The Carbon Clock Is Ticking: We Have One Year to Avert Climate Catastrophe
Posted on January 11, 2017 by GJEP staff
By Nika Knight
Originally published on CommonDreams.org
Our window of time to act on climate may be shrinking even faster than previously thought.
We may only have one year remaining before we lock in 1.5ºC of warming—the ideal goal outlined in the Paris climate agreement—after which we’ll see catastrophic and irreversible climate shifts, many experts have warned.
That’s according to the ticking carbon budget clock created by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC). The clock’s countdown now shows that only one year is left in the world’s carbon budget before the planet heats up more than 1.5º over pre-industrial temperatures.
The current carbon budget countdown, as of January 10, 2017. (Screenshot: MCC)
That’s under the most pessimistic calculations. According to the most optimistic prediction, we have four years to kick our carbon habit and avert 1.5º of warming.
And to limit warming to 2ºC—the limit agreed upon in the Paris climate accord—we have nine years to act under the most pessimistic scenario, and 23 years to act under the most optimistic.
“So far, there is no track record for reducing emissions globally,” explained Fabian Löhe, spokesperson for MCC, in an email to Common Dreams. “Instead, greenhouse gas emissions have been rising at a faster pace during the last decade than previously—despite growing awareness and political action across the globe. Once we have exhausted the carbon budget, every ton of CO2 that is released by cars, buildings, or industrial plants would need to be compensated for during the 21st century by removing the CO2 from the atmosphere again. Generating such ‘negative emissions’ is even more challenging and we do not know today at which scale we might be able to do that.”
(Climate activists and environmentalists have also long warned of the potential negative consequences of geoengineering and other carbon capture schemes, as Common Dreams has reported.)
“Hence, the clock shows that time is running out: it is not enough to act sometime in the future, but it is necessary to implement more ambitious climate policies already in the very short-term,” Löhe added.
“Take all of the most difficult features of individual pathways to 2ºC—like fast and ambitious climate action in all countries of the world, the full availability of all required emissions reduction and carbon removal technologies, as well as aggressive energy demand reductions across the globe—the feasibility of which were so heatedly debated prior to Paris,” Löhe said. “This gives you an idea of the challenge associated with the more ambitious 1.5°C goal.”
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The last time Marrakech, Morocco, hosted an international climate conference in 2001, negotiators were coming together to discuss how to carry out a climate change treaty, the U.S. had a Republican president, and the new administration had “no interest” in implementing a deal that had been signed by a Democrat.
Negotiators, back in Marrakech for COP22, faced a similar crisis the last two weeks: They began work on the eve of the U.S. election to discuss implementing the climate change agreement reached last year in Paris. Then the election results came in and sent shock waves through the proceedings, as Donald Trump has vowed to yank the United States from the agreement.
But the Marrakech conference’s outcome serves as a reminder that the world isn’t exactly where it was 15 years ago. Working early into the morning Saturday, international delegates aimed to send an unambiguous signal with the final text: countries will push forward.
“Country after country here in Marrakech made it crystal clear over the last week,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “They intend to implement and strengthen the Paris Agreement.”
Negotiators agreed on a time frame to map out a rulebook that moves forward on Paris. There were more pledges to remain committed to climate action — the usual fanfare — and some signs that countries, cities, and private companies will stay the course on climate action.
Still, negotiators pushed off essential decisions on finance and transparency until their 2018 meeting in Poland, when Trump administration officials may or may not be there to derail talks.
For the time being, global progress on climate change seems like it’s best measured by diplomats’ plans to make plans.
The conference in Morocco technically included the first Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, because the agreement entered into force in early November, years earlier than expected. For climate negotiators that was reason enough to celebrate in Marrakech.
“This COP is first and foremost about a celebration of the entry into force and convening of the first meeting of the parties,” said Elina Bardram, head of the European Union delegation. That excitement yielded the Marrakech Proclamation, a document that basically says countries will follow through on promises, and the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, an alliance of private and public parties to drive action in the years leading up to 2020. Both passionately reiterate the global commitment to the Paris Agreement.
After delegates quit popping champagne and quaking over the U.S. election, they agreed on a few preliminary commitments to work on for the next two years.
If the U.S. quits the Paris climate deal, or even the United Nations climate change body at large, it will leave a leadership vacuum. At COP22, there were already signs other countries are prepared to fill the void. Notably, China has stepped forward. Last week a Chinese foreign minister in Marrakech rebuked Trump’s claim that China invented the climate change hoax, pointing to leadership from Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush on international climate talks before China was even involved. The head of the E.U. delegation also said at the conference that European nations would rise to the occasion, as they did when the U.S. dropped out of the Kyoto Protocol.
