Sunday, December 13, 2015

World Leaders Make Landmark Deal to Fight Climate Change

Leaders from more than 190 countries around the world forged an unprecedented agreement to begin to fight climate change driven by global warming. The "Paris Agreement" includes commitments to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from individual countries and promises by wealthier nations to help poorer nations adapt to the damaging effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels.

The agreement sets a long-term goal of keeping the increase in the global temperature to "well below" 2°C degrees (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels and calls on countries to "pursue efforts" to limit the increase to 1.5°C. It adds that "parties aim to reach a global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible."

While the agreement marks a declaration of worldwide war on climate change, it leaves some key decisions on how to fight the war to the future. Those detail decisions are to made to achieve specified goals over the next 10 to 15 years. The agreement also establishes an unprecedented international legal basis for addressing climate issues. Within the agreement, nearly every country on Earth laid out its own plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change impacts. Although those individual plans are not legally binding, the core agreement itself is.

Less optimistic is the reality that the emissions-reduction pledges agreed to by participating countries only limit global warming to roughly 2.7°C (4.9°F), leaving substantial questions on how to fight the global war war on climate change. Michael Mann, director of Penn State University's Earth System Science Center, emphasizes the agreement is just "the beginning of a process. These global commitments "get us roughly half way" to where the world needs to be, Mann reportedly told HuffPost in an email."

Further, current research suggests that forces already set in motion — the melting of glaciers, the release of carbon dioxide from thawing permafrost — could unleash considerable impacts that this agreement is unable to prevent, even if full implemented.

In addition to the carbon cutting of this agreement, quite a lot of carbon capture by human-made devices and human-planted forests may be required. The most important thing to come out of the conference is an agreement to improve on these commitments substantially in the years ahead. (carbon capture video)

President Obama tweeted on the landmark Paris accord: "This is huge: Almost every country in the world just signed on to the #ParisAgreement on climate change-thanks to American leadership."

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky immediately responded Obama is "making promises he can't keep" and should remember that the agreement "is subject to being shredded in 13 months." McConnell noted the presidential election is next year and the agreement would be reversed if the GOP wins the White House.

Republican strategist Karl Rove told a Fox News panel on Sunday that addressing climate change was “B.S.” because everyone on Earth would already be dead by 2080, before before the plan agreed to in Paris could make a difference in greenhouse gas emissions.
“We’ll all be dead and very few people sitting in Paris will be alive at that point, I suspect, when we get to 2080,” Rove said.
The following are some key provisions of the agreement:

The agreement says: “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue 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.”

If the 1.5°C goal was actually achieved, it might save the world from some of the most severe effects of climate change. For example, although we don’t know the exact temperature, there is a trigger point at which the whole Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet will melt. There is a chance that staying below 2 degrees Celsius would avoid the tipping point at which the entire Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet melt., and an even better chance if we stay below 1.5 degrees. However, with the world already at 1.0°C degree level, the Greenland ice sheet and the West Antarctic ice sheet are already showing ominous signs of collapse, so we may already be at that tipping point.


The agreement says: “Parties are encouraged to take action to implement and support, including through results-based payments, the existing framework as set out in related guidance and decisions already agreed under the Convention for: policy approaches and positive incentives for activities relating to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries; and alternative policy approaches, such as joint mitigation and adaptation approaches for the integral and sustainable management of forests, while reaffirming the importance of incentivizing, as appropriate, non-carbon benefits associated with such approaches.”

This is a significant recognition of the role forests play in absorbing CO2 emissions from human activities. It is meant as a political signal that countries should enact policies proposed over the last decade to save the world’s remaining intact forests. Tropical countries would likely be paid with both public and private money if they succeed in reducing or limiting destruction of their forests due to logging, or clearance for food production.


The agreement says: “As part of a global effort, developed country Parties should continue to take the lead in mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels, noting the significant role of public funds, through a variety of actions, including supporting country-driven strategies, and taking into account the needs and priorities of developing country Parties. Such mobilization of climate finance should represent a progression beyond previous efforts.”

A goal of at least $100 billion a year in contributions from rich countries to developing and smaller countries is mentioned only in the preamble, which is not legally binding. That sum is likely too small to help developing and smaller countries build up a renewable power generation systems to replace coal and oil to limit CO2 emissions over period defined by the agreement.


The agreement says: “In order to build mutual trust and confidence and to promote effective implementation, an enhanced transparency framework for action and support, with built-in flexibility which takes into account Parties’ different capacities and builds upon collective experience is hereby established.”

The issue of transparency (inspections) has been a hard red line for the United States, which advocates for a single system through which the carbon reductions of all countries, whether industrialized or developing, could be evaluated. Establishing this system constitutes a success for the United States, and represents a key to establishing trust among all countries.


