Lack of climate policy threatens to trip up Australian diplomacy this summit season



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Australia’s climate stance risks its standing on the world stage.
Shutterstock.com

Christian Downie, Australian National University

Australia has navigated a somewhat stormy passage through the Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru. Scott Morrison’s new-look government faced renewed accusations at the summit about the strength of Australia’s resolve on climate policy.

Australia is neither a small nation nor one of the most powerful, but for many years it has been a trusted nation. Historically, Australia has been seen as a good international citizen, a country that stands by its international commitments and works with others to improve the international system, not undermine it.

But in recent years climate change has threatened this reputation. This is
especially so among our allies and neighbours in the Pacific region, who attended this week’s Nauru summit.




Read more:
For Pacific Island nations, rising sea levels are a bigger security concern than rising Chinese influence


With Australia’s new foreign minister, Marise Payne, attending instead of
the prime minister – not a good look, albeit understandable in the circumstances –
the government came under yet more international pressure to state plainly its commitment to the Paris climate agreement.

Pacific nations may be divided on many issues, but climate change is rarely one of them.

Before the meeting, Pacific leaders urged Australia to sign a pledge of support for the agreement and to declare climate change “the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing” of the region.

Australia ultimately signed the pledge, but also reportedly resisted a push for the summit’s communique to include stronger calls for the world to pursue the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious goal of limiting global warming to 1.5℃.




Read more:
Pacific pariah: how Australia’s love of coal has left it out in the diplomatic cold


The government now has a chance to catch its breath before international summit season begins in earnest in November with the East Asia Summit in Singapore, followed quickly by APEC in Papua New Guinea and then the G20 summit in Buenos Aires on November 30 and December 1, not to mention the next round of UN climate negotiations in Poland in December.

The G20 is arguably the most important summit, bringing together the leaders of the 20 most powerful nations in the world. It is a forum at which Australia’s
position on the climate issue has already suffered significant diplomatic damage under the Coalition government.

When Australia hosted the G20 Brisbane talks in 2014, the then prime minister, Tony Abbott, worked to keep climate change off the formal agenda. Stiff opposition from several of Australia’s allies forced him to back down.

Other nations will be wary of Australia’s stance at the G20 this time around,
especially following the leadership turmoil in Canberra.

Indeed, with climate policy continuing to divide the Coalition, there is a
significant risk that further missteps on climate change will undermine Australia’s international standing.

A better option

It doesn’t have to be this way. Australia could easily meet its Paris target of cutting emissions to 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030 with a national climate and energy strategy. But right now Australia is without one, and with Malcolm Turnbull’s passing as prime minister and the demise of the National Energy Guarantee, it looks unlikely to have a strategy in place by the time the G20 rolls around in November.

Australia’s overall greenhouse emissions have been rising for several years now, and many independent projections have Australia overshooting what is in reality a modest target.

But, rather than rectifying the situation, Morrison and his new cabinet have yet to make it completely clear whether Australia will stand by the Paris Agreement at all.

Even if the scenario of a US-style pullout is avoided, Morrison will face mounting pressure from the vocal band of conservatives in his party room not to commit to anything on climate change, be it symbolic or tangible.




Read more:
The too hard basket: a short history of Australia’s aborted climate policies


What the government chooses to do next could have reputational repercussions for years to come.

Australia may not have the might of other nations, but what it has had at times is a reputation as a constructive international partner. This needs to be restored if Australian diplomats are to successfully navigate a disruptive international landscape.

Climate policy is clearly a threat to our domestic politics and to the job security of Australian prime ministers. With further missteps it could upend our diplomacy as well. Summit season will go a long way towards determining how much of a threat it really is.The Conversation

Christian Downie, Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow, Australian National University

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

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Climate change will reshape the world’s agricultural trade



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Australia’s grain exports will suffer under climate change.
Alpha/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Luciana Porfirio, CSIRO; David Newth, CSIRO, and John Finnigan, CSIRO

Ending world hunger is a central aspiration of modern society. To address this challenge – along with expanding agricultural land and intensifying crop yields – we rely on global agricultural trade to meet the nutritional demands of a growing world population.




Read more:
How many people can Australia feed?


But standing in the way of this aspiration is human-induced climate change. It will continue to affect the issue of where in the world crops can be grown and, therefore, food supply and global markets.

In a paper published today in Nature Palgrave, we show that climate change will affect global markets by reshaping agricultural trading patterns.

Some regions may not be able to battle climate impacts on agriculture, in which case production of key commodities will decline or shift to new regions.

The challenge

The negative impacts of climate change on agricultural production are of great concern to farmers and decision-makers. The concern is increasingly shared by governments including those most hostile to the advancement of climate change mitigation.

Even the United States, which has opted out of the Paris Agreement, acknowledged at last year’s G7 summit that climate change was one of a number of threats to “our capacity to feed a growing population and need[ed] to be taken into serious consideration”.

The UN median population projection suggests that the world population will reach some 10 billion in 2050. Between 2000 and 2010, roughly 66% of the daily energy intake per person, about 7,322 kilojoules, was derived from four key commodities: wheat, rice, coarse grains and oilseeds. However, the most recent UN report on food security and nutrition shows that world hunger is on the rise again and scientists believe this is due to climate change.




Read more:
World hunger is increasing thanks to wars and climate change


We must ask: what is the cost of adapting to climate change versus the cost of mitigating carbon emissions? And assuming that changes in climate and crop yields are here to stay, are we prepared for permanent agricultural shifts?

Disruptions and opportunities

Agricultural production is significantly affected by climate change. Our results suggest that global trade patterns of agricultural commodities may be significantly different from today’s reality – with or without carbon mitigation. This is because climate change and the implementation of a carbon mitigation policy have different effects on a regions’ agricultural production and economy.

Take the US, which in 2015 had 30% of the global market share of coarse grains, paddy rice, soybeans and wheat. We modelled production between 2050-59 under two scenarios: in a world 2℃ average temperature rise, and with a 1.5℃ increase. In both cases, the US market share would shrink to about 10%.




Read more:
As global food demand rises, climate change is hitting our staple crops


China is currently a net importer of these commodities. If temperature increases by 1.5℃, we expect to see an increase in exports of some products, like rice to the rest of Asia.

(However, it’s worth bearing in mind that limiting warming would be very expensive for China, as it would need to absorb a costly technological transition to a low carbon economy.)

China’s story is different in the 2℃ scenario. Our projections suggest that climate change will make China, as well as other regions in Asia, more suitable to produce different commodities.

China’s economy will keep expanding, whilst the new climatic conditions create opportunities to produce other food commodities at a greater scale and export to new regions.

Our results also suggest that, regardless of the carbon policy scenarios, Sub-Saharan Africa will become the greatest importer of coarse grains, rice, soybeans and wheat by 2050. This significant change in Sub-Saharan Africa imports is driven by the fact that the largest increase in human population by 2050 will occur in this region, with a significant increase in food demand.

In our research Australia was aggregated in “Oceania” with New Zealand. The exports from Oceania to the rest of the world comprised about 1.6% of the total in 2015, which is dominated by wheat exports from Australia.

Our projections suggest that carbon mitigation policies would favour the wheat industry in this region. The opposite occurs without carbon mitigation: the production and exports of wheat are projected to decline due to climate change impacts on agriculture.

The benefits of mitigation

A recent report published by the European Commission about the challenges of global agriculture in a climate change context by 2050 highlights that

…emission mitigation measures (i.e. carbon pricing) have a negative impact on primary agricultural production […] across all models.

However, the report does not mention the technological costs to buffer (or adapt to) the effect of climate change on agriculture.

Our results suggest that the cost paid by the agricultural sector to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is offset by the higher food prices projected in the non-mitigation scenario, where agricultural production is significantly affected by climate change. We found that there is a net economic benefit in transitioning to a low carbon economy. This is because agricultural systems are more productive under the mitigation scenario, and able to meet the demand for food imposed by a growing population.




Read more:
Australian farmers are adapting to climate change


Mitigating CO₂ emissions has the side benefit of creating a more stable agricultural trade system that may be better able to reduce food insecurity and increase welfare.

Changes in the agricultural system due to climate are inevitable. It is time to create a sense of urgency about our agricultural vulnerabilities to climate change, and begin seriously minimising risk.The Conversation

Luciana Porfirio, Research Scientist, Agriculture & Food, CSIRO | Visiting fellow at the Fenner School of Enviroment & Society, CSIRO; David Newth, Team Leader, Australian And Global Carbon Assessments, CSIRO, and John Finnigan, Leader, Complex Systems Science, CSIRO

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

For Pacific Island nations, rising sea levels are a bigger security concern than rising Chinese influence



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Malcolm Turnbull promised to ‘step up’ Australian engagement with the Pacific last year. Will it continue now that he’s gone?
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michael O’Keefe, La Trobe University

When the Pacific Islands Forum is held in Nauru from September 1, one of the main objectives will be signing a wide-ranging security agreement that covers everything from defence and law and order concerns to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The key question heading into the forum is: can the agreement find a balance between the security priorities of Australia and New Zealand and the needs of the Pacific Island nations?

Even though new Prime Minister Scott Morrison is not attending the forum, sending Foreign Minister Marise Payne instead, the Biketawa Plus security agreement remains a key aim for Canberra.




Read more:
Why China’s ‘debt-book diplomacy’ in the Pacific shouldn’t ring alarm bells just yet


The original Biketawa Declaration was developed as a response to the 2000 coup in Fiji. It has served Australia and the region well, providing a framework for collective action when political tensions and crises occur. However, in the face of rapid change, it looks narrow and dated.

Why act now? The rationale is clear. Much has happened to alter the security landscape in the Pacific since 2000. But despite the commentary in Australia, security in the Pacific is not all about geopolitics. While Australia may be most worried about China’s rising influence in the region, it would be a mistake to think this is the primary preoccupation of Pacific leaders, too.

A focus on climate change as a security issue

One key reason for updating Biketawa is to realign Australia’s security interests with those of Pacific Island countries that have grown more aware of their shared interests and confident in expressing them in international relations. This growing confidence is clear in the lobbying of Pacific nations for climate change action at the United Nations and in Fiji’s role as president of the UN’s COP23 climate talks.

In the absence of direct military threats, the Pacific Island nations are most concerned about security of a different kind. Key issues for the region are sustainable growth along a “blue-green” model, climate change (especially the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters and rising sea levels), illegal fishing and over-fishing, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), transnational crime, money laundering and human trafficking.




Read more:
Pacific pariah: how Australia’s love of coal has left it out in the diplomatic cold


Some of these security issues can be addressed by redirecting more Australian military forces to the region. Indeed, “disaster diplomacy” has been an effective method of connecting Australia’s security interests with those of Pacific Island nations in the past.

However, other priorities for the Pacific seem to run counter to Australia’s current policies toward the region. For example, the Pacific’s sustainable “blue-green” development agenda seems incompatible with an export-oriented growth model that is often touted by Australia as an “aid for trade” solution to Pacific “problems”.

Climate change adaptation and mitigation must also be elevated to the top of the agenda in Australia’s relations with the region. It is the most pressing problem in the Pacific, but for political and economic reasons, it hasn’t resonated to the same extent with Canberra.

In fact, Australia has recently been identified as the worst-performing country in the world on climate action. This has not gone unnoticed in the Pacific. Fiji’s prime minister, in particular, has been clear in highlighting that Australia’s “selfish” stance on climate change undermines its credibility in the region.

These shifting priorities in the Pacific present a greater challenge for Australia, especially now that there are more players in the region, such as China, Russia and Indonesia. Australia may see these “outsiders” as potential threats, but Pacific nations are just as likely to view them as alternative development partners able to provide opportunities.

New Coalition team on the Pacific

Making matters even trickier is the leadership shake-up in Canberra. What’s perhaps most problematic is Julie Bishop’s departure as foreign minister. Bishop did more to engage with Pacific countries than any foreign minister in recent memory. The [2017 Foreign Policy White Paper], for example, prioritised increased Pacific engagement and led to the region receiving the lion’s share of Australia’s latest aid budget.

Payne will attend the Pacific Islands Forum on her first overseas visit as foreign minister. As the former defence minister, she lobbied for Australia to be seen as a “security partner of choice” in the Pacific. What remains to be seen is whether she can maintain the momentum on Biketawa Plus.




