Sunday, December 23, 2012

Reflections On COP 18 IN Doha: Negotiators Made Only Incremental Progress

Expectations were low for this year’s UNFCCC climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar (COP 18), which concluded on Saturday 8th December. It was scheduled to be a “finalise-the-rules” type of COP, rather than one focused on large, political deals that went into the early hours of the morning. Key issues on the table included finalising the rules for the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period; concluding a series of decisions on transparency, finance, adaptation, and forests (REDD+); and agreeing on a work plan to negotiate a new legally binding international climate agreement by 2015. The emissions gap was also front-and-centre, as the newUNEP Gap Report showed that countries are further away than even a year ago from the goal of keeping global average temperature rise below 2°C.

In the end, countries were successful in making progress, but only incrementally. The lack of political will was breathtaking, particularly in light of recent extreme weather events.

Here’s a look at what happened across nine key issues that were on the table:

1) Durban Platform

Along with the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, the Durban Platform was the star of 2011’s COP 17. Two main components make up the Platform: increasing ambition immediately and negotiating a new legally binding international climate agreement by 2015 for the post-2020 time period.

COP 18 continued with these issues. In regards to increasing ambition before 2020, some countries – such as the Dominican Republic and Lebanon – did come forward with ambitious new pledges to reduce emissions. This was a welcome surprise, but the hope that Gulf region countries would take such a step unfortunately never came to fruition.

In order to try to build pressure for greater ambition, the Secretary General will host a Heads of State summit in 2014. Hopefully this will inspire countries to put more on the table by then. This summit corresponds with an important review of implementation under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as the release of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report.

Since 2005, countries have been negotiating in two tracks – the Kyoto Protocol and the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) group. As of Doha, those two tracks are closed – importantly, countries can now focus their full attention negotiating a new 2015 agreement under the Durban Platform. The basic outline of the agreement details three core components – legally binding, widest possible participation by all Parties, and staying below 2°C – even possibly 1.5°C. In Doha, countries agreed that 2013 should focus on a few key issues. They agreed to submit their positions on items like what other agreements the UNFCCC can learn from; what the scope, structure, and design of the agreement should be; and importantly, which principles should guide the agreement. This latter point enables a discussion on equity (see below), which remains a core principle and discussion in these talks. There will also likely be additional sessions in 2013, enabling countries to go deep and figure out how they will move forward together.

2) Kyoto Protocol

At COP 17 in Durban, the EU agreed to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol (KP2), but there was no time to finalise all the rules. In Doha, the rules for that second commitment period were finally agreed upon, allowing it to move forward for another eight-year period (2013-2020). While countries who have joined this second commitment period (including the EU, Australia, Switzerland, and Norway) only contribute 15% of global emissions, this is an important step in that it maintains the only legally binding instrument under the UNFCCC.

With the new legal arrangement, these countries will be able to begin implementing their new commitments from January 1, 2013 without any gaps. KP2 also features an ambition trigger, which requests that KP2 Parties revisit and increase their commitments by 2014 (rather than 2015) in line with the 25-40% emissions reductions called for by the IPCC 4th Assessment Report. This issue will be considered at a high-level ministerial roundtable in 2014. In addition, developing countries were granted an increase of the “Share of Proceeds,” a means to use a percentage of the revenue generated by carbon market mechanisms to help developing countries meet the cost of climate change adaptation.

For non-KP2 Parties (e.g. Canada, Japan, Russia, New Zealand), negotiators agreed to restrict those Parties’ eligibility to the Protocol’s flexible market mechanisms. In other words, although they can “participate” in clean development mechanism (CDM) projects, they cannot “transfer” or “acquire” the resulting units; only KP2 countries can trade such units. Another key issue was how many “surplus of emission allowances” a country could carry over from the first to the second commitment period without jeopardising the environmental integrity of the market. Countries decided to further restrict the trading and retirement of units generated from the flexible market mechanisms. This means that although a country will be allowed to carry over 100% of its surplus, it must happen under the following conditions:

  • Any surplus will be put into a new emission allowance account called the “Previous Period Surplus Reserve;”
  • A country will only be able to use this allowance if it exceeds its allowed emission (or assigned amount), and if its new emissions target is more ambitious than in the previous period; and
  • There is a limit to the number of emission allowances (units) countries can trade.

In addition, many countries stated publicly in Doha that they do not plan to purchase any such units.

While it is important to have the Kyoto Protocol moving forward – even with a smaller group of countries than under the first period – the key question now is how the Protocol’s structure and rules will impact the new negotiation track and how much this model will influence the post-2020 architecture. More


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Climate Change Is Taking Place 'Before Our Eyes'


When in September the Arctic sea ice that freezes and melts each year shrank to its lowest extent ever recorded and then contracted a further 500,000 sq km, the small world of ice scientists was shocked.

