While much of the attention on a historic Paris climate meeting in the coming weeks will focus on the confounding task of trying to keep global warming below 2°C, or 3.6°F, a battle over another goal — one that has been forgotten by many — will be playing out in the negotiating halls.
|SIDS are at risk from SLR|
Delegates representing island states and others whose homelands are most threatened by rising seas will be pushing for the formal adoption of a long-overlooked goal, one that limits warming to less than 1.5°C, or 2.7°F.
Such a goal would be an ambitious one. Some negotiators and onlookers already seem to have given up hope of limiting warming to less than 2°C, much less 1.5°C. Fossil fuel burning, deforestation and other climate-changing hallmarks of industrialization have elevated temperatures 1°C since the 19th century, pushing tides up more than 8 inches. Pledges submitted by nations ahead of the meeting to take steps to slow climate change could yet allow warming to soar to 3°C or more.
The longing by low-lying nations to limit warming to 1.5°C has been overshadowed since 2010 by a preoccupation by many with the less ambitious goal. On Wednesday, the U.N. released the latest report to confirm that goal — to limit warming to 2°C, compared with preindustrial times — could be reached through massive globally cooperative efforts that overhaul energy supply chains and reform farming and forest management.
“We definitely think that staying below 2 degrees is still very possible,” Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, told reporters as the report was released. “Getting down to the range of 1.5 should not be taken off the table either.”
When climate delegates agreed during meetings in Copenhagen in 2009 that “the increase in global temperature should be below 2 degrees Celsius,” they also agreed that a study would be completed by 2015 comparing the effects of that goal with an alternative one of curbing temperature rises to 1.5°C. During talks a year later, negotiators agreed to consider tightening the 2°C goal to 1.5°C in the “near future.”
Ahead of what could be history’s most highly anticipated round of climate negotiations, the governments of the countries that are most vulnerable to sea level rise believe that future time has arrived.
The study called for in Copenhagen was published by the U.N. in May, based on interviews with some 70 experts. It concluded that adopting the 1.5°C alternative would be technically feasible, and that meeting it would come with a “high likelihood of meaningful differences” compared with allowing earth to warm by 2°C.
“The scientific finding is that 2 degrees is not enough,” said Ronny Jumeau, a U.N. ambassador from the Seychelles who will negotiate on behalf of small island states during the two-week round of Paris talks, which begin in two weeks. “1.5 is what the low-lying, small island developing states need for their survival.”
The May report warned of the “high” risks that would accompany 2°C of warming, including crop failures, floods, extreme weather events that jeopardize health, and “mass coral bleaching.” But it also pointed out that “there would be significant residual impacts even with 1.5°C of warming.”
It concluded that “most” species would be able to keep up with climate change if warming is kept below 1.5°C. It found, bleakly optimistically, that “up to half of coral reefs may remain” if the planet warms 1.5°C, that sea level rise “may remain below” 3.3 feet, ocean acidification impacts “would stay at moderate levels,” and that it would be easier for communities to adapt to climate change — especially farmers.
Strategies for limiting warming to 1.5°C by century’s end “are similar to those limiting warming to 2°C,” the report noted. It concluded that such strategies would involve “more immediate” actions and “an additional scaling-up” of clean energy and of any technology that captures and stores carbon dioxide pollution, such as at coal power plants.
The conclusions from the May report were consistent with the views of leading scientists.
“To limit warming to 1.5°C, we would not only have to bring carbon emissions down dramatically, but likely would need to employ expensive carbon capture technology,” Penn State meteorology professor Michael Mann said. “Even the deployment of this technology would be cheaper than allowing the damages of allowing global warming to proceed.”
Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University professor whose research focuses on clean energy, said that a radical enough global switch from fossil fuels to clean energy alternatives could be enough to limit warming to less than 1.5°C — even without the need for carbon capture or nuclear power technologies.
Still, the islanders’ quest to adopt the forgotten temperature goal at global climate talks is coinciding with a growing fatigue among some experts over what they see as an overemphasis on the 2°C goal. The goal is an oblique one, since rising temperatures are one of the long-term knock-on effects of rising levels of greenhouse gas pollution.
