Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

Hamilton student goes to court to battle NZ Govt over climate change policies

A law student from Hamilton is challenging the Government in the High Court over what she claims is a “failure” to properly address climate change.

According to Sarah Thomson, 26, New Zealand’s targets under the Paris Climate Agreement are “unambitious” and fail to reflect scientific consensus on climate change.

The case, the first of its kind in New Zealand, will be heard over three days from today in the Wellington High Court.

Thomson says she has been inspired by climate change litigation around the globe, including the 900 Dutch citizens who filed a case the Dutch Government and a case in the US where 21 young people are suing the Federal Government.

She says she has the backing of several world-renowned climate change experts, including former NASA researcher James Hansen, who is giving evidence in the case.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change author and Victoria University of Wellington Professor James Renwick is also giving evidence.

The lawsuit will ask the Minister for Climate Change Issues to justify the way in which New Zealand’s climate targets have been set.

US withdraws from climate change agreement but NZ remains committed

US President Donald Trump’s today confirmed his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement but may begin negotiations for a better deal.

The US accounts for more than 15 per cent of total global emissions, exceeded only by China.

Under former President Barack Obama, the US committed to reduce its emissions by 26 per cent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

New Zealand has committed to reducing emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett (HERE) said the US withdrawal was “a step backwards” but New Zealand remained committed to the agreement and the accord was still intact.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the US decision was a retrograde step but the rest of the world would keep calm and carry on.

The Science Media Centre asked climate change experts to comment on the implications of President Trumps decision (HERE).

It has posted these comments:

Professor James Renwick, School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington,.

“My take is that this is a backward step, but it’s hardly game over for the Agreement or for climate change. The US could stay in and do nothing, which would be as unhelpful as pulling out.

“The US stepping away from Paris hands the opportunity to China, the EU, and others, to take the lead and this is already happening. I understand China is already developing an agreement with the EU to push harder on emissions reductions.

“Plus, the President and Washington is not the USA. Individual cities and states are doing their own thing. The Governor of California has already signalled that he’s looking internationally for partners to push emissions reductions.

“So, Trump pulling out may just encourage the rest of the world to do more. The US is pulling back from global leadership and other nations will step in to take over. This move may, in fact, signal the start of China’s real dominance of international affairs.

“Climate change is an incredibly pressing problem. If we are to live up to the Paris Agreement, the global community has somewhere between 5 and 20 years to move on significant emissions reductions. Every nation must strive to lead on this issue, and if the US isn’t there, New Zealand and other countries must step up.”

Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward, political scientist, University of Canterbury, comments:

“It feels surreal to be listening to Trump’s announcement as I am packing to leave tonight for the author meeting on the Special Report for the IPCC about how to achieve the objectives agreed in Paris to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

“I was simply shocked to hear Trump describe a 2 degrees climate rise as “tiny, tiny” amount because a global rise of 2 degrees translates to much higher local temperature changes and changes beyond 2 degrees risks dangerous climate events

• The Announcement is no surprise – Trump signalled he intended to pull out of the agreement.

• What is a surprise is how long it took and that Trump has had to leave the door open for his re-entry into the Paris Agreement

• This decision has taken a very long time and is so equivocal because it is not one that is well supported even amongst his own core vote base. This is why Trump is working so hard to make climate change seem a ‘foreign’ economic threat

• Despite the deeply partisan political divisions in the USA, a detailed poll this month by Yale University of Americans’ attitudes to climate change revealed only 1 in 5 US voters now support withdrawing from the Paris Agreement and less than a third, just 28% of Trump’s own vote base agrees America should leave the climate agreement

“USA withdrawal also creates significant new problems for the President, which is why he has keep the door open

1. First are political challenges; the withdrawal of Trump will create a political vacuum which China and EU is already stepping into as new global leaders in technology- there is also significant risk of political isolation of USA. Tillerson’s visit to NZ for example reminds us that the USA needs it’s international allies, but by putting ‘America First’ also reminds domestic populations in the rest of the world that is what is good for America is not necessarily good for their own countries and this will make it harder for other governments to forge alliances with an unpopular USA administration.

2. Second, the President’s decision creates significant industry challenges. There is no evidence that there will be new jobs created by the old industries, while other significant business leaders of new industries, including Apple, will be very frustrated at changes to US regulations for new investment in clean technology. We can also expect intense lobbying now from some sectors to destabilise the wider global climate agreement by arguing that without USA ‘what is the point?’. However, while the USA makes up about 26% of total global emissions, what the rest of the world does will now matter very much. We can also expect to see intense lobbying from geoengineering sector to position experimental industries like large-scale carbon capture and storage.

3. Third, this creates significant leadership challenges for the President as the leadership vacuum allows space for a new generation of younger world leaders and city and state governments to position themselves as offering new vision, and many like the state of California are already significant global leaders in addressing climate change.”

Dr Adrian Macey, senior associate, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, comments:

“There are two ways to ‘leave’ the Paris Agreement:

• Formal withdrawal – this would be the ‘nuclear’ option. It would be seen as a hostile act. Under the Agreement the process could take 4 years.
• Change or suspend the NDC (nationally-determined contribution) which is what Trump claims is an unfair burden on the economy. He could change this, as it is not legally binding. This would mean that a future administration could simply renew/revise the US contribution and restart cooperation.

“The loss of the US would be damaging, for sure, for four reasons:

• As the world’s second largest emitter, without it, staying within the 2 Degrees target would be much harder, if not impossible

• It could give an excuse to other countries not to stick to their targets

• It would signal an end to the leadership of the “G2” (US and China) whose cooperation was essential in getting the Paris Agreement.

• If it were followed by pulling money out of climate change more widely, it might call into question the very valuable and world-leading research being done in the US eg. by NASA with its various satellite-based research projects.

“And of course, it would mean a huge loss of influence for the US.

“BUT there are mitigating factors:

• There is already a global shift towards renewable energy (the core of the climate change challenge), quite independent of any international agreements. The economics are changing rapidly, and there are additional benefits in jobs and innovation. Coal is unprofitable in the US for simple economic reasons, nothing to do with climate change.

• Other countries are signalling that a US withdrawal won’t lessen their commitment to the Paris Agreement

• Powerful US states such as California will continue their climate change policies.

• Major US businesses, even oil companies are moving to address climate change in their long-term plans.

• China has signalled it intends to retain its global leadership role, and the EU will be keen to step into the gap left by the US – they have been less influential in recent years.

“So …. unfortunate, and a setback but no need to despair.”

Paris soil carbon sequestration goals are regarded as ‘unrealistic’

Targets for storing more carbon in the soil, set at the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, are unrealistic according to scientists writing in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The goal aims to offset rises in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations by increasing soil carbon storage by 4 per mille (0.4%) a year.

The soils of the world contain approximately three times the amount of carbon in organic matter as currently held in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Increasing this soil organic matter stock at a rate of 4 per mille per year – in theory – could fully compensate the rise in atmospheric CO2. Such an increase could come about – for example – by changes in land management or by using different crop rotations.

“In principle, the 4P1000 goal is great,” says Jan Willem van Groenigen, Professor at Wageningen University & Research and lead author of the opinion paper written by scientists from The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Generally speaking, more carbon is good for almost any soil. If we could combine that with slowing climate change, that would be a double win. The problem is that the numbers don’t add up.”

To store additional carbon in the soil, you need other nutrients, such as nitrogen.

“You cannot build a house with only a pile of bricks but no mortar. Similarly, you cannot produce soil organic matter with only carbon,” explains Kees Jan van Groenigen, co-author of the paper and senior lecturer at the University of Exeter.

“You need enormous amounts of nitrogen, and it is unclear where that nitrogen would come from. For example, to store the quantity of carbon mentioned in the 4p1000 goals, you would need extra nitrogen equivalent to 75% of current nitrogen fertilizer production, and for it to be in the right places. Practically speaking, that is just impossible.”

Does that mean the 4p1000 goals should be abandoned?

“Absolutely not”, says Jan Willem van Groenigen.

“Let’s not throw away the baby with the bathwater. The 4p1000 goals are a great inspiration to do everything we can as farmers, soil scientists, agronomists and policy makers to help fight global warming and at the same time improve our soils.” Instead, the authors appeal to the scientific community to think about the role of nutrients in reaching the 4p1000 goals. “For instance, this could mean that additional soil carbon should be stored in areas where nutrients are also available”, van Groenigen explains. “In other soils the best approach might be to focus on minimizing emissions of other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and methane.”

The opinion piece was written with colleagues from the University of California at Davis, Northern Arizona University (USA) and Rothamsted Research (UK) and can be read in Environmental Science and Technology.

Who will tell Trump we have just breached the 410 ppm threshold for CO2?

One day before the March for Science was held globally to mark Earth Day, Scientific American reported the world had just passed another round-numbered climate milestone just as had been predicted. 

The March for Science aimed to show the importance of evidence-based science to society and political decision-making and to protest against US President Donald Trump’s cuts to science funding and his denial of climate change.

The Mauna Loa Observatory last week recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide reading in excess of 410 parts per million (410.28 ppm if you want precision).  Carbon dioxide hasn’t reached that height in millions of years.

This attests to the atmosphere trapping more heat and causing the climate to change at a quickening rate.

Carbon dioxide was measured at 280 ppm when record keeping began at Mauna Loa in 1958. In 2013, it passed 400 ppm.

The latest readings were first reported in Climate Change and reproduced by Scientific American.

“Its pretty depressing that it’s only a couple of years since the 400 ppm milestone was toppled,” Gavin Foster, a paleoclimate researcher at the University of Southampton told Climate Central last month. “These milestones are just numbers, but they give us an opportunity to pause and take stock and act as useful yard sticks for comparisons to the geological record.”

Earlier this year, UK Met Office scientists issued their first-ever carbon dioxide forecast. They projected carbon dioxide could reach 410 ppm in March and almost certainly would by April.

Carbon dioxide concentrations have skyrocketed over the past two years, in part due to natural factors like El Niño causing more of it to end up in the atmosphere. But it’s mostly driven by the record amounts of carbon dioxide humans are creating by burning fossil fuels, according to the Climate Central report.

“The rate of increase will go down when emissions decrease,” Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said. “But carbon dioxide will still be going up, albeit more slowly. Only when emissions are cut in half will atmospheric carbon dioxide level off initially.”

Even when concentrations of carbon dioxide level off, the impacts of climate change will extend centuries into the future, the article said.

The planet has already warmed 1.8°F (1°C), including a run of 627 months in a row of above-normal heat. Sea levels have risen about a foot and oceans have acidified. Extreme heat has become more common.

Trump Administration decision-makers, alas, probably won’t bother reading the article or its advice that the impacts will last longer and intensify even if carbon emissions were cut.

“But we face a choice of just how intense they become based on when we stop polluting the atmosphere.”

The grim portent is that we’re on track to create a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century.

Scientists will march for science tomorrow (regardless of whether Trump takes notice)

Marches for Science will take place in New Zealand and around the world tomorrow to mark Earth Day, which is celebrated every year on April 22 with festivals, parades and rallies in almost 200 countries to demonstrate support for environmental protection.

The organisers of the marches in New Zealand have written about their aims here and here.

Events in almost 200 countries are coordinated by the Earth Day Network, a Washington-based organisation with a mission “to diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide”.

More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year.

The very first event for Earth Day, which was held in America nearly five decades ago following a devastating oil spill, is credited as the beginning of the modern environmental movement.

Since its launch, Earth Day has been supported by an array of famous faces, including Hollywood stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Emma Watson.

On Earth Day last year, the landmark Paris Agreement was signed by the United States, China and some 120 other countries.

This year the specific focus is on creating better environmental and climate literacy and educating people – both children and adults – on environmental issues.

Association of Scientists president, Dr Craig Stevens, told Mike Hosking protesters will also express their opposition to President Trump’s fundamental position against climate change.

“This march is an opportunity to show where the public of the world stand on science.”

But the marches have a much broader objective, he said.

“It’s also a celebration of science in New Zealand and showing that there’s a critical mass amongst the public of people who really value science.”

In Marlborough, National MP Stuart Smith, Green Party MP Kennedy Graham and Labour Party candidate Janette Walker will be at the province’s inaugural Earth Day Party. 

Each will be given a minute to outline their thoughts on a carbon-neutral future to the public before answering questions.

Victoria University geology professor emeritus Peter Barrett will also attend the event at Marlborough’s A&P Park where he will give a talk on global warming.

The Royal Society of New Zealand has provided information on other events:

Auckland | 1.30pm start at Queen Elizabeth Square

Palmerston North | 11am The Square, Palmerston North Central

Christchurch | 10am start at the Canterbury Museum

Wellington | 10am start at Civic Square

Queenstown | Details to be confirmed

Dunedin | 11am at Otago Museum Reserve

Details for all marches are also available on the March for Science NZ Facebook Page

The New Zealand Science Media Centre provides more information – Preparing to March for Science – In the News.

Kiwis are increasingly believing in climate change

New research from Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Auckland has found New Zealanders’ beliefs in climate change and that humans are causing it are increasing over time.

The study, carried out by Victoria’s Dr Taciano Milfont and Professor Marc Wilson, and Auckland’s Professor Chris Sibley, examined key climate change beliefs from 2009 to 2015.

The two beliefs investigated were whether people believe climate change is real, and whether they believe climate change is caused by humans, says Dr Milfont, who led the study.

“We found that the levels of agreement to both beliefs have steadily increased over the six-year period. This increase in belief has been most pronounced in more recent years, from about 2013 onwards.

“Overall, belief in the reality of climate change was higher at all times than agreement with the idea that climate change is caused by humans. But people who tended to increase their level of agreement in one climate change belief also tended to increase their agreement level in the other belief.”

The research used data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, a national probability sample study that has been tracking New Zealanders’ social attitudes, personality and health outcomes since 2009.

“It’s the first longitudinal study indicating that climate change belief is increasing over time,” says Dr Milfont.

“Past research has relied on a snapshot of data from one-off public opinion polls. But data from opinion polls are based on distinct individuals. We are the first to examine whether climate change beliefs held by the same group of individuals, in this case, more than 10,000 New Zealanders, are changing or not.”

 Dr Milfont says the observed increase in climate change beliefs could be attributed to a number of factors.

Some studies suggest climate change beliefs and concerns may change after exposure to extreme weather events as well as mainstream media and awareness campaigns.

Other studies suggest political affiliation and political ideology are the main predictors of climate change belief . They suggest the observed increase in climate change beliefs is greater among politically liberal individuals.

“We expect that levels of climate change beliefs will fluctuate over time. With the ongoing nature of the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, in the future we will be able to pinpoint whether particular socio-economic circumstances directly result in fluctuations on climate change beliefs.”

This research, recently published in the international journal PLOS ONE, was supported by a Templeton World Charity Foundation grant to Professor Sibley and a Marsden Fast-Start grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand to Dr Milfont.

Research jointly co-ordinated by Dr Milfont in 2015 found that if people from 24 countries believe that addressing climate change will result in a more caring and moral community, they are more likely to take action.

Because  climate change beliefs and concerns are key predictors of climate change action, the findings indicate that a combination of targeted communications endeavours may successfully convey the urgency of the issue, says Dr Milfont.

Climate change – new research findings and more funding for five projects

Research published this week shows regional climate variability caused an “unusual” period in which some of New Zealand’s glaciers grew bigger, while glaciers worldwide were shrinking.

News of these findings came just a few days after the Deep South National Science Challenge announced funding of about $2 million for five new research projects to help New Zealanders better understand their future climate.

The funding is part of the Deep South National Science Challenge which is tasked with enabling New Zealanders to adapt, manage risk and thrive in a changing climate.

This funding round is focused on the potential impacts and implications of climate change for New Zealand to support planning and decision-making around extreme weather events, drought, changes in typical weather patterns and sea level rise.

Central to the challenge is strengthening the links and interactions with the New Zealand Earth System Model. This numerical model will simulate current climate and make projections of future climates with different scenarios of future global greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultimately the Deep South Challenge will help advance understanding of Southern Hemisphere influences on the global climate and give New Zealanders a greater level of certainty in the face of a changing climate.

The new projects include incorporating climate change impacts in land-use suitability.

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