News Article | April 25, 2016
The EU, plagued by internal differences, is on the verge of losing its long-standing leadership in climate change policy, write Bill Hare and Andrzej Ancygier of climate science and policy institute Climate Analytics. If the European Commission is unable to forge a consensus on an ambitious climate policy, argue Hare and Ancygier, a smaller “coalition of the willing” should take up the climate banner. But there should be no free ride for laggards such as Poland. The EU has long been in the forefront of the fight against climate change. It led the way in setting the 2oC global warming limit, with EU Environment Ministers agreeing this 20 years ago, in 1996. A year later the EU member states agreed to a more ambitious target than the rest of the industrialised world for the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period (2008-2012) – a reduction of emissions by 8% below 1990 levels in comparison to an average of 5% emissions reduction for industrialised countries. When in 2001 George W. Bush announced that the US would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the EU pushed its implementation forward. The EU’s 2009 Energy and Climate Package implemented the 20-by-2020 targets adopted by the EU’s Heads of State: 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels, 20% of energy from renewables, and 20% improvement in energy efficiency by 2020. The EU’s 2020 target was complemented by a conditional 30% goal “provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions“. In the difficult years that followed the collapse of the Copenhagen summit in December 2009, the EU maintained its faith in the need for climate action and held out for a fully multilateral approach to climate, despite increasing noise from some quarters in the EU to slow down action. It pushed forward with securing the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period for 2013-2020, with a 20% reduction goal for that period from 1990 levels. In addition, the EU, as well as some of its member states, were leading by example by decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions and developing low-carbon technologies. As a result the EU created a low-carbon sector with over two million jobs in the area of energy efficiency and renewable energies, with a positive impact on economic growth. But in the meantime the EU was becoming increasingly divided over the further development of its climate policy. In 2012, Poland vetoed the EU’s Low Carbon Roadmap for 2050. In December 2014 the Heads of State still managed to agree to a new target for 2030 of “at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”, despite the threat of a Polish veto. The adoption of the 2030 target was celebrated as a “landmark deal”. Yet NGO’s and climate analysts were extremely disappointed by the outcome. They pointed out that between 1990 and 2014, the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 23%. Sticking to a 40% emissions reduction target for 2030 would mean that in the coming years emissions will have to decrease by slightly over 1% annually. At this speed, the EU will achieve emissions reduction of only around 60% mid-century, far less than the 80-95% emissions reduction target adopted by the Council in 2011. Limiting warming to 1.5°C would mean at least 90-95% reductions by 2050. But there was still one hope: by adding “at least” the EU left the door open to an increase of the target after Paris. After the adoption of the EU mandate for the negotiations in Paris in September last year, Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete presented the EU as a “deal maker and not just deal taker”. This hope was dashed, however, after Paris. Although the climate negotiations in the French capital turned out to be a success and the Paris Agreement mentions a goal of “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”, the EU failed to rise to the occasion. In its Communication of March 2016 the European Commission stuck to its 40% target, ignoring the changed international reality and its own achievements over the recent years. By not upgrading its emissions reduction goal, the EU is failing to lead – just at a time when others are ready to follow and decarbonisation technologies are rapidly becoming more affordable. This is not only bad for the climate, but also for the European economy. So what can be done? In the past EU leadership in the fight against climate change has largely been the result of the cooperation between the European Parliament and the European Commission, supported by some member states. Importantly, it was not just talk but backed by real and substantive action. In many cases it took a while before ambitious targets were agreed upon by the Heads of State of EU member states in the European Council, but the proposals were there, waiting for the window of opportunity in the Council to open. That was the case, for example, with the adoption of the first renewable energy directive in 2001 and in March 2007, when the 20-20-20 by 2020 targets were unanimously agreed upon during the German EU presidency. At this moment, however, the European Commission is not pushing the climate agenda, presumably because it already has to face many other divisive issues. It can be argued that, taking into consideration the challenges posed by the refugee crisis and the slow economic recovery, the Commission should tread carefully in coming up with “unrealistic” ideas. But the difference between being a leader and a follower is the ability to come up with a vision that others can subscribe to – if not immediately, then in the longer term. It is clear that in the current political circumstances a unanimous agreement of all EU member states to more ambitious energy and climate targets would be improbable. But such a proposal by the Commission could at least initiate a much needed discussion about the EU’s role in the climate negotiations. If the European Commission fails to do so, then the only solution is for a group of member states to form a coalition of the ambitious to push the climate agenda forward. Such a coalition should adopt a more ambitious emissions reduction target and cooperate closely on the path to its implementation. The legal framework for such cooperation can be found in the Treaty of Lisbon which significantly expanded the possibilities offered by what is called Enhanced Cooperation. According to Article 20 of the Treaty, a form of Enhanced