Friday, December 12, 2008

Big upset? Climate change not imminent danger, UN panel chief says

There is no clear evidence that global warming is an imminent danger to the world, says Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Even so, it would be good for governments to go further with proposed cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions to deal with dire predictions made in a 2007 panel report, he told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday. "I don't think we should jump to conclusions if we get material that is based on the last one or two years," he said. But governments should rethink their responses to the panel's 2007 report, which predicted sea levels would rise by 40 centimetres to 1.4 metres even if drastic cuts were made in carbon emissions.

Now he has warned that if gigantic ice sheets in Greenland or Antarctica melt, the sea could rise even more, flooding coastal areas and islands and causing widespread environmental disruptions. The report recommended large drops in carbon emissions after 2015 to contain the changes, but governments should reconsider whether even those targets go far enough, Pachauri said.

He made the comments at a meeting in Poznan, Poland, where more than 10,000 delegates and environmentalists are trying to hammer out an international treaty to cut greenhouse gases. It is intended to to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Pachauri is worried that the negotiators would leave the key decisions to the end of the meeting, producing "a weak agreement that doesn't really address the problem."

Government officials are working on the treaty before politicians arrive to address the issue later this week. Canada's Environment Minister, Jim Prentice, is expected to address the meeting on Thursday. Prentice has said that he will not agree to the deep emission cuts that environmentalists want. Canadian environmental organizations and northern indigenous groups want emissions reduced by 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020; Prentice said he wants a 20 per cent reduction of 2006 levels to avoid economic damage. The federal Conservatives have been criticized for substituting lower targets for the level set in the Kyoto deal, signed by not implemented by the Liberals.



Angela Merkel was once the Green Goddess who pushed through tough climate change targets to show that Europe could lead the world in beating global warming. Under huge pressure to shield German industry from the cost of going green, however, she has been transformed into Frau Nein - fighting to reverse key goals that she once championed.

As EU leaders meet to complete the targets today the German Chancellor, who was so firmly in Europe's driving seat just a year ago, also seems off-message over the other main item on the agenda: the size of the recovery plan needed to beat the recession.

Berlin is being accused of resorting to national self-interest just when Europe needs to pull together. Moreover, the importance of Europe sticking to its ambitious target of cutting CO2 by 20 per cent by 2020 has never been greater, with the chance of liaising with a sympathetic new US president to push for a global successor to the Kyoto Protocol fast approaching. "On a broad range of issues the Germans seem to think the European Union no longer advances their interests and are more prone to go their own way," said Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform. "In Brussels, Paris, Washington and other capitals, one increasingly hears the same complaint: Germany is acting unilaterally."

A fierce battle has been raging behind the scenes in Europe's capitals ever since Mrs Merkel proudly announced the so-called 20/20/20 targets, under the German presidency of the EU in March last year. The goals would be for a 20 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, combined with 20 per cent of fuel to come from renewable sources and a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency. The targets themselves have survived - just - but the hard part has been putting them into practice by making sure that each country does its share.

One of the key mechanisms is the EU's emissions trading scheme, which, from 2013, will force companies to buy carbon credits - each worth one metric tonne of CO2 - which they can trade if they cut pollution. Since the scheme was drawn up, however, the recession has given extra weight to arguments that the rump of European industry will be forced out of business by the extra costs. German industry, in particular, has complained that it faces "carbon leakage" - the relocation of steel, aluminium and cement production to countries much less scrupulous about pollution and free from targets and emissions trading.

Mrs Merkel arrives in Brussels today demanding free carbon credits for 90 to 100 per cent of German factories until 2020 - blowing a hole in a key climate change scheme.

Where Germany leads, others follow. Mrs Merkel's demands have strengthened calls from a group of nine former Iron Curtain countries, led by Poland, for free credits and for massive cash subsidies from Western Europe to fund green technology. The European Commission has proposed a "solidarity fund" for the coal-dependent countries worth 7.5 billion euros in sales of carbon credits. They want twice as much; Britain opposes the principle of the subsidy.

President Sarkozy, who holds the EU's rotating leadership until the end of the month, is determined to resolve the climate clash over the two-day EU gathering, not least to send a positive signal to UN climate change talks held at the same time in Poznan, Poland. His relations with Mrs Merkel have been difficult and he has not been helped by a piece of clumsy diplomacy which took him to London on Monday to meet Gordon Brown and Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, in what looked to some Germans like a conspiracy. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister and also Mrs Merkel's rival for the Chancellorship in next year's elections, took the opportunity to make a barbed comment. "I do not think it is good that the three are meeting alone and that the Chancellor is not there," he said. It showed that open sparring has already started before next summer's election, which will serve to make Mrs Merkel more likely to put domestic self-interest first at the EU summit.