The agreement says: “In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy - wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy - wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances

This wording sends the message to the fossil-fuel producing countries and industry that much of the world’s remaining reserves of coal, oil and gas must stay in the ground and cannot be burned. However, the agreement contains no language, as a previous version did, for “reaching greenhouse gas emissions neutrality in the second half of the century.” Wording in an earlier draft of the agreement stated "wealthier countries shall set economy-wide targets for cutting their greenhouse gas pollution." "Shall" implies legal obligation and "should" does not. The shall wording could have obliged the Obama administration to submit the final agreement to the Senate for its approval. Clearly, the GOP-controlled Senate would kill it on sight.


The agreement says: “Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.”

This is the first time the concept of “loss and damage” has been specifically defined in an international agreement, in recognition of small coastal island countries suffering from the effects of climate change from sea level rise and more intense ocean tides and wave action, and more intense storms. However, the agreement includes no language related to liability, which was opposed by industrialized nations pouring out CO2 emissions. Still, even the inclusion of "Loss and Damage" language in the agreement is a significant recognition of the destructive nature of climate change driven by rising global temperatures.


The agreement says: “Each Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years in accordance with decision 1/CP.21 and any relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement and be informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake referred to in Article 14.”

This language specifies a legal requirement for countries to report for evaluation, new greenhouse gas emission reduction targets every five years. Bringing the number down to five-year limits constitutes a tightening of the accord, as some countries, India in particular, had insisted on 10-year evaluation cycles.
Speaking at the opening session of the United Nations global climate summit in Paris on November 30th, President Obama urged his fellow world leaders on Monday to reach a landmark deal to curb global warming.
"I come here personally as the leader of world’s biggest economy and second biggest emitter to say that America not only acknowledges its role in climate change but embraces doing something about it," Obama said.
Obama said that he saw "the effects change first hand in Alaska, where the sea is already swallowing villages and eroding shorelines" and "where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times."

Annual global emissions of CO2 have risen steadily from 21 billion tons in 1992 to 32 billion tons in 2012. The rate of increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases has accelerated, by roughly 30% since the 1990’s. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of 400 ppm are now consistent worldwide, up from 354 ppm in 1990, and 277 ppm in 1750.

As the year 2015 comes to a close, the world has reached the 1°C (1.8°F) level of global warming over pre-industrial temperature levels. Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998, and the impacts of climate change are already being felt from the tropics to the poles. 2015 is highly likely to be the warmest year on record and the first to breach the 1°C temperature milestone. In fact, we actually exceeded 1°C warming more than a decade ago. The problem is that here, and elsewhere, an inappropriate baseline has been invoked for defining the "pre-industrial." The warming was measured relative to the average over the latter half of the 19th century (1850-1900). In other words, the base year implicitly used to define "pre-industrial" conditions is 1875, the mid-point of that interval. Yet the industrial revolution and the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations associated with it, began more than a century earlier.

Some climate scientists project 2°C (3.6°F) of warming over pre-industrial levels by mid-century, including new climate models that include increasing natural greenhouse gas emissions promoted by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, if the trend of increasing global anthropogenic CO2 emissions continues unabated.

Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester in Britain, says many scientists are self-censoring their work to downplay the severity of the climate crisis. Dr. Anderson recently wrote,
"Yet so far we simply have not been prepared to accept the revolutionary implications of our own findings, and even when we do we are reluctant to voice such thoughts openly, many are ultimately choosing to censor their own research."
The Washington, D.C-based nonprofit Climate Interactive estimates that without international action to curtail and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world will warm by 3.5°C over pre-industrial global temperature norms by 2100.
3°C of warming, or more, would be the “tipping point” where global warming could run out of control, leaving us powerless to intervene as planetary temperatures soar. America's most eminent climate scientist, James Hansen says warming has brought us to the "precipice of a great “tipping point”. If we go over the edge, it will be a transition to “a different planet”, an environment far outside the range that has been experienced by humanity.
The Pentagon has made public a report asserting decisively that climate change poses an immediate threat to national security, with increased risks from terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages. The Pentagon sees the loss of glaciers will strain water supplies in several areas of our hemisphere and devastation from hurricanes can sow the seeds for instability. The danger is droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration. The Pentagon also predicts rising demand for military disaster responses as extreme weather creates more global humanitarian crises.

During a visit to The Washington Post in late November 2015, climate scientists employed by Exxon told The Post global warming is not only real, it is a clear and present danger with average temperatures likely to rise by a catastrophic] 5 to 7 degrees Celsius, or even more quite possible.
This surprising public admission from Exxon comes shortly after investigative news reports from InsideClimate News and then from the Los Angeles Times saying Exxon funded a misinformation campaign denying global warming for the past 35 years.

