Scientists still don’t know how far melting in Antarctica will go – or the sea level rise it will unleash


Chen Zhao, University of Tasmania and Rupert Gladstone, University of LaplandThe Antarctic ice sheet is the largest mass of ice in the world, holding around 60% of the world’s fresh water. If it all melted, global average sea levels would rise by 58 metres. But scientists are grappling with exactly how global warming will affect this great ice sheet.

This knowledge gap was reflected in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It contains projections from models in which important processes affecting the ice sheets, known as feedbacks and tipping points, are absent because scientific understanding is lacking.

Projected sea level rise will have widespread effects in Australia and around the world. But current projections of ice sheet melt are so wide that developing ways for societies to adapt will be incredibly expensive and difficult.

If the world is to effectively adapt to sea level rise with minimal cost, we must quickly address the uncertainty surrounding Antarctica’s melting ice sheet. This requires significant investment in scientific capacity.

Tourists photograph beachside homes damaged by storm
Australia is vulnerable to sea level rise and associated storm surge, such as this scene at a Sydney beach in 2016.
David Moir/AAP

The great unknown

Ice loss from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets was the largest contributor to sea level rise in recent decades. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions ceased today, the heat already in the ocean and atmosphere would cause substantial ice loss and a corresponding rise in sea levels. But exactly how much, and how fast, remains unclear.

Scientific understanding of ice sheet processes, and of the variability of the forces that affect ice sheets, is incredibly limited. This is largely because much of the ice sheets are in very remote and harsh environments, and so difficult to access.

This lack of information is one of the main sources of uncertainty in the models used to estimate ice mass loss.

At the moment, quantifying how much the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will contribute to sea level rise primarily involves an international scientific collaboration known as the “Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project for CMIP6”, or ISMIP6, of which we are part.

The project includes experts in ice sheet and climate modelling and observations. It produces computer simulations of what might happen if the polar regions melt under different climate scenarios, to improve projections of sea level rise.

The project also investigates ice sheet–climate feedbacks. In other words, it looks at how processes in the oceans and atmosphere will affect the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, including whether the changes might cause them to collapse – leading to large and sudden increases in sea level.




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Anatomy of a heatwave: how Antarctica recorded a 20.75°C day last month


a melting glacier
Ice loss from sheets in Antarctic and Greenland were the biggest contributor to sea-level rise in recent decades.
John McConnico/AP

Melting from below

Research has identified so-called “basal melt” as the most significant driver of Antarctic ice loss. Basal melt refers to the melting of ice shelves from underneath, and in the case of Antarctica, interactions with the ocean are thought to be the main cause. But gathering scientific observations beneath ice shelves is a major logistical challenge, leading to a dearth of data about this phenomenon.

This and other constraints mean the rate of progress in ice sheet modelling has been insufficient to date, and so active ice sheet models are not included in climate models.

Scientists must instead make projections using the ice sheet models in isolation. This hinders scientific attempts to accurately simulate the feedback between ice and climate.

For example, it creates much uncertainty in how the interaction between the ocean and the ice shelf will affect ice mass loss, and how the very cold, fresh meltwater will make its way back to global oceans and cause sea level rise, and potentially disrupt currents.

Despite the uncertainties ISMIP6 is dealing with, it has published a series of recent research including a key paper published in Nature in May. This found if the world met the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ this century, land ice melt would cause global sea level rise of about 13cm by 2100, in the most optimistic scenario. This is compared to a rise of 25cm under the world’s current emissions-reduction pledges.

The study also outlines a pessimistic, but still plausible, basal melt scenario for Antarctica in which sea levels could be five times higher than in the main scenarios.

The breadth of such findings underpinned sea level projections in the latest IPCC report. The Antarctic ice sheet once again represented the greatest source of uncertainty in these projections.

The below graph shows the IPCC’s latest sea level projections. The shaded area reflects the large uncertainties in models using the same basic data sets and approaches. The dotted line reflects deep uncertainty about tipping points and thresholds in ice sheet stability.

IPCC reports are intended to guide global policy-makers in coming years and decades. But the uncertainties about ice melt from Antarctica limit the usefulness of projections by the IPCC and others.




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The IPCC’s projections for global average sea level change in metres, relative to 1900.
IPCC

Dealing with uncertainty

Future sea level rise poses big challenges such as human displacement, infrastructure loss, interference with agriculture, a potential influx of climate refugees, and coastal habitat degradation.

It’s crucial that ice sheet models are improved, tested robustly against real-world observations, then integrated into the next generation of international climate models – including those being developed in Australia.

International collaborations such as NECKLACE and RISE are seeking to coordinate international effort between models and observations. Significant investment across these projects is needed.

Sea levels will continue rising in the coming decades and centuries. Ice sheet projections must be narrowed down to ensure current and future generations can adapt safely and efficiently.


The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of Dr Ben Galton-Fenzi, Dr Rupert Gladstone, Dr Thomas Zwinger and David Reilly to the research from which this article draws.The Conversation

Chen Zhao, Research associate, University of Tasmania and Rupert Gladstone, Adjunct professor, University of Lapland

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

The clock is ticking on net-zero, and Australia’s farmers must not get a free pass


Dan Peled/AAP

James Ha, Grattan InstitutePolitical momentum is growing in Australia to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. On Friday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was the latest member of the federal government to throw his weight behind the goal, and over the weekend, Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged “the world is transitioning to a new energy economy”.

But for Australia to achieve net-zero across the economy, emissions from agriculture must fall dramatically. Agriculture contributed about 15% to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 – most of it from cattle and sheep. If herd numbers recover from the recent drought, the sector’s emissions are projected to rise.

Cutting agriculture emissions will not be easy. The difficulties have reportedly triggered concern in the Nationals’ about the cost of the transition for farmers, including calls for agriculture to be carved out of any net-zero target.

But as our new Grattan Institute report today makes clear, agriculture must not be granted this exemption. Instead, the federal government should do more to encourage farmers to adopt low-emissions technologies and practices – some of which can be deployed now.




Read more:
Nationals’ push to carve farming from a net-zero target is misguided and dangerous


four people walk through dusty farm
The Morrison government must do more to help farmers get on the path to net-zero.
Alex Ellinghausen AAP/Fairfax Media pool

Three good reasons farmers must go net-zero

Many farmers want to be part of the climate solution – and must be – for three main reasons.

First, the agriculture sector is uniquely vulnerable to a changing climate. Already, changes in rainfall have cut profits across the sector by 23% compared to what could have been achieved in pre-2000 conditions. The effect is even worse for cropping farmers.

Livestock farmers face risks, too. If global warming reaches 3℃, livestock in northern Australia are expected to suffer heat stress almost daily.

Second, parts of the sector are highly exposed to international markets – for example, about three-quarters of Australia’s red meat is exported.

There are fears Australian producers may face a border tax in some markets if they don’t cut emissions.
The European Union, for instance, plans to introduce tariffs as early as 2023 on some products from countries without effective carbon pricing, though agriculture will not be included initially.

Third, the industry recognises action on climate change can often boost farm productivity, or help farmers secure resilient revenue streams. For example, trees provide shade for animals, while good soil management can preserve the land’s fertility. Both activities can store carbon and may generate carbon credits.

Carbon credits can be used to offset farm emissions, or sold to other emitters. In a net-zero future, farmers can maximise their carbon credit revenue by minimising their own emissions, leaving them more carbon credits to sell.

The agriculture sector itself is increasingly embracing the net-zero goal. The National Farmers Federation supports an economy-wide aspiration to be net-zero by 2050, with some conditions. The red meat and pork industries have gone further, committing to be carbon neutral by 2030 and 2025 respectively.




Read more:
Land of opportunity: more sustainable Australian farming would protect our lucrative exports (and the planet)


hand presses soil
Good soil management aids a farm’s fertility.
Shutterstock

What can be done?

Australian agricultural activities emitted about 76 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions in 2019. Of this, about 48 million tonnes were methane belched by cattle and sheep, and a further 11 million came from their excrement.

The sector’s non-animal emissions largely came from burning diesel, the use of fertiliser, and the breakdown of leftover plant material from cropping.

Unlike in, say, the electricity sector, it’s not possible to completely eliminate agricultural emissions, and deep emissions cuts look difficult in the near term. That’s because methane produced in the stomachs of cattle and sheep represents more than 60% of agricultural emissions; these cannot be captured, or eliminated through renewable energy technology.

Supplements added to stock feed – which reduce the amount of methane the animal produces – are the most promising options to reduce agricultural emissions. These supplements include red algae and the chemical 3-nitrooxypropanol, both of which may cut methane by up to 90% if used consistently at the right dose.

But it’s difficult to distribute these feed supplements to Australian grazing cattle and sheep every day. At any given time, only about 4% of Australia’s cattle are in feedlots where their diet can be easily controlled.

Diesel use can be reduced by electrifying farm machinery, but electric models are not yet widely available or affordable for all purposes.

These challenges slow the realistic rate at which the sector can cut emissions. Yet there are things that can be done today.

Many manure emissions can be avoided through smarter management. For example, on intensive livestock farms, manure is often stored in ponds where it releases methane. This methane can be captured and burnt, emitting the weaker greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, instead.

And better targeted fertiliser use is a clear win-win – it would save farmers money and reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

sheep in lots
Supplements added to stock feed are a promising way to cut emissions.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Governments must walk and chew gum

An economy-wide carbon price would be the best way for Australia to reduce emissions in an economically efficient manner. But the political reality is that carbon pricing is out of reach, at least for now. So Australia should pursue sector-specific policies – including in agriculture.

Governments must walk and chew gum. That means introducing policies to support emissions-reducing actions that farmers can take today, while investing alongside the industry in potential high-impact solutions for the longer term.

Accelerating near-term action will require improving the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, to help more farmers generate Australian carbon credit units. It will also require more investment in outreach programs to give farmers the knowledge they need to reduce emissions.

Improving the long-term emissions outlook for the agriculture sector requires investment in high-impact research, development and deployment. Bringing down the cost of new technologies is possible with deployment at scale: all governments should consider what combination of subsidies, penalties and regulations will best drive this.

Agriculture must not become the missing piece in Australia’s net-zero puzzle. Without action today, the sector may become Australia’s largest source of emissions in coming decades. This would require hugely expensive carbon offsetting – paid for by taxpayers, consumers and farmers themselves.




Read more:
Agitated Nationals grapple with climate debate, as former minister Chester takes ‘a break’ from party room


The Conversation


James Ha, Associate, Grattan Institute

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

The Nationals signing up to net-zero should be a no-brainer. Instead, they’re holding Australia to ransom


AAP

Matt McDonald, The University of QueenslandPrime Minister Scott Morrison is reportedly developing a plan for Australia to adopt a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. Climate change was a central focus of the Quad talks in Washington which Morrison attended in recent days, and he is under significant international pressure to adopt a net-zero target ahead of climate talks in Glasgow in November.

Morrison is very late to the party on issue of net-zero – and lagging far behind public opinion. A recent Lowy poll showed 78% of Australians support the target.

But standing firmly in Morrison’s way is the Coalition’s junior partner, the Nationals. The words of key Nationals figures including Resources Minister Keith Pitt and pro-coal senator Matt Canavan suggest net-zero is the hill they will die on. And Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, not exactly a climate warrior, has indicated he’s yet to be convinced on the merits of the target.