Read more:
Response to rumours of a Chinese military base in Vanuatu speaks volumes about Australian foreign policy


So the challenge for the new Coalition leadership is to find a way to push through a new Pacific security agreement that caters to both Australia’s security concerns about Chinese influence in the region and the Pacific Island countries’ focus on climate change and sustainable growth.

There are lessons that can be drawn from the decade-long negotiations between Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island nations over the Pacer Plus free-trade agreement, which was finally signed last year (without the region’s two largest economies, Papua New Guinea and Fiji). Australia must not underestimate the diplomatic skills of Pacific leaders or offer benefits that are perceived as being more attractive to it than the Pacific states.

Australia must also avoid allowing the leadership spill to impact its Pacific agenda at this sensitive time. Bishop’s focus on labour mobility between the Pacific islands and Australia has been most welcome, but there can be no authentic engagement with the region without addressing climate insecurity as well.The Conversation

Michael O’Keefe, Head of Department, Politics and Philosophy, La Trobe University

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

What Australian states can learn from Trump dismantling climate change policy



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President Trump is challenging the US states’ right to set their own emissions targets.
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

Sarah Graham, University of Sydney

The Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement was greeted with dismay around the world. Less well known, but probably just as damaging to emissions reductions, was freezing standards for carbon dioxide emissions from cars in July.




Read more:
Why Trump’s decision to leave Paris accord hurts the US and the world


The erosion of US federal climate policy has made action from individual states far more important. As Australia grapples with yet another failure to implement a national emissions policy, what can we learn from America?

And is it time for Australian states to reach out directly to like-minded states in other parts of the world to tackle global climate issues?




Read more:
Malcolm Turnbull shelves emissions reduction target as leadership speculation mounts


Strong state action

From the outside, the US often looks like a bastion of climate change denial and very large cars, but a group of US states has nevertheless made some of the most dramatic progress in curbing emissions of any jurisdictions in the world.

Consider New Jersey. In 1998, while the Kyoto Protocol was being negotiated (and ultimately rejected by George W. Bush), Governor Christine Whitman ordered that the state pursue an emissions target of 3.5% below 1990 levels by 2005.

Since then, New Jersey has consistently adopted emissions reduction targets in line with global agreements, effectively bypassing the weaker standards at the federal level. Several other, mostly Democrat, states across the nation took similar action during the Bush administration, placing caps on emissions from power generation, establishing internal carbon trading systems, and adopting ambitious state emissions targets.




Read more:
The Trump administration, slanted science and the environment: 4 essential reads


California’s regulation of air quality goes back even further. In response to Los Angeles’ smog problem – arising from a confluence of geographical conditions, warm weather, and high automobile use – Sacramento introduced smog restrictions on automobiles in 1960. This predated both the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency and any meaningful federal effort to regulate air quality or car pollution. In 1970, when President Nixon established the EPA and Congress gave teeth to the Clean Air Act, California was granted special waivers to adopt stricter anti-smog measures. The state has done so ever since.

Under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and as part of a much broader climate change initiative, reduction targets for CO₂ emissions from automobiles were added to the existing anti-smog rules. By this time, a number of states were also following California’s more stringent standards. These included states bordering California where auto dealers wished to sell California-compliant cars, but also East Coast progressive states pursuing ambitious climate change plans of their own.

Australian states

Australia is not in exactly the same position as the the US – for example, we are virtually unique in the developed world for having no fuel efficiency standards for cars – but there are some striking similarities.




Read more:
Emissions standards on cars will save Australians billions of dollars, and help meet our climate targets


The policy deadlock at the federal level has made action from states, and even local councils, vitally important.

At the same time as the federal government is struggling to put emissions reduction on the national agenda, Victoria has made a huge commitment to rooftop solar. South Australia, which leads the country in renewable energy generation, is now a net energy exporter for the first time.

While the Queensland state government grapples over the Adani coal mine, a May report found that billions of dollars in renewable energy projects are underway.

The Trump effect

The Trump administration is widely expected to repeal many Obama-era limits on pollution. Auto emissions standards came onto the chopping-block in July, when the administration unveiled its plan to “Make Cars Great Again” by freezing fuel efficiency standards at 37 miles per gallon.

The EPA has also announced that it will revoke California’s waiver to set more stringent standards, which 13 other states including New York now also follow.

