‘Conditional commitments’: the diplomatic strategy that could make Australia do its fair share on climate change


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Katie Steele, Australian National UniversityThe International Energy Agency’s recent, landmark report put another glaring spotlight on Australia’s failure to act on climate change. On the same night the report was released, warning against any new fossil fuel projects, the federal government announced A$600 million for a new gas-fired power plant.

This announcement is disappointing, but not surprising.

It’s just the latest embarrassing incident from the Morrison government when it comes to climate change, as it fails to set any meaningful new targets, international climate summit after climate summit.

If we take a philosophical perspective on the issue, I believe there’s a cautious and strategic way for Australia to do its fair share, one that hasn’t been widely considered: adopting “conditional committents”.

Tackling a ‘collective action’ problem

Conditional commitments are promises to raise (or lower) emissions reduction efforts, depending on what others do. For example, imagine if Australia were to publicly affirm our Asian neighbours’ climate ambitions, and seize the opportunity to make these ambitions more concrete via a conditional offer: that we would introduce a carbon tax if China or Japan were to do so first.

So far, conditional commitments have been the domain of developing countries seeking international finance. We can see this in the “nationally determined contributions” — long-term goals under the Paris Agreement — of Angola, Nigeria and other countries, which involves raising their emissions reduction targets conditional on (typically unspecified) financial support from richer nations.

But let’s look at why conditional commitments can also work in a more effective way to boost the climate change mitigation efforts of richer countries.

Climate change has the structure of a “collective-action problem”, where many nations have an interest in jointly preventing harm. Yet the independent efforts of each are arguably not cost effective, even for relatively “altruistic” nations that place higher premium on global well-being, due to making little difference to the global outcome.

This is why Australia’s contribution to climate change is unexceptional, and yet our response to the problem significant.




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If you take a “non-consequentialist” ethical stance towards collective harms, you might think the case for ambitious emissions reductions is straightforward: it’s not acceptable to contribute to a large harm, despite making a relatively small difference.

But those with “consequentialist” reasoning will maintain we must pick our battles and concentrate on where we can do the most good. That’s the charitable reading of the Morrison government’s half-hearted climate policies.

Such a strategy certainly guards against the risks of other nations free-riding off our possible climate efforts, rendering them costly and futile. In other words, we might spend big and yet make very little difference to the climate problem and hence the well-being of Australians and other global citizens.

Wind turbines over farm
Conditional commitments could extend to fossil fuel production around the world.
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But will a concerted Australian effort to mitigate climate change necessarily achieve little good? It’s extremely risky to assume so.

Either Australia will be left out in the cold should an effective coalition of cooperating nations emerge, perhaps on the back of the slew of ambitions recently announced at US President Joe Biden’s global climate summit.

Or else the future will be as bleak for Australia, as for any other nation, should all cooperative efforts fail and we’re left to face an inhospitable climate.

Joining the climate club

Joining and enhancing an international coalition for climate action (or “climate club”) is a less risky way to negotiate a collective-action problem where much is at stake.




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An important diplomatic strategy, to this end, are conditional commitments — pledges to undertake mitigation efforts in the event other nations fulfil similar obligations.

In this way, we can ensure when we buy one small “share” in a stable climate, we get many more shares for free. That is, while the direct effects of our emissions reduction on climate change would be small, the total indirect effects — the sum of all international emissions reductions in tandem with our own — would be substantial. And well and truly worth the punt.

Let’s say there was a conditional commitment that extended to fossil fuel production: Australia would tax our coal production, if China were also to do so. If the free-rider problem is what prevents Australia from doing its fair share on climate change, this should be an attractive way forward.

Australia could then play a pivotal diplomatic role in extending the circle of conditional commitments to the other major coal producers in our region, such as India and Indonesia.




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There would be no reason for countries genuinely concerned about the global climate, such as the US under the Biden administration, to defect from this “coal tax club”. But broadening membership beyond such countries would require incentives, including special trading benefits, among those in the climate club.

This could be in the form of commitments to pursue trade in new green products, such as green steel and zero-carbon hydrogen, or exemption from border taxes (as per the European Union’s strategy).

If the more reluctant members failed to follow through on their commitments, they would be expelled from the club. But provided the incentives were good enough, this would be unlikely. And even then, it woudn’t be devastating to the collective effort, if enough enthusiastic cooperators remained.

Like a stack of dominoes

Of course, conditional commitments must be credible — others must believe they’ll be followed through. And that’s not easy to establish.

But this is where international meetings and treaties can play a crucial role. The next major international summit, COP26, will be held in November this year, where world leaders will try to agree on a new plan to tackle climate change.




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With so much at stake, there’s no reason not to make grand and far-sighted conditional commitments that reflect the kind of climate we want to collectively bring about.

With careful treaty design, nations can effectively hedge their bets: either others will come to the party and make it worthwhile to invest heavily in emissions reduction, or others will not come to the party and we make a terrible situation no worse by lack of investment.

In this way, the risks of high costs and no appreciable climate benefit are reduced for those at the vanguard of climate action. And, like a stack of dominoes, the risks are reduced for everyone else, including those yet to be born.The Conversation

Katie Steele, Associate Professor in Philosophy, Australian National University

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

Four seismic climate wins show Big Oil, Gas and Coal are running out of places to hide


Peter Dejong/AP

Jacqueline Peel, The University of Melbourne; Ben Neville, The University of Melbourne, and Rebekkah Markey-Towler, The University of MelbourneThree global fossil fuel giants have just suffered embarrassing rebukes over their inadequate action on climate change. Collectively, the developments show how courts, and frustrated investors, are increasingly willing to force companies to reduce their carbon dioxide pollution quickly.

A Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to slash its greenhouse emissions, and 61% of Chevron shareholders backed a resolution to force that company to do the same. And in an upset at Exxon Mobil, an activist hedge fund won two seats on the company’s board.

The string of wins was followed in Australia on Thursday by a court ruling that the federal environment minister, when deciding whether or not to approve a new coal mine, owes a duty of care to young people to avoid causing them personal injury from climate change.

The court rulings are particularly significant. Courts have often been reluctant to interfere in what is viewed as an issue best left to policymakers. These recent judgements, and others, suggest courts are more prepared to scrutinise emissions reduction by businesses and – in the case of the Dutch court – order them to do more.

Shell, Chevron and Exxon logos
The wins for climate action put big polluters on notice.
AP

Court warns of ‘irreversible consequences’

In a world-first ruling, a Hague court ordered oil and gas giant Shell to reduce CO₂ emissions by 45% by 2030, relative to 2019 levels. The court noted Shell had no emissions-reduction targets to 2030, and its policies to 2050 were “rather intangible, undefined and non-binding”.

The case was brought by climate activist and human rights groups. The court found climate change due to CO₂ emissions “has serious and irreversible consequences” and threatened the human “right to life”. It also found Shell was responsible for so-called “Scope 3” emissions generated by its customers and suppliers.

The Chevron upset involved an investor revolt. Some 61% of shareholders supported a resolution calling for Chevron to substantially reduce Scope 3 emissions generated by the use of its oil and gas.

And last week, shareholders of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s biggest corporate greenhouse gas emitters, forced a dramatic management shakeup. An activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1, won two, and potentially three, places on the company’s 12-person board.

Engine No. 1 explicitly links Exxon’s patchy economic performance to a failure to invest in low-carbon technologies.




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oil rig
The court said Shell’s emissions reduction efforts were ‘rather intangible’.
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Climate-savvy shareholders unite

As human activity causes Earth’s atmosphere to warm, large fossil fuel companies are under increasing pressure to act.

A mere 20 companies have contributed 493 billion tonnes of CO₂ and methane to the atmosphere, primarily from the burning of their oil, coal and gas. This equates to 35% of all global greenhouse gas emissions since 1965.

Shareholders – many concerned by the financial risks of climate change – are leading the corporate accountability push. The Climate Action 100+ initiative is a leading example.

It involves more than 400 investors with more than A$35 trillion in assets under management, who work with companies to reduce emissions, and improve governance and climate-related financial disclosures. Similar movements are emerging worldwide.

Shareholders in Australia are also stepping up engagement with companies over climate change.

Last year, shareholder resolutions on climate change were put to Santos and Woodside. While neither resolution achieved the 75% support needed to pass, both received unprecedented levels of support – 43.39% and 50.16% of the vote, respectively.

And in May 2021, Rio Tinto became the first Australian board to publicly back shareholder resolutions on climate change, which subsequently passed with 99% support.




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Rio Tinto executives
The Rio Tinto board backed a shareholder resolution on climate change.
Brendan Esposito/AAP

The litigation trend

To date, the question of whether corporate polluters can be legally forced to reduce greenhouse emissions has remained unanswered. While fossil fuel companies have faced a string of climate lawsuits in the United States and Europe, courts have often dismissed the claims on procedural grounds.

Cases brought against governments have been more successful. In 2019, for example, the Dutch Supreme Court affirmed the government has a legal duty to prevent dangerous climate change.

The decision against Shell is significant, and sends a clear signal that corporations can be held legally responsible for greenhouse pollution.

Shell has previously argued it can only reduce its absolute emissions by shrinking its business. The recent case highlights how such companies may have to quickly find new forms of revenue, or face legal liability.

It’s unlikely we’ll see identical litigation in Australia, because our laws are different to those in the Netherlands. But the Shell case is emblematic of a broader trend of climate litigation being brought to challenge corporate polluters.

This includes the case decided on Thursday involving young people opposed to a company’s coal mine expansion, and Australian cases arguing for greater disclosure of climate risk by corporations, banks and super funds.




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Climate change will cost a young Australian up to $245,000 over their lifetime, court case reveals


teenagers involved in case
The case brought against the Australian government by a group of teenagers is part of a growing trend towards climate litigation.
Supplied

Change is nigh

Oil and gas companies often argue Scope 3 emissions are not their responsibility, because they don’t control how customers use their products. The Shell finding and shareholder action against Chevron suggest this claim may hold little sway with courts or shareholders in future.

The Shell case may also set off a global avalanche of copycat litigation. In Australia, legal experts have noted the turning tide, and warned is it’s only a matter of time before directors who fail to act on climate change face litigation.

Clearly, a seismic shift is looming, in which corporations will be forced to take greater responsibility for climate harms. These recent developments should act as a wake-up call for oil, gas and coal companies, in Australia and around the world.The Conversation

Jacqueline Peel, Professor of Environmental and Climate Law, The University of Melbourne; Ben Neville, Senior Lecturer and Program Director of the Master of Commerce, The University of Melbourne, and Rebekkah Markey-Towler, Research fellow, Melbourne Climate Futures, The University of Melbourne

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

Willow trees are notorious pests. But for freshwater animals, they could be unlikely climate heroes


Willow invasion on Happy Valley Creek in north east Victoria.
Author provided; Happy Valley Creek, Victoria, Author provided

Paul McInerney, CSIRO and Tanya Doody, CSIROClimate change will make Australia hotter and drier in future, and we’re starting to see the dangerous consequences of this in our rivers, lakes and streams.

As waters warm and flow patterns alter, the animals who call these waterways home may struggle to survive. Many are ectotherms — meaning that unlike humans, these animals can’t regulate their body temperature, putting them at the mercy of ambient water temperature. And for animals that have evolved in cold water, such as some native crayfish, increased water temperatures can be lethal.

Our new research paper calls for a (possibly controversial) solution: take advantage of willow trees growing along the banks. They can create cool, shady refuges in these warming waterways.

Willows are not native and, in many places, are an invasive weed. But for temperature-sensitive animals, their dense, leafy canopy may make willows the lesser of two evils in a warming climate.

The lesser evil

Willows belong to the genus Salix, and are natives of the northern hemisphere. They were introduced to Australia in the 19th century first as ornamental plants, then later planted to help stabilise river banks to combat erosion.

Today, they’re considered noxious weeds in Australia, South America and southern Africa, are highly invasive and have spread along waterways throughout temperate Australia.

Willows along waterways can prevent light from entering streams and cool water temperature.
Author provided; Yackandandah Creek, Victoria

The harms willows inflict on aquatic ecosystems are well documented. For example, they alter energy dynamics in streams by dropping all their leaves into the water at once, which can reduce water quality and the amount of food for animals.

Dense shading in summer reduces the amount of algae (an important food source) growing on surfaces in streams. Willows also out-shade and use more water than native plants, stopping them from re-colonising.

