2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #23A

A global tour of 7 recent droughts

Every inhabited continent, to varying degrees, faces extremely high water stress. That means that in certain areas more than 80 percent of the local water supply is withdrawn by businesses, farmers, residents and other consumers every year. Not all of that water is consumed - it may flow back into a river after it’s used and be available again downstream - but the demand still creates competition where it is needed.

These “stressed” areas are also the ones most vulnerable to episodic droughts. With chronic over-use of water resources, it only takes a string of a few bad rainfall years or poor management decisions to plunge a region into crisis and chaos.

A global tour of 7 recent droughts by Charles Iceland, World Resource Institute (WRI), June 2, 2015

Burning coal is hot; its warming is far hotter

Think of a holiday road trip’s effect on the climate this way: The amount of heat a car  contributes to the atmosphere because of its carbon emissions may be 100,000 times greater than the actual heat given off by its engine.

That’s the conclusion of a Carnegie Institution for Science study published Tuesday that shows two things: Emissions from burning a lump of coal or a gallon of gas has an effect on the climate 100,000 times greater than the heat given off by burning the fossil fuel itself. And, the heat trapped by those emissions can be felt within just a few months of the fuel being burned. Burning fossil fuels is the globe’s biggest source of human-caused greenhouse gases and the primary cause of climate change.

Warming caused by burning coal in a power plant can be felt in the atmosphere within 95 days — the time it takes for the emissions released from the plant to trap enough heat to exceed the amount generated from the plant itself, according to the study. That process takes 124 days for a crude oil-fired power plant and 161 days for a power plant burning natural gas. 

Burning Coal Is Hot; Its Warming Is Far Hotter by Bobby Magill, Climate Central, June 2, 2015

Climate change: The bumpy road to the Paris talks

The momentum is building, with environmentalists, politicians and scientists all keen to avoid what one called a "Copenhagen 2 scenario".

Behind the headlines there appears to be an effort to manage expectations.

And a whole new lexicon is building around the talks at the end of the year.

Take INDCs - Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. These are the actions to reduce carbon emissions which countries are pledging to commit to from 2020 onwards.

Scientists are already warning that the goal of limiting climate change to no more than 2 degrees over pre-industrial levels looks set to fail, based on an analysis of the submissions declared so far.

Only this month, research led by Professor Nicholas Stern, a prominent UK voice on climate change, said: "It seems unlikely that the pledges from all countries before the Paris summit will collectively be sufficient to bridge the gap to an emissions pathway that is consistent with the limit of 2°C."

Climate change: The bumpy road to the Paris talks by Helen Briggs, BBC News, June 1, 2015 

Climate change risks biggest change to marine species in three million years

A guest post by Dr Grégory Beaugrand, researcher at the University of Lille Laboratory of Oceanography and Geoscience, and Dr Richard Kirby, research fellow at the Marine Biological Association of the UK.

Humans rely heavily on the world's oceans. About 70% of the world population lives within 60km of the shoreline, and we catch around 80 million tonnes of fish every year. In our new study, we investigate how warming oceans could affect the spread of marine species.

And the results suggest warming over 2C would have a bigger impact on marine biodiversity than we've seen in the last three million years. 

Climate change risks biggest change to marine species in three million years by Dr Grégory Beaugrand & Dr Richard Kirby, The Carbon Brief, Jun 1, 2015

Countries meet in Bonn to restart negotiations on UN climate deal

Diplomats are gathering in Bonn, Germany, to negotiate the UN's 2015 climate deal - the package that will determine what chance the world has of limiting global warming to below 2C over the coming decades.

Negotiations opened today with a 90-page texton the table. Countries have to slim this down into something that they will be able to handle during the two-week conference that will take place in Paris in December, where the agreement is expected to be signed.

The text under discussion is a melting pot of different views proposed by countries during the UN's recent previous conferences in Lima and Geneva. Chopping it down to size will be a politically fraught task, as it will mean deciding whose views will bind the world in the years to come.

