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Thursday, December 27, 2007

La Niña brings some rain, as Global Climate hots up

One of the important weather factors in the Pacific basin affecting global weather but particularly Pacific Rim countries is the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO). El Niño and La Niña are caused by a change in sea surface temperatures across the Pacific Ocean which affects trade wind patterns which bring rain and drought to regions around the Pacific and further afield. A La Niña condition has been developing since February 2007 and is likely to last to April 2008.

Related: El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

La Niña operating until April 2008

In November/December 2007 we are experiencing La Niña with sea surface temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific below average, and temperatures in the western tropical Pacific above average. La Niña brings rain to Indonesia and Australia and drought to the southwest of the United States, western Mexico, Peru and Chile. Effects are typically opposite to those associated with El Niño.

The Southern Oscillation has a global impact. NASA describes the effect as:

"Globally, La Niña is characterized by wetter than normal conditions west of the equatorial central Pacific over northern Australia and Indonesia during the northern hemisphere winter, and over the Philippines during the northern hemisphere summer. Wetter than normal conditions are also observed over southeastern Africa and northern Brazil, during the northern hemisphere winter season. During the northern hemisphere summer season, the Indian monsoon rainfall tends to be greater than normal, especially in northwest India. Drier than normal conditions are observed along the west coast of tropical South America, and at subtropical latitudes of North America (Gulf Coast) and South America (southern Brazil to central Argentina) during their respective winter seasons."

Australia: Higher than average temperatures and rainfall predicted

The widespread rains in Victoria and New South Wales over the last week were probably partly induced by La Niña. The POAMA model run daily at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology predicts "La Niña conditions to remain over the coming months, persisting until around April 2008." Read more about Australian rainfall patterns during La Niña events.

The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting higher than average temperatures over much of southern Australia from January to March 2008. The temperature on New Years Eve in Melbourne is predicted to be 38 degrees. There is also a greater chance for higher than the median rainfall "in a large area extending from southeast Queensland across both the northern inland and east of NSW. The southwest of WA also has similar chances, although it's a seasonally dry time of the year in this part of the country."

For North and South America "La Niña is the diva of drought,” explained Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It keeps the Pacific jet stream farther north, toward Oregon, Washington, and Canada, so the U.S. Southwest and Southeast get less moisture.”

Warmest Decade on Record

The World Meteorology Organisation announced in a press release on 13 December that the decade of 1998-2007 is the warmest on record. "The global mean surface temperature for 2007 is currently estimated at 0.41°C/0.74°F above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.20°F." The statement also detailed "the record-low Arctic sea ice extent...., a relatively small Antarctic Ozone Hole; development of La Niña in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific; and devastating floods, drought and storms in many places around the world."

"2007 global temperatures have been averaged separately for both hemispheres. Surface temperatures for the northern hemisphere are likely to be the second warmest on record, at 0.63°C above the 30-year mean (1961-90) of 14.6°C/58.3°F. The southern hemisphere temperature is 0.20°C higher than the 30-year average of 13.4°C/56.1°F, making it the ninth warmest in the instrumental record since 1850."

According to the WMO statement "Australia recorded its coldest ever June with the mean temperature dropping to 1.5°C below normal." and "while conditions were not as severely dry as in 2006, long term drought meant water resources remained extremely low in many areas. Below average rainfall over the densely populated and agricultural regions resulted in significant crop and stock losses, as well as water restrictions in most major cities."

Sea Level Rise and Greenland Ice melt Accelerating

The WMO highlighted that sea level continues to rise "substantially above the average for the 20th century of about 1.7 mm per year." According to satellite measurements "global averaged sea level has been rising at about 3 mm per year" since 1993. This comes hot on the news that the melting of the Greenland icecap is accelerating according to study by the Steffen Research Group from the University of Colorado at Boulder. "The amount of ice lost by Greenland over the last year is the equivalent of two times all the ice in the Alps, or a layer of water more than one-half mile deep covering Washington, D.C." said lead climate scientists Konrad Steffen. "The more lubrication there is under the ice, the faster that ice moves to the coast," said Steffen. "Those glaciers with floating ice 'tongues' also will increase in iceberg production." Greenland ice melt currently contributes to global sea levels by about 0.5 millimeters per year. Some climate scientists like James Hansen believe the Greenland ice sheet may disintegrate within 100 years leading to a sea level rise of several metres.


* NASA Earth Observatory La Nina for November. See also from February 2007 El Nino May Be Morphing to La Nina and in October 2007 La Nina Strenghtens in Autumn 2007
* NASA Earth Observatory La Niña Factsheet
* Bureau of Meteorology El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
* Bureau of Meteorology Dec 17, 2007 - Warmer season favoured in southern Australia
* Bureau of Meteorology Dec 17, 2007 - Mixed March quarter rainfall outlook
* World Meteorological Organization Dec 13, 2007Press Release No 805

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Climate Change Road map Agreement Reached in Bali Meeting COP13

Climate Talks concluded in Bali with the United States caving in under pressure of the European Union and the developing world and agreeing to a compromise text in the preamble of "Deep cuts in global emissions will be required" to avoid dangerous climate change. The guideline that rich countries should cut emissions by 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 as recommended by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was moved to a footnote at the US delegation's insistence.

