Tag Archives: Greenhouse gas

US scientists in fresh alert over effects of global warming

US National Climate Assessment reveals that severe weather disruption is going to be commonplace in coming years. The Guardian reports 

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 ...

Mean surface temperature change for 1999–2008 relative to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Global warming is already having a major impact on life in America, a report by US government scientists has warned. The draft version of the US National Climate Assessment reveals that increasing storm surges, floods, melting glaciers and permafrost, and intensifying droughts are having a profound effect on the lives of Americans.

“Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington state and maple syrup producers have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience,” states the report.

Health services, water supplies, farming and transport are already being strained, the assessment adds. Months after superstorm Sandy battered the east coast, causing billions of dollars of damage, the report concludes that severe weather disruption is going to be commonplace in coming years. Nor do the authors flinch from naming the culprit. “Global warming is due primarily to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels,” it states.

The uncompromising language of the report, and the stark picture that its authors have painted of the likely effects of global warming, have profound implications for the rest of the world.

If the world’s greatest economy is already feeling the strain of global warming, and is fearful of its future impact, then other nations face a very worrying future as temperatures continue to rise as more and more greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere.

“The report makes for sobering reading,” said Professor Chris Rapley, of University College London. “Most people in the UK and US accept human-induced climate change is happening but respond by focusing attention elsewhere. We dismiss the effects of climate change as ‘not here’, ‘not now’, ‘not me’ and ‘not clear’.

“This compelling new assessment by the US experts challenges all four comforting assumptions. The message is clear: now is the time to act!”

Bob Ward, of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, at the London School of Economics, said: “For those outside the US, this report carries a brutal message because it shows that even the world’s leading economy cannot simply adapt to the impacts of climate change. The problem clearly needs concerted international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to avoid the worst potential consequences.”

The national climate assessment, written by a team of 240 scientists, is required every four years by US law. The first was written in 2000, though no report was issued while George W Bush was president. The next came out in 2009. The latest is only a draft version and will be revised after comments by other scientists and the public.

However, observers have noted that the 2013 version is far more uncompromising in its language. “The bluntness reflects the increasing confidence we have in the science and day-to-day realities of climate change,” said one of its authors, Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Centre at Texas Tech University.

The report highlights, among other things, that 13 American airports have runways that could be inundated by rising sea levels, and that billions of dollars will be needed to repair Alaskan roads, pipelines, sewer systems, buildings and airports where melting permafrosts are disrupting the landscape. These are problems that will not just affect the US. They will be repeated across the planet.

Environmental groups are now hoping that the report will revitalise the debate over climate change in the US and stimulate the administration of Barack Obama into taking action over an issue that has been put on the backburner. “There is so much that is already happening today,” said Hayhoe. “This is no longer a future issue. It’s an issue that is staring us in the face today.”

CLIMATE CHANGE: At the edge of the carbon cliff

English: A colour version of previous map, ran...

English: A colour version of previous map, ranking countries by carbon dioxide emissions in thousands of metric tonnes per annum, based on List of countries by carbon dioxide emissions as of March 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the global total of emissions likely to come in at around 52 gigatonnes this year, we’re already at the edge, according to new research

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Dec 17 2012 (IPS) – The most important number in history is now the annual measure of carbon emissions. The Guardian Environment Network reports

Se below

Se below (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That number reveals humanity’s steady billion-tonne by billion-tonne march to the edge of the carbon cliff, beyond which scientists warn lies a fateful fall to catastrophic climate change.

With the global total of climate-disrupting emissions likely to come in at around 52 gigatonnes (billion metric tonnes) this year, we’re already at the edge, according to new research.

To have a good chance of staying below two degrees C of warming, global emissions should be between 41 and 47 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2020, said Joeri Rogelj, a climate scientist at Switzerland’s Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich.

“Only when we see the annual global emissions total decline will we know we’re making the shift to climate protection,” Rogelj told IPS.

Making the shift to a future climate with less than 2C of warming is doable and not that expensive if total emissions peak in the next few years and fall into the 41-47 Gt “sweet spot” by 2020, Rogelj and colleagues show in their detailed analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The study is the first to comprehensively quantify the costs and risks of emissions surpassing critical thresholds by 2020.

This shift means 65 percent of existing coal power plants will have to be shut down in the next decade or two.

“There are enormous benefits if global emissions decline before 2020. Failure to do so will mean we will need to use more nuclear, massive amounts of bioenergy, large-scale carbon capture and storage,” he said.

The costs and social implications from deploying all this will be “huge”, he said.

“Delay is by far the riskier option,” Rogelj said, noting that failure to act now means those additional risks, costs and social disruption will land on the heads of the next generation.

“We’re deciding that the next generation will have to pay significantly higher costs because we’re not doing anything now.”

These climate-disrupting emissions are primarily carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. The global total also includes other greenhouse gases that are warming the planet such as methane, nitrous oxide, and a few other chemicals.

In 1990, global emissions were 38.2 Gt, and in recent years, they have been growing at a rate of three percent per year. This growth is despite commitments by industrialised countries to reduce their emissions.

In 2009, all industrialised countries, including the United States, made emission reduction pledges under the Copenhagen Accord. However, even if countries reach their Copenhagen targets, global emissions will be about 55 Gt in 2020, the study estimates.

Staying below two degrees C is still feasible, but it will be far more expensive and difficult, imposing an additional cost burden amounting to trillions of dollars over 2020 to 2050.

Earlier this month, during the annual U.N. climate conference in Doha, governments declined to increase their emission cut targets. Citing economic difficulties, countries like the U.S. and those in the European Union looked to a new global climate treaty that would not make additional emission reductions until 2020.

Despite the urgent need to reduce emissions, the fossil fuel industry received a record 523 billion dollars in public subsidies in 2011, 30 percent more than the previous year, according to the International Energy Agency.

“Lots of actions at the local and national level are needed to bring emissions down over the next few years,” said energy researcher David McCollum of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), in Laxenburg, Austria.

Waiting until 2020 before emissions decline means millions of hectares of land will be needed to produce biofuel, billions of dollars invested in new nuclear power plants, and new technologies like carbon capture and storage must not only work but be effective on a large scale, McCollum told IPS.

“At 44Gt (in 2020) we can choose the most cost-effective reduction options. Above 55Gt, we need everything and they’d all better work,” he said.

The authors of the study acknowledge these numbers might be too optimistic because current climate models cannot incorporate emissions from melting permafrost and other natural sources of greenhouse gases that might result from increasing temperatures.

Staying below two degrees is not a matter of science or technology. It will be determined by political and social decisions to take the necessary steps to shift to low-carbon living, said McCollum.

And, in that regard, the choices made before 2020 are critical, both he and Rogelj conclude.

Why a global climate treaty remains worth fighting for

Kyoto Protocol

Kyoto Protocol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Governments, businesses and civil society have much to gain from a spirit of determination within the international community. The Guardian reports

Progress towards an international agreement on tackling climate changehas been painfully slow, dogged by fundamental disagreements between the countries involved and exacerbated by the financial crisis. Little is expected of the upcoming COP 18 meeting in Doha – so is it time to abandon the idea of a climate treaty altogether? Why not give up and focus on national and regional efforts to tackle climate change?

After all, negotiating a global deal is a slow, frustrating business. Not only is climate science constantly evolving, but the 194 countries that will meet in Doha often have diametrically opposed interests and points of view. Blocking progress is ridiculously easy.

Many of the differences between countries revolve around the concept of historic responsibility. This is the idea that industrialised countries got rich on the back of emitting greenhouse gases so they should act first, and developing countries should be allowed to develop before being called upon to limit their own emissions.

The lack of commitment from much of the industrialised world to accept this burden has contributed to a certain obstructiveness among developing countries. The rich countries are not just reluctant to pay to tackle climate change in poorer countries – they are unwilling to commit resources at home as well. Pre-occupied by the financial crisis, most countries have not seen tackling climate change as something that is in their national interest.

Nonetheless, a global deal remains worth fighting for. Governments, businesses and civil society all have much to gain, for four key reasons.

The biggest benefit would be for the very national and regional efforts mentioned above. A global deal and would bring a robustness and a consistency to climate policies in individual countries. The Montreal protocol tackling ozone-depleting chemicals, signed 25 years ago, is a case in point. While countries can make changes on their own, acting together can be much more effective.

