Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The permafrost scare is back again

This pops up every couple of years.  Most of the permafrost concerned is in Russia and Russian scientists have repeatedly said the alarmists don't know what they are talking about.

The Russian Arctic,  particularly in Siberia, is VERY cold, far too cold for a warming of a degree or two to have any effect

And the researchers below admit that they don't know what they have found! How's that as a solid basis for a climate theory?  Forgive me while I laugh

I think they know what they have found.  They just haven't been able to torture their data into saying what they want yet.  They should get a copy of Darrell Huff's  "How to lie with statistics".  Let me suggest a technique:  Extreme quintiles.  I have never used it but it's used in the epidemiological literature all the time.  It's a "respectable" way of throwing away most of your data.  And epidemiology is a sensation-dependent literature too

THE world is on the cusp of a "tipping point" into dangerous climate change, according to new data gathered by scientists measuring methane leaking from the Arctic permafrost and a report presented to the United Nations on Tuesday.

"The permafrost carbon feedback is irreversible on human time scales," says the report, Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost. "Overall, these observations indicate that large-scale thawing of permafrost may already have started."

While countries the size of Australia tally up their greenhouse emissions in hundreds of millions of tonnes, the Arctic's stores are measured in tens of billions.

Human-induced emissions now appear to have warmed the Arctic enough to unlock this vast carbon bank, with stark implications for international efforts to hold global warming to a safe level. Ancient forests locked under ice tens of thousands of years ago are beginning to melt and rot, releasing vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the air.

The report estimates the greenhouse gases leaking from the thawing Arctic will eventually add more to emissions than last year's combined carbon output of the US and Europe – a statistic which means present global plans to hold climate change to an average 2degree temperature rise this century are now likely to be much more difficult.

Until very recently permafrost was thought to have been melting too slowly to make a meaningful difference to temperatures this century, so it was left out of the Kyoto Protocol, and ignored by many climate change models.

What isn't known is the precise rate and scale of the melt, and that is being tackled in a remarkable NASA experiment that hardly anyone has heard of, but which could prove to be one of the most crucial pieces of scientific field work undertaken this century.

The findings, for now, are still under wraps. "But I think 'tantalising' is probably the right word," [Or is that "inconclusive"?] said Charles Miller, the principal investigator in NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment, or CARVE.

The findings of the first year of the experiment are so complex that Professor Miller and his team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are still trying to work out exactly what they have found.


Leaders face riddle of lack of warming

AROUND Doha, the capital of Qatar, which boasts the world's highest per capita carbon emissions, ramshackle humpies made of car tyres and recycled shipping pallets are springing up amid the city's shiny skyscrapers.

Together with a fleet of low-cost electric cars to ferry the A-list, the low-cost buildings are the organisers' eye-popping way to draw attention to the UN's annual climate change conference that kicks off on Monday.

In keeping with Doha's immaculately manicured image, the most common expression on eco-friendly portals has been surprise that it was possible to recycle anything in the Arabian sheikdom.

It is a mixed message that illustrates the state of global climate change negotiations. As usual, a raft of reports restating dire predictions has been released to coincide with the conference.

The World Meteorological Organisation confirmed atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide had risen to 390.9 parts a million, the highest on record.

A World Bank-commissioned report, Turn Down the Heat, warned that mankind was on track for a 4C warmer world, marked by extreme heatwaves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea-level rise.

The research was undertaken by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and mirrors the warnings of many institutions, including Australia's Climate Commission. A UN Environment Program report said countries were not doing enough to keep the world from warming 2C above pre-industrial levels.

"Not only are nations failing to close the gap between their actions and the two degrees goal," says Union of Concerned Scientists director Alden Meyer, "but the gap is actually widening."

Last month's Hurricane Sandy, which flooded New York City, has been widely cited as evidence that climate change is about bigger storms, not just higher temperatures. For climate change campaigners this is fortunate because the most recent global temperature record, released this week, shows the average global temperature fell last year for the second year.

