Monday, June 30, 2008

China calls for rich countries help on climate change

Posted Sun Jun 29, 2008 10:38am AEST

China says developed countries have to help developing countries reduce emissions. (Getty Images: Guang Niu, file photo)

Addressing climate change head-on is in China's best interests, but it needs developed countries to do their fair share, President Hu Jintao said in a speech reported by the Xinhua news agency.

Mr Hu called on developed countries to step up efforts on emission reduction, and provide financial and technical support for developing countries.

China will participate in next month's G8 meeting in Hokkaido, Japan, where climate change is top on the agenda. Countries are trying to set new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that will take effect after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

Although China is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, on a per person basis it produces far less than many developed countries.

Chinese negotiators also point out that the country is only just catching up after two centuries of industrialisation in the West.

But Chinese policy makers are increasingly worried about the impact on China of global warming, which could dry up rivers that water the arid north and intensify flooding in the south.

China also suffers from intensely polluted water and air.

"How we cope with climate change is related to the country's economic development and people's practical benefits," Mr Hu told a study session on climate change.

"It's in line with the country's basic interests.

"Our task is tough, and our time is limited.

"Party organisations and governments at all levels must give priority to emission reduction ... and drive the idea deep into people's hearts."

Mr Hu urged organisations and companies to optimise energy use, recycle resources, increase forest coverage, explore water resources scientifically and strengthen international cooperation.

He called for enhancing China's ability to monitor, forecast and withstand extreme natural disasters brought by abnormal weather.

Flooding this summer has already killed over 200 people across China, after an earthquake in Sichuan province in May left more than 80,000 dead or missing and millions homeless.

Unusual rainfall could make this summer's flooding the worst in decades, the Sichuan meteorological bureau said.

Tropical storm Fengshan killed at least 15 people in Guangzhou and Jiangxi province after it came ashore on Wednesday and was downgraded from typhoon level.

It killed hundreds in the Philippines last week.

Floodwaters released from a swollen reservoir in southern Guangdong province caused a 300-metre bridge in the Baiyun district of Guangzhou to collapse, Chinese media said on Saturday.

And a month of unusual rainfall in Beijing claimed three lives and injured eight people who were overcome by gases when they tried to unblock a flooded sewer in Miyun County.

- Reuters

North Pole may have ice-free period this summer: US expert

There could be a brief time this summer when there is no ice on the North Pole, a US scientist said overnight, blaming global warming that has melted the Arctic ice sheet over decades.

"We could have no ice at the North Pole at the end of this summer," National Snow and Ice Data Centre scientist Mark Serreze said.

"And the reason here is that the North Pole area right now is covered with very thin ice and this ice we call first year ice, the ice that tends to melt out in the summer."

He put the chances of there being no ice at one point at 50 per cent, saying it could see "ships sail from Alaska to the North Pole, that's possible".

The ice on the north pole has melted before, "but certainly not in modern times," Mr Serreze said.

"Clearly if you look over what we have seen in the past three years and where we were headed, we are in ... this long-term decline and we may have no ice at all in the Arctic Ocean in summer by 2030 or so."

Britain gears up for $200b green shift

Gordon Brown says the UK must work to innovate in the field of alternative energy. (Reuters: David Moir)

As the Federal Government wrestles with the implementation of a national emissions trading scheme, the British Government is preparing for what it says is the biggest shake up in power generation since the Industrial Revolution.

The nation will have to spend the equivalent of more than $200 billion to ensure that renewable energy makes up 15 per cent of the UK's requirements in less than 12 years time.

The Government admits the plan is going to cost Britons more, but it says the price of inaction would be far greater.

Put simply it is a massive challenge. At the moment 5 per cent of British electricity comes from renewable sources like solar and wind power.

But to comply with European Union (EU) law, Britain needs one third of its electricity generation to come from renewables by the year 2020. That should mean energy use as whole could reach the 15 per cent renewables target.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has a big task trying to persuade voters that as much as 1 per cent of GDP should be spent on this transformation.

Mr Brown says he wants the move to be part of recreating a Britain that is seen as "a beacon of innovation and wealth creation".

"Indeed, just as America led the way in the industrial age, creating a mass of high-paying blue-collar jobs, I want Britain to lead the way in the environmental age, creating new green-collar jobs," he said.

The Government acknowledges that as the nation spends as much as $200 billion on this green revolution, fuel costs will rise for everyone.

Costs, benefits

So they are concentrating on the positives. Marine renewables could contribute $2 billion a year to the economy, creating 160,000 green-collar jobs over a decade.

But Britain needs something like a new North Sea oil rush, building as many as 7,000 new wind turbines. There are not enough suppliers worldwide to meet that demand right now, let alone enough ships, cable suppliers or skilled workers.

