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Pacific Ecologist

Pacific Ecologist 1 - March 2002


Editorials

Creating a climate for global security by KAY WEIR

A question of survival by EDWARD GOLDSMITH

Some facts about climate change

Climate change - where to from here? MARTIN MANNING notes the growing evidence that the earth is responding to global warming. Recent studies find that more people will be adversely affected than beneficially affected for even small degrees of warming. Common sense suggests that we need to limit climate change. There are many ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. About half of these reductions can be achieved without cost.

"At the rate that it has been melting recently, Kilimanjaro's ice-sheet will disappear within twenty years."

"...so far studies have depended on simple assumptions about advances in crop productivity, assumed static trading patterns, and have not considered interactions between climate change and soil degradation, erosion, and frequency of storm damage."

"For example improved building design and management was identified as an area where large reductions can be made in greenhouse gas emissions while saving money."

Global temperatures in 2001 - second warmest year on record by JIM SALINGER

"The earth's surface air temperature in the year 2001 was the second warmest in the record of observations stretching back to 1860."

"Global temperatures in the year 2001 confirm the warming trend, being about 0.7oC higher than those at the beginning of the 20th century. The ten warmest years have all occurred since 1983, with 9 of these occurring since 1990."

Effects of climate change on Aotearoa/New Zealand

Climate Change New Zealand: Impacts, vulnerability and adaptation DAVID S WRATT reports that by later this century there will probably be significantly drier conditions in many eastern areas of New Zealand, putting more pressure on water resources. At the same time, in other areas, if increased frequency of heavy rain episodes of up to four times the current rate eventuates by 2080, likely impacts include increased risk of flood, landslide, avalanche and mudslide damage; increased soil erosion; increased pressure on flood insurance schemes and disaster relief. It would therefore be wise to take into account changing flood risk in designing new structures, roads and drainage and water- supply systems. A cautious approach is desirable, particularly regarding development in areas that are already under threat from flood or from coastal erosion.

"More frequent drought in already dry eastern areas could also lead to a decrease in pasture quality... [and] ...may increase the risk of forest fire."

"Climate warming may accelerate weed invasion into indigenous grassland and shrubland."

"For warming beyond a few degrees the IPCC expects plant productivity in most parts of the world to decrease."

David Wratt is Principal Scientist, Climate Applications, at NIWA, Wellington, New Zealand. He and Dr Barrie Pittock of CSIRO were convening lead authors of the Australia and New Zealand chapter of the recent IPCC Third Assessment Report (Working Group II:Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability).

What does climate change mean for human health? ALISTAIR WOODWARD, SIMON HALES and NEIL DE WET warn that climate change is likely to have serious effects on human health within New Zealand and the Pacific region. Stabilising greenhouse gases would have quantifiable benefits. Natural systems are subject to thresholds and complexities that we understand very poorly. So it is possible that the dangers that climate change pose for human health will not be recognised until it is too late to respond effectively, or until a substantial cost has already been incurred.

"Increased temperatures due to climate change will generally exacerbate the effects of photo-chemical air pollution in summer in big cities such as Auckland."

"In terms of vector borne disease, stabilising global greenhouse gas emissions would have quantifiable local benefits for New Zealand."

Alistair Woodward and Simon Hales, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago; and Neil de Wet, International Global Change Institute, University of Waikato Acknowledgement: This article is based on a report prepared for the NZ Ministry for the Environment as part of the New Zealand Climate Change Programme.

Impacts of climate change on Pacific Islands

The vulnerability of Pacific Islands to climate change Pacific Islands are identified as the most vulnerable of all countries to climate- sensitive activities, particularly agriculture, fishing and tourism, as PENEHURO FATU LEFALE reports. Robert Watson, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in 2000 that low-lying small island states face the "possible loss of whole cultures," through the impacts of climate change. The IPCC has also pointed out: "it is not the role of the scientific community to determine whether a particular pattern of impacts constitutes 'dangerous' interference; that is a political judgement to be negotiated among participating governments and institutions." For Pacific Islanders though, climate change is clearly dangerous enough. They recognize the urgent need for financial and technical assistance from the international community to enable them to adapt to the level of climate change they are already experiencing

"In tiny islands where physical space already is very scarce, adaptation measures such as retreat to higher ground... appears to be impracticable."

"It is highly likely that tropical cyclones and other extreme events such as floods and droughts as a consequence of climate change will affect crop agriculture."

"Vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are particularly sensitive to warming and flooding events... ...Water-borne diseases such as shigella, cryptosporidium, giardia and amoebiasis could increase when flooding disrupts sewage and water systems."

"On average Pacific Islanders produce approximately one quarter of the CO2emissions attributable to the average person worldwide.

Penehuro Fatu Lefale is Pacific Islands Climate Research Officer, National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research Ltd. (NIWA), 269 Khyber Pass Rd, Newmarket, Auckland, New Zealand.

