Sunday, February 27, 2011

Setting price will create '34,000 jobs'

Adam Morton 
The Age, February 28, 2011
A CARBON price aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 could help create 34,000 jobs in regional Australia, research says.
To be launched today by independent MP Tony Windsor, the report by the Climate Institute predicts that a substantial carbon price, backed by renewable energy policies, would trigger tens of billions of dollars of investment in geothermal, large-scale solar, bio-energy, hydro, wind and gas.
In Victoria, the number of people employed in the electricity industry was projected to increase over the next two decades despite some job losses as coal-fired power plants closed.
The new jobs would be concentrated in the state's Western District, central highlands and the Mallee.
Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said the report, based on work conducted by consultants SKM-MMA and Ernst & Young, showed that clean-energy projects could provide an economic foundation to support strong regional populations.
It challenged claims that tackling climate change would cost jobs and hurt the economy.
"It is important we have a discussion about the costs and how to manage them, but it is also important to look at the benefits and how you achieve those," Mr Connor said.
Mr Windsor said the report showed regional Australia could be a big winner as renewable energy projects were developed.
It is estimated nearly 6900 new electricity industry jobs could be created in Victoria by 2030.
Nearly 4600 would be in power plant construction and about 1200 in manufacturing. More than 1000 would be permanent roles running new plants.
The total number of jobs in the industry would rise over the next five years as wind and gas plants were built, dip in the second half of the decade, but then grow dramatically after 2020 as more clean-energy technologies became commercially viable.
The report suggests about 40 per cent of Victoria's electricity could come from clean sources by 2030, up from 5 per cent today.
Gas-fired power, with about a third the emissions of brown coal, would also expand dramatically to provide about a third of the state's electricity.
Specific projections for Victoria include:
■ More than 1500 jobs created in wind and geothermal energy in the south-west around Warrnambool, Portland and Hamilton.
■ Nearly 1200 new jobs relating to building and running large-scale solar plants in the Mallee.
■ About 600 new jobs in wind in the central highlands around Ballarat and Bendigo.
■ In the Latrobe Valley, the loss of about 500 permanent jobs in coal power, but the creation of 720 construction jobs building new gas and renewable plants.
The modelling does not consider the impact of the possible implementation of carbon capture and storage technology.
The jobs figures are based on a carbon price starting at $47 in 2012, the national 20 per cent renewable energy target, and policies to encourage clean technologies, including loan guarantees and tax credits.
The research won the support of the ACTU and several energy companies.
Tony Maher, the president of the mining and energy union, applauded the Climate Institute for focusing on jobs, skills and training as the key to Australia cutting emissions.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Models guiding climate policy are 'dangerously optimistic'

Computer models predicting future climate change are underestimating emissions and overestimating technology, warns climate scientist Kevin Anderson  

Nadya Anscombe for environmentresearchweb, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Thursday, 24 February 2011

Integrated assessment models (IAMs) used by researchers today – where climate change data is integrated with economic data – are dangerously flawed because they are based on naïve assumptions, according to Kevin Anderson from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change at the University of Manchester, UK.

Anderson told environmentalresearchweb: "The vast majority of IAMs assume low emission growth rates; early emission peaks; annual reduction rates limited to between 2 and 4%; untested geoengineering; and a high penetration of nuclear power alongside untested 'carbon capture and storage' technologies. Because IAMs typically use similar and inappropriate sets of assumptions, they repeatedly come up with the same narrow and fundamentally flawed answers."

Anderson argues that actual emissions growth rates are much higher than those used by most IAMs, and that even ambitious emission peaks are much nearer 2020–2030 than the naïve estimates of 2010–2016 used by most models. His calculations have shown that, if we want to aim for a high chance of not exceeding a 2°C increase in global temperature by the end of the century, our energy emissions need to be cut by nearer 10% annually rather than the 2–4% that economists say is possible with a growing economy.

"The output from today's models is politically palatable," said Anderson. "The reality is far more depressing, but many scientists are too afraid to stand up and speak out for fear of being ridiculed. Our job is not to be liked but to give a raw and dispassionate assessment of the scale of the challenge faced by the global community." In a recent paper in Philosophical Transactions, Anderson and his colleague Alice Bows of the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester warn that "there is now little to no chance of maintaining the rise in global mean surface temperature at below 2°C, despite repeated high-level statements to the contrary".

This, they say, is because of a lack of contextual thinking. For example, Anderson and Bows found that several models assumed that fossil-fuel carbon-dioxide emissions from developing nations would exceed those from industrialised nations as late as 2013–2025, despite the actual date being around 2006.

"Too many models use an extrapolation of old data and this gives results that are too optimistic," said Anderson. "When I present my findings I am often pulled apart for taking away people's hope. But what these models are giving us is false hope. Surely that is worse?"

He believes that this false hope that the output from these models has been spreading is one reason why policymakers and the general public have not engaged with the sweeping changes necessary for industrialised nations to drastically reduce their emissions. "This requires radical changes in behaviour, particularly from those of us with very high energy consumption," said Anderson. "But as long as the scientists continue to spread the message that we will be ok if we all make a few small changes, then climate change will never be on top of the policy agenda and we will fail to meet our international commitments to avoid a 2°C rise."

He adds: "All too often, climate change is described as a problem of the future, but climate change is a cumulative problem that needs to be tackled now. And this can only be done if researchers use realistic data and report brutally honest results, no matter how disturbing or depressing."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Denmark and Britain urge deeper CO2 cuts

ABC News Online, 25 February 2011

Britain and Denmark have called on fellow European Union members to adopt a more ambitious target for cutting carbon emissions.
The British and Danish governments want to move to a 30 per cent cut by 2020. Their call comes as EU states are considering whether to move faster than the 20 per cent reduction from the 1990 level.
A draft paper showed earlier this month that the EU is overhauling its strategy in favour of a 25 percent cut.
EU governments have agreed to deepen cuts to 30 percent but only if a strong global climate deal is reached which would also bind developing countries to a similar goal.
"Denmark and the UK are in agreement that our future prosperity depends on stimulating green growth and getting off the oil hook," British Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne and Danish Minister for Climate and Energy Lykke Friis said in a joint statement.
"Decarbonising further, faster, can keep Europe ahead in the global low carbon race, but the UK and Denmark can't do that alone," the ministers said.
They said the Commission's 2050 roadmap should kickstart a debate that would put EU members on a path to more low-carbon investment and take Europe "beyond the cul-de-sac that is the current 20 percent cut target."
The ministers said Britain and Denmark are working on plans to decarbonise their energy supplies and support green innovation.
Denmark said it was time for the EU to abandon its position of supporting deeper cuts only if other countries made a similar pledge.
"The EU should unilaterally set a goal of reducing its CO2 emissions 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020," Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said in a statement.
Denmark, the world leader in wind power, rolled out a plan today to wean itself off coal, oil and natural gas by 2050.
The government's energy strategy 2050 calls for Denmark to boost renewables' share of the nation's energy consumption to one third of the total over the next decade by developing wind power, biomass and biogas.
The strategy calls for wind power to cover 42 per cent of Denmark's electricity need in 2020 - up from 20 per cent today - and for more than 60 per cent of total power consumption to be covered by renewable energy by then.
It calls for the country to cut consumption of coal, oil and gas over the next 40 years at four times the speed that it has reduced the use of fossil fuels in the past.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Is Natural Gas Good, or Just Less Bad?

LONDON — Natural gas is billed by its supporters, including President Barack Obama, as a clean fuel that could play a big role in a low-carbon future. But others are questioning the environmental credentials of an energy source that, while easier on the atmosphere than coal and oil, is still a fossil fuel that causes sizable emissions of climate-warming gases.

Its backers say it emits only half as much carbon as coal when burned, and some environmentalists agree that it could bridge the gap until cleaner sources slowly come into use.

But opponents see the push for natural gas as a distraction from more pressing priorities, like improving efficiency and generating renewable power.

"We really have to be quite careful about the language we use to frame things," said Kevin Anderson, a professor at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester in England. "If we call things green, we start to feel positive about it." Natural gas, he said, "is not a positive thing, it's just less negative."

In fact, he called it "a very bad fuel," with "very high emissions indeed."

"They're not as high as some other fossil fuels, but given where we need to be, to compare it with the worst that's out there is very dangerous," he added.

Others are less critical. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an influential environmental group based in New York, wants to see U.S. coal plants converted to natural gas, said Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with the council.

Reducing energy demand and promoting renewables come first, she said, "but we do see that as we get there, there is inevitably going to be a role for natural gas to play."

In addition to the carbon dioxide savings, natural gas also emits far lower levels of pollutants like nitrogen and sulfur oxides, mercury and particulate matter. Eventually, Ms. Sinding said, natural gas plants could be paired with solar and wind farms, which generate intermittent supply and need backup.

Still, even if gas burns more cleanly than coal and oil, its production is often so dirty that it undermines the environmental gains, she said. U.S. and state regulators must tighten rules that have failed to reduce the serious problem of methane leaks and protect the quality of air and drinking water, Ms. Sinding said.

Natural gas is composed largely of methane, which, if leaked unburned, is a powerful greenhouse gas. Also, poorly built gas wells can contaminate nearby aquifers.

"In theory it can be reasonable, but we're just falling far short of what we need to be doing for it to realize its promise," she said.

Much of the enthusiasm in the United States and Europe for natural gas comes from its relative abundance, and its location in places friendly to the West. The United States in particular has plentiful supplies, now that extraction from shale rock has boomed into a big industry.

"Gas is much better distributed around the world than oil," said Michael Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin. "We keep finding it."

Many environmentalists are not convinced, noting that a growing number of new finds are in hard-to-reach areas or require unconventional forms of extraction, making exploitation riskier, more expensive and more energy-intensive.

Still, Mr. Webber said, "If we can really produce gas in a safe, clean way and it's as abundant as people say, it doesn't take us all the way to a zero-carbon future, but it's clearly a big step in the right direction."

The advantages of gas, which include the low capital cost and short turnaround time for building new plants, make it essential for reducing carbon emissions quickly, said Beate Raabe, director of European Union affairs at the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, a trade group based in Brussels.

In the longer term, she said, carbon-capture technology could make gas plants part of a green future.

Mr. Obama appeared to share such optimism when he mentioned natural gas in his State of the Union speech last month, surprising environmentalists by listing it along with solar, wind, nuclear and so-called clean coal power as key parts of a national clean-energy strategy.

But some remain skeptical of the idea that natural gas can serve as a bridge to a cleaner renewable energy future.

"How long and how wide is this bridge?" asked Ms. Sinding, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The more we put into natural gas, the greater the concern that we lock ourselves into burning natural gas and not substituting for it."

