People's Stories Freedom

A Very Grim Forecast
by NYT, Guardian News, Nature, agencies
9 Dec. 2018
The end of the first week of the UN climate talks – known as COP24 – in Katowice, Poland, has been mired by protracted debate over whether the conference should “welcome” or “note” a key report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The IPCC’s 1.5 degree report by the world''s leading climate scientists warned the world has to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5C to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change, including a dramatically increased risk of drought, flood, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
The UN climate conference commissioned the IPCC report, but when that body went to “welcome” the report’s findings and commit to continuing its work, four nations – the US, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia, all major oil and gas producers – refused to accept the wording, insisting instead that the convention simply “note” the findings.
Many of the world’s countries spoke out in fierce opposition to the oil allies’ position. The push to adopt the wording “welcome” was led by the Maldives, leader of the alliance of small island states. They were backed by a broad swathe of support, including from the EU, the bloc of 47 least developed countries, the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean, African, Latin American and European nations, and Pacific countries.
Dr Bill Hare, the managing director of Climate Analytics and a lead author on previous IPCC reports, told the Guardian News agency: ''the interests of the fossil fuel industry were seeking to thwart the conference’s drive towards larger emissions cuts.. The fossil fuel interest – coal, oil and gas are campaigning against the IPCC 1.5 report and science continues to play out in the climate talks, but even those countries [opposing welcoming the report] are being hit by the impacts of only one degree of warming.
“The big challenge now is for the Polish presidency to set aside its obsession with coal, get out of the way and allow full acknowledgement of the IPCC 1.5C report, and its implications for increasing the ambition of all countries, in the conclusion of COP24 later this week.”
The Washington Post, noted the United States joined the controversial proposal by Saudi Arabia and Russia this weekend to weaken the reference to the IPCC report on the severity of global warming, sharpening battle lines at the global climate summit in Poland aimed at gaining consensus over how to combat rising temperatures.
''Arguments erupted Saturday night before a United Nations working group focused on science and technology, where the United States teamed with Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to challenge language that would have welcomed the findings of the landmark report, which said that the world has barely 10 years to cut carbon emissions by nearly half to avoid catastrophic warming''.
“There was going to be an agreement to welcome the report,” said Jake Schmidt, the managing director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s international program. “The U.S. wanted to ‘note’ it, which is saying in essence that we know it’s out there but we have no comment.”
The U.S. position lines up with the views of the Trump administration, which is plowing ahead with a raft of aggressive policies on coal power and oil exploration that are likely to worsen the effects of climate change — steamrolling over dire environmental warnings issued by the administration’s own team of experts in a major report just two weeks ago.
In 2015, as countries of the world negotiated the Paris climate agreement, they asked the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to produce a report in 2018 “on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.”
“The fact that nations are spending so much time on minor wording issues while the science finds increasing risk of catastrophe has to be seen as a metaphor for how inadequate the global response to the climate challenge has been,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton climate adviser who is in Poland. “It also shows that the lack of U.S. leadership has massive costs to global ambition.”
Last year, Donald Trump revealed his intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement, provoking immediate condemnation across the United States and the rest of the world. Within a few months of that announcement, all other countries had signed on to the accord, leaving the U.S. as the sole nation opposed to it.
Efforts by the U.S. and others on Saturday to block global support for the IPCC report raised immediate concern and frustration among U.S. climate experts.
"I think it was a key moment," Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) told the Associated Press. "The fact that a group of four countries are trying to diminish the value and importance of a scientific report they themselves, with all other countries, requested three years ago in Paris is pretty remarkable."
"It''s really an embarrassment for the world''s leading scientific superpower to be in this position of having to disbelieve a report that was written by the world''s scientific community including a large number of pre-eminent U.S. scientists," he said.
Meyer, who has tracked climate negotiations for many years, didn''t just lay blame on the U.S. though. He also noted that "the Saudis with their sidekicks the Kuwaitis have long been troublemakers in this in this process."
"We''ve seen this story before—a small number of bad actors who, in essence, are conspiring to prevent the implementation of an agreement where there''s otherwise support among the rest of the world''s nations—in this case, the conclusion that we need to keep warming below one-and-a-half degrees Celsius, and that requires substantial reductions in carbon emissions over the next 10 or 12 years," Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann said in an interview with BBC News.
That a small group of countries is sabotaging the motion to welcome the study seem to be "focused on their own short-term financial interests at the expense of the larger interests of this planet," said Mann reiterating the need for, among other changes, a swift global transition to renewable energy to stabilize warming "below catastrophic levels."
Rueanna Haynes, a delegate for St. Kitts and Nevis, told her fellow diplomatic representatives during the plenary that it was "ludicrous" to not welcome the IPCC''s warnings. "It''s very frustrating that we are not able to take into account the report''s findings: we are talking about the future of the world—it sounds like hyperbole when I say it, but that''s how serious it is".
Global warming is already bringing serious hunger threats around the world, from melting glaciers that threaten water supplies in South Asia to failing crops in Central America, climate experts said at a conference on the sidelines of U.N. talks in Poland on Saturday.
“No degree of global warming is safe. Even at one degree of warming we’re seeing consequences for people, nature and livelihoods,” said Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the report by the IPCC, on holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The risks rise significantly with each additional bit of warming, she noted. For example, there will be 50 percent fewer people vulnerable to running low on water at 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming versus 2 degrees – the two limits set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change.
In the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region of Asia, 1.5 degrees of warming would set in motion the melting of a quarter of glacier ice, while 2 degrees would melt half the region’s ice, said Bruce Currie-Alder, who works on climate adaptation efforts in Africa and Asia for Canada’s International Development Research Centre. “What are the implications for the one-seventh of humanity who live downstream, in terms of water security?” he asked.
Veronica Rivera of the Guatemalan Red Cross Society said that in her country, corn has long been the nation’s staple food. But hotter and more extreme weather associated with climate change is making growing the crop much harder. “If the corn crop is going to have difficulties, the Guatemalan people are going to have them too,” she said.
Sylvie Wabbes-Candotti, of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, said around the world hunger and malnutrition are on the rise again, because of the quickening pace of climate change-related weather shocks that hurt crops and give farmers little time to recover.
* IPCC Summary (34pp):
Nov. 2018
US National Climate Assessment details climate change multiple negative impacts.
The influence of climate change is being felt across the US with increases in disastrous wildfires in the west, flooding on the east coast, soil loss in the midwest and coastal erosion in Alaska, according to the US National Climate Assessment.
“The impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic wellbeing are rising”. Climate change-related risks “will continue to grow without additional action”.
The National Climate Assessment is the combined work of 13 federal agencies. The report states that Global temperatures could be limited to 2C above pre-industrial era if greenhouse gas emissions are slashed but “without significant reductions, annual average global temperatures could increase by 9F (5C) or more by the end of this century”.
"Climate change creates new risks and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities in communities across the United States, presenting growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, and the rate of economic growth. The impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country. More frequent and intense extreme weather and climate-related events, as well as changes in average climate conditions, are expected to continue to damage infrastructure, ecosystems, and social systems that provide essential benefits to communities''.
''Future climate change is expected to further disrupt many areas of life, exacerbating existing challenges to prosperity posed by aging and deteriorating infrastructure, stressed ecosystems, and economic inequality. Impacts within and across regions will not be distributed equally.
People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalized communities, have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts. Prioritizing adaptation actions for the most vulnerable populations would contribute to a more equitable future within and across communities''.
''Global action to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions can substantially reduce climate-related risks and increase opportunities for these populations in the longer term''.
Even 2C warming is likely to have major ramifications for societies, as the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report underlined. Heating the planet beyond this would create a “totally different world”, says Michael Oppenheimer, a climate scientist at Princeton University.
“It would be indescribable, it would turn the world upside down in terms of its climate. There would be nothing like it in the history of civilization.”
The National Climate Assessment warns that the current response is insufficient to stave off the worst impacts, stating that “neither global efforts to mitigate the causes of climate change nor regional efforts to adapt to the impacts currently approach the scales needed to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health and well-being over the coming decades”.
Michael Oppenheimer says, “Climate change is loading the dice against us, it’s going to affect our water, food and ecosystems. This report is important because it shows it’s already happening where we live, not on far off islands or at the poles.”
The summary of the report states the “earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future.”
Average sea levels along the US coast have increased by around 9 inches since the early 20th century as the oceans have warmed and land ice has melted.
Human health and public safety is being “transformed and degraded due in part to climate change impacts, particularly sea level rise and higher numbers of extreme weather events”.. “More frequent and larger wildfires, portend increasing risks to property and human life” .
More than 100m people in the US live in places with poor air quality and climate change will “worsen existing air pollution levels”.
Major groundwater supplies have declined over the last century, with this decrease accelerating since 2001. “Significant changes in water quantity and quality are evident across the country,” the report finds.
Climate change will “disrupt many areas of life” by hurting the US economy, affecting trade and exacerbating overseas conflicts. Low-income and marginalized communities will be worst hit.
The national climate assessment is mandated by Congress to compile the latest research on climate change. The last report came out in 2014. Donald Trump has since announced the US will withdraw from the Paris climate deal, with his administration working to dismantle every major policy designed at lowering emissions.
* Access the report:
After Paris: countries are not paying their fair share. (Civil Society Review)
A review of climate targets and commitments by each country has been released during the UN climate conference taking place in Poland. The independent review is supported by social movements, environmental and development NGOs, trade unions, faith and other civil society groups from the world over and measures the ‘fair share’ that each country should shoulder in terms of capacity and historical responsibility to reverse climate change.
It also finds that the global distribution of wealth provides an excellent lens by which to understand national fair shares – the richest ten percent of the global population receives 52 percent of the global income, and so has the great preponderance of the global capacity.
With the talks reaching consensus that the world is at a crossroads, this critical report After Paris: inequality, fair shares, and the climate emergency finds: The total of all current pledges doesn’t come close to a future consistent with a 1.5°C pathway.
Wealthier countries are falling far short of pledging their fair shares of the necessary global action. While many poorer countries are pledging action on scale with their fair shares, without support, they will not be able to ramp up their ambition fast enough. The Paris Agreement is not delivering the radically scaled-up action needed.
The report breaks new ground in putting inequality within countries at the center of its equity analysis, while at the same time keeping the spotlight on inequity between countries.
By so doing, it provides new insights into the climate challenge, particularly as we experience it today, with inequality and insecurity in the wealthy countries feeding a new and dangerous right-wing populism. The report highlights that when the poorest half of the world receives less than one-tenth of the global total income, many surviving on less than $2 per day and generating almost no emissions, it follows that they cannot be equally asked to shoulder the burden of climate action.
It also breaks new ground by tackling the fair shares challenge in the light of the IPCC’s recent report on the 1.5C temperature target. It leverages one of the IPCC’s key pathways, and uses it to show that – given the tremendous level of ambition that is now needed – equity will be decisive.
Despite this, and despite the fact that equity is a core principle in the UN process to agree a new global climate deal, countries have no equity benchmarks by which to measure the fairness of their own and other countries pledges. This report takes important steps in filling this gap.
Nov. 2018
A Very Grim Forecast, by Bill McKibben. (New York Review of Books)
Though it was published at the beginning of October, Global Warming of 1.5°C, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is a document with its origins in another era, one not so distant from ours but politically an age apart. To read it makes you weep not just for our future but for our present.
The report was prepared at the request of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the end of the Paris climate talks in December 2015. The agreement reached in Paris pledged the signatories to: holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
The mention of 1.5 degrees Celsius was unexpected; that number had first surfaced six years earlier at the unsuccessful Copenhagen climate talks, when representatives of low-lying island and coastal nations began using the slogan “1.5 to Stay Alive,” arguing that the long-standing red line of a two-degree increase in temperature likely doomed them to disappear under rising seas.