Business Secretary John Hutton acknowledges that there is a cost involved in going green.

"I'm not going to pretend otherwise. The document we're publishing today actually tries to set that out," he said.

"But there's a greater cost if we don't, because we'd have to then factor in the climate change cost, the economic and social cost too."

He says that the challenge for governments around the world is to promote energy efficiency while managing demand intelligently.

"We've got to provide more help if we can to low income families, particularly those with young children, to meet the rise in costs of energy," he said.

"We have little real choice - the option of making no change, I'm afraid, is simply not available to us."

Green enforcement

The Government would also need new laws to force people to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and to lift the number of homes with solar heating equipment from the current 90,000 to 7 million.

That would mean the equivalent of one solar heating system in every four houses.

Steve Webb from the third political party, the Liberal Democrats, is sceptical about the plans.

He says the UK is one of the worst European environmental performers.

"I think the vision is great, the goals are tremendous, but I don't know whether we can believe a word of it," he said.

"Not that Britain doesn't have wind or doesn't have waves or doesn't have daylight.

We have all of these things in abundance and that's why it's all the more extraordinary we're so far behind the rest of Europe."

Industry says the national electricity grid would need a massive expansion to help carry the new sources of renewable power.

Adapted from an AM report by Rafael Epstein.

Arctic ice cap could melt by 2070, Russia warns

By Moscow correspondent Scott Bevan

Posted 1 hour 47 minutes ago

A Russian parliamentary committee has warned that the Arctic ice cap may be gone by 2070, wiping out animal species and displacing the region's indigenous people.

The North Affairs Committee of Russia's Upper House of Parliament has prepared a report which outlines a bleak future for the Arctic.

Committee member Yury Vorobyov has told the Interfax news agency that the thickness of ice in the Arctic Ocean has nearly halved in the past 30 years.

Overall, he says the ice cover has shrunk by almost a third in the past century.

Mr Vorobyov has warned that ongoing melting could disrupt the traditional lifestyle of northern indigenous people as large areas flood, and some animal species including polar bears will become extinct.

He says these dangers have to be taken into account by the Russian Government in its policies for the region.

Wong says Australians want leadership on climate change

Senator Wong expects more public discussion after Ross Garnaut's climate change report is released. (ABC News: file photo)

The Federal Minister for Climate Change says Australians want the Government to address climate change and are concerned about Greenhouse emissions.

The latest Newspoll shows 61 per cent of those surveyed are in favour of an emissions trading scheme (ETS) while over 56 per cent said they would pay higher energy costs to reduce global warming.

Senator Wong says she expects there will be positive and negative polls as the scheme is formulated.

"But let's be clear here, the Government is not designing an emissions trading scheme on the basis of polls, we're designing it for the long-term economic future of the country," she said.

"I think what Australians have shown us as was demonstrated in the lead-up to the election last year - people are concerned about climate change, they are concerned about its economic impacts and its environmental impacts and they want political leaders to do something about it."

Senator Wong says she expects more public discussion after Ross Garnaut's climate change report and the Government's green paper are released.

"This is a very big issue, it is something that is about the long-term future of the nation, it's about the national interest. It's a discussion that needs to continue," she said.

Newspoll figures show that 18-34 year olds were strongest to support the ETS at 73 per cent.

The poll also shows that Australians are almost evenly split over whether petrol should be included in the scheme, with 46 per cent in favour and 42 per cent against.

The Government has not yet revealed whether petrol will be included and the Opposition has not clearly stated its position either.

Senator Wong says she is preparing to strike a balance between environmental and economic interests.

"There is no menu of easy options when it comes to tackling climate change and when it comes to implementing an emissions trading scheme," she said.

"So of course we will have a range of views we have to consider.

"There are a range of things we have to manage through this process so we have to look at just not the environmental issues.

"We have to be very clear about how we make this economic transition."

Meanwhile the Greens have put the Federal Government on notice to set tough reduction targets after it receives the Garnaut report.

Greens Senator Christine Milne says she will be looking to the Government to commit to cutting emissions by 40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020.

"The key thing that people want to see is a serious cap on emissions," she said.

"In other words we need to know what effort the Government's going to make to reduce emissions by 2020 and we're saying that is should be at the top end."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Still cool on halting global warming

Adam Morton 
The Age, June 28, 2008

Japan is moving to tackle climate change in numerous small ways, but when it comes to making large-scale carbon cuts  of the order environmentalists say are needed to avert global disaster, it is one country among many that appears to lack the necessary will.

THERE are no forlorn pictures of polar bears on vanishing ice floes in the Japanese Government ads designed to save the planet. No threatened coral reefs, no celebrities with warnings of environmental catastrophe. Just 15 less-than-photogenic business executives, grinning awkwardly from the pages of financial daily Nihon Keizai Shinbun, dressed in short sleeves and comfy slacks.

