Small global warming cuts offer huge savings

Everybody profits from a world that cuts global warming to only another half a degree. The challenge is to persuade nations to act.

LONDON, 28 May, 2018 – Californian scientists have worked out how to reduce global warming so as to make the world 20 trillion US dollars better off. It’s simple. Just stick to the spirit of an international agreement that the American President Donald Trump has already broken.

The researchers arrived at their forecasts of climate profit and loss to calculate that if the 195 nations who agreed in Paris in 2015 to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C by the end of the century kept their promise – and global temperatures have already crept up 1°C in the last century as a consequence of the profligate use of fossil fuels – then there would be a 60% chance that the benefits would exceed $20 trillion.

That represents the savings made by avoiding the calamitous economic damage that would accompany higher temperatures. The same scientists also argue that 71% of the world’s nations – including China, Japan and the US – with 90% of the world’s population have a 75% chance of experiencing reduced economic damage, if global warming is limited to 1.5°C: that is, to just an extra half of a degree this century.

And although conjectures about wealth that has yet to be generated and disasters that have yet to happen are subject to enormous uncertainties, the scientists stand by their argument: if the world fails to meet the 2°C limit, the economic damage could add up to 15% of the world’s entire economic output.

“Even small reductions in future warming could have large benefits for most countries”

Calculations like these are difficult enough, but at least one of the authors has been making the case for concerted global action for years. Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University, has already warned that global extremes of heat and drought are an inevitable consequence of continued warming.

He says warming that has happened so far has already increased California’s vulnerability to devastating drought and may now be influencing the south Asian monsoon, on which a billion people depend.

“It is clear from our analysis that achieving the more ambitious Paris goal is highly likely to benefit most countries – and the global economy overall – by avoiding more severe economic damages,” Professor Diffenbaugh said.

And Marshall Burke, his Stanford colleague who led the study in the journal Nature, said: “Over the past century we have already experienced a 1°C increase in global temperature, so achieving the ambitious targets laid out in the Paris Agreement will not be easy or cheap. We need a clear understanding of how much economic benefit we’re going to get from meeting these different targets.”

Worse outcome possible

The researchers think they may even have underestimated the costs of a dangerously hotter world: they cite, for instance, the rapid rise in sea levels if the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps melt, or heatwaves and floods intensify more dramatically than anything seen so far in human history.

Although the richest nations stand to benefit most from sticking strictly to the Paris ambitions, some of the world’s poorest regions will also feel the benefit, with a noticeable increase in gross domestic product per head.

“The countries likely to benefit the most are already relatively hot today,” Dr Burke said. “The historical record tells us that additional warming will be very harmful to these countries’ economies, and so even small reductions in future warming could have large benefits for most countries.” – Climate News Network

Bonn climate talks make gradual progress

Despite the “missing in action” US, delegates say the Bonn climate talks just ended made progress – but too little and too slowly.

LONDON, 11 May, 2018 – The Bonn climate talks, a crucial round of UN negotiations on pumping up the muscle of the global treaty on tackling climate change, the Paris Agreement, has ended in Germany.

Participants heading for home know they have a daunting workload ahead, with too few solid outcomes achieved in the last 10 days. But despite the absence of the US government, described by some as “missing in action” after Donald Trump’s repudiation of the Paris treaty, many still hope that Bonn has proved a useful prelude to the next climate summit.

This dogged optimism apart, the organisers, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), alarmed at Bonn’s lack of progress, are arranging an unusual extra week of talks in Bangkok in  September to help the world leaders who will meet in Katowice in Poland in December to agree how to prevent the world from dangerously overheating.

One key sticking point so far is the failure of developed countries to produce the previously promised US$100 billion a year by 2020 to allow poor and vulnerable countries to adapt to climate change. In some cases the survival of small island states depends on that help.

The purpose of this year’s round of UN climate talks is to finalise and implement the Paris Agreement, concluded in 2015, which aims to prevent global temperatures from increasing by more than 2°C over their pre-industrial levels, and if possible keep them below 1.5°C.

”Now is the time for action. Now is the time to commit to making the decisions the world must make”

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, is cautiously optimistic about progress, but says many voices at Bonn underlined the urgency of advancing more rapidly. She said the extra negotiating session in Bangkok had been arranged to speed things up.

To help to clarify the remaining issues the delegates in Bonn asked for a “reflection note” on progress so far, to help governments to prepare for Bangkok, which should help specifically  to finalise the texts to be signed off in December in Katowice.

Soon after the Bangkok meeting, on 8 October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is to publish a special scientific report describing how critically close the world already is to a 1.5°C increase in temperature and outlining the drastic action governments need to take to avoid far exceeding it.

This is likely to further galvanise political action from many countries, including China and India, whose governments have already realised that climate change threatens food supplies and national stability.

Sharing solutions

In parallel with the formal negotiations, the Bonn meeting hosted the long-awaited Fiji-led Talanoa Dialogue. This follows the tradition in the Pacific region, where the goal of a “talanoa” is to share stories to find solutions for the common good.

In this spirit, the dialogue in Bonn saw some 250 participants share their stories, providing fresh ideas on how to tackle climate change and renewing their determination to raise ambition.

Instead of only those governments which are parties to the Climate Change Convention talking to each other, the dialogue includes cities, businesses, investors and regions, all engaged for the first time in interactive story-telling.

This partly sidesteps the problem of the missing US government, allowing many American businesses and cities to ignore their president and continue to take part in the talks.

More ambition

Frank Bainimarama, prime minister of Fiji and president of the last UN climate summit (COP23), said: “We must ensure that the Talanoa Dialogue leads to more ambition in our climate action plans. Now is the time for action. Now is the time to commit to making the decisions the world must make.”

At the end of the Bonn negotiations, the chair of the Least Developed Countries Group (LDC), Gebru Jember Endalew, said the Group had come to Bonn ready to shift gears and make concrete progress. He went on: “The Group is concerned by the lack of urgency we are seeing to move the negotiations forward. It is time to look at the bigger picture, see the severe impacts that climate change is having across the world, and rise to the challenge.

“Finance is key to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. In the face of climate change, poor and vulnerable countries are forced to address loss and damage and adapt to a changing climate, all while striving to lift their people out of poverty without repeating the mistakes of an economy built on fossil fuels. This is not possible without predictable and sustainable support. Countries have failed to deliver on pre-2020 commitments.”

On climate finance, Harjeet Singh, global climate lead at ActionAid International,  said: “The issue of finance underpins so many different parts of the climate negotiations, because poor countries simply can’t cover the triple costs of loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation on their own.

“But with developed countries refusing to move on finance, lots of pieces are still unfinished. This is holding up the whole package, which is supposed to be finalised at the end of this year. Issues are piling up, and it’s a dangerous strategy to leave everything to the last minute.”

Sharp differences

Also concerned about finance was Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He said: “While some headway was made in Bonn on several more technical topics, sharp political differences remain on a handful of issues, especially on climate finance and the amount of differentiation in the Paris Agreement rules for countries at varying stages of development.

“These issues are above the pay grade of negotiators in Bonn, and will require engaging ministers and national leaders to resolve them.”

A more cheerful note came from Camilla Born, of the environmental think tank E3G. She said: “Negotiations went better than expected. The next challenge is to mobilise the political will to get the COP24 outcomes over the line in Katowice.

“This won’t be easy but the Polish Presidency has the chance to up their game. The pressure is on the likes of the EU, China and Canada to come good on the universality of the Paris Agreement even whilst the US is for now missing in action.” – Climate News Network

Boost planned for global climate treaty

The future of the global climate treaty could hang on the outcome of talks under way in Germany aimed at turning its promises into action.

LONDON, 1 May, 2018 – The global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, already ratified by a huge majority of the world’s governments, is for the next 10 days in intensive care.

That doesn’t mean it’s in danger of expiring, but that it needs a hefty boost so that the countries which signed up to it in 2015 will make commitments that will give it teeth.

So talks aimed at ramping up international action to cut carbon emissions and speed up progress on the treaty have begun in the German city of Bonn, attended by representatives of 193 governments.

The talks last until 10 May, and the basic agreements which the organisers, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, hope they will have reached by then will go to a summit meeting in December for approval.

Today the world is on course to heat up by 3°C under the impact of the increasing consumption of fossil fuels, double the amount that scientists say is likely to be sustainable by human civilisation and the natural world. The talks are aimed at getting governments to be far more ambitious than their current national plans for greenhouse gas emissions cuts.

“Climate change is a critical issue and an urgent, global response is required. Lives and livelihoods across the world are on the line…”

With 2017 already the costliest on record for climate-related disasters as well as the third hottest ever recorded for the US, the effects of climate change are already causing severe economic and political problems. The World Bank says 143 million people may soon become climate migrants.

With this background the grouping of Small Island States, currently led by Fiji, is starting a new conversation between governments and society, called the Talanoa Dialogue. The plan is to share ideas and methods of speeding up progress on combatting climate change.
These ideas will then be submitted to the government ministers at the December conference of the signatories to the Agreement, known in UN jargon as COP 24, in Katowice, Poland.

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Climate Change secretariat, said: “The Talanoa Dialogue is a key opportunity for all stakeholders to come together and share stories on how we can significantly step up climate action to prevent even greater human suffering in the future.”

This first phase of the Fiji-led Dialogue will introduce a new element to the talks on 6 May, when countries and other stakeholders, including cities, businesses, investors and regions, engage for the first time in what is billed as interactive story-telling around their ambitions.

Silver lining

This will include many US stakeholders who disagree with Donald Trump. He has repudiated the Paris Agreement and seems unable to accept the scientific consensus that human activity is warming the world – a setback which seems to have redoubled some countries’ efforts to act to reduce their own emissions.

There are hopes that, by COP 24, 30 more countries will have joined the 111 that have already ratified another agreement, the Doha Amendment, which is aimed at implementing extra emissions reductions for developed countries.

The Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, an international group of US-based grass roots organisations, says there are only four years left to take the radical action needed if the Paris Agreement’s ambitious target of keeping global average temperature rise at no more than 1°5C above pre-industrial levels is to be achieved (Paris’s other, more modest target is 2°C). It says countries must step up their action in both the short and the long term.

As ever, one sticking point in Bonn is finance, particularly how the rich countries that have largely caused the problem of climate change should help poorer countries adapt to rising temperatures and sea levels. Developed countries pledged in 2009 to provide US$100bn a year by 2020 to help this adaptation, but they are far from reaching their goal – and President Trump has withdrawn a US pledge of $2bn.

