Playing (Australian) politics : Al Gore attacks Tony Abbott’s refusal to link bushfires with climate change

From the Guardian

Tony Abbott’s insistence that bushfires aren’t linked to climate change is like the tobacco industry claiming smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, Nobel laureate Al Gore says.

In light of the New South Wales bushfire disaster, the former US vice-president says the prime minister’s comment that bushfires are a function of life in Australia and nothing to do with climate change reminds him of politicians in the US who received support from tobacco companies, and who then publicly argued the companies’ cause.

“For 40 years the tobacco companies were able to persuade pliant politicians within their grip to tell the public what they wanted them to tell them, and for 40 years the tragedy continued,” Gore told ABC TV’s 7.30 program from Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

“Bushfires can occur naturally and do, but the science shows clearly that when the temperature goes up and when the vegetation and soils dry out, then wildfires become more pervasive and more dangerous.

“That’s not me saying it, that’s what the scientific community says.”

Gore said it was a political fact of life that politicians and commercial enterprise colluded to achieve goals after he was asked if there was a conspiracy between polluters and politicians.

“I don’t think it’s a commercial conspiracy. I think it’s a political fact of life,” he said. “It certainly is in my country. In the United States, our democracy has been hacked.

“Special interests control decisions too frequently. You saw it in our recent fiscal and debt crisis.

“The energy companies, coal companies and oil companies particularly, have prevented the Congress of the United States from doing anything meaningful so far, to stop the climate crisis.”

The Nobel laureate said Australia’s new Direct Action strategy was not workable.

“The meaningful way to resolve this crisis is to put a price on carbon and in Australia’s case, to keep a price on carbon,” he said.

He argues the price needs to be at an effective level with the market sending accurate signals so that renewable systems of energy are encouraged.

Top scientist Sir Mark Walport urges climate change deniers to give in

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The Government’s chief scientific advisor has challenged climate sceptics to drop their denial of global warming in the face of overwhelming evidence that it poses “an extremely important threat to us”.

Sir Mark Walport said a section of the general public was increasingly doubtful about the existence of climate change and mankind’s responsibility for it in the face of the global economic downturn, sceptical media coverage and “climate fatigue”.

“The [climate sceptics] discussion misses the point, that there is a right answer to the question of whether the climate is changing and whether there is a significant human cause to that,” Sir Mark told The Independent.

“This is not something on which human beings can vote, it’s not your opinion that matters, it is actually the truth of it, there is a correct answer. While there are many questions we can vote on, this is not one,” he added.

“What makes this easy for a chief scientist is that so much rigorous work has gone on around the globe to get an agreed statement on the basis of extremely rigorous science….Clearly climate change is an extremely important threat to us,” Sir Mark said.

He said it was “obviously completely ridiculous” to deal with the reality of climate change by denying the science.

Asked if last week’s report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested that global warming posed a significant threat, Sir Mark said: “It’s a very significant challenge, that would be obvious to anyone I think.”

Sir Mark declined to comment on Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s response to the IPCC report, but his reading of it is clearly at odds with Mr Paterson’s.

Mr Paterson said this week that “People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries…I see this report as something we need to take seriously but I am relieved it is not as catastrophic in its forecast as we had been led to believe early on. What it is saying is that it is something we can adapt to over time, and we are very good as a race at adapting.”

Sir Mark cited recent research by the UK Energy Research Centre as evidence that, while the bulk of the public believed in man-made climate change, there is growing minority scepticism. The proportion of people who do not believe in climate change has more than quadrupled since 2005, from 4 per cent to 19 per cent, the research shows.

He called on his fellow scientists to communicate the science more clearly, a task he admitted was extremely difficult given the huge complexity of the climate.

Climate change: Indigenous Australians ‘face disproportionate harm’

Second leaked IPCC report warns number of heatwave-related deaths in Sydney could triple by end of the century

Indigenous children Alice Springs
Indigenous children on the outskirts of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Photograph: AAP/Marianna Massey

Indigenous Australians face “disproportionate” harm from climate change, according to a leaked report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The second IPCC report, which is due to be released next March, also warns that climate change could swamp $226bn worth of coastal property via sea-level rises and cause the number of heatwave-related deaths in Sydney to triple by the end of the century.

It says there is “high agreement” among scientists that Indigenous people will face significant challenges from heat stress, extreme weather events and heightened rates of disease by 2100.

“Little adaptation of Indigenous communities to climate change is apparent to date,” the report says.

A sharp increase in heatwaves will impact the broader Australian population, especially older people, through heat-related deaths and hospitalisations. In Sydney, the number of deaths caused by heatwaves is expected to triple from 2.5 deaths for every 100,000 people to 7.4 deaths for every 100,000 people by 2100.

Water and food-borne diseases are projected to increase, with up to 870,000 new cases of bacterial gastroenteritis by 2100. But the IPCC warns there is minimal scientific consensus when it comes to specific disease projections and their link to climate change.

Australia is set to suffer financial as well as human loss, with the IPCC saying sea-level rise is a “significant risk” to the country because of the heavy population skew towards coastal cities and towns.

A rise of 1.1m would affect assets worth $226bn, according to the report, threatening 274,000 residential and 8,600 commercial buildings. Risks to road and rail infrastructure would “increase significantly” with a rise above 0.5m, the report indicates.

“While the magnitude of sea-level rise during the 21st century remains uncertain, its persistence over many centuries implies that realisation of these risks is only a question of time,” it says.

The leaking of the second IPCC report of three comes in the wake of the official release of the headline first report, which was unveiled in September. The initial document, a summation of the work of hundreds of climate scientists from around the world over the past five years, said there was a 95% certainty that humans are responsible for most of the 0.89C rise in average temperatures since 1901.

Australia is set to experience a 6C rise in average temperatures on its hottest days, with the loss of many reptile, bird and mammal species, as well as the celebrated Kakadu wetlands.

Separate research published this week by Australian scientists shows that the impact of el Niño years will be exacerbated by climate change. El Niño is a periodic climate condition which causes warming of the ocean and shifting rainfall patterns in parts of the Pacific region. It can help drive extremely warm years, such as in 1998.

The study team found that areas in the western Pacific, such as eastern Australia, will experience worse droughts during el Niño years.

Scott Power of the Bureau of Meteorology, the lead author of the report, said: “Projections produced by the models indicate that global warming interferes with the impact that el Niño sea-surface temperature patterns have on rainfall. This interference causes an intensification of el Niño-driven drying in the western Pacific and rainfall increases in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific.”

Dr Wenju Cai of the CSIRO added: “During el Niño, western Pacific countries – Australasia, including Australia – experience unusually low rainfall, while the eastern equatorial Pacific receives more rainfall than usual.

“This study finds that both the wet and dry anomalies will be greater in future el Niño years. This means that [el Niño]-induced drought and floods will be more intense in the future.”

‘The Planet and Stuff’ at The Polka : ‘eye-catching and educational treat’!

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Sarah Simmons of NAEE reports on what happens when climate change hits the stage

The Polka Theatre’s new educational performance, The Planet and Stuff, aims to inform young people about the problems of climate change and what they can do to help solve it. The performance provides fun, interactive and engaging activities which support key areas of both the KS2 and KS3 Science and Geography curricula.

The colourful and eye-catching production, fronted by Felix O’Brien as Joe and Sarah-Jane Scott as Becci, enthusiastically led the audience to tackle the question: “How do we solve climate change?”.  Through bottom wiggles, arm waving, and throwing paper aeroplanes the audience explored the issues of increased levels of carbon dioxide, where it is coming from, and were introduced to ways in which they can help in their every day lives at home and at school.

Uniquely the key facts about climate change weren’t researched by adults, but by the Polka Young Voices Panel, a group of 8 – 13 year olds who come together regularly throughout the year. Prior to the performance, the panel interviewed key players in the climate change debate including: university professors, climate change campaigners and MPs who relayed their thoughts on what children in the audience could do to help solve climate change.

When leaving the auditorium after the performance all the children appeared to be empowered by the performance, chatting amongst themselves about the messages presented and how they plan to solve climate change.  The Planet and Stuff is a thoroughly enjoyable educational performance and definitely well worth a visit to support teaching in both Geography and Science lessons.

