Wednesday, January 20, 2010

British Conservatives wavering

Australia's conservatives are now firmly opposed to new Greenie taxes and charges -- and are benefiting in the polls. Can Britain be far behind? Australian political advisers are influential in London

DAVID Cameron was given a stark warning yesterday that his enthusiasm for green policies is unlikely to be shared by the coming influx of Tory MPs. A poll of the 240 Conservativecandidates best placed to win seats at the election found most ranked tackling climate change as their lowest priority. Reducing Britain’s soaring deficit was rated the most important issue facing the country.

The poll, published by the conservativehome website for Tory supporters, will come as a blow to the party leader. Mr Cameron has repeatedly campaigned on the slogan “vote blue, go green” and was famously pictured with huskies in the Arctic to highlight the threat of global warming. He is under increasing pressure from within party ranks to scrap plans for swingeing green taxes.

The poll found that 144 Tory candidates in marginal seats ranked “reducing Britain’s carbon footprint” as the least important from a list of 19 priorities for the next government. Only eight candidates thought climate change was top priority for an incoming Tory candidate, compared with 112 most worried about the borrowing crisis.

Tim Montgomerie, of conservativehome, said: “This is a hugely controversial issue for the Conservative Party.” He said there was little support among the centre-right think tanks that influence Tory policy for action to tackle climate change. He said: “I’m confident the sceptics are going to win. It’s for Cameron to decide how he’s going to get out of this. He’s lost the battle already.”

Many Tory activists fear campaigning on climate will antagonise voters who fear the issue is simply an excuse from politicians for more tax and meddling. A recent poll suggested about half the public do not believe that climate change is caused by human activity. For the conservativehome poll, Tory Parliamentary candidates were asked to rate 19 political issues on a scale of one to five in importance.

Candidates gave climate change an average rating of 2.8, significantly below “more help for marriage” with a 3.6 rating and “protecting the English countryside” with a 3.5 rating. Top of the list were “cutting the budget deficit” with an average rating of 4.7 and “cutting red tape and regulation, particularly for small business” with an average rating of 4.3. It follows another recent poll that found 76 per cent of Tory supporters thought the cost of energy bills was a more important issue than climate change.



It's all beginning to unravel now. The information is not new but the attention to it is

A top scientist said Monday he had warned in 2006 that a prediction of catastrophic loss of Himalayan glaciers, published months later by the UN's Nobel-winning climate panel, was badly wrong. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report said in 2007 it was "very likely" that the glaciers, which supply water to more than a billion people across Asia, would vanish by 2035 if global warming trends continued.

"This number is not just a little bit wrong, but far out of any order of magnitude," said Georg Kaser, an expert in tropical glaciology at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. "It is so wrong that it is not even worth discussing," he told AFP in an interview.

The triple-volume Fourth Assessment Report is the scientific touchstone for political action on climate change.

Destruction of Himalayan glaciers by 2035 was questioned in a report by Britain's Sunday Times, which said the reference derived from a news article published in 1999 and had failed to be scrutinized by the IPCC.

Kaser suggested the initial error originated from a misreading of a 1996 Russian study or from findings on a handful of glaciers that were mistakenly extended to apply to the whole region. In either case, he suggested, the fact that it found its way into the report underpinning global climate negotiations signalled the need for a reform of the way the IPCC collects and reviews data. "The review community has entirely failed" in this instance, he said.

Kaser was a lead author in Working Group I of the IPCC report, which dealt with the physical science of climate change. Its conclusions -- that climate change is "unequivocal" and poses a major threat -- remain beyond reproach, he said.

The prediction for the Himalayan glaciers was contained in the separately published Working Group II report, which assessed likely impacts of climate change. More specifically, the chapter focussed on an assessment of Asia, authored by scientists from the region. "This is a source of a lot of misunderstandings, misconceptions or failures," Kaser said, noting that some regions lacked a broad spectrum of expertise. "It is a kind of amateurism from the regional chapter lead authors. They may have been good hydrologists or botanists, but they were without any knowledge in glaciology."

Kaser said some of the scientists from other regional groups took heed of suggestions, and made corrections ahead of final publication in April 2007. But the Asia group did not. "I pointed it out," he said of the implausible prediction on the glaciers. "For a reason I do not know, they did not react."

But blame did not rest with the regional scientists alone, Kaser added. "I went back through the comments afterward, and not a single glaciologist had any interest in looking into Working Group II," he said.

The head of the UN climate panel, Rajendra Pachauri, told AFP his organization would look into the matter. He has already vowed to probe the so-called Climategate affair involving hacked email exchanges among IPCC scientists that skeptics say points to bias.

The IPCC's Fifth Assessment, scheduled for release in 2013, will probably be adjusted to avoid such problems, said Kaser. "All the responsible people are aware of this weakness in the Fourth Assessment. All are aware of the mistakes made," he said. "If it had not been the focus of so much public opinion, we would have said 'we will do better next time.' It is clear now that Working Group II has to be restructured," he said. There will still be regional chapters, but the review process will be modified, he added.



The furore over the validity of data used by UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has taken some of the sheen off the Nobel prize-winning institution's reputation. A day after it emerged that IPCC's dire prediction that climate change would melt most Himalyan glaciers by 2035 was based on mere "speculation", environment minister Jairam Ramesh slammed the processes of the celebrated body saying "due diligence had not been followed by the Nobel peace prize winning body". "The health of glaciers is a cause of grave concern but the IPCC's alarmist position that they would melt by 2035 was not based on an iota of scientific evidence," the environment minister said.

Ramesh recalled how IPCC chief R K Pachauri had scornfully dismissed doubts raised by a government agency about the veracity of the UN body's sensational projection about melting of glaciers. "In fact, we had issued a report by scientist V K Raina that the glaciers have not retreated abnormally. At the time, we were dismissed, saying it was based on voodoo science. But the new report has clearly vindicated our position," he said.

This may not be the first time that climate science relating to India has been found to be fallacious or incorrect. However, revelation that the data on glacial melt in Himalayas was unverified has dented the image of the IPCC -- which has set the agenda for climate change talks. It has given a handle to climate sceptics who have long accused the IPCC of being biased.

The report by Raina and other glaciologists had found support from some well-known glaciologists from across the world at that time. Pachauri, the high profile head of IPCC, acknowledged to TOI that the controversy had caused loss of face for the institution. "Of course, it goes without saying (that the IPCC's reputation has suffered). We have to see that its gold-plated standard is maintained," he said.

The embarrassment comes close on the heels of the disclosure of emails among scientists aligned with the IPCC who argued that data undercutting their conclusions should be withheld from public. When asked what steps the IPCC would take to correct the erroneous information in its report, Pachauri said the group would move swiftly to verify facts at its own level, work to figure how the `deviation from due process occurred' and act on the situation.

Other sources, not willing to come on record, suggested that IPCC was looking at the possibility of a `corrigendum or errata' to be published within the week. While this is not unprecedented in IPCC history, corrections carried out so far related to typographical errors. This time, however, the body will be correcting an unverified report that not only got included in its findings that framed the climate change negotitations but remained undetected for more than two years.

The IPCC is only meant to include peer-reviewed information that has passed the litmus test of being published in reputed journals. But this is not the first time that data on India, often used by industrialised countries to put pressure on Delhi to take actions, has been found to be incorrect. "In 1990, US raised a scare that methane emissions (an intense greenhouse gas) from wet paddy fields in India were as high as 38 million tonnes. It was later found by Indian scientists and globally accepted that it was as low as 2-6 million tonnes," Ramesh said.

Again in 2000, just before crucial negotiations, US and other industrialised countries flogged an unverified report of UNEP that claimed soot from chullahs (earthen cookstoves) was adding greatly to climate change, calling it the Asian Brown Haze.



Syed Hasnain, the scientist at the centre of the growing controversy over melting Himalayan glaciers (not), is now working for Dr R K Pachauri's TERI as head of the institute glaciology team, funded by a generous grant from a US charity, researching the effects of the retreat. Highlighted in The Sunday Times yesterday, Dr Hasnain was the scientist responsible for claiming that the world's glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035. This was picked up by the New Scientist and then by a 2005 WWF report, and subsequently published as a definitive claim in the IPCC's 2007 fourth assessment report, masterminded by Dr R K Pachauri.

But, while Dr Hasnain, who was then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, has admitted that the New Scientist report was based on "speculation" and was not supported by any formal research, he is now a direct beneficiary of that speculation.

Using Dr Hasnain's claim that the Himalaya glaciers "will vanish within forty years as a result of global warming…resulting in widespread water shortages," Pachauri's "alarmism" was bolstered by the WWF report which stated: “As apocalyptic as it may sound, it needs to be underlined that glaciers need to be studied for a variety of purposes including hazard assessment, effects on hydrology, sea level rise and to track climatic variations. There are several problems associated with retreating glaciers that need to be understood in order to proceed to the next stage of quantifying research and mitigating disaster.”

With the case for more research thus established, Pachauri's institute, TERI, approached the wealthy Carnegie Corporation of New York through a consortium led by the Global Centre for funding to carry out precisely the work to which his own "independent" report had drawn attention. In November 2008, they were successful, being awarded a $500,000 grant for "research, analysis and training on water-related security and humanitarian challenges to South Asia posed by melting Himalaya glaciers." This helped Dr Pachauri set up the TERI Glaciology team, putting at its head now professor Syed Iqbal Hasnain.

The Global Center is an Icelandic-based private institute with links to the office of the president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson. Its aim is to establish "a major research and training program involving scientists from South Asia, Europe and the Americas," of which Dr Pauchari's TERI India is a central part. Thus, this month, on 15 January, Iceland president Grímsson and Dr Pachauri, together with a team from Ohio State University, launched their collaborative programme, declaring that TERI and the Carnegie Corporation of New York had "joined hands" to work in the fields of glaciology and soil science. The purpose of the joint effort, they said, was "to improve understanding of the effects of climate change on the Himalaya and the manifold consequences that follow for the possibilities of water management and food production on the plains below."

The research fund is also to be topped up from the $108,000 proceeds of the Nehru Prize awarded to Grímsson this month.

Nevertheless, Dr Hasnain does not seem always to be upholding his earlier "speculation". He was "on message" in November 2009 but, on the first day of the two-day conclave on "Indian Himalayan glaciers, change and livelihoods" in October 2009, he told his audience that scientists projected "a 43 percent decrease in glacial area on average by the year 2070 and 75 percent decrease by the end of 21st century at the current warming rate" – a very far cry from disappearance in 2035.

However, with the addition of EU funding, Dr Hasnain can afford to be more candid. He has been able to set up a major research facility at Latey Bunga, Mukteshwar, with several outstations in what is now a well-resourced operation.

Meanwhile, Dr Pachauri, head of the parent research institute, TERI, and a "full-time salaried employee", is seeking to disown his own 2007 report. Despite having dismissed criticism of it by the Indian government as "voodoo science", he told an Indian news agency today that he washed his hands of the controversy saying he has "absolutely no responsibility".

Still, with $500,000 in the bank, and EU money flowing into the coffers, the report has served its purpose and he can afford now to walk away from it.


More Greenie-inspired harassment of ordinary people in Britain

Householders will soon have to keep food waste in the modern equivalent of a slop bucket, the Government said yesterday. Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, said that instead of being thrown away on landfill sites, food waste would be used for composting or turned into energy. Britain throws away 8.3 million tonnes of food each year, costing families with children £680 a year, according to government figures. Food waste at landfill sites is also estimated to generate about 18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of emissions from four million cars.

The ban, which could be introduced in two years, will apply to businesses and the public sector as well as homes. The bulk of commercial food waste comes from retailers and wholesalers — about 12.7 million tonnes a year, nearly half of which is sent to landfill. The plan will be published next month but details were disclosed before a demand by MPs that such a ban be introduced as quickly as possible.

Michael Jack, Conservative chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said that he hoped it could be achieved within two to five years and that it should be a priority for the next government. Although the proposals are for England, it is expected they will be adopted by the devolved administrations.

Mr Benn has written to supermarkets, urging them to hand over out-of-date food that is still safe to eat to feed the homeless, the elderly and those on low incomes.

He has decided to press ahead with the food-waste ban after Defra found that 78 per cent of people supported the separate collection of food waste. In a survey of 4,000 households two thirds said that they were already sorting food leftovers and peelings from other rubbish. However, only 137 out of about 400 councils in the UK have weekly food waste collections. The Government has not yet decided on a timetable for the ban.

In their report on waste strategy MPs demand a tougher approach to recycling. The select committee wants half of household waste to be recycled or composted within five years and 60 per cent by 2020. The current proportion is just over a third.

As well as calling for a ban on food waste, MPs are demanding urgent action to tackle the “Primark effect” of people discarding cheap clothes. High street fashion chains are urged to provide more bins to recycle old clothes and new labels on clothes to identify recyclable fabric, while consumers are encouraged to give away their old clothes to charity shops.

The inquiry also calls for a “clean-up” levy on manufacturers of cigarettes, chewing gum, drinks, chocolate bars and crisps, which make up the bulk of litter on Britain’s streets. The idea is for manufacturers to pay a tiny fraction of a penny on every item produced into a fund that could be allocated to local authorities and help to bring down council taxes, Mr Jack said.

Julian Kirby, of Friends of the Earth, said that recycling rates should be even more ambitious: “The Government should ban the landfill and incineration of recyclable material, stop funding wasteful incineration schemes and provide support to expanding recycling and food waste collections.”


New official caution in Australia: "Jury still out" on climate change

Australia's peak science agency, the CSIRO, has backed away from attributing a decade of drought in Tasmania to climate change, claiming "the jury is still out" on the science.

The comments follow the issuing of a CSIRO report yesterday, revealing drought has cut water availability in northern Tasmania's premier wine growing region by 24 per cent, with riverflows reaching record lows. One of the report's co-authors, hydrologist David Post, told The Canberra Times there was "no evidence" linking drought to climate change in eastern Australia, including the Murray-Darling Basin. "At this stage, we'd prefer to say we're talking about natural variability. The science is not sufficiently advanced to say it's climate change, one way or the other. The jury is still out on that," Dr Post said.

Australian Greens leader, Bob Brown has accused CSIRO of "caving in to political pressure" to soften its stance on climate change in the lead-up to this year's federal election. "We should ask why CSIRO is prepared to turn an unaccountable blind eye to recent climate trends in Tasmania. This undercurrent of scepticism would seem to suggest the report has been politicised," Senator Brown said.

According to the report, rainfall in northern Tasmania's Pipers River region famed for its award-winning rieslings and pinot noir has dropped by 12 per cent in the past decade, with recent climate conditions "drier than those of the last 84 years."

More than 80 per cent of Tasmania's river catchments have been affected by drought, with the South Esk the island's longest river and source of water for beer production most at risk.



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