Cities and and the private sector will also continue to play a major role in global climate efforts. In the last days of the conference, 365 companies promised climate action even if the U.S bows out. Separately, more than 100 companies met at COP22 to discuss steps like making low-carbon investments and reducing emissions from manufacturing to market. The number of businesses making commitments has more than doubled since Paris last year. More than 7,000 mayors — governing over 8 percent of the world population — also announced efforts to drastically cut emissions.
“[We’ve] had a set of truly impressive activities taking place in and around the COP to mobilize business, the finance sector, subnational governments, and other climate leaders,” said U.S. climate envoy Jonathan Pershing in Marrakech. “This COP is about much more than negotiations; it’s an important signpost on the pathway to a low-emission, climate-resilient economy, and the world is accelerating on that pathway.”
Countries agreed to consider transferring a pot of money meant for small projects that’s tied to the Kyoto Protocol to help implement the Paris Agreement. Over the past two weeks, four countries promised to fill the fund’s coffers with $81 million. A fund that helps poorer countries access climate technologies brought in another $23 million. According to Joe Thwaites of the World Resources Institute, that “sends a really strong signal” about the future of climate finance.
But the biggest monetary decisions have been punted until 2018. The United Nations has promised to mobilize climate adaptation funds to the tune of $100 billion a year beginning in 2020, and they’re still a long ways from that goal.
A plan spearheaded by Australia and the U.K., released ahead of the COP, details how rich countries could raise the $100 billion a year. But analysis from organizations like WRI and Oxfam suggest that even if countries meet those pledges, they’ll still need to be scaled up in the future.
“Developed countries are resisting any decision which really compels them to step up,” says Tracy Carty, Oxfam’s COP22 climate policy lead. “This needed to be the COP that turned a corner, but instead it looks like the issue is going to be kicked along the road to the next COP.”
Trust and transparency
Firm details on transparency, like how countries will monitor and report their progress on climate goals, may also have to wait for 2018. While countries such as Germany and Canada pledged $50 million to a transparency initiative to help countries report progress, the parties are still working on a program for sharing information.
As the Paris rulebook comes together, countries have vowed that transparency will be baked into measuring, reporting, climate finance, and technology development.
Countries agreed to hash out a system before 2018 to increase emissions cuts in future years. The United States, Germany, Mexico, and Canada released mid-century decarbonization strategies — a goal set in the Paris Agreement.
On the last day of the COP, a group of nearly 50 of the world’s most vulnerable countries also announced plans to convert to 100 percent renewable energy as soon as possible.
More incremental progress is expected at COP23 in Fiji next year, but 2018 will be the “year to watch for,” said WRI’s Yamide Dagnet. The meeting in Poland could be as significant as last year’s in Paris. It’s the deadline for parties to set all the implementation strategies for making good on their Paris promises. It’s also the year when countries will reevaluate their commitments and hopefully increase their ambition.
But the swift entry into force of the Paris Agreement has diplomats negotiating a slippery balance. “They want to make sure they don’t rush decisions,” said Thwaites, “that they allow as many countries as possible to join the agreement and be part of that decision-making process.” At the same time, many of the most vulnerable nations want to see action as soon as possible, with no backsliding.
In the end, parties seemed satisfied with the Marrakech negotiations. “COP22 has been what it needed to be,” said U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa, “a COP of action that has accelerated progress under the Paris Agreement across finance, new initiatives, ambition, and solidarity.”
Though U.N. officials may be encouraged by their progress, they’ve got a lot more hard work to come if there’s to be any chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees C — let alone 1.5 degrees — above pre-industrial levels. Neither the Paris nor Marrakech negotiations get us remotely close to that goal, so now the focus turns to the the 2018 conference. Over the next two years, it will become clearer whether the 2016 Marrakech meeting was the point at which climate action swelled to meet and exceed the ambition of Paris — or another year in which U.S. politics stalled progress, again.
A Beacon in the Smog®
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It’s summer and for most of us, that means at least one trip to the nearest beach. Splashing in the ocean, soaking up the sun, sinking my toes into the sand: these are sensations only the beach can provide.
Sadly, our pollution and exploitation of all the ocean has to offer has put the world’s most beautiful beaches in jeopardy. In 100 years, a beachside vacation may be something people only read about in books.
Here are just seven of the world’s most beautiful and threatened beaches:
- Rhossili, Wales
- Goa, India
“People around the world picture Goa as the ultimate beach destination and what adds to the charm is the lush green environs of the state. But locals and conservationists fear that iron ore mining companies in India are not only spoiling the natural beauty of the region, but threatening the lives of many wild animals stricken out of their forest homes,” reports IndiasEndangered.com.
