ECO Submission Summary: the Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap

The Department of Conservation and Ministry for the Environment are working together to identify the areas of scientific knowledge which will be required by government over the next 20 years for decision-making for conservation and environmental policy and management.  This is known as the “roadmap”.

Submissions from interested groups and individuals were invited and ECO made a submission in response to the government discussion paper, which is on the DOC website.

We have summarised our submission below.  The full text of the ECO submission is available on the ECO website here.

Submission Summary:

ECO provided suggestions for improvements to the Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap. The roadmap is a document outlining 12 topics related to environmental science and the ways in which the government, private sector, non-governmental organizations, and individuals can make positive decisions regarding the environment. ECO believes that regarding climate change, the listed goals are too weak and that the roadmap places too much emphasis on raising awareness. The roadmap should encourage a real programme of actions to reduce greenhouse gas emission, such as a goal to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 rather than the proposed 30% reduction.

While ECO understands the appeal of new environmental technology, it opposes carbon capture and storage because the environmental impacts are not fully known or understood and because it could be used as an excuse to not de-carbonize the economy. ECO also criticized the overarching goal of protecting “highest priority” populations as not being ambitious enough; by referring to some species as “highest priority” it implies giving up on others and this is unacceptable to ECO. ECO also notes that it supports the inclusion of Mātauranga Māori but cautions against the vigorous assertion of Maori property rights at the expense of the health of the environment itself.

Other topics covered in the roadmap included the ecosystems and processes of freshwater, land, coastal and marine, and urban environments as well as biosecurity, and the social and economic dimensions of conservation. In general, ECO felt that the roadmap was too sensitive and had too much “spin” and could benefit from being more blunt or direct. ECO also recommended the addition of topics such as the atmosphere, environmental legal and policy research, and the study of energy alternatives.

Summary written by ECO volunteer Adena Maier

Climate Change and Mitigation  –  Low Carbon Auckland

Frances Palmer considers how Auckland can move to a lower carbon future

The 2015 Climate conference in Paris generated international pledges to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Can we do enough at the local level to achieve that goal?

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) is a network of megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These cities comprise 500 million people and account for 25% of the world’s GDP.  In 2015, Auckland became the 83rd city invited to join C40 and membership will give Auckland global access to 82 like-minded cities who are implementing innovative solutions to the climate challenges affecting us all.

Cities account for 80 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Auckland’s vision is to be the world’s most liveable city.  Auckland’s Low Carbon 2014 plan outlines short and long term goals in transport, energy, built environment, waste management, and forestry that will allow the city to reduce gross GHG emissions by around 5.3 million tonnes.

low-carbon-auckland

 

Auckland’s emission profile (above) shows which sectors need most attention.  Land transport is a major emitter and improvements to public transport networks are underway, with significant funding from Auckland Council’s overall budget. Only 10 % of Kaipataki Local Board residents take public transport to work. The Beachhaven project2 used individualised travel plans to transition hundreds from private to public transport.  There is potential for more ‘transitioning’ city-wide, as bus and rail services improve.

‘Energy’ [RE] was bypassed in Council’s ten year budget even though ‘stationary energy’  generates 30.8% of Auckland’s emissions  and the city is NZ’s largest industrial centre with industry producing 34.1% of local emissions.  ATEED (representing over 30 tourism and events companies) aims to double turnover in five years3.  If reduced emissions in some areas (eg transport and waste management) are countered by emission spikes elsewhere (eg in industry) then Low Carbon goals are stymied.   Without broad-based intervention, Auckland’s emissions could rise 46% by 2025.1

Most of Auckland’s electricity comes from the South Island. Costs are increasing and energy supplies reliant on hydropower are at risk in a warming world. The Council must urgently address local renewable energy such as solar power, and budget to implement this crucial aspect of its Low Carbon plan.

Waste accounts for just 5.9% of emissions. Better management has reduced emissions, but with 50-60% of food waste still going to landfill, there are still significant gains to be made.

Given intense pressure to increase Auckland’s housing  sectors of ‘built environment’, agriculture and forestry must be monitored, especially given current threats to areas of treasured heritage bush (local carbon sinks).