Cooperation can be created by at least nine EU member states “to further the objectives of the Union, protect its interests and reinforce its integration process.” Such a coalition wouldn’t only be driven by the need to deal with climate change but also by economic factors. Whereas the transformation towards a low-carbon economy poses a challenge to established industries, it also opens doors to new opportunities. The Paris Agreement will only speed up the innovation race in the area of low-carbon technologies, in which EU countries are increasingly losing their competitive advantage. The EU, with its knowledge base and large domestic market, is well equipped to regain it, provided the political will is there. At the same time, a coalition’s effort should not replace the EU’s existing climate mechanisms, such as the EU ETS (Emisson Trading System) and its renewable energy policy directives. Care should be taken that laggards would not get a competitive advantage for their established industries. For this reason, the EU ETS needs to be strengthened further, especially if climate policies adopted in the more ambitious member states will enlarge the current oversupply of emissions allowances. Indeed, having to bear the costs of climate policy while being excluded from the benefits of cooperation in the framework of a coalition of the ambitious, laggard member states could reconsider their stance towards a more ambitious climate policy. Faced with the emerging evidence of global climate damage, it is hardly time for the EU to slow down its climate action. Should it take this path, it risks not only losing its reputation as the leader in fighting climate change. Without a strong domestic market in renewable energies, energy efficiency and e-mobility, the EU is also putting at risk its technological leadership in the development of low-carbon solutions. For the sake of climate protection but also EU’s economy it should capitalise on the 25 years of leadership and action in this area before the advantages it has built up are lost. A coalition of the ambitious at the European level may be a game changer. If it worked in Paris, why should it fail in Brussels? Bill Hare (email@example.com Twitter: @BillHareClimate) is the co-founder of Climate Analytics, physicist and climate scientist with 25 years’ experience in science, impacts and policy responses to climate change. He has extensive experience as climate advisor to vulnerable countries in the international negotiations. He is affiliated with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Andrzej Ancygier (firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @Ancygier) works as Climate Policy Analyst at Climate Analytics. He has been dealing with European energy and climate policy since 2009 with the main focus on the development of renewable sources of energy. He also teaches courses about European Environmental Policy and Environmental Social Movements at New York University in Berlin. Climate Analytics is a non-profit climate science and policy institute based in Berlin, Germany with offices in New York, USA and Lomé, Togo. Areas of expertise include many core elements of the international effort to tackle climate change such as the legal design of the Paris Agreement, The Green Climate Fund, transformative approaches to adaptation and assessing whether emission pledges represent enough climate action to be in line with the Paris Agreement.
News Article | November 15, 2016
There is no role for new coal power if countries are going to meet their climate targets, campaigners today told the international climate talks in Marrakech. The Paris Agreement signed by world leaders last year commits countries to limiting warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Negotiators are currently meeting in Marrakech to iron out the details of how they will achieve this. Analysts have long warned that meeting climate targets will mean leaving many of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Even prior to Donald Trump’s election victory, campaigners were concerned that the transition away from fossil fuels was progressing too slowly. The threat of the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement adds a sense of urgency to campaigners’ calls. So today, more than 375 civil society groups lead by 350.org and Oil Change International handed negotiators a letter demanding the immediate freeze of all new fossil fuel projects globally. Speaking at the public handover staged within the conference centre, Oil Change International’s David Turnbull said: “After this week’s election in the United States, I realised there were many things I did not know about the world. But what I do know is this: We do not have four years to wait.” “Now more than ever, we need a massive global movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground”. A new report by Climate Analytics, also released today, shows there are already more than twice as many coal power plants in the pipeline than can be permitted if policymakers are going to hit their climate targets. The analysis suggests that if companies build all of the planned 1,082 new coal power plants, it could lock countries into high carbon energy systems for at least 40 years, blowing the global carbon budget. Katherine Guttman from Climate Action Network Europe says in a press release that, “with the Paris Agreement in place, the days of burning fossil fuels in rich countries are numbered. The research findings demonstrate unequivocally that coal is the first fossil fuel that has to go.” Oil Change International previously estimated that if countries keep to the Paris Agreement, around $600 billion of coal assets could become stranded. So instead of waiting for that to happen, they are calling on companies and governments to plan now for a transition away from fossil fuels. “The major fossil fuel companies simply don’t have a plan about how to deal with climate change, so they’re doing what they’ve always done and seeking growth in a world in which there is no room for growth for their core business of fossil fuels. “We’re calling for a managed decline that takes care of the many workers in the fossil fuel industry and the communities that are dependent on them. That call is being shared now by shareholders in those fossil fuel companies. “The companies themselves, if they are going to continue to seek to expand the stock of fossil fuels, have no place in a climate constrained world.”