Jan Kowalzig, a climate change campaigner with Oxfam in Germany, said: "Angela Merkel was the first Environment Minister that Germany ever had. We were surprised at how progressive she was at first but she has now come back more to her conservative party position. In the context of the elections next year, she is giving the impression that German jobs are more important than climate change."



'We Can't Kill the Business Climate,' Says Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D). One of Barack Obama's closest allies in the Senate said Tuesday that she hopes the economic downturn can induce the incoming president to delay the centerpiece of his plan for reducing carbon emissions. "Let me speak for me here because I think this is very dangerous," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. "I would like to keep my relationship with Barack at this point. Let me speak for me."

McCaskill said she hoped Obama would delay a plan to institute a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. "I think a delay may be necessary," she continued. "Yes, we've got to do something. Yes, we have to move forward. But we can't kill the business climate at the same time. I'm from a state where most of the people who turn on the lights in the state get it from utility companies that depend on coal. And the cost of switching all that to clean coal technology or to alternative sources is going to be borne by them -- by regular folks who are trying to figure out how to pay their mortgages right now."

McCaskill cemented her ties to Obama during the Democratic presidential primary campaign by becoming the first female senator to endorse him over Hillary Clinton. She made her cap-and-trade comments to Ron Brownstein, the political director of Atlantic Media, during a National Journal discussion of Obama's "First 100 Days" held in Washington, D.C.

Under the Obama plan, the federal government would set a ceiling on carbon emissions and require companies to bid for permits to emit greenhouse gases through an auction. The government would gradually lower the amount of credits available.

Firms that reduced their emissions below the required level could sell leftover credits to other polluters. Obama would take a small portion of the auction receipts, $15 billion per year, and use it on energy efficiency, alternative fuels, and what his campaign promise book, "Change We Can Believe In," refers to as "other measures to help the economy adjust."

Raising concerns about cap-and-trade is nothing new for McCaskill. In June she was one of 10 Democratic senators to sign a letter criticizing a cap-and-trade proposal sponsored by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. The letter said that a federal cap-and-trade program must ensure that consumers and workers in all regions of the country are protected from "undue hardship." Opponents of the Boxer plan worried that it would raise the cost for electricity generated from fossil fuels. "I'm one of the senators that signed a letter on cap-and-trade," McCaskill said Tuesday. "We've got to find a more moderate middle here because you're playing with fire."

Consumer cost is not McCaskill's only concern. She also criticized the logrolling that took place in June when the Senate considered Boxer's cap-and-trade proposal. Boxer's legislation would have raised an estimated $3.4 trillion in federal revenue over the next four decades. To build support for the cap-and-trade proposal, its backers promised to allocate anticipated proceeds from the auction on legislators' preferred causes. "I'm not big on buying people off," said McCaskill. "As a former auditor, that makes chills run up my spine."

Obama's transition office had no immediate comment.


Scientists abandon global warming 'lie'

650 to dissent at U.N. climate change conference

A United Nations climate change conference in Poland is about to get a surprise from 650 leading scientists who scoff at doomsday reports of man-made global warming - labeling them variously a lie, a hoax and part of a new religion. Later today, their voices will be heard in a U.S. Senate minority report quoting the scientists, many of whom are current and former members of the U.N.'s own Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. About 250 of the scientists quoted in the report have joined the dissenting scientists in the last year alone. In fact, the total number of scientists represented in the report is 12 times the number of U.N. scientists who authored the official IPCC 2007 report. Here are some choice excerpts from the report:
"I am a skeptic ... . Global warming has become a new religion." -- Nobel Prize Winner for Physics, Ivar Giaever.

"Since I am no longer affiliated with any organization nor receiving any funding, I can speak quite frankly ... . As a scientist I remain skeptical." -- Atmospheric Scientist Dr. Joanne Simpson, the first woman in the world to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology and formerly of NASA who has authored more than 190 studies and has been called "among the most pre-eminent scientists of the last 100 years."

Warming fears are the "worst scientific scandal in the history ... . When people come to know what the truth is, they will feel deceived by science and scientists." -- U.N. IPCC Japanese Scientist Dr. Kiminori Itoh, an award-winning Ph.D. environmental physical chemist.

"The IPCC has actually become a closed circuit; it doesn't listen to others. It doesn't have open minds ... . I am really amazed that the Nobel Peace Prize has been given on scientifically incorrect conclusions by people who are not geologists." -- Indian geologist Dr. Arun D. Ahluwalia at Punjab University and a board member of the U.N.-supported International Year of the Planet.

