What if climate change is worse, and does the public care?

A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that warned of the possible effects of climate change largely focussed on what might be a less bad scenario than what some say is possible.

Temperature rise predictions are scientifically backed but are still just predictions. Some say things won’t be as bad (based on what apart from claiming scientists are wrong?), but if the science is questionable the predictions could just as easily be under-predicting.

Some warn that things could be worse, even much worse. But over the top alarmist warnings may be counter-productive.

NY Mag: UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That.

Effectively accusing everyone of ‘climate genocide’ unless we all reduce our emissions is turn the public off listening to an already problem that is on aa much bigger scale problem than their every day lives.

The alarming new report you may have read about this week from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — which examines just how much better 1.5 degrees of warming would be than 2 — echoes the charge. “Amplifies” may be the better term. Hundreds of millions of lives are at stake, the report declares, should the world warm more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which it will do as soon as 2040, if current trends continue.

Nearly all coral reefs would die out, wildfires and heat waves would sweep across the planet annually, and the interplay between drought and flooding and temperature would mean that the world’s food supply would become dramatically less secure. Avoiding that scale of suffering, the report says, requires such a thorough transformation of the world’s economy, agriculture, and culture that “there is no documented historical precedent.”

The New York Times declared that the report showed a “strong risk” of climate crisis in the coming decades; in Grist, Eric Holthaus wrote that“civilization is at stake.”

It risks becoming little more than a ‘the Martians are coming’ type warning to ordinary people. We;ve seen it all happen at the movies, and we still get to scoff ridiculous amounts of popcorn and walk out afterwards unscathed apart from being a bit fatter and adding to another crisis for humanity, obesity.

If you are alarmed by those sentences, you should be — they are horrifying. But it is, actually, worse than that — considerably worse. That is because the new report’s worst-case scenario is, actually, a best case. In fact, it is a beyond-best-case scenario. What has been called a genocidal level of warming is already our inevitable future. The question is how much worse than that it will get.

Barring the arrival of dramatic new carbon-sucking technologies, which are so far from scalability at present that they are best described as fantasies of industrial absolution, it will not be possible to keep warming below two degrees Celsius — the level the new report describes as a climate catastrophe. As a planet, we are coursing along a trajectory that brings us north of four degrees by the end of the century.

The IPCC is right that two degrees marks a world of climate catastrophe. Four degrees is twice as bad as that. And that is where we are headed, at present — a climate hell twice as hellish as the one the IPCC says, rightly, we must avoid at all costs. But the real meaning of the report is not “climate change is much worse than you think,” because anyone who knows the state of the research will find nothing surprising in it.

The real meaning is, “you now have permission to freak out.”

Scientifically it is as likely that temperature rises will be twice as bad as there being no change at all, if scientists are wrong in their predictions – and that doesn’t take into account that most science suggests that temperatures are increasing and will increase further, the uncertainty being simply by how much.

There is a major problem with all this planet scale problem telling and ‘scaremongering’ – as individuals we are pretty powerless and eating one chop less or having less milk in our coffee is not going to make any real difference.

Danyl Mclauchlan (The Spinoff): Step one: accept people don’t, and may never, give a toss about climate change

One of the things the IPCC report makes clear is that we’re already living in the climate changed future. The world has warmed by one degree since the beginning of the industrial revolution and this is causing storm surges, fiercer droughts, stronger hurricanes, heat waves; intensifying extreme weather events all around the world, causing massive economic damage and political instability. So if we want to see how our politicians will cope with the problem of climate change in the future, all we need to do is see how what they’re doing now. And … it’s not quite nothing, at least in New Zealand: there’s the oil and gas exploration ban, the carbon commission, the Carbon Zero bill. But, realistically, it’s not even close to what’s needed.

I don’t think this is the fault of our political class or the media, who are the usual scapegoats in this debate. Even the energy industry and its lobbyists – who are, to be sure, literally destroying the world – are only doing what powerful interests have always done, and will always do: defend their own wealth and privilege, deluding themselves into believing they’re on the right side of history by defending society against a malevolent conspiracy of climatologists. The core problem is much deeper and harder to fix: it’s that not many people care about climate change.

Why don’t more people care about climate change? There is any number of grand sociological theories but I think the heart of it is that humans “discount the future”. Our brains are hardwired to prefer upfront benefits and deferred costs over upfront costs and deferred gains. That’s why we have credit card debt. It’s why we eat unhealthy food. It’s why your retirement savings are locked away in an account you can’t touch until you’re 65. It’s why I make about 90% of the poor choices I make on any given day. You can get angry about this and rail against it, but we are what we are. Human nature is very tough to change.

(That whole article is well worth reading, I have quoted just a small part of it).

So we are relying on our politicians to do something despite us. And what do they do?

Jacinda Ardern admonishes fuel companies for putting prices up alongside taxes Ardern’s Government has put up because it might deter people from using as much carbon emitting fossil fuel. Mclauchlan:

Like Charlie Mitchell over at Fairfax I was struck by the juxtaposition of the prime minister talking about lower fuel prices on the same day the new IPCC Special Report on global warming emphasised the massive damage caused by fuel emissions and the urgent need to take very drastic action to reduce them.

And Simon Bridges and National start a petition demanding that the Government reduce fuel taxes. And that may get some support from people silly enough to give their phone numbers and emails to a political marketing machine.

Petty politics rules, and the public doesn’t care about that nor about the colossal climate change campaigns.

What’s the point in caring about what the world does to avert a climate crisis? We will probably eat ourselves to death before a cyclone strikes.

Darwinism may eventually kill off over-eaters so the surviving population consume much less on average, but that will take too long to overcome the floods and droughts that put food production into chaos.

2018 IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C

A new IPCC assessment warns that urgent action is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C, and this would “require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. This means that any remaining emissions would need to be balanced by removing CO2 from the air.

“Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.

The report highlights a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C, or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2°C.

“Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

Limiting global warming would also give people and ecosystems more room to adapt and remain below relevant risk thresholds, added Pörtner. The report also examines pathways available to limit warming to 1.5°C, what it would take to achieve them and what the consequences could be. “The good news is that some of the kinds of actions that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C are already underway around the world, but they would need to accelerate,” said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of Working Group I.

Allowing the global temperature to temporarily exceed or ‘overshoot’ 1.5°C would mean a greater reliance on techniques that remove CO2 from the air to return global temperature to below 1.5°C by 2100. The effectiveness of such techniques are unproven at large scale and some may carry significant risks for sustainable development, the report notes.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared with 2°C would reduce challenging impacts on ecosystems, human health and well-being, making it easier to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” said Priyardarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.

The decisions we make today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, both now and in the future, said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

“This report gives policymakers and practitioners the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people’s needs. The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” she said.

The IPCC is the leading world body for assessing the science related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options.

The report was prepared under the scientific leadership of all three IPCC working groups. Working Group I assesses the physical science basis of climate change; Working Group II addresses impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and Working Group III deals with the mitigation of climate change.

The Paris Agreement adopted by 195 nations at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in December 2015 included the aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

As part of the decision to adopt the Paris Agreement, the IPCC was invited to produce, in 2018, a Special Report on global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways. The IPCC accepted the invitation, adding that the Special Report would look at these issues in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Global Warming of 1.5°C is the first in a series of Special Reports to be produced in the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Cycle. Next year the IPCC will release the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, and Climate Change and Land, which looks at how climate change affects land use.

The Summary for Policymakers (SPM) presents the key findings of the Special Report, based on the assessment of the available scientific, technical and socio-economic literature relevant to global warming of 1.5°C.

The Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15) is available at https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sr15 or www.ipcc.ch.

Key statistics of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C

91 authors from 44 citizenships and 40 countries of residence
– 14 Coordinating Lead Authors (CLAs)
– 60 Lead authors (LAs)
– 17 Review Editors (REs)

133 Contributing authors (CAs)
Over 6,000 cited references
A total of 42,001 expert and government review comments
(First Order Draft 12,895; Second Order Draft 25,476; Final Government Draft: 3,630)

‘Eating and farming patterns need to change a lot”

The potential effects of climate change, plus an increasing world population with a growing proportion improving their standard of living (with less in poverty) mean that it is essential to consider how we produce food and how we consume it.

Regardless of anything else, too many people eat far too much – a lot more than they need to and too much for good health.

Newsroom:  Changing our diets to save the world

Can we grow enough food to feed us all in a changing climate? And can New Zealand thrive as a dairy exporter without worsening climate change? Eloise Gibson spoke to IPCC food security and farming experts and found them surprisingly upbeat.

Newsroom specifically wanted to know what the experts thought of New Zealand’s prospects of thriving as a meat and dairy-exporting nation, in a future where people eat less meat and milk.

We talked through the issues with five experts, whose readiness to answer suggested we were not the first to raise it since they reached our shores.

Based on their research in climate modelling, food security and farming methods, all of them agreed that eating and farming patterns need to change a lot if we’re to feed more people in our new and altered climate. That means raising fewer livestock and sharing the meat and milk we still eat more fairly between nations.

