Wednesday, 27 March 2019

How Kyōtō needed to be done – an Australian perspective

In a recently-updated post from over three years ago, I pointed out that the Kyōtō Protocol failed because it was formed from alliances of nations with diametrically opposed interests regarding regulation of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

As Key (1949) has demonstrated, a disorganised politics favours the “haves” over the “have-nots”. During the the Kyōtō Protocol, disorganisation of international alliances permitted the fossil fuel “haves” – Australia and the Gulf States with already the world’s highest per capita emissions – carte blanche to increase their emissions. A properly organised system of alliances would have seen these wealthy resource-exporting nations outnumbered and under fierce pressure from LDCs, SISs, high mountain states and the high-technology industrial nations for deep and rapid emissions reductions.
Per capita greenhouse gas emissions including land use change in 2000, around the time of the actual Kyōtō Protocol
As things stood, two greenhouse sceptic organisations – The Climate Council and Global Climate Coalition (Oberthür and Ott, 1999, page 45) – were able to control OPEC’s delegations and “miss few opportunities to slow down progress towards taking common action in international negotiations” (Oberthür and Ott, 1999, page 26). The oil exporters also (Årts and Janssen, 2003) developed a tight partnership with US fossil fuel businesses that effected elimination of any quantified emissions targers for these exceedingly high per-capita polluters.

In contrast the LDCs, SISs and the EU – the resource-poor pro-reduction countries – placed themselves in disparate blocs and failed to develop a plan to counter the OPEC nations, nor the analogous Australian greenhouse sceptic organisations who dictated policy there. Luomi (2011) has demonstrated how the LDCs – at least Muslim LDCs – were led and had their interests represented by oil states with opposing interests rather than the by EU with aligned interests. In fact, the effort to exclude “developing” nations was not done by the poor LDCs, but by wealthy oil exporters to prevent them having to make deep cuts that would necessarily extirpate the wealth of the oil sheikhs like the Al Sacud, Al Sabah, Al Thani, Al Nahyan and Al Maktoum families.

The most basic target at the world’s first climate change protocol (Koch, 2003, p. 147; Najam et. al, 2003) was to set an ecologically-based allowance of emissions per capita. The most logical basis for ecologically-based emissions allowance is energy consumption of native fauna measured by basal metabolism (Flannery 1994, Lovegrove 2000, Orians and Milewski 2007) as this should reflect each ecoregion’s naturally sustainable pattern of energy use. Knowledge of geographical patterns of human metabolism is very scanty; however what evidence does exist (Tranah et. al, 2011; Roberts, 1978, pp. 44, 94; Leonard et. al., 2002; Coon, 1965, pp. 16-17, 244-245) suggests similar patterns of metabolic rates.
Nation or group of nations
(average value)
Approximate relative homiotherm BMR
(Australia = 1; Lovegrove, 2000)
Allowable per capita emissions
(Australia = 1)
Actual per capita emissions
(Australia = 1)
Required reduction to meet parity
(assuming no nation increases emissions)
Arid subtropical Asia and North Africa
Southern Africa
1.25 to 2
(depending on taxon; higher for larger species)
Tropical Americas
Tropical Africa and Asia
(possible cap)
Enriched World (northern)
Enriched World (Southern Cone)
4 (Milewski, personal communication)
The above table does demonstrates why achieving deep and rapid reductions in Australian and Gulf States emissions constituted Kyōtō’s urgent task. The Protocol failed completely, and at great cost judging by the certainty of 2019 annual rainfalls in southern Australia of less than one quarter previous record lows.

