Engineers have built machines to scrub CO₂ from the air. But will it halt climate change?



Climeworks

Deanna D’Alessandro, University of Sydney

On Wednesday this week, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was measured at at 415 parts per million (ppm). The level is the highest in human history, and is growing each year.

Amid all the focus on emissions reduction, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says it will not be enough to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. The world must actively remove historical CO₂ already in the atmosphere – a process often described as “negative emissions”.

CO₂ removal can be done in two ways. The first is by enhancing carbon storage in natural ecosystems, such as planting more forests or storing more carbon in soil. The second is by using direct air capture (DAC) technology that strips CO₂ from the ambient air, then either stores it underground or turns it into products.

US research published last week suggested global warming could be slowed with an emergency deployment of a fleet of “CO₂ scrubbers” using DAC technology. However a wartime level of funding from government and business would be needed. So is direct air capture worth the time and money?

Smoke stack with CO2 written in smoke
Direct air capture of CO2 will be needed to address climate change.
Shutterstock

What’s DAC all about?

Direct air capture refers to any mechanical system capturing CO₂ from the atmosphere. Plants operating today use a liquid solvent or solid sorbent to separate CO₂ from other gases.

Swiss company Climeworks operates 15 direct air capture machines across Europe, comprising the world’s first commercial DAC system. The operation is powered by renewable geothermal energy or energy produced by burning waste.

The machines use a fan to draw air into a “collector”, inside which a selective filter captures CO₂. Once the filter is full, the collector is closed and the CO₂ is sequestered underground.




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Canadian company Carbon Engineering uses giant fans to pull air into a tower-like structure. The air passes over a potassium hydroxide solution which chemically binds to the CO₂ molecules, and removes them from the air. The CO₂ is then concentrated, purified and compressed.

Captured CO₂ can be injected into the ground to extract oil, in some cases helping to counteract the emissions produced by burning the oil.

The proponents of the Climeworks and Carbon Engineering technology say their projects are set for large-scale investment and deployment in coming years. Globally, the potential market value of DAC technology could reach US$100bn by 2030, on some estimates.

Artist impression of a DAC facility to be built in Houston, Texas.
Artist impression of a DAC facility to be built in the US state of Texas. If built, it would be the largest of its kind in the world.
Carbon Engineering

Big challenges ahead

Direct air capture faces many hurdles and challenges before it can make a real dent in climate change.

DAC technology is currently expensive, relative to many alternative ways of capturing CO₂, but is expected to become cheaper as the technology scales up. The economic feasibility will be helped by the recent emergence of new carbon markets where negative emissions can be traded.

DAC machines process an enormous volume of air, and as such are very energy-intensive. In fact, research has suggested direct air capture machines could use a quarter of global energy in 2100. However new DAC methods being developed could cut the technology’s energy use.




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While the challenges to direct air capture are great, the technology uses less land and water than other negative emissions technologies such as planting forests or storing CO₂ in soils or oceans.

DAC technology is also increasingly gaining the backing of big business. Microsoft, for example, last year included the technology in its carbon negative plan.

Emissions rising from a coal plant.
Direct air capture is touted as a way to offset emissions from industry and elsewhere.
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Opportunities for Australia

Australia is uniquely positioned to be a world leader in direct air capture. It boasts large areas of land not suitable for growing crops. It has ample sunlight, meaning there is great potential to host DAC facilities powered by solar energy. Australia also has some of the world’s best sites in which to “sequester” or store carbon in underground reservoirs.

Direct air capture is a relatively new concept in Australia. Australian company Southern Green Gas, as well as the CSIRO, are developing solar-powered DAC technologies. The SGG project, with which I am involved, involves modular units potentially deployed in large numbers, including close to sites where captured CO₂ can be used in oil recovery or permanently stored.

If DAC technology can overcome its hurdles, the benefits will extend beyond tackling climate change. It would create a new manufacturing sector and potentially re-employ workers displaced by the decline of fossil fuels.

Red sand and tussocks of grass
Australia has ample sunlight and plenty of non-arable land where DAC facilities could be built.
Shutterstock

Looking ahead

The urgency of removing CO₂ from the atmosphere seems like an enormous challenge. But not acting will bring far greater challenges: more climate and weather extremes, irreversible damage to biodiversity and ecosystems, species extinction and threats to health, food, water and economic growth.

DAC technology undoubtedly faces stiff headwinds. But with the right policy incentives and market drivers, it may be one of a suite of measures that start reversing climate change.




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The Conversation


Deanna D’Alessandro, Professor & ARC Future Fellow, University of Sydney

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

Worried about Earth’s future? Well, the outlook is worse than even scientists can grasp



Daniel Mariuz/AAP

Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Flinders University; Daniel T. Blumstein, University of California, Los Angeles, and Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University

Anyone with even a passing interest in the global environment knows all is not well. But just how bad is the situation? Our new paper shows the outlook for life on Earth is more dire than is generally understood.

The research published today reviews more than 150 studies to produce a stark summary of the state of the natural world. We outline the likely future trends in biodiversity decline, mass extinction, climate disruption and planetary toxification. We clarify the gravity of the human predicament and provide a timely snapshot of the crises that must be addressed now.

The problems, all tied to human consumption and population growth, will almost certainly worsen over coming decades. The damage will be felt for centuries and threatens the survival of all species, including our own.

Our paper was authored by 17 leading scientists, including those from Flinders University, Stanford University and the University of California, Los Angeles. Our message might not be popular, and indeed is frightening. But scientists must be candid and accurate if humanity is to understand the enormity of the challenges we face.

Girl in breathing mask attached ot plant in container
Humanity must come to terms with the future we and future generations face.
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Getting to grips with the problem

First, we reviewed the extent to which experts grasp the scale of the threats to the biosphere and its lifeforms, including humanity. Alarmingly, the research shows future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than experts currently believe.

This is largely because academics tend to specialise in one discipline, which means they’re in many cases unfamiliar with the complex system in which planetary-scale problems — and their potential solutions — exist.

What’s more, positive change can be impeded by governments rejecting or ignoring scientific advice, and ignorance of human behaviour by both technical experts and policymakers.