News Article | September 22, 2016
Earlier this year, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump sparked the ire of scientists and climate activists when he vowed to “cancel the Paris climate agreement” once in office. Now, hundreds of U.S. scientists have addressed this threat in an open letter warning of the perils of such action. Signed by 375 members of the National Academy of Sciences, the letter explicitly refers to “the Republican nominee for President” and notes that “such a decision would make it far more difficult to develop effective global strategies for mitigating and adapting to climate change. The consequences of opting out of the global community would be severe and long-lasting – for our planet’s climate and for the international credibility of the United States.” The letter, published online Tuesday, coincides with Climate Week in New York — a gathering of governments, businesses, scientists and activists hosting dozens of events aimed at advancing the conversation around fighting climate change — as well as a gathering of the United Nations General Assembly. And while organizers have noted that they did not intentionally time the letter’s publication this way, it nevertheless has added to ongoing conversations this week about the world’s climate future. During his opening address to the general assembly, in fact, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon reiterated the importance of bringing the Paris Agreement into full force this year. In order to take effect, the agreement must be ratified by at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, 60 countries representing 48 percent of global emissions, including the U.S., have signed on. Thirty–one of these joined en masse Wednesday. [The world is getting awfully close to putting the Paris climate deal into action] Experts expect even more countries may jump on board. But without continued U.S. cooperation in the future, the letter writers argue, the entire agreement could be in jeopardy. “The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would really set back all of our efforts to deal with climate problems,” said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT and one of the letter’s organizers. “American leadership is such an essential thing trying to solve climate problems.” He added that “if the administration that withdraws from the Paris Agreement is also going to withdraw from efforts to develop clean energy, then the U.S. will lose its leadership position in developing clean energy, and that’s perhaps one of the worst things that will happen.” Ben Santer, another organizer and a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, pointed out that a withdrawal could send a poor message to other countries that have not yet committed to the agreement, suggesting that climate change “isn’t a real problem, this isn’t a serious problem — you shouldn’t care about it either.” Santer said such outcomes could fundamentally shake the international community’s ability to meet the most difficult task laid out in the Paris Agreement, — the goal of keeping global temperatures within 1.5 degrees Celsius of their pre-industrial levels. Prior to the Paris Agreement, the international community had focused on a goal of keeping temperatures within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. At Paris, the threshold was narrowed to “well below” 2 degrees, and the agreement also explicitly mentioned 1.5 degrees as an aspiration. Ways of meeting this more stringent goal has been one of the central conversations at this year’s Climate Week. “The US is the second largest global emitter of global warming gases but its actions still rank first in terms of influence on the course of action taken by other countries,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a climate expert at Princeton University, in an email to The Washington Post. “If we withdraw, or even slow our implementation of the EPA regulations, other countries will take note and their own ambition in tackling climate change will likely decrease. Then the prospect of attaining 1.5 or 2 degrees or even 3 degrees would fade like a pipe dream.” On Monday, Oppenheimer participated in a panel event hosted by nonprofit climate science and policy institute Climate Analytics discussing both the importance and the feasibility of reaching the 1.5-degree target. There, he and other presenters noted that the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees has considerable consequences in terms of climate impacts. At the event, Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, a physicist with Climate Analytics and researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, pointed to a recent paper he co-authored, suggesting that the gap between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees could mean substantial differences in the number of extreme heat and precipitation events around the world, water availability in certain regions such as the Mediterranean and even the ability of coral reefs to adapt to their changing environment. And while scientists have debated how close we actually are to reaching that 1.5-degree threshold, many experts have indicated that it’s still theoretically possible to meet the mark. The problem is that recent analyses