201112

Climategate

It would seem that no climate sceptics letter to the editor is complete without a mention of the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit in 2009.

The emails in question were hacked from the private correspondence of scientists at the university and released just before the Copenhagen conference in 2009. They were purported to demonstrate scientists manipulating data to support their position on global warming. They were released again this week leading up to international climate discussions in Durban.

Sceptics have used ‘Climategate’ to suggest that the East Anglia unit is corrupt. The fact that the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia was cleared of any wrongdoing by three independent reviews is worth looking at.

First, the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee exonerated the scientist at the centre of the tempest, Professor Phil Jones, finding he has “no case to answer” and that his reputation “remains intact.”

Then Lord Oxburgh (former chairman of Shell-UK) and his panel likewise exonerated the researchers, finding their “work has been carried out with integrity, and that allegations of deliberate misrepresentation” are “not valid.” The enquiry found “absolutely no evidence of any impropriety whatsoever”. Oxburgh said: “Whatever was said in the emails, the basic science seems to have been done fairly and properly.”

A third enquiry, chaired by Sir Muir Russell, found the scientists’ “rigour and honesty” to be “beyond doubt”. Sir Muir Russell led a six-month inquiry into the affair, His investigation concluded that the East Anglia unit did not subvert the peer review process and that key data was freely available and could be used by any “competent” researcher.

But the panel said the scientists’ responses to “reasonable requests for information” had been “unhelpful and defensive”.

East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit says that the world is warming at a rate of 0.2 degrees per decade. NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association of North America (NOAA) have independently arrived at the same conclusion. A group of scientists at Berkley University in California this year set out to take an independent look at global temperature records in response to the so called Climategate ‘scandal’. They verified the scientific conclusion that the planet is steadily warming.

Are we in the grip of a worldwide scientific conspiracy, or are climate scientists just doing their job? Matthew Nott

Extreme Weather

A recent report by the IPCC ahead of international climate talks in Durban has created a lot of discussion on both sides of the climate change debate.

The report looks at the impact of rising atmospheric CO2 on the frequency of extreme weather events and concludes that it is too early to draw a correlation between the two. The draft report says “uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large because climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability”.

According to Jean Palutikof, director of the National Climate Change Adaption Research Facility at Griffith University, the effects of climate change on extreme weather will be clear by 2070. She says the highest certainty will most likely be in heat-waves. “This will be the first clear signal,” Palutik says. “It will appear sooner than others and will be recognised as due to global warming. Droughts would be the next most certain”.

Given the complexity of weather systems, the high level of uncertainty is of no surprise. In Australia high rainfall variability makes it difficult to determine trends. Climate change may or may not have contributed to the recent severe drought in Australia but it has given us a taste of what climate science predicts is in store for us in the future.

It may be decades before it is possible to correlate extreme weather events with climate change. That fact has been jumped on by Bjorn Lomborg who has declared that “we do not have to act in desperation right now.

I hardly think that an attempt to reduce Australia’s emissions by 5% by 2020 is act of desperation. Lomborg ignores the fact that global temperatures and sea level are rising, both attributed to human induced climate change. He also ignores the economics which suggest that the sooner we act the cheaper it will be. He does however make one good point, and that is the importance of investment in research and development.

A price on carbon will find the most efficient way to reduce emissions from existing technologies, but a market mechanism may not be the best way to bring forward the technologies of the future. A high level of direct investmenet in R&D is vital if we are going to start making significant inroads on emissions.

The International Energy Agency and many others say global pledges to curb emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are not enough to prevent the planet heating up beyond 2 degrees Celsius, a threshold scientists say risks an unstable climate in which weather extremes are common. Global carbon emissions rose by a record amount last year.

Delegates from nearly 200 countries will meet in South Africa from November 28 for climate talks with the most likely outcome modest steps towards a broader deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change.
Matthew Nott

A No-Brainer

The deeply conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) last week released its annual World Energy Outlook. The World Energy Outlook is IEA’s flagship publication and it is widely recognised as the most authoritative energy source for global energy projections and analysis. It represents the leading source for medium to long-term energy market projections, extensive statistics, analysis and advice for both governments and the energy business

The World Energy Outlook is keenly watched by the energy industries that it serves. According to the report ?We cannot continue to rely on insecure and environmentally unsustainable uses of energy,? it says. ?Governments need to introduce stronger measures to drive investment in efficient and low-carbon technologies. If fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed, the world will lose forever the chance to avoid dangerous climate change.”

The report makes for sober reading. If the world continues with business as usual, then we are heading for a 6 degree global warming scenario and runaway impacts of climate change. Even if a global agreement is reached it seems unlikely that we can limit atmospheric CO2 to 450 parts per million. (Many scientists think that 350ppm is a dangerous threshold. We are currently at about 390ppm, and increasing by 3ppm per year).

In the necessary transition to a low carbon economy one of the most dramatic changes will be in renewable energy whose share increases dramatically from 4% in 2009, to 34% of global electricity capacity in 2035. Wind power will need to increase 10 fold, and solar photovoltaics will increase 40 fold, according to the IEA.

The IEA is dismissive of those who say we should put off action. . ?Delaying action is a false economy,? it says. ?For every $1 of avoided investment between 2011 and 2020, either through reduced low-carbon investment or adoption of cheaper fossil-fuel investment options, an additional $4.30 would need to be spent between 2021 and 2035 to compensate for the increased emissions.”

But there is another surprise. The aggressive investment required, which includes the dismantling of fossil fuel subsidies, and the diversion of some of that to renewables, will mean consumers around the world actually pay $669 billion less in energy costs than they otherwise would. And, says the IEA, there are other benefits: less pollution; more countries that are energy self reliant (less chance of conflict); healthier people who live longer; and a much greater chance of preventing runaway global warming, with far lower adaptation costs.

According to the International Energy Agency, action to reduce emissions seems like a policy no-brainer.
Matthew Nott

A Test For Climate Sceptics

Climate sceptics have two main lines of attack. The first is to say that global warming has slowed, stopped or reversed, thereby suggesting that CO2 is an inconsequential greenhouse gas. The second is to try and discredit scientists and the scientific process. Letters to the editor by sceptics have described scientists as fraudulent, money hungry, politically motivated, self serving, corrupt, and badly tarnished, The scientific process, by having lost its objective honesty apparently no longer trustfully serves the public interest. Scientists, we are told, make exaggerated claims and their dogma and mantra is alarmist and misleading.

Are scientists really that bad?

Researchers at the University of California (UC) have produced the most comprehensive, independent review of historical global temperature records to date. Researchers compiled more than a billion temperature records dating back to the 1800?s from around the world and found that the average global land temperature has risen by about one degree since the mid-1950?s.

This figure agrees with the estimate of global warming arrived at by other major groups that maintain official records on the world?s climate, including NASA?s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Met Office?s Hadley Centre.

The University of California’s study was undertaken to address concerns from climate sceptics about scientific process. The leaked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit in 2009 gave impetus to the study. Although the Climate Research Unit was cleared of any wrong doing by three independent assessments, the UC group wanted to provide a transparent and independent assessment of global warming.

Climate sceptics have criticised official global warming figures on the grounds that many temperature stations are poor quality, based largely in cities, and data was tweaked by hand. However the UC study found the so-called urban heat island effect, which makes cities warmer than surrounding rural areas, does not contribute significantly to average land temperature rises. And whilst some stations considered “poor” might be less accurate, they recorded the same average warming trend.

Head of the project Richard Muller says “we have looked at these issues in a straightforward, transparent way, and I would expect legitimate sceptics to feel their issues have been addressed.”

Peter Thorne, at the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites in North Carolina says “This takes a very distinctive approach to the problem and comes up with the same answer, and that builds confidence that pre-existing estimates are in the right ball-park. There is very substantial value in having multiple groups looking at the same problem in different ways.”

The University of California findings will sort out genuine sceptics from those who choose to deny the facts.
Matthew Nott