carve meagre earnings from collecting plastic.




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The funds would be administered by a self-regulated global industry body, independently audited to ensure performance, accountability and transparency. To address concerns over governance costs, the Minderoo Foundation has committed to underwrite up to five years’ worth of audit fees totalling US$260 million (A$384 million), plus cover US$40 million (A$59 million) in start-up costs, subject to appropriate conditions.

The future is circular

Public pressure is mounting for action on plastics – and what is bad for the planet is ultimately bad for business. The alternatives to an industry-led approach are less appealing. Plastic bans deny us a useful product upon which our economies rely; taxes typically go directly to general revenue and are unlikely to be applied to plastic waste management. So, tax-derived funds are seldom transferred between nations, ignoring the transboundary nature of plastic pollution.

Our global discussions with companies throughout the plastics supply chain have revealed that the vast majority recognise the need to move away from a linear plastics economy. They also understand that a global, market-based mechanism is the only path to achieving the system-wide transformation required.

Society discards over 250 million tonnes of valuable polymer, worth at least a US$ 1,000 per tonne recycled, in plastic waste each year. Soon, if we do nothing, that could grow to 500 million tonnes per annum. What industry would allow half a trillion US dollars of waste each year? Recovering it is simply good business for the environment.The Conversation

Andrew Forrest, PhD Candidate, University of Western Australia; David Tickler, PhD Candidate in Marine Ecology, University of Western Australia, and Jessica Meeuwig, Professor & Director, Marine Futures Lab, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Highly touted UN climate summit failed to deliver – and Scott Morrison failed to show up



US President Donald Trump during his brief attendance at the UN climate summit.
HAYOUNG JEON/EPA

Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg had an angry message for world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in New York overnight.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said.

“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”

The summit was touted as a chance for the world to finally get its climate action on track. But by almost any standard, the event was a disappointment.




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There was a handful of positive stories. Almost 80 countries and more than 100 cities promised to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. Some (mainly developing) nations pledged an end to coal use. And a few developed nations committed more money to the Green Climate Fund, which helps poor nations deal with climate change.

But for the most part, the urgent action needed to avert a global warming catastrophe looked a long way off.

Teen activist Greta Thunberg makes an emotional plea to world leaders to act on climate change.

High hopes but low expectations for the summit

Days out from the summit, millions of protesters marched at global climate strikes to call for strong climate action.

The task was given even greater urgency by a new report by the World Meteorological Organisation, coinciding with the summit, which said emission reduction efforts must at least triple to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to take swift, dramatic climate action.

“Nature is angry. And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature, because nature always strikes back and around the world, nature is striking back with fury,” Guterres said.




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Guterres convened the summit to ensure countries are developing concrete, realistic pathways to enhance their pledges under the Paris climate treaty. He wanted world leaders to outline plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050, tackle subsidies for fossil fuels, implement taxes on carbon, and end new coal power beyond 2020.

Few predicted the summit would deliver the global change required. For the most part, world leaders lived up to these low expectations.

President of Guatemala Jimmy Morales speaks during the New York summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

The summit did not deliver

Under President Donald Trump, the United States had already pulled out of the Paris agreement – and its emissions continue to rise. China, arguably disincentivised to act without American participation, also failed to announce new targets and insisted developed nations should lead climate action efforts.

India outlined new plans for reaching emissions targets, but remains committed to coal projects well beyond 2020. And even the European Union, a traditional international leader on climate change ambition and action, did not announce a plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

In a few bright spots, Slovakia confirmed that its subsidies to coal mines will end in 2023. Finland says it will be carbon-neutral by 2035, and Greece will reportedly close its brown coal plants by 2028.

But the disappointing showing by the world’s largest emitters means the summit was effectively a failure.

Australia: a climate summit wallflower

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not attend the summit – despite being in the US at the time. Foreign Minister Marise Payne attended but did not speak.

Morrison’s non-attendance largely reflected the position Australia took to the summit: ever-increasing emissions, no new mitigation targets beyond those announced in Paris, and no new strategies to reach the targets.




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Why our response to climate change needs to be a just and careful revolution that limits pushback


Morrison was in good company. His host, Trump, also did not attend, except for a brief entry to hear Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak.

Australia was not alone in failing to announce new climate action. But its wallflower status at the summit cemented its global reputation as a climate action laggard. Australia was also roundly criticised by our vulnerable neighbours at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu weeks before, confirming the growing gap between Australia’s climate action and its view of itself as a responsible global citizen.

US President Donald Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the opening of Pratt Paper Plant in Ohio this week.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Andrew Highman, chief executive of global climate lobby group Mission 2020, said representatives from other countries had noticed Australia’s lack of participation.

“It is really very obvious who is absent from the room,” he reportedly said.

“Everyone is well aware that Australia has not made good on its promises in Paris to scale up its commitment to climate action.”

Where to now?

The World Meteorological Organisation said the five years to 2019 will likely be the hottest on record. We are in the midst of a climate crisis, and urgent action is clearly required.

Internationally, the challenge will be to create momentum in the face of US obstructionism and Chinese ambivalence. Guterres indicated he will continue to host these summits and will expect nations to pledge more specific and ambitious targets. Global protest action and mounting scientific reports of accelerating climate change may ramp up pressure for international action.

Youth in the crowd at the global climate strike in Melbourne on September 20.
James Ross/AAP

What about implications for Australian climate politics and policy? The US’ planned withdrawal from the Paris deal may have given Australia some cover for its own lack of climate action. But criticism from other international peers, including our Pacific neighbours, suggests that substantive action may be needed to achieve our foreign policy goals and restore our international reputation.

Pressure is also likely to build on the Morrison government at home. Opinion polls since 2012 have consistently shown growing public support for climate action, in the face of reduced government ambition. In the face of this, the federal government may eventually be prodded into meaningful action. But the climate clock is ticking fast.The Conversation

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We can make roof tiles with built-in solar cells – now the challenge is to make them cheaper



This, except printed directly onto your roof tiles.
Cole Eaton Photography/Shutterstock

Md Abdul Alim, Western Sydney University; Ataur Rahman, Western Sydney University, and Zhong Tao, Western Sydney University

Despite being such a sunkissed country, Australia is still lagging behind in the race to embrace solar power. While solar panels adorn hundreds of thousands of rooftops throughout the nation, we have not yet seen the logical next step: buildings with solar photovoltaic cells as an integral part of their structure.

Our lab is hoping to change that. We have developed solar roof tiles with solar cells integrated on their surface using a specially customised adhesive. We are now testing how they perform in Australia’s harsh temperatures.

Our preliminary test results suggest that our solar roof tiles can generate 19% more electricity than conventional solar panels. This is because the tiles can absorb heat energy more effectively than solar panels, meaning that the tiles’ surface heats up more slowly in sustained sunshine, allowing the solar cells more time to work at lower temperatures.

The solar roof tile.

Australia’s greenhouse emissions continue to rise, making it harder to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement.

Globally, commercial and residential buildings account for about 40% of energy consumption. Other countries are therefore looking hard at reducing their greenhouse emissions by making buildings more energy-efficient. The European Union, for example, has pledged to make all large buildings carbon-neutral by 2050. Both Europe and the United States are working on constructing buildings from materials that can harness solar energy.

Here in Australia, buildings account for only about 20% of energy consumption, meaning that the overall emissions reductions on offer from improved efficiency are smaller.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t go for it anyway, especially considering the amount of sunshine available. Yet compared with other nations, Australia is very much in its adolescence when it comes to solar-smart construction materials.




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Taking Australia’s temperature

In a recent review in the journal Solar Energy, we identified and discussed the issues that are obstructing the adoption of solar power-generating constructions – known as “building-integrated photovoltaics”, or BIPV – here in Australia.

According to the research we reviewed, much of the fear about adopting these technologies comes down to a simple lack of understanding. Among the factors we identified were: misconceptions about the upfront cost and payback time; lack of knowledge about the technology; anxiety about future changes to buildings’ microclimates; and even propaganda against climate change and renewable energy.




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Worldwide, BIPV systems account for just 2.5% of the solar photovoltaic market (and virtually zero in Australia). But this is forecast to rise to 13% globally by 2022.

Developing new BIPV technologies such as solar roof tiles and solar façades would not only cut greenhouse emissions but also open up huge potential for business and the economy.

According to a national survey (see the entry for Australia here), Australian homeowners are still much more comfortable with rooftop solar panels than other systems such as ground-mounted ones.

In our opinion it therefore stands to reason that if we want to boost BIPV systems in Australia, our solar roof tiles are the perfect place to start. Our tiles have a range of advantages, such as low maintenance, attractive look, easy replaceability, and no extra load on the roof compared with conventional roof-mounted solar arrays.

Challenges ahead

Nevertheless, the major challenges for this technology are the current high cost, poor consumer awareness, and lack of industrial-scale manufacturing process. We made our tiles with the help of a 3D printing facility at Western Sydney University, which can be attached to an existing tile manufacturing machine with minor modifications.

The current installation cost of commercial solar tiles could be as high as A$600 per square metre, including the inverter.

What’s more, we have little information on how the roof tiles will perform in long-term use, and no data on whether solar tiles will have an effect on conditions inside the building. It is possible that the tiles could increase the temperature inside, thus increasing the need for air conditioning.




