Climate Change in the News – May 2024

Australian Government outlines expansive approach to climate investment in Federal Budget

The Budget announced on 14 May provides details of a number of major initiatives to support Australia’s pathway towards a low emissions economy. To be legislated as the Future Made In Australia Act, a total of A$23 billion in projects have been signalled, including co-funding for processing of critical minerals, support for production of green hydrogen, and a further A$3 billion into the Australian Renewable Agency for technology commercialisation.


New Zealand Government appoints new panel to review methane target

In April, the New Zealand Government said it would appoint an independent panel to review the country’s targets for methane reduction, just two days before the Climate Change Commission was due to report on the very same subject. Many expect this to deliver a recommendation to weaken the targets for reducing methane. The Government has already said it will exempt biogenic methane from the Emissions Trading Scheme until 2030.


Climate Change Commission (CCC) advises on the fourth emission budget, covering 2036 to 2040

The fourth Emissions Budget released by the CCC makes several notable assumptions, including reducing dairy herd stocks by 23% by 2050, and others which are speculative – for example that “new and emerging methane reduction technologies will have been taken up”. The CCC also wants to see more balance in climate response, saying exotic tree planting has made an excessive contribution to date. Government needs to release its Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) by 31 December 2024, covering the period 2026 to 2030.


Climate Change Commission calls for more ambitious targets

The CCC also noted that since the Zero Carbon Act was passed in 2019, the “state of global action on climate change, scientific understanding of climate change, technological developments and risks associated with emissions removals” has changed materially. The CCC noted New Zealand’s own progress through the Clean Car Discount, industry decarbonisation and tree planting had led to faster progress than expected. However, in light of the latest climate risks, they called for more ambitious targets and said there is “no evidence” to justify watering down the methane target, even as Government may be preparing to do just that. The CCC also asked for public feedback on whether to add shipping and aviation into NZ’s domestic emissions targets.


High-sulphur marine fuels may have held back accelerating global warming

James Hansen has a long track record of bold statements connecting our scientific understanding of the climate with the inconvenient need for drastic climate action. His latest work “Global Warming Acceleration: Hope vs Hopium” asks if global warming is accelerating and why? Quite possibly it is, with Hansen claiming that warming rates two-thirds higher from 2010 on compared to 1970-2010. Rates are particularly high for the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.

Hansen & team put the blame on the reduction of sunlight-reflecting sulphate aerosols over the oceans as shipping reduces the amount of sulphur in fuels. These aerosols are hard to include in global climate models with the result that their effects have often been under-included, biasing those climate models to produce lower warming forecasts. Models that do a better job of including the effects of aerosols imply that our climate has a higher sensitivity than we have expected, i.e. that our emissions will lead to greater warming than we expect.

Climate researchers hold a range of views about climate sensitivity, the likely warming, and whether that warming will impose social and economic costs that are unbearable or merely painful. James Hansen is at one end of that range but his team’s forecasts are not out of line with those of more mainstream climate researchers.


Science Based Targets Initiative embraces offsets… then it doesn’t.

The Science Based Targets Initiative is a highly regarded project to help companies to set emission reduction targets in line with climate science and Paris Agreement goals. It has required companies to meet emissions targets mainly from reducing emissions from their own operations and supply chains, with very limited scope for offsetting. Its board of trustees announced plans on 9 April to revise its standards to allow companies to use carbon offsets to abate a greater share of their indirect emissions. There was an immediate backlash from stakeholders and from SBTi’s own staff. The SBTi board clarified on 12 April that current standards remain in place, and outlined a draft proposal will be published in July for consultation.


Has the G7 really agreed to end coal by 2035?

In late April the Group of 7 nations agreed to end the use of “unabated” coal by 2035. However the word “unabated” means a country could continue to use coal, arguing it is abating emissions from coal by purchasing carbon offsets. Only 3 of the G7 have more than 6% of their electricity produced from coal at present – Japan, Germany and the US. Thinktank Climate Analytics says that’s now too late to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees, saying the G7 should commit to exit coal by 2030 and fossil fuel gas by 2035.


Scotland scraps “unrealistic” emissions targets:

Scottish Government Ministers goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 is under threat. Having missed eight of the last 12 annual targets to achieve their 75% milestone by the end of the decade, the Climate change committee has provided independent advice warning that Scotland are no longer leaders in climate change in the UK, with the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens failing to publish their targeted plans in 2023.


MethaneSAT is go…

An American-New Zealand space mission known as MethaneSAT launched in early March. Its satellite was launched by Space-X with funding from the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF), an American NGO supported by the Bezos Earth Fund, and the New Zealand Space Agency. It aims to monitor and study global methane emissions, with mission control provided by RocketLab and the University of Auckland.


Generative AI’s environmental costs are soaring — and mostly secret

An energy crisis is looming for artificial intelligence (AI) and the environmental costs Experts, including Sam Altman (OpenAI Chief Executive), revealed the environmental costs of AI at the World Economic Forum. Altman said the next wave of AI development will need an “energy breakthrough” such as nuclear fusion to power it. AI already consumes substantial amounts of electricity, and requires plentiful supplies of fresh water – but it’s difficult to say exactly how much, as major corporates’ disclosures on this are currently limited.


Victoria storms, power loss, loss of life:

In February, a wild storm left thousands without power and 37 homes destroyed and uninhabitable. Residents claiming it is the longest they have ever been without power following increased weather-related power outages, and concern about the financial impacts that this causes. With the Anakie (Victoria) transmission towers damaged, the Victorian Government have announced an independent panel to investigate the response of power companies to the power outages caused during February’s storm. 

…rapidly followed by bushfires

Northwest from Anakie in Ballarat, more than 500 firefighters were battling a blaze burning through 17,000 hectares of land and at least six homes were destroyed. Temperatures soared above 40oC for a week in February.

…and then floods

A month’s worth of rain fell in 24 hours in Victoria. There were also flash floods in Sydney and parts of Queensland.

…so what’s changing?

Research by the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney published an article suggesting changes in low pressure systems are causing intense weather for inland and coastal areas.


Climate updates from around the world:

  • US has warmest winter on record: The 48 mainland states of the USA recorded the warmest winter in 130 years of records. Temperatures were more than 2.7oC (5o Fahrenheit) hotter than average.

  • 2024 sea surface temperatures exceeding 2023’s record levels: Global sea surface temperatures continue to show an alarming rise. Measured between 60 degrees latitude in the northern and southern hemispheres, every day of the past 12 months has set a new daily record.

  • More climate records fall: In the past few months the world has recorded its warmest February on record, its warmest April on record, and its highest ever 12 month increase in atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, up 4.7 parts per million to 426.

  • Record rainfall means more flooding: Over 100 lives have been lost in recent flooding in Brazil. A year’s rainfall fell in 24 hours in Dubai in mid-April. Heavy rain has also led to flooding in Kenya and China in recent weeks.

  • Climate change is undoing progress on air quality: Smog can be worse on hot, sunny days, because ozone is produced when nitrogen oxides and organic compounds react in sunlight. This is creating a “climate penalty”: urban air quality is now worsening after decades of improvements from pollution regulation.

  • Worldwide coral bleaching event underway: The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says significant coral bleaching has been observed in 2023 and early 2024 in each major ocean basin, calling it the fourth global bleaching event on record and the second in the last 10 years.


Chocolate heading for a meltdown

Extreme weather conditions and poor harvests are driving a world chocolate shortage of cacao, the seed from which chocolate is made. Cocoa prices have reached record levels. Global warming is forcing researchers to look for more heat and drought resistant varieties. Sadly, we can expect more expensive, smaller chocolate bars!