This was unprecedented, yet there was nothing unusual about the meteorological conditions in the Arctic in 2012, no vast storms to break up the ice, or heatwave to hasten the retreat.

Only widespread warming of the atmosphere could have been responsible for less ice growth during the winter and more ice melt during the summer, the scientists concluded.

It was, said the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), just one of dozens of major physical events in 2012 that convinced many people that the extremes have become normal.

The most dramatic event was possibly hurricane Sandy, which swept through the Caribbean and up the east coast of the United States, leaving hundreds dead and thousands without power or shelter.

But just a few weeks later it was possibly surpassed in strength by super-typhoon Bopha, which roared across Mindanao in the Philippines killing at least 900 people and leaving hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

Typhoons aren’t unusual in the Philippines or the US, but both of these were well outside their normal timescale and location.

Officially, said the WMO, the first 10 months of 2012 were the ninth-warmest since records began in the mid-19th century, with early months cooled by a La Niña weather event in the Pacific. In addition, 2012 broke the record for carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere.

Governments saw records tumble almost every season. According to Nasa, it’s now been 28 years since the globe experienced temperatures cooler than the 1951-1980 average. Globally, 10 of the 11 hottest years have now been in the last 11 years.

The US was on course to experience by far its hottest year on record. Nearly 15,000 new daily heat records were set and Europe had its warmest spring ever recorded.

Heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes battered vulnerable countries. “The danger signs are all around. One-third of the world’s population lives in countries with moderate to high water stress; land degradation affects 1.5 billion people. Ice caps are showing unprecedented melting, permafrost is thawing, sea levels are rising. The abnormal is now the new normal,” said UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

Former US vice-president Al Gore backed this up: “Every night on the news now, practically, is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.”

“Far-reaching changes [are] taking place on Earth’s oceans and biosphere. Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records,” said Michel Jarraud, head of the Geneva-based WMO. More


Monday, December 17, 2012

Lester Brown- Full Planet Empty Plates

UMD Council on the Environment Inaugural Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Lester R. Brown. The topic is Full Planet, Empty Plates.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ticking Arctic Carbon Bomb May Be Bigger Than Thought

Ticking Arctic Carbon Bomb May Be Bigger Than Thought by Eli Kintisch on 7 December 2012, 11:52 AM
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA—Scientists are expressing fresh concerns about the carbon locked in the Arctic's vast expanse of frozen soil. New field studies, presented here this week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, quantify the amount of soil carbon at 1.9 trillion metric tons, suggesting that previous estimates underestimated the climate risk if this carbon is liberated. Meanwhile, a new analysis of laboratory experiments that simulate carbon release by thawed soil is bolstering worries that continued carbon emissions could unleash a massive Arctic carbon wallop.

Disappearing Arctic ice, which gets most of the attention from climate scientists, is an effect of humanmade climate change. By contrast, the melting of frozen soil, or permafrost, can drive warming. As it thaws, microbes devour carbon previously locked inside, unleashing carbon dioxide—a potent greenhouse gas—in the process. The carbon dioxide amplifies the warming power of carbon pollution in a vicious feedback loop.
Scientists have struggled, however, to quantify this threat. Permafrost occurs on a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere landmass—from Alaska to Canada and across Siberia—but researchers have taken far too few readings to feel very confident about the risk. "We are working on really large landmasses with limited data," says physical geographer Gustaf Hugelius of Stockholm University. Measuring the carbon content of permafrost requires muddy field work with heavy drilling machinery, operated in remote areas, and satellite data help little.
Those logistical constraints have largely limited researchers' previous estimates of carbon to the top meter of permafrost. But scientists think that carbon down to a depth of 3 meters is susceptible to thawing and release as well. An influential 2009 estimate that Arctic permafrost held 1.6 trillion metric tons of carbon included only 45 field sites analyzed down to that depth. In the new study, Hugelius added 405 new analyses of field sites that went to 3 meters, some through new field work he and colleagues performed, some from archived data. Adding up the carbon found in different soil types he says, yields an initial new estimate of 1894 billion metric tons of carbon locked into permafrost across the Arctic, 13% more than the previous estimate.
After better quantifying the size of stored Arctic carbon, the next question for <> researchers is how much permafrost will thaw as the planet warms. A modeling study published earlier this year suggested that if global emissions trends stay constant, by 2100 permafrost holding 436 gigatons of carbon could thaw. But determining the size of the permafrost threat also requires calculating how much of the carbon in thawed permafrost will be decomposed by microbes and released as CO2. In a presentation at the meeting, soil biogeochemist Christina Schaedel of the University of Florida in Gainesville discussed that question. She analyzed nine previous studies in which researchers took samples of thawed permafrost to discover how much carbon would be released. In those studies, researchers incubated the soil in bottles at constant temperatures in their laboratories for a year or more. Over 50 years, she concludes, thawed permafrost could release 20% of its available carbon, a figure she called "a conservative estimate."
That could amount to a carbon pulse larger than 2 years' worth of global humanmade emissions. In terms of global climate change, the new studies show that "the actual situation is worse" than policymakers realize, says Peter Griffith, an ecosystems ecologist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The result could be an acceleration of impacts from humanmade greenhouse gas pollution: sea level rise, more intense droughts, and ocean acidification. "What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic," he says.
Painting a more complete picture of the threat means tackling the data dearth, says Hugelius, who hopes new collaborations with Russian scientists will provide a wealth of archived soil data from various laboratories across northern Asia. In addition, Hugelius and Schaedel are members of a network<> of scientists studying permafrost carbon in the Arctic, and Griffith is leading a new project by NASA in which scientists will fan out across the Arctic over the next decade to obtain more data on soil carbon and ice.
In terms of Arctic studies, "ice gets all the love," Griffith says. "That's because we have a very robust [satellite] capability for remotely sensing ice." To understand the threat hidden within permafrost, it's time for more scientists to get their boots dirty. More