On an individual level your choices can make a difference 4

  • One return flight Europe – Auckland produces 10 metric tonnes of CO2 per passenger
  • New Zealander s emit an average 19.4 metric tonnes of CO2 /person/year (global average is

4 metric tonnes /person/year)

  • To prevent a 2 degree temperature increase requires CO2 emissions below

1 metric tonne/person/year

On a community level the upcoming Council and local board elections present opportunities to vote for people committed to environmentally astute policy. Let’s make the most of that chance.

If you are attending any meet the candidates meetings you may like to ask:

  1. Do you see LC (low carbon) as important for a liveable Auckland?
  2. What does low carbon Auckland mean to you?
  3. What are 3 top priority actions to make LC a reality this decade?
  4. What budget allocations do you estimate are required for each action?
  5. What are the key challenges to Auckland as a C40 city?
  6. Please outline your commitments and achievements in this field.

Frances Palmer

 

  1. http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/planspoliciesprojects/plansstrategies/theaucklandplan/Documents/lowcarbonauckactionplanexecsummary.pdf
  2. http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/planspoliciesprojects/plansstrategies/theaucklandplan/Documents/brightspotbeachhavencommtransport.pdf
  3. Industrial Process Emissions Inventory 2011 (published 2015)
  4. Carbon Neutral by 2020: How New Zealanders Can Tackle Climate Change’,

Ed by Niki Harre & Quentin Atkinson, 2007, NZ

 

Reprinted with permission from Forest & Bird, North Shore Branch

Key evils of neoliberal free market economics: climate disruption, overshoot and collapse, increasing homelessness

Opinion piece by George Preddy.

George Preddey is a former atmospheric physicist (DSIR), futurist (CFF), tertiary teacher (VUW), disaster manager (MoCD), chief adviser (MoE), and international tertiary education consultant (ADB, ILO, OECD, UNESCO, World Bank).

 

Two contrasting colour illustrations on the back cover of the NZ Listener (July 2-8) are disquietingly reminiscent of contrasting sketches that appeared in a 1981 report on climate disaster by the Commission For the Future, 35 years ago.   These illustrations and sketches feature the Beehive as in 1981 and 2016 and as inundated later this century by rising sea levels, now unequivocally attributed by climate scientists to climate disruption.

image[1]

A conjecture that CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels would cause climate disruption was published 120 years ago in 1896 by the Swedish physicist Arrhenius.  Unequivocal proof of Arrhenius’ conjecture has been provided by decades of peer-reviewed science consolidated in the fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR5, 2013).

A strong driver of climate disruption and sea level rise is neoliberal free market economics, in many respects an ideology rather than a science.   A truly “free market” is a myth since free trade in child labour or heroin would be unacceptable, even to economists, as should free trade in carbon.   The belief that the so-called “invisible hand” will optimally match supply and demand defies rational explanation.   There is compelling evidence that the so-called “trickle down” theory simply doesn’t work.   Indeed data recently released by Statistics New Zealand shows that the divide between the rich and the poor is growing faster in New Zealand than in any other developed country.   In 2016, some 305,000 New Zealand children are living in poverty, some in cars.

Another driver of climate disruption is outlined in the Limits to Growth (L2G) report published by the Club of Rome in 1972.   L2G describes a set of computer simulations of a future Earth.   Its business-as-usual (BAU) projection predicts overshoot and collapse of the global economy, environment, and human population from about 2020 onwards.   L2G’s central argument, rejected by most economists and politicians but self-evident to most scientists, is that growth within any closed system including the Earth’s closed biosphere is ultimately unsustainable and inevitably leads to overshoot and collapse.   L2G’s BAU projection has accurately tracked 40 years of subsequent statistical data collected by many international agencies, and accordingly should be taken very seriously.   So too should the warning of a preeminent scientist in 1954, at that time describing the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons that continues unabated today but equally applicable, in my view, to climate disruption and to overshoot and collapse from about 2020 onwards.

 

“We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

(Professor Albert Einstein, 1954)

 

Another indicator of overshoot and collapse is the increasing global divide between the rich and the poor demonstrated by global increasing homelessness.   This divide is growing faster in New Zealand than in any other developed country.   In his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, economist Thomas Piketty (2013) argues that the divide between the rich and the poor will continue to widen as long as political decision-makers continue to tax income rather than wealth.   According to Piketty’s reasoning, New Zealand should progressively shift from taxing income, especially of low wage workers, to taxing wealth, especially wealth derived from capital gains (currently tax-free).

 

Climate disruption is a compelling example of overshoot and collapse.   AR5 predicts emissions growth driven by population and economic growth (without “additional mitigating measures”) will result in a mean global temperature increase of 3.7 to  4.8 °C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, contravening the agreement among 195 nations at the 2015 Paris climate summit to limit global warming to 2°C without actually specifying any “additional mitigating measures”.   UK Met Office, NASA, and NOAA data all confirm 2015 as the hottest year on record since systematic reporting began in 1850; a new world record is likely to be set in 2016.

 

According to AR5 (2013), unabated emissions by 2100 will eventually cause a 2.3m sea-level rise per 1°C of mean global temperature increase.   However AR5 is not the whole story.   Radar soundings of Antarctic glaciers have revealed troughs under the ice sheet that when inevitably flooded by relatively warm sea water will trigger major ice sheet collapses sufficient to raise global sea level by at least 10m.   An improved ice sheet model in 2016 predicts major ice sheet collapse over the next few decades in response to currently predicted levels of global warming.   During the Pliocene era 4 million years ago when the planet was 2-3°C warmer than today, sea level was 20m higher, attributed largely to collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet.

 

The Royal Society of New Zealand recently hosted a screening of “Thirty Million”, a documentary film about the devastating consequences of sea level rise for the low-lying nation of Bangladesh over the next few decades: refer http://www.thirtymillionfilm.org.   “Thirty Million” is the number of climate refugees predicted to be displaced by sea level rise by 2050 from Bangladesh’s current population of 160 million.   About 200 million climate refugees globally are predicted to be displaced by 2050: hundreds of times greater than the current influx of refugees into Europe driven by drought and ongoing conflict.

 

“We have enough knowledge to act, but it is the collective acting that is required now

…If we are not careful then we will be definitely suicidal if not evil, a word attributable

to those who have the power to act and have not used it.”

(Dr Atiq Rahman, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, 2016)

 

New Zealand’s current population (4.5 million) is 0.061 percent of the global population (7,400 million).  Its annual refugee quota of 750 was recently increased to 1,000.   In my view, the revised quota should be increased to at least 0.061 percent of 200 million over the next three decades: i.e. 5,000 annually, especially from low-lying Pacific Island nations.   Even a five-fold increase does not fully compensate for New Zealand’s relatively large per capita contribution to climate disruption nor for its evil policy choices.

New Zealand’s response to climate disruption reflects poorly on the integrity of a Government that achieved pariah status including a “Fossil-of-the Day” award at the 2015 Paris climate summit.   Its commitment to an 11% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 compared very unfavourably with the commitments of the European Union to a 40% reduction, the United States to 28%, and China to 20%.   Equally unacceptable, under current policy settings New Zealand’s net emissions are officially projected by the Ministry for the Environment to increase by 159% by 2030, not to reduce by 11% by 2030 as promised at Paris, nor to reduce by 50% by 2050 as promised by the “50-by-50” election slogan used shamelessly by National during its successful 2008 election campaign.   The National Government to date has not been held accountable for this broken election promise.

Unsurprisingly, New Zealand’s climate protection policies ranked fourth worst among 60+ countries according to a reputable Climate Change Performance Index (2015) and its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) ranked 25th of 26 countries according to a World Bank review (2014).   Accordingly, New Zealand’s ETS should be scrapped entirely in my view and replaced by:

–   a carbon budget that emphasises essential outcomes determined by robust science rather than by shonky carbon pricing inputs based on spurious and possibly fraudulent economics; and

–   an inescapable increasing carbon tax/charge applied at points of fossil carbon extraction, importation or emission and remitted in full to the public to compensate them for increasing fossil energy power bills.

Increasing homelessness is one of the inevitable consequence of a rampant neoliberal free market economy in my view.   In Bangladesh the immediate driver is sea level rise.   In New Zealand the immediate driver is property investment, often by speculators who are manifestly increasing their wealth through huge, tax-free capital gains.   The solutions to increasing homelessness, both locally and globally, in my view are for political decision-makers including the National Government to:

–   consider whether neoliberal free market economics is a fundamentally flawed ideology that may have evil consequences;

–   consider Professor Einstein’s warning about the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons that, in my view, is also applicable to climate disruption, overshoot and collapse, and increasing homelessness;

–   increase New Zealand’s annual refugee intake quota five-fold to at least 5,000 climate refugees annually;

–   accept Piketty’s rationale for taxing wealth rather than taxing income, and, having the power to act, use it;

–   enact appropriate tax regimes including a carbon tax/charge to address climate disruption and a capital gains tax to address increasing homelessness.

 

 

Teaching kids about climate change

Uma Campbell writes about how and why we must teach our children, even at a young age, about climate change:

 

Learning about the importance of climate change is important for every child. This may seem like a rather advanced project for kids, but there are ways you can tailor the topic to fit kids of all ages.

Why do kids need to learn about climate change at such a young age? Kids will be on this planet much longer than adults, so it is in their benefit to nurture and care for the Earth to protect it for as long as possible. Scientists believe there is still time to limit climate change to only 2 degrees Celsius, so now is the perfect time to teach kids how to live sustainably. How can you get started? Follow these tips:

Explain the tough concepts.

No matter how smart your child is, climate change is a difficult concept to understand, but there are ways to make it easier. One way is to visually show them different climate change concepts through science experiments. For example, take an empty aquarium tank and turn it upside in your backyard when it’s hot and sunny outside. Place a thermometer on the outside of the tank and one on the inside, too. Then, watch as the temperatures rise at different rates. Talk to your kids about how this is what is happening to the Earth, too. Gases (or in this example, heat) are trapped inside the atmosphere and causing our temperatures to rise as a result. When kids are able to see it demonstrated this way, they will be more likely to understand what you’re talking about.

Visit museums.

Find a museum in your area that has programmes designed to teach kids about the environment. There may be day camps for your kids to sign up for that will help them learn about the importance of saving the environment with other kids their age.

 Test their problem solving skills.

To make the concepts of climate change applicable to children’s lives, go through a kid-friendly workbook designed to teach kids about sustainable ways of living. In this workbook, children will have to answer questions such as “how would you reduce water use at your school during a drought?” or “what are the most important needs in your community involving climate change and global warming?” Tackle these questions together so you can help your kids apply what they know so far to their own lives.

Teach them green habits.

The sooner kids begin to adopt greener ways of living, the better off the planet will be, but it’s up to you to instill these habits in them at an early age. Show them how easy it is to make energy efficient choices, such as riding a bike or walking instead of taking the car when you’re just traveling a few blocks. Turning off the water as you brush your teeth and flipping the light switch as you leave a room will do a world of difference for the environment, so why not start now?

 

 

Future security priorities – military hardware or climate mitigation?

Frances Palmer from Auckland reflects on our current priorities and how little understanding there is of where the real threats are:

No military threats to our security were cited to justify a $20 billion upgrade to New Zealand’s military hardware over the next 15 years. It was stated that the last time New Zealand made such a major investment in military hardware was for the Vietnam War. Few of us want to be drawn into further military misadventures of empire. It is imperative that the world develops more humane and relevant notions of security for the 21st century – a broad understanding of causes of conflict and appropriate solutions.

Imagine how $20 billion would enhance our security if spent on health, homelessness and climate change mitigation? Evidently government doesn’t understand scientist’s warnings that climate change will become a key security issue if lip service in Paris is not matched by action. It will multiply risk for all other security issues. (Jonathan Boston) Priority investment is required now to reduce atmospheric carbon rises, which will generate disastrous impact chains on health, farming and the economy over forthcoming decades. Climate change doesn’t fit traditional definitions of ‘enemy’, but as security threats go, no other compares.  But military hardware won’t fix it.

What’s next for food prices?

In 2011, Time magazine ran an article predicting continued food price spikes as a result of rising population, increasing fuel costs and the increasing scarcity of water.

ECO asked a researcher, Aubanie Raynal, to analyse the article five years on to see what has happened since – are food prices still on the way up?  And what will happen in the next five years?

Here are her findings:

………………….

In his 2011 article, Michael Schuman showed how limited food production coupled with
growing population drove to food price spikes.

In 2011, the economic crisis which began three years earlier in 2008, was at its highest point with prices multiplied by two since 2005.

Schumann’s list of pressures on food prices includes:

  • More and more people to feed
  • Changes in our diet – more meat consumption
  • Higher demand on biofuel
  • Higher pressure on agriculture
  • Acts of nature
  • Irrigation, lowering of the water table

Nevertheless after 2011 we observed a drop of the food price index  in 2015 with even bigger falls in 2016.

Were Schuman’s predictions wrong? What changes / factors have driven down the prices?

According to the FAO, the decrease is mainly due to large stock and lower demand. For
example, the production of wheat, sugar and palm oil is higher than expected,
and with the slow trade activity – meaning more product for less demand – the prices are
being driven down.

For Gail Tverberg, the principal cause is what she calls the “high-priced fuel syndrome”.
Indeed, every kilogram of food is produced thanks to fuel (see Figure 3 on the Finite World link). The stabilization of the barrel price predict by analysts, due to high productivity in the USA (2), Russia and Saudi Arabia and their interest to maintain it below $100 should maintain food price stability for a few years.

Furthermore, the fuel price impacts on factors other than the direct cost of
food production. For example, the demand in biofuel is currently decreasing, which implies less land area devoted for biofuel, thus more areas for food.

If we look closer at the relation between food and fuel price we realise that their evolution
might be symmetric but not proportional. Between 2011 and 2015, when the fuel price dropped  50% the food price only dropped off 30% (3).

The difference shows that other factors are playing an important role. Eastern Asian
countries, for example, are currently switching from a traditional diet to a more Western
one. A populous country as China now consumes more meat than the USA.
See: http://www.earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2012/update102

The food price evolution is a complex model where economic, human and environmental
parameters are linked to each other. We have to keep in mind that the 2010/2011 food
price spike was a warning and will strike again if we do not change the way we consume,
produce and regulate the food market.

In order to avoid the same scenario recurring, the solutions suggested by Michael Schuman (to increase the investment in R&D in agriculture, to control the food market and to improve food distribution) are more than ever necessary.

‘Enjoy your dinner tonight. While you can still afford it.’

 

References:
1 Editor of The Oil Drum , web article ‘High-Priced Fuel Syndrome’ Posted on September 26, 2012:
High-Priced Fuel Syndrome

2 Steve Austin, Managing editor of Oil-Price.net, web article ‘The top 6 reasons oil prices are heading lower’ Posted on May 7, 2015:

http://oil-price.net/en/articles/top-6-reasons-oil-price-are-headedlower.

3 Tim McMahon, , web article ‘Historical Oil Prices Chart’ Posted on April 30, 2015 :
http://inflationdata.com/Inflation/Inflation_Rate/Historical_Oil_Prices_Chart.asp
The difference shows that others factors are playing an important role. Eastern Asian
countries, for example, are currently switching from a traditional diet to a more western
one. Such a populous country as China now consumes more meat than the USA.

Climate Change news

As ECO prepares for its annual conference in August, themed around climate change and water, we background some recent news stories on climate change issues.

Arctic sea ice falls to new low. Data published by the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre shows that the Arctic sea ice was at historic low levels in May. Retreating ice is a problem because the exposed oceans absorb more heat rather than being reflected back into space.
Snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere was at the lowest level in 50 years this April.  Read more.

Warmest autumn in New Zealand since 1938. Niwa’s climate summary for autumn shows that the national average temperature for March, April and May this year was 1.4C above the autumn average, at 14.7C. Almost every climate station in New Zealand recorded higher than average temperatures for this time of year, which is attributed to warm seas to the west, some of the warmest seen in the last 100 to 130 years.  NIWA predicts an unusually warm winter also.

Successful trials converting CO2 to rock

A paper published in Science this month reports on successful trials in converting CO2 to rock and storing it underground in Iceland. The new method trialled works by dissolving CO2 in water to create sparkling water and then injecting it into basalt rocks 550m underground.  The CO2 cannot escape into the atmosphere because it is dissolved and cannot rise to the surface.
Such capture and storage methods may have to be part of the solution, if, as appears to be the case, we are entering runaway climate change.

Methane gas emissions at US natural gas plants under-reported – cover-up alleged

A not-for-profit in the US has alleged that a senior official in the US Environmental Protection Agency engaged in a cover-up of the true levels of methane emissions from fracking operations across the United States.
Other studies have shown much higher emissions levels but the EPA reports using the Bacharach measuring device always showed the emissions as lower – which the industry has used to justify their operations. The group NC WARN maintain that the senior EPA official has led an ongoing attempt to coverup the under-reporting by the Bacharach device. Read more.