Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Guest Post: Human hands are all over Australia's hottest ever year in 2013

New research by multiple separate research groups shows that extreme heat events are increasing and can be clearly attributable to global warming. The research draws upon modelling and Fractional Attribution of Risk (FAR) of extreme weather events including from Australian scientists who have shown that extreme heatwaves and hot spells are caused by the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It confirms earlier published research by Karoly and Lewis that the Record Australian 2013 temperatures caused by climate change.

Australia is already feeling the heat of global warming and Spending wisely now will make heatwaves less costly later. Our cities in particular are becoming hothouses in summer as global warming amplifies the urban heat island effect which along with increasing urbanisation like in Sydney, provides major climate impacts. There are already major challenges for adaptation for cities like Melbourne with Municipal Councils often on the front line.

Human hands all over Australia's hottest ever year

By Sophie Lewis, Australian National University and Sarah Perkins

2013 was Australia’s hottest year on record, but how much of that was due to human-caused climate change?

Today scientists publish five research papers that reveal the extent of human influence on Australia’s extreme climate conditions in 2013. The papers are published in the latest issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

These new, comprehensive analyses show that people didn’t just leave fingerprints on the record-breaking heat: we left a clear handprint.

Records falling like dominoes

In Australia, 2013 was a year of extremes. Throughout 2013, temperature records were broken regularly and by ever-increasing margins.

Unusual heat started in mid-2012 and persisted throughout 2013. On January 7, we experienced our hottest day on record — 40.3C — as we sweltered under a “dome of heat”. January ended up being the hottest month on record, and the 2012-13 summer was the hottest recorded for the nation.

Later in 2013, the nation-wide temperature record set for the month of September exceeded the previous record by more than a degree — this was the largest temperature anomaly for any month yet recorded.

High spring temperatures were also associated with early bushfires in NSW in October, and severely dry conditions in parts of eastern Australia.

Averaged across the whole continent, 2013 was the hottest year since the Bureau of Meteorology records began over a century ago in 1910.

However, these exceptional events alone do not reveal why we experienced such severe conditions.

Natural variability always plays an important role in the occurrence of weather and climate extremes. Could our exceptional 2013 heat simply have resulted from natural climate variations? Or was something else contributing to these record-breaking temperatures?

ARCCSS, Author provided

Climate forensics

Climate scientists often talk about the human fingerprint on the climate system. These are the sometimes-subtle changes we are currently observing in the climate, beyond the simple changes in global average temperatures.

The new studies published today show that people’s influence on the record-breaking heat of 2013 was anything but subtle.

Each scientific paper in this issue delves into the causes of a particular aspect of 2013 extreme climate events, with the aim of identifying if human influences played a role. The extreme Australian heat held a considerable focus, with five out of the 22 papers analysing various record-breaking heat events from 2013.

The individual studies can be accessed through the journal website here.

The first study led by Sarah Perkins from the University of New South Wales focused on Australian heat during the 2012/13 summer by investigating two measures of heatwaves. These are the total number of heatwaves and the hottest day occurring during a heatwave during that summer.

Despite heatwave frequency measuring much more “extreme” than heatwave intensity for this season (there were more heatwaves than we’d expect, but, at the continental scale, they weren’t the hottest we’ve had), a human signal was found in both heatwave measures. Human activity, through increased greenhouse gases, increased the likelihood of heatwave intensity and frequency by twice and three times, respectively.

The second study led by Julie Arblaster from the Bureau of Meteorology examined the 2013 record high September maximum temperatures over Australia. September marked the peak of the record warm period that began right back in mid-2012.

This study found that record September temperatures arose from a combination of complex factors. An unusual atmospheric circulation pattern occurred to the southwest of Australia, coincident with an unusually warm and dry land surface.

A significant human fingerprint in the warm surface conditions was clear - anthropogenic climate change also played an important role in the record Australian temperatures in September 2013.

Very few parts of Australia escaped above average temperatures in 2013.
Bureau of Meteorology

The third study led by Andrew King at the University of New South Wales focused on both the record temperatures and the ensuing drought that set in across much of eastern Australia in 2013. Has the risk of hot and dry years such as 2013 increased due to human-induced climate change?

This found the extreme heat was caused by both very dry conditions over the interior of the continent, and anthropogenic warming. The combination of extreme heat and drought conditions across Australia very likely increased by at least seven times due to climate change.

In the fourth study, Sophie Lewis and David Karoly from the University of Melbourne investigated the annual temperature record of 2013 for the whole of Australia. They examined both natural and anthropogenic factors as possible causes.