suggest the carbon-cutting pledges submitted by individual nations to the Paris Agreement are still not enough to get us there. This means that it’s imperative for nations to not only remain committed to the accord, but to actually step up their game even more. “At present, a 1.5 [degree] limit appears to be a very difficult to achieve, not impossible but requiring focused efforts by governments and individuals to rapidly reduce utilization of fossil fuels through a combination of technological and lifestyle changes on an unprecedented scale,” Oppenheimer said by email. And therein lies the importance of continued U.S. involvement and leadership in the agreement. “I believe scientists have a responsibility…to set the record straight and to speak out clearly and forcefully and say this is what we know we with confidence, this is why we should care about it and here are the likely outcomes if we do nothing,” said Santer, the letter organizer. “And the likely outcomes are very serious for all of us.” Think California’s current drought is bad? Past incarnations have lasted hundreds of years Scientists may have solved a key riddle about Antarctica — and you’re not going to like the answer What the ‘sixth extinction’ will look like in the oceans: The largest species die off first For more, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here, and follow us on Twitter here.
News Article | April 22, 2016
As over 150 nations assemble to sign the Paris climate agreement in New York on Friday, reams of new analysis are pouring out from the planet’s vital number-crunchers, who look at the fundamental relationship between how much carbon we put in the air and how much the planet’s temperature increases as a result. And it’s adding up to a somber verdict: We seem closer to must-avoid climate thresholds than we thought — and crossing them may have bigger consequences than we recognize. The Paris climate agreement pledges countries to keep the planet’s warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels, and to strive to keep warming as low as 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above those levels. But here are four things you need to know about these targets, based upon four separate new and insightful analyses: 1.5 degrees C isn’t looking so far off lately. An analysis by Climate Central shows that the planet has been right around 1.5 degrees C all year this year, if you take temperatures from 1881-1910 to be the pre-industrial baseline. “The average global temperature change for the first three months of 2016 was 1.48°C, essentially equaling the 1.5°C warming threshold agreed to by COP 21 negotiators in Paris last December,” the group wrote. February of 2016, Climate Central calculates, was actually slightly warmer than 1.5 degrees C over pre-industrial levels. The news isn’t as bad as it sounds: These have been some super-hot months, and El Nino is at least partly to blame. We’re likely to cool down some as El Nino ends — and we won’t truly have crossed the 1.5C threshold until the globally averaged temperature does over multiple years, so that it becomes the average. That will require far more than a few short months to happen. Still, 1.5C hardly sounds theoretical lately. We already know what it feels like on a temporary basis, and it has coincided with mass coral bleaching, early Greenland melting and much more. 2 degrees C is considerably worse than 1.5. Meanwhile, a new study just out in Earth System Dynamics, by researchers with Climate Analytics, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and several other institutions has found that although 1.5C and 2C may not sound all that different, they actually are, in terms of their impacts. “Before many have argued that there can’t be much difference because temperatures are so close and there’s so much uncertainty,” says Climate Analytics’ William Hare, one of the study’s authors. “But we’ve done an end-to-end uncertainty analysis, using 5 climate models and a state of the art impact assessment … to pull out some of the statistically significant signals.” For instance, the study finds that “virtually all” tropical reefs the globe over are at risk of “severe degradation” at 2 degrees C starting in the year 2050, but that for a 1.5C scenario, that’s only 90 percent, and it actually lessens over the course of the century to 70 percent by its end. In other words, 1.5C just might save some coral reefs. That’s not all the study found. In some regions of the globe, like the Mediterranean, water-availability risks are much worse at 2C than at 1.5C. In others, like parts of Africa, agricultural risks could be considerably higher, to list just a few of the findings. Extreme heat events also show a “substantial increase” in likelihood of occurrence at 2C, according to the study. “There’s a really substantial reduction of risk for areas that are already hot and dry and suffering food and water shortages,” says Hare, if we hold warming to 1.5 rather than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Fast policy moves are needed to achieve either target. Meanwhile, an by Climate Interactive and the MIT Sloan School of Management finds that the current Paris agreement pledges — made by individual countries as part of the agreement, and supposed to be improved upon over time — would still let the world warm by as much as 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. They obviously need to be ratcheted up, then. How fast? The analysis finds that “with each year that countries wait to strengthen their current pledges, the rate at which emissions must decline gets steeper and steeper.” So if we wait for global emissions to peak in 2030, rather than in 2020, then every year after that they will have to decline by 4.6 percent per year, the analysis finds, a number that is “prohibitively fast.” If we peak in 2020, though, then reductions only have to happen at 3.2 percent per year, to stay under 2 degrees C, “a rate that has been achieved by some nations in the past.” Thus, if possible, emissions should peak by 2020. The United States, in this scenario, would have to go from lowering its emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 (its current goal), to cutting them by 45 percent by 2030. Other nations would have to make similarly large improvements on what they are currently promising to do. And even then, due to scientific uncertainty, the planet could still conceivably overshoot 2 degrees, and there is only a 66 percent or greater chance of getting there. Of course, the actual embraced goal of the world is to stay “well below” 2 degrees, a target that suggests prudent avoidance, not walking right up to it and potentially going over. Accordingly, the study also examined what it would take to suppress emissions fast enough to hit 1.5 degrees C. Here we’d have to have global emissions peak in 2020 and then decline by 5.9 percent annually thereafter. The United States, here, would have to get its emissions 60 percent below their 2005 levels by 2030. This is extreme, but then, that’s what it would take. If we want to buy time, we have to save forests. There’s some good news here. According to an analysis by the Woods Hole Research Center, if we stop deforesting the tropics and instead move rapidly to restore these forests, we can buy 10 to 15 years longer to try to stay within 2 degrees C. The reason is that if deforestation abruptly stopped — and stopped contributing to greenhouse gases each year — then forests would start growing back and sequestering carbon: pulling it back out of the air again. A current addition to our emissions would become a subtraction from them. Now that’s smart math. “Proper forest management is the only climate change mitigation technology that is: 1) available immediately; 2) capable of providing negative emissions at the necessary scale; and 3) proven to have additional benefits for the local and global climate,” write the researchers. Yes, that’s right — the world should simply stop chopping down trees immediately. Granted, while it may be theoretically possible to put the brakes on deforestation faster than it is to halt fossil fuel use, it seems unlikely that the underlying (economic) drivers of deforestation will suddenly end, either. So what’s the upshot of it all? This Earth Day, it’s hard to say the planet is in great shape. It is also hard to say that it is beyond saving, or at least, beyond beginning to repair. Rather, what happens next all depends on us.
News Article | November 10, 2016
Founder and CEO of Climate Analytics, Bill Hare speaks during a press conference, at the UN Climate Change Conference 2016 (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco, November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal MARRAKESH, Morocco (Reuters) - Donald Trump's election as U.S. president muddies the outlook for efforts to cut greenhouse gases and could mean U.S. emissions stay flat until 2030, compared with deep cuts planned by President Barack Obama, scientists said on Thursday. Republican Trump, who has called climate change a hoax and is expected to favor the coal and oil industries, opposes last year's Paris Agreement by almost 200 nations to combat global warming. In the past year "national climate policies have made little progress, and the road ahead looks even less clear after the results of the U.S. presidential elections," three European scientific groups said in a report of global trends. "If President Trump abandons current policies as he has threatened to do, we estimate that in 2030, U.S. emissions will be similar to what they are today," said Niklas Hoehne, of NewClimate Institute, one of the research groups. Obama promised in Paris to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by between 26 and 28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels. U.S. data show emissions were down 9 percent in 2014, compared to 2005. A Climate Action Tracker compiled by the researchers, issued at U.N. talks on climate change in Marrakesh, projected that existing policies including Obama's would lead to a warming in global temperatures of 2.8 degrees Celsius (5.0 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times by 2100. That is fractionally above a projected 2.7C (4.9F) rise in average surface temperatures estimated a year ago, largely due to technical revisions. Current policies need to be ratcheted up to achieve a goal set in Paris of limiting global warming to "well below" 2C (3.6F) by curbing a build-up of man-made greenhouse gases blamed for causing downpours, heatwaves and rising seas, the scientists said. It was