Hopeful signs

But there is some optimism at the talks. The giant strides that China and now India are taking towards adopting renewables and phasing out coal for generating electricity could not have been predicted five years ago. The world-wide programmes by cities to clean up air pollution and introduce electric vehicles are also expected to have a dramatic effect on reducing emissions, and there are hopes than some countries will reach their Paris targets more easily than they expected.

The chair of the Least Developed Countries group (LDC), Gebru Jember Endalew, said: “Climate change is a critical issue and an urgent, global response is required. Lives and livelihoods across the world are on the line, particularly in the LDCs.

“We have a very small window of time left to develop a set of clear, comprehensive and robust rules to enable full and ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement before the December 2018 deadline.

“Keeping global temperature increase below 1°5C is a matter of survival … science tells us that even full implementation of current commitments under the Paris Agreement will not be enough to reach 1°5C.” – Climate News Network

The devil’s in the COP 23 detail

For a probably final look at the UN climate conference in Bonn, a Canadian writer explains what the COP 23 detail means.

OTTAWA, 21 November, 2017 – A key takeaway from this year’s United Nations climate change conference (COP 23) is that, when it comes to putting a practical foundation under the high-minded pronouncements in the Paris Agreement, the COP 23 detail matters more than the headlines.

That means the Paris process has entered a potentially perilous moment when the urgency of the climate crisis is mounting by the day, public expectations are (quite rightly) high, the commitment to action extends far beyond national governments – yet negotiators have to focus on nuts-and-bolts issues that are numbingly technical for the large majority of us, but will still determine the success or failure of a crucially important global deal.

It means negotiators get to celebrate incremental but hard-fought victories that push the Paris “rulebook” closer to completion, while setting the stage for more obviously significant dialogue at next year’s conference in Katowice, Poland.

And it means the discussions that most immediately match up with the world-wide momentum for climate solutions take place at the margins of the main event, in the hundreds of side meetings that coincide with the official proceedings.

Different kind of deal

A key feature of the Paris agreement is its call for commitments to action from all countries, with financing from developed countries to help the poorest and most vulnerable implement their plans, and monitoring to make sure everyone keeps their promises. The agreement is built on country-by-country statements of voluntary action, rather than the kind of top-down target-setting that characterised the Kyoto Protocol

All of this helps explain the importance of a concept as esoteric as transparency to the effort to deal with a problem as brutally physical and immediate as climate change.

Countries can’t afford to deeply trust each other in a process in which everyone is expected to negotiate for their own perceived national interest, rather than the common good.

And the basic narrative of the climate crisis – a small number of countries benefitting from the industrial revolution, the large majority paying for it by suffering, grievously  – is not the kind of history that encourages anyone to take anything at face value.

So we end up in a formal setting where national representatives can, without the slightest whiff of self-parody, spend hours hashing out the bloodless official language of a COP decision, where the difference between a “should” and a “shall” could direct billions of dollars and change many millions of lives.

For most of us, the first (and next) inclination would be to mock the process. Yet the COP is essential for the survival of humanity on Earth, the best the nations of the world have been able to come up with, where even slow, limited victories hold out the prospect of profound, transformative change for people and communities.

Homebound empty-handed

I had a bad 18 hours or so, was too angry to sleep one night, when it became clear that Fiji’s COP, the first ever to be chaired by a Pacific island state, would send the world’s most vulnerable nations home empty-handed on the life-and-death issue of loss and damage.  

Then a colleague on the Canadian civil society delegation pointed out that it doesn’t much serve climate justice, only shifts the locus of climate injustice, if developed countries accept financial responsibility for loss and damage – then see their historic wrongs paid for by a farmer in rural Britain or a first- or second-generation immigrant family in Calgary who pay their taxes, rather than a multinational fossil that doesn’t.

That means we might need a different “modality” (in COP-speak) to address the issue. Some of that conversation has been going on for at least the last two years

On the edges

As always, the most interesting, most obviously transformative discussions took place on the margins of the official process.

Even with decisions on loss and damage deferred, COP 23 was a moment when Pacific islands and other small island states put the brutal, front-line impacts of climate change at the centre of the discussion.

The conference took steps to make indigenous voices and experience more prominent in COP deliberations, and agreed a plan that brings a gender lens to climate decisions.

The push for a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities emerged as a central theme for the COP, and for year-round action. It will almost certainly become more prominent in the lead-up to COP 24, which will convene in the heart of Polish coal country.

Informal sessions looked at strategies for speeding the decline of the global coal industry, and for scaling back oil and gas supply rather than waiting for markets to solve the climate crisis by cutting into demand.

And the conference cemented the absolute isolation of the Trump White House in its efforts to promote the US coal industry and undercut the Paris Agreement.

As COP 23 unfolded, more and more participants began distinguishing between the White House delegation that held the country’s official credentials and the real US delegation.

A coalition of states, cities, businesses, and non-profits ran their own pavilion outside the main conference hall, organised a stream of high-profile side events, networked incessantly, and delivered the message that #wearestillin – that mainstream America is still determined to honour its commitments under the Paris Agreement, even if the man currently occupying the White House is not. – Climate News Network

Republished by permission from The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions.

Bonn climate talks tread a fine line

The Bonn climate talks end after two weeks of preparation for the crucial round next year to agree more stringent action.

