Thursday, October 23, 2008

Melbourne's spring drought set to send rainfall records to a new low

The Age, Melbourne, Australia
Peter Ker
October 24, 2008
Low levels in the Thomson Dam.

Low levels in the Thomson Dam.


MELBOURNE is closing in on a number of unwelcome records, as the severe lack of spring rain continues to worry scientists and water officials.

The city could yet achieve the lowest rainfall for the first two months of spring, and in an extreme case, could still record its lowest yearly rainfall result.

The dry conditions are reviving debate about how the Government can best secure Melbourne's water supply.

A political storm erupted yesterday after comments by Melbourne Water chairwoman Cheryl Batagol about the uncertainty of future supplies.

The Bureau of Meteorology's head of climate analysis, Dr David Jones, said the 11.6 millimetres recorded at the cental Melbourne station during October was "just woeful" compared to the monthly average of 67 millimetres.

"October used to be the wettest month of the year, but also probably the most reliable, so you had this double benefit," he said.

After last month was crowned Melbourne's driest-ever September, Dr Jones said the first eight weeks of spring had yielded a "shocking" 23.8 millimetres.

The lowest result for the first two months of spring was 35.2 millimetres in 1914, while the average for the two months combined is 124 millimetres.

Dr Jones said Melbourne was likely to get some rain over the last week of October but there was a strong chance of the combined September and October record being broken.

"Almost any rain we get from now on, it's not going to do any good in terms of run-off unless we get astonishing falls … our soils are as dry as what you would expect in mid-summer."

Melbourne has received 309 millimetres in 2008, meaning that — although unlikely — a new record could be set below the 332 millimetres experienced in 1967.

Melbourne Water said storages were now 104 billion litres lower than at the same time last year, which equates to about 100 days of typical water consumption.

Ms Batagol told The Age this week that the Government's $4.9 billion water plan — which includes a desalination plant and the north-south pipeline — might not be enough to secure supply for the next 50 years.

But she backed away from her comments on radio yesterday, saying she was confident there would be enough supply for the next 50 years.

Victorian National Party leader Peter Ryan said Ms Batagol's concerns supported the Opposition's doubts over the amount of water available for the north-south pipeline.

But acting Water Minister Gavin Jennings said the continuing low rainfall highlighted the importance for Victoria of desalination — which does not rely on rainfall.

Green routes to growth

Recession is the time to build a low-carbon future with the investment vital for economy and planet

There are two crucial lessons we must learn from the financial turbulence the world has been facing. First, this crisis has been 20 years in the making and shows very clearly that the longer risk is ignored the bigger will be the consequences; second, we shall face an extended period of recession in the rich countries and low growth for the world as a whole. Let us learn the lessons and take the opportunity of the coincidence of the crisis and the deepening awareness of the great danger of unmanaged climate change: now is the time to lay the foundations for a world of low-carbon growth.

High-carbon growth - business as usual - will by mid-century have taken greenhouse gas concentrations to a point where a major climate disaster is very likely. We risk a transformation of the planet so radical that it would involve huge population movements and widespread conflict. Put simply, high-carbon growth will choke off growth. To manage the climate, we must cut world emissions by at least 50% by 2050, as recognised by the G8 earlier this year. Given that rich countries' emissions are far above the world average, their cuts should be at least 80%, acknowledged in Europe and the UK, with the adoption of that target last week.

In recent days, Bank of England governor Mervyn King and Gordon Brown have indicated that Britain is heading into recession. We do not know how long it will last, but it is unlikely to be short. The relevant policies are being put in place to avoid plunging the UK further into crisis and to start constructing a more robust financial system. But as banks rebuild balance sheets and look for higher capital ratios they will have to restrict lending. Monetary policy alone, important though it is, is unlikely to pull us out of the recession quickly: fiscal policy to expand demand must play a role. But increased government spending should be focused not just on boosting short-term demand. We must promote growth that can be sustained.

