What is Your Knowledge about Climate Change?
How much do you know about Climate Change and what actions are being taken as the world’s crucial Copenhagen meeting approaches in in December 2009. I invite you to take part in this short CLW Climate Change Questionnaire. The Responses to each question summarise the information available in leading climate change agencies. Please click the Response link if you want to view the answers.
What is causing Global Warming?
By how much has the average temperature of the Earth's surface increased by and what is it expected to be by the year 2100?
Have rising temperatures affected the sea level during the 20th century and what is expected by the year 2100?
What are the developing nations asking from wealthy economies in relation to climate change targets and incentives?
Which country is the world’s biggest and second biggest carbon emitter per capita?
Which countries rank in the top 3 Cleantech market for clean energy?
What percentage of global CO2 emissions does coal and petroleum account for?
How many tones of CO2 do coal-fired power plants generate each year?
Which sector is responsible for the fastest-growing proportion of emissions around the world?
What is Bioequestration?
How has the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) affected carbon emissions?
Have natural carbon sinks, which play an important role in buffering the impact of rising emissions from human activity, been able to keep pace with rising CO2 levels.
Who are the skeptics of Climate Change?
What is the Kyoto Protocol?
What are the market-based flexibility mechanisms through which the committed countries can reach their reduction goals?
Which atmospheric gases are responsible for causing global warming?
What are the predicted impacts of Cliamte Change according to the Stern Review of 2006?
How will climate change impact on women?
What does trading in carbon mean and what is Australia’s position regarding carbon trading?
What is the Garnaut Review ?
Answer to Question 1.
A natural blanket of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere keeps the planet warm enough for life as we know it — at a comfortable 15°C today. The "blanket" of greenhouse gases that occurs naturally in the troposphere — representing less than one percent of the entire atmosphere — serves the vital function of regulating the planet’s climate. When solar energy in the form of visible light strikes the Earth, it warms the surface. Being much cooler than the sun, the Earth emits this energy back out to space in the form of infrared, or thermal, radiation. Greenhouse gases block the infrared radiation from escaping directly into space. The resulting "natural greenhouse effect" keeps the planet some 30°C warmer than it would otherwise be, which is essential for life as we know it.
The problem we now face is that since the start of the industrial revolution some 250 years ago our emissions of greenhouse gases have been making this blanket thicker at an unprecedented speed. This has caused the most dramatic change in the atmosphere’s composition for at least 650,000 years. Human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases have made the blanket thicker, trapping heat and leading to a global warming. Fossil fuels are the single biggest source of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. (United Nations)
Response to Question 2
Since the late 1800s, the average temperature of the Earth's surface has increased by 0.74°C, and it is expected to rise by another 1.8°C to 4°C by the year 2100 if the necessary safety measures are not taken. Should the minimum predicted increase take place, this will surpass any century-long development in the last 10,000 years. Global warming after the last ice age was globally 4°-7°C degrees and that increase in temperature took place over 5,000 years. (Copenhagen Climate Council)
Response to Question 3
The rising sea level rose by 10 to 20 cm during the 20th century, and by the year 2100, another additional increase of 18 to 59 cm is expected. The higher temperatures cause ocean volume to expand and melting glaciers and ice caps only enhance the amount of water. The maximum area covered by seasonally frozen ground has decreased by about 7% in the Northern Hemisphere since 1900 — in spring by up to 15 per cent. (UN.org)
Response to Question 4
The bloc of developing nations have called for wealthy economies to cut their emissions by at least 40% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, and to provide around one percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) per year, or around 400 billion dollars, in finance. (Cosmos)
Response to Question 5
According to researchers from the Center for International Climate and Environment Research in Oslo and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, out of 73 nations, the U.S. emits 29 tonnes of carbon per capita. The country with the second-largest carbon footprint is Australia, with 21 tonnes; and, the top three is rounded out by Canada, which emits 20 tonnes per capita. In contrast, China emits 3.1 tonnes of carbon per capita.
Response to Question 6
- 1.Denmark’s wind industry accounts for one-third of the world market.
- 2.Germanyis the solar capital of the world. Over half of all global solar energy is produced in Germany
- 3.Swedenis a country fully embracing green technologies, with 43.3 percent of total energy consumption coming from renewable sources.
