Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Australia should cut emissions by 19 per cent to play fair role: Climate Change Authority report

Tom Arup, Environment editor 
The AgeFebruary 27, 2014   

The CCA Review is available at -

Australia should reduce emissions by 19 per cent from 2000 levels by the end of the decade – a significantly stronger target than the current pledge of a 5 per cent cut – to play its part in stopping dangerous global warming, expert advice to the government says.

A review by the independent Climate Change Authority has also found Australia should then dramatically ramp up its efforts in the following decade through a target to cut 40 to 60 per cent of its emissions by 2030.

This would be a fair contribution to limiting climate change to relatively safe levels, it says.

In what could be the last significant act of the authority– the Coalition is moving to axe it along with the carbon tax – it has declared Australia's current unconditional pledge to cut emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 is ''inadequate''.

World leaders have agreed to keep global warming to an average of two degrees across the planet. Between 1880 and 2012 the planet warmed by an average 0.85 degrees.

Scientists warn that warming of more than two degrees would spark dangerous climate change including significantly more frequent and intense extreme weather events and higher sea levels.

In a major review released on Thursday, the authority found a 5 per cent cut by 2020 was not a credible step towards Australia meeting its contribution to keeping warming to two degrees.

''It would leave an improbably large task for future Australians to make a fair contribution to global efforts,'' said the authority, which is chaired by former Reserve Bank governor Bernie Fraser.

It found that action being taken by other countries, including China and the US, meant Australia's minimum commitment was out of step with current global efforts.
The authority recommended that Australia adopt a minimum 15 per cent cut to emissions by 2020, but it found the target should be strengthened with a surplus of international carbon credits Australia has obtained for undershooting its emissions goal under the first stage of the Kyoto Protocol. That would raise the goal to a 19 per cent cut.

The authority calculated the maximum greenhouse gas emissions Australia that should be allowed to release between 2013 and 2050 to play its role in meeting the two degree target.

To meet that budget the authority recommended Australia make a cut of 40 to 60 per cent on 2000 emissions by 2030, with the range to be reviewed periodically.

Launching the report in Canberra Mr Fraser said the Authority's findings were driven by the climate science. He described the recommendations as a: ''step up, but its doable.''

The report finds growth in gross national income would only be 0.02 per cent lower in 2020 with the 19 per cent target in place then compared with a 5 per cent reduction target. Per person that that would mean the average income rise would be just $100 less in 2020 than it would have been the lower five per cent target in place.

The authority said given the complexity of the climate change challenge it makes sense to adopt a wide range of policies to cut emissions, including carbon pricing and emissions trading – which the Abbott government is opposed to – and regulations and industry standards, such as limits on emissions from cars.

It finds costs could be kept relatively low if the government was prepared to buy international carbon permits to meet the higher emissions reductions being proposed in the review. If international credits were used entirely to move from a 5 to 19 per cent cut it would cost between $200 and $900 million.

This assumes an average carbon credit cost of $0.50 to $2. Current prices are below $1.

While the Coalition has vowed to meet the five per cent cut without buying international carbon credits, the authority recommended a government fund be established to buy international carbon credits to close any gap between domestic cuts emissions and the recommended targets but forward in the review.

It concluded an ''emissions budget'' of 10.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide was Australia's fair share of the total emissions allowable by 2050 to have a two-thirds chance of keeping warming to two degrees. That represents about 1 per cent of what global emissions by mid-century should be limited to.

Australia is expected to come under increasing global pressure to detail its emissions cuts for post–2020 in the coming year. The United Nations led climate talks are aiming to finalise a new climate treaty change by the end of next year.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to a special meeting on climate change later this year. He is expected to push for countries to make stronger commitments to cut emissions.

While in recent times the Abbott government has emphasised the unconditional 5 per cent emissions cut for 2020, Australia has said in international forums it would move to a stronger cut of up to 15 and 25 per cent by 2020 depending on global action.

The Coalition has previously supported this range. It says it will review Australia's emissions targets next year.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Climate Council: heatwaves are getting hotter and more frequent

The Conversation

18 February 2014

Will Steffen, Adjunct Professor, Fenner School of Environment and Society at Australian National University   

Lesley Hughes, Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University   

Sarah Perkins, Post Doctoral Research Fellow at University of New South Wales 

Heatwaves are one of the most important climate-related risks for Australians. Sometimes called the "silent killers", they cause the greatest number of deaths of any natural disaster type in Australia, and have significant impacts on infrastructure, agriculture and biodiversity. As the climate continues to warm, heatwaves are becoming hotter, longer and more frequent.

The extreme heat in Melbourne that frazzled the Australian Open tennis tournament and the record-breaking heat in large areas of Queensland this summer remind us of the risks that heatwaves pose. Hot on the heels of the "angry summer" of 2012/2013, this summer's heat is part of a longer-term trend towards hotter weather.

Heatwaves on the rise

The Climate Council's latest report – "Heatwaves: Hotter, Longer, More Often", which we co-authored – delivers four key findings.

First, climate change is already increasing the likelihood and severity of heatwaves across Australia. Second, heatwaves have widespread impacts including increased deaths, reduced workplace productivity, damage to infrastructure such as transport and electricity systems, mortality of heat-sensitive plants and animals, and stress on agricultural systems. Third, record hot days and heatwaves are expected to increase further in the future. And finally, limiting future increase in heatwave activity requires urgent and deep cuts to greenhouse-gas emissions.

Since 1950, the annual number of record hot days across Australia has more than doubled, and both maximum and minimum temperatures have increased by around 0.9°C. Over the past decade, the frequency of record hot days has been more than three times the frequency of record cold days. The hottest area-averaged national maximum temperature ever recorded was 40.3°C on 7 January 2013, and extreme temperature records were broken in every state and territory throughout the course of the 2012/2013 summer.

Almost all of Australia has experienced a lengthening of the heatwave season, with the first heatwave event occurringmuch earlier than it did 60 years ago. The intensity of heatwaves, as measured by the temperature of the hottest day (the peak of the heatwave), is also increasing.

This summer, Australians again endured record-breaking, extreme heatwaves and hot weather. On 3 January, Queensland experienced its hottest area-averaged day on recordand for the week ending 4 January, average maximum temperatures were a staggering 8°C or more above normal in the southern inland part of the state.

Record high maximum temperatures occurred over 8.8% of Australia during the first four days of January, including 17% of New South Wales, 17% of the Northern Territory, 16% of Queensland and 8% of South Australia. On 2 February, Adelaide reached a new February record of 44.7°C, some 15°C above average.

The global picture

Heatwaves are also on the increase worldwide, with severe heatwaves affecting many countries and regions in the last 10-15 years. One of the most severe was the European heatwave of July and August 2003, with France and Switzerland particularly affected. This heatwave was followed in 2010 by an even more intense and widespread heatwave, which scorched large swathes of Eastern Europe, including western Russia, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Long-term temperature reconstructions show that these were the hottest summers that Europe has experienced for at least 500 years. North America has also experienced several recent heatwaves, with a major heatwave affecting the state of Texas in July 2011 and a heatwave covering a greater area of the country in 2012.

Diverse impacts

The impacts of heatwaves are surprisingly large and diverse. The Bureau of Meteorology has dubbed heatwaves "the most under-rated weather hazard in Australia". While heatwaves do not result in obvious violent effects on the landscape, unlike many other weather-related disasters such as high-intensity storms and bushfires, their impacts on health, the workplace, infrastructure, agriculture, and the environment are serious, costly and long-lasting.

While the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires killed more than 170 people, the preceding heatwave killed double this figure. The economic burden of heatwaves is significant, through the demand placed on emergency services, infrastructure stress and breakdown, and agricultural losses. For example, as temperatures soared during the 2009 heatwave, the Basslink electricity cable between Tasmania and Victoria reached maximum operating temperature, causing the system to shut down and resulting in widespread blackouts in Melbourne.

Plants and animals are also susceptible to extreme heat events, with flying foxes, birds and rainforest marsupials being particularly vulnerable. Marine heatwaves can trigger coral bleaching events, affecting large areas of reefs. Bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef have occurred repeatedly since the late 1970s, with none reported before then. These bleaching events have contributed to the observed 50% loss of coral cover in the Great Barrier Reef over the past 30 years.

The case for decarbonisation

As greenhouse gases continue to rise in the atmosphere, heatwaves will continue to worsen.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2012 Special Report on Extremes and last year's release of the first part of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, it is virtually certain that hot extremes will increase and cold extremes will decrease through the century compared to the current climate. It is also very likely that the length, frequency and/or intensity of heat waves will increase over most land areas around the globe.

This is the critical decade for action. Global emissions are still rising and Australian emissions are yet to make a decisive turn downwards. Despite the promising developments in low-carbon technologies and energy-efficiency measures, there is not yet widespread acceptance in Australia of the urgent need to decarbonise our economy and implement policies to facilitate a decarbonised future. This challenge must be met if we are to minimise the risk of worsening heatwaves and other extreme events for ourselves, our children and grandchildren. It's time to get on with the job.

The Climate Council is a crowdfunded body that advises the Australian public on climate change. You can read its Heatwave Report here.