More broadly, the human optimism bias – thinking bad things are more likely to befall others than yourself – means many people underestimate the environmental crisis.

Numbers don’t lie

Our research also reviewed the current state of the global environment. While the problems are too numerous to cover in full here, they include:

  • a halving of vegetation biomass since the agricultural revolution around 11,000 years ago. Overall, humans have altered almost two-thirds of Earth’s land surface

  • About 1,300 documented species extinctions over the past 500 years, with many more unrecorded. More broadly, population sizes of animal species have declined by more than two-thirds over the last 50 years, suggesting more extinctions are imminent




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  • about one million plant and animal species globally threatened with extinction. The combined mass of wild mammals today is less than one-quarter the mass before humans started colonising the planet. Insects are also disappearing rapidly in many regions

  • 85% of the global wetland area lost in 300 years, and more than 65% of the oceans compromised to some extent by humans

  • a halving of live coral cover on reefs in less than 200 years and a decrease in seagrass extent by 10% per decade over the last century. About 40% of kelp forests have declined in abundance, and the number of large predatory fishes is fewer than 30% of that a century ago.

State of the Earth's environment
Major environmental-change categories expressed as a percentage relative to intact baseline. Red indicates percentage of category damaged, lost or otherwise affected; blue indicates percentage intact, remaining or unaffected.
Frontiers in Conservation Science

A bad situation only getting worse

The human population has reached 7.8 billion – double what it was in 1970 – and is set to reach about 10 billion by 2050. More people equals more food insecurity, soil degradation, plastic pollution and biodiversity loss.

High population densities make pandemics more likely. They also drive overcrowding, unemployment, housing shortages and deteriorating infrastructure, and can spark conflicts leading to insurrections, terrorism, and war.




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Essentially, humans have created an ecological Ponzi scheme. Consumption, as a percentage of Earth’s capacity to regenerate itself, has grown from 73% in 1960 to more than 170% today.

High-consuming countries like Australia, Canada and the US use multiple units of fossil-fuel energy to produce one energy unit of food. Energy consumption will therefore increase in the near future, especially as the global middle class grows.

Then there’s climate change. Humanity has already exceeded global warming of 1°C this century, and will almost assuredly exceed 1.5 °C between 2030 and 2052. Even if all nations party to the Paris Agreement ratify their commitments, warming would still reach between 2.6°C and 3.1°C by 2100.

people walking on a crowded street
The human population is set to reach 10 billion by 2050.
Shutterstock

The danger of political impotence

Our paper found global policymaking falls far short of addressing these existential threats. Securing Earth’s future requires prudent, long-term decisions. However this is impeded by short-term interests, and an economic system that concentrates wealth among a few individuals.

Right-wing populist leaders with anti-environment agendas are on the rise, and in many countries, environmental protest groups have been labelled “terrorists”. Environmentalism has become weaponised as a political ideology, rather than properly viewed as a universal mode of self-preservation.

Financed disinformation campaigns against climate action and forest protection, for example, protect short-term profits and claim meaningful environmental action is too costly – while ignoring the broader cost of not acting. By and large, it appears unlikely business investments will shift at sufficient scale to avoid environmental catastrophe.

Changing course

Fundamental change is required to avoid this ghastly future. Specifically, we and many others suggest:

  • abolishing the goal of perpetual economic growth

  • revealing the true cost of products and activities by forcing those who damage the environment to pay for its restoration, such as through carbon pricing

  • rapidly eliminating fossil fuels

  • regulating markets by curtailing monopolisation and limiting undue corporate influence on policy

  • reigning in corporate lobbying of political representatives

  • educating and empowering women across the globe, including giving them control over family planning.

A coal plant
The true cost of environmental damage should be borne by those responsible.
Shutterstock

Don’t look away

Many organisations and individuals are devoted to achieving these aims. However their messages have not sufficiently penetrated the policy, economic, political and academic realms to make much difference.

Failing to acknowledge the magnitude and gravity of problems facing humanity is not just naïve, it’s dangerous. And science has a big role to play here.

Scientists must not sugarcoat the overwhelming challenges ahead. Instead, they should tell it like it is. Anything else is at best misleading, and at worst potentially lethal for the human enterprise.




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The Conversation


Corey J. A. Bradshaw, Matthew Flinders Professor of Global Ecology and Models Theme Leader for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, Flinders University; Daniel T. Blumstein, Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, University of California, Los Angeles, and Paul Ehrlich, President, Center for Conservation Biology, Bing Professor of Population Studies, Stanford University

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

Cities could get more than 4°C hotter by 2100. To keep cool in Australia, we urgently need a national planning policy



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Mark Maund, University of Newcastle; Kim Maund, University of Newcastle; Marcus Jefferies, University of Newcastle, and SueAnne Ware, University of Newcastle

In cities around the world, temperatures could rise by more than 4℃ by 2100 under a high-emissions climate change scenario, suggests research published this week in Nature Climate Change.

It comes as the Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement, released today, shows 2020 was Australia’s fourth-warmest year on record, despite being an “La Niña” year, which usually leads to cooler temperatures.

Cities occupy just 3% of Earth’s surface. As this portion of land is so small, they’ve typically been left out of most climate models, which generally make projections on global scales.

Yet more than half the world’s population live in urban environments (set to jump to 70% by 2050). This is why the researchers call for “multi-model projections” of local climates for cities.

In the study, the researchers say their predictions on climate will give “urban planners and decision-makers in any city […] access to city-specific projections for any planning horizon they need”.

It’s important these planning horizons include the cooling and shading provided by green infrastructure — the network of green spaces such as street trees and green walls — in urban areas.




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For Australia, this means getting a national green infrastructure policy that provides for green spaces within our cities, open spaces and buildings to help with increasing density and rising global temperatures.

What the research found

Heat events, such as heatwaves, pose a significant health risk and can hit people harder in cities.

Cities are hotter than in surrounding regional areas due to “the urban heat island” effect, a result of heat created by all the densely packed people, vehicles and industries, and the heat retained among buildings and other infrastructure.