Both reports document Exxon knew as early as 1977 that humans were influencing the global climate through carbon dioxide release from burning fossil fuels. In the decades since the company’s own experts confirmed the gravity of climate change and the consequences of ignoring it, Exxon spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding outside groups to actively deny climate change, including the American Legislative Exchange Council, of which Exxon is a current member.

In early November, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman delivered a major blow by publicly confirming an investigation into Exxon’s climate denial history with a subpoena to turn over documents by December 4.
In the Pliocene era, three million years ago, temperatures were 3°C higher than our pre-industrial levels, so it gives us an insight into the three-degree world. The northern hemisphere was free of glaciers and ice sheets, beech trees grew in the Transantarctic mountains, sea levels were 25 meters higher [82 feet], with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 360-400 ppm, very similar to today.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger posted a note on Facebook recently that made a very good point about climate change and renewable energy: It really doesn’t matter what you believe.

Schwarzenegger asked his fellow Republicans, who think climate change is a conspiracy or a hoax, whether deaths from pollution and the extreme weather events of climate change are acceptable, and whether fossil fuels will last forever. In Schwarzenegger's FB post, he asks, in what kind of world we want to live:
"There are two doors. Behind Door Number One is a completely sealed room, with a regular, gasoline-fueled car. Behind Door Number Two is an identical, completely sealed room, with an electric car. Both engines are running full blast.

I want you to pick a door to open, and enter the room and shut the door behind you. You have to stay in the room you choose for one hour. You cannot turn off the engine. You do not get a gas mask.

I’m guessing you chose the Door Number Two, with the electric car, right? Door number one is a fatal choice – who would ever want to breathe those fumes?"
We are in an era where addressing climate change is largely split down party lines, especially in Congress. A rare number of moderate Republicans like Schwarzenegger, who believe a healthy environment and climate are good public policy, haven’t yet been able to sway Republicans who argue clean energy will kill the economy. But Schwarzenegger knows a green economy can work. As governor of California, he worked with the Democratic-led legislature to enact the nation’s first comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions reduction law and the nation’s first low-carbon fuel standard. Now California is the nation’s leader in both solar installations and solar jobs.

Schwarzenegger has been outspoken on climate change for some time and is in Paris for the United Nations’ ongoing climate talks. “I, personally, want a plan,” Schwarzenegger writes. “I don’t want to be like the last horse and buggy salesman who was holding out as cars took over the roads. I don’t want to be the last investor in Blockbuster as Netflix emerged. That’s exactly what is going to happen to fossil fuels.”

In its first day, Schwarzenegger's FB post attracted more than 80,000 shares and nearly 50,000 likes, including from Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Zuckerberg, along with fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, is part of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a new, multi-billion-dollar initiative to spur clean energy research. No matter anyone says about clean energy, it can not be argued fossil fuels are an unlimited resource that will not eventually run out..

But for today’s Republican Party, speaking global warming and climate change is akin to heresy. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says he doesn’t believe in climate change and that measures to fight it would “imperil the companies in our country.” Many of the party’s presidential candidates deny that the planet is even warming (e.g. Ted Cruz), or that humans are responsible (e.g. Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich). Florida Sen. Marco Rubio seems to acknowledge that climate change might be real, but opposes any action to deal with it.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz — who is currently one of the GOP front-runners in Iowa — is certain global warming stopped 18 years ago.  Cruz says, “climate change is not science, it’s religion.” Kevin Trenberth, a leading climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Climate Desk that Cruz's theory is "a load of claptrap…absolute bunk." And Ben Santer, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, blasted Cruz for "embracing ignorance with open arms."
During a recent Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing Cruz chaired, Cruz repeatedly insisted "there has been no significant global warming for the past 18 years."

Retired Rear Admiral David Titley — a meteorologist who previously served as the oceanographer of the Navy, who is now a meteorology professor at Penn State — testifying before the subcommittee rebutted Cruz's assertion by pointing to chart of more than a century's worth of temperature data, and saying, "I'm just a simple sailor, but it's hard for me to see the pause on that chart."

Cruz shot back data from satellites — frequently touted by climate change deniers — proofs there has been no significant global warming for the past 18 years. Titley's chart uses data from thermometers on the Earth's surface. Titley answered Cruz saying satellite measurements have a number of significant problems.
There are important limitations in satellite temperature data readings.
First, satellite temperature readings have a very large degree of uncertainty, compared to land-based thermometers. That's because satellites don't make direct measurements of temperature, they instead sense microwaves from oxygen molecules in the atmosphere that vary with temperature. Fluctuations in a satellite's orbit and altitude and calibrations to its microwave-sensing equipment can all drastically vary temperature readings, yielding very imprecise temperature recordings.