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Doha summit launches climate damage aid

THINGS took an interesting twist at the latest UN climate summit held in Doha, Qatar, over the past two weeks when nations began talks over paying for the damage caused by climate change.

Who Pays
Delegates were split over a deal under which rich nations would pay when poor ones suffered the consequences of global warming. Developing countries demanded future compensation and developed ones - particularly the US - were unsurprisingly reluctant to agree.

The talks ended with yet another agreement to agree, but many are calling this small victory a significant step forward. The deal offers a distant promise of climate aid. But first, science will have to catch up with politics.

All countries will suffer as a result of climate change, even if humanity slashes its emissions and stops temperatures rising more than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels - the stated goal of the UN negotiations. At current rates, a 3 or 4 °C rise is likely this century.

As a consequence, deserts will spread and lethal heatwaves will become more frequent. Changes in rainfall will bring droughts, floods and storms, andrising seas will swamp low-lying areas, obliterating valuable territory.

So far, climate negotiations have taken a two-pronged approach to the problem. On the one hand, they have sought to create incentives or imperatives to cut emissions. On the other, they have established funds to help poor nations pay for "adaptation" measures, such as sea walls and irrigation systems, to help fend off the unavoidable consequences.

That, according to some, leaves a third element missing. Some consequences cannot easily be kept at bay. Countries will suffer food shortages and more frequent and more severe storm surges. On 28 November, the charities ActionAid, CARE International and WWF released a report arguing that rich countries should compensate poor ones for such damages. Doing so is a moral obligation and must be part of any treaty on climate change, says Niklas Höhne of renewable energy consultancy Ecofys in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

In Doha, a coalition including China, the Alliance of Small Island States and the G77 group of developing countries proposed a scheme that would decide when countries had suffered climate damages, and compensate them for their loss. The idea gained momentum after typhoon Bopha struck the Philippines last week. That country's negotiator Naderev Saño broke down in tears during a speech. "As we sit here, every single hour, even as we vacillate and procrastinate here, we are suffering."

Developed nations balked at the prospect of being held accountable for the consequences of emissions. Early versions of the text included the word "compensation" but they objected that it implied blame. In the end, they agreed to create "arrangements [...] to address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change".

The deal poses a fundamental challenge to climate science, because it is difficult to work out whether trends and events are caused by greenhouse gases or would have happened anyway. "We can't say that an individual event was caused by climate change," says Nigel Arnell of the University of Reading, UK. "What we can do is say that the chance of it happening was greater."

Computer models can be made to replicate the decades preceding a natural disaster with and without humanity's impact. If the odds turn out to be different with and without greenhouse gas emissions, it suggests that emissions were at least partially to blame. In this way, studies led by Myles Allen at the University of Oxford have shown that the 2003 European heatwave and 2011 Texas drought were both made more likely by human emissions.

The costs of such extreme events is relatively straightforward to calculate. But "attribution" science is in its infancy. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, speculates that superstorm Sandy would not have flooded the New York subwaysMovie Camera without climate change, but says it is not possible to prove that.

On the other hand, we can link slow processes like rising global temperatures or sea level rise to emissions. For this reason, many people think we should focus first on compensating people harmed by these processes - Pacific islands whose shorelines are gradually disappearing underwater for instance - and worry about extreme weather events once the science has caught up. The trouble is, unlike the damage caused by a hurricane, it is difficult to work out how much these slow processes cost. According to Arnell, the problem may prove unworkable. More


Monday, December 10, 2012

Climate Change and Development short course

Climate Change and Development Short Course

International Development UEA, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

2 week residential course


September 4-17 2013






The course is conducted in English. Full competence in English, written and spoken is an essential requirement.

Target audience

The course is designed for professionals who want to gain a greater understanding of the implications of climate change for developing countries and of the processes, issues and debates surrounding adaptation and mitigation. It is aimed at building the knowledge base of staff from government agencies and NGOs who do not have an existing specialism in the field but who may have new responsibility or interest in the integration of climate change management into development planning, projects and policy.

"Exceptionally well organised and well delivered course. Well done Roger (Dr Roger Few, Course Director) and his team of experts. A big thank you!"

2011 participant from UK Commonwealth Secretariat


International Development UEA, university of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

Contact for all further information

download a pdf of the course brochure

Apply for this course

Climate change has profound implications for developing countries and increasingly, professionals working in or for developing countries are being asked to integrate climate change management into planning, projects and policy. National governments are also engaged in official communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and other initiatives which require analysis of vulnerability and adaptive capacity.


The purpose of this short course it to equip non-specialists with a broad understanding of what climate change may mean for low-income populations. It will examine the scope and prospects for adapting to change and contributing to emissions reduction in the context of development issues and property reduction. The course does not set out to provide a practical ‘toolkit' guide for policy and practice. Instead it is designed to equip participants with a deeper awareness of the ideas, opportunities and trade-offs represented by adaptation and mitigation; an awareness that is increasingly needed if effective action on climate change is to be achieved. Participants have the opportunity to gain state-of-the-art knowledge and to develop their analytical skills in this field.

Course content and structure

Participants will gain grounding in a broad range of climate change issues from the underlying science of climate change, through its implications for development pathways to the international political agenda of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Key emphasis is then placed on vulnerability and adaption in the context of poverty reduction – exploring what climate change implies in terms of impacts and vulnerability in developing countries and how to go about building resilience and adaptive capacity at all scales.

Expert inputs will include:

  • Climate science
  • International policy and implementation mechanisms
  • Impacts and vulnerability in the context of development
  • Adaptation and resilience: examples and lessons from different sectors
  • Mitigation and development pathways
  • Linkages with poverty reduction

The course is structured to encourage participants to share their ideas through interactive and small-group work. During the course, participants will also be expected to work on the preparation and presentation of a project related to their country context or specific professional sector. This will ensure the knowledge and insight gained from the course is immediately grounded in the work that has practical relevance for the participant.

Course Director

Course Director Dr Roger Few is Senior Research Fellow in the School of International Development, UEA and a Researcher with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He has a background in human geography, political ecology and environment and health in developing countries. His research focuses on vulnerability and adaptation to natural hazards/disasters and climate change, with special interest in how households, communities and institutions respond to the health risks associated with extreme weather events and climatic changes. For this short course Roger draws together expertise from some of the world's leading research institutes on climate change such as the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. the School of International Development and the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Recent contributors include:

Professor Neil Adger, Professor Kevin Anderson, Dr Nick Brooks, Professor Kate Brown, Professor Declan Conway, Dr Roger Few, Dr Marisa Goulden, Professor Bruce Lankford, Professor Corinne Le Quéré, Professor Peter Newell and Dr Heike Schroeder.

Apply for this course

International Development UEA, university of East Anglia, Norwich, UK

Contact for all further information

Skills Development and Training Office

International Development UEA

School of International Development

University of East Anglia

Norwich NR4 7TJ

Tel: +44 (0)1603 592340

Fax: +44 (0)1603 591170



Sunday, December 9, 2012

How Many More Sandy's Will It Take

Ambassador Ronny Jumeau, leader of the Seychelles delegation, speaks out as the 18th UN Climate Summit in Doha threatens a disappointing end.

Mr. President, Tear Down This Wall Washington’s Iranian Future

Imagine, for a moment, a world in which the United States is a regional power, not a superpower. A world in which the globe’s mightiest nation, China, invades Mexico and Canada, deposing the leaders of both countries. A world in which China has also ringed the Americas, from Canada to Central America, with military bases.

A world in which Chinese officials openly brag about conducting covert operations against and within the United States. A world in which the Chinese launch a sophisticated and crippling cyber attack on America’s nuclear facilities. A world in which the Chinese send spy drones soaring over the United States and position aircraft carrier battle groups off its shores. What would Americans think? How would Washington react? Perhaps something like Iran’s theocratic leadership today. After all, Iran has seen the United States invade its neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, announce covert operations against it, surround it with military bases, fly drones over it, carry out naval operationsoff its coast, conduct a gigantic build-up of military forces all around it, and launch a cyberwar against it.

Imagine again, in this alternate universe, that China forged military alliances throughout the Americas, pulling Mexico and Canada, as well as Caribbean and Central American nations into its orbit. Imagine that it started selling advanced military technology to those countries. How might the U.S. government and its citizens respond?

It’s a question worth pondering given Washington’s recent actions. Last month, for instance, the U.S. quietly announced plans to further flood the Middle East with advanced weaponry. According to November notices sent by the Pentagon to Congress, the Department of Defense intends to oversee a $300 million deal with Saudi Arabia for spare parts for Abrams Tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and Humvees, and another for $6.7 billion in new advanced aircraft. Add to this a proposed sale of $9.9 billion in Patriot missiles to Qatar, a $96 million deal with Oman for hundreds of Javelin guided missiles, and more than $1.1 billion in Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles for the United Arab Emirates. And this was on top of deals struck earlier in the year that include a $63 million sale of Huey II helicopters to Lebanon, $4.2 billion in Patriot missiles for Kuwait, a $3 billion agreement to arm Qatar with advanced Apache attack helicopters, more than $1 billion in upgrades for Abrams tanks belonging to Morocco’s military, and the sale of $428 million worth of radar equipment and tactical vehicles to Iraq.

In Election 2012’s theatre-of-the-absurd “foreign policy” debate, Iran came up no less than 47 times. Despite all the fear, loathing, threats, and lies in that billionaire’s circus of a campaign season, Americans were nonetheless offered virtually nothing substantial about Iran, although its (non-existent) WMDs were relentlessly hawked as the top U.S. national security issue. (The world was, however, astonished to learn from candidate Romney that Syria, not the Persian Gulf, was that country’s “route to the sea.”)

Now, with the campaign Sturm und Drang behind us but the threats still around, the question is: Can Obama 2.0 bridge the gap between current U.S. policy (we don't want war, but there will be war if you try to build a bomb) and Persian optics (we don't want a bomb -- the Supreme Leader said so -- and we want a deal, but only if you grant us some measure of respect)? Don’t forget that a soon-to-be-reelected President Obama signaled in October the tiniest of possible openings toward reconciliation while talking about the “pressure” he was applying to that country, when he spoke of “our policy of... potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.” More


Saturday, December 8, 2012

At Doha Climate Talks: Failed Ambition and Unfulfilled Promises


December 8, 2012


Niranjali Amerasinghe, +1-202-288-2204, +974-6646-9833,

Alyssa Johl, +1-510-435-6892,


DOHA, QATAR—Today, countries again recognized the need for urgent action to respond to climate change, and again failed to take that action, says the Center for International Environmental Law. The last-minute deal lacks meaningful commitments and leaves critical details to be resolved at a later date.

"This outcome represents a failure of ambition and yet another failure of political will—the latest in a long line of pledges to take real action someday, but not today." said CIEL President Carroll Muffett. "Governments have now squandered decades that could have been spent averting climate disaster.

Nations adopted a new commitment period under the existing Kyoto Protocol. However, Canada, Japan, Russia, and New Zealand backed out of the second commitment period, and the remaining emission reduction targets are weak. Countries completed negotiations under the Bali Action Plan, but most of the work is incomplete and will be carried forward over the next two years. They also agreed on a general work plan for the Durban Platform, which is supposed to lead to a legally binding agreement by 2015 and spur more action in the short-term.

"In an effort to close the negotiations, Parties have stripped the substance from the outcome,” said Niranjali Amerasinghe, CIEL's Climate Change Program Director. "This was the moment for developed countries, particularly the United States, to show leadership, to fulfill their obligations to lead the fight against climate change. And they have not.”

Results across the board display a serious lack of ambition to address important issues. The process for increasing mitigation commitments is weak. There is no certainty that developed countries will increase public finance to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. Decisions that could have been made on efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation, known as REDD+, were pushed to next year. However, countries did agree to discuss the role that forests play in providing benefits beyond carbon reduction, which is essential for effective forest governance.

After contentious negotiations, action on much-needed loss and damage mechanism was stalled by a handful of developed countries, led by the United States. “The international community has failed to deliver what’s needed to protect the rights of affected people through mitigation and adaptation,” said CIEL’s Alyssa Johl. “Now we’re forced to discuss what’s needed to compensate vulnerable countries for loss of lives, livelihoods, property and culture. Today, this decision has been delayed by those countries unwilling to accept responsibility for their historic contributions to this crisis.”

“In the wake of Doha, interest in climate action outside the UNFCCC will continue to rise,” said Muffett. “While leaders may be willing to wait until 2020 to respond to climate change, their people are not. We are seeing more protests, more opposition to dirty energy and a growing body of climate litigation in countries around the world for the simple reason that climate change is the greatest threat facing humankind. The world can no longer wait for governments to catch up to reality in this process.”

About CIEL

Founded in 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL),, uses the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights and ensure a just and sustainable society. With offices in Washington, DC and Geneva, CIEL’s staff of international attorneys and experts work in the areas of human rights and the environment, climate change, law and communities, chemicals, trade and the environment, international environmental governance, biodiversity and international financial institutions by providing legal counsel and advocacy, policy research and capacity building.