- Railay, Thailand
“I genuinely fear for Railay,” writes travel blogger Adventurous Kate. ”I’m afraid that it will become the next Koh Phi Phi, the entire island smelling like sewage because the infrastructure can’t handle the number of visitors.”
4. Koh Rong Island
“Koh Rong Island is an inexpensive, unspoiled island getaway with turquoise-green waters, miles of powder-white beaches, endless palm trees, untouched fishing villages and only a handful of beachfront bungalows,” reports BBC Travel. But don’t wait too long if you want to see it that way. “In 2006, Kithr Meng, a Cambodian tycoon, purchased a 99-year lease on the island from the Cambodian government. His 20-year plan includes building an airport for small aircrafts, a marina, a golf course, casinos and several five-star resorts.”
5. Seychelles, Indian Ocean
In the past decade, the rising sea level has taken a bite out of this spectacular strip of shore in the Indian Ocean northeast of Madagascar. “Rising temperatures and the melting of polar ice caps are blamed for raising ocean levels and threatening to destroy the nation’s pristine coastline – the country’s No 1 tourist attraction. Some of the archipelago’s low-lying islands could be fully submerged if the rise continues,” reported the National.
- Magdalen Islands, Quebec
The approximately 13,000 residents of Magdalen Islands have watched intensifying natural forces threaten the boundaries of their home in recent years. “Warmer winters and fiercer storms, rising seawaters and the slow sinking of the islands are responsible for an alarming loss of coastline, and the erosion appears to be accelerating,” reports Canadian Geographic.
7. Miami Beach, Florida
In May 2014, a new scientific report on global warming — the National Climate Assessment – named Miami as one of the cities most vulnerable to severe damage as a result of rising sea levels.
We’re fun like that.
But really, our summers are hot and getting hotter. Just ask the founding fathers: On July 4, 1776, Thomas Jefferson dressed and bewigged himself for a long day of declaration-adopting in a relatively pleasant 76 degrees — good news for the thirteen waistcoat-clad dudes in the stuffy halls of Philadelphia’s State House.
Fast-forward 240 years. This Fourth of July, the temperature in Philly is forecast at a sticky 85 degrees. And by the end of the century, fireworks over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway could take place in 90-degree weather.
Mandatory disclaimer: Weather and climate aren’t necessarily the same thing (watch Neil deGrasse Tyson eloquently elaborate while walking a dog) — but they both follow a trend. Out of the past 16 years, 15 have been among the warmest in recorded history in the U.S. If current emissions trends persist, scientists warn, average temperatures in the U.S. could rise another 10 degrees F by 2100.
So as we throw some ‘dogs on the grill this Monday (or maybe not), we’ll be thinking about how, on a July 4 afternoon 80 years from now, the sun could be the grill and the wieners could be us.
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Summer: It’s the perfect time of year to get outside and enjoy some of that wilderness the U.S. is so famous for. The perfect time of year, that is, except for a glossy three-leaved plant that will turn your skin into an itchy, bubbling mess.
Poison ivy, already everyone’s least favorite part of summer, is only going to get worse with climate change. As The San Luis Obispo Tribune points out, plants in the Toxicodendron family (including poison ivy, oak, and sumac) produce more urushiol oil — the stuff that makes you itch — as levels of carbon dioxide rise. A six-year study published by Duke University researchers in 2006 found that projected CO2 for 2050 will cause as much as a 30 percent increase in urushiol toxicity. Not only do the plants produce oil that’s more toxic, but they grow more leaves.
Over 80 percent of adults break out into nasty rashes when they come into contact with those leaves. Ain’t nature wonderful?
Perhaps there’s a silver lining: If worsening heat waves, drought, storms, and wildfires aren’t enough to make us give a crap about climate change, maybe that rash all over our beach bods will.
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Big Oil was aware that climate change was happening for decades, yet systematically worked to cast doubt on the science in order to manipulate public opinion. Urge the U.S. Attorney General to launch a full-scale investigation into this enormous history of corporate deceit.
The Earth is warming at scary rates, and this GIF proves it
By Andrea Thompson on May 9, 2016 7:19 pm
Cross-posted from Climate Central
The steady rise of Earth’s temperature as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere and trap more and more heat is sending the planet spiraling closer to the point where warming’s catastrophic consequences may be all but assured.
That metaphoric spiral has become a literal one in a new graphic drawn up by Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. The animated graphic features a rainbow-colored record of global temperatures spinning outward from the late 19th century to the present as the Earth heats up.
Monthly global temperatures from 1850-2016. Monthly global temperatures from 1850-2016. Ed Hawkins
“The pace of change is immediately obvious, especially over the past few decades,” Hawkins, who has previously worked with Climate Central’s extreme weather attribution team, wrote in an email.