Sydney highway
Cars, asphalt on roads, buildings and people, all densely packed together, are why cities are hotter than regional areas.
Shutterstock

Despite having the highest population density, the researchers point out that urban areas aren’t often represented in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. This project is important because it informs the global authority on climate change (the International Panel on Climate Change).

So the research authors built a statistical model emulating a complex climate model with urban regions. And they estimate that, by the end of the century, average warming across global cities will increase by 1.9℃ under an intermediate emissions scenario, and 4.4℃ with high emissions.

Urban warming would most affect mid-to-northern parts of the United States, southern Canada, Europe, the Middle East, northern Central Asia and northwestern China.




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They also predict that the heat index would increase faster than air temperature alone over almost all cities. “Heat index” refers to how hot the human body actually feels, a combination of relative humidity and air temperature. This would mean urban residents would experience higher heat stress.

What does this mean for Australia?

While the research found most urban warming would occur in the northern hemisphere, Australian cities are also projected to continue to warm. But we need only look to the recent record-breaking years to realise climate change will result in more extremely hot days here.

2019 was Australia’s hottest (and driest) year on record. And today’s annual climate statement from the Bureau of Meteorology shows the highest temperature ever recorded in the Sydney Basin, at a whopping 48.9℃, occurred in 2020, on January 4. It also found the average national temperature for 2020 was 1.15℃ higher than normal.

These are nationwide findings, but how Australia manages climate in urban areas is particularly important as around 80% of population growth occurs in capital cities.

In fact, 2020 research found we’re increasingly facing more frequent and prolonged heatwaves that intensify urban heat islands in places such as Sydney, by raising inland temperatures by as much as 10℃ more than in coastal zones.

Keeping cities cool

The best way to ensure our cities are kept cool is through greening urban spaces. Green spaces can be developed by planting trees in streets, yards and parks for shade, recreation and relief from the heat. This will create cooler urban “microclimates” for social interaction and natural retreats from city life.




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Greater Sydney, for example, has a welcome new policy to ensure five million more trees are planted by 2030. This is an important long-term goal as 2016 research from Canada found tree cover in daytime reduced air temperature by up to 4℃ in Montreal city.

The design of buildings and their immediate surroundings are also important to help manage increasing heat in our cities.

Our open spaces are places of exercise, retreat, relaxation and, in a new COVID world, socially distant interactions. The pandemic has allowed us to rediscover the importance of our community and local connections in these spaces.

Multi-storey buildings also provide opportunity for vertical greening. The Victorian government, for example, is seeking to increase the amount of green infrastructure in our urban areas to help us cope with predicted warmer conditions.

Melbourne has many trees and green spaces that help negate the effects of the urban heat island.
Shutterstock

Australia needs a national planning policy

Urban planning and greening urban spaces is largely a local government responsibility, usually overseen by state and territory governments.

And there is national recognition of the importance of green cities through the federal government’s Smart Cities Plan. It states:

Green, sustainable cities […] improve the quality of air and water, reduce the heat island effect, protect biological diversity and threatened species, and enhance general amenity.

But what’s needed, urgently, is a national planning framework of green city principles so no regions get left behind. Climate change is a national issue, and all urban residents from all socioeconomic backgrounds should benefit from green cities.




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This national planning policy would describe how our cities across the nation should develop appropriately spaced trees and other vegetation, to better manage and prepare for increasing density and greater activity as climate change brings hotter weather.

And importantly, more research is needed to better inform climate models. We need more information into the ways our climates will change within different land areas — whether rural, suburban or in cities — so we can develop better national plans for how we will live and work in the future.




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The Conversation


Mark Maund, Research Affiliate, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle; Kim Maund, Discipline Head – Construction Management, School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle; Marcus Jefferies, Senior Lecturer School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle, and SueAnne Ware, Professor and Head of School of Architecture and Built Environment, University of Newcastle

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

Pikas are adapting to climate change remarkably well, contrary to many predictions



Stocking the haypile.
Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Andrew Smith, Arizona State University

Climate change is harming many special places and iconic species around our planet, from Glacier National Park’s disappearing glaciers to California redwoods scorched by wildfires. But for the animal I study, the American pika (Ochotona princeps), there’s actually some good news: It’s not as threatened by climate change as many studies have warned.

I have studied pikas, small cousins of rabbits, for over 50 years and never tire of watching them. These tailless, egg-shaped balls of fluff live primarily in cool mountainous environments in piles of broken rock, called talus.

During summer, observers can see pikas industriously gathering caches of grass and leaves into haypiles that will serve as their food supply through the winter. Their light brown coats blend well with their surroundings, so they are easiest to spot when they perch on prominent rocks and call to alert other pikas of their presence.

Pikas’ calls range from short squeaks to a longer ‘song’

When fellow hikers see me observing pikas in California’s Sierra Nevada, they often tell me they have read that these animals are going extinct. I have collected a stack of press releases that say exactly that. But based on my recent research and a comprehensive review of over 100 peer-reviewed studies, I believe that this interpretation is misleading.

Constrained by climate

As I showed in my early research, pikas’ biology suggests that they are likely to be affected by a warming climate. Most important, their normal body temperature is high, and this puts them at risk of overheating when active in warm environments. When temperatures are warm, pikas retreat into the much cooler depths of their talus habitat.

Temperature also plays a role in pikas’ ability to move from place to place. Warm weather inhibits their movements, while cooler temperatures allow them to more freely colonize new habitats.

A little ancient history is instructive here. Pikas originally came to North America from Asia and spread across the continent some five million years ago, during colder times. Their remains have been found in caves in the Appalachian Mountains and in the Mojave Desert – sites where pikas no longer live.

Map of current pika range
American pikas live mainly in alpine and subalpine mountain areas extending south from central British Columbia and Alberta into the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico and the Sierra Nevada of California.
Andrew Smith, CC BY-ND

As the world’s climate warmed, pika populations retreated to the high mountains of the western U.S. and Canada. Today they occupy most of the available talus habitat in these areas – evidence that challenges the pikas-on-the-brink narrative.

For example, in recent surveys, pikas were found at 98% of 109 suitable sites in Colorado, and at 98% of 329 sites in the central Sierra Nevada. One study of historic pika sites across California’s Lassen, Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks found no evidence that pikas were moving to new sites or higher altitudes due to climate change.