Written in Japanese characters above the smiling chief executives is "Cool Biz" — a slogan designed to encourage office workers to do their bit to halt the globe's slide towards dangerous climate change. Under a campaign that began with public servants three years ago and has gradually extended into the private sector, professionals are asked to forgo air-conditioning. In return for setting the climate control to a minimum 28 degrees during summer, they get to shed their jackets and ties.

Perhaps proving that little captures the imagination like a bad pun, Cool Biz has taken hold in Tokyo, with about 10,000 businesses making an online pledge to take part this year.

"There have been various activities to prevent global warming but Cool Biz is the most successful — so far this year we have sold 100,000 pins (badges), mainly to business people," says Hiroaki Takagi, secretary-general of the Japan Centre for Climate Change Action.

To spend a couple of weeks in Japan is to see small innovations everywhere — all designed to combat climate change.

Instead of largely going to landfill, Tokyo's combustible waste is burned and converted to energy in state-of-the-art incineration plants, each feeding power back into the grid to supply up to 10,000 homes.

During winter, an experimental program gathers snow, mass refrigerates it and saves it for summer, when it is used to fuel emissions-free air-conditioning at aged-care homes and food storage warehouses.

Japan is also a country increasingly hooked on nuclear power. Stung by the oil shock of the 1970s, the country now has 55 nuclear power plants, providing roughly a third of its energy.

With oil prices again surging and climate change predictions worsening, Hideki Minamikawa, director-general of Japan's global environment unit, says it is considering plans to build an extra plant every year. Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda says he wants to boost zero-emissions energy from about 40% to more than half of the supply. By comparison, coal-rich Australia has about 8%.

Based on per capita emissions (and putting aside safety concerns about nuclear power in an earthquake-prone archipelago), these policies seem to have Japan on the right track. Each Japanese is responsible for about 11 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, less than half that of Australia and the US.

Yet there are cracks in Japan's efforts to tackle climate change, problems that reflect the fissures in the race to reach a new global agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

Domestically, the Japanese Government is under attack from both sides, with the opposition accusing it of not going far enough and heavy industry angry about a proposed carbon trading scheme.

But it is on the global stage where it faces the biggest test. Japan is the world's fifth biggest greenhouse emitter, but the only country in the top five under pressure to meet its Kyoto target. (Of the others, the US has not ratified the treaty, Russia is on track and China and India are part of the Kyoto agreement but don't have binding targets.) Minamikawa says Japan's emissions are 12% higher than where they should be.

It is not alone. Many of the countries bound by Kyoto will miss their targets on current projections. New data released this week showed Australia remains on target, largely because then environment minister Robert Hill won a ridiculously good deal, allowing its emissions to keep going up.

Under the first phase of Kyoto, only industrialised countries are required to curb their emissions by 2012. The next stage is meant to be different, with all countries to make a binding commitment to reduce pollution. The impasse is over the extent of the cuts needed, and how the pain will be shared. Emerging giants China and India, backed by the European Union and the UN, want the rich to take the first step by promising reductions of up to 40% by 2020.

Earlier this month, Fukuda — with one eye on his place on the global stage hosting the G8 summit of rich nations next month — argued climate change would be the summit's main focus. He promised a "low-carbon revolution" in Japan, slashing emissions by up to 80% by 2050. He expressed confidence G8 leaders could be convinced of the need to cut global emissions in half by 2050 — a step they agreed to "seriously consider" 12 months ago.

Asked what the most important outcome from G8 would be, senior summit co-ordinator Kenichi Kobayashi told journalists: "We are aiming for results on climate change, especially on the long-term goal."

For a moment this seemed plausible. Adopting a firm position won unanimous endorsement at a recent meeting of G8 environment ministers.

But Fukuda's position has since started to crumble on both sides. The man in charge of the main game — the negotiations to broker a global deal between 190 countries by December next year — made headlines in Japan by chiding Fukuda for not going far enough. Arguing the world was running out of time, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said the G8 should be setting concrete targets for not just 2050, but 2020. Now. Always dramatic, do Boer recently said: "I kneel in front of my bed every night and hope that we're going to get a 2020 commitment by the G8 countries, but I don't think my prayers are being heard at the moment."

It seems he is right. Japanese Government sources late this week confirmed the US was not on board, with President George Bush sticking to his view the G8 is not the right forum to seek a climate goal. His preference is to broker a deal through the Major Economies Meeting, a dialogue he set up last year including China, India and Brazil, that will meet on the sidelines at G8.

Despite Bush saying a deal was possible this year, it appears nothing will happen until there is a new leader in the White House.

While Fukuda appeared to back pedal — telling a news conference this week that the G8 climate goal could be "in any form" — those working for him were blunt about the state of global negotiations, with or without Bush.

