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Daily Archives: March 2nd, 2011

Extreme winter weather linked to climate change

March 2, 2011 – 2:31PM
A woman  climbs out of a vehicle that ended up on a guard rail   during a snow storm in Cumberland, Maine, on Friday.A woman climbs out of a vehicle that ended up on a guard rail during a snow storm in Cumberland, Maine, on Friday. Photo: AP

This winter’s heavy snowfalls and other extreme storms in the US could well be related to increased moisture in the air due to global climate change, a panel of scientists said on Tuesday.

This extra moisture is likely to bring on extraordinary flooding with the onset of spring in the northern hemisphere, as deep snowpack melts and expected heavy rains add to seasonal run-off, the scientists said.

As the planet warms up, more water from the oceans is evaporated into the atmosphere, said Todd Sanford, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

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At the same time, because the atmosphere is warmer, it can hold on to more of the moisture that it takes in.

Intense storms are often the result when the atmosphere reaches its saturation point, Mr Sanford said.

This year, a series of heavy storms over the US Midwest to the Northeast have dropped up to 400 per cent of average snows in some locations, said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at Weather Underground.

The amount of water in that snowpack is among the highest on record, he said.

“If you were to take all that water and melt it, it would come out to more than six inches [15 centimetres] over large swathes of the area,” Mr Masters said.

“If all that water gets unleashed in a hurry, in a sudden warming, and some heavy rains in the area, we could be looking at record flooding along the Upper Mississippi River and the Red River in North Dakota.”

That tallies with projections by the US National Weather Service, which last month said a large stretch of the north central United States was at risk of moderate to major flooding this spring.

Spring floods could be exacerbated by spring creep, a phenomenon where spring begins earlier than previously.

“We’ve documented in the mountains of the US West that the spring run-off pulse now comes between one and three weeks earlier than it used to 60 years ago,” Mr Masters said.

“And that’s because of warmer temperatures tending to melt that snowpack earlier and earlier.”

In the last century, global average temperatures have risen by .8 degrees.

Last year tied for the warmest in the modern record. One place this warmth showed up was in the Arctic, which is a major weather-maker for the northern hemisphere, said Mark Serreze, director of the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre.

One driver of this winter’s “crazy weather” is an atmospheric pattern known as the Arctic Oscillation, which has moved into what climate scientists call a negative phase, Mr Serreze said.

This phase means there is high pressure over the Arctic and low pressure at mid-latitudes, which makes the Arctic zone relatively warm, but spills cold Arctic air southward to places such as the US Midwest and Northeast.

This negative Arctic Oscillation has been evident for two years in a row, the same two winters that have had extreme storms and heavy snowfalls.

It is possible, but not certain, that the negative Arctic Oscillation is linked to warming of the Arctic, which is in turn influenced by a decrease in sea ice cover throughout the region.

The only underlying explanation for these events is climate warming due to heightened greenhouse gas levels, Mr Serreze said.


Carbon tax is poll poison for NSW

  • Only 18 per cent of NSW voters support tax 
  • Poll shows Coalition plan to use it as weapon 
  • Some Labor MPs also against carbon tax 

VOTERS have rejected Julia Gillard’s carbon tax, Coalition polling across NSW state seats found, with almost two thirds of people against it.

In a sign of the battle ahead for Julia Gillard in selling the new tax to voters, only 18 per cent of NSW voters said they were in favour of a tax. About the same number said they had not yet made up their mind.

But 62 per cent said they were firmly against it.

The remainder claimed to have no knowledge of it.

The polling was conducted in NSW as part of the Coalition’s campaign for the state election on March 26.

It polled 1200 people at the weekend, just days after Julia Gillard announced she would seek to introduce a carbon price in July 2012 before a market-based emissions trading scheme by as early as 2015.

The decision by the State Opposition to poll on carbon tax revealed Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell’s plans to use it as a key weapon against Labor in the election.

“A carbon tax will lead to higher power bills, but a carbon tax will also threaten jobs – whether your company is selling into the Australian market against imports, or whether it is trying to sell overseas against countries that don’t have a carbon tax,” Mr O’Farrell said yesterday. The sentiment was supported by some federal Labor MPs in marginal seats.

Several of Ms Gillard’s caucus said the carbon tax would hurt them locally and they were concerned federal Labor’s strategy of recapturing its left-wing base through climate change policy would cost them middle-class Australian votes.

“If petrol is included, it will kill us,” one NSW Federal MP said yesterday. “It really is a divided issue and anyone in a marginal seat in NSW will be in trouble.”

Carbon tax dominated Federal Parliament yesterday, with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott continuing his attack on Ms Gillard’s broken election promise.

Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott’s threats of winding back the tax would cripple the Australian economy.

She tried to inflame divisions within the Coalition over climate change, following admissions by Liberal MP and former leader Malcolm Turnbull that he still supported the idea of a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme.

“If this fear campaign fails and we price carbon on July 1, 2012, as I intend to do, then [Abbott] will go to the next election with a plan to wreck the Australian economy with economic vandalism,” Ms Gillard said.

Federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet say Australian households would be poorer by an average of $720 a year under the coalition’s direct action plan.

“The new figures demonstrate that direct action is so environmentally ineffective that it will deliver only 25 per cent of carbon pollution abatement required for the Coalition to meet the bipartisan target of minus five per cent (by 2020),” Mr Combet said in a statement today.

“This means that the Coalition would need to purchase 75 per cent of the required abatement from international permits at a cost of over $20 billion – which currently has no funding allocated.”

The cost of the Opposition’s plan would eventually leave a $30 billion Budget shortfall by 2020, Mr Combet said.

Read more:

Call for carbon certainty

Mathew Murphy, Eli Greenblat

March 2, 2011

THE UN’s former climate change chief has warned Australia not to be ”too radical” in designing its carbon tax, but has urged the federal government to proceed with its policy.

Yvo de Boer, KPMG’s special global adviser on climate change, also questioned Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s vow to repeal the tax if he won the next election, saying businesses across the world were demanding a bipartisan approach to climate policy.

”I think to be able to reverse something, you first have to know what it is. I don’t know what [Mr Abbott] would be reversing,” he said. ”What I hear from companies around the world is huge frustration that whenever an election happens somewhere in the world, policy is altered or reversed.

Yvo de Boer: clear direction needed.Yvo de Boer: clear direction needed.

”My sense is that Australian industry recognises that this is a key issue and that they need to act. I get the sense that the willingness to act is out there, providing that concerns about international competitiveness can be addressed.”

The calls for a clear direction on climate change were echoed by Coca-Cola Amatil chief executive Terry Davis, who said that while Australia should not lead the push to cut emissions, the country needed certainty.

”What does business want from government? They want consistent and consistently communicated policies and plenty of time to debate the issues so you don’t get these surprises when you wake up in the morning and all of a sudden there is a whole new tax,” he said.

Mr Davis said he believed it would be difficult for a coalition government to repeal the carbon tax.

”Once these taxes get in place and ever if there is a change in government, often it’s very difficult to actually repeal them, because the processes are put in place. But we will just have to wait and see.”

Mr de Boer said the European Union’s emissions trading scheme was ”not terribly” effective in reducing emissions when it started because of the number of free permits given to industry and the impact of the global financial crisis.

He said the two lessons for Australia were, firstly, ”don’t be too radical in the first step that you take” and, secondly, to include as many sectors of the economy as possible.

The government’s climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, yesterday supported that position, saying the inclusion of agriculture under the tax would provide ”large advantages for the Australian farm sector”.

$20bn black hole in Abbott’s carbon plan

Adam Morton

March 2, 2011 

Carbon tax vitriol turns nasty

Carbon tax debate takes a nasty turn with independent MP Tony Windsor receiving a hateful phone message.

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott’s ”direct action” climate change policy would cause Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions to skyrocket and trigger a $20 billion budget black hole, according to an analysis commissioned by the government.

Figures prepared by the bureaucracy, and to be released today, estimate that under the Coalition’s $10.5 billion emissions reduction fund, national emissions would rise to 17 per cent above 2000 levels by 2020.

It would force Australia to spend an extra $20 billion buying international carbon permits to meet the bipartisan target of emissions being 5 per cent below 2000 levels. By 2020, an average Australian household would be paying $720 a year in tax to meet the greenhouse target, under the Abbott proposal.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard will use the figures to escalate her counter-attack on Mr Abbott over climate change, accusing him of planning a fund to pay for emissions cuts in a fashion that is both environmentally flawed and fiscally irresponsible.

The government will cite climate adviser Ross Garnaut, who said yesterday the Coalition had no way of paying for its emissions policy other than ”new taxes or reduction in other services”.

The carbon tax prompted a heated exchange of accusation and counter-accusation yesterday.

Working the business line that the greatest need is for legislative certainty, the government said Mr Abbott’s vow to undo its tax should he win the next election was introducing greater uncertainty – and deterring foreign investment.

”Nothing could be more damaging to investment in this country,” Treasurer Wayne Swan said. ”You could not send a more damaging message to international investors.”

Mr Abbott replied: ”The best certainty is the certainty that there will be no big new tax on everything.”

Former United Nations climate change chief Yvo de Boer had advice for both sides.

”I think to be able to reverse something, you first have to know what it is. I don’t know what [Mr Abbott] would be reversing,” said Mr de Boer, who is in Australia and is now KPMG’s special global adviser on climate change.

”What I hear from companies around the world is huge frustration that whenever an election happens somewhere in the world, policy is altered or reversed.”

He urged the federal government to proceed with its policy – but warned it not to be ”too radical”.

Greens leader Bob Brown said that even if Mr Abbott won the next election he might not be able to reverse the tax – the Greens would not allow that if they held the balance in the Senate.

Coca-Cola Amatil chief executive Terry Davis also doubted that Mr Abbott could keep his promise. ”Once these taxes get in place … it’s very difficult to actually repeal them,” he said.

The government analysis is

in line with several economists’ assessments that the Coalition policy could not lead to substantial emissions cuts, or, if it did, it would be more expensive than a carbon tax.

It suggests the cost of opposition climate spokesman Greg Hunt’s proposal to pay the owners of the Hazelwood power generator – often described as Australia’s ”dirtiest” coal plant – to shut down would be $3.8 billion. That is far more than its estimated value of about $2.5 billion.

The report also rejects the Coalition’s claim that it could make substantial emissions cuts by storing carbon in soil, arguing that the technique is not recognised under the UN Kyoto Protocol.

The opposition has proposed using soil carbon to make up to 60 per cent of its emissions cut.

Professor Garnaut said it was ”very uncertain” that the Coalition soil carbon policy could remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – 85 million tonnes – as it estimated.

Launching his latest update to his 2008 climate review, Professor Garnaut suggested the Coalition’s proposal would struggle to win over farmers as it would pay them less than the likely market value of their work.

”[The Coalition proposal] of $8 to $10 a tonne is short-changing Australian farmers – abatement is worth more than that,” he said.

Professor Garnaut said there was not much point second-guessing how much farmers would be prepared to do, but he said there were great opportunities to cut emissions using soil carbon. He said both sides of politics were right to investigate it.

He praised the government’s carbon farming initiative as breaking ”big new ground, not only nationally, but internationally”, but said it should eventually be linked to an emissions trading scheme.

The Labor scheme would allow farmers to opt in to earn carbon credits they could sell.