A more consistent policy framework would bring a second benefit. With a legally binding global agreement in place, businesses and investors will know that the direction of travel is not going to change regardless of day-to-day events. Only then will they have the clarity and security they need to make the long-term technology investments that can tackle climate change. Making the wrong assumptions because long-term policies are unclear can lead to costly mistakes in the form of stranded assets, particularly in the field of energy.

Thirdly, a global agreement would create transparency, allowing the efforts of one country to be measured against another and helping to ensure that tackling climate change in one place does not simply move harmful activities to other countries.

Finally, it would also bring an element of standardisation so that all countries would know they are fighting the same battle under the same rules. It would also mean that compliance with these rules would be overseen by civil society groups that could hold parties to account and ensure that countries deliver on their obligations.

The impacts of climate change have started to become clearer in developing and developed countries alike. Many governments are starting to recognise that, it is in their interests to act now, regardless of who is responsible for historic emissions and who is to pay for reducing future emissions. The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events like superstorm Sandy in the US is beginning to bring the issues into sharper focus for many.

And progress is being made. After the 2009 climate change talks in Copenhagen, countries responsible for more than 80% of global emissions developed targets to cut or limit the growth of their emissions. The ambitions for last year’s meeting in Durban were low, yet it produced major achievements. These included kick-starting the $100bn per yeargreen climate fund and setting in train a second commitment period for the Kyoto protocol.

More importantly, though, the Durban meeting also started the international community down the road of all nations working together subject to one legally binding instrument to cut emissions. And crucially, this outcome was evidence of a new spirit of determination within the international community, with delegates refusing to close the conference until an agreement was signed.

But for the agreement to succeed, the benefits of green growth need to be clearer to everyone. Political consensus is important to building a strategy that will survive electoral changes, but the business community must also play a central role. The private sector is going to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to green growth, so it is important that it makes the case effectively for low-carbon investments.

While it’s important that all countries are committed to action to cut emissions and that those actions should be real, measurable and verifiable, it’s also clear that many countries will need help from the international community to do so. That help should be subject to the same stringent accountability requirements as the emissions-cutting actions themselves. The best way to achieve this is through an international treaty – yet another reason that such a treaty is worth fighting for at Doha this year.

Yvo de Boer is special global adviser, KPMG Climate Change and Sustainability, and the former executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat

CLIMATE CHANGE : Problem ‘likely to be more severe than some models predict’

Climate change

Climate change (Photo credit: jeancliclac)

Scientists analysing climate models warn we should expect high temperature rises – meaning more extreme weather, sooner. The Guardian reports

Climate change is likely to be more severe than some models have implied, according to a new study which ratchets up the possible temperature rises and subsequent climatic impacts.

Scientific studies on climate helped establish...

Scientific studies on climate helped establish a consensus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The analysis by the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) found that climate model projections showing a greater rise in global temperature were likely to be more accurate than those showing a smaller rise. This means not only a higher level of warming, but also that the resulting problems – including floods, droughts, sea level rise and fiercer storms and other extreme weather – would be correspondingly more severe and would come sooner than expected.

Scientists at the NCAR published their study on Thursday in the leading peer-reviewed journal Science. It is based on an analysis of how well computer models estimating the future climate reproduce the humidity in the tropics and subtropics that has been observed in recent years. They found that the most accurate models were most likely to best reproduce cloud cover, which is a major influence on warming. These models were also those that showed the highest global temperature rises, in future if emissions of greenhouse gases continue to increase.

John Fasullo, one of the researchers, said: “There is a striking relationship between how well climate models simulate relative humidity in key areas and how much warming they show in response to increasing carbon dioxide. Given how fundamental these processes are to clouds and the overall global climate, our findings indicate that warming is likely to be on the high side of current projections.”

Extreme weather has been much in evidence around the globe this year, with superstorm Sandy’s devastating impact on New York the most recent example. There has also been drought across much of the US’s grain-growing area, and problems with the Indian monsoon. In the UK, one of the worst droughts on record gave way to the wettest spring recorded, damaging crop yields and pushing up food prices.

The new NCAR findings come just weeks ahead of a crucial UN conference in Doha, where ministers will discuss the future of international action on greenhouse gas emissions. The ministers will have to take the first steps to a new global climate treaty, to kick in from 2020, but so far have shown little sign of urgency.