(Source: The Cleantech Group, formerly the Cleantech Venture Network, pioneered clean technology as an investment category in 2002.)
Response to Question 7
Coal and Petroleum account for about 40 per cent of global CO2 emissions. Of the two, however, coal poses by far the larger threat to future climate. Coal produces more CO2 per unit of energy than any other fossil fuel - burning natural gas only generates 60 per cent of the CO2 emissions, for example. The amount of carbon found in the world's coal reserves is about triple that locked away in petroleum and natural gas deposits. (Source: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com)
Response to Question 8
In 2005, the EPA estimated that the average U.S. coal plant emitted 4.6 million metric tons of CO2 during each year of operation. Estimated emissions of CO2 produced by coal-fired generation of electricity were 1,788 million metric tons in 1999. (Department of Energy, Washington, Carbon Dioxide Emissions from the Generation of Electric Power in the United States, July 2000
According to (Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA), the first global inventory of a major, emissions-producing sector of the economy, about 60% of global electricity generation relies upon fossil fuels to generate the heat needed to power steam-driven turbines. Burning these fuels results in the production of carbon dioxide (CO2). CARMA lists the 5 biggest power producing plants in the world and the five biggest power companies in the world at http://carma.org/
Response to Question 9
The transport sector is responsible for the fastest-growing proportion of emissions around the world. (CSIRO)
Response to Question 10
Carbon Sequestration is the process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it in a reservoir. Bioequestration is a natural complement to technological developments to mitigate greenhouse gases. To help reduce the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Biosequestration of carbon can be accomplished by planting more trees, reducing the rate of deforestation., protecting existing forests from disturbances such a fire. (CSIRO)
Response to Question 11
According to CSIRO’s Dr Mike Raupach. “CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion are estimated to have increased 41 per cent above 1990 levels with emissions continuing to track close to the worst-case scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
"There will be a small downturn in emissions because of the GFC, but anthropogenic emissions growth will resume when the economy recovers unless the global effort to reduce emissions from human activity is accelerated."
Response to Question 12
According to the Global Climate Project’s Executive Director, CSIRO’s Dr Pep Canadell, natural carbon sinks have not been able to keep pace with rising CO2 levels. “On average only 45 per cent of each year’s emissions remain in the atmosphere,” Dr Canadell said. “The remaining 55 per cent is absorbed by land and ocean sinks. However, CO2 sinks have not kept pace with rapidly increasing emissions, as the fraction of emissions remaining in the atmosphere has increased over the past 50 years. This is of concern as it indicates the vulnerability of the sinks to increasing emissions and climate change, making natural sinks less efficient ‘cleaners’ of human carbon pollution.”
Response to Question 13
Dr David Suzuki, an award winning scientist and environmentalist considers this question in much depth. Below is what he has to say as Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.
Despite the international scientific community’s consensus on climate change, a very small band of critics continues to deny that climate change exists or that humans are causing it. Widely known as climate change “skeptics” or "deniers", these individuals are generally not climate scientists and do not debate the science with the climate scientists directly – for example, by publishing in peer-reviewed scientific journals or participating in international conferences on climate science. Instead, they focus their attention on the media, the general public, and policy makers with the goal of delaying action on climate change. Not surprisingly, the skeptics have received significant funding from coal and oil companies, including ExxonMobil. They also have well-documented connections with public relations firms that have set up industry-funded lobby groups to - in the words of one leaked memo - "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)."Over the years, the skeptics have employed a wide range of arguments against taking action on climate change - some of which actually contradict each other. For example, they have claimed that:
- Climate change is not occurring
- The global climate is actually getting colder
- The global climate is getting warmer, but not because of human activities
- The global climate is getting warmer, in part because of human activities, but this will create greater benefits than costs
- The global climate is getting warmer, in part because of human activities, but the impacts are not sufficient to require any policy response
After 15 years of increasingly definitive scientific studies attesting to the reality and significance of global climate change, there has been a noticeable shift in the skeptics' tactics. Many skeptics no longer deny that climate change is happening, but instead argue that the cost of taking action is too high - or even worse, that it is too late to take action. All of these arguments are false and are rejected by the scientific community at large.To gain an understanding of the level of scientific consensus on climate change, a recent study examined every article on climate change published in peer-reviewed scientific journals over a 10-year period. Of the 928 articles on climate change the authors found, not one of them disagreed with the consensus position that climate change is happening or is human-induced.