Ultimately though, this is just bad strategy from the Nationals. It burns valuable political capital for no good reason, and abrogates responsibility to their own constituents.

Not much of a target at all

First, a net-zero emissions target is a really obvious position of compromise for the Nationals specifically, and for a reluctant Australian government more generally.

Every state and territory in Australia has already adopted this target for 2050, or bettered it. And most of our international peers have a net-zero target including the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Germany, France and the United States.

Getting to net-zero by 2050 also doesn’t necessarily require immediate or significant emissions cuts. As critics including Greta Thunberg and former IPCC chair Bob Watson have argued, the targets can create the impression of action without requiring immediate change.

Research shows many jurisdictions with a net-zero target do not have robust measures in place to ensure they’re met, such as interim targets and a reporting mechanism.

And the timeframe for net-zero – whether 2050 like most nations, or 2060 as per China – is way beyond the political longevity of our current government MPs. That means those now in parliament will be spared much of the political pain of implementing policies required to meet the target.

Finally, pursuing net-zero emissions (rather than just zero-emissions in sectors where that is feasible) allows fossil fuel companies to offset their climate damage, by buying carbon credits, rather than stopping their polluting activity. It also potentially allows for fairly speculative efforts to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere via geoengineering.

For these reasons and more, the net-zero goal is in often criticised as a dangerous trap for doing very little on climate change – which appears to be the goal of many in the Nationals.




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Nationals MPs Matt Canavan and Keith Pitt.
Nationals MPs Matt Canavan and Keith Pitt are vocal opponents of any moves to net zero.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Adapting to change

In opposing the net-zero target, the Nationals often point to potential damage to the nation’s mining and farming sectors, primarily a loss of jobs and economic growth. Some Nationals have called for those sectors to be carved out of any net-zero target.

On the question of agriculture, research released by the Grattan Institute this week shows it’s getting increasingly hard to argue the sector should be exempt from the target – its emissions are simply too great.

And there is much that can be done right now to cut agriculture emissions, if the government does more to encourage farmers to adopt the right technologies and practices.

On mining, the Nationals are fighting a losing battle. Soon, the world will no longer want our coal. As others have noted, we must prepare for the change and diversify the economy, rather than lamenting what’s still left in the ground. And Australia can easily replace coal-fired electricity generation with renewable energy, backed by storage.




Read more:
Agitated Nationals grapple with climate debate, as former minister Chester takes ‘a break’ from party room


Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Quad talks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says he is working on a net-zero by 2050 plan.
Evan Vucci/AP/AAP

For whom do the Nationals speak?

By refusing to compromise on a net-zero target, the Nationals are burning all sorts of political capital they could potentially wield with the Liberals on a range of issues. The Nationals would have held particular sway over Liberals concerned about holding on to their inner city seats in a 2022 election.

More importantly, the position of Keith Pitt, Matt Canavan and other intransigents in the Nationals isn’t just an abandonment of future generations. Nor is it only a rejection of our responsibilities to vulnerable people in all parts of Australia and the world, or our duty of care to other living beings.

It’s also a spectacular betrayal of their own constituencies. Rural Australia will be disproportionately affected by climate change, particularly in the form of higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and increasing disasters like drought and bushfires. And the long-term economic costs of inaction for rural constituencies will be potentially catastrophic.

It’s for these reasons that organisations like the National Farmers Federation have specifically called for a commitment to net zero emissions.

In the 2019 election, the Nationals received just 4.5% of the vote in the lower house, with the Liberal Nationals of Queensland achieving just 8.7% (as a proportion of the national total). In both cases, it was less still in the Senate.

Yet despite speaking on behalf of a small fraction of the country, the party is holding Australian climate policy to ransom.

Maybe we can’t get the intransigents in the National Party to suddenly recognise their obligations to the planet and its inhabitants. But surely they can be convinced to represent the interests of rural voters? Time – what little we have left – will tell.




Read more:
Net zero by 2050? Even if Scott Morrison gets the Nationals on board, hold the applause


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.

Climate change is testing the resilience of native plants to fire, from ash forests to gymea lilies


One year following the 2019/20 fires, this forest has been slow to recover.
Rachael Nolan, CC BY-NC-ND

Rachael Helene Nolan, Western Sydney University; Andrea Leigh, University of Technology Sydney; Mark Ooi, UNSW; Ross Bradstock, University of Wollongong; Tim Curran, Lincoln University, New Zealand; Tom Fairman, The University of Melbourne, and Víctor Resco de Dios, Universitat de LleidaGreen shoots emerging from black tree trunks is an iconic image in the days following bushfires, thanks to the remarkable ability of many native plants to survive even the most intense flames.

But in recent years, the length, frequency and intensity of Australian bushfire seasons have increased, and will worsen further under climate change. Droughts and heatwaves are also projected to increase, and climate change may also affect the incidence of pest insect outbreaks, although this is difficult to predict.

How will our ecosystems cope with this combination of threats? In our recently published paper, we looked to answer this exact question — and the news isn’t good.

We found while many plants are really good at withstanding certain types of fire, the combination of drought, heatwaves and pest insects may push many fire-adapted plants to the brink in the future. The devastating Black Summer fires gave us a taste of this future.

Examples of fire-adapted plants: prolific flowering of pink flannel flowers (upper left), new foliage resprouting on geebung (upper right), seed release from a banksia cone (lower left), and an old man banksia seedling (lower right).
Rachael Nolan

What happens when fires become more frequent?

Ash forests are one of the most iconic in Australia, home to some of the tallest flowering plants on Earth. When severe fire occurs in these forests, the mature trees are killed and the forest regenerates entirely from the seed that falls from the dead canopy.