The coming period of growth can be firmly based in the low-carbon infrastructure and investments that will not only be profitable, with the right policies, but also allow for a safer, cleaner and quieter economy and society. And if, as we must, we halt deforestation - the source of 20% of greenhouse gas emissions - at the same time we can also protect and enhance our biodiversity and water systems.

The International Energy Agency estimates that world energy infrastructure investments are likely to average about $1 trillion a year over the next 20 years. If the majority of this is low-carbon, and some of it is brought forward, it will be an outstanding source of investment demand. So too will be the investments for energy efficiency, many of which can be labour-intensive and are available immediately.

It is surely clear that a programme can be put together which both boosts demand in the short term and prepares for efficient, strong and sustainable growth in the medium term. It must be structured carefully with the public and private sectors working together. It will be the private sector that makes most of the investments, but the public sector must shape the incentives and the investment climate that allows the investment to take place. That will mean working with the EU and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen to sustain a price for carbon, by use of carbon trading and taxation. It means regulation, for instance, on car emissions to give clear signals that allow economies of scale and reduce uncertainty.

It is not, however, just a matter of the right motivation for the private sector and the appropriate scale and structure of public spending. The investment climate must be right, too. There could be a clear limit on time for planning decisions and a national energy strategy that shapes decisions. We should have a very open-minded attitude to technology and let the markets decide which to choose, without putting obstacles in the way that might arise from an antipathy to a particular technology. Demonstration of carbon capture and storage for coal and gas on a commercial scale in electricity generation should be a special priority, given the likely prevalence of coal in the future growth of many countries. Reform of the grid structure will be necessary to allow decentralised and local decisions for generation such as wind, solar and combined heat and power. And the energy strategy must factor in energy security and peak-load supply. With sound policies all this is possible, consistent with low-carbon technologies.

The next few years present a great opportunity to lay the foundations of a new form of growth that can transform our economies and societies. Let us grow out of this recession in a way that both reduces risks for our planet and sparks off a wave of new investment which will create a more secure, cleaner and more attractive economy for all of us. And in so doing, we shall demonstrate for all, particularly the developing world, that low-carbon growth is not only possible, but that it can also be a productive and efficient route to overcome world poverty.

• Lord Stern is IG Patel professor of economics and government at the LSE and leader of the Stern Review 2006 on the economics of climate change

On our present course, the bold new carbon target is worthless

The decision by Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, to commit Britain to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 is welcome. Recent research has made it clear that the government's previous target of a 60 per cent reduction would be insufficient to help halt profound climate change this century. New measures were required.

But we should note that setting goals is the easy part of fighting global warming; implementing them is harder. This point is demonstrated in the report in The Observer today on Britain's wind energy programme. This is supposed to ensure that a third of all UK electricity is generated by onshore and offshore turbines by 2020. But it is now facing collapse, a victim of rising costs, planning blockages and poor investment. Government action is falling well short of its rhetoric.

The failure to insist that carbon capture devices be fitted to the proposed new coal-fired power plant at Kingsnorth provides another example. Without such machinery, vast amounts of carbon dioxide will be pumped into the atmosphere, making nonsense of the UK's commitment to combat global warming. Transport policy is similarly unenlightened. The government backs motorway construction schemes and continues to call for cuts in petrol prices, ignoring the environmental implications. It also refuses to include aviation fuel in its climate change calculations - as if ignoring its consumption means it will no longer be heating the planet. Likewise, a commitment to the expansion of UK airports seriously undermines our claim to be climate change champions.

The government must establish a consistent attitude to global warming and back this with significant investments. It should provide a national electricity grid that can carry power from remote wind turbines to cities; develop a wave and tidal power energy programme that will take advantage of our marine expertise; and create carbon capture schemes that will allow us to build a new generation of coal power plants.

It is also clear that the world's current economic crisis provides no excuse for failing to make proper investments and hard political decisions. The 2006 report by Sir Nicholas Stern showed the costs of acting will be vastly outweighed by the costs of not acting. The government must therefore be resolute - and consistent.

Climate crime outbreak may occur: study

Published October 23, 2008 09:34 AM

Climate crime outbreak may occur: study


Australia may need to brace for an outbreak of climate crime as the world warms and greenhouse gas emissions reduction plans are imposed, a new study warns.