 

The Planet and Stuff will be showing at the Polka Theatre until Saturday 26th October 2013. For more information visit http://www.polkatheatre.com/

Twitter : https://twitter.com/NAEE_UK ;  https://twitter.com/polkatheatre ; https://twitter.com/LearnFromNature

CLIMATE CHANGE : Lord Stern: ‘It would be absurd to underestimate risks’

The Guardian reports : 

It would be “absurd” to claim the risks of climate change are small, economic expert Lord Stern said before the publication of a key scientific report on global warming.

The latest international assessment of climate science makes it crystal clear the risks are “immense”, and it would be extraordinary and unscientific to ignore the evidence and argue for a delay in addressing the problem, he said.

The former World Bank chief economist and author of the key 2006 Stern review on the economics of climate change also warned that scientific projections and economic predictions were underestimating the risks of global warming.

While scientists recognised some potential impacts such as the melting of permafrost, which would release powerful greenhouse gas methane, could be very damaging, they were left out of models because they were hard to quantify.

Many economic models, meanwhile, “grossly underestimate the risks” because they assumed that growth will continue and the costs of climate change will be relatively small, he said.

“Both assumptions trivialise the problem and are untenable given the kind of change that could take place,” Lord Stern warned.

Temperature rises of 3C or 4C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 would put humans “way outside” the conditions in which civilisation developed, and could cause major disruptions that would damage growth.

Hundreds of millions or even billions of people could be forced to move from where they lived, causing conflict, there could be large-scale destruction of infrastructure and important services provided by nature could collapse, he warned.

His comments come as scientists and government officials meet in Sweden to finalise the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report assessing the evidence for climate change and its causes, to be published on Friday.

“The IPCC report makes crystal clear that the risks from climate change are immense,” Stern said.

The IPCC has come under fire from climate change sceptics since its last assessment in 2007 over mistakes discovered in that report.

Stern said any assessment of thousands of sources of information, such as the IPCC carries out, was likely to contain some errors, but the message from the scientific information was remarkably consistent.

The IPCC assessment showed a dangerous underlying trend, based on laws of physics known for 200 years, of the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and their impact on temperatures, with immense risks as a result.

Stern said: “It would be extraordinary and unscientific to argue on the basis of 200 years of evidence that you’re confident that the risks are small.

“Those who would have us delay have to argue they’re confident the risks are small. It would be an astonishing statement to make in light of all this evidence.

He added: “It would be absurd to say you are confident that the risks are small.”

There was a growing recognition from governments of the need to take action to address that risk, and he said he expected more countries to take the lead set by the UK and establish domestic laws to cut emissions.

Countries ranging from the biggest emitters, the US and China, through to Ethiopia and Mexico, were already taking action to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gases.

Stern called on the European Union to set a target to cut the bloc’s emissions by half on 1990 levels by 2030 to show leadership on the issue.

He criticised moves within the UK government to rethink its five-year carbon target up to 2027 and its failure to set a goal to slash emissions from the power sector by 2030 as undermining the certainty needed to invest in a low-carbon economy.

“Vacillation, lack of clarity, suggesting we might backtrack – all these things are very damaging to investment clarity and credibility in the medium term and long term,” he warned.

He also said the full range of technologies, from nuclear and renewables to methods for capturing and storing carbon from power stations, would be needed to address the problem and that energy efficiency measures would play a significant role.

CLIMATE CHANGE : Big business funds effort to discredit science, warns UN official

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From the Guardian

Big companies are paying contrarians to undermine the work of climate scientists, according to a top UN official speaking before the release of a landmark review of climate science this weekby international researchers next Friday. Halldór Thorgeirsson, a director who reports to the head of the UN body that governs the on-going high level international climate negotiations, said that scientists would need to be prepared for a counter-blast from sceptics.

“Vested interests are paying for the discrediting of scientists all the time. We need to be ready for that,” he said. His outspoken views will set the tone for a fractious meeting of the world’s leading climate scientists, kicking off on Monday in Stockholm, that will set out the evidence that the world’s governments use when formulating policies to deal with global warming for decades to come. More than 800 scientists have contributed to the report, the final details of which will be hammered out in a gruelling four-day session next week.