These regrowing trees, however, do not produce seed reliably until they’re 15 years old. This means if fire occurs again during this period, the trees will not regenerate, and the ash forest will collapse.

This would have serious consequences for the carbon stored in these trees, and the habitat these forests provide for animals.

Southeast Australia has experienced multiple fires since 2003, which means there’s a large area of regrowing ash forests across the landscape, especially in Victoria.

The Black Summer bushfires burned parts of these young forests, and nearly 10,000 football fields of ash forest was at risk of collapse. Thankfully, approximately half of this area was recovered through an artificial seeding program.

Ash to ashes: On the left, unburned ash forest in the Central Highlands of Victoria; on the right, ash forest which has been burned by a number of high severity bushfires in Alpine National Park. Without intervention, this area will no longer be dominated by ash and will transition to shrub or grassland.
T Fairman

What happens when fire seasons get longer?

Longer fire seasons means there’s a greater chance species will burn at a time of year that’s outside the historical norm. This can have devastating consequences for plant populations.

For example, out-of-season fires, such as in winter, can delay maturation of the Woronora beard-heath compared to summer fires, because of their seasonal requirements for releasing and germinating seeds. This means the species needs longer fire-free intervals when fires occur out of season.




Read more:
Entire hillsides of trees turned brown this summer. Is it the start of ecosystem collapse?


The iconic gymea lily, a post-fire flowering species, is another plant under similar threat. New research showed when fires occur outside summer, the gymea lily didn’t flower as much and changed its seed chemistry.

While this resprouting species might persist in the short term, consistent out-of-season fires could have long-term impacts by reducing its reproduction and, therefore, population size.

Out-of-season fires could have long-term impacts on gymea lilies.
Shutterstock

When drought and heatwaves get more severe

In the lead up to the Black Summer fires, eastern Australia experienced the hottest and driest year on record. The drought and associated heatwaves triggered widespread canopy die-off.

Extremes of drought and heat can directly kill plants. And this increase in dead vegetation may increase the intensity of fires.

Another problem is that by coping with drought and heat stress, plants may deplete their stored energy reserves, which are vital for resprouting new leaves following fire. Depletion of energy reserves may result in a phenomenon called “resprouting exhaustion syndrome”, where fire-adapted plants no longer have the reserves to regenerate new leaves after fire.

Therefore, fire can deliver the final blow to resprouting plants already suffering from drought and heat stress.

Drought stressed eucalypt forest in 2019.
Rachael Nolan

Drought and heatwaves could also be a big problem for seeds. Many species rely on fire-triggered seed germination to survive following fire, such as many species of wattles, banksias and some eucalypts.

But drought and heat stress may reduce the number of seeds that get released, because they limit flowering and seed development in the lead up to bushfires, or trigger plants to release seeds prematurely.

For example, in Australian fire-prone ecosystems, temperatures between 40℃ and 100℃ are required to break the dormancy of seeds stored in soil and trigger germination. But during heatwaves, soil temperatures can be high enough to break these temperature thresholds. This means seeds could be released before the fire, and they won’t be available to germinate after the fire hits.

Heatwaves can also reduce the quality of seeds by deforming their DNA. This could reduce the success of seed germination after fire.

Burnt banksia
Many native plants, such as banksia, rely on fire to germinate their seeds.
Shutterstock

What about insects? The growth of new foliage following fire or drought is tasty to insects. If pest insect outbreaks occur after fire, they may remove all the leaves of recovering plants. This additional stress may push plants over their limit, resulting in their death.

This phenomenon has more typically been obverved in eucalypts following drought, where repeated defoliation (leaf loss) by pest insects triggered dieback in recovering trees.

When threats pile up

We expect many vegetation communities will remain resilient in the short-term, including most eucalpyt species.

But even in these resilient forests, we expect to see some changes in the types of species present in certain areas and changes to the structure of vegetation (such as the size of trees).

Resprouting eucalypts, one year on following the 2019-2020 bushfires.
Rachael Nolan

As climate change progresses, many fire-prone ecosystems will be pushed beyond their historical limits. Our new research is only the beginning — how plants will respond is still highly uncertain, and more research is needed to untangle the interacting effects of fire, drought, heatwaves and pest insects.

We need to rapidly reduce carbon emissions before testing the limits of our ecosystems to recover from fire.




Read more:
5 remarkable stories of flora and fauna in the aftermath of Australia’s horror bushfire season


The Conversation


Rachael Helene Nolan, Postdoctoral research fellow, Western Sydney University; Andrea Leigh, Associate Professor, Faculty of Science, University of Technology Sydney; Mark Ooi, Senior Research Fellow, UNSW; Ross Bradstock, Emeritus professor, University of Wollongong; Tim Curran, Associate Professor of Ecology, Lincoln University, New Zealand; Tom Fairman, Future Fire Risk Analyst, The University of Melbourne, and Víctor Resco de Dios, Profesor de Incendios y Cambio Global en PVCF-Agrotecnio, Universitat de Lleida

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

Agitated Nationals grapple with climate debate, as former minister Chester takes ‘a break’ from party room


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraA tough debate is expected when a highly volatile Nationals parliamentary party meets on Monday, ahead of climate change negotiations between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce to endorse a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Joyce is under dual pressure, with his party room sharply divided over the 2050 target, and former minister Darren Chester announcing, in a weekend statement which criticised Joyce without naming him, that he is taking “some time away” from the party room.

No details of the climate plan are yet on the table, but strong positioning is underway, with negotiations between Morrison and Joyce resuming once the PM, returning on Sunday night from his American trip, is back in the country.

The Nationals meet every fortnight, remotely when parliament is not sitting.