These reasons are why governments invest in removing willows from our waterways. But what if willows offer some benefits to their invaded ecosystems, too?

Freshwater wildlife in peril

As far as we know, the presence of willows hasn’t caused any extinctions. But in coming years, we can expect to see more animal extinctions due to temperature increases from climate change.

To deal with climate change, temperature-sensitive animals are left with two options: either migrate upstream to cooler water or adapt to warmer water. Both alternatives are problematic.

Willow trees on a river bank
Willow trees can out-shade native plants and stop them from re-colonising.
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Some animals, such as two-spined blackfish, aren’t well suited to (or potentially even capable of) long distance travel to cooler water. And many of our rivers have barriers, such as dams, weirs and waterfalls, making migration impossible.

If animals stay put, Australia’s climate is now warming at such a fast rate, some may struggle to adapt quickly enough. The critically endangered barred galaxias is another cool water adapted fish unlikely to successfully migrate to other habitats to escape warming climate, but remains at risk if it doesn’t.




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To give wildlife a fighting chance at survival, we need to consider a patchwork of new and alternative approaches to stream management, such as creating “climatic refugia”. These are places where local climate is cooler than the regional climate, providing areas animals can escape to when temperatures get extreme.

Warmer temperatures may cause the populations of some freshwater species, such as the Murray River turtle, to grow.
Author provided

Trees and shrubs growing along the edges of streams (riparian vegetation) do this when they shade the water surface, helping to mediate water temperature.

This could make willows a useful tool for natural resource managers as we see increases in extreme heat days.

Happy Valley Creek

For our research paper, we use a case study from north-east Victoria to illustrate how dense willow invasions can reduce stream water temperature and create climatic refugia.




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We logged water temperature in Happy Valley Creek at three locations: at an upstream native forested site, a midstream site with no vegetation, and a downstream site that was heavily shaded by invasive willows.

We expected water temperature to increase with distance downstream as it moves from cool upland areas to warmer lowland areas. Instead, we found the water temperature at the willow shaded site could be a few degrees cooler than the midstream site, particularly during periods of extreme heat.

Fish among rocks
Some animals, like the two-spined blackfish, are unlikley to migrate to cooler waters.
Alan Couch/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Many streams are fringed by native vegetation that provide comparable heat protection to animals as willows, and we should protect these from willow invasion.

But in locations where willow removal activities are unlikely to be successful in the long-term, it may be better to prioritise willow removal elsewhere. For example, if willows can’t be removed from upstream catchments, they’ll continue to recolonise downstream. And if there’s no funding for follow-up activities, willows may re-establish following removal.

Where willows are rampant, they may already be protecting populations of heat-sensitive animals from temperature extremes. Removing them could have unintended consequences for such animals.

An absence of shade from bank-side vegetation can increase stream temperatures.
Author provided; Happy Valley Creek, Victoria

What’s the end goal?

It’s important to clarify we’re not suggesting willow removal activities should stop to prevent further widespread invasion. But as our climate changes, we need to objectively consider what ecosystems will be sustainable in the future, and prioritise our restoration efforts accordingly.

We need to decide what state we’re trying to manage our ecosystems to — the likely endpoint.




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Given current river regulations, land-use and changing climate, restoring all ecosystems to a pre–European state may not be sustainable or even possible at this point.

For willow-dominated, degraded catchments, there may be more value in promoting willows as refuges from the temperature extremes of climate change, rather than pursuing an ideal that may not even be possible.The Conversation

Paul McInerney, Research scientist, CSIRO and Tanya Doody, Principle Research Scientist, CSIRO, CSIRO

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

Climate change will cost a young Australian up to $245,000 over their lifetime, court case reveals


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Liam Phelan, University of Newcastle and Jacquie Svenson, University of NewcastleThe Federal Court today dismissed a bid by a group of Australian teenagers seeking to prevent federal environment minister Sussan Ley from approving a coalmine extension in New South Wales.

While the teens’ request for an injunction was unsuccessful, a number of important developments emerged during the court proceedings. This included new figures on the financial costs of climate change to young Australians over their lifetimes.

An independent expert witness put the loss at between A$125,000 and A$245,000 per person. The calculation was a conservative one, and did not include health impacts which were assessed separately.

The evidence was accepted by both the federal government’s legal team and the judge. That it was uncontested represents an important shift. No longer are the financial impacts of climate change a vague future loss – they’re now a tangible, quantifiable harm.

Three teens involved in the case embrace outside the Federal Court
The Federal Court dismissed the teens’ request for an injunction against a mine.
James Gourley/AAP

Calculating climate costs

The case involved a proposed extension to Whitehaven’s Vickery mine near Gunnedah in northwest NSW. The expansion would increase the total emissions over the life of the mine to 366 million tonnes.

To help in its deliberations, the court called on an independent expert witness, Dr Karl Mallon, to estimate the extent to which climate change would harm the eight young Australians aged 13 to 17, and by extension all children in Australia.

Mallon is chief executive of Climate Risk, a consultancy specialising in climate risk and adaptation software which advises governments and businesses around the world. This is the first time anywhere in the world this technique for quantifying harm in climate litigation has been applied and accepted.

Mallon first assumed a level of ongoing greenhouse gas emissions, with reference to standard scenarios used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The scenarios range from futures with ambitious emissions reductions to those with very little.

So Mallon used the IPCC’s high-end emissions scenario known as RCP8.5 – the only one consistent with increasing coal production.

Second, Mallon drew on atmospheric modelling to provide projections for Australia on climate effects such as changes in temperature and rainfall. He then quantified the financial and health costs of those changes across three “epochs”, or time periods, in the futures of young people today.

coal plant with emissions from chimneys
The proposed mine expansion would mean increased coal production, and emissions.
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Epoch 1: loss of property wealth

The first epoch spanned the decade to 2030. Mallon limited his analysis to how climate change will affect housing markets, leading to the loss of family property wealth.

Some homes are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather and climate risks such as bushfires, flooding, coastal inundation, cyclones and subsidence. Mallon’s modelling found about 5% of family homes would be affected damaged by climate change and associated extreme weather events this decade.

Already in some areas insurance premiums are becoming unaffordable and the problem will likely worsen as climate change unfolds. This will reduce the market value of high-risk properties.

Mallon estimated an average loss to the value of family homes by 2030 at about A$40-85,000 per child.

