Signs of things to come: Salinger on Australian heatwaves

Climate change is happening now and Australia is in the firing line says Jim Salinger in this guest post. This article first appeared in the Dominion Post.

As I watch from my summer subtropical perch in Brisbane, Queensland, the somewhat unprecedented rains that deluged parts of Australia during the summer of 2010/11 have been replaced by sizzling heat waves this summer. These raise some pertinent lessons on climate and risk management for New Zealand. Firstly let’s look at some figures and ask the question of what are the climate mechanisms behind the heat waves.

For December 2011 the Bureau of Meteorology figures show that the highest temperatures of the year occurred in the third Australian heat wave of the year. This affected the Pilbara region in the north west of Western Australia. Multiple sites broke the previous Western Australian December record of 48.8ºC on December 26, 1986 with Roebourne recording 49.4ºC on December 21, Onslow Airport recording 49.2ºC on the 22nd and Learmonth 48.9ºC on the 23rd. Roebourne’s 49.4ºC was the highest temperature recorded in Australia since 1998.

This month incessant heat has struck the interior with daytime highs soaring to the mid forties. As I pen this there are a few more days of this heat wave left with temperatures averaging between 35ºC and 40ºC in central Australia. Places have been recording daily lows of 30ºC and daily highs of close to 45ºC. Mean temperatures have been running over 6ºC above average.

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The verdict on Durban – a major step forward, but not for ten years

In this guest post, Mark Lynas, author of Six Degrees, High Tide and The God Species, advisor to the president of the Maldives, analyses the outcome of the Durban conference and what it means for the future of international climate negotiations. It’s one the best and most detailed accounts I’ve come across, from someone at the heart of the action. This article was first published at his personal blog.

Following the marathon negotiations session at Durban, all the delegates should now be back home – and if not quite rested, certainly ready to assess the outcome with the benefit of some distance. In this (rather long) post I will look at the key documents agreed in the Durban outcome, and try to offer some sense of what they mean for the climate regime, and for the climate. (Apologies for some jargon, and for unexplained acronyms, which should be familiar to anyone following the negotiations, and without which this post would be even longer still.)

The Durban mandate

During the second week of COP17 the South African presidency operated an ‘Indaba’ system of high-level meetings, where an options paper was gradually whittled down into a decision text on the crucial issue of the future legal form of the UNFCCC regime. Various iterations of this paper produced some rollercoaster ups and downs from the perspective of a small islands state delegate (as advisor to the President, I once again joined the Maldives delegation). The final version, agreed in the small hours on Sunday 11 December — nearly 48 hours after the COP was supposed to have concluded — is titled ‘Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action'(PDF link).

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NZ needs a bold low-carbon business strategy

This guest post in Hot Topic’s election series comes from Phillip Mills, one of the founders (with Rob Morrison, Lloyd Morrison, Sir Stephen Tindall, Joan Withers, Prof Sir Paul Callaghan, Jeremy Moon, Rob Fyfe, Chris Liddell, Sir George Fistonich, Geoff Ross and Justine Smyth) of Pure Advantage, a group set up to promote green growth strategies for New Zealand. It was first published in a slightly different form in the NZ Herald last week.

We’ve seen during the past two months what this country is capable of when we all pull together. In this election, we should demand that our politicians give the same level of strategy, planning and commitment to our economic future. New Zealand’s environmental reputation continues to be tested. The Rena saga, followed by a second fossil fuel-related blow with the Vector natural gas pipe rupture is feeding public unease about how prepared we are to manage New Zealand’s green brand.

A 2008 study showed that a 5% reputational loss in primary products and international tourism will cost the New Zealand economy more than 22,000 jobs, annual direct losses of $455 million in primary product sales and $155 million in international tourism sales.

However, the long-term damage to New Zealand’s brand will not come from Rena, or even the risks of a tanker accident or deep-water drilling disaster should we decide to go down that track, but from a failure to take up the opportunities we have to shift more of our resources and talent pool into the low-carbon industries that will drive the future global economy.

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