In both cases, the Trump administration is seeking not just to relax federal climate standards, but to prevent states from setting more stringent policies should they wish to. And in both cases, these matters will be settled by the courts.

California announced it would lead a legal challenge to protect the waiver on the same day as the administration announced it would revoke it. When the EPA moves to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the same set of states will likely sue to protect it.

Why this matters globally

These legal fights have global ramifications. The 13 states that follow California’s waiver have a population of 130 million. These states have pledged, through auto emissions standards and clean energy targets, to meet the Paris Climate goals – using their own policy autonomy to circumvent Trump’s withdrawal.

These states have also pledged to pursue independent diplomacy with other national and sub-national jurisdictions around the world, sharing best practise and pursuing climate cooperation.

The EPA has so far lost a number of legal challenges, and is by no means guaranteed to win its case against California. Should these states prevail, Australia has an opportunity to pursue meaningful climate diplomacy directly with the American states.




Read more:
I’m suing Scott Pruitt’s broken EPA – here’s how to fix it


A 130 million-person market for sustainable technologies also presents a substantial opportunity for Australian businesses in the renewables sector.

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The Conversation

American states have a framework in place for international partnerships on climate. State governors and city mayors across the country are eager to brand themselves as international climate change leaders. As Australian federal politics grinds through another round of energy policy and climate change debate, it might be time for Australian states to look outside our borders for inspiration and co-operation.

Sarah Graham, Honorary Associate, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Rising seas will displace millions of people – and Australia must be ready


Jane McAdam, UNSW and John Church, UNSW

Sea-level rise is already threatening some communities around the world, particularly small island states, as it exacerbates disasters resulting from storm surges and flooding.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, by 2100 the world could see sea-level rise of a metre – or even more if there is a larger contribution from the Antarctic ice sheet, as some recent findings suggest.

Even without a larger Antarctic response, the rate of rise at the end of the 21st century for unmitigated emissions is likely to be equivalent to the rate of rise during the last deglaciation of the Earth, when sea level rose at more than a metre per century for many millennia. For all scenarios, sea-level rise will continue for centuries to come.




Read more:
Australia’s coastal living is at risk from sea level rise, but it’s happened before


Without significantly more effective mitigation than currently planned, the rise will ultimately be many metres, or even tens of metres – the question is not if there will be large rises, but how quickly they will happen.

Forcing people from their homes

As well as causing seas to rise, climate change may also increase the severity of events like cyclones and rainfall, which may force people from their homes in many regions.




Read more:
Sea-level rise has claimed five whole islands in the Pacific: first scientific evidence


Global statistics on the risk of disaster displacement were not systematically collected until 2008, but already they offer stark figures. In 2017, 18.8 million people were internally displaced by natural disasters, with floods accounting for 8.6 million. By contrast, 11.8 million were displaced by conflict. Many more people are displaced each year by disasters than by conflict. Climate change intensifies this risk.

Roughly 100 million people live within about a metre of current high tide level. (Double these numbers for a five-metre sea-level rise, and triple them for 10 metres.)

Many of the world’s megacities are on the coast and vulnerable to sea-level change. Without adaption, it is estimated that by 2100 some of these areas will flood, displacing in the order of 100 million people.

While the vast majority of those people will never cross an international border, some will – and their legal status will be precarious because they will not qualify as refugees under the UN Refugee Convention (people with a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group).




Read more:
Regionalism, human rights and migration in relation to climate change


In the current political climate, governments are reticent to create a new legal status for such people, and it would be difficult to encapsulate the complexity of climate change and disaster-related movement in a treaty definition anyway. Many factors drive people to leave their homes – such as poverty, resource scarcity and lack of livelihood opportunities – but climate change becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Good policy is essential

The most effective way to reduce the number of displaced people is strong global mitigation of emissions. In Australia, a successful NEG policy that included emissions reduction would cover about a third of Australia’s emissions. Mitigation policies also need to be developed to cover all emission sectors.

However, even with strong mitigation, adaptation will be essential. The evidence tells us that most people want to remain in their homes for as long as they can, and to return as quickly as possible. We therefore need laws and policies that permit people to remain in their homes where possible and desirable; that enable them to move elsewhere, before disaster strikes, if they wish; and to receive assistance and protection if they are displaced.

Coastal communities could live more effectively with rising sea levels by developing infrastructure, adopting and enforcing appropriate planning and building codes, and controlling flooding to allow sediment deposition. Storm-surge shelters and storm-surge warnings have already saved thousands of lives in countries like Bangladesh.

Good policy is essential. Studies of floods in Bangladesh showed that when people received prompt and adequate assistance, they were more likely to stay and rebuild than to move on in search of work to survive. By contrast, a year after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, tens of thousands of people remained displaced because the authorities said it was unsafe to go home but could not offer any alternative. This is likely to be a growing challenge with on-going climate change.




Read more:
Building housing on flood plains another sign of growing inequality


We are going to see more and more climate related disasters. We can do better in the way we prepare for and respond to them. The nature and timing of policy interventions will be crucial in determining outcomes after a disaster, because together they affect people’s ability to cope and be resilient. We need a broad, complementary set of policy strategies to assist people and give them choices.


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On Thursday 24 August Jane McAdam and John Church will join Walter Kaelin to talk on Good Evidence, Bad Politics. This event is free to the public.

Jane McAdam, Scientia Professor and Director of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW and John Church, Chair professor, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The too hard basket: a short history of Australia’s aborted climate policies


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Less than three years ago, after Malcolm Turnbull had wrested the prime ministership from Tony Abbott, I wrote an article entitled “Carbon coups: from Hawke to Abbott, climate policy is never far away when leaders come a cropper”.

Less than two weeks ago I wrote again about climate policy’s unique knack of causing leaders to falter, with terminal results for the policies and, often, the leaders themselves.

Now Turnbull has added a new chapter to this saga. He has abandoned the emissions component of his beleaguered National Energy Guarantee, in what has been characterised as a capitulation to a vocal group of backbench colleagues. The climbdown may still not be enough to save his leadership.




Read more:
Emissions policy is under attack from all sides. We’ve been here before, and it rarely ends well


A workable, credible climate policy has been the impossible object that has brought down every prime minister we’ve had for a more than a decade – all the way back to (and including) John Howard.

Howard’s way

Howard had spent the first ten years of his prime ministership denying either the existence of climate change or the need to do anything about it. In 2003, virtually all of his cabinet supported an emissions trading scheme. But, after meeting with industry leaders, he dumped the idea.

The following year Howard called a meeting of large fossil fuel companies, seeking their help in destroying the renewable energy target that he had been forced to accept in the runup to the 1997 Kyoto climate summit.

However, in 2006, the political pressure to act on climate became too great. The Millennium Drought seemed endless, the European Union had launched its own emissions trading scheme, and Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth cut through with the Australian public. Late in the year, Treasury came back for another bite at an emissions trading cherry.

In his book Triumph and Demise, journalist Paul Kelly describes how Treasury secretary Ken Henry convinced Howard to adopt an emissions trading policy, telling him:

Prime Minister, I’m taking as my starting point that during your prime ministership you will want to commit us to a cap on national emissions. If my view on that is wrong, there is really nothing more I can say… If you want a cap on emissions then it stands to reason that you want the most cost-effective way of doing that. That brings us to emissions trading, unless you want a tax on carbon.

The moral challenge

Howard’s problem was that voters were not convinced by his backflip. In November 2007, Kevin Rudd – who had proclaimed climate change “the great moral challenge of our generation” – became prime minister. A tortuous policy-making process ensued, with ever greater concessions to big polluters.

In late 2009, according to Kelly’s account, Rudd refused to meet with the then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull to resolve the outstanding issues around Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Then, in December of that year, Turnbull was toppled by Abbott and the legislation was doomed.

Meanwhile, the Copenhagen climate conference ended in disaster, and although advised to go for a double-dissolution election, Rudd baulked. In April 2010, he kicked emissions trading into the long grass for at least three years, and his approval ratings plummeted.

In July 2010 Julia Gillard toppled Rudd, and the prime ministership has never been safe from internal dissent since. Not since 2004 has a federal leader won a general election from which they would survive to contest the next.

In the final days of the 2010 election campaign, Gillard made the fateful statement that “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead”.

That election resulted in a hung parliament, and after meeting climate policy advocates Ross Garnaut and Nick Stern, two crucial independents – Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott – made a carbon price their price for supporting Gillard.

