Pages tagged "Uncategorized"

  • Four Degrees Report

    By Dimity Williams Dimity Williams attended the Four Degrees conference as a Doctors for the Environment Australia member (and CAHA member) and shares main messages here. The presentations are at "It was an excellent conference with international speakers updating attendees on the latest climate science and coincided with the release of the government's carbon tax package. The premise of the conference was to describe the 4 degree world our politicians are planning for and in so doing motivate us for mitigation. In this they certainly succeeded as the science is very grim. Key messages for me were:

    • Australia is the most vulnerable continent to climate change impacts
    • The current CO2 concentration is 392 ppm (pre-industrial 280); the current level of warming is one degree above pre-industrial levels
    • There is an enormous disconnect between the international agreement to limit global warming to 2 degrees (450ppm) and the current policies which see us (with a fossil fuel intensive model) reaching 4 degrees warming by 2070 - and hence 8 degrees by 2300. No human life at this temperature.
    • We need to peak global emissions by 2020 to have a 2/3 chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees
    • Global damage is a highly non-linear function of global warming ie. once certain tipping points are crossed there is no way to reverse them and a cascade starts ie. the Greenland ice sheet loss may be triggered at 1.5-2.5 degrees
    • Preliminary evidence suggests that once global temperature is over 5 degrees it will rapidly accelerate above 10 degrees
    • This is the CRITICAL DECADE for action to avert dire climate change; a strong mitigation future is technologically and economically feasible but is it politically feasible?

    All speakers can now be heard on the conference website and I highly recommend you spend some time listening for yourself. See link: Excellent sessions were: Session 4- Australia at 4 degrees Excellent discussion of heat waves and El Nino impacts recently by CSIRO /BOM scientists Session 5- Australian Biodiversity impacts Australia has 7-10% of global biodiversity; we are the most vulnerable continent because we are flat and have nutrient poor soil. This means that species migration is especially great ie. with one degree warming, species need to move 100m altitudinally and 125km south; this is difficult as many of our rivers run east-west

    • Australia currently has the highest mammal extinction rate in the world. For every 1 degree of warming 100-500 species of bird will become extinct. Ecosystems can only withstand <0.1 degree temperature increase per decade (current rate 0.13deg C; 0.46 at higher latitudes)
    • In addition to mitigation, the answer here is to protect more land, restore some of what's lost and understand that landscape level management is more important than individual species ie. protect ecosystems

    Session 6- Australian Marine impacts

    • Oceans maintain climate by absorbing CO2, generating O2 through marine plants and absorbing heat. They also supply our food and generate income through tourism and food supply
    • Impacts due to climate change include warming, acidification and a reduction in oxygen content
    • The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) generates $6 billion/year and employs 63,000 people- second largest employer in QLD. GBR is the most biodiverse ecosystem in Australia and is especially vulnerable to global warming as we see mass coral bleaching and acidification of the ocean
    • 80% world's coral reefs are at risk of disappearance at 1.5 degrees warming
    • Coral reef safety threshold crossed at the latest at 336ppm in 1979
    • As the ocean has warmed, species have migrated south, today at 1 degree of warming marine organisms have moved 100km south and there is 50% less coral cover now than 50yrs ago
    • By 2030 we can expect annual mass coral bleaching- the reef does not always recover from this ie. most pacific reefs bleached in 1998 have not recovered.

    Session 9- Health impacts by Professor Tony Mc Michael The issue is not adaptation to 4 degrees of warming as this will not be possible- the need is to strengthen our resolve to mitigation

    • Australia's lack of action on climate change is causing thousands of deaths in the third world
    • Causal paths for health impacts are:

    1. Environmental health hazards, 'exposures'- extreme temperatures and extreme weather events; increased concentrations of air pollutants and aeroallergans 2. Loss of and change in environmental functions 'services' - lower food yields, reduced fresh water, change to natural constraints to infection, reduction in nature's buffers ie. forests and reefs, psychological effects Tony asked "What do economists eat?" We don't just catch fish to sell them as a commodity; we catch them as a food source to maintain our health. Session 15- Mitigation- Can we? An excellent solutions-focussed session. I especially enjoyed the presentation from Anna Skarbek from CLIMATEWORKS whose answer was clearly 'Yes we can! There was also an address by Greg Combet, Minister for Climate Change and Ross Garnaut discussing the carbon tax package. Next steps I personally would prefer to attend a conference where we talk about limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees as 2 degrees sees us accepting the loss of entire countries (ie. Maldives, Pacific islands etc) and I wonder if the scientific community is allowing itself to have its parameters set by the political agenda? I would also like to see some research focus on mitigation rather than just the adaptation focus of the NCCARF and a place for science and health experts not just economists on key advisory groups like the Climate Change Authority."