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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Adapting to a warmer world: No going back

When Superstorm Sandy hit the US coast last month, it blew millions of New Yorkers back into the nineteenth century.

The southern part of Manhattan went black after floodwaters shorted out electrical systems. With the subway system disabled, many residents resorted to traversing the island by foot, and water supplies in some areas became contaminated with bacteria and pollutants.

The largest Atlantic hurricane on record, Sandy wreaked US$50 billion in economic losses along the US northeast coast, providing a costly reminder of how ill-prepared even the richest nations are for weather extremes. Some recent weather disasters have now been attributed, at least in part, to human activity, including the 2003 European heatwave1 and the floods in England in 2000 (ref. 2). According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), storms, floods and droughts will strike more frequently and with greater strength as the climate warms3. And if nations are struggling to cope now, how will they manage in a warmer, harsher future?

Just a decade ago, 'adaptation' was something of a dirty word in the climate arena — an insinuation that nations could continue with business as usual and deal with the mess later. But greenhouse-gas emissions are increasing at an unprecedented rate and countries have failed to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty. That stark reality has forced climate researchers and policy-makers to explore ways to weather some of the inevitable changes.Nature

“As progress to reduce emissions has slowed in most countries, there has been a turn towards adaptation,” says Jon Barnett, a political geographer at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Adaptation has tended to focus on hard defences, such as shoring up sea walls and building dams. But as awareness of adaptation has grown, so too has the concept. “Adaptation means different things to different people, and is extremely location specific,” says Neil Adger, an environmental and economic geographer at the University of Exeter, UK. Although residents in Bangladesh can raise their houses on stilts to survive floods, some settlements in Alaska and the Maldives must move in the face of rising sea levels. More


Adapting to a warmer world: No going back

When Superstorm Sandy hit the US coast last month, it blew millions of New Yorkers back into the nineteenth century.

The southern part of Manhattan went black after floodwaters shorted out electrical systems. With the subway system disabled, many residents resorted to traversing the island by foot, and water supplies in some areas became contaminated with bacteria and pollutants.

The largest Atlantic hurricane on record, Sandy wreaked US$50 billion in economic losses along the US northeast coast, providing a costly reminder of how ill-prepared even the richest nations are for weather extremes. Some recent weather disasters have now been attributed, at least in part, to human activity, including the 2003 European heatwave1 and the floods in England in 2000 (ref. 2). According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), storms, floods and droughts will strike more frequently and with greater strength as the climate warms3. And if nations are struggling to cope now, how will they manage in a warmer, harsher future?

Just a decade ago, 'adaptation' was something of a dirty word in the climate arena — an insinuation that nations could continue with business as usual and deal with the mess later. But greenhouse-gas emissions are increasing at an unprecedented rate and countries have failed to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty. That stark reality has forced climate researchers and policy-makers to explore ways to weather some of the inevitable changes.Nature

“As progress to reduce emissions has slowed in most countries, there has been a turn towards adaptation,” says Jon Barnett, a political geographer at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Adaptation has tended to focus on hard defences, such as shoring up sea walls and building dams. But as awareness of adaptation has grown, so too has the concept. “Adaptation means different things to different people, and is extremely location specific,” says Neil Adger, an environmental and economic geographer at the University of Exeter, UK. Although residents in Bangladesh can raise their houses on stilts to survive floods, some settlements in Alaska and the Maldives must move in the face of rising sea levels. More


Sea levels are rising 60 percent faster than expected

One thing that can be said categorically about Hurricane Sandy is that sea-level rise was a key factor in the damage the storm caused. New York Harbor is 15 inches higher than it was in 1880, eight of which are due directly to human-made climate change. A 2007 report suggested that by 2100 the seas could be at least seven inches higher still.

But those estimates may have been conservative. The Institute of Physics revealed today that the seas are rising 60 percent faster than expected.

While temperature rises appear to be consistent with the projections made in the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] fourth assessment report (AR4), satellite measurements show that sea-levels are actually rising at a rate of 3.2 mm a year compared to the best estimate of 2 mm a year in the report. …

Satellites measure sea-level rise by bouncing radar waves back off the sea surface and are much more accurate than tide gauges as they have near-global coverage; tide gauges only sample along the coast. Tide gauges also include variability that has nothing to do with changes in global sea level, but rather with how the water moves around in the oceans, such as under the influence of wind.

The study also shows that it is very unlikely that the increased rate is down to internal variability in our climate system and also shows that non-climatic components of sea-level rise, such as water storage in reservoirs and groundwater extraction, do not have an effect on the comparisons made.

Which means that in 88 years, New York’s harbor will be at least 11 inches higher — assuming that the speed of the rise doesn’t increase still more.

in 88 years, New York’s harbor will be at least 11 inches higher

From The Guardian:

The faster sea-level rise means the authorities will have to take even more ambitious measures to protect low-lying population centres — such as New York City, Los Angeles or Jacksonville, Florida — or risk exposing millions more people to a destructive combination of storm surges on top of sea-level rise, scientists said.

