A tale of two hemispheres

Jim RenwickAt the end of June, Professor Jim Renwick of Victoria University gave his inaugural lecture. As you might expect of a climate scientist, it concerns what we know about the climate system and where we’re heading. He pulls no punches. Jim has been kind enough to put together a text version of the lecture for Hot Topic: it follows. You can watch the full lecture, with accompanying slides, on the video embedded at the end of the post.

We live in a golden age of earth observation. With a few clicks of a mouse on a web browser, any of us can see the state of the global ocean surface, the current condition of the Greenland ice sheet, how much rain is falling in the tropics today, and on and on. Plus, the International Space Station (ISS), and a series of satellites such as MODIS give us wonderful images of our home planet. The climate science community can tell, with unprecedented coverage and timeliness, just what is going on in the climate system. It is a great time to be a climate researcher, but also a worrying time, in both cases because we can see exactly what is changing.

One thing the ISS pictures emphasise is just how thin the atmosphere is, a thin blue layer between the solid earth and the blackness of space. Not only is this life-supporting envelope very thin, some of the key gases in the atmosphere are there in only trace amounts, so we can change the properties of the atmosphere easily, by targeting the right gases. The discovery of the ozone hole 30 years ago brought this home with a bang. And we’ve found that build-up of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere can have a profound effect on the climate system, right down to the bottom of the oceans.

Carbon dioxide is important because it’s a crucial control on the surface temperature of the earth. It is very good at absorbing heat (infrared radiation) welling up from the earth, then re-radiating both up and down, in the process warming the earth’s surface. The effect is very like a blanket put on a bed – what’s under the blanket warms up. More CO2 is like putting another blanket on the bed and less is like taking away a blanket. No CO2 and the earth freezes – temperatures like we had in the South Island in late June would be the norm everywhere, all the time. While there are several other “greenhouse gases”, carbon dioxide is the most important since it stays in the atmosphere so long, hundreds to thousands of years.
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Climate Action Tracker analysis: NZ emissions targets inadequate, not doing our fair share

TimGroser.jpgClimate Change Minister Tim Groser’s claim that New Zealand is doing its “fair share” of climate action has been blown out of the water by an international analysis [Full policy brief here (pdf)]. Once one removes what the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) calls the “creative accounting” of rules around land use and forestry, New Zealand’s newly announced 2030 target translates into an 11 percent increase by 2030. It’s even possible that we won’t have to lift a finger to cut emissions and yet still meet both our 2020 and 2030 targets.

They say our emissions are projected to head in the opposite direction from the world’s biggest emitters such as China, the United States and the European Union.

The CAT has rated New Zealand’s target “inadequate” – meaning that if everybody else made the same effort as NZ, warming would exceed 3-4ºC. And we’re not on track to reaching our (also rated inadequate) 2050 target. If we were even on the same track as the US’s 2050 goal, we’d have to increase our target to 45% reduction by 2030 below 2005 levels (30% below 1990).

It gets worse: in just ten years, CAT projects that the average New Zealander will have a bigger carbon footprint than a US citizen — worse than some of the most carbon profligate people on the planet.

The analysis also points out one of our biggest secrets: that the only substantial action taken on climate change by the Government since 2008 has been to weaken the ETS.

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Renwick on NZ’s 11% cut: follow us down the path to catastrophe

RenwickThis guest post is by Carbon News editor Adelia Hallett, published with permission.

New Zealand will face droughts, floods, fires, social upheaval and catastrophic global economic damage if the world follows the country’s lead on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, says one of our leading climate experts. Dr James Renwick – Professor of Physical Geography at Victoria University, an International Panel on Climate Change lead author, and formerly a principal scientist at the National Institute on Water and Atmosphere – says that cutting emissions at the rate that New Zealand proposes would lead to at least 3 degrees of warming by the end of the century.

That’s warmer than at any time in the history of human agriculture and settlement, which started around 10,000 years ago.

The Government announced on Tuesday that New Zealand would go to international climate change negotiations in Paris later this year with a post-2020 emissions reduction target (known as an Intended Nationally Determined Commitment, or INDC) of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. That’s the same as 11.2 per cent below 1990 levels. New Zealand also has a target of halving emissions on 1990 levels by 2050.
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NZ emissions target announced: unambitious, ineffective and morally repugnant

ASTargets.jpgClimate change minister Tim Groser today released New Zealand’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (pdf) to emissions reductions after 2020 — a 30% decrease on gross emissions in 2005, equivalent to an 11% reduction on 1990 levels. Groser’s press release described this as a “more ambitious climate change target” and “a significant increase on our current target of five per cent below 1990 emission levels by 2020.” This can only be true for definitions of “ambitious” and “significant” that include doing sweet Fanny Adams. The minister is spinning like a top.

Groser was given free reign to continue his dissembling by Radio New Zealand’s political editor Brent Edwards on Checkpoint this evening. Just before the end of the segment, Groser waxes lyrical about the costs of action — “$1,270 a year” — and then makes this amazing counterfactual statement (roughly transcribed):

The burden of advice from our officials and the independent think tanks that have done the modelling is that this is all cost and it has to be born by someone.

Some facts for the minister: the modelling released by his officials as part of the consultation process, the results of which have been so comprehensively ignored, did not consider the costs of inaction, did not model the co-benefits of action or of innovation, and modelled costs were compared to an unrealistic baseline of no government action to reduce emissions at all.

In other words, the minister was being grossly misleading in what he said. If he does not know that’s what his department’s economic modelling said, then he is failing in his ministerial responsibilities on this most serious of issues and should be held to account. If he does know that’s what the modelling said, but was prepared to misrepresent it to RNZ’s political editor and the wider National Radio audience, then he is guilty of telling a deliberate falsehood, and should resign. Either way, Groser was being glib, arrogant and ignorant — an unedifying sight in a senior minister.

There is no sign in the target announcement made today, or in any part of this government’s climate policy that they understand the true seriousness of the issue that confronts NZ and the planet as a whole. They appear to have no appreciation of the strategic and management blunders they are making, all in the name of keeping semi-mythical costs down. The new target, described by Professor Ralph Sims as “low ambition”, doesn’t even set NZ on course for the government’s own 50% reduction by 2050 commitment, let alone address the need for a more credible 100% reduction by that date.

The legacy that Groser and the Key government will leave to the future will not be a new flag, it will be a New Zealand crippled by their smug, arrogant and morally repugnant climate inaction.

See also:

MfE page on new target.

Summary of submissions made to the consultation process.

NZ Herald: Climate change pledge “highly conditional”

Green Party: Govt’s emissions reduction target 100% pure spin

Labour: Government has no credible climate change plan

Science Media Centre: expert reaction

For more reaction, see Scoop.co.nz