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Australia’s Stern review warns of runaway global warming

David Adam, Guardian
Carbon emissions are rising so fast that the world has no chance of hitting climate targets, says Australian economist

Carbon pollution levels are rising so fast that the world has no realistic chance of hitting ambitious climate targets set by Britain and the G8, an influential report to the Australian government has warned.

The report, from economist Ross Garnaut, says existing carbon goals, such as those in Britain’s climate change bill, are based on out-of-date emissions figures, and are so ambitious that they could wreck attempts to agree a new global deal on global warming.

Garnaut says that nations must accept a greater amount of warming is inevitable, or risk a failure to agree that “would haunt humanity until the end of time.”

The report, billed as the Australian Stern review, uses recent estimates of booming carbon emissions that were not included in last year’s report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), or the 2006 report from Sir Nicholas Stern on the economics of the problem.
(27 October 2008)

Climate change ‘making seas more salty’

David Adam, Guardian
Scientists report that increased salinity in oceans can be attributed to manmade climate change

Global warming is making the sea more salty, according to new research that demonstrates the massive shifts in natural systems triggered by climate change.

Experts at the UK Met Office and Reading University say warmer temperatures over the Atlantic Ocean have significantly increased evaporation and reduced rainfall across a giant stretch of water from Africa to the Carribean in recent years. The change concentrates salt in the water left behind, and is predicted to make southern Europe and the Mediterranean much drier in future.

Peter Stott of the Met Office, who led the study, said: “With global warming we’re talking about very big changes in the overall water cycle. This moisture is being evaporated and transported to higher latitudes.”
(27 October 2008)

Big decline in depth of Arctic winter sea ice

Juliette Jowit, The Guardian
The thickness of sea ice in the Arctic dramatically declined last winter for the first time since records began in the early 1990s. The research by British scientists shows a significant loss in the thickness of the northern ice cap after the record loss of ice in the summer of 2007, although the weather was not abnormally warm.

The findings, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, raise the possibility that the loss of the Arctic sea ice could accelerate, because as the ice recedes the water temperature rises. This summer the sea ice recorded its second-lowest extent after the record low of 2007, again despite relatively cool air temperatures.

However, Katharine Giles of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London, who led the study, said it was too soon to say whether the downward trend would continue and lead to summer sea ice disappearing even faster than forecast. “It’s dangerous to extrapolate out because colder weather would mean the ice could recover again,” said Giles. “This data will help climate modellers to validate their models and make them more accurate.”…
(28 October 2008)

Author of “Climate Code Red” – No more business as usual: This is an emergency!

David Spratt, LINKS
A year ago I was researching what was intended to be a short submission to the Garnaut review [commissioned to advise the Australian federal government of Labor Party Prime Minister Kevin Rudd], when events in the polar north turned the world of climate policy upside down. It was found that eight million square kilometres of sea-ice — an area the size of Australia — was melting, in the immortal words of one glaciologist, “a hundred years ahead of schedule”.

Yet the international policy debate carried on as if this had not happened. Out-of-date scenarios, research and observations were being used to propose emission reduction targets that would still lead to catastrophe even if fully implemented.

And so a short submission became a long detour into how the climate debate is being constructed, and the result, with Philip Sutton, was a book we did not intend to write, Climate Code Red.

We came to the conclusion that most of the public policy debate on climate is delusional, that is, a fixed, false belief resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact.

… Put simply, the debate in Australia is not evidence based. Political pragmatism, window dressing and incremental solutions that will fail take precedence over the scientific imperatives. The result can only be a suicide note for most people and most species on the planet.

The conclusion we came to was that unless we adopt the strongest measures — emergency action — it will be too late. It is no longer a matter of how much more we can heat the planet, but how quickly can we cool it.

Serious impacts already underway

Serious climate-change impacts are already happening, both more rapidly and at lower global temperature increases than projected. In 2005 the eminent climate scientist Dr James Hansen warned that: “We are on the precipice of climate system tipping points beyond which there is no redemption.” Three years later, we now know that we have already crossed some of those tipping points: for ice-sheet disintegration, significant sea-level rises and species loss. Hansen says that the “Elements of a `perfect storm’, a global cataclysm, are assembled”.

… Stop all greenhouse gas emissions and cool the planet: it sounds impossible, but it is not. I am convinced that the obstacles to such a path are not principally technological or economic, but political and social. [Other speakers at this forum will be talking in detail about what those solutions can be.] Renewable energy is not rocket science, nor is electrifying our national train network, improving energy efficiency or planning to live sustainably. A McKinsey&Company report finds that many of the emission reduction opportunities are actually cost-positive (they cost less than they save in energy costs). And rebuilding a post-fossil-fuel economy will be job rich.

… Climate policy is characterised by the habituation of low expectations and a culture of failure.

… Fortunately we have another model we can turn to when we really want to fully solve a problem: emergency mode, whether it be flood or fire or tsunami or earthquake. In these circumstances we don’t wait for market mechanism or price signals or policies that will be implemented in 2 or 3 years time to solve it. No, government authorities go and directly apply the people and resources to fully solve he problem. The same is true in war time, where the government controls the economy to produce what is needed quickly and efficiently in order to solve the problem. In war if you only half solve the problem, you lose. The same is true of the fight against global warming.

This presentation was delivered at a public forum on October 10, 2008. It was part of the Environmental Activists’ Conference ’08: Climate Emergency — No More Business as Usual, in Adelaide, Australia. David Spratt is co-author of Climate Code Red: the case for emergency action, Scribe 2008;]
(10 October 2008)