too early to say how Trump's policies might affect the global outlook, they added. His election "would increase our (global) temperature estimate, but there are huge uncertainties," Hoehne said. Still, the study said a shift to renewable energies was likely to continue thanks to factors such as falling prices of solar power and wind power and improved ranges for electric vehicles. "Provided political leaders globally maintain their commitment to action, these tailwinds mean we should be able to ride through the turbulence that a climate skeptic in the White House could bring," said Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Research institute Climate Analytics estimated that the EU's carbon budget, which is how much carbon dioxide it can emit to stay under two degrees Celsius, is at 6.5 gigatonnes by 2050 (AFP Photo/LOIC VENANCE) Brussels (AFP) - The European Union must close all 315 of its coal-fired power plants by 2030 in order to meet its commitments under the Paris climate agreement, a research institute said Thursday. The goal set at the December 2015 Paris conference to maintain average temperature increases to less than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels requires the gradual closure of EU coal plants, Climate Analytics said. "The long-term temperature goal adopted under the Paris agreement... requires a rapid decarbonisation of the global power sector and the phaseout of the last unabated coal-fired power plant in the EU by around 2030," the report said. Climate Analytics estimated that the EU's carbon budget, which is how much carbon dioxide it can emit to stay under two degrees Celsius, is at 6.5 gigatonnes by 2050. The institute said the EU will exceed the budget by 85 percent by then if it continues with current emissions rates at coal plants. It said there were 315 coal plants across the 28-nation bloc, and that 11 newly announced plants would raise EU emissions to almost twice the levels required to limit temperature rises. "We find the cheapest way for the EU to make the emissions cuts required to meet its Paris Agreement commitments is to phase out coal from the electricity sector, and replace this capacity with renewables and energy efficiency measures," said Paola Yanguas Parra, a lead author of the report. Parra said Germany and Poland had the most work to do as they were together responsible for 54 percent of emissions from coal.
News Article | April 21, 2016
Paris (AFP) - A jump in global temperature of two degrees Celsius would double the severity of crop failures, water shortages and heatwaves in many regions compared to a rise of 1.5 C, according to a study released Thursday. An extra 0.5 C (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) would also add 10 centimetres (4 inches) to the average ocean waterline, further imperilling dozens of small island nations and densely-populated, low-lying deltas, a team of researchers reported. In a 2 C scenario, impacts are amplified in certain climate "hot spots," said the study in Earth System Dynamics, a journal of the European Geosciences Union. In the Mediterranean basin, for example, a 2 C world would see its supply of fresh water diminish by 20 percent compared to the late 20th century -- double the loss forecast for a 1.5 C increase. "We found significant differences" between 1.5 C and 2 C projections for 11 different impact areas, said the study's lead author Carl Schleussner, a scientist at Climate Analytics in Germany. The world's first global climate pact, hammered out by 195 nations in Paris last December, aims to hold average global warming to "well below 2 C" compared to pre-Industrial Era levels. The Paris Agreement also pledges to "pursue efforts" to cap warming at 1.5 C, a hard-fought concession to a coalition of more than 100 poor and climate-vulnerable nations. More than 160 countries are set to attend a formal signing ceremony Friday at the United Nations in New York, the penultimate step before ratification of the accord. The study also looks at coral reefs, and found that warming of 1.5 C would give these threatened ecosystems a fighting chance of adapting to warmer and more acidic seas. An extra half-a-degree by century's end, however, would expose all the world's reefs -- which harbour 25 percent of the ocean's wildlife -- to possible extinction. Last week, scientists in Australia reported that 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef is already affected by bleaching. In tropical zones, another hot spot, the loss of maize and wheat yields would be twice as severe in a 2 C world. Extreme weather events would also be amplified. "The additional 0.5 C increase marks the difference between events at the upper limit of present-day natural variability" -- an intense heat-wave, for example -- "and a new climate regime," Schleussner said in a statement. Many climate scientists have cast serious doubt on the feasibility of holding temperatures below the 2 C threshold -- never mind 1.5 C. At current rates of fossil fuel consumption, Earth is on track for an increase of 4 C or higher. In almost any future climate scenario, humanity will be confronted with the challenge of cooling the planet by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, something current technology does not allow on a global scale.
News Article | November 3, 2016
With the building sector already accounting for around 20% of climate change emissions, a new analysis published this week has warned that its energy demand is likely to double by mid-century if actions are not taken now to make buildings more sustainable. This is the primary conclusion from a new Climate Action Tracker analysis published this week entitled Constructing the Future: Will the building Sector Use its Decarbonisation Tools (PDF). The Climate Action Tracker is an independent scientific analysis conducted by three research organizations, Ecofys, Climate Analytics, and the NewClimate Institute, and backed by the ClimateWorks Foundation. The analysis further concludes that the technologies required to make new buildings zero-emissions are all currently available, but the sector is not adapting to these new technologies fast enough. Emissions from buildings more than doubled between 1990 to 2010, and now represent 20% of all global emissions. Policies currently in place will likely see the building sector see its energy demand skyrocket by 50% by 2050 than in 2010. Further delayed action in adapting to zero-emissions new building methods will likely increase pressure on other sectors to reduce their own carbon emissions to take up the slack left by the building sector, as well as creating the need in the future to deliver negative emissions, all in an effort to keep global warming within the Paris Agreement’s temperature limits — an issue which has only heightened, according to a new UNEP report published today. The Climate Action Tracker analysis therefore sets out a 1.5°C-compatible scenario for the building sector which would see all new buildings in the OECD built to zero-energy specifications by 2020, and all non-OECD buildings by 2025. The report also outlines methods for very high zero-emission renovation techniques. “We have to start building ‘Paris Agreement-proof’ buildings today,“ said Karlien Wouters of Ecofys. “Given the long lifetimes of buildings, rapid action is especially important in this sector. Any inefficient buildings we construct today will have to be renovated at greater cost later, adding to the challenge we’re already facing in renovating the majority of the existing building stock.” “The continued growth of emissions in the building sector is in direct contrast with the maturity of the technological solutions available — the tools have been there for decades, but the sector’s using them far too little,” added Sebastian Sterl of NewClimate Institute. Buy a cool T-shirt or mug in the CleanTechnica store! Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | March 4, 2016
On Sunday night while accepting a long-anticipated Oscar for best actor, for his role in “The Revenant,” Leonardo DiCaprio seized the moment to highlight the plight of the planet. “Making “The Revenant” was about man’s relationship to the natural world,” DiCaprio said. “A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow.” “Climate change is real. It is happening right now,” DiCaprio continued. “It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.” (You can watch the full speech here.) A little-noticed scientific study that emerged last week not only bears this out — but it also suggests that climate change could be a more urgent problem than we all assumed. At least since 2013, it has been common to claim that the world has a limited carbon “budget” to emit if we still want good odds of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a widely accepted international target. Because scientists can calculate the relationship between how much carbon there is in the atmosphere and how much temperatures are expected to rise, this concept of a “budget” implies a number beyond which emissions must cease entirely (or beyond which we must find some way of pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere). [The magic number: Holding warming under 2 degrees Celsius is the goal. But is it still attainable?] In 2013, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlined such a budget in its highly influential “Summary for Policymakers for Working Group I” (as this particular, widely read document is called). The panel laid out the math to let readers reach their own conclusions. But the gist was that, taking into account how much we’ve already emitted and the role of gases other than carbon dioxide, humanity can’t emit more than about 1,000 billion tons, or gigatons, of carbon dioxide if we want a 66 percent chance or better of staying below 2 degrees. Since then, the 1,000 gigaton figure has been quite influential. The U.N. Environment Program, for instance, puts it this way: “The IPCC in its fifth assessment report concluded that to limit global warming to below 2 degrees C, the remaining cumulative CO2 emissions — the so-called carbon budget — are in the order of 1,000 GtCO2.” The program is just one of many parties that have often cited the IPCC’s calculations. But in a new study in Nature Climate Change last week, Joeri Rogelj of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and an international team of colleagues interrogate this notion of a carbon “budget” and provide some reasons for thinking we could actually have even less wiggle room than that. “We shaved off the higher end of the estimates, and we showed that the lower end of the previous range is actually what we should be aiming at,” Rogelj says. First of all, the IPCC’s budget numbers were up through 2011 — and the world, Rogeli and his colleagues say, has been emitting about 40 gigatons per year. So already the budget is much narrower. On