BoM chief lashes Pell over climate stance

The Age, February 22, 2011
    The head of the Bureau of Meteorology has rebuked Cardinal George Pell for his scepticism about climate change, insisting the man has been misled.
    Sydney's Catholic Archbishop is an outspoken disbeliever in man-made global warming, arguing that it was hotter during the Middle Ages and carbon dioxide levels are not historically high.
    Bureau chief Greg Ayers used an appearance at a Senate estimates hearing yesterday to rip into the cardinal's personal views.
    He said the core of his arguments were based on a book by Australian scientist Ian Plimer called Heaven and Earth: Global Warming the Missing Science.
    But Cardinal Pell's convictions were misplaced, Dr Ayers said.
    "The contents of the book are simply not scientific," he told the committee.
    "The cardinal has been misled."
    The book has been routinely dismissed by fellow scientists, who criticised it as a "polemic from one individual", including phrases not at all based in science.
    It contained gratuitous attacks on climate change campaigners in government, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Australia's former climate change minister Penny Wong.
    Over 10 minutes, Dr Ayers outlined a litany of errors repeated by Cardinal Pell, rubbishing one particular reference to greenhouse gases and nitrogen.
    "It's not a greenhouse gas; it's 78 per cent of the atmosphere," Dr Ayers said.
    He'll be writing to Cardinal Pell in due course, asking him to come on a tour around the country visiting scientists working in the climate change field.
    Dr Ayers believes he has a conversion on his hands.
    "Cardinal Pell may well become an ambassador of the quality of the science we do in this country," he said.
    Liberal senator Ian Macdonald had earlier tried to shut down Dr Ayers' attack, by suggesting he make his point in a written submission to the committee only.
    Neither Cardinal Pell nor Professor Plimer was likely to be given the same opportunity to speak at a Senate hearing, he argued.
    But chairman Doug Cameron dismissed his concerns and allowed Dr Ayers to complete his comments in full.

    Friday, February 18, 2011

    Blame human emissions for British floods

    Al Gore famously had his knuckles rapped for implying that human-induced climate change had caused hurricane Katrina. The scientific party line then was "No single weather event can be attributed to climate change". It's a line that has held strong but is beginning to fray.

    This week, a study has shown that the devastating floods which damaged nearly 10,000 properties in England and Wales in 2000, and cost £1.3 billion in insurance losses, were made significantly more likely by climate change caused by humans.

    It is the first study to quantitatively link a severe rainfall event and climate change. The team that carried out the work, led by Myles Allen of the University of Oxford, had earlier linked the 2003 European heatwave to climate change.

    The team's method looks simple at first glance. They run climate models over and over again, thousands of times, to predict the likelihood of a specific event happening – in this case, the floods that affected the UK in 2000. This is done for two different scenarios: first, a "realistic" scenario in which the mix of gases in the atmosphere is a representation of the atmosphere in 2000; and second, a world in which humans do not and have never produced greenhouse gases.

    By comparing the two, the team is able to say how greenhouse gases changed the likelihood of the floods happening as and when they did.

    Soggy science

    The study of the 2003 heatwave, which used similar methodology, found that greenhouse gases made the event two to four times more likely to happen.

    Modelling flooding is quite a bit harder than modelling a heatwave, however. Predictions can't just take into account how much rain might fall: they also have to account for things like how waterlogged the soil was, and where the rainfall flowed.

    To complicate matters further, the level of detail – in terms of both space and time – in global climate models is too coarse to allow the simulation of individual rainfall events. The models can make only broad statements about how rainfall is likely to change regionally over the course of decades or a century.

    To overcome these problems, Allen and his team combined a seasonal weather-forecasting model with a rainfall run-off model, which predicts the flow of water over land.

    Then they harnessed the number-crunching power of the thousands of personal computers that have signed up to In this "citizen science" experiment, people offer up slack capacity on their computers to Allen's team, who use it to run their climate models in the background. Nearly 55,000 people are currently signed up.

    Cause for confidence

    The bottom line of all this? Allen and his team found that human greenhouse gas emissions "significantly increased" the likelihood of the 2000 floods. They can say, with a 66 per cent confidence level, that emissions nearly doubled the risk of the 2000 floods.

    Conversely, says Allen, there is only a 10 per cent chance that the increase in flood risk rose by just 20 per cent as a result of human contributions to climate.

    Allen's findings tally with global predictions, such as those offered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that climate change will raise the risk of extreme rainfall in regions that are already wet – such as England and Wales. Another study published this week shows that this is already happening globally (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature09763).

    As for Katrina, Allen points out that he is not a hurricane modeller but is encouraging his colleagues who are to consider this approach. In the meantime, however, his team has launched an experiment called Weatherathome, which will use distributed computing to model all weather events, year after year.

    "It's important not to look just at the weird events," says Allen.