The record-breaking temperatures experienced in Australia fall entirely outside the bounds of natural climate variability estimated using a suite of state-of-the-art climate models. This means it is virtually impossible to reach such a temperature record due to natural climate variations without warming from greenhouse gases.

This result was confirmed independently by the fifth study from Thomas Knutson at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While both natural climate variability and global warming contribute to recent temperature records, anthropogenic global warming made a crucial contribution to our 2013 extreme temperatures.

The human handprint

Together, these papers provide a comprehensive answer to the question of what caused these records. They there are multiple lines of evidence that climate change is already having a significant impact on Australia.

Climate change is already increasing the likelihood of heatwaves occurring in Australia and the temperatures we experience during these heatwaves. Extremely hot months, seasons and years are already more likely in Australia.

This human handprint will likely increase the future risk of extremely warm days, months, season and years in Australia. We will likely also see an increase in the risk of heatwaves and dry conditions acting in combination with heat to produce drought.

These five studies give us insight into our climate future. As the climate warms even further with increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, the human handprint on Australia’s climate extremes also grows larger. But should we care?

Heatwaves are associated with costly and devastating impacts not just on the environment but also for human health, infrastructure and agriculture. They cause the greatest number of deaths than any other natural disasters in Australia.

Hot months and seasons are important risk factors for the occurrence of severe droughts and for bushfire weather, posing considerable threats to our food and water sources, property and natural environment.

In order to reduce the serious impacts of more frequent and more severe heat, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we must adapt to the changes already set in motion.

The Conversation

Sophie Lewis is a Research Fellow at The Australian National University node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

Sarah Perkins receives funding from the Australian Research Council as a DECRA research fellow.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Australia's Foreign minister Julie Bishop shunned at UN climate summit

The original article was published at nofibs.com.au.

Australia's Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop took the podium at the United Nations Climate Summit to an almost empty plenary to announce that Australia was balancing economic growth with climate action, with a 5 per cent cut based on 2000 levels by 2020 using $2.55 billion to fund emission reductions under the Government's Direct Action Plan. (Read speech) Two photos tell the story of her address to this climate summit, of the vast gap between the government's rhetoric and actual action.

The first is the more flattering image the Abbott Government would prefer you to see tweeted by Australia's ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations Gary Quinlan:

The second photo is a wide angle shot encompassing much of the plenary room and shows that most delegates and ministers were not present when Ms Bishop delivered her statement. While this does not in itself mean much, it is symptomatic of Australia being diplomatically shunned for it's retrograde steps on climate policy, including being the first country to abolish a carbon pricing scheme, and the snubbing of the summit by Prime Minister Tony Abbott who attended UN sessions discussing on terrorism the following day.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

South Australia sets 50 per cent renewables target for 2025

Congratulations to South Australian Premier Jay Wetherall who announced this past week that the state was about to reach it's 2020 target of 33 per cent renewables in the electricity sector and had chosen to increase this target to 50 per cent by 2020.

“This new target of half of the States power to be generated by renewable sources will create jobs and drive capital investment and advanced manufacturing industries." he said in a statement. (statement PDF)

The Federal Renewable Energy Target (RET) has been a significant factor in attracting $5.5 billion in investment and was likely to support a further $4.4 billion by 2025, creating much needed jobs in solar installation and advanced manufacturing.

“This new target of half of the States power to be generated by renewable sources will create
jobs and drive capital investment and advanced manufacturing industries." Wetherall said, “But we will only be successful with both of these targets if the Federal Government maintains the current Renewable Energy Target Scheme arrangements."

The Abbott Government Warburton review of the RET has recommended either closing the scheme to new investors or by setting targets based on the growth of electricity demand. Both of these options would throw a spanner in the works of investment in renewable energy in Australia.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Oxfam: Green Climate Fund pledges still far below target for funding adaptation by developing countries

The UN Climate Change Summit in New York brought many new pledges and commitments on emissions reduction targets, reduced deforestation, and in financing the Green Climate Fund, and many more.

It was hailed by by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as a successful start for negotiating a global climate agreement in Paris in December 2015 at COP21.

But Graça Machel, the widow of Nelsen Mandela, who followed Ban Ki-moon in the closing speeches of the summit, identified that there is still "a huge mismatch between the magnitude and of the challenge and the response that we heard here today". Machel is a member of the elders, an independent group of global leaders foundered by Nelson Mandela.

Take the Green Climate Fund as an example.

Graça Machel: Are pledges enough to avoid the climate change precipice?

The widow of Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, addressed the UN Climate summit in the closing ceremony directly after UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon's closing statement and questioned whether the pledges made so far meet the challenge that we face.

Because our very survival may depend upon these decisions.

