US Army deploys for hurricane relief

This is our first Climate Update since our Nov/Dec issue, and most of the interesting news is from overseas.

But, NZ first

Meantime, our NZ Government has been stage-setting, with its climate goals not to be firmly set until May in conjunction with budget setting. Announced already is that $4.5 billion raised by the emissions trading scheme will be earmarked for the emissions reduction plan.

What is clear is that in any scenario, NZ will need to shop aggressively overseas for carbon offsets to meet any reasonable ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ goal on the international stage. Over the next decade, over two-thirds of our required reductions will need to be acquired offshore as we pay other, mostly developing countries to make ‘easier’ reductions – eg, planting trees in Indonesia – that we can then claim on our accounts. The cost of purchasing these might range from $6-$14 billion. This is the alternative to far deeper domestic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Given that our climate change minister is from the Green Party, it will be interesting to see how well the environmental integrity of a very large volume of offsets is guaranteed … as opposed to shopping for the least expensive offsets.

Policy-wise, the biggest political unknown is the ultimate treatment of NZ’s agriculture sector, which accounts for 47.8% of NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane from livestock. An elaborate consultation with the sector, He Waka Eke Noa, has produced two options for how farmers’ emissions footprint might be handled – at the processing stage or farm-by-farm – and these are presently being ‘tested’ with farmers and growers by the relevant farm industry groups. 

More on this from BayBuzz as outcomes are announced in the Government’s National Emissions Reduction Plan.

As for Hawke’s Bay, the Regional Council, nominal leader on climate change response, will be receiving a work plan in March from its recently-hired ‘Climate Ambassador’, pointing toward a regional action plan by year’s end.

Regarding methane

Methane, the greenhouse gas 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and accounting for 36.5% of NZ’s total emissions, will be the test of NZ (i.e., Labour Government’s) political character. 

In Glasgow, NZ joined an international pledge to lower global methane emissions by at least 30% of 2020 levels by 2030 (a collective target, not per-country goal). NZ’s present commitment in its Zero Carbon Act is to cut biogenic methane emissions (those from living organisms) by 10% on 2017 levels by 2030 and by 24-47% by 2050.

Scientists have seen a sharp rise in methane emissions since 2007. Anthropogenic sources such as livestock, agricultural waste, landfill and fossil-fuel extraction account for about 62% of total methane emissions since from 2007 to 2016. But microbes in wetlands are the largest source of methane emissions, and scientists are worried that global warming itself has already triggered a feedback loop where temperature rise is fuelling wetlands emissions.

The graphic above neatly depicts NZ’s emissions profile.

International pledges

After all the trumpeted pledges at November’s Glasgow Climate Summit (the so-called ‘last, best hope’ summit) on national emissions, coal reduction, deforestation, methane etc, world leaders still fell far short of the targets and actions required. 

According to the respected Climate Action Tracker consortium: “Even with all new Glasgow pledges for 2030, we will emit roughly twice as much in 2030 as required for 1.5°C,” referring to the aspirational goal for warming since pre-industrial levels set down in the 2015 Paris Agreement. They estimated that the new pledges (even making the dicey assumption that all would actually be met) would lead to around 2.4 degrees Celsius of global warming this century.

These estimates matched those made by the UN Environmental Programme and the International Energy Agency.

If there’s any good news here, it’s further undercut by a Washington Post in-depth investigation that found many countries are providing unreliable data to the UN, producing a giant gap between reported emissions and what is actually released into the atmosphere.

To meet the 1.5°C limit, scientists say global greenhouse gas emissions, must fall 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and hit net zero by 2050.

This article from Bloomberg Green provided a good review of the Glasgow outcomes:

Meanwhile the temperature rises

According the latest data compiled by the European Union (Copernicus Climate Change Service), 2021 was the fifth hottest on record for the planet. Globally, the mean temperature last year was 1.1 to 1.2 Celsius higher than pre-industrialisation records.

And the last seven years have also been the seven hottest on record. The hottest years on record are 2016 and 2020, tied for the ‘honour’.

US Army going green?

Perhaps a surprise player in the climate change mitigation game is the US Defense Department (DOD). It accounts for 56% of the federal government’s carbon footprint and 52% of its electricity use. A footprint bigger than over 100 nations – about 56 million tons of CO2 equivalent, roughly the same as Portugal, Denmark or Finland.

But its interest in reducing that footprint is not entirely altruistic.

A new strategy just announced by the US Army (DOD’s biggest energy user) notes “an increased risk of armed conflict in places where established social orders and populations are disrupted. The risk will rise even more where climate effects compound social instability, reduce access to basic necessities, undermine fragile governments and economies, damage vital infrastructure, and lower agricultural production.”

And from purely a war-fighting and soldier protection standpoint, measures that might reduce The NASA and NOAA agencies in the US report the same.

Here in New Zealand, NIWA’s own climate analysis places 2021 as NZ’s hottest year on record (based upon records back to 1909). Annual temperatures were above average (+0.51C to +1.20C above the average) for much of NZ. 

The hottest temperature of 2021 award went to Ashburton at 39.4C on January 26.

conventional fuel use/dependence and lessen the need from troop deployment in (increasing) natural situations create win/win opportunities.

The strategy notes: “For today’s soldiers operating in extreme temperature environments, fighting wildfires, and supporting hurricane recovery, climate change isn’t a distant future, it is a reality.”

The army strategy sets out ambitious goals: carbon-free electricity for installations by 2030. Net zero emissions from the army’s 130 installations by 2045. Non-combat all-electric vehicles used to get around bases by 2035; fully electric tactical vehicles by 2050. Microgrid installations on all army posts by 2035, paving the way for increased renewable energy (lessening dependence on vulnerable power grids). And perhaps most ambitious of all: reaching net-zero emissions in all of the army’s procurements by 2050 … that’s a huge supply chain! 



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