The above table shows that the highest per capita emitters outside the Enriched World needed to be the countries set severe reduction targets at the first Kyōtō Protocol. Apart from Australia, South Africa and Malaysia, these nations correspond to the oil exporters (OPEC), although low-emissions Nigeria can be exempted. If we follow from the table above, we can estimate requisite emissions reductions in the table below:

Country Requisite Kyōtō emissions target (relative to 1985-1995) Actual Kyōtō emissions target Notes
Wealthy Lithophile Metal Exporters
Australia -93% +8%
  • Lowest allowable per capita emissions due to unique ecology.
  • Considerable room for investment in solar and geothermal technology to phase out coal power
  • Climate change severe threat to agriculture
  • Opportunity to meet substantial part of 93 percent reduction target via large-scale farmland revegetation
High-Emissions Siderophile Metal Exporters
New Caledonia -93% -8%
(as part of EU)
  • Low-energy ecology closely related to that of Australia
  • Emissions target as part of EU (French overseas territory), but per capita emissions higher than any EU nation and three times that of France itself
South Africa -50%
  • Low-energy ecology most similar to Australia of all remaining (sub)continents
  • Some potential for achieving large part of reductions by eliminating land clearing
Namibia -33%
  • Low-energy ecology most similar to Australia of all remaining (sub)continents
  • Mineral exports variable in geochemistry
  • Per capita emissions relatively low, but parity emissions very low
  • Some potential for achieving large part of reductions by eliminating land clearing
Middle Eastern and North African Oil Exporters
Kuwait -97%
  • In actual Protocol used the proxy of “developing countries” to be allowed carte blanche to increase emissions
  • Saudi Arabia may be third-largest global emitter with “fugitive” emissions (Lafleur 2020, in publication) counted
  • May require global efforts to reduce coal usage for any cooperation
  • Considerable solar energy potential due to abundant sunlight, but little other renewable potential
United Arab Emirates
Saudi Arabia -95%
Libya -93%
Iran -33%
  • Ecologically diverse, ranging from pure Enriched on Caspian to pure arid subtropical on Gulf
  • Amongst top ten total emitters, and top five with “fugitive” emissions (Lafleur 2020, in publication)
Tropical World Oil Exporters
Brunei -93%
Indonesia -50%
  • Historically very poor, but large per capita emissions from forest clearance
  • Possibility of achieving requisite emissions cuts via eliminating land clearing
Equatorial Guinea
Gabon -33%
  • Possibility of achieving requisite emissions cuts via eliminating land clearing
Other Tropical World Mineral States
Malaysia -50%
  • Possibility of achieving requisite emissions cuts via eliminating land clearing
  • Not an oil exporter, but very high per capita emissions when land use change is included
Papua New Guinea -50%
  • Not an oil exporter, but very high per capita emissions when land use change is included – although very low without them
  • All emissions cuts can only be achieved via eliminating land clearing
A plan to phase out coal – whilst anathema to Australia and South Africa – remained desirable as it would have been likely to mollify intransigent OPEC states, and coal is more carbon-intense than oil. Including land clearing – though opposed by AOSIS – I favour as it would have:
  1. allowed lower-income Tropical World mineral exporters to meet emissions targets at relatively low cost
  2. mandated large-scale revegetation of extremely ancient, climatically vulnerable agricultural soils of uniquely high conservation value in the West Australian Wheatbelt
  3. potentially lowered the severe education barriers to economic employment in the land- and resource-poor but uniquely eutrophic Enriched World
With this plan, the EU, LDCs, small-island and high mountain countries would have needed to make rigid demands on Australia, the Gulf States, and to a lesser extent South Africa. Undoubtedly, this would have involved greater sacrifices for all parties than the hopeless Protocol actually achieved, but vast emissions reductions by the wealthiest resource exporters. These nations have consistently been ranked the worst in the world for climate policy (Thwaites 2018; Marriott and Mortimore 2017), native ecology (Flannery 1994, Lovegrove 2000, Orians and Milewski 2007) dictates they be the world’s leaders in climate action, and large reductions by them would create large flow-on effects (Lafleur 2020, in publication).

Targets outlined above would have directly cut global emissions by no more than the targets of the actual Kyōtō Protocol. However, loss of fossil fuel and lithophile metal sources would have necessitated much more efficient use and reuse of these commodities by the big manufacturing nations. One would expect this improved efficiency to multiply reductions far beyond actual Kyōtō targets. Had a substantial proportion of the direct and indirect cuts proposed above been achieved by 2010, southern Australia and Central Chile would not be facing runaway drying with loss of over 90 percent of their virgin rainfall.

Methodology for “Ecological Parity” Emissions Targets:

In order to estimate relative per capita greenhouse gas emissions allowable for each nation, I:
  1. took the approximate average relative basal metabolic rate of that nation’s indigenous homiotherms
    • it being assumed that the sustainable energy consumption per capita of a nation’s human population should be related to that of homiothermic animals having evolved locally
    • BMR is the major contributor to faunal energy consumption, although field rates can be much higher in arid regions
  2. assumed that the allowable emissions would be proportional to each region’s average homiotherm BMR
  3. compared these with actual emissions to estimate the reduction required for parity with the ecoregion (Enriched) least above parity
  • Coon, Carleton S.; The Living Races of Man; published 1965 by Alfred A. Knopf
  • Flannery, Tim (1994); The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People; ISBN 0730104222
  • Gannon, B.; DiPietro, Loretta and Pöhlman, Eric T.; ‘Do African Americans have lower energy expenditure than Caucasians?’; International Journal of Obesity, vol. 24, issue 1 (February 2000), pp. 4-13
  • Key, Valdimer Orlando (1949); Southern Politics in State and Nation, published 1949 by Alfred. A. Knopf, New York
  • Koch, Max (2003); Capitalism and Climate Change: Theoretical Discussion, Historical Development and Policy Responses; ISBN 978-1-349-32328-9
  • Lafleur, Dimitri (thesis); ‘Aspects of Australia’s fugitive and overseas emissions from fossil fuel exports’ (in print, online July 2020)
  • Leonard, William R.; Sorensen, Mark V.; Galloway, Victoria A.; Spencer, Gary J.; Mosher, M.J.; Osipova, Ludmilla and Spitsyn, Victor A.; ‘Climatic Influences on Basal Metabolic Rates Among Circumpolar Populations’; American Journal of Human Biology, vol. 14 (2002); pp. 609-620
  • Lovegrove, Barry G.; ‘The Zoogeography of Mammalian Basal Metabolic Rate’; The American Naturalist, vol. 156, no. 2 (August 2000), pp. 201-218
  • Luomi, Mari; ‘Gulf of Interest: Why Oil Still Dominates Middle Eastern Climate Politics’; Journal of Arabian Studies 1.2 (December 2011), pp. 249-266
  • Marriott, Lisa and Mortimore, Anna; ‘Emissions, Road Transport, Regulation and Tax Incentives in Australia and New Zealand’; Journal of the Australasian Tax Teachers Association, vol. 12, no. 1 (2017), pp. 23-52
  • Najam, Adil, Saleem-ul-Huq and Sokona, Youba; ‘Climate negotiations beyond Kyōtō: Developing countries’ concerns and interests’; Climate Policy 3(3) (September 2003), pp. 221-231
  • Oberthür, Sebastian and Ott, Hermann E. (1999); The Kyōtō Protocol: International Climate Policy for the 21st Century (International and European Environmental Policy Series), Springer Verlag
  • Orians, Gordon H. and Milewski, Antoni V. (2007). ‘Ecology of Australia: the effects of nutrient-poor soils and intense fires’ Biological Reviews, 82 (3): pp. 393-423
  • Roberts, Derek Frank; Climate and Human Variabillity, published January 1978 by Cummings Publishing Company
  • Thwaites, John; ‘Australia ranked worst in world on climate action’; Planning News; Volume 44, Issue 9 (October 2018), p. 13
  • Tranah, Gregory J.; Manini, Todd M.; Lohman, Kurt K.; Nalls, Michael A.; Kritchevsky, Stephen; Newman, Anne B.; Harris, Tamara B.; Miljkovic, Ivaf; Biffi, Alessandro; Cummings, Steven R. and Yongmei Liu; ‘Mitochondrial DNA variation in human metabolic rate and energy expenditure’; Mitochondrion, volume 11, issue 6 (November 2011), pp. 855-861
  • Årts, Paul and Janssen, Dennis; ‘Shades of Opinion: The Oil Exporting Countries and International Climate Politics’; The Review of International Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 2, Winter 2003, pp. 332-351

Monday, 18 March 2019

The lag between tropical expansion and rainfall shifts – is it to disappear?

