Monday, March 31, 2014

Planet at Risk

Human interference with the climate system is occurring, and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems . The assessment of impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability in the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report (WGII AR5) evaluates how patterns of risks and potential benefits are shifting due to climate change. It considers how impacts and risks related to climate change can be reduced and managed through adaptation and mitigation. The report assesses needs, options, opportunities, constraints, resilience, limits, and other aspects associated with adaptation.

Climate change involves complex interactions and changing likelihoods of diverse impacts. A focus on risk, which is new in this report, supports decision-making in the context of climate change, and complements other elements of the report. People and societies may perceive or rank risks and potential benefits differently, given diverse values and goals.

Compared to past WGII reports, the WGII AR5 assesses a substantially larger knowledge base of relevant scientific, technical, and socioeconomic literature. Increased literature has facilitated comprehensive assessment across a broader set of topics and sectors, with expanded coverage of human systems, adaptation, and the ocean. More


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Counting The Cost: Of Climate Change

Counting the Cost- Climate Change special

There has been some pretty extreme weather recently - is climate change the culprit? In India the cost of living is running higher than anywhere else in Asia.

Is carbon trading working, or are companies working the system and costing consumers?

As world leaders gather for the UN General Assembly and G20 summits climate change has been high on the international agenda.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Nobel Laureates Speak Out

On Wednesday, 17 Nobel laureates who gathered in Stockholm have published a remarkable memorandum, asking for “fundamental transformation and innovation in all spheres and at all scales in order to stop and reverse global environmental change”. The Stockholm Memorandum concludes that we have entered a new geological era: the Anthropocene, where humanity has become the main driver of global change. The document states:

Mario Molina signs the Stockholm Memorandum

Science makes clear that we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years. [...] We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems. We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial.

The memorandum results from a 3-day symposium (attended also by the king of Sweden) on the intertwined problems of poverty, development, ecosystem deterioration and the climate crisis. In the memorandum, the Nobel laureates call for immediate emergency measures as well as long-term structural solutions, and they give specific recommendations in eight key priority areas. For example in climate policy, they recommend to:

Keep global warming below 2ºC, implying a peak in global CO2 emissions no later than 2015 and recognise that even a warming of 2ºC carries a very high risk of serious impacts and the need for major adaptation efforts.

The memorandum was handed over to the members of the UN high-level panel on global sustainability, who traveled to Stockholm in order to discuss it with the Nobel laureates and experts at the symposium.

P.S. As a little reminder of the ongoing work of the merchants of doubt, a small band of five or six “climate sceptic” protesters were gathered outside the symposium, some of whom flown in from Berlin. Their pamphlet identified them as part of the longstanding anti-climate-science campaign of US billionaire Lyndon Larouche and claimed that climate change is “a hoax” and an “insane theory”, the global temperature measurements are “mere lies”, the Nobel laureates meeting “a conspiracy” and the Stockholm Memorandum a “Fascist Manifesto”. I approached one of the protesters who carried a banner “against Green fascism” and asked him whether he seriously believes what his pamphlet says, namely that our meeting is a “symposium for global genocide”. He nodded emphatically and replied: “Yes, of course!” More

Stockholm Memorandum signing ceremony

Signing and handing over of the Stockholm Memorandum to the UN High Level Panel on Global Sustainability.

This is Climate Change: This is Reality

IPlil Plait has been saying for a long time that to communicate science effectively, we need to connect with people. Scientists have a habit of just relaying facts to each other, since that’s how nature itself works. But people don’t work that way at all, and just reciting facts doesn’t work.

If we want to connect with people, especially over the sound and fury of the anti-science noise machine, we need to be passionate. We need to be emotional. And we need to tell the human story.

That’s exactly what it looks like Showtime is doing with its new big-budget eight-part series Years of Living Dangerously, which will show the impact of climate change on our planet. It looks phenomenal, gorgeously shot, and features journalists and celebrities who travel the world to investigate what we’re doing to our planet. Among the people in it are Jessica Alba, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lesley Stahl, and Thomas L. Friedman.

