Things are gonna change (the morning after)

On the morning after I was more interested in the rugby than agonising over the entrails of Saturday night’s election result, but today it’s worth traversing what new Zealand’s new political landscape might bring for climate policy. For the wider picture, I recommend Russell Brown’s take at Hard News and Gordon Campbell’s at Scoop; they summarise the politics of the situation nicely.

The big question, of course, is to what extent Rodney Hide’s ACT contingent – guaranteed a coalition deal, with Hide in cabinet – can persuade prime minister designate John Key to modify National’s policy on the Emissions Trading Scheme (keeping it, but watering it down even further).

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The green green grass of home

Back at my desk briefly (it’s a hectic week), some catching up in progress. The Going West panel session on Saturday morning was fun to do, and well received. There will be a recording available (for download, I hope) and I’ll link to that if/when it’s available. The climate change legal summit in Te Papa was a fascinating couple of days, with excellent speakers. Some of it was fairly dry stuff, as you might expect when considering the legal minutiae of carbon trading, and how the ETS might interact with the RMA process, but there were really useful sessions on dealing with greenwash, checking out the quality of offsets, the pitfalls of carbon trading, and so on. Highlights for me were Judge Shonagh Kenderdine on how climate change is being treated in the Environment Court (with special reference to sea level rise), Karen Price on the process (and contractual pitfalls) of carbon trading, and Professor Martin Manning on climate science and politics. Prof Manning had some interesting thoughts on targets – which luckily for me, reinforced the message I’d given in my morning introduction. There were also interesting and challenging presentations on agriculture and its future from Guy Salmon and Chris Ward (Hort NZ). All good stuff: would be great if it could find a wider audience, because this is where the real debate about climate change is – dealing with it, and moving forward.

Celia of the seals

sealhat.jpg It appears that my wish is someone’s command. Last month, blogging on the continuing break-up of the Wilkins ice shelf, I noted a reference to “seal hats” as data gathering devices and expressed a wish to see them. And here they are! Little devices glued to the heads of elephant seals that gather data as the seals as they go about their daily business. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science explains:

Here, we show that southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) equipped with oceanographic sensors can measure ocean structure and water mass changes in regions and seasons rarely observed with traditional oceanographic platforms. In particular, seals provided a 30-fold increase in hydrographic profiles from the sea-ice zone, allowing the major fronts to be mapped south of 60°S and sea-ice formation rates to be inferred from changes in upper ocean salinity. […] By measuring the high-latitude ocean during winter, elephant seals fill a ‘‘blind spot’’ in our sampling coverage, enabling the establishment of a truly global ocean-observing system.

Abstract here, full paper here[PDF]. More coverage at New Scientist, e! Science News.

Ice ice baby

CTarctic4808.jpg The fat lady’s not yet in the building, but her limo’s outside the theatre. There’s another five or six weeks of melting to go, but there’s more than just sea ice melting in the Arctic, and more than my few meagre wagers riding on how summer turns out ‘oop North. Here’s a compendium of interesting recent stuff…

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Ballad of broken seas

CRW_3037.jpg The Ministry for the Environment released an updated Coastal Hazards and Climate Change manual for local government last week, based on work done by NIWA. It incorporates the latest NZ thinking on where sea-levels are heading. If you’re planning to build something that has to last until the end of the century (and that covers a lot of coastal infrastructure), you should allow for half a metre of sea-level rise, and consider the consequences of an increase of up to 80cm. The report says:

For planning and decision timeframes out to the 2090s (2090–2099):

a. a base value sea-level rise of 0.5 m relative to the 1980–1999 average should be used, along with

b. an assessment of the potential consequences from a range of possible higher sea-level rises (particularly where impacts are likely to have high consequence or where additional future adaptation options are limited). At the very least, all assessments should consider the consequences of a mean sea-level rise of at least 0.8 m relative to the 1980–1999 average.

For planning and decision timeframes beyond 2100 where, as a result of the particular decision, future adaptation options will be limited, an allowance for sea-level rise of 10 mm per year beyond 2100 is recommended (in addition to the above recommendation).

Local authorities have a duty to understand this stuff (under the RMA and other legislation), so the report is highly detailed. If you’ve ever hankered after an in-depth understanding the processes that underlie storm surges, beach (and bach) erosion, tidal ranges and tsunamis, there’s no better place to start. If you want to see what impact that sort of rise might have on your area, try Global Warming Art’s excellent Google Maps mashup Sea Level Rise Explorer, or check NASA JPL’s new climate change site for the global sea level picture [Flash required].

Also released last week: the edited highlights (with pretty pictures) version of the Preparing For Climate Change guidance manual published last May which incorporates NIWA’s latest climate projections for NZ. Essential. And free.