Kennedy Graham

“What Does It Take” … to extract climate change action from this Government?

by Kennedy Graham

Yesterday the World Met. Organization released its annual ‘Statement on the Status of the Global Climate’.

The report, which investigates the major climate & weather events of the past year, found 2012 to be the 27th consecutive year with above average global temperatures.

Global average temperature in 2012 was 0.45⁰C warmer than the 1961-90 long-term average. The years between 2001 and ’12 were among the top 13 warmest on record.

The WMO is aware of the short-term rate of warming, much touted by climate sceptics: “Although the rate of warming varies from year to year due to natural variability caused by El Niño cycle, volcanic eruptions and other phenomena, the sustained warming of the lower atmosphere is a worrisome sign”.

Reflecting the conclusions of the consensus science around the world, the report concludes that the decline of Arctic sea ice in 2012 is a ‘clear and alarming sign of climate change’.  Let’s repeat that – ‘clear and alarming’.

The report highlights the consequences of rising temperatures for the Greenland ice sheet: in July 2012, 97% of the ice-sheet’s surface had melted – the most in the 34-year satellite record.

It notes the slight increase in Antarctic sea-ice, but shows that, along with Greenland, there is a loss in ice-mass overall.

The report addresses the causality issue – the issue of cause v correlation between climate change and extreme weather events: “Natural climate variability has always resulted in such extremes, but the physical characteristics of extreme weather and climate events are being increasingly shaped by climate change”.

Estimates of casualties and loss from 2012 events are:

-          Sandy: some 230 killed, 62 million affected, and US$70 b. damage;

-          Bopha: over 1,000 deaths, 6 m. affected, $49 m. damage;

-          Cold over Europe/Nth Africa: over 650 deaths, $660 m. damage;

-          Floods in Africa: 340 deaths, 3 m. affected, $6 m. damage;

-          Drought in USA: many $b. damage.

WMO Secretary-General, Michel Jarraud, highlights the sense of urgency in helping the most vulnerable countries to cope.

Meanwhile, down-under:

On 18 April, I asked a question of Prime Minister, John Key: “Will he commit his Government to accept citizens of Pacific Island countries displaced by sea-level rise as a result of climate change?”

The answer: “If rising sea levels caused by climate change were to threaten their long-term survival, which, it is important to understand, would likely be some way in the future, it would be my expectation that future New Zealand Governments would look very sympathetically on their position.”

Check the full exchange, here.  Now compare it with a similar question I asked John Key back on 22 July 2009, and his answer – virtually word-for-word the same response.  Four years on.

During those four years, the onset of climate change has become more obvious, more intense and more alarming.  Yet nothing has changed on Planet Key.  Other than the following:

-          The gutting of the Emissions Trading Scheme to render it totally ineffective;

-          The refusal to enter the 2nd Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-20), and thus any binding reductions for the critical ‘transition decade’;

-          The procrastination in deciding on a formal reductions target for 2020 (the only state still not to have done so).

I spoke along these lines in the Pacific Debate a few hours later.

It is staggeringly difficult to comprehend why this Government is being so truculently dismissive of the increasing global alarm over climate change.  This is not the place to explore the psychological reasons, though I am tempted.

Suffice to say that we in the Green Party are working extremely hard on this issue.

See our plans for a one-day climate change conference, in the NZ Parliament, on Friday, 7 June.

To which you are invited.