The carbon tax war

Gillard steered the legislation through parliament in the face of ferocious opposition from Abbott, who declared a “blood oath” that he would repeal her legislation. After winning the 2013 election, he delivered on his pledge in July 2014. Gillard, for her part, said she regretted not taking issue with Abbott’s characterisation of her carbon pricing scheme as a tax.

Abbott also reduced the Renewable Energy Target, and tried but failed to rid himself of the Australian Renewable Energy Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Abbott’s demise as prime minister was not as directly tied to climate policy as Howard’s, Rudd’s or Gillard’s. Far more instrumental were gaffes such as giving the Duke of Edinburgh a knighthood.

But as Abbott’s government was descending into chaos, Turnbull seemed to many middle-of-the-road voters like the perfect solution: Liberal economic policy but with added climate concern. On today’s evidence, he seems to have been willing to trade that concern away to stay in the top job.

The future?

As of the time of writing – Monday 20 August (it pays to be specific when the situation is in such flux) – it is clear that the NEG is dead, at least in its original incarnation as a means of tackling the climate issue. No legislation or regulation will aim to reduce greenhouse emissions, with the policy now addressing itself solely at power prices.

It is not clear how long Turnbull will remain in office, and one could make a case that he is no longer truly in power. Thoughts now inevitably also turn to what a Shorten Labor government would do in this area if the opposition claims victory at the next election.




Read more:
It’s ten years since Rudd’s ‘great moral challenge’, and we have failed it


The first question in that regard is whether Mark Butler – an able opposition spokesman on climate change – would become the minister for a single portfolio covering energy and environment. The next is the degree of opposition that Labor would face – both from members of the union movement looking out for the interests of coal workers, and from business and industry. If Australia’s environment groups win the battle over Adani’s planned Carmichael coalmine, will they have the heart to win the wider climate policy struggle?

As ever, it will come down to stamina and stomach. Would Shorten and Butler have the wherewithal to face down the various competing interests and push through a credible, lasting policy, in an area where all their predecessors have ultimately failed?

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The Conversation

Will the Coalition government formulate a new emissions policy – one that can withstand the feet-to-the-fire approach that has killed off every other similar effort so far?

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate change and wildfires – how do we know if there is a link?



File 20180809 30467 1x5l5mq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A firefighter runs after trying to save a home in Lakeport, California, suffering its biggest fires ever.
AP Photo/Noah Berger

Kevin Trenberth, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Once again, the summer of 2018 in the Northern Hemisphere has brought us an epidemic of major wildfires.

These burn forests, houses and other structures, displace thousands of people and animals, and cause major disruptions in people’s lives. The huge burden of simply firefighting has become a year-round task costing billions of dollars, let alone the cost of the destruction. The smoke veil can extend hundreds or even thousands of miles, affecting air quality and visibility. To many people, it has become very clear that human-induced climate change plays a major role by greatly increasing the risk of wildfire.

Yet it seems the role of climate change is seldom mentioned in many or even most news stories about the multitude of fires and heat waves. In part this is because the issue of attribution is not usually clear. The argument is that there have always been wildfires, and how can we attribute any particular wildfire to climate change?

As a climate scientist, I can say this is the wrong framing of the problem. Global warming does not cause wildfires. The proximate cause is often human carelessness (cigarette butts, camp fires not extinguished properly, etc.), or natural, from “dry lightning” whereby a thunderstorm produces lightning but little rain. Rather, global warming exacerbates the conditions and raises the risk of wildfire.

Even so, there is huge complexity and variability from one fire to the next, and hence the attribution can become complex. Instead, the way to think about this is from the standpoint of basic science – in this case, physics.

This year is proving to be another active wildfire season.
Climate Central, CC BY-NC

Global warming is happening

To understand the interplay between global warming and wildfires, consider what’s happening to our planet.

The composition of the atmosphere is changing from human activities: There has been over a 40 percent increase in carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuel burning since the 1800s, and over half of the increase is since 1985. Other heat-trapping gases (methane, nitrous oxide, etc.) are also increasing in concentration in the atmosphere from human activities. The rates are accelerating, not declining (as hoped for with the Paris agreement).

This leads to an energy imbalance for the planet.

