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Category Archives: Environment

Environmental concerns must be more heavily weighted in the decision of which city hosts the Olympic Games

By Dr Anthony Horton

Recent media attention on the parlous state of the environment in the vicinity of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games sites, and Brazil more generally, piqued my interest in researching the extent to which environmental issues are taken into account when deciding which city hosts the Olympic Games. A report entitled ‘The 2016 Olympic Games: Health, Security, Environmental and Doping Issues’ published by the United States Congressional Research Service on 28 July 2016 highlights the environmental commitments made by the Rio de Janeiro Organising Committee for the 2016 Olympic Games and the assessment process that each city must successfully navigate in order to be awarded the right to host the Games. This report was quite an eye opener for me, and after considering the findings I can only conclude that environmental concerns must be more heavily weighted in future decisions regarding which city hosts the Olympic Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has adopted a two-stage process to assess cities wanting to host the Olympic Games.

Since 1999, The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has adopted a two-stage process to assess cities wanting to host the Olympic Games. The first addresses a number of items including environmental conditions and impacts. As part of this assessment, cities must provide the IOC with the following information:

  • An assessment of current environmental conditions in the city
  • Details of ongoing environmental projects
  • An assessment of the environmental impacts of hosting the Olympic Games in the city or region
  • Information regarding any environmental impact studies carried out on prospective venues and if any legislation requires that such studies are performed

During the second phase, cities wanting to host the Olympics must provide additional details including:

  • Air quality reports
  • Information about protected nature reserves/conservation areas
  • Information regarding the roles and responsibilities of Governments
  • Environmental impacts of proposed construction work related to Games venues/facilities
  • Integration of environmental approaches into contracts with suppliers and sponsors
  • Estimates of rainfall, wind, temperatures and humidity levels during the Games

The IOC considers the above 6 factors to be critical to developing a ‘green games’ and that all commitments from a city regarding actions, programs and policies are binding and should therefore be carried out by the city’s Organising Committee.

In their application for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Rio de Janeiro bid committee developed an agenda structured around nine environmental factors:

  1. Water treatment and conservation
  2. Environmental awareness
  3. Use and management of renewable energy
  4. Carbon neutral Games and transport
  5. Protection of soils and ecosystems
  6. Sustainable design and construction
  7. Reforestation, biodiversity and culture
  8. Shopping and ecological certification
  9. Solid waste management

By the time the Rio de Janeiro Organising Committee was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games in 2009, it had made a number of pledges regarding the Games being environmentally safe and sustainable. The Committee also pledged to prepare a Sustainability Management Plan addressing each of the above nine issues, identifying the Government bodies responsible for managing them. The plan, published in March 2013, was focused on three ‘P’s:

Planet = a reduced environmental footprint (Reducing the environmental impact of projects related to the 2016 Games to result in a smaller footprint)

People = games for everybody (Planning and delivery of the 2016 Games in an inclusive manner, offering access to everyone)

Prosperity = responsibility and transparency (Contributing to the economic development of the state and city of Rio de Janeiro and planning, generating and reporting on projects related to the 2016 Games responsibly and transparently).

The Organising Committee committed to making sustainability criteria an integral part of the management of the Games – from design and planning through to post event review. The integration was to be based on four tenets:

  • Responsibility – social, environmental and economic activities associated with the Games will be conducted in a responsible manner
  • Inclusion – the Committee will strive for a respectful relationship will all parties interested in the Games regardless of age, sex, colour, religion, sexual orientation, culture or any other grounds for discrimination
  • Integrity – basing their actions on ethical principles consistent with international standards of behaviour
  • Transparency – communicating in a clear, accurate, timely and honest manner about our activities that affect society, the economy and the environment

In light of recent media attention highlighting the environmental conditions in and around the Rio de Janeiro Games sites, I would like to look closely at reforestation – one of the 9 environmental issues that the Rio de Janeiro Organising Committee addressed as part of their hosting bid. Reforestation is mentioned numerous times in the city’s Sustainability Management Plan, and across a number of locations ranging from Deodoro Olympic Park to the Atlantic Forest in Rio state. A section of the 2016 Olympic Games: Health, Security, Environmental and Doping Issues report also details a ‘Rio Green Capital Program’ whereby a ‘Mass Reforestation Initiative’ is credited with having planted more than 5,000,000 seedlings covering an area of approximately 2,500 hectares across the hillsides of Rio de Janeiro – however, I find it curious that the Amazon rainforest is not mentioned in this plan.

Whenever Brazil and the environment are discussed in general conversation, it usually doesn’t take long for the Amazon rainforest to come up. The absence of any mention of it in the Sustainability Management Plan is particularly interesting given an interactive report recently published by the Council on Foreign Relations, a United States-based not for profit organisation. This report highlights a relaxation of the Forest Code in Brazil in 2012 that resulted in less stringent conservation requirements – which many environmentalists suspect led to a 28% increase in deforestation in 2013. Such an increase is significant given Brazil’s previously successful efforts to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80% between 2005 and 2012.

It is clear that environmental issues are taken into account in the decision regarding which city hosts the Olympic Games. It is also clear that the IOC wants each Games to be ‘green’ and that the IOC seeks binding commitments from the cities wanting to host the Games regarding actions, programs and policies. The Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games Organising Committee complied with the IOC and prepared a Sustainability Management Plan as part of its submission, subsequently being awarded the opportunity to host the 2016 Olympics.

I feel that the glaring omission of any discussion by the Rio de Janeiro Organising Committee regarding actions to prevent further deforestation of the Amazon rainforest negates the compliance of the Organising Committees’ bid to host the Olympics – raising questions regarding the process the IOC uses to assess cities wanting to host the Games. Based on the Congressional Research Service report and the Council on Foreign Relations interactive report, I can not help but conclude that environmental concerns must be more heavily weighted in future decisions regarding which city hosts the Olympic Games.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

Analysis of the world’s 500 largest companies puts a spotlight on emissions

By Dr Anthony Horton

A recent report on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions performance of the world’s largest 500 companies between 2010 and 2015 is designed to be a starting point for discussions between the business community, its customers, suppliers, employees and Governments to reduce emissions. As part of fighting climate change whilst maintaining profitability, this discussion is only going to become more important in coming years.

The ‘Global 500 Greenhouse Gases Performance 2010-2015 Report on Trends’ published by Thomson Reuters in June this year examines two aspects that will be critical considerations in an increasingly carbon constrained and competitive world. The first aspect is whether companies are reducing their GHG emissions at rates that are aligned with the United Nations United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) goal of 2°C maximum global warming. The second aspect is the extent to which these companies are growing while reducing their GHG emissions.

According to the Thomson Reuters report, the world’s 500 largest companies from a range of sectors include utilities, energy and materials – collectively representing approximately 30% of global GDP. Between 2010 and 2015 these companies emitted 10% of global GHG emissions as a result of their operations and energy consumption. During this 5 year period, their collective emissions increased by 1%.

Emissions profiles of the 500 largest global companies vary significantly

The emissions profiles of the 500 largest global companies vary significantly. 26 of these businesses decreased their emissions by more than 8% between 2010 and 2015, including BP, Vale, Exxon Mobil Corporation and Chevron Corporation. Reasons for the decrease include innovation, asset divestiture or a slowdown in business due to prevailing market conditions. 29 companies reported increased emissions between 2010 and 2015, including Air Liquide, Woodside Petroleum, GDF Suez and Holcim Ltd. According to the report, reasons for companies reporting increases include the rapid growth of a carbon intensive business and acquiring a new carbon emission based business.

In 2013 the United Nations suggested that on average a 1.4% decrease in emissions is required each year between 2010 and 2050 to maintain the 2°C maximum warming goal. The recent Thomson Reuters report shows that the world’s 500 largest companies still have a deal of work to do to align with this goal.

In addition to prompting a discussion of the performance of the world’s largest companies, the ‘Global 500 Greenhouse Gases Performance 2010-2015 Report on Trends’ included three questions that I believe are going to be asked of companies worldwide with increasing frequency in coming years by investors, regulators, consumers and stakeholders. The questions are as follows:

  • Are you operating your business in a manner consistent with the UNFCCC 2° goal?
  • If the answer is yes, what is the plan to keep doing so? Is it based on innovation, divestment or transforming the business model?
  • If the answer is no, do you plan to reconsider given the trend towards increasing transparency regarding performance and stakeholder scrutiny?

These questions are becoming increasingly prudent based on strong signals from investors worldwide that they are looking to decarbonise their investment portfolios to reduce risk and maximise returns. The momentum of the global divestment movement is prompting growing numbers of people to review not only how they invest funds but why they invest funds in particular companies. Such decisions transcend pure economics and highlights the importance of alignment between an individual’s values and those of a company.

The ‘Global 500 Greenhouse Gases Performance 2010-2015 Report on Trends’ is an effective starting point for a discussion of emissions performance, however its findings need to be implemented and across the world if the business community, its customers, suppliers, employees and Governments are going to play their respective roles in the fight against global climate change. The business community is becoming acutely aware of the reality of a carbon constrained world and that they must operate within it to remain competitive. Customers are increasingly observing what businesses offer from more than just a price point perspective. Suppliers are implementing a number of measures such as internal carbon pricing, emissions reduction targets and investing in renewable energy in response to calls to do so from companies that procure their products. Employees are becoming cognisant that maintaining their job relies on more than the financial profitability of their employer and is increasingly linked to how their employer is seen from a corporate social responsibility perspective. Last but by no means least, Governments are being called upon to implement emissions reductions policies and enshrine legislation that not only achieves emissions reductions but is aligned with other Governments have implemented as part of the global fight against climate change. This is the minimum Governments can do to increase the competitiveness of companies within their jurisdiction and in the context of an increasingly competitive global economy.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

A pioneering partnership has Adelaide on track to be the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2050

By Dr Anthony Horton

A number of my most recent articles have been predominantly focused on the economic issues associated with climate change. These issues are obviously important, however in this article I wanted to discuss a unique partnership between the Adelaide City Council and the Government of South Australia – an Australian first between a Local and State Government in the Climate Change space, with the City of Adelaide on track to becoming the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2050.

In April last year the Adelaide City Council signed the Compact of Mayors, and the Government of South Australia signed the Compact of States and Regions. This is unique in an Australian context because it is the first time a Local and State Government in Australia have signed these two agreements. In an international context, The Adelaide City Council and Government of South Australia are among the first Government bodies in the world to sign these respective Compacts.

The Compact of Mayors was launched by United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Michael Bloomberg. It establishes a common platform to capture the impact of cities’ collective actions using standardised emissions measurement and consistent public reporting. To date, more than 500 cities representing 6% of the world’s population have committed to the Compact of Mayors.

The Compact of States and Regions was announced at the UN Climate Summit in New York in September 2014 and provides the first single global account of greenhouse gas targets made by state and regional Governments. More than 40 Governments covering 18 countries have reported their climate commitments and data to the Compact of States and Regions to date.

In addition to signing The Compact of Mayors and The Compact of States and Regions, The City of Adelaide and the Government of South Australia published the ‘Carbon Neutral Adelaide: A Shared vision for the world’s carbon neutral city’ report in November last year. This report discusses a road map by which the City and State Governments will work collaboratively to facilitate Adelaide becoming the world’s first carbon neutral city.