“There’s too much talk about goals,” said Harvard University economics professor Robert Stavins, who follows the climate talks. He said it would be better to focus on how to increase the ambition of more than 100 national climate pledges under the hoped-for Paris agreement.
But Jumeau of the Seychelles pointed out that a 1.5°C goal would be achievable, and that adopting and meeting it would benefit rich coastal nations as well as those whose existences may be threatened by rising seas.
“It’s not just about the islands, it’s about New York, it’s about New Orleans, it’s about London, it’s about Venice,” Jumeau said. “There is no way we can compromise on 1.5.” More
The Arctic may be seen as geographically isolated from the rest of the world, yet the Inuit hunter who falls through the thinning sea ice is connected to melting glaciers in the Andes and the Himalayas and to the flooding of low-lying and small island states.
What happens in foreign capitals and in temperate and tropical countries affects us dramatically in the North. Many of the economic and environmental challenges we face result from activities well to the south of our homelands; and what is happening in the far North will affect what is happening in the South.
Inuit are experiencing firsthand the adverse effects of global environmental changes. But we are not powerless victims. We are determined to remain connected to the land, and sufficiently resilient to adapt to changing natural forces as we have for centuries.
Discussion of climate change frequently tends to focus on political, economic and technical issues rather than human impacts and consequences. We need to be aware of the dramatic social and cultural impacts indigenous peoples face in coming years.
For generations Inuit have observed the environment and have accurately predicted weather and sea-ice conditions, enabling us to travel safely on the sea ice to hunt seals, whales, walrus and polar bears. Talk to hunters across the North, and they will tell you the same story: the weather is increasingly unpredictable. The look and feel of the land is different. The sea ice is changing. Hunters are having difficulty navigating and traveling safely. We have even lost experienced hunters through the ice in areas that, traditionally, were safe. As a result of melting glaciers it is now difficult, sometimes even dangerous, for us to travel to many of our traditional hunting and harvesting sites.
|A young woman from Cape Dorset, Nunavut|
Several Inuit villages have already been so damaged by global warming that relocation, at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, is now their only option. Melting sea ice and thawing permafrost have caused damage to houses, roads, airports and pipelines; erosion, slope instability and landslides; contamination of drinking water; coastal losses to erosion of up to 30 meters per year; and melting of natural ice cellars for food storage.
For instance, residents of Sachs Harbour, a tiny community in the Canadian Beaufort Sea region, report melting permafrost causing beach slumping and increased erosion; increased snowfall; longer sea-ice-free seasons; new species of birds and owls, robins, pin-tailed ducks and salmon invading the region; and an onslaught of mosquitoes and black flies.
Plans are well under way to relocate certain Arctic communities. Climate change is not just a theory to us in the Arctic; it is a stark and dangerous reality. Climate change is undermining the ecosystem upon which Inuit depend for their physical and cultural survival.
The Arctic is of vital importance in the global debate on how to deal with climate change because the Arctic is the barometer of the globe’s environmental health. We are indeed the canary in the global coal mine.
The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment projects dramatic and drastic depletion of sea ice. In the next few decades year-round sea ice may be limited to a small portion of the Arctic Ocean around the North Pole. The rest of the Arctic will be ice-free in summer.
Polar bears, walrus, ringed seals and likely other species of seals are projected to virtually disappear. This is not to mention the millions of Arctic seabirds and fish. Our ecosystem will be transformed, with tragic results. Climate change in the Arctic is not just an environmental issue with unwelcome economic consequences. It is a matter of livelihood, food and individual and cultural survival. It is a human issue.
What can Inuit—only 155,000 of us—do about this global situation? First, we refuse to play the role of powerless victim. Responding to climate change has split the nations of the world. Our plight and the Arctic Assessment show the compelling case for global unity and clarity of purpose to forestall a future that is not preordained.
Our rights, our human rights, to live as we do and to enjoy our unique culture as part of the globe’s cultural heritage, are at issue.
Short-term business interests must change, and people must take stock of whether or not a way of life based on consumption is ultimately sustainable. What is happening now to Inuit will happen soon to people in the South. The experience of Inuit in the Arctic is shared by residents of small island states in the Pacific, many people in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
We are working on many fronts to convince the world to take long-term action. Climate change is not about scoring political points. It is about families, parents, children and the lives we lead in our communities throughout the world. More
While filming a project in China, American filmmaker John D. Liu realized that large-scale ecological restoration is not only possible, but may be the path for the development of our humanity. Mr. Liu is currently director of the Environmental Education Media Project and visiting fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology at the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (NIOO/KNAW).
|John D. Liu|
In sacred and protected places on the Earth it is possible to see the magnificence of ancient intact systems—climax forests, grassland systems and the remnants of intact peatlands. The beauty and functionality of these biomes reflect the organization of nature without human interference. These perfect places illustrate that the Earth provides us with air, water, food and energy—all that is needed for life to flourish.
While it is still possible to find perfect systems, the reality is that all these biomes are under threat from human impacts and the majority of the Earth’s natural systems have already been seriously altered. Pollution of all kinds can be found in all parts of the Earth. Human impacts have reduced the habitat of many species on all continents, causing widespread and alarming extinctions. It is now quite clear that human activities are altering the Earth’s hydrological cycle, the weather and the climate. Also today, gunfire pops like a constant drumbeat at the edges of civilization. The screams and bewilderment of traumatized women and children echo through a shared human history of recurrent warfare.
Considering the ravages of history, I began to wonder: “Is it inevitable that we continue to live in violence and degrade the Earth’s landscapes?” This question resonated with me, and after long study, I feel that I know the answer.
In 1995, on assignment for the World Bank, I was introduced to the Loess Plateau in northwest China. This vast plain of approximately 640,000 square kilometers is the cradle of Chinese civilization and the site of one of the earliest agricultural developments on the Earth. When I first went to the Loess Plateau, I was confronted with desperately poor people trying to eke out a living in a dry and dusty ruined landscape. I was there to document the baseline study for the Loess Plateau Watershed Rehabilitation Project, and seeing the extent of the degradation, it was hard to imagine that such a ravaged landscape could be restored.
A team of Chinese physical and social scientists, with the help of international experts, analyzed the history of the plateau and identified deforestation, primitive agriculture on slope lands and unrestricted grazing of goats and sheep as the main causes of the degradation. They noted the cycle of flooding, drought and famine that kept the population in poverty. They also studied the costs of sedimentation and found that these were extremely high. They reasoned that if they could reduce sedimentation and the effects of flooding and drought that this caused, the costs of restoration would be small in comparison. Armed with an econometric justification to spend whatever would be required, they began to engage the local people in a monumental task.
They began by explaining to the people why they were banning tree cutting, slope farming and unrestricted herding of goats and sheep, and they offered the people an alternative income for their participation in restoration. With the entire community’s labor and expert management, integrated watershed management was implemented in a project the size of Belgium. Initially, water harvesting methods including terraces, small dams and sediment traps were established. These physical interventions quickly became biophysical as the natural and agricultural vegetation grew. Perennial, diverse and sustainable agriculture replaced annual monocultures. As I continued to study and document the work, it became clear that it is possible to restore large-scale damaged ecosystems and that this knowledge is not just an interesting fact, but a responsibility that can change the course of human history. More
Researchers argue that both ocean scientists and world leaders should pay more attention to how communities are experiencing, adapting to and even influencing changes in the world's oceans.
When President Barack Obama visited the shrinking Exit Glacier in September, he pointed to a very obvious sign of our warming planet literally at his feet.
Less visible, but perhaps more indelible, signs of changing climate lie in the oceans. A University of Washington researcher argues in the journal Science that people -- including the world leaders who will gather later this month in Paris for the latest round of climate change negotiations -- should pay more attention to how climate change's impacts on ocean and coastal environments affect societies around the globe.
"When people see headlines on big science findings that the oceans are acidifying, or sea levels are rising, they feel a sense of helplessness in the face of inexorable change," said lead author and UW professor of marine and environmental affairs Edward Allison. "Yet there are many things that people can, and indeed are already, doing."
The review paper, published Nov. 13, looks at scientific understanding of changes to the world's oceans and how people around the world are responding. These reactions include denial, planned adaptation, a search for technical fixes, and political activism to reduce emissions and tackle the root causes of climate change. The paper also looks at how projected changes in climate and ocean conditions will impact economic activities related to the oceans, to begin a discussion about the future of the human relationship with the marine environment.
"I felt that there was a gap in the research being carried out by the ocean sciences community," Allison said. "Research hasn't really engaged with the politics of climate mitigation and adaptation in the way that scientists working on forests and agriculture have."
"There's a lot of citizen action that can be done at a local level to prevent coastal damage," he continued. Examples cited in the paper include planting mangroves, saving coral reefs, or preventing beach erosion by planting coconut palms. In the Pacific Northwest, shellfish growers have begun to look at how to adapt their practices to account for more acidic seawater.
On a broader scale, Allison points to this spring's "kayaktivist" protesters in Seattle's Puget Sound, where people took to non-motorized marine craft to protest plans to capitalize on melting Arctic sea ice to extract more fossil fuels from the Arctic Ocean "I think the kayaktivists send a message that the future of the oceans, when it comes to energy generation, should be in renewables rather than in fossil fuels," Allison said. "You have this perverse situation where the melting of polar ice caps has allowed more economic exploitation of the Arctic, including for industries that contribute most to global warming." Allison began his career in marine biology, but later moved to fisheries management and international development, a background that helps him bring an interdisciplinary perspective to marine issues. A recent paper he co-authored looked at the tradeoffs between sustainable-fish certification programs and food for local fishing communities.
Co-author Hannah Bassett, a UW master's student in marine and environmental affairs, reviewed existing literature on how climate change will affect marine industries. The impacts on most industries will be negative, she found. But a few, including research and development of new ocean technologies, may benefit. She also found that while aquaculture is often cited as a possible adaptation strategy for declining wild fish stocks, aquaculture itself is anticipated to feel some negative impacts from climate change.
The paper lays out the case for a more interdisciplinary approach to ocean research, with natural and social scientists working together to document the impact of climate change and resulting actions and to understand how oceanic peoples are experiencing, adapting and even influencing changes in the world's oceans. Shifts in the world's oceans are long-lasting, extend far beyond the coast, and touch humans on many different levels, Allison said.
"The ocean is not just a place for economic activity," he said. "It's a place for inspiration, it's a place for enjoyment, it defines many cultures, and it's a place where we get some of our most nutritious food. What's at stake here? It's a timely moment to think about that." More
Despite the tremendous source of energy shining in the sky, some keep debating the merits of solar power and other renewable energies, asking the same questions over and over again: How effective is solar energy? Is it more expensive? Where and how does solar fit in the larger energy grid?
Many of the arguments against solar are based on outdated or incorrect information. That’s why we’re setting the record straight on some of the most common solar energy myths. First up: solar energy and reliability.
If you’ve heard solar panels are unreliable, you’re getting outdated information. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite. Most solar panels produce electricity for over 20 years or more as their parts do not wear out easily. In fact, many of the first solar systems installed over 40 years ago are still active today.
Additionally, using solar power diversifies our energy sources, making the entire grid more dependable. We have more tools available to make solar and other variable renewable technologies more reliable than ever, such as larger and more integrated grids, better resource forecasting, and more use of energy storage technologies. What will need to be replaced in the next 30 years are aging fossil fuel infrastructures like outdated coal-fired power plants.
If we make the switch and rely on renewable sources of energy like the sun, we can save billions of dollars by avoiding not only the costs of replacing these plants, but also the increasingly higher costs of climate change in areas like healthcare expenses and damage from extreme weather.
The future of solar is bright! Join Climate Reality to demand a clean energy future: http://bit.ly/1WpKIldPosted by on Saturday, September 12, 2015
Scientists estimate that more than enough solar energy strikes the earth every hour to power our whole society for an entire year.
So next time you hear that solar panels aren’t reliable – just let them know that as long as the sun will rise, solar panels will generate clean, renewable energy.
"It doesn’t work when it’s cloudy." "But it’s too expensive. "We can use clean coal instead."