Koji Tsuruoka, director-general of global affairs in the Japanese Foreign Affairs Department, suggested the recent environment ministers' pledge for a 2050 commitment meant nothing — they had no mandate. "If you don't have the leaders' attention, nothing will be solved," Tsuruoka told The Age.

"I am not very optimistic … there is no basis within the industrialised and the developing world (to agree) that this is a global challenge — the differences in position are very large."

Hiroshi Oki, a former environment minister who chaired the historic Kyoto meeting, says Japan needs to do more. For all its steps towards energy efficiency, he says it has been soft on industry. His point is illustrated by an elevated view of Tokyo, which reveals a city lit up like a Christmas tree 24 hours a day. Oki says the Government needs to regulate to bring business into line. "Personally, I don't think we have changed a lot on lifestyle yet."

Adam Morton is an Age environment reporter. He travelled to Japan with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Families angry at solar panel tariff system

Article from: 

Olga Galacho
June 27, 2008 12:00am

HOUSEHOLDS with children have been cheated out of payments for electricity produced using solar panels, say a group of "climate-friendly" families.

Childless professionals who use less energy will be the only winners under a state government proposal to limit the payments, known as feed-in tariffs, to small solar energy systems, says Brunswick mother of four Julie Butler.

Ms Butler and husband Brendan Wright had hoped to add to their $7000 rooftop panels.

"I have four kids at home aged two to 19 and we had been spending almost $1000 a year on electricity," Ms Butler said.

"If you don't have children at home and you leave the house to go to work, you can easily limit how much electricity you use.

"But if you are like us, a family that has to feed teenagers and has the washing machine going most days, we don't have the luxury of limiting our consumption."

Conscious of the carbon emissions their household produced, they invested in climate-friendly solar panels.

When the Government hinted it would allow solar panel owners to receive payments for the electricity they generated, the family spent an additional $2000 on an inverter, a device that would let them upgrade their system.

In May, however, the State Government said the tariffs would be paid only for small 2kW systems and only for the excess electricity they contributed to the power grid, rather than the total generated.

The Victorian tariffs would be the least generous of all the states that have them and a shadow of the world's best model in Germany, where owners are paid for all solar power generated, regardless of the size of systems.

Brad Shone, of the Alternative Technology Association, said a quarter of the grid-connected systems in Victoria had more than a 2kW output.

The group, which helps homeowners interested in solar energy, believes extending the feed-in tariff to systems of 10kW would be more consistent with other states.

Mr Shone said: "People with 2.1kW systems would have to remove an entire bank of panels, worth several thousand dollars, and reduce their output by up to a third to be eligible for the payment the Government is proposing."

Preston mother Sally Mendes has had solar panels on her roof for almost a decade and was hoping to be rewarded for "doing the right thing", but her family will also miss out on the tariffs because their system is above 2kW.

She said people who made sacrifices to reduce their carbon footprints had been discriminated against compared with those willing to make only a token gesture.

"My husband and I could have bought a big four-wheel-drive car or taken our seven-year-old son for a holiday overseas, but instead we spent the money on solar panels and now we find out the Government doesn't recognise our efforts. It is very unfair," Ms Mendes said.

Ms Butler's family had thought that the tariffs would help pay for a larger system in less than seven years.

Without them, she said, it would take decades to recover the cost.

"We have been forced to stick with a smaller system to qualify for the payments, but it will still take 15 or 17 years to get our money back and we are still going to have to pay power companies for the electricity the smaller system can't make.

"It is disappointing people are willing to put their money up front to help the environment, but the Government doesn't offer any support for a decent, family-sized system," she said.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Govt fuming over lack of cooperation for emissions scheme

ABC News Online, Posted Wed Jun 25, 2008 3:29pm AEST

Treasurer Wayne Swan has labelled the lack of bipartisan support as a case of an Opposition scare campaign and cheap politics. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

The job of trying to head off dangerous climate change is getting tougher by the day for the Federal Government.

Professor Ross Garnaut hands down his emissions trading report to the Government next week.

The Government has promised to outline the design of its plan by the end of the year - ready to start in 2010. But some in the Opposition want that deadline extended.

"In my view yes. I don't believe that you can do a comprehensive analysis of all of the impacts of a emissions trading scheme in that time frame," Western Australian backbencher Dennis Jensen said.

"I suspect that the Government will have some sort of a delaying tactic themselves," Queensland front bencher Peter Dutton added.

The Coalition's pre-election promise of a 2011 introduction now appears to be up in the air but environment spokesman Greg Hunt will not specify a start-up date.

"We have a very clear and unified view. We believe in emissions trading. We believe in the importance, the fundamental importance of climate change, but we do say, we will look at the timing following Garnaut," he said.