    A bigger collaboration between the British Met Office and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US began last year, also with the aim of boosting our ability to link specific events to climate change.

    Journal reference: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature09762

    Tough action on climate change is 'cost-effective', EU report shows

    Higher emissions targets are more efficient, according to a draft policy document setting out a low-carbon roadmap to 2050  
    • Leaked European commission document on cutting carbon emissions by 25% 

    Fiona Harvey, Friday 18 February 2011

    Proposals to raise Europe's ambitions on tackling climate change have been strongly boosted by a new analysis showing tougher action on greenhouse gases is "cost-effective" and already achievable in practice.

    Europe's existing targets will be easily surpassed on current policies, according to the analysis. This means that taking on a higher target now is more efficient in the longer term.

    Green campaigners said the document demolished the arguments against more ambitious targets. "The case is now unanswerable," said Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser at Greenpeace.

    The plans, contained in a confidential draft policy document circulating in the European commission, could cost heavy industry an extra €12bn (£10bn) to €20bn within the next few years, and would have profound effects on a broad sweep of economic sectors, from construction and transport to farmers, who will fall under the environmental spotlight as never before.

    But imposing stricter limits on emissions would let Europe regain its international leadership on climate change, and breathe new life into the stalled United Nations negotiations, according to EU officials.

    The draft briefing document shows that Europe is on track to comfortably exceed its existing climate change targets of cutting emissions by 20% by 2020, and on current policies will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by that date.

    This means that without any extra effort, by 2020 Europe will be well within reach of the higher target of an emissions reduction of 30% which some member states, including the UK, are pushing for.

    Raising the current emissions-cutting goal to 25% would be "cost-effective", according to the draft, and by 2030 the EU should aim to cut emissions by 40%, rising to 60% by 2040.

    The briefing, which sets out a low-carbon roadmap for the EU to 2050, includes controversial proposals to reform the EU's emissions trading scheme by reducing the number of carbon permits available for companies to buy. This would force businesses to cut their carbon output by substantially more than many have planned for, and would cost about €12bn to €20bn at current carbon prices.

    The confidential 13-page document is being passed around the various commission departments and member states for comments. A leaked copy has been shown to the Guardian.

    It forms the basis for the discussion on whether the EU should retain its current target of reducing emissions by 20% by 2020, compared with 1990 levels, or toughen this target to 30% cuts.

    Some member states – including the UK, Germany, France and Denmark – have argued for the tougher target, but the EU's energycommissioner, Günther Oettinger, has warned it would lead to the "de-industrialisation" of Europe, an analysis disputed by other experts.

    Among the recommendations in the 2050 roadmap are:

    • A 25% emissions cuts by 2020, 40% by 2030, 60% by 2040.

    • Businesses covered by the EU's emissions trading scheme should have their surplus carbon permits set aside. The surplus arose because of the effects of the recession, but if companies are allowed to hang on to all the spare permits, they will scarcely need to cut emissions at all for the next five years.

    • All new buildings should be designed as "intelligent low- or zero-energy buildings", with any extra costs from this repaid by fuel savings.

    • At least €10bn should be invested annually in carbon capture and storage technology, which must be used "on a broad scale" after 2035.

    • Farmers could halve the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 2050, with improved practices. But the need to grow more food, and the reduction in emissions from energy generation will mean agriculture will account for a third of EU emissions by the middle of the century, putting farmers at the centre of any climate policy.

    • The use of biofuels, which has been attacked by environmentalists, could be reduced if the EU steps up its efforts on electric cars.

    Achieving the low-carbon energy and transport systems needed would cost about €270bn a year over the next 40 years, according to the roadmap, equivalent to about 1.5% of GDP on top of the 19% of GDP that is invested in infrastructure and new technology annually.

    Although this sounds like a lot, the commission notes that the increase would "simply take us back to the investment levels before the economic crisis", and is still much lower than the rate of investment in key emerging economies such as China (48%), India (35%) and Korea (26%).

