Kyoto Ratification Replaced by Ocean Robots

CANBERRA, Australia, November 19, 2002 (ENS) - New climate data gathering projects aimed at helping the United States and Australia reduce their contribution to the atmospheric greenhouse gas burden were on the table today in Canberra for the visit of the top U.S. administrator of atmospheric policy. The two countries are collaborating on the deployment of a new fleet of ocean robots that will record climate information and transmit it to researchers by satellite.

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Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr. (Photo courtesy Office of the Administrator)
Retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr., who is U.S. under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), met with Australian Environment Minister Dr. David Kemp to cement the Australia-U.S. Climate Action Partnership.

This partnership was forged between the only two industrialized countries to reject the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that limits the emission of six greenhouse gases from 2008 to 2012.

Kemp said that while the government has decided that it is not in Australia's long term interests to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, "we are committed to meeting our Kyoto target of 108 percent of 1990 emissions by the end of the decade."

"Ratification by Australia could shift long term investment in Australian resource industries to developing countries, where our strict environmental regime would not apply and could paradoxically increase global greenhouse gas emission as well as exporting Australian jobs and industry," Kemp reasoned.

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Australian Environment Minister Dr. David Kemp (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
The Kyoto Protocol is flawed, Kemp said, because it does not require greenhouse reductions from developing countries, which will soon be producing more than half the world's greenhouse gases. It will only deliver one percent cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions "when science warns the world needs 50 percent to 60 percent cuts by the end of the century," he said, in parallel with the U.S. position.

Kemp and Lautenbacher reviewed progress on joint projects that will help to predict the world's climate and help reduce the impacts of climate extremes such as droughts and floods.

They announced the start of collaborative work on the Global Ocean Data Assimilation Experiment (GODAE).

"A key element of GODAE is the Argo program," Dr. Kemp explained, "through which Australia and the U.S. are leading a global effort to populate the world's oceans with 3,000 highly sophisticated robotic floats which will measure the temperature, salinity and currents down to depths of 2,000 metres (6,500 feet), in much the same way as weather balloons are used to measure the atmosphere."

To back the GODAE announcement, the Australian government research organization CSIRO announced today that a new array of Argo ocean robots has begun working in the depths of the Indian Ocean gathering climate data.

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Climate scientist Dr. Gary Meyers (Photo courtesy CSIRO)
"This is a key region for the global climate system and installation of the robots will provide our best coverage to begin to understand how the Indian Ocean affects our climate," says CSIRO's Dr. Gary Meyers.

Cycling between the surface and a depth of two kilometres (1.24 miles) every 10 days, the ocean robots are sampling conditions in a region thought to be a source of southern Australian rainfall.

"We want to understand the mechanism of so-called northwest cloud bands and the possibility that subsurface ocean conditions control how frequently they form," Dr. Meyers said.

CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology will have 19 new Argo ocean robots in place by Christmas, completing an array of profiling floats extending from Indonesia to Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia, as the Australian contribution to the joint effort to observe the world's oceans.

Nearly 600 of the ocean profilers have been deployed globally, with 3,000 profilers due in place by 2006.

"But GODAE is a lot bigger than the Argo project alone," said Dr. Kemp. "GODAE will also bring together a wide range of ocean observations, using satellites as well as traditional systems like surface drifting buoys and floats, to measure sea surface temperature, surface winds and wave heights."

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Argo floats are lined up in Darwin, Australia for deployment in Indonesian waters. (Photo courtesy CSIRO)
GODAE scientists will develop ways of using these detailed observations to improve understanding of how the oceans drive the global climate.

"The U.S. spends more US$4.5 billion per year on climate change science, technology and mitigation, and is currently engaging international partners including Australia in expanding a global climate observation system," said Lautenbacher.

Weather and climate sensitive industries, both directly and indirectly, account for about 25 percent of U.S. GDP or $2.7 trillion, according to NOAA. Economists estimate that improved forecasts of El Niño weather events in the United States are worth nearly $300 million annually and up to $550 million per year worldwide.

“The Southern Pacific and Indian oceans offer critical environmental and climate data that are important to addressing climate change and climate events in that region and beyond,” Lautenbacher said.

But environmentalists are not satisfied with the slow, observational approach to reversing global warming. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), one of the largest environmental membership groups in the country, says, "Australia is in the perfect position to embrace renewable energy - and turn its back on greenhouse pollution, climate change and energy insecurity."

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Australian smelter emitting greenhouse gases (Photo courtesy Department of Public Health, University of Western Australia)
But Australia is "caught in a carbon rut," the ACF says, "an economy based on brown coal, diesel, and other polluting energy sources. Unless Australia ratifies the Kyoto Protocol - the international agreement designed to address the global problem of climate change - we may face being left behind."

But Lautenbacher views Australia and New Zealand as regional leaders playing key roles in building a scientific base of information on which to base climate decisions.

"We look forward to working with leaders from these countries toward enhancing cooperation on climate change science and expanding the global climate observing system in the Southern hemisphere,” Lautenbacher said.

The U.S. and New Zealand recently announced a bilateral agreement to pursue enhanced climate change cooperation, and agreed that climate change is "a pressing issue that requires a global solution." Both nations declared their intention to continue working together in the spirit of cooperation and partnership under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.