Synoptic chart for Sunday. Note the subtropical high pressure belt located around 48°S, around eight degrees south of its historic summer position
For over a decade now, I have noticed a major gap between the observed expansion of the tropics (Seidel et. al, 2008) and observed poleward shifts in rainfall in the southern hemisphere. A combination of observed measurements of the poleward edge of the Hadley Circulation suggests an expansion of eight degrees since the 1950s. Whilst as the following table for a representative set of stations in southern Australia and Central Chile shows, rain belts have shifted poleward – to disastrous effect for the water supplies of Perth – the shifts have not been nearly so marked as would be predicted from simply moving each locality seven to eight degrees equatorward:

Station Virgin mean rainfall (beginning of record to 1974) Mean rainfall predicted from simple 7.5˚ poleward tropical expansion Percentage decline vis-à-vis
virgin mean rainfall
Actual lowest observed rainfall
Santiago de Chile (MJJA)
272.0 mm
15 mm
22.1 mm*
37.2 mm
Concepción (annual)
1230.3 mm
121.6 mm
598.6 mm
599.3 mm
Valdivia (annual)
2393.5 mm
275 mm
1033.1 mm
Perth (annual)
882.0 mm
233.2 mm
466.6 mm
Perth (MJJA)
624.9 mm
158.0 mm
260.2 mm
Collie (MJJA)
667.0 mm
140.8 mm
275.9 mm
296.3 mm
Manjimup (annual)
1055.6 mm
248.5 mm
549.0 mm
Horsham Polkemmet Road (annual)
450.8 mm
185.0 mm
181.1 mm

An asterisk (*) indicates that the record low rainfall occurred before 1974. MJJA (May-June-July-August) refers to the May to August period that constitutes the rainy season in Southwest Western Australia and Central Chile.

As we can see, the annual rainfall one would expect from a 7.5˚ poleward shift in all climate belts remains less than the driest observed year for all selected stations except Horsham Polkemmet Road (BOM 079023). Even there the driest observed year – 1982 – is only a few millimetres drier than the estimated mean. In addition, the stations used to model Wimmera rainfall under a 7.5˚ poleward shift in climate belts suggest it likely that the median would be under 181 millimetres even with a mean of 185 millimetres.

One major problem is that Central Chile rainfall was historically limited much more by unfavourable land-ocean temperature gradients than by the descending limb of the Hadley Cell. The dryness of the El Niño years of 2014, 2015, and 2018 suggest, however, that such is emphatically not the case beyond the 2010 “magic gate”. The implication is that current ongoing expansion of the Hadley Cell sets a rigid ceiling upon Central Chile rainfall in a manner absent even during the 2000s, when Santiago exceeded its maximum 2010s MJJA rainfall of 209.9 millimetres in four non-El Niño years (2000, 2001, 2005 and 2008). Another problem is that the topography and coastal shape 7.5˚ closer to the equator differ from those surrounding the stations listed, although I was careful to choose those stations least likely to be controlled by differences of this type.

What is revealing about the last three months – in which Melbourne has seen only 33 millimetres with little hope for more in the foreseeable future – is that the subtropical anticyclone has been located as far south as 48˚S (see synoptic map at top). If we combine the subtropical anticyclone’s historic summer position and the known expansion of the Hadley Cell since the 1950s, 48 degrees South is almost precisely where we would expect the summer subtropical anticyclone to be today. This has suggested to me that we will be observing a “catch up” of rainfall belts with the observed shifts of the Hadley Cell since the 1950s (Seidel et. al, 2008, Liu et. al, 2012, plus personal communication). Should this be correct, rainfalls in Southwest Western Australia, southeastern Australia and Central Chile will, beginning this year, show dramatic declines below 2010s averages. These 2010s averages are already 30 percent below virgin averages before man-made greenhouse emissions expanded the Hadley Cell, and 50 percent less in the Santiago region.