The next comprehensive study of our knowledge of climate change and its effects will come in 2014, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes its fifth assessment report. Before that, next September, the first part of the report will deal with the science of climate change and predictions of warming.

There has already been increasing evidence of a warming effect this year – the Arctic’s summer ice sank to its lowest extent and volume yet recorded, and satellite pictures showed that surface ice melting was more widespread across Greenland than ever seen in years of observations. Experts have predicted that the Arctic seas could be ice-free in winter in the next decade.

The International Energy Agency warned earlier this year that on current emissions trends the world would be in for 6C of warming – a level scientists warn would lead to chaos. Scientists have put the safety limit at 2C, beyond which warming is likely to become irreversible.

Given this year’s extreme weather, the results of the NCAR may not surprise some. But for scientists, narrowing down the uncertainties in climate models is a key activity. “The dry subtropics are a critical element in our future climate,” Fasullo says. “If we can better represent these regions in models, we can improve our predictions and provide society with a better sense of the impacts to expect in a warming world.”

Rio Earth Summit : New Zealand’s natural heritage threatened by 20 years of environmental inaction

Wellington, New Zealand – Less than a month before world leaders meet at a major environmental summit, a new report warns that New Zealand is failing to protect some of its iconic species and habitats following a series of broken promises made at the Earth Summit 20 years ago.

‘Beyond Rio’ is released today by global conservation organisation WWF ahead of next month’s meeting on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro, the location of the groundbreaking 1992 Earth Summit. At the historic summit New Zealand signed up to a series of agreements to tackle climate change, conserve biodiversity and live more sustainably.

However WWF’s report reveals the nation is falling short on important commitments made on greenhouse gases, water quality, land and marine biodiversity, fisheries and education for sustainability.

Chris Howe, Executive Director of WWF-New Zealand said, “Aotearoa, the land of the long white cloud, is now a land of polluted rivers and lakes, rising greenhouse gas emissions, pressured marine ecosystems and disappearing bird and mammal species.

“While it is important for the government to constructively engage in the upcoming summit, we should not lose sight of the many commitments that already exist. If New Zealand’s political leaders had made good on the promises made back in 1992, then we wouldn’t be faced with such a battle to turn things around. ”

Key findings of the report include:

  • Increased pollution in our lakes and rivers, including 43 per cent of monitored lakes in NZ now classed as polluted and an estimated 18,000-34,000 people annually catching waterborne diseases.
  • More than 60 per cent of native freshwater fish as well as the only freshwater crayfish and mussel species are now threatened with extinction.
  • Seven of New Zealand’s ten official ‘indicator species’ for measuring biodiversity status are threatened. The Kokako, for example, has suffered a 90 per cent contraction in its range since the 1970s.
  • Iconic species such as Maui’s dolphins and NZ sea lions are listed as ‘nationally critical’.  Only an estimated 55 Maui’s over the age of one year remain and NZ sea lion pup numbers have halved over the past 12 years at their main breeding area in the Auckland Islands.
  • Almost two-thirds of New Zealand’s seabird species are listed as threatened with extinction. The main threats to seabirds are predation by introduced mammals, fishing methods and human disturbance.
  • New Zealand’s gross emissions have risen by 20% since 1992, due to increased pollution from energy, transport, agriculture and industry sectors. Even with our weakened Emissions Trading Scheme, emissions are projected to continue to rise.

Although the picture looks bleak, the report points to solutions that can help New Zealand improve its environmental record and restore integrity to its international commitments.

“Solutions do exist to the problems we face, but the political will has been sorely lacking,” said Chris Howe. “As world leaders prepare to meet again in Rio this June, we urge John Key’s government to heed this report’s wake up call and, regardless of new agreements, take immediate steps honour our existing international commitments.”

“New Zealand’s future social and economic well-being is dependant on functioning and flourishing ecosystems. Sustainability must be put at the heart of decision-making to ensure a future where people live in harmony with nature.”

For more information contact: 

Rosa Argent, WWF-New Zealand Communications Manager, rargent@wwf.org.nz, 04 471 4292 / 027 212 3103

Source : http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?uNewsID=204975

New Zealand panorama

New Zealand panorama (Photo credit: mdid)

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