Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Archive for March 2011

The big wet Part 1

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In this long post I describe how climate change and variability have contributed to the big wet of the past year and outline a role for climate change that challenges the orthodox model of understanding how climate changes through trend analysis.

Last year was the second wettest year recorded in Australia since 1900. Deadly floods occurred in Queensland and a series of increasingly severe floods affected Victoria and New South Wales during spring and summer. There is no doubt the origin of the wet year was due to climate variability. The strongest La Niña on record with an SOI of 21.5 from Sep–Dec was the origin of the wet conditions.

  • Total Sep–Jan rainfall in eastern Australia was 602 mm second only to 1972–3, just beating 1974–5. Sep–Dec rainfall was 425 mm, the wettest on record.
  • The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Index averaged 21.5 over the Sep–Feb period; the strongest on record, producing very strong La Niña conditions.
  • The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) was negative between Aug–Oct 2010. A negative IOD is characterised by warmer than usual waters near Indonesia. The combination of a negative IOD and La Niña is rare and results in wetter than usual conditions across much of Australia (see http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/IOD/negative/).
  • Victoria recorded its wettest January at 119 mm and Sep–Jan at 532 mm.
  • Pan evaporation and diurnal temperature range over eastern Australia in 2010 were the lowest on record.

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Written by Roger Jones

March 20, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Birol & Stern in Fin Times

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Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency and Nicholas Stern write in the Financial Times:

Existing commitments for emissions reductions by 2020 … even if implemented fully, are collectively not enough to put the world on a path with even a 50-50 chance of avoiding a warming of 2°C above 19th century temperatures. Worse still, recent work by the International Energy Agency has concluded that without full implementation there is a real risk that the 2°C goal will be pushed out of our reach altogether.

They also say:

Fossil fuel subsidies, amounting to $558bn worldwide in 2008, must go. They are costly, environmentally damaging and a grossly inefficient way to protect the incomes of poor people.

This is an important and timely article. They do say there is hope but no more time to waste.

The Australian government could do worse and remove Australia’s share of perverse incentives where taxpayers subsidise future damages. The tax breaks for salary-packaged cars that pay out over A$1 billion per year and a range other subsidies, if spent on measures such as biosequestration would have a double impact – reduction of subsidised damages and investments in future benefits.

It’s already too late to follow a safe minimum standards strategy to avoid 2°C warming – the best strategy is now overshoot and deep cuts following peak emissions, preferably occurring by about 2060. Here’s Peter Sheehan’s and my analysis of recent gains on that score and the potential of the Copenhagen commitments to contribute to an overturning path.

Written by Roger Jones

March 10, 2011 at 6:23 pm

GetUp! rally to support carbon price

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The research on climate change and its risks I have been undertaking for the past twenty years have convinced me that the risks of not taking action are far worse than the risks inherent in any sensible action. The current proposal before the Federal Government’s Multi-Party Climate Change Committee is if anything, too modest and certainly does not pose any long-term harm to the Australian economy. Any reform will carry some difficulty in its transitional phase and adding a carbon price to the economy is no different. The sooner that transition is managed, the sooner we get get on with developing an economy that accounts for the externalities of future damages.

The benefits of avoided damages are under-estimated by conventional economic modelling. There is a discernible anthropogenic signal in recent fires and floods, which are already costing billions of dollars. These have not been incorporated into the modelling undertaken by the Garnaut team or by Treasury. This implies strongly that future costs are also under-estimated. The carbon price has yet to be settled on but is likely to be in the vicinity of A$20-$25 per tonne CO2.

GetUp! is organising a rally in Melbourne next Saturday March 12 to counter the manufactured outrage of opponents to climate policy and the scare campaign currently being run. Details over the fold in the form of a letter from Simon Sheik, GetUp! director. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

March 6, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Merchants of Doubt: review and reflections

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Merchants of Doubt

How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M Conway

June 2010, 368 pp, Bloomsbury Press

This is a very good book. It is well written and a clear exposition of the authors’ case, describing how a few scientists involved in US military programs during the cold war then shifted their expertise into selling doubt to preserve the markets of the free world from interference on health or environmental grounds. The chapters deal with the strategic defense initiative, acid rain, the ozone hole, second-hand smoke, global warming and the recent attacks on Rachel Carson’s legacy from Silent Spring. The main merchants of doubt Oreskes and Conway name are Frederick Seitz and Fred Singer, William Nierenberg and Robert Jastrow. Others joined in later on.

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Written by Roger Jones

March 6, 2011 at 10:26 am