Photos: Transnational Institute | Oxfam | Greenpeace | Related: FoE: Kyoto afloat after attempted sabotage

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Melbourne now Freeway capital of Australia - a Disaster for Climate and Sustainability

A new report from University of Melbourne on travelling to work says that car travel in Melbourne is the "worst performing city over the three decades. It has the biggest increase in car driving and the biggest declines in public transport, car pooling and walking. More cars are driven to work each day in Melbourne than in Sydney, despite Sydney’s much bigger workforce. The share of workers who drive is now higher in Melbourne than in Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart and even Canberra. This appears to be a result of Melbourne having constructed more urban freeways and tollways over the last 30 years than any other capital."
Related: Travel to work in Australian capital cities, 1976-2006 |

Victoria Envirowatch: one year in

The report’s principal author, Dr Paul Mees, said that despite the recent focus on climate change and the push towards more sustainable living, city based workers remain unconvinced with many driving to work. "There has been a dramatic increase in the number of cars driven to work each day in Australia capital city – a 70.1% rise over the past 30 years. That’s more than 1.4 million cars on the road each day since census data began recording work travel information. The result has been a huge increase in greenhouse emissions."

According to the report just over 78% of Melbourne workers drive each day, while just 13.9% use public transport. Cycling accounts for just one per cent of trips everywhere, though the figure is higher in Canberra (2.5%) and in the innercity suburbs of capital cities. Although increasing its profile as sustainable transport for urban workers, cycling is growing from a very low base.

The report says that "The census data show that treating traffic problems by building more roads is an ineffective response. The main result has been to shift travellers out of environmentally friendly modes and into cars. By contrast, the performance of public transport and walking can be improved more cheaply and would produce superior environmental outcomes."

The federal government comes in for criticism over its funding priorities: "The Auslink scheme is exacerbating urban transport problems, because it is biased in favour of new roads and against urban rail infrastructure. Investment needs to be redirected away from urban motorways towards more environmentally friendly modes, particularly public transport and walking. This is the only way Australia can meet its international environmental obligations in the transport arena."

The report recommends that "State governments also need to change their transport policies, which remain dominated by motorway-building. In addition, they need to reform the governance and management of public transport, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, both of which lack competent, dynamic regional public transport agencies."

Big Carbon emissions Projects in the Pipeline

Victorian Premier John Brumby has just come back from the Climate Change talks in Bali and undoubtedly we will see pronouncements about his Governments green credentials and projects to reduce emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. But Kenneth Davidson has just written a scathing column in the Age titled Big projects taking us all for a ride.

Davidson points out that:

* Melburnians are growing more dependent on cars to get to work, and going backwards in terms of comparative trends in other Australian cities. (See Melbourne now Freeway capital of Australia - a disaster for climate and sustainability)
* In 2005 the State Labor Government extended the life of the Hazelwood power station from 2009 to 2031, even though it is the dirtiest power station in the country.
* Building a highly energy intensive desalination plant under a public-private partnership, thus ensuring that we will get and pay for deslinated water and profits for the plant operator even when there is sufficient natural supply in our water reservoirs. In other words profits from selling water will take priority over CO2 emissions and climate change.
* The Government is considering an east-west tunnel connecting the Eastern Freeway to EastLink, running under the Melbourne Cemetery at a time of rising oil prices with the onset of Peak Oil which will make "tollways redundant long before their economic life ends."
* There has been no significant heavy rail extensions since the opening of the Glen Waverley line in 1930. According to Davidson Melbourne's public transport system has been mismanaged since its privatisation in 1999 with subsidies to Melbourne's public transport operators having doubled in real terms since 1999.

According to Environment Victoria half of the Victorian Government’s environment election promises are at risk of not being delivered or have already been broken. The report says that the State Government has broken three of its 68 pre-election environment promises, while another 31 show little or no signs of progress. It has so far kept seven of its pre-election promises, while another 27 are on target to be delivered. The broken promises relate to the decision to raid rivers of their legal water entitlements to provide water for urban use and agriculture. Over 50 per cent of the Government’s climate change promises are at risk of not being delivered.

Ms O’Shanassy from Environment Victoria said the Government would need to significantly boost energy efficiency and renewable energy programs over the next three years to meet their election promises. "Unfortunately, even if all these promises are met, they are unlikely to ensure Victoria’s greenhouse gas emissions actually fall," she said. "What we’re really missing is a short-term target to reduce pollution that informs all government decisions."

Don't hold your breathe. Our politicians are stuffing up in not funding major public transport infrastructure building in reversing car dependence. This particularly affects outer suburban areas. The crunch will come with Peak Oil as petrol prices increase as demand soars. Transport is second to Electricity production in its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. The greater the intransigence now the greater the social cost downstream to our children and grandchildren.


* Travel to work in Australian capital cities, 1976-2006: an analysis of census data | Press Release
* Envirowatch: one year in

Originally published at Melbourne Cyclist by Takver