The Madrid climate talks failed spectacularly. Here’s what went down



Low ambition from polluting nations derailed the COP25 climate talks.
Supplied by author

Kate Dooley, University of Melbourne

The United Nations’ COP25 climate talks concluded on Sunday morning in Madrid, almost 40 hours overtime. After two weeks of protracted talks meant to address the planetary warming emergency, world leaders spectacularly failed to reach any real outcomes.

The degree to which wealthy nations, including Australia, blocked progress on critical points of debate incensed both observers and country delegates.

These points included robust rules for the global trading of carbon credits, increased commitments for finance to help developing nations tackle climate change, and most importantly, raising ambition to a level consistent with averting catastrophic climate impacts.

Australia’s Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor, far left, with other delegates to the COP 25.
JUAN CARLOS HIDALGO

High hopes

COP25 was a conference of “parties”, or nations, signed up to the Paris Agreement, which takes effect in 2021. I attended the conference as an observer.

Emissions reduction targets of nations signed up to Paris put Earth on track for a 3.2℃ temperature increase this century. However the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says warming must be kept below 1.5℃ to avoid the most devastating climate impacts.

Much was riding on the outcome in Madrid. However, it failed to deliver.




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One of the key agenda items was Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, involving international carbon trading between nations.

The previous COP in Poland failed to reach consensus on these trading rules, and after this latest meeting, many contentious issues remained unresolved. These include:

  • how to ensure that an overall reduction in global emissions is achieved and that the rules prevent double counting (or emissions reduction units being counted by both the buying and selling nation)

  • whether a levy would be applied to proceeds from carbon trading to finance adaptation in developing nations

  • the recognition of human and indigenous peoples’ rights, and social and environmental safeguards, given the harms caused by previous carbon trading mechanisms

  • critically for Australia, whether countries could use “carryover” carbon credits from the Kyoto Protocol to meet commitments under the Paris Agreement.

An indigenous woman from Amazon reacts during COP25, which largely failed to deliver.
JUAN CARLOS HIDALGO/EPA

The question of Kyoto credits

Australia was pushing to allow use of Kyoto Protocol units, for which it drew scathing criticism from other nations, international media and observers. It plans to meet more than half its Paris target via this accounting loophole.

Brazil, India, South Korea and China also want to carry over credits earned under the Clean Development Mechanism, a trading scheme under Kyoto.




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Now Australian cities are choking on smoke, will we finally talk about climate change?


No consensus was reached. The negotiations for rules for carbon markets will now continue at COP26 in Glasgow next year, just weeks out from the Paris Agreement’s start date.

The argument will not be easily resolved. Five of the last seven COP meetings failed to reach a decision on carbon market rules, indicating the extent of international divisions, and calling into question the disproportionate focus on carbon trading, given its limited ability to address climate change.

In Madrid, 31 nations signed up to the San Jose principles, seeking to ensure environmental integrity in carbon markets. Upholding these principles would mean emissions must go down, not up as a result of trading carbon.

Steam rises a German coal-fired power plant. The COP25 failed to make progress on cutting emissions from coal and other sources.
EPA/FRIEDEMANN VOGEL

Other failures

The conference also discussed measures to strengthen the governance and finance arrangements of the Warsaw International Mechanism, a measure designed to compensate poor nations for climate damage.

Little progress was made on mobilising finance from developed nations. The US, which will soon exit the Paris Agreement, played a key role in stymieing progress. It resisted efforts for broad governance arrangements, and pushed for language in the rulebook which would exclude high-emittiong nations from liability for the loss and damage experienced by vulnerable countries under climate change.




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At Glasgow, all nations under Paris are required to submit new emissions reduction commitments. It was widely expected that the Madrid meeting would strongly urge nations to ensure these targets were more ambitious than the last. Instead, the final text only “reminds” parties to “communicate” their commitments in 2020.

President of COP25, Carolina Schmidt (right), and UN official Ovais Sarmad.
EPA/MAST IRHAM

‘Crime against humanity’

When the COP finally closed on Sunday morning, the meeting had failed to reach consensus on increasing emissions reduction ambition to the level required.

The results are disheartening. The world has let another chance slip by to tackle the climate crisis, and time is fast running out.

The implications of this were perhaps summed up best by the low-lying Pacific island state of Tuvalu, whose representative Ian Fry said of the outcome:

There are millions of people all around the world who are already suffering from the impacts of climate change. Denying this fact could be interpreted by some to be a crime against humanity.The Conversation

Kate Dooley, Research Fellow, Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

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

Grattan on Friday: Climate winds blowing on Morrison from Liberal party’s left


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison is picking up that Australia’s devastating, prolonged fires are producing a soured, anti-government mood among many in the community.

It may not be entirely rational for people to turn on politicians in such situations. The actual fighting of the fires, driven primarily at state and local levels, appears to have been efficient.

But the government has invited anger in terms of the broad debate by being so inactive and partisan about climate change over years.

Morrison is struggling to navigate his way through these fraught days before Christmas. He’s stressing unity – “I want to reassure Australians, that the country is working together … to deal with the firefighting challenge”. He’s refusing to meet calls for a national summit or a COAG meeting on the fire effort, but he’s highlighting the federal government’s co-ordinating activities.

He’s placing the most positive spin he can on what Australia is doing on climate change, but all the time emphasising Australian emissions are only a tiny portion of the global total “so any suggestion that the actions of any state or any nation with a contribution to global emissions of that order is directly linked to any weather event, whether here in Australia or anywhere else in the world, is just simply not true”.

The fires are putting pressure on the government by elevating the climate issue and opening new division among Liberals. Only this time – and importantly – the internal wedge is coming from the left rather than the right of the party. The PM is being pushed to do more, rather than being held back.

Morrison is no longer able to gloss over the climate debate. The big question for the next year or two is whether he will reposition the government.

As former treasury secretary Ken Henry has argued, “today’s catastrophic bushfires, and rapidly vanishing water security, again following years of drought, put the present government in a similar position” to when John Howard moved on climate change in 2006.

“The political economy of late 2019 is looking a lot like late 2006,” Henry writes in an article titled “The political economy of climate change”.




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Now Australian cities are choking on smoke, will we finally talk about climate change?


Morrison is the ultimate pragmatist and so, if he sees it in his interest, he may well be willing to readjust. Not radically, nor quickly. Just enough, as and when he judges it, to satisfy middle ground voters.

He did a little of this before the election, when he topped up funding for “direct action” and advanced pumped hydro, although some read more into the shift than was there.

This week NSW Liberal environment minister Matt Kean bluntly called out his federal colleagues’ dancing around the climate-fires link.

“Let’s not beat around the bush … let’s call it for what it is. These bushfires have been caused by extreme weather events, high temperatures, the worst drought in living memory – the exact type of events scientists have been warning us about for decades that would be caused by climate change,” said Kean, who is the leader at state level of the moderate faction.

“There has been a lot of talk since the federal election about ending the climate wars. I think that that talk has been misplaced. It’s not time to end the climate wars. It’s time to win the climate wars.”

Kean also notably acknowledged the “leadership” on the climate issue of Malcolm Turnbull (who again prodded the bear on Monday’s ABC Q&A).

One federal Liberal says, “for a long time [Kean’s line] is where the overwhelming majority of the party has stood [but] nobody was willing to say it. The community is so concerned it has given us the cover to come out and say it”. The MP points to the impact of the issue in Liberal heartland seats in Sydney and Melbourne.

The federal government has repeatedly derided the Victorian and Queensland Labor governments for what it argues is their excessive ambition on renewables and emissions reduction. Kean has flagged NSW plans to strengthen its stand. The federal government is clearly exposed as the odd player out.




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Yet it is the states’ targets for renewables that are helping the national effort on emissions reduction, according to figures just released by the environment and energy department in its report “Australia’s emissions projections 2019”.

Looking at Australia’s progress towards its 2030 Paris target of a 26-28% reduction on 2005 levels – which, incidentally, can only be reached via the much-criticised course of carrying over Kyoto credits – the report has revised down its 2018 estimate for projected 2030 emissions.

Reasons for this revision include the boost to the “direct action” fund and “stronger renewables deployment”. A factor in the latter was “the inclusion of 50% renewable energy targets in Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory”.

The projection is now for Australia to have renewables generating 48% of its electricity by 2030 – very close to the Labor policy of 50% of which the government was so critical.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s speech at the United Nations COP25 conference in Spain this week showed how, as the inevitable transition to clean energy progresses, the government is conflicted. Regardless of years of scepticism about renewables from the federal Coalition, Taylor in Madrid lauded Australia’s achievements in this area.

“In Australia, an unprecedented wave of low emissions energy investment is already underway,” he boasted.

“Last year, renewable investment was Australia’s highest on record at A$14.1 billion, which is world leading investment given our population. Renewables are now more than 25% of our electricity supply in our National Electricity Market.”




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Reality is gradually proving stronger than ideology as the energy mix changes, but not entirely. The debate around a new coal-fired power station goes on. The government before the election promised a feasibility study into a possible venture in Queensland, and the Nationals continue to push for action.

If a feasibility study left the way open for a coal-fired station, would the government be willing to provide any financial help or guarantee for a portion of the energy output? Given the reluctance of private capital, that would likely be the only way it could happen.

There was a certain irony in Anthony Albanese touring coal country in central Queensland this week, given the climate debate.

Visiting Emerald, Rockhampton and Gladstone among other stops, Albanese was beginning his mission to reconcile the strands in Labor’s climate messages, after Bill Shorten failed to do so, costing vital Queensland votes.

This week Albanese has been talking up the domestic transition to renewables, while providing reassurance to the coal areas by declaring the world will continue to want Australian coal for the foreseeable future.

He says the role of government in relation to new coal mines is to make the environmental judgements; if they pass that test, then such projects live or die on their ability to raise private finance. On Adani, he says it has its approval and he’s urging it to get on with providing the jobs (the company says it is doing so).

As to a new coal fired power station: he believes it would not get private finance.

Very aware Shorten was smashed for trying to walk in different shoes on climate and coal when he was in the inner city and in regional Queensland, Albanese is aiming for a story to which he can get a favourable reception all round the country.

That won’t be easy. Then nothing is, for anyone, on the climate issue.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.

What are lost continents, and why are we discovering so many?



Lord Howe Island is one of the few places where the lost continent of Zealandia is exposed above sea level.
SHUTTERSTOCK

Maria Seton, University of Sydney; Joanne Whittaker, University of Tasmania, and Simon Williams, University of Sydney

For most people, continents are Earth’s seven main large landmasses.

But geoscientists have a different take on this. They look at the type of rock a feature is made of, rather than how much of its surface is above sea level.

In the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in the discovery of lost continents. Most of these have been plateaus or mountains made of continental crust hidden from our view, below sea level.

One example is Zealandia, the world’s eighth continent that extends underwater from New Zealand.

Several smaller lost continents, called microcontinents, have also recently been discovered submerged in the eastern and western Indian Ocean.

But why, with so much geographical knowledge at our fingertips, are we still discovering lost continents in the 21st century?

We may have found another

In August, we undertook a 28-day voyage on the research vessel RV Investigator to explore a possible lost continent in a remote part of the Coral Sea. The area is home to a large underwater plateau off Queensland, called the Louisiade Plateau, which represents a major gap in our knowledge of Australia’s geology.




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On one hand, it could be a lost continent that broke away from Queensland about 60 million years ago. Or it could have formed as a result of a massive volcanic eruption taking place around the same time. We’re not sure, because nobody had recovered rocks from there before – until now.

An extremely violent eruption formed this volcanic rock we recovered.
Author supplied

We spent about two weeks collecting rocks from this feature, and recovered a wide variety of rock types from parts of the seafloor as deep as 4,500m.

Most were formed through volcanic eruptions, but some show hints that continental rocks are hiding beneath. Lab work over the next couple of years will give us more certain answers.

Down to the details

There are many mountains and plateaus below sea level scattered across the oceans, and these have been mapped from space. They are the lighter blue areas you can see on Google Maps.


However, not all submerged features qualify as lost continents. Most are made of materials quite distinct from what we traditionally think of as continental rock, and are instead formed by massive outpourings of magma.

A good example is Iceland which, despite being roughly the size of New Zealand’s North Island, is not considered continental in geological terms. It’s made up mainly of volcanic rocks deposited over the past 18 million years, meaning it’s relatively young in geological terms.

The only foolproof way to tell the difference between massive submarine volcanoes and lost continents is to collect rock samples from the deep ocean.

Plenty of soft, gloopy sediment covers the bottom of the Coral Sea.
Author provided

Finding the right samples is challenging, to say the least. Much of the seafloor is covered in soft, gloopy sediment that obscures the solid rock beneath.

We use a sophisticated mapping system to search for steep slopes on the seafloor, that are more likely to be free of sediment. We then send a metal rock-collecting bucket to grab samples.

The more we explore and sample the depths of the oceans, the more likely we’ll be to discover more lost continents.

The ultimate lost continent

Perhaps the best known example of a lost continent is Zealandia. While the geology of New Zealand and New Caledonia have been known for some time, it’s only recently their common heritage as part of a much larger continent (which is 95% underwater) has been accepted.




Read more:
Explorers probe hidden continent of Zealandia


This acceptance has been the culmination of years of painstaking research, and exploration of the geology of deep oceans through sample collection and geophysical surveys.

Continental rocks recovered from a microcontinent in the Indian Ocean are similar to rocks found in Western Australia.
Author supplied

New discoveries continue to be made.

During a 2011 expedition, we discovered two lost continental fragments more than 1,000km west of Perth.

The granite lying in the middle of the deep ocean there looked similar to what you would find around Cape Leeuwin, in Western Australia.

Other lost continents

However, not all lost continents are found hidden beneath the oceans.

Some existed only in the geological past, millions to billions of years ago, and later collided with other continents as a result of plate tectonic motions.

Their only modern-day remnants are small slivers of rock, usually squished up in mountain chains such as the Himalayas. One example is Greater Adria, an ancient continent now embedded in the mountain ranges across Europe.

Due to the perpetual motion of tectonic plates, it’s the fate of all continents to ultimately reconnect with another, and form a supercontinent.

But the fascinating life and death cycle of continents is the topic of another story.




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How Earth’s continents became twisted and contorted over millions of years


The Conversation


Maria Seton, ARC Future Fellow, University of Sydney; Joanne Whittaker, Associate Professor, University of Tasmania, and Simon Williams, Research Fellow, University of Sydney

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