These findings contrast dramatically with the popular media's reporting on climate change. One recent study analyzed coverage of climate change in four influential American newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, and Wall Street Journal) over a 14-year period. It found that more than half of the articles discussing climate change gave equal weight to the scientifically discredited views of the skeptics.
This discrepancy is largely due to the media’s drive for balance in reporting. Journalists are trained to identify one position on any issue, and then seek out a conflicting position, providing both sides with roughly equal attention. Unfortunately, the “balance” of the different views within the media does not always correspond with the actual prevalence of each view within society, and can result in unintended bias. This has been the case with reporting on climate change, and as a result, many people believe that climate change is still being debated by scientists when in fact it is not. While some level of debate is of course useful when looking at major social problems, eventually society needs to move on and actually address the issue. To do nothing about the problem of climate change is akin to letting a fire burn down a building because the precise temperature of the flames is unknown, or to not address the problem of smoking because one or two doctors still claim that it does not cause lung cancer. As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) acknowledges, a lack of full scientific certainty about some aspects of climate change is not a reason for delaying an immediate response that will, at a reasonable cost, prevent dangerous consequences in the climate system.
Irrefutable evidence from around the world - including extreme weather events, record temperatures, retreating glaciers, and rising sea levels - all point to the fact climate change is happening now and at rates much faster than previously thought. The overwhelming majority of scientists that study climate change agree that human activity is responsible for changing the climate. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one of the largest bodies of international scientists ever assembled to study a scientific issue, comprised of more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries. The IPCC has concluded that most of the warming observed during the past 50 years is attributable to human activities. Its findings have been publicly endorsed by the national academies of science of all G-8 countries, as well as those of China, India and Brazil. The Royal Society of Canada – together with the national academies of fifteen other nations – also issued a joint statement on climate change that stated, in part: "The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) represents the consensus of the international scientific community on climate change science. We recognize IPCC as the world's most reliable source of information on climate change.
Response to Question 14
The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement between 182 Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Kyoto Protocol was agreed upon at the third Conference of the Parties (COP3) in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and entered into force on February 16th, 2005. Its first commitment period ends in 2012. When the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, a new international framework must have been negotiated and ratified. This will need to live up to the emission reductions that are indicated necessary by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Response to Question 15
The Kyoto Protocol offers three market-based flexibility mechanisms through which the committed countries can reach their reduction goals. The Flexibility Mechanisms are:
- Emissions trading. The countries may trade the quotas they have been allocated, meaning that one country, e.g. Denmark, can buy emission quotas from another country, e.g. Finland, if it is less expensive to reduce emissions in Finland than in Denmark. That is, if Finland doesn't use its quotas. Thus, emissions are reduced at the lowest cost possible.
- Joint Implementation (JI). Through the Joint Implementation, a developed country can receive "emissions reduction units" when it helps to finance emission reducing projects in another developed country (realistically, the recipient state will be a country with an economy in transition).
- The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Through the Clean Development Mechanism, developed countries may finance their emission reduction or removal projects in developing countries and receive credits for doing so which they may apply towards meeting mandatory limits in their own emissions.
(Copenhagen Climate Council)
Response to Question 16
The Kyoto Protocol covers six greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Of these six gases, three are of primary concern because they are closely associated to human activities.
- Carbon dioxide
- Methane is produced naturally when vegetation is burned, digested or rotted without the presence of oxygen. Large amounts of methane are released by cattle farming, waste dumps, rice farming and the production of oil and gas.
- Nitrous oxide, released by chemical fertilizers and burning fossil fuels, has a global warming potential 310 times that of carbon dioxide.
Response to Question 17
Examples of climate change impacts
- By 2020, some 75 to 250 million people in Africa will face increased water shortages. Yields from rain-fed agriculture (dominant method) could fall by up to 50 per cent in some African countries.
- About 20-30 per cent of plant and animal species will likely face increased risk of extinction if global average temperature increases exceed 1.5°-2.5° C.
- Widespread melting of glaciers and snow cover will create risk of flash floods and, over time, reduce annual melt water from major mountain ranges (i.e.: Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one billion people live.
- Seven of ten disasters are now climate-related.