Joyce indicated on Friday he would accept the government adopting a firm target of net zero emissions by 2050 provided the regions were not worse off. He also wants some largesse for the Nationals.

At the same time he is expressing concerns and gives the impression of being dragged reluctantly towards an agreement.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Barnaby Joyce falls (sort of) into step for the ‘net zero’ march


Morrison was pressed again while in the US about increasing Australia’s ambition on climate policy and has signalled he proposes to do so. But he has to get the minor Coalition partner on side.

Both President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have pushed Australia hard as the November Glasgow climate conference draws near.

The government’s current position is net zero “preferably” by 2050.

Interviewed by the ABC on Sunday, Joyce provided little fresh clarity. But asked whether there should be no coal jobs lost, he said, “well, not by reason of domestic policy”.

Deputy Nationals leader and agriculture minister David Littleproud, who supports the 2050 firm target with safeguards and incentives for the regions, told Sky that members of the Nationals party room were “pragmatic”. They were “looking through the lens of protecting regional Australia but making sure there’s opportunity for regional Australia to also participate in this”.

But former resources minister Matt Canavan tweeted, “I am deadset against net zero emissions. Just look at the disaster the UK is living through. They’re switching off their industry to keep their lights on, and they are struggling to feed themselves. Net zero emissions would just make us weaker.”

Resources minister Keith Pitt said: “We are yet to see the strategy, the plan, the cost, and who’s paying.

“My priority will be the 1.2 million direct and indirect jobs associated with the resources sector”.




Read more:
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Chester, who is a supporter of net zero, won’t be in the meeting to help advance the case. He said he had “decided to take a break from organised meetings, events and activities in The Nationals Federal Parliamentary party room.

“I will reassess my position when Federal Parliament resumes in October.

“To be clear, I continue to support the Coalition government but want some time away from the The Nationals Federal Parliamentary party room to reflect on a number of significant issues.

“My decision follows months of frustration with the repeated failure of the leadership to even attempt to moderate some of the more disrespectful and offensive views expressed by a minority of colleagues.”

Chester, who was dropped from the frontbench when Joyce became leader, has been highly critical of Queensland National George Christensen, whose string of provocative comments have included, most recently, accusing Victorian police of using excessive force against demonstrators, and suggesting they should be arrested.




Read more:
Josh Frydenberg prepares ground for Scott Morrison to commit to 2050 climate target


Joyce on Sunday again indicated he could not silence Christensen, who is retiring at the election, and said that anyway, there was a right of free speech.

Asked on SBS whether he thought he had the support of the majority of the Nationals to go forward on climate policy, Morrison said: “It’s not about my view. It’s about what I think Australians are clearly looking for”.

“My job is to bring my government together to focus on the plan that can achieve it.

“A plan [that] says to Australians, whether they’re up in the Hunter, or down in Bell Bay, or up in Gladstone or up in the Pilbara […] this is how we achieve net zero emissions in the future.

“Our view is that we can achieve that by keeping the costs low, keeping people in industries, ensuring we’re using transition fuels that take us from one place to the next, and we take people on the journey,” Morrison said.

The communique from the QUAD summit which Morrison attended at the end of his trip said: “We have joined forces to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the urgency it demands.

“Quad countries will work together to keep the Paris-aligned temperature limits within reach and will pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

“To this end, Quad countries intend to update or communicate ambitious NDCs [nationally determined contributions] by COP26 and welcome those who have already done so.”

The QUAD includes the US, Australia, Japan and India.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Vital Signs: a simple way to cut carbon emissions — don’t let polluters hide


Shutterstock

Richard Holden, UNSWWorld leaders and about 30,000 others from assorted interest groups will converge on Glasgow in November for the United Nations’ 26th annual climate summit, COP26 (“Conference of the Parties”).

It will be five years (allowing for a one-year Tokyo 2020-style pandemic hiatus) since the Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 in 2015.

There has been plenty of cynicism about that agreement, its structure and non-binding nature. Important emitters like China were effectively exempt from making meaningful carbon-reduction commitments.

Some OECD countries (such as Canada) have paid lip service to the agreement but done little. Still others (such as Australia) have made some progress reducing emissions but have no long-term plan, relying instead on bumper-sticker slogans about “technology not taxes” and, until recently, hiding behind dodgy accounting tricks.

That aside, it’s hard to see how the world solves what amounts to — as economists put it — a “coordination problem” without global agreements.

For roughly half a century economists have been unanimous about what those agreements must involve — a price on carbon. The 2018 economics Nobel prize awarded to William Nordhaus was belated recognition of this fact.

A price on carbon — in the form of a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme — is a way to use the power of the market’s price mechanism to balance the good that comes from emitting carbon (economic development) with the bad (climate change).

Set the price of carbon at the true social cost of carbon (taking into account all the ills that come from climate change) and the invisible hand of the market will balance the pros and cons. Think of it as Friedrich von Hayek meets Greta Thunberg.

But there is another, less dramatic way to harness market forces to reduce carbon emissions: disclosure.




Read more:
Vital Signs: a global carbon price could soon be a reality – Australia should prepare


Public disclosure works

The idea starts with this: plenty of consumers want to reduce their carbon footprint and are willing to pay for it. That’s why people recycle, use green energy even when it’s more expensive, buy low-carbon clothing, and drive electric cars. A bunch of folks are willing to pay to be green.

The success of companies such as eco-friendly sneaker company Allbirds and electic vehicle maker Tesla exist is evidence of the market catering to these consumer preferences. But can we make it easier for consumers to express their environmental preferences? Can we turbocharge the market for greener products?

A working paper published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests the answer is “yes”.

