Government announces set of improvements to NZ’s Emissions Trading Scheme

Acting Climate Change Minister Julie Anne Genter has announced the first of two planned tranches of improvements to the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) following recent public consultation.

These improvements, together with the second tranche of decisions, are expected to be introduced to Parliament next year as amendments to the Climate Change Response Act 2002, which is the legislation that established the ETS.

The improvements will create a more effective ETS to help meet the Government’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and plant one billion trees, Ms Genter said.

The most significant improvement is establishing a framework which will enable New Zealand’s emissions under the ETS to be capped. This would restrict the number of units supplied into the scheme, increasing the incentive to reduce emissions.

“Up until now, the ETS has been the only emissions trading scheme globally which doesn’t have a cap. The ability to set a cap will help New Zealand meet its international climate change targets, as well as any new domestic targets,” says Acting Minister Genter.

The improvements also focus on providing more certainty to scheme participants.

Submitters to the recent ETS consultation told the Government that ETS settings needed to be more predictable so participants could confidently take further action to invest in low-emissions activities, Ms Genter said.

A predictable process to manage the cap over time will include annual announcements looking forward five years.

And auctioning will be introduced into the ETS in a way that aligns the supply of units with New Zealand’s emission reduction targets.

The cost containment reserve, operated through the auctioning mechanism, will replace the current price ceiling, or fixed price option (FPO).

The cap will include setting the number of units to be auctioned and the settings for the new cost containment reserve.

Currently, market participants can choose to pay $25 for every tonne of emissions they emit instead of buying units from emissions unit holders.

The fixed price option for surrenders due in 2019 will continue to remain at $25 “to maintain regulatory predictability.”

“We want the ETS reforms to be well-managed and well-signalled and this means keeping the FPO in place while those reforms go through,” Ms Genter says.

The Government will also investigate the potential introduction of a price floor in the scheme.

“We heard from submitters that having a price floor in the ETS might encourage investment to reduce emissions, so we are going to investigate this option further,” says Ms Genter.

“No decision has been made as to when the ETS will be reopened to international units but, at this stage, they would not be a first choice.

“If, in future, the Government decided to allow international units, we would ensure that the units were of high environmental integrity. 

“We’re confident that these changes provide an important balance between predictability for market participants, and flexibility for the Government to manage the ETS so that it supports our emissions reduction targets.”

Other key changes include setting up an infringement offence regime for low-level offending against the ETS rules, and taking steps to improve market governance.

Throughout August and September, the Ministry for the Environment, Ministry for Primary Industries, and Forestry New Zealand consulted on proposed improvements to the ETS.

Just over 250 submissions were received from businesses and industry groups, iwi and Māori, community groups and individuals. The majority supported the Government’s proposals.

Copies of the submissions can be viewed at http://www.mfe.govt.nz/consultation/ets

Information about the forestry changes planned for the ETS can be found by visiting the Ministry for Primary Industries webpage https://www.mpi.govt.nz/funding-and-programmes/forestry/emissions-trading-scheme/

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Fellowship is awarded for research into the impact of climate change on NZ

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research scientist Dr Kendon Bell has been awarded a Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue his research into measuring the impact of climate change on New Zealand land.

The research, Empirical measurement of the impact of climate change: correcting for measurement error in precipitation and understanding the incidence of impacts, looks at how rainfall impacts agriculture and land.

Climate econometrics is an emerging field that combines the history of connections between weather, and economic and social outcomes with climate forecasts to estimate future damages from climate change.

Dr Bell said this work gives him the chance to combine economics and big data to tackle a key question for society.

“I’m really excited to be doing rigorous, data-driven research that will help us learn about how climate change will affect people.”

Current models suggest New Zealand has exposure to more frequent and intense weather episodes, particularly droughts and extreme rain events.

It is therefore crucial to understand the true impact of these changes. Current literature that uses modern econometric techniques indicates that rainfall has a small impact on agriculture.

Dr Bell believes this counter-intuitive result may be due to a lack of accurate precipitation measurements. The Rutherford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship will enable him to test this theory.

He will investigate two areas of uncertainty: error in precipitation rates, and understanding how producers and consumers share the burden of climate change.

Working with Patrick Walsh, also of Landcare Research, Dr Bell will use two methods from econometrics – instrumental variables (IV) and the mean group estimator (MGE) – to investigate the measurement uncertainty.

This programme will be the first application of these methods in the climate econometrics field, and the first to carefully investigate the empirical impact of precipitation on agricultural productivity.

Understanding the relative exposure of producers, retail consumers, and intermediaries to climate change is also a key consideration for New Zealand.

Dr Bell’s study will extend existing work to follow weather-induced milk price shocks through the different groups. These past price changes will allow better simulation of how climate change would impact New Zealand primary producers, processors, and final consumers, given the complex structure of the market.

Source: Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research

Sir Peter reports on the mitigation of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions

Arguments for focusing on carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide and giving less emphasis to methane are counter-productive, Sir Peter Gluckman says in a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern which accompanies his final report as the Prime Minister’s chief science advisor. Therefore he does not favour avoiding a focus on methane, despite the challenges such a focus creates.

He also says it it unrealistic to imagine a GHG-neutral profile from agriculture without offsets in various forms.

Those views are reflected in Sir Peter’s final report, which has been published today.  It is entitled Mitigating agricultural greenhouse gas emissions: Strategies for meeting New Zealand’s goals

The report’s conclusions are driven by consideration of the highly variable nature of New Zealand geography, soil types, climate, and farming systems, Sir Peter says in his letter to Ms Ardern.

This heterogeneity creates challenges for generalisation and identifying the best ways to proceed. There are actions that farmers can now take that will have some impact on GHG emissions, and some near-term technologies that could have further effect if further developed for and adopted into NZ farming systems. But

” … there is no current or foreseeable methodology that will provide an accurate measure of GHG emissions on an individual farm, nor of what any particular mitigation measure might achieve at a farm level. This has major implications for how to proceed.

“Emissions at an individual farm level can only be estimated through proxy measures using scientific models such as OVERSEER, which is subject to some debate over its utility as a direct regulatory tool across a range of farm types, and has other issues that currently limit its usefulness. Taking these factors into account, one option that seems feasible is to use a ‘farm plan’ approach whereby a farmer, with expert advice and science-based input, identifies mitigation strategies he/she will be accountable for adhering to.

“Compliance or otherwise with an appropriate farm plan could extend to other dimensions of environmental management and to animal welfare and could be linked to any market or regulatory incentive scheme. Such an approach would require greater focus on the skillset of appropriately accredited farm advisors.”

The report highlights where scientific and policy focus should be concentrated, and outlines actions in terms of farmer and industry practices as well as research and investment to speed up the development of the most promising abatement technologies and better quantification of GHG emissions.

Sir Peter says:

“In some cases, issues of social acceptance and regulatory approvals will need to be addressed pre-emptively. It is likely that significant trade-offs will be required and there will be conflicting views: these should be acknowledged.”

Sir Peter recalls in the letter his first meeting with Ms Ardern to discuss her priorities for his Office after she became Prime Minister. She asked him to report back on what the agricultural sector could do over the near and intermediate term to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, enabling  New Zealand to track more effectively towards meeting its commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate action, and ultimately, the government’s carbon-neutral goal.

The letter says:

“New Zealand is seen internationally as an efficient producer of high quality food and will remain a major agricultural producer into the foreseeable future. However, maintaining agriculture’s central role in our export economy will require the sector to be increasingly sympathetic to the environment. Part of that must include reducing its contributions to greenhouse gas (GHG) production, and this could be done over time probably without substantive impacts on productivity or economic returns. But doing so will likely require some complex trade-offs, consideration of new technologies, and significant changes in farming practice and land use.