Scientists earlier this year found sea-level rise had already doubled the annual risk of historic flooding across a widespread area of the United States. …

“The study indicates that this is going to be as bad or worse than the worst case scenarios of the IPCC so whatever you were planning from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod in terms of how you were preparing for sea-level rise — if you thought you had enough defences in place, you probably need more,” [study coauthor Grant] Foster said. More


Increasing Drought Stress Challenges Vulnerable Hydraulic System of Plants, Professor Finds

ScienceDaily (Nov. 27, 2012) — The hydraulic system of trees is so finely-tuned that predicted increases in drought due to climate change may lead to catastrophic failure in many species.

A recent paper co-authored by George Washington University Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Amy Zanne finds that those systems in plants around the globe are operating at the top of their safety threshold, making forest ecosystems vulnerable to increasing environmental stress.

In the current issue of the journal Nature, Dr. Zanne and lead authors from the University of Western Sydney in Australia and Ulm University in Germany, report that the hydraulic system trees depend on is a unique but unstable mechanism that is constantly challenged.

"Drought is a major force shaping our forests," said Dr. Zanne, a faculty member within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. "Over the last century, drought has been responsible globally for numerous large-scale forest diebacks. To make effective predictions of how forest landscapes may change in the future, we need to first understand how plants work."

The primary challenge plants face during drought is how to keep their plumbing working. Drought stress creates trapped gas emboli in the water system, which reduces the ability of plants to supply water to leaves for photosynthetic gas exchange and can ultimately result in desiccation and death.

"Vulnerability to embolism is one of the main factors determining drought effects on trees," Dr. Zanne said. "However, plants vary dramatically in their resistance to drought-induced embolism, which has made predictions of how forests might be altered under future climates more difficult."

While the research findings are alarming, plants do have a few other tricks up their sleeves. They may have some flexibility of changing their plumbing or new species of trees may replace species no longer capable of persisting in a given place.

An international team consisting of Dr. Zanne and 23 other plant scientists organized via the ARC-NZ Research Network for Vegetation Function at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, analyzed existing measures of plant hydraulic safety thresholds in forest species around the world.

The surprising result that the group discovered is that while plants vary greatly in their embolism resistance, they are sitting at similar safety thresholds across all forest types. The team found these thresholds are largely independent of mean annual precipitation.

The findings explain why drought-induced forest decline occurs in arid as well as wet forests, which had historically not been considered at risk. More


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Europe Changing Fast as Climate Warms

BRUSSELS, Belgium, November 26, 2012 (ENS) – Climate change is affecting all regions of Europe as glaciers melt, the Greenland ice sheet shrinks, sea levels rise, snow cover decreases and permafrost soils warm, finds a new assessment issued by the European Environment Agency.

The report by 50 authors was published in advance of the annual United Nations climate summit, which opened Monday in Doha, Qatar.

Higher average temperatures have been observed across Europe with decreasing precipitation in southern regions and increasing precipitation in northern Europe, according to the report, “Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012.”

Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the European Environment Agency said, “Climate change is a reality around the world, and the extent and speed of change is becoming ever more evident. This means that every part of the economy, including households, need to adapt as well as reduce emissions.”

Extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods and droughts have caused soaring damage costs across Europe in recent years.

Future climate change is expected to add to this vulnerability, as extreme weather events are expected to become more intense and frequent. If European societies do not adapt, damage costs are expected to continue rising.

While more evidence is needed to determine the part played by climate change in this trend, growing human activity in hazard-prone areas has been a key factor, according to the EEA report.

Some regions will be less able to adapt to climate change than others, in part due to economic disparities across Europe, and the effects of climate change could deepen these inequalities, the report says.

The last decade (2002–2011) was the warmest on record in Europe, with European land temperature 1.3° C warmer than the pre-industrial average. Various model projections show that Europe could be 2.5–4° C warmer in the later part of the 21st Century, compared to the 1961–1990 average.

Heat waves have increased in frequency and length, causing tens of thousands of deaths over the last decade. The projected increase in heat waves could increase the number of related deaths over the next decades, unless societies adapt, the report says. However, cold-related deaths are projected to decrease in many countries.

Climate change is projected to increase river flooding, particularly in northern Europe, as higher temperatures intensify the water cycle.

River flow droughts appear to have become more severe and frequent in southern Europe. Minimum river flows are projected to decrease in summer in southern Europe but also in many other parts of Europe. More



Monday, November 26, 2012

UN Climate Chief: Talks Are Making Slow, Steady Progress

Few jobs on the international stage are more daunting than the one held by Christiana Figueres, the woman in charge of United Nations talks aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Figueres, of Costa Rica, is executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which in 1997 led to the adoption of the landmark Kyoto Protocol but that, in recent years, has been widely criticized for failing to secure a treaty imposing binding limits on emissions.

Christiana Figuere
With a new round of talks set to begin next week in Doha, Qatar, Figueres sat down with Yale Environment 360 contributing writer Elizabeth Kolbert to assess the state of those negotiations. Figueres, whose father and brother both served as president of Costa Rica, said that contrary to public perceptions, global climate talks have actually been moving forward in a “slow but steady” manner, with a goal of securing a new accord in 2015.

In the interview, Figueres discussed the need for the United States to finally sign on to a global climate treaty, the inevitability of world economies making the transition to a low-carbon future, and the need for politicians to feel the same urgency as climate scientists about the threats posed by global warming. “There’s a huge gap between the two,” says Figueres, “and it is our very challenging task to encourage the closing of that gap.”

Yale Environment 360: It is becoming increasingly common to hear very knowledgeable people say that the possibility of holding average global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius is slipping away from us. Just the other day PricewaterhouseCoopers put out a report that said government ambition to limit warming to 2 degrees is highly unrealistic. Are these people right, and if they’re wrong, why do we keep hearing this?

Christiana Figueres: Well, the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] actually has this challenge front and center in terms of drafting their Fifth Assessment report, and this is one of the main issues that they are looking at — what are the options for countries to reach the two-degree target? So the jury is still out. We will wait for the work of the IPCC and their assessment report to see what they are suggesting with respect to options. What is very clear and what no one denies is that of course the more delay there is in increasing mitigation, the more delay there is in decreasing emissions, the more the window is closed to the possibility of stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations.

e360: There has been a lot written over the last couple of weeks about how Hurricane Sandy really represents a wake-up call for the U.S. and maybe now we’ll see a change in the politics around the issue in this country. We’ve also heard this before. And we just had a whole presidential campaign in which this issue really didn’t get discussed. Since Sandy, do you think that there has been any change? Do you feel that this is any kind of an opportunity?

Figueres: Yes, I certainly do think that this is yet another wake-up call. I did hear President Obama say quite categorically in his acceptance speech that he is not going to have a future that is threatened by increasing warming. I also heard [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg say very clearly right after Sandy that in his view this has been a wake-up call for New York specifically, but also for the broader United States to really understand the vulnerability in particular of coastal cities to the increasing challenges being brought by climate change. And I do think that this mirrors the growing awareness in the United States. So I do think that Sandy has contributed to this. Is it the tipping point? That remains to be seen. More


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Climate change a 'real and present danger,' Kent says

Canada's Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent thinks recent extreme weather events are forcing politicians in both Canada and the U.S. to focus on the issue of climate change, and that includes members of his Conservative government's cabinet.

Peter Kent
"It has focused minds absolutely," Kent told reporters after appearing at a parliamentary committee hearing.

In perhaps his most forceful comments on climate change to date, Kent says the recent Hurricane Sandy that devastated parts of the U.S. East Coast is putting the issue top of mind, as are recent examples of extreme weather in Canada, such as the increasing number of tornadoes to hit Ontario.

"Scientists tell us on a regular basis you can't connect individual incidents of extreme weather with climate change, but I think it's quite clear that we are seeing increased incidents of extreme weather, droughts, floods, the diminishing ice cap, ozone opening and closing over the poles, he said.

"You don't have to convince me that climate change is a very real and present danger and we need to address it."

Kent said he talks to his U.S. counterparts on a "more than monthly basis" and there's a general consensus that it's an issue that has to be addressed. "We would ignore it at our peril."

In his first news conference after being re-elected, U.S. President Barack Obama talked about the growing number of severe weather events and the need to act on climate change for future generations.

Canada aligns with U.S.

Canada aligns its environmental policies with those of the U.S. But Canada has been roundly criticized for its continued lack of clear legislation to make so-called "large final emitters," like energy companies, reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Canada has been taking a sector-by-sector approach, bringing in rules for cars and coal-fired power plants but leaving the toughest for the last.

Kent has also been raked over the coals internationally for pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change last year. That accord expires at the end of next month.

Global leaders and environment ministers are heading to Doha, Qatar for the next UN Climate Change Conference, which is set to begin Nov. 26. It's the annual conference where countries consider a new global agreement to replace Kyoto.

Canada will be in Doha, too. Even though it pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, it's still a signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the overall international umbrella agreement of which Kyoto is a part.

Countries are now split over whether to negotiate a second Kyoto-like agreement or follow the Copenhagen Accord. That's the non-binding agreement signed in 2009 that calls for developing nations to do more to reduce their emissions along with the rich developed ones.

Kent says increased public attention on extreme weather events is bringing added attention to next week's global conference. He says Canada is committed to getting a new agreement but warns it won't be easy. More