Posts tagged ‘Environment Institute’

August 19, 2011

Sept 29 event on climate change with Penny Wong and Prof Mike Young

This is a cut and paste from The Environment Institute.

We are pleased to announce that Minister Penny Wong and Professor Mike Young – along with a panel of three more South Australian leaders – are participating in a free public forum on the complex and ‘wicked’ problem of climate change.

Currently, we struggle to get our climate change discussion past immediate hip-pocket lines. In our public debates it is difficult to talk about the sort of future we want for ourselves, our families, our communities, Australia and globally.

This forum will tackle the issue head on. What type of leadership is required? What does it take to create and manage significant and complex change? And could it be that we’re actually seeing a lot of this leadership but missing the wood for the trees?

The forum is not a debate on the science of climate change. We have more than enough knowledge about human impact to act. However, given most people in our community accept the science but the debate about how best to act can seem viciously polarised and stuck, what should our leaders do?

Book now! This will be a very popular event and there are limited places despite the selected venue.

We hope to see you Thursday, 29 September, 6-7:30pm at the Masonic Hall, 254 North Terrace, Adelaide.
This event is being held as a partnership between the Environment Institute and the Leaders Institute of South Australia.

July 5, 2011

Event Weds July 13: “Mining the Sun”

From the Environment Institute website…

Experts from The University of Adelaide and industry will join Professor Aldo Steinfeld of ETH, Zurich, one of the world’s foremost researchers in the field of mining and resources, to discuss the emerging opportunities to integrate concentrated solar radiation into mining and minerals processing operations and find out how mining and mineral processing companies can lead the way with energy technologies that may eventually contribute to developing renewable energy sources for domestic consumption.

In association with the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Energy Technology, Institute for Mineral and Energy Resources and Environment Institute and the Royal Institution of Australia. Find out more.

Join us at this event.

Date: Wednesday 13 July

Time: 6pm-8pm


June 2, 2011

Garnaut in Adelaide – the straight dope

Attention Conservation Notice: This is a not-quite-as-tongue-in-cheek version of Professor Garnaut’s speech as my previous effort “Garnaut sparks riot“. Garnaut’s speech was presumably audio-recorded and will be available on the Environment Institute’s website… [Square brackets] is me editorialising.

A capacity crowd (affluent, white, for the most part) of 850 people heard Professor Ross Garnaut give his first public lecture since delivering his final report to Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday 31st May.

After an acknowledgement of country and request to switch off mobiles, Mike O’Brien, state minister for Energy, Agriculture and Fisheries was welcomed to the stage. He also did an acknowledgement of country [in stark contrast to Victorian practice, even before their Premier Ted Ballieu made it optional]. He thanked Ross Garnaut, applauding his central role in the climate change debate. As you’d expect, he then extolled the State Government’s record, pointing to it being the first state to appoint a climate change minister, one of the first places in the world to have dedicated legislation on the topic, and a 60% carbon dioxide reduction target by 2050. He pointed to renewables (wind, solar, geothermal), and also about the 30 year plan for Adelaide and the draft adaptation framework, now closed for consultation.
After a few more buzzwords – modernity, rapid transit, electrification of heavy rail, expansion of light rail, Transport Oriented Development – he gracefully made way for the Prof Garnaut.

Prof Garnaut himself seemed much more fluent and assured compared to his March 29 showing in Melbourne [perhaps the weight is now off his shoulders? Perhaps I’ve done my homework since then and am more familiar with the material?].
He said he saw lots of potential in South Australia, and stroked egos by saying that it was meetings like the one at the Adelaide Town Hall in 2008 that convinced him the Australian public were interested enough in the issue to make a difference. He said that if you listened to the well-honed statements of people determined to slow down or stop action being taken it would be easy to get pretty depressed, but that the community interest in the issue was the “saving grace.” This notion of an “independent centre” [hopefully not similar to Richard Nixon’s Silent Majority!] was a theme he returned to again and again.
Community Interest, he said, is why the issue is still on the agenda a year after the political elite took it off the table a year ago.

He said he was “fairly optimistic” of a good outcome for the current proposal of a tax-morphing-into-an-emissions trading scheme, even though it was a “complex parliament” [a possible understatement there!!]. If it didn’t succeed, the issue wouldn’t disappear, but simply come back on the agenda.

He re-iterated what he had said the previous day at the National Press Club about the conflict between the national interest and special interests in policy making, a conflict that was always present, with either national or special interests predominating at different times.
[For an earlier statement of this, see the excellent article on the Walkley website by Laura Tingle of the Australian Financial Review about policy making. It is essential reading.]

He repeated his analysis that the government was attempting some long-term reform and that parts of Big Business were adopting the role of spoiler (in his public statements he has rebuked the Business Council of Australia and BHP Billiton in particular).
A time, he said, when Australia had its highest ever material prosperity, having overtaken the United States in 2008, was a good time for structural reform (echoing the perspective of Graham Stevens of the Reserve Bank.)
He pointed out that the resources boom meant there was pressure on the non-resources sections of the economy, especially around the exchange rate, at its highest since Federation, and that this was “the biggest re-allocation of resources outside the World Wars.”
It was important not to let genuine pressure on non-resources sector get mixed up with concern over carbon pricing. Without a carbon price there might actually be more manufacturing job loss than with one, he said (and pointed out that “the Reserve Bank’s monetary policy is there to shed jobs.”)
He noted that there were concerns in South Australia about jobs in Whyalla and Port Pirie.

Reviewing his review
He then turned to his latest reports, which assess events since 2008 with the aim of telling the Government and the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee if there’s any strengthening/weakening/changing of his initial advice given.
He noted that
– the scientific case has strengthened and is “a bit on the grim side” [heroic understatement]
– there is some evidence that technology has developed quicker than anticipated (the example given was of electric cars – his assumption had been 15% market penetration by 2050 in Australia, but that will arrive sooner)

He noted that Australia will be affected directly because agriculture – sensitive to changes in temperature and aridity – is still an important part of the economy, and that Australia would be affected indirectly because many of its developing world trading partners were even more on the front line than us. Of all developed world countries, Garnaut said, Australia is most exposed to climate change. It was therefore, “not clever to be a laggard.” It was important to do its “fair share” which is more than we are doing at present. The 5% reduction on 2000 levels by 2020, a non-binding commitment made at Cancun in December 2010 was cited. Under current policies our emissions will actually have increased by 24%. He said that no other developed world country had a bigger gap or such a modest emissions reduction commitment. There was, he stated drily, no need to worry that Australia was getting ahead of other countries, rather the truth was we are a long way behind the average of other countries.
He then pointed to the Scandinavian countries, which have had carbon pricing since 1991, and explicitly compared Australia to another country with huge fossil fuel endowment – Norway.
He pointed out that the UK is aiming at a 50% reduction by 2025 on 1990 levels [but not the embedded carbon, a la Dieter Helm…] and that the UK with 60 million people has 1.7% of the world’s emissions, while Australia has 1.5% of world emissions with only 20 million people.

Interacting with arguments for inaction
Prof Garnaut warmed to his theme of knocking down the arguments for inaction by pointing out that China is taking big steps to reduce its emissions intensity, and is the world’s biggest investor in nuclear, solar, wind, hydro and biomass programmes. That the US is trying to take action (via regulatory measures rather than legislation) and is supporting its Clean Tech industry.
Anyone taking comfort in US inaction was “taking comfort in a shadow” he said. He pointed out that “carbon pricing is cheaper than regulation” [Sure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is more effective! And effectiveness is more important than ‘efficiency,’ no?]

On the question of “free-riding,” waiting for others to take action, he cited the Independent MP Tony Windsor “if the rest of the world were doing nothing, we should just join the lemmings in one last happy leap off the cliff” but that – as both he and Windsor knew well – that’s not true, and the rest of the world is bending its emissions growth downwards [so, the rate of acceleration towards the cliff is slower. Great, I feel safer already!]. Attacking the notion that Australia is irrelevant/inconsequential (a ‘pissant’ country, as he said elsewhere) Garnaut said that if we show consistency, we are consequential.

On the question of being a “leader” on carbon reduction, Garnaut said that this wasn’t possible (see Chapter 3 of his report) and that the aim should be to get emissions intensity to ‘somewhere in the middle of the pack’ but that even this [modest] goal was a “bigger effort than we’re contemplating.” The first thing would be a 5% target, but that even this is not our fair share, and so ambition would need to be raised over time. The big question was how to go about it. And this is where Garnaut took careful aim at Tony Abbott, without mentioning him by name.
“Direct Action” would be a very expensive way of going about things. Under it electricity prices would climb sharply, but there would be no revenue to the government to compensate the poor or to provide Emissions-Intensive Trade Exposed industry with support/temporary shielding, and no money for innovation.
A fixed carbon price (a “tax”) for 3 years, at a price of $20 to “30 dollars, with a a sale of permits in the range of £11.5 billion dollars, rising over the decade would, could be offset with tax cuts.
Obviously, he said, this would require “Good Governance” [another understatement!] and Garnaut also talked about his proposed Independent Climate Committee to set/protect targets and oversee the transition to a full trading regime.
Once a trading regime were in place, he said people would be surprised to see where the carbon savings came from. Consumers would use less energy, gas exporters would strive to minimise fugitive emissions, land-owners would think about the carbon sink potential of their hills and creeks, people with clever ideas would find funding [“The market will provide.” I sincerely hope it will!]

Garnaut closed by saying that this was the fourth time we’ve moved towards economy-wide action, that each retreat has left behind regulatory mechanisms that have had little/no effect on carbon dioxide levels, but have had an impact on our standard of living. Failure on this occasion doesn’t mean the problem will go away.

First one was “Isn’t it that there won’t be price pressure to change behaviour until the price is ahead of the mooted compensation?”
Garnaut said “not true, it’s better than that” assuring the questioner that for various reasons electricity suppliers will quickly be looking to reduce coal and gas usage and increase renewables.
The second was from a Solar Industry chap who had taken umbrage at Garnaut dissing regulation as expensive, and asking Garnaut to talk about regulatory capture.
Garnaut said a 30 minute speech by necessity stripped out nuance. He then obliged on the question of regulatory capture, saying Australia had “a long awful history of vested interests capturing regulatory processes.”

The next question was on Peak Oil/Peak Gas – had the report taken these into account.
Garnaut said yes, and that unfortunately Peak Oil would not come soon enough to stop us having catastrophic problems. He mentioned that Jevons (him of the Paradox) was in Australia before writing his “The Coal Question”. [You learn something new every day, eh.] Garnaut said he reckoned in Peak Oil, gas would become a transitional fuel.

The next was a curly one. “Everything you’ve said makes sense. Why is the Government so inept at explaining this, and what can we do?”
RG neatly sidestepped it. “Debate won’t end with legislation passing. The legislation will only stay if public opinion is really behind it, so that removing the law would be very politically damaging.” He again cited the importance of an “independent centre” free of vested interests.

The next question was on the Coal Industry – what’s its ideal medium/long term future.”
Garnaut said this depended on the viability (technical and financial) of Carbon Capture and Storage. After outlining Geological and Biosequestraion, he said “if the costs are high, coal will/should “go the way of the horse and cart.”

The final question was on imposing Carbon-based import duties in the next three years.
Garnaut had fun with this. He said “IF the rest of the world was doing little and we were doing lots, maybe, but the reality is reversed. He cited the European Union’s threat of taxing Qantas because of the lack of climate action here in Australia.

Applause? Appalled.
There was prolonged applause at the end of the event which made me very uncomfortable. My initial and uncharitable interpretation was that people were as much applauding themselves for turning up and being Informed and Concerned Citizens as they were Prof Garnaut. And I was enraged that a plan that offers nothing other than the certainty of a 4 degree warmer world [that’s a catastrophe, btw] was being applauded rather than shredded.

On reflection though, I wonder if that applause wasn’t mostly directed at Ross Garnaut himself. He is, as one of the questioners pointed out, by far the most visible and effective advocate of economic action on climate change in this country. Where’s Gillard? Where’s Combet? Ferguson? Wong (to be fair, no longer her portfolio). Garnaut is a relatively uncharismatic technocrat, in his public pronouncements at least (and that’s not a criticism of him – he is doing what he has been asked to do, and within the logic of his Terms of Reference, he’s doing an admirably diligent job). It’s not for him to carry all this weight. The political classes should be getting off their arses.

May 31, 2011

Water and Climate Change and Adelaide…

On Monday 30th May four excellent speakers yesterday gave Adelaideans a free chance to learn more about water and climate change and even the nature of science itself. The event, part of the “4 in 40” series, took place at the Flinders Street Baptist Church, and was organised by the Water Research Centre at the University of Adelaide and the Department for Water. Under the banner “Four in Forty,” each of the ten minute presentations outlined current research and its implications.

Dr Graham Green of the Department of Water chose to focus on work done around changes in supply (run-off, ground water recharge).
He explained that small changes in climate could lead to large changes in the amount of water available for human use (there were lots of numbers, and charts and you’d best wait for the audio download rather than rely on my scrambled recollection). He explained how his team’s modelling was carefully constructed, looking at past variations in the amount of run-off and the ground-water replenishment during winter variations, showing there is indeed sensitivity to climate.
He then outlined work that had been done looking at rainfall and water availability in the Clare Valley using low and high emissions scenarios (based on humans either doing a lot or virtually nothing to control their carbon emissions). Potentially very scary times ahead, methinks…

Next up, Mark Thyer outlined the challenges in calibrating models of ecological systems, and why getting it right matters (simply put – if models give poor details, poor management decisions will result, and understanding and quantifying uncertainty will also allow scientists to figure out what is wrong with the model and fix it).
He showed how at any stage along the “inputs – processes – outputs” line error could creep in. He ran out of time before he could really explain his very Doctor Who-ish “BATEA” (Bayesian Total Error Analysis”) [7 page pdf here] , and although there was probably too much material for 10 minutes (my cerebro-spinal fluid was leaking out my ears by the end of it), I’m very grateful that he covered the ground he did. It’s important to realise that the caricature of climate models that denialists spread – that they’re simply computer models dreamed up and then left untouched – is totally false.

Next up was Brad Udall, of the University of Colorado and NOAA. He engaged the audience by asking how many knew of the concept of the Anthropocene (the word invented by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen to describe the new geological age of human impact on the Earth). He also recommended the latest edition of the Economist, with the cover story “Welcome to the Anthropocene” (it’s the one with the 16 page slaggng off of Australian political discourse!)
He wanted us to realise that climate change is mostly about (changes to) the water cycle, and he wanted to get across the almost Buddhist notion of needing “the Right priorities, the right science and the right management.”
He got the first big laugh of the day by showing a cartoon of a scientist pointing at a pie chart and saying “the trouble is 56% can’t do the math and 54% won’t do the math.”
He pointed out that climate change will affect water cycles in “scary ways” and contrasted the 20th century water management (“demand has increased, we’d better go and get more supply”) with 21st century management, which would need to be much cleverer and iterative.
He threw in a very useable quote by one T Morris Longstreth quote “Of course we weren’t lost. We were merely where we shouldn’t have been without knowing where that was.” [see pdf of Udall’s here]
He also recommended a Policy Forum 2008 article “Stationarity is Dead.”
He (controversially) gave Australia an “A” for its water management, contrasting it with America (an F). The correct priorities, he said were a) the Environment, b) Critical Human Needs and c) Agriculture. The American system, he expounded during the questions, was based on a “first in line first in rights” system dating back to the 1850s, and not fit for purpose.