“In order to fully understand the landscape, my Office convened two large expert group meetings of governmental, farming and food sector stakeholders and have met with many experts from relevant sectors in smaller groups to discuss the opportunities and challenges in this complex area.

“My Office canvassed expert opinion on specific mitigation options and we have reviewed the scientific literature, including draft copies of analyses commissioned by the Biological Emissions Reference Group (BERG), a joint government and sector working group (due for public release in September 2018). I understand that the Productivity Commission, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and Interim Climate Change Committee (with whom I have met) will be providing Government with further evidence and/or advice on these and related issues in the future.”

Sir Peter’s report aims to present a high-level perspective on what would be needed to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and greater offsets, in the agricultural sector. It integrates the work of various research efforts in New Zealand and abroad, briefly reviews available on-farm mitigation options, highlights emerging opportunities, and identifies gaps in knowledge or other barriers that need to be overcome if agriculture is to be included in the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), or any other policy mechanism.

The executive summary says agriculture – in contrast to the power and transport sectors – has fewer options to make large emissions reductions quickly and cost-effectively.

“Obligating farmers to reduce their emissions should not impose a disproportionate burden on them relative to their international competitors, nor relative to other sectors within New Zealand. There are no zero-emission strategies for biological GHGs, yet there are many reasons to act aggressively to reduce their emissions. This goes beyond arguments of short-lived versus long-lived gases; there are also strong market and reputational reasons for driving down agricultural emissions while making farms more efficient and sustainable.

“Methane and nitrous oxide are the main GHG emissions occurring on farms. Methane, derived mainly from enteric fermentation in ruminant livestock, is a short-lived gas, but one that has contributed most to the sector’s increasing emissions since 1990.

“Although methane does not accumulate in the atmosphere like CO2 does, it has potent effects on near-term warming, and this potency increases with increasing rates of methane emissions over time. While noting that methane emissions from agriculture cannot, and need not be, reduced to zero, reducing global methane emissions quickly will impact the peak warming temperature and the rate at which CO2 emissions need to be reduced.

“The metrics used to account for the different gases are important, particularly if biological GHGs are to be included in the ETS or similar mechanism at any level, as different metrics have implications for carbon, nitrous oxide and methane budgets.

“Strategies exist now that can help reduce biological GHGs, but currently, individual strategies are only expected to have modest effects on total emissions reduction, and there are trade-offs between possible options that will require careful consideration at an individual farm situation.”

The main strategies relate to:

• On-farm land-use decisions that reduce GHG emissions per unit of land area or increase carbon sinks – including forestry and other tree plantings, and horticulture blocks.

• Feeding practices, grazing and pasture management – including forage selection and the balance between stocking rates per hectare and individual performance per animal.

• Animal husbandry including breeding for high genetic merit in terms of breeding, productivity and emissions profiles.

• Animal housing and effluent management

• Precision-farming techniques – including irrigation and fertiliser management

“Apart from substantial land-use change, reducing livestock numbers and afforestation, the report says, the main opportunities to reduce emissions significantly will depend on technological innovations; for example the development of market-acceptable nitrification inhibitors, and to rumen methane inhibitors such as 3NOP for use in pastoral systems.

“Developing a methanogen-inhibiting vaccine holds theoretical promise for reducing methane emissions across all ruminant livestock systems but no proof-of-concept in animals yet exists.

“A mission-led approach to research will continue to be needed. Social science research is also required to understand how best to encourage early adopters and to enhance uptake of effective strategies across the sector. For the longer term, unravelling the regulatory and social licence issues around the use of new and evolving technologies will be critical for continuing scientific advancement as part of the national effort to reduce New Zealand’s largest sources of GHGs.

Despite the many scientific, economic and implementation challenges, failure to take actions within the agricultural sector will not only be costly to those farmers who find themselves unprepared for change, it will also ultimately be costly to New Zealand.”

NZIAHS forum reminder: The NZIAHS forum, to be held in Science House in Wellington on Friday, is titled Agriculture and the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS): How do we enable farmers to respond?

Source: Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor

New Zealand’s zero carbon bill: much ado about methane

Massey University applied mathematics professor Robert McLachlan, in an article posted on Sciblogs examines the prospect of New Zealand becoming the first country in the world to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.

Work in shaping zero carbon legislation is under way and the public has been invited to contribute in a consultation exercise led by Minister for Climate Change James Shaw.

More than 4,000 submissions have been received, with a week to go.

The crunch point is whether agriculture should be part of the country’s transition to a low-emission economy.

Professor McLachlan writes:

Many of the 16 questions in the consultation document concern the proposed climate change commission and how far its powers should extend. But the most contentious question refers to the definition of what “zero carbon” actually means.

The government has set a net zero carbon target for 2050, but in the consultation it is asking people to pick one of three options:

  • net zero carbon dioxide – reducing net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050
  • net zero long-lived gases and stabilised short-lived gases – carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide to net zero by 2050, while stabilising methane
  • net zero emissions – net zero emissions across all greenhouse gases by 2050.

The three main gases of concern are carbon dioxide (long-lived, and mostly produced by burning fossil fuels), nitrous oxide (also long-lived, and mostly produced by synthetic fertilisers and animal manures) and methane (short-lived, and mostly produced by burping cows and sheep). New Zealand’s emissions of these gases in 2016 were 34 million tonnes (Mt), 9Mt, and 34Mt of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e), respectively.

All three options refer to “net” emissions, which means that emissions can be offset by land use changes, primarily carbon stored in trees. In option 1, only carbon dioxide is offset. In option 2, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are offset and methane is stabilised. In option 3, all greenhouses gases are offset.

Gathering support

Opposition leader Simon Bridges has declared his support for the establishment of a climate change commission. DairyNZ, an industry body, has appointed 15 dairy farmers as “climate change ambassadors” and has been running a nationwide series of workshops on the role of agricultural emissions.

Earlier this month, Ardern and the Farming Leaders Group (representing most large farming bodies) published a joint statement that the farming sector and the government are committed to working together to achieve net zero emissions from agri-food production by 2050. Not long after, the Climate Leaders Coalition, representing 60 large corporations, announced their support for strong action to reduce emissions and for the zero carbon bill.

However, the devil is in the detail. While option 2 involves stabilising methane emissions, for example, it does not specify at what level or how this would be determined. Former Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has argued that methane emissions need to be cut hard and fast, whereas farming groups would prefer to stabilise emissions at their present levels.

This would be a much less ambitious 2050 target than option 3, potentially leaving the full 34Mt of present methane emissions untouched. Under current international rules, this would amount to an overall reduction in emissions of about 50% on New Zealand’s 1990 levels and would likely be judged insufficient in terms of the Paris climate agreement. This may not be what people thought they were voting for in 2017.

Why we can’t ignore methane

To keep warming below 2℃ above pre-industrial global temperatures, CO₂ emissions will need to fall below zero (that is, into net removals) by the 2050s to 2070s, along with deep reductions of all other greenhouse gases. To stay close to 1.5℃, the more ambitious of the twin Paris goals, CO₂ emissions would need to reach net zero by the 2040s. If net removals cannot be achieved, global CO₂ emissions will need to reach zero sooner.

Therefore, global pressure to reduce agricultural emissions, especially from ruminants, is likely to increase. A recent study found that agriculture is responsible for 26% of human-caused greenhouse emissions, and that meat and dairy provide 18% of calories and 37% of protein, while producing 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gases.

A new report by Massey University’s Ralph Sims for the UN Global Environment Facility concludes that currently, the global food supply system is not sustainable, and that present policies will not cut agricultural emissions sufficiently to limit global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels.

Finding a way forward

Reducing agricultural emissions without reducing stock numbers significantly is difficult. Many options are being explored, from breeding low-emission animals and selecting low-emission feeds to housing animals off-pasture and methane inhibitors and vaccines.