Authored by Carnegie Mellon University economists Lavender Yang, Nicholas Muller and Pierre Jinghong Liang, the paper looks at the US Environmental Protectino Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program. In effect from 2010, this has required big carbon emitters (including all power plants that produce more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year) to publicly disclose how much they emit.

The authors look at the effect of this disclosure program on the electric power industry, which accounts for 27% of all US emissions.

The results are striking. Plants subject to greater scrutiny reduced their carbon emissions by 7%. Plants owned by publicly listed companies reduced their emissions by 10%. Large public companies, such as those in the S&P500 stock index, cut emissions even more (11%).


Accountability increases environmental performance

Change in estimated CO2 emissions for GHGRP plants and non-GHGRP plants by year using data from the US EPA's Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID).
Change in estimated CO2 emissions for GHGRP plants and non-GHGRP plants by year using data from the US EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID).
NBER Working Paper 28984

Responding to investor concerns

The reason appears to be responsiveness to investors wanting companies to be more environmentally responsible. This explains why emissions went down more for public companies, and even more for large public companies, whose shares are more likely to be held by funds with an ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) mandate.

Some of these investors have pro-social preferences and want to invest their money in more sustainable companies. Others might not care about the environment per se, but know that lots of folks do. Businesses that cater to these consumer preferences have an advantage.




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The dark side to this is that the decline in emissions by major plants was partially offset by an increase in emissions by plants under the 25,000-tonne threshold not subject to disclosure.

In other words, companies responded to the incentives provided by disclosure requirements. Those who could “hide” their emissions did not.

The lesson is that disclosure requirements work. They force companies to own up to their customers and investors, and face the reality of their emissions behaviour. But we need to apply it to all companies, not just big ones.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

Josh Frydenberg prepares ground for Scott Morrison to commit to 2050 climate target


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraTreasurer Josh Frydenberg will prepare the way for Scott Morrison to take a target of net zero emissions by 2050 to Glasgow, when he warns on Friday capital inflow will be at risk if Australia is seen as a climate laggard.

“Australia has a lot at stake. We cannot run the risk that markets falsely assume we are not transitioning in line with the rest of the world,” Frydenberg says in a speech to the Australian Industry Group released ahead of delivery.

“Were we to find ourselves in that position, it would increase the cost of capital and reduce its availability, be it debt or equity”.

Frydenberg says there must be investment in emissions reduction in all sectors, including agriculture, mining, and manufacturing.

He firmly rejects the claim – advanced by some critics especially in the Nationals – that the resources and agriculture sectors will face decline in the transition.

“To the contrary, many businesses in these sectors are at the cutting-edge of innovation and technological change,” he says.

The government is set to finalise its revised climate policy after the Prime Minister returns from the United States.

Morrison, who has been pressed hard on climate by President Joe Biden and Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson while in the US this week, wants an unequivocal stand on the 2050 target for the November Glasgow climate conference.

The government’s present formulation is that it is committed to net zero “preferably” by 2050.

Morrison has been negotiating with Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce on a deal which will contain a major pay-off for the minor Coalition partner.

Frydenberg says in his speech that in a long term shift “markets are moving as governments, regulators, central banks and investors are preparing for a lower emissions future”. He points out 129 countries have committed to net zero by 2050.

“Markets are responding as participants make their own judgements as to what this new dynamic means for their existing portfolios and their future investment decisions.

“In particular, they are increasingly focusing on the physical risks to their investments of climate-related events and the transition risk to their investments as consumer preferences, technological and regulatory settings change.

“As a result, trillions of dollars are being mobilised globally in support of the transition.”

One of Australia’s major banks in the last year has coordinated more than 50 transactions worth $100 billion in climate finance related activities.

“Increasingly, institutional investors are themselves committing to the net zero goal, like BlackRock, Fidelity and Vanguard, three of the biggest fund managers in the world. For them, there is an alignment between the commercial opportunities and the environmental outcomes.”

Frydenberg emphasises the importance of Australian markets operating effectively, with investors able to make informed, timely decisions, and capital available at the lowest cost.

He says historically, Australia has relied heavily on imported capital, whether foreign investment or wholesale funding of the banking system. Foreign investors hold close to half the Commonwealth government bonds.

Reduced access to these capital markets would raise borrowing costs, affecting everything from the interest rates on housing and small business loans to the financial viability of big infrastructure projects, he says.

Frydenberg says Australia is addressing the challenges on two fronts.

Regulators have focused on the disclosure of material financial risks relating to climate change and promoted a best practice financial framework. And Australia is making progress in meeting its emissions reduction targets.

“To go the next step and achieve net zero will require more investment across the economy,” Frydenberg says.

“An economy-wide transition is needed, as in the words of the former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney this ‘isn’t about funding only deep green activities, or blacklisting dark brown ones’”.

Frydenberg says “opportunities will abound and it will be those businesses that recognise these trends and put plans in place to adapt that will have the most promising futures”.

He says the message to Australian banks, super funds and insurers is “if you support the objective of net zero, do not walk away from the very sectors of our economy that will need investment to successfully transition.

“Climate change and its impacts are not going away.

“It represents a structural and systemic shift in our financial system, which will only gain pace over time.

“For Australia, this presents risks we must manage and opportunities we must seize.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Doctors and farmers turn up heat on Morrison ahead of Glasgow


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraMultiple doctors’ organisations, led by the Australian Medical Association, and a major farm lobby have called on the federal government to boost Australia’s climate change ambition, as pressure mounts on Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce to finalise a deal ahead of the Glasgow conference.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, the AMA, Doctors for the Environment Australia and many of the country’s medical colleges say: “Medical leaders across the country are calling on your government to urgently take much greater action to avert a further deterioration of the current climate crisis”.