Carbon Brief has spoken to diplomats, analysts and campaigners about what the next two weeks are about, and what stumbling blocks could lie ahead.

Expert views: Countries meet in Bonn to restart negotiations on UN climate deal by Sophie Yeo, The Carbon Brief, June 1, 2015

Global Apollo programme seeks to make clean energy cheaper than coal

A plan to tackle climate change by emulating the race to put a man on the moon is launched on Tuesday, aiming to channel billions of dollars in research that will give renewable energy commercial lift off.

The Global Apollo Programme aims to make the cost of clean electricity lower than that from coal-fired power stations across the world within 10 years. It calls for £15bn a year of spending on research, development and demonstration of green energy and energy storage, the same funding in today’s money that the US Apollo programme spent in putting astronauts on the moon.

The plan is the brainchild of a group of eminent UK scientists, economists and businessmen including Sir David King, currently the UK’s climate change envoy, Lord Nicholas Stern, Lord Adair Turner and ex-BP chief Lord John Browne.

Global Apollo programme seeks to make clean energy cheaper than coal by Damian Carrington, The Guardian, June 2, 2015

India minister blames climate change for deadly heatwave, weak monsoon

India's earth sciences minister has blamed climate change for a heatwave that has killed 2,500 people and for deficient monsoon rains, after the government said on Tuesday the country was headed for its first drought in six years.

"Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave and the certainty of another failed monsoon," Harsh Vardhan said. "It's not just an unusually hot summer, it is climate change," he said.

The minister's comments affirm warnings from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that India will be hit by frequent freak weather patterns if the planet warms.

India minister blames climate change for deadly heatwave, weak monsoon by Krishna N. Das, Reuters, June 2, 2015

In stunning reversal, ‘Big Oil’ asks for carbon price

Let’s see if you can guess the source for the following quote.

“We want to be a part of the solution and deliver energy to society sustainably for many decades to come.”

If you guessed a major solar, wind or renewable energy company, you’d be wrong. If you guessed six of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, give yourself a gold star.

In a stunning reversal of years of obstructionism to creating a global framework to deal with climate change, CEOs from global oil and gas behemoths Shell, BP, Total, Statoil, Eni and the BG Group have signaled that they’re ready for a price on carbon. 

In stunning reversal, ‘Big Oil’ asks for carbon price by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, June 1, 2015

In Texas floods, is there a link to climate change?

Texas has suffered damaging floods and record rainfall in May after years of punishing drought. We asked John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University and Texas state climatologist, to discuss how climate scientists – and the general public – can sort out when extreme weather events can and can’t be connected to the effects of climate change. 

In Texas floods, is there a link to climate change? by John Nielsen-Gammon, The Conversation US, June 2, 2015

Psychological barriers complicate overcoming climate change denial

It's no secret: Americans are conflicted on climate change. Polls show just half of the country affirming the idea that human activity is largely driving changes in the climate, and less than half view it as a major threat to the U.S., well below the perceived dangers posed by overseas extremist groups and nuclear programs.

What explains this disconnect on climate?

"In a way, it's kind of surprising that anybody pays attention. ... We don't want to think about something that's scary," said Susan Clayton, a psychology professor and chair of the environmental studies program at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

At the second annual Loyola University Chicago Climate Change Conference in March, Claytonaddressed the mental barriers to climate change, what fellow panelist Elke Weber called "the perfect storm" of behaviors and cognitions unconducive to widespread action. 

Psychological barriers complicate overcoming climate change denial by Brian Roewe, National Catholic Reporter, Jun 1, 2015 

The fossil-fuel industry’s campaign to mislead the American people

Fossil fuel companies and their allies are funding a massive and sophisticated campaign to mislead the American people about the environmental harm caused by carbon pollution.