But any of these will face a cost and it is unclear who should pay. Non-agricultural industries, including the fossil fuel sector, are already in New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and would like agriculture to pay for emissions created on the farm. Agricultural industries argue that they should not pay until cost-effective mitigation options are available and their international competitors face a similar cost.

The government has come up with a compromise. Its coalition agreement states that if agriculture were to be included in the ETS, only 5% would enter into the scheme, initially. The amount of money involved here is small – NZ$40 million a year – in an industry with annual export earnings of NZ$20 billion. It would add about 0.17% to the price of whole milk powder and 0.5% to the wholesale price of beef.

The ConversationHowever, it would set an important precedent. New Zealand would become the first country in the world to put a price agricultural emissions. Many people hope that the zero carbon bill will represent a turning point. It may even inspire other countries to follow suit.

The article was originally published on The Conversation and can be read HERE. 

Simon Bridges and climate change – two perspectives on National’s position

The Science Media Centre features observations by climate change scientist James Renwick on National’s newly announced position on climate change policy. Commentators at Point of Order have expressed an opinion, too.

Climate change is not a partisan issue and the need to take big steps to reduce emissions is urgent, climate scientist James Renwick writes on The Spinoff.  So the opposition’s support for a Climate Change Commission is very welcome.

The SMC gives us an excerpt (but you can read in full ):

In climate policy-land, things are all go here in New Zealand. The coalition government has got its Zero Carbon Bill out for public consultation, no new offshore oil exploration permits will be issued, and the Climate Change Commission is being set up. And now the leader of the opposition National Party, Simon Bridges, has come out in support of the Climate Change Commission and is looking for cross-party agreement on climate policy.

Wow. What a difference a year (and an election) makes. Not too long ago, the National government was unsupportive of the idea of a commission, was disinclined to shift climate change policy much, and then prime minister Bill English seemed pretty lukewarm about the whole climate change thing in general. Wherever Simon Bridges’ new passion for climate change action has come from, it is very welcome. Climate change is not a partisan issue, and the need to take significant action to reduce emissions is urgent. If all parties in parliament can agree on a way forward, there is a lot of hope that we’ll see meaningful and long-lasting policies implemented that genuinely reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

So, this is a big deal.

You can keep reading here… 

Point of Order quotes Bridges as saying climate change is the most significant environmental issue  for NZ.  “We need to deal with  it as an important long-term issue and provide certainty on it”. 

The blog goes on to say:

On the  face of it  Bridges seems  to be  departing  from National’s previous line  on climate change. But he’s   quick  to  point out  it  was the National   govt which signed NZ up to the Paris Climate Accord.

I did, actually, as Associate Climate Minister, with Tim Groser… What we’re saying is we are stepping up on the framework that’s enduring. We need to be practical, have sensible environmental solutions. We don’t want to see the disruptive damage to the economy quickly.We don’t want to see real costs imposed on hard-working Kiwi households overnight.

“But what we will do, just like I think this government will as well, is we’ll take the advice from that climate commission, we’ll be accountable in terms of how we decide on the advice”.

To a question on  Q&A  from Corin Dann, whether  under National there would  be a return to the formula of more intensive dairy farming, big irrigation, driving more production, Bridges responded:

I think certainly we wouldn’t want to see significantly more cows. I think the reality is what we have got to do… we’ve got to invest a lot more in science and innovation and technology to get those solutions. And then you might start to be able to do some of the things that we were talking about, which is have an ETS that begins to bite”.

So what should we make of this?

Point of Order considers things through a political prism:

Bridges’  call for an  all-party  approach  to   climate  change  has  a political  subtlety about it which may have escaped those  whose  focus  has largely been confined to his  appearance, his   diction or  his hair-do.

How can his  call for  bipartisanship on climate  change be  refused?  If either  Labour  or the Greens turn  it  down,  it makes  each look  politically inept, even  cheapskate   (as if  we haven’t  seen already how  politically  inept  some ministers are)?