“Sharing the meat and milk we still eat more fairly” should be contentious. Who decides what is ‘fair’? How could it be enforced?

Right now, people in rich countries over-consume, despite the hefty climate impact of their livestock-heavy habits, says Pete Smith, a climate change and soil professor at the University of Aberdeen.

“We can’t have nine or ten billion people consuming the way people do in the Western world. But that’s not to say we don’t still have livestock in the system, we certainly do. But we can’t continue at the rate we are. Although consumption has to come down, there are still going to be global markets.”

Those markets are likely to change significantly.

Holding the pre-Easter IPCC meeting in Christchurch signaled global recognition of what most Kiwis know already – that, among developed nations, our greenhouse gas emissions are uniquely skewed towards farming.

Our problem is mostly cows, with their methane-laced burps and gas-producing urine, both of which New Zealand spends millions trying to solve.

But when these researchers talk about the climate costs of food growing; they’re looking much wider than reducing cow burps.

They’re discussing wholesale changes to the food system. “This is first time really that the IPCC has tackled food, as opposed to agriculture, in a big way,” says Tim Benton, who studies food security in his job as Dean of Strategic Research Initiatives at the University of Leeds. “I’m really hoping that, for the first time, people will start to pay attention to the impact our food systems have on climate and the impact climate has on our food systems.”

Globally, agriculture ranks second only to fossil fuels as a source of greenhouse gases.

Smith, from the University of Aberdeen, lists the numbers:

“Direct emissions from crops and livestock are about 14 or so percent of global emissions, if you include deforestation it’s 24 percent, and if you add things like transport for moving food around and the embedded emissions in the agri-chemicals, you’re probably talking 30 per cent. We can’t meet the Paris targets without it.”

Farming faces a circular problem. Growing food creates a lot of greenhouse gases, and greenhouse gas is threatening the world’s food-producing capability. “If we don’t tackle climate change, the impacts on the food system will be such that there’s no guarantee we could feed 11 billion people at the end of the century,” says Benton.

Even cows are not immune. “Dairy cows really do not like warmer temperatures, it decreases milk production and fertility,” says Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Mitigation, Rosenzweig, Smith and Benton each explained, has to include rearing less livestock, especially our burping cows. “We need to think about what we’re eating and how much. Because large-scale animal production, especially industrial animal production, has a very large carbon footprint,” says Rosenzweig.

None of them suggests everybody goes vegan, because most of us will not, they say.

“It’s just unrealistic to think that everybody is going to give up meat tomorrow,” says Rosenzweig. “So we need to realise there’s probably a pathway of healthy diets that is not no meat at all, but reduced meat consumption.”

Dairy has a lower greenhouse footprint than beef, but it remains considerably higher-emitting than producing vegetable products.

Still, no-one expects a quick switch. “New Zealand has an important livestock sector and I don’t think these people are about to start growing carrots tomorrow. It’s about finding pathways to sustainable production,” says Rosenzweig.

Benton agrees. “On an existential basis, I don’t think any country needs to be particularly worried, because we’re talking about changes over a number of years,” he says. “If you look back 30 years, our agricultural industry was very different to what it is today and in 30 years’ time it will be different again.”

Major change is certainly needed, says Benton.

There will have to be major change in food production in New Zealand, eventually at least. The world market is likely to demand it.

If the current Climate Change minister James Shaw has his way there will be major change much sooner.

Rosenzweig, the impact modeler, sums up those trade-offs and farmers’ tricky conundrum. “The challenges for agriculture everywhere are to simultaneously be reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases and be adapting to a changing climate,” she says. To do it, they will need our help, and that includes changing our diets. “That’s why there’s a role for people changing what we eat. Because as we go from 6 or 7 billion people to 9 or 10 billion, how are we actually going to do that?” she says.

In New Zealand and elsewhere in the developed world eating less will be better for our health – but won’t that increase the population more if we live longer?




Shaw speech to IPCC Working Group on Land

Minister of Climate Change James Shaw has given a speech at the opening of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group on Land being held in Christchurch this week.

On Climate Policy:

Our new Government has made the commitment that we here in New Zealand will hit this target by the very beginning of the second half of the Century, in the year 2050.

Across Government we are setting targets for different sectors consistent with this commitment.

For example, we aim to be producing 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035, or sooner.

One recent estimate suggests that $19 billion of assets are at risk from sea level rise and flooding events – including 5 airports, 50 kilometres of rail, 2,000 kilometres of road and 40,000 homes.

