Saturday, 9 February 2019

EXTREME WEATHER IN 2018 - CLIMATE COUNCIL REPORT

The Climate Council recently published a new report - "Weather gone wild: Climate change-fuelled extreme weather in 2018".  It discusses extreme weather globally as well as in Australia.

There are four key findings.

The first is that the past four years have been the four hottest on record for global surface temperature;  this continues a long-term warming trend.  In 2018 the global average surface temperature was between 0.9 and 1.1 degrees celsius above temperatures in the late 19th century.  In Australia last year the surface air temperature was 1.14 degrees celsius above the 1961-1990 average. It was the third hottest year on record. And 2018 was the warmest on record in the oceans, surpassing the previous record set in 2017.

The second finding is that climate change is increasing the frequency and/or severity of extreme weather both globally and in Australia. These extreme events are occurring in an atmosphere that contains more energy than it did 50 years ago.  In 2018 extreme weather included extreme heat in many parts of the Australia, as well as severe bushfires in New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. While intense rainfall led to flooding in north Queensland, southwestern Western Australia and Hobart in Tasmania, southern Australia was in drought.

Events in other parts of the world included intense hurricanes in the United States southeast and record-breaking wildfires in California.  Scandinavia suffered from extreme heat and Sweden had severe fires while drought in South Africa created a water supply crisis in Capetown.

The third finding is that the impacts of extreme weather last year have been both damaging and costly.  Economic losses associated with weather-related disasters are estimated at US $215 billion globally.  In 2018 in Australia insurance payouts  (only a small part of the total costs of extreme weather) were $1.2 billion following major extreme weather events.

And the current eastern Australian drought is likely to cut the country's GDP growth in 2018-19 by 0.75% or up to $12.5 billion.

All of these impacts have resulted in the fourth finding which relates to our nation's lack of an effective climate policy. 

The Climate Council points out that Australia's current climate policy is "an abject failure, with greenhouse gas pollution increasing over the past four years."  What is needed is a policy which drives down emissions across all sectors - electricity, transport, industry, agriculture and land use.  This should be directed to reducing emissions by 45-65% below 2005 levels by 2030 "as recommended by the Climate Change Authority in 2015".

Australia is doing so poorly currently that it will fall short of its much weaker 2030 target of a 26-28% reduction in greenhouse gas pollution below 2005 levels.

The message is very clear.  Extreme weather events generated by climate change are increasing in both frequency and intensity. We need governments at all levels to accept this reality and to act urgently to cut drastically our greenhouse emissions.


Wednesday, 30 January 2019

GREEN ROOFS


As our summers become increasingly hot for longer periods people will be looking to a range of strategies in order to stay cool in their homes and workplaces.  One such strategy, already being widely used in other parts of the world including Germany, Austria and Singapore, is green or “living” roofs, roofs on which grasses, flowers or small shrubs are growing. 
 
Such roofs have a long history.  In Viking days turf-covered roofs in Scandinavia provided effective insulation from the cold. But these roofs are also effective in insulating buildings from heat.

Modern living roofscapes depend on a series of carefully designed layers which protect the roof and ensure that rainwater is filtered and drained and that the plants growing there can thrive.

The conventional roof serves a sole purpose – protecting the building and its inhabitants from the elements. In doing that it takes a beating from sun, wind, rain – and, in colder climates, snow. On a hot day temperatures on conventional roofs, particularly dark-coloured roofs, are much higher than the surrounding air.  This makes it more difficult to cool the air in the building below.  In addition the hot roof contributes to the urban heat island effect.

Up-front costs for green roofs are higher than for conventional roofs and some maintenance is required. 
However, there are substantial benefits from these roofs.  As the soil and vegetation act as living insulation, the building’s internal temperatures are moderated – so it is cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Less energy is needed for cooling or heating which means both greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs are lower.  Other benefits include reduction of rainwater runoff, filtering of air pollution by the plants, support for biodiversity within an urban landscape and reducing the urban heat island effect.

A different roof strategy involves the development of cool roofs – roofs which use of reflection to send solar energy back into space. A variety of forms has been developed including light-coloured metal, shingles, tiles, coatings and membranes.  In an increasingly warming world sending solar energy back into space rather than absorbing it is essential.

            - Leonie Blain 



This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on January 21, 2019. 


Wednesday, 23 January 2019

MINING IN THE CANGAI AREA WEST OF GRAFTON


Research into the minerals exploration that has been underway in the Cangai area since 1917 has revealed numerous inadequacies across the entire monitoring and compliance system.

When the exploration company began reporting the finding of high grade ore, and the possibility of establishing an open-cut mine atop a mountain adjacent to the Mann River, local residents naturally became concerned.

A critical assessment of the company's licence application reinforced those concerns. Nowhere in that document is there any mention of the Mann River which, at Cangai, is little more than a kilometre away, and delivers some 70% of the Clarence River's total flow. Instead, in answer to the question asking what were the nearest waterways that might be impacted by the works, the proponent nominated Bobward and Smelter Creeks, two small ephemeral gullies that drain into the Mann.

Also, there is an assertion that only 40 square metres (5 metres by 8 metres) of bush would be cleared for each of the many drill sites - clearly an inadequate area for the safe operation of a drill rig, trucks and associated machinery.