The graphic is part of Hawkins’s effort to explore new ways to present global temperature data in a way that clearly telegraphs the warming trend. Another climate scientist, Jan Fuglestvedt of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, suggested the spiral presentation.
The graphic displays monthly global temperature data from the U.K. Met Office and charts how each month compares to the average for the same period from 1850-1900, the same baselines used in the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
At first, the years vacillate inward and outward, showing that a clear warming signal had yet to emerge from the natural fluctuations that happen from year to year. But clear warming trends are present in the early and late 20th century.
In the late 20th century, it is clear how much closer temperatures have come to the target the international community has set to keep warming within 2 degrees C (4 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels by the end of the 21st century. An even more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees C (3 degrees F) has increasingly become a topic of discussion, and is also visible on the graphic Follow Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State who created the famous “hockey stick” graph of global temperature records going back hundreds of years, said that the spiral graphic was “an interesting and worthwhile approach to representing the data graphically.”
He said that using an earlier baseline period would have better captured all the warming that has occurred, as there was some small amount already in the late 19th century.
Just how much temperatures have risen is clear in the first few months of data from 2016, its line clearly separated from 2015 — which was the hottest year on record — and edging in on the 1.5 degrees C mark.
Every month of 2016 so far has been the warmest such month on record; in fact, the past 11 months have all set records, the longest such streak in the temperature data kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (Each agency that keeps such a temperature record handles the data slightly differently, which can lead to small differences in monthly and yearly values, though the overall trend is in broad agreement for all such agencies.)
The record-setting temperatures of 2016 have seen a small push from an exceptionally strong El Niño, but they are largely the result of the heat that has built up in the atmosphere over decades of unabated greenhouse gas emissions — as the spiral graphic makes clear.
“Turns out that this version [of temperature records] particularly appeals, maybe because it doesn’t require much interpretation,” Hawkins said.
Lake Poopo in Bolivia has dried up. And Climate Change has been named as the top cause of the disaster.
After decades of drought and depressed rainfall related to a human-forced warming of the globe, the once-massive lake is now gone. Once measuring 90 by 32 kilometers and covering an area of over 1,000 square kilometers this second largest lake in all of Bolivia has turned into a dried out disaster zone. Cracked, baked earth, overturned and abandoned boats, and the desiccated remains of lake life are all that are left as sign to the fact that a giant lake once existed. The flamingos, fish and other wildlife that relied on the lake are now dead or long gone. Yet more lonely casualties of a climate changed radically by an incessant burning of fossil fuels.
(Human-forced climate change is implicated in Bolivia’s loss of Lake Poopo. Video source:
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‘That mismatch does indeed kill’
For millennia, snowshoe hares have camouflaged themselves from predators by blending in with their surroundings, turning pure white in the winter to blend in with the snow, then brown in the summer.
But climate change is shifting the timing of the snow season, and the hares may not be able to adapt in time, according to a North Carolina State University study published in the journal Ecology Letters.
Based on field research with radio-collared snowshoe hares in Montana, mismatched snowshoe hares suffer a 7 percent drop in their weekly survival rate when snow comes late or leaves early and white hares stand out to predators like “light bulbs” against their snowless backgrounds.
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Shark attacks have increased dramatically in North Carolina waters, likely as a result of climate change. Urge the governor to establish more alternative energy programs in an effort to reduce the adverse effects of global warming and—in turn—likely also reduce shark attacks in shallow waters.
If you’re reading this from anywhere in the United States right now, there’s a pretty good chance it’s cold outside. We’re in the middle of a massive freeze that could last until March, the breadth of which NASA’s Terra satellite just captured in the remarkable view you see above. See all that territory blanketed in white? That’s snow. It’s not cloud patterns, or a representation of wind currents, just a bunch of frozen water atop even colder ground. NASA supplemented the photo with some harrowing, record-breaking numbers:
- 1ºF in Baltimore, MD
- -6ºF in Louisville, KY
- 7ºF in Charlotte, NC
- 4ºF in Asheville, NC
- 18ºF in Macon, GA
- 14ºF in Athens, GA
So if you live anywhere north of, say, Houston, be sure to bundle up before you head outside this weekend. (Actually, why are you going outside anyways? Are you going to see Hot Tub Time Machine 2?Before…
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In Northwest Indiana, we have our own fair share of industrial environmental justice issues.
We here at the NWI Act for Arctic campaign sympathize with that fact,
and can, as a result, imagine why someone would ask a question similar to,
“Why should I care about what’s happening ALLLL the way in the Arctic?”
With that said, we give you this flyer:
Here are the links provided on this flyer – more easily clickable – along with our other two social media sites we keep up on:
What are some ideas you all can think of to get people interested in the Arctic’s preservation?
Comment below 🙂