The Opposition is also warning motorists the price of petrol will go up significantly if fuel is included in an emissions trading scheme. Mr Hunt says everything possible should be done to keep petrol prices as low as possible.

"Is government policy for petrol prices to go up or down? Our position is very clear. We want petrol prices to go down," he said.

"We think that is the right thing by the economy. That is the right thing to do by Australian families, by pensioners, by low income earners and that we can also... make real inroads into the efficiency of vehicles.

"We can do the right thing by an emissions trading scheme."

Treasury spokesman Malcolm Turnbull has raised the prospect of a policy change, cutting the excise on petrol to offset the effect of a carbon tax.

Scare campaign

The Coalition's positions on these two matters have angered the Government.

Treasurer Wayne Swan says the lack of bipartisan support for the central plank of the Government strategy to cut greenhouse gases is another case of an Opposition scare campaign and cheap politics.

"Reducing carbon emissions over time is a significant economic challenge for the nation and for the globe," he said.

"We are determined to address this challenge. I think what we are seeing from the Liberals is that they are completely incapable of dealing with economic challenges and dealing with the environmental challenge of climate change."

Mr Swan says Opposition's support will be needed as the Government goes through the green paper process.

"We will need their support because this is a very significant economic reform which goes to the heart of our future economic prosperity," he said.

"Having one side of politics involved in such a negative scare campaign, is damaging to the long-term economic interests of this country."

The Treasurer has dismissed the Opposition's stance on petrol as outrageous.

"We are going to publish our green paper which will discuss the design of the scheme," he said.

"It will be comprehensive and when that is in the public domain, we can have an informed discussion about all of the issues in the emissions trading system.

"But for Mr Hunt to engage in such outrageous lies about the potential impact of a scheme, the design of which he hasn't seen, just shows how desperate the Liberal Party has become."

Unstable Senate

On climate change and everything else, the Government will have to negotiate to get its legislation through the Senate.

After Parliament rises tomorrow, the Coalition loses its Senate majority. The Government's so called 'alcopops' tax hike is a case in point.

The Opposition is against it. The Greens and others have big concerns. Labor will have to get the support of the Greens, and two other Senators, Nick Xenophon and Steve Fielding.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown has some simple advice for Labor.

"The Government is going to have to bargain and so are we and so is everybody else in the Senate," he said.

The Australian Democrats will have their last day in Federal Parliament tomorrow and Senator Natasha Stott Despoja has some parting advice too.

"Well, welcome to the Senate post-July 1. Of course the Government is going to have to bargain and negotiate and compromise and do deals with the cross-bench senators," she said.

"Steve Fielding has indicated what he is unsure about what he wants to do and certainly after July 1 any one senator can kill a bill or kill a government policy.

"The Government will not have the Democrats and all that consistent corporate history to work with, so welcome to a very unstable place."

- Adapted from a report by Alexandra Kirk for The World Today

Millions of 'green collar' workers needed by 2015: report

ABC News Online, Posted 3 hours 59 minutes ago 

Updated 1 hour 40 minutes ago

A CSIRO report predicts a carbon emissions trading scheme will require three million workers to be trained or re-skilled by 2015.

The report warns the Federal Government that bold steps will be needed to ensure overall employment growth is not endangered by emissions trading.

But it has also found that a scheme could lead to an increase in employment rather than job losses.

The CSIRO modelling issues a stark challenge to the Federal Government as it moves to introduce an emissions trading scheme, with trading due to commence in just 18 months' time.

The executive director of the Dusseldorp Skills Forum, Oona Nielssen, says it is an enormous task.

"We've got a skills shortage now that's the result of market failure," she told ABC Radio's AM.

"Everyone is talking about the current skills shortage and that is because the market has just tootled along the way, we've always tootled along, and right now we're suffering a skills shortage."

The CSIRO report, which has also been prepared for the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) says bold steps will be needed to ensure overall employment growth is not endangered by emissions trading.

It says current efforts are clearly insufficient and there will need to be a massive mobilisation of skills and training.

ACF head Don Henry agrees.

"[In] some of the traditional sectors like energy generation use, fuel generation and use, manufacturing - there's opportunities for re-skilling there to help our existing economy clean up," he said.

"Then of course there's new opportunities in our economy in areas like renewable energy, in areas like hybrid cars, fuel efficiency in the automobile sector, and opportunities in fact across our economy."

The report does show that if the Government succeeds in re-skilling the Australian workforce, an emissions trading scheme could lead to an increase in employment by as much as three million jobs by 2025.

But it acknowledges workforce growth will be much slower in so called "dirty" industries.

Mr Henry says Australian industry will have to "turn blue collar to green collar".