top of that, though, Rogelj and his fellow researchers looked at different ways of computing the carbon budget — including different approaches taken by other parts of the IPCC itself that differ from the estimate cited above. “Already in the IPCC, there were many carbon budget estimates that all used different methodologies and showed something different,” Rogelj says. And for a variety of technical reasons, Rogelj and his team don’t opt for the aforementioned 1,000 gigaton budget as the top choice. Rather, they say, a budget of between 590 and 1,240 gigatons, as of last year, is the “most appropriate” to use, if we want a better than two-thirds chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees. That translates, the study says, into between 15 to 30 years of emissions at the current rate. [The suddenly urgent quest to remove carbon dioxide from the air] Note, by the way, two key assumptions here (which these authors would fully acknowledge): that 2 degrees is somehow “safe” (there are many reasons to question that assumption) and that a mere 66 percent chance of being right about the fate of the planet is acceptable (also highly questionable). The reason for adopting the different and somewhat lower budget, Rogelj says, turns on the issue of thresholds and the lag time between when emissions happen and when they have their effect on temperature. “By taking the budget until the moment that you exceed a certain temperature threshold, then the emissions of the last five years to a decade have not yet been accounted for in the warming,” he says. “So you basically always overestimate the budget by a slight amount if you use that methodology.” “Different estimates of the carbon budget either ignored the climate effects of non-CO2 gases, ignored co-emissions, were based on a smaller sample of emissions scenarios, or used a different threshold of probability for holding warming below 2 degrees C,” explains Climate Analytics, whose director Michiel Schaeffer was one of the co-authors of the new paper. The prominent figure of 1,000 gigatons — now reduced to about 850 as of 2015, Rogelj says — still lies within the 590 to 1,240 gigaton range. It’s just that the danger zone could be breached with a considerably lower level of emissions, based on this new analysis. And of course, if we want to hold warming to just 1.5 degrees — or, if we want a higher level of certainty than 66 percent — the budget gets even narrower. In his Oscar’s speech, DiCaprio concluded, “Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.” The math of the carbon budget implies that if we want to do something about climate change, the window for action could be even narrower than we thought. Top scientists insist global warming really did slow down in the 2000s A shocking one third of Americans believe this Zika conspiracy theory Your home water heater may soon double as a battery For more, you can sign up for our weekly newsletter here, and follow us on Twitter here.
News Article | September 15, 2016
OSLO (Reuters) - The last gasoline-powered car will have to be sold by about 2035 to put the world on track to limit global warming to the most stringent goal set by world leaders last year, a study said on Thursday. The report, by a Climate Action Tracker (CAT) backed by three European research groups, said a drastic shift was needed towards clean electric cars and fuel efficiency since transport emits about 14 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions. Last December, world leaders at a Paris summit set a goal of limiting a rise in temperatures to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times while "pursuing efforts" for a much tougher 1.5 C (2.7F) ceiling. "We calculate that the last gasoline/diesel car will have to be sold by roughly 2035," the CAT report said, to make the car fleet consistent with staying below 1.5C. It assumes the last fossil-fuel vehicles would be on the roads until 2050. The CAT is one of the main groups that monitors government actions to restrict global warming and includes researchers who are authors on U.N. climate reports. "It's striking that it's so early - it means a huge change in the whole automobile industry," Niklas Höhne, of the NewClimate Institute, told Reuters. The other think-tanks behind the report were Ecofys and Climate Analytics. The phase-out is earlier than set by most car makers. Toyota, for instance, has a "zero carbon dioxide emissions challenge" for new vehicles under which it aims to cut emissions from its vehicles by 90 percent by 2050, from 2010 levels. Many scientists reckon that the 1.5C goal, seen by many developing nations as a dangerous threshold for droughts, floods and rising sea levels, has already slipped out of reach and that the 2C limit is growing close. They believe temperatures will almost inevitably overshoot 1.5C, and that new technologies will be needed to turn down the global thermostat later this century. This year is set to be the warmest on record, with temperatures around 1C (1.8F) above pre-industrial times. The CAT report focused most on the promise of electric vehicles, developed by manufacturers from General Motors to Tesla. Other options are cars run on biofuels or hydrogen. The study said a greener transport sector would require a parallel shift to clean power generation, to avoid charging electric cars on power based on fossil fuels. "Electric vehicles are still more expensive to purchase than other cars, and policy projections still only see a share of around five percent of electric vehicles in the total European Union, China and U.S. fleets by 2030," the report said.