Archive for the ‘Climate change’ Category

Waging collaboration on climate change: Finding effective narratives

© Dave Bredeson | Dreamstime.com

(Updated in November 2018) 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 well below 2 degrees Celsius – and strive for below 1.5 degrees – 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 1.5-degree goal within reach requires limiting cumulative emissions of long-lived gases below a threshold which we will pass by about 2030-2052 under business as usual.  The 2030 targets under the Paris Agreement will only take us to roughly 3 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…)



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…)



The gift of the present: Making climate karma count

Beach scene for web ed 1

Why climate karma counts

Over the holidays, a gracious lady from Tonga shared with me the story of Tu’i Malila, the “Little King.”  This Madagascar radiated tortoise was presented as a gift to the King of Tonga by Captain Cook in 1777 and he lived until the age of 188, dying in the mid-1960s.  This tortoise had bridged the human eras of sea exploration and space exploration.  I wondered if Captain Cook had any inkling how long his gift would endure and how much the world would change over that time.

I’ve been reflecting on how the choices we make each day about climate change represent our gift – or our burden – to future generations.  They don’t have a say in what they will inherit from us, they can’t vote for today’s visionary leaders and they can’t remind us to change our habits.  The collective impact of what we emit now will extend well beyond the typical climate change modelling threshold of 2100, which lies within the lifetime of today’s children.

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Willingness to change: The “elephant in the room” for climate mitigation

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By Mara Ellis | © Xtremesafari | Dreamstime Stock Photo

I read an inspiring story recently about Dr Donald Berwick, former CEO of the US Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI).  His research showed that hospitals were repeatedly making avoidable mistakes that were costing patients’ lives. Although he only had a tiny staff and limited resources, he decided that things needed to change. At a convention of US hospital administrators in 2004, he set out a challenge: saving 100,000 lives in the next 18 months.  He spoke to the heart of why change was needed, identified six clear, manageable interventions and launched a campaign to enrol hospitals in making the necessary changes.  He knew it would be hard for hospitals to admit they were routinely making mistakes and change standard practices, but he made it easy for hospitals to join and provided mentoring, information sharing and feedback.  Eighteen months later, they had prevented an estimated 122,300 avoidable deaths (Heath and Heath 2010).

How does this story relate to climate change?  Collectively our society is repeatedly taking avoidable actions which are changing the climate and causing harm.  Like the hospitals at the beginning of the story, we have practical solutions with valuable benefits at our fingertips but we aren’t using them seriously yet.   Fundamentally, the challenge of climate change is a challenge of people change.  In government departments, businesses and households, our lack of willingness to change is the figurative “elephant in the room.”

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“Hot Air”: Searching for the winds of climate policy change

On 2 November 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Synthesis Report 2014 with the headline “Climate change threatens irreversible and dangerous impacts, but options exist to limit its effects.” The report is a sobering reminder that limiting temperature increases below 2° Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels could entail reducing emissions by 40-70 percent of 2010 levels by 2050, and bringing net emissions near or below zero by 2100.  It emphasises the clear benefits of near-term action given the inertia of economic and climate systems.

A White House report issued in July 2014 also highlights the costs of delaying action to reduce emissions.  Two key findings were:

  • Based on a leading aggregate damage estimate in the climate economics literature, a delay that results in warming of 3° Celsius above preindustrial levels, instead of 2°, could increase economic damages by approximately 0.9 percent of global output… The incremental cost of an additional degree of warming beyond 3° Celsius would be even greater. Moreover, these costs are not one-time, but are rather incurred year after year because of the permanent damage caused by increased climate change resulting from the delay.
  • An analysis of research on the cost of delay for hitting a specified climate target (typically, a given concentration of greenhouse gases) suggests that net mitigation costs increase, on average, by approximately 40 percent for each decade of delay. These costs are higher for more aggressive climate goals: each year of delay means more CO2 emissions, so it becomes increasingly difficult, or even infeasible, to hit a climate target that is likely to yield only moderate temperature increases.

The global case for near-term action is clear.  What about the case for near-term action in New Zealand?

This issue has proven challenging for New Zealand so far.  In addition to economic and climate inertia, New Zealand has faced a third important dimension: political inertia.  This was the subject of Alister Barry’s 2014 documentary Hot Air”.  Using archival footage and retrospective interviews, the film traces New Zealand’s successive attempts to price and reduce greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.  Across policy cycles from the government’s initial consideration of emission pricing to the choice of voluntary greenhouse agreements, consideration and abandonment of a carbon tax and agricultural emissions research levy, the monumental passage of legislation for the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) and the subsequent decisions that reduced its impact, a similar story was repeated.

Attempts to shift New Zealand toward a lower-emission development pathway were resisted effectively by those with powerful interests in maintaining business as usual.  

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2013: Climate change year in review

Image from NASA 10 April 2013

With climate change in 2013, the more things changed…

‘Tis the season for retrospective assessment of the past year’s news, and climate change certainly made global headlines in 2013. On the science front, we heard about grim prospects under business as usual for projected temperature increases and associated global impacts on water and food security, human health, polar ice, sea level rise and species loss. When it came to extreme weather events, broken records started to sound like, well, broken records accompanied by human tragedy and economic loss.

…the more they stayed the same.

From a New Zealand perspective in 2013, the more the climate changed, the more climate change policy stayed the same. However, action is emerging in other ways, especially from the nation’s youth who are concerned about their future, local governments that want to future-proof urban development, and businesses that recognise the value of positioning New Zealand to compete under carbon constraints in the longer term.

You can download a free Silver Lining report New Zealand and Climate Change in 2013 with selected climate change news highlights from 2013, links to useful resources and some reflections on the coming year.

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Getting New Zealand back on target

IMG_2227 crop1In late 2012, New Zealand declined a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol and opted for a non-binding emission reduction target for 2020 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. On 16 August 2013, the Government finally named its 2020 target: a 5% reduction below 1990 levels.

Not only is the 2020 target weaker than the previous conditional pledge of a 10-20% reduction, but it applies only to a single year, leaving unspecified the responsibility for emissions from 2013 through 2019. The Government has not yet explained how the country will meet this target, how it will count surplus units from the previous period, or whether the Treasury will record target compliance as a financial obligation, as was the case under the Kyoto Protocol. Without this information, it is hard to know what the target actually means. Legally, the only check on New Zealand’s performance will be international reporting and the power of public opinion.  Time will tell.

According to its media release, the Government believes it has “carefully balanced the cost to New Zealand households and businesses against taking ambitious action to tackle climate change.”  Climate Change Minister Tim Groser was quoted separately in the media as saying, “Unless we get a serious international effort, anything we do with the ETS or subsequent to it is a complete waste of time.”

Really?

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