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To answer these questions, we are carrying out a full life-cycle cost analysis of our solar tiles, as well as working on ways to bring down the cost. Our target is to reduce the cost to A$250 per square metre or even less, including the inverter. Prices like that would hopefully give Australian homeowners the power to put solar power into the fabric of their home.


The lead author thanks Professor Bijan Samali for valued supervision of his research.The Conversation

Md Abdul Alim, Postdoctoral researcher on sustainable development (Energy and Water), Western Sydney University; Ataur Rahman, Associate Professor, Western Sydney University, and Zhong Tao, Professor, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

With 15 other children, Greta Thunberg has filed a UN complaint against 5 countries. Here’s what it’ll achieve


Juliette McIntyre, University of South Australia

Yesterday, climate activist Greta Thunberg joined 15 other children from around the world to submit a complaint – or “communication” – to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. They targeted Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey.

Ranging from nine to 17 years old, and from twelve different nations, the group includes a young Sami reindeer herder, a member of the Indigenous Yupiaq tribe, and teenagers from the Marshall Islands who fear their island home will vanish under rising sea levels.




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Their communication argues these countries are violating the standards set in the Convention of the Rights of the Child – which is run and monitored by the committee.

They allege these countries are:

recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change [and] have failed to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the petitioners’ rights.

In particular, the communication alleges the petitioners’ rights to life, health, and culture have been violated.

But whether or not the petitioners are successful, the mere act of filing the complaint has already brought the matter into the public eye.

Greta Thunberg gives a searing speech to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit.

So what role does the committee play? And can their claim actually change international climate policy?

Standing up for the rights of the child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international human rights treaty that concerns the right to protection and the economic, social, cultural and political development of all children.

And it’s the job of the Committee on the Rights of the Child – a group of 18 independent experts – to monitor the worldwide implementation of the convention’s standards.

The convention came into force in 1990 and is “the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history”. All the countries of the world bar one – the United States – have ratified the treaty.

The CRC establishes global standards with respect to human rights as they apply to children. In particular, article 3 of the CRC requires:

in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

How the CRC works

The CRC committee has two functions. First, it oversees the implementation of the convention by receiving reports every five years from participating countries outlining the steps taken to fulfil their obligations.




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Information is also gathered from NGOs and other sources to identify areas of concern. For example, Australia’s last report to the committee was submitted in January 2018. It addressed issues such as the offshore detention of child refugees.

The Australian government appeared before the committee on September 9 and 10, and the committee’s recommendations will be received by the end of this week.

But the second, relatively new, function of the committee permits an individual, or group of individuals, submit a communication arguing their rights have been violated. This “Optional Protocol” – adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2011 – is what Greta Thunberg and the 15 other children are using.

Communications may only be made in respect of countries that have ratified the Optional Protocol and, to date, only 45 out of the 196 state parties have done so. Australia, the United States, Great Britain and China are among those countries that have not signed or ratified.

Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey have ratified the Optional Protocol and have also ratified the substantive international legal obligations relating to climate change. As Greta recently tweeted, this is why these particular five countries were selected.

What next?

There are a number of procedural legal hurdles that must be cleared before the committee can address the substance of the issue.

First, it must be determined if the communication is actually admissible, which includes whether the petitioners have exhausted the legal options in their home countries for addressing their concerns.

But while Thunberg and her co-petitioners have not brought any actions in state or federal courts it may be the committee allows the matter to proceed anyway, since taking such action may have been “unreasonably prolonged or unlikely to bring effective relief”.

Second, the committee must rule on jurisdiction, as the obligations of the CRC only apply to each child within a country’s jurisdiction.

Some of the petitioners meet this requirement by virtue of their nationality or residence, but the communication makes a broader claim: any child is within the jurisdiction of a country when its polluting activity impacts the rights of children, within or outside that country’s territory.

This is a very significant claim: essentially, that carbon pollution leading to climate change violates the rights of children worldwide.

Only once these hurdles are cleared will the committee investigate the substance of the complaints, proceed to a hearing, and make recommendations to any country responsible for violation.

Are they likely to succeed?

The success of the claims may seem a foregone conclusion, as the committee is one of five UN human rights treaty bodies to recently issue a joint declaration stating: “climate change poses significant risks to the enjoyment” of human rights. And that climate change is “a children’s rights crisis” seems an inevitable conclusion.

Still, the communication must clear all the legal hurdles set out above.

But even should the committee agree with Thunberg, the options for redress are limited. After the committee transmits its views and recommendations, they’ll follow up six months later to see if its recommendations have been implemented.




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If they haven’t, there’s not much the committee can do to compel a country to take action.

But the committee’s conclusions are not without impact. Its views and recommendations are strong advocacy tools.

Alongside the school strikes, the communication is part of a broad campaign designed to focus political attention on the issue of urgent action on climate change.The Conversation

Juliette McIntyre, Lecturer in Law, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Eat your heart out: native water rats have worked out how to safely eat cane toads



Water rats in Western Australia are safely hunting cane toads.
Author provided

Marissa Parrott, University of Melbourne; Sean Doody, University of Newcastle, and Simon Clulow, Macquarie University

Australia’s water rats, or Rakali, are one of Australia’s beautiful but lesser-known native rodents. And these intelligent, semi-aquatic rats have revealed another talent: they are one of the only Australian mammals to safely eat toxic cane toads.

Our research, published today in Australian Mammalogy, found water rats in Western Australia adapted to hunt the highly poisonous toads less than two years after the toads moved into the rats’ territory.




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The rats, which can grow to over 1kg, are the only mammal found to specifically target large toads, neatly dissecting the toads to eat their hearts and livers while avoiding the poisonous skin and glands.

Water rats

Water rats are nocturnal and specially adapted to live in waterways, with webbed feet and soft water-resistant fur. Their fur is so impressive there was once a thriving water rat fur industry in Australia.

They can be found in lakes, rivers and estuaries, often living alongside people, in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, far north and southwest Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Victoria, where they can even be seen along St Kilda Pier.

Water rats are also highly intelligent, as shown by their rapid adaptation to hunting and eating one of Australia’s most toxic introduced species – the invasive cane toad.

Cane toads were introduced to Australia in 1935 in an ill-fated attempt to control the cane beetle. They have spread across the north of the country at up to 60km per year, leaving devastation in their wake. Many native species, such as northern quolls, yellow-spotted monitors, and crocodiles, have suffered widespread declines, and in some cases local extinctions, as a result of eating cane toads.

The toads secrete a toxin in their parotoid glands (on the back, neck and shoulders) that can be fatal even in very small doses.

A cane toad at our field site in the Kimberley.
Marissa Parrott, Author provided

Eat your heart out

Cane toads arrived at our field site in the Kimberley, Western Australia, in 2011-12, leading to a crash in the populations of predators including numerous lizards and northern quolls.

However, in 2014 we found a creek dotted with the bodies of cane toads that had clearly been attacked. Every morning we discovered up to five new dead toads with small, near-identical incisions down their chest in just a five-metre stretch of creek. What was using almost surgical precision to attack these toads?

Post-mortem analysis showed that in larger toads the heart and liver had been removed, and the gall bladder (which contains toxic bile salts) neatly moved outside the chest cavity. In medium-sized toads, besides the removal of the heart and liver, one or both back legs had been stripped of their toxic skin and the muscle also eaten.

The finding intrigued us enough to dissect waterlogged and rotting toad bodies in 40℃ heat. Using remote infrared camera footage and analysis of the bites left on the muscle, we found our clever attacker – the native water rat!

A water rat caught on camera hunting for cane toads in the Kimberley.
Marissa Parrott, Author provided

What kind of toads are rats eating?

While there have been anecdotal reports of water rats eating toads in Queensland and the Northern Territory, there were no published reports of this in Western Australia, where the toad was a more recent arrival.

We also didn’t know whether rats could tolerate the toad toxins, or were targeting non-toxic parts of the body. And we wanted to find out whether the rats were targeting small (and less toxic) toads, as some other rodent species do, or were deliberately going after larger toads which are a better source of food.

During our study we captured and measured more than 1,800 cane toads in just 15 days in the vicinity of the water rats’ creek. The vast majority, 94%, were medium-sized; 3.5% were small (less than 4cm long); and just 2.5% were large (greater than 10cm long).

But despite medium toads being far more common, three quarters of the dead toads we found were large, and the remainder were medium. No small toad bodies were found or observed being attacked.

While some species, such as keelback snakes and several birds (including black and whistling kites, and crows) can eat cane toads, there has been less evidence of mammals hunting this new type of prey and living to tell the tale.

Some rodents can eat small juvenile toads, but no rodents have been documented specifically targeting large toads. In our case, water rats preferred to eat large toads, despite medium-sized toads outnumbering them by 27 to 1.

A water rat eating at Healesville Sanctuary.

We’re not sure whether water rats have very rapidly learned how to safely attack and eat cane toads, or if they are adapting a similar long-term hunting strategy that they may use to eat toxic native frogs.

Water rats are very well placed to pass on hunting strategies, as they care for their offspring for at least four weeks after they finish producing milk. This could help spread the knowledge of toad hunting across streams and creeks over time.




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While this behaviour seems to be confined to local populations, if these tactics spread, water rats may be able to suppress toad populations when they reach water bodies – another small line of defence against this toxic killer.The Conversation

Marissa Parrott, Reproductive Biologist, Wildlife Conservation & Science, Zoos Victoria, and Honorary Research Associate, BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Sean Doody, Conjoint Fellow, University of Newcastle, and Simon Clulow, MQ Research Fellow, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.