This isn’t a fluff piece, from what I can tell: Their science adviser team includes scientists Michael Mann, Katharine Hayhoe, James Hansen, and Joe Romm, among other top-flight climatologists.*

They’ve also set up a really nice website with more information, including links to the stories they cover and the science of climate change. The trailer looks great, and there’s also a version of it on YouTube: More


White House charts path to cut methane pollution

When President Obama first declared methane a critical issue, in his landmark speech at Georgetown University last June, he took a concern that had been percolating in the scientific and environmental communities and put it on the climate agenda.

At the time, there was still wide debate about whether methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, was a real issue. But the last several months has brought greater clarity with both an improved scientific understanding of the problem and an awareness of the solutions. Today’s White House announcement, which lays out the Administration’s next steps and a timeline to reduce methane emissions, adds to this momentum and is a welcome display of leadership on a critical environmental and energy security issue that requires both federal and state action.

We’ve been anxiously awaiting the internal administrative task force to finish its work and the news couldn’t come at a better time, for two reasons.

First, reducing methane pollution is an urgent environmental problem. Unburned natural gas is primarily methane. Over the first twenty years after it is released into the atmosphere, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) in trapping more heat at the Earth’s surface, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). More than one third of the warming in the next couple of decades due to current emissions will be from short-lived greenhouse gases. And these emissions are on the rise. IPCC data suggests that about 30 percent of the warming we will experience over the next 20 years as a result of this year’s greenhouse gas emissions will come from methane. Oil and gas activities are the largest industrial source of U.S. methane emissions. Hence, targeting reductions here, particularly where known solutions exist, is highly effective.

Second, addressing methane pollution is also an urgent priority for national energy security. Recent events in the Ukraine remind us of this, in that access to domestic energy resources provide a measure of security to our nation and its allies. How is it possible, then, given the strategic value of the abundance of U.S. natural gas supplies, that we allow it to be wasted through unnecessary venting, flaring and leaks? This is even more perplexing when you consider that we have the technologies necessary to avoid much of this. And further, these technologies are verycost effective to deploy and maintain, and in some cases, even save companies money because the avoided loss of natural gas bears a market value (worth between $4 and $5 today).

This is the message of a recent study by ICF International which concluded that we could reduce projected losses of natural gas over the next five years by 40 percent for less than a penny per thousand cubic feet of gas produced. To put this in context, a 40 percent reduction is the equivalent of 54 LNG tankers, every year!

Can you imagine the public outcry if the United States lost 54 LNG tankers on the high seas, every year? It would be a national crisis. And yet, that is exactly what is happening in the United States today. Fifty-four tankers worth of natural gas, literally, are vanishing into thin air. Yet, this is a problem we can afford to solve for pennies on the dollar.

So, given how important it is to the environment and national energy security to put an end to the waste of natural gas and the methane pollution it creates, today’s question isn’t why the Administration is acting to announce a national policy to reduce methane, the question is what took us so long to get started? More


Monday, March 24, 2014

Global Climate Will Cause Abrupt World Changes

If nations ignore the imminent problem of the increasing global climate, it will cause the world to endure abrupt changes that one single country is not prepared to handle.

Food and water supplies will be interrupted, the economy will diminish, millions of people will be displaced and civil unrest and violence will be triggered. The changing climate is causing permanent damage to ecosystems across the world, such as the loosening melt of Greenland, parching of the Amazon rainforest and melting of the Himalayan ice. Climate observations from around the world could prove to the naysayers that global warming is more than just a scientific theory. Many people of industrialized nations have a flat-earth view of the global climate change situation, which they think is an overreaction of tree huggers claiming the earth is warming up due to human abuse of the planet.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) composed a 29-page draft that summarizes various ways to prepare for increasing temperatures, scorching heatwaves, floods and heightened sea levels. The 29-page draft evaluates food and water shortages, extinction of animal and plant life and projects crop yield to remain the same or decline in range of up to two percent a year. More than a 100 governments and scientists will convene in Japan on March 25-29 to modify and approve the report. It will direct policies for the upcoming 2015 UN summit that is taking place in Paris, to circumvent greenhouse gas emissions. Almost 200 governments have agreed to reduce emissions from burning fossil fuels. The report outlines options for more efficient planning for catastrophes; like floods, hurricanes, efforts to cultivate drought and/or flood resistant crops and implementing practices conducive to water and energy conservation.

Another report released by several U.S. organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund, is arguing that it is hard to measure world abrupt changes caused by global climate change. The changes of nature can be determined more easily than economic impact. Computer models give a more accurate view at rising sea levels and temperature predictions than the effects of drought and floods. The loss of biodiversity is hard to calculate and famine, social chaos community displacement are caused by other factors rather than just climate change alone.

A lead scientist of the IPCC report has commented that global climate change is shifting from environmental research to real-world observations of extreme climate events and added the climate is much different from thirty or forty years ago. Such as the drought in California, which is experiencing one its driest winters ever.

The most at-risk area of the world are the coastal regions of Asia, especially those living in the cities. Experts claimed they could endure the worst effects of global warming than any other part of the world. Millions of homes can be destroyed by flood and rising sea levels and famine could wipe out a large portion of the population. Climate change in coastal Asian urban centers will break down economic and social infrastructure prompting for extreme poverty and sociopolitical conflict. The causes of the global climate are already destroying the planet, however government, businesses and individuals can slow down the process of climate warming to prevent abrupt world changes. More


Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Fork in the Road by Dr. James Hansen

We stand at a fork in the road. Conventional oil and gas supplies are limited. We can move down the path of dirtier more carbon-intensive unconventional fossil-fuels, digging up the dirtiest tar sands and tar shales, hydrofracking for gas, continued mountain-top removal and mechanized destructive long-wall coal mining. Or we can choose the alternative path of clean energies and energy efficiency.

The climate science is crystal clear. We cannot go down the path of the dirty fuels without guaranteeing that the climate system passes tipping points, leaving our children and grandchildren a situation out of their control, a situation of our making. Unstable ice sheets will lead to continually rising seas and devastation of coastal cities worldwide. A large fraction of Earth's species will be driven to extinction by the combination of shifting climate zones and other stresses. Summer heat waves, scorching droughts, and intense wildfires will become more frequent and extreme. At other times and places, the warmer water bodies and increased evaporation will power stronger storms, heavier rains, greater floods.

The economics is crystal clear. We are all better off if fossil fuels are made to pay their honest costs to society. We must collect a gradually rising fee from fossil fuel companies at the source, the domestic mine or port of entry, distributing the funds to the public on a per capita basis. This approach will provide the business community and entrepreneurs the incentives to develop clean energy and energy-efficient products, and the public will have the resources to make changes.

This approach is transparent, built on conservative principles. Not one dime to the government.

The alternative is to slake fossil fuel addiction, forcing the public to continue to subsidize fossil fuels. And hammer the public with more pollution. The public must pay the medical costs for all pollution effects. The public will pay costs caused by climate change. Fossil fuel moguls get richer, we get poorer. Our children are screwed. Our well-oiled coal-fired government pretends to not understand.

Joe Nocera is polite, but he does not understand basic economics. If a rising price is placed on carbon, the tar sands will be left in the ground where they belong. And the remarkable life and landscape of the original North American people will be preserved.

Joe Nocera quoted a private comment from a note explaining that I could not promise I would be back in New York to meet him. But he did not mention the contents of the e-mail that I sent him with information about the subject we were to discuss. The entire e-mail is copied below.

Jim Hansen



Here are some relevant words from the draft of a paper that I am working on:

Transition to a post-fossil fuel world of clean energies will not occur as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy. Fossil fuels are cheap only because they are subsidized and do not pay their costs to society. Air and water pollution from fossil fuel extraction and use have high costs in human health, food production, and natural ecosystems, with costs borne by the public. Costs of climate change and ocean acidification also are borne by the public, especially young people and future generations.

Thus the essential underlying policy, albeit not sufficient, is for emissions of CO2 to come with a price that allows these costs to be internalized within the economics of energy use. Because so much energy is used through expensive capital stock, the price should rise in a predictable way to enable people and businesses to efficiently adjust lifestyles and investments to minimize costs.

An economic analysis indicates that a tax beginning at $15/tCO2 and rising $10/tCO2 each year would reduce emissions in the U.S. by 30% within 10 years. Such a reduction is more than 10 times as great as the carbon content of tar sands oil carried by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline (830,000 barrels/day). Reduced oil demand would be nearly six times the pipeline capacity, thus rendering it superfluous

A rising carbon price is the sine qua non for fossil fuel phase out, but it is not sufficient. Investment is needed in energy RD&D (research, development and demonstration) in new technologies such as low-loss smart electric grids, electrical vehicles interacting effectively with the power grid, and energy storage for intermittent renewable energy. Nuclear power has made major contributions to climate change mitigation and mortality prevention, and advanced nuclear reactor designs can address safety, nuclear waste, and weapons proliferation issues that have limited prior use of nuclear power, but governments need to provide a regulatory environment that supports timely construction of approved designs to limit costs. etc.

Jim Hansen


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New NASA Study Warns Of Climate Change’s Pace

CAPE CANAVERAL (CBSMiami) – NASA jumped back into the discussion of global climate change Tuesday with a new study that showed Earth’s climate will experience roughly 20 percent more warming than estimates originally stated, despite a recent slowdown.

NASA said the new predictions were based on more detailed calculations of the sensitivity of Earth’s climate to factors like greenhouse gas emissions, which help warm the planet.

Global temperatures have risen at a rate of 0.22 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1951. But according to NASA, since 1998 the rate slowed to 0.09 per decade, despite an increase in some greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

Some studies have since suggested greenhouse gases may not impact Earth as much as previously thought. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agreed and slightly lowered the range of Earth’s potential warming.

The new research focused on what’s called Earth’s “transient climate response.” This measurement looks at how temperatures will change as carbon dioxide increases until the total amount of carbon dioxide has doubled.

Previous estimates put the transient climate response at anywhere from 1.8 degrees to 2.52 degrees Fahrenheit. According to NASA’s new study, the transient climate response is approximately 3.06 degrees and not likely to fall below 2.34 degrees Fahrenheit.

The study focused on looking at how aerosols from natural sources like volcanoes and wildfire combined with manufacturing activities, cars, and energy production interacted. NASA said depending on the make-up of the aerosols, some cause warming and some cause cooling.

According to the study, the Northern Hemisphere will likely see more of an impact from aerosols as most man-made aerosols are released from industrial zones north of the equator and most of Earth’s landmasses are in the Northern Hemisphere.

“I kept thinking, we know the Northern Hemisphere has a disproportionate effect, and some pollutants are unevenly distributed,” the study’s author, climatologist Drew Shindell said. “But we don’t take that into account. I wanted to quantify how much the location mattered.”

Shindell said that based on his calculations, industrialized countries must reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the higher end of proposed restrictions to avoid the most damaging consequences of climate change. More


Saturday, March 8, 2014

New report warns of “cascading system failure” caused by climate change

From roads and bridges to power plants and gas pipelines, American infrastructure is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to a pair of government reports released Thursday.

The reports are technical documents supporting the National Climate Assessment, a major review compiled by 13 government agencies that the U.S. Global Change Research Program is expected to release in April. Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory put together the reports, which warn that climate-fueled storms, flooding and droughts could cause “cascading system failures” unless there are changes made to minimize those effects. Island Press has published the full-length version of the reports, which focus on energy and infrastructure more broadly.

Thomas Wilbanks, a research fellow at Oak Ridge and the lead author and editor of the reports, said this is the first attempt to look at the climate implications across all sectors and regions. Rather than isolating specific types of infrastructure, Wilbanks said, the report looks at how “one impact can have impacts on the others.”

Previous extreme weather events, which scientists warn may be exacerbated by climate change, offer insight to the types of failures they’re talking about. For example, during Hurricane Katrina, the loss of electricity in the region meant that several major oil pipelines could not ship oil and gas for several days, and some refineries could not operate. Gas prices rose around the country.

Other scenarios include a major storm wiping out communications lines, a blackout that cuts power to sewage treatment or wastewater systems, and a weather event that damages a bridge or major highway. In the latter case, the damage would not only cost money to repair, but could cause traffic backups or delays in the shipment of goods, which could in turn have wider economic implications. As the report describes it:

A central theme of the report is that vulnerabilities and impacts are issues beyond physical infrastructures themselves. The concern is with the value of services provided by infrastructures, where the true consequences of impacts and disruptions involve not only the costs associated with the cleanup, repair, and/or replacement of affected infrastructures but also economic, social, and environmental effects as supply chains are disrupted, economic activities are suspended, and/or social well-being is threatened.

While many reports on climate change focus on the long-term impacts, looking ahead 50 or 100 years, the effects described in Thursday’s reports are the kind that cities, states, and the federal government can expect to see in the next few decades, Wilbanks said.

“There’s this crunch between vulnerability of infrastructure because it’s aging or stressed because they are so heavily used, and they’re being exposed to new threats like more frequent, extreme weather events,” says Wilbanks. All this comes at a time, Wilbanks said, where governments at every level are facing “great difficulty in coming up with public sector financing to replace or revitalize them.”

The energy report also exposes vulnerabilities in the system. It points to recent cases where heat waves caused massive spikes in energy use for cooling buildings, putting strain on the power grid. It also highlights instances where power plants were at risk of flooding, or had to shut down or scale back operations due to high temperatures and droughts.

“One quarter of existing power generation facilities are in counties associated with some type of water sustainability concern,” said David Schmalzer, coauthor of the energy-focused report. “Warmer air and water are expected to reduce the efficiency of thermal power, while hydropower and biofuels will also face increased uncertainty. Even electricity sources not dependent on water supplies, such as wind and solar power, also face increased variability, as a changing climate will potentially impact the variability of their resources.”

“Fixing infrastructure resilience problems [requires] a partnership between different levels of government, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and community groups. No one party is the best to do it all,” said Wilbanks. “What we really need is some innovative thinking about financing.” More


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Extreme weather is 'silver lining' for climate action: Christiana Figueres

Devastating extreme weather including recent flooding in England, Australia's hottest year on record and the US being hit by a polar vortex have a "silver lining" of boosting climate change to the highest level of politics and reminding politicians that climate change is not a partisan issue, according to the UN's climate chief. Christiana Figueres said that it was amoral for people to look at climate change from a politically partisan perspective, because of its impact on future generations.

The "very strange" weather experienced across the world over the last two years was a sign "we are [already] experiencing climate change," the executive secretary of the UN climate secretariat told the Guardian.

The flooding of thousands of homes in England because of the wettest winter on record has brought climate change to the forefront of political debate in the UK. The pprime minister, David Cameron, when challenged by Labour leader, Ed Miliband, on his views on man-made climate change and having climate change sceptics in his cabinet, said last week: "I believe man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that this country and this world faces."

Climate change was barely mentioned at all in the 2012 US election battle until superstorm Sandy struck New York, prompting the city's then mayor, Michael Bloomberg, to endorse Barack Obama's candidacy because he would "lead on climate change."

Figueres said: "There's no doubt that these events, that I call experiential evidence of climate change, does raise the issue to the highest political levels. It's unfortunate that we have to have these weather events, but there is a silver lining if you wish, that they remind us is solving climate change, addressing climate change in a timely way, is not a partisan issue."

She added: "We are reminded that climate change events are for everyone, they're affecting everyone, they have much, much longer effects than a political cycle. Frankly, they're intergenerational, so morally we cannot afford to look at climate change from a partisan perspective."

Figueres said that examples of recent extreme weather around the world were a sign climate change was here now. "If you take them individually you can say maybe it's a fluke. The problem is it's not a fluke and you can't take them individually. What it's doing is giving us a pattern of abnormality that's becoming the norm. These very strange extreme weather events are going to continue in their frequency and their severity … It's not that climate change is going to be here in the future, we are experiencing climate change."

Figueres was speaking in London before meeting businesses including Unilever, Lafarge and Royal Dutch Shell to urge them to put pressure on governments to take action on climate change, ahead of renewed international negotiations in Bonn next week to flesh out details of a draft climate treaty to be laid out in Lima this year and agreed in Paris at the end of 2015.

"2014 is a crucial year because of the timing of next year, [in 2015] there will be very little time work on the actual agreement. We have to frontload the work," she said.

Peru's foreign minister told the Guardian in January that the Lima meeting in December must produce a first draft of a deal to cut carbon emissions, which will be the first of its kind after efforts to get legally binding agreement for cuts from most of the world's countries failed at a blockbuster meeting in Copenhagen in 2009.

Asked if a bad deal was better than no deal next year, she said: "Paris has to reach a meaningful agreement because, frankly, we are running out of time."

But she dismissed parallels with the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, saying the frequency of extreme weather events, lower renewable energy costs and progress on climate legislation at a national level meant it was different this time round.

"I hope that we don't need too many more Sandys or Haiyans or fires in Australia or floods in the UK to wake us up. My sense is there is already much momentum.We have 66 governments that have climate legislation, we have a total of 500 laws around the world on climate, whereas before Copenhagen we only had 47."

But the grouping of the world's 47 "least developed" countries said this week that they would want far more money to adapt their economies to climate change than the $100bn a year that been so far proposed by rich countries.

"We will want more than the $100bn to agree to a new Paris protocol," said Quamrul Choudhury, a lead negotiator for the group which includes many African and Asian countries. "On top of that we will want a legal mechanism to compensate for 'loss and damage' [compensation for extreme climate change events]. There should definitely be some space in the [final] treaty for that," he said in London.

He called on rich countries to compromise. "The battle lines are drawn. Everyone wants to defend their country and nobody will give an inch, but everyone has to make some sacrifice or we won't have a deal. We need high-level political commitment to raise ambition."

Choudhury, who is also Bangladesh's climate envoy to the United Nations, met British climate negotiators ahead of the Bonn talks. "I am optimistic that the world can avoid another diplomatic disaster like Copenhagen in 2009. There have been major changes since then. In 2008-09 we knew it would be very expensive to reduce emissions. Now we know it does not cost very much. It's not expensive, not a Herculean task. Countries like the UK know they can reduce emissions by 65% without it costing very much at all.

"But even if we have an ambitious mitigation target [to cut emissions] adaptation must be the cornerstone of a new treaty. This is not a zero-sum game. If we treat it like that there will be no Paris protocol," he said.

Figueres later agreed that the $100m proposed in 2009 as compensation for poor countries would not be enough for them to build defences and adapt their economies. "It was a figure plucked from a hat … $100bn is not enough [to meet] the mitigation and not at all for the adaptation costs. The International Energy Agency has suggested it may cost $1 trillion over 25 years just for adaptation. $100bn is a freckle on the map of what needs to be invested."

A major UN climate science panel report to be published at the end of this month will spell out the impacts of climate change on humanity and the natural world.Leaked versions of the report say agricultural production will decline by up to 2% every decade for the rest of the 21st century. More