According to a draft of the “Summary for Policy Makers” dated June , seen by the Guardian– the most important part of the document – the scientists will argue that the evidence points to 95% certainty that climate change is occurring and is caused mainly by greenhouse gases released by humans – up from 90% certainty in the previous 2007 report. The 53 page document, seen by the Guardian which includes a note saying “do not cite, quote or distribute” says that levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are now greater than at any time in the last 800,000 years, based on ice cores and other evidence, and the incidences of extreme rainfall are increasing, with rainfall likely to increase in the north but to decrease in the subtropics.

The draft outlines evidence of “large-scale warming resulting primarily from anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gas concentrations”. It says that if warming is to be limited to less than 2C in future, more than half of the carbon that can be emitted to hold to that goal has already been poured into the atmosphere.

The real impact of the report – the latest since 2007 and only the fifth such assessment since 1992 – will not be felt until governments meet this year in Poland to discuss a global response to warming, aiming to forge a treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which was rejected by the US and which placed no obligations on big developing countries such as China, now the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The IPCC came in for severe criticism after a handful of flaws were found in its 2007 report, chiefly a mistake which suggested that most of the glaciers of the Himalayas could disappear by 2035. he error was seized by detractors, and led to the discovery of several other claims that were insufficiently backed by research.

The IPCC said it was unsurprising that a few mistakes had crept into what was than a thousand pages of dense scientific research. One of the crucial issues in the latest IPCC report is how sensitive the climate is to carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. Early leaked drafts of the summary suggest that the earth’s systems are extremely sensitive to greenhouse gases, and are likely to continue to rise as fossil fuels are burned at ever faster rates, but they also suggest that the lower end of estimates of future temperature rise will be reduced.

Formerly, the scientific consensus was that temperatures would rise by at least 2C, but in the new report this is likely to be reduced slightly to a 1.5C projected increase at the lowest end of the range. This slight reduction, which scientists stress does not reduce the known dangers of warming, such as more droughts and floods and fiercer storms, has been seized on by some climate sceptics, who see it as evidence that global warming will be less severe than thought.However, there are no certainties in the report as yet – though drafts have been seen by the Guardian.

The final assessment will be subject to the wranglings of climate scientists and government-appointed experts next week. Prof Nilay Shah, of Imperial College London, who compiled a recent report on how to reduce carbon emissions, compared the world’s lack of action on climate change to the complacency on safety procedures before the devastating fire at King’s Cross underground station in 1987, in which 31 people lost their lives. Before the fire, he pointed out, smoking was allowed on Underground stations, piles of flammable rubbish were allowed to accumulate, and many escalators were made of wood. After the dangers of these became apparent, the design of stations was improved to remove these hazards, but it took the disaster to stimulate change.Sceptics have been lining up to put forward their views that the IPCC’s fifth assessment report is flawed. Many of their arguments focus on the recent slowdown in the upward march of global temperatures, attributed by climate experts to the effects of the oceans in absorbing heat and the natural variability of the world’s climate systems.

However, scientists point out that ten of the warmest years in the temperature record have occurred in the past decade and a half. There have also been other strong indicators of climate change, including the shrinking of Arctic sea ice – which reached its lowest recorded extent last year and is also diminishing in volume – and the retreat of glaciers around the world. To those who are in disagreement with climate science, however – even though recent research has found that more than 90% of scientific studies support the finding that climate change is happening as a result of human actions – the remaining areas of uncertainty, such as the role of the oceans in absorbing heat and the role of clouds and human-made aerosols in deflecting the sun’s rays from the earth’s surface, are a cause to doubt more than a century of climate science.