  • A carbon tax is not so scary, really

    Given the hysteria around the current debate on a carbon tax, it seems timely to republish on the CAHA blog an edited version of this article published in Fairfax's National Times last year: No need to be afraid of a tax on carbon. The agreement between The Gillard Government and The Greens that a carbon price is paramount to tackling carbon pollution signalled a restoration of a significant climate policy agenda in Australia. It was well overdue, given the overwhelming recognition that a carbon price is central to effective emissions reductions. This has been the case since Sir Nicholas Stern's landmark report in 2006, which identified a carbon price as a key element to cutting emissions. And despite independent MP Bob Katter's poor opinion of Sir Nicholas (describing him in 2010 as "a lightweight"), Stern remains a pre-eminent expert on the economics of climate change. Nothing has changed since his report in terms of the need for a carbon price; only the urgency of its application has increased. Achieving this in Australia, however, has been difficult to date “ the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) was a miserable attempt at pricing carbon, and its flawed approach (rejected quite rightly by The Greens and others) with inadequate targets, excessive use of offsetting and unnecessary compensation to polluters, has contributed to the discrediting of emissions trading as the preferred option for pricing carbon internationally. While Opposition Leader Tony Abbott remains vehement in his opposition to new taxes, he doesn't (yet) appear to understand that his policy of direct investment is just another way of putting a price on carbon. And while Abbott may be opposed to the idea of a specific carbon tax, the allocation of funds to reduce carbon emissions is using revenue collected through taxation. To argue that we shouldn't have a carbon price because it will drive up electricity prices is nonsense “ electricity prices are already going up and will go up even further without a carbon price, because there is no incentive to invest in energy generation infrastructure while there is uncertainty around a price on carbon. Capital expenditure on power generation in Australia is expected to decline $10 billion over the next five years unless there is a price on carbon. In terms of actual mechanisms, the most appropriate tool is a carbon tax. Supported by most environmental economists (and others such as Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and Jeremy Sachs), a carbon tax is already in place in many European jurisdictions where it has reduced emissions while maintaining, even improving in some instances, economic productivity. Most arguments against a carbon tax incorrectly identify the misplaced allocation of funds as a flaw of the mechanism itself, rather than its faulty implementation. A carbon tax is a way of obtaining revenue (appropriately, by taxing polluters). What is done with that revenue determines what its impact will be on the community, whether it is supporting low income or vulnerable households or supporting the expansion of renewable energy technologies - not the tax itself. Its popular appeal could also be enhanced by reducing other taxes, such as income taxes, while maintaining the pressure on polluters to find ways to cut emissions. The "anti-tax" position adopted by Abbott is a very simplistic argument. A carbon tax will provide a revenue base that we can use to diversify our economy away from a "quarry and dump" to potentially manufacturing, operating and exporting renewable energy infrastructure - creating thousands of jobs and bringing wealth to our deprived regional areas. We are witnessing of course the inevitable squealing from the emissions intensive industries, and re-runs of the "sky is falling" argument by the big polluters. The reality, however, is that ongoing opposition to a price on carbon will mean we better steel ourselves for the "brownouts" that will result, not because of the carbon price, but because we lack one. The failure or unwillingness to invest in new power generation will inevitably lead to considerable economic disruption and societal dysfunction. But while a carbon price is central, it is only one tool in the suite of policy options that are needed to bring down emissions, help make clean renewable energy cheaper, and discourage polluters from dumping their waste in the atmosphere. We need to move quickly to a suite of policy mechanisms that not only make clean renewable energy competitive with fossil fuels but will also reduce emissions from transport and building stock and agriculture. To achieve this it is vital that we legislate a carbon price and move on from the argument about a carbon tax versus emissions trading. We must seek the establishment of a national plan to guide Australia's transition to a low carbon and then zero carbon economy. Other more responsible countries are investing in whole of society transition plans - recognising that transition is inevitable and, carefully managed, it will bring far more positive outcomes than ad hoc adaptation and emergency responses. We've had enough of intermittent commitment to individual policy mechanisms - it is time for a considered framework that will guide our country's transition to the low and then zero emissions society that promotes and protects our economic, environmental and social wellbeing. A version of this article appeared on the National Times on 4th September 2010.

