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Gore launches world's Dirty Weather Report

Superstorm Sandy has revived the issue of climate change in the US.

Superstorm Sandy has revived the issue of climate change in the US.

The prospect of increased weather extremes in Australia caused by a warming climate will feature prominently in an around-the-clock global webcast to be kicked off and concluded by former US vice-president Al Gore.

Peter Hannam blogs:

10.01pm: Seems like my laptop is about to pack it in. Japan and Korea up next...interesting, but enough for this blog for this evening. Cheerio.

9.54pm: Looks like that's about it from the two-hour period covering Australia. (Only the US has more than an hour.) Thanks for your interest this evening. The webcast goes for another 14 hours.

If you're interested to read more of Fairfax's coverage of these issues, see our Carbon Economy news index, or our environment news site.

9.50pm: David Karoly says Australia's carbon tax on the "first step" with much more needed. He calls it "crazy" that the country is choosing not to consume carbon but is promoting exports of coal and gas. He likens it to a drug addict giving up the drug but starting to push it to others instead.

9.48pm: Don Henry says next 20 years will see 3.7 million new jobs created, many of them in the green industries such as retrofitting buildings.

9.46pm: Transmission dropped out for a couple of minutes. Panel members talking about 400 companies paying the tax. (Accountants say there are 317 'liable' companies...and it turns out some of them will make money on their free permits.)

9.40pm: UofM's David Karoly notes companies can reduce their power consumption to cut how much tax they pay. (This is probably happening to a greater extent than modelling of 'price elasticity' might have suggested.)

9.38pm: ACF's Don Henry says carbon tax is "modest" at $23 a tonne. (Might want to prepare for a more modest number when the price floor ends in 2015.)

9.35pm: While program recaps, worth noting that US President Barack Obama will soon face a decision on whether to approve the Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline.

A study out today notes the Canadian oil sands release more planet-warming gases compared with other crudes than originally thought.

Oil sands refined in the United States released 9 per cent more greenhouse gases last year than the average of other crudes processed in the country, according to the study released by IHS CERA, an energy research group.

In 2010, the group estimated that the emissions from oil sands refined in the United States were only 6 percent higher than those from other crudes, Reuters noted.

9.30pm: Blogger question: How much do Australians link extreme weather and climate change? Let us know on this article.

9.26pm: David Karoly says extreme fire danger days will be four times as frequent in Australia unless action taken to curb carbon emissions heating up the atmosphere.

9.24pm: Worth pointing here to ABC Radio National's Science Show, from last week. Noted how hot days vs cold days in US have gone from a recent 2:1 ratio to as high as 9:1 for much of 2012.

9.22pm: Gore talks of "a new reality that is man-made." And it's accelerating. "And yet we are accustomed to understanding reality based on our prior experience." Tendency to interpret extremes as part of natural variability.

9.21pm: Al Gore notes projections in US imply fires will be larger and more of them. The spread of beetles also mean more dead trees, serving as kindling. (An earlier hour noted that warming weather meant these beetles now can breed twice each year. Maths start to look ugly.)

9.18pm: Ken Thompson notes that previous fire indexes have been updated to include "catastrophe". "Code Red" evacuation system now in place would have implied the evacuation of most of the state (3-4 million) had it been operational ahead of the Black Saturday fires.

9.16pm: ACF's Don Henry says Australians are becoming aware of climate change in wake of such disasters.

9.14pm: David Karoly discusses the conditions ahead of Black Saturday as 'unprecedented'. Ken Thompson, former deputy chief NSW fire commissioner, notes 173 deaths. He said fire behavior had been changing for the past 15 years or so. Fires, hailstorms and other issues are straining fire, other services.

9.08pm: Warming effects in western US, for instance, seen as a greater impact that any increase in rainfall resulting from climate change, a scientist says. (Sorry, can mostly listen but not watch...)

9.04pm: Now turning to Australia's fires, particularly Black Saturday's. The fires released the equivalent of 1500 atomic bombs, the announcer says. Notes Australia bracing for a tough fire season after 'rain storms' over recent couple of years.

9.02pm: Actually, the IEA's specific wording is this:

"No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 degree goal, unless carbon capture and storage technology is widely deployed."

8.58pm: The "Reality Report" noted fossil-fuel reserves amount to about five times the level of CO2 that the atmosphere can take and not exceed the "safe" increase of 2 degrees Celsius, versus pre-industrial levels. Actually the IEA also goes in that disconnect too...more on that in a minute.

8.53pm: Recapping, with Al Gore noting Australia was identified as "likely to experience extreme impacts" from climate change when climate models started to roll out about 30 years ago.

8.50pm: Bit more from the IEA's report noted below. It notes that Australia has $9.8 billion committed to port and rail projects to expand coal production and $16.7 billion invested in coal mines. Locks in a certain carbon profile.

8.45pm: Gore says he hopes newly re-elected US president Barack Obama will do more on climate change. (Worth checking out how Obama discussed the issue at his first media conference - read this report.)

8.44pm: Gore says CO2 should be treated like sewerage, other pollutants - even though it's odourless and colourless. If we pretend pollution doesn't exist in the market, we get more of it. When it gets a price, the market responds.

8.40pm: Al Gore says Australian climate scientists not attacked as they have been in some areas. (There has been unpleasantness, though, with University of Queensland's Ove Hoegh-Guldberg having his house egged, for instance.)

8.36pm: Don Henry says 400 Australians have been trained by Al Gore's organisation, with some 500,000 people reached by the 'climate leaders'.

8.35pm: David Karoly says carbon tax "has had very little impact on the economy," with smaller-than-expected price increases. Notes carbon intensity of power production has been falling for a couple of years. (Electricity demand is now roughly at 2004 levels.)

8.32pm: Don Henry says majority of Australians want action on climate change. "The fedar of the carbon price is finished," says Tim Flannery, Chief Commissioner of the Australian Climate Commission.

8.28pm: Re that "decarbonising" effort in Australia. Not sure it sits well with the forecasts for Australia's coal production plans, as outlined in the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2012 released this week.

Report says Australian coal output will rise by one quarter to 419 million tonnes by 2012.

8.24pm: Switching to international material. Notes that the Earth just marked its 329th consecutive month above  20th century average.

8.21pm:Gore credits Australian scientists' role in global climate change science. Notes shifting rainfall bands south. "Australia is really experiencing an outsized impact." Says Australian population is working on a decarbonised economy.

8.18pm: Fiona Armstrong, of the Climate and Health Alliance, notes the impact on health care services from Black Saturday fires and Queensland floods. Healthcare workers often themselves affected. Superstorm Sandy also test preparedness of health services. Notes also recent funding cuts to those services in Queensland.

8.15pm: ACF's Don Henry says half of hard coral cover of Great Barrier Reef lost over the past 20 years, and about half of that from climate change.

8.12pm: Al Gore notes "a dramatic awareness shift" among firefighters of Black Saturday. "We're first responders" to fire, now the first to respond to climate change, firefighters told him.

8.09pm: Larger increases seen in overnight temperatures seen over past 20 years or longer than daytime increases, making it harder to cool during heatwaves, Univrersity of Melbourne's David Karoly said.

8.07pm: Noted no known bleaching events on Great Barrier Reef before 1979. Eight bleaching events since.

More to come

 

Article resumes:

The 24 Hours of Reality: the Dirty Weather Report is the second annual event aimed at highlighting how climate change is already affecting every region of the world, with the likelihood of worsening extremes as fossil fuel burning raises greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

Mr Gore launched the panel from New York at noon, Sydney and Melbourne time, with Australia featured over two hours, starting from 8pm, AEDT.

“The emphasis of the Australian panel will be dirty weather in Australia, increases in temperature and hot extremes in Australia and their impacts on increasing the frequency of extreme fire weather, and impacts on the Great Barrier Reef and other natural systems,” David Karoly, a professor of meteorology at the University of Melbourne, said.

“Australia is one of the biggest contributors to the causes of dirty weather, as it has the highest per person emissions of greenhouse gases among all developed countries,” he said. “It also exports large amounts of fossil fuels to other countries, coal and natural gas, which also cause more dirty weather but are not counted in Australia's emissions.”

Others on the panel during the Australian session include Fiona Armstrong, founder of the Climate and Health Alliance; Don Henry, chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation; and Ken Thompson, a risk management consultant and former New South Wales deputy fire commissioner.

Obama role

While scientists generally downplay the link between any single weather event and a warming climate, interest in the connection has intensified in recent months, particularly in the US.

The country endured its worst drought in decades, sending global food prices higher. Last month's superstorm, which devastated large parts of the US north-east just days before the US elections, also rekindled interest in climate change - an issue largely absent from the political debates to that point.

Re-elected US President Barack Obama told his first media conference overnight that melting ice caps and increasing global temperatures are signs climate change is real and that he will seek to mitigate the damage from the phenomenon.

The impact of a warming globe will be costly, and steps to cut carbon in the atmosphere will also require big investments. As a result, confronting climate change will be a difficult political undertaking, President Obama said.

"You can expect that you will hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support," the President said.

Last year's Climate Reality webcast drew 8.6 million views over the internet worldwide.

Adam Majcher, acting manager for The Climate Reality Project in Australia, said the timing this year was also important with international climate talks to begin in Doha, Qatar, later this month.

“Without countries bringing strong commitments to the table in Doha, we're setting ourselves on a course to expose ourselves to these extreme weather events more frequently,” Mr Majcher said.

“During the 24 hours, we will ask people to sign a pledge and join a global movement to demand action,” he said.

'Vulnerable'

Ms Armstrong, from the Climate and Health Alliance, said climate change and extreme weather events posed serious risks to human health and wellbeing, exposure that applied to people in both developed and developing countries.

“The Queensland floods, Cyclone Yasi, and the Black Saturday bushfires show that extreme weather doesn’t discriminate – we are all equally vulnerable the harm this events can cause," Ms Armstrong said. "These events not only has serious implications for harm to infrastructure but have devastating effects on employment, with loss of livelihood and loss of social cohesion - all of which impact adversely on health and wellbeing.”

She cited a recent global report, the 2012 DARA Climate Vulnerability Monitor: A Guide to the Cold Calculus of a Hot Planet, commissioned by 20 governments, which argued that a failure to act on climate change is costing the global economy $1.2 trillion annually and is responsible for 400,000 deaths each year.

Losses are expected to increase rapidly, with 6 million deaths per annum expected by 2030 and leaving a net global loss of GDP of 3.2 per cent a year, the report found.

- with Reuters

62 comments

  • "Australia is one of the biggest contributors to the causes of dirty weather, as it has the highest per person emissions of greenhouse gases among all developed countries,” he said."

    This is why politicians shouldn't open their mouth about scientific matters. The atmosphere doesn't give a rat's rectal about "per person" anything. The total amount is the only thing that matters, but that would mean considering the output of developing countries as actual output, not mitigated by social sensitivities.

    For instance, while our output per person is a quarter of China's, their total output is 15 times ours. India's output per person is a mere ~5% of ours, but their total is 3 times higher. Both countries are increasing at a rate more than double our rate of increase. Let's keep things in perspective and a little bit factual. Just a little. I'm not asking for actual common sense or anything.

    Commenter
    JTO
    Date and time
    November 15, 2012, 1:18PM
    • And how much of China's and India's Carbon footprint coming for giving us in the developed countries cheap stuff?

      Commenter
      Alex
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 1:48PM
    • I agree. A more accurate picture might be obtained if we split the emissions between the manufacturer, the consumer, and all the middle persons. We don't buy all that much from India, but China should be able to share their emissions with the world. That way we might have to care what sort of processes they use, because at the moment, out of sight, out of mind, like the pollution emitted during the manufacturer of "green" items like solar cells and electric car batteries.

      Commenter
      JTO
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 2:12PM
    • That is entirely correct in principle.

      It is also correct in principle that you cannot avoid it ending up in the air unless you stop taking it out of the ground in the first place.

      The matter is a bit more complicated than this.
      In the end it is up to PEOPLE and what PEOPLE do.
      And if the worst polluters do nothing with the excuse that 'my personal contribution doesn't matter', how on earth will anything be addressed at all?!!

      Commenter
      Angantyr
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 2:32PM
    • Alex
      You can't double count.
      We must then deduct the oil imports to Australia we use for our transport.

      Commenter
      waza
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 2:33PM
    • But if China's per-person GHG output rises to Australian levels as their economy continues to develop, their total output will be 60 times ours. Hence the need to continue developing cheap renewable energy generation for all markets.

      Commenter
      spanner
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 2:33PM
    • spot on JTO .
      Perhaps we all ought to reduce our personal emissions? Now that Bob Brown has retired, does he sit at home and run his various campaigns via the technology we have - the internet etc? No he is frightfully old fashioned and flies around the world hither and thither burning fossil fuels and adding to his carbon imprint . How 2 faced can he get.

      Commenter
      liz
      Location
      perth
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 4:01PM
    • About 90% of the population of our world is in the northern hemisphere, as is most of the world's land mass. Countries in the Southern Hemisphere have virtually no effect on the climate of the planet. To say per capita emissions of Australia are high is the height of ignorance. They are high, per capita, because this big country has less population than an average city in China. Emissions for all countries in the southern hemisphere are virtually non-existent as a proportion of the whole. Only idiots repeat that statement about per-capita emissions. If we had a billion people, Australia's emissions would be among the lowest per capita, but extremely high overall.

      Commenter
      Colin Spencer
      Location
      Kangaroo Ground Vic
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 6:13PM
    • @ liz. And just what are you doing to make the world a better place?

      It's OK to sit there and slag off Bob Brown - but only if you are part of the solution. It definitely sounds like you aren't...

      Commenter
      doh
      Date and time
      November 15, 2012, 7:20PM
  • And for an alternative view, tune in to Watts Up With That.

    I know, I know it may be a sceptical and lukewarm view but it's not heretical to look at all points of a discussion for something that's meant to be this important.

    Commenter
    Ricardo
    Date and time
    November 15, 2012, 1:32PM

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