Effective climate action? Follow the money

I have just been on a webinar from https://climateinteractive.org describing their climate change simulator. Called Climate Interactive I was greeted with a happy faced man who asked all global participants what there was to be optimistic about the climate issue. So I imagine we are here to be optimistic and positive.

The simulator looks at the various actions that can be taken on a global scale and models the temperature rise from each action. It is complex. They want their En-roads model to be taught all round the world so that people can see that there is no silver bullet, but that many actions, taken together, will result not in a 4.8 degrees of warming by 2050 but something less. Ah, progress!


With various actions and using the model, he got it down to 3.4 degrees and then enthused that if you did x, it would reduce it to 3.3 degrees. Whoah! Then he added together all the pledges from COP26 and found the five changes would result in only 2.8 degrees of warming. Lovely.

First let me summarise those COP26 pledges:

  1. On coal there was a promise – well except US, India, China and South Africa.
  2. On deforestation the pledges amounted to a 1% drop from that.
  3. Electrification of transport. China said no and VW and Toyota and others said no.
  4. For methane emissions 105 countries pledged (between them I understand, so New Zealand has no obligation said our Minister of Climate Change) a drop of 30%
  5. Carbon price. The global average now is $8 a tonne.

He gave us a nice graph of the various agencies’ calculations for temperature rise. The International Energy Association’s calculations are in yellow. Now we are 1.8 degrees of warming.

So I looked at the list of possible actions. They include energy supply, transport, land and industry emissions, oil, nuclear, buildings and industry, carbon removal, bioenergy, carbon price, natural gas, new zero-carbon, population growth, economic growth. 

Here they are with one scenario set up. Coal is taxed, deforestation reduced by a certain amount, methane slightly reduced and electrification highly incentivised.

Now of course the list above didn’t include a reduction in meat eating or managed de-growth. I asked a question on the latter and the staff member replied they were thinking about it. I asked why they omitted thinking about the availability of minerals for electrification and she answered they were contemplating that too. I didn’t ask if they were thinking about rationing energy. That would at least have a huge effect on those who want to skip over to Sydney for a weekend shopping.

Where does the funding come from?

Okay so here is the time I go to their website and look at their funders. Their sponsors and partners include the Hewlett Foundation, HSCB, Rockefeller Bros Fund, Morgan Family Foundation and a whole lot of others. All no doubt keen on “sustainability” and concerned about climate change. It takes a bit to imagine the HSCB, a multinational bank, being keen on managed de-growth. No way!

Then I looked down the questions and found three others asking similar questions about the limits to growth. There were three – Laura Lindberg, Heathcliff Demaine, Christine Muller. They will be similarly disappointed.

Another thing was omitted. Abrupt climate change – where there are positive feedback loops after reaching a tipping point. That is the point at which small changes become significant enough to cause a larger, more critical change that can be abrupt, irreversible, and lead to cascading effects. This website describes five possible tipping points including the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, the Amazon forest going from carbon sink to carbon source etc.

This En-roads model from Climate Interactive will certainly teach people not to think that action A or action B will be the only way to get the global temperature from rising beyond a liveable level. But since it is assuming economic growth as usual and business as usual on a finite planet it will not get us much further. 

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New Zealand’s agricultural emissions are high

Nearly half of New Zealand’s emissions are from livestock. A shocking 46.1% for the year 2012 as calculated by the Ministry for the Environment. (MfE). A large proportion of this comes from beef and to a less extent sheep. The MfE paper tells us tells us that in 2012 we had 6.4 m dairy cattle, 3.8m beef cattle, 3.1 m sheep and 1 m deer. So a total of 14.3m ruminant livestock.

So I read their paper calculating our emissions, or more accurately skimmed through it, reading the less technical parts of it as it is hundreds of pages long. I was looking for indications of what Global Warming Potential they were using for methane. It was only when I was reading a book by Richard Oppenlander that I saw the statement that methane is 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 20 year period and checked this out with Prof James Renwick of Victoria University. Yes he said that is the figure that scientists are taking now.

I finally discovered on a Stats NZ site that we do calculate our methane contribution with a GWP of 25 and once again questioned the climate science professor. He answered,

“Yes a GWP of 25 sounds right as they’ll be using GWP100. That’s still the standard under .the UNFCCC so is how we are required to report emissions (as I understand things), even though the science has clearly moved on to the two baskets approach. ”

But then I asked him if I was right to say the percentage contributed by agriculture would rise if methane GWP was 72, and he said no it would fall. So I was wrong, the headline above is misleading now and I will change it.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail