Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Jason Box's research into Greenland's dark snow raises more concerns about climate change.

Jason Box knows ice. That’s why what’s happened this year concerns him so much. Box just returned from a trip to Greenland. Right now, the ice there is … black:

The ice in Greenland this year isn’t just a little dark—it’s record-setting dark. Box says he’s never seen anything like it. I spoke to Box by phone earlier this month, just days after he returned from his summer field research campaign.

"I was just stunned, really," Box told me.

The photos he took this summer in Greenland are frightening. But their implications are even more so. Just like black cars are hotter to the touch than white ones on sunny summer days, dark ice melts much more quickly.

As a member of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, Box travels to Greenland from his home in Copenhagen to track down the source of the soot that’s speeding up the glaciers’ disappearance. He aptly calls his crowdfunded scientific survey Dark Snow.

There are several potential explanations for what’s going on here. The most likely is that some combination of increasingly infrequent summer snowstorms, wind-blown dust, microbial activity, and forest fire soot led to this year’s exceptionally dark ice. A more ominous possibility is that what we’re seeing is the start of a cascading feedback loop tied to global warming. Box mentions this summer’s mysterious Siberian holes and offshore methane bubbles as evidence that the Arctic can quickly change in unpredictable ways.

This year, Greenland’s ice sheet was the darkest Box (or anyone else) has ever measured. Box gives the stunning stats: "In 2014 the ice sheet is precisely 5.6 percent darker, producing an additional absorption of energy equivalent with roughly twice the US annual electricity consumption."

Perhaps coincidentally, 2014 will also be the year with the highest number of forest fires ever measured in Arctic.

Box ran these numbers exclusively for Slate, and what he found shocked him. Since comprehensive satellite measurements began in 2000, never before have Arctic wildfires been as powerful as this year. In fact, over the last two or three years, Box calculated that Arctic fires have been burning at a rate that’s double that of just a decade ago. Box felt this finding was so important that he didn’t want to wait for peer review, and instead decided to publish first on Slate. He’s planning on submitting these and other recent findings to a formal scientific journal later this year.

Box’s findings are in line with recent research that shows the Arctic is in the midst of dramatic change.

A recent study has found that, as the Arctic warms, forests there are turning to flame at rates unprecedented in the last 10,000 years. This year, those fires produced volumes of smoke and soot that Box says drifted over to Greenland.

In total, more than 3.3 million hectares burned in Canada’s Northwest Territories alone this year—nearly 9 times the long term average—resulting in a charred area bigger than the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts combined. That figure includes the massive Birch Creek Complex, which could end up being the biggest wildfire in modern Canadian history. In July, it spread a smoke plume all the way to Portugal.

In an interview with Canada’s National Post earlier this year, NASA scientist Douglas Morton said, "It’s a major event in the life of the earth system to have a huge set of fires like what you are seeing in Western Canada."

Box says the real challenge is to rank what fraction of the soot he finds on the Greenland ice is from forest fires, and what is from other sources, like factories. Box says the decline of snow cover in other parts of the Arctic (like Canada) is also exposing more dirt to the air, which can then be more easily transported by the wind. Regardless of their ultimate darkening effect on Greenland, this year’s vast Arctic fires have become a major new source of greenhouse gas emissions from the thawing Arctic. Last year, NASA scientists found "amazing" levels of carbon dioxide and methane emanating from Alaskan permafrost.

Earlier this year, Box made headlines for a strongly worded statement along these lines:

That tweet landed Box in a bit of hot water with his department, which he said now has to approve his media appearances. Still, Box’s sentiment is inspiring millions. His "f’d" quote is serving as the centerpiece of a massive petition (with nearly 2 million signatures at last count) that the activist organization Avaaz will deliver to "national, local, and international leaders" at this month’s global warming rally in New York City on Sept. 21. More





It's clear that prosperity and climate change action can go hand in hand

The UK has been at the forefront of integrating climate change action into economic decision-making

The link between economic growth and action to reduce the risks of climate change is the focus of the New Climate Economy report issued on Tuesday.