And what about the acting  PM?  How statesmanlike would it be if he refused to join the party  on climate change?.

The  danger  in an all-party  approach  to  climate  change  is  pointed in the direction of the Green  Party.  It’s  the  issue  which  attracts   votes to them from  middle-of-the-roaders, and even some  who might otherwise  tick National.

But if National is as  active on climate change  as everyone  else, then  why  vote for the  Greens (many of whose other policies   are  so far left that even Labour won’t accept them) ?

It could  pull back crucial support from the  centre.  In that  case Bridges  may prove to be a  lot smarter, politically, than  so far has been recognised.

Separating cars from cows in climate policy

Long-lived atmospheric pollutants that build up over centuries, like CO2, should be treated differently from short-lived pollutants which disappear within a few years, like methane, an international team of researchers is arguing.

The collaboration involved Victoria University of Wellington researchers.

The Government should pay heed to the team’s recommendation before further regulating New Zealand’s biggest industries in the agricultural sector.

Current policies tend to treat all pollutants as equivalent, the researchers say. But methane should be treated differently and a separate climate change policy is needed to regulate methane emissions.

Scimex reports a press statement from Victoria University of Wellington HERE.

A new collaboration between researchers at Victoria University of Wellington, the Universities of Oxford and Reading in the United Kingdom and the Centre for International Climate Research in Norway shows a better way to think about how methane might fit into carbon budgets, the statement says.

“Current climate change policy suggests a ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with emissions,” says Professor Dave Frame, head of Victoria University’s Climate Change Research Institute.

“But there are two distinct types of emissions, and to properly address climate change and create fair and accurate climate change policy we must treat these two groups differently.”

The two types of emissions that contribute to climate change can be divided into ‘long-lived’ and ‘short-lived’ pollutants.

“Long-lived pollutants, like carbon dioxide, persist in the atmosphere, building up over centuries,” says Dr Michelle Cain, from the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford.

“The carbon dioxide created by burning coal in the 18th century is still affecting the climate today.

“Short-lived pollutants, like methane, disappear within a few years. Their effect on the climate is important but very different from that of carbon dioxide, yet current policies treat them all as equivalent.”

The research collaboration proposes a new approach to climate change policy that would address the effects of these different emissions.

This would be particularly relevant to New Zealand agriculture.

“We don’t actually need to give up eating meat or dairy to stabilise global temperatures,” says Professor Myles Allen from the University of Oxford, who led the study.

“We just need to stop increasing emissions from these sources. But we do need to give up dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Climate policies could be designed to reflect this.”

Under current policies, industries that produce methane are managed as though that methane has a permanently worsening effect on the climate, says Professor Frame.

“But this is not the case. Implementing a policy that better reflects the actual impact of different pollutants on global temperatures would give agriculture a fair and reasonable way to manage their emissions and reduce their impact on the environment.

“Implementing a policy like this would show New Zealand to be leaders and innovators in climate change policy. It would also help New Zealand efficiently manage their emissions, and could even get us to the point where we manage them so well we stop contributing to global climate change at all.”

The research can be seen in npj/Climate and Atmospheric Science HERE.

Source: Scimex

Flat Earthers vs climate change sceptics: conspiracy theorists and contradictions

Flat Earthism and the idea that human activity is not responsible for climate change are two of the most prevalent conspiracy theories today, two academics from Nottingham Trent University contend in an article republished (HERE) on Sciblogs.

Both ideas have been increasing in popularity since the late 20th century, Gareth Dorrian and Ian Whittaker write in an article first published in The Conversation (the original article can be read HERE).

They write:

Currently, 16% of the US population say they doubt the scientifically established shape of the Earth, while 40% think that human-induced climate change is a hoax. But proponents of one of these theories are not necessarily proponents of the other, even though both are often motivated by a common mistrust of authority. In fact, they regularly contradict one another.