Myron Ebell, director of the centre for energy and environment at the right-leaning US thinktank Competitive Enterprise Institute, and one of the US’s most prominent climate sceptics, told the Guardian: “The science contradicts the modellers’ dire predictions. The divergence between reality and model projections in the last two decades provides strong evidence that global warming, although it may become a problem some decades in the future, is not a crisis and is highly unlikely to become a crisis. We should be worried that the alarmist establishment continues using junk science to promote disastrous policies that will make the world much poorer and will consign poor people in poor countries to perpetual poverty.” The CEI has in the past received funding from Exxon Mobil, the oil company, and the American Petroleum Institute, Texaco, General Motors and the Koch Family Foundations, controlled by the Koch brothers who made their fortune from fossil fuels. Hot news

What is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

Set up in 1988, the IPCC is a UN body that evaluates the state of climate science. It produces major assessments every five to seven years – the last was published in Paris in 2007 and said scientists were 90% certain humans were responsible for the warming the planet was experiencing. The panel was awarded the Nobel peace prize in the same year, to be shared jointly with former US vice-president Al Gore. What is being published next week? The summary of the first part of the so-called fifth assessment report (AR5), which focuses on the scientific evidence behind climate change and man’s role in it.

The IPCC will meet in Stockholm to discuss the final draft which will be presented to governments and the public on Friday. Later parts of AR5, due in 2014, will report on the impacts of climate change, such as more extreme weather, how we can adapt to a warmer world, such as building flood defences and adapting farming practices, and “mitigation” – how greenhouse gas emissions can be cut.

Do these reports still matter?

Yes. The IPCC’s major assessments are extremely influential and widely read. But many people, including some of the scientists who put together the reports without pay, say that more targeted and more frequent reports would be more useful.

By Adam Vaughan of the Guardian

Scientists ‘95 per cent certain’ that climate change is man-made

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From The Independent : Scientists are more certain than they have ever been that humans are causing climate change and believe that sea levels could rise by up to 2ft 8in by the end of the century.These are among the key findings

likely to be published next month in the most authoritative and comprehensive report ever conducted into climate science – the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment, known as AR5.

According to a draft of the report, the certainty that humans are the main cause of climate change has risen to 95 per cent, from 90 per cent in the previous – fourth – assessment six years ago. This, in turn, was a significant increase on the 66 per cent certainty reached in 2001’s third assessment and just over 50 per cent in 1995.

With every IPCC report there is a key phrase that encapsulates the latest consensus on climate change, which scientists wrangle over for months.

According to a leaked copy of the draft, the key phrase in the forthcoming report will say: “It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”

“There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes,” adds the draft, which could be changed before the final version is published in Stockholm in September.

The draft projects that seas will rise by between 29cm and 82cm (11.4 to 32.3 inches) by the end of the century, while greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar.

The latest in a series that began in 1990 and last reported in 2007, AR5 has 840 main authors recruited from 38 of the IPCC’s 195 member countries, with British and American scientists making the biggest contribution.

At more than 3,000 pages, the report is so big that it will be released in three parts over the next 14 months. The first part covers the physical science of climate change. The second instalment will concentrate on the impacts of climate change and how to adapt to them, while the third will examine ways to curb the warming.

The report will also explain why global temperatures, while still increasing, have risen more slowly since the late 1990s despite accelerating increases in the greenhouse gas emissions widely thought to be responsible for climate change.

The draft report says there is “medium confidence” that the slowing of the temperature rise is “due in roughly equal measure” to natural variations in the weather and to other factors affecting energy reaching the earth’s surface. Other factors include an increase in the amount of heat being absorbed by deep oceans.

As with the other IPCC reports, AR5 will be a synthesis of the findings of thousands of peer-reviewed research papers from the past few years. It comes at a crucial time in global climate change politics since it will be the last IPPC report published before the Paris summit in 2015, when the world’s governments have pledged to reach hugely-ambitious and legally-binding targets to reduce their emissions in a bid to limit global warming to 2C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

The report’s authors are being extra cautious with this report after climate sceptics seized on a number of errors in the previous assessment to bolster their case that climate change is greatly exaggerated. The errors included the suggestion that the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035.

The key phrase on the likely human influence on climate change in the draft of the latest IPCC assessment strengthens that of 2007’s fourth assessment, which said that “Evidence of the effect of external influences… on the climate system has continued to accumulate since TAR [Third assessment report in 2001]”.

TAR, in turn, concluded in 2001 that “there is new and stronger evidence [than in 1995] that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities”. The second assessment report in 1995 said: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”