Rethinking development in response to climate change in Oceania JON BARNETT questions whether developing adaptive capacity to climate change, as promoted in official climate forums is suitable for the islands of Oceania. The model used reflects a standard western idea of development. Following the western development model appears to be reducing human welfare as well as undermining the capacity of islanders to adapt to climate change. What is needed is an alternative approach that supplements the inherent skills and knowledge of Pacific people with appropriate technological and policy innovation.

"...the islands of the Pacific are not continental and, overall, applications of Western development models have failed to deliver sustainable human development and therefore enhanced adaptive capacity."

"Food security in the future demands greater effort at sustainable management of deep-water fisheries FOR islanders."

Jon Barnett lectures in Development Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He recently completed a term as New Zealand Science and Technology Post-doctoral Fellow at the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury, New Zealand. He is author of "The Meaning of Environmental Security: Ecological Politics and Policy in the New Science Era," (Zed Books in 2001). Jon's current research is concerned with the capacity of Pacific Island countries to adapt to climate change.

Agriculture under climate change

A hungrier world PETER BUNYARD wonders if the effects of climate change on agriculture will be as positive as some of the models have predicted. Agricultural mismanagement since 1945 has damaged 38% of today's cultivated areas & millions more hectares a year are currently being lost. How will agriculture stand up under the increasing stresses of climate change? More demand for water with rising temperatures, when aquifers are already becoming depleted; further erosion of soil through storm damage; and an increase in pathogens and pests are just some of the challenges to be faced. To feed the growing population we clearly must take action now.

"...the models used to justify a "business-as-usual" approach are fundamentally flawed because they treat the Earth's land surface as it would be had we not destroyed great tracts of natural vegetation."

"Already global warming appears to be having an impact on agriculture..."Three times in the last nine years the United States grain harvest has been reduced 17 percent or more by weather"."

"Within the context of modern industrialised farming, global warming and warmer temperatures with milder winters in temperate zones will lead to a surge in pathogens and pests... ...In addition, many C3 plants are weeds and a likely consequence of increased carbon dioxide levels will be to stimulate an epidemic of aggressively-growing weeds."

Peter Bunyard is science editor for The Ecologist.

Some climate history of the Earth

A brief history of climate change - with an Australian perspective by A. BARRIE PITTOCK

The Earth's climate has varied over the 5 billion years since it formed. But the current climate changes, as A. BARRIE PITTOCK reflects, are happening over 100 years instead of thousands of years as has happened previously when a similar degree of change has occurred. At the same time as this great change is happening, human populations are much greater, water resources are far more stressed, and the natural ecosystems are more vulnerable due to land clearance habitat loss, pollution, and human barriers to migration. Will Australia be able to adapt as well as Aboriginal Australians did at the time of our last deglaciation? A lot will depend on the degree of foresight and our willingness to change

"...tens of millions of people living in deltas, low-lying coastal areas and on small islands will face the risk of displacement by sea-level rise."

"Overall the IPCC assessment for Australia suggests that Australia is highly vulnerable to climate change - perhaps as much as many developing countries."

"It is up to us to ensure that, via global cooperation, climate change is limited by mitigation measures."

Dr A. Barrie Pittock is Post-Retirement Fellow with the Climate Impact Group, CSIRO Atmospheric Research. This article was first written as a contribution to Australian Climate - Perspective of a Century (Bureau of Meteorology). Dr Pittock can be contacted at the Climate Impact Group, CSIRO Atmospheric Research, PMB 1, Aspendale, 3195, Australia.

Back to the Future - What ice and sediment cores tell us to expect from climate change today In this article PETER BUNYARD reflects on what scientists have discovered about past climate through research in Antarctica. His observations build on those outlined by Professor Peter Barrett of Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand in his article "Lessons on Earth's Climate from Antarctica" in the July 1999 issue of Pacific World

"One of the revelations about those 400 millenia... is that throughout this period there is a strong association between temperature and CO2 levels - they rise and fall together - confirming that the "greenhouse effect"... is no mere theory."

"If we are able to learn anything from the distant past it is that we should take all precautions not to perturb a system, which at some unknown critical point jumps violently into a very different state."

Peter Bunyard is science editor of The Ecologist

Politics of climate change

Casting doubt and undermining climate action In this article, SHARON BEDER shows how corporations with money and industrial power to influence governments have conspired to confuse the facts about climate change in order to block policies to reduce reliance on fossil fuels to keep their profits flowing. Although the evidence on warming is now overwhelming, Beder says the corporate lobbyists need to be exposed for what they are and that mass action of people to governments demanding action on climate change is needed to deter governments from acceding to corporate interests.

"...the US has admitted it will not comply. But are countries like Australia merely keeping up appearances whilst having no real intention of doing what it takes to meet emissions targets?"

