2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #12A

Amazon rainforest is taking up a third less carbon than a decade ago

The amount of carbon that the Amazon rainforest is absorbing from the atmosphere and storing each year has fallen by around a third in the last decade, says a new 30-year study by almost 100 researchers.

This decline in the Amazon carbon sink amounts to one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide - equivalent to over twice the UK's annual emissions, the researchers say.

If this pattern exists in other forests around the world, deeper cuts in human-caused carbon dioxide emissions are needed to meet climate targets, the researchers say.

Amazon rainforest is taking up a third less carbon than a decade ago by Robert McSweeney, The Carbon Brief, Mar 18, 2015

California, Quebec teaming up on climate change

California raised $630 million by selling pollution allowances one Wednesday last month, each of them entitling the buyer to harm the climate with a ton of carbon dioxide. Most of the money that was raised during the quarterly allowance auction will be used to reduce customers’ electricity bills; the rest will go to environmental projects. That same Wednesday, the Canadian province of Quebec raised $150 million doing the exact same thing.

The timing was no coincidence. The auction was held jointly. It was the result of the historic linking of two cap-and-trade programs operating in different nations, thousands of miles apart. A refinery in Richmond, Calif., can now buy its pollution allowances from Quebec. In lieu of buying an allowance needed to release a ton of carbon dioxide, a power plant operating on the banks of Quebec's Saint Lawrence River could buy an offset from a Central Valley dairy farm that kept an equivalent amount of methane out of the atmosphere.

California, Quebec Teaming Up On Climate Change by John Upton, Climate Central, Mar 17, 2015

Can science find common ground with Evangelicals?

When it comes to convincing a skeptical evangelical Christian about the need to accept and confront climate change, a Bible can be a more useful tool than any chart, report or PowerPoint presentation.

That was the message from two leading environmental advocates who travel frequently between two worlds that are often perceived to be at odds with each other—the scientific and evangelical Christian communities—and have made it their mission to convince evangelicals of the need to take climate change seriously.

Katharine Hayhoe and Mitch Hescox both spoke Friday at an American Association for the Advancement of Science conference aimed at improving dialogue between the religious and scientific communities.

Can Science Find Common Ground with Evangelicals? by Scott Detrow, ClimateWire/Scientific American, Mar 16, 2015

Climate change: UN backs fossil fuel divestment campaign

The UN organisation in charge of global climate change negotiations is backing the fast-growing campaign persuading investors to sell off their fossil fuel assets. It said it was lending its “moral authority” to the divestment campaign because it shared the ambition to get a strong deal to tackle global warming at a crunch UN summit in Paris in December.

“We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue,” said Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC).

The move is likely to be controversial as the economies of many nations at the negotiating table heavily rely on coal, oil and gas. In 2013, coal-reliant Poland hosted the UNFCCC summit and was castigated for arranging a global coal industry summit alongside. Now, the World Coal Association has criticised the UNFCCC’s decision to back divestment, saying it threatened investment in cleaner coal technologies.

Climate change: UN backs fossil fuel divestment campaign by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, March 15, 2015

Ed Davey backs Guardian climate change campaign

Pension and insurance funds should consider urgent divestment from “very risky” coal assets and then gradually retreat from oil and gas, Ed Davey, the UK energy and climate change secretary, has warned.

Throwing his weight behind the Guardian’s “Keep it in the ground” campaign, he said a recent analysis which suggested 82% of coal reserves must remain untouched if temperature increases are to be kept below 2C – the widely accepted threshold for dangerous climate change – was “realistic”.

Davey said it was not up to an energy minister to tell fund managers how to run their businesses, but added that it was vital to introduce regulatory transparency that would drive investors from fossil fuels to renewables.

Ed Davey backs Guardian climate change campaign by Terry Macalister, The Guardian, Mar 17, 2015

Guardian publicly challenges world's largest foundations to divest

Having reached the mainstream with new backing from the United Nations, the global fossil fuel divestment campaign continues to gain momentum. On Monday, the Guardian news agency launched a campaign calling on the world's two largest charitable foundations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to follow the lead of the Rockefeller Foundation and nearly 200 other prominent universities and institutions by divesting their holdings from the fossil fuel industry.

"We are calling on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to remove their investments from the top 200 fossil fuel companies and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years," the news service announced in a statement.

Despite the fact that both foundations consider climate change a serious threat, their combined $70 billion endowments invest millions in funding new fossil fuel exploration and extraction.

Guardian Publicly Challenges World's Largest Foundations to Divest  by Lauren McCauly, Common Dreams, Mar 16, 2015 by

Key to preventing disasters lies in understanding them

The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction concluded on Wednesday after a long drawn-out round of final negotiations, with representatives of 187 U.N. member states finally agreeing on what is being described as a far-reaching new framework for the next 15 years: 2015-2030.

But whether the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) heralds the dawn of a new era – fulfilling U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s expectation on the opening day of the conference on Mar. 14 that “sustainability starts in Sendai” – remains to be seen.

Margareta Wahlström, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), has emphasised that the new framework “opens a major new chapter in sustainable development as it outlines clear targets and priorities for action which will lead to a substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health”.

Key to Preventing Disasters Lies in Understanding Them by Ramesh Jaura, Inter Press Service (IPS), Mar 18, 2015

"More Than Scientists" seeks to show human side of climate experts.

Advocates for climate action have been trying for some time to emphasize the human side of climate change. A new campaign launching today goes one better: It seeks to show a glimpse of the essential humanity of climate scientists.

Dozens of climate scientists tell their stories—their hopes for the future, and their fears—in more than 200 brief videos that have been put together by the More Than Scientists project. By "stepping out from behind the data" to share their stories as musicians, artists, hikers, and parents, the scientists hope to inspire people to get more involved in pushing for deployment of solutions, said a prepared statement by the group.

"Making personal decisions is really important, but that's not going to be enough," says Dargan Frierson, associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, in a video where he is who is shown playing mandolin on campus and talking about his feelings as an expectant father in a warming world. "Another thing we really have got to do is talk to our politicians, to make sure there's some legislative change."

"More Than Scientists" seeks to show human side of climate experts.

Pacific nations to highlight Cyclone Pam in climate talks

Pacific Islands devastated by Cyclone Pam at the weekend will be using the disaster to drive home the need for a globally funded insurance pool to aid in the recovery from such events when they attend climate-change talks in Paris later this year.

Ian Fry, the chief climate-change negotiator for the tiny island nation of Tuvalu, said the establishment of a permanent fund to help countries cope with the impact of climate-related disasters and other "slow-onset events" such as rising sea levels was a key goal for negotiations at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year.

"The (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) have stated in their most recent report that these sorts of events are going to get worse as a result of climate change, and in fact they are getting worse," Fry told Reuters on Tuesday. "There's clearly a human imprint on these cyclones now, and there needs to be something done about it."

Pacific nations to highlight Cyclone Pam in climate talks by Lincoln Feast, Reuters, Mar 17, 2015

The Arctic's climate change is messing with our weather

There has been a lot of attention on the influence of rapid warming of the Arctic on weather in the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes. Much of the work has focused on changes to the Jetstream amplitudes and association of these changes to ice loss in the Arctic. 

We know that the Arctic is heating faster than the planet as a whole. Consequently, there is more energy in the Arctic which can be transmitted to the atmosphere. Much of the excess heat is transferred to the atmosphere in the late fall or early winter. This extra energy is connected to what’s called Arctic geopotential height, which has increased during the same times of the year. As a consequence, the Jetstream might weaken in the cold seasons.

But what about summer? Have these changes been detected then too? Well just recently, a paper was published in that answered this question. The authors, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and from the University of Potsdam reported on three measures of atmospheric dynamics (1) zonal winds, (2) eddy kinetic energy, and (3) amplitude of the fast-moving Rossby waves. Rossby waves are very large waves in the upper atmospheric winds. They are important because of their large influence on weather.

The Arctic's climate change is messing with our weather by John Abraham, Climate Consensus - The 97%, The Guardian, Mar 16, 2015

The film that reveals how American ‘experts’ discredit climate scientists

For Naomi Oreskes, professor of scientific history at Harvard, there’s no more vivid illustration of the bitter war between science and politics thanFlorida’s ban on state employees using terms such as “climate change” and “global warming”. No matter that the low-lying state is critically vulnerable to rises in sea level, or that 97% of peer-reviewed climate studies confirm that climate change is occurring and human activity is responsible, the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, instructed state employees not to discuss it as it is not “a true fact”.

In one sense, news of the Florida directive could not have come at a better time – a hard-hitting documentary adaptation of Oreskes’s 2010 book Merchants of Doubt is just hitting US cinemas. In another sense, she says, it is profoundly depressing: the tactics now being used to prevent action over global warming are the same as those used in the past – often to great effect – to obfuscate and stall debates over evolutionary biology, ozone depletion, the dangers of asbestos or tobacco, even dangerous misconceptions about childhood vaccinations and autism.

Scott’s de facto ban is, she tells the Observer, “a grim state of affairs straight out of a George Orwell novel. So breathtaking that you don’t really know how to respond to it.”

The film that reveals how American ‘experts’ discredit climate scientists by Edward Helmore, The Observer, March 14, 2015

The melting of Antarctica was already really bad. It just got worse.

A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.

Meanwhile, 2015 could be the year of the double whammy — when we learned the same about one gigantic glacier of East Antarctica, which could set in motion roughly the same amount all over again. Northern Hemisphere residents and Americans in particular should take note — when the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity.

The findings about East Antarctica emerge from a new paper just out in Nature Geoscience by an international team of scientists representing the United States, Britain, France and Australia. They flew a number of research flights over the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica — the fastest-thinning sector of the world’s largest ice sheet — and took a variety of measurements to try to figure out the reasons behind its retreat. And the news wasn’t good: It appears that Totten, too, is losing ice because warm ocean water is getting underneath it.

The melting of Antarctica was already really bad. It just got worse. by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Mar 16, 2015

This is climate skeptics’ top argument about Antarctica — and why it’s wrong

On Monday we learned some troubling news about the continent at the bottom of the world — Antarctica. Most of Antarctica is covered with a vast, thick sheet of ice, an area larger than the continental United States and over two miles thick in some places. The smaller, western part of this ice sheet was already believed to have been destabilized — potentially triggering over 10 feet of sea level rise. But now it looks like one key sector of the far larger eastern region (known as the Totten Glacier) may be going through a similar ice loss.

That’s not good.

However, as climate skeptics are quick to note, there’s something odd and seemingly paradoxical about Antarctica’s ice. Even as oceanfront glaciers in key areas seem to be retreating, potentially awakening the vast ice sheets behind them, Antarctic sea ice – ice floating atop the oceans surrounding the continent — has actually been increasing. And this has often been citedas a supposed anomaly in the global warming story.

So, is a rise in Antarctic sea ice any reason to discount the latest news about east Antarctica, or climate concerns more broadly? The answer is no.

This is climate skeptics’ top argument about Antarctica — and why it’s wrong by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, Mar 18, 2015

Two months in and 2015 is record warm

We may only be two months into 2015, but already the year is burning up the charts, setting up the possibility that it could topple 2014’s newly minted record for hottest year.

Together, January and February were the warmest such period on record, according to global data released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. With an El Niño (albeit a weak one) in place, there’s potential for that warmth to stick around and elevate temperatures for more of the year.

Two Months In and 2015 Is Record Warm by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, Mar 18, 2015

Why is a disaster risk reduction treaty important for climate change?

In Japan today, representatives from 186 governments signed a new UN treaty on disaster risk reduction.

It is the first in a triad of 2015 agreements that will determine how the world deals with development in the face of climate change, inequality and rising urbanisation. This is likely to include the UN's new Sustainable Development Goals in September, followed by a new climate change agreement in December.

Carbon Brief explains why today's treaty is important for climate change, and how it fits in with the two deals expected later this year.

Why is a disaster risk reduction treaty important for climate change? by Sophie Yeo, The Carbon Brief, Mar 18, 2015

Posted by John Hartz on Wednesday, 18 March, 2015

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