  • Levies, wild weather and global warming

    The passing of the flood levy to rebuild Queensland by the Senate today will allow for a new beginning for thousands of people affected by the floods, and go some way to addressing the damage repair bill - estimated as billions of dollars. This levy will assist in alleviating some of the catastrophic impacts of the floods on the state and on local communities, for whom recovery will take months and years as houses and infrastructure are rebuilt, and lives and businesses pieced back together. It is to be hoped the support of government and community along with relief appeals will make the task of rebuilding easier for affected communities. But as communities are rebuilt, what preparations are being made to protect them from future damage and risk? These floods were a sobering reminder of the power and influence of the natural environment on the safety and wellbeing of the community. But one of the most extraordinary aspects of the recent extreme weather in Australia was not the ferocity and scale of the record breaking events but the absence of any public dialogue about the link between these events and global warming. The recent floods in Queensland and Victoria have been widely acknowledged as being of epic and unprecedented proportions but little is being said about the human contribution to forces driving these events. Just as the reports from the devastating bushfires in Victoria in 2009 ignored the contribution of anthropogenic global warming and its subsequent effects on the severity and frequency of extreme weather events, there has been little or no recognition among journalists or political leaders about the links between climate change and the floods that affected hundreds of thousands of people across Australia.That politicians ignore the issue is easier to understand “ the Queensland Premier has an election to fight next year and her government has recently endorsed an ongoing to commitment to industries responsible for causing climate change, such as coal. But the failure of the mainstream media to question this contribution, to seek the advice of experts, or to draw links between these events and global warming in an effort to educate (one the media's most important roles) the community on this issue is bewildering and alarming. The failure to do so will almost certainly come at considerable future cost to the community. The costs of cleaning up and rebuilding after the floods in Queensland is enormous, and goes well beyond financial and extend to broader economic as well social, psychological, and human health costs. Given the likelihood that these events will occur again, with one in a hundred year events now occurring every few years (or in the case of St George, every year), and with increasing intensity and frequency, we should be seeing a recognition of this in actions to prevent further catastrophe for populations at risk. The scientific evidence is extremely clear: continuing to burn fossil fuels for power generation and thus contributing to further global warming places the entire human population at great risk. It places particular populations (e.g. those residing on low lying areas; some coastal communities; those with limited water security) at considerable risk. For too long, too many Australians seem to have adopted the view that climate change is only going to affect poor people, far away. But as evidenced by recent events in Australia, we can now count ourselves as among those populations at great risk. This level of risk has arisen from the global average temperature rise that has already occurred of just 0.8°C. This level of warming took around 100 years to occur. However we know that, thanks to an inexorable rise in greenhouse gas emissions (up about 10% each decade in Australia), atmospheric CO2 levels have now risen to 390ppm, higher than at any time during human civilisation on Earth. This is considered responsible for increases of global average temperatures of around 0.2°C per decade. Given there is now demonstrable current catastrophic effects on our local population from less than 1°C rise, it is incredible to witness the failure to acknowledge this risk by those in a position to not only inform the population of this seminal risk, but those who have accepted responsibility to lead our community. Russian President Medvedev acknowledged the link between extreme weather events and global warming in 2010 when unprecedented soaring temperatures contributed to 56,000 deaths in his country, saying "... what is happening now in our central regions is evidence of this global climate change, because we have never in our history faced such weather conditions in the past." The effect of these events on Australian communities is shocking. And it is regrettable that only now will many Australians feel any empathy with the 750,000 recently left homeless in Sri Lanka from flooding and the 20 million displaced in Pakistan in 2009. Emeritus Professor of Science and Technology at Griffith University in Queensland, Ian Lowe said: "The Queensland floods are another reminder of what climate science has been telling us for 25 years. As well as a general warming and increasing sea levels, it predicted more frequent extreme events: floods, droughts, heatwaves and severe bushfires." In order to continue to protect communities from ongoing and increasing risk from these extreme weather events in Australia, it is time our political leaders and those in the media acknowledged the evidence of the risk we face. For in order to obtain the requisite community support for policy action, more information about these risks must be shared explicitly with the community. Businesses that are bearing the brunt of extreme weather events are less reticent to do so, with global reinsurer Munich Re stating in December 2010: "The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change". Given that we can't take effective action unless the entire community comprehends the very grave risks we face, it is time our leaders (and more of the media) did the same. Fiona Armstrong is the founder and convenor of the Climate and Health Alliance.

  • Climate and Health Alliance goes to Canberra

    The Climate and Health Alliance joined representatives of the Australian Conservation Foundation, The Climate Project, Union Climate Connectors and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition in Canberra to lobby for the introduction of a carbon price. Around thirty people visited around 40 MPs and Senators in November 2010, outlining the case for a price on carbon to replace Australia's ageing and high emitting fossil fuelled power generation infrastructure. A price on carbon would create an economic incentive to encourage the development and deployment of clean renewable energy.