I’ll drown in my own tears

homer.jpg But tears of laughter or tears of frustration? I honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry (but I’ve certainly got the blues) about a “Viewpoints” feature in this week’s Listener – here’s the intro that runs above two single page articles:

The latest UN climate change conference canvassed many opinions. The Listener asked people from opposite sides of the debate to share their views.

On the crank side we have Bryan Leyland and Chris de Freitas. The “balancing” view comes from Professor Dave Kelly, an ecologist from the University of Canterbury (previews only – full text available after April 19). As I’ve said before, framing the discussion about climate change as a “debate” and with only two sides (it’s real/it isn’t) is highly misleading because it misrepresents the balance of evidence – and I’ll be returning to that in more depth in a future post. But what really brought tears to my eyes were the outright lies from the cranks. CdF repeats some of the untruths in his last outing in the Herald, and BL adds a few more of his own. Here we go again…

Continue reading “I’ll drown in my own tears”

Emissions trading: baby steps not big enough

NZETS.jpg As parliament starts to get stuck into the serious business of legislating for the government’s proposed emissions trading scheme (ETS), the tempo of criticism (from all sides) is increasing. Owners of pre-1990 forests have weighed in, and in the past week Greenpeace has launched a broadside:

“The current proposal for the structure of the ETS will deliver no significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, will act as an impediment to the rapid implementation of less carbon intensive production technologies in the manufacturing industry and will do nothing to slow the destruction of forests to make way for increasingly greenhouse gas intensive forms of dairy farming.” (Full report here [PDF])

At the same time, the New Zealand Institute has produced its second report on climate change policy (Actions speak louder than words: Adjusting the New Zealand economy to a low emissions world [PDF]), and isn’t impressed either…

Overall, however, we estimate that the various policies will only serve to reduce New Zealand’s domestic emissions in 2050 to about their 1990 level. The level of emissions reduction is not sufficient to adjust the New Zealand economy so that it is well positioned to compete in a low-emissions world.

Herald report here. Meanwhile Brian Fallow considers some more complex fishhooks in the proposed ETS, particularly as they affect cement manufacturers Holcim.
Both new reports make good points (and are well worth reading), but both also suffer from real problems, some general and some particular.

Continue reading “Emissions trading: baby steps not big enough”

They would say that (again), wouldn’t they?

dinosaur_roar.jpeg There are times when specially commissioned economic forecasts are a useful contribution to debate on emissions reductions, and times when they are not. The latest, commissioned by the Business Roundtable and the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association (Pepanz) from Adolf Stroombergen at Infometrics, is a fine example of the latter. The numbers allow Roger Kerr to rumble ominously [Stuff, Herald, original BR press release (PDF)]:

“The impact on numerous industries would be devastating – reductions in output of the order of 30 per cent to 40 per cent are reported in the case of sheep and dairy farming – and major industrial firms could face complete closure,” Mr Kerr said.

Even worse, households could be $19,000 a year worse off by 2025 and the government would still fail to meet a notional target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2025. Sounds dire. Better do nothing then…

But, as is usual with these things, when you look at the assumptions that underpin the forecast, you find that they have been carefully designed to produce the result the sponsors wanted. Take a look at the method used (see PDF linked above): they define a “business as usual” case against which they will measure the costs of emissions reductions – and they shoot for GDP growth of 4.5 – 5% per annum. I don’t have the figures to hand, but I can’t think of any period in the recent past when GDP growth has been that high – and certainly not for 17 successive years. And the costs? They use very high carbon prices (up to $300/tonne). So, when you artificially inflate both long term growth and the costs of action, you discover that action’s expensive.

Why am I not surprised?

And I’m not entirely surprised by news (Radio NZ) that 15 iwi leaders, chaired by Tuku Morgan and meeting at the Waitangi Treaty grounds say they oppose all climate-change legislation – because it has no regard for Treaty rights. But I’d like to know more about why. Forestry interests are one thing, geothermal sensitivies another, but what are the Treaty implications?

Clearing the decks #2

Time to catch up with some climate stuff that I’ve accumulated over the last couple of weeks.

  • Auckland lawyers Lowndes Associates have become the first legal firm in NZ to achieve CarbonZero certification – which means that they’ve taken steps to measure their carbon emissions, actively reduce them, and then have bought credible offsets to cover the rest.
  • The first hints of NIWA’s new regional climate projections are beginning to emerge. By the end of the century, Southland could be as warm as today’s Bay Of Plenty. And Jim Salinger, who first noticed that we were warming up, was given a good profile by the Herald.
  • A belated mention for the Be The Change campaign, a climate change awareness campaign that trundled up the country in a bus in the last couple of months of the year. As the SST reported: “From Bluff to Kerikeri, the Be The Change bus tour is a Greenpeace, Oxfam, and Forest and Bird campaign to get ordinary New Zealanders working to stop climate change.”
  • The NZ Stock Exchange’s carbon trading market, TZ1, is aiming for a mid-year launch, and has appointed former Vector CEO Mark Franklin to head up the operation.
  • The German developed SkySail system for sail-assisted shipping (as featured in HT) is about to get an extended sea trial on a voyage from Europe to Venezuela, Boston and back: “Under favorable wind conditions, the 160-square meter kite shaped like a paraglider is expected to reduce fuel costs by up to 20 percent or more ($1,600 per day) and cut, by a similarly significant amount, its carbon dioxide emissions.” [Yahoo News, Guardian [UK]] There’s lively discussion of the pros and cons over at Frogblog.
  • Some new science: another study confirms that IPCC sea level rise projections are conservative – pointing out that in the last interglacial levels rose by up to 1.6m per century. Work on the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum 55 million years ago, considered the best historical analogue for the present situation, confirms that initial warming caused massive carbon cycle feedbacks that boosted temperatures even further. In the Arctic, warming peaked at about +24C.
  • Some turn of the year roundups: Technology Review covers the year in energy and nanotech (good news for batteries), The Independent [UK] rounds up the climate news, New Scientist brings an earth science perspective, while NOAA presents a nice graphic of the year’s extreme weather events.
  • At Gristmill, Tom Athanasiou takes a perceptive look at the post-Bali world, and Joe Romm explores some of the latest thinking on what sort of target we should be aiming for. Bottom line: we may already be overshooting. And at the New York Times, Jared Diamond explains the collision between population growth and consumption growth. There’s a crunch coming.
  • Finally, NZine reviewed Hot Topic, and liked it: “I strongly recommend everyone to read this book, but especially recommend it to those who make decisions on action to counter the impact of global warming and those who are able to influence the thinking of others on this issue.”

I don’t like Mondays

Lady Young, head of the UK’s Environment Agency, thinks that coping with climate change demands wartime urgency, as the Telegraph [UK] reports:

“This is World War Three – this is the biggest challenge to face the globe for many, many years. We need the sorts of concerted, fast, integrated and above all huge efforts that went into many actions in times of war. We’re dealing with this as if it is peacetime, but the time for peace on climate change is gone – we need to be seeing this as a crisis and emergency,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Observer covers a new report from a peace group:

This stark warning will be outlined by the peace group International Alert in a report, A Climate of Conflict, this week. Much of Africa, Asia and South America will suffer outbreaks of war and social disruption as climate change erodes land, raises seas, melts glaciers and increases storms, it concludes. Even Europe is at risk.

Greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, and the International Energy Agency sees “inexorable”growth in energy demand over the next 30 years with a risk of more coal being burned. It does suggests a 450ppm CO2 limit might be achievable, but:

“Exceptionally quick and vigourous policy action by all countries, and unprecedented technological advances, entailing substantial costs, would be needed to make this case a reality.”

Not much hope of that. And the China Post says EU officials reckon that China will reject binding limits on emissions in any post-Kyoto deal. The words “hell” and “handbasket” spring to mind…On the upside? Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times [UK] looks at options for “fixing” climate through technology (well worth a read), scientists at Harvard and Penn State reckon they’ve found a way to speed up a natural weathering process to neutralise ocean acidity and remove carbon from the atmosphere, and Technology Review reports on a Dutch biofuel company working with a California-based venture capital outfit to develop catalysts that can turn organic matter such as waste wood into biocrude – chemicals that can be processed to make biofuels. If you’ve got money to invest, the Observer [UK] reckons that one of a new breed of green investment funds might be a good place to put it.