Other highly vulnerable nations made the same case about droughts and floods and storms, because it was becoming clear that scientists had been underestimating how broad and deadly the effects of climate change would be. (So far we’ve raised the global average temperature just one degree, which has already brought about changes now readily observable.)
The pledges made by nations at the Paris conference were not enough to meet even the two-degree target. If every nation fulfills those pledges, the global temperature will still rise by about 3.5 degrees Celsius, which everyone acknowledged goes far beyond any definition of safety. But the hope was that the focus and goodwill resulting from the Paris agreement would help get the transition to alternative energy sources underway, and that once nations began installing solar panels and wind turbines they’d find it easier and cheaper than they had expected. They could then make stronger pledges as the process continued.
“Impossible isn’t a fact; it’s an attitude,” said Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who deserves much of the credit for putting together the agreement. “Ideally,” said Philip A. Wallach, a Brookings Institution fellow, the Paris agreement would create “a virtuous cycle of ambitious commitments, honestly reported progress to match, and further commitments following on those successes.”
To some extent this is precisely what has happened. The engineers have continued to make remarkable advances, and the price of a kilowatt generated by the sun or wind has continued to plunge—so much so that these are now the cheapest sources of power across much of the globe. Battery storage technology has progressed too; the fact that the sun goes down at night is no longer the obstacle to solar power many once presumed. And so vast quantities of renewable technology have been deployed, most notably in China and India.
Representatives of cities and states from around the world gathered in San Francisco in September for a miniature version of the Paris summit and made their own pledges: California, the planet’s fifth-largest economy, promised to be carbon-neutral by 2045. Electric cars are now being produced in significant numbers, and the Chinese have deployed a vast fleet of electric buses.
But those are bright spots against a very dark background. In retrospect, Paris in December 2015 may represent a high-water mark for the idea of an interconnected human civilization. Within nine weeks of the conference Donald Trump had won his first primary; within seven months the UK had voted for Brexit, both weakening and distracting the EU, which has been the most consistent global champion of climate action.
Since then the US, the largest carbon emitter since the start of the Industrial Revolution, has withdrawn from the Paris agreement, and the president’s cabinet members are busy trying to revive the coal industry and eliminate effective oversight and regulation of the oil and gas business. The prime minister of Australia, the world’s biggest coal exporter, is now Scott Morrison, a man famous for bringing a chunk of coal into Parliament and passing it around so everyone could marvel at its greatness. Canada—though led by a progressive prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who was crucial in getting the 1.5-degree target included in the Paris agreement—has nationalized a pipeline in an effort to spur more production from its extremely polluting Alberta oil sands.
Brazil has elecedt a man who has promised not only to withdraw from the Paris agreement but to remove protections from the Amazon and open the rainforest to cattle ranchers. It is no wonder that the planet’s carbon emissions, which had seemed to plateau in mid-decade, are again on the rise: preliminary figures indicate that a new record will be set in 2018.
This is the backdrop against which the IPCC report arrives, written by ninety-one scientists from forty countries. It is a long and technical document—five hundred pages, drawing on six thousand studies—and as badly written as all the other IPCC grand summaries over the years, thanks in no small part to the required vetting of each sentence of the executive summary by representatives of the participating countries. (Saudi Arabia apparently tried to block some of the most important passages at the last moment during a review meeting, particularly, according to reports, the statement emphasizing “the need for sharp reductions in the use of fossil fuels.” The rest of the conclave threatened to record the objection in a footnote; “it was a game of chicken, and the Saudis blinked first,” one participant said.) For most readers, the thirty-page “Summary for Policymakers” will be sufficiently dense and informative.
The takeaway messages are simple enough: to keep warming under 1.5 degrees, global carbon dioxide emissions will have to fall by 45 percent by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. We should do our best to meet this challenge, the report warns, because allowing the temperature to rise two degrees (much less than the 3.5 we’re currently on pace for) would cause far more damage than 1.5. At the lower number, for instance, we’d lose 70 to 90 percent of coral reefs. Half a degree higher and that loss rises to 99 percent.