"The models and forecasts of the U.N. IPCC "are incorrect because they only are based on mathematical models and presented results at scenarios that do not include, for example, solar activity." -- Victor Manuel Velasco Herrera, a researcher at the Institute of Geophysics of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

"It is a blatant lie put forth in the media that makes it seem there is only a fringe of scientists who don't buy into anthropogenic global warming." -- U.S. Government Atmospheric Scientist Stanley B. Goldenberg of the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Even doubling or tripling the amount of carbon dioxide will virtually have little impact, as water vapor and water condensed on particles as clouds dominate the worldwide scene and always will." -- Geoffrey G. Duffy, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering of the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

"After reading [U.N. IPCC chairman] Pachauri's asinine comment [comparing skeptics to] Flat Earthers, it's hard to remain quiet." -- Climate statistician Dr. William M. Briggs, who specializes in the statistics of forecast evaluation, serves on the American Meteorological Society's Probability and Statistics Committee and is an associate editor of Monthly Weather Review.

"For how many years must the planet cool before we begin to understand that the planet is not warming? For how many years must cooling go on?" -- Geologist Dr. David Gee, the chairman of the science committee of the 2008 International Geological Congress who has authored 130 plus peer-reviewed papers, and is currently at Uppsala University in Sweden.

"Gore prompted me to start delving into the science again and I quickly found myself solidly in the skeptic camp ... . Climate models can at best be useful for explaining climate changes after the fact." -- Meteorologist Hajo Smit of Holland, who reversed his belief in man-made warming to become a skeptic, is a former member of the Dutch U.N. IPCC committee.

"Many [scientists] are now searching for a way to back out quietly (from promoting warming fears), without having their professional careers ruined." -- Atmospheric physicist James A. Peden, formerly of the Space Research and Coordination Center in Pittsburgh, Pa.

"Creating an ideology pegged to carbon dioxide is a dangerous nonsense ... . The present alarm on climate change is an instrument of social control, a pretext for major businesses and political battle. It became an ideology, which is concerning." -- Environmental Scientist Professor Delgado Domingos of Portugal, the founder of the Numerical Weather Forecast group, has more than 150 published articles.

"CO2 emissions make absolutely no difference one way or another ... . Every scientist knows this, but it doesn't pay to say so ... . Global warming, as a political vehicle, keeps Europeans in the driver's seat and developing nations walking barefoot." -- Dr. Takeda Kunihiko, vice-chancellor of the Institute of Science and Technology Research at Chubu University in Japan.

"The [global warming] scaremongering has its justification in the fact that it is something that generates funds." -- Award-winning Paleontologist Dr. Eduardo Tonni, of the Committee for Scientific Research in Buenos Aires and head of the Paleontology Department at the University of La Plata.

The report also includes new peer-reviewed scientific studies and analyses refuting man-made warming fears and a climate developments that contradict the theory. It is 4 degrees Celsius (39 Fahrenheit) today in Poznan, Poland, where the U.N. conference is being held.



There is a new paper 'in press' in Geophysical Research Letters by Eichler et al entitled, 'Temperature response in the Altai region lags solar forcing'. The Abstract states:
The role of the sun on Earth's climate variability is still much debated. Here we present an ice core oxygen isotope record from the continental Siberian Altai, serving as a high-resolution temperature proxy for the last 750 years. The strong correlation between reconstructed temperature and solar activity suggests solar forcing as a main driver for temperature variations during the period 1250-1850 in this region. The precisely dated record allowed for the identification of a 10-30 year lag between solar forcing and temperature response, underlining the importance of indirect sun-climate mechanisms involving ocean induced changes in atmospheric circulation. Solar contribution to temperature change became less important during industrial period 1850-2000 in the Altai region.

In the Results and Discussion the authors write:
"Our reconstructed temperatures are significantly correlated with the 10Be and 14C based solar activity reconstructions in the period 1250-1850, but not with the greenhouse gas CO2 (Figure 2b). This indicates that solar activity changes are a main driver for the temperature variation in the Altai region during the pre industrial time. However, during the industrial period (1850-2000) solar forcing became less important and only the CO2 concentrations show a significant correlation with the temperature record. Our results are in agreement with studies based on NH temperature reconstructions [Scafetta et al., 2007] revealing that only up to approximately 50% of the observed global warming in the last 100 years can be explained by the Sun."

Whilst this paper supports studies by Scafetta et al, it is clear that solar factors are still poorly understood, and there are many factors other than CO2 or Solar involved in climate change. A correlation with post industrial CO2 does not necessarily imply causation. For example, Tsonis et al, 2007 investigated the collective behavior of known climate cycles such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation, the El Nino/Southern Oscillation, and the North Pacific Oscillation. By studying the last 100 years of these cycles' patterns, they found that the systems synchronized several times. In cases where the synchronous state was followed by an increase in the coupling strength among the cycles, the synchronous state was destroyed. Then, a new climate state emerged, associated with global temperature changes and El Nino/Southern Oscillation variability. The suggestion is that this mechanism explains all global temperature tendency changes and El Nino variability in the 20th century.