The City of Adelaide and The State Government of South Australia have also formalised their joint aspiration to establish Adelaide as the world’s first carbon neutral city via a unique agreement under South Australia’s Climate Change Legislation (the Climate Change and Greenhouse Emissions Reduction Act 2007). In a further sign of unity of purpose, The City of Adelaide and the Government of South Australia have both published parallel strategies – the ‘Carbon Neutral Strategy 2015-2025’ and ‘Climate Change Strategy 2015-2050’ respectively.

Already exemplifying a commitment to carbon neutral solutions, Adelaide City Council’s emissions fell by 20% between 2007 and 2013

Already exemplifying a commitment to carbon neutral solutions, Adelaide City Council’s emissions fell by 20% between 2007 and 2013. The year 2007 is significant as South Australia enshrined its Climate Change legislation and published its first Climate Change Strategy. Over that time period both the economy and population in the City grew by approximately 30%.

Since 2007, $2.6 billion has been invested in extending the light rail (tram) network through the city and electrify the Adelaide Metro rail system. The metropolitan bus fleet in the City of Adelaide is solely powered by lower emission fuels including gas and bio-diesel, and Adelaide commenced its world first solar electric bus service in 2008. The number of cycling journeys in and throughout the Adelaide City Council area has doubled since 2003.

At a state level, South Australia’s renewable energy statistics are also impressive:

  • Electricity generation from renewable sources has grown from 1% in 2004 to 41% last year
  • South Australia has more than one-third of Australia’s installed wind power capacity
  • One in every four homes in South Australia has a rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system
  • $6.6 billion has been invested in wind and solar PV across the state since 2003
  • The emissions from South Australia’s electricity supply has dropped by more than 30% in less than 10 years

According to the ‘Carbon Neutral Adelaide: A Shared vision for the world’s carbon neutral city’ report, The City of Adelaide’s framework for action to establish itself as the world’s first carbon neutral city is based on six tenets:

1. Build partnerships and encourage community action – partnerships will be developed with businesses, innovators and the Cooperative Research Centre for Low Carbon Living to achieve the City of Adelaide’s carbon neutral goal

2. Investment in energy efficiency and renewables in the city – facilitating private sector investment for commercial building upgrades and incentivising business and household investment in solar PV, battery storage, energy efficiency products and electric vehicle recharging points will further demonstrate the City of Adelaide’s carbon neutral leadership

3. Transform the way we travel – the public transport system will be transitioned to low emission trains, trams and buses. This will reduce the carbon footprint of the vehicle fleet. In addition, development in the city will be concentrated around rapid public transport services

4. Reduce emissions from waste – encourage the incorporation of waste management systems that maximise recycling into building owners and developer’s daily operations

5. Investment in large scale renewables across the State – driving further investment in large scale renewables will further reduce the emissions intensity of South Australia’s electricity supply. Expressions of interest for the purchase of low carbon energy will be undertaken in State Government operations

6. Offset carbon emissions – carbon offsets could play a critical role in achieving carbon neutral status for the City of Adelaide. Actions that facilitate substantial and lasting emissions reductions will be prioritised to decrease the reliance on carbon offsets.

Sustainable cities are going to play a crucial role in the fight against climate change. As an Australian scientist and entrepreneur who travels extensively throughout Asia I see first hand the challenges and opportunities that climate change represents for Governments and industry. I believe Australasian cities and the rest of the world can learn so much from what the City of Adelaide is doing.

Both the City of Adelaide and the State of South Australia are undergoing significant restructure following recent downturns in the mining and automotive industries. As such, The City of Adelaide’s aspiration to be the world’s first carbon neutral city is an exciting development and this restructure marks an exciting turning point in Australia’s post mining boom economy, and for the world as a whole.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

Environmental policy implications of Brexit must be given priority in exit negotiations with the EU

By Dr Anthony Horton

In the wake of the Brexit vote, I have chosen to devote this article to discussing what it means for environmental Policy in the United Kingdom (UK). In conducting my research, I have looked at newspapers and websites, read reports and followed the conversation on social media – distilling all of this information, it’s apparent that while there is some uncertainty as to the path along which the UK and EU must travel over the next two years, one thing is certain – the environmental policy implications of the Brexit must be given priority in the negotiations between the respective parties regarding the UKs exit from the European Union.

A report entitled ‘Brexit – the Implications for UK Environmental Policy and Regulation’ published in March this year by the Institute for European Environmental Policy outlines a number of important factors needing to be debated in order for the full implications of future UK environmental and climate policies to be understood.

According to the Institute for European Environmental Policy, the UK has played a significant role in environmental management in the EU – particularly with respect to water pollution and the development of an integrated approach to controlling industrial emissions. The UK has also actively advocated more ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions and the building of a lower carbon economy.

The report discusses four main environmental policy consequences of the UK leaving the EU:

  • The UK can no longer make decisions on EU environmental policies. This means the UK loses significant influence with respect to environmental issues
  • The UK can no longer influence the future direction of policies associated with the Seventh Environmental Action Program, the Europe 2020 program for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth or decisions regarding medium term climate and energy targets
  • The UK would participate in international negotiations on the environment (e.g. the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) as a sovereign nation rather than as a EU member. In the lead up to the Paris Climate Change conference in December last year, the EU and its 28 Member states (including the UK) committed to a target of a minimum 40% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)
  • The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) would no longer apply however the UK would have to introduce equivalent policies. These policies would have legislative, trade and economic implications for each country in the UK. There would also be implications for terrestrial and marine environmental management.

As a result of its vote to leave the EU, the UK now faces a period of negotiation with the remaining 27 members of the EU that may last at least two years. There are many uncertainties as to how these negotiations will proceed, on the basis that there is no precedent. The one certainty is that the negotiations will be based on Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. During these negotiations the UK remains a member with voting rights and current EU environmental and climate legislation and policies would still apply in the UK.

Once the UK leaves the EU, the UK relinquishes its power to determine any EU environmental policy or participate in any international meetings as a member of the European Union. If it negotiated membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) and joins current members Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, legislative measures covering pollution control, chemicals and waste management would continue to apply. If the UK stood alone rather than joining the EEA, a majority of the EU legislation would no longer apply. Important exceptions in this case would be product standards and other requirements that underpin the exportation of products from the UK into the EU. Future UK Governments would not have to obey EU environmental regulations if they believed a competitive advantage could be gained from doing so.

… negotiations between the UK and EU following the Brexit do not bode particularly well for either party’s transition to a low carbon economy.

A minimum two-year period of negotiations between the UK and EU following the Brexit do not bode particularly well for either party’s transition to a low carbon economy. According to a report published by the Advisory Scientific Community of the European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) in February this year, the right timing of the transition to a low carbon economy in the European Union is crucial. The report entitled ‘Too late, too sudden: Transition to a low-carbon economy and systemic risk’ describes how while starting the transition too soon would still allow for economic costs to be effectively managed, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would increase in the medium term unless additional emissions reduction policies are implemented. Leave it too late, and the transition to a low carbon economy would be need to abrupt and both the economic and environmental costs would be significantly higher than in a slow transition. The ideal scenario would be to commence as soon as possible and implement additional emissions reduction policies so economic costs can be managed while emissions reductions can be achieved.

Leaving the transition too late will expose the economies of European Union member states to three risks as follows:

1) A sudden transition away from fossil fuel energy could significantly harm Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as the demand for alternative energy sources could dramatically exceed supply. In this scenario the cost of those alternative sources could increase dramatically

2) The market and investors could value carbon intensive assets differently. In this scenario the most carbon intensive assets are at high risk of becoming stranded

3) The frequency of natural disasters could increase as a result of climate change. In this scenario the liabilities carried by general insurers and reinsurers would increase.

The Paris Climate Change conference held in November 2015 demonstrated that there is a need for decisive policy action on climate change if the global average temperature increase is to be kept at a maximum of 2°C. Beyond 2°C, the consequences could be irreversible and catastrophic. While pledges to reduce emissions over the coming decades were made in Paris with conviction, there was far less conviction regarding the timing and speed of these emissions reductions.

According to the ESRB report, a late transition to a low carbon economy is likely based on an extrapolation of the emission reduction pledges made by countries attending the Paris Climate Change conference.

If European Union member Governments implement their pledges early, a ‘soft landing’ is possible. In a soft landing scenario, the transition to a low carbon economy would be planned, managed and gradual, allowing sufficient time for the replacement of fossil fuel infrastructure without driving energy costs unsustainably high. Carbon pricing and the higher marginal cost of renewable energy may result in a short-term energy price increase however the transition to a low carbon economy would not be adversely impacted. Policy innovations such as a carbon tax for fossil fuels would incentivise a shift to renewable energy.

In the medium to long-term under a soft landing, energy prices are likely to decrease as the production of renewable energy becomes more efficient. A transition to a low carbon economy could have a positive effect on European Union member economies. This positive effect is on the basis of new technologies arising from innovation, new jobs being created and lower production costs.

Starting too late would require the sudden implementation of constraints on the use of carbon intensive energy and could result in a ‘hard landing’. In this scenario, energy prices may spike sharply. There may not be sufficient energy available for European Union citizens given that technologies such as renewables may not be market ready. Fossil fuel energy infrastructure and companies with carbon intensive resources or technologies may also be stranded. Policy interventions at such a late stage could require extremely dramatic emissions reductions across the European Union. In addition, coordinating emission reductions on a global scale is difficult at the best of times, so attempting to coordinate with other countries in a short time period would be extremely difficult.

Australia’s Climate Change Institute issued a statement on Monday regarding the status of the Paris Agreement given the Brexit vote in the UK. According to the Institute’s statement, the UK has signed the Paris Agreement and no further negotiations will be held. Once the UK leaves the EU, the UK will be required to submit its own target, and the EU will need to submit a revised target. The EU has not yet signed the Paris Agreement as it needs to work through the issues with all remaining members. Fifty countries have committed to ratifying the Agreement this year or early next year.

The UK already has its own target of a 50% emissions reduction based on 1990 levels by 2025 which is stronger than that of the EU and is detailed in the UK Climate Change Act.

The optimist in me likes to think that now the UK has signed the Paris Agreement, the effort they need to apply over the next two years of negotiation with the EU regarding their exit will not come at the cost of the climate change action they will be required to implement under the Agreement. The realist in me however knows that given the extent of the economic loss experienced by UK stock markets following the announcement, environmental policies may not be very high on the list of domestic investor priorities within the UK, despite the commitment shown by the UK Government in signing the Paris Agreement.

In addition to domestic investor uncertainty, it is reasonable to question the extent to which international investor appetite will be tempered by the Brexit vote. A number of my previous articles have discussed the important roles that strong and enduring policy signals from Governments play in encouraging investors to fund renewable energy and other projects as part of a transition to a low carbon economy. Thus it is clear to me that to maintain progress towards low carbon economies in the UK and EU, the environmental policy implications of Brexit must be given priority in the exit negotiations.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

Coal peddlers are far more dangerous than heroin peddlers

By James Moylan

The science is settled regarding the relationship of atmospheric C02 and average atmospheric temperature. Ice cores demonstrate a sturdy correlation that stretches way back for many hundreds of thousands of years.

We know that there is a lag in the effect because that is apparent from the data. It seems our oceans acidify and absorb atmospheric energy at a slower rate than was anticipated by many observers, and it also seems that a higher proportion of this increase in atmospheric energy is dissipated in increased wave and tidal activity than was first accounted for.

However the discovery of unanticipated effects acting to buffer the impact of the relentlessly rising proportion of C02 in our atmosphere, only demonstrates that we don’t quite yet fully understand the nature, magnitude, and speed of the currently unfolding climate catastrophe. Yet still these minor differences between predictions and observations continue to provide solace for fools, scoundrels, and politicians.

So the political discussion in our land regarding climate change continues to be morally bankrupt.

Our major political parties refuse to even acknowledge how much Australia is actually contributing to the rise in atmospheric C02 levels. They dishonestly focus on the proportionately tiny amount of coal we burn here at home even as we simultaneously subsidise and enable the activities of some of the largest coal peddlers on the planet.

If our politicians really did comprehend the true nature of our current global predicament then their rhetoric would certainly change. They would begin to start owning up to Australia’s actual contribution to this problem and begin talking about phasing out our coal industry in its entirety. They would confront the reality that we are morally obliged to close down our coal mines and walk away from them.

We cannot continue to blithely ignore that one in seven tons of the coal that is burnt on the face of the planet comes from one of our coal mines. Nor that when this exported coal is added to our total ‘carbon footprint’ it indicates that we are responsible for more carbon emissions than Germany, a country with close to four times our population.

To continue to export coal, and then ignore these exports as if they are none of our business, is exactly akin in moral terms to a country crowing over a fall in the number of heroin addicts at home whilst gleefully turning a blind eye to the production and export of hundreds of tons of the drug. It is morally indefensible.

Yet coal is far more dangerous than heroin. The burning of fossil fuels is slowly altering the constitution of the thin gas envelope which envelops our planet. Unlike heroin, any coal exported will certainly come back to damage our society and kill our citizens. It simply does not matter where on our planet our coal might be burnt – the problem remains corporate. The ethical responsibility and the ecological disasters are all equally shared.

Yet Australia continues to be an unashamed ‘climate change peddler’. Our politicians ignore the problem and substitute their own alibis for action which they profess will somehow ‘fix the reef’ or ‘meet our greenhouse targets’ while still enabling us to continue on with business as usual. It is a lie.

There is no ‘no-cost’ option available. We will have to invest a great deal of money and simply write off a great many assets. Coal mining will have to cease. We will have to look closely at all natural and coal seam gas extraction and consider if this also is an unaffordable environmental liability.

Australia is currently living in a la-la land of ten year plans for superannuation and corporate taxation that will all likely fall by the wayside when the cutbacks in coal consumption, worldwide, as have been indicated as necessary by all of our trading partners, suddenly turn into a reality. The multi-national coal miners will all leave Australia with their riches intact and their economic future secure. The politicians who had been doing their bidding for many years will retire. Yet the cost of the environmental and economic damage inflicted by failing to listen to the scientists will remain.

So while closing our mines and changing our ways will cost us dearly. The hard facts indicate that we really have no other option. We are faced with either acting now or being forced to act later.

A change over to renewable energy systems for local power generation, and the closing of our coal mines, are both inevitable. We can either ignore this until after all our coal markets collapse, and after our international reputation is utterly trashed, and we are in the midst of a long term economic decline. Or we can simply wake up to reality, take the advice of the climate scientists, and develop and instigate an orderly transition to a 100% carbon free economy.

 

How much international media attention will it take to get direct action and protect the Great Barrier Reef?

By Dr Anthony Horton

The current controversy involving Ellen DeGeneres and Australian Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt is certainly not the first time (and probably won’t be the last) that someone with an international media profile has pointed out the need for the Australian Government to do everything it can to protect the Great Barrier Reef. In an address to an enthusiastic audience at the University of Queensland in November 2014, United States President Barack Obama pointedly remarked that he wanted his daughters to be able to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef and one day bring their own children to see it. On April 24 this year, a documentary filmed by the world’s most renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough was aired on ABC Television, highlighting how the Great Barrier Reef was created and showcasing the multitude of creatures that call it home. Following the extensive social media coverage of Ellen DeGeneres’ comments, I was left pondering: how much international media attention will it take to get direct action to protect the Great Barrier Reef after the Federal election on July 2?

The Great Barrier Reef is not only an important ecosystem we need to protect for the benefit of people living in Australia, it is also critically important on an international scale. On the Australian Government Department of the Environment website, the Great Barrier Reef is described as ‘the world’s most extensive coral reef ecosystem’ and ‘a globally outstanding and significant entity’. The website also points out that ‘practically the whole ecosystem was inscribed as World Heritage in 1981’. Such a listing reinforces that the reef must be afforded protection from inappropriate development. The legislative instruments in place to facilitate protection of the Great Barrier Reef are The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (amended in 2007 and 2008) and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Covering an area of approximately 350,000 km2, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most diverse natural ecosystems on Earth. Nearly 2 million visitors are drawn to it each year – sustaining more than 60,000 jobs and annually contributing $5 billion to the Australian economy. While the Great Barrier Reef commands respect from environmental, social and economic perspectives, for the purposes of this article I am focusing on the environmental protections the Great Barrier Reef provides the coastline it borders.

As an Australian scientist working in the climate change space at this critical point in time for the environment, I am very happy that DeGeneres has drawn attention to the plight of the Great Barrier Reef

On 8 June 2016, Ellen DeGeneres filmed a video message stating: “It’s critical that we protect this amazing place, and we’d like your help”, referring to the website ‘Remember the Reef’ established by the Disney Conservation and its partners to help preserve the Great Barrier Reef. As an Australian scientist working in the climate change space at this critical point in time for the environment, I am very happy that DeGeneres has drawn attention to the plight of the Great Barrier Reef and the importance of its conservation, particularly during the current Australian election campaign – a campaign in which environmental issues (much less climate change) have been afforded so little discussion to date.

In response, Australian Government Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt sent DeGeneres numerous tweets defending the Government and what it has done to help the reef so far. Channel 9 Today Show co-host Karl Stefanovic also added to the discussion on June 9 by stating his concern was that “she has got involved in that around the whole notion of selling a movie anyway” – in reference to the upcoming movie release of ‘Finding Dory’ in which Ellen DeGeneres voices the main character. Rather than focus on who said what on twitter, my intention is to discuss why efforts to protect the Great Barrier Reef should be strengthened; supporting the need for us to protect the reef itself and the creatures that call it home, and to ensure that the valuable protective services it provides the coastline which it borders are maintained.

According to the ‘Managing Coasts with Natural Solutions’ report published in January this year by the World Bank Group Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) program, coral reefs:

  • Provide natural protection from flooding and erosion by reducing and dispersing wave energy by up to 97%
  • Supply and trap sediment found on beaches
  • Produce carbonates as they grow and, if they remain healthy, could require minimal maintenance funding in order to continue to protect coastlines

In the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) spends $500 million each year to reduce flooding hazards. Brazil, China and Columbia are spending billions of dollars addressing the risks of flooding and other climate change related disasters. The majority of these funds are being spent on the construction of infrastructure such as seawalls. The Great Barrier Reef provides this range of protective services mentioned above to the significant section of Australian coastline that it borders. And yet, in Australia we rarely (if ever) hear a discussion of how important these services are. It would be a great shame if these significant benefits were ignored, only to be discussed once the Great Barrier Reef has passed the point of no return and the coastline it borders is under threat from flooding and/or erosion – events that would result in significant environmental and financial costs.

A range of scientific disciplines play important parts in valuing the Great Barrier Reef. Understanding local climate patterns, chemical transport/cycling, as well as its structural integrity are critical to placing a realistic value on the reef. According to the WAVES program report, process-based approaches are the best for valuing the coastal protection services that coral reefs provide. These process-based approaches use variables including storm surges, currents, sediment transport, and interactions between waves and structures to assess risks as well as measure the value of habitats in reducing flooding and other climate change related disasters. The report outlines five steps for estimating the benefits that coral reefs provide:

1. Estimating offshore hydrodynamics

In order to estimate offshore dynamics, it is important to first understand the oceanographic conditions that generate waves from wind in deep waters. An assessment of wind, waves, mean sea level, tides and storm surge is critical to understanding offshore hydrodynamics. The average and extreme offshore conditions for each of these variables must be gauged in order to understanding the range of conditions reefs are exposed to over a full year of four seasons. It is only once the full range of conditions are understood that appropriate reef management strategies can be implemented

2. Estimating nearshore hydrodynamics

Waves change as they travel from deep to shallow water as a result of the local bathymetry (e.g. depth profile) and coastal morphology (structural features). In nearshore environments, waves undergo refraction, dissipation, diffraction and other sources of energy transfer. Characterising nearshore wave height and energy is an important part of estimating nearshore dynamics, and is in turn important to understanding how the reef protects the coastline that it borders

3. Estimating the effects of coastal habitat on hydrodynamics

Nearshore waves interact with habitats and other structures that attenuate (e.g. weaken) the waves and thereby reduce their energy. Coral reefs attenuate short waves (e.g. wind waves) as the waves break on them. Similar to the previous point, understanding wave attenuation is important to understanding the extent of the protection that a reef affords its immediate and near coastline

4. Estimating flooding

After waves pass over reef habitats, any remaining wave energy creates onshore flooding or erosion. A key part of assessing the risk of flooding is understanding the frequency of storms in the area. Following an assessment of the storm frequency, it is important to understand topographic elevation as lower lying areas will be more susceptible to flooding. The dimensions of the low lying area in which flooding occurs is defined as the ‘flooding envelope’

5. Assessing expected and averted damages

Assessing these damages involves calculating the number of people and assets within a flooding envelope. Once this is known, a damage function that describes the likely value of assets flooded under different storm frequencies (e.g. one in 10, and one in 100 year events) can be derived. Once this is derived, the difference in damages with and without coral reefs can be calculated

By now you’re probably asking yourself what the Australian Labor Party and the current Government have pledged to do to protect the Great Barrier Reef. On 31 May 2016 the Australian Labor Party (ALP) announced that an ALP Government would allocate $500 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef through better research, co-ordination and environmental programs. Of this $500 million, $100 million would be spent by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), $300 million would be spent on programs to reduce nitrogen and sediment run- off, and the remaining $100 million would be spent on improving the management of the Great Barrier Reef. Yesterday (13 June 2016) the current Australian Government announced a $1 billion Reef fund that will provide concessional loans for clean energy projects that will reduce pollutant and fertiliser run-off and limit discharge from sewage treatment plants to the ocean thereby improving water quality. This $1 billion will come from the $10 billion fund administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to facilitate investment in renewable energy projects in Australia.

Those of you who read my articles will know that I support renewable energy as one part of a cleaner future. You will also know that I have written a number of articles on the status of renewable energy investment in Australia compared to the international market. I want to be very clear here – funding the protection of the Great Barrier Reef using funding intended for Australian renewable energy projects is surely at cross purposes.

The Australian renewable energy sector needs as much funding as it can reasonably get in order to grow and sustain itself and the livelihoods of those who depend on it for employment. The protection of the Great Barrier Reef also needs as much funding as possible to ensure its endurance against the realities of climate change. The renewable energy sector and the Great Barrier Reef should not be in competition for Government funding – which is effectively what will happen under the current Government’s announcement. Funding for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef should come from a clearly differentiated source other than from the allocated funding for renewable energy projects in Australia.

As sea levels continue to rise, it stands to reason that recognising the value of the Great Barrier Reef is essential

The conservation of the Great Barrier Reef must be given the highest priority and afforded the highest level of protection by the Australian Government as a first line of defence against storms, flooding, rising sea levels and other extreme weather events which can cause hundreds of millions or billions of dollars worth of damage, threatening people’s lives and livelihoods. As sea levels continue to rise, it stands to reason that recognising the value of the Great Barrier Reef is essential to the protection of coastal communities.

In reviewing the social media coverage of the comments made by Ellen DeGeneres, Barack Obama and Sir David Attenborough, and after reading the ‘Managing Coasts with Natural Solutions’ report, I implore you the reader to join me in demanding that the Australian Government appropriately values the Great Barrier Reef for the protection it provides coastal areas, for the habitats it provides for the marine life that rely on it, and for the billions of dollars in injects into the Australian economy through employment and tourism.

Post the double dissolution election scheduled for 2 July 2016, regardless of whether the current Government is returned or the ALP wins the Federal election, one thing is very clear – the eyes of the world will be on what the Australian Government does to protect the Great Barrier Reef. As the Ellen DeGeneres controversy demonstrates, a global audience (Australian voters included) are now wondering how much international media attention it will take to get direct action to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

The Australian Government would do well to take heed of Ellen DeGeneres’s call to protect the Great Barrier Reef

One of Minister Hunt’s tweets to Ellen DeGeneres on June 8 really struck a chord with me. Part of his message states that “We all have a role and the Aust govt is doing more than ever to protect it”. I think many Australians would disagree with this statement, as I do along with my colleagues and other scientists in the environmental space. We argue instead that the Government is doing is still not enough to ensure the long-term survival and prosperity of the Great Barrier Reef. I absolutely agree with DeGeneres’s comment as reported by 9news.com.au that “we should protect our oceans and protect the reef, and I don’t know what’s controversial about that”. It is a truly sad day when we cannot express our concern for an environmental issue that we consider important – this is just what Ellen did, and I for one applaud her for it. I believe that the Australian Government would do well to take heed of Ellen DeGeneres’s call to protect the Great Barrier Reef rather than be critical of it.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

 

A climate change catastrophe of our own making

By James Moylan

We have just seen a huge coral bleaching event critically impact sections of the northern Great Barrier Reef. The seriously damaged areas stretch all the way from Papua to Cairns. This is not evidence of a pending problem. Nor is it an isolated event. We are in the midst of a climate change catastrophe of our own making.

Our scientific community have been up in arms and screaming about this looming catastrophe, in no uncertain terms, for many years. Yet the response of our politicians has been to downplay and dismiss these warnings. They continue to offer meaningless ‘solutions’. They say that it is a global and not a national problem. They constantly repeat the mantra that we are ‘doing our bit’.

They are lying. Sometimes they lie knowingly but more often they lie due to simple ignorance. Most of our politicians have their heads so firmly wedged up their own backsides they just cannot see reality. They inhabit a world filled with worries and priorities that bear little resemblance to the problems faced by the majority and remain largely insulated from all of the actual perils most average citizens face.

Even now while the predictions of the scientists are being realised, as we watch parts of the reef die,  the response of these same politicians and press outlets has been to continue to ignore the problem or even actively distribute misinformation about the unfolding catastrophe. We have all been witness to simultaneously seeing footage of acres of white skeletonised coral on our television screens while also reading in our major papers that there is no big problem at all. Aussies are being told to simply discount the evidence provided by their own lying eyes. Everything is under control.

Our politicians are proposing ten year tax plans and arguing about superannuation breaks for the rich while the reef dies. Snow now falls in parts of central Queensland regularly during ever colder and more tempestuous winters. Earlier and later cyclones of greater intensity are crossing the coast. Tasmania just ran out of hydro power due to the driest winter on record. We continue to experience ever longer periods of ever more extreme heat across ever greater stretches of our continent. Yet still our political class and our mainstream media refuse to admit to the reality we are experiencing. Perhaps future generations will curse us for our negligence and apathy? If there is still a developed society left?

First we have to acknowledge that the future will be different. Then take immediate action to limit the extent of the damage that we are now causing. We must admit to the damage already inflicted and realise that we are in the midst of an ongoing catastrophe – not an isolated event. We cannot ‘fix’ the problem on the reef. Anyone who intimates that we can do so is just selling you a fond dream. The continued degradation of parts of the far northern and northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef is certain, whatever we decide to do from here.

The consensus of scientific opinion is that huge sections of the far northern reef system will simply disappear over the next twenty years. This is an inevitable consequence of global warming. We can expect the mean average base temperatures in these regions to continue to rise. So we can expect the likely impact of the next event to be at least as critical as the one we have just witnessed. This last event will eventually be considered as just one of many, more frequent, bleaching events. Therefore the northernmost barrier reef systems will simply no longer have enough time to recover between storms and bleaching events.

So even if every country upon the face of the globe took immediate and determined action, right now, to scale back their carbon and other pollutant emissions: the far northern sections of the reef are already irreparably damaged and will invariably suffer further damage, before eventually disappearing. Over the next eight to ten months those sections of reef that are already most badly damaged will crumble away. Wave and tidal action will quickly sandpaper these white jagged outcrops into fine sand. Storm-surge and tidal flows will seek out these new gaps and further undermine what is left. Slowly what was once a massive saw-toothed breakwater will be reduced to scattered battlements, then it will slowly crumble away. Where once were vibrant acres of intense colour, darting fish, creeping, stalking, burrowing and slithering animals, will be bare sea.

Yet while we are in the midst of one of the greatest environmental catastrophes that has ever been witnessed by modern man; our media and our politicians seem to be obsessed with the housing market and superannuation matters? And when they do deign to mention the bleaching of the reef they treat it as if it is an isolated and isolable problem.

The problem is not coral bleaching. The problem is with the way in which we manufacture energy.

When you are deep in a hole, the question of how to get out of the hole can be argued about, but first you have to stop digging. Our political class are not even prepared to consider that we should stop digging – ever. They are currently all arguing that we can get out of the hole we are in even while we continue to dig at an ever faster pace. Then whenever anyone suggests that we should stop digging an ever deeper hole they are shouted down as being dangerous radicals.

The reality is that we must not only wean ourselves off using coal to generate electricity; we have to close down all of our coal mines and walk away from them. We must acknowledge that we are in the midst of an unfolding global environmental emergency and that the world cannot afford our coal however much money might be offered for it.

We must learn to acknowledge that coal is as bad for the lungs of the planet as asbestos is for our lungs. So both substances must be left undisturbed in the ground. Eventually this will become the common sense opinion of every politician in Australia. However until such a time arrives we will continue to inflate the problem we are facing instead of acting to solve it.

Climate change is the greatest moral, economic, and environmental challenge of our age. So we deserve better than petty party politics. At the very least we deserve to have a political class and a media who are willing to describe the problems and required solutions in an honest and forthright manner. Instead we are being sold snake-oil by a bunch of self-interested fools who have their priorities bought and paid for by vested interests.

The bottom line is that there are no jobs on a dead planet. Without a healthy environment we can have no healthy economy.

Already we have lost most of the northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef: how much more are our politicians willing to sacrifice before they eventually succumb to doing the right thing on behalf of the planet and the public interest?

Why Australian voters should be getting stirred up about carbon pricing

By Dr Anthony Horton

To date, climate change has barely rated a mention in the 2016 Australian Federal double dissolution election campaigns, and we don’t know when or if it will feature at all. I want to use this opportunity to bring a particular aspect of climate change – carbon pricing – to people’s attention and highlight just why it needs to be taken very seriously. According to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) initiative, the minimum internal carbon pricing policy that all countries should implement by 2020 is US$100 per tonne. This means in view to keeping global warming below 2°C as negotiated in the historic Paris Agreement following the 2015 United Nations conference on climate change, to which Australia was a signatory, all business producing emissions must be charged for each tonne of CO2 they release into the atmosphere.

The proposal for a universal US$100 per tonne minimum internal carbon price by 2020 was included in an announcement by UNGC on their website on April 22 this year, the same day the historic Paris Climate Agreement was signed by more than 165 United Nations member countries at UN Headquarters in New York. The UNGC believes that the US$100 per tonne minimum price is critical to prompting innovation, unlocking investment and shifting market signals towards the maximum 2°C average warming pathway.

This price reflects the enormity of the universal emissions reduction task we face in coming years, and therefore pricing carbon should not simply be viewed as a revenue stream. According to World Bank Group figures, approximately 75% of the emissions reductions covered by Government-implemented carbon pricing mechanisms including emissions trading schemes (ETSs) around the world last year were priced below US$10 per tonne.

In January this year the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stated that carbon pricing mechanisms should be central to a Government’s climate change response. According to the IMF, such mechanisms have key advantages over regulatory based emissions reduction measures. These advantages include being more effective from an environmental perspective and that they can facilitate a wide range of mitigation options. The international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) researched carbon pricing in 41 member countries that represent 80% of the world’s energy use and emissions last year, and concluded that 70% of those emissions were priced below EUR5 (US$5.60) per tonne. The OECD argues that such a price is well below the true climate related cost of those emissions and that there is barely any policy driven price incentive to reduce emissions at that price.

Internal carbon pricing is becoming a widely used investment decision-making tool by businesses around the world (including a small number of Australian businesses), assisting them to move to lower carbon business models. As there is currently no government regulated carbon pricing mechanism in Australia, the small number of Australian businesses that have an internal carbon price do it on the basis of the need to have one in the markets in which they conduct business outside Australia. If the ALP forms Government following the election on July 2 and implements their proposed ETS policy, or the current Government introduces an ETS by tweaking the ERF, businesses that conduct their operations within Australia will also need to determine their internal carbon price.

Determining an internal carbon price is a good thing for Australian businesses for two reasons. Firstly they could then participate in the Australian ETS (and other worldwide emissions trading schemes the Australian one is linked up to). Secondly, having an internal carbon price could open up new international trade and investment opportunities. In previous articles I have discussed the move by some very well known international brands to look at their supply chains and to choose suppliers based on whether they have an internal carbon price.

Given the rate at which ETSs are being implemented around the world, it is likely that most countries will have one in the very near future, and therefore an internal carbon price will become part of normal business operations. In the lead up to the double dissolution election on July 2, a lot of attention is being given to jobs and growth, and of course these are important. I believe that both the ALP and the current Government need to embrace the potential jobs and growth that can arise from investments in emissions reductions and innovation under an ETS. Of the few Australian and numerous international businesses that have disclosed they currently have an internal carbon price, more than 94% are based in jurisdictions that have mandated a carbon price, have scheduled the implementation of a carbon price, or are considering the implementation of a carbon price.

As the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, the UNGC supports businesses to:

  • Conduct their operations in a responsible manner by aligning with ten principles of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption
  • Take strategic actions to progress societal goals including the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with an emphasis on collaboration and innovation

The UNGC’s ten principles are derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organisation’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

That we have already had three weeks of the 2016 Australian Federal double dissolution election campaign and climate change has barely rated a mention is a sad indictment. And yet conversations being had in other contexts show great public concern for the growing environmental impacts climate change. There is no shortage of discussion on social media platforms such as Twitter regarding the current status of the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef – which has made international news on high profile platforms including The New York Times. The lack of a reasoned scientifically based discussion of what Australia is going to do to acknowledge the realities and address the inherent challenges of climate change leaves us wondering when and if such a discussion will be held by politicians, and whether the media will challenge the respective parties to do so. We know that climate change can’t be solved within one term of Government in Australia, however we should expect Governments that act on our behalf to acknowledge and address the challenges that climate change presents now and for future generations.

The importance of carbon pricing goes beyond the role it plays in reducing emissions. Australian voters need to understand that carbon pricing and its implementation can facilitate innovation and investment, and that a cohesive pricing structure is critical. The Government elected by the Australian people on July 2 needs to implement a price that is consistent with the enormity of the task of reducing emissions to align with the maximum 2°C average warming agreement so Australia can play its rightful part in reducing global emissions into the future. Our country’s leaders must ensure we as a nation adequately acknowledge the realities of climate change and address the inherent challenges that climate change presents. Climate change is an issue that simply can’t be left for future generations to battle. This is why Australian voters should be getting stirred up about carbon pricing.

This article was originally published on theclimatechangeguy.com.au.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

Let’s talk about climate change

Media Release from Jessie Singh

As we approach the double dissolution election scheduled for 2 July 2016, I am delighted to announce that Dr Anthony Horton, chairman of The Climate Change Guy Group and an internationally recognised authority on environmental management and policy, is available to assist with any of your media coverage, commentary and fact checking needs.

As our political parties begin vigorous campaigns extended over more than 7 weeks, the Australian public will be inundated with information and policy proposals. An intense time for the media, this longer campaign period presents the media with challenges to stay succinct and avoid voter fatigue whilst keeping abreast of the issues and promises at play.

Actively analysing and commentating upon the Australian political landscape with respect to environmental, economic, health and social issues, Anthony is in an informed position to assess and explain the ramifications of any proposals or policies presented. Examples of his written commentary are available for view on The Climate Change Guy website, covering topics such as:

What does implementing an emissions trading scheme actually mean for Australian businesses and the competitive global economy?

Australia’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and the realities of creating a level playing field for Australian businesses

Due to the significant impacts of environmental policy and very topical nature of climate change, we feel Anthony’s expertise would enhance your coverage of this election. With recent reports revealing the majority of Australian voters are extremely concerned about what is being done regarding climate change, Anthony warmly welcomes the opportunity to discuss environmental policies and address any questions you and your followership may have.

Anthony is available for interview, commentary or consultation in person or via telephone. Please find attached for your perusal:

  • Media Release
  • Capability Statement

A shortlist of his credentials in the environmental space is also featured below.

All media enquiries are welcome. Should you require any additional information at all please do not hesitate to contact me, and on behalf of Dr Anthony Horton we look forward to the opportunity of engaging with you and the Australian Independent Media Network audience.

Yours sincerely,

Jessie Singh

Follow Dr Anthony Horton on Twitter @dranthonyhorton

View Dr Anthony Horton’s website: www.theclimatechangeguy.com.au

Dr Anthony Horton’s credentials include:

  • PhD in Environmental Science
  • Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours
  • Diploma of Carbon Management
  • Lead Environmental Auditor
  • Certificate IV in Training and Assessment
  • Chartered Chemist of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute
  • Editorial Board of the Journal of Nature Environment and Pollution Technology

Phone Contact:

Dr Anthony Horton

anthony@theclimatechangeguy.com.au

 

Koalas, Coal and Cash

A more publically accountable and transparent planning and assessment process is urgently required in order to prevent further unnecessary damage to the quality and health of our natural environment, writes David C. Paull.

Koalas, Coal and Cash: How consultancies keep the mines in business.

It was inauspicious, barely raising media interest at the time, but its demise was key for the mining sectors plans to keep the good times going. In 2011, NSW Greens MP, Cate Faehrmann introduced a bill to Parliament to establish an accreditation scheme for ecological consultants. The Threatened Species Conservation Amendment (Ecological Consultants Accreditation Scheme) Bill 2011 would have required ecological consultants to undergo formal accreditation and included a mechanism to settle disputes.

The Liberal Government, led by Barry O’Farrell at the time, defeated the bill claiming that it would hurt ‘mums and dads’ by making them have to pay more for environmental assessments. Of course nothing was further from the truth. The bill was a response to the widely known fact that the environmental assessment industry in NSW was broken and the public interest was being forsaken for the interests of mining company’s bottom lines.

Despite some of the more romantic images people may have of biologists gathering data from fields of daisies, the fact that development companies pay for the services of those consultants in order to get their approvals through the planning and assessment process appears not to be problematic for some. But here lie the seeds of corruption, particularly in an environmental sector without any professional standards. Environmental consultants are professionals with degrees and higher degrees, and often associated with universities. Other professional groups have associations that include enforceable standards and codes of conduct, like engineers, planners, doctors, lawyers, while there are reputable associations which consultants could join, the association of choice in NSW is the Ecological Consultants Association of NSW. This organisation has no accreditation system for its members, despite attempts to introduce such a scheme for at least 10 years, unsuccessfully as it turns out to this day.

Currently for the ECANSW, a primary objective is to “ensure that their private and government clients receive the most professional and efficient service possible”. Government guidelines for any kind of standard among consultants merely state that they need to have ‘degree or equivalent’ in a relevant field.

For environmental consultants and many others, the sectors where millions can be made in NSW are in mining and residential development. When big money projects are involved, and this has been particularly the case in the last 10 years in NSW with a mining and a housing boom, proponents want favourable outcomes for their high cost and often high risk projects. But how the industry now operates shows that instead of obtaining high diligence and thorough assessments, their often large investments has led to assessments that are primarily designed to minimise issues for the client.

A look at the consulting field servicing the mining sector in NSW shows it is dominated by a few key players. The big miners have their own favoured consultants, with Rio Tinto and its affiliated organisations using a number of organisations but favouring Cumberland Ecology and Xstrata (later Glencore) using Umwelt exclusively. Other big miners like Peabody and Whitehaven have used others like RPS, Parsons Brinkerhoff, Ecological Australia and Niche. But despite the fact that there are literally dozens of possible companies a mining company could use, there is only a small number who have ‘cornered’ the big players.

For example, a look through the Cumberland Ecology track record with big mining companies shows a pattern of litigation and controversy.

Cumberland Ecology, headed by ANU affiliate Dr David Robertson, was a relatively small operation based in Sydney, though quickly gaining a reputation for getting the job done amongst the mining sector. This includes a number of recent controversial projects. Rio’s Warkworth/Mt Thorley Mine where Cumberland Ecology were found to have grossly over-estimated the amount of the endangered community, Warkworth Sand Woodland, in the NSW Land and Environment Court leading to the project’s rejection on merit. Next was Whitehaven’s Maules Creek Mine where evidence was provided to the Senate Inquiry into Offsets (2014) that ‘false and misleading information’ was used by Cumberland Ecology. Then was Shenhua’s Watermark Mine on the Liverpool Plains which again was taken to the L&E Court on the basis that Cumberland Ecology had failed to take into account the impact of the mine on the local Koala population. This was ultimately rejected by the court on the basis of a new planning regulation which states that in fact consultants do not have to take assessments of significance implicitly into account for major projects.

The 2014 senate inquiry found that to prove ‘false and misleading’ was difficult with respect to questions of the accuracy of information provided in EISs and Offset Plans. What is clear, however, is that in order to get the best results, it pays to fall short on the due diligence. From my experience in the mining sector as a consultant and as a government regulator, doctoring of assessments in major EISs is widespread. This is achieved through the omission of information if considered too controversial, failure to verify mapping or modelled outputs, failure to undertake adequate baseline studies, failure to adequately test for the presence of threatened species of concern, erroneous interpretations of science or environmental matters and the failure to adequately identify or describe impacts.

But more to the point, if you, as a consultant, put something in a report that the mining company doesn’t want, you will be sacked, threatened or otherwise persuaded or offered very large amounts of money. Of course smart consultants know how to avoid these ‘conflicts’.

Environmental assessments require one key ingredient to provide the impression of due diligence, that is the publicly available vegetation, wildlife and groundwater databases. These are often overlooked. However, while these products are good starting points, they do not substitute for local baselines data or eliminate the need for field verification. Consultancies are really bad at this. For the Maules Creek Project, the vegetation communities in the offsets appear not to have been verified, or if they were, were inaccurately recorded. The reliance on regional based mapping products by consultancies which can have low levels of accuracy, is widespread. Where the existing mapping is in your favour, it appears, it is convenient to use this, regardless of what may actually be on the ground.

Environmental consultancies tend to underplay the possible presence of threatened species on ‘greenfield’ sites because, from my experience, mining companies are very threatened by any potential loss of expected revenue. Take the Koala for example, an Australian icon and symbol of how we are looking after our environment for many in the public sphere, rarely shows up in environmental assessments, and when it does, there are hundreds of them. It goes like this. If there are none there, then no one has to worry and if there are hundreds of them, as in the Shenhua Watermark site, then it’s still OK because there are hundreds of them and they can be easily put in a bag and moved if need be. While Cumberland Ecology’s Koala survey for the Maules Creek Mine did not find one Koala poo – even though later community surveys found scats and animals they were literally falling out of the trees at Watermark.

The issue of Koalas on the Liverpool Plains is interesting as it illustrates well the relationship between mining and the evidence used to further their interests. The Koala density estimates used by Cumberland Ecology in their report for the Shenhua Watermark mine the same as used in the ill-fated Gunnedah Koala Plan of Management. This work was paid for by BHP Caroona Coal and was conducted by a north coast firm BioLoaning Greenstudies in conjunction with well-known Koala identity, Dr Steve Phillips. Dr Philips in fact devised the methodology used in the Plan and in the Shenhua Watermark assessment and has publicly endorsed Dr Robertson’s work. They estimated that there are over 12 000 Koalas in the Gunnedah local government area, which many consider to be a highly erroneous over-estimation, including Shenhua’s new Koala man, John Lemon, recently retired from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Mr Lemon is actually undermining the validity of his employer’s work, while at the same time, believes that the removal of 800 ha of Koala habitat will achieve ‘good outcomes’ for local Koalas.

Dr Robertson’s other great contribution to the conservation of the Koala was his claim that grassland is Koala habitat in the Koala Plan of Management he prepared for Shenhua. No doubt to make his offsets sound more palatable. Unfortunately, any undergraduate could tell you that a Koala does not eat grass and does not live in grass and so by itself cannot be regarded as habitat. Not good for someone who is supposed to at least have a science degree.