"We have reached a tipping point" she said, "So our commitments must be ambitious enough to stop us falling over the precipice. And personally I have mixed feelings. I acknowledge that there is the beginning of understanding of the gravity of the challenge that we face. But at the same time I have the impression that there is a huge mismatch between the magnitude and of the challenge and the response that we heard here today. The scale is much more than what we have achieved."

Machel highlighted the huge marches on Sunday in New York, Melbourne and around the world demanding action on climate justice, which brought applause from those in the chamber.

"So the obligation in my view is to step up the ambition, is to maximise fairness, to increase the momentum, and to make sure that from now to Paris, each one of us has made their homework of matching the magnitude of the problem with the response we are prepared to do. We, citizens of the world, will be watching." Machel told the 120 world leaders and other representatives gathered.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

UN Climate summit advances pledges while Australia, Canada noticeably reticent

The UN climate summit has resulted in an extensive range of promises and commitments on climate action. But noticeably absent is any mention of commitments from Canada and Australia. These two countries both have high carbon fossil fuel mining industries with governments in denial on taking effective climate action on a national level to reign in emissions and the mining and export of fossil fuels.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Australian Government in denial on proposals for climate action at UN Climate summit

The reason the Peoples Climate protest occurred is that there is a UN summit on climate change on 23 September called by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to motivate more ambitious targets to be brought to the negotiating table. About 120 heads of state are attending, but not Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott who claims he needs to stay in Canberra an extra day, even though he is scheduled to be in New York for the UN General Assembly debate on the threat of terrorism the following day. What a lame excuse! In his place Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop is being sent.

Ms Bishop will be attending the climate summit as a "leaner" not a "lifter". Countries have been urged to bring along ambitious plans for emissions cuts to take the plans for an agreement in Paris forward, but Ms Bishop told the Sydney Morning Herald that Australia would only confirm a 5 per cent emissions cut on 2000 levels by 2020 and that it was "too early" for plans for deeper emissions cuts beyond Australia's existing policies. At a meeting in New York of the top 17 economies hosted by United States Secretary of State John Kerry, Bishop called this an "ambituous target".

What world are they living in?

30,000 rally in Melbourne and more in regional Victoria for action on climate change

A beautiful spring day brought out the crowds to attend the Peoples Climate Melbourne rally. But the hum had been in the air that this was going to draw a large crowd. As it turns out, over 30,000 people turned up and marched from the State Library of Victoria to the Treasury Gardens through Melbourne's streets demanding greater action on climate change .

There were short speeches outside the State Library of Victoria by Labor's Shadow Minister for the Environment Mark Butler MP (Watch video), Senator Christine Milne, leader of the Australian Greens (Watch video), and Professor Tim Flannery of the Climate Council (Watch video).

Friday, September 19, 2014

PwC report: World still on track for dangerous warming this century

The latest Pricewaterhousecoopers (PwC) Low Carbon Economy Index (LCEI) shows that the world is still on track for 3.7 to 4.8°C of warming by the end of the century, rather than the 2 degrees limit committed to at Copenhagen in 2009 and at subsequent climate talks. But there are small glimers of climate hope from the continued growth in renewables and in the reduction in carbon intensity reported by some countries. Australia in particular was a surprise showing a 7.2 per cent reduction in carbon intensity in 2013, more than any other major nation.

However, even if all current policies on the table were fully implemented at their highest ambition range, the planet would still be on a trajectory of at least 3 degrees warming by the end of the century.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

HESTA Super Fund restricts thermal coal investments

The first major Australian industry superannuation fund advised on Friday they were restricting thermal coal investment due to the growing risk of 'unburnable carbon' with the growing global push to limit global warming.

HESTA, the super fund for employees in health and community services, announced a progressive implementation of a restriction on investments in thermal coal, across all it's funds, not just it's ethical fund. HESTA has $29 billion under funds management with 785,000 members and 155,000 employers.

Anne-Marie Corboy, HESTA Chief Executive Officer, said that this was an increasing restriction as part of the Fund’s ongoing response to the increasing impact of climate change on its long-term investments. In a media statement she commented:

“This ‘unburnable carbon’ is likely to become an increasing risk in the medium to long term, especially for companies heavily invested in thermal coal, or those seeking to develop new long-term assets.

“HESTA is of the view that, new or expanded thermal coal assets face the highest risk of becoming stranded before the end of their useful life.

“It is not prudent, nor in the long-term interest of members, to invest in the expansion of these assets.

“The push to limit the impact of global warming requires economies to move to a lower-carbon intensive future and investors have an important role to play in this transition.

“HESTA believes that further investment in developing new, or expanding existing, thermal coal reserves is inconsistent with this imperative to reduce carbon emissions.”