Vast, majestic and ever changing

In October 2016, my partner and I spent several wonderful days hiking in three of Southern Utah’s parks. Each offered a special geological wonderland to explore. Layers of sedimentary rock were formed over millions of years when today’s inland desert region was under water. About 13 million years ago, the sea bed was uplifted to form a series of plateaux broken by fault lines. Over the centuries, water and wind have sculpted exposed rock layers of varying hardness and mineral content into fantastic formations in rich shades of red, purple, yellow and white.

Bryce Canyon features giant rock amphitheatres lined by mazes of pinnacles nicknamed “hoodoos.” True to native Paiute legend, they look like weird creatures which have been turned to stone, standing as sentinels over the passage of time. Along the trails snaking from the rim down to the floor, we saw trees and shrubs adapted to harsh conditions, anchored on exposed sandstone hillsides or thrusting upward toward the light between steep rock walls. We marveled at how some trees become eerily twisted when they die slowly in portions as their roots are exposed. On the Peekaboo Trail, we randomly asked a passing couple to take our photo and discovered they were from Auckland. Facing the maze of spires, I understood why Ebenezer Bryce, the Mormon pioneer for whom the park was named, referred to the landscape as “a hell of a place to lose a cow.” We lingered in a cold wind to watch the sunset from the rim. A nearby chipmunk appeared to do the same, perched at the very tip of a tree root jutting out over the chasm. (more…)



Waging collaboration on climate change: Finding effective narratives

© Dave Bredeson | Dreamstime.com

On 22 April 2016, 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement, setting a world record for the number of first-day signatures to an international agreement.  The agreement will enter into force once 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions ratify it.  The photo of US Secretary of State John Kerry signing the agreement with his granddaughter on his lap was a compelling reminder that this agreement is about protecting future generations.

Building on the scientific consensus that humans have been the dominant cause of the warming observed since the mid-20th century, we now have a diplomatic consensus that countries should limit temperature rises to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. What is needed now is a social consensus about how quickly decarbonisation should occur in each country and at what acceptable cost.  Speed matters.  Keeping the 2-degree goal within reach requires limiting cumulative emissions of long-lived gases below a threshold which we will pass by about 2030 under business as usual.  The 2030 targets under the Paris Agreement will only take us to 2.7 degrees and there are no legal penalties if countries fall short.  Making more reductions more quickly buys us more time for new solutions to emerge and mature. (more…)



Testing climate change convictions

No One Can Convince Me v3Last week, I was deeply moved by Piers Sellers’ article “Cancer and Climate Change” in the New York Times.  At age 60, Sellers, a former astronaut, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.  Faced with decisions about how to spend his precious remaining time, he chose to return to his job doing climate research at NASA.  He writes,

“As an astronaut I spacewalked 220 miles above the Earth. Floating alongside the International Space Station, I watched hurricanes cartwheel across oceans, the Amazon snake its way to the sea through a brilliant green carpet of forest, and gigantic nighttime thunderstorms flash and flare for hundreds of miles along the Equator. From this God’s-eye-view, I saw how fragile and infinitely precious the Earth is. I’m hopeful for its future.

And so, I’m going to work tomorrow.”

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Celebrating the Paris Agreement on climate change

Bravo la France!On 18 December 2016, a small group of people added a postscript to the Wellington Climate March by gathering in front of the French Embassy to hold a “celebratory demonstration” in honour of the positive outcome from the Paris climate change conference.  Our efforts were graciously received by the French Ambassador.  Below are the comments I prepared for the occasion.

Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has described climate change mitigation as the Everest of our generation. With the Paris Agreement, we just reached base camp. The Paris Agreement pulls 195 countries into a common legal framework for reducing emissions, and puts in place a clear, methodical long-term process for reviewing progress and increasing ambition over time. It strengthens channels for financial support, capacity building and technology transfer to help developing countries move more quickly toward low-emission development. It also opens the door to harnessing private-sector action through carbon markets.

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How much effort should New Zealand make on climate change?

Wellington Climate March 2015

From 30 November to 11 December 2015, governments will meet in Paris to resolve the framework for a new international climate change agreement to take effect from 2020.  New Zealand is bringing to the table an emission reduction pledge – or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) – of 11% below 1990 emissions, or 30% below 2005 emissions, by 2030, conditional on rules for forestry accounting and use of carbon markets. 

How much effort should New Zealand make on climate change?  In September 2015, the Green Party organised a Parliamentary conference entitled “Feasible Ambition: Climate Goals for New Zealand in 2030.”  Below is an adaptation of some comments I provided as an independent panelist responding to a research paper presented by Dr Kennedy Graham, MP.

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Reframing the costs of smart climate action

NZ ParliamentAccording to a recent survey, 87% of New Zealanders have at least some level of concern about the impacts of climate change on society.  The government is currently consulting on how we want to translate climate concern into a target for reducing New Zealand’s emissions after 2020.

Rather than offering mitigation proposals, the government’s discussion document addresses the national context for setting a target and has a strong focus on the costs that accompany ambition.  But looking at the underlying modelling by Infometrics  and Landcare Research reveals more about the cost story in the discussion document than first meets the eye.  It also highlights the importance of discussing pathways alongside targets. (more…)



New Zealand’s journey toward a low-emission future: Today’s climate change landscape

Note: Through Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, I have just published two Motu Notes on climate change issues prepared as background papers for Motu’s Low-Emission Future Dialogue. The first in the series presents an overview of the climate change challenges facing New Zealand and the current policy context.  This information is highly relevant because in 2015 New Zealand will need to present its post-2020 emission reduction commitment – referred to as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution – under a new international climate change agreement currently under negotiation. The paper’s executive summary is provided below.  The full paper is available here.

Motu note v3 300In the coming decades, New Zealand will face important choices shaped by both the risks and opportunities created by climate change. This paper provides an overview of the current climate change landscape from which New Zealand is starting the next stage of its journey toward a global low-emission future. The key findings are:

Climate change science, emission trends and mitigation scenarios The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reinforce the case for significant reductions to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Under business-as-usual growth in emissions, the global mean surface temperature in 2100 could increase by 3.7oC to 4.8oC compared to pre-industrial levels. A least-cost pathway to limit temperature increases to not more than 2oC above pre-industrial levels would involve reductions of 40–70 percent below 2010 levels by 2050 on the way toward a zero-net-emission global economy. A key objective should be limiting cumulative emissions, and delaying action significantly increases the costs of mitigation. (more…)



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