If we go back to our list of preferred consultants, we find Umwelt, based in the central coast. Unlike Cumberland Ecology, Umwelt are not a member of the Ecological Consultants Association of NSW but have a wonderful office in Teralba which has won energy awards with its solar power and passive heating design. Umwelt have been closely linked to Xstrata/Glencore for over a decade, undertaking most of their assessment work including project management, supporting mine activity in the Hunter coal fields, such as Bulga, Liddell, Ravensworth, Mt Arthur and Mt Owen Mines.

Umwelt has never reported seeing a Koala, except in an EIS used to support the Williamtown Sand Mine (with its connections to controversial Port Stephens mayor Bruce Mackenzie). In this case, despite admitting that Koalas were observed on the site, no details of locations or numbers were provided to the consent authority.

Perhaps Umwelt’s most successful tactic to get results the mining companies want is to ignore the recommended advice regarding how biodiversity information should be gathered and assessed. That is by the use of a ‘BioBanking Assessment Methodology’ a government devised methodology that Umwelt have staunchly refused to undertake for major project assessments since it’s inception eight years ago. Instead, the company follows the approach of coming to the table with their own assessment methodology, which at no time has been accepted by the environment department as an adequate substitute.

Despite this, projects that Umwelt support sail through the approval process, with just a little assistance of the NSW Planning Department who broker the resulting ‘negotiated’ outcomes, and whose job it seems is to guarantee the passage of all coal and gas projects which cross their desks with as little environmental ‘liabilities’ as possible for the mining company.

This tactic of just refusing to comply with the recommended government guidelines and policy, is now becoming more widespread among consultancies, an example is the EIS provided by Hunter Eco to support the extension of Peabody’s Wilpinjong Mine in the Goulburn River valley. Despite only coming up with half the biodiversity credits required to retire the impact on the Regent Honeyeater, Hunter Eco state, “The new NSW Offset Policy … requires a higher ratio than previously required, and in some cases, significantly more. For example, certain species (e.g. Regent Honeyeater) have very low Tg scores which are driving high offset multipliers (perverse outcomes) …”

Essentially saying the new whole of government offset policy is unreasonable and should be disregarded (despite years of development of the policy involving literally hundreds of experts). In fact, the updated credit scores for the Regent Honeyeater is consistent with the recent upgrade of its status as being ‘critically endangered’.

Consultants know they can disregard environmental policies as the system lets them do so. When the system fails, there are few recourses for environmental justice which can occur and this is where a strong industry code of practice or accreditation scheme becomes important. When calls were made to the ECANSW by concerned members to reprimand Cumberland Ecology for issues relating to their Maules Creek assessment, no action was taken by the association. At the same time, the number of prosecutions against consultants could be numbered on one hand, the number of successful litigation actions are fewer.

Meanwhile a few favoured companies continue to cash in at the end of the mining boom. But while mandated professional standards would help to achieve more transparent outcomes, the problem in this sector lays deeper.

It lies squarely with the relationship between the assessment process itself, the involvement of the proponents in the collection and analysis of the data and the roles played by the determining authorities. There is a clear conflict of interest that mining companies have to resolve environmental and social issues where there is an impediment to financial gain. Is it really the expectation that mining companies would undermine their own interest when billions are to be made? No reasonable person could say under these circumstances that the public interest would at all times be protected.

In order for this to happen, and to restore public faith in the planning and assessment process in NSW, an overhaul is needed. The most effective way and one which would require relatively little change to the system, would be to establish an independent environmental assessment authority which collects and analyses data on a project by project basis and provides that information to the regulator and the proponent Such a centralised approach would also facilitate cumulative impact assessment, a type of impact assessment which has been seriously neglected in NSW.

Environmental assets once destroyed can usually never be replaced. Despite what the new paradigm of offsetting purports to do – a loss is a loss even where time lags and changes in tenure are taken into account. The public of NSW deserve a higher stake in the future our environment that is now currently provided if we are to have a fairer and more sustainable balance between environmental and ‘economic’ outcomes. A more publically accountable and transparent planning and assessment process is urgently required in order to prevent further unnecessary damage to the quality and health of our natural environment.

Dystopian Reality – a Climate Change Future

A Climate Change Future

Predicting the future is a no-win scenario. There are so many variables that virtually anything is possible. Futurism inevitably becomes a matter of balancing likely outcomes from current trends, known factors and easily predictable future developments. Any attempt to predict the future will result in either one possible future or a range of possible futures. The one certain thing is that almost all the visions of the future must be wrong, because only one can be right.

This article offers one possible timeline for the next few decades, sketching environmental, socioeconomic, technological and military developments. This article considers the future between now and 2050 – well within the lifetimes of many reading this blog today. Consider it a thought experiment, designed to encourage consideration and discussion.

This timeline deliberately eschews disruptive events such as global pandemics, nuclear terrorism, asteroid impacts or the eruption of Yellowstone. These developments are possible, even (in the case of pandemic infections) likely, but placing them into a timeline would be entirely arbitrary, and the future may well unfold without them. Similarly, no deus ex machinae are included: there is no recourse to world-saving geoengineering or biotechnology developments. Altogether, what follows is a not unreasonable extrapolation of what the near future might hold for us, our children and our grandchildren.

These developments are all sourced in current literature and scientific research and linked directly to supporting evidence and analysis. These are processes that are happening now, and unless human civilisations immediately and radically change course, will continue to their inevitable end. An understanding of these likelihoods is necessary before we can honestly address the challenges of climate change, as the Paris agreements of 2015 recede into our past.

2016 – 2025

In the third world, civil unrest that arose in the early years of the 21st century continues unabated. Over the decades, the US and allies expend profligate effort to viciously subdue Islamic insurgencies in Syria and Iran, but new conflicts spring up more quickly than they can be put down. By 2025 the American people are thoroughly tired of continuing wars and American deaths and the US scales back its involvement, followed by its allies. The Middle East and large parts of the South-East Pacific dissolve into squabbles and conflict, swelling the ranks of refugees from tens of thousands into the low millions. The spark for all of these conflicts is increasing food scarcity and lack of drinkable water.

In Europe, the continued and growing influx of migrants contributes to the rise of right-wing political movements and a tightening of borders. In a desperate attempt to preserve the EU as member countries squabble over refugee policy and relative responsibilities, the Common European Asylum System border protection policy is progressively tightened and, slowly, refugee resettlement efforts give way to the establishment of giant refugee camps in barely habitable areas. The misery in these camps puts Australia’s Nauru to shame.

In Asia, China is pushing strongly for hegemony in the Pacific and the Arctic and Antarctic. Small chains of islands in the Pacific are claimed by China and forcibly pacified despite opposition. The territorial claims include oil fields and China doesn’t take long to start enforcing its ownership there. Other nations suffer as a result as they lose energy sources, but can’t challenge China. China is taken to international courts for a variety of cases, but while the legal proceedings drag on for years, China doesn’t hesitate to consolidate its hold, building artificial islands and industrial city-complexes as bases for its military forces. At the same time, enormous resources are poured into renewable energy generation. China begins to take a lead in solar and wind technology but does not share this technology easily. Large parts of China are becoming desertified at a rapid rate, with internal displacement of millions of Chinese into more fertile areas. Chinese cities, already congested, become ever more crowded and poor. China responds by commencing construction on new urban centres, completely powered by renewable energy, each built as industrial or research hubs.

Drilling for oil by US companies commences in the Arctic. However, China and Russia are also exploring here and not inclined to respect national borders and national territorial claims. This instability leads inevitably to clashes of forces, first between commercial enterprises (and, occasionally, environmental campaigners) and, later, military forces as all sides start patrolling the area with their own navies to protect the operations of their drillers. The distinction between US government and commercial entities begins to blur, to match the situation with both China and Russia. Meanwhile, the effects of climate change continue to accelerate. Tornadoes and freak storms batter coastal cities such as New Orleans, while unprecedented bushfires rage across large parts of the continental US and destroy many consecutive seasons of crops. Food prices, already increasing rapidly, escalate further.

In Australia, the narrow election victory of a Labor government in 2016 gives brief hope to many climate observers, but these hopes fade as it becomes clear that the new government, whilst not as outspokenly climate hostile as the Abbott/Turnbull regime it replaced, is still constrained by the narrative created by it and by the general attitudes of a climate-skeptical populace. Policy adjustments to reduce reliance on coal and oil and to increase renewables are slow and tentative, and by 2025 Australia is still heavily coal dependent and still exporting large volumes of coal and LNG. However, as predicted in the early parts of the decade, the demand for coal has decreased markedly as target markets accelerate their move towards renewables as well as their own domestic sources. Accordingly, the export price of coal and gas has fallen significantly, putting increasing pressure on Australia’s economy.

The economic downturn causes problems for Labor. The 2024 election sees a return to power of conservatives, but after eight years in the wilderness this new breed of liberals are far truer to the description and bring a raft of climate policies to the table, painting Labor as being “the friend of Big Coal”. By 2025, deep government “transition” subsidies to existing fossil fuel companies are on offer, but this disrupts the burgeoning renewable energy market which has until now been dominated by new entrants and innovators. 2024 sees the start of a process where most renewable energy companies and entrepeneurs will be bought up by BP, Shell, Exxon and others. By 2024, the first generation of university leavers, beneficiaries of Labor’s education investments, are graduating and entering the workforce.

It is likely that the first off-Earth colony will be established on Mars. Manned exploration of near-earth asteroids is either planned or commenced.

2025 – 2050

Rising sea levels, declining rainfall and frequent heatwaves are combining to turn vast swathes of South Asia uninhabitable. Asian and African countries are slowly but surely depopulating, both through climate refugee immigration and through deaths to disease, dehydration and starvation. Climate refugees are now an unstoppable tide numbering in the millions, swamping Europe as they arrive daily by the thousands. The EU is attempting to enforce borders with paramilitary forces but the refugees are too desperate and borders too expansive to be successfully patrolled.

Europe is now populated by two subgroups: Citizens and non-Citizens. Two parallel economies now exist. The grey economy is populated by and largely serves illegal immigrants. Not being covered by social support or healthcare from European governments, immigrant populations look after their own needs as much as possible, but are treated as second-class citizens. Crime, while still low on a per-capita basis, has exploded and public areas are now constantly patrolled by heavily armed police forces.

Populations already strongly influenced by hard-right governing parties, the first pogroms of the 21st century commence in some European countries.

In Asia, territorial wars are breaking out. Some are short skirmishes but the whole region is a simmering pot of conflicts. North Korea annexes South; without the US being willing to come to the aid of the South, the North has military superiority. However, within a few years the unified Korea is on the verge of collapse as, rather than benefiting from the economy and technology of the South, the whole of Korea starts to devolve towards its conquerors. By 2050, Korea attempts military expansion elsewhere but fails in its attempt at imperialism, and Korea collapses into a failed state. Japan is now fully self-sufficient, imports no oil and is falling behind economically; however, powered almost entirely by nuclear, the populace is relatively content. Rising sea levels are a concern for Japanese policymakers and resources are poured into levies and protection efforts. China is aggressively advancing its space exploration program and has a permanent settlement on Mars (and one on the Moon). It is starting to mine asteroids for rare minerals and metals.

