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World wakes up to scale of climate challenge, so what should a Labor government do?

World wakes up to scale of climate challenge, so what should a Labor government do?

Quite suddenly, in the wake of the recent IPCC report, it’s become commonplace to talk about a global climate emergency. Al Gore told PBS on 12 October: “We have a global emergency. You use a phrase like that and some people immediately say, ‘okay calm down, it can’t be that bad.’ But it it is.”

On 9 October, a stunning editorial was published in the UK. “The Guardian view on climate change: a global emergency” opened with the sentence: “Climate change is an existential risk to the human race.”

Image Source: Climate Code Red.

A year ago, that would have been extraordinary, but no longer. (An existential risk is one that poses permanent large negative consequences to humanity which can never be undone, or an adverse outcome that would either annihilate intelligent life or permanently and drastically curtail its potential).

n many ways, the recent IPCC report on 1.5°C was too conservative, overestimating the length time till we hit 
1.5°C, and failing to account for crucial feedbacks in the climate system.

Yet the report’s evidence was that 2°C of warming would be catastrophic in so many ways, including for sea-level rise, for coral systems, and for food and water security of hundreds of millions of people, if not more.

The current Paris commitments are a path to 3.4°C of warming, and closer to 5°C when the full range of feedbacks are included.

But even an understatement of the evidence leads to radical conclusions. In response to the report’s release, there was a certain shock and awe, for example by Jeff Goodell in Rolling Stone (“What’s Another Way to Say ‘We’re F-cked’?”) and David Wallace-Wells in New York Magazine (“UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That”).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What goes up must come down: It’s time for a carbon drawdown budget

What goes up must come down: It’s time for a carbon drawdown budget

There is no carbon budget left for 1.5°C climate warming target, which means that to achieve this outcome every tonne of emissions must be matched by a tonne of drawdown of atmospheric carbon from now on. For that reason, carbon budgets and emissions target should be complemented by a carbon drawdown budget and target.

That’s the proposal made by Breakthrough, the Melbourne-based National Centre for Climate Restoration, to the Victorian climate change targets 2021-2030 expert panel, last week.

In the submission, Breakthrough established that:

  • 1.5°C of climate warming is not safe;
  • There is no carbon budget remaining for 1.5°C, so “What goes up must come down”;
  • “Overshoot” in emission reduction scenarios should be minimised in extent and duration to avoid tipping points that may be irreversible on human time-frames.

Here’s the story in more detail.

1.  1.5°C of climate warming is not safe

The Paris Agreement has a policy goal of 1.5–2°C, but even 1.5°C is far from safe and is not a satisfactory target:

  • In 2015, researchers looked at the damage to system elements — including water security, staple crops, land, coral reefs, vegetation and UNESCO World Heritage sites — as the temperature increases. They found all the damage from climate change to vulnerable categories like coral reefs, freshwater availability and plant life could happen before 2°C warming is reached, and much of it before 1.5°C warming.
  •  In 2013, Australian scientists contributed to an important research paper which found that preserving more than 10% of coral reefs worldwide would require limiting warming to below 1.5°C. Recent research found that the surge in ocean warming around the Great Barrier Reef in 2016-17, which led to the loss of half of the 2015 reef area, has a 31% probability of occuring in any year at just the current level of warming.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

1.5°C of warming is closer than we imagine, just a decade away

1.5°C of warming is closer than we imagine, just a decade away

Global warming of 1.5°C is imminent, likely in just a decade from now. That’s the stunning conclusion to be drawn from a number of recent studies, surveyed below.

Paris Commitments now put the
world on a path of 3.4°C of
warming by 2100
(Climate Action Tracker)

So how does hitting warming of 1.5°C a decade from now square with the 2015 Paris Agreement’s goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”? In two words, it doesn’t.

The Paris text was a political fix in which grand words masked inadequate deeds. The voluntary national emission reduction commitments since Paris now put the world on a path of 3.4°C of warming by 2100 (as illustrated), and more than 5°C if high-end risks including carbon-cycle feedbacks are taken into account.