Home burnt to rubble by fire
Fire risk will make some homes uninsurable.
James Gourley/AAP

Epoch 2: reduced earnings

This epoch spanned the years 2040 to 2060, when the applicants would be aged between 20 and 58 years. This part of Mallon’s analysis focused first on loss to prosperity – how climate change would affect a young person’s ability to work.

On hot days, the body must expend extra energy dissipating heat (usually by sweating). As the International Labour Organisation has noted, exposure to these conditions for extended periods is risky, and to endure them people must drink water and take regular breaks, leading to lower productivity.

Rising temperatures under climate change will increase the number of days where the ability to work outside safely will be hampered. Mallon found around 30% of today’s children will work in climate-vulnerable jobs, such as agriculture and construction.

People in these jobs will be less productive, and the cost to employers will eventually be passed to employees through lower wages. Mallon estimated this means a loss of about A$75,000 over a young person’s working life.

Climate change and associated extreme weather will also disrupt the infrastructure businesses rely on, such as electricity, telecommunications and transport. Again, these productivity losses will eventually be reflected in employee wages.

In Mallon’s opinion, repeated extreme weather damage to business continuity will lead to an estimated average A$25,000 annual loss per person over the working life of a child today.

Climate change will also deliver general “hits” to the economy. Mallon’s analysis here focused only on agricultural and labour productivity, and drew on existing research to estimate losses of about A$60,000 per person over their lifetimes.

The bottom line? Mallon’s partial, conservative calculations found today’s children will forego between A$125,000 and A$245,000 each due to the climate impacts noted above. He puts the most likely cost at around A$170,000 for each child.

Three girls wade through floodwaters
Natural disasters such as flood and fire will lead to economic disruption.
Tracy Nearmy/AAP

Epoch 3: risks to health

The third epoch spanned 2070 to 2100, when today’s young people will be in the later stages of their lives. Here, Mallon’s analysis focused on the health impacts of higher temperatures. These will lead to increased heat stress, ambulance call outs, presentations to emergency departments and hospitalisations.

Older people are more vulnerable to the health effects of higher temperatures, and also more likely to die. Mallon found one in five of today’s children will likely be hospitalised due to heat stress in their senior years.

Act hard and fast

In Australia and around the world, people concerned about climate change are increasingly using litigation in a bid to force governments to act.

This means we can expect to quantification of the financial costs of climate change being presented more often in our courts.

Mallon’s calculations do not cover all harm that will be caused by climate change – only that for which detailed accessible modelling exists. The full financial and health costs will inevitably be far greater than the scope of his assessment.

Global emissions must urgently be cut to net-zero to avert the most disastrous climate change impacts. The arguments in favour of radical mitigation action, including the personal financial risks, grow ever-more compelling by the day.




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This story is part of a series The Conversation is running on the nexus between disaster, disadvantage and resilience. It is supported by a philanthropic grant from the Paul Ramsay foundation. You can read the rest of the stories here.The Conversation

Liam Phelan, Senior Lecturer, School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle and Jacquie Svenson, Clinical Teacher/Solicitor, University of Newcastle

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

Wondering if your energy company takes climate change seriously? A new report reveals the answer


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Anna Malos, ClimateWorks Australia and Coral Bravo, ClimateWorks AustraliaA landmark report released last week put coal and gas on notice. For the first time, the International Energy Agency (IEA) declared reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 means no new investments in fossil fuel supply projects.

For Australia – a continent blessed with a bounty of wind and sun – the phasing out of coal and gas investment should be considered a boon. Australia is already deploying wind and solar energy ten times faster than the global average, and still has plenty of unmet renewables potential.

But of course, Australia’s path to a clean energy economy has not been perfectly smooth. A lack of federal leadership on climate policy and a historical dependence on fossil fuels means the IEA’s roadmap presents a big challenge for Australia.

Our latest report released today underscores how big a challenge this is. We assessed Australia’s highest-emitting energy firms and found none were fully or even closely aligned with global climate goals. Just one went even partway, and five appeared to be taking no action at all.

smoke billows from stacks at coal plant
The International Energy Agency says it’s the end of the road for new coal investments.
Shutterstock

A poor showing

Our energy sector report forms part of the Net Zero Momentum Tracker, a project by research organisation ClimateWorks, which works within the Monash Sustainable Development Institute.

We assessed the commitments of Australia’s 20 highest-emitting energy companies against the Paris Agreement goals, which include limiting global temperature rise to well below 2℃, aiming for 1.5℃. The IEA’s latest work shows to reach those goals, the global energy sector must reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The companies we analysed comprise electricity generators and electricity and gas retailers. Together, they account for almost one-third of Australia’s total annual emissions.

Each company’s commitments were assessed against scenarios we modelled, which map the least-cost trajectories for reducing Australia’s emissions in line with the Paris goals.

We found no large energy company was fully aligned with these trajectories, and most fell well short. Six had set emissions reduction targets and nine others had taken some action to cut emissions.

However, not a single company had commitments that are in line with Australia achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.




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boy turns off lamp
No electricity company was taking action fully aligned with the Paris goals.
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How your energy company fares

The 20 companies we assessed account for almost 90% of Australia’s electricity emissions. Together, they generate more than 70% of Australia’s electricity supplies.

French-owned energy generator and retailer ENGIE was the only company with activities on a trajectory supporting Australia’s Paris-aligned transition, because of a target that aims to reduce some of its emissions by 2030. But the target does not cover the majority of ENGIE’s emissions, so the company has much more work to do.

Fourteen companies had a mix of targets or actions we assessed as not aligned with the Paris goals. They are:

  • AGL
  • APT Pipelines
  • ATCO
  • CS Energy
  • CK William
  • Delta
  • EnergyAustralia
  • Origin
  • Pioneer Sail
  • Snowy Hydro
  • Stanwell
  • Synergy
  • Territory Generation
  • TransAlta.

And these five companies had no disclosed emissions reduction activities:

  • Arrow Energy
  • Bluewaters Power 1&2
  • NewGen Kwinana
  • NRG Gladstone Operating Services
  • OzGen.



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Engie logo on building
French multinational Engie was the only firm assessed to have emissions reduction goals even partially aligned to the Paris Agreement.
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The big four emitters

AGL, EnergyAustralia, Stanwell and Origin are the biggest emitters in Australia’s electricity sector. Collectively, they’re responsible for more than half the sector’s emissions, and so have a particular responsibility to act.

When energy companies talk about reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, they do so in terms of scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

Scope 1 covers emissions released to the atmosphere as a direct result of company activity, such as burning coal or gas to produce electricity. Scope 2 covers the emissions created to produce the electricity a company purchases.

Scope 3 emissions are those outside the companies’ direct control. They include upstream processes such as the extraction, production and transport of fuel used to power their operations, and downstream activities such as the distribution and use of gas sold to consumers.

Origin aspires to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and has set interim targets to reduce its scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.

AGL and EnergyAustralia have committed to achieve net-zero operational (scope 1 and 2) emissions by 2050, but have no interim emissions reduction targets.

Stanwell, which operates two of Queensland’s largest coal-fired generators, has no emissions reduction targets.

magnifying glass on Origin website
Origin aspires to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Shutterstock

A rapid renewables shift

Our earlier research shows that under scenarios compatible with the Paris Agreement, renewables make up 70% of electricity generation by 2030. Coal and gas is phased out of Australia’s electricity mix as soon as 2035.

The energy sector is crucial if Australia is to meet the Paris climate goals. Thanks to renewable energy, the sector enjoys some of the easiest and cheapest emissions reduction opportunities. And a zero-emissions energy sector would also help other sectors such as transport, buildings and industry to decarbonise.

Australia’s energy sector has made progress on emissions in recent years. Three-quarters of the energy companies we assessed have implemented wind and solar energy projects. And overall, renewable energy was responsible for almost 28% of Australia’s total electricity generation in 2020.

However our report shows change is not happening fast enough to put Australia on a timely path to net-zero emissions.

At a federal level, the Renewable Energy Target, which ended last year, drove the clean energy shift. New federal policies are now needed to bolster ambitious state and territory policies. This would enable energy market operators and investors to plan a transition aligned with the Paris goals.




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The Conversation


Anna Malos, Australia – Country Lead, ClimateWorks Australia and Coral Bravo, Senior Analyst, ClimateWorks Australia

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

Fly infertility shows we’re underestimating how badly climate change harms animals


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Belinda van Heerwaarden, The University of Melbourne and Ary Hoffmann, The University of MelbourneEvidence of declining fertility in humans and wildlife is growing. While chemicals in our environment have been identified as a major cause, our new research shows there’s another looming threat to animal fertility: climate change.

We know animals can die when temperatures rise to extremes they cannot endure. However, our research suggests males of some species can become infertile even at less extreme temperatures.

This means the distribution of species may be limited by the temperatures at which they can reproduce, rather than the temperatures at which they can survive.

These findings are important, because they mean we may be underestimating the impacts of climate change on animals – and failing to identify the species most likely to become extinct.

two flies mating on a leaf
The distribution of some species may be limited by the temperatures at which they can reproduce.
Shutterstock

Feeling the heat

Researchers have known for some time that animal fertility is sensitive to heat stress.

For example, research shows a 2℃ temperature rise dramatically reduces the production of sperm bundles and egg size in corals. And in many beetle and bee species, fertilisation success drops sharply at high temperatures.

High temperatures have also been shown to affect fertilisation or sperm count in cows, pigs, fish and birds.

However, temperatures that cause infertility have not been incorporated into predictions about how climate change will affect biodiversity. Our research aims to address this.




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Male fertility: how everyday chemicals are destroying sperm counts in humans and animals


eggs on straw
High temperatures can affect bird reproduction.
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A focus on flies

The paper published today involved researchers from the United Kingdom, Sweden and Australia, including one author of this article. The study examined 43 species of fly to test whether male fertility temperatures were a better predictor of global fly distributions than the temperatures at which the adult fly dies – also known as their “survival limit”.

The researchers exposed flies to four hours of heat stress at temperatures ranging from benign to lethal. From this data they estimated both the temperature that is lethal to 80% of individuals and the temperature at which 80% of surviving males become infertile.

They found 11 of 43 species experienced an 80% loss in fertility at cooler-than-lethal temperatures immediately following heat stress. Rather than fertility recovering over time, the impact of high temperatures was more pronounced seven days after exposure to heat stress. Using this delayed measure, 44% of species (19 out of 43) showed fertility loss at cooler-than-lethal temperatures.




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The researchers then matched these findings to real-world data on the flies’ distribution, and estimated the average maximum air temperatures the species are likely to encounter in the wild. They found the distribution of fly species is linked more closely to the effects of high temperature on male fertility than on temperatures that kill flies.

These fertility responses are crucial to species survival. A separate study led by one author of this article, using simulated climate change in the laboratory, showed experimental populations of the same flies become extinct not because they can’t survive the heat, but because the males become infertile. Species from tropical rainforests were the first to succumb to extinction.

The prediction that tropical and sub-tropical species may be more vulnerable to climate change is not new. But the fertility findings suggest the negative impact of climate change may be even worse than anticipated.

Flies on a stick
The research found fly fertility is affected at lower-than-lethal temperatures.
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What does all this mean?

Some animals have adapted to minimise the effect of high temperature on fertility. For instance, it’s thought testes in male primates and humans are externally located to protect the developing sperm from excessive heat.

As the planet warms, animals may further evolve to withstand the effects of heat on fertility. But the speed at which a species can adapt may be too slow to ensure their survival. Our research has shown both tropical and widespread species of flies could not increase their fertility when exposed to simulated global warming, even after 25 generations.

A study involving beetles also indicates fertility damage from successive heatwaves can accumulate over time. And more work is needed to determine how other stressors such as salinity, chemicals and poor nutrition may compound the fertility-temperature problem.

Whether our findings extrapolate to other species, including mammals such as humans, is not yet clear. It’s certainly possible, given evidence across the animal kingdom that fertility is sensitive to heat stress.

Either way, unless global warming is radically curbed, animal fertility will likely decline. This means Earth may be heading for far more species extinctions than previously anticipated.




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The 1.5℃ global warming limit is not impossible – but without political action it soon will be


The Conversation


Belinda van Heerwaarden, Future Fellow, The University of Melbourne and Ary Hoffmann, Professor, School of BioSciences and Bio21 Institute, The University of Melbourne

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

International Energy Agency warns against new fossil fuel projects. Guess what Australia did next?