Pikas in warm environments

In contrast, most sites where researchers believe that pikas have disappeared are small, isolated and often compromised by human activities, such as grazing by livestock. These sites generally are lower and warmer than sites in pikas’ core range.

Many of these areas are in the Great Basin – a large desert region spanning most of Nevada and parts of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and California. A series of studies on a small number of marginal Great Basin sites formerly occupied by pikas has disproportionately contributed to the narrative that pikas are likely to become endangered.

Great Basin map
Pikas have disappeared from some parts of the Great Basin, but climate change may not have been the cause.
Kmusser/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

To investigate the big picture across this region, I worked with state and federal officials on a 2017 study that identified 3,250 site records of pika habitat. Pikas were present at 2,378 sites, not found at 89 sites where they had been seen as recently as 2005, and absent from 774 sites that contained only old signs of pika occupancy.

The extirpated and old sites had the same temperature and precipitation ranges as sites where pikas still were present. This suggests that non-climatic factors may have caused pikas’ disappearance from the vacant sites.

Pikas are still present in other remarkably hot places, such as the ghost town of Bodie, California, the nearby Mono Craters and Idaho’s Craters of the Moon National Monument. At these sites, pikas retreat into the cool nooks of their talus habitat during the warmest part of the day and often forage at night.

In my research, I also found that pikas were much less active and uttered far fewer calls at these low-altitude sites compared with high-elevation pika populations. At low-elevation sites, pikas consumed a diverse diet of Great Basin plants, such as big sagebrush and bitterbrush, that was markedly different from the plants they ate at high-elevation sites. Some even failed to construct their characteristic large haypiles.

Another atypical pika population lives near sea level in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. Here, too, they have adapted well to a very different habitat, surviving year-round on a diet that consists mainly of moss. They defend the smallest territories of any pika, and when it gets hot, they simply move off the talus and hang out in the shade of the nearby forest.

Pikas can make dozens of trips daily to build up their haypiles for winter.

A future for pikas

Based on my review of dozens of studies, pika populations appear to be secure in their core range – the mountains of western North America that have large and fairly well-connected talus habitat. In these areas they can move from one habitat patch to another without having to pass through areas that are dangerously warm for them.

The fact that pikas have also adapted to a number of marginal, hot environments suggests to me that they are more resilient to climate change than many past studies have concluded. Most species exhibit losses near the edges of their geographical ranges, simply because individual animals in those zones are living in conditions that are less than ideal for them. This does not mean that they are going extinct.

Climate change is the most critical issue facing the world today, so it is particularly important that scientists communicate accurately about it to the public. In my view, the fact that pikas are coping and altering their behaviors in response to changing conditions is encouraging news for future naturalists setting out to observe one of nature’s most charismatic mammals.The Conversation

Andrew Smith, Professor Emeritus of Life Sciences, Arizona State University

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

The Marshall Islands could be wiped out by climate change – and their colonial history limits their ability to save themselves



The Marshall Islands and other small island nations are urgently threatened by rising seas.
Stefan Lins/Flickr, CC BY

Autumn Bordner, University of California, Berkeley and Caroline E. Ferguson, Stanford University

Along U.S. coastlines, from California to Florida, residents are getting increasingly accustomed to “king tides.” These extra-high tides cause flooding and wreak havoc on affected communities. As climate change raises sea levels, they are becoming more extreme.

King tides are nothing new for the Marshall Islands, a nation made up of 29 low-lying coral atolls that stretch across more than a million square miles of Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia. By 2035, the U.S. Geological Survey projects that some of the Marshall Islands will be submerged. Others will no longer have drinking water because their aquifers will be contaminated with saltwater. As a result, Marshallese would be forced to migrate away from their homelands.

This scenario is not inevitable. As part of our research on climate justice, we visited the Marshall Islands and interviewed leaders and community organizers in 2018 and 2019. We learned that large-scale adaptation measures that could save both these and other islands are still possible, and that Marshallese leaders are committed to adapting in place. But their nation’s colonial history has made it hard for them to act by leaving them dependent on foreign aid. And, to date, outside funders have been unwilling or unable to invest in projects that could save the nation.

Most of the world’s other island nations share similar colonial histories and face comparable climate challenges. Without swift and dramatic adaptation, entire island nations could become uninhabitable. For the Marshall Islands, this is expected to occur by midcentury.

The Marshall Islands span over 1 million square miles of ocean in the North Pacific.
Autumn Bordner

A radioactive legacy

The Marshall Islands were settled at least 2,000 years ago and fell under colonial rule during the 19th century. The U.S. captured the islands during World War II and became colonial administrator through the United Nations, accepting “sacred trust” obligations to protect the health and welfare of the Marshallese people and promote their political and economic self-determination.

Instead, from 1946 to 1958, the United States tested 67 nuclear weapons on inhabited Bikini and Enewetak Atolls, forcing these and other exposed communities to evacuate their homelands. Thousands of Marshallese remain in exile to this day, largely on tiny islands that are extremely climate-vulnerable or in the United States. Others have returned to their atolls, where radioactive fallout still contaminates the land. All of those exposed to radiation continue to face long-term health risks.

Marshall Islanders are forcibly evacuated from Bikini Atoll in 1948
Residents board a U.S. Navy ship, forcibly evacuated in March 1948 from Bikini Atoll for U.S. nuclear weapons testing.
U.S. Navy

The Marshall Islands gained sovereignty in 1986. But the U.S. retains full authority and responsibility for “security and defense matters in or relating to the Marshall Islands,” including the right to use Marshallese lands and waters for military activities.

Moreover, while the islands were a U.S. trust territory, the United States did not foster a self-sufficient economy. Instead, it injected large amounts of aid under the assumption that the islands were, in the words of Pacific scholar Epeli Hau’ofa,“too small, too poor and too isolated to develop any meaningful degree of autonomy.” The bulk of this aid went toward providing social services rather than promoting economic development, resulting in an economy based almost entirely on financial transfers from the U.S.

