Welcome to our two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of articles to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.
This week we examine the changing business landscape ahead of the December COP 21 talks in Paris. Before we do, we want to put into perspective the so called ‘fair and ambitious’ targets set by NZ, which are actually the second least ambitious of any announced to date, and only eclipsed by Canada, the home of tar sands mining. Even carbon tax-scrapping Australia has set more demanding targets…
Just as well then, that big business are taking climate change seriously, with Apple, GM, Walmart and Google amongst others, pledging $140 billion for low-carbon investments. In terms of policy, the State of California shows what can be achieved in setting the bar for addressing global warming and greenhouse gas reductions.
Not to be outdone, the US Federal Environmental Protection Agency is about to implement the ‘Clean Power Act’, which President Obama has called "the biggest, most important step we've ever taken to combat climate change" adding "We're the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it". Indeed. And with it comes quite a responsibility.
So it looks like things are finally on track to address climate change. Phew. So what could go wrong then? Plenty, as it turns out. Perhaps the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could cause climate change actions to become derailed. As Peter Whitmore discusses, with the terms of the TPP allowing investor-state disputes taking matters outside the control of a government or its legal system, it opens the door for litigation if an investor deems its ability to generate profits is impeded. For example, if a country wanted to take fresh steps to protect the environment or implement climate change measures, and this meant a company could no longer extract oil or gas, then the company could sue the country, even if the measures might be in the best interests of the sovereign government and its people. This might cause a country not to take those actions at all, for fear of litigation.
Our next set of articles takes a fresh look at the state of the oceans and how, according to a 23rd July discussion paper released by Dr James Hansen, melting of the Antarctic ice is going to accelerate, even though still within the previously regarded “safe” 2oC limit of a rise in temperature. The premise being that the fresh water resulting from the rapid melt will act as a blanket, floating on top of the warmer, saltier water and preventing it from losing heat to the air. Instead, this heat will go into heating the underside of ice shelves and glaciers. According to Hansen, the growth in sea ice around Antarctica is a sign this is starting to happen already.
More disturbingly perhaps, is that this freshwater layer will also shut down the ocean currents that carry heat from the tropics to the poles, so the tropics will warm fast, while high latitudes cool down because of the cold polar surface waters. The resulting temperature difference, Hansen claims, will power super-storms of a size and fury unlike anything we have ever seen.
Whilst these claims certainly do not reflect the views of most climate scientists, and the various lines of evidence presented in the paper are far from conclusive, no one can be sure Hansen is wrong. However estimates of sea level rise by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are going up with every report. Hansen, by contrast, has a history of making predictions that turn out to be bang on the money. That of course does not mean he is right again, but why gamble on that premise?
To provide supporting opinion that James Hansen might not be far off with his thinking, we have included a series of additional articles, all from a variety of different authors. Amongst these, all agree that the warming of the oceans is of significant concern, with up to 6 metres of sea level rise possible, disruption to the ocean’s circulation and that the warming is now indeed unstoppable…
The impact of a warming world is also having an impact on vulnerable species, with the ones that can move or migrate, doing so, and those that are less mobile having to contend with displacement by others competing for the same space.
And if a warming world isn’t enough for some species to have to contend with, how about the wholesale destruction of your habitat? The islands of Borneo and Sumatra, which were once home to 230,000 Orangutans, are now down to only 50,000, mainly as a result of the widespread destruction of their forest habitat in a rush to convert to Palm Oil plantations. As a consequence, Indonesia is now the third largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China and the US. Furthermore, worldwide demand for palm oil appears to be insatiable, with demand estimated to more than double by 2030 and triple by 2050. As for Orangutans in the wild, well they will probably be extinct by 2040.
We end this week on a positive. I guess after the previous set of articles, anything would have to be regarded as a positive. Research co-authored by Matthew Deighton, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal last week, found a new stock feed additive, NOP, cuts the methane produced by cows by almost a third.
It interferes with an enzyme in the methane-producing micro-organisms in the cow's stomach. "It's a very, very small amount – as little as one gram – in the daily feed of a cow. So that means it really has the opportunity to get on to farms, as we don't have to drastically change the diet of the animals." Even more excitingly, the addition of NOP allowed the cows to put on extra weight, which was good news for farmers, Deighton said. "That's really exciting. It was great that we could see a production benefit as well, because that might make it profitable for farmers to include it in their farm system, besides the obvious benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions," he said.
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.