The flows of energy through the climate system are schematically illustrated with numbers on the top-of-atmosphere values and net energy imbalance at the surface.
Trenberth et al 2009

Heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere act as a blanket and inhibit the infrared radiation – that is, heat from the Earth – from escaping back into space to offset the continual radiation coming from the sun. As these gases build up, more of this energy, mostly in the form of heat, remains in our atmosphere. The energy raises the temperature of the land, oceans and atmosphere, melts ice, thaws permafrost, and fuels the water cycle through evaporation.

Moreover, we can estimate Earth’s energy imbalance quite well: It amounts to about 1 watt per square meter, or about 500 terawatts globally.

While this factor is small compared with the natural flow of energy through the system, which is 240 watts per square meter, it is large compared with all other direct effects of human activities. For instance, the electrical power generation in the U.S. last year averaged 0.46 terawatts.

The extra heat is always the same sign and it is spread across the globe. Accordingly, where this energy accumulates matters.

Tracking the Earth’s energy imbalance

The heat mostly accumulates ultimately in the ocean – over 90 percent. This added heat means the ocean expands and sea level rises.

Heat also accumulates in melting ice, causing melting Arctic sea ice and glacier losses in Greenland and Antarctica. This adds water to the ocean, and so the sea level rises from this as well, rising at a rate of over 3 milimeters year, or over a foot per century.

Global ocean heat content for the top 2000 meters of the ocean, with uncertainty estimates by the pink region.
ScienceAdvances, CC BY-NC

On land, the effects of the energy imbalance are complicated by water. If water is present, the heat mainly goes into evaporation and drying, and that feeds moisture into storms, which produce heavier rain. But the effects do not accumulate provided that it rains on and off.

However, in a dry spell or drought, the heat accumulates. Firstly, it dries things out, and then secondly it raises temperatures. Of course, “it never rains in southern California” according to the 1970s pop song, at least in the summer half year.

So water acts as the air conditioner of the planet. In the absence of water, the excess heat effects accumulate on land both by drying everything out and wilting plants, and by raising temperatures. In turn, this leads to heat waves and increased risk of wildfire. These factors apply in regions in the western U.S. and in regions with Mediterranean climates. Indeed many of the recent wildfires have occurred not only in the West in the United States, but also in Portugal, Spain, Greece, and other parts of the Mediterranean.

A satellite image of the Carr Fire in California. Drought conditions, in addition to a lot of dead trees and vegetation, are contributing to another year of severe wildfires.
NASA

The conditions can also develop in other parts of the world when strong high pressure weather domes (anticyclones) stagnate, as can happen in part by chance, or with increased odds in some weather patterns such as those established by either La Niña or El Niño events (in different places). It is expected that these dry spots move around from year to year, but that their abundance increases over time, as is clearly happening.

How big is the energy imbalance effect over land? Well, 1 Watt per square meter over a month, if accumulated, is equivalent to 720 Watts per square meter over one hour. 720 Watts is equivalent to full power in a small microwave oven. One square meter is about 10 square feet. Hence, after one month this is equivalent to: one microwave oven at full power every square foot for six minutes. No wonder things catch on fire!

Attribution science

Coming back to the original question of wildfires and global warming, this explains the argument: there is extra heat available from climate change and the above indicates just how large it is.

In reality there is moisture in the soil, and plants have root systems that tap soil moisture and delay the effects before they begin to wilt, so that it typically takes over two months for the effects to be large enough to fully set the stage for wildfires. On a day to day basis, the effect is small enough to be lost in the normal weather variability. But after a dry spell of over a month, the risk is noticeably higher. And of course the global mean surface temperature is also going up.

“We can’t attribute a single event to climate change” has been a mantra of climate scientists for a long time. It has recently changed, however.

As in the wildfires example, there has been a realization that climate scientists may be able to make useful statements by assuming that the weather events themselves are relatively unaffected by climate change. This is a good assumption.

Also, climate scientists cannot say that extreme events are due to global warming, because that is a poorly posed question. However, we can say it is highly likely that they would not have had such extreme impacts without global warming. Indeed, all weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be.

The ConversationIn particular, by focusing on Earth’s Energy Imbalance, new research is expected to advance the understanding of what is happening, and why, and what it implies for the future.

Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.