Seaweed to the rescue

Comment from Australia

There are many reasons for wanting to reduce our dependence on oil: the increasing cost, reliability of supply, finite resources, the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming. Yet when people talk about alternative sources of fuel they mostly discuss the conversion of food, such as corn, into ethanol, which puts enormous pressure on food supplies. During the past year, demands for food and fuel have combined to drive up food prices sharply, which has particularly important ramifications in developing countries.

When one adds to the mix growing populations and global environmental change, with the pressures these impose on our ability to maintain high crop yields, the prospects for providing sufficient food for all are not good. So, the idea of converting a significant proportion of our food into fuel for vehicles or diverting agricultural land to grow biomass seems misguided.

Although the growth of biomass on marginal lands has some prospect, the impact on nature conservation must be considered. Furthermore, the contribution that such areas can make to global liquid fuel needs will always be modest. Marginal lands provide only low-density cropping potential and biomass from plants or crop residues generally has a low energy density, while a significant proportion of the energy gained from the biomass will be consumed in the process of moving the biomass to the processing centres.

Yet one group of plants could make a sustainable, significant contribution to world energy supply. They do not require agricultural land and need only minimal processing. Single-celled algae can grow very rapidly in low quality water, producing biomass at 10 to 30 times the rate of terrestrial plants. They can do this mainly because the cells are immersed in a medium providing all their needs, including physical support, and so the cells have no need to build infrastructure to move materials and to support themselves. A pond 60km by 60km (less than 500,000ha) well stocked with a vigorous microalga would go close to producing sufficient biomass to meet most of Australia's liquid fuel needs.

Furthermore, algae have remarkable biochemical abilities: some strains produce oils that could be used unmodified in diesel engines. Indeed, there is good evidence that many of the world's vast reserves of fossil liquid fuels are the products of ancient algal activity. The demands of algae are simple: sunlight, warmth, water, nutrients and, most significantly, carbon dioxide, the much maligned gas that is a major contributor to global warming.

Australia has more sunshine and warmth than any other developed country, and seawater is common, thanks to our extended coastline. Augmentation of seawater with waste water from sewage treatment plants could completely satisfy algal nutrient demands and would have the side benefit of treating the wastewater. Significantly, carbon dioxide can be delivered to the algal cells either direct from the atmosphere or in a concentrated form from cement factories and electricity stations. The algae can also be engineered to convert waste carbon dioxide to produce valuable products, such as liquid fuels.

Consequently, this process has much greater economic potential to be an economic option than, for example, carbon capture and storage, which, other than the carbon credits, produces no useful product. In addition to the production of liquid fuels, the algae can be used in other ways: there is potential for the cells to be pyrolysed to char for burial, which effectively removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or they could be used as animal food.

Across the world, including in Australia, pilot programs are pioneering this new biotechnology. The main engineering challenge is efficiently harvesting the algae. The biological challenges would not surprise anyone who has attempted to keep an aquarium clean. The algae must be resistant to pests and pathogens and must be able to outcompete other algae that are likely to contaminate the ponds. Reliable containment methods, such as those used for bacteria and fungi in research laboratories for decades, are also necessary to prevent the escape of the microalgae into our waterways. The use of algae that have evolved in natural ecosystems will not be adequate. To optimise productivity, alteration of the algae will be necessary, including their genetic modification.

Globally, most of the research on algal biofuels is in private hands. Recently, Bill Gates invested in a US company developing algae as a fuel. But if industry is to bridge the gap between theory and reality, large companies will need to dig deep in order to develop long-term research programs. Perhaps some government-sponsored research is also necessary. Support for the integration of algal production systems with existing infrastructure - power stations and waste treatment works - will also require government intervention. But, on the whole, this new and exciting area of research and development is likely to be driven by the private sector.

Meanwhile, the Government is grappling with solutions to climate change without factoring in new technology. The international community is meeting this week in Poznan, Poland, to try to negotiate a global agreement on reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. These negotiations are bound to be diabolically difficult, to use Ross Garnaut's phrase. There will be heated discussions about what the level of greenhouse gas emissions should be in 25 years and in 50 years. It is as if a conference were being held in 1908 on global transport for the 20th century without taking into account the work of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Nobody imagined that their rickety plane would transform the world. But it did.

In the 21st century we need to build on this understanding of the power of technology to transform the way we live. As Rupert Murdoch observed when he delivered his first Boyer Lecture last month, there will be great rewards for Australians who discover new ways of reducing emissions or cleaning the environment.

With some hard economic analyses, some cutting-edge plant biotechnology and engineering that balances economic and biological demands, algal liquid fuel production could provide us with the most sustainable and economically viable biofuels option and a contribution to greenhouse gas reductions.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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