More importantly, satellites measure temperatures in the upper atmosphere, about six miles above the land and water surface. Temperatures at that altitude are important piece of the climate and weather system, but it's only one piece. But the unequivocal and perhaps even more relevant temperature readings to those of us who live on the Earth's surface are direct thermometer readings of land and ocean air temperatures, plus ocean water temperatures. All these temperature readings are increasing, causing sea ice to decline, glaciers to shrink, oceans levels to rise, the list goes on.
Leading Republican climate change denier Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the Paris Climate agreement is no different from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change adopted 18 years ago. Inhofe, an outspoken doubter of the human role in climate change, has worked with other Republicans in Congress in recent months to undermine the Paris agreement. Senate Republican leadership has already been outspoken in its positions that the United States is not legally bound to any agreement setting emissions targets or any financial commitment to it without approval by Congress.

The Republican controlled U.S. House passed a 2015 Defense Appropriation bill that directs the Pentagon to disregard climate change in its threat assessments to the security of the U.S. The Pentagon takes climate change and its impacts seriously and has included these issues in two quadrennial defense planning studies. US Rep. Sam Johnson (Tx-3rd, Collin County) voted for the defense planning restriction.

A 2014 Department of Defense report identifies climate change as the root of government in stability that leads to widespread migration, damages infrastructure and leads to the spread of disease. “These gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism,” the report says.

The parallels between the situation described in the DOD report and the tumult in Syria are striking. A paper published in the academic journal PNAS this year outlines how climate change helped create instability and fighting in Syria. The Islamic State, commonly known as ISIS, arose in the country in large part due to that instability.

The worst drought on record in the Middle Eastern country cause food crops to fail, creating famine for wide rural areas of the country and threatened the national food supply. This caused a mass migration from rural areas hit by drought to the cities. The cities were not able to house and feed the mass influx of people. The people went to the streets to protest their hunger and lack of housing, which gave militant groups the opportunity turn those hunger protests into a civil war against the Syrian government.

At the same time, the government has struggled to hold on to power across the country in the face of militant groups and millions of Syrians who have fled their rural homeland.

Republicans use to be concerned about global warming and climate change too. Documents from the George H.W. Bush administration of the late 1980's show his advisers and Cabinet, released in November as world leaders gather in Paris to negotiate a global climate change accord, show that Bush administration was very worried about the threat of global warming.  The documents, gathered by a nonprofit group through a public records request, show Bush’s senior staff considering whether dramatic action could stop the worst effects of climate change:
“Global climate change is the most far reaching environmental issue of our time,” a 1989 memo from Acting Assistant Secretary of State Richard J. Smith said. “If the climate change within the range of current predictions actually occurs, the consequences for every nation and every aspect of human activity will be profound.”

Writing to Secretary of State James Baker, Smith said, “As you yourself stated we cannot wait until all the uncertainties have been resolved before we act to limit greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for whatever climate change we are already committed to.”
The National Security Archive also found documents from the President Reagan administration showing his advisers expressing concerns with big environmental issues of the day. Specifically, they were pushing for more action to protect the ozone layer and participate in a global treaty on ozone.
“Many regard this issue as the most important priority on the global environmental agenda,” a top official wrote to Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz.
Staying out of the treaty, the memo said, “would damage our international credibility, unleash major domestic criticism, and probably result in unilateral U.S.” action to protect the ozone.
The Guardian - The Republican Party Of Today Stands Alone In Climate Denial: Amid internal calls for climate action, a study finds U.S. Republicans are the only climate-denying conservative party in the world.
A paper published in the journal Politics and Policy by Sondre B├ątstrand at the University of Bergen in Norway compared the climate positions of conservative political parties around the world. B├ątstrand examined the platforms or manifestos of the conservative parties from the USA, UK, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Germany. He found U.S. Republicans stand alone in their rejection of climate change. Every other conservative political party in the world recognizes it. Australia this year replaced its climate-doubter prime minister Tony Abbott with climate realist Malcolm Turnbull.

As Jonathan Chait wrote of Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s proposals to eliminate all significant American national climate policies,
In any other democracy in the world, a Jeb Bush would be an isolated loon, operating outside the major parties, perhaps carrying on at conferences with fellow cranks, but having no prospects of seeing his vision carried out in government. But the United States is different. Here in America, ideas like Bush’s fit comfortably within one of the two major political parties. Indeed, the greatest barrier to Bush claiming his party’s nomination is the quite possibly justified sense that he is too sober and moderate to suit the GOP.
Republican Party leaders are growing increasingly out of step with their own voters. A recent survey found that conservative Republicans support accelerating the growth of clean energy, and 54% accept that humans are contributing to climate change and support putting a price on carbon pollution. These poll results are consistent with previous surveys finding that while Republican voters generally don’t see climate change as a top priority, a majority of Republican voters support regulating carbon as a pollutant, and a plurality even support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
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