Another report estimates that “the costs of weather events to New Zealand’s land transport network alone have increased in the last 10 years from $20 million a year to over $90 million annually.”

Quite literally – we cannot afford to ignore climate change and do nothing about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

That government report (Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group) I released last year explains why, because, the report says, “Overall, the cost to New Zealand of climate change impacts and adapting to them are expected to be higher than the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

In other words, it’s more cost-effective to transition to a net zero emissions economy than pay for the repairs and clean ups.

So we plan to lock that commitment into law with the Zero Carbon Act.

On land use:

We are a small country with a big reliance on agriculture.

No other countries include agriculture in their emissions schemes so we’re considering largely uncharted territory here.

But when I was at COP23 in Bonn last November, a number of countries, who are starting to realise they’ll also have to deal with agricultural emissions soon, asked me what we’re planning.

Given New Zealand has such significant agricultural emissions, and given we have a long history of agricultural innovation and adaptability, we need to look at the issue and look at it as quickly as possible if we want to catch the crest of that particular wave.

So, we will establish an interim Climate Change Committee to begin work on the agricultural emissions question until we’ve established the full Commission under the Zero Carbon Act around the latter half of next year.

On trees:

We intend to see one billion trees planted over the next 10 years.

It’s about getting the right mix of slow-growing indigenous tree plantations combined with much faster growing exotic species.

The right mix and locations will bring a number of benefits:

  • There’s carbon sequestration. NZ indigenous trees are incredibly efficient as carbon sinks, but they’re slow to get there.
  • Another benefit is restoring biodiversity with the right planting in the right areas.
  • Water quality can be improved and sedimentation run-off controlled.
  • And forestry can stabilise erosion-prone land. Currently we lose 200 million tonnes of soil to the sea every year.
  • Plus, it promises a lot of jobs in parts of New Zealand that need them.


New Zealand is embarking on the kind of reform and transformation we haven’t seen for more than 30 years.

As Minister for Climate Change, I am proud that New Zealand is hosting you, and I am proud of the work New Zealanders do in the IPCC and other international climate forums.

30 years ago New Zealand took a moral stand against nuclear weapons and has worked internationally since then for international non-proliferation and disarmament.

Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called climate change the nuclear free moment of this generation.

If we want to help lead the world towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must create a moral mandate underpinned by decisive action at home to reduce our own emissions.

The science and evidence base that you people in this room build, and the very important work you do to communicate it to policy-makers is fundamental to what I and my political colleagues must do.

The science is settled; largely thanks to the work of the IPCC; both in collating the evidence and in communicating it.

It is now up to politicians, business leaders and communities to make the hard decisions about what to do to reduce emissions and to adapt to the changing climate.


IPCC meeting in Christchurch on sustainable management of land and water

Regardless of views on climate change it is important that New Zealand and the world do as much as possible to work towards sustainable land and water use. Experts from around the world will meet in Christchurch this week to work on a report that will advise governments on this.

Stuff: Global experts gather in Christchurch to tackle climate change

Some of the world’s brightest minds are gathering in Christchurch this week to discuss how best to tackle the ever-pressing issue of climate change.

The city will host 120 scientists from 59 countries as they examine how to manage some of the thorniest problems caused by our rapidly-changing environment.

As members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a global coalition of scientists and academics – they will spend the next five days drafting a report that will inform and influence how governments deal with the problem in the decades ahead.

The report has a specific focus, to advise policy-makers on sustainable management of land and water, how to ensure millions of vulnerable people around the world have enough food, cutting greenhouse gases and how to address the growing problem of desertification.

Despite having a global focus, some of the key issues are close to the hearts of ordinary New Zealanders, such as how we can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and deal with the impacts of climate change at the same time as producing more and high-quality food for a growing population.

The report should be very useful to the New Zealand government, and I’m sure Shaw will be keen to use it to support his climate change aims as Minister.

Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward, a political scientist at the University of Canterbury and former IPCC lead author who is helping host the meeting, said: “It is a wonderful opportunity for the city to host 120 world specialists on land use and climate change – issues that are central for New Zealand’s future.

“And it’s a great chance to showcase some of the science and social science, alongside community activities, that are taking place already here in the wider region.”

It’s also good that Christchurch is hosting conferences again.

Sustainability – avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.

In ecology, sustainability (from sustain and ability) is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes.

Humans have changed ecosystems enormously, and continue to do so. Things change naturally as well, life on Earth has evolved for a billion years.

It is critical that modern science and knowledge are used to limit irreversible damage.