It’s not rocket science

What options does the Marshall Islands have for protecting its citizens from climate change? When we met with former National Climate Advisor Ben Graham in 2019, he told us that it will take “radical adaptation” to remain in place.

To control flooding driven by rising seas, the nation would need to reclaim and elevate land and consolidate its population in urban centers. Doing so is “not rocket science,” Graham told us. “China is building islands by the acre every day, Denmark is planning to construct nine artificial islands. … It’s not new, but it is expensive.”

According to Graham, implementing the forthcoming National Adaptation Plan will cost on the order of US$1 billion. That’s money the country doesn’t have.

But one atoll is likely to be saved: Kwajalein, which is occupied by the U.S. military. Already, the U.S. has made substantial investments to understand how sea level rise is affecting its military assets on Kwajalein.

Radical adaptation or forced migration?

Like most island states, the Marshall Islands relies heavily on external funding, often from former colonial administrators. Outside aid, primarily from organizations like the World Bank and donor countries like the U.S. and Australia, accounts for more than 25% of its gross domestic product, which in 2018 was $221.3 million.

These funders exert outsized control over the development agendas of the nations they support, including the power to decide which climate change adaptations are appropriate. In particular, funders tend to impose strict social and environmental safeguards, which limit the range of adaptation options the Marshall Islands and other aid-dependent sovereigns can pursue.

To date funders have only supported small-scale short-term projects, such as flood warning systems and improvements to tidal forecasting. And many have come to view migration as a suitable alternative to the type of large-scale adaptation that would allow nations to survive and people to live and thrive in their homelands. As Ben Graham put it to us, “there are those who say … your population is too small to spend half a billion dollars on it. Just relocate. It’s not worth keeping your culture and your sovereign status.”

But international law indicates that funders should not have the power to decide whether sovereign nations can survive climate change. The international norm of self-determination requires that decision to lie with the affected nation and its people. Yet unless the status quo is changed, the Marshallese face a forced migration caused by outside powers, just as they did 74 years ago as a result of U.S. nuclear weapons testing.

Island climate justice leaders

The Marshallese face overwhelming challenges, but they are not passive victims. The Marshall Islands was the first nation to increase its greenhouse gas reduction pledge under the Paris Agreement. Its representatives have served as tireless advocates for climate action and human rights on the international stage. And the Marshall Islands spearheaded the successful campaign to include a “well-below 2 degrees” warming target in the Climate Accords.

But they can’t fight alone. The nation’s president, David Kabua, recently called upon wealthy nations to live up to their Paris Agreement commitments to reduce emissions and mobilize the funding that vulnerable nations need to survive.

Two Indigenous poets, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands and Aka Niviâna from Greenland, meet at the source of rising seas to share a moment of solidarity.

[Get our best science, health and technology stories. Sign up for The Conversation’s science newsletter.]

For years, the U.S. and other developed nations have failed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to meet targets in the Paris climate agreement that are intended to avoid warming on a catastrophic scale. They have also failed to meet their pledges to help vulnerable states adapt to climate change. The U.S., meanwhile, has refused to provide over $2 billion that an independent nuclear claims tribunal awarded to the Marshall Islands as compensation for damage caused by nuclear testing.

The incoming Biden administration has a chance to change course. We believe that the U.S. should provide direct support for Marshallese climate adaptation efforts. This would help to redress the long history of use and abuse, broken promises, and unfulfilled obligations that has left the Marshall Islands so exceptionally climate-vulnerable today.The Conversation

Autumn Bordner, Research Fellow, University of California, Berkeley and Caroline E. Ferguson, PhD candidate in Environment and Resources, Stanford University

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

The Paris Agreement 5 years on: big coal exporters like Australia face a reckoning



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Jeremy Moss, UNSW

On Saturday, more than 70 global leaders came together at the UN’s Climate Ambition Summit, marking the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was denied a speaking slot, in recognition of Australia’s failure to set meaningful climate commitments. Meanwhile, the European Union and the UK committed to reduce domestic emissions by 55% and 68% respectively by 2030.

As welcome as these new commitments are, the Paris Agreement desperately needs to be updated. Since it was passed, the production and supply of fossil fuels for export has continued unabated. And the big exporters — such as Norway, Canada, the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and of course Australia — take no responsibility for the emissions created when those fossil fuels are burned overseas.

It’s time this changed. Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter. And in 2019, emissions from fossil fuels exported by this nation, as well as the US, Norway and Canada, accounted for more than 10% of total world emissions, according to calculations from a research project on Australia’s carbon budget at the University of NSW, which I run. Exporting nations are not legally responsible for these offshore emissions, but their actions are clearly at odds with the climate emergency.

Business as usual

A 2019 UN report notes governments are planning to extract 50% more fossil fuels than is consistent with meeting a 2℃ target and an alarming 120% more than a 1.5℃ target, by 2030. Coal is the main contributor to this supply overshoot.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged all leaders to declare a climate emergency.

But rather than reducing their production of fossil fuels, many countries are doubling down and actually increasing supply. For example, in Australia, government figures show the greenhouse gas emissions from Australia’s exported fossil fuels increased by 4.4% between 2018 to 2019.

Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter and approved three new fossil fuel projects in recent months: the Vickery coal mine extension, Olive Downs and the Narrabri Gas Project

This is a worldwide trend. Let’s take Norway as another example. Norway gets the bulk of its electricity from hydropower and has partially divested its Government Pension Fund from some fossil fuels. Yet it’s also one of the largest exporters of greenhouse gases through its gas exports, behind Qatar and Russia.




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The situation is mirrored in the corporate world. Many large fossil fuel companies are trumpeting their emissions reductions targets while continuing to push for new fossil fuel mining projects. BHP, one of the world’s biggest miners, stated it is reducing its emissions, yet in October the company increased its stake in an oil field in the Gulf of Mexico.

Responsibility doesn’t stop at the border

What underpins this situation is an outdated “territorial” model of responsibility for climate harms. Governments and companies seem to think responsibility stops at the border, not with the overall livability of the global climate. Once the coal, oil and gas products are loaded onto ships, they are no longer our problem.

Unfortunately, the accounting rules of the United Nations, under the Paris Agreement, currently allow exporters to pass on responsibility for fossil fuel emissions.

We must move from this territorial model of responsibility to one that considers the whole chain of responsibility for climate harms.

So what should Australia, Canada, the US, Norway and other exporting countries do to address the over-supply of fossil fuels?

First, they need to acknowledge their responsibility, at least in part, for the emissions and associated harms caused by their exports. Allowing compensation and funding for mitigation to track the role played in the causal chain better attributes responsibility and places mitigation burdens back on the exporting countries.




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Future climate negotiations, such as in Glasgow in 2021 (COP26), need to adjust the scope of their targets to include robust reductions in the supply of fossil fuels in the next round of agreements.

Instead of just focusing on reducing demand, the process needs to function as a kind of “reverse OPEC” (the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), where exporting countries are given ambitious phase-out targets for their fossil fuel exports.

Drastic emissions cuts needed

The 2020 Production Gap report notes global fossil fuel production will have to decrease by 6% a year between 2020-30 to meet a 1.5℃ target.

For Australia, this must mean we include the reduction in “exported emissions” as part of any net-zero target. Australia’s exported emissions are double our domestic emissions – a situation that cannot continue.

Top of the list of what’s needed, is the phasing out of generous subsidies for fossil fuel producers. The billions of dollars currently spent annually in Australia on subsidising and encouraging fossil fuel exports are simply not compatible with the aims and spirit of the Paris Agreement.




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Phasing out the supply of fossil fuels also needs to occur in a way that doesn’t just pay the current big suppliers to stop. Governments implementing a transition ought to think very carefully about how to fairly deploy scarce resources to ensure a just transition.

Last but not least, governments need to accept that the strong influence fossil fuel corporations wield over the political process is hindering global efforts to address climate change. The donations , rotation of industry staff to government positions and influence of fossil fuel lobby groups cannot lead to good decisions for the climate.

Placing a ban on such influence, particularly at future climate negotiations, would go a long way towards addressing the undue influence of the fossil fuel industry.

Until the fossil fuel export industry is subject to demanding targets, and made to accept responsibility for the emissions associated with their products, Earth will continue on its highly dangerous global warming trajectory.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.

Global emissions are down by an unprecedented 7% — but don’t start celebrating just yet



Shutterstock

Pep Canadell, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, University of East Anglia; Glen Peters, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Matthew William Jones, University of East Anglia; Philippe Ciais, Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA); Pierre Friedlingstein, University of Exeter; Robbie Andrew, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo, and Rob Jackson, Stanford University

Global emissions are expected to decline by about 7% in 2020 (or 2.4 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide) compared to 2019 — an unprecedented drop due to the slowdown in economic activity associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

To put this into perspective, the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 saw a 1.5% drop in global emissions compared to 2007. This year’s emissions decline is more than four times larger.

These are the findings we show in the 15th global carbon budget, an annual report card of the Global Carbon Project on the sources and removals of carbon dioxide, the primary driver of human caused climate change.

It may sound like welcome news, but we can’t celebrate yet. A rapid bounce back of emissions to pre-COVID levels is likely, possibly by as soon as next year. A recent study found emissions in China snapped back to above last year’s levels during late spring when economic activity began to return to normal.

These findings come ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit on Saturday, where global leaders will demonstrate their commitments to climate action five years since the Paris Agreement. This huge drop in emissions should be taken as a unique opportunity to divert the historical course of emissions growth for good.

Emissions in the pandemic year

The total global fossil carbon dioxide emissions for 2020 are estimated to be 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Estimated emissions at the beginning of December are lower than their levels in December last year, at least in the transport sectors. However, emissions have been edging back up since the peak global daily decline of 17% in early April.




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The decline in emissions in 2020 was particularly steep in the United States (12%) and European Union (11%), where emissions were already declining before the pandemic, mainly from reductions in coal use.

Emissions from India dropped by 9%, while emissions from China, which have returned to close or above 2019 values, saw an estimated drop of only about 1.7%.

Australian greenhouse gas emissions during the peak of the pandemic lockdown (the quarter of March to June 2020) were lower by 6.2% compared to the previous quarter. The largest declines were seen in transport and fugitive emissions (emissions released during the extraction, processing and transport of fossil fuels).

A chart showing the emissions decline for China, US, India, EU, and the rest of the world.
The 2020 emission decline was particularly steep in the United States and European Union. While China’s emissions also dropped steeply, they snapped back later in the year.
Pep Canadell, Author provided

Globally, the transport sector also contributed the most to the 2020 emissions drop, particularly “surface transport” (cars, vans and trucks). At the peak of the pandemic lockdowns, the usual levels of transport emissions were halved in many countries, such as in the US and Europe.

While aviation activity collapsed by 75%, its contribution to the total decline was relatively small given the sector only accounts for about 2.8% of the total emissions on an average year. The number of global flights was still down 45% as of the first week of December.

A chart showing the emissions decline for different sectors.
The industry sector, specifically metals production, chemicals and manufacturing, was the second largest contributor in emissions declines.
Pep Canadell, Author provided

Global emissions were already slowing down pre-COVID

Overall, global emissions have increased by 61% since 1990. But the pace of this growth has varied.

In the early 1990s, the growth in emissions slowed down due to the collapse of the former Soviet Union, but then increased very quickly during the 2000s, by 3% per year on average. This was, in part, due to the rise of China as an economic power.




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Over the last decade, however, the pace of emissions began to slow again, with an increase just below 1% per year. And emissions in 2019 didn’t grow much, if at all, when compared to 2018.

Behind the global slowing trend, there are 24 countries that had carbon dioxide fossil emissions declining for at least one decade while their economy continued to grow. They include many European countries such as the Denmark, the UK and Spain, and the USA, Mexico and Japan. For the rest of the world, emissions continued to grow until 2019.

This chart shows how global fossil carbon dioxide emissions have increased.
This chart shows how global fossil carbon dioxide emissions have increased since the 1990s. Note the drops in the early 1990s, in 2008, and the huge drop in 2020.
Pep Canadell, Author provided

An opportunity to boost ambition

The pandemic, along with other recent trends such as the shift towards clean energy, have placed us at a crossroad: the choices we make today can change the course of global emissions.

In addition to the slow down in global emissions in recent years, and this year’s drop, there are now dozens of countries that have pledged to reach net zero emissions by mid century or soon after.

How the emissions of different countries have changed over time.

Importantly, the first (China), second (USA), third (European Union), sixth (Japan) and ninth (South Korea) top emitters — together responsible for over 60% of the global fossil carbon dioxide emissions — have either legally binding pledges or serious ambitions to reach net zero emissions by 2050 or soon after.




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Coal production, the largest fossil fuel source of carbon dioxide emissions, peaked in 2013. Its decline continues to this date; however, increasing natural gas and oil negate much of this decline in emissions.

How the emissions from coal, oil, gas, and cement sectors changed over time.
How the emissions from coal, oil, gas, and cement sectors changed over time.
Pep Canadell, Author provided

We are in the midst of extraordinary levels of economic investment in response to the pandemic. If economic investment is appropriately directed, it could enable the rapid expansion of technologies and services to put us on track towards net zero emissions.

Many countries have already committed to green recovery plans, such as South Korea and the EU, although investments continue to be dominated by the support of fossil-based infrastructure.

As global leaders prepare for tomorrow’s summit, they have an opportunity like never before. The choices we make now can have a disproportionate impact on the future trajectory of emissions, and keep temperature rise well and truly below 2℃.




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The Conversation


Pep Canadell, Chief research scientist, Climate Science Centre, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere; and Executive Director, Global Carbon Project, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Research Professor, University of East Anglia; Glen Peters, Research Director, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Matthew William Jones, Senior Research Associate, University of East Anglia; Philippe Ciais, Directeur de recherche au Laboratoire des science du climat et de l’environnement, Institut Pierre-Simon Laplace, Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA); Pierre Friedlingstein, Chair, Mathematical Modelling of Climate, University of Exeter; Robbie Andrew, Senior Researcher, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo, and Rob Jackson, Professor, Department of Earth System Science, and Chair of the Global Carbon Project, Stanford University

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

3 reasons meeting climate targets and dumping Kyoto credits won’t salvage Australia’s international reputation


Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

Today, the Morrison government released updated projections of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, which indicate Australia is on track to meet 2030 Paris targets without using “carryover” credits earned from the Kyoto Protocol period.

Australia’s plan to use Kyoto carryover credits to meet Paris targets have long been contentious. The government claims that because emissions fell by more than Australia had committed to under the Kyoto Protocol, they should be allowed to carry these “credits” forward to the Paris agreement. Yet legal experts and other governments have suggested there’s no basis for applying these to the Paris agreement, which is a separate agreement.

The new modelling is good news for the Morrison government, which has been under increasing domestic and international pressure over its climate policy. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison is likely to announce this development proudly at the virtual Pacific Islands Forum on Friday night.

So are the latest projections enough to salvage Australia’s reputation on this issue? That appears unlikely.

Dumping credits

Under the Paris Agreement, Australia committed to reducing emissions by 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2030. This target has been widely criticised for years for being too meagre, but previous modelling had suggested even meeting this target was unlikely unless carryover credits were used.




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The latest modelling suggests if the recently-announced technology roadmap — a policy which will support new and emerging clean energy technologies — is taken into account, then Australia would beat its 2030 target by 145 million tonnes. In other words, by 2030 Australia could be 29% under 2005 levels, without using carryover credits.

Morrison had flagged he would announce that Australia will dump the Kyoto credits at a global leaders’ climate summit at the weekend. However, it’s unlikely he’ll be given a speaking slot by the hosts, a reflection of his failure to make meaningful climate commitments. This is why he’ll probably make the announcement to Pacific leaders tomorrow night instead.

But even if Morrison announces he’ll scrap the controversial carryovers tomorrow, our international counterparts will still regard Australia as a climate change laggard. There are three big reasons why.

1. Our Paris target is still unambitious

A reduction of 26-28% by 2030 from 2005 levels is well below the commitments of other countries under the Paris Agreement. And under the Paris Agreement, states were encouraged to ratchet up their commitments to emissions over time.

Yet unlike other countries, Australia has not made any indication of a plan to outline a more ambitious contribution ahead of the CoP26 meeting in Glasgow next year.




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It’s also worth recalling Australia’s 2005 baseline is a comparatively easy starting point. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia was one of only two developed countries allowed to increase its greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2008-12.

This means most other developed countries had already reduced emissions in sectors where it was easiest for them to do so — the “low hanging fruit”. This makes further commitments under Paris more challenging for those countries than Australia.

2. Improved projections are no thanks to federal policy

If we don’t have to use Kyoto carry-over credits to meet Paris targets, it may be despite — rather than because — of federal government policy.

Simply put, much of the decline in (projected) emissions can be attributed to the actions of state governments, which have more actively supported the renewable energy sector.

Wind turbines against a sunet
The revision in the 2020 projections partly reflects new measures to speed up development and deployment of low emissions technologies in the recent budget.
Shutterstock

By contrast (and despite claims to the contrary) the government continues to commit billions of dollars to subsidising the fossil fuel industry. Yet there are clear indications of a declining future market for coal in particular.




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While the technology investment roadmap, a federal policy, may serve to further drive down emissions, this is still far from clear.

3. There’s still no commitment to a net zero emissions timetable

The European Union has had a long-standing commitment to net zero emissions by 2050. More recently it has been joined by other major emitters in Japan and South Korea, while emissions giant China has committed to net zero emissions by 2060.

US President-elect Joe Biden has also committed the US to reach net zero emissions by 2050, and to return the US to the Paris agreement.

And yet, the Morrison government continues to baulk at setting a net zero emissions timetable, preferring to describe this as a general ambition rather than endorse a specific target or date.




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The response from the Pacific will be telling

Australia consistently ranks among the worst performers internationally on the Climate Change Performance Index, and there are indications already that other states will actively pressure Australia on climate ambition and action in the lead up to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26).

Combined with steadily growing domestic pressure to act on climate change and weakening financial prospects for Australia’s coal exports, international pressure may contribute to a perfect storm for the Morrison government on climate policy.