China’s investment is starting to pay off, with thousands of high-level scientists and engineers living in custom-built technology cities, many completely enclosed in atmospheric domes: technology developed for their Mars colonies is now adapted for use on Earth. Inland desertification is continuing and food production is the country’s biggest ongoing concern. Coal is completely phased out for energy generation. At the same time, laws are passed banning export of fossil fuels. China begins construction of enormous enclosed farms for fish and crops, and continues an aggressive program of purchasing arable land in Australia and other locations. These efforts are now meeting with resistance as other governments see the signs but global courts and national economic systems are slow to react.

The global oil crisis plunges America into a deep depression, as the price of oil extraction climbs to make fossil fuels uneconomic. Attempts are made to leverage renewable and distributed power generation, but the process has been too slow and costs are extreme: the transition was not accomplished while energy was cheap. The US reduces its military spending to focus on a new insular approach – gone is the “muscular diplomacy” doctrine, as the government simply can’t afford to continue it and still put the resources into decarbonising the economy. Strong legislation is drafted to recraft the economy, putting caps on corporate and individual profits and ensuring a greater proportion goes to government revenue. Rebates and exceptions are drafted if individuals put significant resources into approved renewable energy projects. Belatedly the US starts subsidising renewable energy generation programs, but the oil crisis puts a significant brake on these efforts. Exacerbating the concerns for America, many of its cities are slowly becoming too hot for habitation. Americans still live in New York and Washington, but the hotter climate is having a measurable impact on productivity.

By 2030, China has banned the use of coal for energy generation, closing one of Australia’s major export markets entirely. India is advanced in its push to renewable energy and domestic coal sources, and the majority of Australia’s export coal has no buyer. The price of coal-fired energy in Australia plummets, putting downwards pressure on renewable energy research and take-up; nonetheless, major coal miners go out of business. The Australian economy is in terminal decline with high levels of unemployment nationwide and continual government deficits. New political microparties are in the ascendancy as both Labor and the Liberals suffer from public dissatisfaction, but the microparties do not have the strength or discipline to govern for the country’s future; governance devolves into a multitude of partisan interests, populist policies and pork barrelling. Australia has a brief advantage from an influx of technology students, but with few high-tech companies to employ new graduates and a new conservative government reluctant to fund placements and subsidies, many are forced to seek work overseas.

Some parts of Australia are becoming difficult to live in: the vaunted “New North” program is stalling due to high levels of heat stress, regular flooding and low productivity due to high wet-bulb readings. Towards the end of this period, the collapse in farmland, the continued sale to China and others of food-producing territory, and lowering aquifers and water levels are major concerns. Food prices are increasing. Meat, in particular, is becoming too expensive to eat regularly, and most Australians’ diets now include less meat overall. The 2040s see the last of the baby boomers retiring. Government revenue is insufficient to pay for comfortable social security for many, and the ranks of the elderly poor are swelling. Healthcare is also overstretched and death rates among both the young and the elderly are rising.

Beyond 2050

The world after 2050 may appear, to our 2016 eyes, as a dystopia, but this is no fantasy. There are no happy endings in store. The seeds which are planted over the next thirty years – both good and bad – will direct the fate of humanity as the state of the planet Earth continues to deteriorate.

By the 2050s, the Amazon rainforest is in irreversible decline. Deforestation by humans, combined with wildfires exacerbated by climate change, have had an irreversible effect. The eventual death of the rainforest is now a certainty, and as the forest itself plays a major role in regulating the planet’s climate, its loss is one further accelerant to climate change.

The most immediate outcome is the emergence of major human diseases. As climate change pushes humans and remote insect and mammalian species into direct contact and conflict, new animal-to-human diseases emerge with alarming regularity. Fortunately, most of these diseases are suppressed before they become airborne and cut a swathe through remaining human populations, but each new disease emergency has the potential to kill millions.

International flight has been curtailed: a combination of oil shortage and punishing carbon restrictions means that jet fuel is too expensive. There’s nowhere to go, in any case: people now want to escape tropical locations with their daytime temperatures in the 40s, rather than travelling there for holidays. The Great Barrier Reef has been dead for decades, and the annual vacation overseas is now, except for the very wealthy, an indulgence of the past.

By the second half of the 21st century, death from starvation is one of the major killers of humans. Large swathes of Asia, Africa and central Europe are becoming quickly depopulated. Deserts are spreading across the United States midwest, and it is likely that at some point in the century, one or more States may secede from the union. By 2100, it seems likely that the United States will be united no longer.

Disunity in the former European Union is no less severe. Pressures over resources and land, particularly water, lead to armed conflicts. The European wars of this era are localised and in many cases informal, but they are wars nonetheless. Some smaller countries are either annexed by their neighbours, or left without sufficient water resources to feed their own peoples. Other European countries are dealing with their own civil wars or popular uprisings, ostensibly on grounds of race or nationality, but triggered by food and water shortages caused by climate change.

By the late 21st century, capitalism as we know it will have been largely replaced by a kind of socialism. The loss of the oil economy has the effect of making individual prosperity much more difficult, as a large proportion of energy generation comes from state-owned solar and wind farms that dwarf those run by private concerns. Continued and growing pressure from an ever-expanding base of unemployed citizens requires an ever-increasing investment into social security. Governmental caps and curbs on individual profit gradually metamorphise into a socialist structure, and the most prosperous in society receive an increasing proportion of their windfall gains in non-monetary forms.

By the time 2100 arrives, it is likely that our planet will be harsh and unforgiving, covered in billowing deserts and rising oceans. Sea levels will continue to rise, unstoppably, for the next three hundred years at least, and by the time this process is over they will be a minimum of six metres higher than now. This will entirely cover the vast majority of current human cities, but sheer physics constrain how quickly this can happen, and human civilisation will have either collapsed or entirely changed by then.

If humans survive in this new world, most likely they will exist in artificial environments. These self-contained cities will utilise much of the renewable energy they gather for cooling, for water purification, and for agriculture. We are building a future where we will need to be terraforming our own planet in order to continue to live there.

Near-term future

The 20th century saw immense changes in human technology, civilisation and society. The development of mankind is an accelerating trajectory, and the first decades of this century have showed that we’re not slowing down. However, the effects of climate change place severe constraints on the direction of our species for the immediate future.

The one thing that can surely be said of the next hundred years is that the world in 2100 will be mostly unrecognisable to what we know today. The predictions made in this article are strongly supported by current trends and analysis, but may easily prove to be conservative. What we do know is that we will see this future coming to pass.

Humans aren’t great at planning for the long term: anything outside of our own lifetime is so remote that we don’t generally bear it in mind when making decisions. However, we are capable of making long-term plans for our own future – we consider our retirement needs, the schooling of our children, our investments into property. So consider this: those taking out a new mortgage now will see this future shaping around them. People are buying houses now that will be underwater before the mortgage is fully paid. Or, to put it another way:

This future is nine elections away.

Transatlantic aviation is the latest sector that needs to confront the reality of climate change

By Dr Anthony Horton

According to a ground-breaking study published on 10 February 2015, transatlantic aviation is the latest in a growing number of sectors that needs to confront the reality of climate change. The effects of aviation on climate change has been known for some time through greenhouse emissions and contrails. A study by Paul Williams from the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading UK is one of the first to indicate that climate change will have important consequences for aviation.  Williams’ study, entitled ‘Transatlantic flight times and climate change’, examines how flight times and routes between Heathrow airport in London and John F Kennedy Airport in New York change when the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration is doubled.

At ground level, warmer air reduces the lift force on the wings of departing aircraft. As a consequence, it is likely that take-off weight restrictions may be more stringent in the future. Clear air turbulence is increasing in the lower stratosphere (approximately 10 kilometres or 33,000 feet above the earth’s surface) due to wind shears that are destabilising the atmosphere at these levels. Turbulence in this part of the atmosphere is a significant issue as 33,000 feet is a common cruising altitude and can cause discomfort for passengers. This discomfort can be particularly severe if turbulence is a frequent occurrence during a flight.

Using wind fields generated from climate model simulations which were fed into an operational flight path algorithm used by flight planners, Williams reported that stronger jet stream winds makes eastbound flights (from New York to London) shorter (under 5.5 hours) and westbound flights (from London to New York) longer (7 hours) all year round. Therefore, round trip journey times increase. The largest increase in round trip times is expected in autumn, with the smallest increase expected in spring and summer.

Extrapolating his results to all transatlantic flights and even without any growth in the number of these flights, Williams reports that aircraft will spend an extra 2200 hours in the air, burn an extra 7.2 million gallons of fuel, and emit an extra 70,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. These figures are based on 300 round trips per day, at a fuel cost of US$3 per gallon and a carbon dioxide emission rate of 9.6 kg per gallon.

The route flown between two airports which minimises the total distance travelled is known as the ‘great circle’ which is the spherical (the shape of the earth) equivalent of a straight line. Aircraft deviate from the great circle to benefit from tailwinds (behind them) or to avoid headwinds (in front of them) and therefore minimise the flight time. The North Atlantic flight corridor between Europe and North America is one of the busiest flight paths in the world. Approximately 600 flights cross this corridor each day.  Williams’ results reveals that the probability of eastbound (from New York to London) flight times less than 5.5 hours more than doubles as the carbon dioxide concentration doubles.

The current record for the shortest flight time between New York and London is 5 hours and 16 minutes on 8 January last year. This time was achieved thanks to an unusually strong tailwind from an unusually fast jet stream. Williams reports that record flight times such as this may become more common, however he also reports that the likelihood of flight times of more than 7 hours from London to New York will double as a result of having to fly into strong headwinds, and therefore delayed arrivals in North America will become increasingly common.

I must admit to finding the basis of Williams’ study and his results very intriguing. My first thought is whether the cost of transatlantic flights will increase. I would think the logical answer would be yes, given the cost of increased fuel consumption reported by Williams even without an increase in the number of flights. I can’t imagine airlines would be keen to absorb such a cost.  I would be very interested in the results of a study on flights out of any Australian International airport given the number of tourists visiting Australia each year and Australia’s isolation relative to other nations.

The ‘Transatlantic flight times and climate change’ study clearly shows that like a growing number of other sectors, the aviation industry must grapple with the realities of climate change and face it’s challenges. Flight times, fuel consumption and take-off weights are obviously some of the important factors that will require airlines’ critical attention. On the basis of Williams’ work, these factors are increasing crucial to their business model. The increases reported by Williams may even force a rethink of airline operations given that, like many global corporations, airlines are answerable to employees and shareholders. There is little point denying that flights are an important part of human business, personal interactions and recreation. Equally there is little point denying that climate change is already exerting an influence on many other aspects of life on a global scale. Thus it is important for Governments and citizens alike to play their respective parts in fighting global climate changes so we can continue to spread our wings.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

 

Strategic timing for the EU transition to a low carbon economy is crucial

By Dr Anthony Horton

According to a report published by the Advisory Scientific Community of the European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) on Thursday 11 February 2016, the right timing of the transition to a low carbon economy in the European Union is crucial. The report entitled ‘Too late, too sudden: Transition to a low-carbon economy and systemic risk’ describes how while starting the transition too soon would still allow for economic costs to be effectively managed, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would increase in the medium term unless additional emissions reduction policies are implemented. Leave the transition too late, and the transition to a low carbon economy would be need to abrupt and both the economic and environmental costs would be significantly higher than a slow transition. The ideal scenario would be to commence as soon as possible and implement additional emissions reduction policies so economic costs can be managed while emissions reductions can be achieved.

Leaving the transition too late will expose the economies of European Union member states to three risks as follows:

  • A sudden transition away from fossil fuel energy could significantly harm Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as the demand for alternative energy sources could dramatically exceed supply. In this scenario the cost of those alternative sources could increase dramatically
  • The market and investors could value carbon intensive assets differently. In this scenario the most carbon intensive assets are at high risk of becoming stranded
  • The frequency of natural disasters could increase as a result of climate change. In this scenario the liabilities carried by general insurers and reinsurers would increase.

The Paris Climate Change conference held in November 2015 demonstrated that there is a need for decisive policy action on climate change if the global average temperature increase is to be kept at a maximum of 2°C. Beyond 2°C, the consequences could be irreversible and catastrophic. While pledges to reduce emissions over the coming decades were made in Paris with conviction, there was far less conviction regarding the timing and speed of these emissions reductions.

According to the ESRB report, a late transition to a low carbon economy is likely based on an extrapolation of the emission reduction pledges made by countries attending the Paris Climate Change conference.

If European Union member Governments implement their pledges early, a ‘soft landing’ is possible. In a soft landing scenario, the transition to a low carbon economy would be planned, managed and gradual, allowing sufficient time for the replacement of fossil fuel infrastructure without driving energy costs unsustainably high. Carbon pricing and the higher marginal cost of renewable energy may result in a short-term energy price increase however the transition to a low carbon economy would not be adversely impacted. Policy innovations such as a carbon tax for fossil fuels would incentivise a shift to renewable energy.

In the medium to long-term under a soft landing, energy prices are likely to decrease as the production of renewable energy becomes more efficient. A transition to a low carbon economy could have a positive effect on European Union member economies. This positive effect is on the basis of new technologies arising from innovation, new jobs being created and lower production costs.

Starting too late would require the sudden implementation of constraints on the use of carbon intensive energy and could result in a ‘hard landing’. In this scenario, energy prices may spike sharply. There may not be sufficient energy available for European Union citizens given that technologies such as renewables may not be market ready. Fossil fuel energy infrastructure and companies with carbon intensive resources or technologies may also be stranded. Policy interventions at such a late stage could require extremely dramatic emissions reductions across the European Union. In addition, coordinating emission reductions on a global scale is difficult at the best of times, so attempting to coordinate with other countries in a short time period would be extremely difficult.

Published relatively soon after the 2015 Paris Climate Change conference, this ERSB report addresses the main concern I had with the conference’s outcome. I don’t want to take anything away from the groundbreaking achievement of gaining agreement from more than 190 countries – however, I thought that waiting 5 years for countries to compare notes on progress on the emissions reductions they have achieved since the Paris Climate Change conference is too long. The ‘Too late, too sudden: Transition to a low- carbon economy and systemic risk’ report should be read and acted upon as soon as possible by Governments within the European Union and beyond so the economic costs of the transition can be managed and emissions reduction policies can be implemented to reduce emissions. I appreciate the honesty of the ESRB’s assessment of the emissions reduction pledges made in Paris, and that the report spells out end points of early and late transition scenarios. These scenarios need to be seen for what they are – evidence as to why the timing of a transition to a low carbon economy in the EU is critical.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

Off-grid power solutions in Africa set to present a $3.1 billion market for investors by 2020

By Dr Anthony Horton

According to a report entitled ‘Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2016’ published last month by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Lighting Global (a World Bank program), 1.2 billion people in Africa do not currently have access to a power grid. These people spend approximately $27 billion each year on lighting and mobile phone charging through the use of kerosene, candles and torches. This report predicts a bright future for off-grid power in Africa with sales of off grid solar power solutions presenting a $3.1 billion market for investors by 2020.

Lighting Global works with manufacturers, distributors, other development partners and end users to develop the off-grid lighting market through the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA). Lighting Global is the World Bank’s platform for supporting sustainable growth of the off-grid solar market in order to increase global access to energy. It provides market insights and steers the development of quality assurance frameworks for modern off-grid lighting systems, and promotes sustainability.

GOGLA is an independent not for profit association which supports the progress of lighting solutions that benefit society and businesses in developing and emerging markets around the world. It acts as an industry advocate and aids the growth of clean, quality off-grid lighting and electricity. In doing so, it contributes to the objectives of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) initiatives.

The IFC and the World Bank currently jointly manage off-grid lighting programs in more than 10 African countries through the Lighting Africa program. The success of the Lighting Africa program so far has inspired similar programs in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Papua New Guinea.

According to the ‘Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2016’ report, the off-grid solar market has experienced impressive growth across the globe over the last 5 years. During this time, more than 100 companies have stared producing solar lanterns and home solar kits for people without access to grid power, with over 20 million pico solar products sold by mid 2015. Pico solar products are those that include a solar panel with a capacity of less than 10 Watts. Examples of these products include portable lanterns and solar home systems.

Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia are leading the off-grid market and account for two thirds of the total sales of pico solar products. The World Bank has provided assistance to expand and develop the size of this market in Africa. Off-grid solar products are no longer regarded as niche in many African countries. More than 30 percent of people who don’t have access to grid power have a solar product at home, which has helped to create this vibrant market.

Companies in Africa that offer pay as you go (PAYG) options have managed to attract four times as much investment in half the amount of time, compared to companies selling pico solar products for cash. Twenty companies currently offer PAYG options, servicing approximately 500 000 customers, predominantly in East Africa. Investors anticipate better returns and faster growth from companies with PAYG options.

The ‘Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report 2016’ points to the market for off-grid solar products maturing rapidly. It predicts that 99 million households across the globe will constitute the market by 2020 – representing an approximate 4-fold increase from the 25 million households currently in the international market, with the market for simple solar lanterns expected to move towards pure price based competition and premium brand offerings. Companies selling these products will therefore need to agile and able to differentiate themselves from their competition through distribution partnerships, high value products and/or customer loyalty.

The fastest growth in the off-grid energy market is likely to be in Africa, where the uptake has been the most rapid.

I am convinced of the potential of off-grid power, and after reading the 2016 Off-Grid Solar Market Trends Report I am excited about its potential on three levels:

  • On one level, as a scientist I am excited by the innovative off-grid power solutions that are being developed
  • On the second level, I am excited by collaborations between organisations such as the World Bank, the IFC and GOGLA
  • Lastly, I am excited by the possibilities that innovative financing options such as PAYG offer in terms of increasing access to off grid power

I believe that this report effectively balances the needs of those who don’t have access to grid power with the need for investors to feel they can achieve a sufficient return in order for them to provide finance so that off-grid solutions can be developed, marketed and sold. The report articulates the benefits of off-grid power supplies not only in rural African communities but also as an example to other developing as well as developed countries.

From a purely economic standpoint, a $3.1 billion market for investors in Africa is very significant. If extended beyond Africa the mind boggles as to the size of the opportunity for investors. From the point of view of industry, there is huge growth opportunity within Africa and beyond, both in terms of jobs and innovative new products. Lastly, and by no means least, from an environmental standpoint, off grid solutions will certainly make a difference in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

 

Developing countries invested a record $156 billion in renewable energies in 2015

By Dr Anthony Horton

According to a report entitled ‘Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016’ published this month published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the developing world including China, India and Brazil invested a record $156 billion in renewable energy technologies in 2015. This represents a 19% increase in the amount invested by developing countries in 2014. In 2015, China alone invested $102.9 billion, representing a 17% increase from their 2014 investment.

In contrast, developed countries invested $130 billion in renewable energies during 2015 – 8% lower than they invested in 2014. Investment in developed countries peaked at $191 billion in 2011, when there was an investment surge following a United States Treasury Grant and Federal Loan Guarantee Programs.

The ‘Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016’ report, a collaboration by the UNEP and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, highlighted this record global investment in renewable technology in 2015 – a record achieved despite sharp decreases in oil, coal and gas prices. As a result of this investment, a record 118 Gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) has been added to generating capacity worldwide. Renewable energies contributed nearly 54% of the capacity of all energy infrastructure installed globally in 2015, which was the first time renewables represented more than 50% of worldwide energy generation capacity.

Global investment in renewable energy capacity ($265.8 million) in 2015 was more than double the amount invested in energy derived from coal and gas last year ($130 million). In addition to significant contributions from China, India and Brazil, Mexico ($4 billion) and Chile ($3.4 billion) joined the top 10 list of countries investing in renewable energy technology. Just outside the top 10 were Morocco, Uruguay, the Philippines, Pakistan and Honduras – all of which invested more than $500 million in renewable energy technology in 2015.

Renewable energy investment in Europe in 2015 fell by 21.1% to $48.8 billion. In the United States, investment increased by 19% to $44.1 billion which represented the country’s highest investment since 2011. Investments in solar energy accounted for approximately two thirds of that total. Japan invested $36.2 billion as a result of a boom in small scale PV since 2014.

According to the ‘Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016’ report, the cost of renewable energy generation continued to fall in 2015. From July to December 2015, the global average cost of solar PV fell to $122 per megawatt hour (Mwh). In the second half of 2014, the global average cost of solar PV was $143 per Mwh. The current record lowest cost per Mwh is a 200 megawatt (MW) plant in Dubai being built at $58.50 Mwh by ACWA Power International

Policy support for renewable energy technology is far from stable around the world. Last month in the United States, the Supreme Court allowed a number of objections to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan to be heard in June this year prior to the implementation of the plan. Objections include the potentially high cost of implementing the Clean Power Plan and the need for job security in coal producing states. Recent drops in the prices of coal, oil and gas may also tempt some developing countries to maintain their reliance on fossil fuel capacity.

There is also increasing interest in battery storage as an accompaniment to solar PV and wind projects. In 2015, 250 MW of storage was installed worldwide, which represented a greater than 50% increase on the 160 MW of storage installed in 2014. The potential of storage to help balance variable renewable energy generation in developed countries and in remote areas of developing countries is an area of focus for the UNEP according to its report.

In the last 12 months I have read many reports and research articles on the rise of renewable energy technology around the world. I believe that renewable energy can make a significant contribution to decarbonising national (and ultimately) the global economy. It is also an important lever in the battle to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The ‘Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016’ report makes it clear that the developing world has a thirst for renewable energy investment and deployment – evidenced by the $156 billion investment in renewable energies in 2015. In contrast, it is clear that the developed world needs to redouble its efforts to increase investment in renewable energy technology in order to play its part in ensuring their economies are decarbonised and reducing global GHG emissions. In addition to increasing the level of financial investment in renewable energy, developed countries need to strengthen their policies and legislation to ensure that this increase in renewable energy investment is encouraged on an ongoing basis.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.