Given widespread predictions of another record El Niño in 2019, annual rainfalls in southern Australia of one-half or even one-quarter existing record lows appear even at this early stage a probable outcome if we study the above tables. Even if positive Indian Ocean Dipole and negative Southern Oscillations are less persistent than some models (e.g. Chie et. al. 2008) suggest, there is still a likelihood that the frontal rain belt will be wholly shifted beyond any part of mainland Australia by the “catch up” noted in the previous paragraph.

The implications for public and private farming policy of a 7.5˚ or larger shift in annual rainfalls are stark. The winter rain belt would become wholly extinct, and with it rainfed winter grain crops – a complete 2019/2020 crop failure throughout southern Australia already appears plausible. Irrigated crops would also likely disappear. The rainfall declines modelled at the beginning of this article would certainly mean zero median annual runoff (Chiew et. al. 2006) for every river in Australia’s historic winter rainfall zone.

What governments would do confronted with this situation and powerful agribusinesses demanding bailouts from certain severe financial losses is not worth imagining. Expensive schemes to redirect runoff from other parts of Australia, or desalination and pipelines, would create still more disastrous after-effects in greenhouse gas emissions and disturbance to sensitive and unique river ecologies. Nonetheless, I still think it plausible that agribusiness possesses sufficient power to gain such bailouts, tragic as they would be not only for Australia’s ecology but for the remainder of the globe. It would even speak ill of Australia if it were to abandon farming because of catastrophic climate change rather than as a result of recognising it as inherently unsustainable on our uniquely ancient soils.

Rainfall methodology:

To estimate rainfall in Central Chile and Southern Australia under a 7.5˚ of latitude poleward shift of rain belts:
  1. rainfall stations with the most similar topography and coastal aspect to land 7.5˚ northward were selected
  2. rainfall for stations 7.5˚ northward and the most similar coastal aspect for the period before the first “magic gate” in 1975/1976 was entered for the stations in (1)
    1. for stations in southwestern WA, stations in BOM District 6 (West Gascoyne) were chosen, and for Collie (009628) and Manjimup (009573) stations comparably distant from the coast were used
    2. for Collie (009628) and Manjimup (009573) the estimated rainfall under a 7.5˚ poleward shift was increased by 10 percent to account for the Darling Scarp orographic effect.
    3. for Perth, data from Carnarvon (006062 and 006011) were used without alteration
    4. for Horsham Polkemmet Road, stations in BOM district 46 (Western—Far Northwest) were used
    5. for stations in Chile, stations on the coast or nearby 7.5˚ northward were used


  • Chandler, Mark A.; Rind, David and Rüdy, Reto; ‘Pangaean climate during the Early Jurassic: GCM simulations and the sedimentary record of paleoclimate’; Geological Society of America Bulletin, v. 104 (May 1992), p. 543-559
  • Chie Ihara; Yochana Kushnir and Mark A. Cane; ‘Warming Trend of the Indian Ocean SST and Indian Ocean Dipole from 1880 to 2004’; Journal of Climate, vol. 21 (2008), pp. 2035-2046
  • Chiew, Francis; Peel, Murray; McMahon, Thomas Aquinas and Siriwardena, Lionel (2006); ‘Precipitation elasticity of streamflow in catchments across the world’; [Harry Lins, Richard Vogel, Mike Bonell, Wolfgang Grabs et al.; WMO/UNESCO WCP-Water, FRIEND 2006, Havana Cuba, 26 November-1 December 2006]
  • Hochman, Zvi; Gobbett, David L.; and Horan, Heidi; ‘Climate trends account for stalled wheat yields in Australia since 1990’; Global Change Biology (2017); published by CSIRO Agriculture and Food
  • J. Liu, M. Song, Y. Hu and X. Ren; ‘Changes in the strength and width of the Hadley Circulation since 1871’; Climates of the Past; vol. 8 (2012); pp. 1169-1175
  • Seidel, Dian J. Qiang Fu; Randel, William J. and Reichler, Thomas J.; ‘Widening of the tropical belt in a changing climate’; Nature Geoscience, vol. 1 (January 2008), pp. 21-24