An application to be included in the mandatory community consultation via the company's “contact us” portal, received no response whatsoever, forcing us to contact the regulatory authority, requesting an investigation be carried out.

Investigators from the NSW Resources Regulator subsequently undertook an on-site inspection, and a month later a media release informed the public that they had suspended all operations under the company’s two exploration licences.

The Regulator cited the reasons for the suspension as, “a lack of sediment and erosion controls; poor management of drill cuttings/waste materials; clearing and excavation works undertaken outside of approved limits; the drilling of bore holes without approval; and a failure to progressively rehabilitate in approved time frames”.

While it is gratifying to read that action is being taken, we have to ask would any inspection have occurred had members of the public not reported these breaches?  The number of cases like this is evidence that self-regulation doesn't work; so it seems that, until regulatory authorities are adequately resourced, vigilance is the key.

            - John Edwards


NOTE: The Mann River is major tributary of the Clarence River.



This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on January 14, 2019. 


Tuesday, 8 January 2019

TURNING DOWN THE HEAT IN WESTERN SYDNEY


 On December 5 2018 the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) launched its plan for dealing with increasing summer temperatures. Members of  WSROC include the following local government areas - Parramatta, Fairfield, Blacktown, Penrith, Hawkesbury, Blue Mountains and Lithgow.

The first part of WSROC's media release is printed below.



With another scorching summer on the way, the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) has released its plan for cooler, more resilient communities.

Developed in partnership with 55 stakeholder organisations, the Turn Down the Heat Strategy and Action Plan is the first comprehensive, multi-sector approach to tackling heat in Western Sydney.

WSROC President Cr Barry Calvert said “Heat is arguably the greatest natural threat to the Western Sydney community- yet we do not take heat as seriously as we do bushfires, floods or storms.

“During a heatwave hospitalisations surge, power bills skyrocket, infrastructure breaks down, and traffic worsens. These impacts are magnified in Western Sydney, where temperatures can be 10 degrees hotter than the city’s East.

“These impacts are especially felt by our vulnerable communities who may not be able to afford air-conditioning, have limited transport access to seek relief, or have existing medical conditions which are aggravated by heat,” he said.

“The impacts of heat are expected to worsen over the next decade as Western Sydney develops and becomes more densely populated. Without action, 50-degree days could become a regular occurrence in Western Sydney,” said Cr Calvert.

“The good news is there are many things we can do to mitigate and build resilience to heat. Turn Down the Heat identifies five key areas which are crucial for tackling heat. These include: 
  • Take action, together
  • Cool with greenspace and water
  • Design and plan to cool the built environment
  • Innovative and responsive infrastructure
  • Build a community that is healthy and prepared
While there is already some great work being done to address heat, action remains fragmented.

“A key objective of this Strategy is to bring people together for a coordinated approach to mitigating, planning and responding to heat events,” said Cr Calvert.

“The Strategy also seeks to facilitate cooler communities by integrating three key pillars of cool urban design: material choice, greenspace and water. When used together, these mitigations can lower temperatures, cut power bills and reduce pressure on our energy grid,” he said.

“Even so, we will still have hot weather. Infrastructure must be designed to cope with fluctuations in temperature and demand so that water, energy and public transport are available when people need them most,” said Cr Calvert.

“Community education and preparedness is also critical. We must ensure people have the knowledge and resources to manage heat at the local level. This may include making small home modifications, knowing how to look after themselves and others during hot weather,” he said.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

AUSTRALIA AT THE 2018 CLIMATE SUMMIT


I have commented previously in this column about the manifestly ridiculous politicising of climate change science that is occurring across the globe. However, nothing in the past comes close to the absurdity that was on display at the latest climate change talks in Katowice, Poland.

Much of the opening day was wasted in debate brought on by fossil fuel producing nations, the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait, when they objected to the word “welcome” in relation to the latest IPCC report. Instead they insisted that, rather than welcomed, the report should simply be “noted”!

The evidence supporting climate change science has been collected, researched, analysed and presented by thousands of the world's best qualified scientists for more than 30 years, yet is still not being accepted by the deniers, who have gone to great lengths to give credence to any dissenting scientific opinion, no matter how questionable.

So the widespread goodwill at the Katowice talks was undermined by a handful of countries trying to disconnect the science and urgency from the implementation of the Paris agreement.

Not altogether surprisingly, given recent domestic policy announcements on coal, Australia remained silent during the heated debate, a fact that did not go unnoticed, shocking many countries including the island nation states on Australia's doorstep who are already suffering from the effects of climate change.

Australia’s environment minister, Melissa Price, whose connections to the mining industry in Western Australia are no secret, arrived in Katowice for the second week's negotiations, claiming Australia's priority outcome for the talks was “to ensure a robust framework of rules to govern the reporting of Paris agreement targets”, adding: “Australia’s emissions reporting is of an exceptionally high standard and we are advocating for rules that bring other countries up to the standard to which we adhere.”

The current high standard of Australia's emissions reporting is unquestioned. However, having reported that emissions have risen dramatically by 1.3% over the past quarter, let's hope those reporting standards are not manipulated to support the Minister's dubious assertion that Australia will meet its Paris emissions reduction targets.

            - John Edwards


This article was originally published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on December 24,  2018.