The Paris outcome is an emissions path continuing to rise for another fifteen years, even though it is clear that “if the 1.5°C limit should not be breached in any given year, the budget (is) already overspent today”. Two years ago, Prof. Michael E. Mann noted: “And what about 1.5°C stabilisation? We’re already overdrawn.”

In fact, the emission scenarios associated with the Paris goal show that warming will “overshoot” the 1.5°C target by up to half a degree, before cooling back to it by the end of this century. Those scenarios rely unduly on unproven Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology in the second half of the century, because the Paris Agreement does not encompass the steep emissions reductions that are required right now.

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Quantifying our Faustian bargain with fossil fuels 

Quantifying our Faustian bargain with fossil fuels 

Our Faustian bargain: the byproduct of burning dirty
fossil fuels are short-lived atmospheric aerosols
which provide temporary cooling

The climate system will heat well past 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) and perhaps up to 2°C without any further fossil fuel emissions. That’s the conclusion to be drawn from new research which should also help demystify the rhetoric from the 2015 Paris climate talks of keeping warming to below 1.5°C .

It’s not that 1.5°C isn’t dangerous: in fact, at just 1–1.1°C of warming to date, climate change is already dangerous. A safe climate would be well below the present level of warming, unless you think it is OK to destroy the Arctic ecosystem, tip West West Antarctic glaciers into a self-accelerating melt, and lose the world’s coral reefs, just for starters.

The new research quantifies the effect of losing the very temporary planetary cooling provided by atmospheric aerosols.
Aerosols (including black-carbon soot, organic carbon, sulphates and nitrates and dust) are very short-lived particles in the atmosphere that have a cooling impact that lasts around a week. Most of these aerosols are anthropogenic, that is produced by human activity, and most of the anthropogenic aerosols are a byproduct of the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Perhaps best known are the polluting sulphates and nitrates from coal-fired power stations, that combine with water molecules in the atmosphere to produce what is popularly known as “acid rain”.

The problem is our “Faustian bargain”: these aerosols are keeping the planet cooler than it would otherwise be, but are coming from burning fossil fuels that pour carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, heating the planet for centuries to come. The absolutely essential moves to eliminate fossil fuel emissions will also cut the cooling aerosol impact; the net effect will push the planet towards very dangerous warming conditions.

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What we learned about the climate system in 2017 that should send shivers down the spines of policy makers 

What we learned about the climate system in 2017 that should send shivers down the spines of policy makers 

Much of what happened in 2017 was predictable: news of climate extremes became, how can I put it … almost the norm. There was record-breaking heat on several continents, California’s biggest wildfire (extraordinarily in the middle of winter), an ex-tropical cyclone hitting Ireland (yes, Ireland) in October, and the unprecedented Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria that swept through the Atlantic in August. The US government agency, the NOAA, reported that there were 16 catastrophic billion-dollar weather/climate events in the USA during 2017.

And 2017 “marks the first time some of the (scientific) papers concluded that an event could not have occurred — like, at all — in a world where global warming did not exist. The studies suggested that the record-breaking global temperatures in 2016, an extreme heat wave in Asia and a patch of unusually warm water in the Alaskan Gulf were only possible because of human-caused climate change”, Reuters reported.

At both poles, the news continues to be not good. At the COP23 in Bonn, Pam Pearson, Founder and Director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, warned that the cryoshere is becoming “an irreversible driver of climate change”. She said that most cryosphere thresholds are determined by peak temperature, and the length of time spent at that peak, warning that “later, decreasing temperatures after the peak are largely irrelevant, especially with higher temperatures and longer duration peaks”. Thus “overshoot scenarios”, which are now becoming the norm in policy-making circles (including all 1.5°C scenarios) hold much greater risks.
As well, Pearson said that  2100 is a misleading and minimising measure of cryosphere response: “When setting goals, it is important to look to new irreversible impacts and the steady state circumstances.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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