Its credentials are impressive and its findings emphatic.

Released by a global commission of 24 global economic leaders from government, business, finance and academia, led by former president of Mexico Felipe Calderón, the year-long study has involved individuals from over 100 organisations across every continent and advised by a panel of world-leading economists chaired by Lord Nicholas Stern.

It has come to a clear conclusion – action on climate change can improve economic performance.

This report provides compelling further evidence that firmly supports the UK’s vision for a global climate deal in Paris 2015 that I launched last week in the city of London – which was clear that prosperity and climate action can go hand in hand.

The reason, the New Climate Economy report concluded, is that raising resource efficiency, stimulating innovation and new investment in infrastructure are making it possible to tackle climate change at the same time as improving economic performance.

That means new opportunities to improve growth, create jobs, boost company profits and spur innovation for all countries that take action now.

The report finds that over the next 15 years, trillions of pounds could be saved by building low-carbon into the key sectors of the global economy that include our cities, agriculture and energy. This could include better connected and more compact cities, through to restoring degraded lands and focusing on a transition to clean energy to improve economic performance and quality of life with lower emissions.

And we are putting this into action. The UK has been at the forefront of developing the climate change policy architecture that can ensure climate action is integrated into economic decision making.

This includes the 2008 Climate Change Act, which was the world’s first long-term, legally-binding national framework for reducing emissions, through our innovative carbon budgets regime. This means that our five year carbon budgets – that will eventually reach out to 2050 – are now being looked at as a potential model in other countries and we have already delivered on our first budget, which has seen a reduction in UK emissions by 24% between 1990 and 2012.

The 2013 Energy Act, for example, is creating the world’s first low-carbon electricity market and we are attracting record amounts of investment in renewables and our low carbon business sector is booming. In renewables, almost £29bn of investment delivered since 2010 and 2013, was a record year – with £8bn invested across the range of renewables technologies.

Electricity generation from renewable sources has doubled since 2010 and now supplies over 15% of the UK’s electricity.

We’re now a world leader in offshore wind – with more installed offshore wind capacity than the rest of the world combined, and supporting 18,300 jobs in the UK.

It has required UK business and international investors to recognise the costs of failure and the benefits of change and it has been sustained by a strong, vocal and committed network of NGOs, pressure groups and activists who have been instrumental in sustaining political will and public acceptance.

Last year, the world’s leading climate scientists, under the IPCC, reaffirmed that the Earth’s climate is indisputably changing, that human activity is the dominant cause – and the longer we leave action, the more difficult and costly it will be to avoid the worst effects. We now have the economics confirming that not only is climate action required to reduce climate risks, but that it is vital to building long-term, sustainable economic growth.

In the run up to the UN climate meeting in Paris next year I am determined that we continue to build on our success at home and expend every effort, and work with determination across government, across the parties, in partnership with business and civil society to reach a global, comprehensive, legally binding climate change deal. More


Monday, September 15, 2014

Why We March

On Sunday, September 21st, a huge crowd will march through the middle of Manhattan. It will almost certainly be the largest rally about climate change in human history, and one of the largest political protests in many years in New York.

More than 1,000 groups are coordinating the march — environmental justice groups, faith groups, labor groups — which means there’s no one policy ask. Instead, it’s designed to serve as a loud and pointed reminder to our leaders, gathering that week at the United Nations to discuss global warming, that the next great movement of the planet’s citizens centers on our survival and their pathetic inaction.

As a few of the march’s organizers, though, we can give some sense of why we, at least, are marching, words we think represent many of those who will gather at Columbus Circle for the walk through midtown Manhattan.

We march because the world has left the Holocene behind: scientists tell us that we’ve already raised the planet’s temperature almost one degree Celsius, and are on track for four or five by century’s end. We march because Hurricane Sandy filled the New York City subway system with salt water, reminding us that even one of the most powerful cities in the world is already vulnerable to slowly rising ocean levels.

