2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #49B

Canada's climate inaction leaves it 'increasingly isolated'

Canada is looking "increasingly isolated" as former climate policy laggards such as the U.S. and China take action to tackle climate change, policy experts say.

Earlier this month, the U.S. and China announced an agreement tosignificantly cut and cap their greenhouse gas emissions.

Not only does that give a big boost to the global momentum to tackle climate change, but it cranks up the international pressure on Canada ahead of the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 20), which opens today in Lima, Peru.

"They make [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper look increasingly isolated," said Simon Dalby, CIGI chair in the political economy of climate change at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ont.

Canada's climate inaction leaves it 'increasingly isolated' ahead of COP 20 by Emily Chung, CBC News, Dec 1, 2014

CO2 takes just 10 years to reach planet’s peak heat

n a study that could have important ramifications on estimating the impacts, costs and benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, new research shows that CO2 brings peak heat within a decade of being emitted, with the effects then lingering 100 years or more into the future.

The research, published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, provides policymakers and economists with a new perspective on how fast human carbon emissions heat the planet. Back-of-the-envelope estimates for how long it takes for a given puff of CO2 to crank up the heat have generally been from 40-50 years. But the new study shows that the timeframe for CO2 emissions to reach their maximum warming potential is likely closer to 10 years.

“The way we talk about climate change is often, ‘oh, we’re really making emissions cuts for the sake of our children or grandchildren because the effects won’t be felt for decades. But the implications are that there’s certainly benefits that can be reaped by people making decisions today,” Katharine Ricke, a research fellow from Stanford who led the study, said. “The difference for an economist or a policymaker between something that happens 10 years from now or 40 years from now is a big deal.”

CO2 Takes Just 10 Years to Reach Planet’s Peak Heat by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Dec 3, 2014

El Nino's 'remote control' on hurricanes in the Northeastern Pacific

El Niño, the abnormal warming of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, is a well-studied tropical climate phenomenon that occurs every few years. It has major impacts on society and Earth's climate - inducing intense droughts and floods in multiple regions of the globe. Further, scientists have observed that El Niño greatly influences the yearly variations of tropical cyclones (a general term which includes hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones) in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

However, there is a mismatch in both timing and location between this climate disturbance and the Northern Hemisphere hurricane season: El Niño peaks in winter and its surface ocean warming occurs mostly along the equator, i.e. a season and region without tropical cyclone (TC) activity. This prompted scientists to investigate El Niño's influence on hurricanes via its remote ability to alter atmospheric conditions such as stability and vertical wind shear rather than the local oceanic environment.

El Nino's 'remote control' on hurricanes in the Northeastern Pacific, Phys.org, Dec 4, 2014

Even climate change experts and activists might be in denial

Another month, another important UN climate change conference. The latest is in Lima, the capital of Peru. Thousands of experts from the world of politics, business, academia and civil society – and Leonardo DiCaprio – have flown around the world to urge us all to curb our carbon emissions.

Recent meetings have failed to make significant progress. Yet, this year there are high hopes that the US-China climate deal and the New York UN Climate Summit will allow Lima to provide a stepping stone for a binding emissions agreement at next year’s meeting in Paris.

However, even if a deal can be reached – despite the urgent need for it – there is no guarantee that global greenhouse gas emissions will actually come down significantly and dangerous climate change can be averted. Psychoanalytic theory provides disturbing insights into why this may be so – and it is all to do with the split psychological make-up of those who work at the forefront of climate science, policy and activism.

Even climate change experts and activists might be in denial by Steffen Böhm and Aanka Batta, The Conversation UK, Dec 4, 2014

George Shultz gone solar

As Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz faced off against Muammar Qaddafi, the Soviet Union and Chinese communists.

His latest cause, though, is one few fellow Republicans support: fighting climate change.

Two years ago, Shultz was alarmed when a retired Navy admiral showed him a video of vanishing Arctic sea ice and explained the implications for global stability. Now, the former Cold Warrior drives an electric car, sports solar panels on his California roof and argues for government action against global warming at clean-energy conferences.

Living a life powered “on sunshine,” Shultz, at 93, has a message for the doubters who dominate his own party: “The potential results are catastrophic,” he said in an interview. “So let’s take out an insurance policy.”

George Shultz Gone Solar. Now That's a Sign of Thawing in the U.S. Climate Debate by Alex Nussbaum, Mark Chediak and Zain Shauk, Bloomberg/Business Week, Dec 1, 2014

Giving climate pact legal teeth could make it toothless

As negotiators gather in Peru for a critical round of climate talks, U.S. delegates are straining to explain what they calla “counterintuitive” reality: For next year’s global climate agreement to be effective, commitments made under it must not be legally binding.

Such an outcome would disappoint many, including the European Union’s negotiating team, which says it will be pushing for binding commitments during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Lima this week and next. America’s negotiators are pushing for voluntary commitments.

The success of the next climate agreement, which is due to be finalized during talks in Paris one year from now, may hinge on American negotiators winning in this latest spat in a long-simmering quarrel with their European counterparts.

Giving Climate Pact Legal Teeth Could Make It Toothless by John Upton, Cliamte Central, Dec 3, 2014

In decades since COP1, world has gotten hotter, weirder

In the more than two decades since world leaders first got together to try to solve global warming, life on Earth has changed, not just the climate. It's gotten hotter, more polluted with heat-trapping gases, more crowded and just downright wilder. 

The numbers are stark. Carbon dioxide emissions: up 60 percent. Global temperature: up six-tenths of a degree. Population: up 1.7 billion people. Sea level: up 3 inches. U.S. extreme weather: up 30 percent. Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica: down 4.9 trillion tons of ice. 

"Simply put, we are rapidly remaking the planet and beginning to suffer the consequences," says Michael Oppenheimer, professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University.

In Decades Since Leaders First Got Together On Climate, World Has Gotten Hotter, Weirder by Seth Borenstein, AP/The Huffington Post, Dec 1, 2014

Investigation finds dirty coal projects being financed by climate funds

Close to $1 billion in funds meant to finance global climate-mitigation projects is going toward the construction of power plants fired by coal—the biggest human source of carbon pollution—according to an Associated Press investigation.

The findings underscore the lack of rules designed to steer the United Nations' 'climate finance' initiative, through which rich countries funnel money to poor countries to help tackle global warming, Karl Ritter and Margie Mason wrote for the AP.

"The money for coal highlights one of the biggest problems in the UN-led effort to fight climate change: A lack of accountability," they pointed out. "Climate finance is critical to any global climate deal, and rich countries have pledged billions of dollars toward it in UN climate talks, which resume Monday in Lima, Peru. Yet there is no watchdog agency that ensures the money is spent in the most effective way. There's not even a common definition on what climate finance is."  

Investigation Finds Dirty Coal Projects Being Financed by Climate Funds by Deirdre Fulton, Common Dreams, Dec 1, 2014

McKibben donates prize money to 350.org, steps down as chair

In a letter on Tuesday morning sent from Stockholm, Sweden—where on Monday night he accepted a Right Livelihood Award on behalf of himself and the climate action group 350.org—the journalist turned activist Bill McKibben announced that in addition to donating the prize money to the group he co-founded with former students, he will also be stepping down as chair of the organization's board of directors.

"No one should run a board forever," said McKibben in a blog post on the 350.org website that also went out to supporters of the group. McKibben vowed to remain highly active in the organization, retaining a seat on the board and acting as a senior adviser. "Don’t worry," he told members. "I’ll still be there when the time comes to go to jail, or to march in the streets, or to celebrate the next big win on divestment."

Amid Receipt of 'Alternative Nobel,' McKibben Donates Prize Money to 350.org, Steps Down as Chair by John Queally, Common Dreams, Dec 2, 2014

Nuff said: CO2 emissions plan moves to next step

The coal industry calls it a devastating volley in a “war on coal,” while the Obama administration considers it major progress in its fight against climate change.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan comes with a dry name, but it’s one of the most significant ways the federal government is trying to curtail carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. to combat global warming. With the passing of the Dec. 1 deadline for public feedback, the EPA moved this week to the next step of the plan’s approval process.

More than 1.6 million people, companies and organizations sent the EPA their thoughts on the plan, which, if approved in 2015, would slash CO2 emissions from existing power plants running on fossil fuels. The EPA is giving states wide latitude in how they cut that pollution, allowing them to go it alone or collaborate with other states.

‘Nuff Said: CO2 Emissions Plan Moves to Next Step by Bobby Magil, Common Dreams, Dec 4, 2014

Rapid warming hits Antarctica's shallow seas 

Ocean waters around Antarctica have warmed steadily for the past 40 years, according to a new study.

Some shallow areas have also heated more quickly than others, and waters around Antarctica are growing less salty in some regions, researchers reported today (Dec. 4) in the journal Science. The changes have spurred dramatic melting of ice shelves and could be a factor in Antarctica's record-breaking seasonal sea ice growth, the scientists said.

The study is the first comprehensive survey of temperature and salinity records for the Southern Ocean, said lead study author Sunke Schmidtko, an oceanographer at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany. The research confirms earlier findings of rapid warming in deep offshore currents in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. However, Schmidtko and his co-authors also report significant heating of ocean water on the continental shelf, the shallow underwater region that underlies Antarctica's floating ice shelves.

Rapid warming hits Antarctica's shallow seas by Becky Oskin, Live Science, Dec 4, 2014

Research confirms how global warming links to carbon emissions

Research by the University of Liverpool has identified, for the first time, how global warming is related to the amount of carbon emitted.

A team of researchers from the Universities of Liverpool, Southampton and Bristol have derived the first theoretical equation to demonstrate that global warming is a direct result of the build-up of carbon emissions since the late 1800s when man-made carbon emissions began.

The results are in accord with previous data from climate models.

The theoretical equation revealed the complex relationship between carbon dioxide levels and the ocean system.

Research confirms how global warming links to carbon emissions, Pys.org, Dec 1, 2014

Tea Partiers and traditional Republicans are split on science

It is very common these days to hear references to Republicans having conflicts with science. Most recently, Politico reported last week that the "next battle in the war on science" will involve efforts by congressional Republicans to control funding for (or even seek to defund) a variety of types of government supported research, including climate research and social science.

But if a new study just out in the journal Environmental Politics is correct, the conflict between "Republicans" and the scientific community may really boil down to a conflict between scientists and today's so-called Tea Party. The paper suggests that on a large array of scientific topics, members of the Tea Party diverge markedly from more traditional members of the GOP.

"There are greater differences on environment and science questions between Tea Party supporters and non-Tea Party Republicans than there are between non-Tea Party Republicans and Independents," says sociologist Lawrence Hamilton of the University of New Hampshire, who co-authored the paper with his university colleague Kei Saito. "As far as I know, that hasn’t been found before, and we found that standing out in our data analysis."

Tea Partiers and traditional Republicans are split on science by Chris Mooney, Wonkblog, Washington Post, Dec 2, 2014

West Antarctic melt rate has tripled

 comprehensive, 21-year analysis of the fastest-melting region of Antarctica has found that the melt rate of glaciers there has tripled during the last decade.

The glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment in West Antarctica are hemorrhaging ice faster than any other part of Antarctica and are the most significant Antarctic contributors to sea level rise. This study by scientists at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and NASA is the first to evaluate and reconcile observations from four different measurement techniques to produce an authoritative estimate of the amount and the rate of loss over the last two decades.

“The mass loss of these glaciers is increasing at an amazing rate," said scientist Isabella Velicogna, jointly of UCI and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Velicogna is a coauthor of a paper on the results, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

West Antarctic melt rate has tripled by Carol Rasmussen, NASA Global Climate Change, Dec 2, 2014

Why this U.N. climate summit is especially important

Thousands of diplomats from around the world are gathering today in Lima, Peru, in the latest round of wrangling to hammer out a deal to address climate change. This two-week conference is the COP20 — meaning, it is the 20th conference of parties to 1992’s U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Yes, we’ve been having a lot of these climate-related U.N. summits — one every year, in fact, plus the summit in New York City earlier this year, which wasn’t an official conference of parties. You, dear Grist reader, are more likely than most to reside in that small minority that finds every U.N. summit on climate change worth paying attention to — but this COP is really important, and even more worth paying attention to than the rest of them. That’s because negotiations are both more urgent and seem more likely to accomplish something than in years past. 

Why this U.N. climate summit is especially important by John Light, Grist, Dec 1, 2014

Posted by John Hartz on Saturday, 6 December, 2014

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