"Polls have shown that the majority of people in the US and Australia want their governments to act to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions."

"...politicians in both countries have not been responsive to people's concerns, largely due to industry lobbying and the confusion corporate-funded scientists, front-groups and think tanks deliberately spread."

"...several Australian studies over the last few years have shown that emissions could be cut in Australia by at least 20% without cost."

"In 2000, the transnational oil giant BP Amoco was rebranded as "bp, beyond petroleum", part of an effort to portray BP as an energy company rather than an oil company."

"Unless politicians are swamped by protests, letters and phone calls demanding action to prevent global warming, it will be too easy for governments to accede to corporate interests."

Dr Sharon Beder is associate professor and head of the Science, Technology and Society Programme at the University of Wollongong. She writes a regular column for Engineers Australia and has written several books, including "Toxic Fish and Sewer Surfing", "The Nature of Sustainable Development", "The New Engineer", "Global Spin" and "Selling the Work Ethic". She was awarded the 2001 World Technology Award in Ethics.

Fast forward - new ideas to generate change Environmental organisations have had only limited success in bringing about the changes necessary to address climate change. SIMON RETALLACK says it's time for new strategies to bring about change.

"One of the most important steps NGOs could now take to increase their leverage over governments and corporations is to build a popular, global, grassroots movement to create pressure for change."

"...the reality today is that the public worldwide remains almost wholly unengaged and uninformed about the issue of climate change."

Simon Retallack is managing editor of The Ecologist special issues and is co-director of The Climate Initiatives Fund

Who owes who? Ecological debt - the biggest debt of all Poor countries are traditionally seen as the world's debtors. But climate change reverses the charges as ANDREW SIMMS writes. With environmental damage from climate change being caused primarily by the development of rich countries, the debtors become creditors...

"A former director of insurance giant CGNU plotted a graph to see where climate change bankrupted the global economy. He concluded that we have ... just over half a century."

Andrew Simms, director of the Global Economy Programme at the New Economics Foundation in London, is writing a book about ecological debt to be published in 2002.

Policies and measures to curb climate change

Kyoto and New Zealand - what happens now? With New Zealand due to sign the Kyoto Protocol in September, the question is, how will we meet our obligations? ALAN THATCHER comments on some pitfalls in policies being advocated and suggests ways New Zealand could achieve the government's objective of "environmental integrity".

"It is generally accepted that if global temperatures did increase by 5.8 degrees over the next 100 years, there would be widespread ecological collapse and mass extinctions of species living in ecosystems that cannot adapt to such rapid change."

"The chief advantage of a carbon tax is that it creates a fund which could be used to invest in efficiency/renewables and to protect and enhance our major carbon resevoirs."

Strategies needed NOW to prevent climate catastrophes next century by KAY WEIR

"What are we prepared to do to stave off misery and death for millions or billions of people in the near future?"

"With abrupt, non-linear climate change likely to occur at some point in the not too distant future, the "wait and see" approach will inevitably lead to disastrous consequences."

"Action must be swift or it will be too late."

Should we pay farmers to sequester carbon in their soils? by PETER BUNYARD "...the idea of allowing farmers to gain from carbon conservation practices [is] extremely attractive - not as an alternative to reductions in fossil fuel us but in addition to it."

From energy myths to efficiency and conservation The Great Energy Myth has persisted: electricity is just another commodity like baked beans, KEN PIDDINGTON observes. But the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy is one of several developments in New Zealand that will bring us back to stark reality very quickly. Although the Kyoto Protocol is forcing a rethink, we only need one more dry year for the market itself to induce an investment surge in wind power. There are many opportunities created through the government's move to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

"I now see the 1990s as the phase when we were in complete denial about the nature of energy as the strategic element for the economy, the environment and society."

Renewable energy and the New Zealand national energy efficiency and conservation strategy RALPH E.H. SIMS finds there are good opportunities for implementing sustainable energy systems in New Zealand and for comparing investment in various systems in terms of the dollar cost per tonne of carbon avoided. There are also many local business and export opportunities from manufacturing wind turbine components to the designing of smart motors and controls for distributed generation systems. How much will renewable energy continue to reduce in cost as we gain experience and also mass produce the various components?

"Energy efficient technologies could account for more than half of the economic potential for greenhouse gas emission reductions in the 2010-20 timeframe."

"Of course, the externality cost of releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere whenever we use fossil fuels, is not included in what we pay."

"There are good opportunities for implementing sustainable energy systems in New Zealand and for comparing investment in various systems..."

Professor Ralph E.H. Sims, Director, Centre for Energy Research, Massey University, Palmerston North.

Book reviews

The Carbon War - Global warming and the end of the Oil Era by Jeremy Leggett

The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the real state of the world by Bjorn Lomborg