On Sunday morning, Radio NZ National’s Chris Laidlaw interviewed the PM’s science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman regarding his recent report on the likely future impacts of climate change on New Zealand. In an intelligent interview it was good to hear the report being given more prolonged and thoughtful attention than the initial news items about it afforded. It’s not my purpose to comment on the report other than to welcome it and hope it carries weight with the government. But in the course of the interview Gluckman made a couple of comments which I want to challenge. I’ve transcribed, I hope accurately enough, the section of the interview in which they occurred.
The Prime Minister’s science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, today released a new report looking at the probable impacts of climate change in New Zealand over the next 40 years. The report, New Zealand’s Changing Climate and Oceans: The impact of human activity
and implications for the future (pdf) is:
… intended to update the public on current scientific understandings of climate change and ocean acidification. In particular, it focuses on how these changes are likely to affect New Zealand’s climate and industries at a regional level over coming years.
The timing of the report — which appears at first glance to offer a reasonable overview of our current understanding of likely local climate changes — seems a trifle odd. In a matter of months the IPCC will release the first part of its Fifth Report, covering the underlying science, and while we’ll have to wait until March next year for the Working Group 2 report on regional impacts, Gluckman and his team would have had a firmer foundation for their report with only a modest delay.
I’ll be reading the report carefully over the next few days, and will have more to say in due course. I’m particularly interested in exploring how Gluckman approaches the risks associated with local climate changes, and his take on how the wider international context will impact New Zealand.
I’ve been writing about climate science and policy for the last five years, and taking an interest in the subject for far longer, but I’ve seldom read more depressing news than Fiona Harvey’s Guardian article last week — Rich nations ‘give up’ on new climate treaty until 2020. According to Harvey, expectations for the UN conference in Durban are low:
…most of the world’s leading economies now privately admit that no new global climate agreement will be reached before 2016 at the earliest, and that even if it were negotiated by then, they would stipulate it could not come into force until 2020.
Unfortunately for all the inhabitants of this planet, the atmospheric carbon load is increasing fast and unless emissions peak soon — no later than 2020 — we will be committed to dangerous, and quite possibly uncontrollable future warming. How in the name of your favoured deity did we allow that to happen? Here’s a clue: a few sentences taken from the environment policy statement of New Zealand’s National Party, who led the outgoing government, and who on current polling will lead the next after Saturday’s election:
We’ve introduced a more balanced approach to climate change … Ensured New Zealand is doing its fair share on climate change … Amended Labour’s ETS to strike a better balance between New Zealand’s environmental and economic interests.
The National Party document also claims the last (Labour-led) government “set an impractical goal of carbon neutrality”. Well, have I got news for you, John Key and Nick Smith. Carbon neutrality is not an impractical goal — it’s what the evidence tells us we need to achieve, not just in New Zealand but around the whole world.
Sir Peter Gluckman, scientific adviser to NZ prime minister John Key, recently published a discussion paper entitled Towards better use of evidence in policy formation (pdf). It’s an interesting read for anyone who has ever noted the sometimes large discrepancy between political dogma and policy outcomes. Sciblogger Peter Griffin went so far as to describe it as “possibly one of the most important [papers] he has released thus far”.
Over in the land of the Climate Clueless™ however, Richard “Climate Conversation” Treadgold has taken Gluckman’s paper as a cue to demand evidence of climate change. Treadgold appears to have forgotten that one of Sir Peter’s first acts following his appointment was to review the evidence and issue a statement on the subject, and is perhaps still smarting from Gluckman’s comments on climate denial last year. He therefore issues this stern challenge:
I would remind Sir Peter that evidence is required to establish the following key factors in the global warming debate — evidence that has not surfaced so far. We have been looking for evidence to show:
- The existence of a current unprecedented global warming trend.
- That the greenhouse effect is powerful enough to endanger the environment.
- A causal link between human activities and dangerously high global temperatures.
- That climate models have a high level of skill in predicting the climate.
- A causal link between atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and global temperatures.
- A causal link between global warming and the gentle rise in sea level.
Time to play some whack-a-mole…
As predicted, New Zealand’s tame band of climate cranks have waxed all pompous and upset about Sir Peter Gluckman’s perceptive comments on climate change denial. But I was wrong about one thing. Instead of Barry Brill stepping up to the plate, it’s the grand dame of NZ denial, Terry Dunleavy, “honorary secretary and webmaster”and co-founder of the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition who does the honours.
Terry’s piece is nothing new. Certainly nothing newsworthy. But I can’t resist quoting Richard Treadgold on the subject, because it made my day. Under the heading PM’s Chief Science Adviser must change — or go, Treadgold reproduces Dunleavy’s thoughts verbatim. But he can’t resist adding a final thought of his own:
I would suggest that our highly respected Sir Pete ought to acquaint himself with some real climate science if he wants to be taken seriously by the scientists in the NZCSC.
Gave me the best laugh of the day… “Sir Pete” is, I imagine, rather uninterested in what scientists of the calibre of — who, Vince Gray? — think of him. And the scientists in the C”S”C would do well to try to be taken seriously by — well, anyone, really…
[Former greatest living Englishman Viv Stanshall]