LONDON, 18 November, 2017 – The Bonn climate talks, this year’s UN climate summit, are over, and delegates are now heading home, most of them probably with a strong sense of relief.   

For the media who had sat through the two weeks of negotiation, Bonn proved the sort of job journalists dislike more than most: a story without a headline, process without event, plenty of detail but very few hard-nosed facts. And if you listen to the pundits, the verdict on COP 23, as the talks were known by the UN, probably lies somewhere between “could have been worse” and, looking to 2018, “needs to do better.”

That is the outcome many observers had predicted anyway. The real job for COP 23 was to prepare for next year’s COP 24, when the hope is that countries will raise their ambitions significantly.

The targets the world accepted in the Paris Agreement, concluded in the closing minutes of the 2015 UN talks, are aimed at preventing global average temperatures rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels – or, if possible, 1.5°C. Better forget both figures: the commitments made then look likely, on present trends, to mean the world is well above 3°C warmer by the end of this century

So next year’s talks, in the Polish city of Katowice, are above all designed to raise countries’ targets for cutting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. To give that the best chance of happening, COP 24 will need a clearly agreed way of working, a rulebook. That was another of Bonn’s priorities.

“While the White House sleepwalks on climate change, states, cities and communities across the US are wide awake

A third was a further bout of the interminable wrangling over money (whether richer countries should pay to compensate poorer ones for the loss and damage climate change is already causing them, and how they should be helped to pay to protect themselves through adapting to the inevitable).

The conference ended with at least some progress under its belt on most of these conundrums. Andrew Deutz, of the US Nature Conservancy, said: “The conference gets a grade of ‘meets expectations’. The negotiators got down to the orderly business of working out the rules to implement, assess, and advance the Paris Agreement. 

“The processes did not get overly distracted by the US government’s announced withdrawal from the accord. Nevertheless, the absence of national US leadership was evident within the negotiating process this week and for driving more ambitious climate action in the future.”

Other observers say the US delegation played a largely constructive role during the talks, despite President Trump’s statement that he intends to pull out of the Paris accord. Elliot Diringer, of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said one group of experienced US negotiators had been a positive factor in Bonn: “From all accounts they have been playing a constructive role in the room, advancing largely the same positions as before.”

This leaves Donald Trump rather in the position of the dog that didn’t bark. Some COP participants believe in fact he’s missed a significant trick. “Having already abandoned its leadership role on climate, the Trump administration appears to be living in an alternate universe with its focus on fossil fuels”, said Paula Caballero of the World Resources Institute.

Completely isolated

“Now that the US is the only nation that is not on board with the Paris Agreement, the Trump administration should carefully consider whether being completely isolated on the climate issue really benefits the American people.”

Professor Dave Reay, chair in carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, UK, said: “High profile representations from California Governor Jerry Brown and others showed that, while the White House sleepwalks on climate change, states, cities and communities across the US are wide awake.

“Likewise, the expanding coalition of nations, led by the UK and Canada and aimed at phasing out coal power, shows just how blinkered the Trump administration’s pro-coal stance really is.”

So COP 23 was necessary and did make some progress. In the world outside the walls of the conference venue, though, there were headlines, not all of them likely to encourage the participants: science says climate change is about to worsen significantly; carbon emissions are likely to rise this year; 2017 is itself one of the three warmest years on record

As one experienced British climate expert said on the eve of the Bonn talks: “The science shows a real growth in our knowledge, and we’re on the right track – just not yet fast enough or far enough.” – Climate News Network

Canada & UK launch coal phaseout plan

At the UN climate summit a group of countries has undertaken to end the use and the financing of coal.

BONN, 17 November, 2017 – Canada and the UK have launched the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a collection of 20 countries, six provinces or states, and one city committed to phasing out coal, shifting to cost-competitive renewable energy alternatives, and embracing the health and economic benefits that will result.

The Alliance opened with 25 signatories. By the end of the 75-minute launch event on the second-last day of COP23 here in Bonn, El Salvador and Oregon had both signed on.

By joining the alliance, governments commit to “phasing out traditional coal power and placing a moratorium on any new traditional coal power stations without operational carbon capture and storage,” the formal declaration states, while business and non-government partners agree to power their operations without coal.

Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac) executive director Catherine Abreu said: “Canada and the UK are right to kick-start the Alliance, as science tells us that OECD countries need to phase out coal by 2030 at the latest.” She said it was important for members also to encourage a shift of international financing away from coal.

“Health professionals worldwide are beginning to treat climate change by prescribing an end to coal”

Now, a big push is on to sign up more countries, sub-national governments, cities, and businesses that have committed to low-carbon or 100% renewable targets, said Canadian environment and climate minister Catherine McKenna, who co-chaired the launch along with UK business, energy and industrial strategy minister Claire Perry and Bloomberg New Energy Finance chair Michael Liebreich.

“The path to the transition away from coal looks different for all of us, but we’re all here for the same reasons,” McKenna said. Coal is “the dirtiest fossil fuel in terms of carbon pollution” and is “literally choking our cities and our people,” causing nearly a million deaths per year and billions of dollars in economic costs.

“So go, find a friend, get them to join the coolest club in town,” she told participants.

In its analysis of the announcement, CAN-Rac traces the origins of the alliance back to “years of grassroots advocacy by environmental and health groups” in Canada, which encouraged the federal commitment to phase out coal by 2030.

Big savings

Ontario’s environment minister, Chris Ballard, said his province has saved $4.4 billion per year in avoided health, environmental, and social costs since it burned its last lump of coal in 2014, a phaseout that still ranks as one of North America’s biggest carbon reduction efforts.

“In 2005, there were 53 smog advisories issued in Ontario,” he said. “In 2016, two years after our last plant was closed, there were none. Zero. Our children can now play outside without risk of damage to their lungs, their health.”

Fiji minister for climate change Aiyaz Khaiyum stressed the symbolic importance of his country joining the alliance. Like many Pacific island nations, “we don’t use coal, we’ve never used coal, we don’t intend to use coal,” he said. But the alliance is still an important step to speed up reductions in countries’ carbon footprints.

While several of the government ministers present, including the UK’s Perry, made a point of stressing their commitment to carbon capture and storage technologies [good luck with that!], at least one country was prepared to extend its ban to another unsustainable energy technology.

Inuit gains

Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents more than 60,000 indigenous people, said a coal phaseout would have “very positive impacts” for Canadian Inuit who had been “affected by global emissions since the beginning of the industrial period.”

With the Arctic warming twice as fast as the global average, “we are already seeing massive impacts from climate change,” he said. “The world as we know it is just slipping away, melting away, before our eyes.”

With its potential to curtail pollution ranging from black carbon to mercury contamination, he said the Alliance held out “more hope for us as a people to be able to maintain our lifestyle, culture, and identity in a way that we have for millennia.”

Courtney Howard, president-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, recalled a 2009 study in The Lancet that cited climate change as the century’s biggest global health threat.

Biggest opportunity

“I had been taught to treat heart attacks and strokes, and I wasn’t sure how an emergency physician was supposed to treat climate change,” she said. But six years later, in 2015, The Lancet also identified the response to climate change as the century’s biggest public health opportunity—and a coal phaseout as one of the main measures to achieve it.

“The coal phaseout is about less trauma, less displacement, fewer deaths from heat exhaustion, fewer burns from wildfires, fewer clouds of smoke and breathing problems, fewer malnourished children, less conflict and migration, fewer kids with asthma puffers, fewer ER visits and costly hospital admissions,” she said.

“So health professionals worldwide are beginning to treat climate change by prescribing an end to coal.”

“As an emergency doc, I know what it’s like to move too slowly and have a patient die,” Howard added. “I also know what it’s like to act quickly enough to pull someone back from the spiral, into a place where they can thrive. I’m acting from the assumption that climates are the same as people.” Climate News Network

Republished by permission from The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions.

Climate change and nuclear threats are twins

Climate change and nuclear threats feed off each other and should be treated in unison, an influential US think-tank says.

LONDON, 16 November, 2017 – Climate change and nuclear threats are closely linked and must be tackled together, US experts say.

The warning comes from a working group chaired by the Center for Climate and Security (CCS), a non-partisan policy institute of security and military experts (many of them high-ranking former members of the armed forces), in a report which offers a  framework for understanding and addressing the distinct problems together.

The report is published as this year’s UN climate summit draws to a close in Bonn in the aftermath of President Trump’s tour of Asia, during which nuclear weapons issues featured prominently. 

Professor Christine Parthemore, a former adviser to the US defence department,  co-chairs the working group. She told the Climate News Network:

“Simultaneous effects of climate change, tough social or economic pressures, and security challenges could increase the risk of conflict among nuclear weapon-possessing states, even if that conflict stems from miscalculation or misperception. India and Pakistan are major concerns.

“They are grappling with water stress, deadly natural disasters, terrorism, and numerous other pressures. At the same time, the types of nuclear weapons they are developing and policies on command of those weapons are raising tensions between them.

“Some countries are more actively flaunting their nuclear threats toward one another. North Korea has been the most active in that regard

“Our group believed this is a recipe for not only increasing the risk of conflict, but for raising the risk of such a conflict escalating to the nuclear realm.

“Big picture: nuclear nonproliferation regimes and international climate change cooperation help underpin the global order. They are stabilising forces, and if we don’t continue strengthening them, we may see a less predictable global security environment.   

“This is especially dangerous in times like these when some countries are more actively flaunting their nuclear threats toward one another. North Korea has been the most active in that regard.

The authors say countries such as Nigeria, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are dealing simultaneously with a range of interdependent internal pressures – including climatic, economic, security, and environmental demands – as they pursue nuclear energy.

Reactor safety

Bangladesh is coping with sea-level rise and changing Himalayan glacial patterns, and with terrorism and overpopulation. The report says these stresses could affect the security and safety of the nuclear reactors being built in the country with Russian help.

It says extreme heat, flooding, sea level rise and natural disasters are already affecting power stations and could knock out nuclear installations in countries already short of electricity and facing social or political pressure. The same dilemmas could face sites handling nuclear weapons.

Concerns about nuclear security and proliferation could help countries to rely instead on fossil fuels and maintain their high dependence on them, “making dangerous, business-as-usual climate change scenarios more likely”. And it says people forced into migration by climate change or other factors can affect security and nuclear stability. 

The report says it is important to develop technologies to help countries which seek to introduce nuclear energy, including the safest reactor designs, modern security and monitoring systems and strong climate modelling abilities.

New risks

It says this is especially critical in the potential crisis regions where combining security, climate, and nuclear risks must be addressed urgently: South Asia, the Middle East, the South China Sea and Central and North Africa.

The report also says there is mounting evidence that various security challenges, climatic trends and nuclear issues are combining in new and potentially high-risk ways. Mapping and addressing this complexity is critical for protecting US security interests not only in these crisis regions, but across the Indo-Asia-Pacific and Europe as well.

It urges the US to develop realistic planning, better communication about nuclear and climate risks, and education for policymakers about practical ways they can protect America’s capacities for coping with these challenges.

The report suggests that US leaders should encourage more robust engagement between public and policymakers on risks like nuclear conflict and climate change, and should convey risks in ways that people can relate to, for example emphasising ways to reduce threats to vulnerable infrastructure. – Climate News Network

World set for 3.4˚C by 2100

By the end of the century we should expect a world set for 3.4˚C more warmth than pre-industrial levels, analysts find.

BONN, 15 November, 2017 – By approaching 2100, a world set for 3.4˚C will, on present trends, probably be the reality confronting our descendants – slightly less warm than looked likely a year ago, analysts think. That’s the good news, you could say.

But the bad news is twofold. First, this improvement in planetary prospects will still leave the global temperature increase more than twice as high as the internationally agreed target of 1.5˚C. And secondly, it depends largely on the efforts of just two countries – China and India.

They have made significant progress in tackling climate change in the last twelve months. In contrast, a report by the analysts, from the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), says that not only US climate policy has been rolled back under President Trump. Most individual governments’ climate commitments are going in the wrong direction.

The CAT report says the world will – on present trends – still reach 2100 a long way above the 1.5˚C target for the Earth’s maximum tolerable temperature rise, which was endorsed in the Paris Agreement.

The Climate Action Tracker is an independent science-based assessment that each year  tracks countries’ emission commitments and actions. Its members are Climate Analytics, Ecofys and NewClimate Institute.

“It is clear who the leaders are here: in the face of US inaction, China and India are stepping up”

The CAT’s latest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions projections, based on government policies currently in place, suggest they will lead to a 0.2°C decrease in projected warming, to 3.4˚C by 2100, compared with 3.6˚C in November 2016.

This is the first time since the CAT began tracking action in 2009 that policies at a national level have visibly reduced its end-of-century temperature estimate and also reduced the 2030 emissions gap between current policies and what is needed to meet the 1.5°C temperature limit.

The analysts say China’s emissions growth has slowed dramatically: in the first decade of this century, its emissions grew by 110%, but between 2010 and 2015, growth had slowed to only 16%.  China is set to far overachieve its climate commitment, or Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) as countries’ undertakings are known in the UN.

The CAT’s estimate of emissions from China in 2030 is 13 GtCO2e – 0.7 GtCO2e lower than its 2016 estimate. If China continues with its coal abatement, this could drop by another 0.7 GtCO2e.

One Gt is one gigatonne, a billion metric tons; CO2e, carbon dioxide equivalent, expresses the impact of different greenhouse gases in terms of CO2.

Need for review 

Equally, India has increased its climate action, the analysts say. If it fully implemented its Draft Electricity Plan, its emissions in 2030 would be 4.5 GtCO2e – almost 1 GtCO2e lower than the CAT predicted last year.

If India were to strengthen its NDC to match the ambition level of its Draft Electricity Plan, its targeted emissions level would be moving much closer to the range compatible with the Paris target of 1.5˚C.  

“It is clear who the leaders are here: in the face of US inaction, China and India are stepping up,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics.  “However, both need to review – and strengthen – their Paris commitments.”

Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute said: “Over the last year, governments have made substantial steps in improving climate policies, and this has had a discernible effect on global emissions projections. For example, in the face of increasingly cheaper renewable energy, many are now actively moving away from coal.” But the CAT shows that many governments are not seizing the opportunities renewables offer.

The report is a mosaic, detailing some encouraging trends. For example, the authors now think global emissions under current policies in 2030 will be at least 1.7 GtCO2e per year lower than last year’s projection. 

Emissions to rise

But there are negative conclusions too. Mainly because of the US’s announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, there has been a significant deterioration in progress to limit expected warming, it finds.

If all governments fully implemented their Paris commitments, the NDCs, the projected global temperature increase in 2100 would be 3.2˚C above pre-industrial levels, up from last year’s 2.8˚C, largely because of the US.

The CAT projects that global emissions are set to rise by 9 to 13% between 2020 and 2030, because of projected emissions growth in countries such as Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. In 17 out of 32 countries it analysed, emissions will increase by more than 20% during this period.

The vast majority of NDCs are not in line with a fair contribution to meet the Paris Agreement’s long-term warming goal, it says. Only seven governments have implemented 2°C or 1.5°C compatible targets, and of these, four are not backed up by sufficient policy action.

At the same time, in 16 out of the 32 countries analysed, emissions are projected to exceed their (already insufficient) NDCs. With the US, they include Australia, Brazil, Mexico, and Canada.  – Climate News Network

Worse climate change in the offing

The prospect of the Earth overheating dangerously has come closer, with scientists warning that worse climate change will soon affect the planet.

BONN, 13 November, 2017 – The world has been given a stark warning by some of its leading scientists: there is much worse climate change on the way.

The UN climate summit meeting here has been told: “There is no room for complacency. Climate change is here. It is dangerous. And it is about to get much worse.

“In the last two years evidence has accumulated that we are now on a collision course with tipping points in the Earth system”, said Professor Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and chair of the Earth League

The warning came as he introduced a report at the meeting, known as COP 23, which had been prepared by the League with Future Earth. The two are networks of global sustainability scientists, and their report, The 10 Science ‘Must Knows’ on Climate Change, summarises recent Earth-system science and economic research.

“The news that emissions are rising after the three-year hiatus is a giant leap backwards for humankind. Pushing Earth closer to tipping points is deeply concerning”

As global temperatures climb higher Earth is approaching tipping points that threaten human security, the report says. It is published on the same day as another report says global carbon emissions are projected to rise in 2017 after three stable years.  

Dr. Amy Luers, executive director of Future Earth, said: “The news that emissions are rising after the three-year hiatus is a giant leap backwards for humankind. Pushing Earth closer to tipping points is deeply concerning. Emissions need to peak soon and approach zero by 2050.”

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and a member of the Earth League. He said: “Some crucial climate-change facts tend to get lost in the noise of daily deliberations – even at an event such as the UN climate summit.

“So it is important to remind everyone of the very reason why tens of thousands of people are meeting in Bonn: unprecedented risk to humanity due to global warming, as revealed by science.

Threatened stability

“This must be the starting point for re-thinking what in the past 70 years has become our culture of short-term convenience and consumption, a culture which eventually comes at the cost of the well-being of present and future generations across the world.”

The 10 Must Knows report says the Earth’s climate has been remarkably stable since before the dawn of civilisation, but this stability is now at risk. Crossing the critical “tipping points” the planet is now approaching may mean abrupt and possibly irreversible shifts in the workings of the Arctic, Amazon, and other parts of the globe.

The record-breaking 2017 Atlantic hurricane season offers a glimpse of the increased risks of extreme weather which may lie ahead. Examples include severe flooding, heat waves and droughts.The oceans too are changing fast, with accelerating sea-level rise and acidification.

The economic costs of climate change are already being felt, and some of the world’s poorest nations are bearing the heaviest burden. Climate change will have a profound impact on human health by placing new pressures on food and water security in nations around the world.

Need for speed

It is likely to intensify migration, civil unrest and even conflict. In 2015, more than 19 million people globally were displaced by natural disasters and extreme weather, and climate change will probably cause that number to grow.

The world must act fast. If humans continue to emit greenhouse gases at current rates, the remaining carbon budget to reduce the risk of exceeding the internationally-agreed 2°C temperature rise target will be exhausted in around 20 years. Global emissions need to halve every decade.

A fossil fuel-free society is economically attractive: renewable energy increasingly competes with fossil fuels. The estimated costs of inaction range from 2-10% of GDP by 2100 by some estimates, to a fall in projected global output by 23% in 2100 in others.

Even if the world meets the Paris Agreement targets, communities across the globe will still need to build resilience and adapt to the changes already under way. – Climate News Network

Carbon emissions set to rise in 2017

Global carbon emissions look likely to increase this year, putting at risk the hope of meeting the world’s agreement to slow global warming.

LONDON, 13 November, 2017 – The world’s carbon emissions are expected to show a lurch upwards this year, by around 2%, after three years of staying virtually level. This is a significant setback to efforts to slow the speed at which the Earth is warming, and shows the fragility of the international climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, scientists say.

From 2014 to 2016 global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry grew hardly at all. This stable period, following a growth in emissions of more than 3% annually in the 2000s, fed hopes that many countries were succeeding in separating successful economy-building from increases in world temperatures.

These are continuing to rise as a consequence of warming driven by ever higher greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, in response to the profligate global consumption of fossil fuels.

But the publication by the Global Carbon Project (GCP) of its annual analysis of trends in the global carbon cycle, the authors say, highlights how precarious the recent slowdown in global emissions growth really is. Its publication comes as the UN’s 2017 climate summit, COP 23, takes place in Bonn.

They say the growth in 2017 is mainly due to stronger emissions growth in China and other developing countries, and their findings show that the Paris goals could quickly slip out of reach.

The GCP has released three papers in the journals Nature Climate Change (verification), Environmental Research Letters (recent trends), and Earth System Science Data Discussions (the full carbon cycle).

“It is far too early to proclaim that we have turned a corner and started the journey towards zero emissions”

“The slowdown in emissions growth from 2014 to 2016 was always a delicate balance, and the likely 2% increase in 2017 clearly demonstrates that we can’t take the recent slowdown for granted”, said Robbie Andrew, a senior researcher at CICERO, the Centre for International Climate Research in Oslo, and co-author of the studies.

“Even though we project carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry to increase 2% in 2017, large uncertainties persist, and growth [rates] between 1% and 3% are distinct possibilities given difficulties in making projections.

“Global commitments made in Paris in 2015 to reduce emissions are still not being matched by actions,” said Glen Peters, a research director at CICERO who led one of the studies.

“It is far too early to proclaim that we have turned a corner and started the journey towards zero emissions”.

But the GCP, a global research project within the Future Earth research initiative on global sustainability, says that while emissions may prove to have risen by 2% in 2017, it is not possible to say whether this is a return to growth, or a one-off increase.

China’s influence

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, drove the unexpected and rapid growth of emissions in the 2000’s and was behind the unexpected recent slowdown. It is again a key driver in 2017.

“China generates nearly 30% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and the ups and downs of the Chinese economy leave a signature on global emissions growth”, said Jan Ivar Korsbakken, senior researcher at CICERO and co-author.

Chinese emissions went down about 1% in 2015 and were flat in 2016, but are projected to increase between 0.7% and 5.4% in 2017, with a best estimate using preliminary data of 3.5% in 2017.

US emissions are projected to decline by 0.4% this year, more slowly than the decline of 1.2% per year averaged over the last decade because of a return to growth in coal use.

The GCP expects India’s emissions to rise by 2%, much lower than the 6% per year averaged over the previous decade, because of significant government interventions in the economy.

Long wait

It “tentatively” projects European emissions will decline by 0.2% in 2017, slower than the decline of 2.2% per year averaged over the previous decade. Emissions in the remaining countries, representing about 40% of the global total, are expected to increase by 2.3%.

Global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry will reach around 37 billion tonnes in 2017, the analysis says, a record high. Those from all human activities (fossil fuels, industry, and land-use change) will reach around 41bn tonnes, similar to the record high in 2015.

“The 2015/2016 El Niño caused hot and dry conditions in the tropics that reduced the uptake of carbon by forests and led to a record rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations”, said Professor Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the main analysis.

It could take as long as 10 years for scientists to confidently verify a sustained change in emissions using measurements of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

Professor Le Quéré said: “The Global Stocktake under the Paris Agreement will occur every five years, and this puts immense pressure on the scientific community to develop methods and perform measurements that can truly verify changes in emissions within this five-yearly cycle”.  Climate News Network

People pressure enlivens UN climate talks

The august corridors of the UN climate talks in Bonn are resounding to the insistent voices of non-government activists.

BONN, 10 November, 2017 – A largely untold story from the first week of this year’s global climate talks – the United Nations climate summit (COP 23) –  has been the reality of steady, fairly productive technical work going on behind the scenes, while some observers search in vain for a big, controversial story angle that will catch the attention of audiences around the world.

Thursday saw the opening of a US Climate Action Center where states, cities, a handful of US senators, businesses, colleges and universities, and non-profits are delivering the message that #wearestillin– that the country is still committed to global climate action, even if the current occupant of the White House is not.

“The world is not standing still waiting for [Donald Trump] to come to his senses on responding to the threats posed by climate change,” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told a news conference.

“Fortunately, they don’t have to. Local and state leaders, businesses, union members, environmentalists, and others in the US are working together to address climate change in smart ways that will create and sustain good jobs in their communities.”

“The delegation represents a country whose people are deeply committed to climate action”

ECO, the daily newsletter produced onsite by Climate Action Network-International (CAN-I), welcomed the coalition as a new delegation to this year’s COP.

“The delegation represents a country whose people are deeply committed to climate action. A country with universities, businesses, cities, and states that are pushing forward with plans to achieve bold climate targets like 100% renewable energy. A country that believes in science, respect, and the importance of the global community,” the newsletter stated. “Meet the US People’s Delegation.”

At the moment, CAN-I says developed countries are blocking progress on pre-2020 action. “This year’s extreme weather events, which devastated communities across the world, show the urgent need for action now – we can’t only have talk until 2020,” it says. “This means developed countries need to also fulfil their previous commitments, including those on finance, which help poorer countries take action.”

Many of the key negotiating blocs onsite – including many of those representing developing countries – also point out that the first COP ever chaired by a Pacific island country (Fiji is chairing COP 23) can’t conclude without decisive progress on loss and damage.

Widespread impacts

Despite a cascade of front-line climate impacts, from the Caribbean, Fiji itself, and East Africa, to give only three examples, developing and vulnerable countries have been waiting four years for action on the Warsaw International Mechanism

A push is on to make loss and damage a permanent topic for the UN working groups responsible for implementing and overseeing global climate action, and to build the topic into the various planning processes stemming from the Paris Agreement.

But it’s also “time to move beyond the mere building of knowledge and collaboration, and towards mobilising much needed finance and action on the ground to address loss and damage,” ECO says.  

There are calls for a two-year process to generate billions of dollars per year, through “innovative and fair sources” like a fossil fuel levy, to deliver the funding countries need.

Paying for damage

One of those creative options was brought forward by a group of organisations and advocates convened by Stamp Out Poverty. The UK-based group introduced the concept of a Climate Damages Tax, described as “an equitable fossil fuel extraction charge” on fossil producers “to pay for the damage and costs caused by climate change when these products are burnt.”

But if there’s one reliable constant at UN climate negotiations, it’s the presence of fossil lobbyists doing what they can to slow the process down. Last week, in the lead-up to Bonn, The Guardian was out with an analysis of fossil influence over key aspects of the COP process.

“Global negotiations seeking to implement the Paris agreement have been captured by corporate interests and are being undermined by powerful forces that benefit from exacerbating climate change,” the paper stated, citing a report co-authored by Boston-based Corporate Accountability

“The report argues that as a result of this corporate influence, outcomes of negotiations so far have been skewed to favour the interests of the world’s biggest corporate polluters over those of the majority of the world’s population that live in the developing world,” in areas as varied as finance, agriculture, and technology. – Climate News Network

Republished by permission from The Energy Mix, a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions.