Newsletter Digest: COP16, the Year of Biodiversity and Engineering for Seismic Hazards

Kyoto focus in Cancun climate talks

Predictably fraught negotiations appear to have dominated the COP16 climate summit in Cancun, Mexico, as representatives from 190-odd countries try to come to agreement on how to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The overall goal of the conference is to progress the hastily-drafted Copenhagen Accord that was put together at the tail end of last year’s conference, and build a consensus among developed and developing countries about how to tackle climate change.

Ironically, it was Japan, which hosted the talks that came up with that Protocol, who was in the gun this week at Cancun for its refusal to commit to legally-binding emission cuts beyond 2012. Rather than have countries sign up to a second commitment period under Kyoto, the Japanese want to see a much more expansive deal involving all of the signatories to the Copenhagen Accord.

“[Signatories] to Kyoto only represent 15% of global emissions, but the countries who have signed up to the Copenhagen accord cause 80% of emissions. We want a single binding treaty,” said Japan’s deputy minister for global environment Hideki Minamikawa.

The first commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol ends in 2012, the point by which the developed nations, including New Zealand, are supposed to have reducing their greenhouse gas emissions an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels. Extending Kyoto would leave out the two biggest emitters, the US and China who are not currently party to it. But coming up with a replacement deal involving Accord signatories seems an even more remote prospect than an extended Kyoto…

Three hot years

Meanwhile, the World Meteorological Organisation used Cancun to release its draft annual statement on the status of global climate.

It reported that 2010 is likely to be among the warmest three years since recordings began in 1850 – the other years being 1998 and 2005. NIWA climate scientist Dr Jim Renwick said there were “significant real risks of major negative impacts” in the course of this century as a result of climate change.

“After a small downturn in 2009, greenhouse gas emissions have bounced back in 2010 , continuing the upwards trend seen in the last decade. The extra carbon dioxide will be in the atmosphere for centuries, and sea levels look set to keep rising for a thousand years or more. The sooner the global community seriously tackles this issue, the better. Let’s hope Cancun delivers a positive outcome.”

SMC wrap up on Year of Biodiversity

The world fell far short of its 2010 targets for global biodiversity conservation. Despite a nearly two decades of international efforts, the relentless speed of species loss worldwide not only hasn’t slowed – it continues to accelerate.

2010 also marks the midpoint of New Zealand’s own twenty-year National Biodiversity Strategy. As we round out the International Year of Biodiversity, how are we are measuring up?

In this online Science Media Centre briefing for journalists, Landcare Research ecologist Dr Bill Lee, Department of Conservation officer Dr Avi Holzapfel, and independent biodiversity & sustainability consultant, former Auckland University professor John Craig discuss major challenges, significant trends and weigh in on the prognosis for New Zealand’s unique biodiversity.

SMC Online Briefing:

Where: online and by phone

When: 10:30 am, Tuesday December 7th

Briefing details will be emailed to journalists registered with the SMC.

Engineering for seismic hazards

Three months on from the Darfield earthquake, some Cantabrians face a wait of years before their homes will be fully repaired.

Despite the frustrating delays and disruption for quake victims, scientists contributing to the latest Royal Society of New Zealand Emerging Issues paper suggest the situation could have been far worse.

In a review of the research that has taken place over the last hundred years or so and influenced building standards, they suggest that critical knowledge built up by seismologists and earthquake engineers in New Zealand means lives were were saved in Canterbury when the 7.1 magnitude quake struck.

In a Science Media Centre online briefing for journalists, Victoria University seismologist Professor Martha Savage and University of Canterbury engineer Professor Andy Buchanan look at how building practices evolved to take account of New Zealand’s distinctive seismic hazards and what we can learn from the Canterbury quake to improve the earthquake resilience of our cities.

SMC Online Briefing:

Where: online and by phone

When: 11am, Thursday December 9th

Briefing details will be emailed to journalists registered with the SMC.