Meanwhile, a report from economic consultants Ernst & Young commissioned by Farmers for Climate Action, which says it has more than 6000 farming supporters, lays out a pathway to zero emissions by 2040 without shrinking Australia’s agriculture, the cattle herd or the sheep flock.

The calls come as Morrison prepares to visit Washington next week for the meeting of the QUAD – leaders of the US, Japan, India and Australia – which will focus on security issues.

While there, Morrison will have a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden at which climate change and the Glasgow conference would be expected to figure prominently.

Australia is under strong pressure from the US to embrace a net-zero by 2050 target, and to improve its short term ambition.

Morrison and Joyce are in negotiations about what Australia can put forward for Glasgow. But these are not expected to reach an outcome before Morrison leaves for Washington, according to sources.

The doctors’ letter says that with the conference weeks away, “Australia must significantly lift its commitment to the global effort to bring climate change under control in order to save lives and protect health”.

The letter is pointed in saying: “Australia must talk less about aspiration, and focus on firm and binding commitments that are aligned with the science”. The AMA and other medical groups are mapping a path towards emissions reductions in their sector.

“As doctors, we understand the imminent health threats posed by climate change and have seen them already emerge in Australia,” the letter says, referencing the 2019-20 bushfires, saying “that climate disaster” took more than 30 lives as a direct result of the fires.

The doctors’ organisations called on the government to:

  • commit to an ambitious national plan to protect health by cutting emissions this decade, including “significantly increasing Australia’s Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement … in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • develop a national climate change and health strategy to facilitate planning for future climate change health impacts
  • establish a national Sustainable Healthcare Unit to support environmentally sustainable practice in healthcare and reduce the sector’s own significant emissions.

Medical colleges signing the letter were: The Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists, The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, The Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine, The College of Intensive Care Medicine of Australia and New Zealand, The Royal Australasian College of Medical Administrators, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, and the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.

Signatories to the AMA letter.
AMA, Author provided

The Farmers for Climate Action group says in a statement that “farming families do not want to miss the opportunities good climate policy presents for them”.

The consultants’ report includes methods of reducing net emissions such as improved pasture management, selective breeding, feed supplements which reduce stock’s methane output, and “carbon and biodiversity” crops.

“Much of what needs to be happening – planting trees and ground cover on non-productive land and within productive systems, adopting best practice grazing management – is already underway. We just need to scale it up,” the group says.

A case study in the Queensland region of Maranoa (where deputy Nationals leader and agriculture minister David Littleproud has his seat) found an extra 14,000-17,000 jobs and $2 billion to $2.4 billion could be added to the local economy over the next decade while agriculture reduced its net emissions.

Farmers for Climate Action is urging:

  • expanding payments to farmers for biodiversity work into a nationwide program
  • funding research and development for methane emissions reduction technologies
  • strong emissions cuts across energy and transport this decade, to allow all the abatement pathways to achieve their full potential.

Australia has about 83.000 farm businesses.

The group notes research by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) showing climate change is already costing the average Australian farming family nearly $30,000 a year.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

View from The Hill: Barnaby Joyce falls (sort of) into step for the ‘net zero’ march


Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraThe Coalition brigade is assembling, readying for the final march to a place it once regarded as enemy territory and poisoned ground, too dangerous to approach.

Josh Frydenberg waved the flag on Friday. Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, a conscripted officer, is reluctantly falling (sort of) into step. Angus Taylor will be purchasing the requisite boots.

Scott Morrison, the general, will announce the arrival. But not until the details of a deal, heavy with technology and trade offs and pay offs, are landed with Joyce.

The Prime Minister wants – “needs” would be a better word – Australia to support a 2050 net zero emissions target at the November Glasgow climate conference.

No if or buts or qualifications. No having to say net zero “preferably” by 2050, as the government has been doing.

Morrison and Joyce have been talking at length about this imperative, because without the Nationals the journey – which seems so short to outsiders but so very arduous for the Coalition – cannot be completed.

Frydenberg on Friday delivered the blunt message that if Australia doesn’t step up to world expectations on climate policy, it will have trouble getting the capital it needs from overseas, in sufficient quantity and at the cheapest cost.




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The Treasurer’s speech was focused on finance, rather than the environment as such. He pitched his push for the firm target so as to appeal in hard-headed economic terms. It’s the markets (not the greenies) that are requiring us to do this, was the message.

Frydenberg is battle-hardened for the task. As energy minister, he was then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s lieutenant when they carried the standard for a National Energy Guarantee, the NEG.

That succumbed to an ambush from a group of rebel troops, leaving Turnbull mortally wounded. Morrison has better armour; anyway, the Liberal sceptics aren’t heard from nowadays. The noise comes from Nationals.




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On Friday morning Joyce did his bit on ABC radio. His doubts were evident, as he pointed to power price rises and collapsing energy companies in Britain.

But he came through with the vital central line. Asked, “do you support net zero by 2050?” he replied, “I’ve got no problems with any plan that does not leave regional areas hurt”.

Later in the day he said: “Now, when people say do you support it and they don’t tell you how they’re going to do it, they’re opening themselves […] to a crisis like they’re experiencing in Europe, like they’re experiencing in the UK”.

Joyce will have problems with some of his followers, especially his one-time staffer, now senator, Matt Canavan, who can remind his leader how he not so long ago trashed the target.

But he’ll get plenty of loot for the Nationals in the final package. Even Frydenberg seems to have stopped worrying about the appallingly high cost of political living these days.

In Washington, Morrison was asked whether the government had made a decision on net zero.

“No, if Australia had made such a decision, I would have announced it,” he said. “Australia has not made any final decision on that matter … we’ll be considering further when I return to Australia the plan that we believe can help us achieve our ambition in this area”.




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While the army’s destination seems clear, there’s still work to be done, and the Nationals say the actual map is yet to be laid out on the table.

But if anything were to derail the expedition now, it would be a shock to everyone – including Morrison, and no doubt to Joe Biden and Boris Johnson.

Morrison would be left in an intolerable position for Glasgow. Frydenberg made a point of noting 129 countries have committed to the 2050 target.

The PM would also be hobbled at the election, with climate an issue especially in the leafy city areas and independent candidates gearing up to run in various seats.

Embracing the 2050 target is a minimal requirement for a nation’s Glasgow policy, but the United States, Britain and other climate frontrunners are focused on countries being more ambitious in the medium term.

What Morrison and Joyce do about that will soon become the big question.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Climate explained: how much of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels and could we replace it all with renewables?


Shutterstock/Tsetso Photo

Robert McLachlan, Massey University


CC BY-ND

Climate explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz


How are fossil fuels formed, why do they release carbon dioxide and how much of the world’s energy do they provide? And what are the renewable energy sources that could replace fossil fuels?

Fossil fuels were formed over millions of years from the remains of plants and animals trapped in sediments and then transformed by heat and pressure.

Most coal was formed in the Carboniferous Period (360–300 million years ago), an age of amphibians and vast swampy forests. Fossilisation of trees moved enormous amounts of carbon from the air to underground, leading to a decline in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO₂) levels — enough to bring the Earth close to a completely frozen state.

This change in the climate, combined with the evolution of fungi that could digest dead wood and release its carbon back into the air, brought the coal-forming period to an end.

Oil and natural gas (methane, CH₄) were formed similarly, not from trees but from ocean plankton, and over a longer period. New Zealand’s Maui oil field is relatively young, dating from the Eocene, some 50 million years ago.




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Burning buried sunshine

When fossil fuels are burnt, their carbon reacts with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. The energy originally provided by the Sun, stored in chemical bonds for millions of years, is released and the carbon returns to the air. A simple example is the burning of natural gas: one molecule of methane and two of oxygen combine to produce carbon dioxide and water.

CH₄ + 2 O₂ → CO₂ + 2 H₂O

Burning a kilogram of natural gas releases 15kWh of energy in the form of infrared radiation (radiant heat). This is a sizeable amount.

To stop continuously worsening climate change, we need to stop burning fossil fuels for energy. That’s a tall order, because fossil fuels provide 84% of all the energy used by human civilisation. (New Zealand is less reliant on fossil fuels, at 65%.)

Wind turbines on farm land in New Zealand
Wind energy is one of the renewable sources with the capacity to scale up.
Shutterstock/YIUCHEUNG

There are many possible sources of renewable or low-carbon energy: nuclear, hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass (burning plants for energy) and biofuel (making liquid or gaseous fuels out of plants). A handful of tidal power stations are in operation, and experiments are under way with wave and ocean current generation.

But, among these, the only two with the capacity to scale up to the staggering amount of energy we use are wind and solar. Despite impressive growth (doubling in less than five years), wind provides only 2.2% of all energy, and solar 1.1%.

The renewables transition

One saving grace, which suggests a complete transformation to renewable energy may be possible, is that a lot of the energy from fossil fuels is wasted.

First, extraction, refining and transport of fossil fuels accounts for 12% of all energy use. Second, fossil fuels are often burnt in very inefficient ways, for example in internal combustion engines in cars. A world based on renewable energy would need half as much energy in the first place.

The potential solar and wind resource is enormous, and costs have fallen rapidly. Some have argued we could transition to fully renewable energy, including transmission lines and energy storage as well as fully synthetic liquid fuels, by 2050.

One scenario sees New Zealand building 20GW of solar and 9GW of wind power. That’s not unreasonable — Australia has built that much in five years. We should hurry. Renewable power plants take time to build and industries take time to scale up.

Other factors to consider

Switching to renewable energy solves the problems of fuel and climate change, but not those of escalating resource use. Building a whole new energy system takes a lot of material, some of it rare and difficult to extract. Unlike burnt fuel, metal can be recycled, but that won’t help while building a new system for the first time.

Research concluded that although some metals are scarce (particularly cobalt, cadmium, nickel, gold and silver), “a fully renewable energy system is unlikely to deplete metal reserves and resources up to 2050”. There are also opportunities to substitute more common materials, at some loss of efficiency.

Engineers working on a wind turbine
Building a new system will require energy and resources.
Shutterstock/Jacques Tarnero

But many metals are highly localised. Half the world’s cobalt reserves are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, half the lithium is in Chile, and 70% of rare earths, used in wind turbines and electric motors, are in China.

Wasteful consumption is another issue. New technologies (robots, drones, internet) and economic growth lead to increased use of energy and resources. Rich people use a disproportionate amount of energy and model excessive consumption and waste others aspire to, including the emerging rich in developing countries.




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Research analysing household-level emissions across European countries found the top 1% of the population with the highest carbon footprints produced 55 tonnes of CO₂-equivalent emissions each, compared to a European median of 10 tonnes.

Scientists have warned about consumption by the affluent and there is vigorous debate about how to reduce it while preserving a stable society.

One way of turning these questions around is to start from the bottom and ask: what is the minimum energy required for basic human needs?

One study considered “decent living” to include comfortable housing, enough food and water, 10,000km of travel a year, education, healthcare and telecommunications for everyone on Earth — clearly not something we have managed to achieve so far. It found this would need about 4,000kWh of energy per person per year, less than a tenth of what New Zealanders currently use, and an amount easily supplied by renewable energy.

All that carbon under the ground was energy ripe for the picking. We picked it. But now it is time to stop.The Conversation

Robert McLachlan, Professor in Applied Mathematics, Massey University

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