World on Path to Miss 2C Target

On September 10, 2015, in Uncategorized, by timprofeta
The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Plans submitted by world’s top polluters won’t limit global warming to the 2-degree Celsius threshold recommended by the United Nations, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a tool developed by a consortium of four European research organizations.

In a report released last week at climate talks in Bonn ahead of the U.N. climate conference in Paris, the consortium said that pledges of emissions reductions—Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)—submitted by 29 governments as of Sept. 1 must be significantly strengthened. Further reductions of 12–15 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent are needed by 2025 and another 17–21 gigatons by 2030.

The projections are based on CAT’s analysis of 15 of the 29 INDCs. Of those 15 INDCs, covering 64.5 percent of global emissions, the analysis finds only 2 (those of Ethiopia and Morocco) are “sufficient.” Those of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Russia are “inadequate,” and those of China, the European Union, Mexico, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States are “medium,” that is, consistent with the target.

“It is clear that if the Paris meeting locks in present climate commitments for 2030, holding warming below 2°C could essentially become infeasible, and 1.5°C beyond reach. Given the present level of pledged climate action, commitments should only be made until 2025,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, one of the CAT consortium members. “The INDCs therefore need to be considerably strengthened for the period 2020–2025.”

The CAT report also found that “in most cases” countries didn’t have policies in place to reduce emissions to match their INDCs for 2025. China and the European Union were the exceptions.

The world has already warmed up by 0.8 C—nearly half the 2 C target—and, according to CAT, is on track for 2.9–3.1 C of warming by 2100.

Bonn Talks Conclude

At climate talks in Bonn, Germany, delegates agreed to give two co-chairs of the talks permission to move forward on shrinking down a lengthy draft deal slated to be negotiated at the Conference of the Parties, November 30 to December 11, in Paris. That deal would commit all nations to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“At this session, countries have crystalized their positions and have requested the co-chairs to produce a concise basis for negotiations with clear options for the next negotiating session in October,” said Ahmed Djoghlaf, co-chair of the Ad Hoc Working Group of the mandate. “This means that we will arrive in Paris on time without too much turbulence—not before, not later.”

Delegates will start line-by-line negotiations on the next draft in Bonn, Oct. 19. Major sticking points are how much pollution will be cut and exactly how much money rich nations will offer to help poorer countries deal with their growing energy and climate adaptation needs.

U.N. Study Examines Global Deforestation Rates

The amount of forest lost across the world in the last 25 years encompasses an area nearly the size of South Africa (about 500,000 square miles) and has resulted in the release of 17.4 billion tons of carbon, according a new United Nations report, which used self-reported data from 234 countries and territories. It finds the biggest losses from deforestation and forest degradation, which are known to increase the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, are in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia.

Even so, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that the rate of loss has slowed from 0.18 percent annually in the early 90s to 0.08 percent yearly since 2010. Globally, it notes, natural forest area is decreasing, and planted forest area is increasing.

“FRA 2015 shows a very encouraging tendency towards a reduction in the rates of deforestation and carbon emissions from forests and increases in capacity for sustainable forest management,” said FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva. “The direction of change is positive, with many impressive examples of progress in all regions of the world.”

FAO pointed to agriculture as the main driver of deforestation in the tropics. “The place to start and the place to finish in many ways is the agriculture story,” said Kenneth MacDicken, an FAO senior forestry officer (subscription). “We need to boost intensification of food production on less land, and it’s really market forces that drive food production. If the price goes high enough, people will take more risks.”

Some challenged the U.N. findings, disputing the data used to arrive at them and claiming that deforestation rates have actually increased 62 percent during the study time period.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

NI logoThe Obama administration this week released a 196-page plain-language report that describes predicted future impacts of climate change on the U.S. The report comes during a week of inconclusive negotiation among key House lawmakers on climate legislation, and as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passes what could be the third energy bill in four years. “Green jobs” start to wear a human face.

Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States documents predictions and changes already observed in the U.S. and around the world, including higher temperatures, “reduced frost days, increased frequency and intensity of heavy downpours, a rise in sea level, and reduced snow cover, glaciers, permafrost, and sea ice.” Many concerns come down to the idea that people are predicted to find themselves living in the wrong place. “It is difficult and expensive to alter or replace infrastructure designed to last for decades (such as buildings, bridges, roads, airports, reservoirs, and ports) in response to continuous and/or abrupt climate change,” the report states.

The Guardian reports that a San Francisco media consultancy oversaw release of the report. The document is “scrubbed of the usual scientific jargon,” and its release is timed to support the climate bill in the House. That the White House had outside media help on a major climate report might be seen either as a crutch or as a breakthrough. Either way, many scientists have long had a disadvantage in communicating their work and findings, in part because professional standards and practices differ rather wildly from both traditional media and what might be called “normal” human interpersonal communication. Science talk — climate-science talk notoriously — is marked by circumspection, caveats, technical descriptions of physical evidence, and statistical and probabilistic mathematics. Efforts are underway to humanize public climate communication, including the fruits of behavioral research and a recent deep dive into how each of the “Six Americas” [pdf] understand climate change.

In Europe, the climate may already be morphing along two paths. The European Union body charged with protecting the Alps released its second report, documenting bifurcation in the climate of Europe. North of the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc, Europeans are seeing more flooding and mud slides. Southeastern Alpine communities report a drop in rainfall — 10 percent over the last century. Marco Onida, head of the Alpine body: “The Alps are the water tower of Europe. But increasingly much of the water is not reaching the places downstream where it is needed, for ecosystems, agriculture and energy production.”

What we talk about when we talk about climate: The NYT Magazine lays bare the device — of climate change and many other issues — with the day-glo orange headline “INFRASTRUCTURE!* (*It’s more exciting than you think, actually).” The stories have nothing to do with climate change, save a few references to post-Kyoto Paris. But focusing attention to inspiring, high-functioning replacements for decaying infrastructure would serve a number of issues. Every week, the climate press tries to do more subtly what the NYT hit directly last weekend. “Rebuilding infrastructure” might be one way to organize many of the most consequential story trends of the day — if there were a nicer word for it. As the White House science assessment suggests, climate change might leave much of our current infrastructure might in the wrong place.

Infrastructure change can be local and quiet. The governor of Kolkata, India, undertook an energy-savings program at his 27-acre residence, formerly the seat of the British Empire in India. The actions cut the government’s electricity bill by 15 percent and CO2 emissions from electricity by 18 percent. Nearly 80 percent of the reductions came from behavioral change. Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi told the Times of India that his grandfather–Mahatma Gandhi–spoke frequently and at length about proper levels of consumption.

Infrastructure change can also be both monumental — and an experiment. The Wall Street Journal takes on “geo-engineering” — cooling the atmosphere through large-scale projects, such as the release of reflective sulfate aerosols, cloud farming, or Climate Post suggests, ask the artist Christo to wrap the poles in reflective Mylar. The Washington Post runs a geo-engineering op-ed by Samuel Thernstrom of the American Enterprise Institute, also pegged to a National Academy of Sciences conference on the subject.

Personal and community efforts, geo-engineering projects, and even national laws in and of themselves will not prevent dangerous manmade warming, but all of them, aggregated, would be powerful, according to number-crunching (and Chinese Politburo satire) at the Green Grok.

Can’t see the forest through the hyperlinks: Many people familiar with climate change know that deforestation is responsible for about 20 percent of the increase in greenhouse gases. Major media have shown increased interest in deforestation’s contribution to global warming, particularly efforts to fund rainforest conservation through global carbon credit markets. A recent New York Times editorial supported  inclusion of forest measures left out of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Economist looks seriously and critically at the issue, pointing out its promise — keeping forests in tact may be the simplest way to reduce greenhouse gases — and its difficulty — the world community’s interest in saving rainforests conflicts with local economic incentives. [The Nicholas Institute just published a comprehensive package explaining the issues, options, and economics for global forest efforts.]

The rainforest story this week stretches from pristine Cameroon ecosystems to global financial centers. Mongabay learns that a 3,200-sq. mi. Cameroon rainforest will be gutted in 30 days for logging and iron mining, its recently documented population of lowland gorillas, elephants, mandrills, and chimpanzees dislocated and left to die, unless conservationists can find project financing. “We have 30 days,” a conservationist working on the issue said. “It’s a race against time.” (Cameroon to elephants: “Gimme your wallet–or else…”) Large British investment houses are throwing their support behind greater disclosure in financial documents of firms’ roles in deforestation, Reuters reports. The Forest Footprint Disclosure Project is designed to encourage Fortune 500 companies to account for increasing financial risks associated with reducing forest cover. A Financial Times blog post explains forests’ plight in the context of what you had for breakfast.

Two men who have never met: Two stories this week together demonstrate what might be called the climate gap, or the difference in comfort levels with climate science that scientists and observers have and, well, most everyone else. A NYT overview of the synthesis report concludes with Michael MacCracken, a lead author of the previous U.S. assessment and adviser to the current one, saying, “There is not much that is new.” Yet this piece from the Deseret News suggests that scientific assessments are far from universally read and accepted. Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert tells a Western Governors Association panel, “I’ve heard people argue on both sides of the issue, people I have a high regard for. People say man’s impact is minimal, if at all, so it appears to me the science is not necessarily conclusive… What are we doing to bring people together? Is there a hidden agenda out there? Help me understand the science.”

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat

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