The crime could take the form of complex frauds involving carbon trading schemes to water theft and even more hot weather-induced drunkenness and domestic violence.

Also, climate change could provoke violent protests over perceived inadequate government responses, a paper by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) says.

The institute's research director Anthony Bergin and a former analyst Ross Allen said there was an emerging body of literature relating to the impact of climate change on national security.

But there has been little work on the effect on policing, either in Australia or abroad.

There was potentially a wide range of areas in which police could be involved, with significant implications for their activities and resourcing.

So far, major environmental law-enforcement activity has related to "greenwashing", where companies exaggerate the environmental friendliness of products.

The federal government's planned multi-billion dollar Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, set to begin in 2010, could provide opportunities for serious fraud.

"In a booming market there's always a high possibility of fraud by a green-shoe brigade," Dr Bergin and Mr Allen said.

Investigations into carbon markets overseas highlight some of the possible avenues for deception.

But climate crime need not be complex, high-tech or even lucrative.

"Exceptionally hot days and exceptionally low rainfall days are expected to increase in frequency.

"We may, therefore, see increases in a range of water thefts: individuals stealing water, the use of fraudulent water trucks to steal public water for private gain, more incidences of siphoning from river systems for irrigation and illegal damming of rivers.

"If water becomes increasingly precious, the lengths to which individuals will go to protect their water assets, including violence, will increase."

Climate change could also make more vulnerable sections of the community even more vulnerable with the less well off already relocating into drought-affected towns.

"Some communities risk being caught in a vicious cycle of poor economic prospects and associated social ills, including increased crime against both persons and property," they said in the report.

Educating Australian communities about the role of law enforcement in event of future climate disasters would be an important step towards improving Australian resilience to the impact of climate change, Dr Bergin and Mr Allen said.

"And while we may not see the early introduction of climate change squads in Australian police forces, there will be an increasing requirement for Australian law-enforcement agencies to consider how they will need to adapt to the challenges posed by the severity and impact of climate change."

China warns of huge rise in emissions

From: New Scientist


China is famously reticent with its greenhouse gas emissions data. But a new report penned by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciencessays China's greenhouse gas pollution could more than double in two decades.

Beijing has not released recent official data on greenhouse gas from the nation's fast-growing use of coal, oil and gas. The latest information held by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which administrates the Kyoto protocol, dates back to 1994.

Foreign estimates, most originating in the US, suggest the nation emitted greenhouse gases equivalent to 5.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005, still short of the 7.2 billion tonnes emitted by the US.

In 2007, the International Energy Agency saidChina could outstrip the US by the end of the year, and some believe that milestone was reached. But until China releases its latest data, such numbers remain estimates.

Now, in a break with official reticence, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and other major state-run institutes say that without dramatic counter-steps their nation's emissions will at least match US emissions by 2020.

Environmental consequences

The report, China Energy Report 2008, says that, by 2020, China's burning of fossil fuels could emit between 9.2 and 10.6 billion tonnes of CO2, depending on varying scenarios for development and technology.

By 2030, those emissions may reach 11.4 to 14.7 billion tonnes, it says. Global carbon emissions in 2007 were estimated to be about 31.2 billion tonnes.

The report does not give its own estimate of China's current CO2 emissions, but cites data from a US Department of Energy institute that put them at 5.1 billion tonnes in 2004. The US Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a government lab, recently estimated that the US emitted about 5.9 billion tonnes of carbon in 2007, while China emitted 6.6 billion tonnes.

The report warns that inaction in the face of this projected growth in emissions will have drastic environmental consequences. Yet it also says economic development must not be hobbled.

"No matter how historical responsibility is defined, our country's development path cannot repeat the unconstrained emissions of developed countries' energy use," states the Chinese-language report. "We must soon prepare and plan ahead to implement emissions reduction concepts and measures in a long-term and stable energy development strategy."

The main author, Wei Yiming, was not immediately available for comment on the findings and why they appeared now.

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