The burden of climate change falls first and heaviest on the poorest nations, who of course have done the least to cause the crisis. At two degrees, the report contends, there will be a “disproportionately rapid evacuation” of people from the tropics. As one of its authors told The New York Times, “in some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant. You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and one million people, but not 10 million.”
The report provides few truly new insights for those who have been paying attention to the issue. In fact, because the IPCC is such a slave to consensus, and because its slow process means that the most recent science is never included in its reports, this one almost certainly understates the extent of the problem.
Its estimates of sea-level rise are on the low end—researchers are increasingly convinced that melting in Greenland and the Antarctic is proceeding much faster than expected—and it downplays fears, bolstered by recent research, that the system of currents bringing warm water to the North Atlantic has begun to break down.
As the chemist Mario Molina, who shared the Nobel Prize in 1995 for discovering the threat posed by chlorofluorocarbon gases to the ozone layer, put it, “the IPCC understates a key risk: that self-reinforcing feedback loops could push the climate system into chaos before we have time to tame our energy system.”
All in all, though, the world continues to owe the IPCC a great debt: scientists have once again shown that they can agree on a broad and workable summary of our peril and deliver it in language that, while clunky, is clear enough that headline writers can make sense of it. (Those who try, anyway. An analysis of the fifty biggest US newspapers showed that only twenty-two of them bothered to put a story about the report on the homepages of their websites.)
The problem is that action never follows: the scientists do their job, but even the politicians not controlled by the fossil fuel industry tend to punt or to propose small-bore changes too slow and cautious to make much difference. By far the most important change between this and the last big IPCC report, in 2014, is simply that four years have passed, meaning that the curve we’d need to follow to cut our emissions sufficiently has grown considerably steeper. Instead of the relatively gentle trajectory that would have been required if we had paid attention in 1995, the first time the IPCC warned us that global warming was real and dangerous, we’re at the point where even an all-out effort would probably be too slow. As the new report concedes, there is “no documented historical precedent” for change at the speed that the science requires.
There’s one paramount reason we didn’t heed those earlier warnings, and that’s the power of the fossil fuel industry. Since the last IPCC report, a series of newspaper exposés has made it clear that the big oil companies knew all about climate change even before it became a public issue in the late 1980s, and that, instead of owning up to that knowledge, they sponsored an enormously expensive campaign to obfuscate the science.
That campaign is increasingly untenable. In a world where floods, fires, and storms set new records almost weekly, the industry now concentrates on trying to slow the inevitable move to renewable energy and preserve its current business model as long as possible.
After the release of the IPCC report, for instance, Exxon pledged $1 million to work toward a carbon tax. That’s risible—Exxon made $280 billion in the last decade, and it has donated huge sums to elect a Congress that won’t pass a carbon tax anytime soon; oil companies are spending many millions of dollars to defeat a carbon tax on the ballot in Washington State and to beat back bans on fracking in Colorado.
Even if a carbon tax somehow made it past the GOP, the amount Exxon says it wants—$40 a ton—is tiny compared to what the IPCC’s analysts say would be required to make a real dent in the problem. And in return the proposed legislation would relieve the oil companies of all liability for the havoc they’ve caused. A bargain that might have made sense a generation ago no longer counts for much.
Given the grim science, it’s a fair question whether anything can be done to slow the planet’s rapid warming. (One Washington Post columnist went further, asking, “Why bother to bear children in a world wracked by climate change?”) The phrase used most since the report’s release was “political will,” usually invoked earnestly as the missing ingredient that must somehow be conjured up. Summoning sufficient political will to blunt the power of Exxon and Shell seems unlikely.
As the energy analyst David Roberts predicted recently on Twitter, “the increasing severity of climate impacts will not serve as impetus to international cooperation, but the opposite. It will empower nationalists, isolationists, & reactionaries.”
Anyone wondering what he’s talking about need merely look at the Western reaction to the wave of Syrian refugees fleeing a civil war sparked in part by the worst drought ever measured in that region.
The stakes are so high, though, that we must still try to do what we can to change those odds. And it’s not an entirely impossible task. Nature is a good organizer: the relentless floods and storms and fires have gotten Americans’ attention, and the percentage of voters who acknowledge that global warming is a threat is higher than ever before, and the support for solutions is remarkably nonpartisan: 93 percent of Democrats want more solar farms; so do 84 percent of Republicans.
The next Democratic primary season might allow a real climate champion to emerge who would back what the rising progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called a “Green New Deal”; in turn a revitalized America could theoretically help lead the planet back to sanity. But for any of that to happen, we need a major shift in our thinking, strong enough to make the climate crisis a center of our political life rather than a peripheral question easily avoided. (There were no questions at all about climate change in the 2016 presidential debates.)
The past year has offered a few signs that such large-scale changes are coming. In October, the attorney general for New York State filed suit against ExxonMobil, claiming the company defrauded shareholders by downplaying the risks of climate change. In January New York City joined the growing fossil fuel divestment campaign, pledging to sell off the oil and gas shares in its huge pension portfolio; Mayor Bill de Blasio is working with London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, to convince their colleagues around the world to do likewise. In July Ireland became the first nation to join the campaign, helping to take the total funds involved to over $6 trillion.
This kind of pressure on investors needs to continue: as the IPCC report says, if the current flows of capital into fossil fuel projects were diverted to solar and wind power, we’d be closing in on the sums required to transform the world’s energy systems.
It’s natural following devastating reports like this one to turn to our political leaders for a response. But in an era when politics seems at least temporarily broken, and with a crisis that has a time limit, civil society may need to pressure the business community at least as heavily to divest their oil company shares, to stop underwriting and insuring new fossil fuel projects, and to dramatically increase the money available for clean energy. We’re running out of options, and we’re running out of decades.
Over and over we’ve gotten scientific wake-up calls, and over and over we’ve hit the snooze button. If we keep doing that, climate change will no longer be a problem, because calling something a problem implies there’s still a solution.
Nov. 2018
How climate change will cause more simultaneous disasters. (New York Times)
Global warming is posing such wide-ranging risks to humanity, involving so many types of phenomena, that by the end of this century some parts of the world could face as many as six climate-related crises at the same time, researchers say.
This chilling prospect is described in a paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change, a respected academic journal, that shows the effects of climate change across a broad spectrum of problems, including heat waves, wildfires, sea level rise, hurricanes, flooding, drought and shortages of clean water.
Such problems are already coming in combination, said the lead author, Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He noted that Florida had recently experienced extreme drought, record high temperatures and wildfires — and also Hurricane Michael, the powerful Category 4 storm that slammed into the Panhandle last month. Similarly, California is suffering through the worst wildfires the state has ever seen, as well as drought, extreme heat waves and degraded air quality that threatens the health of residents.
Things will get worse, the authors wrote. The paper projects future trends and suggests that, by 2100, unless humanity takes forceful action to curb the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, some tropical coastal areas of the planet, like the Atlantic coast of South and Central America, could be hit by as many as six crises at a time.
That prospect is "like a terror movie that is real," Dr. Mora said.
The authors include a list of caveats about the research: there is also a margin of uncertainty involved in discerning the imprint of climate change from natural variability.
New York can expect to be hit by four climate crises at a time by 2100 if carbon emissions continue at their current pace, the study says, but if emissions are cut significantly that number could be reduced to one. The troubled regions of the coastal tropics could see their number of concurrent hazards reduced from six to three.
The paper explores the ways that climate change intensifies hazards and describes the interconnected nature of such crises. Greenhouse gas emissions, by warming the atmosphere, can enhance drought in places that are normally dry, “ripening conditions for wildfires and heat waves,” the researchers say. In wetter areas, a warmer atmosphere retains more moisture and strengthens downpours, while higher sea levels increase storm surge and warmer ocean waters can contribute to the overall destructiveness of storms.
In a scientific world marked by specialization and siloed research, this multidisciplinary effort by 23 authors reviewed more than 3,000 papers on various effects of climate change. The authors determined 467 ways in which those changes in climate affect human physical and mental health, food security, water availability, infrastructure and other facets of life on Earth.
The paper concludes that traditional research into one element of climate change and its effects can miss the bigger picture of interrelation and risk.
Climate change also has different ramifications for the world’s haves and have-nots, the authors found: "The largest losses of human life during extreme climatic events occurred in developing nations, whereas developed nations commonly face a high economic burden of damages and requirements for adaptation."
People are not generally attuned to dealing with problems like climate change, Dr. Mora said. "We as humans don’t feel the pain of people who are far away or far into the future," he said. "We normally care about people who are close to us or that are impacting us, or things that will happen tomorrow."
And so, he said, people tend to look at events far in the future and tell themselves, "We can deal with these things later, we have more pressing problems now.” But, he added, this research “documented how bad this already is."
The paper includes an interactive map of the various hazards under different emissions scenarios for any location in the world, produced by Esri, which develops geographic information systems. "We see that climate change is literally redrawing the lines on the map, and revealing the threats that our world faces at every level," said Dawn Wright, the company’s chief scientist.
Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the paper, said it underscored the urgency for action to curb the effects of climate change and showed that "the costs of inaction greatly outweigh the costs of taking action."
Dr. Mann published a recent paper suggesting that climate change effects on the jet stream are contributing to a range of extreme summer weather events, such as heat waves in North America, Europe and Asia, wildfires in California and flooding in Japan. The new study, he said, dovetails with that research, and "is, if anything, overly conservative" — that is, it may underestimate the threats and costs associated with human-caused climate change.
A co-author of the new paper, Kerry Emanuel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hailed its interdisciplinary approach. "There’s more than one kind of risk out there," he said, but scientists tend to focus on their area of research. "Nations, societies in general, have to deal with multiple hazards, and it’s important to put the whole picture together."
Like military leaders developing the capability to fight wars on more than one front, governments have to be ready to face more than one climate crisis at a time, Dr. Emanuel said.
Dr. Mora said he had considered writing a book or a movie that would reflect the frightening results of the research. His working title, which describes how dire the situation is for humanity, is unprintable here. His alternate title, he said, is "We Told You So".
Nov. 2018
Long term policies of China, Russia and Canada threaten dangerous 5C climate change, study finds, by Jonathan Watts Global environment editor for Guardain News
China, Russia and Canada’s current climate policies would drive the world above a catastrophic 5C of warming by the end of the century, according to a study that ranks the climate goals of different countries.
The US and Australia are only slightly behind with both pushing the global temperature rise dangerously over 4C above pre-industrial levels says the paper, while even the EU, which is usually seen as a climate leader, is on course to more than double the 1.5C that scientists say is a moderately safe level of heating.
The study, published on Friday in the journal Nature Communications, assesses the relationship between each nation’s ambition to cut emissions and the temperature rise that would result if the world followed their example.
The aim of the paper is to inform climate negotiators as they begin a two-year process of ratcheting up climate commitments, which currently fall far short of the 1.5-to-2C goal set in France three years ago.
The related website also serves as a guide to how nations are sharing the burden of responding to the greatest environmental threat humankind has ever faced.
Less developed countries are generally more ambitious, in part because they have fewer factories, power plants and cars, which means they have lower emissions to rein in.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are the industrial powerhouse China and major energy exporters who are doing almost nothing to limit carbon dioxide emissions. These include Saudi Arabia (oil), Russia (gas) and Canada, which is drawing vast quantities of dirty oil from tar sands. Fossil fuel lobbies in these countries are so powerful that government climate pledges are very weak, setting the world on course for more than 5C of heating by the end of the century.
Only slightly better are the group of countries that are pushing the planet beyond 4C. Among them are the US, which has huge emissions from energy, industry and agriculture somewhat offset by promises of modest cuts and more renewables. Australia, which remains heavily dependent on coal exports, is also in this category.
The wealthy shopping societies of Europe fare slightly better – largely because emissions on products are calculated at the source of manufacture rather than the point of consumption – but the authors of the paper say their actions lag behind their promises to set a positive example.
“It is interesting is to see how far out some countries are, even those that are considered leaders in the climate mitigation narrative,” said the study’s author, Yann Robiou du Pont of Melbourne University.
The study is likely to be controversial. Under the Paris agreement, there is no top-down consensus on what is a fair share of responsibility. Instead each nation sets its own bottom-up targets according to a number of different factors, including political will, level of industrialisation, ability to pay, population size, historical responsibility for emissions. Almost every government, the authors say, selects an interpretation of equity that serves their own interests and allows them to achieve a relative gain on other nations.
To get around these differing concepts of fairness, the paper assesses each nation by the least stringent standards they set themselves and then extrapolates this to the world. In doing so, the authors say they can “operationalise disagreements”.
Taking account of the different interpretations, they say the world needs to commit to a virtual 1.4C target in order to achieve a 2C goal. They hope their equity metric can be used in next month’s UN climate talks in Katowice and in climate litigation cases.
The authors said the study could in future be extended to the subnational level, such as individual US states. They also note that a few key sectors are currently omitted, including land-use change (which is fundamental in rapidly deforesting nations such as Brazil, Argentina and Indonesia), international shipping and aviation.
Although the study highlights the huge gap between political will and scientific alarm, Robiou du Pont said it should inspire rather than dispirit people.
“The positive outcome of this study is that we have a metric to assess the ratcheting up of ambition. Civil society, experts and decision-makers can use this to hold their governments accountable, and possibly undertake climate litigation cases as happened recently in the Netherlands,” he said.
“This metric translates the lack of ambition on a global scale to a national scale. If we look at the goal of trying to avoid damage to the Earth, then I am pessimistic as this is already happening. But this should be a motivation to ratchet up ambition and avoid global warming as much and as rapidly as possible. Every fraction of a degree will have a big impact.”
Commenting on the study, other academics said it could be used by anyone to show how climate action can be navigated in a world in which each country ranks itself based on what they consider to be fair.
“This paper provides a means for countries to check how their contribution might be perceived by other countries and thus judge whether they are perceived as a climate leader or laggard,” said Joeri Rogelj of Imperial College London.


The Syrian war should never have been allowed to spiral out of control
by Jan Egeland
Reuters, agencies
Governments must never again use fighting terrorism as a pretext to flatten cities and stoke war as they did in Syria, Jan Egeland told Reuters on Thursday (Nov. 29) as he stepped down from his role as the UN humanitarian adviser on Syria.
The war should never have been allowed to spiral out of control, but after the missed peace plan opportunity of Kofi Annan in 2012, the war worsened and the belligerents blamed “terrorism” for tactics that broke the rules of war, he said.
“Too many said that since we’re fighting terrorists we are allowed to smash the whole place – to me that is a violation of every humanitarian principle,” Egeland said. “The war on terror needs to be reexamined.”
Branding all opponents as terrorists made it harder to negotiate, to do humanitarian work and to protect civilians. But Russia, the United States, Turkey, the Gulf countries, Iran and Israel all claimed to be fighting terrorism, Egeland said.
“They are in some sort of a power play and many of them seem then to think they do not need to follow humanitarian law of armed conflict as they would in normal cases because they are fighting such despicable terrorists.”
Syrian cities had been leveled like the World War Two battlegrounds of Dresden and Stalingrad. But a widow with five children in Idlib should not be killed just because “terrorists” had moved in next door, he said. “She should be helped.”
Egeland said although humanitarian workers had managed a huge aid operation, they had failed to shield civilians.
“There has to be an understanding that, listen, we played with a powder keg here, it went off, the civilians paid an enormous price, we learn from this now and we work together to build reconciliation.”
The people who did the killing should be not escape justice, but they all had sponsors, Egeland said.
“There was never a lack of arms, never a lack of military supplies, never a lack of cheerleaders on either side.”
The seven years of war, in which hundreds of thousands have died, has been accompanied by a faltering UN peace process that has achieved nothing despite having unanimous support from the UN Security Council.
* Access Jan Egland''s twitter feed via the link below.

Visit the related web page

View more stories

Submit a Story Search by keyword and country Guestbook