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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #4B

Posted on 24 January 2015 by John Hartz

AfDB Climate Change Committee shares outcomes of COP20 and looks ahead to Paris climate talks

On Wednesday, January 21, the African Development Bank’s Climate Change Coordination Committee (CCCC) organized a knowledge sharing seminar at the institution’s headquarters in Abidjan to highlight the outcomes of the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima, Peru, in December. The committee also looked ahead to COP21 in Paris later this year, where a new universally binding climate agreement is expected to be concluded. 

In his opening remarks, Solomon Asamoah, Vice-President, Infrastructure, Private Sector and Regional Integration, explained why the climate debate is important for Africa: “Africa is our workplace and our home; if its concerns are not part of the global climate debate; our business suffers. But it’s not just the business; it’s the millions of lives and livelihoods at stake. This should matter to us”. Asamoah was quick to caution that the Bank cannot manage this task alone and called for the Bank to develop meaningful partnerships with other institutions around the world.

COP20 presented Africa with the opportunity to examine the implications of the proposed new and binding international agreement on the continent and the imperative of Africa’s leaders to prepare to take on binding commitments as being proposed and to grow low-carbon and climate-resilient economies.

AfDB Climate Change Committee shares outcomes of COP20 and looks ahead to Paris climate talks, African Development Bank, Jan 22, 2015

An Arctic ice cap’s shockingly rapid slide into the sea

For years, scientists have documented the rapid retreat of Arctic ice, from melting glaciers in Greenland to shrinking snow cover in far northern Eurasia. Now researchers have discovered one Arctic ice cap that appears to be literally sliding into the sea.

Ice is disappearing at a truly astonishing rate in Austfonna, an expanse of frozen rock far north of the Arctic Circle in Norway’s Svalbard island chain. Just since 2012, a portion of the ice cap covering the island has thinned by a whopping 160 feet, according to an analysis of satellite measurements by a team led by researchers at Britain’s University of Leeds.

Put another way, the ice cap’s vertical expanse dropped in two years by a distance equivalent to the height of a 16-story building. As another comparison, consider that scientists were recently alarmed to discover that one of Western Antarctica’s ice sheets was losing vertical height at a rate of 30 feet a year.

An Arctic ice cap’s shockingly rapid slide into the sea by John Warrick, Washington Post, Jan 23, 2015

Climate change moves the Doomsday Clock 

The end of civilization as we know it just got a little closer. According to an update to the Doomsday Clock, the world is now three minutes from midnight and one of the big reasons is the failure to reduce greenhouse emissions even in the face of climate change.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists maintains the clock and resets the hands every few years based on existential threats to civilization. Created in 1947, the clock initially served as a warning about the threat of nuclear weapons, but climate change has started to mess with the hands of time in recent years. This is the fourth update to the clock that explicitly mentions climate change, though it’s an issue that has been on the Bulletin’s radar since 1961.

The clock was last updated in 2012, when the hands were set at five minutes to midnight. The reason the world is closer to doomsday now is the growing clarity about impacts of climate change, including some already occurring, and the inaction to do anything about it.

Climate Change Moves the Doomsday Clock by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Jan 22, 2015

Cold nights are decreasing across the U.S.

It’s easy to think of global warming as something that happens at a steady pace everywhere. But that’s not the full story. It’s true that the global average temperature has been rising overall since modern record-keeping began, and it’s true that 2014 was the hottest year on record, but the rise hasn’t been perfectly steady. Each year isn’t always warmer than the one before, and some places — the Arctic, for example — have warmed faster than others.

When you zoom in, even regions in the U.S. have warmed at different rates. Some seasons have warmed faster than others. And the pace of warming can even vary depending on the time of day. For example, a Climate Central analysis in 2013 showed that winter nights in the U.S. have warmed about 30 percent faster than nights over the entire year. 

Cold Nights Are Decreasing Across the U.S., Climate Central, Jan 23, 2015

How a group of conspiracy theorists could derail the debate over climate policy

As governments’ efforts to cut greenhouse-gas emissions continue to sputter, some researchers have discussed another possible tool for combating climate change: “geoengineering” the climate. One particular form of it, “solar geoengineering,” would involve reflecting sunlight away from the Earth to reduce future warming, possibly by deploying an army of mirrors or spraying the air with reflective aerosols that would function like a chemical sunscreen.

But as it turns out, some people believe that a global campaign is already underway to have aircraft spray the air with chemicals — whether to control climate change or for other, more sinister purposes.

Meet the “chemtrails” crowd, who posit that governments, scientists and other institutions are using airplanes’ “chemtrails” — basically contrails that are allegedly laced with chemicals — to alter the climate, create extreme weather, poison people, or even control our minds. The chemtrails movement has gained a small but passionate following on the Internet, with people across the ideological spectrum — from left-wingers worried about the environment to right-wingers concerned about abuses of government power. We don’t know the size of the community, but followers generally point to seeming irregularities in aircraft contrails as indisputable proof that illicit weather or climate modification is already happening, right now, and being used to control people and nations, especially poor ones. Chemtrails activist Dane Wigington, for instance, points to videos of an airplane spewing out multiple exhaust trails of different lengths, or airplanes spewing trails of different colors. “This amounts to weather warfare — period,” he charges.

How a group of conspiracy theorists could derail the debate over climate policy by Puneet Kollipara, Washington Post, Jan 23, 2015

How far Obama’s message on climate change has come

In his State of the Union address, President Obama made what are surely his strongest statements yet about climate change — at least for a State of the Union speech. "No challenge? — ?no challenge? — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change," he warned, proceeding to launch into a three paragraph sally that included some serious mockery of therecent Republican "I'm not a scientist" talking point.

The president also strongly emphasized the strength of the science on climate change, cited six years of progress by his administration, and warned that " I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts."

He may be responding with such force precisely because the threat is now so great.

How far Obama’s message on climate change has come by Chris Mooney, Wonk Blog, Washington Post, Jan 22, 2015

India’s Modi calls for “paradigm shift” on climate

Narendra Modi has called for “paradigm shift” in attitudes towards climate change, promising to back clean energy and energy efficiency measures.

India’s prime minister said he wanted countries with the “greatest” solar energy potential to cooperate more closely to help reduce its costs and offer power to remote communities.

“PM called on nations join hands with India for innovation & cutting-edge research,” he tweeted.

Modi made the comments after he had chaired the country’s high-level climate panel on Monday, the first time the body had met in over three years

India’s Modi calls for “paradigm shift” on climate by Ed King, Responding to Climate Change (RTCC), Jan 19, 2015

Leaders in Davos urge quick aAction to alter the effects of climate change

DAVOS, Switzerland – On the heels of data showing that last year was the hottest on earth since record keeping began, business leaders, politicians and scientists at the World Economic Forum redoubled their calls to combat climate change.

In panels and private discussions, executives and legislators were comparing notes on the growing economic cost of changing weather patterns, and debating what practical steps could be taken in the near term.

At the same time, corporate leaders implored governments to come to a broad agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will take place in Paris at the end of the year.

“This is the year to make a big climate deal in Paris,” Feike Sijbesma, chief executive of DSM, the big Dutch nutrition and materials company, said in an interview. “We need to push further awareness, we need to put a price on carbon.”

Leaders in Davos Urge Quick Action to Alter the Effects of Climate Change by David Gelles, New York Times, Jan 23, 2015

Obama moves to bring order to groups dealing with Arctic warming

As Senate votes were rolling in Wednesday—declaring climate change real, but denying mankind's role in it—President Barack Obama was issuing a different kind of decree. In the first executive order after his State of the Union address, the White House created the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, which will attempt to wrangle the numerous agencies in charge of Arctic programs and better coordinate their work in the face of climate change. 

"Over the past 60 years, climate change has caused the Alaskan Arctic to warm twice as rapidly as the rest of the United States," Obama said in the order, "and will continue to transform the Arctic as its consequences grow more severe."

The order included the United States' responsibility to "mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change" and to be ruled by "science-based decision making." 

Obama Moves to Bring Order to Groups Dealing with Arctic Warming by Sabrina Shankman, Inside Climate News, Jan 22, 2015

Scientists react: 2014 confirmed as hottest year on record

NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  have confirmed 2014 was the warmest year since records began in 1880.

The 10 warmest years in the instrumental record, with the exception of 1998, have now occurred since 2000.

Carbon Brief rounds up the reaction from scientists…

Scientists react: 2014 confirmed as hottest year on record, The Carbon Brief, Jan 16, 2015

Should tackling climate change trump protecting nature?

Does the need to mitigate the effects of man-made climate change override the need to protect nature? 

Climate change is with us, and is one of nine reasons why scientists are now concerned that the rate of environmental degradation is a threat to the future of human life on Earth. The loss of biodiversity, dubbed the Sixth Green Extinction by some, is another threat to humanity, with nearly half of the world’s amphibians and a fifth of its plants at risk of extinction.

We do not have the luxury of choosing which of these nine challenges to tackle; they are all critical to our survival.

Should tackling climate change trump protecting nature? by Miles King, Environment blog, The Guardian, Jan 19, 2015

The oceans are warming so fast, they keep breaking scientists' charts

Wow, was this a bad year for those who deny the reality and the significance of human-induced climate change. Of course, there were the recent flurry of reports that 2014 surface temperatures had hit their hottest values ever recorded. The 2014 record was first called on this blog in December and the final results were reported as well, here. All of this happened in a year that the denialists told us would not be very hot. 

But those denialists are having a tough time now as they look around the planet for ANY evidence that climate change is not happening. The problem is, they’ve been striking out.

And just recently, perhaps the most important bit of information came out about 2014 – how much the Earth actually warmed. What we find is that the warming is so great, NOAA literally has to remake its graphs. Let me explain this a bit.

The oceans are warming so fast, they keep breaking scientists' charts by John Abraham, Climate Consensus - the 97%, The Guardian, Jan 22, 2015

The U.S. has caused more global warming than any other country. Here’s how the Earth will get its revenge.

Last year, we learned what is probably the worst global warming news yet— that we may have irrevocably destabilized the massive ice sheet of West Antarctica, which contains the equivalent of nearly 11 feet of sea level rise. The rate of West Antarctic ice loss has been ominously increasing, and there are fears that if too much goes, the slow and long-term process of ice sheet disintegration could accelerate.

Humans have a hard time conceiving of the incredible scale of an ice sheet, so the consequences of such a change can be lost upon us. But in a new paper in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers — Forensic Engineering, researchers Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., and John Abraham of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. – summarize what we now know about West Antarctica. That includes a finding that may serve as a wake-up call for Americans in particular.

Namely: If West Antarctica collapses entirely — a process that would likely play out over centuries, but that could substantially begin in this one – the expected 11 feet of sea level rise won’t just spread out evenly across the ocean. The United States will actually get a lot more sea level rise than many other parts of the world — possibly over 14 feet. Call it geophysical karma — we’re the nation most responsible for global warming and, at least in this particular case, we’ll get more of the consequences.

The U.S. has caused more global warming than any other country. Here’s how the Earth will get its revenge. by Chris Mooney, Washington Post, Jan 22, 2015

U.N. asks countries for climate plans after record warm 2014

The United Nations asked governments on Thursday to submit plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions as the building blocks of a deal due in Paris in December to limit global warming, after scientists said 2014 was the hottest year on record.

Governments have agreed an informal deadline of March 31 to submit plans as the basis of the U.N. deal to slow climate change, which nearly all climate scientists say is mainly due to rising emissions of man-made greenhouse gases.

Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said the meeting in Paris was a chance to get on track "towards a deep de-carbonisation of the global economy, achieving climate neutrality in the second half of the century".

The secretariat launched a website (here) to collect the national plans.

U.N. asks countries for climate plans after record warm 2014 by Alister Doyle, Reuters, Jan 22, 2014

UN climate chief: Carbon bubble is now a reality

The idea that investors may lose money sunk into fossil fuel projects is no longer just a theory—according to to UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, it is now a reality.

Green groups have warned that huge reserves of oil, gas and coal are overvalued and could lead to a “carbon bubble”. This is because increasingly stringent climate policies will require around half of known fossil fuels to stay in the ground, instead of returning a profit to investors.

Many, including oil giant Exxon Mobil, have shrugged off the threat. But Figueres, who leads the UN’s climate body, said that low oil prices are already affecting the market.

UN climate chief: Carbon bubble is now a reality by Sopphie Yeo, Responding to Climate Change (RTCC), Jan 20, 2015 

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