    Davis said the document showed that the current EU climate targets were too weak, and should be strengthened. "This analysis demonstrates that Europe will easily meet a 25% emission reduction target by fully implementing existing policies," she said. "The implication is that the more ambitious 30% target, which is an essential part of the strategy to kick-start growth in the vital clean-tech sector, is now easily within reach. If we can hit the commission's trajectory simply by staying in neutral then the case for stepping up a gear and aiming for 30% is now unanswerable."

    Thursday, February 17, 2011

    Greenhouse gases led to increase in deluges, researchers say

    By Brian Vastag

    The Washington Post, 16 February 2011

    [For further discussion of these two new papers, see also:
    and, Real climate - Going to extremes ]

    Human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases helped trigger the increase in extreme rain events seen in North America over the second half of the 20th century, a group of climate scientists reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.

    In a second Nature paper, another group reported that human greenhouse gas emissions likely contributed to the horrendous floods that inundated England and Wales in the fall of 2000. Those scientists ran sophisticated climate simulations across a network of tens of thousands of home computers that volunteers loaded with climate-modeling software.

    "Human influence on the climate system has the effect of intensifying precipitation extremes," said Francis Zwiers, a climate researcher at Environment Canada in Toronto and lead researcher on the first study.

    Zwiers and his team gathered 50 years of rainfall statistics, and compared those observations to predictions made by computer simulations of the 20th century climate.

    Those simulations included the warming impact of the billions of tons of carbon dioxide human society has pumped into the atmosphere.

    The study found that observed increase in deluges "cannot be explained by natural internal fluctuations of the climate system alone," said Zwiers. In other words, only the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere explains why the United States and Canada have experienced a dramatic increase in heavy downpours.

    "Large [rainfall] events are becoming larger," Zwiers said. His work found that from 1951 to 1999, the probability of heavy downpours becoming even more extreme grew by about 7 percent, a figure he characterized as "really substantial."

    Richard Allan, a climate scientist at the University of Reading in England who was not part of the study, called the method employed by Zwiers "very rigorous."

    He added, "There's already been quite a bit of evidence showing that there has been an intensification of rainfall" events across the globe.

    But until now "there had not been a study that formally identified this human effect on precipitation extremes," Zwiers said. "This paper provides specific scientific evidence that this is indeed the case."

    The explanation is simple physics: Warmer air holds more water vapor. That means when rainfall gets triggered, the air contributing to the storm is holding more water than it did in the cooler pre-industrial world.

    In the second study, Pardeep Pall from the University of Oxford led an international team that found "human [greenhouse gas] emissions substantially increased the odds of floods occurring in what was the record wet autumn of 2000."

    The floods that inundated the United Kingdom that year were the worst since at least 1766.

    Pall's conclusion springs from two sets of many thousands of computer weather simulations. The first set simulated the atmosphere in its real state - loaded with all the extra carbon dioxide humans have added to it. The second set simulated a parallel world where no extra carbon dioxide had been added to the atmosphere.

    The odds of the massive floods occurring in the no-extra-greenhouse-gases parallel world were about half the odds of the floods happening in the real world, Pall said.

    Tens of thousands of volunteers loaded climate-predicting software onto their home computers via the Web site, Pall said, providing a vital boost in computer power needed to run the many thousands of climate simulations.

    The project has been running for several years. As of Wednesday morning, some 54,000 computers around the world were helping climate scientists crunch data. The donated computer time has completed 118 million years of climate simulations, according to the website.

    The research could not absolutely determine that the floods had been triggered by greenhouse gases, said the University of Oxford's Myles Allen, who contributed to the study. "It's important to stress there is uncertainty in this work."

    With the number and intensity of extreme deluges expected to climb, climate scientists and meteorologist are rushing to build better flood prediction systems, particularly for the developing world. On Monday,The Post reported on one scientist's assertion that last summer's floods in Pakistan could have been predicted - and the populace warned - if available data had been heeded.

    By Brian Vastag  | February 16, 2011