Flat Earthers, for example, tend to disbelieve organisations such as NASA on the shape of Antarctica – or indeed, that there is a southern hemisphere at all. Yet the president of the Flat Earth Society, Daniel Shenton, is quite convinced – presumably at least in part thanks to information from NASA – that climate change is happening and espouses a fairly conventional view on the subject.

Former White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci (dismissed by president Trump after ten days in office), meanwhile, believes that the Earth is in fact round, but does not believe in anthropogenic climate change, as he made clear in an interview with CNN.

Such selective reasoning is common among conspiracy theorists who often lack consistency with one other. Despite this, the media, celebrities and even politicians regularly make broad comparisons between climate change scepticism, Flat Earthism and other conspiracy theories.

Fabricated data?

In the field of global climate change, scientific bodies often are accused, even by those in power, of fabricating data. But such criticism is often deeply flawed.

Take those sceptics, for example, who believe that climate change is occurring, but because of natural – rather than man-made – causes.

If one argues that data has been fabricated to show warming where there is none, one cannot then also imply that warming is occurring after all, but naturally. Either there is warming or there is not.

Similarly, Flat Earthers who state that images showing Earth’s curvature are due to the shape of a camera lens, themselves believe in a disc which by definition has a curved edge.

Indeed, one of the few commonalities which exist between all major conspiracy theories is that somehow scientists and governments are involved in a grand conspiracy for reasons unknown.

A major part of the scientific anthropogenic climate change argument is that there is an increase in temperature extremes in both summer and winter.

Evidently, a Flat Earth model cannot support this; in fact, the most accepted Flat Earth model, which maintains that the sun rotates in a non-variable circular orbit over the flat disk, implies that there should be no seasons at all, let alone multi-decadal seasonal extremes due to climate change. Nevertheless, to quote Shenton:

Climate change is a process which has been ongoing since (the) beginning of detectable history, but there seems to be a definite correlation between the recent increase in worldwide temperatures and man’s entry into the industrial age.

In this instance, the president of the Flat Earth Society is correct. Anthropogenic climate change sceptics, on the other hand, are often willing to accept the science behind the Earth’s natural cycles, which they blame – instead of human activity – for the world’s weather woes. Clearly, we again find an implicit difference of opinion between a Flat Earth model, and a non-anthropogenic climate change one.

It is also clear that many climate change sceptics believe in the (approximately) spherical Earth, even if only subconsciously, by their use of scientifically accepted global maps when discussing data – not to mention when calling it “global” warming.

And what about aliens?

If governments and scientists are so untrustworthy and steeped in corruption, then why would one believe them on any issue? Where does the line of trust actually fall? Why would a person who mistrusts governments and scientists on the shape of the Earth, not hold the same politicians and scientific organisations similarly bogus on the issue of climate change? Or alien abductions, chem trails, or anything else?

But the problem isn’t likely to go away any time soon. The US has the highest number of believers in both flat-Earthism and anthropogenic climate change scepticism, and the UK is not far behind.

The US also has a high number (more than 50%) of senior political figures who deny man-made climate change, not to mention a democratically elected leader vocally believing the same. There are also numerous well-known celebrities who question the established shape of our planet.

While of course scientists can play the blame game, it could be that the scientific method itself is a major limiting factor in communicating results with the public. Science is not just a body of knowledge, but a method of critical thinking.

Scientists, by necessity, have to communicate their findings in a certain rigid way focusing on probabilities, certainty values and confidence intervals. These can appear dry or baffling to the public. But by providing more easily understandable narratives we can make scientific discussions with the public more productive.

The ConversationIn today’s complex world of social media narratives, the engagement of scientists with the public is more crucial than ever. Thankfully, current funding for public engagement training and activities is accessible to scientists with a passion for communication and conversation, enabling them to communicate facts rather than “fake news”.

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Gareth Dorrian is  Post Doctoral Research Associate in Space Science at Nottingham Trent UniversityIan Whittaker is a Lecturer.

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 This article has been restored after being accidentally removed from AgScience earlier today during the repair of a glitch in the blog’s formatting.