"For example, where we've got heavy greenhouse pollution in, for instance, our coal generation sector, that's going to be a slower growth area than renewables," he said.

Greens leader Bob Brown says more Australians will be working to help the environment in the future.

"Aren't workers going to be better off, isn't their health going to be better, isn't their spirit going to be better?" he said.

"I think their incomes will be better and this is the plus side of climate change for those countries who get in early and tackle it properly."

The report says without modernising the workforce there is little chance the Government will meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.

Climate change threatens weather havoc for Western Port

Mathew Murphy 
The Age, June 26, 2008

VICTORIA'S Western Port region is at risk of experiencing more bushfires, rising sea levels, higher temperatures and the once-in-a-century storm becoming an annual occurrence unless measures are taken to combat climate change.

The grim warning forms part of a comprehensive two-year study by the CSIRO and economists Marsden Jacob Associates set to be released today.

The report, obtained by The Age, found that a rise in sea levels would "undoubtedly" affect Western Port's low-lying coastline, with the townships on Phillip Island, Tooradin, Warneet and Hastings most at risk.

The impact on the local economy, tourist attractions including surrounding beaches, property and human health could be substantial, it warns.

Fears have also been expressed for the local penguin population, one of Victoria's most popular tourist attractions, with a separate report being undertaken to determine the risks of climate change to the penguin colony.

In the worst-case scenario, the study predicts temperature increases of 1.1 degrees by 2030 and 3.5 degrees by 2070, with heat-related human deaths set to rise to 53 annually by 2100.

"The Western Port region is significantly exposed to climate extremes and natural hazards such as storm surges and coastal inundation, floods, bushfires and extreme temperatures. These hazards are expected to increase in frequency and/or severity," the report says.

"(It will have direct impact on) land use and management, damages and maintenance costs to public and private property and infrastructure, human health and water availability."

The report, which was funded by the federal and state governments and has received local government input, will be used by all levels of government to formulate climate-change policy and comes a week before the Government's climate-change adviser, Ross Garnaut, releases his draft report into emissions trading.

Dr Kathy McInnes, one of the report authors, said the low-lying Western Port region had been selected because it was particularly vulnerable. Many of the findings would be relevant to other coastal areas.

"This information will help prioritise the areas of the community that are particularly at risk and how we climate-proof the area," she said.

The report also projects that:

■ By 2070, extreme rainfall will increase by up to 70%, depending on location. However, average rainfall is expected to decline by up to 8% by 2030 and up to 23% by 2070.

■ Sea levels will rise by up to 0.17 metres by 2030 and up to 0.49 metres by 2070, with vulnerable areas in Western Port to increase by up to 15% by 2030 and 63% by 2070. More than 2000 individuals, more than 1000 dwellings and property worth about $780 million will be affected.

■ The number of "very high" and "extreme" forest fire days in the Western Port region will increase by one or two days by 2030 and two to seven days by 2050.

The modelling did not take into account an emissions trading scheme or the Federal Government's commitment to a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Greg Hunt, executive officer of the Western Port Greenhouse Alliance, which commissioned the report, said it was not designed to be alarmist.

"I would refer to my fridge magnet and be alert but not alarmed. I don't know that people would want to get their house and jack it up on stilts just yet," he said. "What this shows is that we need leadership from all three tiers of government. We are going to need some engineering solutions, and our engineers are looking at that."

Peter Kinrade, of Marsden Jacob Associates, said governments had the power to ensure the forecasts did not eventuate.

"A lot of those impacts outlined are potentially manageable as long as there is a proactive and strategic response to the issue," he said.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Global Warming Twenty Years Later: Tipping Points Near


James Hansen (1) 

My presentation today is exactly 20 years after my 23 June 1988 testimony to Congress, which 
alerted the public that global warming was underway.  There are striking similarities between 
then and now, but one big difference. 

Again a wide gap has developed between what is understood about global warming by 
the relevant scientific community and what is known by policymakers and the public. Now, as 
then, frank assessment of scientific data yields conclusions that are shocking to the body politic.  
Now, as then, I can assert that these conclusions have a certainty exceeding 99 percent. 

 The difference is that now we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to 
defuse the global warming time bomb.  The next President and Congress must define a course 
next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for 
the present dangerous situation. 

 Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the 
greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from 
passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of 
humanity's control. 

 Changes needed to preserve creation, the planet on which civilization developed, are 
clear.  But the changes have been blocked by special interests, focused on short-term profits, who 
hold sway in Washington and other capitals. 

 I argue that a path yielding energy independence and a healthier environment is, barely, 
still possible.  It requires a transformative change of direction in Washington in the next year. 
On 23 June 1988 I testified to a hearing, chaired by Senator Tim Wirth of Colorado, that the 
Earth had entered a long-term warming trend and that human-made greenhouse gases almost 
surely were responsible.  I noted that global warming enhanced both extremes of the water cycle, 
meaning stronger droughts and forest fires, on the one hand, but also heavier rains and floods. 
 My testimony two decades ago was greeted with skepticism.  But while skepticism is the 
lifeblood of science, it can confuse the public.  As scientists examine a topic from all 
perspectives, it may appear that nothing is known with confidence.  But from such broad open- 
minded study of all data, valid conclusions can be drawn. 

 My conclusions in 1988 were built on a wide range of inputs from basic physics, 
planetary studies, observations of on-going changes, and climate models.  The evidence was 
strong enough that I could say it was time to "stop waffling".  I was sure that time would bring 
the scientific community to a similar consensus, as it has. 

 While international recognition of global warming was swift, actions have faltered.  The 
U.S. refused to place limits on its emissions, and developing countries such as China and India 
rapidly increased their emissions. 

What is at stake?  Warming so far, about two degrees Fahrenheit over land areas, seems almost 
innocuous, being less than day-to-day weather fluctuations.  But more warming is already "in- 
the-pipeline", delayed only by the great inertia of the world ocean.  And climate is nearing 
dangerous tipping points.  Elements of a "perfect storm", a global cataclysm, are assembled. 
 Climate can reach points such that amplifying feedbacks spur large rapid changes.  Arctic 
sea ice is a current example.  Global warming initiated sea ice melt, exposing darker ocean that 
absorbs more sunlight, melting more ice.  As a result, without any additional greenhouse gases, 
the Arctic soon will be ice-free in the summer. 

 More ominous tipping points loom.  West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are 
vulnerable to even small additional warming.  These two-mile-thick behemoths respond slowly 
at first, but if disintegration gets well underway it will become unstoppable.  Debate among 
scientists is only about how much sea level would rise by a given date.  In my opinion, if 
emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters is likely this 
century.  Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees.  No stable shoreline would be 
reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive. 

 Animal and plant species are already stressed by climate change.  Polar and alpine 
species will be pushed off the planet, if warming continues.  Other species attempt to migrate, 
but as some are extinguished their interdependencies can cause ecosystem collapse.  Mass 
extinctions, of more than half the species on the planet, have occurred several times when the 
Earth warmed as much as expected if greenhouse gases continue to increase.  Biodiversity 
recovered, but it required hundreds of thousands of years. 

The disturbing conclusion, documented in a paper (2) I have written with several of the world's 
leading climate experts, is that the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is no more than 350 
ppm (parts per million) and it may be less.  Carbon dioxide amount is already 385 ppm and 
rising about 2 ppm per year.  Stunning corollary: the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less 
than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation. 
 These conclusions are based on paleoclimate data showing how the Earth responded to 
past levels of greenhouse gases and on observations showing how the world is responding to 
today's carbon dioxide amount. The consequences of continued increase of greenhouse gases 
extend far beyond extermination of species and future sea level rise. 

 Arid subtropical climate zones are expanding poleward.  Already an average expansion 
of about 250 miles has occurred, affecting the southern United States, the Mediterranean region, 
Australia and southern Africa.  Forest fires and drying-up of lakes will increase further unless 
carbon dioxide growth is halted and reversed. 

 Mountain glaciers are the source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people.  These 
glaciers are receding world-wide, in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky Mountains.  They will 
disappear, leaving their rivers as trickles in late summer and fall, unless the growth of carbon 
dioxide is reversed. 

 Coral reefs, the rainforest of the ocean, are home for one-third of the species in the sea.  
Coral reefs are under stress for several reasons, including warming of the ocean, but especially 
because of ocean acidification, a direct effect of added carbon dioxide.  Ocean life dependent on 
carbonate shells and skeletons is threatened by dissolution as the ocean becomes more acid. 
 Such phenomena, including the instability of Arctic sea ice and the great ice sheets at 
today's carbon dioxide amount, show that we have already gone too far.  We must draw down 
atmospheric carbon dioxide to preserve the planet we know.  A level of no more than 350 ppm is 
still feasible, with the help of reforestation and improved agricultural practices, but just barely – 
time is running out. 

Requirements to halt carbon dioxide growth follow from the size of fossil carbon reservoirs.  
Coal towers over oil and gas.  Phase out of coal use except where the carbon is captured and 
stored below ground is the primary requirement for solving global warming.    

 Oil is used in vehicles where it is impractical to capture the carbon.  But oil is running 
out.  To preserve our planet we must also ensure that the next mobile energy source is not 
obtained by squeezing oil from coal, tar shale or other fossil fuels. 

 Fossil fuel reservoirs are finite, which is the main reason that prices are rising.  We must 
move beyond fossil fuels eventually.  Solution of the climate problem requires that we move to 
carbon-free energy promptly. 

 Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future.  Instead of 
moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global 
warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link.  Methods are sophisticated, 
including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming. 

 CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term 
consequences of continued business as usual.  In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for 
high crimes against humanity and nature. 

 Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on 
a runaway climate to our children.  Humanity would be impoverished by ravages of continually 
shifting shorelines and intensification of regional climate extremes.  Loss of countless species 
would leave a more desolate planet. 

 If politicians remain at loggerheads, citizens must lead.  We must demand a moratorium 
on new coal-fired power plants.  We must block fossil fuel interests who aim to squeeze every 
last drop of oil from public lands, off-shore, and wilderness areas.  Those last drops are no 
solution.  They yield continued exorbitant profits for a short-sighted self-serving industry, but no 
alleviation of our addiction or long-term energy source. 

Moving from fossil fuels to clean energy is challenging, yet transformative in ways that will be 
welcomed.  Cheap, subsidized fossil fuels engendered bad habits.  We import food from halfway 
around the world, for example, even with healthier products available from nearby fields.  Local 
produce would be competitive if not for fossil fuel subsidies and the fact that climate change 
damages and costs, due to fossil fuels, are also borne by the public.  

 A price on emissions that cause harm is essential.  Yes, a carbon tax.  Carbon tax with 
100 percent dividend (3) is needed to wean us off fossil fuel addiction.  Tax and dividend allows the 
marketplace, not politicians, to make investment decisions.  

 Carbon tax on coal, oil and gas is simple, applied at the first point of sale or port of entry.  
The entire tax must be returned to the public, an equal amount to each adult, a half-share for 
children.  This dividend can be deposited monthly in an individual's bank account. 
 Carbon tax with 100 percent dividend is non-regressive.  On the contrary, you can bet 
that low and middle income people will find ways to limit their carbon tax and come out ahead.  
Profligate energy users will have to pay for their excesses. 

 Demand for low-carbon high-efficiency products will spur innovation, making our 
products more competitive on international markets.  Carbon emissions will plummet as energy 
efficiency and renewable energies grow rapidly.  Black soot, mercury and other fossil fuel 
emissions will decline.  A brighter, cleaner future, with energy independence, is possible. 

Washington likes to spend our tax money line-by-line.  Swarms of high-priced lobbyists in 
alligator shoes help Congress decide where to spend, and in turn the lobbyists' clients provide 
"campaign" money. 

 The public must send a message to Washington.  Preserve our planet, creation, for our 
children and grandchildren, but do not use that as an excuse for more tax-and-spend.  Let this be 
our motto: "One hundred percent dividend or fight!" 

 The next President must make a national low-loss electric grid an imperative.  It will 
allow dispersed renewable energies to supplant fossil fuels for power generation.  Technology 
exists for direct-current high-voltage buried transmission lines.  Trunk lines can be completed in 
less than a decade and expanded analogous to interstate highways. 

Government must also change utility regulations so that profits do not depend on selling 
ever more energy, but instead increase with efficiency.  Building code and vehicle efficiency 
requirements must be improved and put on a path toward carbon neutrality. 

 The fossil-industry maintains its strangle-hold on Washington via demagoguery, using 
China and other developing nations as scapegoats to rationalize inaction.  In fact, we produced 
most of the excess carbon in the air today, and it is to our advantage as a nation to move smartly 
in developing ways to reduce emissions.  As with the ozone problem, developing countries can 
be allowed limited extra time to reduce emissions.  They will cooperate: they have much to lose 
from climate change and much to gain from clean air and reduced dependence on fossil fuels. 

We must establish fair agreements with other countries.  However, our own tax and 
dividend should start immediately.  We have much to gain from it as a nation, and other 
countries will copy our success.  If necessary, import duties on products from uncooperative 
countries can level the playing field, with the import tax added to the dividend pool. 

 Democracy works, but sometimes churns slowly.  Time is short.  The 2008 election is 
critical for the planet.  If Americans turn out to pasture the most brontosaurian congressmen, if 
Washington adapts to address climate change, our children and grandchildren can still hold great 


Dr. James E. Hansen, a physicist by training, directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a laboratory 
of the Goddard Space Flight Center and a unit of the Columbia University Earth Institute, but he speaks as a private 
citizen today at the National Press Club and at a Briefing to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence & 
Global Warming. 


Target atmospheric CO2: where should humanity aim? J. Hansen, M. Sato, P. Kharecha, D. Beerling, R. Berner, V. 
Masson-Delmotte, M. Raymo, D.L. Royer, J.C. Zachos, and 


The proposed "tax and 100% dividend" is based largely on the cap and dividend approach described by Peter 
Barnes in "Who Owns the Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism", Island Press, Washington, D.C.,