Their activities are often compared to those of Big Tobacco denying the health dangers of smoking. Big Tobacco’s denial scheme was ultimately found by a federal judge to have amounted to a racketeering enterprise.

The Big Tobacco playbook looked something like this: (1) pay scientists to produce studies defending your product; (2) develop an intricate web of PR experts and front groups to spread doubt about the real science; (3) relentlessly attack your opponents.

The fossil-fuel industry’s campaign to mislead the American people, Op-ed by US Sen Sheldon Whitehouse, Washington Post, May 29, 2015

The heat and the death toll are rising in India. Is this a glimpse of Earth’s future?

Roads have twisted in the heat. Hospitals are overwhelmed by thousands of dehydrated people, the poor, the elderly and children among the worst hit. Urgent instructions to wear wide-brimmed hats and light-coloured cotton clothes, use umbrellas and drink lots of fluid have been issued by the government.

India is struggling to cope with one of the deadliest heatwaves to hit the subcontinent. And its attempt to do so is raising a question for the whole planet – how can humans cope with the kinds of temperatures that scientists fear may become ever more common?

In only 10 days, the death toll is reported to have reached around 1,800, a 20-year high. The brunt of the burden has fallen on the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, where 1,300 people have died, the highest loss of life due to heat the state has known, according to officials. By comparison, 447 people in the state died from the heat last year.

The heat and the death toll are rising in India. Is this a glimpse of Earth’s future? by Catherine de Lange, The Observer, May 30, 2015

The subtle — but very real — link between global warming and extreme weather events

Last week, some people got really mad at Bill Nye the Science Guy. How come? Because he had the gall to say this on Twitter:

Billion$$ in damage in Texas & Oklahoma. Still no weather-caster may utter the phrase Climate Change.

Nye’s comments, and the reaction to them, raise a perennial issue: How do we accurately parse the relationship between climate change and extreme weather events, as they occur in real time?

It’s a particularly pressing question of late, following not only catastrophic floods in Texas and Oklahoma, but also a historic heatwave in India that has killed over 2,000 people so far, and President Obama’s recent trip to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, where he explicitly invoked the idea that global warming will make these storms worse (which also drew criticism).

The subtle — but very real — link between global warming and extreme weather events by Chris Mooney, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, June 1, 2015

U.N. climate deal in Paris may be graveyard for 2C goal

The U.N.'s Paris climate conference, designed to reach a plan for curbing global warming, may instead become the graveyard for its defining goal: to stop temperatures rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Achieving the 2C (3.6 Fahrenheit) target has been the driving force for climate negotiators and scientists, who say it is the limit beyond which the world will suffer ever worsening floods, droughts, storms and rising seas.

But six months before world leaders convene in Paris, prospects are fading for a deal that would keep average temperatures below the ceiling. Greenhouse gas emissions have reached record highs in recent years.

And proposed cuts in carbon emissions from 2020 and promises to deepen them in subsequent reviews - offered by governments wary of the economic cost of shifting from fossil fuels - are unlikely to be enough for the 2C goal.

U.N. climate deal in Paris may be graveyard for 2C goal by Aister Doyle and Bruce Williams, Reuters, June 1, 2015

You're experiencing world's 5th deadliest heatwave ever

As the death toll in the current heat wave crossed the 2,000 mark, this has become the fifth deadliest ever heatwave in the world and the second deadliest in India, according to an international database of disasters.

Weathermen are predicting that there are a few more days left in the ongoing heatwave which has killed the most number of people in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana, while affecting large parts of the rest of the country.

The deadliest heatwave on record in India is the 1998 one in which 2,541 people died. The most lethal heatwave in the world was the one that crippled Europe in 2003, killing 71,310 people. These figures are maintained in the Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) maintained by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based in Brussels, Belgium.

You're experiencing world's 5th deadliest heatwave ever by Subodh Varma,TNN/Times of India, May 31, 2015

Posted by John Hartz on Tuesday, 2 June, 2015

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