Australia to act on natural disasters

 

Phil Mercer | The National

The savage effects of climate change on health are to be investigated by a new multimillion-dollar study funded by the Australian government as researchers investigate the threats posed by more frequent heat waves, cyclones, fires and droughts.

Scientists are warning that climatic shifts are likely to increase the incidence of infectious diseases, post-traumatic stress and heart ailments.

They also predict that climate change could have a near-apocalyptic effect on parts of Australia, which are expected to suffer more devastating bushfires, flooding and tropical storms.

“They injure, they maim and they kill people, but they also cause a lot of environmental and social disruption,” said Tony McMichael, a professor at the Australian National University in Canberra, which is involved in the study, for which the government paid AU$10 million (Dh24.8m).

“Post-traumatic stress disorders invariably follow and survivor guilt, those that say ‘well, I was the lucky one, but I was not seriously injured or killed’. There’s quite a widespread spectrum of consequences of these extreme weather events.”

Fires in the state of Victoria over the weekend have killed at least 96 people in the worst wildfire disasters in Australian history.

At the end of last month, Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city and capital of Victoria, roasted in its hottest period in more than a century as the southern metropolis endured several consecutive days of temperatures of more than 40°C, which gave residents a frightening insight into how the future could feel as the Earth warms.

In the tiny settlement of Kyancutta in South Australia the mercury peaked at 48.2°C.

Across the south-east of the continent the scorching conditions resulted in dozens of sudden deaths, mainly of older residents, who had heart attacks and strokes that have been blamed on the unbearable heat.

“It was a killer situation,” said Neville Nicholls, a climate scientist at Melbourne’s Monash University. “The heatwave has to have been catastrophic for the elderly in Melbourne.

“We know there are two vulnerable groups with heat waves; one is the very young, and people over about 65 years of age. If the average daily temperature is 30 degrees or above in Melbourne then we get a jump of about 20 per cent in deaths in the over-65 age group. It just gets worse and worse as the temperatures get higher. Around the world these hot extremes are getting hotter and more frequent and we can attribute this pretty easily to the enhanced greenhouse effect. It has a really simple effect – more heat waves mean more deaths.”

Melbourne’s red-hot spell caused chaos as railway lines buckled in the intense heat and the power network crumpled under unprecedented demand that left 500,000 homes and businesses without electricity.

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Australia: Bushfires and global warming: is there a link?

 

David Adam and Ellen Connolly | The Guardian

Scientists are reluctant to link ­individual weather events to global warming, because natural variability will always throw up extreme events. However, they say that climate change loads the dice, and can make severe episodes more likely.

Some studies have started to say how much global warming contributed to severe weather. Experts at the UK Met Office and Oxford University used computer models to say man-made climate change made the killer European heatwave in 2003 about twice as likely. In principle, the technique could be repeated with any extreme storm, drought or flood – which could pave the way for lawsuits from those affected.

Bob Brown, a senator who leads the Australian Greens, said the bushfires showed what climate change could mean for Australia.

“Global warming is predicted to make this sort of event happen 25%, 50% more,” he told Sky News. “It’s a sobering reminder of the need for this nation and the whole world to act and put at a priority our need to tackle climate change.”

Models suggest global warming could bring temperature rises as high as 6C for Australia this century, if global emissions continue unabated, with rainfall decreasing in the southern states and increasing further north. As if to demonstrate that, Queensland, in the north, is currently experiencing widespread flooding after rainfall of historic proportions.

More than 60% of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone in the worst floods for more than 30 years. Some 3,000 homes have been affected, and the main highway between Cairns and Townsville has been cut off.

Roger Stone, a climate expert at the University of Southern Queensland, said: “It certainly fits the climate change models, but I have to add the proviso that it’s very difficult, even with extreme conditions like this, to always attribute it to climate change.”

The fires and floods come as politicians gear up to negotiate a new global deal to combat climate change, to replace the Kyoto protocol. Australia plans a comprehensive carbon trading scheme, but green campaigners last year accused Kevin Rudd’s government of a “betrayal” when it pledged to reduce emissions by a modest 5-15% by 2020.

Professor Mark Adams, from the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre, said the extreme weather conditions that led to the bushfires are likely to occur more often.

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Fires, floods pressure Australia govt on climate

James Grubel | Reuters

Australia’s deadliest wildfires increased pressure on the national government to take firm action on climate change on Monday as scientists said global warming likely contributed to conditions that fuelled the disaster.

At least 130 people were killed in wildfires, set off by a record heatwave in southern Victoria state over the past week days, while large areas of Queensland state remain flooded by tropical downpours.

Scientists said Australia needed to prepare for more extreme weather events due to global warming, while the Greens and environmentalists said the fires and floods proved the government needed to toughen its targets to curb Greenhouse emissions.

“It’s very clear, both globally and in Australia, there has been a warming trend since about 1950,” leading Australian climate scientist Kevin Hennessy told Reuters.

“In a nutshell we can say the heatwaves and the fires we’ve seen in Victoria recently maybe partly due to climate change through the contribution of increased temperature.

“Going forward, we anticipate there will be continued increases in greenhouse gases and that locks in a certain amount of warming, and in the case of southern Australia further drying, and this will increase the fire weather risk.”

Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change because of its hot, dry climate, with the nation’s south in prolonged drought and temperatures tipped to rise by 3 degrees Celsius by 2050 across the tropical north and desert interiors.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has set a target to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent by 2020, and will only cut further, to about 15 percent, if there is widespread international agreement on tougher action.

But Green groups want Australia, which creates about 1.5 percent of global emissions, to cut emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 as an example to the developing world, particularly India and China, about the need to take firm action.

Greens climate spokeswoman Christine Milne said all Australians had been deeply touched by the fire tragedy and the increased risk of fires from global warming.

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Emissions trading ‘won’t hurt inflation’

Garry Shilson-Josling | Sydney Morning Herald

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is confident the government’s scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will not cause inflation to overheat and force it to raise interest rates. Tucked away in the back of the quarterly statement on monetary policy on Friday was an analysis of the likely effect of the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). The centrepiece of the CPRS is an emissions trading scheme that will ration the right to emit greenhouse gases. Trading in permits is slated to begin in September 2010. The RBA is interested in the scheme because it will drive up the price of emissions-intensive goods and services as businesses bid for increasingly scarce permits. The desired effect will be to encourage energy efficiency and a switch to alternative energy sources. The undesired effect will be a rise in the general price level. “Assuming an initial permit price of roughly $25 per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted (or the carbon dioxide equivalent of other greenhouse gases, CO2-e), the retail prices of electricity and gas are estimated to increase by around 18 per cent and 12 per cent respectively,” the RBA said. Electricity and gas together account for 2.5 per cent of the consumer price index (CPI). The RBA estimates the first round of price rises will add 0.4 percentage points to the index in the first few quarters after emissions trading begins. By way of comparison, the GST added three percentage points to the CPI over the year following its introduction in 2000 and the spike in petrol prices added 0.9 percentage points over the year to last September. The RBA said it expected price rises from the CPRS after the first round to moderate as permits were gradually rationed, despite some possible volatility now and then.

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U.S. Takes Global Lead in Wind Power, Passes Germany

Todd White and Rachel Graham | Bloomberg

The U.S. increased its wind-generation capacity by 50 percent last year, overtaking Germany as the world’s largest producer, the Global Wind Energy Council said.

U.S. generation capacity rose to more than 25 gigawatts, the Brussels-based industry association said today in an e-mailed report. That’s about 21 percent of total global capacity of 121 gigawatts.

Some governments are trying to generate more power from renewable sources to cut dependence on energy imports and to limit emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas blamed for global warming and a byproduct of traditional generation from fossil fuels. The European Union is seeking to increase the share of energy from renewables to 20 percent by 2020.

Germany’s capacity was almost 24 gigawatts at the end of 2008 and China more than doubled its capacity last year to more than 12 gigawatts, the report said. The global wind turbine market was worth about $47.5 billion last year, according to the GWEC.

As CO2 remains in the atmosphere for a century or longer, annual output worldwide “must be dramatically reduced” to stabilize levels of the greenhouse gas to avoid the most harmful effects of global warming, the U.S. government’s Climate Change Science Program said in a report last month.

That will require a decline of about 70 percent to 90 percent from today’s levels, according to the study published under the administration of President George W. Bush on Jan. 16, its last working day in office.

Czech president says global warming is a Gore fallacy

 

Karachi News.Net

Czech President Vaclav Klaus has criticised climate change campaigner Al Gore, saying: ‘I don’t think that there is any global warming.’

Mr Klaus, in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, made the comments on the sidelines of the conference.

The 67 year old president, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said he had not been given any statistical data to prove the Gore theories on global warming.

Referring to the former US vice president, a well-known global warming activist who attended Davos this year, Mr Klaus said he was sorry that Al Gore had not been willing to listen to any competing theories.

Mr Klaus said he was he was more worried about the reaction to perceived dangers of global warming than the consequences.

He said some global warming theories were alarmist and likely to be misused for radically constraining the functioning of the markets and market economy.

Gore’s global warming sideshow and recent polls

Martha R Gore | Watchdog Politics Examiner

Former Vice President Al Gore found a receptive audience while appearing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 28, 2009 with an updated version of his Inconvenient Truth. He urged the Committee to include alternative energy funding in the stimulus package. At the same time,  a Rasmussen poll report indicates fewer Americans believe that human are to blame for global warming. Almost one-half of American voters think that there is a conflict between economic growth and environmental protect.

In April of 2008, Rasmussen found that  47% of Americans blamed human activity vs 34% who saw it as long-term planetary trends.  According to the poll reported on January 19, 2009, those believing it was human activity had dropped to 44% compared to 41% who blamed it on cyclical activity.

While 59% of Democrats blame global warming on human activity only 21% of Republicans agree.  However, Rasmussen found that 64% now consider global warming as at least somewhat of a problem against 15% who do not see it as serious. Even scientists don’t agree about the causes.  One group believes that it is  fossil fuels and aerosols, along with human activity, that is causing the earth to warm; another group maintains that it is a natural cycle that will reverse itself over time.

Obama has vowed to cut greenhouse gas emissions through the development of alternative energy.  As the recession deepens, politicians running for election in 2010 will be watching polls such as Rasmussen to see which way the wind is blowing in regard to public opinion about the money allotted in the stimulus package. It could be that inspite of Gore’s influence on Congress, it may be losing support among the American voting public.

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