Submissions for the New Zealand government’s half-hearted consultation on post-2020 emissions targets closed last Wednesday. I managed to sneak my contribution in just before the 5pm deadline. It remains to be seen whether it will be read. I heartily recommend reading the Royal Society’s submission – a very clear statement of the issues and NZ’s responsibilities. The Generation Zero submission is also well worth a look (pdf here). More than 4,600 people used G0’s automated submission tool, which should ensure that the MfE is well aware that this is an issue people take seriously. In the meantime, here’s what I had to say…
New Zealand’s Climate Change Target: Our contribution to the new international climate change agreement, the discussion document produced by the Ministry for the Environment to accompany the consultation process, is in my view misleading and misguided. It presents a distorted and unhelpful view of the dimensions of the challenge NZ faces. In order to arrive at a pragmatic understanding of how NZ’s domestic policy settings on greenhouse gas emissions should be adjusted to best align with a solution to this huge global problem, it’s necessary to consider the scientific and geopolitical context. NZ’s policy solutions should flow from, and work with, our best understanding of the science that underpins the need for action to cut emissions and to stabilise and reduce atmospheric CO2 loading. NZ also needs to consider the direct climate and strategic risks it faces as a result of inevitable climate change and design policy that limits those risks and increases resilience to them.
Evidence from studies of past climate conditions suggests that the last time atmospheric CO2 stood at 400 ppm — 3 million years ago, during the Pliocene — global sea levels were around 20 metres higher than today, and global average temperature was 2-3ºC above pre-industrial (the global average temperature of 200 years ago). As atmospheric CO2 continues to climb above 400 ppm, the only practical question is how long it will take the ice sheets of Greenland and the Antarctic to melt. It may take hundreds to thousands of years to see the full extent of the sea level rise implicit in current CO2 levels, but it’s worth noting that for every 1 ppm we add above 400 ppm, we add to the warming and the final amount of sea level rise. We have already committed future generations to a world with radically different shorelines. We are already heading for substantial warming and increasing damages from climate change.
Continue reading “NZ’s Paris emissions commitments should be 40% by 2030 and 100% (or more) by 2050”
Today’s news that the US and China have agreed a long term policy to reduce carbon emissions is being hailed as a “game-changer” in international climate negotiations. China has agreed to cap its emissions in 2030 — the first time it has committed to anything more than a reduction in the carbon intensity of its emissions, while the US will aim to cut emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025, up from its current target of 17% by 2020. [BBC, Guardian, Climate Progress.] Meanwhile, NZ’s third term National government is being warned by its own civil servants that its current emissions policy settings commit the country to substantial emissions increases over the same time frame.
With the world’s two largest emitters — between them they account for 45% of total emissions — agreeing to work together for the first time, prospects for a global deal in Paris next year look brighter than before. However, the cuts on the table do not look like enough to keep the planet on a trajectory to 2 degrees of warming or less. Associate professor Peter Christoff of the University of Melbourne explains (via The Conversation):
These commitments will frame the levels of ambition required of other states at Paris next year. Climate modellers will no doubt now be rushing to determine what these new commitments, if delivered successfully, will mean for combating global warming.
The US and Chinese cuts, significant though they are, will not be enough to limit the total increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide unless other states engage in truly radical reductions.
In other words, global emissions are likely to continue to grow, probably until 2030, which will make it impossible to hold global warming below the world’s agreed limit of 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.
In New Zealand the briefings for incoming ministers in the new government — same as the old lot, in climate relevant ministries — have been remarkably blunt in their assessment of the task the country faces. Continue reading “China and US reach emissions deal, NZ govt warned its policies are failing”
The New Zealand government has ordered officials at the Ministry of Environment to stop work on the development of a national environmental standard (NES) on sea level rise, enquiries by the Science Media Centre have revealed. Lack of an NES for future sea level increases will force each local authority to make up its own mind about how much to allow for ocean encroachment. A ministry spokesman told the SMC:
At this stage there are no plans to progress the proposed NES. The Minister for the Environment has made it clear that current guidance provides local government with both the information and the flexibility to plan locally for rises in sea levels.
An NES on sea level rise would have simplified sea level planning for local authorities, who currently may choose to rely on “guidance” provided by the ministry, based on work by NIWA. This currently suggests that authorities should allow for 0.5 m rise by the 2090s, and that they should consider the impacts of a 0.8 m rise in that time frame.
There are two major problems here: the current guidance numbers, first published in 2009, are increasingly out of line with the latest research, and the lack of a national standard means that climate sceptics can waste time and ratepayer money by forcing planning authorities to adjudicate on their minority views.
Continue reading “NZ govt dumps national environmental standard for sea level rise”