The response Morrison receives at the virtual Pacific Islands Forum to this position will be telling.




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The region has long been deeply critical of Australia’s climate policy, and is at the frontlines of climate change impacts such as sea level rises, natural disasters and ocean acidification.

While Morrison may avoid the same diplomatic fallout from the 2019 Pacific Islands Forum on this issue, he’s unlikely to find an audience wholly convinced Australia now recognises the scale of the threat climate change poses.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.

Alan Finkel: how a late-night phonecall in 2016 triggered ‘incredible progress’ on clean energy


Alan Finkel, Office of the Chief Scientist

Like so much of what I have done as Australia’s Chief Scientist, the electricity market review of 2017 was unexpected.

I was driving home after delivering a speech late one night in October 2016 when then federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg called and asked if I would chair a review of the National Electricity Market.

The urgent need had arisen as a consequence of the South Australian power blackout and ongoing concerns about the evolution of the electricity market. The call was brief; the task was huge.

This was new territory for me. While I have a PhD in electrical engineering, I had no specific interest in power systems. I had previously taken a business interest in green technologies. I had started a green lifestyle magazine, I had invested early in green technology stocks (and lost a small fortune), been involved in an electric car charging company, and I drove an electric car. I was an engineer but my work was in micro-electronics, at the scale of brain synapses. Large-scale power engineering had been my least favourite subject.

Now, it is close to my favourite. Work on low-emissions technologies has occupied a significant portion of my five-year term as Chief Scientist, which finishes at the end of this month.

Energy is a complex, vitally important topic, on which everyone has an opinion. The physics of human-induced global warming is irrefutable and a fast reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is urgent. Last summer’s bushfires were a grim reminder.




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People often ask me whether climate policy is destined to destroy political leaders in Australia. Call me an optimist, but what I have seen is progress. When my proposed Clean Energy Target met its maker in October 2017, I was disappointed, but I was honestly excited the Australian, state and territory governments agreed to 49 out of 50 recommendations of our review.

Many of these recommendations ensured the electricity system would retain its operating strength as ever more solar and wind generation was added, and others ensured better planning processes for long-distance interconnectors and renewable energy zones. The public narrative that climate progress is moribund overlooks this ongoing work.

In early 2018, as I began to better understand the full potential of hydrogen in a low-emission future, I informally briefed Frydenberg, who responded by asking me to prepare a formal briefing paper for him and his state and territory counterparts. With support from government, industry, research and public interest colleagues, it developed last year into the National Hydrogen Strategy, which explored fully the state of hydrogen technology internationally and its potential for Australia.




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The next step came this year with the Low Emissions Technology Statement, which articulates a solid pathway to tackle some of the pressing and difficult challenges en route to a clean economy. This was developed by Frydenberg’s successor, Angus Taylor, supported by advice from a panel I chaired.




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When I was appointed Australia’s Chief Scientist in 2015, my predecessor Ian Chubb took me for a drink at Canberra’s Monster Bar. He had a prepared brief for me and we flicked through it. But Ian didn’t offer prescriptive advice, given the reality that the specifics of the role are defined by each chief scientist in line with requests from the government of the day.

I came to the role with a plan no more detailed than to work hard, do things well, be opportunistic, and always say yes – despite the device that sits on my desk and barks “no” whenever you hit the red button, a gift from my staff keen to see a more measured response to the many calls on my time.

I am most proud of my initiatives in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education. These include the Australian Informed Choices project that ensures school students are given wise advice about core subjects that will set them in good stead for their careers; the STARPortal one-stop shop for information on extracurricular science activities for children; a report to the national education ministers on how businesses and schools can work together to provide context to science education; and the Storytime Pledge that acknowledges the fundamental importance of literacy by asking scientists to take a pledge to read to children.

But many of the high-profile tasks have arrived unexpectedly – the energy and low-emissions technology work, helping CSIRO with its report on climate and disaster resilience, and my work this year to help secure ICU ventilators and most recently, to review testing, contact tracing and outbreak management in the coronavirus pandemic.




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The incoming Chief Scientist, Cathy Foley, will no doubt find, as I did, the job brings big surprises and unexpected turns. I expect she will also find government more receptive than ever to taking advice from experts in health, the physical sciences and the social sciences.

That doesn’t mean gratuitous advice. The advice we offer as scientists must be relevant and considered. Much of my advice has been in the form of deep-dive reviews, such as the report on national research facilities that was funded in the 2018 budget. But this year, amid the pandemic, we began something quite different: the Rapid Research Information Forum, which gives fast, succinct advice to government on very specific questions. This has been a highly effective way to synthesise the most recent research results with a very quick turnaround.

Nor does advice mean criticism. The Chief Scientist’s job is not to be the chief scientific critic of government policy. It is to advise ministers with the best that science has to offer. In turn, their job is to weigh that advice alongside inputs from other sectors and interests.

For me, working with the government has delivered results. Ministers have been receptive, have never told me what to say, and have agreed to the vast majority of my work being made public. In the energy sphere, we’ve made incredible progress. I am delighted to be staying on in an advisory role on low-emissions technologies.

When Frydenberg called late that evening in 2016, I had no idea where to begin to assess the state of the electricity market. And I had no idea that three years later we would be taking the first steps towards a clean hydrogen economy.

Now I am confident we will achieve the dramatic reduction in emissions that is necessary. Because of the immensity of the energy, industrial, agricultural and building systems, it will be slow and enormously difficult in a technical sense, politics aside.

Anyone who believes otherwise has not looked in detail at the production process for steel and aluminium. Converting these industries to green production is a mammoth task. But the political will is there. Industry is on the job, as is the scientific community, and the work has started.

The beginning of my term coincided with one of the most momentous scientific breakthroughs in a century: the detection of gravitational waves, literally ripples in the fabric of spacetime. This confirmed a prediction made by Einstein 100 years ago and was the final piece in the puzzle of his Theory of General Relativity.

As I finish my term, the contribution of Australian scientists to that discovery has just been recognised in the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. As chair of the Prizes selection committee, this was a nice bookend for me. More importantly, it’s a reminder we are playing the long game.The Conversation

Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Office of the Chief Scientist

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