On the question of science he was at pains to pint out that models are not crystal balls, and that they don’t give policy makers the sorts of answers they are looking for (models don’t get variability right, or scales etc), and that there is a lure of false certainty to be resisted.
He cited the aphorism “model for insights, not outcomes” and President Eisenhower’s line “Plans are worthless, planning is everything.”
In the future, Prof Udall said “Group learning is mandatory.”
The right management, he felt, would have to be aimed at discovering robust, resilient and adaptive solutions. More important than “averages”, which hide more than they reveal, he felt that Probability Distribution Functions – giving ranges of likely outcomes – were crucial.
He warned also that “robust will not be cheap” and dismissed 2050 targets were any use, since reality will be “a moving target.”

Udall’s was a hard presentation to follow, but John Tibby acquitted himself very well. He was presenting Dr Jennie Fluin’s work on “A paleo perspective on the history of the Lower Murray and its relationship to past climate.”
He presented his conclusion first (since he was sure he’d run out of time) and it was that “Under climate ‘boundary conditions’ similar to present there have been periods of low flow longer than experienced [in the last 170 years].”
He then launched into a fascinating account of how scientists can be confident of that scientist, involving different diatoms that thrive in conditions of different salinity and pH and flow. There’s evidence for sustained periods of both higher and lower flow in the past….

There was time for some questions. I asked Graham Green about which emissions scenarios they’d used (B1 and A2, as per the wider work they were fitting into; he kindly explained afterwards why that was the case, pointing out that as far as the short-term [2030] goes, there’s not much difference between the A1F family and A2), and asked all the panellists if, since there is growing uncertainty in the modelling, should scientists be flagging to policy-makers that there’s a more-than-negligible chance of rapid/severe change.
Graham Green felt that it was up to the end users to decide what level of uncertainty they were tolerating, but mentioned that if the risk profile is such that you can’t change rapidly [desalination plants don’t get built overnight, as Mark Thyer pointed out in his answer to the same question] then policy makers may need to bet high. Mark Thyer broadly concurred, and pointed out that it was important to make sure systems were resilient, but that this wasn’t easy to do.

Brad Udall was then questioned on his rosy assessment of Australia’s response. He admitted that after being here for 2 months he was able to see warts, but asserted that relative to water reform worldwide, Australia was ahead of the game. He used the lovely aphorism “I’d rather be upstream with a ditch and a shovel than downstream with a decree.” Adelaide is downstream…

There was a further question on the modelling and the amount of sensitivity to variability.
Mark Thyer confessed that a lot of the end-users are still – understandably – very keen simply to be told what number to put into their models but that he nonetheless does not advocate a single number approach, but rather putting a range of scenarios (or inputs) into the models of the system to be tested to see how it will react to future changes…. Brad Udall pitched in, reiterating that the Anthropocene changes some of the base expectations, and advocating “get a lot of very smart people in a room and don’t assume anyone has the answers”.

The final question was on the ethical implications of this research, and the likelihood of massive die-off of humans, especially in poorer countries. You could see the panelists play “pass the parcel” until Brad Udall offered some observations that scientists are wary of entering such terrain, though some have (he gave the example of James Hansen), since it come with the risk of tarnishing a reputation for ‘objectivity’.

The session then concluded with tea and coffee and biscuits and the traditional flurry of exchanged business cards.

Kudos to the hosts, and the panelists – most informative…

Other links
Water Connect – The WaterConnect website is your link to the latest information about South Australia’s water resources and water activities. WaterConnect offers you direct access to water-related data, applications and publications.
Goyder Institute – The Goyder Institute supports water resource policy and management in South Australia through scientific research.

May 29, 2011

Adelaide Lecture on Climate Economics, 25 May

Here’s a link to an account of a Public Lecture entitled “Mitigating Climate Change: How and Why the Economists Changed Their Minds,” which was held at the University of Adelaide on Wednesday 25 May.

The meeting was hosted by the Environment Institute, and they have posted both an audio recording and the powerpoint presentation on their website here for free download.