Down by the seaside

This year’s NZ Climate Change Centre conference, to be held at Te Papa in Wellington next month, focusses on sea level rise, and how communities can adapt to the inevitable encroachment of the ocean. The organisers have laid on some excellent speakers, include Aussie oceanographer and sea level expert John Church, as well as many directly involved with the issues raised by sea level rise in New Zealand. The conference programme aims to:

  • Present the latest science of sea-level rise associated with climate change, including the role of polar ice-sheet melt
  • Present a synthesis of recent projections for sea-level rise and discuss the uncertainties associated with these projections
  • Identify anticipated impacts on New Zealand coastal environment and infrastructure resulting from climate change
  • Discuss whether adaptive risk management for adapting to sea-level rise will be adequate given the ranges projected and their uncertainties
  • Stimulate discussion of how end-users can manage present and future coastal issues and how social and bio-physical scientists, central and local government, and infrastructure operators can work together with communities to build resilient systems
  • Describe approaches that have been taken to planning coastal futures, which take into account community and resource-user needs underpinned by plausible climate change projections, adaptive approaches to manage uncertainties, and sound approaches to developing coastal policies.

Sounds like a very worthwhile couple of days. It’ll be interesting to hear what the “synthesis of recent projections for sea-level rise” suggests we’re in for, so if any HT readers are planning to attend, I’d be very happy to carry some conference reports.

For what it’s worth, in my view two numbers and one uncomfortable fact are of prime importance. We’re committed to warming, and therefore to sea level rise. The peak level of atmospheric CO2 that we reach (unless we can cut it very quickly after the peak by active carbon removal) will set the final quantum of sea level rise the planet will experience. The latest paleoclimate evidence suggests that current CO2 levels are putting us on course for an eventual 20 metres of sea level rise. Pick your final CO2 concentration, and calibrate against times past. At 300 ppm in the last interglacial, sea level was 6 metres higher than present.

The consequence of where we end up on the atmospheric carbon scale is a long term inevitable and uncomfortable commitment to continuously increasing sea level. It might be enough for some purposes to consider only a metre or two over the the next century, but if you’re planning to rebuild a city, perhaps you should look a little further ahead. Fascinating discussions are in store in Wellington, I confidently predict…

I was lucky enough to attend (and speak) at last year’s conference1, and I’m sure that this year’s effort will be just as worthwhile.


  1. The proceedings of last year’s forum are now available from the NZ CCRI. []

We can’t rule out catastrophic climate change

A couple of weeks ago I plugged an upcoming talk by Pieter Tans of NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Lab in Boulder — a carbon cycle specialist and winner of the Roger Revelle Medal. The talk has now been and gone (on Wednesday in Wellington), and the Science Media Centre has made an audio recording available. It’s embedded below the fold, and very well worth a listen. After an excellent introduction to climate basics (basic physics and chemistry mean that the climate’s changing), Tans traverses our addiction to fossil fuels, and how we might fix the problem.

Continue reading “We can’t rule out catastrophic climate change”

Te Papa (got a brand new climate bag)

I’m off to Wellington next week to take part in the NZ Climate Change Research Institute‘s Climate Futures Forum being held in Te Papa on Thursday and Friday. The forum’s organised around four themes:

  • Climate change and society’s challenge
  • Communication between the science community and society
  • Human behaviour and the capacity to change
  • Towards durable decision-making

There’s a great line-up of speakers and participants: scientists David Karoly, Martin Manning and Dave Frame, science writers Fred Pearce and Erik Conway (Naomi Oreskes’ co-author on Merchants of Doubt) and many others. I’m taking part in a “café” session on the Thursday evening (giving a short 8 minute talk) and then on Friday evening joining Pearce and Conway on stage at the Soundings Theatre in the museum at 6-30pm to discuss climate communication (Sean Plunket in the chair, tickets are free). I’ll be trying to grab a few interviews for future Climate Shows, but most of all I’ll be listening and learning (and perhaps tweeting/blogging a bit, if I have time). Promises to be a fascinating few days, even if I don’t go to see the colossal squid.

Just in from the RSNZ newsletter: Professor Martin Manning, Founding Director, NZ Climate Change Research Institute, invites members of the public to attend two events which are part of the climate change forum on 31 March and 1 April.

  • Café session (free) – What can we do as individuals? – panel hosted by Ian Wedde with Gareth Renowden, Sir Lloyd Geering, Professor Bob Gifford and Dr Bronwyn Hayward. 31 March, 6.30 – 8.00pm, Te Papa.
  • Breakfast session (free) – Responding to big risks – panel hosted by Chris Laidlaw with Martin Kreft, Fred Pearce, Colin James and Professor David Karoly. 1 April, 7.00am – 8.30am, Te Papa.

For more information, and to register for the forum and these events, visit – email Liz Thomas, or phone 04 463 5507.

[Update: Thursday evening Café Session and Friday business breakfast events are now free, thanks to sponsorship by the British High Commission. You’ll still need tickets though, so contact Liz for more info.]

[James Brown, of course]

Wade in the water

Estimates of the sea level rise that will result from continued global warming continue to increase, with two recent papers adding more evidence that the IPCC AR4 projections were unrealistically low. The rise this century could be as high as 1.9 metres, and the long term response to a warming limited to 2ºC could be 6 – 9 metres the studies suggest. There are also signs that New Zealand planners are beginning to take the issue seriously, with Nelson and Wellington both considering the impacts of sea level rises of over a metre.

Continue reading “Wade in the water”