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Samantha Hepburn, Deakin UniversityEven if every country meets its current climate targets, Earth’s temperature will still rise by a dangerous 2.1℃ this century, according to sobering findings from a new International Energy Agency report.

The IEA found the route to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 was “narrow and extremely challenging”, and electricity grids in developed economies such as Australia must be zero emissions by 2053. The IEA was abundantly clear: no new fossil fuel projects should be approved.

The report couldn’t come at a worse time for the Morrison government. This week, it announced A$600 million for a major new gas-fired power plant at Kurri Kurri in New South Wales, claiming it was needed to shore up electricity supplies.

The IEA’s findings cast serious doubt on this decision, and put even more pressure on Australia ahead of crucial international climate talks in Glasgow in November. So let’s take a look at the report in more detail, and see how Australia measures up.

What the report said

The IEA report sets out a comprehensive roadmap to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The good news is this is still achievable. But it’ll take a lot money and enormous effort.

There must be what the report describes as a “total transformation of the energy systems that underpin our economies”. Put simply, the world’s energy economy must be grounded in solar and wind — not coal, gas and oil.

The report works from a basic principle: even if the climate pledges countries have made under the Paris agreement are fully achieved, there will still be 22 billion tonnes of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2050.

This is well short of net zero.

So the IEA set out more than 400 milestones to achieve the global energy transformation. And these absolutely must be complied with if we’re to stop catastrophic global warming and limit temperature rise to 1.5℃.

The milestones include:

Massive investment in electricity networks

Enormous amounts of money are needed to shift away from fossil fuels and meet the global electricity demand doubling over the next 30 years. Existing networks took 130 years to build — we need to build the same again in about one-sixth the time. This includes investing in hydrogen and bio-energy (energy made from organic material), which the report calls a “pillar of decarbonisation”.




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Transport

Electric vehicles need to rapidly expand to 65% of the global fleet by 2030, and 100% by 2050. This will require an enormous increase in public electric vehicle charging units and hydrogen refuelling units. To facilitate this shift, petrol and diesel will be phased out. Many countries around the world, including the United Kingdom and Japan, have already introduced a ban on new fossil fuel cars by 2030.

Building and industry

We need to urgently retrofit homes and buildings to make them more energy efficient. Steel, cement and chemical industries, primary emitters, must shift to carbon capture and sequestration and hydrogen.

Electric vehicle
Petrol and diesel will need to be phased out by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency.
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But the biggest take-home message for Australia is there must be no new development in fossil fuel beyond 2021.

No new fossil fuel development

The report states:

Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required.

Global demand for oil peaked in 2019, and has declined since then, largely due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Under the roadmap, this decline will continue and reach 75% by 2050. Any growth in demand during this period will be met by growing emergent markets in renewables, green hydrogen and bio-energy.

And of course, the report states no new coal plants should be financially supported unless equipped with carbon capture and sequestration. Inefficient coal plants must be phased out by 2030.

Gas plant
The federal government just announced over a half billion dollars for a new gas-fired power plant in NSW.
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If the roadmap is followed, renewable energy will overtake coal by 2026, and oil and gas by 2030.

For this to happen, annual additions of 630 gigawatts of solar and 390 gigawatts of wind power will be required by 2030. This means the world needs to install the equivalent of “the world’s largest solar park roughly every day”, according to the report.

Australia, are you listening?

Australia’s gas-fired recovery plans are directly inconsistent with the IEA roadmap. The government has argued expanding fossil fuel supply is critical for energy security.

Not only did the federal government just announce over a half a billion dollars for a new gas-fired power plant in NSW, it’s also spending a further $173 million to develop the Beetaloo basin in the Northern Territory, another gas reserve.




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Experts, advisers and Energy Security Board chair Kerry Schott have all disagreed with these moves. They argue, in line with the IEA report, that cheaper, cleaner alternatives to gas generation, such as wind and solar, can easily provide the dispatchable power required.

The government’s stubborn fossil fuel funding will make it more difficult than it already is to stop global warming beyond 1.5℃.

Australia must immediately stop investing in new fossil fuel projects. While this may be a difficult transition to accept given the enormous scope of gas reserves in Australia, there’s no point spending vast amounts of money on new infrastructure to extract a resource that will be commercially unviable in a decade.

Australia is ignoring the economic and environmental imperatives of transitioning to a low carbon framework. This is reckless, and unfair to other countries. We have the resource capacity and economic strength to transition our energy sector, unlike many developing countries. But we choose not to.

A national embarrassment

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, says the next round of international climate talks in Scotland is the “last best chance the world has” to avoid a climate crisis.

But Australia’s investment in new gas development stands in stark contrast to the increasingly ambitious energy commitments of other developed countries. We shouldn’t come empty-handed, with no new targets, to yet another international climate summit.




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US President Joe Biden has vowed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% compared with 2005 levels. He has banned new oil and gas leases on federal land, removed fossil fuel subsidies and plans to double wind capacity by 2030.

Likewise, the European Commission seeks to stop funding oil and gas projects. Denmark recently implemented a ban on future gas extraction in the North Sea. And Spain has done the same.

Australia is ignoring its global responsibilities. As a result, we’ll be hit hard by the so-called “Carbon Border Adjustment” policies from the US and European Union, which tax imported goods according to their carbon footprint.

Ultimately, our actions will leave us economically and environmentally isolated in a rapidly emerging new energy world order.




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The Conversation


Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

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

Government-owned firms like Snowy Hydro can do better than building $600 million gas plants


Arjuna Dibley, The University of MelbourneThe Morrison government today announced it’s building a new gas power plant in the Hunter Valley, committing up to A$600 million for the government-owned corporation Snowy Hydro to construct the project.

Critics argue the plant is inconsistent with the latest climate science. And a new report by the International Energy Agency has warned no new fossil fuel projects should be funded if we’re to avoid catastrophic climate change.

The move is also inconsistent with research showing government-owned companies can help drive clean energy innovation. Such companies are often branded as uncompetitive, stuck in the past and unable to innovate. But in fact, they’re sometimes better suited than private firms to take investment risks and test speculative technologies.

And if the investments are successful, taxpayers, the private sector and consumers share the benefits.