- More than 20 million people were displaced by sudden climate-related disasters in 2008 alone. An estimated 200 million could be displaced as a result of climate impacts by 2050. (Sources: IPCC, UN, Stern Review 2006)
Response to Question 18
Women farmers, particularly in poor countries will be worst hit by climate change as they make up the larger share of the agricultural work force and also because they have fewer access to income-earning opportunities, a new UN report has said. The report, Facing a changing world: Women, Population and Climate, released here, stressed that the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on one dollar a day or less are women, and they have so far been overlooked in the climate change debate.
Response to Question 19
The term ‘trading’ when applied to carbon emissions refers to companies’ ability to buy and sell their greenhouse permits. This is why carbon trading is sometimes referred to as ‘cap and trade’.
The Australian Federal Government released a Green Paper on its emissions trading scheme, called the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, in July this year. The revenue generated by a trading scheme must be used to support the change to a low carbon economy. The Green Paper proposes
- that around 30% of potential revenue go towards compensating industry and power stations. A further 16% is allocated to the reduction of fuel taxes. This could amount to $53 billion in revenue foregone.
- that those industries that would face significant (greater than 4%) cost increases under a $20 a tonne carbon price represent only around 2% of national production and 2% of employment.
- that a price of $20 per tonne of carbon pollution, but to provide the necessary incentive for cleaner energy, a carbon price of around $45 per tonne will be required. Recent CSIRO analysis found a carbon price of around $45 a tonne could put Australia on the path to avoiding dangerous climate change without increasing the proportion of the weekly household budget going on energy. (Australian Conservation Foundation)
The Australian Government's Department of Climate Change states the following:
The Australian Government is acting to reduce carbon pollution, create the jobs of the future and secure Australia’s future prosperity.
The Government has set ambitious targets to reduce Australia’s carbon pollution emissions. The goal for Australia is to reduce carbon emissions to 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, if there is a fair contribution from all emitters around the world to take strong action to reduce the risk of dangerous climate change by restraining atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to 450 parts per million. That’s reducing the average emissions of every Australian by almost a half over the next ten years.
If the world is unable to reach agreement on a 450 parts per million target, we will still reduce our emissions in Australia by between 5 and 15 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.
To deliver these targets, prepare our economy for the future and protect our environment, the Government will introduce the Carbon Pollution Reduction scheme in 2011.
We recognise our responsibility to act on behalf of future generations. We will strengthen our effort to prepare Australia for a low carbon pollution future through the Renewable Energy Target, research and development of clean energy, and measures to help households, businesses, communities and regions transition to a low carbon future.
We are also preparing Australia for the impacts of climate change that are already ‘locked in’ due to the carbon pollution already released into the atmosphere. We are investing in the science, research, information and skills needed to help communities, industries and governments adapt to a changing climate.
We are also continuing to work with other countries to develop a global solution to this global problem. An investment of more than $15 billion in climate change initiatives is putting Australia on track to a low carbon future where our society is prosperous, our economy is strong and our environment is protected.
Australia can create jobs and protect the environment at the same time – and the Government’s plan for cutting carbon pollution will deliver this while setting Australia up for a better future. (Source: http://www.climatechange.gov.au)
Response to Question 20
The Garnaut Climate Change Review presented its Final Report to the Prime Minister of Australia and the eight states and territories on 30 September 2008. The Review was an independent study conducted by economist Professor Ross Garnaut, commissioned by Australia's Commonwealth, state and territory governments in 2007. Key points in Chapter 5 of the Garnaut Report, Projecting Australian Climate Change, are as follows:
“Australia’s dry and variable climate has been a challenge for the continent’s inhabitants since human settlement. Temperatures in Australia rose slightly more than the global average in the second half of the 20th century. Streamflow has fallen significantly in the water catchment areas of the southern regions of Australia. Some of these changes are attributed by the mainstream science to human-induced global warming.
Effects of future warming on rainfall patterns are difficult to predict because of interactions with complex regional climate systems. Best-estimate projections show considerable drying in southern Australia, with risk of much greater drying. The mainstream Australian science estimates that there may be a 10 per cent chance of a small increase in average rainfall, accompanied by much higher temperatures and greater variability in weather patterns.” (Introduction and Synopsis of Key Points, The Garnaut Climate Change Review, pg 34.)
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