We march because we know that climate change affects everyone, but its impacts are not equally felt: those who have contributed the least to causing the crisis are hit hardest, here and around the world. Communities on the frontlines of global warming are already paying a heavy price, in some cases losing the very land on which they live. This isn’t just about polar bears any more.

And we march for generations yet to come, our children, grandchildren and their children, whose lives will be systematically impoverished and degraded. It’s the first time one century has wrecked the prospects of the millennia to come, and it makes us mad enough to march.

We march with hope, too. We see a few great examples around the world of how quickly we could make the transition to renewable energy. We know that if there were days this summer when Germany generated nearly 75% of its power from renewable sources of energy, the rest of us could, too — especially in poorer nations around the equator that desperately need more energy. And we know that labor-intensive renewables would provide far more jobs than capital-intensive coal, gas and oil.

And we march with some frustration: why haven’t our societies responded to 25 years of dire warnings from scientists? We’re not naïve; we know that the fossil fuel industry is the 1% of the 1%. But sometimes we think we shouldn’t have to march. If our system worked the way it should, the world would long ago have taken the obvious actions economists and policy gurus have recommended — from taxing carbon to reflect the damage it causes to funding a massive World War II-scale transition to clean energy.

Marching is not all, or even most, of what we do. We advocate; we work to install solar panels; we push for sustainable transit. We know, though, that history shows marching is usually required, that reason rarely prevails on its own. (And we know that sometimes even marching isn’t enough; we’ve been to jail and we’ll likely be back.)

We’re tired of winning the argument and losing the fight. And so we march. We march for the beaches and the barrios. We march for summers when the cool breeze still comes down in the evening. We march because Exxon spends $100 million every day looking for more hydrocarbons, even though scientists tell us we already have far more in our reserves than we can safely burn. We march for those too weak from dengue fever and malaria to make the journey. We march because California has lost 63 trillion gallons of groundwater to the fierce drought that won’t end, and because the glaciers at the roof of Asia are disappearing. We march because researchers told the world in April that the West Antarctic ice sheet has begun to melt “irrevocably”; Greenland’s ice shield may soon follow suit; and the waters from those, as rising seas, will sooner or later drown the world’s coastlines and many of its great cities.

We don’t march because there’s any guarantee it will work. If you were a betting person, perhaps you’d say we have only modest hope of beating the financial might of the oil and gas barons and the governments in their thrall. It’s obviously too late to stop global warming entirely, but not too late to slow it down — and it’s not too late, either, to simply pay witness to what we’re losing, a world of great beauty and complexity and stability that has nurtured humanity for thousands of years.

There’s a world to march for — and a future, too. The only real question is why anyone wouldn’t march. More


Friday, September 5, 2014

Nearly Half the World’s Trash Is Burned, and That’s Worsening Climate Change

Nearly half the world’s trash is burned in the open, spewing pollutants into the atmosphere that contribute to climate change and affect human health, according to a new study.

Since such burning is largely unregulated and unreported, emissions of some pollutants have been underestimated by as much as 40 percent, said the researchers, who published their findings in the journalEnvironmental Science & Technology.

"I was shocked at the numbers," said Christine Wiedinmyer, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the study’s lead author. "They were much larger than I expected, particularly the air pollutants."

The researchers estimated the amount of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, tiny particulate matter, and other pollutants released by burning trash.

Every year 970 million metric tons of food, paper, plastics, and metals are set aflame at homes, businesses, and dumps—roughly 41 percent of the world’s garbage, according to the study.

The garbage problem is likely to get worse. Researchers predict the world will triple its production of garbage to more than 11 million tons daily by 2100.

Fires can spring up at dumps with little warning. A fire in Iqaluit, the capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, broke out in May and burned for almost 100 days before fire crews began dousing the flames of the "dumpcano." In March, a dump fire outside Bangkok blanketed neighborhoods with so much thick smoke that it could be seen by satellites.

Heavily populated countries, including China, the United States, India, Japan, Brazil, and Germany, produce the most waste, according to the study. China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, and Turkey generate the most emissions from trash burning.

Trash burning produces mercury, chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and fine particulate matter. These pollutants have been linked to heart and lung disease, neurological disorders, and cancer. Annual emissions of mercury and PAHs may have been underestimated by 10 to 40 percent, the researchers said.

Trash burning may also be clogging the air with far more particulate matter than was previously thought. A global tally of reported pollutants indicated that 34 million kilograms of tiny airborne particles called PM 2.5 are released into the air annually.

Wiedinmyer and her colleagues calculate that open burning shoots another 10 million kilograms into the atmosphere—an increase of 29 percent. In Sri Lanka, garbage burning produced five times more emissions of PM 10 (a larger particle) than was included in the official national tally.

These particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and have been associated with heart disease, asthma, and premature death. About 3.7 million people die prematurely from outdoor air pollution, according to the World Health Organization.

Open burning of garbage is closely related to poverty. Unregulated dump fires may be adjacent to settlements, putting the families that live there, especially women and children, at risk of health complications from the pollution. Some of these families derive income from the dump, removing valuable materials for resale.

The contribution of garbage burning to global carbon dioxide emissions is relatively small—only 5 percent of the 2010 global annual emissions. But on a country-by-country basis, it can be quite large. The study found that trash burning in Lesotho, Burundi, Mali, Somalia, and Sri Lanka produced more carbon dioxide than was recorded by the official registers.

Emissions from open burning of trash are rarely reported by environmental agencies, meaning the pollution goes uncounted and is left out of policy decisions.

Air Pollution Isn’t Just Bad for Your Health—It’s Taking Food off Your Plate

Brian Gullett, an environmental engineer at the United States Environmental Protection Agency and a coauthor of the paper, pointed out how difficult it is to calculate the emissions that come from open burning. Unlike with coal-burning power plants, no one knows the exact number of garbage-burning fires, and it can be difficult to trap and analyze the emissions.

Knowing where pollutants come from doesn’t change the burden they place on health, said Patrick Kinney, an expert on health and air pollution at Columbia University. But it does point to "which sources to go after in controlling the problem."

Said Wiedinmyer, "If we’re looking at air pollution control strategies, we need to include all sources of air pollutants to get the most effective controls in place. If we’re missing a large source, it could lead to control strategies that aren’t going to work at all, or as well." More


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) - ‘The Sustainable Development of SIDS Through Genuine and Durable Partnerships’

1-4 September 2014 | Apia, Samoa

The Third International Conference on SIDS drew to a close today, after a final session of general debate in the morning that continued into the afternoon, followed by a closing plenary.

Moderators reported back from the six partnership dialogues that took place in previous days.

Delegates adopted the SAMOA Pathway outcome document, and adopted a draft resolution expressing thanks to the people and Government of Samoa. Wu Hongbo, Secretary-General of the Conference, highlighted a monitoring and accountability mechanism to review progress of implementation, and assured delegates of continued support from the UN family.

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said the Samoa conference is not the final destination for SIDS development challenges, looking ahead to further international discussions on climate, disaster risk reduction and the post-2015 development agenda. He gaveled the meeting to a close at 4.43 pm.

Following the closing of plenary, the Third International Conference on SIDS was officially closed with a flag-lowering ceremony, accompanied by the Royal Samoa Police Band.

ENB SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS: The Earth Negotiations Bulletin summary and analysis of this conference will be available on this site on Sunday, 7 September 2014.

Melchiade Bukuru, UN Convention To Combat Desertification
Tuiloma Neroni Slade, Pacific Islands Forum

Rawleston Moore, Global Environment Facility Secretariat
Gyan Chandra Acharya, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and SIDS
Braulio de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Biological Diversity

Franz Drees-Gross, Country Director for Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, and the Pacific Islands, World Bank
David Sheppard, Secretariat of the Pacific Region Environment Program, Director General

Partnerships Dialogue: Water and sanitation, food security and waste management

Panel (L-R): Karen Tan, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the UN in New York; Federico Ramos de Armas, Secretary of State for Environment, Spain; Rolph Payet, Minister of Environment and Energy, Seychelles; Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary General, Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General for the Third International Conference on SIDS; Chair Ronald Jean Jumeau, Ambassador for Climate Change and SIDS Issues, Seychelles; Secretariat; Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization; and Alemneh Dejene, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Karen Tan, Permanent Representative of Singapore to the UN in New York
Federico Ramos de Armas, Secretary of State for Environment, Spain

Chair Ronald Jean Jumeau, Ambassador for Climate Change and SIDS Issues, Seychelles
Rolph Payet, Minister of Environment and Energy, Seychelles

Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization
Alemneh Dejene, FAO

Closing Plenary

Panel (L-R): Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary General, DESA and Conference Secretary-General; Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister, Samoa; Secretariat; and Milan Meetarbhan, Permanent Representative of Mauritius to the UN, as Rapporteur-General

Lucinda Longcroft, Head of the New York Office, World Intellectual Property Organization
Daniele Violetti, Chief of Staff, UNFCCC Secretariat
Side Event: What’s in it for SIDS? Findings from the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report

This event highlighted findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) and what they mean for SIDS. In order to increase understanding of these implications, the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) produced a guide to the AR5 for SIDS, which was introduced at the event. The event brought together climate change experts, and senior officials and negotiators from various organizations and regions to discuss the recent findings and the causes and consequences of climate change for SIDS.

Panel (L-R): Ulric Trotz, Deputy Director, Caribbean Community Centre for Climate Change (CCCCC); Elizabeth Carabine, Overseas Development Institute (ODI); Faamoetauloa Lealaiauloto Taito Dr Faale Tumaalii, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Samoa; Moderator Kenrick Leslie, Director, CCCCC; Ngedikes Olai Uludong, Chief Negotiator, Alliance for Small Island States (AOSIS); and Evaipomana Tuuholoaki, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

Faamoetauloa Lealaiauloto Taito Dr Faale Tumaalii, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Samoa, said the side event would address the root causes and consequences of climate change, and pointed to the impacts of slow-onset events, a new phenomena for SIDS.
Ulric Trotz, Deputy Director, CCCCC, called attention to the Caribbean Climate Online Risk and Adaptation Tool (CCORAL), said even achieving 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere is generous and we should really be aiming for 260 ppm. He said delaying action on climate change is not an option, and stressed the need to define a vulnerability index more suitable for SIDS.
Evaipomana Tuuholoaki, IFRC, said her organization is: scaling up humanitarian response and preparedness; reducing risk through increased awareness and understanding and using early warning information; and contributing to increasing resilience at the community level. She emphasized that while science is the foundation, the information must be translated so that local communities can understand it.

Ngedikes Olai Uludong, Chief Negotiator, AOSIS, stressed the usefulness of the CDKN guide for SIDS negotiators, pointing to difficulties in understanding thousands of pages of scientific reports. She called for a special financing window for SIDS.
Elizabeth Carabine, ODI, mentioned two key risks for SIDS: loss of livelihoods, coastal settlements, infrastructure, ecosystem services and economic stability; and the interaction of rising sea levels in the 21st century with high water level events threatening low-lying coastal areas. She said adaptation costs are high for SIDS relative to the size of their economies; and that SIDS can benefit from integrated adaptation and mitigation approaches.
Kenrick Leslie, Director, CCCCC, moderated the event, expressing hope that participants would gain a better understanding of what the AR5’s findings mean for SIDS.

Closing Ceremony