Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Report warns of deadly climate change

ABC News, November 30, 2011
A new report is warning more Australians face dying in heatwaves and catching infectious diseases as a result of climate change.
A Climate Commission report out today, titled The Critical Decade: Climate Change and Health, says climate change-related injury, disease and deaths will continue to grow in decades to come unless sustained action is taken.
The Climate Commission report says climbing temperatures will lead to more natural disasters and changing rainfall patterns, which will have an impact on people's health as much as on the environment.
It includes a worst-case scenario where deaths from hotter temperatures in Queensland and the Northern Territory could multiply tenfold by 2100.
Report co-author Professor Lesley Hughes says even a small rise in temperature can be detrimental to people's health.
"A small rise in average temperature actually means a fairly large rise in the number of days, for example, over 35 degrees [Celsius] every year," she said.
"So as average temperatures go up, the number of extremely hot days go up in a disproportionate way. So what we're concerned about with climate change, amongst other impacts, is the impact on heatwaves."
Professor Hughes concedes Australia already experiences killer heatwaves.
"In the last couple of years we've had some fairly significant heatwaves in the south-eastern states, especially in Melbourne and Adelaide," she said.
"In Melbourne for example, in 2009, in the weeks before the Black Saturday bushfires, there was an increase of 62 per cent on the normal death rate for that period when temperatures reached record levels in the mid-40s.
Professor Hughes says all climate models are showing there will be rises in the frequency and or intensity of many extreme events that have detrimental impacts on health.
The Climate Commission report says health burdens and costs are likely to rise as the climate changes.
"Climate change will have both direct and indirect impacts on health," Professor Hughes said.
"[It will] potentially affect the distribution of mosquitoes that carry diseases like dengue fever, maybe exposing many more people to the impacts of that disease.
"Climate change will also disproportionately affect those people in our society that are already more vulnerable.
"So the elderly, those with existing heart and kidney disease, children, people in remote communities and especially Indigenous communities.
"One of the aspects of climate change will be an economic impact via the impact on workers that will potentially have to cease working for more of the day than they do currently ... I think miners, like any outdoor workers, will be increasingly subject to longer periods of hotter weather during their working days, and that will have an impact."
The Climate Commission report was released as the United Nations' World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) released figures showing that 13 of the warmest years on record have occurred within the last decade and a half.
The year 2011 caps a decade that ties the record as the hottest ever measured, the WMO said in its annual report on climate trends and extreme weather events, unveiled at UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.
"Our science is solid and it proves unequivocally that the world is warming and that this warming is due to human activities," WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud said in a statement, urging policy makers should take note of the findings.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Research shows that Southern Ocean is warming and freshening

ACE CRC, 29th November 2011


The Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC has launched a synopsis of the latest scientific research into changes in the temperature, salinity, acidity and circulation in the Southern Ocean.

The Southern Ocean plays a critical role in global and regional climate. More than 90% of the extra heat energy stored by the planet in the past 50 years has been absorbed in the world's oceans, with the Southern Ocean's latitude band storing more heat and CO2 than any other latitude band.

The synopsis, titled Position Analysis: Climate Change and the Southern Ocean, is a plain‐English summary of knowledge in this research area.

The latest research shows:

  • The Southern Ocean is warming faster than the average for the global ocean.
  •  The warming extends to greater depth in the Southern Ocean than it does in low latitudesbecause of the unique ocean currents there that carry heat deep in the ocean. The large amount of heat stored in the ocean makes it expand, raising sea levels.
  •  These currents also carry large amounts of carbon dioxide into the deep ocean, slowing the rate of climate change. More than 40% of the carbon dioxide released by human activities that ends up stored in the ocean enters through the Southern Ocean.
  • The Southern Ocean is getting fresher (lower in salinity). The changes in salinity provide evidence that the global water cycle is becoming more intense, with wet areas becoming wetter and dry areas becoming drier, as expected in a warming climate.
  • Freshening is observed in the abyssal waters off Antarctica south of Tasmania, and in the intermediate depth waters that originate in the Southern Ocean.
  • New measurements show that even the deepest waters, below 4 km depth, are warming and freshening. This means that even the deepest layers of the ocean can respond to changes in surface climate very quickly.
  • The ocean is becoming more acidic, making it more difficult for a wide variety of organisms to build shells, skeletons and reefs.
  • Because the effects of ocean acidification are sensitive to temperature, the threshold will be crossed first in the cold waters of the polar regions.

The report was prepared by the ACE CRC Oceans program leader Dr Steve Rintoul and the ACE CRC's Professor Nathan Bindoff, who is a project leader within the Oceans program.
Dr Rintoul said that understanding of the Southern Ocean and its role in the climate system had suffered from a lack of observations. "New technologies are allowing us to really measure the Southern Ocean for the first time, he said.

"The changes we have observed in the temperature, salinity, sea level and carbon concentrations in the Southern Ocean are important because they tell us how and why the climate system is changing," he said. "Because the Southern Ocean affects global and regional climate in profound ways, any changes in the region potentially have widespread consequences."

The CEO of the ACE CRC, Dr Tony Press, said that undertaking research in the Southern Ocean was expensive and logistically complex, making collaboration between organisations, nations and scientific disciplines crucial.

"Given its location and capabilities, Australia should provide leadership in international research efforts in the Southern Ocean," Dr Press said. "Our research in this area is already highly regarded and Australia is strategically placed to make a substantial contribution to understanding climate change in the Southern Ocean."

The Position Analysis underlines the importance of continued investment in the hardware required for ocean observation – this includes robotic instruments (called Argo floats), underwater autonomous vehicles, satellites and instrumentation that can record information from ships and planes.

The Position Analysis defines the Southern Ocean as the area south of 30◦S.

Link to Position Analysis:Climate Change and the Southern Ocean


  • arrange interviews with oceanographers Steve Rintoul or Nathan Bindoff
  • discuss the policy section of the position analysis with ACE CEO Tony Press
  • receive a PDF of the position analysis

please contact:
Miranda Harman
ACE CRC Communications and Media Manager
+61 3 6226‐2265
+419 507 268

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Arctic sea ice loss 'unprecedented', study finds

The Age, November 24, 2011 

The loss of sea ice in the Arctic at the end of the 20th Century is "unprecedented" in the past 1,450 years in its duration and magnitude, an indication of human-influenced climate change, a study said.

So-called greenhouse gases may be contributing to the warming, and trends from the last several decades suggest there may soon be an ice-free Arctic in the summer, according to a study published today in the journal Nature.

The ice, which melts every summer before cold weather makes it expand again, shrank this year to its second-smallest size since 1979, covering 4.33 million square kilometers (1.67 million square miles), according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. Although previous sea ice declines have occurred at a similar pace, they don't match the extent of the melt, the study authors said.

"This drastic and continuous decrease we've been seeing from the satellites does seem to be anomalous," Christophe Kinnard, a study author and a geographer at the Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Zonas Aridas in La Serena, Chile, said in a telephone interview. "It does point to a continuation of this trend in the future."

The researchers used ice core records, tree ring data, lake sediment and historical evidence to reconstruct the amount of Arctic cover. The thickness and extent of sea ice have declined dramatically over the last 30 years, the researchers said.

Arctic sea ice influences the global climate, since 80 percent of the sunlight that strikes it is reflected back to space. When the ice melts in the summer, it exposes the ocean surface, which absorbs about 90 percent of the light, heating the water, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. That influences climate patterns.

"You increase the radiation that's absorbed by the oceans, that's one of the strongest climate feedback mechanisms," Kinnard said. "The more sea ice you lose, the more energy you get in the ocean, which warms the atmosphere."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Continue Climbing

WMO Bulletin highlights growth in nitrous oxide in atmosphere
GENEVA, 21 November 2011 (WMO) –The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new high in 2010 since pre-industrial time and the rate of increase has accelerated, according to the World Meteorological Organization's Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. It focussed special attention on rising nitrous oxide concentrations.
Between 1990 and 2010, according to the report, there was a 29% increase in radiative forcing - the warming effect on our climate system - from greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide accounted for 80% of this increase.
"The atmospheric burden of greenhouse gases due to human activities has yet again reached record levels since pre-industrial time," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. "Even if we managed to halt our greenhouse gas emissions today – and this is far from the case – they would continue to linger in the atmosphere for decades to come and so continue to affect the delicate balance of our living planet and our climate."
"Now more than ever before, we need to understand the complex, and sometimes unexpected, interactions between greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Earth's biosphere and oceans. WMO will continue to collect data to further our scientific knowledge through its Global Atmosphere Watch network spanning more than 50 countries, including stations high in the Andes and Himalayas, in the remote expanses of Alaska and in the far South Pacific," he said.
Greenhouse gases trap radiation within the Earth's atmosphere causing it to warm. Human activities, such as fossil fuel burning and agriculture, are major emitters of greenhouse gases which are drivers of climate change. After water vapour, the three most prevalent long-lived greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Friday, November 18, 2011

IPCC expected to confirm link between climate change and extreme weather Report likely to conclude that man-made emissions are increasing the frequency of storms, floods and droughts

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent 
Guardian.co.uk, 17 November 2011 16.32

Climate change is likely to cause more storms, floods, droughts, heatwaves and other extreme weather events, according to the most authoritative review yet of the effects of global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish on Friday its first special report on extreme weather, and its relationship to rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The final details are being fought over by governments, as the "summary for policymakers" of the report has to be agreed in full by every nation that chooses to be involved. But the conclusions are expected to be that emissions from human activities are increasing the frequency of extreme weather events. In particular, there are likely to be many more heatwaves, droughts and changes in rainfall patterns.

Jake Schmidt of the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council said: "This report should be a wake-up call to those that believe that climate change is some distant issue that might impact someone else. The report documents that extreme weather is happening now and that global warming will bring very dangerous events in the future. From the report you can see that extreme weather will impact everyone in one way or another. This is a window into the future if our political response doesn't change quickly."

Jake Schmidt of the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council said: "This report should be a wake-up call to those that believe that climate change is some distant issue that might impact someone else. The report documents that extreme weather is happening now and that global warming will bring very dangerous events in the future. From the report you can see that extreme weather will impact everyone in one way or another. This is a window into the future if our political response doesn't change quickly."

This special report - one of only two that the IPCC is publishing before its 2014 comprehensive assessment of the state of climate change science - is particularly controversial as it deals with the relationship between man-made climate change and damaging events such as storms, floods and droughts. Some climate change sceptics and scientists cast doubt on whether the observed increase in extreme weather events can be attributed directly to human actions, or whether much of it is due to natural variability in the weather.

The IPCC, a body of the world's leading climate scientists convened by the United Nations, is likely to conclude that extreme weather can be linked to man-made climate change, but that individual weather events can at present only rarely be linked directly to global warming.

The Red Cross warned that disaster agencies were already dealing with the effects of climate change in vulnerable countries across the world. "The findings of this report certainly tally with what the Red Cross Movement is seeing, which is a rise in the number of weather-related emergencies around the world," said Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre and coordinating lead author of the IPCC report. "We are committed to responding to disasters whenever and wherever they happen, but we have to recognise that if the number of disasters continues to increase, the current model we have for responding to them is simply impossible to sustain."

Insurers are also worried. Mark Way, of the insurance giant Swiss Re, told the Guardian that the massive increase in insurance claims was causing serious concern. He said that between 1970 and 1989, the insurance industry globally had paid out an average of $5bn a year in weather-related claims, but that this had increased enormously to $27bn a year. Although not all of this was attributable to climate change - increasing population, urbanisation and prosperity also play a major part - he said insurers wanted governments to get to grips with the effects of climate change in order to prepare for likely damage and tackle the causes of global warming.

MIke Hulme at the Tyndall Centre said it would be dangerous for governments to use this report in order to justify directing overseas aid only to those countries that could be proved to be suffering from climate change, rather than other problems. In that scenario, he said: "Funding will no longer go to those who are most at risk from climate-impacts and with low adaptive capacity, but will go to those who are lucky enough to live in regions of the world where weather extremes happen to be most attributable by climate models to human agency. These regions tend to be in mid-to-high latitudes, with lots of good weather data and well calibrated models. So, goodbye Africa."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Five years to act on climate: report

Tom Arup and David Wroe 
The Age, November 11, 2011   

THE world has just five years to make ''urgent and radical policy changes'' or lock in dangerous climate change, the world's leading energy agency has warned, sparking a debate about whether Australia should shift to gas or renewable energy.

The 2011 World Energy Outlook - released by the International Energy Agency late on Wednesday night - finds the world is on track to build enough fossil-fuel power stations, energy-intensive factories and buildings by 2017 to close the door on keeping climate change to a safe level.

The Greens seized on the report to warn the energy sector against investing in gas production, saying the sector would be taking ''a gamble'' building new gas plants when there was clearly an urgency to move straight to renewable energy sources. Energy Minister Martin Ferguson retorted that the Greens had ''completely misunderstood'' the report.

The outlook says coal consumption needs to peak well before 2020 if the world wants to halt global warming at a 2 degrees rise, which scientists say is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

If energy and climate policies currently proposed by all world governments - including Australia's carbon tax - are put in place, temperatures will rise by 3.5 degrees. If the world remains on its current path of growth in fossil fuels global temperatures will rise by 6 degrees, the outlook says.

Agency chief economist Fatih Birol said if by 2017 there is not a start to major new clean infrastructure investments ''the door to 2 degrees will be closed''.

''I am very worried,'' he said, ''if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum. The door will be closed forever.''

The outlook comes as nations prepare to converge on the South African city of Durban later this month for the next round of global climate change negotiations, but there is almost no expectation significant progress on a global pact will be made.

The agency's report says emissions from existing fossil-fuel power plants, factories and buildings have already locked in 80 per cent of the emissions allowed by 2035 to keep carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million, the maximum possible to keep temperature rises to 2 degrees. The other 20 per cent will be eaten up by 2017 on current development trends the outlook says.

Greens deputy leader Christine Milne told The Age the report showed that there was no longer time to use gas - which is a cleaner-burning fuel than coal - as a stepping stone to renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal. ''[The outlook] is basically saying to the investment community, 'You are going to be gambling on how long gas has got as any kind of transitional fuel'.''

Australia would need to make deeper cuts to keep to a 450ppm target, which would restrict the number of permits under the carbon-pricing scheme and make emissions more expensive.

However, Mr Ferguson told The Age: ''The flexibility of gas-fired technology and the fact it is the cleanest fossil fuel make it an attractive investment option.
''In addition to gas, the message I am getting firsthand out of China and India … is that coal-fired power will increase and Australia is well placed to supply coal to fuel their growing economies.''

Friday, November 4, 2011

Greenhouse emissions exceed worst case scenario

Seth Borenstein 
The Age, November 5, 2011 

WASHINGTON: The global output of carbon dioxide jumped by the biggest amount on record, the US Department of Energy has calculated, a sign of how feeble the world's efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The new figures for last year mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst-case scenario outlined by climate experts four years ago.

''The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing,'' the co-director of the joint program on the science and policy of global change at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), John Reilly, said.

The world pumped about 512 million tonnes more of carbon into the air last year than it did in 2009, an increase of 6 per cent. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of all but three countries - China, the US and India, the world's top producers of greenhouse gases.

Gregg Marland, a professor of geology at Appalachian State University who has helped calculate Department of Energy figures in the past, said the ''monster'' increase was unheard of. Extra pollution in China and the US accounted for more than half the increase in emissions last year, Dr Marland said.

''It's a big jump,'' said the director of the Energy Department's Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tom Boden. ''From an emissions standpoint, the global financial crisis seems to be over.''

India and China are huge users of coal. Burning coal is the biggest carbon source worldwide, and emissions from it jumped nearly 8 per cent last year.

In 2007, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its last large report on global warming, it used different scenarios for carbon dioxide pollution and said the rate of warming would be based on the rate of pollution.

Mr Boden said the latest figures put global emissions higher than the worst-case projections from the climate panel.

Even though global warming sceptics have attacked the climate panel as being too alarmist, scientists have generally found their predictions too conservative, Dr Reilly said.

He said his university worked on emissions scenarios, their likelihood and what would happen. The climate panel's worst-case scenario was about in the middle of what MIT calculated were likely scenarios.

Chris Field, of Stanford University, head of one of the panels working groups, said its emissions scenarios were intended to be more accurate in the long term and were less so in earlier years. The question now among scientists was whether the future was the panel's worst-case scenario ''or something more extreme'', he said.

But Dr Reilly and Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria, in Canada, found something good in recent emissions figures. The developed countries that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas limiting treaty have reduced their emissions overall since then and have achieved their goals of cutting emissions to about 8 per cent below 1990 levels.

In 1990, developed countries produced about 60 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases. Now it is probably less than 50 per cent, Dr Reilly said.

''We really need to get the developing world because if we don't, the problem is going to be running away from us,'' Dr Weaver said. ''And the problem is pretty close from running away from us.''
Associated Press