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

“Get Out” and don’t “Get Big”

As recent weeks clearly reveal a tipping point in Australia’s climate – with only 33 millimetres of rain in three months in Melbourne and none forecast for the next week – the revelation that the Murray-Darling Basin is drying out is not unexpected but shocking nonetheless.

The carcass of a kangaroo is seen by the side of the road in Wilcannia in March. Livestock and wildlife are dying as a result of the extended drought. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images Source: Getty Images
Jed Smith of and Maryanne Slattery of The Australia Institute have demonstrated in their recent article ‘“These weren’t mistakes”: “Dodgy” policies to blame for Murray Darling’s downfall’ that an Australian National University study demonstrating that vastly less water had been returned to the river system than claimed by the government. Maryanne also revealed large-scale water theft by the factory-scale irrigators in the basin’s upper reaches, who grow the water-intensive crops of rice, tobacco and cotton on a landmass whose rivers lack baseflow during below-average or even average rainfall. Water that in other continents creates baseflow is in Australia absorbed by dense proteoid root systems necessary to absorb scarce nutrients. In other extant continents these nutrients have been enriched by orders of magnitude via mountain building and aeolian glacial tills. There, lower rooting densities and much smaller threshold rainfalls to activate runoff are not only possible but essential.

What they show a a requisite is that irrigators – politically powerful due to their unrivalled profits on Australia’s abundant land in wet years – to be absolutely forbidden from extracting purchased water. What has actually happened is irrigators simply buying the water purchased by government, eliminating supposed additional flows. These flows are required to preserve ecosystems 13,000 times more ancient and comparably more specialised that the typical 10,000-year-old ecosystem of Europe, North America or New Zealand. Australian aquatic flora and fauna are adapted to flows three times more variable than those of Europe, North America, New Zealand, East Asia or South America, and lose out when flows are modified to fit farming practices tested in the fleetingly young Enriched World. In fact, as Mary E. White showed in Running Down: Water in a Changing Land, the entire Murray-Darling and Lake Eyre Basins – and indeed most of the higher Western Plateau – constitutes one ephemeral floodplain adapted to extremely irregular floods. This is utterly different not only from the fast-flowing streams in U-shaped valleys of most of the Enriched World, but even from the permanent slow-flowing streams of the Amazon Basin or the bayou country of the Southern United States. In almost all of Australia, runoff occurs only ephemerally following abnormal rainfall, and when rivers do flow, they can cover the whole land area – as in the famous 1990 floods when Nyngan was completely evacuated.

Such environments are simply not designed for annual crops. In the natural state of the MDB, such crops would fail in the vast majority of years, and reservoirs six times those of Europe, North America or New Zealand are needed to maintain the same reliability of supply even ignoring higher evaporation.

Instead of “getting big”, Australia needs a plan for its farmers to get out – and get out as soon as possible. A “get out” plan would involve restoring the rivers of inland Australia to their naturally uniquely variable flows and specially adapted endemic species, and restoring farmland to native flora. This plan was proposed on a smaller scale for uneconomic less large farms two decades ago by Tyrone Thomas in his My Environmental Exposé, but contradicts a free market that locates agriculture where land is cheapest. However, where land is cheapest is precisely where farming does by far the greatest ecological harm. This is why a large-scale, long-term plan to take control of Australia’s rivers from Australian and foreign agribusinesses, and return our climatically vulnerable rainfed farmland to specially adapted native flora and fauna, is one of the most critical steps for reversing the ecological crisis. Benefits of mass revegetation will accrue not only to Australia but globally in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased economic profitability on other continents incomparably better suited to agriculture.