The decline is not considered statistically significant - temperatures remain well above the long-term average - and is explained by the strong La Nina weather patterns that caused rain havoc across eastern Australia. But it is nonetheless counter-intuitive to claims that global temperatures are spinning out of control, just as increasing ice cover in Antarctica runs counter to the high level of scientific concern at increased ice melt in the Arctic.

The Antarctic ice growth does not necessarily undermine anxiety about the melting ice in the Arctic, but it does highlight the fact gaps remain in scientific understanding and that climate models don't always work.

The British Met Bureau was forced to furiously deny reports in Britain last month that the latest temperature data showed global warming stopped 16 years ago.

The bureau argues the trend is still unambiguously up, with global surface temperatures having risen by about 0.8C in the past 140 years. "However, within this record there have been several periods lasting a decade or more during which temperatures have risen very slowly or cooled," the bureau said. "The current period of reduced warming is not unprecedented and 15-year-long periods are not unusual."

In short, there is agreement that the rising trend has stalled.

Many scientists accept there are natural processes at work that are not properly factored into the global temperature models.

German environmentalist Fritz Vahrenholt, a former Social Democrat Party senator, founder of wind-energy company REpower and president of the German Wildlife Foundation, has been particularly outspoken.

"According to the IPCC climate models, there should be an increase in global temperature of 0.2C per decade," he says.

"But if you look at the data series of satellite-based temperature measurements and the data from the British Hadley Centre (HadCRUT), you find that since 1998 there has been no warming; the temperature has remained at a plateau. We know how mainstream climate scientists would answer this question: 15 years is not a climate signal; it must happen for 30 years," Vahrenholt says, "But there must be an explanation for the unexpected absence of warming."

Vahrenholt's answer is that the exclusion of solar activity and decadal oscillations from climate models leads to erroneous results. Vahrenholt's point is not that climate change shouldn't be addressed but that fear-driven energy policy works against the interests of nature, the poor and economic good sense. He says there is time to find solutions that work.

This is the background against which governments will meet in Doha to negotiate a globally binding agreement to cut carbon emissions, as agreed at last year's meeting in Cape Town, South Africa.

First, the developed world must decide what it wants to do about a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

After linking to the European carbon trading scheme, Australia has agreed to sign up to a Kyoto II, but Japan, Canada, Russia and New Zealand have said they are out.

Australia's Climate Institute deputy chief executive Erwin Jackson says there are three possible outcomes from Doha.

One is the collapse of talks, with Kyoto II falling over and the Bali Action Plan, where countries pledge carbon cuts, faltering.

Another possibility is that parties simply agree to keep talking.

Jackson says he is mildly confident of a focused outcome in which amendments are made to implement a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and the Bali Action Plan negotiations are closed. Such an outcome would allow talks to be integrated into a single track towards a global legally binding agreement.

The timetable set last year was for details of an agreement to be set by 2015, to take effect from 2020. Key, as always, will be the actions of the US, China and India, each motivated by its own self-interest.

The world's biggest carbon dioxide emitter, China, is keen to show good faith to deflect attention from its phenomenal rate of growth and emissions. But despite signing on to negotiations for a global treaty, China remains fiercely protective of preserving the ethic of "differentiated responsibility" between developed and developing countries.

As does India, which remains concerned primarily with achieving energy security as it struggles to lift hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty. India reluctantly agreed to the Cape Town agreement last year because it did not want to be seen as wrecker.

And despite the hype that a post-Sandy Obama administration will restart action on climate change, the biggest challenge may be keeping the US inside the UN framework.

The Obama administration reportedly is considering taking the action away from the annual UN climate summit into the Major Economies Forum, a platform of the world's largest CO2 emitters.

Such a move would leave the UN process with little more than the symbolism of a Doha humpy.


Doubts on $30 billion aid for climate change overshadow UN talks

Doubts mounted about whether developed nations honored a pledge to deliver $30 billion in aid for fighting and defend against climate change after two analysts estimated different amounts had been paid out.

The question over how much finance was provided under the “fast-start” program has the potential to undermine trust between donor and recipient nations during two weeks of United Nations talks on a treaty to curb global warming. Aid is the linchpin of the talks starting today in Doha after industrial nations pledged in 2009 to channel $100 billion a year for climate projects by 2020.

“We can’t say if it was delivered or not because we can’t be sure,” Seyni Nafo, a Malian envoy who speaks for a bloc of African nations, said in an interview yesterday, referring to the $30 billion pledge. “The process of fast-start finance was supposed to build trust, but it created more tension and frustration that what was proposed was not delivered.”

The European Union, U.S., Japan and other developed nations paid out $23.6 billion of assistance to poorer countries during the three years through 2012, falling short of the $30 billion promised in 2009, the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development said today. An estimate today from the World Resources Institute in Washington put the total paid at almost $34 billion.

A third estimate for the sum from Nick Robins, head of the Climate Change Center at HSBC Holdings Plc in London, valued it at $32 billion as of Oct. 25. Of that, $25 billion so far has been allocated to projects, HSBC said. Allocation doesn’t necessarily mean the funds have been paid.


“While countries are on track to fulfil their initial pledges, there continues to be a lack of clarity around the exact definition of what can count toward fast start finance,” Cliff Polycarp a senior associate at the WRI said in a statement. “This leaves room for doubt as to whether these targets are indeed being met.”

The UN talks involving more than 190 nations are working toward adopting a treaty in 2015 that would limit greenhouse gases starting in 2020. Richer countries pledged aid for poorer nations struggling to cope with the impact of global warming as a first step toward worldwide limits on fossil fuel emissions.

With the three-year fast-start aid period ending this year, envoys in Doha must also ensure aid doesn’t end next year, by doubling pledges to $60 billion for the three years through 2015 and plowing $10 billion to $15 billion into a new Green Climate Fund that was set up at last year’s round of talks, said the environmental group Conservation International in Washington.

‘Empty Promise’

“The $100 billion figure must not be an empty promise nor the Green Climate Fund an empty bank account,” Fred Boltz, vice-president for international policy at the group said today in an e-mailed statement.

As well as falling short of their pledges, developed countries didn’t make good on plans to detail the destination and nature of their payments and make them more transparent, the International Institute for Environment and Development said.


Global climate talks: If at the 17th you don’t succeed

Richard S J Tol

The 18th UN Conference on climate change negotiations has just started in Doha. This column suggests that the probability of success is a mere 2.3%. Recently, over $100 million per year was spent on fruitless negotiations. Having flogged, ever harder for 18 years, the dead horse of legally binding emission targets, the UN should close that chapter and try something new.

Game theory suggests that attempts to negotiate an international environmental agreement, aiming to provide a global public good such as greenhouse gas emission reduction, are bound to fail (Barrett 1991, Carraro and Siniscalco 1992, Carraro and Siniscalco 1993). The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) nonetheless sought to find an agreement on legally binding targets for emission abatement. International conferences have been held each year since 1995. This year’s event, the 18th Conference, is from 26 November to 7 December in Doha, Qatar.

The previous 17 conferences have failed to reduce emissions. There were glimmers of hope in 1997 and 2001 when the Kyoto Protocol was, respectively, initiated and finalised. This international treaty, however, bound Europe and Japan to do nothing much and most other countries to do nothing at all. The US and Canada would have had substantial obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, but the US decided not to ratify the treaty and Canada withdrew after ratification.

Suspending game theoretic insights for the moment, let us assume that the first Conference of the Parties in Berlin in 1995 had a 50-50 chance of succeeding. If we further assume that the successive negotiations were independent tries, we can estimate the probability of success in Doha. The outcome of the series of negotiations follows a binomial distribution. Initialising with a Jeffrey uninformative natural conjugate Beta prior, Figure 1 shows the evolution of the expected probability and its one-sided 95% confidence bound over time. There is a 2.3% change of success in Doha, and we are 95% confident that the success probability is smaller than 22%.

Figure 1. The expected probability of negotiation success (solid line), its 95% confidence bound (dashed line) and the annual costs of climate negotiations (triangles).

An obvious critique of this calculation is that the negotiations would have changed over time. This is not the case. In the run-up to Doha, a number of organisations have released alarming reports. This has happened every year. The only surprise in 2012 was that the report by the World Bank was prepared by a former director of Greenpeace (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics 2012). In the run-up to Doha, negotiators and climatocrats have called for legally-binding targets and timetables. Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, has called for a “centralised transformation” of the energy sector (Kolbert 2012), echoing other calls for a world government to solve the climate problem (Biermann et al. 2012). The policy rhetoric in 2012 is much the same as it was in 1995.

Empty promises and token actions by politicians are not new and not limited to greenhouse gas emission reduction policy. The international climate negotiations are expensive, though. Almost 1,000 delegates attended in 1995 (Schroeder et al. 2012). This rose to almost 11,000 in 2005 and to 24,000 in 2009. The numbers have fallen somewhat since then, with only 16,000 delegates in Durban in 2011. 17,000 delegates are expected in Doha. Almost 7,000 person-working-years have been spent on the conferences alone.

But the UNFCCC organises more than one meeting per year. In 2012, 107 meetings were held, down from 111 meetings in 2011. Meetings were (much) rarer in the earlier years. I reckon that the UNFCCC has organised 682 meetings since 1995. Some of these were small. Negotiation meetings, now held once every quarter, attract thousands of participants. Assuming an average attendance of 200 delegates (one per country) and a duration of one week (including travel), 3,000 person-working-years have been spent at subsidiary meetings. Travel and subsistence for these meetings (say $2,000/person for a subsidiary meeting and $3,000/person for a conference) would amount to over $700 million. If delegates earn $30,000/year on average, the total costs of the UNFCCC meetings alone (ignoring preparation and overhead) would be $1 billion.

Figure 1 depicts the estimated cost per year. Recently, over $100 million per year was spent in fruitless negotiations. This is not a large sum of money, but Figure 1 suggests that ever more effort has been put into an increasingly obviously hopeless venture. This seems foolhardy.

Alternatives have been suggested, and it is time they are taken seriously. Bradford (2008) points out that other global public goods are provided through voluntary contributions, often bolstered by international jamborees where countries pledge their contributions and review those of others. Tol (2010) argues that this is made easier by the international standards on emission monitoring and the international flexibility instruments through which countries and companies can invest in greenhouse gas emission reduction elsewhere. Having flogged, ever harder for 18 years, the dead horse of legally binding emission targets, the UNFCCC should close that chapter and try something new.


It's all over:  C.I.A. Closes Its Climate Change Office

The Central Intelligence Agency has disbanded its Center on Climate Change and National Security, a unit formed in 2009 to monitor the interplay between a warming planet and intelligence and security challenges.

The creation of the office drew fire at the time from some Republicans, who said it was an unnecessary expense and a distraction from the agency’s focus on terrorism and other more immediate threats. The agency did not say whether the closing was related to budget constraints or other political pressures.

Todd Ebitz, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency would continue to monitor the security and humanitarian challenges posed by climate change as part of its focus on economic security, but not in a stand-alone office.

“The C.I.A. for several years has studied the national security implications of climate change,” Mr. Ebitz said in an e-mailed statement. “As part of a broader realignment of analytic resources, this work continues to be performed by a dedicated team in a new office that looks at economic and energy matters affecting America’s national security. The mission and the resources devoted to it remain essentially unchanged.”

The closing of the office was first reported Monday by Greenwire.

The C.I.A. did not conduct its own scientific studies on climate change, instead relying on other government agencies and academic researchers. The National Research Council, an arm of the National Academies of Science, released an extensive report to the intelligence community last week on how it can better assess and respond to the impacts of climate change on vulnerable states.

Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, has been the most vocal critic of the C.I.A.’s climate change work. He welcomed the closing of its office.

“Closing the Climate Change Center at the C.I.A. was the right decision,” Mr. Barrasso said in a statement. “I offered an amendment on the Senate floor to eliminate the center because it was unnecessary, wasteful and totally out of place. It’s critically important for the C.I.A. to focus its resources on preventing terrorism and keeping Americans safe.”


EPA administrators invent excuses to avoid transparency

The Environmental Protection Agency is the latest Obama bureaucracy exposed for embarrassing efforts to avert transparency. Its administrator, Lisa Jackson, has been using the email alias "Richard Windsor" to conduct agency business, which might allow some policy conversations to avoid scrutiny and circumvent public records laws.

So far, the EPA has offered a two-part defense of such accounts, first revealed in my new book, "The Liberal War on Transparency." First, everybody does it: "For more than a decade, EPA administrators have been assigned two official, government-issued email accounts: a public account and an internal account." Second, the masses made us do it: the overwhelming volume of mail an administrator would receive from the public meant she needed an account she would actually read and write from.

Both excuses, though slight on detail, prove too much.

Consider what lies behind the anodyne phrase "for more than a decade." While researching my book, I discovered a 2008 EPA memo to the national archivist reporting a records management problem. The agency had discovered "secondary" nonpublic email accounts for EPA administrators instigated earlier, under and with the active participation of Clinton-era EPA administrator Carol Browner.

That is remarkable because in 2000, a federal court ordered Browner to preserve her records -- specifically her email -- in a lawsuit filed by Mark Levin's Landmark Legal Foundation. Although she later pled ignorance of the order, the next morning Browner instructed EPA information technology staff to erase her hard drive and backup tapes, as a computer contractor later testified.

Her defense for having records destroyed was that she didn't use her computer for email.

You can imagine my surprise, then, to read of her involvement in arranging what is fairly described as a secret email account. The April 11, 2008, memo that I obtained acknowledges that Browner had such an account, and that such accounts were initiated for the first time under her because it would be impractical to correspond with an email account whose address was known to the public.

This, and that she had assisted in creating the account also raised further questions about her explanation for having her computer's history erased.

The reason EPA was required to report to the archivist was that its technicians found that these accounts were set on "auto-delete," destroying all records 90 days after they were last modified. As such, EPA said, it was difficult but not impossible to reconstruct the accounts' activity. The agency did reconstruct some administrators' emails by finding copies sent to or received from the accounts by others in the agency, but they made no effort to reconstruct Ms. Browner's account.

Their reason was that "Former Administrator Browner reportedly did not use her secondary email account, therefore there was no loss of records."

Note that conclusion is simply an assertion, one EPA elected not to check.

It would seem worthwhile to check, given the massive, costly operation that Browner's cyber-bonfire created. On its face, this destruction of records seemingly violates the U.S. criminal code (Title 18 Section 2071). The same court ordered thousands of hard drives examined in search of Browner's. Once it was found, the FBI conducted a forensic examination leading only to the conclusion that her hard drive had indeed been "reformatted."

There are further reasons why this matters for Obama's administrator Jackson. Has EPA in fact been searching for and producing from the "Richard Windsor" account to satisfy Freedom of Information requests for Jackson's emails? They say yes, but I have found reasons to demand verification (which Congress has also requested).

One reason is a demonstrated bureaucratic practice of inventing excuses to not search or produce certain files when they don't want them released. Another is that Obama officials have moved government over to private email accounts, private computers and even privately owned and managed servers. All of these acts indicate a desire to hide what the supposedly most transparent administration in history is up to.

Finally, for some reason EPA continues to stonewall our request for Jackson's "Windsor" emails about the war on coal and backdoor efforts to make electricity rates, in President Obama's words, "necessarily skyrocket."

EPA owes a lot of answers. So far, all it has offered are excuses.




Preserving the graphics:  Graphics hotlinked to this site sometimes have only a short life and if I host graphics with blogspot, the graphics sometimes get shrunk down to illegibility.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here and here


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