Wind farm
If government-owned firms led the way in clean energy technologies, society would benefit.
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Lead, not limit

Federal energy minister Angus Taylor announced the funding on Wednesday. He said the 660-megawatt open-cycle gas turbine at Kurri Kurri will “create jobs, keep energy prices low, keep the lights on and help reduce emissions”.

Experts insist the plan doesn’t stack up economically and may operate at less than 2% capacity.

But missing from the public debate is the question of how government-owned companies such as Snowy Hydro might be used to accelerate the clean energy transition.

Australian governments (of all persuasions) have not often used the companies they own to lead in clean energy innovation. Many, such as Hydro Tasmania, still rely on decades-old hydroelectric technologies. And others, such as Queensland’s Stanwell Corporation and Western Australia’s Synergy, rely heavily on older coal and gas assets.

Asking Snowy Hydro to build a gas-fired power plant is yet another example – but it needn’t be this way.




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gas plant
Snowy Hydro has been funded to build a $600 million gas plant, but it could do better.
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The burning question

Globally, more than 60% of electricity comes from wholly or partially state-owned companies. In Australia, despite the 20-year trend towards electricity privatisation, government-owned companies remain important power generators.

At the Commonwealth level, Snowy Hydro provides around 20% of capacity to New South Wales and Victoria. And most electricity in Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia is generated by state government-owned businesses.

But political considerations mean government-owned electricity companies can struggle to navigate the clean energy path.

For example in April this year, the chief executive of Stanwell Corporation, Richard Van Breda, suggested the firm would mothball its coal-powered generators before the end of their technical life, because cheap renewables were driving down power prices.

Queensland’s Labor government was reportedly unhappy with the announcement, fearing voter backlash in coal regions. Breda has since stepped down and Stanwell is reportedly backtracking on its transition plans.

Such examples beg the question: can government-owned companies ever innovate on clean energy? A growing literature in economics, as well as several real-world examples, suggest that under the right conditions, the answer is yes.




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desk showing Stanwell logo
State-owned Stanwell Corporation is reportedly back-tracking on plans to mothball its coal plants early.
Stanwell Corporation

Privatised is not always best

Economists have traditionally argued state-owned companies are not good innovators. As the argument goes, the absence of competitive market forces makes them less efficient than their private sector peers.

But recent research by academics and international policy institutions such as the OECD has shown government ownership in the electricity sector can be an asset, not a curse, for achieving technological change.

The reason runs contrary to orthodox economic thinking. While competition can lead to firm efficiency, some economists argue government-owned firms can take greater risks. Without the pressure for market-rate returns to shareholders, government enterprises may be freer to invest in more speculative technologies.

My ongoing research has shown the reality is even more complex. Whether state-owned electric companies can drive clean energy innovation depends a great deal on government interests and corporate governance rules.

For example, consider the New York Power Authority (NYPA) which, like Snowy Hydro, is wholly government owned.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has deliberately sought to use NYPA to decarbonise the state’s electricity grid. The government has managed the company in a way that enables it to take risks on new transmission and generation technologies that investor-owned peers cannot.

For instance, NYPA is investing in advanced sensors and computing systems so it can better manage distributed energy sources such as solar and wind. The technology will also simulate major catastrophic events, including those likely to ensue from climate change.

These investments are likely to contribute to greater grid stability and greater renewables use, benefiting not just NYPA but other electricity generators and ultimately, consumers.

Such innovation is nothing new. Also in the US, the state-owned Sacramento Municipal Utility District built one of the first utility-scale solar projects in the world in 1984.

Andrew Cuomo in front of flag
NY Governor Andrew Cuomo is using a state-owned company to aid the clean energy transition.
Mary Altaffer/AP

The way forward

More could be done to ensure Australian government-owned corporations are clean energy catalysts.

Clean energy technologies can struggle to bridge the gap from invention to widespread adoption. Public investment can bring down the price of such technologies or demonstrate their efficacy.

In this regard, government-owned companies could work with private technology firms to invest in technologies in the early stages of development, and which could have significant public benefits. For instance, in 2020, the Western Australian government-owned company Synergy sought to build a 100 megawatt battery with private sector partners.

But many problems facing state-owned companies are the result of ever-changing government policy priorities. The firms should be reformed so they are owned by government, but operated at arm’s length and with other partners. This might better enable clean energy investment without the politics.




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The Conversation


Arjuna Dibley, Visiting Researcher, Climate and Energy College, The University of Melbourne

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

Most people consider climate change a serious issue, but rank other problems as more important. That affects climate policy


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Sam Crawley, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of WellingtonStraight denial of climate change is now relatively rare. Most people believe it is happening and is a serious problem. But many rank other issues — healthcare and the economy — as more important.

This means people can’t be easily classified as either deniers or believers when it comes to climate change. In my research, I focused on understanding the complexity of climate opinion in light of the slow political response to climate change around the world.

I conducted an online survey in the UK and found 78% of respondents were extremely or fairly certain climate change is happening.

But when asked to rank eight issues (climate change, healthcare, education, crime, immigration, economy, terrorism and poverty) from most to least important to the country, 38% ranked climate change as least important, with a further 15% placing it seventh out of eight.

Recent pledges from a number of large countries to reach net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 have led Climate Action Tracker to project that limiting warming to 2℃ by 2100 may be possible.

Although this progress is heartening, it has taken many years to reach this point and the challenges in actually meeting these emission targets cannot be overstated.

Climate ranking in other countries

I found similar results in other countries. Based on a Eurobarometer survey of 27,901 European Union citizens, a majority of the populations in all EU member countries are concerned about climate change, but only 43% across the EU rank it in the top four most important issues for the world. There are some differences between countries — climate change tends to be ranked higher in Nordic countries and lower in Eastern Europe.

Fewer than 5% of 3,445 respondents in the 2017 New Zealand Election Study said the environment was the most important election issue and an even smaller number specifically mentioned climate change.




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Why are some people more engaged with climate change than others? People’s worldview or ideology seem to be particularly important.

In many countries — including, as illustrated in my research, the UK and New Zealand — there are partisan and political divides in climate change with supporters of right-wing parties less likely to support climate change policies or to see it as an important issue.

People who support free-market economics, hold authoritarian attitudes or have exclusionary attitudes towards minorities are also less likely to engage with climate change.

Consequences for climate policy

In democracies, politicians often respond to public opinion; ignoring it risks being voted out at the next election. But the degree to which they do so depends on how important the issue is to the public relative to other issues.

If people are not thinking about an issue when they go to vote, politicians are less likely to give that issue much attention. As my research shows, people in most countries don’t give climate change a high importance ranking, and politicians are therefore not under enough public pressure to take the difficult steps required to combat climate change.

There are other reasons for the slow political response to climate change, besides the low importance of climate change among the public. Vested interests, such as fossil fuel companies, are undoubtedly involved in slowing the adoption of strong climate policies in many countries.




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Although only a minority of the population, climate change deniers may also make some politicians hesitate to act. But, regardless of the influence of vested interests and deniers, it is difficult for politicians to act on climate change when the public believes other issues are more important.

Understanding the relationship between public opinion and climate policy can help focus the efforts of climate campaigners. Perhaps less attention could be paid to the influence of vested interests.

Given the deep ideological reasons climate change deniers have for their disbelief, it’s unlikely they will be convinced otherwise. Fortunately, this may not be required to move climate policy forward.

As my research reveals, the majority of the public want action on climate change but tend to be more concerned about other issues. Campaigners might find it useful to focus their attention on persuading this section of the population about the urgency of climate action.The Conversation

Sam Crawley, Researcher, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington

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

We found a secret history of megadroughts written in tree rings. The wheatbelt’s future may be drier than we thought


An almost-dry dam, surrounded by wheat fields, in WA’s wheatbelt region.
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Alison O’Donnell, The University of Western Australia; Edward Cook, Columbia University, and Pauline Grierson, The University of Western AustraliaDrought over the last two decades has dealt a heavy blow to the wheatbelt of Western Australia, the country’s most productive grain-growing region. Since 2000, winter rainfall has plummeted by almost 20% and shifted grain-growing areas towards the coast.

Our recent research, however, found these dry conditions are nothing out of the ordinary for the region.

In fact, after analysing rings in centuries-old tree trunks, we found the region has seen far worse “megadroughts” over the last 700 years. Australia’s instrumental climate records only cover the last 120 or so years (at best), which means these historic droughts may not have previously been known to science.

Our research also found the 20th century was the wettest of the last seven centuries in the wheatbelt. This is important, because it means scientists have likely been underestimating the actual risk of drought – and this will be exacerbated by climate change.

What we can learn from ancient trees

We estimate the risk of extreme climate events, such as droughts, cyclones and floods, based on what we know from instrumental climate records from weather stations. Extending climate records by hundreds or even thousands of years means scientists would be able to get a much better understanding of climate variability and the risk of extreme events.

_Callitris_ trees overlooking a salt lake
Callitris trees overlooking a salt lake. We pulled a column of wood from these tree trunks to investigate past climate changes in the region.
Alison O’Donnell, Author provided

Thankfully we can do just that in many parts of the world using proxy records — things like tree rings, corals, stalagmites and ice cores in Antarctica. These record evidence of past climate conditions as they grow.

For example, trees typically create a new layer of growth (“growth ring”) around their trunks, just beneath the bark, each year. The amount of growth generally depends on how much rain falls in the year. The more it rains, the more growth and the wider the ring.

Tree rings of Callitris columellaris.
Alison O’Donnell, Author provided

We used growth rings of native cypress trees (Callitris columellaris) near a large salt lake at the eastern edge the wheatbelt region. These trees can live for up to 1,000 years, perhaps even longer.

We can examine the growth rings of living trees without cutting them down by carefully drilling a small hole into the trunk and extracting a column (“core”) of wood about the size of a drinking straw. By measuring the ring widths, we developed a timeline of tree growth and used this to work out how much rain fell in each year of a tree’s life.

This method allowed us to reconstruct the last 668 years of autumn-winter rainfall in the wheatbelt.

A tree trunk with a blue scientific instrument attached
A tree borer – a hollow drill used to extract ‘cores’ of wood from tree trunks.
Alison O’Donnell, Author provided

A history of megadroughts

One of the most pressing questions for the wheatbelt is whether the decline in autumn-winter rainfall observed in recent decades is unusual or extreme. Our extended record of rainfall lets us answer this question.

Yes, rainfall since 2000 was below the 668-year average — but it was not extremely low.

The last two decades may seem particularly bad because our expectations of rainfall in the wheatbelt are likely based on memories of higher rainfall. But this frequent wet weather has actually been the anomaly. Our tree rings revealed the 20th century was wetter than any other in the last 700 years, with 12% more rain in the autumn-winter seasons on average than the 19th century.




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Before the 20th century, the wheatbelt saw five droughts that were longer and more severe than any we’ve experienced in living memory, or have recorded in instrumental records. This includes two dry periods in the late 18th and 19th centuries that persisted for more than 30 years, making them “megadroughts”.

While the most recent dry period has persisted for almost two decades so far, rainfall during this period is at least 10% higher than it was in the two historical megadroughts.

This suggests prolonged droughts are a natural and relatively common feature of the wheatbelt’s climate.

An aerial view of the tree-ring site, home to trees that can live up to 1,000 years.
Hannah Etchells, Author provided

So how does human-caused climate change play into this?

It’s likely both natural climate variability and human-caused climate change contributed to the wheatbelt’s recent decline in rainfall. Unfortunately, it’s also likely their combined influence will lead to even less rainfall in the near future.

What happens now?

Our findings have important implications for assessing the risk of drought. It’s now clear we need to look beyond these instrumental records to more accurately estimate the risk of droughts for the wheatbelt.

But currently, proxy climate records like tree rings aren’t generally used in drought risk models, as there aren’t many of them in the regions scientists want to research.

Improving risk estimates leads to better informed decisions around preparing for and managing the effects of droughts and future natural disasters.




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Our findings are a confronting prospect for the future of farming in the wheatbelt.

Australian farmers have shown tremendous innovation in their ability to adapt in the face of drought, with many shifting from livestock to crops. This resilience will be critical as farmers face a drier, more difficult future.The Conversation

Alison O’Donnell, Research Fellow in Dendroclimatology, The University of Western Australia; Edward Cook, Ewing Lamont Research Professor, Director Of Tree-Ring Lab, Columbia University, and Pauline Grierson, Director, West Australian Biogeochemistry Centre, The University of Western Australia

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